The old steel pocket watch was scuffed and scratched, but she loved it. It reminded her of days when she and her love would sit at the cool edge of the slow moving Oneleaf River, their heads leaned together as they giggled and tried to count the minnows. He had given her his grandfather’s watch on a day just like that. Now the watch was a comfort to her on days like this. Days when they barely spoke, the animosity so tangible she could reach up and snatch it out of the air. Now she sat alone in her office, laughter but an echo in her minds eye, while the desk lamp cast a shaded light over the watch as she turned it in her fingers. She felt nostalgic while she indulged in the metallic rattle and click of the watch cover as she carefully popped it open. Immediately her heart pulled at the sight of the watch’s face, and she snapped the lid closed again. Then a knock came at the door, and her heart jolted her ribcage as it somersaulted in her chest.
“What?” She snapped.
“Time to talk.” Came his voice from the other side.
They hadn’t spoken since this morning when they’d argued over something insignificant while the kettle was left to scream in the background.
“Fine. Come in.” She said, resigned.
He came in briskly, his lips tight and his gaze pointed enough to jab her in the chest. As he stood in front of the closed door, arms crossed tight, his eyes fell to the watch.
“Mike called again.” He said as he stared at the reflection of light on the marked metal.
“Great. Did he leave a message?”
“No idea.” He said indifferently.
“Well, it’s not hard to take a message!” She spat.
“I didn’t feel like taking your lovers messages in my own home.” He shrugged as if it was inconsequential and pushed his wavy brown hair from his forehead.
“He is not my lover. I don’t know how many more times I can tell you that.” She squeezed the watch in her thin fingers.
“Every other night you’re with him until 10 o’clock, midnight. It’s indecent. You could so easily end it, then we could both be happy.”
“That’s really easy for you to say. I need a friend. I’m the one who’s alone.”
“What are you going on about?”
“All you do is work.”
“Oh, get off it, you know I need to work.” He waved his hand in the air dismissively. She could feel her face getting hot. Her fingers began to shake as she clutched the watch desperately.
“By the way, I’ve been meaning to mention, I want my watch back.”
Her eyes began to sting.
“You gave this to me as a gift. It’s mine now. You can’t have it back. Sorry.” Her lip trembled. His jaw was set as firm as ever and his normally blue eyes looked a steely grey.
“What’s the matter? You need it to keep track of your dates with Mike, I suppose.” He leaned against the door and raised an eyebrow. She wanted to smack the smirk off his mouth.
“I need it to remind me...” She smeared the gathering tears away from her blonde lashes. Her focus darted down to the watch.
“Remind me of the days when you actually gave a shit.” Her fingers had turned white and dark purple-red where they clung to the watch.
“So I’m an asshole because you’re a cheating—…” He stopped abruptly. Her attention snapped back to his face.
“Come on, no point in holding back now.” She glared straight into his eyes, unwavering in her contempt of his feigned respect.
“You know…I wouldn’t need Mike’s friendship if you payed more attention to me, instead of your dead end job. How many years have you been kissing ass, hoping for a raise?”
“Maybe I wouldn’t need to absorb myself in work if you didn’t spend every day bitching, eating, and crying. Get some self respect. It’s not attractive behavior.”
She stopped and stared at him for a long time. Her whole body trembled and her eyelids were heavily weighted with realizations brought about by cruel words. She felt like she might drown.
“Oh.” She said.
She stood up and crossed the room. He tightened the cross of his arms and leaned away from her as she approached. With each step she took toward him, she turned the watch over in her fingers, trying to memorize the feeling of having it in her hand. The weight of the metal, the clink of the latch release, the smell of dirt and old steel, the pattern of marks that tracked history all over the surface of time.
“Here.” She said as she handed him the watch. He took it silently and then moved away from the door as she pushed past him into the hallway. She disappeared into the bedroom.
He flipped the cover open and looked down at the watch. His triumphant smirk dissipated as he saw a crack in the face. The pocket watch had stopped ticking, the arms were silent and still.
It no longer kept time.
Vincent Fleet, the main character of this story, is someone near and dear to my heart. I know this is crazy to admit, but he was a character of mine for a Living Greyhawk campaign. I tried to capture his essence without combining it with any poor D&D tropes. That being said, I had six long and lovely years of playing this character and couldn’t just let him die. He was the character that had the audacity to light a cigar off a fire god’s leg… you can’t let balls like that die. I hope you enjoy and thank you for the read! This story is part of a story exchange, and Truly Hunter has written one of her own, “Tempest Moon”, that will be appearing in my blog. Hop over and give it a read!
--G Dean Manuel
He clung to the wall with the barest of handholds, his strong fingers supporting most of his weight. He looked down, his violet eyes scanned the area quickly and carefully. He was happy to note that not even a tremor of discomfort passed through the muscles of his arms at having to hold him suspended in such an awkward position. That meant that his latest acquisition, the platinum bands that encircled his upper arms with delicate traceries of bulls and bears, had been worth the king’s pieces he had paid for them.
After a few moments he was satisfied that no traps, trips, or alarms would impede his way down the wall. He struck a nimble course downward, swinging from handhold to handhold in a rather rakish manner. When he was 8 ft. above the floor, he pushed off the wall with the balls of his feet, tucked his knees and twisted. He landed on the floor without even a whisper of sound, the soft soles of his leather boots absorbing it all. As he rose he gave a court-like bow, waving at an imaginary audience. Sometimes he wished someone was around to enjoy the skill with which he did things.
