The Oklahoma Gamblin’ Man
America has been a beacon of hope and a land of opportunity since its inception. During the twentieth century, America became a great country and the Americans born during the early part of that century proved to be what some now call “America’s greatest generation.” There are millions of contributors to and members of that elite generation; each has a story that is unique and fascinating. The times moved fast, and change was essential and uncompromising. Rex Tanner’s story is of one man who started from meager beginnings, survived everything and anything life could throw at him and retained his good humor and self-confidence until his last dying breath. An inspiration and example of the American heart, Rex Tanner’s life now comes alive on these pages for all to consider.
Pretty Boy Floyd
…One night Rex heard a loud banging at his hotel room door. Opening the door, he was brushed back into the room by his brother Frank.
“I got Floyd downstairs in a taxi,” said Frank. “Elmer and his cops are all gone home and the FBI is out all over the place lookin’ for ’im. They got a description of the clothes he’s wearin’ and you’re about his size. What you got that we can give ’im?”
“Floyd?” Rex asked. “You mean Floyd the bank robber?”
“Yeah, Floyd the bank robber, Charles Floyd.”
“So are you quittin’ bootleggin’ and gonna rob banks now?”
“I ain’t robbed no banks yet and I ain’t got a lotta time to waste, just tell me what ya got.”
In contrast to his usually calm demeanor, Frank seemed uncharacteristically animated. He began to scan the room for anything that might be of use to him.
“Shit, Frank, alls I got is that cashmere sweater I just paid twenty dollars for…”
“Yeah, that’s good, nobody’ll be looking for Floyd wearin’ a cashmere sweater…what the hell’s a cashmere, anyway?”
“I reckon it’s some kind of special wool, or somethin’. It’s pretty soft…I reckon I got some wool slacks, too…shit, Frank, I was plannin’ on wearin’ that shit myself. I ain’t even wore any of it yet.”
Frank hardly heard anything that Rex said beyond what related to his task at hand. Frank naturally had an executive mind and was wholly focused on what he had committed himself to do.
“Just give it to me; better give me that new pair of shoes you got in that box over there, too.”
“You mean they got a description out on his shoes?”
“Hell, I don’t know, but if I’m gonna git ’im over to Muskogee tonight, he’s gonna look good for whoever’s waitin’ for ’im.”
“You’re goin’ to Muskogee?”
“Yeah, there’s some folks out in the country that have a farm he can stay at ’til the heat’s off.”
Rex reluctantly gave Frank his clothing items, and Frank was out the door and…
Don’t Take Me Back To Tulsa
…Rex and Johnny rode the freight train to Tulsa, found the game that Jack Burns had mentioned and began to play. Quick Johnny rolled the dice; Rex read the field and placed bets. In half an hour they had over eight hundred dollars, including the hundred dollars they had brought with them. The man overseeing the game stopped the game and called for a half hour intermission to re-fund the house because of the heavy losses. While Rex and Johnny were standing around, a dapper forty-something year old man approached them.
“Boys,” he said, “I been seein’ what you’re doin’ here and I want to tell you, you’re playin’ for peanuts stickin’ around here. There’s a big game just outside of town, where some of the big oil company executives and other local rich folks play. I’d want a reasonable percentage, but I could take you out there and get you in the game…I’m not talkin’ hundreds of dollars…I’m talkin’ thousands.”
“That sounds like what we’re lookin’ for,” said Johnny Slick. “How much of a percentage are you talkin’ about?”
“Well, I think twenty-five percent would be fair,” said the gentleman.
“How ’bout twenty,” said Johnny. “Hell, me ’n’ Rex have to split whatever we win between us…you’d get twenty and we’d each get forty.”
“Hell, boys, I ain’t gonna argue with you about it…twenty percent of somethin’ is better than twenty-five percent of nothin’.”
“All right, then,” said Rex, “let’s blow this dump and go find the high rollers.”
The gentleman led them to his Buick automobile and they drove away from the building where they had won the money.
“So what’s your names, boys? I’m Fred.”
“I’m Rex and this is Johnny Slick.”
“Johnny Slick?” laughed Fred. “How’d you get named that? You had to of made that up.”
“No, not exactly,” said Johnny. “Our family name is Van Slyke. People read it and think I’m Van Slike, or Van Slick. I just dropped the Van and pronounced it the way most people around here do and it comes out ‘Johnny Slick’. I got fast hands so people started callin’ me ‘Quick Johnny Slick’.”
