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The big redhead, they found, was as handy with a deck of cards as she was in bed.

"Deuce In The Hole"

by Ray Dennison



Vol. 3, No. 1, 1958

     ALICE O'BRIEN was actually in bed with Palmer Stone when the familiar triple-beep of Ethel Folget's car-horn brought her back from Cloud Eleven. The extent of her absorption in Palmer, and vice versa, was attested to by the fact that neither of them had heard the grind of tires on the crushed seashell driveway.
     "Good God!" exclaimed Palmer. "What's that?"
     "It's Ethel…Ethel Folger from home," said Alice, reaching for the Polka-dotted shorts and halter that lay atop Palmer's chalk-khaki briefs on the chair by the bedside.
     Thank heavens it's summer! She thought as she drew on the shorts and slipped her size fives into beach sandals. Palmer, clutching his briefs around him with one hand and holding his espadrilles in the other, was already vanishing in the direction of the tiny cottage kitchen and the back door. Alice barely managed to slip her halter over her breasts and reach the screen front door as Ethel lifted a gloved fist to knock.
     "Hi, honey!" said Alice, opening up for her unexpected visitor. "I wasn't expecting you till next weekend." She felt vaguely like a child who had just had a piece of candy removed from her mouth by an over-fond mother. Ethel, she noted, looked travel-worn, hot and a-burst with news.
     "I know I should have called you, dear," said Ethel, "but it isn't the sort of thing I like to tell over the phone. It's Jay," she said. "I never thought he'd fall for that Winslow woman…but she got Bob just last Friday, from all I've been able to make out." She paused as Palmer Stone walked past the window, whistling through his teeth on the way to the beach. "What's that!" she asked.
      "Oh..." Alice sluffed it off. "That's Palmer Stone. He's some sort of a writer down here finishing a book."
     "He could write my book any old time," said Ethel, regarding the receding rear view of the resort's lover with open admiration.
      "You didn't come down here to admire Palmer," said Alice with a trace of acid, "or did you? What's all this about Jay and Bob? And who in hell is the Winslow woman?"
     "That's just it!…None of us know and the men simply won't talk. She's a redhead, and she wears the most expensive clothes…a little cheap, if you ask me. Anyway, she turned up at the Inn last month, just after you came down here. Thursday nights haven't been the same since."
     "And you say Jay's mixed up with her?" Alice asked, barely masking her eagerness. She had been suffering occasional pangs of conscience over Palmer Stone, but her husband's morals were another thing.
     "I'm afraid he will be," said Ethel. "Let me tell you what happened. It all began with Bill Lucas, of course."
     "It would," said Alice dryly.
     Her husband, Ethel's husband, Bob, the husband of another Woodhills friend and neighbor, named Tony Gerazzo, and Bill Lucas, bachelor, were in the, habit of playing poker together Thursday nights, come rain, shine, high water or African violet blight. But, with the arrival of Nora Winslow, unattached, at the Inn, the game had been suffering, it seemed.
     "First she hooked Bill Lucas," said Ethel excitedly. "The others were wild. You know how they hate to have their game broken up. So Tony Gerazzo…this is the way I got it from Ethel…decided to get Bill back in the game the next Thursday by taking the Winslow woman on himself. The way he told it, he was only going to take her out to dinner…but he never made the game either. Poor Vera was simply wild.
      "The next thing I knew, it was Bob's turn…my own Bob," Ethel went on, more incredulous than indignant.
     "And now," said Alice quietly, "you say it's Jay's turn?"
     "That's what I suspect," said Ethel. "Of course, I can't get a thing out of Bob, and Vera's gone home to her mother, so there's no way of being sure. But I saw him in the supermarket only last night…he was buying pink champagne." She reached for a cigarette. "You aren't just going to sit there and let it happen, are you, honey?" Ethel asked breathlessly.
     "Apparently that's what you did," said Alice.
     "But that's not fair…I didn't know!" protested the visitor.
     "So you had to stick me with it," mused Alice. "Frankly, Ethel, I don't know what I'm going to do…if anything."
     "You'll do something," said Ethel. "I know you, Alice O'Brien."
