Chapter 16

Copyright ©Hans Olsson

Chapter 16

 

The music invites us to join the parade

 

So join the parade

 

 

 

Carnival-it's simply uncontrollable

 

Moving on through the sand

 

Carnival-it's really unstoppable

 

Destructive tracks in the land

 

 

 

Project Pitchfork - Carnival

 

 

 

The air in the murky cellar was raw and damp. A fuzzy air-freshener hung from a dripping pipe to cover the faint smell of sewers that had become ingrained in the floor and walls. A dozen tables had been placed in the middle of the room, where twenty-five people exchanged suspicious glances. Several of them were rough types, with leather jackets and gang symbols. Others were the same as me, normal people who had managed to find their way here to experience excitement and a hint of danger. My belly rumbled with nerves when I sat down at a full table.

 

There were croupiers. The one at our table was a chain-smoking alcoholic who coughed all over the table and swore every time he dropped a card and had to re-shuffle. With my pulse racing and stomach in total chaos, it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The blinds were at fifty cents and one Euro, so I could afford to play for a while with my fifty Euros, and it went OK to begin with. I won a hundred before things swung and I started losing again. One hand would forever change my life, when I had a mediocre king-seven against one of the gang members. On the table, there was a queen, four and eight. The turn was also an eight and I had absolutely nothing, but I knew that my opponent didn't have anything either. I bluffed, bet big and forced him to fold. Twenty minutes later, I was overwhelmed by poker anxiety when I lost the last of my money to another player. I was kicked out onto the street, but I knew that the evening's adventure had opened a door into a new world. In that mouldy venue, it had been for real for a couple of hours. I'd search for a long time before I found that feeling again.

 

 

 

Peter remained seated at the table long after the others had stood up and walked away. He thought about Lennart, who'd helped him to survive and taught him not to reject the options that were on offer. He was tired, really tired. If he was going to get any sleep, he needed to do it now. The thought of going to the dormitories wasn't attractive. He'd fall asleep down there and there was a risk that not even a fog horn would be able to wake him. One alternative was a power nap at a poker table, but just then it didn't seem appropriate. He'd become dazed and dopy. He weighed up the pros and cons. For the time being, it was better to remain awake. While he'd sat there, Ellinor had exchanged his chips for higher values.

 

He ought to eat again during the break. A solid breakfast would help him feel better physically. If he didn't eat anything it would get worse. So, despite his lack of appetite, he packed away his chips and made his way to the elevators. He now had 63,500 in total, which he hoped would be enough for the coming ordeal.

 

When he stepped out of the elevator and into the dining-room, he leant against a pillar. He was tired, but in some strange way he was starting to become indifferent even that. It was sapping him like a leech, gradually draining his energy until he became numb.

 

He looked around for familiar faces. One woman over in the corner may have been the one that was going to donate her liver to her mother. There was one that resembled that Jean-Lafores faggot that had stolen Dibley, and it looked like Mashmud in the distance, grabbing at salad with his hands. Although it could be his imagination, a desperate attempt to see the well-known. It probably was, because the rest of the players were strangers. Only he was left. Just like when Moa had been taken from the family.

 

After the chemical abortion that had been forced upon them, his mother and father had tried to gain some sort of justice. They called the authorities. They went to the city hall, and they tried to get in touch with the media. Their fruitless efforts were naturally too late. The media had already been affected by the financial climate of the time, and they sold news to those who could pay. One more disgruntled couple and an unborn child simply had no news value. During that period of about six months, before his parents came to accept what had happened, Peter was alone. He had also lost something the day that Moa disappeared. Partly his unborn sister, of course. But the worst thing was that he'd looked forward to taking a step into adult life, when he could start taking responsibility for her. He'd fantasised about baby-sitting, or making food for her. All of that was taken from him, and there he was, alone and full of doubt – just like he was now.

