“Wait, I don’t get it,” Monk says, but that sounds like willful ignorance on his part, like he actually does get and he’s trying desperately to believe that he doesn’t.
“He blacked out,” Erb replies, his voice quiet with disbelief. “This whole time he’s been blacked out.”
“Is that true?” Monk asks, so much like a wounded animal.
I just shrug. “I guess so.”
“Well, what’s the last thing you remember?”
I stop. I wrack my brain trying to think of the answer. “The last thing I remember clearly is… looking in the mirror back at the Tropicali.”
“The big mirrors by the shopping center?”
“No, the mirror in our room’s bathroom.”
“Oh, you son of a bitch!” Monk shouts. “That was five hours ago!”
Erb’s eyes are screwed shut in pain. He’s massaging his temples, as if that will alleviate the pressure and regret building up within his brain. “Jesus Christ, man. You’ve been out of it for five fucking hours?”
“I gave you my wedding ring!”
“Yeah, I saw that. Why?”
“What do you mean, ‘Why?’” he shouts. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Monk so angry. I can understand his anger on an intellectual level. I somehow convinced him that he should let me wager his wedding ring, that I had a system, a sure thing, and the whole time I’d been running around in some kind of drug-induced psychosis. But I honestly had no idea what I had done. I don’t know what buttons I’d pushed, what fears I’d preyed on, what impossible promises I’d made. Save for the time I blacked out and woke up in a jail cell, I don’t know that I’ve ever been so confused and helpless.
And the funny thing about feeling confused and helpless is that it’s usually a precursor to feeling angry and defensive. I puff up my chest and clench my jaw and hiss through my teeth. “I mean, ‘I don’t know what the fuck is going on, and I can appreciate that something disastrous very nearly happened, but it didn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. So, given that there’s no harm and thus no foul, will someone please fill me in on what the fuck we’ve been doing all night.” Neither Monk nor Erb responds. They glance at each other, then back at me. I take a deep breath, stand up straighter from the defensive posture I’d adopted with bent knees and shoulders drawn forward and fists clenched tight. “I’m serious. Someone please explain to me how the Hell I convinced you guys to give me all your money and let me gamble it away in the Libretto.”
Erb’s mouth twists up in disgust. I’m expecting a deluge of criticism to pour forth, but instead he says, “Because we didn’t think you were blacked out. Because we thought you actually knew what you were doing.”
I blink once, twice. “Huh?”
“You’ve been on point all night, man”
“You came out of the bathroom wired,” Monk says. “We were standing around in the other room, and you hustled us out into the street. You got a cab without even trying. We were going to go to Buddha, but you convinced us to go to Rive Gauche.”
“You insisted. You got a pack of cigs from the bar there, and then you traded them to this drunk guy for his limo service to Buddha.”
“There was a line at the door, but we sprang for bottle service.”
“There were these girls…”
“And then you–”
Their words blend into white noise. The story is impossible to believe, an unlikely string of events that even a child would call cliched and hackneyed and improbable. All things considered, the night could not have gone more smoothly if a hack screenwriter trying to write some kind of insipid buddy comedy had put the whole thing together. Things could not have turned out more impossibly perfect if Zeus himself had come down from the sky with a rope tied around his waist, spread his arms, and shouted that all would be well.
The interactions, the insults, the gambling, the winning, the losses that I swore were carefully calculated. There were a million points of failure in the entire thing. Why did no one stop us? Why did no woman kick me in the genitals? Why did no man punch me in the face? Why did no harried doorman or bartender or waitress roll their eyes, snap their fingers, and have security toss me out on my ass?
The Beast. The blackout.
A blackout’s a strange thing. Too much alcohol will leave you a vomiting mess. Too much stim and your heart will explode. Too much of a hallucinogen, and your brain will burn itself out like a computer chip fallen victim to a power surge. But just the right amount and the little man inside your head who watches the conveyor belt of your mind, whose job it is to sort through the things you see and experience and transfer them from short-term to long-term memory, throws up his hands and announces, “Fuck it! I quit!” Like an ancient vaudeville comedian in a sketch about the perils of industry, that little man leans back in a chair, kicks up his feet, and watches the flood of memory go by without a care in the world. The memories pile up like so much trash, and within a matter of minutes, if even that, they’re gone forever.
