All or Nothing: A Novel

All or Nothing: A Novel

by Preston L. Allen

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A “funny, relentless, haunting, and highly readable” novel about one man’s desperate gambling addiction (ForeWord Magazine).
P is a school bus driver in Florida, and six month ago he won a hundred grand at the casino. What his wife and family don’t realize is that the money is long gone. To keep them fooled—and feed his ongoing compulsion—he indulges in bigger and bigger bets, scrounging for cash anywhere he can. Finally, faced with the ultimate financial crisis, he hits it really big. Yet winning, he soon learns, is just the beginning of a deeper problem . . .
“Allen takes his place on a continuum that begins, perhaps, with Dostoyevsky’s Gambler, courses through Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, William S. Burroughs’s Junky, [and] the collected works of Charles Bukowski and Hubert Selby Jr. . . . colorfully evokes the gambling milieu.” —The New York Times Book Review
“This is strongly recommended and deserves a wide audience; an excellent choice for book discussion groups.” —Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617751004
Publisher: Akashic Books (Ignition)
Publication date: 11/01/2007
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 280
File size: 386 KB

About the Author

Preston L. Allen is a recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship and author of the thriller Hoochie Mama, as well as the collection Churchboys and Other Sinners. His stories have appeared in numerous magazines and journals and have been anthologized in Brown Sugar and Miami Noir. He lives in South Florida.

Read an Excerpt




You call your job and whisper, I don't feel good. I can't come in.

Then you shower, put on your uniform, and tell your wife, Well, goodbye, hon, I'm off to work.

Then you go gamble.

That time you went to the airport to pick up your aunt coming in from out of town, you left home three hours early so you could get a couple hours of gambling in.

Good plan.


The allergic son gets sick in the middle of the night. Choking and wheezing. A stroke of luck. You tell the wife, No, hon, stay home, you need your rest, I'll take him to the emergency room. You leave your cell phone number with the nurse at the desk. You tell her, I'll be outside in my car catching some winks, please call me when they release him.

This has happened many times before. You know it takes the doctors at least three hours to treat and release him. This gives you time to get some gambling in. If anything goes wrong — flat tire, car accident, or maybe you get carried away and stay too long gambling — what's the worst that can happen? The kid is safe. The kid is at a hospital, right? Good plan.

This is a good plan?

You should be ashamed.

Shame on you.

But for a gambler it is a good plan. Shame is only temporary. No shame gets in the way.

A gambler wears all his shame like yesterday's dirt on skin. He washes it off at night and gets up in the morning ready to gamble again because today just might be the day.


There was the famous no-name storm.

The no-name hurricane. It shows up on the weather map as a tropical storm. At the very worst, the weather guy says, it might make a very weak category 1 hurricane. Furthermore, it is aiming at the west coast of Florida, which is far, far away from Miami. The mayor decides to do nothing. The storm is too weak and too far away. There will be no school closings. Everything will be open tomorrow as usual. We all go to bed.

Sometime in the middle of the night, the storm strengthens and begins to move east, toward Miami. In fact, it is guaranteed to hit Miami by 6 a.m., says the weather guy. And it is a hurricane, technically, but just barely; it is a very weak hurricane. So the mayor decides, again, to keep the county running. There will be school in the morning — despite the fact that there is going to be a hurricane. Can you believe the mayor? Sending kids to school in a hurricane? In some ways, he's worse than a gambler. The mayor must be a gambler. But secretly.

So 5 o'clock in the morning, the sky is black and starless and the wind is lashing the landscape with rain. I've got my radio on as I drive to the depot. The announcers are still relaying the mayor's orders: business as usual in Miami. There will be school today. But me, I gave my wife strict orders before I left home: Do not send the boys to school in this mess; screw the mayor; the mayor's an idiot.

By the time I get to the depot, we've got flood conditions. Seven inches of rain on the ground. Trees bending from the stress of the wind. We are soaking wet in our raincoats and water boots and our umbrellas trying to fly out of our hands from the wind. The storm is sitting right on top of us now. We can hear it screaming like a locomotive. We look up into the blackness and imagine we see an eye. We run inside the depot, listen on the radio, and take bets on how long before the idiot mayor reverses his decision. It comes just before 5:45. Harry gets the pot: $12. He had 5:44. I come in second. I had 5:48. Bundled in our raincoats, we dash out to our buses instead of our cars. Lots of gas. Higher wheelbase. We'll bring them back tomorrow. Of course, I don't head home because Indian casinos stay open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, come rain, come shine, come category 1 hurricane.

