Here is a chapter that was removed from Fibble, for good reason. Still, writing a scene where dogs and cats play poker together is just too bizarre to keep to myself.
One would think, with the limitation of musculature within the canine face restricting your average dog’s range of expression, that a dog would be an exceptional card shark: able to bluff his or her way out of any situation.
You would be wrong, as Annubis now realized, only minutes before the Wreck Room was due to host a pivotal poker game between the canines and the felines, one that would decide whether the noble dog-god would ever see his family again.
Firstly, there was the tail issue. Realizing that he couldn’t, in good conscience, bob the bobbing, tell-all-tails of the self-dubbed Mongrel Horde, Annubis had tried to teach the dogs to be more aloof. Soft jazz and berets had proved ineffective, so Annubis had experimented with strategically placed weights to restrain tail wagging. Unsurprisingly, this had only resulted in sore tails. Out of desperation, Annubis had contemplated tranquilizing the dogs before the game, but he knew—through personal experience—that one should never have a fuzzy head inside when dealing with cats. This only leads to scratches.
Virginia Woof had the rather ingenious idea of hanging lockets containing succulent morsels of fresh and fragrant raw liver around each dog’s neck. Her reasoning being that the perpetual aroma would cause the dogs’ tails to wag uncontrollably, which is roughly the equivalent of a dog’s tail never wagging in terms of betraying a spike in emotion. Unfortunately the idea was too dependent, if not entirely based upon, the availability of fresh and fragrant raw liver, of which there was none.
So Annubis had been forced to utilize the advice of one Studs Cockapoo as captured within the well-worn pages of How to Teach your Dog to Play Poker, and isolate poker events that elicited extreme reactions, then train accordingly—and quickly—to maintain the dogs’ poker faces and tails. It had been a frustrating process, but the dogs had all tried their best. After all, as the author wrote:
In training, there are no bad dogs, only bad trainers. Likewise in poker, there are no bad hands, only bad players. Some days will be filled with victory, others, defeats so crushing you might have half a mind to teach your cat canasta instead. Persevere. The key to training is to observe your dog closely and figure out what his or her strengths and weaknesses are. Then, once your dog is playing like a pro, you’ve got him/her eating right out of your hand.
Something scratched against the door of the Wreck Room. And scratched. And scratched. The sound burrowed under Annubis’ sleek hide and convulsed.
“They’re here,” Virginia Woof said through her Speak ‘n’ Spell. Annubis strode across the obstacle course that was the Wreck Room floor and opened the door. Outside were six shabby, filthy, snaggletoothed cats. Annubis sniffed the stagnant air of Stay.
“I was expecting a seventh,” he said. “A cat…woman.”
The cats ignored Annubis and walked in, brushing against his leg to both ignore and lay claim to him in one swift, dismissive, utterly feline action.
“Fine,” Annubis sighed. “I’ll sit this one out so it’s an even game.”
This way I can help to instruct the dogs, Annubis thought as the cats circled the gray folding card table, tails twitching in their maddening, secret cat language, before bounding in the unoccupied chairs. All’s fair in love and cards, after all. And this is a matter of both.
The six dogs seated at the table, instinctually, bared their teeth.
“Easy,” Annubis soothed as he stroked Poochiano Pawvaraotti’s raised back. “Save it for the game.” He addressed their guests, leaning in to read their heart-shaped name tags.
“So…Chairman Meow, Clawed Yereyesout, Hannibal Lickter, Felonious Mouse-de-meaner, Frankenpuss and…Lulu,” Annubis said, “is there anything I can get you before we—”
The siamese cat, Chairman Meow, furiously pawed the deck of cards until they were shuffled. He swiftly passed them on to Felonious Mouse-de-meaner, a mangy black-and-tan spotted manx, who batted them, one-by-one, to all the players.
“—then straight to the game,” Annubis continued as he pulled out a chair and sat, “five card stud by the looks of it. Best deux out of…two out of three?”
Annubis watched the dogs as they scooped up and noted their hand, or “paw” in this case. The cats and dogs put in their antes to the pot, in this case, kibble. Napoleon Bone-apart lunged at the mound and chomped it down in two gulps. The cats looked at each other and twitched their tails.
