A Faux Coral Reef and Electric Fish

The construction of Claude Javernick’s unconventional gambling establishment was a monumental project, and after a year of work, the underwater casino began to take shape. Javernick brought in materials on the Union Pacific railroad spur that served Saint Thomas. From there, Roland and Maximino moved them down the Virgin River Road in cargo trucks.  

The casino building was dome shaped with most of the exterior built from extra thick bulletproof glass with an engineering design strong enough to withstand the intense water pressure at the bottom of the proposed reservoir. There were three smaller sized glass domes surrounding the casino itself—a restaurant, a movie theater, and an adult entertainment wing, the future home of Eunice Adair’s Undersea Whorehouse with space for Little Juanito included as well. The secondary domes were connected to the casino by walkways enclosed in more thick glass.  

It wasn’t hard to find workers as the Great Depression worsened and the Dust Bowl obliterated farming communities on the Great Plains. The national unemployment rate was 25% in 1932 and much higher west of the Mississippi. Wheat farms in Kansas and Nebraska were buried under drifts of windblown dust and the once booming building industry in California had slowed to a crawl.  

Javernick hired scores of men and women. He filled his hotel with construction workers, then built temporary housing along the banks of the river for the rest. He put Hao Lóng Shèng in charge of a cafeteria and brought in cooks from L.A. He ordered fresh food by the boxcar and Roland and Maximino trucked it down the bumpy road from Saint Thomas. Business at the Palomino Palace had never been better, and in the shack out back, Little Juanito was raking in the simoleons.  

Melvin was promoted to project manager, and he set up an office in the old hotel. He stayed busy behind his desk, and rarely had time to get his hands dirty on the jobsite. He solved design problems in regular conference calls with Foggy and Professor Culpepper and made sure the crews had their materials delivered on time. 

By the spring of 1933, the casino was completed and work on the hotel tower had begun. Tall and narrow, the architectural footprint had enough space for the elevator shaft, the fire stairs, and twelve hotel rooms on every floor. The building also had steel tubes incorporated into the design that would drop water from the surface down to the hydroelectric plant at the base. The amount of electricity generated would be more than enough to power the entire property, including a gigantic flashing sign rising up from the top of the tower. The exterior walls were fashioned from polished stainless-steel panels with vertical rows of four-by-four windows from ground level to the top of the 55-story building.  

Professor Culpepper was responsible for the integrity of the engineering, and he came up with a structural revision that added eighteen inches to every level meaning the top of the tower would end up eighty feet above the surface of the lake. Javernick decided to go ahead with the full 55 stories, putting the surface entry and front desk on the 47th floor when the reservoir was at maximum capacity. The eight levels above water would be used to house employees in cozy suites that included kitchens and living rooms, he’d need to hire a small army to run the place. 

Working underwater full-time could take some getting used to and it might be hard for some to adapt, so exterior decks were added to the design for the eight floors above water level as well, with an employee only outdoor recreation area on the roof. Javernick would use the penthouse level for his own residence. 

The building project was busy with activity on the day that Everett Beekman showed up with the Clark County Sheriff. After parking nearby, Beekman walked towards the construction site in his jet-black wingtips, with the sheriff, Oscar Flynn, by his side. Javernick was high above them on the scaffolding, and he climbed down quickly when he saw the government bureaucrat approaching.  

Beekman stopped at the edge of the jobsite and addressed the workers that were within earshot: “By the authority vested in me, I hereby order all of you to stop work immediately.”  

“And what authority would that be, Beekman?” shouted Javernick as he hurried towards him, on the ground now.  

“By the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation. This property has been condemned and you need to vacate it as soon as possible.” 

“This is my land and you’re trespassing. The signs are clearly posted.” 

“You can’t stay, Javernick. When the dam is completed, you’ll be under five hundred feet of water.” 

“That’s why I’m making all my seams waterproof.” 

“How do you think you’re going to access it under that much water?   

“We’re working on the hotel tower right now. We’ll have docks at the surface of the lake and an electrified sign up above it. A high-speed elevator will drop visitors to the casino level lickety-split.” 

“Where do you think you’ll get the electricity to power the place?” 

“I’m building a hydroelectric plant at the base of it. When the water falls five hundred feet through the steel tubes we’re building into the tower, it’ll have enough momentum to turn turbines and generate juice.” 

“A hydroelectric plant? You’ll certainly need government approval for that. You’ll be requisitioning resources that don’t belong to you.”  

