There are many casinos in the world but none that felt as special as ‘le Casino de Monte-Carlo’. The exterior could be described as classically beautiful and palatial, while the interior envelopes you in elegance and sophistication.
Being close to the Italian border, it received a fair share of the wealthy patrons from both France and Italia. Not including the international jet-setters or the mega-rich, who moored their sleek yachts in the harbor.
Appearing to be part of the scene, I wore an Armani Tuxedo, gold Blancpain watch and, diamond cuff-links but the truth was, I was an Insurance Underwriter from Sydney. Apparently, I was good looking but everything else about me was average, or bland as some would say. Included my now ex-wife, who left me for another man as I wasn’t enough for her.
In the end, I realized that experiences and relationships were more important than possessions, then one day while watching ‘Casino Royal’, I knew that I wanted to live a James Bond life. Complete with excitement, danger, and high risk, so six months later, I sold everything I had, bought some fashionable and elegant clothes, and checked into the Monte Carlo casino hotel.
While checking in, I spent a few moments gazing at the beautiful foyer, but I couldn’t make out the exquisite landscape that hung in the mezzanine. As I made a mental note to do some research about the painting, I was brought back to ‘here and now’, when the concierge sought my attention.
“Monsieur Julian De Laurentiis?”
My first instinct was to say something stupid like ‘present’ but luckily, my alter ego jumped in and responded,
“At your service, mademoiselle…”
The concierge was gorgeous girl with black hair, dark brown eyes, and black suite. She seemed very efficient, bright and had a fire in her eyes that many Mediterranean woman possessed. She seemed to be in her early thirties, so a few years younger than myself and I could see by the brass badge on her lapel, that her name was Angelica. Not very French, but then I remembered that the French – Italian border as about a half hour away.
My initial instinct was to hit on her like every other wise guy that she came across but instead, I attempted to be charming and mysterious.
“Your sea view suite with terrace, is now ready for you, Monsieur De Laurentiis. The valet will escort you there.”
The valet looked to be in his sixties, seemed well suited for his role and the name Carlo appeared on his lapel badge. In fact, I could tell that he took pride in his job, which was evident by his efficiency and friendliness. Even using my name, as he asked,
“Would that be all, monsieur De Laurentiis?”
“Yes, thank you, Carlo.”
I decided to tip him by shaking his hand and leave him a one-hundred-euro bill, as I wanted word to spread that I tipped well.
Walking out onto the balcony, I gazed at the Mediterranean sea, harbour, the beautiful people that arrived and departed and thought about my plan, which included one hundred and three thousand Australian dollars - all the money I had in the world.
Time flew by and before I knew it, I was walking toward one of the stylish hotel bars. My route ran through the lobby, where I found Angelica at her counter, having a conversation with my new friend, Carlo. As I walked by, I caught their attention and they both faced me and smiled, then once again, the dorky me wanted to wave and give a big smile but instead, I nodded my head gave them a restrained grin, then continued my way.
The moment I was out of earshot, Carlo turned to Angelica and said,
“Now that’s a man! Elegant, suave, and very generous!”
Angelica thought so as well and although she felt an attraction with their guest, he seemed different to the men that had courted her in the past. Mainly, unemployed, disrespectful jerks that often cheated on her, or worse...
“Yes, he seems very nice, and I like his accent. Where do you think he’s from?”
Asked Angelica and a moment later, Carlo answered, with a laugh,
“Where they make money!”
They spoke for a few minutes more, before Carlo said,
“I’m going home now but don’t stay back too long, Angelica. You know how your mother worries!”
“I just need to do a few more things before I leave, papa. I want to impress my manager so he can consider me for that promotion!”
Was Angelica’s response and after a kiss on each cheek, he was on his way home.
It was at that time, that I stood at the bar and drank a dirty vodka martini. Once I was done, I sauntered to the cashier and bought ten thousand euro in poker chips, before proceeding to one of the Texas Hold’em poker tables.
Selecting one that had a ‘small blind’ of two hundred dollars and a ‘big blind’ of four hundred dollars, I wanted to ease into the whole gambling thing. Especially as my experience with Texas Hold’em, was limited with friends on Facebook but having practiced my pouty-serious look in the mirror, I did my best Daniel Craig.
The whole experience was amazing, and I successfully passed myself off as one of the rich patrons. So much so that an elderly couple invited me onto their yacht for brunch the next morning! Max Dandridge was a retired CEO of an English bank, and his ship was moored at Monaco Hercules harbour, within sight of the hotel.
“Her name is Esmeralda and I’ll make sure that my man is informed of your arrival.”
Said, Max and we proceeded to spend the night playing cards and drinking cocktails. At some point, I forgot that I was playing with real money and after dropping to almost two thousand dollars, I finished with thirty-two thousand dollars in chips!
