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heart cards by Silva Noir

Chapter 27: high stakes

My codename is Rabbit.

If I had a "real" name, I've forgotten it. Whoever that little girl may have been died along with all of her past. I am no one. I am nothing. I move quietly, something seemingly harmless, yet my keen ears are trained to what is going on. I never miss a thing.

He is like me. He is no one. He was a child born of two parents, but not raised to be a functioning part of society. He was destined for something else. This world is cruel. To survive it, one must also become cruel. He is not who I expected. He hasn't killed his heart.

I killed mine long ago. It was useless. Desires are weaknesses. Buddhists understand this. I'm not a Buddhists however ... as I've said I am nothing. I am listening. I will watch what this world presents to me in the array from the most beautiful to the most grotesque and decide where best to position myself.

Perhaps then, I am something. I am an opportunist.

The best way to understand the human psyche is through direct observation and interaction. If I find a weakness I will exploit it. I learn better how, then, to purge myself of weaknesses. I will reach a point where I cannot be exploited. His father taught me this philosophy but like any exceptional student, I plan to surpass the master.

Mirage ... that is the name of this hotel. How apropos that the illusion of paradise in the middle of a desert would attract those for whom wealth is an illusion of happiness. They are like me. They are bored; they thirst for a gamble. The tables on the floors below do not satisfy them. Money in itself is not high enough a stake to provide a thrill. To excite them we must put human lives on the line.

"The wills, checks, deeds, and jewels will be put in the safe. Salvador will guard them. Whoever makes it back to this room at the end of the allotted time having eliminated his or her opponents will receive the jackpot. Have we come to terms?"

"Agreed," the broad-shouldered Italian man in the dark suit says from behind a lit cigar. The smoke casts his face in the same hue of his hair.

I look to my other players. The eurotrash couple nod sipping drinks with twists of lime. This one with the bad orange dye job and over-tanned freckled skin is the only other woman besides myself. Otherwise our discussion bas been dominated by males. Men tend to throw themselves into danger more recklessly than most women I've noticed. Dr. Chung says it harkens back to the primal traits of the hunting bands of males and the more cautious bands of gathering/child raising females. It is a shame ... how can I evolve without a diversity of enemies? I fear instead I shall become a specialist.

Continuing the Las Vegas theme to our fun, we've taken to referring to one another by a playing card from the standard deck of 52. I am the Queen of Hearts, dressed to the part in a red suede vest laced in front and a pair of black capris with a red rose on one leg. The couple, in white and gobs of gold, are the King and Queen of Diamonds. The Italian man has chosen the Ace of Spades, the death card. He is unusually brooding yet self confident in a room full of those much younger than he. He has played killer's games before. He thinks us amateurs. The rest of the Kings and aces are the men who don;t warrant much of a second look. The funny man of our group, the typical American tourist in a loud Hawaiian shirt and stone-washed jean shorts and flip-flops, chose the Joker.

Salvador is actually an employee of the Mirage who is not above letting things pass under his nose for the right compensation. For that reason, he was not given the combination for the safe. He blindfolds each of the "cards" and leads them out. When asked he replies that he has not taken any extra bribes from any other present in the room. He knows he is expendable in the worst way and has built a reputation on "the customer is always right."

Once scattered about the resort grounds, equal distance from the room and from each other, and after a confirmation on our beepers from Salvador, we remove our respective blindfolds. The object it to return before sunset, having conquered all obstacles, and claim the treasure.

The game is set.

Any weapon you wish to carry on your person is perfectly within the rules as long as you work alone. We have no inclination what the other possesses. My weapon of choice will never be guessed. Once hit, they won't have much time to appreciate the ingenuus.

Have I mentioned David is taking part as well? He is; although, he has no idea that he is.

There are more things you can bribe a man with than money or property. Salvador was expecting a night with me as a reward. In return he placed me where I would have no doubt of where I was.

The rumblings of the pacing big cats filled my sensitive ears. I was by Sigfreid and Roy's white tiger exhibit. I'd memorized the map of The Mirage. I was close to the entrance to the Casino floor. For an added challenge I left my blindfold on, not once bumping into a person or all. I had sprinted without falter, so no one questioned the one with hidden eyes. I hadn't waited for Salvador's signal to move, I never stated one had to. I took it off at the vibration from the pocketbook hanging down at my hip.

I made my way through the last of the noisy slot machines, trying not to look out of the ordinary. I am the spy, not the one to be spied upon. The rest of the trip through the first floor to the elevator went smoothly. The goal room was an inconspicuous suite on one of the very top floors. I would like to get to it as soon as possible and wait for the flies to walk into this spider's trap.

"Going up?" The other rider asked in barely recognizable English. She'd hidden by the button panel when I'd entered the elevator. It was the Queen of Diamonds, pointing a handgun at me, clutching a sequined handbag with the other.

