A classic Porsche 911S purred along a dark country road, just off the brightly lit main thoroughfare about five miles out of town. The bright orange sodium lights which picked out the road like a vein in the dark had been left far behind, and the fields either side of this winding, narrow road were a swathe of black.
The car approached a set of iron gates, beyond which was a gravel driveway leading up to an impressive mansion. A gruff voice barked “Yes?” from an intercom. A blonde woman wound down the driver’s side window and leaned out.
‘Simons,’ she said. ‘I was invited by Lauren Tanaka.’
The gates swung open ponderously. The Porsche drove up along the driveway, the lights either side of the road picking out its cherry red colour. With a crunch of gravel, it drew up to the main entrance of the mansion. A valet was standing on the portico outside the entrance; he opened the door to let out Miss Simons, before accepting the car keys from her.
Cassie entered the mansion, and checked her coat with the receptionist. Without a word, she strolled past the waiting staff, into the main hall, where the main activity of the night was already well underway.
An attendant approached her, bearing a silver tray. On that tray was a small stack of poker chips. ‘For you,’ said the attendant. ‘Courtesy of your host, Mrs Tanaka.’
‘Where is she?’ asked Miss Simons, as she accepted the stack of chips.
‘Right this way,’ said the attendant, offering to guide her.
‘Show me,’ said Miss Simons.
They went past the poker, blackjack, baccarat and canasta tables, straight into a side room up a small set of steps.
‘This is the Tournament Room,’ said the attendant. ‘Go, Mah-Jongg, and of course Mrs Tanaka’s favourite game, Backgammon.’
Cassie looked around, and saw Lauren, dressed in a dark blue ball gown, seated at one of the backgammon tables opposite a dashing-looking man immaculately dressed in a tuxedo.
Cassie watched as Lauren, with just two of her checkers left on the four-point of her board to her opponent’s three, threw a double four, to the astonished gasps of the crowd.
Lauren bore off her last checkers, and extended a hand to her opponent, who shook her hand in good graces. She looked at the doubling cube, which had the number 8 uppermost.
‘The stake was two, was it not?’ Lauren asked.
Her opponent nodded. ‘I’ll arrange to wire you the sixteen thousand,’ he said, gesturing. An attendant appeared, handing the man a wireless transactor. He tapped in his PIN, and pressed a key. A moment later, the attendant nodded to Lauren.
‘Thank you,’ Lauren said. She turned to face Cassie, and smiled. They embraced and air kissed.
‘Welcome to The Pheasant Orchard,’ she said. ‘Thank you for accepting this invitation.’
‘My pleasure,’ Miss Simons replied. She showed Lauren her chips. ‘Thanks for these,’ she said.
‘A small gift,’ Lauren replied. ‘Would you like to jump in right away, or just watch?’
‘If it’s all the same,’ Cassie said, ‘I think I’ll take a running start.’ She looked at the vacated seat at the backgammon board. ‘It’s been a while since I played backgammon,’ she said, ‘but in my family I was unbeatable.’ She looked at the young man who’d just lost to Lauren. ‘Want to lose some more money?’
‘Hello, Miss Simons,’ said the young man, smiling. ‘My name’s Den. Give it your best shot.’
Continue reading Den & Lauren, c04 e10: Starting Positions