Hopefully my last one will be taken down by the moderators since it's pretty much impossible to read...sorry for the repeat!
Anyway, this is the introduction to two of the main characters in my young adult novel God-Born. Sorry its a bit longer than I intended, but thanks for your patience and your critiques!
It was misting heavily outside the glimmering walls of the casino, but the gray clouds of moisture didn’t stop the crowds that continued to pour in and out of the Pandora. The casino was a massive monument to luxury, windowed and paneled in brilliant shades of platinum with jet-black accents. Blue and violent lights artistically lit the enormous twenty-story structure and were then reflected in the enormous pools laid around the base. The lights tinged the mist violet and gave the entire night sky outside of the Pandora an almost ethereal aura. In the plaza immediately outside the grand bronze doors was a pedestal upon which was a kneeling statue of Pandora herself opening a chest full of golden poker chips. Playful figures representing Good Fortune, Luck, and Wealth danced out of the chest, grinning at pedestrians with impish smiles.
Another figure was also sitting on the pedestal, crouched against Pandora. He didn’t share the smiles of the imps or those walking by; in fact, his head was hidden by the hood of his torn and stained sweater. His clothes were dark, but they were so ragged and patched that it was impossible to tell what the original colors actually were. The figure was nearly as still as the statues, although he shifted once in a while to better escape the mist that was lightly drizzling on his head. On one such occasion, a small pool of water that had collected in Pandora’s locks spilled over and poured directly on him. The figure threw off his hood in annoyance, revealing him to be a young boy in his early teens. His dark hair was now matted down with moisture that uncomfortably ran down his face and down the collar of his t-shirt. The pedestrians hurrying past hardly gave him a second glance - it was not uncommon to see the very poor or out-of-luck hanging around the palaces of wealth on the Strip - but a few of those who looked back for a moment were unnerved at how the boy’s staring eyes seemed to reflect the blue-violet lights of the Pandora.
The boy shifted again and followed the passing crowd with quick glances. He seemed to be content to simply wait, trusting that in time he would receive some reward for his patience. He didnt’ have to wait much longer. His gaze lit upon another figure hurrying through the crowd, carrying a plastic bag under his arm. This boy was much taller and relatively older; he at least had grown a small beard and moved with a grace unusual for someone with his broad shoulders and long legs. He covered the distance across the plaza much more quickly than his casual pace suggested until he was only a few yards from the statue of Pandora. There he stopped, wiped blonde hair out of his eyes, and waited.
The boy on the statue tried to shake off the water that had collected on his jacket, gave it up as a lost cause, and stood up on the pedestal. He was much thinner than the other boy but hardly lacked energy in his movements. He stretched out his cramped muscles and with one casual step forward dropped from the pedestal and landed crouched on the red-bricked plaza. His eyes were blue now.
“Took you long enough,” he told his companion.
The older boy eyed him unsmiling. “You didn’t make things easy. When I said wait by the casino, I didn’t mean on top of the damn statue where anyone could see you. I had to circle the entire block twice to make sure that no one was watching either of us.”
The younger boy smiled at him. “You mean you actually had to look? Sounds like you’re losing your touch.”
“Don’t make jokes about this, Joey,” said his companion. “You’re being reckless. Again. We can hardly risk being seen in the open in Vegas, there are so many eyes. And a lot of them are eyes like mine, and you know that makes things even more difficult for me.”
Joey shook his head. “You worry too much. Your relatives are out there looking for corporate corruption and traitors and creepily watching people they’ve got the hots for take showers. They aren’t watching two bums among the hundreds on the Strip alone. So what did you bring? Steak? Lobster? Or-” he inhaled the smells coming from the plastic bag, “a ham sandwich on rye with cheddar cheese and onions?”
The older boy sighed and reached into the bag, taking out the exact sandwich that Joey had described. “You cheated,” he accused. Joey smiled and began wolfing the sandwich down. The other boy withdrew an identical sandwich. “You know, this would have been a lot easier if you had just made us food.”
“You know I can’t cook. I can’t even boil water without burning it,” said Joey.
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
For the first time, Joey looked agitated. “So we’re cold and hungry. We’re getting by this way, without any tricks. You know how I feel about that sort of thing. I’d rather not do anything unless we need too. If we were starving, it’d be a different story. But we’re not.” He took another large bite, melted cheese hanging from his mouth.
His friend looked away. “That’s disgusting.”
Joey gestured extravegently , talking through his full mouth. “You know Ollie, you are more than welcome to book a reservation at Le Cirque for caviar and cocktails. Let me know how that goes for you.”
The older boy grimaced and silently gnawed at his sandwich. “Don’t call me Ollie,” he muttered.
The grin on his young companion grew wider. “Oh, sorry Ol-i-ver,” he said. “St. Patrick, you’ve been eighteen for three days and you’re already severing every tie with childhood. I’m almost ashamed of you.”
Oliver smiled for the first time. “You’re one to talk, Ptolemy Josephus.”
Joey’s smile dropped. “Oliver it is then. As long as you never mention that again within hearing distance of another human being.”
“Fine then. Joey.”
A great shout echoed from the bronze doors of the Pandora, and more shouts and cheers poured out as even outside on the steps people began to applaud. Someone had apparently won a very big jackpot on the slots or the card tables. Joey glanced up at the massive structure, admiration etched across his face. Oliver mirrored his gaze.
