What would you wager on a game of chance?
If you must play, decide upon three things at the start:
the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.
- Chinese Proverb
The crowd let out a collective roar of approval as the man spun the wheel. They pushed and shoved one another, trying to get a view of the roulette table as the croupier released the ball. They shouted – some cheering, others jeering – as the despondent player watched the whirling wheel with what seemed to be every last ounce of hope and prayer he could muster.
Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.
As the wheel's momentum slowed, an eerie hush fell over the crowd. Everyone was silent, peering anxiously at the little white ball as it bounced from numbered pocket to numbered pocket. The player, disheveled and dirty, looked as if he had endured a lifetime of pain and suffering. He was a man at the end... spinning the wheel of fate one last time in a near-futile attempt to turn his luck around.
Red. Black. Red. Black.
Everyone in the room drew in a sharp breath.
The frenetic screaming of the crowd drowned out the anguished cry of the player. Money changed hands and the winners congratulated other winners as the player, now panicked, grabbed the croupier's shirt and pulled him close.
"No! It was rigged! I want another spin. I should get another spin!"
The croupier brushed him off as two burly security guards firmly escorted the thrashing player out of the room, kicking and screaming the entire way. They tossed him out into the alley and slammed the door in his face, impervious to his desperate pleading.
"Just one more spin! All I need is one more spin!"
The next morning, his body was discovered in a convenience store dumpster. Bruised, cut and broken, the player's lifeless corpse had found its final resting place among the rancid waste that filled the grimy, overflowing receptacle.
Sarah hated her job. Waiting tables was demeaning work, and not helped by the fact that she was forced to wear a skimpy uniform that accentuated her already large breasts and shapely figure. She had self-esteem problems enough as it was, without the sleazy, greasy customers leering at her cleavage eight hours a day. But with the economy the way it was, there weren't a lot of opportunities for an uneducated, inexperienced girl with resumes that had little else to highlight other than the employee-of-the-month plaque she was given three years ago.
Oh, how she looked forward to the end of her shift, when she could go home and be with her boyfriend. Clint wasn't much of a catch himself, but Sarah had convinced herself that this man, who barely seemed to notice her unless she was naked, was the closest she would ever come to finding someone who loved her.
Which made that particular afternoon that much harder.
In what seemed like the first good thing to happen to her in a long time, Sarah's boss had told her to go home early. It was slow, and he didn't want to pay someone to just sit around. Even though she could have used the money, especially after the jackass that had just given her a stupid lotto scratcher instead of a tip, the prospect of actually getting out of that disgusting diner was motivation enough for her to grab her purse and head for the door.
When she opened the door to her apartment, her mouth dropped, along with the Chinese takeout that she had brought home as a surprise for Clint. There he was, buried to the hilt inside her best friend, Jessie. Clint had the busty blonde bent over the kitchen counter, their naked, sweaty bodies intertwined as he plowed into her over and over again. Jessie cried out in orgasmic bliss as Clint thrust into her one last time, exploding deep inside of her.
The sound of the takeout hitting the ground jolted both of them, and they looked over at Sarah, their expressions turning from surprise to apathy.
In response to Sarah's gaping mouth and shocked expression, Clint simply shrugged his shoulders.
"Guess this is as good a way for you to find out as any," he offered bluntly.
Sarah ran from the apartment, hot tears welling up in her eyes.
She walked the streets for hours, until the tears had long since dried, and her throat was raw from sobbing. Sarah desperately wanted to crawl into bed and disappear from the world, but knew it would be a long while before she could bring herself to go back to that apartment, if ever.
As she moved down one particular street, she heard a loud commotion coming from one of the back alley shops off the main road she was walking on. It sounded like a crowd of people cheering someone, or something on. Curiosity, coupled with a strong desire to escape from her own problems for even a few minutes, propelled her down the alley and into the shop, where a crowd of people had gathered. Moving farther into the shop, she found them clustered around an old roulette wheel. People in the crowd were egging one another on, daring people to step up to the wheel.
Sarah pressed forward, trying to get a better view of the table. Before she knew it, she had pushed her way to the front of the crowd, and stood in front of the croupier.
"Care to play, miss?"
Sarah looked around. There was no betting table, no chips... just the wheel.
"How are you supposed to play, if there's no..."
"Red means good fortune; black means bad fortune. That's all there is to it."
"What about green?"
"The green pocket is paradise," he answered simply.
Sarah shrugged her shoulders.
"Why not? Not like my life can get any worse that it already is."
