Poker and Demons. A story by Martin Cid. Today, enjoy a third post of Ten Masks of Evil. Remember, every Sunday and Thursday you have a date with Martin Cid. Enjoy your day, Yareah friends.Art is everywhere!
Episode 1 Episode 2
Albert had started to feel a sense of loss about his previous life. He had so many debts that even his generous allowance could not cover them and his appearance was terrible: dirty, unshaven and with bags under his eyes.
Furthermore, he could not vent his feelings on his servants as he did years ago, when he was a gentleman because, now, he was surrounded by dangerous men, able to stab you over any trifle.
Among these problems, the day that every player dreads arrived: the day he must not play for money but for pride, honor and the pleasure of winning.
That night, there were Alvin, Albert, Horace, Mills and a little man with an aquiline nose. Alvin smiled, Albert looked steadily, Horace sweated, Mills showed extremely good manners and the little man had enough trouble trying to have his nose go unnoticed.
There were five players as always: Albert with his moustache, trying to behave older than he was; Alvin with his dark glasses which disguised his tired eyes; Horace thinking of his sensible wife’s reproaches; Mills losing hands and the little man with the curved-down nose holding his cards nervously.
‘Let’s stop! It’s time,’Albert said.
The five men felt relieved because all of them had already lost. Mills was the first who lit a cigarette and puffed at it with a studied worried expression. Horace smoked anxiously, wishing to finish it and start another one in an endless repetition. However, Alvin enjoyed his personal ritual: he took slowly the bag of tobacco out from his left pocket; he calmly rolled the cigarette and sucked the paper afterwards; he savored its taste smartly and smelt its aroma before lighting it.
All of them breathed with difficulty at the same time. Albert went to the main door -the floor was so dirty that his shoes became stuck on it making an annoying sound-; he opened it and some fresh air entered while dust and smoke whirled around trying to escape quickly from this nasty tavern.
Light fought against the shadows outlining the few familiar objects. On the right side, there was a big empty space. Players had talked about decorating it but they could never reach an agreement. Beside it was the wooden desk, full of dirty glasses and untouched snacks. On the left side, a spiral staircase led to the toilets as well as a store. This was a mess of boxes and abandoned decorative pieces of junk that players had been bringing in for years.
The windows had curtains with flowers, arranged as an inverted “K”. You could see a dark courtyard through them which contrasted with the bare white walls. The only ornament was a mirror over the table. It reflected the three tables where players sat night after night.
The break used to last twenty minutes. Time to drink, to stretch legs and to disguise or exaggerate tiredness: everyone was looking at the others trying to guess who the winner would be.
Horace was drinking too much, Alvin would not do such a stupid thing, he had only asked for a glass of Swiss wine, his favorite. He was counting his bills left: too many would be a mistake as the others could be afraid of him and retire before time, but if he showed a shortage of funds, he would be eliminated soon because the others players would raise the bets to force him to shrink away.
He would have to be cold if he wanted to recover his losses, taking advantage of the others’ tiredness and attacking wisely. The enemy can never hide behind his trenches of hearts or diamonds. War had to be won when one was confident and with a single definitive bullet.
The big-nosed gentleman tried to speak to Horace but the latter was really preoccupied, thinking: “this time will be different and, at last, I’ll have a big profit and I’ll never gamble again”.
Horace had the experience of a thousand similar battles. His sword was his salary and as soon as he got it he staked it on cards. That night his wife was sleeping, ignoring his gambling once again. That was a reason to be bold and strong because the last one who left the game would be the victor.
He was dizzy from so many gins and went to the window to breathe some fresh air. He slid his hands into his pockets to disguise their trembling. He knew this problem perfectly well because he had been playing since he was 15 years old.
The “sucker”, Milton Mills, was looking at the others and smiling with complicity. He was 23 years old or… was he 23? He did not know as he did not remember his beginnings as nobody could say anything about them.
Supposedly, he could not return home but his place of sleeping was a secret. He had been dismissed from his job –maybe more than once- although it would be impossible to guess what kind of work he did. In fact, he was a foreigner although he had been wandering in the district for years. Some neighbors had paid attention to his grey eyes; some others had said they were black and the same transformation had been happening to his clothes –posh or moth-eaten depending on opinions-.
That night, for instance, Horace saw him as a gentleman. However, Albert was thinking he was nearly a beggar and when Mills stood up and came near him, he looked distrustfully, supposing he was going to ask him for money.
‘What a stupid thought around a game table,’ Milton Mills mumbled.
‘I said I’d like a whiskey,’ Mills answered. ‘May I treat you to one?’
‘I always put two ice-cubes in it.’ M.M. explained. ‘In my opinion “two” is a good number, it represents proportion.’
‘I prefer “five”,’Albert answered a little confused. ‘It is a poker number.’
‘No, my friend,’ Mills insisted. ‘Someday, you’ll discover that “two” is the poker number.’
Alvin smiled from the distance noticing that the man with the protruding nose was nervous, watching Horace stagger and realizing Milton Mills wanted a “friend”.
Nevertheless, Milton Mills did not want any friends, he was there to study fear because, in the end, dread was what people felt when he was near and only those who were afraid of losing could be defeated: workers like Horace on slave wages, unable to look at their wives and say: “I played and I lost absolutely everything”.
Milton was really different, he would never have any commitment to anybody and, therefore, he did not need to justify himself. He could control his fears because neither Elisa nor Mary nor his own mother had any importance to him. That was his secret: he was there just to enjoy playing as the true winners do.
Continuation: Next Sunday