A Short Story – Jan. 19, 2010 – “Winky & Anna”
Winky & Anna
A short story
by Chris Hibbard
“Keep an eye on Winky over there, will ya Anna?” the pit boss said.
“Which one is Winky?” Anna asked, scanning the crowded casino for that one face.
“Oh right, you’re the newbie, I forgot,” the pit boss replied. “Winky’s over there, Mr. Table Ten. I’ve just been calling him Winky today, because his eyes don’t seem to focus properly.”
Anna’s vision roamed to the roulette table in the corner, coming to rest on a tall, gaunt-looking man wearing a wrinkled shirt with the top three buttons undone. His hair looked unwashed, hanging in thick strands to just below his shoulder, with one ratty blonde ponytail attempting unsuccessfully to keep it all in.
“Uh, boss,” Anna asked shyly, “is there anything in particular I should be watching out for?”
“Not really,” he replied. “I just don’t like the looks of him is all.”
* * *
Anna Von Kurtz has just turned 18, the legal age in this province, and she had jumped at the chance to try working in a casino. From all of the television and movies she had seen in her young life, she figured casino work would be all glamour and glitz, money and mystery. Now, going into her third month on the job, she was starting to have some reservations.
On television most gamblers were beautiful people, rich and well-dressed, happy and having a good time. This hadn’t turned out to be the case though, Anna had decided. If anything, reality was more like the exact opposite. Anna’s Christian parents had tried to discourage her from applying for the server job, arguing with her about morals and values, virtues and vices, filling her head with reminders of Sunday school tales involving gambling house that collapsed to the earth and people turning into pillars of salt. The sorry truth about casinos seemed to fall somewhere in between the two extremes.
Most of the players that frequented this casino seemed sad or depressed, parading through the front doors with a hungry gleam in their eye, wearing poorly fitting second-hand store clothing. Some of them would be in and out in a flash, quickly dropping a few bills before dejectedly shuffling back out again. More of them would enter the building, then play soft and loose, plugging coins and small bills into the slots and VLTs, drinking inexpensive house cocktails and beer until their luck had run out and their minds had gone foggy, or until their spouses or girlfriends had harassed them enough that they felt compelled to leave.
A select few types were different. There were the high rollers who played professionally, attracting small audiences to watch them play for the big stakes. There were the compulsive risk addicts, sitting for what seemed like days on end, losing their life-savings while still attempting to earn it back again. There were the card sharks, hustlers, pickpockets and con artists, always acting on the sly, peeking out of the corners of their eyes and acting as if they were casing the place for some future criminal endeavours. Still others would simply float, trying to pick up rich, eligible players, looking for dates, mates or other partners in lust.
But Winky, he was an odd one. First off, he always came in alone. He would drink very little, and speak even less. He barely spoke a word in fact, and when he did it was little more than a whisper, each phrase escaping his lips like air escaping from a punctured tire. Secondly, Winky had never once checked out Anna’s cleavage. She never felt his eyes roam over her retreating back, lingering on her ass as she left the roulette area. He had never smiled seductively at her, had never pinched her or poked her, had never made a sly comment about her ripe figure, decked out in a skimpy dress and fishnet stockings. Anna was petite but wide-hipped, busty and naturally blonde with the freckled pale complexion of a redhead. She turned heads, and she knew it. Sometimes she even used it to her advantage. After leaning in to whisper in his ear for a drink order and receiving a subdued and polite response with no eye contact, Anna figured that this Winky was either gay, married, or about the sweetest man she had ever encountered.
Last but not least, this Winky character had never been seen in the casino before. Anna curiously asked her coworkers during her shift about their experiences with this strange man at Table Ten, and no one could recall ever having seen him before, period. Anna had made the rounds a number of times in the last few hours, and Winky had only requested one drink, a ginger ale in a tall glass with lots of ice. Nearly every other casino patron would snatch up the cheap drinks, jumping at the chance to save some money for more gambling.
Anna couldn’t know it, but Winky was ready to die. He had been battling a cocaine addiction for nearly ten years, a nasty habit that had cost him his marriage, his visitation rights to see his four-year old daughter, many friendships, a number of jobs, and worst of all – his will to live.
