Little and Chop

Mark Twain

Little Orphan Annie was a tiny oversexed hot jazz cat, riding on the steamboat Singapore Sling back when Mark Twain played for love, money, and cigars. She was a – what? – a croupier, a dealer, a singer, a madame?

Nope. She was a riverboat girl scout, eye-batting innocence and quick little fingers in everyone’s pie. She wore a training bra, such as they were at that time, until she was 35, when she graduated to a straight out corset with hemi cups trimmed in red lace.

Little was crazy about Chop Suey, the chef on the Singapore Sling. He made a mean calves brain salad with pomegranate dressing and a garnish of shredded daikon. Little and Chop liked to sit in the hold in the dark after hours, drinking sake mixed with gin and gun powder and smoking the fattest stogies they could win or steal.


Little and Chop were underage together in the long ago. Chop was a left-handed blue-eyed china-like who was actually Lithuanian, from right there where eastern Europe starts sliding over into the near east; where even longer ago the winds on the Siberian plains blew Kosacks and Bolsheviks into the arms of stoic bundled Europeans, mixing cheekbones, noses, and eyelids ‘til they were all Polish Eskimos, cameo crossing to the Americas the long way around, in disease-ridden transcontinental barges in the nineteenth century, instead of walking over the Bering Straits, like any sensible ancestor should do. Little was born seven years old on the doorstep of a nunnery, no history other than a ribbon tied to a cameo of a woman she had never seen.

How many orphans grew up with Little and Chop? So many, as many as could dance on the head of a pin, Chop said. Chop got to play wisdom, and Little, innocence.

But both of them loved to play divide and conquer, conquer and divide, on steam boats and locomotives. Loco motives, that’s what we have, Little liked to say, shooting a long thin stream of smoke out the corner of her mouth and counting the big bills first. Always looking for a way to reach in and pull out a fat plum, a pigeon, a juicy little naïf with a full purse and an open heart.

Little and Chop went to mass together, in that long ago, until they were kicked out of the orphanage for impure thoughts. orphanageThe priests, not theirs, cause it is well-nigh impossible to prove thought crime; those fingerprints are hard to lift. Little had a carroty head, or ginger, depending on the light and who was looking. She played the accordion and Chop did a clog dance with a cigar clamped in his teeth and one eye pinched shut against the rising smoke.

In the spring of the year they turned 25, they left the Singapore Sling and played baseball with the redskins. Later, they went back on board with more proceeds to donate to their favorite charity, the United Cigar and Related Paraphernalia Clubs of America.

Little was prone to spitting. Thought the humidor was unladylike, so she spit on the floor instead. Old Pythagoras P. Bumstead slipped on her spittle and fractured a tailbone and sued them for everything they’d ever had or were ever likely to have. But they disappeared like river fog when the case came up on circuit court.

There was, some time later, a recurrent rumor of jackrabbits and stagecoaches and casinos with hot and cold running rattlesnakes, where a blue-eyed Eskimo and his elderly baby daughter took all bets, took no prisoners and drank only the finest powdered rotgut in the starry starry night.

gambling hall

They built a gilt gambling hall with a canal running down the middle, handsome men in handlebar mustachios and red-striped shirts sang romantic songs while weeping and poling greenhorns in gondolas into the genuine experience of winning and losing, just like real life, only up there, on the wall, that spinning wheel, until they’re so dizzy they’d click their heels together and say there is no place like home.

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