My first day back to earth, post Scandinavian babe contingent, was a Monday, and I was feeling pretty good about life. I was on the verge of falling in love with my reflection in the glossy surface of the hot tub. It was one of those days.
Then, as if things could get any better, the call came: I had just won the office football pool for the third time.
Needless to say, I high-tailed it to Vegas.
Touch down at McCarran by 4, in the Rio at 4:20, at the craps table before 5. Tom is anxious to hit the strip clubs early and threatens to break off from the herd. According to the Las Vegas code of conduct, he is well within his rights to do so. In truth, he could abandon us at the airport upon arrival and not show his face until boarding the flight home. All bets are off; nothing that happens here over the next two days will be spoken of, ever, except by the person who did it (and even then, he is not allowed to say who he was with).
But we want to wait for our final musketeer to arrive, and Trey is not due until about 7. Tom acquiesces, content to have some drinks and nose around while John, Frank and I whet our craps appetites. Jun heads off to the new Monopoly slot machines.
I pull a conservative $80 from the stash, and within two hours I've parted with about $60, the rest of which I am content to throw to the dealers in fond farewell. The craps table and I will meet again soon. There's no particular hurry.
Jun, Tom and I rendezvous with Trey. He has brought nothing but his wallet. "Guess what room we're in?" he asks. We wait for a sign. "777," he says. Anticipation flushes my cheeks like red wine.
Compounding the beating Frank and John are taking at craps is the fact that the Jacksonville Jaguars won't make the over, which both our friends had teased down to 31 points on a side trip to the sports book prior to rolling the bones. I deliver the bad news: The final score is 20-6. But our boys are professionals, and it's no surprise they decide to stay in the pit. The rest of us are going shopping. I have no shirts with collars; Trey has no clothes at all.
On our way out we pass an empty craps table. Trey's head turns. Being a believer in craps superstition, I remind him that it is unlucky to play at an empty table. "Not with me it isn't," he spits.
Trey and I each lay a pass line bet, which we back with double odds after his come-out roll. He rolls a few numbers, then sevens out. Another person joins the table, and the dice are mine.
I put $10 on the pass line and establish 9 as the point. This I back with $20. When I roll, I only bet the pass line so as not to queer the mojo that surrounds the dice. Spend too much time fiddling with various bets and your luck will run out quick.
Trey spreads about $60 across three other numbers plus the point. Then he drops the whopper: $100 on the hard 10. That's two fives (versus six-four or four-six). The payout is 8-to-1. All hands clear the layout; I twist the dice one way, back the other and throw. Six. This wins Trey $7. Another guy joins. I'm ready. I roll.
"Hard 10! Ten the hard way!"
I have just won Trey $800. Everyone screams. People in the vicinity of the table take notice. I show no emotion, as it's a sure way to fuck this up. Frank and John belly up to the other end of the table. The dealer sets eight $100 chips in front of Trey. He picks these up but lets his hard 10 bet ride.
I look down at the dice and twist them with all the love I can muster. A voice inside says, "Don't look at the dice when you roll." OK. They give a little clack as I squeeze them together and launch them toward that spiky wall, 9 feet away. My eyes snap shut, and my breath goes in quick.
"Hard 10. Winner on the hard 10!"
The place erupts.
Trey collects the second $800 and slaps four black chips into the slot in front of me. I slap them right back into his. Taking money I haven't wagered for would guarantee a seven out.
"Hang on to it for me."
By now we have amassed a small army of onlookers. That's what craps truly is about: community. Get everyone pulling for the same thing and watch what happens.
I'm feeling terrific, but let nothing show. I stare across the table, desperate for a look from Frank. Of all the people here, I need his solidarity most because we have been down this road many times together.
He locks onto me and gives a solemn nod. No smile. His look says this: I know how you feel right now, and I take great pleasure in knowing that you know why I cannot smile. We have an understanding between us that the others do not, and this nod confirms what we will never corrupt with words.
I look down, trying to stave off the smile that comes with a racing heart. I'm having all sorts of luck with this, until I consider the true, unspoken source of joy at this table. It's not my defiance of the odds that's got everyone going, it's what these winnings are going to do for our night at the strip clubs. A smile breaks across my face.
My next roll is not a hard 10, but it is not a seven, either. I've rolled a six. Trey wins a bit more. I hit the six again, and a few other no-harm, no-foul numbers. Finally, I reach my 12th roll. I hear the dice clack together as they land. My eyes are shut tight.
"Ten hard 10! Winner!"
I have rolled three hard 10s during one run, which is beyond belief. Two was charmed, but three feels obscene. Trey slaps eight more black chips into his pile.
Twenty-four hundred dollars in four minutes, and we've got the whole night ahead of us. And I still have the dice.
I give them the familiar twist. I look up to see where I'm throwing and begin the launch. But I am forced to cut the throw off and set the dice on the felt in front of me. I take a step back.
A new player had squeezed in next to the stickman at the now-packed table and thrown down a hundred dollar bill. The dealer slid the pile into the field for him. Instead of looking for the dice, the guy reached his hand down to the chips just as I was about to throw.
This is the deadliest of sins. It shows no respect to the table. Dice that hit hands surely turn up seven.
Furious, I stare viciously at this man. He leaves his chips alone, waiting for me to come back and roll, trying to make amends.
"Well, pick them up already!" I shout. He feels horrible, and everyone is staring at him, trying to make him feel even worse (again the strength of community). He slumps in submission. I grab the dice, twist and throw.
"Seven out!" That asshole brought my lucky streak to an end.
Later, we're at Little Darlings visiting our friend Anna. Tom is stoked because the "South Park" factor has kicked in and we're surrounded by hot strippers wanting phone numbers and autographs. I overhear Trey recounting my streak. The two girls on his lap look over at me and one tells me I'm lucky. I smile and nod. But I'm still mixed up about it. Yeah, I rolled the three hard 10s. But it's over. I feel let down.
We head for the Spearmint Rhino. Trey and Tom get dances almost immediately leaving me at the table to consider things. I'm kind of a schmoe when it comes to having my feelings hurt. I felt unbeatable, and I wasn't.
It is a ridiculous froth I have thought myself into, and I am just about to scamper back to the Rio to try to resurrect the mojo when I am stopped by the longest leg I have ever seen.
My eyes follow it up. The leg is attached to a stunning girl. An absolute beauty. I give out some sort of gurgling noise.
"I'm Heaven," she says.
"I bet you are."
We share a knowing smile.
I guess that asshole didn't bring my streak to an end after all.