The Rarefied Tightrope Chapter 1

“Mr. Martingale! So pleased to see you! As usual, the house will comp everything. Please give us a chance to win our money back this time. And of course, the offer is still open: Hire on with us as a consultant and you will be handsomely rewarded.”

The man under the alias “Martingale” paused in his steps. He was six feet or so. Mixed. East Asian features but not full blooded; there was a dollop of Caucasian thrown in. Impeccably dressed in a classy black suit with white undershirt. No tie.

Martingale placed a hand on the rep’s shoulder, drawing him in. For a second, he locked eyes with the worker, hypnotizing him. The man’s gaze widened, momentarily caught in the irresistible spell of Martingale’s presence. Their heads drew nearer together. Oddly close upon examination, but inconspicuous at casual glance.

Martingale looked down at the man’s face, his eyes searching the greeter’s expression. Looking for a clue that his audience of one might understand the layered meaning in his next words. “My secret is knowing.”

“Knowing what?” The employee’s eyes widened as some part of him sensed that great wisdom was about to be unearthed.

“Knowing when to double down…and when to walk away.” Martingale winked and lightly smacked the man on the shoulder. He slipped a chip into the greeter’s hand, tipping him. “Here. Enjoy.”

The rep furrowed his brow, then frowned in anger at being told the obvious. “Everybody knows that!” The moment had passed though; he was saying it to Martingale’s back as the gambler strolled away from him, hands in his pockets.

Looking down at the chip in his palm, his mouth dropped open. It was multicolor gray and white, with a distinct holographic center. $100,000. Enough money to change lives.

The employee ran in, looking for Martingale, not entirely sure what he was going to say other than a profuse and bewildered thanks. But the high roller had seemingly vanished.

How could he do that? I only stopped watching him for a second.

The man was stumped; the only thing he was certain of at that point was that Martingale was inside the casino, working hard to beat the house.

“Player 1, banker 4. Banker wins. Good luck on the next round.” Martingale let his money lay where it was: On the banker. In one hand, it had gone from $500,000 to $975,000. Ooohs and aaahhs erupted around him as hungry eyes saw the win. Patiently waiting, he seemed bored as the next hand was dealt.

“Player 2, banker 4. Banker wins. Good luck on the next round.” $975,000 turned into slight over $1.9 million. Martingale kept his money on banker and waited for the next hand.

The pattern repeated itself. Player 2, banker 4. Martingale was impassive as the people around him went nuts. His $1.9 million had turned into a little over $3.7 million.

Fourth round. He moved the stack of chips over to the felt circle marked “Player.” A collective intake of breath rushed through the onlookers as eyes fixed on the chips and fingers bunched in front of faces, barely concealing vicarious avarice. Martingale looked like he couldn’t care less.

“Player 9, banker 0. Player wins. Good luck on the next round.”

Over $7.4 million. The small crowd went insane. An offensively loud frenzy of clapping erupted around the table, bringing a wince to Martingale’s face. It was the first expression he had shown since he had sat down.

He collected the chips and left. The people watching let out a soft and disappointed awww as he walked away and headed toward the casino cage. Whispered speculations burbled through the bystanders as they discussed Martingale’s win.

“Mr. Martingale! So glad to see you! Wow, looks like you had a great night!” The cage operator layered on false enthusiasm.

“Yeah I just need to have you guys wire this to my bank account. Can you handle that?” Martingale put the stack of chips down. The lurid casino lighting bounced off them, dancing on their edges. Their holographic centers were dazzling; the designs so entrancing they almost appeared psychedelic.

Martingale gave the man behind the counter a quick scan and put his nearly unmatchable mind to work. African American. Mid-forties. Red rimmed eyes. Practically unnoticeable sniffles. Slight twitch in the right cheek, tremor in the left hand. Coke and alcohol. Functioning addict.

“Unfortunately Mr. Martingale, our systems will need a few weeks to handle something along those lines, but we can give you casino credit…” The cage worker did his best to look sorry. Martingale rolled his eyes. Casinos and their smoke and mirror bullshit.

Martingale smiled. “I understand. Please hold on for a second.”

“Of course.”

Martingale tapped a few buttons on his smartphone, looking preoccupied. He turned back to the employee and flashed a smile. “I’m sorry, could you humor me and check again? It’s just that this is really important.”

The man gave an exasperated sigh. “Of course Mr. Martingale, but as I said…” The employee’s voice trailed off into a confused murmur as he tapped away at his keyboard. “It looks like…It looks like the money has already been preapproved for transfer and should deposit in the designated account immediately.” He said this slowly, as if he was describing something unbelievable unfolding before him. He looked up at Martingale with suspicion and disbelief flavoring his eyes, like he’d just seen a magician pull off the impossible.

“Thanks. Here’s a tip.” Martingale took out a $100,000 chip and flipped it toward the befuddled man, who caught it midair. Greed replaced puzzlement as he quickly stuffed it into his breast pocket.

Martingale checked his watch. The Vitruvian’s men were running late.

He leaned forward, placing his elbow onto the cage’s desk surface and looking affable. “A year of freedom. Get yourself sorted friend.” Martingale looked discreetly sideways and towards the floor. His hand came up from the counter to tap at his nose.

