Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Some Advice, Please

Slowly, slowly, I am chasing down and plugging holes in my game - however there are still more than plenty for me to work on. The one I need your help on concerns end-game. For some reason, I let almost certain victory slip through my fingers more times than I'm comfortable remembering.

Just recently I was playing a 18'er for $10. We got down to 4-handed, and I had more chips than all my other competitors combined. And somehow I let the whole thing slip through my fingers. Yes, one hand I had AA cracked by Q10, but that happens. I feel that maybe I'm not being as much of a bully as I should, but I don't really want to keep jamming with nothing just to drain their blinds away. Am I taking my foot off their throats early?

During the main body of the game my flops played is about 17-18%, which goes up to about 22% shorthanded, and then of course around 85% when HU.

I wish I kept the hand history for analysis; it's my fault I didn't. Nevertheless, can anyone help? I'm starting to get disgusted with myself.

Until next time, please remember that I value your advice highly. Except you, Lightning. Oh, see, that was just mean, and I'm officially sorry.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Project Morpheus, Part 4

In Part 3 we learn that Lt. Steven Barber will be taking over for Captain Cobble.


August 19, 1962

Barber sat once again in the back seat of a Cadillac Limousine, smoking a cigarette and letting the sounds of the highway wash over him. It was a steamy Sunday evening; from time to time raindrops would descend upon the car as it rumbled through the night on its way from The Arsenal to Pittsburgh.

The air conditioner took most of the unpleasantness out of the journey. Besides his trip here five days previously, it was the only time he’d ever experienced air conditioning in an automobile. Though surrounded in physical comforts, his mind was troubled. He stared out the window, unable to read the briefing in his lap; some had the gift of being able to read in cars, but he did not. Thirty seconds of trying and he’d be green around the edges.

As he stared out his window, watching the countryside streak past, he unconsciously stroked his short moustache with the side of his index finger and mulled over the new situation in which he found himself, seemingly in the blink of an eye.

Just a few years ago, it seemed, he graduated from the Point, a dewy-eyed second Lieutenant with big dreams and a full head of hair. Now only a few years later, both had for the most part vanished. His hair was indeed thinning and receding at an alarming pace, and his idealism had waned almost from the moment he graduated and accepted his first assignment, the creation of a low-level intelligence report concerning Cuba’s force readiness that had been almost completely ignored, with disastrous consequence.

As the short years ensued he had somehow developed a reputation as the guy who could make things happen, quickly and quietly. The Base CO finds out that one of his officers has a drinking problem? Barber, take care of this. Make sure he gets the message that this is unacceptable behavior. One of the sergeants is taking it to an officer’s wife? Barber, make him realize his mistake in no uncertain terms. A visiting General has a taste for young-looking Filipino girls? Barber, go take a ride. See what you can come up with. Each task further cemented this reputation, yet chipped away at his sense of idealism.

He wasn’t entirely unhappy about his reputation; it did tend to get him noticed. He got his 1st Lieutenant’s bars in only two years, after all. This career path was not without its perks—yet many were the times when he wished he could have made his bones another way.

Still, he was a soldier, and he held on stubbornly to the values that he cherished and to which he thought himself a staunch adherent: duty, honor, valor. To him these were more than empty words, though if you asked him directly he’d probably say that they were just different ways of saying, “do your job.” Idealism was a luxury that a soldier did not possess.

Even for all of that, this assignment, he thought, was going to test his ability to hold to his basic humanity. He had been given much more information once he had been cleared to take over for Captain Cobble, and he was thinking twice now about his rash enthusiasm for a position of prominence in a project of this magnitude.

For one thing, he had found out that his entire experience with Cobble and Professor Clark was but a small part of a far more vast operation – Project Morpheus. Morpheus was already almost twenty years in the brewing and there was no logical end in sight. He was not told the ultimate goal of Morpheus but he was told that he would be made aware of the other tentacles of the project and of its future direction on need-to-know. What he did hear for the moment was disquieting enough.

