The Great Hearts Shoot-Out
by Lon Atkins
Every world of special skill has its crowd of hustlers -- people whose understanding and execution of the skill places them on a level so far from mere mortal performance that the gap cannot be grasped easily. The popular press tries; it calls these experts 'Superstars' and lines the cage of every canary in America with unbounded superlatives or snide cynicism, depending on the last time at bat.
The experts themselves are a clan. They talk little of the incredible skills, preferring friendly but derogatory banter when questioned about their peers. This is called the 'Set Up' and has been fashionable with experts for uncountable centuries.
The Playing Public, a segment dear to the hearts of those experts, has somewhat harsher words for the experts. At the end of an evening's play, as they extract dollars from their wallets, members of the Playing Public look those experts in the eye, hand them cash, and summon up the essence of graceful defeat. "Asshole," says the Playing Public. But they pay.
Among the experts there is a tacit recognition of who is in The Group and Who Isn't. That clan, that tightly knot band of high-tension performers, will admit to its inner circle only those who have performed with worthy results under curse of fire. Standards exist to be maintained. If there is a tougher shell to crack than the barrier hustlers exhibit to pigeons, demonstrate it.
Likewise, the hustlers take care of their own. Any band of honest outlaws will defend its own kind to the death. With hustlers this is even more so, for reputation is almighty sword and all fear its loss.
When a hustler 'dies' it is of grave concern to the Community. Shock and disbelief run rampant. So would it have been with me, had I not been involved in the terrible events themselves, when I read the following requiem in the Hearts Hustler's Gazette...
Dave Locke (1945-1980):
Yes, fellow hustlers, there can be no doubt but that "Devil Dave" is dead. Long the terror of New York and California Hearts tables, Dave met his demise over the table, as all true Hearts Hustlers most fervently fear. Inside reports have it that at the end he Reinhardted twice running, then retreated into a corner with a bottle of Anchor Steam Beer in a brown bag. During his best years Dave was a big money winner on the West Coast, frequently finishing second to Lon Atkins Himself. Dave's cool, his wit, and his talent for second-dealing earned him a niche in the hearts of all Heart Hustlers. Many is the amateur who recalls that affectionate wit in "Devil Dave's" voice as he snapped out: "Pay up, twit!" But even the Great fall. And "Devil Dave" has departed out world. Weep with me for this Subtle Sharke...
A tear formed in the corner of my right eye as I remembered the poignant details of that fatal Petards meeting Locke co-hosted on March 29, 1980. It had all begun innocently enough. Drunk to the gills before arriving, I displayed a discoursing lack of judgement with my rapid solicitation of a Hearts game.
I should have recognized the menace when Locke smiled with terrible anticipation and introduced Terry "Trapper" Ridgeway, an offhand acquaintance who merely happened to play Hearts. At the mention of Hearts Terry began to salivate. Even as the drool ran down his rugged All-American chin I accepted the task of locating a
The signs were foreboding, but I went dutifully to the kitchen (where all Petards meetings take place) and came upon the corpus of Mike "Highflyer" Glyer. Mike had shown some promise at an earlier game, but had lost in the end. I felt no risk in asking this gentleman to join our fray. Indeed, I felt that the coin of the realm he would contribute was most welcome.
Co-host Dave Hulan was cooperative. Despite owning no card table, he was ingenious enough to locate a pressboard sheet about eight feet square. Resting upon a laundry hamper and the knees of the players it served well enough as a battlefield. Of course, we couldn't move once the contraption was in place, but no one expected to be leaving the game for a while anyhow.
Things began rather unexpectedly: "Trapper" Ridgeway shot the moon on the opening hand. I stared in shock as he collected the cards, squared them on his palm, then with a deft motion ran them down to the crook of his elbow and back several times.
Terry caught my stare. "Just warming up." he said. "Learned this exercise in Vegas."
Locke didn't seem bothered; he'd seen it before. I glanced at "Highflyer" Glyer and he glanced at me. We raised our eyebrows. This was, it appeared, to be a contest of skill. I began to flex my fingers, summoning back those forgotten manipulative skills. I noticed that "Highflyer" didn't bother. He just smiled sublimely.
After a few more hands the proper patterns seemed to be asserting themselves: Terry the Trapper had been boosted up with healthy measure despite a second moonshot; Highflyer Glyer was high indeed -- about twenty-odd points higher than the rest of us; and I was low man, with Locke hanging close. Just as I was relaxing, all Hell broke loose.
