Friday, September 28, 2007

Chapter 30

Tricia forced herself to stop thinking about the money and think about the game. While she would be happy with the $14,000 for second place, $27,000 for first was within her grasp. She looked across the table at Carmen who, she saw, was calmly studying her. When Carmen saw Tricia look up at her she smiled. This time it did not seem to be a nice friendly smile. Tricia thought it looked more like the smile of a predator who had found easy prey. She vowed to do her best not to be easy prey.

Carmen started out aggressively, and Tricia with weak hands folded. The first time Tricia fought back, re-raising with a good hand after Carmen had raised Carmen folded with a smile and a nod.

They saw their first flop and again Tricia was pushed off the hand when Carmen made a large re-raise. Feeling herself beginning to get frustrated she glanced around and saw that the crowd around the final table was large but she was able to pick out Gary and Sandy and then Jaime, Kevin and Rick all standing together. Jaime smiled at her and Kevin mouthed something that Tricia didn’t get. He must have seen her quizzical look because he repeated it. She thought he had mouthed the word ‘patience’, which made sense.

Trying to balance patience and aggression, Tricia played on. She held her own but was not able to make a dent in Carmen’s lead. The blinds increased again and now Tricia had even less to work with in a relative sense. She remembered something Kevin said about how an amateur could sometimes frustrate a pro by refusing to play small pots and instead continually raising all in. He’d mentioned how he hated it because it took his higher degree of skill out of play. Once the players were all-in then it was up to the cards and luck, the trick was to try to get all-in with the best hand. There was way to tell of course.

Tricia looked down at her hand after Carmen had once again raised her big blind. It was relatively strong so Tricia capped her cards and trying to not let her voice shake announced, “I’m all-in.”

The spectators surged toward the table, restrained by the ropes around it. Carmen studied Tricia who looked back at her trying to remain calm, hoping she wasn’t giving anything away. She didn’t see how she could be since she honestly wasn’t sure if she wanted Carmen to call or not.

If Carmen called and won then Tricia was done, out in second place. On the other hand if Carmen called and lost then Tricia would be the chip leader.

Finally Carmen used a fingernail to flick her cards into the much while never taking her eyes off Tricia. She nodded and smiled faintly.

Over the next half hour they continued the game of cat and mouse. Tricia used the all-in move three more times but was still just holding her own.

After another raise by Carmen Tricia looked down at her hand and saw the ace and king of hearts. Tricia thought about going all in but then thought that maybe she did want to try to play this one. She re-raised the minimum. Carmen looked at her questioningly. Tricia could feel Carmen’s eyes boring into her. Finally Carmen was the one who announced “I’m all-in.”

That surprised Tricia but she knew that she was unlikely to be worse than 50/50 to win the hand and it might be the best chance she got. She called and stood up, nervously biting her lip. She reached down and turned over her suited Big Slick.

“I hoped that was what you had.” Carmen said as she turned over two black jacks. She moved over beside Tricia. “Good luck.”

Tricia’s hopes were quickly dashed as the flop brought the Jack of hearts. It was still possible for her to win but not very likely. The turn and river didn’t help and Tricia realized it was over.

Carmen hugged her. “You played very well. It could have gone either way.”

Tricia thanked her, feeling a little numb. She had not won but she felt like she had. She hated to admit it but it was a relief it was over and she was not at all unhappy to have gotten second place.

Jaime was the first to get to her. He hugged her, picking her up off her feet. Then he kissed her soundly on the lips. “I’m proud of you! You did great!”

Tricia felt tears leaking down her face and smiled broadly at him. “Thank you. That means so much to me.”

He kissed her again and she kissed him back. Then she smiled and said, “Does this mean we can talk about the just friends thing?”

He stared at her and then laughed. “No this means there is a side benefit to having a friend who is a female do so well in a tournament.”

By then she was surrounded by Gary, Sandy, Kevin and Rick as well a people she didn’t even know. The next few minutes were a blur as she went through the little ceremony after the tournament. Kevin had his camera out taking pictures and made her and Carmen pose together. He also got a picture of her with Rick and Jaime and with Gary and Sandy and then had somebody take a picture with him and Tricia and then with he entire group.

“How about a little celebration?” he asked her.

She smiled and shrugged. “I’d like that I think. I won’t be going to sleep any time soon anyway. I’ve got enough adrenaline in me to keep me going for a week. I want to call home first and tell Matt.’

Kevin nodded. “How about you take care of getting paid and then we’ll stake out a place in one of the bars and then you make your call?”

“What do I do to get paid? Same as the first tournament?” Tricia asked him, feeling suddenly unsure. “I owe Gary part of it. He paid the buy in.”

“Well I doubt you want it all in cash. That’s a lot of cash and even more paperwork since it’s over $10,000. Come on with me and we’ll get you squared away.”

“What about Gary?” Tricia asked.

Kevin shrugged. “Bring him along or pay him off at your party. I figured you’d want them there too.”

“Oh I do!” Tricia assured him. Then she saw Gary and waved him over. “Come on. I’ve got to get you your share of this.”

He smiled at her. “It can wait. I know you’re good for it.”

“I want to get it all taken care of.”

Kevin lead Tricia though signing the paperwork and then looked at her. “Are you going to use part of this to buy into the main tomorrow?”

“I don’t know,” Tricia said, suddenly very unsure.

“Ok here’s what I’d suggest,” Kevin said. “Why don’t you get enough of it in cash to pay Gary what you owe him and to add to what cash you have leaving you the $5,000 for the main and enough for some side action if you want to play, call it $6,000.”

“I’ve got almost that much now,” Tricia said. “I brought part of it and part is winnings. Can I just get Gary’s part in cash and take a check for the rest?”

“Just tell them how much cash you want. Remember to get enough for the dealer tips.”

“Oh God I almost forgot that,” Tricia said, her mind whirling. “I owe Gary 25%. Does anybody have a calculator? I can’t think now.”

“$3563.50” Kevin said quickly.

“You did that in your head?” Tricia asked. “Or had I already told you?”

Kevin chuckled. “In school I was known as the human calculator. It’s a gift I guess.”

“That’s too much!” Gary said.

Kevin looked at him and said. “It’s right but you can check if you want.”

“Oh I know the math is probably right but I only gave her $200. I never figured to get that much for it.”

“A deal is a deal,” Tricia said, mentally gasping a bit at the amount she had to give up.

“But you’ll have to pay taxes on the full amount and then there is the toke for the dealers. At least lets do 25% of what’s left after that.” Gary said.

Tricia looked at Kevin. “Is that ok?”

Kevin smiled at her. “It’s entirely between you and Gary. He is right. This kind of deal leaves you responsible for the taxes on the whole thing.”

“What will that be? And the dealer thing? What is left after that?” Tricia asked.

“If you’re not going to spend this all right away I’d withhold 15% for taxes knowing you might owe more and 5% for the dealer toke. That leaves you a bit over $11,600, 25% of that is a bit over $2900. The cashier will get you the exact amounts for you and cut you a check for everything you don’t need in cash.”

That settled they went to the cashier’scage and took care of business. Tricia paid Gary and took care of the dealer toke. She looked at the check in her hand for what was left. She knew part of it would be going to the IRS and in the end she would barely have 50% of the total she’d won but the amount was still amazing to her. It was even more so when she realized that second place in the main event would be several hundred thousand dollars.

Carmen was heading for the cashier when they were leaving. She smiled and swept Tricia into another hug. “I hope you’re not disappointed. You really did very well. Your day will come Tricia.”

Tricia was beaming. “I’m not disappointed at all. I suppose it was too much to hope that I could beat you.”

Carmen shook her head. “You gave me a real challenge. I did not run over you like I thought I would. Give yourself credit.”

“Well thank you,” Tricia said. “Kevin is throwing a sort of impromptu party I’d love it if you could come.”

Carmen laughed, looking at Kevin. “If you think Kevin James is doing anything impromptu then you don’t know him well enough yet. Thank you so much for asking me but I have a friend waiting for me. I have plans. Another time?”

