by Ken Grimwood


FOUR  (continued)

When post time came that Saturday, Jeff was at the Flamingo’s pool with Sharla.

‘Aren’t you even gonna watch it on TV?’ she asked as he showed no sign of budging from his rattan mat.

‘Don’t have to. I know how it comes out.’

‘Oh, you!’ She laughed, slapping his rear. ‘Rich college boy, think you know it all.’

‘I won’t be rich if I’m wrong.’

‘That’ll be the day,’ she said, reaching for the bottle of Coppertone.

‘What? That I’m wrong, or poor?’

‘Oh, silly, I don’t know. Here, do the backs of my legs.’

Jeff was half dozing in the sun, his hand resting on Sharla’s naked thigh, when Frank came out of the hotel with a look of shock on his face. Jeff bolted to his feet when he saw his friend’s expression; Christ, maybe they shouldn’t have bet it all.

‘What’s the matter, Frank?’ he asked tightly.

‘All that money,’ Frank rasped out. ‘All that fucking money.’

Jeff grabbed him by the shoulders. ‘What happened? Just tell me what happened!’

Frank’s lips pulled back in a crazy half-smile. ‘We won,’ he whispered.

‘How much?’

‘A hundred and thirty-seven thousand dollars.’

Jeff relaxed, let go his grip on Frank’s arms.

‘How do you do it?’ Maddock asked, staring hard into Jeff’s eyes. ‘How the hell do you do it? Three times in a row now you’ve called ’em right.’

‘Just lucky.’

‘Luck, my ass. You did everything but hock the family jewels to bet on Chateaugay in the Derby. You know something you’re not telling, or what?’

Sharla bit her lower lip and looked up at Jeff thoughtfully. ‘You did say you knew how it was gonna come out.’

Jeff didn’t like the turn this conversation was taking. ‘Hey,’ he said with a laugh, ‘next time out we’ll probably lose it all.’

Frank grinned again, his curiosity apparently gone. ‘With this kind of track record, I’ll follow you anywhere, kid. When do we take the plunge again? You got any good hunches coming up?’

‘Yeah,’ Jeff said. ‘I’ve got a hunch Sharla’s roommate will call in sick from work tonight, and the four of us are gonna have one hell of a celebration. That’s all I’d bet on right now.’

Frank laughed and headed for the poolside bar to get a bottle of champagne, while Sharla ran to phone her girlfriend. Jeff sank back down on the mat, angry at himself for having said as much as he had and wondering how he was going to tell Frank their gambling partnership was over, at least for the summer.

He damn sure wasn’t about to admit that they couldn’t bet on any more races this year because he couldn’t remember who’d won them.

Jeff spread a thin layer of marmalade on the hot croissant, bit off one flaky corner. From the balcony above the avenue Foch he could see both the Arc de Triomphe and the green expanse of the Bois de Boulogne, each an easy walk from the apartment.

Sharla smiled at him from across the linen-covered breakfast table. She took a large red strawberry from her plate, dipped it first in a bowl of cream and then in powdered sugar, and slowly began to suck the ripe berry, her eyes still locked with Jeff’s as her lips encircled the fruit.

He set aside his copy of the International Herald-Tribune and watched her impromptu performance with the strawberry. The news was depressingly familiar, anyway; Kennedy had delivered his ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech in the divided city east of here, and in Vietnam Buddhist monks had begun immolating themselves on street corners to protest against the Diem regime.

Sharla dipped the berry back into the thick cream, held it suspended above her open mouth as she licked off the white droplets with the tip of her tongue. Her silk gown was translucent in the morning sunlight, and Jeff could see her nipples as they stiffened against the thin fabric.

He’d rented the two-bedroom apartment in the Neuilly district of Paris for the entire summer, and they had left the city only for an occasional day’s excursion to Versailles or Fontainebleau. It was Sharla’s first trip to Europe, and Jeff wanted to experience Paris in a different manner than he had on the whirlwind package tour he’d taken with Linda. He had certainly succeeded: Sharla’s lush sensualism meshed perfectly with the romantic aura of the city. On clear days they would stroll the side streets and boulevards, stopping for lunch at whatever bistro or café might capture their interest; and when it rained, as it did often that summer, they would curl up in the comfortable apartment for long, languid days of fire and flesh, with the unseasonable hazy chill of Paris outside the windows a perfect backdrop to their passion. Jeff wrapped his fears in Sharla’s sleek black hair, hid his undiminished confusion in the folds of her sweet-scented, supple body.

She looked across the table at him with an impish gleam in her eye, and devoured the plump strawberry in one carnal bite. A thin trickle of the bright red juice coloured her lower lip, and she wiped it slowly away with one slender, long-nailed finger.

‘I want to go dancing tonight,’ she announced. ‘I want to wear that new black dress, with nothing underneath, and go dancing with you.’