It takes me forever to get there, despite the higher wheelbase of the bus. There's so much water on the ground I can't make any better than 15 miles per hour. When I get there, the parking lot is full of cars so I have to park far from the building. I leave my school bus and try to get through the parking lot fast as I can, wading through a foot of rain. Kinda like running with boots full of water. My boots are full of water. Inside they have blankets waiting to dry me off, and robes to wear from their hotel rooms upstairs. It's tough to get a table because there are too many players waiting and so many of the dealers couldn't make it in because of the storm. See, it's too stormy for dealers, but the players are all here. What does that tell you? So I play the machines. I put in a lucky $20 and play for like two hours in my Indian casino hotel robe. Up, down, up, down, up. Someone jokes, They've fixed the machines to not kill us today on account of the storm. Maybe he's right. When they finally call my name for cards, I am up $120. I go to the card table and I do all right there, as well. Maybe they've fixed the cards to not kill us, too.

The storm ends around noon, and I'm still winning, but I figure I'd better leave or the wife will know what I'm up to. I surrender my Indian casino hotel robe and make my exit.

Outside the wind is gone and so is the rain. The sun is shining bright in the sky. I have never seen a bluer sky. But there is still so much water on the ground. It's like driving through a lake. There are many stalled cars on the road. Everybody on the radio seems pissed off at the mayor for not shutting things down sooner. With all of that water on the ground, it takes about an hour to get home.

The wife says, Where have you been?

I tell her, I was stuck in it. What a mess it was. Can you believe that idiot mayor made us go to work in this?

They said on the TV that they canceled school, she says.

Yeah, but when we got the news, we had to go back to the schools and pick them up all over again and take them home. What a mess. We had to wait around to make sure they were all accounted for.

The mayor is an idiot, she says.

Yes, he is, I agree.

Then I go into the bathroom to count my winnings. It was a good day, though I could have been killed.

I am up $300.


There was the time one of my ATM cards started acting up.

You would slide it through the little slot in the machine, and it would give you an error message — CARD NOT READ. You had to hold your hand just right to get it to work. You had to have a steady hand to make it work. Then, after a while, not even a steady hand was good enough. It was crazy. The fickle card would pick which ATMs it wanted to work in, and it would work in none other. Sometimes the magnetic strip starts acting up like that and you have no choice but to contact your bank and order a replacement card.

Wouldn't you know it? The ATMs that mine chose not to work in were at the Indian casino. The damned card will work everywhere except at my favorite place in the whole wide world.

So one night I'm playing and I run out of cash. I have already burned through the one bank's ATM card that is working and hit my daily limit there. I pull out the bad ATM card from my other bank, the replacement for which still hasn't arrived. I pray to God because I need this cash to get me some luck to get me back even. I try the steady-hand method like ten times, but no luck — all I'm getting is CARD NOT READ. Then what I do is, I leave the place and jump in my car and drive to an ATM machine at a grocery store about a half hour away where the fickle card usually works. When I get there, sure enough — it works fine. I withdraw the money, then drive back to the casino, lose that, then get in my car and drive back to the distant grocery store's ATM and do it again, and again, and again, until my daily limit is reached on that card, too. Then I go home.

The next day, when I hit my daily limit on the good card, I am about to drive to the distant grocery store's ATM when I witness a miracle. There is a gambler at the casino's ATM with the same problem I have — a fickle ATM card — but she has solved it. She has wrapped her card's magnetic strip in the cellophane cover of her cigarette pack, and using a steady hand, has gotten it to work.

Stupid me. Why didn't I make this connection before? I have seen cashiers in grocery stores do this trick many times when a customer's ATM card doesn't work.

When the gambler ahead of me at the ATM has finished, I ask to borrow her cellophane cover. She hands it to me and laughs, Good luck.

Eureka. It works. I am able to draw out the money. I am back in business.

When I lose that, I draw out some more.

When I lose that, I discover that somehow I have also lost my cellophane wrap, so now I go searching on the ground and picking through the ashtrays and garbage bins until I find another magical, mystical tossed-away cigarette pack wrapper. Again the cellophane trick works.

It keeps working until I have hit my daily limit. I do that all week until my replacement card finally arrives. What a neat trick. Yep.


Sick. Sick. Sick, you must be saying to yourself. P, you are sick.

Yep. Yep. Yep.


