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Dying Man's Poker: A Short Story

Updated on December 13, 2016
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The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


Martin Philbert, frumpy old, bedrazzled academic that he was, stood outside his apartment door. Patting himself for his keys. Only to find them where he always kept them. Inside left breast pocket.

He scooped up his pile of books and exam papers and entered his apartment. He saw a giraffe, a rhinoceros, a gorilla, an ape, and a lion sitting around his table. Apparently playing cards. Smoking cigars and everything.

"Martin Philbert?" the rhinoceros said.

The good professor said nothing. Couldn't find the words just then.

"He must be," said the giraffe.

"Sure," the gorilla said.

"Indeed he must be," said the ape.

"He has a key to this apartment," said the lion.

"I say, old man," said the rhinoceros, "do come in and shut the door, won't you? That's a good chap."

"A bit of a draft," said the giraffe.

"You're not afraid, are you?" said the lion. "We won't hurt or anything like that."

"I know that," Professor Philbert said, finding his voice. "You're not even real. Strange though, I'm not a man who uses stimulants."

"You're partially right, Professor," the giraffe said. "We're not 'real' in the strictly material sense."

"But our presence is most concrete nevertheless, I assure you," said the rhinoceros.

"And if we wanted to...." said the ape.

"We could hurt you," said the gorilla.

"Severely," said the lion.

"But you don't want to?" said the professor.

"No," the menagerie said in unison.

"What's happening to me?" asked the professor.

"Come in and sit down. Let's talk," said the giraffe.

The professor came in, shut the door, and sat down with the menagerie. They were all smoking their cigars and keeping one eye on their cards.

The giraffe said, "If you were a religious man, the grim reaper might be here instead of us."

"There might be an angel or two," said the lion, "come to whisk you away, up into the clouds," in a sing-song that sounded strange coming from a lion.

"But you're not," said the gorilla.

"And so you've got us instead," said the ape.

"Why... all this?" said Professor Philbert.

The giraffe said, "New game. Let me have the cards, everyone."

The giraffe collected the cards, shuffled them, and placed the deck before the good professor. "Cut for deal, professor?"

"This was the last thing you were thinking about before....," said the rhinoceros. "Don't you remember?"

Come to think of it. Now that the professor exerted himself, he could vaguely recall. Martin Philbert was a professor of philosophy. A strange question came up in class this afternoon.

Yes. A student had asked: 'What kind of abilities would we find, if we educated animals?' Yes, that was it! Ludicrous question.

But instead of using his superior analytic abilities to tear it to shreds, showing it for the rubbish that it was, he had entertained it. Had taken it seriously. Had thought aloud on it.

Wonder of all wonders, Professor Philbert had even said something funny. And the students had laughed. Not at him. Snickering they way they do behind his back. But in appreciation.

He must have, at some point, light-heartedly conceptualized something like this -- this scene he was taking part in.

Very curious. The last five years he had been... not quite not himself but enhanced in some ways. Been doing things he'd never done before. Had feelings and urges that he'd never had before. Or at least had never admitted.

Had done something about them. To the delight of himself and others!

Professor Philbert had not sought professional consultation. He felt just fine. Marvelous! Brilliant! The professor felt better than he ever had all his life!

He held out two fingers in a scissors motion. A cigar was slipped between them as he had wordlessly demanded. The gorilla slid a glass of cognac in front of him.

The professor expertly clipped the cigar and lit it. He had never smoked before five years ago. Now he leaned back and inhaled orgasmically, closing his eyes. He let out the plume through his nose.

"You know, there should be an orangutan," said Professor Philbert.

"Very good," said the giraffe, making a sound the professor thought was giraffe-laughing.

"He'll be along," said the rhinoceros. "He's getting the beer and pizza."

"So, what's going on with me?" he said.

"Well," the giraffe said. "the thing is, you're having a heart attack." His eyes drifted over where the living room couch was.

"What?!" Professor Philbert rose for the couch.

"Better not," said the gorilla. "It'll hurt."

The professor went over to the couch and looked. He saw himself, trembling, slightly twitching. Professor Philbert gulped in pain and clutched his chest.

"I told you it would hurt," said the gorilla, leading him back to his chair.

"Never mind, professor, " said the giraffe. "Let's just sit here, play a few hands until..."

"Until what?" said Professor Philbert.

"Depending on how things go," said the ape, "one or both of you will be leaving with us."


