Chapter 13 (round 6)

Chapter 13

 

We belong to this, this protected room.

 

The world outside is for the ones,

 

That's not afraid to lose.

 

 

 

Colony 5 - My world

 

 

 

”One thing I can’t understand is why people complain about not having enough. Shouldn’t they just get a job? I’ve never had any problems finding work, and I believe those that don’t have one are quite simply lazy. They should get it together, then they’ll also be able to have food and other stuff. That must be the reason why so many take part in the poker tournament, because the family at least gets a small sack. I think so anyway, but who knows what’s in their minds. I know why I’m here. Well, Chas, Richie and Simon! You’ll be owing me so many sacks after this

 

“I spoke to a few of them by the elevators in the last break. There are some real red-necks. One of them told me that they used to sneak out at night to hunt deer and wild boars, so they could eat during the week. There’s only deer up in the North, isn’t there? A while back, I watched a program about minnows. There’s loads of them in Swedish rivers and lakes, apparently. Why don’t they eat them? Fish is cheap and good for you. I think that’s why he was here, to eat so much luxury food he could. Poor bastard, he doesn’t know he’s been fooled. The food’s certainly good here, but in Stockholm I normally eat urchins, sautéed grouse and mashed sweet potatoes or creamy new potatoes. That, you see, is class. Urchin and grouse are particularly delicious because they’re extremely scarce now. To have a skilful sommelier open a Dom Pérignon with a sable is top notch.

 

“They’ve taken cooking to a completely new level in Stockholm, and I don’t really see that here. All that King’s Hope has to offer is a wide choice of food, which is OK I suppose, but it’s not as fantastic as many people say it is.

 

“But there are a few perks in here as well. I’ve smuggled down a bottle of Cowboy Andrew in my bag, and I’ve also eyed up some exclusive décor that I’m going to buy later. That, my friends, will be something extra – having décor from King’s Hope in well-chosen spots. I have an emergency plan in any case, and you’ll soon find out what it is. Prepare yourselves to hand over those sacks, boys. Ciao!”

 

 

 

Peter swallowed as Richter dealt the cards at a frightening speed. Howard rubbed his belly nervously. This round would be tough. Devastating. The next good hand he was dealt, he’d have to go all-in, he had no other choice.

 

Esponsita sat under the gun and quickly matched the big blind of 1,600. Howard folded and Peter looked at his cards: 9♠5♠. It would be worth seeing the flop with those, if he’d had 20,000 more in chips. He tossed them in over the line and felt his stomach cramping. The tournament felt terrifyingly real now.

 

Lennart raised to 4,000. Friedrich snorted and called. Christine tossed her cards with an elegant flick of the wrist so they sailed in over the table, landing in front of Richter. Esponsita called and the others folded. Three players in the first hand.

 

Richter turned over the flop, Q♣9♥3♥.

 

Esponsita was first to act.

 

“Bet 6,000,” she said while stroking her chips with her fingers.

 

“Have you ever had a really tough hand and then won? I did during the fourth round. I sat with ace-jack against a girl called ‘Stampie’. The flop was queen-queen-ace. There we were, pushing up the pot. I didn’t know what she had, but I was quite sure she didn’t have a queen.”

 

“How did you know that?” Peter wondered.

 

“Just a feeling,” she replied evasively. “Anyhow, the turn came, a king. And then river, another king. You can bet we were sweating. I think we raised four times before she finally called me. The pot was around 25,000, a lot for that round.”

 

She paused and took a gulp from the bottle of water she had beside her.

 

“It turned out that we both had an ace. Stampie had ace-ten, so it was a split pot. That was sweaty,” she added, smiling.

 

“Yeah, so what?” Vincent said in a disinterested tone.

 

“Nothing in particular. What I’m saying, boys, is that I’m going to beat you all.” She beamed and leaned back while Lennart called.

 

Friedrich muttered under his breath and folded.

 

The turn was 4♦.

