Fire ‘Em Up
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
Johnny Bravado entered the casino floor, strongly hoping that no one would look at his crotch. He had attempted to dry the white fabric of his trousers as best he could, would’ve gone home to change if he’d had the chance, but time was pressing. He needed winnings, and he needed them fast.
As always, walking through aisles filled with slot machines, he felt the constant change in temperature. Some machines were simmering, others freezing cold. The hot ones were the ones that usually received his attention. Tonight, however, he was looking for more than just hot. He was looking for scalding. Looking for fire. Small winnings wouldn’t do anymore, not with the debt he had to pay.
Johnny Bravado was gifted with the ability to ‘feel’ slot machines, and had all the potential to turn his winnings into a small fortune, if only he’d had the brains to back it up. Instead, he insisted on spending, or staking, his money on horse races. Johnny had a gift in that field as well. In all the years he’d visited it, he had managed to lose every single dollar in his pocket, every single time. The man was a legend, and not in the admirable kind of way.
Today, Johnny had carved his name in stone. He had been so sure of ‘Manic Mickey’, a fierce black stallion, that he had put down a million dollars. When Mickey came in last, the bad boys came to Johnny, demanding their pay. All Johnny had was one dollar, wet pants and a guarantee. He would turn it into a fortune before the day was over, “just you wait and see”.
From the corners of his eyes he could see his ‘escort’, two burly men with knuckles that seemed to make their living for them. Whichever machine he chose, he would have to make it count, and that’s when he spotted it. Full of potential, but with the most ridiculously uncommon pay-out one could imagine, the classic ‘Line ‘Em Up’ stared him right in the face, its promise of a million dollars for just a dollar largely advertised. Never before had it been any warmer than room temperature. Today it was ablaze, and even from his distance, Johnny’s cheeks flushed red. He felt the winnings that lay in store, his salvation, but he also felt the agony he would go through in order to get it. Johnny’s gift wasn’t only mental. It was physical, and exactly that was the reason he hadn’t gone for the millions before. Even playing a hot machine got him all blistered. This time, however, he’d have to play, no matter the third degree burns he might suffer. Mustering up the courage for it was something else.
“That was marvellous, Fran, the way you played the roulette.”
“Why, thank you, Georgia. Why don’t you give it a try as well?”
“No, no, I couldn’t. That is too risky. I think I will try the slots. That one.”
Johnny zoned in on the couple of old spinsters chatting away, and watched with growing dread as the short and plump one of the pair waddled steadily toward the inferno, unaware of the fortune lying in store for her. For him. For his creditors. The fortune that would save his life. He panicked. His shirt grew wet with sweat and he was sure that if he’d drunk anything, his pants would have received a rewetting as well. As if in slow-motion, he saw the lady reach into her purse and take out a dollar. She was almost there. It was now or never.
Johnny felt like he ran into a furnace. Screaming, he pulled out his one dollar, hardly seeing, and dove on the machine, pushing his competitor out of the way. His skin burned as he slid the dollar into the receiver. His eyebrows scorched away as he smashed the JACKPOT button, and with each halting of a wheel came a fresh burst of terrible hurting. Then it was over. Three chests of gold blinked at Johnny’s hairless, red face, and then the heat faded and was replaced by triumphant music and loads of ringing. He had won. He had crawled through the furnaces of Hell, but he had won. He was home free. He uttered a manic laugh, then dropped to the floor and closed his eyes.
“I’m sorry ma’am, but what happened?”
“This lunatic pushed me out of the way. I’d just put in a dollar and he pushed me.” The voice belonged to the little plump woman.
“Is this true, ma’am?” the floor attendant asked.
“Yes, sir, I saw it with my very own eyes,” the other spinster said. “He just bumped into Georgia here, then put in a dollar, but the machine did not accept it. It spit it right out.”
“I see. I will call security right away. Ma’am, I apologize for the inconvenience. The winnings, of course, are yours. Congratulations.”
Johnny dared not open his eyes. It was a dream. It had to be. It was all simply a very vivid, bad dream. He dreamt that the ladies cried out in joy. He dreamt that his own crumpled, rejected dollar landed on his face. Being dragged out and deposited on the sidewalk was also part of it all. That’s when he opened his eyes and saw the very real faces of his companions staring down at him. Their knuckles cracked.
At least someone would be earning a living tonight.