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Fate Trumps Life's Deal.
| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| June 21, 2011 Views: 1038|
The cards had been dealt. Boone Devereaux was the only player at the blackjack table besides a cowboy wearing a black hat who had a bottle of beer in front of him. Boone pulled out five $20 bills, got some green chips and played the $5 game for a few minutes.
Between deals, he checked himself in the huge decorative glass to his left. He had Italian bronze skin and blond hair pulled back tightly into a long ponytail that fell to his waist. He had warm eyes, big Pepsodent smile, a small scar beside his left nostril and a larger one on his right cheek. His face was adorned with a soft blond goatee that had been pampered for a few years. He wore a white T-shirt with red lettering that said: "LOVE SUCKS . . . true love swallows."
Outside, the white sun blistered the pale sky. By late afternoon, a heat sink comprised of the towering hotels, the streets, the vast parking lots, and the surrounding desert had stored enough radiant energy to keep the city warm throughout the night.
An aging cocktail waitress swept by, asked what Boone wanted to drink.
"A bottle of water." He patted himself on the back, reached in his pocket to fish out a cigarette; at three packs a day, he was always reaching for a pocket.
He played three hands and lost two before the woman returned with his water. He tipped her and drank some of the water as he played. Occasionally he glanced at the bottle of beer standing in front of the cowboy. It looked so harmless. So beautiful.
When he lost all his chips to the dealer, Boone left the table and wandered around the casino floor. He decided it was a dreadful place, sparsely filled with people who had no business being there, gambling with money they could not afford to lose. He drifted into the sports bar where the football point spreads were posted.
The bar was empty except for the bartender, who appeared to be in his late forties. He was short, trim and bald, with a few strands of black hair slicked back just above the ears. His eyes were also black and partially concealed behind a pair of tiny reading glasses perched halfway down his narrow nose.
Boone settled onto a stool and ordered another water. He wondered what Dr. Gundy at Whispering Willows would say about this. Not eight hours into "reentry" and he was already in a bar. Chill Doc, it's just water. If I can resist the urge here at ground zero, then the rest will be easy.
Sipping the water, he occasionally glanced at the rows of liquor bottles. Why so many different shapes and sizes? So many different types of booze. One entire row was nothing but flavored vodkas, those delicious liquids he had consumed by the barrel back in the days when he was a drunk.
Thank God those days are over.
In the distance, across the floor somewhere, a siren squealed and bells rang as a lucky player hit the jackpot. The racket was to remind everyone of how easy it was to win.
The bartender filled a glass with a draft beer, then sat it in front of Boone. "On the house. That was Reno's "Super Slot Jackpot!" Free drinks for everyone at the bar, which was nobody but Boone, who almost said, "Hey, pal, take it away, I don't drink anymore." But,the bartender was gone, plus it would sound silly. How many non-drinkers sidled up to the bar at three o'clock in the afternoon?
The glass was frosty, the beer ice-cold. Boone looked at the tap. Sierra Moon Pale Dry. One he'd never tried before. His mouth was dry, so he sipped the water again.
For ninety days he'd been pounded by Dr. Gundy and the other pros at Whispering Willows into believing that another drink--just one--would eventually lead him back to his addictions. He'd seen and listened to many other patients, or guests as they were called, struggle through detox and tell their stories of repeated failures. "You must never be fooled," they warned repeatedly. "You cannot handle a single drink. Total abstinence is the only road to go."
Small bubbles of water formed on the glass of beer, then began to run down to the napkin under it.
Boone never truly believed, not even in his purest moment back at rehab, that he would live the rest of his life without a drink. He felt himself trembling uncontrollably, with rapid, shallow breaths, unable to calm himself. Deep down in his soul he knew he could find the willpower to have a drink, maybe a couple, then stop for the night before things got out of hand. If he planned to drink, why not start now? The last time, he tortured himself for fourteen days before breaking down. For those two weeks he suffered, and lied to his friends about loving the life of sobriety. Every single moment he craved a drink. Why go through that misery again?
The glass of beer was getting warm. Boone's tremors had diminished but had not subsided altogether. Dry mouth. Moist palms. Eyes hot and grainy. He continued to hear the voices of his counselors--remembered the tears and confessions of other guests. He heard himself proclaim the gospel of the alcoholic--"I am an alcoholic, weak and powerless, in need of strength from a higher being."
So, they were weak, those other losers back at the retreat. But not Boone. He could handle a few drinks because he was stronger. He rationalized that he would not, under any circumstances, succumb to the romance and horror of cocaine. Nor would he ever indulge in hard liquor again. Just a little beer occasionally, and he might take up a little wine.
No big deal.
So, why couldn't he make himself reach forward and touch the glass? It was just eighteen inches away, well within his grasp, just standing there like a coiled rattler ready to strike. But then, it was also a luscious treat that delivered a pleasant buzz.
"You need to make new friends," Dr. Gundy had said repeatedly. "And you can't go back to your old haunts. Find some new places, new friends, new challenges, a different place to live."
Well how abut this, Doc? Sitting here for the very first time in a run-down casino I can't remember the name of. Never been here before. Ha-ha.
Both of Boone's hands were free, and at some point he realized his right hand was shaking slightly. His breathing was still heavy and labored.
"You okay, buddy?" the bartender asked as he walked by.
Yes. No. Boone nodded something but couldn't speak. His eyes were locked on the glass of beer. Where am I? What am I doing?
Mere hours after leaving rehab he was in a bar brawling with himself over whether he should take another drink. He was already a loser. Look where he was. His heart was beating so hard that he thought it might jump out of his chest.
He reached forward with his left hand, touched the glass, slid it slowly toward him, stopping when it was six inches away. He smelled the barley and hops.
