When we last saw our heroine, she had landed a job as a singer in Las Vegas, and was the apple of a big time gambler’s eye.
After I began singing with Ted Fio Rito’s band, it wasn’t long before Nick the Greek began taking notice of me in a more personal way. He asked me out to dinner and then a show and before long we were dating pretty regularly. He was very protective, treating me with great deference and respect, understanding that a youngster like me, trying out her wings in a wild town like Vegas, was a target.
Though his expensive tailored suits always reeked of cigar smoke, Nick was charming and fun to be around. Our liaison developed into an offbeat sort of Lolita relationship that featured very little sex, but a lot of talk and advice. As befitted a man with a high stakes reputation, Nick loved the best restaurants. We often had dinner and drinks at Luiggis and always made the rounds of the casinos afterward.
One night the dice began rolling Nick’s way at the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street. A crowd gathered around us at the crap table as the stacks of silver dollars and black chips grew higher in front of him. When he felt his luck had ebbed, Nick tipped a hundred each to the croupiers and cashed in the rest.
On our way out of the Nugget, Nick bought me an expensive watch, encrusted with diamonds and rubies and hugged me close as we walked out into the hubbub of the hot Vegas night. “You were certainly my Lady Luck tonight,” he said.
Like every professional gambler I’ve ever known, Nick was a keen student of human nature and could size up people very quickly. Often he would point out someone in the casino and confide to me, “Watch out for that one. He’s no good.” He nearly always proved to be right.
A wealthy oilman named Ray Ryan was one he warned me about. Ryan had made a sizable fortune on oil leases in his native Evansville, Indiana, and was also a highly successful real estate developer in Palm Springs, California. He was a good gambler who delighted in high-stakes action. He was married, but always hitting on girls in the casino.
Nick and Ray Ryan had played a highly publicized, week-long poker game outside the new Thunderbird Casino. The marathon game finally ended with Nick losing half a million dollars—more than four and a half million in today’s dollars. Nick the Greek had lost big before and, as always, he paid his gambling debt. But Nick learned later that Ryan had cheated. Ryan had hired men to spy on the game through binoculars and radio the cards in Nick’s hand to him through an earphone. (A scheme that was later popularized in Ian Fleming’s novel, Goldfinger.) When Nick found out, he demanded his money back, but Ryan denied any wrongdoing. Nick sued Ryan, but the case was thrown out of court.
Nick lived by a strict code of honor. He played for high stakes. He lived high when he won, gave money to charities, and bought gifts for people he liked. When he lost, he paid his debts and moved on. But he could not abide cheating, and he became obsessed with getting even with Ryan. According to some accounts, Nick enlisted the help of the Chicago mobster Sam Giancana to get his money back. An enforcer was sent to the oilman, but Ryan stubbornly refused to return the Greek’s money. Ryan himself had ties to crime syndicates and despite threats and even being “taken for a ride” in the desert, he managed to bluff his way out of paying.
Nick never got his money back from Ray Ryan, but he ultimately had his revenge. In 1977, Ryan’s car was rigged with a bomb by the Chicago mob. When he turned the key, the explosion shattered windows for blocks around, killing Ryan instantly, and belatedly closing the books on his dispute with Nick the Greek, eleven years after Nick’s death.
To be continued…
Next time Lolita falls for a gangster.