••• The International Writers Magazine: Balcony Stories
Pips Wally and Dogman Jones meet Maradona
Pips Wally went to Cuba one year at last. He had heard about sun and fun, fishing and brown girls - all that he liked – but it took an invite from Dogman Jones and some harrowing circumstances to finally convince him to go.
Pips knew Dogman from the pool hall in a pretty funky part of Baltimore. Dogman was the player but Pips liked to think he held back when he played the hefty Dogman on a cause that he was respectful. He was respectful of the reputation of the Dog (as he was referred to in casual circles) for turning a bad turn into a good turn. He was a
game master ....
Them Italians and Frenchies at the pool hall were not particularly happy when the Dog turned on them so many times. They would get a little ahead and then say to the Dog, “Whaddaya say, Dog – double it?”
Just to be fair, the Dogman let them win sometime but one time he needed money and he did Vito Scraggio like a Saint Bernard on a Porgy.
It was one of them smoky, rainy afternoons and the windows of Mark Sugerman’s Billiard Palace were all steamed up on the inside. The nine tables were full of regulars and there was a French player beating the Italians one after another and they were getting plenty mad.
Seeing the tension when he walked in, Dogman headed straight to the ‘romance’ table and stood next to Pips Wally. The Italians were milling like a pack of angry wombats. The Frenchy was looking around,
cool but nervous. He pulled on his black moustache waiting for Scraggio to play. Scraggio was down six grand and now it was double or nothing.
“What’s goin’ down bro? Them wops look mad.”
“Look. That guy. He beat the Italians and the French Canadians from Kee- beck all morning and now he just hustled Vito Scraggio for six grand.”
“Hustled him, huh?”
“On the five he had him snookered so he said something and next thing the bet’s doubled. Vito is real touchy today. The Frog hops the cue ball over the five and nails it in the corner pocket. He must be on TV. He’s a trick shot artist.”
“Let’s see how she goes.”
The Italians crowded the Frenchman who had taken up a station with two French Canadians who didn’t want nothing to do with him either. They let him sit there at their table but didn’t talk to him.
In a moment Vito Scraggio holds his arm out elegant-like, inviting the Frenchman to the game.
The Frenchman lost the game, all or nothing as could be predicted and Dogman saw his chance to get the money he owed to Travis Matchee on a fight bet. He played Vito two out of four, nine-ball and then they
switched to snooker to decide the tie. Vito Scraggio was looking invincible. There was a pair of very fly hookers, one black, one white and they had even come in off the street to watch the game.
Somebody was going to walk out with twenty-five grand and them gals wanted to go along with him.
In fifteen minutes Scraggio was furious, beaten in a clear hustle.
Dogman looked through the bag to make sure it was all there and then zipped it up.
“If you’re not ready to lose, you shouldn’t play,” he said to Scraggio. Dogman had cleared the table on his second turn. The money was there and then it was gone and it was the second time that morning that Vito Scraggio had looked like a chump.
Dogman went to the Honda dealership and used his Amex card to buy the green Masurati that had been in the showroom for the last six months. How he got a hold of a platinum Amex card with unlimited spending was
a miracle. Dogman didn’t even have an address. Pips Wally was perplexed. One thing for sure – Dogman was up to something.
The Dog had spent a lot of years hiding out in Spain they say. Then somebody died and he came back, scot free. When he was in Spain nobody heard from him. He got married and bought a place in Marbella
and promoted rock concerts. He got in games in Madrid and Paris and London but nobody ever heard of him. He was ‘Joe Ascot’ or ‘Frederick so and so’ and did the loop like a card counter hustling casinos.
Guys like Dogman Jones don’t care for fame. He was a hustler as cynical or realistic maybe as they come. To him everybody is on the hustle. Even a baby. So what did Dogman Jones do this time? He sure as hell didn’t disappoint.
When he got the Masurati he already had a buyer and resold it the same day at a loss. Guys would think they should go and pay off Travis Matchee first before everything. Matchee is a Baltimore guy
who can back up two hundred grand on any bet at any time. You do not fuck with Travis Matchee. Dogman Jones seems like a known guy but nobody knows where he came from. He knew Matchee would take a big bet
on his word and so he took a chance and lost. What Matchee didn’t know about the Dog is that the Dog had gone in deep with guys in Chicago and then he just left for Spain. And stayed there for thirty-four
years. When the guys in Chicago were all dead he came back. Then he went to Baltimore.
He looks just like these other guys. Dyed blond hair, overweight and talks the talk. In a couple of months he even talks like a guy from Baltimore. The only guy who really knew him was Pips Wally because they had played in Chicago. And it was Pips that knew the whole story about both times Dogman skipped town. The second time he had to go with.
Scraggio was furious. These Italians are hot. They want to settle it NOW. The Russians can wait months. SoScraggio gets his cousin Guido and they go looking for Dogman and can’t find him anywhere. At
three in the morning Pips gets a knock at the door.
