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 15 - The Tohoe Trip

"You don't want your ring?"

"Not at this time, Russ. The timing's not right. There's a lot we'd have to do like taking picture for the announcement in the paper. This summer, we'll have lots of time. You're the one who wanted to go slow, remember?"

So, the only diamond Mary wore, when we went dancing to bring in 1975, anchored the necklace I had bought her for Christmas. I drove her to Tallahassee on that Tuesday. We knew we could have more fun there that night. Also, since classes started on Monday, she had to register for classes, and buy books on Thursday and Friday. I checked into a motel since she was housed in a dorm. New Years Eve, we celebrated at a club, The Electric Eye, which featured wild strobe lights and disco music. Then, we celebrated some more at the motel before I dropped her at campus Thursday morning and headed north.

"We missed you Tuesday night," Freddy told me when I reached the club that afternoon. "There was no one on the dance floor. Rooster won't even dance the slow dances with Wanda."

There was no game, only a few members at the table.

"I took Mary back to Tallahassee. The dance floor where we were was crowded."

Henry told me that he would deal if I wanted to play. I told him I was too tired from the drive. I waited until he said his farewells and walked with him to the lobby.

"Tell me if you will," I said, "was any of Rose Ann's jewelry missing?"

He looked at me puzzled. "I don't think so, but, then, I never looked through her stuff. Her room is fairly much like it was when she left it. Why do you want to know?"

"It's probably nothing. You know how sometimes men like to have trophies."

"You think the killer took something of Rose Ann's after he killed her?"

"It's just a hunch I have."

"No, I think it's more. You have an idea as to who may have done it! One of the Daltons mentioned collecting trophies?"

"No, it's not the Daltons."

"Who then?

"I'd rather not say without more information. If you'd said some piece of jewelry was missing then I'd have more reason for my suspensions. At the moment, it's more like wild speculation."

"Okay. Fine. I'll look through Rose Ann's stuff and see if I can see if anything's gone."

Everything remained quiet even as the gamblers plotted to replace the current Priests. The election of Freddy's crew didn't improve the atmosphere. There was little activity upstairs. O Henry was often involved preparing for the transition. It was Sampson's busy season. Others were required to initiate games. Perhaps recognizing this need, J. D. Oliver came more often in the afternoon.

"Ruth was just looking for you," he told me when I walked up to the table. "He's down in the office."

"You were looking for me?"

"Yes, about the missing jewelry, it took me awhile. I had no idea even what stuff she owned. I looked through old photos, as hard as that was, just to get an idea, refresh my memory. She wore this one locket much of the time. Anyway, it's not among her stuff."

"She wore it as a necklace?"

"Yes. I don't know if she left the house with it, but she wasn't wearing any jewelry at all when they found her. If I'd thought about it, it was strange but I never did until you asked."

"You have a picture of it?"

"Yes, but now it's your turn to tell me something. Who do you think did it and why?"

I told him about the rape trial and he gave me a picture with the locket.

Mary had a demanding class load that term. We talked on the phone some, but she was unable to come home on weekend; of course, weekends were my busiest time. When she came home for break, as it turned out, I had four away games.

Freddy and his crew took the helm in April. Still, activity at the club remained scarce. I had more free time and thought about a visit to Tallahassee, but Mary advised me that she had little time to socialize during the week. She'd love to see me on the weekend. That translated to an occasional Saturday evening through Sunday morning which became treasure times for us.

After the instillation of the new officers, J. D. told me that he had an invitation to go to Lake Tahoe. The invitation was from an agent in Birmingham. I recognized the name from my trip with Bob Dalton.

"What're the limits?" I asked.

"Fifty dollars minimum for four hours a day; but, we could split that. We could share a room, it's a suite really. We'd each have a bedroom."

It was clear that J. D. wanted someone to go with him. His bankroll would qualify him for complimentary trips for us both. I wrote advanced columns for four days.

We flew directly from Atlanta to Reno. The Boeing 737 was furnished in luxury. Everything was first class. There was a bar at the rear. The three stewardesses provided individual attention. After serving cocktails, they brought menus with a choice of three meals and a short wine list. Two movies played on a large screen monitor at the front of the cabin during the smooth flight.

