CHAPTER NINE:

 “At Christmas-time I let myself have whatever I want for breakfast so I am having fruitcake this morning!” Kat bounced into the kitchen wearing a sweater with large, blue snowflakes on it. Sara was making some toast for grandpa and a cup of coffee for herself. She had gotten some REAL coffee in her stocking.

“Good morning dad!” Kat cheerfully said to a rather glum looking grandpa.

“I got some marmalade this morning,” grandpa grouched.

“Hmm…I WONDER who gave you that?” Kat smiled.

“Where’s the Yank?”

“He’s just walking Lucky…and you shouldn’t call him that.”

“I shouldn’t call your dog ‘Lucky’?”

“NO DAD…WESLEY! YOU SHOULDN’T CALL HIM THAT…IT IS A DOGORATORY WORD.”

“I can hear you just fine, dear.”

Sara set down a plate of toast in front of grandpa. There had been no sign of mom yet. Her bedroom door had remained closed.

Kat waddled to the kitchen and grabbed a plate, then started heaping it with fruitcake, Nanaimo bars, raspberry squares and butter tarts. She then filled up a glass with eggnog and sat down with grandpa.

“When are you expecting guests?” grandpa asked, looking at Aunty Kat’s plate.

“What’s that?”

“Well, from all the food on your dish I assume you must be expecting guests.”

“You are a terrible, old, man!” Kat once again burst into blubbering tears and started to storm out of the kitchen, then quickly turned back to grab her plate of breakfast before bounding down the hall and out the front door. From outside Sara heard Wes yell “What the HECK is it now, woman? You’re gonna get dehydrated from all your crocodile tears!”

Sara watched grandpa smear some marmalade on his toast while a little smirk crept across his face. He caught Sara staring at him.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Do you think I’m being mean?”

“Well, sort of.”

“Unbelievable. When she was young she was a cheerleader and was the spitting image of Bette Davis.”

“Wes says she used to look like Ann Margaret.”

“I just don’t understand. Why must she eat SO much?”

“I guess for the same reason some people drink, smoke, or take drugs.”

“Nonsense. These fat people just need to learn to eat less. All these ridiculous diets. I should write a diet book. It would be two pages long. Page one: “eat less.” Page two: “exercise more.” I could be a millionaire.”

“A million dollars doesn’t go that far these days.”

“I say. Quite true. You’re quite fortunate that you took after your mother…solid, trim figure.”

“Thanks. So, what do you want to do today?”

“Hmm. I suppose everyone will want to go to Boxing Day sales. I can’t imagine anything I’d like to do less than that. Perhaps I shall just relax at home. I can check my e-mail.”

“You have an e-mail account?”

“Of course. Just because I am 900 years old doesn’t mean I’ve let my brain switch off. In fact, I’ve met a rather nice lady-friend online.”

Sara smiled, then chuckled a bit.

“You don’t believe me? We’ve actually been out on several dates now. But she lives on the mainland, so we can’t meet that often.”

“Really?  Well, good for you grandpa. What’s her name?”

“Ruby.”

“Nice name.”

“No, it’s not. It’s an old, granny name. But she’s red hot just like a ruby. She’s got fiery red hair!  I always did have a thing for gingers.”

Sara patted grandpa’s hand. “Well, it’s nice that you have a friend.”

“Well, we’re also lovers.”

Sara did a double take.

“Don’t look so surprised.”

“Oh, no! I mean, no, I’m not surprised at all. I mean, that’s uh…great!”

“Well, it’s like this. Your grandmother, bless her heart, was a wonderful woman. She was a good housekeeper and an excellent mother. But she wasn’t really that forthcoming in the bedroom, if you know what I mean.”

“PLEASE STOP PLEASE STOP PLEASE STOP!” Sara screamed silently to herself.

“She believed that oral sex was perversion and that anything other than the missionary position was just something deviants did. She never got any joy from sex, and after Joe was born, it all but stopped. Never once did I stray from my wife. And now that she is gone, well, by God am I going to get some before I die!”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Grandpa went off to e-mail his girlfriend and Sara started cleaning up the kitchen. Mom walked in at about ten, looking none too pleased.

“I don’t know what you kids see in that stuff at all. I feel awful this morning. I think it gave me the flu.”

“It doesn’t cause the flu mom.”

“Well, I will never touch that garbage again. Where’s Kat?”

