JOURNALIST ON THE PROWL!
Damascus Bayley, Editor of the Central City Morning Star, strolling through the down-at-heel part of the city that lay just off of its downtown section, stopped at a tall curbside waste-paper box to dourly read, for the dozenth time, the typed memo in his coat pocket. A memo from no less than—the owner of the Star! And which held in itself not an iota of the cheer existing in the early afternoon sun that fell athwart it. And which memo began:
If you wish to continue on as my Editor, then estop this man “Ox” Klosowski, gangster-chief of our town, from continuing to use our daily paper in the filthy, insulting, and contemptuous way he does; and also—now that we’re on the subject of “Ox” Klosowski—also, if you wish to continue in your berth, obtain, somehow, during the next 10 days—and print—yes, print!—across the very front of the paper!—
“Could a swell-dressed guy like you—in th’ bucks—spare a poor guy like me—a dime?”
Bayley, reading his memo, looked up to find a brand new approach in the science of “cadging” dimes.
For, framed against the dingy 3-story brick buildings along this side of woodblock-paved Fishmarket Street, stood a red-nosed figure with close-set eyes, ragged, palpably mismatching clothing, and a crownless straw hat, but holding challengingly out in front of him a panel of mirror about 10 inches deep by 4 across, designed plainly to show certain petitionees how well off they were.
And in which strip of mirror Bayley could not help but see himself fully—in well-tailored blue suit, grey shirt with grey tie, well-spaced grey eyes in a face plainly 53 years of age, and a rich purple velour hat slightly to one side.
With a sigh, he reached down into his pocket, and pulled out a quarter.
“You win!” he said helplessly. “You’ve really got a racket, brother!”
“Yeah?” said the other, grabbing the coin, and tucking the mirror back under his arm. “Well,” he added, in sudden burst of bitter confidence, “if it makes you any happier, ever’ panhandler on C.C.’s stem t’day has to kick in one buck a day to the ‘Ox’ Klosowski Org’nization—or get his puss beat in. But thanks—on behalf o’ self and the Klosowski Org’nization.”
He turned and shuffled off. And Bayley shook his head helplessly, at learning how the Klosowski Underworld Syndicate had its hands in practically everything.
He resumed the dour memo from the man who owned the paper, and his living, taking it up back a few lines from where he’d broken off.
—also, if you wish to continue in your berth, obtain, somehow, during the next 10 days—and print—yes, print, across the very front of the paper!—but under such absolute certitude as to genuineness, that no libel can result—the photograph of the middle-aged, even elderly cold-blooded she-devil without whose existence—as even you have outlined to me—could there be organized gangsterism in Central City. For that great ox-brain—as even you’ve pointed out—couldn’t figure out the multiplication of 2 by 2 himself.
Yes, only by printing—
“Mister, could a swell-dressed guy like you—in the bucks—spare a poor guy like me—a dime?”
Bayley, looking up from his memo, found in front of him no less than another of the fraternity who were cadging on the streets at the cost of, so it seemed, $1 per day graft. Holding out, like the first one, a panel of mirror to shame the requestee. This man was a thin man, with a skeleton-like face, a long, buttonless tweed coat hanging practically to his knees, a piece of bow-tied string for a necktie, and an unshaven face topped by the crown of a derby hat without a rim.
“Sorry,” Bayley said curtly, “but your pal has already made the mirror-touch. Why don’t you two boys play on opposite sides of the street?”
The man holding out the mirror looked pained.
“Hell—fire—th’ louse! When I took him in on this, he ’greed he was to keep to the west side o’ the street only. So he’s a’ready worked you—on this side?”
“Yes,” admitted Bayley. “He even—in a burst of confidence—said that you and all your ilk had to pay $1 a day to the ‘Ox’ Klosowski Organization for working the public streets.”
The new man was not bitter, as the first had been. Was downright philosophical.
