Yvonne waited for her opponent to make up his mind. She didn’t attempt to hide her subtle smile. He might mistake her amusement for a tell but she didn’t care. The guy was an idiot and deserved what he got. He was a shitty poker player, big balls, no brains. She knew all his tells like the back of his hand. She knew that well enough too. Disgusting Neanderthal. For all his graces and charm he was nothing but a bully. Their game was a silent battle of wills. One way or another Yvonne was going to win. He was going down, permanently this time.
The dealer remained impassive, sliding cards across the table and spoke only when necessary. She was a professional but it didn’t stop her judging the players. She could slot any player into a neat box the moment they joined her table. The woman was an Ice Queen, late fifties, no wedding ring although there was a pale band where one used to be. A parasite who fed on men with bulging wallets and time on their hands. She was power-hungry. Loved to play stupid mind games and jerk rich men around. What an asshole. In secret the dealer loved to watch women like the Ice Queen crash and burn.
Carlton watched Yvonne slide a stack of chips across the table. Her smile gave her away. It always did. Her every movement both sickened and aroused him. The way she tucked her hair behind her ear was enough to make his junk twitch. At the same time her smile killed his excitement. It hurt his head too. He’d tried to shift a pounding headache since arriving at the table that morning. Pills, alcohol and nicotine were the only answer. He watched her like a hunter tracking its prey. Poker was like Chess. He moved his pieces, plotted and planned, slowly reeling her in and then he’d wipe her out. This time he was going to take her for everything she had. The gutter was where she belonged. He upped the bet and settled back to see her reaction.
The dealer watched Carlton stroke a finger against his temple. He was sweating and seemed uneasy. This wasn’t a sign of a bad hand but something else. The game began several hours ago and showed no sign of slowing. Both players had approached the table like a stand-off in the old wild west, chips and cards as ammunition, their body language as slow and languid as any rugged gun-slinger. The dealer studied their tells, silently evaluating who had the upper hand. The heavy atmosphere was loaded with tension, like a dual to the death.
He was sweating now. Good. She had him by the balls. What she planned to take from him was small potatoes but it would be enough to satisfy her desire for revenge. Yvonne had pushed her self loathing deep down. Last night was the final time he would touch her. She had other fish to catch now but she needed closure. Breaking Carlton would be a small victory but a necessary one. She sipped her iced water, the cool liquid felt like fire as it coated her insides. She forced aside the urge to grimace and checked her cards. Since arriving at the table her stomach had been knots. She grinned through the pain.
The dealer passed out cards. The stakes had been raised with both players pushing beyond their previous battles. Sooner or later one of them would break. The dealer couldn’t decide what would be more satisfying, Ice Queen ruined and penniless or Mr Big Bucks losing to someone he clearly hated. Over the last hour both players began to suffer, poker faces struggling to hold back the pain. Silent anguish captivated the dealer. The private room overlooked the plaza by the river, a busy place populated by suits and beggars. Every so often the dealer glanced at the plaza. It sure was busy.
Carlton came close to calling a break. The screaming pain behind his eyes was almost unbearable. He knocked back his Macallan and nearly puked on the table. All he gave was a slight cough. Bitterness burned in his mouth. She would take that as a tell. And weakness. She was the weak one, not him. He shook his glass at a waiter and shot a dark look at the dealer. Two ice cubes clinked and a shot of single malt coated them. In an attempt to regain his composure Carlton casually swirled the golden liquid around the tumbler. The chill of the glass felt like red-hot pain against his fingers. After a sip he set his drink down and picked up his cards. With a shaking hand and blurry vision he tossed a handful of chips into the centre of the table.
The dealer almost asked if he was okay but held her tongue when he stared at her. Fine. Take your punishment you stupid man. He’ll get what’s coming to him soon enough. Ice Queen looked amused by this but beneath her stony façade she was suffering too. The dealer took everything in, the tiny twinges in her face and the way she shifted in her chair. They were both in pain. Good. Leaches were good for nothing.
Yvonne didn’t gloat. She used the opportunity to shift her weight. In her stomach an army of razor-sharp eels fought to push through her intestines. Her skin was on fire. She wasn’t surprised. After the shit they’d snorted last night her body had every right to be pissed. She flicked the hair away from the back of her neck, every strand felt like electric wire burning into her neck. Carlton was worse and she would hold on long enough to see him fall. The air conditioning roared in her ears and the noise from the plaza pounded against her brain.
