Peter carefully scrutinized the scene in front of him, taking in every detail. He glanced down at the cards in his hand, then back up to Olivia's passive face.
"I see your tutsi roll and raise you a starburst," he said shrewdly.
Olivia narrowed her eyes.
"Raising the stakes, are we?"
"Maybe I have a good hand."
A smile hovered on Olivia's lips.
"Or maybe you're bluffing."
Peter glanced down at his cards again, none of which would get him anything better than a pair, and smiled his best smile.
"Are you willing to bet your last licorice stick on that?"
Olivia laughed, a light, full sound that filled the room and made Peter feel light and full as well.
"Dare I ask where you learned to play poker so well, Mr. Bishop?"
Unwillingly, Peter's mind flashed back.
It was one of the shadier places he had ever been to. A back room in a strip joint-come-gambling den. Gathered around him were the young and wealthy of Hollywood. He'd pulled in a couple of favours to be here, even a couple he'd been planning on saving, but if he was going to con these rich kids out of their millions at the poker table he needed to get them to trust him. His supply of cash was dwindling, and it was either this or fake an MIT degree. Besides, he had heard this Rusty Ryan was the best. He might even pick up some tips.
The professor of this little lesson sat easily in his chair, his white sports jacket shining out in the smoky gloom. He smiled at his students, showing perfectly straight teeth. He was smooth and charming and slippery, like a snake.
"We'll begin with 5 card draw," Ryan said. "Everyone remember 5 card draw?"
There was a general murmur of agreement. That had been last week's lesson.
"How does that start? Peter?" Ryan prompted.
"Yeah," said Peter. He dealt the cards, purposefully going the wrong way.
"Peter?" Ryan interrupted.
"Yeah?" asked Peter innocently.
"To the left. Deal to the left. Shane?"
Shane grinned with bravado.
Peter winced at the incorrect language. So did Ryan.
"It's not blackjack," Ryan reminded Shane.
"Dude!" Topher snickered.
"Your hand doesn't change," Ryan said patiently. "You know what you have." He glanced at the pack of cards in Peter's hand.
Peter, with an inner smile, dealt to the right again.
"Peter..." Ryan said.
"Left! Left!" Agreed Peter. "I'll get that."
"Lay your bets," Ryan instructed the crowd. Peter wondered that this guy was doing here, pandering to a bunch of kids. He was probably doing the same thing Peter was, scoping out an easy mark.
Holly, a pretty woman with sharply defined cheekbones who had some sort of hit TV show and thought she was God's gift to men, picked up a chip.
"Blue," she said casually.
"Blue. That's a fifty," Ryan told her.
"Ooooh," Shane mocked, putting down his own $50 chip. "I call your fifty."
"Whatever, it's only pocket change, right?"
Everyone around the table laughed. $50 was what they made for sneezing on a camera.
"How you bet is your business," said Rusty Ryan patiently. "But you want to make them think you're betting for a reason."
"Thanks, man," said Topher seriously. He had his cards almost at arm's length, examining them. Peter could see the edge of a four of hearts.
Ryan, noting the flick of Peter's eyes, reached out and pushed Topher's cards closer to him so that they were out of sight.
Ashton slammed his cards down on the table.
"Four," he said.
Ryan shook his head.
"You don't want four. You want to fold."
Peter nearly snorted. Ashton had just told the entire table that he had nothing.
"... I want to fold?" Ashton asked.
"Fold," he repeated. When Ashton hesitated, Ryan grabbed the young celebrity's cards and pushed them down into the table.
"What're you doing, man?" Ashton complained.
"You're done," said Ryan. He turned away from Ashton's pouting face. "Shane, you have three pairs."
Shane looked interested.
"You can't have three pairs. You can't have six cards in a five card draw."
"Then why do I...?"
The lesson had descended into arguing. Peter took the opportunity to glance at Topher's cards. He sat back, smirking. Topher had squat.
