Charley’s Luck
On December 5, 2016

I wrote this story as an entry for a competition some twenty years ago. To be honest, I can’t even remember what the brief was, except that there was one, and that’s a much better place to start than a blank piece of paper or a blank screen. I didn’t win, but I quite liked the story so here it is. Just in case you are not familiar with the American version of Monopoly, that’s what Sam and Charley are playing at the start.

The whole thing all started when Charley threw that pair of big sixes and snapped along to land on Broadway while all I got was a lousy three and a four and stayed kicking my heels in the slammer. By rights, that double six should have been mine, my ticket to freedom.
But that sort of luck hadn’t come my way a hell of a lot since that little lady crashed her way into my life. Ever since we met, she got to sip iced beer and Champagne while I never seemed to swallow nothing better than a bucket load of pride.
It was the night before the Saratoga race meeting and we were killing the hours between eating time and bed time. Charley just loved to play games and I was close to losing my tail as usual. Maybe I should have thrown in the towel instead of the dice, would’ve got it over sooner. At least it didn’t look like I had any chance of winning. On the rare occasions that happened, we’d just have to keep on playing until I lost.
I can still hear her smug little voice, “Reckon I’ll buy, Sam. Just a teensy weensy little hotel. Nothin’ fancy, I ain’t greedy.”
I guess she wasn’t greedy like you and I know greedy.
Charley was thin as a prairie dog, never ate unless she really needed to, and then hardly enough to fill a bird. But money, gold, jewellery, fancy cars and real estate – well, she could never quite get enough of that stuff.
I met her at her third husband, Marty’s funeral. Marty had been really big in fish and drowned in his bath tub. OK, so he only drowned after the heart attack, still seems kind of ironic though.
Dressed in sheer black silk from head to toe, pale and beautiful as a Philadelphia sunrise, Charley was in a league of her own – a real high roller.
She only ever had one weakness in life, gambling and men. I know that sounds like two, but in her case they were one and the same thing. She’d meet and fall for some guy and then throw everything she’d got into whatever he had going. Affairs, business ventures, Arctic exploration and marriages, Charley gave ’em all her best shot.
Some deals left her belly up at the side of the interstate, others paid off in spades, like Marty had. Trouble was, she just never knew when to stop.
And that’s what almost happened with us. Marty’s life insurance paid out nearly a quarter of a million bucks, and as soon as it was in the bank, Charley just had to gamble. I was stood there when she did it – slid the cheque through the bookie’s grille. Our future, thrown away all because of a stupid argument that I should have known I’d never win in a thousand years.
We had a future too. We’d planned it all during the three weeks we took to get to know each other after Marty’s farewell. We both recognised fate well enough when it hit us between the eyes, and we were real good together.
’Course we drank a toast to Marty’s memory on the first night, and it felt like a good thing to do. We were both sure he’d have approved, not wanting his sweet Charley to be lonesome overlong.
After a couple of nights with that girl, I sure found out what made rattlesnakes hiss.
Then came the morning we went to the races.
Everything was going great. We’d placed six one hundred dollar bets, lost five and won the sixth. I reckon we were about two hundred dollars up when Charley ran her finger down the card for the seventh race. She stopped dead, shrieked and grabbed my arm. I thought she’d trodden in something ’til I took a look at her face.
“Sam, look. Seventh Race, horse number seven and look at it’s name – Charlie’s Luck! We’ve just gotta go take a look. It’s like a sign or something, my lucky number seven twice, my name, I can hardly believe it.”
She dragged me off to the parade ring where I studied the card. Odds of 120:1, no form, no chance. It looked bad on paper, it looked ten times worse in the flesh.
Charlie’s Luck was a swaybacked, bow legged, moth eaten old mare that shouldn’t have been seen outside of a glue factory. 120:1 didn’t seem fair, I’d have trebled those odds. I wouldn’t have bet on it getting from one side of the track to the other, let alone going the distance.
Charley was only going to place her usual, cautious hundred dollars ’til I started in trying to talk her out of it. Should’ve known arguing with Charley wasn’t a good idea. When she got up to five thousand, I gave up and told her, “You want to throw our future away, honey-pie, you go right ahead. Just don’t expect me to stick around to dry your tears.”
That was when she placed the bet – quarter of a million dollars to win – they even ’phoned to clear the cheque. Must have nearly died from laughing.
That damned horse shouldn’t even have finished. And, if that darned dog hadn’t run out on the track and piled up all the other runners at the second corner, I don’t reckon it would have. But, while the stewards sorted out the mess, Charlie’s Luck cantered round to cross the finishing line and almost kill her owner with a coronary. He had the only other bet, $100 each way.
I just stood and damn near cried.
I’d just given Charley a hard time about flushing a pathetic hundred dollars.
