Monday, December 24, 2007

A CASINO CAROL
Chapter 6

Read Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5
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He needed no ringing clock or unfamiliar voice to wake him at this hour. A dark uneasiness had settled over his sleep, and somehow he knew it was time.

Flynn sat up.

Across from his bed stood a seven foot specter dressed in a black hood and robe. It had no face at all that Flynn could tell. A chill crept across his back.

Without being summoned, Flynn stood and walked to face, such as it was, the Ghost of Casinos Yet to Come.

“I’m not sure why,” said Flynn to the Ghost’s mysterious visage, “but I fear you more than any of the others who’ve come tonight. I suspect there’ll be no Rat Pack, or cigars with you.”

With a hooded arm, the Ghost slowly motioned toward the bedroom window. Flynn walked to the window while the Ghost pointed to a spot on the horizon, about a mile away. The center of town.

Flynn turned to the Ghost who, with it’s other arm, pointed at Flynn.

And then Flynn was flying – flying through time – toward the very spot the ghost had pointed to, trees and snow and lights passed by in a blur - until his back hit the genuine leather passenger seat of his own town car. He turned to find The Ghost of Casinos Yet to Come at the wheel.

The two were sitting in traffic in the center of town - a long and temperament-testing experience on any day of the week - and at the moment, it was at it’s worst. Backed up almost to East Bridgewater. And the busses! Where had all the busses come from? He couldn’t see the traffic lights ahead due to a trio of gigantic fume-belching behemoths in front of him.

“What is this? College commencement? A parade?” he asked. But the Ghost sat at the wheel without speaking.

After a half hour of silence and bus exhaust, the town car had finally managed to make it to the town square. There Flynn was able to see that the same traffic jam he was stuck in stretched all around the rotary, and down each road coming in and out of it. The Christmas decorations on the Common told him it wasn’t college commencement, and there was no parade in sight. Apparently, in the future, this was just normal.

“Damn!” he cried in frustration, “Can’t you get us out of here, Ghost?”

The Common melted, the town car melted with it, and Flynn found himself standing in an empty parking lot. It was Castaways – his favorite spot – but it looked closed. The windows were boarded up. A weathered ‘For Sale’ sign stood where the restaurant’s sign should be.

“This place would never close!” He said, even as a thick stream of traffic rolled by, “It’s one of the hottest places in town! Everybody loves it here.”

He turned to the Ghost, who pointed down the direction of Rte. 28. And suddenly, Flynn found himself in another parking lot. But unlike the last, this one was packed. Frustrated drivers in need of a parking spot made angry gestures at each other. It was the same Dunkin’ Donuts plaza he'd always patronized, but where had the dry cleaner’s and the pizza place gone? They were no where to be found, and instead, their units were now combined into just one business – one with it’s windows painted gray so that you couldn’t see inside. It’s sign proclaimed it to be someplace called the “Take a Chance”.

“A slot parlor?” Flynn said out loud. He’d seen these pathetic places down South or way up North, but there was nothing like this in Massachusetts – and certainly not in Bridgewater.

He faced the Ghost. “There were only going to be three licenses! Slots at the tracks! Resort casinos – not… not..this.”

The Ghost merely pointed to the donut shop. Flynn nodded his head. “I could use a cup of coffee and a friendly face.”

But inside, not only could Flynn not find a friendly face, he couldn’t even find a familiar face. People looked at the ground or up at the ceiling, not speaking. They grabbed their coffee and grumbled out the door.

Ghost, let’s leave this place.

Once again, the Ghost pointed into the distance, and Flynn found himself standing on gravel. He thought he recognized the place, but something was missing. Then he realized it – it was the school – the antique one-room school the Youth Sports group had revitalized. And it was missing.

“What happened to the old school?” he asked the Ghost.

The Ghost pointed to the ground, where the front page of an old newspaper tumbled in the wind like so much discarded trash. Flynn scooped it up and read the leading story – “Fire Consumes Historic School While Emergency Services Tied Up.”