In the horrible moments that followed, the Trapper shot twice more. But worse yet, Glyer lassoed the moon three times. Locke and I were hurled aloft. When the game ended with Locke being pushed over the 100 mark, I was close behind.
Our second game led to relative restoration of order. I won handily, but not by enough of a margin to quite overtake Highflyer. Poor Locke, however, had come in high man again. "Devil Dave" was beginning to flake around the edges. Oh, there was good-humored jollity as the debts were paid out. Laughter and wit. But my practiced eye could see the telling signs of stress -- after all, I was an expert too, and knew the terrible demands of Reputation. When Locke spread mustard on a napkin, wrapped it around a candle, and ate the whole thing without a blink I knew his mind was dwelling on the loss. I hoped it would have no long-term effects.
To tell the truth, Dave's last-place finish went almost unnoticed in the professional world because of me. It was the first time I'd failed to finish Big Winner in a money Hearts session in almost twenty years. The speculation as to whether Atkins was losing his touch or not eclipsed poor Locke's disgrace. Not that he didn't get in a few digs, but it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been.
The pain was still too much. Dave got busy organizing another session and on the following Saturday a return match was arranged. I agreed without much hesitation; it sounded like more easy money. "Trapper" Ridgeway signed up quickly, too. Terry thought he had us figured out now and would be shooting the moon at will. I didn't disagree; it's good to leave the opposition with some delusions.
The key figure was Mike. I've not inquired as to what wiles Dave used to lure him down from Sylmar to Torrance, but they worked. On Friday I got a call from Locke: "Same four." He sounded pleased!
So was I. While I'd coasted rather smoothly across the jibes of my fellow Hearts hustlers (none of them really wanted to face me in a no-holds-barred high stakes game), the minor irritation of finishing second to Highflyer was telling. Hell, he wasn't even nationally ranked!
Locke, Glyer, and I met shortly before five o'clock. With Dave's son Brian in tow we went out to a nearby Italian resturant, where I had Chicken Florentine of remarkable succinctness, Mike had baked Lasagna, Brian has a Sicilian Peperroni Pizza, and Dave consumed six pounds of Noodles. During the meal we didn't speak of the impending game -- bad form. Instead we chatted about how many women wore panties to bed and whether any good science fiction was being written these days.
Terry was late, arriving about 7:14:05. We abandoned our hotly-contested bout of Crazy Eights and arranged the table for the Real Thing. The moment of truth was at hand. In the background I heard the brassy sound of Herb Alpert and the scratching of Ernest Hemingway's pen. Four bulls pawed (hoofed?) the earth and snorted steam at each other. We all knew what it meant: fame or ignomy, not to mention untold riches. Locke announced the stakes. "Penny a point, pay everybody," he said.
The game started cautiously, with passing hedged with low hearts. Terry the Trapper loosened first, unabashedly starting his quest for the moon. Devil Dave played with his normal confidence, hanging low on most hands and pushing play toward smoking the Queen when he had marginal holdings. Highflyer Glyer watched his score rise ominously before trying a few moonshots. They failed, and Mike was our first Reinhardt.
I played with my usual superb skill and finished clear low man. On the last both Terry and Mike were pushed over one hundred. During the exchange of time-honored witticisms we alternated seats. Locke had insisted on changing decks (from Poker to Bridge). As the first hand of the second game was dealt he remarked as to how the cards would bring him luck.
And so they did, but all bad. Locke had settled into a pattern: he would bluff a moon shot only to watch hearts get split. Then he would eat the Bitch. It's fair to say that he avoided a bunch of hearts -- Terry gathered in those. But Dave's score was soaring, and so was his temperature.
To cool himself Dave called for more Anchor Steam Beer. He was high man for the second game. And for the third. Play had settled into a rut. Dave was desperately scrambling for moonshot opportunities. The Trapper and Highflyer did that naturally, so the game degenerated into a perfect textbook example of Reinhardt's Theorem. I hung onto my lead and watched Glyer get closer as Terry and Dave receded into the distance. The pressure was telling on the players. Dead silence filled the room during the hands, interrupted only by the slap of cards on the tabletop and the munch of Glyer eating smoked almonds. Locke was smoking more than usual (i.e., more than a pack an hour). Terry was eating the ice cubes in his drink.
In the fourth game Devil Dave Reinhardted twice. This part of the article is true. He did not retreat into the corner with a bottle of Anchor Steam Beer in a brown paper bag, however. He merely flexed his arms and called for another brew. As he poured it, watching the foam rise high in his mug, he said: "I'll build up a head of Steam here."
