Million Dollar Girl
Version Date: October 11, 2008
“Ever been to Vegas before?” Miller asked, as they sat down at a comfortable booth with high backs, just right for some cozy conversation.
“No,” said Gina. “This is such an amazing place. Listen to all the money being made.” The restaurant was open on the casino side so that the noise and bustle could be seen and heard. “Hear those coins plunking into the bins? People seem to be doing pretty well. After lunch we should try to win something.”
“If you want to,” said Miller, without much enthusiasm. Miller prided himself on being an educated man who believed in acting on the basis of reason. He knew the odds of many of the games played in casinos, and he understood the laws of probability. “Casinos are not built by philanthropists,” he had once heard a colleague remark. “Casinos are built by people hoping to get lucky.” Still, he thought, he would not constrain Gina from a little irrational, wishful thinking. She was entitled to lose a few dollars indulging a foolish pursuit. After all, her thinking ability was weak and he could not expect her to be reasonable or to listen to a lecture on probability when all she had in mind was fun. And, who knows? Perhaps she would win something.
Soon the waitress was with them. Miller ordered a steak sandwich and Gina ordered a Chinese chicken salad.
“Want some champagne?” Miller asked.
“No, thanks,” answered Gina. Then looking at the waitress, she said, “Just water, please.”
Miller thought to himself, “This isn’t even going to be as expensive as I thought.”
While they waited for their food, the pair talked about what kind of shows they might want to see during their brief stay. There were circuses, singers, magic acts, floor shows, comedians—seemingly an endless number of choices. Instead of deciding right then, they agreed to find more information and get tickets later.
Soon their food was delivered and the conversation dropped off to an occasional “This is good,” or “How’s your food?” as they began to eat.
A few minutes later, Gina gulped and said, half covering her full mouth, what sounded like, “Oopth. Thorry.” She smiled at Professor Miller girlishly.
“Sorry for what?” asked Miller.
Swallowing, Gina said, “For stepping on your shoe.”
“You didn’t step on my shoe.”
“Oh? Isn’t that—” moving her leg under the table, “—your shoe?”
“No. You must be hitting the center post of the table.” He reached under and tried to touch the post, but there was none. The table was cantilevered out from the wall. “Is there something down there? Someone left their shoes?”
Gina looked under the table, then reached down and came back up holding a fat leather wallet. It was almost too fat to stay closed and easily fell open on the table. The way it had been found, its fatness, and the fact that it flopped open to reveal the inside, made the wallet an object of instant curiosity. Miller and Gina saw a driver’s license, several credit cards, a hotel receipt, some business cards, and a lot of cash.
“Whose is it?” asked Miller.
“The driver’s license has the name Trimmer on it,” Gina said. “And so do the business cards. Look, ‘Larson E. Trimmer, Field Representative, Confidential Brokerage Services, Inc.’” She showed Miller one of the cards. In the bottom corner was the logo of the New York Stock Exchange.
“Some kind of stock broker, evidently,” said Miller. “And pretty successful,” he added, looking at the thick stack of bills. Gina glanced around the room to see that no one was either walking up to reclaim the wallet or looking at what she was doing. Satisfied, she slipped the pile of currency from the wallet. She gave a girlish laugh and a shrug the way she might have if she had been breaking into the principal’s office in high school.
As she began to count by placing the bills on top of each other, she said with surprise, “Look at this.” She counted the money quickly. There were twenty bills, each a hundred-dollar denomination.
“That’s two thousand dollars,” Gina said with awe in her voice. “I’ve never seen that much cash all in one place. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a hundred dollar bill before. Are they real?” She handed them to Miller.
Miller looked them over briefly. “Yes, they’re real, all right.”
“Oh, look,” Gina said enthusiastically, “here’s his room number.” She had the hotel slip in her hands. “Room 13-208. We can take it back to him.”
“What’s that on the back?” asked Miller. As she had held the slip up to read it, he had seen some writing on the back.
Gina turned the slip over. “Just a lot of letters and numbers. Doodling, probably.” She handed it to Miller.
“This isn’t doodling. It’s some kind of code.”
“Do you think he’s a spy?” Gina asked, her eyes widening.
Professor Miller suppressed the urge to tell Gina how naïve he thought she was. “Cute but clueless is just about right,” he thought to himself. Then he said, “This isn’t a spy code. It’s a set of notes, of abbreviations. Look, these numbers are dates, today and tomorrow. And these initials are probably the ticker symbols for certain companies. And these notes, ‘buy,’ ‘sell,’ are the actions he plans to take. And these figures look like times of day. So this one seems to mean, ‘Buy FRGP today at 12:45 Pacific Time.’”
“I guess that’s why you’re a critical thinking professor,” said Gina. “It’s almost 12:20 right now. Maybe we should go call him.”
