The Puke Bet
“Here’s the bet,” said Spider, putting his arm around the Fiend Scumbag’s shoulders and casually steering him away from the crowd of ladies that had gathered around as soon as the roulette wheel stopped on the Fiend Scumbag’s lucky number, double 00. “If you can puke a urinal cake across a hotel room floor, I won’t tell Pete the Terrorist that you gambled with his bag money. If you can’t puke a urinal cake across a hotel room floor, you have to give us half of what you won.”
The Fiend Scumbag’s brow furrowed.
“Half is crazy,” said Spider, agreeing with the Fiend Scumbag’s crumbling facial expression. “We’ll make it ten grand.”
The Fiend Scumbag’s brow cleared.
Ten grand was nothing. Spider counted up how much the Fiend Scumbag had won on his ridiculous bet even before the cheers died down. The Fiend Scumbag jumped through several tax brackets instantaneously, like a rocketship punching through layers of atmosphere. Even though Spider and Cat had spent the whole night trying to talk the Fiend Scumbag out of his suicidal long-shot bet, now that he was a winner, he was fair game.
All along, the Fiend Scumbag had said he had a lucky feeling, and he had been right.
“37 to 1,” I whispered to Cat. “We’ve got to get this guy alone as soon as possible before he blows what he won on some other impossible gamble.”
I chugged my margarita while Cat gathered the Fiend Scumbag’s chips into a plastic grocery bag. We followed Spider, who was leading the Fiend Scumbag to the elevator. The Fiend Scumbag kept looking over his shoulder at his chips and at the ladies who were licking their lips and arching their backs at him, hoping to get a tip or a proposition.
“Pete the Terrorist will kill you whether you or rich or not,” whispered Spider. “You know this. We have to come to an understanding.”
Casino security met us at the elevator lobby.
“Sir,” said the head agent, a beefy bald man with mustache tracks that ran in perfect, curly lines across his upper lip and down both sides of his jaw, all the way down his neck in perfectly-manicured stripes. “We would be more than willing to look after your winnings for you while you spend the night, for free, in our luxurious hotel. Winning a tremendous amount of money can be exhilarating, and people don’t always make good choices afterwards. They can become prey for opportunists.”
The agent looked at me and Spider, narrowing his eyes.
“Pete the Terrorist,” mouthed Cat behind the security agent. “Will KILL you.”
“Mmmm,” mumbled the Fiend Scumbag, stroking his long scraggly beard and adjusting his giant rhinestone sunglasses. He shrugged at the casino security agent. “Hey, man, don’t inn-sinn-you-ate. These are my friends, man. I love these guys. Don’t hassle us. Take the money, alright, but leave me a hundred grand in chips, alright.”
Cat handed the security agent the plastic bag full of chips and the security agent counted out ten white ones and gave them to the Fiend Scumbag. The security agent clicked his heels, massaged his mustache, gave us a hotel key for a top floor suite, and then he was gone.
Cat, Spider and I were a team. We made bets. Mostly, we cheated. It didn’t pay our bills, and it was dangerous and addictive, but we did it every weekend and every vacation.
We had rules.
One: Never bet against anybody with infinite wealth, such as a casino. You can’t win. The whole science of probability was developed by Christiaan Huygens to prove this scientific fact and win a bet against Blaise Pascal. The mathematical principle is called “The Gambler’s Ruin,” and sometimes you’ll see the formula scrawled on the wall in casino bathrooms. Even in a fair game, the person who can play longest and keep losing will eventually win 100% of the available money. And in a casino, even the poker tables are stacked with house players who bet without sweating, betting house dollars against your shaky savings.
Two: Never bet against anybody with nothing to lose, because what could you possibly win?
Three: Never get involved in a bet where you don’t have more control over the outcome than the person you are betting against. It gets tricky, though. If people feel hustled, they won’t pay. That’s why we’ve got rule number four.
Four: Never work alone.
Spider and Cat were the talent, and I took care of everything else. My own luck was terrible, but I had a knack for knowing if a bet was winnable or not. In side-bets, you always needed a witness and someone who could size up your competition. You needed somebody who could make the loser pay afterwards. I was muscle, I was a notary, I had legal training, and I was cold-blooded. They called me Remora: I traveled with sharks and ate what they ate. Spider and Cat took care of winning, but we all got our cut.
“Man oh man,” said the Fiend Scumbag in the elevator. “I’m one rich bad dude.”
“So we’ve got a bet?” asked Spider.
“Oh of course,” said the Fiend Scumbag, shaking Spider’s hand limply. “Just let me order some things from room service, and then we’ll DO this thing, baby. I don’t lie about my puke skills. My puke skills are solid as Christian love.”
The Fiend Scumbag was an acquaintance with whom we sometimes played poker. The Fiend Scumbag was one of New York’s most impressive professional drug addicts, and he kept himself supplied by acting as a courier for several Queens and Brooklyn cartels that were not in direct competition. He was trusted, he was dependable, and he had a reputation for being one of the luckiest couriers in the business, which is why we agreed to tag along with him. This weekend, he brought us along on his delivery from Boston to New York, with a stopover in Atlantic City, so that we could keep him company and protect him from “bad vibes” and “mojo.” Conversely, we thought some of his luck would rub off on us.
This trip, the Fiend Scumbag was supposed to take mushrooms to Boston and bring back money for a particularly nasty small-time supplier named Pete the Terrorist. Pete the Terrorist got his name because he also laundered money for several wealthy East Coast donors to the IRA. Also, Pete liked to blow stuff up for no reason: or rather, he would blow stuff up -- maybe somebody’s new moped, maybe somebody’s favorite horse, or maybe just a park bench that he didn’t like -- and then come up with a reason later, usually something political. He was a difficult man to deal with, and he was one of those difficult people for whom you did favors out of fear rather than courtesy.
We stopped off in Atlantic City because we figured there might be some high rollers that could be tricked into a side game up in their rooms, and we also figured that we could hustle a little Space Invaders, Street Fighter, Killer Instinct, or pool (Cat was a certified master at all four). But the Fiend Scumbag had wandered off to the floor games, and he had become passionately excited about roulette, talking about it all night long like some kind of mad sickness. One thing led to another, and he got it set in his mind that he would win big if he bet Pete’s bag money, on account of the fact that it wasn’t his money and that it had all kinds of bad karma attached to it that made it powerful.
And goddamit, he had won.
“Yeah, is this room service? Oh man. I want some ice cream, and some wasabi peas, and a big fucking mountain of mashed potatoes, and a damn steak, and I also want a bowl of chili and a hot fucking cherry pie. Oh yeah, and some kind of stir fry – greasy as hell – and some fried chicken with the skin on. I want some cocktail onions, just a big bowl of cocktail onions. And I want some barbecue chips, and some chocolate chips, and some chips of ice. Oh yeah, and I also want a wedge of brie wrapped up in bacon. Can you do that? Yeah. I want the brie cold and I want the bacon hot. AND YOU KNOW WHAT? I want you to drizzle some chocolate sauce on it. Fuck yeah. Yeah, I know. I’m excited about it too. Also, I want a carton of milk. No, fuck that, change it: I want a carton of heavy cream.”
“Don’t forget beer,” said Spider. Our eyes met. He looked away. The cunning bastard.
“Oh yeah, what was I thinking. Bring me a case of beers, too. Something light.”
Spider went down to the gas station across the street to steal their urinal cake. The Fiend Scumbag’s food arrived in waves and we watched him eat.
“I’ve always been a little bit nauseous,” said the Fiend Scumbag between mouthfuls. “But I first realized that I was a puking expert when I was in college. I could drink and puke and then drink some more, when everybody else was passing out or getting hauled away in ambuli. I could puke at will, as long as I had the rumble and the reason. Man, and then I started to get GOOD at it. I could do trajectories! I could hit targets! Like, the first time I ever did heightch, I was actually in this Thailand hospital getting treated for a broken toe. They had to cut into my foot and I was real nice about it so they fucking gave me their best shit. Anyway, I puked the whole time, and the nurse, this beautiful Thai ladyboy who was into me, kept moving the trashcan further and further back, just to see how far I could shoot my shit. It was like a dance of seduction for both of us. I wanted to get his number or his address, but when they discharged me, the shift changed, and I never saw him again. Ever since, puking has always been my thing. Maybe I’m too cocky about this shit, but straight up, if people want to see a guy do puke tricks, they come to me. Spider’s won some bets on me before. He’s a sweetheart about it. The man always cuts me in.”