"You keep a gun in your purse, how CUTE," I out my hands at my hips, titling my head to one side to mock her. Martial arts training was useful. One of the first defense moves I was taught was how to deal with a mugger. Before she could react, I'd twisted her wrist into dropping her weapon and put her in a choke hold. "Want to see what I keep in my purse?" I asked, titling my head again so she could see my face out of the corner of her panicked green eyes.

She couldn't answer. She was having a hard enough time drawing a breath. I drew out one of the several syringes I had packed away. I thrust the point into one of the veins that stuck out of her long neck. Pushing in the pump, thick silvery liquid was squeezed through the opening into her bloodstream. I pressed the button of the higest number displayed then threw her to the floor. I confiscated her purse and any idetifcation, along with her wedding ring. Gasping, she fumbled with her gun, finding it hard to focus on her target. I exited at the very next level.

I had no need to see the results. I knew them. In under five minutes she would be dead. Her eyes will sink in. Innards will painfully dissolve. Xilvrin would bubble up and bust in boils, eating away at the skin as well. The hair and fingernails would go last. All that would be found would be a pile of picked clean white bones and synthetic clothing. I knew this process had begun by the garbled screams I picked up before stepping too far away from the platform.

Darling David had slept during the duration of our flight to Nevada. I'd snuck sleeping pills into his food before we'd boarded. Coach seats were a suitably comfortable bed for him, that was how drowsy they made him. Around each finger I wrapped three thick elastics that clinched the flesh and held on small vials. Once each was filled with Xilvrin, I'd cork it and put on a new one. I was able to conceal this activity under the complimentary blankets we were given and only by moving when I wasn't watched. My "boyfriend" was equally unaware. Later, after we were settled in to our hotel room, I filled the syringes over the bathroom sink and packed them into what I am toting at present.

Wild dirty blonde hair and hula-girl printed shirt alerted to me a new opponent was in my range. Here was the joker who was not watching his back. I tackled him, putting my weapon into the base of his skull. I wrestled him to the floor, then stood over him stepping on his head. "How does it feel to taste defeat at the hand of a woman?" I expected a wise crack from him, but I was genuinely curious to his response. I take great pleasure in humiliating those who consider themselves the stronger sex.

"Metallic ... in the back of my throat..." he mumbled honestly. It was a let down. Taking down a full grown man that easily gave me little respect of human life an ability. There had been no one else in the hall. I walked away before there was. My next few attacks were more complicated.

The Ace of Clubs who's flashy purple suit had gained him that card and The Ace of Diamonds, a baseball team owner, were embroiled in a fist fight. Other were watching. Hotel security was about to be summoned. To undo the mess, I pretend to be the connecting component in a love triangle.

Stepping between the men who both worked out often, I pleaded, "Oh, Steven, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cheat on you. Can't we work this out like the adults we are?" It caught them off guard long enough to prick both their palms with the syringes I'd been palming out of sight. "Oh, I guess not, go back to pummeling each other senseless." I strolled away. I had played it right, both had an aversion to hitting a woman, especially a good looking one in public when there was less appealing rival around. Some men are so predictable it's boring.

The rest of the King of Clubs and King and Ace of Hearts I handled easily through non-confrontation. I snuck up to them and brushed by them. I was a wasp, stinging them quickly with Xilvrin, buzzing off before I could be swatted.

It was the King of Diamonds and King of Spades I found trouble with. No doubt the King and Queen of Diamonds had been working together, as I'd found a phone with his number on speed dial among her personal effects. As she hadn't answered in the past hour he knew she was gone. Grief and anger mixed equally as I walked up to him and told him that I was the instrument of her undoing, even more so when I smiled. I couldn't help myself. His reaction did not disappoint me. What I didn't expect was the bruiser, the King of Spades, to grab me from behind.

I'd made a mistake in gloating. The King of Spades had a previous career in heavyweight boxing. Thick arms crushed the life out of me. I'd never felt such agony as being trapped like that. His booming voice laughed. I consider myself tall but my feet did not touch the ground. He'd lifted me up and left my legs dangling. Applying more strength as I struggled, he snorted like a bull into my ear. He needed no weapons, his brute and brutality were his weapons. The former champ been barred from the rung for a reason. The bell hadn't been enough to make him stop the match. He wanted to fight to the death. It took four or more men to pull him away from one fallen one. He planned to kill the King of Diamonds once he was done with me, but the smaller king did not care if he died. He only wanted to watch me die ... slowly ... for what I'd done to his lady.

"You get everything you deserve, you bitch!" The King of Diamonds literally spat on me. I couldn't place his accent.

I was concentrated instead on milling my fingers through my pocketbook. I was screaming, crying hot tears involuntarily, but all I could think of was stabbing him so I could be free. My grip was nonexistent. My fingers shook. One of my ribs began to crack under the pressure. I was still determined no to go out by being snapped in two in my 21st year. Finally, I was able to catch a syringe enough to jab it backwards into his abdomen. His steroid-riddled brain didn't register the pinprick.

