Read chapter Two from Up Your Ante (Cherry Delight)

Chapter Two

Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library

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He held his pose, seated on the edge of his chair and with his hands fastened in my tousled red hair. His eyes burned into mine, seeming to shoot out blue sparks. His rather full lips were compressed into a thin line, indicating that he was fighting savagely for control of his emotions.

“There’s a man,” he whispered. “We don’t know who he is, he’s a shadowy figure that we hear rumors about, every now and so often.”

“What sort of man?”

“He’s the head of British Mafia—or at least, we think he is. We have no name to go by, nobody’s ever seen him. He may be a Sicilian operating under an English name, he could be a high government figure who’s worked his way into our higher echelon against such a time as this. We just—don’t know.”

“And I’m to find him? Break him?”

He smiled wryly. “That’s a large order, when our whole group couldn’t and can’t do it. No, no. We don’t expect you’ll do that. I’m just telling you this so you’ll be warned, Cherry. Don’t trust—anybody!”

I wriggled my chin, bouncing his penis-head, and heard him gasp. “Even you, John-baby? Can’t I trust you?”

“Oh God! Yes, you can trust me!”

Ah, but could I? Sure, sure, he seemed the picture of innocence and Mafia—fighting fervor, but I actually knew nothing at all about John Haverford. Still, he was a N.Y.M.P.H.O. agent and I decided to trust him until I found proof that he might be taking Mafia money to betray me.

I had one sure way of making him dependent on me.

My right hand reached for him. John groaned. Sex is a very powerful weapon, in any sort of fight. I have used it to get my way with Mafia capo di capos, the head men of various Mafia branches. Now I really didn’t think John Haverford was one of the Family—otherwise, he would not have breathed a word about this shadowy figure of a man who ran things for the Mafia here in England—but I figured it wouldn’t hurt if I could make him absolutely dependent on me for real hot loving.

“Jesus,” he whispered.

I gave him some more adoration until he was shaking all over the place. All the while, mind you, my fingernails were spidering away like mad.

Then I sat back on my haunches, thighs apart. I was feeling the effects of all this playing around, too.

“Get undressed,” I told him.

He stood up in front of me—in more ways than one—and began taking off his clothes. The Harris tweeds went first, then his shirt and finally he slid down his shorts. He had a good, lean body, muscular and in good condition. He was a healthy specimen, all right.

I lifted an arm, he caught my hand and drew me to my feet. I moved right up against him, catching his upstanding attraction between my slightly damp thighs.

Inside me, I hugged myself. If I’d wanted to make John Haverford dependent on my sexual largesse, I couldn’t have picked a better subject. I could introduce him to all sorts of methods.

There was a big sofa, a Victorian thing with carved wooden back rail in which I could catch my hands. I headed for it and John-baby came after me. I went behind the sofa, grabbed hold of the wooden back rail and let my bare legs slide apart. My contact man needed no urging, he saw the possibilities. He came up behind me, and his hands came around in front, slid under my breasts.

His hands cupped my titties, lifting them up and shaking them gently. My swollen nipples scratched the air as thrills shot along my nervous system. He was teasing me, the doll, giving me a little of my own back.

His knees bent. He drove up and forward. He went into me, deep. I shook and shuddered to that slow, pleasant penetration. My teeth sank into my lower lip and I groaned. I’d been planning on making John-baby my sexual slave, in a manner of speaking, needing what I could give him so badly I’d win him over to my side (if he were a Mafia man in disguise, that is), but right now all I could think about was my own bodily enjoyments.

My hips moved up and down, then around.

It was his turn to grunt and gasp. His fingers tightened squeezing me hard. Between forefingers and thumbs he caught my nipples, rotated them around and around. My hips went in tight little circles, faster and faster. I looked like a dame with a hula hoop about her middle.

We worked on each other along time. I felt the explosion burgeoning inside me. My right hand caught his right hand, dragged it away from my breast, slid its palm down across my heaving belly.

All the time his manhood dipped and drove.

screamed. He bellowed. It was quite a do. After a time he lifted his head from my shoulder where it rested and drew out of me, I sighed, head bent so my long red hair draped down over the sofa. My legs were like mush, I couldn’t move. I felt drained.

“What a woman,” he whispered, kissing my shoulder tenderly.

