Stuart Adler loved to play Blackjack. Sitting in his local casino at the Black Jack table was a blast. He enjoyed the camaraderie with other players who also had winning on their minds and he enjoyed kibitzing with the dealers.

Stuart had one hard and fast rule, he would take a maximum of two hundred dollars with him and if he lost he left. He made sure his debit cards were locked away and he had no access to money.

If he was meant to win, Stuart believed he would win, if things went the wrong way, he would bail out and try to recoup the following week. That was Stuart’s other rule, once a week visits to the Casino, no more, no less. Stuart also initiated a time out rule. He would never stay longer than four hours. If he was on a hot streak he would leave, if he was just getting hot he’d still scramble, four hours maximum sitting on his butt watching the cards was the limit.

One Sunday morning, Stuart arrived at the Casino and headed over to the Black Jack tables. Since it was 9:00 am Stuart didn’t think it would be busy, but there was a couple of guys playing. On the weekend the Casino raised the minimum bet and there was only one fifteen dollar table that Stuart could find.

He sat down on the first stool and cashed a hundred dollar bill. He asked for some singles so he could play the side bet. One of the guys at the table looked rough, his eyes were tiny and he seemed disheveled. There was a guy standing only about a half a foot behind him.

‘’Listen, you sure you need to sit at this table, I’m just starting to win some of my money back, if you go somewhere else I’ll give you twenty five bucks.’’ Stuart smiled at him ‘’That’s okay, this is the only fifteen dollar table I could find, so I’ll stay here but thanks for the offer.’’ The man just glared at Stuart before turning his attention back to his cards.

Stuart immediately got hot, he hit with his side bets and was getting excellent cards, which didn’t sit well with the player who had asked him to leave. ‘’You’re stealing all my fuckin’ cards, if you take off I’ll give you fifty.’’ Stuart ignored the guy, he was up a hundred why would he leave.

After another three hands, Stuart watched the guy turn to the fellow who was standing behind him. ‘’I need another five hundred’’, the guy shook his head, walked away and took out his cellphone. He made a call while the player sat out hands waiting for an answer. Stuart was intrigued and watched as the guy talked into his phone, he nodded his head slowly while never taking his eyes off the player. He motioned for the player to leave the table and come over to him.

Disheveled asked the dealer to put a marker on his spot and left the table. He ambled over to the guy who summoned him and was passed the phone. Stuart knew something untoward was happening. A couple of new players sat down, and there was a dealer change. After a short conversation on the phone, the uptight player passed the phone back and returned to his seat.

‘’Aw shit, more people playing. Shit, why are they changing dealers? aw shit.’’ Two seconds later the guy who had been on the phone, came to the table and handed the miserable player five one hundred dollar bills.’’ He never said a word, he just took up his position standing behind him.

Stuart’s luck continued and when he was up two hundred and fifty dollars he stood to leave. He thanked the dealer, wished everybody luck and walked away.

Stuart cashed his chips and was heading for the door when he saw a new slot machine that looked kind of fun. It was called ‘’The Price Is Right’’ He went over to it and threw a twenty in. He became engrossed and was really enjoying himself, he wasn’t winning and he wasn’t losing, he was holding his own.

Before he knew it an hour had passed. Stuart was getting together with friends to watch the Buffalo Bills play in their first quarter final playoff game in years so he had to scramble, but first the bathroom was calling his name.

Using a public washroom was never high on Stuart Adler’s list of favourite things to do, but when you had to go, you had to go.

As he was sitting on the toilet counting his money (he had made fifty dollars on The Price Is Right) he heard two guys having a heated discussion just outside his stall. The tone of the discussion was very disconcerting.

‘’Mr. Ho said that I should go with you to collect his money. Since last night he lent you three grand so you owe him fifty two hundred.’’

There was silence than a response ‘’Look man, if he lends me one more grand, I’ll make everything back right now, but I need more cash.’

Stuart was intrigued by the drama until he heard a deafening slap. ‘’Who the Fuck do you think you are? Do you think Mr. Ho is just going to keep giving you money you dumb shit. You are going to pay what you owe now, or you’re going to have every bone in your body broken.’’

Stuart peered through the crack between the toilet stall door and the post and sure enough the guy who had been playing at his table was standing there with a red mark on his face, looking stunned.’’

‘’Okay, I’ll meet you this afternoon with the money.’’ The guy who had been his banker and punisher just shook his head. ‘’Dumb shit, I’m taking you in my car to get Mr. Ho’s money from wherever the hell you’re going to get it, today is payday fucker. You want to play you have to pay.’’

Stuart held his breath as he watched the guy clamp his hand on the arm of the guy who was now severely indebted to the mysterious Mr. Ho.

It took a few minutes on the toilet to clear his head. Stuart felt like he needed to do something, so he headed back to the Black Jack area and asked to speak to the pit boss.

A guy wearing a name tag that read ‘’Jimmy’’ came over to see him. Stuart relayed everything he had heard in the bathroom and Jimmy listened intensely. When he finished, Jimmy put his hand on Stuart’s shoulder. ‘’We don’t get involved with that kind of stuff, I will call security and you can tell them.’’

A heavy set woman came over and asked Jimmy to follow her into a room at the front of the casino that he didn’t know existed. She pulled out a small pad and asked him to repeat the story, she looked up when he mentioned the name Mr. Ho. When he finished she asked Stuart to remain seated and she left.

Two guys walked in and showed their badges. One was a local Police Officer the other was with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They said that Stuart didn’t have to repeat the story as they had heard it while he was telling everything to the head of Casino security. They said they would look into it, and thanked Stuart for being a good citizen. The heavy set woman reappeared and escorted Stuart back out onto the gaming floor.

Stuart headed for his car and felt creeped out, he didn’t know if he should have reported the incident as he was now involved and he valued his health and his life.

That afternoon he told all his friends at the football party what had transpired and one of the guys offered to make book that the loan sharks were using the suckers body parts for bait. It was a nauseating thought.

The following week Stuart had zero desire to go to the Casino, in fact it lasted for a year. Finally one Sunday he thought he would give lady luck a try and he headed to the casino that had been the scene of the shakedown.

Stuart took a seat at a table and looked around. He broke a hundred dollar bill and talked with some of the players about the weather but he felt less free to shoot the breeze. He just wanted to play, win some money and leave. He was doing okay but it just didn’t feel the same. His stomach jumped when he looked over at the roulette table and he saw the punisher standing there giving money to one of the players. A whole year had passed and the guy was still around, it was shocking.

When Stuart left the casino after an hour and down a hundred he decided he was done with the local casino. He would go with his friends to Las Vegas once a year and that was it. He had seen and heard more than he wanted at the place he liked to play and now it was tainted forever. He wondered if the guy who borrowed the money that Sunday morning was still alive.

Stuart came to a massive realization that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Most people think the casino is a place for fun and games, but for some it is life and death. That was a gamble that Stuart Adler would never take.

Alan Schwarz loves life. He is the founder of JAMS Productions, a television production company based in Toronto . His passion is writing.

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