Play or Pay

Part Three: Dealings Dealt

As he walked away from Mr. Denton, he wondered what he had done wrong. He had to have done something wrong; otherwise his holder wouldn't have sent him to someone who wasn't an idiot. His holder wouldn't have set him up to be caught unless he had done something wrong.

So what was it?

All things considering, it couldn't be that he had lost a part of one of his cards and, essentially, himself. His holder wouldn't care about his hand, nor would he care about his card.

The only thing he would care about was something that he hadn't done wrong.

Fingering his Ace of Spades, he frowned as he examined its broken corner. It had happened during his last assignment. The idiot was, as all idiots seemed to be, a thug of unnatural size. He had been just as amusing as the rest, but he had done something unexpected at the last minute. The idiot had reached down with his head and had tried to bite his card off of his hand in a last attempt to get free.

That was a surprisingly intelligent thing to do. It had surprised him and he was sure that it had surprised his holder.

The idiot still died, but he had taken a piece of his card with him to the afterlife. The idiot wasn't a full idiot. His holder only gave him idiots to work with, so having a victim with a little bit of intelligence had set him off balance. And now, having a victim of actual intelligence made it worse.

He couldn't deal with anybody higher than dumb.

Did that make him, himself, an idiot?

He shook his head. Of course it didn't. He was intelligent. He wasn't an inferior as the people he killed on a daily basis.

What was his holder trying to prove?

Caressing his battered card, he wondered if he would ever be able to kill who he wanted, when he wanted. Even as amusing as fearful humans were, it wasn't enough. He didn't get to do as much as he wanted to do.

He realized early on that he was merely a puppet to his holder. He told himself that he was fine with that fact, though, because he got what he wanted in return. He got the chance to rid the world of the idiots that inhabited it without ever having to worry about being caught. It had been, at first, the chance of a lifetime, but now he was wavering. He still wanted to do what he first thought he'd be able to do, but it wasn't enough anymore.

He had, at one point in time, been as ordinary as any other human being. He had a family and two dogs, a home and plenty of food, and not a care in the world. He had had a life, a body, and most importantly, a soul.

High School had changed everything. The first day he was there, he heard two boys talking about fat people. He wasn't fat himself so he hadn't really cared about that, but what he made all the difference was how the boys were talking.

It had been so ridiculous. Their accents were harsh and rough. Their grammar and vocabulary was, at best, lacking. All in all, hearing them talk had been a chore.

And he realized then that his own species, the dominant species of Earth, had been lacking. The people seemed to become stupider everyday. I.Q levels continually crashed. The higher-ups became increasingly bored and did things that no sane person would do.

They had outlawed color, for Christ sake!

And so he was rightfully disgusted. The more he had thought about it, the more he had wanted to rid the world of what it didn't need. Stupid people.

So he sought to do just that, and his search led him to his holder.

His holder was more of a circus freak than he could ever imagine anyone being. Still, he had been young then and desperately wanted to see his ideals become reality. His holder was in the right place at the right time, so to speak, and it had been just the thing he was looking for.

His holder worked at a gaming company. When he was a sophomore in school, the gaming company had set up a small booth in town for people to come and see some of what the games did. A sample booth, it had been called.

His holder was the main attraction.

He played card tricks on people, mostly. The tricks had been new and, as far as anyone knew, no one else on Earth could do those tricks. His holder's gaming company had been trying to get playing cards back on sale. They wanted to make those cards look new, when they were actually very old.

And with his holder as the main attraction, it had worked brilliantly.

He had been in awe of the tricks, himself. The thing that got to him at first was that he didn't know how they worked and really, really wanted to figure it out. He even got frustrated because he couldn't figure out how they worked. He had always prided himself on understanding things, and being unable to understand the tricks his holder had performed really did get to him.

So, after his holder's performance, he had gone up to him and had asked about the tricks. Well, now that he thought back to it, he more demanded an answer as to how they worked than asked about them.

His holder had laughed at him at first. He said that he didn't tell his trick's secrets to anyone, especially not an arrogant little boy.

Suffice to say, they had started out disliking each other quite a bit.

But after a couple of weeks of demanding to know the secrets of the tricks, he had finally worn down his holder so much so that he told him the tricks and how they worked.

After he knew the secret to the tricks, they really didn't seem all too amazing. He told that to his holder. He had said that they were stupid tricks for stupid people.

Now look at me, he thought, gently placing his Ace of Spades into his pocket. His holder had given him the chance of a lifetime, but in that chance, he had taken away something that he didn't realize he would ever miss.

An eye for an eye, as the old saying goes.

He missed the freedom of choice. He missed being able to choose where he wanted to go, when he wanted to go. He missed his life.

But still, he had what he always thought he'd want. And he still did want it. But after facing a victim who had the brains to beat him, he was beginning to question his own motives.

And that was never good.

"What?!" Paul was trembling in his chair, his eyes never leaving the photo placed before him. It couldn't be true.

"What do you mean, what? This is who we're after, dip shit. What's so complicated about that?" Richard was sitting in Mrs. Sam's rolling chair, looking smug and only a bit irritated.

