“Patsy! Patsy Touey. She had him for preprimer, as I recall, and then again for the second grade.”
“Are you certain of that?” said Olive, peering at him with her head to one side.
“Well, it was twice, I know that much.” Bill cranked open one of the pivoting windows and stretched a hand through, to check on the rain; it was tapering off, at long last. They were still downstairs in his living quarters at the Cosmos Film Company building. “It could’ve been the first grade, preprimer and first grade.” He closed the window again and sat down.
“No, I mean—I’m surprised he ever went to school at all.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“Well…” Olive squirmed; discussing the sad unfortunates of the world inevitably made her uncomfortable. “There’s nobody home in that poor soul. The only job he’s ever had in his life was pushing garbage carts and ash wagons, and even that didn’t last more than a few years. They call him Our Patsy.”
“Well, that’s condescending! You’re saying he’s a moron?”
“What? I’m not using a bad word, honey, it’s the term.”
“Still, it’s unkind. But yes, Patsy Touey has always been…slow.”
“You say ‘always,’ but I wonder—did something happen? An accident, or. Some fever that burned down his brain? Because I distinctly remember Aunt Jane saying the boy was one of her favorite pupils, alert and eager and all of that. With a voice like a songbird.” He smiled, recalling his favorite aunt’s deep disappointment that Bill couldn’t so much as carry a tune, much less grasp the diatonic scale; it made no sense to her, since music and mathematics, and mathematics and mechanics, Bill’s great native gift, were all so—of a piece, she’d insist. Still, Aunt Jane was fond of him, as a boy. Though fonder, he’d intuited, of Patsy Touey. “Apparently he could get up and sing a medley of Irish ballads on St. Patrick’s Day.”
“Are you sure we’re talking about the same person?”
“Sure I’m sure. Liz Touey’s younger brother, and King’s—”
“Landrigan,” interrupted Olive, glancing away from Bill and coloring slightly. “Liz Landrigan.”
“Right,” said Bill. “Landrigan.” Releasing his breath in a long, sighing sound, he folded his hands behind his neck and stretched his long legs.
Olive, he thought, Olive, Olive.
Smoking cigarettes, eating cherries, and sitting together on Bill’s divan, though purposely at opposite ends, they’d been talking about the Touey family since they’d finished watching those few brief moments of strike footage, nearly an hour ago. But thanks to Olive’s sudden discontinuances, non-sequiturs, and maddening apropos’ of nothing (“Mr. Touey shingled our roof when I was, I guess I was 10, or maybe I wasn’t, maybe I was…”) they’d been circling and circling the real subject of the conversation, or at least its mainspring, and Bill found himself now grown good and weary of all that circling, and perplexed by Olive’s clumsy, stammering strategum. Whenever he’d mention King Touey, the former boxer they’d seen on film digging frantically into a hill of cinders to escape being shot in the back by a pursuing cohort of oil workers, Olive would flinch, and nudge the topic to another Touey entirely: to the drunkard father who’d toppled off a roof and broken his neck, or to the mother who’d scandalously run off with Bruno Cure, the late Mr. Touey’s married business partner; to the tall beanpole sister Liz who’d been locally famous as a teenaged girl both for her basketball prowess and her Latin recitations, and later married a successful lawyer who’d died tragically young, of peritonitis; and, finally, to Patsy Touey, the quiet, cheerful little boy who’d quite captivated Bill’s otherwise sour schoolteacher aunt—and Bill Harrigan wasn’t mistaking Patsy Touey for anybody; he well remembered Aunt Jane suggesting, on many occasions when he was a bookish, friendless little boy in grammar school, that he strike up an acquaintance with Patsy Touey since they seemed well-matched in age and temperament. A moron? Not twenty-two, twenty-three years ago he wasn’t.
“Does she still live next door to you?”
“Liz Landrigan.” Bill felt a flick of annoyance, but rather than roll his eyes, he let a grin pull at his mouth.
“Oh yes, still does. She and Patsy. She and Patsy and a mangy old cat. My mother thinks he’d be better off in an institution, but he’s harmless.”
“Oh you! You know who I meant.”
He did, and then Olive was talking ramblingly on about the Touey cat, that it was named Cassius, but Patsy called it the Cat of Ashes, it was ancient, and might’ve been as old as she, and you’d see it prowling all around town with an orb of red tin hanging from its collar, and because they seemed to have reached yet another conversational impasse, another swerve, Bill just nodded and automatically reached for a cherry. As he was plucking off the stem, Al Coffey came back in buttoning up his oilproof slicker. “Bud and I are headed home to our long-suffering wives,” he said. “What time do you need us in the morning?” He pulled his sou’easter hat down on his head, adjusting the ear laps and the chin strap.
“Want us to meet you at the park?”
“It’ll be nothing but mud, Al. So no more cowboys and Indians till Friday at the earliest. Meet me here, why don’t you, and we’ll figure out something. Maybe take another ride down to the Hook.”
“As you say.” But Al looked none too happy at that prospect. He turned to leave, then turned back. “We can give the young lady a lift home, if she’d like.”
