Chapter twelve: The turning point
A closed-off facade hides a place built on lights, music and the hope for more.
Advertised as a frivolous fun evening out with the boys while also promising the chance for riches and a boost in status and wealth.
It doesn’t make sense.
“Good evening ma’am, what game would you like to play?” The lady at the door asks.
“Do you have jinx?”
“Certainly, right this way.” She leads me down the tables past cheers and people grieving the loss of hours of work.
You’d think that luck is the ultimate equaliser in these games, but fortune befalls the most to those who have the most tries. People who can afford to lose until they win and have lost nothing in the process but pocket change.
As the table dooms up I realise I have made a mistake. I should have asked to be led to a different table.
Scope out the place first.
Because the moment this sparkly, beautiful lady walks past the tables everyone looks up to see if it’s a new playmate for them or someone else.
And it’s no different at the jinx table.
Where we stop.
Everyone looks up at us, including Melody.
And I watch the colour drains from her face.
“Enjoy your game.” The woman says pleasantly pulling back a chair across from Melody for me to sit on.
“Thank you.” I sit down.
Her eyes look at me starkly. I try to guess what she’s thinking but come up empty.
“Do you know the rules?” The dealer asks.
“What? Yeah, yes I do.”
The dealer nods and starts handing around cards.
I guess that the game is afoot then?
Should I imply that I know her or would that only make her situation more suspicious?
If she’s doing what I think she’s doing I don’t approve of her methods. But I don’t think the people here would be very courteous to her if they found out.
I have to play this very carefully.
I pick up my eight cards, they’re decent enough but nothing to write home about.
The initial bet goes around the table. I guess the rest is in the same boat.
The first cards are discarded and snatched off the table. I manage to pick up a ten of diamonds I can use for a street but the moment I pass on my queen of spades it gets snatched just as easily and I wonder if I played into my neighbour’s hands there.
And then right as the third round is about to start the knock.
“Forty lodis,” she says with a straight face.
I need to take a moment to catch myself, I didn’t even know she owned that much money, perhaps it’s her winnings?
Or she saved up beforehand.
“Call.” My neighbour puts down the money.
I look at my hand, “I’m folding.” If her hand is anything like I imagine there’s no beating that.
In the end, two others follow her into the third round.
By the end of it, she made a cool two hundred lodis in one fell swoop.
Well, I guess that’s great, that’s at least a train ticket all the way to Asheru and back so it’s time to call it a night right?
I look at Melody, she averts her eyes as she rakes up the cash.
“Congratulations,” I tell her.
I want to follow it up with something, but there’s no way to make ‘let’s call it a night and go home’ sound good.
I hoped she’d take the hint.
But then the dealer deals again.
And we’re still sitting there.
This time my cards look a lot more presentable. A lot of hearts and even a couple that could line up with the right cards.
Of course, getting a one-colour street is unrealistic at the best of times. But I can at least try and fill it out as far as I can and supplement it with whatever colours come my way. Or I can just try and collect a full set of hearts, that’s nineteen points, hard to go against.
It’s a gamble.
But, I’m at a casino so…it feels fitting.
I just hope Melody doesn’t knock this time. I don’t think beating her would be much fun for either of us.
We make it through the first round without any issues.
Even the second round goes by without a peep.
And then the sound of a hand on wood reaches my ear and I sigh.
It’s not Melody at least, it’s my neighbour.
The more I watch him play the more I start to dislike him.
But I have seven hearts and still a chance at drawing.
So I call.
And I hope with all my heart that Melody folds.
I curse inside.
Then discard my last card and pick up a three-of-clubs.
But it’s still not a bad hand.
I can still get seventeen for it.
“Read ’em and weep” this guy says as puts down his cards and I see a perfect street.
I put down my own hand.
And all eyes turn to Melody.
“You do the weeping Jackal” Melody sneers as she puts down a nearly identical hand in clubs. Funnily enough, it’s the three of clubs she was missing.
The dealer starts counting points. Then declares “The girl wins.”
“Preposterous.” The man throws down his cards and gets up from his seat. Finger pointed accusingly at Melody “There’s only two ways you win this much at jinx. Either you blew the dealer good, or you got extra cards in your pockets!”
“No one likes a sore loser, Jackal.” Melody scoffs, but the smirk on her face quickly withers as two big bouncer-looking types walk up to the table.
“Empty the pockets.” The first one says while the other one pulls her from her seat by the shoulders.
