h1

54. A BASEMENT

June 4, 2008

Scene 5 – All-in Pre-flop

Before dawn, Sunday morning 13th November 2005. Dilapidated weather board property in North Coburg.

[Joel on his mobile]:
“Cath? Yeah, I’m with Layla in Coburg. It’s about three or four isn’t it? Five? I know, I know. Sorry but I couldn’t call till now. We’ve been down at the cop shop in St Kilda. There’s been an incident.

No. We’re fine. Pretty much. Yeah, she’s good, she’s good.

Yeah look, she was waiting for me when I got off the train at Flinders Street. Yep. Very. She’d been at Crown Casino since Friday arvo, gambling and drinking. [Sigh] Well, it is what it is.

Anyway, look Cath, we got into a bit of a bad situation on the tram back to Coburg. There was a fight.

No, no, she didn’t start anything. Some guys came on looking for trouble and she was just…

Hold on Cath, hold on, listen. Some people died. Yeah, dead. I’m still in a bit of shock. It was very weird. There was some really weird shit happening. I’d forgotten what it’s like to be around her.

Yes, that’s it! It’s on The Age site already? It’ll be pandemonium next week.

What’s it like? It’s a tip. She’s living in the basement of a tip. Yeah, she’s actually managed to end up in the only basement in the Northern suburbs. Apparently, Matthew Johnson asked her to leave his house at the end of last term because she was a bad influence on young Shane. Can you believe it? Our Layla a bad influence? It upset her but not enough to alter her lifestyle.

No, stay where you are. I’ll just have a coffee with Layla, put her to bed and get a taxi back. Okay? Be there soon Cath.”

A drawn and unsteady Layla shunted a large bolt with her shoulder to lock the door. She gingerly tread down the steps balancing two mugs.

[Layla]:
“Here we go Joel. You like it black with two sugars, right?”

[Joel]:
“Yeah, that’s great thanks Layls. How are you traveling now? “

[Layla]:
“Bit tired but recuperating.

Hey, thanks for helping me out tonight Joel… and for supporting me through the tram thing. I’m a terrible friend. You might have to stay here a while; there’s a Channel 9 news van out front already. I’ll go out to them after a shower. That’ll give you a chance to skip off.”

[Joel]:
“No worries Layls. Look… when I met you at Flinders… I don’t like to see you like that. It used to be me staggering about with a skinful… and you reprimanding me! It doesn’t suit you Layls.”

[Layla, grimacing and turning her back to her moral advisor]:
“Oh not you too Joel. Get off my back. I get enough hassle from Pippy.”

[Joel, pursuing]:
“But you haven’t been at Uni for weeks . What’s it all about? The fame? I know you like mixing it with the footy crowd. God knows what you get up to with them. And you are spending too much time at Crown Casino. It’s unhealthy.”

Layla grabbed a handbag from her low table and pulled out bundles of cash.

[Layla]:
“What’s it all about? It’s about this at the moment. There’s sixty grand here. My gambling is a problem alright… for my opponents. I always win. I seem to have mastered Texas Holdem.”

[Joel]:
“Sixty thousand? You… you’ve won that this weekend?”

[Layla, proudly]:
“Well, I brought twenty with me. I’m up forty five. Mostly carousing, hobnobbing and drinking this weekend… I only played a few hours in a cash game. This is nothing Joel, I’ve won over three million dollars in the last year. I’m going to the World Series soon. I’ll win it too. Another feather in my plumage. I’ll let you stick it in if you want. Where do you think it should go?”

[Joel, motioning Layla to tone down]:
“You can’t win all the time Layls. You should quit while you’re ahead. Stick with the sports, you are brilliant at them, and you’re already world famous. You don’t need to sink to this. Get back on track. You really have three million? How?”

[Layla]:
“I do and there’s plenty more where that came from. I’m just extremely good at poker. You know I’ve played some of the best in the world. Always win. Nah nah na na naaa.”

