Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 16

Lecocq peered over his cards. Four others were at the table with him: a breaker on his day off, a trio of men from the airship Janissary, and a woman off of Calypso. Both zeps, moored out among the breakers’ fields, were pirates, and both had come off of successful cruises.

Not so successful as the Long Nines’ last jaunt, though, and Lecocq had started with money enough to bully the table. His pile of cash was the largest of the five.

Sunbeams slanted in through the window. Light and shadow alternated on the green felt of the table, one of a dozen or two in the wood-floored room. The breeze from the fan overhead rustled the banknotes among Lecocq’s take. He glanced surreptitiously to the side. Tetsutaro Takahashi watched from the bar.

Darwin’s gambling halls were out in the open, compared to Lecocq’s experience in Marseilles, Singapore, and Hanoi. Darwin was a younger city built more fully on a thriving underground economy. Nobody bothered denying it. It was much rarer for a man to be shot over a game of cards here, and much likelier that the police would catch the murderer, but that was cold comfort for the dead man.

Lecocq was a good card player, used to winning, and he preferred to have a trigger man of his own on hand if things got out of control. Takahashi was a bad card player but quick on the draw, and had agreed to play the role of bodyguard in exchange for part of Lecocq’s winnings.

“Monsieur Lecocq?” said the breaker, who held the dealer’s button.

“I apologize,” Lecocq replied, pushing a few banknotes into the pot.

The dealer nodded and play continued. They were playing classic five-card draw this time around the table; not Lecocq’s favored game, but one he could get by in. He had won a hand earlier in the round and was sitting on two pair after the draw, a passable hand at a table of this size. After the next hand, choice of game fell to him, and he was much more comfortable with his chances at his favored seven-card stud.

“Show ’em,” the breaker said.

Lecocq’s jacks over sevens took the pot. The men from Janissary frowned between themselves, a suspicious set to their brows. Lecocq smiled sheepishly. “The cards, they are never this kind, you know?”

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