“That don’t belong to me? Horseshit, Beekman! The deed to Rioville includes fair use of the water that flows through my property…And besides, once the water has gone through the turbine apparatus it’ll be returned to the lake.” 

“You’re getting in way over your head now, Javernick.” 

“Five hundred feet over my head, Beekman. Why, this place will be world famous when I’m done, and you’re not going to stop me because this is my goddamn property!”  

Sheriff Flynn watched the confrontation closely without saying a word. Finally, Beekman turned towards him and said, “The Bureau of Reclamation is putting a stop to this unauthorized construction project. I want you to arrest every one of these workers if they refuse to stop what they’re doing right now.”  

“Arrest them for what?”  

“For defying the authority vested in me by the bureau.” 

“Do you have some type of court order?”  

“I don’t need a court order. I represent the United States government.” 

“Well, this is Mr. Javernick’s property. I can’t stop him from doing anything without a court order.”  

Beekman went before a district judge in Las Vegas, but the magistrate said it was a federal matter, outside his jurisdiction, and he wouldn’t hear the case. Next, Beekman tried a federal judge in San Franciso, the honorable Axel T. Ambrose. The resident U.S. Attorney, Carlton Francis, presented the government’s complaint in Beekman’s behalf, arguing that the Bureau of Reclamation had the right to evict Javernick based on the legal theory of eminent domain and he had been offered compensation for his property.  

Javernick’s Los Angeles attorney, Dylan J. Cosgrove, traveled to San Francisco with a small entourage and spent a full week responding to Francis with long-winded technical arguments that included multiple examples of documented precedence. In essence, he argued that the improvements to the property Javernick had already accomplished made the bureau’s compensation offer look ridiculously low and he had every right to turn the money down based on the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, specifically: “…nor (shall he) be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation…” Cosgrove went on to question the legitimacy of the bureau’s right to dam the canyon in the first place. That it was a bureaucratic edict that may have been approved by congress, but it had not been voted on by the people it affected the most, and the damming of the river damaged other business enterprises beyond those in Rioville, specifically the steamboat operator and the small businesses that had been evicted in Saint Thomas. In his summation, Cosgrove said Ambrose should not only allow Javernick to stay on his property but also said he should stop construction of the dam itself.  

It took a month for Ambrose to issue a ruling. When the order was finally handed down, Javernick had cause to celebrate—the federal judge refused to evict him from the property and said the government should strive to accommodate his business ventures in the design and operation of the new reservoir. It was, after all, private property. Ambrose also refused to stop construction of the dam itself, but that was no surprise considering the huge amount of money the government had invested in it.  

Beekman wasn’t ready to give up. He’d become obsessed with evicting Javernick saying it set a dangerous precedent and the ruling might be used to impede further projects, so he took his complaint to Washington D.C., to the Bureau of Reclamation administration.  He thought Ambrose’s ruling should be appealed to the Supreme Court if needed, because it threatened the Bureau’s very existence and its goal of damming every major river in the American West.    

The director called Beekman into his office and said his preoccupation with stopping Javernick was making him look like a lunatic and was affecting his work. He said the underwater casino and hotel project was preposterous to begin with and was bound to fail. He told Beekman to have a jelly doughnut and forget about the whole thing. 

So, the work continued, and before long, the hotel tower was climbing towards the azure blue sky, growing taller by the month. Javernick secured investor backing and the additional funds allowed him to complete the project with a tall crane that was erected beside the tower.  

By 1934, when the lake began to fill, the project was for the most part finished. Javernick had the construction crews disassemble the small town and employee housing he’d built, and at the behest of Melvin, he donated the used building materials to a couple of Moapa Valley churches. All that remained was the gleaming new casino and hotel.  

The tower had an exterior door every ten feet, so as the water rose, it could be accessed by boat. A floating dock gained elevation as the water came up.  

It would take another seven years to completely fill the lake because much of the water that flowed down the Colorado had to be let through the floodgates to generate electricity and satisfy downstream users—farmers in the Imperial Valley and the City of L.A. owned most of the downstream water rights. The seven-year wait created a problem that Javernick had not anticipated. Even with the floating dock and waterproof doors, it made the property impractical to access. No marinas had been built around the perimeter of the future lake yet, and Javernick couldn’t build his own because it was mostly public land, and the water level was constantly rising—he’d need to keep moving it anyway. 

Consequently, Javernick decided to delay the grand opening until the lake was entirely filled. Melvin stayed on the job, working on the huge amount of interior finish work with a smaller crew that included Roland and Maximino while Javernick returned to his San Fernando Valley nut ranch.  

