“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” said Zack.
“Man, you always say that. One day you might just fall right off the edge, dude, and it could be a long drop.”
“Don’t worry so much Kalvin, we’ll get the money.”
“What the hell are you talking about? If we don’t have $120.00 by one o’clock they’re gonna lock us out and then what?”
“I know how motels work dude. We got nearly five hours…plenty of time.”
“Plenty of time for what?” said Kalvin as he stood up from the counter and pulled out two dollars from his pocket for his meal. He placed it next to the check. They always had the $1.99 steak and eggs special and sat at the counter avoiding the long line for a table.
“How much money do you have left?” asked Zack as he counted a few crumpled bills he had left in his pocket.
“How much? Are you fucking serious?” Kalvin was put off with Zack’s attitude.
“How much?” repeated Zack.
Kalvin held up his last dollar and stared directly into Zack’s eyes. He couldn’t help but think that it was just a matter of time before that too would disappear like all the other money recently blown.
“Damn…I got the same,” Zack admitted.
“So, we got like two bucks to our name?” confirmed Kalvin. It was a sad truth.
After all the confidence Zack had portrayed, he knew reality was about to hit them square in the face like a stinging winter breeze. Zack had no plan B or C. Approaching was an inevitable storm that carried an eviction from the seedy Sky Ranch Motel on Freemont Street. The Horseshoe was their favorite casino not just because it was close and had a two-dollar steak and eggs, which you couldn’t make yourself at home at that price, but Binion’s Horseshoe was one of the original casinos downtown. Besides, they loved to play quarter craps on that one table, just feet from the sidewalk on Freemont Street. The Horseshoe was old school Vegas and Zack and Kalvin were old school even at the ripe age of 23.
There would be no craps today. The two partiers had all the fun they were going to have for a while. They loved to play but now it was time to pay and they didn’t have the cash for the seedy little motel mostly occupied by drug dealers, prostitutes and transients like Kalvin and Zack. It was crappy but it was home.
After weeks nourished on little more than LSD, speed, cocaine and plenty of weed, the money had run out. There was not enough pot left to keep the money rolling as it had for so long. Too much partying, too many misappropriations and too little foresight had left the two young men with only two bucks and the side exit before them. With bellies full and their future grim the only thing on their minds as they walked by the dollar black jack tables, was smoking the after breakfast bowl. They usually took the elevator to the top of the parking garage but today they were simply going to slip out the side door of the gift shop, dejected and uncertain of what their future held.
The men were less than twenty feet from that door when they came upon the one, lone roulette table. Their gait was slow and reluctant knowing that once outside the warm, safe confines of the gambling house, the stark reality of the cold, hard streets of Vegas was all that awaited them.
Like a subject reacting to the snap of a hypnotist’s fingers, Kalvin suddenly stopped and fixed on the silver ball circling the spinning wheel of fortune. It then slowly descended, hit the wheel and took the usual bounces from one number to another before finally finding a resting place.
“Twenty seven Red!” Barked the dealer.
Twenty-seven was Zack’s birthday as coincidence would have it, but the significance of synchronicity meant little to Zack. He knew that roulette had the very worst odds for a table game in Vegas, only fools and tourists played that game. Disheveled, he turned his eyes upon Kalvin who was already looking at him with his trademark grin. Zack didn’t like it, but he knew what Kalvin was thinking.
“Well…?” asked Kalvin.
He rolled his eyes before considering Kalvin’s proposition. There was little time to think it over; the dealer spun the steel ball. As usual, it was a ghost town in the casino that Monday morning, nobody was playing roulette. The friction of the ball was deafening.
“What do we got to lose?” said Kalvin.
“Like everything,” said Zack as the ball circled for a third time.
“Everything? As in two bucks? Are you serious?”
The ball was on its sixth revolution, Zack knew it would soon drop as he pondered Kalvin’s logic.
“What the fuck” said Zack and handed Kalvin his very last dollar and without thought, Kalvin placed two bucks on number 29.
