The Wyrd West: Eldrich Calgary
The probability of getting a royal flush in poker is six hundred forty-nine thousand, seven hundred thirty-nine, to one. If you play over six hundred thousand games of poker, luck says you get a royal flush once. It is so impossibly small of a chance that most players ignore the possibility of that hand. The fates just don’t line up that way. Sometimes, though, you can adjust fate, make luck your own. That’s what my dad told me, ‘make your own luck’. I don’t think he was talking about gambling though…
I like Texas Hold’em. Other kinds of poker are games, Hold’em is an event, it’s a symbol. Everyone is dealt two cards and that’s your lot in life, that’s who you are. Maybe you’re the scum, two and a three. Maybe you’re a king on high, jack and a king. That is who you are. Then life comes. Three events, the flop, the turn, the river. You were one thing at the beginning, two cards, but now everything around you has changed, how has it changed you?
Maybe I just look too far into things.
There was a layer of smoke hanging above our heads. I don’t think anyone was smoking but for some reason it was always there. The walls were tight in, a horrible blue-green colour that reminded me of hospital paint. I was in the back of a disused…dry cleaners I guess? One of my buddies in town put me on to this game, high stake, no-limit Texas Hold’em. Illicit, dangerous, and I was up ten thousand dollars. Let me repeat that.
I was warned that people here don’t like new guys coming in a cleaning them out, that if I was winning too much I should walk away just as if I was losing.
Ten thousand dollars though.
Across from me sat this horrendously hairy man. His arms looked like carpets and I could see curly, bushy, and black chest hairs peeking out from his open shirt. The furious snarl he had on his face only served to accent the thick caterpillar of a unibrow that sat above his eyes.
“All in,” he growled.
He slid forward two thousand in bills. Desperation. Anxiety. Rage. The flop was down; five of diamonds, seven of clubs, jack of clubs. After that, the turn fell, six of spades.
I could just drop in two thousand of my own and be done with this, but poker is more then luck, it’s knowing how to subvert the field to be yours. I pushed in all my money.
“Call,” I smirked.
It instantly hit him. I could tell Unibrow wasn’t a smart man, but intelligence enough to know this could be bad. Sweat dropped from his black flop of a hair cut and collected in his massive brow before he wiped it away. He was trying to stay strong, keep a poker face. I only smiled.
The river, king of hearts. Suicide king.
All the money was in, we only needed to turn over our cards. I could see Unibrow’s brain cranking it’s gears. Could I make a straight with the five, six, and seven? Or maybe I just had a three pair with one of the cards on the field, maybe with the king himself? It could have been why I was so confident the entire game, I had a two pair of kings already. I had risked eight thousand more then I needed to.
He licked his lips, gone dry from his heavy breaths.
“You know,” I started, letting my face drop to a soft, kind emotion. “I can see this is really worrying you. You don’t want to lose any more money. Tell you what,” I nodded my head to the two thousand he just put in. “You split that, one thousand to me, and you take back what you put in the pot and just walk away, this last hand never happened. It was only me and you.”
I didn’t smile, I didn’t smirk, I just held that caring, almost worried, look on my face. I was trying to send him images of all the people who may need him to have money. I was a friend.
It took a second to sink in. Sat in his brain for a while percolating before he shook his head, shaking the idea out of his mind. “Naw, that’s c-crazy. You’re bluffin’” he said.
“Okay. Turn over.” I reached for my cards.
A thousand dollar bundle slid across the table to me. Unibrow quickly gathered up his remaining bills, shoving them into the pockets of his hoodie. I shared a quick glance with the dealer, who only shrugged and gathered all the cards back.
The angry expression never left Unibrow’s face. His glare went from me, to my cards. “What did you have?” he asked.
I smiled. “That would cost you another five hundred. I believe you already had that much in the pot.”
His eyebrow twitched. The sweat really had started to collect on him, making his skin a gross, moistness and soaking through the hoodie. Another five hundred dropped in front of me. This time, I did smile.
I flipped the cards in one quick movement. Two and three. Pauper’s hand.
Unibrow bellowed in rage. He lost to a king high hand. He lunged forward, grabbing at the money he gave to me. I shoved the bundles aside, letting his hand hit the dirty wood of the table we played on. The palm struck with such force I thought he was going to crack right through. I stood slightly from my chair and put my hand on top of his, pinning it.
