‘Teller’s Ticket’ by Robert Flanagan

Flanagan, Robert 1986

Teller’s Ticket by Robert Flanagan, 1986

The magic trick:

Textbook introduction into the story

How do you get to the story? It’s a pretty basic question for authors to answer as they sit down to write. “Teller’s Ticket” provides a textbook demonstration if you ever get stuck.

The first sentence doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It discusses a problem the reader knows nothing about in specific terms that leave us confused but interested enough to read on. Then we get a specific description of action, someone driving a car. (It’s a noticeably excellent description of someone driving on a highway, by the way.) Then we get a description of our protagonist’s thoughts and feelings. This launches into a full-on backstory sequence. Three paragraphs explain the protagonist more in depth, as well as his relationship with his wife. Throw in another vague reference to the conflict alluded back in the first sentence. And finally the all-out explanation of how this conflict came to be through a longer sequence detailing the poker game of the prior night.

The reader has to invest in the story in order to find out what that first sentence is all about, and by the time it makes sense, the author has you. It’s a perfect way into the plot. And that’s quite a trick on Flanagan’s part.

The selection:

So how in the world had he gotten himself into this idiotic imbroglio – that’s what he’d like to know.

Once a week he played poker, his minor vice. His doctor, Art Easterday, hosted the games at his comfortably cluttered bachelor’s quarters. There was usually another doctor or two in attendance, besides Bill Modell, a pipe-sucking ad exec addicted to high stakes bluffing, and a CPA named Veering who was Teller’s only match in estimating the odds of a given hand. Teller, although he infrequently won big, rarely ended up a loser. He folded early on weak cards, stood pat on a fair draw, seldom bluffed, and when blessed with a winning hand sucked in bets with artful raises.

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