The Symbiotic Club

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.

Chapter 9 - The Vegas Trips

During the weeks after the ban, the big building became a tomb. When people did come, they mostly complained about the ban. I imagine that somewhere people rejoiced, happy that they had finally ended the corruption at the club, but not upstairs! When anyone was they, were saying, "the officers' action was down-right stupid. It drove people away for nothing."

The gamblers agreed with Freddy that the officers acted inconsistently. More to the heart of the issue, the officers had attacked for no reason the most enjoyable activity in the players' daily routine.

Most members stopped coming to the club totally. Some of the members who had played for big stakes before the ban continued to play for big stakes, just not as often. That meant that there were fewer games, both big and small. Less activity bred less activity. Members would drive by and, seeing no cars, they would drive on; as long as no one stopped, then there was no reason for anyone to stop.

In contrast, I went to the club more that summer. Demands on me at the paper were virtually nonexistent. I wrote my column, usually about the local youth games from information supplied by the parks' personnel, in the morning. Then, I would head for the court house, and by late afternoon I checked in at the club to see if there was any activity.

The only local court case of interest all summer was a change of venue. Our paper had covered the events leading to the trial so thoroughly, and, the defense team contended, so sensationally that an unbiased jury couldn't be located in our county.

The defense team was probably correct in its analysis. Our paper kept the story foremost in its coverage. The woman had reported her husband missing one Sunday afternoon. Before dark, her daughter and a neighbor's child found the body floating in a pond near their home. Bruises at the base of the neck indicated that the husband had been struck from behind before being placed in the pond. Undergrowth on the bank suggested that the body had been dragged to the pond. 

Still, the initial sheriff's report identified the drowning as a probable accident. Our headline, Monday afternoon, questioned this conclusion based on the bruises and the brush. The coroner's report, released Tuesday, concluded that the husband had drawn and raised the question of misconduct. Our legal reporter, in an accompanying article, presented information, from reliable sources, detailing the wife's extramarital sexual activity. Among many alleged sexual partners were several members of the sheriff's department.

The events of the probable murder provided an alternative topic of discussion for the few members who came to the club on those summer afternoons. "Why, I understand that she was sleeping with half the men over there in Littleton."

"Yeah, it ought to be the D. A. that asks for a change of venue. You couldn't get a jury in this county without including someone who slept with her."

"I understand that she had detective stories and books on unsolved crimes all over their trailer."

"Yeah, one was opened to a murder where a mandrowned."

"What I don't understand is where she got the money for these Atlanta lawyers."

"She's surely made some influential friends somewhere!"

"Do you wonder how?"

Bruce delegated the hearing to Wanda, who looked beautiful in the process, but exerted little effort to block the trial's move. Politically, a change must have been judged advantageous for the D. A.'s office. The trial was moved to the next county.

Having the trial in another county removed my remaining opportunity to see Wanda, short of becoming a stocker. Her receptionist and answering machine at home made it impossible for me to reach her by phone. With little to offer, attempts to talk with her were meaningless anyway. .

My hopes hinged on the bank of Vegas. I booked a package through the local travel agent. My agreement with the paper didn't include any official vacations, but I could file an article in advance for the day that I was to be gone, permitting me a three-day weekend.

I opted to stay through Monday. Sunday evening and Monday morning provided better gambling conditions than did Thursday evening and Friday. I took a late afternoon flight, and arrived at my hotel, in the middle-strip, with time to play for an hour before going to bed. With the experiences of the previous trips, I had adjusted to the excitement. I was able to sleep.

I arose the next day in time to enjoy the experience of an aesthetic sunrise. The mountains east of Las Vegas first glowed a pale yellow and next a radiant red. Then, the sky burst into a rich violet before the sun chased the remainder of the darkness from the day. I felt good to be alive. I wasn't advancing in any of the major thrusts of life, but life itself was good. I had won a week's wages in an hour the previous evening, and I was fresh and refreshed. My senses were alert. Believing that I could win gave me a feeling of confidence and vitality. Life equaled action, and I was in the center of action.

The events of the day reinforced my feeling. I first played against a middle-aged woman. She was neat, attractive and friendly, and, also, an inexperienced dealer. She had difficulty adding the cards' values and paying on complicated bets. The deal was also cold. I had gained $120 in the forty minutes at the table. I became hungry and decided to go eat. When I secured my chips to leave, she seemed surprised and even somewhat hurt.

