“Read `em and weep!” The deuce went into the discard pile. “Full house, with three gods and two towers.”
I sent a silent thanks to Tyche, the goddess of luck. She’s been my main goddess for centuries now.
“Let’s not mention weeping,” Hades snapped. “I get enough of that. Although, the dead aren’t as annoying as the living tonight, Eido.” His black suit and fedora matched his scowl.
Hades used my name…usually us satyrs are beneath notice. It might be time to fold. But then again, life’s a gamble. I’m here to win. I’m a gambler, one of Tyche’s favored, and that’s why I’m sitting here. Still…sometimes you need to know when to walk away. Maybe I should wrap this up soon.
It wasn’t like I couldn’t afford to walk away. The current pot had piles of gold, IOU’s for future favors, two endless purses, and plenty of gems.
“As dealer, I’m calling Gorgons are high and Goddesses are wild for this hand,” Ares said in a surly tone. He gathered up the cards, riffled them. He squared them, then performed a one hand shuffle. The cards, with a silver and gold design on their backs, shimmered, proof they were immune to any divine powers. While he shuffled, we all contributed to the new pot. I tossed in two handfuls of gold coins, then two fistfuls of rubies. It was about a tenth of my stake.
I prayed silently. Viva Las Vegas. Lady Tyche, grant me luck.
The praying was a reflex. I looked at my hand for a long moment. This could be my greatest win ever, or greatest loss.
“Ahem!” Ares cleared his throat.
I raised a finger. I only needed one more card to be unstoppable.
“One,” Ares said, and slid it over.
Still, win or lose, I was riding high. The penthouse was all done up in leather and chrome, and there was plenty of great food. I’d even worn a snazzy red bow tie for the occasion. The view of Vegas’s neon was almost as impressive as the cute nymph in a showgirl costume who sat on my lap. Her anatomy shifted delightfully against mine. While I couldn’t indulge my carnal passion at the moment, my goat still won out—I nibbled a flower off her hair before taking a sip of thirty-year-old Scotch.
“Having trouble understanding the rules?” Euterpe, the Muse of Music, glared at me. “Satyrs aren’t known for their brains.”
“Satyrs think with something lower!” Zeus guffawed as he brushed away cigar ash from his white suit’s sleeve. Light glinted off his diamond cufflinks.
Euterpe giggled. She was confident––I knew her tells. She played an inspired game, but what else could one expect from a Muse?
“Knock it off, we’re playing.” Ares looked pointedly at the next player.
“Two,” Apollo said, grinning in my direction.
He had come right from work, dressed in faded jeans, sneakers, and a yellow polo shirt. A faint afterglow still surrounded him. His horses and chariot were parked outside. They were hidden by a phantasía which gave the illusion of a yellow sports car. Apollo owned a whole fleet of sweet machines, but claimed the chariot was still faster.
Apollo picked up the new card and let out a hiss.
I held my breath. Carefully, as if handling a snake, I peeked at the card. The queen of spades! I now had one of the highest hands possible under Ares’ declaration. Tyche had come through.
I should probably throw the game….never did that before. Would Tyche be insulted? What would she do? But if I won again, what would Hades do? Talk about Scylla and Charybdis….
“Dealer takes one,” Ares said. He flexed his right bicep with its grinning death’s head tattoo as he threw in another handful of gold. He wore all black, broken only by a red t-shirt. His cellphone lit up and buzzed, but his attention was fully on the game. “I raise.” Ares put in a handful of gems.
“I’ll see you,” Zeus announced, tossing in a handful of gold. “Four of a kind! Beat that!”
“Full house,” Euterpe muttered. “I fold.”
“Me, too.” Red mist danced around the cards, suspended by Ares’ will, before they fell onto the discard pile.
“Straight flush!” Hades crowed, spreading his cards on the non-regulation purple felt.
Apollo dropped his cards. “Ah, tomorrow’s a new day. I fold.”
I was about to join him. Let the chips fall where they may with Tyche. I’ve sweet talked her before. Until I glanced over at the pot. How had I not seen the pipes lying there before? They were of a dark wood with a purple and green sheen to them, bound together with gold and beautifully carved. They were the most ornate pipes I had ever seen. A thrill coursed through me.
