Fools Die (My personal favorite) plays out in the worlds of gambling, publishing and the film industry. Set in New York, Hollywood, and Los Angeles, Puzo tells the story of Merlyn and his brother ...(more)
Cully went over to the bar and Gronevelt made a gesture for him to help himself. Cully took a glass and poured some scotch into it. He noticed Gronevelt was drinking plain club soda.
"You've been doing good work," Gronevelt said. "But you helped that guy Jordan at the baccarat table. You went against me. You take my money and you go up against me."
"He was a friend of mine," Cully said. "It wasn't a big deal. And I knew he was the kind of guy that would take care of me good if he was winners."
"Did he give you anything," Gronevelt asked, "before he knocked himself off?"
"He was going to give us all twenty grand, me and that kid that hung out with us and Diane, the blonde that shills baccarat."
Cully could see that Gronevelt was interested and didn't seem too pissed off because he had helped Jordan out. Gronevelt walked over to the huge window and gazed at the desert mountains shining blackly in the moonlight.
"But you never got the money," Gronevelt said.
"I was a jerk," Cully said. "The Kid said he'd wait until we put Jordan on the plane, so me and Diane said we'd wait too. That's a mistake I'll never make again."
Gronevelt said calmly, "Everybody makes mistakes. It's not important unless the mistake is fatal. You'll make more."
He finished off his drink. "Do you know why that guy Jordan did it?"
Cully shrugged. "His wife left him. Took him for everything he had, I guess. But maybe there was something wrong with him physically, maybe he had cancer. He looked like hell the last few days."
Gronevelt nodded. "That baccarat shill, she a good fuck?"
Cully shrugged. "Fair."
At that moment Cully was surprised to see a young girl come out of the bedroom area into the living room. She was all made up and dressed to go out. She had her purse slung jauntily over her shoulder. Cully recognized her as one of the semi-nudes in the hotel stage show. Not a dancer but a show girl. She was beautiful and he remembered that her bare breasts on the stage had been knockouts. The girl gave Gronevelt a kiss on the lips. She ignored Cully, and Gronevelt did not introduce her. He walked her to the door, and Cully saw him take out his money clip and slip a one-hundred-dollar bill from it. He held the girl's hand as he opened the door and the hundred-dollar bill disappeared.
When she was gone, Gronevelt came back into the room and sat down on one of the two sofas. Again he made a gesture and Cully sat down in one of the stuffed chairs facing him.
"I know all about you," Gronevelt said. "You're a countdown artist. You're a good mechanic with a deck of cards. From the work you've done for me I know you're smart. And I've had you checked out all the way down the line."
Cully nodded and waited. "You're a gambler but not a degenerate gambler. In fact, you're ahead of the game. But you know, all countdown artists eventually get barred from the casinos. The pit bosses here wanted to throw you out long ago. I stopped them. You know that."
Cully just waited. Gronevelt was staring him straight in the eye.
"I've got you all taped except for one thing. That relationship you had with Jordan and the way you acted with him and that other kid. The girl I know you didn't give a fuck about. So before we go any further explain that to me."
Cully took his time and was very careful. "You know I'm a hustler," he said. "Jordan was a strange wacky kind of guy. I had a hunch I could make a score with him. The kid and girl fell into the picture."
Gronevelt said, "That kid, who the hell was he? That stunt he pulled with Cheech, that was dangerous."
Cully shrugged. "Nice kid."
Gronevelt said almost kindly, "You liked him. You really liked him and Jordan or you never would have stood with them against me."
Suddenly Cully had a hunch. He was staring at the hundreds of volumes of books stacked around the room. "Yeah, I liked them. The Kid wrote a book, didn't make much money. You can't go through life never liking anybody. They were really sweet guys. There wasn't a hustler bone in either of them. You could trust them. They'd never try to pull a fast one on you. I figured it would be a new experience for me." Gronevelt laughed. He appreciated the wit. And he was interested. Though few people knew it, Gronevelt was extremely well read. He treated it as a shameful vice. "What's the Kid's name?" He asked it offhand, but he was genuinely interested. "What's the name of the book?"
"His name is John Merlyn," Cully said.
"I don't know the book." Gronevelt said, "I never heard of him. Funny name." He mused for a while, thinking it over.
"That his real name?'
"Yeah," Cully said.
There was a long silence as if Gronevelt were pondering something, and then he finally sighed and said to Cully, "I'm going to give you the break of your life. If you do your job the way I tell you to and if you keep your mouth shut, you'll have a good chance of making some big money and being an executive in this hotel. I like you and I'll gamble on you. But remember, if you fuck me, you're in big trouble. I mean big trouble. Do you have a general idea of what I'm talking about?"
"I do," Cully said. "It doesn't scare me. You know I'm a hustler. But I'm smart enough to be straight when I have to."
Gronevelt nodded. "The most important thing is a tight mouth." And as he said this, his mind wandered back to the early evening he had spent with the show girl. A tight mouth. It seemed to be the only thing that helped him these days. For a moment he had the sense of weariness, a failing of his powers, that had seemed to come more often in the past year. But he knew that just by going down and walking through his casino he would be recharged. Like some mythic giant, he drew power from being planted on the life-giving earth of his casino floor, from all the people working for him, from all the people he knew, rich and famous and powerful who came to be whipped by his dice and cards, who scourged themselves at his green felt tables. But he had paused too long, and he saw Cully watching him intently, with curiosity and intelligence working. He was giving this new employee of his an edge.
"A tight mouth," Gronevelt repeated. "And you have to give up all the cheap hustling, especially with broads. So what, they want presents? So what if they clip you for a hundred here, a thousand here? Remember then they are paid off. You are evened out. You never want to owe a woman anything. Anything. You always want to be evened out with broads. Unless you're a pimp or a jerk. Remember that. Give them a Honeybee."
"A hundred bucks?" Cully asked kiddingly. "Can't it be fifty? I don't own a casino." Gronevelt smiled a little. "Use your own judgment. But if she has anything at all going, make it a Honeybee."
Cully nodded and waited. So far this was bullshit. GroneveIt had to get down to the real meat. And Gronevelt did.
"My biggest problem right now" Gronevelt said, "is beating taxes. You know you can only get rich in the dark. Some of the other hotel owners are skimming in the counting room with their partners. Jerks. Eventually the Feds will catch up with them. Somebody talks and they get a lot of heat. A lot of heat. The one thing I don't like is heat. But skimming is where the real money is. And that is where you are going to help."
"I'll be working in the counting room?" Cully asked.
Gronevelt shook his head impatiently. "You'll be dealing," he said. "At least for a while. And if you work out, you'll move up to be my personal assistant. That's a promise. But you have to prove yourself to me. All the way. You get what I mean?" "Sure," Cully said. "Any risk?"
"Only from yourself," Gronevelt said.
And suddenly he was staring at Cully very quietly and intently and as if he were saying something without words that he wanted Cully to grasp. Cully looked him in the eye and Gronevelt's face sagged a little with an expression of weariness and distaste, and suddenly Cully understood. If he didn't prove himself, if he tucked up, he had a good chance of being buried in the desert.
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