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 10 - The Money Deal

In the fall after the restrictions on gambling went into effect, Buster Sampson seemed to take a vendetta to return everything to its former status. His actions were subtle but significant. On the surface, it was mainly that he was there more than he had been before the ban, even as other people were there less.

More difficult to identify was the difference in his actions. He was known already for his love of finding the spot in a person's psyche that showed any degree of sensitiveness and rubbing it; for his delight at encouraging misunderstandings between friends and stepping aside to see how long it would take them to resolve it; for his joy in taking someone into the world of the possibly true and seeing how far into fantasy land he could lead them. He did it in all good humor, for the pure fun of interacting. Buster's face always had a grin; its size depended on the situation.

He had always created these little dramas for the amusement of everyone involved. He displayed the talent of a puppeteer in maintaining enough tension on the string to keep the show interesting without upsetting the balance of the actors. And, often enough to ensure interest and a sense of fairness, Buster was the fall guy. Such always stood as a possibility. Even then, Buster enjoyed his productions as much as anyone.

That September, Buster moved his productions to center stage. It became THE SHOW at the Club. He seemed intent on keeping things going. He began to deal blackjack, for the prescribed $5 maximum, almost every afternoon. He would kid with the players and the bartenders. Kati, a woman of obvious Indian heritage who was nearing her fortieth birthday showed a delight in starring in Buster's shows.

One Saturday was "Founders Day". The streets around the court house were blocked to automobile traffic, permitting the creation of a small carnival. I went to the festivities on the hope of seeing Wanda. Dignitaries were scheduled to make speeches that afternoon at the official ceremonies. It was to be a grand affair with hot-air balloons passing overhead. She might well have seen it as politic to attend.

As I walked around, all that I could see were happy families. I soon became depressed and drove to the club. To my surprise, Coach West was already dealing blackjack to five players. Sampson was the only one playing for more than $5, and he was only playing $10. I placed a $5 bet. West shuffled the cards. .

Sampson was talking about the hot-air balloons. He was questioning whether they would travel from their launch point to the city square as they needed to in order to arrive for the big celebration. He seemed to have some devious reason for asking the question. No one was giving his curiosity the attention which he wanted. Apparently, no one wanted to play Sampson's game until Kati came upstairs with a round of drinks.

"Do you think that they won't, Buster?" she asked.

Buster leaned back in his chair. He had a sheepish grin. "Seems the wind's coming more from the south today. They plan to take off out west of us." He shook his head as if to be truly doubtful.

Kati looked perplexed. "What if they don't go right? That would spoil the whole festivities."

"Well, that's why I'm concerned. If the wind don't carry them right, I've got to go up in my plane and fly behind them and sorta push them in the right direction."

As I glanced around the table, everyone was stifling their giggles. "If I have to do it, I have to leave pretty soon."

"You want me to go outside and see which way the wind is blowing now? It won't be no trouble," Kati said.

"If you don't mind." When Kati left, many did laugh, but Buster kept a constant composure.

As if in the same spirit, Freddy turned to me and said, "You know, Russ, Tom Bruce is getting a divorce?"

"Yes, Freddy. I not only work at the paper, I actually read it."

"Well, what's not been printed in the paper is the cause! It's your dancing partner, Wanda Drake, who's likely to be the next Mrs. Drake."

"You have that on good authority, do you?" I tried to keep the hurt from my voice.

"Yes! I have a good friend at the court house."

"How good a friend is he?" asked Coach.

At that point Kati came back to report on the wind direct getting Freddy off some apparent spot.

With Kati's report, Sampson took his leave saying he had to go start up his plane.

Coach was hot . Soon, I had lost my allotted $150.

On my way out, Kati was standing at the door. She seemed serious when she asked, "Was Buster telling the truth about guiding those balloons?"

"O, I think he has some other part in the ceremony; but, with Buster, you just never know."

On Monday, I asked our legal reporter about Freddy's rumor. She seemed surprised and wanted to know my source.

