Excerpt from WHAT THE THUNDER SAID

From Part One: In The Mountains, There You Feel Free

UkgWQIDWermut was nowhere to be found. When Stone spoke with the people at the Shiner Casino, they all swore up and down that they never saw a woman sharing her description. If it hadn’t been for the group Stone had played cards with, she would have wondered if the woman existed at all.

Since tracking down Wermut turned out to be a fruitless cause, Stone sought out her fellow poker players instead. She saw the boy leave an hour ago, and the married couple left during a heated argument shortly after. Eventually she had found the old man in his bowler hat by the slot machines, using his winnings from their card game.

“I’m telling you, our dealer was a Brazilian dwarf, not some yellow-eyed woman. And it was definitely a man… Are you sure you’re not on some fuses? You smell a little funny to me.” Not once did he avert his attention from the slots, pulling the lever over and over again.

“Fairly certain that is alcohol you smell.” The alcohol that the old man reeked of, no less. Another cocktail waitress came by, offering Stone a glass. Once again she declined, but the old man in the bowler hat quickly accepted the offer.

Much like all addictions, Stone hated gambling. Besides the fact that she was never any good at it, every day she saw people just like this old man lose himself in these machines. From dusk until dawn they would sit; their bodies and minds too wrapped up in their own worlds of green and gold to pay any heed to the passing of time around them. It was why she abhorred casinos… and drinking.

She sighed, taking out a carton of cigarettes from her coat. Smokes were about her only vice she cared to indulge in. “You at least have a light?” Stone popped a cigarette in her mouth.

With one hand on the lever still, the old man reached into his breast pocket and extracted a flip-top lighter. Holding the flame out, he ignited the end of Stone’s cigarette before flipping it back into his fancy vest.

Stone muttered a thank you, stuffing her hands in her back pockets as she watched the old man play. “How long have you been here, anyway?”

“Few days. Weeks maybe.”

“Where do you sleep?”

“Casino’s got hotel rooms upstairs. Sometimes they lend out rooms to regulars.”

Of course they would. For people who fed their slot machines on a regular basis, people like this guy must have already paid a year’s worth of rent.

“Know any motels in the city that don’t have surveillance?” Stone asked.

Just then, some cherries lined up on the slot machine. The old man’s eyes lit up as gold coins poured out onto the tray, overflowing onto the floor. He wailed gleefully, clapping his hands in delight. He took both of Stone’s hands into his own, forcing her into drunken movements that he probably mistook for a dance.

Once he was done, he wiped the tears of mirth from his cheeks and grinned. “Hell, lady… if it’s a room you need, you can have mine.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t think that’s—”

“Christ, no, that’s hardly what I meant.” He snapped his wrist, quick to dismiss Stone’s impression. He bent over to collect his gold coins from the floor. “I mean I’m getting myself the executive suite tonight!”

Then he tossed a card to her. Stone caught it, and saw that it was for room fifty-six.