For Jane Peyton, author of When Push Comes To Shove, who taught me how to find four-leafed clovers.
by Marian Allen
They didn’t call him Poker Jack in prison because he liked to play cards. He was lousy at cards. They called him Poker Jack because that’s what he killed his partner with.
He was lucky he timed the killing just when stocks took a nosedive; ten years in a country club prison isn’t what he would have chosen for himself, but it certainly conserved his resources while the market recovered.
The staff at his country house had stayed on, more than happy to work at full wages for an absentee employer.
“I trust we’ve kept things to your liking,” his butler said, serving a meal he had dreamed of and planned for ten long years.
“I’m sure everything is perfect.” The meal was all he had imagined. Almost worth the wait.
It was a week following his release the letters began coming. Fashioned from letters and words cut out of a national magazine pasted on plain paper, they were all variations on a theme: He had not paid for his crime, but he would.
With a certain amount of wry amusement, Jack phoned the police when each letter came. To his surprise, they took the matter seriously.
Prior to his own crime, Jack would have taken it seriously, too. As a murderer, he considered himself somehow immune – vaccinated – inoculated – above this blowhard who announced his intention more-or-less publicly.
Another thing his time in prison had done was make him superstitious. His cellmate had been one of those rabbit’s-foot, knock-on-wood people, and it seemed to have rubbed off.
He had the butler get rid of the cook’s black cat. Ladders were not allowed, in house or garden, where the unwary might walk under them.
The morning he dropped his hand mirror and broke it, he nearly went back to bed. Seven years’ bad luck!
“Oh, surely not, sir,” said the butler. “If you’ll forgive my referencing it, sir, you’ve had your seven years’ bad luck, with three for extra measure.”
With that to comfort him, Jack went fishing on his private lake as planned, with his chauffeur as company and gear-bearer.
“Remind me,” he told the man, “to call my lawyer this week. I need to dissolve the trust that’s been paying you lot and go back to the old arrangement.”
“Yes, sir. And thank you for making that arrangement. When the stock market crashed, we all lost our nest eggs, with all our retirement money in the company’s stock.”
Jack chuckled. “I never thought about that. Just saw red about something he said and boom. Poker time.”
“Yes, sir. So the trust was a life-line for us.”
“Don’t care for riding the stock market, eh? No taste for the gambling life?”
“No, sir. We believe in planning. We believe in working together. We believe in getting our stories straight in advance and sticking to them.”
“I love the market,” said Jack, not really listening to the hired help, not really needing to. “I guess that’s because I’ve always been lucky. Like this. Look at this!” He bent and picked up the four-leafed clover sunning itself near his waders.
As he stood, he had just time, as he saw the chauffeur swinging a branch toward his head, to think but not to say, “So much for seven years’ bad luck.”
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write about a superstition.