“No, Napoleon,” Annubis reprimanded gently yet firmly as he poured another scoop of stale kibble onto the center of the table, “we don’t eat the kitty. Hey, that’s kind of funny if you think about it…”
Frankenpuss, a burly patchwork calico, hissed.
“…or not,” Annubis added. “Back to the game.”
The dogs sniffed the cards they had been dealt. Annubis had taken the time to marinate each suite of cards in separate buckets—socks, chew toys, slippers, and moldy cheese—to help them better discern one from the other.
“I fold,” Melon Collie said sadly through his Speak ‘n’ Spell before pushing his cards away.
“Me too,” added Chi-chi LaRue as all the dogs, in turn, gave up.
The cats purred smugly as they scooped up the kitty. Annubis’ ears drooped.
“Could you give us a moment?” he asked the cats as they tail twitched amongst one another. Annubis leaned into the dogs.
“I know that, when the stakes get really high—”
Drool dripped off Napoleon Bone-apart’s rubbery lips.
“That’s stakes,” Annubis clarified. “Not steaks…stop looking at me like that.” Napoleon Bone-apart whimpered with disappointment. “Anyway, believe me, I understand that—for a dog—when the going gets ruff-ruff, the ruff-ruff want to get going with their tails between their legs. Especially when you’re dealt garbage…and not even the real yummy kind. The key to poker isn’t the paw your dealt, but knowing when to “bow wow” and to bow, now…”
The dogs cocked their heads in a canine lack of comprehension.
“The Big Bluff,” Annubis said, pointing to the painting with his moist snout. “We’ve gone through so many drills that you seem to have forgotten the most basic tenet of poker: it’s not what you have, but what your opponent thinks you have—”
Annubis sniffed at a sharp, pungent, vaguely skunky odor. Clawed Yereyesout, a white, one-eyed Persian, was sniffing at a pouch overflowing with catnip.
“Hey, none of that here,” Annubis said. “The Wreck Room may be a mess, but it’s a respectable establishment.”
The cat growled as it nudged the pouch back into its satchel, looped around his neck.
“Thank you,” Annubis said as he turned back to the Mongrel Horde. “So do you understand?”
The dogs nodded.
“OK, then. We’ve got to win the next two paws, or this place goes to the cats. And we don’t want that.”
The dogs returned to their game.
“I’ll deal,” Annubis offered as he shuffled the deck with his weird dog thumbs located halfway up his forearm.
After pushing in their antes, the animals gathered their cards. Faux Paux began to pant as he pushed in a tennis ball with his artificial limb. The other animals grudgingly saw him a tennis ball, while Lulu, a skinny Abyssinian with long pointy ears, raised a pawful of kibble before calling with a rank hiss.
A faint, incriminating stream of urine trickled down beneath Faux Paw. Annubis quickly scooted newspaper underneath the exhilarated dog’s chair with his foot before the cats could notice Faux Paw’s obvious enthusiasm for the cards he had been dealt.
The cats showed their cards, with Hannibal Licktor—a silver tabby with one green and one red eye, making him look like a broken traffic light—having the highest paw with a Straight.
A large puddle formed beneath Faux Paw as the panting dog revealed a Full House. He nudged his Speak ‘n’ Spell.
“Read them and—how do you say?—wee,” Faux Paw said.
Annubis smiled. “That’s weep…though in your case, it could be both.”
The cats growled, with Lulu exposing her gold plated fangs. Their tails twitched with cat profanity. Faux Paw scooped up the pot the best he could.
Annubis collected the cards.
“How about a game of Texas Scratch ‘Em?” he said as he shuffled the cards quickly with both his paws, showing off with a cascade finish. “Winner take all.”
Annubis dealt each player two cards, and put five “community cards” in the middle of the table. After all the animals anted up, Hannibal Licktor batted a small plastic ball with a bell in the center into the pot. Melon Collie sniffed his cards sadly and folded. Chairman Meow, tail wriggling slyly like a devious snake, pawed in some kibble and a wad of spit-soaked yarn. Poochiano Pawvaraotti’s long brown ears sagged as he nosed in two half-eated milk bones, then tapped a message on his Speak ‘n’ Spell.
