For the first time since late June the midday temperature in Bayonne was balmy, hovering around 75. Still, as Olive Ince approached one of the side doors in Bill Harrigan’s red-brick motion-picture studio, she felt uncomfortably warm—roasting!—in her funeral dress. She kept dabbing her forehead, temples, cheeks and neck with a limp, damp handkerchief.
The two policemen who’d met her in Forty-fourth Street with the stupefying news that Joe Dell’Appa had escaped from the city jail at first were reluctant to motor her to Bill’s place—“It might be a better idea, miss, for safety’s sake, if we take you to stay with your family, just till we get our hands again on that little pepper”—but she was adamant. She wouldn’t climb into their automobile until they’d agreed to run her uptown and over to Avenue E.
When they’d arrived there, the older cop with the walrus mustache, the driver, peered through the windscreen and recalled that once upon time the building, which stood three lots wide and deep, had been Ahern’s creamery, and before that, Krakhauer’s brewery. “And now they’re making pictures here!” He didn’t sound pleased about it. The handsome younger cop, who’d seemed so besotted by Olive even in her overheated, bedraggled state, opened the back door for her. When she’d stepped out, he’d taken her gallantly by her right elbow since her balance was disturbed with her left arm in that insufferable sling. “Do you work here, Miss Ince?” he’d asked. She’d frowned, patience worn thin, and ignored his question. She started walking away. “I just meant anybody could see you’d be perfect for the pictures.” She kept walking. “Now, you be careful, miss! But don’t worry, we’ll find that feller sure enough and stick him right back where he belongs!”
Instead of going to the main entrance, Olive had chosen to walk along the downtown side of the building, passing the first, second and third doors (“Cutting” “Chemicals,” “Players”) and stopping at the fourth, which was marked “Private/No Admittance.” The door to Bill Harrigan’s living quarters. Before reaching for the latch, she half-turned and looked back to the street; the patrol car was gone.
Olive knew this door, at least, would be unlocked because last night, while leaving the studio with Bill, she’d said, “Don’t you lock up?” and he’d replied, “Never. Guess I’m just a trusting fool.” With typical asperity, Olive had replied, “You guess you are?” He’d laughed, the big goof. Now, she thumbed the latch and pushed, and the door opened. As soon as Olive stepped inside, she could hear low murmurs of several conversations elsewhere in the building—and intermittent loud hammering and the whirring of saws. From directly overhead came a sudden burst of laughter, a man’s, then a chorus of laughter, then someone clapping hands together and shouting, “Let’s try that again, shall we? And this time, George, without drooling!” To Olive’s left ran a maze of long corridors; to her right, a circular metal staircase led to the basement. She went down.
At the bottom was another closed door. She knocked. When there was no answer, she let herself timidly into Bill’s apartment. It was stuffy but cool. Shades were drawn on all of the high south-facing windows. Except for a rolling metal table with a Smith Corona machine and a box of typewriting stationery on top (the same box of 48 sheets that Bill had purchased yesterday at Fleming’s after Olive had thrown a Tom Swift book at his head), the sitting parlor looked just as it had when she left it late last night: lemonade glasses hadn’t been removed or ashtrays emptied, and Bill’s cheap reed furniture (matching hour-glass chairs, a recliner and a high-back rocker) was all still pushed against the walls. The shiny black moving-picture projector still faced the adjustable paper screen. “Bill?” called Olive. “Hello? Anybody?”
Feeling all done in, on the verge of tears, she eased herself down into the recliner and shut her eyes. But right away they snapped open again. Why had she come here? She could’ve, maybe she ought to have, gone to work, even though Mr. Fleming surely hadn’t expected her to show up on the day of her nephew’s funeral. And she couldn’t go home to her own flat—not with that Italian madman on the loose and him knowing where she lived. And God knows she couldn’t stay with her mother! And she didn’t have any girlfriends to stay with; the few, the very few, that she did have all still lived at home with their families, and their families sharply disapproved of Olive for moving into her own flat; that was not something an unmarried female, a respectable unmarried female, would even consider. Bayonne was not in favor of the New Woman, not at all.
So that left…Bill.
After all, she had seen him at St. Mary’s after Tim’s funeral mass; he said he’d come and he had, that said something about his character, she guessed. Oh! What was this all about with her and Bill Harrigan? Engaged, supposedly, since she was a little girl in grammar school. To a man she still hardly knew; practically all she knew was that he was brainy, but was brainy what Olive really wanted in a man? Well, his brains had brought him success—all this! She looked around his parlor, looked up to the ceiling—all this! His own moving picture production studio. That was impressive, Olive had to admit. But he’d been back from California for months, since March, and seen her for the first time only yesterday. By accident! Bill could lie all he wanted, but Olive knew that when he’d walked into Fleming’s yesterday afternoon, he hadn’t expected to find her working there behind the counter. He just went in to buy typewriting paper—oh, he did, too! He was such a bad liar.
But he wasn’t bad looking. It had taken till he was 30, but he’d finally grown into a handsome man, filled out nicely. Not that looks were especially important to Olive. She hoped she wasn’t as shallow as men were, especially men who went dizzy the second they saw Olive’s face. She liked to hope she wasn’t shallow about looks. Character was so much more important!
But what was Bill’s character, really? He could seem sweet and ingenuous, a little embarrassed by his wealth of brains—the unworldly, girl-shy genius. The fumbling lover. But that wasn’t all he was, and anyhow, seeming to be wasn’t necessarily the same thing as being.
She’d thought she heard someone outside the apartment door, but no one came in. With another dramatic sigh, Olive flung herself off the recliner and paced. She paced right into Bill’s bedroom, where she saw (because she specifically looked) that those copies of The Masses were still lying on the night stand. She picked one up, the cover date a year ago, the cover a lithograph depicting two slender factory girls eating sandwiches on a bench. She glanced to the motto below the title: “A Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Interests of Working People.” Quickly, Olive put it down but then flicked through the whole pile—taken by the bold graphic covers (hobos resting on steel rails, a naked Atlas-type swinging a sledgehammer, soldiers dying on a battle field, a miner shooting a pistol) but also made uneasy by the aggressive and critical politics they implied. Was Bill Harrigan a Red? Bill Harrigan? She hoped not. She couldn’t marry a Red—she’d be always afraid she’d be arrested. Oh, Bill Harrigan was no Red, that was just—that was just silly.
At a clattering hubbub from outside, Olive turned to the window. When she looked out, she was startled to find that it faced a deep and grassless back yard where a picture was being made—two men had just trundled a Western surrey off to one side of the yard and dropped it besides a stuccoed garage, and now everyone standing around (some people in dungarees and work shirts, others in costumes) seemed to be waiting for the dust to settle. Olive folded her elbows on the sill and watched.
Soon, a pair of actors—the tall young man in cowboy attire, the pretty pioneer girl in a poor sack dress—climbed a step stool and entered a raised wooden lean-to dressed and decorated to resemble a sod house. Naturally, the Western scene reminded Olive of her one and only time making a picture, when she was fifth-grader!
A man in a Frenchman’s black beret dragged the step stool over to a parallel platform of unpainted boards, where a big motion-picture camera stood facing the lean-to. He climbed to the platform and yelled directions to the actors through a megaphone. Once he’d started turning the camera’s crank, the actors embraced and played an ardent love scene. Olive recognized the man in the beret as someone Bill had introduced her to yesterday, but couldn’t recall his name. She hardly ever remembered people’s names unless they were people she thought she might actually get to know.
When the man in the beret stopped cranking and said, “Thank you!” the lovers instantly broke their clinch and turned away from each other as though they’d never met before. Olive thought that was wonderful—so professional! The girl walked directly over to the man in the beret, who’d come down off the platform, and interrupted a discussion he was having now with another man who was holding up a chunky camera lens to the daylight and squinting through it.
The girl (black hair and thick black eyebrows: boldly pretty) glanced around and happened to catch nosy Olive at the window. She didn’t crack a smile or sneak a wave, the stuck-up, and seemed to dismiss Olive with a long dead stare; once the man in the beret was done speaking to the man with the camera lens, she got his full attention and gave him hers, the ass-kisser. Stuck-up ass-kisser.
With a little shrug, Olive turned from the window and had a real fright—it made her flinch and gasp—when she discovered someone standing directly behind her. “You scared me half to death!” she scolded after recovering her wits. He was a short plump man with a short brown beard. “Why didn’t you say you were there?”
“Ha! Why should I?’ The man’s accent was German and his tone vituperative. “What’re you doing here?” He turned down his mouth and tossed his head in derision. “Lily.”