After breakfast, no deal was as favorable as the first, but they were generally profitable. I would play at one casino for an hour or so and then walk to the next. By the end of the day, I was at the south most end of the strip. I took a taxi back to my motel, had dinner and went to bed. Deducting for meals and taxi, I was $387 ahead for the trip. I had no trouble going to sleep.

The books on blackjack had cautioned me not to call attention to myself. Casino personnel, they said, didn't like card counters, and the law gave them the right to bar anyone from gambling in their establishments.

On Saturday, the pit bosses hadn't paid undue attention to me, but on Sunday, they watched like owls my every play. I rode the bus downtown and spent the day going from table to table. The cards ran according to the textbook, and many of my plays seemed psychic focusing attention on me. I left casinos more frequently.

After dinner, I went into an older hotel on the edge of town. The dealer's chip tray had only halves, silver dollars, and $5 dollar chips; the table maximum was $50. My largest bet all day had been $20; so, the limit didn't matter to me. The two gamblers at the table each were betting single dollars. I felt like the last of the big-time spenders when I placed the $5 bet. The cards favored the house for several shuffles.

I kept a careful count and played correctly. Again, the correct play was the most beneficial one for me, and that compensated greatly for the house's luck. I lost $25 before the luck shifted. I began to get twenties to the dealer's nineteen, blackjacks on $20 bets. In two shuffles, I was up $40. The pit boss had been watching since the beginning, but while I was losing, he was happy. Now that I was winning, he moved directly across the table, glaring at me. Then, an older man came and stood beside him. The appearance of the older man prompted everyone to stand more erect. I was sufficiently uncomfortable under those conditions that I wanted to leave.

I walked back toward the bus stop. On the way, another casino attracted my attention. A young red-haired dealer stood alone at a single-deck table. I played at that table for almost an hour. Her hair reminded me of Wanda and the reason for my involvement. When she went on break, I cashed my chips. Near the cashier's booth was a fat security guard. His uniform bore the name of the older casino where I won the $40. Although I noticed, I didn't give it more thought.

On the way to the bus stop, I saw a hotel that had a special on ice-cream cones. I deviated from my path to reward myself. I knew that I was something over $500 ahead for the day, and, although I was tired, I still felt zestful. There was a line for the cones, but patience at that point wasn't difficult. I ate one scoop and part of the second before going back into the heat.

On exiting the hotel and retracing my steps, I was surprised to see again the fat security guard. He was leaning against a building talking to a plump but attractive woman. It appeared that he was being hustled, but as I walked by, he was the one doing the talking. She appeared ready to walk away, but he continued to talk to her. Everything about the scene seemed incongruous. Still, at the time, I didn't notice its inconsistency. I was enjoying my ice cream and I had a bus to catch.

A bus arrived just before I did. I ran to avoid missing it, but there was no need. A large number of people had to board.

As I waited with the crowd, I again saw the guard. He was out of breath as if he had run also. At that point, I thought about his actions. He seemed headed in the opposite direction when I passed him, and he showed no indication that he had any plans to catch a bus. Yet, now he pressed to get on this one, which, at best, would permit only standing room.

At that time, another bus turned the corner and parked behind the first. Since I was in no hurry, I backed away to await the second one. So did the chubby guard. He boarded the bus after me. The second carrier was less crowded. The guard sat behind me. As we head toward down the strip, he talked loudly to a couple of tourists.

"Ours is a small casino. We don't even use $25 chips. We cater to small-time gamblers who are just in town to have a little fun. We don't appreciate professional gamblers coming into our shop,"

One of the tourists asked, "Professional gamblers? People make a living gambling?"

"Oh yes. They do at blackjack. They're called 'counters.' They keep track of all the cards that have been dealt from the deck, and raise their bet at the right time." With only the slightest pause, the guard returned to his original theme. "We don't cater to those counters." His voice had a particular harshness. "We are too small an operation. Professional players really ought to stay at the south end of the strip. The big boys are more equipped to deal with um than we are." As I departed the bus, I felt I'd been delivered a message. I was uncertain as to its implications.

The next morning, I ate and packed. I had three hours before I had to leave for the airport. During that time, I played at three different casinos and won exactly $100 at each. At the airport, I deducted the expenses for the trip and added the remaining $550 to my gambling bankroll bring my total to $2550. The total was only $450 short of the amount needed to play at the $25 minimum tables. It was a start. My mind fantasized about a life with Wanda on the return flight.

On returning to work, I learned of the officers' attempt to encourage more participation. The club was hosting a covered dish outing at the county park. I had never been to the park and was happy to have something to do that Sunday afternoon in late June. I left a message on Wanda's answering machine inviting her to the event, but got no reply. I still maintained hope that she might come even if she came with her lawyer friends.

