WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER NINE: PART FORTY-THREE: THE MAYOR OF HELL
When you talk about the fate of the kiddies in Noxtown, you’re reaching out to grab a nettle. It’s a sore subject, sure. Every one of the young ladies and not so young ladies who worked as maids and cooks and laundresses–I’m not telling you anything you’re not likely to already know–was subject to be attacked by the lord of the manor or even one of his sons. Menfolk were like that, back in those days, and they knew they could get away with it. And the Little Wifey always professed ignorance–if she knew what side her bread was buttered on–when Milord Hobby got frisky and had a hankerin’ for a bit of strange. Wifey knowed “She was only a passing fancy.” And “Tut Tut” says Milady, knowing full well after twenty years of marriage–and more–of her man’s low tastes. Her, she goes in for the Good Life. High brow stuff. Opera, fancy dresses, cotillions and the like. And if the French Tutor or the Dance Instructor makes love to her, then tit for tat. That’s life among the swell, though, and I don’t pretend to know very much about it, only what I’ve been told.
Then there was the Mayor’s wife. Seemed as though we allus had the same old Mayor except for one two year stretch when the Machine crowd was somehow thwarted and the Goo-Goos got in. But the one Mayor we had got for most of that time was your typical rotten politician, only he had one quirk–namely, he was very fond of vanishin’ for days at at time. Like I said before, his name was The Honorable Jonal Lobhar, but there was nothing honorable about him, and from the looks of him, if he happened to be wearin’ rags, then the second he’d set foot in The Seven Stars Saloon, they’d of throwed him out the door, or maybe out the window, if they place didn’t happen to be underground to begin with.
But even the Seven Stars was too tame for the likes of him. He was off to Devil Town.
Mayor Lobhar did a lot of good and useful things for the residents of Noxtown, to be sure. Don’t ask me to name none of ’em, though, because I don’t remembuh. But his little Wifey, why, she was a pretty itty bitty thing and, at first, he could deny her nothing, a fact of which she took full advantage. He was an old vulture, from the looks of him, and she was young enough to be his daughter. ‘Tis the same old sad old story. Mrs. Lobhar had a fancy to make the social rounds and to go shopping all the time, but she was mostly you would say a decent young lady as wanted to feather her nest and maybe accumulate some pretties and, Lady or nae, she warn’t above using her rich old husband, who had made his fortune as a part of s dynasty of family jewelers, to set her up with a grubstake, so to speak. Long and loud would be their arguments. He would shout and bluster and she would bawl and weep and threaten to go back home to Mother. It warn’t too long before hardly a civilized conversation passed between ’em. I got the gen on this from the cook and the laundry maid, which just goes to show that you better be nice to the help and not make a whizz or they’ll chew off your paw, Chum.
To get away from the devilish worries his wife was causin’ him with her profligate spendin’ habits, the Mayor would hie him to Devil Town, and sow his wild oats down by the Old Canal. After awhile, Wifey would send the Chauffeur, a stolid Dutchman as fat and red as as a raspberry, to go a-looking for him. First, at The Adventure Club, where all the big-time sports would hang out and trade lyin’ yarns about how they was mighty hunters and such but all they was was rabbit twisters who if they ever saw a Moose would faint dead away and mostly they were only good for aiming a shotgun at a squirrel and obliteratin’ the critter–hail the mighty hunter, huh?
Or the Dutch Chauffeur would seek him out at The Celebrity Room, which was anything but; listen to me as I hereby attest that it was a low dive as only the most desperate cut-throats frequented, but you know how it is with some menfolk who consider themselves in desperate straits, they do just what they’re not supposed to do and they don’t give a good goddamn.
Or maybe they’d go looking for the Mayor–the Butler and the Gardener would chime in–by this time it was a veritable expedition–down to The Devil’s Lounge, where all the most attractive ladies of the night congregated–or maybe they’d go to The Drinking Club, which was full of pug-uglies who just wanted to get drunk in a great damned hurry and where the alkie was pisen as sure as I can whistle “The Marseillaise.”
And then the Chauffeur–whose name was Dummstein or Dummsteen or something like that–would poke his head into The Men’s Elite Club, where they would tell him he needed to wear a tie, or he would venture into The Patricians Club, where they told him he needed to be a member, and he would even step through the door of The Pink Pussy, where him and his kind wasn’t welcome.
