(from Last Call by Tim Powers [New York: Avon Books, 1992])
ambling had been legalized in Nevada in 1931, the same year
that work was begun on Hoover Dam, and by 1935 the dam was completed, and
Lake Mead, the largest man-made body of water in the world, had filled the
deep valleys behind it. The level of the lake rose and fell according to
schedules, reflecting the upstream supply and the downstream demand. The
Flamingo, as Siegel named his hotel, was a castle in the wasteland with a
lot of tamed water nearby.
And the Flamingo was almost insanely grand, with transplanted
palms and thick marble walls and expensive paneling and a gigantic pool
and an individual sewer line for each of its ninety-two rooms--but Leon
understood that it was a totem of its founder, and therefore had to be as
physically perfect as the founder.
Leon now knew why Siegel had stolen the Tower card: Based on the
Tower of Babel, it symbolized foolishly prideful ambition, but it was not
only a warning against such a potentially bankrupt course but also a means
to it. And if it were reversed, displayed upside-down, it was somewhat
qualified; the doomful aspects of it were a little more remote.
Reversed, it could permit a King to build an intimidating castle,
and keep it.
And to absolutely cement his identification with the building and
cement, too, his status as the modern avatar of Dionysus and Tammuz and
Attis and Osiris and the Fisher King and every god and king who died in
the winter and was reborn in the spring, Sie gel had opened the hotel on
the day after Christmas. It closed--"died"--two weeks later and then
reopened on March 27.
Close enough to Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. (22)
In his role as Fisher King, the supernatural king of the land and
its fertility, Ben Siegel had among other things cultivated a rose garden
on the grounds of the Flamingo. Roses were a potent symbol of the
transitory nature of life, and Siegel had thought that by keeping a tamed
plot of them he could thus symbolically tame death. The flowers had
eventually become routine to him, not requiring the kind of psychic
attention of which, as the Fisher King, he was capable.
Leon had heard that they had bloomed wildly in June of 1947 before
he had killed Siegel, throwing their red petals out across the poolside
walkway and even thrusting up sprouts through the cracks between the
concrete blocks. (23-34)
Trumbill reflected that it would be a relief when the new game was
over and done with and the soul of Georges Leon had a batch of fresh
bodies to animate, all the ones that had been conceived and paid for in
The guy must miss his balls, Trumbill thought. Twenty years is a
long gestation period if you need the kids, especially when you've got to
conceive more before you can get at the original lot.
It's a weird way to be this king, he thought.
Trumbill gathered that in the past the Fisher Kings would just
have children, not kill their children's minds and steal their bodies--and
that such a King would reign over a fertile green land and not a sterile
desert--and that he would share his power with a Queen--and that he would
deal face-to-face with the vast old entities that were known as Archetypes
or gods, not through the formal, at-a-distance mediation of the terrible
[Tarot] cards. (258-259)
[Crane] stood up on the fiber glass floorboard and leaned on the
top of the windshield to steady the binoculars, and then he got the
fishing boat in his view and twisted the center focus wheel.
The little fishing boat sprang into clarity, seeming now to be
only thirty yards away. The fisherman was a slim man in his thirties with
dark hair slickly combed back, and he was staring straight at Crane,
smiling. He bobbed his fishing pole as if in greeting.
"Arky," said Crane slowly, "is that the same guy there, fishing,
that we saw when we first stopped? 'Cause I don't see how he could have
got here so fast from--"
"Fishing where?" Mavranos interrupted.
Still staring straight at the man through the lenses, Crane
pointed out over the bow of the boat. "There, by the island."
"I don't see anybody. There's some water skiers way off."
Crane lowered the binoculars and glanced at Mavranos. Was he
"Arky," he said patiently, "right there, by the--"
He stopped talking. The fishing boat was no longer there. And it
could not have moved around the island out of sight in less than several
minutes--certainly not in the second and a half that he'd looked away.
He exclaimed, "It's gone!" even though it seemed like a stupid
thing to say. (392)
And he jumped violently, blowing out a burst of air in an
involuntary shout of surprise.
He was sitting in a chair, across a table from the man he had seen
fishing, and they were in a long, low-ceilinged room with a pair of broad
windows behind the fisherman opening out onto a bright blue sky.
Crane held very still.
The regulator mouthpiece was still between his teeth, but he was
no longer wearing a diving mask, yet he was able to see clearly; therefore
he was out of the water.
Slowly he reached up and took the regulator out of his mouth.
His mouth instantly filled with lake water, and he put the
regulator back in his mouth and blew out through the exhaust valve.
Okay, he thought, nodding to himself as he tried to hold back his
ready panic, you're still underwater; this is a vision, a hallucination.
This man must be the famous dead King.
Not wanting to meet his host's gaze quite yet, Crane rocked his
head around to look at the room. A broad cement beam ran down the center
of the ceiling, with wooden beams crossing through it at right angles;
pictures of landscapes were framed on the cre am walls, and low couches
and chairs and tables were arranged casually across the broad expanse of
pale tan carpet. Through the open windows behind his host he could hear
laughter and the splash of someone diving into a swimming pool.
