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5: Casino



I play a good hard game and I play it straight
There are too many fellows who pack too much freight
Some run in the fast lane and some are too hot
Some come with a sharp bend and some can be bought
While some have this idea and they keep pursuing it
It’s not what you do—it’s—just don’t get caught doing it


Wind and Rain chased David and Yu Ching Li down the ramp which led to the little floating office Li referred to as ‘the Craft of Many Conferences’, and their quick, in-step descent made the construction sway gently from side to side with their rapid passage. It was the place where he and David held comradely get-togethers whenever something needed discussion.

     Running from the elements, the two men went quickly into the shelter of the brightly the jokercoloured little shack, shutting the door in the faces of Rain and Wind, who were left outside to bang on the windows and whistle around the roof.

     Li sat down on the couch, took off his damp shoes and folded up his legs buddha-fashion while David lit the little propane heater, lifted two glass mugs off their hooks, dropped a can of beer apiece into them from the refrigerator, dumped peanuts into a bowl and, putting the things on the small table by the couch, he collapsed luxuriously beside Li, slouching back, stretching his legs out and locking his hands behind his head, his eyes on the friendly flame flickering in the little stove.

     “Everything’s all set to go Li. Got the stuff all installed. Looks great—in fact, it is.”

     “You have been working hard on this. I am looking forward to the opening.”

     The smile of appreciation he received warmed him more than David’s fire and beer.

     “Just one thing though. We’ve got a problem about staff unless that contact of yours is a good one. I can’t find anyone I feel can be trusted with keeping their mouth shut. Hate to try looking after the casino all by myself. I’d have to handle the rest of my business long-distance and a lot of it isn’t—kind of hands on. Apart from that, I can do a pretty neat bartender act and get a good meal together for myself and a few friends, but I’m not into mega dining.”

     Li poured beer thoughtfully into his mug, took a handful of peanuts, then replied,

     “There is a family I have been—watching over. They are reliable and honest. Would you consider taking on Father, Mother, daughter and friend, and two sons?”

     “Why not?” laughed David, “I’ve just set up a whole clan for half a year, paying the barge builders, but they were worth it. Another bunch won’t hurt if they’re as good. Think they might be?”

     “Until recently this couple ran their own fine restaurant, but they are now slightly short of cash. They have sold their business to bail Number One Son out of trouble one more time, and because the mortgage company has kept saying ‘no’ to their requests for another loan.”

     “Number One Son?” queried David. “We eldest sons seem to cause no end of trouble. I never have heard what made your father throw you out.”

     “It is a long story, and I was not thrown,” laughed Li. “Like you, I volunteered. It is for another day to be told. Now we must talk business.”

     “That’s a cop-out if I ever heard one,” grinned David, “But okay. How about these people? Above board and trustable?”

     “I know them from my past and I am always trying to help them out without making them feel like they are getting handouts. They are beginning to suspect that I have stepped in on their behalf before this. I cannot offer them money. That would insult them. Their pride and honour are things I admire. Father was a chef for a foreign diplomat, but his troublesome son has done him out of that position. Father then did the cooking for the restaurant they started. Mother was business and general manager for their place. They have a daughter who needs work who has a boyfriend in the same circumstances. She has been managing the kitchen along with Mother in their own now gone restaurant. He knows how to run a bar and, better still, does not sample the product. Offering this position at the casino would allow the family to save some money all summer because they could rent out their house as well as earn wages.”

     “Uh huh. Sounds promising. How about the two sons?”

     “Number Two Son is only seventeen. He was bus boy and general helper.”

     There was a pause, which David noticed, along with the order of precedence in which the family was being introduced. He gave Li a knowing look and said,

     “Okay—hit me with First Son last.”

     Li smiled, acknowledging that his roundabout dialogue had been recognised, unwound and interpreted, then replied,

     “He is almost nineteen. Like many young men his age he has fallen into bad company. First he only grew a little pot which he ‘distributed’ to his friends. It could not be proven that he sold it—none of his friends would say this of him—so he was let off with community service for possession. Next he was taken over by older men who used him to deliver ‘packages’. He got money which all young people like. He did not use what was in these packages, so he thought it all right to do so. The police did not, but a smart lawyer got him off saying he did not know what was in the package he was caught carrying and was merely doing a favour for a stranger quite innocently. It could not be proven otherwise. The third thing was more serious. He carried messages and someone who did not like the message shot the messenger, not to kill, but in the arm as a warning to the originator that what was being said was not correct.”

     Once again there was a pause.

