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A Prayer from the Casino Chapel
By Larry Williams

Our new security man wasn't working out so I stopped by the MGM Grand to have a look at him and make a final decision. Usually, if it's a Thursday night, I'm in my suite at the Stardust on the 26th floor with the T.V. on and the lights out. Catching my breath before the weekend. So yeah, like most bad experiences, this one started as a favor.

He was somebody's nephew.

I crept around his station for a little while, first at the bar, then around the aged columns that ringed the floor until I was standing across from him, arms stretched across the banister. I almost enjoyed being back on the front line again. After twelve years I could still float the floor unnoticed. Something you wouldn't expect from a guy my size.

I watched him bump around for a while, looking but not watching anyone, like he was still on a farm. It was twenty minutes before he noticed me.

I waved him over.

"You look like you're trying to find a bathroom Tommy," I said. We were next to the wait-station so I stopped a girl and asked her for coffee.

When she said "Sure Manny" his expression changed. Cute girl. Fearless little thing, too. Eve, or Emma, anyway-

This was a very slow night. We had our usual busload of fossils working on the slots, and a few kids in their twenties, placing small bets on hands of Blackjack, or as they call it, "twenty-one." Point is, in that small crowd, it was just too easy to spot the plain clothes security. Ordinarily, I would've fired him on the spot.

"You know who I am?" I asked him, before he could say a word.

He put his hands on his hips, twisted up his face and asked, "My boss?"

"Something like that," I said. If I'd told him I was the Head of Security for three of the biggest casinos in Vegas, I don't think he would have been any more terrified. He was annoyingly self-conscious too. Posing, awkward, even, what's the word? Affected.

"Did you need something?" He asked.

The waitress set my coffee down. I took my time with the sugar and cream. Then I looked directly at him and asked him pointblank: "What else are you good at?"

He didn't say anything.

Besides being his boss I stood a good six inches over him, and outweighed him by sixty pounds. It's a nice bit of leverage in social situations. That unspoken fear of what someone my size could do, if provoked. He turned his head and looked around the room, like he was trying to remember where he'd gone wrong.

"Tommy," I said, "the only person in this casino more conspicuous than you, right now is that blonde with the backpack, and you didn't seem to notice her at all. This is what we call a 'finesse' job, something you must have an intuition for. Understand?"

He turned again to look at the blonde girl, then he said, "No, I saw her. I saw that girl. In fact, I saw her coming out of the casino chapel before my shift. Seriously."

"Out of the Chapel?"

"Yeah," he said. "Yes sir. Couple hours ago."

Now, I'm sure I mentioned that this was a Thursday night.

"Oh. Okay," I said.

There was a long pause while I flipped through all the possible responses for such an ignorant explanation. I should've offered him a cigarette and a blindfold.

"You religious, Tommy?"

"Yeah. Sure. I'm not weird about it or anything but-"

"My mother was religious too," I said, sipped my coffee. "Church every Sunday."

"Us too."

"Charities too. Shit we probably went to four or five of those telethons. Rented hotel rooms and stayed up for days a couple times. She loved celebrities, too. God and celebrities."

"Your mom?"

I pretended not to hear him.

"Then," I said, "when I was eight, I walked in my mother giving Redd Foxx a blowjob backstage at a Jerry Lewis Telethon. Jesus. Try reconciling that, Tommy, when you're eight. You like Redd Foxx? "

His face slowly twisted again.

"My mother." I sipped my coffee again, shook my head. "My religious, charitable mother, right? In my mind," I said, pointing to my head, "forever suspended over this twitching black junkyard dick. Reconcile that for me, Tommy."

"I don't-"

I interrupted. "Respect and Ethics have nothing to do with the depth of someone's faith. Nothing," I said. "Understand? That's why I asked you in the first place, Tommy: 'What else are you good at?'"



It was a pretty dramatic way to fire someone. Must admit. But, at the time, it seemed like a good chance to make a point. And unless you're telling a story, nobody actually listens to you, anyway.

I was back in the car a few minutes later, feeling a little guilty but satisfied.

Foolishly thinking that my night was over.

Somewhere between home and Circus-Circus I got a call from the New York, New York people about a very big winner who wasn't losing any hands at all. They couldn't pinpoint the grift but he was alone. Security had already swept the streets for radio activity so I had the Eye-in-the-Sky patch me in over his table. I was still getting comfortable with the computer system in the car, the touch-screen monitor and swing-out keyboard. It would be easy to mistake me for a cop in that car, unless you knew anything about my past.

