by Martin Maenza
An elderly man with white hair, a mustache, and beard squirmed as he tried to break free of the bouncers’ grasps. “You can’t do this to me!” the old man protested in a loud voice. Few people barely glanced up from their slots as he was dragged kicking through the main lobby. “Do you know who I am? Do you?”
“Don’t know, don’t care,” one of the big men said.
The old man puffed out his chest. “I’m the Gambler, I tell you,” he said. “The Gambler! Do you hear me?”
“Sure you are, pops,” said the other bouncer as they reached the front door. “You and just about everyone else in this town.” Together the two men tossed the man out the door. He fell to the sidewalk, down onto his hands and knees.
“And stay out!” the other bouncer called before the door shut.
“I’ll be back!” the old man shouted as he shook his fist defiantly at the door. “Just you wait and see.” Stephen Sharpe rose to his feet and then stomped off.
Two young people walked past him and entered the casino. The man, dressed in jeans and a rib-collared T-shirt, turned to the woman with him. “Wonder what’s the beef with Colonel Sanders there?” he asked.
“No clue, Scooby-Doo,” replied the honey-blonde woman. She wore a short, tight beige skirt and a sheer cream blouse. “Not really our problem, is it?”
The young man smiled. “Nope, not all, sweetie. Like the song goes: ‘bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire. Got a whole lot of money that’s ready to burn, so get those stakes up higher.'” She giggled at his Elvis impersonation. He gave her a quick smooch on the cheek. “Viva Las Vegas.”
“You got that right, Stretch,” she replied. “OK, give me a couple hundred so I can play the slots.” He reached into his pocket and produced a few bills from his money clip. “Thanks, lover-boy. See if you can maybe grab one of those waitresses, too. I can use a gin and tonic. Puts me in the right mood.”
“Anything for you, Mrs. O’B.,” Stretch O’Brien said, smiling.
“And when I mean ‘grab one,’ you know I don’t mean literally. You can just forget about those ‘thousand pretty women waitin’ out there,'” Maggie O’Brien replied with a wink. As she walked away, Stretch watched her buttocks wiggle. The young man was truly, hopelessly in love with his bride.
“Seven!” the man at the table announced, and he added more chips to the winning pile.
Stretch O’Brien smiled as he retrieved the dice once more. He was having a hot streak at the craps table.
Hard to believe it wasn’t that long ago that he was just a punk on the street, picking a pocket here and knocking over a liquor store there. Anything to make the quick buck, just so he could blow it on the movies or something. But after his run with the Junior Injustice Society and cooling his heels briefly in the slammer, Stretch knew there had to be a better way.
He got himself a job at a comic shop. It wasn’t much, but it was an honest living, barely enough to cover the rent and then some. Still, things were looking better for him. Then, that fateful day at the movies, Maggie White walked into his life, and things weren’t the same since. They had a wild adventure right after that, one that ended in a chaotic gun fight and them getting their hands on a pile of cash. (*) The money allowed them to get away for a while, to take a honeymoon of sorts, but eventually they realized they couldn’t live on that windfall forever. That’s when they decided to hit Vegas.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Stretch O’Brien: Earth-Two Romance.]
“Seven again!” the man at the table announced. A few folks around the table cheered.
One of the men next to him clasped him hard on the shoulder. “Well, if you ain’t the luckiest sonofabitch I’ve ever seen,” he said in a thick, Southern accent.
“Thanks,” Stretch said, then he turned up his nose slightly. The guy’s breath smelled of rum, a lot of it. Either he started drinking for breakfast or had been up all night. You run into all kinds in this town. He grabbed the dice, looked at his pile, and decided to let it ride once more. He tossed the dice.
“Seven!” the table runner announced. The crowd whooped once more.
Yep, Stretch thought to himself, maybe my luck is changing, after all. The young man glanced at his reflection in the mirror behind the table. In it, he caught a familiar visage standing behind him. Elvis, wearing his white jumpsuit with rhinestones and mirror sunglasses, raised his hand with the thumb up and index finger out. Bang. Stretch smiled.