A famed interior designer named Delroy De la Rue was hired to oversee the finish work. Known as “Mr. Delroy” in L.A., (pronounced del-ROY,) the unconventional Frenchman had an impressive resume, having designed several high dollar living spaces for Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable and Rita Hayworth. Mr. Delroy hit it off with Little Juanito quickly when they met. The designer wore an off-white linen blazer with a paisley ascot tie, L.L. Bean penny loafers and checkered socks. He puffed on a curved stem pipe, then pulled it from his mouth to speak: “I have wonderful plans for your new bordello, Juan.”  

“Please, call me Little Juanito, Mr. Delroy.” The infamous male prostitute had a slight build and wore nothing but sandals and a pair of navy-blue Speedo briefs, his body hair shaved entirely smooth, except for his expressive eyebrows and a slicked back pompadour hairdo, his skin tone a deep butterscotch with small diameter scarlet-colored nipples. 

Little Juanito had entered the field of adult entertainment at the age of 15. He hired on as a G-string clad pole dancer at El Club Urano, a sleazy nightclub in the Mexican city of Los Mochis. When he turned 18, he was let go. “Too old for the pole now, Juanito,” is what the owner had told him. (The other dancers were all underage muchachos as young as 12 and 13.) 

So, in 1927, Little Juanito and his amigo Maximino crossed the U.S. border illegally, to look for employment opportunities in El Norte. They were flat broke and close to starving when they arrived at Roland’s ferry on the south side of the Colorado, and both lacked the fifty cents he charged for the boat ride to cross it.  

“Sorry, my man,” said Roland to Maximino, “but unless I get a half dollar from both of you, I can’t take you across…And I will need to charge you extra for those stolen mules.” 

“Fuck it then, we swim,” exclaimed Maximino out of frustration and he began to shed his clothes.  

Realizing the overweight Mexican would likely drown in the broad river’s unpredictable currents, Roland reconsidered the situation. “Hold on there, Hoss. Before you jump in. I do have a few chores I need to get done around here if you’d like to earn yourselves some spending money.” And that was how Maximino and Little Juanito ended up working for Roland in Rioville.  

Maximino piloted the ferry boat and collected the tolls when Roland was busy in his 1919 Packard flatbed truck transporting steamship passengers to the rail station in Saint Thomas. Roland had converted the truck to an open-air bus by bolting seats to the bed, and he sheltered passengers from the hot sun with an improvised canvas roof. 

Maximino was happy with the low paying part-time work. Business was light and there was plenty of time to doze off in the shade, but Little Juanito wanted more, and he set to work sprucing up the abandoned shack he found out in the weeds behind the Palomino Palace. Javernick admired his entrepreneurial spirit and decided to simply look the other way when Little Juanito began charging visitors for salacious sex acts in the rundown shed with the rusted tin roof.  

The Hepcats of Disaster appear, strolling down the riverbank, snapping their fingers in time. They’re singing acapella in four-part harmony. It’s a lively bebop tune with an allegro beat:

Little Juanito in the shack out back 

Shack out back 

He’s just tryin’ to make a living so cut him some slack 

And he’s really makin’ bacon, take a look at his stack 

Little Juanito in the shack out back 

Mr. Delroy was captivated by the hardbody prostitute. Such an attractive young man, and he had the scent of lilacs. Was it mens’ cologne? Or was Little Juanito wearing ladies’ perfume? “I’d like you to consider a name change for your new location, Little Juanito. ‘Shack out back’ sounds awfully provincial and I’m not sure it’s quite right.” 

“What would you suggest as an alternative?”  

“I was thinking along the lines of Little Juanito’s Spanish Salon. It would attract a clientele with more sophistication, and in turn more—how you say—dinero.” 

“Exquisito, Mr. Delroy, I love it.”  

“I’d also like you to think about a royal motif—velvet drapes, thick pile rugs, and gold-plated door latches.” 

“What about a royal throne? Can I have my own royal throne too?”  

“I don’t see why not.”  

Little Juanito had a small snuff tin stuck under the elastic waistband of his Speedo briefs. Inside it was la cremita. He opened it, dipped a tiny silver spoon in the expensive cocaine, then with little finger daintily extended, sniffed it. He repeated the procedure for the other nostril, then continued, “Can you do the color scheme in a muy vivo fresh squeezed lemon yellow?”  

“Of course, Little Juanito. I’m glad we’re seeing eye-to-eye.”  

