Flipping Out - Chapter 1

There were five detectives at our Sunday debriefing.

That’s what we call them — debriefings, because no cop is dumb enough to tell his wife or girlfriend that he’d rather spend his day off hanging out with his buddies than taking her to the mall to pick out curtain fabric.

We were on Reggie Drabyak’s fishing boat, so technically this was an LAPD naval debriefing.

It started at dawn when Reggie, who works vice, and Charlie Knoll from burglary set sail to spend the day in the hot sun trying to catch the same stuff I’d rather pick up at an air-conditioned supermarket for eight bucks a pound.

They docked in the Marina at beer-thirty, and my partner, Terry Biggs and I joined them. An hour later, Tony Dominquez, who works gangs, showed up with a five-foot hero from Santoro’s.

He unwrapped it, and I took in the intoxicating aroma of soppresatta, Genoa salami, provolone, and a half dozen other processed animal products that make men’s hearts beat faster, burn through the night, and occasionally seize up.

Tony cut the hoagie into five pieces. “Here Biggs, you get a foot,” he said, handing the first one to Terry. “Enjoy it, because when the cards are dealt, you sure as hell won’t be getting a hand.”

Ultimately that’s what these debriefings are all about ¬— the poker.

Terry played recklessly, raising when more cautious players would call, and calling when saner players would fold. By the end of the night he was ahead, but Tony still had a shot at a comeback. The stakes were doubled for the last deal, and no matter how much Terry raised, Tony stayed with him.

On the final raise, it was just the two of them, and Tony peeled back his hole card and took another look.

Terry picked up an empty beer bottle, held it close to his face, and talked into it, using the soft, mellow whisper of a professional golf announcer. “We’re on the eighteenth green here at Augusta. Dominguez, who hasn’t played well all day, is taking one more desperate look at his down card. This is the biggest pot of the night, folks — over fifty bucks — and from where I’m sitting, this one belongs to Terry Biggs.”

“You’re bluffing,” Tony said.

“Dominguez looks rattled,” Terry said into the Heineken microphone. “This game of high-low takes balls of steel, and Biggs has two that we know of. Maybe more. With an ace, three, four, five showing, he could have declared low and easily gone home with half the pot. But he went for the high and the low, the whole enchilada. Sadly, for Dominguez, the only enchilada he’ll be getting tonight is the cold one left in the fridge by his lovely wife, Marisol.”

“You know even less about women than you do about poker,” Tony said. “Marisol hasn’t cooked in ten years, and about the only cold thing she’s got waiting for me tonight is her shoulder.”

“Oooh,” Terry groaned. “A big sigh of disappointment from the crowd here at Augusta, as they find out that their Latin hero is as unlucky at love as he is at cards.”

“Come on, Tony, make up your mind,” Charlie Knoll said. “I’ve got burglars to catch.”

“And Lomax and I have homicides to solve,” Terry said. “And Drabyak has prostitutes to frisk and pimps to shake down. If you fold, you can still go home with your last few bucks and what’s left of your dignity.”

Dominguez had two pair showing. Jacks and deuces. The third deuce had already popped up and was in Reggie Drabyak’s discarded hand. There was only one card in the deck that would win the game for my trash-talking partner, and Tony Dominguez shoved his last remaining chips into the pot to see if Terry actually had it.


Terry put his thumb under his hole card. “And the green jacket at this year’s thrilling Masters tournament here in Augusta, Georgia, goes to…” He flipped over the deuce of spades. “Detective Terry Biggs, LAPD Homicide. The crowd goes wild, and his caddy, Detective Mike Lomax, is the first to run out onto the green and congratulate him.”

“Your caddy?” Tony said, shoving his losing hand to the middle of the table. “Is that what you call him now that the two of you are shacking up together?”

“Let me apologize to the audience for that display of poor sportsmanship,” Terry said, still broadcasting into his beer bottle. “That remark was highly inappropriate and totally inaccurate. Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs are not caddy shacking. Mike and the future Mrs. Lomax are waiting for their new house to be renovated. They’re living with Terry and Marilyn Biggs on a temporary basis.”

“First of all,” I said, “Diana is not the future Mrs. anything. She’s Miz Trantanella, and this little experiment of buying a house and cosigning a mortgage is the first of many steps we are taking before we even talk about getting married. Second of all, from what Marilyn tells me, she’s also living with you on a temporary basis.”

Terry shoveled the pile of chips toward him. “And when I return from the poker wars with this handsome haul, she’ll stick around yet another night.”

“Reg, you need help battening down the hatches?” Charlie said.

“No, I’m gonna sleep on the boat,” Drabyak said. “Jo is working a wedding tonight, so she won’t be home till late. She took my truck, so I’ll go home in the morning and switch vehicles.”

Tony and I helped clean up while Charlie counted the chips. “And the big wiener of the evening is Biggs,” he said. “Sixty-two bucks.”

“So then the big whiner of the night must be Touchdown,” Terry said. “Nice game, TD. Better luck next time.”

Dominguez gave him a one-finger salute.

“I sense anger issues,” Terry said. “You really need to see that expensive shrink of yours more often.”

Tony Dominguez had grown up poor and fatherless on the predominantly Mexican streets of East LA. His mother, Luz, spent her whole life cleaning other people’s houses. When Tony was ten, she started working for Ford Jameson, psychiatrist to the rich and famous. Jameson took to Tony from the get-go, and provided the positive male role model that had long been missing. The good doctor had been generous, buying Tony a used car when he needed wheels, helping him through college, and always available for therapy sessions at a hundred percent off his outrageous hourly rate.

“Hey, baby,” Tony said, “if anyone needs his head examined, it’s you.”

“I’ve only got sixty-two dollars,” Terry said, waving his winnings at Tony. “I don’t think I could afford your guy.”

“Do any of you fellas want to spend the night on the boat with me?” Reggie said. “Biggs has Lomax, and I’m feeling kind of jealous.”

“If I can’t have Mike, I don’t want any of you,” Charlie said.

“Why don’t you stay here by yourself, Reg?” Terry said. “Your luck is bound to change, and you just may get the first good hand you’ve had all night.”

That got a big laugh. We helped Reggie clean up, and by ten fifteen, Charlie, Tony, Terry, and I were on the dock, heading for our cars.

Five cops. Drinking beer, playing cards, busting balls. I’ll never forget that Sunday night. It was the happiest time the five of us would ever spend together again.

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