I hear gamblers say, How did I get in this mess? One day I'm a normal guy, the next day I'm mortgaging my house to fund my gambling. It all happened so suddenly.

That is a damned lie. It never happens suddenly. No one had a gun to your head. No one had a gun to my head.

I could have done well in school, but school was not my thing. I liked school, just not a lot. My favorite subjects were social studies and language arts — I was pretty good in language arts. In junior high I wrote a poem that won a prize, and then they sent it to the Miami Herald, where it got published. That was kind of cool. Sports? I was good at basketball. In football, I could take a hit and give a good one, too. I'm not so tall, but I am heavy in the chest and legs. I never played on any school teams — too much discipline for me. I preferred the pickup games at the park or on the street in front of our three-bedroom house in the Carol City section of Miami, the middle-class neighborhood where I grew up in the late '70s and early '80s.

I was a normal kid. I had an Afro when Afros were in style, and by the time I graduated high school in 1980, I was wearing my hair cut low to the scalp with rows of tight, greased waves cultivated by hours of arduous brushing and nights of sleeping in a wave cap (i.e., a cap made from pantyhose I swiped from one of my sisters).

After school was over, I took a few courses at the community college. I had this brief dream that I would go into aviation, but like I said, school was not my thing, so I quit after one term. I made all Cs. I joined the Reserves. I got my union card and worked as a longshoreman with my father for a while. The money was pretty decent, but I needed more of it, so I got a part-time job as a security guard at the courthouse. I saved up enough money from working the two jobs to buy my first car, a '79 Buick Electra 225, what we used to call a deuce and a quarter. It was a nice ride to go cruising in with the fellas — what was left of the fellas, now that so many of them were in college or the military or shackled to a wife and kids. So that was how I spent my weeks — working my two jobs Monday through Friday, then chasing women with the remaining fellas on the weekends. I met that first stupid girl and got her pregnant. I was a baby daddy. That was kind of cool. All in all, it was a good life, though it ended kinda quick. The next thing I knew, I was married, with kids, another kid from that first stupid girl (court-ordered child support), and a mortgage.

But that was a good life, too. I loved my wife and kids. I devoted myself to being a good father, which wasn't difficult to do because I had come from a good home with a good father — he was quick with the belt, especially when he drank, but overall a good father, who could always be counted on to bail you out or kick some toughness into you, whichever you needed.

I buckled down and learned how to juggle the bills. But they were bills, and I never learned how to like them. Everything cost so much, I discovered. My friends were starting to acquire things — material possessions — that I could not. I would see them in their BMWs. Or with their large houses. I began to see the limits of what we could have as a family because of my limitations as a provider. I did not let it show, but there was some guilt there. Maybe I should have tried harder in school, for my family's sake. Maybe I could have been something better than what I was.

But what I was, was a regular guy.

What was wrong with that?

I refused to succumb to jealousy. I comforted myself with a thing that was clear and true: We lived good. There was nothing wrong with the way we lived. Other people may have had more, but we lived good. We certainly didn't live bad.

My wife was a bridesmaid at her friend's wedding. The friend, who had never been married before, was in her mid-30s at the time. Both she and the groom were doctors. It was a fabulous affair, held at one of the grandest hotels in Miami, the Biltmore. My wife was more beautiful than all of the bridesmaids and the bride, too. To put it nicely, the bride was not a cute woman — she is my wife's dear friend, so no offense, but she is zero in the cute department. I mean, she has this nose job that's so bad it makes her old ugly nose look good. So you know how it is, my wife and I got to cracking up about it that night in bed.

My wife said, But the dress. Did you see the dress? You have to admit the dress was beautiful.

And I said, Yes, hon, but did you see who was wearing it? That nose. Who is she trying to be, Michael Jackson? Forget the dress, she needs to work on getting the rest of her nose back.

And my wife said, That dress cost more than you make in a year.

This hurt a little bit, but I did not let it show. I said to my wife in the dark beside me, Ha-ha, but to still end up looking like that after spending all that money on a dress. Ha-ha.

My wife said, All that money? All what money? In the real world, that is not a lot of money.

We had a house in a decent neighborhood, we had two big-screen TVs, we had two cars, we were raising children who had all the newest toys and bikes, we went on a two-week vacation to my sister's house in Atlanta once a year. We made it work. We knew how to juggle. We lived good. We had love. We had quality of life.

But in the real world, what I made was not a lot of money.

What I made was less than what her not-cute friend the doctor spent on a dress she would wear only once.

If that was the real world, what world was I living in?

