The Water Charm – By Jonathan Ferrini

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Pic by Steve Johnson

 

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The stars align like a map resulting in a fortuitous collision between aspiration and opportunity on a diverse cultural highway including dinosaurs.

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“He’s a smooth operator…
His eyes are like angels… Smooth operator…

“Put that Karaoke mic down, Charlene.”

“It’s your birthday and I want to serenade you, Le’Roy.”

“Climb off me and give this ‘ol man an opportunity to rest his weary bones, darlin’.”

“I’ll call over another girl, baby.”

“I come to see you, Charlene.”

“You’re a sweet and generous customer, Le’Roy. You’re my friend, too.”

“How long have you been dancing for me, Charlene?”

“Since I started this job at eighteen and I’ve seen you every Wednesday afternoon at noon for the past eleven years.”

“Why’s a young lady with a smart head on her shoulders workin’ in a dive like this?”

“I’ve got two hungry kids livin’ in a rusting trailer who depend upon me to bring home tips. I’m not ashamed of dancing. It’s the only work I can find which feeds, clothes, and sends my kids to school not wanting for anything.”

“Stop jabbering, Charlene! Get up and pole dance!”

“It’s okay, Pete. I’ve got Charlene’s time covered.”

“Thank you for wavin’ the ‘Benjamin’ at the boss so we can talk.

“I’ve told him about the “man camps” just thirty minutes from here with hungry, horny, and thirsty oil shale workers livin’ like pigs in dormitories.

“I told him to get a bus and provide transportation to and from this place and he’ll make big money from those workers paid in cash every Friday.

“He told me I don’t know anything about business.”

“Look outside the window and what do you see, Charlene?”

“A whole lotta’ nothing but vacant land.”

“Your lookin’ at the border of your Rez with the town.

“In few years, that side of the street will have a new tribal casino, hotel, and restaurants sittin’ on top of it, and this dusty old street runnin’ through a ‘one-horse town’ will be bustling with new businesses, jobs, and opportunities for you and others on your Rez.”

“How do you know about all of this Le’Roy?  Nobody on the Rez said a word about a casino and hotel.”

“It’s being discussed at the statehouse. Very hush-hush.”

“I don’t know a thing about you. What do you do with all your time?”

“I’ll sound like your other customers bitchin’ about their wives and lousy lives.”

“I want to know you. Tell me.”

“I sit out on the porch, smoke my pipe, listen to favorite Motown tunes, and wonder about it all.”

“Wonder about what?”

“I read books written by great authors and philosophers describing ‘what’. I still haven’t found the meaning.”

“Don’t you want to get out of this dusty old town and live large?”

“Livin’ ‘large’ is starin’ up at the stars and lookin’ for the road map which lead me here.”

“What ‘road map’ brought you here?”

“I was a kid runnin’ from ‘Jim Crow’ down south finding refuge in the Air Force recruiting office. After completing basic training, I was assigned to an ICBM base up state. Tensions were high during the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ and we knew our base would be hit first in a nuclear attack!

“I drove a dump truck and hauled away dirt from the new missile silos they were drilling. I overheard some geologists say they were finding large deposits of Methane gas and pockets of sedimentary rock with ‘Oil shale’.

“Methane’s the stuff you burn on the stove but they add an odor to it for safety purposes. Oil shale is the stuff their fracking at the man camps.

“The geologists left behind a map dotted with giant underground pockets of Methane and Oil shale so I grabbed it.

“Gasoline was plentiful and only thirty cents per gallon so nobody was thinkin’about finding a way to extract the oil from the rock which they call ‘fracking’ today.

“The dinosaurs created the vast underground reserves of methane and shale oil underneath this state making millionaires out of those extracting it.

“They’d drill the silos right through their skeletal remains.

“I drove the dirt and skeletal remains out to the B-52 bomber airstrips they were building. I’d dump the load which would be pulverized by steam rollers before the concrete tarmac was laid over it.

“It’s ironic a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs which became part of the landing strip for the B-52’s carrying nuclear payloads capable of wiping out the planet.”

“It’s not ironic to me. For us, the steam roller was the United States Cavalry.”

“Yeah, just like Jim Crow.

