He’d thought about slugging the old lady, but Li’l Andiron would bite his fingers off. That was why the gimpy runt instilled such fear in men like King Touey who could have demolished him in a fair fight. Li’l Andiron had done it before, bitten off a guy’s fingers. At least that was the story. Nobody had actually seen it, but everyone knew somebody who had. He’d pried open a guy’s fist and chewed off all his fingers. So if King Touey took a whack now at Mrs. Irons, that son of a bitch would certainly maim him worse, since it was his mother. What if he chomped on both of King’s hands? Fuck that, he’d leave the cranky old bat alone. Besides, she was holding a gun on King. There was that, too.
He had to get out of there.
Fifteen minutes, half an hour ago, Li’l Andiron had marched King Touey into the same house he’d always lived in on Orient Street with his mother, and until about five years ago with his mother and his older brother Tommy, who’d been severely retarded and basically a wild animal. They’d never let Tommy out of the house. He’d finally died of apoplexy. Compared to Tommy Irons, King’s own retarded brother Patsy was Alexander Graham Bell. It was because of Tommy that every window in the house had bars on it, to keep him in. They’d never gotten around to taking them down after he passed, so King Touey might as well have been in jail; he was in jail, he was in Li’l Andiron’s home jail.
That chunk of hired muscle from Elizabeth, Joe Bloodgood, had kept his gun on King all the way across town in Li’l Andiron’s open Hollier automobile, and kept it on him walking him across the packed-dirt front yard, up the decrepit porch steps, and into the gloomy, unmaintained little house. They’d locked him in what King supposed was the living room, although it looked more like a reading room in a run-down public library. Filled bookcases covered every wall except the wall with two windows. On that one, an especially wide bookcase stood between the windows. That’s where we find King now–planted in front of that bookcase and running his glance along the different-colored spines–bright green, dusty red, deep blue, pale tan–of books crammed in tight on the top shelf. Half the space was taken up with matching Aunt Jane’s Nieces novels; after that came two FuManchu novels, Tarzan of the Apes, then half a dozen children’s illustrated geographies. The shelf underneath was lined with small, hold-in-the-palm-of-your-hand volumes of contemporary poetry by Conrad Aiken, Frances Cornfeld, Amy Lowell, Edith Sitwell, and Siegfried Sassoon. It was a motley library, even King Touey could see that. Mrs. Irons was one of those people who can’t stop reading, and she’d read anything; she’d always been that way. There was a word for it, for that kind of person, but King Touey couldn’t recall it just now–he remembered Lizzie using it once, that word, and her telling him what it meant. “Like Mrs. Irons,” she’d said, and King immediately understood.
Mrs. Irons used to keep house for the Toueys when the family, briefly, had money and was living on Hobart Avenue in a nice house; this was during the time when Hugh Touey was in a partnership with Jack Cure, the builder. But finally Mrs. Touey had let Mrs. Irons go–it had gotten to the point where she was just sneaking off reading and not doing any housework. “There’s still dust bunnies everywhere,” King could recall his mother saying, “and the woman was here for six hours!” Not only that, she read a book at Tommy’s funeral. Read a novel straight through her son Tommy’s funeral mass. Supposedly a romance set in a mining camp, but that could be wrong, just a neighborhood legend.
“You sure like to read,” King said now, turning away from the bookcase and addressing Mrs. Irons, snowy haired and corpulent, and wearing the same faded housedress she wore every day–that she’d worn coming to work at the Touey house when King was a small boy! She was seated in an overstuffed arm chair reading–of course!–by the light of a pole lamp with a shade fringed with blood-red glass pendants. King hated it when people turned on electric lights in the daytime. It was a major annoyance, but he wouldn’t tell that to Mrs. Irons, much as he wanted to. She might tell her son and King could end up with two stumps. “How many books you read a week, you think? What are you reading now?”
Her eyes snapped up and glowered at him. “If you don’t mind, I don’t talk to monkeys. Or listen to them, either.” She gave a little shake of the gun that Li’l Andiron had left with her. It looked like a relic from the Civil War–a worn wooden grip, a long barrel, and a cylinder that bulged out on both sides. King bet it didn’t even fire. Li’l Andiron wouldn’t trust his screwy mother with a working revolver. She had to be 85. Li’l Andiron and Tommy weren’t her first children, she’d been married before marrying their father, and had had four or five kids who were now in their late 50s, early 60s. The Irons were a pretty notorious family, locally. The father died in the penitentiary, down in the medieval dungeons of Trenton State Prison. Years ago, Mrs. Irons was arrested more than once on charges of receiving stolen property, and would’ve done time if she hadn’t had two children with infirmities.
