Double or Nothing
Double or Nothing
When I wake up, I’m sitting in my computer chair, my head thrown back over the headrest and my neck so kinked that is makes a loud cracking noise as I sit up. The Machine has gone to sleep too, and with shaking hands I reach out and nudge the mouse to see where I left off. I know it can’t be good.
I remember losing everything in the middle of the night, even playing online slots in a desperate attempt to win a few dollars back.
When my monitor wakes up my heart falls. It looks like I applied for some credit cards last night too. Great.
The Tomasi twins are bright, really bright. They skipped a couple of years of school and now are in their second year at university. Essie is a math whizz and pre-med; her sister Aggie is on the path to be a human rights lawyer. The twins are identical, but that’s where the similarity stops. Aggie prefers ballet flats and Essie, combat boots. Aggie tows the line; Essie is argumentative. While sitting in class, Essie is distracted, scanning the stock-trading and gambling apps on her phone. Essie has a problem – she’s an addict. Not the usual addict you might think about, drugs or alcohol. She’s a gambling addict, and it’s wreaking havoc with her life.
Essie knows she’s in way over her head, but, once she’s down at the bottom, it’s the high of the comeback she loves. This destructive cycle is alienating Aggie and forcing her to sell her computer and jewellery to pay her debts and keep her in the game. Essie has a nervous habit of flipping her ‘lucky coin’, one her grandpa gave her, and she uses it to decide on whether to go to class or to hang out at the skate park where Dillon, a cool guy in her psych class, is likely to be. But her real reason to go to the skate park is to meet up with brothers John Jr. and Big Steve to secure a seat at an illegal poker game at their club. She needs to come up with a thousand dollars to join. One flip of the coin and Essie’s coin says she in.
The twin’s parents are Italian and have instilled a love of food and family in the girls. So, when Essie asks Aggie for money to join the poker game, lying that she bought some new computer equipment and won’t make tuition, Aggie scolds her but happily lends her the cash. At the after-hours game at the club, the table is filled with men much older than Essie, and when she loses the first thousand, the brothers lend her another grand. This time when she loses, she knows she’s in trouble, real trouble.
The web of lies she spins to ask for money from her dad is tightening, and, in a last-ditch effort to raise the funds to pay her debts; she bets on the hockey game she’s watching with Dillion. If she wins, she’ll be able to stay in the game for a while long. Except, she loses. The next week is a walking nightmare for Essie, and, when the brothers catch up with her, they give her another week to pay or she’s got to work for them, selling drugs.
Though the police have been watching the late-night club for a while, the brothers, it seems, are small fish. The police want proof of the brothers’ father’s involvement in something much bigger. And so, when Detective Crowley, an undercover agent, confronts Essie with the evidence of her dealing with the crime family, Essie knows she needs to come clean. After a tearful confession to Aggie at their parent’s place, Essie realizes that both Dillon and her sister are worried about her. Aggie leaves early the next morning in the twins’ old VW as their mother and father need to drive Essie the three hours back to university. When they get there, Detective Crowley is waiting with the news that Aggie has been arrested with a significant number of illegal drugs. Apparently, she convinced the brothers that both she and Essie would sell the drugs to pay off Essie’s debts.
This is the opportunity the police have been waiting for. Essie is sent to the club with a recoding device, and , when one of the brother brags that their dad can get the ‘primo stuff’, Essie convinces them that both she and Aggie can sell it on campus. She leaves the club with two duffel bags of meth, and the police to raid the club. Rather than jail, Essie is sent to rehab and Dillon lets her know that he’s proud of her, just the encouragement she needs to get well and not to leave her future to chance – or a flip of a coin.
Double or Nothing is a well-written, fast-paced story with a premise that is both believable and chilling. The spiral of addiction and the toll it takes on both family and the individual’s life, are well-described and relatable. The story line, engaging characters, the tension and high stakes, will absorb both boys and girls of all reading abilities.
Brooke Carter is the author of several contemporary books for teens, including Learning Seventeen, The Unbroken Hearts and the YA fantasy “Runecaster” series. Double or Nothing is part of the “Orca Soundings” series, and this title is presented in a new ultra-readable, highly accessible format which has dyslexia-friendly font and other features that allow readers to focus more easily.
Libby McKeever is a retired Youth Services Librarian from Whistler, British Columbia.