Mr. Stats and the Bingo Boinker
An Apocalyptic birthday tale about playing the odds
* CHAPTER 1 *
"Are you positive you're going to be okay down here by yourself?"
"Yes, Ma. I'm thirty-four. I think I can manage to sit at a bar alone and have a drink." Or three.
She patted my cheek with her hand, curling her fingertips around the scruff I know she wished I'd shave. "Such a pretty face we gave you under all that scraggle." Heavy sigh. "Well, good night, then, son. Come knock on my door at 7:40 so we have plenty of time for the buffet."
"7:40? The first game starts at 10:30!"
Mom shook her head sadly. For such a smart boy… "Doors open at eight, sweetheart."
"We're sitting in the bingo hall for two hours before even starting the mind-numbing—"
Her hand fell away, her ever-patient smile giving way to a disappointed frown. I was lower than the dust motes on the Native American-inspired carpeting.
Mom cupped my chin and lifted my gaze from the floor. "Edward, I told you I'm fine playing alone; I do it all the time. You should sleep in, enjoy your vacation, have a massage. Meet me at Alta Strada for dinner."
"Of course I'm not doing that! I brought you here to help you celebrate your birthday."
"And you're a love." Mom released my chin and smiled. "Your father would've been so proud of you, especially knowing how prickly you get inside casinos. You're a prince, Edward."
Felt more like a worm than a prince at the moment. I wasn't worthy of shoveling the royal stables.
I've always considered myself successful—I have a secure job with a decent salary and dental coverage. I own a three-bedroom house in Groton, Connecticut, plenty of space for a hypothetical wife and two kids. I work out five days a week, and I have the body to show for it—not steroid-puffed or anything, but solid enough. I know how to dress, and I'm not afraid to put my metrosexual out there. If I'm occasionally mistaken for gay? So what. I'm not homophobic. Hell, it's a compliment nowadays—translation: you're hip, interesting, stylish, edgy.
People think winning is about luck, but luck didn't get me where I am today. Logic, data, and careful planning—that's how "good luck" is made. The large majority of time, if x is supposed to happen, by golly, x happens. I'm careful. I do my homework, calculate the odds, and plot my life's path according to the probabilities. That all said, a guy's Ma is a guy's Ma, and a promise is a promise, and I needed not to be an ass.
"I'll see you at 7:40, Ma. Have a good rest. You need your energy for tomorrow. We are gonna bonk ourselves silly. Oh, wait, that didn't come out right."
"Good night, dear. Have fun."
Turning away from the elevator bank, I heard the security guard. "May I see your key, young lady?"
And Mom's chuckled retort. "Ha! Who are you calling a lady?"
* BINGO *
The Halo Bar was quiet and dark—two qualities that worked with tonight's mood. Ma was right; I was prickly.
I took the end seat at the mostly empty bar and ordered a shot of Herradura Silver on the rocks. If anything could get me through this experience, it was tequila.
The bartender set down the drink on a napkin spun neatly in place and promptly produced a bowl of salty snacks. "Cheers!"
"Cheers," I repeated, raising my glass and eyeing the clear liquid.
Hardly. I shook my head at myself for talking to my drink.
"Y'okay, buddy?" Oh, fantastic. Now the bartender was worried.
"Fine, thanks," I said. I pulled the tequila into my mouth and floated the cool burn on my tongue. I swallowed that sip and drew in some more. The back of my throat stung a little less each time, and it was nearly numb by the time the last gulp went down.
I plunked down my glass next to the bottle conveniently left in front of me, and the bartender obliged. "Would you like to see a menu?"
"No, thanks. I'm just drinking."
He shot me another cautious glance before capping off the Herradura. "Name's Jasper. Let me know if you need anything."
"Just keep me lubricated, my friend."
Jasper gave me a kind smile and an I'll-leave-you-alone-for-a-while nod. "You got it."
I swirled the glass, working the ice through the drink. Went down easier cold.
Maybe you should slow down a bit.
Fuck that. Tomorrow's agenda consisted of eleven hours in a windowless room, violating every principle of my carefully constructed belief system. I didn't need one of my actuarial tables to tell me this little bingo junket was going to be a losing proposition; bingo is a sucker's game.
Someone has to win; it might as well be me, argues every bingo player everywhere. The more cards I play, the better my odds.
People! It's about risk and reward, expected return on your investment. Ach, seriously, I couldn't even convince my own mother. How could I expect to convert the 3,600 drones who took up daily residence inside one of the world's largest bingo halls?
Jasper refreshed me and walked tactfully away. My head was getting fuzzy. When was the last time I'd . . .? Oh yes, Emmett's bachelor party. My stomach spasmed, but the unpleasant memory didn't stop me from filling my cheeks with tequila. I tipped my head back and closed my eyes.
A screech and a rustle next to me caused a ripple in my almost tranquil bubble. I opened my eyes as the brown-haired goddess smiled at the bartender. "Hey, Jazz. Got my burger?"
"You bet, beautiful." He set down a highball glass in front of her and dragged over the long, rubber hose from the soda fountain. "Be right back."