“My name isn’t Lily, for your information. It’s Olive.” The man she seemed to be confronting—both his stance and his tone were accusatory—wore his trousers absurdly high, which gave him a comic aspect, especially when the trousers, like his jacket, were orange checkerboard, and the brown derby perched on his head was so tiny it seemed something that a street monkey might wear. Olive took a moment to wrinkle her nose at his hideous getup. And what was that, that he was carrying by his right hand? Oh my God, a lunch pail. He looked positively ridiculous. “Olive Ince.”
“I know your name, oh I know your name,” said this strange unpleasant man. He strode to the window Olive had just turned away from, setting his lunch pail down on the sill to boost himself up by his wrists and peer out. The pretty black-haired player, looking coy, was still in conversation with the man in the beret. “There’s the real Lily, if you want my two cents!”
“Well, I don’t, and I don’t know what you’re going on about, either,” crabbed Olive. “And since Bill’s not here, why don’t you go away and let me alone.” Rubbing the back of her neck for the theatrical effect of contemptuous weariness, she wandered back into the living room, falling into the hour-glass chair and sticking out her legs. When she sneaked a peek to the bedroom door the rude man was standing framed in it—pure petulance. She twirled a hand indifferently. “Who is Lily?”
He charged across the floor. Olive shrank back as he bore down on her, shaking a finger in her face. “Well, you just better hope it ain’t you, missy! ‘Cause if it is, you’re looking at the man who will make your life miserable.” He put his lunch pail down on Bill’s slightly canted drafting table and perched on the stool. “Misery!” He snapped his fingers and looked smug.
“Are you saying all of these things because you think I’m going to play the part of somebody named Lily in one of Bill’s pictures?”
Well, for heaven’s sake!
“Not ‘one of Bill’s!’'” The man’s scorn couldn’t have been haughtier. “One of mine! A picture by G. M. Wunsch.”
“Is that you? Then listen here, Mr. Once—”
“One-shh. Listen here, Mr. One-shh, nobody said anything to me about being in any picture, so go use Little Miss Eyebrows out there, for all I care.” The blood suddenly was thrumming in her body, and her hands trembled as if she’d been unfairly treated, unjustly accused. But that was crazy. Who was this awful German? Bill! “Please leave,” she said.
Wunsch rubbed his chin and thought for a minute. “Lily ain’t a blonde. She ain’t fair-skinned.”
“I’m not speaking to you, in case you hadn’t noticed. So you might as well just go.”
Wunsch hung his head, a little abashed. “If you can walk a tightrope—can you? There’s a circus picture coming up.” With a strained look on his face, he glanced to see if that had made any impression on Olive, or got a rise. But no, her face was wooden. When she breathed a sigh, Wunsch threw out a hand fiercely. Bah! He’d made a peace offering and she’d rejected it. Enough!
He raised the lid on his lunch pail and suddenly the living room smelled of fennel and garlic and aged cheddar. Wunsch removed a package rolled in newspaper, and when it was unrolled on Bill’s table it revealed several chunks of hard salami and a few links of beer sausage, a pile of walnuts, a cluster of figs, and a nugget of bright-orange cheese. He gestured magnanimously. “Would you care for anything?”
“No, I would not, and who said you could smell up the whole place?” A light in Olive’s eye flashed out. “I’m sure Bill wouldn’t like you eating your lunch in his living room when he wasn’t here.”
“Oh, you’re sure of that, are you?” said Wunsch using a piece of black salami to emphasize are–you. “And you’re so sure of that why? Because you’re a blonde girly? Nix on blondes!” he bellowed, sounding like somebody from the Katzenjammer Kids. “And nix on you, missy, if you want my two cents!” Roughly, he twisted off the cap on his vacuum thermos and took a long drink.
Olive’s mouth was hanging open. “You honestly are the most awful man in the world,” she said and burst out laughing. But then, horribly, in a spasm of hysterical laughter she audibly snorted, and couldn’t stop. It was mortifying.
Mr. Wunsch, in the meantime, looked awkward and ill at ease. “You’re right to laugh. You’re right. I can sound like the bully.” He slapped himself on the side of his head. “I apologize.” He bowed from the waist. “I’m tempery today.”
“You’re tempery every day,” said the man wearing the French beret. Neither Wunsch nor Olive had heard him come in. “Hello, Miss Ince, it’s good to see you again. Al Coffey.”
“And you too.” She stood up. “I’m sorry, Mr. Coffey, I came by looking for Bill, and then this…” She swept her arm at Wunsch. “…gentleman barged in with his smelly lunch and saying terrible things to me. One terrible thing after the other.”
“Ah Jesus, Georgie, would you lay off?”
“You don’t even know what I said!”
“Nor do I want to.”
“But without even knowing, you take sides against Wunsch!” He tossed walnuts into his mouth and chewed them with rancor. “And you know I do not respond to ‘Georgie’! You do that on purpose. Call me George, please, or, as I would prefer—”
Al Coffey pushed his lips out and razzed. “I’ll be damned if I ever call you Mister Wunsch! Now, get out of here, George, I got something I need to talk about with Miss Olive.”
“Oh you do, do you! Oh you do?” Wunsch hastily rolled up what was left of his lunch in the grease-spotted wrapper of newsprint. “Well, go ahead and talk, talk a blue streak for all I care! But listen, I tell you! This blonde so-American girl is not Lily!” He pressed the lumpy wrapper down into his lunch pail.
“That ain’t up to me or you to decide.” Coffey’s tone had changed, from teasing to piqued. “Now, just drift, would you?”
“For two cents, I go back to California!”
“Here, take a dime,” said Al Coffey, reaching into a pocket,” and go all the way back to Germany. I’m sure you’d love it there now.”
Wunsch glared at that remark, and then took himself out, naturally slamming the door after him. Al smiled. Plucking a flat box of sunflower seeds from his shirt pocket, he dropped carelessly into the recliner, crossing his feet at the ankles. “Sorry about George. He thought we’d let him make his own pictures if he came east with us, but instead I’ve been putting him into mine. He’s not a bad comic, only the poor slob thinks he’s Theodore Dreiser.” Al shook out a few seeds from the box into the palm of a hand, and then slammed the palm against his open mouth. “He only wants to make tragic pictures,” he added after he’d chewed briefly and swallowed.
Olive got the irksome impression that Coffey had tacked on that afterthought about “tragic pictures” because he suspected she wouldn’t know who Theodore Dreiser was. Well, she did! She’d read Sister Carrie. Some of it. Smoothing her skirt under her legs, Olive sat demurely down again in the high-backed chair opposite the recliner. “Where’s Bill?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been in the yard all day. But I haven’t seen him around. Is there something I can help you with?” He offered her the box of sunflower seeds, but she held up a hand and declined.
“I thought you wanted to talk to me.”
“Oh, I just said that to get rid of George.” Al rose to his feet and stretched. “Well, I didn’t know you’d be here and I don’t want to bother you, so let me just be on my way.”
“Actually there is something you can help me with,” said Olive. “You can tell me something.”
“Yes? And what’s that?”
“Is Bill, is Bill a Red?”
Al Coffey straightened in surprise. “No,” he said. “Bill is not a Red. Where’d you get that idea?”
“From those magazines…” She gestured to Bill’s bedroom, then blushed realizing she’d just admitted to knowing what was piled on the night table in there.
“They’re mine,” said Coffey. “Not that I’m a Red, either. Not so you’d notice. I just loaned those to his nibs so he might get a few details right.”
“Bill’s writing a picture about a labor strike.”
“At the Standard?”
“Could be, but just a strike, any strike. The picture’s called Lily of Labor. A four-reeler. Our first one. Brave factory girl puts herself in charge of a walk-out once her father gets killed. He’s a Wobbly. You know what those are, right?”
Olive bristled. “Yes. I do.”
“Yeah, so the old man gets it from a sniper, see? So our Lily has to step up and take over. But it’s really just a love story, like every other goddamn picture we make, excuse the blasphemy.”
“What’s the love story?”
Al broke into a laugh. “Innerested?”
“In the story. Who’s she in love with?”
“It’s either the son of the factory owner or a handsome new Wobbly that’s sent in—so far as I know Bill hasn’t made up his mind yet.”
“Oh,” said Olive. Ruminating, she moved her mouth from side to side. “I think it should be the factory owner’s son. Then there could be a happy ending.”
“Well, the handsome young Wobbly would get shot, almost for sure, but not the son of the factory owner—who’d want to go see that? In the end he could tell his father to give the strikers a nice raise and treat them all better and still take Lily to Europe on the Grand Tour. That’s what should happen.” Her expression became wistful. “If you want my two cents,” she finished in a terrible cher-man accent: iv you vant…
“How long,” said Coffey, “will you have to keep your arm in that sling?”