The croupier nodded and bowed slightly, taking the tiny white ball in his hand and showing it off to the crowd, who immediately burst into a frenzy of activity, shouting and yelling bets that other observers took down. The croupier smiled a crooked smile and offered the ball to her.
"Blow on it. For luck," he offered.
Sarah blew gently on the ball, and the crowd went crazy, cheering and screaming as the croupier spun the wheel and released the ball.
Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.
The crowd became very still as the wheel slowed.
Red. Black. Red. Black.
Several members of the crowd let out an audible sigh of disappointment as the white ball rested in one of the red pockets. The croupier smiled his crooked smile at Sarah.
"Must be your lucky day, miss. Fortune is smiling upon you."
Sarah stood there for several seconds, confused.
"So what now?" She asked.
"Now you go about your day," the cropier explained. "And wait for fortune to bless you."
Sarah scratched her head and shrugged her shoulders, pushing her way back to the doorway, through the crowd of people who had already lost their interest in her and were now focused on another player, who had stepped up to take her place. Sarah walked out of the store, shaking her head at the strangeness of it all.
As she continued to walk, she began to feel the pangs of hunger and realized that she hadn't eaten since before work that morning. The Chinese take out that had cost her twenty bucks was probably still sitting on the carpet in her living room. Thinking of that Chinese food only made her hungrier, and she resigned to stopping at a greasy fast food chain and ordering a burger. She reached into her pocket for money, and that's when she found the scratcher.
After ordering her meager dinner, she decided to put the promise of good fortune to the test, and began to scratch off the small silver boxes with the nickel she had received as change. The first box had a dollar sign. So did the second one... and the third, and the fourth. When the silver coating on the fifth box had been worn away, Sarah looked at the ticket:
$ $ $ $ $
She quickly checked the prize table at the top of the scratcher.
She just won $5,000!
Sarah was not a superstitious person by nature... but it was pretty hard to argue with the fact that the croupier had promised her good luck today and now, on what had been one of the worst days of her life, she was suddenly five thousand dollars richer!
Still, not one to believe in luck over random coincidence, she decided to put the wheel to the test.
Two months, and exactly two spins of the roulette wheel later, Sarah wasn't the same person. Both of her subsequent spins had landed on red, and she now had the kind of life she only dreamed about before. Her new boyfriend, Chad, turned out to be everything Clint wasn't. He was smart, funny, successful... and completely devoted to her. He encouraged her to quit working at the diner, and was even supporting her while she went back to school.
More than anything, Sarah was happy to write to her mother, as she did every month, without having to invent fantasies of a life she didn't really have. Now, the fantasy in her previous letters had become a reality, and she even debated bringing her mother out to the city, just to see how well she was doing for herself.
In fact, the only bad thing in her life was a "D" on the final paper for one of her classes, but she had already appealed the grade and was waiting for her appointment with the dean.
Despite her confidence, however, she felt like she could use a little bit of an edge. A little something to ensure she would be all right. She had just enough time before the appointment was scheduled to start.
She went to see the croupier.
"Ah, back again, pretty lady!" The croupier exclaimed. "You're quite the lucky one!"
Sarah smiled politely. The truth was, she didn't like this place, and never even came to this side of town anymore. She just wanted to get this over with and go home. She blew on the white ball and watched as the croupier spun the wheel, staring at it intently as the black and red pockets whizzed around and around, in a blur.
By now, she had learned to tune out the crowd, and was focused intently on the ball and it bounced from pocket to pocket.
Red. Black. Red. Black.
Sarah's jaw dropped in surprise. Black? It wasn't supposed to be black!
"Too bad, pretty lady," the croupier said. "Better luck next time, yeah?"
Sarah looked at her watch. If she didn't hurry, she was going to be late for her appointment. She shook off the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. It was just a stupid game. The lotto ticket has been luck... and the new life she had was the result of a chance meeting with Chad, when he had stopped in the diner for a bite to eat after getting lost on this side of town. She had let herself become superstitious. There was really nothing to worry about.
"Plagiarism? What are you talking about?" Sarah asked.
The dean handed over her paper, along with a dusty hardcover book. He gave her a hard look as she looked at both items.
"You'll notice that your paper bears a striking similarity to this thesis, originally published by a graduate student some twenty years ago. In fact, I'd say almost down to the letter."
Sarah's jaw dropped. It was the same paper! But how was that possible? She did all of her own research; the words in her paper were hers. She had never even seen this thesis before!
