Saturday, June 6, 2015

Black Rose and Red (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

There is an awful obsession that overtakes some people when they gamble. An initial win provides a flush of triumph that even subsequent losses cannot wholly erase. Winnings are inflated in memory, losses diminished. It becomes an addiction that cannot be satisfied.

Not everyone is susceptible, of course. And some who are, recognize that nascent obsession, and back away, avoiding thereafter all gambling of any kindeven the mild lottery ticket purchase.

In 1982, I went with a startup medical-records server company called Univers to Las Vegas for COMDEX. The annual computer show was only a few years old at that time, and was still largely a venue for dealers and computer entreprenuers. My host, the founder of Univers, made no secret of the fact that he was really going to scope out new equipment (translation: buy toys) for his medical databank computer service.

He told us to take the luggage up to our suite while he dropped into the game room, saying, "Meet you at the ZD booth in an hour." When the first day closing sounded, he still hadn't arrived on the show floor. We assumed he'd been diverted on the way to the booth by some particularly tasty blade rack or punch cabinet.

In fact, he had never made it out of the casino.

Three days later, we loaded into the van for the drive back to Denver. No new equipment had been purchased; in fact, we hadn't seen our host, except for odd hours asleep in an armchair in the suite. Somewhere around Colorado Springs he dropped the bomb: Univers was closing down. 

I heard later from his wife that once he was back in the city, he sold the company van and all the other Univers assetsincluding his client listthen flew back to Las Vegas with the proceeds. She didn't go with him; she divorced him instead.

COMDEX 1982 was the first time he'd ever been to Las Vegas.

When I read the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge prompt this week, I thought at first of a tale including a barite rose:

June 3, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a rose. It can be straight-forward, romantic, funny. What is your rose today and what is its story? Who craves the rose or shrinks away? Why? Let the prompt fully bloom in your imagination.

In the middle of the night, however, I woke with the following flash spinning behind my eyelids. I saw the growth of obsession on the bridegroom's flushed face, saw the desperation of the bride who hoped to rescue her new husband. Hence this tale of a different desert rose than the mineral, which might be set anywhere that gamblers and newlyweds foregather, but which I saw in my mind's eye as Las Vegas.

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Black Rose and Red

Her demurely gloved hand on his, she whispered, "You need to ruin my husband." He had seen the bridegroom winning all night, and now his latest opponent threw down his hand, leaving another fortune behind on the baize.

Rising, he strolled across the room, and drawled at the flushed young man, "Winner takes everythingthe first to draw the black rose."

"Done." There was a flick as the ace of clubs appeared. Her new husband drew next, then pulled his derringer and fired, shouting, "Cheater! I also drew that ace!" 

He fell as a red rose blossomed on his chest.