Sleight of Hand

It took less than a month before America came to the consensus that 1920 was one of the worst years in their nation’s history.  Communists were calling for revolution, hardworking laborers were being massacred by private militias just for daring to ask for better wages, Great War veterans were increasingly finding themselves unable to forgive the government for sending them to Europe, and most people still didn’t even have the right to vote.  Worst of all, though, with this new law called Prohibition, no one could even get a pint of beer at the pub to take their mind off things and forget for just a moment about how terrible the world was.

The only people who were happy these days were those in the business of dealing with contraband, people like nineteen-year-old Kieran Byrne.  Kieran rather liked Prohibition—especially since half the anti-liquor laws were frivolous nonsense meant to appease a bunch of rural human puritans who didn’t know the first thing about feeling alive while alienating the rest of the population—and liked how much easier this unpopular law made it for him to conduct his business.  Now that everyone wanted what the law said they couldn’t have, people like Kieran were kings of the streets, admired and feared by everyone who had even the slightest interest in what he was selling.

Tonight, though, Kieran didn’t feel like much of a king at all.  Rather, he felt more like the king’s page, attending to his master’s beck and call no matter how ridiculously misguided of a task he had been commanded to complete.  He knew he was being a bit over-dramatic thinking like this, but he couldn’t help but be terribly annoyed by his current circumstances. After all, his boss had sent Kieran and his self-proclaimed older brother Gabriel Brandt to parley with the head of a rival organization run by a Mr. Orlov in the hopes of coming to a peaceful agreement.

Kieran’s boss, Emilio Russo of the Russo Family, had long worked in the business of illicit goods that people couldn’t resist, particularly narcotics, while Orlov had always run the seedy taverns and less than legal betting operations.  But now that liquor fell into both of their rightful business dealings, Emilio needed to make a deal so that he and Orlov could both be in bootlegging without starting a war between them.

Kieran knew this meant that what would really happen was that they would tell Orlov that they’d be getting into the liquor business, and they may or may not be chased out by gunmen as a result.  It was reckless and stupid and entirely beneath Kieran and Gabriel’s pay grade, but they had been sent regardless, no doubt in some ridiculous hope by Emilio that sending people of importance to talk to Orlov would pacify him enough not to kill them on sight.  And while Kieran understood the necessity of his presence in that particular regard, it didn’t mean he had to like it.

“I hate going to taverns,” Kieran complained as he followed Gabriel down the dark, crowded city streets.  “I hate the dirtiness and the public drunkenness and the way everything and everyone reeks of cigarettes and sweat.”

“But you love music and dancing and whiskey,” Gabriel reminded him.

Kieran glared at his brother, irritated that he couldn’t argue against a fact.  “Maybe so, but I’m not so sure my love for any of those things outweighs the overwhelming disgust I feel for cigarette smoke.  It’s absolutely vile, you know, breathing in all that garbage. Makes me sick to my stomach. And you know these days, it’s almost never just cigarettes they’re smoking, so it’s just this thick haze of awful poisoned air filling the whole place.”

“You fairfolk and your smoke,” Gabriel muttered, shaking his head. “You’d think I was asking you to drink arsenic with the way you go on about it.”

“Honestly, I’d rather drink arsenic.  At least that would kill me quickly, unlike that dirty, foul, suffocating–”

“Just shut up and go inside so that we can get this over with.”

“Fine,” Kieran grumbled.  “But if I keel over from smoke inhalation, it’ll be your fault.”

Rolling his eyes, Gabriel sighed and opened the door, revealing one of the most incredible clubs Kieran had ever seen.  Three bartenders in pristine, pressed white dress shirts manned the full-service bar with the effortless efficiency of an assembly line.  On the wall opposite the bar, a live band played jubilant, brassy swing while patrons in varying levels of intoxication partook in the latest of dance crazes; they all looked terribly ridiculous and far too uncoordinated to attempt even half of what they were trying, but none could be bothered to care.  Several tables across the establishment had set up card games, each with cash prizes, predominantly played by men who didn’t know how to dance and weren’t yet drunk enough to believe they did. No matter where Kieran looked, he saw the same sort of wild fun he constantly desired.

