Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Bernoulli Casino

The top floor of the Hilbert Hotel was given over to the Bernoulli Casino. There were warning signs all over the hotel instead of adverts, letting people know that this was the Bernoulli Casino; red lettering on black paper in a typeface that kept making my skin crawl. I annoyed the receptionists so much by asking them what the typeface was called that they eventually put a divert on my room phone so that it went straight to the laundry-room and a veteran of the Vietnam War.
"There's laundry in the fox-holes!" he'd bellow when I dialled 0. "Immerse yourself, and don't come back above the water-line until your lungs are fit for bursting!"
I wrote a lot of it down, thinking I could publish it as a self-help book for the hard of thinking.
Tina eventually decided that if there was a casino on the top floor then we should go and check it out. I pointed to the nearly-ubiquitous posters (in a hotel that can accommodate an infinite number of mathematicians there were, naturally an infinite number of such posters) and she shrugged and said that it was a stupid name for a casino, but that she'd wanted to see it anyway.
I quietly remarked that I thought it was a very informative name and put my wallet, watch and socks in the room-safe. The combination, naturally, was the sum of two cubes in two different ways, and coincidentally the cost of the taxi from the airport, if converted into Dong at the most popular exchange rate for the 1990s.
The lift didn't go the top floor; the button for it was replaced with a warning. Tina grumbled her way up the last flight of stairs, which were rickety and splintered, with no stair carpet but extra strange stains. The door to the casino looked like a service door to the laundry, and I braced myself for a howl of "Incoming!" as Tina opened the door.
Beyond the door, the casino was opulent beyond even Tina's wildest dreams. Her face lit up like a roman candle, and I closed my eyes, reopening them just a slit wide to try to counter the dazzle.
The gaming tables were made of solid gold polished to a high lustre; the baize was tiny, perfect lawns of cricket-worthy grass, the carpets on the floor were so deep I was still sinking into them; the slot machines were chrome-adorned platinum, and a small black-and-white sign discreetly informed me that the fire-prevention system was filled with Wolf Blass Champagne.
Tina eeked like a child at Christmas and waded through the carpet to the cashier, who was reclining in sybaritic luxury at a little booth. I kept looking around. Almost everyone in the casino looked both weary and desperate. Chips would be cast in ever increasing amounts from the large piles in front of them, each win caused a barely-visible smile. Guest-managers dressed in dresses so diaphanous they would have embarrassed a goddess provided food and drink -- whole lobsters stuffed with caviar, rare birds baked in pastry shells intended to be eaten whole; an entire side of beef with a bucket of gravy, and Nebuchadnezzars of champagne accompanying them all.
I looked back. Tina was gone, already stood at a roulette table with a pile of chips as tall as her arm was long. I sighed, and turned around.
"Leaving, sir?" A man in a slighty-shabby black suit was stood holding the door open, a smile on his face.
"Oh yes. As you keep telling us, this is a Bernoulli casino. Which means, unless I'm thinking of completely the wrong type of process, that you can't leave until you have exactly the same amount of money as you came in with."
"That's correct, sir."
"Well, I came in with none."
"And no socks, it would appear."
I nodded, and his smile widened. "It's a delight to see anyone leave, sir," he said. "Mostly we just carry them out when they die, and notify their estates of their debts."
"Hence how you can afford the luxury here?"
"Yes. The wage bill for the midgets who mow the lawns in place of the baize alone is ludicrous. We really need to find some child-labour."

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