This is the 20th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing from 2nd December 2012 until the 1st December 2013. It’s intent is to keep me writing throughout the year, and not just in November. you can find out more about the challenge here.
Banquet for the Lost, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 21st December 2012
Word count: 999
Theme: drama, gambling, holiday, letting loose
Peter Simmons was a careful man, usually, he didn’t gamble, didn’t risk. Life was too precious to waste. So how he came to be in a casino gambling on his life on a roll of the dice was somewhat out of character.
It all started three days ago, he’d had to come to the South of France on work business. For some reason his boss felt he was the perfect person to go to buy up a collection of rare wines.
“Safe pair of hands,” his boss had noted, it somehow irked him more than it should. The fact he was being forced to take a weeks leave as well, (“You’ve got too many holidays unused, everyone needs time off”), only added to the annoyance.
Was this his life? Safe pair of hands? Something inside him just clicked, and so he went to France determined to enjoy himself on the company’s dime.
That wasn’t so easy, outside of work and his books, Peter had little else. So he did the most obvious thing, he went to a vineyard.
That’s how he came to meet Ariel, a woman of advanced years, but beautiful, like a work of art. Drunk on wines from the little Vineyard he’d visited, and getting drunker still on wine from the hotel bar, he had it in mind to approach her, but she beat him to it.
“Ah,” she said picking up the bottle, “Two thousand and nine was a good year, no?” she asked in strongly French accented English, it only added to her allure.
“I must admit, I know little of wine, other than I like it, and I’m well drunk on it,” he said trying to fight through the slurring.
“Oui,” she stopped suddenly, “Yes, you are. I must practice my English, it’s not very good sorry.”
“Right now, it’s better than mine,” he said fighting the wine to get his words out.
She gestured at the bottle, her meaning quite universal and he asked the bar man for an extra glass.
“What shall we celebrate?” she asked, “If celebrate is right word.”
“Toast,” he managed to say.
“Odd choice, but no matter, here’s to toast she said raising her glass. He tapped her glass with his and took a sip.
They arranged to meet again the following afternoon.
It was a struggle for Peter to get up on time, his brain seemed to be roaring at him. He grabbed food from the bar, and a bottle of water. However the prospect of meeting Ariel again made it worth the effort.
They met at a fountain in the centre of town. “You look badly,” she said alarmed.
“Just the wine,” he said weakly.
She accepted this and after some awkward small talk they went for a walk, and then something to eat when he seemed to be feeling better.
Evening soon arrived, and by now Peter felt recovered. “What shall we do?” he asked her.
“I know of a little casino,” she said.
“I don’t gamble,” he said with an apologetic gesture.
“Ah but you are on holiday Peter.”
“Yeah, yeah I am,” he said warming to the idea. Good dependable Peter would never go to a casino.
So she lead him through the town, away from the tourist areas, and into less developed streets. On they went until they could see fields of grain outside the town with no more tightly packed buildings to block the view. Then were in front of a nondescript building and heading down stairs to a basement entrance.
“Are you sure about this,”feeling this was all a bit cloak and dagger.
“This is for the locals, up town they, erm what is the English?”
“Yes, they cheat, here it is fair.”
“Oh okay,” he liked her too much to disappoint her, or behave like a coward.
The door opened and a flamboyant French men greeted them, or rather greeted Ariel.
“Ariel, il a été trop long,” he said hugging her and kissing twice on each cheek.
“Oui, mais j’apporte entreprise. Nous normal d’y aller?” she said smiling profusely.
“Bien sûr, mademoiselle,” the man said, and stepped back to let them through.
They descended even further, down a lighted stairway. At the bottom was a hall in the wall with a grill a woman sat behind.
“Combien de jetons?” she asked.
“She wants to know how much you want to bet,” Ariel said.
On an impulse he pulled out his bosses credit card that was for the purchase, and bought three thousand euros. He had no intention of gambling that much, and he’d pay it back before it was missed, blame a computer error, and surely he’d be believe, he was dependable, a safe pair of hands.
Two hours later at the roulette table, and he had four hundred euros left, he was also exceedingly drunk on the wine and champagne that seemed to flow freely, and was carried in the soft hands of Ariel. She would whisper messages of luck in his ear, and make him feel like the big man.
The truth was starting to dawn on him though, he’d lost a lot. He knew he should quit now, and face the consequences, but…
“Can I get a line of credit?” he asked, the urge to try and win it back was too much.
“Oui,” the manager nodded and handed him a paper to sign. One thousand more euros.
“Are you sure?” Ariel asked, after he signed.
“No,” he said feeling panic rising.
“Okay,” she said backing off while he decided what to do.
He put all the chips down on a row of three numbers, 19, 20, 21.
His life was was dependant on that ball spinning round the wheel. He closed his eyes, he couldn’t watch.
“Monsieur est un gagnant!” the attendant shouted surprise, and genuine joy.
“Peter, you did it!” Ariel said hugging him. He opened his eyes, and smiled.
It turned out to be a very good holiday after all.