Colors of taupe and mauve of the hall began to swirl together. What had been minutes felt like a lifetime. My desperate action paid off. I was dropped. Any longer and I might not have made it. I laid down on the floor, willing my organs to stay in my body. He made me feel as though my brain would squirt through my ears and lungs would be deflated and every bone would be pulverized. My assailant tumbled back in confusion, taking notice of the shimmering disease no spreading through his undefeated muscles. Disqualified, yes, but never a loss ... he experienced what it was to lose now. He would have been the better one to pose the question I had asked of the Joker, but I, like the woman in the elevator, found it laborious to catch my breath. I decided to be still for a while. I hurt too badly. I slowed my breathing. Then, I closed my eyes.

The King of Diamonds stood over me, pushing at me with the toe of his shoe to check if I was still alive. I opened my eyes a sliver, sufficient to make out shapes of light but not enough for him to see I was awake. He kept his gun on a strap hidden by his jacket. I gave him credit for not just walking away. He would shoot me to make sure ... or at least though he would. I didn't need the second to last needle, as it turned out. He put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger. I suppose the riches meant nothing to him if he was alone with no one to enjoy them with.

I was grateful. It meant less work for me.

I willed myself to stand. I kept panting. Something was wrong. I ignored my ailment as I was trained to do, planning to tend to it after the mission had been completed. The boxer was trying to mend his growing wounds no without success. The other was dead. A trickle of deep red stained the carpet where he'd fallen in a chalk lined crime scene pose. I left his body to be found as it was. Let him take the blame of the appearance of many skeletons, his lover among them. Without any evidence but the dental records, the laundry list of victims, and his suicide, the detective might conclude he felt so guilty about what he;d done that he'd made a show of it then did away with himself. I was prepared for such a situation with pen and paper as soon as I was back to the goal room I would write a note copying his writing. Careful to handle the pad of paper with newly donned latex gloves, I pressed his hand against it for the necessary finger prints. As I'd taken his wife's ring for a souvenir, I also took his. Why not have a matched pair?

Salvador was waiting for me by the safe. "I put in the old security tapes, just like you asked. They won't know anything happened tonight. Do I get my payment now?" He was expectant, having groomed himself for the fling he was sure we would have while I and the others had been duking it out.

Originally, I was going to deliver a pickup line, then stab him ... but the words would not come to my lips. He was a witness. I didn't need witnesses. I threw a needle at him, hitting a soft spot. I'd mastered the game of darts in my spare time. I am a woman of many talents. Though I didn't gloat, I couldn't have. I was pushing myself thus far. After I'd looked over the King of Diamond's writing and duplicated it to a close stroke, I tucked the letter on the suffering Salvador's pocket. I slung the bag that contained all of the generous offerings over my shoulder and walked down and emergency stairwell. I was not seen.

When I opened the door to my suite a man stood behind it, with his arms crossed. David looked very upset with me. "We were supposed to go out to dinner! Where have you been? This was supposed to be our time together and I''ve barely seen you since we got here! I was looking all over for you. I asked if anyone saw you, I didn't tell them your name or who you were, I know how much you like having this secret identity. But come on! Don't you trust me at this point?" He was dressed semi-formally for our date that I'd been too busy to keep.

He stopped complaining when I collapsed in his arms, breath ragged. It occurred to me that one or more of my ribs had broken. I was hoping now it hadn't pierced my lung.

"What happened to you?" My venomous partner held me gently. "If you were in trouble you should have let me help you." He was sincere.

"Stay ... I'll be back," it was more a suggestion than an order. I was in no shape to give orders.

"Please Rabbit ... I love you ..." He'd picked me up and carried me to the bed, cradling me in his arms as if I truly was fading away.

I struggled to keep consciousness. "I won't die," I promised him and myself. Somehow, I was able to get back up, though strangely, I'd enjoyed the warmth of the loose embrace. "Wait for me?" I asked him. He nodded, his eyes betraying his true feelings of wanting to go with me, wanting to watch over me. No matter how I treated him he remained loyal. It was actually beginning to affect me. Was it possible I was actually falling in love with him?

I got to my motorbike before I could second guess my actions. As Mr. Richards, my boss, has always professed: look forward, not backward. I couldn't go to a real hospital. There is no record of me existing and I couldn't raise suspicions. I had a delivery to make to SunSand Labs. The persons I'd tangled with this afternoon were not random. They were all, at one time or another donators to Mr. Richards who were also becoming troublesome or had stopped their payments.

I could have let David ride with me and turn him in for the bounty once I was "home" but I had a feeling I still needed him for something. During the night ride down the desert highway it dawned on me what ... the Ace of Spades. I had not disposed of him or had known any of the players to. He was the most dangerous of the lot because of his power and connections and I had forgotten about him. I was sure he hadn't forgotten about me.

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