Eunice moved her brothel to Tonopah in 1934, but within a few years the gold mines had gone bust, and by 1940, she was looking forward to returning to Rioville, now hundreds of feet beneath the slowly rising waters of Lake Mead. She visited the underwater hotel to check on the progress and was fascinated by the gigantic mural Mr. Delroy had hired an artist to paint at the entrance to the casino. It depicted beautiful topless mermaids swimming through an underwater landscape that looked like a tropical reef. The mermaids’ naked breasts were decidedly risqué and guaranteed to garner attention from casino visitors. 

“I love the mural, Mr. Delroy. Can you put up a sign right next to it that points the way to my new undersea whorehouse?”  

Oui, Eunice, there will be signage throughout the property, one of the finishing touches.” 

“The ladies in my current lineup are a little fussy and they’re not exactly crazy about the mermaid suits and that gigantic aquarium you put up. Rose said the last thing a whore needs is waterlogged twins.” 

“Sorry to hear that, Miss Adair…But what about you? You’d make a beautiful mermaid.” 

“Thanks for the compliment, Mr. Delroy,” batting her false eyelashes. “I could give it a try, but you might need to order a plus size fishtail. I’m pushing forty now, and Jesus knows I’m not getting any leaner.”  

“Forty? You’re kidding me, aren’t you? You don’t look a day over twenty-five.”  

“Oh, you’re too sweet,” patting him on the arm.  

“You’ll also be pleased to know I’ve designed a custom canine villa for Willie that will be strategically placed next to the mermaid tank at the entrance to your new brothel.”  

“Perfect. Willie’s gettin’ a little senile in his old age but so long as the dog has plenty to eat and a good place to shit, he’ll do just fine.”  

“Willie’s poop station is equipped with a weight activated trap door. Designed to keep offensive odors at a minimum.” 

“Well, aren’t you clever.” 

The finish work on the casino was close to completion in 1941 and the lake was within twenty feet of maximum capacity. Snowfall was above average in the Rocky Mountains, and it was all but certain the spring run-off would bring it the rest of the way up.  

Melvin worked with Roland and Maximino installing the brand-new gambling equipment—poker and baccarat tables, the roulette wheels and slot machines, and it appeared everything would be ready for the grand opening…But there was still something missing, that’s what Mr. Delroy said as he stood by the tall glass on the casino floor with his index finger pressed against his pursed lips. Even with the multi-colored lighting powered by ample juice from the new onsite hydroelectric plant, the finnicky design expert didn’t like what he saw. “The undersea view is all wrong. It should look like the ocean, but instead it looks like a flooded desert.” 

“Because it is a flooded desert, Mr. Delroy,” said Roland. “We did the best we could hauling the old buildings away and left it as natural looking as possible. But it’s still just Mohave Desert under five hundred feet of water.”  

“It needs work. It should look like the scene on the mural. I’m thinking fabricate a coral reef. I know a scenery expert in Hollywood who makes sets for motion pictures. I’ll have him fashion the parts for a faux coral reef.” 

“The problem is installing it,” said Melvin. “The lake is too deep for conventional scuba diving. The water pressure is too strong.” 

“We’ll need to come up with something,” said Mr. Delroy. “The view is unacceptable for a casino so grand.” 

“I’d better get in touch with Claude and see what he thinks about it.”  

In 1941, it was necessary to call a switchboard operator to place a long-distance call. Melvin dialed O on the rotary desk phone in his construction office.  

“Operator,” said a familiar female voice on the other end of the call.  


“Yeah, oh, hi Melvin. Are we still on for the town picnic on Sunday?”  

“Yeah, of course…Why do you ask?”  

“Well, you’ve been so busy with work lately, I don’t want to interfere with your busy schedule or anything.”  

Melvin detected a hint of sarcasm from his longtime lady friend. They’d been dating steadily for years. Ever since they’d met at the rodeo—the night when Melvin was thrown off the back of a bucking bronco and landed in a mud puddle. It was monsoon season and it had rained steadily the night before, rare in the Mohave Desert. When he’d pulled off his soggy shirt, she’d thought he looked awfully sexy standing there under the bright arena lights in just his Lee jeans and cowboy boots, covered with the slimy tortilla colored mud and she was overcome with feminine lust. He was built like an armored car, and she liked the way he just laughed it off too, landing square on his ass in the slop. Kersplat! She’d made the first move: “Hey there, cowboy…Need a towel?” She handed him the towel she’d been using to sit on in the bleachers, and the attraction was mutual. Melvin thought she was gorgeous, and they’d been going out ever since.  