“All that talk outside yet you look absolutely enamored by this place,” Gabriel said with a smirk when he noticed Kieran’s amazement.

“It’s a lot wilder and more glamorous than all the taverns we’ve gone to in the past,” Kieran replied, still marveling at the decadent splendor around him.  “If the place wasn’t so full of smoke, I might even go as far as to say I like it here.”

Gabriel chuckled.  “It’s a new age, little brother.  Now that no one can drink without fear of the law coming down on them, everyone’s decided they might as well see just how much trouble they can get into if they’re risking arrest anyway.”

“I rather like the sound of that.”

As Kieran and Gabriel made their way toward the bar, a lovely dark-haired samodiva—a dangerous and violent seductress spirit—approached them, cigarette in hand and a wicked grin on her rosy lips.  “Care for a drag, pretty boy?” she asked Kieran as she held her cigarette mere inches from his mouth.

Kieran coughed and sputtered, the cigarette smoke burning his eyes and irritating his nostrils.  “No thanks. Not really my thing.”

The samodiva narrowed her eyes before bringing her cigarette to her lips and blowing a puff of smoke in Kieran’s face.  “Suit yourself then,” she huffed before marching away in her disappointment.

“Looks like someone can’t handle rejection well,” Gabriel said with a laugh once the samodiva was out of earshot.  “Do you think she does that to all the guys who turn her down?”

“Actually, I think I’m a special case because I’m fey.  I can’t imagine blowing smoke is even half as effective against any other creature,” Kieran muttered, still blinking away the burning in his eyes.  “Besides, any samodiva in this place has got to be working for Orlov. I bet she knew who we are.”

Gabriel considered that, brows furrowed.  “If that’s true, then she must have been sent over to throw us off and exploit your weaknesses.”

Kieran groaned.  “Why can’t people try exploiting your weaknesses instead of mine for once?”

“Probably because yours are more obvious,” Gabriel said with a chuckle.  “Everyone knows what weakens a fey, but most don’t even know what a ljosalfar is let alone how to deal with one.”

Kieran pursed his lips, annoyed that Gabriel was right.  Every single culture across the world had their versions of the fey, had their stories about all sorts of fairies and fairy-like creatures, but the ljosalfar was a light elf of Nordic origins with next to no counterparts anywhere else in the world.  Kieran found that terribly unfair, wishing he could have been as blessed by the same sort of mysterious anonymity as Gabriel, or at the very least, be as unaffected by smoke as his brother.

“So, besides the smoke, what do you think of this place?” Gabriel asked.

Taking another look around, Kieran decided: “Someday, I think I’d like to have a place like this myself, except smoking of any kind will be banned.”

Gabriel laughed.  “No cigarettes in a bar?  That’ll be the day.”

“Don’t laugh,” Kieran groused  “I’m being serious.”

“You’re never serious.”

Kieran crossed his arms and put on his best pout, feigning indignation that his brother would ever say such a thing, even if it was true.  “Well, this time I am. When this deal goes well, I’ll personally ask Emilio to let me open a club like this one.”

“And I bet he’d agree just to keep you out of trouble,” Gabriel said with a snort.

“Maybe I should cause a bit more trouble just to make sure of that.”

Gabriel groaned.  “Please don’t.”

“No promises,” Kieran said with a grin.

“We both know that’s your way of saying that you plan to do the exact opposite of what’s been asked of you.”

Kieran chuckled.  “I’m not going to admit to anything except that trouble has a tendency of finding me long before I have a chance to find it.”

“Speaking of trouble… do you see that ginger?” Gabriel asked, discreetly gesturing in the direction of a gruff looking red-headed man who stood guard by a private booth that was shrouded in darkness and shadows.

Kieran nodded.  “Yeah. Why?”

“That’s Borya Mikhailov.  He’s supposed to be the head of security here.”

