Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Streak - 86

There's a ring of matching flatscreens radiating from the top of the circular bar. All-Star preamble, interviews of skippers and players. Legends of the Game. I wonder if I'll see Sugar.

Suddenly there's a breaking report from Fox News. Over the ululations of the slot machines the talking head says there's news about Moo. Their spokesman, a dapper man in his forties, Western-dressed, is shown at a podium, reading a statement to the press.

"The second phase of our jihad is now underway. At this hour, yet another icon of blasphemous materialism is being spirited away under the very noses of all you heedless heathens, too busy consuming pornography and jalapeño poppers to realize the walls of your Satanic kingdom are falling. Also, it is our humble wish to take responsibility for the recent plane accident in the Bronx of New York City. That is all. I will now accept a limited number of yes or no questions."

"Is it a man?" someone shouts.

"The personage we have in mind is indeed a man."

"Is he a movie star?"

"He is not. Next?"

"Is he a politician?" asks another.

"He is not a politician."

"Is he the host of a late-night talk show?" somebody ventures.

"He is not."

"Is he gay or straight?"

"Yes or no, please. Yes or no."

"Sorry. Is he gay?"

"We do not believe our target is a homosexual."

"Is he rich?"

"He is rich in worldly wealth and a pauper in spirit."

"Is he Bobby Flay?"

"Bobby Flay is not on the table right now."

"Is he a businessman?"

"Not by trade."

"Is he an entertainer?"

"It might be said that his inane antics are entertaining to some."

"Is he Carrot Top?"

"I am not familiar with a Mr. Top."

"Is that a no?"

"That is a no. And that counts as a question."

"Damn! Is he a writer?"

"He is no man of letters."

"So he's an athlete?"

"He is indeed an athlete."

"Does he play team sports?"

"Yes."

"Team sports with a ball?"

"That is correct."

"Is he Peyton Manning?" asks a reporter anxiously.

"He is not Peyton Manning."

"Eli?"

"Nor is he Eli."

"Does he play baseball?"

"He does indeed play baseball."

"Does he play for the Yankees?"

"Yes. He plays for the Yankees."

"Is he Kyle Boyce?"

"He is not Mr. Boyce."

"Is he Evan Benjaminson?"

"That is my limit for questions at this time. Thank you all for coming. Allahu Akbar!"

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Streak - 85

Thelxie was on her knees in the back of a limousine. She took the double's finger into her mouth and teased off his blocky ring. Now both were balanced on her tongue. She looked up and gave him a cheeky smile.

"Hmmm... you little thief, huh?" he said drowsily.

She winked. Careful not to swallow.

"Better give me back my... my... my.... Thassa... thassa... shouvenir."

As his body relaxed his vodka rocks fell to the shag without a sound. She rotated the rings so the other one was upright, clasped between her teeth, and his was in her cheek. She again took his finger, limp and curling now, and placed it between her lips. She pushed the ring past his knuckles and felt the tickle of his fingertip on the back of her tongue. She withdrew and sat up on the seat opposite him. His mouth was agape now, his eyes closed and his body inert.

She rapped three times on the division window. The chauffeur dropped her off at the Four Seasons and took the unconscious man across the Mississippi River.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Streak - 84

"I smell smoke. Do you smell smoke?" I'm asking Kyle.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire," he responds. Vaguely. The way he does.

We're sitting at the bar now, taking a break from cards.

"Didja talk to Lisa?" I ask. "Hook up some girls?"

"Hook up some girls," he repeats. He sips an ice cube from his finished drink, swirls it in his mouth. Crunches it. Spits back out the shards. "Hook. Up. Some. Girls."

"That table sucked the will to live right out your ass," I remark.

"It's not that, it's not that, it's not that." Kyle's fidgeting more than usual.

"The fuck is it?"

"Been doing a lotta thinking."

"You could hurt yourself."

"Fuck you. Been thinking."

"Go on."

"Mark Jensen has really opened my mind to some things, man."

"Mark who? You mean that fucking guy?! Fucking Kumbaya motherfucker?"

"I know, I know, I know. It's not cool because Evan Benjaminson fucking disapproves of it."

I feel a chill come over me.

"Alright, man. Sorry. What is it all about? I'm listening."

Grim silence from Kyle.

"Don't be fucking pissed. I'm listening."

Kyle turns to me but looks over my shoulder, far into the LED-and-neon lightscape of progressive jackpots, keno boards all the other glowing and blinking enticements.

