I followed the Big Man on his rounds, much to my danger, never suspecting that he would ever think a puny mite like me would dare to spy upon him.
Fair to say that there was two types of men around Noxtown, as far as I could tell. Those who knew that any day could mean their demise and who stood out of the way of trouble, hoping it would fix on someone else. Them there was th’ no ‘count folks who nowadays tend to keep to their own. They are the weak fish who have every reason to avoid the outside world. There have always been Jelly men Yellofs like this and I speck there allus will be.
Then there is also the hard Yobs– ones who don’t seem to hear too good when you try to tell ’em sompthing. They will never admit that they’re scared of sompthing, because in their minds, what they have of a mind anyway, they are scared of nothing, and they must truly be in some part mad, because they don’t have what every creature in nature can feel in his bones–an instinct for self-preservation.
But even these heedless men took pause. Not at the cries of women–the woes of womenfolk they think as being beneath their notice. Women will talk, says the man among men. And women will cry. What matters it to me?
Not at the bruised looks of children and dogs. There’s always another bairn to slap or another mutt to kick around. Don’t make no never mind.
Not even at the wrath of strong men. Life is hard. Nature is red in tooth and claw. To be a man means to fight. Carnage. The harder the battle the better.
But didn’t no one want to go up agin The Big Man.
Tommy Dodd, the turfside scribe–a big tough Yellof in a checked suit–one who very much liked the ponies and fine food and champagne living–as fearless a man as a reporter could be–fit in the war with Spain–Rough Rider–warn’t back’ard none–but you won’t hear a word from him about the Big Man–not no more–not ane–not since he lost his two front choppers to a couple of yekkmen after he spotted The Big Man at the track one fine summer day, and said as much in one of his colyumns. Says he laid a five-spot on “Delmonico” in the fifth. The Hoss came a cropper and The Big Man tore up his ticket. Tommy Dodd picked up the torn pieces, which is what I guess irked Stolas the most–the thought that some Yellof be riflin’ through his garbage.
Let’s face it–The Big Man–I WILL say his name–Richard B. Stolas–he was the spider, and all of us were his miserable flies. It was his web and we was all just players in it. Buzzing our confused and merry way until the collision–the struggle–and the coup de grace. Was there any enterprise in all of Noxtown he didn’t have a finger in? The Yellof as gave him the dragon tattoo and blabbed about it was found trussed up in his shop with an apple is his mouth; his hair was snow white. The banker who said he would need the weekend to consider a big loan was called on the telephone and ordered to fall into line, and he opened the bank on Sunday to transact his business–first time he done that since the run on gold! The Mayor his own self lived in mortal dread of falling afoul of the Big Man and gave him just about anything he wanted in the way of lagniappe. With but a word, he made the men who ran the Trolley Lines feed the hosses a better grade of oats. Not that he cared for the dumb brutes; he only done it because he COULD. He controlled all the drug stores and had influence over many other establishments in ways which I couldn’t know about then.
I shadowed him for a day. One fair Saturday in early spring. Crocuses was blooming, leaves were sprouting buds of green. I dinna ken if he saw me and I dinna ken if he didn’t. If he did, he didn’t call me out. First stop was Feist’s Cigar Store, where he dubbed the jigger, saw nobody in sight, and pilfered him a handful of Havanas–just walked right behind the counter and took ’em. Left his calling card–as “payment”, I suppose. Next stop, Moon Drugs, where the Big Man allus went to get his special asthma powders. He walked out with a big bag of ’em, which he stuffed in the brimming pockets of his striped suit. Paid with a check, I noticed–a check which would likely never be cashed. Took a paper from the corner newsie. Didn’t pay for it. Looked at the front page and threw it in the gutter. You could see sure ‘nough that here was a man, everything he did he done it on the odno.
The mean old butcher man was as awesome and scary a Yellof as you’d like to meet–a muscular cove with a big bald head, triple chin, black and white apron always covered with old blood and guts–but even he would start to blubber and fawn when the Big Man hove near, and a small boy would be dispatched with a fresh t-bone to be taken express to the Big Man’s Kitchen. No money changes hands–meanwhile, customers are waiting, and silently fuming–they mought not know that this be The Big Man, but they can sense he’s someone important the way the Bullyboy Butcher grins and trembles at the very sight of him.
Next the Big Man’s path takes him to the local fire station, where he hands out stogies–not the Havanas, I noticed, but cheap el stinkos–to all the b’hoys–and claps them on the back all jolly like–and tells ’em to keep up the good work, which, knowing him, means keeping a weather eye out for the homes of ginks that done the Big Man wrong and lettin’ ’em burn to a crisp, right down to the ground.
Then we see the Big Man as he hustles Cleary the Baker out of a fresh lump of French bread, which the fat man practically begs Stolas to take off his hands for him. Even his wife, a spavined, sickly and disappointed wench who has nary a kind world for man ner beast, manages to crack a weak smile in the presence of the Big Man.
The Blacksmith–a strongman with muscles the size of Cincinnati hams–even he would turn to a jelly man when the Big Man looked his way. “How’s the shoes for my horses coming along.” “All done, Sor,” says the big brute, a giant of a man who could crush the likes of me between his two rock-hard paws. And I thought I saw him commence to tremble. Here’s a man, thunk I, who wrestles hosses to the ground, and he’s as frightened as a little girl in a thunderstorm. What gives?
The undertaker–the man in black–lounging outside the funeral parlor–ducks into his shop quicklike when he gets wind of the gen that the Big Man is on the march.
Ditto the lady who makes the wedding cakes–and the fat cheesemonger–all of a sudden, they find they have other things to do and maybe they even shutter their shops because, as far as The Big Man is concerned, no news is good news.
You ought to see the Romish priest, a bobbin’ his head and grinnin’ to beat the band when the Big Man deigns to give him a nod. This priest is a large and portly fellow with many years on him and a thatch of pure white hair, and it is said that this man is afraid only of two things–God–and The Big Man–but that The Big Man runs a very close second.
Even the talky-face Jewish pedlar stoppers his gob and his maw hinges ope in awe as he spies The Big Yellof. And horses that shy and nicker are strangely calm as Big Dick Stolas comes a-rumblin’ past. Sure and I was a green mite–too cocksure and dumb to know what mought become of me an I was caught out a spyin’ on him. Call it the dumb luck of a kiddie–but if HE knew what I was up to, HE didn’t let on that he was wise.
Even the sign-painter was in fear and awe of The Big Man. Painted his name on the office door–in gold leaf–wouldn’t take a cent. Remember me to the Missus and the kiddies, was all he would say. Stolas’ brats was swarming around, pickin’ up the flakes of the gold leaf that fluttered to the ground. Sure and you can keep those, said he, tremblin’, and he walked backwards and away after he gathered up his effects.
Never you mind going up agin the Big Man–he had his thralls and his secret looks and his handshakes and his significant gestures and that was all he needed because he truly had the power, and whether it was the power of an angel or–more likely still–the power of the Evil One, not one man would say except the one man who professed to know him for what he was–that being half-crazed old Doc Ketman.
Watching him go his rounds, even a squirt like me could gen one major fact. No one gets in the way of The Power unless they plan to leave it all behind and start afresh in a locale afar far away.