Jules LaRocca rejoined Miles. "You gotta swell break, Kid. Let's move ass."
As they left, Ominsky began to eat dessert while another waiting figure slipped into the seat facing him.
The room at the Double-Seven was on the building's top floor and little more than a shabbily furnished cubicle. Miles didn't mind. It represented a frail beginning, a chance to reshape his life and regain something of what he had lost, though he knew it would take time, grave risk, and enterprise. For the moment, he tried not to think too much about his dual role, concentrating instead on making himself useful and becoming accepted, as Nolan Wainwright had cautioned him to do. .'
He learned the geography of the club first. Most of the main floor apart from the bar he had been in originally was taken up by a gymnasium and handball courts. On the second floor were steam rooms and massage parlors. The third comprised offices; also several other rooms which he learned the use of later. The fourth floor, smaller than the others, contained a few more cubicles like Miles's where club members occasionally slept overnight.
Miles slipped easily into the bookkeeper's work. He was good at the jobs up on a backlog and improving postings which had been done sloppily before. He made suggestions to the club manager for making other record keeping more efficient, though was careful not to seek credit for the changes.
The manager, an ex-fight promoter named Nathanson, to whom office work did not come easily, was grateful. He was even more appreciative when Miles offered to do extra chores around the club, such as reorganizing stores and inventory procedures. Nathanson, in return, allowed Miles use of the handball courts during some of his free time? which provided an extra chance of meeting members.
The club's all-male membership, as far as Miles could see, was divided broadly into two groups. One comprised those who seriously used the club's athletic facilities, including the steam baths and massage parlors. These people came and went individually, few of them appearing to know each other, and Miles guessed they were salaried workers or minor business executives who belonged to the Double-Seven simply to keep fit. He suspected, too, that the first group provided a conveniently legitimate front for the second, which usually didn't use the athletic facilities, except the steam baths on occasion.
Those in this second group congregated mainly in the bar or the upstairs rooms on the third floor. They were present in greatest numbers late at night, when the exercise-seeking members seldom used the club. It became evident to Miles that this second element was what Nolan Wainwright had in mind when he described the DoubleSeven as a "mob hangout."
Something else Miles Eastin learned quickly was that the upstairs rooms were used for illegal, high stakes card and dice games. By the time he had worked a week, some of the night regulars had come to know Miles, and were relaxed about him, being assured by Jules LaRocca that he was "okay, a stand-up guy."
Shortly after, and pursuing his policy of being useful, Miles began helping out when drinks and sandwiches had to be carried to the third floor. The first time he did, one of a half-dozen burly men standing outside the gaming rooms, who were obviously guards, took the tray from him and carried it in. But next night, and on subsequent ones, he was allowed into the rooms where gambling was taking place. Miles also obliged by buying cigarettes downstairs and bringing them up for anyone who needed them, Including the guards. He knew he was becoming liked.
One reason was his general willingness. Another was that some of his old cheerfulness and good nature were returning, despite the problems and dangers of being where he was. And a third was that Jules LaRocca, who seemed to flit around the fringes of everything, had become Miles's sponsor, even though LaRocca made Miles feel, at times, like a vaudeville performer.
It was Miles Eastin's knowledge about money and its history which fascinated it seemed endlessly LaRocca and his cronies. A favorite item was the saga of counterfeit money printed by governments, which Miles had first described in prison. In his early weeks at the club he repeated it, under LaRocca's prodding, at least a dozen times. It always produced nods of belief, along with comments about "stinkin' hypocrites" and "goddam gumment crooks."
To supplement his fund of stories, Miles went one day to the apartment block where he had lived before imprisonment, and retrieved his reference books. Most of his other few possessions had long since been sold to pay arrears of rent, but the janitor had kept the books and let Miles have them. Once, Miles had owned a coin and banknote collection, then sold it when he was heavily in debt. Someday, he hoped, he might become a collector again, though the prospect seemed far away.
Able to dip into his books, which he kept in the fourth-floor cubicle, Miles talked to LaRocca and the others about some of the stranger forms of money. The heaviest currency ever, he told them, was the agronite stone discs used on the Pacific island of Yap up to the outbreak of World War II. Most of the discs, he explained, were one foot wide, but one denomination had a width of twelve feet and, when used for purchasing, was transported on a pole. "Waddabout change?" someone asked amid laughter, and Miles assured them it was given in smaller stone discs.
In contrast, he reported, the lightest-weight money was scarce types of feathers, used in New Hebrides. Also, for centuries salt circulated as money, especially in Ethiopia, and the Romans used it to pay their workers, hence the word "salary" which evolved from "salt." And in Borneo, as recently as the nineteenth century, Miles told the others, human skulls were legal tender.
But invariably, before such sessions ended, the talk swung back to counterfeiting.
After one such occasion, a hulking driver-bodyguard who hung around the club while his boss played cards upstairs, took Miles aside.
"Hey, kid, you talk big about counterfeit. Take a looka this." He held out a clean, crisp twenty-dollar bill.
Miles accepted the banknote and studied it. The experience was not new to him. When he worked at First Mercantile American Bank, suspected bogus bills were usually brought to him because of his specialist knowledge. The big man was grinning. "Pretty good, huh?"
"If this is a fake," Miles said, "it's the best I've ever seen."
"Wanna buy a few?" From an inner pocket the bodyguard produced nine more twenties. "Gimme forty bucks in real stuff, kid, that whole two hunnert's yours."
It was about the going rate, Miles knew, for high-grade queer. He observed, too, that the other bills were just as good as the first.
About to refuse the offer, he hesitated. He had no intention of passing any fake money, but realized it was something he could send to Wainwright.
"Hold it!" he told the burly man, and went upstairs to his room where he had squirreled away slightly more than forty dollars. Some of it had been left over from Wainwright's original fifty-dollar stake; the rest was from tips Miles had been given around the gaming rooms. He took the money, mostly in small bills, and exchanged it downstairs for the counterfeit two hundred. Later that night he hid the counterfeit money in his room.
The next day, Jules LaRocca, grinning, told him, "Hear ya didda stroke business." Miles was at his bookkeeper's desk in the third floor offices.. "A little," he admitted
LaRocca moved his pot belly closer and lowered his voice. "Ya wanna piece more action?" Miles said cautiously, "It depends what kind."
"Like makin' a trip to Louisville. Movin' summa the stuff you bought last night."
Miles felt his stomach tighten, knowing that if he agreed and were caught, it would not only put him back in prison, but for much longer than before. Yet if he didn't take risks, how could he continue learning, and gaining the confidence of others here?
"All it is, is drivin' a car from here to there. You get paid two C notes."
"What happens if I'm stopped? I'm on parole and not allowed a driver's license."
"A license ain't no problem if you gotta photo front view, head 'n shoulders." "I haven't, but I could get one." "Do it fast."
During his lunch break, Miles walked to a downtown bus station and obtained a photograph from an automatic machine. He gave it to LaRocca the same afternoon.
Two days later, again while Miles was working, a hand silently placed a small rectangle of paper on the ledger in front of him. With amazement he saw it was a state driver's license, embodying the photo he had supplied. When he turned, LaRocca stood behind him, gnnning. "Better service than the License Bureau, oh?" Miles said incredulously, "You mean it's a forgery?" "Can ya tella difference?"