The guy in the cage stared at Martingale openmouthed, unable to conceal his surprise. “You’re the first person that’s noticed. How’d you-”

Martingale ignored the question. “You in debt?”

“Up to my eyeballs.”

“There’s your chance to lighten the load.” Martingale threw a weighted nod toward the pocket with the chip.

The man behind the ornate bars nodded earnestly. “Yeah man, you know it.” Then he stopped, and a crafty smile spread across his face. “But you know I’m partying tonight, right?”

Martingale looked down and smiled. A little sad, a little amused. Some things never change.

“So.” The casino worker leaned forward, momentarily interested. “You a regular Sherlock, huh?”

Martingale gave a short shake of his head. “Can’t stand the guy.”

“What? Don’t tell me you don’t like Sherlock Holmes.”

“Sorry, can’t get past the opium and coke.”

“Holmes was an addict?” The clerk raised a hand to his moderately bearded chin and rubbed it. A contemplative gesture.

He snapped his fingers, his eyes lighting up. “Ooh! What about Batman?”

“I grew up loving Batman…but still. Wouldn’t want to be him.”

“Come on, man. Women, cars, money…”

“In the end he’s the same as Holmes.”

“Get the fuck outta here. Batman didn’t use drugs.”

“He’s still an addict.”

“Yeah?”

“His parents’ death-he can’t let it go. It’s why he keeps trying to build a new family: Alfred, Nightwing, Batgirl, the Robins…then he shoves them away. Hurts them. You get the idea. Addicted to pain.”

The employee leaned back and his eyes lidded halfway. He wagged his finger appreciatively at Martingale. The gesture of somebody realizing a sly secret. “You…you smart. You a smart guy. I’m gonna call you Bat-Holmes. I think you’re better than both of them.”

Martingale dipped his head and laughed. “I’m flattered.”

“So Bat-Holmes, you’re telling me there’s nothing you’re hooked on?”

Martingale looked reflective, his eyes drifting upwards. “I gotta tell you, the one thing I absolutely love is the ability to go anywhere, anytime…”

Martingale’s words slowed as he continued, “I guess if I had to pick one thing, I’d say…”

“I’d say I was addicted to being free.”

The hairs on Martingale’s forearms tickled as they stood up. Danger. He casually looked behind him as the casino worker droned on, ending his statement with “That’s deep, man.”

Approaching the cage were two thuggish men in immaculately cut suits. They bore identical lapel pins depicting Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

Martingale turned to face the cage. “Hey take care of yourself, yeah? I think I’m done gambling, so I probably won’t see you again.”

The worker’s eyes bugged out. “What? You’re able to win this much and you say you’re done? You dying or something?”

Martingale smiled. “From the moment I was born. No, I just know when to walk away. You know the casinos, the house doesn’t like it-”

“-if you keep winning. Yeah I hear that. I work for the motherfuckers. They either keep you coming back or cut you off when you need ’em the most.”

“You got it. See you, friend.” He turned to walk away.

“Mr. Shin. We’d like a word.” The two men in suits had closed the gap and were face to face with Martingale-now-Shin.

Shin’s eyes darted over the room in a controlled manner. Two others in the back, waiting to intercept. Heavy, forceful posture. Used to carrying the weight of gear and weapons. Ex-special operators or SWAT.

Shin smiled. “Sorry, gentlemen, I’m not interested in investment opportunities-”

The leader, a thick bearded man, rolled his eyes. “You’re coming with us Shin. We’re not here to fuck you up per se, but we aren’t afraid to make a scene. You know the cops will stay out of it so why don’t you just hear what we have to say?”

Shin focused on the speaker. Unnaturally strong brow and jaw. Acromegaly from HGH abuse. Saw a shift of the man’s well-cut trousers drift over two pronounced bumps under the kneecaps. Osgood-Schlatter. Probably a lifetime athlete. His eyes focused on the reptilian tics of the man’s pupils. Sociopath. He concluded.

Shin kept smiling, “Usually I direct any business pitches to my secretary, but I’ll make an exception for you guys. You can leave a message…”

The head goon looked bored.

“…on my dick.” Shin smiled beatifically. He shrugged. “Or my balls. Your choice.”

The leader’s face darkened. “Okay motherfucker-”

“Relax, relax.” Shin laughed and put up both hands disarmingly. “It was a joke. Relax. I’ll come with you.”

In no mood for games, the thug placed a gnarled hand around Shin’s upper arm. He started leading the gambler toward a set of locked doors off to the side. Whispering into his collar, he strode purposefully away from the well-lit casino interior. His coworkers fell in seamlessly behind him.

Stepping in front of Shin and the lead guy, one of the men took out a set of keys and unlocked the double doors. The light from the casino revealed a descending staircase behind the entrance. It was covered in cheap, tacky-red, moth-eaten carpet.

The five of them made their way down, the light growing fainter as they went. A heavy click followed them as the doors behind them were shut and locked. At the bottom of the staircase the carpet disappeared, leaving a bare cement floor. It led up to another door; this one wasn’t even painted. No need to romanticize what happens in here. Shin thought.

The guy with the keys stepped forward again, opening the hostile and primitive looking door. Shin felt a shove in his back and he pedaled forward into a dank concrete room. The entrance closed behind him.

Keep Reading:  The Rarefied Tightrope Chapter 2

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