In the distracting high excitement of having his brother back home again, Patsy Touey had let the soft-boiled eggs stand too long in the covered pot. He fretted now, frowning, not breathing, as he cracked and topped them both with the bowl edge of a coffee spoon. If they weren’t cooked right, if they weren’t proper Patsy Eggs, he would dump them both and start over. But seeing the yolks looked nice and runny and the whites like custards, he sighed in relief, then pulled out his chair and sat down at the kitchen table. The Cat of Ashes, still shaking his big gray head in pique, the red medallion swishing at his throat, jumped on Patsy’s lap and settled.
Looking sprucer than Patsy ever had seen him look before, all shaved and slicked and dressed in fine new clothes, King Touey had cut and toasted half a dozen wide slices of store bread. As he buttered them, divvying one for him, one for Patsy, one for him, one for Patsy, dealing them out like playing cards onto small crockery plates, he continued his animated account of the shootout last night. “Outnumbered four to one, four to one! I’m a hero, monkey man, the biggest! How do you like them apples? And everybody always thinking I was just some lousy good-for-nothing shitbird. Of course that’s what I wanted, so’s I could do my job.” Already he’d explained to Patsy how it was, and had to be, if you were a “confidential operative” in the employ of “General” Pearl Bergoff. (Sometimes King substituted “operator” for “operative,” and once or twice he’d said “op,” which Patsy noted but assumed were different words that meant the same thing, somebody good who only pretended to be bad to catch crooks.) “Now everybody and his uncle knows who King Touey really is, and I bet you they’re all feeling like real dopes. The big dopes! And next week they’ll probably give me a medal.” He gestured dismissively with the spreader, then cut another big chunk of butter and pressed it down on a slice of toast. “Not that I care about any medals, Pats, you know me, but I wouldn’t mind a cash reward, and I expect—” He broke off and darted a glance at the cat, whose slit eyes resembled two cable stables and who seemed to be glowering at him. “What’s your problem?”
“His neck is sore,” said Patsy. He lightly caressed his own neck with two fingertips, just below an ear. “Cassius didn’t like being dragged on a rope.”
“That so? What’d he, tell you?”
When Patsy lowered his face and shrugged, King laughed. By this point in his life, after 20 years of heavy smoking and nearly five years of herding scabs, his laughter was undistinguishable from low husky coughing. “Well, Methuselah over there ain’t the only one here with rope burns!” Dropping the spreader and a piece of unbuttered toast while giving the cat a hard look, King displayed his red palms. “How else was I supposed to get him home? You can’t trust that cat to follow you—sometimes he does but sometimes he don’t, and sometimes he expects a feller to follow him! And I was in no mood to do that again!”
“He’s not mad, King, not really. He’s still your friend. He just didn’t like being dragged is all. He felt like a mule.”
“Can it, Pats, will ya?”
What King thought showed in his face. Patsy looked away, at the electric toaster, the plate shelf, the sink, feeling hot and embarrassed and disappointed, and of half a mind to withdraw into himself. But no! His brother was home and full of ginger! He snapped a knee, knowing Cassius would jump off the moment he did, and once the Cat of Ashes was down on the linoleum and scooting off, Patsy looked back at King, took up his spoon, smiled apologetically, and said, “Let’s eat!” He leaned forward over the egg fitted into his favorite caddy, a pale blue porcelain one prinked with a decalcomania transfer of a roosting hen.
“You sure the old crab ain’t coming home for lunch? Don’t Liz usually?”
“Usually, but not today.”
“Something to do. She said.” And she’d said it after breakfast while sitting Patsy down in the living room and making him promise he wouldn’t go out walking around town looking for Cassius. Promise and swear? “And if you don’t mind too much, darling, I won’t be home for lunch today. There’s something I have to do. It’s…important.” Then, after Lizzie had put on her hat and was hunting through her handbag, digging irritably, getting ready to leave for work, she’d told him if he looked out the window, if he just kept looking out, she bet he’d see Cassius come traipsing home before too long. Well, she won the bet—Patsy would have to acknowledge that, later—although the cat hadn’t come traipsing home, he’d come home struggling at the end of King’s rope. Still, Patsy would concede Lizzie the bet. She’d won. Not that they’d hooked pinkies, but still it was a bet, and she’d called the turn. “There’s something important she has to do,” said Patsy. “It’s…important.”
King pushed to his feet and moved to the stove. “Well, I’d a good deal rather sit here with just you, Pats, and do without that one’s company. Because I got no patience for any of her rigmarole today. Thinks she’s the whole cheese, that one!” Bobbing his head in a slow rhythm, he poured out two cups of cold breakfast coffee from the pot. He took down two saucers from a shelf but changed his mind and put them back. “She still got a bun on?”
“Mad at me,” said King, setting down one cup in front of Patsy and carrying the other back to his seat at the table. “Her nibs—still mad at me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. She thinks you ought to pay for her machine.”
“Machine? I don’t know anything about any machine! What machine?”
“Her driving machine, that you—”
“Didn’t you hear what I just said? I don’t know anything about any driving machine! I never even knew she had one. She had one? What’s it to me? Why should I pay for it?” He popped his lips and looked intolerably disgusted. Then he poked at his chin with a finger. “You got….” He waited while Patsy daubed his napkin at a speck of yolk. “That woman!” King resumed, taking up his spoon and tucking back into his egg. His face had got tight and turned red. “Now I think we’re done with this subject, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Patsy. But he wondered why King not only had forgotten that he’d wrecked Lizzie’s bright-blue Studebaker driving machine but that she’d even owned it. Patsy was the one in the family who forgot things; was it happening now to King? How could Patsy remember something that King forgot? This wasn’t good, and a worry nagged him. More than a worry, it was a kind of fear. He pushed that away, though, and reached for a piece of toast, folded it, and plunged it into his egg. Yolk sloshed up and flowed down the shell, down the caddy. “Are you going to live here again?”