“Money plays” affirmed the dealer.
“Twenty-nine, why twenty-nine?” asked Zack.
“It’s not just twenty nine, it’s twenty-nine the black.”
The black? What did that mean?
The young gamblers and longtime dopers were tore up and had not slept in days. They stared at the silver ball as it circled slower and slower, almost in slow motion, as they knew a penniless future was only seconds away.
The centrifugal force that held the sphere on edge gave way to gravity. The ball fell. It bounced, bounced twice more and popped to the other side of the wheel. The steel sphere reluctantly hopped back and forth between several numbers before it eventually came to its final resting place before the bloodshot eyes of the scruffy stoners.
“Twenty nine black!” shouted the dealer.
“Oh my God! I can’t fucking believe it!” exclaimed Zack.
The two slackers shouted out in exuberance, whooping and screaming as if they had just won the lottery. In reality, they had only won seventy dollars. It wasn’t all the scratch they needed but it was a good start. The two ponied up to the roulette table and sat with a new attitude. In just three more spins, they stacked their winnings to over $143.
“Dude, it’s time to go,” he said nudging Kalvin in the ribs with his elbow.
“Cummon man, we’re on a lucky streak. We gotta ride this one out!” Kalvin had the fever.
“Dude, we got the rent money plus. It’s time to cash out.”
“Okay…just one more,” said Kalvin as he placed a stack of chips on twenty-seven, knowing Zack would have to let that one go.
“Alright…common twenty-seven!” Zack shouted. He turned to Kalvin and smiled. It was mission accomplished just like he said, he wore pride his like a crown. No matter what, they had the rent money and would be safe at home
The shiny ball fell again and barely bounced twice before lodging in the green square that was marked zero. In true Vegas style, the dealer swooped up the chips and politely asked the gentlemen “another bet?”
“Nope” said Kalvin unfazed.
“We’re going to color up” touted Zack. That meant taking their pink chips used for roulette and trading them for real casino chips.
“Cash out sir?” asked the dealer.
“Yes please!” replied Kalvin. “Thank you sir!” he politely added gathering the chips.
The two dudes walked to the cashier’s cage with a spring in their step. Everything was different. Being on the precipice of certain desperation was a distant memory. What a difference a hundred and thirty seven dollars could make. The stoners were feeling like high rollers with their heads up and steps deliberate. They felt like high rollers but were anything but. The one thing they were however… was high, and it was time to get even higher.
Instead of turning right at the gift shop and heading out the side exit, the potheads stopped short, stepped into the elevator, and rode it to the top.
“Twenty nine, the black!” shouted Kalvin pumping his fist.
Zack just smiled and held up his hand, the high five came immediately.
“I told you we would get the money,” boasted Zack. “I told you…do not doubt me.”
“Yeah right Nostra-Dumbass!”
“I’m just sayin…’”
“‘I’m just sayin’…what does that mean?” said Kalvin
The stainless steel doors opened revealing the crisp, cold air of that April morning. As the two walked out of the elevator, the scent of charbroiled steak wafted to their noses. Binney Binion had his own ranch in Montana that supplied the delicious New York steak two-dollar special at the Horseshoe. The fragrance was unmistakable coming from the vent on the open parking area.
“Smell that?” asked Zack.
“Not the steak dude, good fortune,” said Zack with an air of poise.
“I’d rather be lucky than good. You know what I mean?” Said Kalvin, he realized how close they had come to being out on their asses. To Kalvin it was just dumb luck, emphasis on dumb. To Zack it was more.
“I hear you man. But I am talking about something else,” said Zack as he came to the edge of the structure. He placed his hands on one of the thick cables that bordered the outer rim of the parking area. He leaned over, looking down at the street forty something feet below.
“I’m just sayin’ dude, you think it was just a coincidence that we hit on that roulette table?”
“You could call it that. Yeah, a very lucky coincidence. Why, do you think it was something else?” said Kalvin as he also peered over.
“Yeah man. I think it happened for a reason. I mean…didn’t you feel it?”