The fact that this execrable joke was repeated eight more times in the few short hours that remained of the evening revealed much.
Mercifully, the final game arrived. By then the players were so besotted with the idea of moonshot that they could no longer defend themselves. Glyer was trying a shot, clearly. So were Locke and Ridgeway. When I grabbed the lead and rolled off two high tricks, neither Terry nor Dave thought to throw a heart -- they tossed low cards in the side suits. So Highflyer shot. I cried.
That moment of reckoning. The final score was me the Big Winner. My mantle was resumed, my Kingdom intact. But Dave, poor Dave, was high man.
He took it well enough, visibly. With his own calculator he computed the settlements. His eye was clear enough when he shook my hand at the door and made a single statement. With sincerity and dignity he looked me full in the eye and said, "Nobody but a pure bastard would publish an account of this disaster."
"Yes," I said without expression. "You are absolutely right."
- - - - - - - - - -EDITORIAL ANNOTATIONS:
Hearts: Readers unfamiliar with the fannish game of Hearts are encouraged to consult Hoyle's Rules of Games or some similar reference. The object of the game is to avoid taking 'points', i.e., hearts and the Queen of Spades; low score wins.
Petards: A Los Angeles area fan organization, hosted each month by a different member.
The Queen (a.k.a. The Bitch): The Queen of Spades, equivalent in point count to all 13 hearts (each heart is worth one point). This is one card you definitely don't want to take. Unless, of course, you're attempting a moonshot.
Smoke the Bitch: To lead spades at all opportunities in an attempt to force out the Queen. Often creates ire in other players, especially the Queenholder.
Eat the Bitch: One result of Smoking The Bitch, where the Queenholder ends up with it at the end of the hand. Ouch!
Shoot the Moon: An alternate strategy, where the player attempts to take all hearts plus the Queen of Spades. Successful moonshots are worth +26 to each of the other players' scores and +0 to the moonshooter's score. Successful moonshots are worth gloating over.
Reinhardt: A failed moonshot, where a player takes only 25 of the 26 points of the hand. Disasterous to the attempter's score. Named after Southern fan Hank Reinhardt who (as legend has it) unintentionally perfected the technique.
Reinhardt's Theorem: The editors are unfamiliar with this concept. It probably goes like this: 'A player who frequently attempts to take all the points will usually only very nearly succeed.'
Dave Locke: Despite this article, is alive and well and in good humor and still playing Hearts, now in the Cincinnati area.
Lon's article succeeded in coaxing an all-too-rare letter of comment from Mike Glicksohn, who wrote us that "Dave Locke is one of the people I like and admire most in fandom. Over the years we've devoted quite a few pages, a number of minutes, and several brain cells to ridiculing and insulting each other in print, the way good friends often do. So nothing could please me more than to read this article about him falling on his face, heartswise."
In Mimosa 3, which appeared in September 1987, in the interest of fair play we published an article by Dave that got back at Lon, again in the spirit of fun, where he admitted that "Lon is definitely a Legend in the game, a public relations giant in the mold of Harlan Ellison, though Lon is much taller."
Mimosa 3 was also the first issue in the run that we really tried to make a seamless entity, as opposed to the somewhat disjointed efforts the previous two issues had been. We prefaced each article with introductory comments (something we would do for all subsequent issues), though we weren't quite yet at the stage where we would build the issue around some particular theme. It was also a larger issue, in terms of page count, than either of the first two issues and contained some very entertaining and well-written articles -- Elst Weinstein recalled his medical school days in Mexico in "Nightmares of a Quesadilla Fiend," Roger Sims gave a short and amusing history of the new Second Fandom, and Arthur D. Hlavaty provided a short essay on the perils of writing an article for a fanzine that might come back years later to cause you a bit of embarrassment, in which he stated that "there may well be some corollary of Murphy's Law stating that it's the worst (or at least, most embarrassing) zine you do that survives the longest."
One holdover from the first two issues was that we began the issue once again with a speech reprint. This time, it was a really good one -- Bob Shaw's "Serious Scientific Speech" from that year's Rivercon. Bob Shaw was one of the funniest, friendliest, and most entertaining people we have ever met, and his death in 1996 left a huge hole in our personal fandom. He was also an excellent writer, and even though we still miss him a lot, as far as we're concerned he lives on in his writing. Please enjoy the following scientific treatise:
All illustrations by Alan Hutchinson