Copyright ©Hans Olsson
You made me - your enemy
So I'm gonna do - what you've done to me
You made me - your enemy
And I am just like you - like you wanted to
Biomekkanik - Enemy
His hands shook slightly as he tightened the last bolt on the crib. Mum and dad would be very pleased with his work. They were at the hospital for a routine check-up since his mother had had pelvic pain for a several days. She was starting to grow big and waddled like a duck, which looked hilarious. Although her pregnancy also filled him with a pride that made him glow and strut around at home and in the school yard.
He could feel his spine creaking as he stood up, and he took a step back to admire his work. He felt his cheeks become hot when he saw the white crib standing there. One leg was a little crooked, so he kicked it into place, knelt and carefully drew the screws once more. When he stood up, it was perfect. The baby would lie in there. And it would arrive in three months. Just then it felt like such a long wait that he had to stop himself from throwing his head back and howling in frustration. Time went so slowly. Although, as his father used to say, it wasn’t worth doing things that weren’t just a little bit tough. And it was certainly tough that he had to wait. He couldn’t even imagine what it was like for his parents. His mother panted a lot and had difficulty breathing in the evenings.
He stood with his hands at his sides and lowered tilted his head. There was one detail missing on the crib before it’d be completely perfect. He ran to his own room, hunted in a drawer in his desk and took out a small box in black metal that his father had given him. He held on to it tightly and then ran back to the crib that was in his parents’ room.
He opened the box carefully, pulled out the piece of jewellery he’d bought a few months earlier and hung it carefully on one of the corner posts. It would hang there like a protective talisman until the baby came. He slowly backed out of the room so as not to ruin the solemn atmosphere of the room.
Peter took the elevators to the dining room and thought about the previous round. He’d accumulated lots of chips and had a decent amount for the fifth round. It’d be worse for people like Roberto and Julius, who could hardly afford a couple of blinds. A thought struck him, and he pulled out the brochure he’d been given earlier. He flicked through it to the rules and nodded in satisfaction when he saw he’d remembered correctly.
11. The fifth round is the last in which players are randomly assigned against each other. After this round, tournament participants may meet up and sit with acquaintances made during the tournament. King’s Hope recommends the digital bulletin boards.
He wasn’t sure if he’d take advantage of the possibility. It would be nice to meet Lennart again, if only to hear a familiar voice. On the other hand, it was dangerous to sit with new-found friends, if you could call your opponents friends. If you became emotionally involved then it wasn’t so easy to take their chips. If you started trusting them, they would sooner or later stab you in the back. There were many stories about players that had made pacts with each other. The most spectacular was perhaps three years ago when a Russian by the name of Ivan Kolimunoff joined forces with a German called Johann Braut, and together they’d knocked out about fifty players by ruthlessly pressing up the pots and bleeding chips to each other. They kept together from the start of the sixth round. Their strategy continued until the eighth round when the Russian, instead of folding as Johann had expected, actually went all-in. Johann, who’d had the reasonable hand of J♠K♣ at the time, felt compelled to call if only to get back for the treachery. Ivan had pocket rockets, A♠A♦, and made a set on the river. Johann didn’t stand a chance.
“Kings are damned ace-magnets,” he’d said in a voice dripping with fury that could be felt through the TV-screen. Then he stood up, spat on the ground and walked up on stage to be shot. Ivan was knocked out on the ninth round, without friends or pacts to rely on.
But Peter wanted to meet Lennart again. And maybe Dibley.
The sound of voices lay like a loud buzz over the dining room when Peter stepped out of the elevator. Coffee, that was his first priority and he could take that without using up any meal coupons. But he’d also have to eat something since he was beginning to feel weak. His gaze stuck on things he had no interest in. He stared for some time at a pillar decorated with a pattern comprised of poker chips before it occurred to him that he should look at faces instead. A few yards away he saw a guy in sunglasses, wearing a yellow raincoat. This attire had most probably been chosen to hide tells but he looked like a walking condom. He recalled a particularly paranoid player from some previous year who had insisted in playing dressed up in a bee-keeper outfit. You could only see shadows behind the visor, until the white head-piece had been stained red when the player was shot in round six. Otherwise, there were only strangers everywhere. No Lennart. No Dibley. No Sarah.
He made his way to the coffee machine and took the largest cup he could find. Then he moved to the dinner service queue to exchange one of his valuable meal coupons.
“You have four coupons left, do you wish to spend one now, sir?” a guard asked mechanically.
“Yes, I do,” Peter muttered. The guard swept a scanner over his wristband and it beeped. Three meals left.
He filled the coffee cup and then took a plate of bacon, egg, spaghetti and salad. He sat down at a large round table where a few other players were sitting. He nodded at them politely and began to eat, quietly listening in on their conversation.
“… Shimra Corporation is going to buy King’s Hope, I’m sure of it,” a blond woman said.
