The flick of a lighter, the illumination of the end of a cigarette, and one glorious draw in of delicious tobacco, and all stress was relieved from the gambler's shoulders. He exhaled smoke through his nostrils like a dragon and tilted his head backwards, staring up at the light-polluted sky. How did he end up in Atlantic City? It was a wild goose chase. He was at the end of the line of the chase. He owed that one wrong man some money and he had to pay it off somehow before he could make Swiss cheese envious.

"Nicky, what are you thinking about?"

"Nothing, sweetheart. Only you being here with me now."

The gambler took another drag on his cigarette and held it in his lungs. It was difficult for him to feel it burning his already sullied lungs. He slowly blew out the smoke in a puff, watching it disperse in the air.

"Mm, Nicky, you promised me something to eat…"

Nick winced at the sound of the woman's voice. A blonde broad dressed in a midnight blue cocktail dress and pretty diamonds snaking around her wrist, gold around her neck and in her ears. Nick knew a leech when he saw one.

"Well, sweetheart, how's pizza sound like?"

The broad broke out in laughter. He couldn't stand her voice when she was normally talking, but laughter was just painful to listen to.

And what the hell was her name again?

Whatever. When morning would come, he'd be gone like the wind with her sparkling jewelry and on his way to what would be most likely at a Native casino.

"You're kidding, right?"

"Yeah, honey. I am. What is it that you wanted?"

"Lobster at that restaurant across the street. You can afford it, right?" Nick inhaled his cigarette, held it in his lungs, and pressed his lips against hers, forcing the smoke into her lungs. She jumped back a bit in surprise but started kissing him back, almost passionately. "There's nothing I can't afford." Smoke expelled from both their mouths as they pulled away, lust being breathed out of Nick's mouth as he kept close to her ear. She outwardly shivered and took hold of the folds of his white jacket and pulled him closer to her, pressing her body against his.

"I do believe dinner can wait."


Nick grinned from ear to ear but wouldn't allow her to see it. "You sure? It would be a pretty good meal."

She gave a few deep chuckles and kissed his exposed chest. "There's a pretty good meal standing in front of me."

Her lips traveled along his nick and brushed off onto the collar of his jacket, staining it as she proceeded to kiss his neck. A nibble and bite later and a hickey had been marked on his neck. She was now deep within his grasp.

"You don't know just what kind of meal you have in front of you, darling…it's all your choice."

"Oh, I know." She grinned and looked up at him and wrapped her lips around his, the two exchanging a deep kiss, Nick holding up his cigarette so it wouldn't get tangled in her mess of blonde hair.

She had no idea that she was dancing right into the devil's snare. No idea that he was going to get up way before she did in the morning and disappear even before the sun would shine.

Nick hadn't slept the entire night. He had broken open a bottle of wine, slipped a few sedatives inside the broad's glass, and had fun with her until the sedatives kicked in and she was too tired to continue. He had stopped feeling terrible about it probably after the first three times he had done it. Especially since they were his sedatives to begin with. Prescription pills. He was never able to sleep right. Insomnia had a powerful grip on him out of sheer fear that he would be hunted and killed like a dog because of all the money he owed to people, all the people he had gunned down. All the people that haunted and plagued his subconscious and with invisible nails, dragged them beneath his eyelids and making it painful for him every time he closed his eyes.

He needed no religious demons to chase him down in hell when he was already running from them on earth.

Silently, he pulled his clothes on and reached over to the sleeping woman. She was out like a light. He unclasped her bracelet and necklace and undid the earrings from both ear lobes and stuffed them in his pocket. It paid to be cautious in Atlantic City. It was a place of money and swindlers after all. It was only her fault for sleeping with a complete stranger. The gambler turned away from the sleeping woman and headed for the door, not even bothering to look back as he exited the room.

His hands fumbled inside his jacket pocket for a cigarette and lit it up as soon as he reached outside, inhaling the intoxicatingly wondrous tobacco and nicotine. The broad wouldn't get up before noon at the earliest. He had his money, his car, a gun hidden in his pants, and he had perfectly covered his tracks for the next few hours, which was plenty of time to get a fair distance between himself and the broad he just stole from. He made his way over to his white '86 trans-am and got in, pulling his chair back and staring up at the sky once more through the windshield. He reached over to the radio and turned it on, rock-and-roll coming on. He listened to it for a bit and pulled out the diamond bracelet, staring at it for a while as he stuck the cigarette in his mouth and let it burn there for a while.

"Why ain't ya happy, Nick!"

Nick could hear his wife's Southern drawl come out long and thick as a result of the three bottles of wine she had put down herself.

"Anne…just put the bottle down for now…"

His hand unconsciously ran through his hair in reminiscent of how he now kept it long enough to sleek back and hide the scar that a wine bottle had inflicted upon him. God, there was blood everywhere.

"I'm happy, Anne, I'm happy! Let's just…talk this over, alright?"

"There ain't nothin' t'talk about! Yuh ain't no happy man if yew gotta go an' gamble and have people runnin' tuh me in the middle of work askin' me fer money! Don't I make yew happy! If I do, why ain't what I do enough!"

God, he hated Southern accents now. They used to send shivers down his spine, but even in memory, he hated the sound of that Southern mark. He counted the number of diamonds being held inside the gold encasement.

"You make me happy, Anne! God, I love what you do! Helping kids, being a nurse in pediatrics is hard, I know! I just…I wanted to get you something nice out of my own wallet. I promised to find work and I just can't!"

"Y'ain't good fer nothing! You've been livin' off me fer too long now!"

"I made a hundred thousand in cash the other day! I got you a car! I paid off half of your house! When I win, I win!"

"Y'almost lost the house once, Nick! Jesus Christ, when are you going tuh find a real job!"

"I applied, I need to get called back!"

"As what, Nick! I ain't never seen yew pick up th' phone an' call people! If what I do don't satisfy you, you best stop this gamblin' an' find a right proper job!"

Twenty seven. Twenty seven little diamonds beaded beautifully around his prize.

He slipped it back in his pocket and fired up the engine, the music cutting for a moment and flaring back to life. He inhaled the cigarette once more and breathed out the noxious fumes as he backed out of the parking and took off south. To the place he hated the most.

With the flu in the air and people falling ill left right and center, he had no qualms about sinning to his heart's content for those sporadic happy moments.

Money, women, and sex.

He'd have his fill while running. With any luck, his persecutors would drop dead before he was caught. With a final drag, he threw his cigarette out of the window and lit another one, coughing a bit on the smoke. He took a good look at himself in the rearview mirror and gave a small chuckle. What had he become?

"Ya ain't worth nothin', Nick, if yeh can't even bring in money."

"Honey, I'm paying off your debt too however I can…and your brother's debt too, with the gambling money. I'm good at it. I'm really good at it. If it'll help get us through this…"

"Yew ain't no good man! Worth shit! Trash!"

Nick gave a small smile and put the pedal to the metal, the car roaring to life as he blazed down the empty highway ahead and away from Atlantic City.

He'd become someone who just gave up on giving a damn about people. Women and Southerners, most of all. Especially if they had those damnable Southern accents.

"Just gonna look out for number one from now on."

He spoke to the mirror and adjusted it a bit, letting his car take him to a pawn shop away from trouble, letting his arm dangle outside the car window while flicking his cigarette free of ash.

AN: Just because it's been floating around my head for a while _ enjoy!