Part One – An Audacious Enterprise

It was a dusty drive from Saint Thomas down to Rioville. A rough one too, and Melvin Royce carried two spare tires in his 1926 Packard Twin 6 Roadster. Just in case, because two flats in one day were not unheard of, the road was that bad. He’d been unlucky enough to have it happen to him in the past…More than once, and the last time he’d walked back towards Saint Thomas for over an hour before another car had come by. 

He followed the Virgin River downstream through the desolate Mohave Desert terrain. It was a twenty-five-mile drive and bone-dry with little vegetation, except along the river itself, where a narrow band of cottonwoods and green grass looked out of place on the otherwise raw lunar landscape. 

Melvin’s destination was an unusually level patch of land in rugged Boulder Canyon. The spot where the pint-sized Virgin met the mighty Colorado. On a flat triangle of rich alluvial soil, Claude Javernick had resurrected the once abandoned settlement of Rioville.  

Melvin coasted his Packard down the final steep grade and parked it outside the Rioville Hotel. The hot summer sun slipped below the serrated canyon rim to the west and a cool down-valley breeze came up on the river. He pulled a folded blue bandana from the back pocket of his baggy khaki slacks, removed his pork pie hat, and wiped the perspiration from his face and neck before he went inside. 

The front desk was vacant. He walked to the end of a hallway, down a creaky set of stairs, and entered Javernick’s not-so-secret speakeasy. It was the prohibition era and alcohol had been officially illegal since 1920, though a prosperous underground market had made strong liquor not that hard to find. Javernick himself was seated at the bar, next to Eunice Adair, the madam from the next-door Palomino Palace. 

Boogie-Woogie piano music by Clarence Pinetop Smith was playing on the Victrola. Lonnie Rey stayed busy behind the bar, washing glasses and polishing up the liquor bottles. “Evening, Melvin. What’ll you have?”  

“Hi, Lonnie. Give me a glass of draft beer and a shot of bourbon.” Melvin took a barstool next to Eunice who’d strategically positioned herself under the cool stream of air from a swamp cooler vent on the ceiling. The basement level speakeasy was the coolest spot in Rioville when the late afternoon temperatures went over a hundred degrees.  

“Melvin Royce, just the man I need to talk to,” said Claude Javernick, putting his elbows on the bar and looking around Eunice to make eye contact and smile. Javernick was tall and lean with a pencil thin mustache.  

“What’s on your mind, Mr. Javernick?” 

“Can the formality, Melvin. Call me Claude…I need your opinion on a new construction project I’m planning.” 

“What’re you building this time?” 

“An underwater casino and hotel.” 

“An underwater hotel?” 

“Yup. And a casino too, because there’s money to be made in gaming now that the state legislature has legalized gambling.”  

“Where’re you planning on building it?” Melvin noticed that Eunice was making eyes at him, batting her false eyelashes and smiling seductively as Javernick leaned forward and looked around her to talk to him. She was a buxom blonde in her mid-thirties, slightly overweight but attractive.  

Melvin was 27. A well-tanned Jack Mormon, he had a buffed physique from working outdoors on heavy construction projects. Ruggedly handsome with a football player’s build, he was accustomed to being ogled by the shameless madam when he drove down to Rioville to drink in the desert hotel.  

The climate wasn’t the only thing dry in Saint Thomas. Melvin’s hometown was mostly inhabited by bible thumping Mormons who were more devout than he was in their religious beliefs. Likewise in the upstream settlements of the Moapa Valley. North of Rioville, there wasn’t a speakeasy or a jug of bootleg hooch in sight. 

Javernick extracted a slim cigar from a fancy silver case and Lonnie the bartender offered a light when he planted it between his lips. “To answer your question, Melvin, I’m planning on building it right here in Rioville.” He puffed on the skinny cigar, then pulled it from his mouth to continue: “I told that Beekman ass from the Bureau of Reclamation to go to hell. I’m not taking their money, I’m staying put.”  

“My folks finally gave in. Pa thinks their offer is low, but they’re going to take the check and move up valley to Logandale. Ma said she’s sick of fighting it.” 

