THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Friday, January 29, 2010

Larry Smith...This one is for YOU! (Part 3, final)

Well, I didn’t throw in my dealer’s apron after the nightmare audition to beat all nightmare auditions. In fact, I practiced at ACES Casino Dealer’s School until I came very close to wearing out the felt on the BJ layout. Armed with the half-baked confidence of a newbie, I auditioned at Santa Ana Star Casino, a little place about half an hour’s drive north of Albuquerque. (Above) Somehow I managed to squeak through without a mishap. Maybe it was because this time I left my fake fingernails at home.

The good news: I was hired. The bad news: They threw me on graveyard shift. Oh shit! I thought. I can barely deal during the day. Imagine a table full of alert, eager players greeting me at 2:00 a.m.! That’s right. My shift started at 2:00 and finished at 10:00 a.m. During my first gig at Ohkay Casino, I’d get maybe a couple of laid-back cattlemen or a sweet little old lady gambling away the mortgage payment. But here…Suddenly it was “show time” in the middle of the night and I’d better be ready.

It was my first night on the job (or should I say morning.) I was as nervous as a virgin in a cathouse. In the BJ pit my new boss motioned to me. “Tap out Randy over on table 8. It’s a $100 limit.”

Thank goodness, I sighed, seeing there was only one male customer sitting at the table. I shuffled the 6 decks, got the guy whose name was Gary to cut them and placed the decks carefully in the shoe. Casually I asked, “You from around here?”

The guy took a long drag on his cigarette and carefully placed it in his ashtray. His pale, expressionless eyes gave away nothing. “The truth is,” he said. “I just got out of the state pen today.”

My heart skipped a beat, but I didn’t drop any cards. “Welcome to the outside,” I said, like a total idiot. Great. My first customer just got out of the joint…As if I’m not jittery enough.

The ex-con shot me a crooked half smile. “Come on, make my day.” He split $100 in green chips between 2 betting circles. I won that hand…and the next…and the next. Was the air conditioning broke, I wondered? I could feel the sweat rolling down my back and sticking to my new dealer’s shirt. I tried not to make eye contact. Surveillance is probably watching this guy (I hoped.)

Mr. Volatile, growing more agitated with each hand, threw down five $100 bills wanting change. For the c-notes I gave him $500 worth of green chips. “Dropping $500,” I announced as I shoved the bills down the slot with the paddle. Thankfully, the pit boss grunted his acknowledgement directly behind me. Good, I thought. If this Gary goes ballistic, maybe I can duck behind my boss.

Now no one is going to believe what happened next, not even my friends. After I won yet another hand, Gary lunged forward. “I just know you’re fucking cheating me somehow.”

I wasn’t sure if his object was me or the chips, so I covered the tray with my body. The next thing I knew, two security guys stepped up, each grabbing an arm, and escorted the trouble maker off the premises. Immediately, another dealer tapped me out. Shaking a bit, I spread the deck and clapped my hands for the cameras. In the pit, my boss said, “You know, seeing as how this is your first night, you kept pretty cool.”

He must have missed the sweat soaking every inch of my shirt. Looking back on the whole thing, I thought what if the nut-case had a weapon. No one pats you down when you enter a casino to see if you’re least not at a little Indian casino out in the New Mexico sticks.

Eventually, I increased the number of hands I dealt per hour, the standard by which all dealers are judged. I even stopped showing my hole card. But the job would only last about 6 months.

Around this time an article about my writing Thief appeared in the local newspaper and someone posted it in the dealer’s break room. The photo showed me sitting in front of a BJ layout pitching cards at the camera. Great. Now my co-workers mumbled things like: Who the hell does she think she is? I tore down the article, but the sarcastic comments continued.

Well, one day I received my work schedule for the following week. Turned out the girl who made the schedules slipped me the wrong one either by accident or on purpose. That meant I was a no show 2 nights in a row, which meant automatic firing no matter what the reason.

I stepped into the office of the casino manager for my mandatory exit interview. You’d think I was caught stealing, the way he chewed me out. “You are without doubt the lousiest dealer I’ve ever seen. In fact I’m using the surveillance videos of you dealing to show our dealers what not to do.” He saw how dejected I looked and added, “Don’t feel too bad, honey. You can probably get a job schlepping drinks.”

“Don’t bet on it,” I said and stormed out.

I licked my wounds all the way to my good old friend, Larry Smith’s place and relayed the whole awful mess. He looked at me kind of funny, gave me a hug and said, “I don’t want to burst your bubble, kid, but maybe you’re not cut out to be a dealer.”

That’s an understatement, I thought.

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