NEIGHBOUR OF ZERO • by Richard Shaw



29 black.

Not that the number mattered, thought Jack. He continued sitting on the stool just long enough for his subconscious to nudge his conscious into realizing that with no money left, he should move away from the table.

Red. Of course. He shook his head as he saw the outcome of the next spin of the wheel.

No money left. It would be hard to find any other description that so bluntly and accurately described his position. Jack’s head bowed as his unfocused eyes darted left, right, left, right, searching his mind for some piece of information he might have overlooked to help him out of his situation. After thirty seconds or so it became obvious there wasn’t one. He left the casino and put on his jacket against the autumnal evening air. He let out a small, dry chuckle. That’s all I have left, he thought, the shirt on my back and a jacket to go over it.

He started off on the walk home. It had to be a walk. The car had been sold to pay off some bills — with a little held back for a flutter on the horses — and he had no cash for a bus, let alone a taxi. He pictured his rented flat, imaging in detail for anything that he might be able to pawn or sell, but he could see nothing of any value.

About twenty yards in front walked a couple of men who had left the casino before him. He’d seen them in there a few times. High-rollers. Probably heading towards one of the nearby pubs or posh restaurants, thought Jack bitterly. They could afford to. One of them, as Jack had done, put on his coat for warmth. As he did so, Jack saw something drop out of one the coat’s pockets. Jack stopped. He knew what it was. Or at least he hoped he knew. A money roll. The men didn’t notice and continued walking. Jack remained stationary, waiting for his first instinct — to retrieve it and hand it back to the man who’d dropped it — to subside. He looked around to check no-one else had seen the event. The street was empty and the men had now crossed over and were about to turn a corner.

Jack slowly walked up to the object. He was right. A wad of tightly wound notes. He again looked around, as though this were some sort of trap that would be sprung if he were to pick it up. Then he quickly took it, put it straight in his pocket and hurried around the corner in the opposite direction to where the men had gone. When he felt safe enough, he tucked himself into a hedge and took out his prize.

How much, Jack thought, how much treasure was wrapped up in that elastic band? Maybe a hundred pounds, maybe two hundred! God, what if there was two hundred pounds? Hands shaking, mouth dry, Jack prised open the oyster, desperately hoping for a pearl. He found gold. The notes were all fifty pound notes. More than he could estimate without counting, and the counting seemed to take a long, long time, his disbelief growing with each passing integer. Forty-three. Two thousand, one hundred and fifty pounds. Jack’s heart seemed to have stopped, and as it jumped back into life he jerked his head around in all directions, expecting the men, or the police, or some muggers, to appear to snatch back his lifeline.

Two thousand, one hundred and fifty pounds. Enough to keep the rent paid, enough to top up a couple more meagre pay days, keep the flat warm, maybe even treat himself to something nice, or perhaps save a bit away. This meant something. This could be the chance to turn his life around, even just a little bit, just for a short time. Something to build on. A step forward.

But behind him was the table. The wheel would be spinning. Quickly at first, then it would slow and Jack could feel a gravity pulling him, like the ball, towards its centre.

Red. That would be forty-three hundred pounds.

Two reds. That’s all it would take. He’d be made.

Jack stood facing the long walk home. He stared at the money clasped in his hand.

A step forward.

Then he turned around. Six minutes later he placed £2150 worth of chips on red.

Richard Shaw lives in Solihull, England, with his wife, two children, two cats and two goldfish. He writes poetry and short stories.

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