Charlie spark villain.., p.10
Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.10J M S Macfarlane
At this, a sardonic smile spread across Cadwaller’s face ; he hadn't actually heard of this 'Sir Harry' person but that didn't matter at all. If Sir Harry was a guest by invitation of Lord Loathbery, the question of credit was a formality.
"Whatever the limit ?" demanded the villain.
"Whatever the limit," repeated the Cad and the crowd almost collapsed with exhaustion that the game could go on all night.
Hazed and stunned, Spark played on. He was determined to rescue his losses even if they played until mid-day two days away, with the stakes at five million and he'd counted the cards twice over. For the moment, nothing else mattered to him – not even the reason why they had gone to the Manor House in the first place.
His thirst for champagne grew with his losses and compounded by the croupier's smug sympathies : "Dear, oh dear, old chap, I'm sure you'll win the next one.." or "You're having a terrible run, aren't you ?" or "Well, it is only money, after all – and what's money, eh, hahahahaha ?"
Pairs of cards danced out of the shoe and back again, around the dealer's hands then face up for Charles to see what dismal rubbish he'd been dealt. It seemed that hours had passed in minutes and the croupier counted the tally.
"I think I should mention, chum that you're two hundred and twenty thousand in the red...do you still wish to go on ?"
The champagne had begun to take its toll and the half hour had passed in a whirl when Spark was to keep his appointment with Sir Harry. Thus, it was by complete co-incidence that at that around the same time, the bookie’s game of bridge had ended and having searched out his friend, he gave a discreet cough and rested his hand on Spark's shoulder.
Sir Harry's brow creased and his eyes opened wide as he observed with an ironic smile : "This game does look inviting. Would you mind terribly if I had a shot at it, old boy ? After all, I see we're playing with my money."
He bent down to Spark's ear and whispered something inaudible. What exactly was said, was speculated on later in the evening. Nothing could be gleaned from what was overheard – “Ted Todd.....Maurice and Sharma.....a gelding iron”.
Sir Harry Evens the Score
Deliberating on the turn of events which pained him like an attack of gout, the old rué pondered the situation, drew on his cigar, whiffed a trail of smoke and addressed the croupier : "Sir Harry Hoppitt. How d'ye do. Uh, could we start with some new decks, d'you think, old boy ?"
Before the Cad could even answer, Sir Harry said "Here, I just happened to have these two packs – now these are playing cards – try them," and he offered up the new unopened decks to the banker for approval.
At first, Cadwaller sought an excuse to get rid of the blimp who had appeared out of nowhere. But events had overtaken him and whether he liked it or not, he would be forced to go on with another game.
It was a firm rule that the Cad always played with his own cards but on this occasion – after one look at the old fellow’s stoutness, he found it impossible to take him seriously.
"Most kind of you..." he murmured, at the same time thinking "If this is Sir Harry, what am I worried about ?" and decided that the old boy would be a pushover with the game finished in two minutes.
“Same brand as I'm using. These ones are a bit tattered anyway," which was a dig at how Spark had crumpled the cards during troubled moments in the game.
The audience used the break to readjust their corsets and cummerbunds. Each of them had guzzled a pint of champagne and they peered, almost cross-eyed, down their noses to take a closer look at Sir Harry (who gave no indication that he was unlike themselves).
Some of them said later that the old fellow was a retired brigadier, back from twenty years of sacred cows, mystics and monsoons in the sub-continent. Others were sure he was a prominent industrialist who inflicted cutbacks and redundancies from the helm of his City boardroom. Still others swore that they’d seen him in the Middle Temple and that he looked exactly like a well-known High Court judge who had decided a string of sensational cases. In whatever form they imagined him, they decided there was something familiar about him and so they granted him a measure of respect, by not cheering too loudly whenever he lost.
