New Dealer Standing Still

Each bite was nearly unnoticeable, only a feeling of anxiety and building frustration marked the exit of a piece of his soul. Shane cleared his hands and rubbed a sleeve across his face, mopping away the nervous sweat that poured from him. He could smell himself.

“Seven OUT!” The dealer on stick yelled. “Clean ’em up, pay behind.” Shane stood still, staring at the layout before him.

“Seven out,” the Boxman said. “Are you listening?” Shane nodded and began picking up the chips in front of him. “Get the line!” Shane froze again, his eyes wide but not seeing anything.

“Right, the line.” He looked at the Passline then back at the Boxman. “What rolled?”

“Oh for Christ’s sake. It’s a seven out! Take the Line! Pay the Don’ts!” The Stickman rapped the curved end of the stick sharply on the table several times. “Clean it up!”

Shane felt his head drop in confused failure and began picking up all the losing bets. Why had he thought learning to deal dice was a good idea? He could swear he was losing himself faster now than he had before. Even the Stickman was taking a share of him. How can other dealers do that? His hands fumbled the chips as he struggled to pick them up quickly. Nothing was easy here. Everything he tried to do seemed to be a magic trick that he didn’t know. The Stickman had hands that seemed to move independently of each other, the fingers turning all directions at once as they plucked chips from the layout and stacked them neatly to either side of him. Shane stacked his chips in front of him then watched as the stack of red, five dollar chips over-balanced and spilled across the layout toward the Boxman. The Stickman’s laugh felt terrible in conjunction with the nasty glower from his Boxman.

“Hey Karl! Where did you get this one from, the kitchen?” An elderly player tucked in next to the other base dealer leaned out, one crusty-looking hand held outward like a question mark turned into a water basin. The Boxman chuckled.

“Nah, we got him from the training class. It’s his first night Gel, try to be nice.” Karl gave Shane a small grin. “He’ll learn.” The words would have been encouraging if Shane hadn’t seen the tiny gleam in Karl’s eye as he spoke. Anxiety crawled down his spine.

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The Gathering – Delivery

Staying alongside the van was effortless, Hugh just kept a hand on the side view mirror and let his intent carry him along at thirty-five miles an hour while he kept a visual of the cemetery gates going in his mind.  The zombie behind the wheel seemed wholly agreeable.  Two bags of Double Chicken Parlays with bacon sat steaming in the console between the front seats.  The passenger zombies seemed to be frozen in their seats, their eyes staring blankly down at the floor as random stomach rumbles gave away their semi-carnivorous responses.  Hugh would have snorted in amusement had he been able.  Death definitely had its drawbacks.

Century Cemetery began as a single spot on the driver’s horizon then panned majestically across the scene as the van closed in on the gate.  Holding his position Hugh visualized passing through the gate and rolling to a stop in the crossroad near his grave marker.  The driver barely slowed to make the turn.  Hugh saw several of his death mates turn to look as the van sailed into the graveyard and all four tires locked up.  It halted right in the center of the crossroad.  Jeremiah strode calmly toward the  vehicle as the driver shoved open the door.  Hugh didn’t spare a glance for the big guy.  Holding patiently to his mental image he lead the zombie along the path.

“This is the place,” the driver declared.  “Who’s got a cellphone that takes decent pictures?”  The side doors of the van opened and several zombies climbed out, patting at their pockets.  Holding the sandwich bags in both hands the driver turned to face his compadres.  “C’mon!  Somebody’s got to have a phone?”  Finally one of them shuffled forward holding an outdated flip phone in his rotting his hand.  The driver looked blankly at it for a few seconds.  “Really?”  The zombie shrugged uncomfortably and lowered his hand.  “Nobody has a smartphone?  All we need is a decent photo of this so we can caption it.”  Looking exasperated he reached for the flip phone.  “Fine, I’ll work with what we’ve got.”  With long, un-zombie-like strides he headed for the nearest headstone.  Feeling victory within his grasp Hugh chuckled softly.  Beside his grave, perched casually on top of her head stone, Brianna spread her bony hands apart as if to clap then stopped, her chin lifting just slightly with curiosity.  The zombie paced to the back of Hugh’s headstone and studied the ground.