Flynn skimmed the story, which related how one evening Bridgewater’s Fire and Police had been answering emergency calls related to drunken driving accidents, and were unable to fight the blaze. Mutual aid calls to surrounding towns went unheeded, as they were also busy answering similar calls.

Flynn looked at the empty patch of ground. What a tragedy, he thought. What a waste.

Then, something on the lower half of the newspaper caught his eye – a picture – of his grandson! Young Flynn!

Flynn smiled until he read the headline, “Flynn Defeated in Re-election Bid by Own Grandson.”

“Damn!” He shouted, ripping the newspaper in half, and tossing the pieces to the ground.

A horn honked behind him. The Ghost was sitting in the town car, indicating that he wanted Flynn to sit shotgun again. Dejectedly Flynn walked around to the car and got in.

“Why, Ghost? Why? I just tried to do my best – so the folks at the track wouldn’t lose their jobs, so Bridgewater could collect some mitigation money. That’s all…”

As they drove down the same country road to Middleboro that Flynn himself had traveled down the day before, he noticed that there were no more No Casino signs. But there were plentiful “For Sale” signs. Even quite a few “Auction” signs. Many houses showed signs of being vacant. Others, clearly single family, had upwards of 8 cars in the driveway. Odd, thought Flynn. This had been a nice area for families.

As they drove over the Taunton River, where Flynn had fished as a boy, the Ghost rolled down Flynn’s automatic window.

“What’s that stench?” cried Flynn, reaching for a handkerchief to cover his nose.

The Ghost pointed down at the river, where the unmistakable aroma of effluence - sewerage - rose like an unseen and unwelcome cloud.

“Disgusting! They’ve spent years cleaning up that river – why’d they muck it up again! Damn!”

The Ghost merely kept driving. Soon they found themselves in back of a tour bus.

“Damn tour busses!” shouted Flynn out the window, shaking his fist.

As they turned a corner, Flynn could see the whole road in front taken up with cars and tour busses.

“Ghost, isn’t this enough. I know where you’re going with this, I really do.”

The Ghost pulled the town car up beside the cranberry bog Flynn had admired just the day before – the ‘quintessential New England scene’ he’d called it.

Except that it wasn’t a bog anymore. The cranberry bushes were all brown and dead. The bog was dry. Yet another ‘For Sale’ stood at it’s edge. Flynn scratched his head.

And he wrinkled his nose – what was that smell? The smell of smoke from wood stoves had inexplicably been replaced with the smell of – what was it?

Dumpsters. Dumpsters, exhaust fumes, and the smell of oil seeping off the on the road surface even in winter.

Then Flynn slowly became aware of something else. Though it was the middle of the night, he could clearly see what was left of the bog. In fact, he could see the entire neighborhood.

Flynn stepped out of the town car. Towering over the bog, over all the trees and homes - was a skyscraper. It was lit up some sort of mutated Christmas tree, and it was illuminating the sky as if it were high noon.

Then Flynn tried, to no avail, to locate a single star in the sky.

And at that moment, in a dusty corner at the back of Flynn’s mind, a burgeoning understanding of the term “Quality of Life” began to blossom.

Enough, Ghost. Please. I’ve had enough.

The Ghost only pointed again. This time, in the direction of the skyscraper.

As time flung him forward, Flynn expected to find himself, for the second time this evening, at a casino, but he was mistaken. Instead, he and the Ghost came to a stop on the opposite side of the skyscraper – in a cemetery.

Flynn recognized it as the oldest cemetery in Middleboro. Thanks to the light from the skyscraper looming over it, he could easily make out headstones. He could also hear the cacophony of trucks and cars and busses on the highway, Rte. 44, just down the hill.

“So much for ‘resting in peace’” thought Flynn to himself as he looked around.

Flynn then realized that the Ghost had moved further away, and was now motioning Flynn to join him beside a newer-looking gravesite.

As Flynn walked to the grave, he discovered that he and the Ghost were not alone. A car was idling off to the side with a woman in the driver’s seat. And on the ground, kneeling in front of the headstone, was a boy, maybe 10 or 11 years old, with a head full of dark curly hair.

