Lucky You Surf

Greer surfed, and occasionally shot craps. He’d never been to Hawaii, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t lucky.

Light / Dark

He wasn’t worried. 

It was just another trip, and if he blew all his coin, Greer knew it wouldn’t be the end. Or the first time. Because if you started by believing the clinically precise observations on the compulsive gambler—as occasionally outlined in slick monthlies for weekend intellectuals, or even by recalling early parental advice—you ended by not going at all.

Greer entered the office at Task Men to give the labor contractor his name in order to pick up his week’s wages, earned by boxing imported dinnerware for shipment in a hot warehouse in the uptown, industrial section of Burbank. The man with the seersucker face looked over the glasses he wore and stood to find the voucher.

“Greer,” he said, leaning over the desk. “I’m going to say this once more and for the last time.” His words came slurred as though he’d been drinking, but Greer waited. “You were two hours late to work today, the foreman tells me, and that’s twice this week alone. Next time you’re late, you’re fired,” he finished and, looking down to the desk that separated them, fumbled with the file, bringing up the envelope. 

He lobbed it onto the desk top, creating a quick shuffle of papers. 

Greer picked up the pay and checked the amount, then forced a smile and exited the single glass door that led out to the parking lot. 


It was winter’s seasonal, “unseasonal” heat wave, helped by an inversion layer over Los Angeles, sending time temperature signs on banks and savings & loans to 86 degrees at 5:42, and shrouding the basin in a brilliant orange haze at sundown. Greer headed outbound on the Ventura Freeway in his primered panel truck in the middle of rush-hour traffic. An unending stream of vehicles sat clotted in arteries, pointed toward the weekend ahead. It took an hour to go twenty-five miles. By the time he got off the freeway in Woodland Hills, his work clothes clung to him like an extra skin. He would shower at Church’s.

Crossing the boulevard, he drove up the hill to the large, lawn-fronted house. The gardener was just leaving in his pickup. Sewn gunnysacks bulged with clippings in the bed of the truck, and the handles to power equipment stuck out like antennae. The man waved to Greer and, shifting into second, disappeared down the hill. 

Church lived by himself, apart from the main house, in a room with a full bath and air conditioning. A sliding glass door looked out to a lighted, fern-bordered lawn on the garage side of the pool. He had a stereo tape deck, powered by a midnight auto battery, and miscellaneous furniture gleaned from a nearby Goodwill booth. His father owned a computer firm in Encino, and his stepmother, in the process, had become an alcoholic. To that extent, Church was a product of the upper class, all things not being equal, and was rightly concerned with his own welfare, having seen that of his parents’ taken care of amply, if not to excess.

Greer unlatched the back gate, walked the flagstone path and, hearing the music, knew Church was in but knocked anyway, observing his sometime-surf-companion’s propensity for formality. 

“Hey, Greer,” Church said, a grin on his face. 

The screen door opened and he stepped back and Greer went in, crossed to the torn sofa, and sat. Church went to the stereo and turned down the volume to “The Brothers & Sisters,” came back, sat on the bed, and reached to the carpeted floor for a half-gone six pack. 

Raising it, he offered one to Greer, who pulled it out. 

“Does your dad know you do this stuff?” Greer kidded. The ten years he had on Church
was sometimes fun. 

“You’re leaving for Tahoe tonight, eh,” Church said.

Greer popped the top to the beer and drank most of it before he stopped. A quizzical expression came over Church’s face.

“This time I won’t lose,” Greer said.

“That’s what you always say.”

“That’s how I always feel.”

Church laughed. Then drank. “You’re spaced, Greer,” he said, smiling almost sympathetically. 

Greer took another sip. “All it takes,” he began, “is—”

“Is one hot hand,” Church interrupted. “I know, I know,” he said. “You plan to surf on the way up?”

Greer finished his beer and put the empty can on the floor in front of him, letting Church wait for the answer. 

“Thanks,” he said, “for the brew,” and looked to the wall behind the bed at a poster of the Pipe. 

“Don’t get bent, Greer. I just figured you’d be so hot to trot you’d miss the swell.”

“What swell?” he asked doubtfully. 

Church reached down again and tossed him the last can, still in the plastic holder.

“Gonzalez called from Santa Barbara and said Rincon was starting to happen.”

“Ohhh,” Greer moaned, mimicking Gonzalez, who always talked about “the inside bowl,” no matter where he surfed.

“He said four-foot sets this afternoon and it looked like it was building.”

 “Saturday at Rincon,” Greer said, more to himself than to Church, and formed a mental picture of the logjam. “Pass. If it’s good north, I’ll keep on going. Take the coast route through Sur.”

Church leaned his back against the wall and chuckled. “What’s the matter,” he said. “Crowds bum you out?” He finished his beer and rose to change the tape. 

“When that song first came out on the radio,” Greer said, watching him, “I thought it was ‘Gamblin’ Man.’” 