“You’re right,” said Miller, pulling out his cellular phone. “Finish up and I’ll give him a call.” Miller took another bite from his sandwich and chewed rapidly. He took out his own room reservation and got the hotel’s number. “Room 13-208, please.” Miller barely had time to grab another bite before they were connected. “Hello, Mr. Trimmer? My name’s Miller. You don’t know me, but I think I have found your wallet. What? Yes, did you lose one?” Gina could not hear the other end of the conversation, but she could discern that the man on the other end was highly animated and seemed to be speaking rapidly and excitedly. “Okay, then,” said Miller to the man, “we will be right up.” Miller pushed the disconnect button on the phone and took another bite of his sandwich. “As you might imagine,” he began, “Mr. Trimmer is quite anxious to get his wallet back. Let’s go do a good deed, shall we?”
Trimmer opened the door with enthusiasm and even hugged Miller and Gina. Then he shook their hands. He was smiling broadly. “Larson Trimmer,” he said. “Call me Lars.” The man had an instantly likeable personality, friendly and effusive. Miller and Gina introduced themselves. When Gina gave her name, Mr. Trimmer looked back at Miller with just a slightly quizzical expression.
“My niece,” Miller said.
“Glad to meet such honest folks,” Trimmer continued. “I thought I’d never see my wallet again. I was about to call the credit card companies and cancel them. But, of course, I don’t have their phone numbers handy, so I was going to have to call home.”
“We’re glad to be of help,” said Miller. “I know how I’d feel if I lost my wallet.”
“Here, here,” Trimmer said, pulling the bills out of the wallet, “take this cash as your reward. You’ve really saved my bacon today.” Gina was bug eyed. She was about to reach out for the cash reward when Miller grabbed her arm and pushed it back down.
“Thank you for the offer,” he said, “but we don’t want your money.”
“The money’s not important to me,” said Trimmer, to the surprise of his new friends. “It’s this information here that’s of enormous, time-sensitive value.” Trimmer was holding the little slip with the code numbers on it. “Please take the cash. I can’t thank you enough. The money is a pittance, a token of thanks for returning this.”
“Thank you anyway,” Gina said, trying to regain the high ground after Miller had been forced to stop her arm after the first offer. “We’re just being good Samaritans.”
Trimmer thought for a moment. “Well, then,” he said, “let me take this money, which I declare is now yours, and invest it for you. You see, I work for a syndicate that makes a nationwide play in day trading, and if you know about day trading, things move very fast.” He looked at his watch, gave a look of surprise, and began move toward the door, effectively pushing Gina and Miller out into the hallway. “In fact, I must be going right now or I’ll miss an opportunity.” He began to move down the hallway. “Tell you what. Please be my guests for dinner at the Del Oro Steak House here in the hotel. Will you meet me there at eight?”
“Ooh, I love steak,” said Gina.
“That’d be fine. Sure, steak is good,” said Miller. By this time, Trimmer had backed down the hall quickly and was almost halfway to the elevator.
“All right,” he said. “Eight o’clock. And once again, my deepest gratitude.”
Gina and Professor Miller rode the elevator down to the casino, where the pair wandered around for a few minutes looking over the many possible games. Miller stopped at a change booth and turned some bills into coins. He gave Gina two rolls of quarters for playing the slot machines. She chose one at random and sat down to feed the machine. For a few plays, the machine returned music but no money. Then, to the accompaniment of flashing lights, music, and beeping, sixteen quarters plunked into the stainless steel bin. “I won. I’m rich,” she said.
“You’re cute,” Miller said. “I’ll grant that. Rich, however, is another question. I think that once you count your coins, you’ll see that appearances can be deceiving.”
“I’m going to keep this machine. It’s lucky,” Gina said, undaunted by Miller’s negativism. She continued to feed the slot machine, one quarter at a time. She tried three at a time, but her supply of coins was reduced too quickly that way, so she returned to one-at-a-time play. A few small wins here and there kept the play going longer than Miller expected. Out of boredom, he, too, began to feed one of the machines. He was almost entirely inattentive to his task. Before lunch, his mind had been preoccupied with Gina. Now it was consumed with the strange, friendly man they had just met, a man who had tried to give away $2,000 as if it were an extra napkin at a fast-food store. Such a casual view of so much money was very interesting.
Gradually, Gina’s supply of quarters diminished, and eventually the money ran out.
“I’m broke,” she said, simply.
“Well, as long as you had fun, that’s all that matters.”
“I had more fun when I was winning. I like to win.”
“Well, of course, who doesn’t? That’s how they hook you. You come here thinking you are going to win and instead you get fleeced.”
“But I’ll bet some people win. The clever ones.”
“Luck has little to do with cleverness or skill.”
“Unless you make your own.”
“We can probably get our room now,” Miller said, no longer interested in this particular conversation. After all, he told himself, his interest in Gina was not for her philosophical insights about the operations of chance.