King drew a long breath. He let it out sighing. Gripping the sides of his chair he walked it around the table still sitting on it and set it back down next to Patsy’s. “I can’t see as how, Pats.” His voice had dropped to a lower tone.
“I could ask her.”
“But I could.”
“Sure you could, and that’s swell of you, but it’ll cut no ice with that one. And besides, like I been saying, confidential ops go wherever they’re needed. And now that I’m not so confidential here anymore, how could I stick around? Much as I’d like to. How could I?”
“I could not. How am I supposed to fool any more crooks around here? Impossible. Why, my picture’s in every newspaper!”
With accumulating despair Patsy chewed his toast.
“But I’m here now,” said King draping an arm around his brother’s shoulder, “so let’s you and me—”
The electric doorbell interrupted him.
“…do something,” he finished quietly. “You expecting somebody?”
“You want to answer the door?”
“Maybe I should.”
King already had started across the kitchen floor.
“Don’t!” said Patsy. “It could be crooks that’re mad at you—they got a bun on!”
Swinging his head back without stopping, King seemed ready to laugh—the corners of his eyes had scrooged up tightly—but then he didn’t, and Patsy could tell his brother was considering what he’d said. About crooks. He stopped in the passway to the dining room. “That pistol I left with you last time—still where we put it?”
Patsy covered one hand with the other.
“Pats! Is it?”
The doorbell rang again.
“I’m not going to do anything with it, but you’re right—I should be careful. Is it still in the attic?”
Patsy removed the top hand from the bottom hand and made it the new bottom hand. Then he put the former bottom hand on top. At that, King did laugh. “Please don’t shoot anybody else,” said Patsy. He spoke very softly.
Returning to the table, King sat down in his chair. “It upset you, me telling you about all that? I’m sorry. But listen, Pats, they were bad men. They were crooks. Nobody’ll miss ’em. You believe me?”
Patsy nodded—a hesitant one, but a nod.
“So you know it’s okay, then.”
When the bell rang a third time, Patsy blurted, “I kept it right where you left it!”
“Thanks, pal, but let’s say we leave it there for now. I’m not shooting nobody today. Promise.”
Thrumming with dread, Patsy followed King from the kitchen, across the dining room’s mosaic parquetry, across the parlor on its rose-patterned carpet, then under an archway and into the foyer, to the front door. Going on tiptoes, he peered over his brother’s shoulder and made a sour face. Shadowy through frosted glass stood a square, short woman with lank dark hair; both of her hands fluttered about her head, brushing away flies and mosquitoes. “It’s Miss Cubberly,” he whispered.
“Is that good?” King glanced behind him at Patsy, who violently shook his head. “Then let me get rid of the pest.” After throwing open the front door, King took a giant, intimidating step outside, startling the woman, then pressing ahead and forcing her backwards, nearly to the top of the steps. Patsy went into the parlor, minimally separating the tulle curtains at one screened window where the Cat of Ashes sat alert on the sill. Monobosomed Miss Cubberly had on a white blouse in a fancy scroll pattern and a black tub skirt.
Recovering from her surprise, she said to King, “Good morning, sir! Or is it the afternoon already? In any event, hello—I’m Mae Cubberly with the Society for Unfortunates.”
“You look all right to me,” said King. “What’s so unfortunate about you?”
Her cheeks reddened and she took two peremptory steps forward. King stayed put. Now they stood toe to toe, although King towered over the woman by a foot and a half. “Nothing that I know about, sir, except that on occasion my charity work brings me into contact with some shockingly rude people. Now, then. Is Mrs. Landrigan at home?”
“May I—would you please call him to the door?”
“And may I ask why not?”
“Lady, state your business or be on your way. Me and my brother were in the middle of something.”
Making a put-upon face, Miss Cubberly opened her black handbag’s nickel frame and drew out two bright-green pasteboard tickets. “I wished only to give Patrick and Mrs. Landrigan one last opportunity for—brother? You’re Patrick’s brother? You’re King Touey?”
“One last opportunity for what?”
She stepped back and, biting her lip, looked up at King. After transferring the tickets to her left hand, she extended her right. “I should’ve realized! What a ninny! It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Touey. You’re a brave man.”
King squeezed her fingers, by the tips, and then let go. “Opportunity for what?” Giving her a squinty look, he pointed at the pair of tickets.
“Oh!” She laughed. “Our excursion on Saturday to Rye Beach. Please.” She offered them to King. “The boat leaves from Daly’s Dock at ten.” He didn’t take them. “Perhaps if Mrs. Landrigan still can’t make it, you and Patrick—”
“Is this a boat ride for morons? Then nix on that, lady!”
“Unfortunates. We insist upon calling them unfuh—”
“Because my brother ain’t some moron, he’s a grand guy. Only with a little…” King wobbled a hand. “…difference.”
“Of course. Of course! He’s delightful, we all love him!”
Patsy still was watching everything through the window, watching but red-faced now and moaning low and with his hands clapped to his ears. The Cat of Ashes turned away from the window to stare at him. With an emphatic mewl, he batted with a paw and then swished it across Patsy’s shirtfront till a claw hooked the placket between two buttons. “Stop that!” Patsy’s hands fell away from his head. “Stop it right now!” The cat pulled, edging backwards along the sill. But before Patsy could extricate the claw from his shirt—just as he was bending over and reaching for the cat’s paw—Cassius freed it himself, snapping a thread. Then he ducked, he drove, his big wooly head up under Patsy’s hand and peered at him from half-closed eyes. Patsy cocked his head a fraction, squinting back. Trilling laughter came from the porch—Miss Cubberly’s. “Uh huh,” said Patsy, and shrugged a shoulder. He nodded, nodded again, and said, “No, you’re right, I am.” Then he smiled and smoothed the cat’s soft flanks with his hands. “Oh you!” he said and gripped a strip of cat fur between two fingers and gave a short tug. “That’s enough, she’s not that bad!” Patsy blushed and chortled, and then both he and the Cat of Ashes turned back to the open window.
