Cover image for The poker club
The poker club
Gorman, Edward.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Baltimore : Cemetery Dance Publications, 1999.
Physical Description:
350 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
An expansion of the author's novella Out there in the darkness.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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Author Notes

Edward Joseph Gorman was born on November 2, 1941 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He attended Coe College, but didn't graduate. Before becoming a full-time author, he worked for 23 years in advertising, public relations, and politics. His first novel, Rough Cut, was published in 1984. In 1985, he founded Mystery Scene Magazine and was the executive editor until 2002.

He wrote crime fiction, horror fiction, and western fiction under his own name and several pseudonyms. Using the pseudonym Daniel Ransom, he wrote horror and science fiction books including Daddy's Little Girl, The Babysitter, Nightmare Child, The Fugitive Stars, and Zone Soldiers. Using the pseudonym Richard Driscoll, he and Kevin D. Randle co-wrote the Star Precinct trilogy. Under his own name, he wrote crime and mystery books including Wolf Moon, The First Lady, the Sam McCain Mystery series, the Robert Payne Mystery series, the Jack Dwyer Mystery series, and the Dev Conrad Mystery series. His novel The Poker Club was adapted into a movie in 2008. He also wrote The First Lady and Senatorial Privilege under the pseudonym E. J. Gorman. He edited many volumes of science fiction, horror, and crime.

He received numerous awards including a Spur Award for Best Short Fiction for The Face in 1992, the Anthony Award for Best Critical Work for The Fine Art of Murder in 1994, and an International Horror Guild Award for Cages in 1995. He also received the Shamus Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the International Fiction Writers Award, and The Eye, the lifetime achievement award given out by the Private Eye Writers of America. He died after a long battle with cancer on October 14, 2016 at the age of 74.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Gorman's latest--a "deluxe hardcover edition" based on his story "Out of the Darkness" --is a well-written and mostly suspenseful thriller. Although the premise, similar to the 1986 movie River's Edge, is a tad familiar, the story--about five men whose friendship is stretched to its limits when one of the men accidentally kills someone--is intelligently developed, and the characters are realistically portrayed and free of stereotypes. The novel loses a little steam near the end, and readers familiar with other variations on this theme may soon find themselves getting one step ahead of the plot instead of following it. Still, as a cautionary tale--what happens when the unthinkable happens--the story delivers the goods, and most readers should be quite satisfied. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

Not all short story ideas can be stretched comfortably to fit the frame of a novel, as this tenuous expansion of Gorman's short suspense powerhouse "Out There in the Darkness" proves. The basic plot of the tale (first published as a chapbook in 1996) remains the same: four respectable suburban men learn deadly lessons in personal honesty and civic responsibility when they try covering up their accidental killing of a burglar and outwitting his vengeful accomplice. Gorman (The Day the Music Died) uses the extra elbow room to develop distinct personalities for his protagonists and evoke paranoid fears as their hitherto secure world of middle-class values grows increasingly precarious. Better still, he fleshes out the anonymous and implacable accomplice who stalks them, describing this figure as a suburban nightmare incarnate of "evil, modern evil, urban evil, of eyes that watched in the darkness, watched little children and good mothers, of eyes that coveted money and flesh and life itself." But the novel's first-person narrative limits options for sustaining the pace and pitch of the thrills. Aaron Tyler, the lawyer in whose house the killing occurred, gives muted second-hand accounts of how the experience unhinges the lives of his three friends. His own ordeal of menacing car chases, 4 a.m. phone calls and threats to his family quickly becomes repetitive and predictable. Gorman's lean, resilient prose is tough enough to hold the novel's weak patches and contrived finale together, but it can't disguise the overall thinness. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One I can't remember now who had the first poker game. But somehow over the past five years it became a ritual that we never missed.     We took turns having the game once a week. Beer and bawdy jokes and straight poker. No wild card games. We hate them.     