“That’s a good story,” said Fred. “The way you roll those dice, I’m sure I’ll be hearin’ more about you.”
The car was at the outskirts of town by now and Fred headed out a lightly traveled country road to make their destination.
About five miles out of town Fred said, “There it is! Look, you can’t even see any light comin’ out.”
“It’s sure as hell dark,” said Rex. “How come there’s no cars around?”
“Most of ’em are parked in the barn and some are out there behind the barn. They’ve made a parkin’ lot out there where you can’t see ’em from the road.”
“That’s smart,” said Johnny. “Rich folks always think ahead like that.”
Fred drove up near the old farmhouse and pointed out where the players were and stopped the car and killed the ignition. “Let’s go make some money,” he said, and they all exited the vehicle.
A few steps from the car, Fred said, “Wait a minute, I think I left the keys in the ignition.”
He re-entered the car and suddenly the car started and the headlights went on. Rex and Johnny were standing several steps in front of the car as Fred came out the driver’s side with a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver and said, “All right, you shit-heels, start emptyin’ your pockets…and I mean ALL the money.”
Rex and Johnny were stunned. Their dreams of taking a group of rich folks to the cleaners had suddenly become a nightmare. Not only that, but now they were out their eight hundred dollars, which included their one hundred dollars seed money.
“Roll that money up in a wad and put it on the hood of the car,” instructed Fred, “and don’t even think of challenging me…you wouldn’t be the first penny ante hustlers I buried out in the woods.”
Rex and Johnny weren’t thinking anything, other than how stupid they were and how easily Fred had conned them.
“So here it is boys. We don’t cotton to no out of towners comin’ in here and hustlin’ our game. You boys are pretty good, I’ll admit, but I seen what you was up to five minutes after you got in the game. I don’t know where you’re from, or who you know, but don’t ever come back around here again…do you understand me?”
Rex and Johnny both nodded in the affirmative.
“Are you gonna take our shoes?” asked Rex.
“Your shoes?” laughed Fred. “Why would I want your shoes?”
“Well,” said Rex, “the last time someone throwed a gun on me and took my money, they made me give ’em my shoes.”
“Shit Rex, if I ever see you again, you ain’t gonna need no shoes.”…
…Word got back to Rex that Miller wanted to talk with him. Rex followed the instructions of how to get to Miller’s room and knocked on the door. The door opened slowly and a very large red-faced man with cold, steel-blue eyes stared out at him.
“Who’re you?” the big man asked.
“I’m Rex Tanner, Kilmer’s cousin,”
“Come on in,” invited the man. “I’m Miller.”
“Glad to know you, Miller. Kilmer says you might have some work for me.”
“Kilmer says you’re a domino player,” Miller responded. “You any good?”
“I reckon I’m prob’ly the ‘World Champion of the Midwest’,” answered Rex.
“So why are you lookin’ for work?”
“Nobody’ll play me anymore and I ain’t that good at pool…at least not good enough to know I’m always gonna win ’fore we start playin’,” explained Rex.
“Well, shit, son,” said Miller, “ain’t that the whole secret to being successful at anything?”
“I reckon it is, come to think of it,” said Rex. “What’s them war ribbons over there on the dresser?”
“Aw, I was in the Army during the war and they give me them for killin’ a bunch of people.”
“How many people did you kill?” asked Rex uncharacteristically. “I mean, was they Germans?”
“Well, what do you think, boy? That they give me ribbons for killin’ my own soldiers?”
“Naw, I mean maybe some of ’em was from other countries.”
“You know it’s kind of funny, when you stop to think about it,” replied Miller, “but in the war you can kill as many people as you want, as long as they’re on the other side. It don’t matter how good of people they are, or how old, if they’re men or women, or how much money they have, you just kill ’em and they give you medals. You come back home and you could kill the meanest, low-life son of a bitch God ever created and they’ll fry your ass in the electric chair. They call that irony, son; you ever heard of irony?”
“Naw, I ain’t never heard of it, but I git what you’re a sayin’.”
Rex noted that Miller hadn’t answered his questions. He left it at that; even in casual conversation, Miller had an edge to him that seemed dangerous.
“So tell me, Rex, can you drive a car?”
“I reckon I’m about as good a car driver as I am a pool shooter. I’m about as good as anybody around here, but I wouldn’t play some of them big city pool hustlers. I ain’t got no car, though.”
“Well, I got a car that I keep parked in a warehouse just outside of town. It’s a Packard Phaeton. Did you ever hear of that?”
