Chapter 21 Green Is Your Last Hope
Violet flows from the wound in your chest.
Black is the hole in which you rest.
Your heart of gold was ripped in two
soaked in the sickness that is you.
Grey is the box that holds my head.
Yellow’s the wind when everyone’s dead.
Red is the dried blood on the rope
while green is your last hope.
-The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets
-Colour Me Green
The Diamond Saloon and Hotel turned out to be a nice place for people and horses. Spike left Jackpot stabled in a large, roomy stall eating the premium oats that the hotel provided for their four legged guests. Walking back from the stable, Spike grinned at the mental image of the horse tethered in Joyce’s front yard.
He opened the ornate glass door and strolled across the saloon’s polished wooden floor toward the hotel stairs. He was on the first step, twirling the key to his and Buffy’s room when he heard a voice call his name.
Turning around, he saw Verda walking toward him. “’Lo Verda. I’d forgotten that you work here.”
“You and Buffy left Celeste’s place? Well, you’ll like the hotel. McGee may be an ass, but the hotel is nice.” She moved closer and pitched her voice lower. “Something’s going on Spike. Remember how I told you that McGee was digging for something specific at the mine?” Verda waited until he nodded and then continued. “Well, some miners were in earlier from second shift and whatever it is, they’ll have it in their hands in two days time.
After dinner last night, Defoe and I talked. We both got the impression that for some reason you two were really interested in McGee and the mine, so I thought you should know about this.”
Spike smirked. “We were that bloody obvious?”
Verda shrugged. “I’m just good at reading people and so is Defoe.”
She touched his hand and a serious expression crossed her face. “Just be careful. McGee may be mean, but his sheriff is a whole different level of mean.”
“Where is the sheriff? I’d like to get a look at the wanker.”
Verda smiled thinly. “Well, then you’re in luck tonight. He just came in a few minutes ago to join the poker game we run in room 7. He does that, he’ll sit in for a few hours and then later, he’ll leave for somewhere else. It’s an open game and for the price of a few chips, anyone can join.”
When the vampire nodded his understanding, she turned to leave. “Watch your back, Spike.”
Spike was still thinking about the conversation with Verda as he walked down the hall toward his and Buffy’s room. He turned a corner in the hall, caught a familiar scent and slid close to the door. Within the room were two heartbeats and two very familiar scents. Red and her girlfriend deeply asleep and that meant Rupert must be here somewhere. The Watcher had finally shown up looking for his errant Slayer and with the two witches in tow.
Spike grimaced; he could only hope they’d left Harris at home. He thought about the ramifications of Buffy being reunited with her friends here instead of the Hellmouth. Would she tell them about the huge change in their relationship or try to hide it? Spike didn’t fancy meeting up with them, no matter which way the Slayer chose. He knew with the addition of her friends and the Watcher, things were going to be very different either way.
Spike walked into the room and tossed the hotel key on the roll top desk in the corner. He noticed Buffy, still damp from her bath, brushing her hair by the window. She set the brush down and held her arms out to him.
Spike’s breath caught as he gazed at the woman he loved sitting in the moon light. He crossed the room in one bound, picked her up in his arms, carried her to their bed and growled. “I love you and I have to have you right now. I can’t wait any longer.”
Buffy twined her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. “I love you, too.” She murmured quietly against his neck. “We did finally make it to the hotel.”
Spike gently laid her down on the bed as she kissed him hungrily. This would not be slow and sweet, this would be hard and fast, they were both too aroused to wait. He growled again, deep in his throat. Buffy wrapped her legs around him and using her powerful leg muscles, pulled him down on top of her. They both wanted the physical confirmation of their love and they wanted it now.
A while later as the moon continued to shine through the hotel window; Buffy finished buttoning her long blue skirt and frowned. “This doesn’t sound like a really good idea, Spike. What if you lose?”
“Pet, I’ve been playing poker for over a hundred years and I think I can hold my own against a bunch of humans and a demon or two.” He pulled his black tee back over his head.
“Yeah? Well, I’ve seen you play poker and it’s not really that impressive. I remember a certain blond vamp who even managed to lose all the kittens out of his basket once.” Buffy buttoned her long sleeved shirt, tucked it into her skirt and cinched the belt.
“Lose them? The way I remember it, a certain blonde bint dumped ‘em out. Anyway, we’re not even playin’ for kittens; they use plain old money here.” Spike finished putting on his Doc Martens and shrugged into his duster.
Buffy pulled on her boots. “That’s my point. We don’t actually have any ‘plain old’ money. We have enough for this room and breakfast tomorrow. How will you even get in the game?”
