Two of a Kind;Doctor Who;Jo Grant;Katy Manning;Third Doctor;Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart;Jon Pertwee;Jeri Massi
Two of a Kind
by Jeri Massi
Set after Terror of the Autons Author's note: This story is set very early in Jo's career at UNIT. It is her second adventure with the Doctor.
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Mrs. Humphreys was one of those dowager types who seemed to be all bosom and no hips. She tapered down from an impressive upper body, getting narrower and narrower all the way to her feet, rather like a golf tee. This image was strengthened by the tight, shimmering evening gown worn by the older woman. Jo Grant resisted the urge to make further comparisons. Her current critical attitude, she realized, was the Doctor's fault. His sudden offer to bring her along to this party had seemed delightful at first, a genuine overture of friendship from him since the Auton incident a few weeks before.
But now Jo realized the disappointing truth. The tall, self-assured scientist had simply wanted somebody to keep him company on the long drive into the countryside. After dutifully admiring Mrs. Humphreys' enormous jade necklace and medallion that lay in adornment on the vast shimmering bosom, the Doctor had shared a perfunctory glass of champagne with Jo, their hostess, and a few other guests. He had then disappeared into the card room with Mr. Castanata. That had been hours ago. Most of the other guests were now gone.
Fingering her heavy necklace of jade segments, Mrs. Humphreys uneasily approached Jo across the wide expanse of rich blue carpet.
"Dear me, we must get the men out of there, mustn't we?" she said to Jo.
Keenly aware of having overstayed her welcome, UNIT's youngest agent looked up and nodded. "I'll see if I can't pry the Doctor loose," she said. "What are they doing, anyway?"
"He and that other fellow, that nice looking young man that came with the Hanovers; I think that he and the Doctor are playing at cards."
They walked together down a hallway the length of a country lane. Mrs. Humphreys hesitated, knocked, and then gently opened a door that looked like it belonged on the front of a cathedral. In spite of impressive stature and the adornment of what looked like a fortune in jade, the older woman was actually shy, especially before two such men as the Doctor and this newcomer, Castanata. Jo understood the Doctor's ability to tower over most people. As far as she had observed during her two months at UNIT, the Brigadier was the only person who seemed able to stand up to the Doctor or handle his moods with any coolness, And Castanata, with striking good looks and that cold, ingratiating charm, was at once fascinating and yet almost frightening. He and the Doctor had struck up an acquaintance immediately upon being introduced, treating each other with the respect and rivalry one saw among rival elected officials who meet at a party. Ignoring everybody, they had gone off to the game room together.
Jo followed their hostess into the wide, brightly lit room. The two men sat at a table, their heads bent close, cards in their hands and a pile of various trinkets and odds and ends between them.
Both looked up, startled at the interruption. They seemed to have forgotten the party.
"Ah Mrs. Humphreys," Castanata said, with forced courtesy. "We are just on our last hand. Going for broke, I believe the saying is."
"Well, it is quite late gentlemen, and Miss Grant has been complaining of a headache Doctor-" she began. Jo instantly forgave the lie.
Castanata pointed at the older woman. "You, go up to bed." He thrust his finger at Jo, and she felt as though some force jumped from it to her. "You, sit here and be still."
"Miss Grant must go as well," the Doctor said sharply. Mrs. Humphreys turned and walked out instantly, not even saying goodnight. Jo found herself sinking into a chair, much to her senior's agitation. "Jo!" the Doctor ordered. "Have somebody drive you home!"
"Everybody is gone," Castanata said. "She shall stay."
"Play the hand. You agreed to my conditions. Play."
The Doctor quickly looked away from her. His face, agitated and worried, quietened as he looked at his cards. He remained in careful study for a long two minutes. Castanata did not hurry him. At last the Doctor looked up. "No," he said. "No I'll hold with what I have."
The Doctor set down his hand. "Straight," he said. There was a dreadful quietness in his voice. Jo wondered what he had put into the stake. Her mind flicked over to the police box that he was always tinkering with. She had never been inside of it and had quickly learned that the Doctor's cardinal rule was that nobody was to go into his "TARDIS" except by invitation. In the heat of the game, she wondered, could he have ventured what he valued most?
