Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Teasing the Tuesday

Okay, so here is my Teaser Tuesday post from my latest short story which required a brush-up on Texas Hold em rules. It's only been through one revision, so it's still rough.

Hold em

“Texas Hold em’? In a Baruvian law-holders outpost?” Moses asked again, leaning against his friends’ newly-parked hoverex.

“Yeah, they’ve probably never had someone from earth here—let alone someone from Texas,” Ajax said and shut the door behind him, setting the security system with his keypad.

Moses raised his eyebrows at that. Of all place to worry about your ride being stolen… he’d assumed a law-holder’s homestead would be safe. The nervous laugh from his friend set his senses tingling. Something was ‘off’ here. He’d got the feeling right from when he’d parked. A dozen eyes were watching him.

Ajax leaned in and whispered, “I forgot to tell you… and I know how you feel about this, but Martice keeps slaves. You’ll want to lock your ride so that they don’t hitch and get you killed.”

Moses swore beneath his breath even as he did so. “Ajax, what are you doing? You know how I feel about that.”

“You’re not in Texas anymore, Moses. Things are different here on Baru and you’re supposed to be making contacts for the company. Martice is the law here. If you want to import beef here, you have to work through Martice,” Ajax said. “You go in… play a few hands. Let. Him. Win. You don’t make eye contact with any of the slaves. We leave. It’s simple.”

Moses could feel their eyes watching him. What was he doing here? Baru was a hell-hole of a civilization even before you threw in their slaves. If he’d known what Baru was like, he’d have told the company they’d be better off letting the whole planet wither up and be deserted. The strange thing was that the landscape was much like his hometown in Texas. Unlike in Texas, it was ruled by a class that made the Wild West look like the Good Old Days. He’d heard a few of the land-owners had slaves, but one of the law-holders?

“He also has servants. You can make eye contact with them,” Ajax said.

“How can I tell the difference?” Moses asked irritably. Why had he let Ajax talk him into a nice, friendly poker game? There would be nothing nice or friendly about it. His shoulders already were feeling tight with strain. It was water polo with sharks.

“The servants will be armed.” He shot Moses a look. “Don’t forget that. You mess up and we’ve got a dozen guns pointed at our heads.”

“What the hell have you gotten us into?” Moses hissed under his breath. They were nearly at the front door to the palatial mansion that resembled some of the old plantations back in the southern states. Tall white pillars flanked the door. If they hadn’t been made of polished titanium, it would have been an exact match.

“They won’t want to start an international incident… just don’t give them a reason to accuse you of breaking a law,” Ajax said.

“We’re leaving this place… this outpost after this,” Moses said.

“You’re going to find this type of thing wherever we go, Mose. You just gotta lighten up on your mama’s boy ethics.”

“Yeah, Ajax… and end up like you? No thanks.”

Ajax laughed, taking it as a compliment as Moses had known he would. “You have to admit that I can find us a good game in every outpost.”

“You’ve played here?”

Ajax smirked just as he pushed the doorbell. “Yep. The guy cheats like a husband in a Haradoon.”

Moses muttered under his breath, “This was your dumbest idea ever.”

“Probably… just don’t get us killed.”

The gun on the hip of the man that opened the door proclaimed him to be an employee… but, right away, Moses saw a few girls moving in the background—silent as wraiths. They had bracelets on their arms that would shock them if they left the homestead. Slaves. Great. He was going to kill Ajax himself if they made it out of here alive.

Martice Tesla met them just in front of a secluded room where they could see a poker table in the background. It wasn’t just what Moses knew about him that made Martice look oily. The guy might have been the same age as them—early thirties—but he had the look of a man who snorted dark. His eyes were weasel shrewd and his smile had all the win of a used-ride salesman. Dark hair was greased back and his goatee had been pulled tightly at the bottom into two golden clips with diamonds across them. He had an illegal sharpshot with its shield-piercing bullets—settled on his hip—visible. Wealthy. Degenerate. Corrupt. They really, really shouldn’t have come here.

Ajax gave him a reassuring smile after noticing the sharpshot.

This was going to be the quickest game of poker that he’d ever played. There would be no laughing casual hands going into the short hours of the Baruvian moon. Moses extended a hand to shake Martice’s with a tight smile. “Evening, Mr. Tesla. Moses Taylor—from Earth.”

Martice laughed—a greasy, winded sound. “Eve’nin. Call me Martice—and I don’t shake hands.” He gestured at his side. “Got shot by someone with a third arm that way once.”

Moses didn’t need to send another look Ajax’s way to give his opinion on this. He and Ajax had known each other long enough. His hand dropped to his side and he tried to loosen up. It was just a simple game of poker. Play. Smile. Get out. Play. Smile. Get out.

There were two other men in the poker room. Martice introduced them as “Johnny and Mick. Couple of my guys to make things even.”

Even Ajax stiffened at this. They’d be playing against “his guys” with a man known for cheating? Whatever he lost Moses would demand in repayment from Ajax. And they would lose big here tonight. There was no doubt about that. Moses could kiss the four thousand gamas he’d brought goodbye. There was no way he could file an expense report listing that much in gambling loss without everyone at home laughing at him for months. He’d walked into a panther pit with a pointy stick to defend himself with.

They sat around the table and a girl walked in and sat at the head of the table. She had long black hair and eyes as green as emeralds—eyes that wouldn’t meet his. She didn’t speak, but her attire—filmy gauze that barely could be called clothing and the golden bracelet on her upper arm spoke volumes. A slave. Possibly first generation, but Baru was going onto its third generation of slaves. Most slaves were sterile—by choice as a child born into slavery would never get out unless freed by an owner with a conscience. He hadn’t met anyone with a conscience on Baru yet.

When she leaned down to grab a pack of cards, he saw the thin lines of healing wounds on her back through the sheer material. Martice beat her. Great.

Ajax glanced at her, smothered a grin at her lush curves, and shot a warning look his way. His eyes were saying, “Don’t look at the girl. Just play the game and let’s get out of here.” There was also a hint of apology for this serious lapse in already poor judgment. Great. They were so screwed.

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