September 05, 2009

September 2009, Vol. 8, Issue 9

Welcome back to the September issue of Truckin'.

1. Tangerine Rockets by Paul McGuire
Lennie was an international legend. His father walked away from a plane crash and passed along some of those good luck genes over to Lennie.... More

2. The Red Pill by Sigge S. Amdal
She dropped the face and began to cry, as tensions rose around me. The waiters stopped waiting tables, people stopped talking; they were just exchanging knowing glances and judgmental comments... More

3. Fine Tuning by Milton T. Burton
He looked perplexed. I slipped my hand beneath my coat, came out with the little silenced .22 Magnum auto, and shot him right in the center of the forehead. The hollow-point bullet exited the back of his skull, making a colorful little jet of blood and brains as it went... More

4. On Scoring by Human Head
One look at the eyeliner, eyebrows, gold hoops and herringbone chains, and I knew this was the Angel we were supposed to see. As she drew closer to the door, the tattoo's left little doubt. She didn't say anything. She just looked at me... More

5. The Joys of Gambling by Johnny Hughes
Saratoga Springs, New York in August was the gambling capital of America in the 1920s, with the horses, the spa waters, large and ornate casinos, and America's wealthiest citizens in a gilded age, when money and wine were treated like water... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

The September edition of Truckin' marks the return of the Human Head after a four year hiatus. I'm enthralled to have him back in the mix. Everyone's favorite Norwegian word wanker, Sigge, returns for a second month in a row. We also have a couple of Texan scribes in Johnny Hughes and Milton T. Burton. And of course, I have a story inspired by a recent trip to Colorado.

Thanks for telling your friends about Truckin'. May you will increase your karma ten fold! The contributors here write for free and you'll be doing me a huge favor by helping get them some publicity.

If anyone is interested in being added to the mailing list, or perhaps you are interested in writing for a future issue, then feel free to contact me.

I have to sincerely thank the writers for sharing their bloodwork. Thanks for taking this leap of faith with me. And a special thanks goes out to you, the reader, for your loyalty and support over the years.

Be good,

"Derive happiness in oneself from a good day's work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us." - Henri Matisse

Tangerine Rockets

By Paul McGuire © 2009

Nina banged on the door of the Blue Condo. Muffled music squeezed through the cracks underneath the front door. She knew the sisters were inside, but they were not answering any cell phones and more importantly, they were not answering the front door. She kicked it a couple of times and then decided to try the back door.

Nina snuck down the alley and shuffled past Indica's Mini Cooper. She left the windows rolled down and she peered inside looking for cigarettes. Nina spotted a pack wedged in between the passenger seat and the console. Camel Lights. Alas, the pack was empty.

"Do people still smoke Camel Lights?" she said out loud.

She knocked on the back door and within a second, Indica answered the door. She was holding a red solo cup filled with a homemade Mimosa. She was singing along to "Cherry Pie" which blasted on the stereo.

"Sorry, hon. Didn't hear you," said Indica as she sniffled twice.

Nina slid past her. Indica slammed the door and locked it and Nina followed her into the bathroom.

"I need two bags but all I have is $85."

"You know it costs $50 each," said Indica as she sniffed twice.

Indica was constantly stuffed up from the high volume of cocaine that she shoveled into her nostrils. She cut up a line with one hand while sipping her drink with the other.

"I know, but Tangerine owes me $400 when I loaned her money after her car was towed."

"Fuck me! She never told me. Sorry, hon. Both these bags are on me. I'll call Lennie and he'll settle up with you. Here, have three bags."

Tangerine and Indica were known as the Charlie Sisters. They both lived in the Blue Condo. Their mother was a prototypical West Coast hippie. Supposedly, their older brother was fathered by one of the members in Lynyrd Skynrd who survived the plane crash. That's why Lennie (born Leonard) was considered a golden child. He was literally the luckiest person that they knew. Because he had such an overwhelming predisposition to good luck, Lennie devoted his life to drug smuggling which turned out to be both an exciting and profitable venture.

Lennie's first foray into the drug smuggling business happened when he was 16-years old. All he needed was a kayak and a set of steel balls. He paddled out into the waters around the majestic San Juan Islands in Washington state bordering Canada. In one summer, he picked up 17 loads of marijuana that were submerged from Canadian growers. Even though both the Coast Guard and the DEA patrolled the area, he never got caught. A perfect 17-0 record.

Lennie only went to college in Olympia so he could sell weed. He was making so much money that he stayed seven years in total and earned a master's degree in psychology. All of his education was funded by selling bags of commercial British Columbia nugs. In his twenties, Lennie turned to smuggling ecstasy from Niagara Falls into Buffalo that eventually made its way into the clubs in New York City. He had developed a near flawless method involving old ladies on sightseeing tours as mules, until his partner, an 83-year old Jewish widow from the Upper West Side of Manhattan got too greedy. She got busted carrying 3,000 pills over the border. She was on the verge of ratting out Lennie when she had a heart attack and died in the interrogation room.

Lennie fled North America and ended up on the beaches of Thailand where he started up an English school. He taught prostitutes how to speak English in exchange for sexual favors. The result? An orange-colored discharge leaking from his penis. Lennie quickly left South East Asia, acquired antibiotics to fix his leaky penis, and smuggled Afghani hashish into Australia by posing as a member of BBC documentary film crew.

Lennie migrated to Colorado in his mid-30s. He became one of the most notorious cocaine dealers in Denver and backed by one of the most feared gangsters in Mexico. The Colombians flew cocaine from processing plants in Bolivia up to Northern Mexico. One of the members of the Ochoa cartel in Juarez heard stories about Lennie's exploits, he bought Lennie in as a distribution partner. After all, Lennie was an international legend. His father walked away from a plane crash and passed along some of those good luck genes over to Lennie.

Indica acquired cocaine at bargain basement prices through her brother. She sold $50 bags in the parking lots of bars in Denver. She was a savvy business woman and opened three used bookstores to help launder her brother's drug money. She loved to read and she loved to read while jacked up on cocaine.

Indica and well known in the art circles and cliques all over Boulder. She even dated one of the guys from Octopus Nebula for a while. Her twin sister, Tangerine, was most know for her outrageous outbursts and brushes with the law. As her parole officer remarked, "She has a big heart but she's the stupidest person I have ever met."

He was referring to her asking him if he needed any DMT because she had scored a fresh batch and she was going to sell out within 24 hours because the Disco Biscuits were in town. The result? She was forced into rehab Tangerine was supposed to be completing a program at rehab center in Pueblo, but she broke out a week earlier and had not been seen since.

"When was the last time you two spoke?" asked Nina as she snorted two thick lines.