Bill had a flashing temptation to tell Al Coffey to mind his own damn business, but he put on an agreeable expression, stood up for no reason, and said, “That’s nice of you to offer.” Then, looking down at Olive and pinning her with a gaze that he hoped wasn’t too pleading, he asked, “Do you need to go right now? I suppose it is getting late—but I’d be glad to run you home myself.”
Happily, she’d just lighted another one of Bill’s Murads. She held it up now to show them both how barely smoked it was, and replied, “Thanks, Mr. Coffey, but if Bill really doesn’t mind, I’ll just pollute myself with this weed for a few more minutes and then be on my way.” She leaned back on the divan, inhaling, God bless her, a lungful of “all-Turkish” smoke.
“Night, then,” said Al, and was gone.
“Thank you,” said Bill in a low, guarded voice. He felt his ears glowing while his heart beat fast.
Awkward all of a sudden, terribly, horribly awkward, Bill picked up his package of cigarettes, in no need for another smoke, just to do something gestural to not look awkward standing there in front of Olive like a fence post. With a dopey smile and a blank mind. When he shook the package, instead of a Murad, an inch of a white business card appeared, and he filched it out, scowling, having no recollection of tucking it there. He held the card indecisively for a moment before glancing at it. Oh. Yes. Right. Now he remembered. It read—
BERGOFF SERVICE BUREAU
SERVING LEGAL PAPERS
—and bore, at the bottom, on the left, a downtown Manhattan address and two telephone numbers.
“What’s that?” asked Olive.
“Oh, nothing.” Bill quickly stuck the card away in his shirt pocket, but changed his mind and wedged it under the base of his telephone, and tossed the cigarettes back on the table. Then he realized, with a sharp intake of breath, that he was just standing there again, more awkward than before, with a blanker mind and a dopier smile.
“Bill?” She turned her head and blew out a great deal of smoke. “Come, sit.” If her left arm hadn’t been in a sling, Bill was fairly certain, she would’ve patted the cushion beside her with a definite, emphasizing gesture, so taking a chance, risking humiliation, that’s where he sat. Olive approved his decision with a small but strained smile. She reached over and doused her cigarette in the tray. Here it is, Bill thought. Here’s the moment. After all these many years. She wants me to kiss her. Consciously, though, he resolved not to allow himself another look at her pink bow mouth until he’d asked her the question that, he’d suddenly realized, he needed to ask.
“Olive,” he said, “just what happened between you and King Touey?”
Whenever P.L. Bergoff, the most successful breaker of industrial, steamship, railroad, mining, and traction strikes in the United States of America, and a millionaire many times over, clapped one of his many jet-black derbies on the top of his heavy globoid head and adjusted it finically, or whenever he appeared anywhere, at any time, under any circumstances, with one of them so clapped on and so precisely adjusted, it was a flouted signal to all—to nervous clients, ninnies, and the lousy poor alike—that he meant business; here below me, announced the crush-proof derby, stood a malevolently ferocious and focused man of action; and further, it annunciated, do not be misled by the wearer’s lamentably short stature, or by his pudginess, by the large juvenile freckles splattered across his low forehead and ruddy cheeks, by the greasy finger smudges on the round lenses of his cheap eyeglasses, by the seediness of his vested suit, or by the scuffed condition of his two-dollar brogans: trifle with this person, it warned, at your most deadly peril; with only the slightest provocation the great man underneath me will go for your vitals, and he will have them.
Bergoff had been wearing a black derby (although for many years perforce an inexpensive brand, the felt matted from rabbit fur, not sheep’s wool), and to consciously imbue such headwear with mystic significance, when he was a sullen tough egg of only 13 with a mortifyingly full head of bright-red curls—ever since the freezing-cold February morning in 1889 when he’d arrived by train in Chicago. His father, a German-Jewish fish trader and land speculator, had brought him there from the Dakota Territory without explanation. For two days and nights they’d traveled together, exchanging no more than a few dozen words (“You want half my sam’ich?” Not after you been slobberin’ all over it!” “Don’t fidget, you’re like a flea.” I’m not fidgetin’, who you callin’ a flea?” “You just cut a fart?” Me? That was you!”). When, at last, they reached the Union Station, and right there on the platform with their train still emptying behind them, Junies Berghoff (the boy would drop the “h” around 1900, when his career first started taking steam, just as he would entirely disavow his given name of “Pearl,” given him by his hated mother, recently deceased, who’d wanted a dear sweet girl) extracted five ten-dollar bills from his moneyfold, then handed them brusquely to his son, telling him, “There. That’s the last you’ll ever get from me. You’re on your own now. Go, scat—vanish!”
Bergoff was neither surprised nor indignant, and not in the least dismayed to find himself completely on his own in the pulsing, unsympathetic world. He had fifty bucks—fifty bones!—and felt confident it would be a stake sufficient to make his way and master his destiny. He pocketed the money, and hawked a green loogy at a point on the ground between his shoes and his father’s, then, dragging his carryall by its strap, pushed and shouldered his way through the crowd into the station’s cavernous main concourse. For nearly an hour he stood planted there, watching, considering, and what he took away from his careful surveillance (the first, as it would turn out, of many hundreds) was this: the men who seemed to him the most aggressive all wore jet-black derbies. So, before hitting the street for the first time, he took one final glance at his puny self in the mirror on a penny scale, and yanked off the soft cap he’d been wearing all the way from Allendale. He flung it away. Then he eased himself, inconspicuously, into a chowder house and snatched the blackest derby he could find from an untended cloak room. He clapped it on the top of his head, covering his detested red curls, and adjusted it finically, pinching the bound-edge brim between a first finger and thumb.