Church let the song continue by going to a dresser in the corner. “Ramblin’,” he said. 

He opened the top drawer and pulled a packet from under a pair of shorts and divided it in two by removing a rubber band.

“Here’s the coin you wanted me to save. And here’s my ticket.”

He opened the folder with the airline’s name across the would-be Polynesian setting and handed the packet to Greer. 

Name of Passenger, Randy Church. From Los Angeles to Honolulu. 

“Alright,” Greer said and handed it back. 

“Three more days in The Pit and I’m outta here.” 

While Church returned the ticket to the dresser, Greer opened his envelope and, seeing the row of twenties, ran his thumb across them and thought of Lake Tahoe. 

“Don’t worry,” Church said and frowned. “It’s all there.” 

“I was thinking about Tahoe,” Greer countered. “Ass.” 

When he finished showering, Greer dressed in the clothes he’d brought in from the truck. They sat around waiting for Church’s girlfriend to show and smoked some of the elephant De Val had sent from Oahu while Greer scanned the letter in De Val’s handwriting. 

Cool to stay as long as you like. Good waves and warm water. 

“That offer goes for you, too,” Church said, putting the clip in the ashtray. 

Head bent and now thumbing through a surf magazine, Greer nodded. 

“I’ll get there,” he said. 

 “Well,” Church said and winced. “When you get ready to go out and gamble, do this,” he advised, and underhanded a small matchbox, filled with De Val’s elephant, across the room.

A knock outside interrupted the look, and Church’s girlfriend stuck her head in through the door she’d partly opened. Long brown hair covered one eye. With a stroke of her hand, she pushed it back. 

“It’s me,” she said, and came in.


They exchanged goodbyes in the street as Greer turned on the headlights and pulled away from the curb. He stopped for gas and then filled a doubled sack with groceries at a supermarket near the onramp, got back on the freeway, and left the valley, glad to be on the road again after five weeks of work, mostly unconcerned with how long it would take to reach Lake Tahoe, Nevada—about 600 miles away. 

The panel truck coasted down the seaward side of the Conejo Grade, gradually picking up speed during the mile-long drop. The night air cooled, now fifty miles from the still-hot and humid city he’d left. Below and off to the right, the glittering lights of Oxnard and Ventura gave the perspective of being on landing approach in
a plane. 

Nearing the bottom, where four lanes narrowed to two, Greer thought for a moment
he smelled the fragrance of the commercially grown flowers that, in spring, covered several acres on either side of the freeway. At the same time, a brief, Pavlovian accounting of the crossings he’d made traveling up and down the coast brought a response. 

It seemed at times the road had its own asphalt-induced high, where parallel white lines became narcotic and you could put your mind on automatic and think where you were going or where you’d been. In the years he’d been riding, he’d acquired a jealous familiarity with the coast, had seen the gradual changes, like the slowly shifting sand that in a decade revised the lineup at Zuma. There was Malibu with no Third Point or sea urchins or those who rode new longboards in tennis shoes for protection. Dana Point before the harbor, Stanley’s before the offramp. The time when you could still drive up to the cliff top, walk the trail down, and dive or surf Point Dume. Jalama’s Tarantula Point, before the barbed wire. Parking in the construction zone of the uncompleted freeway at Rincon. The swamp at C Street, shooting pinball in the old Country Store across the coast highway, and the pile of lumber, mysteriously burned, that was to have become Pete’s Reef at County Line. For the time being it was still worth the hassle, but like the economy, the price paid for goods received was steadily rising. 

Slowing for some fast gas in Santa Barbara, Greer got off the freeway and filled up. They sold beer as well and he availed himself of the service at the station. 

On the third can in under an hour, he pulled into Warm Beer & Cold Steaks at Gaviota.

The store-restaurant complex was moderately busy for a weekend, with tractor-trailers, station wagons, campers, trucks, and cycles occupying half the parking lot in the relatively new facility. A ranch boat with boards was hitched behind a truck, which was pulled into a lighted stall at the gas station across from the restaurant. Though the pumps were locked, there was water and a little air left in the compressor. Two surfers were standing with the hood open, truck idling. One held the water hose, filling the radiator. Greer parked nearby and, seeing the boat, walked over. 

“How ya doin’?” one of them asked at his approach. 

The other, a blond-haired youth, hearing his buddy, glanced up from his job and looked over to Greer.

“Coming back or going?” Greer asked. 

“Coming back,” the radiator man said. The liquid spilled over the top of the intake, visible in the neon light that reached the engine compartment, and exploded into tiny droplets against the whirling fan blades. “Swell’s just hitting.” He put the cap on and closed the hood, eyed Greer, and shrugged. “Gotta be at work in the morning.”

“Bummer,” Greer said.

“Where you headed?” the second asked from over his shoulder, crossing to the air hose. 

“North,” Greer replied. 

The kid put a taste of air in one of the tires to the trailer. “Yep,” he said, squatting, “it’s picking up. Perko’s was six, seven foot when we the pulled the plug just before sunset.” 

