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We combined our tips and then counted it out: $15,000. The follow-up to the games was always the same: Organize the players. On this particular Wednesday, I was scheduled to see Tobey and Phillip. I was getting used to dropping by there: Tobey won every week. I figured this was probably about the hand he had lost to Mark.“No problem,” I repeated, wanting out of there before I promised him my firstborn and my soul.“All righty, talk to you later,” he said, and waved a cheerful good-bye. I thought Reardon would be furious with me, but instead he said, “I’m proud of you. If the guy started winning off the bat once he sat down, he was picked on even more.I drove slowly up the steep drive, buzzed the security bell, and announced myself. ”“Hey,” I said, handing him the heavy and awkward Shuffle Master. He couldn’t possibly be serious about charging rent for a machine he insisted that we use, from the guys whose money he was taking every week. ”“Two hundred dollars.”I smiled to conceal my surprise.“I’m sure that will be fine. If he was losing or playing badly, the guys were much friendlier.

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Reardon came blasting in with his typical “Oh yeah! The rumpled Houston showed up next, followed by Tobey and Leo. I knew their names, but did that mean that I should introduce myself? I closed my eyes and tried to calm down by imagining myself as I wanted to be—not the Colorado girl scraping by as a cocktail waitress. I started to feel insecure about how to greet the players.I blushed and looked at the floor, enjoying every surreal moment of being the only girl among such handsome, accomplished men. ” Tobey texted me.“Mark—he’s an attorney.”“I see” was all he wrote back.And then above the buzz of voices came Reardon’s ringing voice.“Let’s play!! The guys weren’t thrilled about the idea of stopping the game to eat, and I made a mental note to get side tables and, in the future, let them eat their food at the poker table. I sat in the corner, watching Diego’s hands fly around the table pushing chips and flipping cards—it was impossibly hard to keep up with. He walked around the table with his hands in his pockets. My eyes traced the perimeter of the table to see who still had cards. Tobey just sat there eating the vegan snack he had brought from home. Mark deliberated while the rest of us held our breath. I had a sinking sensation that I was now in trouble. As the guys filed out, I helped them with their coats and valet tickets, air-kissed and/or hugged good-bye, and was handsomely rewarded by each of them with cash or chips.” he asked.“Sure,” I said, eyeing the giant stack of hundred-dollar bills.“Can I get you a drink? After I served him his drink, I started counting the stack. I put it in the cash register with Todd’s name on it.

I felt cool, edgy, and dangerous counting that much money. Bruce introduced himself and handed me his buy-in as well.

I saw his eyes flick around the room; even he got a little giddy when he saw that Leo was there. Mark was friends with Pete, a tennis legend, who allegedly played high-stakes poker, too.

When he saw me, Phillip let out a low whistle and kissed my hand. ”I tried to add the chips up in my head, but there were so many and they were everywhere.“You got me,” Tobey said, and pushed his cards to Diego. “Nice hand, man.”And then he looked directly at me, his eyes fixed in a hard stare.“Who is this guy?

Tobey, despite being the biggest winner, gave me the smallest tip. I felt bad asking the losers for money, and it took a lot of time to drive all over the city chasing and paying. If there’s going to be someone new, I would definitely like to know who it is. The regulars, especially Todd and Reardon, tried to make him feel uncomfortable.

Once they were gone, Diego and I sat down at the table. But I soon came to realize that those one-on-one meet-ups were great opportunities to really get to know the men at the table. In advance.” His words came out slowly, sounding soft on the outside but with a sharp-edged threat at the center. Full House After several months I went behind Reardon’s back and plotted with Phillip and Tobey to make the game my own. It was like watching a cliquish group of adolescent girls.

I was in the company of movie stars, important directors, and powerful business tycoons. As the players filed out, they thanked me, some kissed my cheek, but they all pressed bills into my hand.