“We need to use the back of the stone so I can fake some words into the photo later.”  The other zombies made noises of agreement and began to spread out, skulking through the stones as if they were each looking for the right one.  Hugh stared at them in surprise.  No.  They needed to drop a single sandwich at the front of his head stone.  That was the rule.  Nothing else was acceptable.  Brianna lowered her hands as Jeremiah took a seat on a poured concrete stump, painted to look semi-realistic and crossed his arms.  Having passed its zenith the moon was already dropping again which meant time was no longer on his side.  Clicking his teeth together in determination Hugh scanned the cemetery for options.  Moonlight filtered through the tree branches, highlighting patches of earth and decorations.  Everything looked stationary.  Not a single flower pot or bucket was in sight.  Evidently All Hallow’s Eve was a night for caution among mortals.

Stepping close to the head stone the head zombie tipped the contents of both bags onto the ground.  Twenty-one Double Chicken Parlays with bacon rolled out onto the ground.  Hugh watched them settle as he cast about for a single crow.  All he needed was one.  The zombie pawed the pile of sandwiches, unwrapping a few and settling them carefully askew.  The other zombies shifted closer and offered a few suggestions like, sticking them to the headstone itself or smashing the meat to a pulp on the blank face of the marker.  Destructive, Hugh thought and felt a moment of thanks that he had not been raised as a mortal who hated things.  He risked moving a little away from the costumed men to search farther out for a crow.  Brianna’s skull rotated slowly as she followed his progress.  He tried to ignore her.  After a final adjustment the zombie stepped back to assess his work.

“I think that will do,” he said and reached for the phone he had shoved into his back pocket.  Hugh turned back toward him and felt a moment of real panic.  He didn’t want to do this again next year.  Three years was enough.  He wanted to move on.  The zombie held out the phone and snapped a picture.  “There.  Good enough.”  He handed the phone back to its owner and headed toward the van.  Two of the lesser zombies stared at the sandwiches left on the ground.

“You’re just going to leave them there?” the owner of the phone asked.  “That’s littering. And it’s rude.  Somebody is buried there.”

“If you’re that worried about it then pick them up,” the driver growled.  “I don’t care what you do with them.”  The two zombies began scooping up the sandwiches and stuffing them back into the discarded bags.  The phone’s owner held onto a single sandwich as he walked toward the van, looking down at it as though it wanted nothing more than to take huge bite of it.  Hugh stepped toward him and focused his thoughts as tightly as he could.  With a giant push of energy he did the one thing he could do in the graveyard that he couldn’t do anywhere else.  He materialized.

“Hey, over here,” Hugh whispered.  The zombie turned his head.  “Boo!” Hugh said. Eyes bulging in their sockets a scream ripped out of the zombie’s throat.  The other zombies whirled in surprise and saw Hugh spread his arms as if to hug the man.  Panic ensued as the men, yelling and screaming in all octaves, scrambled into the van and slammed the doors, leaving the lone zombie to his fate.  The mortal used the only weapon he had, he hurled the bag of sandwiches at Hugh followed by the one sandwich he had been studying.  The bag sailed through Hugh’s chest as he let himself return to mist and struck the front of his headstone with a satisfying whack!  The van roared to life and skidded backward toward the gate spraying gravel as it went.  The zombie raced after it.

Jumping like a jack rabbit Hugh bounced around his grave in elation.  Brianna clapped slowly as Jeremiah walked over to extend his congratulations.

“A bit dramatic,” the big skeleton commented.  “But effective.”  Hugh wiggled all his bones with such fierce pleasure that his spinal column threatened to collapse.  The moon was barely visible on the horizon as it set.  The sun was on its way.