“Sure,” Tricia said.

They made their way back to the rest of the group and found Sandy laughing with Jaime and Rick. Collecting them Kevin led them all to one of the casino bars and Tricia found out that apparently Carmen was right. There was a whole area in the back set aside and the hostess led them back to it.

There was champagne in a bucket and Kevin held it up. “Can we have a quick toast to kick this off before you go make your call?”

Tricia smiled, blushing at the attention and nodded. Kevin made a show of popping the cork and pouring some champagne into each glass. “To Tricia, and a dream realized. May there be many bigger dreams come true in the future.”

Tricia felt her eyes filling with tears. She’d expected something silly and funny from Kevin. She caught his eye and he smiled at her. She wondered what exactly he was thinking of with his toast.

She saw Jaime looking at her fondly and smiled at him. When she looked over Rick was looking at Jaime not her. She sighed wondering if somehow they could all be friends and wondering what, exactly, she wanted or could have, from those two friends.

Breaking away finally she left the bar in search of a quiet spot to make her call.

To her surprise Matt answered.

“Guess what honey?” Tricia said excitedly. “I was SECOND!”

“Great job dear!” Matt said actually sounding a little enthusiastic. “You’ve done that before in those online things right?”

“Yes but this was a $200 buy-in tournament and there were over 400 players.”

“Well cool! You beat 398 other players? That sounds good.” Matt said. “how much does that pay? A couple thousand? That’s great.”

“Officially I beat 463 players and it paid $14,524,” Tricia said.

There was silence on the other end and just when Tricia thought they had gotten disconnected Matt said, “I think I heard that wrong.”

Tricia giggled. “No I don’t think so. $14,524. I’ll only net a bit over half of that with taxes, tips and other things but I’m still tickled.”

“Well shit! I guess so!” Matt said sounding very surprised. “When you wanted to go to that thing I really thought you’d end up losing what you had. I thought you’d have a good time but that would be the end of it. I can see I was wrong.”

Tricia nodded to herself. She’d suspected that was what everybody thought. “I’m very pleased that It’s gone this way.”

“I would hate to see you get all disappointed though if it turns out to be a fluke or beginners luck or something,” Matt told her.

She had to smile. Good old Matt. He just didn’t want to believe in her ability to do much of anything. At least he was sounding somewhat normal again.

“It’s not a fluke. I’ve met a couple of very good players and at least two of the pros seem to think I’m pretty good.” Tricia said, trying not to sound defensive. “Do you remember Carmen Cruz from watching some of the poker shows with me?”

“She’s that hot little Hispanic number who always shows all that cleavage?”

Tricia chuckled. “Yes that’s her. She’s the one who beat me. You should have been here you could have met her.”

“Maybe I’ll have to reconsider going with you,” Matt said. She could hear the smile in his voice but also knew he was really kidding. She doubted he would ever come with him, which might be for the best. She wasn’t sure how he would handle all the male friends she had made.

“I miss you and Matty,” Tricia said, saying what had been growing on her mind for the past couple of days.

“I miss you too and I’m sure Matty does too.” Matt said. “You’ll be home Thursday, right?”

“Maybe sooner,” Tricia said. “I honestly don’t know if I want to push my luck and spend $5000 for the main event.”

“That is a lot but I thought that was what you went for? You’ve obviously got that much now.”

“Don’t you want me to come home?” Tricia said, hoping he would say yes.

“Of course but why leave early dear?” Matt said sounding depressingly practical when she had hoped for romantic.

“I guess,” she responded. “I’ll think about it and let you know.”

“Ok well give me some warning. I’ve not exactly kept up with the housekeeping and I don’t want you to see it this way.”

Tricia rolled her eyes. She could imagine what the house looked like. She wasn’t even sure he knew how to do housekeeping. It would be a mess even after he took his best shot at cleaning she was sure.

“I’ll let you know the night before I leave then how is that?” Tricia said. “I will stay through tomorrow and at least watch the first part of the main event.”

“That sounds good,” Matt said yawning. “some of us have to go to work early tomorrow. What are you doing the rest of the night? Playing more?”

“No I’m going to a party,” Tricia said, realizing it might get him mad but almost wanting to taunt him now.

“Well try to behave yourself,” Matt responded. “I can trust you right?”

Tricia sighed. “Yes Matt. I’ll behave.” She suspected she would anyway with Jaime and Rick seeming to get friendly with each other. She realized she had been feeling a flash of jealously towards Jaime because he was being so friendly toward Rick. Then she almost chuckled out loud because Jaime had probably saved her from something she might regret with Rick. On the other hand she thought, hope is not dead and the night is young.

“I’ll let you get to bed Matt, I love you honey and I miss you!”

“I miss you too and I love you. I’m proud of you Tricia. I really think you did great.” Matt said sounding sincere which made Tricia smile as she hung up and went back to the party.

Chapter 29

An hour or so after lunch Tricia was sitting on a chip stack that was second only to Carmen’s at the table. Tricia thought that there was a good chance that Carmen and thus her also were among the chip leaders. A new player sat down to Tricia’s right replacing the one Carmen had just knocked out.

She looked vaguely familiar and Tricia thought it might be from one of the cash games she had played.

“Hi, my name is Nicole. I don’t know if you remember me but we played a $4/$8 game together the other night. I guess you were there with your husband.”

Instantly Tricia knew it had been when she’d been playing with Jaime that night. “Hi, I’m Tricia. I’m curious, what makes you think he was my husband?”

Nicole shrugged. “You looked comfortable together like you’d known each other a long time. You both had rings on and you were not acting all kissy kissy like you were having a fling.”

Tricia had to laugh. “He’s just a friend. Honest. My husband is back home in Columbus.”

“Ohio?” Nicole asked incredulously. “He let you come to this by yourself? Do you have any kids?”

“One boy. He’s five years old and staying with my parents while I’m here.”

Nicole looked at Tricia then at her chips and back at Tricia. “Wow. That would never in a million years work for me. I only got to be here because it’s a day trip away and my husband wanted to come up for the weekend and try the event yesterday. Did you play that one?”

Tricia nodded. “Did you?”

“A thousand dollar buy in?” Nicole laughed. “I don’t THINK so! This one is big for me. How’d you do?”

“I finished eight out of the money.”

“Really?” Nicole said looking impressed. “My husband was out in an hour and a half. Boy was he ticked.”

Nicole looked at Tricia’s chips again. “You must be a pro, aren’t you? Why were you playing that $4/$8 game?”

Tricia smiled. “I’m no pro. The pros are on the other end of the table. Carmen Cruz and Carolyn Snow. This is my first ever Circuit Event.”

“Holy shit! I thought that woman looked familiar. My husband is going to be sorry he missed seeing her. He thinks she’s hot as all get out.”

Tricia laughed. “I am sure he’s not alone. She seems nice enough. I got introduced to her earlier.”

“How’d you get your husband to let you come to this alone?” Nicole asked. “My hubby would never go for that. Not that I’m good enough I guess.”

“You did fine the other night in that cash game. You must have finished ahead. You were ahead when Jaime and I left.”

Nicole shrugged and then paused. They’d been talking as they played but so far neither of them had played a hand. Nicole came into the big blind and the conversation waned until they both got through the blinds.

“I did ok in that game. I usually do ok in cash games. Derrick, my husband, says I play too tight but I make more than he does so I just tell him to mind his own business.” Nicole chuckled. “He never does but he can’t argue with my results either.”

“I’ve been amazed at how well it’s gone here. Before this I’ve just played in the casinos my husband likes to go to near home up in Canada.”

“Why didn’t he come here then?”

“He’s a workaholic for one thing,” Tricia said. “He gets his fill of a casino pretty quick. I think he just likes the drive and the free booze. Then he’s ready to go in four hours and I have to drive home. Since I started playing poker I’ve been making him stay longer but he fusses about it.”

“Well I would love to get to go to one of these things somewhere else by myself. I’d be scared to death probably but I’d like to try it.”

“You might meet up with some interesting characters when you are alone too.” Tricia said with a smile.

