All characterizations, plot lines, backgrounds and details belong to the author. Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight.
Thanks as always, to my beta the incredible xrxdanixrx who also made the banner. Check out her wonderful new story Washed Up. XO BB
A million thanks to my dear friend MizzezPattinson who pre-reads this story. Much love, hun. I couldn't do it without you. XO
So, I'm back with another story that has been brewing in my crazy head for a while. I hope you enjoy this story, and Casinoward.
Come, join me.
Most casino patrons view gambling as a mix of witchery, mysticism, entertainment and dumb luck. Very few view it the deadly game that it is. – VP Pappy
Expensive Italian leather, on the seats, on my feet, on the legs of the woman I fucked last night whose name is irrelevant.
The neon lights have faded. Everything seems less spectacular in the morning. Buildings blur past me as my driver winds through the streets, and I wonder how many people are waking up with regrets about what they did last night, what they didn't do, and what they don't remember.
I'm feeding their addiction, part of their downward spiral, or their rise out of mediocrity. Front row center to their pathetic bachelor parties, their mid life crisis, their girls weekend, their not so discreet affairs.
High rollers worth millions and whores worth less than the skin tight dresses they're almost wearing.
"Make sure the alcohol is flowing, the lights are pulsing, and the place is buzzing," Dad used to say. People want to let go, to become uninhibited. You laugh more; you spend more. It's a simple and predictable equation.
People want to forget and remember; usually both at the same time. I help them do that, bring them to the highest of highs and the lowest of the low, bring them back wanting, begging for more.
"Stopping for anything this morning, Mr. Cullen?" Sam, my driver asks.
"No." The privacy screen rises without another word.
We glide down the strip of reckless abandon and unbridled excess. I almost feel sorry for some of the people who come here. Their hopes, their dreams- for some of them their future-riding on the pull of a handle, the flip of a card, the roll of the dice.
Its glitz and glamour, hedonism and indulgence all brought to the people who flock through the doors like lambs to the slaughter at a head spinning pace.
People want a change. A mother needs a break from the monotony of school-dinner-homework-repeat. A middle-aged man is desperate to reclaim his youth. A young starry-eyed girl is running from home, thinking she'll find what she's looking for here. A couple wants a quickie wedding, more to piss off their families than to actually be together.
I am an enabler. I'm not alone. There are a group of us who own the hotels and run the casinos.
We tempt you, tease you, and indulge you.
We anticipate what you want when you leave your house in the suburbs with your white picket fence and mundane life, and we give it to you. We give to you until you can't see straight, and you take it, you fuck it, and you thank us for it in the morning.
It's grand, it's magnetic, it completely draws you in. You can let off steam, come and feel like you're being really bad.
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, so the tired saying goes.
You don't come here for reality-you come for fantasy, to live out some dream. There's not a lot of thought that goes into what-if. Your conscious is left at the door. It's life on the edge, an oasis in the middle of a desert, in the middle of nowhere. It's a place to run, a place to indulge, a place to forget your regimented life.
They come to get married; forty ceremonies a day in some of the chapels. They come to gamble. They come to fuck. They come to be amazed.
Feathers, rhinestones, tits and glitz, I once heard a show girl say. Expensive rooms, midnight buffets, and excess.
"Pretty girls sell," Dad always said. You don't just need to get their attention, you have to grab it and own it. Explore all the deadly sins, particularly greed… greed is good, and here, you don't need to feel guilty about it.
Las Vegas is wild and shameless. It's exhilarating when you first get here, and then, because it's completely superficial, it quickly wears thin. That's why vacations to Vegas are usually short ones. There is, after all, only so much indulgence those who live in mediocrity can take.
But while they're here, we do indulge them; their every fantasy, their every want available for a price. Marble floors, skylights, Cirque de Soleil, red pianos, celebrity shows, spinning restaurants, acrobats, steak for seven hundred dollars, choreographed fountains, high roller suites for ten grand a night.
You can indoor sky dive with Elvis, slither down a water slide into a pool with sharks, and walk in a rainforest all within the same day, all without leaving your resort. All from a pulsating, neon electrified building with so many lights, you can see it from space.
If you build it, they will come. Whoever said that was talking about Vegas.