“And?”

“And that means he’s a fext, so don’t underestimate him.”

Curious, Kieran decided to get a better look at that Mikhailov.  The only remarkable thing that he could find, however, was just how entirely average the fext looked.  From his build to his height to his entirely humanlike features, Kieran couldn’t find a single thing about Mikhailov that would indicate that he was one of the nearly indestructible warrior creatures of Russian legend.

“I’m not in the business of underestimating anyone,” Kieran said warily, still trying to find any sign at all that Mikhailov was anything but human.

Gabriel nodded tersely.  “Alright then. Let’s go make our presence known.”

Kieran and Gabriel made their way over to the booth, both acting far more self-important than they knew they ought to, certain it would garner a terrible amount of attention from all the wrong people.  But whether they liked it or not, attention was exactly what Kieran and Gabriel needed if they wanted to be seen as important enough to speak to Orlov.

It didn’t take long before Mikhailov noticed them walking his way.  He puffed his chest to try and make himself look bigger as Kieran and Gabriel approached, a gesture that Kieran might have found amusing if he wasn’t already certain that they’d be no match for Mikhailov if it came to a fight.

“What business do you have here?” Mikhailov barked in a thick Russian accent.

“Our boss sent us,” Gabriel replied.  “Emilio Russo.”

Mikhailov sneered.  “Russo’s boys, eh? You sure as hell don’t look the sort to be hanging around vampires like him.”  Turning to Kieran and sizing him up, he added, “Especially you, fairy eyes.”

Kieran chuckled at the nickname.  With bright gold puca eyes like his, it was impossible to escape odd comments like that about his appearance, although they never much bothered him.  While he knew it was meant to be an insult, a calling into question of his manliness, Kieran instead found that it appealed to his vanity. After all, he couldn’t think of a single reason not to take the nickname as a compliment, not when he thought his eyes were absolutely stunning.

“And I find myself grateful for that fact every single time I look in the mirror,” Kieran replied with a smirk.  “To be as ugly as those bloodsuckers…” Kieran inhaled sharply and shook his head, resisting the urge to grimace as he thought of his boss’s bulldog face.  “Well, I don’t think I could live with myself.”

Mikhailov raised his eyebrow at Kieran, a mixture of shock and incredulity on his face, and Kieran began to worry he’d crossed a line.  “I can’t tell if you’re brave or stupid for talking about your own employer like that, fairy eyes,” Mikhailov told him before clapping Kieran on the back and laughing.  “But either way, I’m impressed by how gutsy you are, kid.”

Kieran sighed in relief, feeling terribly fortunate that he hadn’t accidentally offended Mikhailov with his comment.

“So have you boys got names?” Mikhailov asked, still chuckling to himself over Kieran’s boldness.

“The name’s Kieran.”

“And you, blondie?”

“Gabriel.”

“Well Kieran and Gabriel, my boss will be free in just a few minutes.  Until then, why don’t you wait at the bar?”

“The bar?” Kieran asked excitedly as he all but dragged Gabriel over to two open seats at the bar.

“Kieran,” Gabriel warned, letting out an exasperated sigh as he hesitantly followed Kieran’s lead and sat down beside his brother.  “I’m not sure this is such a good idea.”

Before Kieran could ask why, a bartender—who despite seeming entirely human, was almost certainly a fext—approached the brothers, a wide fake grin on his face.  “What’ll you two gentleman have?”

“Nothing for me, thanks,” Gabriel said.

The bartender dropped his customer service smile for just a moment out of annoyance, only to double down when he turned to Kieran.  “And what about you?”

“Whiskey on ice,” Kieran told him.  “Preferably something Irish if you’ve got it.”

“Don’t you worry.  We’ve got Irish,” the bartender assured him before turning around to pour the drink.

Gabriel narrowed his eyes at his brother. “Really, Kieran?  We’re meant to be here on business.”

“I’m well aware.  Liquor business, right?”

“Yes, liquor business,” Gabriel conceded with an exasperated sigh.  “But it’s business nonetheless, and I need you to stay sharp.”

