Disclaimer: No, Jonathan is not mine. Although I borrow him from time to time, I will always give him back in (almost) pristine condition.
A/N: Hey guys, by popular demand (well, three people) I have written another fic! Jonathan has a special place in my heart, because he's funny and English and a bit of an idiot, and I love John Hannah. So, this could be the start of a whole series of episodes about his shenanigans in Cairo. If you like it, you know what to do!
"Well then, I think it's about time we turned them over, don't you think so boys?"
Jonathan gave a smug grin and surveyed the assortment of poker faces arrayed around the card table. The bleary, blood shot eyes of a surly Irishman scrutinised him suspiciously, and the shifty little Arab opposite him eyed the substantial pot with ill concealed greed.
"Come on now, show Johnny what you've got, gentleman," he said in a cocky voice, almost a hundred pounds up and bolstered by about half a bottle of bourbon. He took another swig from his tumbler, dribbling a little down his chin and onto his collar in his eagerness and excitement. It didn't really matter; his shirt was already filthy with sweat, dirt, and various other stains. Was that lipstick? He brushed his knuckles against his lapel, with that self assured nonchalance that is so quintessentially English.
"Two pair," the Yank to his left drawled, muffled by the soggy cigar clenched lazily in his teeth. The tanned American raised an eyebrow and proudly placed his cards fanned out in front of him.
"Oh, good show old boy!" Jonathan congratulated, typically blasé and obviously not worried by the hand. "You?" he said to the suspicious Irishman in the battered felt cap.
"Nuthin'" he muttered back bitterly, slapping his hand of cards face down in disgust.
"Oh, bad luck O'Brian!" Jonathan commiserated, even more confident now.
"Kiss my arse, you weasel."
"Now, now! No need to get nasty- we're all friends here," Jonathan brushed off the insult with good humour, thick skinned as a dim witted rhino. "Have another drink, man!" pouring him another three fingers of Jim Beam.
O'Brian grunted, sneered, snatched up the glass and took a huge swig, slammed it back down again, empty.
"Well, I'll tell you what I got," the other Yank suddenly put in, "Bupkiss!" He snorted, looking across at his buddy with an apologetic little shrug. "A pair," he announced dejectedly, revealing his useless cards.
"Well, neither of us are getting our hands on 'a pair' tonight," the other muttered, looking longingly at one of the belly dancers shimmying her amble bosom at a sleazy patron on the other side of the bar.
"Come along," Jonathan prompted the quiet Arab sitting opposite him, "what do you have, my shifty little friend?"
The dark skinned man peeked up from under his maroon turban, and silently laid his cards out, one by one; ten of clubs….…..the jack…...…queen……...king………
Surely, surely he can't have a………yes he bloody well does! Jonathan thought, as the man finally placed down the dog-eared white card with its solitary emblem in the centre; the ace of clubs.
"Bloody cheat!" Jonathan cried, jumping up from his chair in abject outrage. "You took that from another pack, you sneaky little bugger!"
"Allah yilanak! I did not!" the indignant Egyptian yelled back.
"Don't you bloody well swear at me, you filthy little beggar! I know you cheated!"
"That's a pretty big accusation there, Johnny, you got any proof?" the first American asked, halting the vehement exchange of insults with a raised hand.
"Well," Jonathan blustered, "I have an ace of clubs here that says you're full of it, sir!" he levelled an accusatory finger at the dark face of the man in question, who was looking daggers back at him.
"You are the cheat then," the accused countered in defence.
"How dare you! I would never have-"
"Shut it the both of you!" the American interrupted, "Only one way to settle this- both show us your cards. They can't both be from the same deck, we'll judge which is which."
"You? I don't think I trust a couple of cowboys like you to judge impartially- how do I know you're not in league with him?" Jonathan whined.
"You suspicious little bastard!" the Yank yelled back, standing up and spitting out his cigar, ready to knock his pompous English head off.
"Quit it Jack!" his buddy said sternly, jumping up to get between him and the scrawny Brit he was about to pulverise. "He's right, we need an impartial judge. There must be someone in here…" he scanned the dingy, smoke filled den of iniquity, and his eyes seized on a tall, blonde man sipping a clear drink at the bar. He was neat and clean shaven, wearing a crumpled linen shirt, khaki breeches and brown leather boots. Of all the people in this disreputable little gambling den, he had the least dishonest face, or so the American seemed to think.
