Friday, July 27, 2007

The Gamble

This story was originally published on

Marco stared at the spinning roulette wheel then shifted focus to his four, five hundred dollar chips that were stacked neatly on double-zero. He came to Las Vegas with the unorthodox objective of losing all of his money. Now he was down to the final two grand. Hitting double zero wouldn’t only allow him to leave with twice what he brought to the table, but it would, quite literally, save his life.

Forty-six hours earlier, Marco walked into the casino with a suitcase filled with $30,000, his entire life savings, and hit the roulette table with the stoic confidence of an established high roller. In the end, precisely as planned, he left the table with two thousand dollars in his pocket. Nearly two solid days of gambling left him emaciated. He denied the casino doctor’s plea for him to spend the night under observation at the local hospital. Instead, aided by a stocky man in a plaid green sport coat and reeking of cheap cologne, he made his way to his room. Once inside, he followed his plan to the letter. He filled a glass with water and placed it on the nightstand, washed his face and hands, brushed his teeth, set the air conditioner to maximum, and then created a cocoon using the pillows and blankets from both beds. There, swathed in slippery nylon, Marco sank into the deepest of sleeps.

The black-out curtains and the A/C did an adequate job of keeping the room dark and cool, but the early risers in the room next door and the continual slamming of spring-loaded doors echoing from the hallway were slowly unraveling his cocoon and drawing him out of oblivion. It was the clink, clink, clink, shunk, thump of the Coke machine on the other side of the wall which shredded the remaining fabric of his slumber.

Marco threw back the covers and glanced at the alarm clock which read 6:22. He walked over to the window and opened the curtains. There, three stories below, the pool was waiting. Within a few hours hundreds of people would be swarming about, but for the moment, the pool area looked exactly as it had the morning he met her – quiet and serene. He closed his eyes and rocked his forehead back and forth slowly on the glass. It felt cool, soothing, but Marco didn’t think he deserved such comfort, so he pulled back and stood up straight. At 48, Marco felt he had experienced so much loss, accomplished so little, and influenced so few that he was ready to discover whatever awaited him on the other side. He didn’t even know that he believed in a higher power, but he had come to Vegas to find one or die trying. He was ready to make that final passage, and if there was a Savior of some sort, Marco was making sure there would be a prime opportunity for a miracle. Besides, to Marco, this was hell, or close to it. Anything that lies beyond has got to be an improvement. He was tired of being burdened by life and tired of forty years of testing his faith, looking for signs, and agonizing over possibilities. How many times had he pleaded to the heavens to provide guidance and comfort? How many unanswered prayers were still in queue, floating in the ether – wasted? How could it be that he was born to lead such a miserable life, devoid of meaning, purpose, any semblance of inner peace?

His eyes fixed the far cabana. It was there, exactly ten years ago, that he met Aimee. They spent the weekend together before heading their separate ways with promises to keep in touch. Marco called her several times, but she didn’t respond. He tried convincing himself that she meant nothing, but it was no use. Aimee was only the second girl that he had kissed, and the first one who kissed him back. Those two days constituted the longest relationship he has ever had.

His reverie was broken by a man walking out of the cabana. He was wearing a green bathing suit and sported a tattered, wide-brimmed straw hat. He took off his hat, tossed it onto a lounge chair, then canonballed into the pool. He surfaced after several seconds, and started treading water in the deep end. Marco was perturbed. He planned on the pool being empty this time of the morning. He needed enough time to sink below the surface and take as much water into his lungs as possible then lie undisturbed for at least three minutes. Marco turned away from the window to the alarm clock. It was time to go. He glanced back toward the pool and the man and his hat were gone. A trail of footsteps led toward the back gate. Marco pulled on his pants, slipped into his shoes and walked out of the room.

