Great Expectations by Stephen Paul

“So this guy, he puts his cards down and says, ‘full-house, kings over tens,’ and starts to drag the pot in. ‘Hold it,’ this old fella says, he lays down four eights, smiles around the table and reaches his hands out to the piled-up money. ‘Not so fast,’ the dude in black mumbles. ‘Watcha got, man? Let’s see your cards.’ Everybody leans toward the dude waiting to see his cards. ‘Two deuces and a razor blade,’ the dude says. ‘You wins again,’ he’s told.”


Laughter and chuckles filled the room where the six men played poker in David Harley’s game room. “Where do you hear all these jokes, Dave?” Leonard Holtz, one of the players asked.


“From my business contacts. I think they save ’em all up for me. God, I hear a couple hundred a week it seems like. I only remember one or two.”


“Speaking of business, congratulations on your promotion. Vice-president of Visual Gaming and Associates. For a guy who doesn’t have a degree in software engineering, you’ve done great.”


“Actually, I am a software engineer. I specialized in microchips. Since I’m mostly in sales, no one really notices. But thanks. The next thing is taking the ‘Associates’ off the end of the business name and adding ‘Harley.'” David couldn’t help but puff his chest out a bit. It was a feat to advance this far up the old totem pole in such a short period of time. “Since my forte’ is bullshit, it’s a good thing the position is more over sales and distribution rather than development.”




After the poker game broke up and he closed the front door behind the last player leaving, David went into his gourmet kitchen and grabbed a Moosehead out of the fridge. He opened the bottle and sat down on the expensive couch in the elaborate living room of his damn high-priced home. He had held his position as vice-president for three months and owned the new house one-month. Life was looking good. Yeah.


“Come in.” The stenciling on the door read: James Moucha, President, Visual Gaming and Associates. Moucha came out of nowhere and bought the company. With some young, bright, software engineers, he gave them a free rein on developing video games. Somehow Moucha broke into a tight niche market. “Sit down, David.”


David sat in the chair in front of Moucha’s desk. With the president’s desk and chair raised several inches above the normal, Moucha was able to look down on all who sat in front of him, even though he stood but five foot seven. Everyone in the company knew he’d gotten the idea from a novel he’d read and no one dared tell him it was a hilarious joke within the halls.


“What can I do for you, James?” David crossed his legs. He straightened his six foot two frame to see if Moucha would have to inch up higher. No dice.


“Since your promotion, we’ve placed 8% more games. I have no doubt it’s from your effort and expertise. I’m patting myself on the back for having the foresight to make you vice-president. Congratulations, you’ll find a little something extra in here for your excellent work.” Moucha handed David an envelope. “It’s in cash, so enjoy it unencumbered, if you know what I mean.”


“James, thank you. I don’t know what else to say, other than you made the right move in promoting me, if I say so myself. You haven’t seen anything yet.” David put the envelope in his suit coat pocket, anxiously wanting to leave so he could see how much was in it.


“I see a bright future for you, David. No telling how far you can go with this company.” Moucha leaned over and handed David an engraved invitation. “It’s for my daughter’s wedding. I’d like you to come and meet the family.”


Dave closed his office door and took the envelope out of his coat pocket. With a wry grin, he stuck his thumb under the flap and tore it open. Five $100 dollar bills came out in his hand. Are you shitting me? This is all for bringing in an extra $345,000? Dave put the money in his wallet.


He left work early to beat the traffic and drove his new BMW 740 to the Casmier’s Lounge, a gathering place for young executives and people on the move up. There was standing room only at the bar. David saw Leonard Holtz and squeezed in next to him.


“Hey, David. How goes the new vice-president?” Holtz, a systems analyst for one of the larger banks in the city, motioned the fast-moving bartender for two more drinks like his, a martini with three olives.


“I’ll buy this drink,” David said. “I got a bonus for bringing in an extra $345,000 this month.”


“Great, how much?”


“Five hundred.” The drinks were placed in front of them and David laid a twenty down on the bar. The bartender took the twenty and left a five and a one. David picked his martini up and drained half in one long swallow. Several twenties joined the six dollars left on the bar as he stuck two fingers in the air and pointed to Holtz and him.


“Five hundred? Christ, you should have gotten five thousand! I didn’t realize Moucha was such a cheap ass.”


“Well, I did get a invitation to his daughter’s wedding. He probably thinks that’s worth something.” Dave snorted and finished his first drink. Holtz followed suit then smacked his lips when he pulled the olives off the stick and ate them. “But that’s okay. Moucha told me I was going far in the company. I’d think partner, if I was a gambling man.”


