Death Dealer, by John Kaniecki


“Ace of spades,” cackled the dealer.

“That makes twenty one,” smiled Rupert Jones. “Pay up.”

“But you’ve got the king of clubs along with the ace of spades,” the uniformed worker said in a calm voice. “It’s what we call the Death Hand around these parts.”

“I don’t care what you call it,” hissed Jones, clenching a fist. “I want my money.”

“As you wish,” conceded the dealer. He reached towards his supply of chips.

“Ain’t you got no sense, boy?” called out a voice from down the table.

Rupert Jones gave the man two seats down his evilest stare. His fist still clenched, his agitated brain told him to relieve some tension and have a little fun. He was just about to do so when he noticed a blue anchor tattooed just above the stranger’s collar. Damn if that bag of skin and bones wasn’t a Space Ranger. Toughest bunch of sons of bitches this side of the nebula. Jones’ hard face faded to a smile.

“I thought so,” said the man softly. “You probably drifted in on the last cargo freighter and ain’t got nothing to do with two parsecs worth of wages.”

Rupert Jones listened. The prognosis was accurate, except his time on the ship was a parsec and a half.

“Let me give you a little piece of advice,” the man continued in faint tones. “Here on Fantasia we do things a little different. Go with the flow.”

Rupert Jones saw the dealer smile. His face reminded him of used spaceship salesman making an outrageous deal.

“I want my money,” demanded the gambler.

The dealer looked at the Space Ranger who casually nodded his head. “Let the chips fall where they may,” he said.

On that cue the dealer tossed a solitary red chip. It bounced on the green felt table before smacking into Rupert Jones’ neatly piled stack. The momentum of the collision caused the column to cascade down.

“Time to quit anyway,” grumbled Rupert Jones.

“Ain’t nobody quits on a Death Hand,” insisted the Space Ranger. “It just ain’t done.”

Rupert Jones was planning a cheap shot, hoping to get lucky. But his strategic thoughts were cut off by the grumbling of all the other players on the table.

“Just ain’t done,” quipped an alien bearing a pig face complete with tusks—well over five hundred pounds of muscle.

Rupert Jones caved in. “One more hand, then.”

“Good golly,” declared the Space Ranger. “What a bold choice, considering the size of your winnings.”

“What do you mean?” asked Rupert Jones.

“You just bet everything,” answered the Space Ranger.

Rupert Jones stared blankly at his fellow gambler. “But I got ten parsecs of wages in these chips!”

“Welcome to Fantasia,” grumbled the alien with a snort. “You should have read the rules before you entered the casino.”

Cowardly Rupert Jones pushed his immense collection of red chips forward on the green felt table, privately praying to any god who cared to listen. Who knows—with the luck he was having tonight he just might win.

The dealer flicked the cards out. Nervously Rupert Jones looked on. His first card was a lowly deuce of hearts. The space merchant cursed his foul luck. The second card was a six of diamonds. Well that ain’t too bad, reasoned the gambler. The dealer was showing a nine of spades.

Too nervous to consider the other hands, Rupert Jones focused on the odds of his own situation. He would, of course, take a hit. Anything else was illogical.

“Well,” said the dealer. Rupert Jones was so lost in thought that he failed to realize it was his turn.

“Hit me,” his voice squeaked nervously.

The dealer tossed out an ace of clubs. That made his total nine or nineteen. If the house had a ten in their hidden card, the most probable by odds, it would be a tie. By the rules of Black Jack, house wins on a tie.

“I’ll stand,” Rupert Jones meekly announced.

The dealer flipped over his hidden card to reveal an eight of clubs. The house’s total was seventeen.

“I won,” cried Rupert Jones, ecstatic. “I won, I won, I won,” he repeated, crying ever the louder. Then his face turned red as his hand clutched at his chest. In agony he gasped his last breath as he fell dead upon the green felt of the Black Jack table.

The Space Ranger spoke up. “Didn’t anybody tell that fool that gambling is illegal on Fantasia and this is all for fun?”

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