It wasn’t only Tom not born normal, Li’l Andiron–Andy Irons–was born with infantile paralysis. Or maybe he wasn’t born with it, maybe he’d come down with it as a baby, but for sure he’d spent his whole life battling it, anyone would have to say heroically. He tortured himself with leg weights and whatnot. His extremities remained stick-like, but even so he became fleet. For a while during his late twenties and into his thirties, he was nimble enough to shinny up fire escapes to burgle flats, then down again, sometimes, people claimed, lamming it on all fours, head first, like a cat, the loot in a khaki field pack from the Spanish-American War. But he’d finally been caught coming out a window, and did a two-year jolt. Ever since being released–he got out around the same time King Touey’s semi-professional boxing career was tapering off, about three years ago–Li’l Andiron played things differently. Using his mother’s house, his house, as a kind of club/headquarters/ hideout, he gathered different crooks and specialty bandits around him, three or four times a year, and masterminded crimes. Li’l Andiron became Bayonne’s criminal mastermind. A big fish in a small pond is still a big fish. And besides, it wasn’t as if Bayonne was some negligible burg–it had 45,000-plus residents and major oil companies refining there.
Speaking of refineries, and returning to our story: from either of the two windows in Mrs. Irons’ living room, King Touey could see the green tops of some big tanks at the Standard, in the hazy middle distance, probably not a mile to the northeast. He looked that way now, standing at one of the windows with his hands clasped behind his back. He couldn’t begin to guess what would happen to him next. If Li’l Andiron had meant to kill him, why would he have brought King home to his house? He could easily have driven up to Currie’s Woods and shot him there. Why bring him home? So, guardedly, King let his hopes rise. Maybe he wasn’t going to die today. And as his hopes rose, with guarded restraint, he felt his chest relax. He’d been pretty tense, there, for a while. He’d really been afraid he was going to be shot dead by a guy he’d only just met, who’d shared his lunch with King at the train station and then got the drop on him. How in holy hell had he ended up in this situation? Three hours ago, less, he’d been keeping scabs in line, earning his easy 50 dollars a day. And now look where he was! Once again, King’s impulsiveness had led him to the brink of disaster, as Lizzie always had warned him it would.
He could hear a murmur of voices from the room overhead, but couldn’t make out what anyone was saying. Since he’d been locked in here, several people had arrived at the house and gone trudging up the front stairs. King reached out through the open window in front of him with both hands and grabbed hold of two bars. Why the hell would Li’l Andiron want to kill him anyway? Yes, guilty–King hadn’t showed up for a job he’d promised to work, all right, no defense, he hadn’t. But it wasn’t as if the job went awry or anything, it went off without a hitch, and so did several other jobs after that, the so-called black-hood stickups, the ones that knocked over social and political clubs. King said he was in, then never showed. Okay. He dropped the ball on that one, but so what? Nobody got killed, nobody got arrested. Was this any reason to kill a man? No! Or to maim him? No, of course not.
King sat down in a smaller arm chair across the room from Mrs. Irons’. He lit a cigarette and threw the match at a green glass ashtray, but it missed and landed on a doily, browning the lace slightly. There was a stack of books on the piecrust table next to his chair, three books tall. A brass paper knife was lying next to the stack; the books looked brand new, the pages uncut. Tic-Toc of Oz, The Poison Belt, and Spoon River Anthology. “I love to read myself,” King said all of a sudden, picking up the Oz novel, and as soon as he said it, he realized it was the gospel truth; he was telling the truth–again! As always. He didn’t read a great deal, but whenever he did–if he was spending a long night in an armory, say, or in the machine shop of some big factory–he enjoyed reading a book or a magazine. Enjoyed it? He loved it!
Mrs. Irons was looking at him with deep exasperation, and then she said, and her tone was crystal clear: she was challenging him when she said, “Name the last thing you read.”
“You heard me. The last thing you read. Go on! I want the title.”
“Well,” said King, and he ran a hand in a deliberately ruminative way across the jut of his chin, “I don’t know if I could tell you the title. But it was a Western.”
“A Western! What do you know about Westerns? Have you read The Virginian?”
“I might’ve,” said King, “that name sounds familiar. What was it about?”
She slammed her book closed around one finger. “You’re thick as a post, you always were!” She leaned forward, and King was startled by her ferocity. Where had that come from? He’d merely told her, truthfully, that he loved to read, and since reading was her passion–what had he done wrong? “Your sister is so lovely, how could a lout like you be her brother? You or that other lump, the slow one.”
“Wait a second, hold on,” said King, springing to his feet. “You can’t just say that!”
“I can, and I do,” said Mrs. Irons, not retreating one iota. “And also you’re a big thug. Strikebreaker. I shouldn’t be surprised that you’d sink so low.”
“Look who’s talking,” said King. His head throbbed, his vision awash in red. He was two seconds away from grabbing her fat face in his hand and squeezing when there was a click at the door, a key going into the lock and turning, and then Li’l Andiron, resplendant in his vanilla-white suit, stepped into the living room. He must’ve seen King’s forward-leaning posture and his clenched fists because he bellowed, “What’s going on in here? Are you threatening my mother?”
“Him? Threaten me?” said Mrs. Irons with lofty contempt. She lifted the heavy pistol. “He could hardly do that, sonny Jim.”
“This is all so stupid,” said King Touey. “What am I doing here? I got better things to do than waste my time in this mausoleum.”
“Mausoleum is it?” Li’l Andiron took serious offense. He loved his home!
“Oh will you two shut up?” said Mrs. Irons. “I would like to be left alone.”
“I’m sorry, Ma,” said Li’l Andiron, “we’ll get out of your hair. You,” he said then, turning to King Touey, “I’m gonna give you a chance to make up for running out on us.”
“I didn’t run out on you, I just didn’t show up.”
“Getting laid is no excuse.”
“I didn’t need any excuse. And it wasn’t only getting laid, it was a free trip to the Shore, all expenses paid.”
“You want to hear about this thing? It’s an opportunity.”
“A golden opportunity?” said King, because that’s what Joe Bloodgood said had brought him to Bayonne, a golden opportunity.
“Yes, exactly. And don’t sound so disdainful. This is a very good job I got lined up.”
“I got a job already. So no thanks.”
“Can I shoot him now, then?” said Mrs. Irons.
“Ma, go read your book.”
“How can I read with you two Mutt and Jeffs carrying on like chickens?”
When Li’l Andiron smiled at his mother there was filial love all over his face, and King felt like throwing up. Mother love and mother-love songs were a lot of hooey. His own mother, you take his own mother. Now there was a piece of work. The reason King’s father drank so much–in King’s opinion–was because his mother had started carrying on with Jack Cure, and then after his dad drunkenly fell off a roof and broke his neck, his mother left town with Jack Cure, and was still living with him, so far as King knew, somewhere in the Midwest; she’d abandoned Patsy to Liz and just fled, like some young girl of low morals, with Jack Cure. Indianapolis. Liz believed they were living in Indianapolis, but why she did, King never knew. He watched Li’l Andiron beam a smile at his mom and felt scorn.
“Come on upstairs, King,” said the runt, “and meet some guys. You probably know a few of them already.”
When King didn’t move, Li’l Andiron gestured back out the door and then Joe Bloodgood walked in with his gun. So then King moved, and Joe marched him up the stairs while behind them Li’l Andiron said, “I’ll make you a sandwich after we’re done here, Ma. Enjoy your book,” and shut the door.
At the top of the stairs, Joe said to turn right, and as King Touey was doing that, it popped into his head suddenly, the word he’d been looking for.
In that year of grace, 1915, the public safety department of the City of Bayonne consisted of 77 salaried keepers of the peace–one Chief, eight plainclothes detectives, four motorcycle policemen in short jackets, tight-fitting leggings and calf-high boots, and the rest officers and patrolman in short- brimmed square caps displaying filigreed plates stamped with a rank, long blue tunics, roomy trousers, and black steel-toed brogans. Nearly all of the men were on strike detail at Constable Hook that broiling Tuesday, while Police Headquarters, a four-story red-brick building on the northeast corner of Avenue C and Twenty-sixth Street, was guarded by deputized firemen armed with riot sticks, shotguns, and .32-20 Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector military revolvers.
