Chapter 2 Winning the Sucker Bet

WEDNESDAY MORNING. Undaunted by the previous day’s rejection, Sky stalked Sarah through Times Square as she marched with her mission band and preached at street corners. But all attempts of him to get closer to her were readily brushed off.

Nevertheless, Sky had an idea. He knew that the mission station stayed open at all hours. Anybody could enter and sit in it, even with no mission workers around. So, Sky went in and hid himself in the backroom, hoping to catch Sarah when she came back from her evangelizing round.

It did not take long before Sarah and her mission band were back. But what surprised Sky was the sudden burst of conversation in the front room, as if a new person has arrived. He cracked open the backroom door and saw an older, dignified-looking woman missionary whom the mission workers addressed as “General Cartwright.” She turned out to be the regional head of Save-A-Soul and has come to close down Sarah’s failing mission.

Boldly, Sky came out of the backroom, introduced himself to Sarah’s superior as a “former sinner,” and joined in the conversation. Despite Sarah’s protestations, Sky promised the General he would deliver a dozen genuine sinners to the prayer meeting on Thursday, if the General herself would stay to conduct the meeting. The General agreed.

SARAH, STUNNED, remained seated minutes after her boss left and the staff went off with the band on their late morning round. She took a deep breath and looked directly at the “prince of darkness” looming over her, with a mischievous smile.

What General Cartwright and the mission workers didn’t know, of course, was the “catch” behind Sky’s proposition: In exchange for the sinners to be delivered tomorrow, she would have to go on a dinner date with him to Havana tonight. Sky showed Sarah the marker he signed the day before, and she knew she had been cornered.

“I’ll pick you up in an hour,” Sky said, bowing slightly, as he grabbed his hat and walked toward the door. She smiled tentatively and decided to adopt a wait-and-see attitude at the prospect of going to the city of sin with a guy she hardly knew. Then she went in to her private quarters to get dressed.

After a quick shower, Sarah took out from her wardrobe a dark-teal georgette top to wear under her new purple-grey linen skirt-suit. She put on a pair of nylons and grey medium-heeled pumps. A small pink beanie, white kid gloves, and a grey leather clutch completed her outfit. She sparingly applied on makeup and lipstick and dabbed Je Reviens behind each ear. In all, she looked as tidy as if she were going to church on a Sunday morning.

When Sky showed up in a taxi at exactly 12 noon, Sarah secretly marveled at how handsome the guy looked in a sharp midnight blue gangster suit, silk indigo shirt, white pocket square, pastel pink straight tie and a black coordinating fedora. There’s no denying Sky Masterson is a gorgeous guy who moves with masculine grace and overflowing confidence. Any doll would be so proud to have him for an escort, if only he were not such a notorious gambler.

It seemed Sky, too, was surprised at how stunning Sarah looked in an outfit other than her red soul-saving sergeant uniform. “You look lovely, Sister Sarah,” he complimented her with a smile.

“So do you, Mr. Masterson,” she replied, “Thank you for inviting me to dinner.”

“My pleasure.” He said, holding open the cab door for her.

It was mostly silence between them inside the cab, until they got to the airport when Sarah asked if they could stop by a bookstore to buy a Havana guidebook. Sky took her to a news stand, bought for her a book and picked up the afternoon paper for himself.

Aboard the plane, after take-off, Sky said, “Sister Sarah, I know how uncomfortable you are, travelling with me. However…”

“I’m afraid that is true, Mr. Masterson. I am not used to flying; let alone to the den of iniquity with a stranger,” she answered.

The flight to Havana would take all of three hours and that was the tone of their conversation on board. Sky knew it would take the long hard night trying to defrost the ice princess.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT. Against all of Sky’s pessimistic expectations, the most unbelievable transformation happened to the ice-cold Sister Sarah in Havana. After having a couple of drinks of the magical potion called “dulce de leche,” the prissy mission doll gradually melted into a mesmerizing hormone-raging vamp. Even more shocking, she was aggressively trying to seduce him.

Initially a happy and willing participant, Sky led Sarah to more drinking, dancing, flirting, and sharing a few kisses. Absolutely charmed by the drunken missionary, he laughed like a drain when she instigated a fight that escalated among the nightclub habitues and left the place in shambles. He has never seen anything so delightfully hilarious.

But soon Sky realized he was playing with loaded dice. He warned Sarah not to go too far with him, or she’d hate herself in the morning. He confessed he had taken her to Havana for no other reason than to win a bet. Oddly, Sarah took his confession in stride.

"Why not? You're a gambler," she replied, like it was the most natural thing in the world. "But darling, you are also a chump."

Truth be told, Sky found himself seriously falling in love with Sarah, wanting only to respect and protect her. To his utmost delight, Sarah's tender gazes, soft smiles, and receptive kisses told him that she, too, has fallen in love.

THURSDAY AT DAWN. Back in New York, Sky took Sarah home to the mission, sharing a few goodnight kisses at the door. Unknown to them, Nathan’s gambling group, unable to secure a site, has taken advantage of her absence and shamelessly appropriated the empty mission for their nefarious activity. And just as the police came to raid the place, a horde of gamblers burst out the mission door, escaping to all directions. Sarah, now sober, was shocked beyond belief.

Sky recalled how Police Lt. Brannigan, unable to make a single arrest, confronted Sarah, “I suppose you can explain all this, Miss Brown.” Sarah was at a lost for an answer. Then without missing a beat, Brannigan turned to him and said, “Masterson, I have you in my big-time book. I suppose I will have to reclassify you under shills and decoys.”

Sarah was livid. Not only was she rudely awakened to the fact that Sky was a gambler; she also believed he had betrayed her by taking her out of the way so his cronies could desecrate her mission sanctuary. Sky vehemently denied the charge, but to no avail. What had earlier been an exchange of sweet nothings between them became a shouting match. Sarah slammed the door on him, and Sky walked away, defeated.

Be that as it might, Sky still had to make good on his marker to deliver sinners to Sarah’s prayer meeting tonight. They were to be the “raw material” she needed to bring to repentance and keep her mission branch afloat. They would have to be the same trashy guys that violated her mission, but so what?

THURSDAY NIGHT, when the gamblers have regrouped and moved the game down to the city’s sewer, Sky joined them and laid both his heart and his wallet on the line. If he lost, he would have to pay the more than two dozen players $1,000 each in cash. But if he won, all must present themselves to Sarah’s prayer meeting by midnight.

It was the most important roll of his life. On it rode not only his entire bankroll but also his relationship with Sarah. No one would ever know the hopes and fears Sky felt as he covered markers on the ground and prepared to roll the dice. For the first time in his adult life, Sky prayed.

And miracle of miracles, he won!

Not unlike the harrowing of hell, Sky herded his winnings like sheep out of the sewer and on to the prayer meeting. They trooped in, hats off, just after midnight, to the delight of the mission’s visiting superior and staff. But Sarah, still angry, avoided looking directly at Sky. It hurts that he might never know the real score. While Sky has saved his wallet from total annihi, he might just have lost his heart.

Something else was gnawing at Sky. Perhaps now that Sarah has sobered up from the romantic drunken Cuban night, she has realized the mistake of going out with him in the first place. To her, he was nothing but a big-time sinner, seemingly beyond redemption. Maybe he should just put a cork on it and move on. Goodbye, lovely mission doll.

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