The titanium-reinforced truck slammed through the wall of the gang's hideout. The three occupants emerged and attacked the stunned, leather-clad, studded-collared, tattooed denizens immediately. Without preamble. Without hesitation. Without mercy.

A man emerged shooting. He tended to shoot the men in the groin, chest, and head. In that combination. He gave the women a break, merely burying two or three in the chest. He reloaded constantly.

A pit bull emerged and did his thing. He flew from throat to throat. Wrapping that jaw around. Snapping the necks with a single bite and twist.

Then the hockey-masked, seven-foot giant got out of the truck, and did his thing. Glancing in his direction from time to time, the shooter, who'd been a Catholic a long time ago, would reflexively cross himself.

The giant grabbed two big men around the waist. Hoisted them high into the air. One man in each arm. Backs to him. Then the giant fell backward.

They call that move a 'suplex' on the wrestling shows on t.v. But this move was real. The giant drove their heads into the floor. Almost took them off. Literally.

He got up and pursued a man who ran through a door. The giant was on him right away and punched through the door, clutching the man's necklace. Pulled him through the wooden door with one hand. Choked him to death.

Many of the gang members fired many bullets at the giant. Dozens of them had found their mark. But to no effect. He was already dead.

The shooter surveyed the carnage. Looked like just about everybody was dead. And miserably so. But he heard footsteps. He saw a man running out of the corner of his eye.

"Looks like we got a runner," he said. Bending down next to the dog he said, "Get 'em boy, go!"

The man didn't get very far at all.

Back at headquarters the lone-surviving gang member was tied up in a chair. In the middle of a bare, dimly lit room. The shooter was seated before him. Sharpening a small knife with a whet stone.

"What's your name, son?"

Through a considerable amount of fretful mumbling, it came out that the young man's name was 'Frank.' Or 'Hank'. Or was it 'Tank' or 'Crank'? Something like that. It didn't really matter.

"Well, son, my name is Chase. I'd like to ask you a few questions, if that'd be alright."


Later, the seven-foot giant got out of the truck. He had a black bodybag containing the body of Frank, Hank, Crank, or Tank, or something like that. Along with several iron barbell plates. He threw the package into the river. Got back into the truck. And the three of them drove off into the night.


The man's name was Julius Winston III. An aristocratic name for a man of such a sordid profession.

He sat on the terrace of his penthouse apartment. One of several. The view of the city skyline was glorious tonight. As it had been most nights.

He had little to complain about. Had a good run. Fun while it lasted and all that. He'd made more money than his father could have with a dozen lifetimes as a truck driver.

Julius had reached the pinnacle. Money. More money. Property. Women. Young men when he felt like it. He had commanded the respect, and even more gratifyingly, the fear of others.

Now it was all over. Now the Reavers, who had backed him, were coming to kill him. And there was nothing he could do about it. He did not have the usual options for an attempt at self-preservation: flight or suicide.

The Reavers had assured him that if he did that, his family would pay the price in agony.

Julius's family had helped him in his business. The usual story. Praised him when the money was rolling in. Cursed him when their luck had turned bad.

Now his family were gone. Hiding under federal witness protection. Plastic surgery, new faces. New names, new papers.

But the Reavers knew the new identities and where they were: wife in Seattle, Washington; brother in Ontario, Canada; cousin in Tiujana, Mexico; mother in southern Spain. And so on.

The Reavers promised that if Julius came along quietly, when they came for him, they would not pursue his family.


In the bowels of the warehouse Chase had completed another round of blindfolded target practice. He stalked about, using only his hearing as a guide. Cardboard cutouts came rolling along tracks.

Chase had nailed all of them at least once. He scored the one-two-three combination of groin-chest-head on seventy-nine out of one hundred targets. With all of that reloading in between. Pretty damn good. He was getting better, in fact.

Still blindfolded, he disassembled and reassembled his gun.

Another thing Chase was good at was an in-born talent. It was something the white man called 'voodoo.'

Like most of what passed for the occult, most so-called 'voodoo' was nonsense, of course. But his auntie Mamie's power was real. And Chase had her blood running through his veins.

He'd discovered it when he was a boy. There was a little bird, who'd been killed by a cat. Chase shooed the cat away and picked up the bird. He'd felt sorry for the pretty little thing..... who then revived and flew away.

