Read chapter One from Up Your Ante

Chapter One

(Book #4 of the Cherry Delight series)

Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library

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The big blond Englishman grinned at me. Wickedly, I thought.

“Have you very many clothes on, Cherry?” he asked.

I sat up straighter on his big divan. “How’s that again?”

John Haverford held up his big hands toward me, palms forward. Merriment twinkled in his blue eyes, plus a touch of deviltry. He was a big-guy, handsome as a matinee idol of the old days, and he wore his Harris tweed suit with an air of arrogance.

“Nothing personal. It’s just part of the job.”

“This I want to hear.” Outside the huge room with the logs burning in the stone fireplace, a London fog was rolling in of the Thames. I’d just walked through a part of that pea-souper to keep this rendezvous with John Haverford, barely five hours off the Pan Am plane that had brought me to England. There had been a chill in that fog that had touched me to the bone. It was delightful to sit here with the full force of those hearth-side flames beating at me and sip the scotch on the rocks the man had poured for me.

My name is Cherry Delight, I work for N.Y.M.P.H.O.—the New York Mafia Prosecution and Harassment Organization—and I was here in London to take up an assignment which had to do with beating the Mafia at their own game. Nothing had been said to me in Stateside, I’d been given a name and an address and told that John Haverford would be my contact man, that he would clue me in to what was taking place in London, and would I please oblige everybody by doing as he said.

I tilted my head to one side and gave him a friendly smile. I’m always ready for a proposition from a handsome guy like John Haverford, but this was coming on a little much, asking me what clothes I was wearing. It’s usually more fun for the man to discover that for himself, by undressing me.

Still. . . .

“I can find out, of course,” he said softly, his eyes touching my breasts where they were pushing half out of the low-cut evening gown by Jacques Kaplan which I’d chosen for this occasion. His stare was like a caress, I felt my nipples beginning to harden.

Haverford nodded, smiling faintly. “Without touching you, I mean,” he went on. “Or your clothes.” He held up his hands again. “It’s part of the job, it really is.”

“You interest me,” I murmured. Hell, he damn well had my curiosity up and clawing. I crossed a nyloned leg, letting him see the clasp of a garter and an inch or two of my thigh-flesh. The dear boy stared. Approvingly, I might add.

He went away to the far corner of the big room and knelt before a huge Chubb safe. For a few moments he worked the dial while I ran my eyes over the darkly stained wood panels of the walls, noting the richness of the oriental rug on the floor, the oil paintings with the tiny lights above them. The furniture of the room was massive, of that period when Victoria had been queen in England.

There was only one wrong note. A small table with a green-shaded lamp above its felt surface stood to one side of the fireplace, two chairs set to its edge. It looked like a card table, and I wondered what it might be doing there.

Then John Haverford was moving back across the thick carpeting with two decks of playing cards in his hands. They were sealed, I could see the glisten of the plastic wrapping under the overhead electrics. He handed them to me and stood grinning like the legendary Cheshire cat.

From the cards, my eyes went to his face. “Care for about of strip poker, Cherry?”

I laughed. “Well, sure. I cut my eye-teeth on poker the way my Dad played it. But poker is an American game, you English don’t often play it. It wouldn’t be fair to you. I’d have you buff naked in no time.”

I let my eyes do the walking over his tweed suit, guessing at the lean, hard body it hid. I wouldn’t mind seeing him naked, he might be fun and games material. But I didn’t want to take advantage of the guy, he seemed like such a nice sort.

“Don’t worry about me,” he chuckled.

“All right, I won’t. I’m no novice at the game, though.”

“Better and better,” he enthused, rubbing his hands together. “I’ll even let you deal first.”

I eyed him a moment, tapping a Capezioed toe on the carpeting. “You sure this is part of my job?”

His laughter rang out, boyishly. John Haverford had an ace up his sleeve, figuratively speaking, and was enjoying the idea immensely.

“It’s where the work begins,” he assured me. I moved to the round table, sat down and broke the seals. My fingers rifled the cards, studied them. They were spanking new, a product of the Wiltshire Card Company, with a factory just outside Salisbury, I saw. The backs were checkered in blue and red. My fingers automatically began the shuffle.

