Note: This story was written for a contest. There was a strict word limit, so I wasn't able to add all that I would have liked. Perhaps I'll go back and add more in later.

Play or Pay

Part One: Another Day, Another Dummy

"Why the Hell should I care?"

Standing with arms crossed over his chest and a large frown plastered on his face, a man with obviously little to no patience for mind games was glaring at him. It was all he could do not to jump up from the randomly placed table he was sitting behind and play with the man a little.

"Ah, but you see sir, you have every reason to care. It's just… startling, sometimes, the people you meet on the street, isn't it?" He asked the impatient thug, a broad smile on his own face. He absentmindedly began to shuffle the deck of cards he was holding in his left hand, the sound of the cards hitting each other breaking the silence of the night-time, empty street.

"You see, Mr. Devoir, I know a certain person who knows you, and I'm afraid that you owe just a bit of money to this certain person. I wager you know who I'm talking about?" He abruptly stopped shuffling the cards and placed them onto the table, face down.

He delighted himself in seeing the panicked look that came upon the thug's face then. He could see it all in the brute's eyes. The man was clearly not ready to pay up.

"I don't owe that damned-"

"Oh yes, you do, Mr. Devoir. You owe this certain someone a grand total of four hundred and seventy five dollars." He grinned and patted his deck of cards. "Pay or play, Mr. Devoir. Either way, the payment will be given."

"Now you wait just a damn minute here! I don't owe Rodney that much! What did that thieving, lying sack of shit tell you?!" The man was looking more panicked and more angered by the second, and he absolutely loved it.

"Oh, he told me enough, I assure you. What do you choose, Mr. Devoir? Pay or play?" His patience was everlasting when it came to his victims. They deserved only the best, after all, and he made sure to give them the best.

"I ain't doing either! I'm going home and I'm giving that shit-face a piece of my mind when I get to-"

He hummed in disapproval and flicked the top card toward the thug's left hand. When the card hit the man's hand it fell to the table, making his hand stick to the table and securing him where he was. He wouldn't be much of a gamer if he let his opponents get away from him so easily, after all. He heard the thug's pain-filled gasp and he had to stifle his laughter.

So that card had been the Ace of spades then. That one was the only card that tended to hurt upon impact. It was just the man's luck that he got stuck with the hurtful card.

"I don't believe you understand, Mr. Devoir. Leaving was not an option. Now, in case you've forgotten your choices, you can either pay or play. Pick one now or I'll pick for you."

He could feel that, after saying those words, the thug's rage dimmed and was replaced by an uncertain amount of fear. This was, perhaps, his favorite part of the game. While opponents choosing to play was important to him, he also wouldn't have so much fun if his victims were never frightened. Thankfully, fear was a very common emotion when it came to his fellow humans.

"I don't have that much with me!" Mr. Devoir tried protesting, but his efforts were in vain. Another card flew toward him and a second later his wallet was sitting carelessly on the table, its contents spilled out and revealing his lie. The thug swallowed uncertainly.

"All right then, I will simply have to choose for you. And I choose-"

"No, wait! Wait, please! I… I'll play! We're playing cards, right? I can play cards! I can't lose that money! And after I win you have to let me go, you have to let me go with my money. You have to…" Mr. Devoir was rambling now, and he could sense it. He was biding his time for a way out. Clever little thug, he thought, smiling.

But definitely not clever enough to beat him. No one was.

"Ah, what an excellent choice! And of course I'll let you go with your money if you do, in fact, manage to beat me. In fact, if you win I'll even pay Rodney for you. How does that sound?" He hoped the man was too afraid to hear the satisfaction in his tone. Of course, he knew plenty of excuses for being satisfied if the man did happen to catch on, but it would go along so much easier if the little clever thug didn't hear it.

Mr. Devoir nodded to the bet without thinking about what would happen if he should lose. Of course, he probably thought he would simply have to pay the debt. Mr. Devoir was obviously not the brains of the family, he thought to himself, satisfaction growing.

"No, to answer one of your questions. We won't be playing cards. I don't let anyone play with my cards, I'm afraid. No, I have the perfect game for one such as yourself. A word game, if you will." He smirked fully now as Mr. Devoir visibly twitched.

"But I thought… But I can't…" The thug swallowed again, unable to voice his concerns.

"No buts, Mr. Devoir. You agreed to playing, so you're going to play." He shook his finger right in the man's face before standing up and patting his cards once more.

"Listen carefully now, you wouldn't want to make me repeat it. Now then, I will be asking you for one word. This word must be of the English language. What one, nine letter word, can you take out one letter at a time and come up with a new word every time you remove a letter? You'll have five minutes to figure it out." He saw the man's look of confusion and grinned just a little. The question was a word game in and of itself for idiots, and this man was most certainly an idiot. He sat down and leaned back in his chair, perfectly content to wait the fives minutes out.