Gambling, nymphs, and song—what else is there in life? Besides, a gambler has to play the cards they’re dealt, right?
“Eido, why are you smiling?” Zeus asked.
“Goddess flush!” I slapped the cards down triumphantly. Two queens, plus the three goddesses in the deck. “The girls love me!”
“Eido, you’re the luckiest satyr alive,” Apollo laughed and slapped me on the back. “But then, I’ve always said that.”
Euterpe said, “Drinks are on you, Eido.”
“I’ll take a rain check, satyr,” Ares said as he stood.
“We’re not done yet!” Hades snapped as he drummed his fingers on the table. It shook.
“You don’t want to cross me, brother.” Ares began to glow red. “That text tells me that some countries don’t remember their borders. Major containment needed. See you all next week.” We said farewell as Ares summoned the eísodos, the door between worlds. It appeared as a gate. It flashed as Ares stepped through and disappeared.
Hades glared around the table, then shot to his feet. He pinned me with his gaze. “Eido cheated! He had a card up his sleeve!” His hands curled into fists.
“Sleeve? I’m not even wearing a shirt!” I shrugged, glanced at Apollo.
“Fine, it was in your fur!” Black fog rose around Hades. “You’re cheating! How else could you win four times?” Now he shook a fist uncomfortably close to my face.
“Uncle Hades, he got lucky.” Apollo shrugged, tried to get between us. “Maybe you’ll win next week. Cards have never been your thing, anyway. Roulette is.”
“You have been really lucky tonight.” Electricity crackled while Zeus studied me. Calmly, he pushed back his chair and stood up. “Perhaps too lucky.”
The nymph squeaked, and the flowery smell intensified, signs of heightened emotion. It was fear, unfortunately. She slid off my lap, making me feel very lonely. She ran out, trailing flowers and a few feathers from the costume in her wake. No one noticed but me. I got to my hooves.
“Call one of the Furies. They can read me.” My voice was steady, reasonable. “Get Megaera.” Furies can tell the innocent at a glance.
Apollo started at Meg’s name. I’d forgotten he had fallen for her—hard—years ago. Meg wanted none of Apollo, though.
“That incompetent one? She sank the Titanic. I want satisfaction!” Hades began to grow taller, as did Zeus. “You cheated!”
“No! I’m not cheating.” I backed away. Hades had uncurled his fists and was now stabbing the air in front of me with a bony finger. There wasn’t much room. I fell back into the leather chair. “Look, I’ll give back my winnings if you want. I just prayed to Tyche, that’s all. She answered my prayers.”
Oh, crap. Arachne didn’t get a great deal with Athena. What’s going to happen to me? Can I talk my way out of this?
Hades grabbed my tie and lifted me. I raised my hands to my throat, gasping. My hooves found only air as I kicked frantically.
“Brother, if you strike him with lightning, I can torture him forever in the underworld and it will be entertaining.”
Underworld? Oh, gods, no. If I must be entertaining, can I be living while I do it? Mortals are alive, maybe I can make a deal?
My tie gave way with a pop and I fell into the chair, gasping. I groped for the glass of Scotch from earlier. The last of the liquor burned my throat, but it gave me the chance to speak.
“I’ll give back everyone’s stake,” I croaked.
“You’ll do more than that.” Hades’ lip curled back from his teeth, and they were beginning to become longer and more pointed.
I bluffed. “If you kill me, Tyche might be upset. You don’t want a miasma, do you?” Miasmas are bad luck that spread like a fog. If you have one, everyone avoids you.
“I’m willing to take that chance,” Hades said.
Thinking fast, I asked, “Even if it ruins the best entertainment you’ve had in centuries?”
“Do tell,” Hades said, waving the remnants of my tie. He returned to normal size. So did Zeus.
“Picture it. Me, mortal.” I used my hands in a framing gesture. “Entertainment for your amusement. How do I walk? What do I do?”
I’d be damned for sure if Hades spotted any tell. Euterpe’s face reflected the horror I felt but didn’t dare show. Apollo raised a questioning eyebrow at me. I nodded fractionally, and he followed suit. Good, he’d back my play.
