The doors slid shut behind him, and the sounds of the casino—the jangling slot machines, the piped-in music of nineties superdivas—disappeared, muted by mahogany paneling and plush burgundy carpet.
The room was long, no chairs, with a desk at the end, tall and narrow. A woman stood behind it, black hair hanging down her back and catching the glow of the wall sconces.
She turned as he approached, and smiled. Jack paused, steps from the desk. She was two women. Or rather, one woman with two heads. No, that wasn't right either.
Each woman wore a blouse, ivory, sheer, with a lace collar and three tiny buttons, the blouses stitched together at the chest. The women faced each other, the distance of an eyelash between them. He could not see below the desk. He felt uncomfortable wanting to.
"Mr. Gray?" said one.
Jack nodded. So as not to stare, he watched their hands; each used a hand to rifle through a stack of unmarked envelopes, fingers dancing along white creases, plucking one from the rest. The one who had spoken used her left hand to open the envelope, and the other used her right hand to remove a key.
"Here you are," said the one on the right. "Good luck, Mr. Gray."
He took the key with unease.
She gestured to a door on the left; her twin echoed the gesture.
The door opened onto an elevator. Jack stepped inside, and an attendant dressed in livery, as if he were a chauffeur, smiled and nodded.
"Mr. Gray," said the man, tanned and wrinkled beneath a black cap.
The door shut on his last glimpse of the women.
"Beautiful," said Jack, not knowing what else to say.
"Beautiful, yes. But only one heart." The man shook his head. "Two people cannot have one heart."
The door opened.
"We're here?" said Jack. "I didn't feel it move."
The man smiled. "You have your key?"
"Good luck, Mr. Gray."
He stepped into a narrow hallway, with another attendant, this one dressed less elegantly: the bulge of guns beneath his cheap suit was excessive, comic.
"That's a lot of firepower, considering you can only fire one at a time," said Jack.
The man shook his head. "Two." He withdrew two of the pieces, both hands turning the guns simultaneously.
"Impressive," said Jack, and the man smiled, replacing his guns. Jack sniffed. "Is that... chocolate I smell?"
"Good luck, Mr. Gray," the man said, and opened the door.
Jack had possessed a terrible sweet tooth once.
Once. Now he'd much rather have a nice, medium-rare chateaubriand, steaming on the plate, meant for two but all to himself.
The sight of her, however, dressed in cream-colored silk behind a sleek, ebony desk, caused in him a pang, a longing for something warm, and soft, and sweet on his tongue.
A chef in a white coat stood beside a small cart, a glass bowl of chocolate before him. He unwrapped a stick of butter. She motioned to the chef, and before he dropped the butter into the chocolate, he presented it to her. She drew a finger across the top and tasted it.
The door shut behind him.
"Mr. Gray," said the woman. "Won't you sit?"
"You can call me Jack, Charlotte," he said, and took the chair in front of the desk. "I promise, I won't think you're anything but business."
"Why would you?" she said. Her gaze was cool; her hair, not nearly as black as the women's in the lobby but still dark, dark like the chocolate in the bowl, was tucked in a neat twist at the nape of her neck. There was a tattoo there, he knew, an ostrich feather.
As she twisted her head to pull a file from a drawer, he saw it then, except it wasn't a feather any longer, but two swords, one up, one down.
She drew a single sheet of paper from the file. Without looking at it, she said, "My. This is quite a bit of money you owe us."
He shrugged. "I'll pay it back soon. Tables have been bad, that's all."
"Are you saying that the casino has rigged tables? Or that they are somehow sub-standard?"
"No, of course not. It's just... things haven't exactly gone my way lately. But they will soon." They always do, he thought. The coin always flips. "Your father let me run a house tab."
"We've extended your tab eight times this month already. And my father no longer owns this casino."
Beside them, the chef lifted the spatula, inspecting the silky fall of chocolate. Satisfied, he removed the bowl from the flame.
"A little more time, Charlotte. That's all I'm asking. Things will change."
"When your luck changes?" She stared at the bowl. "Chocolate, sugar, butter. It's not just the ingredients, you know. It's timing and skill."
He swallowed, turning the key in his palm.
The chef cracked two eggs, and added a sprinkle of salt. He stirred and poured the batter into a silver pan. The bowl scraped clean, he set it down and took up the pan, presenting it to Jack.
"Your key," she said.
"We used to have crepes every morning, and scones. Lemon, blueberry... And your cakes... Caramel. Coconut..."
He implored her with his eyes, willing her to remember when they'd been young, willing to her to recall nights he'd come to her, flush with his winnings, and her apartment smelling like cinnamon, her skin tasting like vanilla.
The elevator attendant's words came to him: Two people cannot have one heart.
He dropped the key atop the batter. It sank, vanishing from view.
The chef took the pan with Jack's cake to a door that slid open, revealing a room with an oven at the center, and all around, on every wall, shelves, and those shelves laden with cakes.
"Seven days, Jack. The casino gets what's owed." She closed her eyes. "I can taste it already."
Well, that was strange.