"We take the issue of plagiarism very seriously," the dean explained. "You will fail the course... and it's up to the discretion of your professor and myself whether or not you should be permanently expelled from the university."
Sarah's eyes widened in fear.
"There must be something I can do. Please, I can't get expelled. I just started going to school again!"
"Why don't we ask your professor to come in, and we can discuss the matter," the dean offered, pressing a button on his desk's intercom to page his secretary. "Send him in, please. And then you can take off. It's getting late and this is my last appointment."
Moments later, there was a brief knock at the door and the professor let himself inside and closed the door, leaning against it. Sarah nervously looked from him to the dean, and back.
"Sarah," the dean began, coming around to the front of his desk and leaning against it, only inches away from the terrified student in his guest chair. "Your professor and I have talked it over, and we might be willing to overlook this issue... and maybe even allow you to stay in the class..."
He reached out and placed a hand on Sarah's shoulder.
"... But before we can do that, we have to know just how important your education is to you."
"It's very important," Sarah gushed. "I'll do whatever it takes to make this up."
"That's what we wanted to hear," the dean said as he slipped the tank top strap off of Sarah's shoulder. Sarah's eyes suddenly lit up with realization and she pushed against him.
"No, wait!" Sarah protested. "I didn't mean that!"
The dean turned to the professor, who shrugged.
"All I heard was that she'd do whatever it takes to make up the grade."
He locked the door and moved over behind Sarah, who tried to get up. The professor grabbed her shoulders and forced her back into the chair.
"No!" Sarah screamed. "Stop! I don't want this!"
With a predatory quickness, the two men were upon her. The professor grabbed her wrists and held them over her head while the dean eagerly pawed at her tank top, pulling it up and over her head. The professor used the tangled tank top to entangle her wrists, while the dean tugged at her bra, breaking the clap and pulling it free, exposing her large breasts to their leering gazes.
Sarah was sobbing now, kicking and screaming as the dean moved to unbutton her jeans.
As the lecherous men fell upon her, Sarah's tortured cries echoed through the empty hallways of the administration building.
After two weeks, Sarah still hadn't told a soul. She knew no one would believe her. It was the word of a distinguished professor and the college dean over hers... and they had made that abundantly clear after they had finished with her. All she had to do was keep quiet, and at the end of the semester, it would all be over.
She could barely stand to look at the "A" which graced her term paper; the paper that Chad, in his ignorant pride, had insisted on displaying on the refrigerator door. Even worse, her professor had the audacity to include a little personal note on it as well:
A well-deserved grade. Looks like all that hard work after class really paid off!
Every day, that paper taunted her... reminded her of what she had been forced to endure. In a fit of raging anguish, she tore the paper from its display and fed it to the garbage disposal. But that didn't make her feel better. She needed something more. Something to really turn things around and give her something to appreciate again.
She knew it wasn't logical and she knew it wasn't right... but she needed the croupier.
And he was all too happy to oblige. Merely the custodian of other people's hopes and dreams, he was always happy to accommodate someone else's attempt to change their fate. Sarah liked to think that the way he welcomed her, and called her flattering names meant that he had a particular affinity for her. But she knew that in reality, he probably talked up everyone the same way.
Sarah watched the wheel spin, willing it to land on red... praying for it to land on red.
Sarah's heart sank into the pit of her stomach when she saw the white ball come to rest in one of the dark pockets. There would be no reprieve for her this day.
With her head hanging down, Sarah trudged home and took some consolation in the knowledge that Chad would be there to comfort her.
But he wasn't.
Thirty minutes after he was supposed to be home, Sarah got worried. She called his office and his cell, but there was no answer. After an hour, she was a total wreck.
"No, no," she told herself.
Not Chad. Anything but Chad. She couldn't bear the thought of being without the one thing in her life that actually made her happy. Her mind raced through all kinds of horrible scenarios. Maybe he had been mugged and was crumpled in the corner of some back alley, bleeding to death from a knife wound. Maybe he had been hit by a speeding cab while he was crossing the street at lunch, and now his broken body was scattered over half a city block. Or maybe the elevator at his office had been damaged and he plummeted to his death, now resting in a twisted mass of scrap metal at the bottom of the shaft.
Sarah had just picked up the phone to call the police, when it rang.
Sweet relief washed over her when she heard Chad's voice on the other end of the line.
"Hey, sweetheart. Sorry I didn't call earlier. I'm running a little late tonight. Listen, I need you to come meet me."
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," he replied. "I just thought I could maybe take you to dinner. I've already got a table at that little place at Fifth and Broadway that you like so much. Can you meet me in twenty minutes?"
