What is meant by a “knowledge of the world” is simply, an acquaintance with the infirmities of men. –Charles Dickens
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER EIGHT: PART EIGHTEEN: THE FALL
I don’t know why, just one time, Slopp decided to let somebody see the contents of his warehouse. Maybe it was my role in helping him to cover up after what the Frenchies would call the contretemps with Uglyface Smash Conklin. Maybe it was because after Cool Slopp give old Uglyface a conk on the noggin, me and little Eamonn the circus dog grew to be great pals, and old Cool Slopp even entrusted me to give the little mutt a haircut, albeit with a pair of blunt scissors. Little Eamonn got in a few little nips when I tried to snip him around the ears and his bunghole, but I devised a means to grab him by the scruff of the neck to restrain him while he snarled and thrashed. It would just about of broke your heart to see the wee mite tremble when he saw the scissors looming close by his vital parts, but I was extra careful and even contrived to give the shivering mongrel a bath, in which he looked perfectly mournful the way dogs do when you rob them of their distinctive scent which helps identify them to the other dogs in the neighborhood and which also ensures their place in the social hierarchy. I had the rather fanciful notion that Eamonn was the feisty mascot of a gang of roving curs which would doubtless include a cigar-smoking bulldog with a spiked collar, a bloodhound with a deerstalker hat and curved pipe, and a tobacco-chewing terrier wearing a shapeless red-checked cap draped carelessly over one eye.
Cool Slopp seemed to be appreciate and even touched by the ministrations I paid to the little dog, even if my debut grooming job left the little black Pomeranian looking a bit patchy in spots. As my reward, if reward it was, I got to spend an unseasonably warm day in early November touring in his dour company a building which everybody in the neighborhood called “The Dirty Warehouse.”
Nobody knew where it got that name, though you could easily guess. From the outside the warehouse was a five story red-brick monstrosity mostly grey with the accumulated grime of decades of belching factory smoke. The warehouse was attached to the pawn brokerage in what was later to be known as the Cannery District, where back then myriad railroad lines converged to load and off-load produce and meat which were converted in the canneries to canned goods and other finished products and shipped out again by rail to the docks and the nearby Salt River. On the side of the building was painted a mysterious and ghastly visage of what looked to be a southern gentleman wearing a monocle and a top hat, but years of grime had eaten away portions of his four-story painted face so that he looked more like a grinning skull.
Nowhere was the warehouse identified as being part of Slopp Brokers. Five of the six stories I saw that one time were crammed full of goods of a dubious provenance. We started with the basement. That was mostly caged rooms packed with items from various landlords and landladies who hired the space to pack the stored goods of defaulting tenants prior to tossing the mostly worthless worn steamer trunks and wooden crates stuffed with the rubbish of mean existences and flawed and broken lives. Other than the caged rooms the remainder of the basement was empty, but was also reserved as a sort of run for little Eamonn, so that amid dust and detritus there were also some brown monuments to Eamonn’s considerable appetite in the form of small towers of his scat, which made walking through the basement something of an obstacle course. If stepping in dog shit were truly good luck then gamblers would have probably gladly paid through the nose to walk that boulevard of droppings.
I remember on my tour of the floors of the warehouse seeing, amid the usual array of pawnable but unclaimed items which included full sets of clothing; every musical instrument you could imagine with a large smattering of cornets and raggedy-looking violins, and a forest of black umbrellas and black opera capes lined in red velvet. On the first floor there were boxes filled with false teeth; trays of wedding rings; brooches, lockets, necklaces and earrings; rings of keys; silver cigarette and cigar cases; rows upon rows of combs, brushes, wigs, toupees, and false beards and mustaches; and books with odd covers written in strange languages.
Also: crates of canned salmon which were at least several years old; twenty-four boxes of powdered tapioca pudding; crutches; luggage; rifles and pistols; childrens’ toys; lawnmowers; complete sets of vintage silverware and antique China.
On the third floor there were also various weird items which were some of the strangest things I had ever seen outside of the ten-in-one at the carnival. These included: a transparent glass bottle packed to the top with pickled duck embryos; a human skeleton; a stuffed goat dressed like Uncle Sam; several shrunken heads; a monkey’s paw clutching a shiny object, and a cardboard box filled nearly to the top with what looked to be marbles but which, on further inspection, turned out to be glass eyeballs.
On the fourth floor, Cool Slopp opened a special locked safe and showed me various strange artifacts, including:
A diploma to practice medicine issued to a “Dr. Jeckyll,”
A book titled “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog,”
A file folder labeled “Photographs–Drunken Teddy Roosevelt,”
An envelope labeled “Mary Todd–Traitor,”
A film canister labeled “The Great Train Robbery–Part Two,”
A folder labeled “Photographs—confidential—
An envelope labeled “Declaration of Independence–First Draft,”
And a vaguely ape-like human skull in a box labelled “Missing Link”.
It was then that I turned to Cool Slopp, who was looking sly as he led me to the stairs back down to the exit.
“Can I ask you some questions?”
“You can ask.”
“Aren’t you ever going to sell these things?”
“Not if I don’t have to.”
“What good are they?”
“I like ’em.”
“Aren’t you EVER going to sell SOME of these things?”
“If someone wants to buy them, maybe.”
“Don’t you have a problem with knowing you’ve got all this stuff?”
“Don’t keep me awake at night.”
“How long have you had this stuff?”
“Some of it? Thirty years.”
“How did you start in to collecting this stuff?”
“Don’t rightfully know.”
“Why do you have so many customers?”
“They come to me. I don’t care either way.”
“Is there anything you won’t buy?”
“Aren’t you worried that you might have a fire?”
“It’s all insured.”
“What about the police?”
“They’re on my side.”
“What’s on the fifth floor?”
“That’s none of your concern.”
And with that, he ushered me out the warehouse door, little Eamonn struggling in his arms and barking at me–and Slopp, as usual, making no attempt to quiet the little brute.
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