Gunsmoke’s All-In: A Short Story

When my mother asked me to invite her friend’s son to my poker game, I didn’t think much of it. Sure, we like to keep our games closed, but she explained that this guy was new in town, a medical professional, single, and simply looking to make some acquaintances.

Since, like us, he’s in his early forties, I figured it didn’t hurt to include him. My friends would understand.

… If only I’d known.

My mother gave me his number, and, when I texted him, I purposefully had him arrive after everyone else. I wanted to explain the situation to my friends. For the most part, we’ve been playing poker together every other week for fifteen years. He would be the first novel face in our group in quite a while. Honestly, we were excited to have a new dynamic to the game.

Of course, we soon found out it was the wrong dynamic.

My wife took the kids to her parents’ house for the evening. This allowed us to drink, curse, insult each other, and otherwise try to act macho in ways only middle-aged men can manage. Of course, we had to fit all this debauchery in before ten o’clock at night because none of us could stay awake much later than that.

Our poker games were pretty low-stakes. Five dollars bought you in. Everyone got the same amount of chips. Second place won his money back; winner took the rest. We normally had a total of six guys who, like I said, have known each other for a long time.

As we all sat around the table waiting, Tomas, a fellow teacher, asked, “So what’s this guy’s name again?”

“I told you—I don’t know,” I replied.

Marcus, who’s in marketing, questioned, “But he’s a doctor?”

“Maybe,” I answered.

“Doctors have money,” Dewey said. Dewey’s a travel agent.

“What’s it matter with a five dollar buy-in?” Tomas laughed.

Karl added, “Nobody’s getting rich off these games.” Karl’s also a teacher.

I nodded and said, “And no side-hustles, okay, Dewey? I don’t know this guy and I don’t want any trouble.”

“A little trouble might be nice nowadays,” Jalen chuckled. Jalen’s the most financially successful among us—an orthopedic surgeon.

Jalen, by the way, probably sealed our fates with that comment because at that moment we heard my doorbell ring. The guys all looked at each other and tried to hide their nervousness. You could say we had become a bit set in our ways.

I opened the door and heard, “Heeere’s Johnny!”

As a twenty-year veteran teacher, it’s hard to shock me anymore. Let’s just say that the sight of this man … well, it surprised me.

It was obvious at first glance that he was taller than any of us, and broader, too. Though he wore a baggy Hawaiian shirt and frumpy cargo shorts, his exposed arms and legs showed sinewy musculature. He might have even been handsome, but large, mirrored sunglasses covered most of his face. A semi-transparent green visor partially concealed his wavy, dark hair.

“Hi, there,” I said. “Welcome. So, the name’s Johnny?”

“How ‘bout … nooo,” he droned while entering.

“Okay, yeah, come on in,” I muttered.

He made his way to the table, lifted up a hand, and said, “Greetings, Earthlings.”

“Uh, hey,” Karl replied. “Have a seat.”

“I’m Tomas.”

“Marcus.”

“Jalen.”

“Karl.”

I said, “You know me already.”

“Gunsmoke,” he revealed. He slowly started to grin, exposing huge, perfectly white teeth.

Jalen laughed, “A nickname. Got it. What’s your name for real, though?”

“Kiss my grits!” Gunsmoke exploded.

Everyone at the table jumped. Marcus even knocked over his beer.

“Damn, man!” Dewey cried.

As I ran to the kitchen, I heard this awful sound. It struck me as a cross between someone sobbing and a tiny dog howling. I realized it emanated from Gunsmoke.

I tossed Marcus a towel and then took my seat.

Gunsmoke stopped giggling, pointed at Marcus’ beer, and squeaked, “Did I do that?” He next started that awful laugh all over again.

“This is too weird,” Tomas said.

Dewey looked at me and asked, “Is this a prank or something?”

“You got some explaining to do,” Gunsmoke sang.

“Okay, um, let’s just get the game started,” I said. “So, uh, Gunsmoke, it’s a five dollar buy-in—”

He interrupted with a childish tone, saying, “You got it, dude!”

“Right,” I mumbled. “We’ll start with a dime and quarter blinds.”

