The dealer dealt a new card on top of each old card. He liked the new cards --he now had seventeen and fourteen. He tapped the set on the right and the dealer dealt again. Bust. Not good and a loss of chips. But he knew it had been a risk. He doubled on the remaining set and waited for the card. With the six he stood at twenty and the dealer’s top card was a seven.
The dealer dealt himself a queen before flipping over the down card to show a six. Twenty-three. Bust. “Oh thank god,” Jake whispered softly, taking the chips the dealer stacked in front of him and aligning them with his others.
Another quick round of math in his head and Jake knew he was done. “Thank you,” he said to the dealer, gathering his chips and standing. He left a twenty-five dollar chip on top of his cards as a tip. Then walked away from all the tables.
He could see Roque and Clay playing poker; still at the same table they had started out at several hours before. Cigars in their mouths and drink glasses with what was probably scotch at their elbows. He squinted and could just make out several small stacks of chips each of them had. He guessed they were doing good as there were no grumpy looks or bickering.
Pooch was tied to one of the slot machines via the cash card worn on a lanyard around his neck. He snapped a quick picture and quickly put his phone back in his pocket. Pooch was surrounded by little old ladies who seemed to be enjoying his company. And Pooch must have been doing well because he’d stopped moving from machine to machine and was at the same Jurassic Park themed machine as when Jake had last looked about an hour before.
Jake glanced around for Cougar but didn’t spot him, which didn’t mean anything as Cougar was good at blending in.
He continued on to the Cashier to cash out his chips and his game card from the handful of slot machines he had played. Jake could only be in a casino for a couple of hours before boredom and bad choices kicked in. He’d rather go for an awesome meal and then catch up on all the movies and TV he had missed.
The cashier asked him some questions. He handed over his ID and waited, his mind already divvying up the uses for the money. After taxes, there should be enough to pay off the car his sister had needed to purchase after the old one refused to stop because something had failed with the brakes. Luckily there hadn’t been any other cars at the intersection and his sister had only taken out a bus bench. Jake had just been happy his niece hadn’t also been in the car for that scary ride and that his sister had been smart enough to just turn off the car when even the parking brake failed.
Pay off car. Check. Replace ancient hot water heater. Check. Replace air conditioner unit for something more energy efficient. Check. Add money to niece’s college fund. He’d keep about two hundred plus whatever was left on the slot machine card --which wasn’t much because slot machines hated him. It meant that to the rest of the Losers it would look like he broke even and that was fine with him.
There’d be a few hundred dollars left from the winnings but not enough to replace the windows or redo the bathrooms; both of which still needed to be done. He would just put the money in the house account and let his sister fix whatever she wanted with it in whatever order she deemed a priority.
He took the receipt from the cashier and thanked her and turned around right into Cougar. “So,” he said, “that’s where you are.”
Cougar only smirked.
“Did you even spend time in the casino?”
“Movies?” Cougar asked.
There were a couple of films out that Jake wanted to see and doing something normal like going to the movies with a friend would remind Jake that there was life outside of the Army. Plus, Cougar enjoyed movies about as much as he did and it would get them both out of the casino and hotel.
“Sure,” he answered. “But you are getting your own popcorn because you insist on mixing M&Ms into it and popcorn is meant for butter and salt, salt and butter. Not your candy habit.”
Cougar chuckled but followed Jake out of the chiming, dinging, ringing, smoke-filled casino. Stepping out the doors onto the sidewalk was its own adventure but there were clouds and sun and a sense of fresh air. He pulled out his phone and opened the app that would tell him the closest movie theater and movie times. Cougar stepped closer and read over his arm.
“This one,” Cougar pointed to a movie, “and this one,” pointing to a second.
The timing worked for a double feature and Jake had wanted to see both films so they had a plan. “Large popcorns and drinks and free refills it is then.”
Five hours later Jake and Cougar made their way through the casino floor to the bank of elevators that would take them up to the room they were sharing. Jake noticed Pooch was nowhere in sight. Clay and Roque were still on the casino floor but had moved tables. Roque was looking grumpy. Clay was grinning. That combination never boded well for the rest of them.
Cougar must have caught on. “Dinner not in hotel?”
“Absolutely,” he agreed.
His phone started chiming with texts from his sister.
The contractors for the bathrooms and window estimates are here.
The heating and air guy is here to do the a/c and water heater.
Which one of you paid for what?
And remind Cougar that he’s a guest.
Well, he is family but that doesn’t mean he has to... oh never mind.
Thank you both.
There was a few minutes of silence and then:
Shit. You paid off the car. Did you two rob a bank?
Jake bit his bottom lip trying not to laugh. He simply texted back the word ‘no’ and left it at that before looking over at Cougar. It was true, Cougar was family.
“You didn’t have to do that,” he said. “That’s not why I gave you access to those accounts.”
“You’re family,” Cougar stated.
Jake nodded and handed over his phone to Cougar for the other man to read the messages. Cougar smiled and pulled out his own phone and texted his sister back.
“Guess that means you didn’t win anything either if someone asks,” Jake said, taking the phone back and sending off a ‘getting ready for a mission’ text before turning the phone off.
“About fifty dollars,” Cougar answered.
“Which you promptly spent on popcorn and candy and I had to buy us dinner.”
“Yep,” Cougar agreed, tilting his hat over his eyes and slouching down in his seat as the plane took off.
“But M&Ms and Nestle Crunch pieces do not belong in the popcorn,” Jake argued once again only to have Cougar chuckle in reply. It was a losing battle against the other man’s sweet tooth and Jake knew when to withdraw; at least for the moment.
Family was like cards –what you started with and what got dealt in later. Jake had been lucky. His sister, his niece, and Cougar.