I watch the referee inspect the bullet against the light. The man sitting opposite me does not move, his hands resting evenly on the table.
We are in a basement lit by a single bare bulb hanging steadily above a metal rectangular table. I am at one end, my opponent is at the other. The referee sits on my right in the middle, facing the darker, greater part of the room. There, I can make out the ten ‘sponsors’ – all wearing uniform overalls, sunglasses and headwear.
I reach forward and drink the whisky in front of me. I haven’t slept for two days but my senses are sharp, my body tense. I look at the man opposite me. He is Asian, wearing a dark red shirt and sunglasses. He is holding himself straight in his chair.
One of us will die tonight, I think.
Plastic is spread out on the floor. I push my chair back an inch or two, kicking the bucket under the table, put there in case I vomit.
“Gentlemen,” says the referee, “welcome to the Den.” He is addressing the sponsors. “Today’s players are an American,” he gestures towards me, “and a Chinese. Today’s rules of Russian roulette: one bullet, five empty chambers, re-spin after five plays. One man must die. Prize money of two hundred thousand US dollars for the winner.”
I watch them listening. The referee continues. “The American won the toss of the coin and has elected to go first.” He picks the gun up from the table.
My body shakes and my mouth goes dry. The bullet, which he had put down next to it on a white cloth, is inserted carefully into a chamber. He shows me.
“Ok?” he asks me.
I count five empty chambers. “Ok,” I say.
He asks the same of the Asian man, and then shows it to the sponsors. They lean in, each of them quietly nodding their approval in turn. Satisfied, the referee points the gun towards the ceiling, snaps the cylinder shut and spins it.
Jesus, I think. My heart races, my breathing short.
The referee holds the gun towards me. “In your own time and good luck,” he says. I look back and forth from the ref to my opponent. I take the gun and weigh it in my hand. Cold and heavy, I think. I lift it to my head – two inches above the ear, one inch to the right and pointed slightly downwards. No pain. Instant death.
I stare across the table at the Chinese. The room is silent. I suck in a deep breath. I close my eyes tight. I fear the pain. I fight the instinct to pull the gun away. I grit my teeth and let out a desperate groan. I press my finger down on the trigger……CLICK!
I slump forward onto the table dropping the gun, my body shaking violently, sweat pouring off me. My blood courses through my body. I take huge breaths. I have done it. I look up at the Chinese. His sunglasses hide any expression.
The referee picks up the revolver, nods at me and leans over to the Chinese. “In your own time and good luck,” he says as he holds it out to him. I watch intently.
He takes the gun and immediately places it against his head. He holds himself straight. He inhales deeply, moves his head back slightly, pushes his chest forward and takes a deep breath. He waits. Bang, I urge, bang, bang, BANG!…CLICK!
The Chinese places the gun on the table and sits back into his seat. Christ, I think. I watch my opponent. He is breathing heavily.
I can’t do this again. I can’t. I watch the Chinese bend forward. He takes his glasses off, and wipes his face with his shirt. Then he puts his glasses back on and sits up. I never catch his eye.
“In your own time and good luck,” the referee says as he passes the gun back to me. Fuck you, I think as I take the gun. I am shaking. It is hot and smells of gun powder. It’s a one in four chance, I think.
I take a deep breath. I look at the referee and the Chinese. You and me. I grind my teeth and put the gun to my head. Again, I fear the pain, I fight the instinct to survive, fight the will to live…. “aaarrrrgghh” I growl and pull the trigger…. CLICK! Oh thank God. I drop the gun and sink forward onto the table. I think I’m going to vomit. I lean over. I breathe deep. I’m ok, I’m ok….
The sweat pours off my body and I wipe my face with my shirt. Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can win this. I look over at the Chinese. He has not moved.
The referee picks the gun up and turns towards the Chinese. “In your own time and good luck,” he says as he passes him the revolver.
The Chinese is hesitant. He looks at me, and back at the referee. One in three, I think. My opponent breathes deeply as takes the gun from the referee. He holds it in his palm and looks at it. Then he looks at me again.
He brings the gun up towards his head, and then abruptly sets it on the table. I watch, barely breathing. He slowly takes off his sunglasses.
I gaze into his eyes. He is young, he is scared. He picks the gun back up. He pauses. He looks at the referee and at me. I can see the gun shaking in his hand. Oh my God. I edge forwards. The Chinese’s mouth flickers, and a tear runs down his face. Oh my God. He tilts his head back and closes his eyes. No, wait, don’t! And BANG! “No!” I cry. “No, no!” I jump out of my chair.
I drop down to where he has fallen, pushing my hand against his head, but the blood pumps through my fingers relentlessly, onto my body, onto the floor. So much blood, so much.
“Oh my God,” I cry. “Help him, help him!” I look around. No one is moving. “Oh my God,” I cradle his head in his arms. “Oh my God.”
I feel the referee behind me. He pulls me back. “Have him bleed on the plastic. The blood attracts the rats.”
Photo Courtesy of olgashevtsova / Shutterstock.com