 

Vincent smacked his lips and passed. Esponsita stroked her piles of chips and bet 12,000.

 

“I had a sweaty hand too,” Lennart said. “I had two aces against one guy in the last round. The flop was king, jack and nine. The problem was that the cards were slippery from sweat and they slid out of my hand. I dropped them so that everyone could see them, and that made him, ‘Boxing’ or whatever his name was, fold at once. Sweaty,” he said, grinning. “And I’m folding as well.” Lennart pushed his cards over the line.

 

Peter stared miserably at the pile in the middle of the table. It was worth more than all his chips. He’d made the right decision this hand, hadn’t he? He hoped so.

 

“Want to know what I’ve got, boys?”

 

Esponsita turned over one of her cards and revealed a king. Then she laughed in delight as she collected her chips.

 

The dealer button was moved and ended up in front of Christine. The blinds also wandered one ominous step closer to Peter, and when Richter flipped the cards to the players, it sounded to Peter like grenades going off. Howard sat under the gun and looked worriedly at the table. Compared with his meagre stack, the blinds were a real threat. He thought long and hard before folding. Peter looked at his cards, his hands noticeably trembling: 8♣3♦.

 

Not even worth considering. He discarded his hand with a sigh.

 

“Cheer up, old boy,” Lennart said, giving Peter the thumbs up. “It’s not over until the fat lady sings. Bet 4,500,” he added.

 

That forced Friedrich and Christine to fold. Vincent once again smacked his lips and called. Last out was Esponsita, who also folded. Heads up.

 

Richter piled the chips together, burned a card and elegantly lay up the flop by holding the three cards against the table and then flicking his wrist so that they turned over and landed in a neat line: 5♠J♦A♠.

 

“Mmm, hm,” Lennart mumbled, fingering his chips. “Do you have anything?”

 

“Of course,” Vincent replied, clicking his tongue. “A pair of aces. What do you have?” And then he checked.

 

Lennart stared miserably at his cards. “Nobody remembers a coward. Bet 4,500,” he said.

 

Vincent shrugged. “No problem for me. Call.”

 

Richter revealed the turn, A♣.

 

Lennart released a whistle when he saw the card.

 

Vincent leaned back, threw his arm over the back of the chair, took a sip of sparkling water, leaned forward and passed his fingers over his chips before finally deciding.

 

“Check.”

 

“Didn’t you say you had two aces?” Lennart asked. “That’s strange, because I’ve got one too. I think you’re bullshitting me. All-in.” Lennart pushed two gigantic stacks over the line and then pinned his gaze on Vincent.

 

Vincent shrugged, sipped at his soda water and fingered his chips. It was obvious that he was concerned. His bluff had probably not worked. “You can have this pot. I’ve got enough anyway, pauper.”

 

“What do you mean? You’re the pauper. I have a lot more chips than you,” Lennart said, already sorting out his winnings.

 

“I meant outside the casino, of course. You’ve got nothing out there. I, on the other hand …”

 

“Oh, yes? And what’s your money worth in here?”

 

Vincent leaned forward over the table and smiled. “You’ll see,” he said. “Just you wait, you’ll see.”

 

The dealer button moved onwards and landed in front of Vincent. Richter quickly dealt a new hand and Peter stared in horror at the big blind that was now breathing down his neck. He only had about nine big blinds. The anxiety of the big blind eating big chunks of his stack was palpable, and he felt the acid burning in his throat as his stomach turned. Now he knew how Mads must have felt. However, he couldn’t afford to lose his mind. He couldn’t sit there and bleed. Now he was under the gun, and he cautiously peered down at his cards: 9♣9♥.

 

He eyed up his stack of chips, which had been whittled away at the edges. Yes, this was what he’d been waiting for. He’d hoped for a pair of kings, or a pair of aces would have been even better. But sometimes, you just have to take what you can get. He suddenly felt a wave of nausea.

 

“All-in,” he said.

