Call or Fold

August 18, 2014: During a back door poker game, John Constantine gets a glimpse into Shift's world.

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"Right boys, game's five card draw, ante is five qui- five dollars, and aces, like your mum, go both ways," John announces, sitting at a round table in one of the slightly seedier bars in New York. With dim illumination provided by an old cone-shaped lamp directly overhead, it casts everyone into grim looking shadows, especially the sallow-faced Brit who somehow manages to stay just out of the light, even while dealing. With clumsy hands he shuffles the cards, then starts doling them out peacemeal, one at a time to the other players. Once everyone has five, he antes up, then checks his cards and takes three. The next two players take their cards, then John looks at Shift. "How many for you, mate?" he asks the Ghanian, toying with the deck of cards.


It's hard to tell whether Shift can recognize John's voice from that strange place where the two had first run into each other. He's got one hell of a poker face when it comes to encounters with others; what's yet unclear is whether or not his poker face works as well with five card draw.

Regardless, one of the many blessings inherent with back-room card games is the fact that one is permitted to smoke. The Ghanaian is lighting his cigarette when the cards are dealt, casting a very subtle smile toward the scantily glad woman who brings him an ash tray. The cigarette-wielding hand grasps a small glass of whiskey, neat, while the other snatches up his cards with an even motion.

"Tree." Accents. Kwabena's silver eyes do set him apart, and he's well aware that at least one of the guys sitting at the table know who he is. That's because aforementioned thug, a dude by the name of Warren Beattie, works for Richard Dackleman. A fellow who is quickly becoming Shift's sworn enemy. His silver eyes rotate toward the man to his left, Warren Beattie, watching what he'll do while feigning ignorance.


John could clearly give a shit about who Shift knows, hates, or is screwing. The man looks a bit inebriated, his fingers a little clumsy as he deals Shift his three. It gives the Ghanian a high hand- a flush, Jacks high. John tosses back his scotch- proper scotch, not whiskey- and orders another one with a drunken flourish at the waitress.

He deals cards to the other men, then looks at his own cards. He grimaces minutely, then casts a few crumpled bills into the pot, which is well into the late game and growing larger. John's down plenty, and Shift and his nemesis are nearly tied for the rest of the stake. "Ten," the Brit announces. He fishes in his pocket for a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a lighter, a flare of cherry light briefly highlighting his craggy features before his face vanishes into the shadows again. The betting goes to his left- call, raise five, then passes to Shift for his bet.


"Call. Raise five." Kwabena slips a $5 bill onto the table, then ashes into his tray.When John makes himself visible, the Ghanaian can't help but wince. The fellow had offered him help once, help he thought he'd never need to take, but… one never knows. "Take it easy over dere," he murmurs John's way. "Fahget to pace yahself, you'll be broke befah de clock strikes midnight." He reaches again for his whiskey, taking a sip, as if to demonstrate.


"Fuck off, mate, I can pace myself just fine," John says, downing the rest of his scotch. He'd long since bought the bottle, which was slowly emptying itself by the ounce and a half into his belly. He pours himself another shot, not quite making it all land in the narrow, tall shot glass.

Warren eyes Shift, looks at his cards, then throws another five dollars on top of the bet. "Raise five," he gravels.

John grunts and goes to his pot, matching the raise, then taps once on the table. "Call," he says, looking to his left. The fellow to his immediate left looks at his cards again, then folds out. The next fellow examines his cards with pursed lips, then puts a ten dollar bill into the pot. "Raise ten," the man says, passing the bet to Shift.


Warren Beattie gets a lifted eyebrow from Shift, as does John, and the main who just raised. "Big spendah." He drops the appropriate bill, taps the table, and takes a big drag of his cigarette. Now, his eyes remain firmly fixed upon Beattie. He still feigns as if he's not aware just who the man is, though both of them know that's not true.

Warren, for his part, seems to be growing nervous. Kwabena has a reputation. It's an ugly one. Based on the way Shift is staring him down, he's starting to worry that… well… that he's facing an ugly night.


Warren is a bit nervous, but there's at least a hundred bucks on the table already, and from the cool, assumed nonchalance, he must think he has a good hand. "Ten," he says, raising the bet. He looks to John, pretending not to avoid Shift's gaze. "C'mon, Lord Fauntleroy," he sneers, finding an easier target to pick on. "Let's see you play with the real men."

"Bollocks," John mutters. He picks through the bills and change in front of him, throws a few bills on the table, and taps the cheap laminate once again. The bet passes to his left. Match, raise five. The bet passes to Shift once more, the raise now fifteen. John looks a bit despondent, his cash pot almost empty, and takes another long gulp of his scotch.


Shift is still virtually staring at Warren, especially now that he's proven how much of a dimwit he is. "You know." He ashes the cigarette, casting another smile to the waitress who comes to replace the tray with a fresh one. "I've noticed, dere is a protocol to dese things. Things you shouldn't do, because it's just dumb, and things you don't do, because it can get you hurt." He waves the cigarette around in the air, as if gauging the profit versus risk of the whole affair, then ashes it again.

"Playing drunk, fah exahmple, dat's stupid. But it won't get you killed, beaten, whatevah. You might get your ass taken, but you'll walk with both legs intact." He takes a deep drag of the cigarette, then sets it down in the ash tray. His cards go down on the table, as if he were going to fold, but it's merely because he no longer needs to look at the hand. Instead, his arms are folded, staring straight at Warren for a long few moments.

"Dat…" He points at Warren, finger hovering and bouncing about three times, before he scoffs and shakes his head, reaching for his hand again.


