One Last Gift

Submitted into Contest #180 in response to: Set your story in a casino.... view prompt


Thriller Contemporary Drama

Roxanne Guinevere Reardon never had the chance to get to know the woman who had given her such a mouthful of a name, but she knew that it had something to do with her father not being at the hospital the night she was born, during a spring blizzard in midcoast Maine. Roxy, as she was commonly known, was nearly a teenager before she thought to wonder at her origin story, but by then, her mother had been dead for years, and her father in prison for her murder. The only person she could ask was her Aunt Brenna, and she was too busy raising Roxy, plus her own three kids, to be telling stories.

As a former bass player in an all-girl rock band that toured mostly college campuses, Roxy had seen a lot of the country. After years of living out of a suitcase, and never really making any money as a musician, she found bartending at the iconic Golden Nugget in Las Vegas satisfying enough to stay put for a while. 

On this particular January morning, it was sunrise by the time she was leaving the casino, the sun peeking up over the mountains in the east, lighting up the normally garish tourist mecca of downtown Las Vegas in a radiant, soft pink glow. It was her favorite time of day in the city, and she had her camera out as she walked the few blocks between her job at the Nugget to her apartment building in the arts district. She snapped photos of the brightly painted murals along the walls of the buildings, appreciating the bold expressions of love and life and politics instead of boring cinder blocks. 

Roxy lived on the ninth floor of a modern building, with views looking south to the towering Stratosphere at the top of the infamous Las Vegas Strip. After dropping her backpack and kicking off her shoes just inside the front door, she grabbed the faux coyote fur blanket from the back of the sofa and wrapped it around her shoulders. Then she headed outside to her balcony and pulled out the phone that was vibrating in her back pocket. It was her Aunt Brenna, calling from Maine.


“Roxy,” Brenna said with a sharp edge to her voice. Her Listen to Me Right Now voice. Roxy stood up straight by force of habit. “Have you heard from him? He’s out, and we both know he’s gonna be looking for you.”


Roxy hadn’t called out in the five years she worked at the Golden Nugget. When she got the news her stalker had resurfaced and might be heading to Vegas, it was no different. She clocked in fifteen minutes before ten pm and was at the bar at the top of the hour, ready to pour drinks.

Out on Fremont Street, the crowd was thick as the people moved from casino to casino, from bar to bar, in search of the next big win, the next big score, the next sure thing. A city built on hope and the promise of a big payday has an energy that is almost visible, a hazy neon aura of greed and longing. People are always coming to Vegas looking for excitement, often losing their shirts or their hearts before it is time to go home again. Some leave with empty wallets, others as newlyweds. There’s nearly twice as many wedding chapels as pawn shops in Las Vegas. 

Inside the Golden Nugget, a group of cowboys in Wranglers and Stetsons were on a winning streak at the craps tables and letting the rest of the casino know it. Roxy watched as two women, slinky and smooth as snakes, wound their way from their stools at the bar to the cowboys, sliding up next to them and smiling dazzling, intoxicating smiles. Once the men let them into their group, Roxy snickered with appreciation at the Vegas custom of keeping its money within the city limits, often by whatever means necessary. 

“Hey Rox, it looks slow right now. Ready for your break?” Her manager stepped up next to her and looked over the customers. There were three men playing poker and blackjack at the bar top machines, nursing well drinks, none of them smiling. The house must be winning.

Roxy thought about grabbing a bite to eat from the small pizza place down the street, but quickly changed her mind when she smelled the burgers cooking at the Nugget’s own burger joint, Frankenburger. When the man walking a few paces behind her suddenly stopped and also changed direction, Roxy felt the little hairs on the back of her neck stand up, and her scalp tingle. 

Damnit. It was him. That didn’t take long.


Roxy kept walking toward Frankenburger. She took a seat at the end of the bar where she could look over the floor of the casino.

“Diet Coke,” she said to the bartender. 

“Hey, Roxy, good to see ya,” the bartender, Keith, said as he set a Diet Coke on a paperboard coaster in front of her. “Are you having dinner tonight?”

Roxy ordered while keeping the man who’d been following her in her peripheral vision. He’d taken a seat at the same bar, a number of seats down, and ordered a hard cider. He kept his eyes down.