 

“Shit”, Lennart said with compassion in his voice. “So, it’s time, then. Good luck! I really mean it. I’m folding.” Lennart pushed his cards firmly over the line.

 

“What do you have?” Friedrich wondered, with meanness in his smile. “Double software developers, perhaps? I want to know. All-in.”

 

The nausea welled up inside Peter, from his stomach to his chest, and then sat in his throat like an acidic clump. Stealing the blinds was now out of the question. Had he reckoned with anything else? Probably not, but now this was it. He could die in the next few minutes.

 

“How uncalled for!” Vincent exclaimed, staring at his decimated pile of chips. “Why didn’t you just call? That was totally unnecessary. He’s gone all-in,” he said, pointing at Peter.

 

“Are you in or out?”

 

“Hm …” The uncertainty in his eyes was obvious. “No, you can take it. Quite alright by me.”

 

The others folded and Peter sat there, silent. He couldn’t get a word out anyhow. His tongue had swollen like a slimy sponge in his mouth.

 

“You may reveal your cards,” Richter said, totally void of any expression in his voice.

 

Going all-in with so few chips was a strange experience. Peter was sweating cold, even though he could feel his pulse quivering, like a dying flame. In a few seconds, he might have to stand up and walk the blue march to the stage. Then he’d climb up the few stairs there and look out over the players in the hall. He could see it in his mind’s eye, how they sat and played with their chips, or studied the cards on the table in deep concentration. He wondered briefly how it would feel to be shot in the head. It’s said that hearing is the last sense to disappear when a person dies … Would the bang echo in his ears forever, or would it just turn black? His life was now completely in Richter’s hands, which helped him keep some distance to the whole situation. It was Richter who would decide if he’d go out. The thought was comforting, but depressing at the same time since he could no longer do anything about it himself. He was completely out in the open. Naked.

 

He turned over his nines.

 

Friedrich’s eyes narrowed. He slowly turned up his cards: J♣K♦.

 

“Two players,” Richter said, somewhere in the background. Then he revealed the flop.

 

Q♠10♠K♥.

 

“Goodbye,” Friedrich smirked, waving his hand at Peter. The abyss was pulling him down and licking its hungry lips.

 

Richter dealt the turn, J♦.

 

He wiped his nose without realising it. Friedrich had two pairs, he had a straight.

 

Richter turned over the river: 9♦.

 

“Split pot,” Richter said at once, reaching out and starting to split the pot.

 

“What the hell was that?” Friedrich exclaimed. “You lucky sod.”

 

Peter just stared at the chips that were returned to him, with a mixed feeling of relief and anxiety. It wasn’t lucky at all. It was almost the worst hand there could have been. Sure, due to the ante, he’d won a few more chips, but he was back at square one. He was still poor and naked with just under 14,000 in chips.

 

“Great, kid,” Lennart said, thumping him on the back. “I was really worried there for a while, but I knew you’d make it. Well done!”

 

Peter had to keep his gaze fixed ahead for quite some time to get his irregular breath back under control. In the meantime, he glanced at the cards he was dealt and judged them to be unplayable.

 

Three tables away, a woman stood up. Tears were streaming down her cheeks as the guards pushed her roughly towards the stage. Peter closed his eyes and waited for the shot. When it came, he jumped. Friedrich laughed drily.

 

“Mr. Royal isn’t so cocky, after all. You may as well give me your chips and make your way to the stage. It’s not only you who’s had a royal straight flush, by the way.”

 

“No,” Peter mumbled. “There’s usually a couple of them each year.”

 

“Right. On the other hand, it’s seems like you’re the one that’s managed best so far. We’ll soon put a stop to that,” he sneered.

 

“Leave him alone,” Christine interrupted. “It could have been worse.”

 

“How could it have been worse?” Peter wondered, uptight.

 

“During round four I was at a table with a guy called Bateman. He could have been here now, that would have been worse.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yeah. He made a habit of following the ones that had been eliminated up to the stage and then stand there, cheering on the guards. Two times he jumped up in the air and clapped his heels together when they were shot, and three times he tried to high-five the guards. Nutter.”

