Monday, April 9, 2018

As Luck Would Have It by David Henson

Matthew's gambling problem has gotten out of hand, but today is his lucky day; by David Henson.

I was on fire. Blackjack one hand. Doubled-down and won. Split and won both. Held eighteen, hit a three. Stood with seventeen, and everybody else went bust. Three more blackjacks. My streak of smiles had started when a little guy with a red beard and green shirt walked up and stood beside me. Since he'd been watching I couldn't lose.

"Hey, don't go," I said when he started to leave.

"Me?" He acted surprised I'd noticed him. "Sorry, son, I hear the pub a-calling me."

"Stay. We can have a drink here. You're my lucky charm."

"Sorry." He cupped his hand to his ear. "Still a-calling."

I couldn't let him get away. "Tell you what. I'll buy us a drink in the lounge, then we can come back here awhile longer. What do you say?"

"OK," he said. "I can have a drink with you." He looked at his wrist. I noticed he wasn't wearing a watch. "I don't know about coming back here though."

Maybe I could talk him into it.

We walked through Plato's Hall of Slots on our way out. Slots are for low-rollers, but I love their ethereal sound. We crossed the large covered gangway that joined the River Queen to a complex of bars, restaurants, a shopping arcade, and banquet room.

The decor of it all was a mishmash of Ancient Greece and 19th Century gambling boats. There was a giant mural of the Parthenon next to one of a paddle wheeler plowing the Mississippi. And it was all seasoned with paintings and figurines of anything that implied good luck - horseshoes, ladybugs, elephants with upturned trunks. There was also a hotel, the Aphrodite, which is where I was living for now.

Luck moved quickly for a little guy. I almost had to jog to keep up. We entered the Four Leaf Clover Lounge. He insisted on sitting at the bar even though he had to climb up onto the stool. He ordered a Guinness, and I a light beer. Drinking wasn't my problem.

Matthew, where are you? Dinner's getting cold. Sorry, Jean. I, uh, had to work late. You and Sally eat without me. Matthew, I'm not stupid. I can hear you're in the casino again.

I clinked his glass with mine. "I'm Matthew."

"I'm Luck."

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Luck. Or is that your first name?"

He sipped his drink and wiped the foam from his lip. "Just Luck." He chuckled. "I guess sometimes Good and sometimes Bad. Depends."

Strange fellow. "Well, I'll call you Good Luck, cause that's what you've brought me at blackjack."

"Most happy to be of service. Though most of what I get the blame or credit for is simply random."

I decided to play along. For just a couple minutes. I was getting antsy to get back to the casino. "So how do you decide when to step in?"

"My bones tell me. But I always do my homework before getting involved in people's lives."

Matthew, it's me. I hope you check your messages soon. You're going to be late for the recital. You promised Sally. Hurry home, Matthew.

The bartender wiped the counter near us. As she did, Luck smiled at her. I thought I saw his eyes sparkle. Literally - little flashes of light. Must have been a reflection. Then there was a loud voice. "Miranda, there's a spill over here. Can you wipe it up before somebody slips?"

"Will do," the bartender said. I watched as she flipped the towel over her shoulder, started to come out from behind the bar, then stopped and whooped. "Wow! That guy left a $100 tip!" She quickly pocketed the bill, then took out her phone.

"There we be," Luck said.

Was he trying to take credit for her good fortune? I'm as superstitious as the next gambler, especially when I'm on a hot streak. But I wouldn't believe in somebody intentionally dealing out luck any more than drawing to an inside straight. "I'm sure the hundred bucks was left by somebody who's done well at the tables or slots," I said.

"You'll see soon enough."

The two of us sat quietly a few minutes sipping our drinks. I glanced back at the bartender. She was still tapping on her phone. Then I heard a soft hissing noise. I looked over my shoulder. An older, heavy-set man wearing oxygen was walking behind us. He had on orange Bermuda shorts and a red and blue plaid shirt. I turned back to my beer and a moment later heard a thud and groaning. The guy had slipped on the spill and fallen. He slowly got back to his feet and limped ahead.

"Just a sprain," Luck said, then called out loudly: "Won't bother him much if he returns home and ices it instead of going back into the casino." The man kept walking and, without turning around, raised his arm and stuck up his middle finger. I couldn't help laughing.

The bartender was still chained to her phone, the towel waiting on her shoulder. "OK," I said to my little friend, "if you're in charge of such things, was getting that big tip good luck for her or bad luck for him?"

"That's not important," he said, suddenly serious. "I have something to tell you about Jean and Sally."

My breath snagged like a hook in my throat. "How do you know their names? How do you -" I sat up as tall as I could and leaned over him. "I don't know what your game is, buddy, but you stay away from my family."

"Easy, Matthew. Like I said - I always do my homework. They're not in any danger from me."

I called your office, Matthew. Mr. Stanfield answered. He said he didn't know where you were. He didn't sound very happy.