Professor Clark was sanctioned, not because he disobeyed orders or was insubordinate—concepts that his soldier’s brain could easily wrap itself around. The unpleasant truth was that they sanctioned Clark because they were done with him. They needed him to complete a vital, yet small, part in their research and once completed, they had no need for him at all. He was, even Barber now reluctantly admitted to himself, too much of a security liability to be allowed to live.

How many other researchers met a similar end? Good men with wives and families, who didn’t sign up for the military life—or if they did, had no idea what was coming for them? Jesus Christ. Morpheus may have left a trail of innocent bodies longer than anyone knew.

Then there was Captain Cobble, his old boss. He had shown compassion for Clark and allowed him to hear the sound of his wife’s voice one last time. As Colonel Waterman had alluded to some days ago, he had discovered that among the other phases of Morpheus of which Cobble had played a part, this same breach of security had been suffered.

Two mistakes, if mistakes they were, and Cobble had been sanctioned.

His mind flew past the car, over the miles of highway hundreds of miles east, to his wife and children in officer’s quarters at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He pictured them sitting in the living room, reading or listening to the radio, or most likely, since it was Sunday night, watching television. If he, Barber, were to be sanctioned, how could they carry on? To whom could they turn? He smiled faintly as the cruel truth came to him: Fate would care for them well indeed. Cobble’s widow was handed a tri-corner American Flag with a Legion of Merit draped over it, a generous death benefit and her husband’s pay until she re-married or turned 65. She would also go to her grave believing that Andrew Cobble was a man of duty and honor whose job brought him in harm’s path, and who, though he met his end untimely, met it through no fault of his own.

No, he had no reason to fear their physical or financial well being. His own life should be, he reasoned, his primary concern. His ability to stay alive would depend on his instincts, his ability to carry out orders, his judgment and ability to think clearly in a crisis. In fact, though he carried no weapon more dangerous than a pen most times, he could draw many parallels to a combat mission.

He smiled, more grimly this time, and pressed the lever to lower his window a bit further. He took a last drag off his cigarette and flicked it into the night, then reversed the lever to roll the window back up. Things could be far worse. All he had to do was keep his head down, do his job well and carry out his orders faithfully, and he might just get out of this one all right.

Waterman had been, he reflected, wrong about one thing: he wouldn’t be making Captain in six months’ time. Three days after they had first met, Waterman called him in to his office.

“Reporting as ordered, Colonel,” said Barber.

“At ease, son.”

Barber widened his stance slightly, snapped his hands from his side and brought them behind his back in a single, graceful effort, practiced thousands of times in every soldier’s life.

Waterman stood up and moved around the desk. “You are owed congratulations on two matters.” He half-sat, half-leaned on the front of his desk and looked at Barber. Waterman was three inches taller than Barber and this allowed him to meet his gaze completely levelly.

“The first is that, as of this moment, you will assume the duties that Captain Cobble just recently was relieved of. I am your new CO, and you will of course carry my orders out to the letter. The second is, since you will now have resources and personnel at your disposal, you must be of sufficient rank to order them as you see fit without challenge or question. I’m therefore promoting you to Captain, also effective immediately.” Waterman pinned double Captain’s bars on his epaulets, saluted smartly and shook his hand. “Congratulations, Captain.”

“Thank you sir. I’m eager to begin.”

“Splendid,” replied Colonel Waterman. “Because we’re beginning right now. Come with me.”

They walked to a building some 500 yards away, though it was through a double-fenced area whose gates were 180 degrees apart, such that it was almost a mile on foot. Captain Barber was amazed at the spryness of Colonel Waterman and though he kept up pace for pace, soon his forehead and neck were covered in a fine mist of sweat.

As they got through the second gate in the nested chain-link fence, a door was opened from the inside. It had been blindingly bright outside – any sunny day was more or less uncharacteristic for Northeastern Ohio – and his eyes made the dim interior to be far darker than it was. He stepped through the threshold and as his eyes got used to the light he noticed, around a long conference table, more brass than he’d ever seen in one place in his life. At his first sight of badges of higher rank he snapped to attention.

