UPPING THE STAKES is the story of Lily Jarman, an alluring woman whose life of wealth and privilege ends abruptly, forcing her to find a way to save her life and her family.
Catapulted into the casino world of high-stakes gambling and sexual adventure, Lily risks more as her drug use escalates, thrusting her further into a life of turmoil.
In this compelling search for independence, she embarks on a roller coaster journey from Atlantic City to New York and Las Vegas where she learns that upping the stakes comes with powerful life changing consequences.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.48(d)|
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UPPING THE STAKES
By CORINNE COLMAN
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Corinne Colman
All rights reserved.
The spirit of adventure was running high that cold January evening, speeding the bus over the bleak flatlands of New Jersey toward the lights towering in a glittering frieze across the black horizon.
A strong sea wind blew through the dim littered streets, but the darkness could not mask Atlantic City's plaintive shabbiness. Dilapidated frame houses, plastered with linoleum and boards lined the broken pavement. Tawdry bars and garish diners flickered red neon through the debris. In sharp contrast to the tattered streets, the chrome and glass hotel where I checked in that evening was alive with a stream of Saturday night arrivals.
The amplified shrieks of a rock band blasted through the cavernous casino, mingling with shouts, bells, the clanging of slot machines, the raucous screaming from the craps' tables and the wild clamor of excited crowds. The five-dollar blackjack tables were full but the desire to play irresistible. In an instant I was at a twenty-five dollar game.
Almost as quickly, the dealer admonished me for improper use of hand signals, revealing my status as Atlantic City neophyte.
A moment later, a tall attractive redhead sat down beside me. She wore a large diamond pin on the lapel of a black silk suit, an incongruous, amusing note of elegance in a denim and polyester crowd. Her long, blood red nails clicked rhythmically on the chips.
"How's this doll been treating you?" she asked, nodding toward the dealer.
"Too soon to tell," I said.
"We just got in about five minutes ago. My husband had a meeting so I escaped for a while," she said.
Dealt an ace and a three against the dealer's five, I hesitated.
"Double 'em," said the redhead quickly. "It's the right play."
Automatically following her advice, I won a large bet and we became friends.
"Thank you," I said, "I didn't know you could double that bet. It's not permitted in the Bahamas."
"Rules vary, Atlantic City's are different from the Bahamas and Las Vegas -- in Vegas the rules on the strip aren't the same as the big hotels. Glad to be of help. I'm Bonnie Fisher."
"Lily Jarman," I said, accepting her bejeweled hand."
"Your hands are shaking," she said.
"Is this your first time in Atlantic City?"
"It's like coming home for me. I grew up in Freehold, New Jersey, about an hour away. We came down to the shore all the time when I was a kid." She paused and looked over at my cards. "Hey, you gotta great split going for you there. Bet it."
I made the bet and won again. "Where are you from, Lily?" Bonnie asked.
"New York City."
"Down here on your own?"
"Lucky you!" she said. "You can play to your heart's content. I'm crazy about my husband -- but not when I'm into blackjack."
Guided by the sure hand of my cicerone, I relaxed and enjoyed myself. Smoke swirled, drinks flowed, chips clicked and the band played, creating the illusion of a perpetual party. It was a great way to make money.
Bonnie's warmth and glamour were beguiling. Instructing me on basic strategy shoe after shoe, she was invaluable. Winning excited my imagination -- I sensed the possibility of being once more where I had been for so long -- on top of it all.
It was the dinner hour and the game belonged to the die-hards, those whose passion for gambling supersedes their need for food. Our group had become lively, filled with the music of gruff male voices and street accents. Taking advantage of the fact that we were the only women playing, Bonnie chatted up the men, made jokes and enlivened the scene with a stream of sexual innuendo. She flirted outrageously with the dealer, a shy, glossy-haired boy of Sicilian descent named Nino.
"There are more Italians here than in all of Italy," Bonnie said, "more even than Vegas. When I was in the chorus in Vegas, I had a guy that looked just like Nino, could've been his father. Hey, Nino, give me a blackjack. Now! You owe me babe!"
Bonnie, who had been playing one hundred a hand, suddenly bet all her money -- two tall stacks of chips, thousands of dollars. And in one of those lustrous moments of gambling's favor, she received the imperiously demanded blackjack. The table went wild and the men roared their approval.
"Ya gotta' scream for it. If you don't ask, you don't get nothin'," shouted one man.
"Ain't we lucky to be here!" said another.
"And we ain't never gonna leave!"
Bonnie tipped Nino grandly with a hundred-dollar chip. "Thank you, babe," she said. "What a win -- right on the money! I'm up fifteen thousand. I can't believe it. You're my lucky charm, Lily. I've got to keep you around. How you doing?"
"I'm ahead seven-hundred dollars," I said.
"Let's have a drink at the bar to celebrate. That's the move -- to leave while you're ahead. Now I should be able to play after dinner without any hassle from Sid. He thinks that gambling's only for fools and suckers. Not that he minds the money. He never begrudges me anything. The thing is, he works for the company that owns this hotel, and he hates the idea of me being hustled by his business associates. He also doesn't like the idea of my playing alone."