     “This sounds a bit heavy Li,” commented David at last. “A kid getting mixed up in the drug scene isn’t very smart in my estimation—but getting shot for being a parrot seems more like being victimised than committing a crime. Kids do dumb things, thinking they’re living in the exciting fast lane. They all do this karate bit with each other from a young age to pretend they’re tough—which they aren’t—just aggressive and taking it out on each other. They don’t consider consequences.”

     “My thoughts also turned this way. The boy has been straight for some time now.”

     “Mm, yeah, I think getting shot would probably straighten me out in a hell of a hurry—but don’t try it,” laughed David. “What did he get for that?”

     “A bit of money from those who used him—and some very steep medical expenses.”

     “No—I mean—the Law?”

     “He has no record. It was covered up as an accident.”

     There was silence between the two as David tossed peanuts one at a time into his mouth, chewed them thoughtfully, then washed them down with beer.

     “I don’t know, Li. Three strikes already. Doesn’t sound like he’s using his brain and it seems that he’s a pretty good liar too. We’re talking trust here.”

     “Those who used him trusted him very well, and he did not break that.”

     “Probably scared he’d get shot again in a more vital spot. Fear isn’t trust. That requires respect.”

      “That is so, but his parents, and I as well, feel he needs a chance to be away from this influence. A bit of genuine responsibility perhaps. A good steady job for awhile. He is very repentant.”

     “Aren’t we all, when we sneak out of something with most of our hide intact,” returned David with a wry grin. “I’ve tweaked the tiger’s tail a few times myself—but the casino isn’t exactly squeaky clean. I don’t mind giving the government the Scots razzberry, but this kid doesn’t sound like he needs any more temptations in his life. Would you call this a good steady job?”

     “It is better than what he may get into next if nothing else turns up. He is not dishwasher material. I feel he is ready to change his ways. At the bay he will be away from these truly dangerous men and will be with his family.”

     David took a gulp of beer as he considered.

     “Well—you’ve kind of got me with the Number One Son bit. Everybody needs another chance I suppose, and his parents seem like they want to salvage him. Somebody who won’t wash dishes though, sounds like he has an attitude problem.”

     “What young man nowadays wants to tell his friends he washes dishes for a living? It is an honourable trade, but does not have much charm for those who, as you say, think they are running in the fast lane.”

     “I’ve washed ’em—and so have you.”

     “We travelled another path. He does not have that wisdom yet, but I feel it is on the way. The young do not seem to be as determined and unflinching as we were when we were in our teens. Things are different these days. Their money comes more easily from indulgent parents.”

     “Or unscrupulous creeps—but you’re right. Times change. I guess we could have him run the pilot boat. It’ll keep him away from the tables and the bar. Maybe he can sit out there and contemplate the beautiful scenery and it’ll soothe his soul into peace. You know him well?”

     “I have been with him when visiting the family. To know is another thing. We guess and gauge.”

     “You’re pretty good at guessing and gauging. I’ve always been grateful that you took the trouble to do it with me. If you feel good about it, go ahead. It would be convenient to get the staff all in one reliable cohesive bundle.”

     “I will do this then.”

four aces

- - -

LEGER DE MAIN was now complete, with furnishings put in place, the galley supplied, the bar stocked and staff installed. Two days before the club was to open, David sailed his yawl TJUTELA through the Gap with Tide’s help in early morning light and set his anchor close by the barge under the watchful yellow eyes of two first mates.

     The order of precedence for Ulf and Gurth had never been determined. It was true that whenever he called the two samoyeds it was Ulf’s name which came first for some unknown reason, but it was usually Gurth who looked up immediately at the sound of his voice. Gurth was the first to wake up in the morning, but it was Ulf who always decided when it was time to head for bed. Either one would suggest a walk, Ulf laying his leash solemnly at David’s feet or in his lap, while Gurth would come playfully throwing his around in David’s general direction, hinting rather than asking. Mealtimes were neck and neck affairs, the two white brothers waiting side by side.

     Now they watched with interest as the anchor dropped down and the accompanying chain rattled from its locker and slid into the water, sending ripples toward the beach where high tide reflected the deepening green of opening foliage crowding the shore’s edge.

     There was a cheerful excitement all around the bay as David and the dogs went aft once he was satisfied the anchor was set well, and they sat for awhile just listening to bird song, rustling leaves, and the sound of lapping water before he lowered the TJUTELA’s dinghy and the three rowed over to LEGER DE MAIN.

