He was wearing a Western–style shirt, scarlet and black with a lot of gold piping, and one of those bolo string ties, and he should have topped things off with a broad–brimmed Stetson, but that would have hidden his hair. And it was the hair that had drawn her in the first place. It was a rich chestnut with red highlights, and so perfect she’d thought it was a wig. Up close, though, you could see that it was home grown and not store bought, and it looked the way it did because he’d had one of those $400 haircuts that cost John Edwards the Iowa primary. This barber had worked hard to produce a haircut that appeared natural and effortless, so much so that it wound up looking like a wig.
He was waiting his turn at the craps table, betting against the shooter, and winning steadily as the dice stayed cold, with one shooter after another rolling craps a few times, then finally getting a point and promptly sevening out.
She didn’t know dice, didn’t care about gambling. Something about this man had drawn her, something about the wig that was not a wig, and she stood beside him and breathed in his aftershave—an inviting lemon–and–leather scent, a little too insistent but nice all the same. The string tie, she saw, had a Navaho slide, a thunderbird accented in turquoise.
Here in Michigan, the slide and its owner were a long way from home.
"Seven," the stickman announced. "New shooter coming out."
And the dice passed to the man with the great haircut.
He cradled them in his palm, held them in front of her face. Without looking at her he said, "Warm these up, sweet thing."
He’d given no indication that he was even aware of her presence, but she wasn’t surprised. Men generally noticed her. She took hold of his wrist, leaned forward, blew warm breath on the dice.
"Now that’s just what was needed," he said, and dropped a black chip on the table, then gave the dice a shake and rolled an eleven. A natural, a winner, and that doubled his stake and he let it ride and rolled two sevens before he caught a point, an eight.
Now it became hard for her to follow, because she didn’t know the game, and he was pushing his luck, betting numbers, scattering chips here and there, and rolling one combination after another that managed to be neither an eight or a seven. He made the point, finally, and the one after that, and by the time he finally sevened out he’d won thousands of dollars.
"And that’s that," he said, stepping away from the table, turning to take his first good long look at her. He wasn’t shy about letting his eyes travel the length of her body, then return to her face. "When you get lucky," he said, "you got to ride it and push your luck. That’s half of it, and the other half is knowing when to stop."
"And you’re stopping?"
"For now. You stay at the table long enough, you’re sure to give it all back. Luck goes one way and then it goes the other, like a pendulum swinging, and the house has always got more money than you do and it can afford to wait you out. Any casino’ll break you in the long run, even a pissant low–rent Injun casino way the hell up in the Upper Peninsula." He grinned. "But in the long run we’re all dead, so the hell with the long run. In the short run a person can get lucky and do himself some good, and it might never have happened if you didn’t come along and blow on my dice. You’re my lucky charm, sweet thing."
"It was exciting," she said. "I don’t really know anything about dice—"
"You sure know how to blow on ’em, darlin’."
"—but once you started rolling everything happened so fast, and everybody got excited about it—"
"Because the ones who followed my play got to win along with me."
"—and I got excited, too."
He looked at her. "Excited, huh?"
"And now," he said, "I suppose it’s passed, and you’re not excited anymore."
"Not in the same way."
She allowed herself a smile.
"C’mon," he said. "Why don’t we sit down and have ourselves some firewater."
They took a table in a darkened corner of the lounge, and a dark–skinned girl with braids brought their drinks. He’d ordered a Dirty Martini, and she’d followed his lead.
"Olive juice," he explained. "Gives a little salty taste to the vodka. But I have to say what I like most about it is just saying the name of it. ‘A Dirty Martini, please. Straight up.’ Don’t you like the sound of it?"
"And the taste."
"Did you ever tell me your name? Because I can’t remember it."
"You’re kidding, right?"
"It says Lucky on my driver’s license," she said. "On my birth certificate it says Lucretia, but my parents didn’t realize they’d opened the door for a lifetime of Lucretia Borgia jokes."
"I can imagine."
"You can’t, because you don’t know the whole story. Lucretia is bad enough, but when you attach it to Eagle Feather it becomes really awful, and—"
"That’s your last name? Eagle Feather?"
"Used to be. I chopped the Lucretia and dropped the Feather and went in front of a judge to make it legal. Lucky Eagle’s what I wound up with, and it’s still pretty dopey."
God, he was quick on the uptake, wasn’t he? You just couldn’t keep anything from this dude.
"My father’s half-Chippewa," she improvised, "and my mother’s part Apache and part Blackfoot, and some Swedish and Irish and I don’t know what else. I worked it all out one time, and I’m one-third Indian."