"It looks bad to the people who work for him. They're very into how things look. Sure, they want the casino overflowing, but not with family members."
In the bar we chose a table with a view of the passing parade. Bonnie ordered a scotch while I drank white wine.
"That blackjack was incredible," Bonnie said, "straight from heaven. And that dealer -- he's the spitting image of this guy Angelo who I hooked up with when I first hit Vegas. I was sixteen and trying to make it as a dancer. He was a struggling musician and between us, we didn't have a nickel. But what a passion! Fun and great in bed. Trouble is, he found his way into everyone else's bed, too."
Bonnie's voice assumed the husky tone women use when talking of past love.
Her confidences didn't surprise me. The excitement of the moment released a flow of feeling. Motivated by the desire to confess after our win, personal reserve disappeared between us and bits of highly private history were traded in banter. Naked revelations, astonishing glimpses into the soul could be heard cheaply and examined greedily by strangers.
"By the time Angelo left," Bonnie said, "I was the head of the chorus. I had good times, sure, but life in Vegas is very hard. Hard on the face and the body -- forget about the soul. You're old at twenty-five in the desert.
"Then, thank God, I met Sid, and presto, my whole life changed. We got married, moved to Los Angeles and became part of the world of big business. You know, charity benefits, beautiful people. We know everybody, go everywhere. We're at the right places at the right time. Beverly Hills, California -- it's a long way from Freehold, New Jersey."
"I've made that trip myself," I said.
"Yeah? Dressed up in your faded jeans and denim shirt and cowboy boots?
Looking like money doesn't matter? You've got to be loaded. Am I right?"
"Almost right. I was loaded."
"It's a long story."
And one, I thought, for which, despite my need to talk and unburden myself, I could find no words. There was only the image of us in the Bahamas, barely two weeks ago, glowing with health and sun, rising to the occasion of pleasure and the greater luxury, normalcy.
"Talk to me, Lily," said Bonnie insistently, pulling me out of my reverie, "What brings you to Atlantic City?"
"I'm here to win."
"We're all here for that," she said.
"I need money to live."
"You're counting on winning?" she said, incredulously. "You barely know the rules of the game!"
"I don't know the rules about anything, Bonnie. I'm here because an incredible thing happened."
"A few weeks ago, I was in the Bahamas on New Year's Eve. It was after midnight. I'd had a lot of champagne, and went to a five-dollar blackjack table. I had never played for real money. The man beside me was betting heavily and losing. Just after I sat down, the cards got very hot. We began to win. He helped me play and pressed me into betting big -- bigger than I ever dreamed of betting. We covered every spot on the table and the streak just got hotter. We couldn't lose. I won twenty-thousand dollars that night."
"I would never have bet that high and taken those chances under normal circumstances. But the champagne, the excitement of New Year's Eve, the beginning of a new decade, 1980, the lucky streak all catapulted me into the stratosphere. I've come here to ride that streak."
"You expect to make a living from gambling?"
"For a while."
"I've known a lot of guys who gamble. Some of them claim to make good money, but I've never known a woman to make a living from casino gambling. You've got to be desperate, Lily."
"Yes," I said, signaling for the waitress. We ordered another round of drinks.
"Those guys who grind it out," Bonnie said, "they aren't looking to make a big score. They don't take real chances."
"I don't have time to grind it out."
"You'd have an edge if you counted cards, at least some gamblers say that. I don't believe it."
"I couldn't ever manage that," I said. "It's much too difficult."
"Can't you raise money any other way?"
"That's tough, Lily. How long have you been married?"
"Almost sixteen years."
"What do you have of your own?"
"Come on, Lily, don't tell me you didn't sock something away in all those rich years."
"It's true, Bonnie. I always believed I would be taken care of."
"Yeah, like the guy on New Year's Eve who helped you win. Like me tonight."
"Those were the conditions of my marriage, Bonnie. Paul controlled both the money and me. I was his baby, one of the kids. He lavished me with gifts. But the money was never mine, not half of it, not a quarter of it, nothing in my name, ever.
It was his to give me -- and he was extremely generous."
"When he didn't give me what I wanted, I used the usual weapons: slyness, cajoling, sex, deference. I figured I could catch more flies with honey."
"Didn't you ever work?"
"We were married while I was still in school and I had three children in rapid succession. My job was wife and mother. It started out simply. We had no money and then Paul made a fortune. I became a caretaker and hostess. There was never any question of working."
"I understand now," she said. "You never had to take care of yourself. I learned how to do that very early in life and I never forget it. Sid and I have been married for nine years. He's as good a husband as you'll find: faithful, generous and loving. But I always remember one thing -- when I met him he was married to someone else."
"You're starting from scratch, Lily, and you'll have to learn fast. The casino's a place where you'll grow up quickly -- or not. If you do manage to win money, put it away for a rainy day."
