Sunday, August 7, 2011
As you may have noticed, I haven't posted since that thing about Infernal Affairs and The Departed...I decided to concentrate on Flaming Sword, which I'd been working on for three and a half years, and really put the sucker to bed, finish the third draft. When I got done, I was feeling a bit deflated and crummy, as I always do when I finish a book, so I decided to just rip right into another book instead of moping for a month...I'd been thinking about a crime novel/ contemporary spaghetti western thing for a while, set in my Utah stomping grounds, which look like the picture at the top, which shows Factory Butte in the Cainville Badlands. Anyway, the book's going to be called Cainville, and I wrote the first chapter while I was down in Chincoteague last week, and I'm posting it here...
Chapter 1: The Tamerlane
My old dad used to say good luck was just bad luck pretending.
Now, he wasn’t a Mormon, and I don’t know if most Mormons would’ve concurred in his jaundiced analysis, but it is a fact that they don’t have the lottery in Utah. If you’re a denizen of the Beehive State (they have pictures of beehives on their state road signs) and like to lose your money in that fashion, you probably play the Idaho lottery, games like Pick it, Pick It Yourself, and Pick a Big One.
That’s what Ducky Madducks did. He lived in Cainville Utah, but he had a girlfriend up in Busterton Idaho, which is a suburb of Boise full of Mormons. She had a two-year old son by Ducky, and he’d drive up there every couple of weeks...sometimes he’d buy the tickets himself...sometimes he’d call her the numbers.
He worked for his brother at the Navajo Joe Motel in Cainville, although he didn’t do much work...he lived out of one of the rooms, occasionally he’d clean the pool, stuff like that. One afternoon in August, he was working himself up to go out into the heat and do...something when he got a phonecall from Deserette.
“Big Jack!” she cried at the other end.He wanted everyone to call him Big Jack, but Deserette was the only person who did...most people called him Ducky, which he hated, although he preferred it to his real name, which was Marvin..
“Deserette,” he said.
“You Picked a Big One,” she said.
He sat up in bed. He’d bought the ticket on Thursday...They had two drawings a week. “Jackpot?”
“That’ll do,” he replied, feeling vindicated. When he’d told her he was going to play 12345678910, she and her sister Fruita had made fun of him something awful, but...
“You gonna take me to Vegas?” Deserette asked.
“I am a man of my word,” he answered, and that was crap, and they both kew it, but he didn’t think she’d care. “When can I can pick up the money?”
“Four to six weeks. You’ve got to come up here before that, too, and sign some stuff...but you were coming up anyway.”
“Yeah,” he replied. He augmented his Navajo Joe income by smuggling cigarettes, and he was going up to Busterton to get a trunkful from Deserette’s brother in a couple of days.
“Thirty thousand dollars!” Deserette said.
He laughed.“I could sure buy a lot of lottery tickets with thirty thou.”
“Oh, don’t do that!” she cried.
“Just kidding,” he said.
A load of hundred dollar chips at Bally’s was more like it.
That Wednesday he slipped out of the hotel before his brother Joe woke up, and made that run to Busterton, where he lingered for a bit, screwing Deserette, eating her very good cooking, and pretending to be interested in his fat little son Zack. Then he got the smokes and zoomed on back to Utah in his big fast old eight-cylinder Buick, avoiding all the cops at Salt Lake City and swinging out to the east, circling back down to Seventy a little west of Green River, and taking 24---with the San Rafael Swell, with all its slot canyons, over on the right--- towards Goblin Valley and Hanksville and home.
Now, if you saw Galaxy Quest, you’ve seen Goblin Valley—that’s where they filmed the stuff with the little blue aliens and the weird red sandstone mushrooms. Along with looking like goblins and fungi and just about everything else, those rock formations also look like dark red melty ice cream, and that geological layer crops up all over Utah. But you do get the most amazing dose of it in Goblin Valley.
Still, if I was going to film a movie set on another planet, my vote would go to Cainville, and the Bentonite Hills nearby. Absolutely out of this world, and not in a pretty way, neither....chance are you never saw anything like it. It’s like God found out the world’s first murderer had taken up in the area, and laid the Mark of Cain all over it. There are these badlands, and they’re the baddest-ass badlands ever...flat-topped buttes with yellow rimrock, and profoundly eroded, extremely complicated, grey-blue slopes underneath...when the sun's going down,and the light changes, and you wash those buttes in orange sunset, you can’t even describe the colors they turn.
There’s a little river running between them, through the town...24's the main drag...down by the water, things actually grow, and everything’s bright green. There are some farms and ranches, a couple of stores, and the Yaller Rim Grille. The only beer you can buy is 3 percent, and won’t get you the least bit high, but at least it’s called things like Chasing Tail (There’s a dog chasing its tail on the label) or Polygamy Beer (“Because One just isn’t enough.”) As long as you keep you snout level and don’t look up, everything looks almost normal. But if you lift your nose, you see those buttes, which must be a thousand feet tall, looming over...and it just makes you feel like there must be more—a lot more---things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
If you keep on going on 24, you come to this stretch where it looks like there are black locomotives, or the front ends of hearses, just lunging up out of the ground on a slant, right at the base of those buttes...there’s a line of them all all the left hand side of the road, and they look creepily man-made. But the on the right side of the road, there’s some water, and in this one niche in the hills, you’ll find a cozy little motel...that’s Navajo Joe’s. It was built in the late forties and named after its founder, Navajo Joe Madducks, who won the Medal of Honor as a gyrine on Peleliu, even though he was a ripe forty-five years old. He was half Indian, although his descendants, who ran the hotel after him, got progressively whiter as the years went by...looked like veterans of the Afrika Corps.