“I retired from the Air Force and bought a tractor trailer hauling merchandise throughout the state. After a long day of driving, I’d park my rig in an empty field and check my location on the geology map. I was sittin’ on top of a large methane pocket.

“I bought my first one hundred acres with a ‘VA’ loan including the pocket of gas underneath.

“Money adds up living frugally in a big rig.  I bought land wherever I found the gas and shale pockets for pennies on the dollar from failing farmers all over the state.

“If I was going to buy a piece of this precious Earth, I wanted to own it all; everything above ground and below right down to the Earth’s core.

“I liken it to lovin’ a woman. Any man can fall in love with a woman’s outward beauty but falling in love with her soul is special. It’s not on any map, a woman must reveal her soul to you, and that’s a precious gift.”

“Is that why there’s no Mrs. Charm?”

“Maybe so, Charlene, but time has a way of delivering gifts along the pathway of life unexpectedly, and sometimes, too late.

“I sat patiently on my land holdings never earning a dime but around the time of the ‘Arab Oil Embargo’ of the seventies, oil company executives began showing up offering to buy my land.

“My reply was always the same. ‘Not for sale!’

“They came back with offers to lease the gas and oil rights underneath my land. I signed a lease with the President of Standard Oil on the front porch of my farm shack.

“My mailbox filled with dividend checks, so many, it would take an hour to deposit them all at the bank. Now they’re all direct deposit.”

“So, you’re a wealthy man, Le’Roy, and I shouldn’t be fooled by those faded overall’s, flannel shirt, ‘John Deere’ cap, and old pipe you smoke?”

“I’m just an ‘ol boy who kept his eyes on the road and on the map.”

“Why don’t you travel the world?”

“My destiny brought me to River Wash and here is where I’m gonna’ stay ‘cause visiting with you gives me a second opportunity to peer beneath the surface and find riches.”

“Sometimes I wonder if you’re just flirting or, uh oh, Pete is givin’ me that ‘look’. I can’t afford to lose this job.”

“I own all the land on this side of the street and Pete pays me rent so ignore him.”

“The biggest nightly event around here is the chorus of barking dogs, Le’Roy. I just can’t see a casino and hotel across the street!”

“Somebody will get filthy rich from the new hotel casino project, Charlene.”

“Who gets to build and operate the hotel-casino, LeRoy?”

“The Governor solicited proposals from the usual Vegas and Atlantic City operators.”

“If they don’t live on the Rez, what gives them the right to build a casino and hotel?”

“They team up with a Native American ‘front man’ from the Rez. I hear your Rez chairman, Arrow Robles, has teamed up with an Atlantic City operator and has the support of the Governor.”

“Why not a ‘front lady’?”

“How would you build a successful hotel-casino?”

“I’ll have those shale workers board our luxury busses and stay in a four-star hotel, swim in our indoor heated pool, bowl, and get a massage in our spa. We’ll provide all the comforts of home.

“My gals will entertain them, liquor them up, and give ‘em a real ‘Tomahawk Steak’ I’ll call the ‘Maneater’ all the while takin’ their money at the gaming tables and slots!”

“Why can you win the contract from the state?”

“I’ll create opportunities for the women barely making ends meet on the Rez to have a good payin’ job with benefits.”

“What about the men?”

“Most of the folks livin’ on the Rez are single, divorced or widowed women. Lucky for my babies they were too young to witness their daddy bein’ wheeled out of the trailer by the coroner after an overdose.

“The young men who don’t leave the Rez fall victim to substance abuse, die, or commit suicide. It’s terrible to see them emasculated. They’re descendants of mighty warriors.

“My ideas must sound foolish, Le’Roy. I don’t have any experience or money.”

 “If you can put down on paper exactly how you see a new hotel and casino benefiting people livin’ on the Rez, particularly women, I think your proposal is noteworthy because the Atlantic City and Vegas corporate operators will be stressing tax revenue tryin’ to win over the politicians.

“You’re comin’ at this with a female empowerment plan by a local gal from the Rez and it won’t hurt to have an African American as your partner.

“I’ll set up an LLC with you as the Managing Member and provide the balance sheet along with the banking and construction contacts. I sit on the board of the town’s bank who can finance the construction.