Ape-Face’s blood pressure had almost gotten back down to normal when he returned to his office in Gotham City. The quicker he forgot about the whole messy incident, the better off he would be.
He finished the large Caesar salad his receptionist had fetched for him. Just as he sat down to go over some numbers, his phone rang. He snatched up the receiver and said, “Dyke here! What do you want?”
“Boss, it’s me, Sallie,” said a voice on the other end of the phone.
Ape-Face leaned back in his high leather chair. “Sallie, baby, sweetie, talk to me. I hope it’s some good news. I can use some right about now.”
“It is, boss, it is,” Salvador Malano said. “I just got a call from one of our resources in Las Vegas. Turns out O’Brien and his woman entered one of their casinos about an hour ago.”
“Are you sure, Sallie?” Ape-Face said, eyeing the globe on the corner of his desk. He spun it around to see the view of the United States. His finger traced from Arizona to Nevada. Q.T. had said he thought he saw them heading west near Phoenix. “You better not be bull$#!^^ing me. I can’t take that twice in one day. This info is one-hundred percent legit, right?”
“Swear on my mother’s grave, God rest her soul. Our contact even went down to the floor to I.D. them in person. It’s O’Brien, all right.”
Ape-Face began to smile. “Get back on the horn with our friend out there. Tell him to find a way to keep O’Brien contained and under observation. Then call my pilot and have him gas up the jet. I want to leave immediately. This time, I’m handling things personally.”
The mob boss hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. “No one messes with our operations and gets away with it. The last time it was his old man. This time, I’ll be shooting the kid! Ain’t no way he’s getting away from me again.” And Ape-Face began to laugh in a deep baritone voice.
The crowd around the table continued to cheer. Stretch O’Brien enjoyed a great run at the roulette wheel as well. The waitress brought him another beer, and he tipped her with a ten. “Thank you, thank you very much, toots,” he said with a smile. He took a good, long swig from the long neck bottle of imported beer. He felt like maybe he’d found his calling.
Just as he placed a number of chips on black 32, a man in a suit tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, sir,” the man said politely. “I don’t mean to disturb you.”
“Then don’t,” Stretch laughed. Then he turned and said, “Just kidding. What can I do you for, mac?”
The man, slightly balding, extended his hand. “My name is Conrad Rockwell. I’m the manager of this hotel and casino. I hope you’ve been enjoying your time with us.”
“I have indeed,” Stretch said. The wheel spun and the ball bounced around. It landed on black 32, and the young woman running the table paid out Stretch’s winnings. “And it just keeps getting better all the time! Whoo-hoo.” He collected his chips and made another selection on the board, then turned back to the man. “Real nice place you got here, Mr. Rockwell. Real nice.”
The manager smiled. “Thank you,” he said, then added, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“O’Brien,” the young man said, in his best Sean Connery voice. “Stretch O’Brien.”
Rockwell smiled again. “Well, Mr. O’Brien, I don’t want to keep you long. I just wanted to extend an offer to you. As the manager, I am able to offer some of our customers complimentary room upgrades. You are staying with us, aren’t you?”
“Afraid not,” Stretch said, frowning. “We’re across the way at the HoJo.”
“Well, that’s not a problem,” Rockwell said as he fished into his pocket. He produced a room key. “If you’re interested, I’d like to offer you the use of one of our suites, complimentary, of course.”
Stretch’s eyes almost bugged out his head literally. “Complimentary?” he asked. “As in free?”
“Yes,” Rockwell replied. “Its one of the benefits we like to extend to our high rollers. It’s yours for the next four days, if you’d like.”
Stretch smiled, then took the key from his hand. “I’d like, I’d like. Thanks so much, sir.” Conrad Rockwell merely smiled and nodded.
Stretch O’Brien was humming Suspicious Minds as he made his way to the rows of slot machines. It took him a few minutes as he weaved his way through the noisy, flash one-armed-bandits until he found the one he was looking for.
“Hey, good-looking,” he said as he plopped down on a stool next to one machine. “What’cha got cooking?”
