Moira entered the back room where she saw the table set up with five chairs. Michaela was in the corner to make sure there was plenty of coffee, hot tea and ice water along with an assortment of sweets. Moira set Mother down as Michaela looked up and gave a little curtsey.
Moira ignored the girl and thought she had better wait in case there was a different fifth person expected. Moira knew her grandmother arranged this and so she knew she had one of the chairs, but she was still having trouble coming to grips with just who her grandmother was, exactly. It was all too surreal for words. Mother had no problem with the set-up, however. She jumped straight to the table, laid down between two chairs and began to wash herself.
Mickey Dolan was the first to enter. He went straight to Michaela and hugged her with the words, “Wish me luck.” Then he went for the chair beside Mother where his back was to the door. “Miss O’Leary.” He patted the chair beside him, but still Moira hesitated.
Danny Casey came in next and Mickey made the man sit one over so he would be on Moira’s right hand. Moira could handle that. Both Mickey and the luckiest man in Ireland seemed harmless enough while the other two were scary. Madam Elizabeth and Brian Brannigan sat across from her, the madam a little to her right and Mister Brannigan to her left on the other side of Mickey where he kept his head and eyes lowered and continued to glance nervously now and then toward the door. Moira took her seat at last and Mickey started the introductions.
“Mickey Dolan.” He said and turned his head to wait. The others followed.
“Brian Brannigan, Esquire.”
“Madam Elizabeth of Dublin.”
“Danny Casey, the luckiest man in Ireland, and I’ll be apologizing in advance for taking all of your money.”
Moira grinned at the man. “Moira de Danna O’Leary,” she said, softly.
“De Danna.” Madam Elizabeth scrutinized her opponent. “Cheeky name.”
“My mother was an O’Leary.” Moira said nothing about her Father’s family.
“Deal.” Mister Brannigan insisted as Michaela brought each contestant an equal number of white, blue and red chips. Moira knew they represented certain astronomical denominations, but she took comfort thinking of one, five and ten pennies. She had played that game before.
The first ten hands sped by without much change among the players. Moira, like the others, won two, lost two and folded six times. Mother sat quietly all that time, watching, and only occasionally batted a chip that was thrown or flipped in her direction. Moira thought about her Little Ones upstairs. She did not hear any screaming or yelling, so she supposed they were being good, all except Pumpkin who was hiding somewhere up on top of the china cabinet, watching.
As the cards were dealt, Moira looked again at both Madam Elizabeth and Brian Brannigan. She decided there was something wrong about both of them, though she could not pinpoint exactly what. It was similar to what she felt about Mickey, only in Mickey it seemed benign. In these other two it seemed wicked or twisted in some way.
As the cards were picked up, Moira thought about how she was now able to look Prickles in the face for what he really was, and without screaming. She felt proud about that and considered how her eyes were adjusting to going back and forth between seeing the glamour of humanity and the reality of their spiritual selves. When she picked up her own cards, she looked again across the table and had to stifle her gasp. She could see the cards the others were holding exactly as if they were pointed at her, but worse, she could see something of the nature of each contestant.
Mickey looked smaller, and in a way miserable. It was something that could not be seen through his outward, perpetual smile. Danny Casey still looked human, but he had a golden glow about him. Moira could not discern the source. The other two, though, were hard to look at.
Madam Elizabeth was surrounded by a demonic presence, or maybe presences. They were limited in what they could do through their vessel, the Madam, but they were horrifying to perceive. They were not so mundane to form into faces or figures but rather swirled around her like a patch of darkness that no light could penetrate, and given what Moira felt, she was glad she was practiced on stifling her screams.
Brian Brannigan was worse, in a way, as the man’s visage constantly changed between skeleton and grinning demonic faces and a ghost-like or smoke-like creature that would not be pinned down. Every view was terrifying, and Moira was glad when Mickey nudged her. It was her turn to decide if she was in or out.
Moira could not avoid looking at the cards that the others held before she looked at her own cards. She was in and raised the pot, but then she turned her vision back to normal and told herself that seeing their cards was cheating. To be honest she was terrified by the other things she had seen.
Ten more hands went by with only a slight difference shown. Mister Brannigan and Madam Elizabeth were gaining at Moira’s expense. Mickey and Mister Casey were holding their own, but barely. After another ten hands, they were all gaining and Moira was losing, and by then it was getting late. Michaela was in the corner yawning.
At last, Mickey was to deal and he set the cards down for Moira to cut the deck. Mother finally moved and placed a paw right on top of the deck. Moira looked at the cat, and then looked around the table, and said, “I believe that will be fine as it is.”
“Alright,” Mickey said, and he scooted the deck from beneath the cat’s paw and dealt. Now, Moira had been taught to wait for all of the cards to be dealt before she picked up her hand, and she maintained that courtesy even if the others did not. This time, though, when all of the cards were dealt, Mother rolled over in front of Moira and sat right on top of her cards. What is more, the cat was not going to be moved, and let out a guttural sound and showed her claws to underline that fact.
The betting went around the table with each person raising the pot, but none too much. When it came to Moira, she felt she was just going to have to move the cat and look, but she was distracted by a sudden weight on her belt. When she reached down, she found a leather purse just like the one her grandmother had given to her old boss back in Derry. She did not have to look inside to know it contained gold coins. Moira looked at the cat again who nonchalantly cleaned a paw, and she said, “I’m in.” She pushed all of her chips to the center and then dumped the purse of gold coins on top. “This should make up for wherever I may be short.
Everyone else immediately looked at their own cards but one by one they pushed everything they had into the center and made up for wherever they were short with money from their own pockets. Since no one took any cards, and since Danny Casey was the last, he laid down his cards first. He had four tens. Mickey had the Jacks, Madam Elizabeth the Queens, Mister Brannigan the Kings, and when Mother finally moved, it was to no one’s surprise that Moira had four aces under the cat.
Mister Brannigan jumped up. “Cheaters!” He yelled and pointed at Moira and Mickey. “You two have been working together all night.”
Michaela shrieked. It was not because of the game. Pumpkin leaned over a bit too far to get a good look at what was going on and Michaela saw her, and so she shrieked, but Mickey took that as a warning and he raced from the room, Mister Brannigan hard on his heels.
Moira stood as Madam Elizabeth stood. The Madam stared at her as if studying her, or perhaps to hear what the demons had to tell her before she spoke. Danny Casey spoke into the silence, but it was only one word.
“That was quite a trick.” Madam Elizabeth spoke at last. “And I did not even see the magic, and that is remarkable Mister Casey.” Madam Elizabeth grinned a grin that Moira could only call witch-like in the extreme. “That is a power I shall have, but first I think you need taking down a bit.” With that, the Madam’s hands flew up and something like electricity shot across the table. Moira was stunned for a second because it was like a taser or like she put her finger in an electrical socket, but the feeing only lasted a second as something rose up inside of her.
“No.” Moira found her own hands fly up as if by their own volition, and a strong light, bright as the sun streamed from her hands and struck the witch square in the chest. The old woman slammed back against the wall as surely as if flicked by Prickles, and then the old body slumped to the floor, dazed and just barely conscious. Moira was mortified at what she had done, and looked at her hands as if they were not her own. She ran from the room and only Mister Casey spoke.
“Remarkable,” he said. “Remarkable.” He repeated himself because Pumpkin fluttered past his face in pursuit of Moira. Danny Casey got up and followed. He was not about to miss any of this. That left only the Madam and Michaela in the room, and Mother the cat who jumped down from the table only to stop in the doorway.