The First Game
“Three sevens,” Princess Fernypoo announced in her squeaky, whiny voice. Agent 00 Hog leaned back in his thickly padded leather armchair. It was good to know he was still the best.
“Nice try, Princess,” he called her bluff, flipping over her cards and revealing two sixes and an eight. She was easy to read.
It was a typical Friday night in Agent 00’s mansion. Well, technically it was the club’s. But each week, the winner got to stay there until the next event and Agent 00 always won. Theoretically the events were open, but the entrance fee was so high and they didn’t exactly advertise, so it was basically the same eight every time.
“And I win,” the Moehog said smoothly as he laid his final two cards on the table, “Two fives.”
The others murmured softly as he got up to leave, taking the amassed fortune lying on the center of the table with him. They would keep playing, aiming at second place. It was only this lesser prize that kept the evenings entertaining.
Agent 00 put the money in his thick, gold safe and returned to the game room, lounging near the door and watching the others play. This was a good time for him to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and come up with new plans for the next event. He didn’t really need to per se, but it kept the game from growing dull.
“Sir, you have a visitor,” an old Lenny with graying feathers murmured in his ear. Jenkel had been his butler for years and knew better than to interrupt a game of Cheat by now. Agent 00 scanned the table, checking to see if it was alright for him to leave.
There were two separate games going on, the one the agent had just left and one with the more junior players. The winner of that game would switch with the loser of the more advanced game next week. Besides for the rotation of Brucey B and Chuffer Bob, however, the different tables were fairly consistent.
At the beginner table, Chuffer Bob was making a very obvious attempt at bluffing, but no one else noticed it. Little Timmy was combing his hair, his cards lying haphazardly across the table, visible to any stray glance, Branston’s feathers were ruffled and he was glaring at Capara, who was looking smug. Maybe she’d actually win this time. Not that it mattered. None of them stood a chance against Agent 00.
At the other table, Kalora was putting down two cards, her left ear twitching slightly, revealing her bluff. Brucey B looked bored, but that could have meant anything. His cards were hidden under the table, so it was impossible to judge how he was faring. Princess Fernypoo, however, was easy to read. She was obviously losing, which obviously upset her. Agent 00 just hoped she wouldn’t start crying again. He was beginning to question the wisdom of bringing a former princess into his little card-playing group.
Seeing there was nothing of any significance occurring at the tables, Agent 00 tapped Jenkel’s shoulder and followed him to the grand, marble entry hall, which had an excellent view of the Neopian Marketplace. A familiar neopet was waiting there and Agent 00 smiled.
The neopet was a muscular green Jetsam, wearing his typical top hat and suit, unaware of how ridiculous he looked. Despite this, he was good at finding potential players and bringing them to Agent 00, for him to judge.
“What have you got for me this time?” Agent 00 was all business as he spoke. The potential player was far away, the Jetsam knew him well enough to ensure that.
“My nephew, sir, is an excellent player,” the Jetsam began, “I’ve been teaching him since he was born and I think he’s finally ready. You know I don’t normally mix family and business, but this kid’s good. He’s really good. He may even be better than you.”
“I doubt that,” the Moehog replied, “but send him into the game room. I’ve got the crew over tonight. I’ll kick the beginners out and we can have a game.”
The Jetsam nodded and Agent 00 walked back towards the game room, his hooves clicking sharply against the cold, hard floor. Breaking in newbies was one of his favorite parts of the job. He’d go easy the first time, of course, but not so easy that they could actually win. This nephew he was being sent would go running back to Maraqua in no time. Unless, of course, the Moehog decided to let him stay.
The games were already wrapping up by the time Agent 00 returned and he ordered the beginners away. They left unquestioningly. He also kicked out Brucey B, who was not playing his best. Agent 00 then sat down to wait with Kalora and Princess Fernypoo. They were his best players and together they would show this kid what hard work could accomplish.