In the brief silence Barber scanned the room subtly, not letting his eyes twitch too far left or right. He saw a Lieutenant Colonel, two Brigadier Generals, a Major General, and a man in civilian attire.

“As you were,” one of them replied. He turned and one of the one-star Generals, whom he did not recognize by sight, spoke to him. “Good morning, Captain,” he said and smiled. “I’m General Miller. I believe you know General Forge.” He gestured to another Brigadier General seated to his right.

The introductions went around the table. Besides Generals Miller and Forge, the two-star was General Anton Smith, Director of Operations for the US Pacific Command, or PACOM. He had come from Washington with his aide, Lieutenant Colonel Parker. The man in the suit was Mark Cohen, the Assistant Undersecretary of Defense, Pacific Rim.

Here he was introduced to the players in the room, and they each asked him one or two questions about his home life, his background, and other small matters of, it would seem, small consequence. For some twenty minutes they thus questioned him and, after a perfunctory thanks, was dismissed.

Captain Barber was still ruminating on this strange meeting, where nothing of any import was discussed and whose primary purpose seemed to test Barber’s ability to make small talk, when he was startled out of his recollections by his driver.

“...a few days.”

“I’m sorry, sergeant, please repeat that?”

“Yes, sir. We are taking a brief detour. We’ve been ordered to the Youngstown Air Reserve Station. We’ll be there in ten minutes. We’ll be there for at least a few days.”

“Very good,” said Captain Barber and wondered for a moment what would wait for them there, a dinky little Air Reserve base when they were less than 60 miles from Pittsburgh. No need to speculate that far ahead, thought the new Captain. You’ll find out soon enough.

* * *

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Project Morpheus, Part 3

In Part 2 we learn that the man who murdered Professor Clark was not named Dennis Mason but was in fact US Army Captain Andrew Cobble, who himself was subsequently murdered for deliberately allowing Clark one last phone call.
*            *             *


In the punishing heat of midday the following day two men walked towards a dilapidated building that housed a makeshift mess. Officers and enlisted men sat and broke bread together – the entire base, aside from a few dozen NG’s that were stationed miles away, had a crew complement of less than 80. Colonel Waterman strode next to a far younger man wearing silver 1st lieutenant’s bars. The younger man could not have been older than 26. He had pale red hair, very fine, that was already receding from his forehead, and a neat moustache that as yet bore no signs of grey. His eyes were slate grey and were flecked with red that matched his hair.

“How was the ride in from Pittsburgh?” asked the older man. “To your comfort, I expect?”

“Yes, indeed, sir,” replied the Lieutenant. “A Cadillac Limousine beats a troop transport truck any day of the week.”

“Do you know why I asked you to have lunch with me today, son?” Col. Waterman asked in his reassuring, avuncular tone.

“No, sir,” said the Lieutenant.

Waterman paused a moment to study his young charge. 1st Lieut. Stephen Barber, the late Captain Cobble’s assistant, who played a part in Professor Clark’s lab as just another lab hand, and who knew much about this phase of the operation. He had not been present when Clark was sanctioned, though he knew, being a trusted associate of Cobble’s, that it was to have happened that day.

His file was already thicker than most, even at his tender age: graduated West Point three years ago as a second Louie, got his silver bar last year. Brief stint as intelligence gatherer for that unpleasantness in Cuba. Letter of Commendation from a General of Waterman’s acquaintance. Trustworthy. Discreet. Doesn’t mind doing an unpleasant task, with his own hands if necessary. By all outward appearances he seemed the perfect man for the job.

“Captain Cobble was removed from his area of responsibility,” Waterman said finally. “It was determined that, in the execution of his orders, he permitted a security breach that could have compromised the entire program, many of the details of which I’m not yet at liberty to discuss with you.” He paused for emphasis and to take a breath. “It was not the first time that this very security breach has been discovered. It couldn’t be allowed to continue.”

Lieutenant Barber, head slightly down to shield his eyes from the blazing sun, walked alongside the Colonel and said nothing.