“Does it matter?”
He pulled a wry face.
“Well—I don’t really know the story, of course, but isn’t it possible that the sniper might’ve winged Lily when he shot her father dead?”
Coffey dropped back into the recliner. “My, my, my,” he said folding his hands behind his neck. “Comes the light.”
“Now I see why old Bill Harrigan’s been going on about you for the last four years.”
“Mr. Coffey,” said Olive lowering her voice in a confidential manner, “I can assure you that ‘old Bill Harrigan’ has been going on about me for many more years than that!” She leaned forward in her chair. “And if your kind offer still holds, I believe I will take a few of those sunflower seeds, thank you ever so kindly.”
In the act of removing the flat box from his shirt pocket, Al Coffee paused, cocked his head, and looked Olive straight in the eye. “‘Winged,’ huh?”
She gave him a smile that was partly sweet but mostly histrionic.
When Bill Harrigan was in Los Angeles, working at first for David Horsley’s Centaur Company, and then later, once Centaur was sold and became part of Universal Pictures, turning out a series of unsuccessful comedies and travelogues for his own production company, he’d met any number of gross, selfish louts with buckets of money who comported themselves most of the time like thoughtful jolly businessmen—precisely the way that Pearl Bergoff was comporting himself now. “As you’re no doubt aware, Mr. Harrigan, I’m up to my eyeballs adjusting a difficult labor situation over at the Hook,” he said, “but I wanted to give you the courtesy of a prompt reply to your letter.” With an English bowler hat set rakishly on his head, he sat behind a large mahogany desk covered with account books and batches of paper.
“And I appreciate that,” said Bill. “No, thank you,” he said when Bergoff picked up and offered him a box of Turkish cigarettes. “Oh why not,” he relented, and accepted one. Bergoff nodded to the large, strapping, dangerous-looking man, the bodyguard, who’d accompanied them upstairs to Bergoff’s office after Bill’s arrival at the house. With his thumbnail, the man struck a match and lighted Bill’s cigarette. Then he stepped back and, folding his beefy arms djin-like, repositioned himself against a wall covered with framed citations of merit from the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, the Republican and Democratic parties, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Archdiocese of Newark. “I won’t take up much of your time, I promise.”
“You’re in the picture business.”
“I helped Mr. Edison with his picture interests a few years back when he was having such a helluva time chasing pirates who thought nothing of infringing his camera patents.” Bergoff’s smile stayed mobile and friendly, but his eyes, abruptly, went cold and appraising. “Then of course they all ran away like mice to California, where I understand they’re doing whatever it is they please these days. And making a mint.” He removed his spectacles and, after fogging the lenses with his breath, superficially polished them with the front apron of his necktie. “I believe you said in your letter that that’s where you’ve been living.” He refitted the side wires around his stick-out ears. “California.”
“That’s right. Los Angeles.” You prick, thought Bill, but smiled amiably. “Although since coming back east again in March, I’ve spent a lot of my time, most of it, in Delaware.” Bill took a last drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out in the standing tray beside his chair. “But all the cameras that I used, that I still use, I built myself.” Smoke spurted down his nostrils. “Quite different mechanics than Mr. Edison’s.” He smiled again. “Much better, as a matter of fact. And patented.”
“Oh, I wasn’t implying…”
“I didn’t think you were, general.” He’d read in the newspaper that Bergoff preferred to be addressed as such, the fatuous lunker. “But let me tell you why I’ve—”
“You were making pictures in Delaware?”
“Not pictures, no. Because I have a bit of a reputation still for being a man who can put together a good automobile, the War Department invited me to build them an armored fight car. And as much as I would’ve preferred just to make pictures, I felt I should take them up on the offer.”
Bergoff sat straighter in his chair. “Being a patriotic young man…”
Bill laughed. “Well, general, I’d like to think I’m patriotic, but the truth is I’d just bought a building over on East 49th Street to convert to a picture studio and frankly I needed money.”
Bergoff smiled approvingly. “Paid well, did they?”
“Extremely. Enough to start turning out one- and two-reelers on a regular schedule.” He shrugged. “A fairly regular schedule. Which brings me to why I wrote to you.”
Bergoff lifted a hand, palm out. “We’ll get to that. But I’m fascinated by this ‘fight car’ you just told me about.”
As Bill had known he would be. Things were proceeding nicely. Promisingly well. “It’s out in front, if you’d like to see it later.”
“I’ve already seen it, Mr. Harrigan,” said Bergoff with a placid nod to a window fronting the County Boulevard. “Naturally, and as I’m sure you anticipated, it was brought immediately to my attention.”
Bill was starting to grin. Maybe that was a good idea, maybe it wasn’t. Either way, he couldn’t help it.
“And my first thought, when I looked down and saw it—well, my very first thought was, what the fuck is that? But then when you got out of it, I thought, what is this fellow up to?” The jolly businessman had vanished; in his place, the lout. “You could’ve come down here to see me in one of your ‘good automobiles.’ Instead, you came in that.”
Bill’s grin had broadened, became tigerish. “It’s unstoppable. And bullet proof. Something I’d imagine that a man in your line might find…useful.”
“You sound like a salesman now, Harrigan. And there I was supposing you’re a picture man.”
“What if, just for today, general, I’m both?”
Bergoff leaned forward, resting his arms on the desk. “Doesn’t it belong to the Army?”
“They chose the one based on a farm tractor. That moves like a slug and weighs 25,000 pounds.” Bill shrugged. “Their loss.”
“And my gain?”
Bergoff jumped out of his chair and came from around his desk to stand over Bill. “Why all the bullshit, Harrigan? You write me a letter saying you’d like my help—my ‘expertise’—for a picture you’re making about a labor strike, but all you really want to do is sell me an armored truck! Why didn’t you just say so?”
“Why didn’t you just say so?”
“Because,” said Bill calmly despite his heart’s emphatic banging, “that’s not all I really want to do, general.” He sat forward, clamped his hands over his knees. “I’ll sell you that vehicle outside for exactly what it cost to build—nine thousand, seven hundred and fourteen dollars, and I’ll knock off the eighteen cents. But. There’s a condition.”
“Yeah?” Bergoff perched on the edge of his desk, short legs dangling, and put on a sly look. “And what might that be?”
Bill opened his coat and brought out the rolled-up scenario from a lining pocket.
On his cot in the temporary barracks at the Standard works, Joe Dell’Appa was dreaming, and in his dream he was back in Jersey City, on Ocean Avenue, in his poky two-chair barber shop, diligently addressing the head of a dozing old man. Joe felt calm, peaceful and calm, plying with practiced skill the scissors and clippers that had been his father’s and humming what he could recall—not much—of the overture from Verdi’s Nabucco, which, as a boy, he’d seen performed out of doors one summer night in Caserta.
After snipping wiry tufts of hair nested inside the old man’s ears and then gently blowing them out, Joe laid his scissors down and reached for a palm brush on the ledge of his shop’s back mirror. Raising his eyes, he saw the reflection of a coltish and yellow-haired American girl. She was strolling along the sidewalk outside in a white-flowered blue linen dress, and because he so ardently willed it, she turned slowly and looked straight at Joe through the plate window. She was beautiful! When he waved, the girl reacted with a look of supreme disgust. Instinctively, she drew back, then hurried along, passing beyond the edge of the window, and was gone. Mortified, jolted by indignation, Joe felt his face burn. Under his open hand the brush had become a long-barreled Colt pistol with a hickory grip. He snatched it up from the ledge. But instead of giving chase, instead of running after the American girl and shooting her down for insolence, as the dream-Joe at first felt inclined to do—instead, he turned the gun on himself, pressing the barrel to his temple and crooking his pointer finger around the trigger. Feeling wave on wave of self-disgust, he began to weep. Then someone tugged violently on his elbow, the gun went off, and Joe Dell’Appa came awake gasping.
The Swede was leaning over him. His long stubbled face looked tired. His cheeks and forehead were streaked with clayish dirt, and clods of it were tangled in his thick blonde hair. His nails were black, his knuckles skinned raw. “Get up. Now.”
“Is it time?” said Joe, still heavy with sleep.
“Shut your face.” The Swede looked to his left and right, and behind him. Only a dozen or so replacement workers were in the barracks at that time of the day, a few of them drowsing, but most of them at tables playing cards. “And keep it shut.”