“No doubt,” Nicole said. “but I’d never cheat on Derrick. He would never believe that but it’s true.”

Tricia dropped that line of conversation like a hot potato wondering why that sort of thing seemed to work for Sandy but not her. She picked up a few hands to play and conversation was spotty at best. Then Nicole got involved in a big pot and ended up all in against another player who had her covered slightly. She ended up losing the hand and stood up, out of the tournament.

“Well that is that,” Nicole said. “I lasted longer than Derrick did yesterday though.”

“You did fine, the best you could with what you had,” Tricia said consolingly.

Nicole shook her hand. “Good luck.”

Two more players went out after that, one of which Tricia took out. Instead of bringing them more players the Tournament Director brought seat cards which he distributed along with empty racks for their chips. The players racked them chips and stood, looking around for their new tables.

As they passed one another Carmen smiled at Tricia and winked. “Good luck. I’ll see you at the final table I suspect. I’m glad they broke us up. It would have only been a matter of time until we’d ended up in a big pot together and I’d rather wait until later for that.”

Tricia wasn’t sure what to make of that and just smiled and said, “Good luck to you too.” She found her new table and the looks around it were generally looks of dismay as she put down two racks of chips and began to stack them.

In the late afternoon during a restroom break she tried calling Matt thinking he might be back from the lake. She didn’t get an answer but left a message telling him she was in a tournament and doing well. Then she called her parents telling her mom the same, that she was in a tournament and doing well. She asked if they’d heard from Matt and her mom told that she hadn’t since he came to see Matty before heading up to the lake. When her mom mentioned that Matt had shown up with the boat and all his gear she felt a little better that he was really doing what he’d said he was doing. She’d started to have some doubts as she’d replayed their last conversation in her mind.

The buzz at the tables increased as the blinds did the same and players were eliminated faster. With a consolidation to five tables the final fifty players knew that only five more had to be eliminated for the rest to be in the money. Tricia found herself not worrying about just finishing in the money. She found she had enough chips to be a force and actually play for the win.

As players at her table tightened up to try to hold on and make the money Tricia began to put pressure on them with near constant raises, stealing many pots that she probably would not have otherwise won or even been involved in. It was a heady feeling and one new to Tricia. She had to tell herself not to get cocky and lose any big hands and hurt her chances.

They money bubble burst on another table and a cheer went up among the remaining players. Then play turned around. The tight pre-money play turned into a wild time of short stacks pushing all-in with little to lose trying to double up and move up to a higher payday. Forth fifth place paid $271 and the players had to get all the way to thirty sixth place to move up to $361 let alone vie for the $27,060 that first place paid.

As Tricia played, trying to remain cautiously aggressive, her thoughts drifted to Matty. She had found herself missing him terribly after talking to him briefly that afternoon. It had been building the whole time she realized but it was an almost physical ache now and she wanted desperately to hold him in her arms again soon.

During the next restroom break Sandy was waiting, watching the play from the sidelines.

“Where’d you finish?” Tricia asked.

Sandy was beaming. “I went out 98th as near as we can tell. I know it’s not in the money but hell I outlasted over 400 others. I’m tickled pink. But look at you girl! It looks to me like you’re in the top three or four chip leaders. That Carmen Cruz has a huge lead though. She’s good.”

“Tell me about it. She was on my table to start and I was so afraid she’d knock me out.” Tricia said.

“Thank God she wasn’t on my table. I might not have lasted five minutes!” Sandy joked.

Kevin spotted Tricia and walked over. “I’ve heard how Tricia is doing,” he said smiling at her. “How are you doing Sandy?”

Sandy shrugged and said, “Well you might not think it’s good but I’m tickled. I went out in 98th place.”

“Do you feel like you played well?”

Sandy nodded. “And I had a blast.”

“Then I think you did great.” Kevin said giving her a kiss on the cheek that left her beaming all the more. “I’ll be back for the final table Tricia. I’m out as you may have guessed and I’ve got a few things to take care of. I should be able to watch your final table and then we can go over and hopefully watch Jaime at his. He’s doing well.”

“Great!” Tricia said as Kevin walked away.

Sandy watched him go. “He’s cute. He sure seems to be taking an interest in you honey.”

Tricia laughed. “Get your mind out of the gutter Sandy. I’m confused enough. Besides he can do way better than me for that. I think at best he sees me as a business opportunity or maybe he’s just being nice to a friend of Jaime’s.”

“Maybe,” Sandy said. “He’s got a reputation for being a ladies man you know.”

“I’ve heard.” Tricia said. “But I’m messed up enough right now without that. Now I’ve got a tournament to play but I want to try to call Matt again.”

“Ok,” Sandy said. “Good luck. I’ll be watching and Gary will be back soon. Do you want any dinner? I heard you aren’t going to get a dinner break.”

Tricia giggled. “You might want to check with Rick or Kevin first. At lunch I got two sandwiches.”

Sandy left laughing about that.

Tricia managed to get Matt who assured her he was back home safe and sound. She started to give him a capsule of the weekend but the players were called back to their seats and she had to say a quick good-bye. Surprising her he asked her to call him when she was done with the tournament even though she warned him it could be ten or later.

When play began again Tricia picked right up where she had left off. Everything was just falling into place. She thought back to the discussion in the restaurant on Friday night after Rick’s tournament. Kevin and Jaime had been describing a feeling like Tricia was having when everything just seemed to be working perfectly and they were playing perfectly. They called it ‘being in the zone’. Tricia thought that she could relate now. She marveled at how easy this felt when she had struggled so hard in some of the other tournaments really doing nothing she could discern different.

Players continued to go out and the final table drew nearer and nearer. They were playing nine handed now, nine at each table. Eventually it got down to six players on one table and five on the other. The final table was reached as two short stacks were eliminated at once with a roar from the rather large crowd watching the remaining ladies play.

New seats were drawn and the remaining nine settled in, looking around to see what they would have to deal with. Tricia saw Carmen two seats to her right, not a bad place to have her, she thought to herself. Carmen’s chip stack was huge though, over twice Tricia’s who was in third place at the moment.

Looking around she caught sight of Rick and Kevin. Kevin had a small camera out and was taking pictures. She wondered if she could get copies from him and vowed to try to remember to ask later. Gary and Sandy were there as well. Gary gave her a thumbs up and Tricia smiled back. She was assured at least $1804 if she went out in 9th which was unlikely. That would mean Gary got a minimum $451 as his 25% on his $200 investment in her buy in.

She was suddenly more nervous than she had been since the first night here. It must have shown because just before play resumed Carmen came over and crouched down beside Tricia, her hand on Tricia’s arm.

“Good luck, Tricia,” Carmen said. “This is your first final table? Yes?”

Tricia nodded.

Carmen nodded back her deep brown eyes locked on Tricia’s. “I know you’re nervous but if you just do what got you here you will be fine. If Kevin James has been teaching you then you know enough to win this.” Then she smiled. “You won’t win it. I will. But you can be second.”

Tricia wasn’t sure if Carmen as joking or not about that last part but figured it was true. “Thanks. I appreciate it. You have no reason to try to be nice to me.”

Carmen squeezed Tricia’s arm and smiled. “I think I will be seeing you from time to time and us ladies got to stick together. We need to show the men that we’re not just pretty faces. Of course we are that too and that is our secret weapon against them, right?”

Tricia laughed. “Well thank you. I hope I will get the chance to play with you again.”

“You will.” Carmen said standing up. “Good luck.”

They’d been talking quietly and the room was noisy so the woman next to Tricia had apparently not been able to hear what Carmen was saying. She looked at Tricia. “You know her? Crap, what am I doing here? I didn’t think any of the big pros would be in this.”

Tricia laughed. “We just met today and I, at least, am no pro. You made it here to the final table so you must belong. Pretty much that is what she was telling me.”

“Really?” the woman said. “That’s pretty cool. I guess I thought all the pros would not have anything to do with us amateurs.”

“So far I’ve met some nice ones.” Tricia told the woman.