“Not me. I told that clown to take his measly cash and stick it where the sun don’t shine.”  

“But, Mr. Jav…I mean, Claude, you’re not that much higher than the base of the dam down here in the canyon. Rioville will be at the bottom of the lake when it’s filled.” 

“Our base elevation on the ground floor of the hotel is 690 feet above sea level. The surface elevation of the reservoir—if they ever do manage to fill it—will be 1,230 feet at maximum capacity, so you’re right, Melvin. In another ten years, it’s likely we’ll be under over 500 feet of water.” 

“Speak for yourself, Claude,” said Eunice. “I’ll be long gone. I can’t run a whorehouse out of a goddamn submarine.”   

“Not a submarine, Miss Adair. An underwater casino and hotel with plenty of room for all your girls. Why, I’ll even give Little Juanito in the shack out back a place to perform his filthy trade.” 

“Seems like ever since the steamboat stopped coming, Little Juanito’s been getting most of the business. I never knew it before, but half those Welshmen from the salt mines go that way. They were all lined up last Saturday night and Joy went back there and said, ‘Hey fellas, Rose and I are available out front. No sense standing back here in the dark waitin’ on Little Juanito.’ But they weren’t having it. Said they’d rather wait on the Mexican.” 

“Well, each to his own, Eunice. It’s a free country, and I’m going to exercise my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by staying right here when they flood the doggone canyon.” 

“Sounds like an expensive project,” said Melvin. “How are you going to pull it off?” 

“Money’s not an issue. I made a fortune selling real estate in Los Angeles and I have plenty to invest. Plus, I have a couple of California investors who will chip in more when things get moving.” 

 “What are you going to build it out of?”  

“We’ll use stainless steel panels and heavy bulletproof glass for the exterior. I’ll need experienced men and that’s where you come into the picture, Melvin…If you’re interested.”  

“Yeah, sure I’m interested. It would beat the hell out of traveling to California for work.” 

“I’ll make you my foreman then and top what you’ve been making on those bridge projects, I’ll pay you more.” 

“Yeah, I’ll help you build it…If you’re really serious.” 

“Serious as a heart attack.”  

“If it’s under 500 feet of water, how will people get to it?” 

“The front desk will be on the top floor with docks outside. I’m also planning a hydroelectric plant at the base of it. We’ll drop a stream of water from the surface, and the momentum should be enough to turn turbines and generate electricity to power the place.” 

“Do you need approval from the government?”  

“Clark County and the Bureau of Reclamation can both kiss my ass. Likewise with Carson City. This is my property and if I want to build an underwater casino and hotel, they’re not stopping me. The goddamn bureaucrats are welcome to keep their noses out of my business.” 

Roland Wells appeared at the bottom of the stairway. He was a sturdy Afro-American, built like an ox. Maximino Padilla, a chubby Latino and shorter in stature, was close behind. Roland took a seat at the bar next to Melvin and Maximino sat down next to him. 

“Evening, Roland,” said Lonnie. “The usual?”  

“Yeah. Get us a couple of drafts. And a shot of tequila for Max.”  

“I was just telling Melvin about my plans for the new hotel,” said Javernick to Roland, puffing on his skinny cigar. 

Rose Fletcher, one of the prostitutes from the Palomino came down the stairs and paused at the bottom. “Eunice, I need to get into the cash drawer to make change.”  

Eunice finished off her drink and stood up. “A lady’s work is never done.” 

“Tell Peggy I’ll be by in a while,” said Roland, turning in his seat as Eunice walked past. 

“What about you, Maximino?” said Eunice, pausing at the stairway. “It’s Friday night…In the mood for some female companionship?”  

“Thanks for the offer, Miss Adair, but I’m saving up money for Christmas.”  

“Christmas? Jesus Christ, Max, that’s still four months off.”  

“Sí, four months away but I’m traveling to Mexico this year.” 

“You haven’t stopped by the Palace in a while—you’re not going back there to see Little Juanito instead, are you?”  