Joe heaved himself up and sat on the edge of his cot before reaching a hand underneath it for the cone-crowned straw hat that he’d found discarded in a pile of trash. He put it on carefully and pulled the wide raggedy brim down to his eyebrows, to cover his bandages; little by little the muslin at the binding clips had been tearing and the whole turban threatened to come undone. So the hat was extra protection, he thought, and a good disguise in case anybody heard about a wanted man whose head was all swaddled up. “Follow me,” said the Swede.
They stepped outside. After the gloom of the windowless barracks, the afternoon sunshine dazzled them both; Joe cupped a hand over his eyes, like a trail scout. The Swede rolled his shoulders back and then strode off rapidly down the length of the bustling refinery yard, heading toward the bay end. Joe scrambled to keep up, dodging motorized trucks and weaving around small teams of cross-looking scabs. Casually, the Swede pointed off to his left and ducked behind a brick pump house. Without hesitation, Joe followed him. Underfoot, here and there, were scraps of singed broadcloth and short lengths of blackened, almost carbonized tree branches—remnants of torches lobbed in by the strikers. Less than four feet separated the rear of the pump house from the high stockade wall. Near the base of the wall and standing on end was a battered wooden soapbox, the manufacturer’s name and logotype—Welcome Soap—entirely color-faded.
“Now you tell me the plan?” said Joe. “And I do whatever you say.”
“Yeah?” The Swede rubbed his chin with blunt fingers, and looked suddenly righteous. His eyes narrowed.
“Whatever you say, I do. I’m in your hands.”
The Swede’s eyes crinkled more at the corners. His mouth tightened . “Whatever I say, that’s right. I’m glad to hear it.” He thumped a hand on the wall. “How thick you figure this thing is?”
Joe shrugged a shoulder.
“About a foot and a half. That’s all. Not so thick.” With the tip of a shoe, the Swede pushed the soapbox incrementally till it exposed a fresh, angled-down hole in the ground, and Joe’s eyes widened.
“I dug, yeah. Every chance I got.”
“And nobody saw?”
The Swede laughed. “Guess not.
“All by yourself?” Joe’s eyes traveled to a small pile of dirt next to the hole—about as much dirt as a dog would dig up, in clods, burying a bone. “Where’s the rest of it?”
“Don’t worry about it,” said the Swede with a look of sudden petulance. “I took care of it.” He tossed his head, indicating some place indeterminately away. Not here. “It’s in a sea bag.”
“What—what you dig it with?” Joe’s stomach knotted with anxiety. Something here wasn’t right, it just wasn’t, but—but there was the hole, and it looked big enough for him to crawl into and wide enough to wriggle through. He gave the Swede a searching look. “How—?”
“What’re you asking so many questions for?” He held up a warning finger. “You want to get out of here or don’t you?”
“Sure, sure. But…where does the hole come up? He pointed to the wall, meaning past it, outside.
“It’s in weeds, okay? We crawl under the wall and come up outside and run like hell. It’s okay, I’m telling you. That’s what’s important.” The Swede nodded his head. “And here’s what’s also important. Do you think—do you really think it’s fair that I should let you sneak out of here with me for nothing? Crawl out through this hole, here, that I dug—and I get nothing back in return?”
Joe frowned. The Swede wasn’t his friend, after all. That much, if nothing else, was clear now. “Please,” he said.
“That ain’t no answer.”
Joe’s eyes closed as he searched for words that were an answer. “I got nothing to give you,” he said doing quite a little pantomime—which the Swede watched with amusement: groping around in the pockets of his trousers and coat, turning them all inside out to show they were empty except for his Special Guard badge. “But please.”
“Now, you say you got nothing to give me,” said the Swede, tugging on his lower lip and letting it go. “But I say…you do.”
Joe felt like he was flailing and he was standing absolutely still. “What?”
They stood facing each other, a few feet apart. “Come here.” The Swede crooked a finger. “I said, come here,” and Joe took a halting step. Once he had, the Swede put both hands on his shoulders. He kept pressing down till Joe stopped resisting and slowly went to his knees.
“See what I mean?”
“No,” said Joe once he’d unstuck his tongue from the room of his mouth.
“Oh yeah you do.” Keeping one hand cupped over Joe’s shoulder, the Swede unbuttoned his trousers. “Sure you do. You want something for nothing, paisan, go knock at the Sally.” He reached through his fly and brought out his red big prick. When Joe tried to struggle away, the Swede grabbed him by the neck and forced his head closer, and the Swede’s prick rammed him like a spar. Both of Joe’s hands slapped around madly in the dirt till his left fumbled over and made a fist around one of the burnt torches. It was almost charcoal and weighed next to nothing, but he struck with it anyhow, driving it up from below as hard as he could; it pulverized, and the Swede yelled his head off.
Scuttling on his ass to the pump house wall, Joe sprang to his feet. He’d stopped thinking and was just enraged. The Swede staggered around with his hands tight together between his legs, blood pooling through his fingers. “You greasy fuck, I’ll kill you!” he roared and Joe propelled himself from the wall, hopping on his left foot and swinging his right leg and kicking the Swede in the face, smack under his cheekbone. After he’d spun away and fell down, Joe kicked him in the side—then kicked him again, in his head, badly tearing his ear.
Purple and breathless, Joe stood over the Swede. He’d needed a friend, more than anything he’d needed a friend, and thought he’d found one—but no! Like everything else in America, it was all a trick, all disrespect, and the Swede was just a fairy. That revived Joe’s murderous anger and he kicked the Swede again. And he might have continued to kick him till he was dead if the refinery’s mustering siren hadn’t wailed. It was so earsplitting that Joe pulled up straight. He heard trampling feet out in the yard, clamor, then a piercing whistle, and someone shout through a megaphone: “Line up line up line up line up!”
When Joe looked back to the Swede, he was crawling away, wriggling on his forearms, trying to make it to the far corner of the pump house. Joe swept up and hurled the soap box. It hit the Swede low in his back. With a grunt, Joe’s antagonist, his disrespectful and false friend collapsed in the dirt.
“Arm yourselves, men, and line up! Everyone line up! Arm yourselves and line up!”
Throwing off the straw hat, Joe dove for the hole at the foot of the wall, but practically the moment he’d burrowed in with his bandaged head and his nostrils had filled with the smell of moist clay, he knew what it was that had bothered him ever since the Swede first revealed what was hidden under the soap box: if the Swede had dug a tunnel under the wall to the outside, why hadn’t he just crawled through it as soon as it was done? Why go back for Joe at all? He could find somebody else to suck his prick after he crawled out of the Standard, maybe even somebody who liked doing it, or didn’t mind. What was Joe to him? If it had been Joe, he would’ve just crawled out. From the start something about this tunnel felt wrong, felt off, and as Joe pushed forward, nipping in his elbows to shinny further on, he discovered exactly what it was.
It wasn’t a tunnel at all—just an obliquely angled, shallow hole in the ground.
When his face bumped the dense clay of solid bottom, Joe almost laughed. Of course! Of course it was only a hole, and he was a fool. A big damn fool with his broken head stuck in the ground! Such a good trick the Swede had played on him! Had he played this trick before, had he tricked other frightened greenhorns with his story of a tunnel? Or was Joe the first—the first desperate fool? Maybe he was the first, since there was fresh dirt on the Swede’s face when he came for Joe, like he’d just dug the hole, so maybe—
Snatched by his ankles, Joe abruptly was dragged out of the hole, his shirt rucking up over his naked belly, his belly scratched and scraped. His bandage snagged on a root or a stone and came off his head like a pot lid. Then he was on his back and the Swede, snarling and crazy-eyed, had straddled him and started punching him in the face. Joe finally twisted away (his mouth full of blood and at least one tooth) and clubbed at the side of the Swede’s head with a clenched hand. They thrashed around, both trying to knee the other in the balls, but neither one managing to. Joe felt the stitching at the top of his skull begin to split.
Then he and the Swede were pulled apart. Joe’s arms pinioned behind him, he flew backwards, away from the Swede, who was now in a fierce struggle with two of the mercenaries’ high-degree nobles. Joe could tell it was going to get bad very quickly—the Swede’s prick was still hanging out of his fly, skinned raw and bleeding. Once that was noticed, they might both get killed. Grinding his heels, he dug in, startling the guard holding his arms. Joe slipped free and shoved him. After snatching up his straw hat, he shot around the corner of the pump house.
The refinery yard was teeming with men, men being directed to lines of other men and joining them at a trot, men accepting rifles and pistols and clubs from another of Bergoff’s nobles—the same one who’d given Joe several kicks in the ass yesterday when they’d had him drilling with the regular mercenaries. Joe put out a hand and accepted a long-barreled pistol; his heart jumped in supernatural terror and kept thudding until he determined that the grip was cheap wood, not polished hickory like in his dream.