With sunrise so close the others began returning.  All around Hugh skeletons settled onto their graves and talked quietly among themselves as they waited for sleep to come.  Several extended their congratulations to Hugh on his victory as the story spread about his materialization.  One of the last to return was Kameron, skull drooping in defeat.  She muttered congratulations to Hugh and walked slowly to her grave where she threw herself down so harshly that her bones flew apart.

“Next year for sure, Kameron!”  Hugh tried to sound encouraging.  Bones rattled as Kameron pulled a single hand back together and extended her middle phalange as the sun began to rise.  Hugh chuckled as he sank into the ground.

(Part one is here, Part Two is here.  Happy Halloween everyone!)

The Gathering – Aquiring

“Out of my way burger boy!”  Hugh was jostled at the gate by a slender skeleton stomping by.  Surprised he halted to watch her pass.  Getting a Double Chicken Parlay wouldn’t be nearly as much trouble as what she was after.

“Get that key ring, Kameron!”  Kameron’s skull pivoted on it’s synovial joint and she stared at Hugh as he displayed the letter K in American Sign Language with his right hand.   He wanted to smile for her then, a huge, face splitting grin, perfectly gauged to extract the maximum anger response.  Kameron’s lower mandible dropped open then closed multiple times as grass clippings and leaves rose to swirl angrily around her knobby feet.

“Hey, hey, Hugh Parlay.  How many crows will you kill today?”  The sing-song chant hit his mind like a devilish lullaby and he promptly changed his K to a rude sign formed with only his middle phalange.  Kameron laughed and turned away, the small hurricane of ground litter tumbling behind.  Well aware that Jeremiah didn’t give impossible assignments Hugh knew that Kameron would eventually find the key ring with her name on it.  Determination filled his spirit and he kicked into a jog.  Swinging left out of the gate he headed along the sidewalk toward the city lights.

One place in town offered a Double Chicken Parlay with bacon and it was crawling with business.  Cars lined up at the drive-thru with costumed drivers shouting their orders into the kiosk while others flooded inside.  Goggling at all the people Hugh slipped between the vehicles and took careful position behind the kiosk, close enough to make an impression but not too close that people would feel his icy presence.  Why so busy this year, he wondered?

“Your order comes to twenty-one sixty-eight at the second window, please.”

“Thank you.”  The black cloaked witch behind the wheel shifted her SUV into drive and inched forward off the weight plate.  A large mouse riding shotgun peered intently into the witch’s face.

“Do you feel anything?”  The witch shook her head.

“No but right at the end I thought I saw a little mist around the back of the kiosk.”  She fiddled with her sideview mirror.  “Do you see any mist?”  The mouse turned around in her seat and stared directly at Hugh who froze in surprise.

“Nah, I don’t see anything at all.”

Aw crap.  After finally getting himself pulled together time had been short at the last Gathering and out of desperation Hugh had tried to force a man to say the words Double Chicken Parlay.  In a panic the guy and gunned his accelerator, striking the rear bumper of the truck in front of him.  Evidently he had told his story to a few people.  Self-consciously Hugh sidled behind the outdoor order menu.  On the bright side, he thought, he had a lot of material to work with this year.

Four vehicles back from the witch and her mouse rocked a gray van filled with fully costumed zombies.  From his new vantage point Hugh watched the zombies with interest, the driver in particular seeming impatient to get to the kiosk.  The van rode as close to the back of the car ahead of it as it could without actually touching it.  The car’s driver, a plain joe in a dark suit looked like he just wanted to get out of line but the van was too close and cutting off a third of the opposite lane.  He couldn’t turn outward without causing a commotion among the rest of the people behind him.  Hugh chuckled and thought, face it pal, it’s going to be chicken for dinner whether you want it or not.  Would the suit guy be a good candidate, he wondered?  Probably not.  The car was a small, practical model with no sign of a baby seat or a wife.  Most likely he would eat from his coffee table with his porch light turned firmly off.