“Regular draw?” I asked. “Jacks or better to open, three card draw?”

His hand waved magnanimously. “Any game you want.”

I dealt swiftly, dropping the cards into two neat piles. My own cards, as I fanned them out, showed a pair of queens, a six, a three and a two. I unfastened the Omega wristwatch from my left arm, shoved it into the middle of the table.

“I open, the wristwatch is the bet.”

John-baby bet his Eton necktie.

I dealt him three cards, I took three myself and wound up with the queen pair, a ten, a nine and a four. “Two ladies,” I told him, spreading out my hand.

“Three eights,” he grinned, and reached for the Wristwatch.

When he dealt, I got nothing above a nine-spot.

He won again, with a pair of aces, taking my pearl necklace. Two handed poker, unless it is a grudge match with high stakes, can be a boring game. Our game was boring for about five minutes. By that time, John-baby had won my shoes, what little jewelry I was wearing, and I was down to some rather essential garments like my evening dress, stockings and underthings.

I played harder. I won a pot, getting his tie and managing to keep a stocking. It was only a finger in the dike. He won again.

“The stocking,” he said calmly. I got up, put a foot on the edge of the table—this gave him a great view up my skirt which he took advantage of, the darling—and pushing my skirt to my middle, unhooked two garter-clasps. My leg is charmingly curved, I have been told, and in the flesh nylon I was wearing, it made an attractive display of thigh and knee and calf.

My fingers rolled the stocking down my leg, slowly.

I said, “How come you always win? You cheating?”

“Do I seem to be?”

I thought about that as I lifted the sheer nylon off my now—naked left leg, and considered. I have been taught about card sharpers and cheats, I know the many methods they use to make certain that they get the high cards. I’d seen no indication that John-baby had been employing the mechanic’s grip or sundry other ways to get my clothes off.

“No. But I have a feeling.”

He laughed and slapped the tabletop with a big palm. “Good girl. They picked a right one in you.” His stare went to my bare thigh, crept up in its inner surface to the red pubic hair between those thighs. He sighed.

“You want to call it quits?” he asked. My stare challenged him. “Do you?”

“Not likely. But I should tell you—“

“Don’t. Not yet.”

He won the next pot. I took of my other stocking. John Haverford was red in the face at this point. I didn’t blame him, he was getting a great view of my red-haired private parts. Not expecting anything like this when I’d left the Grosvenor House tonight, I’d left off my panties.

I figured maybe if he got excited enough, he’d forget about playing good poker. Unfortunately for my chances at winning, he didn’t.

It was his deal. I watched him carefully, but I didn’t see any signs of his dealing from the bottom of the deck, or any of that crooked jazz. He played as honestly as I did. He was just lucky.

This was when I got the four jacks. “I bet my dress,” I said.

“Take it off,” he said, shoving that damn tie out into the middle of the table. That Eton tie was almost the only thing he’d bet with, the whole time. Oh, yeah. When he’d lost the tie to me on the one winning hand I’d held, he’d bet his wristwatch. “Not yet,” I answered, “Not until I lose.” His hands were working on his cards, riffling them. His eyes were twinkling—in anticipation, I assumed, of the moment when I had to whisk of the Jacques Kaplan number and let him see me in my garter-belt—and his lips twitched in what was supposed to be a friendly smile. His broad shoulders moved up and down.

Oh, well. I can wait a few moments, he admitted.

I scowled at him. “Are you sure you work for N.Y.M.P.H.O.? Yeah, yeah. You showed me your identification cards, and I saw a picture of you back in New York, but still….”

His hand spread his cards on the table. Four queens. I yelled bloody murder. Nobody could be as unlucky as I’d been, playing draw poker. “What are you, some kind of card-sharp?”

“Of course. But I only cheat when I have to.”

“You cheated then, didn’t you?”

“Did you see me cheat?”

“We—ell, no. But….”

“The dress,” he reminded me. Goddamn him! I wasn’t really mad, you understand, just frustrated. I can play poker with the best of them, and have, but this Englishman was something else. I got to my feet, bent down and grasped the hem of the evening gown.