Kieran rolled his eyes.  “Gabe, if you think one drink is going to knock me off my game—”

“Keep it to just the one,” Gabriel cut him off, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to talk Kieran out of drinking altogether.

“No promises.”

Groaning, Gabriel warned him, “I brought you here because I’ll need backup if things go south, remember?  So keep it to just the one, or else we’re both dead.”

“Fine, just the one,” Kieran conceded.  “But later?”

Gabriel’s eyebrows furrowed as he tried to think of terms that Kieran would find agreeable.  “If business is good, you can have a whole damn bottle of Irish whiskey.”

“And if business is bad?”

“Two bottles.”

Kieran grinned.  “I can agree to those terms.”

“Of course you can,” Gabriel said with an amused huff.  “Kieran Byrne—the greatest trickster in the city and the clever mastermind behind some of the Russo’s Family’s most ambitious undertakings—is all too easily bought off with good whiskey.”

“Good Irish whiskey,” Kieran corrected him.  “That garbage Scotch whiskey won’t win my favor at all.”

“And what about Kentucky whiskey?”

“We’d have to be living in desperate times for me to drink Kentucky whiskey,” Kieran said with a grimace.  He’d rather stop drinking altogether than try to down that too-sharp, cavern-brewed excuse for hard liquor.

“Your drink, Sir,” the bartender said, pushing a glass of whiskey Kieran’s way.  “I’ve been told it’s on the house, compliments of Mr. Orlov himself.”

Kieran blinked several times, both confused and wary, but accepted the drink nonetheless.  “That’s rather generous of him. I wonder if it’s some sort of sign that he expects business to go well.”

“I don’t pretend to know my boss’ motives for anything,” the bartender admitted before walking away to go wait on another customer.

“Because that wasn’t ominous at all,” Kieran muttered, rolling his eyes and taking a long sip of his drink.

Gabriel chuckled.  “I don’t know what you expected after saying something so vague to someone who’s just here to serve drinks.”

“Well, pardon me for trying to discern Orlov’s mood before the negotiations.”

“Mr. Orlov will see you now,” Mikhailov interrupted them.  “But he said he’s only meant to be speaking to one of Russo’s men.”

Gabriel nodded.  “That’s what we agreed upon, yes.  I’ve only brought Kieran here because he can’t resist all the temptation that a place like this has to offer.”  Lowering his voice, he told Mikhailov, “You know how the fey are.”

Kieran rolled his eyes and took a big swig of his drink.  He knew Gabriel didn’t mean it, that he always used people’s preconceived notions to paint Kieran as little more than a drunken dandy that posed them no threat, but it still annoyed him nonetheless.

Mikhailov glanced over at Kieran and snickered.  “Indeed I do, Gabriel. Indeed I do.”

Feigning his best patronizing tone, Gabriel asked, “Kieran, do you think you’ll be alright if I leave you alone for a bit while I conduct business?”

“I’m sure I’ll find something to occupy my time,” said with a shrug before taking another sip of his drink.

Gabriel nodded to Kieran before getting up and following Mikhailov over to the booth he’d been guarding earlier.

From his seat at the bar, Kieran could only see the bulky silhouette of the head of the Orlov Family: Konstantin Orlov.  Gabriel and anyone else might be hidden in that booth were out of his line of sight. If he wanted to keep an eye on Gabriel and ensure that he wasn’t in any danger, Kieran would need to move to somewhere with a better view.

Kieran glanced around the bar in search of a new place to watch Orlov’s booth that wouldn’t come off as suspicious.  Simply moving to another seat at the bar would be too obvious, but perhaps he could join one of the card games going on at several tables. After all, being half apsara—a nymph of gaming, gambling, and dancing—he could easily win a few rounds of cards while keeping an eye on Gabriel and Orlov.