A red-face and sweating man in a black business suit, someone Joe had not seen before, stepped up onto a store box, which made Joe think of the soap box that had concealed the false tunnel, so he looked over his shoulder, back to the pump house halfway down the yard: nothing was happening there, that he could see—nobody was coming after him. The red-faced man said into his megaphone, “Your job is to disperse the trespassers from private property, to break up a potentially dangerous situation. They’re demanding wages the company admits is due them today but will not disperse under these unruly conditions. They’ve been warned for the last hour. Send them away!” he finished and then flourished a semaphoric arm, like a collegiate football cheerleader.
Joe was pushed into a straggling line between grizzled toughs who looked as though they’d been recruited off Skid Row. Moments later, security bars were removed from the big side door. It was thrown open, and Joe Dell’Appa rushed out of the Standard works in a mob of rioting mercenaries. As soon as he could, he broke away and sprinted across the sloughy flats to the north of the refinery, holding his hat to his throbbing head and tromping past different clusters of young picnickers—girls and boys from the Irish wards.
With the two-dollar pistol tucked into the top of his trousers and under his shirt, Joe kept running.
Free again! Free for the second time in two days!
Between East Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Streets on Prospect Avenue there were five saloons—one anchoring each corner, and one situated precisely midblock on the west side. Following the Sheriff’s explicit instructions, Charlie Gillick stopped first at the saloon on the southeast corner of Twenty-fourth—Siwolka’s. The door was posted “Closed Till Further Notice by Order of the Sheriff of Hudson County.” Charlie tapped lightly on it with his riot stick. Nobody answered. He gripped the knob, and when it wouldn’t turn, he reached into his tunic for a small square of white cardboard and a stub of a lead pencil. Pinning his stick under his left arm, he pretended to scribble a note; in fact, he wrote his own signature.
As he walked his bicycle up the sidewalk to the northeast corner and the next saloon—Hajducsek’s—he could feel himself being watched, closely tracked, by several clusters of workingmen and older boys who sat or stood or leaned, almost all of them smoking, on the porches or stoops of the ash-gray clapboard tenements along both sides of Prospect in between frame store buildings. Good, that’s what he wanted; he wanted them all to think he was just a bored, plodding cop making sure the neighborhood saloonkeepers were staying in compliance with the Sheriff’s decree and not doing any side-door business.
At Hajducsek’s, Charlie went through the same rigmarole as he had done at Siwolka’s, then rolled the bicycle across the cobbled street and did it again at Powasnik’s on the northwest corner. But there the saloon door was opened to his knock by a short man wide across the middle. His white apron looked fresh from the clothesline. “Yeah, whaddya want, you?”
“Sorry, sir, just doing what I’m told.” Charlie leaned a little to his left and looked past the man into the dim saloon. Chairs were upended on tables. The place was empty. “And thank you for being a good citizen.”
“Good citizen my ass,” he grumbled. “How much longer this gonna go on?”
“Wish I could tell you.” Charlie touched his cap and headed back south along the sidewalk, walking the Harrigan and nodding to men who didn’t nod back and whose straightened postures communicated nervous contempt. He smiled at a woman shopping at a vegetable cart with three small children in tow; she never glanced up. Halfway down the block, Charlie stopped in front of the next saloon, Klarkowski’s.
As he expected, as Gene Kinkaid had told him to expect, there was no public notice on the door or hanging in the little window to the left of it. Since that was a blatant violation of the emergency decree, Charlie, with a scowl that he hoped wasn’t too melodramatic, leaned the bicycle against the saloon’s board wall and dug out his summons book. With hostile eyes still watching, he took his time filling out a summons (his signature again, several times). Then, to show he meant business and that the law could not to be flouted, he pounded with his fist on the door. “Police! Open up!” Behind him across the street was a paint and hardware store, and in the saloon window Charlie watched as half a dozen hard-looking men came slouching out of there to see what the racket was about. “Open up—you hear? Police!”
Overhead, a man about 40 stuck his head through an open window; he was pale-faced and gaunt with a receding hairline and a cigarette in his mouth. His lips were abnormally red, candy-apple red. Looking shirty and put out, he peered down at Charlie.
The man removed the cigarette from his mouth. “I am. And what’s your beef?”
“Would you mind coming down here, sir, so I might give you this?” Charlie held the summons aloft.
“What is it?”
“Sir, I’d rather the whole neighborhood didn’t hear our business.”
“No?” Klarkowski called to the men who were milling outside of the hardware store. “Officer Irisher here don’t want none of you birds hearing our business,” he called, and they laughed. Then, down to Charlie: “You people make me tired.” He shut the window with a bang. Ten seconds later the saloon door flew open and Klarkowski stepped outside. Presenting him with the summons, Charlie said, “Mr. Klarkowski, you were told to keep that bill tacked to your door, weren’t you?”
“The one you were given by a sheriff’s deputy. The broadsheet. That says your saloon’s closed until further notice.” Charlie pointed to the front door and Klarkowski glanced over a shoulder.
“It was there. Somebody musta tore it down.” He shrugged, smirked, couldn’t have cared less. “You got another one, officer, gimme, and I’ll plaster it right up there while you wait.”
“No, I don’t happen to have—”
“Who needs it, anyhow? Everybody knows I’m closed, we’re all closed, thanks to you people.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Klarkowski, but I’m just performing my duty.”
“Are you telling me I got to pay a fine ’cause somebody ripped a piece of paper off my door?” He backed two steps away. “That what you’re telling me?”
Charlie by then was tired of the make-believe and wanted to move things along according to plan, but Klarkowski, with a private wink, just kept up the act, stomping around and waving his arms, bellowing on about how first they take away a man’s livelihood, then they fine him when somebody tears a stupid piece of paper off his door! When he walked to the curb as if it were the lip of the stage in a vaudeville house and directly addressed the men across the street—“You getting’ a load of this?—Charlie decided it had gone far enough; Klarkowski’s hamming it up could get him his second beating in two days.
“Simmer down,” said Charlie. “Simmer down, friend, and let’s see if we can’t settle this without a whole lot more fuss.” He dropped a hand on Klarkowski’s shoulder and squeezed it, significantly. (He almost whispered, Cut it out! but was afraid his voice might carry.) After plucking the summons from the saloonkeeper’s hand, Charlie inclined his head toward the half-open door behind them and—hoping he sounded amenable to graft—said much too loud, “How about you and me go on inside and sit down and talk things over? I’m sure we can come to an understanding.”
Pearl Bergoff wanted to know who she was in love with.
“I haven’t quite made up my mind,” said Bill. He unrolled the scenario, glanced at it, and rolled it right up again. So far, Bergoff hadn’t asked to see it; he’d been listening attentively to Bill’s pitch, nodding from time to time, interrupting to ask the occasional question. “It’s either the son of the guy that owns the factory or a handsome special detective hired to break the strike.”
“How can there be any question?” Bergoff made a face. “Of course it’s the detective! I’ve met a lot of factory owners’ kids, my friend, and believe you me, our Lily wouldn’t fall for any one of that ilk!”
Our Lily. Bill smiled. “Not heroic enough?”
“Ha!” said Bergoff. “And none of those lizzie boys’d be caught dead anywhere near their old man’s factory. They’re up at fucking Yale playing polo.”
“Of course,” said Bill. “See, general? This is why I came to you. To set me straight. I want to get this right. Right on the nose. We want this to be a—big picture. Important.”
“Another Birth of a Nation.”
“I’d never be so bold as to say it out loud, but I’m glad you did.”
Bergoff rubbed his chin, mulling. He glanced to the bodyguard who’d lighted Bill’s cigarette earlier. “You been listening to all this, Val?”
“Couldn’t help,” said Val.
“And what d’you think?”
With a disinterested shrug, Val said, “I don’t go in much for the pictures. But Lillian Gish is okay. Be even better if she had more breastworks. He gettin’ Lillian Gish?”
“Good question! You getting Lillian Gish?”
Bill spread his hands, gesturing helpless regret. “Can’t afford her, I’m afraid, but I think I’ve found the perfect Lily. Beautiful girl. Local girl. And she’s my fiancée.”
“Shut up, you! Didn’t you hear the man just say it’s his fiancée? Show respect, for Christ’s sake!”
“Sorry, general,” said Val. His head drooped like a chastened schoolboy’s. A few moments later he raised his chin and looked over at Bill. “Sorry, mister.”
“What’s she been in?” said Bergoff.
