The Groom
and Phil
as the Jack of Clubs
Part 7 - Nope
Part 1 Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6


        The rest of us made an effort to go to bed.  In some cases we were too drunk to find our rooms. Others just wanted to make the last night in Las Vegas last as long as possible.  A couple just weren't tired yet, or felt vaguely unfulfilled.
        Ghizal had gone all day without sports and needed a fix. He went to the Hilton sportsbook, a cavernous ghost town this late at night. Half the jumbo-screen televisions were tuned to teeth whitening infomercials. The one cashier still there was reading the National Enquirer.
        "Can I bet on the Dodgers game from earlier today?"
        "That ended eight hours ago," said the man.
        "But I don't know who won," argued Ghizal. The man said no. Ghizal asked about the ponies, the dogs, WNBA and professional bowling.  All had ended earlier in the day.
        "Is there anything I can bet on?"
        "Koala racing from Australia," said the cashier as he pointed to a blurry 13-inch monitor in the corner. It showed eight marsupials crawling around a track chasing a moving piece of eucalyptus.

        Matt plopped himself down in a chair near the hotel elevators. He planned to sit there until he sobered up enough to decide whether to press the up or down arrow. As he nodded off, a security guard rousted him.
        "You gotta be playing to sit there."
        "Okay. What do you want to play? Charades?"
        "The machine," the security guard pointed at the video game in front of the chair. "You have to play the machine."
        "It knows charades?" He knew he was very drunk, but that still didn't sound possible.
        The security guard put his hand on his gun. "Put your money in it."
        Matt couldn't find the bill accepter. He stuck his hands in the machine's every orifice, like he was a gynecologist for robots.  Finally, he found the right hole and slipped in a bill. The screen came to life with dings and beeps. A cocktail waitress walked by.
        Matt had forgotten why he sat down, but he remembered he liked alcohol. "Can you bring me something sinister, but girly? And sad."
        The graveyard-shift waitress with tired feet was in no mood for complications. "I'll bring you a Miller Lite."
        "Sounds exotic."
        Matt banged on the video poker machine's buttons, playing the drumbeat from a Genesis song. Phil stopped by, still dressed as the Jack of Clubs and pointed at the screen. "Hey, that's me. And that's my boss."

        Phil wandered away. He didn't want to gamble, drink or have his picture taken anymore. He stopped in the lounge and watched a woman in a shimmering dress sway side to side while singing Patsy Cline's "Crazy".
Phil longs.
Phil wonders if there's something more to life than silly outfits.
(click photo to enlarge - ESC to exit
        This felt closer to what Phil wanted. The hole inside him, an emptiness, had been growing all evening. He wasn't sure who he was anymore. This wasn't like when he stuck his finger in an outlet and the local police found him in the WalMart parking lot in his underwear. This time, he knew he was Phil; he just didn't know who Phil was. He sat down and watched the singer. He felt her sadness and longing.
        Security arrived and told her she couldn't sing there. She picked up her purse and left. Phil was now alone in the lounge.
        "Anyone sitting here?" asked a voice. A tall, bearded man dressed as the King of Clubs stood behind Phil.
        "Your highness?"
        "'Tis I, indeed." The King sat down.
        Phil's eyes flooded with tears of joy. "I have so many questions for you."

        Spurred by Jerry's constant teasing, Robert couldn't shake the frustration of having fewer TGI Friday's "Stripes". He had never been into sports and didn't like playing board games, but he found his competitive spirit in gaming frequent flier programs and credit card rewards. He spent hours every week devising the best possible ways to earn bonuses. Not that he ever redeemed them. He just kept collecting, and comparing the amount of accrued swag to what others had.
        But Jerry knew about TGI Friday's "Give Me More Stripes" program first and exactly which appetizers and sweet drinks would rack up the reward total fastest. He had enough Stripes to give the entire town of Wickieup, Arizona a cholesterol-induced heart attack. Robert had a lot of catching up to do.
        Luckily, Robert discovered a current promotion that would help. TGI Friday's already encouraged members to eat there every day, but he thought he found a loophole that gave a massive Stripes bonus to anyone who visited ten locations within 24 hours. It was more Stripes than Jerry could earn in a month of brownie sundaes, deep fried onions and Shirley Temples.
        After the Western, Robert had the money to make a run at it. He marched through the casino and out to the taxi stand under the porte cochere. Four people stood in line as one taxi pulled up. Robert cut the line.
        "Hey, we were here first," snapped a gruff man with his drunk wife on his arm.
        "This is an emergency." Robert climbed into the cab. "Take me to the nearest TGI Friday's."

