Read chapter Two from Lay Me Odds

CHAPTER TWO

Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library

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His card was waiting in the dressing room even before I got there. Black-hair and I had to push our way through the girls, listening to their praise, thanking them, taking the back pats and the arm squeezes as tributes to our ad lib act.

The tiny white card was propped up in front of a bottle of nail polish. The name read: Herbert Ahearn. On the back was scratched in small handwriting, See me after the show, love. Table 23. H.A.

Black-hair was giggling, peeping over my shoulder. “You did it, ducks. Worked like a charm, it did.” Her palm patted my bare fanny. “Almost wish I was going with you.” I dropped my bridal finery, reached for my street clothes. I was out to make a man, to get him in the palm of my hand, so to speak. I would wear no brassiere, no panties, just the garter-belt and stockings in which I’d made my exit from the stage. If I shook a little too much, so much the better. Herbert might have to be weak from want before he would te me where I could find that microfilm.

And so my mini-skirted, maxi-breasted body trotted out to table 23 while one of the blondes was beginning her bumps. The audience had eyes only for the girl on the stage, nobody paid any heed to me until I tapped Herbert Ahearn on the shoulder.

“Oh, hi, love. Here, take my chair,” he said. He stood up, drooling like a hungry bear at sight of a honeycomb. I smiled, nodded, and slipped onto the warm chair-bottom he’d vacated.

“I can’t stay long, I have another act to do at nine,” I told him.

“I know, ducks, I know. And I’ll be here, drinking you in. And again at eleven.” His hand was on my shoulder, stroking it gently through the thin cotton print.

His fingers were gentle, there was no pawing, no rough stuff, just the slow feathering of fingertips, the silent promise that he would make me happy. I had agreed to keep a date with him. He was a lover boy, one of those Lotharios who honestly enjoy a woman, in more ways than one.

To my surprise, my body reacted quite honestly to his touch. My nipples jumped up at attention, long and rigid, my middle began to moisten. I had come prepared not to like Herbert Ahearn. To suffer through our date. Maybe I was going to get an unexpected bonus because I was a good Secret agent.

We made small talk over his pint of bitters. The Off Limits was filling to bursting as more and more men—some of them had dates with them—came crowding onto its bare wooden flooring. The barmaids were kept hopping, the beer-pulls and barrel spigots were being worn to a polished smoothness by constant turning. Business was undergoing a population explosion.

I got up when I saw Black-hair waving at me from the wings. Time for our next act. I made my excuses, told Herbert I’d meet him after my final performance, a little before midnight, and started for the door.

I ran a gauntlet of hands, palms and fingers for the next ten yards. One hand patted my jiggling buttocks, another slipped up my inner thigh to the point of no departure. I squeezed my thighs, patted a bald head with my palm and wriggled free to the accompaniment of cheers and whistles. A forefinger and a thumb took my behind flesh gently in their grip and pinched. Not hard, just right. Ah, I thought, a Latin lover. A girl gets to be able to tell, after a while.

I made it to the door and slipped through. Black-hair was waiting for me. “Well, come on, love. It’s almost time.”

What we had ad libbed at the seven o’clock show we polished at the nine, and perfected at the eleven pm. performance. I must say, we brought down the house, especially since, at the last show, I stripped the sultry Black-hair, playing the part of the bashful bridegroom to perfection, down to her shaven buff. We threw in a hug and a squeeze at the end that had feet stamping and voices bellowing.

Pressed up against the soft nakedness of the girl with the long black hair, ragged chills ran down my spine. She was a girl, I was a girl, and sometimes the twain shall meet, but not this night. I had a date with Herbert Ahearn.

Still, feeling her breasts mashed to mine, feeling her bump against me a second before I ground my hips against her, was doing things to my amorous propensities. Out of sight of the audience, I gave her soft behind a gentle squeeze and heard a gasp, deep down in her throat.