That was disorienting.
The air in his mouth tasted faintly of chlorine, and more
immediately of leather and after-shave lotion.
At last he looked at the man across the table.
Again the man seemed to be in his thirties, with slicked-back
brown hair and heavy-lidded, long-lashed eyes that made his faint smile
secretive. A tailored pinstripe suit jacket was open over a white silk
shirt with six-inch collar points.
On the polished surface of the table between them rested a pair of
wrapped sugar cubes, a can of Flit insecticide, a golden cup like a
chalice, and a haftless, rusted blade six inches long.
Crane remembered that Cups was his own suit in the Tarot deck, and
he reached out a hand--he noted with no particular surprise that he seemed
to be wearing a silk shirt, too, with onyx cuff links--and pointed at the
Apparently pleased, the man smiled and stood up. Crane now saw
that he was wearing high-waisted pinstripe trousers to match the jacket,
and expensive-looking leather shoes with pointed toes.
"You're you, still," the man said. Crane noticed that the voice
was not perfectly synchronized with the movement of the lips. "I was
afraid you might not be." From inside his jacket he pulled a shiny
automatic pistol. Crane tensed, ready to jump at h im, but the man took
the gun by the barrel and laid it on the table in front of Crane. "Take
it. Safety's off, and it's chambered. All you gotta do is pull back the
hammer and pull the trigger."
Crane picked it up. It was heavy Springfield Arms .45 with wooden
grips. He paused, wondering if the man wanted him to do anything with it;
then his host turned away, and Crane shrugged and tucked the gun into the
belt of the gray slacks that had repla ced the black wet-suit pants.
The man walked to an open sliding glass door at one corner of the
poor-facing side of the room, and looked back and beckoned with a
Crane got to his feet, noting that he was wearing shoes instead of
rubber fins and that he didn't seem to have the weight or bulk of the
scuba tank on his back, and he walked across the carpet and followed his
host out onto a small square terrace.
Below them a green lawn dotted with palm trees stretched out to
the concrete apron of the pool, and beyond the pool was the casino,
painted pistachio green. On the far side of the casino, past the narrow
highway, the desert stretched away to the horizon, and Crane had to lean
over the terrace coping and look to his right to see the nearest building,
a low, rambling structure on the highway's far side half a mile north.
He recognized it. He'd been there many times as a little boy.
That was the Last Frontier, a sort of dude ranch casino and motel
with western decor and a short "street" of transplanted ghost town
buildings behind it to entertain children.
It was later sold, reopened in 1955 as the New Frontier, and then
was torn down in '65. The Frontier Casino in which he had been playing
Poker last week was built in '67 on the same spot.
And of course he knew where he was. He looked down, and shivered
to see the remembered rose garden.
He was on the penthouse terrace of the Flamingo Hotel as the place
had been in early '47, before the murder of Benjamin Siegel--popularly
known as "Bugsy," though the man had seldom been called that to his face.
This was how the Flamingo had looked when it was still the only elegant
casino-hotel in Las Vegas. With its fourth-floor penthouse, it was the
tallest building within seven miles.
Crane straightened and looked at the flashily dressed man standing
beside him. He tried to say, "Mr. Siegel," but only succeeded in blowing
air out of the regulator.
"You know what place this is," said Siegel. Crane caught a trace
of the New York accent, and he saw that the sound was now synchronized
with the mouth.
"My castle," Siegel said as he turned and walked back into the
long living room. "Your father probably took you here, after he shot me
He paused at a narrow bookcase that was built into the wall; the
lower section was enclosed , and he winked at Crane and lifted away the
knee-level bottom shelf, spilling books onto the floor. Under the shelf,
instead of the narrow box of a cupboard, wa s a rectangular shaft that
receded away into the darkness below, with a wooden ladder mounted against
the far wall of it.
"Bolt-hole and hidey-hole," Siegel said.
He tossed the shelf aside and strode back to the table and resumed
"Sit down," Siegel said.
Crane walked back across the carpet and perched himself on the
edge of the opposite chair, aware of the hard bulk of the gun under his
belt. He reminded himself to breathe steadily and not hold his breath;
back in the real, 1990 world, he might be risin g or sinking right now, or
even floating to the surface.
"John Scarne showed me a gimmick for a proposition bet one time,"
said Siegel, peeling off the paper wrappers from the sugar cubes. He put
the bared white cubes out on the table and then unscrewed the cap of the
can of Flit. "It's called la mosca. That means 'the fly' in Spanish.
From below the table he lifted an intercom microphone. "Hey,
chef?" he said into it. "This is Benny. Jack's here, and we need one
live fly." He let go of the microphone, and it dissolved into smoke.
Siegel dipped a finger into the can and then lightly touched the
top face of each sugar cube. "I won ten grand off Willie Moretti with
this, once, right here in this room. The idea is, you bet on which sugar
cube the fly will land on. It looks like an even-up bet, right? But what
you do, you turn the cubes so the one your man picked has the DDT face up,
and the other is DDT down. The fly always goes for the unpoisoned face,
and you win the bet."
