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"Even if he let me off easy, he knows my heart’s in Brooklyn. He wants to make sure I remember that, if I cross him, he’ll cut me off. He owns my soul." Race throws a game of poker. Gambling, m...
The kid don't know the difference between a straight and a flush. Not to mention his ridiculously nonexistent poker face. I can tell almost exactly what cards he's got as if he'd said it out loud. And it ain't just my natural talent workin', either. Sometimes I wonder why Jack lets him play with us in the first place.
For another thing, he's got a nasty bad temper. And he's a very, very sore loser. I mean, ya know, sometimes he can take it. But then there's the times, when he's in an especially bad mood, when I just know he'd soak me if I didn't let him win. The sad part is, I can always tell how to let him win. It's so hard sometimes to stop that part of me that wants to take advantage of every little detail I read in his face. Holy crap, it's so easy... Why? Why do I do it? Why do I let him intimidate me into throwin' the game for him?
Then I remember. Sheepshead. My life is over if I don't. You give Spot Conlon reason to be mad at you, and your life is pretty much over. Cuz if he don't kill you, you'll spend the rest of your miserable existence wonderin' when he'll collect. And if he leaves you alive, you can be sure he'll be soakin' ya every time he lays eyes on ya after that. And me, I'm the kinda person that'll take my chances tryin' to sneak through Brooklyn territory under Spot's nose. More'n likely, I'll fail. But it sure as heck ain't gonna keep me from tryin'.
The turn. I've gotta flush already. I can tell by the disgusted look on Spot's face he's gotta pair, maybe. More likely just a high - if it can even be called that. But the idiot actually thinks he's gonna bluff me. He raises after I call. Shoot. I call again, hopin' he'll take the hint and fold out gracefully instead'a getting' beat. Spot ain't great about takin' hints. An' he's glarin' at me. Why da heck is he glarin' at me?!
Jack's lookin' kinda concerned. I try to ignore it. "Ya want da river, Race?" he asks softly, his hand hanging uncertainly over the deck. If I didn't know better, I'd say he was worried about my health or somethin'. It was almost a warning. Images of a life without Sheepshead flash before my eyes. Of life without Brooklyn. I know what I should do, but...
"Yeah, give it to me," I mutter, keeping my gaze on my cards. Spot's steel-grey eyes are boring into me, I can tell, daring me to go against him. Jack flips the last card, and...
Dammit. Straight flush. I don't let it show, but Spot knows. And I can tell he's in a particularly bad mood tonight. He stubbornly raises the bet again, and I realize I'm down to my last dime. That means this is it. I either go all in and make him look like the idiot that he is, or I fold one of the best hands I've ever had and lose to this spoiled, arrogant bonehead.
One thing you never, ever do is make Spot Conlon look like an idiot, even if he is one. Everybody knows that, me better'n anyone. And when Spot Conlon does you a favor - like lettin' you sell on his turf on a daily basis - you don't repay him by rubbin' his face in a poker game. It don't matter what you paid for the favor in the first place. He'll hold it over your head for the rest of your life. Getting' a favor from Spot is like sellin' yourself to the devil. Except that he ain't as much like the devil as he wishes he was.
Either way, I think that's why he insists on playin' poker. He knows he's no good. Everybody knows he's no good. But he likes to remind me who I belong to. Even if he let me off easy, he knows my heart's in Brooklyn. He wants to make sure I remember that, if I cross him, he'll cut me off. He owns my soul.
So in the end, it ain't so much about Sheepshead or no Sheepshead. It's really a question of my well-being. Several aspects of my health are at risk at the moment, in a variety of waiting periods from immediate to long-term. It's a question of life and death - all in and die, or fold and live?
I'll be hanged if I let him take my soul from me. As I toss my cards face-down on the table, I look him straight in the eye and say, "Fold." Somethin' inside me sinks at that word, and at the look of triumph that crosses his face. It's an act of submission the likes of which disgust me. But out on the streets, pride kills. It pays to know who you belong to. As humiliatin' as that may be.
It seems almost as if there's a collective sigh of relief, and the tension that I didn't notice before is released. As Spot collects his winnings, and the other boys start drifting toward their bunks, I pick up the deck and start shufflin' absently. That's when he finally speaks to me. "C'mon, Race," he says. "Don't be such a sore loser."
"Ain't sore," I mumble, bridging the deck on my knee. "An' I ain't da loser."
"So you admit you threw the game." It ain't a question, so I don't respond. "What'dya have?"
"Straight flush," I growl. Those cards will be forever burned in my memory. Three, four, five, six, seven, all in spades.
"Best I ever had."
"Hmm. Musta been tough." I scoff at his attempts to sympathize. There's a long pause, then he brings his hands down heavily on the table. "A'right Race. Done deal."
"Whaddaya mean?" I ask carefully.
"I mean you don't owe me no more. Free ta come an' go as ya please, no strings attached."
I scoff again. I can't help it. "Yeah, right. Dere's always strings attached where Spot Conlon is concerned."
"Not dis time." I glance up to see the sincere look on his face. "Race, I know how much it means to ya, bein' a winner an' all. Provin' dat ya can, dat your good enough. Ya gave dat up just ta keep on my good side. No track is wort' dat."
I think about chuckin' the deck at him, then think better. "Dere ain't nothin' more'nat ta tell."
"I ain't askin'. It ain't important. I just want ya ta know I understand."
He don't say anythin' more 'bout it. Just gathers up his money an' leaves. After that, he don't come 'round to play no more. Part of me kinda misses it. But then again, I also have even less trouble crossin' his territory. An' he never once asks me for anythin' in return.
Spot understands. My heart's in Brooklyn. An' not even my gamblin' pride'll come between us.