Maurice is a dead man. I’m sorry to say it, but he ain’t no rollin’ stone, not any more. I know what you’re thinking, your face tells me plenty, but the dead are called the dead for a reason. They’re gone, even when they don’t know it. Especially then. There is nothing you nor I can do about it.
He came to me and said he could beat the Green Man at his own game, just like many who have tried before. All I heard was the sound of a loser, practically begging to be taken down. The game was Dead Man’s Poker, and the stakes were high. The Green Man sits on one hell of a pile of money, after all, he has that old blue Chubb safe overflowing with cash - enough to buy what Maurice wanted and more besides. But I said forget it: forget about it. It’s a game you just can’t win.
I know it and you know it, but he thought he was different. He had to win, and I’d like to say it was for a good reason. I really would, but it boiled down to this: Ramona wanted a rock on her finger the size of a baby’s fist. He wanted wedding bells, but she wouldn’t say yes without that rock, and he knew it. I don’t know what that woman has that’s worth a run against the Green Man, but that’s not for me to say. Maurice was wrapped up in her something fierce, there’s no denying it.
So even though I warned him, he still had to play. Don’t lift a single card, I said. It’s not worth what he will take if you lose, and if Ramona had any sense she would say so too. He heard me well enough, but he knew better, didn’t he, the stupid bastard?
Well he’s done now. Five ways from sunrise, is that how they say it? And Ramona won’t be getting that rock any time soon, either.
It started well enough, he was up five grand in the first twenty minutes. That was his last ray of sunshine. Three plays later he was down and out of cash. I was relieved, because it should have ended there, but the Green Man makes him an offer he should have refused and he takes it, because, let’s face it - he’s not one of the smart ones. It’s a pretty weird line of credit - the Green Man bets his whole safe full of cash against Maurice’s blood. Maurice thinks it’s a joke, or he seems to, at least. I tried to tell him it wasn’t, that this is how the game is played, but he wouldn’t listen to me. Fuck it, says Maurice. You’re on.
So before you know it he’s holding a hand of junk, and the joke suddenly isn’t so funny. A pair of twos don’t hold up against a straight, and he loses. The Green Man himself doesn’t lift a finger. He has two boys to do that, and they don’t fuck around. After all, payment was due. They pull out a cannula and length of rubber tube, roll up Maurice’s sleeve and before he can say boo, they’ve sucked the blood right out of him. They siphoned it into a steel bucket, a big ugly steel bucket with a rusty red handle.
Afterwards he’s just sitting there all chalk white and paper thin, he seems to be wondering, what the hell just happened? Now, any smart person would have folded and cut their losses, and I tell him so. I practically beg him to walk away. The Green Man wasn’t going to stop him, but he has different ideas. I can win it back, he says, my luck will change. The Green Man is ready to oblige, and he raises the stakes. If Maurice wants to keep playing, he has to put his skin on the line. He does. They deal.
He loses again. He ended up with a couple of pairs, fives and eights, and he calls it but the Green Man takes him down with four of a kind, all kings. Again, payment was due, and the boys went into action. Taking his skin would have made a hell of a mess if they hadn’t taken his blood first, but the Green Man was obviously thinking at least two moves ahead: under his skin, Maurice was bone dry. Out comes another bucket. Those busy boys with their dull razors take the hide right off his back.
It might be that Maurice had some regrets when they were pulling his face off his skull, but underneath it all he’s just grinning like Halloween, or at least I think he is, and through gritted teeth he says double or nothing, you prick. The Green Man smiles a thin smile, seeming genuinely pleased, and it is not a nice thing to see. So Maurice is sitting there at the table, more naked than the day he was born, and the Green Man sets the terms: Maurice must put his flesh on the line for one more chance to win. He thinks about it for an unholy second. They deal again.
He ends up with three of a kind, all nines, but he goes down to the Green Man, who holds a full house. If I said that Maurice had the luck of the Devil on his side that day, it might not be far from the truth. So those boys get busy. They strip our man down, and it takes a while, too - they’re hacking away at him for near on half an hour, sawing meat off the bone, dropping it into a bucket in chunks.
You might have thought the game would lose momentum, but it doesn’t, although things are looking grim. Maurice isn’t looking pretty, either. He’s a butcher’s shop window now, and nowhere near as neat. But by then, the Green Man has the hooks in deep. He just has to wave it all in front of him - you can still win it all back, he says, and the safe full of cash too - or you can walk away. Of course, it’s your call, says the Green Man, and he’s almost purring when he says it. All he wants for the privilege of winning is Maurice’s vital organs.
The fool might have balked at that, but he had stopped listening to me some time ago. He takes the bet. They deal.
Finally Maurice ends up with a decent hand - four queens - and he thinks his luck may have changed, but then the Green Man lays out a straight flush, aces high. Our man's on a streak, and it isn’t a lucky one. The next bit was, well, messy. They hack the wet stuff out of his ribcage, scraping the last bits off his spine and pelvis with what looks like some kind of gardening tool. They need a shovel to pick it all up off the floor, too, and I notice that his heart is still beating a little when they do. Out comes another steel bucket. Where were they getting those things from, anyway? Slip-slop, in the bucket it goes.
So then he’s down to his bones, and you know it’s a funny thing, but they don’t look right - they’re not white, or even pink; they’re licorice black, black like soil or tar. I have no idea what that means, but if the Green Man notices, or cares, he doesn’t say so. I suppose bones are bones, and he’s seen it all before.
So our man is down and out, and thinks he has nothing left to bet, but the Green Man makes a final wager: if Maurice puts his eyes on the line, he has a chance to win back the whole stake. His blood, his skin, his guts - and the safe full of cash. It’s that or he can cut his losses and walk away. Another smile from the Green Man.
Does Maurice take the bet? He might be thinking that it’s mighty hard to play poker without your eyes, so that would be the end of the line. Still, I can see that he’s tempted to take it, the stupid fucker, but of course, by then it doesn’t matter. It’s all academic.
Like I told you up front: win or lose, he’s already dead. He just doesn’t know it yet.
At least we found out why the chairs are covered in plastic.