It was not an unlimited, unconditional power to raise the dead. Chase had the power to revive anyone who had been unjustly murdered, for a time. His auntie Mamie used to tell him that the revived, known as 'zombies' in the white man's folklore, had reinforced the ranks of Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacque Dessalines, as they drove off the French from Haiti in 1804.

Chase's friend, Jamil X, had been a professional basketball player. A benchwarmer with the Houston Rockets until he blew his knee out. One night he'd been stopped in the state of Oregon. The state police pulled him over.

They said that Jamil, who had never been in trouble his whole life, had vaguely 'fit the description' of a man who been pulling carjackings along that stretch of highway. As he was reaching for his identification, six officers pumped 48 bullets into his body before it hit the ground.

At least a dozen of those bullets had gotten him in the face. The officers planted crack cocaine and a sawed-off shotgun at the scene. The case was ruled a 'justifiable homicide.'

Shortly after the funeral Chase raised him.

"Who disturbs my rest?" a revived Jamil had said.

"It's me, J, Chase."



"Why have you summoned me, Chase?"

"I need your help, old friend. I have need of your great power of righteous rage and spirit of vengeance."


What in the world could have given Julius Winston III the idea that he could rip off the Reavers?! Using too much of the product he was supposed to be selling, that's what!

The thing he was most sorry about, though, was what he'd done to Jake. Young guy in grad school. Young wife and new baby at home. Jake needed money real bad.

Not only had Julius deceived him. Not only had he made Jake think the job he offered him was legal. Not only had he set up a scam to skim a little extra off the top from his deals. Not only had he set up Jake to take the fall with the Reavers.

Not only had Julius taken his wife away from him. He and Rachel had been real good friends from way back. Back when Julius had just been a punk. Back before he made the connection with the Reavers and become a big man.

Julius had been the biological father of the baby girl Jake was raising as his own.


The festivities came to an end when the giant kicked one of the men in the stomach. The man went flying backward ten feet. The dog gorged his throat. Chase put a bullet in his ear.

The runner, the sole survivor was always a man. Chase made sure that any women present were killed as quickly as possible. Without undue suffering. He was loathe to do to a woman, what he was prepared to do to a man, to get the information he needed.

"Get him boy," Chase said. "Go get him."


Julius Winston III partially redeemed himself by getting Jake, at least, out of this whole mess. Not by hiding the whole person of Jake, if you include his body. No, you couldn't hide a body from the Reavers.

He did the next best thing. He hired a Voodoo-man to remove and transplant the soul of Jake. Into the body of a living, breathing human being! His soul would live on as long as his host lived on.

Julius had been lucky to find the guy. Only a very small number of Voodoo-men had the skill.

And, incidentally, there was even a vague hope that Jake could enjoy a corporeal existence once again. Maybe his soul could be re-transplanted into another body. One all his own. Julius had heard that a still smaller number of Voodoo-men could raise the dead. Raise zombies!

But it wasn't something Julius could afford to dwell on. He hadn't the time to plan that far ahead. The thing to do was to get Jake's soul to safety. To spare him from feeling the pain.

When the Reavers had found Jake's body, Julius wondered, what all had they done to it, and for how long before they were sure nobody was home?

The doorbell rang. Julius answered it. Standing there were three gentlemen in exquisitely tailored suits.

The shortest of the three men, who stood in front said, "Hello, Julius. Ready to go?"


Paul LeDuc was a baker by trade. He owned a half dozen such establishments. He did alright in the bakery trade. But he was considerably more prosperous than he appeared on the surface. He practiced a little Voodoo on the side.

His bulky form did not so much walk as near-waddle along. He near-waddled to the front door of the four out of five star building. He nodded politely to the doorman who opened the door for him. He somehow made it to the elevator.

On the way up he wondered, again, if he really shouldn't lose some weight, after all. The same rebuttal came that always came. That would mean he would have to restrict his intake of food! WHICH HE LOVED SO MUCH!

It came to him that a better idea might be to get one of those motorized scooters.

He was on his way up to see his three favorite prostitutes: Candy, Mariah, and June. It took three or more for a man of his size.

Paul LeDuc was a pig. He knew it. And revelled in it.

He got out of the elevator and made his way to his suite door. Waddle-Waddle-Waddle....

He opened the door, went inside and turned on the light.

Instead of being greeted by his three favorite gals, he was greeted by Chase and Company.

Chase said, "We have killed and tortured a lot of people to get your name. I'm hoping you can help us, by telling me what became of my cousin's soul."

The End.


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