There can be few better things to mesmerize anyone than to fly into Las Vegas at two am in the morning, miles of pitch black desert like a giant blanket , then boom ! the neon rises out of the darkness in glorious technicolour , it was one thing to watch films based in Vegas in "high definition" on a fifty-five inch television, but to see it for real unfolding in front of your eyes was just unbelievable ,Sony, Samsung and the rest could build fifty-five inch televisions for the next thousand years and yet could never match the seven inch square John McIver was looking through right now.
Transfixed and gaze truly well held John surveyed the wonder , the lights were so vivid and the place below looked so alive that at one point as the jumbo flew directly over Vegas it seemed giant neon fingers reached up into the sky and tickled the belly of the plane to which the giant bird gave a little ripple of laughter ,otherwise identified as turbulence to the passengers, well she was entitled, she had just flown from Glasgow to Vegas and was low on fuel and carrying everything from stag parties to newlyweds on her back .
As the buildings started to fade in his window and the strip started to melt into the black John compared the buildings he had just seen to the ones he had left back in Glasgow , the buildings back home in Stoneburn were grey,rain soaked and had a moody menace about them, on a wet and cold night you looked up at them and they looked back down at you out of the corner of their eye like a wide meaty bouncer with his collar up saying " what the fuck are you looking at,beat it " ,there was no neon wonderland, only grids of low level street-lighting that created a nervy atmosphere and a backdrop to whatever criminal or grisly act that was ready to fill the scene over the weekend, still even worse was the actual reality of the situation John was in, it was no movie it was really happening .
Back in Glasgow they would be looking for him mainly in the casinos and bookies but he wouldn't be there and pretty quickly the attention would turn to his family , his two sons Sean and Robert and his little girl Lauren who all lived with his ex-wife Linda and that's what frightened John the most, he would have at the most four or five days to return to Glasgow with the money he owed before his family were targeted.
Glasgow wasn't big enough for him to win the money he needed to pay his debts,he was barred from half the casinos in the city and due to facial recognition software now it wasn't worth travelling the UK to find a casino that would allow him the freedom to gamble his way out of this mess, he had left a flat in Stoneburn with six weeks unpaid rent ,mountains of unopened bills ,nothing in the fridge and scores of unanswered messages on the answerphone, on top of that there was the business, a second hand furniture shop that couldn't be sold as it had nothing in it, he had sold it all to feed the addiction ,the addiction doesn't give up ,it doesn't tire ,it will take food all day ,all night , twenty-four seven as they call it .
Coming to Vegas was an easy choice for John ,but only once he had stolen the money out of his sons trust accounts, as yet he hadn't allowed his mind to accept he had committed this terrible act, he would deal with it later after all this was done but he had stolen it, fact , all six thousand pounds and how he didn't manage to gamble this away before he hit the airport was a mystery but he managed it and now Las Vegas would give him the perfect platform and space to win the eighty-thousand pounds needed to pay off his debtors ,it sounded a lot but out here with the tables and huge casinos they have John knew he could do it and he could do it without fear of getting knifed,shot or kicked out the casino, he once got kicked out the Rivercard casino in Glasgow for attempting card-counting,a system where the player assigns points in his head to each card turned over by the croupier and places large bets when a certain number was reached ,the particular night in question he was caught instantly, another desperate failure,when he did get caught he was marched into a room just like the movies,they really did have these rooms,it was a dank smelly room ,the pit boss came in followed by three larger guys who had clearly started to get into the whole steroid craze at the time .
" What the fuck are you doing cheating in this casino ? "
"I'm not "
Bad answer ,he was booted square in the shin which felt like it was broken,the pain was unbridled,it soared to fantastic heights
"If I see you face in here again you won't fucking walk out of here, you'll crawl "
John thought he was going to have to crawl out this time anyway due to the pain, he got up very slowly and hobbled out the backdoor directed by the meat-heads into an alley ,technically card counting wasn't cheating,that was the thing,however to a pit boss it was as bad as hiding cards, only you were doing it mentally,this was the start of an unbelievably bad run of losing thousands of pounds every week until he had dipped into the savings he and Linda had ,he had spent the Christmas money for the kids,he was on borrowed time before Linda found out which she inevitably did and broke down in tears then battered him in the bedroom,all John could do was put a duvet over him and take it,he deserved it ,that was the end of the relationship,one gamble too many,the woman had lived with his lies for years,there were three people in the relationship and the mistress of gambling would steal John away from his wife every time,he was now out on the streets,that was a year and a half ago,things got steadily worse .
From the moment John accepted a small loan of five grand from a henchman of the most feared gangster in Glasgow then the sand-glass was turned on its head , the more he borrowed in desperation then the quicker the sand trickled through the glass, and when it ran out then Frank Scully ( a.k.a the Shark ) would demand whatever was owed plus interest, if you couldn't come up with the money then you were in trouble, John had passed that point a week ago, these guys don't send reminder warning letters with scary red ink ,they send reminder men with bats, and reminder bullets through your skull ,a warning was sent in the form of a photograph of his sons with their heads crossed out with a marker, when he opened it Johns legs went weak ,it was then that the "plan" was put into action ,he would get as much money as he could and escape to gamble and win what was owed ,after that he would never gamble again, that old gamblers mantra,but he had no choice,he couldn't get the money any other way .
Drifting on a pillow of night air and slowly gliding down further the giant metal bird kissed the tarmac of McCarran International and people on the plane high-fived,jealousy engulfed John ,he wasn't here for pleasure,he was here out of necessity and failure wasn't an option.
Now the plane gave out a thunderous boom as the pilot slammed her engines into reverse and she slowed down to a trundle, John felt sick,instant sick ,this happened a few times on the flight, the reality of the situation had caught him ,it crept up and the enormity of it all was so much bigger than him,this was a mission and the odds were not on his side,but he couldn't let that fester,he had one shot at this and it was one shot that had to have his full concentration .
Baggage halls were horrible places,the bags got heavily abused by the baggage handlers and that was before they hit the carousel,where they were dumped like dead cattle to be picked up by the jostling owners,if bags could speak they would sue for gbh ,it would be a slam dunk in court ,John waited and grabbed the dirty sports holdall,big,black and old,just like the police officer observing space in the baggage hall,only difference was the officer had a gun holstered .
Welcome to Las Vegas the sign in the arrivals hall read,sandwiched between the Welcome to and the Las Vegas the words "Clark county - McCarran International Airport " were embossed,wow he was really here,John McIver headed out of the airport and headed for a taxi or was it a "cab" now he was stateside ? . Cool night air pinched his skin as he got in the taxi,they had to wait as a group of twenty something guys on a stag trip bailed into the car in front,drunk and high-fiving.
"Vegas baby…Vegas" …John muttered under his breath .
Coptright 2013 Jack McCall