“Dunno. Grandpa said something and…”

“Yeah, I thought I heard someone crying. I think Rupa wants everyone to come over to her place tonight. I don’t know why they just can’t come over here. I mean, look at all of this food!  Nobody ate hardly a thing.”

“Well, we can just take some over there.”

“Yes, we’ll do that. The boys really like my meatballs in the mushroom sauce. What about the turkey? I think only Wes had a bit of it.”

“Is Rupa cooking?”

“Yeah, said something about fondue. About all she can do, the poor dear. Melt cheese and cut up stuff. Honestly, she tried making a tuna casserole one time and it tasted just wretched. Don’t understand why her mother never taught her how to cook. I even taught my SONS how to cook!”

Mom busied herself by re-doing all the kitchen work Sara had just done. Sara finally gave up and sat on the stool next to the phone.

“I guess you should call your father.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Oh come on Sara.”

“And what do I say?”

“Well, tell him about dinner at Ryan and Rupa’s.”

“Why the heck would I do that? Nobody wants him there.”

“Well, he has nowhere else to go.”

“What about Joanne’s?”

Mom was quiet for a moment. “Well, it might be a nice idea to invite her as well.”

Sara slapped her own forehead. “Ya know?  I can think of a lot of words to describe THAT idea, but ‘nice’ isn’t one of them.”

“Well, we hardly had Christmas dinner yesterday, so I think it IS a nice idea. You are going to have to meet the woman sooner or later.”

“How can you even be in the same room with them?”

Mom stopped wiping the decks with a rag, put a hand on one of her hips and glared at Sara.

“If I can do it, so can you!  If you don’t call him then I will.”

“Fine. Do whatever you want.” ____________________________________________________________________________________

Uncle Joe called and Sara answered.

“How are things over there?”

“I think you can guess. Mom is cleaning. Grandpa’s watching TV. Kat and Wes went to town.”

“Well, how but I swing by and you and I can take your grandfather to the casino? I think we should give Colleen some space.”

“Uh, OK. Is the casino even open on Boxing Day?”

“Sweetie, the casino is open every day.”

An hour later they had grandpa strapped into the back seat with Tak-Sin and they headed down the road. The casino parking lot was packed.  A group of ladies-of-a-certain-age wearing Santa hats waddled in front of them as they headed for the entrance. A couple of them had seemed to have had several servings of “festive” eggnog, and cackled loudly at an off-colour joke told to them by “Hilda,” the largest of them all.

Grandpa insisted on holding the door open for Sara as they entered. The typical sounds of tinkling slots, the smell of Christmas-present-perfume, and a sea of holiday colours assaulted them. A security guard wearing yet another Santa hat handed each of them a coupon for “A complimentary Gold Berry Cocktail” and greeted them with the now annoying “happy holidays!” bellow.

“So, where do you want to go dad?”

Grandpa turned and studied his son for a moment. “I’d like to win enough to move down to Puerto Vallarta with your idiot brother-in-law.”

Joe tried hiding his annoyance and replied “What about those Indiana Jones machines?”

“Ah…an amateur’s mistake son. One must tour the casino first and get a feel for things. There is a specific science to the placement of machines. The trick is to discover the elusive ‘loose’ slots. They are generally placed where they will catch the most attention. So we want to find out where the machines are which require the highest bets. The loose machines will be for smaller bets, but nearby…hence drawing players to that area with false hopes of winning. Come find me in an hour.”

And grandpa hobbled off on his tour. Sara looked to her uncle and grinned politely. Tak-Sin suddenly interrupted the silence with “Look. They have bar.” There was no need for further discussion. They headed to the bar and cashed in their coupons, ordering up three shots of tequila to go along with their “Gold Berry Cocktails” which turned out to be a mixture of cheap champagne, apple juice, some other type of alcohol, and a swizzle stick with a glittery, gold, Styrofoam ball attached. They sat at the bar in silence and quickly threw back their drinks. Uncle Joe ordered a white wine, stood up and looked to Tak-Sin.

“Can I get $100 from you?”

“Why so much? I give you $50.”

“Just give me $100.”

“No. You spend too fast. I give you fifty. If you need more later I can give.”

Tak-Sin removed a fifty from his wallet and handed it to Joe. Joe left on the tour as well. Sara smiled.

“What?”

“So now we know who controls the money in your household.”

