Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 17

“I know,” said one of the men. It sounded like a threat.

The breaker pushed the dealer’s chit to his left, to the woman from Calypso. She shuffled the cards, let the breaker cut the deck, and dealt.

Lecocq picked up his hand. His face showed nothing, but the deal put him in a tough spot. He had the nine through queen of hearts, and the two of hearts besides. A flush. He scrutinized the faces around the table. The Janissary men would jump him if he won.

Something in the way the other two players examined their cards struck him as odd. The breaker glanced to his left toward the lone woman, something surprised in his face. Was he expecting something else? Lecocq’s hand?

It was a moot point. Lecocq could hardly play the hand he had been dealt, not if he hoped to leave with his fingers intact.

Betting came to him. None of the Janissary men raised beyond the ante. Neither did he, but he didn’t fold, either. If the woman and the breaker were cheating, it would be as good as declaring to them that he knew. Worse, it might look as though he were in cahoots with them. Also bad for his fingers’ prospects.

“How many?” the woman asked him. There was something unsteady in her voice.

He raised his eyebrows. “Two,” he said, placing the two of hearts and nine of hearts face-down on the table. He slid them to the woman, who gave him two cards in return.

Suddenly, his problems were worse. He had picked up the king and ace of hearts, to complete the royal flush. The smart thing to do was fold. But…

Lecocq was a gambler at heart. He had backup. He would simply make an enormous bet nobody would dare match, collect the meager profit represented by the antes, and skip out on the game before the Janissary men could get it into their heads to beat his money out of him.

“Raise,” he said, as the betting came to him. “Five hundred francs.”

“Fold,” said the breaker to his left. The woman echoed the sentiment.

It came to the first Janissary man. He looked at his cards, up at Lecocq, and down at the pot. “Call,” he said. His compatriots tossed in their cards.

Lecocq met the man’s eyes. “One thousand francs,” he said, pushing a stack of banknotes forward.

The Janissary man held his gaze. “Call.”

Fighting the urge to swallow, Lecocq said, “I am all in.” He had to drive the man out, or else reveal his hand, and that seemed ill-advised. He spared a glance toward the bar. Takahashi was watching closely, tense. Good.

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