“I don’t know. It’s hard to describe but right before that ball hit 29, ‘the black’ interrupted Kalvin. “After the ball hit 29, it was like…it was like the whole thing was playing out like a movie and I was just in the audience. It was like… we were just part of something bigger. It was like just before it hit, I could feel it. You know what I mean?”
“Dude, I don’t know what you’re feelin’, we’ve been up a long time. Don’t get me wrong dude I think everything happens for a reason but sometimes the reason is simply coincidence.”
“Yeah, maybe. But it felt like something else down there,” he said leaning over further.
“I don’t know what you’re thinkin’ dude. Do you actually expect me to believe that we were somehow destined to win that money by God?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we were.”
“I don’t think God approves of gambling dude,” pointed out Kalvin.
As Zack pondered the idea that God did or did not approve of vices such as gambling, sex or drug use he remembered why he was there. He reached into his front pocket and pulled out his trusty sneak-a-toke that was freshly loaded and ready to go.
“Think about it dude, why did you choose twenty-nine? I’m not too sure what God approves of. I am not too sure there even is a God if you wanna go that far. I’m just saying that what happened down there in the casino was special.”
Zack lit the pipe, pulled hard and passed it to his best friend. He was sure there was nothing wrong with smoking weed. Especially this weed, it was good on so many levels. As he slowly exhaled he continued talking with that stoner, ‘I’m trying to hold in the hit while talking’, dialect.
“Either way…we got the bread!” was barely out of his mouth before the hit bursted out and coughing ensued.
Kalvin followed in the same forced, stoner speak “Hell yeah, we got the dough!”
That’s when the stress that had built up, transformed into uncontrollable laughter. They giggled as if they had just gotten away with some dastardly deed. The laughing didn’t keep them from finishing the pipe load however. Kalvin and Zack were serious smokers.
The clock/thermometer poised on top of the Freemont read 8:56 and 52 degrees. The boys were stoned to the bone with bellies full ready to make their next move. After lighting up their proverbial after smoke out cigarette, a plan of action needed to be discussed.
As usual, Zack spoke first “So I guess its back to the Sky Ranch.”
“I guess,” said Kalvin, with an unmistakable look in his eye. Zack smelled what he was cooking.
“You wanna call Mary, don’tcha?” he said
“I’m just sayin’, the rent isn’t due till one right?” said Kalvin.
“I’m just saying…,” smiled Zack. “Dave is still lookin’ to pick up?” he knew the deal.
The two were like separate parts of the same mind even though the young men appeared to be polar opposites. Kalvin standing at five foot nine, slender with long blonde hair styled in the usual feathered back fashion had light blue eyes and a big pearly white smile. He was very handsome with sharp features. Whereas Zack stood a few inches taller, also thin, but with very short brown hair and green, piercing eyes. His softer face wasn’t hard to look at. The two were charismatic but in very different ways. Zack just put it all out there and let the chips fall where they may, confident in his observations and his wit. He could offend or just as easily hit a funny bone the right way. Kalvin was more thoughtful and discerning. He always was thinking one or two steps ahead. His wit was more considerate and dry. They were both ladies’ men but Zack wouldn’t realize it for years to come. Kalvin was a smooth operator and could easily talk a girl out of her prudence.
“I’m just saying’,” echoed Kalvin.
“Okay, let’s go to the room. If you can set it up, we’ll let it roll.”
“As easy as cake” said Kalvin.
“You mean ‘easy as pie’.”
“Pie? You ever tried to bake a pie? Cake is way easier,” he said with an ‘I know something you don’t know’ look.
Kalvin had been a cook and had gone to a trade school for culinary arts. Kalvin knew a few things well…weed, women and food. As for weed, Kalvin wanted to take the roulette winnings and parlay the money on another sack of weed for Motorcycle Dave. Kalvin’s dealer was the best connect in Vegas as far as he was concerned. He could buy a half-ounce sack for sixty bucks and flip it for $120. It was a great return. The smoke was a tasty, sweet California red hair sensimilia. Anyone could get Mexican dirt weed for $100 an ounce but sweet weed that Mary had could easily fetch sixty bucks a quarter.
