The day closes for a man in a Vegas sports bar, tracking his last bet.
| First one's a strike. Pitchers are money here and every strike is something like twenty five dollars. On the bet. Six to one on the Braves, Angels and Brewers for the three-way. One fifty on that pays out six hundred and six fiftys so nine hundred and that's breaking even for the room and the drinks they didn't give for free. Good idea spending time on the five dollar tables; free drinks. Many. Whatever you ask for if you tip nicely the first time. Stay on the table, don't bet much, and they fill you up, on the house. Not in the sports bar though. Make you pay here because you don't give your money away fast enough. That's why it's all men here. Know how to hold onto their money instead of piss it away on tables. Angels, Brewers done. Braves clinch it, the money for me. Ninth inning, batting last, tie game. Do they know what they can do for me or do they just hit the way they have since they were kids? Do they know that for every six people that say they lose, one person says they win? I hope they do and I hope that for me because the other six are soulless. Two strikes, fifty dollars. Something like that at least. Pitches for money.
Money. The Strip is paved with it. They line the interior of the casinos with bills and the fountains spew coins. Taxis run on it and they can't stop it and that's why they give free drinks and comped dinners, rooms. They don't know what to do with it anymore so they give the gamblers free drinks, so the gamblers can have their money back, but we insist. Gamblers; courteous or blind?
Depends on the bet. Craps is good, slots are bad. Loose slots as honest as tight sluts. Machine robbers pickpocket a single quarter from a thousand people. Two hundred fifty dollars. How many times a night? Loud tonight on the floor. Not just Vegas loud, but crowd loud. So many shouts that it's more of a buzz like the difference between one car at midnight and the freeway at midday. Same noise, even many times, makes it easier to bear. Same quarter, many times, makes it easier to lose. Maybe ten thousand a night. Six PM to three AM. Nine hours, full shift. Ten thousand people pull the lever once and the casino has five hundred to two thousand five hundred dollars from levers alone. The coins come because the fountains spew and if the fountains stop spewing, Vegas dies.
No suits here. Good thing. Suits bring women and women bring bad luck. Six to one. One to six. Big difference. Play the difference. Strike three. Guy can't bat anyway but nobody looks like they knew that. Wonder if they know what they're playing or if they're just playing. They're game players, not gamblers. Losers, not winners. Gin and tonic goes slow because I'm paying for it and I'm not giving up the stool closest to the TV. Cigar smoke next to me; thick, anxious smoke. Like his lungs want to die, like he wants to hurt, like he's losing money. Just started the deep puffs in the ninth. At least he's not one of the six.
Leadoff batter's up. One out, no momentum. Low lights around the TV doesn't make much sense when the casino floor is ten feet away, with bells, whistles and lights. Lots of lights. Want you to think it's early. Don't check the clock. Not bedtime yet! Keep it up, here's a drink. First pitch fastball outside. The curve has been going and he'll know that and he hits curves. Good scouts.
Belts the second pitch into the left-center gap and the cigar smoke stops. Rounds first, slides into second. Throw isn't close. The crowd around the bar erupts but the freeway casino floor dissipates the hollering back into the hum. He'll bunt. Two spot is made for bunting and the runner on second is made for bunting and he'll bunt even if they play the bunt. Steps up to the plate, big lead, and the corners are cheating. Playing the bunt.
He shows and the fastball hits the bat too hard and sends it right to the third basemen. Two down, no runner advance. Better bunt would have advanced the runner but the odds wouldn't be six to one if they knew what we knew now. The smoke is heavier, the end is closer, and the crowd is quieter. No quitting. Just quiet. Raw patience in it's purest form. He'll throw for a first strike. No risking a walk for the cleanup batter. Swing on that first pitch. It'll be low and out because they always throw you low and out. Cigar smoke like I'm the one smoking. Wash it down with the gin and tonic but it's more water now than alcohol. Bitter water.
The crowd is climaxing. They pay for the excitement and they want the orgasm drawn out like the good ones are and the batter knows it and he milks it like a young woman. The gamblers are deathly silent. The onlookers clap, hoot, but they aren't part of it. They're part of the six and they'll leave not risking anything or getting anything. It's just us now. The ones that have been here since pitch one. The ones that haven't lost yet. The rest are ghosts.
"It's a fastball." Cigar smoking man isn't smoking now.
"Low. Low and out." Calling the fastball, I'll call the location. Bet me. Just for kicks because we can't afford anything else.
Batter steps up. That's the end of that. The cigar stays out and the pitcher winds up and it's a fastball and he meant to throw it low and out but it's too far out. Ball. Next offspeed. Get you anxious, make you chase it. Like the high school days. Now the batter is grinding hands into the bat, pulsing his fingers.
Windup. Another fastball low and out. Same look twice. Off-guard, off-balance. Awkward swing. More like the ball hits the bat and it shoots between the first and second basemen on the ground. Second dives because everyone is watching. The runner on second is rounding third when the right fielder gloves the ball. The runner is a cannonball and the dirt kicks up behind him in clods. It's a good throw from shallow and the ball is passing over the second basemen, barely getting up now. Close. The smoke almost blocks the screen and the crowd is a hurricane but we're quiet at the bar.
The catcher blocks the plate, anticipating the collision. Thick catcher, thin runner. He'll beat it. Beat the throw. Close. He'll beat it. Sliding. Good sign. Thinks he'll make it first. The slide is good. Headfirst, out of play, going around the catcher. Tough tag to make. Hand hits the plate, ball in the glove. Close. He made it but it's close. Smoke leftovers, nothing new. Crowd causing an earthquake. He's in. On the scoreboard.
The cigar man look at me. "Two hundred, twenty five."
Nodding. Quiet men make the big bets. Talking can't shake the nerve when more is on the line. Five dollars under the glass. Go redeem the ticket, nine hundred to the wallet, room, stash seven of it. Take two to Craps. Vegas. Fountains. They need coins, just like the stools need to be lined in bills and I need free drinks.