Saturday, February 24, 2018
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image

NedsBookNew72resSmNed's   a novel by Robert Henige




* * * *

Ned and Boogie immediately walked towards the back of the pool hall while I stood by the front door witnessing a scene that was more than this nineteen-year-old kid could imagine.  Venice Pool Hall was one large room about thirty feet wide and about sixty feet long.  There was a counter, a high-seated chair, and a cash register in the corner along the front wall to the right.  Between the counter and the door was a Coke machine.  To the left of the door stood an old, unfinished wooden bench.  Large fluorescent lights, suspended from the twenty-foot high ceiling with long metal chains, hung over the pool tables and the card tables.  The walls had six-foot high wooden paneling, with the rest of the walls and the ceiling were a faded mint-green.  A large industrial heater, about the size of a six-foot cube, was attached to the ceiling in the middle of the room.  Its fan was humming, distributing warm air throughout.

Smoke was everywhere as I strolled through the pool hall, taking in everything.  Fifteen guys were standing around the back pool table, yelling and cheering the dice to make them rich.  Another seven men were playing poker at the back card table.  Grown men with slicked-back hair wore sports coats, high-waist stretch pants, silk shirts pulled out at the waist, and big diamond rings; while others sported all black with mid-length leathers; and others simply wore work clothes.

I didn’t say a word and no one even noticed that I existed.  This place was heaven to me and I knew immediately that I had to become part of it.

* * * *

Boogie and I raced to separate fifty-dollar windows in the hope that one of us could get the bets in before the race started.

Shortly after we jumped into the lines, we knew that there was to be no bet.  The track announcer gave us the news.

“The horses are approaching the starting gate.”

There was a slight pause before the announcer bellowed,

“They’re off.”

My heart dropped as I looked at the odds board where Tony’s Surprise was six-to-one to win.  I know how to read a racing form and the only reason the horse was only six-to-one is because there was an inordinate amount of money placed on the horse that had nothing to do with its past performances.  I quickly figured out that if this horse won, I would have to deliver over eight thousand bucks to Ned’s.  I couldn’t believe my predicament.

* * * *

One evening, Dave and I were alone at the pool hall when Black Johnny came in.  We chatted for a while when the subject of cheating came up.  Johnny decided to give us a demonstration.  He called us over to one of the pool tables and pulled out a set of red dice.  Johnny tossed the dice towards us and we’d return them to him.  All of a sudden, one of the red dice was green.  We couldn’t believe it.  Johnny just laughed.  This continued for a few minutes.  Johnny switched the dice a half dozen times and neither of us could catch him in the switch.  If all the dice were red, we would never have noticed the deception.  Johnny further explained that most everyone kept their eyes on where the dice would land and never on the shooter.

Johnny then pulled out a deck of cards.  He cut the deck several times and each time he turned the deck over there was a Jack on the bottom.  We were flabbergasted.  Johnny introduced us to a ‘stripper’ deck where the Jacks were like a millimeter wider than the other cards.  For a trained set of hands, the deck could be cut to deliver the desired Jack to the bottom every time.  Of course, the next trick would involve dealing from the bottom without being detected.  Johnny was good at that, too.

* * * *

The post parade for the race was announced and the four of us positioned ourselves in the designated area.  We were standing by the rail when the groom nodded to Tony as he walked the horse past us.  Tony spoke to several well-dressed men before letting us know that everything was a go and the fix was on.  Big money was involved as the odds on the horse went down from fifteen-to-one to five-to-one very quickly.  After Tommy and I put all of the money we had on the horse to win, I couldn’t believe my eyes as the odds on the horse continued to plummet to even money. It was very disappointing to know that my one hundred and ten-dollar bet would only yield only one hundred and ten dollars.

By the time I reached the rail where Tony was standing, there had to be a dozen guys standing around, each sucker confident that they were going to make money on the “juiced” horse.

The horse ran dead last.  He ran so badly that I firmly believed that if I had my tennis shoes with me, I could have beaten that nag myself.

