Their mocking laughter might have chilled me if I hadn’t been alive and fought these men so long ago. I knew their strengths and their weaknesses. I knew their desires.
“You are a woman,” Redbeard said, swaggering forward.
Laddie stopped him with a ghostly hand on the pirate’s arm. “She’s my woman, and I demand you treat her with respect.”
Redbeard swiped his arm, bones clattering as they collided with Laddie’s ribs. One broke off, the grayish white bone shattering as it hit the ground. A few barnacles rolled away beneath a blackjack table.
“I can hold my own, Laddie, but thank you.” I hoped my words served as a warning, a reminder that the past could not be repeated. He’d been but a dalliance, a moment’s folly, and though I loved him with all my heart and always would, I also knew my heart belonged to another. Someday soon, I hoped, my consort would come home.
I squared my shoulders. “I propose a wager. A turn on the roulette wheel.” I gestured to the gaming table not that far away. “You place your bet. If the wheel hits, then all the gold I have is yours–”
“Wait, Tyche. You don’t want to do this.” Minerva rushed onto the gaming floor to stop at my side.
“You have a woman fight your battles now?” Redbeard asked, completely oblivious to the fact that he was addressing two women and how sexist he sounded. The times had indeed changed since I’d ridden the high seas. From hoop skirts and parlor games to running multinational corporations, women had risen in stature and power. And, just like history, there were always those who longed to see them put in their place. What these men forgot was women always learned to use the tools at their disposal and found ways to wield their power.
“It’s okay. I know what you’re doing.” I turned to Minvera. “Please, take care of things from the seahorse room.”
“You can’t send me away. These men are dead pirates! They have powers.” Minerva gestured toward them. “I know you’re a woman of immense talent and not even I know all that you can do,” she lowered her voice. “But they also are not what they seem.”
“I know.” More than she knew, I knew because the dead never returned. Charon guarded the River Styx and refused to let them cross back over to the land of the living. I’d heard rumors, though frankly, since Dorian I’d chosen to handle things on my own. I’d still kept my ear to the proverbial ground. “I’ll be fine. I appreciate your care.” I spoke like a boss to her subordinate, putting just a hint of my power behind my words. “Please. I’d feel better if you were in the Seahorse room. That’s your domain.” I emphasized the word domain.
“Yes. Of course.” She turned and hurried from the gaming floor.
With Minerva gone, I focused on the ghostly men before me. I touched my earpiece. “Please bring the roulette set we use for special guests.”
The approval from my game floor manager told me he understood what was happening. Not that Lady Luck needed a weighted ball or such trickery in her own resort. That’d be absurd. This set had been a gift from Hephestus during the roaring 20’s when Par Impar had hosted all manner of people, from the slightly famous to the very famous during Prohibition. Weighted and crafted to be as fair and as neutral as possible. I used it for heads of state and those who dared to try their fortunes with Lady Luck.
I strode to the roulette table, a woman in her element. I imagined this was how Artemis strode through the forest, or Nike crossed the finish line, strong and powerful, bold and beautiful. Perhaps I only dispensed luck and good fortune, probably too generously at that, and yet, here, at Par Impar, I believed that the work I did was good and helped the world. And if I had seen the mythical island of Rota more often lately, it had to be for a good reason.
I sensed my floor manager’s arrival with the titanium box, specially made as the metal is resistant to corrosion by seawater. I accepted the box with a nod of dismission and my floor manager understood. This game I’d oversee myself; I needed no witnesses, no seconds in this wager.
“In this box is a roulette wheel specially made by the God of the Forge and gifted to me for Par Impar. It is as fair and impartial as any I’ve ever used, and I only use high quality games at my resort. Lady Luck wins often, and she does so fairly. You remember my reputation, I trust.”
“We do.” Redbeard said. “But I would be a fool if I’d trust a pirate in her own house.” Had he still had lips, he might have smiled. “I remember you as fair dealing. I know nothing of the gods. They cared not for me. But I trust you and your wheel.”
