Fiction Crime Drama

The Shady Hand

 “I’ll bet all my winnings on the next hand,” announced Francis Calleja, a big time wheeler and dealer that had stolen many a poor man’s pocket of wealth. “If I lose whoever accepts the deal will win all my land but if I win then I take over their property.” Calleja was on a role this afternoon and it was too early to quit playing and go home. Sitting around the card table with Francis were another four men from prominent families around the little village. These men knew trouble was brewing but there was no stopping Calleja when he put his mind to something. His friends at the table each had a lot to lose so they were quick to throw in the towel and refuse Calleja’s bet. 

  At another table close enough to Calleja’s to be within earshot a young very confident man stood up and stared at Calleja intensely. He needed an opportunity like this to be able to change his ways for good and he felt life owed him something for all crap he endured in his youth. “Today might just be that day,” he thought to himself. “I’ll take that bet Calleja” said the brave stranger. “What’s your name?” asked Francis. “My name is Ivan. So let me get this straight, if I win, I’ll get your land, right? Does that include your family residence?” Ivan wanted to make sure he understood the deal.  “A house for a house,” replied the wealthy bachelor. 

 “Deal the cards then.” Shouted someone from across the room. The bar was alive with men who had just finished work and wanted a cool drink after their laborious day in the sun or office. The music echoed in the background as the young man went to sit across from Francis. “So how should we do this Calleja?” enquired Ivan. " Manuel here will write up the agreement and we both sign it before dealing out the cards” continued Francis. “That’s OK by me, does anyone have a pen?” asked Ivan. Manuel was prepared for the occasion due to him working in the local courthouse as a legal officer. After the gentlemen concluded their tedious paperwork, the documents were placed in the centre of the card table and each man waited for the cards to be delt out.

 The room became silent. White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane was playing on the radio before the bar owner switched it off. No one in the room would even notice the music though because everyone was focusing on the two men who took centre stage. The room was thick with the smell of tobacco and sweat as the gentlemen looked at each other blankly, waiting for their cards.  In the background, beer and whiskey glasses could be heard clinking over tabletops as the waiters picked up empty glasses and handed refills. The bar owner loved days like these because people seemed to drink more and stay longer. Ivan began to pick up the first two cards delt. The native onlookers recognized this as a naïve move. Calleja confidently waited. No smile was to be seen on either of the men’s faces. The game had suddenly metamorphosized into a life altering decision with consequences. Calleja loved the feeling of uncertainty. He had everything he ever wanted or needed but he was only happy when he felt he could lose it all. Someone coughed in the background and the sound of a chair being pushed echoed through the silence. The men looked at their delt hand then looked at each other a couple of times. The whole afternoon had been uneventful and now, suddenly someone wasn’t going to leave this bar a happy man. Most people rooted for young Ivan.  Everyone loved a longshot. Calleja didn’t bother about the onlookers who would judge him harshly and tried to put on a show even though he knew most people didn’t like him but he was ok with that. Being successful meant there would always be those that held bitter feelings towards him, and they probably had reason to. Ivan though was not known by the more frequent customers to the bar but he was young, with a future ahead of him and this fact made Ivan rather a relatable character with his story resembling their own stories and this made him the favourite of the moment.

