Despite having designed and built half a dozen automobiles as a young man in his backyard workshop, Bill Harrigan, since returning to Bayonne from Hollywood, California, owned and drove a factory-assembled machine, a bright-blue Dodge touring car, the 1914 model, and when Olive Ince had climbed inside of it for the first time yesterday outside of the stationary store and then seated herself plumb and comfortable on the upholstered front seat, Bill practically had effervesced over its four cylinders, its 3-speed gearshift, and its demountable mohair top, all of which, she presumed, meant the vehicle was something special and superior. But what most impressed Olive was its cigar lighter. Imagine such a thing! You pressed the porcelain knob, waited for about ten seconds, and out it popped with glowing-red coils! That was the jacks, and no mistake.
Now, as they were motoring south on Avenue E, leaving Bill’s moving-picture-studio, at twenty minutes before one o’clock in the morning (the Dodge also came equipped with a loud-ticking, radium-dial clock), Olive, unable to resist, and using the pad of her right thumb, pushed in the knob, and before she could even draw out one of Bill’s Turkish cigarettes from it package, the lighter was all fired up and waiting. When she faced around to Bill carefully steering while changing gears, he seemed downcast and unhappy.
“Last one,” she promised. “On my honor.”
“For the sake of the Lord, Olive, do you think I care? Smoke the whole package. It’s your lungs.”
“Are you angry?”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Well, you sound it. I shouldn’t have told you.”
“Of course you should have.”
“But you asked.” She looked at Bill apprehensively. “Why’d you have to go and ask?”
“Because every time that cretin’s name came up, you changed the topic. There had to be some reason.”
Pinching clips at the top of the frame, Olive pulled down her window, partly, to clear the smoke. Air flowed in sour and clammy. “Then why’d you keep bringing up his name?”
Bill frowned, swept a hand absently over his roached black hair, and continued steering with the other. In the street large pools of water glistened, and corner sewers were eddyingly flooded. Tricky motoring, but our man was deft.
“I’m sorry, I apologize.”
“And you’re really not angry?” She pushed up her window, leaving it open a crack.
“Why would I be?”
“Because of what—about what I told you.” About King Touey washing his hands at the kitchen sink in a beach house at Long Branch, shaking them off, flicking water, then wheeling around to Olive stirring a pot of stewed tomatoes at the stove, and as if it were the most natural thing in the world, suddenly drying them both on her shirtwaist, rubbing them up and down her bosoms. Angry about that.
“Well, if I am, Olive, it’s surely not at you. I used to think King Touey was just another lummox. But now! If I ever see that madman again—”
“Don’t kill him, please. They’ll give you the electric chair and I hear that it hurts.” She tried a smile. It didn’t set.
“Maybe not, but I’ll give him a piece of my mind.”
“Don’t do that, either. He’ll just beat your brains in.”
“Why are you trying so hard to be witty?”
Scooting over closer to Bill, Olive held onto his sleeve. “I don’t know—because I’m nervous? Embarrassed?”
“Don’t be either—I insist! It’s just, I’m furious at King Touey.”
“And what, d’ja think I’m feeling tender towards him?”
“Stop making light!”
Olive finished smoking her cigarette and dinched it in the pull-down tray, yet another modern luxury. Through the windscreen, she noticed searchlights crisscrossing the lambent sky over Constable Hook. Then, as the Dodge rolled past another corner, Olive looked at the street sign. “Bill, sorry, but—where are you going?”
His posture behind the wheel was straight and rigid and plainly impatient. “What? I’m taking you home, where did you suppose?”
“But that was just Thirty-eighth Street.”
“I’m aware it was Thirty-eighth Street, Olive. I know my way around Bayonne. And even if I didn’t, Fourteenth is usually below Thirty-eighth.”
“Well, I don’t live on Fourteenth anymore, I live on Fortieth. Fortieth Street and Avenue C.” She poked a knuckle against the cigar lighter again, and the body went in with a smooth, satisfying click. “My fault. I should’ve said something. ”
“What are you talking about? Since when?”
Eight, she counted, nine: the lighter popped out; she plucked it from its socket and studied the red coils. She put it back. “Since you went away. Obviously.”
His forehead wrinkled, his lips pooched, making him seem bewildered and slow-brained, and Olive felt a prickle of guilt for thinking that.
“But when I asked you before if Liz Landrigan still lived next door—”
“I didn’t want to talk about it. But I don’t live with my mother any longer, thank God.”
“You and your mother,” said Bill. “You’ve got some kind of a complex.” He turned to Olive and gave her the psychoanalytical look. “Probably an underground desire to throttle her.”
“Scarcely underground!” Olive’s sharp laughter that time was genuine. “She lives with Aunt Dottie now, and still next door to Liz Landrigan. I have my own flat. I’ll be living there, it’ll be two years in September.
“And what you told me about King Touey—”
“Happened two years ago this coming-up Labor Day. Very perceptive, but you still might want to make the next right-hand turn and go on over to Avenue C. Then take another right.”
Instead, Bill slowed the Dodge, steered it to the curb, and parked it, letting the motor run. “Olive. Forgive me, I’m still—I’m rattled! That insufferable villain!”
Olive’s mouth tugged to one side, and an eyebrow lifted in mild exasperation; Bill could be so melodramatic.
“But what—what on earth were you doing with King Touey at the seashore?”
“I wasn’t with him, he was with us, and it wasn’t my idea. Bill, wake up, I told you all this already.”
“You did not.”
“Did too! Aunt Dotty? Judge Murray?” She peered at him crossly. “I told you. Twenty minutes ago.”
“I suppose…well, dammit, Olive, all I heard you say was…” He signified fluster and discomfort with a weak gesture of his right hand. “You shouldn’t have told me that first. I didn’t hear anything after it. After the—stewed tomatoes!”
Stewed tomatoes and my bosoms, thought Olive, and nearly said as much, but it would’ve made him blush. She gave her head a little shake. “You, Mr. Harrigan, are a pip. But to repeat—”
“Don’t make light!”
“I’m not, I’m repeating.” And she did, all over again telling him the circumstances leading up to the outrage, but this time relating everything in strict chronological order and, perversely, deliberately, with far less concision: Olive’s Aunt Dotty, her mother’s older sister Dot—surely, Bill remembered her? Yes, yes, he said brusquely; the piano teacher, the spinster with scoliosis; go on, please, Olive.
Well, she said, as a favor to old Judge Derwood Murray, who, despite having had no musical training in his life, had somehow gotten it into his silly head that he wanted to shock and delight everyone at the annual Hudson County Bar Association banquet by sitting down at the hotel piano and flawlessly playing “Peg O’ My Heart” and “That Old Girl of Mine”—as a special favor to him, a fellow parishioner, Aunt Dotty agreed to teach the man both songs in just ten days’ time.
“This was, let me see, in early April, 1913.” Olive put a finger to her lips and thought. “Maybe late March.”
Bill was beginning to smile, catching on he was being ribbed, tormented, then he must’ve remembered what all this bone-dry preamble was the preamble to, and he frowned and looked annoyed. Olive said, “And she did it. Aunt Dotty. Taught him to play both songs.”
The Judge’s performance (he’d sung the tunes as well, in a moving, raspy growl) had been nothing short of a triumph. (Who would’ve imagined that old bear could express such heart and sentiment in song!) It was written up in all of the newspapers, courthouse people and Good Democrats chuckled about it for weeks, and the following month the Judge was handily reelected to the bench. In gratitude—“See, Bill? There is a point to this story”—Judge Murray offered Aunt Dotty the use of his beach house that summer, insisting that she spend at least a weekend, even a full week if she liked, at his big shingled pile in Long Branch, and since the Judge and his sister (they lived together) would be vacationing on Monhegan Island for the last two weeks in August (Sister painted landscapes and seascapes), Aunt Dotty decided to invite Olive and her mother to accompany her down the shore for the long Labor Day weekend; of course, she’d asked Olive’s older sister Mary Margaret to come along, as well, but the poor thing by then was married to Neil Cudhy, and if by some chance Bill recalled what Olive had written to him in California about that good-for-nothing layabout, and how much Olive’s mother despised the man, then he’d surely understand why Mary Margaret declined the invitation to join her family for a weekend at the Jersey shore…
Bill was rolling knuckles impatiently back and forth over his lips; it seemed as if, at any moment, he might peck at one. Instead, he flung away his fist and said, “So you asked King Touey to drive you. I remember now. It’s all coming back.”
“Apparently not,” said Olive. “No one asked him to do anything. Aunt Dot and my mother arranged for Mr. Byrnes from St. Mary’s, the sexton, to come by the house and take our luggage to the train station in his cart, and we’d all walk down and meet him there. But as it turned out, King was in Bayonne that week visiting his sister and brother—”
“Visiting from where?”
“Bill, you were the one who showed me that film you took—King Touey is a strikebreaker, he goes wherever he’s sent by that awful Berger man.”
“Bergoff,” corrected Bill, instantly, and venomously, taking Olive by surprise. She gave him an appraising look, then remembered those Socialist magazines she’d seen in his apartment, and thought, hmmm.
“But there must’ve been no strikes that month, so King was home for a visit, which of course was nice for my mother who’s had a crush on that big galoot since he was sixteen years old.”
“So you’ve always said, but I’m sure—”
“It’s true! You should see the way she moons whenever he’s around. Her soldier of fortune, she calls him.”
“Mockingly, I’d wager.”
“Ha!” said Olive. “She thinks he looks like Jack London!”
“Go on with the story,” said Bill. “Please. Mr. Byrnes was to take your bags to the station…”
“And we had them on the sidewalk, just waiting for him, when King Touey came out of Liz Landrigan’s house next door, and naturally Mom yoo-hooed him, and then she was telling him all about our little trip, and before you knew it, he was loading our things into his sister’s enormous Studebaker machine and insisting that he drive us to Long Branch.”
“Which he did.”
“Which he did. Without, I might add, asking Lizzie’s permission. But that’s King Touey for you! Just told us to climb in, got behind the steering wheel, and off we went!”
“Maybe he knew she wouldn’t mind.”
“Oh, Lizzie minded, all right! But that’s a whole other story I won’t even get into now.”
“That’s fine,” said Bill, clearly in no mood for more digressions. “So off you went…”
“Expecting King just to drop us there and turn around and motor back home—at least that’s what Aunt Dot and I expected. But my mother! That woman!”
“That woman what?”
“Takes one look at Judge Murray’s summer house with all of its awnings and porches and rocking chairs and suddenly invites King Touey to stay the night—it’s too much, she says, for him to go straight home. Oh, stay! Do! There’s room, it’s no imposition, none at all—even though King Touey hadn’t said anything about imposing. Not him! He just stood there with that little sneer of a smile. Sure! he says. Thanks! he says. And poor Aunt Dotty turned pale. She’s always despised King Touey, who used to hang around her house when he was a boy—he’d plant himself outside Aunt Dotty’s house on West Sixth Street and throw rocks at every ‘sissy’ kid taking piano lessons! Dot was appalled by my mother’s offer, but she’s such a timid thing, she really is, and God forbid she’d ever cross her sister.”
“What about me? I was 17, Bill, hardly in a position to voice any objections to the lovesick Helen Ince.”
“‘Lovesick Helen Ince.’ Honestly, darling, I think you might be ex—”
There was a loud rapping on Bill’s steamed-up side window, and they both flinched. “Roll it down, mister,” ordered a man standing in the street beside the automobile. He took his stick to the glass again. Olive, gone breathless, flung a hand to her heart. When Bill got his window down, they could see that the man who’d spoken was in the company of two other men, all three brandishing riot sticks and side arms and wearing hats with tall cards stuck in the bands that read: “SHERIFF’S AID/For the Protection of Life and Property.” Deputized civilians—and Olive, her heartbeat slowing, recognized one of them as someone she’d often seen in a white apron selling newspapers outside of the opera house.
“Late to be motoring around,” said the man who’d rapped on the window. He looked at them both ill-humoredly. “And I hope I haven’t caught you two spooning.”
“That’ll be enough!” said Bill. “Those…tickets in your hatbands don’t give you the right to say whatever you please! This young woman—is suffering from motion sickness. I stopped while she could recover.”
“And are you recovered, miss?” the man asked Olive, and she nodded yes, but so fractionally that it didn’t seem she felt it was much of a recovery. She was very annoyed at Bill. Motion sickness!
“Has she been smoking in there?” asked the deputized newsdealer, giving a sniff to the air. “That’s probably why she’s sick at her stomach, nothing to do with a moving automobile.”
“Listen, my friend,” said Bill, “that’s no business of yours, but for your information, I was smoking.”
“Bill,” said Olive, “let’s just go. Please.” She leaned closer and whispered, “They’ve been drinking. Settle down.” He nodded and turned back to the man who’d rapped on the window.
“If you boys will just step around to the sidewalk, we’ll be on our way.”
There was a moment when it seemed the window-rapper was about to smile and Olive knew that if he did, it would be a nasty one followed by an insolent remark, which would just further outrage Bill, and then there’d be trouble—but that moment passed, and the man said, “It could just as eas’ly been a gang of Polacks as us, mister, there’s been roaming packs of ’em all night long. You be on your way and get the missus home.” He and the other men stepped away, and Bill swung his Dodge back into the avenue.
“‘The missus,'” said Olive.
“I thought you might’ve caught that,” said Bill stealing a look at her. “But I thought it was cute.”
“Oh, go to hell.”
“What did you just say?”
“You heard me, I said go to hell. You thought that was cute? I thought it was laughable. The missus! You don’t even care for me!”
Bill pulled the Dodge to the curb again. He looked stricken and perspiration had broken out of his pores. “I do care for you. Look at me, Olive.” Then: “Damn it,” he said, lunging at her, seeking a dramatic embrace, intending to deliver a passionate he-man’s kiss. But instead, Bill’s rash and sudden lurch took Olive by complete surprise just as she was rising slightly from her seat to look through the windscreen at a tree that had fallen across someone’s lawn during the storm. His chest collided with her left shoulder, aggravating the bullet wound and toppling her sideways. She cried out in pain, then struck her right ear against the window glass, and cried out again.
“Jesus, Mary, and St. Joseph!” Bill exclaimed, horrified. “Oh my God, I only wanted to show you—damn it!” He slapped himself on the side of his head. “Olive—”
“It’s all right,” she said. Her shoulder was in burning agony, and she wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow morning her ear was cauliflowered; even so, she giggled a tiny bit since it was all too—ridiculous. “But do you think you could…drive me home now?”
With a quick, mortified nod, Bill steered the machine back into the street and made the next right-hand turn, at the corner of Thirty-fourth. As they rode by a padlocked saloon, another deputy, an official Hudson County sheriff’s deputy this time, with a big badge pinned to his coat and a second badge, even bigger, pinned to his hat, stepped suddenly from the recessed doorway and shined his electric torch into the Dodge. “Go home,” he shouted, “go on home where you belong. It’s not safe on the street!”
“He could say that again,” murmured Olive, rubbing her ear, and then, moments later: “Cares for me, says the great mechanical genius Bill Harrigan! But it took him five months just to look me up!” She smiled contemptuously. “Why’d you finally do it now, Bill? Why now? Can you tell me that?”
Bill opened his mouth, but closed it again, and whatever lingered of the boyish vitality animating his face since he’d walked into the stationary shop yesterday afternoon and found Olive Ince behind the counter—all of that was gone now.
“You’re away for three years, for three solid years you’re off making pictures in California, and what do I get? Postal cards! ‘It’s so dusty out here, Olive, you have to change your clothes four times a day, and you’re never clean. Love, Bill.’ I wrote you letters!”
“I know you did, honey. And I kept them all.”
“Long letters! And I get back a picture of lemon trees, or some, some mountains—‘Aren’t they beautiful? Brown as lions! Love, Bill.’ I could see they were brown, it was a color postcard! Love, Bill, love, Bill. Love me? You don’t even know me!” With the heel of her right hand, she punched in the cigar lighter. “And I don’t know you!”
By the time the lighter popped out, she’d helped herself to another Turkish ready-made. “Just drive, Mister Harrigan,” she said, dipping her head forward and touching the cigarette to the glowing coils. “I want to go home.”
Arms rigid, elbows locked, hands clenched around the wheel, Bill drove on, fixing his eyes on the flooded street ahead, and defending himself, pleading his case, making his excuses in morose and obstinate silence. Above all, he wanted to tell Olive about—about Lily. He should have told her back at the studio, he’d meant to, he’d planned to, but hadn’t, and right now didn’t seem the best time, so…tomorrow, maybe. Not maybe, definitely. Tomorrow he would tell her about Lily.
Right after his meeting with Pearl Bergoff.
