Joined: Sun Feb 19, 2012 11:05 am Posts: 51 Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
She walked into the room like she was walking onto a fashion show runway. Her supple frame undulated in 4/4 time under a full silk dress of swirling flowers. The wide brimmed white hat provided a tilted halo above her 5’8” tanned frame. She looked neither right nor left but straight ahead as she hollowed her cheeks, completing the look of the self absorbed and confident haute femme fatale.
The small assembly of poker players watched her every step as she sashayed toward the poker room rail. Chainsaw Charlie’s eyes could go nowhere else. Who is this elegantly coifed woman and why is she here?
Charlie looked down at his pocket sixes then up once again to witness the glamour invasion. He immediately lost himself in the wide pleats swimming busily above the lady’s knees. The tightly ribbed silk waist climbed to a frilled collar that blossomed beneath the rhythmic swing of long gold earrings. The dress was open at the collar and Charlie’s steady gaze followed the golden tan as it plunged to a tantalizing glimpse of the finest décolletage.
Two pocket sixes at table six might portend an evil event, thought Charlie. But what did it matter? He was now more alert than he had been during the previous two long hours of unproductive poker. Yes, he decided, the lady was easily a winner and, after all, Charlie dearly loved a winner. Ordinarily, he would try limping into the developing pot and try for a set of sixes, but now, what did it matter?
Charlie smiled as he watched the lady’s briefcase amuse itself in the silken folds of her dress. Was it coincidence that the color of the briefcase matched her tanned legs? He marveled at how she nimbly converted a four inch spike heel balancing act into a graceful promenade.
As she placed herself in one of the wing-back leather chairs by the rail, the hem of her dress naturally arranged itself over her crossed knees. Her tanned calves stretched forward, eager to bask in their customary attention. The briefcase found a safe place next to her chair.
She peeked at Charlie with one eye from under the wide brim of the tilted couture white hat, unhesitatingly sure he was watching her. Her attention turned into a tease as she beckoned to him slowly with one finger. The beckoning finger then pointed to the chair next to her.
Charlie sprang from the poker table and closed the distance to the chairs in six long and eager strides. He sat in the chosen seat, away from the briefcase.
She rested her hands on her knees, turned to Charlie and, without smiling, offered a low and throaty “Hello”.
The greeting was merely cordial and Charlie stared in silence as he wondered about the nature and purpose of this propitious encounter. “You’re beautiful,” was an exclamation he kept to himself as he studied her high cheek bones, chiseled features and cool hazel eyes. At last he returned her greeting with his own barely audible “Hello” and waited curiously for the next gambit.
A business card was ready in her hand. She placed it ostentatiously on the arm of Charlie’s chair.
Charlie, determined to show he was cool, used one pointed finger to turn the card to a more readable position. Oh, oh.
After he picked the card up from the floor, he saw that the raised print spelled out the patrician name of Elizabeth Fairfax Hutton. The card also said she was in charge of “Business Affairs”.
“So you are E. F. Hutton,” Charlie slyly observed.
Her head turned slightly as she regarded the deadpanned Charlie. She spoke slowly. “Yes. But you can call me Lizzzbeth.” When the buzzing stopped and she came to the ‘th’ in her name, her lips puckered slightly and the tip of her tongue lingered between her front teeth.
Charlie managed to keep a straight face as he replied, “When you talk, I’ll listen.”
“I know from your picture you are Charles W. Valentine. And I’m interested in the kind of business you like. What are you looking for right now?”
A dangerous question, thought Charlie. “Call me Chainsaw. I’m interested in the noble metals and other items of value in which you have legitimate and free title.” He arranged himself in a more upright position. “All sales are final.”
“Okay, Charlie,” she said in even tones, “when you talk business with me, you can turn off the chainsaw and relax. I’m here for our mutual benefit.” She still did not smile, nor did Charlie. “I was told you do cash transactions for gold and silver for any amount, any time.”
“You heard wrong, Elizabeth Fairfax Hutton. I buy only from those who have obtained property legally and who have unencumbered ownership of same.” (Would this conversation ever loosen?) “But sometimes my means are limited. A lot of it depends on whether I get drawn out on in poker.” This time Charlie smiled.
