She gave us both hugs and introduced herself as chef Brielle. She knew Tariq and snickered, “This guy,” before hugging him. I stuttered something lame and creepy like “I’m Hattori, you Pantene pretty hair…me like.” She instantly flashed me a quick but direct look of disdain, confirming my introduction was lame and creepy. She then smiled and handed me a picture frame which contained the night’s menu instead of a picture. “Let me know what you want and I’ll whip it up for you,” she said as my brain struggled to catch up to my stuttering tongue.
I started to skim through the menu, when I was greeted by the host, Richard. Richard was a short Asian man in his late fifties with a fohawk, wearing a flamboyant button-up shirt (three top buttons open), with a floral print. He was friendly and carried himself like he knew he was the man. “Hi Hattori,” he said, while shaking my hand with way too much effort to make sure he had a strong grip, “Richard.” “Good to meet you Richard. What an awesome spread you have here.”
It really was a dope spread. It was lit brighter and was more furnished than I thought, but that made it seem more upscale and less shady. The place was surrounded by privacy glass from floor to ceiling, with a 360 degree view of the ocean and pier to the West and the surrounding cities and freeways in all other directions. There was a huge open area that contained the kitchen, a small bar, and two casino poker tables with cardinal red felt and gold lettering, like a USC jersey, and a glass door that led to a large balcony that stretched around the West side of the suite. There were two large bedrooms on either end that opened and closed through twenty-something foot high, sliding doors that looked like walls when they were closed. The main room had four 80 inch flatscreens, surrounding the tables, each on a different channel.
I was so caught up with the Pantene chef that I didn’t even notice that there was an armed security guard (9mm in holster), sitting on a stool by the entrance until I had been in the suite for at least a minute. “Why would they need an armed guard?” I thought.
Richard offered me a drink. “What would you like Hattori? There’s beer in the fridge and liquor behind the bar.” “I’ll take a beer,” I said and opened the fridge. I grabbed a Coors light, not wanting to catch a buzz before poker.
Richard then introduced us to the rest of the room, starting with the dealers: the first was a tall, slim, Russian dude, who spoke with a stereotypical Russian accent. “Greetings,” he said, failing to disclose his name. “Greetings? Who the fuck says greetings?” I thought. Then I reciprocated, “Greetings.” The second dealer was sitting in the dealer’s chair of the poker table closest to the kitchen, immersed in his phone. He looked up and gave us a nod, “Whattup, I’m Jose.” “Greet…I mean, good to meet you Jose.”
As advertised, there were also two barmaids/masseuses/eye candy with black leather crops and skirts, and slicked back hair, looking a bit awkward and uncomfortable with the situation they found themselves in. They were pretty, and almost indistinguishable at first sight. They had dark hair and dark lipstick, but didn’t carry themselves like professional flirts. They smiled, shook our hands, and introduced themselves with stripper pseudonyms.
“Hi, I’m Kandy with a “K.”
“Hi, Kandy with a “K.”
“I’m Destiny, would you like a drink?”
“Just got one thanks.”
“Don’t be shy Hattori,” interjected Richard. “Girls, pour Hattori a shot,” he grabbed Kandy by the arm and whispered something.
“Would you like to do a shot with me, Hattori?” said Kandy. This fucker wants to get me drunk before I play.
“Not now. I’ll take one in a bit. Thanks though.”
She feigned disappointment, but I saw relief in her eyes. She had no idea where the night would lead in this surreal private circus with Richard as the ringleader. Neither did I. Richard caught eye contact with me, frowned for a second, then caught himself and introduced us to the others in the suite.
Turned out Melanie made poker’s version of a Freudian slip when she said we were the “first ones” here. We weren’t the first ones, just the first fishes for the regulars to feed on. “Tariq, Hattori, this is Jake.” Jake was a short, friendly, twenty something guy, with a horrendous, black, ECKO T-Shirt that was a remake of a Spiderman comic book cover of Spiderman getting choked out.
On its own, the shirt would have been pretty cool, except that the entire image of Spiderman was bedazzled with fake crystals, like a kiddie craft; and had some weird acid wash finish with mechanically stitched rips throughout. It looked like something one of the Kardashian girls would cut up into a half shirt with ample side boob showing, and post on Instagram. He also had a black track jacket with gold “Maserati” printed across the chest in all caps.
“Cool shirt,” I said.
“Thanks, I get a lot of compliments on it.”
“Do you have a Maserati?” I asked.
“No, I wish. My friend gave this to me.”
“Aaaaahhh…He has the Maserati.”
“No, he drives a Hellcat.”
I smiled and nodded, not knowing what else to say.
“That’s a nice ensemble, Jake,” said Richard.
“Yah, the shirt matches with the jacket…sparkly you know.”
“Uhhh, thanks,” said Jake.
The next regular was Brian. Brian was a six foot four, white dude, that kind of looked like poker pro, Phil Laak, but without the hoodie. He pointed to Tariq and smiled, “I know this guy. Whattup brother?” They shuffled toward one another, slapped hands, and gave each other knuckles followed by a bro hug with a double shoulder slap on the end.
A little too much physical contact for me, so I just waved across the room, “Good to meet you Brian.”
The final guy was a complete mystery and was never formally introduced. He stood in the background most of the night chatting with Pantene Brielle or the two other ladies. He never caught eye contact with me, but it seemed like he was always watching me. Like a wraith. He was dressed too nice for a poker game, wearing a nicely cut, off white suit that only he or someone like Brad Pitt could pull off. He looked Eastern European, with a dark complexion, and thick ass (but manicured) eyebrows that Frida would say were “fucking macking.”
“We’re still waiting for a few people to arrive,” said Richard, “Make yourselves at home.”
Tariq and I walked out onto the balcony. The view was incredible. To the South, you could see the pier. To the North was the twin apartment building. Most of the apartments in the other building didn’t have privacy glass, and it was still too early to draw the curtains, so you could peep what everyone was doing. I skimmed for anything salacious, but the most interesting thing I saw were a couple having dinner. Each was at opposite ends of a long ass table that could have easily fit sixteen, conversing comfortably. Fucking one percenters. Such easy targets to malign. Strange how something so ridiculous was standard for them, like bottled water.
“I don’t know what to say, it’s usually packed,” confessed Tariq. “Like thirty or forty deep.”
“No worries, brother. I’m sure it will pick up. I’m down for waiting anyway. I couldn’t get to the bank in time today, so I only have six hundy.”
“That should be good for the small table. If you get cracked, I can front you until tomorrow.”
I thought about my stupid ass humping the Coinstar machine, “Thanks, that solves a lot.”
“So…last time I was here, there wasn’t a body guard,” disclosed Tariq.
“What did you do fucker?”
He pitter pat slapped me on my shoulders with both hands several times like a little girl, ending with a shove. “Why do think I did something? You judgmental fuck.”
I laughed “Of course you did something, Buck Nutty,” and Tariq started spewing a few moments later.
“So, last time I was here, there was this older Persian dude, right. It was toward the end of the night and he started yelling at me for no reason. He got in my face and was so upset, he was spraying me with his words, all telling me he was going to fuck me up and shit. I felt like he was going to punch me any second, so I slapped him, hard to the ground. He got up, kicked me in my hip, and started choking me out. One of Richard’s friends jumped in, and everything went crazy for a few minutes until Richard pulled out a tazer gun and tazered the dude.”