“Nothing since she was a little girl, but she’s all grown-up now and I’m telling you, general, she’s just the ticket. Pretty as a picture and blonde as can be, and feisty! A feisty young thing. And since I’ve already described Lily’s story to you”—vengeful daughter of a company foreman blown to bits by an anarchist’s bomb rouses American-born workers to defeat a baseless strike fomented by ungrateful aliens—“you can see why we’re looking for a girl who can play feisty as well as, you know, tender.”
We’re looking—you and me, general.
Nodding, nodding, Bergoff strolled around behind his desk and then just stood there—still nodding—with one arm casually slung over the back of his chair. Bill waited, anxious. He knew this was going to happen, that Bergoff would take the hook.
Only he didn’t.
Retaking his chair, he pushed out his lips, then drew them back flat against his front teeth, made a sizzling sound. “I can’t see how this could work.”
“The Standard Oil Company isn’t going to let you make a picture there while there’s a labor situation, is why not.”
“So why tell them? Look, general, I want to make a picture about a strike, and just by chance—by sheer luck—there’s a big one going on, a real beaut, just a mile from my studio.”
“Then why not just make the picture at your studio? Isn’t that what you people do? Did what’s his name, Griffith, go over to Germany and ask the Kaiser to dress his army in Civil War uniforms?”
That was good, and Bill smiled. But he held up a finger: Wait, let me finish. “I could rent a warehouse and make it look like a factory, that’s true. It would cost me a pretty penny, but I could swing it. Not a huge problem. But you know what is? I’d still have to hire a couple hundred extras to be the strikers, to be the factory guards and the finks—”
“The factory guards and the labor adjustors.”
Bill thought for a second that Bergoff was being a wiseacre, pretending offense at the term ‘finks,’ but no, he looked dead-serious and deeply annoyed. “Sorry. Strikers, guards, and labor adjustors. But why go to the expense of hiring all those men, and fi nding an armory’s worth of rifles and pistols and clubs and God knows what else, when everybody and everything I need to make this picture look absolutely authentic are over there right now at the Standard just waiting to be photographed. Plus the place is perfect!”
“It’s a refinery, not a factory.”
Bill frowned. ”What difference? We never mention what kind of place it is, that’s not part of the story. All I want is big, and the Standard is that—it’s big and it looks like a fort. Beautiful!” He rose abruptly from his chair and, willing his insides to calm down, walked back and forth in front of the desk, forcing Pearl Bergoff to follow him with narrowed eyes. “Why build, why rent, why hire when it’s all right there!”
“You’re out of your mind, Harrigan.”
“I only need one day. Not even. Half a day.” Then, rashly, impulsively: “Take the truck, it’s yours, I won’t ask one single penny for it.” Damn! he thought. No wonder I’m broke! “All I want in return is to hide my cameras inside of it for half a day—tomorrow—and have access to the strike zone and the refinery. Outside and in. That’s it, that’s all, and for making it happen, general, you can have the vehicle free of charge, an armored truck, to break strikes from here to Timbuktu for the next ten years! Just imagine the advantage it’ll give you over your competitors.”
“I already have, and might be willing to negotiate to buy the thing outright, but not under your conditions. Because they’re simply not—Jesus, man! You can’t make a picture during a strike, and while I don’t know the first thing about your business, I do know you can’t make a picture in half a day.”
“Of course you can’t. And I don’t intend to.”
“Then what’re we—?” Bergoff tossed up his hands in exasperation.
“I want real crowds, real people, real faces, and then we—” Bill broke off, took a deep breath, and started over: “You don’t know my business, as you say, but can I tell you how it’s done? Better yet, let me show you.” He went around behind Bergoff’s desk, leaned over it, and snatched up a fistful of paper from one of several batches. “Excuse me, general.”
Val the bodyguard lunged away from the wall, but Bergoff stopped him with a hand, and then the pair of them watched with frank curiosity as Bill Harrigan started laying out individual pieces of paper across the width of the desk top. Bergoff pushed back his chair, getting out of Bill’s way.
As he moved along swiftly, putting down one piece of paper after the other, leaving no more than a half-inch between pieces, Bill discovered that each was an invoice from the Bergoff Agency to the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, for transportation, provisions, rifles, ammunition, man hours, services rendered. Twelve thousand five hundred and two; nine thousand eight hundred and forty-nine; seventeen thousand six hundred and ten; two thousand four hundred and…
Bill was quick with numbers, of course, and as he reached the far end of the desk and laid down the last piece of paper, he tallied up in his head all of the invoices that he’d grabbed at random, and the total, rounded off, came to one hundred and four thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven dollars. Jesus Christ. According to Bud Bleach (who was a Red, but not so you’d notice) the strikers were asking for a measly twenty-five cents more a day. Christ, thought Bill. Jesus! And this crumb bum, here, gets one hundred and four thousand eight hundred sixty—
“I’m waiting, Harrigan,” said Bergoff.
All smiles, Bill said, “Okay, general—just make believe that each piece of paper is a little bit of moving-picture film that we shot in perfect safety from the war car.” He walked back to where he’d laid down the first invoice, and tapped it smartly with a fingertip. “Say it lasts five seconds—five, ten seconds of a couple hundred men with pistols and clubs milling around in front of the Standard—all right?” He tapped the next invoice. “And this is, oh, let’s say, four, five seconds—a bunch of wives standing well out of harm’s way with their kids behind them, everybody wearing a worried face. All right?” Next invoice, next tap. “And here’s a guy, he’s pretty angry—see? And he’s on top of one of those mounds of slag over by the swamp, maybe he’s trying to whip everybody up, maybe he’s a union guy—or maybe he’s just a guy on strike and he’s shaking his fist at a company guard high up on the wall. Eight, nine, ten seconds.” Another invoice, another tap. “And here’s the guard now, there he is up on the wall, the parapet, he’s got his rifle, maybe he’s aiming it down, and we’re looking right up at him. Two seconds, three at the most.” Bill glanced over to Bergoff. He had his attention. Val’s too, after Val had sauntered up to the desk and planted himself on the far side of it, peering over at Bill’s finger, where it was tap-tapping, as if he might actually see the company guard projected on it, the guard and his Remington rifle.
“And here…” Here, said Bill, was a line of city cops marking the deadline…and here, just behind them, were the front gates of the Standard opening up…and here was—here was the inside of the works. “Never having been inside, myself, I don’t know what that looks like,” said Bill, “but maybe…strikebreakers moving around? Being told what to do and going to work? Maybe some more guards climbing up and down the parapet, or maybe they’re—I’m not really sure. Do you drill your men, general?” Bergoff, stone-faced now, just raised his eyebrows, his attention possibly waning, his patience maybe wearing thin. So Bill hurried it up, tapping through the last few invoices and saying, “We’re inside for a couple minutes at the most, just driving around, then here, here, and here, the gates open again, we’re coming back out, passing through the cops, through the strikers, going by Mydosh’s tavern, then on up Twenty-Second Street, people out on the sidewalk, in tenement windows, the steps of a church, and—that’s it! Half a day? That what I said? Half an hour is more like it. Half an hour, forty-five minutes, general, and I got what I want.” Standing up straight at the end of the desk, Bill folded his arms. Tiny beads of moisture had formed along his hairline. “We stop the truck on Broadway, unload the cameras—and you take possession. It’s all yours.”
“Yeah,” said Bill.
“Bananas! What kind of picture is that?” said Bergoff. “That ain’t a picture, that’s a newsreel.”
“Yeah,” said Val. He pointed to the invoices that remained on the desk. “Where’re the players? Where’s your fiancée, bud?”
“Ah,” said Bill. “Now let me show you how pictures work.” He walked back along the desk, picking up every other invoice. When he’d collected those, he decked them, and then, retracing his steps, laid them back down in the empty spaces, but now with the blank sides up. Indicating them all, he said, “These, let’s make believe, are other pieces of film that I’ll shoot in my studio—here’s our beautiful Lily, maybe she’s pleading with her dad to stay home, it’s too dangerous at the factory, and here’s our handsome detective pushing his way through the mob, not afraid of anybody, and here’s Lily’s dear old dad lying dead on the ground. Look at him all covered in blood, only it’s Coca Cola syrup. And here’s a bunch of hired players playing strikers, but just four or five of them—all we need. Because when I put them next to this”—Bill tapped the invoice representing a couple hundred strikers with pistols and clubs—“the separate pictures becomes a scene. A big, crowded scene. Teeming. Get it?”
“What?” said Val. “I don’t know what you’re—“
“I do,” said Bergoff. He was rubbing his chin again. Was that a smile?