Play began and table chatter died off. Tricia fought down her nervousness, watching the other players and trying to decide which of them, if any, was as nervous as she was. Several of them showed signs of it which surprised her.

The first elimination was of the player Tricia had just been talking to by the player who had been in fourth place. That moved Tricia down into fourth. She smiled at the woman and shook her hand as she left the table.

The very next hand Tricia made a raise with pocket kings and the second place player re-raised her. Nervously Tricia just called after considering going all-in. The three cards of the flop were a queen, a king and a four. Tricia had flopped a monster, three kings. Her first thought was to go all in to protect her hand but then she decided to check and try to trap the other player. She checked and the other player made a bet that was bigger than the pot and which looked suspicious to Tricia. It would be half her remaining chips to call so Tricia announced she was all in. The other player called instantly. Tricia looked up in surprise.

The woman proudly turned over her pocket queens which made her three queens. She then groaned as Tricia turned over her two kings showing three kings. The turn and river helped neither player and Tricia won a huge pot that put her only slightly behind Carmen and which crippled the former second place player.

That player went out on the next hand and over the course of the next forty five minutes or so players went out one by one until only Carmen and Tricia were left. Carmen had a chip lead but it wasn’t as huge as it had been.

Tricia’s mind was whirling as she realized she was guaranteed second place and over $14,000.

Chapter 28

When the alarm went off Tricia opened one eye, saw that it was only 7:00 she groaned and stretched liking the feel of clean cool sheets against her skin. The last thing she wanted to do was get out of bed yet. She was surprised to find that she’d slept through the night with not a single dream she could recall. Falling asleep has been nearly instantaneous as well.

Breakfast with Gary and Sandy as waiting and she had only half an hour to get ready so she reluctantly dragged herself out of bed and into the bathroom where she started the shower, letting it warm up while she took care of the rest of the morning necessities.

As she showered Tricia was a little surprised not to be feeling particularly horny considering the way she’d started off the trip. Was it because she was tired from the late nights and less sleep than she was used to or was it because of the time she’d had with Rick, brief and less than totally successful that it had been? She shrugged, not really caring. She was glad to be here and glad to be playing another tournament today. How would she fare against a field of all ladies? There was no reason that it should really be easier.

Tricia actually got to the cafĂ© for breakfast slightly ahead of Gary and Sandy. They came along shortly after Tricia got there with Sandy looking uncharacteristically nervous. As she watched them walk toward her Tricia reflected that, while she didn’t know Sandy too well, she had always seemed very poised and confident. Today she was radiating nervousness.

“I’m sorry we’re late. It’s my fault. I swear I was awake every couple of hours last night and then I turned the stupid alarm clock off when I woke up just before it would have gone off and wouldn’t you know it I fell back asleep? Sandy said apologetically.

“You’re not late,” Tricia said as they moved toward the hostess stand. “I had just gotten there. Why didn’t you sleep well?”

Sandy looked sheepishly at Gary as he rolled his eyes and smiled at her. Then she looked back at Tricia. “I’m just nervous about the tournament today.”

“Pretty silly isn’t it?” Gary asked. “She has nothing at stake in terms of money or anything.”

“She has her pride on the line and it’s obviously a new experience for her. I can understand why she would be nervous.” Tricia said, patting Sandy on the arm. “She is going to do just fine but I understand her being nervous.”

Sandy gave Tricia a grateful smile and stuck her tongue out at Gary.

“Very mature,” Gary said with a smile. “Figures you two would stick together. I bet Tricia didn’t lose sleep because she was nervous.”

“Well no,” Tricia said, giving Sandy an apologetic look. “Tricia lost sleep because Tricia played another tournament yesterday.”

“Oh my God!” Sandy said. “I completely forgot to ask how you did! Please tell me you have to figure out how to play the final table of that one if you’re still in the Ladies event.”

Tricia shook her head. “Nope. I felt like I played well. I finished just eight away from cashing though.”

“Wow,” Gary said. “You did great. It’s a bummer to get so close but at least you felt like you did your best. That is what really matters, right?”

Tricia laughed. “Why do I think that was more for your dear wife’s benefit than for mine? For the record I agree with you. Sandy just do the best you can today and let the rest happen as it does. Just have fun and enjoy yourself.”

The rest of the time at a leisurely breakfast was spent about the same, with Gary and Tricia primarily trying to make Sandy feel better about playing. She clearly wanted to play but was nervous and needed reassurance. By the time they were done and ready to go other to the tournament area Tricia thought she had Sandy settled down and ready to play. She smiled to herself as she remembered how nervous she had been just a few days ago in her first event here. She also marveled when she realized that she really was not nervous about this one.

She and Gary walked Sandy to her table. They were still almost half an hour early but Sandy said she wanted to have time to get used to her surroundings. A surprising number of people were wandering around the tables and many of the women were already in their seats. On the way to the tournament area Tricia had been surprised to see many women still in the sign up line, apparently in response to repeated announcements that it was not too late to sign up for the day’s event.

Sandy settled into her seat and nervously handed the dealer her seat card. He looked at it and wished her good luck, handing it back. A woman across the table, looking nearly as nervous as Sandy did, introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Shelly Locklear. This is my first time for a tournament this size.”

Sandy leaned over and shook her hand. “I’m Sandy Pearson. This is my husband Gary and my friend Tricia Bateman.”

“Are you on this table Tricia?” Shelly asked.

Tricia shook her head and Sandy giggled nervously and said, “Thank God for that! Nothing personal Tricia but you’re too good! She’s already cashed in one of the events here.”

“Really?” Shelly asked sounding impressed.

They talked about it a bit and Tricia excused herself to find her seat figuring she was leaving Sandy in reasonably good hands.

Her table was half full when she took her seat and looked around. The woman on the other end of the table looked familiar to Tricia and she was reminded why when the woman got up and came over.

“Hi, I’m Carolyn Snow. I don’t know if you remember me but you knocked me out of Event number one. How’d you end up in that?”

Tricia stood and shook her hand introducing herself and saying, “I’m sorry. What a way to be remembered!”

Carolyn smiled and said, “It happens. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. Now if you tell me you went on to finish well I’ll be happy.”

“Well you can be happy. I did make the money not very deep but I made the money.”

“Excellent!” Carolyn said. “I thought you probably would. You were playing well.”

A woman walked up to them, looking at Carolyn. Tricia thought she, too, looked familiar and then she was startled to remember why. She was sure it was Carmen Cruz who she’d seen on television at the final table of a couple of the large buy-in televised tournaments that she liked to watch.

Her hunch was confirmed when Carolyn hugged the woman and said, “Carmen! I didn’t know you were coming to this one! Don’t tell me you’re playing our little ‘ole ladies event!”

Carmen gave Carolyn a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek and then nodded. “I just got into town last night. I decided at the last minute to play the main event here and since my travel schedule worked out I thought I’d use this as a kind of warm up.”

“Let me guess you’re on this table?” Carolyn asked her. When Carmen nodded Carolyn went on. “Freaking wonderful. I’m surrounded by freaking pros.”

“Surrounded?” Carmen said looking around the table curiously. “And what are you if you’re not a pro?”

“Well you and Tricia here,” Carolyn said. “I’m just a lucky amateur. Tricia was good enough to take me out of the first event and go on to cash in it.”

“I’m not a pro,” Tricia said, somewhat stunned to be included in this conversation at all. “I’m just a housewife.”

“Oh boy, we’ve heard that before haven’t we Carmen?” Carolyn said and then introduced Tricia to Carmen.

“This is my first time ever to one of the circuit events or anything like it,” Tricia told her.

“Well my dear,” Carmen said, her dark brown eyes dancing with merriment. “If you took out Carolyn and went on to cash I’d say you belong here and I for one will be very careful of you.”

Tricia realized the other players at the table were watching the exchange with varying degrees of awe, the same awe Tricia was feeling to be talking to a player of Carmen Cruz’s caliber, the same awe she realized she had felt when Jaime had introduced her to Kevin James.

“Well thank you,” Tricia said, recovering enough to try to be funny. “I hope I cause you both some problems.”