Over the next several years P.L. Bergoff worked any number of dollar-a-day jobs; news butcher on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, section hand for the Sioux-St. Marie, cabin boy on a merchant ship that plied the Great Lakes. He was distrustful of everyone, solitary, frugal, and practically his only pastime, beyond monthly visits to a whorehouse (where he would always select a girl who was built heavy but not fat), was to frequent haberdashery shops and peruse, often purchase, black derbies of increasingly better quality, lids by Mallory, Kauffman & Son, John B. Mitchell, United Hatters, and Stetson. His derby of preference, as time went on, was the Stetson model called the Grand Prize Paris; he liked its grosgrain ribbon band, and, especially, how its name rolled magisterially off the tongue. The Stetson Grand Prize Paris Derby. It was like fucking Shakespeare.
At last tiring of the Midwest, in 1896 Bergoff trained to New York City, where he found employment as a spotter on the Manhattan Street Railway, riding trolleys for ten hours a day to spy on car conductors and make sure that every fare was registered; spying, he discovered, was an occupation both absorbing and agreeable. A brief stint at an installment house, tracking lowlifes who’d skipped on their creditors, led in just a matter of months to a job at a detective agency. Suddenly P.L. Bergoff was making some real gelt, and just as good, almost, he loved the work, mostly divorce cases. It was crazy, the stuff married goops in love would put into writing! He got handy with little box cameras, and quickly excelled at disguises, loiding, and extemporized humbug. He bought more derbies. A hat tree. He became Mister Bergoff, or sir.
At this crucial stage in his life’s adventure, Bergoff realized, despite having no interest in such things, that he ought to marry and make some heirs. It was dangerous to remain a bachelor; despite his foul mouth, he might be misconstrued as a nancy boy. It was bad enough being known as a Jew. And it was pointless to deny that, since already he’d been identified as one in the daily press. (The word used there was Hebrew: “Pearl L. Bergoff, a Hebrew in the employ of the Say-So Detective Bureau, was arrested last evening following an altercation in the lobby of the Diamond Hotel on West Forty-seventh Street…” Of course they’d also had to call him Pearl, the little pricks!)
If he could have found an Episcopalian woman to marry, he would have, but despite his best efforts it proved impossible; after a humbling series of cool, even icy rebuffs, Bergoff decided that any Christian woman, of any denomination, would do, so long as she was built heavy but not fat. In the end, he married a serviceably plump Catholic, which proved to be an error in so far as his aspirations in New York were concerned; he shouldn’t have gone looking for a Christian, he should’ve gone looking for a Protestant. (He’d finally had to ask someone flat out, “What the hell is a papist?”) But he made the best of it, and the couple had two children, a boy and a girl. Mrs. Bergoff’s name was Gertrude, though she preferred to be called Libby. He called her Mrs. Bergoff. She called him, simply, Mister. Whenever he expected her to engage in relations, he would hook his Stetson Grand Prize Paris Derby on one of the bedposts before he left their apartment in the morning so that Mrs. Bergoff would know to stay awake reading magazines until he got home late in the evening from a stakeout or a shadow job.
In 1906, at age 30, P. L. Bergoff opened his own detective agency, The Vigilant, with offices in the Child’s Building near Herald Square. He solicited a better class of clientele, and why not? High-hats and old debutantes were as ruttish as common riff-raff; you could charge them quite a sight more, and they always paid the bills and expense accounts promptly; almost always. Moreover, The Vigilant was modern, progressive, even prescient, in its outlook and business model, offering confidential services beyond the usual matrimonial stuff: it provided bodyguards for some of the most notorious figures in commerce, government, and the applied arts, men in daily jeopardy from foreign-born anarchists, bankrupted rivals, and violent cuckolds. (P.L. himself received $600 to act as Stanford White’s personal bodyguard, but, alas, was outside enjoying a smoke in Madison Square Park when Harry K. Thaw put a bullet in the great architect’s brain across the street at Madison Square Garden.) The Vigilant hired accountants, attorneys, and practiced undercover men (recruited, most of them, away from the Burns and Pinkerton agencies) to ferret out crooks and embezzlers in payroll departments, traitors and plotters in corporate suites, and Wobblies, or merely just grousers, on waterfront docks or the factory floor, in the carbarns, and anthracite mines.
There was a lot more money to be made from industry than there ever was from crime or cheating spouses. Bergoff renamed his agency the Bergoff Service Bureau and added “Labor Adjustment” to its list of services, in a much larger font.
Although still partial to the Stetson Grand Prize Paris Derby, it seemed fitting, by this point, that P.L Bergoff should wear only the finest English-made derbies. And so he did. They called them bowlers over there. Same thing, though. Just more couth.