“It’s a long shot, so don’t get your hopes up but I think the stars have lined up for us.

“Why are you crying, darlin’?”

“They’re tears of happiness, Le’Roy. Nobody ever believed in me like you. It’s your birthday but you’re the one giving me the gift.”

“Hey Pete, bring us a bottle of champagne. Play some Sinatra and class this joint up for a change!”

Fairy tales can come true
It can happen to you
If you’re young at heart…

“As Governor, I call to order the meeting of the selection committee for the proposed new tribal casino and hotel project in River Wash. Joining me include Mr. Richard Head, Mayor of River Wash which adjoins the reservation property; Mr. Arrow Robles, Chairman of the Tribal Council representing the reservation which will host the new property; and Dr. Violetta Bravebird, Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“I’m pleased to inform you the State has received three applications. My staff has validated their credentials. Dr. Bravebird will read the names of the three applicants.”

“Thank you, Madam Governor.

“One entrant is a well-known Vegas casino and hotel operator.

“The second is a prestigious Atlantic City casino and hotel operator with gaming management concessions on tribal lands throughout the country.

“The third is local.”

“What! Who the hell is that?”

“Excuse me, Mr. Mayor, but let’s maintain decorum.”

“I apologize Governor Chen but my town’s future can’t be placed within the hands of a local amateur.”

“Please disclose the name of the applicant Dr. Bravebird.”

“Madame Governor, the name of the third entrant is ‘The Water Charm, LLC’. The partners include Charlene Highwater, Managing Member, and Le’Roy Charm, Partner.”

“Le’Roy Charm? He’s an old man who lives out on a broken-down farm outside town, Governor. We see him in town once a week gettin’ a lap dance at the strip joint, ‘Pete’s Playpen’”.

“Yes, he’s an elderly Black man, Mayor, who happens to own the oil and mineral rights underneath most of the state. Mr. Charm is a valued taxpayer.”

“I’m the Mayor and demand to know who the hell is Charlene Highwater?”

“You might know her as ‘Charlene Hustle’ the stripper at ‘Pete’s Playpen’ who lives on our Rez.”

 “I vote against a proposal from a stipper livin’ on your Rez, Arrow. I won’t stand for it as Mayor!”

“From the perspective of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Ms. Highwater has identified as ‘Native American’ and resides on the Chairman’s tribal land.  Mr. Charm’s impressive balance sheet is certified by a reputable national accounting firm. He also sits on the Board of Directors of the town’s bank willing to fund the construction, and Mr. Charm identifies as African American.

“The Bureau has completed background checks on Ms. Highwater and Mr. Charm; both are squeaky clean and the necessary financing is confirmed by River Wash Bank’s financing commitment.”

“It’s now my duty as Governor to hold a vote with a show of hands which entrant to select. The selected candidate must receive the majority of votes to be approved.

“All supporting the Vegas candidate?  No show of hands.

“Atlantic City candidate? Chairman Robles affirms, Mayor Head affirms, and the Governor also supports the application.

“The Water Charm, LLC candidate? Dr. Bravebird affirms.

“It appears the Atlantic City application has received the majority of the votes.”

“May I speak on behalf of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Madame Governor?”

“Certainly, Doctor.”

“After running a little ‘Game Theory’ in my head, I’ll break down our best decision as follows.

“First, I read each business plan associated with the three candidates.

“Ms. Highwater is clearly speaking from the heart about female economic empowerment.

“Furthermore, she’s the only applicant with concrete plans to create good union paying jobs, building tribal medical clinics, K-12 schools, and providing scholarships from the revenues.

“She stipulates that every facet of the construction shall require trade union apprenticeship opportunities for tribal residents including women.

“The other two proposals simply focus on tax revenue for the State with no mention of job training, schools, scholarships, or medical clinics.

“Second, Ms. Highwater’s proposal is the only one of the three with operators who aren’t ‘fronts’ and both partners are from marginalized communities. In this case, a Native American woman and African American man who are both locals.

“Third, The Water Charm provides you, Madame Governor, with Native American voters supporting your choice of a local woman from the Rez as well as African American voters.