“Alll-righty, then,” Gunsmoke barked.

Marcus complained, “Bonkers. Totally bonkers.”

I started dealing the cards.

“So, Gunsmoke …” Jalen began. “I understand you’re in the medical field? Me, too. What do you do?”

“Yes, that’s right, thank you for asking,” Gunsmoke responded.

He used such a pleasant voice, a voice we had not yet experienced until that moment, that it took us all aback.

“I serve as an intermediary between doctors and patients in the telemedicine industry. My primary focus concerns mental health, though I would like to expand my reach into the field of addiction as well, since the two sometimes go hand-in-hand.”

“Wow. That actually sounds really interesting,” Dewey said.

“Yes, thank you,” Gunsmoke answered. “It’s highly rewarding, fascinating work. Connecting patients with the appropriate caregiver is a fulfilling passion of mine.”

“Very cool,” I said. “Read to play?”

“Oh, you betcha, yeah,” Gunsmoke replied through his nose.

The charming, articulate version of the man dissipated. We all looked at each other, utterly confounded.

“Texas Hold ‘Em is the game,” I said. “You know how to play?”

Gunsmoke put his hands together as though they were cuffed, adopted a sultry, serious voice, and grumbled, “I know.”

“Oh, my God,” Tomas murmured.

“Here we go, then,” I said.

Gunsmoke sat to my left. He’d already tossed in the small blind. Karl was next and had thrown in the big blind. Tomas raised to fifty. Marcus matched. Jalen matched. I matched. Gunsmoke threw in enough to get to fifty, as did Karl.

Next came the flop.

Gunsmoke checked. Karl checked. Tomas tossed in seventy-five. Marcus folded. Jalen matched. I matched. Gunsmoke matched. Karl matched.

Finally, the river arrived.

Gunsmoke bet one twenty-five. Karl folded. Tomas raised to one-fifty. Jalen matched. I matched.

Gunsmoke pushed his chips while saying, “All-in.”

Tomas screamed, “You can’t be serious!”

After frowning behind his sunglasses, Gunsmoke shouted, “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”

“Um … Gunsmoke,” I said, “it’s the first round. You sure you want to go all-in? We’ve still got a few hours left …”

He replied with a big smile before saying, “How you doin’?”

“This is nuts,” Jalen chortled while shaking his head.

“Are you crazy or something?” Tomas asked.

I held up my hands and said, “C’mon, Tomas, don’t—”

“My mama says that crazy is as crazy does,” Gunsmoke slowly replied.

Marcus shrieked, “That’s not what mama says, you—”

Gunsmoke interjected with, “What we’ve got here … is failure … to communicate.”

Jalen asked, “What happened to that professional dude we were talking to?”

“If he dies … he dies,” Gunsmoke growled.

“I don’t even know what the hell that’s supposed to mean,” Dewey said.

I suggested, “Let’s just play, okay? Sound good, everyone? Tomas, you in?”

Tomas threw his cards down and hissed, “I’m out. This is ridiculous.”

“Okay,” I said. “Jalen?”

Jalen grinned while offering me a wink. He tossed down his cards. “Out. Up to you, my man.”

“Okay, I’ll stick around,” I said. “We’ll see if Gunsmoke knows what he’s doing.”

Gunsmoke bellowed, “I’m just getting warmed up!”

I pushed all of my chips in and said, “I call. What do you have?”

After laying down his cards, Gunsmoke said, “Three of a kind.”

A warm rush pulsed through my body when I saw his three twos.

I laid my cards down in a neat row. “Flush—diamonds.”

“Nice!” Tomas yelled.

Gunsmoke’s mouth dropped open as he moaned, “Ohhh, fuuudge …”

“Now that’s a first round,” Marcus added.

“You’re not going to stick around, right?” Dewey asked Gunsmoke. “You’ll be leaving now?”

“This is unbelievable,” Karl uttered.

Jalen caught my eye. I looked at him. He glanced at Gunsmoke’s cards. I followed his sightline.

Damn it.

Yes, Gunsmoke had three twos. But he also had two sevens. Three twos and two sevens—a full house. Which beat a flush, by the way.