 

After a few moments, he joined the food queues that were moving forward quite fast. It was then that he was relieved to see a familiar face. Natascha was standing in front of him, pale, but at least she was still standing. The next round would be tough for her.

 

“You only have one food voucher remaining, sir,” a guard said as he subtracted a meal from his wristband.

 

Peter filled a plate with food that he wasn't the least interested in, and then looked around for Natascha. He found her at a round table next to a pillar.

 

“May I sit down?”

 

She looked up in surprise. When she saw that it was him, she gave a slight nod. She'd removed her dark glasses and had placed them beside her plate. For the first time, he could see her hazel-brown eyes. They were pretty and bright, but very tired.

 

“Sure thing, Mr. Royal. You can sit here.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

He slid down in a chair facing her and began to eat mechanically. His tiredness made the food taste plain, with the consistency of chewed paper. A man he didn't know sat down between him and Natascha. He was dressed in black trousers and a blue shirt that matched his blue eyes. His nose was slightly crooked, as if it had been broken in his youth. Peter stared back and forth from the man to Natascha. They looked similar, they were probably from the same country. His number was 1,842, and he nodded at Natascha as if he knew her, though she avoided looking back.

 

“Greetings,” he said.

 

“Sure. Hello to you, too,” Peter replied.

 

“What's bothering you, my friend?”

 

“Why? Apart from everybody around us getting murdered, and that however many chips I have never seems to be enough. Things like that, you mean?”

 

The unfamiliar man returned a smile filled with sorrow.

 

“That's exactly what I mean, my friend. I met Natascha during the break before last, and we had an interesting conversation. Didn't we, dear?”

 

She mumbled something that Peter couldn't quite hear.

 

“How has it gone?” This time he leant forwards until she angrily stared back at him.

 

“Shit. It went like shit. My chips have been spread to the winds. And there was Korhart – 'I'll-take-part-twice-I'm-so-good'. He took most of my chips.”

 

The man stared at her, his face revealing nothing.

 

“Have you considered what I asked you about?”

 

“No,” she said firmly.

 

But Peter heard the insecurity in her voice. For the first time, he saw Natascha showing weakness. She'd been tough. Tough and good at poker, no two ways about it. But at King's Hope, everybody shows weakness sooner or later.

 

“What did you ask?” Peter asked, taking another bite. In some strange way, the man was helping him to forget that he didn't have any appetite. Although he couldn't avoid noticing that the man was acting weird.

 

“Do you have many chips?” the man asked, his eyes narrowing.

 

“I'm OK.” Peter shrugged.

 

“Is that sufficiently OK?”

 

Peter didn't respond. There was something hidden behind the question that he didn't like at all. Something dangerous. He couldn't put his finger on it. Death was constantly lurking around every corner at the casino, so it didn't seem that there could be other dangers there. Ordinary worries like getting mugged didn't cross your mind. Of course there had been robberies, when some desperado or some other lunatic had lost their minds. But the guards knew. They always knew. The chips were returned to their rightful owners within five minutes. Often quicker, and the perpetrator was disqualified. If people were eliminated between rounds, it was only because they were clumsy, happened to oversleep or misplaced their chips themselves. So, what was it behind the man's question?

 

Number 1,842 nodded to himself, as if he already knew the answer.

 

“What do you say then, dear?”

 

Natascha stared at the table. Her black hair was shining in the dim lighting. All of a sudden, she snivelled and then nodded, almost imperceptibly.

 

“Good. Very good. There's enough of us now so it should work. But we must act fast. Are you ready?”

 

She nodded again, and Peter felt as if a brick fell in the pit of his stomach. What were they going to do? He had some idea deep down what it was, but his tired brain couldn't quite formulate the thoughts. He had an epileptic sensation of strobe lights flickering at the back of his eyes. Lennart disappeared. Chip stacks flew away like sand. Natascha's face was also there. Whatever the man was suggesting, it wasn't good. Not good at all.

 

“Come. The others are waiting.”

