THE INFORMATION #766 JANUARY 10, 2014
Copyright 2014 FRANCIS DIMENNO
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.–Charles Dickens
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER EIGHT: PART TWENTY-FIVE: THE FALL
During the Eve of the New Year, it was a time of reminiscences and resolutions all through the poor mean inner city of Noxtown–known as Blowtown to its residents, to police, to traveling scavengers and those who could rove no more.
During the Eve of the New Year you could see, in the insalubrious faces of the poor, the superstitious anticipation of an improbably satiated futurity.
All through the poor mean inner city hard by the Docks and hugging the snow and ice-bedecked shoreline you might see gathered in the Shore Hall Restaurant a roistering band of confidence men out on a spree rubbing shoulders with their lesser brothers, the carny quick change artists; you might discern peddlers of cheap “slum” jewelry standing toe to toe with Lonely Hearts Club fraudsters and Clip Joint proprietors; you might glimpse, gathered as a conglomerate of shysters, the whole tribe of Blowtown’s seedy-looking but nonetheless garishly besuited men who made their way in the world not through honest toil but through such devious means as pigeon drops, insurance fraud, smack games, three-card Monte artistry, sales of altered lottery tickets, and as fake proprietors of “Casting Agencies” and “Photographic Modelling Studios.”
The fading year was a banner one for these denizens, and they were celebrating its passing with the lively rowdiness typical of people whose work life involves the embracing as a first principle the iron credo: There Is No Percentage in Wising Up a Sucker.
Munching his way through mounds of delicately breaded crabs and fried clams and slurping down baskets of fresh-shucked oysters was none other than the Prince of these rogues, a certain “Count Justin Victor,” also known as “Mr. God Bless Your Day” by his many victims who were only able to positively identify him by his eerie and implausible catch-phrase. He was a large, round man of gentle demeanor with satiny whiskers adorning his chin and cheeks; you might have mistaken him for a callow youth of five-and-twenty were it not for the fact that his face was bloated by his proclivity for his cut-rate vices of bad liquor, fatty food, and cheap cigars.
Into this den of desperadoes gently tiptoed none other than the Reverend John Otis Cross. He was wearing a Shearling coat and sought this evening to travel incognito and therefore to make himself as inconspicuous as possible as he sidled up to the bar and ordered a glass of hot rum toddy (for the day was forgivably chill for the vanity of this class of indulgence).
About the Reverend arose a low hub-bub of voices, as when a tribe or wandering band is disturbed in its deliberations by a wanton interloper.
“There’s a sucker man.”
“Looks like a ofay.”
“Does he know where ‘e is?”
“Got it on the earie. Out of towner.”
“Glim his dukes. He’s in the soft rackets, like us.”
“Faith Healer. Mesmerizes with electricity.”
A jowly panhandler walked up to him mumbling “Gimme a penny mister,” but halfway to the bar he was tripped by Count Justin Victor, which caused a hearty laugh to arise as though in a single roar from all of those assembled. The Reverend only shuddered slightly, and took another pull at his drink, and tried once again, in vain, to act inconspicuous. But at that time and in that place he stuck out like a dab of white paint on the sleek black feathers of a gutter-fed crow. The swirl of talk about him resumed.
“Pipe the collar. Fur.”
“Don’t care much for the fancy-man, him.”
“Caused a row. Fifth precinct.”
A cardsharp dressed in black with a red mustache sidled up to the reverend, took a good look at him, then hurriedly left the Shore Hall.
“Red Mary got him in a spat!”
“Red Mary! Whoa! Look out!”
“Devil Dodger beware.”
“She’ll snatch you ball-headed.”
A hard-eyed character with a filthy white beard gone yellow around the edges strode over to the bar, stood next to the Reverend, ordered a whiskey, neat; drank it down in one swallow, then slammed the snifter down onto the Mahogany bar and backed off, glowering. The Reverend flinched slightly as the glass struck the wood, but otherwise stood immovable at his post. As though awaiting his Golgotha.
“What’s he want here?”
“On the earie for gen.”
“Hell if I know.”
“Hey, ‘One-Eye’–do you know?”
“Don’t know nothing.”
“That’s the God’s honest truth.”
“Gaw Haw Haw!”
At the mention of the world God–and on a Sunday no less–the Reverend involuntarily looked up, but, then, seemingly waking to where he was, returned once more to his drink, determined to be unmolested if not utterly ignored. But the citizens of the Shore Hall–derelict and sharpster alike–were not to be mollified by his silent presence; resentment began to percolate; he was queering the pitch for the boys as was only out to have a swell foop on the last day of an eventful year.
“Who’s he thinks he is?”
“Is he is, or is he ain’t?”
“He taint well.”
“T’aint welcome there; t’ain’t welcome ‘ere.”
Loud raucous laughter.
Just then, a shabby, flabby down-at-the-heels Carny Talker walked boldly up to the Reverend John Otis Cross and said How About a Drinky for a Poor Old Man. The Reverend pretended he didn’t hear.
A clatter arose at the front door of the establishment. Distant ringing of sleigh bells. Smart crack of a whip. Loud stomping and noisy blowing of hot breath on frozen hands. And then, there at the bar, stood Smash Conklin.
The fantastic Bully of Blowtown screened the room for deadbeats who owed graft money to Adam Tyler or one of his many confederates. Finding none, he glared at The Reverend John Otis Cross as though the man had just insulted his sister. Conklin was a proud man; he couldn’t stand to see his will thwarted; he wasn’t used to people who failed to listen to what he had to say and jump to it; he had absolutely no sense of humor when it came to himself and his many and variegated whims.
“What are you doing here, Sir?” said Conklin.
“I have as much of a right to be here, Sir, as do you.”
“You still don’t know who I am, do you?”
“No, Sir, I do not.”
“I’m Mr. Conklin. You haven’t heard of me?”
“I’ve heard of you.”
“You haven’t heard of what I can do?”
“Why, certainly, Sir; but I fear no Man, but only God.”
“Don’t you know where you ARE?”
“Why, certainly, but–“
“This is Blowtown. God ain’t here.”
This time the Reverend John Otis Cross neither looked at Conklin nor finished his drink, but simply put on his hat, turned, and left the Shore Hall. As though a straining tap had been forced open, there came all at once a gushing of noises: barked laughter, snarls of appreciation, snatches of merry song. Conklin looked down his thrice-broken nose at the assembled celebrants–and he saw that he had done good. For once.
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