arthur had had a great deal to drink, which he was not at all accustomed to, and he had become separated from his classmates, and he did not know where he was.
his brain cleared slightly, and he found himself seated at a round table in a brightly lit, high ceilinged room.
the tall windows of the room were uncurtained, and arthur could see that it was night, and he remembered that it had been cold, very cold outside.
in fact the cold was seeping into the room, as luxurious and well-appointed as it seemed.
two men he did not recognize were seated across from arthur, looking at him in no friendly fashion. they were both middle-aged, in their forties at least, but had the look on their faces of particularly nasty schoolboys.
arthur was a poor boy from the provinces who had won a scholarship for his patriotic verses in praise of the new regime, but in his short time in the capital, and from his association with his more privileged and sophisticated classmates, he had learned enough to recognize that the two men, though dressed casually, were wearing the finest cut of the finest cloth, and that the room itself, though somewhat disordered, had the feel of a lair of wealth and power.
arthur and the two men were alone in the room, but from many indications - glasses and plates on the table and on other tables, a few coats on chairs, even some lingering smoke in the air - this had until very recently not been the case.
a party had been held, but was now over.
more came into focus. arthur looked down and saw a pile of money - bills and coins - in front of him.
had he been gambling? playing cards? arthur hardly knew how to play any card games.
the taller and thinner of the two men now held something out to arthur, which he recognized as indeed a deck of cards.
now the man turned the deck sideways and ran his thumb along it. “you see that, my friend?” he asked arthur, with a sneer, “that is how a deck looks when it is shuffled honestly.”
arthur was bewildered. was the man accusing arthur of somehow cheating them?
“i propose, “ the man continued in the same snide tone, “that we will continue play, but with ourselves shuffling the deck. does that meet with your approval?”
“yes, yes, of course,” arthur managed to say.
“very well, then.” the man put the deck down in from of arthur. “the cards are shuffled. would you like to cut them?”
“uh -no.” arthur tapped the deck with one finger. he vaguely remembered that this meant he passed on his chance to cut the deck.
“no?” the man laughed. “that is too bad, my friend, because if you had cut them you might have had quite a good hand.”
the man dealt cards to arthur, to his accomplice, and to himself.
arthur did not even know what the game was. poker, baccarat, canasta, whatever.
he understood that he had to lose the money in front of him to the two men. all he wanted was to do so as quickly as possible, get his coat, and get out of the room and the building.
by not even looking at his cards, and matching all the bets the two men made , arthur quickly lost all the money. as he had no idea where he had got it in the first place, he did not feel it was any loss.
when the money was gone, arthur stood up, shaking slightly as he did so.
“well, gentlemen, i bid you good night,” arthur began .
the shorter man, who had hardly spoken before, interrupted him. “sit down, i don’t think we are quite through with you.”
“but i have no more money,” arthur said. he searched his pockets, and in fact they were empty. “now if i could just find my coat - “
“your coat ,” the shorter man repeated. “your coat. you know, i think you owe us something for the aggravation you have caused us, and your coat, wherever and whatever it is, will do nicely.”
“and your shirt,” added the taller man “i like your shirt. leave your shirt with us too , if you please.”
“but - but - it is cold outside,” arthur protested.
“cold outside?” said the shorter man. “maybe you should have thought at that before you tried to cheat honest gentlemen.”
“we will let you keep your pants,” the taller man added. “who knows what mischief you might get into with no pants on, eh?”
and they both laughed.
the taller man stood at the window with a glass in his hand and watched as arthur disappeared into the night.
his name was boris, and the other man’s name was conrad. they were cousins of the y————— family, which ruled and owned the country, at least until the next revolution.
“should we get our cameras?’ boris asked conrad. “and follow him? record him freezing to death, ha ha?”
“oh, he is not going to freeze to death,” conrad replied wearily. “some kind soul will take pity on him.”
“but the interaction with the kind soul, that might be amusing,” boris replied. “especially if we were to interrupt it, eh?”
“i’m not in the mood. besides. as the fellow pointed out, it is cold out.”
“a little cold never hurt anybody.”
“but i’m tired,” said conrad. “so, so tired.”
this struck boris as hilarious , and he almost choked on his whiskey.