Cash goes into the pot, and then, with a slightly worried look, he watches John for his next play


"I told you, I'm not /drunk/," John declares, swinging his coat back from his right hip and lifting his hips off the chair. He finds a thin black leather wallet, opens it, and gulps, then produces three twenties and tosses them on the pot. "All in," he adds, pushing another fifteen dollars worth of assorted change onto the pile. "Seventy-five dollars American, boys. Call, let's see what you've got," he says, looking supremely nervous.

"In," says the other player, deliberately counting out seventy-five dollars- twice- and then flipping his cards over. Three of a kind, Queens over a Jack. The table looks to Shift.


Warren Beattie, for his part, appears to have found himself somewhere between terror and 'I'm about to do something incredibly stupid.'

Shift's eyes are still upon Beattie, even as John puts them all in. Even as he snuffs out a cigarette, retrieves a stack of bills bound together by a money clip emblazoned with Johnny Cash's unmistakable face, and flips out seventy five.

"Some peopah think, when dey die, ain't anodah thing that can torment you, less hell is real. Well…" He turns over the cards, smirking at Warren, while covering them with his hand. "Dere ah worse places dan hell."

Warren jerks his head to Shift. "What the hell man? What's your problem?"

A movement of Shift's hands reveals his play; flush, Kings high. "Let's see em, Beattie."


"You know what, Odame? Fuck you, man, I got your cards right here," Warren says, flipping his hand to the deck. John groans out loud and flops three aces and a six onto the table, rubbing his face. "Full house, Kings over threes," Warren sneers. He laughs at the collected table, cackling really, and leans forward to start gathering in the pot.

John puts a hand down on top of Warren's, stopping him with a gesture, and then puts a finger to his lips, then the side of his nose. With a dramatic flourish, he reaches down and slips the top ace aside- to reveal a stack of four aces.

"Four of a kind, mate. It's all right- you don't win every time," Constantine says urbanely, suddenly sounding /much/ more sober as he starts raking his cash in. The fourth fellow just starts swearing sulferously, gets up, and stalks away from the table.


When it all plays out, Odame begins to smirk. He doesn't seem at all bothered that he was taken; truth be told, he didn't give one single fuck. What he does display is an approving smirk that's aimed John's way, before he looks back toward Warren Beattie. "You see?" he comments. "He's not drunk."

Kwabena lights a new cigarette. By this time, Warren has begun to feel the tickle on the back of his neck, that feeling that comes when you've just lost big and might lose something else when everything is said and done. He virtually stares at Shift, but he doesn't do a thing. That is, until…

Shift pulls the cigarette back, pinching it between two fingers. He tucks the pinkie in, spreads the ring finger out, and points toward both of his eyes. The cigarette plunges into silver, eye-socket momentarily transforming into a hollow hole filled with glowing tendrils of smoke. When the cigarette comes out, the eye reforms, and he points the cigarette-finger combo at Warren.

The classic 'I'm watching you' gesture, with a bit of flair.

Suddenly, the table is upended, and Warren is coming at Kwabena with a knife and a snarl. The two men collide, Warren's fist flattened into Kwabena's chest.

The Ghanaian simply looks down at his chest, where there is supposedly a knife, buried. There might be any number of responses that one would expect here… all Shift does is shake his head in a disapproving manner. He leans forward and murmurs into the man's ear. "You owe me a shirt, you wahthless sack of dicks."


John's quick. Quick enough to get the big bills off the table before it all goes flying, and make sure his scotch bottle doesn't get destroyed in the brawl. "Oye, that was kind of fuckin' stupid, mate," John says, flickering a lit cigarette to his mouth from his position crouched behind the upended table. He picks bills up off the ground and starts carefully arranging and folding them, placing them one at a time into the dark leather wallet. He takes a swig of his scotch and props one knee up, smoking his cigarette, drinking, and picking up his take while Warren does his absolutely worst to try and kill Shift. Literally.


Warren finds a hand closed around his wrist. The grip is impossibly strong, and it no longer feels like skin… more like obsidian. Very solid, impenetrable obsidian, with a strength that remains just intentionally shy of bone-crushing.

Now, the hand begins to move upwards. Normally, this would signify a very sharp knife cutting through organ, tissue, bone… but it slides through Shift like butter, until the knife is firmly placed in his neck. The Ghanaian's eyes widen in a daring way.

Warren Beattie is absolutely freaked. The rumors are true.

The knife ends up in Shift's mouth, at which point he pulls it out. With a simple squeeze of his fingers, Beattie's hand is utterly crushed. "I'm sorry about all dis," he says to those still gathered in the room, including the scantily clad waitress who now trembles in the corner, tray of spent glasses clutched against her chest, mouth ajar. "I really don't like making a mess of things, but sometimes you run into a fuckbag who needs a lesson in decency."

By the time Shift is done, Warren's hand is… a mangled lump of what it once was, his legs bent, the full weight of himself upon Shift's grasp. The Ghanaian drops him once the shoulder comes out of its socket, leaving the mob thug to cower on the floor like a child.


Constantine just sits and drinks his hootch, counting up his money until Shift is done. He gets up once he hears quiet sobbing and a silent bar, and turns to face the crowd.

"Blimey, you're a cold bastard," he quips to Shift. "Remind me not to piss you off. Well!" he declares, edging over a chair and around the table an the sobbing remains of what is likely to become a recurring, one-handed villain. "Best I'm off, then, before anyone else has an unfortunate accident." He recaps the bottle of scotch and somehow makes it disappear into a vast pocket of his jacket, then flicks a boy-scout salute at Shift and makes his way to the bar exit.


Shift turns to look at John, lips curled. "Depends on who you ask," he answers. "Beatters heah? Not exactly your ideal citizen. I'm sure a few of NYPD's finest would rathah see him dead." He glances back toward the cowering thug and says, "See you 'round, Warren. Tell yah 'boss' I said hi." With that being said…

Shift's got a sobbing waitress to console.

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