Herbert was waiting near the street door as I pushed through the crowd. Under my mini-skirt and Anne Rubin sweater I was wearing a body stocking—the type that runs from the toes up to the navel, and a bra that had holes cut in the cups so my girl-girl breasts could poke through. My behind twitched and my breasts bounced a little loosely as I made my way toward the Satyr.

His eyes glistened when he saw my nipples standing up under the sweater, and the way they moved around. His lips pursed in a soundless whistle.

“I was going to catch the 127 bus, love,” he breathed, grabbing my arm, “but I think I can afford a taxi. Taxi’s faster—and I’m in no mood to wait around.”

“Flatterer,” I smiled. There are taxis all over the place in London. In a few minutes there was black leather under my behind and a hand on my sweater bumps as The Satyr drew me in against him. His lips dove for my mouth.

He kissed with open lips and probing tongue. His hand on my breast was part of his twin attack. A forefinger and thumb caught my left nipple and rotated it gently, then switched over to my right. I didn’t exactly need this added stimulation—Black-hair had done a good job on the stage—but it was so nice I made purring sounds in my throat.

Then he let go of my mouth to forage around on my throat, kissing and nibbling. His hand dropped a few degrees to my stockinged knees, began sliding up my inner thigh.

“I’m going to teach you lovely things, love,” he whispered.

“Like the pygiacic mysteries?” I giggled. He drew his head away to stare at me. “You know about them?” I giggled, “I do manage to get around, here and there. Besides, I read a lot, honey. Those old Romans had some good ideas, but so did the Arabs.”

“The hannechi, for instance,” he laughed softly. “Oh, everybody does it that way,” I protested. “Why don’t we start off with the position of the quince? This makes it last a little longer. Right at the start we’ll both be quite excited, so a rest between thrusts is always a good idea.”

“Oh, you mean the blacksmith’s embrace?” I patted his lap, finding him very excited. “Mmm—hmmm. Just as the blacksmith takes a glowing iron from the fire and plunges it into cold water, again and again—why, darling!”

He had caught my hand, yanked it away. Herbert was breathing hard, and his face was flushed.

“Let’s go easy,” he breathed. “All right. I’ll talk about something calming—like a microfilm Eric Downes is supposed to have had—and hasn’t.”

There was a dark silence. Herbie-boy calmed down, all right. He looked at me, and there was fright back there behind his eyes. He swallowed three times before he could say, “What do you know about good old Eric?”

“I know he won’t grow any older. He’s dead.”

“Ahhh!”

“I was to meet him at his manor house and get the film from him. When I got there, he was lying on his study floor—and the microfilm was nowhere about. The study door was locked from the inside, the windows were bolted from the inside.”

“He didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?”

“Shoot himself. Not old Eric. Loved life too much. I take it you’re from L.U.S.T.?”

“And most anxious to lay my perfumed fingertips on that film, Herbie. Did you give it to him, by the way?”

“I did.”

“Then where is it?”

“When I turn it over to my purchaser, it’s out of my hands, pet. Now let’s forget that microfilm and go back to talking about love.”

“Herbie, I want that microfilm.”

The taxi was slowing. Herbert Ahearn was opening the taxi door. We were in Mornington Crescent before a row of joined houses done in Georgian style. Some of these old homes were still owned by well-to-do families, some of them had been converted into apartments. The Satyr had an apartment on the second floor of a house with white shutters and blue window frames.

His hand on my behind boosted me up the few steps to the porch door. I went cheerfully enough. Black-hair had done a good job on my emotions. I was more than ready for fun and games.

But even more important than my pleasure was my patriotic duty. I just had to lay my hands on that microfilm. But not before I put my hand on something else. I reached behind me and The Satyr gasped.

His nickname had been honestly given. The Satyrs were forest deities out of Greek folklore, and they were reputed to boast members to rival any stallion. If he had animal legs and hoofed feet, maybe even a pair of horns on his forehead, Herbert Ahearn could have been a real satyr.

