conversation and pleasure eased by money. Dark-suited men and gowned ladies gestured as waiters passed to and fro. Jack pushed his plate away and lit another cigaret. He demanded coffee of a flunky. As an aside to me he said: “Pass me your flask when it comes. For the trou normand. Bloody law, wine but no spirits.”

“Break it then,” I said.

Jack shot me a look.

“Knew that you were my man. If only you’d been around for the election last spring. That would’ve been something.”

“So what is it now?”


“You said Chicago.”

“You heard right.”

“And Brown, who’s he when he’s at home?” I asked.

“Brown is a wee man who needed the fear of God put back in him. He’s the worst kind of Caledonian, stubborn as a mule, but amenable to our ends.”

“And those are?”

“I’ll respect your intelligence and assume you’ve figured it out.”


“On the money.”

“The monkey at the quay,” I said.

Jack laid out the rudiments. Rich wets down south don’t like to drink piss. Leave the furniture polish for the punters. They wanted the real McCoy. The good stuff was supercargo shipped straight out of Glasgow or Liverpool as ballast or coal or what-have-you into Montreal, port of call. The monkey took care of the crew when they made land, and Jack indemnified the harbourmaster when the ship came in, as it did today. Brown was paid to look away and not make a peep.

“He’s Customs?” I asked.

“Correct. We’ve exploited his vice, but a little reminder is always in order for that type. He’s a weakling and a physical coward. In any event, tonight’s the night, hence your presence.”

“What are you, exactly?” I asked.

“You could say I’m an intermediary and guide over international frontiers. I truly could use your help. I want you to have a piece, for old times’ sake. This is the real work.”

“Repayment for your largesse?” I asked, gesturing to the dirty plates.

“No, not a favour. A job.”

He reached into his billfold and took out five twenties.

“For your time and trouble. There’ll be more tomorrow, on the other side.”

Jack placed the money on the table and covered it with a serviette. I had perhaps a buck fifty in change in my trouser pocket. These days it was two bits for twenty-five cigarets. I now had a full stomach and a head of wine and no other prospects on the good green earth. Here was something. Crime.

One of Jack’s salient qualities was his ability to make things happen. His talent was luck. My strengths, if any, were far different. This was the world, here, now. Living wasn’t to be found in the past with a woman who didn’t love me, a lost profession, the calumny of enemies. I’d tried to be respectable, to be righteous. Jack had taken another path and seemed to have thrived. I asked myself, having come this far, and with my back to the wall, what had I to lose? Jack held my gaze as I took the money, then poured hooch from my flask into his java. I tucked the notes away.

“Tonight,” I repeated.

“Finish your coffee.”

I did. The bill came and Jack paid up. We rose and while exiting were smiled at by the pretty coat-check girl. Jack winked, tipped her two dollars. Her eyes to him and then to me, a shadow from his lustre. Back out on the street it was now cold, autumn-grim, and I eyed Jack’s warm topcoat enviously.

“Where to?” I asked.


A WIND WAS rising as we picked our way through the slum, a maze of dirty brick tenements filled with quarrelling Hibernians and their squalling brats, as per the Pope’s orders. Go forth and multiply, ye sons of Erin. Factories crowded by millworks and stables. There hung throughout a pall of brown coalsmoke and river stink, worse than St. Lawrence Main to the east. In Griffintown you had your shanty Irish landed from Cork and environs; the Main, by comparison, swarmed with Chosen from their own Pale of Settlement on the Ural Steppes. Both peoples crossed the water by way of an exodus, running either from the Famine and Major Boycott or the Tsar and his Cossacks to be jammed hugger-mugger in warrens and fresh misery. Micks and Kikes a pair of lost tribes here in the New World, same as the old one. Meanwhile stray cats loped down alleyways and skinny vicious curs growled at silent rats.

Corner hawks loitered and sized up we two strolling pushovers. Jack’s easy carriage, boxer’s build, and damn-your-eyes air bought us a pass, despite his Beau Brummell attire. I balled fists in my pockets and thought of my fresh hundred-dollar stake. They’d roll you for a piece of string down this way. Jack whistled a song I couldn’t place. We were now near Wellington. A pair of drunks on a stoop fought over a bottle. Dark figures in recessed doorways grunted, copulating. I shuddered as dwarf streetlamps sputtered. Jack pushed open a door into a tavern. Smoke hung from the ceiling down to my celluloid collar. We were steadily watched by whiskered, simian faces as Jack made his way to a table near a smeared, greasy window. He jerked his head past the topers, their paws curled around quart bottles, and I went to the bar for two of Black Horse, two dimes all told, thank you very much. Back at the table Jack sat and watched an entranceway across the street.

“Looks clean,” he said. “Shall we?”

We took our untouched, corked bottles with us out again and across the road to a beat-up pile of dreary lodgings. Indoors was the smell of wet woollens left too long on the stove, stewed cabbage, damp, mould, cruelty, and mice. Jack led up three flights of stairs. I heard muffled curses behind one door, someone sobbing piteously behind another.

On the topmost landing Jack took out an almost comically oversized key, like something out of a Vaudeville sketch, and used it to open a giant padlock on a numberless door. The security seemed needless. There was no electricity in the room, which was lit only by the pale glow from without. It was furnished with a chair, a basin on a dresser, an iron bedframe with sagging mattress, an ancient wardrobe, and a view out the window to the tavern we’d just been in. Jack took a long suspicious gander at the street below. Satisfied, he drew the curtain, lit a candle, and set it on the floor behind an accordion shade.

“Never too careful.”

I took the chair. Jack removed his coat despite the cold. I put my hat on my knee. Jack passed me a corkscrew to open the bottles. We hoisted silently and drank. There was a framed picture on the wall depicting a saint. Jack took it down and laid it on the dresser face-up. Then he pulled a small glass vial from his pocket and yanked a rubber stopper from its neck with his teeth. From it Jack poured white powder onto the glass, over a print of St. Veronica with her mouchoir. I got that old anxious feeling, a roiling loosening of my bowels. Cocaine was near enough morphine in the pharmacopoeia to evoke a buried desire.

“We’ve a long night ahead of us,” Jack said. “Need some pep. How’s that sound?”

“Nerve food, sure.”

“Chock full of vitamins.”

He used a short tube to sniff some of the cocaine and passed the whole works to me. I took a noseful, tasted metal at the back of my throat, and touched the source of the flavour with my tongue. I drank some beer to wash it away. Jack offered a cigaret and we smoked.

“It’s like this,” he said. “Three trucks along the canal at midnight. Three drivers. I’m riding with the first, you with the last. Had another chap lined up but he’s out sick, or so he says. Yankee I know. So it’s just the two of us. Should be three at least but there’s nothing I can do. We drive to a safe crossing near Indian land. You and I stick with the trucks all the way to just outside Plattsburgh. It’s a long way ’round and not normally how things are done but everyone’s shorthanded so this is how it has to be. I’ve got us a room at the Republic. Tomorrow we come back on the noon train. Do you have papers?”

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