There were holding cells in the sub-basement, and whenever another hurry-up wagon arrived at headquarters carting more strikers scooped up outside the Standard Oil and Tidewater plants, the firemen snapped nervously alert: within five or ten minutes, the avenue would, they knew only too well, be clogged again with women and teenage boys provoked to a frenzy by bellicose labor agitators from Elizabeth and Newark. Five times already today, Chief of Police, Dick Dorsey, red-faced and bushily mustached, had rushed outside onto the high front steps brandishing a Remington rifle and threatening to shoot dead the next union bum who so much as cleared his lousy throat. Lowering the rifle, he’d glower in all directions till he spotted the most forlorn-looking woman in the crowd, whom he’d then address, saying, “After your man is charged, mother, he’ll be entitled to post a bond. Now go back home and start his supper–go on, shoo! And that goes for the lot of yis!” Then he’d wag his head aggrievedly and storm back inside and slam the door. Someone always locked and barred it behind him.
Around noon–after finally getting off the telephone with the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel who’d fulminated on for nearly ten minutes in thick glottal English about two police officers who not only had callously wrecked a Polish saloon that morning, but, while doing it, had desecrated pictures of the King of Poland and Tadeusz Kosciuszko by shooting them full of holes–Chief Dorsey locked his office door and sat down behind his desk to eat his lunch. The missus had sent him to work with a cheese sandwich, an apple, and a slice of pound cake. But instead of eating, he folded his arms on his desk blotter.
Who the hell was Tadeusz Kosciuszko? And why are your people hanging pictures of the King of Poland in their goddamn lousy saloon anyway? King of Poland! This is the United States of America, whyn’t they hang a picture of George Washington on the wall, for crissake? But the Chief made himself stop (he nibbled at his sandwich, and chewed deliberately). Otherwise, he’d only work himself into another lather. Pushing away his sandwich, he reached for the apple. But then he made a fist with it and pounded the desk. And another thing, Father Swider–he wished now that he’d said, instead of promising a full investigation–I don’t remember you calling me up last night when your king-loving parishioners were out ransacking non-Polish saloons up and down Broadway and Avenue E–what about those people? Any spleen you’d care to vent about them? No? I thought not, you lousy little–
Opening his top drawer, he took out a package of ready-mades–Piedmonts–and a box of matches, then got up from his desk and went and stood at one of the windows, looking out at the street. Things were quiet there at the moment. The Chief lit his cigarette, but hardly smoked it. He was 55 years old, a former plumber and tinsmith, and unlike most of his fellow Irishmen in Bayonne, he’d lived his entire life in the city; his father worked on the coal docks at Fort Johnson. When Dick Dorsey was a boy, though, it wasn’t a city, it wasn’t even called Bayonne–it was still the isolated villages of Saltersville, Centerville, Constable Hook, Pamrapo, and Bergen Point; it was still fruit orchards, pastures, corn fields, fields of oats, and the estates–the Schuyler, the Humphreys, the Van Buskirk estates–owned by the descendants of the original Dutchmen who’d pushed out the Raritan Indians in the seventeenth century.
The Chief had grown up in a world of farmers, fishermen, and oystermen, in a world of sleighing parties, singing parties, husking parties, and straw rides, and of horse racing on the Plank Road Saturdays in summer, rain or shine. But everything changed, and changed rapidly, in the 1880s when the railroads, and then the paint factories, and the chemical works, and then the first oil companies, arrived. Just west of where he was looking now, beyond Avenue C, there, and stretching all the way down to Newark Bay–when he was a boy and a young man, it was entirely chestnut groves, and woodlands of dogwood, silver maples, and ancient willows. Sweet Jesus. And to the east, where Bayonne’s commercial district was now, were the modest cottages of Centerville–those cottages and a common water pump, a few hitching posts, a sleepy general store, and that, mister, was all. Incredible. Thirty years. Shortly after the turn of the century, the Chief and his father had visited Ireland together; they’d gone back to the village where his da was born, and nothing, not so much as the signage on a single pub, had changed since the old man left for America as lad of ten. But, then, Da’s village wasn’t on the peninsula between the metropolis of Newark and New York City.
The phone was ringing on the Chief’s desk. As soon as he realized that, he also realized it had been ringing for some time already; apparently he’d been hearing it but also blocking it. He rubbed out his cigarette and reached for the candlestick base, then didn’t grab it. First, he needed to get his head straight, drag it back into the twentieth century. If it was the Mayor (who also happened to be a lawyer for Standard Oil), if it was Mayor Garvin, he’d tell him that he’d heard back from both the New York City and the Jersey City police departments, and both had declined to send officers or police horses, and he’d suggest that if the Mayor wanted the militia to come in, he needed to talk it over with either Sheriff Kinkaid or the Governor; if it was the Director of Public Safety, if it was Mr. Wilson calling, he’d tell him that, yes, as promised, all of his officers had been told to be on the lookout for men with movie cameras, and made aware that no permits to shoot film at the company gates had been granted, or would be. If it was the Sheriff, he’d say yes sir and no sir and keep his feelings to himself. And if it was his wife, he’d tell Ronnie that he’d taken his lunch, yes, and wish she’d stop worrying so much that he wasn’t eating right.
He picked up the telephone and then unclipped the ear piece; leaning down to the mouthpiece, he said, “Chief Dorsey.” He listened and said, “Good afternoon, Mayor! I heard back from–” Then he closed his mouth and frowned. “When was this, sir?” He winced. “How many? No, not yet.” He looked back out the window. “Not yet. But on whose–all right, okay, well, if the Sheriff arrested them, I have to… No, I know that, I know that. But on whose authority should I release them–yours? The Sheriff is in charge, Mayor, he was put in charge, you told me that yourself. Well, maybe you should. Come right on over, sir,” said the Chief, “you’re always welcome,” and when he looked out the window again he saw a horse-drawn police wagon making its slow way up Twenty-sixth Street, closely followed by what looked like workingmen this time, not the wives, the men themselves, the strikers, brandishing sticks and throwing rocks at the wagon, and shouting, “Murderers, murderers!”
Where the wagon was turning in now, behind headquarters? That whole area used to be a rail-fenced pasture, and Dick Dorsey remembered dairy cows grazing there, a barn and a creamery beyond. “No, mayor,” said the Chief, “I’m still here, but you’ll have to excuse me, I need to go see about this.” He pronged the ear piece, and on his way out of the office remembered to grab his rifle, his Remington.
Sheriff Kinkaid had told them, several times already, that he was due at Mydosch Hall by three o’clock to address the strikers, but here it was half past two and he was still blowing off his gab in Liz Landrigan’s kitchen. So help her, Liz was at the limit of her patience. When he’d first arrived, marching in with his chest stuck out–Gene Kinkaid was a robust handsome man of 39 with black wavy hair–she was sincerely grateful to him for having given Johnny Gillick a lift to her house in his automobile. The plan —Liz’s plan—had been for the men to collect Charlie Gillick, whose face kept turning blacker and bluer and seeming ever more swollen, then take him home and put him straight to bed; she was afraid he might have a concussion. But instead of helping Charlie, those two big numptys had virtually ignored the poor lad. With typical self-importance, Johnny went tearing off up the back stairs to place an “urgent call” to a client on Liz’s telephone, while the Sheriff , seating himself at the table, used the butter dish, the high-sided electric toaster, and Patsy’s ceramic egg caddy to demonstrate how, singlehandedly, he’d dispersed a mob of incensed refinery workers and then arrested a dozen strikebreaking mercenaries barricaded inside the firehouse on Twenty-third Street.
Liz was so furious she could’ve spit, but Charlie saw things differently. As a matter of fact, the very presence there of Gene Kinkaid–who was not only the Sheriff of Hudson County but, until just a few months ago, had also been a U.S. congressman!–had elevated his spirits and cleared his foggy brain, although his body still ached all over and smarted from the blows he’d taken outside that same firehouse the Sheriff had so boldly invaded, at the hands of those same refinery workers he’d so intrepidly dispersed. What a man! If only Charlie could be more like him!
Now, as the Sheriff deployed the sugar bowl and creamer, a matching Nippon set hand-painted with red, pink, white and yellow roses, setting the stage to recount how, by dint of good reflexes and the grace of God, he’d narrowly escaped death from a sniper’s bullet, Liz glanced over at Charlie again. Identifying the keen, focused look on his face as worshipful enthrallment, she recoiled in disgust. Well, he always had been a hero-worshipping little fool, beginning with her worthless brother King, when Charlie was just a shaver, and continuing with Ernest Shackleton, Hubert Lathan, Roald Admundsen, Oscar T. Tamm, Ty Cobb and Jim Thorpe. Last year, it was Richard Harding Davis; Johnny Gillick had told Liz that after reading Davis’s breathless accounts of the German army goose-stepping through the streets of Brussels and putting Louvain to the torch, Charlie had hung a color-drenched rotogravure picture of that overpaid glamour-puss on his bedroom wall, taking down a litho of Christ Our Savior to do so. Charlie and his explorers, his aviators, his athletes, his war correspondents! He was such a boy.
