The Solitaire Series Reminder: Each week, a story will appear on my blog, 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!

Fredrick leaned against the wall outside and took a deep drag on his cigarette. He couldn’t smoke in the club. Those days were long gone.

Two men had come in the club last night. One guy Ace called Jack was all scarred up on his right side. The other he learned later was named Burt, big black dude, red top hat, red suit, and sporting a gorgeous pair of Oxfords. He’d met them at what started out as his side gig, then became his primary one. Well, sort of.

Fredrick didn’t like his job. That was in part because it was actually two jobs, and the challenge of balancing the needs of each weighed on him.

Coming out of high school, he’d found himself one of the most desired linemen in the NFL draft, got picked by the Rams in the tenth round, signed a fat contract, and was on the way to living his dream.

The pressure was immense. Almost every NFL player had some kind of vice, one that enabled them to let off steam, fight boredom in the offseason, and motivate them to more frequent and harder workouts.

Some guys got more tattoos, some drank, and others turned to drugs. For some, fast cars and women were enough. For Fredrick, gambling kept him going.

His game of choice was blackjack, and it took him a little too long to figure out that the big winners were pros. Most of them counted cards and actually gambled for a living, riding a rollercoaster of big losses and big gains, but always increasing their stake.

Still, he always believed the next hand would make him the big winner, and before long he found himself addicted and surprisingly to some, in debt.

At first, he managed his vice well, and it didn’t affect his play. Gradually, he couldn’t do it anymore.

His coaches and teammates tried to help, but he blew them off. He borrowed money, sold things he should’ve kept, and all the while his debt grew. Occasionally, he would manage to pay it off, but then his losses would feed it like a junkie on Friday night. He started missing workouts and then practices.

Before he knew it, his coaches decided that he would be “injured” in a game and released. They even picked the goddam play.

Turned out, he was a good actor, and left the game with no disgrace to himself and more importantly to his coaches, no disgrace to the team, or the league.

He took a gig as a bouncer working for Ace at this club. Pretty soon, he learned about the back-room games where the real money was made, and his size, cunning, and his innate ability to talk drunks into leaving peaceably earned him rapid promotions until he was Ace’s right-hand man.

He never gambled here. “You don’t shit where you eat,” his grandfather, one generation removed from the slavery of a South Carolina cotton plantation, told him. Fredrick’s father was half-white, the result of his grandfather’s affair with a white woman from West Virginia far enough from where he ate, so to speak.

The tryst had turned into a marriage, one that lasted nearly sixty years until the cancer came for his grandmother and took her away over the course of a six-month battle as fierce as she was. In the end, she lost.

No, when Fredrick did gamble, which he often did, he avoided the casinos and games run by Blackjack, his employer’s less than legitimate company.

Instead, he tried to find places that were neutral, and tried to keep his debts to a minimum.

But it was hard to know who owned what location and who was running what game.

Inevitably, he found himself in debt again, this time to a group known as Solitaire, Ace’s main competitor. And as gamblers are often wont to do, he made a deal for himself. The first few months of his double-job, he paid off his debt using information. After that, his industrial spying, for that’s what it was if he was honest with himself, earned him a certain amount of credit with Solitaire, all based on how good the information he passed along was.

So, he looked for valuable information whenever possible even though he lost most of what he earned, at least, at first.

Lately, things had started to turn around for him. After years of play, he started to understand the game better, and pay more attention to detail. He learned a fairly easy system of counting cards, one that improved his odds significantly.

His job had also helped him gain some self-discipline. Instead of gambling all of his winnings away, he started to save them, hoping one day he could get out of Vegas, head someplace more pleasant to live, and where he wasn’t beholden to anyone.

The more valuable information he gave up, the larger his stake became, and that increased the odds his dream would become a reality.

Of course, he had to be careful about winning too much. Nothing was more suspicious than someone unlucky who had a sudden turnaround in luck.

While the two men talked to Ace, Fredrick listened. When they left, he made a phone call that resulted in a request for his presence. When his shift was over, he left the club and headed downtown in his aging Kia, bypassing the valet service and parking in the lot outside the casino on his own.

He entered through a door marked “Employees Only” using a magnetic card to unlock it. It looked like a standard playing card, the five of clubs, and had been issued to him before the first time he’d been invited here.

He turned left, walked down a long white hallway lit by bare fluorescents hanging in eight-foot strips from a high ceiling. At the end of the hall, he took a right and then pushed the button on an elevator set into the wall on the right.

When it arrived, another swipe of the card was necessary to open the door.

Fredrick stepped inside and pressed the button for the sixth floor. A short ride and walk down a carpeted hallway this time, odd-numbered doors on the right, evens on the left, he came to room 636.

Using the card again, he opened that door, too.

A man he knew as Nakamura looked up from a short, tan couch. It sat in front of a glass coffee table and faced a medium-sized television mounted to the wall. A quick glance around the room told him no one else was here. The shades were drawn over the one large window, and cheap art hung from the walls. The wet bar stood slightly open, small bottles visible through the gap.

“What’s going on?” he asked, looking closer. His friend, who was originally from Japan, had a bandage around one knee, holding a bag of ice. His arm was in a sling but looked like it should be in a cast.

“I could ask you the same,” Nakamura said. “I heard you’ve seen Jack and his friend.”

I hope you are enjoying reading this series as much as I am. This story is now available on Amazon. You can the rest of this series on Amazon here! Stay tuned for another FREE story right here next week. I hope to see you then!