PART ONE: THE GAMBLER
The giant creature in front of him resembled a frog: crouching back legs, stumpy front ones, the silvery skin in a color of greenish-yellow. Only it was probably several times mangled into a more hideous form with bulbous warts that seem more like blisters. One would be overwhelmed with disgust at first sight.
It was what Mordred felt, towards the demon that sat – or stood, but the back legs made her look as though she was sitting – in the middle of the alleyway leading towards the hotel.
“Greed… that is my title,” the demon chuckled in a low woman’s voice. It sent a chill through the air. “The one that people say is the most repulsive of all Sins. You, Mordred Reid, seem to fit my title quite well.”
And just a couple of hours ago, he’d been standing at the reception desk of Hotel Mariposa, musing over an important question…
+ + +
If a dice were thrown, what are the odds that I get the number five repeatedly? Mordred wondered, running a dice over his fingers. He tossed it with a sharp flick of his wrist; it bounced across the small table he sat at from his armchair, spun a bit before landing on the four. He turned it back onto the number five, picked it up, then tossed it again, this time loosely. The number five rolled up.
“But a loose toss would be considered partly cheating since I’m basically pretending to throw it,” he muttered to himself.
“We were supposed to be doing our homework,” complained Annika Thatcher across him, throwing down her pen in frustration, causing Mordred to flinch as he realized that he was sitting at a table with his friends. “We’re going nowhere.”
“Sorry,” Mordred muttered, snatching the dice up and putting it back into his jacket.
“This happens every time, though,” Annika scoffed. “Last week, you were trying to figure out how fast you can put back a Rubix cube, which you didn’t manage to do, but you still spent three hours doing it. Trent, say something!”
“Hi,” Trent Kearn replied, looking up from his textbook, which, now that Mordred, and then Annika as well, noticed, was not what he was reading, but the stapled notes he slipped between the pages.
“You’re not studying either!” Annika pulled away his textbook and frowned at his notes, which turned out not to be a written script.
“Hey, give that back! I need to memorize the words for the stage play on Sunday!” Trent snatched it back.
“You guys!” Annika sat back in her chair with a huff. “So I was the only one doing schoolwork, huh?”
“Sorry,” Mordred and Trent muttered at the same time. Trent returned to staring at his script. Mordred stared down at his textbooks. He looked up to Alexis again.
“Okay, so what did you want my help with?” he frowned, and Annika leaned forward back towards their books.
CHANGE ALEXIS TO ANNIKA
“I’ve got an essay to turn in tomorrow,” she muttered, spreading her notes out. “I’m basing it on why I plan to be a lawyer next year when I enter university, so I’ve got to make it convincing.”
“So a life story?” Mordred frowned. “You already researched on the work? You know it’ll be expensive.”
“Which is why I’m going to get a scholarship, and I need you to help me out with the essay I have to pass into the university,” said Annika. “This one will work for both. You’re good at writing, right?”
“I – I guess?” Mordred muttered uncertainly.
“Says the guy who won three essay competitions in a row in middle school on magic spells when he used to be in the Academy’s cram school.” Trent looked up from his script.
“I haven’t won any essay trophies in high school, so I don’t know what that part ammounts to these days!” Mordred huffed. “Anyway, you can just write it how you feel works, Annika. The basic pattern is just introductory paragraph, story-telling paragraphs, and then the conclusion.”
“Yeah, you told me that before, but how do I make it work?” Annika frowned at him. “You look at the drafts I made and tell me which ones suit it.”
“You finished how many?”
“I wrote five. If I have to write another one, then I’ll be done for.”
Mordred dragged her notes over to him, skimmed his eyes over it, then put them down. “Your voice is too robotic and long as usual. Grapple the reader with the first paragraphs; read a novel while you’re at it. You can jump straight into the reason you wanted to become a lawyer. From there, you keep the whole thing short.”
Alexis fumbled with her pen. “That’s it?”
“For now. You write your sixth draft with that, then I’ll-” Mordred looked up as a wiry middle-aged man with graying hair approached their table. He wore a stiff black suit with a striped blue and white tie, and bowed his head to them. “Hello, Albert. What’s up?”
“Mr. Mordred, I brought you a letter,” the man called Albert searched his jacket pockets until he pulled out a cream-colored envelope, with a printed address on the front, as well as his father’s name. “However, there is the urgent stamp on the front. Shall I forward it to him, or do you wish to open it today?”
“I’ll open it,” Mordred flipped the letter to the back, saw said urgent stamp on the back.
He slipped it into his jeans pockets. “When did it come?”
“This morning, sir.”
“I can make up for time later, then. By the way, how is the wedding setup happening? Any trouble?”