In the company of state troopers, Charlie Gillick was drinking blond sweetened coffee in the kitchen of the Governor’s shore house at Deal Beach when a colored man came in and told him the Sheriff was ready to leave. Before going out to start the Packard, he glanced over at the wall clock: five minutes past one. “Good night, fellers,” Charlie said to the staties, but not one of them replied. Although he’d told Liz Landrigan on the telephone that they’d all been friendly to him, it wasn’t so. Except to smirk at his facial bruises, they’d scarcely acknowledged his presence. But the colored man opened the back door for him and wished him a safe trip home.
He brought the Packard around from the carport and into the circular sweep to the front portico. Sheriff Kinkaid was on the steps reading a statement to a group of newspapermen. Charlie set the brake and leaned out the window to catch what he could. “—and while there is some disorder in Bayonne, it is not yet of a nature to warrant calling out the National Guard. The Governor is ready to aid us with any relief which may be found necessary.” Crumpling the little slip of paper he’d been reading from, Kinkaid let it fall like a losing ticket at the track. “Now if you boys don’t mind, I have a long drive.” You do? thought Charlie. You may have a long ride, but I’m the one with the long drive, thank you very much.
“Still awake, son?” asked Kinkaid climbing into the car. He slammed the door.
“Yes, sir, I’ve had about a gallon of coffee.”
The Sheriff slid down in the seat and closed his eyes. “Let’s be off, then.” He was snoring before they even reached Elberon. No other machines were out at that hour, the storm hadn’t caused any road flooding, and the moon was silvery bright. Nevertheless, Charlie felt tense under the wheel. He was not a confident driver.
After Elberon the next town north was Long Branch, and as he motored through it, keeping an eye peeled for a tricky turn-off that he knew—or hoped he knew—would be coming up soon, a picture of Liz Landrigan wrathful and red-faced popped into his mind. Oh! he thought, realizing why. Later this summer it would be two years since King Touey had taken her cherished blue Studebaker without permission and then driven it down there, to Long Branch, taking along Olive Ince and her mother and aunt. In all the time he had known Liz, Charlie never had seen her that angry, and God knows he’d seen her lose her temper, often; the woman had a short fuse and could become hopping mad over the smallest irritation or inconvenience. But that Studebaker business! Her choler was ferocious, and so was the face-off between those two when, several days later, King finally brought the car back! With his valise and belongings dumped on her front porch, Liz stood barring the door with arms indomitably crossed, while Patsy Touey covered his ears, and Charlie—
“Bloody Christ!” The Sheriff’s body shot forward, his head clonking the windscreen, then he plunged backward, and bounced forward again. “You tryin’ to kill us both?”
Charlie had stomped on the brake and brought the Packard to a dead halt in the middle of the road. “I apologize, sir, but it was a dog. It just ran out in front of us.”
“Pay attention to your motorin’, kid!”
“Yes, sir.” There now, and Charlie believing all this time the Sheriff liked him. His feelings were hurt—why’d he have to call him kid?—and he sulked, and, sulking, forgot about King and Liz and the great Studebaker donnybrook.
When they arrived in Bayonne, Charlie had no idea of the time. He’d lost his strap watch outside of Engine Company 4, and there was no clock in the Sheriff’s automobile. And in his state of muzzy exhaustion (he’d been awake since before seven o’clock yesterday morning), he found it impossible even to approximate how long the drive had taken. Two hours? Closer to three? The Sheriff himself wore a strap watch but with the face of it turned below his wrist, and Charlie couldn’t find the nerve to ask. Kinkaid had not gone back to sleep. He’d stayed peevish, though, and twice poked Charlie in the arm. “Keep the hell awake, patrolman, you’re on duty!”
The Sheriff had told him that for the duration of the strike he’d taken rooms at the St. Charles Hotel, opposite the railroad station on West Eighth Street (only a few doors from Charlie’s father’s and brothers’ law offices), so that’s where Charlie was motoring to now along the Hudson County Boulevard. From the hotel it was a short walk home, and Charlie couldn’t wait to fall into bed and sleep for what was left of the night. He prayed his mother hadn’t waited up, as she’d promised. He wasn’t a child! He needed to get his own flat, it was time. It’s time for a lot of things, Charlie thought, and then wondered what that meant. God, was he exhausted!
“Let’s take a short detour over to the Hook,” said the Sheriff, “and check on things before we call it a night.”
Charlie felt a tingle of exasperation. He nearly groaned. “Yes, sir.” At Twenty-second Street, he turned left and continued on across the city. Their passage was clear through Broadway, but then the street was blocked by sawhorses. Charlie stopped the Packard. The Sheriff put his head out the window, waved to the armed deputies, and they moved the sawhorses. Charlie drove on, stopping again for increasingly fortified barricades at Avenue E, Prospect Avenue, and Avenue F. Mounted on rooftops and on the high wall of the Standard works—just a quarter-mile farther on now—were big searchlights that swept the sky and moiled the clouds. “Park our machine here, Charlie,” said Sheriff Kinkaid, “and we’ll walk the rest of the way.”
“Yes, sir.” So it was “Charlie” again now, was it? Well, that was an improvement! But he still felt sore. Would his nibs have preferred Charlie had just run over that poor dog? He’d done nothing wrong and didn’t like being roared at. So yes, he still felt sore. And he was so tired, and—and jumpy, his stomach tied all in knots. They hadn’t passed any strikers on the way down, and still he didn’t see any now they were on foot in the danger zone, but that didn’t mean they weren’t crouched in hiding behind the open windows of every dark tenement house they passed.
Charlie hadn’t brought his riot stick with him to Deal Beach, it hardly seemed necessary, but he wished now that he had it. Or did he? The way he’d used it, day before yesterday, when he’d smacked that maniac on the head, that was nothing to be proud of. One moment Charlie was strolling along the pavement, humming “The Aba Daba Honeymoon,” the next he was cracking open that pepper’s skull, bearing down with all of his strength. It was something—something that King Touey might’ve done. Indeed, it was something that Charlie had seen King Touey do, only his truncheon had been a cue stick and his victim a Jew named Wolf Kamen who’d welshed on a ten-dollar debt. What was instinctual for King Touey had been scientifically drilled into Charlie Gillick at police school and he was sorry about it, he supposed. He was pretty sure he wasn’t cracked up to be a cop. In fact, he was almost certain. He lacked the temperament.
Or maybe he just was tired. And jumpy. And sore at the Sheriff.
He was jarred out of these looping thoughts when Kinkaid hailed Lieutenant Tierney of the Bayonne Police. During Charlie’s training, Robert “Tall Bob” Tierney (six-foot-four and solid-looking, with long rubbery ears) was the instructor who’d taught him how to load and fire a pistol; he’d also written two or three of Charlie’s fair-to-middling probationary reports. He was standing now beside an auto truck parked near the Standard’s front gate, talking with another officer Charlie didn’t know. When Tierney, taking long strides, made it over to them, the Sheriff demanded an account on the night’s activities.
He gave Charlie a quick appraising look. “The boy is with me,” said the Sheriff. “I required a driver this evening. Now, proceed.” The boy! His pride ruffled again, Charlie went deaf for a moment and missed the first part of what Tierney had to say, something about a hail of rocks. His ears opened again to hear about a mob of strikers that had rushed the northeast embankment—over there, Tierney pointed—and then lobbed torches over the wall onto the refinery grounds; they’d been chased off by gunfire, though not before they’d set fire to one of the two brick regulating stations.
“But the company put it out in no time,” said Tierney. “And there was hardly any damage since they’d already disconnected the stations from the tanks and drained the ditches.”
“Loss of life? Injuries?”
“Well, that’s about it. Except we’ve had to deal with a lot of goosey gawkers that keep showing up with picnic baskets. If you can believe it. Youngsters mostly, o’ course. But some that should have better sense. Like they was going to a circus!” Tierney pointed again, to the flats north of the works, where three deputized civilians had just chased off half a dozen young men and women who were dragging blankets and calling back petty insults. “So we’re holding our own, Sheriff. It’s good all around, you might say. The Polacks got to sleep sometimes, I guess.”
“I guess,” said Kinkaid, but he looked away, distracted, at one of the clapboard tenements that stood opposite the refinery. Around at the south side of the building, Charlie noticed, a match flared, just a bud, and then it arced down and went out, as if shaken roughly. Then a second match lighted, but once the flame died, a cigarette or cigar coal seethed red in the dark. “Well,” said Kinkaid, “I’m just going to stroll around for a minute or two. Patrolman,” he turned to Charlie, “wait here. Thank you, Lieutenant. Good night.”
“Good night, sir.” Tierney waited until the Sheriff was out of earshot before he spoke to Charlie. “And just how in hell did you end up chauffeuring his high-and-mighty around, would you care to be sharin’ that information?”
“He asked me if I wanted to.”
“And of course you did.”
“Not really, sir, no.” He felt a yawn coming on, so turned his face and covered his mouth.
Kinkaid had ambled around the end of the breastworks, crossed the uneven cobblestones and disappeared into the shadows at the side of the tenement. In the meanwhile, the red coal had moved away, bobbing, toward the rear of the building.
“And will you be continuin’ on as his personal wheelman?”
“I really don’t know, he didn’t tell me.” Charlie swallowed another yawn. “Excuse me.”
“Gillick, how long’ve you been on duty?” Tierney’s voice was milder now.
“I have no idea, sir. What time is it?”
Tierney looked at his pocket watch. “Ha’ past three.”
“Then…twenty hours, sir.” He was surprised he could do the arithmetic. “Give or take.”
“Go home, patrolman, I’ll find someone to drive him wherever he wants to go next. Whenever he decides to come back.”
“Thank you, sir, but that’s all right. He’s going to his hotel right after this, and it’s only a short walk from there to my house. But thank you!”
Tierney lightly patted Charlie on the foreman. “Good man,” he said, filling Charlie with such gratitude he could’ve burst. Tierney walked off. But half-way back to the auto truck, he whirled around. “I’m curious—how did you and the Sheriff hook up in the first place?”
“That’s a long story.”
Tierney laughed. “Then I don’t need to hear about it. Good night, patrolman.”
“Good night, sir.”
And Charlie was left standing there alone and exposed out in front of the Standard works, where anybody who’d wanted to could have taken a shot at him. But he no longer had the willies. That was strange. He still felt exhausted, played out, his body sore in a dozen places, but no longer felt jumpy. His eyes roved over the silhouetted cops and deputies who stood silently in groups down by the end of the refinery’s south wall, where the swampland started, and then over the railroad tracks, a caboose on a siding, the black tenements across the way, and came to rest on the fire station where the riot happened yesterday morning, and his beating. A bottle broke somewhere, but Charlie didn’t flinch. “Shit,” said a voice. “Well, there goes that, gentlemen.” Charlie watched the flexure of searchlights, and then behind him and on top of the gated wall someone cleared his throat. Charlie turned and looked up, at the line of Standard guards posted there, including one whose skull was dressed in a thick dirty bandage. When the man—the one who’d gone on clearing his throat—noticed Charlie staring, he spat into his cupped hand and vanished behind the parapet. Christ, thought Charlie, if I didn’t know better—
—If he hadn’t known better, he would’ve sworn it was the ginzo he’d clobbered with his riot stick outside of Olive Ince’s apartment house. But Charlie did know better, and that loony was locked up in a cell. It must’ve been the head bandage, that’s all. He rubbed a hand across his chin. No, it wasn’t just the bandage, he’d looked like that guy, too. Sure, and if he’d busted out, first thing he would’ve done was to make haste to the Standard Oil. With a shrug, Charlie looked over the breastworks, and here came Sheriff Kinkaid slowly crossing the street as he scribbled in his notepad with a stub pencil.
“We’re done,” he said when Charlie met him. They started walking together up East Twenty-second Street, but suddenly the Sheriff changed his mind and headed over to East Twenty-first. “Let’s go around this way. I want to see something.” Trotting behind him, Charlie Gillick made a face. What Kinkaid wanted to see, as it turned out, was Mydosh Hall, the Polish social club where he, with Charlie Gillick at his side, had met with 200 strikers and their leaders yesterday afternoon. It was a long brown-shingled building with six casement windows spaced along the ground-floor, all dark, on the Twenty-first Street side. Kinkaid stepped over to one, and with his nose pressed to the glass, peered through it.
“Good way to get my head blown off, don’t you think?” he asked Charlie when he’d rejoined him on the pavement.
“They wouldn’t do that, Sheriff, they like you.”
“As if they could’ve seen it was me. And no, Charlie, they merely tolerate me. Because I talk to them like men, and because authority still awes them—for the time being. But like? Hardly. Every single one of them knows I’d kick him in the balls to have my way.” He grunted. “And it just might come down to that.”
They set off again in step, both making the sign of the cross automatically as they passed Our Lady of Mount Carmel church. “I’ve been told,” said the Sheriff, “that at least one hundred pistols and a few dozen repeating rifles are sitting all boxed up in the store room back there.” He popped his lips, disgusted. “Delivered tonight under everyone’s nose! And Tierney saying it’s good all around, the big fool!”
Charlie was irked again. He liked the lieutenant, who’d called him a good man. “How’d you find that out?” he said, then answered his own question. “The man striking matches.”
“Breaker Bergoff isn’t the only sneak in town with a network of spies.”
“What are you going to do?” Charlie opened the car door for Kinkaid.
“Well, I can’t let those weapons stay there, can I?” The Sheriff got in. “So we’ll just have to take them before people get killed.”
Charlie shut the Sheriff’s door and went around the front of the automobile. He climbed in under the wheel. “Tomorrow?”
“But what if they break them out during the day?”
“They won’t. See, there’s a plan, Charlie. They have a plan. After the funeral Thursday afternoon—”
“The Staranchak boy.”
“Oh.” The boy Charlie had seen get shot in the head outside Engine Company 4.
“After the funeral, everybody is to gather back at the hall for a proper repast, only that’s the bunk and out’ll come those rifles and pistols—that’s their plan. Only won’t any of those guns still be there. That’s my plan.”
Charlie slowed for the barricade at Prospect Avenue, and while the sawhorses were lifted aside, the Sheriff took out a package of ready-mades and lighted one with a paper match.
“So we’re going to go in there and take them?”
“Exactly,” said the Sheriff. Charlie’s heart turned over a little. “Not just you and me, of course.”
They motored on without talking the rest of the way to the hotel. Charlie was thinking about the store room in Mydosh Hall, where the guns were hidden now and where varnished wooden chairs had been stacked high yesterday afternoon. The Sheriff had sent him in there with a dozen of the strikers to carry them out into the meeting room. He knew exactly where it was, and which casement window belonged to it on the Twenty-second Street side of the building. It wasn’t the one Kinkaid had peered through.
After Charlie brought the Packard to the curb in front of the St. Charles, he turned sidewise and looked directly at the Sheriff. “Why not just you and me?” he said bold as brass.
Liz Landrigan woke from an agreeable dream she tried to catch and hold onto before it melted away. In it, she was driving her Studebaker, the handsome big machine she’d purchased two-and-a-half years ago, the same day—was it? Yes, the very same day—that Johnny Gillick promoted her to office manager with a generous increase in her salary. Oh, she thought now even as she snatched at several fast-fading strands of dream, and hadn’t that caused a heck of a hue and cry! Clare Dougherty assumed the promotion would be hers—by right of seniority it should have been—and that great-bellied ugly old dragon had not concealed her disappointment! On the contrary. Her insinuations, and then her outright accusations, about Liz and Johnny were so vile and slanderous, and shouted, that Johnny discharged her on the spot, in front of everyone in the law office, including several clients. Liz was mortified since nothing untoward or immoral was going on—then—between Johnny and her. As a means of, well, of putting that unpleasant scene behind her, on the way home from work that afternoon she’d gone and purchased the cadet-blue Studebaker. But when she drove it to work the following morning it only fostered and lent color to Clare Dougherty’s defamations, and served to propagate office rumors and innuendoes. The clerks and the secretaries all presumed that Johnny had bought it for Liz. Infuriating! As if she were incapable of selecting and purchasing an automobile on her own.
