"Hey, Joe. Shake a leg; our reservation is for 7:30," Hobby shouted. I was still looking for my keys when I heard the doorbell.
"Get the door, Hobby. I'll be right there."
Hobby was turned sideways to a young guy in jeans and tee shirt. "He says he's your brother, Joe."
"What?" I said incredulously.
"I don't have a brother." I looked him up and down and said, "Who the hell are you and what's your game?"
"Well, if you're Joe Crest, I'm sort of your half-brother."
"And I don't have a half-brother, either. So buzz off." To Hobby I said, "I don't know him and don't care to find out what he's up to."
I was closing the door when I heard, "Do you remember Mary Benton?"
I hesitated, and then opened the door. "Okay. I know Mary Benton, but who are you and what's this all about?" Memories were flashing back. After my mother died, my father had married Mary Benton. I was just a teenager. A few years later he had lung cancer, and for a long time was bad off. Mary took care of him until he died.
I went into the Army after that.
"My name is Jimmy Morrow, Mary Benton was my mother."
"She died a few weeks ago."
"I'm sorry to hear that. She was a good woman."
He got choked up. Softly, I said, "Come in and sit down."
I offered a drink, but he waved it off. "Sorry about the brother thing. I was just hoping. I don't have any family now. I didn't even know about you until I was going through Ma's things. She had a scrapbook about you. She wrote notes like, 'That's my boy,' so I thought she was your mother, too."
"No, Mary wasn't my mother. She was my stepmother, but I really liked her. She was good to me and she took good care of my dad before he died. After I went into the Army I wrote to her, but never got an answer."
I had always been sorry we had lost touch. She was the last remnant of my family. Now Jimmy reminded me of the loneliness I had felt. I reached for his hand and shook it. "I'm glad to meet you, Jimmy. We're not blood related, but as far as I'm concerned, you're family." He immediately brightened up and Hobby, who had been standing off to the side taking it all in, suddenly seemed ecstatic. I should explain that, like me, Hobby is a virtual orphan, too.
"That's great!" Hobby said with genuine enthusiasm as he shook hands.
"We've got to celebrate. You're coming to dinner with us!"
"Thanks, but you guys are all dressed up and -" Jimmy motioned to his attire.
"I'll get you a jacket. You'll be fine," I said.
Jimmy was a country bumpkin, but seemed to be a nice kid. He kept looking at me like a puppy dog. This is unnerving for a guy who enjoys his independence.
"So what's in your future?" I asked, half-hoping he was heading back to Kansas soon.
"Not sure. I might work here for a while and see if I like it."
"What do you do?" I asked.
"I'm a VW mechanic. A dealer in Santa Monica offered me a job. I'm staying at the Y there."
"Hey," Hobby said.
"I've got a VW dune buggy that needs work, maybe..."
That launched a halfhour discussion about VW engines, which bored me stiff. I finally broke in to ask Jimmy, "What do you do for fun?"
"I like to play poker."
"Really!" Hobby and I said in unison.
"I love it, but my friends stopped playing with me because I always win."
"Really!" we chorused again.
"After dinner, let's stop at the Bike," Hobby suggested. On the way to Bell Gardens we quizzed Jimmy about poker. He understood the game, but wasn't familiar with advanced concepts. My thought of finding a poker genius in the rough was fast evaporating. Likely he was only a small town whiz; hardly star potential, but I'd show him a good time for Mary's sake.
"What's your favorite game?" I asked.
"That's a good game," Hobby said, "Why do you like it?"
"I win more at seven, maybe because I have more time to think."
"7-card it is then. We'll see how you do against the local talent."
"I don't have much money to lose; we only play nickel and dime."
"Don't worry about it, we'll stake you. You're our guest tonight," Hobby said.
We gave him two trays of singles and got him a seat at a $3/$6 pot limit 7-card game we could watch from the sidelines.
He seemed uncomfortable for a while, but it wasn't long before he caught on to the play. He didn't play a lot of hands, and often dropped out after a card or two.
Jimmy was finally in his first big showdown; the betting had been heavy. He had a goodly portion of his chips in the pot. After the down card was dealt, a player bet about half the pot; two others still in folded. It was Jimmy's turn to call or fold. Our young friend was looking intently across the table at his older opponent. The up cards didn't make clear who had an advantage. There could be straights or flushes in contention. I was feeling sorry for Jimmy, hoping he knew what he was doing.
Then, darned if he didn't raise the bet and go all in! The old fellow said, "I hate to take all your chips, Sonny." He laid down a queen high straight; Jimmy showed a flush.
"Beginner's luck?" I asked Hobby.
"Let's watch and see." We did for about two hours. Jimmy played several big pots and only lost one. He spooked the table; players had been dropping off and after his last big win those remaining picked up their chips and left. Hobby and I walked over as the dealer was helping Jimmy put his chips into trays. He didn't know we had been watching.
He smiled broadly and said, "It's like I was telling you, even these guys don't want to play with me anymore."
"It's okay, Jimmy, that's enough for the night," I said.
When Jimmy cashed in the chips, he couldn't believe he had won over $4,000. "I never had so much money, except when I saved up for my truck," he said.
"Jimmy, Hobby and I are going to talk to you about playing poker. If tonight wasn't a fluke, you might want to think twice about taking that mechanic's job."
As we walked away from the cage one of the losers from Jimmy's table jostled him and said, "You were lucky tonight, farm boy, but don't ever get in my way again." Hobby was immediately on attack alert, but I put a restraining hand on him. "Forget it," I said loudly, "he's just a sore loser."
"It's okay, Joe," Hobby said, but he went to the bully and whispered into his ear. The guy turned red and took a vicious swing.
Not even close; Hobby ducked and with a couple swift moves subdued the man and turned him over to security.
Jimmy said, "What did you say to him?"
"I just asked if his mother had any legitimate children."
...to be continued