The dealer waited for the players to compose themselves. Their marathon battle was taking its toll. She had seen many players romp through epic games without showing the slightest hint of fatigue but seasoned players couldn’t handle it. The sensible ones took regular rest breaks. Ice Queen and Mr Big Bucks went at it like they were half their age. They burned through life with the same gusto as a twenty year old, snorting powder and fucking till the early hours. The dealer enjoyed watching people burn out before her eyes. Out in the plaza an ambulance pushed back the crowds.
Carlton used a napkin to mop acid sweat from his head. The silk fabric was like rough sand paper and he stared at the sodden mess. He could fake a phone call and make for the rest room. A splash of cold water and a quick snort would set him right. Would that be seen as weakness? Yvonne was watching him like a cat toying with a mouse. With clenched teeth he raised the stakes again. He had to beat her. If only the wail of sirens outside would stop trying to destroy his ear drums. Another sip of Macallan. It tasted like chicken piss. If he switched to water…no, weakness wasn’t an option. Play on. Her Queen was close to being destroyed.
The dealer understood the true nature of patience. Time was ticking by and before either of them understood what was going on it would be late to call it quits. Such was the nature of poker. Bravado made fools of the rich. She had seen players weep, beg, shout, fight and die from one bad hand. But they never learned. They kept coming back, hoping…no, knowing they would retake what they had lost. The table was a drug. The dealer had seen it kill players, both literally and figuratively. Ice Queen and Mr Big Bucks were no exception. Only time would tell which came first.
Yvonne checked her iced water for signs of needles. It was crystal clear. Every part of her mouth burned. The waiter poured her a fresh one but it tasted the same. She had to concentrate. Her agonising thirst would have to wait until her victory. She wanted to cut a line on the table. A quick rush of powder would surely bring everything back into focus. The people shouting outside was driving her insane. Carlton had noticed it too, with every wail of a siren he flinched. Good. His attention was slipping. All she had to do was stop her heart from racing and try not to foul herself. Something was trying to force its way out of her. She clenched her legs tight and offered Carlton a tight-lipped smile.
The dealer watched them exchange looks. Was it possible neither of them would make it to the end? That would be more satisfying than watching either of them lose. They were trying to fake it but were breaking every rule, their tells seeping through more and more. The dealer noticed the waiter staring out of the window. The plaza was chaotic. People were crying and more ambulances skidded through the crowds. It had arrived. The game was coming to an end.
Carlton couldn’t remember his cards. He picked them up, stared at them and put them down. He wondered whether the shit they’d taken last night had been low-grade street junk and not his usual premium choice. Maybe he could request the waiter call down to reception for one of the emergency medics to come and check him over. He needed a drink to douse the evil in his throat but the prospect of choking down more Macallan made him nauseated. He touched his finger tips together. They were numb. His fingers felt clumsy like they were someone else’s. It crossed his mind that Yvonne may have pulled something, switched his powder for bad shit during their frenzied hotel room romp.
The dealer gave the waiter a quick nod when he looked anxiously at the door. She could hear a commotion in the lobby downstairs, broken glass and people shouting. The players took no notice. They were busy battling with their own inner demons. It wouldn’t be long before they fell. An obnoxious smell drifted from the Ice Queen, rotten meat and gas. The dealer suspected Ice Queen would remain seated as the shit spilled between her legs. And Mr Big Bucks didn’t look any better. Sweat streamed down his pale face and his hands shook like the first stages of a seizure. The waiter returned and locked the door. The dealer knew she was cutting it fine.
Yvonne knew something bad was happening. As she stared at her hand she saw the veins in her wrists darken. It had to be poison. But how? Had Carlton managed to slip something in her drink? More likely he’d paid the waiter to do it for him. Fucking coward. She was alarmed when she couldn’t remember what the cards meant. She had a good hand didn’t she? What did it matter if she was poisoned? If she folded now and called for a doctor she would lose her victory, but survive to take that grinning idiot down another day. Her skin itched like crazy and she couldn’t hold back the steady stream of gas that pushed itself out of her. She noticed the dealer watching her. Yvonne tried to speak. She wanted to ask what the fuck she was smiling at but her throat was swollen and all she managed was a gargled squeak.
The dealer offered a questioning look when Ice Queen groaned at her. The final stages of the game were coming into play. Chips versus life. What would come first? She restrained a smile. It didn’t matter. Sweet revenge was so close she could almost taste it. They would suffer for the torment they had both forced upon her. Not that either of them realised it. They were blind to their actions. Blinded by the idea that wealth meant they were immune to consequences. The waiter hovered by the door. He tapped his watch and looked at the players. The dealer nodded. He expression said “just a little while longer.”