I smiled back at him, over that shoulder. “Give a girl a hand up, doll. I’m all over weakness.”

When I was standing in front of him, he grinned and said, “Time for bed, Cherry. Mine. You aren’t going home tonight. You’re really something, you know. My God, I’ve never experienced anything like that.

“Plenty more where that came from,” I grinned wryly.

“You’ll kill me,” he chuckled. “Not you, you’re pretty strong.” I put my hand down where he lived, to test him. He was apparently eager for another go, because he began to stiffen.

Then John-baby surprised me. He bent and picked me up in his arms and carried me like a baby across the room, out into the cool hall and up a flight of bannistered, carpeted stairs, to a big bedroom at the back of the house, I let my head rest against his shoulder, I felt warm and cuddly.

His house is one of those old Georgian town houses you can see all over Mayfair, in that section between Curzon Street and Oxford. Just by looking at them you think of Corinthian bucks in tight beige trousers and boots, and women in the Empire gowns of the Regency period. It was built of brick, with white windows and frameworks and a wide door with a fanlight above it, with leaded panes. It was an old house, but remarkably well kept.

So I wasn’t too surprised when I saw the bedroom. There was a huge four-poster, with chintz valances and curtains drawn back to show the high mattress and the chintz coverlet. Big chairs were by the high windows, also draped with chintz, and a man’s chest of drawers stood against a wall framed by two Hogarth prints.

John-baby carried me to the bed, put me on my feet. I grabbed the coverlet, whisked it off and plopped myself down onto the feathered mattress. I sank deep into it and closed my eyes, smiling in delight. I damn near fell asleep.

Then he was beside me, putting an arm about my nakedness and drawing me to him. I figured he was going to sleep, too. But John Haverford had other things on his mind. He began by kissing the corners of my lips, very gently.

I let him kiss my cheeks, my closed eyes—I was almost sound asleep by this time—and my forehead. Then he began weaving his kisses over my throat, my shoulders, the upper slopes of my breasts. I found myself thinking that my job, dangerous as it might be, was exciting, and had certain fringe benefits. Every so often I met a nice male who wanted to make love to me. This was one such Occasion.

I kind of forgot about making him my love slave—or maybe he was, already—as his lips browsed over my full breasts. I started getting less sleepy.

He let me lie there while he bent over me, spending a lot of time on my titties, then sliding his mouth toward my bellybutton. He whispered sweet words from time to time.

“Darling, you’re delightful . . . I never saw more beautiful breasts—and those nipples of yours! And so sensitive . . . “

Stuff like that. It may not sound like much, but when it’s whispered in the dim lamplight of a bedroom and a mouth is going all over your breasts and belly, it can be damned enchanting.

The thought touched my mind that maybe John Haverford was trying to do to me just what I was trying to do to him: make me his love slave. He was no male chauvinist, he believed that a female was entitled to fun, too. It wasn’t only the male who had to be pleased. But I put that thought always. . . .

His big hands were on my inner thighs, spreading them.

“Oh my Goddd….” That was my voice, wailing. My eyes snapped open, stared blindly at the ceiling.

He was really quite carried away. As I was, myself.

Then he came closer, closer. My buttocks came off the bed, I shoved myself at him, laughing and crying at the same time. He couldn’t talk anymore, but I didn’t care. What he was doing to me down there was so exciting, so wildly ecstatic, that I couldn’t have cared less about anything else.

I know damn well I screamed. My throat muscles hurt.

And my hands were there in his tousled blonde hair, holding his mouth to its feasting. I was going out on a tough N.Y.M.P.H.O. mission, come tomorrow night, but right now I just lay here and bathed in a series of orgasms that rippled up from somewhere deep inside me.

I was a volcano in eruption. Vesuvius. Mount Pelee. Etna. And at long last—Krakatoa itself. When he was done with me, I lay gasping like a gaffed fish. My mouth opened and closed, my eyelids were too heavy to lift.

John-baby braced himself on either side of my hips, he slid forward. Slowly he went, inch by inch, until he was buried deeply. Then his hands slid under my buttocks, his fingers caught and squeezed them, he lifted me high and began pounding away.

In and out. Around and around. Back and forth.

I was helpless as a stuck piglet under him. Not that he was putting all his weight on me, mind; he was considerate about that.