“Bullshit,” replied a man. “The large companies have tried since the first year, but Cid Andrew will never sell. Actually, I think that’s good.”
“Yes, of course it’s good, but how long can he keep them off? I still think that some company will manage to buy up King’s Hope sooner or later. If not Shimra, it’ll be Joggu Soda Inc., World Broad News or some other media concern.”
“Because King’s Hope is the only channel to society that’s not censored or bought.”
“That’s exactly why they’ll never be able to buy it. They’ll try, but it won’t happen. Besides, the world needs King’s Hope. A few years ago, I wanted to find out what the weather was going to be, we were thinking of taking the car a few miles down south for a picnic in the forest. WBN wanted 20 Euros for a reliable weather report.”
“Did you pay?”
“Of course I didn’t. Pure extortion. We relied on the local channels instead, and they were right for once. But King’s Hope solves problems like that.”
Peter was half way through his meal when somebody patted him on the back without warning, making him almost swallow his fork.
“Good to see you’re alive, Peter! I told you we’d see each other here.”
Peter turned around and couldn’t hide his smile as he looked into Lennart’s sharp eyes.
“Are you going to eat?” Peter wondered.
“No, I went and ate earlier. It cost me about 15,000 in blinds, but it was worth it to avoid the queues.”
Peter shook his head. “That’s not good. What if the others had folded to knock you out?”
Lennart laughed. “It was worth the risk. And besides, an entire table is not usually that desperate. There are always some that stall, but you know that. In other words, the tempo was as usual and I had time to throw some food down before they played the shirts off each other. How’s it been for you?”
“Good, actually. I have 43,500. I’m prepared for the next round.”
Lennart whistled quietly. “Not bad at all! I went all-in on a pot where three of the others went all-in too. I’ve seldom shitted myself that much, but I had the nut suit on the flop as well. That pot gave me a good head start.”
“How much do you have then?”
“About 91,000,” Lennart replied.
Peter could hardly believe his own ears, but the bag hanging from Lennart’s shoulders looked undeniably heavy.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” he said. That would explain why Lennart dared to go and eat in the middle of a round. It also explained his good mood. He rubbed his foot on the ground to force back the envy that was bubbling up.
“Are you going to tell me what the Lollapalooza is now?” Peter wondered, changing the subject.
“Haha. I see, you’ve not forgotten then. But I’m sure we said after the fifth? You’ll have to wait until the next break. I’ll see you here and tell you then. Now I’m going up to my table. The twentieth floor this time.”
“I’ll be going up soon, too,” Peter said, pointing to his plate. He’d lost his appetite. Then he froze.
“Shit! I’ve left my personal belongings in a locker on floor … I don’t remember which floor. I have to find them.”
“Oh, don’t bother,” Lennart said, his hand waving. “If you really need them then you can ask a guard to fetch them.”
“Of course! It’s not in the rules because the guards are not supposed to be errand-boys, but they’ll run as much as you like if you ask them to. There was a guy around our table who’d forgotten his stuff. You close the locker with the wristband, so the guards know all along where your personal belongings are. That guy spent the last break going up and down, putting his stuff in different lockers. Then he asked a guard to bring it. And he carried on like that. Quite funny, actually,” he added and they both laughed.
“Oh well, see you later. Take care.”
“Same to you.” Lennart disappeared into the crowd.
Peter forced the last of his food down only because he knew he’d regret it if he didn’t eat it all up. It was unbelievable that Lennart had so many chips. That must mean that quite a few others had monster stacks as well. It was not strange of course that chips were distributed like that, depending on luck, skill and so on. But why didn’t Peter have as many as that? At King’s Hope, you never had enough.
He took one last bite, stood up and left the table. The bulletin board informed him that he would be on the twenty-second floor, at table eighty-two. When he walked into the elevator, together with ten other players, something had changed. Peter couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but just then most of the other people in the elevator were fidgeting nervously. The small compartment was filled with anxiety and it was contagious. When the elevator doors slid open on the twenty-second floor, Peter was sweaty and he couldn’t shake the unpleasant feeling of hopelessness that had suddenly come over him. He tried to imagine that it was tiredness taking its toll, but there was more behind it. He’d made it this far and he had a relatively decent amount of chips, but it felt all the more real now. Many of the weak players had been weeded out during the first rounds, and now the opposition would be tougher. It was a law of nature, as strong as gravity and just as merciless. He had to get through what lay ahead nonetheless. He looked for table eighty-two with trepidation in his steps.
There were four players already sitting there. Peter nodded in greeting and looked at their name plates. To the left of the croupier’s position sat Franko “el Clavo” Fondrazt, number 394. He had Italian features with his hair combed back and a slightly crooked nose. His tightly closed lips were crowned by a narrow moustache. Judging from his facial expression, he was completely determined not to let anything stand in his way. In front of him were several piles of chips totalling 22,300 in value.
