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 18 - The Fall
People are interesting to watch because their actions sometimes defy prediction. Behavioral theorists tend toward predictions which reflect need fulfillment, and even enlightened self interest. Yet, when the human mind aims its course of action with the intent of harming others, any consideration of enlightenment becomes irrelevant. At least, that was how it appeared in the behavior of club members after Freddy's election. There was every reason for the gamblers to return to the club, to spend money, and to help it to be successful. They returned only slowly and then manifested no concern for contributing to the common good.
I kissed Mary and she left for Atlanta for three months. Then I turned to Clyde and said, "J. D. Oliver told me that he didn't see much difference in the slavery in the old South and slavery now. I know there is a big difference, but I don't feel it at this time. Loss of freedom reduces a person."
"Yes. You know, if we did not know that it was a power play, we'd be happy for Sara. The training really is a positive career move for her."
"And, all the Martins aren't Mitchell."
"It seems they've all rallied around him."
"We do not know what they actual know of the events, or what they don't know!"
"That's true. I just feel so helpless. I feel like well..."
"Two wrongs do not make a right. If we can't do something legal, we'll just have to be patient. Look at Henry Ruth. He has waited all this time and he does not appear upset at our inability to bring Mitchell to justice."
"Yes, it seems just knowing who did it has given him something of closure."
I wrote the feature article on M. M. Martin's prospects for the pros. I wrote it as a professional journalist without reporting anything of what he had revealed off the record. I wasn't surprised when the piece was picked up by other papers in the state.
I was somewhat surprised when Mitchell called. He thanked me. He assured me that he had spent much of his time in the exercise room since we talked on the trip to Atlanta. He explained that he was too involved with practice for us to have another outing, but certainly looked forward to us getting together over the holidays.
At the first dance in September, the best band in the area played a blend of country and rock, which should have been most popular. The dance was after a home game. There were no conflicting activities, but still the dance floor was empty.
I had covered the game, written a draft of my column for Monday, mailed Mary a letter and stopped at the club. There I was, sitting alone, feeling lonely.
My bed had never been as cold. I was hoping that the excitement would lift my spirits. The empty dance floor only depressed me more. I thought about how much fun Mary and I could have if she were here; and, yes, I remembered dancing with Wanda.
"Miss your dancing partner?" It was Bob, Jr. "Well, perhaps, we can cheer you up. We're having a big party at Dad's country place next Wednesday. Here's an invitation. It has directions. We've got a little casino set up and we're going to have a floor show just like Vegas. If it goes well, we'll make it a regular event. Well perhaps not the floor show. There ain't much happening here; we need to move the action."
On Tuesday, Ruth called and offered to provide transportation to the Dalton party; so I agreed to go. As we turned off the highway, we were stopped by a guard who came out of a small stone enclosed shelter.
The Dalton's cabin was a two-story English tutor, sitting atop a gentle rise at the end of the mile-long drive which circled in front of its double, oak doors. I remarked to O Henry that the house seemed inappropriate to the Daltons.
"Yes," he replied, "but, wait till you get inside! It fits them. They have made themselves right to home. Gaudy!"
On entering the house, I saw what he meant. Vegas had been their model for taste, but on the smaller scale. The effect was more tinsel than glitter. They had spent a fortune on bold patterns that clashed, on bright fabrics that didn't coordinate, and on large artificial plants. A baby grand piano dwarfed what should have been a spacious foyer.
Mrs. Dalton directed us downstairs where there was already a sizable group. As Bob Jr. had promised, there was a beautiful craps table that would have been impressive in the best casinos and three low-standing 21 tables. At the back set a bar and tables covered with food and drinks. There was action at two of the blackjack tables. Bob, Jr. was dealing at one, and his dad at the other.
The senior's table had available seats on the third-base side.
"Well, we might as well get our feet wet," Henry said taking the third-base seat. I took the seat to his right.
"We are playing with chips, just like in Vegas," said Bob.
