I’m glad I saw The Sting. I’m glad my dad, an RCMP officer, had a card shark demonstrate his skills for me.
Yesterday I was sitting street-side at Stellas, enjoying my morning iced black coffee, and reading the Vietnam News.
A passerby asked me what ‘Disc Golf’ was. My hat said ‘Pender Island Disc Golf’. I explained it was golf played with a disc, or Frisbee. He asked if he could join me. Certainly. He was well spoken, dressed neatly and appeared to be an upstanding youngish man. He told me he worked as a bartender in Malaysia but was visiting his family in Saigon. His sister, he said, was moving to Vancouver soon. Ahh, I lived near Vancouver I said. We talked about this and that. By the end of the coffees he asked me if I’d like to have lunch with his family tomorrow and meet his sister. Cool. Meet some locals. Eat the local cuisine. He asked me about my dining preferences. Vegetarian. Fish OK? OK. We’ll meet tomorrow at 1pm back at the coffee bar.
I enjoy meeting the locals. Westerners tend not to acknowledge one another but I’ve found it easy to talk to the locals. Buy something in a store and enjoy a conversation.
(Outside there’s a thunderstorm in progress – it should’ve been yesterday; I might have taken it as an omen).
When Skyping with Sue I told her of the encounter and how I was looking forward to the lunch.
Before the arranged meeting I asked the girl at the desk of my guesthouse what I might bring as a present for the family. She suggested wine or fruit. I collected a selection of Canadian goodies I had, located a wine store on the internet and hustled off. Time was tight and the wine store seemed to have disappeared. I went into the grocery store now at the address and purchased the best coffee gift pack they had. Then I strode over to the rendezvous point.
My man was there and we hopped into a cab. We crossed into unknown territory for me; I only had a vague idea where I might be. Along the way he tod me didn’t like to drink coffee as it jittered his nerves. So much for the gift.
His family home was in a typical narrow lane. We entered his home. Don’t worry about your shoes he said. We’re like Americans here. Wear your shoes inside. OK cool. Met the sister. No mention of Vancouver. His brother came down the stairs. Affable, shaking hands. But he was a bit tired as he’d had a late night working at the casino. And a lady who’d said she’d tip him 5% of her winnings hadn’t. He was a bit miffed. His mother was in hospital for an operation and he could have used the 5% of $800,000 she’d won in the casino. Asked me if I gambled. Told him I didn’t go to casinos but I enjoyed Friday night poker with the boys. But, hey, lunch was on.
I sat by myself at the little table and ate some veggies and fish. A rather lonely dining experience. The two brothers and sister lingered about, watched TV, told me I could wash my hands in the kitchen sink when I was finished. I ate and looked about. In wall alcoves were bottles of Remy Martin and other liquors. I didn’t want to be rude so didn’t linger over my meal.
The brother asked if I’d like to see a 100% method of winning at Blackjack. Ahh, well, sure.
He led me upstairs to his room, sat me down at a cloth-covered table. He showed me how he ‘controlled’ the cards. I’d seen this before, with my dad. Pick a card, any card. Yep, that’s it. Hmmm, familiar. What’s happening here?
The scenario progressed. He’d deal me perfect hands. He’d deal me losing hands. Calling them every time. He showed me signals that would indicate what the other player had. He asked me how long I thought it might take me to win $100,000. Ten minutes? Fifteen? Twenty? I said ten. Alright. He demonstrated how I could keep winning hands, suckering in the other player at the table. I was getting confused, feeling agitated. This was going beyond an interesting card demo.
The original brother joined us. Sitting close and upright, muscles pumped. We ran through the strategies. Then a woman arrived. Smartly dressed; gold jewellery. Was this a rehearsal for a set-up at the casino? I was very confused. Outside the rain pelted down, rattling on the roof, rattling my nerves, obscuring conversation.
The woman pulled out a wad of hundreds. Bought some chips. We were having a game of blackjack. Making small bets. Making bigger and bigger bets.
Then she pulled out a huge wad. $100,000 worth of chips she said. He said he’d cover me for whatever I needed. Cards were dealt. Signals were given. I was winning. We shook hands after each hand. She congratulated me on my luck. Another deal. I had 21. According to the signals she had 20. She made a huge bet. $92,000. Dealer brother said he’d cover me.
“What is this? A fantasy?” I asked. I’ve a 100,000 dong ($5)on me I told them (a big lie). They said “Hey, let’s step away from the table and have a confab.”
What the hell is going on here?
She’s the woman, the woman who wouldn’t give the bro his 5%. We can take her. You’ve got the hand.
No, no. I’m not up for this.
Why? You’ve got a winning hand.
No, no. I came for lunch, not a high stakes game of blackjack. I don’t do this. This much money shakes me up.
OK, but you’ve got her and we can get our revenge. But if you’re not ready for it, we’ll tell her you’re not comfortable betting so much money.
More hand shaking. She takes her little shopping bag full of hundreds and leaves.
You had her man. But that’s OK. Just don’t tell anyone about this. We’ll call a cab for you.
The original brother rode back as far as Notre Dame cathedral with me where he got out, umbrella in hand. No doubt to cast about another potential sucker.
I was just happy no one bopped me one and took my money belt with $2000 US dollars and hundreds of thousands of dong in it. Later I considered the whole set-up. What I thought was a card demo would’ve turned into a real game, with little warning. They would’ve covered my bets. Then she would have had 21 to my 20. Oh, whoops. Sorry dude, you’re into us for all this money. Whatcha going do now?
All in all it was a clumsy set-up. They could really nail someone if they set it up right.
And I never did get a chance to give them the coffee.