What were the odds that a girl my exact type would plunk down right next to me in this random bar? I had always been a sucker for a girl with glasses, and how perfect were those bangs that swept across her forehead and rested just behind the frames?
I brought my empty glass to my lips anyway. It was the only prop I had to hide behind.
"You know, I can see you in the mirror," she said.
I faced the bar, catching my own horrified expression before taking in her reflection. She was smiling, thank God.
Jasper returned just at that moment and shot me a puzzled look while setting down her plate and a big bottle of Heinz. "Halo classic with provolone, extra mushrooms and onions, medium rare. In other words, a Thursday burger."
"Perfect," she said.
Without asking, Jasper twisted off the top of the tequila bottle and refilled my glass. "On the house."
The girl twisted toward me on her stool, dragging a French fry through a puddle of ketchup and thwapped it onto her tongue like an exhausted stripper collapsing onto a waiting bed. Stripper? Bed?
"Friend of yours, Jazz?"
Her voice poured over my dirty little fantasy moment, and a blush heated my cheeks. I dared not look in the mirror.
"Yes," he answered. "Bella, meet my new friend . . ."
"Edward. Edward Cullen."
Jazz picked up the thread again. "Edward Cullen, meet Bella."
"Bella Jean," she said. Dipping the end of another fry into the ketchup, she offered it to me in place of a handshake. "Fry?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jasper stepping away again. "No, thanks. Just ate dinner."
"No, I . . ." Somehow, "took my mother to the food court" didn't seem the cool response. "I grabbed something downstairs." I swirled the drink around on the counter before drawing it to my lips again. "Is Jean your last name?"
She giggled. "Nope." Okay, then.
The drink went down easy, and I helped myself to another large sip. Meeting girls at bars wasn't exactly my thing, and I was glad for the liquid courage. Bella, meanwhile, seemed to be brave enough with her soda.
"Are the gambling gods smiling down at you tonight?" she asked.
"Yes," I said with a chuckle. "I'm even."
"Oh," she said with a sly smile, "you're one of those 'not losing is winning' types, eh?"
Again, I had the strong sense that honesty was not exactly going to impress her. "Nah, I just haven't been inside the casino."
Her eyebrows disappeared under her bangs. "You came here for the shopping?"
Ah, a sense of humor. Okay, then. "Yes, I drove two hours to pick up a pair of pink fuzzy dice at the Wampum Outpost."
She took a bite of her burger and looked me up and down with smiling eyes while she chewed. My sweater felt suffocating; I hoped my forehead wasn't piping out sweat. I waited on tenterhooks while she swallowed. "I wouldn't have pegged you for the fuzzy dice type."
Maybe not dice, but I was feeling mighty fuzzy. Stay tight, the tiny voice of self-preservation whimpered.
"No, not so much." I laughed again. She gave me one of those okay-you're-not-talking looks, and I figured she was about to give up on me if I didn't stop acting like an evasive jerk. "My uh . . . companion . . ." Ugh, that sounded like I'd hired someone to be my nurse. "Actually, it's my mom's birthday tomorrow, and I promised I'd take her to play bingo and then dinner at her favorite restaurant."
While I was blabbing, Bella chewed off another big chunk of meat, nodded, and swiped her tongue across her lips to catch a clump of melted cheese. "That's sweet. Where is she?"
"Oh, she went to bed."
"You're not sharing a room, are you?" Bella giggled.
"Ugh, no. Gross!" I stifled a laugh with my glass.
Bella shrugged and sucked in another fry. "I've seen stranger." Was that a challenge I saw in her eyes?
I tapped my glass on the bar. "I think I'm gonna need a refill."
TO BE CONTINUED...
For some reason, Facebook thinks January 1 is Postapocalypticdepository's birthday, but I happen to know it's today, January 4. So here I am, wishing my very sweet friend the happiest of birthdays, and boy, does she deserve it! I don't know that I've ever met a more thoughtful, caring human being. If you don't know her, you're truly missing out on one of the kindest souls around. Seriously- she's on a mission to donate her weight in blood (I think that's an ounce of blood per pound of APOC but I can't be sure with her). Also, she is one hell of a writer, so if I were you, I'd get over to her stories as soon as possible. I happen to love Skater Boy and Boarder Girl as well as Unhinged, but there are many to choose from. We did a crazy collabadrabble last year called Shake, if you dare. Anyway, happy, happy birthday, sweet Apoc!
I would like to thank Ladyeire for both the pre-writing brainstorm session (to which I have apparently become addicted) and the awesome banner of crackfic-ness she pulled together. Her original version was very classy- just so you know- but once I mentioned the word "crack," V knew just what to do! And thank you to my sweet Chayasara for her editing and humor. Also, special words of thanks to Jill Peterson for answering my bingo questions so thoroughly! I'll see you guys in a couple days for the next installment. This won't be terribly long- maybe 5 chapters in all. (famous last words from the pumpkin shell) ANYWAY, thanks for being here and celebrating with me. Give Apoc a kiss if you see her!