The garish suite overlooked the fake fairyland grounds in the rear of the hotel; transplanted palm trees lit up by climbers of orange lights, two huge swimming pools shimmering dark blue by the light of the desert stars. On the horizon were the sand and stone mountains that ringed Las Vegas nestling in its neon valley. Johnny Fontane let the heavy, richly embroidered gray drape fall and turned back to the room.
A special detail of four men, a pit boss, a dealer, extra relief man, and a cocktail waitress in her scanty nightclub costume were getting things ready for private action. Nino Valenti was lying on the sofa in the living room part of the suite, a water glass of whiskey in his hand. He watched the people from the casino setting up the blackjack table with the proper six padded chairs around its horseshoe outer rim. "That's great, that's great," he said in a slurred vote that was not quite drunken. "Johnny, come on and gamble with me against these bastards. I got the luck. We'll beat their crullers in."
Johnny sat on a footstool opposite the couch. "You know I don't gamble," he said: "How you feeling, Nino?"
Nino Valenti grinned at him. "Great. I got broads coming up at midnight, then some supper, then back to the blackjack table. You know I got the house beat for almost fifty grand and they've been grinding me for a week?"
"Yeah;" Johnny Fontane said. "Who do you want to leave it to when you croak?"
Nino drained his glass empty. "Johnny, where the hell did you get your rep as a swinger? You're a deadhead, Johnny. Christ, the tourists in this town have more fun than you do."
Johnny said, "Yeah. You want a lift to that blackjack table?"
Nino struggled erect on the sofa and pleated his feet firmly on the rug. "I can make it," he said. He let the glass slip to the floor and got up and walked quite steadily to where the blackjack table had been set up. The dealer was ready. The pit boss stood behind the dealer watching. The relief dealer sat on a chair away from the table. The cocktail waitress sat on another chair in a line of vision so that she could see any of Nino Valenti's gestures.
Nino rapped on the green baize with his knuckles. "Chips," he said.
The pit boss took a pad from his pocket and filled out a slip and put it in front of Nino with a small fountain pen. "Here you are, Mr. Valenti," he said. "The usual five thousand to start." Nino scrawled his signature on the bottom of the slip and the pit boss put it in his pocket. He nodded to the dealer.
The dealer with incredibly deft fingers took stacks of black and gold one-hundred-dollar daps from the built-in racks before him. In not more than fire seconds Nino had five even stacks of one-hundred-dollar chips before him, each stack had ten chips.
There were six squares a little larger than playing card shapes etched in white on the green baize, each square placed to correspond to where a player would sit. Now Nino was placing bets on three of these squares, single chips, and so playing three hands each for a hundred dollars. He refused to take a hit on ail three hands because the dealer had a six up, a bust card, and the dealer did bust. Nino raked in his chips and turned to Johnny Fontane. "That's how to start the night, huh, Johnny?"
Johnny smiled. It was unusual for a gambler like Nino to have to sign a chit while gambling. A word was usually good enough for the high rollers. Maybe they were afraid Nino wouldn't remember his take-out because of his drinking. They didn't know that Nino remembered everything.
Nino kept winning and after the third round lifted a finger at the cocktail waitress. She went to the bar at the end of the room and brought him his usual rye in a water glass. Nino took the drink, switched it to his other hand so he could put an arm around the waitress. "Sit with me, honey, play a few hands; bring me luck."
The cocktail waitress was a very beautiful girl, but Johnny could see she was all cold hustle; no real personality, though she worked at it. She was giving Nino a big smile but her tongue was hanging out for one of those black and gold chips. What the hell, Johnny thought, why shouldn't she get some of it? He just regretted that Nino wasn't getting something better for his money.
Nino let the waitress play his hands for a few rounds and then gave her one of the chips and a pat on the behind to send her away from the table. Johnny motioned to her to bring him a drink. She did so but she did it as if she were playing the most dramatic moment in the most dramatic movie ever made. She turned all her charm on the great Johnny Fontane. She made her eyes sparkle with invitation, her walk was the sexiest walk ever walked, her mouth was, very slightly parted as if she were ready to bite the nearest object of her obvious passion. She resembled nothing so much as a female animal in heat, but it was a deliberate act. Johnny Fontane thought, oh, Christ, one of them. It was the most popular approach of women who wanted to take him to bed. It only worked when he was very drunk and he wasn't drunk now. He gave the girl one of his famous grins and said, "Thank you, honey." The girl looked at him and parted her lips in a thank-you smile, her eyes went all smoky, her body tensed with the torso leaning slightly back from the long tapering legs in their mesh stockings. An enormous tension seemed to be building up in her body, her breasts seemed to grow fuller and swell burstingly against her thin scantily cut blouse. Then her whole body gave a slight quiver that almost let off a sexual twang. The whole impression was one of a woman having an orgasm simply because Johnny Fontane had smiled at her and said, "Thank you, honey." It was very well done. It was done better than Johnny had ever seen it done before. But by now he knew it was fake. And the odds were always good that the broads who did it were a lousy lay.
He watched her go back to her chair and nursed his drink slowly. He didn't want to see that little trick again. He wasn't in the mood for it tonight.