Bonnie glanced at her considerable number of diamonds with a banker's eye.
"Solid platinum," she said, showing me her watch. "Twenty carats, blue-white diamonds, tripled in value in six months. A gift from Sid, like this diamond pin. She stroked her lapel, picking out the glittering stones with the sharp point of her fingernail.
"There's lots of ways of getting what you want in this world, Lily, and I don't think you've got a clue to any of them. Come and have dinner with me and I'll show you the ropes. You'll meet Sid, and besides, if you're with me, I'll have no trouble going back to the casino after dinner. And there's someone else I'd like you to meet."
"You'll see." She turned to me then, blue eyeliner in hand. "Do you have anybody else, a guy?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know, Lily, a lover."
"I can't answer that, Bonnie."
"Hey, your husband -- that's heavy stuff. We don't need to go into it. But lovers -- they're fair game, less real, more exciting. Don't worry, I'll keep it under my hat."
I quickly finished my drink. "Well, there was someone. I ended the affair about six months ago. He's one of those men who never really belong to any one woman."
"You mean he's a rat."
"Yes. I was addicted to him."
"Rats are like that -- they've got a smell you can't forget and you keep looking for it everywhere. One thing those guys do know, though, is how to give a girl a good time. In a sense, you were lucky. A real rat is hard to find."
"Too many complications," I said.
"Losses and gains, right? You get a little peace of mind back when it's over. You can get a good night's sleep, finally. It's like a rest cure, good for the nerves, but you don't feel so peppy."
"The guy you had an affair with, does he have money?" She applied a smooth layer of lip-gloss.
"Well, if you're so hard up, why not ask him for a loan or something?"
"That's not my style."
"Hey babe, you've got to start using your head, and just maybe that means putting that fabulous face and figure to work for you. You're a great-looking broad. A little marketing wouldn't hurt."
Taking a last sip of my drink, I rose from the table, smiling. Bonnie was a marvelous tonic. She brightened my spirits and I happily accepted her dinner invitation. We went to the bathroom, where I washed my face and repaired the ravages of the day.
We walked arm-in-arm through the crowds, past a circular bar overflowing with revelers, past a female rock group called the G Strings and wearing little else, who were beating out the pulse of another Saturday night, past pale, local hookers, awkward and new to the trade, who smiled encouragingly while they tapped feet to the music; they hadn't yet acquired the veteran's stance of boredom.
The casino was alive with the carnival atmosphere of a big night in a small town and the scent of Saturday night sexuality was rampant. The women wore tight revealing clothes, heavy make-up and hair piled high in glossy tiaras that suggested the symbolic ornamentation of a tribal totem. They clutched their men fiercely, marking them as taken to all the lion-manned, nubile young girls eager to establish their own territorial imperative.
The men were as laden with jewels as the women. The older ones were more ornately adorned, as befitted rank and age. Medallions were encrusted with larger stones, and watches were laced with diamonds. Everyone was glossed and burnished with ointments and the air was redolent of the scent of a million cans of hair spray. Suddenly, I was happy to be in this noisy preposterous place, this garish gallery of limbo stuck out in the back end of the South Jersey swamps. I laughed aloud with pleasure.
"Boy, am I glad to finally see a smile on your face," said Bonnie. "When I sat down beside you at that table you looked as if you'd lost everything."
Bonnie was right. I had lost that safe clear space that I once believed was mine. The realm of the cherished wife, reliable mother, and adored mistress was gone. It had vanished. I was now, for the first time in my life, nobody's darling.
I had been brutally cast out of my world, forced to embark upon a relationship with the only person who could save me. I was thrust utterly upon the good graces of a perfect stranger. Myself.CHAPTER 2
The Golden Harp restaurant was Atlantic City deluxe: candlelight, tuxedoed waiters and Impressionistic murals depicting nymphs and satyrs frolicking in the Arcadia of South Jersey. The maitre d' bowed to Bonnie and escorted us to a secluded corner table where two men in their early sixties were having brandy, coffee and cigars. They rose as we approached.
Sid Fisher, dressed in a business suit, had an air of indulged affluence reflected in the clear pink of his baby skin. Jake Berman, silver-haired and tanned with translucent blue eyes, which lent his face a cast of indifference. He wore jeans, denim shirt and cowboy boots, a replica of my outfit.
"Bonnie found you a double, Jake," Sid said.
"Just what I've always wanted -- a twin!" said Jake.
"Jake's a real cowboy, he rode his horse to the airport in Vegas this morning.
What's your excuse Lily?" asked Sid, smiling.
"Lily looks dynamite in jeans. That's good enough reason to wear them," Jake said, then turned to Bonnie. "If I'd known that you'd bring back a beauty, I'd have paged you hours ago."
My face grew hot.
"You're blushing," Jake said. "I didn't know that women still blushed -- it's lovely."
Excerpted from UPPING THE STAKES by CORINNE COLMAN. Copyright © 2014 Corinne Colman. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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