I let myself float away to orgasmic oblivion. After a long, long time, we fell asleep in each other’s arms. I slept dreamlessly, soundly, like a little child. I knew nothing about anything, until

A hand cracked my left buttock. John-baby was standing in a pair of neatly pressed trousers with his bare chest sticking out, beside the four poster. He was freshly shaved and groomed, I could smell the fragrance of his aftershave lotion.

“Come on, slugabed, it’s after ten. We have a full day ahead of us, you know. Infra-red lenses to be fitted to your eyes, a crash course in chem-in-de-fer and baccarat, that sort of thing.”

My hips burrowed into the feathered mattress. “Go away,” I muttered. “How could you—after last night?”

His hand touched my behind, patted it. “I don’t want to, Cherry. Nothing I’d like better to do than crawl in there alongside that heavenly body and make more crazy love to it.”

Well, that mollified me, a little. I peeked at him under a spill of red hair, with one eye. “All right, John. I know I have work to do. But last night was So much fun….”

Catlike I rolled over and lay naked on my back. I let my thighs spread a moment, affording him a view of that part of me which he had adored last night and now was spurning. When he got that look in his blue eyes, I quickly closed them.

“You’re right,” I said, “Time to get moving.”

“We—ell, we might spare an hour or so.” I laughed and leaped from the bed, ran for the shower. “Another time, honey. You’re absolutely right. Work calls.”

John had brought my evening gown and shoes with stockings to the bedroom, so after my shower I slid into them and fastened garters to the nylons. I stared at myself in the mirror, mumbling that I could scarcely go wheeling around London in togs like these.

“No time to go to your digs, Cherry,” he told me. He whisked me to an oculist in N.Y.M.P.H.O.’s pay who took measurements of my eyeballs and promised me that he’d have the contacts waiting for me by five. From there, John’s MG roadster took us to my room at the Grosvenor House so I could change my things. Nobody even raised an eyebrow at me in my evening gown and wrap.

While John waited for me down in the glass-enclosed hotel lobby, I made haste to wrap myself up in bra and panties and a chic, mod number by La Chat, a shirtwaist dress with miniskirt to show of my legs and with blue and white stripes to make me look even slimmer than usual.

I set my auburn locks in an up sweep that brought out the contours of my face. I even made a couple of lovelocks-longish curls that hung down on either cheek, that I must admit gave me the appearance of a glamour model. I spent so much time on my personal appearance because I was going to play a part tonight, and wanted to test my looks with John Haverford.

His blue eyes lighted up like a pinball machine as I Sauntered out of the elevator and he laid those eyes on me. “You’re utterly smashing!” he enthused. “Never seen anyone like you.”

I would have curtsied but a dour Scotsman down from his highlands, in kilts and sporran and balmoral, was fastening cold gray eyes on us. Instead I caught John’s arm and moved along with him step by step toward Park Street where he’d parked his MG. I began talking as he opened its door for me.

“What do you think I ought to be, tonight? The model type? A housewife in town for a little fun at the gaming tables? A rich bitch from the states?”

“Just as you are. You’re beautiful, this way. Glamorous as a model, yes. But there’s also a country girl quality about you, you know. A milkmaid or a shepherdess of the old days. It’ll go over big here in London, that look. Especially at the gaming tables.” He hesitated, then added shyly, “There’s a look of innocence about you, you know.”

“Innocence? Me?” He flushed faintly, eyes straight ahead on the traffic coming into Grosvenor Square. “Just the same, there is. It’s almost—don’t laugh, now—virginal. Something about the way your eyes are so wide, or maybe it’s your healthy appearance. Anyway, it’s there. What I’m trying to say is, you’d never be cast as a lady spy, you know.”

I pondered that, teeth sunk in my lower lip. “You may be right, John. If I do look that way, as you claim. Suppose I were to put on an act where is it I’m to start playing, tonight?”

“The Spiderweb. It’s new and mod, it draws the nobility and some of the richest men in England. It’s also been the hardest hit by the Mafiosi.”

“Has it, now?”

“Five times in the last two weeks, their members have broken the bank. It’s cost Ian Clevering, who owns it, a small fortune. A few more such losses and he’ll have to sell out.”

“To the Family?”