The silken dress turned slightly toward Charlie. Legs were re-crossed, right over left, leaving the hem of the dress an inch higher, a procedure well calculated to ensure attention. “Please call me Lizbeth.” Again the tip of her tongue tarried longer than necessary.
The floor man was suddenly standing in front of Charlie. “Do you want to play your button?” he nervously asked, looking more at E. F. Hutton than at Charlie.
“I’ll skip the button this time around, Tom. But I should be back to the table soon.”
The interruption spoiled the conversational rhythm for the taciturn lady. She retreated to silence and waited for Charlie to take the lead.
The business card, once more on the arm of the chair, revealed a San Francisco phone number and an address in the Transamerica Pyramid. How appropriate, thought Charlie. And yet, somehow, how garish.
“So,” he said at last, nodding toward the briefcase beside her chair, “You’ve come a long way. Is there something more you want to show me?”
The lady reached for the leather briefcase, snapped open the latches and extracted a single document. “This is a gold certificate. I have several collectively worth $160,000 in the current market. They are for sale at 83% of value. You can have as many as you like.” She handed the certificate to Charlie.
“Sorry. This isn’t worth the paper it’s been forged on.”
“Its validity can be verified,” was the prompt answer. “The gold bar is one of many held by The First Island Bank of the Pacific.”
“I was testing you, Lizbeth,” replied Charlie. Perhaps if he used her preferred name, accompanied once again by his celebrated boyish grin, the conversation would loosen. But, embarrassingly, the expressionless lady still reminded Charlie of a midtown window mannequin.
“We can meet later,” recovered Charlie. “In the mean time, you arrange for verification and I’ll arrange for purchasing power. I know the certificates are genuine but I’ll have to prove it to my investors.”
“Ah, the old ‘I trust you but my partners need proof’ routine. How diplomatic of you. -- and how ordinary.”
While Charlie was toiling with this frontal assault, Tom, the manager, rescued the moment. “The Duke of Fremont Street wants to know if you want to play your pocket aces.”
“Very funny. Raise the Duke the size of the pot and tell him I’ll be right there.” He turned once again to the enigmatic lady under the wide brimmed hat. “We can meet here this afternoon around 5:00 o’clock, but right now I’m going to play a little poker.”
“5:00 o’clock is fine. But I’ll need to keep the certificate you’re holding. In case you’re wondering, it’s non-fungible.”
“I wouldn’t want anything but non-fungible.”
She handed him a ball point pen and some note paper from the briefcase. “You can write down the bar number for reference.”
Charlie jotted some numbers, handed back the pen and slipped out of his chair. “See you this afternoon.”
Such a strange lady, he thought as he made his way to the poker table; she probably never smiles.
The dealer and the rest of the room watched Charlie approach the table where two cards were waiting for him in the big blind. A fortyish woman named Lucille spoke. “Glad to see you back in the game, Charlie.”
“Call me Chainsaw.”
“There hasn’t been any action since you left, Charlie. The Duke, here, hasn’t raised a pot or an adrenaline level since you left.”
Charlie looked at a nine and a three. “Yeah, the Duke practices safe poker. That way, he never catches anything.”
The Duke grinned. “Have a good talk with Lizbeth, did you? Did she want to sell you the Golden Gate? She just might have it in her suitcase.”
“You know her?”
“From a couple of years ago. I see she still likes to parade in her work clothes.”
“As do you, Sir Duke. She and I are supposed to meet again today. That couldn’t be all bad, could it?”
“Nothing but a good thing,” bellowed a large baldheaded player known as “Lepke”. “I wish she’d meet with me. In twelve and a half minutes flat, there’d be nothing left but her toenails.”
“Actually, you might like them, too,” offered Charlie. “Her toenails are painted pink.”
Charlie watched as each player threw his hand away and the action reached the button. The button limped in. Lepke, in the small blind, called and so did Charlie. Was this a tight game, or what?
“Duke, what the hell does non-fungible mean?”
Lucille gave up a quiet giggle. “It’s a place where you can’t grow mushrooms.”