Maximino’s face turned red, and he laughed nervously. “Oh no. Little Juanito and me, we’re just friends.” 

“Just friends, eh? I saw you walking back there the other night.”  

“Playing cards, that’s all.” He shrugged his shoulders, drained his glass and looked towards Lonnie for another beer. 

Eunice rolled her eyes and shifted her attention towards Melvin. “What about you, Mr. Royce? I don’t think we’ve seen you in the Palace yet.” 

“You won’t either. No offense, Miss Adair, but I have a steady lady friend up valley.”  

“That’s wonderful, Melvin, but a little excitement on the side never hurt anyone,” she said as she continued up the creaky stairway and then disappeared. 

Melvin shifted his attention back to Javernick. “How soon do you want to start building?” 

“We can start the layout tomorrow. Roland and Maximino are going to help too.”    

“Do you have a set of plans?”  

“Damn right I do, Melvin. Can’t build an underwater casino and hotel without a set of plans. My architect in L.A. drew them up for me.”  

“How big is it going to be?”  

“A 35,000 square foot casino on the bottom of the lake and above it, a 55-story underwater hotel.”  

“That’s a huge amount of work. We’ll need more than four men.”  

“We’ll find them. Hundreds of workers are streaming in for the dam project. I’ll spirit the best of them away with better money and free accommodations. 

 

*** 

 

The next morning, Javernick spread the architectural plans out on a table in his not-so-secret speakeasy. Melvin was a skilled heavy construction worker and he took a close look at them as he sipped his black coffee. It was a thick bundle of blueprints drawn up by Hardy Fogg, a famed Los Angeles architect who Javernick referred to as Foggy, it was apparent he knew him well.  

Javernick stood by the table with a Bloody Mary in one hand, and one of his trademark panetellas in the other. He gestured emphatically with his cigar hand as he spoke, and paused occasionally, to take a sip from his morning cocktail, wincing. “You’ll notice Professor Dewey W. Culpepper approved the underwater engineering there, Melvin. Another one of my associates from the booming California development market, he’s the best in his field.”   

Roland and Maximino sat at a nearby table paying close attention to the conversation. Both were construction neophytes but excited about the extraordinary project they’d been hired to help with. It would take years to build and Javernick was paying both better money than they’d ever made before. Roland ran the ferry that crossed the river downstream from Rioville as well as the steamboat landing, but his fledgling business enterprise was close to deceased ever since work had started on the mammoth Hoover Dam, further down the canyon. The steamboats had to turn around at the Eldorado Canyon gold mines now.  

Maximino and Little Juanito were Mexican immigrants. They walked across the border in the open desert near Yuma, Arizona, and with little money, stole a team of burros from a ranch on the outskirts of town and rode them north, hoping to find work. By the time they reached Boulder Canyon, they were flat broke and close to starving, subsisting on the occasional jackrabbit they managed to trap. Roland offered them both jobs and subsequently employed the stolen burros to tow his ferry boat across the river with an elaborate tower and cable apparatus designed by none other than the illustrious Dewey W. Culpepper.  

“We’ll need a few months just to excavate and lay the footers,” said Melvin as he continued to peruse the tremendous bundle of blueprints—a half a foot thick, easy. 

“Dewey thinks we’ll hit solid bedrock within eight feet of ground level. That should give us a bulletproof footing, because it’ll have to be solid, to support the hotel tower. 

“Yup,” said Melvin, “It’ll be a whale of a structure, five hundred feet tall and everything.” 

“Five hundred and fifty feet tall there, Melvin. Twice as tall as the Central Tower in downtown San Francisco, we’ll need to put a boatload of structural steel in it, make sure the damn thing doesn’t fall over before they fill the lake.” 

Melvin continued to page through the immense bundle, then stopped when he found the structural drawings for the hotel tower itself. “It looks like the architect is calling for an access door every ten feet I see. I was thinking about it last night, and wondering how you’ll access the elevator and stairs when the lake isn’t entirely filled.” 

Javernick snuffed out the stub of his cigar in a nearby ashtray. “I went over all that with Foggy and Professor Culpepper. The waterproof doors will only be opened as needed according to the fluctuations of the lake’s surface elevation.” 

