Gonna Roll The Bones by Leiber, Fritz, 1967

Gonna Roll The Bones by Leiber, Fritz

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Gonna Roll the Bones, by Fritz Leiber (Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette): Joe Slattermill, a drunk and a wife beater, decided to go out one night to a new casino in town called The Boneyard. Joe is not a nice guy, but not much around him is nice either.

(Joe's wife) was thin as death and disease in her violet wrapper. Without looking, she reached out a yard-long skinny arm for the nearest gin bottle and downed a warm slug and smiled again. And without work spoken, Joe knew she'd said, "You're going out and gamble and get drunk and lay a floozy and come home and beat me and go to jail for it," and he had a flash of the last time he'd been in the dark gritty cell and she'd come by moonlight, which showed the green and yellow lumps on her narrow skull where he'd hit her, to whisper to him through the tiny window in back and slip him a half pint through the bars.

Joe goes to The Boneyard and goes to a craps table where he finds a bunch of high rollers, and a man in black that would probably just as soon look at Joe as kill him. But Joe, an expert craps roller, makes his mark by building a few dollars into a few thousand, and more. He was scorned by opening with one buck, but earned respect as he continued to roll well, and knew when to stop and pull his money off the table. Most of the others at the table were rubes and dolts, but the Man in Black, the Big Gambler, cleared the table and took everyone's money save Joe's. But Joe botched a roll at the end of the night and lost it all to the Big Gambler.

Seeing the cubes sitting on the black rim in front of him almost gave Joe apoplexy. All the feelings racking him, including his curiosity, rose to an almost unbelievable pitch of intensity, and when he'd said "Rolling my pile," and the Big Gambler had replied, "You're faded," he yielded to an uncontrollable impulse and cast the two dice straight at the Big Gambler's ungleaming, midnight eyes.

They went right through into the Big Gambler's skull and bounced around inside there, rattling like big seeds in a big gourd not quite yet dry.

Throwing a hand, palm back, to either side, to indicate that none of his boys or girls or anyone must make a reprisal on Joe, the Big Gambler dryly gargled the two cubical bones, then spat them out so that they landed in the center of the table, the one die flat, the other leaning against.

"Cocked dice, sir," he whispered as graciously as if no indignity whatever had been done him. "Roll again."

Joe shook the dice reflectively, getting over the shock. After a little bit he decided that through he could now guess the Big Gambler's real name, he'd still give him a run for his money.

This story leaves a lot to the imagination of the reader, but its exact enough to tell a cohesive story, and be creepy enough to make you want to read it twice.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)


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