“You got me there,” confessed Zack. “Let’s do it.
“Right on dude, if Dave’s not around or already copped we’ll just pay the room. We’ll be cuttin’ it close but I’m sure it’ll all work out,” reassured Kalvin.
“If you’re not livin’ on the edge…”
Kalvin finished, “You’re taking up too much space, I know dude, I know.”
The plan wasn’t risky. Kalvin and Zack had been flipping weed for years, sometimes making cash, sometimes making smoke. They were well connected and in Vegas it’s not what you know, but who you know.
Fact was Zack had been living on the edge for most of his young life. After his parents divorced at age five, there was never enough room to grow roots. Change was the norm. New towns, new schools and new friends were always the same old thing. Soon after the divorce, his mom remarried and decided to pack up and head west to California leaving Chicago, the only place Zack and his little sister Rachel had ever known.
Living in Las Vegas since age eleven gave Zack an unparalleled education. Back then, most folks found it hard to believe that people actually lived in Sin City, but in 1981 there were over 100,000 making their lives in The Meadows. At 23, he had graduated from the school of hard knocks in a city of nearly half a million. He majored in hustling with minors in adaptation and marijuana marketing. Kalvin was the perfect partner in crime, meticulous, personable and thrifty, considering every dollar. Even though both of them were smarter than the average bear, they were just stupid enough to often learn the hard way.
The two dopers walked the few blocks to the dreary little hole in the wall. It wasn’t much but it was a place to hang their hat. The rent would soon be paid. Fortunately, the room included housecleaning service. The maid was a blessing. It kept quarrels to a minimum between the roommates since they were a stoned out version of the Odd Couple. There was obsessive/compulsive Kalvin playing Felix the hyper-considerate clean freak and of course, there was Zack who proudly starred as Oscar the often lazy and less than tidy partner.
“Home sweet home,” said Zack as he entered the room. Cheap renderings of desert landscapes were screwed to putrid walls colored in a pale shade of avocado. The matching green shag carpet reflected the age of the downtown dive probably decorated back in the seventies.
Immediately Kalvin grabbed the phone and started to work his magic.
“Wassup dude? You still lookin’?” He paused. “One-twenty? Yeah, same ol’ same ol’.
Right on, see you in a minute,” and with that, a deal almost done.
“Alright,” said Zack with a grin. “So bust it out,” he urged . He was referring to the last little bit of speed that Kalvin was holding. It was hardly enough for two tiny lines but Kalvin had an adept ability to never waste drugs and always kept a little stashed for times like this. Even though the boys ranked as hard-core partiers, they knew how to pace themselves and knew when it was time to eat or sleep. Now, it was time to do one last blast.
Kalvin pulled a small folded piece of paper out of his wallet. He emptied the contents on the nightstand. He carefully rubbed the paper against itself to secure every last crumb of off-white powder. Then began the ritual; Kalvin’s chopping, scraping and re-chopping, always exasperated Zack.
“Cummon dude, just make the damn lines. How much you gotta chop it up?”
“Almost there…” said Kalvin but Zack knew better. Two minutes passed before the two tiny lines of crank were ready, in Kalvin’s opinion, to be snorted.
The speed disappeared with two quick whiffs. Reenergized, Kalvin grabbed the keys to his truck and his hair brush. When Kalvin brushed his hair, it was an affair. He stood in front of the mirror and commenced the brushing ritual. First, he brushed the left side ten strokes and then the right side, ten more. He then put his head down brushing his hair backwards, ten strokes. Then, he flipped his head back and with a couple more strokes on each side and the rite was complete. Kalvin was as bad as any female when it came to his hair.
“I’ll be right back” whispered Kalvin.
“Okay” said Zack with a hush “no funny stuff”
“Easy squeezy” faintly replied Kalvin.