Because of the depression that followed the Panic of 1907, there were damnably few labor strikes for several years. But trusting that the situation would eventually change, Bergoff hired a corps of recruiters to scour saloons, flop houses, and gang hideouts and sign up future strikebreakers from among the legion of New York’s unemployed. He also purchased discharge records from penitentiaries and lunatic asylums. By the time the economy improved again, around 1910, Bergoff maintained a voluminous card index containing the names of more than 100,000 men, and with both feet he leapt into the lucrative business of “labor adjusting.” He promised his employers—steamship lines and stevedore contractors, coal companies, fireproofing companies, piece dye works, steel mills, railroads, clock makers, and dozens of municipalities—that he could raise a small army of “competent mechanics” with only a few hours’ notice, and the man was as good as his word, every time. He rented an armory and furnished it with clubs and night sticks, tear gas, brass knuckles, several thousand rifles, as many hand guns, and half a million rounds of ammunition; there was even a barracks on the premises where his armed guards could drill to their hearts’ content. In the years between 1911 and 1915, the Bergoff Service defeated 40 consecutive labor “situations” and earned its owner more than $12 million dollars. That was a lot of English derbies. Bowlers.
Libby Bergoff, who had many close friends in Bayonne, New Jersey, and spent a great deal of her time traveling back and forth to visit them, suggested to her husband one day (actually, it was one night, a derby night) that he build a residence there for the family. Since he had begun to invest heavily by then in Hudson Country real estate, he agreed. He decided, as well, that this might be a good time to convert to Roman Catholicism, and was baptized into the religion on the very day the family moved into its sprawling new mansion (if you’d asked him, he could have told you the tonnage of marble, rounded down to the ounce) on the Hudson County Boulevard, at Ninth Street. Following his baptism, Bergoff never again set foot inside of a Catholic church, but in truth, the practice of a religion never had anything to do with his decision to convert; anti-Semitism was nearly a sanctioned social pattern in Bayonne, and he’d converted as a practical means of establishing friendly relations with the city’s powerful Irish-Catholic politicians.
Though often, and for many weeks at a time, he would be gone—to Cleveland, Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre, McKees Rock, Chicago, to half the states in the Union—personally commanding and participating in his armies’ gory campaigns against labor (as a result of which, he carried two bullets inside of him, both, he would joke, in “inconsequential parts”), from then on P. L. Bergoff resided, and conducted a full and gregarious social life, in the City of Bayonne. He donated generously to a wide variety of charities and civic endeavors. He sponsored summer picnics and winter festivals, and marched in patriotic parades shoulder to shoulder with the Mayor and the five City Commissioners, likewise in the first ranks of the Hibernians on St. Patrick’s Day. He built dozens of small, gimcrack houses, rental properties, near the city line (where, years before, Olive and Helen Ince had made a movie with David Horsley), as well as its tallest building, the Bergoff Building, on Broadway and Twenty-Second Street, where the Red Cross occupied several spacious offices on the top floor—at no cost, naturally. (Fleming’s Stationary, where Olive worked, occupied part of the ground floor. Mr. Fleming, of course, paid rent.)
When strikes threatened to break out at Constable Hook in July of 1915, P.L. Bergoff was summoned to the Standard by George B. Gifford, the plant’s General Manager and one of Bergoff’s regular golfing partners. They often played as a foursome with the Mayor and the city’s Director of Public Safety. Bergoff arrived with his best Moss Brothers derby on the top of his head. “Get me,” said Gifford, “two hundred and fifty husky men who can swing clubs. If they’re not enough, get me a thousand, or two thousand. I want them to march up East Twenty-second Street through the guts of Polacks.”
Running a thumb and first finger around his derby’s bound-edge brim, Bergoff said it would be no problem, not a problem at all. “I’ll put the fear of hell into those goddamn foreigners,” he promised, “and smash their lousy strike in no time.”
That was five days ago, last Saturday. Bergoff was chauffeured home from the Hook, and after dispatching his wife and two young children to their summer residence in Deal Beach (where Mrs. Bergoff would almost certainly call upon Governor Fielder’s wife for an evening of canasta; the two women had an amiable acquaintance), he spent the rest of that afternoon and evening placing phone calls, mobilizing his troops….
“Arrest this man?” said Pearl Bergoff. “That’s the bunk!” Although he was wearing pajamas, a dressing-gown, and carpet slippers, he’d clapped on a jet-black derby (or, rather, bowler, since it had been made in London, by Rowley & Company) before the policemen—and there were four of them uglying up his study and dripping rain water on his thick Persian carpet—had even stepped through the front door; the signal was clear: he was no sleepy and confused jackass of a citizen aroused suddenly in the middle of the night, he was a malevolently ferocious and focused man of action, not to be trifled with. “You’ll make no arrest while I’m still drawing a breath! God bless him, he’s a hero!”
“This hero,” said Detective Ed Fearenside, a plainclothesman, “just shot down four men in the street directly in front of your home. One dead, one surely dying, one with a big nasty hole in his neck, and the last with his nose blown off. I’d say this was a falling out among thieves, is what I’d call it. Hero my big toe! He’s a bum, and yes sir, I intend to arrest him. Yes sir, I most certainly do.” He was a big, leathery man, bulky, with a grave official face.
“Would you like me to get Chief Dorsey on the telephone, officer—”
“Detective. Or perhaps I should call the Mayor! Arrest him! Why, in two days’ time, you’ll be pinning a medal on him, if you’re still on the job by then, which, I must say, is looking more and more unlikely as the minutes tick by. Now, are we finished here, because I really need to confer with my confidential operative.”
