“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look more miserable among more joy,” said the barkeep. “And that means a lot, coming from someone in a casino.”

The man looked up from his drink. “What’s the usual sort of misery you get in here?” he asked quietly.

The barkeep nodded thoughtfully. “Compulsives upset at losing more than they could afford and taking a dive on a few drinks on op of it, just when they could stand a little more judgement, not a little less. Older folks on lonely daytrips from the home, hoping the sights and sounds will make them feel a little less used-up and a lot more alive. Horny weirdoes so starved for someone to flirt with they’ll lose three figures and up, plus tab and tip, for the privilege.”

A nod. “What would you peg me as?”

“Well, you’re too young to be retired and you haven’t tried to flirt with me, so I’d guess that you’ve lost a fair bit.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” laughed the man ruefully. “Suffice it to say that I don’t do well under bright lights and bright sounds at the best of times, and this isn’t the best of times. I haven’t gambled a cent or paid for anything but this drink, and I still feel like I’ve lost more than I’ve ever had.”

“I suppose that begs the question of why you’re here, then,” said the barkeep. “Most people that don’t go in for flashing lights or beeps normally give a casino a wide berth.”

“It’s a distraction,” the man said. “Being annoyed and terrified and shy…at least it’s something to spice the sadness up a bit.”

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