Shaking off such unhealthy ruminations, he focused back on to the task at hand. Such thoughts got thieves caught, he thought darkly. Though he mused as he glanced up the almost 40 ft. to the window he had climbed from, he was a maestro at work here, and he let a warm sense of pride suffuse him as he pondered how easily he had scaled the outer keep walls. And the inner curtain walls, the inner keep walls, and then down the walls of this great hall. He had won his way through to the great hall of this slumbering keep without alerting a single guard, dog, or whatever other manner of creature the keeps residents may employ.
He dipped carefully from shadow to shadow, drawing the hood of his cloak up. His cloak seemed to match the quality and depth of the surrounding shadow, making him nigh invisible to any but the closest of inspections. Not that most of the big races would have even noticed him even if he wasn’t cloaked in shadows. Vincent barely stood 3’2”, and most big races, especially humans, ever looked that far down. Hell, he had seen 70 winters pass, give or take, and still most acted as if he was a child! Of course, hardly anyone got to see him as he looked now, he thought with a smile. His body was festooned with a horde of magically enhanced equipment, worth more than most kingly treasure rooms. That is not to say that he was some charlatan, only boosted to his level of skill through the use of magical enhancement – far from it. As a young lad, he was taught to use every advantage open to him, and his skills had afforded him many advantages over his 70 years.
Besides the boots and cloak, he wore black woolen pantaloons that were tucked into his soft leather boots. A black silk shirt and spidersilk gloves hid the rest of him from view, and his head was concealed by the shadowed recesses of his hood. His eerily violet eyes seemed to float within a pool of blackness as he made his way down from the great hall. He started mentally going over the map in his head, and he knew that the room that he wanted was very close. He walked briskly down the hallway, making two quick turns then stopped abruptly, the hairs in the back of his neck standing on edge. He didn’t immediately see what had put him on alert but he had been doing this too long to ignore such a feeling. He stood frozen as if made of stone, his only movement the slight adjustments of his head as he scanned the walls, floor, and ceiling. He looked around warily as his initial sweep of the area produced nothing that would have warranted this feeling of unease. He was about to chalk it up to his senses being in overdrive when a shadow caught his eye. It wasn’t that it was out of place, more that it was too big, and as he studied the shadows, he noted that shadow was deeper towards its end rather than its beginning. He closed his eyes, letting his vision slip into the spectrum that allowed him to pierce the darkness with ease, revealing the tight packed sigils of the ward that was inscribed within the wall. He studied it carefully, not yet moving until he had ascertained that it would be set off by him breaking the line that it drew across the hallway.
Now, most thieves were trained in the basics of lock picking and disarming by their local guild. But few individuals ever took it beyond there, most were content to be pick pockets rather than second story men. Few were the elite thieves that could deal with all the mechanical traps that seemed to proliferate in this modern age. (Vincent naturally blamed the gnomes, but then Vincent seemed to blame the gnomes for most things these days. Not that this was far from the truth, for the gnomes of Formaggin’s Hall, the great dwarven hold, were tasked by their dwarven lords to seek better ways to protect the vast treasuries that resided underneath their mountain. But really, Vincent just liked blaming gnomes.) Now, amongst those elite few, only a handful of masters existed that could take apart a magical trap. Among those, Vincent could count on one hand the number that could bypass this trap, leaving no evidence of passage. (Of course, Vincent was one of those fingers.) Vincent’s agile hands worked their way across the magical ward, and he marked without touching the contours of the trap. He closed his eyes, reaching out, feeling the energy contained within the arcane sigils and deftly redirecting their flow. He smiled, opening his eyes once more to look upon his work. After a moment’s inspection to make sure that there were no other surprises, he shook his head, quietly clucking in disapproval. If people wanted to keep their valuables, why didn’t they protect them better? Of course, he thought, not many were prepared to challenge the likes of Vincent Fleet.
No longer was his step as jaunty as it had been just moments before. He was an extraordinarily skilled, arrogant bastard, but even one of his skill could find himself dead if he did not take things seriously at times. And if that ward upon the wall was any indication, now was one of those times. He began scrutinizing the walls more intently, alert for even the slightest indication of something out of the ordinary. He was slightly disappointed when he realized that the ward probably was the meat of the powerful defenses that protected this treasure. Sadly, it was a rare occasion when he would be challenged during a heist. (Luckily he was very deficient in other parts of his life, so challenges did abound.)
He had almost returned to his carefree posture when he noticed the slightest shimmer in the air in front of him. He stopped, his cautiousness returning tenfold and examined the corridor he was in. Crossing the corridor, nearly invisible to the naked eye, was a spider web about 6 feet across and almost 10 feet high. Each string of silk was nearly an inch in width and Vincent had to fight down the rising panic as he calculated the size of the spider that would have spun the web he spotted. It wasn’t that he was particularly scared of spiders, but anyone would be scared of spiders the size of a dog. His hand darted down to the kukri belted at his side, sliding it soundlessly from its sheath. He rolled back his sleeve of his other arm, revealing a bracelet hidden beneath. He spoke an arcane command word under his breath, causing a protective oval of force to wink into existence, which was about the rough equivalent of a buckler upon his forearm. Vincent backed away slowly from the web, scanning left to right, up to down, trying to locate the owner of the web. He had begun life as a denizen of the Deep Realms and knew a thing or two about giant spiders, so he gave a silent prayer to the gods of chance that this one would be of a more mundane variety.