“Waterproofing those doors and the structure itself will be the trick. Once the water comes up, we’re not going to get any second chances.” 

“Yessir, but I’m trusting you’re a good enough welder to pull it off.”  

“I’m confident I can do waterproof welds on stainless steel, but I’m going to need help. Lots of it.”  

“We’ll find it then.” 

“Maximino and I don’t know shit about welding,” said Roland. “Where do you suppose you can find the skilled men?”  

“Like I said last night, I’ll spirit away the best help from the dam project. Offer ‘em better money, free housing and fringe benefits.”  

“How’re you going to that?” 

“We’ll drive down to Boulder City this evening. Find the local gin mill where the workers drink.” 

The foursome spent the rest of the morning plotting the outlines of the soon-to-be-built structures. Melvin operated the transit level that was supported by a mobile tripod. He peered through the eyepiece and carefully adjusted the focusing knob as Roland and Maximino pulled a tape measure and drove stakes into the ground with a handheld sledgehammer according to Melvin’s directions.  

Javernick looked on, puffing on his skinny cigar, and taking an occasional sip from a flask of illicit hooch he carried in the hip pocket of his fancy twill trousers. An experienced builder, he followed Melvin’s progress in plotting the structures, studying the blueprints they had spread out on a rickety table, but yielding to Melvin’s decisions on the specifics, because he had more hands-on experience.  

A hot wind came up in the afternoon. It felt like a giant furnace door opening and closing as the gusts picked up steam. At first, the crew kept working. Melvin laid rocks on the corners of the blueprints to keep them from blowing away. Before long, it went over a hundred degrees and the wind was clearing fifty mph. The gusts picked up the gritty desert dirt and blew it in their faces, at one point almost blinding Melvin as he continued peering through the transit level’s eyepiece.   

Finally, Javernick said, “To hell with this, let’s go back over to the bar.” An administrative decision that made Roland and Maximino look to each other and grin.  

The men were covered with tortilla-colored dust from head to toe by the time they made it to the front porch of the hotel. The wind was blowing it sideways now, with an occasional tumbleweed thrown into the mix. It was hard to see more than a few feet in the maelstrom. They stood on the porch for a few minutes, on the leeward side of the hotel building, sheltered from the severe windstorm, knocking the dust off their clothes and emptying it out of their shoes, looking like they’d spent the morning fighting the Ottoman Empire in the windblown expanses of the Libyan Sahara.   

Downstairs in the speakeasy, Lonnie turned the swamper to high as the men settled into their seats. He set cold glasses of draft beer on the bar in front of each, except for Javernick, he ordered a bourbon on the rocks.  

At the behest of Javernick, and with a stack of greenbacks in hand, Maximino went back outside. He ran from porch to porch, two doors down, past the Palamino Palace, to Hao Lóng Shèng’s Chinese Restaurant, almost blown off his feet in the alleyways by the now hurricane force wind. Hao’s number one cook, Yue Peng, loaded a box with containers of food, Kung Pao Venison, Sweet and Sour Catfish, and a bag full of Braised Mountain Goat Eggrolls.  

Carrying the cardboard food box carefully, Maximino ran back over to the hotel, making sure not to trip over Miss Adair’s bloodhound Willie, fast asleep on the front porch of the Palomino, seemingly oblivious to the windstorm blowing at typhoon force in the unsheltered desert expanses nearby. (The dog was snoring loudly, gently flexing his legs, chasing and biting whorehouse pikers in his vivid dreams, an expression of canine contentment on his face.) 

Back in the speakeasy, Maximino set the box down on the bar. He handed out the flimsy food containers and opened the bag of eggrolls. Having worked through lunch, all four of the men were famished. Lonnie nibbled on an eggroll as he refilled their beer glasses.        

Miss Adair appeared at the bottom of the stairway. “Jesus Christ that wind is blowing out there, fellas.”   

“Have a Braised Mountain Goat Eggroll, Eunice,” said Javernick, “they’re delicious.” 