Ducky was like that, at least at first glance. He was tall and blonde and blue-eyed, got leathery in his twenties. But there was this silliness about him that shone right through.
Now after he unloaded those cigarettes at the Yaller Rim Grille and arrived at the Navajo Joe, he tried to get in and out as quickly as he could. There were a bunch of cars at the hotel...the place started to fill up in the late afternoon with tourists from Capitol Reef, and his brother Joe had to be busy at the front desk. Ducky slipped into his room, called his friend Suzi, found out her husband wouldn’t be back from Tropic for a couple of hours, grabbed a shower and changed his clothes, and was just about to jump back into his Buick when Joe caught him.
Joe looked pretty similar to Ducky in a lot of ways, but the Almighty had done a much better job with the basic specs. Joe didn’t look silly at all. Joe looked hard and mean. People would’ve been happy to call him Big Jack, although he wouldn’t have wanted them to.
“Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” he asked.
“Gotta see someone,” Ducky said.
“I sure could use some help tonight...”
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
“Deserette know about Suzi?”
“She doesn’t care.”
“Yeah, that would be just like a woman...You been to see Deserette’s brother?”
Joe got up real close on Ducky, looking right in his eyes. “She called up about twenty minutes ago.”
“Wanted to know if you’d gotten home all right. Said you hit the Pick A Big One for thirty thou.”
“I was going to tell you.”
“I bet,” said Joe. “You know, you could pay a lot of bills with that money. Get people off your back. Pay off Deserette’s brother. Hell, you could pay me. But Deserette said...you’re going to take her to Vegas.”
“It was her idea.”
“She did not leave me with that impression.”
Quite beside the point, Ducky said: “I’m feeling lucky.”
“You are a half-cooked horse’s ass,” Joe said. “You going to bring Zack with you?”
“He’s going to stay with his aunt Fruita.”
“That poor kid. You are the biggest idiot I know.”
“I’m feeling lucky. I won the lottery, didn’t I?”
“I remember you saying ‘I’m feeling lucky,’ one time, and right at that moment, I could see the State Police pulling into the parking lot behind you.”
“I’m not going to blow the whole wad,” Ducky said. “I’ve got a limit. Two thousand bucks, and then I’m done.”
Joe squinted at him. “Bullshit. You are completely devoid of self-control. And if I know you, you’re going to run through that thirty thousand in about forty-five minutes.”
“How would I run through thirty thou in forty-five minutes?”
“Playing craps. With hundred-dollar chips. At Ballys, I bet. And if you come crawling back here broke, I think I’m going to punch your lights out. Kill you, maybe.” Joe shook his head. “Man, that poor kid of yours.”
“You know,” said Ducky, “just once, you should give me the benefit of the doubt.”
To which Joe replied: “I’d have to be as stupid as you are. Marvin.”
That was the signal that the conversation was over...if Ducky kept on talking to Joe, he knew that every single sentence out of Joe’s mouth was going to end in Marvin, except for the ones that began with it.
“Fuck you,” said Ducky, jumped into his Buick and slammed the door... marvel of luck that he was, he got into into Suzi’s pants and out of her trailer again before her husband blew in from Tropic.
Four to six weeks later...
Ducky snuck up to Busterton again and went to see the lottery people...they wanted him to tape something so they could put him on the news with a big check, but he didn’t want to be on the news for a variety of reasons, and he took the check and hightailed it over to the nearest bank, where they looked at him weird but cashed the thing anyway...Deserette was out in the Buick with the air-conditioning on, bags packed.
As Ducky got back into the car with his bag full of twenties and fifties, he looked at Deserette and thought, as he’d been thinking all morning, that she looked pretty hot. She had her hair up, it was dyed a bright brassy red, and she was wearing high-heeled sandals, tight black pants, and a blue tank top, showing her abundant cleavage...she had her sunglasses on, but he’d seen earlier that she was wearing lots of mascara and eyeshadow, just like he liked...she had a necklace with big pink coral beads that hung down between her boobs, and two big crescent-moon rings were swinging from her ears. If he didn’t get too drunk, he was going to spend a lot of time in Vegas screwing the mother of his child....just as he’d told Joe, baby Zack was off with Aunt Fruita. Ducky thought Zack and Fruita would have a pretty good time together...Fruita was pretty effing dumb.
Since he didn’t have any goods with him, he didn’t have to swing round Salt Lake this time, so he just took Fifteen straight on down, making real good time...him and Deserette had the windows buttoned up nice and tight with the air-con just blasting. Outside it was August in Utah and harsher than hell, everything shimmering in the heat, but they didn’t care, listening to Bill Ray Cyrus, Dwight Yoakum, and Alabama as they ripped along at ninety-five miles an hour, Ducky trusting in God and a brand new Tomoyuki 2000 radar detector that shrieked like a crazy Jap bitch in heat when it was scanned. He and Deserette got to St. George without incident (St. George was much smaller then), and both had big steaks and baked potatoes at a Rax before they got back out on the highway, heading down through the Virgin River gorge and clipping off that little northwestern corner of Arizona. It was still light as they passed through Mesquite, which was also much smaller then, and only had one casino, the Peppermill...the time would come when there’d be lots more, and a big chunk of the degenerate gamblers coming in along Fifteen headed for Vegas would hit Mesquite and not get any further...but in 1992, as Ducky and Deserette went rolling inexorably toward the the Strip and the Tamerlane Massacre, Ducky, to his very great detriment, found Mesquite eminently resistable.
As for the Tamerlane, it had just opened.
