A good car, p.1
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A Good Car
A Good Car

  By Julia Proud

  Copyright © 2014 by Julia Proud

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  Great cover illustration by Vali-Danut Lancea (https://vlancea.blogspot.ro/)

  To Robert, Gabriel and my mom.

  Acknowledgements

  My husband and mother have been by my side, helping me get the many hours needed to produce this tiny book so I thank them from the bottom of my heart. My mother-in-law has been a real support - I should say this more often: Thank you, Stefanie.

  Cody is my main man. Mike has pointed me in the right direction, and Vali is the guy behind the cover and it’s been a pleasure to work with him. Thank you all!

  Table of Contents

  Acknowledgements

  A Good Car

  More Ed Valenti – A Dead Man (Excerpt)

  About Jazz Noir and Other Juicy Stuff

  About the Author

  A Good Car

  It was a night like any other night. Ed felt as if he was floating inside the dark room, being carried only by the smoke clouds that were filling up the space, suffocating lungs and ambitions while poker chips were placed anxiously in the middle of the round table.

  "Call," Jake broke the silence and looked at Ed and Big Jesse with a smug little smile as he pushed his chips toward the pot.

  Jake was one of those kids - blue-eyed with stars in their eyes, lean and pretty, and barely-twenty years old. One of the boys you saw hanging inside the loudest, most famous speakeasies of Maverick City, giving into B-girls' charms, buying them drinks with money they didn't have, dancing the latest version of the Charleston just to get some attention, and awkwardly waiting to be mistaken for a man of wealth and great importance.

  At least, that was how Ed Valenti saw the kid. He couldn't remember exactly how he had ended up in that dark, small room at The Robin Club - a joint he frequently spent time and money at - playing poker with Big Jesse every Sunday, since the second day of Christmas 1926, roughly a month ago. But Ed remembered Jake stumbling inside that back room, asking out of nowhere to join in as he threw some rubes on the table. A hundred and fifty - it wasn't much, but it was enough to earn Big Jesse's goodwill and Ed's indifferent shrug of approval.

  "You sure you wanna do that, little boy?" Big Jesse grunted shifting in his comically small chair, making it squeal in protest.

  Jake nodded with a wide smirk and it was now Ed's turn to decide on his next move - will he stay in the game and call or raise Big Jesse's bet or will he fold?

  Whenever Ed was out, gambling, he was also drinking, and he could barely hold the cards in his hand, let alone count the chips that remained cluttering right beside his dented silver flask on the table. He regularly gave into his urge to bluff and raise the stakes and still Ed had plenty of chips left. Probably because he always folded whenever he saw Big Jesse nibbling at his cigar - that fat Texan bastard had the most obvious tell of all the bastards he'd ever played poker with. And, right now, Big Jesse was chewing that cigar like it was a fancy piece of steak.

  Ed threw his cards on the table and turned his attention to the silver flask he kept on hand, emptying it in only two chugs. Jake and Big Jesse remained in the game, and Ed couldn't care less about who got the pot he no longer had any stakes in, but the kid's sigh and sweaty forehead amused him, so he watched in silence as Big Jesse showed his hand.

  "You fixin' to cry, little boy?" the robust merciless man asked as the kid let out a yelp of surprise at the sight of three aces.

  That Jake boy really did look like he was about to cry and Ed glanced at the table where the kid kept his chips. Only a couple of one dollar chips was all the kid had left. Ed Valenti was sure that Jake's gonna be calling it a night and leave Big Jesse to him.

  "Deal," the kid said to Ed without hesitation.

  No quitting, eh?

  Valenti shuffled the cards and watched the young man anxiously play with his two one dollar chips. He knew what Jake was feeling - he had felt it as well so many times before.

  Just one more hand and I'll get right back on track. One more, I can feel it. That was probably the single most powerful thought running through the kid's mind. That was what standing on the edge, unable to look away from the alluring abyss felt like.

  The hands had been dealt and Big Jesse threw a ten dollars chip to the middle of the table. Jake stared at the chip for a moment and the hefty man was losing patience.

  "Either you're in or you're out," said Big Jesse puffing at his cigar, releasing enough smoke into the room to have the kid drown in it within seconds.

  Ed watched a trembling hand throw the chips in the middle of the table. Jake was all in.

  Valenti had a pair of nines - pretty good for hole cards. Ed raised with ten more bucks. Big Jesse called. The kid had no choice but to wait and hope his cards were good enough for him to get his small share in the end.

  The flop came. It carried a nine and that was more than enough for Ed to raise again. Big Jesse also liked what he was seeing, so he called.

  By the time, Ed dealt the river, the pot looked like a hundred dollars by Ed's estimations - he wasn't really counting, since he was too drunk and lazy.

  Big Jesse raised, but it was a sign of despair, not of a great hand, so Ed called without a second thought.

  There was something boring about winning, Ed Valenti found as he pulled the pot toward his side of the table under Big Jesse's disappointed gaze and masquerading unconcerned grin. Ed's three nines had beaten Big Jesse's two pairs.

  Jake had nothing left.

  "Go fly a kite, little boy!" The large man waved mockingly at the kid.

  Ed expected the young man to stand up and leave, like any sensible person in his position would. But Jake stayed put and lit a cigarette instead.

  Big Jesse was shuffling the cards with his large, clumsy fingers, and for a brief moment, that activity required his full attention. He skipped the kid dealing to Ed, until the sweet sound of jingling keys caught his attention.

