I don't like craps. Every time I tried the guy just shook his head like a bad actor in a Chevy Chase movie and took my money. Roulette was always too classy for me. I'd see a pretty lady and smile. She'd watch me bet on the wrong turn and lose my pile of chips right away. For a long time I stuck to poker and that worked about as well as the stock market for me. I'd be up some days and down others. Usually I'd average enough to scrape by in the lean times and feast too much during the plenty, but after one too many ninety-nine cent dinners of tomato soup and ramen noodles, I was hungry for more stability. That meant sports betting was right out too. The bizarro god of fate shat down on me every time I tried that route through hidden flaws in the ACLs and elbow ligaments. Besides, it could ruin a good game at the tavern and spoil your entire night.
I'm what Bukowski would call a hustler. I manage to get by without working, but I'd like to think that I do it without the dirty old man vibe. I suppose it's dishonest to put any one of my games on a timeline. They were always ongoing, but I did some more at times than others. I was never a thief. Well, does a few candy bars or malt liquor bottles pilfered by a teenager count? If so, you can call me what you like but I say I'm not a thief. Gambling, one way or another, was always my way of getting by. It was easy money. I wasn't a full blown con artist either. That shit always seemed to come back around to people. But I wanted more.
The very first time I met her was at the tavern I frequented. She wore a bright red dress and swirled dark wine around a glass like some inspiration for a Mick Jagger song. I noticed her eyes right away, large and hazel brown, beneath long eyebrows that arched and invoked mystery with every glance. She was smaller than most women but she loomed larger. I strolled up to two seats down on the otherwise empty bar and I nodded to the barkeep, whom I'd known for years. He was one of those jovial round fellas with a big beard and a disarming chuckle. I liked Dante but he was always listening and most people forgot that.
"Hey Chip. What you thirsty for?" He asked.
"The usual," I lied.
When I looked back over, she smiled at me. Maybe it was my lucky day. I smiled back and she looked away. The chase was on, so I motioned to Dante to refreshen her drink. He replied with a sly grin and went to work.
"Why thank you," she said with surprise that could have been feigned but I didn't care.
"How's your night going?"
I'm sure you can guess where it went from there. As fun as a good flirt can be in the moment, it never makes for a good read later on. The charge to the words just isn't there anymore after they're put on a page, no matter who writes them. All those bestselling romance novels wouldn't be worth the paper they're printed on if the people reading them weren't burning up on the inside, searching and searching for something. I could never understand the excitement from reading someone else's fantasy. I wanted to live life and not dream about it from another perspective.
Her name was Marie and she smelled like hibiscus leaves. Those two were forever fused together in my recollection from that night onward. It was earthy-tangy covering sweet fruit. I caught the first wafting scent of it as she stood and walked by to use the restroom once. That moment took much longer than it felt like it should have despite the four minutes that passed by on my phone.
When she returned, a pocketbook landed on the bar right in front of her. I recall the bounce of it striking me as a little careless when a wallet popped out. I saw the number twenty. Then it struck me. This was a woman who knew what she was doing. She was playing the old cash plant right in front of me to see how trustworthy I was. Now if a hundred dollar bill was on the floor in the middle of a crowded room, what would you say? When you know who it belongs to, that's what makes you a thief, and yes, knowing a bike belongs to some nameless dude who stopped inside a store for five minutes counts, fucker, whoever you are. As I said, I've never been much of a thief. I like you to know I took your money, so you'll come back and try to play some more. I barely even glanced at her stack of cash. It was beneath me.