"A third, huh?"
"Lucky Eagle Feather," he said. She liked that he was willing to skip the Lucretia part, but still wanted to hold on to that Feather. Made her a little bit more exotic, that’s how she figured it. A little more Indian. And hadn’t he just finished screwing a bunch of Indians out of a few thousand dollars? So why not screw a genuine Indian for dessert?
His name, she learned, was Hank Walker. Short for Henry, but he’d been Hank since childhood. Seemed to suit him better, he told her, but it still said Henry on his driver’s license. And he’d been born in New Jersey, the southern part of the state, near Philadelphia, but he’d moved west as soon as he could, because that seemed to suit him better, too. He indicated the Western shirt, the string tie. "Sort of a uniform," he said, and grinned.
"It suits you," she agreed.
He lived in Nevada now, outside of Carson City. And right now he was driving across the country, seeking out casinos wherever he went.
"I guess you like to play."
"When I’m on a roll," he said. "But these out of the way places, I come here for the chips as much as the action."
"Casino chips. People collect them."
"You sure collected a batch at the crap table."
What people collected, he explained, just as other collected coins and stamps, were the small-denomination chips the casinos issued, especially the one–dollar chips. At each casino he visited he’d buy twenty or thirty or fifty of the dollar chips, and they’d be added to his stock when he got back home. He had a collection of his own, of course, but he also had a business, selling chips to collectors at chip shows—who knew there were chip shows?—and on his website.
"Ever since the government decided the tribes have the right to run casinos," he told her, "they’ve been popping up like mushrooms. And they come and they go, because not all of the tribes know a whole lot about running a gaming operation. You belong to the tribe that’s operating this place?"
"Well, nothing against them, and I hope they make a go of it, but there are a few things they’re doing wrong." She half-listened while he took the casino’s inventory, took another sip of her Dirty Martini (which, all things considered, sounded better than it tasted), and breathed in his aftershave and an undertone of perspiration.
He finished his casino critique and reached across the table to put his hand on hers. "Now it seems to me we’ve got a decision to make. Do we have another round of drinks before we go to my room?"
For answer she picked up his hand, lowered her head and blew her warm breath into his palm. "For luck," she said without looking up, and then her tongue darted out and she licked his palm. His sweat, she noticed, tasted not all that different from the Dirty Martini.
He had a nice body. Barrel-chested, with a little more of a gut than she might have preferred, and a lot of chest hair. No hair on his back, though, and she supposed he got it waxed at the same salon that provided his million-dollar haircuts.
Muscular arms, muscular shoulders, and that meant regular gym workouts, because he couldn’t have gotten those muscles simply by throwing his own weight around. An all-over tan, too, that probably came from a tanning bed. You could shake your head at the artifice, or you could go with the result—a fit, good-looking man in his late forties, who, it had to be said, was as impressive in the sack as he’d been at the crap table. And if he owed some of that to Viagra, well, so what? He got her hot and he got her off, and what more could a poor girl desire?
And the best was yet to be.
Optima futura—that was the Latin for it, and she knew it because it had been her high school’s motto. It was, she’d always thought, singularly apt, because anything the future held had to be better than high school.
Somewhere along the way after high school was just a blur, she’d come across some lines from Robert Browning, and perhaps it was the high school motto that made her commit them to memory, but it had worked, because she remembered them still:
Grow old along with me
"Part Indian, huh? I bet I know which part is Indian."
And he reached out a hand and touched the part he had in mind. She put her hand on top of his hand, rubbed his fingers against her.
"A third Indian," she reminded him.
"So you said. You know, I was wondering—"
She put her hand on him, curled her fingers around him. She worked him artfully, and he sighed.
"Lucky," he said. "Man, I’d say I got Lucky, didn’t I? But I think I’m tapped out for this evening."
"You think so?"
"You drained me to the dregs, babe. About all I can do right now is sleep."
"I bet you’re wrong."
"What we did so far," she said, "was just a warm-up."
"Can I ask you something?"
He raised his eyebrows.
"Have you ever been tied up?"
"Jesus," he said.
"Just imagine," she said, her hands still busy. "You’re tied up, you can’t move, and the entire focus is giving you pleasure. I’ll do things to you nobody’s ever done to you before, Hank. You think this has been your lucky night? You just wait."
"I’ve got all the gear in my bag," she said. "Everything we could possibly need. You’re gonna love this."
Handcuffs, silk scarves, nylon cords. She had everything she needed, and she knew just how to employ them.
