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dead_low_winter COVER

 

Originally published in somewhat different form as “Social Climbing,” one of four stories published under the pseudonym Thomas Sparrow in his 1999 debut Northwoods Pulp: Four Tales of Crime and Weirdness and later translated into Japanese and published by Fushosha.

https://bluestonesblog.com/category/dead-low-winter-excerpts/

 

In an age that is utterly corrupt, the best policy is to do as others do. — Marquis de Sade, 1788

ONE:  Social Climbing

The high rollers had me surrounded. They were all staring at me, waiting.

“Three, please,” said the Mayor of Bay City. He was polite, as usual.

I thumbed the cards off the top of the deck and slid them across the smooth brown surface of the round wooden table. Mayor John McKay took them and settled back against his straight-backed chair, spreading his cards out like a fan as he always did. Then he took a white-tipped filter cigarette from the pocket of his tailored white shirt and lit it with a silver Zippo and a flourish of his long-fingered almost feminine hands, blowing out the smoke in a slow upward moving cloud.

I figured he must have hit on his pair.

“I’ll take two,” said large-headed and balding Nicholas Cross on McKay’s immediate left. Cross squinted and tugged on the bridge of his previously-broken-but-nicely-set nose as if a fly was up there. “Make it two of the same kind if you please.” He grinned strangely at the rest of the players, pulling at the loose skin around his Adam’s apple like the fly had found its way down there. After seeing his cards he made a quick swipe across his forehead with a hairy forearm and sat back.

I looked over to my left at the ever-grinning mug of Sam Cross, Nick’s younger brother. His index finger was jammed in his ear, the rest of his stubby hand wiggling with gusto, his other hand resting comfortably against his slight paunch. A good-sized pile of chips and several empty beer bottles formed a barrier around his neatly stacked cards. He’d opened right off the get-go and drawn two.

The Cross brothers were cheating and I knew it. But it only seemed to be working for Sam. Nick had been losing big all night long and was down to writing IOUs. And the jing wasn’t only going to his sibling; he was spreading it around.

Tom Geno, the slick-haired mayor of Zenith City, had a few of those IOUs and also a gigantic collection of chips stacked up in odd-sized piles like rice cakes at a vegetarian picnic. And him the compulsive degenerate gambler that everyone loved to play against. The big fish from the bright side of the bay where the streets are a little cleaner and the sun shines a little brighter. The boys from Bay City always enjoyed cleaning this fish, but tonight the finner was having the last laugh. Yes sir, the Mayor of Zenith City was showing the Bay City boys a thing or two about poker, letting them know he wasn’t the sucker they thought he was.

Geno took one card and slid it in his hand and mixed them up slowly, one at a time, without looking. Having the last laugh on these assholes would definitely be frosting on the Mayor’s cake.

Myself, I was laughing on the inside, where it counts. Imagine—me hanging with the rich and influential. Just a punk nobody finally old enough to grow a decent mustache and here I was, in on the “fleecing of the elite,” as Sam Cross called it.

But the brothers were fucking up their scam right in front of me.

The show was going to be better than I thought.

(To be continued)

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