Hoppin’ with the Hepcats on the Bottom of the Lake

It was the new waitress at the Logandale Diner, Wren Calhoun. She was the one responsible for antagonizing Kaylee. “So, is that rodeo boy of yours ever going to propose?” she said with a smirk as she walked by the table carrying a coffee decanter.  

Kaylee was taken by surprise. “None of your damn business, Wren.”  

Bonnie Knox was astounded by Wren’s impolite comment too. “Why are you Calhouns so rude?”  

They were the only Baptists in a neighborhood that was mostly LDS and were known for not only the junk cars parked on their property, but also for their bad manners. It was almost like they took pride in not fitting in. Bonnie told Kaylee later that Wren had a chip on her shoulder too, because her father and both her brothers were drunken layabouts who couldn’t hold down jobs and were dirt poor as a result. 

“I heard about that new house Melvin’s building. I was wondering if he has someone else in mind, or maybe he’s available.”  

Bonnie looked towards Kaylee and could tell from her face that her feelings were hurt. “You need to stop that right now, Wren Calhoun.”  

“Well, I was just wondering, with Kaylee over thirty now. I heard the boys over at the Landry Store sayin’ maybe he found him a younger piece of tail.”  

“You’re going to shut your mouth now, Wren, before I shut it for you.” Bonnie opened her purse and counted out exact change for the bill. “Are you ready, Kaylee?”   

“Yeah, let’s go.”  

As they walked towards the door, Wren went over to the table, quickly counted the money, then said, “Wait a minute, Bonnie. You forgot the tip.”  

“Here’s your tip, sweetie pie.” Bonnie extended her raised middle finger, then followed Kaylee through the door.  

Over at the Bell Telephone building, Kaylee went in the ladies’ room before she went back to work. She washed her face and redid her eyeliner because she was extremely upset and didn’t want it to show when she took her seat at the switchboard. The manager, Johnny Ames, covered for her when she went on her lunch break.  

She was close to calling Melvin at work, but he was normally busy during the day, and she thought better of it before she dialed his number…But they needed to talk, because she was over thirty now, Wren was right about that, and if she remained unmarried, it was only a matter of time before they started calling her an old maid, and she almost started crying when she thought about it.  

Kaylee lived in a cottage out behind the Hackett place. Cane Senior gave her a good price on the rent, but it was still hard for her to make ends meet. Switchboard operator jobs just didn’t pay that much, especially in such a small town. Johnny had talked the big boss into giving her a raise at one point when she complained, but it still didn’t seem like enough because it was always something, and Melvin helped her cope with things like car repairs and Cane Junior would come over and fix the leaky roof when the monsoon rain came in the summertime. 

She saved money where she could, and she was making macaroni and cheese for dinner again when the telephone rang. “Hello.”  

“Hi, Kaylee.”  

“Oh, hi Melvin. I was just thinking of calling you.”  

“I have something important I need to talk to you about.”  

“Something important?”  

“Yeah, you want to come over for dinner tomorrow night? We can pick up a couple of rib-eyes at Landry’s.”  

“Okay.” She thought about the juicy rib-eye steaks sizzling on Melvin’s charcoal grill while she stirred her lonesome pot of macaroni and cheese. “Can you come get me? The gas prices went up again.”  

“Yeah, baby. Of course, I’ll come get you.” 

Melvin had traded his Packard in on a brand-new coffee-colored Buick Roadmaster convertible. He had a new boat too, a twenty-two-foot-long mahogany hulled runabout that was custom made in California. It was equipped with an inboard gasoline powered engine and was fast on the lake—he needed reliable transportation to make it to work every day. It was almost thirty miles to the casino, and the boat was equipped with a pilothouse roof that allowed him to use it in the rain though that was a rare occurrence in the Mohave Desert.   

Javernick had acquired land for a new marina in Overton Bay, and he gave Melvin a chunk of it to build a new house so he could keep his eye on things. After the casino opened and the new marina was built, visitors would be able to launch their own watercraft or board a shuttle boat that would make regularly scheduled trips back and forth. He’d been working on the new house with Roland and Maximino when he had time, and it was close to being finished. He was already spending nights on the back porch in a sleeping bag.  

The following evening, he was sitting at the picnic table with Kaylee in what would soon be a backyard when he had the time to lay the sod and install a sprinkler system. 

