By Ed Faunce
The decibel level rose upward as Frank’s neighbor revved the Ford Mustang convertible past the red line. The laboring engine screamed at the night, on the brink of collapse. The neighbor had done this every night at 11:30 pm for an entire week. Every night this brainless idiot of a neighbor would get in the car and rev the engine until everyone was awake. Tonight, Frank hoped, might be the last. This neighbor had been warned by not only the police but by some enterprising individual who had taken a baseball bat to the windshield of the vehicle.
Yet, like clockwork at 11:30 pm, the idiot would get out and with a loud voice yell, “Screw you, Walnut Street” and start the car, revving its powerful engine with open exhaust pipes to the limit. It was impossible for the residents to sleep, watch TV, or read.
The car was a true classic: a black 1997 Mustang GT convertible. Instead of taking a teenager on their first drive-in movie or cruising the strip, this car was being tortured by this Neanderthal only to irritate the retirees and young couples who resided in the bungalows just to the north of the main park in town. A mostly quiet neighborhood, this was Frank’s only home, inherited from his mother. It had turned into hell.
Frank was not doing well. He was on a pension and slightly disabled since having a mini-stroke. Frank still had large medical bills to pay. To supplement the meager pension, Frank delivered newspapers from his old Chevy. It could be torturous work in the winter time, but it was some exercise. It helped pay for his physical therapy.
Frank also loved to gamble and loved casinos. Three years ago, they built a brand new one just one hour away. His old car had taken that trip many a time, and many a time Frank would come back on the next day and phone a bill collector to say that he had experienced a financial emergency. He survived mostly on rice cakes and peanut butter (low sodium, of course). Sometimes he would get some ginger beer from the local bottle shop. Frank could not afford to drink heavily. Frank needed to be sober to drive, deliver papers, and, about every two months, head to the casino. It was getting to the point that his insurance was not enough to cover his physical therapy sessions.
Too old to work, too young for Medicare. This was Frank’s life. This was his reality. His vision of the golden years had become a shamble: living in his mother’s house, eating stale rice cakes, and listening to idiot neighbors rev their engines as their girlfriends begged them to come into the house.
With a final burp of exhaust noise the car noise stopped. The Mustang’s engine had succumbed. It sat, smoke pouring from under the hood, silent. The idiot jumped out and yelled “Screw you Walnut street!” and laughed at his girlfriend’s protestations. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about these losers,” he said as he sauntered up the steps of his house. Frank peeked through his mini-blinds watching the young man look directly at him and flip him off.
Afterward, Frank stepped onto the porch. Frank’s neighbor on the other side, a transplanted Alabaman named Skokie, was outside smoking a cigarette. “Can’t do a thing about him. His girl’s father is the fire chief. When I call the cops they just laugh when I give them the address,” said Skokie with a resigned tone. Frank turned and walked to the side of the yard and lit up a cigarette.
“Have you tried calling and saying a murder was being committed?” suggested Frank light-heartedly.
Skokie laughed. “That might actually happen sometime. Either way I’d get arrested.”
Frank stared at the smoking car and took a drag off his cigarette. “I see the baseball bat got someone’s attention” he remarked. “I keep wishing the house would catch on fire. But with the dad being a fireman, that wouldn’t turn out well, either.”
“In an arson trial, a jury who knew this bastard might acquit you,” replied Skokie as he took a long drag on his cigarette.
Frank laughed. Skokie smoked outside because his wife and three kids would not tolerate it in the house. Frank lived alone but would not smoke inside, believing his late mother’s ghost would be upset. He didn’t want to tempt the spirits to wreak more havoc on him than he had right now. So, on cold spring nights he would come out to share cigarettes with Skokie and talk about the neighbors.
“You heading to the Four Horsemen tomorrow, Frank?”
“Yep, I have a suite that I earned last month when I was in that poker tournament.”
“Yeah, what about that twenty I gave you, did it pan out?”
“Nah, sorry, Skokie, that machine just took your money without saying thank you, kiss my ass, or anything.”
Skokie was pretty laid back. The Jack Daniels he always added to his beer helped, Frank was sure. However, usually Skokie would hand him some money to gamble for him. Skokie figured that at least Frank would have something on him to stop at a Burger King on his way back.
Skokie handed him a ten-dollar bill.
“Cutting back, eh, Skokie?”
“Yeah that’s all I could squirrel out of the old lady this month. Sorry, Frank.”
“No problem.” Frank stubbed out the butt of his cigarette on the sole of his shoe. “I’ll double your money, Skokie, and maybe more!”
Skokie laughed. “Looks like asshole over there should give you some cash to put on the craps table for a new engine.“
“Yeah, right,” said Frank.
Frank thought back fondly of his ‘63 Dodge Polara convertible that he bought for 150 bucks in high school. His car wasn’t pretty like the ones the rich kids had but damn, it could rock and roll.
“Why is it that all the young assholes get nice things like the sweet ride, the sweet young girlfriend who gives him money, and probably really hot sex?”
Skokie looked at him and nodded. “Luck of the draw, Frank. Luck of the draw.”
Frank tried to hide his bitterness and shook his head. He slowly walked across to his porch and shut the screen behind him. Tomorrow would be a better day. Frank was headed to the Four Horsemen Casino.