 

He stood up and took Natascha's hand without even glancing at Peter. Peter was left with a mouth full of potatoes that he was incapable of swallowing. He watched them walk through the dining room and disappear out into the corridor. Even though he knew he shouldn't, his curiosity was too great, he wanted to know what was going on. By sheer reflex, he snatched his chip case as he stood up and hung it on his shoulder.

 

Natascha and number 1,842 had turned to the right, towards the elevators. He walked in that direction and surveyed the elevator doors, without catching sight of them. He passed by the elevators where two guards were standing, looking bored. When the corridor turned, he saw them – at least he thought he did. There was a large group of people standing in the middle of the narrow corridor. Almost forty people were pushed up against the walls tightly packed together, their shoulders tensely hunched. For a brief moment he considered joining them. The thought was both enticing and frightening. Up ahead stood a large number of people that were planning to escape from King's Hope.

 

Never before in the history of the casino had anybody actually succeeded in escaping, but never before had such a large group of people attempted it at the same time. It might work! Although the casino had all their details – appearance, address, family members. Even if they succeeded in escaping, they had nowhere to go. The casino was a one-way road. If you took part in the competition, there was only one exit for a single winner and those that chose to opt out from the top hundred. When he saw them all standing there, nervously stamping their feet, he felt compelled. If he managed to escape, it would be an alternative route to freedom. No! He mustn't think like that. It was doomed to fail, and he knew it. Could he make Natascha understand that?

 

He pushed his way past the nervous crowd that seemed to close around him. Suddenly he was stuck in the crowd and had to duck and fend off elbows that brushed his face. He twisted and turned, and managed to gain some ground forwards. Then he saw Natascha's black hair.

 

“3,500 left,” a woman beside him said, distraught. “That's all I have left. It's one pathetic blind. I have to take this chance.”

 

He could hear murmurs of agreement.

 

“I only have 13,000. I'm not going up on stage. Never! But it's inevitable,” he heard another miserable voice say. More murmurs of agreement.

 

“… the tracking chip doesn't work outside King's Hope,” someone said. “As long as we get out, we'll be safe.”

 

Peter forced his way forwards, squeezing past the bodies in the crowd. He reached out and got hold of Natascha's elbow. She turned with a look of surprise on her face, and when their eyes met, her smile showed incomprehension. He noticed that she had a T-shirt wrapped around her hand. When he looked again, he realised that many others had too.

 

“You too?” she mouthed.

 

He saw in her eyes what he should have understood earlier. She knew that death was waiting at the next poker table, and that this was another way out. There was nothing he could do to make her change her mind and he'd been a fool to even try.

 

“Good luck,” he said, smiling gently. Then he let go of her arm and turned around to go back, only to find himself wedged between two large men. He wriggled like a worm to break free without success.

 

“What fucking fascists they are!” a man exclaimed loudly somewhere in the sweaty crowd. The group mumbled their agreement, almost in hatred. Just then somebody shouted.

 

“Let's go! Don't stop for anything. Not before we're in safety. Death to King's Hope! Death to the King!”

 

“Death to the King!” the crowd echoed.

 

It wasn't possible to go against the flow. Peter tried to resist, but the two overgrown men pushed him in front of them like a shopping cart. It went quickly, terrifyingly quickly. He began to push at people to get out of the crowd, to be able to get some air in his lungs. Somebody at the front called out and the crowd turned around a corner. There were more elevators in front of them, all of them with red lights above that signified that they were locked. The crowd didn't appear to care. Instead, they charged at the elevator doors and began to pull at them to force them open. The guards seemed to have vanished, which was very strange. At the front, they'd managed to pull open one pair of doors and the others were almost open. Some of them turned their backs to the doors to keep them open.

 

“The elevator's down there, at the second floor! It's only a few metres down. Use your hand protection! We can jump,” someone shouted triumphantly into the cavernous elevator shaft.