“Wowie,” I complimented. He chuckled, his hand sliding under my mini-skirt and along an inner thigh. I came to a dead stop on the stairs leading up to the second floor and did a little bump and grind on the fingers that were growing all too familiar.

Then I disengaged myself and took the steps two at a time. I had a plan in mind. Herbie would tell me what I wanted to know, and very soon.

He was right at my heels, panting so loudly I could hear him. He had his key out and pushed it in the lock. The door swung open noiselessly.

I inched past him and into the small lobby of his apartment. I came to a dead stop. The walls were striped black and white, there was a black carpet underfoot and the ceiling was a chalk white, resembling a little dome.

But what caught my baby blues was the sight of two shadow boxes, one on either side of the archway, lined with black velvet and bordered by gold frames. Each shadowbox held a set of figurines, carved from wood and painted down to the minutest detail.

The frame to the left of the archway into the darkened living room held a naked man seated on a garden bench. A nude woman was straddling his thighs, her head resting on his shoulder. She was facing outward from the frame, belly sucked in, ribs showing, her long black hair spilling over her pink shoulders. The man held her breasts and his face was a study in carnal pleasure. His eyes were bulging and his mouth was open. You could almost see him shuddering.

To the right of the archway the shadow-box showed the same couple, but now the woman had her back turned to the viewer so that her pinkly painted buttocks seemed poised for a downward stroke. It was very realistic, it was like peeping in a window at a real man and a real woman. It sent my blood pressure soaring.

I wheeled on Herbie, who had closed the door behind him. My hands went unerringly to their goal. The Satyr grunted, his hips lurched. His belt was open and his neatly pressed Saville Row trousers were down about his ankles with his shorts.

I drew back when all my inclinations were to go forward. Herbie was very much alive. He actually trembled there before my eyes.

“You too,” he moaned. “Get naked!” I lifted my mini-skirt to my hips. My body stocking was very sheer, being black nylon. Herbie stared at my blonde puff and licked his lips.

My hands paused with the mini-skirt up to my navel. “Herbie dear, about that microfilm—”

“Not now. Have a heart, Yank. Get nice and bare for me. I’m in a perfect state, I am.”

“I know, Herbie. I can see. But about that microfilm. You understand, I’ve got to lay my pretty little fingertips on it and—”

“Put those fingertips somewhere else, sweets.” I pouted, “Darling, don’t rush.” He rasped, “I haven’t the faintest idea where that thrice—damned microfilm is. But I bloody well know I turned it over to Eric, some days back. Maybe whoever it was who shot him—took it.”

I turned around and bent over, letting The Satyr have a real good look at my nyloned buttocks. I heard him groan and then he took a step forward. I almost didn’t get away. I twisted free and ran into the darkened living room. I took only a couple of steps because I wanted Herbert Ahearn to see my shapely legs, all the way from my fifty dollar pumps to my 35 inch hips and what lay in between. “I’ve already told you the door was locked and the study windows bolted. The door key was still in the lock. Eric wouldn’t have kept the microfilm very far out of reach.”

The Satyr was shaking in his need. “Damn you,” he whispered. “You’re a bloody teaser.”

“Not really. I’m just a L.U.S.T. lady on her lonesome,

here in London Town. Go on, Herbie-werbie.”

“There are ways of hocussing keys and locks,” he groaned.

“In books, yes. Just believe me, if Eric had the film, it’s still there in his study. Unless it was stolen from him and in a fit of despair, he killed himself.”

I thought a minute, as best I could with The Satyr staring me almost in the face. I shook my head and did a bump and grind. “No. Judging from the position of the bullet in the back of his head and the place where the pistol ended on his desk, he just couldn’t have shot himself.

“But I gave him the film,” he moaned. “Then tell me the name of your contact, honey,” I wheedled, “the one who gave the microfilm to you.”

There was a little pause. Herbert Ahearn eyed me from my toes to my blonde head. He smiled wryly and shook his head. “Ducks, that name will cost you.”

