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“What I can’t stand is knowing she’s out right now playing around.” The tall, heavy-set man stared at me, his eyes burning a hole in my bullet-proof vest. “Trail her every minute, Morgan. Every minute. Don’t let her out of your sight!” It was the easiest assignment in years. I’m Morgan - and I’m one of the guys she played with. The trouble came later - when I found out that her game was MURDER - and I was picked for the fall guy!
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Gilbert "Gil" Brewer was an American novel and short story author. He was born November 20, 1922 in Canandaigua, New York. After leaving the army at the end of WWII, Brewer joined his family who had settled in St. Petersburg, FloridaExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Nico Constantine rose from the blackjack table, smiled all around, threw the pretty croupier a fifty-dollar tip, and pocketed twelve shiny gold five-hundred-dollar chips. A nice round six thousand dollars. Not bad for a fast half hour's work. Not good for someone who was already down two hundred thousand.
Nico surveyed the crowded Las Vegas casino. His intense dark eyes flicked back and forth among the assembled company. Little old ladies in floral dresses exhibiting surprising strength as their skinny arms pulled firmly on the slot machines. Florid couples -- weak with excitement and too much sun -- picking up a fast eighty or ninety dollars at the roulette tables. Strolling hookers -- blank eyes alert for the big spenders. The big spenders themselves, in polyester leisure suits, screeching away in middle-American accents at the crap tables.
Nico smiled. Las Vegas always amused him. The hustle and the bustle. The win and the lose. The total unreality.
A carousel town set in the middle of arid desert. A blazing set of neon signs housing all the vices known to man. And a few unknown ones. In Las Vegas -- if you could pay for it -- you could get it. Just name it.
He lit a long narrow Havana cigar with a wafer-thin gold Dunhill lighter, and smiled and nodded at the people who went out of their way to catch his eye. A pit boss here, a cigarette girl there, a security guard on his rounds. Nico Constantine was a well-known man in Vegas. More important -- Nico Constantine was a gentleman -- and how many of those were there left in the world?
He looked good. For forty-nine years of age he looked exceptionally good. Black hair-thick, curly, with slight traces of gray that only enhanced the jet. Black eyes -- unfairly surrounded with thick black lashes. A strong nose. Dark olive skin beautifully tanned. A wide-shouldered, thin-hipped body that would make many a younger man envious.
However, the most attractive thing about Nico was his style -- his aura -- his charisma.
Hand-finished, tailor-made three-piece suits in the very finest cloth. Silk shirts of exquisite quality. Italian-made shoes in glove-soft leather. Nothing but the best for Nico Constantine. It had been his motto since he was twenty years of age.
"Can I get you a drink, Mr. Constantine?" A cocktail waitress was at his side, long legs in black cobweb stockings, a wide mouth smiling and full of Las Vegas promise.
He grinned. Naturally he had wonderful teeth, and all his own, with just one vagabond gypsy cap. "Why not? I think vodka, on the rocks, be sure it's 90 proof." His black eyes flirted with her outrageously, and she loved every minute of it. Women always did. Women positively adored Nico Constantine -- and he, in his turn, was certainly not averse to them. From a cocktail waitress to a princess, he treated them all the same. Flowers (always red roses); champagne (always Krug); presents (small gold charms from Tiffany in New York, or, if they lasted more than a few weeks, little diamond trinkets from Cartier).
The cocktail waitress went off to get his drink.
Nico consulted his Patek Phillipe digital gold watch. It was eight o'clock. The evening was ahead of him. He would sip his drink, watch the action, and then he would step once again into the fray, and fate would decide his future.
Nico Constantine was born in 1930 in a poor suburb of Athens. He was the first brother to three sisters, and his childhood had been that of a small boy caught up in a sea of femininity. His sisters fussed, bullied and smothered him. His mother spoiled him, and various female relatives kissed, cuddled and catered to him at all times.
His father was away a lot, being a crewman on one of the fabulous Onassis yachts -- so Nico became the little man of the family. He was a beautiful baby, a cute little toddler, a devastating young boy, and by the time he left school at fourteen, every female in the vicinity loved him madly.
His three sisters, not to forget his mother, guarded him ferociously. To them he was a prince.
When his father decided to take him away on a trip as a cabin boy, the entire family rebelled. No way was Nico to be allowed out of their sight.
Absolutely no way.
His poor father argued, but to no avail, and Nico was given a job in a nearby fishing port, on the small dock, not a hundred yards from where one of his sisters worked scraping fish. She watched him like a hawk. If he so much as even talked to a member of the female sex she would appear, bossy and predatory.
