We were sipping margaritas while watching a golden sunset from the fantail of Hobby's yacht, Lazybuns. I couldn't help but express my wonder and gratitude for such a beautiful sight. "Hobby, I know California is suffering from drought and forest fires are burning up north, but we're enjoying the best climate in the world."
"Geez, Joe, you ought to go to work for the Chamber of Commerce."
"No thanks, I'm just counting my blessings."
"Well, while you're at it how about giving thanks for all the great casinos nearby where we can enjoy poker? Which reminds me, we're supposed to meet Bailey Clark at Morongo tomorrow night."
"Why did you have to spoil everything by reminding me about Bailey?"
"C'mon, Joe, he's your cousin and he's a lot of laughs."
"How come his practical jokes always take a toll on me?"
"It's because he loves you, Joe. You're family."
Morongo isn't that far from Marina del Rey, but since we had comps we decided to stay over one night. We arrived about noon and were soon in the grill enjoying steak sandwiches. Bailey said he'd be arriving from Chicago, where he lived, in the early afternoon. I was in no hurry to see him. On the last occasion, at Bellagio's in Vegas, I awoke to find a dozen rabbits hopping around my room leaving their little trinkets everywhere.
"Joe, let's try to get in some poker before Bailey shows up."
"Yeah, let's get on with it. Maybe we'll get lucky and he won't show."
I took a seat in a $4-$8 hold 'em game while Hobby found a pricier table. My very first hand was case aces, the betting was generous and I raked in a large pot. Two hands later I had K-J off-suit and the flop gave me an ace high straight. So frequently when I've caught good cards in the past I've found very little action ... not today! I took in another big pot. A few hands later I had a pair of kings complimented with the flop of another king and a pair of eights. From the spirited betting by another player I suspected he might have a set of snowmen. He went all-in for $380 and as I began to call I felt a heavy slap on my back. "Hi-ya, Joe. How're doing."
I gave Bailey a killer stare and said loudly, "I'll call." I had figured it right and added another big winner.
It was impossible to concentrate on my cards after Bailey's interruption and simultaneously, good cards became scarce.
"You've got to come with me, Joe. I've got something fantastic to show you and Hobby." Since the poker god had left me anyway I got up from the table and soon we rounded up Hobby. "Wait 'til you guys see my latest acquisition. I've got a car out front; it's only a short drive." On the freeway Bailey continued his prattle, "You know, I've always been an entrepreneur, but mostly it's been in the industrial area. I've always wanted to do something where I could be closer to the public. I love to interact with people and I finally got my big chance. I had a broker looking for something out here where I could be close to you guys and it finally turned up."
Good grief, I thought, Chicago was too close, but to have Bailey so nearby would be devastating. "So what's the big surprise?" I asked with no enthusiasm.
"I don't want to tell you and spoil the surprise, but I can tell you this. With you being nearby, I imagine you'll enjoy getting your hands on the business too. In fact, I have some equity available for you to buy-in. I'd like to have you aboard, a kind of junior partner."
"Junior partner," I said almost gagging. I looked at Hobby in the back seat and rolled my eyes. He was trying hard to stifle a laugh.
"Well, maybe I could consider a bigger share depending on how things work out."
"Bigger share, yeah that sounds interesting," I said with tongue-in-cheek so bulging it gave me a face cramp. Hobby was doubling over out of Bailey's sight.
The car slowed down near the exit to the outlet center at Cabazon. It's a huge place with more than 100 outlet stores, most sporting recognizable names. We parked and began a long walk between rows of retail stores of all kinds. I was totally befuddled when Bailey took my arm and stopped me. "There it is, Joe, what do you think?"
"What, a luggage store?" I said incredulously.
"Not just luggage, premium leather goods of all kinds. I just love the feel and smell of quality leather."
"You're kidding me, right. Okay, it's a good gag; now let's go back to Morongo so I can renew my winning poker game which you so rudely interrupted with your silly gag."
Bailey spun me around, looked me in the eye and said pleadingly, "Please, Joe, I'm serious. Just come inside with me for a few minutes."
I looked at Hobby, who shrugged his shoulders and followed us into the store. An older man came to us, practically on a run, saying loudly, "Bailey, I'm so happy to see you. Which one of these gentlemen is your partner, Joe?" I was dumbfounded. "My name is Alex. I'm telling you, Bailey has made a great buy. It's a great business in a great shopping mall." I looked around the store and didn't see another customer. "You'll really enjoy working here, Joe."
"Now wait just a minute. I am not Bailey's partner and I'm sure as hell not working here!"
Bailey looked like he had lost his last friend, which was probably true, and Hobby looked thoroughly confused. I was one beat short of a heart attack when Bailey and the shopkeeper started laughing.
"Got 'cha," Bailey said doubling over.
I'd been had and good, but from this day forward I will use all my creative talents to get restitution.
Write to author David Valley at: email@example.com