“Right. They’ve also hit the Admiral’s Walk and the Kings and Queens the same way. They haven’t bothered some of the others, as yet. This is their opening ploy, as I figure it. Break two or three, acquire footholds in those, and then go on to the bigger fish.”

“And the bigger fish think they’re safe because they are so big. Hmmm. Any gambling house will make money, the odds are all in its favor, even playing as honest as the day is long.”

“Divide and conquer is still a good rule.”

“This man or men who have been breaking the bank at The Spider Web. Is it one man or five different ones?”

“Different men, or so I’m told. And there’s absolutely nothing to connect them with the Mafia. That part of it is up to you.”

I thought a minute. “I have about three thousand dollars with me. I may need a bigger bankroll than that to stand up to a Mafia capo with Mafiosi funds behind him.”

“You’re to be furnished about ten thousand pounds. Beside your own money, that is. It had been put in Ian Clevering’s safe for you.”

“He knows about me?” “Only that you’ll be there tonight.” He added with a faint smile, “Also, that you’re a damned attractive redhead.”

We lunched at Fortnum and Mason’s, a corner restaurant attached to a department store of the same name, on Piccadilly. We talked as we ate, we made plans that consisted mainly of my insistence on going my own way. I don’t like to work in harness, never have, I’m at my best when I’m on my lonesome.

“Whatever you say, Cherry,” John-baby smiled, spreading his hands. “I have a hands-off policy on you, as far as your working conditions go. You know what you have to do, and if you’re easier playing lone wolf, go to it.”

We spent the rest of the day exploring London, I wanted to visit the mod shops on Carnaby Street, to catch a glimpse of the strip teasers in Soho. We walked in Hyde Park, listened to an afternoon harangue under the cold eyes of a disapproving bobby, and paid a visit to the London Museum.

John-baby delivered me back to the Grosvenor House so I could change into a John Stevens evening gown that I felt would be appropriate for the Spider Web that night. I wore a garter-belt and panties under it, no more. The Stevens number was low-cut enough to show the inner slopes of my rather generous breasts. I reasoned that any distraction I could offer my fellow gamblers could only work to my advantage.

I dined with John Haverford in the Burghley Room.

When we finished with our London broil and trifle, it was fashionably late, but early enough to pay the Spider Web a visit. The MG whisked us through the city traffic and across the zebra stripes of the walkways to Grosvenor Place and past the Palace Gardens toward that part of London known as Belgravia.

The Spider Web was located in one of those stone-fronted homes that date back to the nineteenth century. There were dimly lighted lamps on either side of a big wooden door where a pretty girl, attired in an outfit that resembled a spider web—with plenty of openings to show her nude body behind the thin webbing—met us with a Smile. She brought us along a thickly carpeted floor to an anteroom.

Another girl asked John-baby for his identification card.

Then we were shown into a big room that looked like a corner of the Grand Casino at Monte Carlo. Chemin-de-fer tables and roulette wheels vied with craps boards and blackjack tables. The place was almost filled, and the faint hum of fans sucking out the cigarette and cigar smoke made a soft orchestration to the filtered music in the background. We bought about a hundred pounds of chips each, then looked around us.

John Haverford said, lighting a Players cigarette, “I’ll see you later, Cherry. Have fun.”

I wandered between the tables, scanning the players. There were rich, fat men from banks and brokerage houses, equally rich women laden down with diamonds and pearls. All were intent on the roll of the dice, the turning of the cards. They never even glanced at me.

My eyes hunted for the Mafia man who was coming here to play, and hopefully, to break the bank again. I had nothing to go on but my female intuition, backed by my experience in picking out Mafiosi types by sight. I went the length and breadth of the gaming hall, and while I marveled at and admired the decor and the fittings, I didn’t see the Mafia guy.

I slid onto a stool at the nearest blackjack table. With my infra-red contact lenses and the overhead infra-red bulb that was slipped in among the others, it was easy to read the cards a dealer was sliding out of the box. I could have broken the bank at this one table, if I’d wanted. I played to waste time, while watching the entrance. I won a few, I deliberately lost a few. I was about even when the short hairs on the nape of my neck began to tingle.

He was a lean man, immaculately dressed in a suit out of a Saville Row tailor. He was standing, tapping a cigarette on the back of a sterling silver case, while his eyes ran around the room predatorially, like a beast of prey studying a herd of juicy animals.