"He's opened my mind to something I never knew existed," he finally says.

"What? What? What?"

Kyle shakes his head. "Dunno if you'd understand."

"Jesus Christ, man. We play baseball together."

"Nothingness."

"Nothing?"

"No. Not nothing. Nothingness."

Kyle signals the bartender for another round of drinks.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Streak - 83

"We should play baseball like this," I declare.

"Like this what? Drunk and angry?"

"No, not like we're playing. For Jesus' sake. Like this guy's playing." I nod to Ken.

"You mean empty their wallets and fuck 'em in the mouth? It's a novel approach to America's favorite pastime, Ev."

"No, I mean look at him."

We examine Ken as he deals our hands. He smiles faintly, not taking his eyes off the cards.

"He don't give a fuck," I say, turning to Kyle. "Win or lose."

"He don't give a fuck!" Kyle repeats in wondering whisper.

"Isn't it a thing of beauty?"

"You're bleeding again."

I press a cocktail napkin to my nostrils and examine the resulting crimson stain. I've lost already. Kyle has eights to split.

"So, we should play ball like we don't give a good goddamn," he says. "Should I double down?"

"The book says so," I reply, pinching my paper-bandaged nose.

"Fuck the book."

"Don't fuck the book. You're not listening to a thing I'm sayin'. Be disciplined for once."

Kyle doubles down grudgingly and receives a three across his ten.

"See?!" he scolds me angrily.

"You don't understand the first thing about gambling, do you?"

"I may not give a fuck about baseball but I'm always gonna care about cards," he declares grimly, sipping his drink.

"See what I mean if we play like that? We just might win."

"I like it, one-seven. I like it."

Kyle puts a voluminous stack of chips on his spot. I stay in for the minimum. Just to be companiable.

"You take your position on the field. First pitch. What happens?"

"I don't care."

"Home run. Strikeout. Something's gonna happen."

"We don't give a shit what happens."

"We're down a couple runs already."

"So fuckin' be it."

"We come to bat–" I take another card. Stand pat. "We come to bat. Do we get on base?"

"Maybe, maybe not. Everybody's gotta die."

"We score a run. Maybe we score five."

"I hit into a double play. Could I be bothered to give a shit?"

"It was a well-hit ball. And who fucking cares if it wasn't?"

"We sit around the dugout. It's a pretty nice day."

"I'm adjusting my balls in there. Maybe the camera's watching."

"You're unconcerned."

"Feels good to touch my balls and the rest of the world can kiss my ass."

"Do you watch the scoreboard? Fucking no."

"Eventually the game comes to an end. Did we win?"

Kyle smiles and shrugs. He takes a card and busts. Tries to suppress a cringe.

"We don't even notice till we read it in the papers," I continue. "And whaddaya know. We won."

"We won! It was a blowout."

"We killed them."

"We killed them with our cocks."

"And we didn't even notice."

"I like it, I like it," Kyle says. Just then he gets blackjack.

"S'like a sign from above," I declare.

"This is our new strategy. Moving forward."

"It's decided."

Kyle laughs and looks up to the dealer. "Is it true, Ken? You don't give a fuck? Is that your secret?"

Ken smiles his little smile again. "Actually, sir –"

"No!" Kyle protests. "Don't tell me you care about winning!"

"Like every other loser," I interject.

"Actually, sir," Ken continues. "I like to see the players win."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Streak - 82

With each hand lost Kyle convulses with agony and self-reproach.

"Goddammit!" Slapping the table's padded edge. Gulping down his Maker's and Coke.

"You played it right," I say softly.

"He busted. I should have stayed!"

"You should've nothing. You played it right."

"The only right way to play is to win," he says tersely, signaling for another card.

"Then you're playing the wrong game."

The dealer's nametag says Ken from Provo and he sure looks like a Mormon. Seems to me he peers down at us from behind his unfashionable teardrop glasses with a lofty air and a hearty dose of scorn. But is he judging us or am I just eager to be judged? Probably he's bored, more than anything.

Ken checks his ace-showing hand for blackjack and sure enough the red light flashes. He scoops the other card with the edge of the ace and flips it over in a practiced, fluid motion. Ace-king. He pauses long enough to make sure we see it then mechanically gathers our chips, our cards, his cards.

"I can't believe this is happening!" Kyle wails.