While Patsy had been fussing with Cassius, King had gone down and stood on one of the lower porch steps. His back was turned to Miss Cubberly as he spoke with several men on the sidewalk. “No,” he was saying, “I didn’t hear about that. Well, Andy always was a hothead—you say he tried to bite off a cop’s ear?” King swung his head and laughed. “Yeah, that’ll get a midget a broken neck. Poor Andy. I knew him all my life, but he stunk.” The men, all of them wearing seersucker or tan summer suits and split-straw hats, seemed to agree: they grinned and nodded in unison.
After they’d raised their hats in farewell and expressed to King their admiration and gratitude (one of them saying how he, himself, had actually been robbed, and at gunpoint, mind, by those Black Hood ruffians), they passed on by, heading farther uptown. King turned back to Miss Cubberly. As he did, he noticed Patsy’s face at the window and broadly winked. “So are you providing hot dogs and the like?” King asked, plucking the tickets from the woman’s fingers. “Would that be a part of this?”
“Oh yes,” she said. “We have a most generous benefactor in the wife of your employer. Mrs. Bergoff has a very giving heart.”
“You don’t say?” King spread his coat open and stuck the tickets down into his vest pocket, which he then tapped crisply with two fingers. “I never met the missus. But I heard she’s the size of a house and converted the General to being Catholic. He was a Jew before.”
“Well, I’m sure I don’t know anything about that.”
“So now you do,” said King. Nodding good day, he swept an arm toward the sidewalk, and Miss Cubberly got the message. She took her sweet time, though, galumphing back down the steps and used the hand rail. On the sidewalk, she twitched her fingers at King. “We’ll hope to see you both on Saturday.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath, but you never know.” King briefly watched her trundle away downstreet before taking out his package of Camels and a box of short matches and lighting up. “Coast is clear,” he said exhaling smoke.
To make sure his brother was correct and that Miss Cubberly wasn’t coming back with one last thing to say, Patsy slowly counted to ten (five slipped his mind, however, and he jumped straight from four to six) before he stepped outside. Scooting between his legs, the Cat of Ashes dashed across the porch, leapt on the slatted railing, mewled once, and broke into a tremendously wide yawn.
“She come around much?”
“Miss Cubberly?” Patsy shrugged both shoulders. “Not too much.”
“Lizzie never sends you off with her anywhere, does she?”
“Well, I give her credit for some good sense, at least.” He tapped cigarette ash and turned to Patsy. He looked at him straight on. “You ain’t ‘unfortunate.’ Hell, you got that old cat of yours who ain’t ever gonna die, seems like, plus you got me. All and all, I’d say you were pretty damn fortunate—wouldn’t you?”
Patsy laughed and blushed, and when King slung an arm around him suddenly and pulled him close, he knew he hadn’t felt this good, this completely good or this happy, since—well, in a long time. Not since King’s last visit home, two summers ago, and not since, not after King and Lizzie had quarreled so bitterly on the porch where Patsy and King now were standing. But he didn’t want to think on that. If he put his mind to it, he bet he could do the multiplication tables without a stumble and reel off state capitols and European countries like nobody’s business; in fact, he could’ve grabbed a broom and swept till midnight. “King?” He nestled his head against his brother’s arm, inside on the big muscle that made him think of a paving stone. “King?”
“You were saying…before Miss Cubberly came?”
“That we could do something together. Could we?”
“Sure, what do you want to do?”
After a moment of thought, Patsy said, “We could take a walk over to the bay, like we used to. You want to? King?”
Instead of answering, though, King said, “Who’s that in the funeral car?” He removed his arm from around Patsy. “That’s Olive’s mother! What’s her name again?”
“Mrs. Ince,” said Patsy, and King shot him a withering look. “Helen.”
“Helen,” said King. “Right.” Eyes narrowing over his cigarette, he stepped to the front of the porch and watched her as she climbed from the rear compartment of the black shiny limousine. He glanced over to Patsy standing beside him at the railing. “Who died—the aunt?” No, because there was the aunt now, Helen Ince’s plain-jane sister Dot, getting out behind her, marching past her (Patsy thought: She has a bun on), then clomping up the steps and slamming into the house next door.
“Pats, really—who died?”
“Liz said a baby.”
Patsy shook his head; if he’d known, he’d forgotten. “Can we still do something now?” But his brother tossed away his cigarette, into the hedges, and clattered down the steps. “Helen!” he called. At the sound of King’s voice, Helen Ince—having hoisted her black skirts and started toward her house with her netted mourning veil swirling behind—halted abruptly. She turned, saw King rushing toward her, and the scowl vanished from her face.
“King Touey! I’d had no idea you were back!” Nor, Patsy realized, had she heard the news yet. Outnumbered four to one! “It’s so good to see you again—and you look so handsome in your suit.”
“I just got it today,” said King. “They gave it to me for picture taking. I’m probably going to have to give it back.” He shrugged as if he didn’t care about that, and Patsy was sure he didn’t. He didn’t care about things like medals, or nice suits, not King—but he wouldn’t mind a cash reward.
“On account of me being a hero, like.” He gave a boyish toss of his head.
“What kind of hero?” said Helen. “I’m sorry, I don’t…”
And so while Helen nodded slowly and steadily and King knifed the flat of his hand up, down, and sideways, he told her the story, but in a much condensed version—perhaps, thought Patsy, because they were standing outside and not sitting at a kitchen table. Somehow, though, the dramatic effect was heightened. She gasped whenever King took aim and uttered another percussive “Bang!”
“It must’ve been so dangerous!” Helen stepped back, appraising King from head to toe. “And not a scratch on you, from the looks of it!”