“No, screw this. Keep your money if you’re so petty.” She picks up the coins and throws them at the man’s face.
“Is this really necessary?” I try to calm the situation but it’s like trying to tell a pack of wild dogs it might be an idea to go vegetarian.
“Empty the pockets.”
“All right then.” The one who had his hands on the girl’s shoulders suddenly ties her arms around her back.
“I’ll do it myself.” He says feeling around her hips for the pockets.
“Hey keep your hand to yourself you pervert!”
I get up “That’s enough!” I’m ready to pull this guy away, get kicked out, whatever-
But then the bouncer’s hand comes back in a cascade of cards strewn over the table.
“I told you! I motherfucking told you she was crooked!” the man almost sounds delirious with joy. I can’t say it’s in good taste
“Well, congratulations asshole! Hope you’re pleased about yourself.”
“I am quite.”
“I’ll wipe that smirk off your face you dick!” she struggles against the bouncers but she might as well have tried escaping a metal vice.
“That’s enough. Take her to the back.” The first bouncer tells the second.
And Melody’s expression changes in the blink of an eye “What? Wait! Just throw me out, I won’t come back.” The fear is palpable.
“We’ll make sure of that yeah.” The man scoffs.
I don’t like where this is going. “Hold up, I’m coming too,” I announce.
The glittering lady who let me in steps in front of me. “The casino apologises for the inconvenience but I’m afraid the back is inaccessible to customers.”
“Look she’s just a child!”
“All our patrons are legal adults by the city’s guidelines, if you like to review the guideline you can do so at our reception desk.
This is going nowhere, I sigh. “Get out of my way.” I push the woman aside.
“Hey, bouncer!” she shrieks but I have no time to play around. A few try to stop me but a path forms the moment it gets through to them I’m not about to stop for anyone.
I push the door out of the way, there’s a metallic clang as I do so.
Guess it was locked?
I follow the shrieks of my friend and end up in a backroom that’s mostly boxes and dust.
She’s lying on the ground, crumpled up while trying to protect herself from the blows of the bouncers.
I pull them off without much effort.
“That’s a bit low, isn’t it? Beating up a child?” I berate the men.
“Company policy miss, and none of your business I might add.” The bouncer turns, punches me in the face and then his eyes start to water as the bones in his fingers crack uncomfortably. “Fucking dolls!” he exclaims.
“Delaylah!” Melody cries out as she pulls herself up and wraps her arms around me.
I send her a glare “What the hell were you thinking going to a professional casino and trying to cheat your way to riches exactly!?”
“Look I thought they’d just throw me out if I got caught.”
“You’re kidding right!? I know barely anything about your stupid human customs and even I could predict you wouldn’t get off that easily!”
She opens her mouth, closes it again, lets go of my waist and covers her face with her hands to cry.
I grunt, then address the bouncers “Look, she’s nineteen. I like to bet you made mistakes when you were nineteen. Hell, I wager you still make mistakes now. I don’t expect forgiveness for her actions or anything. But I don’t condone beatings and assault either so how much do you need to let us leave through that back door of yours and you’ll never see either of us again? You don’t even have to disclose it to your boss, think about that, a nice big payday and all you have to do is not beat up a nineteen-year-old girl, sound good?”
The men look at one another.
“You wanna pay us off with stolen cash?”
“Hey I just entered the table and you can check my pockets if you want proof I didn’t cheat, hell I didn’t even win so I didn’t even get a chance to steal from you.”
“Fine, five hundred lodis.” the man smirks.
I sigh “You think I have five hundred lodis on me right now?”
“If you don’t have the money then I guess no deal.”
“Do you have a phone?”
“Great just let me take a call and I can have this all cleared up in ten minutes.”
“One call, and I’m adding five on top of your 500, for the phone bill.”
I scoff “fine.”
They roll in a table with a phone mounted on top and plug the end into the wall “One call. Make it count doll.”
I roll my eyes. There’s no need to be so dramatic.
I pull out the drawer, flip through the pages of the phonebook inside it and locate the number for Memento.
“Yes, hello? Can I talk to Kregaya? Tell her it’s Delaylah, yes I’m a frie- oh hi sis. I’m gonna need five hundred from you real quick, I’ll pay it back tonight but uhm, turns out Melody’s plan wasn’t pickpocketing after all. I’m in Lucky Casino, find the back door, we’re doing a bribe thing. You’re amazing as always I’ll see you in five.”
