Harlan Ellison

High Dice

IWAS IN THE TOILET WITH KURT , and I was golden.

Every time those dice hit that plywood wall and bounced back on the linoleum, they read heavenly. They couldn’t go sour if they’d wanted to go sour. I must have rolled six straight passes at one point, and every time they twinkled up seven, Kurt got meaner and banged his big black fist against the inside of the sink.

And I was getting sicker by the second.

I was starting to see halos around the two naked bulbs in the ceiling, and the pains were starting to come chop! chop! hitting me at regular-spaced intervals like labor pains. My mouth was dry as hell, I was smoking one after another, lighting the new one off the roach of the last, and my skin fairly crawled.

The sonofabitch. Heknew I needed a fix, otherwise I’d never have got sucked into a crap session with him. He was a cheating sonofabitch to begin with, and when he was down, it was just that much worse.

So I was golden.

I could do no wrong.

And the pains hit me; down on my haunches there in the toilet, tossing those ivories, I doubled and sagged and wrapped my arms around my knees, and it hurt, it really hurt, so help me.

He was into me for about seventy beans, and it didn’t show signs of getting any better. All I needed was thirty-five for a pop, but goddam that Kurt he wouldn’t pay me off, kept saying, “Double mah bet, double mah bet,” and when I’d say, “C’mon, man, when are you gonna pay up here?” he’d just get a hard shine like the finish off a new car, back in those bloody eyes of his, and give me a little rough nudge with his elbow in my back, and he’d snap, “C’mon, bitch, throw them dice!”

I was trapped. I was sewed up solid. I had to have the bread to get fixed, and my Man was outside that toilet in the restaurant, the Shack, sitting in a corner booth sipping at a chocolate Coke and humming to himself. Man, it was a bee-itch!I could feel my skin itching and crawling and wow it was like about a million and a half crab lice all over me. I scratched my thigh and my side, but it came right back.

That Kurt knew. He knew.

Someone banged on the door and rattled the knob, but Kurt didn’t even look up. “Hey, man, someone wants into the head,” I informed him. His eyes stayed right down there below, and he gave me that damn nudge again, and said, “Roll, guy.”

The knob-twister made a helluva ruckus like his bladder was going to pop, because we’d been in there a good twenty-five minutes already, and everybody’s back teeth were probably floating by this time, but Kurt just nudged me again, and I rolled.

Six was my point.

Thank God it wasn’t another pass. I was really getting scared. I mean, how would you dig it, being so sick you wanted to puke, and locked in a little bitty dirty toilet with the biggest, strongest, meanest colored cat in the world, who wanted what little loot you had, and wouldn’t pay off what he owed? It was bad, very unhappy, is all.

I tossed them and they hit that wall and rattled back an eight. Then a twelve; then a five and a single. Point made. Kurt said something guttural and mean under his breath.

That was a hundred and forty dollars and I knew that crook didn’t have it! I mean, I knew he was shacking with Dotty, the waitress, and he had to give his wife something for the kids, and he was always down in the basement of the Shack’s building, shooting high dice or playing poker with the janitor or any of the college kooks he could fish in. I mean, I knew he was coming on lying.

Jeezus, did I feel helpless: it was like being strapped into a straightjacket, the way they have to do it sometimes at Lexington when you go into withdrawal and want to smash. I was breathing too deep now, and my face was wet like I’d wee-wee’d all over myself, kind of crawly sweat, moist and sticky and not water at all, but something else. I was really beginning to blow my cool.

Oh, it was getting worse.

Whump! I caught a good one right through the gut, and had to stand up. I got to my feet and the pains in my cramped legs made me totter against Kurt for a second, and that fink just shoved me away.

I mean, I knew what that sonofabitch thought of me: he thought I was fay, that I didn’t dig Negroes. How wronger could he get? It wasn’t his color I hated, it was that slob Kurt himself, I mean,him personally.

“C’mon, man, let’s go here, I got some burgers to fry.”

Why that lyin’ sack of —

He was the Shack’s cook, all right, but it was just as easy to take strychnine as eat his greaseburgers. And he knew I knew damned well when he disappeared for some craps or cards Dotty would take over at the grill. Heknew I knew.