"Hey fellas? Fellas!" Topher called. "Look! All reds!" He laid his cards down on the table and laughed delightedly. Peter stared at the scruffy celebrity in disbelief. Had the hot lights of a film set fried his brain? He had a mix of diamonds and hearts, with no pattern to them.
Around him, Topher was exchanging high fives across the table.
Peter glanced up at Ryan. He was looking tired and frustrated. He reached for his bourbon and took a long drink.
"Ok, guys," he said. "Take five."
Ryan disappeared into the bar, looking like he needed a couple more of those bourbons. Peter felt like he needed a drink himself, but knew he had to keep a clear head. It was now, while all the starlets were mixing, that he could get to know them a little better, maybe find out about some more high profile poker games going on. LA really was the best place to be if you wanted to make some easy money at the poker tables. Vagas was too full of professional gamblers, but LA, with all these celebrities, was perfect. When Peter had heard about these little celebrity how-to lessons, he had jumped at the chance.
"Hey, you're really picking this up," he complimented Holly, sipping his soda water.
She smiled prettily.
"Oh yeah," Peter leaned casually against the table and grinned at her. "Are you sure this is your first shot at poker? You're getting good. Why'd you decide to take lessons?"
"Wanted to impress my friends," Holly said. "You know, maybe make a bit of money?"
Peter nodded. This girl was deluding herself if she thought she could win even a single hand. He was spared having to talk to her further by the door to the room opening. A solidly built, handsome man with salt and pepper hair and an expensive tailored suit peeked in.
"Hi," he said in a gravelly voice. "Has the lesson started yet?"
"Who're you looking for?" Topher asked, with all the false bravado of an overpaid starlet with his own TV show.
The man shot him a winning smile.
"I was wondering if I could play with you," he said. "Rusty is an old friend of mine, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind." He stuck his hand out. "I'm Danny Ocean."
By the time Rusty Ryan came back from his drink, Ocean had the game back in full swing.
"So, you guys going to do any more television?" Danny asked.
"Not for me, dude. It's movies all the way," said Topher. He caught sight of Ryan, hovering in the doorway, and grinned. "Hey, Rust, we got another player. If that's cool with you?"
Peter caught the challenging look Danny threw Ryan's way. Ryan gawked at the newcomer with open disbelief before shaking his head, his eyes sparkling with amusement, and sitting down at his place at the table.
"Mr. Ocean, what do you do for a living, if you don't mind me asking?" Topher asked.
Peter gave a mental shrug. It was obvious by his stance that Danny Ocean was some kind of professional con man. He could spot a fellow trickster a mile away – something about his eyes, calculating every vector and outcome, that belied his easy nature.
Danny put down two cards.
"I don't mind you asking," he said genially. "Two cards."
Ryan, who had taken over dealing from Peter, dealt him two cards.
"I just got out of prison," said Danny, in the same calm, even tone as before, as if he were merely commenting on the weather.
Peter smiled inwardly, keeping his eyes downcast on his cards. So his instincts had been right about Mr. Ocean. The rest of the table sat in blank, stunned silence. Peter allowed himself a sliver of a smile, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"Really?" he drawled. "Why were you in prison?"
"I stole things," said Danny, in that same calm, even tone.
Now Peter was interested.
"You stole things?" he prompted. He thought of the most mundane thing to steal that he could think of. "Like jewels?"
Before Danny could open his mouth, Ryan interrupted, his eyes fixed on his cards.
"Incan matrimonial head masks."
"Any money in those?" Shane asked, only half joking.
"Some," Danny said.
"Don't let him fool you," Ryan cut in once more. "There's boatloads. If you can move them. But you can't."
"The fence seemed competent enough," Danny said.
"If you deal in cash you don't need a fence," Ryan snapped.
"Not for people with vision."
"Like everybody in cell block E?" Ryan snarked.
