Chino Nunez is a college student roughly halfway to graduation. He aspires to be a novelist, but would like to get some worldly experience first, before he locks himself in.
The old cantina we were in had the telltale signs of an interesting history, from the bullet holes behind the counter to the sawdust soaking up blood near the rear exit. This did not stop the usual clientele from going about their drinking, whoring and gambling. Some tables were hosting games like blackjack and 5-card Texas Hold’em. Others held games I couldn’t understand.They were likely from east of the Mississippi.
My musings were cut short as my companion-a Cheyenne/Crow half breed named Monaco-laid a shot of whisky in front of me.
“Drink up, it’s your turn next,” he said, prompting me to down the shot.
“Agh, burns like hell. What’s in this?” I asked, scrunching my face.
“I do not know. Let us hope there are no snakeheads or horse droppings in it. Get ready,” he said.
Sure enough, the knife was passed my way. The other occupant of our table had just went seven rounds before stabbing himself.
“To clarify, I have to go seven or more times around before I win the pot. Is that right?” I asked.
“That’s right. If you win, you get the 20. If you lose, I get it,” said the man.
“Alright, let’s do this,” I said, focusing on my open hand as it laid face down on the table. I picked up my old Bowie knife and started to stab the spaces between my fingers, starting with the space below my thumb before going to the space between my thumb and index, going back to the space behind my thumb and proceeding to the space between the index and the middle finger, repeating this process until I reached my pinky, restarting the process.
I did this six more times, almost stabbing myself twice before I reached my eighth round. By this time, the methodical sound of the knife sinking into the table had drawn a small crowd. “Eight!” I announced, sinking the knife into the table deep enough for it to stand on its own, the reflection of the afternoon sun causing it to glint a deep yellow. The man across from me let out a sigh before pushing the money to me. I grabbed it and offered my hand for a handshake. “Thank you, sir. I realized I never got your name,” I said.
“I’m Victor. Victor Bell. What’s yours, if you don’t mind me asking?” he said.
“The name’s Finnegan. Finnegan Wade,” I replied.
“Well, Finnegan, what would you say to another round?”
“I’m good. I needed this money to eat tonight before my friend and I head out tomorrow. We’re headed down to Texas for the winter to see my ma, maybe find some work to help her out down there.”
“We wouldn’t be playing for money this time. Well, you wouldn’t. I ‘acquired’ these from a man over in Nevada,” he said, revealing a deck of risqué cards. “If you win, you get this deck. If I win, I get the 20 back. What do you say?”
“Finn, we need the money.We haven’t eaten well in days. Say no,” whispered Monaco.
“Yeah, but we can sell those cards for a dollar each. How many dirty cards have you seen in your days? The cowboys we run across, especially the ones in their prime would be easy prey when selling these,” I said, a glint of greed in my eye. “Besides, the one with the velvet bodysuit that looks kinda mean I’ll keep. So we’re not in this entirely for the money.”
“Whatever. Just don’t come complaining to me when your stomach feels like it’s eating itself,” said Monaco.
I looked at Victor, “I’m game,” I said.“So,what’s the catch?”
Victor smirked at me before saying, “We do it with three shots in us, one eye blindfolded and we go past ten. If neither of us cannot do it, the money is split.”
I was shocked. He expects me to do all that? I wanted to quit, but my honor, pride and greed forbade me from backing down. “Alright, let’s go,” I said.
He started, reaching 10 and the middle/ring gap before stabbing his own hand. By this time, the crowd was bigger, as many had never seen such a high stakes game before. I swallowed the dryness in my mouth as he passed my knife back to me.
“Pass me three shot glasses and your armband, Monaco,” I said, nervousness leaking into my voice.
“It’s a bad idea,Finn. We can still walk away better off than when we came,” he said, handing me the glasses and his armband anyway.
“No, we can’t. I can’t,” I said, breathing deeply. “Not anymore.”
I downed the shots, tied the bandana and began the game. Thumb, index, middle, ring, pinky, back. Thumb, index, middle ring, pinky, back. I repeated this several times, getting faster each time but still taking minutes to reach each finger. Any noise that had been prevalent had been drowned out, the loud thunksof the knife ringing like church bells in my head. The only things currently in existence were me, my knife,and the table.
Before long, the ninth round had come and passed, leaving me on equal footing with Victor. I could finally see it, the light at the end. The knife plunged into the table between the index and middle finger, proceeding to the space that would make or break me. The knife sailed down, and I braced for the pain. None came. Instead, a thunk was heard. As I brought the knife back to continue, I felt a pain in my thumb and my stomach dropping. The crowd let out a collective gasp, and I knew I had failed. I turned to apologize to Monaco when I heard Victor swear and say “Well friend, the deck is yours. Hope you enjoy it more than I did.”
I couldn’t believe it. I had won? What Monaco said next nailed the point home, “Won by just a knuckle. You really are something else, Finnegan Wade.”