“Braised Mountain Goat?” She turned her nose up at the eggroll Maximino tried to hand her, waving him off. “More like grilled pack rat.”  

“Horseshit, Eunice. Hao Lóng is a master chef. He would never authorize use of common Rodentia in one of his culinary masterpieces.”  

“Rose said she saw him and number one cook out in the desert shootin’ rats with a .22.” 

“Target practice and cleansing the neighborhood of vermin. Hardly a reason to accuse him of using rodent meat in his food.”    

“Damn tasty, whatever it is,” said Roland, popping the last of an eggroll in his mouth, wiping his hands on a napkin. “Rat meat or not.” 

Javernick silently rolled his eyes, then drained his highball.   

By late afternoon, the wind had let up and the air became still. It was uncanny how fast the weather changed in the severely parched desert. They waited until the sun disappeared behind the rugged outline of the Black Mountains before they set out for Boulder City.  

Javernick had a 1930 Cadillac V-16 convertible he’d ordered brand new from the factory. Fire engine red with a luxury interior crafted from real leather and hardwood veneer. He had it shipped to Saint Thomas on the Union Pacific rail line. It was parked outside the hotel, and after sweeping the windblown dust off the hood, he used a hand crank to start the engine.  

“Hop in, boys,” said Javernick as he lowered the convertible roof and secured it at the back. “Let’s go see if we can hire some help.”  

Melvin had been watching Javernick drink all day, starting with the Bloody Mary at breakfast. “We can take my car if you want, Claude.”  

“Nonsense, Melvin. We’ll take the caddy. It’s a roomier ride and I haven’t had it out in a week. Can’t let ‘em sit too long; the crankcase oil starts to coagulate.” 

Melvin took the passenger seat and watched with silent concern as Javernick filled a highball glass from a bottle of unlabeled bootleg whiskey he kept in the glove compartment. He juggled the glass from one hand to the other as he drove and set it down between his legs when he did a series of quick manual gear shifts to climb the steep hill at the edge of the canyon. The big engine roared as they crested the top of the hill, and when he hit a pothole in the road, he managed to spill the glass of hooch on his pants leg.  

“Oh, for the love of Saint Peter’s proboscis. Look at that, I spilled whiskey all over my freshly laundered trousers.”  

He stopped the car in the middle of the road as Roland and Maximino did their best to suppress laughter in the back. Javernick swung the door open, climbed out, and after removing his shoes, took off his pants to reveal nothing beneath beyond a skimpy pair of jockey shorts and a set of extremely hairy, snow-white legs. He returned his shoes to his feet and pulled his argyle socks up high around his naked calves. Next, he opened the trunk, and after rooting around for a few moments, located a gallon jug of water.  

“Always carry fresh water when traveling in the Mohave, boys. Never know when you might need it.” He splashed water on the whiskey stain on his pants and rubbed it furiously with a rag. After holding them up for inspection, he returned the water jug to its place, closed the trunk, then tied his trousers’ belt loops to the luggage rack with a few pieces of twine. “They should dry in no time in this infernal desert heat.” 

It was twenty-five miles to Saint Thomas and as they were approaching the small farming community, Javernick adjusted the rear-view mirror so he could make eye contact with Maximino in the backseat. “Hey Max, reach over the convertible top and see if my trousers are dry yet, wouldja?”  

Maximino turned in his seat, and getting up on his knees, looked over the collapsed convertible top. “They’re gone, Mr. Jav. Must have come untied on that rough stretch.”  

“Jesus H. Christ!” He attempted an abrupt U-turn in the roadway, startling his three passengers, and then himself, when instead, he lost control of the fishtailing car, and slid out into the rough desert gravel, coming to rest at the base of a gradual incline. The big V-16 engine had plenty of power, enough to return the hulking automobile to the roadway, and Javernick managed to run over a few creosote bushes as he gave it gas. By the time he returned the car to the road, headed south now, one of the bushes had become lodged underneath the car and it began making noise.  

