The Fours

Look, I really don’t care what you think of me. If you want to call me names, you won’t come up with anything I haven’t heard already from my ex-wife. Or my boss. Really I don’t give a damn. I don’t give a damn about much in general, so don’t expect me to get excited about your questions and concerns. Fine, I’ll sit here in your counseling rooms and do my community service. But stuff like this happens. Don’t give me none of your damn sermons about public safety and drinking while driving. Alright, I fucked up. It happens. Hell, if you guys really wanted to go after someone who’s a threat to society, you ought to follow my old friend Burt. God, what a loser! The only reason you won’t find him in here for DUI is because he’s so drunk he can’t get off the couch. He used to go out to the bars, but he got in so many fights that now he just stays home.

Nah, he didn’t used to be that way. He was a pretty basic guy till about 3 years ago. I think it was the fours that did it. Those damn fours.

Aw, it’s a long story. And it’s no big deal really. They just all took it too seriously. All of ‘em. Maybe even Sam, but who knows about him. Burt certainly took it too seriously. God, what a loser!

Sure, it was the fours. It was poker night. You know: Thursday’s poker night, Friday’s date night. My wife understood. I was late that night, since I had one of those extra projects my boss used to hand me, back before he became a jerk, and so Burt and Sam were already at Billy’s; Sam was sipping his second beer. Burt didn’t drink much back then. I think he knew he couldn’t handle the alcohol. Should have never started.

Anyways, so I’m late and the guys want to jump to playing right away. No big deal. We play a few hands, nobody’s winning anything yet. You know, it’s just small pots. Couldn’t have been more than ten hands in and Billy deals. He loves his 5-card stud, so we gotta play stud. First card’s down, then come the up cards. Sam gets a four; no big deal. Burt gets a four, and Billy – always talking too much – spouts the usual “There goes Sam’s pair.” Then I get a four and we all groan and laugh. Still, it’s no big deal.

Well, then Billy gets the last four, and Burt yells at him. “Crapo, Billy,” Burt says (I remember the ‘crapo’), “maybe shuffle next time.” Well, Billy starts protesting that he did shuffle and blah, blah, blah, and me, I’m trying to explain that it isn’t really any different than two eights, a six and a queen. You know what I mean? It’s just a sequence of cards. Shut up, I says. “Deal the cards,” I says, “but if anybody gets another four, then I’m protesting.” I’m funny, see?

Well, we got through the hand OK. I don’t remember who won, but nobody had a pair of fours. But then – and why the hell he did this I’ll never guess – Sam went and played stud. Sam never plays stud. So why’d he do it? Why’d that asshole do it? He never told us. ‘Course Sam never talked much anyways.

So Sam plays stud. He shuffles – I saw him shuffle – and the down cards come around. Strange how Sam seems nervous, like he somehow seems to know what’s gonna happen. He throws to Burt and damned if it isn’t a four. Me and Burt laugh. Me, and it’s another damn four. Somehow we aren’t laughing. Burt cusses; Billy says “That’s impossible.” I’m the only calm guy at the table. This time, I explain, it has to be the shuffling. After the last hand all the fours were close together in the deck, right? So having two consecutive fours is no surprise. I explain it to the guys. But Burt sits there cussing; Billy’s shaking his head. And Sam, Sam’s just quiet. Then all of us turn quiet, just looking at Sam. Almost like he’s scared, Sam bends the next card up and looks at it. Bam! He slams the cards down like they’re poisoned, throws his chair back and stands up, just staring at the deck.

No, that wasn’t the end of it. Burt’s just pissed off. “Jesus!” he says, “What the hell’s wrong with you?” And he grabs the deck. “Let me have the cards,” he says to us. “Sit down Sam,” he orders. I notice he doesn’t look at the top card, but gathers the few cards already dealt and starts shuffling. He shuffles 10, 15 times, cussing and mumbling the whole time. Sam’s still standing there as Burt finishes, and Burt stares at him all angry. “Sit down Sam,” he orders again, and Sam finally does.

“Here,” says Burt, “we’re gonna play some damn 5-card stud,” and he deals. Four cards down, and he stops, gets the next four cards ready at the top of the deck. Then, rapid-fire-like, he throws them down to us: bam, bam, bam, bam. Four goddam fours!

“Shit!” Burt yells and throws the cards across the table. They scatter all over, half of them across the end of the table and all over Billy. He just sits there as if he’s letting them wash across him. Sam, too, is quiet, putting his head in his hands. Burt leaps up. “What the fuck is wrong with those cards,” he yells. Nobody says nothing.

Slowly, deliberately, Billy picks the cards off himself and lays them up on the table. He turns them all up, and then starts gathering the ones off the floor, turning them up onto the pile. Softly, easily, like he’s whispering almost, he says, “Look at the cards, you guys. Look at ‘em.” And he’s right. There’s nothing wrong with the cards. They’re just cards: eights, kings, sixes, clubs, diamonds, spades. They’re just cards.

Finally Sam talks, and, as if me and Burt weren’t even there, he turns to Billy. “What does it mean, Billy?” he asks.

Billy starts saying, “I don’t know,” but, well, by then I was a little impatient. “It don’t mean shit, Sam,” I says. “They’re cards. Just fucking cards. Statistics. It’s statistics. Cards come up and sometimes they’re fours. That’s all.”

Well, yes, I guess I did cuss like that. OK, I’m a little pissed off. Not like Burt, though, who’s gone practically loony on us. So yes, I’m a little angry, and I grab the cards, sweeping them up in front of me. “Look, guys,” I say, “I’m gonna play this damn hand and you’re gonna sit here and play it with me.” I turn the cards over, we all search the floor to make sure we got them all, and I mix ‘em in a pile. I mix the hell out of ‘em, finally pushing them together into a deck. “Shuffled, right?” I says. “OK. Five-card stud.”