A hundred miles east from Vegas, just out of Mesquite, the huge glitzy billboards started rearing up over the Joshua trees...some of them featured Carrot Top, who was the opening headliner at the Samarcand Room. Others showed an enthroned saturnine oriental potentate in a golden turban, jerking chains attached to the necks of a leopard, and a voluptuous blonde bodypainted to look like a leopard. Across the bottom of the billboard ran: Julius Fiske’s Tamerlane Hotel and Casino, coming Spring 1992...in hot barbaric scarlet, the word CONQUER ran across the top.
Now Ducky was moved by these displays...among other things, he and Deserette both thought Carrot Top was undeniably funny, and Ducky liked the idea of jerking chains on leopard-spotted slave girls. But he’d always stayed at Ballys when he was in Vegas, and he was real used to it...for one thing, he loved the way the gambling floor opened right off the front desk, so you could just get down to business. The last time he’d been to Bally’s, he’d lost all his money, a whole grand, without ever even checking in...he’d brag about this to folks he thought would be impressed.
The sun had gone down, and the phony night-long sunset of Vegas was well underway, lighting up the western sky, as the Buick approached that last big hill on 15...as he came over the crest, Ducky said “Mmm-mmm” as he always did when he laid eyes on Hog Heaven.
“Feeling Lucky,” he declared.
“Now Jack,” said Deserette, “you said two thousand dollars, you promised.”
“Yeah, I did promise, didn’t I?” he said, thinking he wouldn’t have any problem with her once he’d turned that first two thousand to four thousand, and so on...
They took Fifteen into town and got off at Flamingo Road...Bally’s is right there at Las Vegas Blvd. Ducky parked the car himself, in the garage. After the Buick, the garage seemed mighty hot, but they were back in the the air-conditioning pronto. In the lobby there was a big staircase down to the cavernous gaming floor, and Ducky descended immediately into all the flashing lights and beeps and squawks and senseless bits of tunes, Deserette trailing behind, crying:
“Aren’t we going to check in?”
“You do it,” he said, but she just tagged right along, probably intending to exercise a restaining influence, he guessed.
Going straight to the craps tables, he started playing the pass line...he won right from the gitgo, and it didn’t surprise him one bit, although Deserette seemed amazed. He doubled his money in forty minutes.
“You are hot tonight Jack,” said Deserette, and from that moment on, she let him plow all his cash into the game...after a while everybody was betting on him, and the pit boss was watching him real close. When he hit fifty thousand bucks, they changed out the croupier, a little ugly dude named Szygmunt from God knew where, and replaced him with an over-the-hill brunette named Shirley who Ducky guessed had looked pretty good once...but she couldn’t cope with his almighty luck either, and when Ducky crashed through the hundred thousand dollar mark, in came another foreign guy, named Kemal. But the pit boss had some things to say to Kemal, and while they were at it, somebody slipped a note into Ducky’s hand...he turned, saw a thin Italian-looking guy in a blue jogging outfit with white stripes up the side...the guy waved. Ducky looked at the note.
“Poker. Big stakes. Room 2020. Tamerlane.”
Ducky turned again...everyone was looking at him...Deserette adoringly, her big heavily-lined eyes just shining.
“Sir?” asked Kemal.
“Think I’ll cash out,” said Ducky Madducks.
“What are you doing, Jack?” asked Deserette.
“Just got invited to a Poker game, babe,” he replied, whispering in her ear.
Nobody had ever invited him to a private Vegas poker game before, and besides, he had a nice little five-shot .32 revolver tucked into a special pocket in his lucky pants.
After getting his winnings bagged, he and Deserette went back out to the garage...since they hadn’t checked in and freshened up, they changed their clothes in the car, and drove off down the strip to the Tamerlane.
It had gone up in the great big empty lot where the old Nineveh had been knocked down about a year before...rising up out of palm trees, the Tamerlane was a towering forty stories of motifs cribbed from St. Basil’s, Hagia Sophia, Mogul tombs, and Tamil temples, with golden onion domes and minarets covered with Hindu gods. Right out in front was a huge gauntletted forearm thrusting a scimitar straight upwards; it said Conquer in red neon on the blade. When the Tamerlane first opened, the minarets had belted out the call to prayer five times a day until the Sultan of Brunei complained in person. Parking was out back, an unpaved lot, because they hadn’t even started building the garages yet...the lot was surrounded by a chain-link fence...on the west side, there was a gravel road, and beyond that, Route 15. Even though there was a front gate with guards, there was a back gate onto that dirt road you could just drive in and out of. The lot was crammed, so Ducky had to park way back there. They had quite a walk just to get to the hotel.
Inside, not everything was working. Teething problems, Ducky thought...they’d used that term in the service, whenever some new system was acting up. He passed a men’s room with a big waterstain in front of the door, and some of the corridors were unlit...there were a lot of things with plastic over them, and the air smelled like drywall. When Ducky and Deserette got to the main elevator bank in the lobby, the express lifts to the Silk Road restaurant at the top were operating, but the other ones weren’t. People were bitching, and a couple of suits were shouting into walky-talkies.
“Do we have to take the stairs?” Deserette asked miserably.
“We’ll go up to the top and walk down,” Ducky said, congratulating himself for thinking of something so smart. He hit one of the express buttons, looked around, spotted one of the guys who’d been betting on him back at Bally’s, some Jew. Didn’t look like he’d just won a bunch of dough. He was pale and sweaty and down in the mouth...smelled like he’d been drinking and looked like it too.Vegas didn’t seem to suit him...hard to imagine anyplace would. Looked like he’d just come from a funeral and taken off his tie because it had been choking him. He was wearing a black short-brimmed hat, black pants, and a black suit, but his shirt was white. His beard and moustache were neatly trimmed. Dangling from his hand was a black leather valise...a chain ran from the handle up into his sleeve. Ducky had noticed the chain back at the crap table.