Castanata leaned back and smiled, suddenly at ease. "You very nearly had me frightened, Doctor," he said. He set down his hand. "Four deuces."
"Only my possessions," the Doctor said. "That was our arrangement-my most prized possession!"
That's it, Jo thought. He's gone and wagered away that police box and all the equipment inside. She mentally prepared herself to console him on the long drive back to London, but she inwardly cringed. Except for flashes of kindness that he had showed during their shared dangers from the Autons, he had remained aloof from her ever since her assignment as his assistant. He seemed to regard the appointment of a young, inexperienced girl who had never been to university as some sort of insult from the government. When he was in a bad mood over what he called his "exile," she took the worst of it.
She stood up to find his cape for him. Just as quickly, her wrist was seized by Castanata in a grip like a clamp. She instantly fell back into the chair.
"Now is not the time to define your terms, Doctor," Castanata said as the Doctor leaped up. "She is what you prize most, what you would pay for dearly, not the other. Your TARDIS isn't even working any more."
"I say, let me go!" Jo exclaimed to the young man. "You're hurting me!"
Castanata reached into a pocket. "Don't take her!" the Doctor exclaimed. Those were the last words she heard from him. The next thing that Jo Grant knew, Castanata was jerking her to her feet, and they were in a bare room, rather like a small warehouse, or perhaps a vault.
"What have you done?" she asked. "Where is the Doctor, and the room--the table--"
Castanata pushed himself against her, her wrist still imprisoned in his strong grip. She backed up before him. He walked into her, backing her up until she was pinned against a pole that ran from floor to ceiling.
"What are you doing?"
He pinned her in place with his chest. Something cold and hard, but loose like a bracelet, clapped around her wrist. In a moment, he locked another bracelet around her other wrist, chaining her hands behind her back so that she could not leave the pole. Then he took a half-step back. She stared down at the chain. It was nearly four feet long, allowing her some freedom of movement, but it would keep her from leaving the pole. She looked up at him, the remote eyes, the chiseled good looks. He smiled down at her, but there was no warmth in his face, not even a pretense of warmth.
"What have you done to the Doctor?" she asked. "And to the Humphreys and their house?"
"He does prize you, you know," Castanata said.
"Your problem is that you don't really understand him. You keep waiting for him to start acting like a human being, but he doesn't know how to do that yet. He's in exile; he's angry, and he feels trapped."
"Where is he?" she asked.
"He's fine. He's at the Humphreys." Castanata stepped back again and glanced at his fingernails. "Well, he's not exactly fine. He's blaming himself for what's happened."
The young man waited, and at last Jo said, "He bet me in a card game?"
"Well, you might say he was-uh-hustled," Castanata told her. "You are right when you notice that there are times that he forgets you exist. He does. He's focused almost exclusively on getting his TARDIS operational again. So when I set the stake on whatever he most prized, he assumed I meant his TARDIS. He agreed to the stake."
"Why would he bet his TARDIS?" she asked.
"Because I was betting this," he told her. He fished a small octagonal object from his pocket. She looked at it blankly. "A universal adapter," he told her. "Very hard to get hold of when a man is confined as he is. I understand that he has in possession a dematerialisation circuit that he hooked from another timelord."
"Yes," Jo said faintly. "But it doesn't fit. He said that the models are different."
Castanata held the circuit up on his palm. "This would make it fit," he said. "Your Doctor friend was willing to take a huge risk to gamble for it. But he lost."
The gambler slid the object back into his pocket and then stepped close to her again. She looked away. "What is your blood type, my dear?" he asked her. She didn't say anything. He framed her face in his hands and then slid his palms back behind her jaws. "Healthy human female," he said, palpating the glands of her neck. He ran his hands up under her hair. "Ever had any serious diseases?"
She hesitated, but as the strong hands tightened for a moment, she answered. "Mumps, measles, those things," she faltered.