"Rewind it for me, okay? Send me the last few minutes, Bird's Eye, please. I want to see for myself. I'll get back to you."

A stuttering video recording of the boy popped onto the screen. In his early twenties, wearing a loose cotton oxford. I watched him win eight hands in a row, but never celebrated. He was looking around the room too often to be counting cards. He looked straight up into the camera at least four times, though. I brought him up in real time on the screen and called back in.

"Probably something high tech," I told them. "He's not counting that high."

"That's what we thought. That's why we called you."

The irony isn't lost on me in those moments. Floor Security calling me in to catch a thief. Me.

When we were first recruited we were called coin-flippers, doubles and sometimes snakes; ex-gamblers who were literally too tough to beat in the 70's and early 80's when casino security was, on all fronts, primitive and unprepared for the tech revolution. So, in essence, we were paid to stop beating their banks. Some of us were caught, and legally forced into employment, others, like me, were approached. We were the terrors of the tables. Even when they arrested us, it only forced us to come up with new ways of cleaning them out. We used goats and mules whenever we were banned, fiber optics and transmitters the size of buttons to orchestrate big takes, etcetera etcetera. Nothing could stop us. Of course, with all that money going around, going straight wasn't such an easy sale at first. Miniaturized cameras and relays, magnets and computers were making our jobs too easy. Everything getting smaller, stronger and cheaper. Everything, in pieces, at your local Radio Shack. Eventually though, you get tired of looking over your shoulder and arguing with your wife. Eventually, if you can live long enough, you've got to clean up.

It must've been ten o'clock or so, because I remember the strip was, well, I won't say "dead," but quieter than usual. Of course the traffic was still backed up for blocks, creeping and craning through the spinning glitter of the smaller casinos, then slowing to a stop around the theme park casinos that filled entire city blocks.

This was at the end of October. A depressing time in Vegas, for most of us.

A red pickup pulled past me and almost clipped my right front bumper for no reason. As they sped by, a thin dumb-looking boy in cutoffs howled and two young girls were laughing while they passed a brown-paper bag between them. Then the dumb one stands up, pulls his t-shirt off and spits beer off the back of the truck towards the hood of my car.

I should have just smiled, but I immediately felt that old urge tingle around my fingertips and open up the back of my throat. "Kids," I muttered, "just kids."

In 1980, in all honesty, if I wasn't in the middle of "working" or hauling my killings home, I might've followed that truck for a couple of miles, at a distance, waited long enough for them to forget about me, then dragged the driver out into the street and broken both his legs. Especially in '80. Just after Anne died.

The shirtless boy stood up again at the next stoplight and shot me the finger. This time I smiled so wide it seemed to make the girls nervous.

I shook the thought from my head. Replayed the video feed again. These mobile feeds were much worse when they were first installed but now it's all fairly crisp zooming and close-ups, smooth panning cameras that can be manipulated in real time from the unit in my dashboard.

Most of the security people I've worked with, the first thing they notice about a gambler are their hands, for jewelry, but mostly to check on the nerves of the player. Of course, a good confidence man won't give it away with his hands, but in my experience there's always a tell so I find more of them beneath the table. Always start with the feet. I've picked up scams just by catching a player wiggling his toes manically, or shuffling his feet, repositioning his legs under the table, scratching at a crotch because of sweat buildup, all beneath the table. That's why I always start with the shoes, watch the toes, then move up the length of a body carefully looking for subtle signs of panic.

Our winner was looking mildly pleased, but much too relaxed for someone like him, with so many tall stacks of chips in front of him, drawing all that attention. I accessed different cameras to get a full view but still couldn't see enough from the car.

Joker was wearing sandals.

I called back upstairs. "Terry," I said. "It's Manny. Yeah I got it. No. That was smart. How much's he in for?" Over sixty-five grand. "How long?" 4 hours. "Yeah. No, I'd go ahead and pick him up. Don't let him take any more of your money. No. I'm looking but I don't see anything here. Yeah. Hey, Terry, has the shit even moved in the last hour? No, no. I mean, look at him. Hand on hand, blink-blink, but I haven't seen him move a muscle in ten minutes. Yeah. He's hiding something. Hold him for me. I'll be there in five minutes, maybe ten. I want to watch him here for a few more minutes. Hey, that's alright," I said, "there's always next Thursday."

