There has been nothing that I have enjoyed better than gambling, even at a young age I loved to play twenty-one. Later I would learn that twenty-one is Blackjack without the gambling aspect. When I started playing for money I was better than most people my age, I even learned how to count cards at an early age.
It had been within the corridors of my high school that I studied the basics of how to bet on the proper stakes. I also learned to play the game of people, that’s the most influential aspect of any game that I played in those days. There is no greater feeling than outwitting others to play into your palm like a mouse losing its way to the cheese in a maze. I would spend the greater portion of my school days playing the odds with the other students, at just about anything you can imagine. Not just card games, acts of life. I bet on who would do well on a test or how far they could get on a first date.
By the time my senior year came around, I had become a hustler of sorts. It would be rare for me to lose any bet I took. If I did, it was from being blinded by an overwhelming pay off that I couldn’t turn down. I didn’t come from a wealthy family, so I played my way through my post-secondary schooling with the money I had earned through my card games and other minor events I would host.
This meant my income continued for years until I made enough credit to get a loan to start up my casino. I needed the help of an investor with whom I had made contact while still in school. It didn’t take long before I expanded my little business into the biggest casino in the Tri-state area. A significant help to my success lay in the biggest rule of any casino. “The house always wins.” The last little shove towards success comes from knowing how to manage the profits to their fullest.
That’s the story of how I became the man I am. My name is Herb Carter, and for as long as I can remember, gambling has always been an important part of my life. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that knew me. I became bored with the traditional way to play the timeless games and sought alternative ways to find excitement. When money ceases to be a problem, losing a generous sum of it doesn’t phase me anymore. I needed something else to gamble with and soon enough, or maybe too soon, I discovered what might just be the answer.
There is a club in the basement of a bar down by the docks, a few towns over. The outside made the slums where I grew up to seem like a posh resort. Once inside the club’s walls, it became an elegant display of exquisite decor, filled with joy and pleasure for the members of the elite and wealthy. The efforts and lengths that I had to endure to not only find but gain access, are not worth going into detail, other than to say it took an immense amount of time and energy to accomplish.
This club only uses cash for the member’s fees and a few other expenses. No chips are used on the tables. Instead of using money or chips to bet with, you get a pen and notebook the shape and size of a checkbook, filled with blank sheets of paper. Your bet is what is written. It can be just about anything you can think of. The deed to your house, your car, shares of your business, you can even bet favors and services if you wish, as long as you pay your debt if you lose.
Part of the dealer’s job is to assess the worth of the bets, to determine what would count as a suitable call or rise to any bid. On some occasions, they will have a variety of unique and illegal items at a few tables to bid on. It would not be uncommon to see exotic animals, hard to find drugs, and even people. Unlike the other tables, these require a buy-in for obvious reasons.
Other than those exclusive features, along with the size, it did not differ from any other casino. A vibrant rug with a labyrinth design flowed throughout the casino, no natural light shone inside and no clocks were visible. All the typical set-up that all casinos employ to help keep everyone gambling longer. It was well equipped with a bar that stocked an expansive selection of alcoholic drinks along with high-class service. All the standard casino games were available, blackjack, Texas hold ‘em (and other versions of poker.) baccarat, craps, etc. There was more than one table for each game, along with a smaller section of tables somewhat hidden in the far corner of the club, for the less traditional games. Those games would often remind me of my high school days.
Tonight I joined the classic table of Texas hold’ em. I based my decision on seeing Wilson May already at the table when I arrived. He’s a cunning gambler and always makes for an enjoyable challenge. Mr. Dubin, one of the more senior members, was sitting next to Wilson along with a young fellow I had not seen around before. I sat at the table on the other side of Wilson and the game began.
I was given an ace of spades and a three of hearts on the first deal. The others and I called the ante using our watches to do so. A Rolex, a Patek, my AP, and one old unbranded antique pocket watch, compliments of Wilson’s well-known antique collection. All four players checked through the flop, the turn, and the river. Mr. Dubin won with a pair of fives when the rest of us had been going off for more than a high card.
After a few hands, Wilson had gotten three of a kind twice and Mr. Dubin had an inside straight. This led me and the unknown kid much closer to having our pockets turned out, leaving me without my watch, the pink slip to a Dodge Charger, and a VIP slip to one of my casinos. It was at this point that the unknown kid asked if anyone cared to join him at one of the side tables for a more adventurous game and higher stakes.