 

Peter saw how someone knelt down and jumped down into the dark hole. He heard a faint thud, or at least he imagined he heard one, when that person landed on the stationary elevator down below. The next man prepared and then jumped down the hole, holding onto the wires. They swayed from the added weight and then the man was gone. Peter would be pulled down into that hole, unable to get back up again. He'd live a short life on the run and then be caught and executed on the spot. He fought frantically against the two men and the rest of the crowd. It was futile. He was mercilessly being dragged closer to the elevator.

 

They managed to break open the pair of doors to the left and the flow divided. There were about ten people pushing in front of him and at least as many behind him, forcing them forwards.

 

“Stop shoving!” a man by the doors to the right shouted. Stop shoving, or AHHH …”

 

The man fell, and this time there definitely was a thud. Horrifying cries of pain echoed up out of the darkness. It didn't stop the surge. The crowd continued onwards in spurts and disappeared, one at a time, into the dark. A large woman stumbled and fell head-first down the shaft to the left. She was soon howling along with the man in the other shaft. The black openings were like organ pipes playing macabre music.

 

“Keep quiet down there!” someone to his left shouted. “Fore! I'm doing the bomb!”

 

The voice was vindictive, and Peter saw in the corner of his eye how a man leant against the elevator door, took aim and jumped. The howling from the woman was interrupted for a short moment when he landed on top of her. Then it started again, even more unpleasant than before, broken and intermittent, like a malfunctioning drill.

 

Peter fought frantically to get back, but the crowd pushed him relentlessly forward and the elevator doors loomed ever closer. Just in front of him were a man and a woman. He couldn't see Natascha at all. The two in front of him jumped into the organ pipe from which roars of pain arose, born of anxiety and adrenaline.

 

He attempted to grab hold of the edge of the elevator door so as not to be sucked down, but he couldn't get hold of it. He saw the elevator about five metres below. A yellow rectangle was visible where someone had forced open the emergency hatch. In the background, he heard the faint sound of pleasant, innocuous music. At the edge there was only one alternative since the pressure from behind was too great.

 

He aimed to the left of the hatch from which yellow light poured. Then he found himself in free fall. When he landed, he was thrown forwards and hit his knee on a joist. He managed to keep himself upright, even if the pain burned like fire. To his right, someone else landed with a sharp thud. The elevator swung ominously. Just in front of him lay the man that had been pushed down. One of his legs was bent at an unnatural angle to one side, and he held one arm tight against his chest. Blood was running down his cheeks and forehead. Peter had to get down quickly, otherwise someone would land on his head and he'd join the injured man. With his survival instinct throbbing behind his temples, he jumped down through the open hatch.

 

As soon as he'd landed, somebody grabbed hold of him and pulled him out of the elevator. It was a muscular man in a white T-shirt with the words SCARLET CATS written in red on the chest. Peter fell on the floor outside, and he crept up against a wall to try and get some bearing on the chaos around him.

 

There were several players sitting to his side. An exhausted woman sat to his left, blood pouring from her nose, and to his right there was a young man with dreadlocks. The man was staring drowsily at the two elevators in front of them. They were open, and the door to the right was opening and closing like a vertical mouth chewing. Other players were tumbling through the doors. Some of them were high from the heat of the battle. Others looked vacant and shocked. A girl with long, brown hair knotted into a pony tail leant out of the door and peered around the corner. When she appeared to judge that the coast was clear, she clambered out only to stop and look around once more. Behind her, the dull thuds continued as players from the third floor jumped down onto the elevator roof.

 

“I'm the last one down!” a man in his thirties screamed as he came out of the rightmost elevator. “Let's go!”

 

Peter remained seated. He didn't want to get up, and to be honest he was too shocked. He shouldn't be here. Several others appeared to share his sentiments. He tried to stand up, but sank back down against the wall. The crowd, maybe about forty people in total, began to slowly make their way towards the three steps at the edge of the elevator area. That's when Peter saw the markings on the floor. At the bottom of the steps, a wide, yellow tape was stuck to the floor. Once he'd caught sight of it, he noticed all the other details that were also wrong. There were small bubbles and tears in the tape, as if it had been placed there in a hurry.