"It was just a rumor."

"Well, as a journalist, you got to know not to make much of rumor."

"Yes, I didn't believe that Drake would hitch her wagon to Bruce. Roslyn Carter, she ain't."

After the football game on Friday, I stopped in at the club. The dance floor was empty. Only a few people sat around talking and drinking. Obviously, the dance had needed support from the gamblers.

I was able to spare a couple of hours the next afternoon. Buster was dealing and the deal was cold.

Freddy was quick to bring up the dance when I sat down. "You dropped in last night? Drake wasn't there all night if you were wondering. The Circle lost money on that one. It's just what the Taylors needed to cancel them all."

Then, a player who hadn't been to the club since the ban came to the table. He flopped a twenty on the table. No one said a word, but we all wondered whether Buster would accept the twenty dollar bet. Buster dealt to him without saying a word. When Buster busted his hand, he paid the $20. He wasn't limited by the rule.

We played on. The pendulum swung in favor of the dealer. Buster was taking in more than he was paying. Most of the hands stayed within the five-dollar rule. Only the one player exceeded ten, but occasionally he would play one hundred. We complained about losing. Buster smiled and offered that he had lost so many hands earlier that he was barely even. It was fairly much a standing joke that he, as a businessman, had to consider the value of his time in such calculations; and, since his time was so valuable, he would seldom be ahead. But, that day, he argued that he wasn't counting his time. He had taken $600 out of his pocket, and that was about all he had on the table now, he argued.

No one believed him, of course. He hadn't been cold that long; and the time that he had been winning was the time of the largest bets. I wondered if he had taken out $600.

"There's more than $600 in that stack. Shit, you got two bills off me," said the big bettor.

"Well, sure, there may be two big bills in here, but most of them are little bills." Buster straightened the stack of bills in front of him. The top bill was a one.

"There are some big bills in there too. There are two hundreds that came out of my billfold."

"Well I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll sell you every bill I've got here for ten dollars a piece."

The big bettor looked at Buster suspiciously. His reason told him that the average value of the bills had to be worth more than $10, but his years of dealing with people such as Buster Sampson had taught him to be naturally leery. "You know that I don't have enough money left to buy that stack."

"Well then I'll really make you a deal. You don't have to pay until after the merchandise is delivered." The smile on Buster's face widened. The big bettor was silent, but his thoughts seemed obvious. Perhaps Buster hadn't won that much; or, maybe he had slipped some of the money he had won into his pockets.

"Well what will it be?" Sampson goaded. "All the money that I've put into the game and that I've collected is in that pile. Do you want to buy it or not?"

"You haven't put none in your pocket or anything?" the player had to ask.

"It's all there." Sampson patted his pocket to assure us all. His smile, and the twinkle in his eye may have left some doubt as to his sincerity, but it was a large stack of bills. It was probable that Buster was truthful.

"Okay, I'll buy."

"You will? Alright let's count it out." Buster began to count by tens as he pulled the ones off the stack. He was at $230 when he ran out of ones. "That's a lot of money to pay for a hand full of ones." He still seemed fairly confident. Perhaps he had palmed one of the hundreds.

"Just keep counting, Buster."

The fives took him to $300. With the tens, he reached $340. He paused for dramatic effect at that point. The advantage was about to turn against him. Soon we would know how many hundreds lay at the bottom of the pile. He counted the twenties, $10 each, and was at $590 when he reached the hundreds.

"Six hundred, six hundred and ten, and six hundred and twenty," he counted. There were three one hundred dollars bills there. One of them had to have come from Buster's pocket. "You own me $620," Buster said as he pushed the money toward the player.

The player smiled.

"Well pay me," Buster insisted, "so we can see how we came out on the deal."

The player counted out $620 for Sampson and had $173 left. He got a bargain that day. He was one previous player who was likely to return soon. However at that rate, return to old time would still be in the far distance.

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