“C’mon, Kaylee, you don’t need to be like that.” 

“Be like what?” 

“You’re not interfering with anything, and you know it.” Melvin knew he could sometimes get carried away with his work ethic. It was ingrained in him as a young kid. But he’d never stood her up on a date. Never backed out on anything. 

Maybe it was the lack of a diamond ring. He wasn’t the marrying type and they’d talked about it at length. It was probably that same old disagreement eating her again. 

“So, what do you need?” said Kaylee. 

“How ’bout those long legs wrapped around my lonesome posterior?”  

She laughed. “Yeah, okay, cowboy. We’ll talk about that later. Why’d you call?” 

“I need to place a long-distance call.”  

“Claude Javernick in Thousand Oaks, California again?” 

“Yup, you got it.”  

Javernick was sitting on the commode reading the L.A. Times with his trousers around his ankles when the telephone rang. He kept one in the master bath and picked it up on the second ring. “Hello?” 

“I have a long-distance call from Rioville, Nevada,” said Kaylee.  

“Yeah, put it through.” 

“Claude, this is Melvin. Did I get you at a bad time?”  

“No, Melvin. Your timing is fine. I’m, uh, just sitting here by the pool waiting on an overdue delivery.” 

“We’re installing the gambling equipment, and for the most part, everything is going great. We’re looking good for the grand opening except for one thing.”  

“Except for what?” 

“The view outside the glass. Mr. Delroy said the flooded desert is all wrong. He wants us to install a fake coral reef. Said he can get the parts fabricated in Hollywood.” 

“But it’s under five hundred feet of water with no way to access it.”  

“Exactly. So, what should we do?” 

Javernick took a slug off a nearby glass of hooch. “I’ve talked to Professor Culpepper about the underwater access problem in the past.” He paused to light a cigar. “It’s far too deep for scuba equipment, you’ll need deep sea diving suits.” 

“Yeah, that’s what I thought too.”  

“And to do any work down there on the bottom of the lake you’ll need some sort of vehicle to carry the tools and parts.”  

“Some sort of vehicle?”  

“That’s right, Melvin, an underwater vehicle. I’ve avoided making a decision in the past because it’ll cost an arm and a leg to buy one, but what we need is a doggone submarine.”  

“Can you find one?”  

“I’m going to call Professor Culpepper right now.” 




The next day, Javernick picked up Professor Dewey W. Culpepper in Woodland Hills. He was an older man in his sixties with a full beard and eccentric demeanor, dismissive of those he felt were intellectually inferior. He was born and raised in a high-brow section of London, England and spoke in a well enunciated, proper Queen’s English. They traveled to Long Beach in Javernick’s V-16 Cadillac convertible.  

Los Angeles had been a fast-growing city for decades, ever since the first aqueduct began delivering water from the Sierra Nevada in 1913. Javernick’s grandfather was an early pioneer, and he’d bought hundreds of acres in the San Fernando Valley dirt cheap in the 1890s. There was limited well water, enough for a few hay fields, but the land was mostly dry, and the Javernicks grazed cattle and sheep. When the first imported water arrived in 1913, it created a real estate boom and the value of the family’s extensive land holdings skyrocketed overnight, making Javernick’s father an instant multi-millionaire.  

The motion picture industry and oil discoveries continued to fuel the region’s growth. In 1941, California supplied a quarter of the world’s oil and derricks had sprung up across the L.A. basin like weeds. Javernick and Professor Culpepper passed hundreds of them as they traveled across the Santa Monica Mountains and then down the Pacific coastline to Long Beach.   

When they arrived at the waterfront, they found the California Underwater Exploration Company, an outfit that manufactured submarines for oceanic research. The salesman said he’d never heard of one being used in a freshwater lake before, but he’d be happy to sell one to Javernick. 

He showed them a freshly built submarine that sat in an outdoor dry dock. He said it was well-suited for their intended use, a deluxe watercraft just over forty feet long. “I sold an identical sub to the University of California’s Oceanography Department. They’re using it for deep sea research.”  

“They use it in water that’s over five hundred feet deep?” said Professor Culpepper. 

“Well over five hundred. They’ve gone as deep as twenty-five hundred feet with no issues that I know of.” 

“Should do the trick, then,” said Javernick admiring the sub’s glossy exterior shell as they walked around it. “And divers can exit the craft when it’s underwater?” 