In Reno, limos and buses awaited us. J. D. and I elected to ride a bus. The interior of the bus had been made into a nice lounge. There were high backed, swivel chairs, and large cushioned ones around small tables in the front of the bus. A small, but well stocked bar occupied the middle. Two card tables with smaller chairs filled the remainder of the bus.

A bartender welcomed us on board and fixed whatever drinks we wanted. Since J. D. and I had plans to play that night, I had only a cola, but the bartender mixed a variety of exotic drinks. After the drinks and wine consumed on the flight, these drinks were sufficient to ensure that the players' judgments were impaired by the time they reached the tables.

A hostess welcomed us as we entered the hotel. She told us that we were already checked in and gave us our room keys and label pins showing a jack and ace of spades. She asked that we wear the pins while we played so the floor supervisors could identify us as special guests.

J. D. wanted to play before going to the room. "We'll beat the crowd that way," he said. He walked slowly around the tables watching the dealers. The tables were well lighted, much better than those in Vegas. The dealers were, for the most part, attractive young women. They were all dealing from single decks. I couldn't see much difference among them.

Finally, J. D. said, "Let's try this one."

I was ready. We each drew a $500 marker and bet a $25 chip. I followed the flow of the cards effortlessly. There were four of us playing. I complimented the dealer on the beauty of her eyes as she dealt the third round without shuffling. She acted as if she had heard it all before.

I lost $100 in the first four cuts of the deck. Then the count turned positive to the players. J. D. and I each increased our bets on the second and third rounds. After three more shuffles, I was ahead something over $100.

Another cute young woman came to relieve our dealer. The new one immediately dealt herself a blackjack and then drew to a 21.

As she began to shuffle, J. D. said, "She made a believer out of me. I'm ready to go check out the room anyway." I followed his lead somewhat reluctantly.

"We can get our markers later," he said.

I didn't like leaving the marker and asked J. D. why we did it as we walked down the hall.

"They keep good watch of who wins and who loses. They know we won, but there is no reason to give them a record of it. If we buy back the markers with chips, they will record it that way. This way there is perhaps some uncertainty. Mostly, I just didn't want to mess with it just now."

I waited until we were comfortably in our suite before I asked how he selected the table.

"I don't like those fast dealers. I like to see the card come off the top of the deck. The hand can be faster than the eye."

"You think they cheat?"

"Well, let me say it this way, I want to take every precaution."

"The book I read said that the small amount the casinos could make by cheating didn't justify the risk of their losing their license."

"That's reasonable, but everyone ain't reasonable. And, they gotta catch um first. I figure the gambling commission is an extension of the casinos; the state makes so much from the casinos. And, there are so few agents and so many casinos. These boys running these places, they are experts at beating the law anyway. It runs in the blood, almost. And then, any skilled dealer can feed a friend good hands without the house even knowing it. It just pays to be cautious. Not that you could see it if they did deal a second."

"Deal a second?"

"Yeah, you know. Before they deal the top card, they flip the corner to steal a peak of that card. If it will help them, they'll take it; if not, they'll pull the second card from under it. The second one might just help them. Having the choice of which card they take has gotta help them."

"Well, that certainly changes the nature of the game, doesn't it?"

"Sure does. These boys ain't in it to lose. They don't like to lose. Contrary to what they say in the Godfather, it is personal. They don't like counters. To them, counters are cheaters they cheat the odds. Another thing, many of these dealers count the cards too; when the count is against them, they shuffle up; when it ain't, they keep on dealing. I like a dealer who goes at least two thirds way through the deck. A man's got a chance then. The advantage to the counter disappears when he sees less than half the deck."

Needless to say, I allowed J. D. to select the table when we went back later that evening. However, I did attempt to predict the table he would choose before he did. He passed up two dealers who I thought fulfilled his requirements. I knew better than to ask him why he did at that time, and so, I began trying to figure it out myself.

When he selected the spot for us to play, I noticed that the dealer had just gone over 21. Again, at that table, I won a little over $100 in just under an hour.

