Chuck A. Luck
“Chuck-a-luck, also known as birdcage, is a game of chance played with three dice… on average, even if the dice are not loaded, the players are expected to lose more than they win.” – from Wikipedia.
Gabe the gorilla steered the cutter alongside the pier at Coney Island Point. We tied up to a piling, in an area on the dock that seemed to have been cast in an ominous shadow. We put on top hats and fine short coats. The gorilla grabbed an unopened rum flask, and the two of us lumbered off the boat. I dropped down to scratch the planking. My fingers came away with a charcoal residue and smelled like fire. “Looks like it was singed by a flash fire.”
“Can see that,” the gorilla said, waving with the rum flask in hand.
We headed off the pier. No one was on the wharf or near the homes we saw that probably offered rooms for rent in the summer. The streets were paved with crushed shell and stone, covered in many places by sand drifts. Most homes had vegetable and herb gardens, bordered by split rail fences or spindly bushes. No animals were in the streets, but quite a few goats, cows, and pigs were fenced in.
One road ran parallel to the beach. It was intersected by the crushed shell road from Gravesend. I stared into the distance, to where the beach road disappeared into the sparsely wooded and sandy horizon. I thought the road might lead the length of the peninsula.
We walked along the beach under bright skies. It was breezy, just enough to keep me from sweating. We made our way around to the NY Bay side of the Point. Stirring our interest was a lonesome shack that faced the sea. It had a sign advertising the sale of beer and clams. On closer inspection, a sign that hung from the door read, “Closed.”
Alas, we heard some ”noise.” We found two carpenters with flaming red hair, hammering away on the frame of a beachfront home. There was a millwork truck parked in the rear, drawn by two stout horses. The driver was smoking a pipe and seemed brandy-faced. We offered him some of our Jamaican rum, and called the carpenters over to join us.
The carpenters were Irish brothers, who had arrived in America only months ago. The driver was an itinerant worker. All three had stories to tell, and seeing as our rum was plentiful, I knew they would be told. Gabe, who had kept drinking since we left the boat, was quite the bagpipe. I found myself wandering away. I don’t think they noticed.
I went for a short walk with my back to the beach. It took me to the salt marshes set between Coney Island and Gravesend. I admired a brood of ducks swimming in a pyramid formation, and then eyed various types of birds sailing around the marsh. I found myself mesmerized by the purity of my surroundings and enjoyed the various sensations for some time.
Just after dusk a two-masted brig docked at the pier, near our cutter. On board was an elegant group of pleasure seekers from New Jersey. With the arrival, Coney “sprung to life.” Lights went on in many of the homes and signs went out offering food and drink. We even passed two women sitting on the porch of one home, who looked long and hard at us, offering their bedroom services in their gaze.
We followed a large number of the group from New Jersey into an eating house. The fare was most pleasing as we sat down to a true NY feast of soup, currant jelly, fresh bread, vegetables, fried potatoes, blue fish, flounder, oyster pie, and roast mutton. Beer and wine was also served. Custards and apple pie was offered for dessert.
The owner was a man with an impressively long and pointed mustache, who was perhaps twenty-five years of age. We asked about lodging for the night. When our man said there were rooms for rent, we bartered with a crate of Jamaican rum that the gorilla had retrieved from our cutter. The proprietor readily accepted the rum and liberally served it to his guests.
He was an affable host, overly concerned with our enjoyment, rather than with earning money; which made us both suspicious. Before we could question him further, or get his name, we speculated about his possible intentions. The well-heeled crowd dressed in fine suits and stylish dresses drove our imagination, as did liberal amounts of beer and rum. We saw our host as a confidence man, and were absolutely certain there was to be some sort of swindle or worse. We laughingly spoke of racketeering, general thievery, panel thievery, murder, extortion, and Wall Street shenanigans. Though as the serving girls cleared away the dishware and cutlery, we saw our man encourage a game of cards and knew his angle was gambling.
Just as the proprietor passed our table, the gorilla reached up with his massive hand. ”Didn’t catch your name?” he asked, his high-pitched voice cutting through the crowd noise.
“Chuck A. Luck,” the proprietor said proudly, and held up his right hand with his thumb tucked to his palm, displaying three dice, one in between each of his four erect fingers.
“We have been sent–” Gabe started to say.
I interrupted him. “What my man means to say, is we heard about high stakes gambling here in Coney, and wanted to know if this is the place?”