"Now, now." His tone was patronising as he felt her tremble under the palms of his hands. "I get my pleasure from winning at cards, Miss Grant. I shall kill you if I have to, or I shall turn you over to creatures who get their pleasure from using humans one way or another. But it's only in the way of business."
He lifted her face and forced her to look up at him. "The chain is long enough to give you some use of your hands, and you can settle down on the floor when you are tired of standing. I intend to feed you and give you water until the Doctor is ready."
"Ready for what?" she asked.
"Ready to gamble again."
* * * *
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart had his thumb and index finger pinched around the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed. "This is unbelievable," he said. "We wallop the entire Auton invasion and take a crooked gang of circus ruffians in tow just for good measure, and now one card player takes us all hostage?"
"Lethbridge Stewart, you cannot possible believe that I would knowingly endanger any human being--and certainly not that-that-child!" For once, the Doctor looked absolutely wretched. The Brigadier relented.
"All right. You said he's contacted you once already. He wants the jade necklace and ornament. Any idea why? I mean, if it's dangerous, I can't just hand it over to him."
The Doctor frowned and threw himself down into one of the chairs in the Brigadier's cluttered office. He swung a long leg over the arm of the chair. "I knew it wasn't an ordinary necklace the moment I saw it," he said. "It gives off emanations. Mr. Humphreys is a building designer-an architect. He said he found the pieces at an excavation in the city. He had the parts made into a necklace."
The Brigadier cocked an eyebrow. "Emanations you say? A device of some sort?"
"Could be both an ornament and a functional device It's certainly of extra-terrestrial origin."
"Well why not just steal it?" the Brigadier demanded. "Why did Castanata take the trouble to lure you out there, gamble all his stock for Miss Grant, just to take a chance that you would get this necklace thing for him?"
The Doctor laced his long fingers behind his head and looked up. "Castanata is not human. He's a Ruwle."
"That's what they call themselves. They're not thieves or warriors or priests or farmers or anything else. They travel around the galaxies in colonies. The honest ones are very good at tinkering with things. Very analytical thinking skills. Locksmiths, machine technicians, professional magicians-"
"And the dishonest ones?"
"Gamblers," the Doctor said. "And very good at it, too. But he could no more steal that thing than you could fly. His method is gambling."
"We can confiscate the necklace," the Brigadier told him. "I assume he'll take it in trade for Miss Grant."
"I'm not optimistic," the Doctor said, not looking up. "He's got the whip hand, and he knows it."
"But surely he'll just trade for the girl-"
"He'll want to gamble again. He loves gambling; it's what makes him feel powerful. Look, warlike creatures take over planets. Gambling creatures play for high stakes. Taking enormous risks and forcing others to take risks are what they thrive on. The bad ones, I mean."
"What a cold customer he must be!"
The Doctor nodded. "I need a card player with nerves of steel who won't be much swayed by the danger to Jo. Somebody who loves cards. That person will have to play in my place."
This startled the Brigadier, and he shot a second look at the timelord. "It's not like you to lose your nerve."
"I'll have a part to play," the Doctor assured him. "But coming back to the game after losing puts me at a tremendous disadavantage. One moment of indecision from me, and Jo Grant will be lost to the cruelest of fates. He'll sell her or gamble her out there--out where we can't track her. There are races in the universe who find human fear, and human flesh, a delicacy, Brigadier."
"I see." The Brigadier dropped a forefinger down on his intercom. "Corporal Bell, get Sgt. Benton up here, will you?" He glanced at the Doctor. "Benton has talked once or twice about an uncle he has in the used car business. A gambling man if ever there was one."
"We'll have to swear him in. Castanata--or whatever his real name is--could have anybody else at the next game."
"You mean two-headed types?"
The Doctor nodded. "That's exactly what I mean. Part of his psyche is built on showing off. He can use Jo to display his triumph at cards over a timelord."
"All right then. The uncle is a tough old Yorkshire man. Not easily impressed."
* * * *
Once summoned, the old man came down to UNIT HQ in his own car, an ancient European luxury car that had been repainted a shade of brilliant orange.
"Gets the attention," the old man explained as he was ushered into the Brigadier's office. "Tells people I know a good car when I sees one. It's not the color but the frame, mind you."