I laughed and bumped my hips at him. It was his turn to laugh. “I don’t mean that. I mean hard cash. Say, two hundred pounds.”

“You’re putting me on.”

“Pet, I’m in this game for the pence I can make out of it, no other reason. I’m not like Eric, who was a perishing patriot. Not Ahearn. I ask cash on the line before I deliver the goods.”

I could make Herbie-werbie tell me. I knew ways. I unzipped and peeled off my mini-skirt and tossed it in his face. While he was busy catching it, I yanked up my sweater. My breasts shook up and down in the punched-out holes of my brassiere, my nipples large and hard from all our play.

The Satyr gasped, “Ducks, you’re a knock-out.”

“You mean—knockers out, don’t you?” I giggled, shimmying my shoulders so that my white girl—treasures swayed from side to side.

I was still wearing my black nylon pantie-hose as I moved to where The Satyr was standing in the doorway. I said softly, “I have something a lot better than money.”

I squatted down. I let my knees go wide in the position the Shiek Nefwazi calls the mokorfeuss, much in the manner of a frog at rest. Herbert was staring down between my nyloned thighs and making a gurgling sound deep in his throat. I smiled up at him. I hooked my hands under my knees and rolled over onto my back, into the el modefeda posture.

“Herbert?” I whispered. He dropped toward me, intent only on his clamoring carnality. He was fast but my right leg was a lot faster. I got a foot in his belly, I got a grip on his shirt with both hands and heaved with arms and leg.

He was in the perfect position for the stomach throw, the tomoe nage. He yelled as he went backward high above my head. I let go of him and he went on without any help, to come crashing down on his back on the living room rug. I swung about and lay on my front, looking at him. Herbert groaned and lifted his head.

I said, “Sweetie, don’t be difficult. I know all kinds of holds, erotic and otherwise. You really aren’t going to be a naughty boy, now are you?”

He rolled his head back and forth on the carpet, muttering, “My God, woman. You could have killed me. Broken my spine or something.”

“These are the risks you take, Herbie-werbie. Now let’s start all over. You want something of mine, I want a little information. Shall we exchange?”

“Love to, pet—provided I get those two hundred pounds.”

Herbie had a one-track mind. I did a little mental calculation. The pound is worth two dollars and eighty cents in American money on the world market. The Satyr wanted close to six hundred dollars for telling me a name.

I had arrived in England with a little more than five century notes in my handbag wallet, for spending money. Most of it was in travelers checks. I had cashed one hundred dollars in the Barclay Bank at London Airport when I’d come out of Customs. No matter how I stretched it, five hundred dollars did not add up to six hundred.

“Herbie,” I wheedled, coming up on my hands and knees. I moved forward, right over The Satyr until my face was poised above his straining self and he was glaring up at the vee of my widespread thighs. In the ancient world, the Phoenicians were noted for that bit of erotic practice for which the French are famed—or defamed—today, and to “go to Phoenicia,” or “to Liguria” in some instances, was to vary the norm of loving couples.

“Darling,” I breathed, putting my hand on him and scratching lightly with my long, red fingernails.

He groaned and shivered, his hands ran up my outer thighs, but he whispered, “Two hundred pounds, pet. And this too, of course. But the money first.”

“Damn you,” I whimpered. I am flesh and blood, too. I came close to saying the hell with the microfilm. After all, I was on vacation and you do the things you like to do when you’re away from it all. But I had been trained by experts. I rolled over onto my back and got to my feet.

Standing over The Satyr, I snarled, “I don’t have six hundred dollars.”

My breasts were like white rocks standing out from my bra holes. I wanted to drop down on the satyriest part of The Satyr, I wanted to have a bash with him. I would go to Phoenicia and a couple of other ancient ports of call.

But. I swallowed and licked my lips. Retro me, Sathanus. Back where you belong, Satan, I told myself.

“Herbert, dear, I understand there are a lot of private gaming places in mad, mod, bad London where a girl can bet a chip or two or three on blackjack or the turn of a roulette wheel or the flip of a card in poker, to say nothing of shooting craps.”