Once in the casino, Marco walked directly to the same roulette table. He pulled the chips out of his pocket and stacked them on double zero. The dealer called to the pit boss who was standing at the far table. He turned and Marco recognized him as the stocky man in the plaid coat who helped him to his room just a few hours ago. The pit boss nodded to the dealer then turned away. The wheel spun and Marco watched. If he won, he would keep the promise he made to himself to turn his life around; to somehow find purpose, hope, and serenity. If he lost, he would take this as the final confirmation of a wasted life. The wheel slowed and the ball dropped. Marco smiled for the first time in weeks. The test was finally over.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Happy Hour

I later found out her name was Barbara LeFang. I met her last week in, well you know, once of those bars. Business had been great and I wanted to celebrate. Honest, I had only a couple drinks when she walked by my table. Little did I know she had been watching me from the far side of the room. You'd think, as a private eye, I'd have some sort of acute awareness that sends an alert when someone is spying on me. Not so; but luckily this time, the prowler in the shadows was a tall blonde with painted on jeans and a hypnotic smile. She walked to the bar, and winked at me. Gary saw her too. "Look at that!" He said. I nodded. "Look at HER, Gary, not THAT – remember?" I said. Gary is the CPA in the next office over from mine. He's 55, single, good with numbers but lousy with the ladies. Last year he saved me over five grand on my taxes, but only had one date – my sister. He's asked me to help him understand women better, learn how to talk to girls. One of our first lessons involved learning to respect women, and treating them as people, not objects. "Now pull your hand away from the side of your mouth, pick up your drink and stop staring at her rear end." I said. "Right, sorry, but she winked at you!" Gary said, swiveling his chair back toward me. I, of course, as the teacher, was required to further study the object – err, the delicate beauty for which Gary was so obviously taken.

A dozen years as a P.I. had afforded me keen observational tactics which provided an advantage when approaching people, especially the ladies. But this one was special – no run-of-the-mill barfly here, that's for sure. Pure and simple, I was mesmerized. Gary pulled the red straws out of his drink and flicked them at my face. "Hey – how come you get to look at her?!?" A few drops of his Cuba Libre hit my cheek and eye brow, but I didn't even blink. It was right about then that she pivoted toward me. Her sinuous contours moved in silent symphony, and when she looked at me, she didn't look, she dove.

Aided by some cosmic anomaly that, at least temporarily, replaced both gravity and reason, I stood, then felt the distance between us disappear. It was as if I was standing still and gliding toward her as the universe folded upon itself to ensure our destiny. Only a breath away from her, she smiled again, and pointed at her name tag which came into focus: "Bacardi – Party All Night!" then in smaller letters beneath – "Barbara." The universe snapped back into shape with a resounding clap. I was going to say something, although I don't know what, when the bartender called from behind her, "LeFang – order up!" Startled, she turned toward him. I used the decoy to my advantage, and with great stealth, moved back into the shadows.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


This story was originally published on

Dana hung up the phone and stood at the bedroom window. She looked out over the dock to her brother waiting next to the idling shore boat. Behind her, Stan lumbered up the stairs. He took one deliberately slow step after another, allowing the echo of each stomp to resound throughout the house.

Stan stopped at the landing and looked up the hall toward the bedroom. A pool of light bled into the hallway, and he watched for shadows. Inside the bedroom, Dana eyed her coat that was draped over the recliner, focusing on the pocket holding the gun. Another thump coming from the hallway, then another. Dana turned and met Stan’s eyes as he entered the room. He was an imposing figure - six feet four inches tall, but another inch or so with his work boots which he insisted wearing everywhere – even around the house. He had thinning black hair which was drawn back to a weak pony tail. An unkempt goatee punctuated an otherwise handsome face that, at one time, Dana mistook as kind. “Who was on the phone?” Stan asked, picking at his fingernails with a match book cover. This was how the attacks always started. Dana knew his questions held no more relevance than her answers. Two weeks prior Stan stormed into the room and asked “Who ate the last of the cereal?!?” That simple query was the spark of outburst that left Dana with a black eye and a dislocated shoulder. Over the years Dana had tried being sweet, tough, loving, even crazy, but each charade ended the same way. So now she just said whatever came to mind. This time she told the truth. “Peter.” Dana said. “It was Peter on the phone.” Stan’s brow narrowed as he spoke, “Did you tell your brother that he doesn’t need to call here everyday? Did you tell him I can take care of my own damn wife? Did ya?!? His bloodshot eyes drilled into Dana’s. She held his gaze. “The subject didn’t come up.” Dana said. “What did you say?!?” Stan said, leaning toward her. Dana backed up a half of a step, keeping herself in line with the recliner.

