George glanced at his hand then back to Marty: four aces, ten of spades. Four of a kind! Beat that! He could see Marty’s hands were shaking just a tad too much and you could play connect-the-dots with the sweat on his brow. “Come on Marty—play your hand!” he said stone poker faced. George and Marty have been friends for years. Two peas in a pod—they often joke about how they met in Tulley’s Tavern on Karaoke night. George had been plastered and had attempted singing ‘Friends in Low Places’ by Garth Brooks. On a good day, George couldn’t carry a tune to save his life. On that particular day, the twelve Heinekens he’d downed didn’t help improve his pitch and the audience had validated it. Marty had been a face in that crowd that day and Brooks was his favorite. So he’d jumped in and had given ole George a hand, saving him from being tossed out on his can. From that day on they’ve been the best of friends. Except when it came to cards. They always played for money, but this time the stakes were high. Winner took all. “Gimme a minute G!” His eyes darted between George and his hand like a Ping-Pong match as he fumbled his cards with sweaty hands. “Royal Flush!” he said slapping down the hand with a splat. “Royal Flush, huh?” George raised an eyebrow. “Yeah—ah, whatcha got that beats that?” His eyes locked on his opponent’s. George took a steeping breath as he closed his eyes and put down his hand of four aces and ten of spades. “Four of a Kind,” he said softly. “Ha! Royal Flush trumps Four of a Kind!” Marty said with a nervous laugh. “It does? Marty?” George’s eyes were still closed. “Why—ah, yeah. It trumps all hands, don’t it G?” Opening his eyes, George looked straight through Marty and said, “I guess that it does, Marty. I guess, that it does.” Marty went to grab the till off the table and George asked, “What’s that on your cards Marty?” “Huh? I don’t see anything on ‘em,” he replied stooping over the cards for a closer look. Before Marty knew what was happening, George grabbed an unopened beer from the tub of ice under the table and swung it at Marty’s head. The bottle connected directly with his temple and shattered, severely cutting Marty’s face. Blood splatter across the cards as Marty bounced off the table, landing on the floor unconscious. Marty was slumped over the seatbelt in the old Ford pickup truck when he came to in the passenger’s seat. They were pulling up to the emergency room. His eye was swollen shut and crusted over with dried blood. He was still seeing stars as George helped him into the hospital. On the way to the nurse’s station, Garth Brooks was crooning ‘Friends in Low Places’ in concert on the waiting room’s TV. Marty yanked George to a stop at the sound, with a tear welling up in his good eye. “What gives G? I thought we was
best friends. Why you a sore loser?” he asked. “We were friends Marty, but there are only four aces in a deck of cards.”
A friendly game of cards. Or is it?