        Jeff and Jerry went to the Hilton's Space-themed area of the casino.  Their plan was to check out the urinals that talked to people as they peed, and see if there were any new Battlestar Galactica slot machines. A man in a trench coat and sunglasses stood by the entrance.
        "Star Trek," the man whispered.
        "Excuse me?"
        "Memorabilia," he said, barely audible.
        Not sure they had heard the man correctly, Jeff and Jerry moved closer.
        He asked, "You guys like Star Trek?"
        "Maybe a little." Jerry didn't want to sound too eager. In fact, he and Jeff lived for Star Trek. They could recite entire episodes, in Klingon. They had homemade costumes and Starfleet Academy bumper stickers.
        "Never mind, then," said the man. "This is only for true fans."
        "What is?"
        "Just some objects. Let's just say, they somehow got left behind when the Star Trek Experience moved out of the hotel."
        "Can we see?"
        The man demurred. "This is professional stuff. Real props from the show. Not cheap tourist crap."
        Jerry grabbed the man by the lapels and snarled, "Show us the damn artifacts."

Phil longs.
Nobody will admit to writing this note.
(click photo to enlarge - ESC to exit
        Dan needed to get outside, away from the air conditioning and the smell of smoke and perfume that became nauseating in his inebriated state. He left the hotel to walk the streets. It was a balmy night and it felt refreshing to get desert air in his lungs and head. It wasn't until he'd walked to Maryland Avenue and Flamingo Road that he'd sobered up enough to count his money from the Gold Spike. He opened his wallet and found six-hundred dollars in twenties. Right on!
        "I'm fuckin' loaded!" He screamed into the dark urban side streets.
        All at once, the sky lit up like a camera flash. A sharp pain ran from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. Then everything went black.

        Mike stayed in his room and counted the money he had lifted off his friends on Thursday afternoon.  It had been simple, really.  While we were getting ready for dinner, he stopped by under the pretense of checking in on us. When we weren't looking, he removed most, but not all, of our winnings. He left us just enough to let us get into trouble, and so we wouldn't notice until later in the evening, when we'd either be drunk, confused or suspicious that one of the Foxy Girls had robbed us.
        Mike wasn't after the money. He had taken it purely out of a heartfelt concern for himself.  What he really wanted was to turn Steve's weekend into a living hell. The desire germinated on the drive to town when he discovered he'd no longer get the groom's extra baseball tickets. He became more determined to destroy Steve's life after he realized he'd no longer be welcome to crash on the couch, or use Steve's fridge to store biohazard waste and fishing worms.
        He had watched a documentary a month earlier about religious cults and how they subjected potential members to squalid conditions and lack of sleep to weaken them. Feeble, hungry and scared, the victims were far more likely to break down. Mike thought that by the end of the weekend, he could convince Steve never to marry.
        His cellphone vibrated on the nightstand. It was Steve's fiancée. She was responding to the latest batch of incriminating pictures Mike had sent her, the ones with the shamrock cocktail and the sinister drink, and of a drunken Steve trying to shove a dollar coin into a cocktail waitress's blouse. Mike had been sending a steady stream all weekend: from the Joker's Wild, the hot tub party in the Rio, Foxy Girls, drinking Four Loko, panhandling with the Jack of Clubs and the Western.
        "Thought you might want to know," he texted with each set of pictures. This was his Plan B: in case he couldn't break Steve, he'd make him undesirable.  Steve's fiancée had tried calling dozens of times, but Mike didn't answer. She sent dozens of texts asking what was happening, who were these topless girls, why wasn't anyone returning her calls, and could Mike please ask Steve to call her. Mike just kept sending lurid, inappropriate photographs.
        He took out his laptop and opened up his photo editor. If the truth of the pictures didn't sicken Steve's fiancée, this modified batch would.

