Chapter 15

The Boodlers and the Boodled

 

"Hand me that newspaper, will you?" Bathhouse John stage-whispered to the gnomelike figure seated next to him at the bar. John's eyes were swimming and itching in the stale cigar smoke. He detested smoking, this coming from his early days in athletics. He blearily looked around Flynn's Saloon. They had just re-done the place in time for the World's Fair. Annie Flynn's heavily starched curtains hung in the windows. Her cross-stitched plaques reminded the working men that A MOTHER'S WORK IS NEVER DONE. And HOME SWEET HOME. And CLEVELAND FOR PRESIDENT. The bar itself had never looked handsomer, sporting blue cut-glass cylinders on the gas lamps behind the bar. And Flynn had added a shiny brass edging to the massively-carved bar. What wood the bar was made of was too blackened by smoke to identify, although some patrons thought it was oak.

The men had draped themselves around the bar and they tightly packed all the tables. This was an unusually big turn- out. But explainable, too. The Democratic Chowder and Marching Society this night was locked in a marathon struggle between the forces of reform (embodied in Bathhouse John and his friends) and the forces of boodle (embodied in Alderman Johnny Powers and his friends.) Bathhouse John had twice tried to call a vote on the General Electric bill, but the forces of boodle had tied up the floor with picky debating tactics. A man had to be careful not to doze off at such a crucial time.

"Dink, did you hear? That Evening Post there, would you pass it?" Bathhouse John whispered.

"Ain't the Post, Jawn. 'Tis the Journal," explained the nattily dressed little man as he passed the paper.

"The one will do as well as the other to pass the time. They can try all they want, Dink, but they ain't going to stop our reform side. You know, I'd as soon keel-haul my gray-haired old mother as I would go along with this crooked deal."

Hinky Dink Kenna broke into a rare smile. He laid his hand on Coughlin's burly shoulder. "There was a time, and not too long distant, when your name might have been Hot Stove, Jawn."

"Ah, go on with you!" Bathhouse snorted, loudly rustling the pages.

"No, 'tis true, Jawn," said Kenna. "We only gave out that nickname to Joe because you was out of town, visitin' your vast holdings in Colorado. As it was, Joe was the only man—in town that is—who could steal anything but a hot stove. Now, had you been present. . ."

"Here it is! My man Dooley says it ain't fair of you to lay such heavy burdens upon me shoulders alone. He says. . ." The Bath cleared his throat. "I didn't expict to gather calla lilies in Hogan's turnip patch. Why shud I expict to pick bunches iv spotless statesmen fr'm th' gradooation class iv th' house iv correction?"

"What house of correction, Jawn? You've never been, though some would like to give you the paid tour. What is your point?" Kenna shifted his small, skinny backside on the stool. He was tired of sitting and his back hurt.

Bathhouse frowned. "No that was not the one. Lemme see. . ." He held the paper high in front of his face to read in the pale blue light coming from behind the bar. The new gas fixtures made reading a chore. "New decorating! Atmooosphere, they say. I say a man could lose his vision under such bilious blue lamp shades! Tell me, Dink. Do you not think that Billy Boyle over there looks the part of a deep-sea blowfish? We all look like something you's see in Isaacson's fish mongery. Ha!" He nudged Kenna a good one in the side with a meaty elbow. The trim little man nearly fell off his seat and he grimaced at Coughlin.

Bracing himself on the bar with one hand in case of a new jab, Kenna muttered, "You said it, not me. I have no comment."

"Now there's a good one! Listen to what Dooley says about Our Grover bein' just about everywhere and getting his mug all over the papers. 'He was always every place; like Chicago water you couldn't avoid him!' I swear that President Cleveland come at me twict at once from two opposite ends of the Manufactures Building! Can you fathom that?" Coughlin let out a bellow of laughter. The chair of the meeting, one Aloyisius McGonnacle, banged the bar with his gavel.

"Did you have a motion to make, John? Otherwise, please keep your hilarity to a dull roar. My wife will be waitin' with the supper!"

"Yes. your honor, I do!" Bathhouse rose to his feet with bulky dignity. He smoothed down his eye-catching mauve waistcoat over his apple green vest. "How long must we listen to such self- justifyin' cant as this? I asked for a motion about an hour ago. I move that the loyal Democrats form a solid opposition to Mr. Yerkes and his minion, Johnny Powers! I move that we vote solid against this new boodle, the General Electric bill."

Cries of "Fictitious!" and "Lies!" came from the corners of the saloon. Powers's men had strategically spread themselves around the room to give maximum dramatic effect. Bathhouse John folded his arms across his copious chest and raised his chin defiantly. Kenna banged the bar with his little fist.