 

“If you call yourself Bateman, then …”

 

Meanwhile, Lennart, Friedrich and Christine had folded. Vincent joined, Esponsita called. Only Howard remained, exhausted and with a chip pile that was terrifyingly small.

 

“All-in,” he said.

 

“Now, my friend, you’ll have to show. Call,” Vincent said cheerfully, leaning forward.

 

“Call,” Esponsita announced.

 

Richter turned over the flop, 10♠4♦J♦.

 

“Bet 6,000,” Vincent said, and pushed in nearly all of his remaining chips over the line. “Can you match that, Howard?” he added, smiling confidently. Esponsita sighed.

 

“Do you have to be like that? You’re getting on my nerves.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Vincent said, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “You’re going to go out soon or later, but not me. Are you in or not, vinegar tits?”

 

“No,” she replied coldly and to Vincent’s delight, she folded.

 

“You may turn up your cards,” Richter added with a neutral voice.

 

Vincent revealed A♣9♦, and Howard, clenching his jaw so tight that his cheek muscles were bulging, turned up 7♠7♥.

 

The turn was dealt – 9♥.

 

This card gave Vincent the higher pair.

 

“One time,” Howard muttered. “Come on, for once in my life, give me three of a kind!”

 

The tension around the table was so intense, Howard’s teeth could be heard grinding in his jaws. Vincent looked indifferent, bored.

 

Richter turned up the river: 6♠.

 

Howard raised himself from his chair. The tense expression in his face was gone. Only fatigue remained.

 

“That’s as far as I got,” he stated, as two guards with lifeless eyes appeared behind him. “Good luck. At least you all got further than this.”

 

Howard had finally lost his balance and fallen. Peter raised his hand in a vague wave. Howard nodded in response, then he walked off towards the stage. The shot came, inevitable and merciless. And then the potato sack being thrown into the dark cellar. Howard had had a good hand. Not great, but quite alright. Vincent’s hand had been mediocre. And in the end, Lady Fortune had stood there, smiling and tossing here razor-sharp coins. He stared, hypnotised by the dealer button landing in front of Esponsita. The big blind had caught up with him. In this situation, when Howard should have had the blind, the dealer button ended up anyhow at his empty place, which meant that Peter alone had the big blind for that hand. That stung.

 

Lennart joined. Friedrich bet 3,800. Christine called. Vincent and Esponsita folded. Peter peered down at 8♠5♣. It wasn’t good enough.

 

“I fold,” he said, disappointed and pushed his cards in on the table.

 

While Richter dealt the flop, Peter counted his chips for the umpteenth time. He had about 13,000 left now. That was eight big blinds. He followed the others’ play distractedly while he tried to organise the thoughts in his head. He was extremely short-stacked, and would have to go in as soon as he got reasonable cards. Otherwise, he would soon slip down to a level that would make it easy for his opponents to call against anything. And by then, there wouldn’t be much more he could do than pray to the poker gods. He had to avoid that. At all costs.

 

At the table, Lennart had rowed home another win when he managed to get Esponsita and Christine to fold on the turn with a bet of 9,500. It was going well for him, Peter could state enviously.

 

A couple of hands later, the guns went off and he was awoken from his thoughts with a start. The dealer button was in front of Esponsita, and he had the small blind. Lennart was sitting on the big blind after him.

 

Friedrich was under the gun and called the big blind. After him, Christine and Vincent folded. Esponsita called. Peter had been so absorbed in his own dark, stinking quagmire that he hardly thought about how the others were playing. His feeling was that Vincent was playing worst around the table. The others … they could play, but didn’t have much of the aggression that was the sign of the great professionals. He glanced cautiously at his cards: K♠J♠. That was really good.

 

“All-in,” he said, and pushed his pathetic pile over the line.

