April 2, 2021

Atlantic City, New Jersey 

A fist that appeared to be a plump ham grabbed my collar and stopped me where I stood. I looked up to see a face that matched the hand: a round, pink one without a single hair, a grimace, and a nose that looked remarkably like a snout. 

“You lost?” the bouncer growled while tuxedos and evening gowns filed past him and his leather jacket-bound front door enforcers. 

I opened my mouth to explain, but a yelp was all I could manage as the razor sharp high heel of a woman wearing a sparkling red gown gouged my foot. 

She stumbled, snapped her head around to snort her disapproval, her nostrils flared and furious, and went on her way, into the entrance alongside a distinguished silver-haired man with an unlit cigar dangling from his lips. Behind them were two men: one wearing diamond-encrusted sunglasses, the other using a flaming fifty dollar bill to light a comically oversized cigar. All I could think was that if he was really a high roller — the kind that come to this place on a Friday night — he would’ve lit that thing with a Franklin.

“I’m with them,” I told the bouncer. There was nothing I could do about the quiver in my voice. “Over there.”

The hefty bald man followed my pointing finger and saw the group of five bedraggled men and women, dressed as nicely as they could be and still looking like slobs. 

“If you’re with the content generators,” the bouncer said, shoving me toward the group, “then stay with the content generators.”

I slumped back to what would’ve been called the press pool, back in what seems like a generation ago. We’re now known as a content generating grouping. CGG for short. Waves of newsroom arrests three years prior had brought reforms to the journalism industry. I got into the content generation industry shortly after the Newsroom Shock campaign of ’17.

“CGG folks, this way,” shouted the old lady who served as our guide for the night. The lady, Margaret, took a drag of her cigarette and motioned for us to enter. And in we went, heads down as we passed the extraordinarily rich guests, who stopped and stared at our scuffed up shoes and oversized button-down shirts. 

The Trump Prison Tower and Casino was practically buzzing. 

The din of excited chatter was close to deafening in the enormous structure that had been erected in the final months of President Trump’s first term in the White House, when temples to American excess began sprouting up from coast to coast. The federal government subsidized the massive undertaking in hopes that these odes to merciless toughness and unconstrained frivolity would spark an economy that had plunged into a veritable black hole. 

The president had shuttered the prison in Guantanamo Bay, riling Republicans who called for his impeachment. The party’s outrage ceased when President Trump unveiled plans for fourteen Trump Prison Tower and Casinos to be built across the country as a sort of public works project that would not create new roads and bridges and infrastructure, but playgrounds for the ultra wealthy. The towers would house the Guantanamo Bay detainees, along with hundreds of suspected terrorists held in secret prisons the world over. 

“It will be the greatest, most important undertaking in this nation’s history,” the president said from the Oval Office, which now had sparkling gold walls. “We will show our enemies that we win, win, win — not just on the battlefield, but at the craps table too.”

The first spectacle my content generating grouping saw was a children’s play zone, where parents would leave their spawn before engaging in the decidedly adult activities on the tower’s top floor. There were a few dozen kids, all wearing virtual reality helmets, sleek and silver, as they kicked and punched and pointed their hands here and there in the shape of a gun. The expansive room was otherwise empty, with padded floors on which kids occasionally dived and rolled. 

A content generator asked our tour guide, Margaret, exactly what we were witnessing when a roar came from a bar area across the marble floor. It was what became known as a Fantasy Bar, where people came to play fantasy sports in real time. Bar goers stared into holographic TVs and screamed at baseball games as they unfolded. One emaciated young guy with a mop of black hair sat, hunched over at the end of the bar, and wept amid the holographic players running to and fro.

Margaret cleared her throat. “These children are engaging in the latest in video game technology,” she declared in her raspy voice. “What they’re playing now is a new release in the emerging field of civics education technology — a way to experience civic engagement firsthand.”

I asked Margaret why this brood of children was kicking and punching the air in front of them. 

