He slid two twenty euro notes across the table.
“That’s all we have left,” he said, but that didn’t stop her when she reached for them. That could easily be a lie, but Mabel didn’t think so. It had been hard living these last few months, and most caches of savings were long depleted. Now all anyone wanted to do was leave. A man and two young girls, that strange light in their eyes of people with little to lose.
Amazing what desperation could bring people to do. In normal circumstances, they certainly wouldn’t give their last cent to a stranger with no guarantees of any kind, but she didn’t operate under normal circumstances. She could always find someone to trust her when their lives were on the line.
Mabel picked up the notes, holding them up to the light. These days, foreign currency worked best, the local kind didn’t have much value anymore. Normally, she preferred to work in dollars, but euro would do.
“Okay. If I’m not back by dawn, it didn’t work. Give it an hour, then start moving,” and she stepped out of the building into the night.
It took more time that it should have, flitting across cracked streets, but her destination was not far. A battered, half collapsed building: all cracked stone and peeling plaster, but the heavy ironbound door was clean and solid. It might have been a problem if she hadn’t been a known face, but she was waved through into reception quickly enough.
The man at the desk picked up the offered notes one at a time, watching her tense, and examined them thoroughly. After a long moment, he nodded, and jerked his head towards the second wrought iron door behind him.
“Then I keep my money until I do.”
He shrugged. “Fine.”
Mabel unlatched the door, and like he’d said, there was a stall inside where someone handed her a cloth bag in exchange for the cash as soon as she passed through the metal detector. It was a different building past the second door. Not that there was any plush carpeting or chandeliers, but it was clean, structurally sound, and with no sound filtering through from outside. Forty red discs to make a fortune. Some people had had worse beginnings.
There were already four people at the table, unfamiliar faces, all gold teeth and jewellery. It was mostly just a display, a reminder that these people had enough pull to get through the detector no questions asked.
“So… how do you play this game?” she asked, sitting down.
There was a short silence, and then all four other players burst out laughing. The dealer glanced at her over her sunglasses.
“Nice try, loveen.”
Mabel smiled. “Worth trying, yeah? Alright, deal me in.”
The blind bets passed without incident, and no one else spoke until they all had five cards flat on the table in front of them.
She picked up her cards. Ace of Spades. King, Queen, Jack, Ten. On the first hand. The first hand. There was no real way to raise the stakes too much on this hand without the others catching on. Still, she should at least try. She flicked a few extra discs into the centre of the table.
“Fold,” said everyone else immediately. Cards hit the table.
She sighed. After playing cards for over fifteen years, the one and only time she got that hand, she won the blind bets and the first round. A total of eight extra euros. Still nice to get, but a few rounds later would have been better. She still had a lot to do.
This was her favourite kind of game. Once upon a time she’d played in ordinary card tournaments, but no matter how much money was at stake, there was no buzz quite like knowing that someone’s actual life lay on the line, and it was surprisingly hard to get people to agree to those kinds of games back home in Dunboyne. Hence her current career. Any of the people at this table had access to enough guns to wipe out a small village if they felt she was cheating. Mabel loved her job.
Her opposition were not easy marks, nor was she expecting much different, but they were one of the few with any money to spare in the country these days that were willing to put it at risk. That didn’t mean they would underestimate her abilities, or throw it away carelessly. With such a small bank, there was a limit to how much damage she could do in a short time, and four hours later she left the table with maybe two hundred euros in cash.
Taking the normal precautions against being followed, she made her way back to her bankers, stowing her twenty percent fee under a very specific rock en route. The three prospective refugees had not even left their chairs. One looked up in surprise at the sound of her return. He barely dared to even reach for her hand, so she laid her winnings flat on the table and backed off three steps.
“That should get you over the bridge, after that, you’re on your own” Mabel said.
“Thank you,” the youngest child said quietly.
Mabel shrugged and left, retrieving her share from under the rock. People could get sentimental at the strangest times.
By Liam King