There is no way to peace along the way of safety.–Dietrich Bonhoeffer
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER TEN: PART TWENTY-THREE: KINGDOM COME
“I tell you all this on the D.Q.,” said Count Victor Justin to Tipsy Smith and Adam O’Day, “and you’re not to yip to a soul, but I know you will anyway, but I’m not worried. This rank whistlestop is just a watering hole for me. I got my people all over these United States. They all know a little bit, but not all of ‘em knows the whole picture. I suppose my pals will get together if anything ever happens to me and hash it out amonsgst themselves.
“Let’s face facts—I’m no Saint–There are no saints in this man’s city—and certainly not that mysterious Reverend John Cross. That Blackfly Limey preacher with his sanctimonious mien–you know the one I’m blowing about–a-scraping and a-gnawing at the vitals of your soul on every Sunday. A Body of Divinity Bound in Black Calf. He’ll convince you that your soul is the most precious thing you own, but don’t you believe it for a minute, for if he himself has one, he don’t look after it none too good. Sure, or maybe his vocation means he needs must sally forth into a Moth House in the dead of night and consort with ladies and sometimes laddies of easy virtue—but I bedoubt it. Strongly. B-r-r-r. Miss Nancy makes out like he wants to lead a G-rrrand Crusade and extirpate all the vice in Blowtown—won’t be steered from off his path by the likes of Smash Conklin—he’s a one-man Protestant Revolution, him–but somehow the Gib Yellof gets to him and all of a sudden he’s just as meek as a little lamb, telling his congregation to forget about shutting down the Stinkfinger Palaces and focus instead on saving their own souls. Haww…I wonder what they managed to get on him? Do ye want me to spell it out? It doesn’t take much to knock some sense into a soft-handed duffer like that. One night he takes a wee dram in a knock-out joint and next thing he knows he wakes up next to a live boy and a dead woman. Police Photographers and Reporters are called. The whole thing is a dreadful misunderstanding, and can be cleared up, of course, providing certain conditions are met. Need I tell you what they are? Keep mum about the vice rackets in Blowtown, Reverend, and meanwhile we’ll just keep these pitchers in a wonderful tin box that we’ll just put in our safe here, in case you forget yourself. So nowadays when he comes preachin’ against the sins of drink and gambling in his great vice crusade—him, with his black pants and his black shirt and his black derby and his black umbrella and his white and sallow face—looking just like a hungry ghost with those big blue eyes of his’n—I turn away. Because just looking at that man makes me as frightened as seeing The Black Spy himself.
“No, there are no Saints in the city. What of the place where you buy your grub? Old Eisenhauer the German grocer with his great big blubber and guts and his wheat-colored handlebar mustache and his gleaming bald dome and the delightful crinkles around his jolly piggy eyes and that gap-toothed smile of his’n—and his cut-throat practices—looks can be deceiving–he’s no Saint–puttin’ his big bloated thumb on the chopmeat scales when weighin’ –and buyin’ from bakers who put plaster of Paris in the bread –and dairies who water their milk–and performing other deeds of dark infamy which ye don’t want to know about. He ain’t always givin’ out peppermint-stick-candy to orphans. That’s just for show. Chargin’ the well-dressed man a nickel or dime or quarter more for his vittles; how d’ye like that? Puttin’ pebbles in the coffee beans. Essence of horse dung in your tib of occibot. Dust in the pepper. Sand in the sugar. Every low-down practice and sneaking trick—that’s what our friendly friend Mr. Dutchman is up to. And to make matters worse, his place never does see the natural light of day. Nor ary a speck of soap. Not that it matters, because everything in it is covered in soot from the pot-bellied stove and droppings from the rats—rats as are big enough to scare a fat tabby—not to mention the filth from what the customers coming in from the street have drug in. Oh, he’ll kill you and your whole family with his wares–if you let him. He’s got all the soothing syrups and Bower’s Infant Cordial, Bull’s Baby Syrup, Harter’s Soothing Drops, Dalby’s Carminative—all guaranteed infant-killers. If the pneumonia don’t get ‘em, the remedy will. He’s probably got a side deal going with both the undertaker and the carpenter as fabricates the caskets. And, Hell—if his soothing syrup don’t kill you, his home-made Blutwurst is enough to make cold meat of you. God alone knows what sorts of stray and missing creatures go into the making of it. Eat a piece of that and you’re not only a dead fool–you’re dead dead—you’re super dead.
“Stop yer gob, ye say; take it in your stride and stop your whining; you’re acting like a filthy Jew. Speakin’ of which–Ferget poor Aaron Klein the tailor—ye feel sorry for him, don’t ye, but don’t ye know that he starves his helpers—includin’ his own wife and children–and that he keeps for himself any money that he happens to find in yer pockets? Even though the rogue is half-blind from all the close-work he does with a needle, he can smell a yaller boy from a mile away. You can be a mouse pissing on a piece of cotton in Old Cathay and he’ll hear you coming. Now, don’t get me wrong–I’m not one who’ll be after slanderin’ the Jews for bein’ sub-men and Christ-killers who are not worth their weight in offal—they’re a mighty slick crew, and that’s no Harvard lie. Why else do you think they get blamed for every low practice? Fact is, I have a sneaking admiration for the Israelite. It may well be that I’m part Jew myself. Guess there’s no way I’ll know for sure; I was reared up an orphan. Never knew my folks. Maybe that’s why I’m allus tryin to put one over on the world—because it sure as hell put one over on me, from the very black day that I was born.
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