“And back at my studio we find some lumber and build part of a wall maybe seven by six, paint it white and brace it up, and that’ll do for the Standard. I put Lily in front of it on a row or two of cobblestones, and now here she is dragging away her dad’s dead body, and then—here!” With a fingertip he mashed down hard on the invoice representing the refinery gates opening up. “We cut this in, here, and then cut back to Lily, here, and—and so on. See?”
“Wait,” said Val, “hold on—what?”
“Shut up,” said Bergoff. He waved Val away, back to the wall where’d been standing. He looked at Bill. “Forty-five minutes?”
“Tops, an hour. If all goes smoothly. And why shouldn’t it? Nobody will ever see my cameras, and since it’ll be one of your own guys driving the truck, it’s going to look like you’re using an armored vehicle to safely bring in supplies or weapons, or even men—some more labor adjustors. Another feather in your cap, general. First strikebreaker ever to use one of those! You want, I’ll even paint ‘The Bergoff Agency’ on both sides.”
Bergoff’s eyes flicked down to the invoices that were lying face up across the top of his desk. He scowled, stepped forward, and collected up all the paper. “That won’t be necessary.” He sat down in his chair and gestured for Bill to go sit back in his.
“Do we have a deal, general?”
“I’m thinking,” he said, and did, for a couple of minutes, long enough for Bill Harrigan, face flushed with heat, to start squirming. He shouldn’t have offered to give Bergoff the goddman truck; Al Coffey and Bill Bleach were going to take his head off when they heard about that. Well, he couldn’t retract the offer now.
“You’re not what I expected, Harrigan.” Propping his elbows on his desk blotter, Pearl Bergoff rested his chin on his interlaced fingers, a wedge of fat bulging out. “Frankly, I’m impressed.”
“Are you? Good, I’m glad to hear it.”
“You’re an angler.”
“Well.” Bill shrugged. “I never thought of myself in quite that way before, but…”
“As am I. And I had an angle in calling you up, inviting you here.”
Bergoff sat back in his chair and stared coolly at Bill for another long minute. “You said you needed my expertise, wanted my advice. A picture about a labor strike, you said. And I thought, okay, what’s in it for me? What could this picture man possibly do for me and my business? Anything? Anything at all?” With one hand, he removed his bowler hat and with the other hand brushed down his thick pinkish-red hair. Then he put the bowler back on. “My first instinct? Honestly? Was to tell you to go take a hike.”
Bill suddenly was anxious again.
“But then last night, you might’ve heard, I was almost robbed.”
“Robbed? No, general—but I don’t read the papers much.” In fact, he never read them, period.
“And I might’ve been killed but for the quick thinking of a confidential operative in my employ. A special detective, you might say.”
Bill was alarmed now, confused, beginning to feel sick to his stomach—what the hell was this son of a bitch talking about?
“Of course, I had no idea when I picked up the telephone and called you that your picture was going to be so ambitious, so authentic. But that just makes my original idea, my angle, all the better.”
Instead of answering, Bergoff snapped his fingers and Val came right over. He leaned down while Bergoff whispered briefly to him. Val nodded, straightened up, and went out and closed the door; Bill heard him trampling down the stairs.
“What angle?” Bill repeated.
“I have your hero for you, Mr. Harrigan. The hero for your picture. And he’s not a player, he’s the real thing. And guaranteed to create a lot of interest, wouldn’t you think?”
“I don’t—” He became aware of footsteps, not Val’s, fleeter ones, bounding up the stairs, coming quickly along the hall.
“He’s even got a name that’s perfect for pictures.” Raising his eyes to the crown molding, Bergoff stretched out an arm, pointed with his finger, and read from an imaginary marquee: “Lily of Labor, starring—letters two-foot high—KING TOUEY!”
When he looked down and over at Bill Harrigan again, Bill’s face had gone chalky.
The office door opened and Pearl Bergoff, springing from his chair, boisterously exclaimed, “Speak of the devil!”
Swaying and stumbling, Joe Dell’Appa was running westerly across marshy ground. Away in the considerable distance were flat and peaked roofs, church steeples and telephone wires. Suddenly the ground dipped and Joe dropped into a ditch. He lay there panting, head pulsing, trying to think. Should he hide, find a hiding place, or keep on running? Keep running! Make it all the way to Jersey City. Not that he’d be safe there (safer, maybe, but not safe); he couldn’t return to his flat or his barber shop, or show up at his sister’s place. And he had no money to take a fast train out, or even the ferry to Manhattan. Worry about the future in the future, he told himself. What mattered now was to get out of Bayonne.
He clambered from the ditch onto firmer, drier, weedier ground, and crossed a rail spur. Just beyond it he found a well-trampled field path, which he followed till it became a dirt road that looped around and brought him into a grass-grown lane with deserted log houses standing flush with a boardwalk—all that remained of the old Constable Hook Village. The few trees looked blighted. The sky that had been sunny just a minute ago was overhung now with heavy clouds.
As Joe trudged along a falling-down picket fence, he looked over it to find a small, frail-looking boy perched on a warped rain barrel next to the most decrepit house on the lane—the roof had crashed in. The boy, who couldn’t have been older than seven, had a pasty-white face and straggling black hair and was eating ice cream with a flat wooden spoon out of a cardboard cup. Beside him on the barrel lid was a plumped-out brown paper sack. He looked up slowly and with such cunning that Joe stiffened and shrank away. The boy laughed, but no sound came from his mouth, and Joe became convinced that the moment had turned fearsomely supernatural—just as he’d been convinced of it earlier when the pistol he was given in the refinery yard looked to be the same one from his dream. He pressed a knuckle to his mouth and then made the sign of the cross. Run, he told himself, but couldn’t.
Setting his ice cream aside, the boy slid off the barrel and picked up the paper sack. Grinning, he opened the top of it, reached in and pulled out a thick bunch of green grapes, which he carried through the fence gate and offered to Joe. They looked crisp and wet and luscious, but Joe refused them, shaking his head violently. The boy seemed surprised, then disappointed, and started to swing the bunch of grapes as an altar boy would swing a censer. He grunted—“Uh! Uh! Uh!” He was a mute! That’s all, he was just a mute, it wasn’t—
“Thank you,” said Joe, accepting the grapes. He plucked off one from the thick woody stem and deposited the bunch into his coat pocket. “Very kind, thank you, thank you.” His eyes filled. The grape was sweet and juicy, so delicious! “Thank you, sonny boy.”
The boy continued to stare at him till, abruptly, his arm swung out and he pointed—that way; farther west. And once again, Joe ran: that way, farther west. Ahead, suddenly so much closer, were open yards with laundry strung on drooping lines, sheds and small barns and the backs of stores and dreary tenements, then a sidewalk, and then a telephone pole slathered in creosote, and then a street corner—and that was how Joe Dell’Appa came to arrive at Prospect Avenue and East Twenty-fourth Street barely two minutes after Officer Charlie Gillick had gone inside Klarkowski’s saloon.
“Now,” said Charlie, “what was it you wanted the Sheriff to know?” They were standing at the bar, but somewhat turned away from each other. A small square of the white cardboard Charlie always carried with him for note taking lay on top of the bar along with his pencil stub.
“Can I pull you a glass of beer? On the house, of course.”
“No, thank you.” When Klarkowski turned fully around and looked at him with almost sleepy eyes, Charlie remembered the sealed envelope he’d got from the Sheriff; it was tucked away in his tunic. Undoing two brass buttons, he brought it out.
“How old are you, kid?”
“You look about sixteen.”
“Be that as it may, I’m twenty and here on behalf of the Sheriff of Hudson County—so can we move this along?”
Klarkowski glanced at the bogus summons Charlie had given him outside. “You have that Catholic school handwriting.” He turned the summons around for Charlie to take a look. “Your letters, that nice slant, and those pretty loops. Charles. Gillick. See there? The curlicue at the top of your C? And your big fat G? Very girly. That’s the nuns for you.”
“Paul. And I’m only joshing with you, kid. Don’t get sore, I had nuns myself. How long you been a cop?”
“A few months.”
“I could tell it wasn’t long. You look soft.” Charlie drew himself up, and Klarkowski laughed, put out a hand out and touched Charlie’s tunic sleeve. “No offense intended. You just look like a nice kid.”
“I’m a police officer, Mr. Klarkowski. Cut it out.” From the street suddenly came a burst of loud, angry yelling. Charlie turned to the saloon door. But the noise subsided. “Now,” he said, turning back to Klarkowski, “do you have something to tell me, or don’t you?”
“Sure, sure, just trying to make a little pleasant conversation. Not much of that going around this summer.” Quirking his mouth to one side, he regarded Charlie critically. “I thought I wanted to be a cop, myself. A boy don’t grow up dreaming he wants to run a saloon. Who does that? But they wouldn’t take me, not here. No Pollack cops. Just you fucking Irish.”