The shuttle bus dropped Frank off at the Four Horsemen hotel lounge and he pulled his overnight bag off from the back of the luggage rack. Frank’s left side was still numb from the stroke. The physical therapy had helped get rid of his limp but his hands were still weak. When he reached out to tip the bellman, he almost dropped the cash because he couldn’t feel it in his hand.
When he got to his room he took an aspirin, put on his lucky shirt, and changed into some khaki slacks. Frank then hurried on down to the casino floor and, after arriving, immediately lit up a cigarette. He started to feel good again. This was his element. For some reason, amidst the sound of carnival music mixed with slot machines all clicking like typewriters, Frank felt more alive than ever.
His money was in his left pocket, Skokie’s in his right. Or was it the other way around? Frank reached into his right pocket and pulled out the lone ten dollars. Putting it in with the rest of his cash, he headed straight for the craps tables. Money was flowing like a river, the majority of which was going straight into the casinos coffers.
The Four Horsemen Casino was bustling with other aging baby boomers who seemed eager to give part of their pensions to Leo Askritch, the casino’s owner. Askritch was famous for once being asked how to make money in a casino. Leo’s tart reply: “The way to make money in a casino is to own one.”
Latching onto a spot at a now-crowded craps table, Frank traded his cash for chips and the contest was on.
Four hours went by. Frank’s knees were numb. He took a drink from his complimentary Pepsi and flipped his chips around with his right hand. Looking at all the faces, he saw many who were just in limbo. Waiting for something to come from the clouds. Waiting for magic to happen. The kaleidoscope of lights from nearby high-dollar slots caught the eye but the thick felt craps table with its eclectic and ancient markings held Frank’s attention. He placed bets on the “pass” line and four other numbers. Being about even, Frank decided to double down on his odds. The shooter rolled the dice.
“Seven” was all the dealer said and suddenly all of Frank’s money disappeared. Gone.
Frank now felt like he had woken from a really good dream back into his own reality. Standing at the edge of the table with a watered-down soda. The pit boss, in an act of sympathy, offered him a voucher for a free meal at the Johnny Rocket’s restaurant in the casino lobby.
His entire pension check had vanished in less than eight hours.
Frank moved like a zombie through the groups of geriatrics that were shoving dollar bills into the slots machines. The elders paid no mind to him as they sat on their mobility walkers, flipping cigarette ash off onto the plush Persian carpeting.
Tears started to run from his eyes. This was his life and, dear Jesus, did it suck.
Wiping his face with his sleeve, Frank wandered back to the free soda machine. Might as well fill up on pop. That and the burger joint comp was all he had for sustenance for the evening.
As he plodded along in his depressed state something caught his eye: a slot machine to the back of the room. The machine was shaped like a giant antique bottle with an image of a sexy-looking, magical genie wiggling on a video display in front. The display said “Let me grant your wish!” The machine sat right next to a fire extinguisher, an oddity in the carefully placed design of the casino. But it did catch Frank’s attention.
Frank wiped his eyes again and reached into his pocket. He pulled out Skokie’s lone ten-dollar bill. What the hell, let’s see if Skokie can win me some money. Maybe the genie would help him out.
Frank sat down in the chair. His hand shook as he took the ten and put it into the machine. The digital sign went wild. “Thanks for playing with the Casino Genie,” a very sultry feminine voice literally purred out of the machines speakers. “This could be your lucky day,” continued the sexy, animated genie that appeared, dancing on the video monitor. Maybe this would be his lucky day, thought Frank as he pushed the button marked “Bet One.”
The machine whirled and clicked as the animated genie was enveloped in a mystical fog that moved up and down the screen. As the counters turned, they showed the differing icons —cherries, dates, camels, magical lamps and a very impressive “Get Wish” icon. Progressive pot lines pulsated like electronic worms that were looking for ways for the machine to jackpot. Abruptly, the machine stopped. Two genie bottles, a cherry, and a “Get Wish” icon appeared. Frank had won a total of twenty-five cents.
“Well, I’m finally winning,” Frank chuckled.
Frank decided to up the ante. He pushed the button that read “Max Bet.” Five dollars went flying out of his credit line and the machine started spinning its digital reels. More mystical lines and artificial fog. The machine clicked again and again, spilling out exotic Arabian tunes, then once again came to a halt.
One cherry, one bottle, one wish, and a picture of the face of the genie popped up on the last icon. She was very beautiful, with dark blue eyes, caramel skin, wearing a filmy mouth covering that showed her full red lips underneath. The icon was mesmerizing but Frank came to his senses and realized the machine had just taken five dollars and twenty-five cents from him.
“Shit,” he muttered. This was ridiculous. He could have taken that ten dollars and bought gas to get back home. Lord. He started to get up but, then, the digital sign came to life.
“Where are you going, Frank?” the LED sign spelled out.
He was startled. How the hell does this machine know my name? Frank stood and pondered for a second, remembering that the casino had issued him a membership card to insert into the machines to give credit towards extra rewards like the comps: free meals and rooms. They wanted him to come back and spend his money. That was how the casino kept him here, and coming back.
Frank sat back down. The digital sign flickered, “One more try Frank. You are almost there.”
This technology is great, thought Frank, but this machine was getting a bit pushy. “What the hell,” Frank muttered. He put the last five dollars left from Skokie’s money into the machine and with a bit of resignation pushed the “Max Bet” button.