He was crying inconsolably. Flynn went around the headstone to comfort him. He sat on the ground, putting his arm around the boy, knowing he wouldn’t be able to feel it, though it made him feel better to do something.

A shadow moved in front of the skyscraper. Flynn looked up to see the Ghost, who was pointing down at the headstone.

“No!” whispered Flynn, “No, it can’t be!”
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The Ghost turned and pointed at the Skyscaper.

“No! It can’t be! Tell me it’s not true!”

“Tim, we’ve got to go now.” It was the woman from the car. Flynn saw that the vehicle was piled high with boxes, with even more tied to the roof. It was as if an entire house had been packed up and stuffed into the car.

The boy reluctantly stood up, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. As he walked down the hill, he turned to take a last look back at the grave of his father. After a few minutes the car, containing mother and son, and all their belongings, drove off into the night.

Flynn looked at the ground, then up at the Ghost. “Take me home,” was all he could say.

The lights went out.

Somewhere, bells were chiming. The bells at the College resounded with the sounds of Green Sleeves.

Flynn opened his eyes to find his bedroom flooded with the light of a new day. He looked around – no showgirls, no Donald, no scary 7 foot hooded specter of death. Flinging aside the covers he raced to the window. The town was covered in a pristine blanket of fresh snow.

He threw on a pair of pants, boots and a scarf and ran out the front door and into the town car. Without waiting for the car to warm up, he jacked it into reverse. The car weaved and wound it’s way through the snow to the center of town. As he drove he passed by a No Casino sign on someone's lawn. Flynn hit the brakes and the town car slid for some twenty feet before stopping. When it did finally stop, Flynn lept out and ran over to the sign.

“You’d better not be thinking about stealing that sign!” shouted a man from a font porch.

“No sir!” Flynn shouted back. “But I was wondering if you could tell me – have they built a casino yet?”

“What are you – from out of town?” replied the man, “Of course they haven’t built a casino yet!”

A wave of genuine hope washed over Flynn. “Thank you, sir! Thank you! Um… could you tell me where I could get some of these? Maybe say, a couple hundred or so?”

The man on the porch smiled, “There’s a web site on the sign. That’s the place to start.”

Flynn read the web site address at the bottom of the sign. CasinoFacts.org.

“Thank you! Thank you!”

“Here,” said the man walking down the driveway towards Flynn, holding two more signs.

“All you have to do is ask,” he smiled as he handed them to Flynn.

Flynn smiled back, raced back to the town car where he threw the signs in the back and drove to his office, immediately noticing a lack of tour busses along the way.

He pulled into the Dunkin’ Donuts, confirming happily the slot parlor was gone and rightly replaced with the dry cleaner’s and the pizza place.

Once inside, a friendly face took his order. “You have a nice day now!” She said to Flynn as she handed him his coffee.

“You bet I will!” shouted Flynn, “You bet I will!”

On the way out the door he found himself face to face with Louise, the bushwhacking do-gooder from the day before.

“Louise!” he shouted. Louise looked alarmed.

“It’s OK Louise! I’m so glad I found you!”

“Um… really?” She replied, no less alarmed.

“Yes! I wanted to ask you – what’s the best way to help someone who has a problem with gambling?”

Louise smiled uncertainly. “Well,first,” she said, “Get them some help. Some professional intervention. And second, don’t let them build casinos in the middle of the places people are trying to live.”

Flynn beamed and grabbed a completely-alarmed Louise and gave her a bear hug. “Thank you, Louise! Thank you! Of course you’re right!” Then Flynn planted a smooch on her cheek, and while she watched dumbfounded, Flynn tore out of the parking lot on his way to the center of town.

Circling the common, he saw the anti-casino protestors again. He pulled the town car up alongside them. This time, he saw them all smirk.

Undeterred, he rolled down the automatic window. “Hey – what’s the best way to stop this casino?”

“Are you serious,” asked one of them.

Dead serious,” Flynn replied, and with a jerk of his neck he indicated the signs in the back seat.