Maggie pulled the handle, the dials turned, and three bars came up. A number of coins dropped down into the payout slot. “This machine is so hot!” she exclaimed as she scooped up the coins and dropped them into the bucket next to her. It was full to the brim with quarters. “I’m doing so well that I’m tempted to go to the dollar machines.”
“So you saying I can’t tear you away, eh?”
“Why? What’s on your mind, cutie?”
Stretch smiled, pulled out a shiny key, and waved it in his wife’s face. “We’re movin’ on up, Weezie. To a deluxe apartment in the sky.”
Maggie laughed. “You’re crazy, baby. Where’d you get that key?”
“The manager gave it to me. Said I was a high roller, and all high rollers deserved suites in his hotel. Face it, doll face, you could be married to the next king of Las Vegas.”
“Get out!” Maggie said as she hit him firmly on the shoulder with her hand. “Where’d you get it really?”
Stretch held up his hand. “Honest Injun. It’s ours for a couple nights, and it’s free! I just wanted to check with you before I headed back to the HoJo to get our stuff and the car.”
Maggie plopped three coins in her machine and pulled the handle. Again the machine paid out for her. “Tell you what, puddin’,” she said. “My luck’s still going strong, so do you mind fetching the stuff for us?”
“Not at all,” Stretch replied. “I’ll be back in a bit, and then we both can go up and check out the accommodations together.” He turned her head and gave her a deep kiss.
“Mmmm,” she said. “I’ll be right here waiting, baby.”
About an hour later, the O’Briens arrived at one of the hotel suites. The bellboy carried their suitcases into the room and placed them neatly out of the way. Then the young man in red returned to the hallway where the couple was waiting. Stretch handed him a bill. The young man looked at it, smiled, and said, “Thank you, sir!” before disappearing.
Maggie looked at her husband. “Was that a twenty you tipped him?”
“Sure, why not?” said Stretch. “I figure since we’re staying for free as well as cleaning up on the floor, might as well be kind to the little people, you know? Besides, it wasn’t so long ago we were struggling for a buck ourselves.”
“True,” Maggie said, nodding. Stretch started to walk into the room; she made a loud, throat-clearing sound to get his attention. When he turned around, she crossed her arms and eyed the doorway. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Stretch looked at her then the door. “Oh, you want me to do the threshold thing? It’s not like this is our honeymoon.”
“Yeah, but you forgot before. Besides, this feels like a honeymoon, what with this suite and all. Now, get to lifting.”
Stretch snapped to attention. “Yes, ma’am.” He slipped back out into the hall and scooped her up into his arms. He then took three steps into the room, lifted one foot, and used it to close the door behind them. “Whoa!” His balance started to shift a bit; he teetered to the left, then began to stumble into the room.
“Stretch, quit kiddin’ around!” Maggie said as she beat gently on his arms.
“Whoa, whoa, whoaaa!” The man began to fall forward but stretched himself at the last moment so that they’d both land on the king-sized bed. “Boy, were we lucky.” His sarcastic tone and playful grin tipped his hand.
“Why, you!” Maggie said. Then she laid a great big kiss on him. The two embraced for a moment, and then she pulled away. “This room is fantastic!” She hopped up to her feet and ran to check out the bathroom. A squeal of delight came from the room, and she popped her head back out. “There’s a Jacuzzi tub big enough for two!”
Stretch had gotten up, too, and was looking around. He poked his head in the small refrigerator. “Well-stocked. Got those nuts you like.” He looked at the card near the large-screen TV. “Oooh, has all the good channels, including Playboy.”
“Is that all you think about?” Maggie asked playfully.
“Of course,” said Stretch. He opened the curtains that led to the sliding door and the balcony. “Oh, babe, come check this out!”
Maggie came to his side, and the two stood arm in arm for a bit watching as the sun set to the west, and the Vegas Strip began to come alive with all the evening lights. “Very nice view. We can see the whole city from here.”
“Think the city can see us?”
“Probably not,” Maggie answered. “Why?”
Stretch wrapped himself around his wife, hugging the various curves of her sexy body. “I was thinking. Maybe before we get back to rolling the dice, we could do some rolling in the hay.” Maggie smiled at his suggestion.