“Lots, pet,” he breathed. “Can you get me in one? Tonight?”

“Want to gamble, do you?”

“Only enough to win two hundred pounds.”

“Ahh, to be sure. Well, now. Let me think. Where’d be the right place to take a peach like you. Crockford’s? Very posh and plush. You might like Crockford’s. The Clermont Club? That’s too exclusive. And besides—I’m not a member. The new Playboy Club on Park Lane? There are dozens of these clubs, pet—all tony and very swell.”

I nudged him with a foot. “Then pick one.” He opened his eyes. “Going to risk, your own money, are you? Just to pay old Herbert? I must say, you’re a proper darling. It’s good to do business with you.” He reached out and caught my ankle. “The club, Herbert,” I warned. “The Bully Sawyer,” he exclaimed suddenly. “It’s neat, quiet, and reasonably efficient. I get a percentage of the losses, too.”

“My losses, you mean?”

“If you lose, which I hope you don’t. Two hundred pounds is a lot more than a percentage of five hundred dollars, assuming you lose your whole bankroll.”

I reached for my mini-skirt. “Better get dressed,” I told him, nudging him with one of my fifty dollar Anne LeWines.

“Give me a chance, woman,” he sighed.

I walked out into the hall, closing the door behind me. I needed a breather myself, I found. So I breathed for a while, until I was nice and calm.

The Bully Sawyer is on Curzon Street, in a Georgian style house that had been a family home at one time. It has been remade into a private casino where you can drink and gamble to your heart’s content. The rather strict British drinking regulations do not apply to private clubs.

We trotted up the steps. Herbert rang a bell and a girl in opera-length hose, a mini-skirt and a frilly blouse welcomed us with a big smile and a nod of her flaxen head.

“Evening, Mister Ahearn,” she giggled. “Dolly, how’s the action tonight?”

“A bit slow so far. But it’ll pick up.”

“Pick up? It’s after midnight,” I pointed out. Polly smiled. “There’s a planeload of colonists due in about three o’clock. There’s taxis waiting for them at the airport, to bring them directly here. They’ll play through the whole day and go home tomorrow evening.”

I thought that our British cousins might call us colonists, but that they took our money when and how they could. And bloody glad to get it, they were. Well, I was one colonist who wasn’t going to hand over any of her hard-earned George Washington to swell the British pound, except maybe for the winning pot percentage at the poker table.

“Seat me, Herbert,” I smiled. We followed the shapely netted legs of the hall girl up a staircase and into a large room fitted out with gaming tables and small chairs, a thick carpet and mirrored walls. Glass chandeliers flooded the room with light. About three dozen men and women were grouped about the craps table, the blackjack counter and a roulette board and wheel.

“No poker?” I asked, looking about the room.

“Back room, ma’am,” smiled Polly, arching her eyebrows slightly. I gathered that few women played poker at the Bully Sawyer.

I zeroed in on the open double doors that led into the back room. A six-sided poker table had been set up under a green glass chandelier. There was a quiet atmosphere here—wood-paneled walls, dim lights except for the chandelier that hung directly above the green baize table with its slotted sections for chips and cards, and absolutely no mirrors—which was in stark contrast to the larger, outer room.

Five men were seated about the table. Two of them looked up as I entered. They were the youngest men there, both in their middle thirties.

I smiled at one of them. He was dark, with black hair and bright black eyes. “Room for one more?” I asked.

The remaining three players glanced up. Two of them were typical Britishers with walrus mustaches and bald pates, the other was a slim man with a hatchet face. He sniffed coldly at sight of my bulging bodice.

“Women have no business at a poker table,” he muttered. “They make very poor players.”

“There’s no such thing as female money,” I said softly, taking out a roll of bills. As Polly hurried forward, I told her I wanted a hundred pounds worth of chips. She nodded and hurried off, satin rump twitching.

