Dogs of War

Dogs of War

July 13, 2011

Antwerp, 1937

Never trust an American, especially in a poker game.

He came with Alex, the English dog, who had been a reliable player for some time, but who was prone to poor judgment, obviously. Not unexpected, of course, in the English. Immediately, I sniffed the newcomer as one to watch closely. His head a bit too oblong, his ears a bit too large, his smile a bit too ready, too lolling. And his demeanor, well, his demeanor entirely too… American.

“Hiya, Heiny,” he uttered upon being introduced to me, though Alex quite clearly and quite properly introduced me as “Heinrich”, though leaving out my title and class, to my chagrin, as is his wont, the forgetful Bull. “Grossherzog Heinrich von Aufstaeden of the Uradel” is beyond the capabilities of a sluggish Mastiff mind.

It was he, Max, the American, who suggested “Texas Hold-em”, a peculiarly American confection if ever there was one, rife with New World slang and loose laws, littered with overt moneylust. A game for the rabble. But, Alex was eager to please his new friend and Patou, the sleepy Frenchman, offered only token resistance, leaving me outflanked.

Indeed, as if the proferring of funds up front by every player, the oddly termed “ante”, were not undignified enough, I was asked by Max to pay the “big blind”, as well. Such moneygrubbing is beneath one of noble station, but propriety forced my hand, to garner the phrase. Though “old Max-a-million” might be willing to stoop to uncivilized behavior, I, for one, would not provide him the satisfaction of dragging a fine German house into his American ooze. I provided the funds and held my tongue.

The game proceeded in mild fashion, a diversion, at best, unlike the stimulation and gentility offered by a fine game of whist with well-mannered companions. Nonetheless, I found myself amused not as much by the play as by the affectations of our American interloper. As he slapped his cards face down on the table in disgust, “Busted!”, after a poor hand, or attempted guile when eyeing Patou, as stoic and long-faced as always, with suspicion, suspecting a “bluff”, it occurred to me that he might not only be American, might not only be without tact or breeding, but might not even be purebred. A mutt among us! Indeed, though his features suggested American Foxhound, his coloring appeared to me perhaps like a Coonhound, his squarish head reminiscent of a Labrador Retriever. Watching him pilfer from the pot while taking a “drag” only supported my suspicion; his breeding was clearly low.

When I mentioned my thoughts to Patou during a refreshment break, he merely shrugged, the cigarette jutting from beneath his jowls flopping in lazy arcs, waving spirals of smoke into the crisp, moonlit air. Patou, aloof as always, unconcerned. Then again, perhaps he was just appeasing me. Regardless, in general, he didn’t seem to care about anything except a fresh drink and the scent of fine rabbit, and this was no exception.

When we returned to our seats, I could feel that something was amiss. Between Alex and the American there was a conspiratorial kinship, a winking collusion that set my ears on end. I struggled to relax them, so as not to inform either conspirator of my awareness. But, my senses were keened.

I had not long to wait before my vigilance was rewarded. There, as I sipped my port (served most distastefully in gauche tumblers – all that poor Patou could muster, I was told), with the American hoping to catch me off my guard, while he looked away in poorly feigned nonchalance, I saw it. Rather, I should say, I felt it, the subtle pass of a card from the English foot to the American hand, a treachery, a sale of Old to New, a debasement, a debauchery, a contamination. An affront.

I am of noble birth and station. Of one of the oldest families in the German aristocracy, I care not for the base concerns of money or victory in foolish and base games of cards. But, being of noble blood, I cannot abide deception. I cannot brook chicanery. I will not be made the fool by low-born charlatans.

“Enough!” I barked, rising to my feet. “You, sir,” I pointed at the American, “are a swindler and a cheat, a low-born mutt, if not by blood, then by action. And you,” I rounded on Alex, “a compatriot these many years, have sullied your reputation and spoiled our friendship by bringing this… this… buffoon into my presence.”

“Now, hold on there, Heiny…” began the American cur.

“You shall address me as Grossherzog von Aufstaeden, if I allow you to address me at all.”

“…We’re just playing a friendly game of hold-em, here, your grossly hedgehog-ed-ness. No need to get your aufstaeden in an uproar.”

I could not believe my ears. The impudence of this cad to address me, his obvious superior, in such an informal manner after I had revealed his deception beyond controvertibility. And to chortle over his impudence afterward! And for Alex to join him!

That was too much to bear, even for one of my standing. I could see immediately that there would be no recompense from such a one as this for his affrontery. I gathered my things calmly, slowly, ignoring the English’s attempts to pacify me. 

“Come, Patou,” I said. He looked up, the ignorant Frenchman, as if noticing for the first time that the game had been interrupted. He shuffled to his feet and ambled along after me.

They would pay, those two, the English and the American, for their actions, for their rudeness. No longer would they be privileged to join my company. I would begin again, find new partners. Perhaps the Austrian, the dachsbracke. If he refused, I could force him to join, regardless. 

This is my struggle, mein kampf, to find those worthy of my company, to purge those who are not.

Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Aldrich

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