“Nah, I can handle myself okay.”
“You always could!” She held her clasped hands to a cheek, reminding Patsy of a prettily colored picture of a girl in a big hat that he’d seen on a Valentine’s card at the stationer’s. Then, sighing long and dismally, she split her hands apart and said, “Sounds like the both of us have had dreadful excitement recently.” Her cheeks belled out. She made a puffing noise. “Quite the excitement!”
King frowned, as if thinking, Both of us? Then he said, “Oh,” and “Oh yeah,” and then just “Oh” again. He looked away from Helen’s face. “I’m real sorry to hear about, um, the baby.” His eyes slid back without his head turning—glancing tentatively at Helen Ince to see whether he’d got it right.
Still watching from the porch, Patsy chewed on his bottom lip, pressing in his teeth harder, penetrating deeper, afraid he’d told King wrong. Maybe it wasn’t a baby.
But it was.
“Oh thank you, King, that’s very kind. It was Mary Margaret’s boy. He was only two months old, so it wasn’t…but still. And the circumstances!” She raised and spread both arms.
Patsy had to strain to hear what Helen. Ince said next because the woman suddenly dipped her head and dropped her voice to a whisper—he could make out only sieve and ace. But then King said: “Olive’s place? She don’t live here anymore? What happened?” His hand shot out and clutched Helen’s elbow; from the great wide O that her mouth formed, Patsy could tell it startled her. “Is Olive all right?”
Wheeling Helen around, King hustled her up the sidewalk, back toward her own house. She tried to pull away, but King held her firmly by the upper arm and wouldn’t let go. Her shoulders sagged. When Patsy could see Helen’s face again, in profile, her expression looked (a word that Liz had used to describe Miss Cubberly on several occasions ) vinegary; her expression looked vinegary. From where he stood, leaning out over the porch rail, Patsy could no longer hear what they said, though it seemed that King, with his eyebrows pulled down together, just kept asking questions that Helen answered not only with brevity but with developing reluctance.
At last she did yank free of King’s grip, saying loud enough for Patsy—really, for anyone on the street—to hear, “It’s always Olive, Olive, Olive with you men, isn’t it? Well, let me tell you something, King. She may be a very pretty girl, I won’t deny it, but she’s a fool! And a lot worse, I fear.” She pulled her lips into a straight thin line, then resumed: “What happened, happened because she led him on. I can guarantee it! She led that man on till he just went out of his weak mind.”
“What man?” Going squint-eyed, King threw himself toward Helen till he was nearly nose to nose with her. “What man?”
King reared back on his heels. “What?”
“There! Now you see what I’m saying.” Helen rolled her eyes to heaven—the pale, cloudless afternoon sky. “But he’s in jail. So there’s the end of it.” Her face relaxed and she laughed. “Do you remember that homely Gillick boy—with those awful teeth? Charlie? The youngest? He’s a policeman now, if you can believe it, but it was Charlie Gillick, of all people, who came along and caught the filthy little wop. Clonked him on the head with his stick! So come to think of it, we have two heroes in town!”
“Charlie Gillick!” King jerked himself up to his full height and squared his massive shoulders, fuming. “Charlie Gillick—is a shitbird!”
“Oh, that’s not nice! He’s never showed much, that’s true enough, but he’s still a boy yet.” Helen made an airy, mollifying gesture, and Patsy wondered if she’d realized her mistake in bringing Charlie Gillick’s name up in front of King. Then her eyes shifted under his glare and she lowered her voice again and said something that made him smile.
Patsy broke off watching them to look fretfully back down along the Boulevard, to the brick-red open motorcar he’d seen glide to the curbside half a minute ago. Now, three husky, even bear-like men in dark clothing and derby hats were piling out of it, two from the front seat and one from the rear. Since Patsy was still worried about crooks that were mad at King for being a confidential operative (or operator) (or op), he wished he could tell if they all had a bun on or not. But at a distance of six or seven houses, he couldn’t see any expressions on their faces. Something seemed wrong, though, and when they spread out and started to walk his way, their pace growing brisker the nearer they came, Patsy felt blood in his cheeks. Meanwhile, his brother chatted on with Helen Ince, oblivious to the approaching three men and the possibility of terrible danger. (“And he’ll be even funnier looking when I put a hole in his face!”) Patsy leaned further over the rail and tried to call out—King! King!—but his throat had closed up.
Without thinking what he was doing, Patsy limped back inside the house and dragged himself up two long flights of stairs, to his attic bedroom. Earlier that day when he’d gone downstairs, he’d left his door open a crack, but now it stood wide open—the reason being, as Patsy discovered a moment later—that the Cat of Ashes had preceded him up there. His long body lay slinked around and in between the scantlings (Patsy’s Sanitation Department cap, Liz’s wedding picture, King’s jump rope, their dad’s roofing tacks, their mother’s rosary beads, etc.) arranged finically across the top of the maple highboy. He hadn’t knocked over or disturbed a single thing! Now, Cassius cocked his head and watched, unblinking, as Patsy tried working open the badly warped right hand top drawer. He tugged hard and it came out crookedly a few inches, then jammed.
“What?” Tight-faced (he had a bun on now!), Patsy glanced to the cat. “Says you!” He tugged the knob again and the drawer shot free. Inside, decked neatly, were the last few remaining “Cure & Touey” billheads and order-books. Fixing his cat with a cold look, Patsy stooped quickly and pulled open the wide bottom drawer. Pushing a hand underneath the carefully folded, time-yellowed ivory lace gown that all three Touey children had been christened in, he felt around and finally dragged out a heavy string cloth bag; he loosened the tight pursing at the neck and removed a cheap revolver swaddled in red flannel.