Roxy pretended to watch the UNLV basketball game on the television above the bar, but studied the man instead. He’d changed in the years he’d been underground or in prison. More wiry now, and less hair on his head. Bald looked good on him. She noticed that his left hand was gripped in a tight fist even while he sat and sipped at his cider. 

Keith set Roxy’s burger in front of her, along with silverware rolled tightly in a paper napkin. “Can I get ya anything else?” he asked.

Roxy thought carefully. “I could use a new pair of AirPods,” she said with a frown, reaching into her pocket and plunking down her broken pair on the bar next to her plate. “These things are so freaking delicate,” she groused.

Keith smiled and rolled his eyes. “Tell me about it, huh?” he commiserated. Then he stepped away to help a new group of customers at the far end of the bar.

Roxy glanced to her right, and noticed the seat was empty. She finished her burger and went back to her own bar in the center of the Golden Nugget to finish out her shift. She didn’t see him for the rest of the night.


Roxy awoke to loud knocking on her door the following morning. Having just fallen asleep an hour earlier, she padded to the door in pajamas and slippers - grumbling under her breath the entire time - and looked through the peephole. It was her apartment manager, Nancy, looking just as displeased as Roxy felt. She opened the door.

“A package was left for you in the vestibule. I don’t know what crazy app or delivery service you are using, but you need to tell them to use the post office, or deliver their packages in person all the way to you. Mrs. Waterson twisted her ankle on this when she was walking her dog.”

Nancy thrust a package toward Roxy. It was wrapped in brown paper, and only had Roxy’s full name and the city of Las Vegas written in shaky black marker. There was no return address. 

Roxy took the box from Nancy. She thought about delivering a lecture about suspicious packages and calling the police, but she wanted what she knew was inside, so she kept her thoughts to herself and said goodbye. 

Back in her kitchen, she used a paring knife to cut a neat slit through the packing tape, and pried open the package lid. In a nest of brown paper was a perfectly square white box, her new AirPods inside.

Roxy knew her father was her stalker. She’d figured it out when she was fifteen years old and he’d left a Spice Girls CD on the window sill of her bedroom one warm spring night in 1999. It was still encased in Walmart’s plastic security case, and thereby useless to Roxy. But she hadn’t seen him in a long time, and ran her “test” to be sure the man the previous evening was him. His thing had always been to leave little gifts for her, trying to make up for a childhood of trauma and estrangement with trinkets and playthings.

There was a good chance the AirPods were stolen, and she had every intention of donating them to the women’s shelter down the street, now that she was sure he had found her. She placed the package on the console table near the door, and stepped out onto her balcony to take a look around.

From the ninth floor, Roxy had a good view of the surrounding area, but couldn’t really make out in detail the people walking around down on the street. She pulled out her phone and using the camera, switched from selfie mode and zoomed down as close as she could to the corner below, where a small group of foreign tourists were trying to get their bearings. She panned slowly to the right, but it was no use. She swiped to the telephone number pad instead and dialed her Aunt Brenna.

“He found me,” she said when her aunt answered her phone. 

Brenna was her father’s sister, and never hid the truth about Roxy’s parents from her.

“Aw, shit, I wonder how he did that,” she said.

“It’s not hard, these days,” Roxy answered, thinking of the hundreds of websites promising to deliver personal information at the click of your credit card number - or, in her father’s case, a credit card number that’s probably stolen. “Privacy is a thing of the past.”

“I wonder what he wants,” Brenna said.

“It can’t be anything good,” Roxy sighed.


Roxy began to dread the walk to work as the time ticked by that afternoon. She normally loved the eight block walk, feeling that it gave her energy to get through her shift at the bar. She knew most of the homeless people who populated the sidewalks, and often handed out cookies or fresh socks when she stopped to chat about what was going on in the neighborhood. But not tonight. Tonight, she was dreading the darkness that would descend on the city before the clock struck five pm. The dull, dark cold of January seemed menacing rather than refreshing. Though the thought of staying home behind locked doors crossed her mind, Roxy felt like she was being watched even sitting in her apartment with the blinds drawn. She figured being around people at work would provide her with more comfort than being alone, and if he did try and approach her too closely, would give her more protection in the form of actual, trained security.

At nine o’clock, Roxy was trying to decide between taking an Uber to work or walking. She could always change her route, she thought, and considered heading out the back elevator and walking 1st Street instead of Casino Center Boulevard like she normally did. Would he approach her on a busy sidewalk?

