This next collage inspired a story that felt like a logical follow-on from yesterday.
Things hadn’t been quite as rosy as he had first thought. Sure, California was sunnier than Chicago. Easier on the eye, too. But he hadn’t hit the big time. He could get a booking at a bar without any issue. Some of the clubs, too. He’d even secured a two-week stint in one place. Room and board were covered, and he managed to make a decent wage after that was taken out. But it wasn’t what he wanted. He could join the hundreds of entertainers jobbing from week to week in the bars, clubs and small-time venues all over California, and he’d do okay. But he came all this way to be something more. He wanted to fire up his beloved ‘57 Bel Air, drop the ragtop and hit the highway listening to the rumble of the V8 in front of him and his latest hit single blaring from the radio.
He wanted to pack the seats of the Hollywood Bowl, take on a Las Vegas residency and fill stadiums all over the country. He wanted a record deal. He wanted to sit in a studio and record the songs he wrote in shabby little motel rooms. Buy a place on each coast and somewhere between, with a home studio and a staff on hand to make his life comfortable. That was his dream coming out to the West coast. Nothing had quite turned out as he had hoped though.
Sat in his dimly-lit room above a biker bar in a little town of no consequence somewhere in California, he tried to focus on writing the one song that would change his life. A small desk was pushed up against the window. It was illuminated by the flickering neon glow from the gaudy electric signage. The roar of V-Twin engines and the shouts of leather vest-clad, barrel stomached bikers brawling out in the parking lot served as his soundtrack. Balls of paper, screwed up and tossed about littered the floor around him. Nothing was coming to him. No inspiration. No flash in the dark. The neon light flickered and flashed on and off as the evening grew darker. Pictures on the wall showed the gaudy, flashy Las Vegas strip. Maybe that’d be where he would make his fortune.
~ ~ ~ ~
It had been two years since he had hopped back in his Bel Air and driven through the desert to the bright lights of Las Vegas. Sin City. He had hope, getting gigs seemed easier. In the entertainment capital, people came from all over to make their fortune and be entertained. It’s like they always say: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. He was playing bigger venues, in front of bigger crowds for even bigger paychecks. But that mythical record deal never materialised.
Seduced by the clinking of coins, the musical call of chimes and the bright lights, he eventually turned his hand and his earnings to the slots and the tables of the many casinos. The Golden Nugget became a frequent haunt. Some days he lost. Some days he won. The wins captivated him. Celebrated one win by placing another bet. But then he started to chase his losses, too. He caught the eye of the wrong people. Those who ran the casinos. A man making losses becomes desperate. A desperate man will keep coming back to win. A desperate man was good for business.
He visited with increasing regularity. Chasing loss after loss. Until he won. And then won again. And again. Something was certainly going his way. Had he found Lady Luck? Of course not. He’d learned how to count the cards. Unfortunately his hot streak had only made him more noticeable. After a particularly successful night at the roulette wheel, he skipped and danced his way out to his car, whistling a joyous tune. In fact, so jubilant was he, that he failed to notice the three men following him. He didn’t notice them right behind him as he stashed the briefcase filled with dollars in the trunk. And he certainly didn’t notice them as the tire iron was brought down across the back of his skull. He was tossed roughly in the boot with his ill-gotten dollars, and the lid shut.
~ ~ ~ ~
The moon cast a pale silver glow over the desert. The neon lights of Las Vegas blazed in a sea of darkness. He came to, wrists and ankles bound, a throbbing sensation in his head. The sound of shovels carving into the dry, arid ground shook the mist from his mind.
“Wakey wakey, Mister Sleepy Head.”
An unpleasant chuckle chilled him. The man before him, dressed in a fine suit sat on the hood of his car, checking the chambers of his pistol.
“Shh shh shh! It’s okay. You’re confused. I’ll help. You got greedy, didn’t you?”
A pitiful effort at a denial caught in his throat.
“Oh come now, don’t play us for fools. We know you been tricking us. Counting the cards. How else does a man lose so much, then make such incredible wins? We been watching you.”
He was picked up roughly, dumped at the edge of a pit under the blazing glare of car headlights.
“Problem is, we just can’t let that shit slide. We let you go, every other sorry bastard’ll think they can play us for fools. No, that’ll never do. Gotta set an example.”
The suited man pushed up off the car, walking behind the kneeling, weeping figure by the crude pit.
“After all,” he said, raising the gun, not an inch from the back of his head, “didn’t you know? The House always wins.”
A deafening boom echoed across the desert. The body tumbled into the pit, already being covered with dirt. The man leant down, polishing sand off of his expensive shoes. He sat himself behind the wheel of the Bel Air and turned the key. As the V8 rumbled, he pulled onto the highway, headed towards the city, singing along as the radio played loudly.
“I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher. And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire. The ring of fire.”