The machine spun even more wildly than before. The mystical lights almost reached out and touched Frank as he sat mesmerized by the progression of the reels. He had never seen a machine spin that much before. As the music played, the little progressive lines wound what looked like a tapestry in front of him.
The first reel stopped on “Get Wish.” The second reel remarkably also stopped at the “Get Wish” icon. Frank felt excited. This could be the big one that gets me some decent cash. The third reel clicked and also stopped at “Get wish.” The fourth reel just kept spinning for what seemed like an eternity. Then it slowed, like a car odometer as it racked up its last miles. Then suddenly it stopped. “Get Wish,” it blinked.
The face of the genie appeared in the middle of the screen. Her sumptuous voice spoke like a muse.
“I am the genie of the magical lamp. I will grant you a wish, but remember, my wishes have consequences, not all good. Riches I cannot bequeath, but only your true heart’s desire.”
Then the visage of the genie winked: Go ahead, Frank. Make a wish. What you truly desire will be yours.
Frank was impressed with the technology. He looked for a button to push for a wish but found none. This was kind of silly, so he just spoke out loud to the machine. “How about I jackpot for a couple of million dollars?”
The visage of the genie floated in front of him on the screen. “I can’t give riches; I am here to take your money. But I can give you your heart’s desire if you just make a wish.”
Frank was taken aback. An honest slot machine, that’s the one he had to get. He frowned. “So what good is this?” Frank asked the machine.
“Wish for something, Frank” The genie floated on the screen, waiting patiently. Frank thought, This is some kind of reality show, I bet. I bet if I answer correctly, I get a free something or maybe even a new car. He was thinking about his house and said “Could I have a classic car to show my asshole neighbor?”
“A car would not help such a man as your neighbor, Frank. He is a horrible person.”
Frank sat up straight. How did they know that? Frank looked around for a camera. “My neighbor is horrible,” he stated in a matter of fact way. “In fact, my one big wish would be that when I got back home, he wouldn’t be there.”
The machine dimmed. The genie disappeared. Frank was confused. The digital sign came to life. “Your wish is granted.”
Frank sat at the machine, looking like he had just been slapped. “What the hell just happened?” Frank said aloud. “Do I not even get my money back? What is this ‘wish’ bullshit?” It took a minute but Frank realized he had been scammed into giving up his last five dollars by an animated genie. Even the machines hate me here. Frank was so upset he forgot his free pop. “I’m heading to bed,” he huffed, trudging across the casino floor as the digital sign kept blinking. “Your wish is granted.”
As he headed back to his room, Frank looked out at the horizon of the sky. The clouds had started to gather just to the north. “Great,” he said, “I get to drive home in the rain tomorrow.” He pushed the elevator button for his floor and decided to skip the hamburger. He wasn’t hungry, anyway. He heard a small bell in the distance.
Frank drove through large puddles on the interstate. “There must have been a hell of a storm last night,” he mused. For some reason, he had slept through the entire thing. That was odd, as Frank was a light sleeper. He thought back to earlier in the morning: he had walked through the casino to get to the shuttle bus and noticed that the corner in which the Casino Genie machine had sat was under some kind of construction. The construction equipment blocked his view and he could not see the machine. Thankfully, he didn’t have to look at the Genie, as it would have felt like a final indignity: the machine sitting and mocking him. “Like hell my wish was granted,” Frank had muttered as he pulled his suitcase onto the shuttle bus steps. “Like hell.”
Frank pulled into the outskirts of town. There was a huge line of traffic. Frank noted that police were directing traffic away from his neighborhood. An officer informed Frank that he could not get down his street. Frank showed him his driver’s license and the officer pointed to a curb nearby. “You can park over here, sir, but be careful. There are still live wires on the street. “
“What happened?” asked Frank.
“A storm went through last night,” replied the officer. “A tornado popped out of the thunderstorm cloud. It was the most random thing anyone has ever seen. You need to go check your property, sir, but as I said, be careful.”
As Frank walked down the debris-strewn street, he saw the devastation that had been wrought. Roofs were taken, glass was broken, and cars were overturned. As he got closer to his own home, he looked and saw his roof was still intact— missing a few shingles, yes, but still there. Walking toward his house he looked to the left. The neighbor to the north’s house was completely gone. Vanished, as if it never existed. The poor classic car had a tree limb embedded in the windshield but, other than that, there was no sign anything had ever been on that lot. Skokie was out in his yard; the funnel had missed his house completely. “Frank!” shouted Skokie, “Shit, man, your house made it through the storm. You got a problem with your power lines, but the house looks okay.”
Frank and Skokie both stared at the hole in the ground where their asshole neighbor’s house had sat. Skokie remarked, “It was if the cloud just hovered over his house and dropped straight down. After the house disappeared, so did the funnel.” Frank stared slack-jawed at the debris and the now-missing house.
“Just like a finger from God,” added Skokie.
“Well, looks like I got my wish,” sighed Frank under his breath.
“What the hell are you talking about, Frank?” Skokie asked with some sarcasm in his voice.
“Maybe I will tell you sometime Skokie”, Frank said with a wry grin. “But you probably wouldn’t believe me.”
Frank entered his house. Everything was fine. Nothing out of place. He heard a knock at the door. It was the power company. “Sir, we won’t be able to get any power to you for about a week.” Because of all the rebuilding necessary and how unsafe the situation was, they wanted Frank to make arrangements to stay somewhere else until they got his power back on safely.