“Because they’re experiencing the 2017 Detroit riots,” Margaret said with a smile. “Their mission is to vanquish the terrorists who refused to work.”

“You mean the protesters at the work camps,” I said. 

“American employment stations.”

“Right.”

Off we went, up a steep escalator into the glow of the tower’s top floor, where legendary debauchery supposedly unfolded. Tales of orgies and open air drug markets and mob hits and men wrestling bears and lions were told everywhere in the years after the president built his towers. This Atlantic City location was supposed to be the most debauched — a place that would make Caligula call for order. 

But at the top of the escalator was nothing that would make you question your eyes. There was gambling, sure, but it was mostly mild mannered folks wearing less-than-formal clothes trying their hand at blackjack and craps and poker. They mostly ignored their surroundings: the walls around the gaming area were made of some sort of thick glass, with brown skinned men sitting and standing behind the see-through walls. They looked down at the ground, they paced back and forth, none of them talking. On a few walls were sprawling flat screens showing American military vehicles storming across some faraway desert, interspersed with images of lifeless bodies lying in rubble, exploding balls of orange flame, and smiling U.S. troops walking alongside happy brown children.

My content generating grouping moved through the gamblers, concerned with their growing and dwindling stacks of chips while surrounded by what Margaret called “the worst of the worst” in “the war on Muslims.”

My story assignment was “27 Ways People Live It Up At Trump Prison Tower and Casino,” so I asked Margaret if I could speak with a customer. She obliged and approached a man leaving a blackjack table. “Excuse me sir,” Margaret said, “but would you mind if this young man spoke to you? He’s creating content today and hoped to interface with some of our guests.”

The man nodded politely. “Sure,” he said. “I enjoy content.”

His name was Oliver Newton, a middle-aged black man wearing a button-down checkered shirt that stretched over a protruding belly. Oliver wore a well-groomed goatee inexplicably dyed black underneath his mostly-grey crop of hair. 

“It’s nice to get out and have a good time,” Oliver told me as Margaret nodded toward one of the security cameras overhead. “But it’s also nice to be able to do your part in the war. We should all contribute.”

I asked him what he meant. He guided me to a small screen near the edge of the glass-enclosed prison surrounding the casino games. 

“Look here,” Oliver said to me, pointing at the screen. “I can decide how the government punishes these folks, these bad guys.”

I looked over the multi-colored buttons dotting the black screen. The yellow one read “water boarding,” the orange one said “sleep deprivation,” the purple one read “electrocution.” There must have been another half dozen options that I had no time to read because Oliver, an otherwise good natured man, an ordinary man, hit that purple button.

The screen went blank and behind the glass enclosure, a door slid open and an armed guard emerged. Head to toe in body armor, the guard swung his automatic rifle behind him and grabbed a prisoner sitting with his back against the glass wall. The prisoner hardly seemed to mind being yanked up by his shoulders and dragged out of the zoo-like jail, through the door, and out of sight. The door slid shut. The other prisoners appeared unfazed, resigned to their fate. 

Oliver smiled. “It feels good, my man.”

“Feels good?”

“Yeah,” he said, “it feels good to help your country. Feels good to contribute to the cause in whatever way you can. In school I used to hear a lot about participatory democracy and whatnot. Well, this is it. We’re living it today.”

Oliver was downright jovial. A black man, happy in an America without the Voting Rights Act, an America with the nascent Freedom Party re-segregating public schools and services throughout large swaths of the South. But there Oliver stood, smitten. 

“Time’s up,” Margaret said from behind me. “Interview’s over.”

“Where do they take the prisoners?” I asked. 

Margaret lit a cigarette, took a drag and blew a puff of smoke from her nostrils. “That’s confidential, sweetheart.”

We were led to a craps table, where a group of women threw dice and screamed no matter the result. There was lots of screeching and laughing between content generators asking questions about how much these gamblers enjoyed the atmosphere of Atlantic City’s Trump Prison Tower and Casino.

