Chapter 156

                Casinos in Las Vegas never closed. It was a truth that endured for years upon years. Whenever the urge to gamble, drink, or otherwise participate in sins that would part one from their cash struck a person, the casinos were there with open doors to welcome them in. It was a sound, necessary business model that everyone, from the largest of chains to the smaller off-Strip establishments followed.

                Which was why so many people were confused to see one casino with locked doors standing in the early morning light. Granted, the sign on the door said it would only be for two hours, and they had chosen a timeframe when most of the tourists and gamblers would be sleeping off the night’s activities, yet none of that changed the fact that this flew in the very face of tradition and expectation. When the doors parted once more, they’d find themselves filled with a surge of customers through the day as rumor spread and people wanted to know what had caused such an unusual event.

                But while those doors were locked, the employees were gathered inside a massive theater, usually meant to host a magician renowned for tricks so good that many suspected she was actually a Super. It wasn’t the perfect venue; however, it was one of the few places large enough to hold a crowd of this size, and practicality won out over ambiance. In the front row, surrounded by people his age most of the staff had never seen, sat Nicholas Campbell. Some of the staff, the ones who would have time to go home and change afterward, had come in black, while those expected to be on the floor afterwards were wearing their usual attire. No one begrudged them that; they were just doing their jobs to the best of their ability. Gerry would have encouraged such dedication.

                The small bit of whispering that filled the theater died out as a figure stepped onto stage. For nearly all, it was familiar, as Ms. Pips was one to frequently check in on her casino and workers, always making sure they knew the boss was around and wouldn’t tolerate mistakes. Some of the attendees, the ones off in their own section, not wearing any service-personnel attire but instead fine suits and dresses along with hardened stares, had even spoken with Ms. Pips on occasion. They were the few and the rare, however. She tended to leave most of the employee interaction to Gerry and other subordinates, both for the casino work, and the other side of their business.

                Her walk was slow, but not frail or unsteady. She was simply a woman who went at whatever pace suited her, and would not be hurried unless she deemed it necessary. Eventually, she reached the center of the stage, where a microphone and a small table were set up. On the table rested very little: only a picture and an urn. Ms. Pips halted as she reached the microphone, looking out at the small sea of faces and lightly clearing her throat.

                “I’ve never been one for speeches, and our time is brief, so I’ll try to keep this concise.” While it fell somewhat short in terms of grand opening lines, there wasn’t so much as a whisper in the theater. She commanded the full attention of every person in the audience, and she knew it.

                “When we were planning this service, putting together the list of who should be given a shift off so they could attend, it was suggested that we make a point of prioritizing the people who Gerry had personally impacted. The ones he’d hired, or trained, or coached, or helped get their life straight, the sorts of things he seemed to somehow find more time than anyone else to do. Within an hour, the list was so large that we realized there wouldn’t be enough staff left to cover the floor, and we weren’t even near done putting together all of the names. That fact alone says more about the kind of man, boss, and friend Gerry was than anything I’ll be able to tell you about him.”

                Sniffles had already started running through the theater, mostly from the casino staff, though a few came from the section of hard-eyed people in fine outfits. A man whose massive muscular build could be seen through his suit handed a hanky to a woman whose hunter-green hair matched the color of her dress.

                “Gerry was a good man, despite what he might have thought. Too good for this business, honestly. He had a gentle heart, which made the hard aspects of his job all the more difficult, but he did them anyway. Because Gerry was loyal to a fault. Whatever he said he’d do, it would be done, and if he gave you his word you could always trust it. That’s a rare thing these days, especially in a city and business like this one. I’ve got countless stories I could tell to illustrate the point, but I’m not going to do that. Because I like to keep my private matters private, and because it’s unnecessary. I know that nearly all of you already have your own stories about him that encompass what kind of man he was. So together, let’s take a moment of silence to reflect on those memories.”

                Silence fell, broken only by the occasional sound of muffled crying, which was forgivable in context. After several minutes, Ms. Pips cleared her throat once more and the attention leapt back onto the stage. “I hope you all picked a good one to remember. That’s probably enough out of me; I don’t want to use up all the time we’ve got. Once I leave the stage, please feel free to come up and say your own goodbyes to the urn, if you’d like. We’ve got the buffet opened up for you all once you’re done, serving mostly breakfast and, at Nicholas’s insistence, burgers from some shack halfway out of town. Apparently they were Gerry’s favorite. Anyway, feel free to eat, talk, and share your memories with one another. Because when someone leaves this world, that’s how they live on: in the memories and lessons they left us with. And I think we all know there’s no shortage of those where Gerry is concerned.”

                Ms. Pips turned away from the microphone, taking a step over to the part of the table where the urn rested, and gently laid her hand down on top of it. Her eyes closed, and for a few seconds she looked genuinely human, instead of so distant and imposing that she may as well have been a creature from mythology. Then the moment passed, and she walked off the stage.

                Nicholas Campbell was the first one to follow her, and no one made any attempt to move until he was up there. Even those who’d never met Nicholas, new hires brought on while he was away at college, knew how much Gerry had cared for the boy. He’d often talked at length about him, pride shining in Gerry’s eyes at nearly every mention of his name.

                For once, Nicholas said nothing. He merely stood on the stage, staring at the urn and picture quietly, before nodding once and heading down the stairs. His friends, motley assortment that they were, stood at the bottom waiting for him. When Nicholas left, so did they. Probably body guards, from the looks of them, although the way they reached out to comfort him was a bit more familiar than what was considered proper in that line of work.

                With Nicholas done, the others began to make their way up. Criminals and card dealers, bad guys and bartenders, all shoulder to shoulder saying their goodbyes to a man who had crossed between both worlds and made each one a little better.

                When the last person was finally finished, Ms. Pips re-emerged, this time flanked by a pair of men in crisp suits, and picked up the urn. She cradled it carefully, brushing off one of her flunky’s attempts to carry it for her. It wouldn’t leave her grasp until they were back in her office, and she set it down on the part of her mantle she’d already selected.


                It seemed only fitting that her right-hand man stay nearby. She liked to think Gerry would have preferred it that way.