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.

“Are you kidding me?” Cynthia Quan was not her real name, but her real name had become irrelevant at the moment, something she wanted to push far from her mind. 

“Of course, I’m kidding you,” the man in front of her said. “I’m almost never serious.”

Undercover work meant never breaking your cover, but for the first time ever in her assignment, Janice, a.k.a. Cynthia was afraid. 

She’d met a man who called himself the Five of Diamonds; a man who was a long time member of the Solitaire organization and now a double agent; a DEA agent; and the head of an as yet unknown rival to the Solitaire organization she was working to infiltrate, all in the last few days. 

And now this.

The man wore a ridiculous maroon suit, a plaid, too-large green tie, and a blue striped button-down shirt. Over the top of both, a large gold chain dangled weighed down by an oversized crucifix. 

His face was scarred, eyebrows crazily penciled on where hair clearly no longer grew. 

Clearly man-made teeth too large for his mouth, but dazzling white, protruded between thin red lips. 

He leaned closer to her. “Do I make you nervous?”

His breath smelled as if someone had thrown some kind of minty freshener into an overused garbage disposal. 

“No,” she said. One of the many things she was good at was hiding fear. But she felt her grip slipping.

“Then you are up for the challenge?”

“This is not my usual game.”

“That is what makes it fun! The risk! The danger! This is not my usual game either. Nor is it familiar to anyone at this table.”

“And the stakes?” she looked around. The room itself was luxurious but smaller than typical high-end poker rooms or the blackjack back rooms she’d been in many times in the last few years. 

The table was familiar though, a typical poker table with eight chairs around it. Three were occupied by people she sort of knew: Sherman, the double agent, a pale Jake Velmer who worked undercover for the FBI, and a man named Burt who she’d run into not long before. There were two other men who looked almost like twins, brothers not far apart certainly, both with dark black hair, brown eyes, square chins, and wearing identical frowns. And there was the insane man now looming over her.

Burt wore a maroon suit as well, and a top hat, but compared to the lunatic in front of her, his outfit was tame.

No one at the table seemed happy, except for the man in the strange suit. She was the only woman in the room, also not rare for her, but she suddenly felt really uncomfortable with the entire situation.

“The stakes? The stakes? My dear, the stakes are the highest they can be.”

“Those are?”

“Why, life, death, and treasure!”

Even the near-twins cringed at those words, and Jake went from pale to the whitest she thought a man could be without disappearing. 

She remained calm on the outside. Inside, her heart raced, the speed of her blood setting records as it coursed through her veins, running sprints between her heart and her brain. 

The man stood and spun away from her. “You see, you have all been invited here because of your lack of aversion to risk. You play for the love of the game, the thrill, not just the money.

“But there will be money. Oh yes! But only for one winner. This game is all or nothing.”

“What do you mean?” Sherman said. 

Burt took off his hat and twisted it in his hands.

“The winner gets a treasure known to so few on this planet, with value so great, that it could be called priceless.” From his pocket, he pulled a playing card, a joker. He slapped it onto the table.

“Who are you?” one of the brothers asked. 

“Me? You could call me a wildcard. I know each of you in unique ways, but I’m not connected to any organization you are aware of. You could call me a free agent. But I have something all of you, every organization represented here, wants. And I’m going to give it to the winner of this game.”

“And the losers?” Jake’s voice shook, just above a whisper really. 

“The losers—well, that’s another story.”

“Okay, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m out.” Burt stood. 

The lunatic was quick. One minute Burt stood, and raised his hat toward his head. The next he’d landed in the chair behind him, his hat striking the wall, then sliding down to the floor where it stayed. The Joker, as Cynthia began to call him in her head, flashing back to Heath Ledger in that Batman movie, pressed against the now hatless gambler.

“I like your suit,” he said. “I would hate to mess it up. But you will stay. All of you will stay until the last card is played.”

You can find the rest of this story on Amazon with the others 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!