His face came unbearably close to mine. I could smell heavy garlic on his breath and count the hairs the littered his face. Past his head I could see his other meat slab of a hand rear back, blade of a pocket-knife glinting in the light.
I don’t exactly know why I did what I did next. Maybe it was just the panic of the situation, maybe I knew it would worked. I brought my hand that wasn’t pressing his down to Unibrow’s face and flicked him in the eye.
It worked apparently. He threw back his head in pain. I released the hand that was on the table and he clutched it to his eye. The black-suited bouncer’s grabbed Unibrow, knife falling to the floor, and forcibly dragged him through the door to the back alley. He screamed the entire time, throwing threats and curses my way. It didn’t matter, I was just about done with this town anyway.
“Shall we finish?” said a female voice.
I turned to the last player at the table. She had been playing the game tight, very few hands. In fact, I don’t think I can remember actually playing a round with her. But that’s impossible, even with both of us folding, we must have played together at some point. And yet I can’t remember.
I don’t see how I could forget though. The woman was beautiful, not just the kind of hotness you would see in the girls who usually hung around gambling dens, this woman was strikingly lovely. I think calling her ‘hot’ would even be an insult. She had brown-red hair that flowed lovingly over one shoulder. The front of her hair swept nearly across one eye. Oh, those smouldering blue-grey eyes. They had the strange ability to be so icy, and yet burn right through me.
The rest of her body had me thinking impure thoughts. A red dress, split down the front into a deep V that nearly touched her navel, displaying the curvature of her breasts extremely well. The table had covered her lower body but I could tell from the way she held herself, the curve of her back and the poise of her arms, that one leg was draped over the other. I wondered how long that dress went, how her legs-
I shook myself back into focus. I’ve seen her type before. Most guys who play poker in places like this aren’t used to the glamour of a woman like that. They dress so provocatively so they can throw men off guard, make them go easy on them. Sharks in dresses.
Still, I have never seen one that beautiful at a game before.
“Yeah,” I said. I hadn’t realized my throat when dry and the word came out like a hoarse whisper. I swallowed hard and the saliva started flowing again. “Let’s play.”
The woman smiled.
She did not speak the rest of the game, but she didn’t have to. I was losing. It wasn’t even that she was just winning, I was losing. I couldn’t get a good hand, and when I did, her’s was just a little better. She wouldn’t believe my bluffs, just sat there smiling. If she was cheating she was doing it well, really well. I kept an eye on her but she barely even touched her cards, once when they were dealt and once when we flipped. She just sat there, smiling.
In four games I was broke.
I sat limp at the table. My face may have been a stone but inside my jaw was hanging open. It was all gone. Everything. I had no money left anywhere. I felt like crying, but I knew it wouldn’t do anything but make me look like a fool.
“What’s your name?” the woman’s voice came again.
I looked up at her, glaring. The woman who took everything from me. “Simon,” I growled.
“Just Simon?” Her voice was smooth, like listening to the soft lapping of a seaside. It softened me, though my anger still laid beneath.
“Simon Gunari.” I spoke before I realized I said the words.
“Gunari? That’s a Romani name.”
“It’s my name. My heritage has nothing to do with it.” My past was nothing that I was interested in talking about with a strange woman who took all my money.
“Maybe it does,” she murmured cryptically. “One more hand.”
“I have nothing to play with.” I waved my hands in front of me, displaying the distinct lack of funds.
“If you win, you get everything here,” she started.
She had my attention back.
“If I win.” She smiled again. “You are in debt to me.”
I raised an eyebrow. If I won, I had all my money back and more. If I lost…I owed her money? I don’t think she knew who she was playing with. For all her poise and glamour she didn’t seem to think that I would just not pay her back. I’ve weaselled out of debts before. Now it was my turn to smile.
She offered her hand daintily. I took it in mine and shook. There was a warmth in it, a strange heat that seemed to hang around even after we broke.
Two cards to me. Two cards to her. She didn’t even touch her’s but I saw I had a five of diamonds and a king of hearts. Suicide king again.
“You are more then welcome to leave at anytime during this deal. I get the money, but you are not in debt to me,” she explained.
“Play on,” was all I replied.
The flop. King of spades. Ten of spades. King of diamonds.
I already had a three pair of kings! “Play on.”
The turn. Five of clubs.
Full house! She was mine now. I peeked up at her, stone-faced. She had not moved, not touched her cards, only smiled.
