The invincible Dope
NEXT Friday will be the anniversary of that riotous rigadoon in the grand ballroom of the Walberg-Plaza from which Ellison Bradley and Dr. Raymond Rodosky disappeared on their separate courses into the Limbo of spent meteors. As usual, newspaper columnists and gag writers will celebrate the occasion in prose and verse most. of it on the ribald side--and,ns usual, they will have the story something less than straight. This is as good a time as any to consider the facts in their proper sequence and perspective. It. began with Ellison Bradley and the Gift. Ellison never did find out where the Gift origin ated. It might have been that magazine article he read in the dentist's office-"Make Your Psyche Your Servant." Or maybe it was only the result of
some wild, fourth-dimensional romp among the bored deities who sit in judgment above all bridge players.
When the Gift first manifested itself, Ellison was an unknown shoe salesman in Elgoona, Minn. At the precise instant of the Gift’s nativity, Ellison was threshing around, as usual, in the unclean debris of another contract on the way to going wrong. Ellison was sweating, faintly and hopelessly. For the third time he removed his bifocal spectacles and polished them with a soggy blue-bordered handkerchief. For the fourth time he surveyed dummy with the sickly, forced aplomb of a declarer who has forgotten to count the trumps. Ellison prayed—silently and fervently, as all declarers do in such moments.
Lead a heart, Mrs. Milton, Ellison prayed. Please, please lead a heart, Mrs. Milton.
Mrs. Milton, normally a woman of strong will
and unassailable discretion, led a heart without a flicker of hesitation.
Ellison collected the ace and queen of hearts over Mr. Milton’s king-jack, took the good king of clubs and conceded the spade jack.
“Four, redoubled,” he said aloud, concealing his astonishment. “Tricky little throw-in play at the end there,” he added smugly.
Mr. Milton garroted his wife with a look. “Throw-in play nothing!” he growled. “All she had to do was lead a spade and then a club and you were down.”
“That’s the tricky part,” Ellison said staunchly.
Ellison never looked back. He continued to play bridge every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evening at the Albatross Men’s Club. He continued to play on alternate Fridays at the Renaissance Recreation and Culture League—usually in partnership with his long-suffering but uncomplaining
fiancée, Adele Simpson. On all these occasions he continued to play with a lack of skill which was little short of depraved, and to pray for help and guidance from the omnipotent but little-understood gods to whom all bridge players appeal in times of duress.
The difference was that from then on it worked.
Lead spades, Mrs. Milton, Ellison would pray. Lead diamonds, Mr. Thomas. And Mrs. Milton or Mr. Thomas would lead spades or diamonds as the case might be. Always. Ellison won. Always.
Since bridge was worse than a drug to Ellison and since he was basically one of the half-dozen worst players in the known universe, it might have been thought that this turn of events would have had a salutary effect on Ellison’s destiny. This would have been overstating the case. To get the picture, you have to get the picture of Ellison and his fiancée, Adele Simpson.
They were both small, plump and thirtyish. It was a common saying among their friends that they were meant for each other, which could have been interpreted either as a boost or a knock for one or both. Even before his hair started to thin and he began wearing the thick glasses, Ellison had been the kind of man whom slight acquaintances address as Mr. Uh, and blond-bobbed, blue-eyed Adele, for all her restrained comeliness, was by no means the type to stir the beast.
They had been engaged for seven years. Except for the stupefying accident of Ellison’s stumbling away with High Gents from the Renaissance League’s semiannual sweepstakes during the third month of their betrothal, they’d have been married about the time the Blackwood Convention was coming into vogue. But after Ellison won High Gents—a phenomenon which was amazingly reluctant to repeat itself—there just didn’t seem to be enough time to get married. Adele became a bridge widow before she became a bride.
The Gift—whose existence he didn’t disclose even to Adele— changed Ellison’s general demeanor even more than it changed his habits. When Ellison was the perpetual also-ran, there’d been one compensation at least— he hadn’t wanted to talk about it all the time. But now, on the rare nights when they were walking home together after the mixed socials of the Renaissance League, the conversation had less variety and romance than four deuces.
“My, Ellison,” Adele would say, snuggling up close. “My, Ellison, it’s a nice moon.”
