Good Morning my lovelies, and welcome to 2024! I decided to start the new year by sharing a Scribe story with you, so hang on to your hats. It’s time to visit a very exclusive Vegas casino that deals in very unusual bets. Michael is about to learn the hard way that the lines between winning and losing are not always as clear-cut as they seem. Enjoy!
Part 1: Few People Come Here More than Once
Magda had arranged for Michael to arrive at Buried Pleasures Casino in a white stretch limo. Oh it certainly wasn’t done in an effort to impress him. In fact it would embarrass him, she figured. But a white limo for his last night seemed appropriate under the circumstances. She had known for a long time that he would come. Endlessly patient, she watched and waited, knowing that when the time was right and everything came together as it must, he would never truly be able to imagine the knock-on effects of the cataclysmic change he thought he so desperately wanted. But then his kind tended to be naïve, kept so sheltered as they were.
Jack Graves, the casino owner, usually furnished transport for those he had invited. But this time she asked him to allow her the honors. Buried Pleasures was by invitation only, but rules had been broken and lines had been crossed in order for Michael to be here.
She’d been careful to arrive just before he did, waiting in the shadows so she could see his response. She’d asked the driver to take the long route and make sure he gave Michael a tour of the Strip and the Downtown area before bringing him to Buried Pleasures. She wanted him impatient, even a little intimidated. She needed to see just how willing he was to do what was necessary. And she wanted him off-balance, at least a little. Though really, it was difficult for one not to be off-balanced by first impressions of Buried Pleasures. There was no glam, no glitz, only the gaping maw of a storm tunnel. Even the limos were allowed just a quick drop-off on a cracked concrete slab under the constant buzz and flutter of an aging sodium streetlight. There were very few pick-ups.
The storm tunnels beneath Las Vegas were a mind-boggling engineering feat began in the seventies to offer flood protection to a city built on bedrock and totally surrounded by mountains. The individual segments always reminded Magda of giant hollow Lego blocks made of concrete. Originally there was to be over a thousand miles of tunnels serving Vegas and the surrounding area. They were all designed to channel the waters of any flash flood that threatened the financial heart of the city into Lake Mead some thirty miles away. The project was never finished, but there were still an impressive two hundred miles of tunnels beneath the city. They now provided shelter for the homeless who didn’t mind playing the odds that their meager belongings wouldn’t get washed away in the next deluge. They also had provided a hiding place for murderers and thieves and who knew what else? Well actually, Magda knew what else. She was there when the tunnels were built. She was there long before. There were lots of reasons why Buried Pleasures was the most talked about secret hidden beneath Sin City.
The real attraction of Buried Pleasures was that everyone was dying to see what was inside, what was very literally buried under the storm tunnel façade. But only a select few were allowed in. And that exclusive clientele had nothing to do with wealth, power or fame. Beneath the dank passages crawling with scorpions and ripe with urban legends, oligarchs placed their bets next to waitresses. Beneath chandeliers the size of steamships, rock stars and famous athletes played black jack next to farmers and janitors.
Michael hadn’t waited for the driver to open the limo door. He’d unfolded himself from the back seat and stood for a moment, his hands thrust deep in the pockets of an ill-fitting sports jacket. With a quick glance he took in the complete lack of anything that would have given him a clue he was about to enter the most exclusive casino in the world. There was no shock, no doubt, no surprise on his face. Just chiseled determination.
As he straightened his jacket and stepped toward the entrance, she made her move. For a moment she simply stood there in front of him letting the impact of her presence wash over him, a presence that assured he’d never even notice her dark glasses. No one ever did until she removed them, and then it was too late. Sometimes beauty was not only untouchable but deadly, for a split second its subconscious impact a reminder that the sublime often exists only a hairs breadth from destruction. And once the initial moment of surging pulse and rising goose flesh had passed, she approached him casually. First impressions were lasting impressions, after all, and he would remember her for a very long time to come. “You’re first time here?” She asked as they walked into the tunnel, which would have been pitch black if not for the utility lights glowing in their protective metal cages.
He only offered a grunt of affirmation, and blushed furiously – something anyone else would have missed, but Magda saw way more than most.
“A silly question, I suppose.” She slid a hand into the crook of his elbow as though she were his date, and he tensed at her touch. “Very few people come here more than once.”
“I only need once.” He was softer spoken than she had expected, but then she doubted he’d had much experience interacting with people.
She smiled to herself. He was right. He only needed once. What he would do afterwards, though, that was what interested her.
They took one of the two service elevators down, both more suitable for forklifts and men with jackhammers descending to a construction sight than for the steady stream of people anxious to bet everything. Some were dressed to the nines in designer originals, some wore faded jeans and tee-shirts. There was no dress code, and no matter how much speculation the place generated, what went on in Buried Pleasures actually did stay in Buried Pleasures. Those select few who returned from a visit to the casino never talked about it, no matter how much they were offered for their exclusive exposé.
He chose poker – after she’d recommended it. He’d never played before. In fact, he’d never gambled before, but then a lot of people invited to Buried Pleasures hadn’t. It didn’t matter. Ultimately everyone played the odds. While most people who came here weren’t very skilled, Magda knew there was far more to gambling than cards or roulette. It was all a matter of just how far they were willing to go and if they were they willing to bet it all.
Michael spoke with the careful elocution of someone who had worked with a coach to perfect the accent in a language that wasn’t his own. That was to be expected under the circumstances. And even if Magda hadn’t known who he was, what he was, she’d have assumed this was his first trip to the big city. Not that Vegas was big, and it didn’t really qualify as a city, but Michael seemed a bit overwhelmed by it nonetheless. In all fairness she doubted if he got a lot of time for recreation in his vocation. It was a risk for him to be here at all. But then he wouldn’t be here if he weren’t willing to take the big risk.