While most could discern that Kieran’s unusual gold eyes were that of a puca, next to none could see his mother’s apsara heritage in him, not unless they were familiar with the creatures of Indian origin, and so few Americans were.  No, they looked at him and saw a darker skinned Irish man, and quickly assumed that he was of Romani ancestry, or, occasionally, that he’d only had one magical parent. And of course, with his love of mischief, Kieran was more than happy to keep most in the dark about his true heritage, even if it was only long enough for him to have a bit of fun.

Finishing his drink, Kieran got up from the bar and meandered around the tavern, quickly finding a quiet card game on the far side of the tavern with three men drinking dark liquor, a dealer, and an empty seat that beckoned Kieran to join.  Glancing around, he decided there was no place else he’d rather be than at that particular card game. It was discreet, near enough to an exit that Kieran would have little trouble escaping if needed, and it had an excellent view that perfectly put Orlov in his line of sight.

“Poker?” Kieran asked curiously as he inspected both the table and the players.

The dealer, a rather average looking brown-haired man, nodded as he began shuffling the cards in his hand.

“Just for fun, or is it gambling?”

“Why do you ask?  Do you like gambling, boy?” the dealer asked, wearing an amused smirk.

“I don’t know.  I’ve never gambled before,” Kieran admitted, still checking out both the other players and his view of Orlov’s booth.  “But I do enjoy playing cards, especially poker, and I’d like to think I’m rather good at it.”

The dealer raised an eyebrow at that.  “Never gambled, huh? Would you like to give it a try?”

Kieran glanced over to Gabriel to make sure he was still preoccupied, and was relieved to see that he was still in deep conversation with Mr. Orlov.  Satisfied that Gabriel was too busy to notice, Kieran told the dealer, “I don’t see why not. What’s the buy-in?”

“Six dollars.”

Kieran pulled the cash from his coat pocket and placed it on the table before sitting down.  “Alright, let’s do this.”

As he watched the dealer shuffle and distribute the cards, Kieran couldn’t help but notice that he’d had dealt his hand from the bottom of the card stack.  Was that their hustle, Kieran wondered, fixing a player’s first hand so that they thought they had a chance of winning big and kept playing until had no money left?  Suspicious of their intentions and far more intrigued than he ought to be, Kieran eyed up the other players at the table, wondering who might be one of Orlov’s men, knowing one of them must be in on this scam so that the money stayed in Orlov’s establishment.

Kieran looked at his hand and was unsurprised to see that it was rather impressive, and if he was as lucky as he believed himself to be, perhaps even the best hand at the table.  Putting on his best poker face, he wondered if his suspicions of a fixed game were indeed right.

“I bet one dollar,” said one of the men at the table, a rather plain looking brunette who’s lips wouldn’t stop twitching, as if he was trying to force down a grin.

“One dollar then,” Kieran called.

Although he was already certain that he would win, Kieran decided it best not to raise, not this time.  He wanted to watch his opponents a little while longer and study their habits before playing more aggressively.  Luckily, no one else raised, and the game quickly reached the showdown.

Kieran revealed his hand.  “Four of a kind. Looks like I win this round.”

“Not bad for someone who claims he’s never gambled before,” the dealer replied as he pushed the cash in Kieran’s direction.

“This is what they call beginner’s luck, yeah?”  Kieran paused, unsure if he ought to say anything more.  “Or did you happen to fix this round so that I’d get hooked on the winner’s high and keep playing until my pockets are empty?”

The dealer raised an eyebrow, sizing up Kieran, before slowly asking: “Did it work?”

Kieran grinned.  “Oh, absolutely.”

“Alright, let’s play another round then.”

One round quickly became three, and Kieran had the best hand every single time, much to the annoyance of everyone else at the table.  He could even see the exasperation in the dealer’s eyes, certain that Kieran’s cards shouldn’t be even half as good as they were. The dealer was right, of course.  If Kieran had been anything but an apsara, he wouldn’t be winning. Kieran silently thanked his mother for giving him the genes needed to make it so easy to cheat a fixed game.