He wheeled quickly, cursing in the same breath that he had just prayed in, instincts honed perfectly, telling him that the spider was behind him. He groaned inwardly as he watched the spider step from the wall, its body solidifying as it left the protection of the stone. He quickly sheathed the kukri he was holding, knowing it would avail him naught against the likes of a spirit spider, and drawing instead a bone bladed dagger that had a slight ethereal shimmer to it. He may not be the most skilled fighter in the boundaries of Witchhaven, but he was certainly one of the better prepared.
The spirit spider eyed him balefully, its long legs clicking upon the stone floor of the hallway. Vincent was almost taken by complete surprise, barely dodging out of the way, as the spider spit a web at him. He rolled into a wary crouch, prepared to launch to one side or the other once more if needed, but the spider seemed to have grown bored of the game and was closing the distance between them.
Vincent rolled backwards, the spider’s forelegs coming down on the spot where he had been. When his hands met cold flagstone, he pushed up, easily springing back to his feet. He immediately lunged forward, dagger held in a reverse grip, his blade biting deep into one of the spider’s forelegs. The limb fell to the ground then dissolved into ethereal nothingness. The spider chittered angrily, shocked that his blow had connected. It existed between two planes, the physical and the spirit, and it took a special enchanted blade to hit it with any surety.
The spider attacked with wild abandon, and Vincent ducked and weaved around the vicious blows. The combat had an eerie, surreal quality about it, and it took place in almost complete silence. Vincent was barely a whisper on the cold stone and the spider's pointed legs only made the barest of clicks upon the flagstones. The spider was fast but Vincent was faster, he was patient. The spider finally overextended itself, making a reaching blow with its good foreleg, and Vincent masterfully flipped over the sweep of the leg, landing silently on his feet.
Vinnie struck an overhand blow at the second leg, severing it at the joint, and the spider's balance finally faltered. He didn't wait for it to recover, and he kicked out at it. The blow coupled with the loss of legs caused the spider to tip to the floor. Pressing on his advantage, Vincent gripped his dagger in both hands and plunged it into the exposed underside of the spider's maw, where it sank deep. Vincent held it until the death throes of the spider weakened and finally ceased all together. Like the severed limbs, the spider's body dissolved into a pile of ethereal dust.
Vincent took a moment or two to assess his situation, as wounds could be missed in the heat of battle, and adrenaline had a way of hiding pain. Vincent felt confident that no blow had been struck but he liked to be sure. He was wearing a mithral chain shirt with a mithral undershirt. The main piece was elven and the undershirt was dwarven, each was exquisitely crafted. The elven chain shirt he had won at the tables playing against an elven swordmaster – he had to have it resized but it was worth it. The shirt had saved him more than he cared to admit. The undershirt was a marvel of dwarven craftsmanship; the links were so tiny it was more woven than forged. It had stood between him and a deadly sword blow a time or two in the past.
With the spider dead, the web itself disintegrated, and Vincent hummed silently to himself. Things were going quite well, he should be done with this job ahead of schedule and be able to catch an ale at the Hooded Lantern – his favorite tavern in the area – nothing barred his way from there to the door to the treasury room.
He paused and didn't immediately approach the door. Something didn't feel right and Vincent knew it wasn't the time to let his arrogance get the better of him. His keen eyes scanned the area; it took him only a moment to notice what was out of place. There was a carpet laid out in front of the door. Vincent smiled. He imagined that this man had gotten tips on protecting his valuables from a book entitled "How to protect your valuables for idiots".
He carefully pulled up a corner of the carpet before he stuck his hand underneath and confirmed his suspicions. Pit trap. Vinnie opened his pack and withdrew his climbing kit. He took a couple of spikes from the kit, strategically placing them along the scene, and he tested to make sure that the trap couldn't be sprung. Once sure, he turned his attention to the door. He closed his eyes and ran his fingers over the door and frame. When his tactile inspection yielded nothing suspicious, he opened his eyes, and he gave the door a once over then turned to the door lock.
Vinnie snorted. Could it really be this easy? It was a difficult lock but not the most difficult he had encountered – much easier than he expected. He inserted his tension bar into the lock and with a small bit of wire he manipulated the tumblers. He felt them fall, one after another with satisfying clicks, until he finally turned the tension bar and the door released from its frame.
He withdrew his tools and immediately threw himself into a roll left. He was scant inches in front of the blackjack that was arcing towards his head. He twisted in the middle of his roll so that he ended facing his surprise adversary. His hand disappeared within one of the hidden recesses of his cloak and he removed the bottle secreted within before tossing it toward his foe. The man reacted without thinking and caught the bottle. Vinnie grinned at him and whispered, "Taramos."
"Dragon's balls," the man swore as the bottle spewed its noxious contents right at his face. He caught the cloud squarely in the nose.
Vincent moved forward and caught the man before he fell unconcious to the floor. He was surprised to realize he recognized the man – Valnos of the Blade he was called. A decent second story man and enforcer for the street gang the Nighthowlers. He considered his situation as he retrieved his bottle. He didn't kill unless absolutely necessary. Besides, the Guild frowned upon such actions. So Vinnie satisfied himself by patting the Blade down and retrieving his Guild token. With it, he could extort Valnos for a favor.
He decided he would have to hide the unconscious body, so he grabbed Valnos by the arms and dragged him to the nearest storage closet. He dumped him unceremoniously within, sure that the potion he had used would keep him unconscious for at least fifteen minutes. Vincent planned to be long gone before Valnos woke up.