It came upward like a curtain rising on a stage play. Only my body was the stage, with all the props in place. He saw my thighs, whitely fleshed and pleasantly curved. I paused with the hem just below my bellybutton.

“This is in the line of duty, isn’t it?” He nodded gravely. Then we both burst out laughing. My hands raised the gown up until it hid my face. I was naked before him, except for the garter-belt. My breasts are large but firm; they quivered in his stare, gently shaking. My brown nipples were rigid, like love darts ready to stab him. John-baby sucked in his breath.

“God, you’re lovely,” he breathed. I curtsied as best I could, only too well aware of the fact that my tits were swinging outward and bouncing slightly, as though set on springs. His eyes went up and down my flesh, and I liked the feel of his admiration.

“Now the garter-belt,” he muttered hoarsely, and showed the deck toward me.

So I sat there, nude above the table, and dealt the cards. I felt like cheating a little myself, I know the hows and wherefores, but I was torn between learning what it was John Haverford had to tell me and—well, to put it honestly—to see if I could tempt him into making a play for my body. Stripping in front of him had acted on me as an aphrodisiac.

I stared at my hand. And John Haverford said, “Two bullets, two ladies, a Judge Duffy.”

I had two aces, two queens, and a ten. Over those cards I stared at him. “You called my hand. Can you see through the cards?”

He gestured toward his eyes. “Almost,” he Smiled, “I’m wearing contact lenses. Infra-red. And there’s an infra-red light bulb in the socket above us.

I put down my hand, “You bastard,” I laughed. He grinned, the relief plain to see on his face.

“You’re not mad?”

“I ought to be! So that’s how you did it.”

“Well, not really. In a game like ours, strip poker, it doesn’t really matter whether I know what you have or not. We each make our bets. But it would be a real help in a two handed game where we were betting and raising. If I know your hand will beat mine, I drop out. If I know you have a good hand, and will bet heavily, but I have a better one, the roof’s the limit. I can’t help but win.”

“You make sense. But in this game, we each bet, but you keep winning and winning. I only won one pot.”

“You had a streak of bad luck. And to shorten matters, I culled the deck when it was my deal. I rifled the cards as I shuffled and when I spotted an ace or a king, I slipped it to the bottom of the deck.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You dealt to yourself from the bottom? And I never guessed!”

His smile was apologetic. “It’s an avocation of mine, this card-sharping. I’m often hired to go against known cheaters, to expose them. Usually from private clubs. I pick up a few extra pounds income this way. When N.Y.M.P.H.O. was called in recently at the request of a London gambling house that suspects the Mafia is out to get its fingers in the profits pie, they asked me to work with you.”

“Why bother calling me in? Seems to me you could do the job yourself, far better than I.”

“I’m reasonably well known around the card tables in London town. The men we’re after might refuse to play with me. Now you’re unknown, here. A pretty girl, an obviously wealthy one—yes, yes, you’re to flash diamonds all over the place, and wear mink, and expensive clothes—hell! Who wouldn’t rush in to play against you?”

“Sounds logical. But about tonight’s play….” John-baby grinned. “I only cheated occasionally. As when I saw that you had four jacks. I drew three cards—making sure two queens were among them to go with my original pair.”

“But how could you do that?” He shrugged. “I had two queens on the bottom of the deck. I made sure of that, before I dealt. It was a bit of luck that I got the other pair in my hand.” He shrugged, “If I hadn’t, you’d have won the pot. But you couldn’t have beaten me tonight, no way.”

My arms were on the table, my breasts were hanging bare, and his eyes were going over their round weights as if to memorize them. I did a little shimmy, making them jiggle. John-baby took his eyes off my nipples long enough to glance at my face.

“What do we do now?” I asked. He sighed, “I guess you’d better put your clothes back on so I can coach you in what you’re supposed to do.”

My thin red eyebrows rose. “Why? Don’t you like me this way?”

“Too much. It makes it hard to concentrate, though.”

I shimmied a bit more wickedly. “Just paying you back, honey,” I laughed. “So let it get hard on you. But talk.”

He smiled weakly, but went on bravely. “As you know, gambling is a pretty big business here in London. We have any number of clubs where a lot of pounds find their way across the tables every night. Places like Crockford’s and the Clermont Club—there are dozens of others.

