18 DAVE ‘SLOTS’ ATKINS
Fallen Angel, 1945, USA, Director Otto Preminger
Poor Stella. If only the sweet girl had known. The number of times Dave Atkins asked her to go off with him to Vegas and get married, and always Stella said no like she did to all the guys. Eric Stanton thought Stella was saying yes to him but she wasn’t. I knew her better than anyone. I watched Stella every day working beside me. She kept the guys hanging on a string. I was just the old fool that gave her a job and drooled when she poured coffee for the customers. Me, she kept dangling on a rope. Everyone called me Pops. I hated that name, especially after Stella arrived. Me, I haven’t done much since Stella was murdered. There and then I sold the coffee shop to Eric.
I’d have done a lot less if Eric hadn’t kept pestering me with his schemes. I sold him the coffee shop on one condition, that he kept it the way it was, just coffee, food snacks and beer. That was what the folks wanted, especially in the summer which was when we did most of our business.
June his wife put up the money for the coffee shop. I remember the first day Eric was owner. June visited for a coffee and donut, the only time, and Eric made this little speech. ‘I promise, sweetheart,’ he said. ‘I’ll never borrow another cent from you.’ And Eric didn’t but none of the profits from the coffee shop ever went into the Stanton household. It all had to be invested in his latest wheeze. Eric never altered the coffee shop but, believe me, the beach either side sure got crowded. I warned him about the fishing tackle rack. I said ‘Eric, folks don’t come to our beach to fish. They go to the lakes in the mountains and round places like Bridgeport up north.’ June didn’t mind about the schemes of Eric. She figured that was the money he earned in his business. There was more than enough Mills money for them to live on in their big house, and Eric never said anything about sister Clara sharing the home.
Dave Atkins was there that first day Eric reopened the coffee shop. He applauded the speech by Eric but he was still stiff from the beating he took from Mark Judd. That beating changed Dave Atkins. Mark Judd was a retired cop and, as we found out, retired because he liked to throw punches. Mark Judd was one of those bad apples the police talk about when someone complains about something. Mark Judd was more than a bad apple. He was the rotter that not only killed Stella but tried to set up Eric Stanton and Dave for the murder. Judd would have set me up if he could. Judd picked the wrong guy in Eric because Eric had been around and, if his ideas for money making schemes were a bit wooky, he was sharp. He proved that the way he built up a crowd for the spiritualist act that came to Walton. They arrived around the same time as Eric. That was a load of hooey but it gave the folks something to talk about through that winter.
A lot happened after Eric arrived and the folks with the spooks left town. Stella was killed and we found out that respectable Mark Judd, the mister from the city who sat at the end of the counter, was a piece of dirt. And June Mills married Eric, and none thought that would ever happen or last but it did. It’s like that in small towns like Walton. Same thing for years, and then it all happens in a few days. I said this to Eric one day in the coffee shop. I liked to eat a hamburger there. Eric was good with hamburgers and hot dogs, eggs, I have to say, not so good.
I watched the customers a lot but I never figured that Eric would settle, which he did in a kind of way, that Judd was a murderer or Dave Atkins would become rich. We know he was called Slots when his nickname appeared in the papers. That was much later. Eric arrived in ‘45. We first heard Dave was making big money with his slot machines at the end of the ‘50s. His name appeared in the papers, saying how he had secured a big contract to sell slot machines in Vegas. To us in Walton it didn’t seem like Dave Atkins became rich overnight. It felt gradual like. He spent more and more time away from Walton, and each time he came home the cars would be bigger and he would have more money to throw around. The money, though, didn’t settle him. Dave wasn’t happy one little bit when Eric said no to having a slot machine in the coffee shop. By then Dave was selling the damned things by the hundreds in Vegas plus all over the country but he still got upset over this one damned slot machine. I’m not sure what made Dave so sour. He complained about the hotel owners skimming from what the machines earned but, as I told him, why worry. He only sold the damned things. Eric hated slot machines, and I wasn’t so fussed about them neither.
The last time I saw Dave he had a girl on his arm. And guess what? She looked just like Stella. Tall, shapely and with black hair as thick as the mane on a horse. After Dave was murdered in Vegas she was all over the papers and the TV. So I was told because I never watch the TV. I hate televisions almost as much as I hate slot machines. They had found Dave burnt to death in a car in the desert. His girl whose name I can’t remember said it was murder. I was shocked. First because it was Dave, and second because we just saw him as one of the guys from our small town.
People ask me if I was jealous of the guys that Stella had in tow. Not jealous, no, because they were young and I was old Pops. I envied them, though, I’ll say that. I wouldn’t have begrudged Dave if he’d walked off with Stella. And now we know he was murdered I think they’d both be alive if Stella had hitched up with him. Some of the folks round here say they weren’t surprised by what happened. All that money Dave had, a man without a college education, something had to happen. And Dave was different later. He didn’t act like a gangster but he had this swagger. I put it down to the extra money that he was throwing around but now I wonder.
All in all, though, I was surprised. Eric said the same thing when we were working on setting up the surfboard stall on the beach. That is the one scheme of Eric that has made money. The night before Dave had called in to Walton and he’d been in the coffee shop buying beers for everyone. Dave was more relaxed than I’d seen him for some time. He had this contract to sell machines to these new owners of a couple of the hotels in Vegas. They were Italians but they wanted to run their new Vegas operation as something legit’. No skimming or anything, said Dave. He was impressed by their operation. Dave said they talked straight. I remember the name of the Italians because a couple of years later one of the family died in a fishing accident. Dave mentioned them a lot as well. The Corleones, said Dave. The guy who ran everything was called Michael. We heard a lot about Michael Corleone that night. Eric, of course, just wanted to talk about surfboards. Dave laughed off the surfboard stuff. He was in a good mood.
So we were all shocked a couple of years later when we read about Dave being found dead in a burnt out car in Death Valley. There was a rumour that Dave had wanted a piece of the sister of this Michael Corleone but I don’t believe that because this sister looked nothing like Stella. And she wasn’t even tall. And I heard that this sister dame went through men like nobody’s business and nothing ever happened to any of them. So what do I think happened to Dave? I go along with what Eric thinks. Dave was spending more and more time in Vegas. Eric reckoned Dave heard or saw something he shouldn’t have and with those kinds of people they like to have secrets and they will kill to keep their secrets. It could be something to do with the slot machines. I know some of the people Dave dealt with wanted the machines adjusted so they didn’t pay out so much. The Corleones were different, though, according to Dave. If you don’t let the suckers win once in a while, you don’t have any customers. The Corleones understood, said Dave. Who knows what happened to Dave Atkins. I feel sorry for Dave but I can’t help thinking it was the best thing that happened to Eric and June Stanton. It kept them settled. You know what I mean?
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest travel book No Tall Heels To Tango is now available here.