He accepted a cigar, which he put into his shirt pocket. He told the Brigadier and the Doctor to call him Duke.
"Pull up that table son," he said to the Doctor. He drew a deck of cards out of his other shirt pocket. "And now for a demonstration." He shuffled the cards without looking at them. They simply streamed between his hands, as though they moved of their own will. He eyed the Doctor carefully as the timelord drew up a small table, a second chair, and then sat down. But the old man said nothing one way or the other about the Doctor's choice of clothing. "Right you are," he said as the Brigadier also sat down, and he dealt the Doctor and Brigadier in. "Five card draw for the green young men," and he laughed. "Ante up."
The Doctor tossed a coin onto the table and picked up his hand. The Brigadier followed his example.
"Ah, ah, this old man is a bit of rum one, isn't he, Mister Doctor?" Duke asked. "Is that what you're thinking? Good enough of a bloke against them what plays in the local pub, but what about this high stakes game? Ah, can the old Duke play against a pro?"
Startled at having his mind read, the Doctor glanced up in surprise.
"Ah, I know. Look you, you'll toss your cards I'd say, eh? Put down three or four, won't you? It's probably a mistake. But you got to play, you see? You got to make a decision. I'm rattlin' your chain already."
Duke laughed and shot a glance at the Brigadier. "Not much better, poker face. Your eyes are saying it. You'll follow his lead. Say old timer," And he turned back to the Doctor. "I'm surprised that other feller didn't take your virginity along with everything else."
"Now see here-" the Brigadier began.
But Duke nodded at the table. "What do you want, Doctor? Throw down that fancy watch if you mean to bet."
The Doctor did.
"I'll fold," the Brigadier said.
Duke ignored him. "Look you're doing the calculation in your head," he said to the Doctor. "I can see it plain as the nose on your face, and that's a generous nose. You got to come into the game knowing your limits. And when in doubt in five card draw, you should fold. Fold and keep folding until you have the minimum hand. When the card odds are longer than the pot odds, you should fold. What do you want?"
"Three." And the Doctor discarded three cards.
"I'll take one. Let's see them."
The Doctor showed him a pair of tens, and Duke threw down three threes. The old man pulled in the coins and the wristwatch and then handed the watch back to the Doctor. Satisfied at having sufficiently impressed the military officer and the scientist, the second hand car dealer leaned back and pulled out the cigar. He lit it and looked at them, his dark eyes thoughtful in his wizened face.
"It don't take long to learn all the possible hands and all the possible odds, if you studies it hard enough," he said. "None of that should be on your mind going into the game. Poker's a game of war. You know your enemy. The decisions you make are what the other feller's going to do. What'd you lose to this feller you want me to play?"
"A young woman," the Doctor said.
Duke's surprise showed only momentarily. He covered it quickly with his lackadaisical good humor. "Say, you play for high stakes."
"It was a flim-flam job," the Brigadier said. "The girl was taken against her will."
"Why play his game then? You're army brass. Hunt him to earth and take her back."
"We don't know where he is," the Brigadier said. "We don't want her harmed."
"He's technologically superior to us-" the Doctor began.
"Aye, aye, I heard about you UNIT people and what you deal with." And Duke waved it away. "Don't pester me with that. So this card player may come back for more. He wants something?"
"A jade necklace. We can get it."
Duke afforded a brief smile of understanding. "And rather than trade, he'll try to win both. A right gamester."
The Doctor stood up. He turned to the Brigadier. "I'll let you fully brief-uh, Duke, Brigadier. I've got work to do. Castanata may call at any time, and I want to be ready for him." He turned and strode for the door.
"Doctor," the Brigadier said. "Can you locate him?"
The Doctor glanced back at him. "He's surely aboard a ship--in orbit, Brigadier, where he knows we cannot get to him without his consent."
Lethbridge Stewart glanced from Duke to the Doctor and let out an exasperated breath. "Can't you come up with some sort of back up plan?"
