“Do I look like James Bond?” I asked.
“Yes,” said my girlfriend.
I was pleased. “Really?” I said.
“No, not really,” she said.
I don’t know how James Bond did it. Whenever you see him beside the roulette table, his suit is always freshly ironed. Where does he get the time to get it dry-cleaned? I’d put on weight since the last time I’d worn my jacket, and it had been folded and scrunched through three airports on two continents. I tried to steam it out with a kettle in my hotel room, which I think is Bond’s technique as well, but I still looked like a sausage that has been genetically modified to look somehow overstuffed and wrinkled at the same time.
This was a blow to my plans. My plans were to break the bank at Monte Carlo, and to do that, I needed to look like James Bond.
We were in Monaco, which is really just a cheesy seaside Dainfern for international tax dodgers and suntanned Euro-creeps and people with stupidly big boats, but the casino is something else. It stands up on the Monte Carlo cliff, with a green domed roof you can see from the sea, and it has style.
Unless you’re there to marry a Grimaldi prince or drive in the Grand Prix, the casino’s just about the only thing to do in Monaco, but you have to do it properly. You don’t want to look like one of those gawking tourists with their backpacks and camera-phones and comfortable shoes. You want to look like an international playboy, so that you can be welcomed into the salon privé with the other international playboys and offered free champagne and flirt with Italian countesses while you casually work the special fool-proof roulette system you’ve spent years devising for precisely this moment.
I didn’t know exactly what an international playboy looks like nowadays, so I was trying for James Bond.
“Good luck with the Italian countesses,” said my girlfriend.
I felt confident until we saw the cars parked outside. I’ve never seen so much money on four wheels. There were Bentleys the size of city blocks and Ferraris as long as aircraft carriers. There were cars that could go underwater. It was the Nkandla of parking lots. I felt less and less like an international playboy.
We walked in, trying to look casual and carefree and rich. It seemed to be working. No one stopped us. We found ourselves in a grand hall with an elegant bar down one side and an ornate ceiling with chandeliers. A man in a tuxedo spun a glittering roulette wheel. It was grander than anywhere I’d ever been.
“We’re in, baby,” I hissed out the side of my mouth.
“No we’re not,” she said.
I looked around. There were two Americans in Bermuda shorts at the craps table. There was a group of Japanese women wearing white hats and sunglasses and Crocs. Someone was taking a selfie in front of a gilded mirror. She was right: we were only in the lobby, where they allow the day-trippers. At the far corner of the room was a door to an inner chamber, where a man in a dark suit politely turned away a tourist in tracksuit pants.
“Just act like it’s no big deal, “ I muttered out of the side of my mouth as we approached the door.
“Are you sure international playboys talk out of the side of their mouths?” asked my girlfriend. She was not helping my stress level.
I tried to breeze past the bloke at the door. I took a step into the next room. The ceilings were higher, the ornaments more fabulous, the people better looking or at least better dressed. Even the air smelt richer in there. Yes! I thought. This is it.
Then the man at the door took a closer look at my shoes and decided they weren’t sufficiently shiny or uncomfortable and asked me for 25 euros.
“Twenty-five euros!” I spluttered, which was a mistake. International playboys do not splutter.
“Each,” he said. “Fifty for both of you.”
“You want me to pay you nearly one thousand rand so that I can go inside that room and give you more money?” I demanded.
He gave me a look as though to say, “What is this ‘rand’?”
“Let’s go,” said my girlfriend. “This has been fun.”
And I was about to go when two blokes with beautiful women breezed past us. They seemed to float on a subtle cloud of e cologne. The bloke at the door nodded respectfully and waved them past and didn’t ask them for entrance fees.
I was about to swear out loud in Afrikaans, when I realised that one of the blokes seemed familiar.
“Was … was that Daniel Craig?” I said.
The doorman looked as though he wished the only people he ever had to deal with were Daniel Craig and personal friends of Daniel Craig.
“I don’t think it was Daniel Craig,” said my girlfriend. “He was too tall.”
But it was too late. I handed over the money and dragged her inside before the doorman could put the price up. The room was beautiful, all pink and gold with oil paintings of naked women smoking cigarettes. No Daniel Craig. I think I saw him disappear through a door to an even further chamber. There was another doorman at the door. He seemed to shake his head at me across the room.
I ordered two martinis at the bar. The bill made me sag to my knees as though someone had dropped a sandbag on my head from their private plane.
“Whoops!” said my girlfriend, looking at her empty glass. “I spilt mine. Let’s get another.”
I approached a roulette table. “Minimum bet one hundred euro, m’sieur,” said the charming croupier. He looked more like an international playboy than I did. His teeth shone in the low light. I looked like a bundle of depressed laundry. I checked my wallet. Moths flew out of it.
“Do you want red or black?” I asked my girlfriend.
“That’s your system?” she said. She had spent many years hearing about the system I was going to use to break the bank at Monte Carlo, but the thing about roulette systems is they take some time to work.
“I don’t have a system any more,” I whimpered. I was a broken man.
We put it all on black and the croupier spun the wheel. I clutched the edge of the table with tears in my eyes.
My girlfriend kissed my cheek.
“You do look a little bit like James Bond,” she whispered.