“I wanted to wait until we were done eating to tell you the good news.”  

“Good news?” said Kaylee, brightening up. 

“Claude made me general manager, and he gave me a big raise.”  

“That’s wonderful, Melvin.”  

“It means I won’t have to go back to traveling out of town for work. I was wondering what would happen when we were done building the place. He made Roland chief of security too; said he doesn’t want to lose anybody.”  

“Good news for you,” she said coolly. 

Melvin picked up on the sarcasm, and quickly replied, “And I, uh, wanted to ask you something as a result of it.”  

“Ask me what?”  

“The house is about done, and I know it’s been tough for you, getting by on your own, so I want to ask you to move in with me…If you want.” Melvin noticed immediately that the words he’d just uttered were not making Kaylee happy. Judging from her facial expression, she seemed to have suddenly turned angry.  

“You’re asking me to shack up with you?”  

“Well, yeah. And you can help me pick out the appliances and carpet and everything.”  Melvin was sure now that he had said something wrong.  

“Just like that, huh Melvin? And Pastor Mackenzie and the rest of them won’t notice that we’re living in sin? Neither one of us would ever live it down, especially me.”  

“Maybe it’s not such a good idea.”  

“Melvin, I’m thirty-two now. I’m not the nineteen-year-old girl you met at the rodeo, and I’ve stuck it out with you because I always thought sooner or later, you’d buy me a ring…But I know, like you said, you’re not the marrying type.” 

Melvin could tell how pissed off she was by the way she spit out the last sentence, “Okay, just stop for a minute, Kaylee. I told you that because I didn’t think I’d make a good husband for you because of the way I had to travel for work.” 

“But you’ve been working for Claude Javernick for ten years now, making good money the whole time.”  

“Do you think I’ve been selfish?”  

“You said it, not me.”  

Melvin saw the tears now, streaming down her cheeks. He moved to the other side of the table and put his arm around her shoulders. “Kaylee, you mean the world to me, I’m sorry if I hurt you.” 

“Well then why don’t you go buy me an engagement ring?”  

It didn’t take long for Melvin to see the light. He realized he’d been taking Kaylee’s affection for granted. The last thing he wanted to do was lose her. That would be a bad outcome for both, and in recognition of the error in his ways, he drove to Las Vegas on Friday afternoon and bought her an engagement ring with a half carat diamond. He had the money to buy a bigger gemstone, but he settled on the unobtrusive size because she was a modest lady and he wanted her to feel comfortable wearing it at work and when she went to the grocery store.  

The next day was the underwater casino’s long awaited grand opening, and he drove up-valley in the Buick to pick her up. He was dressed in a dark gray sport coat with a dress shirt and western style bolo tie for the big event with his hair freshly cut at the barber shop. Kaylee looked gorgeous, as usual, when she came to the door. She was wearing a cornflower blue cotton pencil dress that accented her feminine curves. Melvin could tell she’d put a lot of effort into her makeup and the subtle smell of her citrus perfume made her irresistible.  

It was the perfect time for him to propose, and when he removed his pecan-colored Stetson and went down on one knee on the faded yellow pine flooring, her jaw just about hit the floor too.  

“I’ve given it quite a bit of deliberation and figure it’s time to quit fiddlin’ around,” he said as he reached inside his jacket, fumbled around for a few moments, then pulled out the ring. “Kaylee, will you marry me?” 

“Oh, you better believe I will.”  

He stood up to slip the ring on her finger, and he could see she was overcome with emotion as she looked it over. “It’s beautiful, Melvin.” She threw her arms around him and buried her face against his chest to hide her tears, but he knew full well that this time they were tears of joy. 




Javernick was standing outside the 47th floor entry greeting the multitude of guests he’d invited to the grand opening. He’d hired a fleet of seaplanes to fly the high rollers in from L.A.—wealthy businessmen, celebrities, and movie stars, but the guest list included average folks too. Javernick had been running radio and newspaper promotions and he’d given away scores of reservations for free hotel rooms. It was a make it or break it day for the new property. He had millions invested and he needed to start things off with a bang.  

