Crimes of Elyria Part Two: Sharp Teeth

Hello dear readers. It's been a while but I've been focusing on some other projects, but since I had a bit of time I thought I'd surprise you all and myself with part 2!

This one was little different than I expected, when the character first appeared to me, but spice of life and all that.

I hope you enjoy.

Crimes of Elyria: Sharp Teeth

The game was five card stud. Most folk would say it was a game of chance; after all, the dealer dealt the cards. Most folk were wrong.

Ressik knew what it truly was. In five card stud you didn't play the cards, you played the players. That was what he was good at, better than good even; he was a master.

Granted some of that was due to his inborn nature but most was due to a wealth of experience and a competitive streak a mile wide; not to mention a mind fast enough to leave all these dry lungs in the dust. In fact, that was his secret. He cheated.

No player worth his salt would sit down to play with a To’resk. Sure, his people had their own version of the game, played with masks or screens, where only voices and cards were visible to the other players but here in the shrub steppe, where the dry air made him wheeze, there was nothing so fancy. Instead it was an honest game, at least that’s what the other players thought.

There were four of them, seated at the oval table with Ressik and the dealer.

To his immediate right was a young mix blood, Neran and Waerd probably, dusky skin and rawhide hat. He chewed a piece of bark as an affectation, to distract and confuse. Ressik had already figured out his tell though. The chewing pattern changed based on bluff or truth. Most players had this stupid idea to disguise their tells with other habits. It didn’t work. He played confidently though, a bit too confidently, but still smart. Not letting himself get baited unless he had good hand cards.

Next to the mixblood was an older gentlemann, clad in a white suit, hair turned white, short cropped beard around his mouth. He smelled like money to Ressik, not just the cheap kind of card game money, nor the shifty underworld money, no this man smelled like proper beef money. One of the cattle barons, probably. He played like he was sitting on a bottomless pile of money. Rising to every bait, then cursing like a sailor when he lost, though still laughing.

To Ressik’s left a lady sat, her face covered with a gauze black veil, dressed in conservative blacks, covered from head to toe. Dras, he assumed. At least her accent sounded like she was from down south.

To an outsider she seemed like the weakest player. She rarely raised, played carefully. Ressik however had other suspicions. In fact she sent shivers down his spine. There was something in the way she played. Something in the way she acted. Ressik hadn’t gotten this far in life by having bad instincts and his gut told him this womann was trouble.

The final player was an oddity, to say the least. Short, proper short and stocky, bald and sunburned enough to make him appear like raw meat. Ressik had never met one before, but he’d be willing to bet that this mann was from the north, the far north. He’d heard that a few expeditions had been launched to mine the mountains, but this fellow didn’t look much like a miner, more like a brawler. Flat features, cauliflowered ears and a nose broken so many times it looked like a squashed turnip, purple veins running up to his eyes. He cursed and railed in his barbaric tongue whenever the cards turned against him and spent freely when he won. He looked like the most belligerent of the lot but Ressik knew he was the weakest player. He would be the first to fall.

Then there was Ressik himself. To an outsider Ressik appeared to be a rather short fellow, Neran with some mix far back. The first thing one would notice about Ressik is the massive set of buckteeth protruding from his mouth, then the eyes would be drawn to the pair of thick spectacles hanging from his nose, then to the wheezing breath and the persistent coughing; clear signs of a weak constitution. When he spoke you’d think he was suffering from a stuffy nose, his voice nasal, high and highly annoying, even to his own ears. If one looked for the signs of the To’resk, one might see a slight furrow in the brow, perhaps a hair’s breadth deeper than for regular folk. Perhaps in the right light one might see a slightly sickly green to his complexion.

In fact, Ressik looked nothing like this. It was all fake. Clever artistry meant to confuse. His buckteeth a set of clever dentures, his brow furrows filled with tree gums and face paint. He’d spent hours in the sun, letting his skin suffer just to play this part.

The only thing that was true, was his cough, but even that served to reinforce the image of the weak, bookish fellow he was playing at this table.

Most criminals would say that you needed to be secretive, unobtrusive and circumspect. The thief didn’t want to be recognized, otherwise he’d soon be swinging in the breeze. The assassin covered his face to protect from reprisal. Daemon’s balls, even spies and the government’s shadows all went for the whole average appearance and unremarkability.