Their room was ready, and soon they were on the seventeenth floor looking out a window with a view out over the city toward the back of the hotel. Miller put his hand on Gina’s back as they stood there.
“Oh, look at the huge pool area,” said Gina. “Let’s go down there and get some sun. I brought lotion and everything.”
Gina spread out the large pool towel on a chaise lounge and Miller took one next to her. He watched her as she began to put suntan lotion over her arms and legs, but became conscious that he might be too obviously staring at her, so he turned to the magazine he had brought. He glanced over occasionally to observe her progress. At the last glance, Gina looked at him and reached the bottle toward him. Miller was about to decline, thinking that he would cover up before long and therefore not need lotion, when Gina spoke.
“Want to put some lotion on my back?” she asked. Miller put down his magazine, took the bottle and began to squirt some lotion into his palm. Gina turned onto her stomach and unhooked the top of her bikini so that Miller could spread the lotion over her back without bumping into the strap.
As he spread the lotion over her warm, soft skin, he felt amazed at his good fortune.
“I really ought to be a gambler,” he thought. “With this kind of luck, I’d break the house and own one of these hotels in a day or two.” Then he told himself that it really was not luck but the result of a carefully reasoned calculation on his part. He preferred to think that he deserved the successes of his life because of his intellectual prowess, his own ability. Attributing success to luck or good fortune diminished the credit due him. His book, for example, was, frankly, one of the best books in the area. It was no fluke. He was a good writer, a good thinker, and he had written a book that deserved to sell well. And the girl? Why should she not find him interesting—and yes, even suave—enough for an outing to Las Vegas? Perhaps a small amount of her interest was based on his good looks, but he largely discounted that, thinking himself modest for doing so.
“Thanks,” Gina said. “That’s perfect.” She snuggled down into the chaise lounge, finding a comfortable position for a long tanning session. “Maybe you can give me a back rub later.”
Miller smiled. “This is all part of your plan, isn’t it?”
Gina lifted her head, opened her eyes and looked at him, smiling. She gave him a curious little wink and put her head back down.
Miller watched her for a minute. Her breathing was relaxed and regular. She might even be falling asleep. He remembered the comment of one of his woman colleagues who had caught on to his habit of romancing his students. “She’s wrong,” he thought. “I haven’t stuffed a sock into the mouth of my conscience. I’m not taking advantage of anyone. This girl knows what she’s doing.”
He picked up his magazine again. It was a tourist magazine, listing all the shows in town, together with advertisements for hotels, buffets, and various amusements. He began to look for a show that interested him. He turned the pages slowly, pausing long over each advertisement. After a look at an ad, he would look up to gaze out over another part of the pool area.
Around the pool were dozens of chaise lounges, most of them filled on this warm day with sunbathers like himself and Gina. Only a few people lay unoccupied, doing nothing but soaking up the sunshine that shines on everyone alike. Most people seemed to have something to do while their tans increased. Several people talked on cell phones, a few taking notes as they did so, as if conducting serious business. It was still a workday for most people, and so it seemed that many here by the pool were at work. But they were fortunate enough to work in surroundings like no office could provide. One man was reading a small blueprint. Another, poor drone, sat with a notebook computer at a table in the shade. Those who did not need to work today read novels or, like himself, magazines. Many sipped on creatively made tropical drinks. A few even had food.
Miller paid special attention to the young women. Some in the pool and several sunbathing were quite attractive. He began to play a mental game, asking himself which of them he might be willing to trade Gina for and why. After a few minutes, he smiled at himself and went back more seriously to the magazine. He found a show that looked interesting. “The Amazing Khan,” the ad said. A photograph showed a man in a highly theatrical costume, designed perhaps to remind the viewer of Genghis Khan, the medieval Mongolian ruler. With him in the photograph were several circus animals, lovely assistants, and an enormous amount of cash, strewn all over the stage. Miller’s curiosity was engaged. “In the world of magic,” the ad said, “nothing is as it appears—or disappears! You will not believe your eyes!”
Miller read the latter claim and thought, “No, it’s the cliché I won’t believe. I think I’ll believe my eyes. We’ll see if my eyes are better than your tricks.” He loved the idea of a challenging intellectual game, where he could pit his analytic mind against the trick of the magician. How many tricks could he figure out simply by thinking about how they must be done?
“Rated the number one show in Las Vegas!” the ad concluded.
“I imagine that pretty much every show is rated number one by someone,” thought Miller, using his critical thinking. “You see, oh Khan, I have already figured out one of your tricks. Besides that, a number one rating is something of an ad populum fallacy. Popularity is no guarantee of quality. Still, a magic show would be interesting. An interesting thought problem.” He looked over at Gina, who was still lying on her stomach, eyes closed as if asleep.
“How about a magic show tonight?”
“Okay. It’s at the casino across the street. We can even walk.”
“Are you going to turn over and cook the other side or just broil your back?”
“I don’t want you to get sunburned.”
Go on to Chapter 13
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