“Yeah, partner or the next president of the company when Moucha retires.” Holtz raised his fresh drink. “Here’s to you, Dave. I’ll be able to say I knew you when you were just getting your training wheels taken off.”


When a couple of guys slam down four or five martinis in an hour and a half, they usually are in the mood for an adventure. Dave and Holtz took a taxi to the Luxor Casino and were able to walk in without staggering.


“Let’s just see how much I can parlay this bonus into.” Dave said as he slid between some players at a craps table. Holtz stood behind him garnering a drink for each of them and sipped it with a shit-eating grin on his face. Dave downed half the drink and was handed the dice.




He got $400 in ten-dollar chips, and placed three bets: pass, corner six and corner eight. His first roll was a four. Dave felt good and played the odds with two chips. The dice on the next two rolls hit the six and eight. Things were looking up. When the gambling Gods are watching you, time flies. Dave and Holtz had been at the table a little over two hours. The $400 left of the bonus was gone, and Dave had chased it down the rathole with another $3000. Lucky for him the casino took his check. It was also lucky Holtz paid for their taxi back to the Casmier Lounge.


“God, I can’t believe how your luck went to shit so fast.” Holtz said.


“Me either. I’ve lost over eight thousand this week.” Dave had a hand over his eyes as they rode in the back of the taxi.


“Eight grand? I didn’t know you went that heavy.”


“I never did until I started playing at the Olympus. I beat them out of about five-six thousand in a week; then my luck seemed to turn on me. They got it all back plus an extra five. I gotta knock this shit off before I’m in the poor house.”


“My luck wasn’t so hot either, but what’s new,” Holtz said. “I think that’s why I never save any money and I’ve been divorced twice. Probably getting cheated, too.”


Dave got home without getting picked up by the cops or wrecking his Beammer and fell into bed, clothes and all. After a night of fitful sleep, he woke up with drool stuck on the side of his mouth and a trail where it ran to the pillow. It was an effort, but he drug himself out of bed, showered, and eventually arrived at work on time, though he suspected he still looked rummy. Christ, how many of those martinis did we drink?






The rest of the week mended him and like most young, single guys making big bucks, he had short term memory. Friday night with a pocket full of cash found him at the Olympus Casino, rolling the dice and slamming down vodka and tonics. He started off hot then gradually his luck turned so cold it was surprising the dice didn’t have frost on them. Talk about déjà vu. Dave knew his luck would change though.


The sun streamed in through the open blinds the next morning, waking Dave up from the rise in temperature on his bare back.


It wasn’t his bedroom he was in and the bleached blonde asleep next to him, with a false eyelash hanging from one of her eyes, didn’t ring any bells either. She apparently felt him stir and rolled over and looked at him through bloodshot eyes.


“Was it good for you?” Dave smiled as he said it, trying to show he knew what was going on.


“Not bad, that’ll be $200.” With modesty befitting a woman who probably made the money in five minutes, she got out of bed and stood naked in front of him, her hand out.


“Care to visit first?” The suit pants were on the floor, crumpled and lying on top of his shirt, sweater and underwear. His fingers grabbed a belt loop and he pulled the pants over to him and took his wallet out. Shit, eight bucks. “Do you take credit cards?”


“Cash…now, or I call the cops.” Her lips formed a pout. “I’m underage.”


“Christ, that’s all I need. Look,” he unfastened a gold chain from around his neck. “This is worth a hell of a lot more than what I owe you. The chain is pure gold. Take it and call it even…please?”


When she held it in her hand, the weight convinced her he wasn’t lying; it was gold. “Okay, we’re even. Take my advice; in the future, I wouldn’t be getting dates if you can’t pay for it. You might get hurt one of these days.”


“Thanks, I’ll remember that.” Dave flopped back on the bed, having no memory of the night. And where the hell was he?

The door made a hollow bang when she closed it as she left. Dave rolled over and picked the ashtray up lying on the bed light table. The Olympus Casino and Hotel was written on the bottom of it. It was the first time he’d ever been in one of the Olympus’s rooms and it wasn’t very impressive. Dark, inexpensive furniture with a carpet that should have been replaced long ago. After looking around the bed and trash can for a condom, he got into the shower and turned the water on as hot as he could stand. The idea of scrubbing off the remnants of the hooker and taking an overload of antibiotics as soon as he got home made him nearly throw up.     You stupid shit.


