The Queen Of Spades

(Part 1 from 4)

*** Hearts entrap you, Diamonds ensnare you, Clubs enfold you.. But... Spades enslave you.

*** Four Of A Kind.

Aisha reached for her glass but it was empty, just a couple of alcohol tears on the side of the glass showed that it had been full a few minutes before. Her poker hand was just as empty of hope. A nine and ace, not enough to risk, too uninspiring a flop to play the bluff.

With a sigh she tossed the two cards to Chantel and declared her fold. This was going to be an unsatisfactory night if all the cards were so hopeless. She looked around for Henry for more to drink but he was not in the room.

"Call Henry please," she said to Chantel. "I need another whisky."

"He's just making a snack for us now, he'll be back in a few moments," replied her friend with a slight smirk.

Aisha's other two friends were engrossed in the game. Now that both Aisha and Chantel had thrown their hands in the other two were upping their bets as the cards in the flop gathered.

'We are the four queen bitches,' thought Aisha to herself as she glanced at her friends.. 'All of us successful, all four fully in control of our lives, all four rich enough to retire tomorrow.'

Elisabeth. Currently holding two tens with another in the flop. What was there to say about this woman that was a compliment? Owner of a large lingerie firm that was making inroads into the European market, especially with a new range of rather more daring and fetishistic designs. Income, several million a year and growing. At fifty five she was still an attractive woman, slim and tall with a great sense of dress. But she had her dark secrets. Oh yes. One lesbian affair after another, all of them hushed up and the rumours were, that she was, let us be delicate here, rather violent with her partners.

Chantel. Now acting as dealer. Made her money by marrying a little rich boy, the heir to the Dearham fortune. Of New Orleans French extraction, domineering and direct she had gone through more surgery procedures than even she could count, but the result is stunning, a figure that made men fall at her feet and most women jealous as hell. She held her rich but rather naive husband in the palm of her hand whilst the affairs followed each other in quick succession. Affairs with men, of course, with women, well certainly. Aisha had never really liked her at all but was careful never to use her college nickname 'Velo'. The French Orleans bike that anyone could ride. No, she definitely had a mean streak that was to be avoided at any cost.

Veronica. Veronica had the other ten and a four that matched another in the flop. Now Veronica was a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Her business cards were just a Queen of Spades and her name. Rich as Midas but who knew where the money came from? She certainly never talked about it. Veronica was cultured and quiet but when she played poker she displayed a cool ruthlessness that could have been the envy of Aisha, Chantel and Elisabeth. Dressed in such severe but elegant style.

Typically, in wine-red this evening, but black was more her colour. Plain, expensive and Chanel. Always diamonds, never rubies, always platinum never gold. Her husband, little spoken of, often speculated about, was never to be seen. A delicious hunk of a chauffeur stood by her Bentley all night without moving, rain or shine. But a husband? Just another concealed part of her life.

Lastly, the fourth of the 'Queen Bitches' was Aisha herself. Lacking all the trappings of privilege, private education, old money and connected family. She had become the epitome of the self made woman. She had never found her colour a bar to her progress, it was just another card for her to play as she made her money in the real estate business.

All of her enemies and friends underestimated her. She ate the competition for breakfast but the money she made from them never satisfied her. Everyone had met her ruthless streak at some point and never seen the interior vulnerability, that was never, ever, allowed to see the light of day.

'What a bunch of evil bitches we are,' thought Aisha to herself as she looked at her friends. 'The only thing that we now have in common is money and the drive to climb over the bodies of everyone else in the pursuit of money. I really think that we even dislike each other.'

Henry entered the room with a tray and placed it carefully on the side table. Chantel looked approvingly at the collection of snacks for a moment before sending her husband to Aisha with a little movement of the hand.

"A whisky, make it a double Ballantines," said Aisha as she indicated her glass with a manicured finger.

Henry disappeared with the empty and returned just a minute later with a fresh glass to place at Aisha's elbow. Ice was the unspoken addition. For a man with fifty million in the bank he sure made a submissive servant.

The pot on the table was now at about fifty thousand as the fourth card joined the open three on the table. Elisabeth looked searchingly at Veronica and pulled a face but there was no reaction from Veronica, just a look that said, 'I never bluff, so why don't you pay to see my cards.'

"Always the same," said Elisabeth. "I just lose it when I play alone against Veronica."

With a smile she tossed her cards in, careless that they fell face up. "I fold."

The hint of a smile touched the lips of Veronica as she too tossed her cards in, deliberately face up to reveal a full house against the three tens that Elisabeth had folded.

"Do you ever bluff?" asked Aisha.

"Never. Not in cards, not in life and not in business," came the reply from Veronica as she leaned over to daintily take a cigarette from the pack that lay beside Chantel's cash chips.

"I based my whole career on bluff and misunderstanding," laughed Aisha.

"They all think that the little black girl from up-state New York is ripe for the pickin', but they all end up a paying when I get uppity."

"In my business, trust is one of the most important factors; it usually is when money and illegality mix."