He checked the pressure with a pencil gauge, returned it to his pocket, and joined his partner, who had climbed into the passenger side of the idling Chevy. “Hope you get good waves,” he called from the rolled-down window over the revving engine.

“Take it easy,” Greer said and walked toward the diner. 


Waitresses crisscrossed the spacious, high-ceilinged restaurant, carrying food to the table-seated customers, whose murmuring conversations mixed with the tinkling of dishes and utensils. 

Greer took his time eating the steak that wasn’t cold but a little overdone. He looked around the diner to the grainy, enlarged, wall-hung photographs—a touring group motoring the dirt coast road over a half century earlier, various shots of the surrounding area taken near the turn of the century, as well as the standard truck of maps and artifacts that, if not relevant to the present time, at least possessed a curious historic value. 

He paid the co-ed waitress a twenty and, with the change she returned, rose from the table, left a tip, then walked through a partition into the store portion of the establishment. There, bins of polished shells in varying species, driftwood in all shapes and sizes, silk-screened tee shirts, toys and racks of post cards extolling the virtues of such places as Buelton, Santa Maria, and Little Scandinavia, lined the aisles for perusal and purchase by travelers and tourists. He was about to leave when, against the wall near the wooden-doored exit, he saw the pinball machines. 

He felt in his pocket for change and went to the machine that was the middle of three, recognized the layout, disguised in another name, and fed the coin box a dime. 

The machine came to life with lights as a series of rhythmic clicks and rattles removed the old score and replaced it with zeros. The ball emerged and came to rest at the tip of the plunger. The setup was fairly straightforward with two lower flippers, left and right alleys to advance the bonus, a moving center target, A and B tabs hidden behind the upper bumpers, which when both lighted increased them from one hundred to one thousand, and two extra ball when lit pockets just up from the flippers on either side of the grid. 

Satisfied he knew the game, he pulled back the plunger and sent the ball up the chute into the playing field, where it bounced back and forth. The cold metal stripping felt good against his palms and the buttons were dry and responsive when tested. 

The ball sifted through a gate into the upper bumpers and ricocheted between them amid the ringing of two-toned bells, then curved around one of the poles and slowly rolled down the middle toward the waiting flippers, passed them, and hit with a dull metallic thud against the back plate. The score turned a few hundred. 

The second ball didn’t take hold and, after managing to light the bumpers to thousands, again the ball was lost, this time to the left rollover, though before sliding into the works, it bounced off the back plate and came up almost within reach of the flippers. Greer’s hump was late and too hard, and tilt swallowed the few thousand he’d scored.

On the third, he was behind par for a game and shot conservatively, looking for accuracy rather than juice. After advancing the bonus to 20,000, he took two clean shots at the center target, lighted the extra ball pocket, but missed it trying a thin, backside save. 

He released the fourth and gradually got it under control. Still, the action wasn’t there and a delayed hit put too much spring on the sphere, causing it to crawl over a retaining wire on the right-hand gutter with no chance of bringing it back up into play. The score clicked a little and added two grand. 

Shooting the last ball as a matter of course, and already thinking of the drive ahead, Greer watched with indifference. But, the ball hung up in the upper bumpers and immediately lighted both A and B tabs where, before, he’d had to plan the shot. It spun crazily down the grid and was picked off, snapping the glass on the return and slipping easily up the right alley into the bumpers—scoring thousands in rapid succession as the ball machine-gunned around and through the illuminated poles. As the pace picked up, the shots came smoothly and Greer allowed himself a small, high-voiced hoot when he hit the center target four times in a row. His arms felt the familiar, almost electric sensation that ran through them and terminated somewhere beyond his fingertips in the buttons, so that the machine seemed a logical extension of his body and thought process.

Same player shoots again flashed in red letters at the base of the score window and was reflected off the glass top. He put the ball in the pocket five times, then reversed it back into the opposing 5,000-point hole on the other side as one game popped up. Taking a look after clearing the bumpers, he saw the score turn over. The Special lighted in the alleys for all eight games the Williams would give. Wrap shots went up one alley, over the layout, and back down the other in consecutive ovals, the rounded weight describing blurred, geometric patterns under the glass. Once the ball got caught in the flippers and generated enough speed so that it flew out the wrong way, shot up the grid, and pushed itself back through the entrance gate into the top portion where it again cleared and reentered the playing field. It glanced off a bumper and drilled dead center, heading for the gap between the flippers. Greer ignored the save but timed the hump and brought the lost ball up from behind the arms, flicked it up the left alley for the last time and the eighth game. 

He stopped in mid play, taking his hands off the machine, and watched the ball fall of its own accord. It seemed pointless to play out the remaining games. After the score turned and stopped, the ball again appeared at the plunger for the extra turn he’d never take. 