  Ivan had recently married a girl named Maria. He believed she was the one thing in his life that made him want to be good. He tried to live an honest life at first, but times were tough and finding a job that would help him take care of his wife and future family proved more difficult than he had expected. This deal would mean a burst of hope at a time when all he had were empty pockets. Sure, Ivan had won a couple of games of cards in these last weeks prior to this moment but they weren’t enough to pay the bills or ensure a comfortable life. This game could change things. As he held those cards, he thought of how excited he would be to go home and give Mary the crazy news. A hint of pride was seen in Ivan's eyes that day, for that short time, because he was fully aware that he could be about to bring down one of the richest and stingiest men in the bar. Ivan couldn’t control his anticipation. As the cards were being delt he started to pick them up with his hands trembling. He tried to keep himself calm by holding his breath and trying to recite short words of encouragement to himself but the pressure was on. His first two cards were an ace of spades and a two of hearts. Next cards were the eight of clubs, Jack of diamonds and a nine of clubs. He traded the two of hearts and the nine of clubs receiving the eight of spades and an ace of clubs. The cards weren’t great but they were good enough to hold on to. When Calleja was ready they agreed to show their cards at the same time. As the cards were placed on the table for everyone in the room to see, it was apparent that Calleja had lost with a pair of kings which really left their audience in a stir, but that is not what impressed the onlookers who stood in silence and waited for someone to speak. Ivan thought everyone was disappointed that he had won but that is not why they were all staring at him with sombre expressions on their faces. The young man had won no doubt about that but the cards he held in his hands were called “the black hand” by native poker players. It was also known as THE HAND OF DEATH. All the witnesses around these two gambling men that day said a dark cloud passed over them. The hot sun that had been blazing down for most of the day had now disappeared and a shadow could be seen behind Ivan marking his end for the more superstitious patrons. The audience that had collected around the gamblers table walked away without saying a word but kept their heads down as if the man was already dead. Calleja who was not a superstitious man kept his thoughts to himself and started to plan with Ivan the best way to give over his property which was very impressive in comparison to Ivan’s poor living conditions. The young man had lived in a small house that he was buying slowly from a farmer he helped on the weekends.  In his mind Ivan felt relieved that he wouldn’t have to pick up anymore horse manure at six in the morning. At this point the whole sudden change of fortune was slowly shaping into a reality. At one moment he was as wild and crazy with joy as we could imagine but on the other hand he wasn’t sure if all that just happened was actually going to be realised. Ivan walked taller that day as they made their way down the street. Everyone became a friend to him and he loved the attention his new place in his town's society was going to be automatically placed upon him. Now he would be in a position to help people not run away from them, he thought to himself. He had tested the odds and won. "Wow," he thought, "it felt good".

  As Ivan left the bar with Calleja, the two men quietly started walking to Ivan’s house to tell Mary about the huge transformation that has occurred in their lives, when all of a sudden a dusty looking drunkard walked through the two men who hardly had taken notice of him and fell heavily on Ivan. This wobbling man seemed to trip and push Ivan to the ground before getting up and running off through the narrow streets just off the main road. As Ivan attempted to get up on his feet he fell back to the ground due to a great pain in his lower abdomen. When he pressed his hand to his body a wet sticky dark red patch of blood was starting to soak through his clothes. The pain he felt was overwhelming and he lay on the ground until someone brought the doctor. Calleja stayed with Ivan in those last moments before the young man exhaled his last breadth.  While Calleja kept Ivan’s body safe he eyed the signed document the two men had organised before the game of cards started and placed it in his pocket for safe keeping. When a doctor finally arrived to the scene it was too late. The onlookers stared in horror at the scene of the unfortunate young man who’s foretold death left him no chance to see his beloved wife one last time.

  The funeral took place a couple of days after the historic card game. The people in the village were saddened by Ivan’s story but it was later whispered on family porches and in the bars that Ivan had visited shortly before his demise, that he had accumulated a lot of debt. Though he had been very lucky in the last month his winnings were never enough to pay the bills. There was a rumour that Ivan even manipulated the card games in his favour and the man that killed Ivan on that day was one of the poor souls that lost more than he bargained for.

 Mary ended up living in a small one roomed house for the rest of her life never remarrying and never knowing that she was supposed to have had a very different life. The papers that were signed before Ivan and Calleja’s last game were never found and no one asked questions. The kids in the street called her the white lady because she let her hair go white and her ivory skin made her look ghost like. She could be seen each morning dressed in a black dress with her dark veil in hand walking quietly to the seven o’clock mass. She would always have some candy in her pockets to give to the kids in the streets and was never known to utter the slightest mean remark to anyone. As the days went by the story of her beloved Ivan became legend. Mary's love for him would remain as fresh as the day they first met but she would never speak his name again.

August 19, 2022 21:46

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.