04: dead man's hand

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Lee had a knack for getting into trouble. It wasn't that he went out looking for it, but rather it always seemed to find him. In fact, you could say that trouble had taken a liking to him. He just grew to accept it.

He rubbed his deal of cards between the pads of his fingers and glanced at each man that sat at his table. He read them easily, knew their tells, called their bluffs. Sometimes he found it to be a bit boring.

There was old man Danilo Petros, a grumpy sailor that could hardly afford to sit at this table each weekend and yet he still managed to. He had so much anger inside of him, most of it being towards Lee, and it was a valid anger. Lee didn't make it easy to be liked.

And to the right of Danilo was Patch with skin the color of sand and hair black like coal. Patch bit the corner of his mouth to keep from smirking and rubbed the tip of his nose with his knuckle. He then stretched his arms above his head and let out a dramatic yawn. "You lot need to catch up. I'm getting tired of winning all the time."

Danilo grumbled under his breath.

Patch's brows raised and he leaned forward toward the older man. "What was that? I didn't catch that."

There weren't many people that Lee would call a friend, not a single name came to mind, although Patch was certainly the closest he had to one. It wasn't saying much. They never saw each other outside of the den, but betting against each other almost daily was enough to create an almost unbreakable bond.

"Forget it. You heard about the Rogers boy?" Danilo asked. Lee's ears hardly pricked up at the sound of his voice. "They found his left hand behind that bakery. You know the one with the stuffed bread."

"A hand?" said Patch. "How'd they reckon it was his?"

"That bloody ring of his. Surprised they didn't take the damn thing." He threw in two gold coins to the center of the table and set his cards face down. "I know I would have."

Patch let out a sound that was a mix of amusement and disgust. "We all know you would, Danilo."

"You calling me a thief?".

"It was your words, not mine." Patch rolled his eyes and matched the old man's bet. Danilo had a pair of notoriously greedy hands, filling his pockets with useless trinkets he swiped from unsuspecting victims. Patch cleared his throat. "What do you think happened to him, that kid?"

Danilo shrugged. "Who knows?"

"No, honestly."

"That kid is as good as dead, you know that," Lee said.

A silence fell between them. It lasted a brief moment, but they felt the weight of it. The boy hadn't even had the chance to lose the baby fat in his cheeks or have his spirit hardened by the dark that lay between the cobbled streets of Hemlix. It was another innocent life lost, the third this month.

This wouldn't be the end of the streak. Lee knew better than that. The boy would be one of many snatched by the demons that lurked behind gentle smiles, his soul then gobbled up and devoured by the rot of the city.

Lee had seen it happen too many times before and he would see it again. It never got any easier.

Patch sucked in a lungful of breath. "Your turn, Knotte."

Lee looked up at them lazily. "I guess it is."

Patch left his gaze linger on him for another moment. "What's up with you tonight? It's like you're not even here."

"Does it seem like it?" he asked, not looking for an answer. He pursed his lips and gave a quick shake of the head. "On second thought, tonight doesn't feel like my night. I fold."

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