The Fiend Scumbag belched and then ate a handful of cocktail onions followed by a huge bite of cherry pie. Finally, the bacon-wrapped-brie showed up in a steaming chafing dish and he ate the whole thing in one bite while the bellhop watched.
The bellhop gave the Fiend Scumbag a high-five. The Fiend Scumbag gave the bellhop one of his beers and then drank four of them all in a row, one after another. The bellhop left, shaking his head and smiling.
“The high life!” said the bellhop.
Spider returned with the urinal cake. It was blue one and said “San-Ease.” He put it down exactly in the center of the suite’s marble floor and we started moving furniture to clear space for it to travel. The room was huge, a wedding double, and we cleared a path from the main living area all the way to the bathroom.
“So how long do I have? I mean, can I sit here all day long and puke at that toilet cake?” asked the Fiend Scumbag.
“You can take all the time you like,” said Spider, with a twinkle in his eye.
“You know something I don’t know, don’t you?” asked the Fiend Scumbag. “Alright, man, alright. But how close can I get? Can I get right in that toilet cake’s face, or do you want me to stand behind some kind of line or something?”
Spider grunted and pushed a couch over to where the Fiend Scumbag was standing. He pushed it until it was right up against the Fiend Scumbag’s waist.
“You have to stand behind the couch,” said Spider. “No cheating.”
“Man, I never cheat at anything,” said the Fiend Scumbag. “Alright, check this out, guys. I am allergic to milk. So, like, here comes the hurricane.”
The Fiend Scumbag ate another fast plate of stir-fry and drank two more beers, and then he opened the carton of heavy cream. He took off his rhinestone shades and rubbed his eyes. Then he chugged the heavy cream with his hair pulled back, making little mooing noises.
When he was done, he threw the empty carton of cream across the room and hit himself in the forehead. His face was red. His hands shook.
“Here comes the hurricane, baby!” he shouted. “Storm alert! Tape up your windows! Squeeze your children, tell them you love them, and make your will! Put a longboat on your roof and fill that sonofabitch with drinking water! Because: here! Comes! The! Wind!”
The Fiend Scumbag threw his head back and then launched forward. A stream of pink, chunky puke flew across the room and hit the urinal cake dead on. It flew three feet toward the bathroom in the deluge, washing it half-way to glory.
The urinal cake started to sizzle. The urinal cake started to melt. The Fiend Scumbag wiped his mouth.
“Oh man,” said the Fiend Scumbag. Then he laughed like a loon, seeing how the game was gonna go. “That cake is gonna shrivel up and die! Damn you, Spider! Damn you all to hell!”
“The chemical properties of urinal cake are written right on the package for anyone to see,” I said sagely. “The new ones are pure naphthalene. Coal tar. Alcohol sets ‘em off. If you work in a bar, you have to replace them every weekend. You’d better hit it again fast, or there won’t be anything to hit.”
The Fiend Scumbag pulled a cocktail onion out of his nose and threw it at me. I ducked but it hit me in my shoulder anyway. The Fiend Scumbag belched again and clung to the side of the couch.
“Here comes the wind and rain,” he muttered. “Get ready for the flood, man. Get those animals in the ark two by two.”
Puke bubbled from his lips and he blew out another load, topping the urinal cake and making it spin. It smeared across the floor and stopped inches away from the bathroom, where it receded into the Fiend Scumbag’s bile like a sinking ship. Glug glug glug. Blue urinal cake bubbles popped on the skin of the Fiend Scumbag’s vomit like champagne.
“What a good try,” said Cat, clapping.
“There was a chance you’d get it on the first try,” said Spider. “What if you hit it with a hard wad of meat?”
We all watched the Fiend Scumbag in silence, wondering what he would do.
“Fuck it,” said the Fiend Scumbag. He flipped a chip to Spider like a quarter. He pulled a little white baggie of heroin from his pocket and waved it in Spider’s face. “Take the ten grand. I’m still a rich man with a rich man’s habit.”
The Fiend Scumbag curled up on the couch, cradling his bag of heroin like a stuffed animal.
“Should we leave?” I asked.
“It would be a shame to waste all the food that’s left,” said Cat, clucking her tongue.
“I have an idea!” said Spider, holding up the chip. “Who’s up for a game of poker? Nothing personal. Something friendly. A rich man’s game for a rich man with a habit.”
The Fiend Scumbag raised an eyebrow.