“Mm,” Ellison would say. “Nice cigarette lighter they gave me tonight for high single. I figure the swing hand was the one where they thought I was sacrificing at three clubs doubled. Colonel Bolingbroke was on lead and . . .”
To be fair to him, Ellison used the Gift with a certain restraint. He stopped playing for money
Even if you’ve never risked a psychic bid, we think you will remember this fable of a dub with a dreadful Gift
“No, boys,” he would say good-naturedly, and with far more truth than anyone guessed, “even at a fiftieth, I’d be robbing your children.”
He didn’t mind accepting prizes though, they were inexpensive; and anyway, he’d donated enough 25-cent entry fees over the years to square that with his conscience.
There was another thing Ellison’s ethics wouldn’t permit him to do. He never prayed for a lead from his partner. That, he reasoned, would have been collusion. Cheating, if you wanted to put it harshly. But willing leads from your opponents were different; after all, bridge was largely a test of wills anyway. If your will happened to be the stronger, there was no moral reason why you shouldn’t use it.
Under these secret and self-drawn terms, Ellison went on using the Gift, and went on winning. There was talk, of course. Friendly, indulgent talk, though, with no malice or real suspicion behind it. It was only too obviousor rather, it seemed only too obvious— that Ellison had not hing up his sleeve. He still bid his cards atrociously. He still played them with all the ingenuity of an underdeveloped Hottentot. Both as a declarer and on defense, his unshakeable incompetence put him in hot water as often as his ability to call his opponents’ plays pulled him out again. Among the people who played with him, it was agreed that Ellison was just getting a fantastic string of breaks.
f^LLISON achieved a local notoriety. Then his reputation became regional. He persuaded Tom Windsor, the most accomplished bridge player in the Albatross Club, to go with him to the state capital for the state and zonal pairs championships. To Windsor’s astonishment, they won both events. A few months later they went to Denver and won the Western U. S. championship.
At all these events Ellison came under the close and bewildered scrutiny of some of the game’s foremost, players. When, in spite of Ellison’s indefatigable fumbling, he and Tom scored 23 top boards out. of 24 on the opening night of the Western, the tournament committee detailed three of its most alert and cunning private detectives to investigate their met hods of operation.
“Hell!” reported the head detective, who played a fair hand himself. “That Bradley ain’t smart enough to cheat.”
On the third night Dr. Raymond Rodosky himself consented to do a little genteel spying. Dr. Rodosky’s attention flattered Ellison to the brink of a swoon. When he saw the Doctor’s world-famous spade beard and geld pince-nez peering discreetly over his shoulder, it was all Ellison could do to restrain himself from throwing down his cards and begging Rodosky for his autograph then and there. Lead hearts, Mr. Mack, Ellison muttered unheard. Imagine the world*s greatest bridge player going to the trouble to kibitz on me!
Ellison might have felt less highly complimented if he’d heard Rodosky reporting back later to the tournament committee.
“This Windsor plays his cards with a certain rough competence,” Rodosky conceded. “But Bradley is little bet ter than a moron. He is simply shot with luck. Everything he does is wrong, but everything his opponents do is wronger.”
“But it’s ridiculous,” the tournament chairman said. '“They’re playing
Continued on page 26
Continued from page 11
duplicate. All teams have the same chance on the cards. But if this man wins here, it will be his third straight tournament. You just can’t do that on luck.”
“I’m not so sure,” Rodosky said. “I’ve seen luck make some phenomenal runs in my day. And this Bradley is a very special case. The very boundlessness of the man’s ineptitude seems to have a soporific effect on even the greatest players. The man is an invincible dope—nothing more, nothing less.”
The tournament chairman was whimpering. “If this keeps up, it will set the game back 20 years. A—a shoe salesman—let us say it, a village idiot —is making fools of us all. Think of the effect on our syndicate audiences,” the chairman moaned. “Think of the effect on the public!”
“Hmmm,” Rodosky, unaccountably, had brightened. He stroked his beard reflectively. “Yes, by all means. Let us think of the effect on the public. I wonder why we didn’t think of that before.”
“What are you getting at?” the tournament chairman demanded petulantly.
“I’m not sure.” Rodosky’s urbane voice was far away. “I’m not sure. But this man has the makings of a great popular idol. If his luck happens to hold, there’s a vein of pure gold in him—somewhere. If someone could
just discover how to mine it. Hmmm.”
