“It’s like that?” she asked, cocking her head slightly.
“Yeah, it has to be,” I answered. “I’m just playing by your rules.”
“Fine,” she grumbled.
She shuffled the cards without finishing them with a bridge and instead cut the deck before she dealt.
“Desperation,” Hatred snarled.
I looked down at my three of a kind. I pulled one of the cards out and took the top card on the deck. I studied my hand, taking a long drag of my cigarette until the ash reached the filter. I peered at her with a smile as I let the smoke pour from around my teeth.
Her nostrils flared. She flipped one of her cards onto the table and retrieved the top card from the deck. I pinched the ash of my cigarette, placed a new one between my lips, and flicked the match with my thumb.
“You’re so sure of yourself, aren’t you?” she mocked.
“I guess so,” I replied, bringing the flame to the tip of my cigarette.
“What do you got?” she asked.
“Four of a kind,” I said.
“Me too.” She chuckled, fanning her cards out on top of mine. “Push.”
“I think you’re starting to have fun,” I said, gathering the cards together.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m dealing this hand,” I answered, stacking the cards up. “You have too much power in this game, so I’m claiming a little for myself.”
“Have you ever heard him banter like this before?” Jealousy asked Hatred.
“Never,” she snarled.
They were brats. I felt like a single parent, listening to them bicker back and forth about their disapproval of everything. It took everything in me to continue to ignore them, especially because this exchange with the detective was so pleasant.
I shuffled the cards, bridged, and cut the deck. I wanted her to see I wasn’t cheating. I dealt the cards out and looked down at what I had in my hand.
“You’re one card away from a royal flush,” Jealousy said, leaning over my shoulder. “Hurry and take the next card.”
“It’s on you,” I said.
She smirked and pulled the top card from the deck, discarding one of her own. Her eyes lit up like fireworks. She had an incredible hand. There was no doubt about that, and it seemed she wanted me to know.
I chuckled and retrieved the next card from the top. Jealousy laughed hysterically at the royal flush I’d managed to complete.
“I can’t believe that,” he said. “If you would have taken the next card, you wouldn’t have gotten that hand. How do you know this? How are you this good?”
I couldn’t call her hand fast enough. She threw her cards down on the table as if she had never received a hand like it prior to tonight.
“Straight flush,” she said.
“Good hand, but not great,” I said, revealing my royal flush. “I believe that completes the wager and my freedom.”
“You have to be…I don’t believe…This is…This is not—you cheated!” she snapped.
“I didn’t cheat. You watched me.”
“Never in my life have I seen someone pull the hands you did in a single game,” she interjected. “That’s not possible without you doing something to tip the scales in your favor. Where did you hide the cards?”
“Where could I hide cards?” I asked, pulling my shirt out of my pants as I stood to turn around.
“What are you?” she asked.
“She’s extending the game,” Jealousy said with a chuckle.
“She’s breaking the rules,” Hatred added.
“Games over,” I said. “The deal was if I won three hands, you would give me my freedom.”
“Well, I’m the cop, and you’re the perceived criminal. So, I’m making the rules up as I go,” she replied.
“So, I’m not free?”
“No, not until you give me answers.”
“What answers do you need to hear!?” I shouted. My booming voice made her jump in her chair. Her demeanor changed in an instant to a defensive position and all the pleasantries we shared before appeared to be gone. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to—”
“Go to hell,” she snapped.
“I don’t want things to end on this note,” I said.
“Opposed to what?” she asked.
“Look, I enjoyed my time with you, really I did, but it’s time for me to leave. I won, I earned it, so I’m going to go.”
“If you answer my question, I’ll let you leave,” she said. “No hard feelings.”
“I don’t like how she’s acting,” Hatred said. “She’s too up and down. Something’s up.”
“I’m with her, Din,” Jealousy added. “Something’s not right. She screams, telling you the rules have changed, and now she offers you a bargain to answer her last question.”
They weren’t wrong. There was something off about the exchange. She’d kept her composure impressively throughout the game and even up to that point, but then she had become unhinged.
“Why do you pause so much?” she added. “I say things, or I ask you a question, and you stand there for a few beats before you say something. It’s like you’re listening to someone or talking to yourself in your head.”
“I choose my words carefully,” I replied.
“That’s bull, and you know it,” she interjected.
“Answer my question,” she demanded.
“Which one?” I asked, antagonizing her. “What do you want to know more? Either you want to know what I am or why I take my time before I speak.”
“Don’t get cute,” she snapped. “You know what I mean, and I know they’re related somehow.”
“This is done,” I said, putting my jacket on.
She jumped to her feet and grabbed a butcher knife from the sink. “No, it’s not,” she said, holding the blade out toward me.
“What are you going to do with that?”
“Whatever I have to.”
“This is stupid, Dinlas,” Hatred said. “Let’s go.”
“And miss this?” Jealousy asked. “I want to see what happens.”
“Grow up, Jelly!”
“No! And stop calling me that!”
“Oh, am I hurting your feelings?” Hatred mocked.
“I don’t have feelings, moron,” Jealousy growled.
I didn’t know what was worse, the intriguing woman holding me at knifepoint or my minions arguing with each other about the same stuff they always argue about. I glared at her. She smirked back at me. I didn’t have time to react or accuse her of stalling me because the door broke off the hinges.
“Police! Freeze! Down on the ground!”