With twenty red chips before me, I bet one. I didn't know the men to my right. They were friends of Bob Jr. and Dalton's employees, I figured. They weren't members of the club and, obviously, not blackjack players. Their ineptness slowed the game and gave me ample time and opportunity to count the cards.
O Henry and I compared hands. We each had a twelve. Dalton had a seven revealed.
Dalton was rambling about a swap club he and Mrs. Dalton were considering. All this while, I had been scratching my cards to indicate I wanted a hit; still, Dalton asked, "Do y'all want a card or not? I've got a seven up. Y'all probably want to play it like I've got seventeen. It's a pretty good chance that I've got it or that I'll draw to it."
"Hit it." I said, only slightly irritated that I needed to say it.
"Can I bust it?"
Now, he obviously wanted a reply, "Just give me a card."
"Will a face card bust y'all?" he asked looking at the card before he threw it to my space.
"Unlucky in cards, lucky in love," he said as he took my chip. "Y'all are lucky in love, ain't ye, Hunter?"
This time he obviously didn't expect an answer since he laughed and dealt Ruth another face card. He, then, revealed that his hole card was a six.
"If'n either one of y'all hadn't hit, I'd busted," he took delight in pointing out.
I cautioned myself not to let him upset me. I watched as he rolled an eight from the top of the deck to give himself 21. He took a full minute to admire his hand, as if he had accomplished a feat.
The count, plus two, justified a doubling of my bet, but the flow of the card argued against doing so. I bet only the one chip. Bob again took forever in dealing me a 19; then he had a twenty.
He shuffled the cards. "Y'all think that you'd be interested in joining a swinger's club, Hunter? Y'all know what they say, 'spice is the variety of life'...."
Ruth looked at me and smiled, "Or something like that. It makes sense his way too."
I stayed on an eighteen. Henry took two small cards to get to sixteen, and still Dalton drew to 21. The count was at plus five, I felt some temptation to increase my bet; however, I resisted it.
Dalton dealt me a twenty, but he turned himself an ace. He didn't offer insurance, but quickly turned the face card from the hole. I had lost four straight hands. I felt that J.D. would have left the table by now. I looked around the room. The other blackjack table was full and there was no crap game. If I left the table, there would be nothing to do but eat and drink, so I placed another $5 bet.
I received a sixteen, Dalton had a two up. I counted the card that had been dealt, except Dalton's down card. The count was up. I placed my card under my chip. Dalton clowned with the cards, pretending to take one from the bottom of the deck. Then, he took the top card which was a nine. He made sure that everyone saw that his two revealed cards totaled eleven before he turned the face card to complete his twenty one.
"That's one blackjack, three twenty ones, and a twenty in five hands," Ruth commented.
"What are we doing here?" I asked.
"Having fun," he laughed.
I thought, "I should just go." Then I remembered I had ridden with O Henry. I bust my next hand. That made six in a row. I wasn't having a good time. Instead, I was becoming increasing depressed. I couldn't escape the situation entirely, but I could leave the table. I pushed myself away. It was amazing the strength that simple act seemed to require. I stood.
"Where y'all going?" Dalton wanted to know. "Y'all can't quit now; we jus got started."
Henry gave a sideward nod of his head indicating I should sit back down. I simply walked to the bar, and fixed myself a sandwich and a drink. I took some satisfaction in leaving when I did, but I knew that I had played longer than I should have, and I was still trapped for the duration of the festivities. The flavor of the sandwich gave me some solace, but probably not $30 worth.
Before I finished the sandwich, Henry came empty handed. "He still hasn't cooled down any!" He began compiling the ingredients for a double-decker. I considered suggesting that we go back into town. It would have been worth my buying him a sandwich--even dinner, but I didn't interrupt his construction.
"What's that smell?" I asked.
"I'd say it's marijuana."
Before Ruth finished eating, Bob, Jr. announced, "It's show time!"