A quiet knock sounded on a hallway door behind Crane, and Siegel
called, "Come in!"
Crane heard a door open, and then a figure in a tuxedo had walked
up from behind and stopped beside his chair. Siegel pointed to the
Crane was able to keep from shouting through the regulator, but he
did twitch back in his seat when he saw the room service waiter's hand.
It was the hand of a skeleton, the bones furred and strung with
wet brown algae. The long fingers daintily set down a cardboard box with
holes punched in the lid. A loud buzzing sounded from inside it.
One of Siegel's eyes was blank white now, with the sheen of pearl,
but he smiled at Crane and turned one of the sugar cubes upside down, and
then he lifted the lid off the box.
The fly was a buzzing insect that seemed to be the size of a plum,
and it was up and out and flying around the table in an instant, its
jointed legs dangling loosely under its swooping body.
Crane flinched away from it, but it was circling the sugar cubes
"Say you'd bet five grand he'd land on that one," Siegel said
cheerfully, pointing at the one with the DDT face still up.
The fly landed on the other one, its long legs seeming to hug the
cube, its face working at the surface.
The light through the windows was dimming; Siegel waved a brown
hand, and several lamps came on, casting a yellow glow over the table. The
motion had startled the fly away from the sugar, and while it was looping
heavily through the air again, he picked up the cube the insect had
spurned and tossed it over his shoulder, out the window.
"That was for betting," Siegel said. His voice was raspy now, and
Crane looked up at him. The tan skin of Siegel's cheek was peeling,
exposing rough blue coral. "This is for...illustration."
Again the fly landed on the cube and began gnawing at it. Crane
could hear a tiny grinding.
"It knows there's a poison one," wheezed Siegel, "but it doesn't
realize this is the one. It sees the sweet edible face and doesn't know
it hides the same poison."
In the dimming light, dots seemed to be flickering on the cube, as
if it were a white die; then the flickering marks seemed to be card suits.
The fly was tossing aside fragments of sugar in its haste to devour the
cube, and its bristly head was buried in a hole it had eaten into the
Then the fly shuddered and tumbled off. It lay on its back, its
long legs working in the air and a muddy liquid running out of its face.
"Too late," said Siegel huskily, "it realizes its mistake."
The windows behind him were closed now, and behind the glass
rectangles, as if they were panels of an aquarium, churned the
algae-fogged water of Lake Mead.
The walls and furniture were dissolving, and the light was going
Siegel's head hung in the smoky dimness in front of Crane. The
hair was gone, and the skin was a mossy smoothness except where the coral
showed through. "He killed me," grated the head, "shot out my eye, cut
off my head in the mortuary, and threw it in the lake! In memory of me,
too, do this."
The rubber rim of the diving mask was suction-cupping Crane's face
again, and its sides blocked his peripheral vision, and he could feel the
slick layer of water between his skin and the neoprene wet suit. When he
kicked himself away from the head that sat on top of the spire, his fins
propelled him well back, so that the head was now just the bumpy top of
the column in the murky water.
Breathing fast through the regulator, he thrashed spasmodically
away through the dirty cold water.
Okay, he thought nervously, think. What did I get out of that? I
learned that my father killed Bugsy Siegel, who was apparently the King
before him. But what do I do now? Am I supposed to...what, put poisoned
sugar in my father's coffee or something?
Whatever had happened here today, it was clearly over, and he
turned and started to swim back the way he'd come. His left leg was
feeling tight-strung, and every time he breathed how he could hear a
ringing metallic broong in the tank, a sure sign that he was low on air.
THE MAJOR ARCANA
The correspondence of the Grail Legend with the Tarot Cards
0 The Fool The Seeker/Parzival
1 Magician Merlin
2 High Priestess Lady of the Lake
3 Empress Guenevere
4 Emperor Arthur
5 Pope The Church of Peter
6 The Lovers Parzival/Condwiramurs
7 The Chariot The Grail Horse, Natural Will
8 Strength Gawain
9 The Hermit The Grail Hermit
10 Wheel of Fortune The Round Table
11 Justice Sovereignty
12 Hanged Man The Fisher King
13 Death Enchantments of the Land
14 Temperance The Way of Nature
15 The Devil Green Man/ Nine Witches
16 The Tower The Wasteland
17 Star Goddess of Sovereignty
18 Moon The Grail Bearer
19 Sun The Solar Way, Male Power
20 Last Judgment Enlightenment
21 The World Flowering of Paradise Restored
THE MINOR ARCANA
Four Aces The Four Hallows:
Swords = Sword, Pentacles = Dish
Wands = Spear, Cups = Grail
2-9 The Landscape of the Grail Quest
Card 10 Four Courts of the Hallows
Court Cards The Page (originally the maiden), The Knight, Queen and
King of each of the four castles being: The Grail Castle,
Castle Mortal, Arthur's Castle, and Castle Belrepaire
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