Jack Wesley Hardin’s
(the anatomy of a dope deal)

To be honest, not only am I not sure who invented Indian Poker, but to this day, the great 21st Century Search God Google hasn’t got a clue either. But whoever the douche bag was, they sure must have had it in for yours truly. Apparently this wild-maddening-ballsy little game of blind man’s bluff — where everyone is dealt just one card face down, one card they don’t get to look at, before picking it up and pressing it to their forehead face out, so everybody can see everybody else’s card except their own, before they bet (3, 5 or 7 times, depending on the type game called) — goes by a lot of different names in a lot of different places, and has been around for as long as betting on spit itself was part of the action surrounding whether the first cave-Einstein who accidentally discovered fire by rubbing two rocks, sticks, or bones together, could bring the flames to life again when the chips were on the table and the pressure was on to perform the act in front of all the skeptics.

Some say the game goes all the way back to the rise of the Mayan civilization. While others say it was closer to the fall of the Mayan civilization. Still others claim it happened hundreds of years later when the great Apache war chief Geronimo came up with the game to stave off boredom by playing with the guards while being imprisoned by the United States Army, in St. Augustine, Florida. Even others claim it was Geronimo’s arch Apache enemy, that old peacenik Cochise, who improvised the contest to bluff Geronimo into coming back into the fold before the white men rubbed out half their tribe. A totally different group insist this one-card Three Card Monte of card games was conceived right before the battle of Little Big Horn, by the Sioux, as a test of vision, to see how and when they would enter into the next world. Some say it was Crazy Horse who came up with it while trying to get an edge in his own wilder west version of Russian Roulette, while others insist it was the elder, wiser, Sitting Bull who dreamed it up because he was obsessed with looking into the afterlife, to see how he and the children of his children were eventually going to punch their tickets to ride through the shadow of the valley of death in order to rendezvous with their Great Maker on the Other Side of Nowhere. On the other hand, don’t you just know there have to be more than a few adamant cowboys who don’t buy into the Injun Mumbo-Jumbo, and claim it wasn’t a Native-American at all who invented Indian Poker, it was a Euro-trash-American white man. Most of those nay-saying know-it-all-dudes claim it was General George Armstrong Custer, mocking the fortitude of the next victim who got in the way of what he called “progress” on his road to the White House. The smart money in the paler-shade-of-skin camp, however, never had a doubt that Custer was too flawed by his own eaten-up-with-itself ego to ever come up with anything as visionary as Indian Poker. Most of them credit the legendary old mountain man trapper Jim Bridger with improvising the competition for the hefty five Chippewa squaws he lived with, as a way of avoiding getting his arms ripped out of their sockets, by letting the game decide nightly during the cold winter months, which one he would crawl under the bearskins with first.

Before we go on, you should know the reason I bring Indian Poker up in the first place is not the name of the game; call it anything you want, call it Fuck Your Mama if that’s what gets you off, Oedipus. But just understand that no matter what the game is called, or where it’s played, invariably it always seems to be saved for the last hand of the night. Call it the get even hand, if you like, ‘cause by any other name, that’s what it is. My problem is, even if I’m winning — and I usually am — and ought to happily walk away with those winnings in my pocket, I can’t stop myself from not only playing that last hand every time, but betting everything I have on it.

It’s a fatal flaw I suppose. The law of averages say that one day, one night, one ill advised game, that flaw will take more than the chips I throw in the pot, or the emergency stash I have buried out in the desert behind the ranch. It will take me like it took Hickock, like it took Cody, like it took Doc Holiday, like it took gunslingers and gamblers who go against the grain of the lock every time. Wyatt Earp was the exception to the rule, but if I was really the reincarnated spirit of the old Tombstone Marshal, as I’d been told I was since childhood by a gypsy woman who seemed to know her shit, I’d already escaped being rubbed out by my karma seemingly more times, in more lives, than any one man had a right to deserve. I could sense I’d already used up more than the allotted nine lives any righteous cat had a right to expect his soul could carry across the Holy Mountains in the distance, without spilling his essence all over the Continental Divide. Increasingly, as time went on, every time I played the game I always found myself swearing under my breath that this would be the last time. Just like I kept promising myself that every run I made would be my last. I didn’t know much, but I did know that one day something would happen that would make me keep my promise, but it didn’t look like this was going to be the day.

As I looked around the table, El Coyote slid down in his wheelchair and pawed a black Jack or some-kind-of-face-card up to his forehead. With the thick dull cruddy flow of Mexican sweat creeping down my forehead, over my head card, into my eyes, it was impossible to tell what cards I was betting against, or who was looking at my winner and trying to bluff me out of the game. If we were playing any place but home sweet home I would’ve reached up and flicked the sweat away with a finger of pure contempt for my addiction and gone home, but I was playing against a Spade-of-something in the middle-of-the deck held by a grinning Federale General sitting between my lowball gopher fat-assed Gordo and the bound-for-Hell-and-back Billy the Kidd, holding some sort of red bitch above his furrowed brows, with a suspicious Federale Colonel and double-crossing Federale Captain sitting like bad anti-hero sandwiches on both sides of my two loser teammates.

The evening before the fateful day in question held no clues of what lay ahead. It had been just another nearly normal night out on the ranch. A few amigos sitting around the card table shooting the shit on the once screwed-in-porch adjoining the old white adobe hacienda looking out over my 40 acre spread. If you looked closely you could see a patch of green just starting to come up out of the sandbox. The usual row of empty beer cans were stuck up on the top of the small cyclone fence, providing us with a virtual carnival of activities; target practice from both the sitting and collapsed positions. A bit of Miami’s best powder to go along with some fine-fine green and a bottle of El Presidente brandy to take the edge off and steady the hand at 30 yards.

Have you ever noticed how accidents, for some reason, almost always seem to happen more often late at night when you’re least expecting your deal to go down? On the horizon, the closest lights are shaped in the haze of a distant but tight triangle, miles away. They form a bull’s eye around the top of the barrel where the I.C.B.M. (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) big nuclear bomb will exit. A futuristic blast signaling an end for philosophers and perverts alike. But on this night in particular all seems quiet on the western front. The world, despite its perpetual urge to rip a new asshole out of anything faintly resembling a comfort zone, is at peace as El Presidente does its usually soothing job and the faint light of early morning appears on the horizon, allowing sleep to finally overtake the jagged lyrics of the white bitch singing a sweet-dreams-sucker-lullaby in my head.

Just as the mind music ends, a twisting of my toe jolts me into action, swinging the revolver – which has somehow managed to stay in my hand all through the snooze – up, as my finger goes on automatic, pulling the trigger one, two, three times before the dull snap-crackle and pop wakes me with the barrel focused down on the scared shitless face of Gordo, the gofer for one Hector Lopez, of the south side of Tucson, Arizona, Lopez clan.

As Gordo tremulously stares cross-eyed down the barrel, I pull the trigger again, knowing full well I’d already emptied all six bullets before settling into unconsciousness. The kinder-gentler me just wants to put Gordo’s fears to rest before we go to work.

To Be Continued…

Jack Wesley Hardin is the nom de plume for a legendary Private Investigator involved in some of the biggest and most controversial high profile criminal and civil cases in the United States. A television series is presently being developed based on his exploits and involvement in those cases. A one time college football star, gonzo NFL linebacker, Green Beret, soldier of fortune, and hippie John Wayne on the Mexican side of the law (in the good ole days of his spent youth), Mexican Sweat (the anatomy of a dope deal) is a memoir from those early years that will be serialized in Smoke Signals. Stay tuned.

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