Karl shook his head at me, silently begging me to keep my mouth shut.

Jalen smiled with a shrug.

“Guess what, Gunsmoke,” I said.

He wouldn’t make eye contact when he replied, “You’re killin’ me, Smalls.”

“You actually won.”

Gunsmoke lifted his head and faced me.

“You’ve got a full house there—twos and sevens,” I informed.

“That beats a flush,” Jalen clarified.

Dewey squawked, “Damn it. You could’ve gotten him out of here.”

“That’s a little rude, Dew,” Tomas chided.

“Thank you,” Gunsmoke said. “Your generosity does not go unnoticed. It’s the epitome of fair play.”

“No worries,” I replied.

Karl looked at me while saying, “Guess you’re just hanging loose tonight, huh?”

Gunsmoke quickly crooned, “Thaaat’s what she said.”


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Click the image to view the author’s latest book at Amazon.com.

HBO Max’s Harley Quinn: Seasons 1 & 2 – A Few Thoughts

I subscribed to HBO Max because I am DC Comics for life and I could not resist the Zack Snyder Justice League Director’s Cut. 

Okay. There, I said it.

However, there have been some very welcome surprises since subscribing to HBO Max, and Harley Quinn is very much among them.

Let me explain. DC Comics launched a streaming service about two years ago featuring original show content such as Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Titans, and Harley Quinn. I heard rumors that, with the advent of HBO Max, the DC streaming service might get absorbed, at least in terms of shows. To my great advantage, that is happening even as we speak. 

Harley Quinn never struck me as a must-watch, but I’d heard good things about it, and so when it popped up on the HBO Max “just added” page, I gave it a shot.

I instantly loved it.

At just about 23 minutes apiece, this animated comedy regularly made me laugh out loud as I powered through the first two seasons. The show is cartoonishly bloody and relentlessly profane, but it is absolutely hilarious.

It features Harley Quinn played by Kaley Cuoco, Poison Ivy played by Lake Bell, Batman played by Diedrich Bader, Clayface played by Alan Tudyk, King Shark played by Ron Funches, Dr. Psycho played by Tony Hale, and Commissioner Gordon played by Christopher Meloni.

You’ve also got substantial voice appearances by J.B. Smoove, Jim Rash, Jason Alexander, Giancarlo Esposito, Michael Ironside, Wanda Sykes, Rachel Dratch, Wayne Knight, Will Sasso, and Alfred Molina. These are NAMES, people!

However, I’m not sure how funny this show is to anyone not deeply steeped in nerd culture. There are a ton of inside comic book jokes, parodies, and satires squarely aimed at the last eighty or so years of DC Comics.

Furthermore, they make everyone hilarious. Clayface makes me roar every time he talks, Bane is comedy gold, and King Shark is adorable. Kite Man has become the most sympathetic character going, and Poison Ivy is cooler than anyone ever imagined possible, and also bitingly funny. Don’t even get me started on Commissioner Gordon. 

Harley Quinn is such a fresh take on these characters and so unusual that you have to watch it for the novelty alone. For anyone who says DC is too dark, I dare you to feel the same way after watching Harley Quinn. (Just don’t pay attention to the blood, the maiming, and the general anarchy.)

Best of all? HBO Max just announced that Harley Quinn: Season 3 is coming exclusively to HBO Max.

If you have HBO Max, I highly recommend that you give Harley Quinn a try.

The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – A Book Review

A good friend recommended The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, and though it’s been in publication for almost 100 years, I’ve never read it. In fact, I’ve never read a single Agatha Christie book.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it! I’m often not a fan of mysteries because I feel that they usually don’t lay the serious groundwork needed to provide the reader with actual clues, but Christie more than satisfied me in that regard. She gave all of the characters a possible motive for the murder, and had them all in the vicinity of the murder near the time of death. Her details were quite meticulous. Furthermore, finding the answer to the mystery was quite possible. 

On that note, I also appreciated that Christie wrote quite a bit of this book using dialogue. She provided only the most necessary of description, which made for a very quick read. Many of her clues were revealed through characters talking to one another, which proved a pleasant experience. 

