With her make-up putting up a valiant effort to hide her rapidly healing black eye, April took one last look in the mirror before heading out to the parking lot. She had no idea how, but she was prepared to try all the keys in all of the cars until one of them started an engine. She needed more clues to her quandary. As she stepped out to the lot she realized the futility of her plan as it was filled with cars.
“Well,” she changed her mind, “Maybe I can get some food that doesn’t come from a vending machine.”
She spied a hotel employee and asked about a place to eat. The maid pointed out a huge paddle boat casino across the street on the Mississippi River, saying it had excellent food. April wondered how the neon river boat didn’t stick out in her mind, but it was only a testimony to how much she had forgotten.
Now the term ‘mark’, like a con man preying on a mark, is actually an old carnival term. At the entrance to a carnival, a customer would open their wallet to pay their admission, thereby revealing the contents to the carnival worker who would discreetly mark the individual with a swipe of chalk. The carnival attendants, who were essentially con men, would scan the crowd for a mark. When April Miller entered the Ameristar Casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi, security immediately asked her for ID because of her youthful appearance and short stature. Little did she know, a con man had identified her as a mark.
Cy Thibadaux, or Slick, as his friends called him, was blessed with looks that women of all walks of life would say were striking. The high cheek bones that carved across his finely chiseled face only seemed to enhance his dark, wavy hair and mysterious golden brown eyes. His think mustache and expertly groomed sideburns showcased a coif that looked like it was too cool to have been styled even though every hair was exactly where it was supposed to be. Cy knew his looks were what gave a young man with average to low intelligence the edge that drove up the stock on his fair market value.
I would love to tell you a tragic tale of how Cy was a good kid gone bad, but the truth is he was always that kind of kid. While other boys were busy delivering papers or mowing lawns to buy that hundred dollar pair of Nike Shocks that brought courage to adolescents to approach a suitable female and ask her to go couples skating at the local roller rink, Cy was casing the rink for a mark of comparable shoe size. When the hardworking mark took off his shoes so he could couples skate with his dream girl to the latest heart melting love ballad, Slick was already exiting with a new pair of shoes. He was the kind of inconsiderate thief who wouldn’t even leave his old pair so the footwear-less freeskater could go home with some dignity. Even the nickname Slick he stole from an older boy who had dwarfed him in charisma at a summer camp and upon his return to Vicksburg he went by the name, armed with a lie about everyone calling him that at camp.
Slick knew he wasn’t the sharpest tool in shed, so he relied on the way females all went star-eyed stupid when he showered them with attention. If they were staring into his golden brown eyes, they weren’t watching their purses or credit cards or anything of value.
April walked into the food court at the casino and was told by the waitress that she could go gamble while her food was being prepared. Even though she couldn’t remember her past, she felt an elation at her new found freedom. The waitress took her credit card while the little librarian stepped over to the cashier’s cage to buy tokens to gamble with. She rummaged in her purse and extracted a check book and asked the cashier to buy some tokens.
The cashier’s makeup was so thick it looked like it had been applied with a paint sprayer. Her teased up hair was a threat to the ozone layer as the reek of Aqua Net made lighting a cigarette near her feel homicidal.
“Sorry, sugar. We don’t take no checks. Only paper we accept is cash.” Her voice was not the least bit friendly, even though she wore a plastic smile that was in danger of cracking the bond-o hiding her laugh lines.
April was not impressed by her tone of voice, nor her smile that made a feeble attempt at conveying congeniality. Fortunately, her waitress intervened.
“Mrs. Miller, if you want, honey, I can just get you some cash back off your credit card.”
“You can do that?”
“Sure! It’s no problem. How much can I get you? A hundred?”
“You can get five hundred if you want. It’s an American Express Black card.”
“Five hundred it is.” The waitress swiped the card and then asked, “Do you know the pin number?”
Before April’s brain could remember she was supposed to be an amnesiac, she spit out, “6691,” and the waitress handed her the money.
