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 3 - The Hundred Dollar Bet

The average age of the club's membership was 57. The older of its members were a special slice of Brokaw's Great Generation. These men had weathered the Great Depression during their adolescence; they had served during in the Second World War. They met both these challenges with relative success. They returned home young chronologically, but old mentally. Their values had stabilized based on the intensity of their experiences; there had been no opportunity for their values to be tempered through any diversity of living. Their survival during economic hardship was ample proof to them that anyone, who wanted to, could rise above poverty with only a temporary boost. The invariable patriotism that undergirded them during the international upheaval, they concluded, had to be the only acceptable demeanor for an American.

The typical member of the Circle returned home to new life, a life destined for prosperity. These members worked hard and spent their income wisely to buy houses, appliances, cars, jewelry and all the things which would solidly separate them from the poverty they had known.

As their disposable income increased, they began to experience a lifestyle that they would have never dreamed possible. Still, it was a well managed lifestyle. Their indulgences were well within their means. They were shrewd at engineering trips which permitted them to see all the festivities without paying for all the amenities. They were the bargain hunters of the glamour places, places that once had known only aristocracy. They walked on the paths of the genteel although they still felt more akin to the caretakers. The caretakers marked them as ugly Americans. These travelers delighted in bragging about all they had seen; the seeing constituted the essence of their travel experience.

They provided for the education of their children. Both parents and children valued the accomplishment more than the knowledge and the socialization. The older children internalized many of their parents' values although the children hadn't met the challenges which legitimized and sustained the values. These children affiliated with the Circle. In contrast, the parents couldn't understand the actions of their younger children, as the impact of a new era forced a new consciousness. These children tended not to associate with the Circle.

The generation became a dying breed, but it would die hard, even as its birth had been hard. They recruited to the Circle new, younger, members, but the rigidity of values forced increasing numbers of the younger members to leave. As the average age of the membership continued to climb and the totals continued to decline, the national leadership understood that decisive action would be needed to ensure the organization's eventual survival. A few national leaders, YoungTurks who persisted in spite of their being different, wished for the organization itself to change. However, the preferred solution was to indoctrinate new members and the general public to the rightness of the Circle's dogma. Looking back, after all these years, I believe that the events that occurred while I was a member of that club in Georgia were predictive of the fate of the Circle of Stars.

The discussion here is masculine because it was, prescriptively, a gender-restricted organization. But, what was true for the men wasequally true of their wives. They were family oriented. The daily trials of the genders were different, but their values, their outlooks, were the same.

While a general theme was reflected in the lives of the men who entered that plantation-styled building, its manifestation found a different realization in the character of each and every Star member. Many saw the club as a place to drink and dance. Some of these members had a small fortune invested in dancing lessons and clothing. They reveled in participating in spotlight dances, dance contests, and any event where the attention might be focused on them. A large proportion of the members attended the weekly dances. Those who most enjoyed dancing were also the ones who most enjoyed the rituals of the meeting room.

Many of the members saw the club as a place to drink and gamble. For very few, wagering was a passion that they couldn't contain; these were not long permitted to remain members. For a few, gaming was a daily ritual of fellowship and relaxation; they developed the requisite skills for its continuance. Most only played occasionally. A large proportion enjoyed watching the rituals of the card room when they didn't play.

While the preferred rituals of the members varied, there was significant overlay. Plus, they all shared the bar. These who enjoyed their dances needed the support from the bar provided by those who preferred gaming. Those who preferred wagering needed the cover of the club for their illegal activity.

While I had joined the Circle in hopes of meeting a special woman at one of the dances, the card room was where I spend much of my time. During the first few months, I was amazed at the volume of gambling, and at the stakes. Most of the games were for small stakes, $5 and less; but, sometimes particularly on Saturday afternoon, the pictures of Ben Franklin would emerge from the billfolds and money clips. Much of it was "trading money" back and forth. Money lost on one round of the deal was won back on another; dollars won one day was returned on another.

"Damn yo-yo game," someone would say. "I was up five hundred, now I'm even!"

"If I's even, I'd go home. "

"I hope I never get even."

Using what little I knew about Las Vegas, I concluded that the dealers made the money, eventually. Everyone else simply paid for a good time. Unlike Vegas, however, anyone who got a blackjack could deal; so it seemed fair. The dealer could set any upper limit for each hand, thus a small initial bankroll didn't necessarily prohibit dealing.

When a dealer set a smaller limit than the players wanted to play, someone with a larger bankroll would often take overage, which, in effect, created a new higher limit. The accounting became complex with the various players' strategies. To simplify matters, members sometimes formed partnerships or companies in the deal. Two, or more, people would contribute to their initial bank in some proportion and thus share in the winnings or losses.

It was in this way that I first dealt. Henry Ruth, aka O Henry and Candy Man, encouraged me to form a partnership with him. The deal had been hot; at least I had been steadily losing as a player. 0 Henry had been betting money on my hand when we got a blackjack. I had brought $150 to the club that Saturday afternoon and had barely $100 left.

I asked Henry, "How much would it take?"

"Who knows? If we are lucky we won't need any. What you got?"

"Ahundred."

"That's enough, come on."

It was obvious that he wanted to deal. Henry dealt often, usually with a tall, elderly gentleman named J. D. Oliver. At that time about all that I knew about J. D. was that he was rich. When I first met him I had routinely asked J. D. what he did for a living and he had told me he was a professional gambler. He looked the part with western hat and open vest.

