Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lucky When I Want to Be

This is a story I wrote some time ago, slightly revised and updated.  It is one of my better ones:


Lucky When I Want to Be

Marcia Beaumont entered the casino with unmistakable confidence.  Her eyes glittered with intelligence, energy and a joy de vivre that set her apart from the rest of the Vegas crowd.  She was dressed in simple, tasteful clothes, the kind worn by a proud working-class woman of the South.

Thus it was that, in dress and spirit, she was the exact opposite of the typical Vegas casino patrons, with their garishly bright clothes and dull lifeless faces ensnared by the hypnotism of the gambling and the flashing lights.  She was also young, where they were old.  She was in her late twenties, but her good health and alertness made her look slightly younger.

She was not, however, beautiful.  She wore no makeup and apparently made no effort to alter her appearance.  She was a little too tall and bony.  Her face was a bit too strong and angular, and her hands showed the roughness and slight calluses of hard work.  She had dirt and engine oil under her unadorned fingernails.

However, such details as might have caused men to overlook another woman never seemed to matter where Marcia was concerned.  It came as little surprise when she felt the security cameras following her.  She looked up at one of the featureless, opaque black bulbs in the ceiling and flashed a smile at the camera operator.  Let him admire her.  This was her night.

After she had passed the rows of slot machines, her attitude shifted subtly.  She relaxed the focus of her eyes, loosened her body, and began to wander, letting her feet go in a direction of their own choosing.  In this state, she drifted serenely, sacrificing neither grace nor poise, but changing direction occasionally, as if being led around by a gentle host.

After about two minutes of drifting through the casino, she stopped at a roulette wheel.  She straightened herself, blinked once, and looked around, her eyes as sharp and keen as before.  She then put her hand in her purse and began to feel around.  If her Walk had been done properly, she would know.

Marcia smiled as her fingers closed around a small flat circular object.  She pulled it out.  It was a $100 casino chip.  It felt lucky.

"Place your bets."  The roulette wheel was being operated by a brisk, no-nonsense middle-aged man with balding hair.  Marcia idly held her chip between the index and middle fingers of her left hand and let the hand drift over the velvet table.  She unfocused her eyes again, and loosened the muscle tone in her hand.  The chip dropped onto number 27.

As the wheel spun, Marcia watched it with a serene confidence while the rest of the crowd waited in tense anticipation.  When it stopped on 27, her only reaction was a slight smile.  The other patrons cheered for her as the wheel operator slid a pile of chips toward Marcia.

Another, slightly different, camera focused on her.  The man behind the camera waved his supervisor over from the other end of the camera room.

The atmosphere of the camera room was the exact opposite of the atmosphere of the casino floor it watched.  It was dark, dirty, and grim, but also but efficient and businesslike.

The person largely responsible for this was slouched against a wall.  His casino security uniform hung loosely and shabbily around his scrawny form.  He possessed an utterly ageless ugliness.  He could have been a sixteen year old ravaged by heroin, or a sixty year old ravaged by a hard life.  Some people wondered what his function was.  He was too weak to be a bouncer and he never seemed to watch the cameras.  He simply stood around all day, staring into space, his sunken eyes focused on nothing.

There were now four people crowded around the monitor, looking at Marcia and holding a lively discussion.  Phrases like "five in a row now, that's impossible" and "don't see any machines or counters" floated out of the hubbub.

After Marcia's sixth win, The supervisor made his decision.  He looked up from the camera, turned toward the back of the room, and opened his mouth.  But the sunken man spoke first, in a shallow rasping voice that reminded listeners of bronchitis. "Yes, I know.  She is one of mine."

Marcia had just collected the massive pile of chips from her seventh win when she felt a dark presence approach.  She turned around to see the sunken man approach her.  He spoke to her in a voice that suggested he was being as polite as he possibly could be, even though it was something he was not good at.  "We need to talk.  Please come with me."

Marcia had not been prepared for this.  She knew, of course, that she would attract official attention, but she expected it to come in the form of several men who each weighed three times as much as this one.

Marcia straightened her back, drawing herself up to her full 5'11" height and affecting an attitude of regal disdain.  "If you want to talk, we can talk here."  Her voice suggested both that she was willing and able to make a scene and that she knew that the crowd would take her side if that occurred.