“You’ll need their support when you enter the race for Senator as the first Chinese-American Governor of the state.

“As for Chairman Robles, he’ll receive support from his tribal constituents by selecting a member of his Rez to develop the casino, and a woman to boot. The Chairman will be touted as a progressive tribal leader with possibly a political career in his future. 

“Fourth, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will receive favorable support of The Water Charm in Washington as we seldom have the opportunity to back a female tribal resident with the requisite balance sheet, banking, and construction contacts.

“It’s a huge political win for all associated with The Water Charm, LLC.

“Judging from the scent of what I believe is perfume on her business plan, Ms. Highwater is a smooth operator who knows how to win.

“It’s a no brainer, folks. Bigger isn’t best and local is better than corporate gaming from out of state.”

“River Wash deserves a professional operator, and I don’t care what some Washington bureaucrat has to say. Robles has invested a great amount of time with the Atlantic City operator. The deal is all worked out! My vote is no!”

“Mr. Mayor, I demand you apologize to Doctor Bravebird.”

“It’s not necessary, Governor. The mayor will send me roses and chocolates after The Water Charm revitalizes his ‘one horse town’. I have a positive feeling about Charlene and the Bureau of Indian Affairs votes to approve her application.

“It’s up to you, Arrow. Stand proud as Chief and support one of your own or sell out for ‘breadcrumbs’ thrown to you by the ‘man’”

“I’m not a ‘sell out’. You got my vote, Bravebird.  I vote in favor of accepting the Water Charm proposal.”

“Let the record show the Governor also supports the Water Charm proposal. The Water Charm, LLC has received a majority of the vote and the committee has selected it to build and manage the hotel and project.”

“Smiling faces…
…Pretend to be your friend
Smiling faces show no traces
Of the evil that lurks within…

“I want to introduce Mr. William Sherman who is the CEO of the Atlantic City gaming corporation who competed for the hotel-casino project.

“Sir, you know Chairman Robles but also in attendance is Charlene Hustle, excuse me, Highwater, and Le’Roy Charm. Also in attendance is the President of our local bank funding the selected project, Andy Jackson.”

“Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Let me get right to the point. My organization has the money, muscle, and corporate brand to make this project a success. I can point to many gaming concessions on reservations which prove my point.

“If an agreement can be made to assign the rights to build and manage this project to a new entity I’ll create, Charlene and Le’Roy will be made silent, minority partners, making them wealthy and banking dividends the remainder of their lives.

“You’ll score big Arrow because we have successful gaming concessions with tribes across the nation. You and the Mayor will look like geniuses to your constituents placing you both in the national limelight. Everybody wins!”

“Yeah, everyone but the women, men, and children who need job training, schools, clinics, and scholarships.”

“We’ll agree to throw the Rez a ‘bone’ with a scholarship fund but we’re bringing in our own construction crews and management to control costs and maximize profits solely from gaming and hospitality. We’re not in the education and healthcare business!”

“I don’t want a ‘minority silent-partner’ stake. I want it all!”

“You’re a no-good stripper who conned an old man to fund your application. Arrow, you promised to make this deal come together, now get to work and earn your piece of the pie!”

“I’m the stripper who danced for you mayor but you don’t recognize me because I was wearing a wig! You were a lousy tipper.”

“Charlene, history has taught us that we lose when we go up against ‘the man’. We hit the ‘jackpot’ with this deal, and each of should ride off into the ‘sunset’ with our winnings.”

“Well, Chairman, this chick and her partner don’t need no ‘bone’ thrown to us and the only person riding off into the ‘sunset’ is ‘the man’ with an arrow sticking out of his ass!”

“Well, honey, I’m the ‘Cavalry’ who has arrived from Atlantic City. Tell them your bank’s decision on financing their deal, Andy.”

“Le’Roy, the Board won’t permit the bank’s funding your project.”

“I submitted your signed letter of intent to fund the project with approval of the Bank’s Board of Directors to the Governor. You can’t back out now!”

“The questionable scruples of your business partner, Ms. Highwater, has come to the Board’s attention. I have the Board’s full support in rescinding the funding.”

