This story is by Alfred Esposito and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Entering the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas my breath quickened. I walked through the World Series of Poker tournament like a moth drawn to a flame. Players were murmuring around thousands of poker tables lined up in precise rows. The tournament floor was alive with clicking poker chips and the buzz of anticipation. I paused and took a deep breath. It’s hard to imagine this was once my home, my office, my life.
“Hey, Johnny! What are you doing here? Are you back in play? Are you in the tournament?” Cap Wilson called out to me.
“No Cap, I’m just passing through. I gotta get to the Sports Bar and Grill.”
“Well, that’s way on the other side of the casino. You can’t tell me you don’t miss the action.”
“I’m not gonna lie, Cap, it’s still in my blood, but that’s not my life anymore.”
“Ok Johnny, I don’t believe you. If you ever want action, you know where to find me. Isabella is around, looking fine as ever.”
He was right about one thing; Isabella was a fine-looking lady. She was one of a small group of women on the poker circuit. We had our thing. Well, if I’m being honest, more than a thing.
“Is that my Johnny? Johnny! Hola, mi amor.”
Damn, it was Isabella heading toward me with jet black hair, deep dark eyes, full red lips, and skin-tight jeans.
“Izzy! How are you doing?”
She squeezed my face and kissed me, “How do I look like I am doing? Where have you been?”
“You know where I’ve been. I can’t do this anymore.”
“I know you miss it. Admit it. You miss this,” She outlined her body with her hands.
“It’s not my life anymore. I gotta run, good to see you.”
“When you finally wake up, I may not be here, mi amor.”
I sped up dodging players and tourists. It was a mistake walking through the tournament floor. Sitting down in my oasis, I ordered a Macallan 12 on the rocks. Seeing Cap and Izzy brought everything swirling back from that crazy day two years ago.
Izzy and I tumbled out of our Uber, laughing, and hanging on to each other. It took three attempts to enter my door code. We had been out celebrating my 30th birthday with the poker posse. Bouncing from club to club, drinking, dancing, and a little coke to keep us awake. We took a casino-sponsored jet to Tahoe and back. My house was a sprawling modern, with four bedrooms, four baths, and a beautiful backyard pool. Other than an 85-inch TV, a pool table, and a sectional couch, not much furniture.
My answering machine was flashing, but I had no time for that. Izzy and I were going to do a little more coke and enjoy each other.
Izzy flipped off her heels, “I’m going upstairs to get comfortable, and by comfortable, I mean naked. Bring some vino.”
She stumbled up the stairs laughing each time she caught herself. Then came the knock at the door that changed everything.
“Hello, are you Mr. Johnson? Mr. John Johnson?”
Slurring my speech, “Yeah, that’s me. Who the hell are you?”
“I am William Donaldson, Attorney. May I come in?”
“Shit. Are you suing me? What the hell are you doing here?”
Izzy was getting impatient, “Johnny I’m waiting!”
“Izzy come down here, please,” I pleaded.
She poked her head out of the bedroom, at the top of the stairs, “Come on. I’m waiting. Who the hell is that? You know, I’m not into that, even if it is your birthday
“Christ put on some clothes and get down here.”
Mr. Donaldson tried to act like he didn’t notice, “Please, may we sit down?”
“Sure, go ahead, you want a drink or something?”
“No thank you. I am sorry to have to….”
Izzy joined us, “I need a drink.”
“Jesus, go get one and pour me one too. Sorry, Mr. Donaldson, you were about to say?”
“I am sorry to have to tell you this, but your parents were killed in a car accident on Long Island. We have been trying to reach you for three days. My office left messages.”
“Uh, Uh. I was out of town celebrating my birthday for a few days. We got in this afternoon,” I snorted, trying to control my laughter.
Izzy hugged me, “I’m sorry mi amor.”
“Mr. Donaldson, I don’t mean to sound crass or like an ass. Hey, that rhymed. But my parents haven’t spoken to me in ten years. Ever since I graduated from MIT and came out here to be a professional poker player. I can’t imagine they left me anything in their will or even acknowledged my existence. Wait. Did my father leave me his vintage caddy?”