"Of course. Of course. I'll see you in twenty minutes."
When she arrived at the restaurant, it looked empty. The door was wide open, but there was only a faint light coming from the back of the restaurant, and again Sarah's stomach turned and twisted with doubt. Had something happened to Chad? Had the place been robbed, or had a maniac stabbed him with a steak knife?
She wandered into the restaurant, toward the light. As she rounded the corner, she saw Chad standing there, flowers adorning the entire back dining room. The light was coming from hundreds of candles, interspersed between the bouquets and floral arrangements.
When she saw Chad get down on one knee, shock registered on her face, followed by a broad smile, spreading quickly across her beaming face.
After a romantic dinner for two at the rented-out restaurant, Chad and his new fiancée strolled home, arm in arm. She couldn't help herself, constantly stealing glances at the large diamond engagement ring that now adorned her ring finger. She was already thinking about all the things she was going to do to her now fiancée once they got home, when she heard the voice behind them.
"Turn around slowly, and hand over your money."
Surprised, Chad and Sarah both turned around slowly, to face a young kid, holding a gun sideways at them, a menacing glint in his eyes.
"Wallets, watches... everything."
Chad slowly and calmly reached into his pocket and handed over his wallet, followed by his watch. Sarah did the same, her heart caught in her throat the entire time.
"And that rock you got on your finger, lady."
"Hey, wait a minute..." Chad started.
The thug moved into Chad's face, pushing the gun to his forehead.
"You want to die, man? I said, hand over the rock!"
"Please," Chad begged. "We just got engaged tonight. Let her keep the ring."
"Do I look like I'm open to negotiation???"
The thug grabbed for Sarah's hand, trying to force the ring off her finger. Chad grabbed him and tried to push him away. The two struggled together, wrestling around until the sound of a gunshot separated them. Even before the thug got up and ran off, Sarah knew which way the gun had discharged. As Chad rolled over and clutched his bleeding gut, Sarah screamed and knelt down, holding him close to her. Before long, she was covered in her fiancee's blood, cradling him tenderly. He choked and sputtered, trying to say something to her as he coughed up blood.
"It'll be okay, baby," she reassured. "It'll be okay."
A few short minutes later, he was dead in her arms, and Sarah uttered the mournful cry of a person who had just lost the only good thing left in their life.
She continued to cry, even as sirens sounded in the distance, making their way to them.
With nothing left, Sarah found herself back at that roulette wheel, hoping against hope for that green pocket. After everything that had happened to her, she needed to find paradise. But she wasn't entirely unrealistic. A small dose of good fortune in the form of a red pocket would certainly help her climb out of the hell that her life had become since losing Chad. Much like that first time she spun the wheel, she shrugged her shoulders and blew on the white ball, watching as the croupier dropped it onto the spinning wheel.
"Why not? Not like my life can get any worse that it already is."
She watched the ball closely as it circled around the wheel, over and over, until it began to slow and bounce around from pocket to pocket.
Red. Black. Red. Black.
Come on... come on! Sarah kept saying to herself, willing that little white ball to fall in the green pocket that promised her an escape from her current misery. She leaned toward the table as she saw the ball coming to a halt... the green pocket coming around.
A pitiful sob wrenched its way from Sarah's throat as she saw her white ball resting in the ominous black pocket. She hung her head in defeat, which was made all the more painful by the crowd, most of whom were cheering her loss and collecting money won by betting on what fate had in store for her.
"I want another spin," Sarah protested. "I want another spin!"
The croupier shook his head sadly and motioned for his two security guards, who helped escort Sarah from the room, kicking and screaming the entire way. They tossed her out into the alley and slammed the door in her face, impervious to her desperate pleading.
"Just one more spin! All I need is one more spin! Please don't leave me like this!"
Moments later, Sarah would discover that she did still have something left to lose. Sadly, that realization came just a split second before the speeding cab collided with her as she wandered out into the street, sending her up and over the vehicle. Bones cracked and snapped as she impacted with the hood and windshield. Her limp body landed with a thud, fracturing what unbroken bones remained in her body.
As she lay there on the pavement, her life slipping away, the last thing she thought of was Chad, and how she let her entire life ride on the spin of a stupid wheel.
Inside the room, Sarah's misfortune had already been forgotten, as the croupier surveyed the surrounding crowd.
Remember this: the house doesn't beat the player.
It just gives him the opportunity to beat himself.
- Nicholas Dandalos (a.k.a. Nick the Greek)