Teaser: Action at a Distance: The Casino (fiction, #nanowrimo)

card game Blackjack

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This is a scene from a story I've been thinking about writing called Action at a Distance, and I had even considered doing it for National Novel Writing Month. This is a test scene that I wrote up to find out how many words I would use, how long it would take, to get some idea of how much of a story I'd need to plan ahead and upfront. I haven't decided yet whether to continue with the story. Let me know what you think of this teaser.

Steff and the rest of the girls from the DMV walked out, purposefully, onto the casino floor, and glanced around trying to pick out their "marks" for the evening. They each had their preferences; some of the girls preferred the more hectic and noisy side of the room where the roulette and craps tables were; most of them though stuck with blackjack. Steff had found the blackjack tables were by far the safest bet for her evening's entertainment. Even the most addicted gamblers on the other tables knew what they were playing was a game of pure luck, as they blew on their dice before they rolled, or crossed their fingers as the ball made its orbits around the wheel; games of pure luck, with rules that favored the house. No amount of noise and bravado could change that; the personalities at those tables would be too dangerous. The blackjack players were more scientific, more analytical, and yes, more often than not, thoroughly wrong in their strategies; as a rule, though, they were much safer. There was far less of a risk for a blackjack mark to turn dangerous; there was far greater a chance of winning your way into their confidence relatively quickly. Just one suggestion of a better play would win you into their confidence. The blackjack players were also there for the evening. They had a fair idea of how good they were, or otherwise, and how long their money would last. provided they stuck to that simple strategy outlined in that "For Dummies" book they'd leafed through, they could expect their money to last the evening. They were here to have a good time; not necessarily to win.

The girls had been doing this same outing every other Friday night for a little over a year. Steff was now the de facto leader of the group; she'd been there right from the start, when they had come up with the idea of casino night. It was a pretty simple idea; each of the girls would take a modest amount of betting money and their gambling knowledge up to a table to join an unaccompanied male; get said male to buy them their drinks for the evening, have a little fun gambling – it didn't need to be anything more than that. In fact, it was much safer that it wasn't. The girls still remembered what had happened to one of their number a couple of months back, when she picked a far too young and handsome gentleman as her mark. He was too smooth. She didn't even recognize the danger. No, it's far better to head for the balding, the middle-aged, the overweight. If you could stand listening to their complaints of how their wives didn't understand them, they would quite happily keep you in drinks for the evening just for bringing them luck. Showing a bit of cleavage never hurt, either, although not as much as the croupiers. That was just plain sleazy.

Steff pulled up a stool next to her chosen mark for the evening. She had already seen him make a couple of fundamental betting mistakes; he was a rather round gentleman in his early fifties, and unlike many of the sharks on the casino floor, he was still wearing his wedding ring. Everything about him said safe; everything about him said boring, as well. He would likely have a bad case of halitosis and, depending on how drunk he was, would subject Steff to tirades about his home life and flip-out wallet photo albums of his kids whom he'd sent away to college for a ridiculous amount of money that would have paid Steff's salary for ten years. Safe was the most important thing, Steff remembered, and from the pile of chips in front of him, he could certainly afford to buy her a drink or two. She exaggeratedly swayed a bit on her stool; it never hurt to make the mark think she'd already had a bit too much to drink that night. The man nodded at her, gave her a quick look up and down, not particularly lecherously, Steff thought. He was safe, all right.

It didn't take long before Steff had an opportunity to start up a conversation about the game. The dealer was showing a six; the man was dealt an ace and a seven, and he immediately decided to stand, just as Steff expected. Eighteen is eighteen, after all. Steff's cards were a four and a five, and she elected to double down. The man raised his eyebrows slightly, as if he had never heard the term before. She placed a second one dollar chip in the circle in front of her, and took her one and only additional card, a seven, giving her sixteen. The croupier turned the hole card, a queen, and mechanically turned the next card, a jack, a dealer bust. Steff and the gentleman took their winnings, and as she pulled the chips towards her, she addressed the man. "You really should have doubled down too, you know. You could have made an easy extra fifty bucks there."

"Thank you sweetheart. I'll try to remember that. The name's Solomon Braunschweig. You can call me Solly, if you'll let me buy you a drink." Bingo. Steff beamed, knowing full well she was going to be kept in drinks for the rest of the evening, and more than likely she would get to help Mr Braunschweig play out some of that enormous pile of chips in front of him, as well. This was already turning out to be a very economical evening's entertainment. "I'm an agent," Solly continued. "Actually you might have heard of one of my acts, Russ Bradford?" It was, of course, a rhetorical question. To be on the Strip and not have heard of Russ Bradford was unthinkable. He had by far the most successful act around, and you couldn't turn your head in this town without seeing one of those enormous billboards with his ridiculously oversized glasses and googly eyes. "Actually," Solly hesitated slightly, "Russ is my only act. And he's pissing me off. He's going to blow this sweet number he's got, and that'll be both his career and mine down the toilet."

