2

I lit a cigarette and stood there looking out to sea. Very suddenly, far out, lights shone from a big ship. I watched them, but they didn't move. I went over to the hot dog man.
"Anchored?" I asked him, pointing.
He looked around the end of his booth, wrinkled his nose with contempt.
"Hell, that's the gambling boat. The Cruise to Nowhere, they call the act, because it don't go no place. If Tango ain't crooked enough, try that. Yes, sir, that's the good ship Montecito. How about a nice warm puppy?"

I simply can't find the proper meaning of these in any dictionary.

Another 'blunt' expression of Raymond Chandler. (The Man who Liked Dogs.)

Please help me understand these words.

  • In this case, "act" refers to the boat and thus the phrase simply means "they call it". – Corvus Aug 29 '16 at 6:40
  • Read it as if it were: "The Cruise to Nowhere* is what they call the act... – Scott Aug 29 '16 at 7:43
3

I've added a sentence to give more context. It helps to know that gambling was (and is) illegal in California, with the exception of (at the time the story was written, 1936) certain forms of poker. The private eye (the narrator in first person) sees the lights from a big ship "far out", i.e., beyond the three mile limit, so outside the jurisdiction of California gambling laws.

The hot dog seller confirms that the private eye is looking at a gambling boat that the locals call The Cruise to Nowhere because it doesn't have a port as a destination, just international waters so the passengers can gamble with impunity. He calls it an act to emphasize that the cruise is a pretense.

We learn later in the story that the Tango is a poker parlor close by. It's a legal establishment, but the hot dog seller says that it's crooked, i.e., dishonest -- you'll get cheated playing cards there. If Tango ain't crooked enough means that if the petty dishonesty of the card players at the poker parlor doesn't impress you, then you should try the bigger cheats on the gambling boat.

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