"I think so. The dematerialisation circuit is not working in my TARDIS, but the rest of it is operational. I may be able to jury rig something to give us an edge. I have some items in the way of robotics that may prove useful."
* * * *
The food from Castanata was not bad, and he went away to let her eat it in private. The chains were just short enough to make reaching food to her mouth awkward, but she could manage it. And he gave her a full liter of water. After she had finished and rested for about thirty minutes, the enormous door to the vault-like room opened, and he entered, carrying three small boxes.
"What are those?" Jo asked.
"Holographic equipment. It's time to send your Doctor friend another little message."
She stood up uneasily as he entered and set down the boxes. He started to work on one of them, unfolding a tripod from its base. He seemed relaxed and at ease.
"Who are you-really?" she asked.
"Does it matter?" he asked her. "You won't be familiar with my species, my customs, or my natural form."
"So you're not human?" she asked.
"Of course not. Neither is that Doctor."
"Of course he's human," she said. "He's one of us."
"Well if you live to see him again, you just ask him how many hearts he has. You don't know him very well, do you? He was a bad boy on his world, and they marooned him here. Hasn't he told you that?" He stopped and glanced back at her. "No, he hasn't, has he? He's of the opinion that too much truth will frighten you."
"That's rubbish. He's a very good man. He saved me from-"
"Oh, I know, from the Master and the Autons. But that doesn't make him a man." Castanata finished with one box. He carried the next to a different point in the room, on Jo's other side. She turned to look at him and changed the subject. "But you're not human are you?" she asked.
"No. Otherwise I might be swayed by pity for you." He quickly set up the second box, and then set up the third.
"The Doctor's not bad," she said. "He's not a criminal."
"On his world, he is second only to the Master as a criminal. They're very angry with him right now." Castanata stepped around the boxes and approached her. "I'm going to have to make you cry now," he said. Just as she tried to get away he seized her hair and pulled her closer. "What is the fastest way to make a human cry?" he asked. "Without making any permanent damage, I mean." He pulled her head back. "I've got a few methods written down somewhere." He drew a pair of scissors from his pocket. "It may not take much."
* * * *
Absorbed in the minute circuitry of a robotic assembly on the workbench, the Doctor grunted.
"Not now!" the timelord exclaimed. "Don't you realize we're trying to beat a clock?"
The timelord glanced up and turned around. Castanata stood in the lab. The Doctor strode forward and then stopped.
"This is a recorded message. I have Miss Grant here as you requested after my first contact. She is well, aren't you, my dear?" The image shimmered and was replaced by Jo, her head turned away. A three dimensional hand intersected the shimmering column where the image stood. The hand took her by the hair and turned her so that she looked at one of the cameras. It was as though she were looking straight at him.
"Say it," a voice intoned.
The Brigadier entered the lab and stepped forward in surprise at the sight of Jo Grant, but the Doctor held up a hand, and the Brigadier stopped, realizing it was not really Jo.
"I'm well," the off-camera voice said quietly, prompting her as though she were a child at a recital.
"I'm well," Jo gasped.
"Look at him, Jo."
She looked at the camera. The voice prompted her again "But I would like to come home."
She held back a sob. "But I would like to come home," she repeated.
"Is there anything else you would like to say to the Doctor?"
She hesitated and caught herself back from a sob. "No," she said after a moment. "There's nothing."
The voice prodded her. "Who cut your hair, Jo?"
The image disappeared. The Brigadier was dumbfounded. He crossed to the space where the image had appeared. "What the devil was that all about?"
"It was just holography," the Doctor said. "A transmission."
"Why did he cut her hair?" the Brigadier asked.
"Genetic information," the Doctor said. He didn't look at the Brigadier.
"Convert the genetic information from her hair into a matrixed binary code and transmit it. He's advertising to what you would call the black market of the galaxy." The Doctor strode back to the robotic assembly on the workbench. "We must not wait when he calls. When ever he sets up the game, we have to play. That's what he's telling me. If Sontaran or Croghethan or any of a dozen other purchase specialists get that code, they will insist on dealing with him. He's forcing me to get to him before anybody else does."