Of course the race should have been stopped. Guess they just plain forgot.
Charley was hauled up before the gaming commission, the jockey’s federation and just about every other board the bookie could throw at her, yet not one could fault her logic.
“I didn’t feel as if the insurance money was really mine, Marty and me only having been married a year and all. But seein’ as how the poor old thing was called Charlie’s Luck, guess I just had to give it my best shot.”
I guess if she’d lost, we’d probably still be together, poor and happy, just me and the prairie dog. But she won. More money than I could count. And she sure let me know all about it, “Throw our future away, huh. Our future. Who’s money, who’s future now, honey-pie?”
At least she didn’t kick me out there and then – I had a whole lot more suffering to come.
Six weeks after the race and ten days after the bookies paid out, we were in Vegas. Charley’s lucky streak stayed wider and longer than Central Boulevard – roulette, craps, blackjack, it didn’t matter what she played, she won. And every time she’d throw the winnings right in my face.
We had a penthouse suite at the Dunes and on that fateful night, we were sharing the bar with a bunch of psychotic Gulf War vets. Charley was well out of her head after a long day’s winning and, seeing as how she was still getting back at me, she was crawling all over those guys like a thirty dollar bar girl. One of the weirdest, guy named Stink or something, had an unloaded .38 Smith and Wesson. The more drunk he got, the more he kept waving it around and putting it to people’s heads and pulling the trigger. All his pals seemed to think it real funny, bunch of knuckle-heads.
For some reason Charley really went for the gun – she kept on grabbing it, putting the barrel in her mouth and insisting Stink pulled the trigger. Seemed it was a real turn on. I just sat back and watched and I didn’t like what I was seeing one little bit.
Pretty soon, I’d had enough and headed for bed, left them all to it.
I still don’t know how she got the gun off the guy – I woke to find it pressed against my face, hammer cocked. “Get up, you miserable slime ball, time to party.”
This was Charley at her worst. I rolled over onto my face to try and keep the light out of my eyes.
“Quit messing around sweetheart. What do you want with that useless gun anyway?”
The barrel jabbed at the thin skin behind my ear.
“I ain’t kidding, lover boy. It’s my gun now and I got ammo too. This little sucker’s loaded.”
There must have been something in her voice. I sat up real slow.
She was sitting, beautiful as ever, splay legged in the middle of the bed, the huge gun resting in her lap, cradled in her tiny hands. Her eyes were round and wide, the pupils like little black pinholes. It was pretty obvious she’d had far too much of something.
Soon as I was propped against the pillows, she smiled, raised the gun and, with an unpractised flick, swung the chamber out and slid a single slug from its tight little nest. It dropped with a quiet thud onto the silk bedspread between her thighs, leaving a quick brown smear of grease. Thud, thud, thud, thud. Four more rounds hit the silk. As she rotated the chamber, her eyes never left mine, and I had a real bad feeling that I knew what was coming next and that I could never move fast enough to stop it.
With one round left, she snicked the chamber back into place and spun it with her thumb. It whirred, slowed, clicked and stopped. She raised the gun and, without taking her eyes off mine, put the barrel between her beautiful lips and pulled the trigger.
She didn’t even blink.
Then she smiled, spun the chamber again and this time pointed the barrel straight between my eyes. Transfixed, I watched her finger tighten on the trigger.
I was still holding the smoking gun when the cops crashed into the room. They shouted a lot and looked real nervous until I dropped the piece onto the bedspread. Charley was lying face up, her head hanging over the edge of the bed, her golden hair cascading all the way down to the carpet. The early morning sun shone full on her face and I don’t reckon I’ll ever see anything so beautiful again as long as I live.
Cuffed and cautioned, I was dragged out to the lift so quick I didn’t even get to say good-bye. Still, I guess she’d have understood.
Four weeks and a brief trial later, I was in the slammer for real. It was recreation time and I was losing at Monopoly as usual, though this time to a two hundred pound habitual drunk by the name of Washington Farlow the Third.
It was my turn to roll. Two and a four. Still no double, still no escape.
Looked like I’d just have to finish both sentences like a good boy. Ten days left out of twenty. Could have been less, could have been a whole lot more. Blowing a hole in a hotel bedroom ceiling didn’t count for much, nor did possession of an unlicensed firearm. Scaring Charley half to death was what really got the judge riled.
He just couldn’t keep his eyes off that girl for more than a minute at a time. I swear he only glanced at me the once as he was passing sentence. Mind you, Charley looked fit to die for that day, and when she smiled, that courthouse lit up like a summer’s day.
And she sure smiled a lot – at the judge.
I just hope he was a gambling man, ’cos it looked to me like he was going to need all the luck he could get.

© David Hermelin 2016

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