The semifinal opponents promised to be the toughest test yet for Poppa Jake’s team of desert bridgeplayers – a group of merchants from the bazaar headed by Shakshuka, the used camel dealer, and including Nebi the schmatte merchant, Nubi the jeweler, and Rami the fishmonger.

Simon and Levi, the No. 2 and No. 3 sons, were due to face the camel-fishseller combination. Till Simon, who was both thoughtful and delicate, sent his brother back with a urgent message of distress.

“Si says the two of them must be overdue for their annual bath,” Levi told his father. “Their scent is driving him to distraction.”

Levi wished that a better-smelling team led by Odysseus, which had been due to arrive for the tournament, and even booked places at the Delta Hilton, had shown up. But the Greeks, who usually began each sesssion with what seemed like a gift of a few Desert Match Points to their opponents but wasn’t, apparently got lost in transit. It was his bad luck that the malodorous merchants from the bazaar, who smelled of fish, sweat, and camels, had taken the Greeks’ expected berth in the semis.

But that was not to be, so Levi rushed to inform the tournament director of a change of lineup: Gad and Asher, two of the younger sons who spent most of their time with the herds and wouldn’t mind the smell, were taking the places of him and his brother at Table Two.

At Table One, the initial sparring had already begun. “We play strong no-trumps, standard leads and signals,” Big Rube announced. “What agreements do you have?”

“Standard Egyptian with fourth-best leads and Buenos Aires finger signals,” replied Nubi the jeweler, rubbing his hands together in anticipation of an exciting match.

Poppa Jake looked puzzled. “I’ve never heard of those…”

“They’re an invention of a famous pair from a place far to the north,” said Nebi’s partner, Nubi. “I learned of them in a scroll I checked out from the Great Bridge Library in Alexandria.”

Big Rube gave the ragman a menacing look. “Please inform us when you use them,” he said, using his dagger to clean his fingernails.

After an uneventful start, Poppa Jake got a chance to show his prowess in what seemed to be an over-ambitous 6.

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