"Like in conventional terms or other," said Indica. "We last spoke on the phone the night before she busted out of Fresh Start. However, she spoke to me in a dream last night. She's OK but wouldn't tell me exactly where she was. I heard slot machines so I think she's in Reno or Las Vegas."

"What're you talking about? She speaks to you in your dreams?"

"I never told you that, hon? Well sit down, have another line, because we have a lot of catching up to do. Our mother taught us how to speak to each other in dreams. It has something to do with your third eye which is your pineal gland. It allows you to enter a different dimension. That's where we leave messages for each other. I was born first so I had more of the psychic ability. Plus it's very easy for me to concentrate. Tangerine is so scatterbrained that she always loses focus so she needs a blast of DMT to get transported to that special place."

"So can you do that to other people, like could we try it?" wondered Nina.

"It's very hard for people without abilities. But if you can master DMT, then we might have a chance. DMT is the gateway to the heavens. It's the spirit molecule."

"Do you have any?"

"That's the only thing I don't have. I have Special K, ice, molly, hash oil, muscle relaxers, mushrooms, three kinds of painkillers, but no DMT. Tangerine will have some, she always has some. That is if and when she gets here."

"When was the last time you did DMT?"

"Oh Jesus, it's been years. I got too scared. Too many bad trips. I kept seeing the angry aliens sitting on the geometric cubes. My power takes me into the light side of that dimension. It's like the DMT rockets you to the bad part of town. The other side of the tracks. That's where the bad aliens live."

"And where do the good aliens live?"

"Mostly in Boulder and the rest are in North Hollywood."

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas. He currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

The Red Pill

By Sigge S. Amdal

Ignorance is bliss.

I was far away in thought when I was interrupted at my table. I was sitting outside, in the shade, but the sun kept the molecules vibrating at a comfortable level around me. They'd just put some jazz on, and the outlook for a nice day in the sun looked promising.


It was a lady, a young girl, dressed in casual clothing, with her hair nicely set up and her face set in iron stone. Her eyes were twitching from anger. There was no question about who she was addressing.


"Yes! What the hell are you doing here?"


She was almost screaming at me, and I was suddenly under the intense evaluation of the other people around us.

"How dare you?! How the fuck do you dare to do this to me?"

"What? I've never seen you before!"

"I waited at my parents' house for two hours until I had to make up some excuse for why the fuck you wouldn't show up!"

"Listen to me. You must be mistaking me for someone else."

"Don't try me, you fucking bastard."

She sat down without an invitation and picked out one of my cigarettes.

"Do you want to split up with me? Is that it?"

"Listen, I have no idea what you are talking about."

I tried to remain calm, even though strangers around my belongings seriously freak me out. I've been robbed one time too many. But this was insane. Was she insane? Tripping?

"The breakfast with my parents! You know how much it meant to me. And my mother! She's never going to shake your hand after this. You know how conservative they are when it comes to keeping ones' appointments. And frankly, so am I!"

"You misunderstand."

"Misunderstand? What the hell is there to misunderstand?! You stood me up this one time when it really mattered to me! And you knew it! I'm not important to you at all, am I?"

I could feel the judgment of all the female observers in the vicinity. They all knew how it was, and this time I was the scapegoat for all their pent up frustration. Except I was no willing part in the play. She stared at me defiantly.

"Do you want to end it? 'Cause I sure can't go on like this! Fuck you and fuck your fucking ego!"

She dropped the face and began to cry, as tensions rose around me. The waiters stopped waiting tables, people stopped talking; they were just exchanging knowing glances and judgmental comments. The men were just happy someone else got the worst of it, and made a mental not to self to Buy Flowers for the Missus. I was beginning to sweat.

"Please," I said and leaned a bit forward with my hand on the table. "Please don't cry."

"Don't fucking tell me what to do! Don't you love me anymore?"

"Love you? I just met you two minutes ago. No, I don't love you."

Some sense of realization dawned on her, and she composed herself.

"Fine," she said, drying her tears.

"I'm sorry," I said generally, trying to be the better stranger of the equation.

"Don't be. It's me that's sorry." She picked up her purse and stood up.

"Goodbye," she said. "I hope you'll be happy now."

"Me too," I said.

Then she left.

I looked into the table as soon she turned around and disappeared, and took a sip of coffee. My hand was shaking. The crowd was slowly shifting attention though I was certainly somewhere in the conversation. What a heartless bastard I was, and so on.

I shook my head. What a bizarre thing to happen. But I wouldn't be welcome here for a while now, judging by the waitresses' stern looks. I gathered my belongings getting ready to leave in a walk of shame. I fumbled in my pockets for my keys.

They looked strange. Still, I knew they were mine.

"OH SHIT!" I shouted, before I ran as fast I could to catch up with my girlfriend.

Sigge S. Amdal is a word wanker from Oslo, Norway.

Fine Tuning

By Milton T. Burton © 2009

Most people think parallel worlds lie in the future. They see every significant event as generating several outcomes, each of which makes its own timeline. Modern physics seems to support this idea as well. But it's all wrong. The parallel worlds are in the past, and the Adjusters work hard to keep them there. I should know. I'm one of the Adjusters.

I live in a renovated Victorian house in Galveston's historic old East End. It's more room than I need, but time workers tend to be pack rats. We almost always develop the habit of collecting mementos from the various ages and places we have visited, so a little extra space is advisable. Besides, Galveston has been my family's home for generations, and when you range as far and wide as I do, you need some connection to your roots.

I was coming off a month's vacation and looking at two hard weeks ahead. Major projects that had been put off too long. The first stop was Rome, December, 799 A.D. It wasn't too hard to get an audience with Pope Leo III. Gold is a universal lubricant. It will get you in just about anywhere, then or now. And it didn't take much to convince him. Charles The Great, King of the Franks---known to history as Charlemagne---was in town, having rescued Leo from the Roman mobs that had sought to kill him. The man had fled to Paderborn where he petitioned Charles for relief. On the advice of his own confessor, Alcuin of York, Charles moved his army south across the Alps into Rome and reinstated Leo in the papal palace. Which left the Pope in his debt. Not the best place to be in that politically-charged world. The Roman throne in the West had been vacant for three hundred and fifty years. In the east, in Byzantium, a woman reigned as Emperor, recognized by neither the papacy nor by the Franks.

"When Charles kneels to take the Eucharist," I said to Leo in Church Latin. "Crown him Emperor of the Romans. Put the crown quickly on his head. Do not hesitate. Not only will you elevate him to this great office, but you will be asserting the power of the papacy to propose and dispose. He will be grateful and in your debt rather than you in his."

