The Gambler

Still shut. The woman had been gone for a while, Harlan thought. What was taking so long? He scratched the backs of his hands idly as he stared unblinkingly at the heavy oak door. When was she coming back? What if He didn’t want to see him? Then what? What if—

The door grated against the floor slightly as it opened, disturbing the silence of the waiting area. The halfling emerged from the room.

“He’ll see you now,” she said. A small smile spread across her face as she did so. A fake smile. The smile of someone that has to break bad news. It didn’t make Harlan feel any better, but he stood, crossed to the large door, and entered.

A fireplace flickered gently along one wall, casting the office in warm light and illuminating the opulent den. A large oaken desk stood at the far end of the room. Behind it sat a man, arms folded across the table. His golden mask shone brightly with the firelight. A skull.

“Harlan,” the man said, his voice difficult to understand through the mask, but nevertheless one that commanded attention, “take a seat please.”

Harlan didn’t say anything, crossing to the empty leather seat and perching himself on its edge. He fidgeted nervously.

“How are you?” asked the man.

“I—” Harlan’s voice squeaked quickly before he cleared his throat and restarted, “I’m alright, thank you. Sir.” The golden visage before him betrayed nothing, the man’s head cocked slightly.

“Where’s my money?” he asked.

Harlan gulped. “I…I don’t have it righ—”

“Then why are you here?” the man asked, Harlan’s eyes growing wide with surprise. The inky void of the mask’s eye sockets burned into him. He didn’t want to look, but couldn’t turn away.

“I wanted to ask fo—”

“You wanted to ask for what?”

A tear began to roll down Harlan’s wizened face. “Please, I—”

“What? What do you want?” The man’s voice was growing forceful, though no louder. Somehow, that made it worse.

“I just need more—”

“More what?!” he bellowed, drawing each word out longer than it needed to be.

A single sob left Harlan’s throat before he spoke, though what came out was little more than a whisper.

“More time…”

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