When we returned to the room I asked if he selected a dealer who appeared to be cold.

"They do seem to run in streaks. Seems like, all of them are hot most of the time. If the pit bosses see a dealer is cold, they sometimes take her off the floor. That way they have hot dealers out there. I like to see the players win at least one hand before I sit down. Another thing is how good the other players play. If they are making dumb moves, I don't wanna have any part of it."

I slept soundly that night. We awoke at a normal hour the next morning, which, given the three hours time difference, was early Tahoe time, probably around 4:00 a.m. J. D. and I ate breakfast in the coffee bar. Sitting there, enjoying steak and eggs and watching J. D. eating a more healthy meal of fruit and cereal, I thought about his intellect. Around 70 years old, his mind functioned well. He was an educated and refined individual.

"Your family always owned land?"

"As far back as I know. I guess it was a grand plantation before the War Between the States. Grandma Oliver used to tell me how grand it was, like in Gone with the Wind. She felt like the north was resentful that the south had some sense of culture. She loved her darkies; she was good to um. She always told me, 'The Yankees sold us the slaves. They created the slave system, and they made their profits off um,' she'd say. 'And then when we got comfortable with the way of life, they couldn't stand it.' It'd tickle me as a little boy to hear her talk. Of course, I can't see much difference between slavery then and slavery now. Men are adept at making slaves of other men."

"Perhaps it makes a difference if force is involved."

"Perhaps. Anyway, the war ended it all. My grandmother attempted to save all she could. The Yankees stole whatever they could find of value. She told me about burying the good silver and china in the barn and covering the ground back with manure. They told the Yankees that the every day tableware was all they had. So, the bastards took it. She dug the loot up after the war and sold it for next to nothing to pay the carpetbaggers their taxes, but at least she got to keep the land until the Klan was able to bring some order back to the area."

We ate in silence for several minutes.

"Are things better now than they have ever been before, during your life time?"

"It would be easy to answer, 'yes' to that question, at least in this country. If a man wants it in this country, he can pretty much get it; it's in his reach if he'll just stretch for it. Personally, there ain't much that I could even think about that would make my life any better. Especially, if those cards continue to run the way they did yesterday. 'Course, a good Cuban cigar every now and again would be nice." He smiled. "I do miss a good Havana; and I miss gambling in Cuba.

"Speaking of gambling," he said, "I'm ready to have another go at them."

We played at our host hotel for the next hour and I won another hundred plus. Then, J. D. suggested that we investigate the other casinos.

Next door, we sat together with one other player at a table marked as a five dollar minimum. The dealer was a middle aged woman who was friendly. J. D. flirted with her some. I watched the cards. We both increased our bets as the odds shifted in our favor.

We were winning at a good rate when the pit boss came and stood behind the dealer. He wore a snarl, glaring at us. I nodded to him, but he didn't change his expression.

Obviously sensing the hostility from her supervisor, the dealer mentioned that we were fine southern gentlemen. He continued to frown at us for several more minutes without saying a word before hurrying away.

J. D. said, "Man, the pit boss looked as if he was mad about something."

"Yes, I don't know what his problem is," replied the dealer.

We hadn't finished another deck before the boss returned with a new sign for the table which established the table's minimum as $100. I collected my chips in preparation to leave.

"Where you going, Hon?" the dealer asked me.

"I can't afford to play for $100."

"You were already here. You can keep playing the same. The new limit only applies to people who come from now on."

I noted to myself that I was almost $300 ahead and that it would be a good time to leave.

J. D. asked, "Why did they increase the limit?" The dealer hesitated only briefly before saying that the table always had that minimum during mid day and evening hours. Still, I thought she had fabricated the answer.

J. D. reveled in the opportunity to play for higher stakes and was soon betting from $100 to $500 a hand. The new limit, although technically not applying to me, psychologically upset my game. Over the next thirty minutes, I had lost all my profits from that table plus another $100. J. D. had won over five thousand.

J. D. suggested that we have some lunch in the sky view restaurant. He put some money in his lock box at the hotel desk. We freshened up in our room and went to the top floor. At first, the hostess told us we would have a 45 minute wait. Then she saw the lapel pen on my jacket.