Spike was way ahead of her. He’d known the stubborn chit wouldn’t go for his idea right away, so he’d been prepared. “I’ll use these.” He opened his palm and showed her the handful of chips they’d found among Teague’s possessions. “There’s enough here for my stake.”
Buffy smirked. “If all you need is a staking…”
He shook his head. He’d walked right into that one.
Spike dropped the chips into his pocket, turned to her and spoke seriously. “Slayer, you need info on the town, McGee and this black rider. I figure the poker game is the best place for it and since no one knows me, it’s our best chance.”
“I’m going to search McGee’s office while you’re upstairs.”
Spike wisely refrained from comment, realizing this was the closest he’d get to her actual agreement. He nodded and started for the door.
Buffy finished tying her blonde hair into a ponytail. “We’ll meet back down here in a couple hours.”
“Watch yourself, Slayer; there could be almost any kind of security set up in that office. It’ll probably be dangerous.”
“Not any more dangerous than the way you play poker.”
Spike was actually an extremely accomplished poker player. Beside the fact that he had been playing the game for over one hundred years, he had a real knack for reading people.
What Buffy had seen at Willy’s before was almost an entirely different game being played-poker among the demon set. It was a given that this entailed cheating as much as possible without getting caught. The game was secondary to the cheating and the bluster.
Spike was determined to show Buffy that his was a worthwhile plan. He knew how much some humans liked to talk and he wanted to hear anything that spilled from their drunken mouths, so he had two goals for the evening. He would listen to everything said during the next few hours, but more importantly at first, he would need to parlay the few chips he was bringing with him into enough to have an excuse to remain.
The Sheriff had just ordered a drink when he saw the blond stranger walk in the door. He watched as the hotel staff smiled and pointed to a chair at another table. Acknowledging his fellow players, the stranger settled in to play.
The rider was not concerned; he had recognized the stranger from the images sent by his fellow demon. It was the vampire from the mine and since the vampire was not aware of his actual identity, the sheriff relaxed and scanned his hand again.
Luckily, Spike had begun his evening by winning a couple of pots early on which enabled him to continue playing and also afforded him the ability to buy rounds for the table. This endeared him to his fellow players and they started to chatter happily while Spike smiled, joked, and listened.
He had been playing for almost an hour, easily keeping one ear on the tables next to him and one on his fellow players. He’d found out a lot about the mine since the two men sitting to his left were both miners and he’d also learned a few things about the town itself and even a little about McGee. The Sheriff, Grip, was another matter altogether. None of the players would even return his comments or questions about the man, either saying ‘I don’t really know him well’ or shrugging their shoulders. Spike was frustrated. And after an hour of observing the demon and listening to his monosyllabic responses, he had only really learned one thing about him.
The Sheriff was a really bad loser. He grasped the mechanics of the game well enough, but one of the other players was on an incredible winning streak. When Spike had arrived, the Sheriff had been merely taciturn, but after losing several hands in a row, he had become mean spirited and surly. The humans at the table with him were becoming increasingly agitated and some had started preparing to leave.
Spike smirked to himself. This guy acted like any other typically mean demon on a losing streak. Then the winning player announced that he had to leave and the sheriff finally started to win.
A few moments later, Spike found his chance when the men at his table got up to leave for their shift. Spike stood up, looked around and shrugged good naturedly. He moved to sit at the table with the Sheriff, a couple of townies, and two others from his posse. “Hope you don’t mind me joinin’.”
The Sheriff stared at him and Spike’s vampiric reflexes enabled him to catch the minute red flash that quickly disappeared from the demon’s eye. “Are you sure you want to sit in? I bet your woman has a really powerful temper and if you stay out late, she’ll kill you.”
Spike realized that somehow the demon knew about him. Before he could frame a reply, one of the other men at the table smiled jovially and stuck out his hand. “Don’t mind the Sheriff, he’s just jokin’. Glad you could join us. My name’s Turner.”
Spike swallowed the nasty comeback he had been about to utter and sat down. He forced a smile and replied, “’Lo, name’s Spike.” He started stacking chips on the table in front of his new seat. “So, what are we playin’?”
Buffy quickly opened the door to McGee’s office and slid inside. Softly closing it, she stood very still and listened. The sound of women chattering in Spanish floated toward her from further down the hall. There was a heavy curtain over the window in the office and as she waited for her eyes to adjust to the nearly total darkness, she stretched her arm and leg muscles. She had had to wait out in the hall, hiding behind some large velvet drapes for almost thirty minutes; neither she nor Spike had given any thought to the possibility of a night cleaning crew.