The day before Ellison left for home, Dr. Raymond Rodosky invited him to lunch. Dr. Rodosky complimented Ellison on the excellence of his bridge. Dr. Rodosky gave Ellison an autographed copy of his latest book. Dr. Rodosky asked Ellison to call him “Raymond.” Naturally, Ellison couldn’t bring himself to do that; still, it all made him very happy.
BUT AFTER his return from Denver Ellison experienced a deep spiritual letdown. It wasn’t that there were no more worlds to conquer—in fact there were many, and his celebrity was still relatively meagre. But what with lost time and the expense of travelling, his savings had all but vanished; he had to give up playing in tournaments for the rest of the winter. And although he still participated faithfully and mechanically in the activities of the Albatross Club, and still used the Gift as often as it was needed, there didn’t seem to be the same kick in beating the same people over and over again.
One night in a moment of desperate dejection he even toyed with the idea of throwing the Gift clean overboard. Tom Windsor was his partner, and Tom was on lead. Ellison would have liked a club lead. F'or a single heady and irresponsible instant, Ellison was about to pray: Lead a heart, Tom. Lead a heart. If he did that, he’d be using the Gift to communicate with his partner. He’d be cheating. And if the Gift ever trapped him into cheating, he’d naturally have to renounce it forever.
Ellison squelched the ungrateful impulse in the nick of time. Instead of willing the heart lead from Tom, he waited two more rounds and willed it from the opponent on his left.
Adele noticed the change in him and scarecely dared believe the evidence. But even she began to refurbish her frayed and wistful dreams the night Ellison suggested, without a murmur of prompting, that they skip the biweekly Renaissance League social and just sit around the fireplace in Adele’slittleflat.
By 10 o’clock, Ellison was holding her hand. “My, Ellison,” Adele sighed happily, “do you remember how long ago it was we last held hands?”
“Too long,” Ellison said gallantly. They sat on in dreamy silence and Ellison said: “You know, Adele, I often wonder if we—if I—well, if we haven’t been wasting a lot of time.”
“How do you mean, Ellison?” Adele whispered.
“All that bridge,” Ellison said. “You know, bridge is a wonderful game, Adele. But there are other things...” Ellison tightened his grip on Adele’s plump fingers.
Ellison picked up the telephone receiver mainly to stop its untimely clamor. He said, “Yes, this is Ellison Bradley,” arid then he listened for perhaps a minute and a half.
“Repeat it, please,” he said shakily, with two octaves between the first and last syllables.
He listened again. His face lighted up slowly, but with a glow that became positively phosphorescent. Suddenly he was babbling: “Tell him yes! Send it rush! Send it collect! No, send it paid! No wait! I’ll be right down to send the answer myself.”
He abandoned the receiver in midair and rushed to the hallway. He came back in the throes of a running struggle with one armpit of his coat, and with his hat jammed on back to front.
“What’s happened, Ellison?” Adele cried.
“What’s happened?” Ellison shrieked “Rodosky! Wire from Rodosky. Playing challenge match for the challenge championship of the challenge of the championship of the world. Rodosky! Biggest bridge event in bridge event in bridge event in history. Wants me to be his partner! Phone you tomorrow.”
There was a band at the station to see Ellison off for New York. A halfholiday in school, and a parade under a fine brave banner reading: “Good luck to Ellison Bradley, the man who put Elgoona on the map.”
As Ellison waved through the window, he looked straight at Adele. “My,” he thought, “Adele’s a wonderful girl. She’s so happy for me she’s crying.”
The papers he picked up in Chicago persuaded him that, if anything, Rodosky had been understating the case when he called the match the biggest bridge event in history. It was on all the front pages, with pictures.
The tone of the stories wasn’t very dignified. The single paper that had a picture of Ellison used the one a candid camera photographer had taken at the Denver tournament—the picture in which his glasses had slipped down over his nose, and he was peering helplessly over their rims at his cards with the expression of a middle-aged small boy who has been mislaid.