“No, he did not.”
“The house?” I couldn’t control my laughter.
“Mr. Johnson, please try and compose yourself. Everything went to your sister,” Mr. Donaldson said in frustration.
“Ahh Anne, my dear sister Anne. By the book, live your life like a sucker, Anne. She doesn’t want anything to do with me.”
Mr. Donaldson grew impatient, “Yes, but this isn’t about Anne.”
“Are you talking about Molly? Geez, she must be…”
“Sixteen, she is sixteen. Yes, Molly. They left her guardianship to Anne.”
“Ok, great the old man took care of everything. Miss Perfect got it all. Have a good day, Mr. Donaldson, you did your job. You told me my parents were gone.”
“Anne can’t do it. She has four kids of her own and her health is not good. She asked us to contact you regarding Molly.”
“Contact me regarding Molly? As in the custody of Molly? Me, take custody of a sixteen-year-old girl, with Down syndrome? Geez, she was six when I left. You’re out of your mind, you, and my sister. Is there a monthly allowance that comes with it?” I spit out my scotch laughing.
Mr. Donaldson stood up, “Your sister told me that would be your answer, but she asked me to try. Here is my card with your sister’s number on the back.”
“Wait a minute, Mr. Donaldson. So, Anne will take Molly?”
“Come on baby, let’s go upstairs,” Izzy whined.
“Jesus, Izzy, shut up. What will happen to Molly?”
Mr. Donaldson stopped at the door, “She will go into a state-run group living facility. Your sister already has one lined up, in anticipation of your answer. Have a good day, sir.”
The room started spinning. I didn’t know if it was the three days of partying or the news. I almost didn’t make it to the bathroom. I don’t owe Anne anything or my parents or Molly. Sweet Molly, sweet, loving, innocent Molly. She cried when I left. I’ve tried not to think of her. Her love was pure and innocent…. Holding my head against the cool porcelain god, I fell to the floor, sobbing. My parents were dead.
Izzy called out, “Mi Amor, you’re a mess. My Uber is here. Call me tomorrow.”
“Hey, Johnny, Johnny. Do you want another Macallan 12?” Patsy shook my arm.
“Yeah, sorry Patsy. I was off in space. Hit me again.”
Jesse Montez and his crew walked up, “Well Mr. Johnson, Mr. Poker, Mr. All In. Always a pleasure to see you. Do you have my envelope?”
“Yeah Jesse, I have your envelope. Always a pleasure to see you and your gold teeth.”
I reached into my sports jacket and pulled out a three-inch-thick envelope.
I snapped at him, “That’s it; our business is complete. I never have to see you or your gold teeth again.”
Jesse snatched the envelope and leaned in, “Finally sold that house. I hear you’re driving a piece of shit Acura. I would have taken that Mercedes off your hands. Is it true you hocked your World Series bracelet?”
“You have your money, get lost.”
“Patsy, put that loser’s drink on my tab,” Jesse was off.
Patsy whispered through clenched teeth, “Are you crazy? Why do you torment him? Are you getting back in the game?”
“No, I’m in the only game I need.”
Patsy stepped back, “Teaching High School Math? You’re a World Series of Poker winner, an MIT grad. Don’t you miss the action?”
Before I could answer we were interrupted.
“Johnny! Johnny!” She jumped up, grabbed my neck, and planted a big kiss on my cheek.
Grinning, I asked, “How was work?”
“It was good. Billy said I was the best bus person he ever saw. Look, I made fifty dollars in tips.”
My old friend Billy, manager of Sports Bar and Grill, saluted me from across the aisle.
She couldn’t contain her excitement, “Can we get pizza and watch Frozen 2?”
“Sure, anything you want.”
She hugged me again, “I love you, Johnny.”
“I love you too, Molly.”
I have something more valuable than houses, cars, or a World Series of Poker bracelet.