To encourage this, Sir Harry showered the ladies with flattery. All of them were heiresses in one way or another. Some were frumpy dowagers and duchesses with vast fortunes – and seeking the protection of an old-fashioned gentleman. And considering that the Manor House was indeed paved with gold, he introduced himself as a well travelled bon viveur – distinguished, cultured – and a widower.
Then suddenly, the game came back to life. He accepted the tab for Spark and to save time, would continue where his predecessor had left off.
To and fro the cards were shuffled and stuffed into the sleeve.
With a certain smugness, Sir Harry sat twenty thousand pounds of chips (won at the bridge table) on top of each other in one square and the same amount in the second box and waited. He'd decided to play a double hand to lessen the time for retrieving their losses. Eight cards whooshed out of the sleeve, two for him in both boxes while Cadwaller dealt himself two cards face down, the other two face up.
Sir Harry got off to a bad start : his first hand was a jack and a queen, making him almost curse in disgust. There was no room for manoeuvre. His second hand showed promise with two sixes. The dealer’s top cards were a five and a king of spades.
The old villain lit his pipe, looked at Cadwaller, raised both eyebrows and said : "First box, hmm – I think I'll split the suits, old boy..." which could have been more of a request than a statement, depending on your view.
A fog of smoke rose from his pipe – he was expecting the dealer to say that it wasn’t Las Vegas or Macau and that splitting tens was not permitted in English casinos. Instead, the Cad merely nodded vacantly. He felt reassured that Sir Harry would be a worse player than Spark. For all he cared, the baronet could swing from the chandelier stark naked, crash-land onto the table and do a can-can, without Cadwaller blinking an eyelid.
It was then that Sir Harry seized his chance, separating the suits using the jack as a further hand in a third box. He placed another twenty thousand pounds in chips on the baize table. The dealer grinned arrogantly and flipped two more cards across to his opponent – a king of diamonds and a nine of hearts.
"Second box," said Sir Harry. "I'll split my sixes," and separating both cards by placing one of them in a further box, he whacked another twenty thousand pounds in chips onto the corner of his fourth bet. Then, he waited for two more cards out of the shoe.
The dealer sniggered quietly and dealt himself a four of hearts and a three of clubs. His opponent calmly looked at his cards in their various squares and stole a measured glance at the Cad's cards face up on the table.
"Double ten," announced Sir Harry as he tapped his third box. The croupier dealt another card, an ace. For the remaining six, Sir Harry was dealt another ace. In their different boxes, his cards totalled twenty, seventeen, twenty and twenty one.
Cadwaller dealt cards for himself and after turning each one face up, discovered with mixed chagrin and amazement that he had only nineteen, sixteen, fourteen and eighteen.
In fury, he wanted to jump up and down on something ; usually it was players on the rugger field ; or to hit something or someone ; anything at all, it hardly mattered, such was his rage which was ready to explode at any moment.
"Our luck must be turning, what ?" came the false apology while the croupier crunched up, chewed off and spat out every last bit of his cigar.
Throughout the next forty minutes, the horde of chips on Cadwaller's side of the table grudgingly tramped their way back to Sir Harry's corner until the slate of Spark's losses had been wiped clean with two hundred and fifty thousand pounds added to the old rogue’s bankroll. As a matter of form, Sir Harry had conceded the odd point here or there but felt like ending the game while he was ahead.
Behind him, Spark was animated with each win, throwing hi
Across the table, Simon the croupier was downcast and weather-beaten, saying that he had to wave the white flag as there was no more money in the bank. (He’d been careful to get rid of all the banknotes earlier wagered by Spark.)
This was a ploy as he could see that Sir Harry was batting and had his eye ‘in’, as the saying goes at Lords cricket ground – put simply, he wouldn't be easily shaken off.
Sir Harry Receives A Second Challenge
"Are you serious, old boy ?" said Sir Harry, with Spark prodding him in the back. "I say...rather unsporting..." and turning to his audience of female admirers, all of them nodded their heads in agreement.