“Your vote, Mr. Flynn. Your vote is a good place to start,” she said.

“And the vote of your fellow legislators,” said another protestor.

“And a donation to our group!” shouted yet another.

“And your SUPPORT!” from a fourth.

Flynn winked. “That you can count on!” and he steered the car back onto the road.

Finally at his office, Flynn flung open the door. A red-eyed, but nonetheless alert Bob Cratchit sat at his desk, phone to one ear.

“Good morning, Mr. Flynn,” he said.

Good morning, Cratchit? Don’t you mean it’s a great morning!”

Cratchit, for whom it was not a great morning, not even in the slightest, feigned an expression of enthusiasm for his boss.

Flynn leaned in toward Cratchit. “Bob,” he whispered, taking a moment to glance at the photo of Cratchit’s son on his desk, “I’d like us to have a talk later. Man to man.”

“Yes sir,” replied Cratchit, a sensation of fear building in his gut.

“In the meantime, Cratchit…” said Flynn, digging out his wallet, “I think it’s time for your Christmas bonus.” Flynn folded a one-hundred dollar bill into Cratchit’s hand.

“And don’t you think it’s time you taught that son of yours how to ride a bike?”

Relieved and astonished, Cratchit exhaled at last, then gazed down at the first Christmas bonus he had ever received from David Flynn.

Flynn winked. “Get the Governor on the phone, Cratchit!”

“Yes, sir! Right away.”

Flynn walked into his office and sat down.

“Oh, sir!”

“Yes?”

“I forgot – I have some other people holding on the line for you – um – a bus driver, a selectman from Middleboro, and a union guy.”

Flynn scowled. Then smiled.

“Cratchit, can you somehow manage a conference call with those fellas?”

“Certainly, sir, no problem,” Cratchit replied.

“Even better, Cratchit – when you get hold of the Governor – can you put them all on the same call to me?”

Bob Cratchit, raised a concerned eyebrow. Had his boss gone off the deep end?

“Um…yes sir. No problem.”

“Then do it!”

Thirty seconds later Cratchit knocked on Flynn’s door. “Your conference call is all set to go sir – just push the talk button whenever you’re ready.

“Oh, I’m ready,” thought Flynn as he hit the button. “Hello gentlemen! What can I do for you today?”

The four men began to speak simultaneously. Flynn leaned back in his chair, smiling as he tapped the “speaker phone’ button.

“Thank you for the business!” the bus driver exclaimed.

“I’ve got some business I’d like to discuss with you...” the Middleboro selectman was saying.

“All this business about a casino - we should be working together...” said the union guy.

And from the Governor of Massachusetts: “Flynn, let’s get down to business. What’s it going to take to get my casino proposal accepted?”

Flynn put his feet up on the desk and lit a cigar. He stared down at the gold lighter in his hand – then tossed it in the trash.

“Gentlemen,” he said calmly, “Mankind should be your business.” And with that, Flynn put down the receiver, stood up and walked out.

“Cratchit, I’m going out. I’ve got some signs to deliver.”

“Um… yes sir…”

Flynn left the office, took the signs from the back of his town car and walked over to the Common. As he made his way, drivers seeing the signs honked their horns and gave him the thumbs up.

When he reached the common, Flynn stopped and sank a STOP THE CASINO sign into the snow. The protestors across the street clapped and cheered. “No ca-si-no! No ca-si-no! No ca-si-no!” they shouted in unison.

Flynn turned and waved. “No casinos to all!” he shouted back. "And to all... a good life!

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Happy Holidays!
Love, Gladys

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well done! Thank you. We needed that ending!

cdplakeville said...

Merry Christmas, Gladys. Thank you. May life imitate art.

carverchick said...

Great story Gladyd, the best one I have read all year long. I am so happy Cratchit can get the bike for his son, and that Flynn saw what was to become if casinos are allowed in Massachusetts...I loved the ending..."no casinos to all...and to all a good life!!" Words to live by.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy Casino Free New Year~~

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