“Yes. Joe is bad with money. I take care all the money. We save now. Joe not young boy. We need the money because soon we will be old man.”

“Let’s go play!” 

They took grandpa’s advice and walked around a bit. Tak-Sin pointed to a machine with some kind of Greek mythology theme.

“I think this one is good. You can play that one.” He pointed to the machine next to it which was covered with images of medieval royalty. Sara watched Tak-Sin put a twenty into the cash slot and did the same. He then pressed a button which said ‘bet one per line’ and another that said ‘play all lines’…and she copied him again.

A flurry of images stirred on the machine’s view-screen, along with some music that was allegedly medieval-sounding. Then everything stopped and there was a celebratory anthem of trumpets and three pictures of golden goblets lit up.

“Oh! Oh!  Look Tak-Sin!  What happened?  What is it?”

“You won!”

“YEEEESSSS!” The shout was a bit too loud as some old bat sitting two chairs down from her gave Sara a scornful glance.

“You win 50 cent.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good.”

“No good. You bet $2.”

“Oh. Well, then I didn’t win at all. Then why did it make all that noise?”

Tak-Sin ignored her idiotic query and kept playing his own machine. Sara sat there for about 3 more minutes hitting the “repeat bet” button.

“My machine isn’t working.”

“You got no money.”

“Oh.”

“Put in more. Maybe this machine don’t like you. You can try different one. Do this one.” He pointed to another Greek Mythology machine on the other side of him. Sara shrugged, and moved to the machine. She put in $10 and started playing again. Suddenly there was a loud blast from Tak-Sin’s machine.

“Oh!  What is it?  What happened?”

“I get bonus round.”

“Really?  Wow!  How do I get one of those?”

“You play more.”

Sara continued playing. There was no loud blast for her. She watched her $10 disappear. Tak-Sin won $36 on his bonus round.

“Lucky bastard.”

Tak-Sin smiled. “It only small money. Come on. We go find other machine.”

Sara spied the Wheel of Fortune machines. They sat down next to each other. A lady came by with a drinks cart and Sara got them each a beer. Sara put in her money, copied again what Tak-Sin did and hit “spin”.

“WHEEL….OF…..FORTUNE!!!” It sounded just like the TV show. Even better…no Skeletor in a Bob Mackie gown turning letters. Sara won $12 on her first spin. Then she won $23 on her fifth!  It was exciting!  She kept slapping Tak-Sin’s knee with excitement. Then she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“I need to borrow some money from you.” It was grandpa.

“Sure. How much do you need?”

“Fifty.”

No sooner had she handed the bill to him than it was snatched out of her hand and grandpa disappeared.

“I think your grandpa losing. Maybe Joe losing too. We take all the luck tonight! You and me are a good team!”

Take-Sin got a bonus round. They looked up and watched the wheel spin…winning him $72!  This time Tak-Sin whooped right along with Sara.

“Why can’t I get one of those bonus rounds?” Sara whined.

Time lost meaning and Sara watched her total hovering around the $30 mark…neither increasing or decreasing with any degree of severity. Tak-Sin got another bonus round. Sara stopped playing for a moment and watched. The spinner slowed down…getting closer and closer to the $500 slot.

“Go, go, go!  Come on…land on RED!” And just when it seemed that the spinner would stop on the purple $30 slot just in front of red, it jumped right into the red slot!  Bells, whistles and alarms. The two of them jumped up and down like little school girls.

“May I have your attention please? Could Joe Bell please come to the customer service desk at the main entrance? Once again, Joe Bell, please come to the front entrance. Thank you.”

Their joy was cut short by the polite voice on the intercom.

“You wait here and get your money. I’ll go see what the problem is.”

Sara rushed through the crowds and approached the front desk. Two security guards, and a woman in a black suit stood with their arms crossed listening to “Hilda” shout and gesture angrily to grandpa who stood nonchalantly with his back leaning on the reception desk. Hilda no longer appeared to be in a jolly mood. The positive effects of the eggnog had obviously been replaced with rage. As Sara approached grandpa looked at her and rolled his eyes. Hilda bounded toward her.

“Do you OWN this?” she screeched, gesturing towards grandpa.

“Um, uh, he’s my grand…”

“Yeah? Well, your GRANDFATHER is a thief!”

“There’s no need to resort to name-calling,” grandpa staunchly retorted. The woman in the black suit pulled Sara aside. She smiled, something obviously she learned in her 5-day training program about calming down angry gamblers.

