Authors: Shaun Jeffrey
Published by Deshca Press
Copyright © 2012 by Shaun Jeffrey
Edited by Stacey Turner
Kindle Edition License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
To Rhonda, Stacey, Lorraine, Patti, Ignite, Jud and Joo who helped with the proofing and offered general comments about the story. Thanks.
One good win. That’s all he needed.
Zen Barker stared at the list of runners and riders tacked to the wall of the betting shop. Picking a winner was a rare occurrence, but like the jockeys, he kept trying.
He shook his Medusa tangle of dreadlocks and pursed his lips as he studied the form, the deciphering of which required the services of Einstein.
Sweat coated his upper lip and he wiped it away. Then he fiddled with the ring through his eyebrow, his fingers brushing the small scar on his forehead, the result of an accident soon after his birth when his mother dropped him – at least she
it was an accident. He often thought she probably couldn't even remember the birth as she would have been too stoned.
With the next race about to start, Zen went up to the counter and handed across his slip and the money, the t-shirt he wore allowing him to proudly display his tattoos like armour.
With the bet placed he sat in one of the red, plastic chairs that lined the middle of the room and stared at the screen. As the race started he wrapped his fingers around the tobacco in his pocket; hated the fact he couldn’t light up in public any more.
No matter which screen he looked at, his horse ambled along as though out for a canter. Didn’t it realise he had money riding on it?
But then the lead horse fell and unable to avoid it as it tried to regain its feet, the next horse swerved too sharply and unseated the rider. The next horse collided with the now upright fallen horse and launched its jockey on an ungainly flight. More horses became tangled in the melee, but Zen’s horse was far enough back to avoid the fray. Zen jumped to his feet as his horse galloped past, continuing to the winning post.
Zen whooped and hollered. With ten pounds each-way on it at 20/1, he picked up two hundred and fifty pounds plus his stake.
After collecting his winnings, he headed towards the pub with a rare spring in his step. He wasn't even bothered when an old woman stopped and stared at him with a look of disgust and horror. The reassuring weight of the notes in his pocket acted like Valium. Nothing could ruin his day.
The Rod and Sceptre pub was virtually empty, the only patrons the unemployed and the dispossessed – unless trying to score various drugs or services of the night, the pub wasn't a popular drinking hole.
Zen walked to the bar and wafted a wad of ten-pound notes at the brassy, bleached blonde barmaid.
“Bottle of Bud. No, better make that three bottles, save me coming back to the bar.”
“I hope you aren't going to cause any trouble,” the barmaid said.
“Gloria, you know me. I don't cause trouble, it just has a way of finding me.”
“Well, if I have to throw you out again, you'll be barred.”
“You know it wasn't my fault.”
“It never is.”
Gloria uncapped three bottles of Budweiser and put them on the counter.
“Can you give me some change as well?” Zen asked, passing her a twenty-pound note.
Gloria held the note up to the light, eyeing it warily.
Zen grinned. “It’s kosher.”
After Gloria handed over his change, Zen gathered the bottles like a glass bouquet and walked to the fruit machine that summoned him with its bright lights and noise. Slipping coins into the slot, he lost ten pounds in less than five minutes.
Finally resigned to losing, he kicked the machine – an action that elicited a warning glare from Gloria – then he walked away and sat at a cigarette-scarred table in the corner of the room.
With a couple of gulps, he finished the first beer and reached for his second when the door opened and three men dressed in dark apparel walked in. Zen didn't recognise any of them and the pub’s territorial patrons stared at the newcomers as if they were an invading army.
Zen rolled a cigarette to smoke in the area set aside outside the back door; watched as the men bought drinks and sat at a table where one of them took out a pack of playing cards.
After watching them play a few hands, Zen stood up and walked across. “Can anyone play?” he asked.
“Sure,” said a large, dark haired man wearing a black shirt. “Pull up a stool.” He clenched his jaw, his square face like a puzzle box, expression indecipherable.