“What in the world is making that goddamn noise?” Thinking he might have knocked something loose when they slid off the road, Javernick slammed on the brakes and jumped out. Looking under the car, he saw the bush lodged in the suspension and was soon down on his hands and knees trying to pull it loose.  

A Ford Model T appeared, carrying three Welshmen who had recently finished their shift at the nearby salt mines and were headed towards Saint Thomas. When the driver saw Javernick on his hands and knees with his wriggling jockey short clad derrière high in the air, he laid on the horn. A startled Javernick hit his head on the caddy’s frame as the Ford flew by with all three of its occupants pointing and laughing.  

Halfway back to Rioville, Melvin spotted Javernick’s missing trousers in the waning daylight. They were hanging from a creosote bush along one of the switchbacks on a particularly rough stretch of road known as the Empinado Curves.  

Javernick shook the dust off his pants and pulled them on. Climbing back in the car, he opened the over-sized glove compartment and grabbed the quart of hooch. Instead of pouring the whiskey into a glass, this time he drank directly from the bottle in the rapidly disappearing burnt orange sunlight. “You want a slug, Melvin?”  

“No thanks, Claude, I’m good.”  

“What about you, Roland?” he said, turning in his seat.  

“Yeah, I’ll take a hit.” Roland took the bottle, and after a long drink, feigned passing it to Maximino with a questioning expression, but the Mexican turned him down.  

Guided by the car’s bright headlights, Javernick set out for Boulder City once again. Attempting to regain the lost time, he drove considerably faster, fishtailing around the curves, an enormous plume of dust rising in their wake. After a few miles of bumpy road, he held his twitching nose high. “What in the name of God is that smell?”  

“It’s reefer, Claude,” said Roland from the back seat, offering him the marijuana cigarette he held in his hand. “Care for a hit?”  

“No thank you, and please be careful with that stuff in the car. If we happened to be stopped by the police, it could lead to trouble.” He took another swig from the bottle of hooch and returned it to its spot on the seat between his legs.  

Soon they were approaching Saint Thomas and the Arrowhead Trail junction. Melvin leaned over the console so he could see the instrument gauges on the dashboard. “We’re under half a tank. The Gentry Store is closed, but if you stop at the house, I could probably get one of Harry’s kids to unlock the fuel pumps.”  

“Won’t be necessary, Melvin. This beast has a fifty-gallon fuel tank, even if it does only get five miles to the gallon.” 

“You sure? I know Harry wouldn’t mind.”  

“Hate to interrupt their evening meal and there’s certainly nothing to worry about. We’ll make it into Vegas no problemo.” 

“If you say so,” said Melvin, sounding unconvinced.  

The Arrowhead Trail was an unpaved automobile route that connected Los Angeles with Salt Lake City. Every few minutes they would pass by a northbound car, but generally, traffic was light. Numerous jack rabbits and an occasional coyote appeared in the caddy’s high beams as the nocturnal desert mammals sprinted across the road. An hour and a half passed as Javernick negotiated numerous curves, staying on the gas. Finally, they reached the summit of a low pass adjacent to Sunrise Mountain where they could see the lights of Las Vegas in the near distance, a small town in 1931, home to about 6,000 residents.  

The engine began to sputter as they crested the divide. “Sonofabitch, I think we’re out of gas, boys. Hold on, because I’ll need to keep my speed up to make it to the filling station at the bottom of the hill.”  

Melvin was about to say, “I told you so,” but kept it to himself.  

It was a wild ride through numerous switchbacks as they descended the mountain pass, fishtailing around the curves. The brakes were less responsive with the transmission in neutral and Javernick came close to losing control and careening off the side of the mountain on more than one occasion. In the passenger seat, Melvin held on and braced himself for impact. In the backseat, Maximino did the same, while Roland laughed and exclaimed, “Yee hah!” thoroughly enjoying the madcap ride.  

After running several oncoming cars off the road, their horns blaring, they reached the bottom of the hill and coasted into the filling station just a few minutes before closing time. Javernick busied himself cleaning the windshield with a squeegee while the uniformed attendant filled the Cadillac’s mammoth fuel tank.  