Opening the door to the vault room, he made a quick scan of the contents and gave a low, appreciative whistle. He deftly pocketed a few choice gems that he appraised at middling worth – nothing worth more than 200 king's pieces, harder to trace that way. Jewelers tended to recognize gems of a certain value and Vinnie didn't need that kind of attention.
He reminded himself that this wasn't a personal shopping spree, he was hired to breach the treasury of this small keep for a specific item, and it was time that he retrieved it. His employer's instructions were very specific at this point. Just like he was told, there was a trap door in the northwest corner of the room, and the door in the floor opened easily when Vincent uttered, "Karnos."
He descended the ladder into a small cave-like vault. These items within were supposedly items of no small arcane power. His instructions at this point were to only retrieve a mask, and remove nothing else, so Vinnie located the mask quickly and swiped it. It was a small thing, made of some pliable material that was made to fit over the face, covering eyes and nose. He stuck it in his pack. He abided by the contract and took nothing else, but it was hard. Vinnie's hand reached out to touch things of its own accord, and he had to mentally reel himself in. Considering this was a vault of magical treasure, he couldn't be sure what all this stuff did or how dangerous it was, so he left everything else for the time being.
He climbed back up to the now less stellar treasury room, stole a few more things on his way out to make himself feel better about leaving the magical hoard downstairs, and quickly snuck out of the keep.
His employer sat across from him, nervous as ever, he clutched at a satchel like it contained his soul. Vinnie smiled and knew how feral his grin must look. He had taken care to appear intimidating, at least to someone of this man's station. Vincent knew this man was a front, someone's stooge, a scribe or scribe's assistant with soft hands but a weathered look. This man had been poor but made his living doing something other than manual labor. He wanted to talk to the man pulling the strings.
"So, I think it is time to meet the man behind you. You know, the one with all the clink who pulls your puppet strings," Vincent said casually.
"What?" the man glanced around nervously, "What do you mean? I'm your employer!"
Vincent smirked. He leaned back in his seat and pulled out a knife. He waited until the scholar's eyes were glued to the blade, the threat very much explicit, before he began to clean his fingernails. The scholar need not know that Vincent was only passable with the blade.
The man gulped, visibly shaken, but stayed resolute.
"I am the employer," he said in a shaky voice. Sweat was dripping down his face and he looked ill.
"Come on, bloke, we both know you aren't the puppet master. Let's cut through all the horse shit and get down to brass tacks...”
"Or, if you are the employer, it is going to be my great displeasure to inform you of the sanctions being brought forth by the Guild," Vincent said. He deepened his accent until his Underworld accent was thick. Upworlders were always intimidated by a good, thick Underworld accent.
The scholar blanched, visibly shaken. "What do you mean 'sanctions'?" Vincent didn't think he could get any paler but he did.
"Well," Vincent said, drawing out the word, "you hired two members of the Guild and put them in direct competition with each other. That's a no-no. Guild sanctions really do depend on the offended party, namely me. They could range anywhere from a bit nicked from you... to having your life stripped away bit by bit until you are left penniless and begging by the front gate. Why don't you ask one of those sad, sorry blokes what lives down there, huh?"
Out of nowhere, a man appeared. Vincent knew it was out of nowhere, he paid attention. One moment he wasn't there, the next the man was standing right in front of him. Vincent thought that the scholar would shit himself when the man laid his hand on his shoulder.
"That's good enough, Galen," the impeccably groomed man said in a melodic voice, "I'll take it from here. I think our friend Mr. Fleet will require more of a... personal touch from here on out."
The scholar, Galen, groveled his way out the front door of the tavern. Vincent looked over the man that was causing such a ruckus. He was... slick, if Vincent had to settle on a word, like oil. His eyes were the strangest gray hue against a skin that seemed too pale. The pupils were dark... like black holes that drew Vincent’s gaze into them, never to release it. His hair seemed stringy and oily but well-groomed and it was the deepest black. He didn't seem wholly here though, like he wasn't quite solid. But Vincent smelled the power rolling off of him.
"Let me guess…Celestial being?"
"I prefer the word 'god'," the man said. He sat himself in the vacated seat.
"I don't," Vinnie said, "but then, I'm not on great terms with the Gods.”
"No, you are not," the god said, leaning forward in excitement. "You are a very interesting person to me, very skilled. It was no easy feat to steal that mask you have there from my previous champion, or to steal it before Valnos." He clicked his tongue at Valnos' name. “He was such a disappointment. But you have retrieved my mask and I have to know, will you wear it?"
"I'm just here to finish the contract."
"The contract is finished," the god said. He waved his hand at the table and a sack of money winked into existence upon it, "You've been paid. Now, will you wear my mask?"
Vincent reached for the money and hefted it. Definitely felt like enough. He pulled the pouch containing the mask and dropped it on the table. "No, I don't think so."
"You are missing quite the opportunity. What would your uncle tell you? The only bad opportunity is a missed opportunity?"
Vincent rolled his eyes. "Really? The uncle card?"
The shadowy god smiled, noting that Vincent hadn't walked away. "Come now, Vincent, you haven't heard my offer."
"Fine. Why don't you start out with what I have to do as your 'champion'?"
"Nothing really. Well, at least nothing beyond what you already do."
"What do you mean... speak plainly."
"I will try. I think we both know that isn't in my nature. I obfuscate. I am an obfuscator. It is my role in the divine scheme of things, I am patron of thieves and those who reside in the shadows. So, my champion would be required to do…thief-like things," the god said.
"Which I already do."
"I wouldn't be required to do anything outside of my normal thievery? You wouldn't be sweeping down here making demands or anything?"
