“Okay, this is the final round. Let’s make it dealer’s choice. Molly, what would you like to play?” Vi passed the deck to her niece.
Molly glanced at the picture on the top card — a young Elvis tricked out in combat gear and toting a rifle. “Oh, whatever.” She’d wrestled with her concentration all evening. The last hand, she’d laid down what she’d thought was a winning flush, only to discover a club mixed in with the spades. That had cost her thirty-five cents.
“How about seven card stud, threes and nines are wild and fours give you an extra card?” Dominique suggested. “We haven’t played that since the first round.”
“Sure.” Molly shuffled and dealt the first cards. She was in no mood for poker tonight. She would rather have curled up on her sofa in her nightgown and robe with a chilled glass of Chardonnay — make that three glasses — and some mindless TV junk. She was in a funk but didn’t want to disappoint the others.
“Don’t you think you should call him?” Dominique checked her two hole cards. “He might have gotten killed last night.”
That morning, the Bay Area section of the Chronicle had featured him on the front page. The picture was taken outside the construction site. In it, Nick leaned against the fender of a police car. He had an ice pack pressed against the back of his head.
“He might have suffered a concussion,” Vi said.
“Or escaped with only a bump.” Molly had told no one about her foray onto the condo site. Forget that the man she loved had tackled her and thrown her to the floor like a sexless sack of lawn clippings. She had bruises on her hips that matched Rorschach test patterns to remind her. When she’d reached home that night, she’d felt like inflicting further damage on herself for leaving the security gate open. At least when she’d read the article the next morning, she’d discovered the thug had come equipped with a bolt cutter. The police found it out by the fence. So even if she hadn’t forgotten to close the gate, he still would have had the means to gain access to the site. She tried not to imagine the consequences without quick thinking on Nick’s part and a good aim on hers.
“Even a bump can cause serious problems,” Dominique said. “That’s reason enough to phone him.”
“Forget it.” Molly dealt herself an ace. Together with two wild cards in the hole, it gave her three of a kind. “I bet a dime.”
Her aunt and cousin each dropped ten cents into the pot.
“The newspaper article pointed out the man Nick caught trying to burn down his project had a long criminal record,” Vi said. “All he had to do was strike one match and good-bye condos and maybe even Nick. You really ought to call him, Molly.”
And say what? Good thing you ducked in time or I might have maced you instead? Was he so dense or disinterested he couldn’t guess what had really prompted her to go onto the site? She’d already said “I love you” one time, which was exactly one time too many. Now it was his turn to say it. Right. She didn’t need another session with Ouija to tell her what she already suspected: he’d moved forward with his life.
“So … what do you think?” If prizes were awarded for persistence, Dominique would possess a case full of trophies.
“No.” Molly dealt everyone another card.
“He might have amnesia.”
Molly stared at her cousin. “Then why should I call him? He wouldn’t remember me.”
Vi gave a soft laugh. “Molly’s right. We ought to let her decide.”
“Maybe it’s about time she took a risk,” Dominique said. “Man-wise.”
Molly thought she already had — when she’d let Nick make love to her.
“Molly’s thing with Nick reminds me of an old black and white film I saw on AMC about a month ago.” Dominique checked her cards and bet a nickel. “Instead of taking a chance, the heroine let the guy she’s interested in slip away. What a dumb move. She spent the next forty-five minutes of the movie regretting it.”
“I remember that,” Vi said. “It was what they called a screwball comedy way back then.”
“I didn’t find it funny,” Dominique said.
Molly ignored them and dealt two more rounds of cards. When a nine turned up in her hand, she bet a quarter.
“I suppose people considered it funny in nineteen thirty-six.” Vi added twenty-five cents to the pot. “In the beginning, she thought he came across as arrogant and opinionated.”
“Like you thought about Nick, at first.” Dominique nodded at her cousin.
“No, I didn’t.” Molly already had a rotten ending to her story. What she didn’t need was to climb into her lonely bed at night thinking she’d fallen in love with a full-blown jerk.
“By the end of the movie, the heroine agreed he had a heart and a conscience,” Vi added.
Molly thought Nick fit the same description. He never did evict his tenants. Legally, he didn’t owe them a buyout, but he’d offered one anyway.
“That’s when the female character wised up and chased after him. Everything worked out just fine,” Dominique said. “Love prevailed.”
Molly groaned. She was up to her nostrils with the Romeo and Juliet syndrome.
“Do you still have the newspaper articles?” Vi asked.
Molly hated to admit it, but she’d saved the Bay Area section with Nick’s picture. She couldn’t bear to recycle him along with the rest of the newspaper. He’d looked heartbreakingly handsome even with an ice pack pressed to his head and a bunch of cops and EMTs swarming around him. She’d folded and unfolded the newsprint so many times it began to fray along the creases. At least she hadn’t rushed over to Kinkos and had it laminated. “Why do you want the articles?”
“Who turned out to be behind all those attempts to wreck Nick’s project?”
Molly paused as if she had to think about the answer. She’d read the story so many times, she practically had it memorized.
“The former owner of the property was responsible. He sold Nick the three parcels to raise cash to invest in another venture. In the end, that didn’t fly. He found out the Blackstone Group was soon to break ground with their project and realized how much more valuable his former property had become. He hired that thug to do enough damage to cause serious and costly delays. He never expected Nick to turn him down when he offered to buy back the property. That’s when he stepped up the ongoing sabotage that started as thefts and vandalism. He ordered the creep to set fire to the place when everything else didn’t work.”
“The urban renewal South of Market makes the area much more desirable,” Dominique added. “Nick’s in a great location. He ought to come out of it with a heck of a profit.”
“I suppose.” Molly wondered if that would put him in the mood to share with his former tenants. He said he wasn’t motivated by money. Then why didn’t he prove it?
“Have you heard anything from Mrs. Z or the other tenants?” Vi asked.
“Not so far. I left two messages at social services, but no one’s gotten back to me yet. I’ll try again in a few days.”
Molly dealt the last card face down. She checked her hand, which contained four wild cards, and bet fifteen cents.
“I’ll keep you honest.” Vi added a dime and a nickel to the pot.
Molly had dealt herself the best hand ever, but it might as well have been a pair of deuces for the way her enthusiasm nosedived.
“I’m out.” Dominique slumped in her chair. “I couldn’t put together anything more than a pair.”
“You’ll do better next week,” Vi said.
Next week. Molly loved her family but hated the idea her social life was still relegated to Friday night poker. She glanced down at the hand she’d dealt herself. Six aces. Didn’t someone once say lucky in cards, unlucky in love? Could anyone be more unlucky than that?
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