Nick flipped open his briefcase, and poured $1,000,000 in cash onto the roulette table. “Black,” he said softly.
The dealer nodded. "You're covered, sir," he replied.
Custom-tailored three piece suit, trim athletic build, Nick positioned himself calmly, like a man who regularly placed million dollar bets in his personal and professional life. But on the inside…
“Oh, dear God,” Nick whispered. “Please let me win this one last bet. Please let it be black.”
The auditors were due at Nick’s office the next day. A huge sum of money was missing from Nick’s account at work. This bet was his last desperate chance to make up the funds, avoid being caught.
“The bets are down,” the dealer called, and spun the roulette wheel.
“Oh, Lord,” Nick quietly prayed. “You know how deeply sorry I am. You know that the money I put on this table is the last I’ll ever, ever steal. Please, dear sweet Jesus, let me win this one last bet, and I’ll pay back all the money I’ve ever taken. And I swear, from now on I’ll be a good father, a loving husband, and a loyal employee. Just please, please let me win this one last bet. Please let it be black.”
The dealer dropped the tiny silver ball into the wheel, where it danced gracefully around the long circular edge.
“I’ll do charity work,” Nick added. “Well, I don’t know that many charities, but I’m sure there are some good ones in our neighborhood. And what about church? There are probably several excellent churches around. I might even become a deacon, or an altar-man, or one of those things.”
The tiny ball bounced. A black number, a red number, a black number, a black number, a red number, black, red, black…Perspiration collected on Nick’s thin moustache. “Oh please, God, black, black black,” he pleaded softly. “Just let it be black, black, black.”
The wheel slowly stopped, and the ball came to rest. Nick shut his eyes tight, feeling only the beat of his own throbbing veins, as he listened carefully to the all-important words of the dealer. "Thirteen," the dealer said. "Black."
A loud cheer erupted from the crowd that had gathered around the table. Nick felt the congratulatory pats of strangers as the dealer dealt out one million dollars in chips, and stacked them on top of Nick’s pile. Nick maintained a serene air, but his hands kept a tight pale grip on the table’s edge. He felt blood slowly returning to his head.
“I did it!” he thought.
“Let’s see, I took seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and then the extra million for this bet, so I need to put back one million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. And there’s two million in the pile in front of me, so…that leaves me with a profit of $250,000!”
Nick smiled, a big wide grin, his first in a long time. Not only was he free of the inconvenient stigma of being an embezzler, but he was a quarter of a million dollars richer besides.
“Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. I could use the money for…well, I’ll give a little to some charity, and maybe to a church. But I really should take Doris and the kids on a nice long vacation.” Then Nick thought, “What would I tell Doris? Won’t she wonder where I got this money? I wouldn’t want to explain to her what happened.”
“But Cheryl, on the other hand…”
Cheryl was the supple nineteen-year-old office clerk who flirted outrageously with Nick. It was Cheryl who started their relationship, by playfully baring her breasts at Nick, usually while he was on the phone with his wife. Theirs had developed into a torrid physical alliance, with Cheryl encouraging Nick to steal money out of his business accounts. He used most of the money for weekend getaways and presents for Cheryl, as well as for the condo that he maintained for her near the office.
With his $250,000 windfall, Nick could continue to see Cheryl. And Doris wouldn’t have to know anything about the money. He could spend it on Cheryl, and continue to tell Doris that he was working late or on business trips. Besides, Doris was usually so busy taking care of the kids…
A loud voice interrupted Nick’s thoughts. “Twenty-five. Red.”
The crowd that had gathered around the table groaned loudly, and then slowly broke up. A few people patted Nick’s shoulders in consolation. “Sorry,” one stranger said gently to Nick, before drifting away.
Then Nick watched as the dealer pulled away his two million dollar bundle.
“Hey,” Nick shouted, “what are you doing with my money?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the dealer replied, as he gathered in Nick’s pile of cash. “Although it was quite courageous of you to let your large bet ride, I’m afraid you lost it on the last roll.”
“Let it ride?” Nick exclaimed. “Oh, no, no, no, I wasn’t letting it ride. I just got distracted in my daydreams, and forgot to remove my money after the first bet.” Nick then tried to grab his pile of chips.
The dealer firmly pushed Nick’s hands aside. “When you leave your money on the table, intentionally or not,” the dealer explained, “you let it ride. Rules of the house.” With a small sympathetic smile, he added, “Of course, you’ve lost a lot of money with us today, so if you’d like a complementary coffee shop meal or…”
“DON’T…YOU…TAKE…MY…MONEY,” Nick shouted, and lunged at the dealer, spilling chips and markers all over the floor as he frantically grabbed for his two million dollars. Two large security guards immediately raced over, grabbed Nick by the arms, and shoved him out the nearest exit.
“You’re banned,” the casino manager yelled, as Nick fell over the curb. “Don’t ever try to get back in here.”
Nick, stunned for a minute, finally got up. He brushed off his lapels, tugged down the corners of his vest…
…and he shrugged.
“Well, one million, two million,” he thought. “Does it really make any difference? Am I really in any more trouble now than I was before?”
Nick walked away from the casino, oddly justified in his actions, as if he had closed some secret loop. “Maybe it was a good idea to let it ride.” And he headed to the bus station, to make his way home, tell some lie to his wife, break up with his lover, get caught by his boss, and begin what was sure to be a lifetime of philosophical contemplation, in a steel cage environment built for rigorous self-exploration.