The Gambler

“Hello Lurch, is the Lady in tonight?”

Of course she was. We both knew it. But protocol dictated a certain decorum when stepping into the darkness of this world of business and demonology. But Lurch, well, he doesn’t care for me.

“Ashtray. You look like shit.”

My name is not Ashtray. He knows this. It is Arthur.

“That isn’t nice Lurch.” His isn’t Lurch either.

The first time we met he called me Asshole. I asked if he said Ashtray and it stuck when he nearly smiled. Nearly. I think that his hewn from the ugliest fucking rock imaginable face would have crumbled if he had gone through with it. I swear his head is square. Like the guy carving it got bored or lacked the basic knowledge of human physiology. He is seven foot tall at least. Probably. I’m five nine and anyone over six three might as well be nine foot tall. But he is huge. And ugly. And could rip my arms out of socket and beat me to death without breaking a sweat.

Bet that would make him smile.

“I need to speak with her.”

He reached into his oversized formal jacket and pulled out a baggie. There was always a test. I don’t know if he made everyone do this or just me. I assumed it differed by arcana. Lucky me being the gambler.

“Snort this and then you can talk to her.”

“What is it?” I asked, hoping to sound manly and tough. Failing. My voice cracked. I was on edge. And I really didn’t care what it was as long as it got me off and this deal went smoothly. I flipped the cards in my head over. A Flush. I would survive. Probably.

“Horse tranq and special sauce,” he answered dismissively.

As long as the special sauce wasn’t cyanide I was good with it. I took the offered credit card tray, the Denny’s logo on the bottom was battered and scarred from what I guessed we’re hundreds of straws and razors. I didn’t have any money to roll up and Lurch wasn’t offering a straw so I pushed my right nostril closed and hoovered the rail old school. For a moment all I had was the nose dripping down my soft palate taste of burning and chemical. It was terrible, like drinking tire fire flavored snot.

Then the lights around me began to strobe. I was sure they weren’t but you couldn’t convince my brain of that. Lurch stood with an air of casual dismissal. I was about to bust out my best, You Rang when I realized my mouth had sealed itself shut. My arms hung uselessly at my sides. And the floor seemed to be growing closer incrementally.

No. I was dropping to my knees in slow motion. Yep. Definitely going limp. It took nearly a minute to hit the floor. The small part of my brain watching the ordeal knew it took seconds. But fuck him. Stick in the mud. The special sauce was a doozy. Normally horse tranq just got my dick droopy and my mind fuzzy. This was different. The cigarette burned and filthy carpet was thick and lovely. I would have rolled around on it if I could have convinced my traitorous body to obey simple commands.

This is why I forced myself to use the restroom before coming here. Had I waited it would be soupy. That’s how you know you are doing it right in life. When you make yourself boom boom before seeing the bad men. I should write a kid’s book. A talking cigar giving tips to children about the dangers of shitting themselves in the lobny of a drug den. It played out in my mind. Condoms filled with heroin, freshly regurgitated, singing songs about the dangers of blowing the homeless. Francine, the recently cut off nipple of a crack whore, would teach them proper handling of used needles. New York Times be damned, I would make a fortune.

I cannot feel my face. Or legs. I hope Lurch didn’t drug me just so he could harvest my organs. My only kidney was failing and my liver had seen better days. I would have told him as much but I was fearful of drowning on the river of drool running down my chin.

I felt the dice tumble in my skull. Four and a three. Shit. I felt everything fading. K-hole initiated. Preparing for zombie mode.

He reached into his jacket and pulled out a really big syringe. It looked happy and festive. I wonder what he is going to do with it? The tinge of black haze was growing and the dice tumbled again. Snake eyes. Not good. Lizard brain sent out flares of panic that every other part ignored in the muck. As he swam through syrup and thrust it into my chest, which would have really hurt I imagine I came to the conclusion that this was going to be messy.

Every nerve in my body was suddenly electrified. I shot back to my feet as he tossed the used syringe behind the couch. “You could have waited five more minutes,” I practically screamed. This was the exact opposite feeling. And it was amazing.

“She’ll see you now.” He didn’t give a shit. It was stone cold badass. He just opened the thick metal door and stepped to the side. I could see the blue veins on his face. I could see everything. Sound. If I had known this was going to be this much fun I would have done it weeks ago when I first had the idea. But the cards said to wait.

Swirls of the tranquilizer, like eddys of calm serendipity played against the full force jackhammer hard on I was. Was that a hint of angeldust? Just a splash of PCP? I wonder if Lurch would consider adopting me? He could be my stone father and I his intrepid son. We could travel the world imbibing from his apothecary and seeing the sights.

I need a whore. The things I was thinking were not for a good clean woman. They would have nothing to do with the depravity I was lusting for at the moment. This requires a seasoned professional. Maybe three. And a bowling ball. Where could I get kerosene and bondage gear at this hour?

