The Beast, Pt. 24 (Chapter 11c)

There’s a process to winning an actual literal pile of money at a casino. There are steps you can take to accept your winnings with poise and grace, tips to be given, drinks to be shared. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea what that process might be and what those steps actually are.

Instead of quiet dignity, I’m laughing and whooping like an ape, taking long pulls from the bottle of whiskey and passing it back and forth with my friends, pulling women in tight dresses close, laughing with them, laughing at their jokes, telling jokes for them to laugh at, and if ever we felt invincible before I can’t even imagine what it is that we’re feeling now. We’re drawing looks of disgust from some of the folks around us that look like they actually belong here, like they actually come to the Meadows and risk tens of thousands of creds on a roll of the dice all the time. Just think. The equivalent of people’s annual salaries, of their lives’ savings, the amount of money that means the difference between waking up knowing all is right in the world and sticking a gun in your mouth must be lost here all the time. Most of these people probably never even bat an eye. Just shrug their shoulders, say, “Oh, well,” and then try to remember the rules for writing off gambling losses on your taxes.

“Let’s get out of here,” I say to no one in particular.

“Cashing out, Sir?” the stickbot intones and I grunt an affirmative. It gathers our bet, sets aside our personal valuables and deducts them from the total, sets aside some chips for us to continue playing and or cash out itself. It deals itself back the rest of the chips and then spits out a biometrically locked token to be redeemed with the hotel management. “Thank you for playing, Sir!” it chirps happily and I nod and I smile. I flick one of the two dozen or so chips it’s given me back at it and say, “That’s for you,” and its animatronic eyebrows go up and it’s uLED eyes flash and it says, “Oh, thank you so much, Sir!” Whether I just gave a bunch of money back to the casino or if the stickbot actually has a life outside of its primary function, the AI to have hopes and dreams and things it’s excited to spend money on, I can’t say. Nor do I especially care. Even if it was a mechanical facsimile of happiness, the stickbot’s joy was pretty damn convincing, and I feel good about that. I think I understand why Monk was so pleased with the giant crab robot back at the spaceport. Even if the thing can’t really feel, it feels good to make something happy. Like giving a dog a cheeseburger.

I turn around to walk away, realize I have no idea what direction the cash cage is in, or where we are relative to anything within the casino, or even what goddamn casino we’re actually in, so I stop, spin around on my heels and grin at my friends who are lagging some behind me. There are already hangers-on and women talking to them and a dozen distractions all seeking to get some of our attention and money, so I do what comes naturally. I stride forward, a smirk on my face and say, “Gentlemen, you may all fuck off. Seriously, get out of here. We don’t want to be your friends, we don’t want to offer any advice on gambling, and we don’t want to hear your stories. Shoo. Be gone. Get thee behind me.” Some of the men who have gathered around us look shocked and insulted, and few of them look like they might even want to get physical over my abject rudeness, but the crowd disperses. My eyes are darting around, and I can see big burly casino staff watching us, and I kind of remember that we sprung for bottle service at a club somewhere and were exceptionally well taken care of. Now that we’re, to coin a phrase, filthy fucking rich, I feel like I could snap my fingers and a squad of armed goons would descend upon my enemies, beat them to a pulp, throw them into the street, and then charge them for the dry-cleaning bill to remove blood from the carpet.

I take a deep breath through my nostrils, let it out, and my smirk gets smugger still. “Now. Ladies. As you may be aware, my friends and I have recently come into a large sum of money. We are going to be celebrating our good fortune, most likely with a penthouse suite and a lot of fancy alcohol and a lot of expensive drugs. If you’d like to join us, please leave your contact information with my friend and associate.” I gesture towards Papa Chub. He waves awkwardly at the gathered women, and the ones who haven’t walked away in disgust, whose jaws haven’t dropped to the floor in outrage, giggle. “We’re going to settle our affairs, then we’ll reach out to you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to see a man-and-or-woman-and-or-robot at getting my money.” I flourish my hand, take a deep bow and walk away without another word. Papa Chub stays behind, rising to the task that’s been foisted upon him. Googe stays behind to help, possibly out of general good will and possibly just for the thrill of having a crowd of attractive women competing for his attention. Monk and Erb join me in my march in no particular direction. Thankfully.

“Hey, where the fuck are we?” I ask.

“I think we can cash out over there,” Monk says, his hand raised and finger pointing in a direction that’s absolutely meaningless to me.

“Okay. Good to know. But, like, where are we?”

There’s no response from either of my friends. They look confused. They look concerned. They look worried.

“What do you mean?” Erb asks.

“Like, what casino are we in?”

A long pause. “We’re in the Libretto.”

“Oh. Cool. When did we get here?”

“Oh, you son of a bitch,” Erb says, all the weight of the world in his voice.

Word Count: (╯°Д°)╯︵ /(.□ . \)


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