Authors: Gary Marshall
By Gary Marshall
2011 by Gary Marshall.
Cover design © 2011 by Ronnie Brown.
All rights reserved.
Coffin Dodgers is a work of fiction.
Any resemblance to persons alive
or dead is entirely coincidental.
For Liz and Sophie.
"Old people move fast, don't they?"
Dave, like me, is standing with his back flat against the steel door, his chest heaving. It’s a cold night but he's sweating heavily.
I look at him. "Dave, they're in cars."
"You know what I mean."
I do. We thought we'd have had enough time to make our escape, but we were still finishing the last letter when there was a shout and the floodlights came on. By the time we'd reached the fence there were headlights and spinning wheels. That was twenty minutes ago.
I'm not unfit, but twenty minutes of cat and mouse with cars takes it out of you. My knees, my calves, my feet are all on fire. God knows how Dave's feeling. He has a good few kilos on me and he's a stocky guy.
"Think they've given up yet?" he gasps, his face shiny.
We hear the tyre rumble before we see the headlights.
I've been on shift for about two hours when Amy wanders over.
"If one more lecherous --"
"Viagra-popping old bastard grabs my arse one more time, I swear I'll --"
"Cut his balls off with a butter knife."
"I was going to say, stab him in the eye with a pastry fork. But I like your idea better."
We both grin. We have the routine down pat. No wonder: we do it every night.
Being goosed is something of an occupational hazard. For Amy, I mean. Not for me. The uniform the girls wear wasn't designed with dignity as a top priority. Don't get me wrong, Amy does look hot in it, but she'd look good in a black bin bag -- I'm not just saying that; she turned up wearing one the last time we all had to wear fancy dress to work -- but she looks even better in her off-duty uniform of skirt, thick black tights and army boots.
I think the difference is that off-duty, Amy dresses like Amy. On duty, she's dressed as some old guy's fantasy: the skirt is a little too short, the top a little too tight, the heels a little too high. If you're paying attention it's obvious that none of the girls feel comfortable with what they have to wear. Unfortunately the customers generally aren't paying attention, and some of them see the uniform as an invitation. By "some", I mean "most".
The men get off lightly. Our uniforms aren't exactly trendy, but they're not uncomfortable either. Black polo shirt, black trousers, black shoes. Probably the only thing worth complaining about is the name badge. Maybe it's just me, but I think it's really annoying when people I've never met call me by name. "Hey there, Matt." "How's it going, Matt?" That sort of thing. It's even worse when customers are too drunk or too myopic to read it properly and they call me Mick or Mark or worst of all, Mart. That's not a name. It's something you call a shop.
Amy taps the newspaper sitting on top of the bar and it flickers into life. TERROR STRIKES, the headline says. There's a video clip showing words cut into the grass of the bowling green. DIE! DIE! they say.
"Sort of," I say. "But they've edited it."
"Edited it? Again? So what did you write?"
Amy gives me The Look.
"That's what I love about you, Matt. Your maturity."
She sticks out her tongue and laughs.
"Back to work. See ya."
The casino is hard to miss. It'd be pretty imposing if it just looked like an office block -- it's on the very edge of town, towering above a small shopping mall and the cramped commuter estates that sit right next to the motorway -- but it's a striking building too. From above it looks like the three-pointed star on the Mercedes logo, but from the ground it just looks massive.
The first six floors are built in a giant circle, and above them there are three blocks of hotel rooms. Each block is twenty-three storeys high, and there are high-speed elevators where they meet in the centre.
The very top floors are where you'll find the ultra-expensive penthouse suites, and immediately below those you'll find the casino's best bars and restaurants. I'm told their full-length windows offer diners and drinkers a truly breathtaking view, and while I'm sure it's true I've absolutely no intention of finding out for myself. I have vertigo -- not just fear of heights, but the real thing. Get me on anything higher than a stepladder and my sense of balance goes. It's like being on a ship in rough seas: the floor moves underneath my feet and I have to hold onto something for dear life. I know it's all in my head, but that doesn't make it any less real or any less terrifying.
Luckily for me, my job keeps my feet on the ground. Literally: I work in one of the bars on the gaming floor, which means I get to stay at street level. It's not as glamorous as the rooftop bars where the glitterati hang out, but it suits me just fine.
Fancy a tour? This right here is the bar, of course, and to your right are the slots. Behind us, the card tables. Behind them, the private rooms for the real high rollers. To your left, more slots. Right ahead, the roulette wheels and more slots. On average it takes a full day for someone to work out a direct route from the gaming floor to the foyer. If they're drunk, it might take weeks.
My job is to get them drunk.
Immediately over our heads is Italy, or at least as much of Italy as you can cram into a couple of blocks. It's called Little Italy. Little Italy has canals. Little Italy has gondoliers. I try not to imagine Little Italy coming crashing down on my head.
Little Italy is where you'll find the shops (overpriced), the restaurants (overpriced), the designer shops (overpriced) and the tat emporium (really overpriced), but you won't find a way to get from Italy to the God-knows-how-many residential floors. For that, you'll need to go back down and go through the gaming floor, past the card tables, past the roulette wheels, past the slots. And you thought spiders' webs were clever.
