A Story Goes With It

Damon Runyon

November 1931

One night I am in a gambling joint in Miami watching the crap game and thinking what a nice thing it is, indeed, to be able to shoot craps without having to worry about losing your potatoes. Many of the high shots from New York and Detroit and St. Louis and other cities are around the table, and there is quite some action in spite of the hard times. In fact, there is so much action that a guy with only a few bobs on him, such as me, will be considered very impolite to be pushing into this game, because they are packed in very tight around the table.

I am maybe three guys back from the table, and I am watching the game by standing on tiptoe peeking over their shoulders, and all I can hear is Goldie, the stick man, hollering money-money-money every time some guy makes a number, so I can see the dice are very warm indeed, and that the right betters are doing first-rate.

By and by a guy by the name of Guinea Joe, out of Trenton, picks up the dice and starts making numbers right and left, and I know enough about this Guinea Joe to know that when he starts making numbers anybody will be very foolish indeed not to follow his hand, although personally I am generally a wrong better against the dice, if I bet at all.

Now all I have in my pocket is a sawbuck, and the hotel stakes are coming up on me the next day, and I need this saw, but with Guinea Joe hotter than a forty-five it will be overlooking a big opportunity not to go along with him, so when he comes out on an eight, which is a very easy number for Joe to make when he is hot, I dig up my sawbuck, and slide it past the three guys in front of me to the table, and I say to Lefty Park, who is laying against the dice, as follows:

“I will take the odds, Lefty.”

Well, Lefty looks at my sawbuck and nods his head, for Lefty is not such a guy as will refuse any bet, even though it is as modest as mine, and right away Goldie yells money-money-money, so there I am with twenty-two dollars.

Next Guinea Joe comes out on a nine, and naturally I take thirty to twenty for my sugar, because nine is nothing for Joe to make when he is hot. He makes the nine just as I figure, and I take two to one for my half a yard when he starts looking for a ten, and when he makes the ten I am right up against the table, because I am now a guy with means.

Well, the upshot of the whole business is that I finally find myself with three hundred bucks, and when it looks as if the dice are cooling off, I take out and back off from the table, and while I am backing off I am trying to look like a guy who loses all his potatoes, because there are always many wolves waiting around crap games and one thing and another in Miami this season, and what they are waiting for is to put the bite on anybody who happens to make a little scratch. In fact, nobody can remember when the bite is as painful as it is in Miami this season, what with the unemployment situation among many citizens who come to Miami expecting to find work in the gambling joints, or around the racetrack. But almost as soon as these citizens arrive, the gambling joints are all turned off, except in spots, and the bookmakers are chased off the track and the mutuels put in, and the consequences are the suffering is most intense. It is not only intense among the visiting citizens, but it is quite intense among the Miami landlords, because naturally if a citizen is not working, nobody can expect him to pay any room rent, but the Miami landlords do not seem to understand this situation, and are very unreasonable about their room rent.

Anyway, I back through quite a crowd without anybody biting me, and I am commencing to figure I may escape altogether and get to my hotel and hide my dough before the news gets around that I win about five G’s, which is what my winning is sure to amount to by the time the rumor reaches all quarters of the city.

Then, just as I am thinking I am safe, I find I am looking a guy by the name of Hot Horse Herbie in the face, and I can tell from Hot Horse Herbie’s expression that he is standing there watching me for some time, so there is no use in telling him I am washed out in the game. In fact, I cannot think of much of anything to tell Hot Horse Herbie that may keep him from putting the bite on me for at least a few bobs, and I am greatly astonished when he does not offer to bite me at all, but says to me like this:

“Well,” he says, “I am certainly glad to see you make such a nice score. I will be looking for you tomorrow at the track, and will have some big news for you.”

Then he walks away from me and I stand there with my mouth open looking at him, as it is certainly a most unusual way for Herbie to act. It is the first time I ever knew Herbie to walk away from a chance to bite somebody, and I can scarcely understand such actions, for Herbie is such a guy as will not miss a bite, even if he does not need it.

He is a tall, thin guy, with a sad face and a long chin, and he is called Hot Horse Herbie because he nearly always has a very hot horse to tell you about. He nearly always has a horse that is so hot it is fairly smoking, a hot horse being a horse that cannot possibly lose a race unless it falls down dead, and while Herbie’s hot horses often lose without falling down dead, this does not keep Herbie from coming up with others just as hot.

In fact, Hot Horse Herbie is what is called a hustler around the racetracks, and his business is to learn about these hot horses, or even just suspect about them, and then get somebody to bet on them, which is a very legitimate business indeed, as Herbie only collects a commission if the hot horses win, and if they do not win Herbie just keeps out of sight awhile from whoever he gets to bet on the hot horses. There are very few guys in this world who can keep out of sight better than Hot Horse Herbie, and especially from old Cap Duhaine, of the Pinkertons, who is always around pouring cold water on hot horses.