He just wanted to keep me locked up in there, with his big foot plastered against the locked door, and his fist all ready-made to belt me up alongside the head if I made any noise to anyone on the other side of that toilet door. I was as salted away in there with him as I’d ever been in the junk farm at Lex, or the Tombs or any other damn slammer. I was fried. He knew it. He knew I was sick and getting worse, and he wasn’t about to pay off.

To top it off, Kurt had that gravity knife of his.

That big aluminum-handled shake knife that he could whip out so fast it looked like he didn’t have a hand, but some kind of a metal hook at the end of his arm. I was scared of him, all right.

Why, I remember one night when some joker busted on Kurt behind the grill, telling him the eggs were greasy, and dumping the plate down on the breadboard. Kurt didn’t even say anything, he just grabbed that muthuh by the neck and dragged him over the counter and beat the crap outta him, and then picked him up by the neck and the seat of his pants and heaved him — I mean he heaved that two hundred pounder — right out of the kitchen and into the second booth down the line.

Kurt was big and muscular and nasty, real nasty, so I wasn’t about to fool with him. He’d said the door was locked till we were done, that was it!

“One of us gonna leave here broke, man,” he’d said when we had entered the toilet. “One of us gonna be Tap City.”

My first mistake had been in getting caught short when I needed a fix. That was the first thing. My second mistake was busting on Kurt for the ten bucks he’d owed me for six or seven months. I needed the money, I had twenty-five and that last ten would have made the tariff for my Man waiting out there, but Kurt had gotten a sly look in his eyes — Jeezus, he was a rotten cat — and said, “Tell you what, Teddy, tell you what, man. I’m gonna shoot a little high dice with you, make that bread sing. Howzabout?”

I knew he cheated. Everybody did. He used bombed ivories, loaded down with every kind of BB shot and scrap metal left over from World War II, but I had no choice. I mean, I figured if I had him and had him cold so he couldn’t lie or cheat or con his way out of it, he’d come up with the ten. Guys like that feel easier about losing loot in a game than paying back an honest loan. Man, was I snowing myself!

So I’d said yes and gone into the toilet at the Shack with the cook, Kurt, and the pains came and the hurt came and I was golden so help me very golden, and I couldn’t lose, and Kurt was getting nearer and nearer killing me with his cold, flat eyes and his big aluminum-handled shake knife.

But what could I do?

“Say, look, Kurt,” I came on very logical, very pleasant, trying to convince him and me that I wasn’t in pain and had to get it soon or die. “Now, dig. I’ve won a hundred and forty bucks from you, this isn’t your night, man. Now look, all I want is that ten … that’s all. Just give me the ten and we’ll call it square. Good?”

“Stop jivin’ me and fire them dice.”

He looked up from where he was hunkered on the dirty floor, and I hope I never see a look like that again. It was killing cold.

And then I dug. Then I realized what I should have known right in front: that bastard didn’t have any money at all. He didn’t have a hundred and forty or ten or any other damn thing. He was busted. And he’d been bluffing me, playing me on my own money!

I wanted out then, very bad.

“Okay.” I said, “forget it you — ” I started to call him a bastard, but stopped, bad move, “ — you don’t have to pay me now. Just forget it. Just lemme out of here.” He didn’t budge. He wanted what I had on me. I don’t know why, and I don’t care, but he was insulted, somehow. He owed me money and he hadn’t been able to take me, and he was killing mad because the ofay bastard had him a hundred and forty mythical dollars in the hole. It was suddenly more than a crap game, it was a status thing, the downtown black man and all that. He was a sick guy, putting all that into it, and me just wanting to get the hell out of there and forget the ten, I’ll get it off a friend or some damn thing. Just lemme outta here!

“I’m gone pay you, man, you just remember that. But we gonna play a bit more. We gonna switch from crap, you been winning too much.” He reached into his side pocket and took out that knife, the one I knew he had.

He didn’t do a thing with it, just laid it back down in his sock, right tight to the shoe top He was giving me the word, I’d better not win.

Better not win? Jeezus, what’d I have to do, kill myself to prove I didn’t want to win?

“High dice, ...

Быстрая навигация назад: Ctrl+←, вперед Ctrl+→