"Do you think?" he asked, a bit of greed mixed with fear in his eyes.

"I know."

"But what if he is offended?"

"King Charles is a deeply religious man, Holy Father, a man with great respect for the papacy and the Church. Be spiritual in your dealings with him and he cannot be offended."

My flawless logic plus twenty kilos of gold carried the day, and the outcome is recorded in every good library in the world. This action revived the imperial tradition in the west and set a precedent that the emperors’ authority rested on the approval of the pope. Although the imperial title did not confer any actual power on Charlemagne, it did give legitimacy to his rule over central Italy, a fact that the Byzantine emperor would acknowledge a decade hence. The Holy Roman Empire created that day was to last, in one form or another, for a thousand years, and I was off to...

Florence, Spring, 1470. The man across the table from me was Lorenzo de' Medici, known to history as "Il Magnifico"---Lorenzo the Magnificent. Now but twenty-one years old and ascended to the head of the clan upon his father's recent death, he was destined to be the Renaissance's greatest patron of the arts. I had just added a significant amount of money to our account with his family bank. We keep deposits with sound banks in all the ages where we work. And no banks were more sound than the Medici Bank. Lorenzo might have been the wealthiest man in the world at that time, but he had been brought up in the banking business and had a banker's instincts. Which meant that he liked to meet the big depositors personally. But he was a convivial man and our conversation drifted away from finance and on to other matters.

"His name again?" he asked me. "This painter you mentioned, I mean."

"Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, but he goes by Sandro Botticelli. A diminutive man, but a great wit."

He laughed. "Botticelli... The little barrel. A small fellow, eh?"

"That's right."

"But one who likes to eat, judging from his nickname?"

"That he does," I replied. "He just opened a workshop down by the Arno, near the Ponte Vecchio."

"Why haven't I heard of him if he is so good?"

"Some say he has been in Hungary for several years, working for the archbishop there. They also say that if his work proves unpopular here he will return. That is the problem. He has no name here. Yet he was born in Florence, and it would be tragic for the city to loose so talented a son. Especially to the Hungarians."

He looked at me sharply. "You are not Florentine yourself. I believe you told me you are from Regensburg, so why should you care?"

I gave him a shrug and a disarming smile. "Like Jesus, I think a prophet should not be without honor in his own land."

He laughed. "There is a wine shop near the Vecchio. Let us have a glass and then I will view the work of this paragon. Perhaps I will like some of his canvasses."

"He needs more than the sale of a few canvasses, Excellency," I said bluntly. "He needs a patron. He was an apprentice to Fra' Lippi, you know."

I heard a sharp intake of breath. "I had no idea. Then he must be good. Lippi will not tolerate anything but the best. Why, once he even snarled dismissively at some of my sonnets. Can you imagine such cheek?"

I smiled an easy smile. "Great talents can afford to be cheeky, whereas men such as ourselves..." I let my voice taper off.

He rose from his chair with a laugh. "All too true, my friend. Let us go have that glass of wine. I find art more invigorating than business, especially in the springtime."

And as they say, the rest is history.
After Florence came a couple of minor assignments. In the first, I had to get a particular red-headed young Missourian extracted from the Confederate Army and out west where he would be safe to write the books he was meant to write. Next was the kidnapping in Philadelphia in 1934 I had to prevent. Nuts and bolts matters.

It's not always this easy. Three years ago a fellow operative who was also a close friend of mine killed herself after she saved Hitler's life in 1921. Why save Hitler, of all people, you might ask? Because the alternative would have been worse. Much, much worse. Take my word for it. And therein lay the problem. She had the facts from both timelines, ours and the one that wasn't allowed to happen. But she couldn't get her head around the fact that she preserved the Holocaust. I don't know that I could have either, but my next job was one I had no qualms about even though it was to be the first time I had to kill in the line of duty.
The Harvard Club, New York, NY, January, 2012. Roland DeJong was a tall, slim, handsome smartass who exuded a sense of entitlement the way a field hand exudes sweat. I found him sitting in the reading room, the New York Times in his lap, a snifter of fine old brandy at hand. A low reading table, now piled with magazines, separated two heavy wingchairs of dark brown leather. I sat down across the table from him and made no effort to choose anything to read. He gave me a manly smile and introduced himself quietly.

"I know who you are," I said.

"Really? I'm flattered. What class were you in?"

"I'm not a Harvard man. You might say I'm a guest here."

He nodded, but his demeanor became just the tiniest bit patronizing. "Where are you from?"

"The future."

He barely blinked at this. I suppose he thought of himself as a sophisticated man, one used to sophisticated word games.

"You don't say."

"But I do say."

"Whose future, then?" he asked with a sardonic smile. "Mine?"

"You don't have a future."

"Ahhh... I see. Then you must have been sent here to prevent some terrible catastrophe from befalling me. Is that it?"

I shook my head. "No. As it happens, I am your catastrophe. I know more about you than you know about yourself. We have a good research department. Best in the world, in fact."

"But why research me? To what purpose?"

I ignored his question. "Your family has been wealthy for five generations. You went to an exclusive prep school, then on to Harvard for your bachelors in pre-law. After that you were given a commission in the Army which was followed by Special Forces training, then an assignment in conjunction with the C.I.A. where you became expert at 'extracting' information in Afghanistan. The 'Special Methods Section,' they called it. Did you have fun?"

He gave me a crinkle-browed frown that was as false as the smile the serpent gave Eve. "So you're one of those people," he said. "Is that Sheehan woman still involved? I've been down this road before."

"So go down it one more time. Was it fun?"

"It's not always pleasant," he said. "Protecting civilization, I mean. Certain things have to be done no matter how repugnant we find them."

I nodded sagely. "Indeed. I can see you and a handful of cohorts forty years from today, sitting around some clubby room much like this one. Like the hunter home from the hill, old warriors, home from the foreign fields of empire. A crackling fire in a stone fireplace. Rowing trophies on the mantle, photos of long dead members from decades past hang here and there on finely paneled walls. Leather and brass and polished wood everywhere. You sip your brandy and say, "Nasty business, that. Afghanistan, I mean. But somebody had to do it.' Your friends all cough and snort and nod in passable imitations of Victorian gentlemen, and all those present agree that, indeed it was a nasty business, but one that had to be done on behalf of all the naïve little people out in the world who believe in quaint notions like common decency the rule of law."

He frowned again, but this one was for real. "Your point being?"

"My point being that most such people are really just harmless oafs. Or at least they do no more harm than their kind always has

"I do believe I detect a bit of class resentment here."

