Jackson normally played Mississippi stud poker on Tuesdays, but the first few hands had been a bust out, and he was down to nothing before noon. He was about to leave the Greektown Casino altogether when he heard a slot siren whistle its jackpot theme song throughout the place. There had to be four hundred slot machines on the first floor alone, and most people wouldn’t have bothered trying to locate the exact slot the siren was mounted on. But most people weren’t Jackson.
He went row by row, section by section, through the Hee Haw slots, the Dukes of Hazard slots, the A-Team slots, the Game of Thrones slots, the Wild Amigos slots, and the Fallen Angels slots, until he pinpointed the source of the siren. The name of the winner was Invaders from Planet Moolah, and it had just paid off two hundred bucks on a single quarter play to an eighty- five-year-old man. The median age of an afternoon slots player was roughly eighty seven, which meant that the winner of this jackpot was actually a young buck. Jackson knew that if he looked at the slots section from above, he’d see an ocean of bald heads and cotton candy-colored hair parked in front of each slant-top, blazing through their social security just as fast as their checks could be converted into quarters.
He knew enough not to play right away. (Lesson learned on Friday, November 18, 1990, 3:47 p.m., at age ten, when Dad says “One payoff does not a loose machine make. Bide your time.”) So over the next ninety-three minutes, Jackson hung back and watched as the Invaders from Planet Moolah slot paid out two separate jackpots to two different residents of death’s waiting room. Sure, the jackpots were low-money returns, but it was clear to him now that this wasn’t an anomaly. This slot was hot. None of the jackpots the machine gave out were the big one—the $500,000 grand prize advertised in big block letters on top of the machine’s candle—but Jackson was convinced that it was only a matter of time. It was going to pay out huge, and it was going to pay out to him. All he had to do was come up with the money. He rifled through his pockets over and over, praying that he would find a crumpled wad of cash, but knowing deep down that he wouldn’t.
Jackson cursed under his breath and bit the inside of his cheek. He didn’t even have a quarter to feed the slot. He looked up through the casino’s glass doors and saw a small shop across the street with the word PAWN printed across a dirty awning. The neon OPEN sign was lit, but the P had gone out. It flashed O EN over and over. He moved toward the broken sign like a bug drawn to a zapper.
Sean Farley is an author living in Detroit, Michigan. “Pandemonium” is his debut novel. He attended Wayne State University where he received his master’s degree in English. He has also written for The Detroit News.