Calvin Carter, former actor and current railroad detective, impersonates a French dignitary to root out a treasonous act that could alter the balance of naval power in the world. He enlists the help of Evelyn Paige, his former lover and sometimes partner.
Carter and Paige have the perfect plan. But like all trapped animals, their quarry has a little fight in them.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Evelyn Paige said.
“Relax,” Calvin Carter said, “it’ll all turn out fine.”
“Like the time-with-the-saloon-Madame fine, the I’m-sorry-Evelyn-but-I-need-a-loan fine, or the I-just-stole-your-case fine?”
“None,” Carter said. He assumed a hurt expression. “This is entirely different.”
“I swear, Carter, if I didn’t need your help with this case, I would never have agreed to this little facade of yours.”
“Listen, what we do is dangerous. What’s so wrong with doing it with a bit of flair?”
“Flair?” Evelyn said. “That’s what you call this?” She shook her head. “What could possibly go wrong?”
“Quiet,” Carter said. “Time to talk French.”
The Alexandria Palace Casino in Galveston, Texas, was one of the most famous gambling establishments in the west. Located just down the street from the capital, the Alexandria was a high-end casino in the vein of the Barbary Coast outside San Francisco or the fancier casinos in New Orleans. Built by Bernard Jameson and named after his wife, the Alexandria was a destination for gamblers, politicians, mercenaries, thieves, and cowboys, sometimes all in the same person. A gambler, it could be said, wasn’t truly a professional gambler until he won or lost money in the Alexandria.
The interior was wide, spacious, and gaudy. The namesake woman fancied herself a worldly woman so she insisted her husband decorate in any style that tickled her fancy. Naturally, that led to a hodge podge look and feel, but everything inside was of the highest price.
Perhaps the most famous event at the Alexandria was the all-region poker tournament held each year on the first weekend of May. If you weren’t a true professional gambler if you hadn’t won at the Alexandria, you certainly weren’t worth your weight in salt if you hadn’t at least participated in the tournament.
The evening’s crowds were loud and boisterous. The men had dressed for the evening in their finest tuxedos despite the ebbing of the day’s heat. The ladies were adorned with the best dresses and jewelry that the city could afford, and more than a little that it could not. Imported jewelry lined the necks of many a woman, the ones accompanied by men and those looking for men.
It was into this atmosphere that a small gasp by the assembled throng was heard when Pierre Trudeau St. Bontaventure appeared at the top of the balcony overlooking the people on the ground floor. According to the papers, the French aristocrat was making his way across America, recreating and renewing the journey Alexis de Tocqueville made in the United States in the 1830s. He was hoping to find the heart of America after the War Between the States and wanted to find out how much the country had changed since the end of the conflict. Bontaventure had met with the President, the members of Congress, and many of the millionaires in New York and Boston. Now, in the spring, he was railroading across the South on his way to California for the summer.
A fan of games of chance, Bontaventure had picked up the basics of poker along the way and had made his intention known that he would like to join in the tournament. The Alexandria’s owner, Jameson, was more than delighted to have such a high-class entrant in his newly formed contest and jumped at the chance.
Half of the Texans in attendance were there not really to participate in the tournament but just to see Bontaventure. The rich and famous were rare in this part of the country, but the Frenchman made up for it just by his presence.
He stood at the railing, gazing at the people like a king to his subjects. He smiled down, loving the attention. The audience smiled up, loving being loved by him.
On his arm was his translator and confidant, Emmanuelle Gabrielle Leblanc. Resplendent in a white gown, her raven hair was pulled back to reveal her ears and the dangling gold earrings that sparkled in the lights. She had her hand through Bontaventure’s cocked arm, but she stood slightly behind him.
In heavily accented English, Bontaventure said, “I want to thank each and every one of you for your most gracious welcome. I have learned much from your country. I have eaten well, I have met many fascinating people, and I have learned how to lose money in poker.”
The audience chuckled appropriately. Bontaventure smiled even more broadly than before.
“I look forward to the contest, and I hope not to lose too much of my money.” More polite laughter filtered throughout the casino.
Bontaventure leaned over to Emmanuelle and whispered in perfect English, “How was that?”
Without breaking her smile, Emmanuelle said, “Carter, next time, I get the lead and you get the supporting role. I can’t stand being your little woman.”
“Evelyn,” Carter muttered back, “you wound me. Take the dagger from my heart.”
“That’s not where I’d put the dagger,” Evelyn said, raising her eyebrows.