“No, I’ll pass, it’s getting late for me.” said Mr. Dubin.
Wilson and I both agreed to join him. I was determined to get my car back from Wilson. I refused to call a cab anywhere near the docks. Besides, we were both intrigued by what he meant by adventurous games in a place like this. We signaled the young waitress over and ordered some drinks. We asked to have them prepared and delivered to us at the next table.
Once we were seated, Wilson and I were introduced to the kid. I got my first good look at the kid as he sat hunched over in his seat. It gave the illusion of a bump on his back. His left eye had that foggy look that people have when they have cataracts. It made me wonder if he was blind in the one eye. I hadn’t noticed it earlier as his wavy black hair lay across his face. He introduced himself as Steiner and gave us a glimpse into his childhood and what attracted him to a place such as this.
“I grew up in a wealthy family.“ He began. “My father was a well-known philanthropist who traveled the globe and would bring me along with him to a variety of towns and villages when I was a young boy. Many of the kids I would meet didn’t have other means of entertainment and would bet or dare others to do various deeds and stunts. I formed a variety of collections from my winnings. Something that stayed near and dear to my heart after all these years, including one particular collection that I started during my time in Somalia.” Said Mr. Steiner.
“And just what kind of collection might that be?” I asked him, trying not to come across as irritated from this vague account of his childhood.
“My stakes for tonight as a start.” He replied with a grin. He placed a leather-bound collector’s book on the table. This is the first time I paid any attention to it. The book didn’t look valuable in itself. My face scrunched as I studied the book and wondered what could be inside and why I hadn’t noticed this book before since he held it with such importance.
He opened the book to reveal several long, thin, pinkish tubular objects. The things looked like they were made of rubber with random splotches of red. They were encased by a clear, hard plastic cover. Both Wilson and I were unsure of what we were looking at. With a slight grin on his face, Mr. Steiner spoke. “This is what I want to wager.“
“What are those?“ Wilson asked.
“Why the most crucial things in life, these are what spreads life throughout your body.”
Wilson’s face paled. “Ar… ar… are those veins?” Wilson asked.
“They are true.” Said Mr. Steiner as his grin grew.
The dealer arrived at the table alongside the waitress with our drinks. She began placing our glasses in front of us along with a full bottle of Absinthe with three empty glasses and three silver spoons in front of Mr. Steiner. As the waitress left our table, the dealer asked the nature of tonight’s game.
“We are wrapping up the details now. I’ll be playing for a small section of their veins if they are willing, and they will play for the deed to the club.” Said Mr. Steiner.
My jaw dropped, as did Wilson’s as Mr. Steiner pulled out the deed to the building we were standing in, and handed it over to the dealer to verify.
“This club, you own this club!” I raised my voice and my jaw stayed dropped as I tried to process this possibility.
“Yes, I won it from the previous owner in the same game I hope to play tonight if one or both of you are willing. He, however, was not willing to pay for my preferred stakes. I knew if I had unlimited access to a place like this, I would find a few people willing to play for them.” Said Mr. Steiner.
Wilson’s eyes sharpened, the words turned raw as he spoke. “Of course he wouldn’t have been willing to play for those stakes. That is both disturbing and absurd.” He said, sounding disgusted at what was being discussed.
Mr. Steiner’s shoulders lifted and his neck muscles visibly tightened as he turned toward Wilson. His voice took on a tense tone as he responded to him. “You and I know that far more outlandish and unseemly things are gambled for here, especially since this club supplies such rare and exotic items. The only difference, Wilson, is that you would be the one who would have to pay for the consequences if you lose.”
I wasn’t sure if it was my surprise what he said, or how he said it, but Mr. Steiner piqued my interest. I wasn’t sure if it was enough to get me to play, just curious enough to hear more about the game he would be willing to lose this club over. “What is the game you want the three of us to play?” I asked.
“I will not be engaging in this game. This would be for the two of you or you alone.” He began as he poured the Absinthe into one of the three glasses. “Simple, all you have to do is light and drink five consecutive glasses of Absinthe. It’s high enough in alcohol content to catch fire, I assure you, it is the traditional way to drink Absinthe. Usually with a sugar cube, but I prefer without myself.”
