by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
One of the problems with having a reputation for extreme intelligence is that people too soon learn not to underestimate you. My first poker game at the Pig had been a simple matter of fleecing the sheep, even though the sheep were actually wolves. Wanderer had put up a struggle, but it hadn't saved him.
After that first game, the Lupine Boys suddenly had respect for little old Sue Carter. The sweet innocent face, the wide-eyed innocence. It didn't work anymore. In fact, given the way the chips were moving I estimated an 87% probability that they were all co-operating solely to get little old me.
If Jubatus couldn't, what chance did they have. Still, Lupine Boys will be Lupine Boys...
At least now I know why they were so eager to invite me back.
I got back from Brin early this month and came down for a break. Ad Astra doesn't like it, but I've convinced their psychologists that I need breaks. Drew always drills me before I leave and after my recent experience with Human's First I actually exert myself rather than just doing what he expects. And I always show the trophy at the door. I won't have it much longer and that makes my carrying it around bearable.
We've been playing for a while now. Fifty years ago the air would have been thick with cigarette smoke. With SCABS nobody smokes -- noses are too sensitive. So we drink, sipping at them slowly to stay in control.
All of us at this table are wolves, appearances not applying.
There's a saying I remember from before SCABS. Tactical advice for a board game, Star Fleet Battles, simulating the starship combat from Star Trek. The original series. I'm much older than I look. This particular advice said, Don't play his game, make him play yours. Very useful words. Up to now I've been playing poker the way they expect me to play poker after their first learning experience. Quiet, intense, cunning.
I look at my cards. Two aces, a jack, a two and a three. I've got one draw. Based on the cards I see I have a 9% chance of three aces, an 18% chance of a pair of aces and jacks, and a 73% chance of nothing useful. Based on a psychological analysis of the body language of the wolves around me the odds of my current hand winning is 62%.
Assuming they all play at the level they've proven capable of.
Instead I fold.
They all look at me. Wanderer is unreadable. The others show hints of shock and surprise. "I don't have anything and based on what I see you all have more. Finish the round."
They greet my announcement with various grunts and snorts. Wanderer tosses down three cards and is dealt replacements. The others follow suit.
It's time to change the rules.
"You know boys, the Pig isn't the first bar I've been in."
"Oh?" asks Ringwolf. I can tell that he's not really paying attention.
"There was even a SCAB there, although they wouldn't serve him."
Ringwolf threw his cards down in disgust. He should have stayed one more round, the odds favoured him.
Wolfshead broke in next after he threw down one card for a new draw. "They probably tried to kick him out. Called the cops."
I smiled innocently. I could tell they weren't buying it.
"I'd disguised myself to drink in peace. Heavy theatrical makeup, a hat. With that I can pass for human."
"Lucky you," Ringwolf muttered.
Wanderer tossed down one of his cards for the last round of draws.
"It was a bar in Billings Montana. A bear, well not a bear, instead a morphic bear. I never found out if he choose the form or was morph-locked into it. He sat down on a stool, ignoring the silence that had fallen and ordered beer. Of course the bartender told him in no uncertain terms that he was sorry, but he didn't serve beers to bears in bars in Billings, Montana. So, in a huff, the bear stood up and left."
Another Lupine Boy, I'd never heard his name, folded. He followed that with a big swallow of beer. Make that many swallows. But I could tell from his ears that he was listening.
"I was trapped there by a blizzard, staying in the local hotel. You wouldn't want to go there. Some of the bugs were bigger than Dr. Derksen."
"Ha!" Wanderer snorted as he threw down his cards. "It's all mine boys." He had three kings. After being greeted by assorted groans he racked in the small pile of chips, winking at me.
Apparently oblivious, I continued. "The next day I was in the bar again, and the same bear walked in and sat on the same bar stool. The same bar tender walked over and asked the bear what he wanted. The bear again asked for a beer. And the bartender answered: 'Listen, we don't serve beers to bears in bars in Billings Montana.' The bear got mad and left again. I don't know where he went, he looked hairy enough to survive the blizzard buried in a snowbank."
Wanderer finished shuffling the cards and cleared his throat. "Nice story Sue. Five cards, no draws. Nothing wild. You get what you get."
I raised my eyebrows and tossed in a chip as did everybody else. Wanderer started dealing out the cards.
"So Sue," Wolfshead asked as he sorted through his cards, "What happened?"
I look at mine. Two pair. Eights and Jacks. Statistically the odds are in my favour but with no draws there is no way to be certain.
Wandered tosses in three chips. His face is blank. I follow suit as does everybody else. We all look at Wanderer who raises. We all stay in except for Wolfshead who folds.
After he puts down his cards, face down damn him, he turns to me. "So what happened at this bar in Billings Montana?"
"Well," I say, "the blizzard continued. So I was in the bar the next night, nibbling at the horrible blobs of grease they call burgers, and watch as, once again, the bear walks in, and goes over to the same bar stool. At this point I'm starting to get nervous but I decide it's better to stay quiet than to draw attention by leaving. The same bar tender is working again, and he walks over and asks what the bear wants. As he had before, the bear states that he wants a beer."
"Boy that bear must have been desperate," somebody mutters.
Ah, if only they knew what was coming. I look around. One of the Lupine Boys blinks and I mark his hand down as worthless. Three others. I glance at Wanderer and he just looks at me. Oh well. "So, the bartender says that he doesn't serve beers to bears in bars in Billings, Montana."
"Who'd have guessed?" Ringwolf mutters. That's greeted with some guffaws around the table.
Ignoring him I continue, making sure to keep Wanderer's face in the corner of my eye. He's the dangerous one. "This time the bear is extremely angry. He's so mad that he gets up with such force that the bar stool flies across the room slamming into the table beside me. Before anybody can do anything, he stomps to the end of the bar, and picks up a girl who was sitting there. Before she can so much as scream he eats her."
And now for the moment of truth. "In the stunned silence, the bear goes back to the bar tender and says 'Now that you know I'm serious, give me a beer.'"
Another Lupine Boy looks away. He's also got nothing. Psychology is such a useful skill. I take a sip of my potassium laced rum and coke.
Putting it down, I continue. "The bartender, still calm, leans forward onto the bar and looks the bear in the eye. And he says, 'We don't serve beers to bears in bars in Billings, Montana, and furthermore we don't serve drug addicts."
I can now see that nobody else has anything in their hand, except for Wanderer whom I still can't read. Nothing like a fascinating story to lull their guard down just enough. Psychology is such a useful subject.
Now to crack Wanderer. "The bear looks at the bartender. He's no longer angry, just confused. So he asks, 'Drug addict, what do you mean?' To which the bartender replies: 'That was a barbituate.'"
Behind me I hear a couple of groans, and the sounds of somebody running to the washroom. Most of the Lupine Boys close their eyes and moan. All except Wanderer, who doesn't even blink. Damn him.
Maybe he doesn't get it. "At first I didn't understand what was wrong. Then it hit me. The bartender had told the bear that it was a 'bar bitch you ate'."
More groans from around us. Except for Wanderer. He just winked, and called, saying to me, "Using material like that, Dr. Carter, I must never allow you to attend my performances."
With a sinking feeling I asked the obvious question. "Why?"
"Because", Wanderer said, "as any actor knows", he laid down his two pair, one each of Kings and Queens, "nothing is more dangerous than a plant in the audience."
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