“General Forge speaks highly of you,” he continued. “When Digger Forge says he likes someone, I listen. He and I go way back.”

“Yes, sir,” said Barber. “The General has spoken highly of you as well, if I may speak freely.”

‘Well, Lieutenant, the bottom line is we needed to reassign Cobble, even though he was good at what he did, and I’m considering you for the assignment.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“That’s all you have to say?”

Barber hesitated almost imperceptibly. “Do I still have your permission to speak freely, Colonel?”

“Of course.”

“What’d you do with Cobble?”

Colonel Waterman stopped walking and looked hard at Lieut. Barber. If he was going to be part of this mission, he would need to know many more things far more sensitive than this. Still, Barber and Cobble were friends – this news might make him cut and run, which besides being bad for both men’s careers, might be bad for the younger man’s health.

For another instant he stood on the razor’s edge of doubt. Finally he made his decision.

“He was sanctioned, Lieutenant. His family will be told that he was involved in a training accident. The President will call them himself. He will be buried with honor and will receive a posthumous Legion of Merit.”

“I thought he may have been,” replied Cobble after a small moment‘s reflection. “I‘m honored by your confidence, sir.”

“Won’t be the first secret I’ll expect you to keep. Lieutenant, I’ll get to the point. You‘re perfect for the assignment. You know all the players; you’re highly recommended. You also know the wages of failure.” He paused for a moment. “I’m mindful of the fact that you have a young family, Barber, so I’m going to give you an opportunity to turn me down and walk away right now. But I hope you’ll accept this assignment, because I am submitting your name for it.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll accept the post if so ordered.”

“Lieutenant, I don’t doubt that; you’re a good soldier. But I need to know: Do you want this job?”

A subordinate usually doesn’t look directly into a superior officer’s eyes; they call that eyeballing, and it’s a sign of disrespect. Once you’re out of Basic Training you won’t be made to do push-ups for it, but the person being eyeballed rarely forgets it.

In this case, Col. Waterman showed neither surprise nor displeasure when Barber looked him directly in the face and said, “Yes sir. I want this job.”

“Splendid,” said the older man. “It ought to take three days for approval, five at the outside. In the meantime, you’ll need to avail yourself of whatever comforts the Ravenna Arsenal can provide.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Barber. “Thank you, sir.”

“You know what’s at stake here, don’t you, son?” He looked searchingly at the younger man. “Play your cards right and you’ll be wearing Captain’s bars in six months. Play them wrong and you’ll get your very own posthumous Legion of Merit.”

“I serve at the pleasure of the US Army,” Barber said, echoing a common soldier’s creed.

“Good. Now let’s have some lunch.” They continued walking towards the mess. Lieutenant Barber walked a pace behind Waterman, his eyes fixed sidelong on him.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Finally arrived

For those interested in the Jacobs family well-being, be of good cheer: We have arrived safely in America's Heartland. Photos to come.

Trip report thus far: Blood, urine, the worst omelet ever, and a lost brand-new coat (mit keys in pocket). Ho ho god damned ho.

Until next time, please remember that this is all Jesus' fault.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Thought for the Season


It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank
An old man said to me, "Won't see another one,"
And then he sang a song: The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away and dreamed about you.

Got on the lucky one - came in 18 to 1
I've got a feeling this year's for me and you
So Happy Christmas. I love you baby
I can see a better time when all our dreams come true.

-The Pogues, "Fairytale for New York"

One thing I've always appreciated about Christmas is that, even as an outsider to the proceedings, I notice that the world takes a chill pill for a day or so, and that the normal small cruelties to which we subject each other get suspended for a moment, for a day, for a minute. I really like that, I do. Despite me being more or less a miserable bastard I'm just a sucker for the concept that for a short period of time humankind - or at least all of Christendom - suspends its usual rules of indifference and unfeeling and finds love in their hearts, whatever the motivation.

So: Merry Christmas everyone. I for one am going to try to countermand the forces that have conspired to keep me friendless and foundering. I hope that you all find whatever it is you're looking for, and hope it's not lost irretrievably.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Project Morpheus, Part 2

In Part 1 we learn of the death of scientist John Clark at the hands of his shadowy assistant Dennis Mason.


