Chapter 6 (round 2)

Chapter 6

 

I'm the figurehead on the ship of fools

 

A beacon for the liars in the dark

 

I'm the first and the last

 

I claim this land

 

I'm the lost and the hungry

 

I need this land

 

 

 

Covenant - Figurehead

 

 

 

“I got to Vienna on my own merits and an education I financed myself. So there! I mean, most people have so many beliefs and are so judgemental. That’s sad, even though it’s pretty good because I can always beat an underdog. Apart from when I can’t, of course. Teehee! Although the others don’t know that and actually it’s a good thing that they think I can’t. Especially in here. In the last round, I won a huge hand off a girl who didn’t think I had anything, but I showed her. Of course, I lost one big hand too.

 

"When I get out of here, I’m going to start my own practice at last and then I won’t have to take all those boring jobs. My dad told me once that it was easy to get a job when he was young. Back then, you could work for a few days at one place, and if you didn’t like it then you quite simply didn’t bother going back. You went to the next place around the corner instead and worked there for a while. I think it’s like that today too, but many of the people I know settle for tedious jobs. Who wants to be in the same shop all their life? Or what do you people out there think? It can be a nuisance, changing jobs, but I for one am not going to let feelings like that to stop me. No pain, no gain. If you do the same thing, day in and day out for the rest of your life then you get stiff, not only in your head but in your body as well. When you do, then you should come along to my place so I can straighten out your crooked spines.

 

"There’s a load of opportunities, you just have to keep an eye out for them. Maybe that’s the problem, that far too many people don’t understand that it’s different now? I don’t know, I don’t remember what it was like before, but just complaining and sitting around doesn’t get you anywhere. Dad said that if he’d had as many opportunities that there are now, then he’d have become a millionaire, or at least part-owner in a property.

 

"I’m going to carry on with my college studies, because people are going to get backaches anyhow, when they’ve sat there and stiffened up long enough.

 

"The thought of starting my own practice is worth the risk of coming here. I’ll have a large flower pot there. No – two, where I can grow sweetcorn and tomatoes. And I’ll have a cat and two employees. Keep an eye out when I’m hiring. Maybe I’ll be employing you. It'll be perfect.”

 

 

 

Peter sat once again at a poker table. He’d placed out his chips with a couple of minutes to spare. The sixteenth floor looked exactly like the eleventh, apart from the pillars that were a deep blue colour. He was now sitting at table twenty-three and their croupier was a very attractive woman. She had brown hair tightly tied up in a ponytail. “Zelda” was printed on her name badge, and she was impeccably dressed in the casino’s typical black waistcoat over a white shirt. She split open the packaging of a new deck of cards and spread the cards on the table. Then, she skilfully swept her hands over them and shuffled the deck. When that was done, she collected the cards and placed the thicker plastic card beneath them so that no one could see the card at the bottom.

 

Peter was trying to study his opponents as well as he could. They’d been sitting in silence since he’d sat himself at the table. The atmosphere in the large hall was pretty tense. He sat with one arm hanging over the back of the chair while he fiddled with four chips on the table with the other hand. He looked calm and relaxed. Confident and strong. In reality, his heart was beating heavily with nervousness and he repeatedly had to dry his hand sweat discretely on his trousers. Charades, they were important.

 

When Zelda began to deal out cards face-up, he followed them carefully. A woman with sprouting ginger hair sat to the left of Zelda. She had a puffy face and thick glasses that magnified her small, intense eyes. The electronic name plate displayed Katrish Ponsari with number 991. Her body was shaped like a barrel and her arms were thicker than Peter’s thighs. She gave the impression of superiority, perhaps rightly so since she had nearly as many chips as Peter, 24,000. She was dealt 4♥.

 

The next player was a muscular black man by the name of George “Vernon H.” Henning, number 1,338 and his gaze was intimidating. He was dressed in a tightly-fitting orange T-shirt with the text “Poker doesn’t kill, cards do”. His heavy arms burst forth from the sleeves of his T-shirt, making him look like a boxer, ready to knock down his opponents with a well-aimed punch. Peter guessed that he was American. He also had a large stack of chips, 22,300, a little less than Peter and Katrish, but in any case an opponent to be reckoned with. George got 10♦.

