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High Hunt

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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“I ain’t got nothin else.”

“Tell you what, sport. I’ll give you a buck apiece for your boots.”

“What the fuck you want my fuckin’ boots for?”

“You gonna call?”

“All right. My fuckin’ boots are in.”

“Put ’em on the table, sport.”

He scowled at me and started unlacing his boots. “There,” he snapped, plunking them down on the table, “you’re called.”

“You’re still a buck light.” I knew I was being a prick about it, but I didn’t give a damn. I get that way sometimes.

He stared at me, not saying anything.

I waited, letting him sweat. Then I dropped in on him very quietly. “Your pants ought to cover it.” Some guy laughed.

“My pants!” he almost screamed.

“On the table,” I said, pointing, “or I take the pot.”

“Fuck ya!”

I reached for the pot again.

“Wait a minute! Wait a minute!” His voice was desperate. He stood up, emptied his pockets, and yanked off his pants. He wasn’t wearing any shorts and his nudity was grossly obscene. He threw the pants at me, but I deflected them into the center of the table. “All right, you son of a bitch!” he said, not sitting down. “Let’s see your pissy little straight beat a full-fuckin’ house!” He rolled over his third seven.

“I haven’t got a straight, friend.”

“Then I win, huh?”

I shook my head. “You lose.” I pulled the joker away from the queens and the nine and slowly started turning up my buried aces. “One. Two. Three. And four. Is that enough, friend?” I asked him.

“Je-sus Christ!” some guy said reverently.

The fat man stood looking at the aces for a long time. Then he stumbled away from the table and almost ran out of the cargo hold, his fat behind jiggling with every step.

“I still say it’s a mighty hard way to play poker,” Sergeant Riker said softly as I hauled in the merchandise.

“I figured he had it coming,” I said shortly.

“Maybe so, son, maybe so, but that still don’t make it right, does it?”

And that finished my winning streak. Riker proceeded to give me a series of very expensive poker lessons. By the time I quit that night, I was back down to four hundred dollars. I sent the fat guy’s watch, boots, and pants back to him with one of his buddies, and went up on deck to get some air. The engine pounded in the steel deck plates, and the wake was streaming out behind us, white against the black water.

“Smoke, son?” It was Riker. He leaned against the rail beside me and held out his pack.

“Thanks,” I said. “I ran out about an hour ago.”

“Nice night, ain’t it?” His voice was soft and pleasant. I couldn’t really pin down his drawl. It was sort of Southern.

I looked up at the stars. “Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been down at that poker table for so long I’d almost forgotten what the stars looked like.”

The ship took a larger wave at a diagonal and rolled with an odd, lurching kind of motion.

“You still ahead of the game, son?” he asked me, his voice serious.

“A little bit,” I said cautiously.

“If it was me,” he said, “I wouldn’t go back no more. You’ve won yourself a little money, and you got your buddy’s watch back for him. If it was me, I’d just call ’er quits.”

“I was doing pretty well there for a while,” I objected. “I think I was about fifteen hundred dollars to the good before I started losing. I’ll win that back in just a few hours, the way the pots have been running.”

“You broke your string, son,” Riker said softly, looking out over the water. “You been losin’ ’cause you was ashamed of yourself for what you done to that heavyset boy.”

“I still think he had it coming to him,” I insisted.

“I ain’t arguin’ that,” Riker said. “Like as not he did. What I’m sayin’, son, is that you’re ashamed of yourself for bein’ the one that come down on him like you done. I been watchin’ you, and you ain’t set easy since that hand. Funny thing about luck—it won’t never come to a man who don’t think he’s got it comin’. Do yourself a favor and stay out of the game. You’re only gonna lose from here on out.”

I was going to argue with him, but I had the sudden cold certainty that he was right. I looked out at the dark ocean. “I guess maybe the bit about the pants was going a little too far,” I admitted.

“Yeah,” he said, “your buddy’s watch woulda been plenty.”

“Maybe I will stay out of the game,” I said. “I’m about all pokered out anyway.”

“Yeah,” he said, “we’ll be gettin’ home pretty quick anyway.”

“Couple, three days, I guess.”

“Well,” he said, “I’m gonna turn in. Been nice talkin’ to you, son.” He turned and walked off down the deck.

“Good night, Sergeant Riker,” I called after him.

He waved his hand without looking back.

So I quit playing poker. I guess I’ve always been a sucker for fatherly advice. Somehow I knew that Riker was right though. Whatever the reason, I’d lost the feeling I’d had that the cards were going to fall my way no matter what anybody tried to do to stop them. If I’d have gone back the next day, they’d have cleaned me out. So the next day I watched the ocean, or read, and I didn’t think about poker.

Two days later we slid into New York Harbor. It was early morning and foggy. We passed the Statue and then stacked up out in the bay, waiting for a tug to drag us the rest of the way in. We all stood out on deck watching the sun stumble up out of the thick banks of smoke to blearily light up the buildings on Manhattan Island.

It’s a funny feeling, coming home when you don’t really have anything to come home to. I leaned back against a bulkhead, watching all the other guys leaning over the rail. I think I hated every last one of them right then.

Two grubby tugboats finally came and nudged us across the bay to a pier over in Brooklyn. Early as it was, there must have been a thousand people waiting. There was a lot of waving and shouting back and forth, and then they all settled down to wait. The Army’s good at that kind of thing.

Benson dragged his duffle bag up to where I was and plunked it down on the deck. I still hadn’t told him I had his watch. I didn’t want him selling it again so he could get back in the game.

“Hey, Alders,” he puffed, “I been lookin’ for you all over this fuckin’ tub.”

“I’ve been right here, kid.”

“Feels good, gettin’ home, huh?” he said.

“It’s still a long way to Seattle,” I told him. His enthusiasm irritated hell out of me.

“You know what I mean.”

“Sure.”

“You think maybe they might fly us out to the West Coast?”

“I doubt it,” I said. “I expect a nice long train ride.”

“Shit!” He sounded disgusted. “You’re probably right though. The way my luck’s been goin’ lately, they’ll probably make me walk.”

“You’re just feeling picked on.”

Eventually, they started unloading us. Those of us bound for West-Coast and Midwest separation centers were loaded on buses and then we sat there.
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