GRACE THE WILD CARD

Chapter 4 A Love Song for Sarah

“GOOD MORNING, SISTER SARAH. Would you like to come in?” It was a neutral voice, with neither a trace of humor nor familiarity nor regret.

Sky took her cape and holding her lightly by the elbow, led her into his room. Sarah has never been in a bedroom alone with a man before. She has no illusions that anything intimate could happen between them in this room. She came to apologize and thresh out unfinished business, if any. That was all.

Sarah took a quick sweep of the hotel room and saw on the bed an open suitcase which he has apparently started to pack. Sky pulled out the little dresser bench and offered her the seat. He waited for her to speak.

“I’m here to let you know that Lieutenant Brannigan came to the prayer meeting tonight.”

“To finish the inquiry he started, it figures,” Sky slowly turned his back, moved along one side of the bed, stretched his arms, and rubbed his eyes with both hands. Then he ranted, “Did he arrest anyone? Did you lie to him? Did you tell him you truly have never seen those gentlemen before, in your life?” Someone must have gone ahead to Sky, Sarah thought, for those were her words.

Sky casually picked up a shirt from the small pile of clothing on the bed. He folded the shirt and with a slight bend, threw it into the open suitcase. Absentmindedly Sarah watched him move about, with the smooth, confident masculine grace that fascinated her. All at once, she felt angry and defensive, and sorry and wanting for him to stay. Mentally and emotionally, she was all-mixed up.

“I did not lie. Well, not exactly. You know I wouldn’t have been able to identify any of your… friends. I was standing behind you when they scampered out the mission door. You blocked my view,” her voice was hard as steel.

“Brannigan did not ask if you knew them; only if you saw them. And you did. You lied to the police. You perjured yourself, Sister Sarah,” Sky plainly said.

The conversation was going nowhere. Why dwell on what happened earlier that night? At this point, she should be thanking Sky Masterson for saving the mission from shutting down. That should be all.

But is it the missionary in her that makes her all concerned for the state of his soul? Or is there more of him that she cares about? She reminded herself again that he is one of them; the highest of the filthiest gamblers who are forever running away from the police.

It would be so easy anytime for the police to spot him among the lowlifes. He would stand out from the rest, or stick out like a sore thumb, depending on how they see him. Tall and handsome with laughing brown eyes, neatly trimmed hair and barely discernable boyhood dimples on his smooth cheeks, Sky is a most beautiful masculine man, if she’s seen one. Unlike the others, he wears immaculate, expensive gangster suits and despite his youth, carries on like a boss.

“How dare you walk out on the prayer meeting, leaving me the one to face the police? I had no choice but lie to the lieutenant. It would have been a scandal if the police had raided the meeting,” she raised her voice. “Obviously, you’re so immune to scandals, you think nothing of them.”

But she knew it not to be true. Sky did protect her reputation from the stain of having gone with him to Havana, by telling Nathan that it was Nathan, not him, who had won the bet.

One slight mention of Havana would have created a giant wave of sneers at the prayer meeting and elsewhere. ’No kidding. The preaching tomato went with the master lady-killer to Havana and now she urges us to repent for our sins? No kidding, indeed!’

Sarah backpedalled her thoughts, but only to a point. “Why did you tell Nathan Detroit that you lost the bet, when you actually won me? Why did you care to protect my reputation among your brothers-in-crap? How much did you lose?”

“Not enough to cry about,” he said nonchalantly. “Moreover, I find it quite pleasant to be marked as a chump for once, and by choice.”

He continued, “I regret having known you; the smartest, feistiest, most fun, most beautiful doll I’ve ever met. You fought for me against half the population of El Café Cabana. Yet as a missionary soldier of Christ, you failed to have the courage of your conviction.

“Those guys are gamblers. They’re sinners. They’re criminals. They’re the kinds you denounce in your daily preaching at the street corners of Times Square. You could potentially testify against them in court. But you chose not to get involved. What about the eighth commandment, Sarah Brown? Where’s your sense of justice?”

Sarah felt rage coming from within her but showed only a bit of irony. “Mr. Masterson, which side are you on? Are you taking it against me that I protected your gambling cohorts from the police? All right then, tell me how I could have done better. What would you have done if you were in my place?” She waited for an answer.

But Sky, now sitting on the edge of the bed opposite her, chose to tell a story instead.

“As my Daddy once told me, Catholics invented guilt. Yet my Daddy gambled all his life and never felt a tinge,” he said. “He was careful not to crimp his style; and you can say, I took after him.”

“Your Dad was a Catholic?!" Sarah exclaimed incredulously.

“Sure,” Sky said, with a slight smile. “But Mother was not, and neither am I. It was Mother who urged me to read the Gideon Bible in every hotel room I’ve ever lived in. Front-to-back, not quite a dozen times, as I previously bragged to you, but close.”

Sarah, too, almost smiled, but remained silent, wondering where the turn of the conversation would lead.

“Now, Sister Sarah, I’m not suggesting that gambling is sacrosanct, or even innocent. For obviously it’s not, as you preached time and again on the street corners of Times Square,” he said. “True, there is enough element of danger in it, quite sufficient to account for its bad name. But is gambling a sin only when you lose?”

Sarah abruptly cut him off, “There’s no need to be sarcastic!”

Sky continued, “Whether gambling is found in the Bible or not makes little difference, does it? At any rate, Joshua cast lots to determine what portion of the Promised Land each tribe was to receive. And the Apostles drew lots to determine which disciple would replace Judas.

“At the very least, my Catholic daddy believed gambling, not to be a sin, per se - not a mortal sin, per se - but as, quote-unquote, a near occasion of sin.” Sky raised two fingers of each hand tracing invisible quote marks in the air. “The root of evil that it could generate is in first Timothy, chapter 6, verse 10. It may be a hard saying, but it’s quite doable to avoid.”

“Doable to avoid. You should be preaching my mission,” Sarah said with a hint of sarcasm.

“Apart from getting into debt or scandal, is it really sinful to stake money on a game of chance? What about on a policy insuring one’s property against risk? Or dealing in futures on the produce market? I’m not suggesting you’re wrong to adapt a higher standard of ethics, Sister Sarah. Just that maybe, some people might find relief to know it’s not so black-and-white.”

Sarah answered, “But you can’t deny that gambling often leads to waste of time, and usually, waste of money; to life spent in the midst of bad company and unwholesome surroundings; and to scandal which is a source of sin and ruin to others.”

“Sarah, there are gamblers and gamblers. We’re a mixed bag of daytime and nighttime sewer rats, small-town Galahads, with rulebooks and scratches and such,” answered Sky. “Ideally, what is staked must belong to the gambler and must be at his free disposal. It is wrong, therefore, for anyone to gamble with what is not his. It is wrong to gamble with what is necessary for the maintenance of one’s family. My Daddy believed this to be true, even after Mother died, who supplied what he lacked in virtue.”

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