"What about him?"
"Sure, Billy, why not?" Jack replied, seating himself again, "He looks like he has his wits about him." A rare quality indeed in this place, where everything, from women to whiskey, was cheap and in abundance.
"Excuse me sir," Jonathan called, "would you mind terribly-"
"I'll ask him!" Jack said impatiently. "Hey buddy! These guys have gotten themselves into a little dispute. Wondering if you could settle it for us?"
"If I can," the blonde man replied amiably, putting down his tall, half finished glass and strolling over to the gambling table in the back of the bar. "What it's all about?"
"Well, somehow we seem to have too many aces wearing the same suit. You just gotta judge which one matches the rest of deck."
"I see," he said, nodding in understanding. That was indeed a bit of a problem. "Chuck them over here then, gentlemen."
The shifty Arab reluctantly slid his card across the table, and after eyeing up the new comer for a second or two, Jonathan did the same. The two Englishmen, one blonde and tanned, the other dark haired and flush faced, exchanged momentary glances before the blonde picked up the identical aces and turned them over in his hands. He rubbed them with his light fingers, feeling their thickness, texture, flicking them with his nail to listen for the sound they made. Then he inspected the geometric patterns decorating their backs, peering into the designs for minute differences of colour or style, and nodded with the authority of an expert.
"Now let me look at the rest of the deck."
Jack handed it to him, and the man began to shuffle the pack deftly, chopping it into sections with the swiftest movement of his fingers, sliding them over each other, the cards in constant motion, his hands a blur. Jonathan gave him a warning look, but the blonde man merely smiled back as he picked a single, random card out of the deck. Then he applied the same tests to this specimen. The players looked on keenly, the Americans with more disinterested curiosity than the two men whose fortunes relied on the outcome of this judgement. The Irishman poured himself another drink and gulped it down out of boredom, waiting for the next play to start.
"So?" Jack inquired, after a reasonable period had elapsed for the man's contemplation.
"Well, I'd say without a doubt that one of these cards is from another deck." The blonde stranger said decisively. Everybody, except the Irishman, who couldn't care less, groaned.
"Yes, we know that, but which one?" Jonathan demanded impatiently.
"You see the stem of the club on this one?" they all leaned in for a closer look, "well, it's shorter than the other. Of course that could mean anything, because every card is a little different-"
"Which card is the bloody fake!" Jonathan screeched.
"The other one."
"How can you tell?" Jack asked curiously.
"Different quality card. The lacquer on it isn't as good, that's why it's so dog-eared. It's thinner."
The Arab jumped up in fury and started spouting obscenities, bringing his fist down hard on the table, sending the mound of coins and notes into a clinking little landslide. He tried to take back his stake, which was all he had in the world down to the last piaster.
"Ah, come on, caught out fair and square buddy," Jack bore down on him with a frown, all of a sudden on Jonathan's side.
"Yes, come on Khalid, give me what I'm owed," Jonathan said blithely, unaware of exactly what Khalid thought that was.
"I'll give you what you deserve…" the hot blooded Egyptian sneered at him, and in a motion far quicker than any of the other's sluggish reactions- he was the only one not to have touched a drop of liquor- he launched at Jonathan. No one had even seen him unsheathe a twinkling blade from a scabbard concealed beneath his robes, but now it was pressed against the naïve Englishman's Adam's apple. Khalid was not in the business of idle threats either, he would gladly relinquish the winnings to slit Jonathan's throat. His honour was worth more.
Suddenly the rickety card table was nearly turned over by the reactions of the three men. Jack pulled a Smith&Wesson, Billy pulled a Derringer, Jonathan pulled a hamstring trying to scramble out of the way.
"Hey, shortstack!" Jack jeered at Khalid, "that looks like three against one."
"Two," Jonathan hastily corrected him, leaning away from the knife, "I don't want any part of this!" he whined pathetically, trying to back away with his hands up defensively.
"Right the first time," The blonde man said menacingly, stepping forward to join the standoff. No one moved, five pairs of eyes darting from one to the other. Jonathan's wild blue eyes were transfixed by the malevolent black ones staring their deadly intent straight back at him.