The limo breezes by the manmade lake out front where the fountains are already dancing, and pulls up to the opulent entrance to The Oasis. It's already brimming with life. Pasty white tourists with their cameras fastened around their necks, pointing and snapping pictures feverishly, as if it's some mirage that's going to disappear.
The Oasis, I assure you, is most definitely not going to disappear. It's been here for decades. Started by my grandfather during the Vegas hay-days when gangsters called the shots, then passed on to my father, who renovated it and brought it back to life, and now, its mine.
Technically speaking, it actually belongs to my brother, Emmett, and me, but I call the shots. I run the show, and he is more than happy to let me do it. Emmett is content, playing Chief of Security and Surveillance. He thrives on it, and he's the best. Only the best will do for The Oasis.
We have a reputation; a cultured, sophisticated reputation. In amongst the seedy bars and tacky wedding chapels that dot the strip, there is a standard that the other casinos look to, and it is ours.
The rooms are elegant and refined, catering to a specific class of people. Sure, if you can afford it, you can stay here, we'll take your money, but the drunken, rowdy eighteen year olds, you won't find here very often. The same can't be said for the drunken, rowdy forty-five year olds. Those we get. With net revenue creeping over a billion dollars a year, we can afford to clean up their mess.
I step out of the limo and into the blistering morning sun. Sam doesn't say a word. He's paid an exorbitant amount of money to be at my beck and call. That I have a driver standing by, waiting for me, is beyond ridiculous. I can't remember the last time I drove anywhere by myself. I miss driving. I would really like to drive somewhere, again. Preferably alone.
It's already well into the nineties, and I can feel the heat hit me as it rises from the pavement. I make my way into the lobby, nodding to the team behind the opulent reception area as they make a point of saying, "Good morning, Mr. Cullen." I don't know any of their names. I don't need to.
The lobby is enormous and decadent, making you want to see more. Creamy marble, soaring ceilings, hand painted skylights, massive flower displays, staff scurrying about, helping VIPs with their Louis Vuitton bags. God forbid they should have to wait more than thirty seconds for someone to serve them.
Even though my dad ran this place for well over twenty years, I can see Mom's influence everywhere. Her attention to detail is reflected in every single room. Her love of art is in the gallery on the fourth floor that people flock to. Her intense passion for flowers is in the botanical gardens that Dad put in back in the nineties.
Everything is bigger and better at The Oasis. Over three thousand rooms and five hundred suites, nine award wining restaurants with varying themes and executive chefs that are famous in their own right. A one hundred thousand square foot casino, high limit lounges, a mall with the latest couture shops, and don't forget the spa. I was skeptical when Dad put it in, but I'm not anymore. It's currently taking bookings for a year from now.
Mrs. Cope, one of the few people who actually calls me Edward, greets me in front of the bank of elevators with a cup of tea and my agenda. She is, as always, impeccably dressed, her graying hair pulled into a tight bun, her glasses perched on top of her head.
This is the routine. It's been this way for five years. I don't need the tea or the agenda. I know what my day is going to be; filled with meetings, video conferences, and tonight, the Twilight Room. But Mrs. Cope thrives on routine. She was my father's personal assistant, and when he had a heart attack at the age of forty-eight, my mother insisted she stay and he retire.
That's what this place does to you. You're old before your time. Forty-eight year olds who exercise every day and eat like kings shouldn't be having heart attacks. This business is lucrative, highly pressured, and exceedingly intense. Success comes at a price. My father is fine now, content to travel to places most people only dream about with my mother. He can afford it, and fuck knows, he certainly earned it.
Mrs. Cope is a beacon of knowledge, a shrewd business woman who knows this business as well as Dad did. "Good morning, Mrs. Cope." I take the tea from her as she punches the code into the keypad on the door that leads to the private elevator.
I sip curiously, wondering what she's decided to bring me this morning. It's a little game she thoroughly enjoys. Every day, a different tea, usually related in some way to whatever insanity is on my agenda. "Hmm. Chamomile this morning?"
She smiles and nods. "I thought you could use it. Today is crazy, and you need something calming before it all starts," she answers.
I smirk at her as the door shuts behind us and we proceed to the elevator.
I punch the new code into the keypad that Emmett sent me this morning and wait while the elevator whirls to life. Emmett is nothing if not paranoid. Every hour, he has the codes changed to the elevators that lead to our offices and the vaults. Its part of his attempt to stay one step ahead of anyone who may foolishly think they can try to break his iron clad security plan.
