The dealer said he had never seen anybody win and lose and win again like the Gambling Man had that night. He said the high roller gave him the largest tip of the season. Then the dealer saw the woman who had been staring at the Gambling Man all night. Out of gratitude and alarm, he put his hand out to stop him from approaching Ella Bandita. He even had his mouth open to warn him. But the nobleman glanced to the hand on his arm and glared, and brushed him off without a word. The dealer let the Gambling Man go to his fate.
“Congratulations,” she said. “That was impressive.”
“Why feign your good wishes?” he retorted. “You certainly weren’t cheering for me.”
She chuckled and shrugged.
Once he was close to her, the Gambling Man was uneasy and returned to his senses. He remembered his friends and Isabella and groaned. He tipped his hat and wished the strange woman good night. He finished two steps before she arrested him.
“Why do you love it?” she asked. “What do you love about gaming?”
Luck has no play in games of skill.
The Gambling Man stopped and turned around. Ella Bandita nodded to his caddy overflowing with chips, but kept her gaze fixed on him.
“Is it the money?” she continued. “Money you don’t need?”
He was shocked a woman would be so bold to question him like that. He was also excited. All his life, his friends had cheered him on and placed their bets, his family had scolded him, and his sweethearts had cautioned him. But nobody had ever asked him about his passion until now. The Gambling Man smiled for the first time since he saw her, his face glowing with rapture as he answered.
“No. It’s the games.”
“So you like to play games,” she said. “Why the games of chance?”
“Because I love to win them.”
“Why not games of skill? The victory would be sweeter.”
The rhythm of her speech was steady, her low voice mesmerizing. Ella Bandita was subtle. So much the Gambling Man didn’t realize she was taunting him. Instead, he shook his head in earnest.
“Luck has no play in games of skill,” he said.
“There were over a hundred men placing bets in here, but only a few of us were taking genuine risks. I nearly lost six months’ income tonight.”
“Ahhh, I see. And yet, you are the big winner.”
She paused with a smile. The Gambling Man thought her teeth large for a woman, and then he noticed she had the coldest blue eyes he’d ever seen. His stomach clenched, but he ignored the sign and shook his head.
Why not games of skill? The victory would be sweeter.
Luck has no play in games of skill.
“At least tonight you are,” she said.
“I’m the big winner every night.”
“You still haven’t told me why you love it.”
The Gambling Man knew she was playing with him. He was enjoying her game, because it was one he didn’t know. He couldn’t remember the last time he was so engaged by conversation.
“How many people do you think won tonight?” he asked.
“A few, I suppose.”
“Exactly. And how many of the real gamblers do you think won?”
“I suspect only you,” she said.
“That’s right. Only me.”
“You think that makes you special, don’t you?”
“I have luck on my side. And you think it doesn’t?”
“You really think you’re one of the chosen few?” Ella Bandita asked with one brow cocked, her mouth curved in a knowing grin.
“What a foolish vanity you have. Lady Fortune is fickle. Luck always changes.”
“Not for me, it doesn’t. You saw what happened tonight.”
“Tell me, Gambler, are you looking for the game you can’t win?”
“No, I’m looking to see that I always will.”
“I win at games of chance,” he declared. “I always have.”
“Perhaps you only play the ones that are easy to win.”
The Gambling Man chortled. He turned and pointed to the table now empty of people, clear of chips, the dice put away until the following night began. Even the dealer had gone.
“You think it’s easy to predict which numbers of the dice will come up?”
“You misunderstand me. I meant games that are safe.”
“The only game of chance I’ve never played is the one I’ve never heard of.”
This excerpt is out of my novel, “Ella Bandita and the Wanderer,” in the novella “The Bard Speaks.”
To purchase the full ebook of “Ella Bandita and the Wanderer” click here.
For a shorter read of “The Bard Speaks,” click here.
If you’d like to read an earlier excerpt from this piece, click here.