It was a tranquil October day in the Mohave, calm with little wind, and the relative humidity was below five percent. The sky was as clear as the unwritten page, and it was easy to see the vivid details on the arid mountain peaks that surrounded the lake. No trees in sight, not even on towering Bonelli, a raw desert mountain that had a distinctive, pyramid shaped summit. The landscape was as rugged as it comes, and its natural beauty was in the variety of shapes and colors, highlighted by shadows, especially at sunrise and sunset. The vertical ranges were so rocky and dry, it was unlikely mortal men had ever set foot on much of the real estate they could see from the hotel.  

Melvin arrived with Kaylee, and after mooring the boat, the pair walked down the extensive docks towards the entry. “We can stay as long as you want. Let me know how you feel about it later, because the party is bound to get wild.” 

“I don’t want to do much drinking,” said Kaylee with a firm grasp on Melvin’s arm as they strolled down the floating docks.  

“If you get tired of it, just say and we’ll go.”  

“Okay, Melvin,” and she gave him another kiss. (He’d received quite a few ever since he’d given her the ring and the smudge of lipstick on his cheek provided evidence of her strong affection.) 

Javernick was talking with one of his guests, Larry Elmont, an executive with Zonophone Records, a music recording company with studios in L.A. “Here’s my new general manager, Melvin Royce, Larry…And he’s accompanied by Kaylee Hamilton, easily the most attractive lady in the entire Moapa Valley.”  

Kaylee smiled. “Hi, Claude. Thanks for the compliment…And pleased to meet you, Larry,” she said when he offered his hand.  

“The pleasure is all mine,” said the smooth-talking show business manager in his tuxedo coat and pink carnation. He had slicked back hair and a handlebar mustache. “And Melvin, I’ve heard a lot about you from Claude.”  

“Yes, Melvin was instrumental in the design and construction of my new property. I couldn’t have done it without him. A good-natured man with iron will and unrelenting determination.”  

“Kaylee, show Claude your new ring,” said Melvin. 

“Melvin proposed to me today,” she said, grinning. She held out her hand so Javernick could see the sparkling new diamond on her ring finger.  

“Well, it’s about time and congratulations, my dear. You know, Kaylee, ever since the first day I met you, I’ve been telling Melvin he should give up his bachelor ways and ask you to be his wife…That’s the truth, isn’t it Mel?”  

“Yep. More than once.” 

Kaylee put her hand on Javernick’s shoulder and stood up on her tip toes to kiss him on the cheek. Melvin was only mildly surprised to see her do it too, because ever since he’d given her that sparkling little diamond, she’d been in one damn good mood. He was seriously thinking he should have bought her one sooner. 




On the bottom of the lake, the new casino was humming with activity. The poker tables were filled with well-heeled players and the roulette wheels spinning. There were rows of slot machines near the entry and a sports book next to the cocktail lounge where gamblers could place bets on football and baseball and listen to the games on the radio.  

Roland stood nearby with Maximino keeping an eye on the gamblers. He was chief of security now and had given his longtime assistant the title of house detective, or pollo de la casa. They both wore shoulder holsters and carried handguns concealed under their sport coats.  

He’d hired three additional security guards too: Elias Thunderhawk was an angular Native American from the Shivwits Band of Paiutes. He was an expert marksman and soft-spoken with an inquisitive demeanor. Conor Moody was a leather jacket wearing, tough talking New Yorker in his early twenties, an aspiring middleweight boxer though he’d lost more fights than he’d won, and his face showed the abuse. Jace Lyle was one of the construction workers who’d helped build the place, he’d married and bought a place in Logandale. An easy-going man with a muscular build, well-liked by Melvin and Javernick.  

The security men all wore plain clothes. Javernick didn’t like the idea of uniformed cops patrolling the casino. He thought it would make the guests feel uncomfortable and Roland said they’d be more effective in street clothes anyway. A countdown artist or pickpocket might not realize he was being watched. 

There were scores of new employees, and Roland was doing his best to keep them straight in his mind, matching names with faces. Blackjack dealers, bartenders, housekeepers, and more. Some were from the construction phase like Jace Lyle, and already known, others were more recent hires. Javernick offered all of them lodging in the suites they’d built on the eight floors above water level. Most took him up on the free accommodations, while others, like Melvin and Jace, commuted to work by boat.  