“Now those pounds are tempting the Mafia. “Oh, it isn’t so much the winning at the card tables that they’re after as it is the establishments themselves. They want the clubs, the gambling halls, Cherry. And they have a pretty clever scheme of going about it. Somehow or other, they’ve managed to get the contract to supply these cards,” here John Haverford picked up the deck with which we’d been playing and ran his thumb across the gilt edges, “to all of them. They sell the cards cheaply. And why not? They make up any difference in profits by sending in their men to gamble.”

“Don’t these gambling places suspect anything?”

“Oh, the Sicilian boys are smart. They never send the same man twice. I’ve a feeling they import them, now and again. But with cards marked to show under infra-red light, by making sure an infra-red bulb or two is placed in the overhead lights, and by wearing infra-red lenses, they can make a kill.”

“And these kills hurt the house.”

“They’re damned near breaking the ones they’ve chosen to pick on. Oh, they’re too smart to tackle them all at once. This would band them together. They’ve selected two for starters. The Spider Web and The Admiral’s Walk. Both those places are about to throw up their hands. They’ll sell out to the Mafia, then the Family will turn its attention to two more clubs.”

“But won’t the ones who haven’t been hurt yet join those who have?”

John Haverford spread his hands and leaned back in his chair, a troubled look in his baby blues. “We’ve tried to make them see the light, but we have no proof. Your job is to get that proof.”

“We have a game plan, then? From what you’ve already said, it seems I’m to play a rich bitch who gets her kicks from sitting around card tables.”

“That’s pretty much the idea. If you can find a Mafia gambler, try to get into a game with him. Strip him clean, if it’s at all possible. I want them to have a warning that we’re wise to them. If we can scare them off, get rid of them in this way, I’ll be very happy.”

“The Family doesn’t scare that easily.”

“No, I’m afraid not. But it’s worth a try.”

“You realize, of course, that I’ll become a marked woman in Mafia eyes. They’re going to ask who this rich dame is, and maybe take steps—after I clean out more than a couple of their cardsharps, to remove me from the scene. Not pleasantly, I may add.”

John-baby scowled. “It’s a tough job, but you were recommended for it. If it scares you….”

“What, me scared?” I sat up straighter so that my pallid breasts and their big brown nipples pointed right at him. I have faced the Mafia before, I have killed their members and broken up their takeover schemes, destroyed their entire organizations on the local levels. It’s my thing, and I feel I do it rather well.

“My real name is Priscilla Delissio. I’m Italian and I hate the bad name the Mafia crowd is giving to all the decent Italian people who work hard—and honestly—for a living. The Family consists of a bunch of ruthless, strong-arm guys who reach out to take by force and terrorism whatever it is their greedy little eyes see that makes a good profit.

“They take over legitimate business back in the states, or in any country they move into with their thugs and musclemen. They put the arm on an owner, scare the living hell out of him. They threaten him and his family until his nerve breaks or he calls in the Law. And then sometimes they give a contract to a hit man to get rid of him, as a lesson to other business owners not to do the same thing.

“Here and there in Uncle Sam land, they even own the Law. On the Small local level, that is. What chance does a poor slob of an honest businessman stand against a setup like that?

“No, I do not like the Mafia.” My hand went to the cards, toyed with them. “But these! Do you mean to tell me you haven’t gone to the gambling hall owners and showed them these things?”

John Haverford smiled weakly. “Certainly have, Cherry. They claim we’re trying to run their business. A few years back the government actually did try to make laws and such to control the gambling houses. At the time, Prime Minister Harold Wilson even called it a gambling economy for the entire country.

“No, no. You have to get the proof for us. It could take ten thousand infra-red lamps and contact lenses before them and they still wouldn’t listen. What they want are cold facts. It’s your job to furnish them.”

My eyebrows raised. “No more than that? You can’t give me any further information? About what the Mafia gambler or gamblers may look like?”

“Sorry. I’m damned lucky to have laid my hands on this deck of cards. One of my boys managed to steal it, suspecting chicanery, and brought it to me. I spent two weeks over the cards before I finally tumbled to the infra-red bit. That was when I called the home office in New York for help.”

