I cleared my throat and shook my head with disapproval. Hatred’s eyes locked on mine. She tilted her head to the side, attempting to plead her case. She urged me to let her walk over to get the inside track, but I didn’t want to win that way. I wanted to play and win the right way.

I watched her shuffle the cards. She was good. They flowed quickly within her grasp. She effortlessly moved from the shuffle to the bridge and kept the deck tight. The fluttering sound of the cards was interrupted by the tapping of the deck edges on the tabletop. Her eyes never wavered as she studied me intently.

I didn’t cower or avert my gaze from hers. I wasn’t afraid to admit to myself or my minions that I was captivated. Her eyes pierced mine through the thin veil of smoke I blew in her direction. It was important for me to keep my demeanor. Poker was my game.

She dealt the hand, snapping hers down in front of her, and tossing mine at me. They slid across the table and stopped against my open palm, preventing them from sliding off the table or turning over.

I took a look at my cards. Jealousy and Hatred appeared behind me, peeking over my shoulder at the palm.

“How do you do it, Din?” Jealousy marveled.

“I’m going to see if she has a better hand,” Hatred added, moving to the detective’s side.

I cleared my throat and shook my head with disapproval. Hatred’s eyes locked on mine. She tilted her head to the side, attempting to plead her case. She urged me to let her walk over to get the inside track, but I didn’t want to win that way. I wanted to play and win the right way.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, just clearing my throat,” I answered.

“Are you sure it’s just that? Because it looked like you made eye contact with something,” she said, looking over in Hatred’s direction.

She didn’t know it, but she looked right at my minion as she scowled daggers back at her. I did my best not to laugh or smirk.

“I’m sure,” I replied.

“You don’t have some imaginary friend I don’t know about?”

“Friend? No.”

“Wow, could you have answered a little slower?” Jealousy said, walking to the side of the table.

“He didn’t even have to think about it,” Hatred added.

“So, how is this going to go?” I asked the detective, ignoring them. “We don’t have chips to wager or to call.”

“I didn’t think of that,” she chuckled. “I guess we’ll do this a little differently than we’re probably both used to. You have a hand, and you can elect to switch one card or stay, then we call. Sound fair?”

“Fair enough,” I answered.

“Since I’m dealer, I’ll allow you to trade first if you need to,” she instructed.

“I’ll hold.”

Her eyes squinted at me, and her nostrils flared. I took note of her expressions and all of her movements. Everyone tips their hand, but the good ones know how to change them up to prevent a pattern from emerging. I was excited to get to know what kind of player she was and what she would do to throw me off guard.

She looked down at her hand again and took the card from her lower right, placing it on the table, and snatched the top card from the deck. When she put it in her hand with her other cards, there was no expression and nothing obvious. I was impressed.

“Call,” I said.

She placed her cards on the table, fanned out so I could see every card. “Three of a kind,” she said.

I didn’t look down at the cards. I kept my eyes on her and placed my cards on the table in a similar fashion. “Straight,” I said. She scowled at my cards with contempt before she glanced up at me. “That’s one,” I advised, holding my index finger up in view.

She swiped the cards into the deck and shuffled them, followed by another bridge. Her attitude was clear as she flung the cards down. I grabbed my hand and held it into view.

“She’s going to hate you,” Jealousy laughed.

I had two pairs. I watched her face as she looked over her cards. Again, she didn’t do anything, but it was the way she looked at me. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt as though I was in her head. Her expression told me that she had a good hand and what I had wasn’t going to be enough.

I removed the odd card out, maintaining my two pair just in case, and plucked the top card from the deck.

Jealousy laughed harder, leaning against the kitchen counter. His laughter prompted Hatred to take a look, and she burst into a cackle of her own.

“Flush,” she said, laying her cards out and grinned with satisfaction.

“Full house,” I replied, fanning my cards out. “That’s two.” I held my two fingers up that pinched my cigarette in place.

“You’re cheating,” she snapped. I laughed. “It’s not funny. How the hell is that possible? You went up there to get the cards. Were there more? Did you sneak some up your sleeve or something?”

I continued my laughter and placed the cigarette in my mouth before pulling off my jacket. I shook it for good measure so she could see there weren’t any cards that were hidden up my sleeves. I stared at her, chuckling now as I rolled up the sleeves of my undershirt so she couldn’t accuse me of cheating again.

She twisted her neck back and forth, followed by a loud cracking noise. Her tongue moved around her mouth with angst. I tried my best not to chuckle so she didn’t become enraged. She reshuffled the deck again, threw out the cards, and studied her hand in silence.

I had a pair of sixes, but I kept my composure. Her eyes darted to mine as I took a long drag from my cigarette. She waited for me to do something to tip my hand. I gave her nothing.

“Do you need a card?” she asked. I shook my head. “I don’t either. This time, I’m calling.”

“Alright,” I replied and placed my weak hand on the table.

She sighed in relief. I knew she’d won this one. 

“Flush,” she said, placing her cards down.

“Really, Dinlas?” Hatred said with disapproval.

“Din, you should have swapped a card to at least try harder,” Jealousy added.

I didn’t want or need to explain myself to them. It was strategy on my part, and to be honest, I wasn’t finished playing or watching her. I enjoyed this more than I remember enjoying anything.

“Are you a hitman?” she asked me point-blank.

“Not going to think about your question or toy with me a little? You’re just going to ask it?”

What do I say to that?

“You say yes,” Hatred interjected.

“I’m with her on this one, Din,” Jealousy said.

“No, I’m not a hitman,” I answered.

“What is your problem!?” Hatred screamed, thrusting herself back into the fridge. 

It rocked on impact, grabbing the attention of the detective. Her eyes widened, watching the fridge until it ceased moving before shifting her gaze to me.

“What was that?” she asked.

“Nothing important, I’m sure,” I assured her. “It’s an old house.”

“You know,” she accused. “I know you do.”

“If that’s what you think, win the hand and ask me,” I said with a grin, blowing smoke from my nose.

Dinlas (Justin Brimhall)
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