“‘Count,’ what’s your real name?”
The Count gave him a long blistering look and then countered with, “What’s your real name, Yob.”
“Don’t rightfully know. Jack, I guess. But everybody’s called me ‘Cadger’ ever since I can remember.”
“Well, the same goes for me. Everyone’s either been calling me ‘Count’–or ‘No-Count,’–ever since I started into being with it and for it. Mooch around with hoboes long enough and they’ll always hang some kind of monicker on you. Most of them are kind of lazy, you know, or else they wouldn’t of become hoboes in the first place. Nature’s natural-born anarchists are what they really are, as they are dedicated, first and foremost, to the great ‘I,’ and they therefore choose the life of a traveling bummer because they can’t stand to be penned up and forced to live in any other way. Y’see? And men like this, they don’t want their real names to be spoken out loud, ever, or even known. Chances are, they are on the run from a wife and kiddies, or, even more likely, from John Law, and are wanted for innumerable depredations. Y’see, ‘Jack,’ knowing a Yellof’s real name gives you some sort of unearthly hold over the Yob. I’m not prone to believing in most superstitions, but I do believe that knowing a person’s actual name is a key to owning his soul. Why, look at Rumblestiltskin if you need an example.
“Y’see, once you have his true name, you have the individual’s essential nature. Once you have his true name, you can dig deep into the person’s skull and get him or her to divulge all sorts of personal information. Things that they done that they never told nobody about before–not even their sainted white-haired Mammies. My cellmate in prison, for instance–Bob ‘Snorky’ Papke. He wanted to impress me with all his bad deeds, assuming that on that basis he’d win my respect. So he confessed to blowing sky high a ‘soulful’ circus clown in Cincinnati. It goes almost without saying that he attempted to exonerate himself. He was not the kind of guy who went around killing clowns for fun. At least, not most of the time. ‘It was either him or me,’ he said.
“Y’see, my cellmate ‘Snorky’ was traveling with the Circus when he saw this Yellof who billed himself as Bumbo the Wonderful Clown get into a big argument with the Calabrian Strong Boy, who started yelling insults at him from across the lot, which Bumbo answered back in a harsh, braying voice.
“Weakling!” says the strong boy.
“Jolthead!” says the clown.
And back and forth like that.
“Scavenger!” says the strong boy.
“Whoremonger!” says the clown.
“And then the strong boy stroked his mustaches and purred that the clown was a ‘Finnochio.’
“At which point, Bumbo then offered to fight the strong boy, who only laughed. He started slapping at the strong boy’s face, and the strong boy only laughed some more. But then he picked up a big wooden piledriver and took a swing at the strong boy’s noggin, and in the process nearly took off his head, and the next thing you know, the Strong Boy is got him in a chicken wing and Bumbo is lost the fight. The strong boy was a chucklehead–a good natured sort of sap, and little more than a big kid himself. But that Bumbo was a mean one. An innocent-looking whiteface Joey, all sweetness and light on the outside, and especially when he was performing in the circus ring to amuse the kiddies, but a man with a truly evil temper whenever he wasn’t in the limelight. When he was backstage, whenever he spoke, all he would do is grumble and curse, and you would swear his breath was made of acid and that where he spat the grass didn’t grow. He had a midget butler–a Negro who he used to lash with a horsewhip whenever the shrimper didn’t move fast enough to suit him. And he had a cigar-smoking turtle–the only cigar-smoking turtle in the world, and the only critter in the world he ever loved–and he ended up EATING him. Like I said–he was a mean, mean man.
“Bumbo sat and stewed for a few weeks after the strong boy had bested him. Eventually, he left the Circus and got a job with a carny, but later on he came back to the lot on a moonless night after everyone was asleep, and bushwhacked the Calabrian Strong Boy with an iron crowbar, and stove his head in. He killed the Strong Boy, dragged his body to a deserted part of the lot–and then he took a butcher’s knife from the cook shack and stripped him right down to the bone, like a barracuda. And he fed the meat to the big cats. How’s that for twisted, eh?”
“Now, somehow, my cellmate saw most of what transpired, and the Clown caught him peeping and knew who he was, and so his life wasn’t worth a plugged nickel until he dispatched the clown. The way he went about was actually quite straightforward. He went to the carny one night and dropped a stick of lit dynamite under the clown’s trailer. It blew both the clown and the trailer to kingdom come. The police was called in and asked him why he done it. He played dumb, and said he only did it to get back at the Clown for playing a practical joke on him, and he didn’t mean to kill poor old Bumbo. Surprisingly enough, the police bought it, or pretended to, and Bob Papke went down the river for five years on a charge of involuntary manslaughter–instead of pulling twenty-to-life for cold-blooded murder. Which it actually was. Though a good shyster with all the facts probably could of argued self-defense. But Bob Papke was a person of no special accomplishments, who had no connections–in fact, if he wasn’t a Carny, he probably would have been a bum, and probably is now, if he ever made it out of stir withouten being carried out–in a pine box.
“Bob Papke told me all about the murder right off the bat, but what he didn’t tell me about, until much later, is that he was a Jewish anarchist, and a morphodite, and that him and the Clown were getting drunk and tickling each other’s fancy, so to speak. I suppose you’re old enough to know the barefaced truth about men who like to–err, who like to–umm, who have a hankering for men instead of women. Lots of tough guys go in for that. You see, Bumbo the Wonderful Clown had probably been having an affair with the Calabrian Strong Boy, but the Clown broke it off for some reason, maybe because the Strong Boy had trouble getting it up, but, anyway, the Strong Boy was plenty steamed. This is just a supposition on my part. You never really know with those Calabrians. They’re just a half step up the ladder from a Sicilian–who in turn is a mongrel barely a half step up from a Greek or a Turk, or even an ape. But don’t quote me.”