“All right, all right—thank you!” said Patsy and let the flannel drop to the unpainted floor. Timidly holding the pistol up to the strong light from a window, he examined the cylinder. “What now?” He looked over again to the Cat of Ashes and nodded yes. Yes, it was loaded. Then, with the cat dashing ahead of him, Patsy hurried back downstairs with his brother’s pistol held stiffly against his right leg. He was breathing hard by the time he reached the foyer.
But as soon as he’d stepped back out on the porch and seen the three big men taking turns thumping King on the back, Patsy relaxed; his legs felt weak and tentative under him, and he was lightheaded for a moment. King laughed and joshed with the men and then, pointing to each one in turn, he introduced them to Helen Ince. “Billy Carroll. Big Spanish Malloy. And Red Casey.” They all removed their derbies and said it was their pleasure to know her; typically pretentious, she replied, “And mine to know you, gentlemen.”
“We come to take you back to the General’s,” Big Spanish told King, finally getting down to business. His left cheek was notched in two places by diagonal knife scars. “You shoulda said you was takin’ off when you took off. Now he’s in a bad mood.”
“I’m real tired,” said King. “I need to lie down for a couple hours. Come back later.”
“You can lie down when he says you can,” said Billy Carroll, who really ought to have been the one called “Red,” Patsy thought, since he actually had red hair and Red Casey did not.
“Say, would you look at that,” said Big Spanish, and everybody glanced to the County Boulevard where just then a slow-moving truck with high wide tires and an armor-plated chassis was passing by. It looked like a small fort on wheels. Half a dozen boys around 12 or 13 years old trotted behind or beside it, occasionally reaching a hand out to boldly slap the truck’s steel plating or rivets and then jump back in wild glee. “I think that’s a war car, like they’re using in France!”
“That ain’t a war car,” said Billy Carroll. “You see any machine guns sticking out?”
“No, but I see where they could stick out. You blind noodle-head,” said Big Spanish, pointing to view slits along the side that faced them.
“Speaking of noodle-heads,” said Red Casey, who had thick brown hair combed into a high bush over his forehead. “Who’s that dummy standing up there eyeballing us? Hey! Jesus Jones!” he exclaimed, suddenly alarmed. “You guys feature what that noodle’s got in his hand?” Red opened his jacket to go for a pistol stuck in his trousers’ waistband. Before he could draw it, King clocked him with a sneaky uppercut. Red dropped, dead weight, against the hedges in front of Helen’s house. Snatching him by his shirt front, King yanked him back to his feet. “Who you calling noodle-head, shitbird?”
Red looked stunned and completely baffled till Big Spanish said, “You insulted King’s brother, idiot—y’should apologize.”
“That’s your brother?” said Red Casey. “I didn’t know, sorry. Sorry. I didn’t know it was your brother, King, but—he’s packing iron.”
“Packing iron!” said King, disgusted. He casually tossed Red aside, back into the hedges. (Helen frowned at the desecration.) Walking over one house, he climbed the front steps, and with a playful jab to Patsy’s shoulder, reached down and took the pistol. “Have to go, Pats. Apparently I gotta see a man about a horse.” Raising his voice he called to any and all of the men: “What’s the General want me for now?”
“To meet somebody,” said Big Spanish.
“A moving-picture man,” said Billy Carroll.
Red Casey, nursing his jaw and looking sullen, didn’t say anything.
“What moving-picture man?”
“Oh, I bet I know,” said Helen Ince. But nobody was paying her any attention now, and when she said, “It’s probably that bicycle mechanic,” nobody heard it because Big Spanish talked right over her, saying to King, “Come on, let’s go, some people got a strike to break, some people do real work.”
King laughed, and without another word to Patsy, he went down off the porch and joined the men, and the four of them walked together in step along the Boulevard and got into the brick-red open motorcar. It passed Patsy’s and Helen’s houses heading north before hooking around at the next corner and passing in front of the houses again on its way downtown. King sat in the back, deep in conversation, and didn’t wave either time he went by. Patsy and Helen waved both times.
She came over and stood at the foot of the steps on Liz’s house. She looked up at Patsy. Her expression became wistful. “He could be in pictures, I can see your brother doing that. He’s a very handsome man.”
Patsy felt an impulse to open his mouth and yell, but fought it back.
“I have a copy of White Fang somewhere and one of these days I’m going to show you both the picture of Jack London on the back. He looks just like King!”
Preceded by the Cat of Ashes, Patsy trudged back inside with his marked limp more pronounced, and closed the door.
Helen Ince was right about “that bicycle mechanic” Bill Harrigan being the “moving-picture man” King was supposed to meet. And by coincidence it was Bill himself who’d just motored past her and King and Patsy and Pearl Bergoff’s three burly nobles in the lugubrious armored truck. Billy Carroll had also been right, about it not being a war car, although it had been designed as one; so Big Spanish was right, too, about the original purpose of its long slit windows. When Bill had created (dreamed up, drawn the blueprints for, and then built) the vehicle under a secret contract with the Army, he’d created it to cross rugged terrains to rescue injured soldiers and downed reconnaissance pilots in battle areas, and he’d made it so that the truck tires could be swapped out with caterpillar tracks, depending upon just how rugged a terrain it had to cross. In the end, Bill’s design had been rejected in favor of one submitted by a California tractor builder, but according to the terms of his contract, Bill kept possession of all the patents as well as the prototype, which he’d converted—or shortly would, he hoped, convert—to civilian use. Civilian and professional use.
Applying the brake now, Bill brought the truck to a stop alongside of the high curbstone near the corner of Ninth Street and the County Boulevard, directly in front of the palatial Pearl Bergoff residence. As he switched off the engine, he cocked an ear, listening for any system clicks, but—the corners of his mouth lifting in a satisfied grin—there were none, nor did it betray the slightest shudder. “She’s a corker, boss,” said Bud Bleach squatted behind Bill in the rear compartment. He had one arm lying across a knee, the other slung over the top of a wooden crate that held two of Bill’s latest, and smallest, motion-picture cameras as well as a variety of lenses wrapped in soft polishing cloths. Nobody else in the picture business had anything like any of it. And Bill had invented and built all of it.