Frank nodded. “That’s okay. I have an aunt who lives in town. She has always said I can come stay whenever I need to.” replied Frank. Now he would have to call Aunt Alice. He dreaded the call, as Alice was partially bedfast with horrible rheumatoid arthritis. But any old port in a storm.
Back in his car, Frank dialed Alice’s number on his cell phone.
“Of course, you can come stay, said Alice. I would love to have you. You are one pretty lucky young man, that you weren’t home.”
“Yeah, right,” thought Frank.
Alice was not directly related to Frank but had been married to Frank’s cousin. Only five years Frank’s senior, Alice looked twenty years older because of the pain she constantly experienced with crippling arthritis. Once an active woman, she was now relegated to a wheelchair but despite that, she was as active as she could be. Rolling along with a long, clutching stick outside to weed her flower bed, and she kept up with the housework as best she could. Alice was a force of nature but when she slept, Frank could hear her moan with the pain that even the fistful of meds that she took daily could not come close to relieving. Alice put on a good front but inside she wished the pain would go away, one way or other. Frank knew that and would stop in every now and then to cheer her. Visiting her made him feel a little less sorry for himself as her situation made his look pale in comparison.
“Frankie, come on in!” Alice swept her withered hand around while sitting in her motorized recliner. I fixed a bit of dinner for us, I hope you like Spam!”
“My favorite, Aunt Alice,” laughed Frank. This woman was something else. She didn’t deserve the life she leads now. “But what about life is fair?” mused Frank. He could think of nothing.
As the days wore on living with Alice, Frank checked up on his home from time to time. The mail had been held at the post office and he would visit once a day to get away from the agony that he saw on Aunt Alice’s face when she thought he wasn’t looking. The pain was so cruel, yet she valiantly wore a smile on her face every day.
One week after the tornado, Frank received a letter from the Four Horsemen Casino. Inside was a voucher for a free room and a 50-dollar voucher for slot machine play.
This was truly a cruel joke, thought Frank. “There is no way I would want to go back to that place, in particular the way their machine mocked me the last time.” But, he also thought, what a coincidence that the one wish he had vocalized had actually came true. The authorities had yet to find the body of the asshole neighbor. It was possible he might have escaped unharmed. His girlfriend told the tale of him screaming obscenities while standing on the porch. She said that the storm overhead just seemed to reach down and suck him up into the clouds. She had been heavily sedated since the storm so her testimony of her loutish boyfriend’s disappearance was taken with a grain of salt by the authorities.
“Maybe a trip would be in order,” Frank figured. Finally, he decided against it. He was too involved in helping Aunt Alice.
A few days later, he and Alice were sitting in front of the TV watching Wheel of Fortune when she turned to him and said, “Frankie, I see you got one of those vouchers to go back to the Four Horsemen, I think you should head on up.”
“But Aunt Alice, I am helping you out around here for now. You definitely could use a hand.” Alice frowned. Frank tried to ease her mind. “My house will be done soon; I can go up to the casino when it is finished. I’m doing just fine,” protested Frank.
Alice would have none of it. “Frankie, you are under a lot of stress. You need to remember your stroke, so, here.” Alice reached into the end table next to her recliner. “Take this one hundred dollars with you and win me some money while you’re at it.” Alice tried to hand him the money. Frank started to argue but was cut off. “Look Frank, I’m fine here by myself. I have been doing fine for ten years now all by myself so you get your butt up to The Four Horsemen tomorrow,” Alice gave Frank a sharp look. “Don’t argue with your Auntie!”
Frank laughed. “We make quite a pair, Alice.”
Alice smiled, knowing she had won the argument, “Get yourself packed, you need to get up there and have some fun!”
The next day, Frank drove the causeway to the Four Horsemen parking lot and, after finding a spot, waited for the shuttle bus. Frank was grateful to have a person in his life like Alice and a neighbor like Skokie. “If I actually win something, I’m going to get them both a nice gift,” he mused as he hopped on the bus and took the ride down to the main casino.
Frank fought the urge to go straight to the craps tables and instead took a walk around the entirety of the main casino floor. As he walked by the slot machines, the Genie machine lit up its digital sign, “Welcome back, Frank! Come on over!”
“How do they do that?” Frank wondered as he walked over to the free soda machine. “But not right now,” thought Frank. “I’m still a bit scared of you.” The machine’s sign flashed “Don’t be scared. I won’t hurt you. I will give you the wish that you desire.” “Now that is creepy,” remarked Frank under his breath. He beat a path to the craps tables as the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
Frank played a couple of rounds of craps, then had a whiskey on the rocks at the bar to loosen up a bit.
Frank planned his night, writing it out on a bar napkin. “I still have part of that hundred left so I am going to pace myself. I want to be up by one hundred in the next hour and then I am quitting,” he noted. After another drink, this time whiskey with no ice, Frank tried another round of craps. He only managed to break even. Back at the bar, he ordered another whiskey. Suddenly, as if by magic, he found himself sitting in front of the genie.
“I rarely drink when I gamble,” mumbled Frank as he put a twenty into the Genie’s pulsating slot.
“It makes you sexier,” came the voice from the machine’s speakers. Frank turned to see if anyone else in the area heard that. Everyone else was hunched over their respective machines, feeding in quarters and smoking cigarettes.
“I see I have a flirt for a genie.” Frank purred. He was feeling frisky.
“Oh yes, Frank. I’m here for your pleasure,” said the Genie’s sultry voice.