This was summer, and vacation time, and with Jan and the girls gone, I offered to have the game at my place: With nobody there to supervise, the beer could be laced with a little bourbon, and the jokes could be even bawdier. With the wife and the girls in the house, I'm always at least a little intimidated.     The trouble is, of course, as much fun as I have playing cards, I really start missing Jan and the kids after a few days. Some nights I go in and lie on the girls' beds, with the clean scent of their hair still on their pillows. And then I think of how much I love them. And then I feel a tenderness so overwhelming it almost scares me. Then the fun I have at the poker games doesn't seem like so much fun at all. Curtis and Bill came together, bearing gifts, which in this case meant the kind of sexy magazines our wives did not want in the house in case the kids might stumble across them. At least that's what they say. I think they sense, and correctly, that the magazines might give their spouses bad ideas about taking the secretary out for a few after-dinner drinks, or stopping by a singles' bar some night.     We got the chips and cards set up at the table, we got the first beers open (Bill chasing a shot of bourbon with his beer), and we started passing the dirty magazines around with tenth grade glee. The magazines compensated, I suppose, for the balding head, the bloating belly, the stooping shoulders. Deep in the heart of every hundred-year-old man is a horny fourteen-year-old boy.     All this took place, by the way, in the attic. The four of us got to know each other when we moved into what city planners called a "transitional neighborhood." There were some grand old houses that needed a lot of work.     The city designated a ten square block area as one it wanted to restore to shiny new luster. Jan and I chose a crumbling Victorian. You wouldn't recognize it today. And that includes the attic, which I've turned into a very nice den.     "Pisses me off," Bill Doyle said. "He's always late."     And that was true.     Neil Solomon was always late. Never by that much but always late nonetheless.     "Just relax," I said. "Drink a beer."     "Yeah," Curtis said. "Or choke your chicken."     "Or," I said. "Squeeze your blackheads."     "Right," Curtis said, his handsome black face grinning. "Or pick your nose the way you usually do when you think we're not looking."     "You assholes," Bill said. And then started laughing. "You are really a pack of idiots, you know that?"     "Look who's talking," Curtis smiled. "The heavy-weight boxing champion of Manor Street."     As a doctor, Bill is a gentle, charming and extremely competent man, the bully side completely hidden. He once saw my daughter through a really frightening spell of rheumatic fever.     "You have to admit," Bill said. "I've been doing a lot better."     "Yes, he has," Curtis said. "He hasn't punched out a nun for at least two weeks."     Bill could be a crazy sonofabitch, but at least he had the ability to laugh at himself. He was laughing now.     "You jerk-off," he said to Curtis.     Curtis gaped down at one of the dirty magazines open on the poker table and said, "You know, jerking off doesn't sound half-bad right now."     "Hey," I said, snapping my fingers. "I know why Neil's late."     "Yeah, so do I." Bill said. "He's at home swimming in that new fucking pool of his." Neil recently got a bonus that made him the first owner of a full-sized pool in our neighborhood. "Aaron's the one who should have the pool. He was the swimming star in college."     "Neil's got Patrol tonight," I said.     "Hey, that's right," Curtis said. "Patrol."     "I forgot," Bill said. "For once, I shouldn't be bitching about him, should I?"     Patrol is something we all take seriously in this newly restored "transitional neighborhood." The burglaries started eight months ago and they've gotten pretty bad. My house has been burgled once and vandalized twice. Bill and Curtis have had curb-sitting cars stolen. Neil's wife Becky was surprised in her own kitchen by a burglar.     The absolute worst incident, though, happened just four short bloody months ago, a man and wife who'd just moved into the neighborhood, savagely stabbed to death in their own bed. The police caught the guy a few days later trying to cash some traveller's checks he'd stolen after killing his prey. He was typical of the kind of man who infested the neighborhood after sundown: a twentyish junkie stoned to the point of psychosis on various street drugs, and not at all averse to murdering people he envied and despised. He also knew a whole hell of a lot about fooling burglar alarms.     After the murders, there was a neighborhood meeting and that's when we came up with the Patrol, something somebody'd read about being popular back East. People think that a nice middle-sized American city like ours doesn't have major problems. I invite them to walk many of these streets after dark.     