     Ulf and Gurth stayed in the boat while David held a brief meeting on board the barge with the caretakers. They were happy with the little suite on the barge, and the daughter and friend had chugged up in his old boat which was also his home. The two sons had been relegated to one of the abandoned houses ashore which Mother had painstakingly cleaned and set up, and which they quickly turned into an untidy, disordered, unsupervised crash pad for themselves, hoping Mother wouldn’t make too many visits from the barge ordering them to clean the place up.

     Having inspected all quarters of his establishment and determined that everything would be under control, David held a dry-run drill for dealing with the appearance of Raiders should any sail up to the Gap, although such a possibility seemed highly unlikely to him.

     Satisfied that the action would be fast enough and that the place did look like a clubhouse and restaurant after its transformation, with the tables which flanked the galley neatly under linen, the saloon with its books and innocent chess, monopoly and trivia boards on display, he next inspected his little fleet, bow, stern and pilot boats, talking to Number One Son about the requirements of his new job.

     The young man seemed genuinely pleased to have the position given him, but David felt an undercurrent of surliness when responsibilities and regimen were detailed once again. It reminded David of his own rebellious seventeen year old youngest brother, so he put it down to the way most young people regard adults holding authority—as the adversary—and he left smiling to himself.

     Then he took his two patiently waiting friends for a row while TJUTELA regarded her reflection in the quiet water and the oars of the dinghy sent concentric circles across the face of it rippling and shining. He circumnavigated his casino, beached the dinghy and went ashore to please the dogs and just to complete the admiration of his invention from all angles because he was well satisfied with the results of the work.

     He had a feeling that the barge was alive and returning the compliment of being happy for having had such a creation constructed over her decks. To him she gave out an air of mischievous, playful, ramshackle insouciance which interfaced well with his own carefree view of the world.

     There was one disturbing factor in his satisfaction, however. He had become concerned about the impact his latest venture might have on the remote bay and its peninsula.

     Until he’d climbed to Waterfall’s pool this had simply been another business enterprise, interesting, different and lucrative, but now his mind’s eye saw tourists trampling carelessly over beach and delta, thoughtlessly scattering trash, interfering with the ongoing life of the place. Worse still—attempting to climb the steep route he had taken by the waterfall and, if successful, throwing cans and coins into the charmed pool—angering and disturbing whatever real or fancied Spirits called the Bay home. He thought he knew of or had imagined at least two of them. Spirit of the Gap had not outfaced him because he’d been cautious and skilful, so he was unaware of her presence. He did worry about the Presence by the Tree.

     His fault for bringing people here.

     At last he allayed his guilty anxiety by adding another rule to the cautions for his visitors. They were to be warned not to wander beyond the shoreline because they might encounter cougars, or mother bears with cubs.

     Once again his conscience stood before him and he placated it by telling himself that there well might be such inhabitants around. Just because he’d never come across any in his walks it didn’t mean that there weren’t any out there. Maybe one would show up sometime and vindicate his rule.

four aces

- - -

Club members were delighted when they began arriving that first spring to view their new entertainment palace. It was well that the host had prepared them somewhat for the unusual appearance of his building efforts, or rather, the efforts of the brilliant, nonexistent professional. Even so, there were expressions of astonished surprise along with plenty of praise and words of appreciation for the unknown out-of-town architect as they came on board.

     The originator of the white lie basked secretly in the plaudits as his fictional genius turned out to be such a success in the eyes of his admirers. Having to deal with all those disparate ideas and difficult personalities had been no easy job, and he felt he deserved a bit of praise.

     Capping his satisfaction was the arrival of Yu Ching Li’s motor vessel CH’IEN, and among the guests disembarking from it was Li’s sister Ana and David’s grandmother, Edith Godwin.

     The barge sat proudly to her mooring buoy in her new finery on opening day, welcoming everyone aboard, and the party that first night was something her old boards had never expected to see when she’d been launched and pressed into service as a tow.

     The only dissatisfied participants in this gala affair were the Guardian of the Bay and her hovering rocks. Not one boat got off course for the opening, as they followed the pilot craft through the Gap, a feat for which First Son received much well-deserved praise. So many Strangers and not one catch.

     She sulked.

     She made up for it a few weeks later though, by scaring the wits out of a couple of new arrivals who ignored the rules and started running the Gap themselves because they couldn’t see any pilot boat. They made it through only because David warned them off by radio, went out in a runabout and brought them in himself.

     Always obliged to return the keys for the pilot boat to David on LEGER DE MAIN every evening, Number One Son was invited into the office on this occasion and given a gentle but firm admonition. A pilot boat was to be used for ensuring that visitors got through the Gap safely, not for sight-seeing with his brother. He should do that in his off time.

     He sulked.

     After that, when he was around, David kept a close eye on Number One Son to make sure he didn’t forget what he was there for.