“What time do you have, Bud?”
“Just about…seven till,” said Bud after scooping his open-faced watch from his vest.
“And it’s accurate?”
Bill nodded. “Let me know when it’s right on the hour, will you? It shouldn’t take me more than thirty seconds to walk from here to the door and ring the bell, and when it’s opened to me, it’ll still be in the minute I’m supposed to arrive. That’s the way a serious man shows up. Never early, never late. Never over eager.”
“I’ll let you know.” Bud kept the watch in his hand and—once he’d finished rolling them—his eyes on the face. He heard a thump, and through the view slit closest to where he was hunkered, he saw halves of two boys’ faces peering in. He jabbed a finger at them, and they both vanished. Bud was still chuckling when Bill exclaimed, “Ah good Christ, I forgot the scenario!”
“No,” said Bud calmly, “you didn’t. I have it right here.” He dragged a scuffed leather satchel from the floor of the truck and plopped it on his lap. Undoing the buckles, he drew out a thin sheaf of clipped-together onion skin, and passed it up front to Bill, who quickly flipped through it: cover page, page of intertitles in red ink, page of character names, a one-page synopsis, and three pages of numbered single-paragraph scene descriptions.
“You always think you forgot something, boss, and you never do.”
“You sure this is the right version?”
“It’s the right version for him.” Bud hiked his thumb toward Pearl Bergoff’s mansion. “The bona-fide version’s still at the studio. Relax.”
“I wish I could,” said Bill. He tubed the scenario nervously. “What time is it?”
“Six till.” Bud took out his handkerchief and wiped his face with it. “So…did you ask your frail if she’ll do it?”
“Not yet. And Olive’s not some ‘frail.’ Jesus, Bud! What time is it now?”
“Ten seconds since you last wanted to know.”
Bill shrugged, a little sheepishly. “I kept thinking I’d tell her about Lily, but then…” Another shrug.
“Crying out loud, Bill, you were with her for, what? Eight hours? What the hell did you two talk about?”
“I hadn’t seen her in four years! And that’s another thing. She’s mad at me for not looking her up till yesterday.”
“You tell her why?”
“She’d think I was a hypocrite.”
“You are a hypocrite.”
“Shut up, willya? What time is it?”
“Time for some fresh air! It must be a hunnert degrees in here with the ventilator off.” After wrapping his hands around the rubber grip of a flat metal lever—it looked like one on a barber shop voting machine—Bud pulled it down forcefully while pushing the door with a shoulder. “And it’s—” He glanced at his watch. “Three minutes till.” The door swung open, scattering half a dozen kids and startling two men in blue mechanic’s overalls who’d stopped to gape at the big-tired, steel-encased truck. Bud nodded amiably all around. “Good afternoon.”
On the deep wraparound porch of the Bergoff mansion, two guards stood flanking the wide front door of varnished oak and presenting arms with Remington rifles; Bud Bleach doffed his cap to them; they stared impassively back. “Bill? You might want to give yourself an extra minute. Could be more to getting inside our man’s house than just pushing a doorbell. Say, Bill?”
“I heard you.” He climbed down out of the truck and was standing with one foot in the street and one on the running board, a hand still on the door, when the brick-red motorcar—it was a Buick C-25 roadster—carrying King Touey and the three nobles rolled past behind him. It made a sharp right turn and continued up the Bergoff driveway of crushed shells and into an open garage at the end. Bill slammed the door and walked around the truck’s short, squared-off hood—head down, the scenario rolled up in a fist.
“Good luck, boss.”
With a quick, uneasy breath, Bill raised his head, thrust out his chin, and hastened up the flagstone walk. The two guards, squinting tightly, waited for him on the porch. One of them said, “Harrigan?” and Bill, corny by nature, just couldn’t resist: “That’s me!”
Feeling relieved, excited, and perturbed—relieved at having finally gotten free of Sheriff Kinkaid’s smoky suite of rooms; excited to be dispatched on the kind of assignment usually handed out to a plainclothes detective; and perturbed, deeply so, by something he’d seen ten minutes ago —Charlie Gillick walked down the alabaster front steps of the Hotel Charles. He reached the sidewalk just as a liveried bellboy came around the corner from Broadway rolling a shiny blue Harrigan bicycle. It had a blonde-leather padded seat, black rubber handgrips, and a wire basket on the rear carrier. Charlie groaned a little, and after shooting a brief, galled look to the Sheriff’s Packard at the curb, he hurried down West Eighth Street and met the bellboy midblock. “I’ll take it from here,” said Charlie. “Thank you.”
“They asked when you was bringin’ it back and I didn’t know what to tell them.” The boy looked 14, 15 in that neighborhood, blue-eyed and handsome with luxuriant brown hair; although he walked with a capable, jaunty strut, he barely moved his lips when he spoke—probably, Charlie thought, because he had a mouthful of black, broken or crooked teeth. In his short time as a patrolman, he’d met dozens of people on his beat, old and young, who spoke the same way.
“I’m not sure when myself,” said Charlie. “Couple hours?”
“Well, that’s all right, long as you bring it back in one piece, they said.”
“You were supposed to tell them it wouldn’t be going anywhere near Standard Oil.”
“And I did!”
“Then you did your job.” Charlie gave him a dime, but afraid of looking foolish and awkward bestriding the bicycle, he waited till the bellboy had sauntered up the street and back into the hotel before attempting to mount it; he didn’t own one himself, never had, and in fact had ridden a safety no more than half a dozen times in his life. He could manage all right, though not gracefully. With his left foot planted on the pavement, he swung his right leg over the crossbar and set his other foot down lightly on the chunky pedal. But just as he was set to commit himself to the machine—as he tilted the Harrigan away from the street, slightly, and started to lift his left foot, Liz Landrigan called his name.
