GRACE THE WILD CARD

Chapter 3 The Prettiest Doll in Town

AS SARAH APPROACHED THE HOTEL with Nicely, she wondered how she should tell Sky about Lt. Brannigan showing up at the prayer meeting. The vice police officer demanded that Sarah testify to witnessing the gamblers escape the illegal crap game held at her mission. But she refused, saying she has never seen those gentlemen before.

Confused, the poor cop left, arresting no one, and even doubting his own sanity.

Only after Brannigan was gone did Nathan Detroit confess that the guys indeed played craps at the mission when Sarah was away, but it was unbeknown to anyone outside of the group. Every gambler at the meeting admitted to the misdeed and was sorry. It was then that Sarah realized she had accused Sky of something he did not do.

Moreover, Nathan confessed to betting Sky would not be able to take a certain doll with him to Havana. He said such a bet was like using a doll like a pair of dice to determine the winner. Nathan said that although he did win the bet, he was sorry to have done so.

Sarah could not believe that Sky the winner, has paid off the loser to protect her reputation. Obviously, Sky was more than the man she thought him to be. She really must find him quickly and apologize.

But would an apology be all that was needed to repair the damage to their relationship? All Sarah could see in her mind was Sky, running down the street away from the police with the rest of that trash. All she could see was he was one of them. That she’s in love with the guy doesn’t change the fact that he’s a big-time gambler, as the police marked him. To Sarah, Sky was a sinner of the highest caliber; and as a missionary, she really ought to let him go.

Nicely said goodbye as Sarah stepped inside the hotel’s great glass doors. Right away she knew she was in strange territory. Under the giant chandeliers of the stately hotel’s lobby, she saw people moving about, but nobody seemed to care that it was well past midnight. A few people sat on couches, smoking and having elegant drinks and conversations. They didn’t seem to care that a strange woman dressed in the red Save-a-Soul uniform, walked pass them. The handful of men standing near the elevator didn’t look menacing at all. A couple of them tilted their hats as she made a beeline to the reception counter.

It was the young reception clerk, looking up from his adding machine, who expressed disbelief, “Why, Sister Sarah! What a surprise to see you in these parts.”

Sarah couldn’t believe it, either. “You know me?”

“But of course, who wouldn’t? Many of our guests like to stick their heads out every time your mission band passes by. We all think you’ve got to be the prettiest doll in town and wonder what you’re doing praying and preaching at street corners when you should be on stage or in the movies!”

“Why, thank you,” Sarah smiled. “I’d like to see Mr. Sky Masterson, please. I understand he’s expecting me.”

“Ah, a gospel rescue, then,” said the clerk flatly, and dialed Sky’s room. Setting down the receiver afterwards, he said, “Room 201, second floor, right on the lobby.”

Sarah started to climb up the wide marble staircase with ornate bannisters, unsure of how to proceed. Perhaps she should just turn back and go home. Forget about Sky Masterson, this man who has disturbed her equanimity from the time he showed up at the mission, purportedly needing spiritual help, but actually pursuing a sucker bet. A man who can quote the Bible on the fly, by the book, chapter and verse; yet a big-time gambler who walks the undersides of Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.

She remembered last Tuesday, when they first met. After he left her with a stolen kiss which she countered with a hard slap on the cheek, she went to dig out old newspaper files in the mission closet and searched every news item for the name Sky Masterson.

She found much mention of him in Damon Runyon’s sports column that called him not simply as “Sky,” but “The Sky;” and described him to be “smarter than three Philadelphia lawyers combined, which makes him very smart, indeed.”

Further, Runyon wrote Sky to be “the highest player of them all, higher than Brandy Bottle Bates or Scratin Slim, or even the Greek.” In the sports section? Sarah couldn’t believe her eyes. Is gambling a sport?

Runyon also reported "The Sky" Masterson to be, “well established in the way of card-playing, or crap-shooting, or horse-racing, or betting on the baseball games; for The Sky is always moving around the country following the action.” Apparently, Sky also has, at one time, beaten the gangster Al Capone in his own game, whatever game that was, in Chicago.

Having read all that, Sarah felt dizzy and disgusted just imagining what a breathtaking, death-defying sinner Sky Masterson turned to be. In contrast, she considers herself a simple missionary girl of quiet upbringing, abnormally attracted to sin and therefore abnormally afraid of it.

Yet, the very next day, desperate to save her mission from closing down and lured by his promise of a dozen sinners in exchange, Sarah blindly went with him to that den of iniquity called Havana, where she got drunk, engaged in whatever might have happened between them, and fell in love.

All she was sure was that Sky Masterson has acted in the most gentlemanly manner with her in Havana. All she was sure was exactly when and how she fell in love with him. She was in her drunken state in the nightclub when a bold Cuban girl tried to steal Sky away from her. In a jealous rage, she went ballistic and threw a right hook at the girl, knocking her down. Soon a fight ensued, resulting in a not-so-total destruction of the place. Instead of getting upset, Sky was amused. He hauled her off to the garden outside, where he watched protectively as she soaked her face in the fountain’s pool to sober up.

That was then; this is now. From the top of the staircase and across the empty second floor lobby, Sarah saw Sky standing in front of his open door, looking intently at her. He was still in the sharp dark blue gangster suit he had on earlier, but with a different indigo silk shirt and cream-colored tie. With his hands in his pockets, he was simply too elegant for a gangster to behold, even for a Disneyfied gangster, she thought.

Her heart which she thought couldn’t beat any faster now raced up to her throat. She longed to run into his arms, to bury her face on his chest and cry how sorry she was for misjudging him. Yet in her heart, she detested him bitterly for being a gambler. Her breathing slowed down and she felt her knees weakening like she was about to face an inquisitor, the prince of darkness. She blinked to stop the hot tears forming in her eyes. Then, as if waking up from a trance, she heard his voice.

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