"You're made of money for chrissakes. Relax."

He turns to me and gives me a dark look. "Don't you know that's not the point?"

Before Ken deals again he shifts his weight and pushes the glasses up the bridge of his nose. He stares at something far away before he looks back at the table.

There's no greater humiliation than losing to someone who doesn't care to win.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Streak - 81

"So you're comfortable with the plan, Thel?" asked Matt.

"You don't mind if he calls you Thel?" added Joe.

"Nobody calls me that."

"You're comfortable with your consideration?" Joe continued.

"My what?"

"The consideration we've outlined. In exchange for your participation in the plan."

"My payment you mean?"

Joe brought his finger brusquely to his lips. "You're not supposed to call it that. As per the contract. Section fifteen dash four."

"My consideration. Of ten thousand dollars."

"That's the magic number."

"I am comfortable with that."

"You understand that you are not being asked to perform any act upon the subject which may be offensive to you," Matt reiterated.

"Although you're free to if you so desire," said Joe.

"What? No! Yuck."

Joe put his hands up in deference. "We don't pretend to know. We don't pretend to understand."

"People do things," chimed in Matt. "People are free."

"Can I go now?" asked Thelxie.

"You've got the ring?" asked Joe.

Thelxie put her Fendi purse up on the table and rummaged through.

"Yeah. I think so. Yeah. Hold on–"

"That's a real World Series ring, you know." Joe turned to Matt. "Is it your ring or my ring?"

"It's your ring. Where's my ring?" Matt patted the pockets of his blazer.

"It's your ring. Is it my ring?"

Matt looked down at his hand.

"My ring's on my finger, Joe."

"Must be my ring then."

"Takin' one for the team," said Matt, giving his boss a little punch on the elbow.

"Here it is! I got it. I got it," exclaimed Thelxie, producing the garish jewel from her bag. It had an N and a Y done up in diamonds.

"That's it. OK. Keep it safe," said Joe.

"Have we tested it?" Matt asked Joe.

"The ring has been prepared and tested," Joe declared. And at that the strange trio stood and exited the conference room. Matt shut out the lights.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Streak - 80

I enter the ornate high-stakes lounge, mostly empty but for Kyle sitting alone at a blackjack table, fidgeting his leg and hulking over his chips. The dealer's a tall, pale man in his fifties working quietly, with ruthless efficiency. Jimi Hendrix sings about the purple haze all in his brain.

"You got dragged in by the cat," says Kyle as I sit down.

"How much you down?"

"A hundred. A thousand. A hundred thousand."

A cocktail waitress in a tight, skimpy dress and fishnets walks over. I wonder if it's more demeaning to dress like a whore for a quarter the pay or just to be a whore. I make a mental note to discuss this with Kyle.

"Johnnie Black on the rocks," I say.

I sit and watch a while. The table minimum is a hundred bucks and the hands are flying on account of there being just one player. Kyle plays two or three black chips at a time, sometimes more, no rhyme or reason. He barely has time to make his little stack before the cards are face up and the dealer – dispassionate, serene – awaits his signal.

Kyle is getting brutalized. King-four, stand on seventeen, dealer nineteen; nine, double down, fifteen, dealer twenty; dealer blackjack; split twos against a three, win a hand but lose the other.

I peel twenty hundred dollar bills out of my billfold and lay them on the table in the only available moment, that brief pause when the dealer acknowledges the presence of a bet with the faintest tap of his fingers on the felt. It's like getting on an escalator going down.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Streak - 79

I call Kyle from the lobby of the Hard Rock.

"I'm in town, bro."

"What town? This town?"

"For what it's worth."

"Why the fuck aren't you in St. Louis?"

"Dontcha read the papers?"

"You know I hate words."

"They say I got undisclosed personal reasons."

"So what's the actual reason?"

"Remember those girls? Allegedly terroristic?"

"Yeah."

"That one Thelxie, she comes to find me."

"To kill you? Or to fuck you?"

"Well I woke up in the morning."

"That's a positive."

"She tells me I'm still in danger. Now she's spilling the beans to the Thompson Twins."

"The fucknik brothers."

"And plus I met my double."

"What?!"

"In an elevator."

"How did you know it was him?"

"I recognized him."

"Then what?"

"Then what. Cocksucker nearly killed me."

"He nearly killed you?"

"Where are you? You can see for yourself."

"Blackjack."

"I'm checking in. I'll see you there."