There was a green in West Eighth Street between the hotel and the railroad station, a grassy center island with a grassplot, a flower garden, a fountain and pool, and several slat-backed white benches. Liz had just risen from one of those, and when Charlie looked in her direction now, she waved. Ordinarily, his heart would’ve jumped at the sight of her, at the opportunity to talk to her; ordinarily, but not today, not now. For one thing, her brother King was back in town, and that was complicating enough, but there was also the baffling, troubling matter of what Charlie had seen (what had he seen?) only a short while ago when he happened to glance out the Sheriff’s bedroom window and down into the courtyard of small paving stones bounded between the side of his family’s law offices and the back of the hotel.
Instead of waving at Liz, Charlie just skimmed a salute off the brim of his cap, and mounted the bicycle. He hoisted it underneath him, turned it completely around, and pedaled it off the curb. Leaning forward over the handlebars, he flew down the Eighth Street hill, across the Broadway intersection, where he nearly collided with a fruiterer’s wagon, and then into Avenue E. If he avoided the strike zone, which Charlie intended to do—he’d cut further east at Twenty-second Street, he had no choice about that, but then almost immediately he could shoot north again and stay well clear of the Standard—he could, he figured, make it to Twenty-fourth Street and Prospect Avenue in ten, twelve minutes. He leaned back a little on the saddle, loosened his squeeze on the hand grips, flexed his shoulders, and pedaled earnestly, banishing Liz and King Touey from his thoughts and going over in his mind what the Sheriff had told him to do…
When Charlie Gillick arrived at Sheriff Kinkaid’s hotel apartment that morning, twenty minutes late and still distraught—badly shaken—by the news that King Touey had returned to Bayonne, a fat man with soft white hair and dramatic pouches below his eyes had opened the door. He must’ve been standing right behind it. “And you are?”
“Sheriff Kinkaid’s driver. He’s expecting me.”
“Possibly, though I don’t think he’ll be going out for a good long while yet.” The man opened the door wider for Charlie to edge inside. The room was a fug of blue cigarette smoke. “You have a name, son?”
“Patrolman Charles Gillick, sir.”
The fat man was in shirtsleeves and not wearing a collar. He pointed to a sofa against the wall. “Take a load off. I’m Chief Deputy O’Hare. County.”
“Yes, sir, good to meet you, sir.” Charlie had removed his cap as soon as he’d come in and he turned it once around in his hands before putting it down next to him on the plush upholstery. Chief Deputy O’Hare, in the meantime, was moving across the room to another door that stood partly open; Charlie could hear the Sheriff’s voice, level but exasperated, coming from the next room. “—stand me, Mayor, any hold that I have now on the situation is apparent rather than actual, and you need to—yes, please do, call me back.” O’Hare glanced over a shoulder at Charlie, smiled grimly, and then went into the second room. Before he shut the door, Charlie glimpsed the Sheriff clipping the earpiece to the telephone stick, bringing it down hard, as if he were clubbing a fish.
On the wall directly to Charlie’s right hung an oil painting of a small sailing ship anchored in placid blue waters and surrounded by dugout canoes full of Indians bearing baskets of bright fruit and long brown leaves of tobacco. He stood up and was reading the plate screwed onto the bottom of the gilt frame—“Henry Hudson’s Half-Moon, Sandy Hook, September 3, 1609”—when the Sheriff came out, impatiently beckoned Charlie with one hand, and then disappeared back into the other room.
For the next two hours Charlie had been run ragged. There were three candlestick telephones in the Sheriff’s bedroom—two on the small desk and one on the night table that had been pushed halfway across the room and bumped up against the desk—each of them, which was astonishing to Charlie Gillick, with its own private line. It became Charlie’s job to place calls with the operator and then to inform the Sheriff just as soon as his party came on the wire, or else to take calls, to get and write down the name of each caller—always a mayor, a city commissioner, a safety director, or a chief of police from some other municipality in Hudson County, all of them irritable, snappish, terrifying (one of them, Frank Hague, the Jersey City director of public safety, called Charlie a “shitbird,” until then an insult he’d heard only King Touey employ)—and then to cover the mouthpiece and inform Sheriff Kinkaid.
“Good morning, Mayor/Commissioner/Director/Chief,” Charlie heard the Sheriff say over and over again, “I’ve asked before but now I’m tellin’. I need as many uniformed patrolmen down here as you can possibly send, and them some! No, no—don’t give me any of that malarkey, I need them today. Because I mean to end this damn strike and an officer in uniform is just about the only thing those Bohemians fear and respect. I hear you, sure I do, but now you hear me—my authority is supreme, look it up! And unless you want me to come over there and personally deputize every copper I see, every single one, and I will, maybe even throwing you in for good measure, then you’d better do as I say.”
Rarely did the Sheriff get beyond that threat before a click sounded on the line; each time he’d swear an oath and crack the earpiece back on its hook. But after closing his eyes, shaking his head, and lighting another cigarette (two or three were usually still burning in his ashtray), the Sheriff always snatched up a different earpiece, passed to him by Charlie or by Chief Deputy O’Hare, and unflappably started all over again: “Good morning, Mayor/Commissioner/ Director/Chief…”
Charlie lost count of how many calls went out and came, but by 11 o’clock, when the Sheriff blearily asked O’Hare for a tally, just 20 officers from the Union City Police Department and seven motorcycle patrolmen from the County Boulevard squad had been promised. “Jesus, Mary, and Saint Joseph,” said Kinkaid. “The cowards! Afraid their own Bohemians’ll turn against them is what this is all about. Fucking cowards! You know what we oughta do, Mickey?” he said, addressing O’Hare. He lit yet another cigarette. “We oughta let ’em burn down the Standard, let all the tanks blow up with those smug Rockefeller toadies still inside, them and Bergoff’s stinking gunmen.”