My only complaint is that the detective, Hercule Poirot, seemed to be an almost secondary character. Because he was not the narrator, we only got to know Poirot in a limited way. This was necessary due to the structure and narrative style of the book, but I’m curious to know if all of Poirot’s books feature someone else as the narrator.

I’ll find out soon enough! I am absolutely excited to read more Agatha Christie. She writes my kind of mystery books. 

Drive By: A Short Story

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I stand by the window, looking out, watching my daughter play in the front yard.

My heart fills with dread.

They should be here any minute.

Should being the operative word.

Will they come?

Why should they?

I’m amazed how everyone seems to know everyone—everyone but me. How do they all know each other? Our kids are in third grade. When I was a kid, if my classmates didn’t live in the neighborhood, my parents didn’t know their parents at all.

I seem to be the only one upholding that tradition. How would I even begin to meet the other kids’ parents? PTO? Sports?

I honestly have no idea.

I don’t want my daughter to pay for my ignorance. She’s going to be the outcast. The weirdo. The kid with the dad who’s clueless about throwing birthday parties under ordinary circumstances. But during a pandemic? Hopeless.

When the mom emailed, my instinct said not to trust her.

She wanted to organize a birthday parade for my daughter. She said my daughter’s teacher asked her to do it, which is also how she got my email address. She said she’d be happy to lend a hand—I just needed to make sure my daughter hung out in the front yard at a certain time. She included her phone number and asked me to call.

I did.

It wasn’t bad, but it was awful.

Against my better judgement, I agreed to it. I asked if I could assist, and—to my relief—she said not to worry about a thing.

Why?

She doesn’t know me. I’m not even sure she knows my daughter. She owes me nothing—no favors, no kindness, no mercy. Yet, she supposedly got in touch with all the kids’ families and set up a parade.

But what if she didn’t? What if she changed her mind? What if she got busy with her actual friends or her real commitments?

I’m expected to trust her without knowing her.

Maybe I should have just thrown a party. Screw it. Get the bouncy house. Hire the clown. Order pizza. Invite the entire third grade to our backyard. Pandemic be damned.

No.

I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It would have been hard when things were normal—but I would have done it. I keep telling myself I would have bitten the bullet and hosted a party.

But now? I can’t bring myself to take that risk. No matter how unlikely, I can’t jeopardize my daughter’s health.

The neighborhood thinks I’m a freak for taking this so seriously. My daughter will likely be ostracized for the rest of her school years because of me. She’ll be the kid with the nutty dad. The house nobody wants to come visit. She won’t be invited places because no one will want to deal with me.

What they must think—all those normal parents. I can’t even organize a birthday parade on my own.

What’s wrong with me?

I watch my daughter.

She’s the only bright spot in my life. The only thing I got right. I’m doing the best I can, but I’m not equipped for parenthood. It doesn’t come naturally. I never expected to be doing it alone.

I watch her.

My heart is full of joy, fear, confusion, love, anxiety, and happiness all at once.

Tears zigzag down my face.

For the longest time, nothing happens but the hitch of my chest.

And then I hear it—a blaring of horns. I see my daughter begin to jump up and down, waving her arms. Cars and minivans appear. Most have balloons attached. Some even have her name written on the sides, wishing her a happy birthday.

She looks at me through the window, gestures for me to come outside, and then goes back to jumping for joy.

I wipe off the tears, walk to the front door, and reach for the knob.


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Mulan (2020) – A Movie Review

As a family, and after a very long week, we were very excited to watch Mulan the night it premiered on Disney Plus. 

I can honestly say it was a hit with the whole family!

My eight-year-old and twelve-year-old daughters liked the action, the humor, the live horses, and the fact that an out-and-out action movie starred a female lead. 

My wife appreciated the “girl-power” aspect of the film and that fact that, while epic in scope of warriors warring, it never crossed the line into overt violence. (I challenge you to find a drop of blood among all the swordplay in this film.) She also liked the theme imparting the importance of family.

I found the cinematography breathtaking. There are some incredible shots of landscapes in this film. They also utilize unique angles and perspectives enough so that I actually found myself commenting on it. That doesn’t happen to me very often. 