Jean Pierre Bulot who had earlier joined them, took up the cause : "Mon vieux,” (addressing Simon the Cad) “In Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, there is usually no limit to the banque."
"Well, surely the game just doesn't end here ?" whined the baronet.
All of the moneybags Lady This or That agreed it was deplorable. It was a bad show and when the croupier had given that poor suffering animal such a drubbing earlier on. But Simon the Cad was unabashed.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the house regrets its limitations but after all – this was intended to be an evening's entertainment for charity. And no-one expected the Manor House to be some sort of vulgar casino. Please offer your bets to one of the other tables and I'm sure you'll...."
"One moment," announced a stentorian voice. "The table will remain open."
Everyone turned in the direction of a diminutive, dried-out, pre-possessing figure in a rusty, black dinner jacket of nineteen sixties vintage who cut his way through the gathering like the parting of the Red Sea.
Close up, he appeared somewhat mouldy, wizened and elegantly worn out and was followed at a distance by a number of toffs. The guests ceased jabbering and were like rabbits, mesmerised by headlights. Simon the croupier blinked absurdly down at the commanding prune who was half his size but like the all-seeing eye. This was no estate manager or master of ceremonies.
Sir Harry had only seen pictures of him – it was Lord Loathbery in person. And the Olympian shade in mortal form was to make an announcement.
There was a wart at the end of Loathbery’s nose which made it resemble the snout of a small predator such as a fox. Spark was convinced he'd seen the peer at 'Cardboard City' – the makeshift home of tramps and beggars near Waterloo Station. If it wasn't him, it was his twin brother, he thought.
Little did he know that there was a brother : Sir Staynesford Loathbery was across the room, near the roulette wheel, talking to himself about a painting on the wall, after one too many brandy-chasers. Had Spark seen him, he would have sworn it was the same man.
"My dear friends,” declared his Lordship, addressing almost everyone in the room. “My profound apologies. I couldn’t help overhearing that the table here was about to close and I thought that would be a great shame. And so, I will personally guarantee any further wagers to be made. But seeing how this gentleman,” (indicating Sir Harry), “has behaved so sportingly, I wonder whether he would accept a challenge which might prove entertaining for us all ?"
Lord Loathbery examined the baronet's face. "Have we met somewhere before ? You know…for the life of me….I’m sure I know you. It’s the strangest thing but usually my memory is impeccable and I....hmm...Well. There it is. Perhaps not, eh ?" Whenever he encountered someone for the first time, Loathbery would ask them if they'd already met, possibly because he came across so many people in the course of his travels and on the surprise tours of his corporate outposts.
Sir Harry lost none of his composure and said he certainly would have remembered if they'd previously met but aside from that, he was happy to continue the game for general amusement.
Hearing this, Loathbery asked the others to find his daughter, Antoinette. "Now where is she, she's got to be found," he mumbled to various lackeys scurrying about like frightened rats.
From out of the throng, emerged the cosmetic vision glimpsed by Charlie Spark as she exited from the gaming table. The resemblance to her father was striking – she had the same crazed look in her eyes and in the stronger light, her face had a profusion of pock marks, disguised with layers of powder and rouge. The impression was of someone who was supercilious and self-indulgent. This was entirely in character, especially around the flashier parts of Chelsea and Mayfair. For all of that, Spark admired her excellent taste in jewellery. The rich brocade swished its way about, upsetting drinks and hitting people in the face.
"Sir Harry, you have already won a considerable sum of money, over a quarter of a million pounds, I believe."
"How does he know who I am ?" thought Harry to himself.
"I will increase that to a million pounds – if you win against my daughter. I warn you however that she is shrewd and quick to take advantage. She can play any of these games around us quite expertly – as I am sure you can yourself. Now, the stakes will be high but the potential winnings will also be high. You can choose any table at which to play but all wagers will be at a minimum of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Both players will be staked at one million pounds. The first player who can reach ten million pounds, wins and takes all of his – or her existing stake at the final wager. The loser will forfeit his or her original stake. However, in your case Sir Harry, to demonstrate that I am also a sportsman, I will only require your stake which I have increased to one million pounds. There we have it. Now, are you interested in playing on these terms ?"
