Inside the casino, Kit made her way through slot machines and hopeful gamblers to the central cash cage. She knew the risks. The cage would be monitored by closed-circuit cameras and her face would be digitally recorded in some locked security room. If anyone was looking for the stolen money in her case, the possibility existed they could track the money back to this moment and connect that digital image to her and her to the theft. It was all possible, but it remained an unlikely outcome. The chances of anyone noticing the money missing before the next day were slim and the chances of it already being discovered were nearly non-existent. And after a few hours of circulation in the casino, the original money would be next to impossible to track back to its insertion into the casino’s cash supply.
The plan was simple. Kit opened her case carefully to avoid anyone seeing its full contents. She removed a modest stack of bills and traded the cashier for a rack of casino chips. A couple hands played at a poker table, followed by another trip to the cashier to exchange another stack of bills and so on until all the money in the case was converted into casino chips. By early morning, she would have spent enough time in the casino to trade her chips in for new, untainted cash and no one would suspect a thing.
Everything went smooth until after she had traded the last of the currency. Kit settled into a poker game joined by a smooth talking man named Rex Baxter. She knew he was going to be trouble as soon as he sat at the table. A wet sheen of sweat covered his forehead and his eyes kept darting around the room as if he was expecting to be shot at any moment. He tossed chips in the pot like he had millions but his supply was dwindling.
Kit’s plan required her to stay at the table. The other players were smart enough to leave. Rex had his eyes on her chips and she had no doubt he was hungry for them. The flaw in her plan became pronounced as he forced her to choose between betting big and folding every hand. She needed to waste time, not money. There wasn’t much point in stealing money just to lose it to a stranger. Walking away was a better option.
Rex peeked at his cards and studied Kit for a moment. “You’re cute,” he said.
Some girls would have swooned. Kit frowned, irritated because cute meant he didn’t take her seriously. “You’re not,” she said and smiled. “Are you going to push your luck or fold?”
Rex didn’t blink. He pushed the majority of his chips into the pot, leaving only a pair next to his cards. “Let me offer you some advice, kid,” he said in a patronizing tone. “You got a lot of money with all those chips, you should quit while you’re ahead.”
Kit bristled at being called a kid. “Who said I’m ahead?”
Rex leaned back in his chair and laughed. “Kid, I can tell by the way you’re dressed on a good day you might have two credits to rub together, but it’s obvious enough those chips are the most money you’ve ever seen in one place.”
“Maybe that’s just what I want you to think.” Kit looked at her cards; three 10’s and a pair of 8’s. It was the best hand she’d had all night and yet the sparkle in his eyes suggested he could have better.
Jade’s voice whispered in her ear. Don’t be reckless.
Rex continued to chuckle. His eyes taunted her. She wasn’t an opponent or competition, just a kid who didn’t know when to quit. He was going to teach her a lesson in greed. Everything she had was going to be his unless she got up and walked away.
Kit counted the chips slowly. She shoved an exact match for his bet into the pot and stared into the laughing man’s eyes. “Call,” she said.
He picked up his cards. “Read ‘em and weep,” he said and dropped his cards face up on the table. Three kings and a jack and an ace.
She smiled. “Tears really aren’t my thing, but if you need a tissue I think I’ve got one in my pocket.” Kit turned her own cards over and enjoyed watching Rex’s eyes while he adjusted to the reality of losing. The dealer sorted the chips and pushed the winnings in Kit’s direction.
“Looks like I underestimated you,” Rex said, toying with his remaining two chips. “You owe me a chance to win my money back.”
Kit looked at the pair of chips in his hand. “Maybe you should quit while you still have a pair of credits to rub together.”
Rex laughed. “I deserved that. You got spunk, kid and I like spunk. Let’s play one more hand. If I win, I get my money back and we both walk away no worse than when we started.”
Kit shook her head. “And if I win? You don’t have much left to wager.”
Rex pulled out an electronic remote and hit a button. A hologram of a small ship projected above the remote in the air. “My ship, the Griffinscape. She’s a cargo vessel with plenty of passenger space and upgraded em-pulse engines. They’ll do .98 light speed in under five minutes. She’s worth double the credits I’m asking you to wager.”
Kit’s lips spread into a wide smile. The mere possibility of winning a ship of her own was worth the bet. And he was right, she wasn’t really out anything if she lost. She pushed the credits he’d lost into the pot and looked at the dealer. “Deal,” she said.
The cards dealt, they each went for two spares. Kit couldn’t believe her luck. She’d ended up with an even better hand than the previous. Rex still projected confidence though and that left her nervous. If she had something real to lose she might have walked away.
Rex gestured toward her cards. “Ladies first.”
Kit shrugged. “I’ve got a pair of queens,” she said, turning two cards over on the table and watching relief rise on Rex’s face in the form of a gritty smile, “and another pair of queens. I think that’s four of a kind.”
Rex glared at the cards face up on the table. He blinked and looked Kit in the eye, shaking his head. His own cards dropped from his hand onto the table, revealing a flush of hearts. He shoved back from the table and stood so fast, his chair tipped over backward.
The dealer said, “Excuse me sir, before you leave you’ll need to transfer ownership of the ship.”
Rex snatched up the remote from the table and punched a series of buttons. “What’s your name kid?”
Rex hit another series of buttons and threw the remote back onto the table. “She’s all yours,” he said and walked away.