It was obvious to Mr. Bagel that his tablemates wanted to
kill him. In fact, he even knew them by name. There was Jiang “Fang” Leng, Britain’s
most notorious left-handed assassin. Beside him was Vlad McFadd, a Russian-Irish
master of medieval weaponry and serial roughneck. And on the end, trying hard
not to pounce was Danrgus X, an assassin who had tried to change his name to
“Dangerous X” at age 6, misspelled it and subsequently lost all the paperwork.
The game was blackjack and the stakes were high enough to bankrupt small island nations. Wind whistled across the table and buoys clanged far below. They were playing aboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), biggest aircraft carrier in the fleet. It was an exclusive gala featuring dictators, warlords and drug kingpins the world over. The fact that they held it on an active, Nimitz class carrier was all the more a thumb at the nose of the man. Mr. Bagel had received an invitation three weeks earlier. From whom he did not know.
Mr. Bagel wrinkled his golden brown forehead in mock thought. The dealer’s upcard was jack, Mr. Bagel’s ace. In the center of the table rested a stack of chips, all Mr. Bagel had left. With a flick of his crusty hand, Mr. Bagel revealed his hole card: another ace.
“Split it,” said Mr. Bagel. Vlad McFadd leaned back in his chair and rearranged his matrioshka bagpipe. Mr. Bagel tapped the table. Hit.
The dealer dealt: ace again on the first ace and another ace to greet the second. Four aces now sat in front of Mr. Bagel, who allowed himself a smile. “Split them again,” he said.
A crowd of gawking generals, military medals spangling, began to gather. Danrgus X was sweating and fidgeting. He had his hand behind his back, most likely fingering his gun-chucks – a bullet firing pair of nun-chucks – his weapon of choice. Jiang Leng sat in silence, sucking his platinum teeth.
Four aces rested in front of Mr. Bagel. He paused and looked over at his tablemates. They were itching for an opening. The protuberance of Vlad McFadd’s claymore was easily visible through his red-and-white flannel. Were it not for the wind, the creaking of the massive vessel and the murmur crowd, you could have heard a pin drop.
A lady parted the crowd, silencing their muttering. Knockout. She had blueblack hair and emerald eyes. The curvature of her tight dress-clad body was reminiscent of a perfect sine wave.
“May I join,” she asked. Her accent was thick, Romanian if he wasn’t mistaken. She allowed the sheer fabric of her dress to whisper over the back of Mr. Bagel’s chair.
“Sorry miss,” the dealer said. “We’re mid hand.”
“I’ll just watch then,” she said, leaning back to take in the full figure of Mr. Bagel in his custom suit.
“Split them again. Then hit,” said Mr. Bagel, producing a cigarillo from his chest pocket. He tapped it lightly on the table as the dealer placed four more aces on top of the four aces he already had.
The sexy foreign lady produced a gold lighter for Mr. Bagel, a diamond monogram twinkled on the side: IL. Mr. Bagel cocked a poppy-seed eyebrow.
“It seems I’ve hit the jackpot,” he said, looking into her eyes as she lit his cigarillo.
“That's a good hand,” she said, nodding to the eight aces in front of Mr. Bagel. She slipped the lighter down the top of her blouse.
“I wasn’t talking about the hand.”
*puts sunglasses on* Yeaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!
Danrgus X leapt for Mr. Bagel first, gun-chucks firing as they whirled. With languid speed, Mr. Bagel leaned back and delivered a curt chop to X’s poorly-tattooed neck. The lanky hulk went sprawling, unconscious. The other two assassins stood, weapons now at the ready. The generals scattered like pigeons.
“You might want to duck,” said Mr. Bagel. Diving to the ground, he clicked his right cuff link. With a whisper, darts shot from the aces on the table, peppering Vlad McFadd and Jiang Leng. Both crumpled to the deck, snoring violently.
“Nice trick,” said the lady.
“I never show all my cards,” said Mr. Bagel, clicking his other cufflink.
A gunmetal Bentley exploded from the water beside the boat and landed neatly next to them.
“I’d ask you to join, if I knew your name,” said Mr. Bagel, opening the passenger door. By now, the deck was in a commotion. Vlad McFadd was regaining consciousness and the extremely politically powerful guests were crowding for the gangplank, yelping.
“I’m Itsa,” she said.
“Just Eetsa?” said Mr. Bagel.
“Yes, but with an I, not an E. And just Itsa for now.”
“Playing it close to the chest,” said Mr. Bagel, eyes scanning her ample construction.
“Whose chest,” she said.
In the car, Itsa playfully pulled the fabric of her top closed and put on her seatbelt. Mr. Bagel tisk-tisked and depressed a single key on the steering wheel. With a belch of nitrous the car sped off the tanker, diving into the deep.
“What do you do?” said Mr. Bagel, turning to Itsa.
“I am a soprano at the Bolshoy.”
“Opera then,” said Mr. Bagel. “Impressive.”
“My turn,” said Itsa. “Where are we going?”
“I thought you knew,” said Mr. Bagel, pulling out a Walther PPK. He pointed it at her and cocked his bagel head. “You are, after all, the enemy.”
“Oh, and how did you guess?” She turned to face him and her dress parted, revealing acres of cleavage.
“It’s not enough to count cards. You have to be able to read a poker face,” said Mr. Bagel.
She laughed and told him the coordinates to the lair. Mr. Bagel punched them in and the submarine car sped off.
They drove up the ramp of the docking bay. The car filled with the smell of chlorine, damp air and patchouli. Light from the water rippled off the walls. Before they could get out, a prison-like gate slammed shut across the underwater entrance.
“Warm welcome,” said Mr. Bagel.
“My guru does not take chances,” she said.
Guards streamed in from the doorway, fluorescent automatic weapons at the ready. They wore a tie-dye shirt and bell-bottom combo. On their heads were white pillbox hats, each with a bright blue letter on it.
“I take it he can’t have more than 26 of you at a time?” said Mr. Bagel, stepping out of the car.
“Silence!” shouted Guard C. “Follow.” They put fluffy pink handcuffs on Mr. Bagel.
“None for the lady?” said Mr. Bagel. Guard C yelled silence again and slammed his gun butt into Mr. Bagel’s doughy jaw. He stayed silent after that.