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Small--Town State of Mind

By CoreyTaylor All Rights Reserved ©

Romance

Prologue

For most, flashing lights, bells ringing and the roar of a crowded casino would make concentrating on a game of poker impossible. Lucky for Thomas Garrett he wasn’t most people. He sat at a poker table waiting for the staff to change shifts before the final game of the long night started.

It was down to Thomas and a fat guy in his fifties with a Brooklyn accent wearing a Boston Red Sox jacket. Thomas wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but even to him something about that seemed sacrilegious. He’d ask him about it when the time was right. Sitting back in the chair, he watched as the loud mouth Brooklynite waved and laughed at the final two players as they scurried away, dejected from the table. As much as Thomas hated to admit it, Brooklyn had a right to be cocky. The guy did manage to use his loudmouth to piss off the two college kids to the point they foolishly went all in. Their faces went pale when they realized what they had just done, but it was too late. They were finished.

The casino’s manager walked through the double-doors, immediately hurrying toward their table, with a bleached toothy grin on his face. Thomas couldn’t help but wonder if smiling like that hurt after awhile. Every one of his pearly whites was probably as phony as his personality. He reminded Thomas of a shifty car-salesman, right down to the puke-colored jacket.

“How you boys holding up?” the manager asked.

“I’m doing great,” Brookly boasted. “But you may want to check on those kids. I think they just lost their tuition money.”

The manager let out a forced dry laugh. It was obviously a pity laugh; only an idiot would believe it was real. Brooklyn beamed like a child whose mother was tussling his hair. The manager turned his attention and his smile to Thomas.

“You ready for the last game?”

Thomas was feeling the effects of staying up all night, which made him less than tolerant of dumb questions, especially from people who just spent all night sleeping while Thomas was up all night advancing through the tournament. He hated all-nighters. It was getting difficult to keep his eyes open, but he wasn’t ready to show his exhaustion just yet. Instead, he glared up at the manager and asked, “How’d you sleep?” being sure to add an extra bite to the word sleep.

“Oh it was rough. We have a newborn…” The manager stopped talking midsentence. “Oh,” the manager said catching Thomas’s glare before taking a step back.

“Well, the game’s about to begin, good luck to you both.” He then rushed to his spot front and center in the middle of the small crowd that had formed a few feet from the table.

A slim breathless blonde girl rushed into the casino, struggling to keep her auburn hair up in a ponytail as she practically leaped into the seat Brooklyn and Thomas wearing a white buttoned shirt, black vest, and black pants.

“Hi, I’m Kelly. I’ll be the dealer for the final game,” she mumbled softly, grabbing the unopened pack of cards that had been places at the table at the end of the previous gam and opened them. Her hands trembled as she emptied the pack of cards into her hand and slowly began to shu8ffle them. Brooklyn sighed, tapping his big bony fingers on the hardened edge of the poker table. Kelly fumbled with the cards, dropping a few back onto the green felt before scooping them back up. Brooklyn was making the girl nervous, and it was pissing Thomas off.

“Hey,” Thomas said softly, lowering his head to be eye level with her. “We have all day just breathe.” He gave an unusually warm smile. She offered a weak smile of her own, starting to shuffle faster now.

“Thanks,” she said just above a whisper. “I’m sorry I usually work nights, but have to work a few doubles here so I can get my crappy car fixed. I had to take a cab here and it was late getting me,” she said her voice cracking as if she was trying to control her emotions.

“It’s okay, darling. Luckily you’re sexy, so I’ll forgive you,” Brooklyn interrupted, eyeing her body like a lion hungrily eyeing an antelope.

“God, I hate this place,” she muttered softly looking quickly at Thomas.

Then why keep it?” he asked, generally curious.

“I’m only working here so I can get a new car and go back to school,” Kelly said in a hushed desperate tone, looking over at the manager. He was paying them no attention, deep in conversation with a journalist. Kelly looked up, catching Brooklyn grinning as he ogled her cleavage. Her head sank as she redirected her gaze back to the cards, her smile disappearing as quickly as it came.

