[Read I. The Dealer, II. Mr. Razak Aziz, or start with the Intro]
III. It’s Fine/ It’s Not Fine
Somehow I’d been roped into something pretty serious, that much I’m sure of…
Before I have time to think it through, Mr. Razak Aziz enters the tiny room. He can barely fit and he sounds like thunder clobbering to his seat across from me. Mr. Razak Aziz’ laugh shakes the room. I’m shaking too, but I’m not laughing. Mie is still holding my arm, wide-eyed.
I feel nothing but panic.
Mr. Razak Aziz is average height, but above average weight making him appear very round. He’s wearing an expensive looking gray business suit and carrying a briefcase. The briefcase is made out of snakeskin. His hair is black and greasy, and is slicked over to hide his minimal balding. It’s fine.
“Mr. Aziz this is Ms. Niko from New York City. She is here to expand her family’s business. I’ve known her father many, many years. Good man. Good gambler. And this is Mie, her travel guide while she is in Cambodia.” He lowers his voice as if telling a secret, “Mie is very sweet but can not speak much English.” Mie smiles and waves.
My travel guide? My family business? I feel like I’m about to royally lose my fucking shit. I can feel my eyes watering from lack of blinking. I should be saying, “Hello nice to meet you but I was just headed out the door. Thank you and see you next time Epol.” But shaking in terror, all I can think is just play it cool.
“Is that right, Ms. Niko?” Mr. Aziz has a high-pitched sing-songy voice. He does not seem the slightest bit suspicious of me or the situation. All I should be seeing is red flag/red flag/red flag.
The ash from my cigarette falls all over the table. I finally blink and clear my throat, “why yes, that’s right. I’m a long way from home in New York. I live in Brooklyn actually, right by the lovely Prospect Park. Have you been there Mr. Aziz? Oh you must go, especially in the autumn, it’s divine.” My voice does not sound like me.
“Yes, many time I have been to New York. For business. I work at PETRONAS you know.” He pulls out a laminated PETRONAS badge with his name and photo on it. Like Epol, he seems to wear it like a badge of honor.
“Yes… oil…” is all I say.
“Mr. Razak Aziz is very excited for the chance to play against an American” says Epol as he writes “Mr. Razak” and “Ms. Niko” at the top of a sheet of paper and draws a big line down the middle. Mr. Razak vs. Ms. Niko.
I’m blown away by how fast this is all happening.
“I am from Brunei Ms. Niko. My country, very small, have you heard of it?”
“Yes, Mr. Aziz I was just in Sarawak visiting friends for a few weeks. I love the island of Borneo. I love the people. The food and the culture. I did not visit Brunei, but I know it is very rich in oil.”
“Yes, but very, very religious. I am Muslim, but I am bad Muslim!” he says this like a mischievous schoolgirl. “I like boys like you like boys. But I am a boy, not a girl.”
“Yes, that’s ok Mr. Aziz. Where I live we like to practice acceptance for everyone. Have you been to San Francisco? You would love it there.” I imagine bringing this slug of a man to one of my favorite queer nightclubs.
“Yes my boyfriend and I have had fun in San Francisco”. Mr. Aziz looks like he is going to tell me a story about San Francisco, but Epol interrupts, “Ms. Niko says she will open with two hundred dollars. Put your money on the table, Ms. Niko.” His eyes command my every move. I watch my own hands place Epol’s two hundred dollars on the table. As soon as I do it I am confused why I did it. I’m confused how I did it.
It’s not my money though, it’s fine. I probably shouldn’t have come here. It’s fine.
It isn’t fine.
Suddenly it’s all starting to make sense. (Or so I thought)
This clever uncle Epol is using me to swindle jolly Mr. Razak Aziz out of his riches. I’m an easy target. A foreigner, traveling alone, first day here, never played Blackjack before, eager to chat, eager to help, easily swooned by intellectual debate. I had fallen right into the trap.
Epol needs a partner in crime. I am not willing to be that partner, yet here the fuck I am, with my new voice, taking on my new luxurious personality, in my old black jeans, wrinkly black t-shirt, septum ring, and that god awful hat. I hadn’t brushed my hair, brushed my teeth or glanced in a mirror in two days. I looked nothing like a wealthy business woman from New York City. Nothing. This Mr. Aziz must not be the sharpest tool in the toolbox, if you know what I mean.
He opens his briefcase and takes out a stack of what appears to be crisp one hundred dollar bills. Yep, Benjamins.
“I’ll put down $10,000”, he sings. The stack hits the table with a loud thud. My entire body feels like a loud thud. I’m dehydrated. I’m sleep-deprived. I’m jet-lagged. I’m confused.
There’s a good chance I’m drugged.
I’m fucking fucked.
But before I am truly aware of any of these things, the game has already begun…