I sat down at an empty side. “I take it it’s all right, gentlemen?” I asked, looking from one face to the other, trying to gauge each man. Poker is little more than a game of luck and character. If you know the people you play with, and your luck equals theirs, you should win.

A mustache shrugged. This man wore a plaid sports jacket, the other portly mustache was very red of face. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Herbert Ahearn standing in the doorway, watching me. I turned and wiggled my fingers at him. He gave me a long stare, then nodded and moved away as Polly brought my chips.

The dark man was taking cards from an automatic shuffler. He handed them to the blonde young man on his right, who cut them.

“Five and ten pounds limit,” the blonde man said, turning to me. “Five to open, ten to raise.”

The cards were dealt neatly, deftly. I had a pair of sevens. I dropped, but I went on studying my fellow players. I have found that poker players fall into certain set categories. There is the sucker who draws to inside straights and other assorted bits of nonsense, the gambler who overplays his hand but backs his bluffs with such a big bankroll that he may rob you blind unless he hits a bad streak. Then we have the steady, who plays the way he’s named, without fuss and rarely loses a lot, and the streaker, who plays by his emotions.

It took me a dozen hands to get to know my companions. Hatchet face was cold and methodical, the two gentlemen with the walrus mustaches were suckers, really, sitting in with the memory of some past wins to bolster their confidence. My blonde man was a streaker, he got a run of good cards right at the start and he kept throwing ten pound notes out as if they were confetti.

I was afraid of the dark man, in a poker sense. He bet twice on the first dozen deals. Each time he had a full house. I had the feeling that he was setting up a monumental bluff. I stayed for five of those first twelve hands. Once I had a straight, the other four times I went in on two pair. I was doing some setting up on my own, as best I could with the cards I got.

An hour went by. I was out thirty pounds. Dark man was ahead, so was plaid sports jacket. Hatchet face and the two others were falling behind.

The blonde man dealt me three kings, an ace and a trey. I tossed away the ace and trey, called for two cards. One of the two cards was the king of diamonds. My dear old daddy, who taught me to play poker as he taught me to pick a lock, had insisted I develop a poker face.

When I have good cards in my hand, my expression does not vary one iota from when I haven’t got a thing. Dark man had opened for five pounds, now he bet ten. The two mustaches dropped, hatchet face stayed, I raised ten.

I knew dark man did not have four aces, I’d thrown one away. And I was willing to risk the odds against his having a straight flush.

The blonde man hesitated, and I knew he was beaten. When a player hesitates on a raised raise, you have him, because it means his hand, while good, is not in the same class with a raised raise combination. Muttering under his breath, he threw in the required twenty pounds.

Dark man raised me ten. Hatchet face wrinkled up his features and threw in his hand. I pushed two tens out onto the green tabletop.

“Again,” I smiled. The blonde swore under his breath and tossed his hand in the discard pile. Dark man did not alter his expression but his eyes touched me slowly, in a long stare. His hand fondled the ten pound chip pile, paused for a bare fraction of a second, and lifted one chip.

“I call,” he smiled. : I spread the four kings. Dark man had four tens.

One hundred and forty pounds were in the pot. I had thrown in forty-five of them, so my thirty pound loss was evened out, and I was ahead by sixty-five.

Even more to the point, I had seen dark man back a powerful hand again. My problem was, did he do it as a habit or was he actually setting up a bluff? I had to watch him carefully for a telltale clue.

Oh, there are clues, tiny little nuances of expression or movement, which can tell you a lot about the players. I tried to remember what daddy had told me about people and what they do when they play poker.

I won another pot of about twenty pounds from hatchet face, and a third in a row, of thirty pounds, from red face with the walrus mustache. I must say there were no more snide remarks about women poker players.

Herbert Ahearn looked in once during all this play. He glanced at my face and at the pile of chips in front of me. I noticed that he nodded with something like satisfaction. Blonde man dealt stud. My hole card was a four. Red face showed a nine on his first up card; hatchet face, a queen. I got a trey, the dealer received the diamond jack. Dark man looked at his hole card a second time, I noticed. His hole card was weak, I told myself to remember, most probably below the jack.

