For Your Eyes Only
by Roberto Sanhueza
It was exactly one week before she came to Chulo’s that I lost my eye in a poker game.
I was playing with Chulo himself that night, and everybody else had backed out by then. I had a winning streak, and Chulo wasn’t very happy about it, but I didn’t care. I thought I could tell when he was bluffing; I mean, I’ve played with the man many a time and he does have that twitch on the corner of his mouth and that cold gleam in his eyes. Like, he’s bluffing, damn it! So when he laid those 6,000 pesos on the table my heart kinda skipped a beat. ‘He’s bluffing!’ I told myself, ‘he’s bluffing, I know’.
I had a full house. Man! A full frigging house! I just couldn’t let it pass, so I bet my left eye. Yeah, sure, there still is a market for organs here in Estación Central. Uptown Santiago you can have your organs regrown for you from stem cells, but down here we can’t afford that, and transplants still have their economic niche.
So I bet my eye. I was figuring what I was gonna do with my money when Chulo produced a poker of queens. To say I felt a cold sweat going down my spine would be the understatement of the year. Man, I panicked. The fucker wasn’t bluffing!.
To make it plain, let’s say you don’t back out on your bets with Chulo. If I did, I would be short of a neck instead of an eye.
So I paid. I went to the back rooms with Doc Faundez. Actually he’s just a paramedic, but we call him Doc just the same. He does these sorts of jobs for Chulo.
He gave me a shot and I didn’t feel a thing as he took my eye carefully out and severed my optic nerve.
“What you gonna put in there, Flaco?” he asked.
I was feeling too gloomy to be civil just then so I almost barked back to Doc. Thought better though. It wasn’t Doc’s fault but my own.
“C’mon Doc! I got no dough any more, can’t afford even a transplant. Guess I’ll settle for a black patch.”
“You know, I got this artificial eye that still works pretty well. I can let you have it on credit if you want to.”
And that was that. Doc fixed me with the old artificial eye. Beggars can’t be choosers.
It worked well too. It wasn’t very pretty, but at least I kept my stereoscopic vision and I could see a little in the UV and a lot in the infrared.
Which brings me back to the girl. I was sitting at a table at Chulo’s that night, sipping my Pisco, still pretty much broke and trying to stay away from betting when she walked in.
She was alone, and her clothes screamed “Rich Broad” for the world to see.
Now, we do get a lot of rich folks here at Chulo’s. This is after all one of the finest, if not the finest, illegal casinos in town. They never show up alone, though. Quite the opposite. They usually arrive in heavily armored limos, armed security guards at the door.
Yeah, the neighborhood can be a little rough at times. That’s why it surprised me to see this babe all by her pretty self.
My new old eye let me see the small implant behind her ear. Rather, it let me see the infrared it was emitting. Wasn’t much, but I could see it, and that explained a lot.
It was a security chip. She was no doubt being tracked by Daddy’s security, and that allowed her to go alone anywhere in Santiago. No one would like to mess with private security. They make bad cops look like Little Red Riding Hood, and as soon as that chip stopped broadcasting or sent the wrong signal, they’d be over you like wolves.
You could say she was pretty safe anywhere, and we all at Chulo’s knew it.
She was painfully pretty to look at. Every one of her movements precisely timed, and she moved around like she owned the world or at least a considerable share of it, which might just as well have been the case.
I could see she wasn’t wasting any time or taking any bullshit. She knew where to go in order to do some heavy betting at Chulo’s. She went straight to the discreet little door at the back, and the heavy bully there didn’t even wink as she went by. I guess recognizing money is a desired trait in casino guards.
Out of a sudden hunch I went after her, but I guess for the heavy recognizing lack of money was just as easy.
“C’mon Tito, let me through. You know I’m a regular!”
“I also know you’re broke, Flaco. You know Chulo don’t like free riders.”
“Come off it Tito! I still got my other eye. Don’t I?”
Tito only smiled crookedly but he moved aside and let me through. I was a regular after all.
“Flaco!” Tito called after me.
“She’s way out of the league of a little piece of shit like you. Don’t waste your time.”
I just gave him the finger and didn’t bother to answer. It bugged me to be so predictable though.