Bergoff and Fearenside, as well as the three uniformed patrolman, all turned their heads at the same time and looked over at King Touey, who’d seated himself in a chocolate-leather club chair with one leg crossed over the opposite knee, and was now idly examining his cuticles in the strong illumination cast by a reading lamp with a fringed shade. Responding to the sudden silence in the room, and to the radial force of all that simultaneous rubbering, King lifted his eyes and allowed a small, even modest, shrug. “I’m no hero,” he said. “Just trying to do my job as best I can.”
“There you have it!” said Bergoff, placing his right hand on King Touey’s left shoulder. “But don’t be so modest, my boy, you risked life and limb tonight!”
“Oh, for the love of—”
“Detective, that’ll be enough,” said Bergoff, eyes level and full of judgment. Then he snatched up the candlestick telephone from the massive library table and yanked the earpiece from its prong. To King, he said, “Try and relax. You’ve been through it. These gentlemen were just leaving.”
With a weak sigh and the slightest nod of his large head, King Touey expressed gratitude.
“Operator, this is P.L. Bergoff and I wish to be put through immediately to Mayor Garvin at home—I assume you have the number.” With a fingertip he pushed on the nosepiece of his brown tortoise-shell glasses, and craning one pinkish eyebrow, glared acidly at Detective Fearenside. “Yes, operator,” he said, “I’ll wait. Thank you. And while I’m waiting, detective, would you mind writing down for me your full name and your badge number, and when you commenced employment with the police department? I’ll need the specific date. You’ll find a pad and pencil in the desk drawer, there. And you other galoots,” he added, looking at each of the three patrolmen, “stand away from the walls with those wet raincoats.” The walls were of quartered oak finished in a golden stain. “And whyn’t all of you fill out that same information for me, as well. Yes, operator, I’m holding.”
“All right, all right, all right,” said Fearenside. “But I’m not leaving without I get the whole story of what just happened outside.”
“Naturally,” said Bergoff. “Cancel the call, operator, thank you for your trouble.” He made a small production of clipping the earpiece back in its prong and setting the telephone precisely down upon its small green felt coaster. “And I’ll be happy to give you the story, detective. I just hope you know shorthand because I don’t have all night.”
“I want it from him,” said Fearenside, pointing at King. “He’s the one shot everybody to kingdom come.”
“My confidential operative gave me his report before you arrived, and I’ll be happy to summarize it for you now.”
“Jesus,” said Detective Fearenside.
“In this house,” snapped Bergoff, “kindly refrain from taking the name of Our Lord in vain!” If you’d followed his uplifted gaze at that moment, you would have found it fixed directly upon the large Catholic crucifix hanging above a mahogany bookcase filled with fine leatherbound editions of the greatest works of Western Literature, beginning with the Greeks.
“I’m waiting,” said Fearenside, who’d taken out his interview booklet and was holding a pencil poised over a fresh page.
With business-like affectation, Bergoff seated himself, and sat very straight in the small chair behind his writing desk. “No doubt you will recall,” he said, “the series of unsolved armed robberies that occurred here in our city two summers ago—half a dozen stick-ups at different social clubs, and the same gang of hoodlums responsible for them all. The so-called Black Hood Gang. And so-called because—”
“Because they all wore black hoods—exactly like the one sticking out of the pants pocket of your so-called ‘confidential operative,’ over there.’”
“Well, naturally. That was the assignment I gave Mr. Touey—infiltrate the gang, I instructed him, and by all means necessary bring its members to justice.”
“Yeah? And who gave you that job, Mr. Bergoff?”
“No one gave it to me, detective, but I’m a tax-paying citizen here, a prominent one at that, and since it was all too sadly obvious to me that the city police, as currently constituted, was never going to smash this gang, I took it upon myself—yes, upon myself, and no apologies—to utilize certain investigative resources I have at my disposal to bring an abrupt end to the reign of terror. And so I have. So we have,” he said and looked obliquely over at King, to see how he was taking all of this. He was taking it just fine, listening intently with a fist propping up his chin.
“Go on,” said Fearenside. He looked sullen and ready to spit.
“Well, because of those extensive investigative resources—“
“Yeah, yeah, we all know about your lousy finks and spies, Mr. ‘Breaker’ Bergoff, just get on with it.”
“—I received very reliable information that the Black Hood gang intended to use the disruptions caused by the current labor situation to resume their criminal activities. So I tasked one of my key men”—a nod toward King, who widened his eyes and smiled bashfully—“to go undercover and, as I’ve already told you, infiltrate the gang. Which he did with remarkable effectiveness.”
“Yeah, and his ‘effectiveness’ is splattered all over the Hudson County Boulevard! Mr. Bergoff, are you aware that the same monkey sitting over there looking smug as a bishop was identified as a member of the Black Hoods during the summer of nineteen thirteen?”
King jumped to his feet. “That’s a lie! That stupid shitbird kid didn’t know what he was talkin’ about! ”
“And what stupid shitbird kid would that be, King?” said Fearendale.
“Aw, you know as well as I do who I’m talkin’ about, and you also know he was full of feathers—since I don’t remember being charged with any crimes during the summer of nineteen thirteen.”
