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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Apparently that's what you did," said Alice.
"But that's not fair…I didn't know!" protested
"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
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
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
Nora Winslow paused in her packing to regard
her visitor thoughtfully. "You're a lucky woman," she said. "Jay's a wonderful
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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,"
"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.