"I talked to that guy, that's what!" He couldn't help it. If he wasn't in such a state of shock he would enjoy yelling at Richard, but now it only felt bittersweet.

"You talked to the murderer?" Mrs. Sam asked sharply, standing next to her desk and frowning at him. Her eyebrows were furrowed together in confusion.

"Well… well I talked to that guy in the picture, that's for sure. He looked a little older, and he was missing a hand, and his hair was cut, but that's definitely him! Holy shit…" He could feel himself start to hyperventilate. He talked to a murderer. On an empty street. He talked to an unnatural murderer alone at night.

And he was still alive.

"Holy shit," He said again for good measure.

It was Tuesday and Mrs. Sam had called Richard and Paul in for an emergency meeting. Paul had wondered for a second why Mr. Pale wasn't invited, but that thought was dismissed a moment later when he had spotted Mrs. Sam walking into the room with a suitcase. She rarely ever used a suitcase.

He always knew that he was easily distracted.

Apparently, Richard had been to examine the most recent victim of their murderer and, after hours of talking with professionals on the subject, had found something of interest left in the man's mouth.

It was a piece of a chewed up card. After examining that card more, DNA had been found on it that was not the man's.

No one could really understand why it was a card. That part didn't make any sense, but that wasn't overly important compared to the DNA found.

It was that of someone who was reported missing four years ago. A junior in High School, Tom Harrison was reported missing a day after his first day of the spring semester. It said that Tom was last spotted walking in town and watching a man perform at a sampling booth.

And after a year of searching, the parents of Tom had given up. The boy was never found and had been marked off for dead.

Apparently, the boy was their killer.

"You're telling me that you saw, talked to, and let walk away the murderer of dozens? You're telling me that you're still alive after doing so?" Mrs. Sam demanded, her confused expression mirrored by her tone.

"Well yes… but he didn't seem like a murderer. He told me that I owed someone something and that he was there to collect." Maybe that was what he said to all of his victims? But why would he still be alive if that was the case?

"You're going to tell me every last detail about your confrontation with this man, and after we have everything sorted out, we're going to find him. And this is going to end." No one could stand in Mrs. Sam's way when she got determined.

And she looked very determined.

"So you couldn't handle Mr. Denton? Is that right?" His holder seemed angry by that, but he couldn't understand why that was. The man, Mr. Denton, didn't seem to be an idiot. He didn't really want to kill someone who wasn't an idiot. That would go against his morals and his entire reason for joining his holder in the first place.

"I could handle him if I had wanted to, but the man wasn't stupid. I told you that I wanted to rid the world of stupid people, not the rare intelligent ones." His holder needed to understand that.

His holder was two feet taller than he was, at least. He was also fatter than he was by at least one hundred pounds.

Frankly, his holder was intimidating.

"And I told you that you were to kill Mr. Denton. You're in no position to be refusing my orders. That man's caused enough trouble with me and my business and I don't care if he's stupid or the world's biggest genius. You're going to go back to him and kill him and I don't want to hear about your useless ideals."

His holder was in a horrid mood, but that wasn't unusual. He was in a different mood every two minutes.

He didn't see any way out of killing Mr. Denton. His holder wanted it done, so he had to do it. That was the agreement in the first place.

Tom was beginning to regret accepting that agreement. His life and body in exchange for the power to kill without being noticed was starting to look like a bad deal on his part.

There was no way out of it, though. If he wanted to quit being his holder's puppet he would have to destroy his cards. But that would leave him with nothing and it would probably satisfy his holder to no end.

Well. He could kill Mr. Denton and get on with it, burn his cards and be done with it, or try to refuse his holder and be done with it. No matter what he did, he would still end up the same way. Dead. He was already dead. What did the rest matter?

He had some considering to do.

His doorbell was ringing.

Paul grumbled and blearily looked over at his digital clock, seeing that it was three o'clock in the morning and not liking it one bit. Who the hell could be at his door so late at night?

His doorbell rung again.

Cursing, he got up and marched out of his bedroom and toward the front door, prepared to give a long rant to whoever was outside waking him up. Unlocking the door, he flung it open angrily and stopped short, his anger going away just as quickly as it had appeared.

The murderer was standing on his doorstep.

Tom Harrison was standing there, holding a deck of cards and smiling.

Paul stepped back, his eyes as wide as they could possibly be. The murderer was standing on his doorstep.

"I'm guessing you remember me then, Mr. Denton?" His voice sounded controlled, even and calm and almost unnaturally composed.

"And… judging by your reaction, I'm also guessing that you know of my career."

Paul could do nothing but nod, his voice failing him. What was he supposed to say? His phone was in the other room. He didn't have any weapons with him. Hell, he wasn't even wearing a shirt.

What was he supposed to do?

"I'm not here to kill you, actually. I'm here to give you my cards." Well, that sentence didn't make any sense at all. And did the man honestly think he would believe him and invite him in for tea?

Not likely.

His sarcastic mind was covering for the fear he was experiencing. He'd faced killers before, but he'd always had at least two weapons on him during those times. And he was always wearing a shirt.