 

The next card, 7♥, landed in front of a younger girl. She had long, brown hair and a narrow face with full lips and big blue eyes. Patricia Langwood with number 7,719. She sat and fiddled with her jewellery, her eyes fixed on a number of armbands that rattled around her wrists. Peter could see at least four rings in garish colours on her fingers. She didn’t have nearly as many chips as the others, 5,400.

 

Never underestimate your opponents, but do take their chips.

 

A young guy sat on the next chair, Mashmud Banarra, number 128. He had black, wavy hair, a hooked nose and brown eyes beneath a pair of bushy eyebrows. He wore a beige hoodie decorated with a black and white print of a man with short greased hair. Mashmud was drumming impatiently at the edge of the table with his forefingers. He had 6,300 in chips. The 9♣ landed in front of him.

 

Beyond him, there was a man with glasses and a shiny face whose hairline was beginning to recede. He was wearing a blazer and shirt with matching tie in a bright blue colour. He was sweating profusely and Peter had no difficulty understanding why. 3,250 in chips lay in front of the man by the name of David Blaubergen, number 3,316. He was dealt K♣.

 

Peter sat next to him and his own card was 3♠. The last player at the table was a man with a short beard. This was Boris Kuzinaj, number 4,562. Peter thought he could be Russian, but it was impossible to tell. The man had no distinguishing features and Peter had not heard him speak. Despite this, Peter couldn’t help but stare a little longer at his rugged face. Something about the man was very familiar, however Peter couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Boris had 5,150 in chips and he was dealt J♠. David, who was short-stacked with the least number of chips around the table, sighed in relief when he understood that he’d start out with the button and therefore avoid the blinds for a while.

 

Peter glanced at the time, 7.03 pm. It was soon time. Zelda hade picked up the cards and shuffled them. Now she sat and waited for the starting signal. Two minutes later, punctual as an atomic clock, the signal sounded for round two.

 

Zelda quickly and precisely tossed the cards to the players, starting with Peter who was on the small blind of 300. When he had his two cards he couldn’t wait. He turned up the corners and looked down at 7♠2♣. The worst imaginable starting hand. He rolled his eyes in his own mind. It was a clear fold. Despite that, Peter toyed with the idea of taking a chance and seeing the flop, especially since he felt as if he was on firm ground. One goal to aim for was to reach deep stack, which at King’s Hope was between fifty to hundred big blinds in chips, depending on who you asked. It was very difficult to achieve, since the rapidly increasing blind levels meant that the average stack was most often between fifteen to twenty-five big blinds. It all depended on what kinds of players there were around the table, of course. Patricia betted, the others folded. Peter decided to spare his chips. He acted a little Hollywood and waited thirty seconds before finally throwing his cards across the line. Two players.

 

Zelda burned a card and turned over the flop: 5♦J♠Q♠.

 

Boris checked by tapping his fingers on the table. Then it was Patricia’s turn. She looked at her cards, at the pile of chips in the middle of the table, again at her cards, looked away and then finally at the clock.

 

“Check?” She chimed in hesitantly, looking at the croupier for support.

 

Peter sat himself up straight in his chair.

 

Is she really so stupid?

 

Zelda burned a card and lay down the turn: 2♠.

 

Boris, as expressive as a statue, checked again.

 

“Raise,” Patricia said and pushed 550 into the pot.

 

“You need to bet at least the big blind, at least 600,” Zelda reminded her.

 

“Oh, sorry.” Patricia twisted herself nervously in her chair and placed another 50 into the pot. Boris matched it.

 

A card was burned and the river was revealed: K♠.

 

Boris checked and Patricia shrugged and checked as well. Boris turned up his cards without uttering a word. 3♣3♥. Patricia stared at the cards and then turned hers: 10♠K♥.

 

“I have a pair of kings,” she declared, proudly.

 

You can’t be serious.

 

“You have a flush, too,” Mashmud added. “Ha ha! You didn’t see it?”

 

“Oh, so you mean I won?” Patricia giggled insecurely.

 

“Wrong lenses?” Peter mumbled to himself, amused.