The telephone was ringing when he stepped out of the shower.   He tracked wet footprints across the carpet on the way to the phone. “Hello?”


“Mr. Harley, this is Frank Truman, manager of the Olympus. We need to talk. Stop at my office in twenty minutes.”


No please or anything. Dave felt a foreboding surround him like a doctor’s report telling him he had cancer. “Twenty minutes? I can probably make it. I’ll see you then.” The levity he put in his voice went unanswered from Truman.


“Good. I’ll expect you. My office is next to the registration desk.” Truman hung up.


Dave held the telephone in his hand, staring at it as if expecting a reason for the tone of the manager.


“Come in,” Truman said when Dave knocked on the office door. “Please, be seated. He pointed to a chair in front of his desk.


Dave sat down and accepted an offered cup of coffee. “What’s the problem, Mr. Truman?”


A printed out bill and several copies of chits were placed in front of him. Dave quickly added the numbers and looked up with a puzzled expression. “Are you kidding me? These total up to $53,000. God, you even charged me $200 for the lousy room.”


“Those are your signatures, and we have you signing them on film. When are you going to take care of these?”


“I don’t have that kind of cash. Hey, I’m mortgaged to the hilt with my house and car. Can I make payments or something?” Dave wiped off the sweat that formed on his forehead.


“We’re not unreasonable. You have one month from today and you’ll pay us back $58,300.”


“You’re charging me five grand interest? I’m not going to pay that. Sue me for it.”


“Suing people isn’t in our vocabulary. We’ll notify your employer and see if he’ll assist you, and if that doesn’t work, we write the debt off¾then you. Do you understand my meaning, Mr. Harley?” Truman’s dark eyes stared at Dave, glinting.


Dave felt a roar in his ears and his scrotum shriveled from a sudden flash of fear. This can’t be happening! “Are you serious?”


“Absolutely. Be rest assured, we know you, Mr. Harley. Your situation is like the commercial on TV. You can pay us now, or pay us later. You may leave now.” Truman swiveled around in his desk chair and started looking at some papers on the table behind him. “Oh, you can take those chits if you like, they’re copies.” Truman said, his back to Dave.


His hand shook with a small tremor as Dave picked the bill and chits up and shoved them into his pants pocket. Without a word he left the office and found his car where he’d parked it the night before. He was afraid he’d throw-up in it but was able to puke next to the front wheel. It didn’t look like anyone saw him barf. The drive home was uneventful. Dave went into the house and climbed into his bed. The only time he got out of bed for the remainder of the weekend was to go to the bathroom.


When Monday morning arrived, Dave had resolved to ask Moucha for a loan. After all, he was the vice-president. His secretary told him Moucha wanted to see him as soon as he came in to the building. What now? The mirror in his office showed him his tie was straight and he walked down to Moucha’s office and knocked on the door.


“Come in, Dave. This is my future son-in-law, Greg Laurentis. Greg, our new vice-president, Dave Harley.” The young man that stood up and shook Dave’s hand was dark and good looking. His smile showed white, even teeth. The handshake was firm, but not macho.


“My pleasure.” Laurentis said softly.


“Greg has quite a bit of experience in the gaming business. He’s going to learn the local job and take over for me when I retire next year.” Moucha patted Dave’s shoulder. “Dave here will help you, he really knows the sales side of the business.”


“I’m sure Dave will be able to help me at first.” Laurentis said. “We’ll just have to see.” He looked at Dave with a cool look in his eyes.


Dave felt like a sledgehammer had been dropped on his head. His heart pounded so loud and hard, he thought the two other men would hear it.


“Are you okay, Dave? You look a little pale.” Moucha poured a glass of water and handed it to Dave.


“I’ve got a little bit of the flu, it’s had me in bed all weekend.”


“Maybe you should take a couple of days off, get yourself well. Go on, go home.” Moucha ordered.


“I think I will. Nice to have met you, Greg.” Dave loosened his tie and left. When he got into the BMW he took the Boulder Highway, toward the lake.


“Bastard!” He hammered the steering wheel with his hand. He pulled off the highway and leaned his head back against the seat. “I’m dead.” To his right, down on a flat, remote controlled airplanes soared and looped in the sky. Dave watched them for a bit and his face lost some of the desperate look. “Why not? I’ve got nothing to lose.” He flipped a u-turn and headed back to Vegas. Dave had a plan.


