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Atlantic City

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Larry doesn’t tell them about Atlantic City.

Oh, he told them about being there on opening day, and he tells Don later, out on the porch in the sweet-scented night, about the river and the wheel and being twenty-one and so drunk he couldn’t stand. They share the laugh, and Don talks about mac and cheese for a week because of course he refused to give up while getting his ass handed to him by his baby brother during the epic poker war of 1996.

When Charles asks, intermittently, for the details Larry spills a little more: about the math Len used to pass off on him, make him learn at 3 am after beer and a baggie between them, or the endless practice sessions, him and Len, shuffling and marking, signal and pass. Of course, because it’s Charles, he doesn't really mention the baggie. And he tacks on all the warnings he can fit in without sounding like he should be on the TV at 4 o’clock in the afternoon with a helpline in yellow scrolling underneath his strung-out former-addict face. Larry refrains from telling Charles he'd make an excellent card-marker, with those delicate hands. He drinks milk, talks about baseball instead. Doesn't say anything about seven days of being closer to God than he's ever been since.

How it felt to look out at the room, glittering with sequins and cufflinks, lights and cash, and know, deep in his gut, that every single last one of those games were his. The crazy tilting high it was being there from the day the tables opened to seeing daylight seven days later, setting a streak that wouldn’t be beaten for at least a decade; how it felt to wear fine linen and cashmere next to his skin, to play day five entirely dimed just to see if he could, to drink so much the pachinko lights were smearing white by each nightfall. To understand into his bones what it meant when the card turned up four or nine, to be seeing the numbers, running them deep in traffic, drink at one elbow, dealer in front, babe at the other and Len, somewhere, floating near the very edge of his periphery. By the end of their run they were so good all Len had to do was show up and breathe for Larry to know which way to bet or fold. It was like being handed the universe, every secret he ever needed to know laid out on green felt in permutations of 52.