One of the headlines said:
No. One Bridge Shark Takes Village Dub for Partner
Against Two Top Rivals
The story underneath it began: New York, March 22—Dr. Raymond Rodosky, world’s first-ranking bridge expert, prepared today to embark on the most hazardous and daring test of his long career. Armed only with his own well-recognized skill and the dubious aid of a virtually unknown small-town partner named Ellison Bradley, the master of masters is about to plunge into a 1,000-hand, knockdown, drag-’em-out contest for the “challenge championship of the world” against his two most formidable
Continued on page 28
Continued from page 26
rivals, Emmanuel (Manny) Snyder and Mrs. Margaret Hodgson . . .”
Ellison put the paper down with a guilty flush. The man in the adjoining Pullman seat nodded affably at the front page and said, “Smart baby, that Rodosky. He don’t overlook a thing.” ‘Uh,” Ellison replied self-consciously. “Yep,” the other man said. “What a publicity stunt! That Manny Snyder and Mrs. Hodgson are just about the toughest combination in the business. Rodosky picks himself a good partner, they’ll probably still beat him. So he picks this Bailey or Bradshaw. And now, win or lose, Rodosky’s got to win. If they beat Snyder and Hodgson, Rodosky gets all the credit. If they don’t, this Bailey or Bradshaw takes the rap for him.”
ELLISON’S glow returned when Rodosky met him at the station, embraced him warmly right in front of the photographers, ushered him into a limousine, and then, before Ellison even had a chance to bring the matter up himself, called down a malediction against the writers, editors, photographers and corporate stockholders of all the newspapers in the world.
“See those stories yesterday?” Rodosky fumed. “Disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful. I was never so hurt in my life.”
“Please don’t worry, Doctor,” Ellison begged him solicitously.
“Leave it to me, my boy!” Rodosky boomed, recovering his spirits. “I’ll get my own press agent to work on it tonight. Emphasize it’s a partnership. Equal partnership. Stand or fall together. Team game, bridge. Impress point on papers. Impress need of— ah—propriety and restraint. Good mind to have the press banned from the whole shebang!”
Ellison was so warmed by Rodosky’s consideration that he felt it would be thoughtless to reopen the subject. Especially since Rodosky was paying Ellison’s expenses out of his own pocket.
After the opening night of play, the only story Ellison read was headed:
Invincible Dope Fails to Stop Master From Gaining Lead
Ellison didn’t mention it at all. He was sure Rodosky and his press agent were doing all they could.
The course and atmosphere of the match became so much a part of the history of our times that it would be superfluous to recall either here. Popping flashlight bulbs. Loudspeakers relaying the play of every card to a packed anteroom outside the ballroom. The ballroom itself filled with little green-baize bleachers and big electric boards halfway up the gilded walls charting the whole thing card by card. Broadcast bulletins over every network every hour on the hour. Newspapers with stop-press boxes keeping the score as up-to-date as the last quiver of the presses. Floodlights on the table and grinding newsreels behind. Elegant men in dress suits selling souvenir programs at a dollar a copy. A carnival, they were calling it before the end. A circus—noisy, smoky, tense and desperate. But it stayed on the front psges for 40 days and nights.
Most of the time, Ellison had a headache. To hold his own in this kind of company, he found that he had to use the Gift almost constantly. On some hands, he had to will as many as four or five plays. Since these plays invariably had an unfortunate result for their opponents, the cumulative effect was to make Manny Snyder and Mrs. Hodgson look almost as inept as Ellison himself. Rodosky’s prestige
grew accordingly. Ellison could have used the Gift to direct his partner too, but his code wouldn’t permit that, so Rodosky just played his normal game, which was very good.
The strain on Ellison was severe. Fame wasn’t at all as he’d expected it to be. Bellboys called him by name, but they usually wore wide, humorous grins. Newspaper reporters came to interview him, but the stories they wrote wore grins too.
But for two things he might never have stayed around for the finish. One was Rodosky’s staunch championship, even during the three weeks when they were almost constantly behind. The other was the loyalty that shone through Adele’s daily letters from home.
Halfway through the tournament, Ellison signed a contract to make a series of movie shorts with Rodosky. The entrepreneur was to be a tall, elegant man named Warrington, identified in some vague way by Ellison as the silent promoter of the tournament and a representative of the newspaper syndicate for which Rodosky wrote his daily column.
“I don’t know,” Ellison said doubtfully, when they told him about the movie project. “It’s a lot of money, but I feel I ought to be getting back to the shop and my—uh, my work.”