Mrs. Cope opens up the leather bound journal and starts rattling off my appointments for the day. They are all stored away on my BlackBerry, and she doesn't need to remind me of any of them, but like I said, this is the routine. I think it calms both of us, actually.
The elevator opens, and we get in. It ascends quickly to the twentieth floor as I sip my tea. "Gucci looks good on you, Edward."
I smirk at her, smoothing down the tie that last night was wrapped around the wrists of the Gucci sales associate who sold me the suit. "Yes, well, it was the least I could do, really, considering how… accommodating the sales woman was."
She returns the smirk, shaking her head at me. "You're worse than your father was," she scolds playfully.
"I highly doubt that," I reply. "And that's a happily married man you're talking about."
"Oh, he is, now, but before he met Esme…" She shakes her head, letting out a frustrated huff. "Let's just say he was busy."
I quirk an eyebrow. "As busy as I am?"
"More so, I'd say."
"Hmm. Perhaps I need to set my goals a bit higher, then."
"It is good to have goals," she says, furrowing her brow. "It's also good to have something other than work in your life."
"Says the woman who works twelve hours a day. And I have lots of other somethings in my life."
She rolls her eyes at me. "Here's the difference between you and me, Edward. At the end of the twelve hour days, I go home to a husband, a family, and a life. You go home with a stranger and end up in an empty house." I stare down at her, unable to argue. "I just worry about you."
"You don't need to worry about me. I can take care of myself."
"Sometimes, it's nice to have someone take care of you," she replies quietly. The elevator dings and opens, and we step out onto the marble floor. "I'll see you in the boardroom." She turns on her heel, heading down the hall while I sip my tea and try not to think too much about her unsolicited advice.
There are very few people who would be so forward with me. I admire it, actually, and I know her heart is in the right place, unlike most people. Most people are only interested in the lifestyle and the money. They could care less about me, and as the casino continues to flourish, it is getting exceedingly difficult to find people I can truly trust.
I make my way down the hall, stopping in front of the door to the surveillance room. I place my hand over the scanner and wait for it to turn green. I questioned Emmett when he made the decision to introduce biometrics into his security plan, but seeing the stats from the attempts to break into the system ended that argument quickly.
The door slides open, and I step into the buzzing observation room. "Anything interesting happening?" I ask Emmett as he sits from his perch, surveying the litany of flat screens and computers that line the wall in front of him and his dutiful staff.
It rivals technology found at NASA in here. State of the art surveillance, measuring everything from heat indexes to facial expressions to the tune of millions of dollars. All an unfortunate requirement where people try to cheat the system, including our own employees.
On average, over thirty percent of people arrested for theft or cheating in casinos are employees. It's a sad statistic that is often the focus of heated debate when the casino owners get together. We've managed to reduce that percentage significantly here with Emmett's obsession of staying ahead, and the fact that we treat our employees better than they would be treated in other casinos. The pay is higher, the perks are better, the vacation time more enticing. It has to be to get the best working for you. In this town, you get what you pay for.
The benefits of working here do not come without a price. It's not a life for everyone; the hours are long, the accountability is high, and the demands are intense. We also conduct random drug testing, something we had to institute after an incident with one of the pit bosses and too many hits of heroin one night. That's something I refuse to tolerate. I'm far from a saint; I enjoy my indulgences, that's just not one of them.
Dad always wanted us involved in the business, and he made sure we learned it from the ground up. Emmett and I started as dealers, were promoted to the floor, did a tour as pit bosses, and spent time in security. That was when it became glaringly obvious where Emmett was destined to excel. He made massive changes to the security system within a few months, and since then, there is no stopping him. He is the best in the industry; asked to speak at conventions, and called upon to give advice to other security executives. I know how lucky we are to have him.
I join him at his computer as his eyes stay fixed on the monitor. "Nothing interesting yet, but it is only eight forty-five in the morning," he says.
"Give them time. They're all recovering from last night's drunken debauchery."
"And how was your night?" he asks, tearing his eyes from the screen and smirking at me. "I saw you leaving with the sales chick from Gucci." He waggles his eyebrows at me.
