Vegas looked at the betting slip. What chance did it have really…14/1 against the heavy favourite, in the big race as well, complete fucking long shot! He lifted the pen to his eyebrow and scratched. A voice in his head said, “Leave now before its too late.” The shop door bursts open, all eyes are on the interruption as two snivelling shitkickers accompany some lover of sun beds and Armani. Staring deep into him, they float by close to the nose. Too close. An elbow clips his mid drift as they descend on the roulette machine.
A scene like someone he once knew. Way back. That night in Caesars Palace. Wasted on Don Perignon and Cocaine, strippers and 70 Grand to the good. Long back, a whole fucking Universe from this, and that walking overestimation stood at the gaming machine.
The Armani Kid barks orders while his stooge moves to the counter.
“You sure Tommy?” He says, looking back over his shoulder.
“Place the bet dipshit.”
The dipshit lays down a wad of cash. Then the unexpected happens, nothing but something. As the assistant picks up the money there’s a pause. She glances through the crowd straight into Vegas’s eyes. A fraction of time, and in it he sees. He sees fear mixed with something else – Respect.
“Is that really you Billy Boy?”
“Yeah Colonel its me, how you been?”
The old man looks him up and down, “Prostate Cancer and Malnutrition thanks for asking.”
“Sorry to hear that Pops, got a tip for the big race?”
“Since when do you take tips from the likes of me? See you’ve met our rising star.”
“Who is he?”
“The new you.”
“Bullshit Frankie I wouldn’t be seen dead dressed like that.”
“Things have changed while you been missing.”
“How come?” Vegas asks.
“Drugs!” The old man turns his attention to the gang at the roulette machine. “They peddle that shit on the streets then make a stake over the counter. Play with somebody else’s money.”
Vegas notices the assistant look over again; pretty thing, good tits, looks a little tired, maybe squeezes the headboard too tight.
“They cleaned this place out last month. Took it for 50 large, place was shut for a week.”
“Nature of the business” said Vegas.
Lights flash, the machine screams and the sideshow give it their best Zebedee impersonations. The kid turns, stares straight at Vegas smirking. Abbott and Costello congratulate him with puppy dog appreciation.
Around the room feet shift nervously.
Vegas holds the stare, “what’s his fucking problem.”
“You” said the old man.
The assistant takes a ticket from the stooge. A slimy looking bastard in Stone Island jeans and a Hugo Boss T-shirt. Arms animated he badgers her impatiently as she calls for the manager. Vegas strains to hear what’s said as the TV announces runners and riders for the next race.
“Fuck it, add it to what I dropped on Bonsai Baby in the next race Dave, ya can write me a check if ya short.” Armani Kid laughs. The manager develops alopecia on the spot. Again the kid darts a look at Vegas as they move towards the big screen.
At the counter Vegas asks, “How much?”
“Excuse me sir” the assistant replies.
“Smart arse with the chuckle brothers, what’s he got on the next race?”
Anxiously lowering her eyes, “we don’t want anymore trouble, its best you leave Billy.”
“Why’s that, and how come you know my name?”
“A Grand, even money! You like to place a bet? There’s customers waiting sir.”
Noise rises. The shop springs to life. Vegas looks on from behind the crowd. Bonsai Baby crosses the line in first place as the dynamic trio explode into revelry.
Vegas heads for the door; almost makes it, hears the shout, “Leaving already Mr Big Shot?”
“Business of yours is it?” He turns to see the whole crowd staring. The Colonel moves to the flank, pulls the peak of his cap, lowering his eyes.
“Heard you were good at this, maybe you just lucky.”
“Get fucked.” Vegas replies.
“Take a bet?”
The Kid smiles, his friends look on with excited faces.
“I match what’s in your pocket, horse of my choosing against that betting slip you been hanging onto so tightly.”
Vegas feels the roll of notes through his trouser pocket. The fabric aggravates callouses on his hand. Months gripping the front rope attached to a pipe from the concrete pump. Hours of overtime. This new life. Straight as a dye. The shop across the street. Jewellers. A ring sits in the window. An honest girl and a warm home to go back to every night.
“Gotta say I’ve been having second thoughts, don’t think the distance is right for my horse.” His fingers loosen, hand opens, the crumpled paper drops to the floor.
Armani moves in close. His forehead on Vegas’s nose, sweet liquor breath rises into his nostrils. “Like I said, lucky thats all.”
The Kid spins round Michael Jackson style; throws his arms skyward, announcing victory, he shouts, “All of it Dave, fifty big ones I took from ya, stick it on Click and Collect next race.”
“Never mind but but but you stuttering fuck, this still a bookies isn’t it, hurry up man they’re at the gates.”
What happened next is better seen than told…
In a betting shop a long way from Las Vegas a group of men stand watching a horse race on TV. An old man pushes up the peak of his cap, leans into the wall and lights a cigarette. One betting shop assistant glares at an individual who watches from way back near the door. Eleven horses complete the first lap. Four fell attempting the fences. The punters scream as the horses reach the second circuit. The manager grips his chest, falling to the floor. A button pressed, shutters screech as they lower and lock into place. The 6/4 favourite Click and Collect heads the field at the final fence. He makes the jump. 100 yards to go. The small crowd go wild. The camera pans back slightly. One horse makes a final dash. Franticly the rider deploys the whip, he’s gaining ground, its looking close.
“Open these fucking shutters bitch or I swear I will carve you up.” The kid yells.
“What happened, thought you were good at this” says Vegas “or just lucky?”
“You fuck off ya has been, think coz ya scored once in Las Vegas, I’m telling you ya don’t know jack shit.”
Raising an arm out straight Vegas opens his had. A crumpled piece of paper in his palm.
“Take it, look what ya could have won.”
A shriek echos the room as Vegas turns the door handle. Pausing to smile, he knows what’s behind it. 14/1 The winner ‘Resurrection’, “Good luck with all this kid, you’re gonna need it.” Not looking back he walks out, crosses the street and heads towards the Jewellers.
I first had the idea to write this six months ago. Sat down, fired up the keyboard and waited for the Muse to show up. Like I have any control over that. I quickly shut the whole thing down and done something else instead. It was the beginning of what has proved to be the most challenging period of my recovery and maybe even life itself. I’d be lying if I said I’d never thought of a drink. I have, many times. Twice I’ve been on my way. Stopped at the line by something outside of or deep down within me. Im still no closer to knowing what that is. All I know is that it is, and I continue to seek the experience of Him, Her, It, or none of the above. My job is just to remain teachable and open to the lessons that often come disguised as demons, then reveal themselves as blessings later down the path.
I love you JJ, trust the journey, wherever it takes you, “More will be revealed to you and to us…”
“Live in the layers not on the litter.” – Stanley Kunitz
“My Father didn’t tell me how to live, he lived, and let me watch him do it.” – Clarence Kelland
“For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” – Matt 16:26
D&O in Fresno