“I call,” he declared in his flat, synthesized voice.
Annubis flipped three of the community cards face-up: a King, a Three, and a Nine of Spades.
“All spades!” Annubis replied as Virginia Woof and Lulu whimpered and whined. “Sorry ladies,” the dog-god added. “How insensitive of me.”
Clawed Yereyesout winked his one good eye at Frankenpuss before batting another wet wad of yarn into the pot. Napoleon Bone-apart nudged in a pig’s ear before jabbing his See ‘n’ Say with his nose.
“The crow says…caw!”
The cats stared at Annubis.
“I think that means he calls,” the dog-god explained as he turned up another card: the Five of Spades. All of the animals stewed over their cards before passing. Annubis flipped up the final card, a Nine of Diamonds. Virginia Woof trembled. Terriers, Annubis thought, are an especially excitable breed to begin with. And, by the looks of it, she had a “paw” so stimulating that she could barely contain herself.
“Easy girl,” he murmured as she, panting faintly, nudged in a gnarled rawhide chew and half a rubber Kong toy. All of the animals, save for Chairman Meow, folded. The siamese purred faintly as it met Virginia Woof’s bet with a one-eared squeaky mouse toy.
“OK, it’s down to the puss and the pup,” Annubis said as he nervously folded his sleek arms with anticipation. “Show us what you’ve got.”
Virginia Woof, scarcely able to remain in her seat, flipped over her cards: a Queen of Spades and a Nine of Hearts, giving her three Nines with a King-Queen kicker. Chairman Meow’s tail flailed about like the tentacle of an exceptionally cantankerous octopus at the mention of calamari.
With a hiss, Chairman Mew swiped at his cards, flipping them over to reveal a King and Jack of spades, giving him two Kings, two Nines, and a Jack kicker.
The dogs howled with delight. Even Annubis joined in, as nothing—save for ringworm—is as infectious to a dog as a good howl with his pack.
The cats bounded off their chairs, growling, and clawed at the door until it opened. One-by-one they sprang into the darkness their footpads tearing into the yellowed newspaper carpeting Stay. Chairman Meow was the last to leave. He raised his tail and sprayed the table before darting out the door. Chi-chi LaRue yapped in the doorway as Chairman Meow leapt into the night on little cat feet.
Annubis joined Chi-chi in the doorway.
“If only they had marked their cards like they just marked our table, maybe they would have won,” he said as the cats were swallowed up by the darkness. Napoleon Bone-apart, tongue hanging out of his mouth with happiness, nudged his See ‘n’ Say.
“The dog says…ruff!”
Annubis turned to the good natured but a few fleas-short-of-a-circus dog.
“Like I said, you don’t have to do that, you can just…never mind.”
Even Melon Collie perked up at the Mongrel Horde’s victory, nudging his Speak ‘n’ Spell.
“I guess you can teach old dogs new tricks!” he said through the plastic toy strapped to its side.
“Stay is ours!” added Poochiana Pawvarotti.
Annubis nodded as he stared off across the newspapered wasteland.
“I suppose so,” he murmured.
Virginia Woof trotted over the dog-god.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “We won!”
Annubis rubbed his jowls contemplatively with his paw-hand.
“That was too easy,” he said. Virginia Woof whined at his feet. “Not that you didn’t play exceptionally well,” he added quickly, realizing that the only creature more easily offended than a terrier was a female terrier, “but I just have a feeling that they let us win…”
He looked down upon the Mongrel Horde, gazing expectantly at him with their tails wagging. Annubis laughed.
“Maybe centuries judging the souls of the darned has made me a touch cynical,” he said as his own nub of a tail wriggled optimistically. “Perhaps we did, after all, realize the destiny of The Big Bluff. And, perhaps, tomorrow, I will be reunited with my sweet Anput and little Kebauet, my beloved wife and daughter…”
Annubis tasted the stale, still air with his elegant nose. As he sifted through the complex odor that settled at the back of his throat—a convoluted clot of smells that seemed far more intricate than necessary for a dominion of once-domesticated pets, more redolent of the ambiguity of humans —he felt that his journey to locate his family and Milton Fauster’s ferret had only just begun.