Next to Franko there was an empty seat, and beyond that a woman sat by the name of Simona Josintha, 5,351. Peter couldn’t make out where she was from with those large, round eyes in a long, soft face. Her dark hair was tightly plaited up on her head. She had 18,700 in chips in front of her.
Next to her sat Ted “Dybban” Wallace, 7,015. He wore glasses and a baseball cap and was chewing gum so hard his cheeks were straining. He was muscular and radiated arrogance. Ted had 11,500.
An empty seat separated him from the next player, an Indian with number 2,290. The display said Mallera-Jesarhil “Pseudo-wrath of Shiva” Loothsa… Peter couldn’t read the last letters because they disappeared beyond the edge of the display. The name was too complicated to even try to pronounce, so in his head he called him Mally. The Indian was confidently placing out his piles, 25,800. He smiled to himself and remembered Sebastian “The Contorter” Cougel, who’d been looking for weaknesses in the system. There was in fact concrete evidence here that there were some. He also wondered what Friedrich Pengibel would have said about the software that ran in the electronic displays.
Peter settled down into his seat, to the right of the croupier’s position. The sixth player arrived soon after, a woman with short, blond hair and tattoos winding up her neck. As she waved her wristband over the display, it beeped in confirmation and showed that she was Sandra Schmooel, number 8,115. She had 12,100 in chips and placed herself between Ted and Mally.
The last player came a few minutes later, a small, chubby man with a pale yellow skin tone and typical middle-eastern features, His grey hair was combed back. He sat between Franko and Simona. The display announced that this was Ardo “The Lihgtning” Mahana, number 49. Ardo placed out his stacks with fingers stained yellow from nicotine. He had 16,200.
Their croupier arrived after a short while. Her name was Tess and, like all the others, she was dressed in the King’s Hope uniform and moved professionally, almost like a robot. She opened a new deck and dealt them cards to see who would start with the button.
Franko was dealt 9♣, Ardo 5♥, Simona J♣, Ted 8♥, Sandra 9♦, Mally 4♠ and finally Peter received 7♠.
“How do you think you’re dealing? I wanted to start,” Ardo protested in frustration. “Now it’ll be your fault if I don’t get the right cards.” He stared in disapproval at Tess, who skilfully ignored his stare and comment. Simona would begin with the dealer button.
“What were you thinking there?” Peter wondered.
“What do you mean?” Ardo countered. “I’m just saying it’s her fault. If I get bad cards, I’ll let her know it.”
“But it’s random,” Ted added. “It’s not her fault, you must understand that?”
“Exactly,” Peter agreed, unsure whether Ardo was joking or not. He didn’t think he was.
“Pff. You all think you’re so clever,” Ardo said. “You can’t go around telling me what I understand and what I don’t. Look at her. You don’t work as a croupier if you’re qualified for better jobs. Look at her, I tell you. Don’t you see how vacant her eyes are? I’m telling you, she gave me bad cards on purpose, she doesn’t know any better.”
“You remind me of something,” Peter said, all of a sudden. “Did you know that about 15% of the population is involved in half of all the accidents that happen? Do you know why that is?”
“No, I don’t know. Where did you learn that?”
“I read it somewhere. Anyhow, it’s because those people most often put the blame on others because they can’t take responsibility themselves. And if they can never take responsibility, they’re never going to learn how to do things right. So, they blame others even more in the next accident they’re involved in. Do you know what people like that are called?”
“No,” Ardo muttered.
“Accidents waiting to happen. You seem to be a typical accident waiting to happen,” Peter said simply.
“Pff. Whatever you say won’t affect me, and it’s her fault if it goes badly in any case. You’re my enemy now. I’ll make damned well sure you’re knocked out,” Ardo said, waving his finger.
Peter didn’t say any more. Ardo was in fact an accident waiting to happen, and if they were enemies now it was just as well. At King’s Hope, statements like that were the same as being tilted without having even played a single hand. That was to his advantage.
Tess pretended that the conversation had never happened. Instead, she waited calmly for the speakers. They sprang to life at exactly 1.11 am.
“Dear contestants. The tournament is now entering the fifth round. Good luck, and may the cards fall to your advantage.” The speakers clicked back into silence and the Boss’s voice disappeared.
He’d now been awake for more than eighteen hours. The previous morning, he’d got up at 6.30 am to get to the station where the limousine had been waiting. He could feel it. His eyes were dry, so was his mouth and he was starting to get clumsy. His hand bumped into the table when he moved to touch his stacks of chips. He kicked the table by mistake when he shifted posture. That could be interpreted as nervousness. Even worse, his own mistakes were starting to bother him. He shook himself to disperse the mists in front of his eyes and began to concentrate as the cards landed in front of him.