“No limit Texas Hold ‘em. You know how to play?” asked a skinny albino man with '
' and '
' tattooed across his knuckles. He had the most intense, red eyes Zen had ever seen and his dark suit made his white skin even more severe. The absence of pigment made him appear ice cold, like a ghost, his thin, drawn features as sharp as a knife.
Zen nodded. “Just tell me what the blinds are and deal the cards.”
“Small blind’s a pound, big blind two,” the large man said.
“Great.” Zen watched as the third man dealt the players their hole cards. Of average build, a criss-cross of scars lined his baldhead like a topographical map. One of his ears appeared to be missing a chunk, as though gnawed at by a rat and his eyes appeared black, pupils dilated. He looked foreign, perhaps Middle Eastern.
After only a couple of hands, Zen’s winnings dwindled. He noticed the men cast furtive glances at each other and although he had no proof, he suspected they were fleecing him, a proverbial lamb to the fucking slaughter.
Twenty minutes and over a hundred pounds down, he decided to cut and run. “Okay fellas, that's me lot. I can't say it's been a pleasure.”
The large man stared at him and then pulled a knife out of his pocket and stabbed it into the wooden table. The handle swayed back and forth like a cobra, transfixing Zen.
“Whoa, easy fellas. You've had me money, let's just leave it at that.” Zen pushed his chair back to enable him to run. He didn't like the look of this at all and his heart thundered.
“What's your life worth?” the albino man asked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Want to gamble it?” The albino licked his lips and drank from his beer.
“Gamble what?” He looked at the man's hand wrapped around the bottle, sure that the tattooed word had changed. It now read '
“Are you mad?” Zen grimaced. What sick game were they playing?
The large man pulled a big, manila envelope out of the air like a magician. He opened it with equal flourish. “Twenty thousand pounds,” he said, fanning the fifty-pound notes.
Zen looked at the money, then at the man holding it, and wondered what the hell was going on. Where had the envelope come from?
“What's this all about?”
The seriousness of the situation kicked in, his face cooling as the blood drained from his cheeks.
“I'll ask the questions,” the albino man said. “What's your life worth?”
“More than you can afford, that's for sure.”
“What if I said this was just a down payment?”
“Down payment on what?”
“What if I asked you to gamble your life for, let's say, two hundred thousand, would you be interested?”
“Pounds. But make no mistake; we're talking about your life here. You lose ... you die. Are you a gambler or not? Want to take the ultimate gamble?”
Two hundred thousand pounds. Although scared shitless, Zen was intrigued. But they must be joking. Having a laugh at his expense, the apparent changing tattoos an elaborate trick.
“But what do I have to do? What's the bet?” He didn't believe they were being serious, but he’d play along. He narrowed his eyes, waiting for the punch line.
“Like I said, I'll ask the questions. Do you want to take the bet or not?”
“How can I take a bet when I don't know what it is?”
“Two hundred thousand pounds, that's what it is.”
“You're ‘avin’ a laugh?”
“Yes or no? Twenty thousand now, the rest if you win.”
“You're fuckin’ mad.”
He made to leave when the door to the bar opened and a thickset, Asian man entered, followed by two large sidekicks. They all sported short hair and wore large, gold sovereign rings like knuckle-dusters. The Asian man’s long pointed sideboards looked like two daggers aiming at his lips.
“Well, well, look who it is,” the Asian man said, grinning.
“Hasif, long time no see.” Zen forced a smile.
“Oh, but I've been lookin', my man, I've been lookin'.”
I don't doubt it
. “Let me get you a drink.”
“Just give me the money you owe and we’ll call it quits.”
“You know I ain't got that much money. I'll need time.”
“You've had time. Now time's up.”
“But I just ain't got it.”
“Then I feel sorry for you. Take him outside and cut off one finger for each thousand pounds he owes. When you run out of fingers, move on to his toes.”