One of the women, after rolling a seven that temporarily killed the table’s buzz, said she had been to the Prison Tower and Casino in Los Angeles, where prisoners had staged a hunger strike that Margaret said had not been reported for national security purposes, and should remain unreported. The gambler, a white lady firmly in the grips of softening middle age, finished her glass of wine with a flourish and said it was unpleasant to see the starving men lying around in their cages. 

“But then you remember that the president promised to kill all their families and it makes you feel better, knowing they’ll get what they deserve,” she said as another scream came from somewhere. 

I was distracted while my fellow content generators were given 60-second interviews with customers. Where were all the glamorous hordes I had seen file into the Prison Tower and Casino? Where were the striking women and exquisitely dressed men who practically reeked of money? The pristine limousines lined up outside this palace of degeneracy hadn’t dropped off Oliver and the gaggle of 40-something women shucking it up at the craps table. 

I scanned the entire floor for any hint of the man in the diamond sunglasses or the woman whose heel had spiked into my now-throbbing foot. All I saw were regular people: jeans, button-down shirts, semi-formal wear on some of the women, a few guys in casual sports jackets. What I saw was somewhere between working class and middle class, all engaged in the mindless distraction of being expert at chance, all of them ignoring the brown men shackled behind the glass, except when a gambler got tired of gambling and suggested a kind of torture for the people on the other side of the wall. 

There was escapism and indifference as far as the eye could see. 

I had almost put my quest for the rich folks out of my mind when another content generator, a mustachioed guy named Bruce from Fun Time News, asked Margaret if he could use the bathroom. Margaret considered it for a moment and pointed to the nearest men’s room, about a hundred feet down the casino, by the rows of slot machines — with names like All Lives Matter: The Game and China’s Tricky Trading — ringing and dinging without stop. 

Bruce took off, and I slid behind him, knowing that if Margaret caught me, I could be on the wrong end of a bouncer’s fist, or his boot, or the piece he surely had tucked away somewhere. But old Margaret had her head down, trying with no luck to spark her lighter for another cigarette that hung from her bright pink lips. Bruce unknowingly escorted me away from the content generating grouping. He swung a left into the men’s room and I continued forward, walking as fast as I could without looking like an escaped prisoner — which, in a very real sense, I was. 

Margaret’s smoke-ravaged voice could be heard across the casino when she realized I had left my content generating grouping. She yelled something indecipherable and flagged down a bouncer standing solemnly by an ATM. He removed his sunglasses and scanned the floor until he spotted what must have been my petrified stare as I tried without a shred of success to play it cool. 

The maze of slot machines would offer some place to run, but I could never hide from the behemoth now striding toward me, his face becoming grimmer by the step. I had but one choice, and even that one seemed destine to fail in a decidedly miserable way: I had to backtrack into the men’s room, where Bruce had gone just moments before. 

I ran into the bathroom and made a beeline for the long line of stalls, beyond the row of urinals where Bruce had camped out with a dozen other guys. I threw open a stall door, slammed it shut and slid the lock closed. I jumped on the toilet seat and tried to slow my breath and calm my heart, which slammed against my chest so hard I thought it might just burst through. 

There was a commotion at the bathroom entrance as the bull entered the pee-stained china shop. The bouncer’s footsteps were tremendously loud. I could hear every footfall from my spot on the toilet, even over the constant chatter of casino customers and whatever 80s hair metal song was blasting over the loud speakers. Each one of those almost cartoonish footfalls inspired new fear that flooded my imagination and sent my adrenal glands into a frenzy. What would happen to my poor, faultless face if this guy’s fists were anything like his feet?

One bathroom stall door slammed. Then another. Then another. Someone I could hear but not see fled one of the stalls as the marauding bouncer moved down the line, silently terrifying the clientele. 