But to hell with them, and to hell with Clare Dougherty, who’d since died, and good riddance to her—the dream, Liz was trying to recall the dream, because she’d woke from it smiling. But it was mostly gone, and all she could remember now was that she’d been motoring in her Studebaker, with Charlie Gillick on the plush seat beside her, and they were somewhere in wooded countryside. There was a lake, a lake with green water flashing diamonds of sunlight and reflecting tamaracks…
All of a sudden, Liz thought of her husband. You can’t be dead, Michael, you can’t! But he was, and had been for years, dead and gone, as gone, as vanished, as melted away, as her dream. She closed her eyes, pushed away regrets (if only she’d been a wife who’d laughed more easily, been less cross; if only he’d left her with a child!) and let memories roll in. That lake. The one in her dream—it was a real place, she remembered now. In Sussex County, close by Andover. What was it called? Not something Indian, not some Indian name like most of the lakes—Owassa, Hopatcong, Mucsonetcong—in that northwestern corner of the state. The name wouldn’t come to mind, but she’d gone up there with Michael one Sunday on a rail excursion sponsored by a lakeland realty company. In return for a day on the beach and a clambake, all they’d had to do was ride around for an hour and a half on a hay wagon looking at different uncleared sites, listening to salesmen enthuse. Cranberry Lake. It was called Cranberry Lake, and they’d actually considered buying half an acre and building a summer cottage, and they might well have, but less than a month later Michael fell sick…
She was motoring around Cranberry Lake with Charlie Gillick—high-school Charlie, not Charlie the cop—sitting beside her in the Studebaker. And now that Liz thought about it, that made perfect sense, Charlie’s presence in her dream, since only a few minutes before she’d fallen asleep she’d talked with him on the telephone, Charlie calling from the Governor’s house at Deal Beach—a conversation that left her feeling melancholy and disgusted with herself; melancholy because the only person in the world, it seemed, who truly cared for her these days was a homely and mixed-up 20-year-old boy; disgusted because that sentiment was so maudlin, and especially because she was having, had been having for the last several months, a meaningless and unsatisfying intrigue with Charlie’s older brother, something Liz wished had never started. And something she badly needed to end.
If only she still had that big blue Studebaker! She’d get up out of bed right now, right this second, dress quickly, pack a valise, and then just—drive. Motor far away from here and never come back. But no, she wouldn’t. Not a chance. Even if she still owned the machine, even if King hadn’t gone and crashed it (the blockhead!), she would never run off like that. Vanishing in the night was her mother’s way, it wasn’t hers. With a short, rueful sigh, Liz folded her hands on her stomach. Oh Michael, what must you think of me? Johnny Gillick? you’d say—Johnny Gillick? I know, I know, of all people! But I’ll break it off, Michael, I promise I will. You saw that I tried!
And she had, she’d tried to, yesterday afternoon, but it was…unavailing.
When Johnny had showed up at the house with Gene Kinkaid, almost immediately Liz wanted to throttle the pair of them, but Johnny in particular, for being so unfazed by poor Charlie, who was black and blue from head to foot, almost delirious, from the beating he’d taken outside the Standard works. Johnny Gillick was never the most compassionate of men, but this was his own brother, for the love of Christ, and all he’d done was roll his eyes and make nasty cracks about Charlie’s unsuitableness as a policeman. (Which Liz didn’t disagree with, but it wasn’t the time or the place!) Then, as she’d stood beside him in a corner of the kitchen by the dish closet listening to Gene Kinkaid bloviate, Johnny had reached down a hand and furtively squeezed her fingertips. She’d almost jumped. What if someone—Patsy, or Kinkaid, or worst of all, Charlie—had seen? She was mortified, furious, and later, after Charlie had gone off with Kinkaid in his automobile, and after she’d kissed Patsy good-bye, reminding him, as she did after lunch every day before heading back to work, that if he made a cup of tea to turn off the burner under the kettle, and then while she and Johnny were walking together along the Hudson County Boulevard, Liz—eyes lustrous, jaw clenched, voice subdued but steely—had told him never, never to do anything like that again—was he listening? Was that clear? Never again!
“Do what?” Johnny said, looking puzzled and innocent.
“Show affection when other people are around!”
“Oh.” He flashed his twitchy smile.
“‘Oh,’ he says. How dare you?”
“Lizzie, nobody saw. Come on. Come off of it.”
“John, I can’t—”
She was interrupted—before she could form the words “let this continue any longer”—by the clangorous bell-ringing of two motorized fire engines that sped eastward across the Boulevard at Tenth Street, heading for the oil refineries; she and Johnny stopped near the corner and watched as the leatherhead helmet flew off one of the fireman clutching a pole on the rear platform of the second hook-and-ladder. It bounced and whirled several times in the street, then rolled furiously toward Liz, and Johnny, at the very last second, stepped in front of her and checked it with his shoe. Delighted by his own gallantry, he bent down (slowly, with considerable difficulty: he was a large, fleshy man) and picked it up. Winking at Liz, he put it on his head. “How do I look?”
“Like a fat lawyer wearing a fireman’s helmet.”
She’d meant to hurt his feelings (she could be cruel; King had always said that about her) but Johnny only laughed and called her a little wiseacre, his little wiseacre, and the moment passed, Lizzie’s courage vanished, and when they arrived back at the law office a few minutes later, they were still—still!—a secret couple…
Half-turning in the bed, Liz plumped her two pillows and then reached for the amber rosary beads she kept in a dish on the night table, where the clock read five till three. In the flavorless years since Michael’s passing, whenever she woke in the night to waves of memory, anxieties, and self-recrimination, it had been her habit and her defense to pray the Rosary, the mechanical recitations always clearing, flattening her mind; inevitably she’d feel a pleasant heaviness behind her eyes, she’d yawn, and fall back asleep with the beads entangling her hands. Liz touched the crucifix to her lips and began. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb—”
Charlie! Charlie had kissed her! In that dream. He’d kissed her. They weren’t motoring past Cranberry Lake, they were parked beside it—green water, reflected trees, a lily pad cove—and he’d kissed her on the mouth. Charlie Gillick kissed her!
Or maybe she’d kissed him. She couldn’t recollect it now, it was all too, all too—
“Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners,” said Liz in a murmur, “now and at the hour of our death, amen.” Her fingers moved to the next bead in the first decade. “Hail Mary, full of grace…”
In his stuffy attic room, below a single weak incandescent bulb suspended from the ceiling, Patsy Touey fretfully paced the floor. He was barefooted, and wearing cotton pajamas, the white pair with the vertical black stripes that Lizzie groused about because they made him look, she insisted, like a penitentiary convict. “All you need,” she’d say, “is a pillbox hat and a ball and chain.” But all that Patsy truly needed right then, at half three in the morning, was his Cat of Ashes, who’d gone out prowling before the electrical storm and not returned.
When he thought he heard a faint scratching, Patsy hobbled to the unscreened window, knelt carefully on the shallow window-seat, and peered out, looking first to the stinky ailanthus tree he could touch if he reached, then to the clothes pole whose wash lines connected to the kitchen window, then down to the small backyard badly in need of weeding, then to the top of the plank fence, and over that to the Inces’ larger, more kempt yard with its tool shed, rain barrel, and small vegetable garden. No Cassius. Where was he? His cat almost never stayed out overnight, and what with the fierce rain and lightning, Patsy was afraid the poor animal might have been injured. He felt certain, though, that he hadn’t been killed; surely Patsy would’ve known if that calamity had occurred; surely he would’ve felt something.
He shut his eyes, pressing them with thumbs till he saw wriggling purples and flashing greens and luminous molten golds, whereupon he reopened them and the attic looked rinsed, miraculously rinsed and brighter. His low spirits lifted, somewhat. He went and sat in his cot, and while he maintained a vigil for the Cat of Ashes, he let his sharpened vision, which would last only a minute or two, graze the motley collection of things in his room that Lizzie had tartly dubbed the Patsy Touey Museum of Motley.
The pine board walls were trimmed with colored funny sheets (“Sherlocko the Monk,” “Foxy Grandpa,” “The Katzenjammer Kids,” “Boob McNutt”) that he’d cut out with scissors from Sunday supplements, and with his certificates of perfect attendance for preprimer, and for the first and second grades; with several handbills for prize fights that had featured his brother, and with a variety of double-view postal cards of American battleships—there was the Maine, the Missouri, the Oregon, and there was the quarter deck of the New Jersey.
Also pinned to the walls were many years’ worth of florist, barber shop, and parish calendars not in consecutive order, but each one displaying a large numeral that Lizzie had made in grease pencil, the numeral corresponding to the age Patsy had attained during that particular year: 1901 (16) hanging beside 1913 (28), and that one beside 1906 (21), and so on. For some reason, and Patsy couldn’t recall what the reason was (his memory, poor and unreliable, was the most fitful of all his faculties), he had hung eight different calendars for the year 1911 (26), tacking them up in two rows above his maple highboy, where he’d finically arrayed a painted plaster statue of the Blessed Mother, two small white souvenir cups (“DON’T FORGET TO PRAY” next to “KESSLER’S SIZZLIN’ WEINERS), a box of his father’s blue roofing tacks, a conch shell holding nine green pennies and five baby teeth (there were no tooth fairies in the Touey family’s cosmology), a framed wedding picture of Liz and her husband Michael, his mother’s silver rosary beads (turned black), a coil of jump rope that King had used for training, and Patsy’s own brimmed white Sanitation Department regulation cap, cap No. 104. (In the left hand top drawer was a headlamp, cracked and missing a chunk of glass, salvaged from Lizzie’s beautiful Studebaker automobile; for a time he’d had it displayed with all of the other things, but his sister finally could no longer stand the sight of it, and he’d stuck it away.) Leaning against the side of the highboy was a corn broom on a red shaft, its head bristles filthy and frayed.
And pinned directly above his cot, flanking a heavy wooden crucifix, were his birth and his baptismal certificates…
The fifth-born, but only the second live-born, of the Touey children, Patrick Daniel (named after his mother’s two seaman brothers who’d drowned in the North Atlantic), was delivered during the noon hour on the fourth of December, 1885 into the rough hands of a Gaelic-speaking midwife. He was born at home, of course—home for the Toueys in those days being two dark rooms on the top floor of a crowded boarding house in the village of Constable Hook. It was a birth so effortless, so painless, for Mrs. Touey, her mild labor lasting no more than an hour and a half (Liz had taken two days to struggle out), that the event seemed preternatural; and it seemed almost supernatural, or at any event fantastically weird, when the baby—a speck of a thing, scarcely five pounds—glided serenely into this world with a wide, pleased grin mustered on his wrinkled face, and then, instead of howling bloody blue murder after being slapped on his hindquarters, he broke into peals and peals of comically squeaky laughter. Here was a lad happy to be here, with no complaints!
In the first weeks and months of his life, Patsy Touey, the Laughing Baby, took delight in everything, and in turn delighted everyone, including his father, who’d been disturbed at first—offended, it seemed more like—by the boy’s scrawniness; he was a burly man, Hugh Touey, a cooper in one of the small refineries dotting the Hook before the arrival of the imperial, colonizing Standard, and he’d expected any son of his to be a replica of himself, just, for the time being, in miniature. To his mother, and to his sister Liz, scarcely five years old at her brother’s birth, Patsy was a little sun that splashed their dingy lodgings with sweet, healthful light and whose spontaneous high giggles and throaty chortlings, coming at all hours from the blanket-lined soap box that served for a cradle, seemed musical, golden-toned, and a lively, a likely promise of better, happier times to come. And, indeed, not long after Patsy’s birth, Hugh Touey was promoted to foreman at the cooperage, with a significant pay increase in Saturday’s envelope, and the family was able to take a third room in Mrs. Farnam’s establishment.
But by his first summer, Patsy was ailing. Every week, it seemed, brought another fever, some with spots, some with peeling, and some with a lacy red rash, some requiring only a sponge bath, others calling for the salt, candles, chrism and Latin prayers of Extreme Unction. From that time forward, except for one stretch of fairly good health, starting when he was about six and ending soon after he turned nine, Patsy was the Sick Boy, the sickly one in the family: head colds and ear aches, diarrhea, chicken pox, bronchitis and the whooping cough, impetigo, asthma, colitis, the mumps; rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, German measles, pneumonia, double pneumonia, pneumonia practically on a semi-annual basis; pleurisy, diverticulitis, influenza, lesions in his eyes, and a bewildering variety of musculoskeletal disorders. Meningitis, acute bacterial meningitis—twice. The first time Patsy nearly died, the second time he actually did.
King (ten pounds, give or take, and a nearly catastrophic breech birth) was born in October, 1888. Their parish priest at first refused to christen him that—there was no “King” in the official Catholic index of saints—and a stand-off ensued in the baptistery. (Exactly why Hugh Touey mulishly insisted upon such a name, nobody knew, and he refused to say; Mrs. Touey was partial to Thomas.) One of the young curates broke the stalemate by suggesting the infant be named King of Kings Touey, after Our Lord; the compromise was accepted, and the sacrament administered.
Shortly after that, the Toueys moved into Bayonne proper, where Mr. Touey had partnered up with his old chum Bruno Cure to establish a roofing business.
As time passed and the old century waned, Patsy grew into a pale-faced, blue-lipped and ever-puffy-eyed weakling who used a cane, when he wasn’t confined to bed. All memory of his earliest infancy as the Laughing Baby became a vague and bitter family legend. Had he really laughed so much, and so hard, even at his own birth? No, probably not.
Hugh Touey wanted nothing further to do with his first-born son; before Patsy was even three, his father was no longer talking to him, only about him, often in earshot, complaining constantly and peevishly about the brutal cost of the hapless thing’s medical bills. Every time Patsy fell sick, his father wished (to himself; he wasn’t a monster, just fed up) that this time there would be no recovery. He’d had his fill of sleepless nights, of quarantines, the smell of camphor, the smell of vomit, of standing around through one crisis after another—and how many of those had there been, for Christ’s sweet sake, before the child was ten? A dozen? At least!
Mrs. Touey—Francine; Fran—loved the boy, or tried to, and read him Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, and the Catechism, and stories from the Blue Fairy Book whenever he was alert enough during an illness to pay attention, but as she’d conceded to her sisters, to one or two trusted neighbors, and to the feelingly sympathetic (and darkly handsome) Bruno Cure, she was “worn right to a nubbin.” Perhaps it would be a blessing if Our Savior finally took Patsy home—instead of all the time inviting him there, teasing him, like, and then slamming Heaven’s door right in his face as he stood at the top of the stoop for the umpteenth time! Ach, it was cruelty, was all she could say.
Lizzie all during her girlhood fretted for Patsy, prayed for Patsy, and when he wasn’t bedridden took him on slow walks up and down their street (first Hobart Avenue, then West Fifty-third), often bringing him to the school gymnasium, pulling him behind her in a 2-wheeled sulky, to watch her play basket-ball in her blue serge bloomers and wide-ribbed woolen stockings. Patiently, she showed him how to do sums and subtractions and to sound out letters, but—but oh! why couldn’t he just be well? Stay well? It was so awfully tiring to have a brother so frail and so ill so much of the time, and his illnesses—she knew it wasn’t his fault, but his illnesses made their family, her family, anxious, cross, and wretchedly unhappy. Liz being Liz reproached herself for these ungenerous, selfish thoughts, and on Saturday afternoons blurted her shame through a small latticed window in the confessional booth. “I’ve had unkind thoughts about my brother, who’s very sickly,” she’d say. “Fifteen times.” (That was just a guess, but close enough.) For penance the priest would give her a few Hail Marys, a few Our Fathers, and tell her to make a “good” Act of Contrition, but it never salved her bad conscience.
King Touey, eighteen months younger than Patsy, and a natural-born contrarian, so adored his older brother that at times (as when he’d sneak into Patsy’s sick bed with jacks and marbles to keep him company while Patsy was burning up, spiraling through another delirium, or barking out his lungs) it seemed a deliberate affront to the others in the family.
As an infant, King never laughed, never smiled, and from his first moments of self-awareness regarded his mother, father, and sister with chilly suspicion; he would draw back whenever one of them came too near, as if expecting an assault, a blow instead of nourishment or a caress, and from the way that he kept his tiny fingers clenched, fists bobbling defensively in front of his clouded face, he seemed to be giving fair warning that he was no mug—at the age of ten days, four weeks, three months, one year—and would, to the best of his limited abilities, give measure for measure, a blow for a blow.
King’s contrariety only strengthened as he grew older; he refused kisses and embraces, refused to kiss and embrace. He was a lout from the get-go—except, inexplicably, when it came to Patsy. The only times anyone ever saw King crack a smile at home, or break into laughter, were in the company of his brother, and none of Patsy’s ailments ever fazed him. He screamed and cursed whenever they were separated, Patsy’s door closed and locked, because of some infectious disease, and if anyone in the family tried to prepare King for the possibility that this time Patsy might not get better, might, in fact, shortly be “called home to his Heavenly Father,” King would pop his lips in lofty disdain and shoot right back, “Nuts! He ain’t goin’ nowhere! Not my little monkey!”
Once, when King said that yet again and it had been Liz trying to prepare him for the worst (during Patsy’s first case of meningitis, when Doctor Gleason kept him in a tub of ice for three days and injected him with an antiserum of rabbit’s blood; Patsy was 12, King was 10, and Lizzie was 17), she’d angrily drawn herself to her full height (ordinarily, she hunched; by then she was a beanpole nearly six feet tall) and snapped, “You talk about the poor wretched thing like he’s your pet!”