My wife is a good wife. This was the only time she ever said anything like that about money, about where we were in life, and after she said it, she became quiet. Real quiet. I was quiet, too.

Then my wife reached out, found my hand, held it tight, and began to talk about the Christmas gift she had picked out for my parents that year (this was before my father had died). I mumbled my agreement, though I was not really listening to the particulars of what she was saying. That she was even saying it was the proof I needed that she still loved me.

Even though my money, in the real world, was not a lot.

But a bus driver does live in the real world. Casinos are in the real world, and a bus driver, sitting there with all those jackpots, those blinking lights on those machines, dreams about the day when he's got more money than any not-cute doctor that his wife went to high school with.

Sure, he may have made a few errors along the way. Sure, he could have done better.

But a casino can fix all errors and right all wrongs.

All it takes is one push and the slate is wiped clean.

All you have to be is lucky.


It was Super Bowl Sunday, and I was seeing 7s and 9s.

Everywhere I looked it seemed that 7s and 9s were popping up. Billboards. License plates. Dollar bills. And always in groups of four, with the 7s leading the 9s.

A few years ago, I held a contract for 7-9-7-9. Played it for four months, then decided it was a dud and stopped playing it. Just to spite me it came in like the very next day. I never got over that. So I knew it was God talking again. The 7-9-7-9 was finally ready to come back to me. This time I would catch it.

I was doing okay for money at the time because I had hit a few months back, big money, which I will tell you about later, but it was slipping away fast. I was lying to everybody about it. All my friends thought I was still rich — I mean, I had really hit it big, but by Super Bowl Sunday more than half of it was gone. A cousin was asking to borrow money and I was willing to give it to her, but the way it was slipping through my fingers, I really couldn't afford it. The way I figured it, I needed at least $25,000 to build my account back up and still have a couple thousand to lend my cuz so I could look big in front of her. So that Super Bowl Sunday I played 7-9-7-9 in the Play-4 for eight dollars straight. If it hit, and I was certain that it would, I would take home 40 grand. Nice.


Excerpted from "All or Nothing"
by .
Copyright © 2007 Preston L. Allen.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Page,
PART I: Addicts,
PART III: Man in the Black Hat,
PART IV: Penitent,
PART V: Murder,

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All or Nothing 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
shawnd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow. I hadn't come across this book through publicity, just found it at the library. But I couldn't put it down. It's a fast-paced, gut-wrenching tour through gambling addiction, family destruction, success and demise. The book follows the amazing ups and downs of a 'degenerate' gambler called 'P' as he proceeds to destroy his marriage, finances, career. It will probably find its way into the canon of books used by psychologists or psychiatrists trying to understand the phenomenon of gambling addiction. Not having experience in this behavior/lifestyle it was eye-opening to say the least, and also painful to read. Fortunately the author gives us something other than just more pain, shame, destruction and insanity in the second half of the book, or this book would have really sucked me into a mild depression due to tragedy. I was convinced during reading this book that this must be autobiographical in some way as the main character's voice was so pitch perfect, it couldn't be otherwise. However the more the book progressed the more I thought perhaps this is just a really talented writer amalgamating from experiences, friends, and other sources and flattening it all into a soulful single note that leaves echoes even after the book is over.Unfortunately, the book is risque/sexual at times, so I would be hesitant to recommend it without constraint. I wouldn't begrudge that aspect to the book, as I am sure it is needed to make the story true to life, and perhaps it's truly reserved and conservative compared to what really goes on among the residents of this lifestyle. The book is a haunting portrayal that will stick with me for some time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was given to me as a reading assignment. And I must say, it's been the most enjoyable assignment all semester. The story is told though the perspective of P, a bus driver with an addiction to gambling. What makes this story different is that you get to see the mindset of a gambler. How they think, how they act, what they do and why they do it. You get an inside view of what it's like to be a addicted to casinos, and how scary it can truly be. The characters a memorable, and P himself is a well designed and lovable character. You will find yourself rooting on for him, in hopes he can find his way out of this horrible lifestyle.  The dialog is interesting, entertaining, and funny. It's very believable, to the point where you will ask if it's based on fact or fiction. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a memorable story, and I look forward to reading more from Mr. Allen.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This dark, yet poignant account of the devasting effects of a gambling addiction through the eyes of a truly lovable character, P, made it impossible to put down the book. Allen describes in detail what drives the gambler and the itch that he or she never succeeds in scratching. I found myself cheering for P. and his salvation, whatever that might be.