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Poker Face

by Edd Vick

So there I am, holding four to a flush and confident as hell. The werewolf on my left has the best tell in the world; his tail droops when he's got nothing. The vampire across from me has a mirror behind and to one side of him so I can see every hand. And the mummy on my right is too stupid to live; barely intelligent enough to unlive, if you ask me.

I bet twenty guldens, Dogboy folds, the Count matches my bet then throws in a blood-red jewel, and the mummy slowly topples forward into its plate of nachos. "I take it you're folding," I say, and push all my winnings into the pot. To the Count: "I'll see your Heart of Mongombo." Then I pull the deed out of my inner pocket. "And raise you Castle von Frankenstein." I unfold the document and set it reverently in the center of the table.

The inn goes quiet. The squeak of the golem's rag on already clean glasses stops, and a succubus clutches my right shoulder. They know.

They know there's only one thing the Count has that's worth anything to me. His gaze finds mine, and I know he's trying to exert his vampiric influence, to find out what I've got or to force me to fold. Nothing doing; I'm beyond his power.

Then, slowly, he extends a hand toward a shadowed corner without removing his attention from me. A woman glides across the room and enters the circle of his arm. Leaning on him, she too looks across at me in mute challenge. Her all too solid reflection blocks my view of the Count's cards.

Good, I think. He's not made her entirely his.

I deal him two cards, and take one for my own hand. I barely glance at them before placing them face down on the table.

He studies the pasteboards. "Pass," he says.

I have nothing more to bet. He could have had the pot for a gulden, but I know his pride.

He puts the cards down. "Full house," says his ensorcelled 'wife'. "Aces over eights." She reaches for the pot.

"Royal flush," I say, tipping the cards over.

The werewolf snorts, and everyone in the inn - those that breathe, anyway - exhales at once. I stand, and take my wife's still-outstretched hand. I pull her to me, pick up the deed to my castle, and shamble to the door.

I fear no retribution. Fear was mislaid when I was made.

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