Cards

Cards

An Eternities Novella

A boy with strange luck, a man with rare knowledge …

The card-dens of the Redzone are desperate places. Men with no money to spare gamble their money in endless games, in squalid rooms thick with smoke and alcohol and lawless recklessness. Cards tempt and betray their players, leaving them with nothing.

Except for Tav. Only Tav never loses, because the cards obey him. But the secret of his strange luck cannot be hidden forever. He plays for diamonds. What will he draw when the truth is revealed?


Cards on …

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An Excerpt of
Cards

From the moment Tav walked in, the cards were his. They answered to him, answered the reach of his mind. He sat at the battered little table, not looking at the men hunched over their cards and winnings around him, and he stretched his thoughts toward the deck and willed.

And they came to him. The dealer scattered the cards with precise rapidity, and when he picked his own up from the table, they presented themselves to him: a flush, a straight, four of a kind, king’s draw, pirate’s hand …

Some he threw back, some he folded at first bet, the rest he played to win. And surely, but by no means abruptly, he tripled the money in front of him.

The smoke grew thick in the air, the table splotched and sticky with spilled alcohol, the other players restless—only he ever had a good game, with all the cards struggling toward him. The man to his right shifted most, and began to mutter. When Tav took the pot with a straight flush, the man slapped his cards down so violently the table quivered.

Tav took warning. He always took warning from the bad temper of his fellow players, ever since he’d had to crawl away from a brawl that erupted from too much alcohol and too many losing hands. As the dealer shuffled the deck, Tav aimed a look at the dinged metal door. It invited him, but he would lose this last hand before he left. Losers were rarely followed out into the street.

The dealer flicked the cards to each player. Tav waited until all were dealt, and then scooped up his cards. Two aces and three tens marshaled themselves in his hand, neatly divided into their own kinds.

With a sweep of mutters, the first round of betting emptily passed. Tav, in his turn, flashed the dealer one of his aces, and tossed down the other four cards. The dealer tucked the rejects under the deck, slid four new cards off its top, and moved on.

Tav drew the cards up: an eight, the deck’s last two aces, and a wild jack, joining his held-over ace to create a beautiful four of a kind.

He blinked. The cards often tried to repair the hands he deliberately ruined—somehow he could not withdraw the command as easily as he gave it—but this time they had outdone themselves.

“Five hundred.”

Tav looked up, almost startled, at the slump-shouldered man opposite him. All game he had played with the nervous caginess of a beginner, and this strong bet was unlike him. But for Tav, at least, it worked. Under cover of that bet, he folded.

The man on his left did the same, and the man two down on the right matched the bet. The last player, the man whose darkening mood had inspired Tav’s decision to depart, stared at his cards, rubbing at them with his thumb and forefinger. Then he threw in his creds, and they clattered on the table with a warning ring.

The slump-shouldered man laid down his hand, three kings. The player down the table cursed, but he was dwarfed into tameness when the man right by Tav hurled his cards across the table and surged to his feet. “Skifters!”

The dealer—his eyes, as always, expressionless to the point of bleakness—began to pick up the strewn cards without looking at the angry man looming over him. “I run a fair game, Fallon,” he said.

Fallon narrowed his eyes. “I never lose like this.”

That Tav believed to be true. He slid his chair back a foot or two, and it scraped the scarred floor loudly. But no one looked at him, because the others were also preparing to spring up from the table. The cagey beginner hastily shoveled up his winnings, as if afraid someone was going to take them away.

The dealer glanced at them, and then up at Fallon. “Every player has his unlucky nights. This is one of yours. So go home.”

As if the directive had been aimed at him, Tav began to quietly stuff his money into his pockets.

A hand closed over his wrist like a pincer, and then he was being dragged up from his chair.

 

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