“Why are we whispering?” said Zack
Kalvin cleared his throat “Uh…hmm, I don’t know” he said with normal volume.
“Whatever dude. I’m going to take a shower. See you in twenty?”
“Yeah if that, in and out…nobody gets hurt,” assured Kalvin with a confident smile.
“Alright, see you then.”
“Later” said Kalvin. He exited.
Zack jumped in the shower to wash off days of filth and debauchery. It had all started with dropping acid with sweet Michelle. She was the blonde beauty who worked as a bus girl at Arizona Charlie’s with Zack. Her jealous girlfriend; who happened to be his boss eventually fired Zack. They had tripped all night long and eventually ended up naked in the room’s pitch-black closet. It was Zack’s version of a sensory deprivation tank. The lovers had traveled to some unworldly, magical dominion. The two trippers were about to attain an inexpressible state of celestial, consciousness…when Kalvin opened the door to reveal two lovers entwined in a psychedelic sexcapade. Kalvin had notorious timing.
Michelle left in a huff after Kalvin gave a less than sincere apology. Kalvin thought it hilarious. Zack, like so many times before, let that one go. Soon after, the boys drove to hit the felt and score a little speed at the Cue Club, their favorite place to shoot eight ball.
A couple of racks turned into four hours tweaking on beige felt. The only thing that stopped them was the unrelenting desire to smoke a joint. One thing always seemed to lead to another with these two. What started as a quick trip to the truck to burn a joint ended up as another stoned out odyssey.
There was a mysterious clicking sound coming from somewhere in the truck. It turned into an insolvable enigma. At one point Zack was hanging out of the truck giving repeated commands to Kalvin to speed up, slow down, turn left and turn right. He had his head inches from the parking lot pavement listening for a sound emanating from some unseen part of Kalvin’s little white pick-up.
It was a spectacle. The truck meandered all about the empty parking lot doing figure eights, large loops, stopping and going, going and stopping. This went on for nearly an hour straight before Zack, high as a kite, finally figured out that it was a case of loose lug nuts coming from the passenger’s front wheel. Duh.
With the mystery solved, the tweekers were compelled to hit the Showboat Hotel and Casino for a little seven card stud. They fancied themselves poker players extraordinaire but that was about as close to the truth as saying that Michal Jordan was a great baseball player. Both of these fallacies eventually proved themselves false. After an eight-hour session of average poker playing, Zack and Kalvin found themselves exhausted, depressed and less the money that had been set aside for rent. At least Michael Jordan could fall back on basketball. ‘Vegas Zack and Kalvin the Kid’ had nothing to fall back on. In fact, they came teetering close to the abyss of homelessness when Zack suggested steak and eggs at the Horseshoe.
He knew that he and Kalvin had been pushing their luck for a while. He also recognized if not for twenty-nine, the black, they would’ve been in a world of hurt about now, as he finished rinsing the complimentary shampoo from his hair.
“How did I end up here?” he thought to himself as he stepped out of the shower.
“What the hell am I doing?” The thought had never really entered his mind before. He had been cruising a road to nowhere and the wheels had just about come off literally. There was a loud knock at the door.
After wrapping the towel around his waist, he looked through the peephole to make out the manager Ackmed, and he looked pissed.
“I’m in the shower!” he shouted through the door.
“That makes no difference to me.” Zack could see the furrowed unibrow of the immigrant.
“The rent was due at nine o’clock! No rent..No room!”
“What? The payment isn’t due until one!” shouted Zack. He then opened the door as far as possible with the chain still secured. He peered suspiciously at the bearded innkeeper.
“Nine o’clock sir, if you do not have payment this instant you will vacate the premises immediately or I will call the police, sir.”
“Just chill out man, my roommate is on his way with the bread man.”
“I will not chill out man, Sir, do you have the money or not?”
How this guy could be so polite while being such an asshole perplexed Zack. He also knew that when Kalvin came back he wouldn’t have the rent money. It was tied up in weed. This was going to require some smooth talking.