A faint smile toyed with the corners of his mouth. He was radiantly confident, the bastard knew damn well he couldn’t lose, and he was here on Mafia business. His hair was black, curly, his nose was Roman, and there was a swarthy tint to his skin that told me he was from southern Italy. Oh, he was a capo, all right, it showed in every inch of his husky, six foot frame.

His eyes moved around the room. I took this opportunity to cross my legs rather high up, to show the vamp of my stocking and a garter-clasp and some of my pale thigh-flesh. Those hard black eyes touched my exposed leg, ran up the somewhat tight Stevens gown to the low vee of its bodice. They nestled between my breasts an instant, then rose to my face.

I flashed him a Smile. The wheels went around in his brain. He figured me for an expensive hooker, out to make a killing that had nothing to do with the card table. I was the only person at this particular blackjack table, so he sauntered in my direction. He figured to break the bank and get me in bed, later, as a sort of fringe benefit.

“Mind if I join you?” he asked politely. I swiveled about on my stool, showing a little more of my bare thigh above the nylon. “Be my guest. There’s plenty of room.”

He sat down at the far end of the board. The better to see my cards, my dear. From where he sat, when my hole card was displayed in front of me, he could read its back without any trouble. He would know what my cards were, he could see the cards of the dealer, and make his bets accordingly. The bastard. Well, I had a way to prevent that.

“Shall we make it more interesting, this game of blackjack?” I asked brightly. “Let’s play it American style, with the dealer as a player and not just the bank. It’ll be a game of everybody against each other. And—winner takes all bets.”

The dealer looked started. My opponent smiled faintly, thinking that he could not possibly lose: “If this dumb hole wants to lose her money, I’ll oblige.” I’d have bet my last nickel that this is what he was thinking.

He shrugged, said, “Why not?” The dealer stood a chance to clean up. He nodded.

The dealer slid cards from the box. My hand went over mine instantly. At the same time I found that I could not read the card my opponent received; not, at least, until he placed it in front of him. It was a king.

I sneaked a peek at my own card, covering its back with my hand. My fellow gambler looked a little miffed. If he didn’t know what my hole card was, I had a definite advantage. The dealer, without special contact lenses, could see only the checkered backs, he was unable to read the markings as I was. My opponent drew a queen, after making a hundred pound bet. I matched his bet and drew a five.

Now the idea behind blackjack, to those who do not understand the game, is that you bet that you will score twenty-one with the cards you receive. If you score over that, you lose. You also lose if the bank scores twenty-one. If you score twenty-one, you are paid double, as is the bank when it does the same thing.

The ace is one or eleven. A face card is ten. The other cards in the deck are counted according to their pips: a ten is a ten, a nine is a nine, and soon.

My opponent, who was standing on his bet, had a twenty.

Me, I had a mere fifteen. I pretended to be confused. I needed six to score twenty-one. The card in the box slot, I could see by studying its markings, was a five. I threw in another hundred pound chip.

“One card, dealer.”

He slid the card toward me. I covered it, added it to my other two cards as my hand exposed it. My opponent was sitting back, smiling. He knew damn well that the next card was an ace. He could read its backing, but so could I.

“Oh, dear,” I simpered. “I just don’t know what to do…?”

The dealer looked bored. The Mafia boy showed fine teeth as he stared at my breasts. He said softly, “The dealer has to score higher than you do in order to beat you, you know. Why not sit back and chance it?”

This was great strategy if I were here only to win some money. I was sitting in the Spider Web, however, to break the man I was playing against. So I bet another hundred pounds and signaled for a fourth card.

I got my ace, which made twenty-one.

The dealer scored twenty. I got paid double by the house and my opponent. His bland look of self approval as he slid chips toward me annoyed me more than somewhat. I promised myself I would change that satisfied smirk before the evening was very much older.

It took six more hands to do it.

I won all six hands. Since I had been betting like a crazy fool and since luck was riding my evening gown hem and because I could see the cards my opponents were dealt, I was plumped squarely in the catbird seat. I let my fingers toy with my chips. I had won over two thousand pounds.