“So what if I do?” said King. “It’s better than how you talk about him! He ain’t poor, he ain’t wretched, and he ain’t a thing!”
He’d shamed her, and much as she’d disliked and even feared King in the past, Liz had never actually hated him. Now she did, adding that hatred (but calling it anger—“I was angry at my other brother, 50 times”) to her index of venial sins during confession.
Until that first case of meningitis, which kept him bedridden for about a year, most of those many days passed in a vacant stupor, Patsy had shown a quick, sharp, precocious intelligence. By the age of seven, he was reading novels (The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Ben-Hur, and She were his favorites), and solving, on a little slate with a chalk nugget, multiplication and long division problems he’d found in Lizzie’s third and fourth grade arithmetic workbooks. He possessed an orderly mind, a magnetic memory, and a large, often startling vocabulary; what other little boys used “peerless” or “fulgent” in conversation at the supper table?
He was curious about everything (what’s that, who’s that, why?) and eager to know about, to learn about, the world beyond his windows; once, after several months of poring over geographies that Lizzie, at his request, had brought home from the public library, Patsy announced to the family that, without looking, he could draw, and accurately label, maps of the United States and Europe, then proceeded to do so, even getting most of the spellings correct. (He added a “t” in Herzegovina, a second “n” in Sardinia, and forgot the second “t” in Massachusetts.) And during those few years of miraculous good health, when Patsy Touey attended school (preprimer, first and second grades), his classroom work almost always earned a gold star, and his tests, no matter the subject, invariably were graded 90 or better.
But the meningitis changed that, changed him, changed everything. It not only wasted Patsy’s body, and clouded his vision, blunted his hearing, and thickened his speech, wrinkled his face, and turned his unruly brown hair to a thin, wispy gray, it burned his intellect to ashes, consigning him to seemingly permanent smiling dullness—all of his learning, unlearned; all of his curiosity, extinguished; all of his memories—or most of them—fogged over, fogged out, forgotten.
After he was no longer in danger and could leave his bed, Patsy would sit on the same ladder-back chair every morning, occasionally moving it to a different window. The day long he stared apathetically down into Fifty-third Street, or at the clapboard wall of the big apartment house next door. Sometimes he hummed tunelessly, but no longer sang any of the songs he’d learned during his time at school; he’d forgotten the words, forgotten the melodies. He maintained the same bland smile on his mouth, but never laughed. He nodded whenever King or Lizzie or his mother spoke to him, but ignored their questions (or possibly didn’t hear them, they were never sure), and he cringed and perspired greasily whenever Hugh Touey was at home.
Patsy ate meals with the family, but rarely took more than a few bites of anything, till one morning he attacked a soft-boiled egg with such gusto that Fran Touey prepared him another for lunch, which he also ate with an eager appetite, so she made him a third for dinner, also consumed. From then on, he ate mostly soft-boiled eggs, which King dubbed “Patsy eggs,” a term that stuck. At eight o’clock every evening, he rose from his chair and mumbled, “I’ll be sayin’ good-night to yeh all” (by far the most words he’d string together in the course of his day) and then shambled off to his room. He was there, he wasn’t there.
Liz and Mrs. Touey made Novenas for Patsy, praying that he might, as time went by, show a little more “spark,” but otherwise they let him be, let him sit—what else could they do? Even King found it hard to maintain the kind of loyal affection for Patsy that he’d demonstrated before the meningitis; but at 11, going on 12, King Touey, already the neighborhood’s troublemaker (and well on his way to becoming its chief bully), rarely was at home anyway. At the saloons he frequented more than ever, Hugh Touey told his drinking companions (since he couldn’t deny the boy’s existence; everyone knew) that he was “nearly convinced” Patsy would fare better in a “decent institution,” but never mentioned the idea to his wife.
In late spring of 1901, the Touey family—thanks to the prosperousness of Cure and Touey, Roofers—moved into a newly constructed pattern house (eight rooms, indoor plumbing, newly planted fruit trees in the side and back yards, $800 paid for in cash) on Bayonne’s shady West Sixth Street. On the Toueys’ side of the street, the north side, in houses similarly sized, similarly new, and virtually identical, resided the families of successful tradesmen, builders, druggists, oculists, and the like; on the south side, in older, fewer, significantly larger homes, all different, with carriage houses and orchards behind, lived the families of successful business and professional men, among them the Harrigans (a father and a son who owned two bicycle shops, and a mother who wrote novels that went unpublished); the Driscolls (an ailing widower, and retired dentist, and his elder daughter who gave piano lessons; she’d been designated her father’s caregiver-for-life after her younger sister married a pharmaceuticals drummer named Ince four years earlier); and the Gillicks (the father a good-looking, glad-handing private-practice attorney active in the City Democratic Club, the mother a stoutish, attractive homemaker, two handsome, athletic grown sons, and an unaccountably homely change-of-life baby, who was six when the Toueys arrived on the block).
Less than a week after their furniture had been carted down from the Hibernian Annex and while the Toueys still were settling into their new home, something extraordinary happened.
At the breakfast table one morning Patsy dropped his spoon and pressed the heels of his hands to the sides of his head. He sucked in his breath. He moaned interrogatively. “Pats?” said his mother. “What’s the matter?” He jumped up so suddenly that his chair fell over backward. He turned to his right, a half-turn, then stopped and stood perfectly still. “Patsy?” she cried. “Darling, tell me what’s wrong!” But he dashed across the kitchen—this shuffler, this shambler, dashing!—to fling open the narrow closet by the cellar door. Raising a racket of hurried thumping and clanking, he rummaged through the mops, pails, wringers, scrub brushes and soap-flake boxes, and finally backed away clutching the red-handled corn broom and the black dust pan.
His father, sister and brother had left the house by then (Mr. Touey to a roof on Trask Avenue, King to a pool hall on Broadway, and Liz supposedly to a stenography class at the high school, but in fact to the ferry slip on First Street, there to meet Michael Landrigan, her secret beau), which left poor Mrs. Touey all by herself to take in, and be astonished by, Our Patsy’s newfound vitality, a focused, bustling, enterprising vitality that drove him next to sweep the entire house, top to bottom, before he abruptly stopped, red-faced and puffing, as the angelus bells started to ring at St. Mary’s.
Smiling as he hadn’t smiled in years, smiling to show his gums, he informed his mother (who’d been following him around, flustered and fidgeting, but stricken speechless) that he was ready now for his noontime egg—although if she was too busy, he said, he’d be glad to boil it himself. No, said Fran, deary me, not too busy at all—and she prepared the egg, plonking it in its caddy, topping it, and setting it down, along with a slice of buttered toast. She dropped into her own chair at the table and burst out crying, her face buried in her folded arms.
She wanted to believe her prayers and all of those monotonous Novenas had finally accomplished results, but was terrified that Patsy’s singular behavior was just symptomatic of yet another pernicious illness —that, or else such activity, such mania, following upon years of languor and fatigue would cause the poor child to keel over and die on her spotless kitchen floor. His hand came down upon her right shoulder. “Now, now, Mother,” he said, “none of that,” and then, whistling—whistling tunefully—Patsy fetched the corn broom and—still in bathrobe, pajamas, and carpet slippers—strolled outside to sweep the porch, the porch steps, and the slate pavement in front of their house. Finished, he leaned on the broom shaft and grinned back at his mother, who stood on the porch fighting a swoon. She beckoned him to come back inside, please, darling, and she’d fix him a nice sugary lemonade.
But with a roll of his puny shoulders and a squint of resolve, Patsy continued on. He swept his way along the pavement to the corner of Humphrey Avenue, then crossed to the south side of West Sixth and swept east toward Newman. He even broomed off the marble and limestone carriage blocks set by the high curbs in front of those much grander houses, each block chiseled fancily with a family name: Van Neste, Ten Eyck, Harrigan, Driscoll, Schuyler, Trapp, Gallagher, Cadmus, Gillick. He waved, or tipped an imaginary cap, to any startled neighbors that he saw (none of whom had ever seen him before), including little Charlie Gillick, in a white linen blouse and blue short pants, who was rolling a hoop with a stick across his grassy front lawn. Charlie steadied his hoop and shyly waved back, then sped off to hide behind his mother’s snowball bush. (This would be, as he told Liz Landrigan many years later, his earliest memory.)
Upon reaching the corner at Newman, Patsy crossed to his side of the street again, and—with less vigor now, and staggering a little—swept his way home, where he trudged inside. He splashed his blotchy face at the kitchen sink, and then slept, as if in a coma, on the front room sofa till his mother woke him, hours later, for supper. His extraordinary industry was, of course, the main, the only, topic of conversation at the table that evening. Why, asked both King and Hugh Touey, would he do that? King asked Patsy, Hugh asked his wife. But it was Lizzie who replied.
“Well, he must’ve felt like it! Did you enjoy yourself, darling?”
One side of Patsy’s mouth quirked up.
“He certainly looked like it,” said Mrs. Touey, going around the table refilling everyone’s water glass.
Hugh Touey made a growl of disgust. “It’s a wonder his nibs didn’t get sun poisoning. And it’s a miracle the doctor ain’t standing here right now with his hand out for another two dollars.”
“Oh, don’t be like that,” said Fran Touey, casting a reproachful look at her husband. “It was a beautiful day, Hugh. It wasn’t hot.”
“As if that matters with this one.”
“That’s enough!” King raised his voice.
His father looked down the table at his younger son’s intimidating bulk (you’d think he was 18, not 12, the big dumb gorilla) and after meeting King’s fixed and frigid glare, he glanced down at his plate. “Get your elbows off the table, boy.”
“Will you two stop?” said Liz. “Stop it! Can’t we just be glad that Our Patsy’s feeling better and stronger and—oh, can’t we just be glad? Why, I bet it’s the new house! Don’t you think? I do! It’s a fresh start for us all, not just for Pats, so can’t we all just…” Everyone, everyone but Patsy, was staring at her. “Be…” Her outburst had her blushing, and she squirmed uncomfortably. She blew her breath out through her teeth.
At that point, a full two hours earlier than usual, Patsy, who had been studying his empty eggshell, rose from the table, mumbling, “I’ll be saying’ good night to yeh all.” Pushing his chair back in, he left the kitchen.
“Did you notice?” said Fran. “His limp is gone.”
Hugh Touey was lighting a Glackner cigar with a wooden match. “Goes outside in his pajamas! If he tries that again tomorrow,” he said, pausing to inhale, then to exhale, a mouthful of smoke, “assuming of course he can even get out of bed, I’ll break his legs.”
“Hugh!” said his wife.
“I won’t have that moron in his bathrobe and pajama sweeping everybody’s sidewalk, Francine. I won’t be a laughingstock.”
“Too late,” said King. He got up sneering, and threw himself out of the house.
“May I please be excused from the table?” said Liz, addressing her mother.
When it was just Mr. and Mrs. Touey sitting alone, Fran said, “Maybe Lizzie’s right, do you suppose? Maybe it is the new house that’s given the boy a little…spark.” She made a valiant attempt at a smile, but gave it up the moment she lifted her eyes to her husband. He held his cigar by three fingers, like a saloon dart, and had it aimed in her direction.
“You keep him indoors where he belongs, my girl. Do you understand me?”
“I do, yes,” she said, and started clearing the table. As the sink filled, she gave a glance over her shoulder. Hugh Touey was smoking angrily and not using an ashtray, using the floor. At that moment Fran took enormous pleasure in despising him, him and his cold, shriveled heart. Then she recollected, with a prurient pang, how Bruno Cure had kissed her audaciously on the mouth last Christmas eve when no one else was around—kissed her mouth and squeezed her meaty waist. She might have slapped him, but had not.
Behind her, Hugh Touey pounded the table. “Sweet Jesus, in his bathrobe! What were you thinking, letting him gallivant around like that? Are you stupid? You just make sure he stays indoors from here on out, or you’ll both be sorry!”
Grabbing a fistful of cutlery, Fran swished it around in soapy water while her free hand reached for a little wire brush. She squared her shoulders and stiffened her spine and continued to do the dishes, having decided (in the wake of that recollected kiss) that if Our Patsy wanted to clean the house again tomorrow, if he wanted to sweep the front porch, the sidewalk, the neighborhood, the entire city of Bayonne, by God she would let him. But first (because she had a shrinking dread of mockery) she would insist he dress in a clean shirt and pressed trousers, and a pair of comfortable shoes. If he couldn’t remember how to tie the laces, she would get down on her knees and tie them for him.
Patsy looked surprised when his mother laid out his clothes next morning, and then just pursed his mouth, gave a good-natured shrug, and dressed quickly; she thought the poor soul might have forgotten how, but no. He had no trouble with buttons and required no help with his shoelaces. Ordinarily, Fran fixed his flyaway hair with spit and digging, darting fingers, but that day he picked up his hand mirror and soft brush from the lowboy, and for the first time in probably two years, groomed himself. Then he carefully inspected one cheek and then the other in his mirror, as if to see whether or not he needed to shave, to start shaving. No, still not yet. He put down the mirror and made up his bed, which so far as his mother could recall he had never done before. He didn’t make it up especially well, but he did it!
Fran held all of this to be a miracle, and her heart, like an infernal machine, felt on the brink of blowing up. When Patsy turned to the bedroom door, she clutched at his arm. “Your dad will be leaving in five minutes, why don’t you just…”
“All right,” said Patsy. He sat down on the side of his bed with his hands loosely clasped in his lap.
After seeing her husband out (“Mind,” he threatened,” what I told you, Francine”), Mrs. Touey ran back upstairs to fetch Patsy. She found him out in the hall, head tipped back and lips twitching; one arm was stretched out, upward, first finger extended and moving continuously from left to right, pointing at one cabbage-rose after another on the pale-green wallpaper, as if… Counting? Was the boy counting? When he noticed her at the head of the stairs, his arm dropped instantly. He looked abashed as he walked down the stairs. Fran made the sign of the cross—in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—and followed him to the kitchen.
Both King and Liz were still at the breakfast table, dawdling deliberately that morning—they wanted to see for themselves what would happen after Patsy finished his soft-boiled egg. And what happened was a virtual repeat of what had happened the day before, although Patsy raced through his house sweeping, in a great hurry to take the broom outdoors. As soon as he stepped onto the front porch, he drew a great fortifying breath and went straight to it, his steady whisking putting him into—for all the world, it seemed like—an ecstatic trance.
Liz followed him around with the dustpan, stooping and holding it at an angle to collect a small pile of dirt and grit whenever he was ready for that; at first, King deigned to carry a pail so Liz could empty the dustpan, but that got tiresome and then he went back inside the house and returned with a couple of lead dumbbells, ten-pounders he’d recently brought home, no doubt stolen since he hadn’t had a proper job of work in almost a year. King watched his brother and sister continue on up the street to the corner—Patsy staunchly sweeping, Lizzie scurrying after him with pan and pail—as he went through a series of alternating arm curls; he delighted in the ways that his muscles flexed and popped.
His mother came and stood beside him. Patsy and Liz had crossed to the other side of the street by then. “Has the boy gone loony, d’you think?”
“Leave off talking, old lady!” King whispered savagely. “The feller’s having his fill of fresh air, he’s basking in the sunshine, enjoying a wee bit of exercise. Where’s the problem with that?”
“Of course, of course,” she said, “but—”
Fran said no more, nor did she need to, her meaning was clear as glass: what would the tattle be around the neighborhood? About Our Patsy? About the family? She felt frightened, but hopeful, too; hopeful, but shamed half to death. She was so fussed up that her head thrummed. She forgot the rules and patted King on his shoulder. He recoiled snarling, “Lay off me, you cow!” Again, Fran felt like crying, but not wishing for the cruel lummox to see her tears flow, she turned to go back inside. Just then King said under his breath, “Neelies, I’ll kill yiz!” With two dull thumps, his dumbbells hit the porch. Fran turned for a backward look. Already King had leaped down the steps and was sprinting across the recently seeded pocket lawn, toward the street.
On the opposite pavement, just in front of the Gillick place, two notorious Bayonne toughs—Fran had seen the pair of them last fall at a precinct house after they’d been pinched along with King for stealing bicycles during a softball game at City Field—were jigging around and around Our Patsy, taunting him, sting-slapping his face with their fingertips, poking him in the ribs, darting forward, jumping back, feinting, howling with nasty laughter, and snatching at his broom. Older than King by at least three years, they both had on square-topped derbies, each bedizened with a bullet hole, and were dressed in black coats, white collarless shirts, black trousers held up with rope, and steel-toed boots. Cornelius Sharkey and Cornelius Heahly. The toothless, red-faced Neelies. When Liz struck Neeley Sharkey across his back with the flat of her dustpan, he spun around and shoved her. She fell back against the Gillicks’ picket fence, went down hard and sprawled sidewise across the pavement. Holding onto his broom with both hands, Patsy struggled to keep Neeley Heahly from grabbing it away.
