Guest Review House Always Wins: Vegas Ghost Story by Brian RouffGuest review by Sol A. Anna, a reporter in a small town gets an interview with an up and coming band and her life changes forever. She falls for the bass player, Aaron. Aaron sweeps Anna off her feet and brings her to his hometown of Las Vegas. They marry, she is pregnant and they buy a fixer upper. Anna gets to work on the house so she can nest before the baby arrives. She did not count on having someone keep her company though, a ghost. Meanwhile a developer is trying to buy up properties in her area and is willing to do anything to get residents to sell. However, he underestimates Anna! She will not be bullied! This is a new take on Las Vegas. Rather than focusing, where everyone focuses, Brian Rouff focuses and the part of the city where people actually live and raise families. He dazzles us with characters that leap from the page and a alluring plot rather than glitz and glamour. It makes for a delicious recipe to sink your eyes and senses into. I highly recommend ‘The House Always Wins’ and give it 5 out of 5 stars.
Excerpt House Always Wins: Vegas Ghost Story by Brian RouffWe hopped into Aaron’s car, some kind of faded blue Japanese hatchback from the early 2000s that looked like his budget suite on wheels, and drove to Mandalay Bay, a golden-glass monstrosity on one end of the Strip. I had no idea which end, because I hadn’t been in town long enough to know my directions. The sun had already gone down, so that was no help, although it gave the illusion of cooling off a degree. Not that it mattered. Before leaving Aaron’s, he’d insisted I change into light sweats (“buffet pants,” he called them in preparation for the orgy of eating we’d be engaging in later) and comfy sneakers to help with all the walking. I had briefly wandered through the Greektown Casino Hotel in Detroit right after turning 21. (I always thought it interesting how they listed “Casino” first, a sliver of honesty in a profession built on something else.) But nothing prepared me for Mandalay. It was like going to my first Major League game after watching Double A. You could tuck the entire Greektown building into one corner and hardly notice. The casino, from the carpet and wall coverings to the lighting, matched the golden hues of the exterior, possibly some sort of subliminal message to gamblers that fortune lurked just around each corner, the push of a button away. I clutched Aaron’s hand tightly as we wove our way through a pack of freshly sunburned conventioneers still wearing their “Hi, My Name Is _____” stickers, past drunks slurring rude comments to drunker drunks stabbing at the wrong buttons on ATM machines while others waited behind them for their infusions of cash, and stopping briefly to gawk at a gaggle of Asian tourists whooping it up in front of a long row of a You Might Be a Redneck slot machines. From somewhere in the distance, a cheer rose from a group of mostly male gamblers flanking some kind of table. “Dice,” Aaron said, noticing me stare in that direction, trying to figure out what was going on. “They call it ‘craps,’ but I call it ‘claps’—whenever there’s a big noise in the pit, it’s coming from a crap table.” “Pit?” “Oh, yeah, that’s the area in the middle of the casino with all the table games.” “Crap. Pit. It all sounds a little too Freudian for me.” No sooner had the noise died down than I heard groans from another table, the vagaries of Lady Luck captured in a single quick sequence. Meanwhile, a crew of young women, one wearing a pink T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Bride” and the others featuring “Bride’s Bitches,” stumbled around like fawns in heels they hadn’t worn since senior prom. From time to time, the sounds of simulated coins hitting imaginary trays filled the air; Aaron had to explain that the newer generation of slots took greenbacks, but nary a coin. Then he handed me a twenty and pointed me in the direction of an I Dream of Jeannie machine. “It’s my favorite,” he said. “Wanna know why?” “I have a feeling you’re going to tell me anyway.” “I like to hear her say, ‘Yes, Master.’” “You’re a barrel of laughs tonight.” I gave him a playful nudge. “Go ahead. Take it for a spin. You might hit the jackpot.” “I can’t. Where I’m from, twenty dollars is a lot of money. I know how hard it is to make.” “Well, you can’t come to Las Vegas without giving it a try. You could be walking around lucky and not know it.” I studied the machine for a moment. “I have no idea where to put this.” Aaron indicated a slot where you inserted the bill. But when I slid it in, the machine spit it right back out. “Look, that’s gotta be some kind of sign,” I said, relieved I wouldn’t be wasting his money after all. “It’s a sign the paper’s too wrinkled.” He reached in his wallet and extracted a newer twenty, which the machine was only too happy to swallow with a digital gulp. “Now push the Spin button. Or you can go old school and pull the handle. Either way.” Despite my misgivings, I knew I’d better get it over with. I gave the handle a good hard yank and watched as the colorful reels spun round and round while the Jeannie theme blared like a calliope. After a few seconds, they came to rest with a haphazard assortment of images: a palm tree on an island, a jewel, a magic lamp, the Taj Mahal, and Jeannie herself astride a flying carpet. “Is that good?” I asked. Aaron shook his head. “Try again.” I did as I was told with the same result. In less than two minutes, the twenty was history, presumably on its way to line the pockets of Mr. Mandalay himself. I stood up and backed away from the machine like it was a wasp’s nest. “That was, like, no fun at all.” “Good,” Aaron said, revealing his true intentions. “Sometimes when people hit it big the first time, they get hooked. They think it’s easy. But look at this place. It wasn’t built by giving money away. Sure, they’ll throw someone a bone from time to time, but only to keep the fantasy going. It’s good for marketing.” I regarded the football-field-sized room and realized Aaron was right. Despite sporadic bursts of excitement, most of the players appeared bored, desperate, drunk, or worse. A few younger gamblers seemed like they were trying way too hard to have a good time, downing shots of a crimson substance that reminded me of cough syrup and calling each other “Dude” and “Bro” and “Yo” in testosterone-fueled rasps. It reminded me of the first sorority party I attended in college. Which was also the last sorority party I attended in college. Earlier, near the ATMs, I’d noticed a sign with the headline, “When the Fun Stops,” and an 800 helpline number for problem gamblers. For most of these folks, the fun appeared to have stopped before it began. “I get the feeling that people like the idea of Las Vegas better than they like the actual place,” I said to Aaron. “And that’s what makes you an astute chronicler of the human condition.”
Living-Las-Vegas.com. On a personal note, Brian is married with two grown daughters and five grandchildren. In his spare time he enjoys movies, playing guitar and the occasional trip to the casino buffet line. Website: http://brianrouff.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrianRouff Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BrianRouffAuthor/