The cracked lines of marred silkscreened writing ran across the green felt on the table. It was worn and frayed, with lighter patches where 100 years of spilled drinks and tossed chips had damaged the surface. If Ace could read 22rd century Chianglish, he would’ve seen that his current hand paid “9 to 1”. But he wasn’t playing for money. He was playing for Annabelle. He glanced at his wrist, where a crudely drawn pen ink “prison” tattoo of a flower peaked out from under his cuff-linked sleeve.
“Your bet, Toad,” Satina said, cocking an eyebrow at spikey-haired man to Ace’s left. The dragon tattoo above Satina’s eyebrow danced in turquoise iridescent glory. She blew a kiss toward Toad. She shifted in her chair, her leather dominatrix dress creaking, a thin band of leather going across her breasts covering her nipples, leaving the tops and bottoms exposed.
“Sweater meat don’t rush me. I’m thinkin’,” Toad replied, shuffling his small pile of red chips while absent-mindedly rubbing his chrome implants.
Although there was distinct writing on each chip, they didn’t represent a monetary value. But they did have value. A building address number on each red chip, an entire street name on each green. Satina leaned forward slightly, offering everyone a better view of tops of her overflowing and ample breasts. When they came to rest, they lay on top of her cards.
Toad paused his chip rattling, staring at her smooth-skinned cleavage and the strained band holding them in place.
“Eyes up here,” Satina said. “Unless your Blue Smack biz is pulling in enough cred to play rough. Oh, and you’re packing a vat-grown enhancement that can keep a gal happy.”
Toad looked like a deer caught in the headlights. He was street smart, but he wore his emotions on his snakeskin jacket sleeve. He smiled, his polished titanium teeth creating a disco-ball reflection across the table.
“Get your tits up, too, Satina,” said the dealer, Marvin. “Keep the cards in sight.”
She huffed at Marvin and sat back, the cards momentarily sticking to the underside of her breasts before landing back on the table, face down.
Marvin was Shivan, round as he was tall. His real name was unpronounceable, so he’d been tagged “Marvin the Martian”, due to his alien origins, ages ago. Now it was just Marvin.
He popped his lips. The nude woman, standing to his left, used chopsticks to drop sushi into his gaping maw. Marvin’s eyes closed and he grunted as his body shook. He tapped the table. A second woman emerged from underneath, covered in sweat. She wiped her mouth with a table towel as she changed places with the sushi girl, who sank under the table. Marvin’s appetites for food and sex were legendary. Insatiable and indiscriminate.
“I’m out while I still got some turf left,” Toad said, tossing his cards to the pile and gathering his remaining chips, while leaning back to peak under the table.
That left Ace, Satina and Vasilli.
Ace smiled knowingly at Vasilli. The big Russian ex-pat looked back with a level stare before turning to Satina.
“They look much more newer than last time, Satina, bouncy and firm. Musta cost a few hundred thousand Yuan-dollars to get them perked and puffed to make a nice pair like that, da?”
Satina shot Vasilli a shitty look. “Thanks for noticing, but you’ll never know.”
“Speaking of pairs,” Ace interrupted, “Two pair ain’t gonna cut it, Vas.”
“Poshel na khuy, Ace. How you know? You cheating bastard!” Vasilli said, grabbing the table and trying to lift and flip it over. He grunted and strained as he used his vat-grown double-muscles, grafted to his arms and legs, to clear a path to Ace..
“Plastanium lag-bolts,” Marvin said, in a bored tone. The table didn’t move. Neither did the gun barrel, held by the tiny female hand, pointing at Vasilli’s crotch from under the table.
“You know the rules, Vasilli. Nobody busts up my joint or my game,” Marvin said, his 3rd and 4th arms pointing at Vasilli’s chip pile and the door. “Leave half your red chips for the pot and go. Learn some respect before you come back.”
Vasilli backed all the way to the front door, never unlocking his eyes from Marvin’s.
Marvin’s joint was neutral turf, an island territory unto itself. It sat in the middle of their piece of the world, a section called Station. A part of the BostLanta mega-city that the uptowners made jokes about or used to scare their kids straight. “Get good grades or you’ll end up in Station!”. Public housing, forgotten industrial parks and broken-up roads that sat under the overhead NESW tram nexus. Everybody above them was going somewhere, everybody around them going nowhere, everyone under them dead and forgotten.
Marvin was the Station’s only neutral territory boss. His place was like a free-trade zone. The other six bosses that controlled Station came to Marvin’s to discuss business. Trading merchandise, services, and people. It’s also where they settled beefs. The biennial high stakes game was a chance to expand and contract without bloodshed. Everyone brought a piece of their territory in the form of chips. The last one sitting at the table was Over-boss of Station for the 24 months.