Talk about upping your ante…this is the biggest stakes I’ve ever had.
“How is that better?” Hades demanded, now twisting my tie.
“I hear mortals hate aging,” Apollo said. His tone was at its most melodious, meaning he was trying to be persuasive. “However, I would like to ask for mercy, since Eido helped out with the Gorgon problem we had….”
Zeus’ glare made Apollo trail off.
“They do have a point,” Zeus said. “Brother, this will be better.”
“You think so?” Hades asked. “Really?”
“Really,” Zeus said, grinning. “And, we can watch him suffer.”
“Then do it. Before I change my mind,” Hades said.
I shook in my chair.
I’m 2,564 years old. Guess I’m not going to see 3,000. I hope it doesn’t hurt….
Unable to remain upright, I slid to the floor. Snapping noises followed. My beautiful goat legs contorted. First to one side, then the other. Back and forth. The pattern repeated. The pain was like nothing I’d ever felt before, not even when I’d run afoul of an angry Cyclops in a dice game.
Euterpe knelt and grabbed my hand. We’d played some songs together over the years. Her eyes widened as clumps of my gorgeous brown fur fell out all over the carpet. My legs straightened out, grew a bit. I screamed. Somehow, I didn’t break Euterpe’s fingers. Soon, my legs looked like any mortal’s.
I was going to be sick.
Apollo brought over the ice bucket. After, he wordlessly handed me a glass of water. He crouched and put a hand on my now human knee, emanating warmth. The pain receded. He mouthed, We’ll fix this. Somehow. I promise.
I believed him. We had time. Mortal was better than dead.
“It’s done.” Zeus motioned at Apollo. “Get him out of here.”
Apollo and Euterpe both helped me to my new, foreign feet. I leaned on them heavily, not sure how to walk at all. The last thing I saw was Hades’ evil grin as we left. I shivered. Somehow, I’d turn this bad hand good.
# A year to the day, I stood on the Vegas Strip. Pool sharking and hustling had paid off. Now for the biggest gamble yet: going legit.
“Euterpe and I can give you the money. Even my buddy Thor’s willing to help out,” Apollo said.
Today, Apollo was dressed as befitted a prince: a sharp navy blue suit with a yellow pocket square and shirt. His dress shoes gleamed. He adjusted his sunglasses against the glare—not that he needed them.
Compared to him, I was casual. A collar shirt with dice embroidered on it, black jeans and cowboy boots.
“I want partners, not bosses. I’ve had enough of being pushed around. And, since I’m a mortal man now, I’m changing my name.”
“Billy goat.” My mouth tugged up in a smile. “Thor’s fault. He calls me Gruff, you know.”
“Billy goat?” Apollo shrugged. “If that’s the way you want it. It’s your life.”
“Yeah, what’s left of it,” I muttered.
“Instead of Vegas, this could be Hades’ realm. There’s no gambling there.” Apollo gestured. “Who knows, Zeus could always change his mind one day.”
“I know.” The promise was getting old, though. “Thanks for trading days with Helios to meet me, I appreciate it.”
“No problem. I’m curious.”
“I found this great coffee shop for sale. I want it.”
“It’s why you started a rock band. It’s what I’ve got to do.”
Apollo nodded thoughtfully.
“Okay. This will get fixed. We can petition once they settle down.”
“Like when Megaera sank the Titanic? It took fifteen years!”
I stalked the Strip. My cowboy boots were close to the familiar noise of my hooves.
“Exactly,” said Apollo, catching up to me easily. “It got fixed. By the way, Tyche said she’s with you today.”
I nearly tripped over my own odd human feet. Lady Luck herself was favoring me? “Really?” I addressed the air. “Thank you, Lady Tyche.”
Living well was the best revenge. Though I’d still like to punch Hades’ smirk off his face.
“Luck has that one in a million chance of finding a loophole. She said you’re unstoppable today. Spread it around. Don’t stay in one casino too long.”
“Prayers pay off?” I asked.
Tyche had become my main goddess years ago when I first began gambling.
“They do.” Apollo grinned. “Ready to play some poker?”
“Poker, roulette, whatever!”
I was riding high again. Viva Las Vegas!