"That, I could not promise. But I will say this, if I was to make a demand, it would be in the best interest of any thief in the world. Would you like to leave such a task for someone less skilled?" the god smiled.
Vinnie's eyes narrowed. "Oh, you think you are so smart. No, if it impacts me in any way, you know that I would only trust myself to do the job right. Have you seen some of these clowns that call themselves thieves nowadays?"
"Then claim the title of the Shadowmask – my personal champion."
"If I put this on, do I get wondrous powers?"
"You will a master of shadow and the many that reside within."
"That doesn't tell me much."
The god shrugged. "Not in my nature to tell you much."
"That's pretty annoying, you know that."
The patron of thieves smirked. "Where would be the fun in telling you all the things you can do? Wouldn't it be much better for you to discover those things on your own? Where is your sense of adventure, Vincent Fleet?"
"I can take this off whenever I want? I stop being your champion when I do?"
"Yes, of course."
"Fine. I'll play your little game."
The shadow god leaned forward in anticipation as Vincent pulled the mask from his pack. Vincent looked from the mask to the god and back. He sighed and quickly put on the mask without ceremony. The mask contoured to his face immediately. He felt... invigorated. Energy seemed to flow into him from the mask. When Vincent looked up, he saw that the shadow god's eyes were closed and he wore a rapturous expression.
"Can you feel it, Vincent?" the god murmured. He looked more solid.
"Yes, what is it?" Vincent asked huskily.
"Someone worthy has put on the mask. You have become a living conduit between my home plane and this one," the god said.
"Wait," Vincent said angrily, "Is that dangerous?"
"Only to one not worthy, of course."
"Why you—“ Vinnie sputtered and lunged at his god.
The patron saint of thieves disappeared, mist evaporating into shadows with the echo of a haunting laughter. A voice echoed around Vincent.
"This, I believe, is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
When reading this story, I couldn't help but picture it in terms of a table top game. My mind's eye was flooded with visions of D20s and good memories with great characters. I love the idea that this character has so much left to do and we as readers have so much left to see. And when it comes to being passionate about a good character, I'm always up to experience the kinds of stories one can only produce when they're honestly invested in one of their creations.
Thanks for reading, and check back soon for more stories.
I haven’t always been a good person. In fact, it’s debatable that I’m a good person now. I suppose all people are selfish about something at some point. But here in Vegas, making a living on the strip can turn you into someone you never expected.
It was the summer of ‘97, and I was employed handing out escort cards. Needless to say, this was not my dream job. The sun out there bore down directly on top of me, and the sweltering heat made it difficult to breathe. It was my sixth day in a row stumbling sweaty and unshaven down the street, waving around cards with nude women plastered on them. By the middle of my shift I could barely stay upright, which made it harder to reel in potential clients for the ladies, or care whether or not I got fired. So — for the sixth day in a row — I tossed my bundle of nudie cards into the middle of the road and ducked into the crisp, exhilarating air of my favorite hotel and casino.
When I escaped into the air-conditioned casino, I groaned with relief from the disgusting heat outside. My skin was an embarrassing shade of red and, there was nothing more I wanted in life right then than a glass of water. The great thing about the casino is that they give you unlimited free water as long as you’re playing, so I exchanged my last tenner for quarters and sat down at a slot machine. The week before this, one of the guys from work won a thousand-dollar jackpot. I figured that a thousand would be more than enough to change my life — get me out of my dead end job — and that I could get at least that much if I stuck with one machine. I sat there plugging quarters into the slot for nearly an hour, and of course I don’t have to tell you that I lost the whole ten. It was okay, I was used to losing, I’d never won anything in my life. Unfortunately that didn’t stop me from feeling the deep sense of regret one feels after making a stupid decision while sober, and I decided I needed a stiffer drink than water.
The afternoon club crowd was thinner than the nighttime club crowd, which made it easy for me to walk right up to the bar and take a seat.
“Isn’t it a little early for a gin and tonic?”
“It’s never too early for gin,” I told the bartender. He was used to seeing me in there every afternoon, but he always made some generic comment about my drinking habits, and I always had a generic retort. He handed me a drink and I sat there hanging my heavy head, taking sips whenever I needed my thoughts to quiet down.
It wasn’t long before a beautiful red-headed woman took a seat right next to me and ordered a glass of wine. I thought it was classy to order wine in the middle of the day, so I immediately took an interest in her. My stomach clawed at me as I thought about throwing her a charming line, but I ignored the warning and tossed one out anyway.
“You come here often?” Charming, right?
“Uh…” She glanced over and smiled at the bartender, as if they were exchanging secrets about me silently. “Probably not as often as you,” she replied.
I leaned in a little closer, my head already teetering from the alcohol.
“Why don’t you tell me your name?” It was an innocent question.
She leaned away from me and her top lip drew back as her nose crinkled up.
“Why don’t you find someone else to harass?” she said as she picked up her glass and quickly walked away.
“Tease!” I called out over my shoulder.
“Smooth, buddy,” the bartender said as he took my fourth empty glass away.
“Hey…” I said as I stood up and wobbled back and forth on my feet a little.
“…Put it on my tab, huh?” I added as I staggered away — but that just couldn’t be the end of it.
“Hey, bud!” the bartender yelled. “No way, man, your tab is too high. You either pay or you don’t come back!”
I stopped and tried to remember if I had any money left, but I had drained my last ten bucks.
“Fine! Screw you, huh? You got a problem?” I yelled incoherently. I stumbled out of the bar and back into the casino.