“For a change, eh?”
King assumed a boxing stance, challenging, derisive, and then raised both fists pugilistically.“You want to take this outside, mister?” Ed Fearendale just stared in open amazement till he finally laughed and told King to sit down and shut up.
P.L. Bergoff gave King a fierce look, and King sat, muttering, “He knows what lyin’ shitbird I’m talkin’ about.”
“So,” said Bergoff, “are we finished here, then, detective?”
“Finished? We haven’t even started! What I want to know is, how’d this goop end up shooting four men,” he said, his voice freighted with aggravation and contempt. “I still don’t have that straight.”
“Four armed stick–up men,” said Bergoff.
“Says you they were stick-up men. Far as I can see, they were just four guys sitting in an automobile.”
Bergoff steepled his fingers and looked tragically to heaven. “They were on their way here. To rob me!”
“Again, with all due respect, says you.”
“Listen,” said King, rising to his feet again, but this time putting out his hands, palms up, in a let’s-be-reasonable sort of gesture. “If I’d had time to warn Mr. Bergoff, I would’ve, but I didn’t, see? They just give me a gun and said we’re going. And when we got here, they were all just gonna go breakin’ in, and that would’ve been that!”
“So you shot them.”
“What was I supposed to do—say ‘hands up’? I had to use…” He couldn’t find the idiom he was searching for, and Bergoff, seeing his struggle, gave it to him: “The advantage of surprise.”
“The advantage of surprise, exactly!”
One of the three patrolman chuckled, which earned him a stern glare from Detective Fearenside.
“Let me explain my problem,” Fearenside said. “The problem I have, King, and maybe you’ll appreciate it—the problem is, you shot them four fellers outside, in the machine and on the street. It’s just you and your boss, here, saying there was going to be any stick-up. See my problem?” He sneered. “If you’d waited till they’d actually done something, well then, maybe this would all go away and maybe you’d even be the big hero your boss is trying to sell us you are. And probably, come to think of it, you should’ve killed them all, since at least two of those boys eventually are going to be telling us their side of the story.” He turned swiftly toward Bergoff, who’d fallen uncharacteristically silent. There was some alarm in his eyes, and a flicker of incertitude. “So, Mr. Bergoff, despite your impeccable civic standing and your many prominent acquaintances—see? I can sound high-falutin, too. Sounding that way don’t mean somebody’s not just a run-of-the-mill copper or a strikebreaking bum—despite all of that, I think I might just go ahead and make that arrest I was telling you about twenty minutes ago.” Victorious, he nodded to one of the uniformed patrolman, who dutifully extracted a pair of heavy bracelets from his slicker.
“Hold on,” said King, but quietly—so quietly that it snatched everyone’s attention. “Did they take away the bodies yet?”
“They may have—why?”
“Why should I?”
“Because if Steve Bankston’s still out there—if his carcass ain’t been moved yet, I can prove what I did was stop a yegg job at this very house. I can prove it.”
Fearendale considered for a long moment, then wig-wagged one of his men, who bustled out to check on the disposition of the bodies. While the rest of them waited for his return, no one spoke, and King finally sat back down on his chair, leaning forward, looking at the carpet, and letting his hands dangle between his knees. A minute later, the patrolman returned and reported that an ambulance had already taken away the two wounded men, but that the two bodies had only just been loaded into a meat wagon. “I took it upon myself, sir, to tell them not to leave till they’d heard from you.”
“Good man.” He looked over at King Touey. “Well?”
“May I take the liberty?” said King. He extended an arm toward the front hall, the front door, the outdoors, the meat wagon.
“Make a run for it, Touey, and I won’t aim for your leg.”
“Naturally not,” said King, and with a haughty, mocking roll of his shoulders, he swept purposefully across the floor and out, with Fearenside and the three patrolman following close behind. Bergoff remained seated behind his desk, rubbing the heels of both hands up and down his forehead, wrinkling it. Then with an oath of disgust, he went and stood at his front door, which had been left wide open.
It was still raining, but slackly now, a steady drizzle that pattered rings in puddles across the terraced garden, and on the sidewalk and in the street. About a dozen men, most of them cops, but some of them reporters, all of them wearing waterproof slickers, were gathered around the open rear doors of the meat wagon, lit up inside by electric torches. A short man with a shock of white hair—Bergoff recognized him as the hospital’s house surgeon and the city’s coroner—was crouched between two stretchers, each with a sheet-covered body dumped on it. The doctor, whose name was McGregor, Frank McGregor, nodded and pulled back a corner of the sheet from one of the bodies, and then King Touey, standing in the street pinned between Fearenside and another cop, pointed, and McGregor reached into the dead man’s coat and removed a slip of paper. King Touey put out a hand to take it, but Fearenside chopped aside King’s arm and took it himself. Then King was pointing at the piece of paper, then pointing toward the Bergoff mansion, and then—what on earth!—he suddenly clasped both hands together above his head and rocked them, triumphantly, as a standing boxer does following a K.O. and the full count. Two, three, four flashlight cameras went off just then, and captured it.
