Taken for a Spin
Accusatory fingers pointed at him from all over the screen. Finger marks to be precise – the smudged signs of hope and despair and salt-and-vinegar grease. The marks drew a map for whoever came to the terminal after him; the leavings of a cartographer desperate to show his bad luck. There were sweaty streaks over red, black, odds, evens, bet, double bet, and add credit. Precious few over cash out though. Not yet anyway.
Oliver tapped and watched as the roulette wheel began spinning, the silvery ball spiralling its way towards black and red stripes. A stream of cold air and a phlegmy sniff told him that someone else had entered the bookies. He could see in the reflection on the screen that it was Gary, in for the horses at four-ten. Oliver pulled his thick jacket around him, hoping that Gary wouldn’t clock him yet. Not that he didn’t like the guy, but he did bloody talk and Oliver needed to at least break even for today.
Thank God. The wet weather outside had resulted in Gary going for a sneaky smoke in the gents before the race started. With any luck Oliver would get a break and be out in ten. He would have to power-walk home; at least he would be warm. He had been sat in front of the machine so long that he felt frozen to the metal stool. His hands were like blocks of ice –the touchscreens didn’t work with gloves. In went the debit card. One last go before heading home.
Oliver hadn’t looked at his watch for a while, nervous at what he might see. Evens, reds. They hadn’t come up for eight spins now. Surely by the law of averages they were due. Surely. If he could just go in a hundred of so down, he could explain it to the wife. The phone went off in his pocket. It was Sheila.
“Hi darlin’…yeah just dropped by the bookies to put a line on…yep, I’ve literally just walked in…”
It was saving the best for last.
Damn. Gary had just come out of the bogs and spied him. Over he came, skipping like a scratched record. This time for sure, though. There was no way, simply no way, that this could not land. Not if the God-forsaken thing wasn’t rigged anyway. Sheila was still wittering away in his ear. He put the mobile down at the side of the terminal.
“Olly!” came the raucous greeting from Gary, bringing with it a slap to the back for Oliver. “Long time no see mate! Got a lighter? Mine’s gubbed. You still stuck on these, mate? It’s a mugs game, ain’t it?”
“Just give me a moment, Gary,” he answered tightly, eyes still fixed on the screen. “Last spin”.
His fingers reached for the screen again. Keep the faith. Evens, red. Sheila’s voice still issued from the phone on the machine, whiny and insistent. One more spin, money back, home, see the kids. That was the plan.
“Horses mate, that’s the way you wanna go. Head home with some dough to feed the weans,” laughed Gary, giving Oliver one more slap on the back and knocking his fingers across the screen where they struck black. Gary gave a sheepish grin. “Oops, sorry mate! Hope I brought you a bit of luck!”
Oliver half-turned to swear at the man, his face beetroot and swollen with rage. He turned back, though. The wheel was spinning, the ball circling, picking out its victim. It hopped onto the wheel like a child onto a merry-go-round, full of carefree abandon.
He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. From beside him came, insistent, the tinny voice of his wife.
“Olly? Oliver? You still there? Oliver?”
He opened his eyes once more and looked at the balance at the bottom of the screen. A big fat zero, round and pulsing.
Swinging off the seat and grabbing the mobile, he flung it as hard as he could towards Gary, who was now engrossed in the racing. Sheila’s voice whined through the air as she spun, falling silent as she hit the bank of televisions.
“Oi! What was that for?” came the reply.
Oliver’s fingers were still like chilled bars of steel as he curled them into fists, but the boiling heat of righteous indignation rose in his stomach as he strode over to his friend.