“Yes, it’s equipped with an airlock. Let me show you.” He motioned for the pair to follow as he climbed a portable stairway that led to a flat platform that was built into the watercraft’s aft end. “The cargo bay gives the crew a place to carry tools and equipment.” 

“Perfect. That’s precisely what I need.”  

“And it also provides an easy way to access the airlock.” He pulled down on a lever that opened the exterior hatch and motioned for them to follow as he entered the airlock. “Using the control panel, the diver fills the compartment with water before he exits, and on reentry, evacuates it before going back inside. The airlock can also be controlled from the pilot’s dashboard.” He opened the interior hatch, and the trio went further inside.  

“What’s the source of power?” said Professor Culpepper. 

“Two diesel engines. Each one pushes a propellor. It has a top speed of about twenty-five knots, that’s fairly fast for a sub.”  

“A fine example of American engineering and it will serve my needs well,” said Javernick. “Can I write you a check?”  

“Certainly, Mr. Javernick.”  

“There’s an issue to consider before you seal the deal, Claude,” said the professor.  

“And what would that be, Dewey?”  

“Delivering it to the lake. How’re you going to transport the sub to Nevada?”  

“A good point. We could probably have a crane load the craft onto a flatbed railcar.” 

“That gets it close…Then what? It’s too big to load on a truck.” 

“A savvy question and exactly why I wanted you to come along today. Transporting the sub does present a problem. What would you suggest?” 

“The only thing I can come up with is an airship. Suspend the submarine below the gondola and when it arrives at the lake, cut it loose.”  

“Genius, Dewey. Pure genius. Do you have an airship company in mind?” 

“There’s a commercial dirigible based in El Cerrito, the Disappointment. It’s big enough to do the job, a 950-foot monster of an aircraft, over three football fields long, and they’ve assisted in the installation of offshore oil derricks. It should certainly have enough displacement to lift the sub.” 

“The Disappointment? That’s a curious name for an aircraft.” 

“Yes, it’s an allusion to the airspeed. The engineer who designed it was disappointed when he realized the ship’s maximum airspeed was less than twenty miles per hour. He thought it would travel faster.” 

“Well, let’s hope I’m not too disappointed when I see the cost involved.”  

“It won’t be cheap.” 

“It seems like nothing is these days.” 

A week later, Javernick and Professor Culpepper were back in Long Beach watching the immense Disappointment as it sailed in low over the shipyards. The airship had the classic shape of a German zeppelin and a female captain, Phyllis Dewberry. The pilot, Bentley Butts, slowed the craft, then brought it to a stop, though the props still rotated at low rpms to account for the onshore breeze, and the dirigible had a slight wobble as it hovered over them. The crew dropped eight steel cables from winching apparatus on the underside of the gondola, a fraction the size of the giant rigid balloon. The spectacle attracted a crowd of spectators including a news reporter who recognized Javernick and began shouting questions from outside the chain link fence. He smiled and waved but for the most part ignored him.  

Soon the Disappointment was gaining altitude with Javernick’s brand-new submarine suspended beneath it. At a little under twenty miles per hour, it would take a full day to make it to Lake Mead. After dropping Professor Culpepper off in Woodland Hills, Javernick headed for Cajon Pass in the Cadillac. He wanted to take a few photos of the airship as it passed through the gap between the San Gabriels and the San Bernardino Range to the east.  

He found a spot in a parking area near the top of the pass, and carried a 35 mm camera equipped with a telephoto lens to the top of an overlook where he sat down on a large square shaped boulder to await the appearance of the Disappointment. He also carried a handheld mobile radio transceiver on his belt that he could use to communicate with Captain Dewberry when the airship was in range.  

It was a sunny afternoon, and the overlook afforded a splendid view of the San Bernardino Valley and the surrounding mountain peaks. A man and a woman sat on another copper-colored boulder on the hillside below him. After eavesdropping on their conversation for a few minutes, he discovered their names, Fred and Melody. He took an occasional belt from his hip flask and chuckled to himself as he listened to their birdbrained conversation. 

Before long, the Disappointment appeared in the distance, making a beeline for the pass. Javernick was sure to get some good snapshots as the aircraft passed overhead, and he stood up and began taking photos. 

“Look Melody, it’s the Goodyear Blimp comin’ straight for us,” said the man on the hillside below as the Disappointment closed in on the pass.  

“I don’t think it’s the Goodyear Blimp, Fred.”  

“How come?”  

“Because it don’t say Goodyear on the side of it, that’s how come. I don’t think it’s a blimp neither. Looks more like one of those German zeppelins.”  

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right…What’s that thing hangin’ down below it?” 