“Okay, that’s it,” said Charlie and moved to stick the Sheriff’s envelope back into his tunic.
“I’m sorry—okay?” Klarkowski threw out a hand, then knifed it back along the side of his head. “I apologize. Things are a little…tense, you know?”
“Especially, I’d imagine, when you snitch.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Especially.”
“So why do it?”
“I just told you. I wanted to be a cop. I’m all for law and order. All for it. And I want this goddamn strike over and done with. If there’s anything I can do to make that happen, I do it.”
Charlie held the envelope up. “Very selfless of you.”
Irritably, Klarkowski reached for the envelope, but Charlie hiked it high and leaned away. They glared at each other till Klarkowski let his shoulders relax and said, “Okay. Enough pleasant conversation. Here’s what you tell Kinkaid. Two things. First thing…” He waited for Charlie to pick up his pencil. “First thing. Those rifles in Mydosh Hall? There’s no ammunition. That’s arriving today from New York. Tell him he should be looking for two guys with drummer’s grips, coming into Bayonne from Richmond on the ferry. Late this afternoon.”
“Not before three-thirty, four. What’s going on out there?” The yelling had started up again. “Maybe you want to go see?”
“Let’s wrap this up, okay? You have names?”
“Of the men coming in on the ferry.”
“No. But it’s just two, and they’ll be together. Shouldn’t be so hard.”
“All right.” Charlie turned again to the front door. What the hell was going on outside, all that shouting? Maybe he should go look. In a minute. He finished jotting down—printing, not handwriting—a note to himself: ammunition, 2 “drummers,” Richmond ferry. “And the second thing?”
Klarkowski had slipped around the bar and taken down a quart bottle of blended whiskey from a high shelf. He blew into a shot glass, then filled it. “This guy they put in charge of the strike committee? Baly? Jeremiah Baly?” He lifted the shot glass to his lips and swallowed.
“Yeah?” Charlie knew who Baly was—had seen him yesterday when he’d accompanied the Sheriff to a strikers’ meeting in Mydosh Hall. A mouthy young man in his middle twenties; flat-crowned straw hat, wire-rimmed spectacles, and a cheap, threadbare black suit. “What about him?”
“He’s a phony. He don’t work at the Standard, and never has. He’s a damn Socialist from Elizabeth, came over here to egg things on and managed to get himself elected strike leader. You tell Kinkaid that, he’ll know what to do.”
“You’re sure about this.” He finished printing B-A-L-Y.
“See if he’s on the payroll—he ain’t. He moved in with his uncle last Monday, over Twenty-third Street. His uncle’s a still cleaner, but Baly’s just a Red. Tell Kinkaid.”
Charlie put down his pencil and tossed the Sheriff’s envelope on the bar. “I will.”
From outside came more yelling and derisive shouting. Then someone let out a curdled scream, and Charlie took off across the barroom floor; he lost his footing on the sawdust, but recovered it and reached the door, and when he’d flung it open—
Jesus, Mary, and St. Joseph!
A man was rolled up into a ball in the middle of Prospect Avenue while a mob of ten or fifteen other men hit him repeatedly with spades, hoes, shovels and garden rakes.
Joe Dell’Appa had hesitated too long near the corner of Twenty-fourth Street.
If he’d just crossed Prospect Avenue and kept going west, the men gathered under the porch awning of the hardware store in mid-block might not have paid him any attention. But he’d started walking in their direction before he’d looked up and seen them. He’d stopped, abruptly, and pretended to rest for a minute in front of Siwolka’s saloon; when he’d glanced up again, they all were staring at him. If suddenly then he’d cut across Prospect, it would have looked suspicious, as if he were purposely avoiding them. Steeling himself, Joe had continued up the street, his heartbeat thrumming in his neck.
As he’d approached the hardware store, he’d tried to act self-possessed, like an ordinary Gus on his way somewhere, but his hands were trembling badly, so he’d shoved one into a trouser pocket and fumbled the other into his coat, where his fingers touched the bunch of grapes. With a smile and a friendly nod to the men, he’d stopped just below the porch and taken out the grapes and pulled the plumpest one off the stem. He put it in his mouth and then, with the same swinging motion the little boy had used, he offered the bunch to the men. No? He shrugged and started walking again. “You dropped something,” said one of the men. Frowning, Joe glanced behind him and down to the sidewalk.
Terror spread over his face and he was running again the instant he saw what had come out of his coat pocket along with the grapes.
It was the Special Guard badge he’d been issued at the Standard, but refused to wear.
The cap of one of Joe’s shoes caught on an edge of broken pavement, and he hurtled forward, thrusting his arms out to break his fall; his shoulder jolted, hard, and bone cracked. A red wave of pain swept over him as the men swarmed down the steps, yelling and shouting. They grabbed him by his trouser legs and the collar of his coat and swiftly hoisted him up and carried him into the hardware store. Crumb! Kill him! Kill the dirty crumb! Dirty filthy crumb! Kill him!
They threw Joe down on the wide plank floor, trampled on his face and kicked him in the ribs with heavy nailed boots. A skinny older man in a green carpenter’s apron raced around from behind the cash register crisscrossing his arms above his head and shouting, “Not in here, you don’t!” He distracted Joe’s attackers long enough for Joe to scramble to his feet and pull out the pistol from his waistband.
Joe backed away toward the open door, then whirled around and ran smack into a teenaged boy coming in carrying an armload of window frames to have rescreened. The boy toppled down and Joe flew right over him, the pistol arcing away into the street, where it bounced several times and clonked against the opposite curb.
Staggering down the steps, across the sidewalk, and into Prospect Avenue, Joe howled in pain and clutched at his right shoulder. He tried to blink away the blood pouring into his eyes, took another few dragging steps, and fainted. Then the men were on him again, this time beating him savagely with tools they’d snatched from bushel baskets set out along the porch of the hardware store.
There was a gun lying miraculously at Charlie Gillick’s feet. He bent over and picked it up. “Police! he yelled at the top of his voice, but that didn’t stop the beating—some of the mob looked up and over at him briefly, but kept right on hitting and poking and stabbing.
Charlie stepped off the curb into the street and raised his right arm straight up, and for the first time as an officer of the law acting in the line of duty, he fired a gun. He fired it twice.
At that, all but four of the men dropped their rakes and spades and shovels and ran, scattering away and peeling off into narrow alleys. The four that remained glowered at Charlie. “Go on, get out of here,” said one of them. Moon-faced with long pale-yellow hair. “Go rattle some more doorknobs, you Irish son of a bitch, and leave this goddamn crumb to us.”
Charlie was swept, nearly overmastered by an impulse to send a bullet crashing through the fucking bastard’s ugly face, through all of their faces, all four of their fucking ugly Pollack faces, and if he hadn’t deliberately removed his forefinger from the trigger guard, he might have done it, too. “Count of three,” he said. “You’re not out of my sight…? Well, I’m outnumbered, aren’t I? Self-defense. Four against one.” Then he repeated: “One.”
They sneered down at the man they’d beaten; the fingers of his left hand scratched weakly at a cobblestone. They looked back up and sneered at Charlie. But made no move to leave.
Charlie belly-leveled the pistol. He’d never felt so frightened in his life. Or as strong. God, yes. Invincible. He put his finger back on the trigger.
“Let’s go,” said the moon-faced guy, and they all threw down the tools they’d taken from the porch and walked off together, back onto the sidewalk and then, two by two, swaggering away toward the corner of Twenty-fifth Street. On tenement porches people started to clap, and for just a second Charlie foolishly imagined they were clapping for him. Drawing and exhaling a deep breath, he hunkered in the street, laid the gun down beside him, and carefully turned the badly beaten man over onto his back.
When he recognized the man as Joe Dell’Appa, Charlie flinched and rocked back on his heels. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Joe’s eyes widened in terror, and Charlie said, “It’s okay, friend, it’s okay, you’re safe now.” But it wasn’t Charlie Gillick that Joe Dell’Appa was looking at; it was the blonde moon-faced man. He’d come sneaking back up, and by the time Charlie glanced over a shoulder and saw him, he’d already stooped and grabbed up the pistol by the barrel and was bringing the grip down on Charlie’s skull. “Fuck you, Irish,” he said. “Fuck you!”
Once Charlie had slumped over, unconscious, the man stood up straight and turned to leave. But then, swept by an impulse as sudden and violent as Charlie’s had been, he fitted the gun properly in his hand, and shot Joe Dell’Appa in the face, four times.