That small concession achieved, I wanted to get clear about the stakes. A pirate wouldn’t be a pirate unless he sought a loophole, a way to turn a loss into a win. I’d be damned if I made this happen, but I had an idea and the means to make it happen.
“Let us be clear about the wager. We will spin the roulette wheel once. You place your wager on the color and number you want. If you win, you take all the gold in Par Impar over which I have control. If I win, then you return to the ocean without hurting anyone, and I shall send you an offering on each full moon, for it is that moon by which we sailed our ships and that moon which gave us light.” I paused, hoping Redbeard understood that he would not lose here. He and his pirate ghosts would always receive an offering even once they crossed the River Styx once more.
A pause stretched between us. In the back of my mind, if I listened hard, I might hear some kind of communication between the ghosts. I’d never experienced anything like that. It worried me. What other powers did they have and should I fear for my gold?
At last, Redbeard turned to me. “Should your offering be gold, then it is fair.” He nodded. “Let us go to your table.”
Yes, a chance to show off my resort, my new piracy venture, though I gave just as much as the house won. We operated in the black. We weren’t greedy. I gestured to the newly recovered table, the gold wheel in the middle enough to even make the pirate Lady Luck drool. I set the box down on the edge of the table and opened it.
The gleaming gold ball sat nestled in a bed of midnight blue crushed velvet, specially treated not to get even a speck of lint on the ball to alter its course. The last time this ball had rolled across the table, JFK and Jackie had leaned against it, cheering for luck right before he threw his hat into the presidential ring. The Par Impar token I’d given them that night for luck had been buried with him, and while I understood the sentiment, it also could have explained so much.
I brought my thoughts back to the present, this game. One knew better than to be inattentive, around these men especially.
“Are you ready?”
Redbeard approached the table, motioning to keep the other ghosts back. “I am.”
“Make your wager.”
Redbeard reached into his mouth and pulled one of the remaining teeth free. He set it on Red 7. “Lucky number seven will take all the gold you own,” he said with a mocking laugh.
I set the wheel spinning and held out the ball, dropping it onto the track. The ball worked across the wheel, a good, solid spin. Whatever happened, it would be fair.
The wheel slowed. The ball bounced across it, skipping in and out of pockets. For a moment, I watched it roll across the wheel, heading toward the marked number. My heart dropped. I was Tyche, Goddess of Good Fortune, and my luck couldn’t fail me in my own house. Yet, after all that happened, especially with the hurricane, maybe the lesson of Dorian was that my luck was failing. In this world of mortals and this modern era where the gods struggled for relevancy, I, and the luck I brought, didn’t matter.
For one, heart-stopping moment, the ball wobbled, heading into Red 7. Redbeard gave a triumphant yell.
The wheel stopped.
The ball dropped into Black 29.
“This is your doing!” Redbeard roared. “You rigged it. This wasn’t fair.”
I held up my hands. “You agreed to the wager and agreed that it was fair. Just because you didn’t like the outcome doesn’t make it any less so. You lost honorably, Redbeard. Now go.”
He stepped forward.
Laddie touched Redbeard’s arm. “Let’s go.”
I sensed a strength in these two men from very different eras. Laddie released Redbeard and turned toward the doors. I watched him go.
Before he stepped through the open glass doors to the beach, he turned. “It was good seeing you again, Lady Luck. You look beautiful, as always.” Then he stepped through the doors and was soon lost in the sea of skeletal ghosts heading toward the sea.
I crossed the mostly empty gaming floor, the ball left on the roulette wheel. Once I reached the glass doors, I dared not go outside. Instead, I pressed my palm to them and watched as one by one the ghosts reached the ocean, and with a green wave much like the first one that lapped at my ankles, disappeared.
As soon as the last ghost had left, the air in the casino immediately lightened. I knew in my heart they were gone, and I’d never see Laddie again. A single tear rolled down my cheek. I dashed it away, before turning back to the floor with a forced grin. “The simulation is over. Let’s play.” I intercommed my staff, and within the hour, it was as if we’d never been visited by the ghostly apparitions at all. Except I’d remember, and it was only a moment’s luck, that we remained.
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