Carmen threw her head back and laughed and then smiled at Tricia. “We shall see. I think no matter what I will enjoy playing with you. Good luck Tricia.”

Carmen took her seat across from Tricia who took the time to study her and Carolyn both. Carmen looked every bit as exotic as she’d appeared on TV. She was Hispanic with long shiny black hair and deep brown eyes. She was, Tricia seemed to remember, around thirty years old and she had a body that Tricia would kill for. She was not afraid to dress to display it either Tricia thought, looking at her. That might distract the men she played with but Tricia wondered if it might work against her with the women. Jealousy could be a powerful motivator.

Carolyn smiled at her when Tricia again made eye contact. She was tall and probably had been labeled big boned all her life. Tricia remembered her as seeming very serious from her encounter in the first event. She looked that way now as she sat chatting with the player next to her, waiting for the tournament to begin. While she had been talking to Carmen though she had been all smiles and her laughter had been very contagious. Tricia thought there was more than met the eye there.

Tricia’s thoughts turned to the fact that with one pro she knew was a very dangerous player and another player who was obviously also a pro she was at what might have been the toughest starting table of any so far. Tendrils of nervousness began to thread their way into her stomach giving her the first fluttering of butterflies.

Briefly Tricia looked around again, wondering if she would catch sight of Jaime, Rick or Kevin. She didn’t and told herself they’d all had a very late night and as near as she could tell Jaime and Kevin were still in the event from the day before that would conclude beginning that afternoon, the one Tricia had worried about because of this one. That thought made her chuckle to herself. With Carmen and Carolyn at her table maybe she would have had no trouble being done in plenty of time to resume the other event at four in the afternoon.

The tournament soon started and Tricia focused as much as possible just on the game. She watched all the players but Carmen and Carolyn in particular. She could see them doing the same thing and particularly Carmen seemed to be watching her very closely. It didn’t take her long to decide that they were the three best players on the table and that many of the others were pretty weak.

Tricia watched first Carolyn and then Carmen begin to punish the weaker players when the opportunity arose. Eventually an opportunity arose for Tricia to take advantage of. She found herself with a very strong hand that was probably good in a pot with two players who were fairly timid. One player dropped out on the flop leaving Tricia heads up. The fourth community card, the turn card, did not help Tricia but she didn’t believe it had helped her opponent either who she thought was on a draw, looking for a possible flush. She made a pot sized bet that committed her to call anyway if her opponent moved all-in on her. Outwardly calm Tricia internally held her breath while her opponent gave her response a lot of thought. Eventually the woman shook her head and tossed her cards, face up, into the much. Tricia had to hard not to let anything show when she saw them. The woman had top pair just as Tricia did but had a queen for a kicker. Tricia tossed her cards face down in the muck saying “Good laydown”, why breathing a mental sigh of relief. She had misread the woman and had been beaten by the woman’s slightly better kicker.

The woman had grimaced and said, “I’ve been second best all day. I know you had a king with your jack.”

Tricia had just smiled but when she glanced down the table at Carmen Tricia saw her wink and make a small motion with her finger as if warning Tricia not to try that with her. Carmen appeared to know very well that Tricia had gotten the woman to lay down a better hand.

Play went on, the levels increased faster than Tricia had become used to in the larger buy in events. She was used to that though from her online experience as well as her few tournaments at the casinos near home. Players got knocked out and were replaced. Tricia, Carmen and Carolyn increased their stacks and mostly stayed out of each other’s way, not getting involved in big pots against one another.

At one point Carmen made a move at a pot when Tricia was sure she had the best hand. She had thought long and hard and pushed all-in. Carmen had smiled, nodded and mucked her hand. Tricia felt relief and also a little pride that she’d stood up to the stronger player. She saw Carmen and Carolyn exchange glances after that and thought that Carolyn’s expression had seemed to say “I told you so.” Tricia told herself not to get cocky and to keep playing solid.

The announcement that they would be taking a twenty minute break for lunch took Tricia by surprise. She glanced at her watch and saw that it was indeed lunch time. She watched the last hand play out and then stood up nearly running into Kevin and Jaime who had come up behind her.

“Hey guys!” She said happy to see them as they craned to look around her at her chip stack. The she chuckled. “Did you come to see me or my chips?”

Kevin and Jaime looked at each other then back at Tricia and in unison said, “Your chips.”

That made Tricia bust out laughing. “You two are dangerous together.”

“Yeah, we’ve heard that before,” Kevin said giving her a light hug and a kiss on the cheek. Jaime, somewhat awkwardly, gave her a hug. Tricia had to smile, thinking that it was kind of cute watching Jaime try to figure out the boundaries on his own “lets be friends” mandate.

“We brought you lunch,” Jaime said. “I knew they would not give you a long lunch break.”

Kevin handed her a sandwich and a bottle of water. “I’ll have you know it was MY idea, not Mr. Friend’s here.”

Tricia laughed and opened the water, taking a sip and putting it on the table. She tried not to smile too much at Kevin obviously teasing Jaime about that somewhat sensitive subject. For his part Jaime seemed to take the teasing from Kevin in good stead.

“Well if I’d knows she was one of YOURS,” Kevin I’d have been much more careful playing with her,” Carmen said coming up to where they were standing.

“Hey Carmen!” Kevin said giving her a kiss on her cheek as she offered it to him. “You’d better be careful she is good. She is not one of mine though. Not yet anyway. She’s sort of one of Jaime’s but in a different way.”

Jaime blushed and kissed Carmen on the cheek she offered him. They obviously knew each other.

“Well Jaime. Is there something you’d like to tell Carmen?”

“The only thing I’m gonna tell you sweetheart is the same thing I’ll tell my supposed friend over there and that is that it’s none of your business.” Jaime said it gruffly which took Tricia by surprise at first but he was smiling so she figured he was mostly kidding.

Carmen laughed delightedly and gave Jaime a kiss on the cheek and a hug. “Come on you can tell Carmen. Carmen will reward you for it.”

Jaime laughed. “Go to Hell Carmen.”

She laughed and said to Tricia. “I will have to be VERY careful of you now that I know you know these two. They are dangerous you know.”

Tricia laughed and nodded. “I know.”

“Nobody brought me lunch,” Carmen said, pouting at Kevin.

Kevin was about to answer when something caught his eye. Tricia turned and saw Rick walking toward them fast.

“I think that is your lunch coming now.” Kevin said with a grin.

Carmen looked at Rick curiously, obviously not recognizing him. “Another one of your guys? You had him get me lunch?”

Rick stopped and saw that he was too late, that Tricia already had lunch. “Well crap. The line was long and service was slow. I see I’m too late.”

“You brought that for Carmen here didn’t you Rick?” Kevin asked with a twinkle in his eye.

Rick looked at Kevin and then at Carmen and did a double take. “Ms. Cruz! Wow. Well I actually…” he faded off as Kevin and Jaime started laughing.

“Another of your admirers Carmen,” Kevin said. “I hate to burst your bubble but he brought that for Tricia here.”

“I can see that,” Carmen said. Then she slid over to Rick and wrapped an arm around him. “Call me Carmen and let me see if I can talk you out of that sandwich since Mr. Popularity here has obviously been fed by somebody faster than you are. Sometimes slow is good in a man though. Don’t you agree Rick?”

Rick wasn’t sure what to make of the way Carmen, who Tricia could tell he recognized but had never met, was acting toward him. He kept looking at Carmen then at Tricia and then at Kevin and Jaime who were smiling broadly.

“Well…” Rick said, his voice squeaking a little. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Sure you can have it since Jaime already took care of Tricia’s lunch.”

Tricia laughed at Kevin’s mock glare. “You stepped in it now Rick. Kevin said it was his idea to get me lunch.”

Carmen was tugging at the sandwich which Rick was holding out while staring at her as if he could not believe what he was seeing. Tricia felt herself being less amused now and more jealous. She looked at Jaime and saw him watching her and grinning. She rolled her eyes and glared at him but it did no good, he went on grinning at her.

