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Authors: John D. MacDonald

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BOOK: The Only Girl in the Game
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Hugh Darren rubbed a coppery stubble with his knuckles, stretched until the flat muscles of his shoulders popped, remembered
the last of the dream before, it was all gone and mumbled aloud, “Son of a bitch nearly caught me that time.”

He walked to the window and yanked the cord to open the slats and let the desert sunshine into the room. It was a second-floor room in the rear of the building, in the old original wing. New construction had made these rooms unsuitable for paying guests, and they had been assigned for staff use. They used to look out across the brown floor of the desert toward the eroded mountains. Now they looked out at a blank wall of the new convention hall, and down into the rerouted service alley. He squinted at the too-blue sky and had a glimpse of a commercial jet swinging into its landing pattern before it disappeared behind the cornice of the convention hall. He looked down into the service alley and, with a professional eye, checked the neatness of the long rank of garbage cans outside the rear doors of the main kitchen.

After he took his shower, and before he shaved, he phoned down for breakfast. It was wheeled in just as he finished shaving. He looked out at Herman, the bald maestro of the Cameroon Coffee Shop, and said, “Currying favor again, I see.”

“Good morning, Mr. D.,” Herman said with broad gold-flecked grin. “We got the good sausage again. So I serve myself. So you remember Herman with pleasure, is it not so?”

Hugh walked out of the bathroom in his robe, drying his face. “And you bring it up yourself when you want to be the first with the news. And it is always bad news. So where is the pleasure in that, my friend?”

“No special news, Mr. D.”

“But there happens to be one interesting little thing?”

Herman inspected his place setting carefully and stepped back and shrugged. “Just a small thing. Mr. Buckler came back earlier than anyone expected. At three this morning, I think. Mr. Downey, the new man on the night desk, displeased him, and so he was fired.”

Hugh Darren lowered his head, closed his eyes and told himself to count very slowly to ten.

“Herman, I don’t know how I’d ever get along without you. Get Bunny Rice up here on the double.”

Hugh Darren had barely begun his breakfast when Bunny Rice arrived. Bunny, when summoned, always arrived looking as though he had run all the way. When Hugh Darren came to the Cameroon the previous August to rescue what was possibly the poorest hotel operation on the Strip, he had given the most careful consideration to the selection of
people to help him. Bunny Rice had then been working the front desk on shifts that changed from week to week.

He was a spindly man whose greatest flaw was his tendency to come apart when faced with a crisis. But he knew his job and knew the town and the special problems of the area. He had energy, imagination, and a capacity for loyalty. And Hugh had judged him honest. And so Hugh had made him a special assistant in charge of hotel operations from midnight to eight
A.M.
In a normal hotel operation this would have been a job that held no challenge. But Vegas runs twenty-four hours a day.

Bunny Rice, at his own volition, came on duty at eleven, and did not leave until Hugh was in his own office. Bunny Rice was pallid, with bulging blue eyes, thinning mousy hair, jug-handle ears, a long severe upper lip, and a mouth which tended to tremble when he was upset, as though he were fighting back tears. He nonetheless seemed to enjoy his new scope, new responsibility and increased pay. He lived with his wife and three children in a new housing development on the far side of town.

“Sit down, Bunny. Relax. What’s this about Buckler firing Downey?”

“There wasn’t a dam thing I could do about it, Hugh.”

“Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“Because there wasn’t anything you could do either.”

“Jerry was loaded?”

“He was ugly drunk, Hugh. You know how he gets. If he’d gone right to bed there wouldn’t have been any problem. But he stopped at the desk to see if he had any mail. Downey may have seen him at a distance, but I don’t think he ever talked to him. Downey thought Mr. Buckler was a drunk trying to check in. I guess Mr. Buckler wasn’t talking very clearly. In the confusion, he got abusive, and Downey tried to get help from the casino guards to have him put out. So he fired Downey. Downey left right away. I filled in at the desk.”

“Let me do some thinking. No, don’t go yet. Stick around a little while.”

Hugh Darren finished his breakfast. He poured a fresh cup of coffee. “I guess it’s time, Bunny. I guess that’s the final straw. He goes or I go.”

Bunny licked his lips. “It … makes me nervous, Hugh. I don’t like to think of how it’ll be here if you’re the one who goes.”

