The Pike who was a whale
Patti and I married in mid-December. However, since my leave of absence from the school district was still in effect I drove limo full time and planned to do so the rest of the school year. The previous summer taxis in Vegas had gone on strike and the only means of transport was limousine service. Jim Bell asked me if I knew of any teachers who might want to drive limo for the summer and I contacted several, including longtime friend and teacher who was still working part time and teaching during the day. Don had picked up a fare at the airport one Sunday and the man had chartered his limo for the balance of his shift. But Don had to go to work the following day so after several hours he called in to the dispatcher and explained his dilemma. The dispatcher phoned me at home to see if I could take the balance of the charter and I said of course. I drove to the Hilton to relieve him and Don used my extra set of car keys to take my car back to the garage where he switched it for his own. The client was so drunk he did not realize there’d been a change.
Perhaps my most memorable passenger came as the result of that transaction. The client went by the name of Mr. Claude Pike of New Orleans. Once I became Mr. Pike’s driver at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel we stayed together for the remainder of his trip. It is not uncommon for men to hire taxi or limo drivers to hang out with them as they gamble in Vegas. Men occasionally come to town alone and who better to show them the ropes that a local who has intimate knowledge of the town? Sometimes the person doing wants the driver by his side while gambling and the host will give the driver money to gamble so the opportunity for a substantial tip exists. This was one such time.
Casinos often served as banks for their better customers, called whales. Customers could take out a marker, which was the equivalent of an IOU. It was effectively an interest-free loan. Of course, the casino would have already done a thorough financial background check on the customer to assure that the marker would be repaid. Sometimes the customers won at the tables and were able to repay the marker from their winnings. More often, though, they would leave town owing money and repay the marker once they had returned home. Customers rarely stiffed the casinos in those days as professional “collectors” were used as a last resort.
Mr. Pike, a whale, had credit in nearly every casino and had taken a marker for $20,000 at the Hilton earlier in the evening. He was just about to exhaust his funds from that marker. Before we switched places Don told me Mr. Pike had taken several markers at other hotels including $30,000 at the Sands, where he was staying and had blown it all on the craps tables.
When his money from the marker had run out at the Hilton he decided to go back to the Sands. By that time he had taken markers of at least $60,000 by my count. When we returned to the Sands he took another $30,000 marker and proceeded to run through it in short order, playing mostly the craps table. He turned to me and said, “Let’s try our luck at another hotel,” over the pleas of the boxmen and other Sands officials. Once they saw he was going to leave the property again they sent a uniformed security guard with him ostensibly for security but I’m certain it was to make sure he would return as quickly as possible. The Sands officials also offered to send him in their own limo but he nodded to me and said, “No, I want HIM to drive me.” From the Sands he decided to go to the Stardust and the three of us walked into the casino.
The Sands security guard tried to be invisible, which was difficult in his khaki Sands uniform. Stardust security guards wore blue uniforms. I could see the disdain on the faces of the Stardust officials but they did nothing for the moment except to stare daggers at the Sands security officer.
Mr. Pike headed for the Cashier’s cage with me next to him. He said to the cashier, in his Southern accent, “Ah want some money.”
The cashier, a bespectacled balding fellow who looked like an accountant was polite and asked, “Do you have credit with us, Sir?”
Mr. Pike said, “I ain’t got nothing. I want some gamblin’ money.”
The cashier, still straight and professional then asked, “Would you fill out this credit application for me?”
I could see Mr. Pike was both irritated and in a devilish mood as he decided to play with the cashier. He answered the cashier with, “I ain’t fillin’ out nothin’. I want some gamblin’ money.”
This back-and-forth went on for several moments until a casino official apparently recognized him as a whale and called the cage. A young woman took the call and soon came to the cage window to relieve the cashier who had been helping him. With a smile that was dripping sugar and an accent just as thick as his, she said, “Hi there, would y’all like some money?”
Mr. Pike smiled and sheepishly said, “Yeah.”
She said, “How much y’all want?”
“Uhh, I dunno. Maybe ‘bout 20.”
“Y’all got a driver’s liense?”
“Tell ya what, y’all show me your driver’s license and I’ll git $20,000 fer ya. How’s that?”
With that she took information from his license, had him sign a note, and gave him $20K. It was that easy. But the Stardust did not benefit as much as they’d hoped…
After he had gambled a few thousand dollars Mr. Pike caught a scuffle of sorts out of the corner of his eye. He said, “What’s the problem?” and one of the hotel officials said that the uniformed Sands security guard would have to leave as they could not have a Sands security guard in uniform on their property.
Mr. Pike gathered up the remainder of his chips and said, “Let’s go.”
