THE GOLDEN PUMPKIN, 1

GAMING TABLES


ImageThe Western Passenger Station’s restaurant was vast, inside and to the right the bar, beyond that the buffet, and in the centre a newly laid parquetry dance floor. Dotted round the room stood Chinese women, uniformed in scarlet silk cheongsam–traditional dress–ready to help: wait on tables, fetch drinks, etc.
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A young woman, wearing a cap and what appeared to be overalls–how odd?–was moving mahjong tiles round a table top. Mrs. Kolchak peered over the croupier’s shoulder.

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Harry Roy and his band played Al Bowlly hits.

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Count de Prorok followed his wife to the gaming table. They both watched as the girl deftly handled poker chips and mahjong tiles. Mrs. de Prorok took a seat, waiting for the game to start; Byron de Prorok tried to memorise the tiles. After a while he hailed one of the red dressed waitresses and ordered two Singapore Slings for himself and his wife.

Having received the drinks, he said, “Xie xie…”–“Many thanks, miss.”

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“I am Maggie Tse Tung, the Communist croupier. Close your purse, madam, at our table one can only win! by order of Geming Chee–Dr. Chee. As the great Mao says: ‘Dare to Struggle and Dare to Win.'”

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“Oh bravo!” said Mrs. Kolchak; “how droll.” The Singapore Slings arrived. “Waitress, fetch one of those for me too.” She spoke to Byron, “I am Itka Kolchak by the way.”

“I see…” Alice de Prorok said–not really understanding the game; she waited to see how it played or she hoped for an explanation.

Byron met the gaze of the woman.

“Mrs Kolchak, I’m delighted to meet you.” He lifted his drink–a silent toast. “To being surrounded by beautiful women.” He stole a look from all three around the table.

Maggie Tse Tung clearly explained the rules of mahjong to Alice. Maggie began by shuffling the tiles face down and then she constructed four walls with them…

“Thank you, Count de Prorok,” returned Itka Kolchak. “Kind words, sir, but I think the only beautiful woman here is Maggie.” She reached across and plucked the Communist croupier’s cap, revealing a very pretty face framed by thick blue-black locks.

A surprised Maggie Tse Tung quickly looked around the restaurant, checking that her employers hadn’t noticed. “I’ll have that back, please Madam.” Itka Kolchak returned the cap.

“I am well into middle-age,” she said matter-of-fact, “my belly protrudes and my breasts droop; no, I have not been beautiful for twenty years.

“You smoke a pipe, Count?” she continued “–I saw you on the station platform. There is nothing quite as satisfying as a pipe!”

“Smoking is what got me here, Mrs Kolchak. I’m actually here to acquaint myself with a Lotus Cult.” Byron said. “Do you know where we could get our hands on some smoke?”
Meanwhile, Alice winked at the croupier and beamed a smile at her. “Do you play much, Maggie?” She raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms under her chest, giving it a slight lift. Sensing that Byron was lost for the evening she decided to see where this game will take her. “Now… what am I supposed to do? Do I pick a tile?”

“Ha ha!,” barked Itka. “Your revelation, Count de Prorok, trumps anything I said and I thought that I was being daring! Well, in answer: no I don’t know anything about opium.” She looked straight into Byron’s eyes to try and judge if he was speaking truly but couldn’t make up her mind. “However–I have a packet of Celestial tobacco, from the makers of Pairbelles cigarettes: do you want to go outside? We could share a pipe as if we are seventeen again.”

Maggie returned Alice’s smile… until she crossed her arms, then Maggie’s smile fell away. “I’ve only played for fun before. My fiancé got me tonight’s job.”

 “Don’t mind if I do,” Byron said to the offer of sharing a pipe, deciding it best not to comment further. He touched Alice on the shoulder and whispered to his wife that he was leaving. She waved him away as if to a child to go along and play. He offered Itka his elbow. “Itka–what does that mean?”

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She accepted Byron’s arm. “Itka: ambition or energy; not true of me I’m afraid.”

In the restaurant’s foyer the cloakroom boy fetched their coats.

“Are you really Count de Prorok or just Mr.?”

[ooc: Hey Syrinx, move to topic WEST PASSENGER STATION.]

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Tatsuo slid one of the chairs away from the mahjong table knowing from experience that his massive bulk took up at least two positions at any table. He looked around and then sighed deeply before returning his attention back to mahjong. Pulling out a few chinese notes from a coin purse strapped to his belt, he then remembered hearing someone say that there were only winners at this table and that their coin was of no use, Tatsuo looked confused.

“So what do we wager then? Excuse my rudeness, madam. I am to understand that our money is no good? My English is not so good also–did I hear you correctly?” Tats looked around the gaming area one more time before returning his full attention to the dealer. “What do we wager then at this table?”

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Chunhua stood beside the piano; she examined her fingernails.

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“No, no sir, you misunderstand.” Maggie Tse Tung seemed to be a little flustered–Alice de Prorok had left the table (in a huff at Maggie). “Every complete suit that you build wins ten dolla, obviously I shall stop you doing so, if I can.”

Tatsuo smiled and nodded politely to Maggie.

He then turned and looked over to Chunhua, hoping to catch her eye, next he quickly looked to his mother and was very disappointed to find her glaring back. Tats cringed and concentrated on the mahjong tiles, waiting for the game to begin.

“My apologies. Please continue.”

A waitress came up to the table and quietly whispered something to Maggie. She glanced towards the Harry Roy band, then fiddled with the mahjong tiles, destroying a wall she had constructed, and said: “The waitress has a message for you from–from someone, it is: ‘Now or never.'”
Tatsuo began to sweat as most fat men do when they are nervous or breathing. He checked his mother’s table once again and was relieved to see her absorbed in her tea leaves–a silly superstition. He left his bet upon the table and tipped Maggie, bowing respectfully.

Tatsuo then approached the piano of the Harry Roy Band and scowled playfully at Chunhua. “Excuse me, Miss Chunhua, but I cannot decide if it is Harry or Roy that displeases me most. I would flatten both with my enormous belly fat if you would be so kind as to point them out!”

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She waited until Tatsuo finished talking. She doesn’t point out Harry or Roy.

“Come with me, fatman.” Chunhua headed through the cloakroom door–to one side and behind the Harry Roy band–the door was half-hidden by a velvet curtain, so sure of herself she doesn’t even check that Tatsuo followed.

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Tatsuo’s smile stretched from one chubby cheek to the other. He blushed slightly and raised an eyebrow. Looking towards his mother, still engrossed in her tea leaf reading, Tatsuo hurried after Chunhua through the cloakroom door. The fat of Tatsuo’s back jiggled with anticipation…

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The piano player from the Harry Roy band was a tall muscular man with thick black hair, he resembled Errol Flynn.

“He’s just like Captain Blood,” gushed Mingzhu, hand covering her mouth.

Elisabeth saw–out of the corner of one eye–a door close; it’s in the wall, behind and to one side of the band. The door is in shadow because the music stage itself is brightly lit. A small figure approached the same door, turned its face back to the restaurant, and then disappeared inside. The face–Elisabeth can only discern three black plums–belonged to Posie.

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“Oh, yes, I adore that film!” said Elisabeth, stifling a giggle. “Oh, how I long for someone like that to sweep me off my feet.” She then glanced over at the door. “How very odd. I wonder what’s through that door?”

“It’s just the door to the staff cloakroom and the train control room, I think,” said Mingzhu.  “Odd?”

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