Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Harry Grey. The Hoods, Chapter 25.

  From underneath the counter he produced several decks with accompanying isinglass eye shades. He showed us how to read the backs. It was fairly simple to understand once we had memorized the code.
  He explained, “Every deck of cards has its individual code. No two decks operate the same.”
  We bought a dozen pair of loaded dice, and left.
  “Down to Rubin's, the guy who makes glasses, on Canal Street,” Max instructed.
  “Make these into eye glasses?” Rubin was dubious. He fingered the isinglass shades. “There's no logic to it. What's the sense?”
  “Let us worry about the logic, Rubin. You make up two pair.”
  Max threw a ten−dollar bill on the show case. “Will this cover it?”
  “All right, all right.” Rubin pocketed the ten. “I'll have them ready in an hour.”
  We walked out. We stood outside undecided how to kill the hour.
  There was a small movie house next door, showing two thrilling cowboy pictures, “Destry Rides Again” and “A Bloody Trail.” This was Cockeye's meat because he had never altogether outgrown his secret yen to be a gun−fighting cowboy—perhaps none of us had. The others decided to go, but I wanted to visit my mother.
  “O.K. go ahead. Meet us at Jake's place in an hour.”
  I walked out and grabbed a cab. I walked up the rickety stairs and along the smelly dirty hall. An uncomfortable apprehensive feeling came over me. I knocked softly on the door.
  A curt voice answered, “The door is open. Come in.”
  It was my brother's voice. I opened the door. He was sitting at the kitchen table, reading and smoking a cigarette.
  “Oh, it's you,” he said.
  He gave me a cold look.
  I walked in. “How come you're home so early? Where's Mama?” I asked.
  “A neighbor phoned me at the office, mama is sick. She's sick; she's in there.” He gestured to the back bedroom.
  “What's the matter?” I asked. With an uneasy feeling I hurriedly walked to the bedroom.
  “Don't disturb her, she's asleep. The doctor just left. He gave her a pill,” he barked at me.
  I turned back. “What's wrong?”
  “Are you really interested?” he sneered. “You make me laugh with your show−off devotion. Why don't you come around more often, big shot?”
  “That's why I don't come around, on account of your lousy sarcasm. Besides, this dump gives me the creeps. Why the hell don't you move uptown to a decent place? Maybe I'd come around more often. Maybe I’d move in. I'd pay all the expenses, like I told you many times before.”
  “In the first place Mama won't move. She's used to the neighborhood, and she has all her friends here.”
  “Yentes and kurshineerkehs,” I grunted. “Besides, it stinks around here.”
  I realized too late my frankness would only make him more nasty. That I had tried to avoid.
  “Yentas, kurshineerkehs, and it stinks,” he said bitterly. “The people in this neighborhood are beneath you, my big, brave, hoodlum brother. Who the hell do you think you are?”
  The corner of his lip curled in a sneer.
  “I didn't mean it that way,” I said apologetically.
  He didn't hear me. He was too engrossed in needling me.
  “Tell me, do they still call you Noodles the Shiv? So Noodles the Shiv is too good to live around here? What do you think you're made of? Different stuff from the decent people in this neighborhood? A hood like you who carries a knife and gun like most decent peaceable people carry a pen and pencil? Who uses whiskey and drugs to bolster his courage?”
  “I don't use drugs,” I mumbled. “Occasionally we kick the gong around and that isn't habit forming,” I argued weakly.
  “Smoking opium isn't a drug? Isn't habit forming?” he sneered. “Also you think bulldozing people requires courage? Also you think the only way to get money is by stealing and conniving? You've got no respect for religion, God or people? You and your hoodlum friends think you're above law and decency, don't you? With your guns and knives and brass knuckles? You guys rationalize that everything that's phony and illegal is okay, and anybody that's legitimate is a sucker. You visualize yourself as a romantic figure, don't you? As some sort of modern Robin Hood. Don't tell me. I know your way of thinking.”
  “Look,” I snarled. “Don't start that crap again every time I come around. Let's cut the Cain and Abel act. I didn't come here to continue the same ridiculous discussion. I came to see Mama.”
  “You came to see Mama,” he mimicked. “Another thing I want to discuss with you, who the hell gave you permission to move our father's body to a different plot and put an elaborate stone on his grave? For a guy who never gave him respect when he was alive or even said Kaddish, Yiskor or any prayer at all, for his father's soul, this sudden filial devotion stinks. You don't ask anybody. You take things into your own hands as usual. Why the hell don't you do things like a normal, decent man?”
