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“I saw you from across the room and couldn’t help but stare.”
“Excuse me, do I know you?”
“Would you like to?”
The night was still young, and Las Vegas was in full swing. The man in a tuxedo left the deluxe luxury honeymoon suite early that night to hit the tables. I think I’ll step out for a drink, his wife said, you know I don’t care for gambling. She kissed him gently on the cheek before traipsing away, the dark blue hem of her gown dusting the floor with every click of her silver pumps.
Perhaps her kiss had bestowed some sort of luck on him, he thought, watching the pile of chips in front of him grow steadily taller with every round. Texas Hold ‘Em had always been his strong point, and he was nothing short of confident as he entered the casino with the air of a man who had everything, but still demanded more. He had the world’s best poker face; he memorized his hand as soon as it was delt to him, turning the upper right corners of the cards up to his face and inspecting them intently. His handsome, dignified eyes never gave him away. His concentration was almost Vulcan in its dependency upon logic; he never gave in to emotional whims or reckless bidding. Instead, he weighed his chances, deliberated on his cards, and watched the other players like a hawk. As the older gentlemen armed with cane and monocle, the giggling woman with artificially rosy cheeks, the dark man with the tightly clenched jaw and shaved head, and the teenager with a pierced eyebrow pushed the rest of their diminishing chips into the center of the table, he looked on with the calmness of a spectator enjoying a game of tennis. Only when he had collected all the chips did he allow himself the indulgence of a small, satisfied smile.
“That’s a lovely ring. A rock that big must have cost quite a bit, eh?”
“Oh, well, my husband does like to do things in style.”
“Oh, really? And how’s that working out for you?”
He left the casino after that; no use in pushing the luck that had been granted to him after a win so spectacular. Stacks of cash lay in his pocket, soon to be replaced by a slender box which held the delicate diamond and silver choker that his wife had lingered by earlier, her hazel eyes filled with hunger. He imagined fastening it around her long, swan-like neck in front of the golden mirror in their room, her arm raised and laced with his fingers as he did the clasp, looking adoringly at his reflection through long lashes as he promised her the life she had always wanted. Darling, I can give you so much more.
“So what does your husband do, exactly?”
“He’s a realtor, he sells mansions. It’s an incredibly consuming line of work, he’s almost never home.”
“Really? You must get pretty lonely.”
He made his way through the lobby and past the casino to the elevators, humming cheerfully to himself in the empty elevator as it climbed steadily upward. Another smile, one much less restrained, broke out on his thin lips as he pictured his beautiful wife waiting for him. Aloof in his own bravado, he strode briskly to room 1437 and, on a whim, peered into the peephole.
“So what do you do for a living?”
“Well… I guess you would call me an investor of sorts. I invest my time wisely-- it tends to pay off.”
Outside of the hotel room door, the man in a tuxedo felt his insides freeze and shatter.
Through the circle of glass lay an incriminating scene. Sighs and moans, the rustling of sheets, the coalescing of a deep male purr and her musical lilt echoed, ringing, in his ears. Blood rushed to his head at the sight of their sinuous limbs entwining. He fingered the cold diamonds of the necklace in his pocket and watched with the engrossment of a sickened spectator of a horror movie, unable to tear his eyes away. Finally, he managed to turn around and pad numbly down the hall to the cold glass and gold elevator. He sank further with every floor.
“So is your husband at the tables?”
“I believe so. He wanted me to join him, but I don’t care very much for gambling.”
“Neither do I. Let me tell you, in Vegas, there is far better money to be made.”
At the bar, he ordered five shots of gin and downed them one after another. So that’s how it’s going to be, he thought. He had no idea what he was supposed to do. Maybe he shouldn’t have left; wasn’t a real man supposed to barge in and beat the other man to a pulp, declaring his superiority and asserting his authority? I guess this is where one’s true character is revealed, he thought, in times of adversity. His initial confidence had been shattered, and he had no desire for a confrontation; he only wanted to skulk away and hide. Somehow, the bombast that had dominated his intimidating façade had been stripped away, revealing a frightened little child that could only cower in the face of his nightmares.
He downed his last shot and motioned for the bartender to pour more. Endless questions surfaced. Should he go up and demand an explanation from her? Or should he simply pretend he hadn’t seen anything, pretend that his wife still loved him? He shuddered at the thought. Then the man picked up another shot.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“Do you want to come upstairs? The honeymoon suite has a beautiful view.”
“It can’t be more beautiful then the one I have right now.”
The bartender leaned over and glanced at the man slumped on the barstool. It had been upwards of two hours since he first sat down, and eighteen shots later, he was now motionless. His once impeccable tuxedo was wrinkled, and the circles under his eyes were a pronounced declaration of his despondency. The bartender shook his head.
Here’s another one that bet his entire retirement fund, he muttered to himself as he started to clean the gleaming marble countertop. The man twitched slightly, but remained still, as if something had sucked the will to live out of him.
“Got any smokes?”
“There should be some on that table, over there by the safe.”
His neck was stiff and sore, his head throbbing from an angry hangover. Squinting into the sudden rays of sunlight, he realized that he had spent the whole night at the bar. Gone were any chances of exacting revenge on the man in his hotel room, of catching his wife in the act, of getting any sort of explanation for what she had done behind his back. Hopelessness washed over him as he realized all he could do was go back and pretend everything was fine.
“So what’s in the safe?”
“I don’t know, it’s probably empty. My husband has the world’s worst poker face.”
“Well, the key’s on the table… why don’t we take a look?”
He was back in the gold and glass elevator, dreading what he would see when he entered the room. Dreading the saccharine sweet smile that would be on his wife’s face when she woke up, probably not even realizing he hadn’t slept next to her. Dreading the lies that would come, and the fact that he didn’t have the balls to challenge them. Most of all, he was afraid of the person he had become. It had only taken one night to tear down what had been so carefully built up over the years of his life. What did they mean now?
He slid the key card into the door.
“I guess your husband’s been practicing his poker face.”
“Wow, I had no idea he’d gotten so much cash from gambling.”
“Hmm, very interesting. But also quite unfortunate for you.”
The curtains on either side of the huge picture window across the room were drawn back, and the azure sky outside was filled with wisps of cloud. His wife was a slender ridge facing away from the door under sheets stained red. If he didn’t see the safe, empty, open and on its side on the floor, he could almost believe everything was as he had left it. If he hadn’t looked through the peephole in the door last night, he could have almost believed she was sleeping.