Ressik knew it was all shit anyway, especially for this audience. Gamblers were by nature a suspicious lot. They didn’t trust the dealer, they certainly didn’t trust the players. If a complete stranger came in, looking completely average, completely nondescript, like anyone just walked off the street, the first thing they’d do is frisk them, then fleece them and then, if they were innocent, leave them hogtied next to a pig trough somewhere.

The truth was much simpler. Everyone was remarkable in some way. Ressik’s trick was to be remarkable, to be memorable but for all the wrong reasons. They saw a bookish, short fellow with horrendous buckteeth because that’s what he wanted them to see. They’d remember him, remember what he looked like when he walked away with their money.

The game went on, round after round. The lady played smart but little, hording each chip as if it were her last. The older gent played wild cards, going all in on a single low pair, then re-buying once he lost everything, again. Ressik was careful not to appear too lucky. A winner, gamblers could accept, a winning streak, not so much. As the game progressed his estimation of the lady changed. She played like an observer, not a player. She played to stay in the game, not to win. Ressik briefly wondered why then shrugged as he coughed and wheezed.

The first to fall was the older gent, going all in with three threes. It went against Ressik’s predicition, but it was still a game of chance. It was a good hand, not good enough to beat the mixed blood’s straight though. Ressik was in the lead, not by a lot, two or three chits only, but those would be his advantage. The Lady’s pile had not changed. The mixed blood was on a near equal footing with Ressik.

When the brutish dwarf lost, it was to an uproar of barbaric curses that sounded like he wanted to marry a goat, and for a moment Ressik feared there’d be violence, as two thuggish looking bouncers approached but then the small mann raised his glass in salute, tipped it back and wandered off.

Three of them remained and it was now a game of attrition. Ressik was certain if he cashed out now, he’d walk away with a fortune, except he smelled a bigger fortune on the air. His eyes scanned his opponents.

The mixed blood was getting nervous while the veiled lady remained steadfast and calm. He wished he could see her face, but judging by how she had played she wasn’t a threat.

Ressik coughed again.

“Let’s play.” He said his voice nasal and annoying. The dealer gave him a dubious look while the mixed blood scowled but nodded.

“To the death.” The mixed blood said, taking another piece of bark to chew from a belt pouch.

Ressik smiled inwardly. What an idiot…

The snap of playing cards as two piles were shuffled in a feat of masterful dexterity. The snap as the first card was discarded. Then the elegant sweep as they floated towards each player. Ressik loved those sounds and sights. This was where he was meant to be; hustling unsuspecting idiots.

He took a look at his cards. Not great, a pair of twos. The lowest possible combination. His eyes narrowed as he looked over at the mixed blood. The chewing pattern was excited. He had something good. A swift glance at the lady who was busy with her cards, her gauzy veil shifting slightly as she saw his gaze. There was a nod and he had the impression of a smile. He didn’t let it get to him.

People acted on patterns. The lady had played safely all evening. He doubted she’d shift her tactics. He coughed again then exchanged his lowest two unpaired cards, a five and a seven for two new ones. A ten and a king, nothing useful.

Ressik grinned, showing his buckteeth. He knew they were watching him, waiting for him to make a move. Some folks said business was a cutthroat world, but it was nothing in comparison to the world of gamblers, who’d pounce on you in an instant.

The dealer motioned to Ressik. “Begin.”

Ressik considered his options. It was a whole new game now, a war of attrition where the objective was to bleed the enemy over time until they died of exsanguination or fled the battlefield and on this battlefield Ressik was a master.

At a table of five it was easy to survive. Most players were fools. They spent unwisely, made stupid or bored moves. Those that lasted this long usually didn’t. They knew the stakes, could read the cards as well as anyone else.

Ressik made his move.

“Five hundred.” He said, raising his voice loud enough for all to hear.

It was a third of his chits. Enough money to keep him in womenn and wine for a few months, but Ressik didn’t need particularly like wine, nor were womenn the first things on his mind. No, this was something else. It was a challenge to see who was willing to risk it all so early in the game. Would they let themselves get baited? Would they play it safe? In essence it was a declaration of war.

To his surprise the lady responded with a demure. “Call.” So she was changing tack. Ressik wished he could see her face. It was almost like playing against one of his own people with that annoying veil. Except he knew she wasn’t, too tall by far and too slender.