Miss Belle glided into the room wearing the formal gown of the antebellum time. She waltzed around the room blinking her curled eyelashes at most of the men in the room before she found the zipper at the dress's side. The dress slid amazingly gracefully down her body and she stepped from it. Her costume beneath reflected the dress of the go-go girl as shown on contemporary television.
"If y'all want to reward the dancer, she may reward you back," said Bob Jr. He walked up to Miss Belle and stuck a bill into her flowery bra. The music changed to a rocking beat and she shimmed her bosom against his chest.
"Enjoy it while you can," someone yelled and everyone laughed. She danced away from him again circling the room inviting others to accept the reward she had given Bob Jr. When she came back to Bob Sr., he attempted to increase the amount of his reward. He danced with her, rubbing his fat little body against hers for several minutes blocking her departure as long as he could. Someone placed a bill in the halter and she allowed the person to disconnect its hooks. She adeptly captured the bills as her vibrating breasts came free of their restrains.
On each nipple was a bright silver star. They twirled first clockwise and then counter clockwise as if they had a life of their own. The spectators gave spontaneous appreciation for her athletic ability as well as her ample endowment. Again, Bob Jr. advanced to her pushing a bill into her bikini bottom and kissing her on the left breast. She rotated her pelvis and the bill and his hand disappeared into her briefs. More men found this reward to be an attraction to them as she danced around their parameter; however, on this trip she avoided Bob, Sr.
Two snaps and the lower cloth were removed revealing the remaining g-strap. She danced using the money she had removed from her panties as a fan covering her pelvis area while her breasts danced in time to the beat of the music. Then, she closed her "money fan" and handed it to her agent who was watching from the doorway to the next room.
She grasped each breast from beneath and as her hands caressed upward, they removed the stars from above the pointed nipples. She lifted the stars high above her head accentuating further her upturned nipples. In that position, she swirled so that in the shortest time all could admire the symmetrical shape of her near naked body from every angle. The swirling highlighted her ability as well as her beauty. I found I was breathless as well as amazed at that point. Had she ended the performance then, I could have viewed her as an artist.
Instead, she reached down and, with both hands, massaged the mound between her legs. Slowly, she slid her hands around her hips and removed the g-strap. She bowed from the waist and the top of her head followed the weight of her breasts that hung as two stalactites. Everyone applauded. She turned, spread her legs and again bowed from the waist, now the stalactites were visible beyond the cave entrance. The audience roared. Several threw money. Miss Belle walked backward without changing her position, retrieving the money as she went. Bob Sr. dropped a bill at his feet.
"It's a twenty, honey, if y'all want it."
She walked backward the remaining ten feet until she was almost in arms length of Dalton. He was rubbing his hands in anticipation. Then she turned quickly, scooped up the twenty and dodged out of the reach of Bob's grasping hands. He just shrugged.
Next, Bob Jr. brought two chairs to the middle of the room and set them side by side. He took a five-dollar bill and placed it in his mouth. Then, he lay across the two chairs with his face toward the audience. Miss Belle then straddled his face and took the bill from Bob Jr.'s lips with the lips of her vagina.
Bob, Jr. sprang from the chairs. "Some trick, huh? She'll do it for anyone. All y'all have to do is supply the money. Oh, yeah, she wants me to tell y'all, 'no hands.' She don't use no hands and y'all can't either!"
Bob, Sr. was the first in line and he used his hands to hold her in place after she secured the money. Still, she retained the bill when she danced away. I was no longer able to think of her as an artist. I thought, "She is a person. Then, Bob, Sr. is a person also. People should have higher -- I should have higher -- pursuits." I turned away from the show. As I looked in Henry's direction, I saw that he, also, had stopped watching.
On returning to town after the game that Friday, I found people dancing. Wanda and Rooster weren't among them. I saw them at a table near the entrance. They both smiled at me.
"Join us!" called Rooster.
"No, no thank you," I said, walking to their table. "I'm tired. I just stopped on my way home out of habit, I guess. You two have a good time."
