A derby was projected against the walls of the casino’s event centre, broadcasting a racehorse that had broken its leg and was being euthanized on the track. Below the projection were five different games. There were hundreds of Indians at each one and a huge cloud of cigarette smoke. At one of the games, there was a headscarf wrapped around about 20 grand. It sat upon matted carpet stained of carcinogen and shit tracked in by Indians both sides of the border. About two meters from the scarf, sat the captain. Reflected in his black sunglasses, he stared at the scarf below a black stetson brim. He sat in the middle of a long line of Indian ranchers from BC who eyed the money as he did. The captain whipped his arm forward, extending his pointer finger and thumb, his hand resembling a pistol, and yelled: hoh, as if he shot it.
Across from them, the crow sat. Their pointer sick and still puffing smoke beneath a black and wide hat. He wore stiff wranglers and a plaid shirt that once fit. On both sides of him sat 10 broad shouldered and barrel-chested men. All but he sang their song of war. They looked behind to an old man, wrinkled and mean, and a young man, dirty and meaner. The old man carried clear bone in his left and in the other striped and vice versa the boy. The captain shook his head and swore and picked up two painted sticks from the side of his chair. He threw them over the scarf.
The crow pointer jumped up and smiled and danced and held his jeans at the waist to pick up the sticks. S’iddown, yelled the captain and the crow cawed and reckoned and their pointer laughed before raising one finger in the air.
What’s he doing?
Showing off, said Wesley, who sat in the back row of the captain’s team. It’s last stick.
We’re gonna lose?
Looks like it, he said. A knot formed in his chest. His diaphragm tightened. He took a sip of his coffee, failing to keep his hand from shaking, and unbuttoned the top of his white shirt. His son asked if he was alright, not knowing that once they lost they would be stranded in Idaho.
Yeah, just haven’t taken my pills.
Want me to get ‘em?
No, I will. Just watch the bet.
Wesley got up from his camper chair, only 120 to his name, and began walking to the event hall’s exit. He never made eye contact with anyone save for a few women that looked away immediately. The drums sounded of horse hooves, sporadically beating as his heart. A pain shot up his thigh with every stride and his head grew tight and dizzy and this feeling travelled with him until he settled upon a Pocahontas-themed slot machine in the casino.
He was not old but his body felt fragile and weak. His heart was pumping too slow, too fast. He lit a cigarette and put 20 and ordered a drink and bet the maximum amount spinning another bill and spinning again a cigarette and a drink and another bill and continued till his wallet limped. He punched the machine and ripped away a ticket worth 71 cents and spit on the buttons. God fucking damn it. Un-fucking-believable. His voice began to crack and his breathing became high-pitched. I mean, why’d you, fuck, you didn’t have to do that to me, y’know. Pouting with tears welling in his eyes, he sat still and staring into the space between him and the machine.
A young Indian man approached. ’nother drink, sir?
Wesley didn’t look at him.
No, I’m good.
Sounds good. You owe me 26 then. Not including tip.
Drinks ain’t free?
The knot in his chest only got tighter and he waited for his heart to fail completely. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
Get me another one. High roller, eh. He squinted and nodded understandably. Alright, he said, before walking away. I’ll be back in a minute with your bill. Wesley got up and left as soon as he were out of sight. He walked with his head high and fighting the limp. Something behind his left eye hurt. The knot in his chest only got tighter and he waited for his heart to fail completely. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
When he arrived at the doors to the event centre he stopped and listened to the music beyond the doors. War songs meant to announce that death lie just over yonder. On a nearby slot machine sat a half empty glass of brown liquid. Wesley drank it in one shot before lighting his last cigarette. He took a deep breath and exhaled the smoke and opened the doors. The songs hit him in the face and hurt his ears and everyone near the doors looked at him without smiling. He put his head down and walked towards his chair. When his son saw him he ran over carrying a fat stack of cash.
Are you serious?
Did you take your pills?
Yeah, Wesley said, counting the money. He gave his son a 20 dollar bill and told him to buy some food and a pack of cigarettes from the vending machine. I’m gonna grab the chairs. He smoked slowly and stared at the captain for a long while. Nobody sat across from him the entire time. He’s took a lot of money, that one, said a woman sitting nearby. Heard he’s got snakeskin tied around his belt.
Yup, Wesley took off his black cowboy hat to wipe back his hair.
Is your name Wesley? You’re from Brocket, right?
Yup, he spit on the carpet.
I remember one time you pointed in Arlee and won seven games in a row. I made three grand that day, she coughed.
If you decide to point again, let me know. I’ll bet on you anytime.
His left eye was milky and white, drooping down his face. Wesley could have sworn it was leaking pus and had to look away.
Wesley forced a smile that no one had ever called out and nodded. He walked away and then found himself standing in front of the captain. A small face creased and heavy, chin protruding and bottom lip pouted. He wore only black and had no shoes. His feet were welled puffy with water. A plastic tube ran from his nose to an oxygen tank connected to the back of his wheelchair. How are you, son? He said, taking off his sunglasses. His left eye was milky and white, drooping down his face. Wesley could have sworn it was leaking pus and had to look away. On the projection above him, a racehorse named Lucky Chance was trotting towards the gate. He was expected to lose.
I’ve got 15 here.
Hell, I thought all the big betters were dead, said the captain, who leaned in and grinned yellow teeth more akin to fangs.