Liz had never had truck with heroes, or even much believed in them, and what suddenly flashed through her mind now was the summer day, the June day, five years ago when Charlie Gillick, not yet 16, had met her on the streetcar and declared with great high-spiritedness that he was on his way to New York City, to the Battery, to join the throngs welcoming home Teddy Roosevelt after his silly year of running around shooting lions and what have you in darkest Africa. “Charlie,” she’d scolded, “don’t you have anything better to do with your time than to attaboy blowhards?” Obviously not, she’d thought then, and thought again now watching him lean avidly forward over the kitchen table. Oh Charlie, Charlie.
“Remember,” said the Sherriff, lifting the egg caddy and setting it down, “this is me. And I look over a shoulder, like so, and what’s there? But a bunch of school boys!” He plucked a cluster of white grapes by its stem from the fruit bowl and plonked it down on the oilcloth. “Ten- and eleven-year-old school boys, brazen as you please, standing right out in front of the tenements on Twenty-second Street”–sugar bowl, creamer. He shook his head incredulously, rolled his eyes, and rapped the lid of the butter dish, previously designated as the high concrete wall of the Standard Oil works swarming (use your imagination) with company and private thugs armed with rifles. Before resuming his account, the Sheriff looked around slowly at everyone–at spellbound Charlie Gillick seated across the table, at Liz rigidly planted, pinch-mouthed, arms folded, at the kitchen range, at Johnny Gillick, back downstairs by then and standing beside Liz, drawing on a cigarette, at Our Patsy fidgeting in the open doorway to the back porch, and finally, at the cat of ashes, who’d leapt up to one of the dual drain boards and was licking a paw and then swiping his face with it.
“Naturally I ordered them all to get a move on, but before they could obey, which I’m certain the boys would have done, everyone knows I’m no foe of theirs or their families, I’m a friend of labor and that’s no secret–just as I was giving the order, the very second it was leaving my lips, some natural instinct told me, Gene! turn around, man, so I did, whew, only to see a guard inside the plant level his gun at me!” He surveyed the tabletop and plucked up a salt shaker and put it down on the lid of the butter dish. “I expect,” he resumed, “that since I’m dressed today in street clothes”–he smoothed his palms over the lapels of his summer weight tan jacket, and with a finger tap gave a tap to the snug knot of his necktie–“the cretins mistook me for a newspaperman. I dodged”–and in his seat, he did so again, lurching abruptly to his left–“and a moment later a bullet went crashing into the head of a poor fellow beside me.”
“One of the children?” said Liz.
“No, no!” said the Sheriff. “No, thank God. Just some unfortunate fellow, one of the strikers. And down he went! That’s three dead in two days. I marched straight into the Standard works and arrested every man on that parapet! I’m sick in bed of these paid assassins!” And he looked it, too, he looked suddenly ill; his red face had turned white. Liz chided herself for having been so impatient with him. She stepped away from the range and put a hand gently on his shoulder. He reached back to pat it. “It has got to be understood, Elizabeth, that these wealthy people with their palatial homes can’t hire men to shoot down poor people just to protect their property. They can’t be allowed to kill human beings to save mere plants and machinery.”
Irked again, Liz withdrew her hand; it wasn’t that she doubted his sincerity, although she knew he would just as soon paste a striker in the mouth as a mercenary, but what he’d just said, noble as it sounded, was, word for word, what she’d read in the newspaper this morning that he’d said last evening upon arriving in Bayonne to take charge of the strike situation. And, too, he’d called her Elizabeth, which he knew, or ought to have known–they were long enough acquainted–that she’d allowed only her late husband to do.
(No one had noticed, but when he’d heard the Sheriff tell of the man who’d been shot through the head, Patsy Touey had sagged–his knees gave, and his hands flapped as if spastic. Patsy knew, really knew, what happened to people after they died, but he’d never told, fearful he’d be ridiculed, even called mean, cruel, blasphemous, and alarming. As it was, everyone thought he was retarded, a little moron like in the jokes.)
“Gene,” Liz said now, “it’s nearly quarter of three, and if you mean to take Charlie home before going on back to the Hook, you should probably leave now. Don’t you think?” She looked peevishly at Johnny Gillick and moved her lips: Say something, you silly goon.
“She’s right, Gene,” said Johnny, rubbing out his cigarette in the tea saucer Liz had given him with a scowl when he’d lighted up; thank God her Michael had never fallen into that filthy habit. “Let’s collect our own poor fellow and get on with the day. Liz can come along and after we’ve dropped him at my parents’ house, you can run the two of us back to my office.”