Roland and Maximino strolled through the promenade between the casino and Hao Lóng Shèng’s new eating establishment, Captain Nemo’s Restaurant on the Reef. It was considerably bigger than his old place in the unsubmerged version of Rioville. Number one cook, Yue Peng prepared the Asian style dishes he’d made before, with an emphasis on seafood and freshwater fish. Hao Lóng hired a Mexican chef too, Cedro Rodriguez. He cooked Mexican style seafood dishes as well as Tex-Mex staples like tacos and burritos.  

The promenade was originally designed as a narrow walkway, but Javernick decided to expand it in the construction phase, to make room for more activities. There were planter boxes with grow lights and tropical plants that blended in with the faux coral reef outside the glass, and plenty of places for visitors to sit and relax if they wanted to take a break from the non-stop action on the casino floor.  

Closer to the restaurant, there was an entertainment stage with stadium style seating behind dining tables. The Hepcats of Disaster were setting up to do a live show later in the day and Roland and Maximino exchanged greetings with Busta Briggs and the rest of the band.  

While Maximino talked with the Hepcats, Roland walked over to the exterior glass to observe the automated sea life outside it—electric fish with brilliant colors, as well as an occasional battery-operated sea turtle, eel, or stingray gliding by. He was fascinated by the mechanical contraptions and as he stood there watching, he thought about the day he’d first met Claude Javernick back in 1922. 




Javernick had won the deed in a poker game, and when he’d visited the property to inspect it, Roland was the sole resident of the remote canyon. The confluence of the Virgin and the Colorado was the furthest upstream the steamboats could go. There were unnavigable rapids beyond Rioville, the beginning of the vast and largely unsettled Colorado Plateau wilderness.  

The landing was about a mile downstream. It consisted of a dock and a pair of ancient log structures built in the late 1800s. There was a small ferry boat moored there too, a barge shaped craft that Roland used to transport passengers to the Arizona side of the river. It was five years before Maximino and Little Juanito would arrive with their stolen mules, and in 1922, Roland and his passengers used long, handheld poles to push the boat across the river, an arduous task that only worked when the water was low. When the river was swollen with snowmelt in the springtime and early summer, it was impossible to cross in the barge. The tower and cable set-up with the mule-driven block and tackle apparatus and a bigger ferry boat had come later.  

The route from Rioville down to the landing was more of a goat path than a road, and after carefully navigating the rocky back country trail to the dead-end at the landing, Javernick parked his Nash Roadster next to the log cabin where Roland was splitting firewood with a maul. “The name’s Claude Javernick, is your boss around?” he called out.  

“You’re looking at him.” 

“Oh, why excuse me, this is your operation?” said Javernick as he exited the car. He was surprised to find an Afro-American running the place. Black folks were rare in the Southern Nevada desert in the 1920s. 

“It sure is Mr. Javernick.”   

“Call me Claude.” 

“Roland Wells.” He shook Javernick’s outstretched hand. “So, what brings you to Boulder Canyon, Claude? In need of down-river transportation?”  

“I’m the new owner of the Rioville townsite. I drove down here to inspect the place. Do you own the ferry and landing?”   

“I lease it from the steamboat company. I use the truck to transport passengers to the rail station in Saint Thomas,” he said, lifting his chin towards the 1919 Packard parked nearby. 

“Well, it looks like we’re going to be neighbors, Roland. I have big plans for Rioville.” Javernick opened the Nash’s passenger side door and produced a bottle of unlabeled hooch. “Care for a glass of whiskey?”  

“Why, yes, Claude. Thank you. That would certainly hit the spot.” He set down the maul and used a damp towel to wipe the perspiration from his face and neck.  

Javernick opened a fancy briefcase and produced two highball glasses. He poured a glass for Roland, handed it to him, and then poured one for himself. Javernick took a sip, then readjusted his straw Panama hat, so his eyes were shielded from the strong rays of the midday sun. “Yessir, the confluence of the rivers is a magnificent building site. Level ground, good alluvial soil and plenty of irrigation water close at hand, I’m surprised it was abandoned.”  

“I grow some fine sativa down here in the canyon.” Roland pulled a fat marijuana cigarette from the pocket of his denim work shirt and placed it in his mouth. He leaned over to strike a wooden match on a rock and then lit it.  