“Be careful Genie, if I get another wish it will be that you will meet me in my room later,” Frank responded.
The machine flashed reddish-orange lights, as if to blush. “Oh Frank, as tempting as that sounds, I cannot do that. But if you get a wish granted, it can be whatever else your heart desires.”
“That sounds fair,” laughed Frank as he fed in more money into the Genie’s colorful money slot.
“What the hell, let’s do this,” said Frank as he pushed the Max Bet line.
The reels whirled and the lights were even brighter and more mesmerizing than before. It was if the Genie was seducing him, teasing, then making good on promises. It was sensual and satisfying. Frank was hallucinating as the anthropomorphic image of the Genie performed “The Dance of the Seven Veils” for him. Her beauty was spellbinding. He could not pry his eyes off of her. It was if it was just her and him: the casino and all its inhabitants faded into an orgasm of light.
Suddenly it all came to an end. The reels were all three in agreement. “Wish Granted.” The machine sat, waiting for his response.
For some reason, all of his debauched feelings disappeared. As if inserted into his mind, his one and only thought was that if anything could be wished for, it was that his Aunt Alice would be pain-free. “That woman is a saint and should be canonized.”
“This is for my aunt Alice. I want her pain to be all gone when I get back.”
“Your Wish is Granted” displayed across the digital sign. The lights faded. The Genie disappeared. Only the sign repeating “Your wish is granted” was visible. The rest of the machine was dark.
Frank was confused. “Are you broken now?” Frank said aloud.
No response came back to him.
Frank wondered at the strangeness of it all. Then he remembered that he still had twenty bucks left.
“I think it’s time to call it a day.”
Frank had almost broke even. He kept wondering about the cryptic message. He knew that it was all nonsense, this granting wishes stuff. Just some great marketing, he would give them that.
Deep down, he hoped that his wish would come true for Alice.
Frank ate his comped burger, pondering why he was at the casino. He should be out making a difference in the world. It was too bad that his health wasn’t what it should be. He could be out granting wishes himself.
Walking away from the restaurant, Frank heard the unmistakable ring of a small bell and it caused him to look around. “There must be some kind of sensor somewhere that sets that off,” thought Frank as he checked the carpeting on the floor.
When Frank got back to his room, the phone was blinking. He picked up the phone and called the desk.
“Sir, we have some bad news for you. You are needed back home as quickly as possible. There has been an accident with someone named Alice. Your room will be held for you at a later date if you wish.”
Frank froze. He wondered if his pain had just begun.
Aunt Alice’s funeral was kind of a dreary affair. Flowers from her old workmates at the factory where she had spent 30 years before her arthritis had made work impossible were front and center on her coffee table. There were a smattering of friends and relatives, recounting her life and her indomitable spirit. Frank sat in Alice’s living room for the wake after Alice’s burial, tortured with guilt.
The day that Frank was at the casino, Auntie Alice had been in her living room as far as anybody knew. The neighbors heard her shriek from inside her house. She flung open the front screen door, pushing her wheelchair that she had been a prisoner in for over ten years, and exclaimed that “the pain has gone away.” Shoving the wheelchair down the steps, Alice did a little jig of happiness, something she hadn’t been able to do for over a decade. It was then she lost her balance, having not been up on her feet for a while, and fell off the porch. She died of a broken neck. The neighbors rushed to her aid but it was too late. Witnesses said her face had the most peaceful expression they had seen on it in years.
At the funeral, Frank had said nothing as he sat in the front row of the assembled relatives, looking at her casket. She was truly pain-free at last. Frank was far from peaceful. This was the most terrible, and ironic, thing that could have happened to a nice lady like his Aunt Alice. He thought back to everything that had happened: How generous she was in giving him money, how she encouraged him to relax and get his bearings. Then, while he was gone, this most heinous thing had happened to her. Frank felt he never should have taken that trip to the Four Horsemen. Alice might still be alive today. She would be in excruciating pain but she’d still be alive. Then he thought back to the wish that he had asked of the Genie in the slot machine. Was this how the wish for “no more pain” was granted?
“Wait a minute”, Frank said, “it’s just a damn machine. It has no mystical power to grant wishes. Its sole purpose is to take your money. The Genie even admitted that.” But he couldn’t shake the thought of the connection between his wish and what had happened.
All this was going through Frank’s head as he sat on Alice’s couch. Just then Frank’s ex-wife Mirna walked into the living room and stared hard at Frank. Mirna had been a good friend of Alice’s even before she and Frank were married. “Someone told me you were staying here with Alice,” Mirna questioned. “But you weren’t here when she fell and broke her neck, were you?”
Frank did not look up, but felt the shame with what his ex-wife was confronting him with.
Mirna continued her accusations. “That’s right, you were out gambling again, weren’t you, Frank, while your poor Aunt, who was nice enough to let you stay with her, lay dead on the front porch?” Mirna had long ago decided she could not stand Frank but Frank was still madly in love with his ex-wife.
Frank’s cousin Joe came into the room after hearing Mirna’s loud admonishment to Frank. “Easy, Mirna.” Joe stepped deftly between the two former spouses. “Alice told Frank to take a break. He’s been through quite a bit lately with that tornado tearing up his house.”
Mirna gave Frank the side eye as she stomped into the kitchen. “I’m sure that he would have been just as useless if he were here.”
