THE INFORMATION #812
NOVEMBER 28, 2014
Copyright 2014 FRANCIS DIMENNO
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER NINE: PART THIRTY-EIGHT: THE MAYOR OF HELL
In Noxtown we gave directions to strangers by using as our landmarks police stations, saloons and sweatshops. Otherwise, you could get lost: It was miles and miles of rickety wooden tenements packed with sallow-faced people, many of them with a mean glow on. However, I should also mention that any fool newcomer who came to those precincts, unless he was a pretty rough customer, was quickly swallowed up by the criminal elements.
Like I said before, people came to the the uneven streets of unruly Noxtown from all over the area during the harvest and Big Carnival and at every other time–looking for fun which they wasn’t too likely to find–they came from tiny green Arcadia and the grim flat plains of Chokecherry, from wooded Dowagertown and the strip-mined precincts of Hungry Valley, from gaudy Nitburg and the factory blocks of Stinktown. They’d come from nearby Harmony and from far-off Murder Lake; from rural Friday Valley and the notorious crime enclave of Greasy Ridge; from swank Runnymede and from humble Uneeda.
Noxtown had con men and it had gun molls and pickpockets, sure, but you were lucky if all it was you got picked was your pocket. As a stranger, you might be invited into The Seven Stars, Tipsy Smith’s ill-omened groggery, for a friendly cup of cheer, only to find yourself instead the victim of knockout drops–chloral hydrate–and stripped naked, and left to fend for yourself in a filthy alley, of which Noxtown had plenty. There was Pig’s Alley and Mad Alice Alley and Thornbush Street and Arch Street; there was Tam Lane and Mud Lane and Mitre Way and Penfort Way. And hundreds of others.
We had in Noxtown around the turn of the century a sloppy mix of recent immigrants, all different ethnic types, any one of whom who would do the business of robbing you blind: snooty German Jews, scrappy Russian Jews, swaggering Irishmen, flinty Scots, devious Italians, stolid Poles, credulous Greeks–the works.
Any querulous Bohunk who took his pay packet into the Seven Stars and who wasn’t a regular there was likely to be fleeced, and then some. One of Red Mary’s girls might invite him to Come See Her and he would accompany her to Red Mary’s Brothel where he would spend five dollars for the girl and fifteen dollars on the drinks–cheap champagne, because most people couldn’t tell the difference anyway between sparking wine and the genuine article. It would almost be enough to make you wax poetic, the ways in which a Yellof could be swindled. Watching it was like watching a piece of chuck meat going though the meat grinder.
Scar-faced Joe Rumbuster the numbers runner, the terror of Shanty Street, him with his sneerface demeanor and perpetual hangdog look, was always up for rolling a helpless drunk or a hopelessly lost countryman. He was something of a lushman himself, and you looked at him, with his lumpy ferret face, and his shiny black hair slicked back with gookum, and his bulging chest–and you’d think, “A Most Unpleasant Young Man.” An ugly customer, him. A frowning goof, with two front teeth sticking out and a peanut-shaped hat which he took great pride in; allus cleaning it with a little bottle of hydrogen peroxide and woe betide you if you dinged or duffed it up. He would yell insane little insults at you. “Hey, you stupid! Yuh done damaged my hat!” You could tell from the way he talked–half meticulous and swanky and half vulgar Yob talk–that he was a certified nut. A cackling chaffer and a boshing blabber. Both strangely back’ard and strangely bold among the ladyfolk, though. “I am most pleased and pleasured to make your acquaintence, Zook,” he would say to a low beldame, as he swept off his ludicrous chapeau. And he’d also make the queerest observations. “Don’t think I ain’t watched how you eat,” he said to Red Mary. “You just nibble and gnaw at them comestibles like a little squirrel.” Comestibles? This from a sixth grade drop out? All I can say is that me must have had a keen parrot-brain and he caught some of the conman patter–which was plentiful at the Seven Stars–on the earie. He talked slowly, like a dolt. Didn’t talk much unless he had to; was always afraid he would say the most inappropriate thing–either that, or he gloried in the fact–who could say?
“Hey! Lady! Duh, didn’t I see you at the fucking dog show?” he shouted one time to Lady Astor as she was coming out of a Rambler Surrey to walk into a luxe hotel. “I’m talking to you, Fatso!” he bellowed, as she did her best to ignore him while the chauffeur, a big bruiser of a fellow himself, got out of the driver’s side of the brand-clean velocipede and glared at him. “I’m sorry, fat Lady,” he yelled at her retreating form, “If we ain’t been properly introduced.” He then glared back at the chauffeur. “Wanna go a round, little sister?” The Chauffeur did not. He got back in the Rambler and tore away at a life-threatening 20 miles per hour.
Joe Rumbuster didn’t have much use for the likes of me, though he tried to hide it; he was afeared of hot-tempered Red Mary and what hell she might pull down over his ears should he so much as harm a single hair of my chinny-chin-chin. He had his little sideline of rolling drunks, and tramps and bums, and he didn’t want no trouble, so he was either in cahoots with or he stayed well clear of the likes of Smash Conklin, who had his own tramp-rolling enterprise. He was certainly beholden to any of a number of fixers, conmen and wheeler dealers who made the city run smoothly. This cast of characters also included Conrad Tench, the kickback-hungry copper who was the terror of all the nigs in Jivetown; Titus Peep the bloody-handed and red-haired shyster lawyer, whose services Rumbuster required on occasion; and Cool Slopp the Pawnbroker, who swindled the poor duffers and clued Rumbuster in on who had just cashed in a big load of swag. These huskies all worked in turn for Alderman Adam Tyler, Police Captain Tom Aston, Beuuregard Nash the vice lord, Coach Crump the estate mogul, and, above them all, he Whose Name Must Not Be Used in Vain, the terrifying “Cokey” Stolas–the Big Fellow
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