“Where is Dogman,” says Guido through the door. Pips unchains the door and lets the two in.
“Isn’t he at the Marr?”
“Nope. They say he checked out. Where is he?”
Guido gives Pips one in the gut.
“I don’t know, Guido. What are you hitting me for?”
“You’re the only guy that knows him.”
“Look, I don’t know where he is.”
“No he’s not.”
“How do you know?”
“He’s got a ‘tell’.”
“Don’t go too far,” Vito Scraggio tells him.
So they let him alone. They get some coffee and later they meet with Matchee and they all pitch in for a contract on Dogman Jones.
Pips hardly gets back to bed when there’s another knock on the door.
“Vito Scraggio and Guido were here looking for you.”
“I know. I was waiting for them. I knew they would be coming here.”
“Seems like you’re running. So why did you come here.”
“Look, Pips, you’re going to have to leave. I gotta go and they’re going to blame you for inviting me to Baltimore.”
“Shit, you’re right.”
“So what we’re going to do it this: I’ve got an Aunt in Toronto. We’ll go there and then we’ll go somewhere they speak Spanish.”
“Alright Dog. I gotta get to my deposit box. It opens at nine a.m.”
“We’re going out of here, buddy.”
So, Pips gets his money and the two of them take a morning flight to Toronto. Then they go to Havana.
If there ever was a more impulsive move Pips had never heard of it. He didn’t argue, either. Even thought Dogman was the cause of all the problem, now they were in a sub-tropical country, nice and warm, just
a little short of action.
They took two different casas, not far from each other and started playing on a tiny table at The Crucero on 31st Avenue in Playa municipality. They had to play each other as there weren’t any good players and made friends with the locals, what with Dogman speaking perfect Spanish. It didn’t matter to Pips that he was gone from
Baltimore. He liked it better in Havana anyway. He couldn’t figure out who the hookers were or who were just the regular girls but it was something like Mexico he figured. Kind of a mix. Nobody really professional.
They found another table near the Kholy Hotel, closer to the river and the Hotel Bosque (forest) where there were four good six-by twelves. There was a player from Columbia and Pips hustled him out of three hundred bucks. He was an arrogant shnook, thought Pips. A three hundred dollar game was a big game in Cuba. And it was fun as the money was enough to pay rent for two weeks. Asides from the Columbian who was so macho he couldn’t get wise and kept coming back to lose more, there were slim pickings. They needed a new fish.
It wasn’t all that important until the housekeeper got a hold of Dogman’s stash. Seventy-grand disappeared and he couldn’t go to the cops. He changed casas with only five-hundred bucks to his name, a fake visa and his wits. Plus he had Pips.
Pips took up drinking cold beer and sleeping in while Dogman got up early and went to a Hotel in Miramar. He dressed like the other tourists and sat in the lobby cafeteria and selected breakfast from the all-inclusive menu. Most days he ate for free but if they brought him a bill he would give a good tip and they began to let him off the
bill completely. He had charisma and the other guests liked him so he was like a goodwill ambassador. But he was always working something.
“Come on, Pips!” called Dogman from the street below. “I can get us in free to the pool.”
Pips got himself together as Dogman drank coffee, waiting for him.
“I know a guy who’s at the hotel. We’re going to play him and his buddy.”
They took peso route taxis to the hotel and went straight to the pool. There was a bar in the middle of it, dividing it. They both ordered beers.
“Who’s the guy?”
“He’s a soccer player.”
“But he plays pool.”
“How did you get a platinum Amex card?¨
¨It was one of those airline ticket offers. You take the card at five hundred bucks a year and you get a discount on your ticket. So when the card showed up I couldn´t believe it.¨
¨You were planning this. You already had our tickets.¨
¨Come on Pips, do a lap.¨
Dogman went to the lap side of the pool and swam across. On his way back he swam close to a group of five or six sunbathers then got out and returned to Pips.
“He’s there,” said Dogman.
“I thought you said you knew him.”
“I met him once in Marbella. Don’t worry, he’ll remember me.”
“What’s his name.”
“His name is Maradona.”
“He plays soccer.”
“He used to play. He’s retired.”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
They took their towels and bags and went over to the small party who were under a couple of pool umbrellas, some sitting on plastic pool recliners. Dogman passed Pips a digital camera.
“Take a picture of me with him, would you?”
“Why? Is he a celebrity.”
“Yes. He is the most well know Latin American in the world. More famous than Fidel and Che. So I want a picture I can send to my son in Spain.”
Maradona went directly to Dogman when he saw him and gave him a hug.
Pips got a pretty good picture. Maradona invited them and they spent the afternoon as Dogman set up the game. Pips met a pretty brown woman who massaged his feet with lotion. The soccer player and the hustler had a lot of laughs that afternoon.
© Jerry Alan June 2018
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