“Would you like to play poker?” A simple question followed by a long silence circled the air. Only the ticking sound of dripping water from the sink could be heard from a distant and at each passing moment, more sweats running down the battered man’s head like a waterfall. In front of him is a silver 99 mm with a black silencer. He couldn’t remember how he got there. He was preparing for bed with his wife in a cheap motel by the freeway with dirty, yellow wallpaper and as soon as his senses came back at him, a ghostly, masked figure of a young lady threw the place upside down.
His throat chocked with fear. His eyes widened in horror. At his feet, a limped body of his pregnant wife laid bare. Her head smashed and her stomach cut. Beside her, his unborn child laid hanging by umbilical cord to the mother’s womb. As soon as he braced himself to look into the ravenous eyes of his masked attacker, his head snapped back to the wall with a thud and his hands fell limp to his side. A burning smell filled the air. It was done.
A raven haired young girl turned to the rest of the hotel room and studied the mess she made. Blood spattered across the wallpaper, drenching the mat beneath her feet. Cracked television in the toilet. Broken chairs on the bed. The signs of struggle are obvious. In this situation, an amateur would proceed to clean the crime scene, get rid of evidence and hide the body. But not her. She has lived in this dark world for far too long to know how to walk into a crime scene and leave no trace behind. Strutting the thin ice like a ghost. A nameless phantom that lives only in rumors.
Instead, of covering them up, she takes pride in her work. After all, what’s the point of going through all the troubles when there is no one to appreciate? Suddenly, a loud siren echoes from two blocks away. She almost smile when she found a Queen of Spade in her back pocket, running through her fingers, finding its way onto the dead man’s chest. Buying her time to do what she does best…disappear.
“Would you like to play poker with me, child?” That simple, harmless question almost knocked her out of her chair. She grabbed the knife she had tucked in her back pocket out of instinct but before she pull it out, an old man in late fifties stared back at her with a friendly smile and sat at the table.
“Sure.” She replied lazily, leaving her knife strapped. She recognized the old man from the store across the street. He owns a small grocery store and would bring papers and a bottle of milk to her house every morning for five bucks. He is very amicable, likes to watch daytime dramas on cable and everyone in the neighborhood likes him. He had a son once but lost him to cancer at the age of 7. His daughter moved to a college abroad and never return. His wife left him for a richer and younger man in the big city. Yet, he never fails to give the brightest smile to anyone who visits his shop. His eyes will lit up and a big, cheerful laugh follows after. Still, she didn’t know his name.
“It’s alright if you don’t know how to play English poker,” he said while setting the table. “I can teach you.”
“I prefer Russian,” she said while pulling her cards from the table and arranging it in her hand, hinting that she actually has knowledge in the game and even more. ‘It has been a long time,’
she thought to herself.
“Ah! Dangerous game. Big money!” He chuckled. “Though you don’t seem the type.”
‘No, I make sure I don’t,’
she said in her head. When was the last time she played an honest game of poker with anyone? She couldn’t quite remember. Was it two years back? Or perhaps longer?
“So, Mae. Are you planning to go back to school?” the old man pulled out a two of diamond.
“Yes. When the school opens up.” She replied with a five of heart.
“Have you got your uniforms ready?” He pulled out an eight of heart.
“Yes.” She pulled a card from the deck and put out a ten of spade.
“That’s good. I’m sure I still have my daughter’s. I’m saving it for my granddaughter but it is such a waste to see it in the box after all these year.” He took one from the deck and pulled out a joker of cloud. “It might be a bit old but I’m sure it will be just your size. I’ll bring it up to your home tonight.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.” Mae smiled and pulled out a joker, king and queen of spade.
“Ah! Man! I’m out of luck.” He chuckled. Just as he was about to counter the card, a middle-aged woman called out from a distant. “Ah! Sorry! Coming! Coming!” He shouted back before he ran across the street to his shop, where even from such a distant, she could hear the woman complaining about the price of bread and apple.
Mae looked down to the table and saw the queen of spade staring back at her. It felt familiar, yet distant. Relief yet remorseful. Unspoken bitterness edged across her thin lips.
Sigh…It has been a while.