“I heard of a Packard automobile, but I never heard that other part.”
“Well, it’s that same car that Al Capone drives…you ever heard of Al Capone?”
“I heard of ’im. How’d you git his car?”
“Shit boy,” blustered Miller, “it ain’t the same car…it’s the same MODEL!…and somebody else drives it for him.”
“Well, whatever it is, I can drive it,” replied Rex, just now noticing the Smith & Wesson .38 Special Police Revolver on the night stand next to the bed.
After seeing the handgun, Rex glanced around the room and noted a Springfield Armory 1911 .45 semi-automatic pistol on the dresser behind the ribbons that had previously caught his eye. Additionally, what appeared to be a double barreled 12 gauge shotgun was leaning up in the corner near the entrance to the bathroom.
“OK, to start with I want you to take these keys, go to the warehouse, get the car and drive to Tulsa and pick up some medicine I need. There’s a doctor over there that gives me a prescription that they don’t carry over here in Claremore,” said Miller. “It’s best to go after dark and come back before the sun comes up. If you want to do something else, park the car in a safe place, out of sight, do whatever it is first, and then pick up the medicine and come directly back to the warehouse, park the car, lock the warehouse and bring me the package and the keys. If the cops stop you, throw the package out the passenger window and try to run to the woods. If they catch you, don’t say nothin’…I’ll get you out if they lock you up.”
“Nobody’ll ever know I was there,” assured Rex. “I been goin’ to Tulsa on a freight train for many years now. I know big wood from brush.”
“Then, as you say, I reckon you’re my man,” Miller said, with a smile. “Do a good job and I’ll find you some other work. Here’s fifty dollars and the address of the doctor. Memorize it and throw away the paper.”
Miller seemed to like this brash “World Champion of the Midwest” domino player. He had noticed how Rex had scanned the room during their conversation, picking up and apparently memorizing the details of what he saw, without a break in the conversation. He was a little surprised that someone had been able to catch Rex off guard with a pool cue, but maybe that was the final exam that made him what Miller perceived him to be. Miller had known who Rex was long before Rex had ever heard of Miller. Kilmer had mentioned him several times in conversation and Miller had liked what he heard. Miller seemed to live a shadowy life, isolated from the workaday world and always on guard for the threat of intrusion. He wasn’t what Rex expected a professional gambler to be, but then Rex hadn’t been around any “professional” gamblers so he kept his eyes open and his mouth, for the most part, shut…
The Girl From Missouri
Rex walked into the café where he usually ate when he wasn’t working. It was early spring of nineteen thirty-six. He immediately noticed the pretty young girl behind the counter, who had never before been there. Taking a seat at the counter, he picked up a menu and began to study the specials
“Hello,” the pretty girl said cheerfully.
“Hi,” said Rex, trying to think of something to extend the conversation.
“That hot roast beef sandwich is good today,” she offered.
“That sounds good. I’ll have that.”
Although Rex had seven sisters and had worked with the whores in Claremore, he wasn’t skilled or comfortable breaking the ice with pretty young women. He thought hard to come up with something to say that might interest this friendly, appealing young woman. When she came back with his order, he halfway blurted out, “You’re new here, ain’t you?”
“Yes,” she said, “I’m DeLois, what’s your name?”
“I’m Rex. I come in here all the time.”
“Rex, that’s an interesting name, I don’t think I’ve ever known a Rex.”
“So have you always lived in Modesto?” asked Rex.
“Heavens no,” she replied. “I’ve only been in Modesto for less than a week.”
“Really? Where are you from?”
“I’m from Golden City, Missouri.”
“Where’s Golden City?”
“Oh, it’s in the western part of Missouri, not far from Greenfield, if you’ve ever heard of that.”
Rex’s confidence began to build. He had been fooled by this young woman’s speech and dress. He had taken her for a California native.
“You don’t talk like a Missourian,” Rex offered.
“What do I talk like?”
“Well, I thought you was borned here,” said Rex.
“Borned here?” DeLois laughed.
“Born here,” Rex corrected himself.
The two “immigrants” found an instant rapport. In a few minutes they figured out that they had grown up only eighty miles from each other, DeLois in western Missouri and Rex in eastern Oklahoma. Rex chose his words carefully after she had corrected his English. It wasn’t that Rex didn’t recognize proper grammar, for the most part, just that most people he associated with talked like him. Before Rex left, he suggested that perhaps they could meet someplace socially and get to know each other better. DeLois accepted his invitation and the next day a whirlwind romance began…