 

Most of the crowd didn't see the line, they just crossed it when they strode down the last step. The corridor beyond it veered to the left after about twenty metres, and Peter was sure that the lobby lay beyond that somewhere, one floor down, within reach.

 

Several of the escapees had already disappeared around the corner. It felt wrong, terribly wrong. He recalled the regulations, as clearly as if he had the brochure before him in his hands.

 

 

 

13. The boundaries of the casino are marked by yellow and black lines. If any of these lines are passed, the player is automatically disqualified. King's Hope Casino therefore encourages players to be aware of these lines in extreme situations, so there can be no misunderstanding.

 

 

 

Sure, it wasn't against the rules to go down to the ground floor again, even if the locked elevators made that pretty much impossible. What was forbidden was to cross the lines. The lines were everywhere, although most often in secure, unreachable places like outside the windows. They'd probably not counted on an escape attempt of this size, and had quickly laid down a new line. Someone shouted, Peter couldn't make out from which direction the voice came.

 

“I'm coming!” SCARLET CATS called, he'd hung back by the elevators. He scouted around for the owner of the voice and his gaze settled on the woman with the nose bleed.

 

“It's alright. I'll help you.”

 

He stepped forwards and grabbed hold of the woman's legs.

 

“No,” she protested. “No, no, I don't want to. Let me go!”

 

But the man was beyond reasoning. Peter could see it in his face. SCARLET CATS was intent on helping. At any cost. Like a soldier, he moved forwards, holding his wounded comrade's legs with a firm grip. The woman stared at the line. Peter saw in her eyes that she knew what was about to happen. She managed to twist around and felt for something to hold on to. There was nothing. She dug her nails into the marble floor and tried to claw her way, but the man was stronger. As he stepped down the stairs, pulling her behind him, the woman's head bounced up and down like a ball down the steps. Peter saw and heard how her front teeth were broken, and blood pouring from her mouth. The man pulled her a few more metres and they both passed the line.

 

“Keep moving!” he called encouragingly. Then he turned around and caught sight of Peter. “Hurry,” he shouted. “We don't have time. Come on!”

 

“It. Is. A trap,” Peter gasped, but the man couldn't hear him.

 

“Why aren't you moving?” The man asked, hurrying up the steps as he threw cautious glances over his shoulder. Sharp cries could be heard from the players around the corner. SCARLET CATS looked anxious.

 

“We have to go now!” he screamed at Peter, who shook his head.

 

SCARLET CATS bent down to grab Peter by the legs and drag him to his death, the same way he'd done to the woman. Peter kicked at him. The man backed evasively, but Peter managed to kick his shin, forcing him to stop. “What the fuck are you doing? We need to hurry. HURRY!”

 

Peter shook his head. Words were pointless. Instead, he continued to kick in the direction of the man who backed off, swearing.

 

A tumult came from the corridor, and the man threw a brief glance in that direction. All of a sudden, a woman backed around the corner. After that, two men stumbled into sight, followed by about ten players at once. They were shouting at something around the corner that Peter couldn't see yet, but from their body language he could only assume that it was the guards. SCARLET CATS glared at him.

 

“Idiot. Look what you've done! Now we'll never get out in time thanks to you.”

 

Then he turned and ran down the short staircase to face the threat from around the corner. There wasn't a battle. As soon as he reached the corner, the soldiers came. They were armed and shot rubber bullets into the crowd. Then they punched SCARTLET CATS in the mouth, and as he tumbled backwards they placed a stun baton against his chest. The man fell with a high-pitched scream. Peter stood up, his legs wobbly. He had to get up again, away from the line and away from the guards. He stumbled to the elevators, got in the one on the left and started punching at the buttons. The cautious girl and the guy with dreadlocks crept in with him, and their worried gazes met in a mutual understanding.

