[This is chapter 6 of an ongoing work of fiction. You can read chapter 5 here.]
Suddenly, the games stopped. The tenor abruptly changed. At Evan’s apartment, it was all sheets and bodily fluids and release. They stayed in bed till afternoon. They cooked their meals nude, curtains closed. They played Bill Evans and Pat Metheny while they took their swims. They brought their meals to bed, and afterwards, swept the crumbs off their sheets. Finally, after a few days, they dressed and did errands, but their clothes felt ridiculous on them, so when they returned, it was back to nudité and erotiqué. Evan began to feel that, after all, touch and grappling and looking at somebody point-blank, eye to eye, breathing on someone’s bare skin, entangling himself in her legs, and running his hand over her soul, were the only important things in life. He felt sorry for accountants, conservatives, and religious zealots, for he imagined them to have a painfully meager allowance for release.
After a week, Evan met John for a drink at Binion’s on Fremont Street. Cotton covered his body. Outside, there were buskers on the street. What most caught Evan’s attention, though, was a young man, perhaps 25, who gave off the unmistakable impression that he could easily fuck up any task you gave him, and who held a sign that said VERBALLY ABUSE ME FOR $5. There was a tale behind that one, and you could see it on his face.
Everyone has his own gifts, Evan thought.
Evan sipped his tequila sunrise and played his game, which could be seen in his body, which he moved slowly and deliberately, no fast movements, and his eyes, with which he tried not to offend.
Try not to get hurt, he thought.
“Why aren’t we meeting at the big casino?” Evan asked.
“We’re keeping a low profile on the Strip,” John said, a cigarette dangling from his lips.
“I only brought you there in the beginning to impress you.”
John took a drag, lifted his head and exhaled into the air above him, and then looked into the distance.
“Just want to tell you, s’only gonna last six months or so.”
“Why does anything end? Everything ends, pal.”
Evan looked away.
“Because,” John finally added, “somebody always comes back with a beef or a gun or a bodyguard or a lawsuit. And my sponsor is heavy, as in heavy, but trust me, he can’t always protect us. Learn this lesson, son. You gotta be always ready to pack up and move in an hour.”
“Okay. So I should have a plan to go back to my old gig.”
Evan felt a wave of relief pass over him. There would be an end to the anxiety. He would have made many thousands in cash and he could walk away with it and never have to talk to him again.
“No, buddy, listen to me. When we fold it up here, we take it on the road. I know a casino owner in Atlantic City what runs the same deal. Plus, I don’t mind your company.”
Evan looked at his shoes.
“You mean we’ll get a place in Atlantic City?”
Evan tried to think of the bright side.
“Kara likes the East Coast,” Evan said.
“Yeah, you could bring her, or you could find somebody else, don’t much matter. I’ve already gotten tired of her whining.”
“Because you can always trade up.”
“I don’t know.”
“Be the pin, not the balloon.”
“Then stick with her, I don’t care. I just don’t trust her.”
“Listen, son, you got good hands, just like me,” John said, holding out both hands. “That’s worth some money, trust me. They’re gorilla mitts and they can do things. And emotionally, when the heat is on, you have grace under pressure. Like, faking it is in your DNA. You can hold your own dick.”
Lately, Evan had been thinking about his hands. When he was a child, he had studied piano, and his hands had started a labyrinthine journey to dexterity. When he became an adolescent, his hands grew so large and its tiny muscles so finely developed that he could do anything on the piano. In football, he played tight end and his hands were so big, he could catch anything. They called him Gluey, as in Hands Like Glue. Sometimes, he caught women looking at the hands lasciviously. With a deck of cards, he could hide a card easily in one hand, no effort, without a hint of it peeking around the edges or through the windows. When people see tension in a hand holding a palmed card, they sense that there’s a card hidden in it. But Evan had none of that. He had “all the gifts,” as the great card man Bodine Balasco had once told him. It was all about DNA, like Kendra and Kara, twisted döppleladders.
Just then, a chick who was mostly smooth porcelain skin punctuated by heavy mascara walked up, gave them the once-over, and lingered, leaving a question hanging in the air. John turned his head sharply.
Fuck out of here, John said.
She knew the tone. Her father had used it with her all the time growing up. She was out of there before Evan could blink twice. Within a couple minutes, John was outside on Fremont Street giving the homeless guy a C note, as he liked to call it. John bellowed insults at the guy for a full ten minutes, sometimes with his face two inches in front of the boy’s face, stray spittle landing on the guy’s face, before his voice started to wear out and he wandered away.
And still the marks didn’t come. Evan and Kara drove to L.A. in the new car and enjoyed themselves a little. They hung out with Evan’s old buds at the Magic Castle and talked monkey moves.
“Whatcha working on?”
“I don’t do them much. Women don’t like gambling tricks that much.”
It turned into a jam session. The guy showed him a new false shuffle from Derek. Another guy showed him a new corner short from Finland. Another guy showed him a new magnetic holdout from France. The holdout kept Evan laughing for ten minutes, it was so brilliant.