Mr. Steiner withdrew a lighter from his pocket and stirred the drink with the spoon. It dripped as it was removed and he lit the alcohol-filled spoon. Sure enough, it caught fire. He lowered the flaming spoon to the surface of the Absinthe within the glass, the fire flowed off the spoon and ignited the surface of the alcohol. “It’s just that simple.” Said Mr. Steiner before blowing out the flame and downing the alcohol.
“Well, if it’s so easy, why are you betting this entire club over this challenge?” Said Wilson, with a disgruntled tone.
“Owning an illegal establishment such as this is much harder than I expected. I assumed I could rely on staff to take care of the day-to-day operation, while I could go on traveling the world and living my life in the manner I had become accustomed.” Said Mr. Steiner.
“So why not sell this for profit if you don’t want to run things here?” Asked Wilson.
“HA! And how would I do that, place an ad in the paper? This place didn’t cost me anything to get, so I don’t see it being a loss to get rid of it. So if you’re interested?” Asked Mr. Steiner. Our table fell silent as he waited for a reply.
“I’m in.” I said.
“You’re insane!” Shouted Wilson with a distressed look on his face.
“The body always heals itself and I know how to run a Casino.” I stated.
Mr. Steiner’s face lit up with joy at my acceptance of his little game. “On two conditions, first, I want a trial round, secondly, whether I win or lose, I want a proper vehicle to drive home tonight.” I Said.
Mr. Steiner pulled three car keys out of his pocket. After examining them for a moment, he slid one across the table towards me. The keys had a GM logo on them, and the key chain had a Firebird logo. “One of the vehicles I like to keep close by for gambling, I trust it will suit your needs.” Said Mr. Steiner.
“Yes, that will do. Now let me get this practice round underway.” I said. My voice took on the stern tone that I used when dealing with the bank. It was how I got an extension on payments at the start of my business and other favors after it stabilized. The game isn’t the most important aspect, it’s how you go about it that matters.
The dealer slid the bottle of Absinthe over along with one glass and a spoon. I examined the bottle to get a better understanding of what it was I was dealing with. The bottle displayed a pair of green lizard-like eyes near the top, it gave it a cartoon appearance. The drink had a strong enough alcohol content in it, just as Mr. Steiner had claimed. It surprised me to see the bottle in my hand was far older than I would have expected.
I poured my first glass, filling it halfway with the green liquid. The color only added to the cartoon appearance of the drink. I stirred the drink, hoping to get as much on the spoon as possible. The spoon lit fast enough but extinguished as I passed the opening of my glass. Wilson’s eyebrows raise. On my second attempt, the liquid caught.
“Well done, ready for the actual game? Mr. Steiner asked. It was easy to see that Mr. Steiner was excited. He had an enormous smile on his face and could barely contain himself. Wilson seemed more nervous than I was me.
“You know you don’t have to do this. It’s not too late to turn back.” Said Wilson.
“Let’s play.” I said, staring Mr. Steiner in the eyes as I slammed back my practice round.
“Round one.” Announced the dealer.
I poured the first official drink closer to the rim of the glass so the flame wouldn’t have to travel down so far. As the flame from my lighter neared the spoon, a few sparks jumped off as the spoon flickered and struggled to light. As I led the spoon into the glass, time slowed. The time it took for the flame to slide off the spoon seemed to take longer than my practice round. I exhaled a sigh of relief once the glass lit. I blew out the flame and downed it.
“Round one goes to the player.” Said the dealer.
Round two went without a hitch. As I knocked back another drink, it became apparent to me that the strong alcohol would take its toll sooner than I had anticipated. I grabbed the bottle and poured round three when the eyes on the bottle caught my attention. They seemed angry, mad with the desire of the beast that lay within.
The menacing eyes appeared so life-like that I almost expected them to blink. When I looked up, I saw that all eyes were on me. Puzzled expressions on every face. They must have wondered why he was fixating on the bottle.
When I poured the next glass, the sound of the Absinthe hitting the glass put a knot in my stomach. I lost my desire to drink another drink. As the spoon twirled in my glass, I realized just how intensely the alcohol was affecting me. I tilt the glass this time to bring the alcohol that much closer to the rim. My hands weren’t as steady as I needed them to be.