 

He couldn’t quite place her dialect, maybe she was from Ireland, or England. It was also impossible to tell if it was real or pretend. In any case, she played very strangely. It was even stranger though, that Boris had stayed in as long as he did, even if Patricia had let him by not raising. Patricia seemed to be unable to figure out if she was up against a strong or weak hand. She was dangerous since she was unpredictable.

 

Further into the room, three players stood up almost simultaneously. They were from different tables, but they’d been knocked out on the first hand. The guards were there at once and escorted them, pale as ghosts, up onto the stage. Two men and a woman. Peter looked down at the table and waited for the shots.

 

Bang.

 

He heard the thud of the first body hitting the floor. One of the remaining two moaned.

 

Bang. Bang. The shots were heard almost together and they were followed by a sound that resembled two sacks of potatoes hitting the ground. Could Howard’s prediction come true? The second round would most probably go quicker because many players were seriously mangled after the first round.

 

Zelda had collected the cards was already shuffling them. Peter closed his eyes and rubbed his belly as a wave of nausea ran through him. He couldn’t tell if it was due to the food, Dibley and the slimy Frenchman, or the thought that he might never see her again. But was it really worth caring about things like that right now? She was after all, just like he was, stuck in here with only a very remote chance of getting out. Why not have fun while it lasted? It was worth considering.

 

The dealer button was moved and ended up in front of Peter. It was time to push his feelings aside. He needed to brace himself. When the second card landed in front of him, he decided to act the ideal poker player.

 

Study the others. Find their weaknesses. Destroy them so you can survive.

 

He waited while George and Patricia folded. Mashmud and David went in. Peter thought he could see a slight twitch on David’s cheek – did that mean good or bad cards? Then it was his turn. He cupped his left hand to protect his cards and then carefully turned up the corners. 9♣3♥. He pushed them over the line.

 

Boris, sitting on the small blind, called. Katrish on the big blind checked. Four tight players.

 

Zelda burned a card and dealt out the flop: 4♠10♣K♦.

 

Boris was first to act. He stared long and hard at the cards on the table and then checked. Katrish sniffled and also checked. Mashmud bit his lower lip, leant forward and studied David’s small pile of chips, and then nonchalantly pushed in 1,300 in chips on the table.

 

“Are you in or are you a coward?” he asked David in drawling English.

 

David clasped his hands in front of his face. What cards could he have? He waited almost the whole three minutes he was allowed before finally folding.

 

So the twitch is probably a sign of a mediocre hand. And he’s easy to intimidate. We’ll get him.

 

Boris folded without any expression on his face.

 

Talk about poker-face, even at the brink of annihilation.

 

Katrish coughed forcedly and called.

 

Zelda burned a card and revealed the turn: 9♦.

 

“Check,” they both said, almost simultaneously.

 

Zelda rapidly burned the last card and turned up river: J♥.

 

The inside straight draw lying on the table was ominous. Peter held his breath. He was gathering a lot of information about the others and observing them had been the right decision. In the end, Katrish bet 2,100 and Mashmud called at once.

 

On the table lay: 4♠10♣K♦9♦J♥.

 

Katrish turned up her hand: A♠10♥.

 

Then Mashmud revealed his own hand: K♥K♦.

 

“Ka-ching!” he exclaimed happily and raked in the chips lying on the table.

 

It was a useful round. In Peter’s opinion, Mashmud had made a mistake when he checked on the turn. On the other hand, his cocky attitude more than made up for it. That was also his weakness. If he could knock Mashmud off-balance, Peter believed that his chips would be easy to pick. Katrish on the other hand was relaxed and calculating. She’d probably not counted on winning the hand, she was probably doing the same as Peter, gathering information. Although she’d had to pay for it. Boris would soon be out if he didn’t get good cards. The others seemed inexperienced.

 

Zelda split the pack into two piles and pressed them against the table. The harmonious sound of rustling cards was clearer than ever. She did this four times before dealing a new hand. The button moved on to Boris. Peter waited patiently without looking at his cards while the others decided what to do. It wasn’t until David folded that he carefully lifted the corners of his cards: 6♣6♦. It was a good starting hand, if he managed to match his pocket pair on the flop. Patricia and Mashmud had both joined and pushed 600 each into the pot. His gut feeling didn’t like it, but at this stage of the game it was not justifiable to discard a pair.