The mixed blood looked at the two and his chewing changed. It radiated uncertainty and fear. Ressik smiled. He wasn’t stupid. Two players going all in, high risk right off the bat was dangerous. It could mean anything. For Ressik it meant testing out the mettle of his enemies.

As it turned out, the fellow was probably more lead than steel.

“I’m out.” He said, laying down his cards.

The dealer looked at Ressik. “Your call, sir.”

Ressik shook his head. It had been an opening salvo but he had no intention of playing out this charade with a pair of twos. That money was already lost in his own calculations. At least, until he earned it back.

The dealer turned to the lady who also shook her head. In unison their hands drifted towards the cards. Ressik flipped his over then stared at her hand. She had… nothing. Absolutely nothing. He stared at her. What by Daemon’s balls was she doing?

The lady knocked on the table.

“Well, that was quite enough excitement for one evening. Gentlemenn if you’ll excuse me, I’m cashing out.” She slid her chair back and took what remained of her chits. There was an almost imperceptible nod towards the dealer. It was so faint Ressik almost missed it. Was there any meaning to it?

He pushed aside the mystery and focused on the game. He looked over at the mixed blood who had a hard look in his eyes. It was a duel now, a duel to the death. One thing he knew for certain, neither would walk away without leaving the other bleeding out in the dust, those were the rules. Ressik nodded, giving another bucktooth smile as he slid his victory towards his side of the table.

The evening progressed at a more stately pace now. With Ressik winning some, the mixed blood winning others. An endless tug of war where Ressik had the upper hand. Slowly something shifted though. His cards were becoming worse and worse. He bluffed and blustered and annoyed through a few rounds, but something was wrong.

As the next round began he kept his eyes on the dealer. His fingers moved deftly, dancing along the edges of the cards as he shuffled them.

There! Almost too fast to see, the card switch. That bastard was double dealing. Every second card… every card meant for him! Ressik found his fist bunching under the table and a roar of outrage building in his throat. Then he stopped. That would be reckless and foolish. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself. So instead he fought on valiantly, mustering his outrage into mathematical calculations.

He focused his mind on what he could do.

It wasn’t bad cards that lost you a game, it was bad playing.

The war continued, with Ressik finding himself on the defensive more often, the mixed blood’s morale strengthening by a run of too good cards. He needed to kill it quickly.

“All in.” He said, without looking at his cards, as the dealer finished floating him a card.

The mixed blood stared and then, probably convinced by his own luck nodded. “All in.”

What an idiot. Ressik already knew he had nothing, but his opponent didn’t. They were near evenly matched and the stacks of chits when shoved towards the center presented a considerable fortune.

“Cards on the table.” The dealer said.

Ressik flipped his cards.

Ten, three, five, seven and Angelica. Nothing.

He looked over at his opponent who stared at his own cards with a look of dismay and despair. Wait? He’d won?

Ressik’s breath caught, resulting in another bout of coughing, real coughing. Damned dust.

He looked at his opponent’s cards. Two, three, four, seven and nine.

“High card wins.” The dealer said motioning towards Ressik. Applause greeted the proclamation and to his surprise Ressik noticed that the table was surrounded by curious onlookers.

He’d been prepared to sacrifice himself. It was, after all, only money. He could always earn more from some gullible idiots. Instead he was the victor.

How though? He asked himself that question as an attendant came to collect his chits and accompany him to the register.

He had a broad grin on his face when two menn grabbed him by each arm and lifted him clear off the ground.

“What is the meaning of this?” He said, still using his false voice. He looked towards the other gamblers with entreaty but they all looked away…. Shit.

They carried him down a set of stairs into the basement, where they placed him in a small room and sat him down on the chamber’s lone stool.

“Wh… what is happening?” Ressik moaned, still encompassing his role.

“Boss wants to talk to you.” One of the two grunted. They both looked like they had muscle for brains, probably not even able to spell their own names or use a quill without crushing the tip. The boss? That didn’t sound good.

What had he gotten involved in? Had he given himself away somehow? No, that wasn’t possible. He was a master.

When the door opened he was expecting another thick necked and grizzled face, just tougher and meaner than the two flunkies. Instead the veiled lady stepped inside.