The Absinthe caught fire but so did the sleeve of my shirt. I jumped out of my chair in shock as I beat out the flame that climbed my sleeve. I put out the dropped spoon that was still on fire. With the two flames extinguished, I relaxed. My eyes shot over to my glass which was now displaying cracks running down from the lip that hadn’t been there prior to being dropped onto the table. When I picked it up to blow out the flame, the top portion of the glass shattered.
“Looks like things are heating up.” Said Mr. Steiner.
There was still some Absinthe that remained in the glass. I picked out the larger pieces of glass. When I raised the drink to complete my task, Mr. Steiner placed his hand on my arm to stop me.
“I can’t have you cut your lip or your insides. That wouldn’t be proper manners for the owner of this establishment. I will permit a do-over for that round.”
I placed what remained of my shattered glass on the table, sliding it towards the dealer. “May I have another glass please?” I asked.
The dealer slid the only unused glass over. I glanced over at Wilson, who had been dead silent. He looked near death. His pale skin was now that of a corpse. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this tense Wilson, you’re not even the one playing.” I said.
“This is insane. It is too much to watch.” Wilson blurted out.
He could tell just how much the alcohol was affecting me. This was the first time I had seen Wilson display any emotion. He always had an excellent poker face, on and off the table. He was a hard person to read, but today he was as easy to read as a preschool book. “It will all be over soon.” I said.
Not sure which of us I was trying to calm. I poured the next glass. I was praying my luck hadn’t run out. That was all I could count on at that point. The drink had too tight a hold on me to count on skill helping out. My poor control of the lighter over the spoon did little to inspire confidence. The intoxication I was feeling began to leave as the flame from the spoon started to dim inside the glass.
I was amazed when the liquid caught fire. With another sigh of relief, I lost all hope of successfully completing the last round. I proposed an intermission to allow me a moment to return some of what I had drunk to the drains. We agreed to a five-minute break in which I was the only one to leave the table.
I returned to the table with traces of water on my shirt collar from my failed attempt to sober up. I notice Wilson putting out another cigarette in the ashtray. He must have smoked a pack in the time we had been at the table. “Shall we continue?” Asked Mr. Steiner.
“Let’s end this little game.” I said.
I filled the last glass past the halfway point of the glass, leaving little remaining in the bottle. This was my last chance. It all came down to this. I felt ready. I offered the last of the bottle to Mr. Steiner.
“It’s an excellent moment isn’t it, drinks would only add to it. I would love to share the last drink with you.” Said Mr. Steiner.
Once both of our drinks were poured, we clink our glasses off one another. With the flicker of the lighter, the spoon caught instantly and the alcohol in the cup soon followed. The fire shot well above the glass. All the tension left my body as my shoulders lowered and my breathing became regulated once again with my last and best-tasting glass of Absinthe. When I looked over towards Mr. Steiner, he didn’t show any physical sign of being disappointed in his loss. His smile hardly seemed to dim. The dealer broke the silence, declaring me the winner as he slid the deed to the club over to me.
“Congratulations.” Said Mr. Steiner.
“There are still a few papers that you will need to sign to make things official. I’ll send one of the staff members up to my… your new office to grab them.” Said Mr. Steiner.
“You seem calm over your loss.” Said Wilson.
“It’s like I said before. I’m not interested in keeping this place. I have no need for it and running it gives me no joy. Money is not a worry or concern for me, and my pride comes from my hobby.” Said Mr. Steiner.
“Collecting pieces of veins from people!” Exclaimed Wilson. The judgment in his tone was clear.
Mr. Steiner cracked a smile at the statement.
“In a small sense, yes.” He pulled out the leather book with his samples in it. Flipping through the pages until he reached the last page. “My pride comes from watching people wager more than they can handle to lose.”
He pulled out a photograph from his book and turned it towards Wilson and me. It was a picture of him standing in front of a wall draped in veins. Some of them were as long as he was. Other strings of veins hung from some out of sight hanger above the picture. My heart pumped harder as I thought how close my own veins had come to being part of that horrendous collection.
I am now the owner of a new, interesting casino. I made use of an ally who may be a little crazy but has proven that he has his uses. As long as I promise him a chance to gamble for his deepest desires. That’s what gambling and casinos are all about. No matter what the odds may be.
Credit : Carl Bluesy
Twitter : https://twitter.com/BluesyCarl
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