Finally, the Chauffeur and them would find him, usually down at the Terminal Café, drinking a cup of scary-looking java and nursing a black eye the size of a newborn pup. Dummstein would plead with “The Mawster” to get into the car–The Mayor owned a fine Stanley Steamer, top of the line–but The Mawster would try to bribe him to go away. No soap. His wifey ruled the roost. Sad fate for a man who was suppose to be in charge of the whole of Noxtown. So Dummstein and the Gardener and the Butler would hustle the Mayor into his carriage and off they would go, back to the old homestead.
Sometimes even the Chauffeur–and he was a persistent cuss, I’ll give him that–even the Chauffeur couldn’t find him at his usual haunts. That’s because the Mayor would flip flop and fly over to the disreputable communities along the Red River, which were known to all and Sundry as The Miracle Mile, a wide-open strip not officially a part of Noxtown proper where a thirsty and horny gent could buy a drink in peace and get his ashes hauled. It was well known as the place to go for gentlemen (and ladies) who wished (at considerable cost) to eat, drink, gamble and indulge in illegal drugs and illicit assignations. In its heyday way back in the olden days it had six casinos, about fifty taverns, a dozen whorehouses, and not one visible school, church, or hospital. It’s calmed down considerable since them wild and wooly days, but it’s still nowhere a Tad or Fresh Young Pup has any bidness bein’.
The Miracle Mile has been the ruin of many a man better than I. Why, when I was in funds—allus a blessedly short time—fie–money slipped through my fingers—too many old pals to treat to drinks—even I would steer clear of some of the less reputable places there. You know a place is built for hard livers where the dogs are afraid of the cats, and the cats, as awful as they are, is scared of the rats, some of which reach the size of a small pig from all the garbage that is left strewn around in the courtyards and cellars and the rancid attics where people actually live and—blast it—raise small children, many of whom never make it past their sixth year, so bad are the conditions.
There must be something good to say about the Miracle Mile, but I’m not the man who could testify. There’s all sorts of filthy alleys neatly ensconced behind the tenement houses—not to say anything in The Miracle Mile is truly neat—plenty of boarded up and deserted buildings there—you’ll find Yellofs and even ladyfolk living there, amid the smell of mildew and bare plaster—a more degraded life you can hardly imagine—but here, too, you’ll see kiddies roaming around and God bless the little critters because few enough of them make it past their toddler days.
You go into some of those filthy basements thereabouts in search of drink and good fellowship and you’re likely to get your head stove in by a desperate wretch who will rifle through your wallet and throw everything away in search of bills and coins, because alkie is all he craves and coin of the realm is all he wants to have to do with. You could travel the whole wide globe and you will hardly come across a more degraded pack of Yobs and Yellofs.
You think Adam O’Day is strange, cutting his capers in the Seven Stars Saloon? You think old Musky Dan is a terror, with his sneering lip? Wait until you venture into this true underworld—all the devils of hell seem to be there. Nigs with bones sticking through their noses; morons with a dull glazed look in their eyes, who will cluck and hop about for small coins thrown to them on the filthy brick floor; Gypsies with gleaming rings hiding sharp knives beneath their black and ragged dresses; and this is the sort of haunt where you might find the Mayor of our City Fair.
Why did the Mayor do it, go to these places? I don’t suppose even he knew the answer to that one. But it had to do with wanting to see another side of life. Or maybe the fool was a glutton for punishment; I don’t know. I’m thinking too that maybe he did it to get away from his wife–in the hopes that if something happened to him, then she’d be sorry. Maybe it was something about the excitement that he craved–when he didn’t have it, he was a drunkard without a bottle or a hophead without his yenshee. But I’m thinking that it’s more about that mischief there is in every boy, and in every man, which leads him to do the one thing that he just ain’t supposed to do. Why? Just because he can.
But I found it awful odd, and telling, too, that the mayor of hell didn’t find Noxtown nearly hellish enough for his liking, and had to migrate somewhere worse still–where the grass was always browner.
Everyone knew about the Mayor’s little three-day jags, but nobody ever wanted to say anything; plus, as long as the Mob backed him, everything was hunka-dory.
Anyway, the Mayor sowed a lot of wild oats, and he had too many brats to keep count of, and what were they going to do about it?–nothin’–and not all of them was supported by him–actually, a very few. Still, when they had growed, he would try to do something for them–get ’em on the police force, say, or a maybe job with the department of sanitation where there they could loaf around for most of the day manufacturing cigar ashes and oogling pretty gals.
As they say–like father, like son.
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