The dealer tapped the table for attention, burned a card and delivered a flop that contained a three, a nine and a four.
Meanwhile, the Duke cleared his throat, finding his most authoritative voice. “Non-fungible means the certificate can’t represent just any gold bullion. The paper represents ownership in a particular gold bar and the bar is always numbered.”
“That sounds good. She gave me the number.”
“There’s more,” stated the Duke dramatically. “It’s possible for bars to have too many certificates. Only the bank that issues the certificate knows for sure. Is it an offshore bank?”
“The First Island Bank of the Pacific.”
The Duke chuckled smugly. “You could be in trouble.”
“It’s all crap anyway,” scowled Lepke. “Us guys have to watch out for broads in business. They play us for jerks. They know how to get to us.”
Lucille smiled. “You, Lepke? A jerk someone got to? And a woman, too. My, my.” She threw her head back and laughed. She took a quick glance at her winning stack, stood, and took a step from the table. “Let me know how the hand turns out.”
Lepke, in the small blind, wore the best poker look he could find and bet the size of the pot. Maybe a garbage flop with a large, early bet could win a few players’ checks.
Charlie was in no hurry to act. “I think these cards are fungible.”
With Lucille away from the table, Lepke was eager to defend his assault on women. “The trouble with women is they are too damned sneaky. I knew a woman once who was a clown.”
“Sounds like my ex-wife.”
“No, I mean a real clown. She used to book children’s parties. While she was entertaining the kids, she was also scouting the premises. By the time she was finished with the party, she knew about the alarm system, the kind of windows there were in the place and what the locks were like. She had a good idea where most of the valuables were, too. And she usually found out when no one would be home. The kids loved her and the whole time she was plotting against their parents. Burglars would hit the home sometime afterward. Trust me. You can’t trust a broad.”
The Duke smiled. “Trust you instead of a woman, Lepke? Hmm. But, on the other hand, you didn’t really know her, did you?”
Charlie liked his two pair, nines and threes. He eyed Lepke’s diminishing stack. If he raised and got called, Lepke would be short stacked on the turn. And there was a player between them to consider.
Despite being in the hand, Lepke eagerly resumed his lecture. “The trusting parents recommended the clown to their friends and the hits just kept on coming. She had a curious habit, too. When the customer paid her and she was flapping in her big shoes toward her car she’d shout, ‘Thank you. It’s all for the progeny’.”
Charlie eyed the button player. He had seen the player reach for his pocket cards when Lepke made the bet. Charlie decided the button hadn’t much of a hand at all.
“What happened to the clown?” asked the Duke.
“Well, even though the wiseguys would wait awhile before robbing the house, cops and victims finally put it together. Of course, it was hard for prosecutors to prove the silly clown had anything to do with it. Identifying her without her clown face was tough enough, but then they had to prove she was part of the gang.”
“Did she serve any time?”
“Oh, hell no. And, when her case was dismissed, she used an old habit in flipping off the authorities. As she was leaving the courtroom she shouted, ‘Thanks, everybody, it’s all for the progeny’.”
Charlie decided the blustering Lepke was on a bluff or semi-bluff. Charlie went all in with his two pair.
Duke was still curious. “What about the looters?”
“The police didn’t find enough identifiable loot to put them away. But the news people had a good time with it. They began calling the burglary ring ‘The Progeny’. They’d say, ‘There are signs The Progeny is working the near east side.’ Things like that.”
Lucille had returned in time to catch the last few remarks. “Yes, I know The Progeny case. The leaders were once members of Tony Spilotro’s gang. They were well trained.”
The button player wasted no time in throwing his hand away.
Lepke looked suspiciously at Lucille. “How come you know about it?”
“I used to be a clown. I still have my big shoes, red nose and orange wig.”
“Were you in the circus?”
“Nope. I used to book private parties.”
Lepke called Charlie’s all-in bet and showed the ace and deuce of hearts. The hearts, with two more on the board, gave Lepke an ace-high flush draw.
Charlie still liked his two pair. He looked at them fondly and silently wished them the best of luck.
The Duke was studying Lucille. “When you were a clown, did you book children’s parties?”