That cut pretty deep. Frank agreed with Mirna in spirit but wished that she understood what had happened. But he really wished that he and Mirna were still together. Frank got up, walked into the bathroom and shut the door. Sitting down on the toilet seat, he started to cry. “Why is the woman that I love so much so hateful towards me?” Frank asked himself. He looked in the mirror. Maybe she was right. Maybe he was useless. Frank washed his hands then got his coat and left.
Frank tried to calm himself by driving around a while. Finally, he wound up at his house. The power had just been turned on so Frank went inside and changed. He looked through the day’s mail and incredulously saw a familiar envelope. The Four Horsemen Casino. Inside was a comp for a free deluxe room, the honeymoon suite. Along with it was a voucher for a free bottle of wine and dinner for two at The Stallion Steak House, which was on the premises of the casino.
In a furor, Frank tore the envelope up and threw it into the trash. Walking over to the sink, Frank reached underneath and pulled out a quart of vodka. He felt like he wanted to just disappear like his neighbor.
It was about 2am when the phone woke Frank from his drunken stupor.
“Hello,” mumbled Frank.
“I’m sorry to wake you, Frank. It’s Mirna.”
Frank sat up straight in his recliner.
He tried to sound sober.“Hi, Mirna. How are you?”
“I’m okay,” she responded. “Look, I want to apologize about today and, well, about a lot of things.”
Frank sobered up quickly.
“Frank, I know I’ve been hard on you in the last few years. I realized a long time ago that you and I had no future together.”
“Okay, you told me that when we divorced,” said Frank, wondering if he was dreaming or what.
Mirna continued. “We always had a lot of fun but there was more that I wanted in my life. I take the blame for making our marriage difficult.”
Frank got up and staggered into the bathroom, clutching the phone. “I bet I look drunk,” he thought as he ran a comb through his hair and turned on some water to splash on his face as he responded to his ex.
“I take most of the blame, Mirna. I have problems with responsibility and you know I’m not in very good physical shape. That’s my own fault,” he admitted as he looked in the medicine cabinet for some mouthwash, as if Mirna could smell his vodka breath over the phone. “But we could’ve still made it work,” he remarked sadly. “You yourself said that in time you would’ve grown to love me.”
There was a long silence on the phone.
“Frank, we never were meant for each other. There’re too many differences. Just like this thing with Alice. Of course, Alice would tell you to go off and have fun. But you are irresponsible. You didn’t take care of yourself and you had a stroke. You still smoke knowing that these things aren’t good for you.” Mirna kept going. Frank hoped she would stop trying to deny that they could have worked things out. “You’re your own worst enemy, Frank. As much as I might’ve cared for you, I realized that being with you had a future that I was not prepared to live with.”
Frank spritzed on some cologne while he responded. “Mirna, I could’ve been different. I just needed a little bit of encouragement from you.”
“If only encouragement was a magic spell because my one wish for you was that you’d change so that we could be together forever.” Mirna sighed.
Frank was crushed, yet something in Mirna’s voice seemed to give him hope at the same time.
“If I could change, would you reconsider?” Frank asked as his heart beat faster.
“You would really need a magic spell, from a genie in a bottle, for you to change.” Mirna’s voice seemed resigned. “And I don’t believe in genies, Frank.
“But I do,” said Frank aloud, surprising himself.
Mirna laughed. “Sorry to wake you up, Frank. Good night.”
“But I do believe now,” said Frank, grabbing the scotch tape and heading for his trash can. “I really do.”
As he drove up the Four Horsemen causeway the next day, Frank thought “Mirna seemed like she really cared about me.I need to see this Genie Machine. If this thing is really giving me wishes, I have one wish that needs to be granted.”
Frank settled into his free room at the Four Horsemen and found complimentary champagne waiting for him. Wow, thought Frank these people are going all out for me. Maybe it’s the Genie?
Frank had a plan. He would ask the Genie if she could get Mirna and him back together. Then, as he planned in his well-rehearsed dream, he would call his ex and invite her to share his room with him, the champagne and all. Mirna would be so thrilled, she would rush up to the casino and they would start their love affair all over again. This would be an event that he would remember for the rest of his life.
Frank sat down on the bed and changed shoes. He suddenly laughed out loud at the thought that somehow a slot machine was going to grant him a wish. Yet things had been happening since he started playing the Genie machine. Some of these things were quite unexpected. Frank also noted that the consequences of his wishes being granted were sometimes harsh. “I can’t see this stuff being real. I should just have a good time and not worry about making ridiculous wishes. Mirna and I Will never get back together. My aunt’s death, though tragic, was inevitable,” he told himself.
That didn’t explain the random tornado, of course, but who can count on the weather doing anything good? Frank buttoned up the shirt, pulled a cigarette out of his pack, and headed down to the gambling floor.
Frank was anxious to go see the Genie but he took a short detour to the craps table. It had been a while since he had been shaking the dice and he thought with his new-found confidence it was about time to get back into the game. Frank put down his certificate for 500 dollars and the game was on.
30 minutes later, Frank had lost 490 dollars. The pit boss looked at him sadly. “Sir, would you like a comp for the steakhouse?”