        The sun woke Dan. He found himself wedged between a bus bench and a wall with a throbbing scone-sized lump on his head. He pulled himself up and discovered his wallet was empty. In its place, the mugger had left a slip of paper that said "Yoinks."
        Dan was crushed. He looked around for any sort of clue as to who stole his money but he found none.  Anyway, his head ached so much that everything was shiny, blurry and surrounded by a red corona. There was little for him to do but ride the bus back to the Hilton and tell his friends what happened.
        When he put his hands in his pockets he felt a wad of paper.  He pulled out a crumpled twenty, then another, followed by a one-hundred dollar bill and another. With each one, his head hurt a little less. He held the money up to make sure it wasn't a mirage. It wasn't.
        "Bitchin!" he shouted out. "I'm still sort of fuckin' loaded!"
        All at once, the sky lit up like a camera flash. A sharp pain ran from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. Then everything went black.

        "Your ears are crooked," Jeff said to Jerry.
        Jerry made an adjustment and asked, "How about now?"
        He got a thumbs up. The two of them walked across the Hilton parking lot, wearing their new acquisitions. Jeff had a "Deep Space Nine" era phaser strapped to his Bermuda shorts and Spock ears on his head. Jerry wore some of Deanna Troi's Lycra blue-green casual wear and his own pair of ears.
        Hours earlier, the trench coated man had led them to an unmarked van at the edge of the Hilton's lot, all the time speaking of the rarity of his memorabilia and which episodes they were from. The two boys promised themselves to be resolute and bargain hard, but when the van door slid open the treasures within melted them.  They wanted everything: the phasers, the communicators, the prosthetic Klingon foreheads, Seven of Nine's undergarments and the tribble pelts.
        By morning Jeff and Jerry had spent all they had won and then some. They probably should have wondered about the authenticity, given that the Spock Ears had "Made in China" stamped on the lobes, but they were too excited. They couldn't wait to see Steve's expression when they gave him the coffee cup with Lt. Uhura's lipstick stain on the rim.

        Phil and the King of Clubs sat on the roof of the Hilton with their feet dangling over the edge. They smoked White Owl cigars and watched the sun rise over the Las Vegas Valley. The King held a deck of cards in his hand. He rubbed the King and Queen of Clubs together.
        "...And that's how little twos and threes are made," he said.
        Phil rubbed his chin. "I understand now. Thank you."
        "Think nothing of it." The King riffled the deck and let the cards flutter out into the air and spin down to earth. "Fly away. You're free now."
        Earlier, Phil and he had bought every deck they could from gift shops and vending machines, about 250 in total. The plan was to free their family from the servitude of blackjack and poker. Phil picked one up and chucked it overhand. He shouted, "You are emancipated!"
        The deck flew out and then down, gathering speed until it crashed onto the pavement barely a foot from an elderly man loading his suitcase into a trunk.
        "Open the pack before releasing them, boy," instructed the King.
        Phil and the King littered the dawn sky with their relatives and enemies and watched as the cards settled on the lawn, parking lot and casino roof.
        The King puffed out a smoke ring and watched it diffuse. "Did you find what you were looking for?"
        "I did, your highness." For the first time all weekend, Phil felt complete. Skittles couldn't fill the pit, and neither could liquor and gaming. But finding who he really was did. So did learning where baby cards came from. And they still had more than a hundred decks to scatter.

        As retirees filtered into the sportsbook to bet on the early east coast horse races, a bleary-eyed Ghizal approached a betting window with his pile of betting tickets. He had been there all night, wagering on southern hemisphere marsupials with names like "Leafburner", "Satan's Fuzzy Friend" and "NotaDamnBear". He hadn't won once.
        He set the inch-thick stack of tickets on the counter. "Do they drug test those little rodents?"
        "All results are final," said the cashier. He was the same man who had introduced Ghizal to koala racing, and had sold all the race tickets. He was now at the end of his shift.
        "Some of those koalas are juicing." Ghizal pounded his fist on the counter. "They don't get arms like that just sleeping in trees all day."
        "Nothing I can do."
        In frustration, Ghizal ripped up his tickets and threw them into the air. He wondered how anyone could lose 62 straight bets. It defied all laws of probability, especially considering that, by the end, he had started to get a good handle on it. 

        By the eighth restaurant, Robert realized that Vegas was not just downtown and the Strip. It sprawled in all directions far enough to spin the taxi meters higher and higher.  By the seventh TGI Fridays, he was both nearly broke and sick from the fatty food. 
        He discovered that he'd have to walk and maybe talk his way onto buses to conserve enough cash to earn his final Stripes.  It only took 10 minutes of walking before the food finally had its say.  The food came shooting back up onto the sidewalk, a shower of fries, grease, and fruity syrup that left a colorful sticky spray over a wide area.  Then he resumed the long trek towards Stripe number eight.