I hang up the phone, then pull my purse from my pocket and hand over five lodis “For the ‘phone bill’.”
“Who was that?” Melody asks.
The one who’s bailing you out right now. I expect a ‘thank you’ once she’s here.
She nods, then gets up slowly from the floor. I put a hand on her shoulder to keep her steady by my attention goes to the bouncers.
“So where’s your back door exactly?”
The men look at me dumbfounded “Uh, this way.”
“Great.” If you don’t trust us not to run you can wait outside, the doll you need is hard to miss ” I then pull out a chair and sit down.
“Right. You go do that.” One bouncer tells the other.
“This better not take long. If the boss finds out we’re screwed.”
“Don’t worry, chances are she’s already looking for the right door. Nothing stops that lady once she’s got a goal in her mind.”
“I’m starting to feel like that’s a general doll quality” Melody jokes.
I shrug, not quite ready to laugh yet.
It takes less than five minutes for the bouncer to come back with a bag that sounds heavy with coins “Right, you’re free to go and stay away, there won’t be a deal for you next time.”
“I’m quite sure she’s learnt her lesson, isn’t that right Melody?”
“What? Yeah…” The girl’s expression is a mix of relief and confusion.
“Good let’s go.”
“Delaylah I’m so glad you’re okay.” Kregaya cheers as she jumps around my neck.
“Yeah, thanks to you.”
“And you, Melody was it? You should be ashamed of yourself.”
The girl looks away, “Trust me…I am.”
“Well…good…and also, I’m glad you’re okay.” she hugs Melody gently.
The girl gasps in surprise, then says “Thank you for the help miss.”
“It’s Kregaya, and just be sure to keep out of trouble from now on.”
“Well with that done with I guess it’s time for us all to head to the hotel so this lady can go to bed and I can pay you back.”
Kregaya shrugs “Can’t, gotta dash back, I’m on in ten, but you can bring the money later, it’s fine.”
“All right, have a good performance.”
“Always.” She gives me a last hug.
And then our hero of the day disappears into the crowd again, leaving us only one last job.
Get home safely.
The night seems extra dark tonight. I think it has to do with the flashing lights at the casino, it makes the rest of the world seem darker and duller.
Melody walks beside me, silently, arms crossed and small looking.
I can only guess she’s stunned by the experience.
I can’t say I blame her.
I feel much the same way.
What is there to say when things went this wrong this fast?
“I’m sorry for cheating, and making you lose all that money, and I’m sorry your friend had to come out to save us and I just…I didn’t expect any of this and-” she sniffs, trying to force back tears “I’ll pay you back I-”
I sigh, pull her close “What did you learn tonight?”
“Don’t try to scam casinos?”
“Don’t scam anyone?” She tries.
“Exactly, if you make sure of that it’s all good. Money can be replaced.”
“No buts, I won’t stand for any attempts at paying me back. If you genuinely want to save up and leave home. You’ll have no use for a debt to start with especially now that you’re doing it the old-fashioned way.”
“Right… Thank you Delaylah. I don’t deserve a friend as good as you.”
I scoff at that “Without me you’d probably still have a girlfriend.”
I gasp. I didn’t mean to say that at all “Sorry, I mean, because she broke up with you after seeing us together. I shouldn’t have brought that up, did I?
She shakes her head “If it weren’t you, it would have been someone else. That girl has issues I can’t fix. I still love her but if she can’t trust me to tell the truth there’s no room for a relationship either.” She scoffs “She wasn’t even wrong about me having feelings for you. But I never cheated on her and never would.”
I look at her with big eyes, did she just say what I think she said?
She worms her arms through mine and leans against my shoulder as we walk “Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to love me back, especially not after the shit I just pulled.”
My heart makes a jump. Should I say something? I open my mouth but I can’t find any words to say.
She chuckles face averted from me “Listen to me rambling. I could really use a wash and a good night’s sleep right now.”
“Yeah… How is your body, I mean, are you hurt?”
“You ask me now? After walking all the whole way home first?”
“I’m sorry I-”
She chuckles “My ego is bruised far more than my skin. I’ll be fine.” She then unlocks the door, gives me a final hug and tells me “Thank you again, I don’t know what would have happened if you weren’t there.”
“Let’s make sure we never have to find out.”
She nods “Good night Delaylah.”
“Good night Melody.”
She darts up the steps.
Leaving me with my thoughts, and a lot of complicated feelings.