“Working late again, Mr. Harley?” The rent-a-cop asked Dave as he signed in.


“Yeah, I’ve gotta earn the big bucks I’m getting paid, Fred.”


“Jeez, you been here every night this week. The company’s sure getting their money’s worth.”


Dave unlocked the door to the delivery room and went to the machines that were standing under the sign reading: Berlin Towers. There were four rows of video games: dimes, quarters, dollars and progressive five-dollar games. Dave opened the front panel on a machine that had number 12603. It was a progressive five-dollar video poker game.


He reached inside with a small screwdriver. “Come to papa.”

The chip came out and he took a new chip from a cellophane bag in his coat pocket and reached back in the machine. “Oh, you’re good Dave, you’re damn good.” His whisper caressed the machine.


“Leonard, how about a drink tonight? I’ll meet you at Casmier’s. Good. See you there.” Dave hung the phone up in his office. It had been two weeks since the video machine had been delivered and it was time to get out of debt.

Dave was sitting at a table when Holtz came into the lounge


“Hey, over here.” Dave shouted. The music and conversation was loud, just what he wanted. After a couple of drinks and some small talk, Dave hunkered down.


“Leonard, I’m in deep, deep shit. I’ve got three weeks to come up with $58,000 or I’m dead.”


“Christ! I can loan you some money, but only a couple of thousand; I’ve been having some bad luck myself. Can you borrow it from a bank?”


“I’m maxed. I found out the other day that Moucha’s new son-in-law is going to take over when he retires. Who knows how long I’ll have my job? I don’t think the guy likes me.”


“Man, if I could help you more, I would. If there’s anything I can do besides giving you money I don’t have, I will.” Holtz said.


“I’m glad you said that. You can help me, and you’ll actually come out ahead.”


“Tell me, the coming out a head interests me.”


“There happens to now be a progressive $5.00 video poker machine that will hit a progressive jackpot when I want it to.”


“You’re shitting me. Where?”


“If you’ll help me, I’ll tell you everything. You play it, I make it pay. I get one-third, you get the rest, because you’ll be the one paying the taxes. Last night, the pot was two and a half million.”


“Jesus! I could really use the money now. I’m in. How do we do it?” Holtz drained his glass and motioned for another round for the two of them.


“I’ll give you the machine’s number. You go in and put a couple of hundred in it, so it won’t look suspicious. I’ve put a sequential microchip in it. When the sequence is repeated three times in the correct order, it’ll hit the jackpot.”


Holtz licked his lips.

“We’ll wait a week then I’ll get a hold of you and get my share. That will put me close to the deadline but who gives a shit?”


The Las Vegas Tribune (UPI) Friday night, Mr. Leonard Holtz hit the five-dollar progressive jackpot at the Berlin Towers Casino. His jackpot was worth two million, six hundred and twenty eight thousand dollars.


Dave smiled as he read the Tuesday newspaper. After paying the $58,000 he’d have a nice little pile of cash left. Hell, Leonard ought to buy me a drink.


“Leonard Holtz’s office, may I help you?” A young woman’s voice answered.


“I’d like to speak to Leonard, please. This is Dave Harley.” He couldn’t help smiling. The clock in his office showed

4:45 P.M.


“Mr. Holtz is on vacation, we expect him back in two weeks. May I take a message?”


Dave almost dropped to his knees. A cold fist formed in the pit of his stomach. “No…no message. Thanks.” He dialed Holtz’s home telephone number. No answer.


When he looked at the clock again it was nearly 6:00 P.M. His footsteps echoed as he walked down the hallway toward the rear exit. He’d been making it a point to leave from the back since his talk with Truman at the Olympus.


He started to open the door to the warehousing area when a braided rope dropped over his head. The knot pulled up tight against his throat as he was pulled off his feet, backwards. Moucha came out of the shadows and came up close to Dave’s face. Muocha’s future son-in-law was right behind him, a cold grin on his face.


“You ungrateful pig. Rigging a machine. Stealing from my family. We own this town, Goomba!” Moucha nodded his head.


“Please.” Dave gasped, trying to drag in one small breath of air. “Don’t.”


Fred, the six-foot-four rent-a-cop, threw the rope over a roof beam and pulled Dave into the air. His legs kicked and thrashed but he couldn’t suck any air into his lungs. Dave couldn’t feel the rope as it burned furrows into his skin. The last thing he heard was the rent-a-cop.


“Suicide, Mafia style. Right, Don Moucha?”

The End