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- Yollop - 5/15 -
"Gets you right across this tendon on the back of your ankle," he said. "Now, you take the daily life of the average laboring man," he went on earnestly. "What does he get out of it? Nothin' but expenses. The only thing that don't cost him something is work. And all the time he's at work his expenses are goin' on just the same, pilin' up durin' his absence from home. Rent, food, fuel, light, doctor, liquor, clothes, shoes,--everything pilin' up on him while he's workin' for absolutely nothin' between pay days. The only time he gets anything for his work is on pay day. The rest of the time he's workin' for nothin', week in and week out. Say he works forty-four hours a week. When does he get his pay? While he's workin'? Not much. He has to work over time anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour--on his own time, mind you--standin' in line to get his pay envelope. And then when he gets it, what does he have to do? He has to go home and wonder how the hell he's goin' to get through the next week with nothin' but carfare to go on after his wife has told him to come across. Now you take a convict. He hasn't an expense in the world. Free grub, free bed, free doctor, free clothes,--he could have free liquor if the keepers would let his friends bring it in,--and his hours ain't any longer than any union man's hours. He don't have to pay dues to any labor union, he don't have to worry about strikes or strike benefits, he don't give a whoop what Gompers or anybody else says about Gary, and he don't care a darn whether the working man gets his beer or whether the revenue officers get it. He--"
"Wait a second, please. Just as a matter of curiosity, Cassius, I'd like to know what your views are on prohibition."
"Are you thinkin' of askin' me if I'll have something to drink?" inquired Mr. Smilk craftily.
"What has that to do with it?"
"A lot," said Mr. Smilk, with decision.
"Do you approve of prohibition?"
"I do," said the rogue. "In moderation."
"Well, as soon as the police arrive I'll open a bottle of Scotch. In the meantime go ahead with your very illuminating dissertation. I am beginning to understand why crime is so attractive, so alluring. I am almost able to see why you fellows like to go to the penitentiary."
"If you could only get shut up for a couple of years, Mr. Wollop, you'd appreciate just what has been done in the last few years to make us fellers like it. You wouldn't believe how much the reformers have done to induce us to come back as soon as possible. They give us all kinds of entertainment, free of charge. Three times a week we have some sort of a show, generally a band concert, a movin' picture show and a vaudeville show. Then, once a month they bring up some crackin' good show right out of a Broadway theater to make us forget that it's Sunday and we'll have to go to work the next morning. Scenery and costumes and everything and--and--" Here Mr. Smilk showed signs of blubbering, a weakness that suddenly gave way to the most energetic indignation. "Why, doggone it, every time I think of what that woman done to me, I could bite a nail in two. If it hadn't been for--"
"Woman? What woman?"
"The woman that got me paroled out. She got I don't know how many people to sign a petition, sayin' I was a fine feller and all that kind o' bunk, and all I needed was a chance to show the world how honest I am and--why, of course, I was honest. How could I help bein' honest up there? What's eatin' the darn fools? The only thing you can steal up there is a nap, and you got to be mighty slick if you want to do that, they watch you so close. But do you know what's going on in this country right now, Mr. Popple? There's a regular organized band of law-breakers operating from one end of the nation to the other. We're tryin' to bust it up, but it's a tough job. The best way to reform a reformer is to rob him. The minute he finds out he's been robbed he turns over a new leaf and begins to beller like a bull about how rotten the police are. Ninety nine times out of a hundred he quits his cussed interferin' with the law and becomes a decent, law-observin' citizen. Our scheme is to get busy as soon as we've been turned loose and while our so-called benefactors are still rejoicin' over havin' snatched a brand from the burnin', we up and show 'em the error of their ways. First offenders get off fairly easy. We simply sneak in and take their silver and some loose jewelry. The more hardened they are, the worse we treat 'em. Eing leaders some times get beat up so badly it's impossible to identify 'em at the morgue. But in time we'll smash the gang, and then if a feller goes up for ten, twenty or even thirty years he'll know there's no underhanded work goin' on and he can settle down to an honest life. The only way to stop crime in this country, Mr. Yollop, is to--"
"--is to make EVERYBODY respect the law. And with conditions so pleasant and so happy in the prison I want to tell you there's nobody in the country that respects and admires the law more than we do,--'specially us fellers that remember what the penitentiaries used to be like a few years ago when conditions were so tough that most of us managed to earn an honest livin' outside sooner than run the risk of gettin' sent up." He sighed deeply. Then with a trace of real solicitude in his manner: "Are your feet warm yet?"