“None, except the client calling up today to tell us to change the menu options; his daughter’s fiance didn’t like eggs apparently, so anything with egg had to be changed to something else. But – trouble is somewhere else, Mordred. The casino, if you will.”
“What’s wrong there?”
“Seiden called up earlier saying that a drunk woman’s going berserk at the poker table.
Since thirty minutes ago, and security can’t get close to her to throw her out. I was about to head there.”
“I’ll deal with it, you continue the work with the planners,” Mordred turned to his friends. “Annika, send the draft through email and I’ll check on it more.”
“Thanks, Mor,” said Annika, relieved.
Mordred turned and rushed off through the hotel.
The heir of the billionaire, William Abasscia-Reid, the third richest man in the world, that was what Mordred was known as. It was understandable that his father’s employees kept some distance away from him as he walked rushed through the hotel. He sometimes wondered if they imagined him to be a pompous prat – it was a stereotype of kids his age through their eyes, apparently, and he’d been greeted by people who thought him that way several times and gave him sarcasm when the only exchange between them was a greeting.
Mordred stepped into a wide hallway that took him straight towards a large wooden double-door that he pushed into the noisy openness of the casino.
Hotel Mariposa’s casino. A noisy place where rumors are that millions are gambled here every day, and that strange people were usually the ones that betted highest. On equal rank in fame as the casinos in Las Vegas or Monte Carlo, the employees hired to watch over the gambling that took part here had to be strong-minded or physically able.
From the front, the slot machines greeted him as he entered, and then abruptly changed to a mix of roulette tables, billiards table, the poker tables, leading towards the bar at the back of the place. Nowhere was the casino empty in its 24/7 timeslot; it was only on holidays that the place would shut down.
Mordred made his way to the poker tables, all of which were occupied; then again, it was a rare occasion that he would ever see on unoccupied, especially in this casino. The gamblers that played here were always a wicked sort, the ones desperate for something, be it money, fun, or a high.
But desperate people were the chaotic sort. There had been instances of such incidents where some damage has been caused somewhere there, and it was a fight to get them to take responsibility for it. Not to mention, big name people who came here to kill time; they were usually accompanied by personal bodyguards and the type to cause trouble if displeased with some service.
So he was surprised when he saw that one of these tables has just one woman sitting at it, her legs swinging underneath her chair. Her face was of simple structures: straight, sharp, nose, cheeks, eyes. Her hair was dark brown and curly, with flecks of gold in the lighting of the casino. The yellow dress she wore was short, its straps wrapped around her shoulders so the tattoo on her left arm of a gun and a frog stood out on her skin. She wore no jewelry, much less makeup. There were people nearby who stared at her, as though mesmerized by her studying of a deck of cards on the table; even passerbys glanced at her with curiously on their way around the casino.
“Mr. Mordred? You’re here?” a voice emerged from the crowd, and Mordred jumped and spun around to see Luke Seiden standing by him as though he had been here the whole time.
“D-don’t scare me like that!” Mordred gasped.
Luke chuckled. “Apologies. I rang up Mr. Griffin earlier, so I had not expected you to come here personally.”
“Albert told me what’s going on. That person there hogging a whole table to herself, she’s asking me to show up?”
“That’s right. She’s spent the past thirty minutes there without moving, only telling us to get you to come. What she wants is to play a game with you, a bet included.”
“A game of cards.” Here, Luke glanced at him with an unreadable expression. “As you’re my employer, I’d like you to sensibly refuse, but… you wouldn’t do that, would you?”
Luke had one particular trait that annoyed people around him: his lack of expression and response to the world, or even if he wore one, you still couldn’t tell what he was thinking. But to Mordred, Luke was Employee of the Year ever since they hired him three years ago that sometimes he wondered if Luke actually had a life outside of work; he was in charge of the gym and had two jobs outside of the hotel as coach for two volleyball clubs.
Mordred started to speak, but instead felt his chest pierce with shock when the young woman jumped to her feet with a bright smile and yelled loudly, “The person I wanted to bet with!” She pointed excitedly towards him.
He winced, as those nearby her or who had been watching her, turned towards him with surprise.
The girl was ignorant of her surroundings, as she went on breathlessly, “Mordred Reid, play a game of cards with me, with a bet on who wins!”
“W-why?” Mordred yelped, but she had rushed up to him.
“It’ll be short! We both draw three cards and whoever has the bigger hand wins!” She didn’t seem to have heard him as she tugged him towards the table. “Three rounds, by the way! Today’s a good day, so I’m definitely going to win against you!”
Mordred found himself dragged over to the table. “B-but I don’t think I can play! I mean-”
“Play!” the young woman whipped around to him with a snap, and Mordred flinched. If strange people playing in the casino was troublesome, a woman was worse.