It took me a while to make it to the bathroom. I don’t quite remember how I got there, but it probably involved a lot of falling down. I pushed the door to the washrooms open, and the people inside gave me a wide birth as I trudged past them. By the time I reached the sink, the room was empty.
The water I splashed on my face was cold, it woke me up and cleared some of the fog. I put some water in my hair to try and tame down the oily brown curls, but it just made me look greasier. As I stood in the mirror and regarded myself, I tried to imagine what I might look like if I had been dealt a better hand in life. Maybe I’d be 15 pounds lighter, my hair wouldn’t do the weird cowlick thing in the front, perhaps I’d be able to grow a full beard. Unfortunately, I was stuck with myself the way I was — soft and patchy. I think I must have been looking at myself for a long time, because a man came up behind me and asked if I was alright.
“Yeah, I’m totally good. Fully.” I nodded and leaned forward on the sink, the world spinning in front of my eyes.
He nodded back and gave me one of those smirks where the guy rolls this eyes and it automatically makes you want to punch his face.
“No, really, I’m good,” I repeated.
The man nodded again, his lips still askew in their loose smirk.
“You’re lookin’ like you could use a kiss from Lady Luck,” the man suggested.
It was just one of those things tourists said to try and be cute.
“Yeah, don’t we all, huh?” I said as I turned and stumbled for the exit door.
“Do you always walk away from opportunity?” he asked. His voice was strangely smooth in my ears, compelling like the feeling of velvet under your finger tips. I stopped and turned around.
“What opportunity?” I asked.
His smirk stretched into a grin and his ivory-white teeth shone against the chocolate colour of his skin. He stood there, his back hunched, as he stroked his grey goatee and looked me over.
“Yeah, ya’ know, you look like the kind of fella who could really use a hand.” He nodded to himself and straightened his straw fedora.
I must have made a face because he chuckled at me.
“I don’t need hand-outs…” My voice wavered a bit, but I was just tired and drunk.
“Nothing in life is really free, now is it, son?” he said as he walked up to me and slung his arm around my shoulder.
“I guess,” I answered.
He dug a slender hand into the pocket of his coat and handed me a piece of lined paper with an address scrolled in smudged pencil.
“You find me if you change your mind.”
I took the paper in my fingers and stared at it with unsteady vision for a long time, when I looked up he had already left.
“That’s lady luck?”
The woman sitting in the little chipped rocking chair stared into space with glazed eyes. Her faded purple hair was curled up off her neck and ears, and her skin was a sallow colour. There were tubes that ran into her nose, and they connected to a canister by her feet, but they didn’t seem to get in the way when she brought her cigarette to her lips.
“Doesn’t she look lucky?” Jim asked. He seemed pleased that he was able to lure me to this tiny, smoke filled apartment in the suburbs. It kind of wigged me out.
“I guess…” I conceded.
“Well, son, you wanna kiss lady luck? You gotta tell ‘er what makes you so unlucky.”
“Uh…” I adjusted the open collar on my sweat stained button up. My hands felt a little clammy and the smoke in the room tickled my lungs, so I coughed lightly to buy myself some time to think.
“Well, my job kinda sucks. Women don’t really notice me either, I guess. My family lives in LA, but they’re assholes, so I don’t really mind. Maybe it would be nice to catch a break, I feel like everyone is always doing better than me.”
Jim nodded and smiled knowingly. The part of his eyes that were supposed to be white were stained yellow, and his irises were dark enough that they seemed black in the dim light of the small apartment. They glittered in the shadow of his brow and I shivered a little as a draft traveled up my arms.
“Go ahead then, son, give ‘er a kiss.”
I pursed my lips a little and pulled my eyebrows over my nose, trying to assess if he was joking. Turns out he really did want me to kiss the old lady. It was sort of like kissing a really soft, warm prune. My stomach clenched as I pressed my lips into her un-moving mouth, and I stood up quickly like I’d been shocked with static. I rubbed frantically at my tingling lips.
Jim chuckled loudly at me again.
“You’re a good sport, huh, kid?”
“Or a sucker.” I continued to wipe my lips.
Jim laughed at me one more time and waved my comment away.
“A’right, now get out of here, it’s Lucky’s nap time.”
I nodded and shoved my hands in my pockets, then left without saying thank you.
I stepped into the heat of the evening knowing that I had been taken for a ride. As I walked down the street I tried to feel myself out, sense a difference in my body or my mind, but there was nothing to sense except my painful sunburn and aching feet. That old guy just wanted to prank me, play like he was going to help me so he could get a kick. I figured old people didn’t have a lot going on in their lives, and I could relate, so I tried to let it go and crossed the street.
That was when I heard the screech of tires. My eyes darted to my right and shot wide open as I took in the sight of a taxi not an inch from taking me out. My heart jumped into my throat and I almost spewed it out my mouth. My breathing was ragged as I rushed back to the sidewalk, and I looked at the guy incredulously.
“What’s your problem, asshole?”
“Sorry, friend, I didn’t see you.” He had a cellphone in his hand as he leaned out his window.
“You’re looking for a lawsuit, huh, pal? What’s your cab number, buddy?” I started circling his car trying to find the digits, leaning in close to make sure he saw me.
He got out of the car so fast it rocked back and forth under his weight. It was mere seconds before he was at my side.
“Please, my friend, do not call the company. I will take you anywhere you want to go for free. Please!”
It didn’t take long for me to feel comforted by his offer, and a smile crossed my lips for the first time that day.
“Sure, pal, just be careful, huh?” I rounded the car and climbed into the passenger seat.