Neither Neeley saw King till he’d laid into them smashing roundhouse blows. After he’d tumbled them up, he kicked them in the privates and stomped on their shins. They curled around themselves like shrimp, their noses pouring blood.
Liz clutched a picket top to boost herself back onto her feet; her rich mahogany-color hair, which she’d coiled into two braids, had come undone. When little Charlie Gillick, on the other side of the fence, saw her rising slowly, unsteadily, into view, the golden sun gleaming all around her, it was like beholding the young Virgin Mary come to life straight off the big stained-glass window that depicted the Annunciation (whatever that was) at St. Mary’s church. Liz noticed him gaping and pulled a comical face, rolling her eyes and lopping her head from side to side, making light of her inelegance.
That’s when she became the woman—The Woman—in Charlie Gillick’s life. Even his dear mother (who, with skirts hoisted, burst just then from the Gillick house, hollering “Police! Help! Police!”), even his dear, sweet, freckle-faced mother would forever after hold second place in his heart’s devotions. (Charlie never would tell Liz how deeply their first meeting affected him, although many times over the years to come they laughed together about that crazy melee with the atrocious Neelies, both of whom eventually—and long before the Standard Oil strike of 1915—ended up in the electric chair.)
But that wasn’t just the day Charlie Gillick was stunned into love, it was also the day he fell into hero-worship, and the object of that worship, the hero himself, was, of course, King Touey.
When the Neelies had cut across West Sixth Street on their way to the brass foundry on Newark Bay, intending to forage the grounds there for tailings, skimmings, and grindings, Charlie was on his porch building a castle out of wooden blocks. Watching those two galoots harass and torment Patsy Touey for the pure sport of it, he lost his breath and struggled like an asthmatic to catch it again. This was the first time in Charlie’s life that he’d witnessed an act of deliberate malice. He wanted to jump up, run inside, but could not move. Meanwhile, the strange little Broom Boy started to keen and whimper like an injured animal, and the two Hat Men just laughed. Charlie’s long green yard and the street beyond—that is to say, the world—all of a sudden darkened. (You could never have convinced him, not then and not later, that perhaps a shadowing cloud had passed.)
The miraculous appearance of King Touey, and the economy with which he’d disposed of both Neelies seemed to lift Charlie Gillick a foot off the porch. Could it be? Was he truly suspended in mid-air? With some reluctance he looked to his blucher shoes. Ah no, no such thing, but the feeling! He never forgot it, nor felt it again. He ran to the front gate and his splendid hero.
Only to be smitten then by the bedraggled Liz Touey.
What Charlie Gillick had just seen happen, and what had just happened to him, unfolded with the bright mysterious clarity and unreal tempo of a pageant, a spectacle (he’d already been to a circus, and to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show), but then—snap! like that—it all became a confusion of things. His mother grabbed him roughly by an arm and yanked him away from the gate. Her face was red as rhubarb. She was yelling at King (“What kind of people—”) while Liz, with hands cupped and supplicatory, tried to explain. Charlie’s mother shouted her down, shooed her away. Then came a policeman in his shining helmet and blue woolen tunic—two policemen, three! And clanging bells from down the street, and horses pulling a green-painted wagon with steel bars in the window. Mrs. Gillick whisked Charlie off the ground and carried him into the house slung under an arm. “Toueys!” she muttered to herself and it sounded like spitting. “We’re all in for it now, with that family in the neighborhood!”
From that day forward, the family Touey was notorious—the talk, the common plaint of not only the neighborhood, nor even of St. Mary’s parish, but of all downtown, from one bay to the other and to the Kill Van Kull. Who can say why? Surely, what spawned their infamy was a negligible event—a boy with a broom, a girl with a dustpan, a short-tempered brawler, and a savage beating; what was so memorable about that, especially in a city with its full share of murder, arson, suicide, scandal, and disfiguring accidents? But except for Charlie, who would sneak almost daily across the street to gaze upon his Hero, to moon over his Beloved, and to carry around a heavy dustpan for the Broom Boy—except for little plain Charlie Gillick, who kept being dragged back home and spanked, everyone downtown, anyone respectable, shunned the Touey children, holding their parents accountable and in contempt.
Hugh Touey was mortified that his own flesh and blood had tarnished his reputation and smeared his name. He’d worked himself up to a fine new house in a good neighborhood, and now look! His rotten kids stank on ice! He threatened to toss the lot of them out into the street, where they obviously belonged, but instead frequented saloons uptown where he could drink with strangers. He stayed out late and staggered home sozzled. Then he was drinking in the daytime, too, while tarring and shingling roofs, which naturally became a matter of grave concern both to Fran Touey and to Hugh’s partner, Bruno Cure. Throughout the long summer the pair of them met several afternoons a week in the gardens of the LaTourette Hotel on First Street to discuss what might be done about Hugh’s problem; eventually, they decided nothing could be done, and pursued other topics of mutual interest, including the assassination of President McKinley that September. After the weather turned cool and less clement, they met at Bruno’s cottage on Lord Avenue, Fran arriving there with a chenille-dotted veil stretched across her face.
Later in the autumn, Lizzie became engaged to Michael Landrigan.
They’d known each other as small children; both the Toueys and the Landrigans lived in Mrs. Farnam’s boardinghouse in the old Constable Hook Village. When the families moved to different parts of Bayonne, they maintained their friendship by writing weekly letters. Some years later the families found themselves once again living in close proximity in the Hibernian Annex, where Liz and Michael briefly attended the same public high school—Michael was in the senior class when Liz was a freshman. Their long friendship turned into a mutual crush, then to love, and then to romance. But for a long time they kept their affections a well-guarded secret because of the animosity lingering between Hugh Touey and Michael’s father, John Jay Landrigan, a saloon-keeper and bail bondsman. Sometime back in the early 80s the two men had had a falling out over a goodly sum of money (whether Hugh owed it to John Jay, or vice versa, depended on who was telling the story); there’d been a series of fistfights at the time, and bad blood ever after.
In the wake of the Neelies incident, however, when the fraught and unhappy Touey household became intolerable to Liz, as did the neighborhood with its hurtful snubs and nasty slurs, Michael Landrigan decided to save her life and proposed marriage. She was just months away from turning 21, he was almost finished his law studies, and as far as they were concerned, their fathers could jump in a lake if they didn’t like the engagement. Which they did not, but even so, the first banns of marriage were read aloud in church on the last Sunday of October. (Thereafter, the Gillicks explicitly exempted Liz from any scorn they (but not Charlie, of course!) continued to feel and express toward the uncouth, degenerate Toueys, since Michael Landrigan—a fine, serious lad—had roomed for two years at Seton Hall with the eldest Gillick boy, John Jr.)
In early November, when he was only, and still newly, 13 years of age, King Touey rode a trolley into Jersey City, then changed cars and rode to Pavonia Avenue. From there it was a block to Red Casey’s saloon. Casey’s was an old-time bucket-of blood, where push-and-shove arguments erupted ten times an hour, and a whiskey glass inverted on the bar top was an invitation to step outside and brawl for a bit; it was also where illegal (but winked upon) bare-knuckled prizefights were staged in the backyard. Each fight, and there’d be a dozen over an afternoon or evening, consisted of a single round of three minutes. Whoever landed the best and smartest punches before the bell was declared the winner by a panel of derbied ward-leaders. The purse usually amounted to five or ten dollars.
Because he was a hulking brute and carried himself like a man (he weighed 206), King was given a round with a local berserker (and favorite) named Stone Head McCue, who had an advantage of 40 pounds. The regulars showered King with gravel and called him a lulu as he climbed over the ropes in his street clothes. McCue wore crimson trunks and was barefooted. They circled each other for two or three seconds, then McCue plastered smashing wallops all over King’s nose, ears, and chin, cutting him up badly. King staggered, ducked McCue’s next wild swing, and roughly wiped his bleeding face, giving every sign that he was due for an imminent fadeaway. Then he pulled himself together and laced into McCue, clouting him with an assortment of right hooks to the body, then a right-hand cross to his lantern jaw, and the man went down like a tree. King put him out cold.
The angry crowd tossed more gravel, and the young referee had to wield a smithy’s hammer to get King through the ropes unmauled and out the back gate. He told King to go sit in Hamilton Park and he’d bring his money. King balked, not expecting him to return. He was tall, skinny, and pinch-faced, this referee, but a roughneck. His eyes burned impatiently. At last King said okay and walked to the park.
He made a gory sight, but felt euphoric, never better. When the referee came back a short time later, King was blotting the cuts on his face with a sleeve he’d torn off his shirt.
“Where yeh from?” asked the referee sitting down on the bench next to him.
“What’s it to you?”
“Don’t give me your guff, where yeh from?”
“That’s better. I’m Frank Hague,” he said. “Heard of me?”
“Can’t say as I have.”
Hague looked sharply annoyed by King’s reply. He’d put out a hand, but now withdrew it. “King your real name?”
“Yeah. And there’s a funny story about it, too. When my old man—”
“I don’t like funny stories.” Frank Hague waved the back of a hand, dismissing funny stories, all of them. “Listen. You’re not bad, not bad at all. But you oughta use gloves, see, don’t bother with this rough stuff. Before you know it your hands’ll be ruined. Try an a.c.” When King frowned, Hague said, “Athletic Club, you shitbird.” Then he gave King the names of a few, in Jersey City, Elizabeth, Perth Amboy, and Harrison. “And they even got one in Bayonne. You might try that first.” He passed King an envelope containing six dollars in cash and a dollar forty in change. “And what you buy with this, mind, you buy yourself a pair of boxing gloves. Do it or you’re a real shitbird.” He stood up from the bench. “And another thing. You got muscle and you got rage, but except for that right cross, which ain’t bad, you got nothing in the way of technique. Scientific technique. Find a trainer.”
“I got one already,” said King.
“My brother Patsy.”
“Well, he stinks. And you can say so from me.”
“Ah, go fly a kite, you shitbird.” King had liked that insult the moment he’d heard it—not that he’d much liked it applied to him, but it was a dandy. He jammed his prize money into a pocket, gave Hague the finger, and shoved off. Shitbird, he thought. That’s a good one.
While Our Patsy, to be sure, was not King’s fight trainer (King had blurted his brother’s name only because he was tired of being talked at by that smug Horseshoe mick; in those days he still told lies easily and often), Patsy and his brooming ways had been the impetus nonetheless for King to start training himself. For years he’d used his fists in dozens of scrapes, but until he attacked the two Neelies, he had never employed them with such ferocity, nor inflicted punishment, drawn blood, with such deep satisfaction. And long before that day, King was using dumbbells, but just to strengthen his arms to better scale drainpipes and boost open windows; was jumping rope to add grace to his legs, more speed, and to give his hips a nice fluid pivot to duck and dodge and outrun cops, cops and eagled-eyed merchants.
But after beating up the two Neelies in June, King had pondered—as well and as long as he could manage—how he might turn that ferocity and satisfaction into cold hard cash; it was high time he got on with his stinking life. He hadn’t attended school in more than a year, and since working a job was the pits (he’d tried it once, hauling sacks of flour, and lasted a day and a half), he figured that either he could break bones for a shylock (he knew one or two on sight), or make his mark in the ring. Of the two possibilities, ring fighting had the shinier appeal.
And so it went throughout the summer that as soon as Our Patsy stepped outside with his corn broom, King followed him onto the porch with his dumbbells and jump rope, and for however long it took Patsy to sweep the neighborhood clean, often with Charlie Gillick scurrying behind with his mother’s green-lacquered dustpan, that’s how long King exercised. And while he did, he kept vigilant watch on his brother. If someone on the street, man, woman, or child, so much as rolled an eye at Patsy, King was there suddenly on the pavement with his dukes up. He never spoke a word. He never had to. Everyone on the block, on the all of the blocks around, stood in fear of him now. More than once, he stamped a foot at Mrs. Gillick after she came out and was dragging Charlie away. She’d make a whinnying sound, and bolt, nearly pulling the boy’s arm from its socket.
In time, a sand bag appeared on the Toueys’ porch and was hung from the ceiling for punching; then came barbells of varying weight (no one asked King how he’d got those). He did push-ups, walked on his hands, and squeezed tennis balls. He ran around the house a hundred times, sometimes backwards. He never was not chewing resin gum—to strengthen his jaw.
When Patsy was done sweeping and returned to the house, King would sit with him at the kitchen table and they’d have lunch together, Patsy scooping out another soft-boiled egg, King taking a little fruit and dry toast. Then Patsy would disappear into his bedroom for the afternoon, and King would saunter over to Cavanaugh’s gym on Orient Street—it was a converted stable—and for a dime could toss around a medicine ball and have his pick of sparring partners. In the yard behind the gym he lobbed straw bales over his head and hurled a sledgehammer into a sand pit. He would come home black and blue and dead tired, then after eating a small trimmed chop for supper, he’d crawl into bed and sleep till morning. For the first time since King was seven years old, a stretch of time passed without accusations of mayhem or demands for restitution
Except on Sundays, or if it rained (but sometimes even rain didn’t stop him), or whenever he got badly sunburnt, or came down with a fever after a bee sting or a spider bite or for no reason at all, or if he had throat trouble, or his feet swelled, or the skin on his hands thickened and scaled, Patsy Touey swept his porch, his walk, and his street each morning that summer and autumn; then continued on into the winter, and the following year, swapping his broom for a shovel whenever snow fell.
After one particularly heavy snowfall in late January of 1902, he came to the attention of a sanitation boss named Clunny, Kevin Clunny, who was trudging neighborhoods to make certain that his men were doing a good job of shoveling. He was a lonely man who lived his life according to that value. A good job, he’d say, makes a good Joe. His exacting, scrupulous nature had boosted him up through the ranks, though it never had made him popular with the other whitewings.
When he saw Patsy digging away furiously with a coal shovel that freezing cold morning, he mistook him at first for a temporary hire, an old man who’d signed on for a day’s labor to earn a dollar or two. Patsy was still small and scrawny, and a thatch of gray wispy hair stuck out from under the peaked cloth hat he’d started wearing back in summer. Would you just look at that old gent! thought Clunny. Now, there’s a feller intent on doing a good job! He considered calling his own men over to point out Patsy as an excellent example of pertinacity, a word he frequently used in his pep talks. But he was afraid it might embarrass the poor old soul, and besides his men might harass him after he’d trudged off to another street. So he just approached Patsy with a hearty hello.
When Patsy turned around, startled, Clunny was poleaxed. This wasn’t an old man—but a young man who looked old! His big heart went out to him. “You’ve cleared it right down to the slate, my friend, and that’s what I call shovelin’ snow!” Patsy looked flustered. His mouth worked and worked, but finally it smiled. “How’d you learn to shovel like that? Why—why, you must be an Eskimo! Where’s your dog sled?”
Something amazing happened next. Patsy pointed behind him with his thumb and said, “I left it at my igloo,” making a quip! When he realized what he’d done, he turned away and resumed his shoveling. A strange one, thought Clunny. But knows how to do a good job! He looked down at the immaculately cleared Belgium slate and came to a snap decision. Reaching out his billfold, he extracted a flimsy card with his name printed on it. He held it in one hand and used the other to tap Patsy on his overcoat sleeve. Reluctantly, Patsy turned back around. “I want you to ask for me when you come for your pay this afternoon,” said Clunny.
Patsy looked baffled.
Clunny didn’t know why, but he instantly understood the situation. “Don’t tell me! You’re shovelin’ for shovelin’s sake!” He looked to the heavens and clapped his gloved hands together. This was the man he’d been looking for but just hadn’t known it! He’d found a protégé!
“What’s your name?”
Patsy shook his head and drove his shovel back into wet heavy snow. Lifting it, he staggered, but caught himself, and then with just a tip, he smoothly dumped the load. He started digging in again.
“Glory be!” said Clunny. “I’m not lettin’ go o’ the likes of you.” He examined Patsy’s latest handiwork—not so much as a flake left!—then added, “You’re comin’ to work for me tomorrow, and I won’t take no for an answer! So quit your stallin’ and tell me your name.”
Eventually Patsy did, but it took a while, and then—not the following day, but three days later—he was put on the payroll at the city Sanitation Department, where Kevin Clunny personally selected not only his pure-white uniform but his own rolling trash barrel fitted with upended broom and shovel; both the barrel and the uniform cap bore the same bold black number, No.104.