The van became much more interesting as it inched up the line.  The driver draped himself out the window and began grumbling at the other cars.

“Killers!  All of you.  What is wrong with people?  Did it ever occur to any of you to just eat a salad?”  Spirit soaring with hope Hugh stepped out from behind the sign and edged toward the van.  Could it really be a group of activists crashing the chicken joint on Halloween?  Dark suit pulled up to the kiosk and ordered a bucket with two sides and biscuits in a voice dripping with discomfort.  His back tires hadn’t even cleared the weight plate before the zombie forced his van onto it and began shouting into the kiosk.

“Gimme twenty-one Double Chicken Parlays with bacon!  Let’s kill as many animals as possible for one sandwich eh!”  Hugh counted the occupants of the van as he wondered if the driver realized there was cheese on the Parlay?  Technically that brought the animal abuse count to three but, only two were actually dead.  Counting the driver the long van held fourteen people.  At least seven of them thought they were going to eat two full Parlays all by themselves?  With that many sandwiches going out the window he thought he would be able to claim just one without too much hassle.

“Chicken is murder!” the driver hollered and beat his hand against the outside of his door.  “Murder!”  The guy had just ordered twenty-one Double Chicken Parlays.  Who was murdering who?  Suppressing the urge to laugh Hugh laid his hand carefully over the driver’s hand pressed against the outside of his door and thought firmly about the gate of Century Cemetery, drawing a clear picture of the large wooden sign with its deeply beveled wording.  Had he possessed lungs he would have held his breath.  The driver stared into space for a few seconds, his sunken zombie eyes looking vacant, then a smile spread over his face.  “I know what to do,” he stated and inched forward.

(If you missed it, Part One is here.)

The Gathering – Rising

“Welcome to the annual All Hallows Eve Scavenger Hunt!  I see a few of you are still working on getting yourselves pulled together.  Take your time, we have all night… or at least until the sun comes up.  First things first, for those who are having their first Gathering don’t panic, your parts will all reach you eventually.  If you find you are truly missing a piece or two have a look in the trees, sometimes the crows will carry off a bone for their nests.  Just focus on the piece you can’t find and eventually you will be able to sense its location.  Should you find that something is completely gone you can still rise, you just have to envision the missing bone being in its proper place.  For some of you this may take more effort than our one night will allow.  If you are unable to participate this time there is always next year.  Take things slowly and you will have a better experience in the long run.”  The skeleton speaking loomed above the rest, a large, heavy boned, titan of information.  If he noticed the multiple postures of alarm in the apparently captivated audience he gave no sign, simply continuing his lecture in a smooth, deep voice that carried clearly through the soughing tree limbs and rustling deadfall of the cemetery.

“Our list this year includes some unique items so pay attention.  I will say your name followed by the item you are assigned to.  If you can not get the item before the sun comes up you are disqualified for this Gathering.  Those who were successful in obtaining your item at the last Gathering you will be moving on to the next step in crossing over.  I’ll get to that after I am finished announcing the Scavenger Hunt list.”

Hugh lounged against his headstone and rotated first his left foot at the ankle, then his right in small, tight, concentric circles, focusing on his own bones rather than the sound of Jeremiah’s voice.  It was the same speech every year so it wasn’t like he really needed to pay attention.  Beside him, sitting cross-legged upon the dirt she rose from, Brianna leaned her spinal cord against her own headstone and crossed her arms over her chest.  Hugh stared hard at her, willing her to look at him as a light breeze pushed grass clippings over her femurs.  Around them the cemetery boiled with activity as the dead crawled, clawed and complained their way out of their graves.

“Save your strength for getting that Double Chicken Parlay with bacon,” Brianna stated, continuing to stare at Jeremiah while he talked.  Hugh looked away self-consciously.  This was his third year trying to get his item.  At this rate he would turn to dust before he was able to finish crossing over.  He looked back at his right foot, watching his phalanges move jerkily through the air.  Was his great toe looking grayer than last year?  A clump of sod splashed through his rib cage, the grassy roots catching on his sternum.  He glanced up in surprise.