“Sativa?” said Javernick with a baffled expression and twitching nose.  

“Yeah, Claude. Reefer. Want me to roll you one?” 

“No thank you, my friend,” with a nervous laugh. “The whiskey is enough for me,” and he took another drink.  

“So, what’re you planning on building down here?” Roland took a long hit off the reefer and held the smoke in.  

“My business associates tell me it’s only a matter of time before the Nevada legislature legalizes gambling, and when they do, I’m thinking this would make a tremendous location for a casino with the steamboat landing already established.” 

Roland exhaled a sizeable cloud of smoke, then said, “That would be damn good for my business enterprise. Bring a lot more paying customers up the river.”  

“And it would make improving that despicable road worthwhile as well.”  

“How long before they do it? Legalize gambling I mean.” Roland took another hit off the reefer. 

“Likely, a few years, but in the meantime, I’m going to start work on a hotel with a speakeasy, a Chinese restaurant, and a whorehouse.”  

Roland exhaled another tremendous cloud of smoke, then said, “I had some men from the federal government snooping around here not too long ago. Said they were looking for a good place to build a dam.”  

“A dam you say?”  

“That’s right. From the Bureau of Reclamation. Said it might not be too long before the whole canyon is underwater.” 




The Hepcats of Disaster were ready to start their performance and Javernick led Kaylee, Melvin, and Larry Elmont to the vacant table Eunice was holding for them beneath center stage. Miss Adair was seated at the next table over with three of the prostitutes from her brothel, Rose Fletcher, Joy Watson, and Tallulah Maxwell. Rose and Joy were in their early thirties now, and the only two ladies left from Miss Adair’s original Rioville line-up. Tallulah was a more recent hire. A feisty redhead from Louisiana, she had a slender build and was just nineteen years old.  

After Javernick and Eunice went around the tables introducing everyone, Kaylee put her hand on Melvin’s shoulder and whispered in his ear: “Are those ladies prostitutes?” Her jaw may have dropped when he smiled and silently nodded in affirmation, but there wasn’t animosity in her facial expression, just an extreme degree of surprise. The Moapa Valley was for the most part awfully strait-laced, and Kaylee had never met an authentic prostitute before.  

There were five more ladies in Miss Adair’s current line-up, but all of them had passed on attending the Hepcats’ performance because they were busy with clients, including Professor Dewey W. Culpepper, who’d hired two of them to entertain him in the brothel’s hot tub.  

Mr. Delroy’s mermaid tank was for the most part a flop, largely disdained by Miss Adair’s ladies of the night. Only Molly West would put on the mermaid suit and go in the water. She had an offbeat sense of humor and when a new client walked in, she would swim up to the edge of the tank, show off her naked breasts, and offer to eat a live goldfish for an extra five bucks. 

Speaking of Mr. Delroy, he was seated at a nearby table with Hardy Fogg and two Hollywood movie stars, Jane Gray and Cosmo Papadaki. Javernick kept his voice low when he pointed out the celebrities to Kaylee and Melvin, and he said he’d ask Mr. Delroy for personal introductions later. Kaylee was impressed to say the least, and she told Javernick that she and Melvin had seen a Jane Gray movie recently at the Ritz Theater in Logandale.  

Javernick had been following the Hepcats of Disaster ever since that fateful night at the Downtown Lounge in 1931. He considered them to be tremendous undiscovered talent, and he’d helped them acquire gigs in L.A. Their bad luck had changed for the better as a result, but they’d kept the humorous stage name they’d come up with in Lubbock. In the years since, the Hepcats had become popular in nightclubs throughout L.A. 

Javernick invited Larry Elmont to be his special guest at the grand opening because he wanted to help them get a recording contract. Javernick may have had a brash demeanor, but he also had a big heart, and he would go out of his way to help people he liked.  

The rest of the tables were filled with a variety of guests. Servers from the restaurant were busy taking orders and delivering trays loaded with food and beverages. More guests were streaming in from the casino and hotel rooms, filling the stadium style seating and standing on the promenade, as close as they could squeeze in. The grand opening party was now officially underway. 