“And here I am,” I smiled brightly. “When do I begin?”

“Not tonight.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “It’s after ten, and while it isn’t too late to go play at those halls, we’d be better off by waiting until tomorrow night. You have to have the right contact lenses fitted to your eyes, you know. That will be done first thing tomorrow morning, to give the experts time to make them. It’ll be a rush job, but they’ll be well paid for the time.”

I stood up, stark naked except for the garter-belt. I stretched, letting my legs open slightly, and smiled down at John-baby. His eyes went over my thighs, slid across my belly and up to my breasts. His tongue came out to lick around his lips.

“You tired?” I asked softly.

Anticipation and hope gleamed in his big blue eyes. “Not on your life. But you’ll need sleep.”

“Oh, pooh for sleep. Besides, I sleep better after I lose my tensions. And I built up a few tensions this evening, losing at that strip poker game.”

“I don’t need any encouragement,” he chuckled, starting to rise from his chair.

“No, no. Let me do this,” I cried. He sank back down again. But a rather large part of him was still standing upright, I saw as I moved closer.

I ogled it as I sidled ever nearer. John-baby had played me for a gull a little earlier in that card game, not that I held it against him, it was his way of showing me what I was up against with the Mafia here in London. Still, I felt I owed him a pay-back. I was going to make him suffer—just a little—before I put out his fire.

And so I bent before him, putting my hands on his shoulders, letting my breasts come up against his flushed face. He felt the soft firmness of my titties, I wriggled my shoulders and slapped my mounds back and forth against his cheeks. The gentle plap-plap as they hit his face sounded loud in the very quiet room.

When he made as if to engulf a nipple, I whispered, “Let me do it all, honey. Mamma wants to play.”

“You sweet little devil!”

I caught a breast in my hand, rubbed it to his forehead, his eyes. He was gasping, his mouth was open, so I slid a pert nipple toward his lips.

He nursed on my breast like a hungry infant. The suction sent chills up and down my spine.

I am a very intense girl. When I hate, I go all out. Same thing happens when I want to make love, and I wanted at this moment to make love very much. I liked John-baby, a lot, he was so British and young and friendly. Not only that, but I was about to step into a Mafia fight once again, and that always does things to my erogenous zones, maybe on the same principle as those old-time Roman matrons getting the hots when they watched a gladiatorial contest.

So I slid my hand down his shirted front, past his belt buckle until my fingertips found the elongated pole of his manhood standing so rigidly beneath his English tweeds. My finger-pads caressed that length while I crooned to him, deep in my throat as his lips went on nursing my nipple.

His zipper tab was between my forefinger and thumb. I caught it, ran it down. It made a loud sound in the otherwise almost silent room where the licking of the fire-flames at the big log in the fireplace—and our heavy breathing—made the only noise. Then my fingers were burrowing into his open fly.

They touched hot, moist flesh. John-baby groaned.

“Mamma’s baby boy is so big,” I breathed.

“You’re so—exciting!” he gasped. “Mmm mm Flattery will get you anything.” He was long and hard, all man. Deep inside me I was delighted that N.Y.M.P.H.O. had selected this one man of so many to be my contact. Since he was my contact man, I figured I might as well make contact with him.

I took my hand away to put both hands to my long red hair, removing pins and such that held it in an up-sweep. That hair came down in a shimmering auburn veil about my face, falling just below my breasts, just hiding them. John Haverford stared, eyes bulging, at the way my brown nipples poked their blunt tips between the red strands.

“You’re—torturing me, pet,” he whimpered.

“All the better to keep you up nice and strong when we settle down to business,” I giggled.

He jerked and quivered, his head went back and I could hear his teeth grating against the pleasurable agony of my teasing tactics.

My face bent, I caressed his rod with each cheek.

“Wait,” he almost screamed. “There’s one thing I forgot!”

“Can’t it wait, love?” I breathed. His penis-head rested its throbbing red head against my chin. His wild eyes glared down at me, showing me he was torn between what he wanted to tell me and what he wanted me to do to him.

“Seeing you strip down drove all thoughts of it out of my head. I’ve got to tell you now—or I may not remember and—it’s something you should know.

I waited for him to talk.

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