From pretty laughing girls to sumptuous places of amusement, there are many attractions at Palermo Beach. It is a place of sunshine by day and semitropic loveliness by night. It is a resort for the idle rich, who go there especially to employ themselves very busily killing time. Not being able to spend as much money as they want to on legitimate extravagancies, the very wealthy get rid of their surplus evening hours and throw away a good deal of their money at Henry’s.
Everybody who is somebody knows Henry’s, but neither he nor his house is supposed to exist. Henry’s is there, but not officially. Henry is a fat and smiling agent of the Goddess of Chance. He keeps, in magnificent style and with due regard to secrecy, a gambling house. Henry’s is a miniature Monte Carlo, but there is nothing small about the money that goes into the pockets of Henry. There is no limit to his capacity for absorbing all the cash his patrons care to throw away.
In order to get into Henry’s one must be of the very elect, or sponsored by some one who will vouch for the visitors discretion and ability to lose money without making a fuss. Yet, there are occasions when the crowd at Henry’s includes a number of guests who keep the outwardly suave and bland Henry in a condition of nervous apprehension. Henry would rather lose a few hundred than have some transient gambler go broke and perhaps give the place a bad name by throwing away his life as well as his money.
It was this dread of having an unwelcome publicity thrust upon himself and his ornate temple of luck that caused Henry to listen with intent gravity when one of his immaculately attired aids came into his private room and reported that a newcomer had just enriched the roulette table by seven thousand dollars. It was no unusual thing for a regular patron to go away from Henry’s the poorer by fifteen or twenty thousand dollars. On these occasions Henry would chuckle over his gains, but strangers he was afraid of.
“Hows he taking it?” he inquired anxiously.
The gentleman in the tuxedo shrugged his shoulders. “He seems to be quiet enough, but you never can tell. It may be a case of still waters run deep, you know. Better have a look at him.”
Henry followed his watcher into the pillared hall. Grouped at the various tables, as orderly and impassive as if they were in their own offices, were scores of men who could buy and lose costly chips as freely as the average person spends cigarette money. These were the men Henry liked to have around. They could afford to lose.
“Wheres that fellow? Who brought him here?” asked Henry as his glance roved about the gaming crowd.
“He came with the Matidell party. A guest of theirs, no doubt, and of course there was no stopping him from coming in. Old Mandell will go right up in the air if we so much as look twice at any one he brings along. Theres the chap right now. Coming toward us. Going home, I guess.”
“All right, leave it to me,” grunted Henry, and, under lowered brows he took stock of the man who had just dropped seven thousand.
As was very natural, Henry was a fair judge of character, a reader of expressions, and he seldom ever forgot a face. At a quick pace the man came toward him, and Henry had very hastily to make up his mind what he was going to do. With all his faculties of observation keyed up to the utmost, he strove to make certain what was passing through this losers mind.
Was he despondent? Was one of those weak-minded fools who step over the border when, through their own fault, destiny hands them misfortune? Should he stop the man and play the generous and return him part or all of his losings?
Henry’s face grew grim at this thought. He was not one to part with any of his gains if he could possibly help it. Yet, he knew full well it would pay him far better to make some compromise than to have talk and gossip of a suicide drawing attention to his gaming house. That was not good advertising and not conducive to the retention of the patronage he now enjoyed. Still, unable to read the mans face with certainty, Henry hesitated. His greediness to hold what he had, pulled him toward the opinion that he was safe in letting the man go. While he balanced between safety first and taking a chance, another guest joined the man he was watching and the two passed out of the house.
“That settles it,” thought Henry. “Hes gone and there’s no good worrying about the matter.”
So it was that Henry, clever man of his world, killed his doubts with a reasoning which fitted his desires.
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The Hysterical Woman
Among the many who seek Palermo Beach because they have the means of paying the price of its ultrasmart pleasures, are a percentage of foolish fakers who skimp and save just to have a brief moment among the glittering figurings of society. There is a pathetic side to this craze for pretending to be something which one is not hardearned dollars melt away as snow before a tropic sun and all real enjoyment is spoiled by the haunting fear that the hotel bill will exceed the limits of that painfully acquired vacation fund.
Others there are who go to Palermo with the hope of increasing their capital. They desire to profitably prey instead of paying. Sometimes fortune favors the crooked, but not often. Palermo is carefully guarded for the protection of its rich visitors. As for Henry’s, it is ringed and protected by all the means that money can buy. Still, no place is impregnable, and, given the incentive and the opportunity a woman can often do a lot more than a man.
Some hours after the departure of the gambler who had lost seven thousand dollars, Henry retired to his private office for the pleasant task of recording the total of the nights winnings. Behind his chair was a safe of the most noted make. In front of him, on the table, was a basket containing a small fortune in ready cash. On his blotter was a leather-bound book fitted with a lock.
This was Henry’s register of takings, or more properly speaking, pickings. Under separate headings the gaming-house keeper entered the receipts of his tables. When he came to the entry of the amount taken in at the table where there was included in the total the item of seven thousand dollars, Henry did not give a thought to the doubts and misgivings he had had earlier in the evening. He was on the right side and could well afford to have a short memory. On the other hand, the man who loses is likely to remember and talk.
“Good business,” muttered Henry as he lighted a cigar and started adding up the columns of figures. “Down here its not a case of one being born every minute. They come in pairs.”
Just then Henry’s thoughts went scattering. He looked up from his book. He stared at the closed door. His cigar sagged from his mouth. What was that he had heard? Was there some disturbance outside, a scene within the exclusive portals of his house?