“Absolutely!” Chuck said, with a gleam in his eyes. He winked and turned away. A rosy-faced man stepped through the door and held up a fiddle for Chuck’s approval. “Let me speak with the fiddler, so as he knows this is not a dancehall.”
After Chuck left us, I spoke up. “Don’t tell him Jack sent us just yet, we’ll see what the man is up to.”
“Right,” Gabe said, his girly voice turning some heads. “He don’t own this place.”
“Something about the man…”
“His eyes are crazy,” I said, thinking how they reminded me of Gabe’s, but did not offer that thought into evidence.
The fiddler began with a Bach sonata. It was both soothing and thought-provoking, and lent quite a relaxing air to the already fine evening.
“I think we need to tell this man who we are and why we’re here,” the gorilla said, who didn’t have the mind for the deduction associated with detective work, as he was mainly a cold-blooded executioner. “One or more of our men have been murdered. We cannot afford to waste time.”
I wanted to learn more about our host before confronting him, but the gorilla would not listen to reasoning. So the next time Chuck came our way, we asked to speak with him outside. He calmly looked us in the eye as he ran a hand along his mustache. He nodded, yet the gorilla still grabbed his elbow and led him out into the street.
Gabe quickly explained that we were sent by Jack Jefferies to investigate the disappearance of our men, of which, Chuck was supposedly one of them.
“How did you come about this place?” I asked.
“I own it,” Chuck said, defiantly as he rubbed the elbow the gorilla had twisted. “Won it with a roll of the dice.”
“So you’re your own man now?” the gorilla asked.
“I’ve never worked for your Mr. Jefferies, or for anyone else,” he said, shoulders square, staring directly up at the gorilla. “I was helping your men out, as they told me they were demon hunters, and few know this place in the way that I do. But I had nothing to do with their deaths.”
“They’re all dead?” the gorilla asked.
“I think so!” Chuck said with fiery eyes. “Your boys were keen on the drink and the women, and didn’t heed my warnings.”
“What do you know?” the gorilla asked.
“Listen up, birdbrain,” he said. “I see both of you men have Colt Dragoons. Well, I’m a better gunfighter than gambler.” He unbuttoned his coat to show a revolver holstered on his hip.”We can talk all you like in the morning, now, I’ve money to be made. Is that a problem?”
A wild light flashed over the gorilla’s face.
“We’re fine,” I said and placed a hand on Gabe’s chest.
Chuck turned his back to us. “I’ll give you two a chance to decide,” he said, letting his right hand drop above the butt of the gun, wiggling his fingers. “If there’s a problem, let’s fix it now.”
I stepped in front of the gorilla. ”Take a step back, Gabe, calm down. This is a fine man, who’s help we need.” Gabe was too wild behind the eyes to speak. “Breath man!”
“Have you decided?” Chuck said.
“We need your help, and we are very grateful,” I said to Chuck, pushing the gorilla back, who raised a fist to hit me. “Listen, get your head straight. I’ll shoot you before he does. I will! Come on now. Tell the man, we are grateful for his kind help, and shall talk in the morning.”
“Yeah, sure,” Gabe screeched, then sneered down at me with an open mouth of bright white teeth. He wagged his fist, seemingly unable to unclench his hand. ”Thank you, fine sir.”
Chuck turned, eyes fixed upon the bright stars and crescent moon. Seconds later, he smirked as he took us in. “I need to go back inside,” he said. “All I’ll say is, whatever you men plan, just stay out of the marshes.”
“Why?” I asked.
“A very powerful ghost of a man, an Indian demon I believe, he protects those waters from the White Man.”
“An Indian?” I said.
“We are not afraid of a lone Indian, and surely not one that’s a demon,” Gabe said, flustered, surely looking to kill something.
Chuck stared at the gorilla. “The Indian, it is said, is an iron-fingered demon that haunts those sacred waters, which were stolen by white men over 100 years ago.”
“Nothing’s sacred there,” Gabe said.
“Those marshes are where the Canarsie Indians hid their women and children when they went to war,” Chuck said. “To them it was sacred.”
“A demon with iron-fingers, that’s a humbug!” Gabe said.
“If you saw the wounds on the dead that washed up in those waters, you would think otherwise,” Chuck said, and bowed his head. “I must go check on my guests, you men should follow me, but if you don’t,” he began to make his way toward the eating house, “if you’re still alive, we’ll talk in the morning.”
Gabe went to our boat and retrieved his spiked bludgeon. He strode toward the marshes, and began to stretch his arms and swing the weapon.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Forty
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