The quiet brought by the waiting machine made him feel strangely uneasy. The store was empty, and the only sound was of business on the other side of the building and the Musak that drained from hidden speakers throughout the place. Greer pressed the credit button and heard the machine recycle itself for another game as he turned for the exit. 

It was midnight when he reached the headlands. Taking the turn-off in San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay, Greer continued up the coast on Highway 1 until it rose above sea level and became the twisting, cliff-skirting, mountain-cut road between Cayucos and Carmel—a near fifty mile stretch of unchanged, undeveloped, Central California coastline. 

The half-gallon of Red Mountain he’d bought with the groceries had been opened and worked on sporadically since the Gaviota tunnel, bringing with it the retrospect born of alcohol. Coupled with the drone of the engine and the wash of the headlights, it conspired to make things seem somehow cosmic.

“Interrelated disciplines,” he said to the emptiness within the cab, thinking of the machine back at the restaurant, the waves ahead, and of the casinos in Lake Tahoe beyond. Because, he reasoned, if you could do one, you could do the other. They were all tied together by some kind of Nicomachean Ethical thread, where the ultimate good came from doing what you knew best and by doing it well—or linked, perhaps, by subtle changes in body chemistry brought by a good tube ride, coming out on a seven at a craps table, or shots made on a pinball machine that were unexplainable and so instinctive that all you had to do was sit back and take the juice.

 He stopped once and turned off the engine, got out of the truck, and leaned against its side to watch the imperceptible turn of the constellations. Orion in its winter journey. Deep clusters of light made brilliant in the absence of civilization. 

The wind was offshore and warm for the time of year, carrying with it the resinous smell of chaparral down from the foothills and rustling nearby scrub brush. A stream or waterfall swished unseen in the darkness while, up from the cliff’s edge, the sound of surf was steady, interrupted at regular intervals by the crack of set waves. 

Getting back into the panel truck, Greer was briefly concerned when the engine refused to start. He turned off the ignition for a moment and tried again. Catching, he gunned it to be sure and pulled back onto the road, driving for the turnout that was less than thirty minutes away. 


In the hour of false dawn, available light illuminated the patterned curtain pulled across the back of the cab, giving form and dimension to the interior of the truck. 

He was parked not far from the drop off of the cliff on a weed-grown access road which circled a small rise on the ocean side of the highway, keeping it out of sight from passing cars and unwanted eyes—the Monterey County Deputies and California Highway Patrol on watch for occupants of other-than-specified camp sites. 

Greer stayed in his sleeping bag and built a smoke with of the contents of the matchbox Church had given him. He laid and listened to the ocean he knew was providing waves. He tried to judge their size and shape from the sound, and in his mind he followed an imagined lip across the cove at the bottom of the narrow trail. 

Soon he shuffled out of the bag and opened the rear door. Two Steller’s Jay jumped from the ground and flew off over the brush in twin blurs. Beyond, the edge of the world gave way to a leaden, gray horizon at ocean’s end and was drawn up again in a bank of darkened clouds not far from land. He got out and walked to where the cliff fell away to the sea fringe below, and saw in the early morning haze the first wave of a set grow at the tip of the point, throw, and trace a perfect right into the cove. 

Outside, the lines were stacked in rolling humps of threes and fours, and inside a slight wind swept back the tops of the breaking waves and appeared to suspend, if only for a hallucinogenic moment, the walls of water that moved with size and precision toward shore.

His laugh was preconditioned.


There was time for a few leisurely cups of coffee, unhurried by the prospects of company or crowds, or, he guessed, blown out conditions. The wind was holding offshore, and decreased only slightly in the hour before he shrugged into his wetsuit and hiked down the shrub-lined trail, board under arm, to the sand below. He watched the set pattern in the lineup, taking the board to the tideline where, just short of the water, he dropped it, knelt and applied wax and a bit of the fine-grained sand to the deck. He waded into the slowly deepening water, giving an involuntary shudder as the cold northern sea filtered through the long john.

Two hundred yards south of the point, at the other end of the cove, was a deep-water channel, shrouded in bladder kelp that made paddling through the lineup unnecessary. Skirting the incoming white water, he took the long way around and in ten minutes was stroking with a north flowing counter-current toward the takeoff zone. A view on a line with the surf showed the open-ended rights, the thick, arching lips colored
a translucent blue-green in the first rays of light that reached over the eastern hills. 

Behind the break he sat on his board and, resting, looked landward to the many beachless coves serrated against the backdrop of rolling green foothills and shear cliffs, and the enormous house-sized rocks that stuck out of the ocean to the north and south—white tipped from the droppings of generations of gulls, all the time rising and falling on his board with the passing of each wave. 

Outside a new set formed. He judged the distance and took up the slack. Uniformity of size and shape made his choice arbitrary, and his anxiousness guided him into the first of the four. He sat back on the tail, lifting the nose and brought the 7’10” around as the wall grew behind him. He looked over his shoulder while paddling, put force behind the strokes while the wave lifted him and the board to the top. Then gravity took over. 