They'll quickly be disabused of that notion.     Anyway, the Patrol worked this way: each night, two neighborhood people got in the family van and patrolled the ten-block area that had been restored. If they saw anything suspicious, they used their cell phones and called police. The Patrol had one strict rule: you were never to take direct action unless somebody's life was at stake.     Always, always use the cell phone and call police.     Neil had Patrol tonight. He'd be rolling in here any time now. Patrol was divided into shifts and Neil had the early one.     Bill said, "You hear what Don Evans suggested?"     "About guns?" I asked.     "Yeah."     "Makes me a little nervous," I said.     "Me, too" Curtis said.     For somebody who'd grown up in the inner city, Curtis was a very polished guy. Whenever he joked that he was the token black, Neil countered that he was the token Jew, just as Bill was the token Catholic, and I was the token WASP. Some might see us as friends of convenience, I suppose, but we all really did like each other, something that was demonstrated when Neil had a cancer scare a few years back. The three of us were in his hospital room twice a day, all eight days running.     "Maybe it's time," Bill said. "The burglars and the muggers and the killers have guns, why shouldn't we?"     "That's why we have cops," I said. "They're the ones who carry the guns."     "People start bringing guns on Patrol," Curtis said, "somebody innocent is going to get shot."     "So some night one of us here is on Patrol and we see a bad guy and he sees us and before the cops get there the bad guy shoots us?" Bill said. "You don't think that's going to happen?"     "It could happen," Curtis said. "But I just don't think that justifies carrying guns."     The argument was about to continue when the bell rang downstairs.     "Neil's here," Bill said. "Now we can play some serious cards."     "You've already lost thirty dollars," Curtis reminded him. "I'd say that's pretty serious."     "Sorry I'm late," Neil Solomon said after he followed me up to the attic and came inside.     "We already drank all the beer," Bill said.     Neil smiled. "That gut you're putting on, Bill, I can believe it."     Bill always seemed to enjoy being put down by Neil, possibly because most people were a bit intimidated by Bill--that angry Irish edge of his--but Neil didn't seem the least bit afraid of him. And that seemed to amuse Bill all to hell.     "I may have a bigger gut," Bill said, "but I also have a bigger dick."     "His modesty is so becoming" Curtis said.     "That isn't what your wife told me," Neil said. "She said that I definitely had a bigger dick."     "Our usual elevated level of conversation," Curtis said, smiling at me.     Neil laughed. Neil is the opposite of beefy, blonde Bill. He's tall, slender, dark, nice looking. In college, he'd been a very good miler.     In the old days--up till two years ago--Neil had been the clown of the group. He had real wit, and wasn't afraid to be a little foolish in making you laugh.     In the old days.     But three years ago, at an office Christmas party his wife couldn't attend because she was feeling ill, Neil was unfaithful. The receptionist. The first and only time he'd ever strayed.     He got home late, very drunk, to find his wife sitting in the dark smoking a cigarette. She had never smoked in her life.     Her name was Becky and she was very slight and pretty in a warm, earnest way. She told him not to turn on the lights.     She hadn't, she said, wanted to spoil his office party, but she had some news, and it was bad news. She'd been having some troubles the last month and had gone to the doctor. He'd examined her and suggested a biopsy. Later that day he'd called her with the results. Uterine cancer. Needed to operate right away. Chemo and radiation to follow.     Five months later, Becky was dead. Neil was left with two things; a beautiful daughter named Rachel and more guilt than any human being could reasonably hope to shoulder.     These days, Neil drank a lot. And you could never guess what he was going to do next. One night I found him smashing his fist again and again into the wall of my garage. He knew he'd broken some knuckles. He was determined to break even more, until I stopped him.     Neil sat down.     I got him a beer from the tiny fridge I keep up here, cards were dealt, seven-card stud was played.     Sometimes I wonder how many hours I've spent playing poker in my life. Thousands, probably. And I can't even say I enjoy it, exactly. I guess it's the camaraderie. I grew up in a middle-class family of younger sisters, and so I suppose over the years my poker buddies became the brothers I never had.     