The Hepcats took the stage, waving and bowing, as the audience clapped, and cheering broke out. Kordell Murphy sat down at the piano and began playing a jazzy bebop tune. Keenan Williams thumped out the rhythm on his big upright bass. Niles Hill improvised a few wild riffs on his tenor sax as charismatic Busta Briggs walked out on the stage with a handheld microphone: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Rioville Underwater Casino and Hotel!”  

More cheering was heard as Busta began to rap: 

Scadiddly op da doo dop da bama lama loo 

Doo wop, dama dee dop ding dong do 

Tell your little sister and your cross-eyed Cousin Jake 

You’re hoppin’ with the Hepcats on the bottom of the lake 

Out of nowhere, Little Juanito danced out on the stage. It was completely unexpected and most of the audience didn’t know who he was. He wore a long flowing cape, and when he reached the center stage microphone stand, he dramatically flung it open to reveal nothing beneath beyond his trademark navy-blue Speedo briefs.  

A collective gasp could be heard emanating from the crowd. It was 1941 and partial nudity was still considered awfully risqué…An era in which men at many beaches were prohibited from exposing their upper torsos and often wore a suit and tie to do ordinary things like go grocery shopping.  

Even open-minded Melvin was shocked, and Kaylee covered her eyes with her hand. Javernick was speechless and Larry Elmont, well he looked mildly amused.  

Kordell and Keenan slowed down the rhythm and a spotlight hit Little Juanito as he began his original song: 

Why do I feel gay? 

I asked my beau José 

He said he didn’t know 

What makes my guiño grow 

Loud booing broke out, and someone yelled, “Get off the stage!” Another threw a king-sized beef burrito from the bleachers and when he saw it coming, Little Juanito ducked just in time, and it soared over his head before hitting Kordell’s piano. Splat! 

Eunice stood up and faced the hostile crowd. “C’mon people, let him sing. It really ain’t that bad!” 

She was met with more booing and catcalls, and a mischievous guest in the peanut gallery launched an entire lemon meringue pie in her direction. She didn’t see it coming and the pie hit her square in the face, the impact almost knocking her off her feet. Stunned, she sat back down and used her finger to sample the gooey mess covering her face. “Tastes like number one cook lemon meringue.” 

“What a waste of a good pie,” said Rose as she used napkins to help Eunice wipe the sweet-tasting bakery debris off her face.  

Meanwhile, Little Juanito ran off the stage, covering his face with his flowing cape. Sprinting at full speed, he disappeared around a corner, and laughing like a maniac, hightailed it to the adult entertainment wing. Reaching his new bordello, he ran through the entry to his private boudoir, slammed the door shut and locked it.  

Back at the party, Roland, Maximino, and Elias Thunderhawk waded into the cheap seats looking for the troublemakers. “Okay, who threw the pie at Miss Adair?” said Roland.  

“Who the hell are you?” said a drunk. 

“House security,” said Elias, opening his jacket just enough to reveal his deputy’s badge and the holstered .45.  

The drunk said, “Oh,” then turned in his seat and pointed at another man who also looked like he’d had too much to drink. “It was him. That guy right there.”  

The suspect disagreed: “Bullshit. He did it not me.”  

A loud confrontation ensued, and both were subsequently escorted off the premises by Maximino and Elias.  

After helping Kordell clean the burrito debris off his prized Steinway, Busta Briggs walked back out to center stage. “Sorry about that folks,” he said with a sheepish grin, shrugging his shoulders, “but Little Juanito did tell us he could sing!” The crowd was back to cheering now as the Hepcats began playing another jazzy tune. “This is a little thing we call, Bebop Improvisations in the Key of B Flat.”  




A runabout boat was clearing the narrows, a slender section of the reservoir squeezed between towering cliffs. Angelo Big Ears Iacona piloted the watercraft, and Anthony Falanga was scanning the surface of the lake with a pair of binoculars. “There’s the casino, Angelo, dead ahead, we’re headed straight for it now…And look at the size of that sign. I’ll bet you can see it for miles when they turn on the lights.”  

Joey the Bum Branigan was riding in the back. “You know what I don’t get, Tony?”  

“What don’t you get?”  

“What happened to all the trees on top of the mountains? What? They cut ’em all down or something?”  

“It’s a desert you dumb mick.”  

“Yeah, but up in Utah you still have trees on top of the mountains.”  

“It’s a lot drier down here, Joey,” said Iacono. “It’s the Mohave Desert, the most arid region in North America.” 