It was almost midnight by the time they pulled into Boulder City. They passed through rows and rows of hastily erected housing, pint-sized bungalows on treeless lots. At the center of town, they found an ill-disguised speakeasy, The Downtown Lounge, and it was packed with workers from the nearby dam project. The men inside were drinking heavily with few women in evidence. The place smelled like stale beer and poor bathing habits.  

Towards the back, an Afro-American quartet performed on an elevated stage. It was the Hepcats of Disaster, traveling performers from Port Arthur, Texas, the stage name an allusion to their fickle luck when out on the road in their big blue Buick bus with the oversized whitewall tires. In Lubbock, the police had planted marijuana in the converted school bus when they were on stage, then pulled them over and arrested them as they were leaving town. The Hepcats did thirty days on a highway repair chain gang and that was where they came up with the name, though their reception in towns big and small seemed to improve the further west they went. (In Palm Springs, they were adored, held over for three weeks at the Pink Hippopotamus, and subsequently awarded a foot long gold key to the city by the mayor.)  

Kordell Murphy sang bass and played the piano. Keenan Williams played upright bass and sang baritone. Niles Hill was the tenor and blew the horns, playing trumpet and saxophone…And center-stage, strumming a ukulele was charismatic Busta Briggs, singing lead in a high-pitched falsetto. Decked out in matching mauve zoot suits with pocket watches on long gold chains, absurdly baggy trousers and fedora hats adorned with long peacock feathers, the foursome sang, “Nevada on my Mind,” a lighthearted takeoff on the popular Hoagy Carmichael song about Georgia. 

Nevada, Nevada 

The whole night through 

Just a peppy little ditty with a boogie-woogie rhythm   

Keeps Nevada on my mind 

The banks went bust in Ashtabula 

We lost our jobs and all our moolah 

But now we’re makin’ lots of dough  

On that Hoover Dam project, Joe 

Nevada, Nevada 

The whole night through 

Just a peppy little ditty with a boogie-woogie rhythm   

Keeps Nevada on my mind… 

And so forth and so on, faster than the original. The song had a jazzy backbeat and numerous parody verses with inane lyrics that sounded like they’d been composed rather recently.  

The bar was crowded with drinkers, many in their soiled work clothes, slamming shots of high proof hooch and chasing it with draft beer in glasses. Javernick led his crew through the mob gathered around the bar and found a table in the back, near the Hepcats performing on stage. According to his plan, he unrolled copies of his new building project’s cover pages, the first part of the blueprints that included an artist’s rendition and elevations of the casino—what it would look like when completed.  

He began an intentionally loud conversation with Melvin, as if it was the first time his foreman had seen the plans. It was designed to entice eavesdroppers and worked like a charm. Soon he had a captive audience of the local workers, some pulling their chairs in closer, and others crowding around the table on their feet.   

“Whatcha building there, Mack?” said a bald man as he dragged his chair across the floor to squeeze in between Roland and Maximino. A pronounced potbelly hung over his belt and was only partially concealed beneath his sweat stained muscle shirt.  

“The name’s not Mack, I’m Claude Javernick and I’m building an underwater casino and hotel up-canyon in Rioville.”  

“An underwater casino and hotel? You’re kidding, right?”  

“No, I’m serious as a five-alarm fire, and I’m looking to hire help.”  

“What kind of money you pay?”  

“The green kind and I’ll beat the wages you’re making on the dam by fifty percent.”  

“There’s a whorehouse in Rioville, what’s the name of the place?” said another worker, slurring his words, drunk enough to be unsteady on his feet. 

“Eunice Adair’s Palomino Palace, within walking distance of the job.”  

“Now there’s some kind of fringe benefit,” said the drunken man. “What about lodging, is there anywhere to stay?”  

“I’ll put up the first twenty-five men to sign on at my hotel, free of charge. Forget the rent the government is charging you to live in those half ass shacks they’re throwing up.”  

“Sounds like one helluva a good deal,” said the bald man. “You got some kind of business card?”  

“Of course.” Javernick reached in his pocket and produced a stack of cards. He handed one to each of the crowd now gathered around the table. 