     The old barge now hosted an establishment which catered only to boaters and the occasional float plane, so there was no stream of land traffic to alert anyone ashore that questionable activities were once more enlivening the bay down at the end of the rough, overgrown road which led to the old logging company’s location, where smugglers had sailed in and out so many years before with their contraband.

     The first summer’s operation was such a success that just about everyone except the operators voiced a wish for it to continue all year around. Neither staff nor management was willing to accommodate such an arrangement, telling the overly enthusiastic members that coast sailing in the winter, especially in this vicinity, was not a feasible option just for fun.

     David knew what skill was needed to work the Gap in winter. It was not a game for amateurs, but for iron men and battered, thick-hulled workboats, if at all.

     In spite of the seasonal closure the second summer came and went as happily and profitably as the first—except that a couple of patrons got tired of circling outside the Gap waiting for the pilot boat one afternoon and decided it wasn’t going to appear. Both of them attempted the passage well beyond the slack of Tide and paid for their daring.

      David, who had been absent in the city on business at the time of both arrivals, learned about the mishaps immediately when he flew in the next morning. He stepped out of his plane and was confronted by two skippers who’d seen him coming. They went along with the runabout which always met him at the old wharf and descended on him, complaining, before he even managed to get the plane tied up. They bent his ears all the way back to LEGER DE MAIN, and for some time after that, while Number Two Son, who was operating the boat, tried to pretend he wasn’t hearing anything.

     David felt obliged to put on his diving gear and go down for an assessment of the damage to the vessels, and to calm the anxious owners. One had scraped by, the other wound up with a dent in the leading edge of his keel.

     They were not amused.

     Neither was the casino owner. He lectured Number One Son sternly on the perils caused by dereliction of duty.

     The rest of the summer was incident free—except for a few missing bottles of expensive imported beer now and then. David knew Daughter’s Boyfriend didn’t drink, which was why he was such a jewel for the bartender job.

     He argued with himself.

     <Number Two Son probably shared in the ill-gotten goods, but generally speaking he’s a good kid, and kids will be kids, so when his big brother arrives at the pad with... .>

     He decided to overlook it. He was busy. Sometimes he flew in and out more often than he wanted to. He had to trust his staff. He gave the boys leeway and a free tab at the bar for a limited amount and set his mind at rest.

     The third opening promised the same success as the preceding two once it got underway—except for a few incidents at the beginning of the season. Three times David had to grab the radio to warn off boats which were impatiently getting ready to tackle the Gap solo, leap into a runabout and charge out to bring them in himself. He found that he was doing almost as much pilotage as his hired crew. Also, some more liquor evaporated.

     He held his fire.

     Then one morning, Guardian of the Gap, ever watchful, snagged an unwise skipper who snorted at David’s radio warning, said he didn’t need a pilot boat which seemed to be non-existent anyway and, as well, told the radio operator that he didn’t need anybody telling him what to do. After all, he’d been here before and knew how to—drive—a boat thank you.

     With a glass of whisky in one hand, a hefty wind on his beam, and at a time when Tide was roistering madly through Guardian’s grasp, he shot the Gap himself—with predictably drastic results. He tore a hole in his boat’s beautiful hull below the boot top at the stern and bent the engine shaft, bringing the unit to a noisy and abrupt halt.

     Watching this display of imbecilic arrogance in horrified disbelief, David heard very clearly Guardian of the Bay’s crunching laugh of triumph as she collected the Fool from Sea.

     Snatching up some emergency equipment he hit the stern runabout, running, crashed through Tide’s forceful objections, boarded the distressed vessel with difficulty, and took over from the now totally incapable and out of control skipper who didn’t even know enough to get his screaming passengers off as they all stood clutching at the bow rail without lifejackets, looking frantically beachward, totally ignoring the tender on the stern davits.

     David got them off, restraining the skipper bodily from being first and foremost.

     “You stay aboard with me!”

     He almost regretted the order. Keeping the boat pumped out was something over and above stressful. Fright had made the owner more nuisance than help as he was given a flash course on how to pump the pump.

     “Get over here, grab the handle—that thing there for pete sake—and move your arm up and down, fast!”

     Wrestling to force a makeshift plug into the tear, scrabbled together of elegant cushions and bedding, and braced with a boat hook and an oar, David paid no attention to the hysterical shouting about both of them drowning until he realised it was coming from just over his shoulder.

     ”Get back to the pump you bloody fool!”

     He spent half of the rescue time fending off the man’s frantic, blundering interference, beached boatand came close to throwing the idiot overboard so that he could get on with saving the powerboat.