* * *

August 14, 1962


If you were to look at a map of Greater Cleveland, Ohio, you’d maybe notice a large grey patch about halfway between Cleveland and Youngstown, right on Route 14, with no information whatsoever—no roads, no topography, nothing but an empty spot, about the size of a thumb.

That bare spot on the map is the Ravenna Arsenal, 21,000-plus acres of government property that, during World War II, was an ordnance factory and depot. In many ways it was the perfect spot for a government installation—a sprawling, private facility with several outbuildings, no coastline, no significant population centers for 25 miles around, and plenty of flat ground. Although now almost twenty years after the war the government stationed neither personnel or equipment there any longer, in a rare moment of wisdom the Government kept the Arsenal in its possession, and kept it private.

Peppered about the compound were several outbuildings, mostly squat one-story buildings, quickly but sturdily built. Some were long, such as would accommodate sprawling assembly lines, and others looked more or less like smallish cape cod style houses.

In one of these smaller outbuildings now, Capt. Andrew Cobble – aka Dennis Mason, laboratory assistant, government agent, murderer – stood, at ease, in uniform before an oak desk with the Stars and Stripes crossed on the wall behind. The room smelled of sweet, dry wood. It was stifling and hot, despite a metal fan oscillating in a corner. The late afternoon sun shone in the west-facing window and shot streaks of sun down through the window and onto the floor, highlighting innumerable specks of dust playing in its spotlight. The room was otherwise empty, except for a small desk and chair in which from time to time a stenographer sat.

She was not there this day.

At the desk sat an older man, a bird Colonel, listening intently to Cobble’s report. Colonel Francis X. Waterman was a lifer; a career soldier who very early on in his service to the country was recruited to perform certain patriotic yet completely unheralded duties.

He found nothing whatsoever distasteful about his job; he saw his job as a natural extension of the United States military. Soldiers on foot carried weapons with which, in hot blood or cold, men were killed. They had a mission; others stood in the way of that mission; it was that simple. His job was, though non-combat yet not quite administrative, like all other military jobs: to assist, in whatever way his direct superiors ordered him to do, in the continuing military and geopolitical might of the United States of America.

“Everything according to plan,” Cobble said, his tone indicating the conclusion of his report. “Clark has been sanctioned, his data is safe and is currently being copied and archived, the lab assistants are back at our facility in Pittsburgh, and you could eat off the floor at the lab now.”

“Excellent. Well done again, Cobble.”

“Thank you, Colonel. If you have some time, I’ve done some preliminary research on who ought to carry on.”

“Not just yet, lad,” said the Colonel. “I need to clear up a couple of things in the report.” He patted the manila folder on his desk. “I understand he made a phone call right around the time he was sanctioned.”

“Yes, sir,” said Cobble evenly.

“Have any idea as to whom that call was made?”

“No, sir,” said the younger man, maintaining eye contact. “I must have been preparing the coffee.”

“Mmm.” Colonel Waterman muttered, then took off his glasses and placed the left earpiece in his mouth. “Here’s the thing, though, son,” he continued thoughtfully. “We placed a call, using that phone, after your crew left. We used it to determine to what extent the phone company’s clocks are off from ours. Know what it told us?”

“No, sir,” said Captain Cobble.

“It told us,” continued Waterman, “that that phone call was initiated precisely four minutes and thirteen seconds before you gave the signal. Four minutes and a quarter, Cobble. That’s not a lot of time. It almost makes one think that you allowed him to call his wife a last time.” He placed his spectacles down on the manila folder in which sat Cobble’s report. “That didn’t happen in this case, did it, son?”

“No, sir, it did not,” replied the Captain, face betraying no sign whatsoever of his racing heartbeat.

Colonel Waterman looked at him for a long moment and held his gaze. He picked up his glasses and fitted them over the bridge of his nose and his ears. Finally he spoke.

