David Collins stared lazily and unfocused at himself in the bathroom mirror, splashed his face with cold water and slurred aloud to himself ‘Pull yourself together man. 43 years old, not bad looking, it’s not the end of the world’. It had been a bad day. His boss had been very apologetic. Economic crisis. Cutbacks. Etc. Etc. David was out of a job. Several bars later and a little drunk the flashing red neon sign of Baphomet’s Casino drew him in like a magnet. After another few shots at the bar he needed to freshen up before hitting the tables to try his luck. A sultry redhead in a slinky red dress hovering near the Roulette wheel had caught his eye. ‘I’m sure she smiled at me’ he thought smiling to himself. Drying his face he checked his wallet, took a deep breath, left the washroom, headed to the counter to buy some chips then sauntered as casually as he could towards the Roulette table. David placed a couple of chips on Red 16.
He didn’t know why. He glanced at the lady in red who nodded approvingly at his choice. The wheel spun.
‘Red 16’ called the croupier.
‘Beginner’s luck’ he thought to himself. The redhead smiled encouringly at him. Fortified by his win he piled up a few more chips this time on Black 26. The lady edged a little closer and blew a cloud of cigareete smoke as the wheel spun.
‘Black 26.’ Another win. The excitement around the table was building and fired with new found confidence David ventured to open a conversation with the alluring redhead in the red dress.
‘You seem to be my lucky charm.’
The lady smiled and purred ‘Maybe I am.’
‘What next?’ he enquired casually. Looking intently at him her green eyes seemed to glow incandescent with fire.
‘I’m sure you’ll win whatever you choose.’
And he did. And he did. And he did. Almost the equivalent of a year’s salary. Things were looking up. A pile of money and a beautiful 30 something woman at his side.
‘You really are my lucky charm, let’s have a drink at the bar.’
She accepted and helped with the large stack of chips he’d amassed at the table.
They arranged themselves comfortably on a couple of stools as the bar tender poured a couple of large whiskies.
‘My name is David.’
‘I know’ she replied leaning forward a little as the bar tender lit her cigarette.
‘But you couldn’t know my name, I’ve never been here before, I don’t know why I came in, it was … well, an impulse.’
‘I know that too’ she said enigmatically.
An expression of puzzled intrigue spread across his face.
‘But we’ve never met, I don’t know your name, it isn’t possible, how could you know?’
‘You can call me Phaedra and I know all about you. What time is it now David?’
‘Oh yes Casinos don’t have clocks do they,’ David looked at his watch … ‘it’s almost midnight. What do you know.’ He grasped his whisky glass and glugged half of it nervously.
‘What’s the date today David?’ she asked in a soft almost conspiratorial tone.
‘Hmm, it’s 23rd March, why? Why is that important?’ He glugged the remaining whisky and gestured to the bar tender for another.
‘I don’t have to tell you really, do I?’ Phaedra pressed his hand gently.
‘It’s ok, I know it was an accident!’ she said encouragingly.
David almost spluttered on his whisky.
‘What accident? You can’t possibly know about that! It really wasn’t my fault’ he blurted.
‘David it was a mistake. Not the accident. That was part of the program but there was the slightest ripple in time and the pedestrian shouldn’t have died.’
David started shaking uncontrollably.
‘I don’t understand? What do you mean it was a mistake? What program? I, I, I …’ David was lost for words.
Phaedra cut in sharply.
‘David time is short. One minute after midnight on the night of 23rd of March, 22 years ago your brakes failed, you hit a pedestrian, a woman in her thirties who later died of her injuries. You survived. That was the mistake. The ripple. It shouldn’t have been her but you. You were supposed to swerve to avoid her, your car would have run off the road into a tree and you should have died. Not her.’
‘Oh come on what’s all this nonsense … it’s not .. how could …’ Failing for words like a man drowning he glugged the rest of his whisky.
Phaedra looked at David sympathetically and continued in a very matter of fact way.
‘You have less than a minute left. I’m sorry. You won’t remember any of this.’
David’s head began to spin with confusion, anger, surprise and guilt but before he could continue his surroundings started to become less solid, slowly dissolving in swirls of bright drunken multicoloured fairground lights that gradually dimmed and faded into the liquidity of velvet darkness.
David Collins had had a bad day. Out of a job and several bars later a drunken David Collins stumbled uneasily across the road towards Baphomet’s Casino. The flashing neon sign above the huge ornately carved door drew him as a moth to a candle flame. The last thing he saw were the twin headlights of a car careering out of control towards him.
‘That was bad luck’ the bar tender said sympathetically while tapping the newspaper story with his index finger and reading aloud. ‘The driver, a 32 year old woman whose brakes failed, was taken to hospital and said to be badly shaken and in shock but not injured.’
The bar tender shook his head at the irony of life.
‘He seemed like a nice guy and after winning all that money at Roulette too.’
Phaedra leaned forwards for a light and her fiery green eyes flashed at the stack of chips in the handbag aside her drink as she spoke…
‘Yes he really was a nice guy but when the chips are down …’ Her words tailed off as she took a drag of her cigarette.