     She had to be beached. Daughter’s Boyfriend was called in as reinforcements for this procedure. She was shored up, bleeding salt water from the wound, while Tide receded and Wind advanced.

     Casino patrons got a terrific charge out of watching this exciting piece of drama unfold, figuring it was a great hoot—since it wasn’t their boat and they didn’t have to be out there saving it—and the rescued passengers got fussed over, and wallowed in pity, self and otherwise, while taking advantage of the free drinks. Some blasé patrons raised their eyes slightly from their cards and then continued on with their games.

     No one offered to help.

     When the meeting between pilot boat operator and David took place in the office after the casino closed that night Guardian’s success was only part of the discussion.

     It commenced when Number One Son, coming to turn in his boat keys that evening, slunk quietly aboard and tried to quickly offload them onto his mother, but the slinking had been anticipated. The office door jerked open and there stood The Boss with thunder in his demeanour and lightning in his eyes.

     With a sweep of his hand and surprising self-restraint, considering what he’d been through all day, David ordered,

     “In here, Number One!”

     It was an invitation not to be refused. Number One Son, knowing he was being called on the carpet, had no choice but to direct his dragging feet into the office. The door was closed behind him by an iron fist in a velvet glove.

     The dressing down began, and Mother and Father tried not to hear the loud protestations of a young voice declaring that—he had not been hungover and asleep, and he damn well had not been boosting beer and bottles of booze from the bar—this, against a background of quiet, hard reprimand, and questioning as to whether Number One had....

     “...forgotten that when you get a call on the radio you’re supposed to answer it—or do you just turn the thing off?—and a few beer disappearing I can overlook, apart from the dishonesty, but when it comes to wholesale clearing you’ve gone too far. Don’t you ever lift the liquor in the bar—or anywhere else around here, again—and the pilot boat is to be out there, visible, and in radio contact with home base, every day, with a sober, wide awake pilot at the ready—and I guess it’s too much to ask, but—quit lying! Do you read me?! Okay—out!”

     The Boss jerked his thumb toward the door. The young man stomped for it, yanked it open and slammed it violently shut behind him. David grabbed a bottle and glass, threw himself in his chair, poured himself a good slug and swallowed, while Number One Son slunk away, banging his boots furiously on the beautiful old varnished boards, imagining The Boss getting dragged around Shalisa Creek Bay behind the pilot boat, full-throttle—by his neck.

     David had to make temporary repairs to the damaged boat, which would last until the owner could get back to a yard for a permanent fix. Water had soaked into the fine woodwork of the cabin. Anger had soaked into the head of the owner with help from a liquid other than salt water. He left as soon as the patch was able—escorted through the Gap by the pilot boat—resigning from the club and demanding his money back.

     David wished him bon voyage and had a drink to that.

     There was an immediate tightening up of the surveillance of incoming craft. Mother and Father, honest and upright, tried their best to keep their eldest son in line, and Guardian got no more boats. Once again she sulked along with Number One Son, as the sounds of Mother, chewing out her eldest, often reached from shore to barge.

- - -

extra ace

The casino continued happily on its course once more. Evenings, after the gaming tables closed, were warm with the glow of oil lamps and candles as people lingered to eat, and simply enjoy, before they hit their bunks. Occasionally, mostly on rainy evenings when laughter was a little down, the casino operator would raise a rousing fire in the big fireplace and hold an impromptu concert with his flute, sometimes accompanied by Yu Ching Li on his elegant, polished bamboo instrument, if David’s longtime mentor happened to be aboard.

     House limits of such a reasonable amount meant that the volume of associate members was way up—along with the house take. People brought trusted friends, nobody lost or won any large fortune, the barge frequenters had a lot of enjoyment, both from the beautiful location and out of their favourite games, and the gambler in everyone was more than satisfied.

     In everyone, that is, except a few malcontents.

     The problem surfaced one evening, the second month after opening, when one Founding and three Associate members asked to see the proprietor in his office.

     “What’s up fellows?” asked David, as the last of the quartet, the Founder, closed the door behind himself.

     “We have a complaint,” began that same Fourth without preamble.

     “Oh?”

     David leaned back against his desk, gripping the edge of it behind him as he faced them, noting that all three Associates present had been invited to the club this season by the particular Founding member now opposite.

     “What’s the problem?”

     “For one thing,” spoke up a complainant, “We think the stakes are too low. The house limit is sort of ridiculous, considering that we’ve come all this way for a good game. It’s damned near penny ante.”

     “Not really that bad,” returned David mildly, thinking of the neat but fair profit he’d made to date, “And a good game is what people seem to be enjoying here. It is just a game.”

