“Eleven months of the year,” explained Leiter, “the place is just dead. People drift up to take the waters and the mud baths for their troubles, rheumatism and such like, and it’s like any other off-season spa anywhere in the world. Everybody’s in bed by nine, and the only signs of life in the daytime are when two old gentlemen in panama hats get to arguing about the surrender of Burgoyne at Schuylerville just down the road, or about whether the marble floor of the old Union Hotel was black or white. And then for one month-August-the place goes hog-wild. It’s probably the smartest race-meeting in America, and the place crawls with Vanderbilts and Whitneys. The rooming houses all multiply their prices by ten and the race track committee lick the old grandstand up with paint and somehow find some swans for the pond in the centre of the track and anchor the old Indian canoe in the middle of the pond and turn up the fountain. Nobody can remember where the canoe came from, and an American racing writer who tried to find out got as far as that it was something to do with an Indian legend. He said that when he heard that he didn’t bother any more. He said that when he was in fourth grade, he could tell a better lie than any Indian legend he ever heard.”
Bond laughed. “What else?” he said.
“You ought to know about it yourself,” said Leiter. “Used to be a great place for the English-the belted ones, that is. The Jersey Lily used to be around there a lot, your Lily Langtry. About the time Novelty beat Iron Mask in the Hopeful Stakes. But it’s changed a bit since the Mauve Decade. Here,” he pulled a cutting out of his pocket. “This’ll bring you up to date. Cut it out of the Post this morning. This Jimmy Cannon is their sports columnist. Good writer. Knows what he’s talking about. Read it in the car. We ought to be moving.”
Leiter left some money on the check and they went out and, while the Studillac throbbed along the winding road towards Troy, Bond settled himself down with Jimmy Cannon’s tough prose. As he read, the Saratoga of the Jersey Lily’s day vanished into the dusty, sweet past and the twentieth century looked out at him from the piece of newsprint and bared its teeth in a sneer.
The village of Saratoga Springs [he read beneath the’ photograph of an attractive young man with wide, Straight eyes and a rather thin-lipped smile] was the Coney Island of the underworld until the Kefauvers put their show on the television. It frightened the hicks and chased the hoodlums to Las Vegas. But the mobs exercised dominion over Saratoga for a long time. It was a colony of the national gangs and they ran it with pistols and baseball bats.
Saratoga seceded from the union, as did the other gambling hamlets that placed their municipal governments in the custody of the racket corporations. It is still a place where the decent inheritors of old fortunes and famous names come to run their stables under racing conditions that are primitive and suggest a country fair meeting for quarter horses.
Before Saratoga closed down hitch-hikers were thrown into the can by a constabulary that banked its pay checks and lived off the tips of murderers and panderers. Impoverishment was a serious violation of the law in Saratoga. Drunks, who got loaded at the bars of dice joints, were also considered menaces when they tapped out.
But the killer was extended the liberty of the place as long as he paid off and held an interest in a local institution. It could be a house of prostitution or a backroom crap game where the busted could shoot two bits.
Professional curiosity compels me to read the literature of the scratch sheets. The racing journalists call back the tranquil years as though Saratoga was always a town of frivolous innocence. What a rotten burg it used to be.
It is possible that there are bust-out gaffs sneaking in farmhouses on back roads. Such action is insignificant and the player must be prepared to be knocked out as rapidly as the dealer can switch the dice. But the gambling casinos of Saratoga were never square and anyone who caught a hot hand was measured for a trimming.
The road houses ran through the night on the shores of the lake. The big entertainers shilled for the games which were not financed to be beaten. The stick men and the wheel turners were the nomadic hustlers who were paid by the day and travelled the gambling circuit from Newport, Ky., down to Miami in the winter and back up to Saratoga for- August. Most of them were educated in Steubenville, O., where the penny-ante games were trade schools for the industry.
They were drifters and most of them had no talent for mussing up a welsher. They were clerks of the underworld and they packed up and left as soon as any heat was turned their way. Most of them have settled down in Las Vegas and Reno where their old bosses have taken charge with licences hanging on the walls.
Their employers were not gamblers in the tradition of old Col. E. R. Bradley who was a stately man of courteous deportment. But there are those who tell me that his gambling bazaar at Palm Beach would go along with a mark until his score piled up too high.
Then, according to those who have gone against Bradley’s games, mechanics took over and used any device that would keep the house solvent. It delights those who recollect Bradley when they read his canonization as a philanthropist whose hobby was giving the rich a little divertisement denied them by the state of Florida. But, com pared to the lice who controlled Saratoga, Col. Bradley is entitled to all the praise he gets in the remembrances of the sentimentalists.
The track at Saratoga is a ramshackle pile of kindling- wood, and the climate is hot and humid. There are some, such as Al Vanderbilt and Jock Whitney, who are sportsmen in the obsolete sense of the identification. Horse-racing is their game and they are too good for it. So are such trainers as Bill Winfrey, who sent Native Dancer to the races. There are jockeys who would bust you in the nose if you propositioned them to pull a horse.
