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J♣
Part Seven
of the
Face Cards Serial

(shot in glorious black and white)


Jack's head was still doing somersaults when he regained consciousness. He lifted himself up to a sitting position, adjusted his vision and immediately surveyed his surroundings. The room around him was some kind of loft with cheap furniture and a locked trap door from which protruded the top of a ladder. Aside from two small windows, that appeared to be the only exit from the room. Upon closer inspection, Jack realized he was not alone.

"Welcome back to the world, Mr. Sharper. I certainly hope you are feeling a bit better now."

"I've felt a lot better.
Then again, I've felt a lot worse."

"Let me introduce myself. I am certain you have heard my name since you have shown so much interest in my wife. My name is Hans Berger."

Jack had to adjust his vision again. This man bore no resemblance to the Hans Berger that had hired him to follow Victoria Berger to determine whether or not she was having an affair. Since Hans Berger was hardly a popular enough name in America to possibly leave two of them involved with the same woman, Jack found himself mesmerized. This turn of events was certainly unexpected.

"I'd like to say it is finally nice to meet you.
However, these aren't the best of circumstances.
Are you here to watch me or are we in the same shoes?"

"I'm afraid we are both prisoners of Mr. Povanko, or as he would put it, we are his guests. They seem to be holding me in order to force my wife to help them smuggle something through the book store she works at."

This version of Hans Berger looked to be a bit stronger and more capable of standing up to adversity than the version Jack had met this morning. This Hans Berger had broader shoulders and a chiseled, sturdy but handsome face. Still, he did not match the profile of Hans Berger given by Lorca the Weasel. This was no more a former SS agent who became a key player in the criminal underworld than the first Berger. This Hans Berger was more of a blue collar kind of man who enjoyed meat and potatoes for dinner and repaired automobiles in his garage as a hobby. Jack was not convinced. Even if Demetrius Povanko did want to imprison Jack and keep him out of the way it made no sense to lock him in the same room with the man who might hold all the answers to the case Jack was working on. At this point, Jack considered the first Hans Berger to be much more convincing at playing the part.

Jack patted his pockets and found his now badly crushed pack of Lucky Strikes. He lifted the pack to his mouth and pulled one out slowly between his lips. Hans Berger produced a lighter, which oddly enough had the insignia of the Luftwaffe on it, and ignited the cigarette. Jack thanked him without making any mention of the artwork that decorated the lighter.

Still having trouble maintaining his balance, Jack used the furniture for support as he made his way over to the room's two windows. Down below was a dirt driveway on which were parked two cars. One was a Plymouth coupe and the other a Cadillac. Jack wasn't sure why, but he was slightly disappointed not to find the first Hans Berger's Packard in the mix. There were no signs of life in or around the two cars, so Jack leaned against a support beam and looked the second Hans Berger over again.

"How often they feed their prisoners around here?
I could really use a medium rare steak and a cold beer."

"Good luck. They only seem to come by when they need something."

Jack resisted the temptation to make mention of the fact that this Hans Berger, like the first Hans Berger, lacked anything resembling a German accent. Both spoke nearly flawless English and this version had a Chicago accent while the first spoke like a New Yorker. Unless the SS had been as efficient at vocal training as they had in less savory pursuits, Jack doubted either of the two men could possibly be the same Hans Berger that Lorca had spoken of. On the flip side, it was also possible that Lorca's information was either wrong or that someone else had paid him a tidy sum to mislead Jack. After all, Lorca had shown up with the information in an all too timely fashion.

"Play poker, Sharper?" Berger asked after producing a deck of cards.

"Sure I do, but tell me something, Berger.
Who told you my name or is that standard practice with new inmates?"

"I asked," replied Berger without so much as flinching. He instead sat down at the small table in the center of the room and began dealing cards. "Join me, Sharper. It ain't no fun playing alone."

Jack sat down, keeping his eyes on Hans Berger and picked up his cards. It was an interesting hand. There were nothing but face cards but none of them were a viable winning combination.

"Before you get too excited, Sharper, there are nothing but face cards in this deck. I believe it was a pinocle deck. Makes the game a bit more interesting."

"Seems the kind of game that gets more interesting the longer you play.
Give me three cards."

Footsteps were coming up the metal runged ladder attached to the trap door to the right of the card table. Jack took a drag off his cigarette and continued to study his cards as the trap door swung open. The head that popped through the opening belonged to Tony Lazarus, who had been Demetrius Povanko's number one enforcer for the better part of twenty years. He never smiled, and today was no exception. His bald head and scarred face spooked Hans Berger number two, but Jack continued to enjoy his cigarette and considered the future of the cards in his hands.

"You're looking well, Lazarus.
How's the family?
Kids all grown up and everything?"

Jack did not even look over at Lazarus while he spoke. There were those who philosophized that the hit man and skull breaker regretted not ever having started a family. Jack figured it was worth a jab. Even if Lazarus had no measurable emotion reaction to anything.

"Be putting a slug in your head sooner or later, Sharper."

"I'll put that on my list of things to look forward to.
We going somewhere, or did you just stop by our little patch of Eden for coffee and random threats?"

"The boss wants me to take you for a little drive."

"I've always wanted the opportunity to climb down a ladder.
Thanks, Lazarus, for making another dream come true.
I hope you don't plan to torture me.
I still have a couple missing toenails from the last time.
As I recall it never got you anywhere."

Lazarus said nothing and motioned for Jack to follow him down the ladder. They walked through a garage and out to the Cadillac parked on the dirt driveway under the loft window. Watching Lazarus' gun the entire time, Jack removed his hat and slid into the backseat while Lazarus held the door. Lazarus closed the door and got in behind the wheel. Without hesitation he turned the key and drove slowly down the driveway. Wherever they were, it was fairly far outside the city. With night coming on, Jack found it difficult, but not impossible, to remember their route. He had a feeling he might need to find the loft again in the near future.

Lazarus drove out to an overgrown field behind a broken down barn. He stopped the car, got out, and opened the back door. After insisting that Jack follow him, his gun pointed at Jack's heart the entire time, he walked backwards towards the barn.

"Planning on shooting me, Lazarus?
That doesn't seem like a very intelligent course of action.
After all, our city's finest dropped me off at your boss' house and I was never seen leaving."

"Sure they did.
Your old partner already filed a report."

"Boy, you thugs think of everything.
What a racket."

Two gunshots interrupted the idyllic countryside scene. Both hit Lazarus, and the second one caught him in the back of the head. He fell with a rather resounding thud which left Jack scrambling for cover. The gunman did not fire again, nor did he reveal himself. Jack brushed off his suit and searched through Lazarus' pockets for the keys to the Cadillac.


Next: Part Eight: Queen of Diamonds
Back to the Beginning: Jack of Diamonds
Back to Part Two: Queen of Clubs
Back to Part Three: Jack of Spades
Back to Part Four: King of Hearts
Back to Part Five: Queen of Hearts
Back to Part Six: King of Diamonds

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