It was an hour before Nino Valenti began to go. He started leaning first, wavered back, and then plunged off the chair straight to the floor. But the pit boss and the relief dealer had been alerted by the first weave and caught him before he hit the ground. They lifted him and carried him through the parted drapes that led to the bedroom of the suite.
Johnny kept watching as the cocktail waitress helped the other two men undress Nino and shove him under the bed covers. The pit boss was counting Nino's chips and making a note on his pad of chits, then guarding the table with its dealer's chips. Johnny said to him, "How long has that been going on?"
The pit boss shrugged. "He went early tonight. The first time we got the house doc and he fixed Mr. Valenti up with something and gave him some sort of lecture. Then Nino told us that we shouldn't call the doc when that happened, just put him to bed and he'd be OK in the morning. So that's what we do. He's pretty lucky, he was a winner again tonight, almost three grand."
Johnny Fontane said, "Well, let's get the house doc up here tonight. OK? Page the casino floor if you have to."
It was almost fifteen minutes before Jules Segal came into the suite. Johnny noted with irritation that this guy never looked like a doctor. Tonight he was wearing a blue loose-knit polo shirt with white trim, some sort of white suede shoes and no socks. He looked funny as hell carrying the traditional black doctor's bag.
Johnny said, "You oughta figure out a way to carry your stuff in a cut-down golf bag."
Jules grinned understandingly, "Yeah, this medical school carryall is a real drag. Scares the hell out of people. They should change the color anyway."
He went over to where Nino was lying in bed. As he opened his bag he said to Johnny. "Thanks for that check you sent me as a consultant. It was excessive. I didn't do that much."
"Like hell you didn't," Johnny said. "Anyway, forget that, that was a long time ago. What's with Nino?"
Jules was making a quick examination of heartbeat, pulse and blood pressure. He took a needle out of his bag and shoved it casually into Nino's arm and pressed the plunger. Nino's sleeping face lost its waxy paleness, color came into the cheeks, as if the blood had started pumping faster.
"Very simple diagnosis," Jules said briskly. "I had a chance to examine him and run some tests when he first came here and fainted. I had him moved to the hospital before he regained consciousness. He's got diabetes, mild adult stabile, which is no problem if you take care of it with medication and diet and so forth. He insists on ignoring it. Also he is firmly determined to drink himself to death. His liver is going and his brain will go. Right now he's in a mild diabetic coma. My advice is to have him put away."
Johnny felt a sense of relief. It couldn't be too serious, all Nino had to do was take care of himself. "You mean in one of those joints where they dry you out?" Johnny asked.
Jules went over to the bar in the far corner of the room and made himself a drink. "No," he said. "I mean committed. You know, the crazy house."
"Don't be funny," Johnny said.
"I'm not joking," Jules said. "I'm not up on all the psychiatric jazz but I know something about it, part of my trade. Your friend Nino can be put back into fairly good shape unless the liver damage has gone too far, which we can't know until an autopsy really. But the real disease is in his head. In essence he doesn't care if he dies, maybe he even wants to kill himself. Until that is cured there's so hope for him. That's why I say, have him committed and then he can undergo the necessary psychiatric treatment."
There was a knock on the door and Johnny went to answer it. It was Lucy Mancini. She came into Johnny's arms and kissed him. "Oh, Johnny, it's so good to see you," she said.
"It's been a long time," Johnny Fontane said. He noticed that Lucy had changed. She had gotten much slimmer, her clothes were a hell of a lot better and she wore them better. Her hair style fitted her face in a sort of boyish cut. She looked younger and better than he had ever seen her and the thought crossed his mind that she could keep him company here is Vegas. It would be a pleasure hanging out with a real broad. But before he could turn on the charm he remembered she was the doc's girl. So it was out. He made his smile just friendly and said, "What are you doing coming to Nino's apartment at night, eh?"
She punched him in the shoulder. "I heard Nino was sick and that Jules came up. I just wanted to see if I could help. Nino's OK, isn't he?"
"Sure," Johnny said. "He'll be fine."
Jules Segal had sprawled out on the couch. "Like hell he is," Jules said. "I suggest we all sit here and wait for Nino to come to. And then we all talk him into committing himself. Lucy, he likes you, maybe you can help. Johnny, if you're a real friend of his you'll go along. Otherwise old Nino's liver will shortly be exhibit A in some university medical lab."
Johnny was offended by the doctor's flippant attitude. Who the hell did he think he was? He started to say so but Nino's voice came from the bed, "Hey, old buddy, how, about a drink.
Nino was sitting up in bed. He grinned at Lucy and said, "Hey, baby, come to old Nino." He held his arms wide-open. Lucy sat on the edge of the bed and gave him a hug. Oddly enough Nino didn't look bad at all now, almost normal.
Nino snapped his fingers. "Come on, Johnny, gimme a drink. The night's young yet. Where the hell's my blackjack table?"
Jules took a long slug from his own glass and said to Nino, "You can't have a think. Your doctor forbids it."
Nino scowled. "Screw my actor." Then a play-acting look of contrition came on his face. "Hey, Julie, that's you. You're my doctor, right? I don't mean you, old buddy.