"She's a seamstress, I think, and it was fine," I say dryly, sipping my tea.
"Just fine, huh?"
"Do you want the details, Emmett? Is Rose disappointing you, already?" He snorts at me. I know Rose isn't disappointing him. He's insanely in love with her. They met at one of the charity events we put on two years ago. She's an elementary school teacher and was there to accept a large donation we made to the literacy program for her school. See, casino owners aren't all that bad.
"You know I'm just teasing. Fuck knows you could use a relationship, rather than what you seem to have been doing for the last couple of years," he mumbles, returning his attention to the monitor. "Did you even get her name?"
"No." I lean against the desk as he zooms in on a man at one of the blackjack tables. With tracking cameras fixed over every table inside of black domes on the ceiling, we're able to study people with shocking intensity. Emmett assures me we aren't violating any privacy rules. I don't question him.
We watch silently for a few minutes, and I see quickly why he's so interested in him. "He's counting," I murmur.
"Thanks for the tip, genius," Emmett replies flatly. "Eric, run him through Biometrica."
Ah, yes, the face recognition software linked to a database that contains profiles on thousands of card counters, cheaters, VIPs, and compulsive gamblers. It's made surveillance and enforcement easier for the industry. I don't want to talk about how much it costs.
"How long has he been there?" I ask.
"At this table, about twenty minutes. He's been counting for ten."
"And the pit boss hasn't called up yet?"
"No. Not yet," Emmett grumbles, scowling at the screen. If a pit boss suspects a player of card counting or cheating, they are supposed to notify the surveillance room so we can track them. Emmett is clearly not impressed that hasn't happened yet. I doubt whoever the pit boss is will have their job by the end of the day.
"I'm assuming you'll deal with that," I say, turning and walking away from him.
"Oh, wait up," he calls to me. "I'll walk with you to the meeting."
I wait at the door, finishing my tea as he hands the surveillance room over to Eric.
I place my hand over the scanner and wait for the doors to open while Emmett smirks at me. "Who knew your 007 obsession would actually come in handy. You love these doors, don't you?" I ask.
He shrugs his shoulders at me. "Yeah, they're pretty cool." The doors open, and we continue down the hallway to the boardroom. "Mom wants you to come over on Saturday," he says casually.
"I thought they were in Spain?"
"They got back yesterday. They want to put us through some photo slideshow thing."
"And she called you instead of me?"
"You were busy last night," Emmett says, nudging me in the arm.
We arrive in front of the glassed doors to the boardroom. "Oh, there's been a change to the Twilight Room for tonight," he says.
"What change?" I ask cautiously. Change in the Twilight Room is not a good thing. It's the exclusive VIP room where the highest of high rollers come by invitation only. You need over two hundred grand in our account to get an invite. They have expectations on presentation, on service, on the lighting, on just about everything. Any change to this room is a big deal.
"Angela got rushed to the hospital," he says.
Angela is one of the very few names of employees I do know. She's been managing the Twilight Room for the past seven months, and the VIPs love her. "Why is she in the hospital?"
"Some sort of appendix attack last night."
"And the back up plan is?"
"And she would be?" Fuck, he's exasperating sometimes.
"For fuck's sake, Edward. She's been a manager at reception for over a year. You probably walk by her almost every day," he fires back at me, clearly annoyed.
"We employ over eleven thousand people, Emmett. I can't possibly remember them all."
"She's good with the customers and her team loves her," he continues.
"That may all be well and good, but does she have any idea what managing this particular room entails? Checking in a couple of guests is a far cry from catering to the bunch that's coming in here tonight," I bark at him.
"Jasper already kind of gave her the job. At least until Angela is back."
I raise an eyebrow. "He has, has he? Where was I when a decision like that was being made?" I ask, getting more pissed off by the second.
"Probably fucking the Gucci chick. Look, I know you're pissed and that this room is your pride and joy, but I know what I'm doing. Do you honestly think either Jasper or I would put somebody in there if we thought they couldn't handle it?"
"I know, it's just that room is intense at the best of times. And to have some newbie in there worries me."
"You worry too much," he says, hitting me on the back. "Her personnel file is on your desk and there's surveillance video you can look at. She's good at her job, man. Relax. It'll be fine, trust me."
Famous last words.
Chapter end notes:
Up next… let's meet Bella.