My opponent was scowling, turning more fully to face the table, and was ignoring my breasts and exposed thighs. His stack of chips had dwindled more than somewhat. He sent a page to fetch him another ten thousand pounds, peeling off bills from a roll that would have choked a dinosaur.

The dealer was none too happy, either. The house had lost a bundle to me. My growing pile of chips was attracting the attention of other players, so that a group was standing around, watching me.

We went on playing. My opponent won a couple of times but luck was still riding with me. I won another thousand pounds.

This was when my opponent said to me, “Have you ever played poker?”

I batted my eyes at him. “A little. Not too much. I’ve been told I’m a little ninny when it comes to pairs and sequences. They say blackjack is my game.”

He smiled bitterly. “We could have a little game, all by ourselves. They have tables for poker in another room. Would you care to try?”

It was the invitation I’d been hoping for. Blackjack was not the game to break this man with his Family bankroll. Ah, but stud or draw poker was just the thing—as long as I kept my cards hidden from his view. I guess he figured that with poker he’d get a better look at the cards I was dealt.

I nodded brightly, gathering up my chips and sliding them off the table into my Coblenz handbag. I must have had about five thousand pounds in chips by this time. The Mafia man wanted to win that bankroll, to break me before he settled down to breaking the house.

We ordered drinks and moved across the room to a small alcove where a green felt-covered poker table was placed. We sat down, two new decks of cards were brought, we broke them open and cut for deal.

I said, as I reached for the cards he dealt so swiftly, covering them with my palm, “My name’s Cherry Delight.”

“Charles Wheeler, here,” he muttered. When he dealt, he could see the cards I was getting by reading their backs as he dealt. There was no way I could prevent this. On this first hand, he saw I had three deuces. He had two pair, aces up. He threw in his hand, losing only the amount of the kitty and the bets we’d made before the draw.

But when it was my turn…. My hand covered the backs of the cards completely as I dealt, pretending awkwardness, and I planted my handbag on each card as I dealt it to myself. He had no way of knowing what I held. He frowned irritatedly as he picked up his hand.

I covered my cards all the way, opening them only slightly so I could see I’d dealt myself a king, two queens, and a pair of nines. My opponent had three aces.

He bet five hundred pounds. I bit my lip. Dared I take a chance on getting a full house? He sat there with a big grin on his full mouth and insolently eyed my breasts. It was that stare that annoyed me more than anything else. I don’t mind a man admiring my titties, I rather enjoy it, but this bastard was getting ready to make a pauper out of me and there wasn’t one iota of pity in him.

I shoved my matching bet forward. My hands dealt the cards. I gave him a six and a five to go with his three bullets. My heart did a bit of a dance when I saw that I was dropping a nine on my own hand. I had a full house.

My cards were neatly stacked. I let him see the last nine I’d dealt myself, figuring it would do no harm. He made a cautious bet, not knowing my hand. I raised him a hundred pounds. He raised me five hundred. I raised him a thousand.

Hell, I couldn’t lose. Now he was sitting on the horns of a real dilemma. A thousand pounds is a lot of bread to bet on ten little paste-boards. He didn’t know but what I might be bluffing. He sat there thinking for a few seconds, then tossed his hand in the middle of the table, faces down.

“You win. Take the pot.”

He figured I’d do the same thing, throw my hand in the middle of the table, their faces to the felt. He could scan their backs that way and discover for himself what I’d been holding. He would know then if I might be a bluffer, and play me accordingly.

I reached for the deck with my left hand, and still covering the backs of my cards with my right, slid them into the deck so he couldn’t see their backs. His face tightened at this, his black eyes flashed me a suspicious look.

Was I wise to the infra-red gimmick? his glance asked.

Me, I got a brainless look on my face as I raked in the chips, giggling and gurgling over my good fortune. Charley Wheeler was still at sea as far as I was concerned. Was I covering the cards out of some stupid broad habit? Or was I wise to what was going on?

Wheeler settled himself to find out. He dealt, I dealt. We played a dozen hands. I won another five thousand pounds from him. Twice he’d gotten four of a kind, but when I saw that, I merely threw in my own cards, so he won very little.

He was growing damn suspicious of me, by that time.

He sent for another ten thousand pounds. I dealt him three tens, dealt myself three kings. That cost him a thousand. He dealt me a straight, he dealt himself three bullets. He bet like crazy on this one, so I figured he must have misread the markings on one of my cards. I took another two thousands from him on that one.

