"Deal me in."
I took a seat at the square table, stealing a quick glance at the three uniformed girls. The two on either side were small. Unthreatening. Followers. The one across from me, the big dark one who was dealing the cards, was sizing me up. I watched her hands. They moved slowly. Scarred. Callused. Massive. Those hands had been worked hard here. My eyes flicked up to hers. Surly, tough, and leaking aggression across her features, curling her lip into a grimace. She'd been here a long time. Still. I could take her.
"What're we playing?"
"Hearts." The girl to my left spoke.
The big one finished dealing. I took my cards slowly, watching her for sudden movements. Ace of diamonds. Ten of diamonds. Queen and king of spades. Jack, ace, four, and king of clubs. All the upper hearts from ace through six. A terrible hand. That was all right. I knew how to turn it around.
"You're new." The big one spoke.
"They didn't tell us you were coming."
"My circumstances were sudden."
The one to my right raised an eyebrow.
Fake name. Seemed best.
The one to my right pointed to herself.
"Max," she pointed at the girl to my left, "Jackie," she nodded at the big one, "Bet."
Jackie laid the two of clubs. I dropped a jack. A ten, an ace, and the suit was sold to Bet.
"Why are you here?" Jackie was watching me over the top of her cards. I laughed.
"So that's how it is, huh? I'm here one set, and you're already asking me what I'm in for?"
"You're what, fifteen?"
"You look older."
"Lucky I'm not. Could have been tried as an adult."
Bet laughed again. The sound reminded me of screeching tires.
"What're you in for?" I looked at Jackie.
She shrugged. "Shoplifting. I was issued a couple warnings, then the pigs sent me here. I made it through a few weeks, then my dad sprang me. Of course, once a clepto, always a clepto. I stole again, pigs sent me away, dad got me back. The cycle repeated a few times, then they decided to keep me here till I'm 18."
6 of clubs, 3, I broke hearts with my ace, and a 5. Bet took the heart. Her smile vanished. Eyes narrowed. I was now the enemy. A threat. The other two flicked back and forth between us, trying to predict the winner. Siding with the loser meant defeat. Defeat meant hell from the winner.
I looked to Max.
"I was on weed. And meth. And Benadryl. Basically anything I could get my hands on. Rents found my stash and shipped me here fast as they could. They didn't know how to deal with me. Technically, I'm done with my "rehabilitation", but they keep me here. They still have no clue how to deal with me. Doesn't matter. I don't want to be around them either."
That was a lie. She wanted to be home. Her eyes betrayed her.
Three of diamonds. Seven. Three. Jackie took it with a ten, and lead with the jack of diamonds. Bet laid a queen, Max a five. I smiled.
"Sorry, Bet. Thought you had that."
I dropped my ace. Bet's complexion took on a hue to match the cards. We were starting to gather a small crowd. Not sure why, hearts isn't a particularly interesting game to watch, but maybe they were hoping for a fight. They wouldn't be disappointed.
"What about you Bet? Who sold you to the pigs?"
"Fights. I always won. Always. But I put a couple kids in the hospital one day. their parents sued, and suddenly I'm running the show around here. Except here, kicking ass is practically expected. They gave up trying to regulate it last year."
She laid the nine of diamonds.
"I had a daddy. No mom. We lived in this little apartment on the south side, you know, one of those unregulated free for all neighborhoods. Now, Daddy used to come home drunk. I mean, completely shit-faced. And he'd get all confused and think I was my mother and he'd try and jump me. And I'd just try and fend him off till he passed out. So one day he comes home, beer goggles on, he gets real close, and he goes. "Camille, (that was my mother's name), he says, Camille, let's make a baby." And so I push him off, but he just keeps coming. So I back into the kitchen, I get this big old steak knife, and I tell him I'm warning him. But Daddy says he don't care and he keeps on coming and I tell him I'm not Camille, and he don't listen. I don't even know if he could hear me at that point. And I say one last time he better back off but he don't and he's ripping my shirt, so I send my knife through his neck three times, then once through his chest for good measure. But now I got a dead body on my hands and nowhere to go. So I run down and kick a taxi driver outta his vehicle with my knife and floor it. I got three miles before the cops caught me. The driver'd called in. So I guess you could say I'm in for auto theft."
Jackie laid the jack of spades, Bet a king, Max an eight. I dropped the queen. Bet was on her feet.
"You're a liar. You never killed anybody. I bet you drove off with a Subaru or something and got caught before you could put it back."
I raised an eyebrow.
She lunged over the table, driving a fist at my head. I ducked and rolled under the table, popping up in front of her. Max tried to take my arms. I sent her into the crowd with one blow. Bet produced a small knife from her boot. She made a swipe. I crouched low and swung a leg around, knocking her feet out from under her. She was up in a second, but I was waiting. I pulled off my left shoe and stuck it on my left hand. She made another swipe, but I caught it with my shoe. The tip went clean through the sole, but stuck. I pulled it out, and kicked her down again in one motion. My bare foot pressed into her stomach while I casually twirled the knife. I left the shoe on my left hand. No need for her to see me bleeding.
"Can I keep this?" I asked, thrusting the blade towards the ceiling quickly before returning to spinning it. She didn't respond.
"Thanks. Oh, and by the way," I dropped the last card in my hand. The four of spades.
"I win. Max second, Jackie third. You're three cards away from shooting the moon. Real shame. I was hoping we'd have a fair fight. Oh well. I'm sure there's someone around here I can have a fair competition with."
I faced the crowd.
"I'll be in my room if anybody wants to try me."