“You’re talking back to me, Dana.” Stan took a big step forward and Dana walked backward quickly until she felt her coat behind her and the heavy pocket bounce against her calf. “Jesus, you’re jumpy.” Stan giggled as he spoke. “Are you taking the medication that the doctor prescribed to calm your nerves, because I don’t think I’ve seen you move that fast in six months.” Stan took one more stop toward her. “I shouldn’t have to move at all you know.” Dana said, gripping her coat with her right hand. “Well, that’s true, my dear, that’s true. And we’ve talked about ways that we could work things out – arrangements that would make things a little less. . .” he paused, searching for the right word “. . . troublesome around here. But each time we agree on one of these arrangements, you seem to forget the rules; now isn’t that right little lady?” Stan took another step. “Don’t come any closer Stan!” Stan stood and smiled, combing his mustache with his thumb and index finger, then drawing them down to his goatee and scratching his chin as if deep in thought. “My, aren’t you feisty.” Stan brought both feet together, snapped his heels, and gave Dana a salute. “Okay, I won’t move, but I want you to do me a little favor – alright?” After hundreds of attacks, this was the part that Dana used to fear the most - the part where the predator toys with its prey before making the final, killing blow. This time, it was Dana’s turn. She blinked once and licked her lips.

Stan stood four feet from Dana, staring at her waist. He reached out his right hand and pointed at her with his index and middle finger held together in the shape of a gun. His eyes moved to Dana’s chest, then he swept his fingers inward, motioning for her to loosen her robe. Dana didn’t move. She did what she always did – stood perfectly still. But this time instead of quietly cursing herself for lacking the courage to leave him, she thought about the boat waiting, of life somewhere off this island.

Stan’s power over Dana had been waning for several months, and this enraged him even more. The beatings had gotten worse, but as they did, Dana gradually put up less and less of a fight. The terror and contempt she once harbored for Stan began migrating inward, infesting her like an unchecked virus. During the past several months she came to the baffling, disturbing conclusion that she had become her own worst enemy. More and more she regarded Stan as a mindless, faceless entity that roamed the house, beat her, raped her, and then moved back into the shadows. She knew she had to leave, but now it wasn’t because of what he did to her, it was because of what he had forced her to become. She remembers the first time she felt the crack of Stan’s knuckles against her cheek and thought she deserved the punch. The first time he sodomized her and she felt relieved that someone had the power to punish her properly for being so inadequate. She stood in the bedroom hundreds of times and listened for Stan to pound up the stairs. In the beginning she was petrified. Over time though, fear changed to anger which then, only recently, had turned into anticipation. Stan needed to be eliminated because he was no longer just an abusive husband; he had become the agent of Dana’s self-destruction. Even as she stared right at him, she didn’t see Stan at all; she saw that pathetic, weak bully in the back of the class who constantly flicked her ear; the cockroach on the kitchen floor scurrying for the shadows, just begging to be crushed.

Stan made the motion with his fingers again. Dana felt a chill pulse through her and a thin smile grow across her lips. She let go of the coat and slowly parted her robe revealing a white T-shirt. Sam grinned, pointed to the bottom of the shirt, and motioned upwards. Dana closed her eyes in a prolonged blink, swooned toward Stan, and felt herself succumbing to another attack. She felt the temptation to lean into the sweet sting of his first blow, to open herself to his brutish thrusting. Her body tingled with anticipation of the punishment she knew she deserved. She could almost taste the comforting warmth of blood in her mouth. She opened her eyes, stared at the hideous stranger in front of her and reached back for her coat. Not anymore. She would not allow this night to become another bad memory. Instead, she would remember this night as the one when the faceless, hulking entity she used to call her husband went through his final metamorphosis. The night when she flipped the switch, watched the cockroach scurry, and lowered her heal with a resounding crunch.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Hi folks -

Just a quick announcement that I've just launched an online writing community called 52stories.

Do you want to write more, but don't know what to write about? Do you find yourself procrastinating over writing? 52stories is here to help you remove the barriers between you and your stories. We provide one photo per week and you write a story based on that photo. We publish your story and other writers provide feedback. Imagine writing 52 stories in one year... now, make it happen.

Stop on by - and let me know what you think.