        "Sir? Sir?" said a young woman in a trim business suit with a clipboard. She stood next to the video poker machine where Matt had fallen asleep. He didn't stir, so she gently tapped him on the shoulder. He awoke, aware that he was in a casino but not knowing which one.
        "Good morning, sir," the woman said brightly. "My name is Cindy Martin. I'm your casino host."
        "Don't bother calling security. I'm going," Matt said. His head throbbed, as though someone had replaced his brains with a pound of rocks.
        "No, sir!" Cindy handed him her business card. "We want to thank you for your loyalty to the Las Vegas Hilton."
        "Hilton, huh?" Even his teeth hurt. "I thought it smelled funny."
        "I want to offer you a penthouse suite for the remainder of your stay, and complimentary dining in our many fine restaurants."
        "Why the hell would you do that?" He tried to lift his head and found it glued to the machine with drool. He left a small patch of skin and stubble on the "max coins" button.
        "For your exceptional play, of course." Cindy ran her finger down a column of numbers on her clipboard. "You ran over $32,000 through this game in the last six hours."
        Matt's cheek turned red. Not from embarrassment, but from blood from where he'd torn the skin.  "You're thinking of someone else. I don't have that kind of money."
        Cindy nodded, "Well, you did hit five royal flushes and--" she read off the sheet, "it looks like eight four of a kinds with the double bonus."
        The news jolted Matt like a black cup of coffee.  "Wait. So how much did I win?"
        "A little over $31,000," said the woman.
        Matt leapt to his feet, sending the rocks in his skull rolling in every direction and making him feel like he might vomit. "Where is it?"
        "It's in the machine."
        "Open it up then." He hooked his fingernails under the game's bezel and pulled.
        "According to the records, between 3:15 and 5:24 a.m., you played perfectly. At your peak, you had $17,247 in credit. But from then until 9:47 a.m., you lost almost every hand." The young woman flipped a few pages. "In fact, you didn't draw any cards at all. You just kept re-dealing."
        They both looked at the patch of skin on the "max coins" button. Matt felt sick. He bent over, put his hands on his knees and took a deep breath. He did it very slowly so as not to disturb the rocks.  "Why didn't someone stop me when I was winning?"
        "We're offering you the presidential suite for as long as you'd like to stay."

        The phone woke Steve from a wonderful dream of coconuts and suckling pig.  The sun was up and his room glowed with the light that leaked through the curtains. He rolled over and picked up the receiver.
        "Steve?" It was his fiancée.
        Steve's heart pounded and endorphins coursed into his system from the joy of hearing her voice.  "I've missed you so much. I haven't had a single intellectual conversation since we left Orange County. Why didn't you call me sooner?"
        "I tried calling your cell about a hundred times."
        "Didn't you get Mike's message?"
        There was a cold silence. Finally, she said, "I've gotten all his messages."
        "Then you knew my phone got destroyed."
        "He didn't tell me that. He only sent photos."
        "Uh." Steve's heart sank faster than a twelve-ounce torpedo sinker off the side of a deep-sea boat. "What photos?"
        "Oh, Steve," she said, "I don't care about any of that. I don't care if you wanted one last fling, one wild weekend with your Neanderthal friends, drinking contraband liquor, seeing naked women and whatever it is you were doing with the horse in that one picture."
        "But I have to know, do you still want to get married?"
        "Of course I do. Why would you even ask that?"
        "I just got a call from the Hilton Waikoloa Village. They said you canceled our honeymoon reservation."
        Steve felt his blood pressure rising. "I didn't do that."
        "They said you used the loyalty points for nine rooms at the Las Vegas Hilton instead. That's how I knew where to get a hold of you."
        Steve became so angry he screamed "Miiiiiiiike!" and threw the phone across the room. Then, realizing his fiancée was still on the other end, he got on his hands and knees behind the chair and spoke into the broken pieces.
        "Sorry about that. Are you still there?"
        The response from the damaged handset sounded like the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon.
        "I love you, I still want to marry you, I'll call you back after I go break someone's face."

