The Last Poker Hand

A homicide sergeant stood in the hotel suite, gazing down at the body of Bugsy Ferret. “He was a card sharp,” the sergeant told the hotel manager. “Bugsy preyed on tourists. He’d lure them to a hotel, start a friendly poker game, and take them to the cleaners. I guess someone came back this time and took Bugsy.”

Bugsy lay sprawled amid a carpet of scattered playing cards and a bottle of Blush gin. He’d been stabbed in the chest.

“Looks like he didn’t die right away,” said the sergeant as he pointed to the five cards held in the victim’s stiff grip. All diamonds. “Maybe he was trying to tell us something.”

“We got our suspects,” came a voice from the bedroom. The sergeant’s partner emerged, holding a handwritten list. “Benny King, Jack Lawrence, Joe Blush, Alan Spade. He listed their hotels, too. Let’s check ’em out.”

The Reverend Benny King denied knowing Bugsy and vehemently denied ever playing poker. “My parishioners know I would never risk their money—or mine—in such a sinful pursuit. I don’t know how my name got on that list.”

Jack Lawrence told a different story. “Sure, King was there. And Al Spade and Joe Flush. The four of us first met yesterday at a hotel bar. We got to talking about cards and this Ferret character talked us into a game. Hey, you live and learn.”

Alan Spade was a tad more sanguine. “He was a stinking cheat and he deserved to die. I was livid, but we all paid up and we left the rat in one piece. Someone must’ve come back, but it wasn’t me.”

Joseph Blush, an English professor, seemed an unlikely gambler. “At first we all won our share. But as the evening progressed, we lost more. I don’t suppose you can give me my money back.” The police assured him that no money had been found in Bugsy Ferret’s suite.

“We should bring one of them in for questioning,” the sergeant said after the final interview.

WHICH CARD PLAYER DID HE SUSPECT?

Had Bugsy, with his dying efforts, been trying to identify his attacker? If his killer had been the Reverend King, he might have picked a king from the scattered cards. Holding a jack would have fingered Jack Lawrence. Any spade would have identified Alan Spade. And all the dying man had to do to identify Joseph Blush was to grab the empty bottle of Blush gin. Instead of any of these clues, however, the victim was holding five diamonds, otherwise known as a flush.

When Jack Lawrence mentioned the other players, he got one name wrong. Instantly, the sergeant knew the truth. Jack had killed Bugsy, then placed the cards in his hand, hoping to frame the man he had mistakenly known as “Joe Flush.”