Unless it’s something your mind’s fixated on. Unless you’ve decided, “Goddamnit, you know what sounds good right now? A TIP sandwich from Diable en Boîte!” and you then march a mile in the dead of night to get your sandwich, eat it with the sense of profound satisfaction that only the addicted know, and then ask your friends five minutes later, “Wait, when did we get to D in the B?”
That little bastard in my head had called in sick, and I’d gotten obsessed on something stupid. It must have happened in the space in between blacking out and the Beast kicking in. It all made sense now, and I hated myself for it, but at least it made sense.
I hadn’t wasted the Beast. Not exactly. I’d misused it.
Instead of going into the past, my perception walking the surface of time and untangling the threads of my own life and finding the moment that the Lady in White started haunting and eliminating her for good, I’d gone into the future. I’d chased money, of all the stupid things. I’d looked ahead and scene the places I would be, the decisions I could make, their outcomes, infinite possibilities spiraling out from each other like cells in the leaves on the branches of the tree of life. And I’d chased a fucking jackpot. A payday. Creds. What the Hell was I going to do with creds?
I mean, I do have a lot of debt I could pay off. I could spend some money upgrading my habitation and my transportation, certainly. Or I could take a vacation somewhere that wasn’t a fake floating rock orbiting the Earth.
Or just a better vacation on that aforementioned rock.
And people liked people with money. Or rather, they liked following the lives of people with money who did “interesting” things. Or who gave freely of that money.
But creds weren’t peace of mind. Not to someone like me.
“Goddamnit, did he black out again?” Monk asked.
I snap back to reality, shake my head. “No, no. I’m good. Just a little freaked out is all.”
Erb rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I bet. Damn junkie.”
My eyes narrow. My nostrils flare in anger. “Hey! A junkie’s an addict! I’m not an addict. I just tend not to take the consequences of my actions and decisions very seriously.”
“And now you’re addicted to a variety of dangerous and illegal drugs?”
“No. I just use the drugs to keep myself together with a blind faith in them that borders on the spiritual. Or the delusional.”
Erb shakes his head. “How can–”
“Hey! Here’s an idea!” I blurt out. “Instead of looking a gift horse in the mandibles, how about we go get our money, book the nicest suite we can afford, order room service, and invite whatever girls Papa Chub and Googe are able to wrangle upstairs?”
Monk nods once, emphatically, sharply. “Sold. Let’s go do that.”
We stumble around uselessly for a little while before we find the cash cage. There’s all kinds of paperwork to sort through and inspections to be done and mistrustful looks to wither under. It turns out that when you win a lot of money all at once the casino wants to make sure you’re not ripping them off and the government wants its cut of the action. Who knew?
But even after everything is said and done, after the fees and taxes are levied, the suspicions laid to rest, hands firmly shaken and backs heartily clapped, there’s still a sense of barely perceptible energy arcing back and forth between my friends and I like electricity. Papa Chub and Googe find us, watch eagerly and expectantly as funds are disbursed and contracts signed. The majority of the money remains in the Libretto’s coffers “for safekeeping until [we] leave” (but of course we’re free to spend it within any of the Libretto’s properties.) Thankfully, the Tropicali just happens to be such a property. We have the management gather our things, cancel the rest of our reservation there and transfer our belongings over to the Libretto, and we go through the motions and we do the dance, and finally we get in the private elevator and go up to the penthouse floor.
Silence reigns as we all consider the paths and the decisions that have taken us to this moment. Googe speaks first. “Guys, I’m pretty tired.”
“You’d better get your second wind,” Papa Chub says. “We’re going to be throwing a party in about thirty minutes.”
“This is going to be good,” I say with a smile. “The night is young.”
“It’s three in the morning,” Monk points out.
My smile grows a little wider. “The day is early, then.”
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