In fact. Cap Duhaine, of the Pinkertons, claims that guys such as Hot Horse Herbie are nothing but touts, and sometimes he heaves them off the racetrack altogether, but of course Cap Duhaine is a very unsentimental old guy and cannot see how such characters as Hot Horse Herbie add to the romance of the turf.

Anyway, I escape from the gambling joint with all my scratch on me, and hurry to my room and lock myself in for the night, and I do not show up in public until along about noon the next day, when it is time to go over to the coffee shop for my java. And of course by this time the news of my score is all over town, and many guys are taking dead aim at me.

But naturally I am now able to explain to them that I have to wire most of the three yards I win to Nebraska to save my father’s farm from being seized by the sheriff, and while everybody knows I do not have a father, and that if I do have a father I will not be sending him money for such a thing as saving his farm, with times what they are in Miami, nobody is impolite enough to doubt my word except a guy by the name of Pottsville Legs, who wishes to see my receipts from the telegraph office when I explain to him why I cannot stake him to a double sawbuck.

I do not see Hot Horse Herbie until I get to the track, and he is waiting for me right inside the grandstand gate, and as soon as I show up he motions me off to one side and says to me like this:

“Now,” Herbie says, “I am very smart indeed about a certain race today. In fact,” he says, ”if any guy knowing what I know does not bet all he can rake and scrape together on a certain horse, such a guy ought to cut his own throat and get himself out of the way forever. What I know,” Herbie says, “is enough to shake the foundations of this country if it gets out. Do not ask any questions,” he says, “but get ready to bet all the sugar you win last night on this horse I am going to mention to you, and all I ask you in return is to bet fifty on me. And,” Herbie says, “kindly do not tell me you leave your money in your other pants, because I know you do not have any other pants.”

“Now, Herbie,” I say, “I do not doubt your information, because I know you will not give out information unless it is well founded. But,” I say, “I seldom stand for a tip, and as for betting fifty for you, you know I will not bet fifty even for myself if somebody guarantees me a winner. So I thank you, Herbie, just the same,” I say, “but I must do without your tip,” and with this I start walking away.

“Now,” Herbie says, “wait a minute. A story goes with it,” he says.

Well, of course this is a different matter entirely. I am such a guy as will always listen to a tip on a horse if a story goes with the tip.

In fact, I will not give you a nickel for a tip without a story, but it must be a first-class story, and most horse players are the same way. In fact, there are very few horse players who will not listen to a tip if a story goes with it, for this is the way human nature is. So I turn and walk back to Hot Horse Herbie, and say to him like this:

“Well,” I say, “let me hear the story, Herbie.”

“Now,” Herbie says, dropping his voice away down low, in case old Cap Duhaine may be around somewhere listening, “it is the third race, and the horse is a horse by the name of Never Despair. It is a boat race,” Herbie says. “They are going to shoo in Never Despair. Everything else in the race is a cooler,” he says.

“Well,” I say, “this is just an idea, Herbie, and not a story.”

“Wait a minute,” Herbie says. “The story that goes with it is a very strange story indeed. In fact,” he says, “it is such a story as I can hardly believe myself, and I will generally believe almost any story, including,” he says, “the ones I make up out of my own head. Anyway, the story is as follows:

“Never Despair is owned by an old guy by the name of Seed Mercer,” Herbie says. “Maybe you remember seeing him around. He always wears a black slouch hat and gray whiskers,” Herbie says, “and he is maybe a hundred years old, and his horses are very terrible horses indeed. In fact,” Herbie says, “I do not remember seeing any more terrible horses in all the years I am around the track, and,” Herbie says, “I wish to say I see some very terrible horses indeed.

“Now,” Herbie says, “old Mercer has a granddaughter who is maybe sixteen years old, come next grass, by the name of Lame Louise, and she is called Lame Louise because she is all crippled up from childhood by infantile what-is-this, and can scarcely navigate, and,” Herbie says, “her being crippled up in such a way makes old Mercer feel very sad, for she is all he has in the world, except these terrible horses.”

“It is a very long story, Herbie,” I say, “and I wish to see Moe Shapoff about a very good thing in the first race.”

“Never mind Moe Shapoff,” Herbie says. “He will only tell you about a bum by the name of Zachary in the first race, and Zachary has no chance whatever. I make Your John a standout in the first,” he says.

“Well,” I say, “let us forget the first and get on with your story, although it is commencing to sound all mixed up to me.”

“Now,” Herbie says, “it not only makes old man Mercer very sad because Lame Louise is all crippled up, but,” he says, “it makes many of the jockeys and other guys around the racetrack very sad, because,” he says, “they know Lame Louise since she is so high, and she always has a smile for them, and especially for Jockey Scroon. In fact,” Herbie says, “Jockey Scroon is even more sad about Lame Louise than old man Mercer, because Jockey Scroon loves Lame Louise.”

“Why,” I say, very indignant, “Jockey Scroon is nothing but a little burglar. Why,” I say, “I see Jockey Scroon do things to horses I bet on that he will have to answer for on the Judgment Day, if there is any justice at such a time. Why,” I say, “Jockey Scroon is nothing but a Gerald Chapman in his heart, and so are all other jockeys.”

“Yes,” Hot Horse Herbie says, “what you say is very, very true, and I am personally in favor of the electric chair for all jockeys, but,” he says, “Jockey Scroon loves Lame Louise just the same, and is figuring on making her his ever-loving wife when he gets a few bobs together, which,” Herbie says, “makes Louise eight to five in my line to be an old maid. Jockey Scroon rooms with me downtown,” Herbie says, “and he speaks freely to me about his love for Louise. Furthermore,” Herbie says, “Jockey Scroon is personally not a bad little guy, at that, although of course being a jockey he is sometimes greatly misunderstood by the public.

“Anyway,” Hot Horse Herbie says, “I happen to go home early last night before I see you at the gambling joint, and I hear voices coming out of my room, and naturally I pause outside the door to listen, because for all I know it may be the landlord speaking about the room rent, although,” Herbie says, “I do not figure my landlord to be much worried at this time because I see him sneak into my room a few days before and take a lift at my trunk to make sure I have belongings in the same, and it happens I nail the trunk to the floor beforehand, so not being able to lift it, the landlord is bound to figure me a guy with property.

“These voices,” Herbie says, “are mainly soprano voices, and at first I think Jockey Scroon is in there with some dolls, which is by no means permissible in my hotel, but, after listening awhile, I discover they are the voices of young boys, and I make out that these boys are nothing but jockeys, and they are the six jockeys who are riding in the third race, and they are fixing up this race to be a boat race, and to shoo in Never Despair, which Jockey Scroon is riding.

“And,” Hot Horse Herbie says, “the reason they are fixing up this boat race is the strangest part of the story. It seems,” he says, “that Jockey Scroon hears old man Mercer talking about a great surgeon from Europe who is a shark on patching up cripples such as Lame Louise, and who just arrives at Palm Beach to spend the winter, and old man Mercer is saying how he wishes he has dough enough to take Lame Louise to this guy so he can operate on her, and maybe make her walk good again.

“But of course,” Herbie says, “it is well known to one and all that old man Mercer does not have a quarter, and that he has no way of getting a quarter unless one of his terrible horses accidentally wins a purse. So,” Herbie says, “it seems these jockeys get to talking it over among themselves, and they figure it will be a nice thing to let old man Mercer win a purse such as the thousand bucks that goes with the third race today, so he can take Lame Louise to Palm Beach, and now you have a rough idea of what is coming off.

“Furthermore,” Herbie says, “these jockeys wind up their meeting by taking a big oath among themselves that they will not tell a living soul what is doing so nobody will bet on Never Despair, because,” he says, “these little guys are smart enough to see if there is any betting on such a horse there may be a very large squawk afterward. And,” he says, “I judge they keep their oath because Never Despair is twenty to one in the morning line, and I do not hear a whisper about him, and you have the tip all to yourself.”

“Well,” I say, “so what?” For this story is now commencing to make me a little tired, especially as I hear the bell for the first race, and I must see Moe Shapoff.

“Why,” Hot Horse Herbie says, “so you bet every nickel you can rake and scrape together on Never Despair, including the twenty you are to bet for me for giving you this tip and the story that goes with it.”

“Herbie,” I say, “it is a very interesting story indeed, and also very sad, but,” I say, “I am sorry it is about a horse Jockey Scroon is to ride, because I do not think I will ever bet on anything Jockey Scroon rides if they pay off in advance. And,” I say, “I am certainly not going to bet twenty for you or anybody else.”

“Well,” Hot Horse Herbie says, “I will compromise with you for a pound note, because I must have something going for me on this boat race.”

So I give Herbie a fiver, and the chances are this is about as strong as he figures from the start, and I forget all about his tip and the story that goes with it, because while I enjoy a story with a tip, I feel that Herbie overdoes this one.

Anyway, no handicapper alive can make Never Despair win the third race off the form, because this race is at six furlongs, and there is a barrel of speed in it, and anybody can see that old man Mercer’s horse is away over his head. In fact, The Dancer tells me that any one of the other five horses in this race can beat Never Despair doing anything from playing hockey to putting the shot, and everybody else must think the same thing because Never Despair goes to forty to one.

Personally, I like a horse by the name of Loose Living, which is a horse owned by a guy by the name of Bill Howard, and I hear Bill Howard is betting plenty away on his horse, and anytime Bill Howard is betting away on his horse a guy will be out of his mind not to bet on this horse, too, as Bill Howard is very smart indeed. Loose Living is two to one in the first line, but by and by I judge the money Bill Howard bets away commences to come back to the track, and Loose Living winds up seven to ten, and while I am generally not a seven-to-ten guy, I can see that here is a proposition I cannot overlook.

So, naturally, I step up to the mutuel window and invest in Loose Living. In fact, I invest everything I have on me in the way of scratch, amounting to a hundred and ten bucks, which is all I have left after taking myself out of the hotel stakes and giving Hot Horse Herbie the finnif, and listening to what Moe Shapoff has to say about the first race, and also getting beat a snoot in the second.

When I first step up to the window, I have no idea of betting all my scratch on Loose Living, but while waiting in line there I get to thinking what a cinch Loose Living is, and how seldom such an opportunity comes into a guy’s life, so I just naturally set it all in.

Well, this is a race which will be remembered by one and all to their dying day, as Loose Living beats the barrier a step, and is two lengths in front before you can say Jack Robinson, with a third by the name of Callipers second by maybe half a length, and with the others bunched except Never Despair, and where is Never Despair but last, where he figures.

Now anytime Loose Living busts on top there is no need worrying any more about him, and I am thinking I better get in line at the payoff window right away, so I will not have to wait long to collect my sugar. But I figure I may as well stay and watch the race, although personally I am never much interested in watching races. I am interested only in how a race comes out.

As the horses hit the turn into the stretch, Loose Living is just breezing, and anybody can see that he is going to laugh his way home from there. Callipers is still second, and a thing called Goose Pimples is third, and I am surprised to see that Never Despair now struggles up to fourth with Jockey Scroon belting away at him with his bat quite earnestly. Furthermore, Never Despair seems to be running very fast, though afterward I figure this may be because the others are commencing to run very slow.

Anyway, a very strange spectacle now takes place in the stretch, as all of a sudden Loose Living seems to be stopping, as if he is waiting for a street cab, and what is all the more remarkable Callipers and Goose Pimples also seem to be hanging back, and the next thing anybody knows, here comes Jockey Scroon on Never Despair sneaking through on the rail, and personally it looks to me as if the jock on Callipers moves over to give Jockey Scroon plenty of elbow room, but of course the jock on Callipers may figure Jockey Scroon has diphtheria, and does not wish to catch it.

Loose Living is out in the middle of the track, anyway, so he does not have to move over. All Loose Living has to do is to keep running backward as he seems to be doing from the top of the stretch, to let Jockey Scroon go past on Never Despair to win the heat by a length.

Well, the race is practically supernatural in many respects, and the judges are all upset over it, and they haul all the jocks up in the stand and ask them many questions, and not being altogether satisfied with the answers, they ask these questions over several times. But all the jocks will say is that Never Despair sneaks past them very unexpectedly indeed, while Jockey Scroon, who is a pretty fresh duck at that, wishes to know if he is supposed to blow a horn when he is slipping through a lot of guys sound asleep.

But the judges are still not satisfied, so they go prowling around investigating the betting, because naturally when a boat race comes up there is apt to be some reason for it, such as the betting, but it seems that all the judges find is that one five-dollar win ticket is sold on Never Despair in the mutuels, and they cannot learn of a dime being bet away on the horse. So there is nothing much the judges can do about the proposition, except give the jocks many hard looks, and the jocks are accustomed to hard looks from the judges, anyway. Personally, I am greatly upset by this business, especially when I see that Never Despair pays $86.34, and for two cents I will go right up in the stand and start hollering copper on these little Jesse Jameses for putting on such a boat race and taking all my hard-earned potatoes away from me, but before I have time to do this, I run into The Dancer, and he tells me that Dedicate in the next race is the surest thing that ever goes to the post, and at five to one, at that. So I have to forget everything while I bustle about to dig up a few bobs to bet on Dedicate, and when Dedicate is beat a whisker, I have to do some more bustling to dig up a few bobs to bet on Vesta in the fifth, and by this time the third race is such ancient history that nobody cares what happens in it.

It is nearly a week before I see Hot Horse Herbie again, and I figure he is hiding out on everybody because he has this dough he wins off the fiver I give him, and personally I consider him a guy with no manners not to be kicking back the fin, at least. But before I can mention the fin, Herbie gives me a big hello, and says to me like this:

“Well,” he says, “I just see Jockey Scroon, and Jockey Scroon just comes back from Palm Beach, and the operation is a big success, and Lame Louise will walk as good as anybody again, and old Mercer is tickled silly. But,” Herbie says, “do not say anything out loud, because the judges may still be trying to find out what comes off in the race.”

“Herbie,” I say, very serious, “do you mean to say the story you tell me about Lame Louise, and all this and that, the other day is on the level?”

“Why,” Herbie says, “certainly it is on the level, and I am sorry to hear you do not take advantage of my information. But,” he says, “I do not blame you for not believing my story, because it is a very long story for anybody to believe. It is not such a story,” Herbie says, “as I will tell to anyone if I expect them to believe it. In fact,” he says, “it is so long a story that I do not have the heart to tell it to anybody else but you, or maybe I will have something running for me on the race.

“But,” Herbie says, “never mind all this. I will be plenty smart about a race tomorrow. Yes,” Herbie says, “I will be wiser than a treeful of owls, so be sure and see me if you happen to have any coconuts.”

“There is no danger of me seeing you,” I say, very sad, because I am all sorrowed up to think that the story he tells me is really true. “Things are very terrible with me at this time,” I say, “and I am thinking maybe you can hand me back my finnif, because you must do all right for yourself with the fiver you have on Never Despair at such a price.”

Now a very strange look comes over Hot Horse Herbie’s face, and he raises his right hand, and says to me like this:

“I hope and trust I drop down dead right here in front of you,” Herbie says, “if I bet a quarter on the horse. It is true,” he says, “I am up at the window to buy a ticket on Never Despair, but the guy who is selling the tickets is a friend of mine by the name of Heeby Rosenbloom, and Heeby whispers to me that Big Joe Gompers, the guy who owns Callipers, just bets half a hundred on his horse, and,” Herbie says, “I know Joe Gompers is such a guy as will not bet half a hundred on anything he does not get a Federal Reserve guarantee with it.

“Anyway,” Herbie says, “I get to thinking about what a bad jockey this Jockey Scroon is, which is very bad indeed, and,” he says, “I figure that even if it is a boat race it is no even-money race they can shoo him in, so I buy a ticket on Callipers.”

“Well,” I say, “somebody buys one five-dollar ticket on Never Despair, and I figure it can be nobody but you.”

“Why,” Hot Horse Herbie says, “do you not hear about this? Why,” he says, “Cap Duhaine, of the Pinkertons, traces this ticket and finds it is bought by a guy by the name of Steve Harter, and the way this guy Harter comes to buy it is very astonishing. It seems,” Herbie says, “that this Harter is a tourist out of Indiana who comes to Miami for the sunshine, and who loses all his dough but six bucks against the faro bank at Hollywood.

“At the same time,” Herbie says, “the poor guy gets a telegram from his ever-loving doll back in Indiana saying she no longer wishes any part of him.

“Well,” Herbie says, “between losing his dough and his doll, the poor guy is practically out of his mind, and he figures there is nothing left for him to do but knock himself off.

“So,” Herbie says, “this Harter spends one of his six bucks to get to the track, figuring to throw himself under the feet of the horses in the first race and let them kick him to a jelly. But he does not get there until just as the third race is coming up and,” Herbie says, “he sees this name ‘Never Despair,’ and he figures it may be a hunch, so he buys himself a ticket with his last fiver. Well, naturally,” Herbie says, “when Never Despair pops down, the guy forgets about letting the horses kick him to a jelly, and he keeps sending his dough along until he runs nothing but a nubbin into six G’s on the day.

“Then,” Herbie says, “Cap Duhaine finds out that the guy, still thinking of Never Despair, calls his ever-loving doll on the phone, and finds she is very sorry she sends him the wire and that she really loves him more than somewhat, especially,” Herbie says, “when she finds out about the six G’s. And the last anybody hears of the matter, this Harter is on his way home to get married, so Never Despair does quite some good in this wicked old world, after all.

“But,” Herbie says, “let us forget all this, because tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow,” he says, “I will tell you about a thing that goes in the fourth which is just the same as wheat in the bin. In fact,” Hot Horse Herbie says, “if it does not win, you can never speak to me again.”

“Well,” I say, as I start to walk away, “I am not interested in any tip at this time.”

“Now,” Herbie says, “wait a minute. A story goes with it.”

“Well,” I say, coming back to him, “let me hear the story.”