“There are many things of value.” El Bazaar offered Joules as she stood opposite him. “Around here youth and inhibition are very valuable to some. Myself included.”
So there it was. The old man was a pervert. She’d pretty much already guessed that. It had been a constant in her life, but Joules still didn’t think she could deal with this slimy beast before her. If she did it would leave a lasting image she might never purge.
“What did you have in mind?” She asked, never hurt to play stupid, at least until she thought of some way out of this.
“For openers…” El Bazaar did seem to have a flare for the dramatic pauses, “let’s say each article of clothing you have is worth a bet.”
That was a very generous offer. It wouldn’t matter if El Bazaar put ten grand or a hundred Bob on the table, she’d only have to match with one item. She might head back to the ship naked but that would only cost her pride.
“Alright.” She nodded.
The others at the table had been watching this like spectators at a tennis match. They’d completely failed to remember they were players in this game. That is until El Bazaar tapped Dapper with his hand, “Buying in or watching?”
Dapper bought in. It was an automatic gesture that he instantly regretted because this was a show and he’d prefer to be only a spectator for it.
Badger did the same thing, but his thoughts were more along the lines of gaining possession of the pot. He’d seen El Bazaar talk people into betting worse than this; if he had the winning hand he wanted the prize.
Joules realized it was her turn. Two grand was already in the pot. She had to remove an article of clothing to match it but as she reached down for a shoe El Bazaar stopped her with a cautionary noise, “I get to choose the article.”
Joules was practical. He could pick the most revealing items first but at the worst it meant she was naked before a group of men, who would most likely play worse with that distraction. If he wanted to give her the advantage who was she to argue, she nodded.
“Let’s start with your pants.”
Joules rose, undid her slacks and slid them down. Her smooth creamy legs flashed in the soft lighting that bathed them all. Dapper and Walter both became very thirsty all of a sudden. Badger couldn’t stop smiling as she folded her pants, placed them in the center of the table and sat back down; terribly relieved she thought to wear panties today.
Tulip folded without even glancing at his cards. He knew he couldn’t play this hand with her undressing. Walter had pretty much the same thoughts as Badger and opened with the buy-in.
El Bazaar moved eighteen thousand one hundred Bob into the pot. It was exactly the amount she’d lost in the last hand. He did this without even looking at his cards.
Dapper folded. He had that much money but she was hardly naked enough to warrant such a rush to judgment.
Badger decided on the same thing.
Joules stood peering at El Bazaar expectantly waiting for him to call the next item of clothing. He leered at her, licked his lips hungrily and then said, “Your top, if you please?”
She frowned at this. Not because of propriety but because it meant losing the cooling fibres of the Phendo™. She reached down, took hold of the material at the base and pulled the top up and over her head.
This she tossed into the pot before sitting down. Even though she had bra, panties and shoes on she felt naked but Joules refused to give any indication of discomfort.
Walter swallowed hard, tried to concentrate on the game but he was very distracted by something that he’d never seen in public before, a nearly naked woman. He shifted in his chair, trying to pivot away from her so he could look at his cards and think.
In the end, although he had a full house, he folded.
That left just Joules and El Bazaar in the hand. He slid another eighteen thousand one hundred into the pot. That would recoup everything she lost and then some.
Joules looked at her cards again. She decided to exchange one of them for a fresh card. Then she stood expecting the worst.
“A shoe, either one will suffice.”
Surprised Joules reached down and removed her left boot, tossed it in the pot and sat.
Only now did El Bazaar pick up the cards and look at them. It seemed incredible that he would wait this long, and bet that much, before checking his hand. He was either that confident of his luck, cheating, or that rich.
El Bazaar slid a third eighteen thousand one hundred into the pot. Again he directed Joules to her footwear.
Joules stared at her cards. It was a moderate hand, a Flush. Four other combinations would trump it, Walter held one but he’d folded. She didn’t know how confident she was in this, but figured perhaps El Bazaar was rich enough that he’d simply continue to play this hand until she was naked just to see if she would do it. He hadn’t looked at his hand until just a moment ago. It might be crap. She decided to continue playing.
She stood. She was European, she’d been to many topless beaches in her time. If that’s what she exposed next it was no big deal. If it was the bottoms, well, a moment later she’d be sitting so that was nothing either. She waited.