The Vegas strip that I first walked down in 1968 as a lost little kid from Brooklyn is, to put it plainly, no longer. The big boys are all still here, but in the nineties everyone started building theme parks, space needles, and atriums. Now the larger casinos offer day-care and support for gambling addictions. It's cleaner, sure, and the sex shops and brothels have been pushed outside the city limits but if you ask me, at the core, nothing ever changes about this place, and nothing ever will. It will always offer the same thrills and risks, it will always be a Mecca for the weird and lost, and at six a.m. you'll always be able to walk out and see a fleet of street cleaners chasing a tidal wave of porno leaflets down the main strip. A new set of clothes couldn't change any of that.

I guess that's an interesting way to put it, coming from me.

After Joe Denny put me on the payroll at Stardust and, as Anne would've said, made me a "respectable man again," I ended up heading security after a couple of years on the floor, then moved over to MGM, then, of course, there were buyouts, and cutbacks, which I somehow survived and ended up where I am now, in a very respectable position heading security for all of the MGM properties including the New York, New York Hotel and Casino.

It was getting a little colder outside, almost cold enough to roll up the windows. The parking lot was only about half full.

"Hey Mr. Clayton." Jack took my keys out front and gave me my ticket.

The coaster was back online and speeding through that spread of famous New York mockups, four or five red trains full of screaming tourists. Mostly kids. It was worse than a Puerto Rican street parade. All that damn screaming. It follows you inside and out too. No escaping it. But I know, it's not the best of kind of business for someone who has a problem with screaming.

Winners still send chills through me, though.

When Anne died, years ago, our daughter Lilly decided to stay in Kansas City and live with her grandmother. I could've fought it, but I wasn't doing anything like this then, and the girl had been through enough by that point, you know. No one knows how Lilly even survived.

Cops couldn't separate the cars from each other at the scene. The entire accident had to be lifted by crane onto a flatbed and towed away. At least that's what somebody told me on the phone. First few days I was there, in Kansas City, Lilly wouldn't see me at all, but things are better these days. She's married now and much better at it than I ever was.

It was much too cold in the lobby. The dead end of our long Nevada summer with the winds picking up, chasing off the tourists and they were still cranking the air conditioners. I could feel my flesh tighten and the chill penetrating layer after layer. A bone-aching cold.

I walked the floor before going upstairs just to stretch my legs. Made eye contact with a few dealers, but it was quiet, if you don't count the occasional screams from the coaster.

"Hey Smitty," I said. Upstairs the office was practically empty except for Harry Smith. I poured a coffee. "Where is he?"

"In three," he waved, and then pointed over my head. "You're falling apart there, Manny."

A rope of hair was hanging over my forehead, so I smoothed it back in place and dragged a comb through it. "Surprised it didn't chip off in here."

"What?" Harry was getting lost in some newspaper on his desk, and not really paying attention. He looked like a fat little boy in a classroom. In some ways, Harry was brilliant but you'd never know by watching him. Still, he was a perfect example of the crossroader. When he was still in the game, I'm sure he led a few Vic's right over the edge with that dumb look and those awful clothes, and now he was cracking just as many heads, or more, working the other side of it. Almost two decades later and it still surprises me how easy it was to switch teams. We were all just one miscalculation away from a long gray bus ride, and in truth, it was getting harder to stay ahead of the monkeys in charge of trying to stop us. It was definitely the smart play, especially for me and Lilly.

We keep the control room dark so the dispatchers can stay focused on their monitors and the cameras that occupy the gambling areas of the casino. Harry sat under the only white light in the room.

"Harry?"

"Yeah. Oh. Sorry, Manny."

"How much did he start with?" I asked.

"The kid?"

"No. Your mother," I said.

"Oh. Two grand or so. Not much more than that."

"And what are we in for?" I asked. I took off my jacket and slipped on an empty shoulder holster. It wasn't a huge haul by most standards, 60 grand, but we've got to be ahead of the technology wherever it shows up and intimidation can work wonders. I didn't expect the kid to confess, he looked too calm for that in the video, but I hoped to raise the heat on him.

Harry wasn't responding again, sinking deeper into some tabloid story and picking his teeth with a matchbook.

"Harry."

"Yeah. What?" He didn't make any effort to hide the matchbook or his open mouth.

"Where is everybody?"

"Doris is sick. Jimmy's in there with Walter and Benny. Everyone else is on the floor. It's quiet, Manny. Getting cold out there."

"Cold," I laughed. "I miss the cold."