Carmen pulled Rick with her toward her seat at the end of the table, flirting with him outrageously the whole time.

Tricia watched them go feeling more and more jealous. Kevin finally laughed quietly and said, “She is harmless. She just likes to flirt. Trust me she is not competition for you in thisregard.”

Tricia turned her gaze to Kevin. “Are you nuts? Look at her? She’s totally knock dead gorgeous and she’s flirting like mad. Not that I have any say in what Rick does.”

Kevin laughed again, “I should let you go on being jealous but I just can’t. Trust me Tricia it’s harmless.”

“Doesn’t look harmless.”

“Well it is,” Jaime said quietly. “If she was flirting with you then I would be jealous and you should watch out if she starts. But if she’s flirting with Rick or any other guy she is just having fun.”

Slowly Tricia realized what Jaime was trying to tell her. “You mean she’s…” She looked over at Carmen and then back to Jaime who nodded. “Really? You’re not putting me on? Lately I can never tell when you’re kidding.”

“Really,” Kevin said quietly. “It’s not a secret but she doesn’t flaunt it. You better not spend much time thinking about it. One mistake and she will have all those chips of yours in her stack.”

“You’re doing great so far,” Jaime said. “Who’s the other big stack beside you and Carmen?”

“A woman named Carolyn something.” Tricia said. “I took her out in the first event.”

Kevin’s eyebrow went up. “Really? Carolyn Snow is going to be one of the best I think. She’s smart as a whip and utterly fearless. She was a lawyer but a couple years had some personal issues and chucked just about everything to start over playing poker. I’d tell you to watch out for her but you’re smart enough to know that by now.”

Tricia nodded and then realized that she’d spent the lunch break talking and had not had time to go see how Sandy was doing. “Oh shit! I forgot to go check on Sandy!”

“You’re about to start again,” Jaime said, a hand on her shoulder keeping her from going to look for Sandy. “I’ll check on her and let you know. Any idea what table she is on?”

“She started on 33.”

<P">Jaime went off looking for Sandy. Carmen finally let Rick go and he sheepishly came over to Tricia.

“I’m sorry I was late with your lunch.”

She was going to tease him but in the end let him off the hook saying, “It’s the thought that counts.”

“Did you get her phone number?” Kevin said, teasing Rick where Tricia wouldn’t.

“No,” Rick said. “Do you think she’d give it to me.” Then realizing what he’d said he looked down at Tricia in horror only to see her smiling and not looking upset like he thought she would.

The players were called back to their seats then.

Kevin looked at Rick, smiling, and said, “I’ll explain it to you later. For now lets let our star here continue to shine.”

Tricia blushed and shook her head at Kevin.

“Good luck,” Rick called out as they made their way away from the tables.

Carmen was talking to Carolyn and the way they both looked down at her let her know it had been her they had been discussing. Carolyn smiled and called “Good luck” as the dealer began to deal once again.

Chapter 27

Any Saturday night in most poker rooms is a busy night but the Saturday night before the main event starts the next Monday was exceptionally busy. There was an amazing array of games spread. Tricia paused to watch a seven card stud table for a while and at first it brought back memories of her youth when her older brother would allow her to play with him and his friends sometimes. They only played for pennies though and these people were playing for far more than that.

As she stood watching she wondered what Andy would think of her here. They were ten years apart and thus had never been terribly close. She had only been nine when her brother had left home. She had only found out in later years what the blow up between him and their parents had been about and since he lived in Texas now she seldom heard from him and had not seen him since he had surprised her by visiting shortly after Matty was born. It occurred to her that she’d probably never even mentioned her new found interest in poker to him in any of the brief notes included with recent birthday or Christmas cards.

A big yawn escaped her, reminding her that she had to be up early in the morning so she moved on in search of Rick. She was about to give up when she found him on a $20/$40 limit hold’em table. He was in a hand when she walked up to the table and smiled in acknowledgement before concentrating on the game. He scooped  a pot that had to be well over $300 Tricia estimated and then got up, telling the dealer he was going to take a break and to deal around him.

“You must be out if you’re here now,” Rick said. “I’m sorry.”

She shrugged. “I feel pretty good about it. I was only eight spots out of the money. I was short stacked all day and managed to claw my way along somehow. I went in with the best hand and got outdrawn. There is not much more I can do.”

Rick nodded agreement. “I’m ready for a break, want to take a walk? This is not a great place to try to talk.”

The noise level was high enough that while you didn’t have to shout to be heard you had to speak pretty loud. Tricia quickly agreed to take a walk. She was surprised though when Rick led them all the way out of the casino.

“It’s a nice night and I could use some fresh air. I try to get out of the casino at least once a day.” Rick quipped.

Tricia giggled at that and then said, “I thought you detested limit hold’em?”

Rick shook his head. “I think I said something along the lines of finding $4/$8 limit like watching paint dry. As you’ve found out even there you can make some money. I have enough of a bankroll to be willing to play higher limits. I do usually play no-limit but that game I’m in is a very juicy one. It’s nearly as loose as most $4/$8 games and five times the size. I’m up almost $800, that’s almost $200 an hour for the time I’ve been in it.”

“Wow!” Tricia exclaimed. “That is amazing but I think it would scare me. I know it would.”

“Well one day you’ll be ready for it mentally. You’re already ready for it from a skill sense I think.” Rick told her then said, “You’ve got to be getting to bed soon I guess with the ladies event in the morning huh?”

She nodded apologetically. “I do. I’m sorry. Honest I want to finish what we started. At least I think I do.”

“I’m sorry about the way that turned out. I really think it was just being tired and having a bit too much to drink. If that is why you only think you want to finish then I can say I hope to do better next time.”

Tricia felt herself blushing and was glad the light was not good enough for it to show probably. “I have no problems with that Rick. You made me feel wonderful. I do feel a little guilty I could not do the same for you. I said maybe because I am feeling guilty about it.”

“I may be about to step in it here,” Rick said cautiously, “But I’m going to ask anyway. Are you feeling guilty because you’re married or because Jaime is here?”

The question surprised Tricia at first but it was, she thought, a valid one. She’d told him about her and Jaime after all and now Rick had even started to get to know Jaime some.

Before she could answer Rick went on. “I have to admit that after Friday night and spending all that time with you and Jaime and Kevin at dinner and getting to know him some I’m feeling a little funny about it.”

“Oh?” Tricia was not sure if she was relieved to hear that or not. She felt both relief and disappointment.

“You told me about your affair with him and it’s pretty obvious that you still care about him. He obviously still cares about you. I don’t think I want to get in the middle. I like you a lot and he seems like a nice guy and now with meeting Kevin I’m liable to be around Jaime a fair amount. Can you see what I’m trying to say?”

Tricia had to smile. “Well it sounds like you’re maybe trying to say what Jaime did, that we should just be friends.”

Rick shot her a sharp look. “Jaime told you that you and I should just be friends? Did you tell him about the other night?”

“God no!” Tricia said quickly. “I didn’t mean that at all. I meant he says he and I should just be friends!”

“Oh, Ok.” Rick said. “I’m not much good at relationships. I have been married twice and screwed it up both times. Well I blame myself but friends kept telling me that it wasn’t my fault. Maybe it wasn’t, maybe it was. The bottom line is that it didn’t work. Traveling like I do now is not good for having a steady girl friend.”

“So you just meet some cute lonely young thing and seduce her and then move on,” Tricia said teasingly, hoping her smile would cause him to take it right.

He chuckled, obviously figuring out she was teasing. “Well they’re not all young.”

“Hey buster, you better not be talking about me there.”

Rick laughed. “You can dish it out but not take it?”

She laughed. “I’m allowed to tease you. You’re not allowed to tease back. That is standard women’s rules.”

“I think maybe I see why I couldn’t stay married.”

She chuckled. “Could be.”

“Seriously though I have been pretty happy just traveling around playing poker at the various tournaments. Until recently I wasn’t having all that much success in tournaments although I like them. Cash games are still my bread and butter. I do get lonely sometimes and sometimes I get lucky and meet somebody to spend some time with. I was a little surprised things developed the way they did between us. I really didn’t intend to seduce you.”