Again I ignored him and continued on. "But you have ambitions. Everything has been but a stepping stone for you. When you got out of the Army you whizzed through law school and then had a job waiting with one of the Wall Street bond firms. You made still more money, even though you didn't really need it. A few people got screwed, but so what? I mean, shit happens, doesn't it? Your skirts are clean. Besides, you were just marking time anyway. And now you're getting interested in running for congress."

"How on earth did you know that?" He was beginning to take me seriously.

"I told you I'm from the future, fool. I know what will happen if. . . How did you put it? If certain things aren't done, was it? First would come three terms in he House, and then an easy election to the Senate. You're a natural demagogue, you know. I'll give you that. You know how to push all the right buttons. Red states and blue states both, you know where the prejudices and insecurities lie. You will have a national reputation even before you enter the Senate. Then near the end of your first term a major crisis, one engineered by you and your backers, will force the resignation of a seated president for the second time in history. You'll be picked to replace the vice president when he moves up. Your party wins the next election, but soon the president dies under what can only be described as peculiar circumstances during another major crisis. You emerge as the American savior. Only in reality, you're the American Caligula."

"I've heard about enough of this," he said. "You are a thoroughly unpleasant man."

"And I've said about enough. Except to note that you would never have made anything really decent of yourself, no matter what. Still, you wouldn’t have been the monster you are had if your older sister hadn't seduced you when you were fifteen. A relationship, I might add, that's continued right down to today."

He turned white and froze, motionless. I gave him my coldest smile. "That's why I compared you to Caligula. Remember his sister? But you're actually worse. Caligula was just a spoiled brat with absolute power who wanted to have orgies. Do you recall what Alfred told Batman in The Dark Knight? He said 'Some men don't want money or power. They just want to watch the world burn.' That's what's in the future unless something happens to stop you. And I'm that something."

I rose to my feet. "How about you? What kind of movies to you watch?"

"I don't feel like having a civil conversation with a man who has accused me of having sex with my sister."

"Accused? Hell, man, we've got 3-D halos of the two of you going at it hammer-and-tongs. But back to the movies. I'm a big film fan, myself. Love the Coen Brothers stuff." I fell into a phony Italian accent and snarled, "Like I tell my boys, always put one in da brain. That’s from their Miller's Crossing. Great flick. Johnny Caspar to Tom Reagan. Always put one in da brain."

He looked perplexed. I slipped my hand beneath my coat, came out with the little silenced .22 Magnum auto, and shot him right in the center of the forehead. The hollow-point bullet exited the back of his skull, making a colorful little jet of blood and brains as it went. For a moment his feet beat a grim tattoo on the floor, but his eyes had had morphed into dead fish eyes that told me it was nothing but reflex. My job was done, and there was no to linger. I dropped the gun in his lap and flicked the return switch in my belt unit. There came a moment of vertigo when the Harvard Club blurred out and the time vault in my Galveston home materialized.

I hung up my gear and locked the room. Out on the front porch I sat down with a bottle of good scotch whiskey and a crystal glass. It was just after sunset and the sea breeze was starting to pick up. I sipped my drink and stared off toward the Gulf, trying to decide what to do with my two weeks upcoming holiday. Lorenzo had bought a half dozen of Botticelli's paintings the morning we visited his shop, and then he invited us both to his palace for dinner. I think I may take him up on it. We also found one small canvas that is not mentioned in any catalogue of his works. That is because it now hangs in my parlor here in Galveston. Imagine that: a freshly painted Botticelli.

It's a tolerable world we live in. It's far from perfect, but it has plenty of good people, fine art, great music, loyal friends, innocent children, and fresh spring flowers. It's a world worth preserving in spite its flaws. I laughed for a moment about what DeJong had said about how saving it is sometimes unpleasant. It never is to me. I love my work.

Milton T. Burton was born and raised in East Texas. He has been variously, a college history teacher, a political consultant, and a cattleman. He has published two crime novels "The Rogues' Game" and "The Sweet and The Dead" with St. Martin's Press, NY. His third, "Nights of The Red Moon" is due out next spring.

On Scoring

By Human Head © 2009

"I don't think I'm gettin' out. I don't know who the fuck that is." D-'s eyes were starting to dart.


"I don't really like this."

"Whaddya mean 'I don't like this'? I thought you said you'd done this before. Are we about to get busted or something?"

"I dunno, I dunno."

"Well fucking answer the question", I practically hollered. "I thought you said you'd done this before."

"Well... not like this."

I rubbed the side of my head. I should have expected this, goddammit. D- didn't know Damien any better than I did, even though he'd spent at least the last couple of months talking like he did. We both met Damien a couple of months previous through J-, a guy we attended school with who was rapidly leaving the world of adolescent academics behind in favor of the company of a local set of small time Mexican bangers. Several things were immediately noticeable about Damien at that first meeting; he was very short, very stoned, very prone to thieving*, and had a Cruz Bustamante mustache that didn't quite suit him. He seemed like a decent enough guy, and word was he had hookups for just about anything one might want. D- said Damien had hooked him up a couple of times and according to the latest word, it was solid. Having only recently discovered the wonders of the demon weed, my pressing concern was securing an avenue to get a hold of more.
* Truthfully, the reality was closer to outright kleptomania. During that brief first meeting I saw him stealing/hoarding all manner of unnecessary shit, like every lighter he laid eyes on, for example, or refrigerator magnets. What other kind of person but a true klepto would steal magnets? The compulsion was apparent as I watched him casually slither around pocketing useless trinkets. I made it a point then and there to be sure and check my pockets more often. Okay, constantly.


D- said that he had called Damien who told him to go to a Subway in the southeast part of town. We were supposed to talk to Angel and have her get a hold of Diego. I know. My first attempt at scoring was already the textbook definition of sketchy.

D- had been told that if he didn't make it before 9PM he would be assed out (read: the Subway would be closed). We made sure to arrive with plenty of time to spare, and as we rolled into the parking lot a little before 8:30 the bad omens began stacking. This particular Subway happened to be located in what was an otherwise largely abandoned strip mall with a massive parking lot in various stages of breakdown, with tall weeds sprouting through the cracked asphalt everywhere you look. Very horror movie-esque. Pulling in, you could see one person working at the counter while the restaurant shone like an orb from some kind of science-fiction movie blazing in the midst of near total darkness. George HW's 'thousand points of light' line randomly made its way through my head. Don't ask me why. I couldn't tell you.

"There's only one person there. I though you were supposed to talk to Angel. I don't see any girls in there," I said.

"I think so. I'm not sure. Angel could be a guy."

"Yeah, but a white guy? Please. Someone got the time wrong. I don't know if it was you or Damien, but this ain't cool. Go see if they're open. It might just be dead since it's almost closing time."

