A Friendly Game of Cards

Two of the group were already present when he entered the back room.  “Hey, guys.  Where’s Vlad?”

“He couldn’t make it tonight.”  The only light came from the fixture hanging above the table, but he could easily make out Gabriel’s sharp features.

“Hi, Jack.”

Jack nodded at the other person at the table.  “Hiya, ‘Mode.  How are you?”  Sitting down at his place, Jack absently ran his hand over the familiar, worn green felt.

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that.”

“Sorry.  You’re name is just so long.  Easier to give you a nickname.  Gabe doesn’t mind.”

“Yes.  I do.”

“And Asmodeus isn’t that long.”

Jack threw up his hands in capitulation.  “At least Vlad doesn’t mind.”

“Yes.  He does.”  Gabriel wasn’t smiling.

Jack decided to change topics.  “So how are going to play without Vlad?  Three person euchre isn’t nearly as much fun.”

“He brought someone.”  Gabriel used his thumb to indicate Asmodeus.

Jack gave him a stern look.  “You didn’t break the rules.”

“No, no.  Nothing like that.”

“So why is Gabe upset?”

“Oh, he’s always cranky.”

“No, I am not.  He brought another human.”

Jack relaxed.  He hadn’t realized how tense he’d gotten.  “Well, that’s okay then.  Isn’t it?”

Gabriel turned his disapproving look to Jack.  “You think it is okay to bring another human here?  A normal human?”

“Well, it could be worse.  A human keeps the balance, at least.”

“See?  Jack understands.”

“I still don’t like it.”

“I still don’t understand how you manage to come here at all, Gabe,” Jack shot back.

“No one had told me not to come.”

A man walked into the room.  “Oh, our fourth is here?  Great!”

Jack looked back at him.  Average height.  Not fat, but not thin either.  Short hair.  Glasses.  Nondescript in nearly every way.  He turned back to Asmodeus and whispered, “Where did you find him?”

“Oh, just on the street.  Vlad let me know he couldn’t make it, so I figured he could fill in.”

“Hi, I’m Robert.”  The man had made his way to the table and sat down across from Jack.

“Jack.  Nice to meet you.”

“I hear you guys play some mean euchre.”

“I guess we do.”

Gabriel produced a deck of cards and began shuffling.  “Everyone ready?  First Ace deals.”

“Isn’t it usually the first Jack?” Robert asked.

Asmodeus laughed.  “Yeah.  But then he always insists on dealing first.”  Asmodeus indicated Jack.

Jack smiled at his new partner.  Gabriel turned over an Ace in front of Asmodeus and handed him the cards.  He shuffled a few times, offered Jack a cut which Jack declined, and began to deal.

“It’s funny you guys play euchre here.  Seems like it would be better for poker.”

Gabriel spoke up.  “We tried poker once.  But we could never agree on the stakes.  Our usual fourth, the person you’re filling in for, kept coming up with…”  Gabriel stumbled trying to find the right words.

Jack jumped in.  “Some odd ideas.  We decided to avoid gambling.  Better to just play for bragging rights.”

“Oh.  How long have you guys been doing this?”

“A little while now.  Maybe a couple of years.”  Asmodeus smiled.

“It has been much long…  Ow!”

“Oh, sorry, Gabe.  My foot slipped.  No need to go into the details.  ‘Mode has it covered.”  Jack flashed a grin at Gabriel, but his eyes were not smiling.

“Fine.”  Gabriel sat, sullen, while Jack collected the last trick of the hand.

“I believe that’s a euchre.  Two to nothing.  Your deal, partner.”  Jack handed Robert the cards.

Robert shuffled the deck and offered Asmodeus a cut.

“Don’t.”  Gabriel shook his head.  “He doesn’t need to cut.”

Asmodeus looked surprised.  “Why not?”

“Because this is a friendly game.  And I don’t trust you.”

“Oh for pity’s sake.”  Asmodeus rolled his eyes.  “Haven’t we gotten past this?”

Robert looked confused.  “Why don’t you trust him?  He’s your partner, after all.”

“He is a liar and a manipulator, and I…”

Jack cut him off.  “Enough.  You two know better.  Knock it off, or this game is over.”

Both of them looked at Jack, the air between them still tense.  But neither argued, and both slumped back into their chairs.

Three more hands passed in relative silence.  No one spoke unless necessary for the game.  Finally, on Asmodeus’ next deal, Jack took the bid and went alone.  With the success of the hand, Jack and Robert won the game, ten to two.

“You threw the game on purpose,” Gabriel said to Asmodeus, accusingly.

“What?”  Asmodeus was incredulous.

“You heard me.  You gave Jack a good hand and let him win to get back at me for calling out your true nature.”

“That’s ridiculous.  You know he’s better at this game than either of us.”

“Nevertheless.”

Asmodeus’ anger was becoming more evident.  Soon, horns began to grow from his forehead.

“Enough!” Jack interjected for the second time.  “Asmodeus, don’t you dare.  And Gabriel quit provoking him.  What has gotten into you?”

Gabriel looked chastened, and Asmodeus returned to normal.  A look of terror had gripped Robert’s face.  Jack turned to him.

“You should leave.  Sorry for the short night.”

Robert stood and began to hurry out of the room.

“Oh, one more thing.”  Robert stopped and looked back at Jack.  “Forget.”  Robert nodded, terror replaced by confusion, and left.

Jack turned to Gabriel once more.  “Now what is going on?”

Gabriel sighed.  “Now I have been told not to come back.”

“By whom?”

“Not the One.  But you can probably guess.”

“Oh.”

Asmodeus finally chimed in.  “Time for you to leave.  I told you that you didn’t belong there anymore.”

Gabriel shot him an angry glare.  “I don’t like it, but it’s not grounds to turn my back on the One.”

Asmodeus gave an exasperated sigh.

“So this is it?” Jack asked in a more sympathetic tone.

“I’m afraid so.  They don’t want me to see any of you again.  You’ll have to give Vlad my regards.”

“I’ll be sure to tell him you called him that.”

Gabriel gave a weak smile.  “Please do.  I hope he laughs.”  He stood to leave.

Asmodeus stood, walked over, and embraced him.  “I’ll miss you brother.  Look me up when you come to your senses.”

If I ever decide to follow your lead, you’ll be the first to know.”

Jack extended a hand.  “You know you won’t be able to avoid me forever.”

“I suppose not.  Just try not to step on too many toes.”

Jack nodded.

Without exchanging any more words, Gabriel walked out of the room and into the night.

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