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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.

Four of Spades, Four of Spades, where have you been?

I’ve been at 17, waiting for you to appear again.

Four of Spades, Four of Spades, where have you gone?

You’re the card my future’s riding on.

Four of Spades, Four of Spaces, you’re finally here!

The luck of the draw made you appear!

 

Seventeen.

I should stay. I should stay. “Hit,” I say.

Four of Spades.

Twenty-one. Hell yeah. Now this is getting fun.

I’m only down six. Surely that is something another hand will fix.

The shuffle of the cards make it so hard. Counting evens the odds. Still my fate is up to the gods.

Jesus Christ, what am I doing? Am I drunk or high or both?

Alec’s hand shook as he picked up his drink. A few precious drops fell to the green felt. He smelled the whiskey as he brought it to his mouth. The bartender was either heavy-handed, or he’d ordered a double straight up.

Whatever. It tasted good.

He had a problem. A big one. He owed his employer money. Which meant no paychecks for a while. He was working for free.

The hole in his stomach told him he needed to eat. The drinks he consumed at the table as he played certainly wouldn’t fill that void. In fact, they made it worse.

Of course, there was a restaurant nearby, but the smell of the casino covered any of the delicious odors coming from it.

Just one more hand. Just one more. That’s all it would take. He’d walk away with a little cash and maybe he could even get something to eat.

Of course, that’s because he was breaking the rules, gambling somewhere other than the casinos owned by his employer. He’d gotten to know them well in the few months since he’d been issued the two of spades, a card that weighed much more than it should in his front breast pocket.

He’d been extended some credit here—hell, why wouldn’t they? But if he left here with another debt he had no idea what he would do next.

“Double-down,” he told the dealer.

“Winner!”

“Hot damn!”

Only down four now. One final hand, just one more. A lucky turn of the card and some luck from the deck. Why not? What the heck?

Stop with the rhyming in your head. It’s fucking annoying, he told himself.

Then he felt the hand on his bicep, a tiny one with a firm grip. He looked up. It was Jane.

“What are you doing here?”

“Saving your ass,” she said. “Come with me.”

It hit him. Jane was a collector. She’d recruited him, but she was the talker not a heavy.

How had she found him here?

The card, most likely. She’d tracked him. It wasn’t the first time she’d had an uncanny sense of where he was that made no sense, times when she knew he finished a job before he told her.

“Okay,” he said simply.

“I’ll be back,” he told the dealer.

“No, he won’t,” Jane said. She threw four hundreds onto the table. “Let’s go.”

The place felt like a maze. He didn’t know where the door was, but Jane did. She led him on a winding path through the slots and the various tables, past private rooms and out into the parking lot.

Once outside, he stood and swayed, the blinking LED’s that had replaced traditional neon flashing their various colors of light across the parking lot.

A breeze tickled his face, and he looked around. It was—dusk maybe? The sun was going down, and the air was much cooler than when he went inside. What time did that mean it was?

He had no idea.

“When’s the last time you ate?” Jane asked.

It registered with him that his stomach had just growled. Or was growling. Something was happening down there, something that told him he was hungry, but his fogged brain struggled to remember how long he’d even been inside.

“I—I don’t know.”

“Let’s go. You’re a fucking mess, and you have a job to do.”

“A job?”

“Yeah. A job.’

He sighed. “Okay.”

“This one is different,” she said as she led him through the parking lot to what looked like an all-night diner. He could smell the grease, the meat cooking, and could almost hear the fries frying as they got closer.

“How is it—different you say?” he struggled for words. Jane’s face swam in his vision, her tight jeans and loose blouse meaningless and ethereal. She looked like the devil. An angel?

A little of both, if he was honest.

They stepped into the diner. A bell dinged overhead as they did.

“Sit anywhere you like, hon!” a scurrying waitress shouted their way. Jane led him to a table.

The chatter of other diners provided soothing white noise. The place was crowded, and forks clattered to plates, chicken disappeared into gaping mouths, fries followed by the handful.

“Something to drink?”

Pink dress, short. White apron over it. Penny on a name tag, a white collar, a face distorted by too much makeup. Waitress. That was the word. She stared at him, he stared back.

“Coffee, and water,” Jane said. “To start. And can we get my friend here a basket of onion rings?”

“Comin’ right up. Wanna hear about tonight’s special?”

Bubble gum swelled in her cheek and snapped as her teeth came down. Fingers tipped by lengthy red nails spun a pencil as she waited.

“Sure,” Jane spoke for him.

His tongue felt swollen. It filled his mouth.

“We have a double-bacon burger, your choice of our famous cowboy beans or fries. It’s topped with—”

“I’ll take it,” Alec said. “And a chocolate shake.”

He hoped Jane was paying. He mentally checked his bank balance with a groan.

“Comin’ right up, darlin’.”

Jane looked at him. “You found your voice.”

“I did.”

“You gonna be okay?”

Alec nodded, hoping he wasn’t lying. Their coffee and water arrived a moment later, and he drank the water in one shot, and then sipped the coffee.

“The job?” he said. He felt almost human again, and his previous poetic fog slowly lifted.

“This is a way to square your accounts,” she said. “And add some cash to your pocket. But there are conditions.”

Alec thought of the four hundreds landing on the table and wondered if he would have to pay those back as part of this job, or if that was some kind of gift.

“What conditions?”

“No more gambling anywhere. Not at Solitaire casinos, not anywhere. If we catch you, your debt will be reinstated.”

“Okay.”

“With interest.”

“I said okay.”

“I know you did. One of the reasons I recruited you in the first place is that you didn’t have a gambling issue. Now you do. We need to fix that. Even you need some kind of help.”

“Really, I mean it. I can stop anytime I want.”

“Look at yourself.”

He did. Really looked. Rumpled jacket, wrinkled shirt half untucked topped pants that hadn’t been pressed since—how many days had he worn them?

One shoe was untied. Both had scuff marks on the top, something he wouldn’t normally tolerate in himself or anyone else.

“First thing. You admit you don’t have this under control. We will help you as a valuable employee, but we do have something for you to do.”

“You said it was different.”

“You find people for us. You’re good at it, and good at making it clear to them what will happen if they don’t pay their debts, right?”

“Yes, I suppose.”

“This time we want you to find someone, but not touch them. Don’t warn them, nothing. Just report back to us where they are and what they’re doing.”

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!