The board released and quickly Greer was to his feet. It was close to a free-fall drop as the wave jacked, and over his left shoulder blue water turned circular white. His vision cleared and he leaned into a long, drawn out turn, eased the inside rail and floated back up into the rifled wall. Trimming and drawing a careless hand over the silken, resisting water, he rode ahead of the wave for a few seconds, then angled higher only to drop down for another turn, slightly stalled and this time coming up underneath the overhead throw. The hole at the other end dilated and its size made crouching only a matter of form. He arched impulsively, the roof to the green box hissing above him and capturing the sound in the hollowness. He shot the covering and, with the speed gained inside, outdistanced the wave and angled over the back, still standing on the board as it stopped in still water. 

The next wave had already started to draw across the cove, lined farther out than he’d thought and walling up a hundred feet away. The deep-water channel was too far to paddle in the remaining seconds. 

Digging in, head up, he watched the ever-steepening trough in front of him. The lip began to feather. The suck-out added to his forward progress but only slightly. Seeing it was lost, he slid off the back of the board and pushed it ahead of him, into the face of the oncoming wave, hoping for the best. He drew a quick breath and dived, trying to make it under and through the liquid barrier, fighting the buoyancy of his wetsuit. 

All earthly sound was cut off, everything encased in a fuzzy, transparent blue. Angular rays of the sun sent wavering fingers of light to the sand bottom. He felt the rolling motion of the wave above him and, ever so gently, was pulled back up into its lip. He prepared for the impact, smiling to himself underwater for the lack of judgment. 

The lip drove him downward, the following turbulence creating a black cloud when he opened his eyes, pulling at his arms and legs, spinning and turning him until the violence smoothed itself.
He waited it out and eventually broke the surface. 

Well into the white water, he treaded in the side-shore current and looked for his board. His feet grazed sand. Alternately walking and swimming over the convoluted bottom, he came to shore. The board wasn’t in the shorebreak and, looking outside, he still didn’t see it. Checking the channel, Greer was relieved when he spotted it floating listlessly in the slack-water cove. 


Sunset was hidden. Only a darkening shade of blue that slowly brought the day’s end. The wind had come up from the south before noon, then switched to northwest, increased and put a seal on surfing for the rest of the day—badly chopping the surface and destroying the once-clean lines.

Where the night before had been clear, tonight was cloud covered as though a canopy had been drawn across a star-emptied sky.

Down on the beach, Greer squatted next to a fire he’d built for warmth and ate dinner under an overhand of jutting rock. Absentmindedly, he fed driftwood sticks into the small, crackling blaze. He stared into the fire—quick remembrances of the rides he’d had through the morning, the trip up, the harried work he’d endured the past weeks. 

From his jacket pocket he brought out a pinner, and lighted it from a cherry-tipped twig. He thought too of Church and how he would have liked the waves today—how he would like the waves to come in Hawaii.

A settling altered-reality caused him to get up from the fire and walk on dry sand toward the end of the cove. The sound of the ocean seemed louder and a clinging moisture covered his hair and clothing. 

With the end of rideable waves, Greer began thinking of Tahoe. Of noisy casinos, the clatter of a roulette wheel, the feel of dice in the hand. Slowly, a conviction without evidence stopped him. He turned around, back to the yellow dot of fire down the beach, wondered briefly, then returned. 


The rain-laden front hit the coast and created swirling patterns on the windshield at the approach of oncoming headlights. Past the naval facility at Point Sur, the panel truck continued in darkness until the lights of Carmel came and went. Putting the stacks of Pacific Gas and Electric behind in Monterey, Greer drove through Castroville and an hour later was climbing and dropping over Highway 17 from Santa Cruz
to San Jose. 

He’d been in the city limits for less than ten minutes when the engine began sputtering, causing him to edge the vehicle off the freeway onto a paralleling thoroughfare where he looked for an open gas station. Finding none, and restricted to first gear, he took a corner and brought the truck to a coughing halt on an untraveled side street. 

Resigned to wait until morning, he got out of the cab and backtracked to the intersection
he’d turned from. There was no rain this far inland, only the suggestion of it in damp air and low-hanging clouds. 

Overhead street lamps glared in frosted light and the traffic control box switched audibly when changing. Considering the alternatives, he left the intersection and was walking back to the truck when he heard the sound. The whine increased in intensity and proximity. It cut knife-like through the urban calm—the unmistakable signature of approaching jet turbines. He looked up to see the landing lights emerge through fog—kept his eyes fixed to the white beams while walking back to the corner. 

They disappeared and were replaced by red, strobe taillights, the airliner reversing its engines and roaring out of sight behind a group of buildings less than a quarter mile away. He hadn’t noticed before, but barely visible in the distance and mist were the blurred lights reading San Jose Municipal Airport. There was no conscious thought to the reaction when Greer quickly returned to the truck, gathered what he needed, locked the doors, then broke into an easy jog back the way he’d come, across the intersection toward the sound of dying engines. 