This particular web catches three kinds of fly. There are the ostentatious clients, the ones who order the very best champagne, the finest brandies, and don't seem too bothered if they lose more than I'll earn in a lifetime. They're big tippers. I like them a lot.
The second kind of fly looks like the first kind, and tries to be the first kind, but you can see the differences from a mile off. They try just a little bit too hard. They give one another looks when they read the bar prices. They're miserable tippers. They're the ones who shout at the waitresses, and they're the ones whose food gets, let's say, enhanced in the kitchen.
Don't ask. You really don't want to know.
Last but not least we have the desperate, throwing bad money after worse. Many of them started off as the first or second kind of client, but life hasn't been kind to them. They're single or separated, and sometimes they freak out, at which point Security takes them into the alley and shoots them in the head.
I don't think Security really does shoot them, but when I asked Dave about it one time he went very quiet. I haven't asked him about it since.
The one thing all three kinds of client have in common is age. Sixty is young. Seventy-five is average. We've got plenty of women still going after celebrating their first century. I don't know why, but they tend to outlast their husbands. Maybe it's because they haven't run out of chat yet.
You'll see plenty of younger people, of course, but they'll all be in uniform. As if anybody under fifty could afford to be here as anything other than an employee. Ha!
"Are we still going to your place when we clock off?"
It's not what you think. Sadly. Most nights me, Amy and Dave end up at mine, drinking beer, playing video games and bitching about work. There's no nudity, although Dave occasionally shows us his arse.
"Sure. Whose turn is it for beer?"
"Yours," Amy says, walking away and smiling.
I'm pretty sure I end up buying the beer more often than I should, but I don't really mind. Although if Dave tried to trick me like that, I'd punch him in the nose.
I'm wrestling with a vending machine when Dave walks by. I've paid for a packet of crisps, I've hit the right buttons, but the machine just glowers at me and refuses to give me anything to eat.
"Hey," Dave says. He looks carefully at the machine, tilts his head slightly, and then he punches it hard in the top left hand corner. There's a small whirring sound and the machine finally hands over its booty.
"Dave saves the day yet again," I say. "How's it going?"
"Pretty quiet. Punching that thing's probably the highlight so far. You?"
"Same. No news is good news, I guess."
"Coming round tonight for beer? Amy says she's putting in an appearance."
"Sorry mate, can't do it tonight."
Dave blushes slightly. "Yeah."
Every couple of weeks Dave goes on a date, occasionally with somebody who works here but most of the time with someone whose work brings them to the casino and who likes a man in uniform. The dates aren't always disasters. Some of them are fiascos.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that Dave is a bad guy, or that he isn't a catch, or that he's some kind of weirdo. Far from it. The problem is that he's a hopeless optimist. He'll meet somebody who couldn't be any less likely to get on with him -- the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, maybe, or a swamp monster from outer space -- and he'll go on a date with them. Much to Dave's surprise, the date is awkward, they don't get on and he has a terrible night. Two weeks later he meets a plastic bag that somebody's drawn a face on and does it all again.
"So who's the lucky lady?"
"Her name's Pamela. She's an aromatherapist."
I stifle a sigh. Aromatherapy means the whole bag of new age nonsense: crystal healing, astrology, auras and all that crap. She's bound to be a bit of a hippy. Dave's more of a caveman. What could possibly go wrong?
"How did you meet her?"
"She's been doing some freelancing at the spa." The spa is on level L1, immediately below the gaming floor. It's where wives and girlfriends go to get pampered while their husbands and boyfriends get hammered.
"Cool. Is she cute?"
Dave grins. "Very."
"Want me to call?"
"Yeah, okay. Probably won't need it, but, you know..."
I nod. The call was Amy's idea. After sitting through Dave's account of yet another dating disaster, Amy suggested throwing him a lifeline. When he went on a date in future, we'd call him at a pre-arranged time, pretending to be from work, and if the night wasn't going well Dave could pretend that he'd been called back to deal with an emergency. So far, there's been an emergency every single time.
"What time? Nine?"
"That'd be great. Thanks."
"Here's hoping you don't need it." I stick out my hand. "Good luck, sir."
Dave gives me a firm handshake and grins like a happy child. "Thank you, sir."
Amy and I are slumped on my sofa, drinking beer and shouting at the TV.
"Do they think we're idiots?" she says.
"This programme is what? Twenty minutes? Nine minutes telling you what's going to be in the programme, two minutes of programme, then another nine minutes telling you what you've just seen. It's doing my head in."
"Want me to change it?"
"Yeah. See if you can find something with sharks."
Amy likes sharks. I bring up the programme guide.
"Search For The Great White Shark?" I suggest.
"Nah, that one's all search and no shark."
I don't think there's a single programme about sharks that Amy hasn't already seen several times.
"True Stories: When Sharks Attack?"
"Dull. It's just interviews."
Amy glares. I quickly go back to the programme guide.
"Killers Of The Deep?"