"Oh, you're special guests. You can go right in."

The restaurant was three fourths empty. Each table offered a beautiful view of the lake and the snow capped mountains. We had a leisurely lunch.

I asked J. D. if he had rental property.

"Yeah, I have a few dozen units."

"Do you rent to many of the Air Force people?"

"Yes, that's where most of my business comes from."

"You must rent to blacks, then."

"O, yes. They made it clear several years ago that I'd rent to the darkies. That darkie captain came to my place of business. He was a big mother. He didn't say much. Told me we weren't gonna have no trouble. I could either rent to coloreds or they'd put my units off limits. Course, I didn't have no choice. If I wanted to rent to any military, I had to rent to them all." J. D. flashed a quick but definite smile. "I told him I'd be glad to rent to um. And I have been every since. I ain't liked it, but I've done it."

That afternoon, I broke even at the blackjack table and lost a hundred shooting dice. Half way through the required eight hours of play, I was more than $100 in the black. I felt good.

That evening, J. D. and I ate in the night club and enjoyed the floor show. Afterwards, we relaxed in our room for a couple of hours and then returned to the tables for another hour of twenty one.

J. D. selected a table with only two other players, one of whom lost the next hand after we arrived and left. The remaining player wore a shirt indicating that he worked for another hotel. I watched his play. He knew the game. All three of us won three out of four hands. The three hands we won averaged $50; the one we lost averaged $25. Soon, we were joined by a fourth player. We knew him from the plane trip. He had bragged about his ability to count the cards. I hated to see him sit down. The three of us had been doing well. Moreover, the newcomer began to jump from a $25 bet to one of several hundred dollars.

Within minutes, there were four bosses standing in a diamond around the table, watching us play. I have often marveled since that there were more casino personnel than players at the table. It wasn't long before J. D. signaled that we should leave.

On our last hand, the count was highly in our favor. I, sitting to the dealer's immediate left, had $100 bet; J. D., next to me, had $500 bet; our fellow traveler had $1000 and the hotel employee had $50. The bets matched our largest. After the first round of cards, the dealer turned an ace for himself. There was no need for me to look at my cards. The count had been too positive. The probability was that the dealer had a ten count in the hole. I slid $50 forward for the insurance. J. D. rubbed his palm across his chin before showing his blackjack and collecting $500. The hotel employee also asked for even money. Finally, our fellow traveler took the insurance.

The dealer nodded and checked his hole card. He gave a small smile and turned the queen. With $1650 in original bets for that round, the house had a blackjack and didn't collect a dime and paid out $550 on the two player's blackjacks.

J. D. and I collected our chips and left the table. I had won $575; J. D. had won over two grand.

"It got sorta tense there at the end," he said.

"Yes. But it was fun. I hated to leave."

"But, it was good we did. Those pit bosses were closing in. Course, I think they were more interested in our friend than they were in us."

J. D. was certainly correct. The next day "our friend" told us that he had been barred from playing blackjack.

Our next two hours of play were fairly uneventful. I lost some of my winnings back, but was still ahead over $600. J. D. wanted to go next door and play at the $100 minimum table again before we departed. While he was gone I finished my last hour of obligatory play. There were five of us at the table and the dealer was fairly hot. Yet, I was hotter. Good cards came to me regardless of the count. An older woman came and squeezed in to my left; so I could not play two hands when the count was rich. Still I won. Before the hour was finished, J. D. returned and took the last remaining seat at the table. It was impossible for me to maintain my concentration with the table so crowded. I arranged my chips into $100 stacks so I could gauge whether they were increasing or decreasing in amount. It was soon apparent that their number was decreasing. So, I quit playing. I had won over $1000 in that hour; bringing my trip total winnings to $1600.

"How did you do across the street?"

"Well, obviously not as well as you did here. I won $700. But we were right. They didn't have any hundred dollar tables. They just changed the limit to throw us off our game and close the table so they could observe us more closely."

"Well, it worked on me."

J. D. just smiled.

In perspective it didn't matter. We had a successful trip. We were the only winners on the plane going back to Atlanta. I had more money for Mary's ring.

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