[Joel]:
“But it’s not reality Layls. You have to finish your psychology degree and get a proper job. But how do you do it? Do you use your training?”

[Layla]:
“What? The psychology training? You’d be joking right? I can never remember any of it. I’m no good at this academic stuff. I think I’ll drop out soon. The only reason I’m still enrolled is because I have to justify being in Melbourne to my parents.

You want to know how I do it? I can see through their cards. I can even see what comes up next but I choose not to. It takes away the monotony when there’s a chance of losing.”

[Joel]:
“You cheat them? Laylaaaaaa… that’s not right. You can’t do that. That’s very disappointing. You have to stop and give the money back.”

[Layla]:
“Don’t be silly, I’m just employing my natural talents. Some people have the ability to read people and some know the maths. I’m fortunate enough to know the cards. Makes me pretty unbeatable you know. And a low cut top keeps the punters coming back for more.“

[Joel, angered]:
“Don’t be a child all your life Layla. You should be filling your time with more important things than playing poker. You could make a real difference. You already have… but you could do more.”

[Layla]:
“Nope, Joel you’re wrong. You’re absolutely wrong. If everyone was taught poker skills the world would be a better place. You have to learn to how to press home an advantage, when to fold a strong hand, when to make a stand. You have to learn to take setbacks on the chin and carry on. It’s all about sizing up the risk and taking the optimal action. You can’t fear risk; you have to see the upside as well as the downside”

[Joel]:
“It doesn’t look as if you have to take any risks.”

[Layla, pointedly]:
“Oh but I do Joel. And your mother was wrong. Queen Layla doesn’t always get what she wants. See, I’m not a stone Joel. I’ve had a few setbacks, haven’t I? [raises eye brows]

Look, I’m working things through. Poker playing has helped me a lot. I mean Pippy never gives me a straight answer. I’ve tried to get him to flesh out what the purpose of life is but he never turns it over. I think Pippy’s God is a poker God. He deals out billions and billions of hands until the pattern of probability forms some pre-determined mesh. Any one hand is uncertain; a number of outcomes are possible. Sort of a restricted free will.

Yes, dear Joel, I have to learn how to manage risks or I’ll come a cropper. I’ve been dealt a pair of aces and I’ll win most hands but I still have to learn how to play them. I can’t just go all-in all the time… I have to build up my chips and keep away from the big stacks until I can scare them. If a big stack goes all-in against me each time they will eventually beat me. And if they bide their time till they have good hands they will beat me easier. So I have to keep my hand strength a secret as long as possible. So yeah, I want to make a difference but I’m not ready. You know I’m biased towards some sort of human unity but these days I’ve no idea what the point of it is. Maybe it’s to make the mesh look better. Yeah, maybe our God is making a God ornament and I’m the stain introduced to put a better finish on it.

So there you go Joel, there’s more learning than yearning in poker. I may have been dealt the best hand but it doesn’t mean I’ll end up on top. I didn’t with you, right? I should have gone all-in with you after the flop.”

[Joel]:
“Layls, you’re confused. Forget the news people, you need go to bed and get some sleep.

And no, no, I don’t accept any of that poker rubbish. Each life is far too meaningful to be reduced to a random gambol. I prefer the Baha’i idea… this life is a series of tests which are needed to develop virtues in us that so we can be more fully alive in the next world. Just like a baby in the womb develops limbs that aren’t needed till after birth.

You should return to the fold Layla. Half of Horsham is Baha’i now… because of you… and your example. We love you so much. We can’t bear to see you… diminished in this way. We all think of you as Baha’i anyhow. Come back and join us.”

[Layla]:
“Sometimes I do long for it, I do Joel. But I don’t think it’s possible any more.”

[Joel]:
“Of course it is. Look, they let me back in when I apologized. You could do the same.”

[Layla]:
“No, that’s not what I meant at all. Yeah, no, you’re right Joel… I’m shattered. I need to get out of these wreaking clothes.”