Arrivals and departures were printed on a closed circuit television screen hanging above the terminal lobby. From the time he’d entered the airport, Greer knew it was a lark. It was nearly half past ten at night and, in spite of it being a weekend, he doubted any airline serviced to Nevada at this hour. 

Scanning the rows of numbers and initials, he saw nothing. He almost missed the stopover at the bottom of the column, but the L.V. caught his eye. It wasn’t a regularly scheduled flight, but one originating in Seattle, Washington, with a connection to Las Vegas. The arrival time in San Jose was 10:22. 

As if on cue, the terminal public address came on and a woman’s voice announced final call for the Holiday Tour flight, number 383, to Las Vegas. Far down at the other end of the lobby were the ticket booths. 

He covered the distance and broke stride coming to the counter. Two employees in white shirts and ties were standing idly behind the long desk, waiting on no one. 

As he approached, one looked up. The other brought out a ticket pad and began writing. Greer gave the required information and produced two twenties. The first man lifted a phone, and, to Greer’s guess, was informing the flight crew of the late arrival. 

The DC-9 hurled down the runway with a deepening roar of its engines. Airborne, it turned and banked over the city. Looking out from his window seat, Greer saw no lights below, the storm clouds obscuring the view. The aircraft leveled, and before long a stewardess came on over the intercom giving the time in-flight and particulars as to weather and temperatures in Las Vegas. 

Greer reclined his seat, and let his eyes close. He listened to the sounds provided by the inner workings of the craft and, oblivious to those around him, gave himself to a pleasant tiredness. 

Driving, the panel truck was motel and restaurant in one, and gas money could always be had one way or another. Flying presented problems. He would have to find lodging while in Vegas and always be thinking about the amount needed for a return flight. It would cut into his gambling money. He mentally subtracted a hundred from the three-twenty-five that was in his wallet. Yet there were advantages to be found as well. A comparison played one town, one setting, against the other. A blue eye of water set high in the Sierras and the long desert stretches of the Mojave. Towering Ponderosa pines as opposed to widespread alluvial fans. Geologically, each were pleasant, but there, the comparison ended. Lake Tahoe offered no more than eight gambling houses. Las Vegas seemingly had an endless supply—high rollers at the plush Tropicana, or the short money and fast action at the downtown hotels. 

“Would you like a beverage?” 

Greer opened his eyes to see a stewardess who was behind a serving cart, the top of which was covered with small liquor bottles and cans of carbonated beverages. 

“Got any beer?” He excused the curt request with a smile. 

“Oh, I think that can be arranged,” she replied. 

She bent down and brought up a Coors and asked if he’d ever been to Las Vegas before. 

“Yeah. Few times, anyway.” 

“Bottle okay?” 


He took the beer and raised it in a silent, animated toast. 

“To luck,” she said. 

“Luck,” Greer answered and watched her continue the serving of other passengers. 

He finished the drink and another, which he bought on the stewardess’s return trip down the aisle. Soon the captain came on over the intercom announcing the arrival at McCarran airport in Las Vegas in 15 minutes, and the aircraft began its descent from thirty thousand feet. 

He took a hotel limousine from the airport. The driver dropped off fares at casinos along Las Vegas Boulevard. With Greer the only remaining passenger, the car turned from the strip and into the condensed downtown lighting that made day out of night. 

The Caddy pulled to a white-painted curb in front of the Four Queens, came to a stop, and Greer got out. He thanked the driver and walked without luggage through pedestrian traffic into the lobby. 

From the night air, he crossed into a wall of sound—jackpot bells ringing on slot machines, the ratchet of a turning wheel of fortune, a voice on a loudspeaker reading off numbers in a keno game, the constant overtone of milling people and sporadic yells from the craps tables in the casino proper. He crossed to the room clerk’s desk and paid for a night. 

Deciding that a few quick bets wouldn’t hurt, he walked back into the casino, past card and roulette tables to the rows of craps layouts in the center of the deep-carpeted hall. The weekend crowds made it difficult for him to find a place, but when a middle-aged couple backed away from one of the oval tables, he stepped in and, from a dealer, received chips for a hundred dollars. 

“Yer point’s five now, shooter,” the stickman announced in mid-play. “Roll five.” 

At the other end of the table, a young lady was leaning over the wood-railed table, ready to shoot, her husband or boyfriend giving last minute instructions. Greer got a dealer’s attention and gave him fifty, buying the five, feeling the shooter would make the point. She rolled. 

“Seven, loser. Line away,” came the stickman’s call. 

Greer watched his chips go to the house. He came back with a blind bet on the Pass Line with the last fifty. 

“Care to roll again, miss?” a dealer asked the young lady. 

Urged on by her male friend, she went for the roll another time and picked out a pair of dice from the several that had been pushed to her by the stickman. Hardly before the employee had his stick up and out of play, the girl lamely flung the dice over the table, knocking down stacks of other players’ chips placed here and there on the grid. 

