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“Cynthia, meet Sherman. Sherman, Cynthia.”
Cynthia’s real name was Janice, but if even a single person in the room learned her real name and what she really did for a living, she would be dead. Death was one of many things she’d be happy to wait for.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, holding out a delicate hand. She hated this role, that of a weak, but intelligent woman. To those here, she was a gambler, potentially a professional one and maybe even a card counter, but all in all, harmless.
Her undercover role didn’t betray her law enforcement training or connection, or the delicate balance she was trying to strike between the Nevada Gaming Commission and her primary employer, the FBI.
Nothing she’d seen so far here was illegal in a strict interpretation of the law, but she hoped her actions would soon reveal the dark side of this place.
The dealer in front of her wore spectacles perched on a long nose backed by a narrow face and beady eyes. When she first walked up, she thought he was sitting, but it turned out he was indeed that short.
His hands were small, tiny things protruding from the sleeves of a tuxedo he must have purchased in the children’s department or at a specialty store. He wore a wedding ring on his left hand, but there didn’t seem to be enough finger to hold it in place for any length of time.
Nevertheless, it stayed in place as he deftly shuffled the deck and, not for the first time, it occurred to her that appearances could be deceiving. While that often worked to her advantage, it would pay for her to remember that it worked both ways.
“The pleasure is mine,” he said, but didn’t move to shake her hand. Instead, he kept up the shuffle.
The room was filled with the volume of conversation, but for the moment she was the only occupant of this table. The back room game, which had required the eight of clubs card she had been given to get in, required a minimum buy in of $2,000. The table she sat at now required $5,000.
That wasn’t a problem for her. Not only did the FBI stake her well, but in her three years of undercover work, she’d actually become a pretty adept gambler and card counter. Her own stake, legally obtained of course, was greater than her annual salary.
There was, of course, a strategy. Even if you could, you had to be careful not to win all the time: that drew the kind of attention you didn’t want. Sometimes you actually wanted to lose. Also, there was a persona you had to keep up. If you inspired others to gamble, the house would often let you win, or even cheat on the side to ensure you were happy and would return.
Anyone who told you something different was a liar. The odds always favored the house, for sure. That’s how casinos made their money. But if you thought for some reason that those odds were never manipulated to the outcome they wanted—well, that’s where the Gaming Commission was supposed to come in.
They were supposed to keep things fair. That in itself was a gamble.
She was new here, the first time she’d been in this club. In that case, the house often wanted you to win. After all, they wanted you to come back, especially if you were a high roller.
In this case, “Cynthia” would prefer to lose early and fast. But if she threw the game and lost too fast, that would be just as suspicious as winning.
She ordered a drink, and before it arrived, another player came over and joined the table, a man in a silk suit who looked eminently bored.
“Cynthia,” she said, introducing herself as he sat down.
He simply looked over at her. “Jake,” he said, without interest. “Let’s go, Sherman.”
“Sure thing,” he said. The cards came with a snap onto the green surface of the table.
Six for her, a ten for Jake, and the dealer had a seven.
Card two. Eight for her, five for Jake.
“Hit,” she said. A five followed. “Stand.”
Jake just tapped his cards. A seven followed. Bad luck. Bust.
The dealer flipped his second card over, revealing a Jack. Cynthia was a winner.
The hands continued. Win, win, bust, lose, win. A hit on a soft seven-Ace combo chased by a queen of diamonds got her another win.
Jake won as well, and it seemed that either despite Sherman’s skill with the cards or because of it, he was on a losing streak today.
After seven hands, Jake collected his chips and left. “Pleasure,” was all he said as he got up.
“Are you still in, ma’am?” Sherman asked quietly.
“Sure,” she said. She was up somewhere in the seventeen grand neighborhood and had nearly resigned herself to the fact that she might just have to go home a winner and come back another day, or switch tables.
The next hand came out, and she led with a ten-ace combo. A natural. Another $7,500 up.
The next hand she doubled down and won again.
It seemed impossible for her to lose.
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