“Sounded like a woman’s voice,” he muttered and, rising from his chair, made for the door. Before he could reach it there came a babble of voices. High above the deeper tones of men’s protests rose the shrill cry of a woman.
“I must — I will see Mr. Henry,” she cried.
“Hysterical. Cant have that. Making trouble. Howd they come to let her in?”
Muttering to himself, Henry opened the door. His first thought was to preserve, at all costs, the dignity of his place. It was possible that the woman might start screaming. Her cries would be heard outside the building. Then — there would be talk, talk of a kind that might lead to unpleasant results.
“Let the lady pass,” he ordered, but the look he gave the doorman was not good to see.
With her handkerchief pressed to her mouth with nervously trembling hands, the woman entered the office. She sank into a chair and commenced to sob pitifully.
Scowling with annoyance the gaming-house keeper snapped at the attendants to go about their business, and closed the door. He stood for a moment in silence. He knew that there was trouble brewing, and all his pity was for himself.
It is very annoying for a man of wealth and power to be disturbed by a strange woman, especially when she came with no suggestion in her manner of going away without getting what she wanted. She was in tears, but that did not imply that she would listen to reason. Quite the contrary.
Henry straddled his legs and bit off the end of his cigar. He was bracing himself to handle the situation firmly and with dispatch.
“What can I do for you?” he asked. The immediate answer was a choking, inarticulate sob.
Henry grunted and repeated his question.
“My — my husband,” faltered the woman. “He — he is ruined. He came here this evening. He lost — everything.”
“That is not my fault. I never asked him to play. He took his chance like the rest. Whats his name?”
“Randall, Richard Randall.”
“Don’t know him. You must have made a mistake. He didn’t lose his money here.”
“But he did. He told me how he got in with the Mandell party. He said he could make a fortune for us. And now — “
“How much did he lose?” inquired Henry, his mind at once returning to the man his attention had been called to by his watcher. He guessed what the woman’s answer would be.
“Seven thousand dollars,” she murmured brokenly.
“Then what do you expect me to do?” asked Henry brusquely. “I’m not a philanthropist. I’m conducting a fair-and-square gambling house. If I lose I pay. Your husband will have to set to work and make some more money. That’s all there is to it.”
The woman raised her face. Her tragic eyes fixed on the gamblers. In those eyes of hers was not only sadness and despair, but a look of desperation that caused Henry to shiver for his good reputation.
“He will not be able to make any money,” she said with odd quietness.
“You mean he has “
Henry paused on the word that would suggest tragedy, but the woman was quick enough to seize the unsaid.
“No,” she exclaimed, “he has not done away with himself. Not yet. He has gone. But he will not escape. He cannot; the police — “
“What do you mean? What have the police got to do with it?”
“Everything. That money did not belong to us. My husband will be arrested. He will be sent to prison. He — I — “
To Henry this news was even worse than if the man had committed suicide. There would be a trial; the newspapers would ferret out all particulars. Henry would be ruined. The affair would be reported all over the country. There was only one thing to do. In one stride Henry reached the basket of money.
“Do you know where your husband has gone?” he asked. “Can you reach him by wire?”
The woman’s gaze fastened on the bank notes in the gamblers hand. She sprang to her feet.
“I can do better,” she cried. “I can go to him.”
“Then you had better do so right away,” said Henry, and since circumstances had forced him to part with the money, he added as he handed over the seven thousand dollars, “Don’t let anybody tell you I ain’t got a heart.”
The woman’s face shone with joy. Henry’s smile of benevolence was somewhat crooked. It had been a matter of good policy to return the money, but it irked him to have done it. He turned to his desk.
Murmuring a stream of grateful words the woman walked to the door.
“Mind,” exclaimed Henry sharply as she laid her hand on the knob, “your husband is never to come here again.”
“I’ll promise you that he will not,” said the woman, and softly closed the door.
Three weeks later Henry came to a frowning halt as he strolled round his gambling hall. Play was in full swing. The tables were crowded, but — there was one person too many there. Henry went over the roulette table and touched a man on the shoulder.
“Come into my office,” he whispered. “I must have a talk with you at once.”
Stifling an expression of surprise and displeasure the man complied.
“What do you mean by coming here again ?” demanded Henry when they were in the privacy of his room. “Didn’t I give your wife back the seven thousand you lost here? Didn’t she promise me that you would never come here again? I dont have to ask your name. Your face is enough for me, Mr. Randall. I remember you.”
For a moment the other stared at the gaming-house keeper as if he thought he had taken leave of his senses. Then he laughed. The impudence of it enraged Henry. He became abusive. For a little while the other man let him have his fling. Then he held up his hand.
“That’ll do,” he said curtly. “I’m going to let you down lightly, for its quite evident to me that you have been badly stung. My name is not Randall, and I have no wife. It is true that I was here about three weeks ago. It is also true that I lost seven thousand dollars. Since then I have been away on a trip. Golf does not come as high as roulette. I came back here to-night to give you some more of my good money. You are insulting a paying guest, Mr. Henry.”
“But your — the woman?” gasped out the gambler.
“Ill leave you to find the woman,” returned the other coldly. “All I can imagine is that she must have overheard me talking to some one in the hotel. She framed up a nice little sob story. Scared you, I suppose, and — got away with it. There’s only one thing for you to do.”
“Whats that?” asked Henry eagerly.
“Cherchez la femme,” retorted the other, and laughed cruelly.
Henry has not yet found her.