It was the first time that the other three had even had a hint of Veronica's business. All four had met attending business school in Yale and had then gone their separate ways but they had remained firmly in contact rather than friends.

Perhaps each recognised that the others deserved respect rather than friendship because they were that rarity in business. Women who not only competed in a man's world, but thrived in it.

Now that all four of them lived in New York, they met up at least once a month to play poker and relax.

It was Elisabeth that asked the question that had never been asked. "So what business mixes illegality with money and needs trust as the oil on the water?"

Veronica smiled. "I can see that you are all eager to delve into my life," she said. "But it comes with a serious price that has to be paid. If you are really curious then I suppose that i could let on of you ladies into my life a little. So let's pay a little game!"

"Meaning?" asked Chantel.

"We play a little round of poker and the loser gets to go with me and experience my business first hand."

"And if you lose?" asked Aisha.

"Then I'll just tell you and answer your questions," came the reply.

"But it's illegal?" asked Elisabeth.

"Absolutely, and has been for a hundred and fifty years."

There was a silence around the table as three of the woman considered the ramifications of the stakes. Veronica just sat, relaxed and smiling, as she watched the other three with slight amusement.

"Well I'm in," said Aisha as she took the cards and started to shuffle. "I am more than curious and I just really want to meet that chauffeur of Veronica's!"

So am I," said Elisabeth. "In fact I like the stakes, money is becoming a bit of a bore nowadays. I'll go for it, that just leaves Chantel."

"How can I refuse?" said Chantel. "There is one question then, what game do we play?"

"Dealer's choice," replied Veronica as she looked over at Aisha.

"Indian poker is the only game that makes any sense," said Aisha. "One unseen card each and let the betting begin. Table stakes with Veronica's offer as part of the ante."

"Before we play, a word of caution," said Veronica. "If you play and lose you come with me now. If you play and do not lose we all meet again to play poker and find out what curiosity did to the cat. I have to go on business anyway so it will be a couple of months at the very least before I can join our poker circle again anyway."

"Veronica always manages to pile mystery upon mystery," said Elisabeth.

"That is what makes her so bloody attractive. Aisha is the Amazon queen and Chantel is so delicious I could fuck her now."

"Are you making a pass at me?" laughed Chantel.

"Are you offended?" replied Elisabeth. "Because you shouldn't be. I mean it, you are good enough to eat! I can eat so well..."

It was clear that Elisabeth was lusting after Chantel. In fact when Aisha thought about it she realised that the signs had been there for ages.

"Let's get to the bottom of Veronica's secret and then we can deal with your unnatural lusts," said Aisha without stating whose lusts she was talking about.

The comment earned her a hard look from Elisabeth that edged the border of hatred whilst Chantel just smiled in a superior way.

"Ladies, ladies," said Veronica in a cool voice. "I am beginning to think that our little poker circle is becoming fractious. Let's cool down and play, vent our feelings on the cards."

With that she indicated to Aisha to offer her the cut and she delicately lifted a few cards off the top of the deck.

All four threw in an ante of five hundred and were dealt their card face down. each held her card for the others to see but hidden from herself. Elisabeth started the betting with five hundred.

There would be three rounds of betting and the one who dropped out first would be the loser so they all had to stay in the game until the showdown. The only information being the other's cards. Each of the poker bitches would not be allowed to see their own card.

Aisha looked at the other's cards and wondered what she was showing. She really did not want to play. Anyway somehow the game had become unpleasant, the players spiteful and the stakes too high. Though she was slightly curious about Veronica she was not curious enough to want to risk the money in a game that was certain to cost thousands.

Maybe it was all the drinks, but the atmosphere was frosty and dangerous. Normally it was all about tension and competition, now it was about losing face and respect.

She saw Veronica holding a nine; Elisabeth held a three and Chantel a six. With the three as the lowest card she felt sure that she would not lose. After all, she calculated there was a seven percent chance of her having a two, and the aces were high. On the other hand the highest was a nine. She might just win.

With a sly look at Veronica she wondered why the loser was the one who got to see Veronica's secrets. Surely the loser would be the one not to find out and the winner would find out the mysterious story behind Veronica's money?

"I like Indian poker," she said as she pushed a thousand dollars worth of chips into the pot and waited to see reactions from the others. It was typical of her to make a comment as she played, part of the style, one of the tells. Chantel and Veronica matched her bet and Elisabeth upped the bet to two thousand.

'This is getting silly,' thought Aisha to herself. The game already had one of the biggest pots of the evening and it all hinged on the fall of just one card.

'Not that a few thousand will change my life,' thought Aisha but Aisha just could not bear to lose. She decided to go all in. After all the entire night's stakes were clearly going to end up in the centre of the table so she might as well try to force someone out of the game.

With a smile Aisha pushed all ten thousand of her chips into the pot. 'Let's get it over with and cut out all those tedious betting rounds!' she thought.

"Ouch!" said Chantel as she pushed her ten thousand into the growing pile of chips. "But if you think that you can force me out with high stakes you can forget it..."

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