It was about one in the morning when I called it a night and on my way to my suite, I heard shouting and crying in one of the fire escape, stair wells. Opening the door, I found a distressed Angelica surrounded by three rough looking men and without a thought in my head, I yelled,
“LET HER GO!”
The three men yelled back in French and although I didn’t understand what they said, I did understand the switchblade that one drew. Now, I wasn’t in MI6 or any form of law enforcement, but I was and experienced Muay Thai martial artist, which was a form of Thai kickboxing. The thing was, that I had never had an actual ‘fight’, other than sparring while training.
I think that I was more surprised than anyone, when I instinctively kicked the knife-guy with a roundhouse, before becoming a spinning wheel of knees, elbows, and fists. One of the marauders, punched me in the side of the head but ultimately, they ran down the fire escape in anger and fear.
Angelica and I stood there panting while attempting to ride a wave of adrenaline but once I composed myself, I said,
“We should call the police.”
“No! Please don’t. They work for a very bad man and the police would make things worse!”
Pleaded Angelica, so I relented but told her I’d take her home. She had a little blood on her lip, so I gave her my handkerchief and before accepting, she asked,
“What about you?”
While pointing at the little blood from a cut on my hairline, so I removed my bow-tie and dried it up the best I could.
Escorting her to the main entrance, I summoned a taxi, and we made our way to Angelica’s home. She lived not far from the small seaside town of Ponte San Ludovico, just over the French – Italian border.
Before escorting Angelico to her door, I asked the driver to wait and a moment later, we entered a dark hallway of a small home. Angelica led me to the kitchen, where she retrieved a few first aid items. While I sat on a stool, she placed a small bandage to my temple, and I smelled her Chanel No.5.
“Thank you but you didn’t have to go through all this trouble.”
“Trouble! You saved me from God knows what, so the least I can do is place a band-aid on your forehead!”
Was Angelica’s response. She had calmed down after her ordeal and looked as beautiful as ever but before I understood what was happening, she bent down and gave me a brief kiss on the lips. Never has a kiss affected me as much and I was almost electrocuted by the sparks the flew between us.
Looking deeply into her eyes, I felt the world fall away. They were deeper than any abyss and full of character and warmth but a few seconds later, I returned to my game plan and said,
“I better return to the hotel and get some sleep but if you need anything, you know what room I’m in.”
After saying our goodbyes, I returned to my taxi and made my way back to the hotel. Sleep eluded me and I didn’t know if it was because of the encounter with three hoodlums or Angelica but I must have had at least an hour of sleep, as my alarm woke me at 7:00 AM.
It took a moment to recall why I set it, then remembered my brunch date with Max and his wife. It was a short stroll to the Marina and the biggest yacht there was Max’s. I wore a bone-colored linen suite with pastel green shirt and matching shoes, along with the cool facade, that I practiced in the mirror.
Other guests invited, including a British politician and an executive with MI6. Although, I was WAY out of my league, I pretended that I belonged there and in fact, had a great time. Brunch and conversation were casual, then Geoffrey Sutherby, my new MI6 friend, asked,
“What happened to the side of your head?”
“Oh! I uhm… bumped it in the shower.”
He knew that I was lying but let it go and a moment later, his wife May inquired,
“Are you related to the famous Dino De Laurentiis?”
Was my response, but I said it in a way that it seemed that I hid something. The entire party made plans to meet at a Texas Hold’em table later in the evening and we said our farewell’s until then.
I passed the time by sitting on the balcony of my suite when I heard a knock at my door. To my surprise, I found Carlo standing there and he said,
“Monsieur De Laurentiis? I’ve come by to see if you needed anything or if I could be of service to you.”
I was about to say that I was fine but then remembered something.
“Funny that you asked, Carlo, as I need to purchase a new bowtie. I have a spare one, but I want a back-up, just in case. Does the hotel sell them?”
“Ahh… Because of the blood.”
Responded Carlo but seeing the surprised look on my face, he continued to explain.
“Angelica is my daughter and I owe you so much, that I can’t put it into words!”
“You don’t owe me anything, Carlo. Any decent man would have done the same thing.”
I explained, in the attempt to play down his extreme gratitude.
“I can at least buy you a bow-tie…”
Offered, Carlo and I reluctantly agreed, then about an hour later, I heard another knock at the door and when I opened it, I found a large red box, wrapped in a white ribbon and white bow. Picking it up, I noticed a card was attached with the word ‘grazie’, along with red kiss, made with lipstick. I guessed it was Angelica’s, as the color didn’t suit Carlo.
Opening the box, I beheld a dozen bow-ties of different colors and fabrics, and I chose one that closely matched the shade of lipstick on the card.
A few hours later, I strode toward the bar, taking the route through the foyer, where I found Angelica assisting a patron, but it seemed that she was done so I walked toward her. She seemed as beautiful as ever, and her confidence appeared to have returned.
“‘Bonsoir (Good evening), monsieur De Laurentiis!”