“What the hell?”

“I said, do you have a plan for this year?”  Brianna’s skull gleamed in the moonlight, her

parietal bone shimmering like steel while she clawed the ground, readying a second handful of dirt.  Hugh wished his eyes were physical so he could fully appreciate the colors of the night that surrounded her.  Late fall was was filled with browns, yellows and greens that just couldn’t be seen at any other time of year.  Regret was a harsh emotion for the dead.

“Yeah, I have a plan,” he said trying to play it cool.  “I’m going to park myself next to the drive-thru menu and do my best to force someone to order one and drop it on the ground.”  He let his lower mandible drop open like a comedian at the punch line.  All he lacked were lips to smile with and a tongue to stick out.  Brianna aped him like a delayed reflection then played the air drums in hugely exaggerated motions.  Ba dum dum dum.

“Genius.  And once it’s on the ground?”  Hugh would swear under oath that she was raising her eyebrows at him.  He wanted to scowl and had to settle for digging his toe phalanges into the earth.  “Is a dog going to carry it to your grave for you?”  That thought had actually crossed his mind.  “Without eating it?”  That had crossed his mind also.  His toes dug trenches in the dirt beneath his foot while he brooded over the unlikeliness of his ideas.  Brianna had risen, assembled herself and acquired her item before the sun rose at last year’s Gathering.  Envy wasn’t even the right word but it was all Hugh could decipher about how that made him feel.  He had barely managed to put himself together when he had his first rising.  Jeremiah’s voice continued to boom across the cemetery.

“Remember, just because we can see each other doesn’t change the fact that we look like mist or fog to the living.  You are not physically visible or audible.  Getting your items will take some real thought and careful execution.  The item needs to be brought all the way to your grave and laid in front of the headstone.  Nothing else is acceptable”.  Hugh raised one hand like he was directing an orchestra, holding the pause, then brought it down sharply as Jeremiah continued.  “Happy hunting everyone.  Let’s have a great Gathering this year.”  His voice faded away and skeletons began to move toward the main gate.  Hugh pushed away from his headstone wishing he had lungs to sigh with.

“I guess it’s time to get going.”  He looked cautiously at Brianna who was still seated.  “Since you got your item already what will you be doing this year?”  In response she dropped her lower mandible open again, a sarcastic parody of his previous movement.

“Clapping for the underachievers, what else?”

Intersection

Targe never saw the woman cross the street. He hadn’t seen her step off the curb, she just seemed to be in the middle of the road. It wasn’t like he made a habit of monitoring all the crossing points of an intersection, he didn’t, but this particular intersection was practically empty of pedestrians. Cars were backed up in all four directions but walkers were nearly non-existent today, except for himself and the elderly woman sporting a very bright, blue sweater. Where had she come from? Why was she just standing there?

Feeling like he should do something Targe walked toward her, the safe, anonymity of the sidewalk falling behind him. He tried to catch her eye as he approached, his boots thunking audibly against the asphalt despite the heated rumble of many engines held in check. The lunch hour was closing in. The digital bank sign to the east flashed 11:26 am followed by the temperature, seventy-six degrees. If the morning weather man was correct things were going to get much hotter and storms would be crashing by six o’clock. It was unreasonable for Targe to think the woman might be caught in a down-pour that was over six hours away but the idea still flashed into his mind. He could see her, very clearly, standing in the middle of this same intersection while clouds rolled back and forth above her, thunder snarling angrily, hair slicked flat to her head. A strong feeling of deja vu washed over and his feet hesitated for second as he tried to shake it then continued walking, his mind focused on the woman.

“Ma’am? Ma’am, can I help you?” Without thinking Targe spread his arms apart, effectively corralling the woman with his open hands, a hug interrupted. He looked into her face, searching for something that might connect them. Brownish golden eyes stared right through him, focused on something else, something other than that moment. “Ma’am?” He passed his left hand up and down in front of her face, noting that her eyes didn’t track the movement.