“We should, sir, but we won’t.”
“No,” said the Sheriff pushing his chair away from the desk and rising wearily. “We will not.”
Then, and then, and then other calls came in. “Office Charles Gillick for Sheriff Kinkaid. Hello?”
When, at last, the telephone hadn’t rung in more than five minutes, and Charlie had gone through all of the names on the list he’d been given to call, he sat down on a straight-back chair by the open window, leaned forward and splayed his fingers on his thighs.
“I should probably get up to the works now, Mickey. See the lay of the land,” said the Sheriff. “Think you can handle things here?”
“I think so.”
“Good man.” He glanced over to Charlie. “I need to wash up, maybe shave”—he flicked two fingers up his thick bristly neck, from the hollow of his throat to his chin—“and put on a clean shirt. Should be ready to go in a few minutes, son.”
As he headed into the white-tiled bathroom, the Sheriff said over a shoulder, “Mickey, today was supposed to be a payday and I’m thinking we might have some trouble later on this afternoon. The men are going to want the wages they earned before the walk-out, and they oughta have them, but I’m betting Hennessey has no plans to open up and let them come in to get them.”
“I expect not. Did you talk to the mayor about this?”
“I did. I even made so bold as to suggest the payroll be transferred to City Hall and that the men could come get their envelopes there.”
“Oh? And how did the mayor react to your bold suggestion, sir?”
The Sheriff laughed. “He told me to go shit in my hat.” After he’d closed the bathroom door, O’Hare and Charlie looked at each other and smiled.
Then the telephone rang again. Charlie answered, sounding far less timid and tentative than he had two hours earlier. “Office Charles Gillick for Sheriff Kinkaid. Hello?”
“Put the Sheriff on.”
“Who is this, please?”
“Tell him it’s Klarkowski.”
Charlie frowned. “And what is the nature of your business, Mr. Klarkowski?”
Brusquely, O’Hare swept up the candlestick and yanked the earpiece away from Charlie. “Can you hold there, Mr. Klarkowski, I’ll get him.” After setting down both pieces of the telephone on the desk blotter, he went and tapped on the bathroom door. “Gene? It’s our Polish friend.”
Without asking, Charlie helped himself to one of O’Hare’s caporal cigarettes, quickly snatching it out of the tin and then walking away from the desk to the window that overlooked a small courtyard three stories below. When he lighted up and inhaled, the smoke burned his throat—he wasn’t a habitual smoker, just an occasional one, filching a couple at a time from his father’s desk at home. He perched on the sill as Sheriff Kinkaid emerged from the bathroom, hurriedly tucking in his shirt tail. “Kinkaid,” he said into the phone. He listened, nodded. “Can’t you just tell me now?” He pressed his lips together and sniffed. “You have a point. All right, then, your way. I can send a man. Yes, he’ll be on his way in ten minutes, and I understand perfectly. I’m vuh—yes, and we’re grateful, and I’m very aware of the risk…”
As Charlie half turned to tap off his ash through the open window, a door opened into the courtyard, and Liz Landrigan came through it. Charlie hadn’t realized it was the back entrance to his father’s and brothers’ law practice. He nearly called down to her, but at the last moment remembered where he was, and besides he’d got the immediate impression something was not quite right with Lizzie. She looked…breathless; red-cheeked and breathless, and after she closed the door behind her, she pressed her face against it. Her shoulders rose and fell. She was crying! But was she? Maybe she was laughing—in hysterics laughing. He couldn’t be sure, and then she took several quick steps backwards when the door opened again. His brother Johnny stepped outside and walked straight up to Liz and began shaking her roughly by the shoulders—just took hold of her with both hands and started to shake her. She broke free and slapped him, causing Charlie to jerk so abruptly that his cigarette’s ash sprinkled all across the lap of his trousers.
“Charlie! Officer Gillick! Quit your daydreaming, son.” The Sheriff scowled at him from behind his desk. “I have a job for you.”
“Yes, sir.” With one final and perplexed glance out the window and down to the courtyard, Charlie snapped to attention. “Job for me, sir?”
“You know how I found out last night about those rifles in Mydosh Hall? That was him again on the telephone. Now he has something else he wants to tell me. Sell me, is more like it, but that’s how the world works.”
Before he could stop himself, Charlie blurted, “So is this Mr. Klarkowski your…operative, sir?” All three of that morning’s local dailies were lying on the desk; each of them had a photo of King Touey on the front page, and in either a headline or a picture caption, or both, he was referred to as a “confidential operative.”
“More, I’d put it, in the nature of a snitcher than an operative.” Settling back into his chair, the Sheriff glanced down at the newspapers, then quickly over to Charlie. “Did you have something you wanted to say about Mrs. Landrigan’s brother?”
“No, sir. Well, just that I don’t believe he’s what they’re saying he is. I think he’s part of the gang. Or was.”
“A falling out among thieves, eh? That your theory?”
“I don’t know what happened, sir, but King used to have one of those black masks. I saw it. This is going back two summers. It was on his dresser, like he’d tossed it there.”
The Sheriff leveled his eyes at Charlie and narrowed them peevishly. “Officer Gillick?”
“I called downstairs and had the front desk man send out a boy to rent you a bicycle.”
The Sheriff kept staring at Charlie, not blinking. Then he blinked. “King Touey will get himself shot dead one of these days, lad, and like as not become a saloon ballad by the same afternoon. So let’s not worry about him right now.” He came out of his chair. “I’ll drive myself today. It makes a better impression.” He considered for a moment before nodding in affirmation: yes, definitely, driving himself today would make a better impression. “Now,” he said coming over and putting an arm around Charlie’s shoulder, acting fatherly, “here’s what I want you to do…”