Out of Luck
"How did you go bankrupt?" Bill asked.
"Two ways," Mike said. "Gradually, then suddenly."
-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
"Two ways," Mike said. "Gradually, then suddenly."
-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Like most men, Nick's life revolved around getting lucky. Everything from the way he talked to the clothes he bought to the job he got was for that purpose, and although his luck was mediocre at best, a hot streak every now and then would convince him otherwise. So when he called in sick to drive to Vegas one morning, he thought he'd get lucky in more ways than one.
The day was off to a good start - there was no traffic. Nick hated L.A. traffic. As a matter of fact, he hated most things about L.A. He had moved there thinking it was the City of Angels, but he soon realized that it was just a giant suburb with palm trees, smog, and girls who looked like girls in any other part of the country. The only things he liked about the city were its proximity to Vegas and its weather during nine months of the year, and seeing how it was July, all Nick thought about during the four-and-a-half hour drive was playing Blackjack in an air-conditioned casino. Sometime during the drive, he thought about playing Blackjack in an air-conditioned casino while smoking cigarettes, and he instinctively reached for his pack in his suit jacket's pocket until he reminded himself that he would need it later. He was proud of himself for being disciplined.
After what felt like an eternity, he finally saw the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign and let out a sigh of relief. It didn't even matter that traffic intensified on the strip, because as he drove past the various Vegas landmarks, he saw couples posing for pictures and thought of his first trip to Vegas with his ex-girlfriend, Katie, and how they did the same thing. He couldn't help but laugh. Now he had better things to do, like valet park his car at his favorite casino, The Oasis, in order to gamble as soon as possible.
Nick exited his black BMW and saw a short man in a red hotel uniform walking towards him.
"Welcome to The Oasis, sir," the valet said, handing him a ticket.
Nick said nothing and gave him a dollar tip. The valet acknowledged it with a nod and entered his car while Nick entered the hotel. He walked through the lobby full of families and took the elevator up to the casino floor, and when the doors opened, he felt at home.
The air was full of money. He could only hear two things: the excitement of winning money or the agony of losing it. It resonated from the old people at the slot machines to the professionals at the poker tables, and it even echoed from the waitresses walking around in skin-tight black dresses, giving a smile here and getting a tip there as their heels clicked around the floor. It was intoxicating. Nick rushed to the Blackjack tables at the far-end of the floor as if he had found an oasis in a desert, and once he sat in an open stool at the nearest table to his left, he couldn't wait to start drinking.
"Hello, sir," the dealer said, shuffling the decks. His voice was the only one at the table that lacked any emotion. The rest of the table was either agonizing over whether to cut their losses or muttering at the dealer for bad luck.
"Hi," said Nick, taking his wallet out of his rear pocket. He carefully counted twenty $100 bills and placed them on the table. "I want half in $25 chips and the other half in $50 chips." He also placed a card on the table. "And I'm a member here."
The dealer checked the money, gave him his blue and green chips, and handed his card to one of the pit bosses circling the tables like a German Shepherd. Nick stacked his chips in a neat pile, took a cigarette from his pack, lit it and exhaled.
"That was a mistake," the bald middle-aged man next to him said. There were bags under his eyes and he didn't look at Nick as he spoke; he was fixated on his small stack of chips.
"What was?" Nick said.
"Deciding to play at this table. The luck's been awful."
Nick ignored him and took another drag. Although he would have preferred to move simply to escape the man's depressing demeanor, he had learned to accept these types of players for what they were: unavoidable presences at any casino. He was looking around the table for an ashtray when one magically appeared by his side, along with a woman's voice behind him that said, "Here you go, sir. Would you like anything to drink?"
Nick turned around with a smile, hoping to see a beautiful cocktail waitress, but his smile vanished when he saw that she was old. She wasn't even that old; she was just too old for Nick's smile. He turned his back to her and said, "Gin and tonic."
"I'll have another beer," the man at the other end of the table said. He was one of those people who not only wore sunglasses indoors, but at a Blackjack table. Nick seriously considered moving when the dealer looked at him and said, "Would you like to cut, sir?"
It was an offer he couldn't refuse and he was glad he didn't, because his first hand was a blackjack. Things were looking up, and he felt good enough to give a $10 tip to the waitress once she had returned with his drink.
However, the others at the table weren't so lucky. The thin man to the left of the bald man had sixteen when the dealer was showing ten, and he couldn't decide what to do, much to the annoyance of the rest of the players.
"Just hit it," the man in the sunglasses said. "You have to."
"But I feel like I'll bust," the thin man said. He looked at the dealer. "What does the book say?"
"The book says hit," the dealer said colorlessly.
The thin man reluctantly tapped his fingers on the table. The dealer promptly dealt him a king and collected his bet.
"Fuck," the thin man said. "I knew it. That's it. That's my last hand."
"That's what you said two hours ago," the bald man said.
"I know, but this time I mean it." The thin man began biting his nails.
"I think he's on something," the bald man muttered to Nick.
Nick looked at the thin man, whose eyes were bloodshot and dilated.
"You might be right," Nick said.
"What do you think it is?"
Nick shrugged. "Probably Adderall. Maybe blow, but I doubt it. I really don't care as long as he doesn't mess up the deck."
The bald man chuckled, and they all kept playing, drinking, smoking and losing.
Besides Nick. Although he lost a few hands once in a while, he kept on winning and winning big. At first, he had bet conservatively thinking that it was a momentary spell of good fortune, but the combination of alcohol and adrenaline had increased his bets to the point where he had $10,000 after starting with $2,000.
"It must be your lucky day," the dealer said.