“Why did you even bring us here?” he asked. “Did you just want to see it? I mean, I know its been all over the news in the past month, even before we...before we left.” He faced Joey directly, forcing the younger boy to look down from the dancing lights and directly at him. “But we can’t go inside. You know that. I came to Vegas with you because I agreed that it was a good place to hide in plain sight. But risking it by coming here, to the heart of everything, was completely reckless.” He eyed the statue of Pandora with distaste. “Can we please leave now? This all makes me sick actually. It reeks of...of...”
“Of home, yeah,” said Joey. “But no, I didn’t just want to see it. We’re going to live here, until we figure out where we’re headed next.”
Oliver snorted. “Don’t mess with me.” Joey smiled again and finished his sandwich. He began walking towards the bronze doors.
Oliver’s face grew stoney. He ran a couple of steps to catch up with his headstrong companion and grabbed his shoulders. Spinning him around he shook him slightly.
“Stop this now, Joey! Don’t be stupid! We can’t afford to breathe the air in that place, and I will not let you make a scene to get us in. Don’t even try it. We’re turning around and finding a quiet place to bunk. Now.”
Joey shoved Oliver’s hands from his shoulders. “I never suggested making a scene,” he said. “I intend to pay for our room like a law-abiding citizen.”
Reaching into his sweater pocket, he pulled out a thick slab of bills.
Oliver’s eyes grew wide. “Where did you get that?” he asked quietly.
Joey sneered. “I didn’t make it, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”
Oliver took Joey’s shoulders again. “I just scrounged for fallen change for three hours to buy us a couple of grocery store sandwiches and now you pull out, what, two grand? You can’t hold out on me like this, Joey. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to trust each other.”
Joey shuffled his feet. “I do trust you, and when you went off to get the sandwiches I didn’t have any of this. I wasn’t on the statue the whole time. I found people in the square who had more cash than they would ever miss and, you know, lifted here and there.
“You stole it then,” said Oliver.
Joey’s eyes grew steely gray. “We needed it more than any of them did.”
“You don’t know that.” Oliver shook his head. “Joey, I know that you were raised to think like this, but I’m trying to get you to understand. If we want to be different than the others, we have to stop acting like them.”
Joey’s eyes returned to their normal blue. “Okay fine. No more picking pockets if it will make you feel better.” He gestured towards the bronze doors. “Now can we go inside?
Oliver shook his head. “How do you think it will look when two kids walk into the Pandora and throw down a couple thousand bucks and ask for a room? The Pandora is not the place to pull a stunt like that. You know what it’s like in there.”
Joey nodded, looking up at the casino again. “Yeah. Security up to the shingles and beyond. Which makes sense, since it is the brainchild of Brandon Nuo, creepy billionaire extraordinare.” He looked back at his companion. “But I didn’t just take us here for kicks, Oliver. The Pandora is the one place in Vegas - the only place - that the GB doesn’t have its fat little fingers stuck in.”
“How can you possibly know that?” asked Oliver. “This is the one place they’d be dying to have a hand in.”
“Oh they are,” said Joey. “You said it yourself, everyone was talking about it even before we left. But no joy for the GB in the Pandora. Not yet.”
Oliver looked doubtful. Joey eyed him.
“See for yourself. Seriously, take a look. You’ll see what I mean."
Oliver sighed and closed his eyes. A sudden change came over his formerly casual stance. His muscles locked, his shoulders tensed up. His breathing came in heavy, labored gasps. Even the mist seemed to draw in around him, swirling around his feet and hands. Joey shuddered involuntarily.
Oliver's eyes snapped open. They were as misted as the dark sky above them.
Slowly, his shoulders began to relax, followed by the rest of his body. His eyes cleared, revealing nothing of what he might have seen. He looked at Joey. Bemusement was etched on his face.
“You’re right,” he said. “The GB has got no hold in there. They’ve got spies in there of course, a couple dozen on the staff alone, but they’re all very angry, and desperate. Nuo must have some pretty big connections to be keeping the GB out like this.”
Joey shrugged. “I doubt Nuo even knows about the GB. His personal assistant, maybe. Rumor has it Nuo is terrified of his own Board of Investors, and he’s taking every precaution to keep them from taking over. Only thing is, he’s hindering the GB while he’s at it.”
Oliver laughed. “Pretty paranoid for a man who made billions gambling. Good for him I say.”
Joey nodded. “So here’s the plan, I think. We go in there, hit a blackjack or poker table, make more more of this -” he waved the wad of bills, “then get some decent clothes and food and settle in. Easy, simple, lucrative.”
“Yes, but I don’t play poker or blackjack,” said Oliver.
Joey rolled his eyes. “What do you think I did at the palace all day between orders from the Council? Crochet? Mike taught me a few things about cards. And your dad taught me about cheating - which I will of course not do. Unless I am losing.” He moved towards the doors again. “Well, I’m glad we settled this. Now will you come inside?”
Oliver brushed the water out of his hair. “You’re forgetting one thing, card shark,” he said. “You’re fourteen. You have to be twenty-one to play in the casinos, and there’s no way your going to pass, even with those phony IDs you whipped up.
“Meh, that’s not a problem here,” said Joey. “At the Pandora, minors can play at the tables or the slots as long as they are accompanied by someone eighteen or above.”
Oliver’s eyes narrowed. “That’s not a rule,” he said.
Joey’s grin matched the imps on the statue of Pandora. “It is now.”
With that, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and trotted towards the warmth and light of the Pandora. He didn’t even look behind to see if his friend was following.
“I’m going to regret so much about tonight,” muttered Oliver as he hurried after his impetuous friend. Behind him, the golden statue of Pandora seemed to smile even more widely as her eyes reflected the blue-violet lights of the casino.