“I won’t like it either. I’ve never made this kind of money before. And only a damn fool could say this kind of money doesn’t mean anything. And the job I want to do around here is only half done. But I just can’t keep taking the responsibility without having the authority.”

“Who will you go to with this … ultimatum, Hugh?”

Darren shrugged. “The man who can say yes or no. Al Marta. Who else?”

Bunny Rice looked as though he wanted to wring his hands and sob. “I think you ought to … to talk to Max Hanes about it first, Hugh. Really I do.”

“Max runs the casino operation. What’s that got to do with this?”

“Just talk to him, Hugh. Please. Tell him what’s on your mind.”

“Max and I aren’t what you’d call buddies, you know.”

“He’s a very smart man. And … excuse me for saying this … he knows a lot about how things work around here … things you might not know about, Hugh.”

Hugh Darren felt the quick anger tauten his body. “Bunny, I told them when I came here, and I’m telling you again, I have no interest in knowing anything about any clandestine arrangements. I’m no conspirator. I don’t give a damn about the casino and the money room, or any foxy tricks those boys practise. They had a sick horse here, and so they had enough sense to go out and hire a good vet. They hired a pro, Bunny. They hired me away from one of the biggest operations in the Bahamas. They said I’d have a free hand. I don’t have a free hand. All I want to do is run this hotel operation.”

“Just talk it over with Max, Hugh. Will you do that first instead of going up and hitting Al Marta with it cold?”

Darren studied his night manager’s anxious, loyal face. Byron B. Rice, condemned from the very beginnings of pinkness and trembling to be known as Bunny, robbed by that inevitable name of both passion and authority, never to be called Mr. Rice even by the bus boys.

Darren sighed. “All right, Bunny. I’ll do it your way.”

Hugh Darren’s office was at the end of a short corridor which opened off the lobby near the registration desk. The door to that corridor was marked “Private.” In the smaller offices opening off the corridor were the nerve centers of the hotel operation—bookkeeping, accounting, billing, purchasing, credit, payroll. Since taking over the game, if not the
name, Hugh Darren had made clear and specific a functional division of all his complex activities.

In simplest terms, he was concerned with every aspect of food, drink and shelter—their acquisition, preparation, serving of and collection for. And he was responsible for maintenance of the whole plant, inside and out. And so he had pinned—in a triumph of the obvious—the specific responsibilities onto specific people: hiring sullen temperamental gifted George Ladori away from the Casa Vegas and loading him with all the functions concerned with food served everywhere in the hotel; promoting humorless reliable John Trabe to supervise all liquor operations; leaving bitter old Walter Welch in charge of all inside and outside maintenance, and giving him a freer hand than he had had before, because he was good.

That left Darren with nothing to do but run the hotel, handle lease of concessions, supervise all non-casino personnel, solicit trade, control Ladori, Trabe, Welch and the front desk, clean up after Jerry Buckler’s mistakes … nothing he couldn’t handle in a ninety-hour week … based always on what is known as the First Rule of All Hotels, “If something hasn’t gone wrong, it will.”

He walked into his office a few minutes after ten. This morning time in the office, an hour or so for the analysis of operating reports and the signing of this and that, and quick conferrings with key personnel, was the nearest thing to established routine that he was able to manage—though sometimes he arrived there after sleep, other times before he had had a chance to go to bed.

He pushed the office door open and wished the lettering on it could miraculously cease to irritate him. Jerome L. Buckler, Manager. Hugh J. Darren, Assistant Manager. In the practical mythology of the hotel trade, the average assistant manager has approximately the same status as the elevator starter, and usually works for less money.

But he could not fault the decor of the office. The wall-to-wall rug matched the Williamsburg blue of the draperies. The walls and the formica desk and table tops were oyster white, matching the white leather of the furniture. It was hushed, soundproofed, air conditioned. There was an intercom, tape dictation equipment, a noiseless electric typewriter at the secretarial desk in the corner. There were two custom executive desks. The larger of the two, seldom used, belonged to Jerry Buckler.

Hugh Darren went directly to his desk and began to check
the daily operation summaries placed in perfect alignment in the center of his large dark blue blotter by Miss Jane Sanderson.