“The most arid region in North America…Listen to you,” said Falanga. “What? You’re like the Encyclopedia fucking Britanica now, Big Ears?”  

Falanga and Iacono both had Sicilian heritage and were made men, soldiers with the Toledo Syndicate. Branigan was Irish, a ruthless hitman who joined the organization as an associate. He acquired the nickname of Joey the Bum because of his casual dress. Made men like Falanga and Iacono were known for their dapper pinstriped suits and well-polished dress shoes, but Branigan normally dressed in baggy khaki pants and work shirts. He was also known for his poor bathing habits and often smelled bad too.  

In 1941, the Sicilian Mob dominated organized crime across the country and the five crime families of the Cosa Nostra met periodically in New York City to hash out decisions on how the organization would function in the various cities. Las Vegas had been declared an “open city” meaning any one of the families could operate there without conflict, but for the most part it was under the control of the Chicago Outfit and Carmelo Viscuso was the local capo. The Toledo Syndicate was a subsidiary of Chicago.  

They reached the docks outside the hotel and Iacono guided the boat into a slip. Branigan used a rope to secure the craft to a mooring cleat while Falanga combed his well-greased hair and Iacono lit a Lucky Strike.  

“Do I bring my piece?” said Iacono. 

“No, leave it in the boat, just in case we get shook down by security. No telling what we’re walking into so play innocent like a schoolgirl, got it Big Ears?”  

“Sure thing, Tony.”  

“You hear that, Branigan? Lay that artillery canon you’re carryin’ in the glove box next to Angelo’s.”  

“Yeah, okay.” He pulled his .357 magnum from its spot under his belt in the small of his back but left the .25 hidden in its place under the ankle strap. 

Falanga was gawking at the fleet of seaplanes as they walked towards the entry. “Would you look at those fancy pontoon planes. Must be some classy clientele inside…And here’s Joey the Bum, dressed like he’s goin’ to work on a garbage truck or somethin’.”  

“Yeah, fuck you, Tony.”  

“Fuck you? What kind of a way is that to talk? And you smell bad too…Got any cologne on you, Big Ears? Make this Irish dope smell more presentable?”  

“Nah, I don’t carry no cologne with me, Tony.”  

“Maybe we shoulda left your stinkin’ derriere in Toledo, Branigan.”  

“Yeah, I might be better off in Toledo. Instead of playing second fiddle to you over-dressed dagos.”   

Inside the hotel, they passed by the front desk and found the elevator. The doors slid open as they approached, and Melvin and Kaylee exited the car—they’d decided to leave at the conclusion of the Hepcats’ performance and were on their way home. Melvin hardly noticed the well-dressed Sicilians but caught a whiff of Branigan as they passed by each other in the lobby. 

The three Toledo mobsters rode the elevator down to the bottom of the lake. After strolling through the casino checking the place out, they entered the promenade. At the far end, the Hepcats were talking with Larry Elmont about recording a demo, and Javernick was standing with Roland and Maximino.  

One of Viscuso’s lieutenants had provided Falanga with a close-up photo of Javernick and he recognized him immediately. “Mr. Javernick,” said Falanga with Iacono and Branigan a few steps behind. “May I have a few words with you?”  

“A few words about what?” Looking the men over, he took note of the Italians’ expensive suits, and both appeared well-groomed, but he also noticed how rough their companion looked, like he’d slept in the casual clothes he was wearing…And he smelled bad, like onions and spilled beer.  

“A business proposition. Can I speak with you in private?”  

“In private?” Javernick made eye contact with Roland, then looked back towards Falanga suspiciously. “We can walk over to the glass, that’s the best I can do for privacy.”  

Roland surveyed Iacono and Branigan apprehensively as Javernick and Falanga walked over to a spot next to the exterior glass. Something about their demeanor seemed off to him, particularly the Irish guy with the body odor problem, and he signaled Elias Thunderhawk to come stand with him and Maximino.  

“Nice property you have here, Mr. Javernick.”  

“I didn’t catch your name, sir.”  

“I’m Anthony Falanga. I represent the Toledo Syndicate in Southern Nevada.”  

“The Toledo Syndicate?”  