Kieran glanced at his cards, keeping his expression stoic as he silently marveled at the hand he’d been dealt.  A flush certainly wasn’t the best possibility, but, judging by the varying degrees of thinly veiled disappointment on the faces of everyone else at the table, Kieran knew he’d once again have the highest hand.  He almost felt bad for everyone else at the table, humans and creatures alike, and even whichever man was meant to be Orlov’s chosen winner. They had no clue what they were up against.

Once again, it was time for the showdown.  The other men at the table showed their hands, all lackluster.  The blonde with three of a kind, though, seemed rather sure of himself, a smug grin spreading across his lips as he took a sip of his drink and eyed up everyone else’s cards.

Kieran smirked, amused by the blonde’s assurance.   “A flush,” he declared as he laid down his cards.

“You damned fairy trickster!” the blond shouted, his jaw clenched.  “You’re cheating!”

Gasping, Kieran feigned a mixture of innocence and confusion.  “Now how on earth could I possibly cheating?” he asked incredulously while he counted his winnings, quickly becoming suspicious that the blonde was Orlov’s man.  “I haven’t been card counting, I haven’t got any other cards hidden up my sleeves, and I certainly don’t have an inside man, so you can rule out bottom dealing as well.  The only option left is that I’ve been playing just as honestly as everyone else here.”

The blonde glared at him and punched the table.  “Don’t try and weasel your way out of it with your pathetic little excuses, not when we all know that a fairy’s tongue spews nothing but lies and tricks!”

“It’s rather unfair of you to accuse me of lies and tricks when I’ve said nothing false,” Kieran said with a frown.

“No, but we all know a creature like you doesn’t need bottom dealing or card counting to cheat.  All you’ve got to do is wave your hand and magically change the cards to be whatever suits you.”

Kieran scoffed at the absurdity of that claim.  “If I could use magic undetected like that, I wouldn’t be wasting my time or my talents in a place like this.  No, if it were even half as easy to cheat with magic as you claim, I’d have already ripped off the whole of Atlantic City.”

The blonde opened his mouth to argue, only to be cut of by a deep voice asking, “What seems to be the matter here?”

Kieran looked up to see Gabriel looming over the table, a mixture of annoyance and disappointment in his eyes as he glared at Kieran, who could only shrug sheepishly, knowing full well that he’d been acting out of line.

“This fairy guy’s a dirty damned cheat!” the blonde yelled.

“My brother?  A cheat?” Gabriel asked, feigning incredulity as best he could.  “Kieran might be a lot of things, most of them unsavory I’ll admit, but he’s certainly no cheat.”

The blonde glared at Gabriel.  “Then how the hell do you explain him winning every single hand?”

Gabriel shrugged.  “People get lucky sometimes.”

“Like hell they do.”  The blonde clenched his white-knuckled hand around his glass, shattering it as all the ice and liquor spilled onto the table.  Startled, he looked down at the mess he’d made before drying his hand on his trousers.

“What a shame to ruin a perfectly good drink over something as petty as this,” Kieran muttered, shaking his head.

Grabbing several shards of glass between his fingers, the blonde abruptly stood up from his seat and approached Kieran, leaning over him with a menacing glare.  “Why don’t you just shut up before you get hurt, you damned cheater?”

Kieran got up from his chair, smirking when he noticed that he was more than a head taller than the blonde.  “Before I get hurt?” he asked as he stared down the bridge of his nose. “We certainly wouldn’t want that, now would we?”  His lips twitched as he struggled against his compulsion to further provoke the blonde. He knew he should keep his mouth shut, but he just couldn’t stop himself.  “I do have one question for you though, and I hope it’s not too much for you to give me an answer: are you angry because you think I cheated, or because your attempt at cheating failed?”

Worry flashed through the blonde’s eyes, only to be quickly blinked away as his fury with Kieran grew.  “What the hell are you doing on about?”

“The fixed first hand,” Kieran said simply, a sly grin spreading across his lips.  “It was rather careless of you and the dealer to think I wouldn’t notice a little trick like that.  After all, you can’t out-trick a trickster, now can you?”