Frank nodded. “Who needs money anyway when you have love?” He took his last chip off of the board. Frank decided to give Mirna a call. Her line was busy but he left a message: “Hey, it’s me, Frank. I have been thinking about our conversation last night and you are absolutely right. We might not be in the right place in our lives to be together, not yet anyway. So, I thought I would at least invite you to come up to the casino for a steak dinner that I just won. Let me know if you can make it up. It would be great to see you and we can talk like adults about how we can at least go on from here.” Frank had to stop himself from adding “I love you” and instead said “I hope you’ll come on up. There is champagne in the room, as well.“ Frank wasn’t really sure if that came off kind of creepy or not, but he didn’t care. The Genie would fix things. If not, what did he have to lose? Frank hung up the phone and walked to the cashier to redeem his last chip, then he moved off to the beautiful Casino Genie.
As he approached the machine, he watched the mesmerizing lights reflect off of the glass fire extinguisher case. This was still one of the most unusual places he had ever seen in a casino for a slot machine. The machine’s digital sign came to life. “Glad to see you, Frank.” I still wonder how they do that, thought Frank as he looked at his plastic membership card.
He sat down and watched the sensual cartoon image of the genie wiggle back and forth and the machine said, “Frank, I wish the best for you. You are my favorite, you know.” Frank chuckled to himself. He didn’t know how they knew it was him specifically, perfectly from a distance, but Frank decided to play along.
“Yeah baby, I’ve been pining for you.” The speakers crackled with an extremely sultry female sigh. Frank slid in the last ten dollars that he had.
“Okay, baby, here is what I ask: I know you can’t give me riches. What I’m wanting from you, though, is a little more intimate. I want my ex-wife and I to be together forever.”
Suddenly the face of the genie appeared on the screen. “What?” exclaimed the tiny cartoon. You have spent all these hours purring sweet nothings at me as I gave you your heart’s desires and you want me to fix you up with another woman?”
Frank smiled sheepishly. “This has to be a reality show,” he said aloud. “Okay, where are the cameras?” Frank asked as he turned around in his chair.
The machine crackled sadly. “I thought you were mine alone, Frank.”
Frank looked deep into the Genie’s digitally-reproduced eyes. Might as well play along. I might win enough for a second honeymoon with Mirna.
“Oh, baby”, Frank crooned. “You are the only one for me, I know that. But you’re stuck in this machine. I want someone I can really love, in real life. Mirna said that if I changed she would get back with me again.”
The machine shuddered. It was sobbing.
“All I wanted to be was loved,” the little Genie said with a frown as she cried on the screen. “That’s why I gave you your heart’s desires.”
Frank looked around to make sure nobody was watching him console a slot machine.
Leaning in, Frank put his lips on the screen in a kiss. God, I hope they clean these things, he thought as he smooched the little Genie’s video face.
“Thank you,Frank. I know you care for me and I know I can’t be the woman that Mirna can for you.”
Frank wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “That’s right, baby. So do me a favor, if I win, change me so Mirna can accept me and I can be forever with her.” Then he added, “and I will always remember you for doing that.”
The Genie on the screen wiped her nose and straightened her head scarf. “Push the button, Frank, and may your wish come true.“
Frank pushed the Max Bet button.
The machine rolled its reels. The lights were somewhat muted in their celebration and, after a few moments, four “Get Wish” icons faced Frank. The machine grew silent once more, except for the “Your Wish is Granted” that ran across the digital sign at the top of bottle shaped amusement.
Frank was going to get his wish.
As Frank moved toward the steakhouse, he heard what seemed to be a bell, like the previous bells that he had heard each time his wish had been granted. He looked around and couldn’t find the source. It was so remarkable that a bell sound could be so clear amidst the din of digital organ music and the sounds of slot machines hitting jackpots.
Frank opened his Trac-Phone and checked his messages. He was excited to find a message from Mirna. “Frank, I just got your message. I am getting changed and heading up to the casino. I’m looking forward to our conversation.” Mirna’s voice betrayed a hint of excitement. “Go ahead and eat without me. I will grab something on the way up,” she continued. “Maybe we can share some of that champagne later.”
That was all Frank needed to hear. “Thank you, Genie” he said loudly, causing the women playing penny slots nearby to look up for a split second before they went back to their penny feeding frenzy.
Frank literally skipped all the way to the steakhouse on the other side of the casino.
The steak was cooked just the way he liked it. He really didn’t care that, at this point in time, he was dead broke. Frank savored the steak in his mouth like a last meal that would satisfy him for the rest of his life. He had not a care in the world at this point. Mirna was his again. Life would be so wonderful. Frank would get his health back, maybe even enough to get a job. Going into work. Coming home to Mirna. What more could anyone want in life? The Genie in the casino really granted wishes. Frank thought, “I need to come up here about once a week. I have more wishes than I thought I had.” He ate the crème brûlée dessert that was provided for him. This was going to be a great day.
“Sir, the comp that you were given included two free adult beverages” Frank’s waiter observed as he was handed the paper.
Wow! This is better than I ever thought this day would turn out. Frank smiled.“Can you make that two doubles?”
When Frank awoke, he didn’t know where he was. “Those drinks were pretty strong,” he said aloud. He was alone and the sun was streaming in around the thick drapes of the honeymoon suite. “I’m not even hungover,“ he remarked as he padded into the bathroom. He wondered where Mirna might have been. He went out and looked at the bed.
No, he was the only one who had slept there. “My God, I hope she didn’t come up and couldn’t find me!” He dialed Mirna’s number.
