Murder at the Poker Club

One of the men hurled a chair. It knocked a Coke onto the floor. Billy felt the Coke seeping through his jeans.

Under the table, the old man was shaking. Seal was silent. Steve was lying on his back, and Billy was lying on his stomach with his head resting on Steve’s stomach. Before diving under the table Billy had grabbed his bag. He’d thought, “Fuck, I don’t want to get robbed.” He was scared but he didn’t think anyone was going to get killed.

Steve whispered, “Dude, I have a fucking thousand dollars in my wallet.” The next day he was planning to go on a trip with his wife. He removed the cash from his wallet and shoved it in his Manhattan Portage bag. Billy decided to sneak his wallet into his bag, so that he wouldn’t have to deal with having to renew his license.

A gunshot went off. A huge sound. Then silence.

Billy heard whispering, then a crash, then footsteps. Billy thought, “What the fuck am I doing here?!” He could feel Steve’s stomach going up and down really fast. Steve whispered that he was worried that the gunmen would discover the hidden cash in his bag and kill him.

Billy heard the men shuffle down a staircase at the back.

Everyone started to get up.

The old guy said, “I’ll still play. Are we still going to play?”

“Let’s play this hand out,” Seal said, resuming his seat. Billy asked the dealer what the deal was with the chips; the dealer said not to worry about the chips right now. Billy and Steve—who had a huge stack, probably around $1,400—decided to put their chips in their bags. Maybe the next club would honor them? They had heard about that kind of thing happening before, when other clubs had been robbed.

The lights were raised bright. Someone said, “Is there a doctor in the house?!” Everyone looked over; a man was lying flat on the floor. Later Billy would learn that the man’s name was Frank DeSena, a 55-year-old former math professor from New Jersey and a married father.

A bouncer—a wiry young Latino—entered the room. Blood was streaming from his ear. He shouted for everyone to stop gawking and leave through the staircase in the back. Before the cops arrive, the bouncers kept advising.

Everyone filed down. Someone mused, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they fuckin’ staged that shit.”

Billy and Steve walked across the street. They joined a conversation that was going on among some players. There was a guy in a yellow slicker who had been under a table with Mr. DeSena. He said that the man with the shotgun had been shaking, and the shotgun had slipped and dropped to the floor. When the gunman rushed to pick up the shotgun, it went off, and hit Mr. DeSena.

They waited: It took 20 minutes for the ambulance. Two of the club’s female waitresses were sobbing. People kept saying what a nice guy Mr. DeSena was. He would be taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital where he would be pronounced dead shortly before midnight

A detective approached Billy and asked if he had been in the building. Billy shook his head, slinked off and grabbed Steve. They decided they needed a drink.

They found a place. Steve ordered a vodka martini, Billy a beer. Steve decided he could no longer go to poker clubs. He said he wasn’t that scared, until the gun went off. They agreed that in some ways the gun having gone off was lucky for the rest of the players, because it was clear that the gunmen had had the intention of robbing and a possibly roughing up everyone in the place. They wondered if Mr. DeSena would live.

That night when Billy got home, his girlfriend gave him a hard time about going to the poker club and mentioned he had neglected to do some chore.

He had a hard time getting to sleep.