Michael walked across the casino, feeling the glitz and lights around him pressing in on his senses. As it was just three weeks before Christmas, there were even extra lights and decorations, heavy on the green and red.
He sighed. The whole world was gearing up for the holiday except him, it seemed. Being shut off from his family by his new life was something he was slowly getting used to, but at times it was harder than others, and heading for this holiday it was especially strong. He sighed again and reminded himself that he did have a new family of sorts. There were Devon, Bonnie, and above all, KITT, his partner who was so much more than a mere computer at this point. Still, some days were worse than others. Right now, he longed to escape the city glamor of Vegas, get to a beach somewhere, and be alone so he could feel alone properly.
He couldn't even do that. He was on a case. Not that his efforts on it seemed to be heading anywhere fast, and the lead that had brought him to this casino to talk with someone had been a dead end.
He headed across the main floor toward the door, feeling sorry for himself, and then jolted to an abrupt stop as he saw his mother.
He looked again - and again - to verify, because a casino was the last place he would expect to run into her. But that first instinctive recognition was true. Here she was in a casino, wandering around and looking nearly as lost as he felt.
She hadn't spotted him, and he ducked back behind the nearest machine, peering around the corner and watching her. She ambled around the floor, mind obviously miles away, occasionally looking at a machine as if surprised to find it there - or to find herself there with it. Once in a while, she pulled out a bill and deposited it halfheartedly, and the machine always returned a halfhearted, out-of-luck response.
Michael stared at her, drinking the sight like someone dying of thirst in the desert. He couldn't possibly bring himself to her attention, for her own safety. But he could at least, for these few priceless minutes, watch.
His comlink beeped, and he lifted his wrist. "Yeah, KITT, what is it?" he said distractedly.
"Are you all right?" KITT asked. "Your pulse and respiration have abruptly gone up in the last minute."
"I'm fine, buddy." His mother stopped at another machine and tiredly, with no expectation at all in her body language, inserted another bill, and Michael seized an idea. "KITT, there's a woman at the slot machine closest to the window in the second row."
"I scan her," KITT responded. "Is she a threat, Michael? She isn't armed."
"No, she's not a threat. Tap into that slot machine and let her win, buddy."
"As you wish," KITT replied. Michael saw the slot machine come up on jackpot, and his mother came to life, staring at it in startled disbelief. She reached forward and hit the button again.
"Again," Michael ordered. "Let her keep winning, KITT. I'll be right there." He hurriedly made his escape out the door behind her back. The car was a short distance away, and he tucked himself inside quickly. "Darken the windows, pal." The odds of her looking out that window, clear across to KITT, and seeing him inside were low, but no harm in a little insurance.
KITT obliged. "She has now won three times. How much do you wish her to win?"
"As much as she wants to," Michael replied. "Tap into the casino video system. Let me see her, close up as you can get." The screen came to life with his mother's face, the view that he hadn't dared to give himself live, and he sat back and soaked up the moment for as much as it was worth.
She won again. And again. And again, her eyes alive now with disbelief and with increasing fun. Her smile. Her expression.
Again. Again. She shook her head and looked around her as if telling herself this was really happening. Just for a moment, she looked out the window, seemingly toward KITT, and then she returned to her winning streak.
Again. Again. Michael made a mental bet with himself how far she would push this lucky streak.
He won. At twelve jackpots, an even dozen, she asked the machine for her ticket and stepped back, calling it a day even before the approaching casino workers reached her. As she moved away toward the cashier's desk, the workers started inspecting the machine.
Michael smiled and turned the ignition on. "Did your talk with our informant go well," KITT asked.
"No, it was a dead end," Michael replied, still smiling. "How about some Christmas music, KITT?"
"Michael, just this morning, you forbade me to play Christmas music," KITT reminded him.
"I changed my mind," Michael said.
KITT cued up Christmas music, and Michael drove away, remembering her face, remembering the life and sense of fun coming back into it. "Merry Christmas, Mom," he said.