“Looks like some kind of a bomb.”  

“Damn, I think you’re right. Some kind of big ol’ torpedo bomb with propellors on it. And they’re headed straight for Victorville.” 

 “If the Germans are gettin’ ready to bomb Victorville, maybe we should call the Sheriff.”  

“Sheriff? Hell, we better call the National Guard instead.” 

Javernick thought he should straighten them out, before they conveyed any faulty information to the authorities. “Excuse me,” he called out.  

“Excuse you?” said Fred, turning to look up the hillside and make eye contact with Javernick, a puzzled expression on his face. 

“I just wanted to let you know that’s not a bomb the airship is carrying.” 

“What is it then?”  

“It’s a submarine.”  

“A submarine? Don’t look like no submarine to me,” said Melody. “Looks more like a bomb.” 

“Who asked for your two cents anyway, mister?” said Fred.  

Javernick decided to leave it at that, and after taking a few more photos, he walked back down to his car. Let the country bumpkins think the sub was a bomb. He didn’t have the patience to argue with know-it-all halfwits and the Inland Empire seemed to be full of them. He climbed in the caddy, revved up the big V-16, and intentionally spun the wheels in the gravel on his way out of the parking area.  

He topped off the gas tank in Barstow. The Mohave was a vast stretch of unpeopled, bone-dry desert, and a bad place to run out of fuel. He took his time on the washboard dirt road that comprised that section of the Arrowhead Trail and when he found some shade under a corrugated tin roof at a picnic area, he took an extended break to give the airship a chance to catch up. He broke out a quart of bootleg hooch and used the time to study the Cadillac’s owner’s manual, something he’d never thought of doing before, but found it packed with useful information, like how to change the tiny lightbulb that illuminated the ashtray at night. When he began to nod off from the boredom, he walked around the beat-up picnic table in circles to stay awake and then looked to the west, wondering why the airship was taking so long to catch up.  

The Disappointment’s pilot, Bentley Butts, had the throttle wide-open, but countering the thermal updrafts in the open desert was slowing the airship down, even with all six of the 750 horsepower diesel engines draining the fuel reserves at an alarming rate—each one powered its own 60-foot diameter propeller. The gondola had a bridge and crew’s quarters towards the front. The rest of it was cargo bays, most of them empty. 

They were barely making fifteen knots and seemed to be almost standing still as they floated over the featureless desert landscape. Miles and miles of flat, tawny-colored dust with nothing but a couple of distant bare rock mountain ranges breaking up the monotony.  

Finally, using a pair of binoculars, Javernick spotted the airship in the western sky. He turned on the handheld mobile radio transceiver, a fairly new invention, the first one had been developed in 1937. “I’m stopped at a picnic area and can see you approaching from the west. Can you hear me, Phyllis?”  

Javernick’s radio transmission was broadcast through a large speaker mounted on the gondola’s interior wall. Dewberry picked up a desk microphone to reply. “Yes, you’re coming in loud and clear. We’re not making the best time. There’s atmospheric turbulence from the afternoon thermals and it’s slowing the ship down.”  

Javernick saw a squadron of military airplanes closing in on the airship. “I see a formation of planes now, flying towards you from the south.”  

“I see them too. They look like P-51 Mustangs.”  

“I have incoming communications, Captain Dewberry,” said the radioman, Rolly Quinn, lifting his headset to speak.  

“Put it on the horn,” replied the captain.  

Javernick could hear the call through the transceiver connection. “This is Lieutenant Tommy Swanson of the United States Army Air Force hailing dirigible airship approximately 100 miles east of Barstow, California.” Swanson spoke in a thick Texas drawl. “Please identify yourselves immediately.” 

“Roger, Lieutenant Swanson. This is Phyllis Dewberry, captain of the Disappointment. We’re a commercial airship company based in El Cerrito.” 

“Ten-four, captain. I can read the registration numbers on your tailfin now. We’re investigating a report from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. Someone called them and said they observed a German airship carrying a bomb and it was headed straight for Victorville—” 

“Oh, for the love of Christ!” exclaimed Javernick, realizing it was Fred and Melody. “Those insufferable morons!” 

“What was that, Claude?” said Dewberry. 

“I think I know who filed the report.”  

“Then please call the Sheriff’s office,” said Swanson through his patched in connection, “We have better things to do than investigate prank calls.”  

“I’ll certainly do that,” said Javernick. “We appreciate your patience, Lieutenant.”  

“All in a day’s work…Is that some type of watercraft you’re carrying?” 

