A couple of pages from the work I am doing now. … This is the kind of thing that makes writing a lot of fun ! … TEH
A Dangerous Man
Newport News June 1942
The establishment was a holdover from Prohibition days, a speakeasy. The bar ran along one wall. Half-a-dozen or eight stools and three tables. There were two pool tables. Poker was upstairs.
“Any place a fellow can find a game?” Celo asked the bar keep.
The man pointed to the two pool tables just past the half-wall. A couple of twenty year olds had a game going. Neither of them was very good. They were just bouncing the balls around.
“Cards,” Celo told him. “Something with a deck ‘a cards.”
“You a high roller?”
“Just a fellow likes a friendly game.” Then: “Maybe enough money to make it interesting.”
“Ha,” the bar keep snorted. “You don’t exactly look like the friendly type.”
Celo laughed to show he wasn’t offended. He was not as big as people remembered him, thought he was. What they really recalled later was his eyes and his hands. The eyes were dark without being either brown or black. They never looked away.
His hands and fingers never stopped moving. It wasn’t a quick, nervous movement. It just never stopped: finger tips across the tabletop, brushing across the buttons of his shirt. If he had a beef with you he didn’t think about was he gonna hit you in the mouth. Other men thought about it first. Celo didn’t think about it, he just hit you in the mouth. The fact that you might strike back wasn’t a part of it. If you did, that was okay too. Most men didn’t. Strike back.
He followed two shipyard workers up the set of inside stairs, the poker game. Twenty minutes later he took the first available chair. He laid a stack of bills on the table, covered them with his elbow.
Somewhere around midnight he realized there ain’t been a queen-‘a-hearts played all night. Somebody’s holdin’ a queen. His blood pressure went up a notch. He breathed deep.
“Bring me a Scotch whisky,” he told the cigarette girl.
The dealer and another player folded early. Three men pushed money onto the table. “Hit me,” they said, asked for another card. The man to Celo’s left doled out cards, one at a time. The pot grew. The only sound was from the jukebox in the bar below and the occasional scrape of a chair leg.
It’s gonna happen now, Celo thought. And it did.
Which one of ‘em ‘s got that queen?
Across the table the uniformed soldier laid his cards down on the table, took out a railroad bandanna, wiped his face.
“I don’t know why I play with you fellows,” he said. He folded the handkerchief, put it back in his pocket. “If I wasn’t shippin’ out I’d just take my money and go home. … Wake mama up and fool around a little.”
He wiped his face again. “I’ll raise you one,” he said. Pushed more money onto the table.
That army dude’s got it. I know a Dago in Ponchatoula can pull this off, Celo thought. This hillbilly asshole ain’t got a clue.
Celo checked his hand, knew he didn’t have the cards to see it through. He added bills to the pot. “Raise you one,” he said.
The third player matched.
The sergeant threw a five onto the pile of money. He had not looked again at the cards he held.
“Shit,” the third player cursed. Threw his cards down.
“What you got?” Celo asked. Looked straight at the soldier. “I wantta see what you got.” He matched the five. Laid his cards on the green felt. Kings over eights.
“Maybe I can play with you fellers,” the sergeant said. He laughed.
He reached out to rake in the pile of money in the middle of the table. The ice pick flashed out like the strike of a snake. Drove through the sergeant’s hand between the index and middle metacarpal bones, through the assorted bills, and into the cheap wooden table.
“Don’t touch that money, soldier boy,” Celo said.
The sergeant stared wide-eyed at the still quivering pick penning his hand down to the table. The blood beginning to flow from underneath his palm onto the money, the green felt. The pain had not yet registered.
Celo turned over the soldier’s cards. Three queens and a pair of fives. “Looks like you got a extra queen there,” he said. “Been savin’ it all night.”
He pulled the pick from the man’s hand, wiped it twice across the sergeant’s uniform blouse, wiped the blood away.
“”You might want to pour some whiskey on that hand,” Celo said. “I ain’t sure where that pick’s been lately.”
He swept the pile of money from the table, left the loose change, stuffed the bills into his pocket. He walked down the stairs, through the bar and out onto the late night street. The lights reflecting off the rain-wet pavement. Celo lite a cigarette, blew smoke into the damp night air.