They enjoy Saratoga and they must be glad that the likes of Lucky Luciano are gone from the rube town that flourished because it allowed tough guys to fleece the drop-ins. The bookmakers were yegged as they left the track in the era of the hand-books. There was one called Kid Tatters who was relieved of $50,000 in the parking lot. The heist guys told him they intended to kidnap him if he didn’t come up with more.
Kid Tatters knew Lucky had a piece of most of the gambling spots and appealed to him to settle his trouble. Lucky said it was a simple matter. No one would bother the bookie if he did as he was told. Kid Tatters had a permit to book at the track and his reputation was clean, but there was only one way he could protect himself.
“Make me your partner,” Lucky informed him and the conversation was repeated for me by a man who was present. “No one would stick up a partner of Lucky “s.”
Kid Tatters thought of himself as an honourable guy in business sanctioned by the state, but he gave in and Lucky was his partner until he died. I asked a guy if Lucky put up any money or worked for his end of the bookmaker’s profit.
“All Lucky did was collect,” the fellow said. “But in those days, Kid Tatters made himself a good bargain. He was never bothered again.”
It was a stinking town, but all gambling towns arc.
Bond folded the cutting and put it in his pocket.
“It certainly sounds a long way from Lily Langtry,” he said after a pause.
“Sure,” said Leiter indifferently. “And Jimmy Cannon doesn’t let on he knows the big boys are back again, or their successors. But nowadays they’re owners, like our friends the Spangs, running their horses against the Whitneys and the Vanderbilts and x
the Woodwards, and now and again putting over a fast fix like Shy Smile. They aim to net fifty Grand on that job, and that’s better than knocking off a bookie for a few C’s. Sure, some of the names have changed around Saratoga. So’s the mud in the mud baths there.” A big road sign loomed up on the right. It said :
STOP AT THE SAGAMORE.
AIR-CONDITIONED. SLUMBERITE BEDS. TELEVISION.
FIVE MILES TO SARATOGA SPRINGS,
AND THE SAGAMORE-FOR GRACIOUS LIVING
“That means we get our tooth glasses wrapped in individual paper bags and the lavatory seat sealed with a strip of sanitized paper,” commented Leiter sourly. “And don’t think you can steal those Slumberite beds. Motels used to lose one most weeks. Now they screw them down.”
THE first thing that struck Bond about Saratoga was the green majesty of the elms, which gave the discreet avenues of Colonial-type clapboard houses some of the peace and serenity of a European watering place. And there were horses everywhere, being walked across the streets, with a policeman holding up the traffic, being coaxed out of horse-boxes around the sprawling groups of stables, cantering along the cinder borders of the roads, and being led to work on the exercise track alongside the race-course near the centre of the town. Stableboys and jockeys, white, negro and Mexican, hung about at the street corners and there was the whinny and the occasional trumpeting scream of horses in the air.
It was a mixture of Newmarket and Vichy, and it suddenly occurred to Bond that although he wasn’t in the least interested in horses, he rather liked the life that went with them.
Leiter dropped him at the Sagamore, which was on the edge of the town and only half a mile from the race-track, and went off about his business. They agreed to contact each other only at night or casually in. the crowds at the races, but to pay a dawn visit to the exercise track if Shy Smile was being given a last workout at sunrise the next day. Leiter said he would know about this, and much mare, after an evening around the stables and at The Tether, the all-night restaurant and bar that was the home of the racing underworld when they came up for the August meeting.
Bond checked himself in at the central office of the Sagamore, signed ‘James Bond, Hotel Astor, New York’, before a hatchet-faced woman whose steel-rimmed eyes assumed that Bond, like most of her other seekers after ‘gracious living’, intended to steal the towels and possibly the sheets, paid thirty dollars for three days and was given a key to Room 49.
He carried his bag across the parched lawn, between the beds of Beauty Bush and forced gladioli, and let himself into the neat spare double room with the armchair, the bedside table, the Currier and Ives print, the chest of drawers and the brown plastic ash-tray that are standard motel equipment all over America. The lavatory and shower were immaculate and neatly designed and, as Leiter had prophesied, the tooth glasses were contained in paper bags ‘fox your protection’ and the lavatory seat was barred by a strip of paper which said ’sanitized’.
Bond took a shower and changed and walked down the road and had two Bourbon old-fashioneds and the Chicken Dinner at $2.80 in the air-conditioned eating house on the corner that was as typical of’the American way of life’ as the motel. Then he returned to his room and lay on his bed with the Saratogian, from which he learned that a certain T. Bell would be riding Shy Smile in The Perpetuities.
Soon after ten, Felix Leiter knocked softly on the door and limped in. He smelled of liquor and cheap cigar smoke and looked pleased with himself.
“Made some progress,” he said. He hooked the armchair up to the foot of the bed on which Bond was lying. He sat down and took out a cigarette. “Means getting up damned early in the morning. Five o’clock. The word is they’ll be timing Shy