"Come on gentlemen," the stranger said conciliatorily, "there are no winners here if blood is spilt."
"And what does it have to do with you?" the Arab snapped at him, still glaring into Jonathan's eyes, ignoring the two guns trained on his head.
"His Majesty's Army keeps the peace in Cairo," the blonde soldier stated evenly, drawing his service revolver from the waistband of his khaki's and placing it against Khalid's eye socket. He cocked the trigger, and the audible click! made the hopelessly outnumbered man jump slightly.
"Do the smart thing, sir," the soldier said, pressing the cold barrel against the Arab's tightly shut eyelid. Khalid didn't need to be told twice. Grudgingly removing the knife from against Jonathan's throat he backed away from the uncomfortable pressure on his eyeball, and slunk off, his eyes constantly trained on the soldier with a contemptuous glare. The rest of them heard him moving through the bar towards the exit, spitting curses and vowing revenge on Jonathan.
Jonathan let out a huge sigh of relief, and whistled shakily.
"Sorry about that, boys, seems our little friend is a sore loser!" he said breezily, straightening his lapel and brushing down his trousers. "Thanks for the help, sir, but I could have handled it." He swaggered, with typical public school bravado.
"Yeah, I know." The soldier smirked, jamming his gun back in the gap between his waistband and the small of his back. The two Americans holstered their weapons too, and sat down with slightly shell shocked expressions. The only one seemingly unaffected by the little incident was O'Brian, who had picked up the deck and was shuffling it sloppily, his blood shot eyes glazed, nose and cheeks glowing with drink.
"Right! Well then, let's see what I've won………" Jonathan sat down and cradled the pot with his arms, about to gather it to him when Billy suddenly had a thought.
"Hey, we haven't even seen your cards yet, buddy!" he laughed, as if it was irrelevant.
"Yeah, he's right Johnny. Whaddaya have anyway?" Jacked asked, curious, not that he doubted the Englishman had the winning hand.
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry, didn't I turn them over?" Jonathan asked innocently, knowing perfectly well he hadn't, guarding them jealously in his breast pocket the whole time. He only had to beat two pair, now that Khalid had been shown up as a dirty rotten cheat.
"Well, there's really no point, but if you insist………" he unceremoniously laid down his remaining cards, and two pair was exactly what he had; a pair of kings, and a pair of aces. With the now authenticated card the soldier still held in his left hand, that made a full house.
"Jesus! No wonder you looked so smug!" Jack chuckled.
"Well, I think that's my cue to quit," Jonathan said, cheerfully sweeping coins into his hat and stuffing wads of notes into his pockets. "Pleasure doing business with you, fellas."
He got up and smiled at the blonde soldier, his lucky charm as it seemed. "Join me in a drink sir?"
"No thanks, it's late. I should get back to the fort." He said reluctantly, starting towards the door.
"By Jove, you're right there!" Jonathan exclaimed, looking at his watch. "See you fellas!" he called to the remaining three players, O'Brian already dealing the next hand.
The two Americans merely raised their eyes in cursory acknowledgement, more than happy to see the back of the troublesome gent. Then they went back to scrutinising the Irishman intently, now each more suspicious of their fellow players than ever. Jonathan left the bar and emerged into the sticky night air.
Outside he clapped the tall blonde man on the back of the shoulder.
"I say! Well done Stephen! You almost had me convinced!" he chortled. "Told you it'd work better if you shaved the beard- a bearded man has something to hide, my dear old Mum always used to say. You look much more trustworthy without it." Stephen simply grinned back, rubbing his smooth chin which was still a little strange to him. The scam had worked better this time, but he did miss his face furniture.
"Now, what did we agree on? Twenty per cent?" Jonathan asked.
"That doesn't sound like something I'd agree to………but alright. Sixty pounds it is."
"Hey! Don't try to swindle me as well! You won more than two hundred, more like five hundred!" Stephen objected loudly.
"Was it really? I wasn't actually counting. Come on, I'd never swindle a partner!"
Jonathan looked around him, reluctant to count out that sort of amount in plain sight in a back alley. "Let's go find some belly dancers."