"Jean's had a bad day," Luck continued. "She's missing you horribly. Even more than usual. And Sally's crying for you almost non-stop. If you call your wife now, you'll catch her in a moment of weakness. Ask her to take you back, and she will. I guarantee it."

Thoughts immediately started rattling around in my head like a pair of dice. How could he know such a thing? I knew it was crazy, but I wanted so badly to believe him. I looked carefully at his eyes. Nothing. I started to reach for my phone, then froze. If I called now, and Jean said yes, she'd expect me to come right home. I needed to get to the tables. I knew I could double my money in an hour or so. Maybe I'd call her, say I was working late, and go home after awhile. Home. Things would be back to the way they were. That's when it hit me. Things would be like the way they were. I'd still be lying to Jean, sneaking to the casino, disappointing Sally. Probably end up getting fired. They deserved better. I thought about the $100 tip and wondered whether my calling Jean when she was having a moment of weakness was good luck for me or bad for her.

Matthew, I love you, but I can't take it anymore. You have to move out till you quit gambling. Please, Matthew. Then you can come back.

I knew Jean was right. I should quit. I finished my beer.

"You headed back to the casino?" Luck said.

"I haven't decided yet."

"Are you going to phone your wife? Ask to move back home tonight?"

"Not sure the time's right."

Luck hopped off his bar stool and looked at his wrist. "I have to scoot." I could tell I wouldn't be able to talk him out of leaving. He reached up, and we shook. His eyes sparked. "Good luck to you, Matthew," he said and walked away.

I paid the tab and headed back to the casino. Just a while longer wouldn't hurt.

What I saw at the blackjack table shocked me. Jean! She was pulling a pile of chips toward her. "Honey, what are you doing here?" I said. "Where's Sally?"

"Oh, Hi, Matthew." Jean's eyes darted back and forth from me to the dealer. "No worries. She's at Mom's."

"Good. But you don't... You hate..." I could only wave my hand around the casino.

She ignored me as she watched the dealer then checked her cards and tapped her finger. "I know. I hate gambling. But this strange little man came up to me in the grocery store and out of the blue said if I played blackjack this evening I'd have good luck. I thought he was a nut case and shooed him away. But" - another finger tap - "I couldn't get what he told me out of my mind so..." Jean raised her arms and looked around like a queen surveying her kingdom. "Ta da." She turned over her fourth card. "Twenty one!" she said, kissed me on the lips, then practically shouted "Ta. Fucking. Da!"

I looked around for Luck. I wanted to throttle him, but he was nowhere to be seen. I took Jean's hand. "You're not yourself, Sweetie. Let's get out of here."

She jerked away, her fingernails clawing my palm. "Go away." Her voice was low and guttural. The croupier dealt another hand. The guy next to us called blackjack. "Shit," Jean said. "See what you did? Now get away from me." I hesitated. "Beat it," she said without looking up.

I moved a few tables down to where I could keep an eye on her without her knowing. No way I was going to leave her alone. She played for a couple more hours, her stack of chips eventually melting like a pile of dirty snow. When she left, I trailed behind her discretely till she was safely in her car. I went back to my room and called about a half hour later.

"Jean, are you home? Is Sally there?"

"Yes, I'm here," Jean said, sounding more like herself. I felt my whole body unclench. "I'm leaving Sally at Mom's for the night. I don't know what came over me. I'm so embarrassed." There was a long pause. "Do you want to come home?" she said hesitantly.

"More than anything in the world," I said. "But not yet. Soon, but not yet. I promise." I was sure I could do it. I realized that Luck was on my side after all.

A few months later, Jean and I were in the grocery store. I'd hadn't gambled and had been living back home for weeks. As we were squeezing the tomatoes, who did we see? Mr. Luck.

"Everything going ok?" he said.

"Everything's great. I want to thank you for your...intervention."

"Don't mention it," he said and took a little bow.

After we shook hands, Luck turned toward my wife and flung open his arms. "Jean, it's wonderful to see you!"

Jean smiled broadly then the two of them hugged like old friends and whispered to each other. When they separated, Mr. Luck winked at Jean. I'm pretty sure she winked back.

8 comments:

  1. While this carries a light and dark message about gambling (in a humorous sort of way, but...), I felt one could substitute alcohol, drugs, or any other addictive behavior. Though I like that it left the reader with a sprinkle of hope at the end, there is a hint of a dark cloud that could bring back that storm with little warning - other than the warning that Luck had reappeared. Interesting story!
    Jim

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  2. Is Luck an angel trying to earn his wings like Clarence in It's Wonderful Life?! An interesting story, thank you Ceinwen

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  3. Thanks for your comments, Jim and Ceinwen.

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  4. Agree with Jim, I feel this about any addiction and of course it,s always with you. I think Luck is a form of temptation? Well written and interesting
    Mike McV

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  5. Great story, Dave. Good scene-setting and an interesting take on "luck". I also liked the hopeful note at the end.
    Beryl.

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