Authors: Michael Ondaatje
The plan is for him at
some point to double-duke, creating two great hands during the course of the
one for Autry and a better one for himself. He will place this rif
e-stacked slug of cards beneath a crimp,
about where the player on his right usually cuts the cards. If the man cuts at
the crimp, there will be no need for Coop to hop or shift the deck secretly;
they will be able to bet everything on the known fall of the cards. Whenever he
is ready to do this he will signal Dorn to provide shade so there will be some
The game began in
mid-afternoon, and it is now seven. Autry’s right-hand thief continues dealing
Texas Hold ’Em. Shortly after this, Dorn suggests raising the blinds to make
the game twice as big. There will be two hands before Cooper gets to deal
again. He and Dorn have won and lost hands but have scraped through. A real
assault against them has not yet taken place.
Dorn now describes some
news footage he has watched of the massacre in the ‘troublesome desert’—with
American planes pouring down ten thousand rounds a minute onto a crowded
highway of escaping soldiers. ‘That’s the news, as of yesterday,’ he mutters.
ve-hundred-pound antitank cluster bombs that spew out razor shards
into the air at four thousand feet per second. We
re burning up those bodies from a biblical height. The highway, they
say, is like Daytona Beach during spring break.
Autry explodes, but Dorn doesn
t. ‘It’s Resurrection
Day.... Everything there, they say, is more or less charcoal.’ Cooper completes
sequence and slips in the slug, low in the deck.
round the table.
Dorn gives more details of the attack on the Republican
Guard, until Autry puts his hand up and requests silence. Cooper takes back the
deck, showing rapt attention as Autry remembers a conversion he witnessed in
which a girl of six began speaking whole pages out of the Old Testament.
deals out the
rst round of cards
two face-down to each
player. This goes on the table:
dorn x autry y cooper
Cooper asks Autry to
diverting him from the
surprisingly good hand he has been dealt. Dorn bets and Autry raises him.
Cooper stays in and the two thieves drop out. Coop sits back now and relaxes.
The fate of the entire dealing sequence has been set up during the shuf
es. All he has to do is play out the
hands. He burns the next card, discarding it as he has to, before dealing the
next three communal cards, the
Dorn has little of value
but bets, and Autry, who now has three aces, raises. Cooper begins to sing
gonna run to the rock for rescue,
there will be no rock...’
and calls Autry’s bet.
The game has been slowed to a crawl.
Cooper burns the next card
before dealing the fourth street. It’s an inconsequential card—an eight of
diamonds—which doesn’t alter the strength of the hands; it will simply create
another round of betting.
Got any family? Autry asks
Cooper. He has been X-raying the young man’s nature.
No family, Cooper says quietly.
Got a girl?
Haven’t got a girl.
Cooper clicks his tongue.
You a married man?
Yes, I am.
Autry makes another large bet. Coop contemplates, shuf
es his chips. Contemplates some more, and
calls. It is about ninethirty, and there is almost $100,000 in the pot, with
nearly that amount again sitting in front of the two remaining players. Now
even Autry is silent, and Coop deals out the last card—the River—his mind
whispering it as he begins to turn it over. He will burn down
humiliate him, with this humble seven of hearts.
Along with the communal
cards, face-up on the board, Autry now has a full house, three aces and two
sevens. He goes to town and moves all his remaining chips into the pot. Coop
calls him. They put down their hands, Coop revealing his sevens. Voilà, he
Autry recognizes the
dragon full of mockery. Coop pulls in the roughly $300,000, then stands up
Sit down, son, Autry whispers, a deeper voice.
Sit down, Dorn echoes.
Cooper stays standing, gathering the chips. He looks up at the eye in the sky
that he knows is watching them, that he knows never captured what he has
already done, and waves to it.
‘You fucking idiot, you’re a child,’ Dorn says. Cooper, catching his real
anger, looks at him. Then he walks to the cage and cashes out, watched by them
all. Mancini is at the mezzanine railing, looking down.
Cooper bangs the button for the elevator and travels to the eleventh
oor, gets out, and takes the stairs down
to the parking garage, and searches for Dorn
Headlights blink silently and he walks towards the vehicle. Ruth is sliding
over onto the passenger seat. ‘It went okay?’ ‘Yes.’ They drive out of the
darkness of the garage into a world of swerving desert electricity. In twenty
minutes they are out of the city.
There is war news on the
radio all night. Ruth leans against the passenger door, watching him. Cooper,
usually a person of humble acts, already feels foolish about his excess. She
taps him on the shoulder with her
nger, and he wakes from his focus on the road.
? Ruth says.
I heard the guy who
wrote it, on the radio, once. They were asking him what he was working on, but
he wouldn’t say. Then, at some point during his excuse for not saying what he
was doing, he said, ‘
know, I think I have already
written the most intimate and profound book I will ever be able to write. I
don’t think I can go as far as that again. From now on I should try comedy.
Comedy is not easy, I know. But at least it is not the same road.’ I loved that
about him, what that writer said. And I read everything of his after that, but
of course there was never to be a comedy. And of course you can’t go back
I know that, Coop says
quietly, so that she hardly hears it. Then Ruth sleeps, knowing she has to
drive back to Vegas by early morning. Cooper turns the radio knob, looking for
further details of the war, but they are paltry. He is aware he has ended his
career in Vegas and even Tahoe by winning so blatantly, with so much bravura.
The Gentile, in his
rst lesson, warned him against
amboyance and unevenness. As a mechanic, Axel was of the Naturalist
School, with the desire to always give the illusion that nothing was happening.
And what occurred with The Brethren was not luck. Dorn will probably have to
fan out the flames for himself, staying in the casino tonight, behaving in a
manner that suggests anger towards Cooper. And Ruth, he knows, will slide the
car back into the parking garage before dawn and be free of The Brethren’s
They stop for a drink in a roadside bar. Once back in the car, Cooper separates
the money equally into four piles, and puts his in an old Northwest Airlines
bag. Then they drive again, the last leg, with the windows down, the highway
breeze sideswiping him. At one point he slows the car to a halt and she says,
‘What is it?’ There is an owl on the road, apparently unwilling to leave the
heat of the highway, and Coop drives around it and continues.
When they reach the bus depot at Tonapah, he sits a moment longer,
his hands on the wheel, as if there were still miles to go.
They get out
and Ruth comes around to the driver’s door and they embrace. Coop is going to
disappear. He will never see these friends again. He pulls out the Northwest
Airlines bag and walks away from the car. Ruth starts it and a moment later
drives past him—a tap on the horn, her hand out the window—but he doesn’t
acknowledge the second farewell. He has already become a stranger.
At seven-thirty the next morning, when Dorn and Mancini arrive for breakfast at
the River Café, Ruth is sitting alone in the slightly chaotic restaurant. Four
waitresses in rubber boots are wading in the arti
cial river that has
ooded, searching under large rocks in
pump plug that malfunctioned during the night. ‘River’s in mourning,’ Mancini
says. They are aware that Cooper, their ‘heir,’ is the one blackballed for
life, certainly from all the big casinos. They also know that the three of them
are in some way permanently linked to him. But rather than talk about it, they
watch the waitresses, who are now laughing and beginning to enjoy themselves,
splashing in the water.
was following a path of gorse, her face and fair hair in the litter of light from
the high branches of oak above her; she was moving at a fast pace ever since
the incident a few days earlier when she had encountered the four men with
their guns and dogs. They had been standing at a small crossroads in the woods,
arguing, all barking at one another, and as she came near, the men threw out
suggestive comments in French that she had understood but pretended not to. The
atmosphere of threat had unnerved her. In spite of the episode, Anna had
refused to give up her afternoon walks. She would take the forest path, come
into the clearing, and then follow the river until she reached the paved road a
half-mile from the village of Dému. It was a walk on the edge of a run. In Dému
she bought groceries, put them in her backpack, and then turned home. At that
speed she was there in an hour and a half. The house was a
she was a temporary tenant in the place. She had thought at first that it might
be a château, but it wasn’t quite that. She had never stayed in a French
château, just as she had never seen a hunting dog until that afternoon with the
Most days Anna worked
indoors at a kitchen table, reading the manuscripts and the handwritten
journals of Lucien Segura. The
had once been the writer’s home,
and she found herself in some modest contrapuntal dance with him.
So that when she looked up from her work, it took a moment to
recognize the same doorways and the room around her—she had until that moment
been immersed in unearthing and cross-referencing a detail from this French
writer’s life, delving below the surface of his work.
A phrase among one
of her colleagues described what she was doing as ‘sweeping the translator’s
house.’ And she knew if she ascended the
ight of stone stairs and turned left she would be in his bedroom,
could look down onto the branches of the large oak tree the way the Frenchman
might have done as he dressed by the window generations before.
week Madame Q arrived with her husband.
dusted the house silently, while Monsieur Q surveyed the garden and gathered
branches and clari
ower beds. He was also the postman for the village. They would stay
the length of the morning and then leave. When no one inhabited the house, the
couple came more often and behaved like full-time caretakers. As it was, they
would step from the blue Renault 4L and bring news about the world, about local
politicians, about various wars. Monsieur Q would look across a
eld and decide he could get away with
leaving it for another week, while Madame Q attempted to teach Anna the basics
of cooking a rabbit stew, assembling one large dish that would save her from
making lunches for three days.