Shooting Craps on the 8.27
In the early 1960s, there was a quartet of commuters who passed the journey from Portsmouth to London Waterloo, by shooting craps. For the uninitiated, craps is a popular American casino game, played with two dice. Briefly, to win, the shooter has to roll a seven or 11 on the first throw. If unsuccessful, he has to throw the number he rolled the first time again, before he throws another seven. The shooter looses if a two, three or 12 appear on the first throw (this is known as craps), or a seven thereafter. Simple isn’t it?
Of course there are variations and side bets. In our travellers’ case, the players took turns to act as the banker or bookie for the journey, while the other three bet on the game. The original bets are at evens, but if the shooter doesn’t win on his first throw, various odds are laid that he will throw the original number before a seven. For those still with us, or for those who have read the first paragraphs for the third time and now think they have a vague understanding of the game, I can now introduce you to the quartet.
Chris, an overweight accountant, would sit in the corner by the window, his shirt sleeves rolled up, forehead slightly sweating whatever the weather, 20 Rothmans and Ronson lighter to hand. Fair Enough Smith, or to his intimates, Smithy, had acquired his handle by repeatedly saying “Fair enough” after almost everything said to him. Also a smoker, he had the worrying habit of laughing and coughing at the same time.
The third member of the quartet was Joyce, an S.P. Settler who worked with Smithy and appeared to be slightly more than a close friend of his. Unfortunately, she had one blue tooth, which showed when she laughed and sometimes stopped others from laughing when they saw it. Finally, Monty was a short, dark, dapper man in his late 50’s, now a messenger in the City, but reputedly an ex-member of a Brighton race-gang after the war. Oh yes, observing all this, I boarded the train at Woking, and on Monty’s invitation (I’d met him a couple of times at White City dogs), sat or stood as near as possible to the action. So, when one of the players was absent, I was invited to play.
On this particularly Friday, as the train rattled through Vauxhall Station, Monty pushed the dice across the table.
“Your roll Chris – I can double the limit for you as it’s the last roll today.”
“Yeah fine,” said Chris who, after vigorously cleaning his glasses, made the pretext of searching through his wallet.
“Can you lend me a fiver until tonight Monty?”
Monty nodded and Chris rolled – “Three – craps – oh shit,”
Chris groaned as he slumped back in his seat.
Passengers began reaching up into the luggage racks for their coats and briefcases as the train pulled into Waterloo. Soon, hundreds of commuters spilled out onto the platform to start their day, but not Chris.
Looking dazed, he lingered, lighting yet another cigarette and fumbling through his briefcase. A respected £1,000 a year accountant, Chris had told us he lived with his elderly mother in a big house near Fratton. Lately, however, even I had noticed his loses were getting to him.
The following Monday morning, I located their carriage.
“No Chris?” I enquired hopefully, seeing the vacant seat.
“He’s gone to the loo,” Monty said, adding, “his luck today is diabolical.”
Smithy and Joyce urged Monty to restart the game, but Monty said he would wait and put the dice into his shirt pocket. As the train sped on, they talked of racing and football, until Monty said, “You might as well sit in Churchy; it looks as if Chris is involved in another sort of crap game!”
Doubling up on three straight sevens, my enthusiastic shouts drew the attention of other passengers away from their newspapers, adding fuel to my ambition to be a regular in this corner seat.
“Who let Churchy in this game?” said Joyce, flashing her tooth.
Just then Chris appeared, “Gyppy tummy,” he said sheepishly.
“I see Churchy’s getting stuck in – no, no, that’s OK, I’ll watch – we’re nearly there now anyway.”
Chris waved his hand to brush aside my offer of his usual seat, looking slightly relieved.
On Tuesday morning. I made my way to the quartet’s carriage.
“Chris in the loo?” I asked seeing his place vacant.
“No, he’s not with us. Sit in if you like,” said Monty.
“Yes, that’s fair enough,” said Smithy, stifling what was either a laugh or a cough, or both.
Once again I was a few pounds up on the trip, and the following day, with still no sign of Chris, I made a strong finish as the new shooter, after Monty had nearly wiped me out before Clapham Junction.
Before we left the train, Joyce, who had been noticeably quiet throughout the journey, said she would look up Chris’s address and Smithy added “We’ll try and phone him – see what’s happening.”
Next day, hoping to add to my run of luck, I watched the windows of the 8.27 as it arrived at Woking and, catching a glimpse of Monty, hurried along the platform to join him.
“How’s Chris?” I said, seeing he wasn’t there and eagerly moving across into his place. Looking down at the table, Joyce said, “He’s dead. He died late Friday night, after coming back from the pub. Heart, I believe. Sadly, his big house was really a small flat that he shared with his mum. And she’s worried stiff. He hadn’t paid the rent for three months and the landlord’s been threatening to throw them out.”
I looked across at Smithy’s black tie.
“Fair enough, I suppose,” he said, “but a bit harsh, wouldn’t you say?”
Joyce started to cry.
“There, there,” said Monty, leaning across to comfort her.
“I tell you what,” he added, taking three dice out of his shirt pocket, “as a mark of respect, we won’t be needing these again,” and, reaching up to the window, he hurled the dice out onto the track.
“Why three dice Monty,” I asked irreverently,
“Always carry a spare Churchy.”
“Fair enough,” said Smithy, “but I’d never seen the third dice before!”
Throughout the day and that evening, I could think of nothing but Monty’s third dice. But next morning, resolving to get into the office a little earlier, I caught the 8.05.
This short story is taken from
Ripping Gambling Yarns,
of which Michael has a few signed copies for sale.
Illustrations by Julia Jacs