* * *
Winky was actually named Travis Kane. He was 34 years old. He had been a long-distance trucker for a number of years before a routine weigh-in stop had turned into a nightmare when drugs were found in his cab. Travis had graduated high school twenty years earlier with dreams of becoming a lawyer. After the death of his parents in a car crash however, the funding for higher learning was just not within reach. Hooking up with the big rig crews, Travis got to travel the country, seeing parts of the country that he never even knew existed. Along his many routes, he met a waitress named Cheryl, perky and sweet and full of kind words. Cheryl had won Travis’ heart when she gave him free coffee one morning, pretending coyly as if she was doing him a big favour. Six months and two relocations later, the pair were engaged to be married. For the next several years, life was perfect, but with the life of a trucker, Travis was gone a lot, and Cheryl was lonely. Her pain and isolation was only multiplied with her pregnancy, throughout which Travis was still often on the road. For his part, Travis would often be tired and despondent, missing the comforts of home and feeling removed from the happiness that he knew he should be a part of. This is where the cocaine had come in.
At first, it was a now and again thing, just to keep him awake and alert on long overnight hauls. Funny thing about drugs though, is that now and again have a way of becoming again and again, now and now. Within a few months of his daughter’s birth, which Travis was absent for, Travis was broke, losing weight, and full of high-strung nervousness. Within the year, Cheryl had announced she was leaving him for a chiropractor, was taking their daughter with them, and was filing for divorce with full custody. She tried to be civil and nice about it, but having one’s heart ripped out is never gentle. At first, Travis tried to quit the habit, tried to win her back with gifts and kind words. When this failed, the habit became routine, the routine became a full-blown addiction, and Travis became a shadow of his former self. Next went the job, the life-savings, the lease on the house, the truck and the trailer, and the bottom fell out of Travis’ life.
Throughout the next three years, Travis had some serious crises, all of which would push him into rehab and counselling. It wasn’t until last week though that Travis knew his days were numbered. Waking up on a floor in a pool of his own blood and urine, Travis pieced together the night before. He had been visited by some local coke dealers, had sampled their product and tried to make off with more without having any cash to pay for it. The dealers had cornered him in an alley, beat him with a golf club one had kept hidden in a pant leg, and had left him for dead. For this, Travis wished they would have beaten him a little more viciously.
He had been living on the streets and sleeping behind dumpsters for the last month, and had no desire to keep the cycle going. That is, until he found the money.
One of the dealers must have dropped his wallet during the beating, and Travis found himself lying on his back, flipping through the leather case, stuffing hundreds, fifties and twenties into his pocket. Removing the two credit cards, Travis tossed the wallet into the dumpster and headed for the local YMCA to try to clean himself up. Less than twenty minutes later, bruised and swollen but not broken, Travis was at a bank machine, using both credit cards to withdraw the maximum daily cash limit. After all the cash was counted, Travis found himself in possession of nearly $8000. He headed for a seedy little downtown hotel and paid cash up front for a three-night stay. No longer having access to coke dealer, Travis knew that the shakes were only a few hours away. It was now or never, a neon sign flashed in his brain. You risk it all and you live, the sign flashed brightly, or you blow it all and you die. Either way, Travis thought, one more dose of rehab might be worth a try. The worst case scenario had just happened last night.
He first stopped at a bargain shop and acquired some new clothes, cheap but functional. He stopped at a grocery store and picked up a dozen cans of soup and three loaves of bread. He stopped at a liquor store and picked up two big bottles of rye and tequila. He stopped at a used book store and picked up two dog-eared detective novels. He stopped at a hardware store and bought himself one length of rope, one hammer, a dozen nails, and a roll of duct tape.
His slowly-forming plan was to barricade himself in his motel room with the hammer and nails, drink his way through the withdrawal symptoms, read his way through boredom, and once the coke was out of his system, potentially hang himself from the shower curtain rod, having nothing left to live for except for a great big hole where his world used to be. Waking up on the third morning though, sweaty and confused, a little thought was rattling around his brain, pushing on him to visit the casino.
“You can’t go out like this,” it said, while he was looking into the mirror. “Not with all this money in your pocket. Not now, when that cash just fell into your lap. Either you get yourself some coke and you go out high, or you get yourself out of this shitty room!” At this troubling thought, Travis shook his head vigorously and slapped his own face, dressed hastily and brushed his teeth with a provided motel toothbrush. If he bet the remaining seven grand wisely and made a bunch of cash, Travis thought, maybe his life could repair itself. ‘Just maybe’, he said aloud into his own reflection.