The Constantine family desired to keep young Nico as innocent and untouched as possible. They worked on it as a team.
Nico meanwhile was growing up. His body was developing, his balls were dropping, his penis was growing, and most of the time he felt as horny as hell. Well who wouldn't, living in close proximity to four women? His sexual senses were assailed on every level. Naked breasts. Body hair. Creamy female smells. Underclothes hanging up to dry every way he turned.
By the time he was sixteen he was desperate. To jerk off was his only relief, but even that had to be planned like a military operation. Female eyes watched him constantly.
He realized he must run away, although it was a difficult decision to make. After all, leaving behind all that love and adoration...
It had to be done though. He was being smothered, and it was the only answer. The only way he could become a real man.
He left on a Sunday night in December, 1947, and arrived in the city of Athens two days later, cold, tired, hungry, certain he had made a wrong move, and already anxious that his family would come chasing after him.
He had no idea what to do, how to get a job, or even what kind of a job to look for.
He wandered around the city, freezing in his thin cotton trousers and shirt, with only an oilskin to keep out the biting ice and sleet.
Finally he took shelter in the entrance of a large apartment building, and stayed there until a chauffeured car pulled up, and two women in furs got out, chattering and laughing together. Instinct told him to attract their attention. He coughed loudly, caught the eye of one of the women, smiled appealingly, winked, projecting unthreatening vulnerability.
"Yes?" the woman asked. "Do you want my autograph?"
He was always quick, and without hesitation said, "I have traveled three days to get your autograph!" He had no idea who she was, only that she was mysteriously beautiful, with soft pale curls, a slender figure beneath the open fur and a sympathetic smile.
She walked over to him and he inhaled sweet perfume. It reminded him of the womanly smells of home.
"You look exhausted," she said. Her voice was magical, vibrant and comforting.
Nico didn't answer. He just looked at her with his black eyes until she took him by the arm and said, "Come, you shall have a hot drink and some warm clothes."
Her name was Lise Maria Androtti. She was a very famous opera singer, thirty-three years old, divorced, extremely rich, and the most wonderful person Nico had ever met.
Within days they were lovers. The seventeen-year-old boy, and the thirty-three-year-old woman. She taught him to love her exactly as she had always wanted. And he was a willing learner. Listening, practicing, achieving.
"God, Nico!" she would exclaim in the throes of ecstasy, "You are the cleverest lover I have ever had." And of course, after her expert tuition -- he was.
Her friends were scandalized, and warnings abounded. "He's hardly more than a child." "There'll be an outcry!" "Your public will never stand for it!"
Lise Maria smiled in the face of their objections. "He makes me happy," she explained "He's the best thing that ever happened to me."
Nico wrote a short formal note to his family.
He was fine. He had a job. He would write again soon. He enclosed some of Lise Maria's money. She had insisted; and every month she made sure he did the same again. She understood how painful losing Nico must have been to them. He was truly a wonderful boy.
On Nico's twentieth birthday they were married. A ceremony Lise Maria tried to keep private, but every photographer in Greece turned up, and the small ceremony became a mad circus. The result was that Nico's family finally found out where their precious boy was, and they rushed to Athens, and added to the scandal Lise Maria had tried so calmly to ignore.
Of course there was nothing they could do. It was too late. Besides which, Nico and Lise Maria seemed so unbelievably happy together.
For nineteen years they remained locked in a state of bliss. The age difference seeming to bother neither of them. Only the world press made much of it.
Nico grew from a gauche young male into a sophisticated man of the world. He developed a taste for the very best in everything, and Lise Maria was well able to afford the millionaire life style they adopted together.
Nico never bothered to work, Lise Maria didn't want him to. He traveled everywhere with her, and taught himself fluent English, French, German and Italian.
He dabbled on the world stock market, and occasionally did well.
He learned to snow ski, water ski, drive a racing car, ride horses, play polo.
He became expert at bridge, backgammon and poker.
He acquired an expert knowledge of wine and cuisine.
He was a faithful and ever-expanding lover to his beautiful, famous wife. He treated her like a queen right up until the day she died of cancer in 1969, aged fifty-five.
Then he was lost. Set adrift in a world he did not wish to live in without his beloved Lise Maria.
He was thirty-nine years old and alone for the first time in his life. He had everything -- Lise Maria had bequeathed him her fortune. But he had nothing.
