Robert Carter
rating: +18+x

Robert Carter was cool, calm, and collected. He straightened his deep blue tie, then parted his hair with a metal comb. The lights of the Las Vegas strip lit up the night as bright as day. Robert continued to stride down the pavement, taking out one stick of nicotine gum, another of strawberry flavoured, and placed them into his mouth. He chewed, merging them both into a single amorphous blob. He rolled the wad around his mouth, then parked it between his left cheek and his teeth. It was a slower hit than chewing tobacco, but the taste and texture were better.

Robert continued walking, the beam of light from the top of the Luxor's pyramid guiding him to his destination. He cracked his neck from side to side, then stretched his arms into the air. He moved through the entrance, walking through the atrium to the high limit area. A staff member waved at him, and he in return; Robert was one of their most regular patrons.

Robert wasn't the best at poker, but he didn't need to be fantastic to turn a profit here. While other, more specialist casinos were filled with savvy players at their tables, the Luxor was a hotel and entertainment venue as well. Rich businessmen would stay here on trips and play at the tables on a whim, with no real concept of how to play, and Robert was glad to empty their pockets.

He walked over to the cage, exchanging ten thousand dollars - cash, of course - for chips, and getting his name placed on the wait list. He moved to the cocktail station, smiling at the bartender, who returned the smile.

"Good evening, Mister Carter. Your drink, as always."

"Thanks, Jim. Keep the change."

Robert handed the bartender a crisp fifty-dollar bill, taking the Pineapple Screwdriver from the bench and sipping it pensively. He seated himself in a nearby lounge, watching a table of men throwing their money away at a Baccarat table. Robert was filled with a sense of schadenfreude as he saw two men dejectedly leave the table, their money wasted to the house. Games of chance, while interesting, were never worth the financial risk. There were no betting systems that offered meaningful returns, with the exception of counting cards; even then, you'd likely be removed from the table before gaining a decent win margin.

A staff member walked over to Robert, bowing curtly.

"A seat has become available, Mister Carter. Please follow me."

Robert stood, following the man over to the table with his highball glass in hand and his bag of chips in the other. The house dealer moved the white button in front of the empty seat as Carter approached, the other three people at the table looking towards their newcomer.

Carter cased them. His thought patterns were something like this.

Number One: male, heavy build, balding brown hair, a slight roundness to the belly, a beer placed in front of him and a small pile of poker chips. A black suit jacket, opened to accommodate for the rotundity of his gut. Light tan, slight lazy eye, probably on holiday looking to burn through some savings. Not a problem.

Number Two: female, curvy, deep red lipstick, green dress, with shoulder length brown hair. Probably the wife of someone rich, having some fun with the husband's money. She seemed to have the largest pile of chips in front of her, though whether by chance or ability, Carter couldn't say.

Number Three: male, tall, lanky, glasses, long hair, wearing a suit he's clearly a bit uncomfortable in; likely here for the IBM Impact conference being held at the Venetian. A potential threat, but based on the assumption of his employment, probably more analytic of the table than the people sitting at it. In that case, easily bluffed if the table could have some decent hands in play.

Yes, he thought, sitting down to the left of One. This was a good table.

Carter pulled his chips from the bag, sorting them into ordered piles. The dealer spoke to Carter while shuffling the cards.

"Texas hold 'em, current blinds of 40 and 80, betting cap limit of 4000 per player per round. Mister Carter to deal."

The dealer riffled the deck a final time as Carter got his chips in order. One placed 40 out, Two placed 80, then all watched as two cards were dealt to each player. Carter lifted the side of his cards, looking at his hand: the King and 10 of Diamonds.

K♦ 10♦

"Bidding on Mister Ferris."

Three picked up the cards from the table, looked at his hand, placed the cards back down, then dropped 80 worth of chips besides them. Carter matched the blind, nodding to the dealer.

"Bidding on Mister Colridge."

One nervously tapped his chin, then pushed another 40 onto his small blind. Two tapped the table, smiling at the dealer. The dealer pulled the bids to the pot, then dealt the three cards of the flop: the 9 of Spades, the Queen of Hearts, and the 3 of Diamonds.

