Penelope began to stir once again. As she put her hand up to her head, her first thought was that as much as the thought of getting knocked out excited her, this was getting a bit much!
Wherever she was, it was dark. She was sitting on carpet, she seemed to be unrestrained, and still fully dressed. “Hello?” she called out weakly.
“Ah, you’re awake,” a familiar voice answered. Penelope could just make out the face of Thomas Blake as he knelt in front of her.
“Where am I…what happened…” the heroine known as Black Arrow mumbled.
“You and your friend got gassed, and we were told to bring you here. Something big is going down, and we may need your help, after all.”
“My friend…”Penelope breathed. “Curia? Where is she? Is she okay?”
“She’s fine…other than being unconscious, of course. We don’t have much time. The Dealer and his other men are going to be down here before long.”
Penelope rubbed her eyes, as she looked around but couldn’t see anything else besides the large man kneeling next to her. “What did you mean, something big is going down?”
“Floyd’s going to turn the lights on in a moment. Whatever you do, keep quiet, and don’t scream.”
“Okay,” Pen replied, now quite curious to know what she was about to see. The lights came on, and her eyes widened as her hands went over her mouth.
The room they were in was lavish, and quite large, and round. The ceilings were high, and there was a large round table in the center of the room, with a number of expensive-looking seats around it. That, however, wasn’t what had shocked Penelope so.
All around the walls of the room, there were rectangular ‘cases’. Each case had a glass front, to display its contents. And as she looked around, she noticed that every single case had a woman inside. None of them appeared to be conscious. As she turned around, she noticed that she had been mistaken; one case, the one a few feet behind her, was empty.
“There are fifty-two of them,” Blake whispered, as Penelope stared in amazement. Each case had a frame around the front, with two things displayed on it: a number or letter, and one of four symbols – a heart, diamond, club, or spade. Penelope realised that the empty case behind her, with a ‘J’ and a spade on it, was meant for her.
“They’re…playing cards…” she gasped, as she turned to look at Blake.
“Yeah,” he replied. “Now you see what I meant, about something big going down. I had a friend check the list of hotel guests – there’s four men staying here who are, let’s just say, extremely, extremely rich. And they’re all going to be here soon.”
Penelope looked around the room again. Every woman was attractive, young-looking, and in an outfit that accentuated her assets. And all the outfits were either red, or black – matching the color of the suit. She started to walk around the room quickly, her eyes scanning each and every box, as Blake and Lawton followed closely behind.
She saw Curia first; she was the ‘Queen of Hearts’. Right next to her, in the ‘Jack of Hearts’ box, was a tall, strawberry-blonde woman that she didn’t recognize, but she seemed to have her companions’ attention.
“That’s her,” Blake said. “Our friend, Liana.”
“She’s beautiful,” Black Arrow whispered, as she kept going, finally seeing the one she was looking for: Lianne. She, too, looked absolutely stunning inside her box, in a black bikini – most of the women, with a few exceptions – were in bikinis. Her box had a ‘10’ and a spade on it.
“Lianne?” Penelope called out. “Can you hear me? It’s Pen…Lianne?” But there was no response. Blake suddenly reappeared in front of her, and put out his hand.
“Okay, sweetheart, here’s the deal. We have to get you in your container over there, now. But we don’t like this deal any more than you do. So here’s the thing; we aren’t going to knock you out, and we’re going to make it look like you’re restrained inside, when in reality you can get out rather easily.”
Penelope looked at him as she tried to process all of this rather quickly. “You mean, I have to pretend like I’m out, then?”
He nodded, as he picked her up, and carried her over to her ‘card’ case, and waited for Floyd to open it. Then, he carefully positioned her in the foam, posed exactly like the others.
“He’s having some kind of poker game, isn’t he? And we’re the cards?” Penelope breathed.
“That’s what I think, too. Floyd and I, we will be here, along with the rest of his ‘muscle’. Watch for my signal; until then, don’t move. We don’t want to act until we know exactly what we are dealing with. Got it?”
“Yes,” she breathed. “I’ve pretended to be unconscious before,” she smiled. “But, one more question…where are we?”
“Underground…under the Casino. I know, it doesn’t seem possible that a room this large could be down here, but it is…”
“So, you have a plan, then?” Penelope asked, just as he was about to close the case.
“Not a plan, exactly,” he answered in a low voice. “We’ll think of something…” And he closed the case, latching it, but not locking it.
Black Arrow looked out through the glass one last time, as the two men walked away. She took in the entire scene before her: fifty-two ‘playing cards’. And then, she remembered what she had read in the e-mail she had discovered, from The Dealer, about how he would soon be ‘playing with a full deck’. She was the final card in his deck: number fifty-two. She closed her eyes, just as her two would-be friends turned the lights out in the room. Whatever was going to happen, Pen thought, she wouldn’t have much longer to wait, before she found out.