“Play on,” I said.
Queen of spades.
I knew I lost. Don’t tell me how but I just knew it. And she knew it too. I turned my cards, full house. She turned her’s…
Six hundred forty-nine thousand, seven hundred thirty-nine to one.
And I lost.
The cold air was a godsend on my face. I hadn’t even waited for her cards to finish their turn. I just slammed my hands to the table and stalked out. Now the darkened alley surrounded me on both sides.
I heard the door behind me open and the unmistakable soft clicking of heels on stone saunter up.
“I hope you weren’t thinking of running,” her soft voice infected my ears.
Not yet. “Of course not,” I replied without looking at her.
She swept in before me, graceful to an excess. Her hand ran along my back as she moved and ended so it rested on my neck. It felt nice. I could now see her entire ensemble. The dress ran long, but a slit up the side ended at her hips, showing enough leg that I felt my temperature rise.
“Do you know who I am, Simionce?”
She used my full name. How-? “No.” My voice came without me expecting it.
Her hand slid to my nape. My body seemed to lock up and turn to jelly at the same time. The heels brought her to just under my height, and as she leaned forward I could see her entire body moving closer to mine. I felt her warmth press against me as her lips moved closer to my ear. She didn’t say anything, just let her lips caress the earlobe, but suddenly I understood everything.
I knew of a supernatural world alongside ours. Vampires, ghosts, wizards, and faeries all were real. The stories I heard as a child and the mysteries that plagued the news all made sense. This woman made sense.
Fortuna. The Goddess of Fate.
I was on the ground once my senses returned to me. Laying back, it felt like I had just thrown up everything in my stomach at once. My body felt empty but my brain felt full. I was able to focus on an amber light that sat above the door in the alley. I put a hand beneath me and strained my stomach muscles so I could sit.
Fortuna stood before me, that same knowing smile on her face. But now I knew what she knew, why she was smiling. She played me, from the very beginning of tonight.
She offered a hand to me but I ignored it, returning to a shaky stance, but standing.
“You, dear Simon, are my emissary. You will share in my power when I lend it to you and do my will. This will be until your debt is repaid. Do you understand?” Her tone was soft, but commanding. She wasn’t someone I would be able to get away from.
She needed an emissary, sometimes the trapping of fate require the hand of a mortal. Someone who would be able to influence things from this world when she could not. I knew this, though I did not know how.
I didn’t say anything, just nodded.
She took my hand from my side and pressed something into it. A pocketwatch, gold but wholly unremarkable.
“Keep an eye on the time, dear boy.”
I wanted to say something, maybe even just scream, but nothing came out. I had questions but no words that could form them.
“Hey!” Unibrow’s voice rang out from behind me.
I spun to the sound and saw him stomping for me. Fortuna’s presence was gone, I didn’t have to look for her, I could just feel it. Didn’t matter anyway. I could see a glint of metal in Unibrow’s hand, a gun. Small, but even a small bullet would punch through my brain.
He raised the weapon, snarling.
Then something unlikely happened.
Unibrow’s next step took him onto the tail of a black cat. The cat screeched out and Unibrow jumped back, throwing his hands up. The gun went off, like a hammer hitting metal. My gaze shot to where the bullet struck one of those air conditioners they had on old buildings. The round hit the bolted-in metal ledge that held the device up. It must have dug some chunks out of the wall as it suddenly cracked and dropped, swinging on the lone bolt that was able to hold on. The air conditioner fell.
I squeezed my eyes tight and heard nothing by a sickening, moist crash. I eased my eyes back open and instantly wished I hadn’t.
The heavy metal’s corner had hit Unibrow right on the crown, cracking his skull wide open like an egg. Blood and grey matter littered the alleyway floor around his body, slowly spreading from his wound. His eyes seemed afraid for a second, confused, then they turned vacant.
I felt the sensation of vomit trying to work it’s way up but I forced it down, trying to bear it. Just a body. Just a combination of factors that made a body. Meat.
A loud tick rang out from the pocketwatch still in my hand. I loosened my grip on it, white marks on my hand from where I was squeezing. I pushed the button on the watch’s crown and it flipped open. Inside was a small folded up piece of paper. I gently removed it, turning away from the gruesome scene while I did.
I should have just walked away from that table when Fortuna made her offer. It would have been smart. Now I had gotten myself into something way above my head, and I may not make it out.
I unfolded the paper. It had two words on it.