"Fine," D- sighed. You could tell he didn't want to, but this was his hookup and he had done this 'a million times', which meant he was obligated.

D- strolled up to the door and gave it a halfhearted pull, and sure enough it was locked. You didn't have to see his face to see the relief in his body language. He had 'tried" and was now beating it back to the truck.

"Nah. they're closed. Looks like we're fucked"

"Whaddya mean? The guy at the counter looked up at you! You couldn't see if at least they were actually closed or if Angel even works there to make sure we got the right place?"

"Let's just forget it, man. I'll try to get a hold of Damien next week and we'll try again next weekend."

"Fuck that," I said. I was suddenly in a mild frenzy. "I'll be damned if I'm gonna waste all this time and energy and not smoke. If this fizzles we're trackin' down Damien tonight."

With that I jumped from the cab of the truck and jogged up to the Subway door. The guy behind the counter was busily intent on some manifestation of sandwich artistry and I had to bang on the window to get his attention.

"You guys closed?" I yelled

He nodded.

"What time did you close?"

He said 8 o'clock, but I acted like I couldn't make out what he was saying, so he came closer. I just wanted him close enough so I could stop yelling. I despise having to yell, and I doubly despise having to yell in the dark.

What time did you say?

"8 o'clock, man, you're way late."

"Damn, too bad for me I guess. Hey, is Angel still here?" I was trying to make it sound like a casual afterthought.

He just gave me a weird look.

"Angel works here, right? Did she leave yet? Can I talk to her?"

The weird look stayed, and the guy didn't say anything. He just turned around and walked into the back office. I was actively contemplating the fact that he might be calling the cops and trying to decide whether or not to bail when a late twenty-something girl walked out. One look at the eyeliner, eyebrows, gold hoops and herringbone chains, and I knew this was the Angel we were supposed to see. As she drew closer to the door, the tattoo's left little doubt. She didn't say anything. She just looked at me.

"Hey there, you know Damien?"

"Who are you?"

Okay, so she knows Damien.

"Look, Damien told us to come see you and ask you to get a hold of Diego."

An eyebrow was raised as she gave me the slow up/down scan. Then again. Then once more. A white boy in this neighborhood with his fat white friend deserved nothing less, I suppose. I tried to maintain and act like it was no big deal.

"Okay, just go wait," she said. Finally.


"Are we just supposed to sit here? What comes next?" D- looked like a trapped rat, nervous as all hell.

"I have no idea, man. She just said to wait."

"Well, what if she called the cops? What if she's just gonna let us sit here?"

"Listen, dude. Who cares if she called the cops? Neither of us have been drinking, and neither of us are holding. What's the worst that'll happen? A loitering ticket? Or they'll think we're fags, which isn't really a ticket-able offense as long as we're not sans pants."

"What pants?"

"Sans pants. It means without pants."

"Why didn't you just say that instead of with all the fancy words? Jackass."

"Because I assumed you weren't a complete dumbass, dumbass. Now if we can finish with the vocab lesson I'll finish what I was sayin'. If she is just letting us sit here, well, it's not like we have to sit and wait forever, right?"

"But it's been almost an hour. It's after 9:30."

"Fine. Let's give it till 10, and if we got nothin' we'll say fuckit and go get drunk. The liquor store stays open till 11."

Five minutes later we saw the headlights. As the car drew closer, we could see it was a rusted-out El Camino. So much for worrying about cops. Even the most hard-core undercover wouldn't be caught dead driving this thing.

"It's all urine, pee pee," I said to D-. "Showtime."


I was still rubbing my head. A full two minutes had passed since the El Camino behind us had killed the lights and engine, and while D- was frantically trying to back his way out of the situation the weight of the seconds ticking by was growing heavy. Too much indecisiveness was going to make us both look suspect, further exacerbating an already strange and shaky scene.

"Dude, this is your deal. I got us this far already. Go to it."

"I can't, man. I think we should just go."

"You gotta be fuckin' kiddin' me. What do you think is gonna happen when this gets back? At the very least we lose any hookup we may have had, and at worst...I don't even know. I don't really want to. Fuck this, gimme some money."

"What? You're gonna do it?" D- looked slightly incredulous. "I thought you had money."

You have to understand. At the time, this was extremely out of character for me. If we got popped, the worst D- would have to deal with would be paying his parents back for fines and whatnot when he got around to it. In my case it had been made abundantly clear that not only would I not be bailed out if I ever went to jail, but as soon as I got out I wouldn't have a place to live. Thus, having more to lose I was generally more timid where these things were concerned. But tonight I had purpose, and being driven by it brought out a side of me that D- hadn't witnessed before. Frankly, it was one I hadn't witnessed before either.

"Well, you're obviously not going to. And since I'm doing this part for you...shit, since I've done pretty much this entire deal for you, I ain't puttin' a damn thing on it. I aint' even puttin' 5 on it, so don't even fuckin' ask. This is some punk bitch shit you're pullin' right now."

D- didn't say anything. He just handed over $20.

No time to think, just go. Jump out of the cab, feet hit the pavement. Hope nothing happens. Man that's a shitty car. This is some sketchy-ass shit. Guy glances at me but doesn't give any indication of well, anything, really. Grab the El Camino door handle and pull. Just like an old junky door, it's creaky and loud. Look inside. This can't be a cop--it's too shitty, there's too many old fast-food wrappers. And there's a fuckin' pullout stereo. No way is this officialdom.

"You Diego?" I tried sounding nonchalant, but it came out hesitant and kind of squeaky.

"Christ, this guy is gonna think I just hit puberty," I thought.

"Yo, man. Hop in."

The door is even louder as it creaks and clangs shut. The echoes reverberate in the giant lot, which wouldn't have been a big deal 30 minutes ago, but now the Subway is truly closed. No more thousand points of light. Only one remains, and it's coming from a crappy street lamp several spaces away. The interior of the El Camino smells like an armpit that just smoked a carton of cigarettes. If I get killed I'm not even gonna be a little bit surprised.

"How's it goin'?"

"I'm not sure yet," I said. [Long pause] "Well, um, I guess you need some money, huh."

"Can't do much without it."

Well, at least the guy seemed to have a sense of humor. I held out the $20 that I'd been palming since I exited the truck. I didn't want to have to dig through my pockets in a confined space. These were seriously dodgy circumstances for my level of experience and I was doing my best to keep any potential fuck-ups to a minimum.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a sack of that danky green stuff, oh dear.

