Beginnings

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  “C’mon, c’mon, you fucker.” Ding. Brrpt. Clang. Ding. Ding. Ding. “Great. A miserable three cherries.  What’s that gonna get me. Not even the ticket back to Red Bank. Fucker.” Ding. Brrpt. Clang. Ding. Brrpt. Clang.

Karl had been sitting at the same slot machine since the 6:35 pm NJ Transit bus had dropped him off by the valet station of the casino.  It had taken him five minutes flat to walk in, order a gin and tonic and get to work on slot machine number 35.  His lucky number.   It was 1:35 a.m. and bitch hadn’t really rewarded him yet.  His weekly $350 had been cashed in as quickly as he had ordered the g and t and it was gone hours ago.  He had dipped in the savings, the little he had, and had been a pretend high-roller somewhere between 10 pm and 10:30 pm.

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  

“There’s gotta be some give in you,” he spoke softly to the slot machine, “Remember that time, that one time, you gave me $1200?”  He licked his lips at the memory.  He had blown the cash on booze, Shirley Temple, no, not Temple, Semple. Not that wasn’t it. Whatever.  Whatshername.  Her sweet ass.  He had gotten a suite at the Bellagio, pretended he was a high roller.  Walked in all cocky and full of spunk.

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  

Nothing.  That had been a sweet night. Shirley-whats-her-name had given up one of her regulars, just for him.  

Oh yes.  That had been a grand time and now this bitch of a machine wasn’t yielding to his powers.

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.   

“Fuckin’ bitch!” He said this a little too loudly.  He cleared his throat, pretending that something had gotten stuck in his throat.  He didn’t want to be kick out again, like had happened at Caesar’s that one time.  

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  

But the security guard, the look-out man, the big cheese at Caesar’s was a fucker.  Peter.  Pete, they called him.  He ran a regular game in the basement of the garage. Fuckin’ Pete, had screwed him out of a chunk of money.  Money well deserved, Karl recalled.  He had had two aces in his hand and the river had been another ace.  Fuckin’ Pete just happened to have a King instead of a Queen.  

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.   “C’mon, what are the odds this time you make me a winner.”

###

We’ve been sleeping for days,” she said while yawning.  “I don’t know if we’ll ever get out of this shit hole.”  He turned his head towards her, sized her up with puffy eyes.  He was trying to remember who she was and if she was important to him.  The fact that they had probably fucked hours earlier didn’t necessarily mean she was important.

He turned his head away from her, fighting the urge to vomit, wondering if the bottle of whisky was by the bed where he usually stashed it.  That thought made his mouth water and, like clockwork, his hands began to tremble gently.  He thought about getting up and what that would entail.  “Too much,” he warned to no one in particular.

“Yea you did have too much,” she responded.

But he wasn’t listening; couldn’t hear her.  His thoughts were slowly coming together like pieces of a puzzle.  Karl wondered if he had the strength to roll on his side, pick himself up just enough to reach down between the bed and the nightstand.  The bottle was there.  T had to be there.  He tried lifting his arm.  Nothing.  His muscles felt like liquid lead.  

Shit.

He took stock of the room, the damp sheets, and the faint smell of cheap perfume that this thing, this woman was exuding.  He slowly turned his head again, to better examine her.  She was standing in front of the mirror, preening like a schoolgirl.

She must be fifty, if she’s a day old, he thought.

Her hair must have been blonde once, but age and hard drinking had given it a shade of musty gray.  Or maybe she wants it like that he thought as he let out a low grunt.
“You are an animal,” she said, while fidgeting with her hair.  “But sweetheart, it’s almost noon and we’ve been cooped up in here for three days.”

She turned to him and in her best Monroesque, breathy coo added, “But baby, don’t you wanna take me somewhere?” she peered through the single window, layer of dirt so thick, it was hard to figure out whether it was cloudy, or clear; dusk or dawn.

“It’s something gorgeous outside,” she purred.

“She’s still drunk,” he thought. “Yea, alright, we’ll give it a shot,” and with that, he reached for the bottle, slowly uncapped it and took a swig.

“Honey? You alright?” a voice all sugar, molasses and alcohol came from somewhere far away.  “Honey, you must’a passed out.”  Something cool on his forehead which quickly brought about the nausea and made his head spin more than usual. Or was it the ultra-saccharine voice calling him to?

“Get the fuck out of my way,” he growled, “I’m gonna throw-up.” Sure enough not one second after he had uttered the words that bitter, burning liquid came out of his mouth, on to his hand and pretty much over anything around him.

“Now look at what you done!” screamed, more like screeched, the person in front of him, “You’ve gone and ruined my dress! We were gonna go out! You promised!”  And with that he heard a door slam, and whimpering coming from the bathroom.  He did his best to clean up with the rag that was still on his forehead and looked around for anything liquid that would calm the storm that was raging in him.  He spotted the bottle of Four Roses on the night table, took a swig, the last swig, as it turns out.  Everything slowly came back into focus.  

He looked at his wristwatch, 5:35 pm, he had just enough time to get the bus depot for the 6:35 pm to AC.  This time, he told himself as he quickly put on his pants, this time is gonna be different.  It’s time for a win.  He could still hear her whimpering in the bathroom, he took what he could find in her wallet and bolted.

Desert Son

Dust hovered over the ground as Peter Lim pulled in to the driveway at a snail’s pace.  “Damnit,” he cursed under his breath.  There were specks of clay hugging the tires, gathering in every crook and cranny, even in the folds of his Stetson.  A coating of red settled everywhere.  It had even increased the sun’s hue, now low in the sky.

Everything was terra cotta.

“Blue Spanish Eyes, prettiest eyes in all of Mexicoooo
Trueee Spanish Eyeeees, please smile at me once more before I gooooo.”

No matter how slow he drove, the red dust would inevitably stick everywhere. It was his own damned fault; had never bothered to pour concrete like everyone had told him to.  Didn’t matter anyway, the whole town was covered in it.

Sooon I’ll returnnnn bringing you all the love your heart can hooold
Pleaseee sayyy si, si…say you and your Spanish eyes will wait for meeee.

He turned Engelbert Humperdink off as he stepped out of the truck.

Peter Lim was a no good son of a bitch.  Everyone knew that, even he would tell you.  He had dabbled in this and that until some fat man from Tennessee had cornered him one night at the bar.  It was so long ago, Peter didn’t even remember his name.  He had lured Peter with the promise of money and a shot of rye with a beer back.  And “made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

Couldn’t refuse because the shot of rye had turned into four and then everything had become blurry.  The fat man had rearranged his face.  First punch, he looked like Gary Cooper.  Last punch his nose was Walter Matthau’s.  Or Karl Malden.

He shook his head at the memory as he walked into the living room.  He didn’t take his hat off and moved directly to the ice box for a beer.  The first two gulps almost burned his throat with their icy fire.  He held on to the counter for balance and polished off the beer.  He pulled a second bottle out and brought it with him to the backyard where he sat in a rickety beach chair left by the previous owners of the adobe house he had lived in the past two years.

To be continued.

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