Call it survival instinct — maybe some sort of firing in the ancient part of my brain whose only concern is staying alive — but with my potential executor two doors away from my stall, I reached up, managed to pry my fingers beneath the ceiling tile above my head, and yank it loose. I lunged off the toilet that had hid my feet and pulled myself, as best I could, into the space above the bathroom — whatever was there. My spindly arms could never have pulled off the sort of lift required to get into the above opening, but there just so happened to be fifty gallons of unfiltered adrenaline flooding every inch of my body. 

The banging of the bathroom stall doors continued somewhere in the distance as I scurried along the narrow corridor. The space was hot. I banished the thoughts of being in a metal coffin while I crawled further and further into a yawning blackness that, combined with the elevated temperature, felt like an empty version of Hell.

I scurried along on my hands and knees for a long while, and as the barking of the bouncer faded into nothing, a new sound emerged — this one in front of me. Through the darkness I moved, my mind moving away from the extraordinary physical discomfort to the almost crippling curiosity about what lied ahead of me. There was laughing and screaming, music and chatter, like a half dozen kinds of parties happening on top of each other. 

It was an oddly exhilarating mixture of terror and wonderment that gripped me as I fled from the casino area, with its normal people and normal scenes of folks doing what they do in a House of Distraction, toward something that at least sounded foreign, unusual, unseen. 

I finally reached the end of the air vent and there sat a small grate. It came off with little effort and below was a familiar scene: another toilet in an open stall. But this bathroom was nothing like the bathroom I had left with a furious bouncer on my heels. This bathroom glowed red, with a strobe effect somewhere in the room. There was no going back. Maybe the bouncer had managed to jam his thick torso through the open vent and was on his way to turn my face into a fine paste. It was too hot to stay in the vent anyway — my hair was matted onto my forehead and sweat dripped down my neck, onto a shirt that was soaked almost to my navel. 

I told myself to stop thinking just as I dropped from the opening in the bathroom ceiling. I landed hard on the toilet seat, bounced off the stall wall, and ended up face first on the floor. I shot up, and after a deep breath and an attempt to redeem my sweat-drenched hair, I walked out of the stall and into the red glow of the room. There by the door stood a butler holding a golden trey with a pile of white, blue, and red tablets. The butler wore what appeared to be a goat mask, with two enormous rubber horns protruding from its head. 

I stopped in front of the goat butler, unsure of the protocol. “What’s your pleasure?” a man said from underneath the cold stare of the goat thing. I could hardly hear the baritone voice over the unearthly sound coming from behind the bathroom door. The goat-butler motioned toward the pills. 

I forced what must have been a terribly awkward smile and said no, thanks. 

The goat-butler straightened up and looked straight ahead. “Pleasure is but a perception,” it said.

The noise, when I slowly opened the door, consumed me. The sound invaded my senses: I could hear it and feel it and see it. I swear I could taste it, though in hindsight I can’t find words to explain what I mean. It wasn’t just the music — some semblance of heavy house music and electronic notes that bombarded every part of the floor. 

What I saw was as assaulting to my senses as what I heard. I was stunned, and not in some figurative sense. I couldn’t move. I wouldn’t have been more terrified and confused if I had been transported to an alien planet. Because what I saw that night was so deeply inhuman, inhumane, anti-human. 

It was a compact area compared to the sprawling casino floor I had left minutes earlier, with a much lower ceiling, below which were about a hundred people — all adults, most middle aged or older, with a few baby faced men and women sprinkled in. Part of the scene there in this secret room of the Trump Prison Tower and Casino was as ordinary as any highfalutin shindig anywhere elites gather to talk and drink: people clanking glasses, laughing and smiling, leaning in to hear someone’s words over the raucous chatter and music.

Nothing more than moneyed folks having a good time fueled by the power of exclusivity. 

Other parts of the room were less conventional. There was a bar, tucked away in the corner of the room, composed entirely of bricks of cash, stacked on top of each other underneath a clear case in the shape of a bar. Above the bar, connected to the ceiling, was a cage, and inside that cage sat an emaciated brown-skinned man with a lengthy black beard. 