 

“I never crossed the line,” she said.

 

The young guy nodded. “We have to get upstairs before the next round begins.”

 

Peter nodded silently and pushed the buttons. Nothing happened. He started to hit at them, but the doors refused to slide shut. Outside, the sound of struggle could be heard, shouting and heavy footsteps falling as the guards came. Now Peter understood why he'd not seen any guards by the elevator doors. Up there, they were unprotected from the battle-lust of the crowd. Instead, they'd gathered down here. They'd known, of course. They'd known all along. When you took part in the tournament at King's Hope, there was only one road out. And that road was one-way.

 

An enormous guard suddenly appeared at the elevator door. He was wearing a black mask over his face and held a stun baton at the ready. His icy cold eyes fell over the three in the elevator. They backed up. Now it was over. The Book was out of reach. The guards stepped into the elevator and stood there.

 

“You will now play the next round on the twenty-eighth floor,” he said expressionlessly.

 

Then he passed his arm over the panel, which beeped, and then he pushed the button for floor twenty-eight. He stood there, watching them with expressionless eyes as the elevator doors closed. Nobody said a word. The elevator music in the background was a melody that resembled carnival music. This episode would definitely go down in King's Hope's history, accompanied by that music.

 

As the elevator door opened, the guard indicated politely that they should step out. Peter obeyed, even though his legs were shaking as if he'd caught some exotic disease. A clock on the wall indicated that it was 8.39 am, eight minutes left until the next round.

 

He reeled forwards to a table close by, number thirteen, and collapsed on a chair. For a short, terrifying moment he thought he'd lost his chip case. He searched in his pockets, as if all his stuff could possibly fit there. With his hands shaking, he began to unpack his chips onto the table. A wave of nausea forced him to bend forwards. He almost wished that he'd taken the chance while he'd had it. One or two of them had maybe managed to make it out. The most frightening thing was that he'd never heard the guards. They'd been waiting, of course they had. And then they'd just struck without mercy. The players who'd crossed the line hadn't stood a chance.

 

He heard the bell of the elevator doors behind him, followed by petrifying screams. He turned around involuntarily and watched as the escape party were pushed into the hall. There were about thirty, a few less than they'd been down there. Then he noticed the bodies in the elevator. They were piled up at the back, covered with blood and beaten beyond recognition. The guards were there straight away, about ten of them that had seemingly materialised from the walls. They lined up and pushed the group towards the windows. They tied their hands, each of them with a long rope which they then tossed over a thick iron beam, the sort you can find in a gym and do pull-ups on.

 

When each player's rope was in place, the guards tightened them so that the prisoners' feet were dangling. They fastened the ropes to hooks on the thick supporting pillar in front of the window. More guards carried out the lifeless bodies from the elevators and hoisted them up. Their heads were hanging. Blood was dropping from the faces of two of them onto the floor.

 

One guard moved to the far right of the line of captured players, and he pulled out a small knife. He lifted it up over his head so that they could see it. Then he quickly stabbed the nearest prisoner twice in the belly. It was a man with brown hair, sideburns and a jacket. The man opened his eyes wide and groaned loudly. He tried to defend himself, but it was futile. The guard walked slowly along the line and stabbed each one of the trussed-up prisoners twice in the belly. He did this calmly and methodically. Just another day at the office. Another day at the casino where the carnival jazz music never stopped, and everybody danced to their deaths.

 

Peter was unable to look away. It was intentional that they'd been dropped off at this floor. It was also painfully obvious why. King's Hope wanted to set an example to Peter and the few others that had never crossed the line, that they should not attempt it again. Players during the coming years would not try it either.

 

Thirty-eight victims in total, Peter counted to. He wondered briefly how many chips they'd had in total, because now they were forfeited. Since they hung so close to the windows, it must have meant that those standing outside were able to see it all as well. If they looked up, they'd probably be able to see thirty-eight human piñatas hanging there. If they'd missed it, the cameras would record it and they'd see it on the repeats on television. He saw SCARLET CATS try to kick the guard with the knife, and in return he was given an extra stab in the thigh. His body swung around on the rope, and then he hung there, helpless and roaring profanities in a voice that grew gradually weaker each second.

