By Craig Oliver
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Extra resources for Oliver's Twist
Dad wasted not a minute in establishing a new business, a crap and poker game that operated out of the bridal suite, such as it was, in the St. Elmo Hotel. He was a lifelong gambler whose advice to me about the sport was a familiar saw: There is a sucker in every game and if you can’t see who it is, get up and leave. Though boarding with others, I was allowed to spend the night with Dad from time to time, closeted in the hotel suite’s bedroom but listening to the action. Amid the fragrance of cigar smoke and beer was the vague thrill that something illicit, possibly even a little dangerous, was going on.
Despite a growing independent streak, I longed for my father’s occasional visits. These were increasingly rare as Dad looked to expand his booze trade into new markets, but they were frequently memorable. Thanks to liquor rationing in Canada during the war, I spent many an hour standing in line at the government outlet, holding a place for Dad. In Alaska, however, booze was unlimited. Ketchican, the nearest Alaskan port to Rupert, was a wide-open town in what was then wilderness territory. It had its own red light district of tiny shacks, bars, and bordellos built on jetties out over the harbour.
I spent long nights answering questions about literature and history, subjects I knew little of, although more than they. Strangely enough, I loved the sea time and had no doubt I could rise to the officer ranks one day. I was making almost two hundred dollars a month, more than I had ever possessed in my life. This certainly beat going back to school for grade twelve, so at the end of the season I lied about my age and signed on for a full year. I had not figured on my mother’s views on this idea.