A player next to Greer leaned forward to see the roll and blocked his view. 

“Three, craps, loser. Line away.” 

A sudden hotness burst across his forehead. Greer didn’t see his chips being taken in as he walked away. He briefly thought of the two hundred left in his wallet and how he could make it up, but buried the idea in his anger as he crossed the casino to the elevators. 

He walked the empty, silent hallway and found his room, inserted the key, went in, and turned on the lights. Too tired to care, he flung his coat on the double bed, paced back and forth cursing his stupidity. Seeing himself in the ritual he once swore he’d never repeat, he gave it up and sat on the bed. 


The land without water spread out in all directions from the hub that was the city of Las Vegas. Its flatness ended at the foot of tawny and reddened mountain ranges, which surrounded the arid sea and reached upward to a morning sky thinly covered with cirrus clouds. Man-made landmarks jutted out of the earth in concrete monuments connected by black, paved threads. 

From ten stories up, the surveyed scene seemed to him a still photograph. Only when he looked down to the street below, did the movement of traffic remind him of the existence of life, other than his.

He let the heavy drape fall back against the window and pinched out the end of the last smoke, saving the remaining half for later in the day. Having been awake and confined to the room
for the last two hours, Greer’s restlessness brought him at last to a quick shower, and a dull-bladed shave. 

Over on the dresser in monetary formation were the ten twenties. He resented the fact that he’d have to disturb them from their parade rest. He then began to resent also the circumstances that were forcing the moment to some unknown climax. Or was it just that this city, out of all others, made it that way, made him remember a flight up a year and a half ago—and the two days hitchhiking back to L.A. 

His dissatisfaction was furthered by the grudging feeling that whatever the outcome, he was here to gamble. And though he had to at least make a pretense out of it, he himself was the key. Not the craps table, nor the dice, nor the roll of another player, but the unnamed something inside that would determine whether or not he would drop it all, squeak by with just enough to get back to San Jose, or win. 

When he stuffed the bills into his wallet and opened the door into the hallway, he still wasn’t sure of what he would do. He had the money to simply leave. Take the flight and bail. The door closed behind him and he treaded silently down the tunnel-like passageway to the end, and the elevator doors. 


He sat at the bar and nursed a beer. Nearby was a line of four tables, two in use and two empty. About ten feet away, a table occupied by half a dozen players underwent moderate activity. From where he sat, Greer could hear the stickman’s lazy calls and even see a portion of the green felt surface, now and then crossed by a pair of thrown dice. 

This early in the day, there was no serious gambling. What little action occurred was low- key, and the employees standing by twenty-one, roulette, or craps tables appeared as robots merely going through the motions. 

He focused his attention on the near table, trying to get a pattern, listening to the call of the numbers. Mentally making bets as though he were actually at the table, he found that he was wrong most of the time and would have lost had he been putting down money. 

Greer glanced up from the bar and caught his reflection in a mirror hanging behind a row of bottles. Only when he looked, forgetting, down to his glass that was empty, did he see the humor in his self-generated discomfort. A bartender who had been solicitously polishing glasses came over while Greer was still laughing. 

“Get you anything else?” the barkeep asked uncertainly. 

“No,” he replied. “That’ll be fine. Just fine,” he said, getting up from the stool. 

He slid a dollar onto the bar top. 

He was crossing to the exit, past the table he’d watched while seated at the wet bar, but now saw two employees drawing back the naugahide cover from the neighboring table, a uniformed guard bringing up racks of chips for its use. The surface exposed and the chips in place, the dealers stood waiting for players. Greer was the first. 

“Care to shoot?” greeted the dealer. Both wore black string ties, the closest to Greer with
a badge pinned to his red vest reading, Howdy, My Name is Carl. 

Greer waited a moment. Then brought out his wallet. 

“Yeah,” he answered, extracting the bills. 

He placed the twenties on the table and Carl leaned over, taking the money. “Change only. Two hundred,” he said, and turned the bills into chips, placing them in front of Greer while the stickman pushed a cluster of several dice toward the shooter. Greer picked out a pair. 

Standing back away from the table, the dealer announced, “Coming out.” 

Greer rattled the dice in his hand, reached down and made a fifty-dollar bet on the Pass Line. As one hand drew back from the chips, the other arced the dice over the layout. They seemed to hang in the air for a split second, then clattered on the table, bounced off the curved, cushioned end and came up.

“Seven, winner. Pay the line.” 

The dealer paid the bet. Without thinking, Greer let it ride and picked up the same pair that had been passed back to him at the end of the stick. 

“Coming out again,” said Carl, seemingly disinterested.

Greer’s eyes narrowed, looking for an unmarked spot at the end of the layout. He felt the second seven as the dice left his fingertips, even saw the five and the two—white dots on red as the pair revolved above the table.

“Seven again. Winner on the front line.” 