The new player arrived surprisingly promptly. Agent 00 had just finished dealing when he slid into his spot. The Moehog took a moment to observe his latest opponent. He was a Jetsam, of course, being a relative of Agent 00’s favorite recruiter, and he too was wearing black. However, he pulled off his black cape far more successfully than his uncle did. He had an anchor tattoo on the side of his face, drawing only a little attention away from his intense red eyes. He was intimidating, there was no doubt about that, but Agent 00 doubted he could actually play. He looked far too young.
“You must be my opponent. I always go first and, as the least experienced, you will go last. I trust this is acceptable,” Agent 00 announced briskly as he picked up his cards. He was always careful not to give them any illusion of a choice. Wouldn’t want the newbies to get the wrong idea.
“My name’s Spectre,” he introduced himself, clearly trying to break the silence. He’d get used to it soon enough, if he was allowed into a game actual money was placed on. Tonight was just a test.
Agent 00 put down two nines and leaned back, waiting for Kalora to respond. He had a lousy hand, but he would win anyway. He was more than capable of bluffing his way to the top.
Agent 00 was soon lost in the flow of the cards, but he had to admit that Spectre was not a bad player. He only accused when he was certain and it was impossible to tell when he was bluffing. His face stayed neutral the entire time. With a start, Agent 00 realized his opponent only had two cards left. Agent 00 had three.
“Three fives,” he announced, placing them all on the table. Only one actually was a five, but the other fives were scattered around the table and none of the other players would want to risk their chance for second place. “Another victory.”
“Not so fast,” Spectre said, softly and coldly. His voice struck Agent 00 like a snowball on a hot summer’s day. “You’re bluffing.”
Agent 00 scowled and took the large pile of cards that had built up in the middle.
“You like taking risks. Don’t you?” he sneered.
“I play to win,” his young opponent answered simply, putting down his final two cards, “Two aces.”
No one challenged him and, for the first time in twenty years, Agent 00 lost a game. And he hadn’t even been softening his play.
“Your nephew cheated,” Agent 00 was saying to Uncle Kit as Spectre sat alone in an empty room nearby. The words floated under the door and he was unable to escape them.
“Isn’t that the point of the game?” his uncle asked, confused. Uncle Kit would defend him, of course. He knew Spectre would never actually break the rules, but Agent 00 didn’t know that. And the Moehog would never accept that he had lost fairly.
It hadn’t even been just luck. Agent 00 always blinked three times quickly after he bluffed, a tiny signal Spectre had picked up on. He could have called him out earlier, but he had decided to let the pile build. Apparently that had been a mistake. Or had it? He had won, after all. What did it matter what his opponent thought?
“Not that kind of cheating,” the Moehog growled, pulling Spectre back to the present, “He looked at my cards! It’s the only way he could have known!”
“My nephew doesn’t cheat,” Uncle Kit replied, still stubborn, “And I know you better than to believe for a moment you would have given him the opportunity. Why don’t you at least give him a chance to explain himself?”
“Fine. Kid, get out here,” Agent 00 called.
Spectre was tempted to stay in the room and ignore the summons. It was a very nice room, after all. It was almost like a beach, with a soft, pale brown carpet and beautiful blue-green wall paper. Spectre would have liked to own a mansion like this, but he couldn’t exactly afford the betting that went on at these events. He would win, he would absolutely win, but they would need to see money before letting him play. They wouldn’t just take his word that it wouldn’t be necessary.
Deciding not to annoy the powerful Moehog, Spectre stepped outside.
“Yes?” he asked, keeping his tone impatient, like he had been interrupted while in the midst of something extremely important.
“How did you know?” Agent 00 asked and Spectre was disappointed. Was he really going to be so unoriginal with his questions? It was a hard to believe that such an ordinary pet was the best player in Neopia.
“You blink when you lie,” Spectre answered just as simply. “Any more intelligent questions?”
When Agent 00 just stared at him, Spectre decided that that was a no.
“Then my uncle and I will be going now. Just remember, I am the best player in Neopia.”
Spectre didn’t know why he added that last part but it sounded good, impressive, important. He could feel it lingering in the air as he left. He hoped Agent 00 wouldn’t forget about his visit or their match for a long, long time.