“There’s a Japanese magician playing the main stage this week,” the guy said. “His show is like nothing you’ve ever seen, trust me.”
But these were gimmicks and tricks. What dawned on him there at the Castle, among all the tricksters performing fireworks in their hands, was that Evan wasn’t a gimmick monkey anymore, he was a player. It was reality now, not yuks and gasps. It was real wins, real losses. He smiled, thinking about it. Just like Uncle John and Wynton Marsalis, two masters of two different instruments, Evan was now learning how to bend a note.
When Kara was in the restroom, a lady walked by in the tightest red dress he had ever seen, with a cutout that exposed a circle of skin around her fabulous midriff. She hardly had an ounce of fat on her and legs that stretched all the way to Ipanema. Passing by, the girl gave him a familiar look, like they knew each other.
“Do I know you?” Evan asked, puzzled.
“Oh, you should,” she said with a twist.
Evan felt the blood rush to his face and looked away.
“I’m going to get in trouble,” he said. “I’m with somebody.”
“You don’t like trouble?” she said.
“My girlfriend is coming back any moment.”
“That’s okay,” she said with sudden disdain. “In my head, I just fucked you for a month and then broke up with you.”
Then she winked and slinked away.
The next evening, they drove up to Corcoran to visit his parents.
John was right, Evan thought as he sat in the kitchen watching his mother tend to a couple different pots on the stove, she can’t cook. Kara had taken the car for some mumbled errand.
“Are you eating properly?” she said, giving him an accusatory glance.
“I’m eating pretty well, actually.”
“Vegetables, too? Four basic food groups?”
“Mom, they don’t use those food groups anymore.”
“Of course they do. I’m just concerned about you.”
They talked about Evan’s father, sister, and then the cousins for a while. All the while, Evan was angling how to talk about John. He had the money in his back pocket, 18 Benjamins. He wondered what his mother would say. Even more, he wondered what his father would say.
“Where’s Dad?” Evan said.
“Business trip,” his mother said with a smile.
“He’s not around much anymore, is he?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the last three times I’ve visited, he’s been on a business trip.”
“He works too hard.”
There was something in the way that she said it, with a touch of sorrow, that piqued his curiosity. Evan placed his hand on her forearm and realized that she was silently crying.
“Mom, what is it?” he said softly.
“You know what.”
Evan waited for the longest time. Finally, she looked up at him with the sorriest eyes he had ever seen.
“He’s moved into an apartment,” she said softly.
She started to tell the story, but everything about it was false, even the way she ended her sentences.
“Mom, you can tell me.”
She took a deep breath. She looked up at him. Then she took another. She started to speak, then closed her mouth. It took her ten full minutes before she came out with it.
“He’s not your father.”
Evan’s mind began to swirl, and he immediately knew. He had always known, but not in the place where we live, only in that underwater place of archetypes and nighttime eternities.
His mother started to spin this tale about not knowing, that it could be either of two people, blah blah blah, but Evan could see through it. He had all the evidence before him. It was all coming together now.
“I know who it is,” Evan said softly, looking into her eyes.
They looked at each other for what seemed like forever, his mother’s eyes more naked and guilty than he had ever seen them. Naked like a wound, guilty like a scar. He did know. He had always known. When he heard Kara drive up, he walked out the front door. But not before slapping the 18 C-notes, to use his father’s patois, on the kitchen table.
The next day, while driving back to L.A., they got the call from John.
“Get back here in seven hours.”
They dropped everything and got back in five.
Evan arrived a half-hour ahead of time in his Maserati. Boaz let him in. John was sitting on the sofa, a Scotch and water in his hands, his legs crossed.
“It’s the Russians again,” John said.
“But it’s a different deal. We aren’t in it to win this time.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, this time we lose 75% of the time.”
“I give you the signal,” he said, tapping his elbow with two fingers, “and you fold. You’re going to do a lot of folding. And a lot of losing.”
John looked at him for a long moment. The gaze that John gave him was disconcerting and made him squirm.
“Why do you need to know?” John finally said.
“Okay, you’re right, that’s all right.”
“I wouldn’t normally tell a guy why.”
“Okay, forget I said anything.”
But John’s eyes were still boring into him.
“I don’t want to know,” Evan said.
John finally took a deep breath and lowered his voice.
“The Russians have to get their money out of their own country,” John said. “They don’t trust their own banks, because they’re not really banks, they’re just people who take your money. Plus, it’s not the Russians’ money to begin with, at least not legally. So they come here with all their fucking cash and they lose it at a game. Then they win it all back in the casino. I’ve got another Evan at the casino who helps them win it all back. Minus a commission, of course. It’s a fucking win win. Except the Russian people, but who cares about them?”
It was an easy game. Neither John nor Evan could really communicate with these guys. They knew a few words, like monney and boker and hooker, but not much beyond that. All the while, Evan felt hot, like a fever was coming on, but he knew what it was. It was DNA and the sequeliae thereof. It was the radioactivity of secrets. It was who he was now.
[This is an ongoing work of fiction.]