Thomas was struggling to keep his cool, desperately wanting to reach across the table, rip Brooklyn’s arm out of its socket, and beat him to death with it. The girl was young enough to be his daughter, or granddaughter, for god’s sake. Shit, Thomas was only Twenty-nine, and she was too young even for him.

Not to say Thomas was a saint; he had been with his share of barely twenty-one-year-olds, but they weren’t nervous docile young ladies like Kelly. They were feisty, experienced party girls that were as outgoing as they were amorous. Kelly, on the other hand, reminded Thomas of a timid puppy, afraid of getting beat with a rolled up newspaper and Brooklyn was going out of his way to make her uncomfortable; grinning at her and slowly licking his lips.

Thomas hated his type, a rude loudmouth who enjoyed pushing shy women around to make her feel weak and defenseless. It was one thing that made Thomas see red.

“Come on, baby, how’ bout you hurry and get the game started, already,” Brooklyn practically ordered. Thomas felt his blood starting to boil. He had to remind himself that beating the shit out of the guy wouldn’t hurt him as bad as taking every penny he had would.

“We will be starting in just a minute, sir. I am so sorry for the wait,” Kelly said, the words very well rehearsed while holding her head up offering a sweet yet phony smile. Thomas couldn’t help but smirk.

“Just me and you pal,” Brooklyn barked at Thomas. What Brooklyn failed to notice was that all night while he was laughing and tormenting the staff and the other competitors, Thomas was sitting the same way he had all night, with a content almost stoned smile on his face, not letting Brooklyn get a read on his body language. No matter how aggravated Thomas had become over the night, once the games started Thomas became mute and nonresponsive to any of Brooklyn’s quips.

Thomas had a well-structured plan when he played cocky loud-mouth schmucks like Brooklyn. Step one of the plan was for the majority of the game, be silent. Barely say a word, and keep his eyes on the cards.

Step two; be able to control your emotions and manipulate your own body. After studying body language for years, Thomas knew how to manipulate his body language to throw off other players. If he had a bad hand, he didn’t show it, he stayed as relaxed as idle as when he had a good hand. Sometimes he’d bluff and give a sigh or rub his chin, making himself look anxious or uneasy.

Step three; watch his opponents like a hawk and whenever he saw other players start to fidget and look nervous or act overconfident, that was when he’d move on to step four.

After being silent and emotionless the whole game Thomas would start talking. This would usually throw them off. He loved messing with the cocky player’s heads. It was so easy.

Then if everything seems to be going in your favor the final step, go in for the kill. The final step was always a risky one but big risk big reward. Thomas would bluff his ass off by going all in completely throwing the other players off even more. The cocky loud-mouths were usually stubborn and pig-headed-the trains seemed to go hand in hand and just like that, the trap would be set.

Kelly started the game, each guy paying the blind. Her eyes remained on the table, hardly giving either players a second look. She put down a queen of clubs, queen of hearts, and a six of clubs to start the game off. Thomas and Brooklyn looked over the three cards showing, and the two cards in their hands.

Holding two jacks, Thomas raised one hundred dollars, letting out a long sigh, wanting to give a tiny hint of a bad hand. But as he watched Brooklyn shift in his seat, staring hard at his two cards, Thomas was getting a good read of his hand. It was as if Brooklyn was trying to use x-ray vision to change them. His poker face sucked. This was going to be easy.

Slowly stroking his neatly trimmed goatee, Thomas let out an almost inaudible groan, just loud enough to make sure Brooklyn could just barely hear it. He looked down at the cards on the table, doing everything he could to make sure Brooklyn thought he had a shitty hand.

“Getting nervous, boy? You can just fold like all the others,” Brooklyn boasted -at least to the untrained eye. Thomas saw it as him begging Thomas to end the game and put him out of his misery.

“Nope, I think I’m good. We should make this a quick game, though. So all these nice people can go on with their day,” Thomas said, watching Brooklyn’s grin only get bigger.