The telephone in the lab rang. The Doctor snatched it up. "Hello!"
"Ready to win back your losses, Doctor?"
"I've chosen some one to play for me," the Doctor said.
"Ah, a champion, then. What is his stake?"
"Gold," the Doctor said. "And the necklace. What about you?"
"Gold for small stakes. We'll see if this champion can raise the pot to include Miss Grant."
"If you hurt her," the Doctor said. "I'll find you even if it takes centuries. I'll hunt you down."
"Not without your TARDIS. Can you access my transport device from your TARDIS? Are those functions still active?"
"Yes, if you supply a signal and stay powered up."
"I'm sure I don't need to tell you that if there is any chance of a raid or capture, Miss Grant will die by the most wretched death I can contrive."
"The only treachery will be from your side, Castanata," the Doctor snapped.
"I plan to leave a little window of time open just in case there are any other takers, Doctor. Tomorrow night I'll open a transport beam signal.. Send your champion."
The line went dead. The Doctor hung up.
"Well?" the Brigadier asked.
"Having tea upstairs. Benton is briefing him."
"Castanata wants to stall in case anybody else picks up his signal. I think he's not willing to make it a two-person game."
"You don't think Duke's going to run into a regular convention of aliens, do you?"
The Doctor looked annoyed. "Even traveling at the speed of light, Castanata's signal beam won't get very far in the universe in a single day. But he may call in the odd player--anybody cruising through the solar system. It may be for the best. Having a third or fourth player may prevent the game from breaking up too soon."
"You mean a third player might win Miss Grant or the necklace-"
"Yes, and be more kindly disposed to make a deal."
"Well, what's the down side? I cannot imagine that galactic black marketeers are a savory bunch."
The Doctor stopped. His lined face became weary and resigned for a moment. He spoke quietly. "Humans are valued on the black market because they tend to be imaginative and responsive. Their emotional and intellectual expectations are easily heightened and confused." He turned away from Lethbridge Stewart and bent over the circuitry on the bench. "Sontarans would use her for biological or psychological experimentation; rogue Croghethans would make food out of her after they had exhausted her emotions and broken her mind Now leave me to it. We'll need to give Duke a generous supply of gold. And get that necklace as quickly as you can, will you? I'd like to get a look at it."
The Brigadier paused, then said, "Right!" and turned to go.
The Doctor stopped and turned. "And tell Duke I need his car."
"Whatever for? What's wrong with your car?"
"My car has those horrible vinyl seats made to look like leather. No, I've got to use Duke's car."
* * * *
"Well now, losing a few locks of hair has done nothing to mar your good looks, Miss Grant. Very fortuitous to get you in such a lovely gown. Sit in this chair." Castanata nodded at an un-upholstered, unadorned chair that looked like it was made of some heavyweight, oddly colored plastic.
Jo sat down. She could only guess at the amount of time that had gone by in her captivity, but she supposed it to have been well over twenty-four hours. She had eaten twice and slept twice while chained to the pole. Her hair, though ragged from its impromptu cutting, was by no means shorn off.
"What do you have planned?" she asked him. She looked around the small room as he undid the bracelets on her raw wrists. Some type of fixtures were built into one wall. The table at which she sat was round with a pale surface. A rough cloth had been drawn tightly as a drum head over the smooth surface to give it a sort of traction. Other chairs and stools of varied design were scattered about the room.
"This is where I do most of my business," he told her. "My card room. I'm going to have to use a manacle now." Before she could protest, he drew her arms back further and quickly locked them in place with a narrow, strong, heavy device.
"It hurts," she said.
"Your hands will go numb in a moment. I'm going to have to do your feet, too. Just for insurance purposes." He knelt down and locked her feet together in a device that was simply an iron bar with a hinge on one end and two holes bored into it to accommodate her ankles.
He straightened up, satisfied.
"This pleases you, doesn't it?" she asked. "You say it doesn't, but it does."
"Gambling pleases me, Miss Grant. But this is part of the thrill. I want to know, and I want you to know, how very high the stakes are in this game. This is all part of it. Whoever comes here tonight will come from a keen desire to take possession of you, the necklace, or the gold."