Carlton felt his rage subside. He felt numb like jumping into a boiling hot shower after rolling in freezing snow. His gaze shifted from his cards to the other people in the room. The woman in the black waistcoat watched him. She was supposed to do something. But what? The man in the white shirt and tie by the door…who was he? The sweating woman twitched and shuddered. Her cards dropped from her fingers. He knew her…didn’t he? Something about flesh, sweating and bathed in weak light…wrapped around him…laughing, moaning… He hated her. He loved her. When Carlton spoke he sounded like a pig snuffling through garbage.
The dealer stepped back from the table. Any moment now it would be over. She would have her revenge. It wouldn’t pay to be so close when they fell. The waiter jumped when something heavy crashed against the door. She needed to see them turn. Her intense hatred of them burned in her chest. She would wait until the last possible second before running for the exit. Under the table she stroked the butt of the gun. She had estimated it would take between eight and fifteen seconds to do them both, but she hadn’t counted on the barrage against the door. She had to be patient.
Yvonne shuddered. He arms and legs thrashed uncontrollably. She struggled to remember something, anything. She gave up on the cards and battled against her fear. She was going to pass out. For a moment the world around her blurred. She wanted to wipe her eyes but her arms wouldn’t respond. Opposite her a man jerked and collapsed on to the table. He looked familiar. The light shining on his bald wet head made her feel sick. One memory lingered as others melted away. A dark room, strips of light, flesh, laughter…was that her laughing? Yvonne was vaguely aware of hot sticky mess sliding down her legs as she passed out and slumped over the table.
The dealer took a moment to savour their fall. The stench was unbelievable but she remained still. She glanced at the unmarked bottle under the table. The one used to pour Ice Queens drink and make ice cubes for Mr Big Bucks. They deserved it. The only drawback was that neither would live to remember the pain they went through. The dealer had his back against the door as it buckled under the strain. The groaning was loud and relentless.
The dealer held her breath when Mr Big Bucks lurched back against his chair. He turned and stared at the dealer with unblinking bloodshot eyes. A second later Ice Queen sat bolt upright. She turned her vacant stare from Mr Big Bucks to the dealer.
They had turned. Finally. It was over.
The dealer squeezed the trigger twice. One bullet between the eyes for both of them cutting off their sudden snarl. They were dead. Gone forever. They deserved to live on just like those she had seen on the news, a shuffling mindless corpse devoid of any humanity. The dealer wasn’t taking any risks. Her escape depended on there being no obstacles. She needed a clear path to the emergency stair well.
A sudden crunch brought her back to reality. The doors flew open and a wall of infected collapsed on the waiter. He screamed and held a desperate hand out. The dealer hesitated. He was gone. She raised the gun and watched his head explode when she pulled the trigger. Blood and gore splashed over the horde of infected as they chewed on his body.
The dealer snatched a backpack from under the table and hurried across the room to the emergency exit. With a last glance over her shoulder she pushed the bar. A face covered in blood snarled at her. Hands grabbed her throat. The dealer screamed and pulled back. She yanked the gun from her waist band and took down three infected as they lurched through the emergency exit. She felt a hand on her shoulder and wriggled free.
Three more heads exploded covering her in chunks of brain and thick wet globs of blood. Bodies piled through the doors on either side of the dealer. She cried at her recklessness need for revenge. A few seconds too long and her exit was gone. She pulled on the trigger but with every corpse that hit the floor several more clambered across the room, arms reaching, dead eyes locked onto hers.
The dealer stared at the gun in disbelief when it clicked empty.
Hands grabbed her legs. She lost her balance and tripped over a body.
She raged against the infected as they crawled up her. Hands clawing. Teeth chewing.
Through the mass of bodies the dealer saw the bodies of her parents slumped on the poker table.
Thick hot blood pumped from bites all over her body.
Death was a small price to pay for her revenge.
This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write between 50 and 1500 word piece of fiction using one of 4 photos as a prompt. The twisteroo this week was to write a piece without a twist.
So I decided to dump the twist altogether and give it a title that told the reader exactly was going to happen. No illusion. No expectation. All the reader had to do was see how it all panned out.
This piece keys in with my novel, The Range, in that some sort of plague is ripping the world a new one.
NOTE: Indigo Spider has moved to a new domain – http://www.indigospider.org – If you were a previous subscriber to her blog you’ll need to re-subscribe.
NOTE 2: Indigo Spider’s blog has had a bit of a face lift recently, with a new easier layout, forums and live chat! Well worth a visit!
This picture prompt is called Poker by Klara Yoon http://klarayoon.wordpress.com
Excellent picture prompts from Indigo. If you want to join in and write a short piece of fiction clicky-click Indigo Spider’s link above and wrap your imagination around one of the pictures.