Joules' attention wasn't on the game before her. Instead she was hawk-eyeing the only other game remaining in the large room, and that was the big table.
Her opposition was trying to figure out what this meant. Did she have a good hand or bad? And if she was having bad luck could she be suckered into over betting what she had so they could get some of their money back?
“Stones” lived up to his name, solid and expressionless, like one of those faces on Easter Island. He stared dully at the pot using his peripheral vision to track the other players.
“The Hermit” had both hands under the table and he was rocking. Typically that meant he had a weak hand but he hadn't folded either.
“Swallow” and “Duncan” were doing their usual beady-eyed attempts to gauge the hands of their opponents. A sure sign they had dead hands and were about to fold.
And more than any other Swallow was watching Joules, watching her watching the other table with no concern for the events of this one. Swallow watched her and wondering why didn't she fold. He wondered if he could capitalize on her distraction and maybe, just maybe bluff his way to victory. She had most of his money and it galled him that she, the little thing that she was, had played her “cute” the way she did, winking and flirting her competition into stupid moves while she wiped out the fortuned he had entered with.
Duncan (was that his name or nickname?) was thinking the same thing. He raised the bet, and went “All-in” on a no limit game, with the hopes that his low numbered Straight could take the hand.
The rest followed suit but Joules, sitting in the “button” as Dealer made the last move. She quickly glanced at each of them trying to gage her next act.
Stones' blink rate increased when he had a golden hand, now he was barely fluttering. Duncan got thirsty when he had a solid hand, but he hadn't taken a sip of his DeePee this round. Swallow tried to look calm when he was doing well but his posture remained hunched forward. He tried to look like he had something but she figured he was bluffing; it was a stunt he had pulled too often.
Only The Hermit seemed to have anything. Joules looked at her hand again working out how strong it was. She'd been right to surrender a card in the first round, what she gave up had been improved greatly by the trade but the fifth card didn't do anything for the other four.
Not that it mattered, only a few combinations could beat the hand she held. She looked up measuring her opponent; did The Hermit have one of them? She tried to remember the cards they'd played, see if she could mathematically eliminate the risk.
She couldn't. She herself had shuffled a fresh deck on taking the button. Joules looked at the pot and The Hermit's remaining chips. She did a quick calculation, determined to raise him to his limit and force him to call or fold. It was risky, she might not have enough left to buy into the other table if she lost, and she'd have another round opposite this guy.
But this hand alone would net her four thousand Bob if she took it now, and if she could get him “all in” that would raise her take to seven thousand and probably break the table. That was her true goal, if this table broke but she was still viable she'd get invited to the big table and the real money, and more importantly what she came here for.
The Hermit caught her glancing at the big table again. Was she a spy or something? Was this game merely her cover? She looked like a Westerner. She certainly smelled like a foreigner. The air around her swam with sweet summer scents that elicited hungers both actual and carnal. It was annoying that she could spend so much of her energy focused on another table entirely and still be winning.
He looked at his cards. This was a good hand, he'd won with weaker hands, but he'd also lost with better ones. Sweat broke across his upper lip. He eyed her openly; no reason to hide it now, everyone else in the game had folded. He held a full house, three Aces and two Kings. There were few hands that could trump that and statistically it was unlikely she held any of them, particularly while he had the Kings.
She didn't look nervous, she didn't seem to have any tells at all. What was with this woman? How could she vex so and still be alive?
The Hermit looked at his cards again as blind panic began to overtake him. What if this wasn't the best hand in play, what if she had the two or three hands that could beat him?
He should fold. He will fold. As soon as it was his turn again. He had too much in the pot already, he couldn't risk anymore.
Joules heard The Hermit's breathe grow irregular. Without realizing it her brow creased a bit, just a bit, not enough to form a scowl but enough to register some concern. She'd never seen him react this way before, she had nothing to gauge by it. What was it telling her?
She reached out to increase the stake, a three thousand Bob raise, but his reaction was troubling. She paused and, without removing her hand from the chips, withdrew the lot, replacing the high raise with only a grand.
The Hermit didn't get out much. He spent most of his time at home scouring the inventory lists of a thousand vendors so he could keep his suppliers fed. His skin was a pale grey, his eyes sunken and his posture ridiculously hunched. He spent so much time focused on his overly large Interface Display that his eyesight was fading, his focal range had dropped to less than a meter and as he strained, squinted by some measure but not actively, the muscle in the lower lid of his right eye began to twitch.
The intense gaze of his opponent was making his situation even worse. She hesitated, she was about to bet large and then pulled back. She raised the pot only a fraction of what she was going to do. What did that mean?
Worse still she was now entirely focused in this game, not watching the other. The Hermit decided that he preferred it better when she wasn't looking at him so intently.
Joules' head was tilted downward, her eyes looking over the bridge of her nose at her opponent. She knew what she had, what she needed to know was what The Hermit was thinking. He had a good hand, she figured that from his reaction, but did he have a stronger hand than hers? And more importantly did he have the nerve to match her.
The Hermit shifted his focus downward, fixating on the pot. He wouldn't look at Joules again, there was no need. Nothing she would do would tip him off. He ran the odds again through his head. Only three types of hands could trump him. All were statistically unlikely. He had a very good hand. He had a winning hand.
He grabbed a thousand Bob of chips and slid them forward meeting her bet. His hand came back slowly. He didn't fold and he was starting to regain his composure. So long as he didn't look up at her that is.
A slight curl on each side of her mouth gave away one thought. He could have the best hand but it wouldn't matter, he didn't have the confidence. She looked down at her winnings. It was a big risk. She could end up going home right now if she was wrong but Joules had spent her entire life reading men.
She counted two thousand Bob and then moved them into the pot. She shifted in her chair looking at The Hermit on angle with a sense of mischief. He'd fold with his last two grand still in his pocket and she'd take the pot. She was sure of it now.
As long as he focused on the pot and his cards The Hermit was able to keep his head clear. He had a Full House. He had to keep repeating that to himself. Her sudden interest in the game could as easily be a sign of a weak hand as anything. Her raising the pot could easily be a bluff. She looked like the sort to bluff, it was probably one of her wiles, she probably used it regularly.
Besides, he had to match to call or fold and folding meant losing everything he'd put in. It was a good hand. It was a Full House. He had to keep repeating that to himself.
“I'm all in.” He held his hand on the chips. He wasn't committed to this until he pulled his hands away. If he didn't win he was out, but if he folded, what he had left wasn't enough to buy in on the next game. He'd already gone too far.
The Hermit pulled his hands away from the chips he'd just added to the pot. “I call.”
Joules' eyes perked up. So The Hermit did have a backbone to him.
“Fair enough.” This was it. She was either moving on or leaving with less than she'd arrived. Joules cursed herself for that. It had taken a week to find what she was looking for and almost three days more to get access to this game.
Well, she thought, that's what the game was about. And it was still possible her hand would win. Joules spread her cards on the table prepared for any eventuality.
The Hermit looked at her cards and then his head sunk. With resignation he flipped his cards over.
His three Aces and two Kings lit up Joules face. She had four Queens and a Ten.
She reached forward and scooped the chips pulling them toward her with a smile of relief. Just then the eclipse occurred. Carefully Joules looked up at the large figure blocking the light.
It was one of the bodyguards. A good choice of career for a tall muscular man with a neck as broad as his shoulders. He had the most amazingly dark and rich eyes as well, eyes she could both melt in, and fear.
The same eyes that were glaring down at her as he spoke in a baritone deeper than the Pacific, “Mr. El Bazaar invites you to his table.”
Now she was getting somewhere.