A woman was in the cage with him, dressed in nothing but an American flag thong. Her breasts were bare. Her wavy brown hair flowed across her naked white skin. She writhed to the electronic music that blasted from the myriad speakers wired into the room’s walls. The dancing woman would break from her routine to rub the crotch of her stars-and-stripes underwear against the head of the shirtless man, who sat with his head between his legs. His body convulsed as he cried silently. The men at the bar — there was the guy with diamond sunglasses, drinking straight from a champagne bottle — hollered when the dancer grinded on her fellow prisoner. Her bright red lips curled into a mischievous smile as she humped the brown man, and the bar mates screamed in delight.

They high fived. They smacked the bar made of money and told the dancer that they loved her, among other things. 

Next to the bar was a dense group standing around a clear tube that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. The group’s anticipation was palpable. I had to see what was in that tube that had attracted a throng of onlooker dressed in clothes that probably cost more than the rent I paid to live in a flat with two fellow content generators. Terrified of being spotted by any of the elites who gathered in this secret spot in the Trump Prison Tower and Casino, I lowered my head and took a few steps toward the crowd. 

There, by the skinny clear tube with a vent for a floor, a bouncer donning the familiar leather jacket escorted a man dressed in rags toward a door at the front of the tube. It swung open and the man — a grey and brown beard, hair knotted in greasy dreadlocks, the back of his long-sleeved shirt ripped from one armpit to the bottom — entered with some trepidation. The bouncer whispered something to him and closed the door. The disheveled man, his eyes round as saucers, stared back at the beautiful people waiting, watching. 

There was very suddenly money everywhere — dollar bills being blown around the clear tube by some unseen fan, perhaps underneath the vented floor. The bills went this way and that and the onlookers let out mocking cheers as the bearded man reluctantly snatched the bills out of the air. He lazily stuffed them in his pocket and plucked a few more from in front of his face. Then the man got into the little exercise — this lonely cash grab — and began leaping to nab the bills that had floated well above his head. He jumped and fell to the floor, where he scooped up some of the fallen bills. His pockets stuffed to the brim with cash, the man in the tube let out a joyous laugh. It was greeted by a loud mocking cheer from his fans, who were very clearly waiting for something to happen: something beyond this silly one-person game. 

My efforts to remain inconspicuous in this foreign land of elites and their behind-closed-doors games ended when the money grab ended. The man in the tube smiled and pumped his fists, clutching wads of money, when the swirling bills dropped in unison and a blinding orange flame exploded from the vent at the bottom of the tube. The crowd swayed back as one unit as the heat of the flame bathed the entire floor.

It roared for no more than three seconds, but it seemed to me, seated on the floor after falling back, that the burst of heat went on for an hour. 

The fire subsided and a crispy corpse lay on its back at the bottom of the tube. The onlookers let out screams of delight, like children at a birthday party. Some pointed at the charred remains of the poor dead man and laughed until they collapsed into each other. Others screamed at the dead man. Still others smirked and moved to the bar area, off in search of another drink. 

I couldn’t rip my gaze away from the blackened skeletal corpse in the tube. Smoke wafted off of his midsection. His face had melted off. Head tilted, he stared off into the beyond. His fists were still balled tight, holding whatever remained of the cash he had gripped in the waning moments of his life. 

That’s just about when I backed into the woman in the red, sparkly dress and the spike-heels that had drilled into my foot an hour earlier at the entrance of the Trump Prison Tower and Casino. She did a double take. I could see in her dark eyes outlined with a thick layer of liner that she was drunk. They were unfocused, wandering around until they fixed on my face, as I remained firmly planted on the floor. 

The lady in red yelled something incoherent and pointed at me. “He’s a, he’s a,” she stopped and pulled in the air required to belt the words over the throbbing music, “CONTENT GENERATOR.”

The music died a second later. The roaring chatter stopped. The laughing ceased. The smell of the scorched skeleton wafted by. 

