Job Roulette…

Reno, Nevada 1977…

Wanted

At Big Tony’s Casino
Roulette Ball
Smooth-runner
Evenings/weekends​
775 – 8887​

I noted the ad and later made the call…

…“Why’d you leave your last job?” Big Tony asked.

I couldn’t tell him I’d hightailed and spun out of Vegas, a wanted ball, three years back. Caught jumping in the roulette wheel’s red when punters had bet on it—for my own gain and to screw my employers. Thereafter, I kept low and kept busy in boys’ marble bags. No life for a soul such as I, being traded in the schools like a slave. And for sweets! Flicked in and out of sandy playground holes more times than I can mention. With the heat down, I absconded again to try my luck in Reno, roll straight, make legit dollars, hole up with the golf balls in the windmill at the local pitch and putt.

“I, I wanted to travel” I replied, “see the world…” swapping my ‘bag of marbles’ story for a yarn of mixing with golden baubles, modelling for orreries, and being the prime piece in a millionaire’s solitaire game.”

“Some life,” said Tony, as he gauged my physique in millimetres with calipers. “Some stats too, 22, 22, 22 and 22. Whichever way I measure you, you’ll roll with the best. Now then,” he leaned in close, “tough question: Can you be bought?” He was poker-faced. Did he want me true? Or corrupt?

“No sir, I can’t. I’ll do a fair shift’s work for honest pay. All I want’s a stress-free life, find and make Miss Ball into a Mrs. Ball, and settle down.”

“Good, good…lastly,” he said, “Got steel? If you get what I mean…a hard core?”

“I, I don’t get what you mean?” I said.

“This job has pedigree,” said Tony, “integrity. A ball you may be, but your predecessors were swords. Swords upon shields. Greek warriors’d spin them and bet where they’d end up pointing. Swords had the first roulette jobs; you’ll be continuing the line.”

“Below this enamel exterior,” I informed, “is a steel sphere of fine bearing, shiny and honed to the micron.” He was bought—I was pig iron to my core.

Cometh today, cometh the casino. The croupier picks me up.

I remember the routine; the wheel’s nudged and revolves away from me. I’m launched at speed by wrist flick into the ball track with wall-of-death-like momentum where, after slowing, I traverse the camber and dodge (all dizzy) the frets. Met next and bumped about by the chromed ribs of the numbers—I see where serendipity’s taking me.

Black 23 for some lucky punter.

But no. What’s this? Some invisible force; pulling at me, hurting, tight, binding. Changing where I’ll naturally fall.

Damn. Red 17 has me magnetically caged. The punters are tutting.

So this is how my first shift goes. And I suspect the next one too…ad…infini…

Honest work…huh? I’m a prisoner in “Big Tony’s Bent Casino”.

What goes around comes around.

House

always

wins.​

Three, Two, One…Woo…

“Damn gears,” he groaned, eyeing the gradient’s rise. He should’ve had the Mini 1000 in first, but there he was at the hill’s foot, his own foot planted firmly on the pedal, and engine labouring in third. Wipers were on intermittent, smearing the drizzle that smattered the windscreen. Waterboys on radio; he drifted with the song…out to sea: Wished he was a fisherman, abound by wind and wave, being tumbled about his trawler. No sign of land to any quarter. His head too full with fishes and nets to pull to care for his memories. No ceiling neither for his claustrophobia, save for clouds that split ‘for the starry sky above’. The tune took him in. Young Michael craved a special fish, a girl fish, a mermaid in his arms. Woo, he sang.

Down to second gear. Another wipe from the wipers. Less moaning from the gearbox as the gradient flattens to be the crest. Radio sings to you, Michael, and you hear it thus: as you slow out there, you speed in here. Way, way too fast. You should be the brakeman, on this charging, creaking, frenzied train. Cannoning across the country; windows streaked by rain. Waking all the sleepers with whistles, clunks, and burning coal. Field and town a-blur as you pierce the night’s soul. Don’t you wish you had a girl, Michael? That passenger girl in first class, a maiden in your arms? Woo, you sing.

Down to the Mini’s lowest, whining, gear. “Damn wrong choice again,” I leave the hill’s brow, the drizzle, and eye the gradient’s fall to the glimmering matrix city below. “Ho hum,” the radio crackles with interference, but splits to reveal the third verse. I sing, I sing for me: come the morrow, comes the freedom from the shackles that have held me fast; loosened enough for me to slip through, they’ll clank no more and tumble away, at last. And on that destined morrow, I’ll be a passenger on that steam train, I’ll be a merman in that sea. The new light in my life will be you in my arms. It’ll be one, two. I’ll be one to thee. And thee’ll be one to me. Woo, I’ll sing.