'Papa' Duvalier sighed over another dull hand of solitaire, and wished for a worthy opponent. Mr. Bones had practically fled from the New Dunwitch today, and the other patrons were… reluctant to play with the Sweetrock foreman. A wise decision, he had to concede, but he was bored, and would like some competition (or at least a few quick dollars) before he headed out to the mesa to fulfill Miller’s latest order.
"You be lookin' for a partner?"
Looking up, Duvalier was presented with a short Mulatto dressed in ragged clothing offset by a ridiculously tall stovepipe hat.
"Have a seat," he replied, gesturing to the chair across from him. Duvalier gathered his cards and casually shuffled them. "We have been a long time in meeting, have we not? I, busy with the affairs of Sweetrock, and you, stalking the demon lord’s legacy." Casually he placed the shuffled deck in the center of the table.
LeVeux tapped the deck with one long finger, and Duvalier dealt two cards to each of them, one face up, one face down. The Sweetrock bokkor didn’t bother to look at his down card, and was amused to notice that Bobo didn’t either. Both of them were concentrating on the greater game.
"Dat be true," LeVeux replied. "I'n'I be hearin' a great deal of you, but I was bein' too busy to look into da rumors dey were sayin' 'bout you."
Duvalier sighed. "Must you speak with that outrageous accent? I can hardly understand what you’re saying. Granted, we can’t all be Oxford graduates, but I hope your time in the islands taught you more than that abominable patois."
"I'n'I be tinkin' dat you see what I be learnin' and what I don't, by and by." Fishing in the pocket of his tattered Confederate army jacket, Bobo pulled out a single gold coin and tossed it into the center of the table.
"Call." Duvalier slid a coin out of the small pile at his side and into the pot, then dealt out another card for each of them. "I would have thought that when you were chased by Vermillion’s men, you might have achieved some small linguistic skill." He shrugged. "You’re here, and they are not, after all."
Bobo bared his teeth. "I'n'I be thankin' you not to mention that. Or maybe we should be talkin' 'bout what you learnin' here in town. You know da good Baron, no? What he be up to in Gomorra?"
"The Baron? Why, I've never met the gentlemen. However, Baron Vermillion is a well-respected member of the New Orleans community. I’m shocked… shocked! that you would accuse him of any involvement with the criminal actions of his more…enthusiastic followers. You have the King of Diamonds showing, sir: the bet is to you."
LeVeux fished out a second gold coin and tossed it into the pot. Duvalier again matched his bet. Dealing out the fourth cards, he continued, "As for the Baron’s activities in Gomorra, why... I’m not rightly sure what they might be. I work for the Sweetrock Mining Company, which is a completely different animal, I assure you."
Bobo glanced at his cards. A pair of Aces – Diamonds and Hearts – with a King below. He slid forward another coin. "What you be doin' workin' for Sweetrock, anyway?"
"You’ll have to pay to see those cards, LeVeux,” Duvalier chuckled. "One game at a time. For now, I’ll simply call your bet." He did so, barely glancing at his own hand.
"Fifth card." The bokkor dealt himself the King of Clubs, the second King on his side of the table. Bobo received a Two of Hearts: no help there.
"Dealer has the bet," Duvalier noted. "Hmmm, perhaps you’d like to entertain a side bet?"
"Of what kind?"
"Money means so little to me. Whomever I'm working for, my expenses are always well-covered. Are there any other... assets you’d care to put forward?"
"Such as...?" Bobo asked cautiously. He slipped one hand inside his coat, feeling the comforting weight of his own "special" deck.
Duvalier noticed the motion and laughed. It was only late morning, and the New Dunwitch had few patrons, but what little chatter there was died to nothing. Behind the casino’s bar, the saloonkeeper grabbed his head with both hands, wincing in pain.
"You want to match magic with me? I don’t need cards to match you, huckster." Duvalier hissed the word like an obscenity. "Damballah protects me. Now and always. You may pretend to know the loa, but I am the only one here who can channel him."
The bokkor held out one empty hand, palm open, towards LeVeux. He closed it into a fist, then turned it away. When his hand opened, a small cloth bag dropped to the table, near the coins that already made up the pot.
“A conjure bag?” Bobo snarled. "You be no hounfor. I'n'I be knowin' enough to know you be usin' da petro loas. How you be channelin' Damballah?"
Duvalier's laughed returned. "Good... bad... I’m the one with the mojo. You may think Damballah the most benevolent of the loas. But the brighter one side of the coin, the darker the other. It’s just that most are distracted by the illumination."
The Sweetrock conjuror closed his eyes for a moment, and then reopened them, revealing a pair of inhuman irises. Vertically slit, Dulvalier's eyes no longer looked even remotely human. When he spoke again, a narrow, forked tongue slithered out of his mouth. “Now, do you really wish to match magic and witssss againssst me… here?”
There was a... scratching noise from the table. Something in the conjure bag Duvalier had dropped there twitched and moved around with a life of its own. The saloonkeeper whimpered and collapsed behind the bar, his brow creased in even greater pain.
The Bayou huckster frowned. Whatever he’d expected to find, it apparently wasn’t this. Perhaps he’d thought Duvalier was merely a common huckster like himself…
"If you don’t be wantin' a fight, then I'n'I not be pursuin' one either."
"Wisssee choice," Duvalier hissed. The bag on the table was now giving off foul smoke and starting to… move towards LeVeux.
Bobo tipped his tall hat mockingly to the voodooist, then spun in a flurry of coattails and sauntered out the door. Duvalier waited until the cajun was well clear, then passed a hand over his face, restoring it to normal. Channeling the spirits was exhausting work, and not something he did casually.
But a challenge had been offered. And Duvalier had never turned one down. That was bad for one’s reputation. And he prized his reputation above all else.
The bokkor took a silver pocket watch from his vest pocket and checked the time. Three hours until Ponds was scheduled to arrive at the rendezvous. Just enough time to get to the mines, set the fire, and prepare a… suitable welcome.
Duvalier rose and tossed a single silver coin to the saloonkeeper, who was only then rising from behind the bar. "For your trouble," Duvalier said to the man, who still clutched his head tightly. Since the Dunwitch had hired "sensitives" to help cut down the cheating, the Sweetrock foreman had given them more than their fair share of headaches… literally.
Idly, Duvalier reached over and turned over the hole cards. His was the Ace of Spades, giving him two pair in black Kings and Aces. Bobo had two pair in red… Kings and Aces.
Duvalier chuckled. "Evenly matched, huckster. But Black always wins… in the end."