And then the bouncers, all four of them, rushed toward me, their faces twisted into some strange combination of panic and fury. I had no illusions that I could outrun these fiends; they were all tall with lean athletic builds, with strides to rival a racehorse. I could see one bouncer’s hamstring muscles through his pants. I’m just a guy with no discernable physical prowess. I was the fourth fastest person on my own softball team in those days.

But I had to try. 

I took off in the only bouncer-less direction, as two of the enforcers came from the same spot on the casino floor. I barreled through a trio of men and saw the diamond-encrusted glasses fall to the floor as their owner fell backward, grabbed a cocktail waitress in a vain attempt to stay upright, taking her down with him. Drinks flew everywhere. I was splashed with what smelled like a very good whiskey. 

An old man with a handlebar mustache flexed his knees and extended his arms as I approached two blackjack tables. I couldn’t dodge the would-be tackler so I ran through him — quite easily, thanks to the terror that compelled me. The mustachioed man smashed against the edge of the blackjack table to the horrified gasps of a woman many years his junior. 

I came to a door — a door I hadn’t seen before my flee to freedom — and did not hesitate to turn its handle and barge through. I had precisely one choice, and that was it. A hand grabbed the back of my shirt before I slammed the door on the attached arm. I did not hear a scream of pain because the place I had entered was deafening with the hollering of men in a frenzy — a primal, animalistic frenzy that I still think about, all these years later. 

Twenty, maybe twenty-five men, dressed as gorgeously as those in the adjacent room, stood on a balcony. Twenty feet below the crazed mob was a metal table with a man strapped to it, his arms and legs pulled taught by leather straps connected to each corner of the table. One look at the man, now stripped down to a tight pair of white underwear, told me I had seen him before. It was the man who had been hauled off from the main casino floor. I had interviewed the man — good old well-meaning Oliver — who had pushed the button that summoned someone to take this prisoner into an unseen room. 

The mob of men leaning across and over each other, trying like hell to get a good look at the festivities below, seemed to be betting on what was about to transpire. I’m not sure what exactly they wagered on, but their monkey-like gesticulation and the way they clutched hundred dollar bills and waved their cash at each other told me they were deadly serious about what was coming. 

“Waterboard his ass!” one man screeched over the others. 

“Fry him!” another one yelled. “Give him the juice!”

It was dark in that room. I remember three or four floodlights pointing down at the prisoner on the table, but the faces of the men on the balcony were darkened, invisible, anonymous — as if they could’ve been any one of us. That struck me right in what I can only describe as a slow motion moment, with a group of rage-filled beasts on my heels, seemingly trapped with nowhere to go. The balcony bellowers swayed as one, furious and aroused and intoxicated on the prospect of human suffering. That was their drug and they were stoned. 

I was reintroduced to real time with a swift fist to the cheekbone. It felt as if my brain rattled inside my skull when that enormous hand of a bouncer swung and smashed into my face. The bouncer grabbed for me — my arm, and once that slipped, my hand — but it was too late. The momentum from his punch sent me reeling toward the edge of the balcony. My hand and fingers slipped through his grip and off I went, over the rail of the balcony and hurdling toward the floor below. 

I had a distinct thought, while tumbling through the air of that tucked-away torture chamber in the Trump Prison Tower and Casino, that I should protect my head at all costs. But there was the ground, as unforgiving as it ever was. And there was a crack, somewhere near my left shoulder, which took the brunt of the fall. 

The drive to survive is a hell of a drug, so I was up in an instant, frantically scanning the area for a way out. The balcony crowd was back at it, screaming with neck veins bulging and fists shaking toward the interloper in their presence. A door slid open, somewhere in the round room. I jumped this way and that, looking for the source of the sound, which I could hardly hear over the finely-dressed animals twenty feet above me. 

“Kill him!” two voices from the balcony screamed in unison. 

It’s not often that someone in immediate danger can look ahead and see the potential punishment for his misdeeds. But there I was, frozen in place, looking at a frail brown-skinned man stretched out on a shining metal table. He looked at me too. Our eyes met with an instant, and I’m sure he saw in mine the panic and fear he once had, whenever he had been black bagged at whichever camp he was held in, or while hiding from the roving federal agents who blended so seamlessly into society.