I didn't own a gun. That wasn't our job. Every casino had some kind of arsenal still stored away somewhere, but the days of assault-trained security units are gone. The police are in charge of Vegas now. And like I said, it just wasn't our job. There are a couple of stun guns, somewhere around that office, but Harry and I have been big enough, and smart enough, to handle just about everything these last ten years. Even when I was on the other side, counting my own cards and running dirty poker out of Minn's, I never even wished for a gun. When Marc Eid threatened to take my left hand off at the wrist after 12 years of running numbers together, stood over me with that cleaver and, swear to God, with tears coming out of his eyes waving that filthy blade over me, all I could say was, "You're right, Marc. Go ahead. I'm sorry to make you do it." He was so wound up he broke my nose with the butt of the handle and stomped out.

That's why we call each other gambling "partners," instead of "friends." Friends don't last around money. Not for long.

"I'll talk to the kid," I said. "Where's his I.D.?"

"No I.D."

"No I.D.?" I stopped moving towards room three. "How'd he expect to walk with his winnings? No identification means no money. No proof of age, to begin with, right?" Harry was nodding as I spoke. "So why am I up here?"

"It's the policy, you know?" He stood up for what looked like the first time in days, stretching and groaning as he spoke. "We throw him out and he produces I.D. with in thirty-six hours, and by then we've got nothing to look at but security tapes, which-"

"Okay," I said.

"And besides," he said. "We can't figure out how he did it. No lurkers on the tape. Just finished watching it."

"Who talked to him first?"

Harry sat back down. "Doris."

"Doris? You said she was sick."

"Right, well, she is now."

"Come on. What right after she talked to him?"

"Yeah, well, while she was talking," he said. "She flew out of there complaining about her stomach, her period or something? I don't know. You missed her by five minutes."

"Where's the report? She leave it?"

"Nope."

"Harry," I said, "you okay? You still in control of shit around here?"

"Hey, come on," he said, a little injured again. "It's a slow night, brother. She runs out of the room, holding her stomach saying she's going home after talking with him for 2 minutes. What should I do? Tie her to a chair? Chinese water torture?"

"You check on him?"

"Look for yourself," he said. "Hasn't moved an inch."

I walked into three's adjoining room and watched him for a few minutes through the two-way mirror. He really wasn't moving much. His legs were crossed, hands folded over his wrinkled white shirt.

I threw my coat back on and walked into the room. Took a seat like I'd reserved the table.

"Lucky day, huh?" I asked him. "Nice haul." I made a gesture out of removing my coat. He seemed to understand when the holster swung out from under my arm.

"You're the guy," he says, right away. He sounded older, his voice deeper than it should be. I've had meals that weighed as much.

"I'm the guy," I said, "and who are you? A victim of pickpockets? Where's your identification?"

"Lost it," he said, "but maybe it was picked." He smiled. "You're Clayton."

"That's right." It wasn't the first time someone recognized my name in one those rooms, but it did mean that he wasn't as innocent as he looked, and that we might know some of the same people. "What's your name?"

"Good American name, Clayton. No nonsense."

"Yeah. Why don't you-"

"You're not married are you?" He asked.

"No," I said, irritated already.

"Anymore, right? What was her name, Anne?" He smiled.

Of all the cheats, the techno whiz kids are the worst. They're smug right up until the judge reads their sentence. "So, what, you know me? You my biggest fan? Or are you just a good guesser?" I asked him.

"I'm a great guesser," he said, still smiling. "Very intuitive. Just like Anne was." He leaned forward and rested his arms on the table. "Sorry, but I had to start somewhere. She didn't blame you, you know? When she was dying. She just wanted you to be there with her. I thought you'd want to know that."

I waited for him to say more, but he didn't. It was only mildly surprising that he'd found the name of my ex-wife, mildly irritating that he would try to use it to rattle me. But the 'intuitive' comment plucked a nerve. "Anne, huh?" I asked. There was too much truth to it. I stood up and slowly walked around behind him. I'm not a violent man anymore, but I reached down into that V above the top button on his shirt and grabbed a big tuft of his wiry chest hair. I don't think he saw that in his future. When he screamed he finally sounded his age. Maybe twenty-three, I'd guess.

"Why don't we leave me out of this. Would that be okay?" He was digging his nails into the back of my hand but I held onto him.

See, when Anne and I were still together, and life was good, just after Lilly was born, it used to completely freak me out how often she could guess what I was thinking, or planning. It was an intuition that laid me bare, like motherhood had chemically activated some new part of her brain. The last night we were together, the night I got picked up, she actually begged me to stay home. "I can feel it," she told me. "If you go out there tonight, you're gone, baby." She was always hassling me to clean up and go straight so I guess I didn't take her seriously, but she was right. Somehow she always knew more than she was supposed to.

