Monday, December 7, 2009


"THE HEAT IS ON," is the first of my Las Vegas-based, "STANDING DEAD," short stories. A fictional murder mystery, it has probably gone unnoticed by my current readership because several years ago, I "took it off the shelf," for a major overhaul. Well, I still haven't re-written a single word yet. But please accept this true snippet as a teaser until I do.

In January 1979, I started my casino career. Despite all the excitement of entering the workforce and becoming an "adult," it was obvious that this was one of the worst dealing venues in the world. The money stunk, the physical conditions were uncomfortable, there were no fringe benefits and they taught nothing. Cab drivers, shot artists and other local opportunists found us beginners to be easy prey for bogus claims, cheating and harsh verbal abuse. Through it all, one person stood alone to make life in that hell-hole a hundred times worse, coworker, Willard "The Heat" Lafitte.

Willard was so reprehensible that literally everyone hated him. We were about the same age but he was more seasoned by already having a few months craps dealing experience. A normal person would use that casino as a stepping stone to bigger and better places...but not him. Lafitte was into the "power-trip" and stayed...just to torture the endless supply of break-ins, (newbies).

My only defense to slow down his daily avalanche of ignorance was sarcasm. While I entertained his other victims, the bulk of my cutting edge humor zoomed over his moronic head. So now, thirty years later, it seems fair to use my literary skill to kill him off in, "THE HEAT IS ON."

Heat, is a casino euphemism for the pressure management puts on its front-line employees to beat its customers. In the old days, this tactic was overwhelmingly implied but our bullying manager, Mr. Roderick Boyle, actual owned a tiny percentage in the club. So, he made his personnel tense by"sweating the money," as if it were his own, because in was.

In the hope of improving his status, Lafitte acted as Boyle's spy. As an agent of doom, he took on the roles of judge, jury and executioner, as he ratted-out individuals who weren't serving Boyle's best interest. In the early part of my stay, Willard was a craps dealer grossing $34.00/day...including tips. To speed-up his meteoric rise to the top of the dung heap, Lafitte sabotaged his immediate supervisor's job. When that person was fired, Willard was promoted to the vacated $62.50/day, boxman position.

Bigoted, shallow and dopey, the authority went to Lafitte's chubby, ugly and bald head. A vicious dictator in a leisure suit, he regularly short-changed less savvy customers and swore at the ones who caught-on. On one occasion, in a casino that COULDN'T afford a security team, he swung the "dingus," (a sawed-off baseball bat), and narrowly missed a disgruntled player's head.

In addition to cursing his craps dealers for every error, (and there were gazillions every hour), Lafitte fondled and made crude sexual remarks to female blackjack dealers. He threatened their job security if they complained and even stalked a pregnant single-mom who wouldn't go out with him.

In the three months I worked there, Lafitte amassed an uncountable cast of suspects who could rationalize killing him. Even the world's greatest pacifist and/or Will Rogers would have found a glimmer of justice in ridding the planet of this human blight.

One day the blackjack dealer I was seeing, opened my eyes to the idea of trying for a better job. She and I might have had a future together if it wasn't for her severe gambling problem and a poor memory for remembering our dates. Therefore, this push to get me out of there was the best thing she did for me.

I was sharing an apartment on Harmon Avenue (a half block from the present day Hard Rock Casino), with my friend from the New York School of Gambling, "Connecticut Joe," a.k.a. COJO. I made some inquiries and got myself an audition (try-out) at the now defunct Hacienda Casino.

In 1979, Vegas had an especially hot March complete with several, one-hundred degree days. My opportunity at the Hacienda was set for the afternoon of April first. That day was a scorcher too. As if going to the senior prom, COJO helped me prepare for this momentous occasion. In addition to his assistance and moral support, the best thing he did was let me borrow his dark green, 1971 Buick Electra 225 convertible for the two-mile drive. However, attached to his car were three major negatives: it was from Connecticut and wasn't equipped with air-conditioning, the black vinyl seats were cracked and painfully hot to sit on and I was instructed to NOT mess with the testy and unreliable convertible roof.


On my way to the Hacienda, I was incredibly nervous. I wanted to end the futility of working with Lafitte. So I focused on earning more money, the added prestige of a better club and the self-respect I'd gain by chalking up the awfulness to experience. It was only when I got out of the car that I realized that I was drenched in perspiration.