        Mike woke up to pounding on his door.  He had fallen asleep hours ago, shortly after seeing what it felt like to roll around in hundred dollar bills like Scrooge McDuck.  It felt pretty great.
        "No maid service today, please."
        The pounding continued along with indecipherable growling. Mike scrambled to pick up the money and stuff it into his bag. There was a crack of wood as the doorframe split under the relentless banging.
        He opened the door and Steve hurtled into the room, a dervish of fists and spittle. The furious groom ripped the sheets from the bed. He ripped the mattress from the box spring. He tried to lift the box spring, but it was fixed to the floor so he overturned the table and kicked the wall.
        "You! Hurk! Dead! Blaggggg! Waikaloa! Urnggggg!"
        "Slow down, slow down," Mike said as he ducked for cover behind the chair. "What did Matt do now?"
        Steve kept smashing. He punched a hole in the ceiling, kicked the wall and ripped the shower curtain off the rod. After five minutes and about $1500 in damage, Steve finally stopped the rampage to catch his breath. He sat on the edge of the box spring and put his head in his hands. Mike remained behind the chair.
        "I just talked to my fiancée."
        "But your phone."
        "She called me. Guess how she knew where to reach me."
        Mike had hoped Steve wouldn't learn of his Machiavellian machinations until after they got home. Still, he liked to think all of his underhanded work did the trick.
        "The wedding is off then?"
        Steve glared at Mike. "The wedding is still on."
        Mike's heart sank. "Oh, good."
        Still glaring, the groom coldly instructed Mike, "Tell your stupid friends to meet me in the stupid lobby in thirty dumb minutes."

        Mike got to most of us shortly after we returned to our rooms from the night's activities. Ghizal, Jeff and Jerry had been able to crawl into bed and sleep for a few minutes. He found Matt crying at his door, trying to stick his finger into the card reader. Dan sat slumped at his desk, holding an ice bucket to his head. Robert sat on the bathroom tile, doubled over and moaning. Phil was furiously rubbing the Queen and King of Hearts together and trying to record it with his camera. 
        None of us wanted to get up and we still had a solid hour before checkout time, but Mike lured us to the lobby by saying, "Steve's going to lose his shit." Nobody wanted to miss that, and we felt sorry for the sucker who would be at the receiving end.
Steve expresses his deep gratitude for the weekend.
Steve expresses his deep gratitude for the weekend.
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        The casino floor was quiet, save for the early birds playing roulette or trying their luck at the slots on the way to brunch. The lobby had a steady stream of new guests checking in and old guests checking out.  When the rest of us arrived, Steve was already there, muttering under his breath. He directed us to sit down on the cold floor.
        Jeff and Jerry presented Steve with the coffee mug.
        "Oh, coffee, thank you. Wait, it's empty."
        Jeff said proudly, "That's Lt. Uhura's official mug. Look at the--"
        "--Gross. It's dirty," interrupted Steve with a grimace. He rubbed the lipstick off the rim.
        "No!" Jeff and Jerry shouted in unison. But it was too late; the DNA and makeup of the alluring actress Nichelle Nichols were smeared on the hem of Steve's shirt.
        "Now we'll never be able to clone her," whined Jerry.
        "Just sit down with the rest of them," ordered Steve. We sat on the cold marble and he paced in front of us for a few seconds. " I wanted to thank you--thank you for these last three days of pure hell, for nearly ruining my wedding, and for violating ever single one of the ground rules I established."
        "You're welcome," said Phil.
        "Shut up."
Steve speaks.
Steve has even more gratitude.
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        Dan said, "That's it, Steve. Let it out. It feels good, doesn't it, to share your feelings, to communicate? Now, I'd like to say-"
        "You too," snapped Steve with an icy glare.
        Dan stopped, but he gave the groom a "thumb's up" to let him know all this communicating was still a good thing.
        Steve had a lot more he wanted to say about the weekend, about the disrespect his so-called friends showed him, the violation of his rules, how he suspected they never meant to honor his wedding, how much he hated biscuits and gravy, how ugly the coffee mug was, how his head was full of horrible images he'd never be able to shake, how he found himself craving more Four Loko, how his honeymoon was ruined with the hotel canceled, how he probably wouldn't be able to afford to pay for his tuxedo, and how a rash was forming on his thighs and he didn't know if it was from Foxy Girls or the Hilton pool.
        He found a way to sum it all up. "You guys suck and you aren't my friends."
        Steve stormed off, across the lobby and out the hotel's front doors, leaving us sitting on the floor.
        "See you at the wedding," Ghizal shouted after him.
        Robert said. "It's gonna be an awesome wedding." Everyone agreed.
       Then Robert threw up a deep-fried onion and it was time to go home.