It was a war of good versus evil--to run versus stay. Boone almost managed to shove himself away from the bar and sprint back past the slots to the front door. Almost.
Oddly, it was that guy Richardson who helped him make his decision. Richardson was his best friend in his latest rehab stay. He was from a wealthy family who had paid for his fourth rehab. The first three tanked when Richardson convinced himself that a little pot was harmless. Boone whispered to himself, "If I drink this beer now, and things turn out badly, I can always go back to Whispering Willows. . . and with two failures . . . I'll be convinced that total abstinence is required. Just like Richardson. But right now I really want this beer."
With both hands he clasped the glass, raised it slowly--sniffing as it grew closer. He smiled when the cold glass touched his lips. The first sip of the beer was the most magnificent nectar he'd ever tasted. He savored it, eyes closed, face serene. He wasn't really sure what was ahead, but it was certainly far more attractive than the wreckage behind.
He decided to open the door and let loose the demon. What was he supposed to do? Throw the beer away? Ignore his thirst? Deny his feelings and shove them back into the box with the now broken hinges?
From over his right shoulder someone yelled loudly, "Boone! What in the hell are you doing?"
Boone choked and almost dropped the glass. He jerked around and saw one of Dr. Joseph Gundy's assistants--Charlie Coakley; he was closing fast--obviously not happy.
"What are you doing?" Charlie demanded as he lowered a heavy hand to Boone's shoulder. He appeared ready to trade punches.
Boone wasn't sure what he was doing. He was drinking a beer, one that was definitely off-limits, but he was so horrified at the moment he couldn't speak. He felt as if he had been struck by lightning. What the hell happened? Is Gundy's crew tailing people for Christ sakes?
Charlie didn't appear as a sterling example of success, for that matter. His outfit was tweed on tweed with elbow patches, crooked bow tie, a wrinkled shirt with one edge of a collar pointing to the ceiling, sensible blunt-toed shoes, and socks that failed to cover the man's chubby, hairless shins. His beard, however, was neatly trimmed and matched the color of his hair except for a creamy patch the size of a dime near his chin.
He delicately took the glass from Boone and slid it down the bar. "Dump this," he growled at the bartender, then edged onto the stool next to Boone and moved in low until his nose was six inches away.
"Listen to me, my friend," he said in a soft voice. "I cannot make you leave this place right now. That's your decision. But if you want me to help you, say so. I'll take you out of here and we'll talk."
Boone's shoulders sagged and his chin dropped. The beer was still attacking his taste buds. He looked shrunken now as he fidgeted with his hands.
"Mind you, this could be the most important decision of your life," said Charlie. "Right now, at this moment. Stay or go. If you stay you'll be dead in five years."
"I don't know what to do. I'm . . . I'm so weak," Boone murmured.
"Well, I do know. Come on--let's go," said Charlie. He practically lifted Boone off the stool, then put a thick arm around his shoulders. As they made their way past the slot machines and empty roulette wheels to the front door, Charlie realized Boone was crying. The tears made him smile. He knew that an addict must hit the bottom before he starts his climb.
Alcoholics Anonymous met three times each week in the Willow's church basement--Monday and Thursday nights and at noon on Wednesday. Boone started and never missed a meeting. He was warmly received by his fellow addicts, and quietly marveled at the groups' compositions. All races, ages, male and female, professionals and homeless, rich and poor. He realized that alcoholism cut a wide, jagged path through every class, every segment. There were old, confident drunks who boasted of being sober for decades, the new ones like himself who freely admitted they were still afraid. They were comforted though by the veterans.
Boone had made a mess of his life, but his history was a piece of cake compared to that of some of the others.
During his third AA meeting, with Doc Gundy and Charlie Coakley watching from the rear of the room, Boone walked to the front of the group, cleared his throat, and said, "My name is Boone, and I'm an alcoholic." After he uttered those words, he wiped tears from his cheeks and listened to the applause.
After a month, he began to grow restless. He didn't relish the thought of leaving the safety of the desert and Whispering Willows retreat, but he knew the time was coming and before long it did.
He flew back to Cleveland, retrieved his Monte Carlo SS from the long term parking area, and checked into a motel by the airport. A credit card receipt revealed that he spent two nights in the motel. His cell phone records showed numerous incoming calls from Nevada and Colorado. He had two long conversations with Charlie Coakley in Reno, and some brief ones with his parents and his brother in Elmira, New York.
On the last day of his life, Boone left Cleveland before sunrise, headed for New York, a drive that would cover 400 miles in about 7 hours.
According to the credit card trail, he stopped for gas at a Texaco station near the intersection of I-79 and I-80. Then he headed due east on I-80 until his journey came to an end near the small town of Clearfield. He stopped at a rest area and went to the men's room. It was approximately 10:40 a.m. on a Friday in mid-October. Traffic was light, and there were only a few other vehicles at the rest area.
Mr. Thomas Delahaye, a retiree from Dayton, was traveling to Rhode Island with his wife when they stopped to use the restrooms. She was in the ladies room when he discovered Boone not long after he had been shot. He was still alive but dying quickly from a gunshot to the head. Delahaye found him on the floor by the urinals, his jeans unzipped, the floor covered with blood and urine. He reported the young man was gasping and whimpering and thrashing about like a deer hit by a car. There was no one else in the men's room when Delahaye stumbled upon the horrible scene.
Boone's wallet, cash fold and watch were missing. The state police inventoried his pockets and found nothing but a few coins, his car keys, and a tube of lip balm. The lab would later report that there was no trace of alcohol or illegal drugs in his system, on his clothing, or in his car. The pathologist would note however, a remarkable degree of liver damage for a twenty-eight-year old.
This Sentence Starts The Story contest entry
Thanks so much, Sandy Poore for the artwork.
and 2 member cents.
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