The Solitaire Series Reminder: Each week, a story will appear on my blog, and be free to read for one week only. The next story will take its place, and the first story will be available on Amazon and other e-retailers. But if you follow this blog, you can read the stories for free every single week! Read more about the Short Story Deal here.

Throughout the series, there will be collections of stories, and we will even be producing some really cool swag along the way. Watch for contests, prizes, and even some fun “in-person” events!

For the first time in a long time, Jack Bardlow, Jr. thought of his father. A Vietnam veteran, the man had been hard. Hard, but fair nonetheless. He’d taught Jack martial arts, street fighting, but more importantly the art of using his words.

Jack Sr. had been a large man, wide shoulders, blond hair cut in a military high and tight, a length that never varied more than an eighth of an inch until the day he died. His eyes were deep blue, his nose flat and wide, similar to what Jack Jr.’s had been before what he now thought of as the incident. His father’s chin had been square, his jaw strong, his neck almost non-existent. It was like he was built to be a soldier, and nothing else.

But when he returned from ‘Nam, his dad had gone into real estate. Fellow agents said he could sell an igloo to an Eskimo, and they were right. His tongue was golden, his words woven like a silk rope he could toss over nearly anyone and lead them just where he wanted them to go. The man who did a hundred pushups a day until well after his seventieth birthday when he was diagnosed with cancer that most of the family suspected was Agent Orange related, was also the kindest man Jack ever knew.

He treated his wife like a queen, his son like a prince, trained to take over the throne of his business when he was gone, and his clients like equals he’d been born to serve.

Jack Jr. thought of his father, his smooth and persuasive way with words, and his toughness as he looked at the two cards in his hand. One was a ten of diamonds, the other a four of clubs.

The bar in front of him was oak, and not a new oak. It was old, weathered, but had been refinished what appeared to be several times. It must be shined every night, because it, and the brass fixtures on it, gleamed.

The room was crowded. He’d been promised a game he could win by his Romanian friend, Simion, but there did not seem to be a game anywhere visible, and the large man who’d let him in through his office was now nowhere to be found.

He ordered a drink, one there was apparently no need for him to pay for. He’d intended to leave his ruined face uncovered, for shock value when he joined a game, but that didn’t seem to be happening, so he put on the shaded glasses he often wore indoors.

Jack hefted himself on to a barstool. This required some effort, as his ruined right side often did not cooperate and lacked strength. He used his left hand to grasp a brass handrail on the bar, stabilizing his position on the seat, and then used that arm to pull his right leg up and place the ruined foot on the chair rail.

His Doberman, Boris, sat next to the barstool, vigilant and silent. Whoever owned the place had tried not to allow the dog in, but Jack rarely went anywhere without him. No one here stared. He seemed to be the only one who was alone. There were couples, groups, but no singles anywhere.

Jack ordered an old fashioned, with a straw of course, and then set the cards down side by side. The ten of diamonds was unusual he knew. He’d used it to unlock gates and doors in the past, but he hadn’t known the four of clubs was a part of it until just a few moments before he came in here, when a man he’d just met separated one card from the other.

What bothered him most was that he hadn’t known. Jack had been a part of Solitaire, a large gambling consortium, for years, recruited by them early in his gambling career. Until he’d pissed off the wrong people, and some of those same people learned what he’d inherited from his father besides a booming real estate business. But he should have known about the split cards, certainly before some stranger did.

They’d come after him, and he’d used his knowledge and his skills to avoid death, although barely.

If it hadn’t been for Boris, he would have died.

A sharp bark interrupted his thoughts.

A woman approached. She was short, of Asian descent, with dark hair, darker eyes, and pale skin accented by bright red lipstick. She smiled, revealing bleach-white teeth. Her dress, a simply cut cocktail one, dipped low in a “V” in front, although her small breasts did not create any cleavage to speak of. The dress was short, but not too short, and thin legs led his eyes down to at least three inch heels, revealing she was even shorter than he originally thought.

Boris was now standing.

Ruhig,” Jack commanded.

Boris obeyed, but still stared at the woman, a low growl coming from the back of his throat.

“Hi, Jack,” she said. She held out her thin left arm with a thinner hand at the end, and he instinctively reached out to shake it.

As he did, Boris growled louder, and Jack looked down to see he’d visibly stiffened.

The woman looked down at the dog. “He does not like me?” she asked.

“Apparently not,” Jack answered, dropping his own hand.

“I’m Yuko,” she said. “What did you tell him?”

“To be quiet.”

“He doesn’t seem to want to.”

“He won’t bite you, unless I tell him to. Or unless you try to hurt me.”

“What did he do to the person who hurt you?” she gestured at his right side.

“He killed them.”

She stared at Boris. “Them?”

Jack nodded. “Maybe you should tell me how I can help you.”

“My boss sent me over to keep you company while you wait.”

“What am I waiting for?”

“I don’t know.”

Sitz,” Jack told Boris. The dog sat but stayed vigilant. Jack gestured to the stool next to him.

The woman hoisted herself onto the stool and sat. Her feet did not reach the footrest, but instead, she swung them back and forth, causing the skirt to ride up her thighs a bit.

Jack looked away. Women didn’t usually arouse him, not anymore, and certainly not in a place like this. Maybe that’s what Boris sensed and didn’t like.

“Tell me what happened,” she asked.

He wanted to pretend he didn’t know what she was asking, but he saw the way she looked at him, not looking away from his scars but instead studying them.

This title, and the rest of the series, are now on Amazon. Check them out today!

I hope you are enjoying reading this series as much as I am. You can the rest of this series on Amazon here! Stay tuned for another FREE story right here next week. I hope to see you then!