Once the Stardust suits realized they were about to lose a whale, they said, “Oh, ok, he can stay.” But it was too late. Mr. Pike was headed for the cage to cash in. The young lady who had given him the marker was gone so he asked the male cashier his name. The male cashier told him it was Jim and he handed all his chips to Jim and said, “Y’all put this in an envelope fer that little lady.” I’m sure she was stunned when she came to work the next night and discovered she’d been left about an $18,000 tip.
From the Stardust we went back to the Hilton where my gambler breezed through another $20,000 marker making his running losses about $100,000 that I knew of. But the night was not over.
Several times during the evening he said to me, “Son, I like you. You remind me of my own son,” and he’d hand me a black ($100) chip. Before the night was over I’d accumulated 8 or 9 black chips plus the gambling money I’d won whenever Mr. Pike laid down bets for me. On one occasion he said, “You know, my son wanted to go to Duke University to be a doctor but he was dumb as a post and got rejected three times. Finally I donated 2 and a half million for a building on the campus. My son is a doctor today with a degree from Duke.”
We eventually left the Hilton and returned to the Sands. Keep in mind that Mr. Pike was very generous with everybody, spreading black chips around like they were $1 chips. After an hour or so on the tables at the Sands he moved to the bar and within a few minutes his face plopped down on the bar as he passed out. The bartenders and security guards brought him around and he said he might want to go to his room and rest for a while. The head security guard caught my eye and pointed to the door, signaling me to leave, which I did not want to do. So pretending to not understand him I asked Mr. Pike if he wanted me to leave. He said no, that he was going to lie down for a while then we’d go out again and for me to come up to his tower suite and wait.
I had never been in the Sands Tower before where the suites rented for thousands of dollars per night but nobody paid as all were all complimentary. Mr. Pike and I and three security guards trekked toward the suite as he said to me, “Order whatever you want. It is all comped. Get yourself the best steak in the house and a half dozen bottles of Johhny Walker Red Label to take home with you. Don’t worry, it’s all on me,” he added with a grin.
By this time it was about 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. and I immediately called Patti and said, “Guess where I am!” and started to tell her when she mumbled, from her deep slumber, “Why don’t you tell me about it tomorrow?”
Mr. Pike was still a little unsteady on his feet and the security guards had helped him into the bedroom and were undressing him to put him to bed when he called out to me, “I’ll just take a short nap. We’ll go out again so stay where you are.”
I looked toward the bedroom and there was a full length mirror that was angled so I was able to see all four people in the bedroom suite. The security guards had placed him on the bed and were..... ROBBING HIM! They were cleaning out his pockets of the thousands of dollars in chips and filling their own pockets. I sat stunned. First, they were security guards who were supposed to watch over him, not rob him. Second, Mr. Pike had been most generous to all employees including the security guards and had already tipped them thousands. But the greedy bastards were taking more.
They finally left and gave me a threatening stare as if to say, “Keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you.”
About 30 minutes later while I was enjoying my steak and lobster with a coke and two bottles of Johnny Walker Red by my side there was a knock on the door. The most stunning blonde I had ever seen was standing at the door dressed to the nines. She said to me, “Hi, are you Mr. Pike?”
I stood frozen for several seconds then responded with, “No, are you a hooker?”
She smiled again and said, “Absolutely.”
I proceeded to tell her that Mr. Pike was taking a little nap and did not want to be disturbed as he was going to go out and gamble in a little while. What a bumpkin! She said, “Well, let me see about that,” and she brushed past me into the bedroom. A few minutes later Mr. Pike emerged from the bedroom in a hotel robs and said, “Change of plans, Son. You can take some time off but be here at six sharp to take me to the airport. Do not be one minute late.”
I told him I would and drove home to freshen up, taking my booty with me. When I returned at a few minutes before six there stood Mr. Pike in a professional business suit and looking fresh as a daisy. I had been well rewarded for my company and loyalty the previous night. When I got home I’d counted up the chips he had given me, including the spoils from the bets he occasionally laid down for me and it totaled well over $1,200. Not bad for a night’s work. We got his luggage into the limo and I headed for the private side of the airport. He’d settled his bill with cash then gave me a couple of 20s for a tip. That tip alone (not counting the previous night) was probably the largest single one I’d ever gotten. But after having been so spoiled the previous night my first reaction was, “What a cheapskate. He is not nearly as generous sober as drunk.” Still, on second thought, here I was, complaining in my mind about my second biggest tip ever! What an idiot.
As we drove to the plane Mr. Pike let me know that Pike was not his real name and that I had never seen him in Las Vegas, and if I ever did see him I did not know or recognize him. He then softened a bit and said that he did appreciate my loyalty from the previous night and that he would answer any one question as long as it did not compromise his personal security. I thought for a minute and asked, “What do you own?”
Without a blink he responded, “Son, I own five state governors.” And with that he shook my hand and got on the tarmac. I never again saw or spoke to him but have kept the thoughts of that evening as a chauffeur to a high roller prominent in my memory bank.