A Nice Thing To Know can be found in

ISFDB.org Magazine Entry


JAN.-FEB. 1954

A Nice Thing to Know


Be careful about this story. If you read it, you might become a millionaire. A very select group of people—Ben Franklin was among them—knew some tricks of the trade that haven't been passed on to every character who comes roaming down the pike. But it's all here, so dig in and get rich.

SHE wore her ugliness like a tiara. In the blue-glass dimness of the hotel barroom, she represented an open challenge to the uniform comeliness of the ladies of pleasure seated on the barstools or scattered with their men at the midnight tables. An alert intelligent good-humored challenge they could not hope to meet.

She took the stool next to Johnny Orlando and said, "What are you drinking?" They were the first words she had spoken to him. He looked at her with outward somberness, masking the answering humor he felt. "You wouldn't like it," he told her. "It's seltzer—alka variety."

She ordered a scotch mist from Tom Wilson, the bartender. She said, "Big one tonight?"

He nodded—after all, gambling was legal in Nevada. He said, "Real big."

She hesitated, not at a loss for words but taking time to select the words she wished. She said, "I'm Nancy McColl."

He said, "I know—and I'm Johnny Orlando."

She sipped her drink and looked at him over the rim of the broad low glass. She had a broad low face that reminded him of a bulldog. She said, "What do you know about gambling, Johnny? "

He said, "What do you know about law, Nancy?" She was, as Johnny and a great many others knew, perhaps the most successful woman attorney in the United States, with the possible exception of Fanny Holtzman.

She smiled and she wasn't ugly. She said, "Everything I can manage to find out."

He said, "Well...?"

She said, "What about Gerolamo Cardano?"

He said, "Cardano's been dead almost four hundred years. What about him?"

She moved her glass back and forth on the ebony surface. She said, "He was a great gambler, Johnny—he was way ahead of his time."

He said, "Cardano was a primitive. He died broke."

She said, "He pioneered discovery of the laws of probability."

He said, "But he didn't know enough. If he hadn't had that medicine kick going for him he'd never have got a stake."

She said, "You called him a primitive. You're right—but if you've studied his works you respect him."

"Sure I respect him." Johnny wasn't annoyed, merely puzzled. "But he was a jerk. He thought he got luck by facing a rapidly rising moon when he played."

Her reply was almost a whisper. She said, "Johnny, the moon rises tonight at twelve forty-six. What time Is it now? "

He peered at the platinum dial on his wrist. "Twelve twenty-nine," he said. "Why?"

"What time's your game, Johnny?"

"In about ten minutes," he said. The implications suddenly sank home. He pushed his near-empty glass of alka-seltzer away, slipped off the stool. He said, "Good-night, Miss McColl."

She said, "You might give it a try—if you can face the moon."

He could hear the driving beat of the dance orchestra playing in the Desert Room as he crossed the lobby to the elevators. The second show would be coming on in a few minutes. This time he wouldn't be able to catch Linda's song-and-dance act. He let his glance linger on the live-size blowup of Linda by the elevators—Linda wearing glittering black sequin bolero and skintight shorts, with black lace stockings that made her look incredibly long-legged. He thought, with a trace of regret, Business before pleasure...

Markheim had rented the penthouse for the game. It was going to be Markheim and his syndicate against Johnny Orlando and his rich tough little group of Eastern millionaire backers. Actually, if things went by the book, there would be little exchange of funds between Markheim and Johnny. It would be the others, the suckers, the Texas oilmen and Hollywood doughboys, who would be paying off. They didn't mind dropping a few tens of thousands now and then, just to be able to say they'd had a seat in the big game. They gloried in their losses, magnified them, heavy as they were.

And Markheim and his syndicate, or Johnny and his backers, got richer off them- Not that there was anything crooked about it—the others just weren't good enough, barring runs of luck.

It was Johnny's purpose in life to break Markheim's syndicate—just as it was Markheim's to bust Johnny's backers. On a small ...

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