Peter had the strongest suspicion that whatever those two were talking about, it was no longer Incan matrimonial head masks. If they had ever been taking about those in the first place. The history between these two was almost palpable.
Danny tossed some chips into the middle.
"That's $500," he said casually.
"Guys," said Ryan, turning to his class as if just remembering that they were all still there. "What's the first lesson of poker?"
"Never bet on the… uh…" Ashon trailed off, screwing his face up in concentration.
"No, uh, leave emotion at the door," Topher interrupted his flailing costar.
"That's right, Topher," said Ryan. "Today's lesson: how to draw the bluff. That much money, this early in the game? I'm saying he's holding nothing better than a pair of face cards."
Peter scrutinized Danny's face. It was calm, impassive. This guy was a real pro. Peter would have bet his last penny Danny Ocean had a full house or higher.
Ryan glanced at Ashton.
"Ashton?" he prompted.
Ashton glanced down at his cards and grimaced. Here was one who didn't have an impassive face.
"Yeah, I fold," he said, laying his cards down on the table.
Peter smiled thinly. It was his turn.
"I'm game," he said, shooting Danny a challenging look. Mr. Ocean wasn't the only one in the room who could play hardball. "I will see your $500. And I will raise you another $500 of my own."
"That's a very handsome bet, Peter," Ryan reminded him. "But be careful. We don't want to push him too high too fast. We want to keep him on a leash. Holly?"
Holly casually tossed her chips into the middle.
"Call," she said.
Ryan raised an eyebrow. He clearly didn't think she had anything.
"And I'll call," Ryan tossed his own chips into the pot.
Danny was smiling benignly now.
"I'll see your $500 and raise you $2000," he said.
Shane whistled through his teeth, and even Peter was impressed. That was a lot of money. More than he had, really. But he had a feeling that the price would be worth it, to see the outcome of this game.
"You're free to do what you like. That's a lot of money," Ryan reminded the assembled group. "But I'm staying in. He's trying to buy his way out of his bluff."
Danny smiled, that same innocent, guileless smile that he had had on his face the whole game.
"Peter?" Ryan asked.
"Two," Peter agreed, putting his chips in.
Holly groaned, and threw her chips in too.
"Call," Ryan agreed.
"Call," said Topher.
"Call," repeated Shane.
The pot was now very large indeed. Peter sat forward in anticipation. Whatever Danny was about to do, it was going to be big.
"Let's see em," Ryan said, tipping his chin at Danny. Peter wasn't the only one curious to see what the fellow con man had in his hand.
Danny gave that beatific smile he'd been wearing all game, and lay his cards down on the table. "Not sure what four nines does, but the ace is pretty high I think," he said.
Ryan gave the other man a small smile, and a nod of his head, as if granting some sort of approval.
The starlets all groaned, lamenting their loss of money.
"Dude," Topher complained, sarcasm lacing his voice. "Thanks for the tip on drawing out the bluff." He threw his cards down on the table, disgusted.
Peter walked out of that game with considerably lighter pockets, but he didn't feel cheated. He'd learned a valuable lesson.
"Peter?" Olivia called Peter out of his memory. She was looking at him with those too-inquisitive eyes, her hand poised on a packet of rockets. "I asked you where you got so good at poker."
Peter shook his head to dispel the memories, shooting her an easy grin.
"Oh, I just picked it up here and there. The things you learn as a con man."
"You're being deliberately cryptic," Olivia accused him playfully. "I warn you, Mr. Bishop, if this is an attempt to put me off my game, you've underestimated me. I learned poker from the greatest player on earth."
"And who would that be?" Peter asked, his mind once again flying to Danny Ocean.
"My grandfather. That man could bluff his way into a convent."
"Does that mean you're willing to raise the stakes?" He asked, grinning at her challengingly as he placed his last two lollipops into the pot.
Olivia just laughed.
Inspired by a Fringe Season 1 DVD extra where Peter and Olivia play poker with Walter's candy.