  “Look,” I snapped. “Don't crowd me too far. I'm liable to forget you're my brother. Don't ride me all the time about decent people. Decent people. What the hell do you think—you're such a bargain? You and your kind? You newspaper guys? So, you got yourself a byline. That makes you an authority on life and everything. Don't shit me about ideals and clean living. Who was implicated in the ambulance chasing scandal some time back? Wasn't it the newspaper friends you pal around with? How does the Combine get the winning number before it's printed, so they can lay off bets, if not from some newspaper guy like yourself? Who writes crapped−up stories to mislead the public? A publicity agent can buy you guys to flavor a story or give a guy a mention for a buck and a charlotte russe. Your bosses, the publishers, are decent and ethical? Big business buys them off with advertising. Don't the big money guys dictate their policy? Don't you guys use violence in your business? You never heard of legitimate publishers using force to sell their papers? To put them on newsstands? Who have they got in their circulation departments? Hoods, that's who they have. Don't legitimate, so−called decent publishers hire goons to break drivers' strikes? Weren't we approached time and time again by so−called decent church−going legitimate newspaper men to commit acts that even we would not have the heart to do? Don't the so−called decent merchants in time of war, when certain commodities are scarce, profiteer and steal from the public all they can without pity or consideration? Yeh, don't hand me that bullshit. Nobody's decent. The whole world is corrupt one way or another. Most people aren't honest. They make believe and kid themselves that they are. Yeh, so we—we're elementary about it; we flaunt it; we carry guns. So, what the hell do you expect to gain by baiting me every time you see me? You sound like a nagging old woman.”
  He glowered at me as I went into the back bedroom. Mama was sleeping soundly. I kissed her cheek and tucked five hundred bucks under her pillow.
  I tiptoed back to the kitchen. My brother was smoking a cigarette and reading his paper. “What was it—her heart?” I questioned. He nodded without lifting his eyes off the paper.
  “How bad was it?” I questioned.
  “A mild attack.” He mumbled, “She'll be all right.”
  I was still hot under the collar. I wanted to needle him. I said, “I read some of the crap you got syndicated in the Sunday papers.”
  “So you don't like it?” He glared. “At least it's an honest and decent way to make a living. It's decent money.”
  “Decent money,” I sneered. “It's the same kind of money a prostitute receives.”
  He turned white with anger. “You sonofabitch,” he snarled at me.
  “Yeh,” I continued. “It's the same kind of dough. You're paid off. You're bought off to write a load of reactionary crap. Where are your liberal ideas? Weren't you the guy who admired his hero, Heywood Broun? Remember? Yeh, where is your love for the underdog? You're bought off. You sold out your liberal point of view. You sold out for a charlotte russe. Why? Because you're afraid to write what you want for fear of being branded. You got shit in your blood, like the rest of your friends in your profession. 'The pen is mightier than the sword,' you used to say. But your bosses give you guys a tap on the wrist, and your pens fall out of your hands, and you murder each other to get on the reactionary wagon.”
  “You can't get a job if you write liberal stuff today,” he mumbled.
  “Yeh, that's what I mean. You're the guy who used to quote Lincoln and Tom Paine. You're the guy who gave me that quote 'God give me strength to face a fact and express it, though it slay me.' You remember? That's what I mean. You sold yourself like a whore.”
  “You and your goddamn long−winded discussions,” he mumbled. “Always picking a goddamn argument.”
  “I pick the arguments?” I asked.
  “Yes, you always picked the arguments and made the long−winded discussions around here.”
  “Well, I'll be goddamned.” I looked at him in disgust. I said, “Oh well, what the hell's the use. Give my love to Mama.”
  He didn't answer. I gave him a warning look.
  He said, “All right.”
  I added, “Next time I come around if you start that crap, I'll throw you out the window.”
  He didn't answer me. He just glared his defiance.
  I went out. At Jake's place a stranger was tending bar. I had a few drinks to cool off. The place was crowded. Evidently the bartender knew who I was. He motioned to the back room. Max, Pat and Cockeye sat opposite Jake, Pipy and Goo−Goo. They were engrossed in a poker game. We exchanged greetings. I watched the game for a few hands. Max and Patsy wore the luminous glasses for practice. They looked like ordinary sunglasses.

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