Joel cast his eyes down and blew on his coffee as Layla shimmied her jacket off and wrestled her top over her head. She kicked both into a heap. Her jeans soon joined them leaving her in a lingering bra and knickers. Both a plush green. Layla, milk smooth and gasp-contoured, appeared utterly opulent.

[Layla, hesitating briefly]:
“Oh you don’t mind do you? Nothing you haven’t seen before, I’m sure.”

Joel felt forced to turn his face to her but didn’t answer. That face flushed. He rocked back and forth at a little, steady gallop in tune to his red blood pounding. Admit it Joel. A loosely defined situation such as this had crossed and uncrossed your mind on the train in and the tram out and when you hung up the mobile phone on Cath. And you haven’t done anything wrong but would you stop wrong being done to you?

She dropped her straps, stepped out of her pants and stretched out… up on her tippy toes. Magnificent. Perfect woman. Perfectly proud, perfectly bountiful and shaved as clean as any whistle.

The bare mare plopped her bum on Joel’s lap, straddling him. Slender fingers whisked his coffee away to a safe place. Her flat hands held his face and gave him a long, rough mouth kiss.

[Joel, mumbling]:
“Oh c’mon Layla, let’s not do this.”

Still kissing, Layla unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it over his wrists. She leveraged him half up from the seat to jimmy down his trousers and he assisted enough to get them to his ankles. They fell back down. She put both hands between his thighs and clipped a thumb and index finger onto each of his balls. The increasing pressure came as a terrifying surprise to Joel.

[Joel, hastily intervening]:
“No, no. Too much, Layla. Too much. Too much.”

[Layla, disengaging her mouth and leaning back innocently, coyly]:
“I’ve been waiting to get my hands on these for sooo looong. It’s okay Joel. I call this my panacea position. He panics, he comes clean, and everything is resolved.

Hey, look at that Joel! Look at it! Your cock is crowing and crowing. Is it raising an objection do you think?

Oh moy gawd, it’s huge. I’d forgotten why the footy boys called you tripod. Cath must have a pussy the size of the Burnley tunnel to accommodate you.”

Layla varied the pressure on Joel’s testicles which evidently caused him a lot discomfort.

[Joel, wincing]:
“Layla, fuck me. Fuck me now.”

[Layla, dark and fiercesome]:
“Oh yes? You want me to fuck you now. Well, fuck you. What the fuck did you think you were doing?”

[Joel, peering past his pain and pleasure]:
“What? What do you mean?”

[Layla, adamantly]:
“You know what I mean.”

[Joel, stuttering]:
“Oh that. We kind of got caught up in the moment. There we were, me and Cath, in Haifa on the year of service and, you know, we’d go to the talks at night. One of the House members was saying how Baha’u’allah said you should marry young so you can give a full life of service and well, it seemed like a worthy thing to do.”

[Layla]:
“But you were my boyfriend Joel! And Cath was my friend. How could you forget about me? One day we were emailing each other looking forward to you getting back and the next day you were married.”

[Joel]:
“I’m so sorry Layla. I wish I could change it but I can’t. I thought you understood. You even congratulated us. I mean it’s not as if we were engaged. And… you’d moved on from the Faith and well… it’s my life now.”

[Layla]:
“I was distraught you bastard. It was humiliating. I had to pretend I was happy for you both. And this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to tell you how I feel since you came back. You’ve been back two months and you didn’t make any effort to come to see me.”

[Joel]:
“I couldn’t… I…”

Layla released one of his balls and shooshed a finger on his lips.

“Joel, I love you. Really I do. I have a plan. I will be your second wife. I’ll talk to Catherine… I’m sure she won’t mind… we’ll all be friends together.

No, it’s okay. Baha’is can have two wives so there’s no problem with the concept… and I don’t need legal recognition. As long as we three agree, it can work. Let’s do that, yeah?”

[Joel]:
“Right now, that sounds like the most marvelous idea ever. Now, Layls, can you let go of the left one and ride me ragged?”

[Layla]:
“Oh sorry about that. Let me give them a little massage to help the aching. This is great Joel, we should have done this ages ago, hey?”