Color flared in Liz’s cheeks and in the beak of her nose. “Well, I should hope you don’t intend to just ‘drop’ your little brother off! Drop him off! He’s weak as a kitten.”
“Am not!” said Charlie. He blushed when everyone looked at him.
“We’ll help him inside,” said Liz, “and make sure he’s all right.”
Johnny hissed. “I didn’t mean we’d kick him out at the curb! Besides, our mother’s at home, I’m sure, and she’ll see that Charlie is–”
“I’m fine,” Charlie said, then he set his mouth in a hard, aggressive line.
The Sheriff laughed and whacked the table with the flats of both hands. “Of course, you are, son–I could see that the minute I walked in.” He stood up from his chair, so did Charlie, and for a long moment they locked eyes across the table. “Good man,” said the Sheriff before turning to Johnny Gillick. “I have a suggestion.” He looked back at Charlie. “Can you drive an automobile, patrolman?”
“Now, hold on, Gene,” said Johnny Gillick. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“Charlie tells me that he can drive, I need a driver–it just looks better, all around. And you both can walk back to the office, if you don’t mind, it’s only a few blocks.”
Liz was astonished that she felt no coercion to object. “Charlie?” she said.
He was straightening his tunic, shooting his cuffs, rolling his shoulders–but that caused him to wince, so he quit doing it. “Any time you’re ready, Sherriff Kinkaid,” he said.
“Oh, for the love of Mike–Gene, I can’t allow this. My brother’s been beaten to a pulp and you intend to just–drag him around with you? Is this a joke? I don’t find it funny.”
In a split second, the Sheriff’s demeanor changed: his face hardened, his color darkened. “John, I have a job to do, and I’d like your brother to give me a hand. He’s an officer of the law.”
“Oh, this is ridiculous.”
“Should I go out and start the machine, sir?” said Charlie.
“Good idea. I’ll join you in a minute.”
After Charlie left (Patsy eagerly followed him outside), Johnny Gillick drove a fist into his opposite palm. “What’re you trying to do, Gene? Make certain my kid brother catches the next bullet aimed at you?”
“Don’t say another word, John.”
“You don’t need any driver.”
“That’s correct, I do not. But I think Charlie would benefit from the experience.”
“Well, I don’t. He never should’ve joined the police force, it’s a family joke.”
“So you’ve told me. So I’ve just seen. And I think it’s sad, how little confidence anyone seems to have in him.”
“Leave me out of this,” said Liz.
“No, Elizabeth, I don’t believe I shall.” He nodded at them both and left to join Charlie in his Chevrolet automobile.
The moment he was gone, Johnny Gillick exploded. “Damn you, Liz, this is all your fault–dragging us both here. Now look what’s happened.”
Liz was incensed by his tone of voice, by his accusation, by her own puzzling loss for words, but only for a moment. And, upon reflection, she was not really incensed at all. She began disassembling the Sheriff’s makeshift diorama–the grapes to the fruit bowl, the toaster to the counter, the egg caddy to the sink, the butter dish to the ice box, the sugar bowl, the creamer, and the salt shaker back to the center of the table–and then she bit down, suddenly, deeply, into her bottom lip, and realized, as soon as she’d done it, that she’d done it to keep from smiling.
Since Charlie Gillick walloped him with a riot stick, more than a day ago, Joe Dell’Appa had had a pounding miserable headache, every pulse like crashing glass. He sat on the hard bench in his cell in the basement of police headquarters with his hands clamped to his head, his fingers pressing down futilely on top. Nothing helped, nothing diminished it, and it showed no signs of diminishing on its own. He’d vomited half a dozen times, into a bucket that hadn’t been emptied. When he was clear-minded enough to collect a thought, he’d wonder if they’d forgotten about him. The place was a racket, the bellowing in several different languages–from strikers confined in the big holding cells at the opposite end of the basement–echoed endlessly, contributing to Dell’Appa’s moral and physical sorrows. He wished he’d just have a cerebral hemorrhage, get it over with. Oh God, but he was afraid to die! But how could he stand to go on living–why had he done what he’d done? Why had he disguised himself and opened fire on two helpless women? Why had he felt such burning desire for Olive Ince? And then such burning contept? He’d made a fool of himself, and she’d mocked him for it. And then, then his insane pride had caused the death of an infant! When they’d first brought Dell’Appa into police headquarters yesterday, wearing shameful handcuffs, they booked him on charges of malicious wounding and manslaughter. He would go to prison for a long time! He wanted to die.
