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Authors: Harry Grey

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The Hoods (7 page)

BOOK: The Hoods
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Hooknose picked up his head, waved and went back to his paper and food. We sat at the far end of the counter and ordered coffee. We dug into the basket of hot bagels on the counter. We sat there dunking our bagels.

Maxie whispered, “Look who's coming in.”

It was Whitey, the cop. He didn't see us. He sat next to Simon and began ribbing him.

“Be careful, Hooknose, you'll get your long nose caught in the eggs.”

Simon picked his head up and grunted. “One of New York's lousiest! Why ain't you outside pounding your beat?”

“Pounding my beat? I had something else to pound this morning.” He gave a hearty laugh. “Something that made me very hungry.”

He looked at Simon's dish. He called out to Sam behind the counter, “Hey, Sam, give me the same as Hooknose, ham and eggs.”

He nudged Simon with his elbow. “Tell me, Hooknose, how come a mocky is eating ham and eggs? Or, is this kosher ham from a circumcised pig?”

Simon put down his paper in disgust. “Why don't you go blow, before the sergeant catches you in here?”

Whitey was enjoying his baiting. “Hey, Hooknose, what would the rabbi say? Does he know you eat ham?”

Simon muttered, “Go on, get yourself arrested. Skidoo. Do you tell your priest everything you do in confession?”

Like Whitey's conscience, Maxie called out, “Do you?”

I followed up, “Hey, Whitey, you going to tell the priest, you know what?” I winked at him.

Startled, he looked over at us. We stared coldly back at him. In that exchange of looks we had reached a complete understanding. He dropped his eyes; he knew we had him.

Sam came over and took the basket of bagels off the counter. “How many do you kids expect for a nickel? Youse ate six bagels apiece.”

We gulped the last of the coffee. With an arrogant sneer I called out, “Hey, Whitey, take care of our bill.”

Max looked at me with startled admiration.

Sam, astonished, handed Whitey his ham and eggs. “Fresh kids, goddamn fresh kids. How come, Whitey?”

Whitey mumbled, “It's okay, it's okay.”

Sam wiped the counter, mumbling to himself and shaking his head. “You going to pay for twelve bagels, twelve bagels and two coffees? Twenty cents? For them fresh kids?”

Whitey soberly nodded his head.

We said, “So long,” and went out laughing.

We walked along the curb, looking for butts. Max spied a pretty big cigar butt with the band still on it. He lit it up and puffed critically as he looked at the wrapper with the air of a connoisseur.

“A pretty good smoke, Noodles, try it.”

He looked at the name on the band as he handed it to me. “Ah, a Corona Corona. When I get in the dough, that's my brand.”

I puffed on it awhile. “How you like it, Noodles?” he asked.

“A pretty good cigar to find on Delancey Street,” I commented.

Max laughed. “Later in the day we'll go down to the financial district and look for some more of these Corona Corona butts.”

“And break into the Federal Reserve Bank, Maxie?”

“Quit your kiddin' on the Federal Reserve Bank, Noodles. Someday, you'll see, we're gonna take that joint over, after we get plenty of experience.”

He looked gravely at me.

We walked into Gelly's. Gelly was cutting the cords off the bundles we left to put the papers on display. He gave us fifteen cents apiece.

“How about the malteds and the charlotte russes?” Max asked.

I edged up close. I snarled at Gelly, “A deal is a deal.”

“All right, so I'll make malteds,” he said. He set the machine in motion. “Take one charlotte apiece; why argue?” He shrugged his shoulders and repeated, “Why argue?”

“How about an egg in it?” Max said.

Gelly answered: “How about? All right, so I'll put an egg in it. Why argue?” He cracked one into the spinning mixture.

While his back was turned, Maxie clipped a Hershey bar off the counter. Gelly poured us two large glasses. We sat there slowly sipping the malteds. Maxie nonchalantly unwrapped the Hershey bar and gave me half. We nibbled the chocolate and drank the malteds.

Gelly eyed the chocolate bar. “Where did you get the Hershey chocolate?” he asked sternly.

Max answered with exaggerated reproach, “Why, Mr. Gelly, we bought it from Spevak's when we picked up the bundles there.”

“Yeh,” I said, mimicking Gelly. “Why argue? We bought it.”