“Yes, it’s a submarine,” said Dewberry. “Non-military. It’s a scientific exploration craft.” 

“Hokey-doke. Ya’ll have a good day now.” 




It took the rest of the day and all of the following night for the Disappointment to make it to Lake Mead. Early the next morning, Javernick was still waiting on the airship’s arrival. He was standing with Melvin on one of the docks outside the 47th floor entry to the new hotel. 

“They should be coming up the canyon at any time.” 

“I’m looking forward to seeing the new sub.” 

“It’s a state-of-the-art watercraft, Melvin, perfect for installing the underwater landscaping. I bought three deep water diving outfits too.” 

“You’re going to leave it here when we’re done?”  

“Well, yeah. I don’t have any use for a submarine out at the nut ranch.”  

“It might come in handy if we have any issues with the structures down the road.” 

“Issues?” said Javernick wide-eyed, pulling the cigar from his mouth. “What kind of issues are you referring too?” 

“If a leak sprang up.”  

“Let’s hope to God we don’t have any. The last thing we need is a leak.” 

“I’m not anticipating any. We should be 100% waterproof.” 

Roland was nearby, scanning the western sky with a pair of binoculars. “Here it comes, Claude. Rounding the bend over the narrows.”  

Javernick turned on the radio transceiver. “I can see you coming up the lake now, Phyllis.”  

“Ten-four. Do you have a spot in mind for the sub?”  

“Yup, when you get closer, look for the dock with the orange cones. We’ll be standing out there waiting.”  

The new hotel was situated almost dead center in one of the widest parts of the lake, a couple of miles from the closest shoreline. Hoover Dam was 726 feet tall, and its completion had created an enormous reservoir.  

The sky was cloudless, and a stiff breeze came up making low waves on the surface.

A runabout boat appeared, closing in on the docks. It was powered by an outboard motor and it pulled up alongside where they were standing.  

“Top of the morning to you there, Mack,” said the man behind the wheel. Another sat beside him in the passenger seat.  

“Name’s not Mack. It’s Claude Javernick…How’s the fishing there, boys?”  

“Not bad. We’re catching smallmouth bass with surface lures.” He paused to light a cigarette. “But the reason why we stopped in is to ask you if you know what the story is with the airship.” He used his thumb to point behind him, towards the Disappointment, it was within a mile of the hotel and getting closer all the time.  

(On the airship bridge, Bentley Butts had the throttle pegged wide open; they’d been traveling at maximum rpms non-stop ever since they’d left Long Beach, and with the wind at their backs now, the ship was making nineteen knots.)  

“They’re delivering my new submarine.” 

“Oh, so that’s what they’re carrying. We weren’t sure what it was. A submarine, eh? You gonna use it here in the lake?” 

“Well, yeah. I’m sure as hell not going to use it out in the desert.” Javernick looked towards Melvin and raised an eyebrow. The pair in the boat seemed dumber than Fred and Melody.  

“So, you gettin’ ready to open up the new casino soon? We saw the sign.”  

“Hard to miss,” said the passenger, gazing up at the gigantic sign with an expression of unease. It was supported by two tall steel columns that rose up from the roof, eight stories above the surface of the lake. 

“We’re working on finishing it right now. It should be open within a few months.” 

“So how did you get her to float?”  

“Get what to float?”  

“The casino building, Mack. It’s awful big. What’s keeping it from sinking?” 

“What you’re looking at is the top eight stories of a 55-story hotel tower. The casino itself is on the bottom of the lake.”  

“Do tell. Must of been a sonofabitch building her underwater.”  

Once he learned how to pilot the submarine, Melvin was able to install the new landscaping to the satisfaction of Mr. Delroy who supervised the procedure from inside the casino glass. The deep-water diving suits were a bit ungainly, but Melvin and Roland learned how to use them without much trouble, though Maximino didn’t want to have anything to do with working underwater, and he stayed inside the sub.  

The Hollywood set designer did an admirable job with the coral reef, fashioning the multi-colored parts from plastic and foam rubber. It was illuminated in soft shades of yellow and green. Beyond the lights, the deep water was shrouded in darkness, so from inside the casino, the scene appeared to be an authentic tropical sea.  

The finishing touch was the addition of electric marine life. Mechanical fish, sea turtles, and octopuses that ran on batteries.  

After ten years of work and a budget that topped fifteen million dollars, the Rioville Underwater Casino and Hotel was finally completed with a grand opening scheduled for the second week of October in the fall of 1941.  







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