“It’s kind of sick but I’m not sure how much you did,” Tricia told him. “Things at home have been almost as bad as when I ended up meeting Jaime online. Then coming here, seeing Jaime and finding out that he wanted to be just friends so that what happened before would not happen again was tough kind of. I guess I’ll consider myself lucky if you don’t think I was using you.”

“That never even entered my mind,” Rick said, sounding surprised.

“It just occurred to me,” Tricia admitted. “Hell I’m all mixed up. For a while I was horny as hell. The longer I’m here the more I just get wrapped up in the poker. I had a blast today and really feel good aboutthe way I did. There has not been too much happen in my life the last couple of years to make me feel that way. Matty is about it and there are times I wonder if I’m even a good parent. I mean I left my child to come play poker, then I end up cheating on my husband again.”

Rick was looking at her in concern. “Tricia I think you’re being way too hard on yourself. You left your child for two weeks and you left him with grandparents who, from what you told me, adore him. You are taking a chance to try out something you like a lot and you’ve found out you can play on a high level.”

Tricia shrugged. “I still feel lousy for cheating on my husband. At least I think I do. On the other hand when I get home I think things will be better if only because I’ll at least be happy. It’s just that I know it’s wrong.”

“It’s not wrong to be happy. Mostly you’ll be happy because you did good playing. If what happened between you and I makes you unhappy I’m sorry. On the other hand if it’s something you needed then maybe it will sort of take an edge off that desire and make things more tolerable at home if you don’t spend all your time wallowing in guilt about it. It’s not like you’re thinking about leaving him for me….are you?”

Tricia laughed before she could stop it. “No Rick. I’m not. Don’t worry I’m not going to tell you that I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with you and want to travel the tournament circuit together.”

He shrugged. “There are worse things but while I don’t know you all that well yet that doesn’t sound like you. For what it’s worth while I guess it would be nice with the right person by my side I mostly like doing it alone. Don’t take that wrong please.”

She smiled at him and shook her head. “I understand. Just being here alone for two weeks has shown me that it would be a kind of nice life maybe. I’m not sure about doing it all the time and I do love Matty and want to be there forhim most of the time anyway so I could never do it.”

“Kids grow up Tricia. You can’t do it now, no. Down the road when he heads off for college things could be different.”

“I can’t think that far ahead,” Tricia said, yawning again. “Crap I keep doing that.”

“It’s late and you have to get up early. You should go to bed. Alone.”

She looked at him for a long moment and nodded. “Tonight I’m going alone. That may not always be the case.”

“And if I’m the lucky one when you’re not alone I’ll be happy.” Rick said. “Now get your butt to bed. I’ll check on you tomorrow. I have a feeling you’ll have several people checking on you.”

“Yeah.” Tricia marveled at that. She’d not been sure what to expect when she planned to come to the event. Nothing like what had happened had been part of what she thought might happen.

Impulsively Tricia flung herself against him, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him tightly. He returned the hug and she felt him kiss her on the top of the head. She stepped back and smiled up at him.

“Thank you for putting up with all my confused emotions about things. I know I’m a bit of a mess.”

He put his hand in the middle of her back, gently propelling her toward the hotel entrance. “My pleasure. Now sleep well ok? If you don’t go soon, or if you hug me like that again, you may not make it to bed alone.”

She thought about testing that but somehow knew it would not be the right thing to do. She laughed and walked quickly toward the hotel. A quick look back showed Rick standing in the same spot watching her with a slight smile on his face. Her smile grew broader and she resisted the temptation to skip the rest of the way like a little kid. At the moment she could not remember feeling this happy for a long, long, time.

Chapter 26

They completed Tricia’s buy in with a little less than half an hour to spare before the start of the tournament. It had all happened fast enough that Tricia didn’t really even have time to get nervous. Kevin had wished her good luck as soon as they were done and then went off to visit with some other people. Tricia didn’t want to spend the next half hour sitting at the table waiting for the tournament to start so she wandered around the live action area.

She saw Gary at one of the no-limit tables and went over to say hi.

“Hey there Tricia!” Gary said when she said hello to get his attention. “Pull up a chair for a bit.”

“I can’t stay long. I’m in today’s event.”

“Hey! Did you win another satellite?” Gary asked enthusiastically as a few of the players looked up at her.

She shook her head. “Nah, it must be my lucky week. First you offer to buy me into the ladies event so Sandy will play and now Kevin James made me a deal I could not resist for today’s event.”

“Hey now! You’re moving up in the world if he’s making you a deal of any sort.” Gary said, sounding impressed.

“I guess. I hope I don’t screw up. I want to make the most of this chance.”

“Well now you already cashed in one event didn’t you? And I lost track of how many satellites you’ve won. I’d say you should just keep doing what you’re doing.” Gary told her.

“Kevin James paid your buy in for today’s event?” one of the players asked her. “How much of a percentage is he getting for that? Or is he getting a percentage at all?”

The question was not asked particularly nicely and Tricia knew very well that the player was implying that Kevin had paid her entry fee in exchange for sexual favors. She was about to respond when Gary stood up and did it.

“Hey now. That was uncalled for. Tricia here is an excellent player. Good enough to be IN today’s event unlike some people here,” Gary said in a quiet voice that managed to sound fairly menacing.

 Tricia had not realized just how BIG Gary was until now.

She put her hand on Gary’s arm. “Thank you Gary but I can take care of myself.” Then she looked at the player who had asked the question. “The deal we made is between him and I and none of your business. I’ll mention to Kevin though that you seem to think he may need to pay for female companionship. Of course if that’s the only way you can get it then I guess I can see why you might assume everybody has to. Somehow I doubt Kevin James has to resort to that.”

The player looked like he was going to say something but a look from Gary shut him up.

“Gary I have to go. Good luck to you today.” Tricia said, her heart pounding, but proud of herself for the way she’d stuck up for herself.

“Knock ‘em dead Tricia. I’ll be around to check and see how you’re doing later.  How about breakfast with Sandy and I in the morning before the ladies event?”

“Ok,” Tricia said. “Around 7:30?”

“Kind of early isn’t it?” Gary asked.

“Well the tournament starts at 9:00 because it’s only one day. I don’t want to have to rush.” After she said that she had another thought. “Crap I just thought of something.”

“What’s that?” Gary asked.

“What am I going to do if I get deep enough in this event today to have to finish up tomorrow afternoon?”

Gary smiled. “I’d say you should be grateful when and if you have that problem. I won’t hold you to playing tomorrow if it comes to that.”

“I’d pay you the buy in back,” Tricia said. “I feel bad though. When I agreed to play I didn’t think I was playing today.”

“I know,” Gary assured her. “don’t worry about it now. Just go do your best.”

“Well ok,” Tricia said. She walked off quickly toward her table in the tournament area but she was worrying about her newest dilemma. She looked around at the tournament area and had to laugh at herself.

“What, pray tell, is so funny?”

She turned and saw Jaime sitting at a nearby table. She went over to stand near him.

“Did I tell you that I had a deal with somebody to play the ladies event tomorrow?”

Jaime nodded. “You mentioned it last night.”

“Well a couple of minutes ago I started worrying that I would do so well in this that if I’m also doing well in that I’d be in both tournaments tomorrow at 4:00 in the afternoon. Then walking through here I kinda flashed back to how intimidated I was just a few days ago when I first walked into this room. Seems to me I’m being pretty cocky thinking I’ve got any problem at all. What are the chances that I’ll do that well in both tournaments?”

Jaime had smiled more and more broadly as she talked. “I’d say with you obviously starting to expect to do well or at least planning to do well you have a great chance. As for what to do you’ll just have to wait and see. I hope you have to figure out a solution personally. If it comes down to it I’m sure something can be worked out.”

Tricia smiled. “I can’t believe how this is going. So much has happened.”

Jaime nodded. “You’re doing well and I’m proud of you. You’d better get to your table though.”