The sunken man simply stared at her silently.  It was the sort of silence that made many people uncomfortable, and caused them to start talking to fill up the silence.  But Marcia was made of sterner stuff.  After a few seconds of silence, she simply turned her back toward the sunken man and stepped back toward the table.

"You will look into my eyes."  The sunken man spoke these words with surprising firmness, and with an air if un-opposable finality.  It was almost as if he was simply stating what the future would hold.

Marcia turned back to him, curious about what this little man would say next.  But he did not say anything.  Once she looked down to him disdainfully and met his eyes, he simply stared at her.

But in the mind of Marcia Beaumont, a voice said, "You are not alone."

Marcia had never fainted in her life.  She had never, in fact, lost consciousness by any means other than a natural slumber.  So it was quite disorienting for her when she realized that she had halfway collapsed, and was being supported by a spry old man and his stout wife.  The voice of the sunken man sounded like the echo of an old loudspeaker system.  "It would seem that the excitement and the crowd have gotten to you.  You will collect your chips, come with me, and have a cold glass of orange juice on the house to make you feel better."

Marcia got to her feet unsteadily, her weakened, wobbly knees barely supporting her weight.  She knew that she was too strong to have collapsed for such mundane reasons, and she knew that any kind of mental shock could not have made her collapse.  It was obvious that this person had done something to her.  She decided that she wanted to learn about it this person and his talents.

She smiled to the concerned faces of the crowd and followed the sunken man away, now steady on her feet.  He led her toward a door that opened into a small, tastefully decorated conference room.  A waiter in a tuxedo was leaving as they approached.  He held the door for them, then closed it once they had moved inside.  Inside there were four chairs and a small table with a large glass of orange juice on it.  The orange juice had a coating of shaved ice on top.  Marcia picked up the glass, brought it to her lips, smelled alcohol, and put the glass down.

The sunken man began to speak to Marcia.  "How did you win seven straight roulette spins?"

She looked at him defiantly and disdainfully. "I can be lucky when I want to be."

He looked at her sideways. "Luck of the Irish?"

"That's what my granddad used to say."

"I can not allow you to break the bank.  You should have shown some restraint."

"I was doing good.  I wanted to keep going."

The sunken man sighed, and began to talk softly, as if to himself.  "Winnings always go up by a statistically significant amount whenever there is a full moon.  That is a fairly well known fact, but most people do not understand what it means.  We accept a certain amount of background talent as a cost of doing business, but if we let people get away with too much, we would go bankrupt."

He continued his odd lilting monologue.  Marcia was bored by his stupid self-absorption, but she felt no need to stop him at the moment.  "Why is it that Americans feel the need to go to casinos when they realize that they can do unusual things?  People in other cultures might try to better their life by getting a nice person to fall in love with them, or starting a successful business, but Americans always go for the flashing lights and the quick buck.  It makes me sad, really."

He paused, and looked her in the eyes.  "You are a better person than that, Marcia Beaumont.  You do not need or want the instant cash from a casino.  Las Vegas is not for you.  You want to live a simple, comfortable life surrounded by friends and family."

Marcia knew exactly what he was doing.  He was trying to trick her into leaving without her money.  But she would not be fooled.  She had always been in charge of her own destiny, and that would not stop now.  She smiled to herself and let him keep talking.

"I was once like you.  I came here, thinking I would make some money and then leave.  But money has power, here more than anywhere.  I can never leave now.  You will not be trapped as I was.  You will go out there and you will start to lose.  Not all at once, of course, but you will spend all night having fun and eating free food and drinking free drinks and when you have about a thousand more dollars then when you came in you will decide to call it a night and you will leave.  You will make the choice that I could not, and you will leave this place behind you.  Your winnings will barely cover the cost of this trip, and so you will neither gain nor lose anything and therefore this place will have no power over you.  You will go home and you will be happy."

The sunken man stopped talking.  Marcia saw him for the hollow shell that he was and decided that she would never allow herself to have anything in common with him.  She drank her orange juice and left the conference room and started playing poker with people who she could tell needed money.  When she had $1400 worth of chips, she cashed them in and left the casino.

Marcia Beaumont returned to South Georgia where she lived a long, prosperous, and happy life.

The sunken man stayed in the casino.

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