 

“Call,” he said.

 

The flop was: 10♦Q♦7♠.

 

With three overcards against his low pair, it was an easy fold when Mashmud betted. It was Mashmud that won the pot, accompanied by a bright “Ka-ching!” as Patricia folded on the turn.

 

Peter glanced at Boris. There was something about his eyes that set off bells of recognition again. His intense gaze was awkward to meet and when Peter finally did, it clicked for him.

 

The soldier. It was the soldier who had had eyes like that, and exactly the same suspicion in that look. Peter remembered so vividly. He’d been around nine or ten years old then, a few years before Moa was even an inkling. During the summer, his mother had organised a simple summer job for him so he could earn enough money for the nice bike with red lightning shapes painted on the handles that he’d yearned for. Each morning he’d deliver newspapers on the street where they lived. There were around twenty houses and the job took about twenty minutes, fifteen if he ran.

 

It had been a Wednesday when nervous soldiers had been posted on the streets to maintain the illusion that everything was under control. They were there primarily to prevent riots, since nobody wanted to experience what had happened after the chaos of the Portugal Drought Incident that had taken place just a month earlier. Peter had heard fragments of the events from his parents’ worried discussions, and on a few occasions he’d happened to overhear the news on TV. The protests and demonstrations had spread like wildfire over the whole of Europe, and violence rose with the uncertainty of having food on the table each day. He was too young to understand exactly what had happened, but he knew that it was big.

 

The soldiers wouldn’t allow even the slightest hint of anything like the riots in Catalonia. One of them had jumped out on him from behind a car so suddenly that Peter had dropped the newspapers he was carrying in his arms.

 

“What are you doing here, boy?” he’d said, and Peter was so scared and surprised that he jumped out of his skin.

 

“Answer me. What are you doing here? Don’t you know there’s a curfew?” The soldier continued in a loud voice.

 

“Calm down,” another soldier who’d been walking by had said. “I recognise that kid. He delivers newspapers every morning. It’s OK.”

 

The first soldier had glared at Peter so judgementally, it had given him goose bumps.

 

“If you can vouch for him, then …”

 

“Yes, I can. Run along home, kid,” the other soldier had replied. Peter ran as fast as he could and the papers he’d been carrying were left on the street. When the rain fell a couple of hours later, the ink from the pages ran like black tears over the tarmac.

 

Nothing had been the same since that day, even if it took a while for Peter to understand that. King’s Hope stood completed the following year – as if Cid Andrew had predicted the catastrophe. And here Peter sat now, with his head full of meaningless memories and a stranger in front of him reminding him of the past.

 

A while later Peter sat at the big blind and had A♠9♦.

 

Everybody folded until it was Patricia’s turn. She raised. Mashmud called after having studied her for several seconds. David folded. Since Patricia had often merely called before the flop, despite having strong hands, Peter chose to fold now that she had raised, despite having a reasonably strong hand.

 

He’d had to re-evaluate his observations somewhat. Patricia was a calling station. She called frequently with any hand. She had, therefore, a broad range of starting hands that she could play. That made it hard to take command over the table without having very strong hands or monsters.

 

Zelda revealed the flop: J♥4♦4♠.

 

Patricia was now under the gun and was staring blankly.

 

“Check,” she said in the end.

 

Mashmud leaned over the table. “What an expression you have,” he said, amused. “A big-hand expression. Check.”

 

Patricia cleared her throat awkwardly, and from then on Peter was not able to discern any particular expression on her face.

 

The turn was 2♠.

 

“Bet 1,200,” Patricia said.

 

“Ha! No thanks, not when you have that look. I’m folding,” Mashmud said and pushed in his cards.

 

The tournament chugged along. Peter was prepared to wait a long time before he put himself in any situation that could force him up onto the stage. At the same time, his opponents were almost overly cautious, although on the other hand normal rules did not apply at King’s Hope. The chips had hardly moved around the table for quite some time.