She made a plan to take an Uber from a spot across the street behind her building, instead of out in front. She set her drop off half a block from the entrance to the Golden Nugget, near the casino’s parking garage around back.

Feeling more confident that she would not have to look over her shoulder for her creeping father as she made her way to work, Roxy thought more seriously about what it meant to have her father in Las Vegas, not just for the hours ahead, but indefinitely. She’d have to budget in some extra money for Ubers for the next few days. Then she wondered if all this meant she had to move again. She didn’t want to move again, but she certainly couldn’t live life like this for long. At some point, she’d either leave, or have to face her father. Moving was so much easier.

Fremont Street and the surrounding area was alive on this Thursday night, with jangled guitar notes and heavy bass lines thumping up from the cover band playing a free gig outside the Four Queens casino. Roxy thanked her driver and stepped out of the car next to the Golden Nugget’s parking garage. Instinctively, she looked around herself to be sure her father had not followed her despite her best efforts. It wouldn’t be the first time.

She heard a bit of commotion just over the half wall of the first floor of the garage, and turned her head toward the sound in time to see a large man in a heavy, black leather jacket thrust a gleaming knife into the stomach of a smaller man wearing a blue hoodie. Without thinking, she sucked in her breath, gasping audibly. 

The man in the leather jacket dropped the small, stabbed man like deadweight, and looked directly into Roxy’s eyes as she stood dumbfounded under the wash of fluorescent light from the security lamp affixed to the building above. 

“Get her!” he growled.

In a flash, two of the large man’s companions hopped the wall and had Roxy in their grasp at the man’s command. Roxy wondered for a brief second where they’d come from, but before she could fully articulate the question in her mind, she was being dragged by her arms and legs into the darkness of the garage.

As the men brought Roxy around to the van where the stabbed man lay dying in a pool of his own blood, she took a deep breath and twisted her body violently with all her might. She felt herself drop to the cement with a hard thud, and scrambled away as the two fumbled and fought and tried to grab her again. 

Roxy ran as fast as she could up the winding course of the parking garage. She prayed her Orange Theory training would pay off after noting that the men reeked of stale cigarette smoke. There was no way they could keep up with her all the way to the next floor where she could swipe her card and get into the safety of the casino.

She heard the squeal of tires as she reached the second floor and ran as fast as she could down the parking lot toward the door. The van was racing up behind her, and before she could get all the way to the end, it whipped around to block her from going any further. The large man in the leather jacket jumped out of the sliding door before the van came to a complete stop. He was laughing.

“Not your lucky day, lady,” he huffed as he reached inside his jacket and pulled out the same knife used to murder the man on the floor below. “Wrong place, wrong time,” he chuckled, trapping Roxy up against a silver Ford Explorer. She squeezed her eyes shut, thought about the stupid irony of it all, and waited for the inevitable.


Roxy had heard gunshots before, but never up close. When the crack of the shot rang out, Roxy’s ears felt like they had exploded. She watched in horror as the man in the leather jacket recoiled in a spray of blood from his chest. He fell to the ground a foot in front of Roxy, dropping the bloody knife with a clank as it and he both hit the cement. She brought her hands to her ears and looked around, finally seeing her father standing about ten feet away, between a Toyota Corolla and a Lexus, arms still outstretched, smoking gun still pointed her way.

The van with the two flunkies inside sped off, screeching around the curve of the ramp to the street below. 

“Go!” her father yelled to her, but she couldn’t hear him over the ringing in her ears. He made wild waving motions toward the door to the casino. “Go!” he yelled again.

Roxy finally understood, and paused for just a moment before taking off. She pulled her employee card from her back pocket and swiped herself inside. With one foot inside the Golden Nugget, and one still on the cement of the parking garage floor, she looked back just once, in time to see the flashing blue and red lights of emergency vehicles approaching, and her father waiting patiently by the body.

January 13, 2023 18:10

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Martin Ross
17:11 Mar 30, 2023

What incredible setup, character development, and action. This is great, emotionally driven suspense!!


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Kelly Sibley
00:09 Jan 19, 2023

Oh wow, that had a lot of twists and turns. Definitely didn't go in the direction I was expecting it to. Well Done!


K. C. Brote
17:01 Jan 19, 2023

Thank you so much!


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