Nate Bell was a good kid. He was good looking, a charmer, and Eddie Pragmatic Play to my Wally Cleaver. He never actually commented on what a lovely dress my mother was wearing, but he might as well have. My Dad, while appreciating Nate’s scheming ways and general sense for mischeif, never really felt all that good when I left the house to hang out with the kid from Nixa.

Dad was pretty justified in his worry. Trouble followed Nate like we poker players follow tilting players from online table to online table. On one particular night, we were just out from a midnight showing of The Shining at the theater on Battlefield. After leaving, we ran through a Hardees drive-through. My buddy Brad was driving, I was in the passenger seat (having mastered the art of Shotgun), and Nate was in the back (with a girl, as I recall, making me believe that maybe I wasn’t as good at Shotgun as I thought).

I can’t recall why, whether it was provoked, or the exact circumstances of Nate’s middle finger extending from his hand. Nor can I recall how long it took the car load full of wrestlers from Glendale High to exit their car and make it to ours. All I know is that there was a building on our left, a row of hedges on our right, a car behind us, and the wrestlers in front. I also know I had to explain a rather bloody face to my dad the next day.

Nate was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known, but trouble followed him everywhere.

***

That was a long preamble to a story about The Mark. Our travel woes getting to Tuinca have already been documented. I have not, nor will I, mention in any detail how we had not been in town for an hour before Mark was in a verbal altercation with another poker player. Nor will I list in any detail times past that have led me to believe the following:

The Mark is my new Nate Bell.

The Mark is a man of almost constant good intentions, and yet, like Nate, wherever Mark goes, trouble ain’t far behind. In this particular case, trouble was trailing by about 15 minutes.

***

There was a lot of talk about dinner. Dinner, especially a sit-down meal, is always a priority with The Mark. He has a hard time eating alone and feels personally offended if you won’t take a break to go have supper with him. This particular night, most of the blogger-types were looking to go out together. At first, I considered going. I was later told they were going to some cafe, and I became less interested. My game was pretty good and after about eight hours of play, I’d developed enough reads to make a little money.

All of that said, it was taking the bloggers a while to get rolling and The Mark was impatient. Noting an open seat at my table, he sat down to play for the 15 minutes he had to kill before he went to eat.

We played a few hands together before an old man, with whom I’d been sitting all day, returned from a walk.

“That’s my seat,” he said to The Mark.

When Mark sat down, there had been two empty seats at the table with about $250 in chips sitting in between the two empties. I knew the old man had been sitting in the two seat all day long. Mark sat in the three seat.

The Mark apologized in his own special way. Just when it appeared the situation was going to be resolved, the old man said, “And I had some hundreds sitting there.”

Well, fuck.

The guy was, in essence, accusing Mark (who had $1000 on the table and much more in his pocket) of snatching a couple hundred bucks in paper.

“Man, I don’t need your money,” The Mark said.

“Floor!” the dealer yelled.

Now it was a sideshow. The old man was insisting he had left paper on the table. Mark was rolling his eyes and edging up to verbally combative. A crowd was forming, including G-Rob who called, “You going to ban this guy from the casino for shooting an angle?”

G-Rob had put just about as fine a point on it as was necessary.

I, too, recalled the old dude having some bills on the table after winning a hand about half an hour earlier. What I didn’t see for sure was whether he ratholed the money when he went walking. What I did see for sure was Mark sit down, never touch the old dude’s chips, and start playing as if the $250 in redbirds didn’t exist.

Let’s go to the tape.

Oh, yes. Now a floorman, his supervisor, and security were involved.

“I’m going to eat,” Mark said, not surprisingly. “I’ll leave you my name and phone number if you need to talk to me later.”

The floor’s silence indicated that would not be necessary. And Mark was gone.

A part of me wanted to go with them. Another part wanted to stick around and see how the silliness ended. And that’s what I did.

“I can’t play while this is hanging over me,” the old man said, ever the victim. He stood on tthe rail and waited for 15 minutes while the floor talked to his supervisor. A few minutes later, the floor introduced the old dude to the suspervisor. They talked for ten minutes before the old guy, came back to stand and wait again. He told us they were still checking the tapes. Fifteen minutes later, the old dude sat down.

“So, what happened?” I said, knowing the answer already.

“What?” he said, a bit of his spirit gone.

“Did the cameras see who took your money?” I said, knowing the answer already.

“They didn’t see nothin’,” the old man said. Then he refused to post his dead blind and another fight began.

This one, thankfully, didn’t involve The Mark.