Which is to say I have no idea where it actually came from. I lost a few seconds somewhere, like a bad edit job on my conscious perception. I figure it was one of two things. As I officially stepped for the first time into the world of 'the criminal', either my brain clenched shut like a flinch just before getting hit in the face, or, the guy was a Jedi and did some of that mind trickery they're known to engage in. Regardless, there it was in front of me, shining with the special majesty that can only come from plastic packaging surrounding an illicit substance.

As I plucked the bag from his hand, I was sure I'd just caught a glimpse into what Eve might have felt like.


D- handed me the pipe. "Alright, let's load this thing up!"

I loaded the bowl and took the first hit. It was harsh smoke, but it did the trick. I began coughing.

"Nice!" D-said. Now that we had drugs in hand he was back to his animated and talkative self. "I can't believe we scored. That is so fuckin' awesome." he said, reaching for the pipe.

I jerked the pipe back.

"Whaddya mean 'we'? You may have been there, but I'm the one who scored. And why can't you believe it? You're the one that was supposed to know all the ropes, and you almost fucked us up actin' like a scared little bitch. So here's what's gonna happen. I'm gonna sit here and smoke this whole bowl, and you're gonna sit there and watch."


"You heard me. I said I'm gonna smoke this whole bowl by myself, and you're going to sit there while I do it."

D- didn't respond. He just blinked a few times, incredulous once again. Finally he sat back in the chair and turned his attention to the television, mumbling something about how I'd better hurry up.

I took my time.

Human Head is a general purpose human resource and drug enthusiast living in the US.

The Joys of Gambling

By Johnny Hughes © 2009

Saratoga, New York, 1925. A fictional memoir.

"The hardest thing in the world is to find an honest partner in a skin game." - Arnold Rothstein.

Sean O'Malley pulled his new $3150 Pierce Arrow Coach up in front of the American Hotel. He limped slowly into the busy lobby, leaning on his cane, and stopping to rest every few paces. His left arm, and leg weren't aligned right, as if he had been a stroke victim. His neck was twisted to the left, and his face seemed pinched in agonizing, and heroic pain. Sean could only make it as far as a couch near the front desk. On the other end of that couch sat Clarice Biddle, the single most prolific gossip on the East Coast. Sean summoned the desk clerk, with a slow, tortured motion.

"I'm Sean O'Malley. I have a suite reserved and paid for. Will you check to see if a parcel has arrived for me? It is my family medicine. It is urgent."

His voice was strained, and he seemed not able to raise his head.

"I'll go check. So, you are Sean O'Malley, the man who will play any card game. I've heard the gamblers talking about you."

The desk clerk was loud and enthusiastic. Saratoga Springs, New York in August was the gambling capital of America in the 1920s, with the horses, the spa waters, large and ornate casinos, and America's wealthiest citizens in a gilded age, when money and wine were treated like water.

"I need to rest here. Go see first about the family tonic. Has it arrived? I can't play any one until I get my health back."

Sean O'Malley had bribed this desk clerk, though his cousin Patrick who was persona non grata in New York, due to his successful stock scams. They were part of five generations of the Traveling O'Malleys: gamblers, con men, musicians, medicine show owners, carnival barkers. For generations, O'Malleys were around hotels, conventions, county fairs, golf courses, country clubs, and race tracks, selling little bottles of O'Malley's Family Tonic: Secret Irish Herbs.

After explaining to Mrs. Biddle that the tonic was not for sale, Sean spoke knowingly of holly, fennel, oak, hemp, and secret herbs that bonded the rest. His dear grandmother, Grace, grew the herbs in Duke, Oklahoma, but they had been grown in his family in Ireland and America for eight hundred years. Telling the hard of hearing Mrs. Biddle something was much like radio advertising. She would repeat it all through the day.

"Now, I know and can prove the family tonic helps to heal, by changing the blood. But in Ireland, there were secret herbs that led to good fortune and luck. I can't prove that, but I believe it, and that is why I am a gambler. I am living proof it works."

That afternoon, Sean limped up to a croquet game on the lawn. Nearby, some men were pitching washers, and were quite animated and verbal in their obvious gambling pleasure. One of the men asked Sean if he would like to join in, and he declined due to his health. Now Abner Cosden asked directly, "So, you are Sean O'Malley, the man who will play any card game?"

Now Sean told them he was a traveling gambler that would bet on almost anything, if his health came back.

Harold "Mike" Vanderbilt, from one of America's richest families, asked, "Do you play bridge? We were looking for a fourth."

"I'd play for mild stakes. At the Biltmore in Atlanta, I ran into three of them playing in together. My partner would bid high, get doubled, and go down as much as possible. The card room manager said I did not have to pay. I like one on one games, any form of poker, rummy. I'd throw those washers, if I was well. These other fellows look like they are on the square, but I'm not so sure about you."

The desk clerk came running across the lawn with the earth-shaking news. The tonic had arrived. He took Sean's arm and helped him back to the hotel. A pitiful sight. He stopped twice to rest on his cane.

The next morning, Sean O'Malley, athletic, and amazingly cheerful bounded down the stairs and into the lobby, the very picture of robust health at thirty-three. His thick, curly, auburn hair had been pressed flat the day before. He jumped into the air and clicked his heels. He sat with Mrs. Biddle, and repeated often his thanks for her kindness, before the tonic worked its expected, and proven rejuvenating magic. This was a Friday. Sean confided to her that he was a betting agent for New York's biggest gambler, Arnold Rothstein. He would be betting only the fourth and fifth races the next day, and then leaving town. He sold her two, quarter-pint bottles of the tonic at $100 a bottle, but told her he only had a wee, tiny supply.

That afternoon, Sean purposelessly ran into Vanderbilt, Cosden, and their group at the race track club house.

"I've got me health back, and I can beat any of you guys at anything," Sean said, almost up in Vanderbilt's face.

Vanderbilt was six years older, forty pounds heavier, and three inches taller than Sean, who was cocky, at best. Again, Harold Vanderbilt started a discussion of bridge, and then gin rummy. The brash newcomer was invited to their box. Cosden asked if he was really Rothstein's betting agent, and in the same breath, what horse might A.R. favor.

Sean O'Malley didn't seem to even notice the first two races, telling bawdy jokes, and recounting his big poker wins, and then losses, in the Dallas Petroleum Club. He sang parts of "Danny Boy" in a fine Irish tenor, and danced a jig. He spoke to Harold Vanderbilt as if they were equals, and he was a bit insulting to a man that was used to everyone catering to his every whim, and agreeing with his every opinion. In the first hour they met, Sean told him he was wrong often, and he liked it. Sean read Harold Vanderbilt's steel-blue eyes intently. He knew the man had a great sense of, and enjoyment of humor. They hit is off instantly.