“Excuse me? Do you any aspirin?”

Targe’s jaw fell open a bit and his eyes widened in surprise. She wasn’t looking at him. Who was she talking to? He couldn’t stop himself from speaking.

“What?”

“My ankle is killing me. It’s all swollen and really hurts to walk on.” The woman bent at the waist just far enough to pull at her pant leg and expose a smooth, unmarred, nylon protected ankle joint. “It’s so painful!”

Apprehension tightened Targe’s lower back. He glanced back at the sidewalk and the corner he had left to come here and try to help. A car horn beeped lightly behind him, the noise making him jump and compulsively he tried to cover the weakness by closing one hand around the woman’s elbow. She was warm but stiff, not the pliant flesh and bone he had naturally expected and her body heat was subdued, as if it came from deep inside and had lost much of its radiance before reaching her extremities.

Another horn beeped followed by a longer, lower blast to his left. The lunch crowd was getting restless. Targe needed to get the lady out of the street and onto the sidewalk. Gently he pulled at her elbow, hoping she would just follow him to the curb. He may as well have tugged on the street itself. The woman remained solidly in place, a physical fixture in the crosswalk. She didn’t seem to have even noticed Targe or his hand on her. He goggled at her in  confusion.

“I don’t know what happened, it just started hurting and now I can barely walk on it.” She was studying her ankle, he collar length light brown hair, over-due for a touch-up on the roots, wisping around her face, responding to a breeze that Targe didn’t feel. The bottom of her button-down sweater seemed to sway in time with her hair. Targe glanced again at the bank clock. Seventy-eight degrees. Things were heating up.

“Ma’am please, you need to get out of the road.” It felt like an empty effort but he couldn’t help himself. He pulled at her again. His heart skipped as the woman glanced in his direction, a curious look crossing her face. Had she heard him? He saw her eyes narrow.

“Excuse me. Are you listening?” Her lips moved in time with the words but her voice seemed to drift backwards, away from his ears.

“Ma’am?” Targe felt sweat pop up on his forehead and begin to roll down toward his eyes. A chill seemed to pass through him, a shiver that shook his shoulders. It did nothing to cool him though

“Hey mister?” The voice of a young boy, distant and breathy behind him. Targe ignored it, focusing on the woman in front of his eyes.

“Come on lady, I’m going to walk you to the curb.”

“Well, that’s rude. The least you could do is look at me.”

Who the hell was she talking to? Targe could tell she wasn’t talking to him. The small glance in his direction had been more like a response to a mosquito than her actually responding to him. A drop of sweat trickled from his temple down to his jaw. He turned his head and brushed his chin against his shoulder. He absolutely hated sweating. If he wasn’t working out or playing a sport then sweating was his sworn enemy.

“Mister? You should get out of the street.”

Eighty-one degrees. Targe stared at the bank sign in disbelief. The temperature had risen five degrees in only a few minutes! 1:34 pm. What the hell? Panic rolled through him and he squeezed the woman’s arm.

“Lady! Look at me!”

A small hand patted Targe’s arm.

“Mister, can you see me?”

Another horn blast, this one longer but fainter, barely getting Targe’s attention. Anger through him and he turned his head, eyes narrowed, searching for the offender. To his horror all the vehicles surrounding him were now the same make and model, each one stretching like a limousine. The longest limos to ever exist, the back ends vanished into sharp points at the very edges of his visual perception. All four directions looked identical, each with a bank sign flashing ninety-four degrees. Sweat poured down Targe’s face, the trails making his skin twitch. His shirt, a long-sleeved button-down that had seemed perfect when he had put it on that morning now felt like an itchy wet sack stuck to his torso and upper arms, the neck as scratchy as fine sandpaper. He wanted to pluck at the fabric, to undo the buttons and find some relief but he couldn’t. His empty hand remained outstretched in a permanent welcoming gesture while his other hand gripped the lady by her elbow. The boy’s voice continued incessantly behind him, the hand patting his arm non-stop.