It was a beautiful day for a picnic. Under the trees, the temperature stayed in the 80's, and there was a gentle breeze. The pine aroma accented the air. The food tasted delicious. Everything was perfect except there was no Wanda and not many gamblers.

I saw Professor Miller with two women. Both seemed bored. The younger one looked to be in her teens. As the professor called me over, they both came alive with bright smiles. I also noticed that the younger one was older than I first thought. The large man's shirt she wore over Bermuda shorts obscured her body, making her look square and adolescent.

Miller introduced me to his wife and daughter, Mary. They could have posed for the mother/daughter look-alike commercials. Although the daughter wasn't as broad as she looked, they both appeared stout. They both had dark black hair, dark complexion, and rich brown eyes. The eyes, rounder and bigger in the mother, were set in a round faces. Mary's cheeks had small, pox marks. Her lips were supple but unpainted. Indeed, she didn't seem to wear any make up.

Her father told me, in the introduction, that she was a senior majoring in business at Florida State University. Her father was obviously proud of his only child.

I mentioned that I was an only child also. She smiled. I asked if she was working this summer. I was simply making conversation; I perceived her as a friend's child although it had become apparent that she was much closer to my age than he was. She told me that she was employed, part time, as a teller at a local bank. As she answered, she placed her hands on her hips drawing the shirt in to emphasize the shape of her figure. Her breasts were impressively large. They captured my attention for a moment. I recovered and asked about some of the people whom I knew at the bank.

Henry Ruth came over and suggested that we go ride the bumper cars. The idea appealed to me. The Miller women shrugged and said, "Sure."

We all walked down together. I started toward the ticket window, but Ruth said it was his treat. As I walked on to the booth with him, he whispered, "I didn't know whether you wanted to be rescued or not. She ain't bad looking!"

I didn't know how to respond. I just smiled and said, "No, I guess not."

Riding the bumper cars was a blast. I had difficulty steering in such close confines because of my left arm. Everyone delighted in ramming into me. I enjoyed being the center of attention and could have ridden the cars longer, but everyone else had a home to go to.

The next day, the boys upstairs, as if suffering from stimulus depravation, were anxious to hear about my trip. They, in turn briefed me on the local news, principally the trial of the Littleton woman for the murder of her husband which was in its latter days.

"I couldn't believe that they put her on the stand."

"I'm glad they did though. Ain't she something else!"

"Yeah, she tells it like it is."

I wanted some specifics. The response carne back slightly more detailed.

"Well, you know, they try to dress her conservatively, but she has one of those bodies that you just can't cover up."

"Yeah, she's slim and bony. Those loose fitting dresses cling to her boobs and hip bones anyway."

"Yeah, and you can't cover that walk in anyway."

"And, when she gets on the stand, she hikes that skirt up over her knees and swings those legs. I bet every swinging dick in the room was hard."

I asked about her "telling it like it is."

"I can give you an example. She said that we all have a fire in our well, just some burn hotter than others."

"Yeah, hers burns the hottest of all!"

The case went to the jury just before I went on my next trip. I had to wait until my return to learn of the verdict.

Again, I bought a package trip, but I stayed at a different hotel. I lost the first night, but only $140. The next morning, I enjoyed the sunrise and returned to the same table where the inexperienced dealer had been good to me in June.

In her place was a sour old man. He dealt fast, made change fast, and rapidly collected $150 of mine.

I wasn't discouraged. The day was young, over 48 hours were left of the trip, and $1,900 remained in my pocket. I decided to go down town on Saturday. I felt in control; I moved from table to table, from casino to casino, every time I lost $150; I played at no location for more than an hour. By dinner time, I had less than $1,000 left. By then, I was discouraged. I had lost $1200 in less than 24 hours. The loss weighed on my mind as I made the long walk from downtown to the strip. Over half of my money was gone in a day. I believed that I had played well. I hadn't even struggled against losing. Each time, I had accepted the loss and moved. Now, it was a struggle to accept the defeats as a natural consequence of living. However, Las Vegas was still the arena for action, and I was still alive. The walking helped. I hoped it tired me enough to sleep.

Before I reached my hotel, the flashing light over the Big Top Casino attracted my attention. I had been telling myself that the luck could change anytime. I had to test if this was the place.

I walked around the large casino pits. Players at one table seemed to be having a good time. "A good time, I could use if nothing else," I thought. I placed one of my remaining hundreds on the table, received two greens and ten red chips from the attractive brunette who was about my age.

"She's tough," the player next to me said.