     “We might as well be at a picnic grounds,” commented a third. “I thought this was a house of cards, not somewhere to go so I can watch somebody’s wife prancing around in her latest bathing suit.”

     “People do whatever turns them on,” observed David. “They come here to enjoy themselves just as much as to patronise the tables. Frankly, I think some of the bathing suits and the people in them are worth looking at. If you don’t like these fashions, bring your own.”

     “Thanks a lot,” broke in the Fourth, “But we came to ask you to raise the stakes. You know, you could rake in a hell of a big pot yourself by doing that. This small change stuff doesn’t amuse me anymore.”

     “Doesn’t amuse you or doesn’t give you the chance to get rich quick?” queried David.

     The Fourth tried to stare him down but the open exposure of his motives kept him from succeeding, so David concluded,

     “I hope you didn’t come here with the idea of fleecing people, because that’s against my rules as well as my principles.”

     “Look who’s talking about fleecing,” came a muttered comment.

     David pushed himself away from the desk and stood up.

     “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” he told them, with a good-natured but cool smile. “You knew the rules when you joined, so I’d suggest that if you want to get into anything weightier than what’s offered here you should find somewhere else which offers it. This place wasn’t established to bankrupt people, in spite of what you may think.”

     There was a solid silence. David quickly decided he’d better do something to allay the nasty feeling which he was getting from the four before him. He pretended dumb innocence—a bit late.

     “Tell you what I’ll do though. Next meeting of the membership we’ll put the idea of raising the house limit to a vote. Good enough?”

      He looked at the unsmiling faces and laughed softly.

     “Aw come on guys. Be democratic. Let’s find out if there are more members with your opinion.”

     The grumblers left, still grumbling.

     David, alarmed and with his suspicions more than aroused, and aware now that fast fingers had infiltrated his casino to work the games, figured that if the format of play displeased the complainers that much, they had likely already been using their own unorthodox methods for changing it. Up to this point he’d kept a casual eye on things but had found no problem. This season it seemed someone had decided to give him one.

     Now he watched a few games closely, then, finding the Fourth standing at the bar alone, he invited him cheerfully into a one-on-one which the other man couldn’t well refuse. David let him win a few hands, which allowed him to assess the sharp’s methods, then wiped him out so many times with his own well-polished skills, looking him straight in the eyes and smiling a certain smile each time he won, that the hustler realised he was being out-hustled.

     “Guess it’s time for me to quit,” came the suggestion at last. “Getting close to my limit.”

     “Don’t want the chance of winning it back?”

     “Had enough for now.”

     “Oh—sure. Come into the office and we’ll settle up.”

     Once they were there the man anteed up what was owing and put it on the desk while David poured two glasses of brandy and told him, as he handed him one,

     “Here’s to our last game in this casino.”

     The man hesitated over the words as he took a drink, then knew exactly what was meant as David picked up the money he’d won, stuffed it in the man’s shirt pocket and said,

     “I don’t take dirty money and I don’t play dirty games, even though I can spot one pretty damned fast. You can collect up your other three cohorts and get the hell out of here right now. This is an honest house of cards.”

     The angry gleam in the man’s eyes prompted David to add, indicating the two white dogs sitting by his desk,

     “My two friends here wouldn’t like to see me get punched out—not that you’re big enough.”

     The man settled for up-ending his glass, pouring the contents onto the carpet and following that up with the glass and, as David simply stood there with a scornful smile, he told the casino owner,

     “Think you’re really something don’t you? They always do—until they’re not.”

     He turned abruptly and left.

     The group departed quickly, taking their money and unscrupulous practices with them. They were not only dishonest, they were poor losers. They muttered unflattering and threatening words as they went—some of which words, if overheard by the casino owner, might have given him fair warning of something worse than angry talk on their minds, but these malcontent mutterings were out of earshot as the determined proprietor watched Number One Son ferry them over to their boat, and therefore didn’t disturb his peace of mind.

extra ace

- - -

On a beautiful evening shortly after, as the sun was setting peacefully, scattering the incoming tide with the last of its flaked gold, and a large number of the frequenters of the floating casino had assembled there to enjoy a relaxing evening, David sat in his office talking to Ulf and Gurth.

     The two samoyeds, having just finished their dinner, were lounging on the carpet, on either side of his chair, and he spent some quiet time with his gaze on the distant waterfall, remembering his climb of two summers before.

     He had often thought about it, but had never gone up again to the hidden stone plateau with its pool of seductive charms. It was as though he’d been warned not to do so by a force he didn’t care to challenge. He hadn’t tried to explain the edict to himself, but simply accepted it as being there and had stayed away.