“How dare you accuse us, you son of a bitch!”

The blonde swung a right hook at Kieran, who only barely managed to dodge it, almost falling onto Gabriel in his attempt to get away.  Kieran was prepared for the second swing, though, as well as the third and fourth, quickly discerning the disorganized, brutish rhythm and style that the blonde fought with.

“You’re going to have to do a hell of a lot better than that if you want to land a hit,” Kieran goaded him as he quickly sidestepped another punch.

Enraged, the blonde slashed Kieran across the side of his face with a shard of glass, cutting a deep gash from eyebrow to cheekbone that only narrowly missed his eye.

Kieran grabbed the blonde’s attacking arm and twisted it behind him before shoving him roughly against the table.  The man thrashed about in Kieran’s grip, but Kieran remained resolute in his hold, pushing the man even harder against the table so that he could barely move at all.

“You’ve really got to watch where you point that thing,” Kieran told him, wiping the blood away from the corner of his eye with his free hand.  “You could have taken my eye out.”

“What the hell is going on here?” asked Mikhailov as he approached the table.

“It’s just a simple misunderstanding,” Kieran assured him, quickly letting go of the blonde.

“He’s trying to rip us off!” the blonde shouted.

Mikhailov glared at Kieran.  “Is that so?”

Slowly, Kieran and Gabriel glanced at Mikhailov, and then at each other.  Both wore the same nervous expression. Kieran raised his eyebrow, silently asking what they ought to do next, and Gabriel nodded his head in the direction of the door.

Kieran made a run for it, and Gabriel followed quickly behind.  They weaved their way through the crowd around them, ignoring the angry shouts from Orlov’s men as they made their way to the door.

A gruff, boxy doorman blocked the exit and crossed his arms.  “The two of you aren’t going anywhere.”

“It’ll make things easier on all of us if you just get out of the way,” Gabriel told him, wearing an exasperated expression.

“What the hell are you going on about, kid?” the doorman demanded to know.

Gabriel sighed and punched the doorman hard in the stomach, causing the man to double over, coughing and sputtering from pain.  “Like I said: getting out of the way would’ve been easier.”

Kieran and Gabriel sidestepped the doorman and made their exit.  They ran down the street toward their boss’ part of the city, ignoring the enraged yells and incoherent threats that echoed behind them.  To look back, to acknowledge Orlov’s men at all, would surely encourage them to further pursue the brothers.

“That has got to be the stupidest thing you’ve ever done!” Gabriel shouted from over his shoulder.

“Really?” Kieran replied with a laugh, matching his brother’s long stride.  “I wouldn’t have even put it in the top ten!”

The two of them kept running until they were finally back in what was considered Russo Family territory.  No one, not even Orlov himself, would dare come after him there, not unless he wanted to start a war.

“You alright?” Gabriel asked, doubling over as he tried to catch his breath.

“Amazing,” Kieran said with a laugh.  “I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun.”

“I was talking about your face.  It’s still bleeding.”

“Right,” Kieran remembered. He put his fingers up to the cut and wiped a bit of the now dried blood away from his eye.  “Cutting me over a game of poker was a bit much, even if I didn’t exactly play honestly.”

Gabriel raised his eyebrow and pursed his lips.  “So you really did cheat.”

Kieran chuckled.  “Not outright, no.”

“But?”

“But a bunch of humans and fexts and whatever else didn’t stand a chance playing poker against someone who’s half apsara.  I mean come on, do you really think I wouldn’t have a bit of a natural advantage in a game of poker?”

“That definitely counts as cheating,” Gabriel told him, frowning.

“It can’t be helped,” Kieran insisted.  “Winning at any sort of gambling is simply in my blood.  Besides, the game was meant to be rigged for that blonde guy anyway, so it’s not like I was the only one who didn’t play fair.”

Gabriel laughed.  “This is why I can’t take you anywhere.”

“Yet you still take me everywhere.  I wonder when you’ll learn your lesson.”

“Probably when your trouble stops being so damn funny.”