Chapter Eleven

All the regulars at Marty Erndel’s Thursday night poker game had nicknames calculated to offend anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to be invited to Erndel’s exclusive weekly affair. To the players, this was a big joke: Aside from the seven regulars, the Lucky Seven they called themselves, no one knew the game existed. Not the wives, the girlfriends, the media, the congregations, the board members, the secretaries, the IRS. No one.

Whatever happened in the basement of Marty Erndel’s Toy Store, the premier luxury car dealership in Beverly Hills, stayed secret. So if Marty wanted to be known as King Kike — all right, God bless him. If Councilman Alexander fancied the sobriquet Nigger Killer, so be it. And if Cardinal Kelly demanded to be addressed as your Holy Ass Licker, he wouldn’t be disappointed.

Theirs was a congregation of men who enjoyed the finer things in life: cards, whisky, cigars, chocolate, caviar, and Mexican, Japanese, Jamaican and Orange County prep school pussy, procured fresh each week, thanks to their friend Darius Blanton’s relationship with Stacy Figel, the famed “Hollywood Madam” and sometime girlfriend of Blanton’s son, Adam.

Darius Blanton’s minority interest in the Lakers afforded him an easy conduit to more young talent than a junior agent at ICM. But he tired quickly of aspiring Laker Girls and just-needing-one-tiny-break actress-singer-models who were already accustomed to servicing wealthy older men in pursuit of their entertainment industry dreams. Blanton preferred desperate innocents who felt genuine shame in spreading their legs for septuagenarians like him, jacked up on Viagra. He liked girls he could humiliate, girls who never thought in a million years they would accept money to suck a cock, and he instructed Stacy Figel to bring him sex-for-pay “virgins” who didn’t yet know how ridiculously easy it was to bury one’s head in a pillow and wait for it to be over.

The other six of the Lucky Seven had no such compunctions. They just liked their playthings young and pretty, and preferably with some experience in the pages of Maxim or in the gyrating chorus line of a hip-hop video, so that there was always the possibility of an ancillary thrill, i.e., seeing the girl in an organ of popular culture and knowing that her perfectly made-up face had been basted with a torrent of pungent Lucky Seven spew.

Darius Blanton, whose self-selected Thursday night sobriquet was Adolf Shitler, got into Erndel’s game when Nathan “Presto” Jones, the Hall of Fame Laker point guard, dropped out, citing “family commitments.” (That got a big laugh out of the Seven, who appreciated the administrative skills required of Presto to maintain a public marriage for more than a decade while concurrently conducting two long-term homosexual relationships with British actors, both of them Oscar winners.) Blanton believed that Presto’s recommendation was probably enough to earn him membership in the group.

But he also believed that if he didn’t keep the Holy Ass Licker and the Nigger Killer and especially King Kike, with his insatiable appetite for Mexican furburger, supplied with world-class twat, he might one day get disinvited. Old Adolf wasn’t as clever or fast as these other fellows. He couldn’t tell jokes as well as they. He wasn’t as fun.

It reminded him of his childhood in Chicago, when he was the richest kid in Rogers Park. Darius always suspected that the reason all the other boys let  him play in the pick-up basketball games was because he brought new balls and nets every other month, and sometimes a whole box of candy from the Jewel Mart, 25 individually wrapped treats in all. Once it was Clark bars. Now it was girls.

Adolf Blanton would have been surprised to learn that Marty the Kike actually quite liked him. Erndel, who had started the game nearly 15 years ago as a diversion among rich friends who were running out of things that excited them, thought they were an awfully nice group of guys, a finely mixed martini cocktail of personalities and appetites. Shitler was the dry Vermouth. Billy “Dago” Berlio, the legendary head of Planetary Pictures, was the olive, the little treat you liked to chew on at the end. And State Senator Peter Kyle, known to the group as Peterphile, was the gin, the substance of the drink.

Without Peterphile’s paternal presence, the Erndel poker game would probably have been shut down long ago by some minor law enforcement official, some ambitious do-gooder trying to get his name in lights. (Councilman Nigger Killer didn’t have enough juice with the D.A.’s office to guarantee complete immunity from harassment, despite generously sharing his cut of the East L.A. meth trade with the District Attorney’s brother, who also happened to be chairman of the Southern California Young Democratic Achievers.) But because the Senator had lost more than $1 million of campaign donations in the past five years or so of Thursday nights, his continued patronage and protection were a certainty, as certain as all the Hollywood liberals supporting his campaign, as certain as the Prison Guards injecting their union into state business. The running joke among the Lucky Seven was that the Peterphile’s one-page “Sacramento Update” newsletters, sent to his constituents every quarter, and monthly during election years, should have a poker advice column.

Marty Erndel knew that he and the boys could have their little get-together in peace, free to play poker for stakes that reminded a fellow he still had a heart, free to eat and drink and talk with unguarded frankness, and free to fuck a few nice-looking fillies whenever the urge might strike, which was frequent, alarmingly so to the hired help.

King Kike knew the Lucky Seven would continue to flourish as long as the game was interesting and the accoutrements intriguing. Money, power, influence – it all converged at the Toy Store. And who was going to stop them?

The Mayor? They got that faggot elected.

The Sheriff? If his kid ever wanted to work in Hollywood – or avoid annual tax audits, or get married at St. Paul’s, or sit next to Jack Nicholson at a Laker game – they could keep the little pisher busy with community center dedications. The Sheriff? Who?

This was the true joy of being rich: Not the things. Not the objects. Not the acquisitions. The freedom. The freedom to do whatever the fuck you pleased.

Marty Erndel had been reminded of this glorious truth from the newest member of the Lucky Seven, the guy the Cardinal had brought in. The guy who liked to be called Teacher. (It wasn’t exactly a funny nickname, but, hey, everyone had his own sense of humor, right?) Teacher – his real name was. . .well, Marty had it written down somewhere. Something Jewish. This newcomer, he was a successful businessman, the power, it was rumored, behind The Waytm, which everyone in Hollywood claimed had changed his life.

From Tom Hanks to Denny Branch (the newest James Bond, subsequent to the last one’s backyard barbecue accident), from Julia Roberts to Molly Mopgood (the Tattoo Queen of reality TV), they all went on and on about “transformations” and “new possibilities,” and all that other gas.

He was also good at cards, the Teacher fellow. Hell, he had won more than $200,000 the first night his Holy Ass Licker brought him to the game.

But even when Teacher lost he was still a hell of a nice guy. Always pleasant. Always smiling. And always appreciative, it seemed, of his host’s hospitality. He even personally thanked Marty for the delicious snacks and the girls. Said their game was “a modern Hellfire Club,” or some such thing. Something related to war heroes, Erndel reckoned. Guy was a class act.

He didn’t seem at all interested in the Lamborghinis and Ferraris gleaming upstairs in the showroom. But that was all right with Marty, too. Being around Teacher felt good, comforting somehow.

How could you not like a guy like that?


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