“You look like you are down on your luck.”

The voice came from a dark, baggy-faced man. Kind of guy you’d call noir and brooding. “Might say that, mon ami,” I answered. We watched the croupier rake my last five dollars off the roulette table.

The Casino de Charlevoix, an hour east of Quebec, was an old people’s home compared to Montreal’s casino. More important, I wasn’t in Trois Rivieres where my Jeanette was home with our petite bébé.

“My name is Grigori. Would you like to play one more game?” He smiled and a mouth full of brown teeth showed up.

“I haven’t got a buck to my name. I even spent my lucky two-dollar bill. Et vous est quoi? Russian?”

“The Ukraine. But not for some time.”

“What brings you to Canada?”

He shrugged. “I am avoiding some friends. This is a good place to avoid unpleasant people. But about the game? Take a walk with me.”

He guided me out of the casino and down to the small park on the street overlooking the St. Laurent. The river was quiet tonight. It would be covered with ice in another month.

“I told you I’m broke. Pas d’argent. Don’t rub it in.”

“Do you see that Mercedes?” He pointed to a white convertible that gleamed under the street light. “I will bet you my car against…let me see, what do you have? I know! Your finger!”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I laughed. Nervously.

“I have a deck of cards and we will cut. High card takes the Mercedes. Low card and you lose the tip of your little finger. Such a small price. You have nine more fingers, and I won’t take all of one. Just the tip.”

Jeanette was expecting me. No way could I go back and tell her I’d been laid off, got drunk, wasted my last paycheck.

“No cards,” I said. “Not with your deck.” Maybe I was ignorant, but I wasn’t stupid.

“Then how can we play? I thought you were a gambler.”

“More simple than cards. We play rock, paper, scissors.”

He frowned. “I do not know that game. Is it like poker?”

I showed him, making a fist. “This is rock.” I opened my hand. “This is paper.” And with two fingers, “This is scissors. Rock breaks scissors. Paper covers rock. Scissors cuts paper. D’accord? Nine combinations sont possible.”

He bent his shaggy head back and laughed. A belly laugh that sounded like the devil choking. “Okay,” he said. “Ten times!”

“No, nine,” I said. “Ten could end in a tie.”

“One thing,” he said. “You do not mind that I tie your hand to this picnic table. Just so you do not change your mind.”

I minded, but I also thought of Jeanette and the look in her eyes when I rolled up to our apartment in the Mercedes. He took off his necktie and bound my arm to the table. The circulation stopped and my hand began to go numb. His brown teeth gleamed in a strange smile as he put a set of car keys on the table.

I took the first three, using rock three times in a row—a good bluff. Grigori took the fourth and fifth play. The sweat started to pour down my face as I sat imprisoned under the street lamp. The damp breeze off the St. Laurent didn’t help.

Six was my win. It was four to two, and then Grigori took the lead. Quel drag. Each time he won he banged the table with his big hairy fist. The brown teeth mocked me.

“We play to nine?” he asked. “We are now four to four. The next game takes it.” He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a six-inch clasp knife. He laid it carefully on the picnic table next to the keys.

I started to hate this guy. I wondered if I had screwed up again. Perhaps Jeanette was right. I was a loser. I told myself, Worry pas ta brain, bébé.

“One. Two. Three,” Grigori snapped. His hand shot out. “Scissors!”

But he had hesitated. My hand had done up a microsecond before his and my paper was a loser.

“Ah-ha! Scissors cuts paper! I win!

“Grigori, you bastard!” Two men walked out of the dark and down the hill to our table. I could only look as one pulled a gun. “I have followed you from Montreal to Quebec City and find you still playing games. Only you are the loser, you double-crosser.”

“Hey, guys,” I said. The odds had suddenly changed. “Pas de moi. I’m not involved. I just met this guy. He bet me his car.” The necktie was too tight for me to move, to run. I was tied to Grigori’s destiny, whatever that was going to be.

“Vlad, I wanted to pay you back.” Grigori’s voice sounded like a whore begging. “I tried to find you.”

The goon called Vlad picked up the car keys and looked at me. Never have I seen such scary eyes. “This car is not his. It is mine. Everything he owns—including his life—is mine.”

“I never met the man before tonight,” I pleaded.

“What is this stupid game you are playing?”

“It’s rock, paper, scissors. He cheated me.”

“Shut up.” He untied my arm. “Grigori always cheats. Get out of here.”

I won,” I insisted.

The two Russian-sounding goons looked at each other. Vlad reached in his pocket and pulled out a roll of money the size of an apple. He peeled off ten hundred-dollar bills and dropped them on the table. “Scissors cuts paper maybe, but my gun beats them all.” The other guy laughed. “Take the money and get out.”

I got back to Trois Rivieres a day later. Ma belle Jeanette forgave me, but in all my confessions I never told her how paper can cut scissors.


# # #

Papercut by Walter Giersbach
originally published February 16, 2009



Walter Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, Written Word and Big Pulp. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child Publishing.

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visit his Big Pulp author page


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