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“Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated?”

-by the Casual Swiss

The radio playing was priced at nine dollars and music would change depending on who had last won. The sohets blade was valued at around fifty.

I never saw the blade and I don’t know where it is now.  I owned it for a little while.  With three tens and a wild card the pot was mine.  The radio, the cash, IOU slips, a flare gun and the blade were pushed over to me.  It was wrapped in a soft red drawstring bag.  I never opened it or even touched it.

I put the radio on the bench behind me and turned off the Portishead. Debbie-Lee scowled as I tossed the tape back to her.  Seth put in the Black Sheep CD that he had won from Louis who took it from Debbie who got it as part of her salvage score.

My turn to deal.  I shuffled and slid the cards in front of Debbie-Lee to be cut.  She tapped the top of the stack and asked, “What is wild?”

“I’m wild, baby.  Wild as a dandelion.” I cracked and started dealing to my left.

“This town is what’s crazy fucking wild. You’re what stays in your room until little old ladies leave.” 

“Yeah, well…” Yeah, well I’d seen them kill, so I slept with a chair in front of my door.

“Now there’s American girls licking salt off of each other girl’s thighs out there.  There are fat guys from Delaware getting blown on roof tops and he would not even come to the card game unless I told him first who would be here.”

“Didn’t know you needed the money that much.” I shot back only to have her ignore it.

“I told him don’t worry, no old women here Mr. Swiss.” 

“You said there’d be a black guy here.” Seth mentioned, steering talk away from our weird exchange.

“Blackman,” she corrected.

“What?”

“That’s me,” the old white guy seated next to me claimed as he looked at his cards.  “Black in German is Schwartz.  And that’s me.”

“Schwartzman?”  He nodded.

Seth had said that.  I was frozen.  It was him all right, Joseph Schwartzman of cabin 215.  He was what The Mod was so afraid of. The big killer.  He had giant hands and was here for his salvaged blade that I now had. 

“Go, man,” Seth told me. Schwartzman lit a cigar and I kept dealing.

A few hands later I bet the objects and IOUs I had against Doc Savage’s cash.  I bet as high as the radio and folded.  Doc told me to stay in.  He was changing the stakes.

“Take back everything you’ve got in the pot and everything I put in,” (58 dollars and an iguana bowl)  “Bet the knife in its place against fifty more.  New hand and I’ll let your friend deal.”  I agreed and called him a Witch Doctor.

Like the rest of the table, Schwartzman had already gone out.  His blade was going to change hands and there was nothing he could do about it.  It was a win-win deal for me already but I wanted more.  The cash was coming from Doc Savage’s side of the table.  Paraphernalia and lifeboat contents weren’t going to get me a bus ticket.

 “I wanna raise things,” I said. 

 “Keep your music,” he gave back with interest, “I’m hip.”

Earlier in the game, to raise the pot a smidgen, Louis put a dollar value on choosing which music would be played even though he had the radio.  Otherwise he would only play Sex Pistols.  Schwartzman allowed it in the pot and when he won requested Kenny Rogers and the New Edition.   

“Not the music.”

“Then?”  I wasn’t going to bet any cash and he knew it.

“There’s a market in town for buying hair?”  I gestured to Debbie-Lee, running her hand over her faint stubble.

“Yeah?”  Doc answered and asked.

“What’ll you get for my pony tail?”

“Debbie-Lee got two hundred for everything but the wicked garden.”  Louis piped up.

“But that was red hair.”  Doc examined my tied back year of growth, “a dark hand full in Mexico?  And I doubt you’ve anything horse hair couldn’t do better…four dollars US.”

Schwartzman looked at me for the word “horse” and I took the price.”

The hand was dealt and quickly played.  He had shit but I had worse.  I lose.  “How do you want to do this?” Savage asked.

“Well, how about I keep it on for the meantime.  You can gamble with a representation of it, like a piece of paper that says “SWISS’ HAIR”.  Whoever owns the paper at the end of the night, you know."

The doctor eyed his new ceremonial blade.  “No checks, Swiss,” he said, “I want that lock hanging off my rear view mirror.  So if you can win it back,” he stood up, “I’ll hand it to you.”

Louis brushed everything off the table over to Doc Savage’s end.  In an “on your knuckles” push up position, I begrudgingly leaned across the table.