     The Presence by the Tree never appeared during the casino days, but he was sure he’d met it again on peaceful trips he’d made by himself during the off-seasons. He liked to think he had a friend waiting whenever he came back alone, and had often sat down at the base of the tree to lose himself with Flute and Friend. In his mind he could hear an accompanying guitar, and the fantasy was a pleasant one.

     City took that away, when too hard reality made him tell himself that it was just imagination.

     Looking from Ulf to Gurth he began carrying on a one-way conversation about going ashore for a ramble, which had the concentrated attention of the two, as the sound of a couple of high-powered motors came in through his open window.

     He threw a casual glance that way and saw his safety boat in the distance being followed closely into the bay by the two new arrivals. The three boats sat black in the sunset against the bright water and he noticed that the pair in the rear seemed to carry an inordinate amount of equipment on and about their rigging. The last of the setting sun glinted on antennae, radar and spotlights as they hugged the stern of the pilot boat.

police boats arriving

     He turned back to the dogs, took out a cigar and lit it, poured himself a drink, had a sip, leaned comfortably back in his upholstered swivel chair with his feet up on the teak desk in his usual fashion, blew a couple of lazy smoke rings, set the cigar in the ashtray and said,

     “Some people have more money than brains, fellows. No wonder they’re following Number One so carefully. Guess they don’t want to lose all that expensive gear to the Gap. Some guys love to dress up their boats with everything they can hang on them. Just like their cars.”

     He was about to take another sip when a sudden commotion from the games room made him look up. As the sounds outside his door got louder Gurth barked, then Ulf, and as David set down his glass, the office door was opened and two uniformed men stood there.

     He motioned the two dogs to stay and be silent, then he picked up his glass again and took a drink deliberately, eyeing the two police officers.

     Raiders!

     The moustached sergeant leaned his right arm against the door jamb, the fingers of his hand relaxed and dangling negligently, crossed one booted foot over the other and smiled.

     Cat got the canary!

     He was wearing his cap off-centre and set well back on his head at an insolent tilt, which half smothered it in a wealth of curly black hair. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone, the sleeves of it were turned carelessly back on his muscular brown arms to just below his elbows, and the tail of it wasn’t too firmly tucked in, as though it might have been blown loose from a fast, windy trip across the water.

     David couldn’t miss the forced comparison with the immaculate appearance of the constable who stood to the sergeant’s left and who could have passed as a model for a recruiting ad. Buttoned and polished, stiff and straight, cap firmly centred and well down, short of hair, clean-shaven and tight of lip, he stood unmoving.

     Sitting there at his desk viewing this pair of striking contrasts, he thought that the sergeant was about the most undisciplined looking law enforcement officer he had ever seen, but plainly, he was in charge of this expedition. His whole attitude displayed so much command and such a total disregard for the propriety of regulations that the gambler smiled back, in spite of the circumstances.

     <Now here surely is a privateer who should have a dagger clamped in his teeth, a cutlass in one hand and a long-barreled pistol in the other as he boards the enemy three leaps ahead of his crew, shouting out of the side of his mouth, ‘Arrrrgh! Cut them down me hearties! No quarter.’>

     Instead, he opened up politely with,

     “Good-evening sir. Are you David Godwin?”

     “I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I said no?” queried David, while his mind went swiftly over a few emergency moves, most of which were vetoed by the two men blocking his office doorway.

     “No sir!” returned the sergeant emphatically, smiling as though he were enjoying himself.

     “Uh huh. Then I might as well say yes.”

     David silently cursed himself for having become such a careless and complacent fool that he’d been hit without warning.

     <I should have recognised the silhouettes of those two boats coming in, although plainly nobody else did—not even my pilot boat—Not even my pilot boat?! Damn! That young devil’s been bought! My warning system’s been short-circuited by a traitor. Instead of warning us he led them in. I’ve been had by those sleazy cheats I kicked out!>

     Controlling his anger and still thinking, he lifted the bottle from his desk, shook the contents of it invitingly and asked,

     “I don’t suppose you two gentlemen... ?”

     “Love to,” came the smiling reply, “But, sorry. We’re on duty.”

     “Mind if I finish this for the road?” asked David, indicating his glass.

     “Go ahead,” replied the sergeant. “Pretty dry road you’ll likely be walking for awhile. Just make it fast.”

     David made it fast, took his feet off the desk and stood up, setting the toe of his right shoe on a small lever under his carpet. The sound of a sudden muffled thump was covered by the noise he made when plunking his glass on the desktop and with his chair as he pushed it back, while the sergeant walked over, leaving his constable blocking the doorway.