     Alice fed Ethel lunch, then sent her packing, professing herself still undecided.
     She went down to the beach for a cleansing and restorative swim, then sat on the sand in the sunset and thought the situation over. She wasn't too disturbed over the prospect of Jay's pending infidelity…after all, she had been having her fun, and the poor devil was entitled to his share. But there was always the possibility that, left unchecked, a casual summer affair might develop into something more serious, and Alice had no intention of losing a perfectly good mate, and good provider, to some mystery chippie at the Woodhills Inn.
      There was also the matter of what she could get out of the affair. She lit a cigarette with sand-sticky fingers and thought about the pastel mutation-mink stole that had been in Bender's window just before she took off for the shore. It was a steal at five hundred, and there was just a chance she might be able to pry Jay loose from that amount if she could make him feel sufficiently guilty. That was Jay's only real drawback, she thought. He was unreasonably close with his dough…even after the last promotion at his office, and being in line to get taken into the firm. He wouldn't want a scandal, not now. Which was another point to consider.
     Alice went back to the cottage and got dressed. It was not yet seven o'clock, and she had no desire to appear on the scene until the moment was ripe and juicy. She got out the car and drove to a good roadhouse off the main highway, where over several scotches-on the-rocks, she pondered the scene that lay before her.
      It was past ten o'clock when she got under way for Woodhills…and it was almost dawn when she arrived The ninety-minute drive had been extended by an engine breakdown, and an increasingly annoyed Alice had spent most of the early morning hours in an all-night garage, waiting while a grimy attendant checked her entire motor before discovering that the breakdown had occurred in the ignition wiring behind the dashboard panel.
     She drove slowly up to the Inn, just in time to see her husband's car pulling out ahead of her. For a moment, she sat there, biting her lower lip in perplexity and indecision. Then, her mind made up, she jumped out of the car and headed for the Inn's colonial doorway.
     A beautifully built woman of thirty with very expensive clothes and a large, saddle-stitched shoulder bag, was standing at the desk, giving money to the clerk. "I want you to have a cab here in exactly half an hour," she was saying. "I've got to catch the six-eleven back to New York."
She scarcely needed the sleepy-eyed clerk's murmured, "Yes indeed, Miss Winslow," to identify the woman. She wondered where Jay had spent the night with her. Then, as the homewrecker moved off down one of the long Inn corridors, Alice followed, making no special effort to conceal herself from her quarry.
     At the door of her room, Nora Winslow turned, key in hand, to survey her pursuer. "Is there anything I can do for you?" she asked in a pleasant, well modulated contralto.
     "Not," said Alice, "unless you care to scratch your own eyes out. I'm Alice O'Brien."
     "Oh...!" said Nora Winslow. She surveyed Alice inscrutably, then put the key in the lock and turned it, opening the door. "Perhaps," she said, "you'd like to help me pack. I'm just leaving town."
     Alice stood by the door, feeling lumpy and awkward and wondering what to say.
     Finally, Nora Winslow broke the silence, looking up to say, "You know, your husband is really very nice, but he should have learned by this time not to try to fill an inside straight on the draw…not even with a deuce in the hole and deuces wild."
     "I'm sure he did very well," said Alice, dripping acid.
     Nora Winslow paused in her packing to regard her visitor thoughtfully. "You're a lucky woman," she said. "Jay's a wonderful man." 
     "I think so…or I did," said Alice. 
      "You might," the other woman went on, "try to get him to be a bit slower on the draw, however. It never does any harm to take plenty of time over every play."
      “Jay is a bit impulsive when he gets worked up," said Alice. "Big night tonight?"
      "Very," was the reply. Then, with an enigmatic, Mona Lisa smile, "but not what you think. You see, your husband and I did that sort of playing earlier in the week when he learned you were haring a ball with a writer named Stone. Palmer Stone, isn't it?"