“Fine with me. I raise five hundred,” Brooklyn said, his pitch rising as he tossed a few chips into the center of the table. Thomas had him. Thomas could smell the bullshit a mile away. Silent but deadly had been a success. Brooklyn was an ass trying to seem like a big shot poker player but Thomas saw the truth. He was just someone who’d seen one too many poker tournaments on TV. It was time for step two. Ask about the jacket.

Thomas put in five hundred, before giving Brooklyn a curious look.

“There’s something I’ve wanted to ask you since we started.”

Kelly, the young doe-eyed dealer raised her eyes, watching him. She slapped the fourth and fifth cards down, a jack of hearts and a three of hearts.

Thomas had three of a kind and a pair. With a full house, his night was looking good. Wanting to throw Brooklyn off, he let a sly smirk appear for the slightest second, before clearing his throat and letting it fade. Brooklyn let out a loud laugh. A bit too loud, like someone overcompensating for a crappy hand.

“Well, so ask your damn question,” Brooklyn barked, raising his voice. Kelly looked toward Brooklyn, nervously.

“Sir, do you stand?” she asked in a shaky voice.

“Yeah, just hurry the hell up,” he snapped. A security guard roamed nearby, eyeing their table carefully. Clearly, Thomas wasn’t the only one who noticed Brooklyn getting aggravated. A mischievous smile danced across Thomas’s lips.

“Well, I just thought it was a little strange given the Boston Red Sox jacket, that your accent doesn’t sound Boston. From New York, right?”

“Yeah, born and raised,” he said eyes dancing over each card. Thomas smelled blood in the water.

“Born and raised in Brooklyn? Isn’t that Met’s country or maybe Yankees? Either way, it’s definitely not the place for a Red Sox fan. Oh, I’m all in, by the way,” he said with a blank, careless tone, pushing every cent of the ten grand worth of chips he had won over the course of the night into the center of the table.

Thomas yawned, rubbing his itchy eyes. He lifted his two cards off the table long enough to glance at the Jacks, stroking his chin, contemplating his next move.

Kelly and Brooklyn looked at Thomas. Kelly looked floored by Thomas’s potentially disastrous play and kept her lips tightly closed. Brooklyn was grinning ear to ear as if he had already won.

Brooklyn jumped up and pushed his chips into the middle. “I call.” His pile was noticeably smaller than Thomas’s mountain of chips. Kelly sat looking over the pile, taking note of the amounts.

“So? Why are you committing sacrilege?” Thomas asked Brooklyn. “Aren’t you breaking like Ten Commandments by wearing those colors in Brooklyn?”

“You better watch that mouth, boy; it will get you hurt. My father was a Red Sox fan; I inherited them from him.

”Okay,” the dealer said, raising her voice, not giving Thomas a chance to say anything else. “Mr. Garrett has gone all in with ten thousand, and Mr. Lombardi went all in with seven thousand, winner of this hand will get the seventeen thousand from this game as well as the twenty-five thousand dollar grand prize, winning a total of thirty-seven thousand dollars. Good luck to both of you,” she said, but looked directly at Thomas.

Brooklyn, also known as Mr. Lombardi, flipped his two cards. A five and a two of hearts. He had a flush.

It was show time. Thomas’s eyes went big, as he began to sputter and stutter. His hand shook as he stroked his goatee more aggressively, playing the part of the loser to a tee. Kelly looked at Thomas as if she saw a milk truck run over a puppy, watching the brains, guts, and vital organs splattered over the pavement.

“See what happens when you run your mouth, boy? You get a mouth full of foot,” Brooklyn said, reaching out for the piles of chips. Thomas slapped a hand down in front of him, shielding the chips from Brooklyn’s grasp. Thomas watched Brooklyn’s smile fade, before flipping his two jacks over, earning the full house and beating Brooklyn’s flush.

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time I tasted foot,” he said calmly, His shaky hands were now steady as a rock. Kelly pressed a button that made the casino erupt in a series of ringing bells and flashing lights. Leaning back in the seat, Thomas folded his arms across his chest. He smiled at Brooklyn staring down at the cards, his mouth wide open.

“Congratulations sir.” Kelly wore a big smile as she spoke. “That was quick.”