I lost the first two hands. Even in stud, a pair of eights isn't all that worthy, especially when you're up against savvy players like Bill and Neil. They never lose their tempers or sulk, but it's obvious that they play with a lot of intensity.     Curtis said, "How'd Patrol go tonight, Neil?"     "No problems," he said, not taking his eyes off the cards I'd just dealt.     "I still say we should carry guns," Bill said.     "Fucking A we should," Neil said.     "Oh great," Curtis said. "Another beer commercial cowboy."     "What's that supposed to mean?" Bill said.     "It just means that we should leave the guns to the cops," I said.     "You taking Curtis' side in this?" Neil said.     "Yeah, I guess I am."     "Curtis is full of shit," Bill said. Then he looked at Curtis and smiled. "Nothing personal.     "Right," Curtis said, obviously irritated with Bill's tone,     The battle over guns had been going on in the neighborhood for the past three months. The sides seemed pretty evenly divided. Because of all the TV coverage violence gets, people are more and more developing a siege mentality.     "Let's just play cards," I said, "and leave the debate bullshit till later." We played cards. In half an hour, I dropped fifteen dollars. It got hot in the attic. We have central air, of course, but in mid-summer like this, the attic can still get pretty warm,     The first pit stop came just after ten o'clock, and Neil took it. There was a john on the second floor between bedrooms, another john on the first floor.     Neil said, "The good Doctor Gettesfeld had to give me a finger wave this afternoon, gents, so this may take a while."     "You should trade that prostate of yours in for a new one," Bill said.     "Believe me, I'd like' to. I mean, I'm getting tired of bending over and having him put his finger up my ass."     "Aaron and Curtis never get tired of it, Bill said slyly. "They love it when I put my finger up there."     "Another witticism," Curtis said. "How does he keep on doing it, folks?"     While Neil was gone the three of us started talking about the Patrol again. Should we go armed or not?     We made the same old arguments. The passion was gone. We were just waiting for Neil to come back and we knew it.     Finally, Bill said, "Let me see some of those magazines again."     "You got some identification?" I said.     "I'll show you some identification," Bill said. "It's about a yard long and it's nice and hard."     Curtis said, "Boy, your nose really is long, isn't it?"     We passed the magazines around.     "Man, I love lesbians," Bill said, as he flipped through the pages.     "I am a lesbian," Curtis said. "An honorary one, anyway."     I was just as exultant as they were. The older I got, the more real sex became, maybe because it was the only wild passion I had left in me. Walking down a sunny street, I fell in love a hundred times an hour. I always felt guilty about this, of course. I'd never been unfaithful and hoped I never would be. I'd destroyed a relationship in college by stepping out. She found out and never trusted me again. I just couldn't do that to Jan, not ever. There are some things you can never undo, and cheating on your loved one is one of them.     "You mind if I use the john on the first floor?" Curtis said.     "Yeah, it would really piss me off," I said.     That was the overpolite black man chained inside of Curtis. He never quite took the social liberties the rest of us did. Plantation politics were still a part of him, and it was sad to see. "Captain May I" would always be a sad reactive part of him.     I felt like a jerk for making a joke of it.     "Yes, use the first floor john, Curtis. Take a shower if you want."     "No," he said, "just pissing in your sink will be fine."     After Curtis left, Bill said, "I ride his ass sometimes, don't I?"     "You ride everybody's ass."     "I get to him. I can see it in his eyes."     "So go easier on him."     "Yeah, I suppose I should. There's just something I don't quite like about him. Never have." He looked down at the can of beer he had gripped in his fist. "Maybe I'm a racist."     "Well," I said, not quite knowing what to say. "Maybe you are a racist."     He sighed. "I'm going to work on being nicer to Curtis. I really am."     "Good idea," I said. "Curtis is a hell of a nice guy."     The first time I heard it, I thought it was some kind of animal noise from outside, a dog or a cat in some kind of discomfort maybe. Bill, who was still staring at his can of beer, didn't even look up.     But the second time I heard the sound, Bill and I both looked up. And then we heard the exploding sound of breaking glass.     "What the hell was that?" Bill said.     "Let's go find out," I said.     Something was bad wrong. I knew that in a clear, clean way that drained away all my beer fuzziness.     