"Yes, she is!" I said. She smiled, accepting the compliment. In her shirt pocket were several tokes. People don't tip often when they lose; the deal wasn't all that unfavorable.

The players joked and laughed. I enjoyed the comradeship, but I still followed the cards. They were about normal. They would favor the dealer for some time, but then they would shift. I won gradually.

The other players would tip when they won. I would place a bet for the dealer when the count predicted our winning. The dealer was collecting many coins and chips; each went into her breast pocket. I commented how they were weighting her shirt down.

"That's great," she said, "Let's just rip the darn thing off!"

The statement provided an effective image, one which encouraged more tips. I stayed at her table until 2:20 AM. When I left I cashed in over $400, a four for one return. I slept easier knowing that I was only $600 down for the day. My blackjack "business" had almost $1300 in operating funds.

I slept late on Sunday but still felt fatigued from the long day before. The fatigue, obviously, affected my play. I couldn't maintain the separate count of aces, and I misplayed the more complicated hands. I knew not to play tired but I couldn't accept being loser. I played into the evening as I walked south. My errors in play were less important than the run of the cards, which was favorable. By the time I reached Tropicana Blvd., I had won over $500. I was almost even for the trip. I caught a bus back to my hotel and slept the sleep of the fortunate.

I awoke more rested on Monday but with a deep sense of exigency. I recognized the feeling as inappropriate for a gambler and questioned whether it would be best not to play at all that day. The trip had cost me less than $500, little more than my expenses. "Considering Saturday, perhaps I should be happy to have my money back. Things could be much worse, and playing in this frame of mind, they could end up much worse," I thought.

Nevertheless, the feeling of desperation prevailed; I hadn't come west to lose, and to quit would have wasted an opportunity to win or to learn. My internal debate was beneficial because it restrained my emotions. I played with control, but I couldn't keep track of the aces.

I had four hours of playing time that morning, and I played at four casinos. Luck continued to compensate for my fatigued play. I won a black chip at the first stop. The analogy to "black gold" came to my mind. I enjoyed collecting and cashing the two little nuggets, the one that I bought and the one I won, for two one-hundred dollar bills. For the first time on that trip, I was technically ahead "at the tables" for the trip.

At the second casino, my fortune wasn't as favorable. I made some remark about being unlucky on the trip. A fellow player responded, "If you're here, you're lucky." When he said it, I recognized it as insightful. The longer I thought about it, the more its significance became. It lifted my spirits. Even though I lost $30 during that hour, I was able to leave that table.

I won a hundred during each of the last two hours which put me a little ahead of the house for the trip, but clearly not enough to pay for the trip. For my "business" trips that summer, I had a profit of approximately $650, which exceeded my professional wage. It was only half my losses on the first trip. Still, I had to feel pleased with the current trend. I had over $2000, two-third of the criterion for moving to higher-limit tables. I knew that I had to work more on limiting my losses, and I had to break my pattern of gambling while tired. With action all around, resting had proved to be difficult. I thought that having an alternative activity, a distraction from 21, might be a solution.

Toward that end, while I waited for the plane, I bought a book on the game of craps. It was a simple book. I had it read and digested before the plane let down in Atlanta. Bob Dalton had won a small fortune at dice. At least it offered a diversion.

Back at the club, fewer men were upstairs than before I left. They wanted a report on my trip.

"I didn't cover expenses," I told them. They took that to mean that I lost.

I wanted to know the verdict in the murder trial.

"Guilty!" She got life in prison at a minimum security prison for women,"

"Yeah, she can and no doubt will be out in five. She'll probably make money while there."

"Yes, I understand she's negotiating for rights to her story," Professor Miller said.

"Oh, I didn't know that. I was just thinking about what she would make off the guards."

"I still want to know how she accomplished the deed all by herself."

"Yeah, Professor, I've wondered the same things. She's not that strong, physically."

I asked about her children,

"The grandmother had custody of them. She did such a good job with her child that the judge figured he'd give her a shot at the grandchildren."

When the summer ended, I was financially ahead of where I had been when it started; yet I didn't feel closer to becoming a professional gambler. I had no love life, and the social outlet which was the club was only a skeleton of its former self.

The men upstairs were correct about the woman being paroled in five years. She received some money for the exclusive right to her story, but I have no knowledge of her financial status on leaving prison. Probably, her legal expenses consumed her income during the period.

When she was released from prison, she married one of the county deputies, whose possible involvement in the murder was never investigated. They build a nice home in Littleton, were, to the best of my knowledge, they live happily to this day.

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