 

That resulted in the others folding, and Peter won a small pot. In that context, it was like finding a life vest when trying to stay alive in open seas in a full storm.

 

The dealer button moved on and the speakers were soon heard again. The collective poker consciousness raised its eyes and pricked up its ears.

 

“It is now 4 am. The blinds are going up to level twelve, 1,000-2,000, with an ante of 300. King’s Hope wishes all players continued good luck.”

 

The speakers clicked, and Cid Andrew’s voice disappeared.

 

Peter absently took note of what was happening around the table, and had to make a conscious effort not to be drawn down into the stormy, dark and brutal sea of self-reproach within him. He had to struggle, but he soon pulled himself over the surface. The play continued around the table, like a machine grinding onwards.

 

Just then, Esponsita was busy in a hand against Lennart. Peter was impressed by her poker face, but she had a tell. Everyone has tells. He wished he’d seen hers earlier, and interpreted it correctly. She often pulled on her untidy hair, a little too hard when she didn’t have so good cards, which pulled her scalp gently to the right. This was just one of those occasions. Lennart won the hand in the end, and raked in a big stack.

 

A few hands later, he’d counted to twenty-seven gun shots for that round. The dealer button was in front of Christine, and Peter was first to act. He carefully turned up the corners of his cards: A♠A♦.

 

Two aces. A monster. At last! He looked at his chips, hoping it wouldn’t give away that he’d seen the aces. How should he play this hand to earn chips?

 

“Bet 5,000,” he said, and placed in a large amount of his chips.

 

The size had several purposes. Partly, he wanted to clearly indicate that he was interested by the pot, without having to go all-in. Partly, it was a standard bet, and would therefore encourage the others to call. He welcomed them all at this stage. The more, the merrier.

 

“Well, hi there!” Lennart exclaimed. “You’re still alive! You’ve been so quiet, I thought you’d gone and died. What cards have you gotten hold of?”

 

Peter said nothing. He tried to maintain his poker face. The nose powder was long-forgotten and probably wouldn’t have made any difference, but he didn’t like the fact that it was obvious he had a strong hand.

 

“I’m out of here,” Lennart said. “Good luck, kid!”

 

Friedrich glared at Peter’s pile, fingered his own and double-checked his cards. “Fold.”

 

Christine also folded, to his great disappointment.

 

“I don’t think you’ll beat my cards,” Vincent said, satisfied. He’d just won a hand against Esponsita and recovered a large piece of his stack. “Besides, I’ve got this,” he added, laying the telephone down in front of him.

 

“What are you going to do with that?” Lennart asked. “Cheat?”

 

“That’s my problem solver, you’ll see. Call.”

 

“Good luck,” Esponsita said icily, discarding her hand.

 

The flop was 5♠5♥8♦.

 

Peter’s heart was beating all the harder. It was a good flop for him, as long as Vincent didn’t have a five in his hand. Vincent was first to act after the flop.

 

“Hm,” he said, fidgeting with his chips.

 

Peter estimated that Vincent’s stack was worth just over 15,000, above what he’d already placed in the pot. That was enough ammunition to send Peter up onto the stage, since he only had about 7,000 left.

 

“Hm,” he repeated, exaggerating. “No, I’ll pass. We’ll check out another card.”

 

Peter didn’t agree. Not at all. “All-in,” he said resolutely, and pushed his chips over the line.

 

“That’s so unnecessary. You don’t know who you’re up against.”

 

“Who, exactly, is he up against then?” Christine asked. “Who are you, Vincent? Why are you taking part in the tournament?”

 

Vincent shrugged. "I wanted to see what it was like from the inside. Besides, I made a bet with some mates. I’m going to get several sacks when I get out. Get that, peasants? How many sacks do you have? After this hand, hopefully I’ll bail out. One call, and it’s over. I told you,” he added, winking. “I’m a salesman. Give me a phone, and I’ll solve everything.”

 

“You’re off your head”, Lennart said emphatically, shaking his head. “Who are you going to call? Your lawyer?”