“You bought it from Spevak? You should both live so long, you goniffs, you.”

He glared in righteous indignation.

“How do you like that? Goniffs he calls us,” Maxie said mockingly.

“How about yourself, Mr. Gelly, are you so legit?” I said.

“Legit?” he questioned.

“So honest, I mean, that you call us goniffs?”

“Oh, that's what you mean, legit?”

“Yeh, that's what I mean, legit.”

“So, I'm legit?”

“No, you're like everybody else, illegit.”

“Illegit? What means it, illegit?”

“A thief, a goniff is illegit.”

“You steal, and you call me, an honest man, who don't steal, who goes to schul, a goniff? Illegit? Why? How?”

He glared at us.

“We steal for you, you send us. You buy what we steal, so you're the same as we are: illegit,” I explained genially.

“You think you're smart. You twist things around so instead of you being a goniff, I'm the goniff.”

He chuckled. “All right, all right.” He threw up his hands as if he didn't understand. “So I'm illegit, and you're all right.” He laughed. “You twist things; you're a smart boy. You use your noodle, hey, Mr. Noodles?”

“Yeh, I use my noodle, you know what I mean, you—you.—”

I was just about to call him a shmuck, when I remembered Dolores. This shmuck might turn out to be my father-in-law some day.

Max tried to explain it to him. “Hey, Gelly,” he said, “this is what Noodles means, when you run a crap game in the back room late at night, it's illegit.”

“That's illegit? Even when I pay Whitey, the cop, ten per cent for permission?”

There was a sly twinkle in Gelly's eye. He was just playing dumb.

“How about my competitors around the corner? What would you call them, my smart Noodles? They also illegit?”

“Who do you mean?” I asked.

“The church around the corner. They have gambling games in the basements. Maybe twice, three times a week. They play bingo. That's a gambling game, and they don't have to pay Whitey, the cop, for permission.”

He laughed. “They got themselves a good business, hey, smart boy, hey, Noodles?” he jeered. “You call them illegit? Maybe?”

“Yeh,” I said with a shrug, “that's the way I see it. You're illegit, Whitey, the cop, is illegit, and your competitors around the corner are illegit.”

Old man Gelly chuckled, “So you say everybody is illegit?”

“Yeh,” I grunted, “everybody is illegit.”

CHAPTER 4

Cockeye walked in. We dropped the subject. He said, “Hi ya, fellas.”

Cockeye looked too cheerful. “What's doin'? Anything happen?” he asked.

“Happen?” Max said sarcastically. “Where do you think you are, out west with the Jesse James Gang? Nothing happens on the East Side.”

“Aw, hey, Max, can't you forget it?” Cockeye's cheerfulness evaporated. “I was only kidding about joining the Jesse James Gang.”

“All right, Cockeye, forget it. I tell you what you do. Go and wake up Patsy and Dominick and tell them to meet us in the school.”

“Where ya gonna be, in the gym?” Cockeye asked.

“Boy, oh boy!” Max hit his head in despair. “Where else on a Saturday? In the classroom, studying history?”

“Dominick's old man will raise hell if I bang on the door,” Cockeye grumbled as he walked away.

Max and I climbed over the spiked school fence. We pried the back basement window open, and dropped the five feet into the gymnasium. We took all our clothes off except our underwear. We jogged up and down the gym in our bare feet until we worked up a sweat. Max spread out the padded mat. He took his paper-covered instruction book on jiujitsu out of his jacket pocket. We practiced various holds on each other until Maxie hurt my arm. I lost my temper and kicked him in the groin with my bare foot.

In spite of the pain, he gasped admiringly, “Atta boy, Noodles, get rough.”

We started a violent rough and tumble match, kicking and punching furiously at each other. Maxie grabbed me in a viselike hold, bending me over backwards with his thumb squeezing my windpipe. I began choking and seeing black spots before my eyes.

I was happy to hear the window open. Max released his grip. Patsy and Cockeye dropped down into the gym.

Max patted me on the back. “You're getting pretty good, Noodles.”

Turning to Cockeye, he said, “Where's Dominick?”

Patsy answered, “He had to go to church, Bible class.”

“Church,” Maxie snorted, “a waste of time. All right, you guys, get undressed.”

