Nothing Like a Doll

It’s more years back now than I care to remember. More years back than the marriage, the war, the lousy job at the A&P I wished was just a joke. Before the crash, even. We was just kids, really, in the grand scheme of things. Well, he was a kid. I wasn’t that much older, but I sure felt it at the time. Five years is everything with a kid who’d just quit high school.

I met Sky the same week I met Adelaide. It even made sense in a sick sort of way that we got married at the same time, even if it was in that runty little Save a Soul Mission. He was a kid. Sixteen, I think. His first crap game with the big boys. He always had Lady Luck on his side - that doll weren’t never fair, but all dolls loved Sky. It was my crap game. Had been for a coupla years. Oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York. Until the war, that is. The Italians came on stronger and stronger, got city backing, and while the Thirties weren’t bad for Nathan Detroit, after the war, there weren’t nothing for a guy called Nathan Dershowitz. As for Sky, well, who knows what Obadiah Masterson would have made of it? He wasn’t there to see it. Obadiah. Fourteen years I’d known the guy, and I had to learn from the mission doll that his name was Obadiah. Of course, he never knew I was Nathan Dershowitz, so fair’s fair, I guess.

I’d known him for a while before we ever got started. Was hot and heavy with Adelaide, who wasn’t much older than Sky. Anyways, this kid showed up at my crap game one night. Won more than he lost, but not by the numbers we’d see later. Good looking boy, too. Asked Benny Southstreet after. Now, Benny ain’t never been the sharpest tool in the shed, but you ask him to chat up a guy, he’ll remember well enough. Comes back to me a coupla days later. Tells me the kid’s name is Masterson, won’t give a first name, come down from some hole of a town like Scarsdale but not. One of those runaways, had a fight with his old man, wanted to see the city. He’d learned to shoot crap from a truck driver, found himself my game from a different one. I didn’t take him for anything at the time. But after a few months, his share of the pot kept getting bigger and mine kept getting smaller. I can’t run a crap game when my share keeps shrinking. There’s only so much I can do, you know? Then, like that, he was gone.

Had me worried. He was a kid. I sent Benny to find him. Turns out he’d switched his act on us. Used my money to finance a series of scams. That kid could scam you like no one’s business. He didn’t see them as scams, but really, who bets on shit like he was getting guys to bet on? Later he was infamous for that time he had eight guys betting he couldn’t force a fever higher than 101. But that was later. Not much later, but later. Instead of the horses, like Benny and Nicely-Nicely Johnson, he bet on human weakness. He’d get some kids to bet him something stupid and dangerous he couldn’t do. They’d think it was an easy five bucks. Then he’d take all their money after standing on one leg for an hour or something else just as stupid. He claimed he didn’t know for sure when he took those bets if he could do it, but fifty dollars is a mighty incentive for a man. I wasn’t going to bother with a two-bit scam artist. I had problems of my own keeping Benny and Nicely-Nicely in line and fending off Adelaide’s questions of when we was going to get married. Besides, he was a kid. I’d been running a crap game since I was his age. I’d known Broadway in and out since long before he fell off his turnip truck. Masterson wasn’t worth bothering about.

Until he showed up at the crap game again. Years later, but not many. Not long before the crash it must have been. Adelaide was chorus at the Hot Box by then but hadn’t been for long. He wasn’t a kid no more, he had a doll on his arm, nicer suit than any of my guys. And he won big. There was a style in his roll he didn’t have before. Nicely-Nicely didn’t know him at first. I knew him straight off, though. Looked king of the town, he did. “No dolls”, I told him.

“Nathan, you know a man rolls better with a doll on his arm.” He sounded so broad and classy you couldn’t take it for a complaint.

“And I run a fair game here. No dolls.”

So the doll left. And he cleaned up. I ain’t seen legit throws like that since. Except when Sky would come back, that is. He didn’t cheat. He was just golden. A born craps man. I shuffled along compared to him. That’s how I knew it’d all be right when he broke up that dust up with Big Jule. But that was much later. That was when he betrayed me with the mission doll. Anyways, he left with the rest at the end of the night, but came to me, without the doll, at Mindy’s about three in the morning. I was in a mood because of Adelaide, so I was stuffing my face with cheesecake like a doll or Nicely-Nicely.

“Hey, Nathan. Why have you got it in for me?”

“I ain’t got it in for nobody. But I don’t like cheats at my game.”

“I’m no cheat. Never have been.”

“What’s your game now, Masterson? The crap, the scams, something new? You finally make it over to horses like the rest of the world?”

“Why do you say a thing like that? Scams? I’ve never scammed anyone.”

“Stand on your leg for an hour? That’s a freak show scam.”

“Do you think I came out of a freak show?” Drove me nuts how we was all Bronx or Brooklyn or Lower East Side, and listening to him, you woulda thought him Park Avenue.

“I don’t know what you came outta, but you better go back in it.”

“It’s not a scam. Just simple curiosity. You bet on horses - that’s not based entirely on chance like craps. Same with me.”

“Chance is for fun; odds are for making money.”

“How does a guy get a doll without some green?”

“Hell if I know. I ain’t got none and I got a hell of a doll hanging round my neck.”

“You’ve got attractions. Oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York, and you can’t be more than thirty. That’s a sign of mighty strong ambition in a man.”

“It’s a sign that everyone else turns ta