Pushing the envelope in VEGAS

Not many strike it rich in a casino, but just when you think you're on a roll, the chips turn against you

I know. It's been a long week. After my exquisite cliff hanger last Sunday, I am back again to finish the tale of my trip to Las Vegas and the strange set of circumstances that erupted in the middle of the night there.

ILLUSTRATION: KANOKTHIP KHUNTEERAPRASERT

Just in case you're a Spectrum geek looking to become a Brunch aficionado - and are thus trawling these pages for the first time - here's a brief rundown of the story so far:

"The year is 1999, and stylish columnist Andrew Biggs is staying at the prestigious Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. At 4am he finds a telephone alcove in a deserted part of the casino. As he shifts one telephone book out of the way, he spies a thick envelope wedged underneath. On the front of the envelope is scrawled: "Bob here it is. All 1,420 bucks of it. Hope you put it to good use. Susan." In a few seconds our stylish columnist weighs his options. Should he hand the envelope over to security? Should be take the money and run? And if he does, is his life on the line? NOW READ ON!"Was this drug money? My greatest fear was that if I took the money, some terrible chain of events would end up with my feet in concrete shoes at the bottom of the Las Vegas River. Then I remembered - Las Vegas is in a desert. There is no river! Adrenalin rushed into every nook and cranny, every crack and crevice of my body as I stared at that envelope. Fifteen hundred bucks! Right there in front of me, without having to do any chants or prayers or manifestations or, best of all, not having to waste any time on feelings of gratitude.

Last week I asked you what you'd have done in this situation and I've had a lot of responses. They have revealed the true nature of my readers and let me tell you, we Brunch aficionados are perhaps not as moralistic as the Spectrum geeks. Not one person suggested I take the envelope straight to the nearest charity and donate it. Nobody suggested I ask security to make an announcement over the PA system for Bob to meet me at the bar in 10 minutes. Nobody thought to suggest treating the envelope like drugs and "just walk away" without getting involved.

Instead, your reaction was unanimous in favour of casting a furtive glance around to make sure the coast is clear, surreptitiously shoving the envelope into my pocket, and walking off.

That is exactly what I did.

One moment the envelope was under the Las Vegas yellow pages, and the next it was in the pocket of my badly stitched Pratunam-tailored smoking jacket.

I figured the safest place to be was where there were lots of people. I walked quickly towards the gaming tables, all the while steeling myself for a bullet in the back from Bob's silencer. Then I changed my mind; I needed to get to my hotel room upstairs, just in case Bob or one of his evil henchmen was tailing me.

I walked towards the hotel elevators. A burly security man was standing there. I tried to look as normal as possible as I walked past, despite my heart beating louder than Sukhumvit at peak hour.

"Excuse me sir."

It was the security guard. He stepped in front of me and touched my arm.

Oh God, this was it. In that split second my whole insides fell to my feet and it took all the strength I had not to lose control of my bowels. I should have figured it was too good to be true. The game was up. If only I'd taken another route rather than this one. If only I'd expressed gratitude for my windfall. If only I'd been a better son. If only I'd ...

"May I see your room key please?" he asked politely.

Was that all? You want to see my room key? What about the stolen envelope with the wad of cash in my suit pocket - you don't want to see that? I had feelings of warm milky affection for the guy and wanted to hug him, but thought better of it and instead whipped out my room key and he waved me through.

I was in the elevators going back up to my room, the thick envelope throbbing in my pocket. The doors opened on my floor - thankfully there was nobody lurking in the corridor waiting to ambush. With a shaking hand I pulled out my room key and fumbling around finally managed to get it into the lock (it was a card, actually, but the key thing is a lot more dramatic sounding) and got inside my room.

It was just after 4am. I sat on my bed, took a deep breath and smiled. I contemplated going down a few doors to my friends Scott and Shawna's room to tell them the good news. I had already decided the money would pay for our trip with money left over for sure. We probably had a thousand bucks to play with that following day. But in the end I figured the news could wait for breakfast.

I am not a person who raids hotel mini bars easily - anybody who charges five bucks for a Mars Bar should be tied up with thick white rope and castrated - but on that particular morning I took out a can of beer and drank it, just to calm my nerves and to toast my uncanny good luck.

Drinking that beer on my own, as I sat looking out over the deserted Las Vegas Strip, was one of my memorable life moments. I wondered what Bob was doing now. Was he aware he'd forgotten his envelope? Maybe he'd been shot dead by one of Susan's hitmen. And where was Susan? What happened between the two of them that caused them to part ways so acrimoniously and expensively?

I fingered and pressed and prodded that envelope as I contemplated this. It felt good to be alive; to be a young, attractive Australian flushed with unexpected monetary gain in a wacko town in the middle of the desert. With that fortuitous thought I tore open the envelope.

And gasped.

Inside were 15 scraps of National Enquirer magazine pages, cut up into the shape of dollar bills.

I remained in that tableau for a good minute, like the closing frozen scene of a TV show when the credits start to roll - Andrew, holding the torn-open envelope, examining the worthless shreds of National Enquirer made to look like money.

Then I started to laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh.

I still have that envelope at my house in Samut Prakan, in a drawer where I keep things I can't bear to throw away. The entire episode remains a mystery to me. Was the envelope placed beside the phones deliberately in order to trick somebody? Hardly likely. Five-star casinos generally don't prank their customers.

Or was Susan tricking Bob, handing over an envelope that Bob thought contained cash? Did Bob realise this and thus discard the envelope quickly by the phones before running out to track down Susan? But how could that be the case, considering the enveloped hadn't been opened?

I will never learn the answers. So did I learn any valuable life lessons from this episode? Hmmm, let's see ... that I'm greedy? That when it comes to ill-begotten money I have no morals? I've been cognizant of that for a long time. Look on the bright side; imagine if I'd done the right thing and handed it over to security only to find it full of National Enquirer? Talk about loss of face!

Eleven years later I still wonder how that envelope happened to be where it was that early morning in Las Vegas.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to Vegas once again. And Bob or Susan, if you're reading this, stay the hell away from me while I'm there.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Andrew Biggs
Position: Writer