  "My car for one more hand. It's worth - " Jake paused as if he was assessing the vehicle right then and there " - at least six hundred." The kid removed the car key from the chain and placed it on the table with a thud.

  Big Jesse hesitated and glanced at Ed for a second opinion.

  The Italian drunkard was enchanted by the idea. The kid was full of surprises, and Valenti liked him more and more.

  "Six hundred it is - we'll put in three hundred each for it - blind bets, one hand. Take it or leave it," Ed uttered and leaned back in his chair waiting for Big Jesse's reaction.

  The fat bastard hollered an "I'll be damned" of excitement, and snickered when the kid agreed to those terms. Big Jesse was dealing with great anticipation - a chance to take Ed Valenti for three hundred bucks, luck had to be on his side.

  The flop was a six of hearts, four of diamonds, and a two of hearts. The turn was an ace of spades and the river…

  Well, the river was also an ace. Question was: which of them had that third ace to make three of a kind?

  Jake was staring at the chips piled up in the middle of the table, amounting to six hundred dollars – probably a fortune to the kid.

  Big Jesse was studying the
car key trying not to look too interested.

  And Ed - Ed was eager to see how this went either way, simply enjoying the rush such a blind bet offered. Taking chances, that was what gambling was all about.

  Big Jesse was the first to flip his hole cards revealing an ace.

  "I done told you to leave the table, little boy, but you didn't listen, did ya?" The large man reached his hand to pull the pot over to him, and Jake threw his cards at the wall - clearly he had nothing to match Big Jesse's three aces.

  Ed turned his hand over and took a drag from his cigarette. A three and a five. Normally, not nearly as impressive as an ace, but this time, those little cards combined well with the flop. Two, three, four, five, six - there never was a straighter straight.

  "Sorry, Big Jesse. I got you good this time," Ed uttered, and he stood up to pull the chips his way, a little uncertain on his legs given his inebriated state, but otherwise very efficient in collecting his winnings.

  Straight beat three of a kind and Big Jesse suddenly lost his three hundred dollars along with his taste for poker that night. Jake left his car key in Ed's hand and then closed the door on his way out.

  Ed Valenti didn't linger inside that smoke-filled room much longer either, and he clumsily stuffed his pockets with the moolah once the chips were exchanged.

  Jake had fled the establishment for good, Ed thought, since he hadn't seen the kid at the bar when he went there to get his fix, and to fill his dented silver flask with the finest, most expensive booze that The Robin had.

  Ed spent a few more hours inside that joint, trying to hold on to the high that winning a blind gamble offered. He watched the dancers, and sweet talked the B-girls at the bar, buying them drinks to have their company, even though he didn't need to. Despite Ed being only five feet and seven inches tall, women often fell for his broad shoulders, and tanned complexion, coupled with his warm, brown gaze, and golden, Adonis hair locks. But Ed didn't care enough to even learn their names - he was there for the hooch and the useless jive. A few hours later, Ed put on his coat and hat, and made his way outside The Robin, only to find that he had been wrong about the kid.

  Jake was standing near the club entrance, in the darkness of the narrow alleyway that only those familiar with the joint walked into.

  "Mister!" the kid tried to capture Ed's attention and skittered beside him.

  Valenti was wobbling toward the main street, taking a swing from his flask before staring down Jake - why was this kid following him?

  Since it was almost dawn, the streets were coming to life with working men and women making their way through the concrete, gray, and lifeless arteries of the city. And, as he remembered who Jake was, Ed wondered why the kid had waited for him for hours, outside the joint, in the ruthless cold of winter.

  "You want your auto back?" Ed asked the moment he realized what Jake was obviously after.

  "No, Mister. I'm a man of my word - mostly."

  As they took the turn to the main street, Ed stopped in his tracks and leaned against the brick wall of a shop. Fuck it. He didn't need a car. Though, the kid might, since he had one in the first place. So Ed struggled to find the key, not really sure in which of his many pockets he had put it in only a few hours before.

  "I wanted to make sure you found the car. I don't want you to think I'm a swindler, mister . . ." the boy went on and on, and Ed wasn't listening - he had already made up his mind.

  He found the key and offered it to Jake without ceremony.

  "There. Take it. I don' want it."

  "No," was Jake's honest and vehement response.

  Then what the fuck did the kid want?

  When he saw the car, Ed found out what had been keeping the young man up and worried all that time. The auto was an old, run-down Tin Lizzie - a Model T Ford Sedan he'd never trust to cross the street with, let alone the city. And as if that weren't enough, the auto was now buried by a mountain of white pristine snow that had been laid over it that night.

  "That's barely worth two hundred, kid," Ed mumbled gawking in awe at the glimmering mound which Jake had just revealed to be his new property.

  "I'll, eh, I'll help you dig it out and start it up. I'm sure it'll start. It worked just fine yesterday evenin'." Jake was already pushing the snow from the car's top with his scarf wrapped around his right hand, appearing all too eager to please, and clearly expecting Ed to show a temper and maybe even have him beat up just to teach him a lesson.

  If Ed had been any other fellow that had gotten screwed at poker that may had been the case, but the Italian drunkard didn't care enough about anything to bother much with the kid or the car.

  Ed threw the key at Jake, and with a chuckle he tottered away, using the nearby walls for support whenever the city spun too fast around him.

 
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