 

“Exactly,” Vincent snapped. “He’s the best. You’ll see.”

 

“Who is it?”

 

“Bernard Dinkelzeug. My father.”

 

Lennart’s face looked like someone had pushed Katrish’s candied ginger up his nose.

 

“You’re crazy. Every year, there’s someone who thinks they’re immune to the casino, but it never works. Either it’s runners, or people like you. You need to make top hundred to get out. Everyone knows that. Well, almost everyone …”

 

“I’m not going to die here,” Vincent said and smiled. “You will, but not me. Call, by the way.”

 

Peter turned up his cards: A♠A♦.

 

Vincent smile froze, just for a second, but Peter noticed. He felt a hopeful surge. Vincent revealed his cards: 8♠K♦.

 

Richter dealt the turn without showing any feeling, K♣.

 

Kings, they’re everywhere.

 

On the table was 5♠5♥8♦K♣.

 

Peter held his breath. So far, he had the better hand. All he needed to do was avoid kings and eights.

 

Richter burned a card and turned up the river card, 3♣.

 

Peter slowly released the air from his lungs. He didn’t feel any instant gratification. Instead, he blinked several times to focus his tired vision. He needed this win, really. But the pressure that constantly hung over them all was starting to take its toll. He turned his gaze to Vincent, who was still smiling as most of his chips changed owners.

 

The dealer button was moved and ended up in front of Vincent.

 

“Now you’ll see,” he said, picking up the telephone.

 

He dialled a number and laid it down on the table. They could hear the ring signal. Richter didn’t take any notice of him and started to deal the next hand. He worked as reliably as a robot driven by an atomic clock. He’d never miss a deal and he’d never stretch the time regulations. There was a kind of comfort in the mechanical, it was at least something that you could absolutely rely on.

 

“Bernard and Montzon,” a woman answered, sounding as if she'd just been rudely awoken. “How may I help you?”

 

“Hi, Kicki. It’s Vincent. Put me through to my father.”

 

“Vincent? Is that really you? Do you know what time it is?”

 

“Of course I do, but you’re paid to be on call.”

 

“I know.” The voice appeared to become stronger. “Why are you calling at this time of the night? Are you at the casino?”

 

"But of course! Can you get dad for me?"

 

"Are you really there?" Her voice was shrill, in shock. "I was watching telly ... You can't be there."

 

“Listen to me, Kicki,” Vincent said, grinning at the others around the table as if they were sharing a secret. “Wake dad up and ask him to talk to me, there’s a dear. I don’t have time for this.”

 

“Are you calling from the casino? Jeez, you can’t. You’re not allowed to, Vincent! What if they think you’re cheating?” she shouted, so loudly that the other players at the nearby tables turned and stared.

 

“It’s OK. We can talk as long as you’re not stupid enough to say anything about the hands being played. You don’t have the TV on, Kicki? Do you?”

 

“No, no,” the woman said, and fell silent. “How can you do this,” she said, her voice shaking. “You promised …”

 

“I promised nothing. Put me through to dad. Now!”

 

“You promised to make me pregnant. You PROMISED!”

 

Vincent was quiet for a short moment, and his gaze wondered before becoming fixed on the little display on the phone.

 

“If you put me through now, then maybe, maybe I can fuck you without a rubber once. When I get out of here. But you need to put me through first. Can you do that, honey?”

 

“I’ll put you through,” the voice broke and she began to cry. It became quiet on the other end.

 

Meanwhile, the others had made their moves and were now waiting impatiently for Vincent. Lennart had bet 6,000. Friedrich had joined, and Christine had folded. Esponsita waited, drumming her thumbs impatiently on the edge of the table.

 

“Bernard,” a tired voice was heard say.

 

“Vincent here. You’ll never guess where I am, dad.”

 

Silence.

 

“Hello? Are you still there?”

 

“Kicki said that you’re at King’s Hope. Are you?”

