Vic pulled a pack of playing cards from the pocket of his blue blazer. He flipped them out of their box, into his hand. He sat on a milk crate in front of the spool/table, across from Rawlings. The warehouse smelled musty, of rope and rat shit. Vic’s dirty blond hair reached his shoulders, and he had a thin mustache over his lip. His shoes were blacker and shinier than the hair of his associate, Hector, who stood behind Rawlings.
Smiling, Vic shuffled through the deck until he found what he was looking for. He held out the card for Rawlings to see. “Tell me what makes this card different.”
Weary from blood loss, Rawlings raised his hands, bound with duct tape, to wipe his nose. His blue jumpsuit was stained with blood, and he had a cut across his brow. “It’s the king of hearts. So what? He’s a romancer?”
Rolling his eyes, Vic replied, “No.” Digging through the deck, he found the other three kings and held them in front of Rawlings’s face. “Now, what’s the difference?”
Rawlings sighed. “The king of hearts is sticking a sword in his head.”
Rawlings recoiled. It was the most bizarre question he’d ever been asked. “Why is he killing himself?”
“To be more precise: What sets him apart from the other kings?”
“Because he’s the thirteenth card in the suit? I don’t know. Look, Vic, if this is part of the ‘jumping in’ process--”
The smile left Vic’s face as he slapped his captive hard across the face. “Initiation’s over. We weren’t jumping you in. This is for real. Now, look at these cards and tell me what’s different about the king.”
Rawlings closed his eyes and opened them again, focusing. “Other than that he’s stabbing himself, the only difference is... facial hair.”
Vic smiled again. “Right. So, if he wasn’t killing himself, he’d still be different from the others, which leads one to believe that he killed himself because he’s different from the others. Now that’s out of the way, let’s think about the other kings. They all have something in common. Something as simple as a mustache, but even the color of the clothes you wear can be symbolic of some exclusive gang. So let’s just say that these three kings are the Mustache Gang. But the king of hearts didn’t measure up, so he wasn’t allowed to be in the gang... because he was different. So he killed himself.” Victor reached into his coat and pulled out a revolver and slammed it down on the makeshift table.
Clearing a frog from his throat, Rawlings asked, “What’s going on, Vic?”
Burning a hole into Rawlings with his eyes, Vic spat, “You’re a cop, trying to weasel into our operation.”
Panicking, Rawlings screamed, “No! I’m not a cop, I swear to Christ!”
“Ah, the King of Kings. Sorry, but as the suicide king, you’ve no room to talk to Him. There’s one bullet in that chamber. You know how Russian roulette goes. I go; then you go. If you pass, you’re in the Mustache Gang. Otherwise, you’re the suicide king.”
Rawlings, sweating, said, “If that’s what it’ll take for you to trust me, I’ll do it.”
Vic cocked the gun and squeezed the trigger. Click. He passed the gun over to Rawlings. “Your turn.”
Taking a deep breath, Rawlings picked up the gun and spun the chamber. He then pressed the barrel against his head and closed his eyes. He squeezed the trigger and a bang echoed through the warehouse. Rawlings collapsed to the floor, a lifeless heap.
Hector blew the smoke from his gun. “I don’t know why you mess with those undercover pigs like that. You ought to let me wait until they hear their own gun click. Surprise them. I mean, what are the odds of them actually killing themselves?”
Vic laughed; “Zero, considering the gun is always empty. Do you actually think I’d put a loaded gun against my head? Besides, if the shot doesn’t come as soon as he pulls the trigger, the point is lost. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the suicide king.”