Watching Detective Fearenside escort King Touey back toward the house, Bergoff couldn’t help it, he laughed, a rare occurrence in the man’s ordinary week; month. “Well?” he said to Fearenside when the detective trudged up the stoop in back of King. The rain had finally quit, but the humidity was suddenly oppressive, tropical.
Fearenside passed him the slip of paper. “Is this the combination to your wall safe?”
King had started wiggling his eyebrows and was grinning impudently.
“I asked you—”
“Yes, detective. It most certainly is.”
Fearenside glowered a moment, then snatched back the paper from Bergoff’s fingers. He stuck it away in a pocket, and kept his hand there.
“If you intend to hold on to that as ‘evidence,’ detective, let me assure you there’ll be a different combination before you’ve had the opportunity to share it with any of your friends.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
Bergoff allowed a hint of a smile. “Are we done now, at last?” Rising up slightly on the toes of his house slippers, he pretended an irresistible interest in observing the meat wagon execute a wide U-turn on the Boulevard and start uptown.
“As it turns out, not just quite.” Fearenside turned to King. “Just where, would you mind telling me, did all of this infiltrating of yours go on?”
Bergoff reached and put a cautioning hand on King’s left arm. “I’d consider that a breach of confidentiality.”
“Like hell. Answer me. Where were the five of you, King, just before you came waltzing over here? And what were you doing? Oh, and the last part of my question. Were there just five of you? Excuse me, four. I forgot you were just the confidential operative in all of this.”
“Like he says, I don’t have to breach my confidentiality,” said King, “for you or anybody else.” But he seemed distracted all of a sudden, as though he were having trouble focusing his mind on the subject. “For you or anybody else,” he repeated. “If I don’t want to.”
“I’m merely asking where you did all of your confidential operating, that seems like a simple enough question. And what’s so confidential about it, man?” He looked directly and unblinkingly at King. “Did you meet these guys at a pool hall? A barroom? Or. Or maybe in a house somewhere? Maybe in, I don’t know, Orient Street?”
“You think you’re smart,” said King, fully alert again.
“I am smart,” said Fearenside, “and if you’re smart, too, you’ll give him up. You want all this to go away, don’t you?”
“Give who up?”
As Bergoff had looked on and listened, he was calculating; abruptly, he came to a result, and said, “King, I believe I understand this gentleman now. He simply wants his name in the paper tomorrow, in the first paragraph, that’s what this is all about. He can’t stand it that we’ve done his work for him, and now he’s just begging us for a bone. He’s got to be a hero, too! Have I hit the nail on the head, detective?”
Fearenside paid Bergoff no attention. Having fixed King Touey with an unwavering glare, he was bearing down, boring in. “Give him up before those other two get the chance to, hmm? You and I both know those four blockheads didn’t dream up any of this on their own. They couldn’t find the combinations to their own fucking padlocks! Say it, King, just say the name.”
“And you’ll leave?” said Bergoff.
“And I’ll leave.”
At Bergoff’s nod, King shrugged negligently and said, “Sure, it’s Li’l Andiron.”
“And by Li’l Andiron, do you mean Andy Irons? Andrew Irons of Orient Street? This needs to be all offical, no nicknames.”
“I mean Andy Irons, yes, that’s who I mean. As if you didn’t know. Happy now? You happy? Andy Irons from Orient Street. It’s his gang, sure. But good luck, there, breaking into that place, Eddie, it’s like the Tower of Pisa.”
“London. But I think we’ll manage. Thanks for your concern, though.” With a sneer on his mouth, Fearenside turned and walked down the steps, beckoning to his three patrolman who’d been waiting on the pavement. “Good night,” Bergoff called after the detective. He silently counted three, then viciously gripped King Touey by an elbow, wheeled him around, and practically hurled him inside the house, where King stumbled, flailing, across the spacious front hall and struck a shoulder, his left, against a Roman Doric column. Bergoff shut and locked the door.
“Jesus H. motherfucking Christ, you’re a goddamn lunatic!”
“What do you mean?” said King, so evidently trying to keep a note of injury out of his voice. “I did the job, didn’t I?”
“What job, you stupid punk? Exactly what job would that be?” said Bergoff, his face flushed and aggrieved, and speaking in a withering, driving tone. His teeth clicked as he talked. “Shooting up my whole fucking neighborhood—that job?”
“Getting rid of the Black Hoods. Like you said.”
“Well, like you told Eddie Fearenside.”
“Your old friend Eddie?”
“Well, I used to know him, sure. I even went around with his younger sister Kay for a while. People called her Kay Farenside, because you could always—”
“As you say.” King’s eyes turned cool and dangerous.
Registering that change, Bergoff lapsed into silence, and took a few moments to readjust his bowler. “Look,” he said, his tone now strategically more reasonable, “I’m fast asleep when suddenly crack! crack! crack! crack! Four aces. Then crack! The joker. Who the fuck is shooting up my street? Next thing I know, somebody’s pounding on the front door— you! Soaking wet with a pistol in your paw. Come on, King, what the hell did you think you were doing? What the hell did you do?”
“They were goin’ to break in here and rob you.” Now he was sulky. “You seen the combination! By the way, Li’l Andiron got it from your houseboy.”
Bergoff was shaking his head. “Let’s have a drink,” he said, and with a grunting noise, strode off down the wide hall to his study.
