I thought I could win the hand with a pair of kings, but when an ace dropped on the river and the tough looking old woman opposite me went all in, I declined to call. A few hands later, she went all in again; this time her kings beat a pair of queens. It was a righteous win, so why did I feel uneasy? There was something about this wigwearing woman that made me wary. She wore a pound of makeup, even had some on the backs of her hands. Her lipstick looked like it was applied with a palette knife.
Play continued with a new dealer and a fresh deck. I was about even, playing my usual conservative- aggressive game. Meanwhile, I kept an eye on the old gal. She casually touched a finger to her lip. While mucking her hand she touched a card on the edge. I could be wrong, but before the card disappeared under its mate, I thought I saw a small red mark that didn't belong there. It wasn't long before I saw her do it again.
"Deal me out while I make a trip," I said. Though ostensibly off to the men's room, I detoured to the pit boss. "I think the old gal at my table is marking cards." He recognized me and said, "I'll have security check the tape, Mr. Crest. Meantime, play carefully."
When I returned I noted the old crone had accumulated more chips. If I was right, she was cheating. I avoided getting into a cross fire with her, but it was beginning to cramp my style. I was thinking about leaving when I saw three security men approach the table. One on each side took her by the arms, the other whisked off the wig saying, "Nice try Willy, let's go for a walk."
"But, my chips," he pleaded.
"You stole them, Willy. They belong to the other players, but we'll take the deck for evidence."
"You bastards!" he hollered. Then, looking at me he said, "You're dead meat!"
Hobby had been playing at another table, but muscled in to view the excitement.
"Did you finger him, Joe?" he asked.
"Well, more or less."
"Sounds like he's got a mad on for you."
"Aw, he was just blowing off."
It was too much of a distraction; soon one player after another left the table. Hobby had already given up his game, so I did the same. As we were leaving the casino I recognized another player from my table near the exit. He quickly turned his head, as I looked his way.
As we cruised back to L.A. in Hobby's land yacht, a custom Silver Cloud Rolls Royce, I said, "I may be paranoid, but I'm wondering if the infamous Willy had a confederate?"
"How come, Joe?"
"There was a guy from my table who acted suspiciously when we left the casino."
"Do you think he might be following us?"
I looked to the rear. "Can't tell with all the traffic. Forget it. Like you said before, 'my writer's imagination'."
"Sure, Joe. Forgetaboutit," Hobby said huskily, mimicking the Hugh Grant line.
When Hobby dropped me off he said, "Want me to tuck you in, Joe." I responded with a nasty boisterous remark, but took a cautious look up and down the street before I went inside. As I settled in for the evening I realized I was being unduly concerned. A card cheat wasn't likely to be violent, let alone have a confederate to carry out a vendetta.
A week later I had all but forgotten the card cheat and his threat. Hobby and I had been invited to the grand re-opening of a local casino. After a few hours contributing to the welfare of other poker players we decided to call it a night. When the valet delivered my car he said, "I opened all the windows." I wondered about the remark, but not for long; the foul smell was overwhelming.
"Jeez, Joe, what the hell is that?" Hobby asked as he shielded his nose. The carcass of a dead animal was in the back seat. As we backed away from the car I signaled a security guard. I explained that while we were guests of their fine establishment, someone perpetrated a dastardly deed. They were good enough to dispose of the stinking mess and sprayed the car's interior with a deodorant, which almost masked the smell.
Disingenuously, I told the security chief I couldn't imagine why my car was selected for the ugly prank and he apologized profusely that it happened on their property. As soon as Hobby and I set off in the car, he said, "Dead meat, Joe. You think it's Willy?"
"It crossed my mind. I just hope this is the extent of his retribution."
On the trip back to Marina Del Rey I tried to see if we were being followed, but it's near impossible to know at night, especially with L.A.'s incessant traffic. However, as we traveled less busy streets, I saw no car behind. "Hobby, no one's tailing us. I guess it's safe to drop you off. I'll head for home."
"I don't think so, Willy is after you tonight. Stop at my place first. We'll do some scouting before you go home." I thought it was a silly idea, but not entirely.
Hobby insisted we treat this as a military operation. After donning dark clothes we walked to my neighborhood. Stealthily and systematically, we checked out possible hiding places. I was feeling foolish until Hobby suddenly stopped. "Look! Someone just ducked into the bushes across from your place. Wait here, I'll sneak up and take him." Since Hobby is the martial arts expert, I deferred to his prowess. I was a few steps behind when he jumped the perp.
"We've got you now, Willy," Hobby announced. He turned the guy around so I could face my stalker. My heart sank as I recognized my neighbor. "Joe, what the hell's going on? I was just turning off my sprinkler."
So much for paranoia, Willy never bothered me again.