It was Friday night and my paycheck was burning a hole in my pocket. As it turns out, my on again/off again boyfriend was off again so I was free as the proverbial bird. Just as well; I was getting tired of the slouch anyway. But it was New Year’s Eve 1946 and I didn’t want to be alone.
Anxious to hit the casino and ring in the new year, I got myself all dolled up in an outfit that was quite possibly illegal in 33 states – a lowcut slinky little silver number with a high side slit, silky fishnet stockings with lacy garters and black satin stilettos. Maybe I’d run into a high roller ready, willing and monetarily able to treat me to a bourbon, a thick juicy steak and a slice of pie a la mode for dessert.
I grabbed a taxi to the hotel, the driver ogling me in the rearview. I wasn’t interested in any two-bit palooka so I played it cool. I pulled my hat down around my eyes, raised the collar of my coat and lit a Chesterfield. The smoke encircled my head and my bright red lipstick left a perfect kiss around the filter.
When we arrived, I tossed a fiver at the cabbie and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The clickety-clack staccato of my heels on the cobblestones alerted the doorman.
“Evening, Miss Stella. You lookin’ like an angel tonight, yes you is!” His eyes twinkled gaily, lighting up his round ebony face.
“Jasper, you sweet talker! Too bad some lucky lady already snatched you up!” and he cackled like he was hearing it for the first time.
Only regulars at the Floridian Hotel were on the down low: you took the elevator to the ninth floor then walked up a flight of stairs and headed toward a nondescript door at the end of the hall. If the scowling peepers that glared through the slit in the door approved, you were escorted into a room and through a closet that led to a full-scale casino.
One gander at me and I was in like Flynn.
Just as I was about to knock on the door, I heard a man’s voice in the darkness.
“This must be my lucky night. How you doin’, doll?”
I’d know that voice anywhere; it was my MIA boyfriend Jake. Yeah, he was a no-account but what a dreamboat – a regular Tyrone Power! He stepped out from the shadows and I found myself getting all twitchy. He looked real good.
“What’s cookin’, baby? You looking for a little sugar?” Jake laughed softly and grinned.
“What do you think, Jake? I’ve been all on my lonesome for three months with you gone! Were you in the slammer?”
Like I said, he looked good so I walked right up to him and kissed him long and hard on the lips. He pulled me close, groaning as his hands slid up my dress. He was more than happy to see me, if you get my drift.
“Listen, baby, I had a nice gig dealing at a casino up in Buffalo and I made some serious moola running a fool-proof scam. I’m dealing here tonight. If we double up, we can make a killing.”
It sounded dangerous and exciting. I nibbled his ear and reached between his legs, giving him an approving squeeze. “I’m in” I whispered.
“Work first, then I’ll show you how much I missed you” Jake said. We knocked on the door.
The slit opened and immediately slid closed; the door cracked an inch and we were quickly ushered inside. “’Bout time you made an appearance, Jake. Boss man’s waiting on ya” barked Marcellus, the bouncer. “Stella, my beauty! Lawdy, you lookin’ fine! Always a pleasure.”
“Yeah, the pleasure’s all yours, big boy!” I laughed and gave Marcellus a smooch on his chestnut brown cheek. He always smelled of Old Spice.
Jake and I worked our way to the dimly lit back room; the boss was steaming and I huddled behind Jake. I’d never been in the back before; the aroma of old leather and cheap cigars was heavy.
“I don’t like waiting, Jakey Boy” the boss man grumbled.
“I apologize, Mr. Walters. I was waiting on my girl. You know how dames are. It won’t happen again.” Jake made nice and I peeked over his shoulder at the head honcho. “Please allow me to introduce Stella.”
As I stepped from behind Jake he smoothly slid off my coat. Old Man Walters nearly stroked out when he saw me, eyes bugging as he gave me a slow once over from head to toe.
I extended my hand. “Charmed, I’m sure, Mr. Walters” I purred doing my best Marilyn Monroe.
He kissed my palm and drank me in like a man dying of thirst. “Enchenté. Beautiful, just like the song ‘Stella by Starlight’. Please, call me Sid.” He licked his flabby lips, drooling like a bulldog. “Jake, you’re working the main table tonight. Bring the lovely Stella with you. She’ll attract the big bucks for sure. You know your way around the tables, honey?”
“Sure, Sid, I’ve done it all, even boxman. I’m a pro” I lied. I coulda told Sid I was a circus monkey and he woulda believe me.
“Is that a fact? Excellent! Our usual boxman is out tonight – some nonsense about his wife having a baby. You’ll be Jake’s boxman.” Sid had no idea he just opened the door for us. Jake winked at me on the way out to the floor.
We set up shop at the main craps table; I’d been hanging around casinos long enough to know what I was doing. As boxman, I was the only one allowed to handle the money to make change for chips. The action was heavy and the men were mostly looking at me, not the table. Jake charmed the ladies and I distracted the men. He was like that amazing English magician, David Berglas, with flawless sleight of hand. No one noticed big dollar chips making their way into hidden pockets in his suit. My clutch purse was lousy with bacon. Hell, I woulda stuffed big ones in my panties if I was wearing any! The excitement was exhilarating and I was flying high as a kite.
At 3:00 AM Jake and I went down the service elevator for a smoke break. An hour later we were on a train headed to a little desert town out west called Las Vegas with nothing but the clothes on our backs and a whole lot of dough. Along the way I dyed my signature platinum locks auburn and bought myself a plain dress. We changed our names, kept our noses clean and landed jobs in a greasy spoon, cautiously but consistently making a buck. We shacked up in a room in the back and our salary included a bed and three squares a day. We bided our time until at last we caught a break – Jake bought an old casino and slowly brought it back to life. We started living the good life. We didn’t look back and Sid never found us. We heard through the grapevine he kicked the bucket trying to screw some chippy young enough to be his daughter. As Jake liked to say “The only way to go!”
A couple years later I mailed four grand in plain brown packages to Jasper and Marcellus. Inside was a card signed with a single ‘S’; they’d know. I had a sweet spot for those two big galoots and they always kept their mouths zipped; it was the least I could do.
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