Feeling cocky, Ducky asked: “Didn’t I win you some money?”
“You did,” said the other fellow, not sounding too grateful.
Ducky leaned towards him. “You going up to 2020?”
The man didn’t say anything.
“You know, I’ll just see you up there,” Ducky said.
The man acknowledged this with a shrug.
“Hey, well, try not to beat me too badly,” said Ducky.
“I’ll consider it.”
“Name’s Big Jack Walker,” Ducky said, and extended his hand.
The man shook it, even though it looked as though he really didn’t want to, and only did it because he felt cornered.
“Avram Schifrin,” he said.
“You from back east?’ Ducky asked.
“Brooklyn,” Schifrin replied. It had to be a real depressing place, if the way this guy looked was any indication.
Just then the door opened, and they got in. Once the doors closed, Deserette said,
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Schifrin. I’m Jack’s fiancee, Deserette.”
Ducky could tell she was a little bit pissed...he always forgot to introduce her, and whenever she introduced herself, which happened a lot, he felt like a shit.
“Deserette,” said Schifrin...he seemed to think it was a funny name. It looked to Ducky like he was trying not to look at her. The elevator took off, but..not too fast.
“This express elevator is not so express,” Schifrin observed sourly, soundly like a real Jew, at least to an expert like Ducky.
“You know,” said Ducky, “In Utah, we say that the Indians are the Ten Lost Tribes.”
Schifrin didn’t reply, looking unhappier than ever to be anywhere.
Now, Ducky would never learn why Avram was so unhappy...but Avram had come to Vegas with the firm expectation of pulling down the pillars on his own life, and getting everyone else in his family. If, by some miracle, he came out ahead, well, that was God’s will. But if God allowed everything to come crashing down on Avram, that was just fine too, particularly if Avram’s wife Rachel and his brother Samuel got smashed as well.
Avram worked for the family jewelry concern back in New York, and they saved some money and slept better at night using him as a courier instead of some outsider. He was solid, and enjoyed being solid...people respected him a lot more than they respected his brother Samuel, who was the nominal boss. But even though Samuel knew how to make money, he was a bad seed, and Avram had always known it...Avram was pretty sure Samuel was skimming...Samuel was married but had a girlfriend on the side...and finally he got around to screwing Rachel. An anonymous someone dropped Avram a line. Avram had had his suspicions before, but he didn’t have any doubts afterward.
His thoughts got increasingly poisonous. Every shitty thing about everyone in his family that he’d tried to ignore just came front and center. He asked his parents about Sam and Rachel; they advised him to keep his mouth shut...they didn’t want to rock the boat...dad was afraid Sam would stick him in a nursing home.
It all just kept building and building. The inside of Avram’s head was a blacker and blacker place. The day before he had to take a shipment of cut stones out to Vegas, he was driving by a motel and spotted his brother and Rachel coming out of a room...before he even got to the airport, he was already thinking of absconding with the shipment. By the time he got to Atlanta, he was really teetering, and by the time he got on his connection he was over the edge and actively making plans, wondering whether he should unload all the rocks at once, and who he should do the deal with.
He got into Vegas late...had a reservation at Ballys. He always stayed at Ballys because you could get to the tables straight from the front desk. But he wasn’t a degenerate gambler...he’d always had a five-hundred dollar limit, generally on craps...once he burned through that, he could enjoy some of the other stuff in town. He really liked strip joints, and that shooting range where they let you fire machine guns.
He didn’t do any gambling that first night...the tables called out to him in the morning, but he just went to sell the stones, took a taxi to store run by Arabs out to the northwest. He’d decided not to sell all the stones at once...he wanted to test himself, dip his toe into the chilly waters of betrayal, see if he really could fuck over his family big time. He showed the Arabs some stones, they appraised them at thirty thousand, and he scooped up the cash as soon as they could arrange it. Then he went back to Bally’s, stopping off at the convenience store in the lobby to pick up a big bottle of Jim Beam. Practically the whole store was hard liquor. All the way up to his room, he was thinking about the suckers who came to this town to get their throats cut. But he discerned an absolute distinction between himself and those cattle. They were going to get strung up by their heels...he was going to go off like a car bomb.
He just needed most of a bottle of whiskey to get into the proper mental state.
He drank and drank, watched porno movies, couldn’t get much of a hardon with all the booze in his system. He fell asleep, woke up hours later when it was already dark, ordered room service. He had a bunch of messages on the phone, didn’t answer them—he guessed they were from Samuel. What an earful he was going to give the bastard after he’d blown all the money!
He’d ordered a ribeye steak, but he wasn’t very hungry. He still felt pretty drunk. There was a blonde shikse hooker in the elevator on the way down to the gambling floor, and she tried to get friendly, but he didn’t think he could’ve accomplished anything if he’d wanted to. Besides, he was a man on a mission. He got to the craps table about the time this gangly cowboy with a redhead on his arm arrived with a load of chips...between those stacks of black one-hundreds and the yokel’s remarkably foolish appearance and demeanor, Avram decided he’d found the man to help him destroy his family’s fortune...start the process, at least.
But the rustic ( who claimed to be named Big Jack), just kept on winning. Avram bet and bet on the bumpkin, and kept winning right along with him...won more than Big Jack did, as a matter of fact. Avram just kept tempting God to step on him, and God didn’t oblige. In fact, Avram began to entertain the notion that God was egging him on.
That didn’t make Avram feel any better though...it was as if he was being set up. But he’d committed himself to a particular course of action, embezzled from his family, become a bad guy, set things in motion. He couldn’t get off the boat now, and the river was going to take him where it wanted him to go.