The three of us followed Maxie through our regular routine of weight-lifting, chinning and fancy tricks on the parallel bars. Then he gave us a short rest while he read his book of instructions. For hours we practiced jiujitsu and rough and tumble fighting. Then we each put in fifteen frantic minutes of bag punching.

Cockeye was the first to quit. He said he had to go home to lunch. We wiped the dirt and sweat off with our undershirts. We put the rest of our clothes on and boosted ourselves out of the window.

Cockeye went home. Max, Pat and I walked over to Katz's delicatessen on Houston Street. As we entered, the intoxicating smell of steaming corned beefs and pastramis, displayed on the counters, hit us. Like three voracious animals we stood fascinated, sniffing and gazing at the hot meats. We trembled with ecstasy. We decided on three corned beefs and three hot pastramis with pickles. I gave Max the fifteen cents I had got from old man Gelly. He added his fifteen cents and put it on the counter.

In an authoritative voice he said, “Put plenty of meat on them sandwiches.”

With baited breath, with tongues hanging and saliva dripping, six hungry eyes followed the counterman's every move.

With meticulous care, as if carrying the most fragile, the holiest of possessions, we maneuvered through the crowded store carrying our plates to a rear table. We ate with deliberate slowness to make the sandwiches last longer. We didn't talk. We nibbled around and around the sandwiches. We smacked our lips and made all sorts of animal noises of delight. My two sandwiches disappeared far too quickly. I sat picking up the shreds of beef and breadcrumbs on my plate. I licked the dirt and mustard off my fingers. I would have given five years of my life for two more sandwiches. We looked enviously at a man at the adjoining table: he had three corned beef club sandwiches, a knish, a piece of hard salami, french fried potatoes, and a bottle of Dr. Brown's celery tonic before him.

Max nudged me. “Some day we'll eat like that guy.”

I thought to myself, Max and his promises.

Reluctantly we left Katz's and walked along the curb, looking for butts. We ignored the many cigarette butts. Finally Max stooped and picked up a cigar butt. He sniffed it and threw it away.

“Cheap tobacco,” he said.

By the time we reached Gelly's, each of us was puffing contentedly away on a different brand of stogy. Cockeye and Dominick were standing outside, talking to Dolores. For the first time in my life I was aware of my shabbiness, my uncleanliness. Dominick, Cockeye and Dolores had on their Saturday best, especially Dominick, who had his brand new church-going longies on. I felt uncomfortable in my tight, worn-out shorties. I was conscious of my dirty, frayed shirt collar, and the rip in my father's old jacket seemed very noticeable. Red in the face, I stood speechless and ashamed, looking down at my scuffed shoes. For the first time in my life I was really clothes conscious.

I looked at Maxie with the broken peak on his cap pulled at an angle on the side of his head. He wasn't dressed any better than I was. Neither was Patsy. That made me feel a little better. Then I thought of the coming cold weather, the freezing winds that would blow along Delancey Street. I began feeling sorry for myself. Will I have to stuff newspapers in my jacket lining again to break the cold wind and put cardboard in the holes of my shoes? I'll bet the old man won't get a job, and we won't have coal for the stove either. I'll bet I freeze my balls off; I'll bet I'll be sniffling and coughing and my nose will be running all winter. Yeh, I'll bet my dopey old man don't get a job, and I'll bet the bastard of a landlord throws us out into the street! Yeh, I'll bet I'll cut the flower-wearing bastard of a landlord's throat if he does. No use, I got to get movin'; I gotta get a job. I got to do something for money.

Just then Dolores gave me a frigid glance and turned her back on me. I felt awful. If I could only disappear, me and my dirt and my shabbiness. If I could only sink through the sidewalk.

I was sick with despair. Life was lousy. What was the use of living? There was a lump in my throat. With a supreme effort, I held back the tears. I felt wretchedly sorry for myself. Unnoticed, I edged away from the group. I shuffled aimlessly through the streets, feeling unhappy and morbid, full of self-pity. I walked all the way over to the West Side docks. I looked at the dark, cold, wet Hudson River. I hiked over to Chinatown. I wandered around for hours. It was getting late. I was tired, hungry and miserable.

BOOK: The Hoods
12.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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