The Solitaire Series Reminder: Each week, a story will appear here, and be free to read for one week only. The next story will take its place, and the first story will be available on Amazon and other e-retailers. But if you follow this blog, you can read the stories for free every single week! Read more about the Short Story Deal here.

Throughout the series, there will be collections of stories, and we will even be producing some really cool swag along the way. Watch for contests, prizes, and even some fun “in-person” events. Let’s get started!

Sixteen is a crap hand, at least if the dealer is showing a 6 or 7. You’re right on that border, know what I mean? Stand or hit? It can really go either way.

Of course, all this is easier if you’re counting cards. And don’t tell me how illegal or unfair it is. You know the odds always favor the house, right?

Sure, if you were playing single deck, counting cards would make a huge difference. In Vegas casinos playing eight, it’s tougher to win. And tougher to manage your money and when you choose to lose to make sure a smart dealer or let’s be honest, casino surveillance catches on to what you’re doing.

Not everyone can be a card counter. It takes a certain personality type. Fortunately, I have a touch of OCD when it comes to details, I’m pretty disciplined, and I‘ve developed a system. I hate casinos really. For me, blackjack and counting cards isn’t a hobby—it’s a profession. I track everything. Every win, loss, and break even.

I started with a relatively small bankroll, a couple of grand. I was unemployed, and it was all I had. Now I make a couple hundred thousand a year just from playing blackjack, and I only “work” that job about 180 hours annually.

Fortunately, I travel a lot, and besides Vegas and Atlantic City, the biggies, there are all kinds of small casinos on Native American land, and they actually make pretty good targets. The dealers are often inexperienced, but if you get caught counting in one of those places?

Well, let’s just say you better get off the reservation quickly. There’s some vigilante justice going on out there, and you’re as likely to end up in a hole as back on the freeway unless your quick and a little sly.

The other place you don’t want to be caught is a Solitaire-owned casino.

You’ve never heard of them? That’s how they like it.

I almost got caught in one of their places on a Wednesday, a good day to work. It’s not too busy, and the dealers are often bored and looking to be entertained. That I can do.

No, I didn’t say it was a good day to gamble. It’s only gambling if you think you might lose.

* * *

“Can you come with me, sir?” a hand touched Burt on the shoulder.

The five of hearts lay on top of his cards. 21.

The dealer was bust. Again. Too fucking bad.

“Boo!” several people around him chanted. “Leave him be!” the cheap alcohol on their breath accompanied their words. The sounds in the casino provided a backdrop for their chorus. Slot machines beeped and clinked, and shouts of victory and groans of defeat came from the craps tables.

Poker was one of the only quiet games in the room, each player trying to avoid their personal tell, and instead giving off other obvious signals. Obvious to him, anyway. Dull.

People loved a winner, and it was part of Burt’s schtick: gather an audience. That was the real reason for the ruby-red top hat and coat, the black and white Oxford’s, the wine-colored scarf, and the gold-rimmed sunglasses with pink lenses.

Instead of protesting, he gathered his winning chips and stood. “No, no, folks. We all know how these big places hate a winner!” he emphasized the last word and he saw his two potential escorts hesitate. One cocked his head though, showing Burt someone had spoken to him in his earpiece.

Not a good sign.

Still, he played the game. “I’ll be back once they clear my lucky-ass card playing name!” he declared.

One bystander, a woman in a tiny black cocktail dress more suited for Friday night than Wednesday afternoon wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the lips. Burt responded despite the taste of cheap wine and the smell of even cheaper perfume that drifted off of her in a wave of sickening intensity.

“For luck,” she said.

The crowd cheered and he waved to them as the men led him away.

They passed a bank of slots facing a turntable near the front of the casino, and a motorcycle sitting on it spun slowly, chrome flashing under the neon lights, and bearing a sign enticing players to “Win Me!”

A thin man limped by, using a cane. Behind dark sunglasses and a low-fitting hat, Burt could see that half his face was horribly scarred. He wore white gloves, and one leg looked much thinner than the other. A Doberman wearing a support animal vest pranced at his side. The man headed down one of the rows of slots, his dog right behind him.

“Poor bastard,” Burt swore. “Even if he wins that bike, he’ll never be able to ride it.”

You can now find this and the other short stories in The Solitaire Series on Amazon here, and check back for a new story for FREE here every single week! This week’s story, The Two of Spades, can be found by clicking on this link