“Claude Javernick, Nut Rancher, Thousand Oaks, California,” said the bald man as he read the card aloud. “Almonds, pecans, walnuts, and pistachios…You’re a long way from home, Mr. Javernick. If you’re a California nut rancher, what in the world are you doing here in Nevada?” 

“The San Fernando Valley nut ranch is just one of my current business enterprises, a 2500-acre spread, run by a trusted caretaker.” 

“How’d you end up in Rioville?”  

“I won the title to the land in a high stakes poker game in 1922. Fell in love with the place and decided to make it my home away from home so to speak. I built the hotel and the rest of the town with the help of my foreman here, Melvin Royce.” He gently draped his arm around Melvin’s nearby shoulders. “Mr. Royce is a native of Saint Thomas and as kind-hearted a gentleman as you will ever meet.”  

“Well, we’re not exactly over-joyed with the working conditions on the dam project,” said one of the workers. Others nodded and murmured their agreement. “Long hours and the pay could be better.”  

“Come work for me then, boys,” said Javernick with a smile. “Like I said, I’ll beat the government pay and provide you with deluxe accommodations free of charge…And eight hours a day is fine with me. Work overtime if you want, but I’m not going to force long hours on anyone in this hellish Mohave heat.” 

Javernick bought multiple rounds for the crowd of workers gathered around the table in the back until 1:30 am, when one of the bartenders rang a bell loudly signaling last call. He was still handing out business cards and shaking hands as the Hepcats packed up their instruments and the bar was closed down for business.  

“Why don’t you let me drive,” said Melvin as they walked towards the caddy in the warm desert night. He was concerned about Javernick’s driving abilities after watching him drink non-stop, though the wry hotel owner appeared completely sober.  

“Well, I know you’ve been dying to feel the unbridled power of a Cadillac V-16 at your fingertips, so of course there Melvin, why don’t you take the wheel.” 

Melvin’s concern proved prophetic, because they were pulled over by the Boulder City PD on the way out of town. A 1928 Ford Model A with flashing lights and a loud siren, hand-cranked by a cop in the passenger seat, leaning out the open window. Melvin carefully pulled the hulking convertible onto the shoulder, and once it had come to a complete stop, the cop on the siren switched to operating a bright spotlight that he fixed on Javernick and his construction crew as the cop driving exited the Ford and walked up to the caddy. Two more police cars appeared, pulling up and parking behind the first. 

“Good evening, gentlemen, or should I say good morning. What brings you fellas to Boulder City?”  

“Why’d you pull us over?” said Javernick from the passenger seat.  

“Why’d I pull you over? Suspicious motor vehicle, that’s why there, Bub.”  

“The name’s not Bub, it’s Claude Javernick, and I’d like to see some identification.”  

“Right here, Javernick,” said the cop pointing at the badge pinned on the lapel of his uniform. “That’s all the identification I need.” A pair of cops from each of the other cars walked up behind him, all of them carrying batons.  “Now, are you gentleman going to cooperate with me politely or you want to take it down to the stationhouse?”  

“Of course, officer,” said Melvin with a friendly smile. “We’re just out on the town having some fun tonight. Stopped in at the Downtown Lounge to enjoy the Hepcats of Disaster.”  

“Well, we received a report about some troublemakers at the Downtown Lounge. You fellas working on the dam project?”  

“No, we’re not.”  

“Then what are you doing in Boulder City late at night?”  

“None of your goddamn business,” said Javernick. 

“Sorry to inform you it is my goddamn business, Javernick. This is a company town and we don’t need outsiders coming down here to sow discontent among the workers. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll go back where you came from.”  

“Sure thing, officer,” said Melvin. “We’re headed back there right now.”  

“I see you boys down here again, I’ll lock all four of you up for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.”  

The next day was Sunday, and the Hoover Dam workers had the day off. A total of 27 men visited the Rioville Hotel to inquire about Javernick’s job offer, and by sundown that evening, he’d hired 19 of them.  

 

 

 

 

©2024 Surreal Science Fiction

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