Jeff let his gaze wander down her body, outlined in the white silk robe. ‘Nothing underneath?’

‘I might wear a pair of stockings,’ she said in a low voice. ‘And we’ll dance the way you taught me to.’

Jeff smiled, ran his fingertips lightly across her naked thigh where the robe had fallen open. One night three weeks ago they’d been dancing at one of the new ‘discothèques’ that had recently originated here, and Jeff had spontaneously begun to lead Sharla in the sort of sinuous, free-form dance movements that would evolve over the next decade. She’d taken to the style right away, adding several erotic flourishes of her own. The other couples, all of them doing either the Twist or the Watusi, had stepped back, one by one, to watch the ways that Jeff and Sharla moved. Then, at first tentatively but with growing enthusiasm, they’d begun to dance in a similarly unstructured, openly sexy manner.

Now he and Sharla went to New Jimmy’s or Le Slow Club almost every other night, and she had started to select her dresses on the basis of how enticingly they would move across her body on the dance floor. Jeff enjoyed watching her, got a kick out of seeing the other dancers mimic her moves and, more and more, her clothing. It amused him to think that in one night out with Sharla, he might unintentionally have altered the history of popular dance forms and speeded the libidinous revolution in women’s fashions that would mark the mid- and late sixties.

She took his hand, moved it between her thighs beneath the robe. His croissant and café au lait sat cooling on the breakfast table, forgotten along with the mysteries of time that had so concerned him in the spring.

‘When we get home,’ she whispered, ‘I’ll leave the stockings on.’

‘So,’ Frank asked, ‘how was Paris?’

‘Very nice indeed,’ Jeff told him, settling into one of the commodious armchairs in the Plaza’s Oak Room. ‘Just what I needed. What do you think of Columbia?’

His former partner shrugged, signalled for a waiter. ‘Looks to be as much of a grind as I’d expected. You still drink Jack Daniel’s?’

‘When I can find it. The French never heard of sour mash.’

Frank ordered the bourbon, and another Glenlivet for himself. Faint strains of violin music drifted through the open door of the bar from the Palm Court, off the lobby of the elegant old New York hotel. Above that serene backdrop could be heard the occasional quiet clink of glass against glass and the muted ambient hum of conversation, the words themselves muffled by the room’s thick drapes and plush leather.

‘Not exactly the kind of joint I expected to be hanging out in, my first year of law school.’ Frank beamed.

‘It’s a step up from Moe’s and Joe’s,’ Jeff agreed.

‘Is Sharla here with you?’

‘She’s seeing Beyond the Fringe tonight. I told her this would be a business talk.’

‘You two getting along well, I take it?’

‘She’s easy to be with. Fun.’

Frank nodded, stirred the fresh drink the waiter had set before him. ‘I guess you haven’t seen much more of that little girl from Emory you told me about, then.’

‘Judy? No, that was finished before you and I ever went to Las Vegas. She’s a nice girl, sweet, but … naïve. Very young.’

‘Same age as you, isn’t she?’

Jeff looked at him sharply. ‘You playing big brother again, Frank? Trying to tell me I’m out of my league with Sharla or something?’

‘No, no, it’s just – You never cease to amaze me, that’s all. First time I met you, I thought you were some wet-behind-the-ears kid who had a lot to learn about horse racing, among other things; but you’ve shown me a thing or two, yourself. I mean, Christ, winning all that money, and tooling around in that Avanti, and taking off for Europe with a woman like Sharla … Sometimes you seem a lot older than you really are.’

‘I think now would be a real good time to change the subject,’ Jeff said curtly.

‘Hey, look, I didn’t mean to insult anyone. Sharla’s quite a find; I envy you. I just feel like you’ve … I don’t know, grown up faster than anybody I ever knew. No value judgment intended. Shit, I suppose you could take it as a compliment. It’s just kind of strange, that’s all.’

Jeff willed the tension out of his shoulders, sat back with his drink. ‘I suppose I’ve got a large appetite for life,’ he said. ‘I want to do a lot of things, and I want to do them fast.’

‘Well, you’ve got a hell of a head start on the flunkies of the world. More power to you. I hope it all works out as well as it has so far.’

‘Thanks. I’ll drink to that.’ They raised their glasses, silently agreed to ignore the strained moment that had passed between them.

‘You mentioned that you told Sharla this would be a business meeting,’ Frank said.

‘That’s right.’

Frank sipped his Scotch. ‘So, is it?’

‘That depends.’ Jeff shrugged.

‘On what?’

‘Whether you’re interested in what I have to suggest.’

‘After what you pulled off this summer? You think I’m not gonna listen to any other wild notions you might have?’

‘This one is going to sound wilder than you imagine.’

‘Try me.’

‘The World Series. Two weeks from now.’

Frank cocked one eyebrow. ‘Knowing you, you probably want to bet on the Dodgers.’