Now after swearing them to secrecy, which Traveling O'Malleys did several times in any given day any place wealthy folks gathered, Sean said honor forbade him telling them Rothstein's selection of a horse, but he'd share the mechanics.

"I'll meet this big fat man in a white coat right out there, about five minutes before the bell. I'll hand him a signed bet chit, and he'll sign a chit for me."

The traditional bell at Saratoga rang seventeen minutes before post time.

Before the fourth race, Sean O'Malley ran back to the box, frantic, visibly upset.

"He didn't show up. Something went wrong. I don't have much money on me."

And after clever conversation full of O'Malley stock phrases: promise, guarantee, cross my heart, opportunity, chance of a lifetime, swear on the Bible, trust me, I'm feeling lucky, and decide now. Abner Cosden and Richard Barton rushed off to the bookmakers and wagered $10,000 each on Gaelic Mist to place. The filly was rated second in the betting odds at three to one. They had agreed to pay Sean, "a wee finder's fee, the customary steerer's fee in any gambling joint, saw-dust or rug, twenty per cent."

Harold Vanderbilt had remained silent, with his arms crossed, grinning. An O'Malley can smell skepticism, their century-old enemy.

"You can sell them some snake oil when they get back," he said. "I liked the way you did that. You have that Irish gift of gab."

Vanderbilt didn't wager on the race.

"You should have bet something. You might be walking around real lucky and not know of it," Sean said.

Sean said he was going to make a bet and walked down into the crowd. He could hear the announcer with no good news about Gaelic Mist. He was contemplating an O'Malley standard: Take a gypsy's leave. He walked toward the exit, and then the announcer said the scarlet and black silks were moving up fast on the outside. As Gaelic Mist was headed for the winner's circle, Sean was back in the Vanderbilt box.

"Did you cheer? Oh, did you cheer? We will not forget this day. Did you see her come from behind?"

After back slaps all around and some conversation, he noticed Vanderbilt whispering to the others, and they paid him over six thousand in cash for a few minutes work, with no risk of his own funds. Typical O'Malley proposition.

On the fifth race, Sean went through the same elaborate routine, repeating each O'Malley stock phrase like an ancient litany. He finally confided that Dublin Morning was Rothstein's choice on a place bet. Again, Barton and Cosden went to bet, this time even more eagerly. Vanderbilt did not, but enjoyed the whole mini-drama immensely, calling Sean correctly, "a world-class tout, but a tout none the less."

Sean told him that he really believed that the secret herbs in the tonic brought good health, and that he could prove it.

"And there are herbs some Irish long ago knew brought good fortune. Good luck. Now, I can prove the tonic restores health, but I also believe it brings good luck. A gambler has to believe in luck to enjoy his life. You can book me on this filly."

He wanted to get Harold Vanderbilt gambling with him personally.

Sean O'Malley ended up betting Harold Vanderbilt three thousand dollars on Dublin Morning to place, the way he always bet horses to run second or first, at track odds. Again, it was an Irish-named filly that showed all the other horses their backside. Cosden and Barton were eager to pay Sean his "finder's fee." And now Sean O'Malley and Harold Vanderbilt bet $1000 on each of the next three races, and Harold wrote down the bets. Then Sean left, saying he had run out of the tonic, trusting his new friend to tell him the outcome of their wager back at the hotel. Harold won all three. Sean's trap was set and baited. Not all trappers wear fur caps.

Right before sundown, a messenger woke Sean from his nap with a knock on the door of his suite at the American. Mr. Vanderbilt wanted to play some cards, and collect some money he was owed on the horses.

Sean took all the money he had in the world, thirty-two thousand dollars.
Sean didn't know they made hotel suites the size of Vanderbilt's. They played cards with blue and red Bicycles, and decks with Rembrandts and Titians. There was a card table, with padded, leather chairs. They played high draw poker at first, using no chips, just money. Vanderbilt sent this silent, pained, hulk of a man servant/bodyguard for plenty of ten and twenty dollar bills. He stayed out in the hall. Sean knew an O'Malley principle: With a rich man, don't let him get off winner. Keep him behind. He cares about the win or the loss, not the money. They played stud.

When Vanderbilt suggested deuces wild, Sean said, "I'll play a children's game, but I'd rather try gin rummy. You aren't any good at any thing we have tried yet. So far, it doesn't look like you could beat Rin Tin Tin."

Sean took off the coat of his tan, silk suit, and put it on the back of his chair. Harold walked the length of the room, and hung his coat in a closet, turning his back on Sean, who could have peaked at his hand.

When Sean would shuffle, he would do so very, very slowly, with lots of slow cuts to make it apparent his hands were easy to see. He was not cheating, in case they had heard of his cousins. Sean never cheated, but he sure knew how.

Soon, Sean was calling his new friend Mike at his suggestion, and telling colorful stories of his family, admitting they did the shell game, and sold gold mine stock, but he swore the tonic was not part of any con. He would get passionate about only the tonic. He told of an uncle who went nearly crazy finally believing he actually could make it rain, driving and driving, and always hitting rain sooner or later. He told of the time he had hopped freight trains from Dallas to Kansas City in a race for a $300 bet, and lost. He said he'd never cheat, citing the time his own father was thrown from a moving train nine miles from Albuquerque for suspected cheating at high draw. Mike was laughing so hard he stopped the game when Sean told of being a failure in his three week career as an Irish tenor in vaudeville.

When Mike dealt, he'd put Sean's hand on the bottom, flash cards, and shuffle poorly, against a man with this skilled, practiced, most amazing ability to memorize the card locations from another man's shuffling. When he was two games of gin rummy ahead, Sean knew he could beat Mike like a broke drum, anytime he wanted. They both sipped Irish whiskey over ice slowly. Mike played his hand. Sean played both, knowing what cards Mike needed, and playing defense masterfully.

As the hours rolled by, they discussed Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Pasos, and Ernest Hemingway. They agreed Arnold Rothstein was the model for F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Mike kept score of all the bets in a neat, tiny lawyer's script with his Eversharp pen. The same hand ran several railroads. Once when he blitzed Sean, with Sean's help, Mike called out, "Irish need not apply!"

The next time Sean won a hand he called Mike, "Yacht boy." Now Mike was angry for real, and Sean picked up on it. It was in the newspapers telling of all the major yacht races Vanderbilt had won.

