“Wint,” said Leiter flatly. “And the other guy was Kidd. Always work together. They’re the top torpedoes for the Spangs. Wint is a mean bastard. A real sadist. Likes it. He’s always sucking at that wart on his thumb. He’s called ‘Windy’. Not to his face, that is. All these guys have crazy names. Wint can’t bear to travel. Gets sick in cars and trains and thinks planes are death traps. Has to be paid a special bonus if there’s a job that means moving around the country. But he’s cool enough when his feet are on the ground. Kidd’s a pretty boy. His friends call him ‘Boofy’. Probably shacks up with Wint. Some of these homos make the worst killers. Kidd’s got white hair although he’s only thirty. That’s one of the reasons they like to work in hoods. But one day that fellow Wint is going to be sorry he didn’t have that wart burned away. I thought of him as soon as you mentioned it. Guess I’ll get along to the cops and tip them off. Won’t mention you, of course. But I’ll give them the low-down on Shy Smile, and they can work it out for themselves. Wint and his friend’ll be taking a train in Albany by now, but no harm in getting some heat on.” Leiter turned at the door. “Take it easy, James. Be back in an hour and we’ll go and get ourselves a good dinner. I’ll find out where they’ve taken Tinga-ling and we’ll mail the dough to him there. Might cheer him up a bit, the poor little bastard. Be seeing you.”
Bond stripped and spent ten minutes under the shower, lathering himself all over and washing his hair to get rid of the last filthy memory of the Acme Baths. Then he dressed in trousers and shirt and went over to the telephone booth in the reception hall and put in a call to Shady Tree.
“The line is busy, Sir,” chanted the operator. “Will I keep the call in?”
“Yes, please,” said Bond, relieved that the hunchback was still in his office and that now he would be able to say truthfully that he had tried to get through earlier. He had an impression that Shady might be wondering why he hadn’t called up to complain about Shy Smile. After seeing what had happened to the jockey Bond was more inclined to treat the Spangled Mob with respect.
The telephone gave the dry muted burr that serves for a ring on the American system.
“Were you wanting Wisconsin 7-3697?”
“I have your party now, Sir. Go ahead, New York,” and the high, thin voice of the hunchback : “Yes. Who’s calling?”
“James Bond. I tried to reach you earlier.”
“Shy Smile didn’t pay off.”
“I know. The jockey bitched it. So what?”
“Money,” said Bond.
There was silence at the other end. Then, “Okay, we start again. I’ll wire you a Grand, the Grand you won off of me. Remember?”
“Stand by the phone. I’ll call you back in a few minutes and tell you what to do with it. Where you staying?”
Bond told him. “Okay. You’ll get the money in the morning. Be calling you shortly.” The phone went dead.
Bond walked over to the reception counter and glanced over the rack of paper-backs. He was amused and rather impressed by the meticulous accounting of these people and the care they took to have each step of their operations protected by a legitimate cover plan. They were right, of course. Where would he, an Englishman, be able to get $5000 except by gambling? And what would the next gamble be?
The telephone crooked a mechanical finger at him and he went into the box and closed the door and picked up the receiver.
“That you, Bond? Now listen carefully. You’re to get it at Las Vegas. Come down to New York and pick up a plane. Charge the ticket to me. I’ll okay it. Through service to Los Angeles and there’s a local plane every half hour to Vegas. You have a reservation at the Tiara. Find your way around and-now listen to this carefully-at just five after ten on Thursday evening go to the centre of the three blackjack tables at the Tiara on the side of the room near the bar. Got that?”
“Sit down and play the maximum, that’s a Grand, five times. Then get up and quit the table. And don’t gamble any more. D’you hear me?”
“Your check is paid at the Tiara. After the game, hang around and wait for further instructions. Got that? Repeat.”
Bond did so.
“Check,” said the hunchback. “Don’t talk and don’.t make a mistake. We don’t like mistakes. You’ll find that when you read tomorrow’s paper.”
There was a soft click. Bond put down the receiver and walked thoughtfully across the lawn to his room.
Blackjack! The old 21 of childhood days. It brought back memories of big teas in other children’s playrooms; of grownups counting out the coloured bone counters in piles so that each child had a shilling’s worth; the excitement of turning up a ten and an ace and being paid double; the thrill of that fifth card when one already had seventeen and wanted a four or less for ‘Five and Under’.
And now he was going to play the nursery game again. Only this time the dealer would be a crook and the coloured counters of his bet would be worth £300 on each hand. He had grown up and now this would be a real grown-up game.
Bond lay down on his bed and stared at the ceiling. As he waited for Felix Leiter, his mind was already reaching ahead to the famous gambling town, wondering what it was going to be like, wondering how much he would be able to see of Tiffany Case.
Five cigarette ends had piled up in the plastic ashtray before he heard Leiter’s limping step on the gravel path outside. They walked across the lawn together to the Studillac and as they drove down the avenue Leiter brought him up to date.