"Warm as toast. Your discourse, Cassius, has moved me deeply. Perhaps it would comfort you to call up police headquarters again and tell 'em to hurry along?"
"Wouldn't be a bad idea," said Mr. Smilk. He took down the receiver. Presently: "Police headquarters? ... How about sending over to 418 Sagamore for that burglar I was speakin' to you about recently? ... Sure, he's here yet. ... The same name I gave you earlier in the evening. ... Spell it yourself. You got it written down on a pad right there in front of you, haven't you? ... Say, if you don't get somebody around here pretty quick, I'm goin' to call up two or three of the newspaper offices and have 'em send--... All right. See that you do." Turning to Mr. Yollop, he said: "The police are a pretty decent lot when you get to know 'em, Mr. Yollop. They do their share towards enforcin' the law. They do their best to get us the limit. The trouble is, they got to fight tooth and nail against almost everybody that ain't on the police force. Specially jurymen. There ain't a juryman in New York City that wants to believe a policeman on oath. He'd sooner believe a crook, any day. And sometimes the judges are worse than the juries. A pal of mine, bein' in considerable of a hurry to get back home one very cold winter, figured that if he went up and plead guilty before a judge he'd save a lot of time. Well, sir, the doggone judge looked him over for a minute or two, and suddenly, out of a clear sky, asked him if he had a family,--and when he acknowledged, being an honest though ignorant guy, that he had a wife and three children, the judge said, if he'd promise to go out and earn a livin' for them he'd let him off with a suspended sentence, and before he had a chance to say he'd be damned if he'd make any such fool promise, the bailiff hustled him out the runway and told him to 'beat it'. He had to go out and slug a poor old widow woman and rob her of all the money she'd saved since her husband died--say, that reminds me. I got a favor I'd like to ask of you, Mr. Yollop."
"I'm inclined to grant almost any favor you may ask," said Mr. Yollop, sympathetically. "I know how miserable you must feel, Cassius, and how hard life is for you. Do you want me to shoot you?"
"No, I don't," exclaimed Mr. Smilk hastily. "I want you to take my roll of bills and hide it before the police come. That ain't much to ask, is it?"
"Bless my soul! How extraordinary!"
"There's something over six hundred dollars in the roll," went on Cassius confidentially. "It ain't that I'm afraid the cops will grab it for themselves, understand. But, you see, it's like this. The first thing the judge asks you when you are arraigned is whether you got the means to employ a lawyer. If you ain't, he appoints some one and it don't cost you a cent. Now, if I go down to the Tombs with all this money, why, by gosh, it will cost me just that much to get sent to Sing Sing, 'cause whatever you've got in the shape of real money is exactly what your lawyer's fee will be, and it don't seem sensible to spend all that money to get sent up when you can obtain the same result for nothin'. Ain't that so?"
"It sounds reasonable, Cassius. You appear to be a thrifty as well as an honest fellow. But, may I be permitted to ask what the devil you are doing with six hundred dollars on your person while actively engaged in the pursuit of your usual avocation? Why didn't you leave it at home?"
"Home? My God, man, don't you know it ain't safe these days to have a lot of money around the house? With all these burglaries going on? Not on your life. Even if I had had all this dough when I left home to-night, I wouldn't have taken any such chance as leavin' it there. The feller I'm roomin' with is figurin' on turning over a new leaf; he's thinkin' of gettin' married for five or six months and I don't think he could stand temptation."
"Do you mean to say, you acquired your roll after leaving home tonight, eh?"
"To be perfectly honest with you, Mr. Moppup, I--"
"--Yollop, I found this money in front of a theater up town,--just after the police nabbed a friend of mine who had frisked some guy of his roll and had to drop it in a hurry."
"And you want me to keep it for you till you are free again,--is that it?"
"Just as soon as the trial is over and I get my sentence, I'll send a pal of mine around to you with a note and you can turn it over to him. All I'm after, is to keep some lawyer from gettin'--"
"What would you say, Cassius, if I were to tell you that I am a lawyer?"
"I'd say you're a darned fool to confess when you don't have to," replied Mr. Smilk succinctly.
Mr. Yollop chuckled. "Well, I'm not a lawyer. Nevertheless, I must decline to act as a depository for your obviously ill-gotten gains."
"Gee, that's tough," lamented Mr. Smilk. "Wouldn't you just let me drop it behind something or other,--that book case over there
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