“Nonsense, my boy!” Rodosky rumbled, pressing a cigar on him. “This is our—ah—your chance to clean up. You’ll be a sensation in the movies.”
“You’ll be better than Stan Laurel,” Warrington said enthusiastically.
“Laurel?” Ellison said sharply.*“Isn’t he some kind of a comedian?”
Over Ellison’s head Rodosky threw a look at the promoter. “No, no,” Rodosky said hastily. “Warrington means Stanislaus Laurelivitz. An obscure but brilliant bridge player of the early ’twenties.”
“Oh,” Ellison said, accepting the fountain pen.
He wrote Adele about the movie contract. Inexplicably, there was no reply until the afternoon of the final sitting of 25 hands—with the match now almost tied.
Adele’s letter shook Ellison so much that he went to the little basement bar and ordered a double Scotch before he dared read it a second time.
“Good luck, Ellison,” was all the letter said. “I’m glad you’ve found what you want. Good-by. Adele.”
Ellison read it again and again, and voices from the next booth intruded on his stunned mood only after several minutes. It was another full minute before he recognized one of them as Rodosky’s, the other as Warrington’s.
“And so you did it after all.” Warrington spoke in accents of grudging admiration, and there was a brief sound of touching glasses.
“You were much too sceptical, you know,” Rodosky was saying urbanely.
“But what a gamble! Suppose Snyder and Mrs. Hodgson had wiped that marble floor with you and your little Invincible Dope. Where would you be now?”
“You know, Warrington,” Rodosky was saying, “you’re a very fine promoter and I’m happy to be working for you. But essentially you lack imagination. If the little man’s luck had started to run out, my defense would have been quite simple. A childishly easy little squeeze play. A few judicious insults from me. A trifle more effort by my press agent to publicize his— ahinadequacies, and the absurd little creature would have gone whimpering home long ago. He’s very sensitive, you know. The match just wouldn’t have been finished.”
Continued on page 30
Continued from page 28
There was a brief silence, then Warrington spoke again. “But, of course, it’s much better this way.”
“This way,” Rodosky said happily, “it’s perfect. The final result no longer matters. We’re up 500 points going into the last session. Suppose we finish a few thousand down? Rodosky still has proved that he can take a cipher— a country bumpkin—and play on even terms with his only two serious challengers. Rodosky’s supremacy has been reaffirmed.”
Warrington’s only answer was a grunt. “And it needed reaffirming. I told you what the syndicate thinks. You were losing your drawing power. You’ve been around so long you’re starting to bore people. I’ve got a blank contract for next year, but Burns said if this thing didn’t turn out right, I wasn’t to offer the contract to you at all. I was to offer it to Mrs. Hodgson.”
“Shall we sign it now?” Rodosky’s voice was light and amused.
“No. Frankly, Rodosky, I consider you a louse. I know nothing can happen to you, but until this match is over I’d like to go on dreaming.”
THE TALK receded, and Ellison sat on alone. He sat and thought— helpless, bitter, wounded thoughts that led him nowhere but to sickness and despair.
Lead hearts, Mrs. Hodgson . . . The. snake, the cruel, mocking snake . . .
Lead spades, Mr. Snyder . . . Wait for me, Adele, please wait, Adele . . .
Ellison remembered nothing at all of the first 24 hands of that final 25hand sitting. Nor did the spectators and the other principals remember much either. There was an air of festivity about the proceedings, but also an air of anticlimax. The scoreboard veered back and forth, but there was something peremptory and almost offhand about the winking of the big player boards on the wall, as though even they knew that whoever finished on top in points, the real issue was already settled.
Lead clubs, Mrs. Hodgson. . . . He’s right. The final result no longer matters. He’s been laughing at me all the time. They’ve all been laughing. Adele too, perhaps. No, not Adele. She’d never laugh. She's just hurt about the movie contract. And what's the movie contract mean? More laughter, and then oblivion. Rodosky, alone without even a Dope to compete for the headlines . . .
Throughout that final session, Rodosky played his cards with a sure insouciance, as though he’d lost interest. Snyder and Mrs. Hodgson played woodenly and hopelessly. Ellison was paler than usual, like a man in a tumbril.
Lead diamonds, Aír. Snyder. He could quit. He could walk out right now. Where would that get him? More ridicule for him; more sympathy for Rodosky ... I don’t blame you. Adele. For the rest of my life the whole country will be laughing at me. The whole world. Who wants to marry a standing joke?
