Gone for Good Page 37


Las Vegas

Morty Meyer split the tens. He signaled the dealer to hit both. The first came up a nine, the second an ace. Nineteen on the first hand. And blackjack.

He was on a roll. Eight straight hands had gone his way, twelve of the last thirteen—up a solid eleven grand. Morty was in the zone. The ever-elusive winner’s high tingled down his arms and legs. It felt delicious. Nothing like it. Gambling, Morty had learned, was the ultimate temptress. You come after her, she scorns you, rejects you, makes you miserable, and then, when you’re ready to give her up, she smiles at you, puts her warm hand on your face, gently caresses you, and it feels so good, so damn good. . . .

The dealer busted. Oh yes, another winner. The dealer, a hausfrau with overtreated haylike hair, swept up the cards and gave him his chips. Morty was winning. And yes, despite what those bozos at Gamblers Anonymous tried to peddle, you could indeed win at a casino. Someone had to win, didn’t they? Look at the odds, for chrissake. The house can’t beat everyone. Hell, with dice you can actually play on the house’s side. So, of course, some people won. Some people went home with money. Had to be. Impossible any other way. To say no one won was just part of the overreaching GA crap that left the organization with no credibility. If they start off lying to you, how can you trust them to help?

Morty played in Las Vegas, Las Vegas—the real Las Vegas, the city itself, no strip-strolling tourist trade in pseudo-suede and sneakers, no whistling and hollering or squeals of joy, no faux Statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower, no Cirque du Soleil, no roller coasters, no 3-D movie rides or gladiator costumes or dancing water fountains or bogus volcanoes or kid-appeal arcades. This was downtown Las Vegas. This was where grimy men with barely a mouth of teeth per table, the dust from their pickups still coming off them with each shoulder slump, lost their meager paychecks. The players here were bleary-eyed, exhausted, their faces lined, their hard times baked on by the sun. A man came here after slaving at a job that he hated because he did not want to go home to his trailer or equivalent, his abode with the broken TV, the screaming babies, the let-herself-go wife who used to stroke him in the back of that pickup and now eyed him with naked repulsion. He came here with the closest thing that he would ever know to hope, with that wispy belief that he was one score away from changing his life. But the hope never lasted. Morty was not even sure it was ever really there. Deep down, the players knew it was never meant to be. They would always be on the toe end of the kick. They were destined for a lifetime of disappointment, for slouching with their faces forever pressed against the glass.

The table changed dealers. Morty leaned back. He stared at his winnings and the old shadow crossed over him again: He missed Leah. Some days he still woke up and turned to her, and when he remembered, the sorrow consumed him. He would not be able to get out of bed. He looked now at the grimy men in this casino. When he was younger, Morty would have called them losers. But they had an excuse for being here. They may as well have been born with the loser L branded into their behinds. Morty’s parents, immigrants from a shtetl in Poland, had sacrificed for him. They had sneaked into this country, faced terrible poverty an ocean away from everything familiar, fought and clawed—all so their son would have a better life. They had worked themselves to an early-ish grave, hanging on just long enough to see Morty graduate medical school, to see that their struggle had meant something, had steered the genealogical trajectory for the better now and forever. They died in peace.

Morty was dealt a six up, seven down. He hit and got a ten. Busted. He lost the next hand too. Damn. He needed this money. Locani, a classic leg-breaking bookie, wanted his cash. Morty, a loser’s loser when you really think about it, had stalled him by offering up information. He had told Locani about the masked man and injured woman. At first, Locani did not seem to care, but the word spread and all of a sudden someone wanted details.

Morty told them almost everything.

He did not, would not, tell them about the passenger in the backseat. He did not have a clue what was going on, but there were some things even he would not do. Low as he had sunk, Morty would not tell them about that.

He was dealt two aces. He split them. A man sat next to him. Morty felt rather than saw him. He felt him in his old bones, as though the man were an incoming weather front. He did not turn his head, afraid, as irrational as this sounded, even to look.

The dealer hit both hands. A king and a jack. Morty had just gotten two blackjacks.

The man leaned close and whispered, “Quit while you’re ahead, Morty.”

Morty slowly turned and saw a man with eyes of washed-out gray and skin that went beyond white, too translucent really, so that you felt as though you could see his every vein. The man smiled.

“It might be time,” the silvery whisper continued, “to cash in your chips.”

Morty tried not to shudder. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“We need to chat,” the man said.

“About what?”

“About a certain patient who recently visited your esteemed practice.”

Morty swallowed. Why had he opened his mouth to Locani? He should have stalled with something else, anything else. “I already told them everything I know.”

The pale man cocked his head. “Did you, Morty?”


Those washed-out eyes fell on him hard. Neither man spoke or moved. Morty felt his face redden. He tried to stiffen his back, but he could feel himself wither under the gaze.

“I don’t think you have, Morty. I think you’re holding back.”

Morty said nothing.

“Who else was in the car that night?”

He stared at his chips and tried not to shudder. “What are you talking about?”

“There was someone else, wasn’t there, Morty?”

“Hey, leave me alone, will you? I’m on a roll here.”

Rising from his seat, the Ghost shook his head. “No, Morty,” he said, touching him gently on the arm. “I would say that your luck is about to take a turn for the worse.”


The memorial service was held in the Covenant House auditorium.

Squares and Wanda sat on my right, my father on my left. Dad kept his arm behind me, sometimes rubbing my back. It felt nice. The room was packed, mostly with the kids. They hugged me and cried and told me how much they’d miss Sheila. The service lasted almost two hours. Terrell, a fourteen-year-old who’d been selling himself for ten dollars a pop, played a song on the trumpet that he’d composed in her memory. It was the saddest, sweetest sound I’d ever heard. Lisa, who was seventeen years old and diagnosed bipolar, spoke of how Sheila had been the only one she could talk to when she learned that she was pregnant. Sammy told a funny story about how Sheila tried to teach him how to dance to that “crappy white-girl” music. Sixteen-year-old Jim told the mourners that he had given up on himself, that he’d been ready to commit suicide, and when Sheila smiled at him, he realized that there was indeed good in this world. Sheila convinced him to stay another day. And then another.

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