By Gayle Carline
Darn this cold. Reuben stood and lifted the collar on his borrowed jacket. Even the glare of a new day’s sun was not enough to banish the chill. Where was everybody? Something shiny caught his attention.
He reached down to the curb, cold stiff fingers trying to pick up the metal object. It seemed to be stuck to the pavement, glued by the flotsam and jetsam of city life, layers of dirt and grease and human bondage. His fingernails dug at the hard edge until he managed to pry the silvery coin loose from the concrete.
A quarter — he recognized it as he straightened. One of the new ones, Reuben flipped it over and saw the horses, running from the sunrise. Nevada, the Silver State, it said.
High, staccato music from the casino beckoned him frantically, urgently, atonally. He had just left Buffalo Bill’s, having kissed his last dollar good-bye. From experience, he knew that he couldn’t wander, penniless, through the slot machines and tables for very long. The employees knew him too well; they’d ask him to leave sooner or later. He’d like it to be later, since his short-sleeved polo shirt didn’t keep him very warm at five in the morning. Not in Vegas.
He had spotted Carl, the night manager, walking through the poker slots. Reuben knew Carl well, knew the way he’d start a friendly conversation that would end with, “Buddy, I think it’s time you went home. Want me to call the shelter?” As he headed toward the door, Reuben had seen a windbreaker draped on a chair.
“This place owes me something for all the money I’ve spent here,” he had mumbled to himself, and casually picked up the jacket as he exited the building.
A car horn blasted his eardrums as tires kicked up gutter water onto his stained chinos. The taxi woke Reuben from his trance, a dark-skinned driver herding him away from the well-dressed, well-drunk customers with a yell. Reuben waved his hand angrily and yelled something back, unintelligible even to him.
He stared back down at the quarter. Three years ago, he’d come here with ten thousand dollars and a plan to turn it into more. With Vegas’ help, he was going to buy back his house, buy back his family, buy back his life. Vegas was supposed to save him.
It only took a week to break him.
“How you doing tonight?” Carl asked, laying his hand on Reuben’s shoulder. “You need a ride to the shelter, buddy?”
Reuben turned and stared through him. He used to be able to talk to people, but he just couldn’t see anyone’s face anymore.
“How about I give you a voucher for breakfast?” Carl reached into his pocket. “You look like you could use a hot meal.”
Reuben continued to stare. “I got a quarter,” he said, his words drifting at the manager.
“That’s great, buddy. You put that in your pocket, and I’ll get you some breakfast.”
“I got a quarter.” The sentence became a prayer.
Carl sighed. He loved his job, loved watching the people having fun, and hated what it did to guys like Reuben.
“Okay, buddy. Let’s go pick a machine for you.”
“I got a quarter,” Reuben repeated, following the manager back into the casino. A Nevada quarter, he thought. It was karma. It was fate.
This time it would be different.