     “In case you’re wondering,” David was informed, “I’m arresting you for being the keeper of an illegal gaming establishment. The constable will read you your rights. If you’ll just come out from behind there, put your hands flat on the desk and spread your legs... .”

     David moved to the side of his desk and did as he was told, placing his palms on the desk top and setting his feet apart.

     At that point the sergeant laid his hand on David’s shoulder and as he did so there was a soft but purposeful low growl from Gurth, as the two dogs had been sitting watching the proceedings with more than a little interest.

     The officer froze, then turned his head very slowly, and looked at the dog, sitting alert and ready.

     “He means business, doesn’t he?”

     “Yes. They’re pretty meek and mild most of the time, but about the only thing they won’t put up with is someone touching me.”

     At these words David saw the constable at the doorway carefully slide his hand onto his holstered revolver.

     “No problem though,” he added quickly. “Ulf—Gurth—quiet—lie down.”

     The two dogs obeyed instantly. Ulf put his chin on his paws but Gurth still kept his head up and his eyes on the stranger who seemed to threaten David.

     “Do I have their permission to proceed?” asked the sergeant, still not moving much. He knew the workings of well-trained dogs.

     “You’re safe,” David assured him, then, as the sergeant frisked him swiftly, “I don’t suppose they could share the cell with me?”

     “Sorry. Regulations.”

     “I don’t suppose you ever break the rules?” came the next question as David thought about the cap precariously perched among the black curls.

     “Shame on you, Mister Godwin,” admonished the sergeant with laughing indignation as he finished his search and straightened up. “Are you questioning my integrity?”

     “Oh, of course not. I was just wondering what becomes of Ulf and Gurth. I shudder to think of them incarcerated in the local livestock lockup. I believe the sentence there is twenty-four hours and a firing squad—without counsel.”

     “Well—,” replied the officer, hesitating ever so slightly as he regarded the two handsome samoyeds, and then continuing as though he’d intended all along to say what came next, “That’s not where they’re going. They’re in my custody too. Evidence. Guard dogs aren’t they? You can’t turn two ferocious canines like that loose on the public. Think you can get them to follow me?”

     “Certainly.”

     “Then do that,” returned the sergeant, readying his handcuffs.

     “That really necessary?” enquired David, hearing the sound and turning his head with a look of distaste on his face.

     “Sorry. Standard procedure. Hands behind please.”

     “I don’t suppose you ever played poker for cigars with the prisoners either,” returned David, taking his hands off the desk and offering them behind himself.

     “I don’t suppose you could behave more like a criminal and less like a gentleman,” came back the reply. “Sure would make it easier on me.”

     “Sorry. Ethics,” replied David, and the sergeant laughed.

     Despite his calm exterior, a sudden upbeat in heart rate and a quiver along his nerves started as the cold handcuffs closed with an unsympathetic snap on his wrists.

     <Geeze! I’m a criminal—and whatever else goes with that.>

     A strange hush went through the big room with the fireplace where members were sitting apprehensively when the sergeant and his constable appeared from the office with David between them and escorted him out, trailed by two faithful and obedient dogs.

     Five minutes before, he had been the friendly club host to this roomful of people. Now he was stepping beyond that into a world they did not want to join—jail and disgrace. They had simply been ‘found in’. He was the villain of the piece.

     The faces of two distraught parents turned toward him as he approached the place where they sat, and he saw there the knowledge that Number One Son had betrayed not only themselves but the hope of those who had given him another chance. David smiled at them as he went by, to let them know the blame did not lie with them. He didn’t have the courage to look in the direction of Li, Ana and his Gram.

     Yu Ching Li watched as David went by with his head up and his eyes straight ahead, his manacled hands limp behind him, and told himself,

     <I have been a fool, letting my heart and my wishful thinking take precedence over reason. David was right. Three strikes were enough. I should have heeded his words. I have been taught how to hear again and not just listen. I did not see through clouds and had faith in one who did not deserve another chance. I must leave that one to himself now. Once fear was gone he had no respect. He has tumbled us into the sea. Now I must hope both David and I can swim well in oily waters.>

     As he was assisted solicitously into the police boat with every show of respect and care for the body which was now not his but the property of an angered government, David knew he had lost out on what had seemed like a reasonably safe risk when he’d conceived the idea of the casino. He had believed in honour, and misplaced his trust.

     Now he had just relearned an old, time-honoured and trusted gambler’s maxim—there’s no such thing as a pretty sure bet!