In the Skokie branch office of the IRS where Archie Robbins worked, they called him "The Human Lie Detector." There wasn't any psychic-mystic bullshit about Archie. He didn't see visions or hear voices. He just had an acute sense of what people did when they lied. Even a world-class liar like that insurance salesman from Glenview with three wives couldn't fool Archie. Every time Archie questioned his travel routine, the man's right eye twitched. Imperceptible, except to Archie, who disallowed fifty thousand dollars of his travel expenses. Commuting between wives isn't deductible. Facial tics, lip-licking, changes in voice modulation or cadence, wavering eyes, all telltale signs. The easiest liars to detect were the talkers. The guys who hung themselves answering questions Archie hadn't even asked.
Archie had it all: a smooth-riding midnight-blue Park Avenue (the most under-rated car in America in Archie's opinion), a deluxe two-bedroom townhouse in Lisle (the Mediterranean package) that he got for a steal because most folks didn't care to be that close to I-88, and Natalie, his cute-as-a-button live-in girlfriend. They'd been together for three years and she'd never once brought up marriage. All that and he had a good income, too. He made sixty-four thousand three hundred and forty-two dollars as a GS-9 pay-grade tax examiner. That government salary, along with the three hundred and twenty-seven thousand dollars Archie had earned last year as a poker-playing shill for his old high school buddy, Simon, made for a very comfortable lifestyle.
Tonight the poker game was at American Taxi Dispatch again.
"You took six Gs from those guys last week," Archie said. He rubbed his hands nervously as Simon maneuvered his Trans Am through rush-hour traffic. "We shouldn't go back so soon."
Simon studied his whitened teeth in the rearview as he steered into the handicapped parking space in front of the dispatch office. American Taxi was in a strip-mall on Dempster, shoehorned between a Vitamin Shoppe and EEEEE Shoes. "Eduard told me Igor got busted by INS and Rudy's taking a fare to Milwaukee. Two seats open. A fucking invitation. Wouldn't be polite to turn him down." Simon reached in the glove-box, pulled out his handicapped sign.
"Those Russians scare me," Archie said. "If Eduard starts talking about picking off Chechen rebels with his Kalashnikov again, I'm out of there. You going to walk or do I need to carry you, Mr. Handicapped?"
Simon laughed. "We need to park close. I don't want you slipping on the ice, banging your head. You might forget our signals."
They always played Texas Hold'em. Archie stayed in enough hands to avoid suspicion, but usually folded early. Simon was the gambler. Archie's job was to bring him home: his flat palm on the table meant the guy had the goods, closed fist meant he was bluffing. Simon paid him thirty percent of what he won.
After three hours Eduard and Simon were each up ten grand, Archie was even, and the rest of the guys had taken a beating. It was a perfect time to quit. Archie stretched. "Geez, look at the time. I need to get home."
Eduard pounded the table. "Hah. Mister IRS has to get beauty sleep so he can steal from hardworking Americans. In Russia we cut balls off tax collectors." Then he laughed. Pounded Archie on the back. "I'm joking, my little friend. You deal a last hand. We call it the night. Yes?" He handed the deck to Archie.
Simon bet a grand on the two down cards. Eduard called. Archie and the rest of the table folded. Archie dealt the flop: nine of hearts, Jack and Queen of spades. Simon bet two grand, Eduard raised him three grand. Simon snuck a glance at Archie, but it was too early for a signal.
Simon grabbed his first Kool of the night and fired it up with a red BIC lighter from his pocket. Archie reached over and picked up the lighter. It was from Maggiano's Bar in Dallas, where Natalie used to waitress.
"This is Natalie's lighter," Archie said.
He dealt the turn, five of spades. Both players peeked at their hole cards. Simon checked. Eduard bet five grand. Simon immediately called. He looked over at Archie. "I think I got it from your car the night of the Bulls game."
Archie shook his head. "Natalie would never smoke in the Park Avenue." He shrugged and dealt the river. Eight of spades.
"Yeah, you're right. Must have been the other day. I stopped over, but you were on some audit, out of town. I remember now. I had a smoke on your deck. Then I took off."
"I'm all in," Eduard said. He pushed all his cash into the pot and sat back, his face inscrutable. Except for his lips. They'd tightened into a thin red line.
Archie's hand rested in his lap. He made a fist, but as he brought it to the table, it flattened out.
Simon stalled his Trans AM as he backed the car out of the parking space. "God damn it." He pounded the steering wheel and the starter whined as he tried it again. "I could've sworn that fucker was bluffing. What do you think he had?"
Archie flicked the lighter with his thumb and stared into the flame. "No clue, Simon. I don't do truth. Just lies."