"I guess so," Nick said. He checked his watch and was shocked to see that five hours had gone by. He forgot how easy it was to lose track of time in a casino.
"If you don't mind me giving you some advice, sir, I'd suggest that you call it a day. I've been working here for twenty years, and the thing about lucky days is that they always turn into unfortunate nights."
Nick paused. On the one hand, he loved playing Blackjack, and at that exact time, he felt invincible. On the other hand, he knew that the dealer was right - if you stay at a casino long enough, the house always wins. He counted his money and although the last thing he wanted to do was stop, he stood from his stool and felt his legs go numb.
"Good choice, sir," the dealer said.
"Thank you," Nick said, handing the dealer a $100 chip.
"No, thank you. Enjoy your winnings."
Nick walked to the cashier and handed his winnings to a fat man, who counted his chips and handed him back a hundred crisp bills. The money made him feel powerful, and as he walked to the exit, he started dreaming about what he could do with $10,000 - a couple of tailored suits, a table at a club, and maybe even a cruise to the Caribbean. But before he left, he stopped to watch the one casino game he hated most: roulette.
Roulette was the only game that gave you no control. At least in slots or craps you could pull the lever or roll the die, but in roulette, everything was out of your hands besides your guess. Nick had lost too much money there before, and he vowed not to repeat his mistake.
"Aren't you going to take a spin?"
He looked around and saw a beautiful girl in a red dress standing and smiling behind him. She wasn't just another beautiful girl, though. She was the type that could send chills down your spine with a simple touch of the arm. Naturally Nick smiled back and said,
"I don't think so. Why?"
"Oh, no reason." she said, licking her lips. "It's just a shame, that's all."
He smiled again, but this time, his eyes did, too, and once they moved up and down her slim body, he went against his better judgment.
"Well, I could play once. Or twice."
She laughed. "Good." She walked up to him and extended her hand. "I'm Sarah, by the way."
He took it. "I'm Nick. Nice to meet you." She looked vaguely familiar, but then again, a lot of girls looked vaguely familiar to him when he was drunk. So he forgot about it and walked to the roulette table with her.
"So what do you do, Nick?" she said, sitting.
"I'm an executive at a movie studio," he said, sitting next to her.
She raised her eyebrows. "Wow. You must be a somebody."
"I guess you could say that."
It was a lie, of course; he was nothing but a junior accountant at a movie studio. But like all lies, it was based on reality. Nick didn't even think of it as a lie - he was simply expanding the truth.
She flashed her eyes suggestively. "Well, I guess you're going to bet big, then."
He took $2,500, put it on the table, and told the dealer to put it on red. It was an incredibly rash decision, but her tongue had given him a false sense of security. He was so confident that he wasn't even looking at the roulette spin; he was staring at her.
The ball spun around like a merry-go-round for twenty seconds. Then it landed on black.
"I'm sorry," Sarah said.
The dealer took his chips and cleared the table for the next spin. Nick was stunned.
"Are you playing again, sir?" the dealer said.
"I think I should go," Nick said.
"Play one more time," Sarah said, touching his hand.
Her warm, smooth skin felt nice after having held stale cigarettes and cold drinks for five hours.
"Alright." He looked at the electronic board, and it said that the ball had landed on red 70% of the time that day, so he put $2,500 on red again. In reality the ball always had an approximately 48% of landing on either red or black, but Nick figured that since the ball had just landed on black, the odds were with him. Plus, he was having a lucky day, and he couldn't wait to win his money back.
The dealer spun the silver ball and Nick's eyes followed its every rotation. As it slowed down, it looked as if it would land on red until it took a tiny bump and fell on black.
"Don't worry, Nick," Sarah said. "It happens to the best of us."
He couldn't believe it. $5,000 had vanished in less than a minute, and it made him angry, which was the last thing anyone wanted to be in a casino. He needed to prove to himself that he could win it all again. After that, he would walk out the doors and into the night. He put his remaining $5,000 on red.
"I thought you were going?" Sarah said.
"This is my last one."
She smiled. "And then you'll buy me dinner, right?"
He gazed at her red lips and dazzling white teeth. "Of course."
They watched together as the wheel turned once more, and for the first time that day, Nick was worried. His salary was modest, he still had student loans to pay after graduating college two years before, and he had been blowing whatever savings he had left. Losing $2,000 would hurt, and what would make it even worse was that he was once up by $8,000. So he did something he only did at casinos and golf courses: he prayed. He figured God wouldn't let the ball land on black three times in a row.
But He did, and just like that, Nick lost everything. He felt the color draining from his face as he stood and fumbled for his cigarette pack.
"What's the matter?" Sarah said. standing. "That must be chump change to you."
Nick said nothing as he lit a cigarette.
"And you know what they say. What goes around, comes around."
"Sure," Nick said.
Sarah smiled. "Don't worry, though. Dinner's on me."
Nick had forgotten about that. He steadied himself with the thought that the night wouldn't be a total waste.
"That's alright. Where would you like to go?"
"No, I insist. It would only be fair."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm Sarah. Sarah Silver."
He suddenly felt cold and hollow, and he remembered where he had seen her face: in the paper next to her father, Sean Silver, the owner of The Oasis.
She took a card from her purse and gave it to him. "You forgot your card at the Blackjack table. I was supposed to just give it back to you and wish you a nice day, but I must have forgot."
"I bet you did."
"Aw, don't be like that. It's nothing personal, just business. And besides, we comped you a meal." She smiled. "Have a nice day, Nick."
She turned around and walked away towards the blackjack tables, and as Nick watched her disappear, he saw his Blackjack dealer looking at him.
He was shaking his head.