I was tired, bored, and thirsty when I saw the neon sign of the roadhouse up ahead. I pulled my truck into the parking lot and went in. I had been driving for 12 hours straight, and it felt really good to be able to stretch my legs.
It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the low light in there. As I stepped to the side out of the way of the door and waited for my vision to adjust, my nose was assaulted by the distinct odor that permeated the air of the joint. An aroma that any biker, trucker, or oilfield roughneck would instantly recognize. A smell compounded of spilled beer, stale vomit, old sweat, and a coppery tinge of blood.
I felt right at home.
I walked over to the bar.
"Beer." I said to the bartender when he came over.
He filled a thick glass mug and set it in front of me without taking his hand off of it. "Buck fifty." he grunted. I slapped a couple of dollar bills on the counter. "Keep it." I said when he started to make change.
He nodded and turned back to serve another customer.
I found a table where I could put my back to the wall and see the door. I could see whoever came in the door before their eyes could adjust enough to see me clearly.
Not that I was too worried, I had a snub nosed .357 magnum revolver under my coat, and a couple of knives and a straight razor cached in various places on my person.
My dad told me long ago, "Son, it's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it."
Good advice for anyone.
I was packing a considerable amount of cash, most of it in a money belt under my shirt. A little over 30 grand that represented everything I could save and scrimp together from the last 20 years. What I wore and the contents of my truck were all I had in the world. I had never felt freer in my life.
The one waitress came by occasionally to refill my beer, and once, to bring me a burger and fries. I leaned back against the wall and listened to the house band cover classic rock bands. They were actually pretty good.
When they took a break, I sent them a couple of pitchers of beer via the waitress.
I watched a guy come in and sit down at a table not far from mine. We exchanged nods, but didn't speak. He was soon joined by a handful of other guys, and pretty soon there was a poker game going on.
I watched the action for a while. Only one of the guys was any good, however I had spotted his 'tells' after only a dozen hands.
When a couple of the guys went broke, I lifted my beer in a salute to the guy who had first sat down.
"Feel like joining us?" he asked.
"Sure." I said. I took my beer over and sat down. I chose the chair that put my back to the wall again.
A big biker-looking dude at the table noted this and grinned. "Good, I like a careful man."
"5 card draw is the game." said the dealer. "Nothing wild. $5 ante, table stakes."
I nodded and took a couple of hundred from my wallet. I could see the dealer practically drool when he saw the cash.
"Deal 'em." I said.
I lost the first hand to a full house. Won the second with two pairs, and the game was on. I was slightly ahead when one of the other guys went bust. A guy trying to look like a cowboy, and failing, took his place. His one redeeming quality was that he did however have a really cute girlfriend.
She took a seat at the table I had just vacated. Her boyfriend didn't give her a second glance. When the waitress came back, I gave her a $50 and told her to give the girl whatever she wanted to drink or eat, and to keep the change to start a tab for her.
The girl's boyfriend ignored the exchange.
As the game progressed, the cowboy wanna-be lost steadily. He won a few small pots, which kept him interested and in the game.
Then, a couple of hours after he sat into the game, the dude got what he thought was a good hand, and he started betting heavily. The others folded fairly quickly. When it was down to just me and him, I raised him $500. He counted the money in front of him. He had less than$50 left.
"Listen, I have the pink slip to my car with me. I'll put that up against your $500." He said.
I shook my head No. "I have a brand new truck outside. I can't drive two cars at once."
He looked at his hand and bit his lip. "OK, I'll bet my girlfriend against your 500 bucks."
The other players roared with laughter at that suggestion. His girlfriend was furious.
She jumped to her feet. "What the Hell do you think you're doing trying to use me as stakes in a poker game?"
I looked over at her. "No sweat. When I win you, I'll settle for just you having dinner with me tonight."