Every so often, Dell’Appa passed out for a few minutes, but then he’d wake up feeling nauseous. Once–and he’d had no idea what time it was, but it somehow felt like mid-morning–he woke up when a man called him–“You! Fella!”–from outside his cell. Not a policeman, this man had on a derby and a checked vested suit; he looked like a saloon keeper, which, as it turned out, was what he was, among other things. He flipped one of his embossed cards through the bars, and Dell’Appa bent over and picked it up. The card not only bore the name Samuel Greenburg and announced Greenburg’s services–“legal advisor and licensed bondsman”–it also invited the bearer to visit Greenburg’s Cafe, 23rd St. at Broadway, Bayonne, where it would be worth a dollar off the bill of fare.
“I didn’t know there was anybody down here. Who are you? I’m Sam Greenburg. Will you be needing bail?” Then he scowled and said, “Talk in English,” and Dell’Appa was surprised to discover that he’d lapsed into his native Castilian Spanish.
“How much is bail?” asked Dell’Appa, in English now. He hadn’t even considered that. But how could he post bail? He couldn’t scrape together $25. Maybe his sister? No! He’d be too ashamed.
“Depends,” said Greenburg, who was tall and soft-bodied, going to fat, with a handsome face and a full head of dark hair under his derby. “What’d you do?”
But remembering what he’d done, being forced to by Greenburg’s question, only made Dell’Appa crouch suddenly, and then swivel around to vomit again. When he’d finished and was wiping his lips with a shirt sleeve, Greenburg said, “That bad? Then I probably can’t help you. Good luck, boy.”
Since then, since Greenburg’s visit, nobody had looked in on him. Had they forgotten about him because of the big strike rumpus, the mass incarcerations down at the other end of the hall? Was he supposed to get a lawyer? How was he supposed to do that? He sat down again on the side of the bench, and again clapped his hands around his splitting head. He rued the day he’d listened to his married sister and went to a dance in Bayonne. Since none of the girls in Jersey City seem to want you, Joey, you mise well try in Bayonne. And he rued the evening he’d met, and by the glow of Japanese lanterns hanging all around the out-of-doors dance pavilion, fallen under the spell of Olive Ince! He’d been sitting there and ruing that way for God knows how long when suddenly his cell door opened (he hadn’t heard anyone coming!) and then, one after the other, nine, ten, eleven large and surly men filed in. The door clanged shut behind them and a key was turned. You could hardly breathe now, the cell was so crowded, and Dell’Appa felt a panicky urge to push his way through the men, to fight his way, if necessary, to the cell bars, then push his face between them. He squelched that urge. Nobody seemed to notice him, even when two of the men sat down on the bench beside him, and Dell’Appa thought that was probably a good thing. It was probably a very good and lucky thing that they didn’t acknowledge his existence.
One of the men sitting beside Dell’Appa said to the other one, “Ten bucks says the General gets us out of here in an hour.”
“An hour? We’ll be out in twenty minutes.”
“You want to bet?”
As it turned out, it took the “General,” their boss Pearl Bergoff, considerably less than twenty minutes to get his men out of jail; three of them were chief nobles–Red Casey, Billy Carroll and Big Spanish; the last of his four chiefs, King Touey, had disappeared and nobody seemed to know his whereabouts. Bergoff would worry about King Touey later. Right now, and not even ten minutes after his employees were locked up in a cell with the forgotten–and he truly had been forgotten!–Joe Dell’Appa, the General came charging up the cellblock behind a uniformed officer with a ring of keys. Behind them both trotted the Mayor of Bayonne. “Next time he gets an idea to arrest any of my men, you tell him he best see me about it first,” Bergoff said over his shoulder, and contemptuously, to the Mayor.
“I have cars waiting out in front, gentlemen,” he said a moment later to the nobles and sluggers Sheriff Kinkaid had arrested at the fire house and then inside the Standard walls. “Sorry for the inconvenience.” The men, still sullen, started filing out of the cell, and without thinking Dell’Appa filed out with them, and nobody stopped him. Outside–he was really outside, in the daylight!–it was starting to rain, large cold drops that slashed down and bounced frenetically on the pavement. Somebody pushed Dell’Appa into the back of a waiting automobile, and then he was speeding cross-town, west to east, headed for Constable Hook with several other men from the cell. It was a miracle! He’d escaped! He was a free man!