“My what do we have here?” She purred.

“Umm, excuse me miss but what’s happening here?” He asked, careful to keep up his façade.

“Three days, three separate tables and three very successful victories, Master…?”

“Wilbert.” Ressik said.

The veiled lady cocked her head. “Wilbert… what an imaginative and undoubtedly false name. Let me tell you, Master Wilbert, folk round here take cards seriously, very seriously.”

“S… so do I, miss.” He stuttered. “I was just lucky, that’s all.”

She started circling his chair slowly. “I know luck. What you have is not luck. Tell me, Master Wilbert. How did you do it?”

“D… do what?”

“Come now, don’t play coy with me or I shall have to have my lads give you a… stern talking to.” Ressik was certain it didn’t involve talking, except with fists.

“I didn’t do anything, miss.” He kept playing the meek little fellow. He wheezed for effect.

“Punch him.” The lady said.

Ressik wasn’t prepared for the meaty fist that slammed into his jaw and sent him flying off the chair. His dentures flew out of his mouth and clattered against the wall, mirrored by the pair of spectacles flying from his nose.

“Look, you knocked his teeth out!” The other thug said excitedly.

Ressik saw the lady walked towards the broken teeth. “Marvelously made.” She commented. A groan escaped from Ressik. “Ah. That explains it.” She didn’t sound particularly surprised.

“I didn’t cheat.” Ressik said.

“That is debatable, Master Wilbur. Your people are well known as truthtellers. What self respecting player would sit in on a game of deceit knowing their opponent can tell truth from lies?”

“Nothing in the rules…” Ressik began.

“Hit him again.” The veiled lady said. He felt the impact drive him into the floor again, his sharp teeth digging into the inside of his mouth and making him taste blood.

“What do you want from me?” Ressik asked.

“Want? I want nothing. I grew suspicious after two days of winning. How did a pathetic mann like you win, I asked myself. So I sat in on your little game to gain your measure.” She replied. “But now, since you have violated the rules of the house, you must, of course, be punished.”

Ressik stood up and tried to smile. He tried to appear contrite and wounded. He stumbled into the lady, his head still spinning. She caught him and turned on her heels to lean him against the wall.

“Pardon me.” He said. “I apologize but a mann’s got to make a living.”

The lady lifted her veil. Violet eyes stared back at him. She would not be what anyone would call beautiful, but she was remarkable, skin as pale as the dead with high cheekbones and purple lips.

“So too does a lady.” She replied. “So, Master Wilbur, I shall send a few boys round to confiscate your winnings and I shall have my boys here teach you a painful lesson, but don’t worry. It won’t be permanent.” She smiled, her lips stretching to a white line.

“When you’re done throw him to the dirt.” She said as she brought her veil back down.

For the first time in a while Ressik felt fear. The two thugs approached, cracking their knuckles. Shit.

There were many ways Ressik would describe what happened to him. Thorough was the most accurate as he crawled on his hands and knees, blood dribbling from his nose to the dusty road.

Everything hurt. There wasn’t a single piece of him that felt whole. He kept crawling for a while until he found a quiet alley where he leaned himself against the wall. He spat, blood and spittle dribbling down his chin.

Bad idea he realized as his dry mouth breathed in the dust he’d raised with his scrambling. Every cough felt like agony, now. Still, it could be worse. He could be dead.

His arm hurt as he reached into the inside of his shirt and drew out a coin purse.

It wasn’t his, the thick leather embroidered with a floral motif.

It was the veiled lady’s. He'd swiped it during his 'ill fated' stumble.

Some you won, some you lost, like in gambling, so in life. At least, if you played by the rules.

Say one thing about Ressik, say that he is a cheat.

He smiled a bloody smile, sharp teeth gleaming in the dark, as he started thinking about the next con.

Crimes of Elyria Part One: The Ripper

2/5/2020 9:12:58 PM #1

Ressik, now that's a character you have to like!


2/5/2020 11:18:25 PM #2

definitely a nice change of pace from battles and serial killers. Now we just need some mobsters xD

2/12/2020 2:55:33 AM #3

another very nice story, Scy! already looking forward to your next!

2/14/2020 11:34:06 AM #4

Can't wait to see peoples responses to part three 😂

Keep going! 🤗