"And it will give you a thrill if you win everything," she said.
"Did you cheat the Doctor?"
He smiled. "I tricked the Doctor, which is not quite the same thing. But no, I do not cheat at cards. There are too many devices to detect cheating, and there are too many races who regard dishonest play as a capital offense. It is far safer to simply be very good at the game."
The lighting suddenly dimmed, and Castanata glanced at the furthest corner of the room. Jo had not noticed that a small booth with a transparent door took up that corner. The booth turned white, and a moment later a wiry, rickety little man wearing a tweed cap stepped out of it. He wore a patched tweed sport coat over a denim shirt, and his cotton trousers were shiny. But his only concession to nervousness in these unearthly surroundings was to pull a deck of cards from his shirt pocket and immediately transfer it from hand to hand in a long stream.
He looked at Jo but said nothing.
"The Doctor has decided not to stomach any more gaming with me, Miss Grant," Castanata told her. "He has sent this man to win you back--if possible."
"He's not coming?" she asked.
"Don't you worry, young lady," the newcomer said. "He's sent a better player in his place. I'll get you out of here by morning." He kept the cards moving from hand to hand. "Call me Duke."
"You have the required stake?" Castanata asked.
"I do." Duke paused in his card shuffling to pull several sacks from his coat pockets. He tossed them onto the table and at last produced what Castanata really wanted: the necklace. He threw it down.
As Castanata stepped forward, Duke held up a hand. "Let's make this simple," the car dealer said. "All that on the table for her, right now. It's a sure thing."
"Nonsense. I called a game, and we shall have a game. Why give her up when I can have it all?" Castanata took up the necklace and examined it. "Yes, it's still in good condition. Would you like to examine her for soundness?"
"No, I see she's all right." He would have said something more, but suddenly the booth in the corner brightened again. As the flash of light faded, a tall, ungainly figure shambled from it. Jo gasped and even Duke was startled. He dropped several cards. Castanata himself became a tad more conciliatory in his bearing as the newcomer lumbered closer.
"Ah, a Croghethan player," he began. "What an unlooked for surprise."
The tall creature was predominantly a dark purple color, darkened further to black in places, with leathery skin and no clothing but a belt hung with pouches strapped around its waist. Enormous flaps of skin, flattened like deflated balloons, hung from its belly over the belt and came down nearly to its thick, ungainly knees. It had only two arms, each equipped with three thick fingers and no thumb. Under each arm, there coiled a wide ribbon of skin and tendon. It simply had no neck and very little face, though its head was huge. What face there was seemed unreadable and expressionless: eyes with no eyebrows, a shapeless, indistinct nose that rose like a mere swelling of cartilage on the face, and rigid lips that spoke only with difficulty and did not seem able either to smile or frown.
The Croghethan fixed its unwinking gaze on Jo and stepped closer.
"You advertised a game," it said hoarsely to Castanata, not bothering to look at him as it studied her. It completely ignored Duke.
"Yes, provided you have enough to make the betting," Castanata said gently.
For answer, the Croghethan reached a thumbless hand under its flaps of skins and showed a pouch in its belt full of small gold squares. It suddenly crouched about halfway between its thick legs and then sprang forward. Its left hand caught Jo's head from behind as she jerked back, and at the same time the ribbon-like tendril in its underarm uncoiled and wrapped around her throat. It lifted her chin with its right hand. Duke started, and Jo stayed absolutely still, not even daring to breathe as it peered down at her. No expression crossed the purplish face of the Croghethan. "Like the Thals," it said after a moment. "Beautiful and sensitive. But sluggish in its reactions."
"Far more responsive, normally," Castanata said. "But she's been imprisoned for two of her days. Once she's rested, she'll be very suitable for many Croghethan pleasures. Very appetizing."
The tentacle uncoiled from her throat. The creature released her without further comment. "Let us play then."
Duke was squinting up at it rather like an aggressive fox terrier sizing up a mastiff. "And what do we call you, Mister?" he asked.
"You may call me sir, human. Are you in the stake, or are you playing?"