"You can stay for a dance or two, surely," said Wanda. "Rooster won't dance with me."
"Yeah, do me a favor. Take her off my hands for a whirl."
By then, Wanda already had my arm. We danced close. She felt good in my arms despite my feeling trapped.
When the music ended, I said, "I'd best be going."
"Well thanks for the one dance. I really miss you, dancing with you."
I didn't respond but turned to walk out. She walked with me to the entrance.
"You went to the Dalton's on Wednesday?"
"Going there could be risky, you know. Gambling here, well, it has some safety." She seemed ready to say more, but instead she turned and walked away.
When I told Clyde what Wanda had said, he nodded, "I was thinking the same thing. Perhaps she is telling you something more specific. Clearly it would be wise to take the word, even advise Ruth not to attend."
The following Thursday, the office was abuzz about the raid on the Daltons. The Feds had burst in and found a large quantity of marijuana and evidence of racketeering as well as the gambling.
That evening before the meeting, the upstairs sounded much like old times. J. D. Oliver arrived soon after I did. "Y'all still playing here, I see." he said.
"You heard about what happened at the Dalton's place?"
"Yeah! I saw it first hand."
"Were you there?"
"Yes. They had the scanner going, but there was no traffic. The man at the entrance was able to call. Most people didn't get the message. I hightailed it out the back."
"You've been involved in things like this before?"
"Several times! Several times. Only been caught once though. Once, when I was much younger, I rolled through a second-story window when they came in the door. Landed on my feet and never looked back. Another time, not too long ago, there was a weekly game in a barn outside of Atlanta. There was a good long road leading up to it. As I was driving in, the sheriff's cars were just in front of me. I swung out into a cow pasture and headed on out.Time I got caught was in Atlanta. We were playing in a fancy downtown hotel. I'd never thought that the police would have come in there. I guess someone didn't get paid off. When they walked in the door, I put my money in my pocket and stood up. They took me down town, booked me; in about an hour, they let us go. That's all there was to it."
"They didn't do anything to those running the place?"
"Oh, yeah. The dealers had to serve a little time. It put them out of business, at least in this area."
"What'll they do to the Daltons?"
"I don't know. It's fairly serious, I'd say. I talked with Dalton, himself, today. He's free on bail. He said they charged in with Uzis?"
"That does sound serious."
"It wasn't just gambling. They were after marijuana. They literally ransacked the place. Then they took him to his city home and confiscated every piece of paper in the house, and all his cash."
"Do you think they'll come here?"
"No. As I said, they weren't even after the card players. Gambling's not even a federal offense. They may get them on tax evasion; but, the main focus is likely to be drug trafficking. If they find evidence that his business has been involved in that, someone, if not all of them could do serious time."
A month later, the three male members of the Dalton family were indicted.
On the following Saturday, the college team trashed a good team. M. M. Martin had another good game setting a school record for sacks as well as an interception that he returned for a touchdown.
I stopped at the club that evening when I saw several cars in the parking lot. Rooster was in the lounge. I didn't see Wanda.
"Hey, Hunter, come over here. Sit down. Let me buy you a drink."
"Thanks, you alone tonight?"
"Yeah. Good game, huh?"
"Yes, Mitch really showed his ability."
"The agents have been contacting him. It's fairly certain now that he's going pro. I give you a lion's part of the credit for publicizing that ability."
"I just did my job."
"I know but you did it well! I think that Wanda told you that the family had plans to buy a chain of papers."
"Well, that deal is made; we'll sign those papers within days. We want you to be part of that chain. You can write your own ticket. You want to be an editor? You want a column to appear across the chain? Just name it. We can place Mary in a bank wherever the job takes you. She's really doing well in training, by the way. We're really proud of both of you. We've come to think of you as family. Of course, you are! M. M.'s second name is Miller. So, you're marrying one of our cousins."
I sat silently and he chugged the remainder of his beer. "Well, be thinking about what position you want. We'll see that you get a salary to match your talents."