“OK,” he said finally, his face relaxing. “Good. I guess that’s settled then. Now, you have candidates for the next phase of the operation?”

“Yes, Colonel. Since this is largely a mechanical phase, I thought it best to consider our assets in Technical and Engineering facilities. I’ve narrowed it down to six potential candidates.”

“Splendid. Listen, I need to visit the head. You may sit, if you wish.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied the Captain.

Colonel Waterman got up from behind his desk, muttering something on the way out about how age shrinks the bladder. He opened the door and walked into his outer office. He nodded almost imperceptibly at two lieutenants who were seated in two canvasback chairs set up in a rough waiting room layout. Wordlessly they walked in, holding standard-issue Colt .45cal ACP’s with Maxim Silencers, as Waterman stepped outside and lit a cigarette. He listened for, and heard, the muffled sound of the shots, sighed heavily and walked straight ahead to the latrines in the last light of day, his shadow pacing long directly in front of him.

Monday, December 20, 2010

In Which My Burgeoning Literary Career Lies Exposed to Further Criticism

Well, since none of you indicated the slightest interest in the previous story the first part of which I showed you, I present instead another work, which has absolutely nothing to do with God, the Devil, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or my Aunt Fanny (yes, I had an Aunt Fanny, who lived in Kennebunkport, ME, and who would send me a birthday present about four times a year).  Forthwith I present the first part of my great novel, tentatively titled Project Morpheus.  I'd appreciate any feedback.



Chapter 1
Promotion

* * *


August 13, 1962

John Clark stood by a lab table, as usual deep in thought and oblivious to the low murmur of activity that was all around him.

He was ancient, by outward appearance. His true age of 62 lay heavily upon him; a stranger passing him on the street might have thought him in his late seventies. His face was carved with wrinkles borne by long years of care and disappointment. His body was slight and stooped, the result of a lifetime of bending slightly over lab tables similar to the one he hovered over this day.

Today might have been, to the casual observer, little different from the long tale of his life. He wrestled with figures, ran experiments, theorized and thought. He was the first one to have come in that morning, and was likely to be the last one to leave, save perhaps one—an assistant of his, Dennis Mason, who was by far his most promising protégé in years.

Clark was at this moment, however, pondering a set of data he received that for the first time showed promise in his overall designs. His eyes were fixed on a clipboard in his right hand, and with his left he held a yellow pencil to his mouth. He had a habit of biting off the eraser to all his pencils and leaving neat rows of teeth marks on the upper two inches of his pencil.

The data he was pondering had to do with the project that had consumed the last eighteen years of his life—an analysis of brainwave activities of subjects in deep REM sleep. Today’s triumph was that he was able, for the first time, to concretely isolate the behavior of a sleeping brain from that of its waking counterpart, to determine beyond doubt the fingerprint of the dreaming man versus the random firings of a vast, complex system that never completely shut off even during sleep, coma, or severe trauma.

This set of data proved that he was on the right path. He was able to isolate several areas of the brain that displayed low, discernable patterns of activity during waking hours yet seemed to explode in chaotic, meandering trails on his paper when a subject was in deep sleep and dreaming.

His ultimate goal, still a long ways afield, was twofold: To isolate which signals came not only from a dreaming subject but from the dream itself; and to record this activity in a way that could be stored and reproduced at a distance, to allow for remote analysis of these brainwaves. It certainly seemed to him that the first part of his goal had been approached, if not yet reached.

It was a rare moment of triumph for him, and though neither face nor body language betrayed it, his pulse raced and his heart thudded in his chest. A scientist whose life’s work has been validated knows few thrills more deep than this, and he allowed himself a rare daydream of all his work ending in stunning, complete success. He saw himself making a speech to his peers accepting a Nobel Prize, speaking at colleges and universities whose students and faculty hung on his every word, picking and choosing his next experiments and receiving for his assistance only the finest young minds and skillful hands.

So it was that, deep in his trance of thought and speculation, daring for the first time to actually believe that a long step had been made on his road, he noticed neither that the activity around him had ceased nor that the sun had long since set, capping the end of a beautiful summer day that he marked little and cared about not at all.