I tried to change the tone with kid. I let go of him and said, "I'm not in a cheerful mood, son, so why don't we backtrack and I'll give you a chance to not get yourself hurt again. Okay? This is all a little intimidating, I'm sure," I said, waving around the stark white room, pointing to the black sponge hanging from the ceiling. "But we just need to ask you some questions. Understand? Then you can walk out of here. It only looks like a torture chamber." I forced a smile.

"Okay," he said.

"What's your name?" I asked again.

"Gabe Dorsey," he answered. "And I didn't mean to upset you, Manny." He struggled to catch his breath. "Anne was an amazing woman. She had an incredible effect on you." He rubbed his chest. "You're practically famous now."

I cracked my knuckles and sat down across from him. I had to admire the attempt, especially coming from such a young kid, but I wasn't interested in playing games. "Look, Gabe. You have no I.D. You're not walking out of here today with sixty-five thousand dollars and we're probably not going to be friends. All I really want to know is: How? Every week we get a new tech baby fixing the slots or a team of tech babies photographing hands with a camera the size of a zit. If I'm famous at all, it's because it's because I stop guys like that. Like you."

"I can make you really famous," he said. He smiled like he hadn't been listening to me, and began to turn a small silver ring on his hand.

"Oh yeah?" I think I actually rolled my eyes. "Why would I want to be famous? Would you be here if I wasn't a little famous?"

"No, I wouldn't." Then he said, "I know you don't believe me. But if you want proof I can give it to you all day long. Ask me anything about you. About your life."

I just stared at him. "Come on, Gabe. You're not an idiot, I don't think. I'm not an idiot. Did you really expect to walk in here and wow me? If you know who I am, then you should know better than that."

He rubbed at his chest again. "I didn't just guess that Anne was intuitive, Manny. I didn't pick her name out of the newspaper. I've also never been to Kansas City but when I think about Anne I can clearly see the tangled frames of a station wagon and a blue pickup gliding over a cold October night and a young girl in the back of a police cruiser. Tell me how I'd know that." He waited for me to answer. "You want more?"

I didn't say anything.

"Anne's wasn't your fault, Manny. You should stop blaming yourself. You're barely alive anymore. That's not what she would've wanted. Anne wanted you to go straight, not stiff."

"Enough," I said.

"You know," he went on, "I really don't know how you could stay single for so long in Vegas. They women are really gorgeous here. I'm impressed though. You really loved her." He paused. "Twenty years is long time to mourn."

"Right," I said, absorbing the act. He had prepared for getting caught, that was all. My head filled with the possibilities, searched for the angle. Something. I just nodded.

"You're impulsive," he said, rubbing his chest again. "I knew it would be dangerous coming here, but I had to meet you."

"So you're here to meet me? You don't care about the money." I wasn't impressed, or at least I hoped I looked that way. I pulled a little plastic baggie out of my pocket and fished the last cigarette out. Lit it. "What are you trying to tell me here Gabe?"

He didn't answer.

"Come on," I said. I turned my chair around and sat with my arms resting across the cool metal piping, almost setting my head down. "Okay, okay," I said. "So why don't you tell me, how you know about my wife. You've never been to Kansas City? Didn't find the information, or hear about it anywhere? Right? Are those the parameters? Throw in a little bit about intuition and stroll out the door with sixty grand? Is that the angle? Come on. We've got people playing and replaying the performance you put on out there tonight and they're sending your picture around to every other casino in town, so sooner or later, we're going to figure you out, Gabe. I mean, I can appreciate the attention. Really, I'm flattered in a weird way, but son, honestly, this isn't going to happen. I don't know why you'd cheat and win so conspicuously out there, or why you wouldn't bring some kind of I.D. in here with you, but ironically," I said, "the casino industry doesn't believe in magic, or odds-defying runs of luck."

He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "Manny, you're the last piece of this. My last invitation. That's what this is. I'm not here for money."

"An invitation." I said.

He nodded. There was nothing about his body language that gave him away. He was relaxed and completely delusional. Smart in all the ways that make you crazy.

I shook my head. "If you're really about to tell me that you're Jesus or psychic or a psychic Jesus, I'm going to be really disappointed, Gabe. I actually thought you might be a smart guy there for a minute. But even Jesus would need I.D. in Vegas these days."

" I don't want the money," he said.

"No? Really? Well great. Let me get a statement for you to sign." I stood up.

He was so still I wanted to shake him.