As I entered into my first partnership with the Candy Man, I knew very little about him. He was in good shape, physically, for a man in his fifties. He was likable. He liked to gamble. He seemed to like me. I did see the partnership as a means to be more often on the winning side of the table.

We lost money on our first turn at the deal, but it didn't last long. Someone else got a blackjack and took the deal. I thought that when we lost the deal our partnership would end, but Ruth seemed deeply committed to our union.

"We'll just play a company hand until we get another blackjack," he suggested.

That was fine with me; I was enjoying the excitement as well. I only worried about holding up my end of the partnership, financially. By then, most of the bigger bettors were in the room. They would want to play for higher stakes than I wanted to risk. The limit was at $20 now, and every hand had a twenty dollar bill riding on it.

Before long, the Candy Man and I got a blackjack and moved behind the table again. We had won money as players so our stash was again over $200. At that point it seemed we would be better off playing than dealing. Fortune seemed to have shifted to the players.

We lost money on the first two deals around the table but not very much. I was dealing. Henry was handling the money. I didn't feel confident.

My confidence was further undermined by the entrance of a six-foot, stocky man named Buster Sampson, the uncle of Gary, our Priest of Peace. Sampson was noted for his ability to bet big on winning hands, and small on losing hands. After winning a couple of big bets, he would announce as he put a dollar bill on the table, "I'm going to let the dealers get even this time." The players referred to such moves as being Sampsonized. At least there were no empty spots at the table, and each hand had a maximum bet; so, we weren't likely to be Sampsonized.

"Kinda late today, ain't ye Buster?"

I exceeded 21 on that hand and we had to pay everyone. "No doubles," I thought, "only $140 down."

"Yes, we had some problems down at the plant. And it looks like the deal is cold too," Buster said.

"Can't Fello handle those problems? What's a foreman for? You gotta tell em you got obligations on Saturday afternoon!"

I bust again but four players had gone over 21 before me. We paid one double and broke even.

"That's it, Hunter," said 0 Henry, "you bust twice in a row and you lose your seat." I took about sixty dollars from Ruth and gave him the deck.

"Dang it! I can't even bet on anyone," complained Buster.

"You can take overage," I suggested.

"I'm not crazy. You two don't know what you're doing. You might as well pack it in."

I didn't respond, but Buster continued as if I had recoiled in disbelief, "I'll tell you what: I'll bet you $100 that you lose more than you win on this round."

O' Henry quickly responded, "I'll take that bet."

"No, I'll deal only with your partner!" Sampson looked squarely and pointed directly at me.

I was frozen by the suddenness of the interchange. I felt a small tremor go through my body, and knew that I had to say something.

"0kay, you're on, but I won't be able to pay until after we split our partnership."

"That's fine," said Buster. The other players chuckled about a bet on credit.

"You might not even have to pay him," suggested Candy Man.

"Now let's keep the money straight; we want to be able to settle this bet," cautioned Buster.

Candy Man nodded that he could handle it.

Before Ruth had finished giving everyone their first two cards, one of the players turned a blackjack. "I'll give you a leg up on um, Samps."

"We'll just leave your cards here and see if we can't get themoney from some of these other good players," Ruth said rather confidently.

He had turned a face card for himself. There was hope. He checked his hole card. He didn't have an ace down. The first player took a hit. The face card busted him. Henry put that $20 on top of the upturned blackjack.

"Next victim!"

"Hit me," responded the next player. Henry slid another face card from the top of the deck. "Sorry, Buster, it bust me."

"Don't be sorry, the deal ain't over yet."

Ruth traded me the twenty for two tens and paid off the blackjack. With three hands down, we were $10 ahead. Henry put that ten in the center of the table. The next four players had their cards under their money. I knew they had good hands. The look on Sampson's face confirmed that opinion. I just hoped the good ole Candy Man had a ten-count in the hole.

"It's up to you, 0 Henry. What you got?"

Ruth turned a two. At least it wasn't a six. He did have some room to hit; but, we hadn't been hitting well. My skin became cool with sweat. Ruth took the next card from the deck still face down and laid it next to the two up cards.

Slowly, he rolled it over. It was a four. All that and it still wasn't over. I tried to discount the importance of $100. I also realized how far I had come down this gambler's trail. It had only been four months since I had joined the club. Before that time, I seldom had over $50 in cash at any one time, and I accounted for every dollar. I had worried when I had lost $57 in one evening of twenty one. Now, I felt certain that I would lose one hundred dollars on one hand. Henry looked up at me with a look of amazement.

"I really thought I could hit that 12."

"Just turn the next card," I heard myself say.

The next card was a three. He had not busted. My hope returned, but guardedly because we would still have to pay any 20's.

There were two 20's. However, someone had stayed on a 16.

"Well, I guess I should have taken a card," he said.

"I am really glad you didn't! Thanks," I said as I saw the 18 in the remaining hand. We had broken even on the last four hands, the ten-dollar bill in the middle of the table was ours -- plus a hundred-dollar bill from Buster Sampson's pocket went directly into mine.

Candy Man blackjacked on the very next hand, and the cards were positive for the dealers for the remainder of that Saturday afternoon. Henry and I split over $1200 after everyone quit the game.

"Wow, that was fun," I proclaimed as I put the money into my pocket. "It was a lot of work, but, man what wages!"

"It's good work when you can get it. It's just hard work to come by."

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