The door slamming shut behind me cooled all that fun thought from my brain. I was here for business. Not pleasure. If I survived I would go home and jerk off until I had blisters. My come was probably toxic right now anyways. Just a fountain of thick ropy acid that would burn through anything but an asbestos uterus. That is a good name for a band. I should start a band. A thirteen piece prog rock black metal folk band. Cowbell, wash boards and the wailing of the damned.

I need to post an ad. Wanted. Twelve like minded individuals for collective blood orgy of sound. Must bring own instruments and wet wipes. Two guitarists. A bassist. Me on vocals. A cello. Banjo. Fucking banjos rule. Two drummers. Maybe a flute? Or didgeridoo. Between this and my book I was going to have a yacht in no time. My dream of big ocean cruisers was that much closer. I’m going to name it Sailor Swift. Let the players hate hate hate hate hate that.

Business. Get it together. Deep breaths. No more fantasy realm. Real world. You are a fighter. A champion. The Gambler on a streak. One more game and you can retire. No just one more win.

Then I saw her sitting on an honest to god throne. I am nothing. Insignificant. She is all.

“Hello Ashtray,” she said to me. Malice dripped off of every syllable.

“Good evening Lady Syphilis.”

“What do you want this time?” Boredom drenched her voice. Oh the things I would do to her. Her long pale legs in knee high black leather fuck me boots. The blood red dress that hugged every inch of her dangerous curves. Her long black dyed hair with the single white streak that hung down over her scarred face. She was at once a pin up model and the monster in the closet. I would let her debone me if she would let me…

“I have come seeking a trade.”

“What could you possibly have I would want? You are less than a cockroach. And the stench of death sticks to you.”

“That is what I come for Lady. I need the serum.”

She laughed. A horrible sound of glass tumbling and infant screams. “The Gambler comes to lose his final hand.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“What do you offer for my most valuable design? Not your soul, that tattered mess is not fit for consumption.”

“I traded that years ago. Where do you think I got these devilish good looks?”

“Then what do you offer?” She sat forward. Her breasts heaved with curiousity. How they stayed in that dress was a magic of it’s own.

“Cleopatra’s taint.”

Her eyes widened. I saw her fingers tighten in the throne arms. That got her attention.

“I see. And where did you procure this item?”

“A series of games.”

Terrible games. Ones I would not have played if desperation hadn’t taken hold. My time was running dangerously short and I knew it.

“You and your games. Friedrich didn’t think you would survive his cocktail to even gain entry.”

“Friedrich?”

“Lurch.”

“I thought his real name was The Monster.”

“Let me see it.”

I reached into my inner jacket pocket and pulled out a glass cube. In it sat an inch of flesh, perfectly preserved. I heard her gasp. It was controlled but noticeable. She knew the real deal.

“I present the taint of Cleopatra.”

“It is glorious. Tell me of the games.”

“It is convoluted My Lady.”

She sat back on her throne, eyes never leaving the glass and waved me on.

“It started six months ago. I woke up puking blood. Never a good sign. And not just a little. Felt like gallons. The next month was a series of tests. The conclusion was my body was shutting down. No treatments. Just a certain death. So I began exploring alternative methods. Hoodoo, voodoo, spells, blood rites, you name it.

Nothing.

And then someone made mention of the serum. The only thing that could save me. But everyone knows Lady Syphilis doesn’t just give out the serum. You have to barter. And you have certain, particular, tastes.

But rumor said there was one thing you wanted above all else. Something that has remained hidden for a very long time.”

“Yes. The taint.”

“So I cast my net far and wide. Started with a game of dominos against an angry Sherpa. He had a certain mystical Lotus that only blossoms once every fifty years.

I traded the lotus for a buy in at a celestial poker game. Won Indra’s third favorite lightning bolt. A real beauty.

Traded that for Coyote’s unspoken name from a certain, to be unnamed, goddess who held a grudge.

Coyote got me an invite to sit in on a game of Russian roulette with this group of nasty Syrian Djinns. We drank curdled goat milk and played for a week straight.”

“Djinn cannot die from a gunshot.”

“No but they can be trapped in a jar and used to barter with others. Which is what happened. Got me a meeting with Horus. And guess what Horus happened to have in his own personal collection?”

“He traded it for the djinn?”

“He traded it for a jar. We played a game. Three identical jars. The old ball in the cup game. Three rounds. If he guessed wrong all three he kept the final jar and I got the item you so very much wish to acquire.”

“But Horus never blinks. How did you fool him?”

“In his pride he never bothered to check if there was a djinn in any of the jars before we played. He was so sure he couldn’t lose.”

“Clever for a bug. A dangerous game you played.”

“No more so than dying.”

“True. So you will give me what I want for the serum?”

“Unless you want to play for it? Winner takes all?”

“No. A trade will suffice.”

“You sure?”

“Take the serum and leave me my prize. Unless you would like to discuss joining my court?”

“I’m a gambler ma’am, not a fool.”

“One day perhaps.”

“Doubt it. Pleasure doing business with you though. You want to through in some of that special sauce Lurch uses, sweeten the pot?”

“You will be back. It is only a matter of time.”

I felt the dice rattle again. Five and two. She was right.

“I don’t doubt that at all.”

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