When the Cards Turn

“I didn’t get a single shot,” Marisol admitted to the astonished widow. “Lt. Thorne and Dorian finished the Reavers. I just played Reload Girl.”

Dorian added, “close confines an’ limited ammunition. We didn’t want tah waste bullets ovah shootin’ tha same targets.”

Yeva/Kate nodded. “ It sounds so…terrifying,” her practiced accent rang convincingly. “Reavers…Micah said they were all just…spooky? Spooky stories to frighten children.”

The coffin in their midst was littered with playing cards, glasses, and an open bottle of Dorian’s personal stock. He offered refills, then poured. “Ah’m with tha kids,’ he shrugged as golden whiskey flowed. “Marisol? Your deal.”

The mechanic scooped up cards. “Same game?”

The widow dabbed a handkerchief at her lips. “Let’s play House of Threats.”

After a quick exchange of glances, Marisol up-ended the deck to expose the card faces. She dealt with gatling gun precision. The deck was quickly ordered into four piles by suit, clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds. To this she added a fifth, the two jokers.

“You want to build the house?” she asked Kate.

“Yes.” The acting widow selected the ‘clubs’ pile. Starting with the three of clubs, she laid four cards end to end upon the coffin lid. “Throne room,” she said as a slender index finger tapped the three. Moving aft, she pronounced the four to be ‘Bed Chambers.’ Next came the five, ‘Dining Hall,’ followed by ‘Workshop,’ the six of clubs. “Now come the ‘Fly-Away Suites.” Kate added two cards, the seven and Jack of clubs, to the growing deckplan. The seven lay face up to the dining hall’s left. She dropped the Jack to the right side, face down. “The Right Fly-Away is unoccupied.”

“And cold,” Marisol quipped. “You could hang meat in there.”

“Comedy is not yah strong suit,” Dorian cast a droll eye, before nodding to Kate. “Now fah tha basement, if yah please.”

Kate laid three cards, the eight, nine, and ten of clubs, alongside the first grouping. ‘Storage,’ she said of the eight. ‘Sick Room’ was given the nine, with the aftermost card, ten of clubs, branded the ‘Guest Lodge.’ Her work finished, Kate announced, “House is in play. Doors are closed.” She handed the remaining clubs to Dorian. “Please locate the players.”

The medic downed his shot. “Queen of Clubs is on her throne,” he said as the Queen landed atop the three. “King of Clubs? Tha dinin’ hall…or the bed chamber, if he’s drunk his fill. “Now fah tha workin’ folk.” Adler lifted the spades pile, rifling the cards to find those who’d been assigned. “Our dangerous eight of spades, and her unwitting sibling tha nine,” he said as the two cards were placed in the ‘Storage’ room. He presented the ten of spades to the women. “Our newest playah…also workin’ tha storage.” He topped the growing pile with the Jack of Spades. “Their boss,” Adler said, observing of the nods he received. “Finally, tha Ace.” He offered the Ace of Spades to Marisol, who placed her card in the ‘Work Room,’ the six of clubs.

“Journeyman playahs.” He displayed the Queen of Hearts, then placed her into the left Fly-Away suite.

“I heard,” the widow snickered, “that she gave it a serious cleaning. Does she hate me?”

“Mayhaps tha game will tell,” Dorian replied as he lifted the Ace of Clubs. “Yours truly.” He deposited his card into the Sick Room, the nine of clubs. “Finally, tha houseguests,” he said as he shuffled the diamonds pile to produce three cards. “Tha creepifyin’ Jack, tha spiritual Queen,“ Adler said as he placed both into the Guest Lodge, the ten of clubs. “Lastly, our Ace in bereavement.” Kate accepted the Ace of Diamonds, then dropped her card atop the others in the Guest Lodge. “We are complete,” he said. “House is active. All doors are closed. Marisol? First threat’s yours.”

Marisol lifted her Ace from its’ room, to settle upon a clear spot. “You know this one,” she said as her card was soon covered by the eight of spades.

“And what’s happened since?” Kate asked.

“Ultimatum,” the Spanic responded as she laid the nine of clubs between her ace and the threatening eight. “Fly right or somebody goes outside.”