She came back into the office thirty seconds after he had begun to read the summaries. “Good morning, or is it?” she said. She was a slat-thin woman, very tall, with legitimately white hair in a cropped tousled cut which should have been too young for her and wasn’t. In spite of her indoor employment she managed to maintain a hickory tan. After too many disheartening weeks trying to make a secretary of various slothful dumplings, he had found Jane through a blind ad placed in the Los Angeles papers.

“It is another one of those same mornings, Miss Jane.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.”

“Try to set up an appointment for me with Max Hanes, whenever he’s up and about. Neutral ground, I guess. So make it the Little Room. Then see if you can get Downey on the phone.”

“I think he’s still in that motel. His wife found something they like, but they couldn’t move in right away, and I guess maybe that was a good thing.”

He went through the summaries, jotting down brief notes in his pocket notebook to use during his daily inspection trip, and then began to study the checkout-checkin list. The name of each guest had coded information beside it, indicating how many times, if any, he or she had previously been in the house, the type of accomodations, his occupation—if available, credit arrangements, any special services requested, the total amount of the bill on checkout. A note from the desk indicated that 603 had been reported by the housekeeper to have been stripped before checkout. A salesman from Denver, who should know better. Hugh made a note for Jane to send the usual letter. If the man ignored it, he would suddenly find himself unable to make reservations in fine hotels in many places.

“Mr. Downey on the line,” Jane said.

Hugh Darren picked up the phone and said, “Tommy, there was an elective course you should have taken, all about how to cope with a drunken boss man.”

Tom Downey’s tone was chilly. “I had the four-year hotel administration course, Mr. D., and I had a year and a half at the L.A. Ambassador, and maybe the only thing I’ve learned is I don’t have to take abusive crap from anybody.”

“You’re just as sore as I figured you’d be, Tommy.”

“I get mad once a year, Hugh. And I stay mad.”

“I brought you in here, Tommy. And I’ve got good reasons for not letting you go like this.”

“I was fired, remember? I’m long gone. Sorry.”

“Suppose we had a big change here? Suppose all of a sudden it’s all mine?”

In the long silence he heard Downey sigh before he said, “In that case I’d come running back and you know it. Not loyalty, Hugh. But I guess there is some of that. Self-interest I can learn so damn much from the way you operate. But right now you’re dreaming. Buckler is Al Malta’s buddy.”

“All I’m asking is for you to sit tight while I give it the big try. Then either you can come back, or we’ll both be looking for work. Okay?”

“On that basis, sure, Hugh. And … good luck.”

After Hugh had set up an appointment with Max Hanes for two that afternoon in the Little Room, he made his rounds, conferring with his lieutenants. He went with his maintenance chief, old Walter Welch, to the men’s shop in the arcade off the lobby. The concessionaire wanted to take out a wall at his own expense. Walter said removal wouldn’t affect structural strength, so Darren gave his conditional approval based on a final approval by the hotel architect. He went back to his office and called his food chief, George Ladori, in for a forty-minute fight over the price changes on the dummy of a new menu overdue at the printer’s, and he won those points he had expected to win, while giving Ladori the feeling, so necessary to that man, that he had achieved victory.

Next came John Trabe, Hugh’s liquor chief, with a satisfactory accounting for the discrepancy in the last liquor inventory, and the worried information that one of his best bartenders had been reliably reported as having been seen at the Showboat, gambling heavily. Hugh told John Trabe to perform his own discreet investigation and take the action he thought best. Trabe had obviously hoped to duck that responsibility, and so he accepted the orders grudgingly.

After signing the letters Jane had typed up, Hugh once again prowled the big hotel. He went up to the sun deck and looked at the new sun lounges which had recently been delivered. He checked on the progress of redecoration of two suites on the fourth floor. He cautioned Red Elver, the head lifeguard, that two of his boys were hustling the guests too strenuously for tips.

By the time he had returned to his office and dictated
more replies to current correspondence, he barely had time for lunch before meeting Max Hanes. He angled across the main casino floor to the Little Room. In all the big hotel casinos of Las Vegas, it is always a few minutes after midnight. The sun never touches these places. The lighting is clever and directional—so that the playing surfaces are bright enough, and all the rest is shadowy—a half light that fosters indiscretion. They are big rooms, all darks and greens, sub-sea places. He saw the guests clotted close around one of the crap tables, their faces sick in the reflected light, the smoke rising, the stick man chanting, a casino waitress taking drink orders.

BOOK: The Only Girl in the Game
10.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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