Chapter 155

                The loud clanging and dings from the machine blared over all the other, similar noises, as Vince stood in front of it looking wildly uncomfortable. He glanced over to Nick, who merely pointed to his freely visible eyes and shook his head. This wasn’t his doing; swinging his power around in someone else’s casino would be tantamount to punching one of their people in the face. Luck had simply decided, of its own volition, that today Vince Reynolds would be blessed on the slots. This was the third time he’d hit a jackpot, although they were always the smaller ones, never the rare grand prize, and since Vince only played a nickel at a time he didn’t reap the full rewards. Still, the guy was up over $200 since they’d begun to explore The Strip, and he only played the slots when the others saw something else they wanted to try.

                Hershel had fared alright at blackjack, coming away slightly up, while Alice lost quickly at a craps table. There had also been stops for food, shops, and tourist stuff that Nick hadn’t bothered with since childhood. Oddly, he found he was enjoying himself though. It was easy to get numb to the spectacle of Vegas when one lived around it every day. Seeing the world through his friends’ eyes was like viewing it for the first time, and while that wasn’t enough to entirely take his mind off things, Nick no longer felt like he was suffocating in sorrow. That was an improvement.

                From out of the crowd, holding a cup of tea from a nearby coffee shop, Mary appeared and walked over. Nick expected her to halt before him and make conversation. Instead she merely paused for a brief moment. “You have company coming. His thoughts seem genuine, but I don’t know that I trust them. The man is clearly skilled at self-control.” Without waiting for a response, she continued forward, arriving at Hershel’s side where he and Alice were watching as Vince’s winnings climbed higher by the cent.

                It would have been easy to miss him in the crowd, if not for Mary’s warning. Nick’s head wasn’t on straight, so much of his mind still trying to cope with the morning’s loss. Thanks to her, though, Nick was able to keep a knowing smirk in place as Wilson Evers stepped into view only a few feet away. They weren’t in one of the Evers’ properties, Nick had been sure to avoid anything they owned, so he probably wouldn’t start trouble here. Nothing was guaranteed though.

                “Nicholas,” Wilson greeted, stepping to his side. “It’s been a while.”

                “That it has.” Nick couldn’t very well say that the last time they’d met had been when he asked for permission to kill Nathaniel. In these public places, it was a given that everything would be overheard by someone.

                “Surprised to see you out and about, given what happened.” Wilson leaned against the railing next to Nick, staring out at the casino with him.

                Although Nick had been annoyed when he first noticed Florence tailing them, he was thankful for Ms. Pips’ caution. Florence was helping his friends blend into the crowd, so it probably seemed like Nick was by himself, making small talk with the occasional stranger. That was good, the less Wilson Evers knew, the better. Although even he wouldn’t be so bold as to challenge the HCP, it was more than possible for him to go after Nick’s friends not knowing what he was biting off.

                “I sat in my room for a while moping, and then I couldn’t stand it anymore. At least here, there are things to see and do, you know? Distractions.”

                “You’re not the first to choose that strategy, nor will you be the last. When my wife passed, I spent a full week too drunk to think. Distractions are useful, in moderation, but eventually you’ll have to face the truth of the matter,” Wilson told him.

                “Sadly, I’m all too aware. I’ve known I was going to have to face it for the past few weeks at Gerry’s side.” Nick wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this conversation. The obvious conclusion was that Wilson was trying to lure him into a sense of familiarity in hopes that he’d let something important slip, but that had never been the way of Wilson Evers. Certainly, some of his lackeys employed such methods, however he tended to be renowned for his direct demeanor.

                Wilson scanned the room, his eyes sliding right over the four people by the slot machine who really should have caused a momentary glance to linger. “Perhaps this isn’t my place to say, and you might not want to hear it, but in a way what you had was a blessing. Few of us ever get to say our goodbyes. At least you could treat his final moments with the gravity that they deserved.”

                “I know you’re right, intellectually, but I think it’s going to be a long while before I can honestly look at this experience that way,” Nick admitted.

                “What we know and what we feel are often disjointed things; such is the complexity of this creature called man.” Slowly, Wilson pulled himself up from the railing and straightened his tie. “I won’t intrude on your grieving any more; I know I’m probably among the last people you want to see today. But when I heard you were out, I felt compelled to come and tell you that I’m sorry for your loss. Our organizations have never been friends, and have often been enemies, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect people who deserve it. Gerry was a good man, and the world is lesser without him.”

                “Thank you, Wilson. I admit, when you came over I thought you might be opting to try and stab me right here in the middle of all these tourists.”

                “While the idea crossed my mind, propriety and respect are what separates us from common criminals. Besides, you never left yourself open for a single moment in our entire conversation.” Wilson smiled and stuck out his hand, which Nick accepted and shook.

                Once the handshake ended, he stepped back into the crowd, almost vanishing into it even without the aid of a Super like Florence. Nick was glad things had ended smoothly, if Wilson had tried to mount an attack then there was no chance the others wouldn’t have stepped in. And while it would have been wonderful to see the looks on the faces of whatever goons Wilson employed when they faced off against four HCP-trained Supers, the exposure of his friends wasn’t worth it. Better to hold onto peace, while it was viable. Sooner or later, it wouldn’t be, and then these peaceful moments would be nothing more than a thing of the past. Such was the nature of the world he lived in.

                But the longer he thought about it, about all the time wasted on pissing matches and minor feuds, the more Nick wondered if this really was the only way. If someone took hold of the situation, someone with the vision to see a better method and the strength to make it a reality, perhaps they could put an end to these petty distractions. It was an idea, certainly, though not one he really had time to dwell on now. Perhaps later, when he needed a private distraction.

                His friends walked over not long after Wilson left, Vince sheepishly clutching the printed-out voucher that detailed his winnings. Nick took a quick peek at the paper and discovered that his friend was now up by over $350. The guy was on fire and he looked more embarrassed than excited.

                “You swear this is all natural?” Vince asked, brandishing the slip.

                “Truthfully, I’m as surprised as you are,” Nick told him. “But hot streaks do happen, you know. I say we ride this one out. Let’s go watch the fountain show outside, then take Vince to another casino’s slots. If he hits a big one I know the perfect steak place where we can celebrate.”