A text woke me up the next morning, it was from my boss. He told me that my shift had been double booked, and I could take the day off if I wanted. I immediately accepted the offer and did not look back, which allowed me to sleep in until my preferred hour of 12 noon or later. That afternoon, as I left my apartment and entered the feverish heat of the day, a little green square of paper caught my eye. It was snagged between the loops of chain link fence that surrounded my 5 story walk up apartment, and I immediately I swooped down on that 50 bones like a hawk. The tips of my fingers practically tingled as my eyes groped across the surface of the bill. 50 whole big ones — my day couldn’t get any better.
At the casino, everything seemed a lot brighter than it had the day before. The lights were more vibrant, colors were richer, people seemed more lively, and women looked more beautiful. The noise of the casino wasn’t deafening like the day before, now it sounded powerful and brilliant. Each person who passed me seemed to tip their head and grin like they knew I was worth something, and when I sat down at the slot machine with my quarters, my fingers shivered with electricity. As I slipped one of my gleaming silver coins into the slot machine, my heart began to race, but I didn’t know why.
When the jackpot sirens rang, the adrenaline nearly kicked me out of my own skin. My grin was so wide I think my cheeks still sometimes hurt because of it. People crowded around, some clapping and some patting my back, and two women walked right up and put their arms around me. Luckily I had remembered to put on deodorant that morning, and they each smiled at me with practically no disgust. As the sirens continued to sound out, announcing my winnings, I felt light headed. It didn’t feel real. In that moment I had gone from having 50 dollars to my name, to over 200,000 in the bank. Everything in the room was overwhelming and the numbers spun in front of my eyes. I covered my face and grinned into my palms, trying to contain the laughter that was bubbling up from inside my stomach. Nothing had ever felt so good.
That night I did everything I could to spend as much money as possible. Turns out, having a lot of cash makes you a lot more popular than having a lot of sass. Which was great because before that all I had was sass and pretty much nothing else. Now I had thousands of dollars, women wanted to spend time with me, and everyone was my best friend.
I woke up beside two women that I didn’t remember meeting. And after all three of us had showered, they took me to the salon and helped me find a hair style that suited my new wealth. They brought me to a boutique where they styled me to perfection, and when we left, my wrists were glinting with gold and my style was sharp enough to cut.
“Where are we going now?” One of the women - the blonde I think - asked as we walked down the street.
“Back to the casino, obviously.” If I was going to start getting lucky, I was going to make the most of it. “Time to clean out the cage, as they say.” I laughed gleefully and tossed an arm around each girl’s shoulders. As we passed one of the smaller hotels, we saw a young kid getting pummeled in the shadow of an alley.
“Poor kid.” One of the girls commented.
My laughter slowly died out and I lazily glanced over at the kid just as the kid got his face rearranged by an incoming fist. I considered stopping to help him, but I had just gotten myself all fixed up, and it felt like a shame to ruin it. Of course I could have taken the guy if I wanted to, I just didn’t want to.
“Ah, kids gotta learn some time, huh, babe?” We kept walking.
As the three of us sailed on by, I was struck with the sight of a woman at the end of the street. She stood in the dead center of the sidewalk ahead of us and stared directly at me. Her magnetic grey eyes forced my focus onto her, and her gaze bore through me. Even as her electric purple hair blew into her face, she did not move, only followed me with her eyes. I stared intently at her as I walked by with my new eye candy, and our eyes never left each other until I passed behind a corner and lost sight. I remember shivering deep in the pit of my stomach, as if my insides were warning me. But after all the luck I’d had, I payed no attention to any feeling beside pleasure. And as soon as she was gone, I did my best to forget about her.
The next night, as I stood outside one of the swankiest hotels I could find, I chatted up a couple of women that had just flown in from Canada. I was looking fly as ever, and made sure to flash my designer cuff-links as I adjusted my sleeves.
“There are a ton of great bars here, ladies, I can show you, if you like. Introduce you to some of the high rollers in this town — namely me.” I cracked my most charming grin and ran a hand through my hair endearingly.
The women giggled together for a moment, and it seemed like they were about to accept my invitation, but I could hear someone shouting behind me, and it was loud enough to cause distraction. The sporty brunette that I had been talking to leaned around me to catch an eyeful of what was happening, which prompted me to turn around and look myself.
“It’s not here, it’s just not here!” The woman was yelling. “If I don’t have that, how am I supposed to get home? How can I pay for my hotel? Who steals a wallet from someone in an airport? I can’t believe this…” She continued on like that for many long minutes.
“So, are you gonna show us around?” The brunette said flirtatiously, once she got bored of eavesdropping.
“Uh…” I turned and looked back at the lady, who was still red faced and yelling, and then I turned back.
“Yeah, absolutely.” I said with a grin. I couldn’t miss a chance to get to know this amazing girl, right? I couldn’t remember her name, but I could already tell she was really special. Beside that, I was sure the yelling lady had someone she could call to help her out, so I guided the girls away from the scene and down toward the strip.
As we stepped off the hotel property and onto the sidewalk, my eyes were immediately drawn to her. The girl with the purple hair was standing across the road, unmoving as ever, with her eyes locked on me. I got a strange feeling then, like a murmur inside my stomach that traveled up into my throat and made my chest quiver. I think I began to tremble, because the girls looked at me, and then exchanged looks with each other. I could tell they wondering if I was on drugs.
“Can we walk a little faster, huh?” I said as I placed my hand on the small of both their backs and rushed them onward. I could feel the purple haired girl’s eyes pressing into my sensitive flesh like hot pokers as I fled. I didn’t stop and I didn’t look back.