Finally Big Jack (there wasn’t a chance in Hell that anyone called him that) decided to cash out...it seemed to have something to do with a wop in a jogging outfit who came up and slipped something to him. Once the cowboy left, Avram hung around the table for a bit more while everyone else dispersed...he was wondering what to do next when Jogging Outfit wop passed him a note.
Immediately Avram went to the cashier...then brought his swag upstairs, took the clothes out of his cloth suitcase with the wheels, and put his winnings in that. Then he sat on the bed for a bit and had a couple of hits of Jim Beam. Then he decided to go and blow himself up (or not) at the Tamerlane.
He took a cab over there. The place was mobbed because it was new, but it was a mess. Since he travelled a lot, he’d seen his share of newly-opened hotels, and all this was pretty typical...probably the only thing that was really functioning smoothly was the casino. Everything else would be fucked up, elevators, security, the kitchen.
The hotel was full of handy men and guys with walky-talkies, and, just as he thought, the elevators were screwed. There was a restaurant called the Silk Road up at the top, and he decided to take the express elevator and walk down to 2020....as it turned out, the cowboy who’d been playing craps back at Bally’s was planning to do the same thing...Big Jack introduced himself...his girlfriend or wife or whatever she was introduced herself as Deserette...one of those goofy Mormon names. Big Jack seemed to think he knew something about Jews. Avram felt no desire to chat him up, expected Jack’s winning streak couldn’t possibly continue. Avram had the distinct impression that the rest of Jack’s life hadn’t been characterized by luck...
They got up to the Silk Road, found an exit and descended. Avram opened up a lead. Down on twenty, the wallpaper in the hall was shiny gold, on which little black Hagia Sophias alternated with turbaned turk-heads. Avram found himself smiling, just a bit. He’d been to Istanbul...
A stout Guinea in a loud red tropical shirt opened the door at 2020. Avram showed him his invitation. The Italian looked over his shoulder, back into the suite. There was a pit, four steps leading down to a sunken floor, where the table had been set up...a couple of rooms opened off the main floor, and there was a spiral staircase leading up to a floor that overlooked everything else. The wallpaper was a kind of shiny violet, in which black Tang dynasty horses were chasing black Bactrian camels. There were four guys at the table already, although the game didn’t look like it had started yet. One of the guys was a little round-faced asian...the other guys were Jews or wops...one was the fellow who’d passed Avram the invitation at Bally’s, although he’d changed out of his exercise duds.
“Sorry, gotta search you,” the man at the door told Avram.
Avram let him.
“Case,” the man said.
Avram didn’t like opening it up, but he knew this ape wasn’t going to let it pass. Avram unlocked it. The stones were in a long plastic bag strapped to the back side of the lid. The man nodded when he saw them.
“Nice,” he said, then looked over his shoulder and signalled. The man he’d signalled to before nodded.
“Make yourself at home, mr...”
“Hello, Mr. Schifrin, my name is Mike. Good luck.”
Avram headed down towards the sunken floor...one of the men at the table was just then getting up...mounting the steps, he picked up a phone from the bar.
While Avram was being searched, Ducky was wondering what to do about his gun...he didn’t want to give it up, didn’t trust these greasers one bit...he’d shoved it to the bottom of his bag with the cash. Ducky still hadn’t decided what to do when Mike started in on him, and was still dithering when Mike said:
When Ducky didn’t give it to him right off, Mike just snatched it and opened it up, started rummaging around in there. But right then, a greaseball who’d picked up a phone yelled, “Mike, I’m ordering a platter. What do you want?”
“They got cappacola?” Mike shouted, turning. Cappacola he pronounced gappagool. Ducky had no idea what gappagool was, although he wouldn’t have known what cappacola was either.
The guy with the phone asked. “No,” he told Mike.
“They got proscuitto?” Mike asked.
This came out as prazhoot, and Ducky didn’t know that from gappagool....they didn’t have it anyway.
“Soppressatta,” asked Mike
“This fuckin’ place,” said Mike. “Tell me they got pastrami, at least.”
It was a while before the answer to this burning question came back, in the affirmative...Mike just zipped Ducky’s bag up and handed it back to him.
“There you go, Tex,” said Mike, straightening.
Ducky stepped by him.
“You going to search me?” asked Deserette.
“Wouldn’t mind,” said Mike.
“Go ahead,”said Ducky over his shoulder.
He didn’t look back, but she was giggling for the next minute or so...Ducky didn’t like this one bit, but he had to get into the game...
“There’s TVs in those side rooms,” Mike told Deserette, a not-so subtle hint that they didn’t want her hanging around the table. “Help yourself to the bar.”
“I will do just that,” said Deserette.
“Food’ll be along,” Mike said. “Probably take awhile, though. This fuckin’ place.”
Ducky went down to the table and introduced himself as Big Jack Walker.
“Big Jack, huh?” asked a middle-aged balding fellow with a big smile and a lot of jewelry.
“Yep,” said Ducky.
“Well...Big Jack, I’m Ed Levitt.” He nodded towards Avram. “Mr. Schifrin you seem to know...” He indicated the Asian guy. “That’s Winston Yip. He’s from China Town. We recruited him in the Imperial Palace...won the lottery just last week, decided he’d like to share it with us.”
“Hey, I just won the lottery too,” said Ducky.
Winston grinned. “Bad luck for you. Going to cut your ass, Big Jack.” He laughed and shook his head. “Big Jack.”
“You got a problem with my name?”
“No Big Jack. Hell no. Everybody where I come from name Big Jack too. That Wanchai, in Hong Kong. All full of Big Jack. Trip over Big Jack.”