 

A further eight players had been eliminated on that floor since round two had started. The gun shots still seemed to echo between the pillars in the hall, although he’d strangely become used to it and the dull shots soon disappeared amongst the subdued voices and clattering of chips.

 

Sometime later, when the dealer button was in front of David, Boris went all-in with just over 2,000 in chips. On the previous hand he’d lost a small but devastating pot to David. Patricia and George joined in with a certain hesitation whilst the others around the table folded. Boris sat expressionless and waited while the flop was turned up: Q♦10♥A♦.

 

George and Patricia checked. Zelda burned a card and revealed the turn: A♥.

 

George took his time, but then checked. Patricia checked almost straight away. It was painful to watch their passive play, even though it wasn’t unusual to just check against an opponent who was all-in.

 

Zelda calmly and methodically turned up the river: 8♦.

 

On the table now laid Q♦10♥A♦A♥8♦.

 

The others checked and Boris slowly turned up his cards. A♠J♥.

 

Trips, with aces. George folded without revealing his cards and sighed in disappointment. Patricia turned over her cards with a thoughtful expression: 8♣8♠.

 

It took a few seconds for the players around the table to realise, but then they noticed the full house she’d achieved on the river. Boris stared in silence at the cards in front of him, then he stood up with a blank expression and was led to the stage by the guards.

 

“Didn’t Boris win?” Patricia asked in surprise.

 

“You stupid cow,” Katrish hissed. “You win time and time again, and you don’t have a clue what cards you’ve got. What are you even doing here?”

 

“Yeah, she’s a raffle ticket,” Mashmud added.

 

“Ha ha, maybe I am a raffle ticket. Funny!” Patricia giggled and rolled her eyes.

 

Katrish stared at her long and hard. Then she took out a bag of orange nibbles that she started to pop mechanically into her mouth.

 

The tempo had increased noticeably. It could be felt over the entire floor and around their own table. Players were being eliminated more frequently. It was as if everybody had picked up steam and were anxious to get to the next round.

 

The dealer button moved and ended up once more in front of Peter. Patricia and Mashmud, sitting on the blinds, folded at once. David considered long and hard before he finally pushed in his entire stack over the line. It was hardly more than three big blinds. It wasn’t unusual at King’s Hope that players held out as long as possible, but David must have realised that he had no other choice.

 

While Peter lifted the corners of his cards, he studied David’s face. There was a slight movement around his eyes. Peter had A♣Q♣. A strong starting hand, the first good hand he’d had for the entire round. It was time to stop bleeding chips and win a hand.

 

“Call,” Peter said, carefully counting out chips to match David’s bet. Katrish and George folded. David swallowed nervously and clasped his hands. They were shaking and he was noticeably sweating.

 

Peter turned over his cards so that David could clearly see his A♣Q♣.

 

David groaned and revealed his own hand. He was so tense that his fingers slid on the cards several times before he got a firm grip on them. He had 8♠8♣.

 

Zelda piled the chips together, burned a card and lay out the flop: 5♥K♣4♠.

 

David wiped his brow nervously with one hand.

 

Zelda burned a card and revealed the turn: Q♠.

 

David was breathing heavily and Peter could clearly see the colour draining from his face. It was completely silent around the table. Peter swallowed. If David was really lucky, he could get an eight and win. If Peter were to win on the other hand, he’d gain valuable chips and more importantly gain respect around the table. He needed to win this hand.

 

Zelda calmly turned up the river: 4♣.

 

On the table lay 5♥K♣4♠Q♠4♣.

 

David began to sob as he realised he was out of the competition. He crumpled in his seat like a weak old man. He was startled by a guard laying their hand on his shoulder and gave a shrill cry. Then he stood up, stumbled and his eyes appeared to glaze over.

 

“I’ll remember you, David,” Peter heard himself say.

 

David burst into tears upon hearing these words. He stumbled towards the stage with his head down and his stomach heaving. Two guards had their hands on his shoulders and pushed him along in front of them.

 

Peter looked down and waited. It didn’t take long before the gun shot sounded and a thud could be heard as David’s body hit the floor. Peter had no desire to remember him. Nonetheless, he’d promised … Just as he’d promised Miguel.

 

At 8.00 pm they were interrupted by the speakers.