* * *
Travis had been sitting at the roulette wheel for just under four hours. His back was sore, his eyes were itchy and his lower half kept threatening to fall asleep. He had been betting sparingly, watching the wheel as it spun, and was mentally trying to keep track of what numbers seemed to win more often. His chip stack, which had started at $7000, had depleted to just $3000, and he felt the end approaching. A few more spins, Travis thought, and then there is nothing left for me but a rope and a shower stall, and sweet oblivion. The idea was strangely appealing, now that his mind was made up.
The cute blonde server girl had been coming by regularly, and Travis had let his imagination believe that she was giving him special attention, even that maybe she found him attractive. Of course, his conscious mind would counter, she likely just wants more tips, and she knows I’ve got the bucks. Here she was approaching again, and Travis noticed his drink was now empty. He had been sucking on ice cubes for the last two hours and now not even water remained. Beckoning the server over, she approached, squatted down and asked him what he would like. He looked into her blue eyes for the first time and was intrigued by what he saw – a mix of innocent purity, curiousity and pity. Travis asked her what her favourite number was.
“My favourite number?” Anna asked. “Why do you wanna know?”
“Because I’m about ready to check out, and I’m going to put all of these chips on one more spin.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Anna replied cautiously. “I mean, that’s like four thousand dollars.”
The man she knew as Winky smiled at her with a gentle affection, and she noticed a dimple appear in his chin. “If I win with one spin honey, it’s more like $40,000 dollars,” Travis said. “I’m just going to guess one number, and I figure your guess is as good as mine. Maybe even better, based on my luck lately. So what do you say? I just need your favourite number.”
Looking around the casino nervously, Anna said, “We’re not really supposed to talk about the games with the clients. I could get in trouble. I can bring you a drink if you’d like though.”
Travis stared into Anna’s eyes for what seemed like an hour. It was only when she began to squirm uncomfortably under his gaze that he said softly, “you can just bring me another ginger ale then, I guess; please and thank you.
Anna stood up hastily, adjusted her dress straps delicately and retreated to the lounge area. Travis watched her go, noticing with a sad feeling the perfect way that her shoulders and hips swivelled when she walked, and the way that her long blonde tresses seemed to blow in a non-existent breeze. “In another life,” Travis thought, turning his attention back to the roulette table in front of him.
“Ready for another spin Mister?” asked the table attendant, an acne-scarred twenty-something with thick glasses.
“Maybe in a minute,” Travis replied, “just let me get another drink first.”
Travis looked around the casino while he waited for the cute server to return. He noted the depression and despair that seemed painted on players’ faces. He inhaled deeply and smelled a mixture of cheap perfume, stale cigar smoke and an undercurrent of nauseating floor polish. He wondered to himself what death would smell like, or if it would have any smell at all. He wondered what his daughter looked like now, and if she was enrolled in school. He wondered how he had let himself get so alone, so trapped and so stupid. He started to wonder about… and she returned, carrying a tall ginger ale on a tray, extra ice cubes peeking over the rim of the glass.
Handing him the drink, Anna let her fingers rest delicately on his wrist. Whispering softly beneath her breath, she said, “My favourite number is 11. It always has been. It’s like, if you take just one, it’s almost nothing. You add just one, and you’ve only got two. But if you put two ones beside each other, then they’re stronger than even ten.” She smiled brightly and tossed her hair with a shake of her head. “I don’t know why really, it’s like 11 is an equal relationship or something, and that always seemed nice to me. I hope you win,” she said, removing her fingers from his wrist and walking away.
Five minutes later, as she weaved her way through the poker and blackjack area collecting empties, she overhead an elderly woman speaking to her companion. “You wouldn’t believe it Jackie. I just saw a guy win $50,000 at roulette, can you believe it? What I wouldn’t do for fifty G’s! It was the weirdest thing though. He asked the pit boss to give half of the winnings to his waitress. He said he didn’t know her name but she just saved his life. I wonder which one she is. She sure is lucky to know a guy like that.”