Sebastian was the short stack.
He glanced around the table, fingering his chips.
The other players were watching him. He could feel their eyes from behind their sunglasses and from under their hats.
He stood up abruptly, tossed back the rest of this drink and muttered, “I have to take a leak.”
The dealer looked at the tournament official, who nodded once.
“We’ll be taking a fifteen minute break before the next hand, gentleman.” The dealer’s voice was calm and it pissed Sebastian off. No one should be calm during the World Series.
He stalked across the casino to the player’s lounge.
The restroom smelled like whiskey and sweat. Lenny, Sebastian’s favorite bathroom attendant, jumped up when Sebastian banged through the door.
“Good evening, Mr. Weinbaum.”
Sebastian waved at Lenny and went into one of the stalls, closing the door firmly behind him.
He didn’t really have to pee. He just needed a moment away from his opponents, away from their watching and sneering. A moment to think.
He had been playing poker professionally for three years and was thrilled to be at the final table of the World Series of Poker. But it hadn’t gone as he expected. Only four games in, he was the short stack and would probably be eliminated in the next hand. The first to leave the table. The first to lose.
When he left his father’s practice to play, he had given himself three years to make it. Well, his father had given him three years.
Actually, the old man had said, “I paid for your law degree and I’m not going to let you throw it away to play a game.”
Sebastian had talked him into three years. He had promised that if he hadn’t made it ‘big’ by then he’d return to his father’s law office and pick up where he had left off.
His father defined big as World Champion. Nothing less counted.
And Sebastian was so close, just eight players stood between him and success.
But he was still the short stack. And he didn’t see his luck changing anytime soon.
He felt like he had lost his mojo, or whatever it was that made him a good player. Maybe it was his ability to read people that was failing him. Or his trust in his instincts. No matter what it was, it was gone.
Sebastian slammed his hand against the stall and swore.
“Are you all right, Mr. Weinbaum?” Lenny called to him through the door.
Sebastian didn’t respond right away. He wasn’t all right at all. He felt like he was being led to his execution. But instead of the electric chair a life of the law, of neckties and rich corporate clients awaited him. He almost would have preferred the death sentence.
But he couldn’t say all that to the bathroom attendant.
“I’m fine. Thanks, Lenny.”
Sebastian decided to pee after all. He unzipped his jeans and, as he stood over the toilet bowl, he started to pray. The words were unconscious and he wasn’t even aware of speaking them aloud.
“Please God. Please God, help me win this.”
He was still muttering his prayers when he heard a deep voice.
Sebastian stopped peeing. “Lenny?”
“I said repent, sinner!” The voice was louder this time. It sounded angry.
Sebastian zipped up and started to open the door to the stall. “Lenny, what the f…”
The door slammed closed in Sebastian’s face.
“This is God. I have inhabited Lenny’s body to tell you to repent.” There was a muffled noise that sounded like a laugh and then silence.
Sebastian stared to the door. “You’re God?”
“You are playing a losing hand, Mr… I mean, Sebastian. You must quit your evil ways. Stop drinking and gambling. Turn from the cards and spread my word.”
Sebastian sat down on the toilet. Was God really speaking to him? A lapsed-Jew slash ex-lawyer slash professional poker player?
He felt like he should respond to God, but he didn’t know what to say. “Um… ok?”
“I’m serious, Sebastian. Repent before it’s too late. Amen.”
There was a long silence before Sebastian said, “Are you still there, God?”
“What did you say, Mr. Weinbaum?” Lenny sounded woozy.
Sebastian emerged from the stall. Lenny was sitting on his bench, bleary-eyed.
“Are you ok, Lenny?”
“I think so, but I feel kind of strange. I think I may have passed out or something.”
Sebastian looked in the other stalls. They were empty. “Was someone else in here?”
Lenny stood up. “Just you, Mr. Weinbaum. The break is almost over.”
“Thanks, Lenny.” Sebastian tossed a ten dollar bill into Lenny’s tip jar and went back onto the floor of the casino.
As he took his seat, the player to his left leaned over to him. “Looks like you’re going to be the first one to leave, Weinbaum.” He smirked around his toothpick.
Sebastian was barely paying attention when the dealer dealt him his hole cards. He glanced at them automatically. A pair of kings.
Sebastian had enough chips to muddle his way through the flop and the turn.
Then the dealer revealed the river. It was another king.
By then seven of the other players had folded, leaving only Sebastian and ‘Slim’ Silvinski, the reigning poker champion.
Slim bet first. Staring Sebastian straight in the eye, he pushed all of his considerable chips into the center of the table. “All in.”
Sebastian didn’t have many chips left, but he did have trip kings. He could go all in and have a chance to win.
But a voice echoed through his head. “Spread my word… Repent before it’s too late.”
Sebastian stood up. The player to his left hissed, “Where are you going, Weinbaum?”
Sebastian tapped his pocket kings, still facing down on the table. “To follow the Lord.”
The sun was bright as Sebastian stepped through the casino doors. He had to squint as he looked up to the sky and yelled, “I’m all yours!”