 

At the far left, he spotted Natascha. She was hanging in her rope with her arms crossed, perhaps trying to alleviate the pain from the knife. The spectacle was hypnotising and revolting at the same time. It might just as well have been him. He'd been so close … He forced himself to look away from Natascha's tortured face and looked for the man who'd met them in the dining room, the one that had started the whole spectacle. The man wasn't there, Peter was sure of that. He scanned over the victims twice without being able to match any of them against his mental picture of number 1,842. Had he managed to escape, after all that? They'd even strung up the dead ones, so if the man had been down there, and Peter was sure he had been, then he ought to be here. It was sensational at a level that Peter couldn't grasp. Had the man managed to do the impossible for the first time in the casino's history?

 

Nobody remembers a coward.

 

The thing that finally forced Peter to take his gaze away from the macabre show was the sound of cards landing in front of him. He looked down at 6♣, not quite understanding what it was, and then followed the track of cards round to the left.

 

To his left, the cautious girl who'd also survived the escape attempt had sat down. Her name was Cathy Redbloom, number 5,812. Her big, brown eyes kept looking back and forth from the table to those who were hanging by the windows, making her pony tail swing. Peter got the impression that she was taking in more details around the table than he'd managed to do. She'd survived for a reason. He shouldn't forget that. She'd scraped together 22,000 in chips and was dealt 5♥.

 

To her left was a young man with acne and a button nose, wavy hair and a baseball cap with the text Arch and ology. His name was Luke “Valterego” Boggarti, number 3,285, and was short-stacked at the table with about 17,000. He was given K♦.

 

After Luke, a man with grey hair and a large bushy beard was sitting, dressed in a tailcoat and bowtie. This was Rickard “Jeeves” Harmody, 7,182, and he had 44,500. The deal gave him 9♠.

 

To his left was the croupier's place, where an older man called Leo was sitting. His hair was white at the temples and he had a wrinkled, weathered face and bright, grey-blue eyes.

 

The woman to the left of the croupier was wearing a clinging red dress with such a deep cleavage that her breasts were almost falling out. She had sharp, almost eagle-like features that made her face somewhat awkward to look at. Her name was Amanda Uhnbech, number 844, and she had 32,000 in chips. 2♣ was lying in front of her.

 

After her, sat Lorenzo Perez, number 320, a muscular man with a dark complexion, grey hair and a narrow moustache. He had 20,500 in colourful stacks. He had 10♣.

 

To his left was Erik “JawsTiunda” Isgardsson, number 89. He had blond hair, slender, chiselled facial features and horn-rimmed glasses in front of a couple of foggy grey eyes. He was extremely thin, and was almost hidden from view by all the chip stacks in front of him. Peter estimated that he had about 24,000. He was dealt 10♥.

 

At the last position, a large woman sat with a shaved head and red fleece jacket. Her name was Marie Carlos, number 533, and she was sweating so profusely that her scalp shone. She didn't seem to take any notice of that, or she didn't care. There were three rings on her fingers, one red, one white and one blue. Together they formed the Dutch flag. In her nose she had a thick ring that made her resemble a bull. She had a large mountain of chips, around 79.800. J♦ lay in front of her.

 

The players sat still and in silence as they waited. Peter spotted the guy with dreadlocks at a neighbouring table, his eyes hollow and his lower lip quivering. In the background, he thought he could still hear the sound of carnival music disappearing into the distance, mixed with groans of agony from the prisoners by the window. The speakers came to life.

 

“It is now 8.47 am, and the eighth round is about to begin. The blinds are at level fourteen, 1,500-3,000, with an ante of 500. King's Hope wishes all players good luck.”

 

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