 

“Of course. I’m starting to run out of …”

 

“Now you’ll listen to me,” the voice on the other end roared. “Are you completely out of your mind ringing the firm from there? Don’t you know that they listen in on everything?”

 

“So what? You’re not going to say anything about the game? Are you even watching TV?”

 

Silence.

 

“I’m still here.” The voice was stern. “Don’t you understand? It’s not about me. It’s about the firm. We’ll get a reputation now. A bad reputation. Don’t you get it?”

 

“Two minutes left,” Richter said.

 

Vincent was still grinning, but his eyes had shifted from self-confident to very childlike and unsure. “Dad, I’m starting to run out of chips. You need to get me out. Can’t you call …”

 

“Don’t you understand? Only the top hundred and the winner get out of the casino. There’s absolutely nothing anyone can do. How could you be such an idiot?”

 

“But you could call …”

 

“No. And even if I could, I wouldn’t. You’ve gotten yourself into this situation, now you’ll bloody well get yourself out of it. Do you hear? Get yourself out of it. I can’t understand how you can do this to me. To the firm.”

 

“I’ll get a couple of sacks for this,” Vincent objected, offended. His voice had shot up an octave. “What does it matter to you? You’ve been doing business with King’s Hope for years. If you didn’t have a good business relation, I’d never have volunteered, don’t you understand?” Vincent looked upset, it sounded like he was becoming very unsure of himself. “Only last year, you did a deal for millions with all the exclusive merchandise you …”

 

“Shut up!” the voice screamed so loudly that Vincent turned pale.

 

A few silent, tense seconds passed.

 

“Don’t call again. You’ve ruined me.”

 

The phone call ended. Vincent stared down at the display that went black, like a fire being extinguished. He didn’t look up until Richter took his cards.

 

“Your time is up,” he said, simply.

 

“It was about time,” Esponsita muttered. “Call.”

 

“No,” Peter said, and discarded 9♥3♣.

 

Vincent’s face had turned a shade of grey. He snatched his telephone and stood up. Without saying a work, he stumbled towards the elevators on unsteady legs, frantically tapping on the phone as he held it in his hand.

 

“For fuck’s sake,” Lennart shouted at him. “Come back! Otherwise we’ll have to wait on every hand!”

 

Vincent was already at the elevator doors, pushing on the buttons. They slid open, he stepped in and disappeared somewhere into the interior of the casino.

 

“What an idiot. He wasn’t so sure of himself after all,” Lennart muttered, drawing murmurs of agreement from around the table.

 

The flop was turned up: 10♠8♠Q♣.

 

Esponsita was the first to act. She pulled her hand through her hair and thought.

 

“Bet 9,500,” she said.

 

“Oh, take it,” Lennart said, and tossed his cards in.

 

Friedrich leant forward and squinted at her stack. Peter noted that he looked pale, tired. They all looked tired. How did he look? He tried to make a mental note in his ever more tired memory, to avoid mirrors until this was all over.

 

“Call,” Freidrich said.

 

The turn was 10♦.

 

“Double software developers,” Friedrich stated drily.

 

The others look at him in bewilderment, which made Peter smile. It was like The Lollapalloza, but this time he knew something the others didn’t.

 

Esponsita was thinking for some time. Peter thought he could see a tightness around her mouth. His guts told him that she had a good hand because she was pulling her hair lightly.

 

“All-in,” she said, and pushed the rest of her chips over the line. An impressive pile.

 

“I don’t think you’ve got anything,” Friedrich said, thoughtfully. “Maybe a pair of queens. And a jack. You played too soon, dear.”

 

Despite that, he hesitated and measured up her pile of chips with his eyes. Friedrich had more, and would survive if he called with about 11,000 to spare. Peter knew that that wasn’t much to brag about. He knew that all too well.

 

“Call.”

 

Esponsita turned up her cards: Q♠10♣.

 

Peter noticed how Friedrich’s eyes shifted from triumph to surprise, and then to fear, before he regained control of himself.