At first, Patsy had flatly refused the job offer—not in so many words, in fact he didn’t speak at all, just dropped his shovel and ran away in a panic up the sidewalk and into his house. Clunny had followed, first using the front door knocker, then pounding with a fist. No one answered. No one besides Patsy was at home. But Clunny persisted, returning that night—truly, he’d never seen such good, such gifted shoveling before—and spoke with Fran and Hugh Touey, astonishing them both. Fran wasn’t sure about Clunny’s proposition—a job? Patsy? Our Patsy?—but Hugh had never been more sure of anything in his life! Of course the boy would take the job! Why shouldn’t he get paid for doing what he did every day for nothing! Besides (and this is what brought Fran around, finally), Liz was married by then, and while the girl hadn’t brought in much money (for a year and a half she’d worked part-time in a milliner’s shop while taking her secretarial course), she’d brought in some. And it was missed. Anyhow, the time had come for the little moron to quit sponging and start contributing! He could pay his own doctor bills from here on out! (Clunny did not like his protégé talked about in such a disrespectful manner, but held his tongue, quietly loathing the father, who slurred his words and reeked of alcohol.)
When King woke up next morning and heard about Patsy’s job, he laced his fingers together, set his hands on the top of his head, looked grimly across the breakfast table and told his brother, “Okay. But I’ll protect you. Anybody gives you trouble, you tell me. Got it? Just tell me. I’ll feed him his teeth.” Then he got up and left for the Bayonne Athletic Club, well pleased he wouldn’t be lifting weights and jumping rope on the front porch any longer.
The night before Patsy started to work seemed the longest and most fretful of his life. He chewed his fingernails and paced the floor. He was excited. He was frightened, sick at his stomach. At one point his breathing became so labored he nearly fainted and threw his arms around the bedpost, holding on as if it were a ship’s mast and the ship in a storm. He slid down and sat on the carpet, then keeled over and hugged his knees to his chest. He rocked from side to side, doing a few simple sums (eight plus eleven, eleven plus eleven), then multiplication tables (one times three, two time three, three times three), and moved on to long division (twelve into sixty, seven into fifty). He pictured in his mind how Austria-Hungary was spooned on the bottom by little Bulgaria and poked into big Germany at the top. Then, after recalling how Robin Hood came to dwell in the greenwood, and Queen Ayesha to shrink, and age, and dissolve, Patsy got slowly to his feet, rolled his head in crackling circles, and went downstairs in his slippers, taking great pains not to bump into furniture and make a noise. By then it was almost three o’clock.
He sat in his regular chair at the kitchen table eating ginger snaps and looking over a shoulder occasionally at the utility closet, where his corn broom was stored. It wasn’t the red-handled one he’d impulsively grabbed last June—he’d worn that one out by September; the one kept in there now, the one he’d used ever since, had a dark brown handle and wasn’t special. It would do, had done, but wasn’t special. It was just a broom he used to move his arms, to move his legs, to coax his memories and his intellect to come struggling up from the deep hole they’d sifted into. He hadn’t suspected it was all still there—he hadn’t missed it, how could he have missed anything in his long empty stupor?—till that morning last summer when he’d dipped toast mechanically into his egg.
His vision had clouded, darkened, gone completely black, and then flared yellow. Terrible pain spiked at both temples. He pressed his hands to his head, hearing his mother calling him from a mile away. He felt he was going to throw up and jumped to his feet, knocking over his chair. Patsy then swung to his right, toward the sink, and with that hasty, lurching motion, he remembered that Kansas was a rectangle and Colorado a square, and Ben-Hur drove a chariot, in a picture, in a book! Eight times eight equals sixty-four! He was so blasted with fear that he stopped and stood perfectly still. As soon as he did, the bright jumbles of thought, recall, and knowing that had whirled through his mind became a kind of dust already raveling away. “Patsy?” cried his mother, now two—now ten!—miles away. “Darling, tell me what’s wrong!”
Instantly making a connection between sudden movement and his stunning return of consciousness, Patsy broke into a dash that took him to the utility closet, then he had the broom hefted in his hands, and then he was sweeping the kitchen floor, and you spelled Herzegovina, capital haitch, e, r, e, g, o, v, i, n, a, Herzegovina! And once he’d scooped up six jacks before the little ball could bounce! And six was good, said King! Whose mother and father were the same as Patsy’s. And that made King his brother!
He was afraid to stop sweeping, so he swept the whole house, and the front porch and the walk, and then the street, and his past kept whispering to him. He remembered the house on Hobart Avenue, where a mirror used to hang over a gate leg table, and there was a mouse hole in the baseboard, and a broken fanlight above the door. Remembered his father’s clay pipes arranged on a shelf in the parlor, and how the doctor’s hands smelled when he’d put his fingers to Patsy’s throat and said, “The mumps.” Brandishing that broom, furiously sweeping, he remembered a necklace of camphor bags, and his sister Lizzie pulling him in a wagon. How sadness felt, how loneliness ached, and he remembered being thrilled and made happy by the lost city of Kor. But everything that came, came in specks; some things stayed, others sifted back into the hole.
That evening at the supper table, when his father fumed and raged, and called him his nibs and this one, Patsy had felt shame (he’d gone out in his pajamas—that was shameful), but anger too, and that had a color: enamel red, like the broom handle. He’d planned to tell his family the things he’d remembered that day, but now wouldn’t. His feelings were hurt. And there! he’d recovered parts of his temperament. He hurt easily, but wouldn’t show it. He had his pride. And liked secrets.
In bed, his shoulders throbbed, and his legs quivered. He got up once to go into the bathroom and sniff the bar of castile soap because he’d remembered the scent was pleasing—pretty.
When he took up the broom again next morning (his mother didn’t like his father, did she? She’d gone against him, and allowed Patsy to go outside), he remembered the days of the week, the months of the year, that he was 15, and gathered back a little bit more of his nature (he liked to part his hair in the middle—he’d parted it so just that morning!—and the ruffling of his trouser legs was enjoyable to see, fresh air made him cheerful). When his sister came along with him while he swept the street, he remembered that she loved him, but felt sorry for him, and that her pity could make him irritable. And so Patsy was irritable again. When the two Neelies, who were bullies, came by and harassed him, he remembered that fear tasted dry-then-moist, like flour, the way that shame did. And when King beat up those bullies, Patsy cringed and cowered, feeling grateful but weak. Weak and helpless. That made him feel sorry for himself. And put him in the dumps.
Later, in his room, he sat in the ladder-back chair he’d sat in every day after the year he spent in bed recovering from the meningitis. (His memories of that—and when those had come, he’d wished they’d all stayed down in the hole—were a terrible taste in his mouth, a stiff neck, an agonizing headache, hours and hours of vomiting, then a tub full of ice, ice up to his chin.) While he sat, Patsy wondered if he’d ever remember enough to be the same boy he was before the meningitis. But what kind of boy had he been even then? Sickly. Always sickly. The Sick One in the family. Never a regular feller—never! He wondered if he was better off back in the fog.
But he’d never believed that, even though—as the weeks swept by, and then the summer, and then the fall—the memories that kept resurfacing, and the tantalizing glimpses he’d get of his true temperament (rain made him glad and calm, if it didn’t last too long—then it made him anxious) proved as fickle and inconstant (how old was he? Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday—then what?) as his strength and his health were unreliable.
When Lizzie married Michael Landrigan in early December, in the same week that Patsy turned 16, he went to the church to see it, but during the Mass he forgot where he was, and what was happening, and at the consecration of the host, when little bells started to jangle, he squealed like a piglet, threw himself down on the kneeler and covered his head with his hands. The next morning he couldn’t breathe, or get out of bed. The doctor came and said it was pneumonia—again.
It was nearly a month before he’d been well enough to take out his broom again and sweep. By then the weather was cold and severe. He swept anyway. And when it snowed, he shoveled.
And now he’d shoveled himself into a job, and he was terrified. In a few hours Mr. Clunny would come, as promised, to collect him and walk him to work, and then he wouldn’t be on Sixth Street anymore if something happened. He gently felt his throat, hoping to find it swollen with the mumps. It was not. But as he put away the ginger snaps, Patsy remembered that King had promised to protect him, and he took comfort in that. There was no one in the whole world better than his brother King. No one even came close. Patsy’s hands had been shaking, but now they’d stopped. He crept back upstairs, laid out his clothes, and dressed himself.
When Kevin Clunny knocked at the front door at ten minutes of five, Patsy was ready. He’d been ready, sitting calmly on his made-up bed, for an hour and a half.
Patsy Touey was a sanitation man for nine years, although it you subtracted the time he was unable to work because of ear and throat and eye infections, shingles, phlebitis, random fevers, convulsive seizures, and regular bouts of catarrh and pneumonia, it was probably no more than seven. His daily route changed often, as was customary, and by the time the second, and crueler, case of meningitis ended his working life in the spring of 1911, Patsy had carted away garbage and carried off ashes, shoveled snow, bagged or burned leaves, and cleaned up storm debris throughout most of the city. And every day that he worked, he did a good and conscientious job, and because he did, Kevin Clunny looked after him. When Patsy was out sick, he made certain his protégé was not docked so much as an hour’s pay. And to a man, the other whitewings accepted Patsy, and liked him. He was an odd duck, to be sure, and rarely talked, but he always listened when others did, appropriately smiling or looking sympathetic depending upon the story or the circumstances.
When they saw that Patsy could take a little ribbing—that it made him blush and smile—they ribbed him good-naturedly. For spending half an hour polishing his trash barrel and shovel, and then combing out his broom. For doodling faces on the surface of his tea with evaporated milk. And for pouring some of that tea into a saucer for the all-gray cat that had begun to show up every morning at the car barns soon after Patsy started working, and then followed along on his route.
Even Kevin Clunny ribbed him about the cat. “Ach, here comes old Pats’ cat of ashes,” he’d say with a wink, and in mock alarm, to the other men. And several of the whitewings standing around there—Lally Joe, maybe, or Dinny, or Beans—would make the sign of the cross and pretend to cower. Patsy would smile, get down on one knee, spill out some tea from his cup, and run a hand gently over the cat’s gaunt flank. “Better be careful, Pats,” somebody—Fagin, or Regular Bob—would generally warn him at that point. “I’ve heard stories about them cats o’ ashes. They ain’t born, that sort, they just walk right out of a cold fireplace in early spring, full grown and dreadful strange. And you know what else they say about ’em, doncha?” By then, of course, Patsy did, he’d heard it a dozen times or more. “If you let them get too close to your face, they’ll suck the eternal soul right out of yeh!” Patsy would purse his lips, making a vinegar puss, and everybody laughed. Kevin Clunny always remembered later to tell Patsy they were all just teasing, like. “Even so,” he’d add in a whisper, “I wouldn’t let that demon get too close to my face, if I was you.” And they’d share a private smile, just them.
Patsy loved Kevin Clunny and the men he worked with almost as much as he loved his brother King. Almost.
After Hugh Touey fell off a roof on Garretson Avenue and broke his good-for-nothing neck, Clunny and the entire sanitation crew attended the funeral. They even chipped in on flowers. And when, scarcely six months later, Fran Touey sold the house on West Sixth Street, and then vanished forever with Bruno Cure, they never discussed the scandal if Patsy was around, although they did, at length, whenever he wasn’t, with much clucking over the fact that she’d skipped in the night without so much as farewell kiss on the poor feller’s cheek. So what if she’d left $400 cash on the kitchen table, the woman was a monster, no real mother at all. And for sure if Patsy’s brother, the crazy bummer, hadn’t been jugged up in the parental home, he would’ve murdered his mother and Bruno Cure, both! (King was confined a year for accosting a lowlife named Wolf Kamen outside of the Horsely brothers’ pool hall and giving him a concussion.)
Gladly, Kevin Clunny would have taken in Patsy to live with him, but Liz said no; she was grateful for his kind offer, but it wouldn’t be right, and there was plenty of room in her house on the Hudson County Boulevard. She and her husband—by then an attorney for the Lackawanna Railroad—were happy to have him. While Clunny was disappointed (he’d been living alone since his wife died 14 years earlier), he had to admit that Patsy was better off living with his sister and brother-in-law. They could give the sweet man a more comfortable home, and besides, they’d kindly agreed to let the cat of ashes (whose name, somewhere along the line, had been conflated to “Cassius”) come live there as well.
So, following those months of loss and turmoil—late 1906, early 1907—Patsy settled back into a satisfying routine, he and the cat leaving the Landrigan house early each weekday morning to haul garbage and clean the streets till 3 or 3:30 in the afternoon, then—after stopping into a bakery most days for seeded rolls and iced buns—returning home a little past 4. Liz was there to greet him. When Michael got in from Newark, usually around 7:30, the three of them ate supper together in the dining room.
While he still had a soft-boiled egg every morning for breakfast, and took a hard-boiled egg with him for lunch (he cooked them for himself now), Patsy ate whatever Liz prepared, unless it was liver and bacon, and then he’d just say he wasn’t feeling hungry and, doing a little penance for lying, help himself to a small portion of vegetables. He excused himself from the table as soon as he’d finished, sensing that Liz and her husband wanted to talk by themselves.
Michael Landrigan was kind to him, as was Liz, but Patsy knew they both felt sorry for him, pitied him, and although he could easily have shown them, or even told them, that there was a lot less now for them to pity or to feel sorry for, he preferred to keep them both in the dark, to keep everyone in the dark. He was still remembering things back down the years, still holding on to some things he remembered, but still forgetting things, too, and it was simpler, he decided, to live in this uncommunicative way. He spoke more often than he had, but not all that much more. Good morning. Hello. This is delicious. I’ll be saying good night to yeh all.
A few times, when Lizzie and Michael were in the parlor listening to Edison cylinders on the phonograph, he took one of their books—The Man Who Was Thursday, White Fang, Puck of Pook’s Hill—from the glass-fronted case in the dining room and sneaked it up to his bedroom, to see if he’d remembered yet how to read. But all the words remained inert in black bunches. He’d remembered the alphabet in order, but not the sound each letter made, and while it did occur to him that he could ask Lizzie to teach him the sounds again, he did not. He had his pride. He liked keeping secrets. He’d become well enough reacquainted with his temperament to realize that it was—that it was flawed.
After King was released from the parental home, he came to live with them, and that was joyful to Patsy. King took his bedroom—“You don’t mind, do you, monkey man?”—and Patsy moved to the attic. In the evenings and on weekends, he went outside and, with Cassius in his lap, sat on a bench and watched his brother do one-handed push-ups, use his dumbbells, and sprint from the inclined cellar door to the old chicken coop at the far end of the narrow backyard. Often, the pretty married lady next door, Helen Ince, would come out too, and watch King from her side of the fence. “Your brother looks just like Jack London,” she told Patsy a dozen times. He didn’t know who Jack London was.
Except for whenever he got bronchitis or impetigo, or his rheumatism flared up, Patsy’s life was untroubled, contented, and even happy.
But King started boxing professionally, being away more and more frequently; he didn’t come home for days. When he did, often with his face battered and almost unrecognizable, he’d tell his brother where he’d been—Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, West New York, Elizabeth, places that Patsy decided to hate.
And then, to make matters even worse, Kevin Clunny died of a heart attack on the day before he would’ve turned 55. The new sanitation boss, a man named Mr. Castle, wasn’t half as nice, and never called Patsy his protégé, and he looked disgusted whenever Patsy, never on purpose, called him Mr. Castile, like the soap. Now if Patsy got sick and missed work, he wasn’t paid. “I sympathize, Patrick,” Mr. Castle said the day Patsy returned after being out for a week (chilblains),” but if you can’t keep up, if it’s too much, we’ll have to make some changes.” No one ever had called him Patrick before. “And you’ll have to leave your cat at home, I’m afraid. No pets on the job. I’m sorry.” He wasn’t afraid and he wasn’t sorry. Patsy knew he wasn’t.
All of that occurred during the winter of 1909.
One evening that June, Michael Landrigan came into the parlor where Patsy was sitting at the front window looking out at the Boulevard. His cat lay on the sill, nose pressed to the screen, tail lashing. “Liz and I are thinking of going out for ice cream,” said Michael. “Care to join us?” But then his wide smile went away, he pressed a hand to his stomach, and collapsed onto the floor in a heap. There was a telephone in the kitchen and Lizzie called the operator and soon a horse-drawn ambulance arrived and took Michael away to the hospital.
He stayed there for the rest of the summer.
Liz visited him twice every day, and in the evenings sat in the kitchen and wept. Michael came home in late September, but never got out of bed. He was thin and pale, and stared bitterly at the wall. In October, he returned to the hospital. A week or so later he came home again and lay on the sofa in the front room all day in his flannelette nightshirt. Liz held the water glass whenever he had to swallow a pill. Patsy was distressed. It seemed impossible that illness could desolate anyone besides himself. Michael’s friends visited, but looked grave and uncomfortable. In November, he went back into the hospital. That time he didn’t come home.