“Mmm,” he pondered. “Nine’s none too good at keepin’ little Eight on tha straight an’ narrow. Anybody else involved?”

“Jack of Spades,” she answered with a diffident shake of her head. “Confronted the Ace. He’s more worried about how the Queen of Clubs sees him than anything else. To his credit, he has kept Eight and Nine out from under foot of late.”

“Countermoves?” Kate’s eyes were keen upon the mechanic.

Marisol dipped her gaze in thought. “Sleeping dog,” she finally said. “Let it lie awhile.”

Dorian nodded. “Ah agree. Mrs. Schnabel…oh, alright, Yeva? Yah up.”

The widow leaned forward. “Please…your cards…please.” Marisol and Dorian traded glances as they lifted their player cards from the house. Kate laid them side by side, before reaching into the Guest Lodge. “I suggest a card change,” she offered in stilted English as the Jack of Diamonds was shown. “From Jack to Joker.”

Dorian watched as she laid the Jack across the two Aces. “Ah won’t argue,” he chuckled, “but Ah am intrigued. Why?”

Yeva/Kate smiled. “Our Jack is…how you say…inquisitive? Very interested in the two Aces. Wants Ace of Spades in his bed, and…lever…leverage.”

As Marisol lifted an eyebrow, Dorian observed, “But that’s not tha whole story, is it?”

“No.” The widow plucked her card from the Guest Lodge, before sliding it beneath the Jack as a shield for the Aces. “Ace of Diamonds has distracted the Jack with ‘en-tice-ments.’ Is that how you say?”

Dorian laughed quietly. Marisol’s eyes sparkled as she nodded, “Yes. That’s how you say.”

“You Jezebel, you. Countermoves?” he asked.

“Ace of Diamonds will preoccupy Jack until house opens its’ doors,” Kate said, choosing to ignore the smiles that comment aroused. “For card change, Joker knows no queen, no king. Joker only plays for his own gain. May we change?”

Marisol shrugged. “Anything to keep him off my ace. Joker it is.”

“Please,” Adler agreed. “Kindly do tha honors.” He poured a fresh round as Kate reset the cards into their proper placements. After a reflective sip, Lunar Veil’s medic reached for his own card. “Mah turn.” The Ace of Clubs landed in the open space. Dorian shuffled the deck a moment until he’d found another card. He removed the two of hearts. “There’s a deuce in play,” he said casually.

Both women started. “What?” Kate was bolt upright as Marisol fought to avoid spitting whiskey. “Where?” All eyes were upon the two of hearts as it settled atop the nine of clubs. The deuce was in the sick room.

“Pretty specific,” Marisol managed as the shot burned its’ way down her esophagus. “What do you know?”

The little cortex reader slipped from his pocket. “Show and tell,” he said as the screen glowed with the captures he’d made.

Marisol thumbed through the photos of the tiny device, and the bone scan transparencies. Her brow furrowed as the inner circuitry revealed the nature of its’ purpose. ”chinga mi madre,” the mechanic swore under her breath as she handed the reader to Kate.

Dorian watched a fresh thundercloud of consternation rise upon the faux widow’s brow. “Yah recognize it?”

“I do.” Without preamble, Kate changed the screen and set to work, her thumbs quickly tapping out a message which she then held aloft for her compatriots.

M-97 Remote Sonic Capture
HIGH MILITARY

“Well,” Adler nodded as he accepted the reader.

“Who’s playing the deuce?” Marisol asked. Her expression became incredulous as Dorian selected the occupant of Fly-Away Left. “The Queen of Hearts?” she asked as he set the card atop his own. Are you sure?”

“Positive.” Adler held the little screen aloft once more. The room was silent as Kate and Marisol watched the vid clip from his treatment recorder.

She bit her lip then checked the door behind her, but she was still alone. Her hands drifted to the decorative clasp holding her hair back…
A few minutes later she left the infirmary.

“Ah believe this calls fah a card change,” Dorian said quietly. “Queen of Hearts to Ace of Hearts.”

Kate’s face was stone. “You’re naming an opposing ace,” she said. “There are many days until the house opens its’ doors. You understand the game play until then.”

“Yes,” he nodded as the cards turned. “Ah do.”

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