9♠ Q♥ 3♦

The other players had their eyes on the cards; Carter had his eyes on them. One was smiling dumbly at the deal, then picked up his hand; placing it back on the table, he checked. Not a good hand for him, then, Carter thought. Three still stared at the table, clearly running some calculation in his head.

"Bidding on Miss Friar."

Two ran her index finger between her lips, then placed it solidly on her cards. She moved 200 worth of chips from her pile next to the cards, then nodded to the dealer.

"Raise of 200 from Miss Friar."

Three, without hesitation, pushed a matching bid in front of him. Likely had a good hand, probably at least one Queen; then again, Two had still been confident enough to raise. The table didn't favour a certain suit, so a flush wasn't bankable; the best, at present, was three of a kind. Still, Carter was a single Jack away from a straight; not to mention the small, but notable potential for a diamond flush.

"Bidding on Mister Carter."

The question, then, was to call or re-raise. One was likely to fold or check, if the estimation of a bad hand was correct; thus, calling the hand would stop Two from being able to raise again this round. Carter moved in 200 next to his cards, nodding to the dealer. The dealer turned to One, who sighed, pushing his cards forward. The dealer nodded, then collected the bids from around the table. He burned a card from the deck, then dealt the turn card: the 9 of Diamonds.

9♠ Q♥ 3♦ 9♦

Carter considered his position; a diamond or a Jack on the river would give him either a flush or a straight, but anything else would leave him with a the shared 9 pair hand from the table. Carter took a mouthful from his drink.

"Bidding on Miss Friar."

Two pushed in 1000 worth of chips.

"Raise of 1000 from Miss Friar."

Three looked at the table, massaging his temples. That he was thinking about this meant that he likely only had the one Queen; if he had two in his hand, the pair of nines now on the table would give him a full house, at which point he'd know he had won. The question, then, was what Two had. It was possible that she had the two Queens, but assuming that Three had one of them, the chances were rather low. She probably started, then, with one Queen and another of the cards on the table. If she had a Queen and a three, then she had now simply improved from a Queen/3 two pair to a Queen/9. If she had the Queen and a 9, however, then she had a full house of two Queens and three nines. Carter looked over at Two, suddenly staring directly into her eyes as she stared straight back at him.

"Call from Mister Ferris, bidding on Mister Carter."

The best solution was to act as though he had the two Queens in his hand.

Carter moved 2000 worth of chips onto the table.

"Additional raise of 1000 from Mister Carter."

Two smiled, moving another pile in to match the raised bet, as did Three, ending the bidding round. Carter smiled at Two, taking another drink from his glass; she rested her chin in her hands, smiling back. Three, meanwhile, remained oblivious, staring directly at the cards. One looked on at the match with a degree of joviality, his lost bid of 80 now seeming tiny in comparison. The dealer gathered the bets into the now imposing pot. All eyes were on the deck as the dealer burned another card, then revealed the river: the Jack of Hearts. Carter reviewed the table and his hand.

9♠ Q♥ 3♦ 9♦ J♥

K♦ 10♦

He had the king-high straight, then; Carter prevented himself from exhaling a sigh of relief. Flushes were impossible with the current state of the table, so the only real danger to his hand was from a full house. Carter was certain that Three had no such hand; from his subdued demeanor, it was unlikely his non-Queen card had been a Jack.

"Bidding on Miss Friar."

Two pushed 1000 worth of chips beside her hand.

"Raise of 1000 from Miss Friar."

Three was concerned by this, picking up his hand from the table, then placing it back down. He rubbed the back of his neck. He was clearly hesitant about the hand: yet, he had sunk the money into the pot, and seemed resolved to see it through. He started to move a pile of 1000 beside his cards, then shook his head, pushing in two such piles.

"Additional raise of 1000 from Mister Ferris. 2000 to call, bidding on Mister Carter."