I got a four to go with my trey on the second round. Pair of fours. Then I got a third four. Things were looking up. I began to take an active interest in the other up cards. The mustache boys I forgot; no matter what they received on the last round, they could not beat three fours. Blonde man had a diamond jack, ten and queen, dark man had three aces showing. Hatchet face boasted a pair of queens and a deuce.

Dark man pushed the betting. Ten pounds each time, indicative of a good, strong hand, as if I couldn’t see his three bullets. The mustaches dropped out now, folding their cards. Hatchet face hemmed and hawed, then threw in his chip. So did I, followed by Blondie. I figured Blondie and Hatchet face for two pair. He was hoping to get a queen to give him a full house. Blondie might have a flush. The dealer dropped a ten to the dark man. I was watching his face as the card came to him, and saw a brief flash of exultation touch his features. It was there and gone in a second. Full house, I thought dully—as if things weren’t tough enough.

Hatchet face got a six to go with his pair of queens and a deuce. He was out of it. A hand flashed a card on my pile. The heart four.

My heart lurched, but my face never moved. I just went on toying with the pile of five pound chips in the chip slot while I watched the diamond king drop alongside the diamond jack, ten and queen. Unfortunately for my peace of mind, dark man did not show the diamond ace, nor was there any evidence of the diamond nine on the board. Blondie might have himself a straight flush, if either of those pips were his hole card.

But my fair friend gave himself away. He could not avoid the downward quirk of his lips that indicated his disgust. He was thinking, Four diamonds in a row and what might have been a glorious moment is nothing more than a flush. Or maybe it was just a four flush.

Dark man studied me as he tossed out a ten pounder. Hatchet face dropped.

I used reverse psychology. I hesitated for a few brief moments, but far longer than I should (or so I wanted dark man to think). Then I upped his bet by ten. Bluff, he was thinking, the pretty bitch is trying to bluff me!

Blondie groaned and threw in his cards. Dark man raised me. I raised him. This went on until there must have been more than three hundred pounds in that pot. I was getting a little frantic by this time. Suppose I were wrong about reading his face and that telltale extra peek at his hole card? Oh, well. How many times can a girl go broke?

Finally dark man Smiled at me and asked, “How much money do you have left, ma’am?”

I counted my chips. “Four hundred pounds, give or take a couple. Why?”

He said, “Figure it out exactly. I’ll raise by that much—and let’s get this damn game over. It’s going on four o’clock in the morning and I’m bloody tired.”

I pushed my money out after he pushed his in. He spread out his cards. I had guessed right. He showed three aces and two tens.

When I flipped my hole card, I thought he’d faint. He swallowed, he tried to grin. “What damn fool said women couldn’t play poker?” he muttered and pushed away from the table.

I counted my winnings while the men walked away and left me sitting there in my solitary glory. I had won over fifteen hundred pounds.

Herbert Ahearn came running in. He slowed and whistled soundlessly as his eyes saw the pile of chips. “Lor blimey,” he breathed, reverting to the Cockney. “You took ’em!” He sank down in an empty chair. “I never saw so many chips.”

I pushed twenty ten pound chips across the table. “For you, love. Two hundred pounds worth of information. Now what’s that name?”

He chuckled and shook his head as he scooped up the chips. “Money puts me in a loving mood, ducks. Come on back to the digs with me and I’ll break out a magnum all nicely chilled.”

“I’m hungry,” I complained. “And ham and eggs, toast done to a golden brown, and coffee.” He added with a chuckle, at sight of my face. “Instant, sweets. Instant coffee, American. You game?”

Well, I was a thousand pounds richer for a few hours of card play. I felt in a good mood. Besides, the excitement of doing three strip acts with Black-hair and all that poker had put a tigress in one Yank.

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