A hand on his shoulder startled him from his reverie and he looked up to see his assistant, Dennis Mason, holding out a cup of coffee to him in an ancient ceramic mug. His lab coat was, as usual, disheveled but clean, and his glasses hung so far toward the tip of his nose that it was a wonder they stayed on.

“Thanks,” Clark said, and took a loud slurping sip. The coffee was more bitter than usual, and after a few seconds he noticed that his lips were numb. He looked up with a start.

“I’m sorry, John,” Dennis said to him. “But it’s time.”

“You?” said John. Dennis nodded, sadly it seemed to him. “Son of a bitch,” he said softly, almost to himself. “I had no idea.”

“You have about eight minutes. Do you want to call anyone?”

“Yes, please.” Dennis walked to the other side of the room and brought a telephone with a long cord to him. Clark dialed the phone and waited a moment.

He could feel the poison already starting to work. His heart rate had been elevated already, lost as he was in dreams of triumph and glory. Knowing what was coming only made his heart thud faster, betraying what little time he had left.

“Hello, honey, it’s me. Listen, I wanted to tell you something.” He paused. It occurred to him that he didn’t know what exactly to say. He knew enough to know that if he were stupid enough to blurt out what had happened to him that the phone would have been ripped from him and his life ended right there. He couldn’t even make a maudlin proclamation of love without arousing suspicion.

Finally, after having to sit down from the effect of the poison coursing through his veins, he continued.

“So, I’ll be home in about two hours,” he finished, and his inability to say anything more profound left him feeling impotent and small. “OK? So I’ll see you soon.” He paused. “I love you, Jeanine.” He closed his eyes. “Bye.” He hung the phone up and looked at Dennis.

“Will you be taking over?” he asked, a little faintly.

“No, it’s not my role to conduct. Only to oversee, and to transfer the work when any one man gets too close. You did well, John, and if it’s any consolation, you have the gratitude of the government for your service.”

Now the poison had been working for some time. His vision tunneled in and his breath came in low pants.

“Jeanine?” he asked with an obvious effort.

“Well taken care of. We’ll pay off the house and continue your stipend until she dies.”

John nodded almost imperceptibly. After another minute, he leaned against the back of the chair. “Son of a bitch,” he repeated in that same faraway tone, and died.

Dennis strode to the window and with the blinds gave a signal long arranged. Less than two minutes later four men in protective equipment came in and started cleaning up. In four hours any evidence that the room had ever been occupied was removed utterly.

* * *

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Cleaning of the Craniattic

  • That commercial, where everyone is sitting around in a body cast except for the lazy teenager?  The sentence the lady says is "Djinn are for slaying monsters."  Knowing that does not make it any less of a dumbass commercial.
  • Video games and corn sugar have contributed to an entire generation of fat people.  Whatever happened to the old days, when  people - like me - got fat on Beefaroni and Cocoa Puffs?
  • There is nothing worse than being in love with someone who does not love you - except maybe for someone who used to love you but who now would rather play hopscotch on broken glass than look at you.
  • I love Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but not as much as I love Dr. Who.  Now they're combining the two, to be aired on Christmas Day.  I swear to God I'm going to lose my shit.
  • Poker players tend to forget just how much complexity is involved with being a competent player.  To remember, just explain to someone who doesn't know how to play, just how many factors are involved in answering the question "which hands should I play?"
  • The Sims?  I don't get it.
  • For my non-American friends, here's a primer on American politics:  Republicans are angry, spiteful douchebags with terrible ideas. Democrats are incompetent, weak-willed douchebags with no ideas whatsoever.  Common denominator: Douchebaggery.
  • Tron was the stupidest fucking move EVER the first time it came out.  Whoever thought it was a good idea to remake it should be beaten to within an inch of his life.
  • A few cars I've owned have had heated seats.  I don't like them; there's always that lunatic moment when I don't remember about the heated seats and think I've pissed myself.
  • Never doubt the power of people to disappoint you.  Don't mean to sound pessimistic, but people are always smaller than you think they are.  Know it and you'll be protected from the worst of it.
  • The early money this year is on the Red Sox to win in all.  God damn right.  Yankee fans:  suck my left testicle, you frontrunner scumbags.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

You guys must all be tired...