A month later, as Patsy pushed his broom along the curbside in West 19th Street, all of a sudden he remembered his father, long ago, talking about a sick friend from the cooperage. He’d lowered his voice to say a word, and his mother had shrieked back, “Wash your mouth! It ain’t spoken!” And that’s how Patsy realized Michael Landrigan had died of cancer. At the wake there’d been a lot of whispering, but none of it to him.
In the aftermath of Michael’s passing, his sister went about with a heavy heart. Patsy stayed clear, spending most afternoons and evenings in the attic jiggling yarn for Cassius to bat away, or if he latched onto it with his forepaws, suddenly hoisting it till the cat tumbled off and rolled. Sometimes, when King was living at home, he called up the stairs an hour after supper and told Patsy to put on his walking shoes, and they’d stroll without talking around the neighborhood, King glowering at everyone they passed. Patsy kept his eyes on the tips of his brogans. Usually, they ended up at Newark Bay, skipping rocks in the dark. King’s would skip three and four times, Patsy’s just went plip and sank. Cassius ran along the waterline, chasing wavelets.
“That is one shitbird of a cat. How come you like it?”
“Your job still okay?”
“Anybody givin’ you trouble?”
“All right, then.”
They walked home, again in silence. King left Patsy at the foot of the front steps, and then went off to a saloon for the evening. It cannot be said that King was demonstrative with his brother, not the way he’d been as a young boy, but those occasional hours of quiet companionship were probably the happiest hours of Patsy’s life. They made him happy. And as for King—well, sure, he enjoyed their time together. Not that it was great, or anything. And because he had enough self-awareness to realize that he, himself, was a shitbird (his boxing career wasn’t setting the world on fire; he’d never developed any technique, scientific or non-scientific, and still had exactly what he’d had back at the start, rage and a good right cross)—since he was a worthless shitbird himself, King never could figure out why Patsy liked him. But he did, and it felt good. Not great, or anything, but good. Pretty good. But that cat! It could put King on edge, a little, the way it gave a quick turn of its head and stared at him. Fucking cat never blinked! I ought to strangle it, he thought more than once, and sell it to a chink for chop suey.
Although Michael Landrigan had carried a life insurance policy that paid out close to $5000 after burial expenses, there was a steep mortgage on the Boulevard house; even with scrimping, the Prudential money would last no longer than four years. Sooner or later, Liz would need to find a job. Patsy’s income couldn’t support them both, and there was no telling how long he’d be able to work. She could hardly depend on him! King gave her a few dollars whenever he lived at the house, but that was rare now. Liz had no idea where he stayed most of the time, and didn’t ask because, frankly, she didn’t care to know; besides, he wouldn’t have told her. He came and he went, and Liz expected that one day soon, and not soon enough, he would leave and not come back. It would break Patsy’s heart, but he’d survive. Or not. He would or he wouldn’t—what was she supposed to do about it? Liz, lord knows, never had been the warmest of girls, the warmest of women, but now, a widow at 29, she was aloof, unsympathetic, and embittered.
One mild afternoon in mid-January 1910, she put on a black tailored suit, and with half a dozen Help Wanted ads that she’d clipped from the newspaper tucked into her reticule, went briskly out seeking employment. She’d not finished her secretarial course before she married, but she knew how to typewrite and she know how to file; she looked, and she was, no-nonsense. Within an hour she was hired for general office work at the first company she called at—the Bergen Point Brass Foundry, only a few blocks from the house on West Sixth Street where she’d lived so miserably with her family.
In less than a year she became the assistant office manager at a coal and oil company on North Street.
Then, in April 1911, she ran into Johnny Gillick after the 11 o’clock Easter Mass, and he asked if he could have a word.
Patsy was with her, as usual, and she gave him a nickel and told him to go across the street—“But look both ways!—and buy a Sunday paper (she knew he’d get the New York Journal since it carried his favorite funny sheets). As soon as he’d gone off, Liz turned back to Johnny Gillick and said, aloof as she could be, and she could be very aloof, “Yes, what was it you wanted?” Even though Johnny had been Michael’s good friend from law school, and later they’d worked together to elect Gene Kinkaid to Congress, Liz had never forgiven any of the Gillicks—excepting, of course, darling Charlie—for how badly they’d treated her back on Sixth Street.
He said, “I’ve been meaning to visit you, but—”
She cut him off. “Where’s your family?” Johnny had married one of the Spangler girls from St. Andrew’s parish, and they had two children. She knew that from Charlie, who was 16 by then; whenever they met on the street they always stopped and talked, and for Charlie, and for Charlie alone, Liz offered an easy big smile. “Your family’s not with you on Easter Sunday?”
“Marge and the boys are staying with relatives in Yonkers till the—till we think it’s safe again for them to come home.”
“Safe?” Liz took a step back. “From what?”
“The meningitis, of course.” He looked surprised, even chiding, that she hadn’t heard. “Four children have died of it already at the hospital, and what I hear is five more cases already. It’s frightening.”
Her chest suddenly felt tight. It stopped her breath. Liz turned and looked anxiously across the street to the candy store on the corner. She finally remembered to breathe, to swallow. She remembered Johnny. “I’m sorry—no, that’s…” A hand flew up and touched her hat. “That’s awful. Of course you’d send your family away. If that was an option,” she added. Johnny winced at the dig, but let it pass. He decided to start over.
“How are you doing lately, Elizabeth?”
She bristled. Nobody called her Elizabeth. “As well as can be expected, John, thank you.” And nobody called him John, either. She was watching Patsy cross the street now carrying a fat newspaper in its wrapper of colored comics. “And if that’s all you wanted to ask…”
“It’s not. Glory be!” He set folded his arms over his massive torso—he must’ve put on 25 pounds since Michael’s funeral, the last time Liz had seen him—and exhaled a long gusting breath. “Here’s what I wanted to say. I should’ve been checking in on you all along—”
“Don’t be silly.”
“I was very fond of Michael, you know.”
“And Michael’s dead.”
“May he rest in peace. But I was always fond of you, as well.”
She looked at him and scowled. “And what is that supposed to mean?” Her implication was scalding.
“It means, Mrs. Landrigan, that I’d like you to come work for me. At my law office.”
“At your family’s law office?” She rolled her eyes. “You must be crazy, Mr. Gillick. But thank for you the ridiculous offer.” Patsy was on their side of the street again, and she put up a hand, telling him to halt where he was. She turned to Johnny. “We need to get home. It was nice seeing you.”
“Liz, I’m serious. What salary are you making now?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“I’ll double it.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because I’ve heard you’re an excellent secretary.”
“You have not!”
“Then because you and I should be friends, like Mikey and I were.”
“Mikey! Whoever called him that?”
“Good day,” she said. “And happy Easter.”
Taking Patsy’s arm, the one not pinning the bulky newspaper, Liz walked with him to the corner. As they waited to cross, she said, “Are you feeling all right today, Pats? No headache? Or sore throat? Nothing like that?”
“You’re sure, now?”
But by that evening, a confused look had come over Patsy’s face, and he had his first seizure as he was going upstairs to lay out his clothes for the morning. Liz called for an ambulance, but there were no beds at the hospital; since she and Johnny Gillick had spoken that morning nine more children and two adults had been admitted with acute bacterial meningitis.
When a doctor came to the house an hour later, Patsy was clutching his head in agony and rolling from side to side on the front room sofa. He vomited as Lizzie and the doctor helped him upstairs to the bedroom where King slept (King hadn’t been around in nearly a month). “How can he have this again?” Liz said. “How is it possible? Jesus, Mary and Joseph, it’s not right!” In his delirium, Patsy called Liz Marian. “Marian!” he screamed. “I’m on fire! Marian!” He called the doctor Horace. “Horace, don’t!” he shouted, flinging his arms out when the doctor tried to inject him with equine antiserum. “No, don’t, I’m on fire!” After that Patsy stopped talking entirely.
Through the night Liz sat at his bedside while Patsy’s cat, shut out in the hall, scratched frantically at the door to be let in. Unable to stand the noise any longer, she finally went and opened it. Cassius dashed across the floor, sprang onto the bed, and then onto the scalloped maple headboard. There he perched, with his head tipped down, directly above Patsy’s face. “Hail Mary, full of grace,” said Lizzie, “the lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen. Hail Mary, full of grace…”
As early dawn lit the windows faintly, Liz dozed off in her chair. She woke with a start to find Cassius sitting on her brother’s chest, his nose at Patsy’s open mouth. She shrieked, and the cat leapt away, onto the night table, then back onto the headboard, and as he looked straight down at Patsy, as Patsy looked straight down at Patsy, at Patsy’s ravaged white face, Liz searched her brother’s wrist for a pulse. Finding none, she put her head back and wailed, “No, God! Don’t let him be dead, he’s all I’ve got!”
And what was left of Patsy Touey, now that all he had labored so hard to recall and retrieve had burned up again and sifted down into another, deeper hole—that Patsy Touey recklessly abandoned his cool, safe cloister inside the Cat of Ashes and returned to his small, dead body, which shuddered.
Maybe, he would think—later, when he could think again, a little—maybe it was just a dream. A fever dream.
And he’d never really died.
But maybe he had!
In any event, a fact or a dream, his sister had told God he was all that she had. He’d heard her!
It’s why, in the wake of that rasping, hissing second annihilation, he’d screwed up his courage and gone back.
If indeed it ever happened at all.
But if it had happened, some part of him, some intrinsic piece of Patsy Touey, had stayed behind, been kept behind, inside the Cat of Ashes…
…Who still had not returned to the house. He’d left to prowl last evening shortly before the electrical storm, around dinner time, and now it was—deep, deep in the night.
Once again Patsy Touey paced the attic floor in his black-striped white pajamas. He felt an occipital headache coming on. Nothing is wrong, he thought, nothing is wrong…
—But how could he be sure? For years now he’d presumed he’d know, that somehow he’d feel it, if suddenly Cassius died, was killed by a dog or by accident, but, really, how could Patsy be so sure? Nothing is wrong, something is wrong, nothing is wrong…
He needed distraction, and since he wasn’t hungry there was only one thing he could think of to do. Stepping into his carpet slippers, he shuffled across the floor to the head of the attic stairs, then slowly, mincingly—because his joints smarted, but also because he didn’t want to wake up his sister—he crept down to the upstairs hallway and then to the longcase telephone mounted on the wall outside of Lizzie’s bedroom.
He’d liked it better down hung in the kitchen, but no matter where it was, for Patsy Touey the telephone was a tantalizing mystery, a beckoning thing. It hadn’t seemed so at first; at first, when Lizzie’s husband brought it into the house, it was just a box of wood with shiny appendages. He’d ignored it, treated it as nothing worth touching. Whenever Lizzie or Michael stood in front of it, and turned its crank, and talked into its horn, Patsy had looked away, or walked away, embarrassed for them.
But then after Patsy dimly, slowly recovered again from the meningitis (he was bedridden 13 months that second time), most of the men he’d worked with at the Sanitation Department (but not Mr. Castile!) came once in a while to visit him. He’d struggle to remember their names, and sometimes he couldn’t, but other times he did—Lally Joe and Red Tiger, Dinny and Beans and Fagin, and Regular Bob; they’d slide into his bedroom turning their hats in the hands, and tell him he looked royal, and laugh when they noticed the cat of ashes curled up at the foot of the bed. “We’ll see you back in the street,” they’d say to Patsy as they were leaving, and if Liz was there in the room, she’d smile wanly and show them out.
Patsy had known he’d never see any of them back in the street. His legs were shot, his hearing was bad, worse than before, and his balance—he never got his correct balance again. And it was harder to talk, it almost hurt; not that he’d ever talked much, but now it hurt, almost. His tongue felt odd in his mouth, like it didn’t belong there.
But even though his working days were behind him, he’d loved it whenever the fellers visited. Gradually, though, the visits dwindled and finally stopped. And that’s when Patsy, who by then could get around the house with a cane, developed his first interest in the telephone. Since Lizzie was always using it to “call” the butcher and the grocer and the druggist, the coal man, the milk man, and the insurance man, Patsy decided he would use it, as well, to “call” his whitewing friends. He started closely watching how she turned the crank, and listening to what she said into the horn. Then one day, he tried it for himself, but when the female operator’s voice filled his ear, he dropped the earpiece and backed away, bumping over a kitchen chair. “Hello?” said the voice. “Hello?” He retrieved the dangling earpiece and leaned into the horn. “Please…connect me,” he said, speaking the same words that Lizzie used, “with Regular Bob. Thank you.”
“Regular Bob who?”
Patsy bit down on his lip. “Regular Bob,” he repeated.
“Last name, please.”
Patsy clipped the earpiece back on the prong. He waited a minute, and cranked again. “Please connect me,” he said, “with Beans.”
“Listen, sonny, I’ll have no pranks from the likes of you!”
“Please connect me with Dinny!” Patsy was trembling now.
“Did you hear what I just told you?”
Then her voice went away, and in its stead came a dit–dit–dit, and a soft burr, and then a click, but then came a hissing, rasping noise that filled Patsy Touey with icy terror: because it was the very same noise, he was certain, that he’d heard in his head during those terrible handful of seconds when everything was burning, shriveling, and folding to black; it was the sound of dying he’d heard just before the Cat of Ashes had stuck his face into Patsy’s. “Who’s there?” he said, turning the crank, just a little bit further, then a little bit more, and that’s when the telephone became a tantalizing mystery, and a beckoning thing…
Now, standing in the dark hall outside his sister’s bedroom, Patsy removed the earpiece from the longcase and gave the crank a precise half-turn. Down the wire came a discordant rasp, a crackling, sibilant hiss…
Patsy listened hard, listening for the alarmed and confounded voices of the newly dead, hoping if any were there tonight they would be jabbering or wailing in English, so that when he told them what to do before it was too late they could understand. So often the voices—they were always so faint and so far away—sounded like foreigners’ languages, and then it was hopeless, there was no way to help! He shut his eyes because sometimes he could hear them better that way, but now there was just a vague hum that coiled around in his ear.
He was about to replace the instrument on its hook when he thought he detected a sound-that-might-have-been-a-voice, trembling and interrogative. Leaning as near to the mouthpiece as possible, lips touching cast-brass, Patsy whispered, “Can you talk in English? I can only understand English.” He listened harder, to silence, but finally the sound returned, clearer but also seeming farther away, and Patsy, frowning, whispered, “You don’t have much time. If you can see anything, look for a cat that’s gray, it has to be gray, and then—”
“Patsy Touey, is that you?” blatted a voice into his ear so clear and so loud that he flinched and drew back in wild alarm. It was an exchange operator—always a young man during the wee hours, and this was the mean young man, the one named Mr. Hourican, Mr. Hurricane. “How many times have you been told? This is not a toy, you little halfwit—halfwit! And do you have any idea what time it is? Do you?” Quickly, Patsy pressed the earpiece to his chest, but not before he’d heard “Do you want me to tell your—” He clipped the earpiece to the side hook, his body thrumming, his mouth gone dry, and his eyes wet.
Patsy was apprehensive now that his sister would fling open her door and discover him standing there, as she’d discovered him half a dozen times already. She wouldn’t scold him—not Lizzie, his Liz would never do that—but the fearful look in her eyes, the slack expression that would come onto her face, her round-open mouth, the paling, would be far worse. It dismayed her whenever she found Patsy in the gloom of the hall, in the middle of the night, muttering into the telephone, and it was painful to him, excruciating, that it did.
He wished (creeping up the hall) wished (climbing the attic stairs) wished (going back into his room) wished (kneeling on the window-seat, searching the night for his Cat of Ashes) ardently wished that he was regular. That’s all, just…regular. Just a regular feller in the world.
But as well as Patsy understood anything, he understood that inasmuch he never had been, he never would be.
Now, having given, we hope, a satisfactory accounting of the overnight activities for all of the major players in our true-life little melodrama (yes, the strikebreaker with the bandaged skull that Charlie Gillick noticed on the parapet of the Standard’s white concrete wall was, indeed, the wretched fugitive Joe Dell’Appa), it’s fitting we round out and conclude this long moonlit episode by dropping in upon our principal player, King Touey himself. And here he is, slumped, scowling, in a brown-leather club chair, shoeless feet on a padded stool; he’s still where we saw him last: in the softly lighted impressive library of Pearl Bergoff’s aristocratic mansion on the Hudson County Boulevard at Ninth Street. The ashtray stand beside him is filled to overflowing with dinched ready-mades taken from a teak cigarette box on the desk behind him, and splashed around him on the carpet are books he selected from the shelves, casually and serially flipped through, then discarded—The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, The Laughing Cavalier, Trent’s Last Case—as well as a small pile of recent periodicals: Life, Adventure, The American Golfer, and Left to Die: the Magazine of Ambush and Modern Revenge. King checks the desk clock again—5:33—and then reaches, fingers scrabbling, to help himself to yet another cigarette; they’re imported, perfumed, English. That fucking Bergoff. Thinks he’s tough, but what a pansy!