“Hey Winston, be nice,” said one little suntanned wiry mediterranean looking dude. He extended a hairy hand that was even more ring-clotted than one of Ed’s. “Tony Amatuna. They call me Tony, or sometimes just Tuna, sometimes Charlie the Tuna.”
“Not Tony the Tuna?” Ducky asked.
“Why the fuck would anyone call anyone Tony the Tuna? It’s Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna.” He laughed. “Big Jack.”
“Hey hey,” said Winston. “You be nice now, Charlie Tuna.”
“I’m always nice.”
Ed indicated the fellow who’d given Ducky the note at Bally’s.”And that’s Tony Q, but you’ve met.”
“Big Jack,”Tony Q smirked.
Ducky was beginning to get genuinely steamed...even though he’d never been called Big Jack so much, he wasn’t enjoying it at all. But then a western type in vest and a straw cowboy with the brim turned up on either side practically jumped up next to him, and Ducky was shaking his massive paw before he even realized it.
“Aww, they’re just busting your chops, buddy,” the cowboy said, sounding genuinely friendly...Ducky warmed to him immediately.
“And that’s Tim Tardesman, from Lone Pine, over in California,” said Ed.
“I run tours in Inyo,” said Tim. “The Alabama hills, where they shot all those Westerns. You should come on out sometime, and I’ll show you all the big, big rocks.”
“That’s if you like big rocks,” said Ed.
“We’ve got lots of ‘em in Utah,’ said Ducky.
“I bet,” said Ed. “Let’s play some cards.”
Now this game was Ed’s idea...he was a professional card player from St. Louis. At first he’d been content to work the poker games in the casinos along the river, but then he’d hit on the idea of looking for well-heeled losers on hot streaks (generally idiots who’d just won the lottery), and inviting them to private games where they’d be allowed to win just long enough to commit most of their wads, whereupon Ed would open up his actual war chest, and sandbag the shit out of them. Since he always preferred to gamble with someone else’s dough, he’d get his grubstake from some local goombah, who’d usually be happy to throw in a gorilla or two as security...Ed generally had at least one shill at the table as well. He’d never tried his scam in Vegas before; this was his first night,although he’d been in town for about a week, getting introduced...he’d met Marty Gennucci at a card game at the Mirage. Marty ran the International Association of Linen Workers, which serviced about half the hotels on the strip, and also included The Brotherhood of Seafood Truckers, and the Amusement Machine Electrician Union. After the game, Marty and Ed had gotten to talking, and it turned out the Electrician Union had about a million bucks it wanted to invest in something...Ed had been recommended as a straight shooter by a number of straight shooters, and Marty decided to plow those Union dues into something sure-fire. Ed had gotten the money earlier in the afternoon, bundles of hundreds in two big cloth bags They were upstairs at the moment, but Ed figured he’d be getting into one in about an hour and a half...he’d already sized up the guys round the table. He figured “Big Jack” would be cleaned out pretty shortly...Ed wasn’t sure about Mr. Schifrin, though. Something mean was going on in that Jew’s skull, and if Ed had been Tony Q back at the Bally’s, he didn’t think he would’ve invited that particular member of the Tribe...
Everybody anted up, one thousand bucks...Ducky won some hands, kept feeling lucky, even though everybody with the exception of Tim Tardesman kept ragging on Ducky about his name. More and more Ducky found himself thinking about pulling that little five-shot hammerless out of his bag, how satisfying it would be to shoot a couple of these bastards, particularly that little moon-faced chink. But really, he was getting his revenge by taking their money. He kept on winning, and his bets got bigger...mostly he was scoring off Mr. Schifrin...the others were lying low. The Jew was well down by the time that long-awaited sandwich platter arrived.
Mike at the door was pretty grouchy with the room service guy, saying,
“No Prazhoot, you should tip me, you fucking mutt.”
But Tony Q said, “Hey, he’s just the guy who brings the platter.”
“Hey, he’s just an asshole,” said Mike, but tipped him at last.
Everyone except Schifrin gathered round the food...he went to the bar. Deserette came out of that side room, made herself something...Ducky piled up a big fat ham and swiss cheese on rye sandwich with pickles, lettuce and tomato, and thin onion slices. The platter did not look deficient to Ducky. He and Deserette went over to a huge leather couch with a glass coffee table in front of it to have their food...
“Why don’t you go get us some beers?” Ducky asked.
Deserette dutifully rushed over to the bar and came back with a couple of bottles.
“How’s it going?” she asked.
“Pretty good so far,” he replied.
“That Mr. Schifrin looks mighty unhappy,” she observed.
“Ah, he’s just losing,” Ducky said.
Now when everybody got back to the table, Ducky lost large a couple of times and he had this crummy feeling that his luck had changed. He still had just about the same wad he’d brought from Bally’s, which was way more than he’d won when he’d Picked that Big One, and he could’ve gotten up and walked away, and he still would’ve been way ahead. But then, right before the next hand, Winston Yip looked at him and said, “Wassamatta, you turn to pussy now, Big Jack?” and Ducky decided he was going to live up to his nickname, really be a great big Jack.
But the next three hands went worse than the last three, and he compounded his problem by trying to bluff and putting way too much on the line. Mr. Schifrin won two of the hands, and Ed Levitt won the other...Ducky was down to ten thousand bucks.
After that, he just sat there, feeling like an idiot. Schifrin seemed unhappy to be whipping him so badly...Ted Tardesman looked as if he was working himself up to advising Ducky to leave. Everyone else was all glances and infuriating little smiles, but they didn’t say anything...maybe they thought they’d be able to clean him out completely.