“I’ve got appointments,” Satina said. “Asses to slap and holes to sell. How ’bout it, Ace, all in? Let’s go home.”
“All in?” he replied, feigning concern and worry about what she might be holding.
“Need one of my girls to make sure your balls dropped?” Satina said. “In or out?”
“I’m not ready to lose that much on this hand,” Ace said, “but we been at this all night, Sun’s gonna rise in another hour. Let’s say 20 reds apiece. This hand. Loser walks away before the next hand? No need to break each other.”
What Ace really wanted was buried in the middle of Satina’s front stack. He’d tracked its movement between the players all night. The one with an address for a building: 231 Hanoi Street. Annabelle’s building.
Ace watched as Satina looked down with a smile to inventory her cache. Two red stacks of ten and a large pile of mixed up chips she hadn’t sorted. She eyed her untouched stack of green chips, licking her lips. Looking excited about the chance to take them all home safely. She’d taken one card. Probably made her straight. Ace knew she would take the bet.
“Sure,” she said, pushing the two red stacks forward.
“Call,” Ace said as he tossed his cards, face up, onto the pile. Full boat, aces over eights. Satina frowned and shrugged.
“Beats me,” she said, sliding her remaining chips into an expensive knock-off bag. She turned her leather clad hourglass shape to the door and snapped her fingers. “Come.”
Both nude girls left Marvin to take care of his own needs as they fell in behind Satina, heads bowed and hands behind their backs. Marvin sighed and stood, his alien endowments protruding over and then resting on the table. He pushed Ace his winnings and dropped a Purple fedora, with the white feather tacked into the headband, on top of the stacks. The Station King’s crown.
“Your majesty,” Marvin said, his deep brasso voice showing sincerity. “I’ll have my tribute delivered by the morning. Cash, cred or cherry, your choice.”
“Cash,” Ace replied. Creds were tracked and a pain to wash through the banks, so too much of a hassle. “Cherry” meant human slaves, girls or boys, that owed dealers money and had to work it off. Most of them were townies, because anyone that grew up in Station knew not to get their shit fronted to them. The ones that ended up in Marvin’s stable had never come close to earning their keep with their dealer. Marvin paid their debt and now he owned them.
“You got it,” Marvin replied. “Anything else I need to pass along? Your first edict? People will be expecting one and you might as well send a message right off.”
“You’re right. My first proclamation. Needs to be a good one. Send a message,” Ace said, rubbing his wrist over the old tattoo. “No more kids on the shit. Tell Toad he can only sell Blue Smack to adults. Nobody sells to the kids from Station. I mean nobody. Break an arm to make sure he gets the message. Oh, tell him and his boys stay the fuck off Hanoi street. It’s a dry road now.”
Ace stared down at the chips he’d won. He reached for the stack where with the most important chip of all. He split the tower and flipped the chip, reading the address with a smile.
231 Hanoi Street.
He shoved the other chips into a satchel. He’d have the go-boys sort them and divide them up later.
Ace took his car over to Hanoi Street. It was an old petrol-powered Mercedes sedan flipped to run on vap-fuel. His driver was barely 16, but an up and comer. Four years, and an entire Station lifetime, younger than Ace. He was also clean. No drugs. That was Ace’s rule for his crew.
Ace held the chip. 231 Hanoi Street, Annabelle’s flop. He’d known he would win it. He was just that good. King of the blocks. Now, they’d be unstoppable.
He knew he could finally fix her. Get her off the junk. No more “nights out with the girls” when she was really hooking to pay cash for her shit, shooting up the Blue Smack with her John’s or a dealer.
He would take care of her.
He knew he would save her. He looked at the old tattoo, remembering the pain and elation. The bond it symbolized.
He knew she loved him as much as he loved her. Now, she would learn to love him more than the Blue Smack her body craved. He had it all figured out.
“Boss, there might be trouble,” his driver said.
The hover-van, with its flashing red lights, was in front of the Flop. The Med-techs pushed a mag-lift gurney. A sheet covered body. An arm dropped out from under the well-used yellowed sheet. A thin blueish wrist with a trickle of dried blood and a flower tattoo. Bluebells. Annabelle. He’d been gone to long.
He’d known, and loved, Annabelle since they first met on the playground of the Sisters of Tormented Salvation orphanage. They would sneak up to the attic to pretend they were married and the dusty space was their home. That they would be together someday. He had known it then. It’s why he ran the streets, did so many things to became a boss. The things he was good at. Now the nun’s voice came back to him, her self-righteous tone reaching across the last decade. “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”