"I do have a clue to give you," he said after the appropriate three minutes. Mr. Devoir looked at him sharply, hope practically floating off of his face in waves. He grinned.

"I said this word to you sometime during our conversation. I do hope you've been paying attention."

Mr. Devoir cursed under his breath, pulling his left hand and trying to break free almost subconsciously. The card over his hand only tightened and the invisible force sticking the hand to the table pulled sharply, no doubt tearing at least the first layer of skin off the thug's hand and injuring his wrist in the process.

The street they were on was silent as the next two minutes ticked by. For him, those two minutes were agonizingly slow, torturing his patience as well as his building excitement. He knew from experience, though, that it was not the same at all for Mr. Devoir, who had a look mixed of pure confusion and pain still on his face and had no hope of answering the question given to him. Those two minutes were probably passing only too quickly for the brute.

"Time's up, I'm afraid," he said at last, not sounding at all afraid or sympathetic. He knew that, while usually his jade-colored eyes were dull, as he never did believe that idiotic saying that eyes were the windows to one's soul, they were now sparkling merrily. He could feel his happiness almost as if it was a separate presence on its own.

"No wait, I still haven't-" The card tightened further as Mr. Devoir tried, once again, to break free, rendering him speechless in his pain.

"Are you going to answer, Mr. Devoir? It's one very simple word, after all, and you've already heard it once tonight." His hand was steadily creeping to his deck of cards, knowing already that the man could not and would not be answering.

"I don't… I can't… I thought we were going to be playing cards, damn it! I didn't agr-ouch! Get this thing off me!" The man obviously didn't understand that the more he fought with his card, the more pain he would be in. Mr. Devoir should have figured that out when he first tried struggling. He shook his head, amused.

"I take it that you do not have an answer then, correct?" His voice was only a whisper, but it seemed to echo off the nearby walls of the nearby stores, bouncing back and repeating in Mr. Devoir's head several times.

"Well… no, but I need that money. Please, please, just tell Rodney that I won! Please, I nee-" A card suddenly flew from the deck in his hand toward Mr. Devoir's neck, stopping only inches away from the thug's skin.

"Now that would be lying, wouldn't it? No, you lost, and now, you're going to die. You won't be needing that money anymore." he spoke as if it was a blessing for the man, and to him, it was indeed a blessing. One less idiot inhabiting the Earth, the better.

Mr. Devoir couldn't speak –the card was far too close and trying to speak would only kill him quicker- so instead he trembled, trying vainly to pull away from the hold the Ace of Spades had on his hand.

He grinned, making a vague motion with his hand. The card drew just a little bit closer, almost touching skin.

"It's just so… startling, isn't it, Mr. Devoir? How your life can mean so much one minute and be…" He flicked his wrist and the card abruptly sank into the brute's neck. "… Ripped away from you a second later."

He watched calmly as blood slowly leaked from the wound and the thug choked feebly, using his free right hand to try and pull the card out of his throat. His efforts were useless as, only a couple of minutes later, the life he had moments ago was completely bled out of him.

Flicking his wrist again, the card flew out of the man's neck and landed peacefully into his hand, smeared with blood. He grinned as he looked at the man lying on the ground, his left hand still attached to the table. Flicking his other wrist slightly, the Ace of Spades came flying back into his hand and the left hand of Mr. Devoir fell on top of him.

Reaching over, he put all of Mr. Devoir's money back into his wallet and gently laid the object down on the dead man's back before patting it slightly.

"Since you asked so nicely, I'll let you keep your money, Mr. Devoir." He laughed at his own ironic mercy.

Standing back and flicking his wrist once more, the table and chair transformed back into their original forms: two cards. The bloody card in his hand was cleaned quickly and effortlessly before being returned to the deck, and he put the deck into his pocket for safe keeping.

He really did give the man more clues than was needed. He should have figured it out. Then again, he should have been smart enough not to get caught in the first place.

Someone had once told him that word game. It was so long ago now that he could hardly remember who had first told it to him. But it was his favorite. He had gotten it only several minutes after it was asked, and without clues too. The word was just so obvious that it wasn't obvious, and word games that made sense yet didn't make sense at the same time were his favorite.

The base word was startling in more than one way. It went down from there. Startling, starting, staring, string, sting, sing, sin, in, and then finally, I.

He sighed quietly. It was so easy and yet no one ever got it right. Perhaps he was merely asking the wrong people.

Another day, he thought, grinning as he walked away and toward his holder's house, another dummy.