I deal. Four cards down. First card up goes to Billy: four of spades. “Shit!” Burt yells; Billy and Sam are quiet. “Shut up, Burt,” I say, and I keep dealing. Card to Sam: four of diamonds. Burt just explodes with cussing. “Shut up, Burt!” I say with a lot more force in my voice. I throw Burt’s card: the goddam four of hearts! Well, that does it for all three of them pussies. Billy’s got his face in his hands; Sam’s trembling, practically whimpering. Burt’s standing up again, cussing like hell. “This is shit!” he’s yelling. “I’m out of here!” I stare that motherfucker down. “Sit down, Burt,” I say with a voice like cold steel. “Sit down and shut up. I am playing this hand and so are you. Sit the fuck down!”

No, it wasn’t funny. I’m laughing now at those assholes. Me, I was the only sane guy at the table. I was gonna finish that damn hand and get on with poker.

So Burt sits, but you can see he’s fuming. I start pulling the next card up and it’s Sam who talks. “Don’t play it, Bob,” he says to me. “Please.” I swear the guy’s crying. Never saw such fear in him before; never saw him without it later. There he was, just begging me to quit. I look at Billy. He’s not really looking at me, but staring at the deck of cards in my hands. It’s strange, but it’s like he’s hungry. It’s like he has to know. Burt’s still mumbling, but he sits down. I look again at Sam, and it’s like he’s crying, staring into my eyes. Finally it’s Burt that says, “Go ahead, play it,” and he adds, “but if that’s the other four, I’m leaving and never coming back.”

Yep, I admit, I hesitated. It was Sam, so afraid, staring into my eyes like that. I look at the other guys, staring at the deck in my hands, waiting for me to play. Then I scanned the table, saw those fours, those fours yelling at me, calling me a coward. I’d said I’d play the hand, damn it, and I played it. I played it.

It was the four of clubs.

Burt threw over his chair so hard that it gouged a chunk out of the wall. He stomped out of the dining room and to the couch, grabbed his coat and was gone. He didn’t say another word, not even cussing. But God, what an asshole he was. And he only got worse from there. Like I told you, there’s a guy who’s dangerous to society, not me. There’s a guy that needs to do some community service. What a loser!

No, really I didn’t think much about Burt at the time. Sam was the one that scared me. I mean, he didn’t even seem to look at the fours on the table. He just looked at me, stared at me with them big cow-eyes of his, wet eyes, you know, teary. He stared at me like somehow I’d done something. Damn it, it was just fours. Just fours.

I looked at Billy, and he was sitting there nodding at the cards, nodding at them like he’d seen some secret message. I kinda lost my temper, I admit, so maybe my language was a little harsh, but I focused on Billy and tried to explain. “It’s just numbers,” I said. “It’s just numbers. They’re cards, damn it. Statistics. Sequences happen, they just happen.” I was telling Billy; I couldn’t quite look at Sam.

Billy looked up at me, real calm like. No smile, no anger, like he was talking about the weather. And he says, “What are the numbers, Bob? What are the statistics? Do you know the numbers, Bob? What are the likelihoods and probabilities, Bob?” he says, real sarcastic. “Come on, Bob, give me some numbers.”

Well, hell, I don’t know the numbers, like I’m some kind of computer. But it’s numbers, right? That’s what you’d say, isn’t it? It’s numbers. These sequences just happen. But there’s Billy talking like he’s calling me a liar, all self-righteous like. But he’s nobody special; he’s no goddam saint. I know Billy.

So I’m about to cuss at him and put him back in his place when there’s the scrape of Sam’s chair. Sam slides back, walks to the living room, grabs his coat and leaves, without saying nothing. “Where you going?” I asked, maybe a little harsh. Billy sounds all sweet: “Don’t go, Sam,” says. But Sam just goes. I saw him a couple times after that and we just talked about sports and shit. He’d kind of look off into the distance, you know, away from me. Seemed so afraid. We’d say goodbye and that was all.

No, I didn’t talk to Billy that night. We did sit there for a second as we heard Sam’s car leave, and I thought about asking Billy what he thought. But why should I? He didn’t understand it any better than I did, no matter what he’d say. Besides, like I keep saying, it’s just statistics, right? Statistics? But I knew he wouldn’t listen to reason, the self-righteous bastard. So finally, he says my name at me like he’s fixing to start something, and I just go up at him. I threw the cards at him and told him where he could shove that damn deck of his.
So where are they now? I told you about Burt. Billy? ‘Course he’s got his church and Bible studies and sermons and shit. Jesus, you give a guy some weird cards on the poker table and he gets the Holy Ghost! Nah, I don’t see him any more; Burt neither. Both of them are losers if you ask me, just different kinds of losers.

Sam? Well, nobody sees Sam any more. Didn’t I tell you? Sixty-five miles an hour right into the freeway underpass. Bam! No seat belt either, the fool, not that it would have helped much. No skid marks; just a big crash. Must have fallen asleep. Those things happen.

Me? Hell, I’m the only normal one of the bunch, right? OK, the cards were weird. But like I say, it’s just the odds, you know, just the odds. Things like that happen. It’s statistics. It’s like this damn DUI. I mean, how many guys drink and drive and just don’t meet a cop on the road or don’t have some damn idiot turn into his driveway right in front of you, like happened to me. I mean, it’s still just the odds, statistics, you know. Like, what is divorce? Fifty percent? Statistics. It’s all just cards. Just cards.