The Spangled boys had all checked out-Pissaro, Budd, Wint, Kidd. Even Shy Smile was already off on the first leg of his long journey by horsebox right across the continent to the ranch in Nevada.
“The FBI are on the case now,” said Leiter, “but it will only be one more short story in their collected works of Spang. Without you as a witness, nobody’s going to have any idea who the two gunmen were, and I’d be surprised if the FBI get very worked up about Pissaro and his horse. They’ll leave that to me and my outfit. I’ve talked to head office and they’ve told me to get out to Vegas and somehow find out where the remains of the real Shy Smile are buried. I’ve got to lay my hands on his teeth. How d’ya like that?”
Before Bond had time to comment, they had drawn up outside the ‘Pavilion’, the only smart restaurant in Saratoga. They got out and left the car to be parked by the doorman.
“It’s good that we can have a meal together again,” said Leiter. “You’ve never eaten broiled Maine lobster with melted butter like they do it here. But it wouldn’t taste so good if there was a chance that one of the Spang boys might be munching spaghetti with Caruso sauce at the next table.”
It was late and most of the diners had finished their meal and gone off to the sales ring. They had a corner table to themselves and Leiter told the head waiter not to hurry with the lobsters but to bring two very dry Martinis made with Cresta Blanca Vermouth.
“So you’re going to Las Vegas,” said Bond. “Funny coincidence department.” He told Leiter about his conversation with Shady Tree.
“Sure,” said Leiter. “No coincidence about it. We’re both travelling bad roads and all bad roads lead to the bad town. I’ve got some cleaning up to do here in Saratoga first. And a pile of reports to write. That’s half my life with Pinkertons, writing reports. But I’ll be over in Vegas before the end of the week, sniffing around. Shan’t be able to see much of you right under the Spang nose, but maybe we could meet up from time to time and exchange notes. Tell you what,” he added. “We’ve got a good man there. Undercover. Cab-driver by the name of Cureo, Ernie Cureo. Good guy, and I’ll pass the word you’re coming and he’ll look after you. He knows all the dirt, where the big fixes are, who’s in town from the outside mobs. He even knows where you can find the one-armed bandits that pay the best percentages. And the slots that pay best is the most valuable secret on the whole goddam Strip. And Boy, you’ve seen nothing until you’ve seen that Strip. Five solid miles of gambling joints. Neon lighting that makes Broadway look like a kid’s Christmas tree. Monte Carlo!” Letter snorted. “Steam-age stuff.”
Bond smiled. “How many zeros have they got on the Roulette?”
“Two, I guess.”
“There’s your answer. At least we play against the right percentage in Europe. You can have your neon lighting. The other zero keeps it alight.”
“Maybe.-But the craps only pay just-over one per cent to the House. And that’s our national game.”
“I know,” said Bond. ” ‘Baby needs a new pair of shoes’. All that sort of kid’s talk. I’d like to hear the banker for the Greek Syndicate whining ‘Baby needs a new pair of shoes’ when he’s already got one nine against him at the high table and there are ten million francs on each tableau.”
Letter laughed. “Hell,” he said. “You’ve got it easy with this crooked play-off at the blackjack table. You’ll be able to swank around back in London and tell the story of how you took ‘em at the Tiara.” Leiter took a pull at his whisky and sat back in his chair. “But I better give you some of the background to the games just in case you get it into your mind to stake your pennies against their pot of gold.”
“And I mean pot of gold,” continued Leiter. “You see, James, the whole state of Nevada, which, so far as the public cares, consists of Reno and Las Vegas, is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The answer to the public dream of ’something for nothing’ is to be picked up for the price of your plane fare, on the Strip at Las Vegas or on the Main Stem at Reno. And it really is there. Not so long ago, when the stars and the dice were right, a young GI made twenty-eight straight passes at a crap table in the Desert Inn. Twenty-eight! If he’d started with a dollar and been allowed to let it ride over the house limits which, knowing Mr Wilbur Clark at the Inn, I guess he might not have been, he would have made two hundred and fifty million dollars! Of course he didn’t let it ride. Side-betters made a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The GI made seven hundred and fifty dollars and took to his heels as if the devil was after him. They never even got his name. Today that pair of red dice is on a satin pillow in a glass case in the Desert Inn Casino.”
“Must have been good publicity.”
“Betcha life!” said Leiter. “All the ad. men in the world couldn’t have dreamed it up. It made the wishing-well dream come true-and you wait till you see them wishing in those casinos. In just one of them, they use up eighty pairs of dice every twenty-four hours, a hundred and twenty packs of plastic cards, fifty slot machines go to the garage every day at dawn. And wait till you see the little old ladies in gloves working those slots. They have shopping baskets to carry their nickels and dimes and quarters. They work those slots ten, twenty hours a day without going to the rest-room. You don’t believe me? You know why they wear those gloves? To stop their hands bleeding.”