At almost the same moment that Buffy had figured out which office was the correct one, three women had appeared carrying cleaning supplies. Calling back and forth to each other in Spanish, they had begun to clean the various offices that were located on the same floor. Evidently, McGee was also a landlord and had rented space on this floor to several other businesses. Luckily for Buffy, the presence of the cleaning crew assured her that there would be no clever traps within the office. McGee seemed to be comfortably unafraid within his own private domain.
After Buffy was certain the women were finally moving down the stairs to the next floor, she began her search. Turning on her pen light, she started carefully rifling through the various desk drawers, but either McGee was exceptionally tidy or he really didn’t have any actual job. There were no loose papers or work of any type within them, just the usual office detritus, which in his case consisted mainly of pencils and blank paper.
Buffy snorted. McGee was turning out to be like a sort of lazy middle manager, delegating all the real work to others, whether human or demon.
Finally underneath yet another stack of blank paper in the very bottom drawer, she found his bank book and scanned it quickly. McGee had made regular deposits throughout the year, but in the last entry of the book, dated yesterday, he had withdrawn it all.
Sliding the bank book back under the paper, she ran the narrow beam of light across his desk. It was also exceptionally tidy. When the narrow light crossed the corner of the desk, Buffy knew she’d struck pay dirt. Sitting on the desk was a large cylindrical crystal and it looked exactly like the one in her dream. Leaving it for later, she reluctantly moved to the remainder of the office.
Remembering Verda’s comment about the books, she walked over to the large oak shelves on the other side of the office. Unfortunately Buffy couldn’t tell whether the titles were important or just average run of the mill books. It was too difficult to read the faded titles in the darkened office using only the narrow pen light.
Shrugging she returned to the desk, picked up the crystal and felt something almost like a slight electrical charge emanating from somewhere within it. Grimacing at the uncomfortable feeling, she carefully tucked the crystal under her arm and draped the corner of her long skirt over it. The effect was as if she were holding her skirt so that she could walk more easily. Opening the office door, she glanced back and forth down the hall. Seeing no one, she stepped into the hall and closed the door. Still cradling the crystal, she walked briskly back to the stairs.
“I’ll see that and raise you another dollar.” Spike leaned back and lit a cigarette. Under hooded eyes, he watched Turner, the fat Sheriff’s deputy trying to decide if his hand was good enough to stay. Spike watched his tell and knew he had nada, he would fold.
“I fold.” Turner dropped his cards face down, pushed away from the table and drained the last of his beer.
Spike stifled his grin and shifted to the other deputy, Carl. He was a better player and it had taken Spike nearly fifteen minutes to spot his tell. He probably had a decent hand; he was a very conservative player. This was the last pot of the night, with no limit, so Spike waited to see if he’d stay. It didn’t matter; Spike knew that between the two of them, he had the better hand.
He watched the cigarette smoke spiral toward the gas light fixture in the ceiling and patiently waited.
Carl exhaled a deep breath and dropped his cards on the table. “I’m out.”
That left Spike and the Sheriff still in the game. Spike and the other demon had gone back and forth for the last half hour. First one would win a game, then the other. Spike, realizing that Turner was the loose mouth of the bunch, had desperately tried to keep him in the game all night. He was a terrible poker player; he drank too much and never concentrated on the game. Spike had spent a large portion of the money he had taken from the men at the other table, trying to unobtrusively pump up anyone who sat in, especially Turner.
Finally the Sheriff had announced the last game of the night, and Spike was playing seriously. He carefully fed the pot and kept all the other players in until nearly the end.
Now he and the Sheriff, the final two players, watched each other intently across the largest pot anyone had seen in several weeks.
The high stakes game drew the remaining card players from around the room and everyone stood and watched as the two squared off across the table.
Spike patiently took another drag from his cigarette.
The Sheriff stared at Spike, his mouth curled in a sneer and he decisively pushed the remainder of his chips to the center of the table. “All in.”
Spike leaned forward, languidly pushing in the last of his chips. “Call you, mate.”
The entire room grew quiet.
The Sheriff turned his cards face up. He had a full house, kings over tens.
Everyone held their breath, their eyes riveted on Spike.
Spike laid his cards down and turned them over slowly one at a time. The queen of diamonds, queen of clubs, queen of hearts and finally, the queen of spades.
The room erupted in excited chatter.
The Sheriff’s mouth tightened and he leaned forward, across the large pile of chips. His eyes flashed red. His voice full of menace, he spoke so low only Spike’s enhanced hearing could catch it over the excited din.
“She is mine, vampire. There is nothing you can do to save her.”
Standing up abruptly, he turned and strode out of the room.
Spike leaned back in the chair and narrowed his eyes.
There’s one thing I can do. I can make bloody sure you die instead of her.