The tournament director was starting to go through the pre-tournament instructions and Tricia hustled over to her seat, showed her entry receipt to the dealer and sat down, looking at the other players, none of whom she really recognized.

Looking back on it as the dinner break approached Tricia realized she had started off playing somewhat timidly and mentally kicked herself for the chips it had cost her. She’d been just plain lucky to recover them when, short stacked and in the big blind, she had picked up pocket kings and a larger stack on the button had tried to steal the blinds by putting her all in. She had quickly called and her kings had help up to double her up and get her back on the road to a decent sized stack.

There were only a few hands until the dinner break and she had a slightly larger than average chip stack and probably two thirds of the field had already fallen by the wayside. She looked around and was pleased to see just eight tables left of the original 27. A quick look told her that Jaime and Kevin were still in.

She’d seen Rick get up, obviously out, just a bit before. He’d caught her eye and shrugged as if to say “I did what I could.” Kevin had called him over and said something to him and then she’d seen him walk off.

There was a huge commotion on the last hand before the dinner break. The clock was already at zero and Tricia had stood up. She looked toward the source of the commotion and saw Kevin standing behind his chair. She was near enough to get where she couldsee the table. A player had Kevin all-in with a weaker hand and had gotten lucky on the flop. Kevin had to get one of the two remaining queens in the deck on either the turn or the river or he was done. The turn was no help and Tricia felt his disappointment in the pit of her stomach. The dealer inadvertently added to the drama when he fumbled the river card face down. When he flipped it up the people now crowded around the table cheered loudly when the queen of diamonds turned up. Kevin sagged with relief and shook his opponent’s hand.

He’d seen Tricia and moved over beside her. “That was close. How in the hell he could call my all-in with that trash I don’t know and then when he got lucky I thought I was dead.”

“Aren’t you the one who told me that you have to get lucky at least a few times to win one of these? You did there and I’m glad,” Tricia said.

Kevin laughed. “Yes indeed. I just hope I haven’t used it up. I’m going to need more luck. How are you holding up? Still hanging in there I see.”

“About average, maybe slightly above.”

“Excellent,” Kevin said reaching over to ruffle her hair lightly. “Ready for dinner? When Rick busted out I asked him to go down and get us a table and order for us. They give us so freaking little time for dinner that is pretty much the only way we’re going to eat unless you want one of the sandwiches that have been sitting in the food cart yonder all afternoon getting soggy.”

“Is there anything you don’t think of?” Tricia asked.

“Of course not. I’m perfect. Didn’t you know that?” Kevin said with a straight face.

“Oh brother. And here I was trying to compliment you.”

“Don’t do that,” Jaime said, joining them in time to hear the last part of their exchange. “His ego is big enough as it is. What has he done worthy of a compliment?”

“Well until you insulted me I was going to invite you to dinner at a table I arrange for and even pre-ordered food. But since you are gonna be like that then you can just have a soggy sandwich.” Kevin told Jaime with a grin.

“Oh come on,” Tricia said, eyes twinkling in merriment, “Give him a chance to apologize and get a good meal. Besides if you feed him well he may play better and then you make more money if he cashes.”

“Damn I hate a smart woman,” Kevin quipped.

Tricia elbowed him and said, “Well get used to it buster!”

“Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?” Kevin asked trying to keep a straight face and failing in the end when he started to laugh. “I’ve met my match. Come on and lets get dinner. We’ll see how Rick did ordering. I told him to keep it light and mix it up. There should be something everybody likes. We really don’t have much time. I really don’t see why they don’t give us more time.”

They picked up one more of Kevin’s players along the way, a quiet guy named Paul who Tricia thought was cute in a baby faced way. She also thought he must get carded ever time a security person saw him because she would have put him as being still in high school.


Dinner, of necessity, went quickly. Rick had ordered a variety of things and they sort of ended up eating an impromptu buffet. When Paul had asked why they hadn’t just eaten at the buffet Jaime, Kevin and Rick laughed and Rick told him that he’d seen the line super long on the way to grab the table they had. There was really no time to socialize or even talk about any hands. They ate and ran. Kevin dumped a hundred on the table and told Rick to give him any change left after a good tip next time he got a chance.


Tricia held back long enough to speak to Rick briefly.

“I’m sorry you went out.”

He shrugged and then grinned. “Me too. How are you doing?”

“About average.”

“But with only seventy some players left you’re in good shape.” He pointed out.

She nodded. “I’m sorry about last night.”

He looked at her quizzically. “Why? We had a good time. At least I thought you did too.”

“I did but I thought you were hoping for something more.”

Rick smiled. “Well it would have been nice. You’re still willing if it works out? If you’re playing the ladies tournament tomorrow you’re going to have to go to bed early tonight you know.”

“Yeah, and what if I do well in this and have to finish this tomorrow afternoon?”

“Well hell I wish I had such problems!” Rick chuckled. “Don’t worry about  that now, just get back there and try to play well enough to cause yourself a problem ok? You’d better get back.”

“Ok, that’s what everybody says so I guess I will just not worry about it.”

Rick laughed. “Bull, you will. But don’t let it affect your play. Good luck!”

Tricia had to walk very fast to get back and then came within a hair’s breath of missing the first hand. She looked at her cards and threw them away, wondering why she had walked so fast. She grinned and looked around the table marveling at how good she felt to be where she was.


There were now thirty five players left and it was nearly midnight. Tricia was starting to see another potential problem. She might not get much sleep tonight. The biggest problem was that she was on an extremely short stack after having a horrible run of cards that had only allowed her to win two very small pots in the last hour. The tournament paid down to 27 players and she really wanted in the worst way to hang on while eight more players went out. She knew she didn’t have enough chips to just sit on them though and besides even if she did she’d be so incredibly short stacked that although she’d be in the money she’d have almost no chance to advance into the higher paying spots.

With four tables left and empty tables on all the edges it was easy to get a feel for who was still left. Jaime and Kevin were still in it. Kevin looked to have a big stack and she couldn’t see Jaime’s. They were, unfortunately she thought, on the same table now.

Seizing what she thought might be her best opportunity she pushed all-in hoping really to just steal the blinds and ante’s which at this point were considerable. Unfortunately she got called by the big blind who had plenty of chips and apparently felt like taking the chance that Tricia on the short stack was desperate and was making a move with a weak hand.

While that was sort of the case her hand was still better than the big blind’s but when he flopped the nut straight she found herself drawing nearly dead with only the hope of a split. The turn card ended that hope and the river could not help her. Just like that she was out. She stood there for a second automatically shaking her opponent’s offered hand and murmuring ‘good hand’ even though she wasn’t really paying attention and didn’t really mean it anyway.

She turned away and Kevin caught her eye as he gestured at her to come over. She went toward him as he mucked his hand and stood up.

“I saw,” he said, “tough break but you did the right thing. From what I could see you did the right thing all day.”

Tricia shrugged. “I started out bad. I was playing scared I think. I did get it back together though.”

“Yes you did. A couple of people who were at tables with you and ended up with me later commented on your play and it was all favorable. You do realize you’re the last lady standing in this one?”

She looked around and had to smile at that. “Wow. I had no idea.”

“You done good kid,” Kevin said with a smile.

“Kid? Flattery might just get you everywhere.” Tricia said.

“Hold that thought. And play just like you did today tomorrow and you’ll do well. Good luck tomorrow.”

“Thanks and good luck to you tonight. I wish I could stay and watch but I probably ought to get to bed.”

Kevin nodded. “Yeah you’re not like us young guys. You need your sleep.”

Tricia snorted. “You know what I said about flattery getting you everwhere? Well forget it!”

Kevin was chuckling. “Go say good night to Jaime and go to bed. Rick is probably playing live action.”

“Are you implying that I should go find him?” Tricia asked incredulously.

“Did I say that? I just thought you might want to tell him how you did. You’ve obviously become friends here at this tournament.”

Tricia eyed Kevin suspiciously but he had to dart back to his seatto play his next hand so there was no point in a retort.

She spent a short time tellingJaime good night and then walked over toward the cash game area in search of Rick.