He could no longer stand their Athens penthouse, their island retreat, their smart Paris house.
He sold everything. The four cars. The fabulous jewelry. The homes.
He said goodbye to his family, now ensconced in a house in the very center of Athens, and he set off for America -- the one place Lise Maria had never been accepted as the superstar she was all over Europe.
America. A place to forget. New beginnings.
"Here's your vodka, Mr. Constantine," the cocktail waitress twinkled at him, "90 proof -- not our regular cra . . er stuff." She met his eyes with a bold glance, then reluctantly retreated at a signal from a surly blackjack player.
Las Vegas. A truly unique place. Twenty-four-hour-non-stop gambling. Lavish hotels and entertainments. Beautiful showgirls. Blazing sunshine.
Nico remembered with a smile his very first sight of the place. Driving from Los Angeles in the dead of night, and after hours of blackness suddenly hitting this neon-lit fantasy in the middle of nowhere. It was a memory that would always linger.
Was it only ten years ago? It seemed like forever....
Nico had arrived in Los Angeles with twenty-five pieces of impeccable Gucci luggage in the summer of 1969.
He had rented a white Mercedes, taken up residence in a bungalow attached to the famed Beverly Hills Hotel, and sat back to see if he liked it.
He liked it. Who wouldn't in his position?
He was rich, handsome, available.
He was jumped on within two minutes of settling himself in a private cabana beside the pool.
The jumpee was Dorothy Dainty, a sometime-in-work starlet with a mass of red hair, thirty-eight-inch silicone tits, and an unfortunate habit of talking out of the corner of her mouth like a refugee from a George Raft movie. "You a producer?" she asked conspiratorially.
Nico looked her over, treated her with respect, and allowed her to show him the town.
To her annoyance he didn't try to fuck her. Dorothy Dainty was amazed. Everyone tried to fuck her. Everyone succeeded. What was with this strange foreign creep?
She took him around. The Bistro. La Scala. The Daisy. The Factory. One visit and Nico and the maitre 'd were the best of friends.
After two weeks he didn't need Dorothy. He sent her a gold charm inscribed with a few kind words, a dozen red roses, and he never called her again.
"The guy has to be a fag!" Dorothy told all her friends, "Has to be!"
The thought of a man who didn't actually want to fuck her threw her into a decline for weeks!
Nico had no intention of screwing the Dorothy Daintys of this world. His wife had been dead three months, and he certainly felt the physical need of a woman, but nothing would make him lower his standards. He had had the best, and while he accepted the fact that he would never find another Lise Maria -- he certainly was looking for something better than Dorothy Dainty.
He decided young girls would be best for him. Fresh-faced beauties with no track record.
He had never been to bed with a woman other than his wife. During the next ten years he made up for lost time and made love to one hundred and twenty fresh-faced beauties. They lasted on an average four weeks each, and not one of them ever regretted having been made love to by Nico Constantine. He was an ace lover. The very best.
He bought himself a mansion in the Hollywood hills, and settled down to having a good time.
The bachelors of the Beverly Hills community flocked around to be his friend. He had everything they all wanted. Class. Style. Panache. The money wasn't so impressive, they all had money, but he had that indefinable quality -- a charm that was inborn.
For ten idyllic years Nico lived the good life. He played tennis, swam, messed around on the stock market, gambled with his friends, invested in the occasional deal, made love to beautiful girls, sunbathed, saunaed, hot bathed, went to the best parties, movies, restaurants.
It was a grave shock to him when his money finally ran out.
Nico Constantine broke. Ridiculous. But true. His late wife's lawyers in Athens had been warning him for two years that the estate was running dry. They had wanted him to invest, diversify his capital. Nico had taken no notice -- and gradually he had spent everything there was.
The thought of having no money appalled him. He decided something must be done immediately. He was a brilliant gambler, always had been -- and the lure of Las Vegas was so very close.
He thought about his situation carefully. How much money did he need to maintain his present life style? He supported his entire family in Athens, but apart from them there was only himself to think about. If he sold his mansion, and rented instead, he would have a substantial lump sum of money, and cut his weekly expenditure immediately. It seemed like a wonderful idea. He could take the money from the sale of his house, and in Vegas -- with his luck and skill -- he would double it -- triple it -- certainly build it into a substantial stake that he could invest and then live off the income.
Nico had been in Las Vegas exactly twenty-three hours. Already he was down one-hundred-and-ninety-four thousand dollars.
Copyright © 1979 by Jackie Collins
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