Every swindle is driven by a desire for easy money; it’s the one thing the swindler and the swindled have in common.–Mitchell Zuckoff
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER TEN: PART THIRTY-ONE: KINGDOM COME
Count Victor Justin kept a weather eye on the two drabs who were still at the far end of the bar as he resumed his spiel.
“I was in the plush rackets for much of my career; and a career it was, too, as surely as a man sets out to be a Doctor or a Lawyer, a good sharper studies his art day and night; while in prison he reads loads of books and newspapers up until his blinkers start to give out just so he knows what’s going on in the world; he talks to every type of person from every strata of society so that he might mingle freely and bloviate with any or all of them; he has a memory like a monk and the keen observant eye of the detective of police. He is in the underworld but he is not truly of it. For most of my career I was about as far removed from robbery and burglary and all varieties of petty theft as a man can be, and still claim to be with it and for it ’til all is blue. The police know this for a fact; their shoulder hitters never act the hard man with the likes of us unless they get a major beef and the order comes from the higher-ups to play rough. Someone swindled a priest; something like that. You already know what I think of priests. Worse than sharps. Some of them has got the best racket going. Mumble in Latin; tell some blameless old biddy to tell her rosary beads and te absolvum; eat a good roast beef supper, and then go to a nice warm feather bed and saw logs for several hours. Nice work if you can get it. I’ll bet me own father would have been a priest if he coulda stood it. Prison? Sometimes the con man will end up there. But it’s seldom for long. And nine times out of ten, he will find himself a snug berth and will end up running the joint, or at least some lucrative franchise inside the prison itself.
“The sharper hates violence. He’ll resort to it if he has to, but in all cases he would rather use his brains. This doesn’t make him a coward; it makes him smart. Only the dumbest criminals resort to violence. You might think by the way I say this that I think the criminal is to blame for all violent crime. But that is not the case. The criminal is not exclusively to blame for the wave of violence. Nit! Most Yellofs will avoid violence if they can. There’s no percentage in it. The burglar just wants your valuables; he doesn’t want to leave carnage in his wake, unless he’s some kind of crazy goof. Maybe if he’s desperate, he’ll put out poisoned food for your pooch, but usually he’ll avoid a house with a dog, or a squalling bairn. The average pad-creeper wants people who sleep nice and sound. Your second-story man wants to get in and out P.D.Q., and he’ll plan for days on how best to do it. I know you’re saying to yourself that if he were to put that degree of industry and application into an honest line of work, he would be a major success. Maybe that’s true; but you have to keep in mind that your average footpad knows no better way. What? Would you have him hob-nobbing with the muckety-mucks at the Algonquin Club–‘I SAY, Mr. Doubletripe’– when he barely knows how to hold a fork? Fancy vocabulary and fine manners are under-rated in this country, but without either, whither goest thou, young man? You can’t go much of anywhere. I thank the Big Gee up in the sky for my eddi-ma-cation.
“So–imagine your average dumb yekk–your gutter blood–a fourth grade drop-out at best; can barely cipher and hardly even knows how to write his own name. Imagine him going into business for himself. Sure, if he manages by dumb luck to cut up a big score he might open a bar, like our friend Tipsy Smith here, but he never escapes the circumstances of his background. Especially in the liquor business. A man comes in with a bankroll and wants you to store it in your safe. For all you know, that money is coated with blood. Or he comes in with a cannon and wants you to hide it. That shooting iron may have been used to blast a copper and could be as hot as the hinges as hell. Or, let’s say, on the other hand, a right Gee comes in and needs a loan of a hundred dollars, no questions asked. What do you say to him? You’ve got to be able to keep your standing in the community by performing just such small services. Sure, you’ll get the money back, and sooner rather than later. But you have to be of a certain stolid temperament to stand the gaff in the unlikely circumstance that the dough ain’t forthcoming. In a place like this, the good will of the barkeep is the last resort of the desperate man. Been jugged and need to come up with some pretty polly for the bondsman? The barkeep is your best pal–maybe your only pal–if only word can be got to him.
“So–you ask–and well you might–who is responsible for the wave of violent felonies which are sweeping the nation? None other than the policeman, who acts as a servant and agent of the corrupt overworld just as surely as the barkeep acts as the servant of the underworld. Did you ever notice how certain laws are almost designed to make a certain class of people want to break them? Booze, women, and gambling–the major vices. I’m also talking about the drug laws, such as they are. The dregs of society will ignore them with impunity. And who cares? They’re lost souls anyway. I would tell any young man coming up to steer clear ’em–and, especially, to keep well shy of all powders and pills until he’s at least 30 years old, and even then to treat them with caution. They are a loaded pistol aimed at your soul. The dope will ruin you, and some. It’ll make you the lowest kind of bum. No; excuse me, Sir; the overworld doesn’t much care if the poor and weak happen to rob from each other. It’s when their activities seep into the upper levels that the hub-bub commences. They hit back hard whenever that happens. An eye for an eye. There’s a pinch. That’s the only response they know. As old as the Code of Hammurabi. I know–I might as well be speaking Greek. Very well, as old as the Bible, then. And violence begets violence. Look at England. Coppers don’t carry a gun, so neither do yekks. Cop shootings are extremely rare in Blighty. It takes a great deal of moxie to shoot a man in cold blood, you know. That’s why so many lead slugs miss their intended target. Nobody wants to shoot down another man unless he’s a cold blooded killer, and there’s no hope for that kind; he’s a fiend; else he’s dotty in the crumpet; you may as well hang him. But I say that 19 out of 20 crooks can be redeemed, if you give them an opportunity and a reason to fly right. But let’s face it; that hardly happens even in once case out of twenty; that’s because the system is rigged–and it’s rigged…because the people in power just happen to like it that way.”
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