03-28-2012, 03:31 PM
Anyone else who entered the Luxor's casino would have been thrilled with what was inside. It was an ever-changing panoply of light, sound and color, its atmosphere charged with high expectaions and dashed hopes with every roll of the dice, spin of the wheel, turn of a card, or pull of the slot machine lever. Any distraction from gaming was unwelcome: the colorful carpeting muffled everyone's footsteps, conversation was brief and muted, save for the croupier's patter and the blackjack dealer's shuffling of the cards. Big Money spoke here, and everyone listened with undivided attention. It was the realm of Lady Luck, the place where fortunes were made and lost, usually the latter. Risk was the the name of the game, the common denominator which ordinary mortals chose to sacrifice their hard-earned wages, their savings, indeed their very futures in hopes of hitting the jackpot against all odds.
Angela Honi stepped timidly into this realm, overwhelmed by it all. In the past, the frail, shy schoolteacher had never so much as purchased a raffle ticket for school charity functions, and now here she was in a major casino in Las Vegas. Fear gripped her like a giant hand, paralyzing her. It was too much, too soon, she thought. Maybe she should have taken in one of the shows instead? There was a magic show playing here by that magician--what was his name again? Criss Angel, yes. She liked magicians as much as anyone--why not go there? Or maybe that red-headed comedian, Carrot Top? He was supposed to be really funny, and she could use a good laugh. Why not see his show? Anything would be better than standing here in a casino, cowering like a mouse.
A mouse. The very word stung her to the core in spite of having thought of it herself. That was what she had been all of her life: a mouse, scurrying to the nearest hidey-hole because she was too afraid to take on the world on its terms. Too afraid to take any sort of risk, too afraid to stand up for herself, too much of a coward to take control of her own life. Why did it have to be that way? she wondered. Why couldn't she show some backbone and take charge of her own destiny? Had she been too long under her sister's thumb that she no longer had the strength to get out from under it?
Angela looked around the casino with more confident eyes. Those people weren't afraid to take risks, she told herself. Those people didn't fear losing it all to the slot machines and the dealers. They didn't ask anyone's permission, they just went for it, and the devil take the hindmost! Why couldn't she be like them?
On impulse, she reached into her worn handbag and fished out a five-dollar bill. It wasn't much, but it would do for a start. Best to start out small and work up, she reasoned. She looked around again and decided the slot machines were the best choice. They afforded some privacy, and the wagering was small enough. Five dollars wouldn't be missed.
She walked up to the nearest row of slot machines and studied them carefully but discreetly, not wanting to disturb the gamblers sitting before them. She discovered that they had slots for taking paper bills, like today's vending machines, ranging from one dollar to twenty. Well, that's convenient, she thought. No need to ask for change. And there were no levers on them, either: the legendary one-armed bandit had been replaced by push-button, electronic devices designed to be tamper-proof. Even the slot machines are computerized, she thought.
The only problem was that every one of them were occupied; it would be a while before Angela could have a turn. Well, no matter, she was used to patient waiting. Besides, it would give her the opportunity to acclimate herself in this strange new environment, accustom herself to how it functioned, and familiarize herself with the rules. If she was going to gamble, she was going to make herself comfortable while she was doing it.
She strolled around the slot machines, watching desperate types feed the flashy devices with a steady diet of cash: tens, twenties, even fifties to Angela's amazement. She was appalled at first, unable to comprehend how some people could just throw away money like that. Then her shock gave way to pity; she had heard about compulsive gamblers who bet their entire life's savings on slot machines, blackjack or even lottery tickets. These poor souls ended up losing their jobs, their homes, even their families. Some even lost their freedom when they turned to crime to pay their gambling debts. Well, that's not going to happen to me! Angela vowed firmly. I've got five dollars, and that's it--when it's gone, I'm gone! I'm not going to fritter away all my money on some stupid machine!
She saw one disgruntled player get up from his seat in front of a slot machine farther down the row, disgusted as he was undoubtedly broke. She could hear his muttered curses above the incessant electronic chatter of the machines, grumbling about the slots being fixed so that no one would win. No one made a move to claim his spot, so Angela walked up to the machine and sat down on the still-warm stool before it. There, she had taken the first step. Now, all she had to do was play.
The large, flashing device before her waited patiently while she struggled to build up the nerve to insert her money. Angela drew a deep breath, steeled herself for the worst, and slipped the five dollars into the paper slot. The machine swallowed the bill swiftly like a strand of pasta. The screen flashed a message telling her she had three turns to win the jackpot, then a single word, PLAY, flashed on a large, angry red button on her right, demanding her response. This was it, she realized, the moment of truth. She had given the mechanical beast its due, and now there was no going back. With one desperate motion she pushed the red PLAY button and closed her eyes, both relieved she had committed the act and apprehensive about the consequences.
Three rows of digtalized icons rolled randomly on the screen. Angela opened her eyes and forced herself to watch them, bracing herself for the worst. This is only my first try, she tried to assure herself. If I lose this round, I have two more chances, right? I mean, it's just a game, right?
The first row stopped at JACKPOT!
The second one also stopped at JACKPOT!
Angela's mind froze, all thought vanished in that one instant, all her senses oblivious to everything except to that third row of rolling icons. Finally, it stopped rolling.
The machine whooped exuberantly, its lights strobing in celebration, its screen flashing WINNER! WINNER! WINNER! over and over again. Angela shrieked in shock, terror and confusion. What happened? her bewildered mind kept asking itself, what happened? What did I do?
Then came the staff and other gamblers, applauding and cheering as they surrounded her. A red-jacketed gentleman approached her first, his hand extended. "Congratulations!" he bellowed, pumping Angela's frail hand as if trying to draw water from a well. "You're our million-dollar winner!"
Angela trembled, not knowing what to make of all this. "Me?" she squeaked.
"That's right!" the red-jacketed man bellowed again. "You're our first winner in the Million-Dollar Slots!"
Angela's brain spun inside her skull. She felt as though she was going to faint. This can't be happening! she said to herself. This must be some sort of dream! She wanted to sit down. This can not be happening! Things like this don't happen in real life, do they? At least, not to me, of all people!
A burst of bright light brought her back to reality; someone had just taken her picture. "And what would your name be?" the red-jacketed man asked her with exaggerated courtesy.
Angela was stumped for a moment. My name? What is my name? Good grief, I've forgotten my name! Then it came back to her. "Angela," she whispered hoarsely. "Angela Honi."
"Angela Honey!" the man crowed for all to hear. "And a honey of a winner you are! Everybody, let's give it up for Angela Honey, shall we?"
Another round of enthusiastic applause. Angela tried bravely to smile and say "thank you", but the words stuck in her throat. Still in shock over what had happened to her, she sank down onto the stool, her knees too weak to support her. I'm going to wake up any minute now, she said to herself, and all this will have been a dream. This is not real! This is not happening!
The red-jacketed man gallantly extended his arm to her. "Now, if you'll just come with me, Angela Honey," he said, "we'll go into the office to claim your winnings. No big deal, just some paperwork, that's all."
Angela took the proffered arm, glad to be able to escape the madness surrounding her. The red-jacketed man escorted her out of the casino as pompously as if she was royalty. The applause still pounded in her ears, and all she could think was What am I going to do now? What am I going to do with a million dollars? And what am I going to tell Bianca?