* * * *

Big Louie was a semi-regular at Ned’s who went to the same fashion school as Kuuz.  He was a six-foot-four mountain of a man with the body of a retired defensive lineman who left me with the impression that he had enormous strength.  Big Louie had a large head, a wrinkled face, and a huge nose, with rough hands, and worn and cracked fingernails.  He reminded me of Anthony Quinn in the movie Requiem for a Heavyweight, not only because of his physical appearance, but because he demonstrated the same simple-minded attitude to life as the character in the movie.

Big Louie would tell fascinating stories of his times during the Prohibition, once telling us how he and two of his goombahs ripped off a liquor warehouse operated by someone connected, “too young and too stupid” to realize the risk of being killed for so little money.  All three of them were “scared fuckin’ shitless” for almost a year.  It was these types of stories that left me wanting more.

* * * *

Dozens of crazies were now hopping the fence to join in the Lucky-Larry-inspired protest causing the drivers to pull up their horses and retreat from the track…

At least fifty crazy people were sitting, standing, running, laughing, clapping, and congratulating each other on their occupation of Hazel Park Raceway.

The track announcer tried a different approach.

“People, please remove yourselves from the track.  If you do not remove yourself, you can be subject to civil arrest.”

If the Hazel Park Raceway Authority thought these people were going quietly, they had better think again.  Every time the track announcer pleaded or threatened, it seemed the crowd got bigger and louder.  I don’t know who in the track authority thought of the final solution, but it was a beauty.

“Attention, ladies and gentlemen.  In light of the happenings prior to the sixth race, Hazel Park Raceway is announcing that they are going to refund all losing tickets in the sixth race.  Winning tickets will be paid, as they normally would be, based on the prices posted.  Again, Hazel Park Raceway will refund ALL losing ticket to the sixth race.  Now, PLEASE REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THE RACETRACK!”

The crowd immediately realized that this meant that every discarded ticket from the sixth race lying on the floor of Hazel Park Raceway was now worth money.  Talk about the Oklahoma Land Rush! The crowd climbed, jumped, and hurdled the fence, running over each other in the process.  I was shocked that someone didn’t sustain a head injury or break an arm or a leg as they descended on the lower level of the grandstand to scour for losing, or shall I say, winning tickets.  The protest was a success.  Who said you can’t fight city hall?

* * * *

“Get your ass down to Ned’s now!  The garage is on fire and there’s fuckin’ money flyin’ everywhere!” Tommy shouted over the phone. 

“What in the hell are you talking about?”  I asked, totally baffled.

“Just get here.  It…” Tommy paused to find the right words.  “I can’t describe it.  Just get the hell down here!  NOW!”

I shoved my sandwich down my throat and gulped down the rest of my glass of milk before I sped through the dining room and living room and out the front door.  I jumped into my car and raced down Hasse Street to Davison Avenue where I witnessed the most surreal scene ever.  Just as Tommy said, money was everywhere.  A fire had started in the living quarters in the garage in back of Ned’s and smoke was billowing over the pool hall and settling in the surrounding area.  The dark, ominous cloud reminded me of a volcano, but instead of spewing lava, money was being blown sky high.  The twenty-dollar bills were landing gently all over Davison and all over the bank parking lot.

There was a fire truck sitting in back of Ned’s with a fireman standing on the top of the fire truck’s ladder, spraying water down over the garage.  Another fire truck was parked directly in front of Ned’s, with firemen running in and out the front door.  Two other firemen were on the roof of the three businesses, bobbing up and down as if they were gathering the money that had settled on top of the building.  At least a dozen cars had stopped in the middle of Davison, some still running with the driver’s door wide open.  Several dozen people were scrambling for the bills in the street and throughout the bank parking lot.  Men were stuffing bills in their bulging pants pockets and women were cramming money down their bras, in their nylons, and anywhere else they could.  It was chaotic.

Davison Avenue was not passable with all the neighborhood people, firemen, fire trucks, and cars blocking the street, so I had no choice but to park my car in the gas station’s parking lot across the street from Venice.  I stood there mesmerized by the bizarre scene, contemplating as to whether to join the crazies in their quest for the twenties from heaven.

* * * *


Interview with Bob Henige from the Warren Public Library




Sign Up

How'd You Get Here?

How Did You Get Here?

Creative Writing Newsfeeds