Carter wasn't concerned about Three any more. The futile show of confidence had been the clincher; Three did not have a winning hand. The question, then, was Two. She continued to stare at Carter, smiling at him with almost condescending confidence. Carter moved his bet beside his cards.

"Additional raise of 1000 from Mister Carter, total bid 3000. Miss Friar, an additional 2000 to call."

Two pushed three piles besides her hand.

"Additional raise, capping the table maximum at total bid of 4000. Mister Ferris, 2000 to call."

Three massaged his forehead, sighed, then pushed an additional 2000 into his bet. Carter smirked at the move, pushing in a final 1000 of his own and ending the final round of bidding. The dealer collected the bids into the pot.

"All show."

9♠ Q♥ 3♦ 9♦ J♥

Three flipped his hand first.

Q♦ 3♠

"Two pair from Mister Ferris."

Carter flipped his own hand next.

K♦ 10♦

"A king-high straight from Mister Carter."

Three closed his eyes, letting his head flop limply backwards in defeat. Two laughed at the gesture, then flipped the two cards in front of her, still untouched since the beginning of the game.

K♥ 10♥

9♠ Q♥ 3♦ 9♦ J♥

For a second, Carter's heart skipped a beat at the sea of red, thinking she had a royal flush; remembering that a flush was impossible, he examined the hand more closely.

"And a king-high straight from Miss Friar. Split pot between Mister Carter and Miss Friar, dividing 18920 into a total of 9460 apiece."

The dealer deftly started to sort the pile; Three gathered his remaining chips, turned on his stool, and gestured to a passing member of floor staff. Carter looked over to Miss Friar inquisitively, curious about the unexpected hand. She smiled at him with the same smile she had during the match, initiating conversation.

"Nicely done. Was half expecting you to have the two Queens."

"Same here."

The dealer passed both of them their winnings; each gave the dealer a 50 chip as a tip, causing him to dip his head in gratitude. Carter waved down a passing server.

"Say, Miss Friar, let me buy you a drink to celebrate."

"Expecting me to play worse when I'm liquored up?"

"Well, clearly I'll need all the edge I can get, Miss Friar."

She laughed, shaking her head.

"You'll find that drink only makes me stronger. A rum and coke then, Mister Carter."

"Please, call me Robert."

"Ruby."

"A pleasure to meet you, Ruby Friar."

She grinned.

"Likewise, Robert Carter."

And so the night went on.


Something slid under the door.

Robert carefully sat up in the bed, massaging his temples. The Luxor's Pyramid suite was furnished with tinges of royal purple on the lounges and curtains; he looked towards the hieroglyphics plastered on the wardrobe at the foot of the bed before returning his gaze to the door. He heard a shuffling from outside. He stood upright, careful not to disturb Ruby from her rest. Robert walked across the room, bending down and picking up a slip of paper from the carpeted floor. He turned to a nearby lamp, flicking the switch as quietly as he could. He looked at the envelope, reading in large cursive Mister Robert Carter across the front. He slowly tore the top of it open, pulling out and reading the message inside:

to the recipient of Robert Carter the;
you have been stated Claimwise presently at the hence to forthwith of many am to. via the forthwith, Hence into plain and direct of the subject topic. some rational Inheritance of the company
MARSHALL, CARTER AND DARKE LTD.
is am wish to many. Consumption from the. collection at
JUNE 26
from the place of Residents.
if Ever am to the not; Hotel And Casino of Luksoras room will yes.
forthcoming For incomprehensible, henceways, no message from Incipient.
from RUPRECHT CARTER of unDeath state
graceless Corpuscule;
The A-78xD United Eidolonic Collective
(deepness for incomprehensible)

Robert realised he mustn't have been awake enough to understand the note. He put it on the counter, meaning to read it upon waking; yet it slipped his mind in the morning, later dismissing the letter as an odd dream and leaving the missive to be disposed of by the cleaning ladies. Ruby and Robert parted ways. Days passed, as days do.

On the night of the 25th of June, Robert Carter went to sleep in the Pyramid suite of the Luxor hotel.

On the morning of the 26th, he awoke in an unfamiliar bed.

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