The rest of the room moved quickly and from both sides my arms were grabbed and pulled out.  “Oh shit!”  Additional hands held my shoulders down and a strong grasp went around the back of my neck.

“Be still, boy.”  It was Schwartzman.

Savage lifted the red bag by its strings.  The weight of the blade pulled the bag tightly shut as it left my peripheral vision.  Later, Louis told me that Doc Savage spent a full minute miming practice swings at my pony tail, hoping to get it all in one swing.  I didn’t know what was happening and Debbie-Lee starts to whisper in my ear.

At first it was in German.  Then, “Before art school I studied in poetry.”

“Needed two useless majors, Cue ball?” I prodded.  I could feel her breath but never saw her.

“But before it was with animals.  Cats dogs birds fish.  Horses.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Wild dogs. Wolves.  They became house pets and are domesticated.  They chew up their fur and scratch their ass on the floor because they are irritated.  Two pouches inside the anus used to mark their scent aren’t used anymore.  They fill up but they are no longer wild dogs and cannot claim anything so they only irritate.  At animal school you put on gloves and reach into the pet and there they are.”  She gave me a slow wedgie.  Louis told her to knock it off but she kept going.

“They are at four and seven o’ clocks.  And to release, to let them forget about having been cheated out of being a wild dog, just add pressure.”  She pulled away.  The wedgie stayed.

“Here it comes,” Louis said.  But nothing came.

“Give me the blade,” I heard Schwartzman tell the Doc. 

“It’s my property.  Pair of sevens said so and I can crush coconuts with it if I want.  And right now I want ta cut the Casual Swiss’ hair.”

“Well that may not yet be my blade, but if it’s going to be swung at the boy’s head it’ll be me slinging it.”

“Fuck that!” I shouted up, “What if he goes for the jugular out of habit?”  And what if he knew about the horse meat we sent to his cabin?  I kicked out at nothing.  Seth knelt in front of me.

“Don’t worry Mr. Swiss, he’s a professional.  Hands switched positions all over my skull.

Wielding that blade was Schwartzman’s gig.  But did he retire because he’d lost his touch?  Doc Savage cut things fine, he was a surgeon.  But why was he practicing in Mexico now?

“I can cut it myself--“

My ex-pony tail was dropped in front of me and the hands let go.  I didn’t feel a thing.

I stood up and corrected the wedgie.  I had been sweating and Debbie wouldn’t look at me.  She held something over everyone in the room, but her grip on Seth and I was slipping.  The Haughty Wench passengers were all flown out except for Schwartzman.  He was the number one guy we hoped went down with the ship, though he seemed to be warming to us.

Hands later, Schwartzman still hadn’t gotten his blade and had stopped bribing Louis to change the music.  I’d lost the boom box to him and the Sex Pistols played again.

As “Holiday In the Sun” rattled the room’s only window, Seth asked Mr. Schwartzman about the numbers tattooed below his shoulder.

“Is that from a camp?” Seth asked. 

“What kind of camp?” Schwartzman sent back.

“A Jewish camp…European, old, Jewish camp in Europe.  If in the old country--?”  Joseph Schwartzman was one tough nut.  The blade being held hostage couldn’t have put him in a good mood and he may still have it out for Seth and I over serving him a horse steak.  Seth making conversation about him and genocide was probably a bad idea.  But, Schwartzman let him off the hook pretty quickly.  Louis tracked ahead to “Pretty Vacant”.

“No.  I am Russian by descent, but Texan by birth and Jewish by choice.”

“Your choice?” (that was Louis) 

“God’s choice.  And in the camps they put the numbers much lower.  What’s on my shoulder is a U.S. social security number.”

“A parallel could be drawn,” Debbie-Lee brought up.

Louis agreed, “Yes one could.  Now shut yer hole, Kraut,” then asked the Texan if it was his own number or someone else’s.

“My own.  I didn’t always do God’s work but I still wanted my remains claimed quickly if I were found without identification.” 

So, later when the doctor got into a pinch, he told the shehitah, “I can take those numbers off of you.  Real quick, no scar?”

“No deal,” Joe Schwartzman returned unopened, “Best to keep a reminder of a hellion youth than be an old shit who denies it.”

Debbie-Lee looked right at me for the first time in an hour.  I flinched.

Copyright©2000 The Casual Swiss