I delighted in their nod to traditional Chinese action cinema. There’s a lot of wire work in this film with people running up walls, along walls, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, which is fairly common in Chinese film. My eight-year-old asked me at one point if people can really run sideways on a wall. I briefly explained what was going on with that. Total dad move, I know.

Speaking of action, there’s quite a bit of it in Mulan. I found it very interesting how they suggested a great deal of violence without actually showing anything all that violent. If you pay attention, you’ll notice quick cut after quick cut in the action scenes. They don’t linger too long on any one shot during the battles, and that is done with intention. By Disney’s standards, this is a pretty violent film, but I still had no problems letting my eight-year-old watch it because it never actually showed anything. In fact, though it’s rated PG-13, I would have been comfortable with it having a PG rating. 

Granted, some of the action is a little hokey. There are moments that absolutely remind an adult that this is a Disney film and therefore a film primarily aimed at children. But, overall, even this grizzled old man found it quite exciting to watch. 

Furthermore, it was fantastic to see some of our favorite actors in this film. Jason Scott Lee, Donnie Yen, and Jet Li all play significant roles in Mulan. The crazy part was that I somehow didn’t recognize any of them until the credits rolled! Jet Li is virtually unrecognizable. And Jason Scott Lee’s performance proves that he has been extremely underutilized in Hollywood. 

Yifei Liu plays Mulan, and though the actress has been the subject of controversy, there’s no denying the fact that she oozes charisma. She is simply interesting to watch. Her acting didn’t blow me away, but I still found myself captivated by her performance.

However, to me, the real star of the movie is Li Gong. My understanding is that she plays a completely new character named Xianniang, a witch, and I found her character to be the most complex, the most sympathetic, and the most interesting. I was shocked when I visited her IMDB page and saw her body of work. Li Gong has been around for a long time! Though her scenes probably take up no more than fifteen minutes of the film, they were a fantastic fifteen minutes. 

Of course, it’s only fair that I mention that Mushu, the dragon from the cartoon, is nowhere to be seen. However, they do replace him in a way with something quite mesmerizing and important to the story. Mulan is somewhat rooted in reality, at least enough so that a character like Mushu wouldn’t fit. Also, there is no singing in this version of Mulan. You’ll hear some familiar orchestra music, but there are no ballads or bangers. 

I’d also like to briefly talk about the price point. As Disney Plus subscribers, we had to pay $30 for the premier access. For me, this was not an issue. Let me explain why. First of all, we haven’t been to a movie theater in six months due to the pandemic and we’re desperate for something approximating the big-budget, blockbuster experience. Secondly, I would have spent far more than $30 at the actual theater–after tickets, drinks, and popcorn it probably would have been closer to $70. Does it bother me that I had to pay when I already have a Disney Plus subscription? No, because I still would have paid that $70 at the theater while still having my Disney Plus subscription. Of course, there’s also the strong possibility that we would have bought the Blu-Ray in three months, so tack on another $25. Because we bought Mulan on Disney Plus, we now own it for as long as we have our Disney Plus subscription. In my mind, I’m actually coming out ahead. Feel free to disagree with me, but that’s my point of view on the topic. 

If you’re looking for a family movie night, I absolutely recommend Mulan. I’m not sure I would let a child younger than seven or eight watch it, but if you’ve got kids around that age or older, it’s perfect. Enjoy!

Storm Front by Jim Butcher – A Book Review

A friend recommended this initial book of The Dresden Files. It’s called Storm Front, and it’s the first time we meet Harry Dresden, a Chicago private investigator and practicing wizard. 

Yes, you read that right.

I appreciated that Storm Front is a wonderful blend of genre. It often reads like hard-boiled detective noir, full of all the cliches and tropes you would expect. But then it blends in high fantasy with magical rods, demon trolls, and dark magic. I also liked that it moved at a very fast pace and proved pretty easy to follow.

That being said, I’m not sure I’ll revisit Harry Dresden. I found the dialogue a little too predictable, the writing technique felt a little too familiar, and the detective aspect never quite connected with me.

However, I know a lot of very smart people who love this series, so I may have to give the second book a try and assume that they get better and better as they progress.