“Look man, it’s barely ten o’clock dude. We’ll have the $120 in no more than two hours, I promise man, sir.”
“I have no time for your promises. I will have this room ready in one half hour. You will vacate now or I will be forced to call the police!”
“What the…do what you gotta do Muhammad!” and with that Zack slammed the door in his face.
“I am sure the police will be happy to see you…to see you and all of your drugs!” came through the door. He then mumbled something in his native tongue. Zack was certain he was being cursed out in Pakistani or something.
It only took a nano-second before he realized that wasn’t exactly smooth talking. He had pretty much sealed his fate. He surmised it was now a matter of time before he would be talking to Metro. Big mistake. If he could just call Kalvin at Dave’s to let him know the wheels had fallen off. He didn’t have Dave or Mary’s number. He was screwed, and not the good kind of screwed.
It was go time, literally. Zack started packing their stuff and cleaning up any evidence that might even hint to drugs. Metro didn’t play. They would bust you for as little as two seeds. Zack was all too familiar with the war on drugs and it was a game he couldn’t afford to play again. And again, it was back on the edge.
In ten minutes, Zack had the entire room clean and their bags readied by the front door. He knew it wouldn’t be long before Metro would be knocking. They needed to get gone, and fast. Kalvin would be back but Zack wasn’t sure if he was coming back before going to Dave’s to drop off the weed or after. Timing would be everything. The good news was that Kalvin had left the scale and if Kalvin was up to his usual tricks, he would get a larger sack insuring extra weed to smoke. This would require him to buy more weed than planned. Kalvin had pulled stunts like this before and it had been a point of contention more than once. This time, Zack needed Kalvin to wheel and deal. The irony was deep because after the miracle at the Horseshoe, they were unquestionably on the same page but now it seemed unlikely that Kalvin would again go rouge. Hopefully, Kalvin needed the scale.
It had been less than fifteen minutes when unexpectedly Zack saw the little truck whip into the Sky Ranch. Their stuff was now piled outside, in front of the room.
Shock was plastered on Kalvin’s face before he even exited his truck.
“What the fuck dude?” predictably came out of his mouth. “Why’s our shit out here?”
“I dunno man. They said we gotta go.”
“Gotta go? Are you serious? What? Ya told him we got the money right?”
“You got the money?” said Zack, reanimated with hope.
“I didn’t say that. What I asked you is if you told him we had the money.”
“So you’re telling me you don’t have the money?” Zack now deflated.
“Dude…I gotta still drop it off at Dave’s. I need the damn scale!”
“So you went ahead and got more than we agreed, didn’t you?” he scolded. He didn’t want to let on that was exactly what he was wishing for.
“Dude…I got a killer fuckin’ deal. What the fuck?”
“It’s cool man. I am actually glad you came back.”
“Well gimme twenty minutes and I’ll go get the money. Simple,” said Kalvin with confidence.
The situation was more complicated than Kalvin knew. After the heated exchange with the manager, Zack knew that they were past the point of no return. Even if they had the cash at that moment and it was accepted, they were now under suspicion and it would be like living in a fishbowl with every move under certain scrutiny. Zack decided it was time to lie.
“Dude we don’t have that kinda time.”
“What?” Kalvin knew the other shoe was dropping. “What the fuck is going on man?”
“The manager said something like I know you guys are dealing drugs and if we don’t leave, like right now, he’s calling the cops”
“What the fuck?” said Kalvin throwing his hands up in the air. “He said something like?”
“He said he knows we are selling drugs dude” said Zack, the lie was complete.
“Well fuck man…we gotta get the hell outta here” concluded Kalvin.
At that very moment two squad cars pulled into the parking lot. Zack and Kalvin instantly threw their belongings in the truck bed.
“Did you get everything outta the room?”
“Roger!” assured Zack.
Three cops exited their cars and approached the manager’s office. The manager could be seen through the office window smiling as he greeted the officers. Before the cops had entered the office, the Chevy Luv was pulling out of the lot, exit stage left.