When I told Clyde about my conversation with Rooster, he encouraged me to decide what job I wanted. "As you know, they have talked with Mary about a supervising cashier position up in Athens. I believe that one of their new papers is in that area. If you want to cover sports, that's one of the best places to be in this state; or, it would be an excellent place to write features. You're very good at that."
"Yes, I guess there is something of a jumbled justice here. This sports job was the only one I could get as a result of something I didn't do and it looks like I get to leave it as a result of something I couldn't get done."
"Don't look at it that way! Think of it as a reward for all those articles that you wrote that were published across the state and even out of state."
As much as I missed Mary, the football schedule kept me on the move and she was finished with her training. She was home for Thanksgiving.
She insisted that we attend the dance that Friday. I didn't relish the thought of seeing Wanda or Rooster.
"Now, Russ, you know we're going to have to interact with the Martins. They're going to be our employers. Bev is my best friend."
"How can we let her stay with, potentially marry, that man?"
"He's not going to hurt her. She's old south; nothing going to change that. She knows he'll always have something on the side. Your friend Wanda's probably right. Sooner or later, he'll get caught. Then, we'll help Bev deal with it."
"Until then, you're going to continue working for them? That put us in the same category as Beverly."
"You know there's a big difference. I won't be married to them, and as Daddy says we can't generalize to all the Martins based on Mitch. You need to accept that and go ahead and tell Rooster what position you want."
"I don't know about that."
"What's the difference between working for them and Dubose? She helped to protect Mitch from any negative publicity from the rape trial, right?"
We got to the dance before Wanda and Rooster and found seats with a couple that Mary knew. They had attended high school together. He was a Star brother, but I had never met him.
A dance was ending when I saw Wanda. Mary waved as Rooster entered the room.
"Hey, glad we saw you," he said as they walked directly to us. "We gain control of the newspaper chain the first of the year. You need to be telling us what role you want in that operation."
Mary said, "Yes, we're glad to see you two also. I wanted to ask if we might stay in town until after our wedding in July."
"Well, I guess we could work that out ... for the two of you. I've got it. Mary can continue at the bank here. That's nothing. Why don't we put you on in a consulting capacity? You could travel to each of the locations, observe the people at work, so to speak, see how efficient each place is, look for dead wood, that sort of thing. You'd be on the road a couple of nights each week, but would still be around as needed to plan the wedding. That would also give you an opportunity to see just where you might fit into the operations."
"That sounds great!" said Mary. "Well, we best be getting back to our friends over here. Good to see you two." She smiled.
We all nodded.
Later, when Mary and her friend went to the women's room, I also took a rest break. On the way back to the table, Wanda was waiting out of the main path.
"Hey, Russ, I'm pleased that you're joining the Martin publishing group. Really, Rooster is a fine man. He doesn't know about Mitchell's, shall we say, activities."
"He knew about the trial, surely."
"Oh, yes, but he's still a good man; the Martins are fine people. You can't blame them for wanting to protect their child."
"Russ, we really want to be your friend. I'd like for the two of us to be good friends."
"I don't know if that's possible."
"Well, let me tell you this," she said in a softer volume, "I have the locket. It's in an evidence bag, even. I had a deputy, who wasn't sure what I was asking, sign it. It would hold up in court if we ever had to use it. It would be at a cost to both of us, but it might help you to know. Hopefully we can find another way. Otherwise, you need to make the most of your new job."
When I returned to the table, Mary said, "I saw you talking with your friend. What did she want?"
"She congratulated me on my new job as if I'd accepted it."
"You've accepted it. You'd be a fool not to."
The Daltons trials were in the Federal Court in Atlanta; so, most of what we learned of it was from the paper, the Atlanta paper. Our paper only sent a reporter when a case went to the jury.
The Daltons' business suffered immediately starting with their arrest and was virtually nonexistent by the time of the indictment. Probably, even if they had been found not guilty, they would have had no future in the furniture business. However, they were convicted and sent to Federal prisons.