Greer caught a quick look from the stickman and at the same time noticed the pit boss coming to the table. The man in the tan suit sat down on his chair, rested his arms on the wood railing, preparatory to his day’s work. 

“Same shooter,” Carl said. 

Greer automatically picked up the returned dice and threw again, not realizing he still hadn’t touched the small pile of chips on the table in front of him.

“E-oh lev’n, winner.”

It had happened within the span of less than one minute, the three passes in a row, the gradual addition of other players who came to the table and were getting chips or making bets. 

“What’s the point?” someone asked. 

“Coming out, sir,” Greer heard. 

The dice came back at the end of the stick. 

“Get yer bets down,” the dealer announced. 

The bet was four hundred to him. Greer fought the desire to pull back on some of the chips. The dice looped over the layout, hit, and skittered to a halt. 

“Six, easy. Six the point, shooter.” 

“Gimmie a hard six and eight,” a bettor said. 

“A hundred on the outside,” came
another voice. 

Still more players had joined and, by the time Greer received the dice again, he looked up to see a half-filled table. He rolled again. 

“Nine, center field,” was the call. 

He came back with a five, an eight, and then hit the six with a hardway roll of two threes. A few yells went up from winning bettors, punctuating the dealer’s call, who now seemed to show some enthusiasm for the hand. Even the normally stoic pit boss was beginning to show interest, taking a cigar from his inside pocket. 

Greer pulled off from the eight hundred he had on the line and left two hundred. 

The next roll was a four. It took eight rolls of the dice to hit it again and each toss was marked by increasing shouts from excited players who surrounded the oval table. Two more dealers had been added to handle the action and the commotion at the table had brought casino patrons to stand and watch or to try and squeeze their way in. 

A subtle tension had been built. It was the table, the dice, and the green felt runway ahead of him. Even the chips were not money, only points in a game he played. The familiar dice seemed to acquire a weight of their own, felt light yet had a density beyond their mass, as though they were twin instruments of a will not entirely his. Unable to explain, he stood almost as an outsider, looking at the fall of the dice. 

He repeated with three sevens, one after the other, then caught a ten, hitting its opposite number of four, the hard way, three times in succession. “Little Joe,” they called it, before coming back to the original point of ten. Two fives. The hard-way bettors going wild. 

It was taking longer for the dice to be passed back to him and, in between a hand, he looked to the compacted sea of faces that engulfed him. A ring of people three deep spiraled the table. On the outer fringes, people stood unable to reach the layout, tossing their chips or crumpled bills over the heads of those in front of them, yelling their bets to the busy dealers. Off-duty employees crowded behind the pit boss in a roped off pandemonium generated by the long string of passes. 

The action lasted for another twenty minutes. The clamor at the table reached out to every corner of the casino as he held the line, making point after point or coming out on naturals. He heard an inquiring yell directed to one of the dealers. 

“How many’s that make?” 

“Twenty-seven straight,” came Carl’s answer. 

Greer looked down to the rack in front of him, to the piles of overflowing, multi-colored chips. Unaware that he was holding up his own game, he hardly heard the dealer’s twice asked question. 

“You ready to shoot?” 

Greer hesitated a beat, and knew in the waiting the that string had been broken. A few voices cut through the momentary silence. 

“C’mon, roll ’em.” 

“Let’s go.” 



In his room, he sprawled on the bed, listening to the soft murmur of the air conditioner and to the slowing pace of his heart. Aware that he hadn’t eaten since the day before, he swung his legs over the bed and reached for the telephone and dialed once for room service. The woman taking the request at the other end said it would be at least an hour before the order was ready. In the interval, Greer peeled off his clothes and settled into the bathtub. 


The number fifty-two, Wahiawa-Kaneohe bus groaned to a halt as it pulled out of the traffic on the Kam Highway and stopped, half into the parking lot of the Sunset Beach Store. Greer stepped off with his suitcase and swung a backpack over his shoulder, the yellow conveyance clamoring back onto
the highway. 

An old, top 40 song gained in volume from the jukebox inside the drive-in as Greer approached. Entering, he half smiled, noticing a group of trunk-clad surfers standing around, watching the play on two pinball machines. He put his gear down next to one of the inside picnic tables, and, referring to an address on a piece of paper, asked a youth at the pool table where he could find Oopuola Street.  

“Can’t miss it,” the player said, pointing past the screened, glassless windows, back across the highway. “That corner.” 

Greer picked up the parcels and went outside. He crossed the road, found the street, bordered on one side by coconut palms and small houses, on the other by a large, vacant lot. 

Down at the far end, coming toward him, two surfers with boards emerged from a line of koa bushes. Greer hefted the pack off his shoulders, turned the suitcase on end, and sat on it.

“Unreal,” were Church’s first words. 

 “Howzit?” De Val said.

They walked back up the street. Church motioned to a house just ahead. “That’s it.” Almost as an afterthought, he looked to Greer and asked, “How much?” 

 “Enough,” Greer said.