“Shut the hell up, girl!” Brooklyn yelled, standing up to wave a finger in her face.

“Hey, watch it, man,” Thomas said jumping to his feet, putting himself between them. Brooklyn shoved Thomas hard against the table. Grabbing the edge of the table to keep himself up, Thomas kept his back to them and his head down. He wanted to kill this guy, but he was doing his best to keep his cool watching as security raced over. Brooklyn directed his attention to Kelly again, grabbing her arm.

“You don’t mind me touching you, do you?” he asked with a harsh laugh, pulling her against him. “Do you, baby? I bet it turns you on.” Kelly shrieked trying to push the bastard away. A security guard tried getting between Brooklyn and Kelly but his grip on her only seemed to tighten.

“Hey cut it out,” the manager shouted, standing behind two towering guards. In a full rage Thomas pushed through the guards and pulled Brooklyn off of Kelly. With one hand on Brooklyn’s collar, and the other in his barely existing hair, Thomas slammed Brooklyn’s face down onto the wooden border of the table once, twice before blood dripped down onto the green felt. As Thomas prepared for a third, the guard pulled Thomas off Brooklyn.

“Cool it,” the guard commanded in a loud booming voice, raising a finger to Thomas’s face.

“He’s fine. I’ve got him. You better get that guy out of here, though,” the manager warned. The guard grabbed a groggy, bloody Brooklyn and pulled him to his feet. Blood leaked from Brooklyn’s nose as he tried to rush forward, but the guard had him restrained.

“He better get disqualified, I want to press charges,” Brooklyn barked.

“If you press charges, so will I,” Kelly’s timidity had evaporated. The guard yanked Brooklyn’s arm back.

“Sir, we saw everything. You assaulted that young lady, so if I were you, I’d settle down, or I will have to cuff you, and you will be arrested for assault,” the guard warned. Brooklyn stopped his ranting, staring at Kelly. Thomas could tell he wanted to yell every profanity in the book at her but didn’t have the balls, letting the guard lead him to the security desk on the other side of the casino’s main room. The manager’s concerned look reverted back to the phony smile, holding his hand out to Thomas.

“Congratulations, sir. If you come with me, Jerrard will collect your winnings from the table, and we’ll get your grand prize,” The manager waved to a skinny caramel skinned staff member to come over. Ignoring the manager, Thomas walked over to Kelly. She had returned to her seat, picking the cards up off the table from the game, paying no attention to the patch of blood on the table. Placing a gentle hand on Kelly’s back, Thomas sat beside her.

“You, alright?”

She nodded but Thomas could see her quivering lip and wet eyes.

“Sorry,” she sniffed. “I just really hate this job. If my car didn’t die, I’d be gone. This is just such an awful place to work,” she said, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. “Not gonna lie. I would have loved to see that guy led out of here in cuffs,” she said with a soft chuckle. Thomas nodded.

“Done and done.” At the cashier’s desk the manager pressed buttons on a computer. Thomas put a finger to his lip, gesturing to the manager who was paying them no attention. Thomas stood up and approached a nearby roulette table, grabbing the little pebble sized ball off it. Looking across the almost empty casino, Brooklyn sat at the security desk holding an ice pack on his bruised and bloodied face, a tissue soaked in blood hanging out of his nose. The security guard stood preoccupied, a cellphone up to his ear. That was the opportune time to strike. Holding the pebble between two fingers, he launched it at Brooklyn, pegging him in the forehead. Brooklyn looked up. Thomas smiled, giving him a quick wave.

“You motherfucker!” Brooklyn screamed, jumping out of the chair. The guard dropped his phone to the floor in a rush to grab Brooklyn.

“That’s it, Mr. Lombardi!” the guard shouted, grabbing cuffs from his belt and forcing Brooklyn over the desk, hands pulled behind his back and cuffed into place. The doe-eyed dealer smirked.

“That wasn’t necessary, but thanks.” The slinky worker was putting Thomas’s chips in a bucket as he calculated the amount. Thomas reached in.

“Hey, buddy, how much have you counted out so far?”

