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(The Bronx, New York, Early 1920s)

In a dimly lit, smoke filled room in the early 1920’s, James sat expressionless as the young woman across the table considered her options. Eyes shifting slightly back and forth, as if checking some balance sheet of odds, she casually bet another 100 dollars. Somewhat of a phenom among the local gamblers, barely 19 years old, Daisy had already beaten most of the old timers in the game.

A pile of money loomed in the middle of the rickety table where the two opponents sat facing each other. Too rich for most, others folded long ago. Daisy, poker face in place, raised James another 200 dollars. As everyone crowded over each other, a pin hitting the floor would have startled them all.

The Gambler


James, 40ish, short beard and glasses, peered over his silver rims at his beautiful opponent. He had to admit she was a vision, and everyone present knew it. Curly hair, high cheek bones, bared shoulders, and a little too much cleavage all served to unnerve and distract everyone around her. Eyes alight with the game, she obviously enjoyed the effect she thought she was having on him, as she smiled coyly.

James was a regular, they called him “The Gambler,” playing all comers and winning his fair share. He enjoyed precisely this moment in poker, the last battle of wits, the final showdown, all or nothing, go big or go home. The fact that Daisy was a beautiful woman only enriched the pot all the more.

Taking his time, James showed no emotion. The player across from him thought she knew his “tell,” but still wasn’t sure. Albeit, the queen high straight flush, burning a hole in her hand, virtually guaranteed victory, James’ utter composure unnerved her slightly. The man across the table played like he had nothing to lose.

All in

James thumbed one of his cards, studying it carefully. Then, making up his mind, pushed all his remaining money into the center of the table, several thousand dollars. Daisy did her best to hide her surprise, heart beating fast, every eye upon her.

Hesitating, confused by her opponent’s confident play, the young woman purposely did nothing, as all waited. Fighting her natural instinct to go all in and call, the discipline of her analytical mind took over, and she folded. Reluctantly, she allowed the bespectacled man to claim the entire night’s winnings.


James laid his cards on the table – nothing! Two of clubs, five of diamonds, ace of diamonds, queen of hearts, and seven of spades! Everyone gasped and started talking, as the Gambler saw the charm quickly drain out of the young girl’s face. James stood, tipped the dealer, and bid everyone adieu for the night.

A half hour later, Daisy made her way home through the mist, her black patent leather pumps clicking on the cobblestone. The evening setting in, she pulled her shawl tighter as a shiver ran through her body. Just then a man said out of the darkness, “The beautiful thing about poker is that everyone thinks they can play.”

Wheeling around, the startled damsel pulled a small stiletto blade from her handbag, saying, “Stay away, I’ll use this if I have to!”

“I don’t doubt that for a moment, but you won’t need to use it on me,” said the the man as he stepped out of the shadows.

What are you doing here?

Recognizing the man who’d just beaten her, she demanded angrily, “Are you following me?”

“Actually, yes, but not for the reasons you may think. Please, put the the knife away, I mean you no harm.”

Daisy looked into the gambler’s eyes and, sensing sincerity, lowered her petite weapon slightly.

“What do you want?” she demanded again.

“I want to escort you home,” James said, offering her his arm.

Against her better judgment, Daisy put the blade away and hooked her arm in his.

A dog barked in the distance, otherwise the street before them was empty. Having drizzled a little earlier in the day, lightning flashing briefly in the clouds promised more rain.

We’d better hurry

Daisy, glancing up, said, “We’d better hurry, my apartment is still a good distance away.”

Walking together, they chatted and laughed about the night’s game. Daisy, taken aback by James’ easygoing charm, found she quite liked his company. As they rounded the corner, the street before them loomed like a cave with no known end. The newfangled electrified lights hadn’t reached there yet, thus most people avoided this part of town after dark. In the gloom, Daisy unconsciously drew closer to James, holding his arm firmly. Still chatting profusely, she failed to notice a pair of glowing red eyes peering out from behind a fence as they passed. Noting her company, evil withdrew slowly, silently back into the night.


(Realm of Elysia)

The day after tea, a lone figure stood before a large ornate marble container, holding a larger than life planting of iris flowers. It took some doing, but Bren had managed to escape the company of her coterie of girls by asking each one to run and get something for her. Having thus skillfully scattered her young friends, she slipped away to her favorite place in all of Elysia.

Pulling down one of the bearded Iris’s blooms, eyes closed, she slowly moved the petal back and forth against her cheek. The velveteen feel conjured a potent childhood memory, transporting her back to a summer long ago outside her childhood home.

A wisp of a girl

A wisp of a girl in a ragtag dress, her only clothes, laughed and giggled her way through the day. Her mother, singing as she hung the wash, kept one eye on her adventurous youngster. The warmth of the sun on her young skin, Bren skipped through the flowerbed of beautiful violet flowers, pulling one of the long-stemmed irises down, kissing it with her lips. Beyond the family’s small plot, just across the field, lay all the mysteries of the wood. That feeling of safety, the sense that the world was secure and knowable, anchored that memory in her mind like no other.

Coming back to the present, Bren looked down as she rubbed the fabric of her dress between her fingers. Looking around her, she shook her head as tears began to flow.

Footsteps and giggles in the distant chambers reported her friends had found her. Wiping the tears from her cheeks, Bren forced a smile, hoping no one would notice her pain.

What’s your game tonight mister?

(The Bronx, New York, Early 1920s)

James, having reached her door, said, “You played a good game tonight, Daisy. I was impressed.”

“Thanks, but you played better,” she conceded.

Looking into his eyes, letting her shawl fall off her shoulders, she asked The Gambler, “What hand do you want to play tonight, mister? What’s your game?”

“No games, just a nice walk and to know you’re safe.” Placing an envelope in her hand, the exact amount she had lost to him, he finished with, “Do with this as you wish, give it to the poor if you’d like. It was fun.”

With that, James kissed her on the cheek, turned and disappeared down the foggy street, whistling a jolly tune.