Gambols in Counting
BY MICHAEL CHANEY
Addiction is twenty cigarettes a day. Jeannie rolled her eleventh on break from the tables where she dealt jackknives to gamblers with metronome eyes. Let another counter ride and that’s your ass, her pit boss said. Other croupies made a fuss. If she goes, we all go. But Jeannie knew there were no strikes in Vegas, only streaks and stakes and stoking heat. She drew on lucky eleven as mountains kept watch for spoons and light wands along the Mojave. She counted thirty drags from spark to stub.
Jeannie’s father, Rand, was thirty when he killed himself far from the babies he left with their cheat of a mother, who never comped him the quiet of a living room to sit like the King of Clubs reading the paper. But he knew he was the real cheat. Those were his cards to play and he’d let it ride like a whale and, come what may, walk away from the table with head held high—the only lesson his own Daddy ever taught him, a man made of tobacco and desert, whose voice idled Bessie Smith and Exodus, who held his head high and walked straight out of Rand’s life. A new straw hat was on his Daddy’s head with a royal blue band on it just like the dollar chip at the Dunes. Rand remembered it vividly as he counted the casinos arranged as giant toys for rusted mountains to play with—five tall blocks, two rocket ships, one pyramid—and his last steps to the roof’s edge, wondering how to hold his head toward infinity. One…two…
With three days left to live Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel read the Los Angeles Times to Virginia and Smiley. The June heat was unbearable, but nothing like the feds at the Flamingo. He’d make that pink bird fly if it was the last thing he’d do and here in Virginia’s living room with the chenille curtains coming for them every so often like angels mad on delphinium, none of that mattered. He read about Truman’s eleventh visit to Key West as Virginia sank into velvet doing her best Hedy Lamarr and Bugsy thinking between the lines how nice this would be every evening, just like this—and it was. Three days later his head unloaded its winnings onto a Times article about Truman’s veto of the labor strike bill, a.30 caliber slot carried by chenille, delphinium, and a stolen M1 newly carved on his brow. When the coroners emptied his pockets they counted eleven cents, a cigarette butt, and a worn poker chip once royal blue.