The casino was chilly. I trembled from the cold sensation all over my body and my increasing nervousness. As a relaxation technique, I used the restroom and washed up. It didn't work. Remember that old deodorant commercial with the slogan; never let them see you sweat... Well, I think an aerial photo from outer space would have shown that I resembled a bloated sponge and that a new generation of sweat constantly flowed through my pores. So, in addition to everything else that I was uneasy about, now I was worried about my appearance too.

I never considered giving up but as my appointment time grew near, my mind became mashed potatoes. Numbed by fear, I introduced myself by stammering and shivering as I mopped my brow. Unlike my existing job, everyone at the Hacienda was re-assuring, helpful and friendly.

All I remember about the audition was that every time my fingertips touched the felt craps layout, I left little dots of sweat. The staff poked fun at me because my work area looked leopard-spotted. Everything else was a blur.

Afterwards, the pit boss complemented my abilities for someone with so little experience. Unfortunately, he added, "But we see a lot of big action," (they had a $200.00 maximum). "Try again in a month or two."
I guess he saw I was crushed. The image of Lafitte pointing at me and whispering his nonsense to an angry Mr. Boyle flashed through my mind.

I was turning away as the boss added, "Kid, let me make a call for you." A minute later he said, "Go downtown to the Western Hotel right now. Speak to my friend Mace Rudolph. He'll give you an audition. If you do as well there, I'm sure you'll pass."

The Western hired me to start the next day, (see my short story, "SANCTUARY OF THE LUNATIC FRINGE"). My new problem was telling Mr. Boyle without giving proper notice. After all, I might of hated Lafitte but I was afraid of Boyle.

My sweat factory was working in hyper-drive and had me dripping wet when I arrived. I had to wait around because something had happened and Boyle was screaming at Lafitte. That familiar scene was the extra inspirational lift I needed to gut it out and quit.

I spoke to Boyle inches behind Lafitte at the craps table. My voice cracked in fear as I stated my case.
Boyle didn't scream but he was direct as he (expletives deleted) said, "You're leaving me shorthanded." Then he tried to talk me out of it by saying, "You're crazy to leave a 'strip' job to work downtown."
The implication was that because of its great location, our casino wasn't the worst toilet in town. I stuck to my guns. At the same time, Boyle got some idea and turned almost pleasant.
Willard Lafitte spun his boxman's stool around and quipped,"Let that **** wise-guy go. Till we hire another ****, we can use that useless **** blackjack dealer Yung Yune in the mean time...whether he speaks English or not!"

Boyle looked down at him and said, "I'm tired of you getting me in hot water! Let's try this instead. Why don't you give your nineteen-dollar suit a rest and go back to dealing starting tomorrow." The look of disappointment on Lafitte's face was priceless as I added Boyle to the list of suspects who'd want to murder Willard.
Boyle then turned to me and snarled, "Beat it you lousy****!" He then gnashed his teeth and added, "And good luck."


The Donald said...

I remember the Hacienda. A marketing exec from there came to UNLV to speak to our class. Glen Burnier was his name and I remember him asking the students "...why go to school? How many management jobs do you think are opening up on the Strip?" He looked around the class of about twentyfive students and said after we graduate from UNLV we will be attending a dealing school. Inspiring,eh?

Jason said...

Great story. The only difference between lawyers who are S.O.B.s and guys like Lafite is that the lawyers use a big word before they curse you out. Like the guy last year who called me a "condescending @#$hole."

I once experienced "heat" on a supposedly family friendly cruise. I was with my brother Steve and when the craps dealer started doing things a little too fast Steve told them to "shove it, etc." and then announced to the players at the table what the dealers were doing. Almost everyone walked away.

Anonymous said...

COJO very funny...Granny G.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading the whole The Heat Is On story. I enjoyed reading this blog and loved the line..."To speed-up his (Willard Lafitte's) meteoric rise to the top of the dung heap"...It really typifies the mentality we're are up against. WTW

Anonymous said...

The Buick had a 455 cube V8.Nevada had no speed limits at the time.That was fun.Funny I don't recall COJO at that time.Ironically,it's in my recent email address.I'm glad Steve wasn't driving it the day he came home bloody after taking out a street pole.The cops were after him.I thought he should have fled town with me to Reno....Reno Joe,Jersey Joe,COJO and I'm not done yet.

Anonymous said...

That's me standing on the far left in your Bar Mitzvah picture. Michael Fleischer is seated in front of me. MAZEL TOV!!

Dovid S.