It won’t be long before Launch Day for Stars Beckon Call. Hint: It’s Wednesday, May 2nd. But in the meantime, how about one more chapter to whet your appetite along with a couple more early reviews?
Human spirit at its best
I loved this book! It showed that people can persevere and survive. It had endearing moments, excitement and sadness. It also had some twists and turns that weren’t expected! Quite enjoyed reading it. It does need a bit of editing but did not affect the reading much.
Kept me wanting more!
I truly enjoyed this book. It kept me coming back to it, every chance I got. I am hoping it has more coming in the future.
Be sure to leave a comment at the end of the chapter. Let me know what you think.
Part Two: 2141
Worst Night Ever
Jason Joval stared at the blue chips through blurry eyes as he attempted to count them for the third time, finally deducing that, indeed, he had only five chips remaining. He could just make out the holographic numeral one that hovered in space on the uppermost chip indicating its value–one year of life. Of course, even as drunk as Jason was, he knew instinctively its value since only blue chips were allowed at the rumbuc tables he frequented and that had become his favorite pastime for the past sixteen years.
Picking up his glass, he found someone had replaced it with a new drink, the blue liquid surrounding the fresh ice, a lighter blue haze suspended just above the surface. As he sipped on the drink, he considered his situation. How many chips did he have left? He counted them again. Yes, that’s right. Five chips. That means I have five years left. All I need to do is get up from this table, go home, nurse what would undoubtedly be a horrible hangover, then come back on another day to play at one of the lesser tables until I slowly rebuild my stash of life-chips. That would be the wise move to make–the safe approach. But when had he ever bowed to the god of safety? That simply wasn’t his style.
No, instead, it was time to change the game. So what if his rumbuc luck had run out? Casey’s Casino offered dozens of different games of chance. Over the years, Jason had tried them all with varying degrees of success, finally settling on rumbuc as his game of choice.
He leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his already rumpled chocolate brown hair that had become part of his signature casual-on-the-border-of-disheveled appearance. Even though most experts placed him in the top tier of successful and wealthy life-chip gamblers, he always looked like he needed a haircut and a new set of clothes. What most people didn’t know was that he spent quite a bit of money at a salon to maintain the shaggy look. People would have been amazed at how much his casual style of clothes in need of a good ironing actually cost. On numerous occasions, his friends had tried to convince him to upgrade his wardrobe but he stubbornly refused. What they didn’t realize was that the rumpled hairstyle and casual clothes were all part of his strategy to throw the other gamblers off their game just a bit–to underestimate Jason’s abilities.
As the lady croupier, dressed in the standard black sequined gown that revealed just the right amount of alluring cleavage, began to deal the next set of rumbuc discs, Jason felt a firm grip on his shoulder. He glanced over to the long fingers, each one meticulously painted with iridescent green nail polish. His gaze meandered from the woman’s hand to the gold-adorned wrist, lost focus for a moment before moving up the slender arm to the bare shoulder, then on to the lovely neck, before finally refocusing on the matching green lips, upturned nose and striking green eyes.
“Hey therrree, Emerald Eyes,” Jason slurred. “Whattt’sss up?”
“Not much, J. J.. What’s up with you?” she asked, pointing to the empty glass still cradled in his hand.
“Oh, just playing a bit of rumbuc.” He leaned over to whisper in her ear and almost fell out of the chair. Righting himself, he tried again with more success. “I’m not doing so hot.”
“Well, what say you come over to the bar and let me buy you a double espresso,” she said as she moved behind him and, without waiting for an answer, started to pull him out of the chair. “How about dealing our J. J. here out?” she asked, nodding to the croupier, who nodded back. Was that a sigh of relief he heard?
“Sure thing. Thanks.” The croupier turned to Jason. “I’m sure Lady Luck will return to your side on another night, Mr. Joval. You take good care of yourself.”
Jason nodded as he pushed away from the table and started to stand, the room reeling for a moment until Emerald Eyes steadied him.
The two of them made their way to the bar, Jason stumbling from time to time, bumping into people as he went. The bright lights and gaudy decorations made it difficult for his eyes to focus. He glanced down to find a drink in his left hand. How had that gotten there? It didn’t matter. He drained its contents and set it down on the edge of a table as he passed by. A moment later, he heard the shattering of glass as it crashed to the floor. Oops, missed. He twirled around to see what had happened and once again bumped into someone.
“Whoa there, baby, hold on to me,” Emerald Eyes said as she silently apologized to the other patron.
“Where you been all night?” Jason asked.
“I was tied up with another guest,” Emerald Eyes replied. “I heard from one of the other girls that you were having a difficult night.”
“Nah, not really,” Jason started to lie, but then thought better of it. “Well, maybe, but I’m sure my luck will change.”
“Why don’t you let me take you home where you can sleep it off and try again on another night?” Emerald Eyes asked.
“What about my double espresso you promised me?”
“It’s waiting for you at home,” she said as she grasped him around the waist and started leading him towards the exit.
They were almost there when he heard someone call Emerald Eyes’ name.
“Wait right here,” she said as she sat him down in one of the sofas that lined the wall close to the exit. “I’ll be right back.”
Jason nodded as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Bad move, he thought, as a wave of nausea crashed over him. He sat up, flinging his eyes open in an effort to stop the spinning. Better walk around a bit to clear my head, he thought. He looked over to where Emerald Eyes was engaged in conversation with another man. No problem. She can find me later.
