May 16, 1941;
21:42:08 - 21:50:26
- - Harlem makes a pick-up.
Selborne stopped the car by the entrance to the back parking lot and stepped out to hold the door open for her. Harlem raised her left leg out and firmly planted it upon the ground before taking his offered hand to rise from the seat, wincing as the cold breeze swept past her face. She smiled slightly and turned from him to walk around the car from behind as Selborne pulled it into the lot. All of the lights in the main office were off; the only audible noise came from the leaves as they rolled down the street and a cat that was lounging by the entrance. Nothing else could be heard from inside the building as she paused temporarily to pet the cat and walked up the short stairway. Once inside, she reached past the switchboard and flipped a concealed panel back, revealing a lone buzzer that she pressed. After a moment's wait, a squat man emerged from the basement and extended an arm out upon the door to hold it open for her. "Come on down Sally, action's getting hot." he said, and motioned his gaze downstairs with a grin. Harlem asked him to wait a second for Selborne, and the three entered the staircase when he arrived at the doorway.
The metal stairs resonated with the impact of her heels as she descended. Dim lights revealed a visible layer of smoke that billowed by the ceiling as fresh haze curled from lit cigars. Ten large tables, two rows of five, were spread evenly across the floor and each was host to numerous players with more spectators behind them - the action was indeed hot tonight. There was more noise coming from the dice tables as the excited players hurled ivory bones at the felt and insults at each other, while the card players sternly held their faces silent, keeping their focus on the other players and only darting their gaze elsewhere when they noticed unusual movement. Behind the commotion, an idle policy wheel rested on an unattended stool with a chalkboard that rested at the side, bearing the winning numbers drawn earlier in the evening: 20-35-7, 26-42-1, 39-22-7. In the corner opposite of the stairway, an older man with a short white beard stood at a countertop as he wiped the surface down in quick strokes. Harlem gazed across to him and caught his attention quickly; the man nodded down and brought up a wine bottle, quickly poured a half glass, then replaced the bottle underneath the counter as he paused, then resurfaced with a beer bottle in his hand. He took both drinks and shrugged his shoulder to the right, then yelled out for one of the girls to tend to the bar in his absence. She rounded the wall closer to the staircase as he went around at the bar's side, and met each other at the wheel. Selborne walked over to the bar and stood silently, fixed his gaze at the wheel, reached inside his suit while the girl poured him a glass of water, and lit a cigarette before sipping from the glass.
They met behind the policy wheel and exchanged smiling glances before he procured a brown envelope from his pocket, and turned to face the crowd as he held the package up from the side of his body at the waistline. Harlem snapped the envelope from him and quickly tucked it into her white handpurse, then lifted and gently shook the purse before placing it at her side.
"Pretty heavy. Morton wasn't kidding when he said the action's hot tonight."
"There were a lot of dupes for the wheel today. I think I heard one of the players say something about the Des Plaines wheel being pinched. You wouldn't have had something to do with that, did ya?"
"Now, what in the world would give you that impression," she said with a laugh that the bartender echoed.
"Any takers on the new insurance line?"
"Not really - we still have a dry spell on winning, so people don't think it's worth it. Even when I run this damn thing fair the writers can't find chumps to take the protection."
"If you want I can try to run a line to see if someone who deserves to win can get a fix."
"Hm," the bartender looked to his feet and paused. "If I don't pick up more coverage in three days I'll let you know."
"Well, I'm bored. If it makes you feel easier, I'll run that for free if you give me some credit here."
"Hundred OK? I can make it two hundred if you shoot."
"Eh," she paused to laugh lightly and sip her wine. "You're not going to bribe me into tossing dice with those fools. Hundred on poker."
"Fine." The bartender grimaced and curled two fingers at himself to a cigarette girl as she walked to a table.
Harlem walked over to a table where three other men were seated and placed her purse on the table, opening it to pull out a cigarette for herself, and waited for a girl to show up with chips. The game she walked in upon ended, resulting in the man sitting across from her winning a sizeable pot on a Jack-led straight flush of spades, before the girl came with the credit. The dealer cleared his throat and the cigarette girl stopped talking with one of the craps players, silently placed four stacks of chips on the table and walked away without looking at any of the people seated for the game. Harlem waited for the dealer to push her stacks by her place at the table, took a chip from the top of a stack and idly flipped ante from her thumb, waiting to be dealt. Selborne now took a seat at the end of the bar while the bartender refreshed his glass of water.
"Has she ever thrown dice at all?"
"I offer her double the money and she still won't go near the tables. Does she really dislike their action or what?"
"You know her. You know she savors every second of attention that she gets, especially when it's tense. Craps comes and goes so quick, nobody's really looking for anyone but themselves. That doesn't play to her style. Besides, what do you care?"
"Come on, man. It's like she only plays cards because it pisses everyone off and takes more time. I just want to see the money come back to me quicker, what's so hard to understand about that? Besides, don't she have her own shit to do?"
He took a glance while taking a sip from the glass and noticed Harlem frowning as she flipped another ante up from her stacks - one column of which was already gone. The look of the player's face to her right didn't seem much better, so as far as Selborne could tell it was the man faced away from him that was consistently winning. Behind Harlem, a spectator who removed his hat during the previous game and replaced it during the deal removed the hat again and held it at his right side. The player opposite of Harlem didn't budge until the hat was at the man's side.
"At this rate, she just might.", Selborne said curtly.
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