      Alice groped unsteadily for a chair. "How did he…I mean…"
      "It seems to have been Bob Folgei s wife," said Nora Winslow sweetly. "She heard about it from somebody who knows Mr. Stone."
     "That bitch Ethel!" said Alice, seething.
     "She's not very attractive," said Nora Winslow, folding a pleated dress perfectly into a large bag. "But then, neither is her husband. A night with him is really a waste of time, if you know what I mean. But I'm sure you do."
      "By hearsay only!" snapped Alice, still fuming at the thought of Ethel's treachery.
      "Of course!" said Nora Winslow with sympathy. Then, returning to the original theme, "No, Alice…you don't mind if I call you Alice, I hope…tonight, or rather last night, we just played cards."
      "You mean they let you play with them?" This was the unbelievable, the impossible.
      "Right." Nora Winslow smiled again. "You see, they didn't want me breaking up their game by dating one of the boys every night…so they finally asked me to sit in with them, the darlings."
      "Did you win?" Alice felt like an idiot for asking the question, but it just popped out. After all, the four men popped out.
     "I didn't do too badly," said Nora Winslow. "Now, Alice, if you'll sit on this bag while I get the lock to catch
      The job done, Nora Winslow surveyed the room to see if she had left out anything, gave a small cry of dismay as she discovered a pack of cards on the bureau. "Oh dear!" she exclaimed. "And there simply isn't another cubic inch of room in my bag! Here, you take them, Alice."
      "But I don't play cards much," said Alice, holding the pack.
      "You never know," was the reply Alice arrived home to find a disheveled and bloodshot Jay pacing the living room carpet in his shirtsleeves, with an opened bottle on the table. Standing in the doorway, she said, "I take it you're not going to work today."
      "Hardly!" he said. “Hardly!" Then, doing a double take, "For Pete's sake, Al… where did you come from? Tired of the beach or something?"
      "Something," she said, moving into the room and toward the bottle. 'How'd you make out last night? Something go wrong?"
      "What didn't go wrong?" He hesitated, then looked at her sheepishly and said, 'There's a woman here in town, she's new, and we let her into the game. We didn't play too tough for fear of cleaning her out. Honey, we're going to have to economize, cut down, retrench for a month or two."
      Alice, who had taken a drink from Jay's glass, put it down empty and began, unconsciously to play with the cards Nora Winslow had given her, pulling them out of their case. "I could cancel the lease on the cottage," she said. 'It still has two months to run. That would save us six hundred."
      "It might be wise," said Jay, looking at her meaningfully. "That woman took me, took all of us, for an awful lot of money last night. Next week, we won't let up on her till we get it back."
      If he wasn't going to talk about Palmer Stone, Alice wasn't going to mention the other dates with Nora Winslow. After all, both of them were vulnerable. But there was still the matter of the mutation mink stole. Damn Nora Winslow! Alice wondered how much money she had won, not only from Jay, but from the others in the game. She hoped Ethel's husband had lost plenty. She cut the cards, turned up the cut, looked at the king of spades, re-closed the deck, cut again, and drew the king of spades. As her fingertips explored the deck and noted the slight variations in their edges. She barely suppressed a start as the full villainy of Nora Winslow sank home. The woman was a card sharp.
This was a professional deck of strippers, with certain cards' rims shaved down so that the knowing cutter could always draw an ace, king or queen.
      "I just left Nora Winslow sugar," Alice said. 'She took the early train into town."
      "I'll be damned! She can't!" His cry was the howl of a mortally wounded water buffalo. "You didn't...?”
     "She was packing when I reached the Inn," said Alice.
     "Oh, no!" cried Jay, smiting his forehead. "That's the last time we'll ever let a dame in the game."
      Alice said nothing as she continued to test the cards Nora Winslow had given her. "That," she replied silently, "is what you think!" At least, she mused, the mink was still in prospect, to be won on a table instead of a bed.

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