 

He was so sure, but he’s faltering like all the others.

 

Friedrich slowly revealed his cards: 8♣8♦.

 

They both had a full house, but Esponsita’s was higher.

 

Richter turned up the river: 8♥.

 

On the table, lay 10♠8♠Q♣10♦8♥.

 

“It can’t be!” Esponsita erupted. Her face was an expression of complete surprise, that quickly shifted to horror as the chips mercilessly disappeared from her side of the table.

 

“Sad for you,” Friedrich said, leant forward and raked in the pot.

 

“It can’t be,” Esponsita repeated. “It’s just not possible.”

 

But it was possible. Friedrich had won with four of a kind, a hand that was at times as rare as a mythical beast. The guards arrived straight away behind Esponsita. They lay their big hands on her shoulders, and when she didn’t stand up immediately, they quite simply picked her up.

 

“I’ll walk myself,” she hissed. The guards released their hold and Esponsita walked alone along the blue march.

 

Peter concentrated on the cards that landed in front of him so as not to hear the gun shot. But he heard it. He always heard them.

 

A few slow hands later, the blinds and the pot had changed owners several times. All the while, Vincent’s pile was diminishing as the blinds and the ante ate up his dwindling stack. Each wait felt like an eternity, despite that the remaining players around the table had picked up the speed almost unconsciously, just to be able to minimise the waiting time that Vincent was allowed by the rules. The speakers were soon heard again.

 

“It is now 5 am. The blinds are going up to level thirteen, 1,200-2,400, with an ante of 400. King’s Hope wishes you all the best of luck, and may the kings be with you.”

 

He glanced time and time again at the clock. It should be time for a break soon. And just then the hands felt painfully slow and uneventful. Nobody, regardless of the floor they were on or the size of their stack, wanted to get knocked out when they were so close to an hour’s respite. Small pots slowly changed owners. Due to the cautious tempo, Peter managed to build his stack a little.

 

Before too long, the inevitable happened at Peter’s table. The big blind ended up once more at Vincent’s position, and Vincent's last chips moved over the line. When it was his turn, he had no more than thirty seconds to return to the table, otherwise he’d be out. There was a kind of gravity in the three puny chips that lay on the table. Together they were worth 1,500, no way near enough for the big blind.

 

Peter watched as the elevator doors slid open, and as two large guards with stone faces shoved Vincent between them. He had perhaps twenty seconds to do something with his precious chips. If he ran, he’d make it. The guards weren’t even holding him. They steered him gravely towards the table. Vincent was walking robotically, and there was a feebleness in his body, as if he were walking in his sleep. He still held his mobile phone in his hand. His fingers were moving absently over the buttons, as if he were still waiting for the call that would save him. Now he had about 15 seconds. He made no effort to do anything with his chips. Not that there was much he could do, but it would be better to go all-in than to just let them fall through his fingers.

 

When the guards were one meter from the table, Richter raised his head.

 

“Ten seconds.”

 

How he could know so exactly, Peter didn’t know, but the mechanical atomic clocks in all the croupiers were synchronised. In the end, Vincent did nothing.

 

“Your time is up.”

 

The casino was like clockwork that never rusted and never failed. The guards kept their pace, they didn’t even need to change course, their timing was so perfect. They fastened their grip on Vincent’s arms and they carried him past the table as if that had been their intention all along.

 

“Dad!” Vincent howled just before the gun shot echoed between the pillars and covered the clicking of the chips.

 

“It was about time,” Lennart snorted.

 

“I’m folding,” Esponsita said.

 

“Me too,” Peter agreed, and discarded 4♣8♦.

 

There were four of them left at the table, and Peter was now so tired that he hardly noticed how the others were playing. A few minutes later, the speakers came to life again.

 

“It is now 5.09 am and round six has come to an end. I congratulate all of you who are still battling on. Round seven will commence at 6.09 am. May the kings be on your side.”

 

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