I looked around, and it was the usual night in Chulo’s back room. Dim light and heavy smoke in the air. It wasn’t only tobacco, either. I could smell the sweet scent of synthetic endorphins and other assorted neuro-stimulants.
She was moving with elegant ease from table to table. I came closer just as she was putting some credit chips on the roulette.
I stood behind her and whispered in her ear.
“The table is slightly tilted to the right. Bet on the numbers on that side.”
She didn’t acknowledge my whispering. She didn’t in fact pay any attention to me, but she placed her chips where I told her to.
Sure enough, she won a bit on her bet. Then she turned to me and smiled.
“So you know your way around here. Hi! I’m Macarena. What’s your name?”
When she smiled at me I could feel Chulo’s illegal casino shaking to its foundations.
Out of my league. Indeed! Only her perfect teeth were more expensive than anything I ever owned.
And she was so cool. If my artificial eye surprised her or shocked her, she didn’t show it.
“They call me Flaco, Macarena, and you definitely need a guide to show you around.”
“And that one would be you, right?”
But she was smiling when she said that so I knew I had made it so far.
I showed her around. Boy, did I show her around!
I took her to every game in the place and I showed her the best of me, for whatever that’s worth. I was witty and funny as I don’t think I’ve ever been with a broad.
She was having a good time too, I could tell. Around our fourth drink — she was inviting, obviously — she asked me.
“Whatever happened to your eye, Flaco?”
So I told it straight to her. “I lost it in a bet, right here.”
And that was I think the turning point in our night together.
She was suddenly very interested.
“Do they bet organs here?” There was a trace of contained excitement in her voice. “That’s highly illegal, you know.”
I couldn’t help laughing. “Not anymore illegal than anything else around. Less tolerated perhaps, but just as illegal. Yeah, Chulo has his little Organs Poker room further back. I know it too well.”
A little frown showed on her perfect face. “Let’s go there.”
“You sure, Macarena? An artificial eye wouldn’t look good on you. It doesn’t look any good on me, as you can see. Then again, I believe you could afford to have a new eye regrown.”
The thinnest and hardest of smiles seemed to cross her pretty mouth. “That and then some more, trust me.”
She called one of the waitress girls and asked for two more drinks. “Now, let’s quit the shit and tell it to me straight. Are you good at poker?”
“I thought I was, Macarena, but Chulo beat me dead.”
“Any chance he was cheating?”
“Cheating is the rule around here, as you could see yourself on the roulette.”
“Then why do you keep coming back?”
“Well, for one thing, they don’t overdo it. So’s not to scare the customers away, and now and then it’s possible to actually win, specially since I know a thing or two about cheating myself. No, I don’t think Chulo was cheating that night.”
“Or you couldn’t tell he was.”
I gave her the Daddy knows best smile. “Yeah... perhaps I couldn’t tell, but I don’t think so.”
She gulped down her pisco in one swallow and flashed me the sweetest smile ever but her eyes were cold as ice. “Let’s find out, Flaco, dear.”
And that we did. Yeah, I know. She was daddy’s little girl for sure and used to getting her way in everything and I should’ve known so much better than play along with her whims but what the hell... There even was the chance we might win.
So we went into the innermost of Chulo’s back rooms.
The heavy at the door might have been Tito’s clone (and perhaps he was, at that) and he didn’t wink, either, when we went by. He did throw a glance at me, but Macarena just dragged me in and he didn’t object.
I know for sure we were thoroughly scanned as we went in. Cheaters don’t like to be cheated, but we were clean, so we were admitted.
Chulo was at the main table, as usual, he barely acknowledged me and only gave me the most noncommittal nod. Macarena, however, he did greet with a flourish and made sure she got a seat at the table. I sat beside her, and the game began.
We started with low bets, to warm up so to say, but pretty soon the bets were way out of my league. That is, unless I were betting my organs right then, as I had done the time before. But tonight I had a very good financial backup, so I didn’t worry.
Macarena played like a pro. Cool and cutting through bluffs like nothing at all.
I hadn’t been boasting when I had said I knew a thing or two about cheating. I really do, and I’m good at it, but here I dared not risk it. Besides, there was no cheating on this table that I could detect.
But... Wasn’t there? All of a sudden it hit me there was something odd going on.
Copyright © 2005 by Roberto Sanhueza