“Apparently, from what I can gather, that lady had about $120 in her machine. She asked your grandfather to watch it for her while she went to use the restroom. When she returned, all the money was gone. Your grandfather claims she asked him to continue playing for her. Anyway, we’re checking our security videos.”

“Oh God.”

“Don’t worry. It happens all the time.”

“Are you serious?  THIS happens all the time?”

Their conversation was interrupted by Hilda screaming “How DARE you, you, you…fucking old coot!” The security guards were holding back a frothing Hilda whose makeup was now smeared with angry sweat.

“Just calm down ma’am!” one of the security guards stated firmly.

“He called me a WELFARE WHORE!”

“I did no such thing. I called you a ‘dullard on the dole.’ See?  That just shows what kind of woman you are. An uncouth liar. No manners whatsoever!” Sara yanked her grandfather’s arm and pulled him away from the now epileptic woman…who by the size of her, looked like she could snap grandpa like a breadstick.

 Uncle Joe finally appeared…his face flushed.

“What’s going on?”

“This animal of a woman has accused me of stealing,” grandpa replied. Hilda’s friends had now gathered around her. The security guard would not let go of her arm and her sweat had now started mixing with tears. In loud tones Hilda repeated her terrible adventures to her friends, who in turn began shooting eye-daggers at grandpa.

Joe took the woman in the suit aside for a few minutes, and then they returned. The woman suggested the friends take Hilda outside for some fresh air while they waited for the surveillance video. Joe, grandpa, and the woman headed through a doorway behind the reception desk. Sara was left alone with the security guards.

“Rough night?” the younger guard with a blonde crew-cut grinned at Sara.

“You could say that.”

“These old folks sometimes don’t understand. We get this a lot.” He smiled again as he stroked his goatee.

“So I’ve heard.”

“You from around here?”

Was he trying to flirt with her?

“No!”

“Didn’t think so. Not many girls round here within modern hair-dos like yours.”

A cute, native woman in a black suit approached them, said ‘got it’ and then walked behind the desk. She clicked on a few buttons on the computer then turned the monitor to the direction of Sara and the security guards. An image of grandpa and Hilda soon filled the screen. Hilda wiggled in her seat…obviously in desperate need of a ladies room. They watched as she leaned toward grandpa and spoke. He nodded his head. Hilda hoisted herself off the stool and was soon out of frame. Grandpa continued to play his machine. Then he started glancing towards Hilda’s machine. Then again. Then again. Then his head turned around to scan his surroundings. Then like a rat grabbing a piece of cheese, they watched as his hand shot out and hit the “maximum bet” button. The woman stopped the video.

“Unbelievable.” Sara shook her head.

“Yep. Well, the problem we have now is that it is her word against his,” said the blonde.

“Well, obviously she did not ask him to do that.”

“Problem is the sound quality is not good enough to pick up what the lady said to your grandpa.”

“Oh, believe me she is telling the truth. Look, I’ll just give the lady $120 and we can all just get out of here.”

“OK.  Let me just go outside and see if that will take care of the situation.”

The blonde went out the front doors, and the native woman turned and went through the doorway behind the desk. Soon Hilda and her swarm were escorted back inside by the blonde. Sara pulled her cash from her pocket and discreetly counted out $120, then made her way toward the now-calm Hilda. Hilda’s smudged mascara made her look like she’d just been in a losing fight. Sara slowly handed the money to the woman, who surprisingly took it with calm and grace.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Sara hung her head with shame.

“Don’t worry about it honey. It’s not your fault. Can’t help who you’re related to, eh?”

Sara nodded and turned to head to the smoking patio…in desperate need of a cigarette.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Thirty minutes later they were all back in the car headed home. Tak-Sin was still in the afterglow of his big win, up front with Uncle Joe. Sara was trapped in the back seat with a sulking grandpa.

“Did you give that horrid woman any money?” grandpa whispered.

“Well, I didn’t have much choice.”

“I did nothing wrong.”

“Grandpa, they have surveillance cameras. We saw everything.”

“Well, then you know exactly what transpired.”

“You played her machine. You lost all her money.”

“Really?  Did I? If that’s so, then what’s this?”

He pulled a crumpled white ticket out of his coat pocket. On it was printed “$438.”

“UNCLE JOE!  Turn around!”

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