“Clear the room.” El Bazaar said in a forceful, booming voice. Instantly everyone else packed up and left, some more reluctantly than others. Moments later it was just the two of them. That alone was a sign where things were heading.
“It is unseemly to have spectators on such a private matter.” He said. Unseemly, she almost laughed.
Instead Joules nodded in gratitude but continued to stand wondering what he’d request next. El Bazaar put his cards down and leaned back looking at her with desire, “I wish to raise the stakes.”
Of course he did. Joules eyebrows shot up. El Bazaar continued, “I’m not interested in a peep show. Those I can get a Bob a Dozen, but the charms of a foreign mistress intrigue me in many ways.”
He was about to step up the game. No longer strip poker, it was about to get much more serious and risky.
She gulped as stealthily as she could, no sense tipping her hand, or showing fear. “I’m listening.” She replied as confidently as possible.
“Your services wouldn’t come cheap, I’m sure. I’m willing to call off this hand and give you the two Quarkbusters,” it was almost cute the way he mangled their name, “you want in exchange for…” he hesitated, “Two hours of my pleasure.”
Two hours of satisfying this pervert in exchange for a hundred and twenty grand worth of goods. If it made her a prostitute then surely she’d be the highest paid one in history, but he could be saying this because his hand was crap. There was only one way to find out.
“Sorry. I’m not for sale.”
His disappointment showed.
“However, I can be won.” She sat and leaned in, conspiratorially, “you replaced the cash on the table with the four Quarkboosters and the 90E” then she shifted to the tone she’d used a million times before, the one that got her the Starbus in the first place, the soft dulcet tones of a seductress in heat, “and I’ll see and call that with the rest of my clothes plus the promise of a whole night indulging any pleasures you want.”
She paused for a second and then restated the last bit, “Or any perversions.”
His eyes perked up at that. She guessed right, this man had a very hungry dark beast inside him.
El Bazaar looked back at his cards and puffed away on his cigar rapidly. Joules realized that was his tell. He had a weak hand, but not so weak that he was willing to walk away from it.
After all, she figured, there wouldn’t be much demand for the Quarkboosters, specialty market and all. He’d probably been sitting on them for years. And the 90E, although powerful and small, would only work with certain systems, most of which weren’t legally for sale in League territory. She’d practically be doing him a favour taking them off his hands.
El Bazaar puts the cards down and looked at her, “All in.” he stated flatly.
She nodded in agreement as she stood up and then in a manner that would make the average stripper blush Joules reached back, undid the clasp on her bra, slid her arms from it while holding the cups in place, teasingly halted and then proceeded to tenderly, playfully and artfully removed the last of her garments. She almost won the hand right there.
Joules remained standing, just to keep him off balance, as he pulled back his chips and replaced them with a bill of sale for four Quarkboosters and a Colbalt 90E generator. “I call.” He said.
Joules slid on to the table, three quarter turned from him, her supple back and the gentle curve of her behind on display. She looked back at El Bazaar, leaning forward, sweating profusely, jaw agape in a lecherous hunger. He looked like he was about to pass out from over stimulation.
She turned at the hips, reaching for her cards, picking them up and turning them over one at a time while looking over her shoulder seductively. Then she glanced down hopefully: Ten, Jack, Nine, Seven and Queen, all Hearts.
El Bazaar then turned his cards over: Jack, Ten, Nine, Eight and Six, all Spades. They both had Flushes but hers narrowly edged his out.
Joules visibly relaxed as he slumped back in his chair in a nearly post-coital state. In a moment she’d gathered her clothes, and while clutching the bill of sale in her teeth, began to re-dress.
He desperately attempted to entice her for another hand. “There are still the riches I have.”
They were useless in her world, she rejected him.
“I have other accessories for your Starbus. Micro-burst Cannons. Augments for shielding, even composites for faster re-entry!”
Joules paused as a flash of greed struck, but that wasn’t what she’d come here for and quite frankly she was late for a whole mess of appointments. “Sorry,” she said quickly, leaning across the table to blow him a kiss, the soft brush off eased the crash, “Maybe next time.”
As like a firefighter rushing to a blaze Joules was dressed in no time and before even half the spectators could return to witness their host’s meltdown from gruff curmudgeon to love struck puppy Joules was out the door, into the bright lights of downtown Cairo and the fresh, although oppressively hot air.