An underachiever ends up playing in a game with stakes beyond his wildest expectations. But if he can't even comprehend what he's playing against how can understand what he's playing for. Or the price should he loose?
It was my best friend’s birthday and somehow I was bored out of my skull. How does that happen anyway? Birthdays are supposed to be simple. Load up on booze and hit the town with the guys right? The night started off decent, had a good meal at Bang Thai Dee – that new place that opened up in town. And then Henry got his bright idea. Let’s go have a night at the casino.
I fucking despise casinos.
I mean yes – a lot of people like gambling. It’s just not for me. Everyone’s different – I accept that. Me? Give me a good meal and a shag over the joy of playing with money. I’m not a gambler. But my main issue was that this particular casino was just tacky. Henry told me he liked the joint ‘‘cos it was posh and felt like something out of James Bond’. I guess if I squinted I could sort of see his point... except the speakers would still be blaring Michael Bublé, the staff would still look like they wanted to kill themselves, there would still be no discernible dress code (I swear I saw a man wearing sweatpants) and this establishment would still continue to be a plastic hell.
I was sat in the corner brooding and watching the regulars of this fine establishment. It was the only real form of entertainment. I saw the bar with its crumbling paint job and years old stains where the staff tried to pretend to be busy looking horribly unprofessional with their untucked shirts, I saw taxi drivers come in and risk a whole night’s wage on a spin of a wheel, I saw tiny old decrepit women who looked like they still remembered Queen Victoria manage to make a fiver last a whole night showing a kind of fiendish if useless intelligence. I saw the desperate and the greedy under glowing neon lights good only for making everything look vaguely sinister and give me a mild headache. I was just sat there feeling smug about how much better than everyone else here I was despite being in the same place. After half an hour I guess Henry finally wondered where I had wandered off to. He slams down onto the chair next to me with a shit-eating grin like he’d just been declared king of the world.
‘What’s got you so happy?’ I ask.
‘Just won a tenner on the slots,’ he smiles ‘if I win another twenty tonight I can get myself the new Star Genocide game.’
‘I think the important term there my friend is ‘if’,’ I smirk.
‘Oh stop being… well yourself. It’s my day. I’m happy. That’s what counts. Come on, let’s head up to the roof to have a fag and you can tell me what’s really bothering you.’
I try to hold out. I mean as a man god forbid I should tell my best friend my feelings. But an hour later in the bar after a few pints it all comes out. (God I hate being a lightweight).
‘Sarah’s left me!’ I wailed.
Henry looks at me confused ‘so?’
I glared at him darkly, ‘Oh I don’t fucking know, the girl I’ve been with for four years has decided I’m no longer good enough for her. I eyed him darkly
‘I mean yeah, I should just get over it like she’s some hussy I had a one nighter with, it’s just the woman I planned to settle down and have fucking kids with. But “I’m too immature” or “I’m not trying to move myself forward as a person”. I was starting to raise my voice a little too loud was getting that funny look you get from English people who are dying to hear the conversation but would just die if someone thought they were being nosy ‘You see I’m just happy to come home from my shitty job and sit around playing video games. She wants someone with ambitions beyond working at a job I hate and having kids I will eventually hate.’ I felt good to say this hit, felt like if I shouted it with enough fury it’d become true and then I could continue not caring…
Henry brushes his dirty blonde hair away from his eyes bemused, ‘yeah but… like why let it bother you, it’s women stuff she’s wrong you’re right you’ll get another chick.’
‘It bothers me because I think she’s right you dolt.’
Henry finishes off the last of his beer and stands up shaking his head, ‘maybe’ he says. ‘Maybe you have a point and she’s right about all this stuff, but whining to me don’t change anything. I know you hate this stuff but loosen up and try to enjoy yourself – for me if nothing else. I’m off to play some slots and see if I can pull.’
He sauntered off and left me with my thoughts. Fuck, the man’s usually an idiot. I hate it when he’s right. Well a broken clock is still right twice a day an’ all.
I went down to the casino floor and change a fifty for some chips; I try my luck at Blackjack. It’s about all my addled brain can handle at this moment in time. The room isn’t spinning yet but it’s not standing still either. After a few rounds of this obviously rigged game I grow frustrated. It’s just that little edge to make sure the house always wins that makes the bile rise in my throat. I start playing more aggressively – taking more risks. It works at first and I win a few hands. I make back about a tenner but then my bad luck turns even worse. I seem to have attracted the attention of this tiny, ancient man in a pristine white suit and big bottle top glasses who won’t stop staring at me like he knows me. He was playing the game before I got there. He’s quite slow and steady in his approach and unlike me seems to be winning. ‘Hit me’ the man spits out, I roll my eye’s he’s defiantly made a mistake here, I can see in his hand that he has a twenty why he’d throw away such a good hand on the chance of getting a twenty one baffles me. But surprisingly it works for him. Again and again just the right card turns up. Five times in a row he gets a twenty one. I’m starting to wonder why he hasn’t been thrown out yet but the staff don’t care. Chips are piled up all around him like a defensive fortress. I lose another two rounds and by now his attentive unblinking stare is beginning to freak me out. On the next hand just as I’m about to stick with a nineteen he draws uncomfortably close to my eye
‘Don’t stick, hit boy. Trust me’
with a snarl I forced out the words stick. The Old man chuckles. It turns out the next card in the deck is a two. He wins the game again. I take what remains of my chips and storm up to the roof. I need some godamn fresh air… again. When will this hell night end?