June 01, 2011

The Chosen

By John G. Hartness © 2010

Chapter 1

I sensed him before I saw him. I always do. I was just sitting there, minding my own business, playing a little blackjack when I felt his presence over my right shoulder.

“Hi, Lucky.”

“Big A.”

I hate that. He always has to go there right away. And he’s supposed to be subtle. Ass.

“Been here long?” He asked.

“A while. Playing a little cards. You?”

“Well, you know me, Big A, I’ve got a place here. I love this town. Everything about it just calls to me.”

“Yeah, I think I heard that somewhere.”

I finally glanced over and gave him the satisfaction of a look. A new look for him this time around – red riding leathers, no helmet of course, black boots, black hair tied back in a ponytail and sunglasses. The sunglasses were kind of a given, I suppose.

“Nice outfit. You look like one of the cavemen in that insurance commercial.”

“Thanks. You, as always, look well put-together.”

I’ve never been sure how to take his compliments, and I wasn’t in Las Vegas to think, so I just went for face value. I was wearing a worn t-shirt I’d picked up at a roadside store somewhere in Montana sometime in the past, and a thrift store work shirt with the “arry” over the left breast pocket. I don’t know if it used to say “Larry” or “Harry.” Neither one was my name; I just gave Goodwill $2.99 for the shirt.

“Thanks.”

For once he didn’t press the issue and stopped talking, just sat beside me and slid the dealer a hundred. So we played blackjack together for a while. Me playing green chips, him moving quickly from green to black to purple all the way up to the yellow $1,000 chips in a couple of short hours. He lost just enough hands to keep from getting thrown out, but not quite enough to keep the eye in the sky from getting suspicious.

“A, looks like we’ve got company.”

“You got a mouse in your pocket? I’m not the one that’s been sitting here counting cards for three hours.”

“Yeah, but I’m not the one who took twenty grand in chips out of my safe deposit box this morning. Chips, I might add, that came from a casino that was demolished a couple decades ago.”

I hate that he always has more information than he rightfully should. I suppose, to give him his due, that he does have people literally everywhere in this town. But it’s still annoying. I’ll grant that visiting a box that hasn’t been touched in 25 years might raise an eyebrow or two, but I’m still blaming the attention of the lummox in the off-the-rack suit on my unwanted companion’s unabashed card-counting. Either way, the brutes in suits might have had a few questions for me that I wasn’t fully prepared to answer at exactly that moment, so I looked at my old pal Lucky.

“Keys?”

“Might I suggest California? I hear San Francisco’s nice this time of year, and you know how much you love seafood. Why not check out Fisherman’s Wharf, visit Alcatraz, you know, see the sights a little. My bike’s out front. You’ll know which one. You owe me.”

“We’d have to be even for me to owe you. And we’re not even. This doesn’t even come close. Nowhere near to close.”

“You really know how to wound a guy, Big A.”

“Bite me.” With that, I grabbed Lucky’s keys from the table, tossed a green chip to the dealer and headed for the cage. I spotted another security goon between me and the cage, so I decided on discretion as the better part of valor, tossed a couple grand in chips into the air and used the resulting pandemonium to make my less-than-subtle way to the exit. As I glanced back towards the table where I had left Lucky, I noticed that he and the two guards were having a beer and yukking it up like long-lost frat brothers. Which for all I knew, they might have been.

He was right; I picked out his bike right away. It was a big, loud ostentatious black thing with flames painted on the gas tank. Subtle. I swear the thing looked hungry. I put the key in the ignition (an apple key chain? Really?) and headed South down the Strip, putting California firmly behind me as I remembered Lucky suggesting it. I’m not a contrary person by nature, but I learned a long time ago that it was a pretty safe bet to do the opposite of anything that Lucky wanted me to do.

Okay, so looking back on it, maybe opening a 25-year-old lock box wasn’t exactly the most under the radar move I could have made. I know that people take out safe deposit boxes in this town all the time. But not all of them pay the rent on those boxes with automatic debits from numbered accounts. And I just had the bad luck to run into the same security guard that rented me the box the first time, on his first day of the job 25 years ago. Little bugger had a good memory, that’s for sure. And I guess I hadn’t changed much since then. Ok, make that not at all. But I’m still blaming Lucky. After all, he’s been taking the blame for things for millennia now, so what’s one more little incident?

Maybe I should back up a little. This is as good a time as any for introductions. My name is Adam. No, I don’t have a last name. Yes, that Adam. No really, you can feel for the rib if you like. But it’s better if you don’t. I’m ticklish.

John Hartness is a writer from Charlotte, NC. He's the author of The Chosen.

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