Ducky sat out the next few hands...it came down to Schifrin and Levitt...Schifrin went all in. Huge pot. Ducky had never seen so much money.
“Hey Mike,” Levitt called. “Go upstairs.”
Mike left his post and went up the spiral staircase, returning with a great big green athletic bag. Levit unzipped it and dumped the contents on the table. Dozens and dozens of bundled hundreds thumped out.
“Well Avram,what do you think?” Levitt asked.
Ducky was rooted to his chair...Tardesman, Tony Q., Amatuna, Winston Yip, were all staring wide-eyed at the cash, like they were looking at God Himself, To Ducky it seemed like the money was practically glowing.
But Schifrin just unlocked that case from his wrist and opened it up, and tossed a long swollen plastic bag onto the greenbacks...Ducky didn’t know what he was looking at at first, although the stuff in that bag sure did glitter. It was like white fire. Suddenly he realized it was diamonds.
“Oh, wow,” said Winston Yip.
Schifrin smiled thinly at Levitt, said, “Well, Ed, what do you think?”
Ed wasn’t surprised, of course.
Tony Q had told him he thought he’d snagged a diamond courier. And Ed was pretty sure the rocks were genuine, even before he opened the bag...guys were always putting up their watches and their jewelry at games, and he’d made a point of acquiring some chops as an appraiser...he’d seen bagged cut stones before.
But he’d never seen anything like the treasure that had just been tossed down before him. Just to make sure, he opened the bag, took out his jeweller’s glass, examined a few of the stones. They were just wonderful. West African. Probably they’d been mined in the last few months.Very fiery. Nothing much in the way of niggers. His wager had been seen, and then some.
“Mike,” he said.
Mike went upstairs to get the other cloth bag.
Right up until he came back, Ed was staring Avram right in the eyes. Avram was looking like he knew he was a dead, dead man, but he also looked very hard and composed. He’d hurled himself into this course of action, and now he was going to take his medecine...Ed was almost proud of him...and mucho glad that Avram had been frisked at the door...
Ducky watched Mike go into the room and come back down...Ducky felt almost drunk to think of the money in the bag, and on the table, and the jewels...it was almost hard for him to remember that he’d just been almost cleaned out.
But then he started wondering what Joe was going to say to him when he went back to Cainville. True, he hadn’t lost everything. But he wouldn’t be able to pay Deserette’s brother off now, or Joe, for that matter...Joe was going to rip into him big time...and Hell, Ducky found himself thinking that he’d deserve it.
Unless he took matters into his own hands, that is.
Ed was dumping that second bag out on the table...Ducky couldn’t read
Schifrin’s face at all, unless maybe the poor guy didn’t care about anything anymore. Ducky collected what remained of his stake, put the paethic remnant back in his own cloth bag, got up and stretched, no one paying him any attention at all.
“I think I’m out,” he said. “Need a stiff one.”
He headed up to the bar with the mostly-emptied bag from Bally’s. Tardesman and Amatuna and Winston Yip were congratulating Ed. Mike was heading back to his post. As he went past, Ducky turned to look at him. The tail of that deafening tropical shirt hung down in back, but Ducky could see a lump about belt level...the greaseball had a piece tucked into his pants.
Now Ducky wasn’t good at much, but he knew guns and how to shoot ‘em; there was a spot out in the badlands where he’d ridden his trailbike and his ORV with his friends, and they all brought stuff out there and blasted the hell out of it with shotguns, rifles, and pistols...Hell, everybody in the Madducks family used the place, and everyone was a good shot...Ducky wasn’t as good as Joe, but he was a lot better than most everybody on earth. He expected he was a whole lot better than any of the city boys in the room at the moment...Tardesman looked like he probably knew how to shoot, but Ducky assumed he wasn’t packing because Mike had searched him...Mike probably didn’t always fuck up the way he had with Ducky.
Anyway, since Ducky had lost big, and was confident in his marksmanship, and he couldn’t bear to think of the crap that Joe was going to give him, and he was really mad about all those assholes making fun of a name that wasn’t even his, Ducky knew he had to act, and he pulled out his little wheelgun and closed in behind Mike real quick. Mike heard him, started to turn, but Ducky put a pill right into Mike’s ear. A small slop of blood about the color of Mike’s shirt flew out, landed on that shirt, and vanished...even as Mike was falling, Ducky tossed the five-shot to his left hand, reached under Mike’s shirt, and snatched out Mike’s gun. It was a stainless steel Smith and Wesson .357 magnum. Ducky cocked the hammer and rushed back towards the pit, pistols in both mitts, screaming, “Hands up!”
They were all half out of their chairs...Ed was reaching behind his back...Ducky, who had a .357 slug into Ed’s right shoulder. Blood blossomed in that white shirt, and Ed dropped back into his chair.
Winston Yip got all the way up, and he had a bitsy silver automatic, a lady’s gun...Winston poepped got a shot off, but Ducky got him in the belly, and Winston belched real loud and dropped into his chair too, gun landing in the money.
“All right!” Ducky screamed. “Put your pieces on the table where I can see ‘em! Now!”
Tony Q produced a Berretta but fumbled it, dropped it on the floor.
“I’m unarmed!” screamed Charlie Tuna...Ducky didn’t think he believed him.
“Me too!” shouted Tardesman.
Ducky swung the five-shot towards Charlie Tuna, popped him in an elbow. Charlie gripped the wound, his whole sleeve already scarlet, blood pulsing through his fingers.
“I’m unarmed!” he screamed.
Ducky thought maybe he was...he pointed the Magnum at Wilson Yip, who screamed, “NoNoNoNoNoNoNo!”
“What’s my name?” Ducky cried.