Jeff paused. ‘That’s right.’

‘Hey, let’s get serious; I mean, you did one bang-up job calling the Derby and the Belmont, but come on! With Mantle and Maris back in, and the first two games here in New York? No way, man. No fucking way.’

Jeff leaned forward, spoke softly but insistently. ‘That’s how it’s gonna go. A shutout, the Dodgers four straight.’

Frank frowned at him strangely. ‘You really are crazy.’

‘No. It’ll happen. One-two-three-four. We could be set for life.’

‘We could be back drinking at Moe’s and Joe’s, is what you mean.’

Jeff tossed down the last of his drink, sat back, and shook his head. Frank continued to stare at him, as if looking for the source of Jeff’s madness.

‘Maybe a small bet,’ Frank allowed. ‘Say a couple of thousand, maybe five, if you’re really stuck on this hunch.’

‘All of it,’ Jeff stated.

Frank lit a Tareyton, never taking his eyes from Jeff’s face. ‘What is it with you, anyway? Are you determined to fail, or what? There’s a limit to luck, you know.’

‘I’m not wrong about this one, Frank. I’m betting everything I’ve got left, and I’ll offer you the same deal as before: my money, you place the bets, seventy-thirty split. You risk nothing if you don’t want to.’

‘Do you know the kind of odds you’d be bucking?’

‘Not exactly. Do you?’

‘Not off the top of my head, but – they’d be sucker odds, because only a sucker would make a bet like that.’

‘Why don’t you make a call, find out where we’d stand?’

‘I might do that, out of curiosity.’

‘Go ahead. I’ll wait here, order us another drink. Remember, not just a win; a Dodger sweep.’

Frank was away from the table less than ten minutes.

‘My bookie laughed at me,’ he said as he sat down and reached for the fresh Scotch. ‘He actually laughed at me over the phone.’

‘What are the odds?’ Jeff asked quietly.

Frank gulped down half his drink. ‘A hundred to one.’

‘Will you handle the bets for me?’

‘You’re really gonna do this, aren’t you? You’re not just joking around.’

‘I’m dead serious,’ Jeff said.

‘What makes you so goddamned sure of yourself on these things? What do you know that nobody else in the world knows?’

Jeff blinked, kept his voice steady. ‘I can’t tell you that. All I can say is, this is far more than a hunch. It’s a certainty.’

‘That sounds suspiciously like –’

‘There’s nothing illegal involved, I swear. You know they couldn’t fix a Series these days, and even if they could, how the hell would I know anything about it?’

‘You talk like you know plenty.’

‘I know this much: We can’t lose this bet. We absolutely cannot lose it.’

Frank looked at him intently, tossed off the rest of his Scotch, and signalled for another. ‘Well, shit,’ he muttered. ‘Before I met you last April I figured I’d be living on a scholarship this year.’

‘Meaning what?’

‘Meaning I guess I’ll come in with you on this fool scheme. Don’t ask me why, and I’ll probably blow my brains out after the first game. But just one thing.’

‘Name it.’

‘No more of this seventy-thirty crap and you putting up all the money. We both take our chances, throw in whatever we’ve got left from Vegas – including what I raked in at the tables – and anything we win we split down the middle. Deal?’

‘Deal. Partner.’

It was the October of Koufax and Drysdale.

Jeff took Sharla to Yankee Stadium for the first two games, but Frank couldn’t even bring himself to watch them on television.

The Dodgers took the opener 5-2, with Koufax pitching. Johnny Podres was on the mound the next day, and with an assist from ace reliever Ron Perranoski he held the Yankees to one run, while the Dodgers punched in four on ten hits.

The third game, in LA, was a Drysdale classic: a 1-0 shutout, with ‘Big Don’ putting the Yankees down one right after the other. In six of the nine innings, Drysdale came up against only the minimum three batters.

Game number four was a tight one; even Jeff, watching it in colour at the Pierre in New York, started to sweat. Whitey Ford, pitching for the Yankees, was up against Koufax again, and they were both out for blood. Mickey Mantle and LA’s Frank Howard each slammed in homers, making it a 1-1 tie by the bottom of the seventh. Then Joe Pepitone made an error on a throw by Yankee third baseman Clete Boyer, and the Dodgers’ Jim Gilliam tore into third. Willie Davis was up next, and Gilliam scored the deciding run on Davis’s fly to deep centre.

The Dodgers had shut out the Yankees in the World Series, the first time that had happened to the New York club since the Giants had pulled it off in 1922. It was one of the great upsets in baseball history, an event Jeff couldn’t have forgotten any more than he’d be likely not to remember his own name.

At Jeff’s insistence, Frank had spread their $122,000 bet among twenty-three different bookies in six cities and eleven different casinos in Las Vegas, Reno, and San Juan.

Their total winnings came to more than twelve million dollars.

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