Sir Harry's stomach was on a Channel crossing : the weather was bad and the captain was pondering the life boats. Lord Loathbery had been stung by the "not very sporting" quip and was putting him in his place : he was unchaining Antoinette whose reputation in the West End casinos was legendary. The trouble was, to decline the challenge would appear ungentlemanly or even impolite. And with false humility, he said that he was happy to accept the terms offered then called for a brandy to steel his nerves for the inevitable attack.
"I pr'pose we play poker, whist, backgammon, bridge and roulette in that order until the ten is reached," said Antoinette in accents hewn in the best boarding schools.
Sir Harry raised no objections and cursed Spark under his breath.
All the remaining tables were cleared by the lackeys and further waves of champagne served for the spectators. As the guests circulated around the room, Sir Staynesford Loathbery was speaking to a marble bust.
Outside, on the front steps, Simon Cadwaller was taking the air and mulling over events at the blackjack table when he witnessed a remarkable scene.
In the Manor House Cellars
Just after ten o'clock, Cadwaller caught sight of Clifton Earl’s orange mini-minor scrambling up the drive to the Manor House. The car's exhaust pipe was scraping the ground when finally, it halted beside the Garrard and the Teuton.
The Cad gawked in amazement as four prop-forwards in a range of get-ups extricated themselves from the car like monster sardines climbing out of their tin.
From a distance, he could see the wonderment on the faces of Earls, Valenti, Taffey and Rourke as they inspected the flashy cars and their entourages along with the Manor House itself. It was making them drool, as if a golden bell had sounded in their ears. After a short while, they came across King, Riley and Griffey, then a lackey showed them their quarters above the stables.
"Hey, wait jest a minute heer," said Bob King to the lackey. "Ah knoo youse. Yiz wuz in Brixton nick with me whan I wus theer in ‘80. C'mon noo mon – admut it."
The lackey found himself unmasked and gave a sly grin. Despite much questioning, he refused to answer.
Bob King congratulated his old cellmate : he’d probably thieved so much loot from the Loathberys, he didn’t know what to do with it all.
"Right, then. Ah’m dyin’ for a wee drink here an ah’m goin’ to give youse jist one minute to tell us where the cellars are and youse had better jump to it."
They all assured the lackey that they wouldn’t betray him and after locating their bunks at the stables (which reeked of manure according to Earls), they were taken to a door at the side of the Manor House and guided down a staircase to a cavern and row upon row of dust-covered bottles of vintage plonk.
Beyond the oak casks and the limitless shelves of bottles, they could hear a drunken mauling coming from further into the cellar with the sound of bottles smashed and raucous laughter and applause.
As they drew closer to the noise, they could see some footmen and other servants who were in a type of egg and spoon race. All of them were paralytically drunk while balancing magnums of champagne on their heads as they stumbled atop enormous barrels which they rolled forward with their feet like circus seals. Some of the cooks and housemaids had stolen plates of food and were devouring it by the handful. Every so often, a buzzer would sound, at which point, one of the lackeys would grudgingly drop his serving girl or champagne bottle to stagger off upstairs and seeing triple, would later fall flat on his face, creating yet another spectacle in front of Lord Loathbery's guests.
When the wrangle at the newcomers’ arrival was settled and the villains ceased making threats, the champagne began to flow again and the party launched into full swing. Bob King and his friends got acquainted with the chambermaids, cooks and laundresses and bantered the lackeys about their uniforms and wigs. As may be expected, the jokes wore thin and their hosts (including Fleet Street’s finest) could stand the intrusion no longer.
Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire by J M S Macfarlane / Humor / Thrillers & Crime have rating 2.4 out of 5 / Based on39 votes