 

“The blinds are now up to level eight, 400-800, with an ante of 100. Chips with value 25 will now be successively exchanged. Best of luck!”

 

The second round ought to be over soon. On their floor alone, thirty-four players had been knocked out and that meant that they were approaching the average number of dead players per round on each floor.

 

A short while later he looked down at J♠J♣ when he sat with the dealer button. Katrish limped, she called the big blind, and George raised. Mashmud called. Peter clenched his hands under his chin. As long as the others didn’t have a higher pair, this was a hand he should be able to win relatively easily. He therefore raised again and the others folded one after the other, just as he’d surmised, and he was able to rake home a well-needed pot.

 

Peter had maintained himself on an even level of chips. On the occasions he’d been dealt good cards, he’d gone out strong. He’d taken home a number of blinds by betting high, and he’d won two big hands. One of these was against George who’d given him a murderous stare before tossing his cards on the turn. The other hand was against Patricia who’d folded on the flop when he raised the same amount that she’d betted.

 

She was still unpredictable, but it was obvious that she was a beginner. She folded some hands even though it had not been her turn. She played other hands like a pro, cold and calculating, as if she knew exactly which cards she was up against. The players around table twenty-three had learned to watch out for her. Peter realised after a while that he’d been looking for signs in her facial expression and body language, anything that could reveal why she’d chosen to take part in the tournament. He couldn’t find any.

 

Mashmud had also won a few pots, mostly from Katrish who was now down to just over 10,000 chips. She’d lost a lot even though she’d been playing fairly correctly in Peter’s opinion. Each time Mashmud won a hand, he uttered a spiteful “Ka-ching!”

 

After a while, Katrish had had enough of this and swore at him in French so loudly that several players close by turned around to watch the fireworks. When she’d calmed down, she’d sent her bag of sweets around the table. It turned out to be candied ginger. She offered some to everybody around the table, including Zelda. Everyone apart from Mashmud, who pulled a disapproving face at her. Peter nibbled off a corner. A taste something between gingerbread dough, orange peel and pepper spread in his mouth. It was amongst the most disgusting things he’d ever tasted, and the sharp, bitter taste stuck to his gum and in his nose even though he’d spit out the small piece he’d tried. Warfare around the table could manifest in many different ways, but this was an attack he’d not considered. He rinsed his mouth with water from a glass by his side, but was unable to get rid of the taste.

 

“What do you do outside these four walls?” he asked, in an attempt to distract himself.

 

Nobody answered straight away. In fact, the question seemed to be quite sensitive for many of them.

 

“Why do you want to know?” Mashmud wondered, tapping his knuckles against the table.

 

“I just wondered. What do you do for a living?”

 

“Mind your own business. It’s nothing to do with you. Besides, everybody who takes part in the tournament is an idiot. One hundred can make it. Like that’s huge odds!”

 

“OK, OK,” Peter said, holding up his hands. “Yes, maybe we’re idiots, but we’re all here anyhow. What about the rest of you?”

 

“I run a clothing company,” Katrish replied as she peeked at her cards.

 

Patricia had the dealer button and Peter was sitting on the big blind.

 

“Well, well! Anything I’ve heard of?”

 

“I’m from Plaisir, west of Paris. A few people there know who I am, but the company’s not much bigger than that.”

 

“What’s your clothing label called?” Peter looked briefly at his cards: 6♣2♦. What cards! But he was in any case on the big blind, perhaps he would be able to see the flop without putting any more chips in the pot.

 

“Pons-ADGT.”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

Katrish was the first to make a move pre-flop and she joined. George folded, Patricia paid and Mashmud also bet. Peter quickly checked. Four players.

 

“Pons is from my surname, and ADGT is French, adultes de grand taille – it means ‘oversized’. I make clothes for oversized women.”

 

Zelda turned up the flop and didn’t show any signs of being the least interested in clothes.

 

The flop was A♣J♣2♠.

 

Peter had a pair of twos. Two much higher superior cards on the table. Mashmud checked, so Peter followed his example. Katrish, on the other hand, threw 2,000 in chips into the pot. Patricia called and after a while Mashmud did too. Peter folded.