"So, Gabe, really, if you don't want the money, why gamble in the first place?"

"Manny. I'll sign the paper. You can have the money. I came here to meet you. You can excuse it all away but I know more than anyone could tell me. I know about Anne, and Lilly. I even know what happened when you were eight. I know how embarrassed you were by your mother, how disrespectful she was to your father's memory. I know you're the best security specialist in this city, possibly the most cynical, reasonable, empirically driven person in the most cynical, reasonable, empirically driven city in the world. I was sent here, for you, Manny. Like it or not. And if I can convince you… if I can convince you to accept my invitation than it will be time for the world to change again. A new Paradigm. I know you think I'm crazy, I expected that," he was almost frantic, "But what if I'm not? What if I am what I claim to be? What if you, or someone just like you, with everything to lose, what if you're the final test?" He mouth was drying out. Pure desperation.

I thought about Lilly and wondered what in the hell this kid's parents had done to twist his mind like that. He'd obviously met Lilly, or someone from my past. There was an explanation, somewhere.

He spoke up again. "I know I'm already running out of time in this room and there's only so much you'll take before you walk out that door and talk to Harry. You know how long I waited for you tonight? Would you have come sooner if I didn't lose those four hands?" His hands were shaking. I let him talk. "Is there anything that could restore your faith? That's what you called it earlier, right? 'Faith.' When you were talking with that farmboy about finesse and faith, when you were humiliating him before you fired him. Manny," he said. He took a breath and stared into me. "Check the time on your tapes of me gambling in here tonight, Manny. Then check the time stamp on your valet parking at the MGM. Tell me how I could know any of this?"

I didn't answer him.

"I don't know if you're supposed to come with me, or follow me, or what. I can't see the future, Manny, only what's possible. I know that we need you to make this happen. My final invitation. And I also know that part of you is, at least, curious. That you want to believe me but you can't. Is that right?" He stood up. "It's Lilly isn't it?"

I walked up on him. "Gabe, enough. Understand? I've been more than nice about listening to this daydream."

He kept talking, staring through me. "You're thinking about Lilly this very second, because you'd never take any chance at losing her respect again." He paused. "But I won sixty-five thousand dollars in four hours, almost won every hand. I've answered every question that's jumped into your mind before you can ask it. What else can I do? How many tricks do I have to perform?"

He reached for the microphone that dangled over our heads and pulled himself up to it. He held it like a ring announcer and said. "Tell me what happened with your uncle when you were nine."

I didn't say anything. I'd never told anyone. There was no way he could know. Any of it.

I let my surprise slip, which seemed to satisfy him.

He said, "I know all about you. This life of respect you've earned and cherish. That's what I need. That's why I'm here. To convince you, like I've convinced others. To invite you." He sat down again. Deflated.

Others, I thought. "So this a traveling show? A doomsday cult?" It was too much. Nothing about his body language gave him away and he was too confident to be on drugs.

"I'm not stupid, Manny. And I'm not delusional either. We both know why Harry works for you. What he does here." He'd done a lot of homework. "And I know what you could have Harry do to me. I know you could let me go, and send him after me. I knew walking in that there were only two ways out. You won't send him to kill me but that's how it will end."

I had no response. He was grabbing at anything.

"You don't want to know what he's done, do you?" He shook his head. "How many have you sent Harry after? How many did you ever see again? This isn't a job of respect, Manny. This couldn't be. Look where you are. Look at this city. But we can change it," he said, leaning into me, "if you're ready."

He was right about Harry. I'd sent him out after hustlers before, but we were in security, not organized crime. No one died.

I moved towards the door and opened it. I couldn't listen anymore. "Enough. We don't kill people here, Gabe. I know you believe what you're telling me, but this is too much, son. I don't know what you expected to get out of this, but I'm not leaving all my worldly possessions to join the Circus because you told me my secrets. You've impressed me, Gabe, but be real. You did a lot of homework for this, for whatever reason, but I'm too tired for this." I shook my head, and thought about Lilly again.

"Lilly would understand," he said.

I couldn't explain away what he was saying, but of course, I wouldn't believe any of it either. I'd like to say we just let him leave with the money that night, based on his performance if nothing else, or even that, at the last second, I bought into what he was saying and drove off on a bus to introduce him to the world with some reluctant group of scholars, that we awoke some sleeping mystery of the world. At least that would be a good story, right? But I didn't. I never saw him again so I couldn't tell you what happened to Gabe after he left the casino. You'd have to ask Harry about that.

--© Larry Williams




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