Mr. Lucky

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Authors: James Swain
turn the music down? He will if I ask him.”
    “He won’t get mad?” Valentine asked.
    “Oh, he’ll yell and scream, but that’s typical.”
    “Why don’t you give me his phone number? He starts yelling, I’ll go over and punch him in the nose.”
    She giggled, the alcohol giving her voice a little squeak. “It’s 555-1292.”
    He memorized the number and watched her back down the drive. Growing up with a drunk for a father, he’d learned to hate what alcohol did to people, and he brusquely motioned for her to come back. She drove back to her original spot and lowered her window.
    “You forgot to give me the keys to the house,” he said.

8
    W hile his father was getting settled in Slippery Rock, Gerry was traveling to Gulfport, Mississippi, determined to find Tex “All In” Snyder and have a talk with him.
    It had been a long day. He’d flown from Key West to Atlanta that afternoon, taken an eight-seater to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and rented a car. By the time he’d actually gotten on the highway, it was growing dark, and he’d wisely gotten in the right lane. A lot of tall white trucks were on the highway, and they roared when they passed him.
    He found a radio station that wasn’t country, and jacked the volume up. He was tired, but it was a good tired. His father had bailed him out, given him fresh wings. He’d never been in prison, so he didn’t know what it was like to get sprung. But he had a feeling that the euphoria he was feeling right now was something real close.
    He looked at himself in the mirror. That morning, at Yolanda’s suggestion, he’d gotten his hair cut. He liked to wear it longer than most, and his wife had reminded him that he was heading into Dixie, where Yankees were not always welcome. So he’d gotten his ears lowered, and decided he liked the way it made him look.
    He turned his attention back to the highway. It ran north-south, with a fifty-foot median planted with hundred-year-old pines. The night seemed very big, the stars illuminating the farthest corners of the universe. It was too good not to share, and he flipped open his cell phone and called his wife.
             
    An hour later, he passed a junior college, then a milling operation where acres of forty-foot-long trees stood adjacent to the highway. Next was a large store that sold nothing but Bibles. Then he passed a town that consisted of one building that housed two restaurants, and a state trooper’s car hiding in the shadows looking for speeders.
    The highway eventually dead-ended at a beachfront marina and amusement park. Beneath the glare of a full moon, the park had a ghoulish, otherworld quality that reminded him of a horror film called
Carnival of Souls.
Hanging a right, he drove to a brightly lit casino named Dixie Magic and found a space in the crowded lot.
    He was about a quarter mile from the front doors, but that was okay. His legs were stiff, and he stretched his hamstrings as he walked. He’d never been to Mississippi, and his father had explained the deal to him. By law, casinos couldn’t be on Mississippi soil, so several local businessmen had dug out huge craters of beachfront, flooded them with water you wouldn’t swim in, and floated barges whose interiors were giant casinos. To lessen the cheesy effect, the barges were covered in blinking lights and garish neon.
    He crossed the metal gangplank with a bounce in his step. Find Tex, have a chat, and go home to his wife and beautiful baby. It didn’t get any easier than that.
    At the front door, a security guard counted him with a clicker. The barge could hold only a certain number of passengers, and a running count was kept of everyone inside.
    “Busy night?” Gerry asked.
    “Every night’s busy,” the guard said.
    Gerry pushed open the glass door, and the smell almost knocked him over. Adrenaline and cheap after-shave, a thousand cigarettes, free booze. The smell of a few thousand people compressed in a tiny space, gambling.

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