“Yeah, that’s right. We’re working in association with the Chicago Outfit, Carmelo Viscuso and his boys.”  

“You’re mafia?”  

“Well, we don’t really like that word too much, Mr. Javernick,” with a wry laugh. “It leads to unfortunate stereotypes.”  

“I’m a busy man,” with anxious impatience. “What can I do for you, Mr. Falanga?”  

“I’m sure you’re aware of how fast Las Vegas is growing with several new gaming properties under construction and all of them currently under our influence.”  

“What does that have to do with me?”  

“Your new property is in our territory, Mr. Javernick, and in order to stay in business, you’re going to need protection.”  

“Protection? Protection from what?”  

“Protection from unforeseen problems. Like say someone was to break out all this pretty glass and let them fishies swim into your casino.” He nodded his head towards one of the colorful electric fish swimming by.  

“Are you threatening me, sir?” said Javernick, indignant now.  

“Look Javernick, I’m trying to be a reasonable man about this, but here’s the bottom line. You want to stay in business, you need to give us a taste of the action.” 

Javernick scowled at the offensive mobster silently, then spit on the floor. It landed within inches of his shiny black shoes. “You’re a long way from home, Mr. Falanga.” He walked back towards his security team. “Roland, please escort Mr. Falanga and his associates to the surface of the lake.” 




The sun was close to setting as Melvin and Kaylee sailed across the water in the fast new boat. The old Virgin River Road was hundreds of feet beneath them, submerged under the Overton Arm of the recently created reservoir. At the upper end, Melvin took a slight detour before heading into the dock. He took a close look at the landscape surrounding the lake as he slowed the throttle. “As near as I can figure, we should be over Saint Thomas right about now.” He shut the motor down and let the boat drift as the sun slipped below the mountains to the west. “With all the traveling I did on those bridge jobs, I still think this is the prettiest place in the world when the sun sets.”  

“Do you miss Saint Thomas?” said Kaylee. She shivered as a cool breeze came up from the north. Melvin moved closer and put his arm around her shoulders. 

“Damn right I miss it, Kaylee.”  

“What do you remember the most?”  

“Well, I’d have to say the old house where I grew up. Lots of memories there, with my folks and my kid sister…But all kinds of other stuff comes up in my mind when I think on it for a while. Going to Hanig’s for ice cream and stopping in at the Gentry Store. The schoolhouse and such. Spent a great deal of my life down there on the bottom of this damn lake.” 

“Is it really true what you told me about Little Juanito?”  

“Yeah, he’s sort of an oddball, Kaylee. A little different than the rest.”  

“Are you friends with him?”  

“Well, we’re not best buddies or anything like that, but I maintain a polite discourse with him. He may have come out a little different, but it’s no reason to treat him poorly. He’s one of God’s children just like the rest of us.”   

“I suppose, but do you think he’ll go to Hell for what he’s doin’?”  

“Not sure about that one. You thinkin’ Eunice and Rose and the rest of  ’em might go to Hell too?”  

“I don’t know. If you were to ask Pastor Mackenzie I think he’d probably say yes. But personally, I don’t think the Lord is so spiteful that he can’t forgive and forget. We’re supposed to be kind and compassionate to one another, that’s what it says in Ephisians.” 

“I’ll agree with you there, and what you need to consider, Kaylee, is the circumstances that made someone like Eunice Adair or Little Juanito get involved with prostitution in the first place. Maybe they were in a bad place in life, and they saw it as a way out. Bettern’ drinkin’ muddy water and sleepin’ in a hollow log so to speak.”  

“Yeah, I see what you’re sayin’ and it’s probably a better choice than becomin’ a bank robber or somethin’ evil like that where people might get hurt or killed.” 

“Lot of bad people in the world. I found that out when I was workin’ on the road. We have it pretty good here in the valley, Kaylee. We’re damn fortunate to live in a place that’s so peaceful and kind-hearted. Even if the government did come along and flood me out of my own hometown.” 

They made it back to the dock before it became so dark that they wouldn’t be able to find the way. During the drive to Kaylee’s cottage, they talked about their marriage plans. Details like where they would have the ceremony, when it would take place, and things like that. Then Kaylee asked Melvin if he’d like to have kids. When he said yes, she said she’d like to have a girl and a boy and Melvin said that sounded damn nice.  








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