HOLIDAY GAMES • by Walt Giersbach

“You look like you are down on your luck.”

The voice came from a baggy-faced man. Kind of guy you’d call noir and brooding. “Might say that, mon ami,” I answered. We watched the croupier rake my last five dollars off the roulette table.

The Casino de Charlevoix, an hour east of Quebec City, was an old people’s home compared to Montreal’s casino. More important, I wasn’t in Trois Rivières where my girlfriend Jeanette was home making Christmas cookies.

“My name is Grigori. Would you like to play one more game?” He smiled and a mouth full of brown teeth showed up.

“I haven’t got a buck to my name. Et vous êtes quoi? Russian?”

“The Ukraine. But not for some time.”

“What brings you to Canada?”

He shrugged. “I am avoiding some friends. This is a good place to avoid unpleasant people. But about the game? Take a walk with me.”

He guided me down to the small park overlooking the Saint-Laurent. The river was quiet tonight, perhaps anticipating Christmas.

“I told you I’m broke. Pas d’argent. Don’t rub it in.”

“Do you see that Mercedes?” He pointed to a white convertible that gleamed under the street light. “I will bet you my car against… let me see, what do you have? I know! That little ring on the chain around your neck. I saw it in the casino.”

“What are you talking about? That’s ma grand-mère’s diamond wedding ring. I’m going to propose to my girlfriend.”

“I have a deck of cards and we will cut. High card takes the Mercedes. Low card and you give me the ring. A small price. True love does not require a ring.”

Jeanette was expecting me. No way could I tell her I’d been laid off and gambled my last paycheck trying to get money so we could marry.

“No cards,” I said. “Not with your deck.” Maybe I was ignorant, but I wasn’t stupid.

“Then how can we play? I thought you were a gambler.”

“More simple than cards. We play rock, paper, scissors.”

He frowned. “I do not know that game. Is it like poker?”

I showed him, making a fist. “This is rock.” I opened my hand. “This is paper.” And with two fingers, “This is scissors. Rock breaks scissors. Paper covers rock. Scissors cuts paper. D’accord?”

He bent his shaggy head back and laughed. His belly laugh sounded like the devil choking. “Okay,” he said. “Ten times!”

“No, nine,” I said. “Ten could end in a tie.”

“One thing,” he said. “You do not mind that I tie your hand to this picnic table. Just so you do not change your mind.”

I minded, but I also thought of Jeanette and the look in her eyes when I rolled up to her apartment in the Mercedes. He took off his necktie and bound my arm to the table. Circulation stopped and my hand began to go numb. His brown teeth gleamed in a strange smile as he put the car keys on the table.

I took the first three, using rock three times in a row — a good bluff. Grigori took the fourth and fifth play. Sweat started to pour down my face as I sat imprisoned under the street lamp. The damp breeze off the Saint-Laurent didn’t help.

Six was my win. It was four to two, and then Grigori made it even with rock two times. Quel drag. Each time he won he banged the table with his big hairy fist. The brown teeth mocked me.

“We play to nine?” he asked. “We are now four to four. The next game takes it.” He reached into his jacket and laid a six-inch clasp knife on the picnic table next to the keys.

I started to hate this guy. I wondered if I had screwed up again. Perhaps Jeanette was right. I was a loser. I told myself, Worry pas ta brain, bébé.

“One. Two. Three,” Grigori snapped. His hand shot out. “Scissors!”

But he had hesitated. His hand had gone up a microsecond after mine, making my paper a loser.

“Ah-ha!” he shouted. “Scissors cuts paper! I win!”

“Grigori, you bastard!” Two men walked out of the dark. My belly tightened as one pulled a gun. “I have followed you from Montreal to Charlevoix and find you still playing games. Only you are the loser, you double-crosser.”

“Hey, guys,” I said. The game had suddenly changed. “Pas de moi. It’s Christmas and we played this game. He bet me his car for my grand-mère’s ring.” The necktie was too tight for me to move, to run. I was tied to Grigori’s destiny, whatever that was going to be.

“Vlad, I wanted to pay you back.” Grigori’s voice sounded like a whore begging. “I tried to find you.”

The goon called Vlad picked up the car keys and looked at me. Never have I seen such scary eyes. “This car is not his. It is mine. Everything he owns — including his life — is mine.”

“I never met the man before,” I pleaded.

“What is this stupid game you are playing?”

“It’s rock, paper, scissors. He cheated me.”

“Shut up.” He untied my arm. “Grigori always cheats. Get out of here.”

“He cheated me out of my engagement ring,” I insisted.

The two Russian-sounding goons looked at each other. Vlad reached in his pocket and pulled out a roll of money the size of an apple. He peeled off ten hundred-dollar bills and dropped them on the table. “Scissors cuts paper maybe, but my gun beats them all.” The other guy laughed.

“Take the money and get out.”

I got back to Trois Rivières on Christmas Eve. Ma belle Jeanette forgave me and accepted my proposal. In my confession of love I told her how I almost lost the diamond ring now on her finger. And how paper can cut scissors.

Walt Giersbach’s fiction has appeared Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, and Written Word. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child.

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