The last rational thought Targe had was of himself as a kid, standing in the changing room of a department store, caught in that one spot between the mirrors where he could look at himself, replicated in all directions, forever.

The Casino of Light

Shane made his way back to the black jack pit with slow, plodding steps, his black shoes flashing little pieces of light. He could see they needed buffing. Another week and someone would start riding him about it. All employees will be neat and professional at all times. They are a visual representation of the company. His mind ran through the words in a sing-song cadence. Just thinking about it made his shoulders slump further and for the umpteenth time he wondered how he had come to work here? His life had been rough but it really hadn’t been so bad that offering himself to the Casino of Light was his only option.

Other dealers flanked him as he walked, heads drooping, eyes fading. All of them were slender, frail looking people clothed in black, polyester tuxedo pants and royal blue shirts that were buttoned all the way to their throats. The last uniform they would ever wear. Shane felt a stray wisp of his dark hair tickle his forehead as he walked. Not every hair could be contained in his ponytail. During rare moments of vanity he thought the stray pieces made him look a bit rugged. Not that it mattered really, his chances of ever getting a date again were slim unless he could hold onto enough of himself to actually climb the company ladder and acquire the ability to feed.

Entering the pit through the south end Shane tipped the brass pole to one side, stepping carelessly over it and ignoring the blood red velvet rope strung between it and the next pole. Jonathan frowned at him.

“Enter through the rope like you’re supposed to, not around it.”

Like a vending machine Shane felt his spirit dispense a small amount of itself, the light within him diminishing a nearly imperceptible amount. Nodding his agreement to his Floor Supervisor, Shane headed for his table, tapping the relief dealer on the shoulder to signal him to finish up and move along to the next dealer. He could have just walked in through the rope and saved himself the pain but, the point seemed lost. His soul was vanishing regardless. Dropping his left hand onto the plastic shoe Shane jiggled it briefly to loosen the flow of the cards then swept his right hand across the layout and announced, “Bets are open.”

Jonathan stood just outside of Shane’s peripheral vision, watching, his round, healthy cheeks bunched in a smug grin. Shane dealt his game, each card precisely located on the felt and made a point to count clearly and accurately for the players. He couldn’t see Jonathan without turning his head too far, rounding it was called, but he could feel him back there, waiting to lap up the crumbs left by the players each time they nibbled at him.

An hour later the relief dealer returned and tapped him on the shoulder. Shane pulled the shoe to the center of the table and turned it inwards so the hole faced his tray of chips before clapping his hands and showing them, palms up, to the camera above. He stepped to the right and left his table. Jonathan was waiting for him, a snake-like look in his eyes. Shane noted the little flakes of dandruff powdering Jonathan’s shoulders. Only two hours into the shift and the guy was already snowing. Probably should lay off the mousse, it aggravated dry scalp issues.

“You need to watch your players better.” Soft, fleshy hands rose, still clasped together to gesture vaguely at the black jack table. “The guy on first base has tried to cap his bet four times in the last hour.”

“I know,” Shane replied feeling a low rise of irritation. “He hasn’t been successful or I would have called you over. That is the proper procedure, right?” You already had your bite tonight you little mole. Go chew on somebody else.

Jonathan breathed in and out through his nostrils, staring at Shane’s eyes. Then he shrugged.

“Yes, that is the right procedure. Keep an eye on the guy though.”

“Sure thing,” Shane said. He let his eyes travel over Jonathan’s outfit, a cheap off-the-rack number that bagged just a little bit too much through the chest. “Can I go?” Jonathan waved him off like someone swatting at a gnat. “Nice suit,” Shane muttered and headed for the rope.

“What was that?”

Shane didn’t bother turning around.

“Shiny!” he called back. “Very shiny!”

 

(Casino of Light – 2 here)