“I was wondering when the ‘boys club’ would pull their ‘wild card’ about my dancing. Just another treaty broken”

“You’re playin’ ‘dirty pool’, Andy. I knew the bank was happy to have my money on their balance sheet and a token Black on their board, but I believed you were ethical businessmen.”

“It’s just business, Le’Roy. Let’s all shake hands on the deal and Mr. Sherman will have the contracts prepared.”

“Not so fast, banker! I have a ‘hold card’ up my sleeve. Come on in, ladies.”

“Sonya, Lupe, what are you doin’ in town? You didn’t call your mom or me!”

“We wouldn’t miss a meeting with daddy.

“Gentlemen, I’m Sonya Robles, attorney for The Water Charm, LLC. I’m accompanied by my sister, Lupe Robles, Doctor of Medicine, and Board Certified in Family Medicine who, in your parlance, is ‘spearheading’ the construction and operation of the planned family health and urgent care center to be completed simultaneously with the hotel-casino.

“We heard your ‘pow wow’ outside the door from the hallway. Like Mr. Sherman, I’ll ‘get right to the point’. The law firm of which I’m a partner specializes in tribal sovereignty law.

“It’s the intention of The Water Charm to employ union labor during construction and in the operation of the hotel-casino. These union officials, Mr. Sherman, are ‘banking’, on the collective bargaining agreements and union dues. They’ll be so ticked off losing this opportunity they’ll seek to organize the workers at your other reservation establishments.

“Mr. Sherman, your tribal gaming concessions across the country won’t appreciate the negative publicity of the law suit I’ll be filing, and you may lose their concessions when they seek political ‘cover’.

“Mr. Jackson, I’ll file suit against your bank for the discriminatory lending practice of ‘redlining’ by pulling your funding from my African American client’s project as well as breach of contract.

“I’m also prepared to file a charge of ‘tortious interference of contract’ against Mr. Sherman’s Atlantic City gaming company, the bank, and the mayor’s office by circumventing the statutory ruling by the Governor.

“Daddy, you’re subject to a conflict-of-interest lawsuit as an equity holder in this scheme. You’ll incur the wrath of everybody on the Rez who are anticipating the construction apprenticeship training, good paying union jobs with benefits, quality schools, and health care within walking distance of their homes.

“Mayor, my press release regarding the lawsuits will bring every media outlet to your small-town portraying you as the ‘Bull Connor’ of our times and Red Wash as the ‘Edmund Pettus’ Bridge’. Dr. Robles has something to add.”

“I’ve secured grant proposals from the Department of Education for the new K-12 school, vocational programs, and funding from federal agencies for the construction of the new clinic and urgent care center with the understanding I stay on as the Director.

“They’ll be very disappointed about your plan to move forward without schools or hospitals.”

“What my sister is saying, folks, you’ll all be in the ‘crosshairs’ of Washington, D.C.”

“I’ve heard enough and no longer have interest in proceeding. I’ll be flying private back to Jersey and enjoying the ‘sunset’ with a cocktail in my hand, Ms. Highwater.”

“When I turn The Water Charm into a big success, I’ll come gunnin’ for your tribal gamin’ concessions, Sherman. You better make that drink a double!

“Hey Mayor, can I buy you a lap dance over at ‘Pete’s Playpen’ before ya’ leave?”

“We’re not finished with you daddy. Wait until we tell mom about your deal!”

“…So, he’s leaving the life he’s come to know …

My heart is skippin’ beats and it’s getting’ difficult to draw a breath. Doc said my pipe smokin’ is the cause. Don’t bother me ‘cause life dealt this ‘ol boy a very good hand. I think about those dinosaurs givin’ me my start in life and I was happy to pay forward their generosity to Charlene who is paying forward to the Rez.

Charlene brought the hotel-casino project in on time and under budget with the help of Sonya and Lupe. She created high payin’ jobs for folks on the Rez and delivered on her promise to provide quality schools, clinics, vocational training, and scholarships.

Mayor Dick fell into line, never missing an opportunity to kiss Charlene’s ass.