“Oh..Big Jack!” Wilson shrieked.
“Didn’t hear you!”
Well, just to show exactly and emphatically how big a man he was, Ducky planted a slug right at the top of Wilson’s nose. Blood jumped down the whole length of it, spurted from his nostrils...his eyes bugged...his head rocked back into the red mist (from the exit-wound) that was still hanging in the air behind him.
Ducky noticed movement...Tony Q was reaching for something...Schifrin snatched that Beretta off the table and shot him three times in the face even as Ducky capped off two more rounds from the Magnum. Tony Q flew back against his seat, which tipped over, and he landed with his feet in the air.
Tardesman made a lunge for Winston’s pistol where it was still lying on the money...Ducky didn’t know why, because Ted had never made fun of him, and shouldn’t have been worried. But there was just nothing whatsoever to do but shoot Tardesman right in his cowboy hat. Tardesman landed on the table but slipped down.
Suddenly Ducky noticed that Levitt had dropped from view...hardly had he made this observation when Ed reappeared, with his own gun, and that pistol that Tony Q had fumbled...he slid to the side, getting behind Amatuna, who seemed to be a just plain old civilian after all, and was still sitting there with his hands up and a terrified expression on his face...Ducky swung both guns towards Levitt and his human shield, but Schifrin wailed into them first, with that Beretta. Charlie Tuna’s face exploded in blood...blood jumped from his shoulder, was shooting out of Ed’s white-shirted chest...Levitt got a couple of rounds off before Schifrin blew one of his eyes out. Then Ed dropped down behind Amatuna’s corpse.
Schifrin turned towards Ducky, looking unhappier than ever. Ducky couldn’t see any blood on that black jacket, but red stains were spreading through Schifrin’s shirt. Ducky didn’t feel like shooting him...also, he wasn’t sure if he had any slugs left...and Schifrin’s Beretta hadn’t locked open, so Ducky knew he had at least one round.
“Hey, take your diamonds,” said Ducky.
“Fuck ‘em,” said Schifrin. “All for you. I hate diamonds. Actually, now that I think of it, you can take the cash too.”
He sat back down in his seat.
“Ducky?” came Deserette’s voice. Ducky turned.
“I think someone shot me,” she said, standing at the top of the stair. She had her hand over her stomach...he ran up and looked, but there didn’t seem to be any blood.
“Look, there’s no blood, honey,”said Ducky. “You’re all right.”
And with that, he rushed back down the pit, threw the diamonds and as much cash as he could into one of those big cloth bags...it pained him greivously to leave the rest, but the bag he’d stuffed was almost too much as it was...it felt like he had part of a railway tie in there...he thought of making Deserette carry the other bag, but he didn’t think she could manage. Beside, they’d stuck around way too long as it was...
“So long Avram,” said Ducky over his shoulder, as he and Deserette rushed for the door...if Schifrin answered, Ducky didn’t hear it.
Word had gotten out that the Tamerlane, because of its teething problems, wasn’t a good place to stay, even if the casino was going great guns...they were practically giving rooms away, and that’s why Ed had booked a suite there, because he was a cheapskate...a lot of the twentieth floor was empty...not too many people even heard the gunbattle...the rooms were well-made and practically no one was around. Nobody wanted to look out in the hall either, so nobody saw Ducky and Deserette rush on down the hall to the stairwell. Security was all messed up, and there was a fight down in the casino that drew off a lot of guys...it was twenty minutes before anyone got up to 2020, or rather down, because they had to take the elevator up to the Silk road and then go down the stairwell. But when security got inside the room, well...between the cards, the money, and the bodies, it was pretty obvious that they were looking a poker game gone real bad.
Avram was still alive, but just barely.
“I shot them,” he said, coughing blood. “I shot them all.”
They didn’t get another word from him, and he checked out shortly afterwards.
As for Ducky and Deserette, they’d descended in a stairwell where the cameras weren’t working, and got out onto the parking lot through a door where the camera wasn’t working either; it was a long slog for Deserette through that huge parking-lot.
“Ducky, I really think somebody shot me,” she kept saying, and Ducky would answer, “Babe, you’re going to be all right,” and then, “Honey, we’re almost to the car.”
At any rate, she stayed on her feet the whole distance between the suite and the Buick, and didn’t seem to lose a single drop of blood. Ducky threw the bag in the trunk and they got into the car, and Ducky drove out through that back gate in the chainlink fence, and along that dirt road. They got back onto Fifteen, Ducky popped in some Billy Ray Cyrus, and Achy Breaky Heart was up, and they roared towards Utah in the moonlight through the desert and the Joshua trees, with Ducky believing fervently he’d done something even cooler than playing 12345678910 in the Pick a Big One...
As for Marty Gennucci and the rest of the crew who administered the Amusement Machine Electricians pension fund, they figured out pretty quick that only half the cash at the poker game had been accounted for...Marty’s bad judgement, which all his buddies had previously hailed as vision with a capital V, was revealed in a very different light..Marty caught a double tap one night, and wound up entombed in the foundation of the Forty Thieves, whose construction had just begun, a half mile down the road from the Tamerlane.
But even though Marty’s partners had despaired of him, they hadn’t given up on all that cash. They looked into the matter with considerable energy, committed some serious resources. And they had a great big additional incentive, over and above getting back their own dough; turned out that that dead sheenie, the one who said he killed everybody else (nobody believed that) had been carrying (so claimed his brother Shmuel) a fortune in cut stones, and whoever took the union dues almost certainly had the rocks as well. Everyone was looking, Marty’s friends, other crews, the local cops, the Feds, private dicks, Jewish guys from back east.
But none of them were giving too much thought to the Beehive State.