When the last hand was dealt, Rodosky and Ellison were 320 points ahead. Snyder and Mrs. Hodgson were vulnerable. Mrs. Hodgson bid five diamonds. If she got her 11 tricks that would be a quick rubber, and she and Snyder would win the match by 400 points. If she got fewer than 11 tricks, Rodosky and Ellison would win the match by approximately the same amount.
Lead hearts, Mrs. Hodgson ... If there were only some way to throw the joke back on Rodosky. Then they wouldn’t be. laughing at Ellison at all. They’d be laughing at—
With two cards left in each hand,
Mrs. Hodgson still needed one trick for the contract. It was Mrs. Hodgson’s lead.
The hands were:
Ellison’s automatic invocation, Lead spades, Mrs. Hodgson, was superfluous. It didn’t really matter what she led. She had to lose both the last two tricks, and with it her contract and the match. If she led her trump 10, Rodosky’s jack would smother it and the queen of clubs would be the setting trick. If she lead her spade, Ellison’s ace would win. Rodosky would throw off his club and take the setting trick with the high trump. The situation was such a simple one that even Ellison understood it clearly.
Mrs. Hodgson dropped her spade king with a hopeless shrug. Ellison played his ace. Snyder shoved out dummy’s deuce. With a benign and confident smile, Rodosky fingered one of his two remaining cards.
And then something happened. Exactly what it was has remained until this moment a secret between Ellison Bradley and the mystic force to which he owed the Gift. It happened in the fourth dimension, and therefore was neither visible nor audible to the galleries.
With a snarl of fury and challenge, Ellison Bradley’s psyche vaulted across the bridge table and grasped the psyche of Dr. Raymond Rodosky by the throat. Ellison’s psyche growled sternly to Dr. Rodosky’s psyche. “ No, not that card. The other one!”
Dr. Rodosky’s psyche emitted a muffled and terror-stricken appeal for air. Ellison’s psyche relaxed its grip somewhat, and pointed to one of the two cards in Dr. Rodosky’s hand.
“Play that one!” Ellison’s psyche commanded, menacingly.
“No, no!” Dr. Rodosky’s psyche quavered. “Please, please, not that.” Dr. Rodosky’s psyche pulled out an ectoplasmic handkerchief and wiped its furrowed clammy forehead.
“You heard me!” Ellison’s psyche said dangerously, rubbing a set of fourthdimensional knuckles across the face of Dr. Rodosky’s psyche.
But of course if you were in the Walberg-Plaza that memorable night, you’d have seen and heard none of these things. You’d only have seen Rodosky—the physical part of him— reach for one card, put it back, look around the room for one long and stricken moment, and then play the other card.
In that painful and deliberate motion, with the bridge championship of the world hanging in the balance, you’d have seen Raymond Rodosky, the master of masters, trump his partner’s ace!
The gasp that went up was heard as far away as Times Square. The cries of joy among the assembled feature writers from the newspapers echoed clearly in the Bowery.
Shaking and bloodless, Rodosky threw his last card under Mrs. Hodgson’s good trump and stumbled away from the table like a man in some terrible trance. Ellison stood back and surveyed the scene for an instant—just long enough to see Warrington, the promoter, brush past the shattered Rodosky, pump the dazed Mrs. Hodg-
son warmly by the hand and mutter something about “getting out of here and talking over the Burns Syndicate’s plans for next year.”
Before it disappeared from his certain ken forever, Ellison’s psyche whispered a sweet preview of the morrow’s headlines:
Genius Out-Dopes Dope in Muff of
Century; Catches Midnight Boat for Patagonia
Ellison walked lightly to his room to pack his bag.
In the hotel corridor a man came up
and put a sympathetic and respectful arm across his shoulder. “Tough luck, Mr. Bradley,” the man said. “You made a great fight for it. I always knew that Rodosky was a jerk.”
That’s all there is to the story, really. Except that young Ellison and Adele Bradley are two of the nicest, brightest kids in the whole town of Elgoona. Now that his shoe store is doing so well, their father has been able to spend a lot of time with them. Everybody says that thanks to their father’s training, Ellison’s and Adele’s kids are growing up to be two of the best doggone checker çlayers in the whole county. ★