Upon the advice of his daughters, Arrow Robles resigned as Chairman, admitting publicly he accepted a six-figure bribe from Sherman who was threatening to make it public if Arrow didn’t support his proposal. Arrow returned the money and retired. Charlene backed the candidacy of a young lady from the Rez with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration who became Chairperson.

My partners at the bank lost out on financing our project. The ladies found better terms with another lender. The bank closed and was replaced by a new credit union on the Rez offering low interest loans to folks seekin’ to build a home or open a business.

I’ll never forget that look on Charlene’s face when she steered that bulldozer into Pete’s Playpen, flattening it, makin’ way for new development up and down the block.

The stars were maps for ancient mariners and I found my map at a drill site for nuclear missile silos. Charlene and me were like points on the map resembling stars in the sky which collided, creating a new constellation filled with opportunity named, “The Water Charm”.

I saw somethin’ more in Charlene than just a stripper. I wish I told her; I loved her.

Charlene, Charlene Hustle, Hustle, Hust…Hu…

“Welcome to the ‘The Water Charm Hotel and Casino’, Senator Chen. Our hotel, gaming, and restaurants have received a ‘Four Star’ rating by travel critics.

“You’ll notice the gaming tables are attended to by women from the Rez. I put their card dealer and croupier skills up against the best in Vegas, Atlantic City or Monte Carlo!

“We run luxury busses every hour to and from the man camps. We’re also creating a clientele from tourists hearing about us from out of state.”

“I’m concerned about your club, ‘Strictly Business’.”

“‘Strictly Business’ is all business, Senator. We sell alcohol, the best steaks, seafood, and lively entertainment in the state. Our shows rival those Vegas showgirl revues. The men require ‘eye candy’ and leave behind more money on the gaming floor.

“The bowling lanes are very popular with the gents ‘cause the players are attended to by our ‘Pin Girls’. Bowling a strike gets the bowler, ‘Pinned’, which is a dance with a girl of their choice.”

“Don’t you agree the skimpy costumes the waitresses and dancers wear are demeaning?”

“Why don’t you ask the ‘Pin Girls’ wearing those short leather skirts and thigh high moccasins embroidered with their names, if they feel demeaned, Senator Chen?

“Earning $500 in eight hours pays a lot of bills, books, and tuition. They also receive full medical, dental, and vision benefits as well as a matching 401k.

“Our ‘Pin Girls’ tell me they will proudly hang their pair of thigh high moccasins alongside their diplomas!”

“I’m sorry for the loss of your partner, Le’Roy.”

“Le’Roy’s legacy remains in my heart and on the Rez.

“All that land across the street was owned by Le’Roy and he insisted it be developed into commercial buildings with affordable rents so people from the Rez could open businesses. Le’Roy would be proud to know the majority of business operators renting space within this establishment and across the street are owned and operated by women from the Rez.

“Dr. Robles welcomed her first medical doctor into practice at the family medical clinic who received one hundred percent of her tuition paid through Le’Roys scholarship fund. Ninety percent of the graduating class from the new high school is attending college or vocational training tuition free thanks to Le’Roy.”

“Did Le’Roy have any family?”

“Nobody. His attorney provided me his ‘Last Will and Testament’ dated on my twenty-first birthday naming me sole beneficiary. Le’Roy never told me.

“I placed my inheritance including his oil, gas leases, and partnership interest in The Water Charm within a new trust underwriting the ‘Water Charm Entertainment Management Company’ benefitting tribal nations seeking the same economic opportunities we achieved. We’re wooing the gaming concession contracts away from corporate operators and providing a fair deal to the tribal nations.”

“I’m sharing your incredible success story with my colleagues in Washington. There may be a political future for you Charlene.”

“Tell ‘em what Le’Roy told me, ‘Never judge a book by its cover’. Even if it’s missing a ‘jacket’.

“Hey Pete, play Sinatra in memory of Le’Roy!”

…You can go to extremes
With impossible schemes…

…For as rich as you are
It’s much better by far…

…And here is the best part
You’ve had a head start
If you are among the very
Young at heart…


 

About the Author

Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego. His partial collection of short stories is included within his book “Hearts Without Sleeves. Twenty-Three Stories” available on Amazon. Jonathan received his MFA in motion picture and television production from UCLA.