“You haven’t told anyone here, right?” Leigh asks Joanna as they drink their respective fancy martinis and share a plate of firecracker calamari.
Joanna knows exactly what Leigh is referring to. “No, of course not,” she says. “Why do you ask?”
“Stan looked at me funny when I said hello to him tonight.”
“Oh pshaw,” Joanna says. “He looks at everyone funny, all the time. He’s crazy, remember?”
“Ok. But I worry about Matt spilling the beans,” Leigh says. “Especially if he’s had a couple of gins.”
“You do not need to worry about that. He’s locked tight as a vault. You should worry more about me. I can get blabby.”
“We promised!” Leigh protests.
“Oh, calm down. I’m not telling.”
You may be wondering what on earth Leigh and Joanna could be talking about. To find out, we need to go back in time, if only a few weeks.
On a Friday evening in early March, Joanna, Matt, Jim, and Leigh arrived at the Borgata in Atlantic City, which bills itself as a hotel and spa as well as a casino, to celebrate Leigh’s birthday. They had two comped rooms, which means over the years they had lost enough money to buy the rooms outright several times over, and the casino muckety-mucks hope and expect that their “free” overnight visits will lead to additional losses.
This time, they had a plan that they think will allow them to beat the odds. “It’s foolproof,” Joanna had said when they hatched it; she half-believed it, as gamblers are by nature optimists. The plan was simple. Pool their money—$1,000 per couple—and hit a progressive machine hard. Leigh knew which one she wanted to play (a $5 Wheel of Fortune machine) and since it was her birthday there was no argument.
They decided to have dinner at the steakhouse—also comped—to prolong the anticipation of their upcoming victory. Their conversation touched on a lot of things: their jobs (no drama for any of them at the moment); their kids (Joanna thought Russ may have a new girlfriend, Jim recently had a nice conversation with Jamie, his grown daughter from his brief first marriage); and their mutual Stenny’s acquaintances (Ben is getting angrier by the day, Champagne Mike seems to have taken a sudden dislike to Deaf Donny, Salome’s boyfriend’s killer—his brother-in-law—has pleaded guilty). But mostly they talked about what they would do after they won the big one.
“I’d quit my job,” Joanna said. “But I’d take the high road and give 4 weeks notice. Then I’d write a funny novel about the horrors of working as a recruiter.”
“I’d quit my job with no notice whatsoever,” Jim said. “Fuck them. And maybe buy that food truck I’ve talked about.”
“That sound too much like work,” Joanna said. “Unless you buy a bunch of them and hire people to work them.”
“I like my job,” Leigh said. “I may want to keep it.”
Joanna looked at her, askance. “That feeling will last until your first bad day. Then you be out that bitch.” Joanna heard that expression on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and used it on occasion; it makes her feel urban.
“How about you, Matlock?” Jim asks.
“I think I can give up the glamour of selling rope and twine,” Matt says, smiling. “I’d probably like to do something. Maybe coach kids.”
“Ahh, you’d be good at that,” Joanna said. “They’d be lucky kids.” She smiled at Matt affectionately; the wine was making her sappier than usual.
They settled the bill, which involved Jim and Matt showing their casino cards and drivers licenses, and leaving a tip that was generous even by their generous standards. They figured they were about to be very rich, and wanted to share their good fortune.
They strode purposefully toward the designated machine. It was available, which solidified their feeling that tonight was their lucky night. Leigh sat down. “I’m driving,” she said.
“As if we need to be told that.” This from Jim.
Leigh ignored him. “Give me the money,” she said. Matt and Jim each gave her 10 hundred dollar bills, and she smoothed each one carefully before inserting it in the designated slot. They all watched as the credit counter ticked up to 400.
“The maximum bet is $15. Three credits of $5 each. You all know we need to play the maximum to hit the progressive, right? Which right now is $815,210.29,” Leigh says.
“Yes, Leigh, we know that,” Jim said. “Not our first time playing slots. Start hitting.”
Leigh hit the Max Bet button, and proceeded to do so for 46 minutes straight. They stayed about even, which is remarkable, as machines like this usually gobble money the way a sugar addict gobbles M&M’s.
And then, in the 47th minute, it happened. They hit a jackpot. No, the jackpot. Which in the time they had been playing increased from $815,210.29 to $817,601.49.
Leigh shrieked like she was being stabbed, stood up, and threw her arms around Jim’s neck.
“Holy mother of fuck,” Jim said.
Joanna showed her discombobulation in a series of stream-of-consciousness statements. “Even we can’t blow this. I think I’m going to faint. How much is that apiece? We need to get a lawyer. Where the fuck is the attendant?”
“It must be a mistake,” Matt said.
“It’s not a mistake, Matlock,” Jim said. “Cheer up. You’re rich.”
So now, a few weeks later, Joanna reassures Leigh that neither she nor Matt will tell anyone about their very good fortune. None of them has yet quit their jobs, nor done anything of note with their money; that, as we will see, is still to come.