At 3 A.M. the bartender finally hands me a beer with a four toothed grimace and a condescending, “Here, Foster.” The problem being I don’t remember giving him my name—at least not my real name. I considered putting my pistol under his chin until he told me who was jaw-jacking—but no. Just the sleep deprivation talking, and besides, a gambling house run by our local crime Syndicate is not the place to be asking questions. Chances are the bartender recognizes me from a book jacket.
Illicit casinos are great for a journalist going gonzo, and perfect for an author riding the disoriented express. Over in the corner a man was counting mescaline pills while his accomplice rambled about Bela Lugosi being the messiah. Or, at least, I think that’s what she said. Sometimes, when you’re in a cesspool of sin, and haven’t slept in 72 hours, your rationale jumps ship. You start to hear Hunter S. Thompson yell at his attorney to “stop hogging the ether,” and end up seeing William Blake’s face in your beer foam. Next thing you know, ancient gods are whispering in a gamblers ear. Perhaps that last one is just me.
Just being in this sordid place swells my cells with the esoteric. I’m on the hunt for Aka Manah—evil purpose—the Zoroastrian demon of desire. If the ancient deity is anywhere, and I believe he is, then he’s in a place like this. Everyone here qualifies as his victim.
Take Harry for example. Harry the harrower sits sorrowful at the craps table every day, filling his empty shot glasses with tears. Wife left him, kids hate him—even the hookers treat him as a pariah. Broke men offer nothing to a whore. Later tonight Harry will play roulette with a revolver. If he loses, and Harry always loses, he’ll be right back here, longing for his nightly suicide attempt.
This dice joint is far from the glamorous pleasure dens and opulent casinos for bureaucratic hedonists and the seamy aristocracy. These places are tailored for the self-imposed slaves, the doleful addicts who can’t pay debts, and never win. The Syndicate is smart, however, and instead of asking for recompense, they offer absolution of debts in exchange for labor. It’s indentured servitude—slavery with the stamp of business. Despite this tragedy, I’m not writing for the addicts, I’m writing about the addicts—their misery is what I want. It’s about hunting for inspiration in the baleful whispers of Aka Manah, the Evil Mind, who manifests himself in the Syndicate. I didn’t come as a journalist, I came as a novelist. It boils down to exploitation, and in the end, I’m no better than the pricks who own this place.
Michael Edgerton was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. He attended Walter Hines Page High School where he served on the award winning yearbook staff as a copy editor. He will be attending Appalachian State University in the fall.
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