“About eleven grand, sir,” the young guy said. Thomas took the bucket and handed it to Kelly.

“Maybe that can help with your car problem.”

She gasped putting a hand over her mouth. “No way, I could never take that much money from someone I don’t know.”

“It’s not like I’m bribing you, or trying to pay you for sex or anything. It’s just a tip. Well, it does come with one favor.”

Her smile faded into a knowing glare. She was probably thinking the worst of him, which made the next part more fun. He leaned in, his lips near her ear, he could feel her stiffen up but didn’t move.

“Quit. You clearly hate it. Go to school, and find something you love. Now, go cash out and get out of here, and don’t say anything about this until I have my winnings, okay?”

Thomas backed away from the table, watching her stare at him, completely stunned, her doe eyes as wide as her opened mouth. Before he could take a few steps, he heard her chair scrape against the floor, and she latched her hands around his wrist.

“You don’t know me. Why would you do this for me?”

He yawned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“I may be delirious from lack of sleep, but the real reason is I go to a lot of bars and casinos, and I see two types of girls. Girls that are enjoying their job and are having the time of their life working at a casino, flirting and getting tips. I like those girls,” he admitted with a mischievous grin. “The other type is the girl that is so desperate she takes a job that she despises. Usually, I have to look away and pretend I can’t tell how miserable she is. Today I can actually help one of those girls. So if you decide you can’t take it, you will be crushing my dream.” He pretended to choke back a sob. Kelly threw her arms around him, hugging him tight.

The manager cleared his throat, approaching them. Kelly wiped her face, holding the bucket close.

“Oh my, that looks like a large tip. I certainly hope you consider putting some of it back into the casino, Kelly.”

“I don’t think so,” she said her crying stopping, her tone had turned into an almost antagonistic one, to the manager. Thomas stepped back and watched. He was going to enjoy this. “In fact, Mr. Marcus I don’t think I wish to work here further. Today’s events showed me that this isn’t where I belong.”

“Well Kelly, that is very unfortunate, but I understand.”

“Can you cash me out, so I can be on my way?” Kelly asked the manager. She looked like she couldn’t get out of the casino fast enough. Thomas followed them toward the cashier’s desk, waiting to get himself cashed out. The manager disappeared bringing out a large suitcase and opened it up, handing Kelly the cash, while counting it out. She shook the manager’s hand and gave Thomas a quick look before fleeing out of the casino like a bat out of hell.

Thomas stepped up to the counter as the manager presented a duffel-bag with the casino’s logo all over it and presented it to Thomas. “Your winnings, Sir,” the manager said with a big phony smile. Thomas on the other hand was unable to hold back his giant grin.

“Any plans for your big windfall?” the casino manager asked tapping one final key on the computer and the printer started to buzz coming to life.

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about getting out of Boston. Been feeling the itch to leave for a while but didn’t have the resources to do anything about it.”

“Oh, really? Where are you headed?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” he admitted. That had been the bigger problem, even bigger than money. He wasn’t sure where to go. He’d been all over, from Vegas to California to New Mexico, usually avoiding the east coast. Mother Nature could be a real bitch, but she seemed to be bipolar on the east coast. Beautiful one day, a blizzard the next. Boston was only supposed to be a pit stop, and instead, he had been there for six months. That’s a hell of a long pit stop.

“I guess I’ll just wait and see where the wind takes me,” he said

“Well, I do hope you find your way into Boston again, sir.” The manager said.

“Not likely,” Thomas said swinging the bag over his shoulder. “I don’t usually go to the same place twice.” With that said, Thomas made his way out the door of the casino, immediately blinded by the bright but gloomy gray sky.

A car flew by, honking its horn as it passed. It was Kelly in a black convertible, her hair blowing in the soft breeze, a cruel grin on her face before she turned back to the road that stopped Thomas cold. Had that young girl just bullshitted the king of bull-shitters?

He couldn’t help but laugh, unsure if it were the sleep deprivation or the fact he actually appreciated a good con. Looking up at the sky again, he took a deep breath, the smell of approaching snow filled his nose. It felt like a storm was coming.

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