As he stood up, he wavered slightly then caught his balance and headed off in a random direction, wandering around the room, returning salutations from those who called out to him. One foot kept drifting in front of the other one, tripping him, but he persevered until he found himself standing in front of the betting table of the Sucker’s Wheel, where a group of novice players gathered around. Most were young kids out for a fast night trying to win a year or two of life with small bets of a quarter or half year.
“Good evening, Mr. Joval. Care to try your hand this evening?” a young croupier Jason didn’t recognize asked.
Jason stood there trying to focus on the man, rocking back and forth, finally giving up trying to get the double image to merge into one. He shrugged.
“Sure, why not? What’s the hot number tonight?”
The croupier smiled. “I’m sure any number you play will be hot, Mr. Joval.”
Jason nodded as he dug into his pocket for the small stash of chips, finally finding them in his back pocket. As he did so, he tried to remember the number he’d played so many years ago, the only other time he’d ever played the Wheel.
“Placing a bet, Mr. Joval?” the croupier nudged lightly.
“Sure, I said I was,” Jason replied a little defensively. What was the number?
He stared at the numbers on the betting table trying to locate the one he’d played on that memorable day. Finally, he took the small stack of chips in his hand and waved it over the board. He started to place the chips on thirty-seven, but at the last moment stopped. It didn’t feel right.
Vaguely, in the background, he heard someone calling his name but ignored them as he continued to look for his number. The voice grew louder. Trying to disrupt my concentration, Jason thought. But it won’t work. I’m going to find it.
Forty-five. That’s it, Jason thought as he placed the five chips on the number, his hand resting heavily on top of them.
“Is that your bet, sir?” the croupier asked when Jason failed to lift his hand.
Jason glared at him but kept his hand on the chips. “Don’t rush me, sonny boy. As you can see, my hand is still on the bet.” The shouting behind him grew louder and more disruptive to his train of thought. Glancing at the board, he suddenly realized his mistake. He slid his hand with the chips over two spaces to number forty-seven, then lifted his hand off the chips just as Emerald Eyes grabbed him by the arm and jerked him away.
“What the hell are you doing, you fool? Take those chips back. Are you an idiot?”
Jason turned in her direction and leaned back in an effort to focus his eyes on her. He pointed with one unsteady hand at the board. “That’s my number. I’m sure of it.”
“You don’t understand, Jason,” Emerald Eyes shouted, a distressed look on her face. “No number is your number tonight.”
“That’s not my number?” he asked, sounding like a little kid.
Emerald Eyes sighed and shook her head, taking his hand in her own. “No, sweetheart. That’s not your number. Now take the chips…”
“I’m sorry, but you know I can’t let him take his bet back,” the croupier interrupted. “All bets are final once the player removes his hand from the chips.”
“Damn it, Freddie, can’t you see he’s drunk? He’s not himself. You can tell he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“There’s no rule against a drunk playing the Wheel,” Freddie replied. “But there is a strict rule against taking back bets. You know that Emerald Eyes.”
“But those are his last life-chips,” Emerald Eyes screamed. “You can’t let him throw his life away on the Sucker’s Wheel.”
“It’s not my job to make those kinds of decisions,” Freddie replied as though reading straight from a training manual, then his voice softened. “I’m sorry, Emerald Eyes. I like Mr. Joval. He’s one of our most valued clients, but this is straight from above.” He nodded towards the mirrored spheres located in the ceiling above him.
“Where’s Casey? I want to speak to him,” Emerald Eyes continued to shout, turning around looking for the owner.
“He’s upstairs,” Freddie replied. “My orders came straight from him.”
“You’re kidding.” Emerald Eyes’ shoulders slumped in defeat at the news.
Freddie shook his head and whispered, “It’s his life, his bet, and his number.”
The croupier turned to Jason who’d been standing next to Emerald Eyes ignoring the conversation, staring intently at the small stack of chips.
“You’re the big bet, Mr. Joval. Would you care to pull the lever?”
“Sure, why not?” Jason replied then burped. “Pardon me.” Jason stepped up to the lever as Freddie started the numbers flashing around the room.
The argument between Freddie and Emerald Eyes had drawn the attention of many of the other gamblers, and as the numbers began to flash around the room, word sped quickly that Jason Joval, the famous rumbuc player, was at the Sucker’s Wheel…with his last five life-chips. The entire salon grew quiet with only the sound of people whispering as they asked the people beside them what number he had bet on. By the time the flashing lights had passed the point anyone could keep up with them, everyone knew the answer.
Jason leaned against the table in front of him, his left hand resting a few inches from the lever, his eyes all but closed. The flashing light was no more than a blur by now but still, he waited. From the corner of his eye, he could just make out Emerald Eyes’ face, a concerned look on it. She took a step forward, placing her hand with its many rings lightly on his arm.
He ignored her touch. As the light streaked around the casino, the murmurs from the crowd grew with each rotation. Through the thick alcohol-induced fog, Jason heard a voice whispering to him to clear his thoughts. Relax, be random, clear your mind, it said. It didn’t make much sense to him, but he decided to follow it anyway. He closed his eyes all the way and started repeating the number forty-seven to himself. Somewhere in the midst of the chanting, his hand slipped forward and pulled the lever. He continued to chant forty-seven as he drifted into unconsciousness. It would be some time before he felt the effects of crashing hard on the casino’s floor.
More to come. Stay Tuned.
Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment below. How are you liking the story so far?