...because I won the Mookie again! Woo-hoo!

More details later. Sleep calls.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I love newbies

Whenever I need a quick shot of ego I enter a ten-buck heads-up game on FT. God help me, I just love an incompetent poker player. And being in a heads-up game exposes your shortcomings like a trip through airport security.

In these situations I like to do the doublestack because it gives me a little more time to figure out my opponent's game. There are the ones that just love to bluff - someone called it "Fancy Play Syndrome" - and there are ones who are tighter than a gnat's ass stretched across a rain-barrel. But most of them are just plain bad.

I love them.

Today was a perfect example. I did "battle" with a classic newbie, someone who thought that second pair was enough to stay in all the way. Once I figured that out the bloodletting began. I wouldn't play a flop unless I caught top pair - it extended the game but it made me more or less a sure thing. And I bled this poor new guy completely dry.

Funny thing, when he was down to, say, 800, he started going all-in preflop. Now the first time he did it I thought "ok, bugger caught AA," and folded down without a thought. But then he did it again. And again. And again. And after 7 all-ins or so I started to figure out his incredibly subtle strategy...

So I let him take me for my blind, over and over and over, until I finally got a decent hand. To me, for him, in this circumstance, that hand was K10d. Now of course, K10 suited is a flyer hand usually; it's a decent enough hand if you can get in cheaply and if you don't smell strength, but here I knew that K10 was going to be good. And sure enough it was.

I'll miss him, my little ego-stroking donkey newbie. There's nothing quite like playing cards with someone who thinks he knows what he's doing, but doesn't. It really is like taking candy from a baby - a baby who can't play poker worth shit.

Until next time, please remember that everyone is a newbie once, but some people stay donkeys for a loooooong time.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Good Day

This evening I played the Very Josie, about which more later, but earlier this afternoon I decided I'd play a tournament to build up the ol' eye of the tiger, or whatever sports-themed catchphrase drivel you can contrive. Anyway, I played an $11, 45-person tournament and won the whole thing. Woo-hoo! Just the thing for a shrinking account.

Thus emboldened I joined the Very Josie with a light heart and a fat ass, only one of which was altered by my afternoon's win.

If you've never played the Very Josie, first Wednesday of every month on FT, it differs from many tournaments in that first and foremost it's a fun time. Everyone knows each other, we are polite to newcomers, we laugh, we joke, we rank on each others' games, it's generally a REALLY good time.

That said the quality of the poker is very good and nobody gives too much ground in the name of "a friendly game." So to do well at it requires concentration and focus, two words that in this context mean the exact same thing.

Bottom line, I won the Very Josie for the first time, and have thus earned (in addition to about 46 bucks) a T-shirt that undoubtedly is too small for my gargantuan torso.

I'd like to give a shoutout to my boy Wolfie who caught the most bizarre bad luck I've ever seen. In this tournament he had the winning full house counterfeited by quads, not once but twice. The first time, I was the ultimate beneficiary; at one point we were heads-up, I was holding A10 and he was holding 1010, if memory serves. The flop came QQx, so he was holding two pair to my garbage. The turn came a third queen, so now he had Queens full of tens to my two pair. The river queen showed quads on the board, and my ace-high counterfeited his pair. Ugly. Just ugly. Look - I know that you can't win a tournament without some things falling your way, but I've never seen someone lose with a full house to quads twice in an hour. Wolfie, man, I feel your pain.

But for me, like I said, I won two tournaments outright in a single day, had a bunch of laughs that are always appreciated, and dined on Tootsie's turkey soup, which is as sublime a foodstuff as exists on this planet, despite its windy side-effects. Effects, by the way, that I am still having fun with. Today, in short, was a good day.

Until next time, please remember, if you're ever at my house and we're serving turkey soup, to sit near an open window.