“Well, General, that’s the first thing you said since closing the front door that makes any sense.” King frowned at his bruised shoulder, gave it a brisk rub, and followed.
Bergoff poured two whiskies, handed one to King, and with a face grave, sober, and thoughtful, told him to sit down.
After folding into the same chocolate-brown leather club chair he’d occupied earlier, King raised his tumbler, said, “Cheers,” and swallowed his drink in one gulp. Then he lifted his shoulders, let them drop, and sighed.
“Did you throw in with them, or what?” asked Bergoff.
“What’re you talking about? Of course not—no! I was just doing like you told me, being your key man, and all.”
Bergoff’s next breath ballooned out his cheeks. He grabbed his desk chair, dragged it across the rug, set it down in front of King, and sat. “Doing like I told you,” he said carefully, studying King’s face, King’s puzzled brown eyes. “When did I tell you this?”
“I guess…I don’t know, I guess when you called me up last Saturday night about coming over here on Monday or Tuesday. To, you know, adjust the situation at the Standard. I haven’t talked to you since then, so I guess it must’ve been last Saturday. That’s when it was.” He affirmed the truth of his statement with a vigorous nod.
“Cigarette?” Bergoff produced a package of Pall Malls.
“Never turn one down,” said King, reaching. He accepted a light as well, sat back, and puffed.
“Last Saturday, when we spoke on the telephone…?”
“The only thing I can recall actually speaking to you about was your keen…displeasure at being asked to come over here at all.”
“Well yeah, but like I told you, General, this is my home town, and I felt a little funny breaking a strike in my old home town, not that I think the place is so great or anything, I don’t. I really don’t. It’s a shitburg,” he added with a grin, proud to pun on his favorite expletive. “But I came anyway!”
“You did. Yes. But getting back to our telephone conversaton. As you recall it now, we also talked about—your acting as my confidential operative, is that your recollection?”
“Well…yeah! Isn’t it yours? You ought to remember, General.” King tipped back his head and clicked out a series of wobbly smoke rings. “Seems funny, like, your not remembering that.”
Instead of replying, Bergoff smoked a little more of his cigarette. At last he said, “And that’s why…you just walked away from the works this morning? And disappeared?”
“Sure! I was going undercover.”
Bergoff nodded, picked a shred of tobacco from the tip of his tongue, replaced the cigarette in his mouth, and continued smoking. As he rose from his chair, he said, “Of course, I remember…now. Would you excuse me for a minute, pleaese, King? Have another drink.” He took out the Pall Malls and tossed them into King’s lap. “Another smoke. Read a magazine. I’ll be right back.”
As he was leaving the study, King said, “You’d heard all those rumors about the Black Hoods getting back together again, you had those reliable sources you were saying about, and you knew the cops couldn’t catch ’em. And you wanted me to infiltrate those mothers.”
“Yes, yes,” said Bergoff while the thought uppermost in his mind was, The man is a fucking lunatic. “Of course. Now I remember. Have another drink.”
“Don’t mind if I do.” King had got out of his chair by then and was already pouring one. “Thanks!”
“Oh, King, by the way?”
King glanced up, the cut-glass decanter tipped in his fist.
“That combination? To my safe? The one in that scumbag’s pocket? It’s the bunk.”
“I got wise to that sneaky wog—why d’you think he’s back in the fucking Phillipines? I changed the combination weeks ago!”
“’Course you did,” said King, and resumed pouring. “That’s why you’re the General.”
“That’s why,” said Bergoff, and went out to the foyer, and then scurried up his flying staircase, bouncing a hand on the varnished ballustrade.
Lunatic, lunatic, lunatic.
He laughed out loud. Twice in an hour!
Entering his bedroom, Bergoff removed a two-shot derringer from his dressing-gown and laid it down on the high-boy, then walked to a small teak desk set against the wall cater-corner to the four-poster bed, and ruffled through several recent pieces of mail on top of it, till he found the envelope he wanted. Extracting the typewritten letter, he scanned it quickly, spotted the local exchange he was looking for, in the final paragraph, and then picking up his telephone, had the operator place the call. By the alarm clock on the bedside table it was twenty minutes before one. While he waited, Bergoff moved to the window, and with his free hand, threw it up. As he’d expected, some newspapermen still loitered on the sidewalk down below in front of the house. They all looked his way. He made a quick, beckoning gesture to them, then held up a finger, a give-me-one-minute finger, just as someone picked up at the other end of the wire.
“—liv, I should probably see who this is,” he heard a man’s voice say apologetically, away from the mouthpiece. “Hello?”
“This is P.L. Bergoff, and I’m sorry to be calling so late—but I’ve been thinking about your letter and find it extremely…interesting. I think we can do something. Would it be possible to come see me at my residence sometime this afternoon? Say around one o’clock?”
“Of course, Mr. Bergoff, thank you! I’ll be there.”
“You know the address?”
“I know the house.”
“Very good. Then I’ll see you here at one.”
“See you at one. And thanks again.”
“Don’t mention it. Good night, Mister…” He glanced over at the letter. “…Harrigan,” said P.L. Bergoff, and reclipped the earpiece.Then he readusted his Rowley, swiped two fingers across the front brim, and went downstairs to greet the boys from the papers.