It was an odd decision
Still reeling and spinning from a messy relationship break-up, the antabuse and the disappearance of Paul the supplier, I needed to find my way back into the world.
A friend, Alex, had seen the ad in the local paper. The Casino in town wanted someone to manage their security and reception.
So here I am, waiting in reception. Listening to ‘Nights in White Satin’ on the PA, waiting to be interviewed by Mr York-Danvers, the manager. As I’m sat there, two croupiers saunter by and glance my way. They look like an ad for ‘Twins of Horror’ - the jet black Rod Stewart hair-dos, the deathly pale skin and the skeletal, articulated fingers that extend from their plum red velvet sleeves. Their immeasurably knowing smiles seem far too great a burden for their 9 stone frames.
But then there’s double-barrelled. He shakes my hand in an arcane, possibly masonic, way and we stride off to his inner sanctum.
Unbelievably, there’s a signed photograph of George Raft behind the imposing Edwardian desk. Double-barrelled tells me he likes to be addressed as ‘sir’ on all occasions. He asks if I can handle myself ‘in a tight corner’ and whether I’ve ever been detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. I tell him the usual lies and then we discuss duties, salary, hours and clothes and – yes – I can start on the weekend.
An odd decision
A black velvet suit, a poorly ventilated, crowded gaming room and an unusually warm summer present a particular challenge to personal freshness. I have a friendly chat on the subject with the two reception/security staff – ‘bouncers’ to you – doing the late shift. They enquire about which Ballet Academy I attended and voice opinions, to which they are not entitled, about my sexual orientation.
Before I can ponder on how best to deal with my first staff problem, a bunch of lads – drunk and noisy – arrive in reception and demand admittance. My colleagues smile and fold their arms. I place myself between the lads and the gaming room, look at them calmly and advise them that sobriety and a correctly completed membership form is all that stands between them and a wonderful evening’s entertainment. I hold the tempered steel chain we use to secure the front door in my left hand as a means of underscoring my determination in this matter. Sensibly, maybe even luckily, they see that discretion is the better part of wotsit and leave muttering terrible oaths.
‘Bigger poofs than you’, suggests Terry the bouncer. He’ll keep.
Double-barrelled is asking me about my accommodation. Do I have a spare bedroom? My frown is picked up by his scanner and he laughs. ‘Nothing like that’, he declares, ‘a new man arriving soon – needs somewhere to stay.’ The new man is connected. The Casino owner, a former professional boxer, has a sister who is in a ‘relationship’ with this guy – also a former professional boxer. Funny old world. As it happens, I know about Ray McEvoy. The McEvoys are one of those East End dynastic families. Successive generations of prize-fighters and villains. Ray is a former ABA finalist and ranked middleweight. I know he was working in a West End Casino where my cousin, Michael, is a croupier. I wonder why he’s schlepping around the provinces. Anyway, yes, I have a spare bedroom at the flat and I’m intrigued enough to offer it up.
An odd decision.
Ray is charming, handsome and light on his feet. ‘And there’s no one home’, offers Rob, the other tenant. ‘Cold as, mate. Dead eyes, cold hands. Did you shake his hand? Like ice.’ We’d met Ray earlier. He’d brought a few possessions, changed and gone straight off to the early shift. Rob is jumpy and thinks that I’ve made an odd decision.
Over the next few weeks, Ray more than justifies Rob’s anxiety. Any difficult customers at the door are offered violence – or the threat of it – and visits from Old Bill are becoming regular. One punter who Ray has ‘given a bit of a slap’ comes back with some hoods from a local drinking club and the result is a brawl that ends with your correspondent rendered hors de combat, bowed and bloody.
And now cousin Michael is on the phone telling us that our new flat-mate is on the run, having used an iron bar on a customer at ‘The Golden Nugget’ in London. This complements nicely the incident from the previous week when a pissed-off punter, playing poker upstairs, pulls a gun on the two sharks who had scammed him for several thou and wanted to leave the school early without allowing him the opportunity to retrieve his losses. Breach of protocol = Bullet in the head.
So, Casino life was dangerous and sleazy but rarely dull. We had all sorts happen in my short tenure there; The crew from up north who worked the roulette table by having a blonde with a spectacular cleavage bend over the baize as the steel ball nestled in its numbered slot. As the entire congregation waited on her every quiver, her associates moved the chips to advantage. Benny Hill criminals.
The airline crews, plying the Southend – Rotterdam route, turning up at odd hours, round the back, delivering God-knows-what.
The DI from Southend who felt sure that I had failing eyesight and couldn’t possibly have witnessed a particular incident outside the Casino.
And finally, Russian Max, the Pit Boss pressing me to also turn a blind eye to some profit liberation. This, and the constant menace of the sociopathic Ray McEvoy, persuaded me to pack up my belongings, pay up the lease on the flat and – with the help of some friends and an old Combi – return to London at the dead of night.
A better decision than some I’d made recently and, most surprisingly, I’d stayed dry and clean in the midst of these fleshpots.
In order to protect the guilty, I’ve changed the names of the players. As ever, I’ve used some licence around time frames and sequence of events. But all this, and more, happened in 1972. And, to confirm the more recent stereotype, it all happened in Essex.