Angelica greeted in French, but I responded in Italian.
“‘Buona serra (Good evening) signorina (miss) Angelica!”
“Your accent is very good… ‘signore’ (sir)!”
“Please call me Julian… Although I was born in Australia, my parents and grandparents are Italian, so I learned to speak the language.”
Was my response, while attempting to be charming. We spoke for a few minutes, and I asked if she were OK, while she found I no longer needed the band-aid.
“I like your bow-tie!”
She said with a cheeky, smile.
“It matches the lipstick on the card.”
Was my response. That feeling of sparks almost consumed me, but Angelica was called away and I had a gambling date. Five minutes later, I walked toward my gambling party with a martini in one hand and fifty thousand dollars in chips in the other.
Once again, we got on like a house on fire, despite the difference in our ages and at the end of the evening, I walked away with seventy-four thousand dollars. Forty-six thousand dollars for two nights work, wasn’t bad, I thought to myself, but I hadn’t realized that I was being watched from across the room.
The three men that I met in hotel stairway, were employed by a wealthy gambler that spent considerable time at the casino. Most of the regulars new him as a ruthless gambler but weren’t aware of his more nefarious actives and once I left, Konstantin Ivanov approached our table and invited everyone to a special Texas Hold’em event. The small blind being two thousand dollars and the big blind four thousand.
“And invite your young friend as well. He seems to know how to play.”
And with that, Geoffrey Sutherby sent me a text with an invitation and a warning.
“…The host is a ruthless gambler, so I wanted to give you a heads up.”
The next day began with coffee and pastries on the balcony, but the weather turned as I made my way inside. Hearing a knock, I walked toward the door of the suite, while wearing a fluffy white dressing gown. I was pleasantly surprised to see Angelica standing there, in jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket.
“I know that you are here to gamble but I thought that I could show you Monaco… If you’d like.”
“I would love that.”
About five minutes later, we walked out of the main entrance and straight toward… a vespa?! I couldn’t help but laugh and she responded,
“I’m going to show you how the other half lives!”
The other half? She thought I was rich, but I didn’t explain who I really was. Not yet.
We spent the day riding around on her little mint green Vespa with me sitting on the back. Lunch was at Bistrot des Pêcheurs, which was a budget friendly eatery, and I discovered a depth of character and wisdom within her. As well as having a great, quirky sense of humor, she found positive in any situations.
Before we made our way back to the hotel, she asked,
“Will you be gambling this evening?”
“Yes! I’ve been invited to play at a special event by a man named Konstantin Ivanov. It’s a little high-risk but I didn’t come to play on the poker machines.”
Angelica gasped at the sound of his name, and she seemed quite fearful. So much so that I asked,
“Are you OK?”
Instead of answering, she warned,
“Please tell me that you’ll be careful. He’s not a good man. He was…”
But didn’t continue. Before I knew it, I was at a card table with nine other players then once our host arrived, we got down to business. I Decided to convert all my money into chips just in case I was dealt some bad cards.
Konstantin was surrounded by three men that I had the pleasure of meeting a few nights before, who had smirks on their faces. After five hours of playing, the game became quite serious, and the pot grew to approximately a million dollars, but it was then when the real game started.
“Monsieur De Laurentiis… I understand that you met my team a few nights ago.”
Konstantin said quite casually, before he continued.
“As I understand it, you have something in your possession that belongs to me.”
‘Oh, crap!’ I thought to myself. Suddenly, I was in a high-risk scenario that I daydreamed about and found that it wasn’t a fan. However, I needed to see it through, so when he threw in a hundred thousand dollars in chips, I put on my best James Bond and said,
“That’s quite a significant bet.”
Then pushed all my chips onto the pot, before placing my room key on top.
“All in… That’s my room key… I lose, I leave Monte Carlo but if I win, your so-called possession will become mine.”
Konstantin smiled and without breaking eye contact, went all in as well. One by one, we all showed our cards and the second last being Konstantin, who had a full house. He couldn’t hide is glee but once he saw my straight flush, was no longer amused. In fact, he, and his henchmen, rapidly left the room.
The croupier assisted me with my chips, while I was congratulated by everyone. It didn’t take long for a very happy Angelica to discover what occurred and we went out to celebrate.
It’s funny to think that a week ago, I was just a boring man but now, I won the game and got the girl, all due to the luck of the draw…
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Yay! Cool story well done!
Love how you set this story in a real place. I actually went to that casino one time, but not to gamble- lol. Went with my husband on a business trip to Nice and felt like a tacky American tourist surrounded by luxury cars, rich-looking people, and stores selling clothes and jewelry worth thousands. Great setting for a story. Your main character truly did get lucky and end up living a fantasy life! This story was a good creative exercise in the "what if game." What if a regular, middle class guy sold everything to buy a nice set of clothe...
Thanks Hannah! I'm one of those stupid people that would do this. ;)