That sound, whatever it was, did not belong in this house.     I thought about the Patrol argument we'd been having. Right now a weapon would feel damned good in my hand.     Just as we reached the bottom of the stairs, we saw Neil coming out of the second floor john. "You hear that?" he said, keeping his voice low.     "We sure as hell did," I said.     "Yeah," Bill said, his face ugly with anger and suspicion. "And now we're going to find out what it is."     But in addition to wariness, there was an excitement in Bill's voice, too. He loved danger. It was like being a Big 10 lineman all over again.     He was an odd choice to be a medical man, a healer. There was a lot of hatred in him. We reached the staircase leading to the first floor. Everything was dark.     Bill reached for the light switch but I brushed his hand away.     My place. My turf. I'd do things my way. I put a sshing finger to my lips and then showed my old Louisville slugger. I led the way downstairs, keeping the bat ready at all times.     "You sonofabitch!"     The voice belonged to Curtis.     More smashing glass.     In the shadowy light from the street, Bill and Neil looked scared.     I hefted the bat some more and then started moving fast to the kitchen.     "Any fucker who lays a hand on Curtis," Bill whispered, "I'm personally going to fucking kill."     I almost smiled, remembering our conversation of a while ago. Maybe it took something like this to make him realize that he really did like Curtis.     Just as we passed through the dining room, I heard something heavy hit the kitchen floor. Something human and heavy.     A moan. A groan. Curtis.     "Cocksucker!" Bill screamed and went running hard into the kitchen, his face hard with rage, his fists tight and club-like.     He was at the back door. White. Tall. Blond shoulder-length hair. Filthy tan T-shirt. Greasy jeans. He had grabbed one of Jan's carving knives from the huge iron rack that sits atop a butcher block island.     The one curious thing about him was the eyes: there was a malevolent iridescence to the blue pupils, angry, almost alien, intelligence.     Curtis was sprawled face down on the tile floor. His arms were spread wide on either side of him. He didn't seem to be moving. Chunks and fragments of glass were strewn everywhere across the floor. My uninvited guest had smashed two or three of the colourful pitchers we'd bought in Mexico.     By now, Bill was crouching in front of the burglar.     Neil was ransacking the knife drawer, looking for the biggest blades he could find.     He gave Bill a carving knife, and kept the second one for himself.     Now Neil and Bill were both crouched in front of the guy, ready to spring.     "C'mon, motherfucker," Bill said, "make a move. I'd love to open your fucking throat."     Even though I was still near the kitchen door trying to revive Curtis, I could smell the burglar. Think of a city dump on a boiling July afternoon, that fetid sweet-sour odor. That's what he smelled like even clear across the room.     Curtis moaned, then, and I felt a ridiculous surge of joy. I guess I'd half-suspected he might be dead. I got him propped up against the wall.     His nose was smashed and it was pretty bloody. There was also a gash above his right eye. He kept touching the right rear side of his head.     I put my hand back there and felt through the damp curly hair a good-sized egg,     Our friend the burglar showed an unmistakable appetite for violence.     I looked back over my shoulder to see how Neil and Bill were doing,     They were still in a standoff situation. Every time they came in close, he raised his knife.     Bill swore every few moments. Neil feigned lunges just about as often. Then Neil's left leg would lash out, trying to catch the burglar in the crotch. But the burglar was quick and the burglar was savvy.     The burglar's face was fascinating in a repellent way. No sign of remorse. No sign even of fear. Just of trapped-animal rage.     He was pissed. He wanted to kill us because We'd had the audacity to catch him.     A noise. The back porch. Somebody tripping over something in the darkness.     The burglar's eyes snapped in the direction of the porch, and he then uttered his one and only word, "Run!"     The sonofabitch had brought a friend.     That was when I ran over to the knife drawer, quickly grabbing the longest blade I could find.     I was all reaction now. No thinking whatsoever. I felt the tremendous energy that Bill and Neil always showed whenever they were around violence. No time for fear.     I ran to the back door, ran into the narrow shadowy box that was the porch.     I could still smell last year's Winesap apples, a good, clean, sweet smell. Jan buys a bushel basket or two of them every autumn, then keeps them on the back porch until winter comes. During these months, we eat an awful lot of apple pie.     