The next night, I was walking down the strip, looking in every passing window at my swanky new appearance and feeling confident as ever. Admittedly, it felt good to have money to draw people to me. Ever since I had kissed Lady Luck, my life had been nothing but gravy. That kind of change can really make a guy feel like a winner, and I was on top of the world. Just as I was about to duck into one of the clubs to find myself a new honey for the evening, a young man stopped me on my way.
“Hey, sorry…” He said nervously. “I was wondering if you could spare some change, please, sir.”
I was immediately taken aback by his polite demeanor, so I stopped and looked him over. Ragged pants, oily hair, sweat stained polo, shoes with holes; something about him made my stomach clench. The way his eyes focused desperately on me gave me a strange kind of deja vu. I’d seen this guy somewhere before.
“Some change?” I could smell his body odour and I wanted to turn away.
Right that moment, in my mind’s eye, I saw a flash of her, the purple haired girl. The clench in my stomach became tighter.
“…Here.” I dug a hand into my pocket and handed him a $100 dollar bill. “Clean yourself up.” As I opened the door to the club I could hear him thanking me profusely. I looked back for a moment only to see his eyes welled up with tears, and then I turned and hurried away.
When I sat down at the bar I had a strange feeling inside me. I almost I felt lighter, but there was something else I couldn’t put my finger on. I sat at the bar and did not order a drink, I just sat and thought about the exact moment I handed the $100 to that guy. It wasn’t a ground breaking thing to give someone in need a bit of money, I saw people tossing singles and fivers into beggar’s cups every day in the bad parts of town. But something about helping that guy still gave me a bubbling feeling in my stomach, like there was something inside me that wanted to express itself as laughter. More than that, I had a feeling of weightless plenitude inside my chest, like I was full in a spot that had once been empty.
“Hey, dude, you gonna order something?” the bartender asked.
I shook my head and placed another 100 dollar bill on the counter.
“No, thanks.” I said as I stood up and walked away.
As I moseyed down the strip with my hands in my pockets, I thought about how I had been spending my windfall. Up until that night, no matter how much money I spent, or how many women I slept with, I always wanted more in the morning. But in that moment, as I sauntered down the strip in the warm night air, I didn’t feel like drinking, or hooking up with a beautiful woman, I just felt like smiling.
I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and looked at the people milling about as I pulled a couple of clips of money from my pocket. Before I had thought too much about it, I began to toss bills in the air with the same reckless abandon I had used when I tossed nudie cards around only days before. It didn’t take long before people realized what I was doing, and it was only minutes before people were crowded around, picking up as many 50’s and 100’s as they could get their fingers on. It took some time for me to realize that, as I tossed my bills around like a leprechaun with lucky charms, I was laughing and skipping and yelling to people on the road.
“Come and get it!” My joyous laughter must have escaped as a bizarre, ecstatic howl, because everyone around me began to laugh and stare like I was out of my mind.
Later, as I lay down on a park bench, breathless with a foolish ear to ear grin, my head spun and I could barely sit up. I felt like I was vibrating, and my tired body felt heavy, yet weightless the way it does after a good orgasm. Maybe I had changed some lives that day, given a second chance to someone who really needed it. Or maybe I had just fueled someone’s shopping spree, and my money was going right back where it came from. It didn’t matter, no matter how I looked at it I felt full to bursting. I’d never felt like this before, I had never done anything like this before, I had never had anything to give before. That’s when she showed up.
“I guess you weren’t a waste after all,” the purple haired girl said as she shoved my legs off the bench and took a seat next to me.
I nearly slid off, but I caught and up-righted myself at the last second.
“It’s you — you’ve been following me!” I think I probably still had a stupid grin on my face, because she looked at me like I was one of those happy drunks who are always telling people they love them.
“I’ve been watching you to make sure I didn’t waste my time.”
“Waste your time?”
I stared at her without saying anything as my brain tried to process what she was saying. It was hard, my brain buzzed.
“When you kissed me, I thought maybe I’d chosen the wrong guy. Looks like Jimmy’s still got the eye.”
I remember things started to make more sense after that.
“Are you…?” I trailed off.
“I mean, are you?”
She leaned against the back of the bench and looked up toward the crystal clear moon. Her milky white skin and pale grey eyes looked translucent in the moonlight, and her fine features were perfect, delicate, and young. She looked nothing like that strange old woman I had kissed.
“You know who I am.”
As she vaguely confirmed my suspicions, my eyes welled up with what I think was probably gratitude.
“I feel like I want to hug you.” My voice wavered.
“Don’t push your luck.” She replied with a humorous grin.
I chuckled and leaned back against the bench to match her easy posture.
“I’m proud of you.” She told me.
No one had ever said they were proud of me before.
“For what?” I asked.
“You keep doing what you’re doing.” She stated, as if that answered my question.
“Oh.” I thought about what she said as my eyes traveled up to meet the sight of a few bright stars hanging scattered in the late night sky. As I looked at them, focusing on the flickering dots of light, I felt like I was one of them — bright and important. I sat there in silence with her for a minute or two before I decided how to say it.
“I never thanked you for helping me…”
When I looked over, my eyes just a little damp with emotion, she was gone. In the distance, the moonlight illuminated two figures — a man in dark clothing, hunched as he slowly pushed the second in a wheelchair. Lady Luck’s faded lavender hair looked silver in the white light of midnight, and as she was wheeled away, I wondered if I’d ever see her again.