Almost immediately, Joel ejaculated and the cream spray landed in clumps on her neck and breasts, a trickle on a cheek and a bit beside an eye. A stunned Layla stopped like a statue. Her eyes directed towards the opening on Joel’s cock. Jerkily, her wet neck lowered as he limpened.

[Layla, huffing with dismay]:
“Ooooh,
unbloodybeleeeevable. That was a bit quick wasn’t it? I guess I better get it all in pre-flop next time.”

[Joel, cheesily]:
“Hmmm, now that’s the kind of poker I’m talking about. Just give me a minute will you Layls and I’ll take care of you. There’s a girl.”

————-

[Mr Erfanian, urgently]:
“Kevin, will you pause it please. I have to take a break.”

And off he went. The others waited. Discomfited. Pondering. After a couple of minutes an excruciated Mr Underwood, head hanging, sought to gain the chairman’s attention.

“Kevin. I need to say something.”

[Mr Thompson]:
“Err, yes Joel. Please, you have the floor.”

[Mr Underwood]:
“Thanks Kevin. But you know what… could you turn it off till we’re ready to begin again? It feels a bit … intrusive… watching naked people up there like that.”

[Mr Thompson, vigorously]:
“Of course, of course. Good point. I’m sure we all agree with that.

[Mr Underwood, demonstrating deep deliberation]:
“No, Kevin, I have more. Come on, have I changed that much? It’s me, I’m that Joel. That one there. Isn’t it obvious?”

[Mr Thompson, astonished]:
“Oh. I see. Are you sure? I never would have guessed. Joel is a common enough Aussie name isn’t it?

Ah, here’s Behrouz. Behrouz, Joel says he is the man in that scene.”

[Mr Erfanian]:
“Really? [squints at the screen then Mr Underwood] It makes sense I suppose.

I knew, in high school, an ABM had to speak to both of them. Joel was warned he wouldn’t get administrative rights until he could be relied upon to safeguard the good name of the Faith. Of course, Layla never declared anyway but Joel came round. I thought he had put it all behind him although there were strong rumours that they were having an affair up until he came to Haifa. Fancy that.”

[Mr Thompson]:
“Are the rumours true Joel? Is that scene accurate?”

[Mr Fadl, light-heartedly]:
“Yes, was it anatomically correct?”

[Mr Underwood, ignoring Mr Fadl]:
“First, I’m deliriously happy to learn that Behrouz has access to my private interactions with the Learned Arm.”

[Mr Erfanian]:
“What’s the problem, it’s freely available. You’re a House member, just ask for a copy of your case file, or mine. No problem. Anyhow, I heard it way back; my parents were talking about it.”

[Mr Underwood, shaking his head]:
“Anyway Kevin, yes, the rumours are true and, though some have said this repository is a fake, this scene is exactly as it happened. I’m not proud of it. As hard as you might find it to believe, Catherine was supportive of the unofficial second wife arrangement. She didn’t live with us but we met up quite regularly. Rightly or wrongly, I stopped all that when we came here and we haven’t had much contact since. None at all now of course. You can imagine she wasn’t happy about that. Neither am I really. I let her down again.

I mean, look guys, I love her. Always have. And not just because of, you know, the way she looks or her fame or her abilities. Remember she was the reason I became a Baha’i. She’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I have to say, I never could get to grips with the silly dance that went on between the Administration and her but, after today, I’m beginning to understand. I’m very concerned by what I’ve seen today…”

[Mr Thompson]:
“Joel, you know…”

[Mr Underwood]:
“Yes Kevin, I know. Look, I’m out guys; I know that, you know that. I’m going back to reality as soon as I can. Let’s face it we’ve talked about it but Layla did it. I’ve been foolish.

Gentlemen, despite all that, I really admire you and wish you the best.”

Joel waved to the men, and heavily burdened, walked from the room

[Mr Thompson, wearily]:
“Well we still have a long session in front of us. And, yes, it’s clear we have to do something.”

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