In his eyes I saw surrender, despair, and concession. The prisoner was powerless, at the whims of the powerful: the powers that committed the torture, and the powers that cheered while it happened, who wagered on what sort of misery he would experience. That poor man surely knew that one power could not exist without the other. 

But back to the door: my only way out. I held my throbbing left arm in place – something broken jostled around – and rushed the opening. The two men standing there, dressed in military fatigues with the familiar red-and-black T patch on their chests, reached for the weapons on their hips. I attacked one over the other, and I suppose I picked the one with eyeglasses because they made him look weak and vulnerable. He was a good bit shorter than the other one too. 

I tackled the bespectacled soldier and without a thought, bit his neck as hard as I could. I tasted blood. The man screamed just as the mob on the balcony quieted. The other soldier fired a shot, then another. One bullet sunk into his partner’s chest. The other grazed my already damaged left arm and drilled deep into the soldier’s hip. He yelped again as I rolled off of him and scrambled through the sliding door.

That’s how I remember it, anyway. 

To say that the rest was a blur would give too much credit to the clarity of a blur. I felt blinded by pain and fear. I knew what happens to content generators who violate principles of the New First Amendment. My crimes would offer no chance at life in prison. A far more terrible fate awaited me if I were tracked down by the security forces scrambling to find me inside the Trump Prison Tower and Casino. 

I ran. I pushed through people. I believe I hurdled a craps table. My head on a swivel, I smashed into a slot machine with the USSR hammer and sickle blinking furiously. I may have seen our tour guide, old Margaret, in the corner of my eye as I sprinted through the main casino floor. People screamed. People threw cups and food and poker chips at me. An alarm sounded somewhere.

My next memory – one I’m sure of, anyway – was of passing in and out of consciousness in an alleyway a few blocks from the Trump Prison Tower and Casino. The adrenaline pumping through my veins had run its course and I was left to deal with the resulting hangover and the agony of a broken arm gushing blood from he graze of a point-blank bullet. I could hardly lift my chin off my chest. I was drenched and sweat. I shuddered with every gust of a bitter autumn breeze.

I could hear the echoes of alarms screaming from outside the sprawling casino. The occasional siren woke me from my drifting. A police car with its sirens blazing ripped past the alley and toward the casino. Then another. Then another. 

I suppose I succumbed and drifted off from the combination of exhaustion and blood loss. I was awoken with a jostle of my shattered arm. I figured this was the end. They had found me and I was as good as dead. 

But no, it was a man wearing a faded orange Baltimore Orioles hat and dressed in layers of filthy clothes. He offered me a mostly toothless smile. Beside him stood an equally unkempt lady, probably much younger than she looked. Her face was dirty and she wore stained grey sweatpants tucked into mismatched shoes: one laceless brown boot and one white sneaker. She smiled too, lips pursed. 

“You need some help?” the man said, tugging at the thick brown coat draped atop his layers. 

I shook my head and broke eye contact. The woman held out a half empty bottle of water. I felt bad taking her offer, knowing that bottled water was a luxury outside of the most well-to-do cities and towns. But I drank greedily from the bottle until nothing was left. 

The man stepped away from us and peaked around the corner of the building on which I leaned, squinting to see the Trump Prison Tower and Casino through a thickening night fog. 

He removed his orange hat and scratched his bald head. “Sure hope nothing too bad happened at the casino tonight.”

“Oh, lord. Me too,” the woman said. “The president would be so upset.” She shook her head and gave me a look of distress. 

“God damn right,” the man said. “I voted for that man twice.”

Her grimace transformed into a grin. “And I’d do it again.” 

“Damn straight.”

I steadied myself against the wall and walked away, into the blackness of the dank alley. It was so dark, and darker with every step. But there was nowhere else I could go, so I walked, until it was full dark. 

*From the American Empire Museum archives.