The last time she’d done this she’d given her partner a couple of roofies first, and let the pills knock him out before she trussed him up. That had worked fine, but she’d been stuck with a two-hour wait for the son of a bitch to wake up, and who needed that?
This was much simpler. And he cooperated, putting his hands where she told him, spread-eagling himself on the bed. And making little jokes while she did what she had to do.
By the time she was done, he was already semi-erect. She wrapped the base with an elastic band. "Sort of a roach motel," she said. "The blood gets in and it can’t get out, so you stay firm."
"Is it safe?"
"Absolutely," she said. "It’s an old Indian trick. And now you can do something for me, and after that everything will be entirely one hundred percent for you." And she sat on his face and he did what he was supposed to do, and he was pretty good at it, too. He didn’t have to be, she was so excited right now that great technique on his part was by no means required, but this made it even better.
"Now that was just wonderful," she said. She went to her bag, got out the duct tape, and cut off an eight-inch length. "And I wanted to do that first," she went on, "because that’s our last chance for that particular activity."
And she slapped the tape over his mouth.
Oh, the look in his eyes! Worth the price of admission right there. He wasn’t quite sure whether this was going to make it even more exciting for him, or whether it was maybe something he ought to worry about.
But why worry? What good would that do? What good would anything do?
"See, isn’t this neat? You’re harder than ever. And you’re going to stay that way."
She mounted him, felt him swelling impossibly larger inside her. "Mmmm, nice," she said. "Oh, yes. Very nice."
She rode him for a long time. Her climaxes came one after the other, and all they did was pitch her excitement higher. At last she fell forward, her breasts crushed against his chest. A smooth chest would have been nice, but a hairy chest was nice, too. Everything was nice when you could do whatever you wanted, and when you knew just how it was going to end.
She got up because she wanted to be able to see his eyes now. "I told you some lies," she said. "My name’s not Lucky. Or Lucretia, or any of that. My last name’s not Eagle, or Eagle Feather, and don’t ask me how I came up with all of that on the spur of the moment. As far as I know, I haven’t got a drop of Indian blood in me. A third Indian! How could anybody be a third anything? I mean, you’ve got two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents—I mean, do the math. You’re the one who knows all the odds on the crap table, so you would have to know that you can only be half or a fourth or an eighth or three-sixteenths or whatever you are of anything."
She wagged a finger at him. "You weren’t paying attention, Hank. Little Henry there was doing your thinking for you. And that’s another lie I told you, incidentally. That it’s safe to wrap you up like that. If you don’t loosen it in time, you can do permanent damage."
She left the bed, reached into her purse, found the knife. She let him see the blade. She let the tip of the blade graze his cheek as she mounted him one more time.
"God, it’s bigger than ever," she told him. "You’re in pain now, aren’t you? Oh, dear, I’m afraid that’s going to get worse. Well, more intense, anyway. Optima futura, you know. That’s Latin. It means the best is yet to be. For me, that is. For you, well, maybe not."
She left with close to five thousand dollars in cash and chips, and stopped downstairs at the cashier’s cage to turn the chips into currency. Then she got in her car and started driving.
She’d left his one-dollar chips in the room. She’d left his credit cards, too, and a gold signet ring that had to be worth a few hundred dollars. She took the slide from his string tie, just because she liked it, and she took her cuffs and cords and scarves, because it would be a nuisance to replace them. But she left the elastic band in place.
And she took the scalp, tucked away in a plastic bag. It was just such good theater to scalp him, what with having been drawn to his hair in the first place, and then the whole Indian motif of their encounter. Before she was halfway done with the process she regretted having begun it in the first place, because even minor scalp cuts bleed like crazy, and when you scalp a person altogether—well, the Indians probably waited to scalp people until they were safely dead, and disinclined to bleed, but she went ahead and finished what she’d started, and it was almost worth it when she shook the scalp in front of him and let him gape at it.
She’d cleaned up her fingerprints, but she knew she’d left plenty of DNA evidence, and people at the casino could furnish a description of her. But she’d been working variations on this theme for a good long while now, and she always got away with it, and she figured all she could do was play out the string. And she’d ditch his scalp where it wouldn’t be found, and the scalping would guarantee a lot of press, and a manhunt for some unforgiving Indian seeking vengeance for Wounded Knee.
Yes, she’d just go ahead and play out the string. Because it kept getting better, didn’t it? Optima futura. That pretty much said it all.
Copyright © 2011 by Lawrence Block.