“Lots of them,” she smiled broadly. “It was a good business. By the way, did you know one of the burglars decided to testify for the prosecution? But that was before the accident.”
“He and some people were having drinks at his place and he fell from his eighth floor balcony.”
The dealer burned a card. “No heart,” pleaded Charlie. The turn card was the five of clubs. “No heart,” he prayed once again, but then swallowed hard as he watched a heart fall on the river.
“Take her down, Lepke. Today must be my draw-out day.”
Lepke laughed ungraciously as his hungry eyes measured the big pot.
Lucille smiled a quiet smile. “The river heart is a nine, Charlie. You have a full house.”
Charlie was embarrassed. “All the evidence was right in front of me.”
As the hours passed, the full house would be the only big hand to come Charlie’s way.
Other thoughts, running in circles through Charlie’s mind, occupied him so completely he suddenly wondered how long E. F. Hutton had been standing in front of her rail chair, looking at him.
This time she presented herself in a brown sleeveless business ensemble, accented with a splash of red here and there. She rested provocatively on one foot with extended hip. The vest and pleated pants followed her subtle curves down to open toed shoes. Her toenails had changed to red.
Charlie may have missed reading the nine of hearts, but he was sure about one thing: After his conversation with the Duke, he was not going to buy any gold certificates. If E. F. Hutton wanted to do business, she would have to show some shiny gold.
As Charlie approached the lady, he smiled. “Well, I see you’ve been to your hotel room. Where are you staying?” Did he really expect an answer to that question? “Never mind. Let’s move over to the high stakes area where we can have some privacy.”
As they walked, she spoke softly. “Did you check out the certificates?”
“Yes, but my partners won’t let me buy them. They want to deal in real gold. Got any Maple Leafs?”
The two reached a semi-enclosed anteroom with a small table and chairs.
“I have Krugerrands. How many rolls would you like?”
“At what price?”
“The asking price today is $1,800 per coin. I’ll take $1,790.”
“Melt down is $1,725.”
“No one melts Krugerrands.”
Good answer. But Charlie remembered the 83% price on the certificates. “I’ll give you $30,000 for a roll of twenty. Show me the roll and I’ll show you the money.” Charlie had just broadsided his first serious salvo.
E. F. Hutton snapped open the briefcase and produced a roll of Krugerrands. Charlie stood, opened one end of the cylinder and spread the gold coins on the soft seat of the chair he had barely warmed. The coins appeared to be uncirculated with sharp edges, 160 rim notches and heavy enough to be genuine.
“The price is thirty four five,” stated the business lady in her best business voice.
“Thirty one five is my final offer.”
Charlie was surprised at the quick sale. He had just made an unusual bargain and wondered why.
Hastily, he reached into his left high-zippered boot and extracted a horse-sized roll of hundred dollar bills. Carefully, he counted out three hundred fifteen of the Franklin wonders and stacked them on the table. “Count them, pretty lady, while I count the pretty coins.”
“Call me Lizbeth. And I trust you.”
“I like you, too, Lizbeth. But count them anyway.”
This time the lady, on hearing her favorite name, managed a smile. But Charlie instantly wished she hadn’t. The thin smile reminded him of his landlady from years ago. Besides, E. F. Hutton was more interesting as the stone cold wearer of a pretentious name and over-stated clothes.
“So, why do you like me, Charlie?”
“I like you because I suspect that, somewhere under the outer chill, you have a warm sense of humor. And under the fancy clothes, your sox and underwear come from Sears.”
The smile disappeared. The friendly eyes reclaimed their piercing acerbic glare.
That’s better, thought Charlie; now we’re back on track. “Thank you for the commerce, dear lady. Call on me again. I’ll be here in my office.”
E. F. Hutton grasped the money with both hands and stuffed it into a zippered compartment in her briefcase. Slowly, she turned and walked toward the main room.
She looked back over her shoulder and said in a loud voice, “See you soon, Charlie. It’s all for the progeny.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Copyright 2011, I T Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved.
Sam O’Connor is the author of Tales of Old Las Vegas, available at Amazon and from the author. Sam can be reached at Talesofvegas@aol.com