It’s been many hours since the hubbub outside in the street, but King Touey is still wound-up, his head and body abuzz, as a consequence of that wild gunplay as well as the tedious police inquiry and the lively bantering interviews with a dozen newspaper men. He’s amazed that he actually shot all of those crumbs; it’s just—just an amazement. He’s cracked a lot of heads in the strike business, but so far as he knows he’s never killed anyone before. It wasn’t bad.
When things finally quieted down, around two, and King was alone again with Bergoff, the General told him, “You’re staying here the rest of the night, got it? In the morning, I’ll find you some decent clothes, we’ll get you shaved, maybe a haircut, and then we’ll see what’s what.” Fine by King; by then it was too late just to show up at Lizzie’s house, and he didn’t feel like gassing anymore, and he sure as hell didn’t feel like explaining to her what all had gone on since he’d started following that green-eyed old cat of Patsy’s yesterday morning. Even to King it seemed beyond explanation what had transpired since then—stealing dungarees and a dead man’s shoes, being kidnapped by Joe Bloodgood and Li’l Andiron at the train station; held captive by crazy Mrs. Irons, dragooned back into the Black Hood Gang, then showing up at the General’s mansion with a safe combination that wasn’t any good, and finally shooting the bunch of jays he’d come here with before they could even try to burgle the place.
Naw, he didn’t feel like explaining anything to his crabby and sanctimonious older sister. Of course, he could’ve just handed her the same baloney he’d handed the cops and reporters, the baloney that Bergoff had sliced for him nice and thin: that he was the General’s “confidential operative” working undercover to smash the Black Hoods, but King was sure Lizzie would’ve seen through that hokum in two seconds flat. She was a crab all right, but smarter than any cop or pad-and-pencil man, for sure. And besides, it was against King’s code and values to tell any lies. The way that King saw it, it was Bergoff who’d told all the whoppers, he’d just stuffed them, unbidden, into King’s mouth, like he was a ventriloquist. Which, if you took the analogy a little bit further, made King the ventriloquist’s dummy, but he was too tired to let it bother him…
So Bergoff had told King he was staying put the rest of the night, and King had shrugged, fine by him, then finished his whiskey in a gulp, set the glass down and stood up, expecting the fat man to take him upstairs to a guest bedroom, but no. “Sleep here,” he’d said. “You think I’d let a bum like you soil my sheets?”
King flared up inside and grinned dangerously, but then let it go; for once, unaccountably, he’d retained his composure, squelched an impulse to lash out. Or maybe it wasn’t unaccountable. Thanks to the General’s audacious lies, he’d got away with something crazy tonight, and the backwash—Bergoff’s “what’s what”—might prove interesting. One of those reporters had used the word hero, applying it to King. Now, there was something he’d never considered being! He could try it on, see how it fit.
After just two uninterested draws, King tamps out the cigarette, drops his feet off the stool, and rouses himself, standing up and stretching his back. He takes a careless stroll around the library and stops in front of the wall safe; the slip of paper with the bad combination written on it, the combination that Li’l Andiron had got from Bergoff’s houseboy, is still crumpled in the wastebasket under the desk, where Bergoff lobbed it. And it occurs to King now that maybe the General was bluffing; maybe he hadn’t had it changed, maybe it was still good…and maybe—maybe King could just pick it out of the wastebasket, open the safe and help himself to all the cash that Bergoff himself admitted was sitting in there. Around a hundred grand, supposedly. But what the hell would King do with a hundred grand? Go to Mexico? What was in Mexico? Mexicans. And fuck shitbird Mexicans. Truth be told, King Touey has never had much interest in money, either in stealing it or making it. He doesn’t have an interest in money, period. He’s never needed much, he doesn’t want a lot. So what does he want? Fuck if he knows. He’s coming on 30, and still has no idea. Well, that’s not true. He wants to see his brother again, he wants to see Our Patsy. So that’s something, at least, and good enough.
In his stocking feet, he strolls out of the library and into the front hall, then into the unlighted formal parlor with its grand piano, two brocaded sofas, and several small upholstered chairs; opening pocket doors, he goes on through into the back parlor, where the furniture is bigger, bulkier, masculine, and comfortable-looking There’s a game table, a chess table, a huge fireplace of scorched fieldstone, and a wet bar. There, he pours himself another whiskey, finds another box of English cigarettes, and takes one, lighting it with a paper match as he nudges open one of the window drapes with an elbow. He peers out into the concrete driveway; cranes his neck and takes in the two-car garage in back and part of the grassy yard, glimpses a flower garden. It’s no longer dark, but the early morning light is ashy-gray, murky. He fights another impulse, this time to leave the house and walk three short blocks up the Boulevard to his sister’s and brother’s house. He doesn’t have a house key, but knows where Lizzie always kept the spare—behind latticework at the side, in a Savarin coffee can.
And he might well have followed that impulse if his thoughts weren’t interrupted by a loud gasp behind him. He turns swiftly, aggressively, to discover a Negro woman—a domestic in a dark-blue uniform with white collar, cuffs, and apron—standing in the hall, looking in at him, frozen there. Her mouth hangs slack-open. In her right hand she holds a quart bottle of milk by its neck. Was she in the house during all the folderol, or just arrived here now? King decides it doesn’t matter (though an amusing image flickers through his mind, of the woman diving under her bed in a poky maid’s room when the gunfire erupted), and raises both of his hands, palms toward her, and says, “Ain’t nothin’ to get scarlet fever over, girl, I’m the General’s guest.”
“Yes, sir.” She’s stout, and 40 at least, but still good-looking. Doesn’t have that flat, wide nose, like most of them. It has the normal, right shape, like a white woman’s. And her hair is straight; bobbed and straight. “I could put on some coffee,” she tells him.
“Coffee’d be good,” says King. ”Whyn’t you bring it to me in the library,” he adds, lofty-like, and takes a shallow, ostentatious puff from his cigarette. “And a sweet roll if you got one.” He gives her a wink, being friendly and nice; he has nothing against Negro women, especially full-bosomed ones like this one. Negro men, though—now, that’s another matter entirely. “But nix if it’s got currants. Or raisins. Then just bring me some bread and jam. Strawberry is what I’d prefer.”
Upon returning to the library, the first thing that King notices—and he hadn’t noticed it all night long—is the black cloth hood lying on Bergoff’s desk, the hood Detective Fearenside made such a big fuss about when it turned up in King’s coat pocket. The General patiently had explained to the ninny that of course King Touey had a hood of his own, it was part of the job; that’s what a confidential operative did when infiltrating a gang of thieves—pretended to be one of them.
Picking it up now, King blots his face, then his neck—the room is stuffy, the whole house is stuffy—and when he’s finished, drops it back where it was. And frowns. A memory nearly surfaces, but sinks back under. He cups his chin with a hand and squeezes, thinking. Nothing comes. But as soon as he goes around behind the desk and sits in the big leather chair (he’s already decided he won’t look up when the colored woman comes in, and will just point to the place on the desk where he wants his coffee and sweet roll set down)—as soon as King gets comfortable in Bergoff’s chair and glances at the hood again, the memory rises full-blown…
“You’ll not step foot inside my house again!”
“I will if I want to!”
“Just try it!” His sister hugged her arms tighter across her chest and glared. “Go break another strike, you hooligan—and don’t come back!” She stepped down from the open doorway onto the front porch.
“You don’t mean that.”
“Ha!” Liz pointed to his valise and a pillow case filled with dirty laundry. “Take your things and go—leave us alone!”
Behind her in the foyer, Patsy Touey stood rocking from to side, his hands clapped over his ears. His eyes were squeezed shut. When he began to moan, Charlie Gillick (who’d just graduated from high school earlier that summer) stepped out of Liz’s front parlor and put an arm around his shoulder.
“What’s that gink doing here? Gar, Lizzie, are you that desperate?”
She reddened. “He offered to cut the grass, something you’d never do!”
King spoke around her to Charlie. “She give you a dime, nancy-boy? Anything else she give you?”
“You’re despicable!” said Liz. “I want you to leave, right now!”
He didn’t budge. Nobody gave him the gate. She ought to’ve known that by then.
“Dry up, Liz, I brought it back, didn’t I? It’s right there in the street, your precious machine—no harm done. What’re you goin’ on about?”
“Going on about, going on about! You took my car without asking, then don’t come back for three days—and you have the crust to ask what me I’m going on about!”
“You weren’t using it!”
“And how would you know?”
“Ah, this is stupid, there’s just no talkin’ to you, woman.” So far as King was concerned, there was no talking to any women. Or girl, either. The way that Olive Ince had carried on just because he’d teased her a little—you’d’ve thought King tried to murder her, and all he’d done was tweak her titties. He was only horsing around. Besides, there was hardly anything to speak of on top, she was just a kid. But the way she’d carried on! Her and her sourpuss aunt, the piano teacher. God help us! Ruined his trip to the shore, it did, all their noise. Even Olive’s mother thought it was funny, same as he did—but then she’d told him he couldn’t stay with them; there’d be no peace in the house. Now, she would’ve let him tweak her titties any time he wanted, King had always known that, but she was too old and didn’t appeal, and he’d finally told Helen Ince the same thing he told Liz now: “Nobody makes me go if I don’t want to. But all this noise makes me tired, so I’m leaving, and you won’t see me again!”
Helen Ince had looked stricken when he said it. His sister Liz just shook her head, incredulously and said, “Go!”
King bent and picked up his valise, then the bulked-out pillow case. “But if I ever want to come see Our Patsy again, I’ll walk right into your lousy house and you couldn’t stop me.” He gave her a nasty once-over. “Stick.”
“A saw blade got more curves than you! Ugly stick!”
“Criminal?” For the first time since the quarrel started, King seemed truly offended.
“I should call the police.”
“Enough’s enough, girl! I’m your brother and I borrowed your car, that don’t make me a criminal!”
“Maybe not,” said Liz, reaching a hand into her apron pocket. “But this does!”
She held aloft the black hood with raggedy-cut eye holes that Li’l Andiron had given him before King had decided, on impulse, to take his sister’s car and drive to Long Branch. In all the tumult that followed his horsing around with Olive Ince, he’d forgotten he’d agreed to go along on a stick-up job for the midget last Saturday night—more as a lark than for the cash money. He’d forgotten all about Li’l Andiron’s job (and couldn’t recall now whether it was a café or a social club) till Liz pulled out the hood and shook it in his face. Well, seeing as how it was Monday, it was too late now.
“Where’d you get that?” said King, furious. He dropped his valise and snatched at it. Liz put her hand behind her back.
Charlie Gillick came outside and planted himself beside Liz. “I found it,” he said. “Right where you left it on your dresser.” His voice cracked and shook, his eyes jumped all over the place, and his mouth crimped. His chin trembled. He looked scared to death. King roared with laughter at the sight of him. Then he turned back to his sister.
“That ain’t mine.” And, as always, King was not telling a lie: it wasn’t his, it belonged to Li’l Andiron. “And what was that jellyfish doing in my room?”
“It’s not your room. It’s the guest room. You were a guest in my house, but you’ve worn out your welcome.” Liz reached down to squeeze Charlie’s wrist. King noticed and took a step forward. He wagged his finger at the little coward, and of course the little coward flinched. “Where’d you really find that, huh? Huh? Can’t you see what he’s doing, Liz? He’s trying to smear my name!”
“Sweet Jesus, you take the cake. When we saw you coming down the Boulevard in my car, I asked Charlie to go upstairs and bring down your things. And that’s where he found this!” She threw the hood in King’s face. “And if you don’t leave by the time I count to three, I will call the cops. One,” she said. “Two.”
Behind them, Patsy let out an anguished groan before he bent over and vomited on the carpet.
Liz rushed inside—“It’s all right, darling, it’s all right”—leaving Charlie Gillick standing on the porch with King Touey. Charlie’s complexion had turned as clammy white as butter from the ice box. King smiled, leaned down, and whispered into his ear: “Pray you never see my face again, snitcher. Because it’ll be the last face you ever see.” With the flat of his hand, he shoved Charlie against the house shingles. He picked up the black hood, the bulked-out pillow case, and his battered valise, then went down the steps and stalked away up the Boulevard…
There is a single light tap on the library door before it swings open and the colored woman comes in carrying a tray with a silver service, a jam pot, a butter knife, and a stack of toasted sliced bread. King is glowering before he recalls that he meant to ignore her. He points, and she sets the tray down carefully on the desk. “Will there be anything else?” He flicks a finger. She withdraws.
King pours a cup, sips at it. Maybe he won’t go visit his sister, after all. He’d bet a hundred beans she’s angry at him still—be just like her. He adds a drop of cream to his coffee, and stirs. Ach, the ugly stick! But who is she to stop King Touey from seeing his brother! He has every right to make sure Our Patsy is being treated right. What a life, living with the likes of her! If King wants to see Patsy, he’ll see him, and his sister can just go hang. So smug, that one, it makes you want to slap her! And Charlie Gillick! The gink! Now, there’s a pest! There’s a bastard! Was him caused all the trouble, really—sneaking around in King’s room, the little gink. Shitbird! Snitcher!
While spreading jam on a triangle of toast, he laughs out loud, thinking about how he’d gone back to Lizzie’s house late that night, then climbed into her precious Studebaker and drove off, intending at first to leave it a few blocks away, to give Lizzie a bad scare in the morning when she walked outside and found it gone—serve her right for calling him a hooligan, for calling him a criminal! Calling him a liar! And on top of that, thanks to her sanctimonious yapping, King hadn’t said good-bye to his brother Patsy; it was her temper tantrum, no mistake, that caused his brother to blow lunch, and King wasn’t about to wait around till it she cleaned up his mess just so’s he could say a proper goodbye. That woman! She deserved a bad scare after how she’d mistreated King. It would serve her right.
But then he realized no, wait, that wouldn’t serve her right enough, since it was her fault, as well, hers and Charlie Gillick’s, that word was out around Bayonne that King Touey had reneged on a promise, welshed on an obligation, and now the Black Hood Gang was gunning for him; he’d been told in two different saloons that Li’l Andiron had threatened to chew off every single one of his fingers and leave him with nothing but stumps! Not that King was scared of any of those shitbirds, but—it was just as well he’d be leaving next day to work a traction strike in Philadelphia. Just as well, but still it burned him up that people were smearing his name, and all because of—
And Charlie Gillick!
And that lousy Studebaker!
Which he drove into Bayonne City Park around two o’clock in the morning, then steered it down a grassy hill and straight at a big elm below, jumping out at the last possible second. Nearly killed himself, too, for all of his trouble. But Jesus God, what a beautiful crash!
He wished then—and wishes again now—that he could’ve seen Lizzie’s face when the cops came and told her what happened! She probably blamed him! Of course she did! Knowing her, she just blamed it on King! It could’ve been anybody, anybody in the whole city might’ve taken that machine, but oh no, she blamed King. Just like his sister to do that. Just like her!
And so thinking, King Touey nearly falls into one of his rages, but there’s another tap on the library door, and the colored woman enters again, saying, “Excuse me, but this just came—and I thought you’d want to see it.” She puts down the Bayonne Times next to the silver service, and on the front page is a flashlight picture snapped just hours ago in the street outside this very house; while cops in rain-slickers look on with amazement, a beaming King Touey holds his clasped hands aloft. The headlines reads:
UNDERCOVER ‘OP’ SMASHES BLACK HOOD GANG
2 Killed, 3 Wounded in County Blvd. Shoot-Out
Police Arrest Gang Leader and Mother at Home
King feels disappointed the headline doesn’t say Hero, Hero Smashes Black Hood Gang, but no use in quibbling. “What do you think about this, eh sister?” he says to the housemaid. When he looks up, she’s gone, having left the door ajar behind her. He’s got half a mind to run after her, then drag her back here to close it properly. But he lets it pass, impatient to read all about himself and how he smashed the Black Hoods, killing two and wounding three, and let’s hope it says their wounds are mortal.
Pouring a fresh cup of coffee and helping himself to another of the General’s perfumed English cigarettes, King bends over the newspaper just as the matinal bells bong at St. Mary’s church four blocks away. The bells quiet, his cigarette burns down in the ashtray, his coffee cools in its china cup. And so absorbed is he that he doesn’t notice—and he will not for another half an hour, not till Pearl Bergoff comes trundling in and suddenly bellows, “What the fuck?”—King doesn’t notice the small muddy tracks that start at the door, meander across the blood-red carpet, and stop beside the club chair that he occupied for half the night; nor does he notice that curled up in that chair now with its wet gray muzzle resting on damp forepaws—curled up and staring impassively at King Touey with slitted eyes—is the Cat of Ashes…