The Keno Lounge by Nancy K. Weirum

The smell of cigarette smoke was both welcoming and repugnant as he entered the Horseshoe off Fremont Street. The wonky lilting sound of poker machines followed him as he passed the rows anchored into the grimy red carpet. Bong, bong, bong. Someone hit a jackpot. The official with the jingling keys strode over to the winning machine to open and reset it. It was tempting to scrutinize its inner workings so he could defeat it. But later. He would save his quarters. He passed the lunch counter at the far end of the casino littered with ceramic cups,some with lipstick on the rims, the attendant picking them up two at a time with his fingers.

Jack Brown found himself heading over to the Keno Lounge. He was tired and weary from the morning’s argument with his wife and just wanted to get away. He took a seat in the padded chairs and settled back to watch the numbers as they slowly appeared on the big board. A cocktail waitress swung by even though it was only ten in the morning and he ordered a Sunrise. He’d been reading a lot lately about probabilities and decided to take a new tact. Of the 80 numbers he would select one from each of the eight rows of ten on his paper grid sheet and mark it heavily with his black crayon. Thus, he picked the number 2 from the first row, 15 from the second row, 26 from the third row and so on. If you get more than say, 4 correct, you can get a small winnings of anywhere from a few dollars to several thousand. Some of the< jackpots reach $25,000. This, then, is the draw of the Keno Lounge: sit comfortably, take a load off, have a drink and lose yourself in the smoky atmosphere of the Downtown casinos.

A middle-aged man sitting next to him started a conversation. He sensed that Jack had not played in the Keno Lounge much and offered his advice.

“You know when you’re going to hit,” he said. “You can just feel it. Watch me. I have a good feeling about this game.”

Jack watched as the numbers came up and saw that his new acquaintance did not win and intuited that the man was disappointed and a bit embarrassed, as he watched him slink away into the hazed crowd.

Jack decided to try his new method. He took his marked copy of the grid sheet up to the cashier and put $100 on the ticket and resumed his seat. Tanked on the Sunrise and succeeding black coffee in the cardboard cup printed with diamonds, hearts and spades, he felt something stir. He had a strange excitement as the balls whirled around in the bubble and came out one by one. The corresponding numbers began to appear on the large electronic board. It seemed to happen all at once. He began checking his copy of his ticket. All the numbers were there!His method worked! Everything froze. Life froze. He froze. The cashiers froze. No life was happening anywhere. Time stopped. Jack regained himself and made his way shaking up the to the jaded cashiers and handed one of them, a balding man with big fingers, his ticket. The man rotely took the ticket and put it into his machine and looked up. A momentary look of recognition that he had a winner filled his eyes. He gave Jack a chit for a check and told him to take it to the main cage and Jack set off looking for it. The cage manager cut Jack a check for $25,000 without even looking up and thrust it through the opening with a tax form so he could declare the income on his taxes.

Jack did not want to go home. The wife had worn him down. He wanted to live this happiness in his own time and in his own place. But after walking around town for an hour, stopping in and playing off the remaining change in his pocket he mellowed. Maybe if he bought her something nice. Something big. A huge surprise. Maybe that would change things. Maybe that would make her opinion change. Maybe she would never see him as a loser again.

Jack walked over to his local bank and saw Mary, the teller. He made out a slip for cash and handed her the check for $25,000.

“Guess it’s your lucky day,” she said.

“Finally,” Jack said.

“Would you like to put this in your account?”

Jack looked around the bank. He looked at the enormous mural of a railroad train with workers hammering down the tracks, the hot sun on their backs. He looked at all the other tellers, calmly counting out cash to their clients on the other sides of their counters.

“No, I’ll take the cash.”

“Cash,” she said.

“Cash,” he said.

“Okay that’ll take me a minute. I have to go back to the safe. Why don’t you have a seat.”

Jack went to the stuffed upholstered arm chair against the wall and felt himself relax. This is going to change things, he thought. I finally caught a break. He played with the ashtray embedded in the arm of the chair, opening and closing it until he was called.

He went up to the teller’s window. Mary had the money waiting. He gazed down as she counted it out in hundreds and furtively looked around to see if anyone noticed. He had nothing to put the money in so she offered him several plastic bank wallets to stuff it in. He folded them up and placed them in every pocket he could find.

“Don’t spend it all in one place, Jack.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going back to the casinos. Maybe not ever.”

“That’s great Jack. Good luck.”

Jack knew exactly where he was going. And yes, he would spend it all in one place. He headed to the pawn shop, where he’d been eyeing the diamond rings and gold watches every time he walked past it. This would be it. This would make the difference.

He walked into the shop and saw the wedding band set with the five-carat diamond, surrounded by baguettes.

“How much?”

The pawn shop proprietor, about 50, answered. “That one there. She’s about twenty grand.”

Jack hesitated. Seeing this, the man said, “This is maybe too rich for your blood.” But I’ve got others. Plenty. Just tell me what you’re looking for. A little bauble for the missus? Or a special young lady perhaps? The future Missus,” he insinuated.

“Oh it’s the missus all right. Hoping this will fix things.”

“Oh, it’ll fix a lot of things. For a while,” he chuckled.

Jack fished the cash out of his wallets as the pawn shop guy looked on.

“Got lucky today.”

“That’s right.”

Jack placed the wedding band and solitaire in one of the bank wallets and left, the loud bell above the door jingling on the way out as the door closed slowly.

Jack decided to give his wife a call. But first he needed another drink. He stopped into
the local bar and powered down another sunrise.

He stopped at the phone booth on the corner and called Natalie, his wife.

“I’ve done it Honey.”

“Done what.”

“I’ve finally done it. I won. I won this time.”

“You won?”

“I won Baby. And I’ve got a little something for you. Something I picked up on the way home.”

“And when’s that.”

“Right now. I’m on my way. You’re gonna be real surprised. This is it Honey. You’re gonna be so happy. Everything is gonna change. Maybe we’ll take a trip.”

“Jack, I just want you to come home. Come home right now. Don’t stop anywhere.”

“Okay Honey. Love you. Love you to pieces.”

“Just come home.”

Jack hung up the phone and closed the door to the phone booth. He had $5,000 left in his pocket. He had about 15 minutes to get home. But he’s right next to the Four Queens. He could play off a couple rounds of poker in about 5 minutes. Hell he could even add to his winnings! Or maybe he should try Keno again. He’s got the new method!

He stopped into the Queens and entered the men’s room before proceeding to the lounge.

An elderly couple walked by the phone booth on their way to the lunch counter at the Golden Nugget where they went every day to play the nickel machines. They allowed themselves only one hour each morning so they wouldn’t exhaust their pension checks and run out of money before they could buy coffee and cereal. As they walked past the phone booth they noticed something left on the little shelf just below the beat-up yellow pages hanging from a chain. It was a plastic bank wallet. They picked up the wallet and inside was a diamond ring and wedding band. They looked around. No one was around who could have left it. What to do?

The next day they took the rings to the local police department and gave them to Lost and Found.

“If no one claims the rings in one year, they’ll be yours.”

“Okay, thanks Officer.”

The elderly woman called her daughter. “We found rings but we turned them in. I just wanted you to know. Just in case.”

The 20-something daughter who had mounting credit card debt and a young child replied, “That’s good, Mom. Let me know if anything comes of it.”

“Will do, Nancy.”