“Well, what of it? One-third o’ each of our bucks goes to the laddybucks in the p’lice stations with the gold braid on their hats. It’s allus a pleasure to hit the stem and know you’re not gonna be tossed into the clink.”
“I suppose it is,” agreed Bayley. “Well, since I’m a newspaperman, and particularly interested in civic characters like ‘Ox’ Klosowski—listen—have you ever seen him?”
‘What is this? No, yes, no—why?”
Bayley held forth a quarter. “Just wanted to know what your mental opinion of his mentality might be. This quarter is yours—if you have any authoritative opinion.”
The newcomer gazed at the coin. Looked apprehensively about him. “Listen, plush hat, if the Org’nization knew this stem-worker was ever discussin’ the Big Boy, it’d—yeah, I met him once—and on’y las’ week, too—w’en he was findin’ out, straight from me, that I didn’t see nothing—wherein a guy in a car took a shot at a guy standin’ on the—yeah, I see him for all o’ two minutes w’ile he had me on th’ carpet, an’ I was spillin’ my speech, and since you can’t quote me—because you don’t know who I am—I’ll so much as say he ain’ brains ’nough to go inside in a cloudburst!”
Bayley smiled wearily. It was comforting to know that a sheer stranger—but one who evidently had really met “Ox” Klosowski—thought identically the same as he himself had always thought.
“No, I won’t quote you,” he said troubledly. “Nor even describe your habiliments in a story—as one talking out of school. Indeed, what you’ve told me isn’t a story, anyway.” Bayley paused. Drew in the quarter, put it down in his pocket, felt around, came up with a half dollar. Holding it just where the other coin had been.
“One more question—from one who’s really talked to him. What nationality do you make him to be—from his speech?”
“Nationality—hell, he’s a Polack. From his handle. But I been around many a Goose Island lying off o’ steelmill towns. I’d say he talks a lingo that’s mixed up of Polack, Hunky, an’ Lit’uanian.”
“Hm? Polish, Hungarian, and Lithuanian? Came out of a mixed family, I guess.”
The sidewalk worker who “did it with mirrors” now reached out for that half dollar being extended towards him, and with a wry look on his face as one fancying he maybe had talked too much—was off. Probably faster than he had walked all day; maybe only to catch up with his predecessor with the mirror.
And Bayley resumed the finishing of that dread memo. Which, starting a few lines back of where he’d broken off, ended:
—that great ox-brain—as even you’ve pointed out—couldn’t figure out the multiplication of 2 and 2 by himself.
Yes, only by printing across the entire face of the paper the picture of this woman whose brains operate for him—and you yourself estimate she must have the wits and experience of a woman of 50 to 55—can we break Gangsterism here in Central City.
So there you are, Bayley. If you’re not enough of a salesman to do the former—estop Klosowski on using our paper in the way he does—and enough of a scoopster to do the latter—to get the pic of that woman—then you’re not the man for the Editor’s job on my sheet, and I’ll put in someone who is.
Gilbert Hauxhurst, Publisher
“Ow!” said Bayley, finishing the memo, and thrusting it back into his pocket. “And wurra wurra!”
He stood gloomily.
“Yeah, for a guy who has a wife recovering in a wheelchair from polio—guy being me!—and work scarcer than hens’ teeth in this town—Hauxhurst sure puts the ropes to him!” He shook his head. “To—to take a mere ex-re-write man, and ask him, almost out of the blue, to be a tough-talking super-salesman to a contemptuous gangster on dropping a neat racket—and be a photo scooper—to boot. Ow—this is certainly the ‘or else’ to end all ‘or elses’!”
And he resumed his solitary trudge along ever-fascinating Fishmarket Street, not knowing that he wasn’t going to have to pull a lot of wires to get audience with the man he had to have it out with—that, indeed, in but a few seconds he was going to find the opportunity of talking to him face to face, and trying to sell him a dubious bill of goods.
Try to, that is. Try to!
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