By this time he was sweating, looking sick. It didn’t help any to have the crowd around us that we were attracting, either. The men and women were silent, but every once in a while one or two of them would ooh and ahh at the size of the bets and murmur sympathetically.

“We’d been playing our two-handed game about two hours—I’d won eleven thousand pounds by this time—when my stare that kept going around the onlookers caught sight of a husky man whose excellent tailoring could not disguise the fact that he was very powerfully built. His face was tanned by sunlight, there was a scar on his jaw, and his brown hair was long and neatly waved. He looked like an ex-prizefighter who’d turned into a Mafia bodyguard.

A trickle of sweat ran down between my unbound breasts. This husky boy and my opponent were exchanging a couple of veiled glances, from time to time: glances which I could not read. Was tough-boy here to lay for me later in an alleyway, beat me up and take my winnings from me?

I played it dumb. I can handle myself in a fracas, what with my expertise at judo, karate and Burmese boxing. Still, it did prevent my concentration on the game.

My opponent won two pots.

He had taken to covering his own cards, and now he was smiling knowingly. He must have tumbled to the fact that I was wise to the infra-red device, I figured. This made it more of an even thing between us.

Charley Wheeler was a smart cookie. He knew the jig was up. He was not going to break any bank tonight. This two-handed poker game had sidelined him quite effectively.

Just the same. . . .

His male ego would not let him quit until he had recovered some of the loot he’d already lost to me. He wanted to go on playing. This was fine by me, but I couldn’t see how he expected to break me. He was wise to my cards, when he dealt. I knew the cards I was dealing to him.

Then he said: “How about some showdown? Face up on the deal, three card draw?”

Well, it made for an honest game, at least.

I shrugged, making my breasts dance. “Why not?”

“And we’ll call for a dealing box.”

That meant we would see the next card in the deal, but we wouldn’t be able to tell what other cards would be under it. It was a reasonable request.

“How about a dealer from the house?” I asked softly. “And he covers up the backs of the cards With his hand?”

This would really make it fair. He blinked and his eyes got a hard, mean look. He shrugged, moving his chips around with a fingertip. He was wondering who I was, how I’d come to learn about the markings on the cards that would show up by infra-red light. So he was wise to me and my little game. I couldn’t have cared less.

He nodded agreement. A dealer was chosen and told to hide the cards as he slid them from the box. He was to place them face up before each player. He looked surprised, but agreed. The crowd sensed something funny was going on, and they crowded in closer.

Charley got a queen. I took a ten. He received two more queens, a five and a four. My hand consisted of two tens and a six, an eight, and a five. He bet a thousand pounds. Common sense told me to drop out, but there was a stubbornness inside me that wouldn’t let me.

I matched his bet. He threw away his five and four, giving him three queens.

I played with my pair of tens. He took a nine. My heart was slamming in my rib-cage. The odds were against me, all the way. The dealer gave him a second nine, which left him with a queen-high full house and my heart went out of my high heels. He bet five thousand pounds.

I would get three more cards, to go with my pair. I hadn’t the slightest chance to beat him, I told myself. It was stupid to bet.

My hand shoved chips into the middle of the table and the people around the table groaned.

The dealer was a bit of a dramatist. He shoved my first card forward, very slowly. It was a ten. I could hear the fevered breathing of the crowd. Now I had three tens against a full house.

Everybody waited for my fourth card. It was a four. Everybody, including me, gave out a groan.

Charley Wheeler was laughing, reaching for the pot.

“One more card to the player,” intoned the dealer and slid a ten across the board. It made four tens and the winning hand. The crowd went crazy. My opponent was white-faced. He had lost close to twenty thousand pounds to me at this table. He half-rose from his seat, Snarling, and I saw the threat of death in his eyes.

“That does it,” he whispered, and picked up his chips.

He moved across the carpeted floor, shouldering a rude path between the men in tuxedos and the women in their evening gowns. I heard a protest or two from those onlookers who resented his cavalier attitude. I really didn’t blame the guy, he’d lost a fortune here tonight, and the Family takes a very dim view indeed, of failure that costs so much money.

This was when a hand tapped my shoulder.

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