Casino City is all I’ve ever known. Some might say I grew up at the hands of my mother, Elise Tweni, a woman who diligently packed my schoolbag every day and had a feast on the table for me every night. My mother had big dreams for me, one of them being that I would make it out of this city ‘run by greed’. The other was that I would never take part in the illegal activities that happened in the hidden room beneath the butcher store. I always knew it was there.
I knew because I heard her and Dad fighting. I heard Mom exhausting every ultimatum she possibly could, every ultimatum she would never act on, until a door would slam and lock and she would cry. I would always hear her crying until I fell asleep. And then, when I woke up, she would be beaming with smiles: ‘Get up, son. Your breakfast is ready.’ I never knew what cut her up so badly, not until my twelfth birthday. It was a Saturday afternoon.
Mom was in the back with all the guests. I was alone with my new remote-controlled car; I had just finished building a ramp for it. “You’ll have to be more calculated son, if you want to minimise your risks.” I knew who it was. And I wasn’t interested. My Dad knew that I favoured my Mother. I carried on anyway. “Son, do you want to see what I do every night?” I stopped and turned. I knew my Mother wouldn’t want me to but, when you’re twelve and all you’ve ever known is cutting up large hunks of meat and doing homework and your parents fighting, you kind of want to know what they’ve been fighting about.
Nevertheless, I wish I’d been more intuitive, I wish I’d asked, “What will change?” Instead, I put down the control and followed John Tweni. I didn’t even realise the room was where it was. You had to walk through the freezer to a secret entrance at the back. It was opened by the second-last hook that was furthest to the right. When the door opened, it was like a palace. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had thought we were so poor. This was so decadent. I looked to my Dad for an answer. “Son, I run an illegal casino. Some of the major casino’s biggest high-rollers come here to play.
The butchery is a cover. That’s why we live such a modest life. I send you to school so that you will have another option. But, if you choose, I will teach you to be a player, I will teach you to be an owner and, most importantly, I will support you in whatever else you choose.” I couldn’t stop looking at everything. Eventually, all I could manage was, “You do something that’s illegal Dad?” And then quickly I added, “And Mom?” “She knows. She used to be more involved, but she doesn’t want you to be caught up in this. The cops here are something else, son. She doesn’t want you on the wrong side of the law.” He pauses.
“We both know you’ve heard the fighting. It’s not fair on you anymore. You need to know where we stand. And, we know you’re young, but we’d like to know if you know where you lean on the matter son – that way we can prepare you. For the best and the worst.” By this time I was sitting at the poker table, I looked at my Dad’s face, heavy with the weight of the years and the two packs he smoked a day, “I will stay in school, but, I will do it.” I smiled. It was going to be a long road. After that I no longer helped my Mom in the butchery. School. Homework. Casino. Soon, if it was a busy night, I was dealing.
People said I was as handy with a deck of cards as I was with a carving knife. But, when I played, man, was I unstoppable! Blackjack and poker were my games, depending on my mood. I loved the casino. It really grew in popularity when I was there. I even managed to get a real bar and cigarette counter going. Towards the end my Mom would come down and “hang with the boys”, as she put it. We were so happy. And then Dad got lung cancer. At least they were happy towards the end…We never had trouble with the cops.
Dad offered a better house advantage than the big casinos, so many cops ended up being regulars with us. We were always protected. When Dad died, the guys begged me to keep it open but, Mom was tired and it didn’t feel right without him so sold the premises to a friend (he’s doing something nice with it), bought Mom a beautiful property out of the city where I go visit her a at least three times a week, and built myself a nice bankroll. Now I play at the major casinos. I’m slowly building on what I’ve got.
I tell you, the big casinos lack the intimacy of The Butchery (that’s what people used to call it), but I’ve met a few interesting folk. Actually, two in particular: this one broad by the name of Vera Siti and this other fella by the name of Jones. Met ‘em playing Blackjack one night. They both struck me as odd. I know, not an unusual thing in this city. But, she was dealing fair. In a city like this, you just don’t see that anymore. And he, well I’ve never seen anything so stupid, he was winning so big, well, that’s just looking for trouble. I have a feeling trouble will be after them. I hope they stumble across my card by the time they need it. Because they need it. I am a well-connected man.
In the mean-time, I’ll just keep playing the tables. And winning.
Read up about Stanton Tweni’s beginnings here: