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Chapter 1


COSTOVAIN threw down his last hundred-dollar bill on the table with carefree coolness—his handsome, dangerous eyes mocking, his mouth like a twisted scar. Scooping up the big bone dice, he plunked them into the cup once more, turning them over from their black double sixes onto a winning four and three. For a long moment he rattled them beside his ear, then sent them hurtling out on the green cloth.

They hit the mahogany rim and bounced, tumbling. through all the numbers for an instant, before turning up and stopping in the middle of the cloth. . . . Double six again. The other men around the table stood looking with stony eyes.

“Big Judas, the twelfth apostle, pops up again,” said Costovain. “The midnight bell rings out again. Old massa, the hearse and coffin am waiting at the door.”

For the moment his face was a network of fine wrinkles, as he stood with his fists planted on the table edge.

“Twelve times in a row,” he said. “Tie that if you can.”

He shook the lock of yellow hair back from his forehead, and straightened up, showing his teeth in a grin. With one eye half shut he peered into his empty billfold.

“They can’t keep twelving on me forever,” he said. “That’s one thing sure as hell. Stake me to a couple of C’s, Abe, and bring out the family dice this time.”

The paunchy, shirt-sleeved man with the green eye-shade, on the other side of the table, shook his head regretfully.

“You know how that is, Mr. Costovain,” he said. “I’d rather be shot in my tracks than have to turn you down. But the house can’t bet against its own money. It wouldn’t do you any good, anyway, if I could. You’d only turn up another crap. It seems like there’s a fate in the dice for you.”

“To hell with fate,” said Costovain. He picked up the dice and slammed them against the wall with all his force.

“That’s the last throw I’ll ever make,” he said. “Read them and weep.”

The dice dropped to the floor, bounced, and rolled back on the carpet to his feet.

“Boxcars again, Abe?” he said, lighting a cigaret, not looking down at them. Abe shook his head.

“Don’t tell me it’s a natural at last,” said Costovain with a sneer. “I couldn’t bear it.”

Abe shook his head again, dolorously. Costovain bent his narrowed glance down. “Snake eyes!” he said quietly and murderously. “Oh, you damned bastards!”

“You see,” said Abe placatingly. “I told you. Twelve times you throw the midnight, and then the snake eyes turn up and bite you in the face. On the bottom of every Judas, and the same thing. I hate to say it, Mr. Costovain. but you ought to leave the dice clear alone. You oughtn’t to ever take a chance on any gamble. You’re right every other way. You’ve got everything—class, looks, education, and all kinds of brains. You’d be sitting on top of the world right now if it wasn’t for the dice. It’s always the boxcars or the trinidad or the snake eyes for you. I never saw the equal of it. I claim it’s fate.”

“To hell with fate,” said Costovain again, with pale burning eyes. “And with the boxcars and the trinidad and the snake eyes, and all the craps that grow. I’ll be sitting on top of the world yet, in spite of them.”

He picked up his silky vicuna-cloth topcoat from the bed and put it on, with a cool grin at the other gamblers around the table—the cigar-store clerks, bellhops, and other small-time Broadway sports, clutching their sheaves of dirty dollar bills.

“Easy come, easy go,” he sneered. “That’s the way I play them. Glad to have given you a thrill, punks. Didn’t you ever hear of anyone crapping twelve C’s before? You can have your cockeyed Lady Luck. I don’t need her. I don’t want her. Tell her if you see her that you’ve met Costovain, and he says to hell with her.”

He grinned with a twisted mouth. His eyes were narrow and pale. Setting his hat at a jaunty angle, he opened the door of the hotel room out into the corridor. For a moment, as he paused on the threshold to tuck in his heavy silk muffler and draw on his pigskin gloves, there seemed to be a great dark shadow behind him.

“Yeah,” he said. “Tell the Lady of the Dice that she can kiss my royal pink knee. I’m through with her. I can win without her. There are plenty of other dames in the world for Costovain.”

With a curt nod he pulled the door shut behind him, and was gone.

Costovain, and his shadow. . . .


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