No one there.     I tried to see through the moonsilver shadows of the backyard. Clothesline. Two-story garage. Line of garbage cans. The kids' swing set.     And then he was there. Peeking around the far corner of the garage. The second burglar.     I burst through the back door, racing after him.     The night air was almost suffocating.     I crept along the length of the garage, keeping to the shadows, waving the knife in front of me. The blade gleamed in the moonlight. I imagined bright red blood along its edge, glistening.     Only now did I feel even a modicum of fear.     What if he had a gun, the second burglar? What if he looked just as crazy as his pal inside? What if he was waiting for me on the other side of the garage, ready to jump me and kill me?     Jan would say I was trying to be as macho as my brother Bob. He was now a detective in St. Louis. He still had ample opportunity to bust heads, and equally ample opportunity to regale us with his war stories at two or three family gatherings a year.     A noise.     I froze in my crouch. I noticed that the gleaming edge of the blade was now shaking slightly.     I could picture the bastard only a few feet away, just on the other side of the garage. Waiting for me.     I almost turned and went back. Almost.     But then I thought of the people who'd been killed and mugged in our little neighborhood over the past few years.     This bastard and his friends were making a safe, normal life impossible for us and our families.     I got good and pissed and forgot all about going back to the house.     A noise. Again.     The sound of a shoe on gravel.     Wherever he was, he wasn't far away.     I turned back just a moment to the line of four silver garbage cans.     In great vast pantomime, the kind of overplayed movements you see in silent movies, I lifted the lid off one of the cans then carried it back up to the edge of the garage,     I waited, listened.     Despite the seventy-eight degree temperature, I was shivering, sweat beading like ice cubes on my face and arms and back.     I heard bird, dog, train, car. But I did not hear him, even though I suspected he was only a few feet away.     I steadied myself, readied myself.     I would throw the lid into the alley, he would pounce on it and I would jump on him.     Once again I thought of how Jan would react if she knew what I was going to do. She would be scared, and even a little embarrassed, I imagined. My husband, the fourteen-year-old.     I threw the lid the way I would have tossed a Frisbee.     It landed in the middle of the alley, on a mound of tufted weeds and gravel.     Silence, a deep and unnerving silence.     Shadows, shifting shadows that seemed to move and merge and shift again.     I was six-years-old and in my bed and convinced that some monster was in the closet lurking, waiting.     When I finally went to sleep, the monster would come out and soon I would be nothing more than blood dripping from his long and razor-sharp teeth.     Silence.     My trick hadn't worked. He hadn't leapt out in plain sight.     Where was he? What was he waiting for?     I moved two steps closer to the front of the garage. Started to peek around.     And that was when I heard it.     The sound of shoe soles scuffling against the tiles on the garage roof.    By the time I turned around, by the time I looked up, it was too late.     He was already leaping off the roof and landing on me feet first.     I fell to the ground, stunned as my head slammed against the hard earth.     When he dove at me, I got my first glimpse of him--skinny, angular, muscular in a scrawny way. Black T-shirt and jeans. Short dusty blonde hair. Face hidden by dirt and sweat. Angry eyes peering out from a mask of filth.     He threw himself on me, tried to straddle me, meanwhile whipping out a switchblade and snicking it open.     I tried to roll away from him but he had me pinioned tight with iron legs. I saw him raise the knife, moonfire burning silver on its tip, and then somebody shouted, "Hey!"     When he saw Neil running toward us, he jumped to his feet and started toward the alley.     "You all right?" Neil said when he reached me.     "Yeah, but he got away."     "You get a look at him?"     "Not much of one."     I was on my feet. My head still hurt from slamming against the ground.     "Cocksuckers," Neil said.     He ran to the alley and looked left, then right.     "Bastard's gone," he said when he came back. "You all right?"     "Yeah. Anybody call the cops yet?"     We had just reached the porch.     "Nah, Bill and I thought we'd hold off for a while," he said.     "Hold off calling the cops?"     But he didn't have time to answer, because just then I heard glass smash to the floor inside, and break in a loud nasty explosion. Copyright © 1999 Ed Gorman. All rights reserved.