 

“Is it not going well for your business? Is that why you’re here?”

 

“No. I … needed to get away for a while. I’ve always had a passion for poker, and what’s better than this tournament?”

 

“True. How about you others? George – what are you doing here?”

 

George merely muttered in response.

 

For some reason, he’s crumbling. One push is all that’s needed, then I’ll take his chips.

 

“How about you, Patricia?”

 

“I’m studying to be a chiropractor in Vienna,” she giggled, rolling her eyes.

 

“For real?”

 

“Sure. I know all about lumbago and neck pain and … you name it.”

 

“Lumbago?” Mashmud leaned forward with a crease on his forehead.

 

“Of course, lower back pain. I fix things like that.”

 

She talked as if she didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. All Peter knew was that when his father had had backache, that he used to go out into the forest and grab hold of a branch. He could hang there and swing, five or ten minutes at a time, until his back had stopped cracking. If they were all idiots that were there taking part in the tournament, then Patricia was their guiding beacon. There was something quite fascinating about her clumsiness and the others almost devotedly followed her movements to see what she’d do or say next. Whatever she was doing, it seemed to be working for her. He’d never found anyone harder to place than Patricia.

 

The turn came up: 9♣.

 

They peered suspiciously at each other, but all three checked in due order. Behind them, two shots were fired. This time they sounded like toy cap gun shots in Peter’s ears.

 

“OK,” George exclaimed suddenly. “I’m here because my bitch of a girlfriend needs the money. We live in a trailer park back home in the States and she’s just gotten pregnant. We’d been trying for a while and now we’re going to get the only child we can have. We need the money. But she’s been cheating on me for some time. I found out two days before coming here. It was then she told me she’d been sleeping with someone else. Before I came here. Do you get that? Bitch. It might not even be my own flesh and blood being born. I’ve got no pretention of winning, but the money they give you to take part is better than we could get at home. So, that’s why I’m here.” George spat the words out from between clenched teeth.

 

Peter didn’t know what to say.

 

At least he’s upset. Take his chips, don’t think about the consequences. King’s Hope doesn’t reward altruism.

 

He chose to keep his silence and the river was turned: 7♥.

 

A♣J♣2♠9♣7♥ was now on the table.

 

Mashmud checked. Katrish bet 5,000.

 

“All-in,” Patricia said with a shrug.

 

“Do you remember the hand when you had that big-hand expression? You’ve got it now,” Mashmud laughed and tossed in his cards over the line. Katrish peeked at Patricia from behind her glasses. She reached for chips but then changed her mind and folded. Patricia whistled happily and reeled in yet another pot.

 

After a while the situation around table twenty-three had changed slightly. Peter had managed to bluff his way to a big pot, almost 8,000 in chips since everybody had become involved. He’d only had ace high, but the others were scared off by the cards on the table. The rest of the chips had distributed themselves in a way that he’d never have been able to guess at the start of the second round.

 

Katrish, who’d been so strong, had only just over 2,000 left. Patricia was second best after Peter with just over 20,000 in chips. George was in a bad way and had about 5,000 remaining. He constantly threw around looks that could kill, which pretty much summed up what he thought about it all. Mashmud was still cocky, but it looked like he was starting to get tired. He had about 13,000 in chips.

 

At 8.32 pm, the speakers buzzed into life. The second round was over. The eight thousand players that were still alive had one hour’s respite to look forward to. In total, sixty-three players had been eliminated on their floor accompanied by the bitter melody of gun shots. Nobody else had been knocked out from table twenty-three, but the next round would be tough for some of them. Peter tried to summarise his performance, but he couldn’t summon enough enthusiasm. The intense concentration that was required around the poker table was starting to wear him out. All in all, he was pleased with the round. He’d increased his chips to about 28,400 despite the slow play and large number of discarded hands. So far, he’d stayed quite well above the average stack considering the number of players and the blinds’ level. That meant that he could wait for good cards in the next round as well, to a certain degree. The most important thing was to accumulate chips, and to achieve that he’d need to take well-weighed risks. The tournament would now be entering a faster phase since the coming rounds didn’t take more than two hours according to statistics. He stared tiredly ahead and hoped that it would go well.

 

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