Seconds had passed since the pit boss had spoken, as Sanchez appeared to digest what he had said. The pit boss, along with two huge thugs, had whisked Sanchez and I away from our blackjack game and into a small, windowless room. I had been accused of counting cards. I was in the other corner of the room, hair a mess, my stomach in knots, sweat running down my face, with one of the thug’s thick hands clamped tightly on the back of my neck.
“How did I end up here?” I thought to myself. The kid, Sanchez, had approached me in a bar in Reno, with a proposal: have me, the great blackjack player Johnny Slash, show him the ropes. He told me I was the greatest; he had seen me on TV before, a couple years back, when I was in a tournament. So we went to Vegas. But I had never expected it to end like this. The pit boss glared at me, then the kid.
“Are you just gonna stare at me, kid? We’ve got a real situation on our hands here, and Bowser and Louie are pretty damn furious already. Your friend here cost them their seats at the fight tonight.” the pit boss, who wore a shiny nametag with “Mackey” written on it, spat at Sanchez.
“Y-you’ve got the wrong guy, pal.” Sanchez said defiantly. “Not Johnny. He’s the best damn card player I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s not what our cameras picked up.” Mackey said.
Mackey nodded towards a computer monitor on the table in front of us, and the other thug, who sort of looked like a shaved gorilla, walked to it. With a little movement from his fat fingers he managed to pull up the video feed. I watched in horror as, in clear-as-day high definition, my routine was recorded. Sanchez was sitting next to me in the video, focusing on his own play. He paid no attention to my cheat.
Sanchez sat in the chair at the other corner of the room, and watched the feed in clear disbelief. He turned to me, his thin mustache quivering with each word he spoke.
“Johnny, I thought you were the best.”
“I am, Sanchez, I am.”
“You said you had been in championships before, you could show me the ropes of the game. Turn me into a pro like you.”
The beads of sweat fell like raindrops as the thug’s meaty hand clamped my neck tighter.
“Look, Sanchez, what the hell do you want me to say? I’m a cheat, alright? I’m not the great Johnny Slash you thought, okay?”
We sat still for a moment, and then Sanchez suddenly smiled.
“I’m glad to hear you admit it, Slash. You’ve been stealing from my father’s casino for years. When he died last year, I bet you never would have thought we would find you for payment. But we did.” he said, rising from the chair and grabbing his jacket.
The other thug grabbed my arm and began to lead me out the back into the parking lot, towards a parked black car. A bald man with a gun opened the door, and smiled at me. As I was lead out, I watched Sanchez (which I now knew was not his real name) and the pit boss, Mackey, walk out of the room. The kid had two tickets to the boxing match that was going on right now, a heavily anticipated one, at his late father’s casino. I was wishing the second ticket was for me as the car began the long drive out into the desert.