When they talked of all the things they could bet on, they agreed to throw washers, shoot pool, and putt on a golf course, but not play the course. Sean traveled with horse shoes, washers, a pool cue, a bowling ball, and a golf putter. He was too busy around the club house to go for the full course. He had mastered prop bets, usually surrounding making a putt twice or three times. Mike would talk about bridge and bidding systems for bridge which bored Sean. They ordered Porter House steaks with all the trimmings, wine, Irish whiskey, beer, oysters, chocolate ice cream, and pheasant as an after thought.

They took a break while waiting for room service. Mike turned up the radio just as Al Jolson started singing, "I'm Sitting On Top of the World." Sean was on his feet, dancing the Jolson steps, and pantomiming the first verse. Then he started singing in his fine, schooled, Irish tenor, as loud as the radio. Mike was slapping his hand on the table, and then mid-song, he joined the singing, timidly at first and then louder with a rich, surprising baritone. After the song,Sean offered to bet $500 he knew all the words to "Danny Boy."

Mike said, "There's a Mick in Herald Square will sing it all day long for a dime a time. No bet. No tonic. No Irish need apply."

After dinner, they threw quarters at the wall for $500 a throw. The one with the closest quarter won. Sean kicked off his two-toned Florshiems. Mike, clearly drunk, removed his own hand-made shoes, and threw his tie on the floor. This took on some great meaning for the drunken aristocrat. Sean could win at will. They threw cards into the hat, and Sean offered two to one odds, after the third round. Mike insisted that they use a Homberg he had in the closet, and not Sean's fedora, which was obviously "a trick hat." When they were not doing anything else, O'Malleys practiced throwing things. Sean pretended not to be keeping exact track of all the bets, with Mike carefully writing every thing down. He knew he was up over $20,000 to a man that loved it. An O'Malley principle: If they are laughing and losing, they stole that money.

When Cosden and Abbot came by the suite in tuxedos, they were headed for the Brook, Rothstein's fancy casino and a midnight meal.

Sean yelled, "Let them in, they might not win."

Mike told them to come back later for bridge or poker. Sean thought he had died and gone to O'Malley gambling heaven.

Mike would mention knowing Jack Dempsey, the Astors, President Coolidge, Eddie Cantor, and Fanny Brice or having his own private railroad car in town, and the number of railroads the Vanderbilts controlled in a matter of fact, non-bragging way. Sean acted like he was talking about the weather.

"One time my family had more ships than yours. Grace O'Malley, the pirate Queen's own family had a fleet that traded all over the world, around 1500. She was bright red-headed, and is well known in Irish history. She had lands, fleets of ships, castles and lost them to the English, all but one wee ship. She sailed to England itself, and talked to Queen Elizabeth, the first one. They freed her brother and son who they held captive, but they never returned her estate, as promised. The English was grabbing off Ireland little bits at a time. There is always a Grace in our family. My grandmother grows, and mixes the herbs. Conditions on the ships coming over from Ireland were terrible. Many were sick. Many died. Not one O'Malley even got sick."

"Why don't you sell that stuff mail order? Everyone is into health. Half the Whitneys eat Fleischmman's Yeast each day. It tastes horrible. They advertise Grape Nuts as a cure all in the Saturday Evening Post," Mike said.

The first time Mike invited Sean to visit, and stay at his legendary estate, Idle Hours on Long Island, Sean said no, he'd just won the Pierce Arrow in Dallas, and heard of a huge open poker game at the Palmer House in Chicago. Later, he showed more interest, realizing Mike was obsessed with a bridge.

When Mike said, "The unions and the coal strikes hurt the working man. They hurt our railroads. They never help anyone..."

Sean interrupted.

"Now you've discovered a subject on which we will always disagree, and for the sake of our new, dear friendship, we should not discuss unions, because I am firmly for the West Virginia coal miners, and the unions, and wonder why one man needs the whole top floor of a hotel."

His voice was rising. The alcohol fueled a real anger.

"There are three suites up here," Mike said.

It was after four a.m. and the alcohol had loosened tongues. They stopped to throw quarters at the wall again to wake up, and stretch their legs. Sean offered a proposition bet, saying he could throw forty playing cards in the hat, out of a fifty -two card deck. Drunk as he was, he was finally gambling, since he was not sure he could do it. He measured out sixteen paces from a large, leather chair and placed the Homberg there. They agreed on three thousand as the wager. While Sean was in the bathroom, Mike moved the hat out another nine paces. Sean missed the first two throws, then realized what had happened. He let up a sequel. Mike was triumphant, gloating, laughing. An O'Malley principle: We are entertainers. Let the marks have a big time.

Finally, with the hat back in place, Sean won the bet with the O'Malley signature one card to spare.

The two men played until six a.m., and Sean won $32,000. The next morning, Sean sold seventeen bottles of the tonic in the lobby, thanks to Mrs. Biddle, and the desk clerk. He stayed three more days, and never won another horse race bet with his bet them to place system.

A month later, Sean O'Malley arrived for a two day visit at Idle Hours, the Vanderbilt estate on Long Island. He stayed nine days: playing bridge, gin, poker, pool, throwing things, and fishing, swimming, and yachting, but only once. Harold Vanderbilt invented contract bridge, developing many of his ideas playing with Sean O'Malley. They played in bridge tournaments as partners for several years. Sean had a lifetime pass on several railroads. One day he ran into Vanderbilt on a Manhattan sidewalk. Vanderbilt took him to his tailor for a fitting, and ordered fourteen suits for Sean, in a array of fabrics, and conservative designs. Both won national bridge tournaments, but never together, as partners. They were known for yelling at each other, but also for betting on every thing they could think of. Mike would call with bets on Ivey league football, major league baseball, horses, boxing matches, elections. Sean always knew Mike's preference in advance, and he coppered the odds.

In 1934, a sign was posted above a massive guest bedroom at Idle Hours that read SEAN O'MALLEY'S ROOM. The two were inseparable. Sean ran large, honest poker games at Idle Hour during the worst of the depression for some of the richest Americans, many when Harold and his wife were at another estate. Sean O'Malley married Mary Kerns, a table servant he met at Idle Hour, and the Vanderbilts put them on the invitation list for all manner of parties they rarely attended.

Sean O'Malley promised Mike that he would not sell the O'Malley Family Medicine: Secret Irish Herbs at bridge tournaments or to the Vanderbilt's society friends or on any of the Vanderbilt railroads, and most especially not to the guests and staff at Idle Hour, but Sean could not stop. When Time Magazine did a cover story on bridge tournaments in 1936, it quoted Harold "Mike" Vanderbilt as saying, "my closest friend and advisor, Sean O'Malley, is the best all around card player in America."

From his side of the table, it sure looked that way. Both men lived until 1970, and remained the very best of gambling friends.

Johnny Hughes, author of the novel, Texas Poker Wisdom.