"How dreadful!" Steff responded in something approaching mock despair, swaying a little extra for effect. It seemed she would be better off acting a little bit dumb this evening. This guy was far too serious, and he wasn't going to need her to be too interactive. He just needed to pour out his woes to somebody. "I'm Steff," she responded, "and by all means, erm, Solly, I'd love to have a drink with you." Solly flagged down a server, who it seems already knew he wanted the double Scotch sitting on her tray, and Steff stated she would love a margarita silver. Solly looked at her, a little conspiratorially. "I was looking for someone like you this evening," he leered, and this time, when he glanced up and down her, Steff definitely felt like she was being undressed with his eyes. "You're a nice-looking girl, and, after that double down, I know you're smart. Maybe you can listen. What do you know about quantum mechanics?" Steff struggled a bit to maintain her dumb act. Probably the best response to a mention of quantum mechanics at the blackjack table would be not to even flinch at what an unexpected phrase that was. "I have no idea what you're talking about," she lied. In order to keep the drinks flowing tonight, it was in her best interests for Solly to see her as a bit of fluff, not as the geek she really was. After all, she'd learnt that blackjack strategy card when she was only seven years old.

"Russ is driving me absolutely crazy. You ever seen his act? 'Course you have. Everyone's seen his act. You know he only has one trick? Everything he does, right, it's all about those two blessed rings. The hand on the other side of the stage trick. That basketball trick. The one where he reappears at the back of the audience. It's all the same trick, there's two rings. Something goes in one, and comes out of the other. One trick. One of these days, some single mom from Iowa is going to spend all the child support on bringing some precocious snot-nosed kid to the show, and he's going to work out how it's done. He won't hesitate to point out the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes, and bam! That's it. Russ is finished. I'm finished. He needs something else. Another trick. Or maybe some piece of…." Solly's eyes roamed down the front of Steff's dress, "…erm, an assistant or something. Give the audience something else to look at." His eyes were now wandering all over Steff's legs by this point. "Much safer than white tigers or something. And do you know what he says to me?". He took a breath and downed his Scotch in one gulp. "He has the nerve to say, it isn't a trick. He says… it's real. I mean, is he crazy? Of course it's a fricking trick. This is showbiz. We're no fools, you know."

Steff fidgeted uncomfortably. She'd felt Solly's eyes lifting up the hem of her skirt, and at the same time he was rambling on about some magic act, yet there was something about this story that was intriguing her. "What's quantum mechanics got to do with this?" she asked, in a desperate effort to both express her curiosity and yet conceal her knowledge. Solly grabbed another Scotch from a passing server, and once more downed that in one go. "So I ask him how it's done. He says it's all about quantum mechanics, something called action at a distance. Take that hand across the stage trick he does. There's two rings. He holds one in one hand, and the other one is at the side of the stage. He sticks his arm through one ring and, sure enough, it comes out the other ring. This is what he tells me, he says, they're the same ring. That they're actually connected, and that somehow space is curved or some other scientific claptrap so when his arm goes through one ring it comes out the other. So I says to him, I say, Russ, look, don't treat me like a fool. If you don't want to tell me how it's done, fine, but don't BS me. And he has the nerve to tell me he's telling me the absolute truth. What a load."

"No, it isn't," Steff answered excitedly, and before she realized it, she had completely dropped the bimbo facade that she was planning to uphold for the rest of the evening to keep her in drinks. "Spooky action at a distance, I've heard that before. It's something Einstein said about an experiment in quantum mechanics that, well, would cause him all sorts of trouble with relativity. There's some smart things you can do with particles, you can split them into two, separate them over great distances, but they remain entangled with each other. So entangled that, if you do something to one, it instantaneously affects the state of the other. Even if you do something as simple as look at it, it affects the other one, immediately. They can be at opposite ends of the universe, and they're still connected, and the information travels from one to the other instantly. Faster than light. And that was bad news for Einstein." She coughed, realizing her cover was blown. "At least, that's what I've heard. perhaps this is what Russ is doing. Perhaps he has somehow found a way to split one ring into two, entangled ones. They look like two, but really they're the same one. If he touches one, he's really touching the other. If he passes through one, he emerges through the other. Of course, it makes no sense. If he could really do this, surely the military would be all over him, rather than he being in some two-bit…." Solly coughed. "…two-bit sideshow. It's surely a trick, Solly."

"I need to know how it's done, sweetheart," Solly answered, with more than a touch of sincerity and even urgency in his voice. "I need to know, and you can find out for me. Here's a ticket for his next show. He always gets an assistant from this seat in the auditorium. Best seat in the house. He'll have to give you some clue how it's done. Here, take this and buy a new dress for it. A bit shorter would work. Will you do this for me?"

Steff was lost for words.

What do you think? Any comments, suggestions, or thoughts greatly appreciated!

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About darlingman1970

Born in the UK and a graduate in mathematics from Cambridge University, Chris Nash has followed a career in software engineering which he continued after moving the United States in 1996 and now brings him to California in 2010. However, Chris does not want to be considered as merely a code monkey, and has always been interested in writing; in areas as diverse as factual technical manuals all the way through to fiction. An avid reader, Chris is a fan particularly of mystery novels and enjoys above all the works of Agatha Christie and David Hewson. Chris has recently gone through some significant life changes which, at the moment, he is considering as the basis for a forthcoming novel and as food for thought on his blog. He manages to couple his loves of writing and technology and is particularly interested in how internet innovations have an impact on the writing and promotional process. Chris is a firm supporter of Creative Commons and other 'open' initiatives and believes strongly that such distribution mechanisms are the "right" way to handle intellectual property in an evolving digital world. Chris is a keen Nintendo DS and Wii player in his spare time, and is currently happily attached, living in the Central Coast area of California. Find him on Twitter as @darlingman1970. Don't ask him how old he is.
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