Now he had nothing. Only sweatpants. That was nothing to work with. He was stuck.

"I think I should explain," the murderer said then, and Paul nodded hesitantly, unable to do much else.

So Tom Harrison began explaining, and Paul had a difficult time believing any of it. He was a murderer who had a holder. His body and life was not his own, and he was, essentially, his cards.

And, according to him, the only way to end everything was to burn the cards and track down his holder.

"And…" Paul started after the murderer had finished his explanation, "Why, well, why should I believe that you want everything to end?"

"I haven't killed you, now have I?" the man raised an eyebrow before continuing. "And I've already told you; I only want to kill idiots. My holder told me to kill you, you're not an idiot, and I won't do it. So the only thing left to do is burn my cards. I'll tell you where my holder usually is and his description, but I don't know his name."

"And you're… just going to end it, like that? What type of villain are you?" Paul couldn't help his disbelief. He really couldn't.

"I'm not a villain." The man frowned, but didn't elaborate, and Paul hoped he hadn't offended him. That would just be his luck.

Tom took a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Paul with his left hand, and as Paul took it, he was reminded of Tom's missing hand. He couldn't help but glance down to look at it again.

"That's the address of my holder. He's large. Taller than I am by about two inches. He has brown hair, brown eyes, and his most notable feature is a black key chain he wears around his neck. You couldn't miss him." After saying that, Tom took his cards and placed them on the ground in between them. He seemed to hesitate, his hand resting on the cards for a second longer than necessary before drawing away.

"Burn those first, and do so as quickly as you can. After that you need to find my holder before he finds out and decides to leave. You're going to need something to defend yourself with." Tom eyed him briefly. "I know you work with one Mrs. Sam, so you'll be fine."

Tom stepped back, preparing to leave, but turned back to look at him at the last second. "And you should always ask who's at the door. I could have killed you so easily just then."

And with that he was gone. Paul blinked and moved his head out of his door, expecting to see Tom as he retreated.

No one was there.

Paul frowned and looked down at the cards.

He needed to call Mrs. Sam.

Mrs. Sam was obsessed with facts. She needed to know everything and she needed to understand everything. She wasn't a pushover and she only believed something if she knew it to be true, no matter what anyone else said.

And that was why Paul couldn't figure out how Mrs. Sam could possibly believe Tom Harrison's story.

Pacing in front of her desk, Mrs. Sam was muttering to herself inaudibly, apparently working out what they were going to do. Paul wasn't paying much attention to her, though. He was paying more attention to the fact that he was the only one at that particular meeting. Richard and Mr. Pale were both home sleeping, blissfully unaware of everything that had gone on. It didn't matter that it was three thirty-seven in the morning, no, what mattered was he was the only one there.

It made him feel unexpectedly special.

"Tom Harrison so much as admitted to killing all of those people when he talked to you tonight, so even if he was caught alive he would be sentence to life in prison, at best. He told you he wanted the cards to be burned, so he obviously knew that fact and would rather be dead. We should respect those wishes," Mrs. Sam said suddenly, her voice sounding much less confident than the words she was saying.

"But it still doesn't feel right. Harrison was only seventeen when he was reported missing. He was still a child. But you say he still feels that idiots should die…" her voice went quiet as she continued muttering to herself.

Paul could understand her dilemma. If she burned the cards Tom Harrison would die, but then they could go after his holder and everything would end. Tom Harrison would die, but no one else would. And they couldn't simply go after his holder and sentence Harrison to time in prison because he was tied to his holder. If his holder died, then he died, so there really was no point in not burning the cards.

Mrs. Sam just didn't enjoy killing people.

"We have to burn the cards. His holder could already know about this. We need to move quickly. Mr. Denton…" Mrs. Sam looked at him intently, her eyes searching his own through her glasses. She looked uncertain, yet determined, and Paul understood what she wanted from him.

"I'll burn the cards," he offered.

Her relief was clearly visible on her face as he said that. She nodded tightly. "Good. I'll wake Mr. Jones and Mr. Seem and we'll head over to Harrison's holder. This is ending tonight."

He nodded as well. It was for the best.

Sitting outside of the building, Paul lit the small fireplace he had quickly made up with twigs and grass, watching as the fire grew for a moment before flickering in the same position. The lighter he used was Mrs. Sam's, which surprised him. He never would have pegged her down as a smoker.

Shuffling the cards in his hands absentmindedly, he came across the only damaged card in the stack and stopped to look at it. Its upper right corner was chewed off. All of the other cards looked very well taken care of, and Paul wouldn't doubt that Harrison polished the cards for the extra shine they had.

He sighed. It would be better to just throw all of the cards in at once. If one card getting chewed on cost Harrison his hand, one card getting burned would probably do something much worse.

He closed his eyes and, taking a deep breath, quickly threw all of the cards into the fire. His eyes cracked open slightly to see that they were all burned sufficiently at the same time, some seconds before the others. Well.

He supposed that Tom Harrison was officially dead. His records were legitimately true.

Paul never did notice the single card that had been swept away with the wind before he had opened his eyes.

The end.