She began thinking about the things she could remember about herself; her PIN, she was an Elvis fan, her name, that she was a librarian, but she was interrupted by a tall, good-looking man who stepped into her personal space.
“I normally wouldn’t approach a total stranger, but my name is Cy. My friends call me Slick, and who might you be?”
The waitress, who had been one of Cy’s former conquests, rolled her eyes.
April shoved the cash into her purse and replied, “Someone who wants to eat a sandwich, play roulette, get drunk, and just maybe enjoy the company of a good looking man.”
Cy took her sandwich from the quickly returning waitress and said with a devilish smile, “Now all we need is roulette and drinks.”
I wish I could say that April was immune to the con man’s charm, that because of her intelligence and quick wit she saw through the silver-tongued Slick, but that’s not the way it happened. They sat at the roulette table and talked like old friends. April couldn’t talk about herself because she didn’t remember who she was, but that was alright with Cy because his favorite subject was himself.
As the evening began to darken the skies around Vicksburg, April fell more under Slick’s spell and her pile of chips at the roulette table dwindled.
“Sweetie, can I get you a drink?” the waitress asked as April pushed her last chips across the table intending to cash in the pink chips for one large hundred dollar chip. Maybe it was the sudden interruption of the server, or maybe it was the influence of the drinks already consumed, but instead of pushing her chips all the way across, they landed on 23. She turned to order an icy wet gin martini, stirred, not shaken because shaking bruises the gin, so she never heard the dealer announce, “Bets down, ball’s moving.”
The dealer waved his hands over the table and flipped a little button on top of her bet that said, ‘on’. Before she could see that she had stuck herself on a thirty-to-one shot, Cy, sizing up his worthless mark, asked her about a diamond tennis bracelet on her wrist sparkling in the casino neons.
“My brother gave it to me for my twentieth birthday.”
“You didn’t mention that you had a brother.”
“Yeah,” she started, pausing to file this with the other new revelations of the night, the continued, “I have six brothers…I think.”
“You think? How could you not know?”
“TWENTY THREE, BIG WINNER!” The dealer tugged at her sleeve. “Your winnings, ma’am.”
“Oh my God!” she gawked at the huge stack of chips. “How much is it?”
“Three thousand, one hundred, and down, unless you want to let it ride…”
“Oh, Hell no!” she laughed as she raked the chips toward her. As fate would have it, the waitress returned with her martini and she left the chips sitting on black. Normally, Slick’s eye would have never left the money he believed would soon be his, but he was distracted by the arrival of his bourbon and coke.
April started to throw back a healthy swig of her drink, but her taste buds were assaulted by an unfamiliar flavor that caused her to spray her drink into the aisle. “That’s not gin, that’s vodka! Tastes like rubbing alcohol!”
Had her drink been right, she would have gone home three thousand dollars richer, but because of the bartender’s inattention to detail, she never heard the dealer spin the ball and say, “Bets down.” She did, however hear the other people at the table cheer when he said, “24 black.”
April, who was already tipsy from the drinks, swooned as she asked, “How much is that?”
“Sixty two hundred, unless you want to let it ride.”
“She wants to cash out,” Slick shouted.
She wasn’t going to let someone tell her what to do. Perhaps it was some kind of tendril stretching through her shattered mind to ensure she didn’t fall into another prison, or maybe it was the surge of adrenaline that gamblers feel that can only compare to drug addiction or love, but she said, “I most certainly do NOT! Let it ride!”
The dealer waved his hands over the stick and said, “Sixty two hundred chips, play, and spin the ball.”
Slick caught a twinkle in her eye that made him a little uneasy. Up until that point he had been certain that this mark would be like taking candy from a baby, but something about that look said that under the hood of this compact car might be a Hemi. What seemed like an easy target may have turned out to be something completely different. Just when he was trying to reorganize his plan that had up until that moment been bedding and burglary, he saw that twinkle become a full-fledged death ray as she screamed and leapt into the air.
“16 Black! Twelve thousand and four hundred down.”