The last message suggested that Ravel's revenge adventure was about to be unwound and turned into rice noodles by a text-message of gloom. The message simply said that the lawyer (let's call him Mr Woo) who had managed to penetrate the organisation producing fake copies of Ravel's World Cup trophys had to prove his prowess by playing a rival of the boss (let's call the boss Mr Wong and his rival Mr Foo) at poker in a high-stakes game that evening.
'Why is this a disaster?', asked Ravel.
'Mr Woo cannot play poker to save his bacon. He will lose bigtime and not get the job with Mr Wong. Then Mr Wong will will get new lawyer and we are doomed.'
Ravel contemplated this latest twist as he ate some rice crackers in the hotel bar. The lawyers had decided they would go shopping to help clear their minds, and Ravel was quite glad to have some time alone. He tells me that he almost gave up the idea of getting one over on Mr Wong at that point, but that his pride and sense of injustice kept him propped up just enough to eventually come up with a solution to the problem. He would, he decided, take the place of the incompetent lawyer at the table on the pretext that the lawyer had fallen sick after eating poorly cooked duck's feet at a backstreet stall.
The lawyers were not sure Mr Wong would fall for the sting, but could not offer an alternative solution. So they told Mr Woo to feign illness and offer Ravel as a substitute. To their initial surprise there was no objection, but it then turned out Mr Woo had persuaded Mr Wong that he operated as part of a team and that Ravel was a former Bulgarian champion who could provide Mr Wong with enough money to fight any legal challenge to his activities.
'I think this is what they call 'no-pressure-then'?', said one of the lawyers as they took Ravel to the designated meeting place. Ravel smiled grimly. He was no Bulgarian champion, and was indeed feeling the pressure. His last winnings had been whilst in the Bulgarian army, and his opponent had been a drunken youth boasting that he'd never been beaten. To make matters worse, he had a headache and was feeling a bit sick from too eating of many rice crackers (incidentally, this is the first time in the years I have known of Ravel showing any signs of nervousness. It softened some of my own inedequacy fears for a while).
The meeting place - where Ravel had been instructed to enter alone - was an empty warehouse on a small industrial estate. Inside was a table with 3 chairs. One chair had a man, wearing a dealer's visor, sitting facing Ravel as he entered. Another, bald headed man was facing the table but Ravel could not see his face. Around the table stood four other men in dark suits and sunglasses. One of them stepped forward and told Ravel to sit at the table. On taking his place, he noticed that the bald man (presumed to be Mr Foo) was sweating quite profusely despite the dim lighting and ambient temperature. Immediately Ravel suspected something was not quite legitimate (his soldier's instincts were kicking in despite the rice-cracker induced nausea), but he also knew he could not blow his own cover. It was a tense start.
The tension was not helped when the dealer began explaining the situation in Chinese. Ravel had picked up a few words whilst in the country, but the localised rules of poker were not in his phrasebook. The only word he recognised was 'money' - after it was said the bald man put a wad of notes on the table and Ravel followed suit (the lawyers had clubbed together confident in their man to deliver a hefty winnings). As the hefty bundle hit the table, he bit his lip in frustration at not discussing the gameplan more rigourously with the lawyers - without knowing what they had told Mr Wong he could not risk appearing anything less than fluent.
The presumed Mr Foo pushed a few notes into the centre of the table. Ravel copied him, trying not to reveal his nervousness. The dealer began to shuffle the deck and deal the cards - one face down and one face up. Ravel correctly recalled this was the opening round of 5 card stud. To many poker players this would have registered as just one of several games with the same probability of success. But to Ravel it spelled potential disaster. For some reason he'd never been able to fathom, 5 card stud was the one variation that the drunken youth back in his army days had used to trounce him time and time again. In fact, as Ravel recalled, it was only a last ditch gamble where he put up his stash of bisongrass vodka on a round of Texas hold'em winner-takes-all that won the day. With no bottles of vodka about his person, Ravel could only pray inwardly that Mr Foo could not read his mind and pummel his self-doubt into submission. It was going to be a difficult night....