The Deal by Steve Prusky

Vegas had him strung up good and tight. There were the traffic violations and consequent fines he didn’t pay. Each ticket went to warrant every court appearance he skipped. He tended bar swing shift on Fremont Street at a local’s hole in this last chance part of town dotted with similar grave yards for the lost. He was a two-time felon. He kept an illegal piece; a Charter Arms snub nose 38. He dealt stepped on coke from behind the bar, doled free drinks to slot players, his friends and anyone who tipped big. He dipped in the till when he could. A third conviction would qualify him as an habitual criminal; the “Big Bitch” in street jargon--twenty years to life. He vowed on his life he would do no more time. His live in girlfriend was a shackle gripping at his throat; snorting up his half of the rent at will. He disliked her more than he liked her, but it was more convenient to stay than leave. They shared an education earned in the shadows of a darker Vegas no visitors see. Years on Fremont Street earned them their honorary “Street Degree”: an envied sheepskin few with both feet on the curb survived long enough to attain. There were no other bonds between them--besides coke and sex and a mutual inability to love.

She ran Keno at an off-Strip casino only desparate locals played. She cheated at slots too; more for the entertainment value than a risky way to get ahead. We called it “slugging” back then, before video machines converted to debit cards and cash. She’d mold dies in clay from silver dollars and casino tokens, then caste slugs from lead weights used to balance wheels at the tire stores. That kind of coin’s success depends on its weight. If it’s too heavy or too light it trips the machine to shut down. Most times an honest coin would just jam the slot. When that occurred an attendant came, opened the top and freed it up. As amends he’d grant the gambler an on-the-house hand to play. Dollar machines paid off best. When played full up, five coins max, those glorious machines at times spit out magic; four-thousand dollars per Royal Flush. That kind of money was fun to have until it ran out. He let her slug on his shifts. When she jammed she ran, then he’d call an attendant once she was gone. When she won they’d split the winnings 60/40 (40 to him), and they’d run for days on coke, Jack Daniels, no sleep, no food, ‘til the money ran out. Money spends fast in Vegas.

Two days awake, coked-up, loaded on Jack, she hovered over a bar top dollar game in another cemetery for the living dead a bit further west up Fremont Street. Her slot jammed up pretty quick. She moved to the next machine and called for the attendant to free her first machine up as if daring fate to act before its time. He opened the machine, fixed the jam, closed the top and brought a slug to the bartender. “She’s slugging” he said in a proud “ I got her” type voice. “I counted ten more on top in the hopper. I’m calling Gaming Control. Keep her here.” The bartender comped her a Jack and Coke and joked with her some until Gaming came and pulled her aside. The attendant opened both machines, picked out the slugs and handed the agent the evidence. She was cuffed and caged before the full moon set.

The judge freed her by noon next day--case dismissed. She took a quick, easy deal--him for her. The D.A. wanted bigger bait to nibble on compared to what little soul she had left to free. That evening, guns drawn, Metro raided his shift. Before they got to him and the coke he stuck the 38 under his chin and fired. I suppose an eternity dead was better than twenty years to life--at least to him. Never short of coke, she quit slugging for a while; lost her Keno job; still gambled some. She’d lay down when she had to.

This story would have ended differently if they'd just done online gambling!

Steve Prusky lives, works and writes in Las Vegas. He transplanted to Vegas from Detroit 23 years ago and never looked back. He was in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Before that he attended Northern Michigan University (where he learned how to drink) and after Vietnam, he attended the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee where he learned to love literature. Steve Prusky's poetry and prose have appeared in Lake Superior Review, Cornerstone, Caliope's Corner, Kindred Spirit, Foundling Review and he recently won "The Bukowski" contest for fiction in The Legendary, which will appear later this month.


Anonymous said...

"another cemetery for the living dead"

Wow, what a great description for a casino. I was in Vegas not too long ago, and that is apropos.

Good read.

-Ben Sobieck

Lee Hughes said...

That was some writing. Had me proper enthralled.

Bill Baber said...

damn... that is a tight story. maybe my fave on the entire site!