The phone rang for what seemed like an eternity. “Lord, if she came up and couldn’t find me, I bet she is livid.” Frank broke out in a cold sweat. Suddenly, he heard the other end pick up. What a relief!
He could hear rustling on the other end. “Hello?” Frank repeated several times. He heard breathing on the phone. “Hello, Mirna?” Frank stammered into the phone.
A man answered: “Sir, this is emergency services. We have some bad news for you.”
Frank dropped the phone on the floor.
“Hello, hello, sir? Your friend Mirna was in a car crash. I’m sorry, she didn’t make it.” The phone echoed from the carpet.
Frank didn’t hear. He was already moving toward the hotel room door.
Frank kicked open his room. Still wearing his pajamas, he flew down the corridor. Along the way, he stepped into several breakfast trays that had been placed outside people’s rooms. He wildly punched the elevator button on the doors until they finally opened. Frank stepped into a small crowd of people.
“All of you get the hell out of my way!” The crowd jumped back in fear, trying to get out of the elevator instead of riding with this wild-haired, pajama-clad lunatic.
When the door opened to the main gambling floor, Frank shot out like a cannonball straight for the Genie machine.
“Hi, what’s your pleasure, the Genie is here to give you your most intimate wishes.”
“Shut the hell up, you bitch!” He howled as he kicked the side of the machine. The pain in his toes made him realize he was still wearing bathroom slippers. Ignoring the discomfort, he cried out “You killed her!”
The early-riser gamblers nearby grabbed up their cups of quarters and started moving away at Frank’s outbursts.
“I wanted to be with her forever and you killed her!”
“Put in a dollar and your dreams will come true”, purred the machine.
“Shut up! I’m tired of your promises!” Frank was crying.
“Everything that I’ve wished for from you has turned out terrible. I’m sorry I ever put that first dollar in you!”
A couple of janitors that were sweeping stopped to stare. One of them got on his radio. “Central, I think we have a situation on the main floor. Alert security.”
Frank continued his rant at the still-blinking machine.
“I wish I’d never seen you,” he said, giving the machine a final kick. “I still wish I could be with my ex-wife but most of all I wish you weren’t here!”
The machine made a ringing sound, as if it had been knocked off center by Frank’s violent kicking. In a more mechanical voice the Genie machine spoke.”I will grant all your wishes. As I said in the past, you should be careful what you wish for.”
Out of a side door, two very stout-looking workmen appeared with a large dolly. As Frank moved back, the two workers slid the genie machine onto dolly forks, unplugged the machine and started rolling it across the gambling floor heading to the main door.
“What are you doing?” screamed Frank, even louder.“You can’t take this machine away!”
As the workmen rolled the Casino Genie away, Frank’s anger was replaced by a fear, a fear that he would never be able to get his life in order. He realized that the wishes that he had asked for, in a perverse way, had made his life more simple and orderly. The only thing that had given him any pleasure for the last few weeks was his Genie.
He ran across the thick carpet in his slippers and robe after the two workmen. “Stop, please!”
As the two workmen reached the main door of the casino, Frank sped up, losing one of his slippers in the process. He ran through the door into the driveway as the two workers rolled the genie across the parking lot. “Wait!”
The first shuttle arrived from the outskirts of the parking area. Frank wasn’t paying attention to it. The driver slammed on his brakes. Frank was knocked underneath. Caught between the undercarriage and his now trailing bathrobe, Frank was dragged at least ten feet before the shuttle came to a halt. As the driver and others tried to help him out, Frank’s bathrobe belt was wound tightly around his neck and the other end was under the front right wheel. The world turned dark as Frank slowly asphyxiated. The last thing he heard was the very distinct sound of a small bell and a sultry, feminine voice in his ear.
“Your wish is granted.”
The casino office was filled with executives watching one of the fifty video screens in front of them as it replayed Frank’s death under the shuttle bus. They ran it backward and forward. The president of Heartland Casino was on a video conference call from his sprawling Dallas office talking with the floor manager and the hotel concierge.
“No doubt about it,” the voice crackled, “the liability for this accident is solely on the deceased. We’ll have new protocols in place for the shuttles, but…”
A new video began to play: time lapse of several months jumped across the screen. Frank pulled up a chair, began putting money into a fire extinguisher cabinet. One visit, two visit, three visits.
The machine was rolled from the floor; another camera feed showed Frank exiting the front door, following some workmen.
“In the last few weeks he would pull up a chair and sit for about an hour, put maybe a hundred or so dollars into the cabinet, talk to himself a bit, then walk out.” The voice on the call petered out.
An executive asked “Did anyone ask why he was putting money in a fire extinguisher?”
“No, we weren’t sure why he was doing it, but he seemed happy and we thought we should leave him alone.”
“You collected the money, right?” The executive asked.
“Yes, sir. We did send him some comps for free rooms and dinner.”
“Keep it out of the media.”
“Looks like no family to get involved.”
The video feed kept repeating: Frank and a fire extinguisher, Frank and a parking lot.
The conference call ended.
Later that day, at the Four Horsemen Casino, two workmen were directed to place a slot machine near a fire extinguisher cabinet. A regular customer had enjoyed playing near there, once. The manager thought it’d be a nice place for a machine.
The workmen plugged in the odd looking, new device. It resembled a large bottle. The lights came on instantly and it promptly started speaking. “I am the Casino Genie,” came the rich feminine voice from inside.
“Let me make all of your wishes come true.”
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