"Vote! Vote!" cried the elvish little man, his ears turning red with agitation. Several others began to bang their fists on the tables, as well, calling for a vote.

Alderman Johnny Powers stood up from his table in front of the speaker's chair. He outweighed Bathhouse John, but had none of Couglin's flair for style. His outfit resembled an undertaker. "I believe it was my turn next to have the floor," Powers said stiffly. McGonnacle gave him the nod. "Let me just go over, once again, the benefits for our city if this bill succeeds in passage. . ."

Bathhouse let out a loud groan, and Kenna put his head in his hands.

"Dink, pass me that tray of pretzels, could you?" Coughlin nudged the little man, gently this time. Kenna reached out and passed the tray without looking up, his face still cupped in his other hand.

"They're as hard as bricks. Too bad they ain't bigger," Bathhouse observed, looking menacingly at Alderman Powers.

Powers smiled charitably at Coughlin and the dejected Kenna. "We welcome the new leaf of this amiable statesman. John Coughlin is a prize, indeed, for the army of reform," cooed Powers. "We commend his concern for the revenues due to our fair city. But. . .we should be more enthusiastic in our applause if we knew that the statesman was unselfish in his undertaking— that he was not indirectly aiming to feather his nest at the Mayor's office by his support of Mayor Harrison's reforms." Laughter and a few bird whistles came from Powers's cronies.

"This meeting is going to last all night, Jawn," Kenna stifled a yawn. "Wake me when Powers shuts his yap."

"We'll see who makes a laughingstock of who, you brazen Yerkes puppet!" Bathhouse swore under his breath and he nodded at the lone reporter in the room, that kid Ted Dreiser. "Perhaps Teddy, here, will be a bit less impressed with Mister Johnny Powers than he is with himself."

"It can't get any worse, no matter what the papers write," mumbled the Dink, philosophically.


 

"Here's his copy of Czerny." Jane Addams stroked the dull, mustard cover and handed the piano book to Emma. "See that Solly's mother gets that. I know she will like to have it. Solly's notations are all over the music."

Emma took the book and struggled to keep the tears from welling in her eyes as she looked out the library window. Jane's voice had grown soft but she was not crying.

"But I heard him play the most lovely Chopin only a couple of months ago!" said Emma. "How could the consumption have taken him so soon?"

"Why do you think that they call it `galloping con?'" Jane stopped a moment, trying not to show her tears in her voice. "Oh, Emma, I feel so ashamed that I never addressed the problems of sanitation more forcefully until now. And this last month or two it was only because my nephew Jimmy couldn't come and stay here due to the fumes! Fumes! And poor women like that Missus Saranoff have been losing their children all along." Jane sat back into her chair, seeming to shrink into herself. She had a slight twitch in her right shoulder, the one she favored due to her spinal disease. Just then old Sally the alleycat jumped off the top of the glass-doored bookcase and onto Jane's lap. Sally began to purr loudly.

"See, Sally doesn't want you to be hard on yourself, Miss Jane," Emma said, sensing Jane's depression. "If you hadn't come here there wouldn't have even been a piano for Solly to practice on. And you thought to give him a recital, so his mother and father could finally hear him play. . ."

"Ah, yes. Finally, a good term, Emma." Jane stroked the cat and hummed softly. A theme from Chopin's nocturne that Solly had played so recently. Sally the cat turned her big amber eyes up on Jane as she hummed. Emma went to the door preparing to leave and jumped a bit as the big, hulking body of Bathhouse John loomed in the doorway.

"Stay, stay, a minute! I have news from your mother, girl," said the Bath to Emma. "But first I'd like to have s short word with Miss Addams." He nodded in Jane's direction. She stiffened visibly.

"Miss Addams, I know you have been a sworn enemy of vice and corruption. And I know, furthermore, that you see me as a boodling, corrupt man," The Bath smiled at Jane, who was taken aback by his accurate assessment of her opinion. "Well, Ma'am, you may find this hard to believe, but I also care about the people of this here First Ward. You were just talking about Solly Saranoff. Sure, I went to the lad's funeral."

Jane grew impatient. She had heard all these protestations before. "It was garbage and foul dust that killed Solly, Mister Coughlin. When have your handpicked garbage inspectors EVER done their jobs?"

Bathhouse John didn't have ready answer, after all the appointment of garbage inspector had always been—well, ceremonial and a plum to give to one's best campaign workers. "I'll admit, Ma'am, that I didn't see the connection between the trash and those germs until recently, but now I'm with you! We've got to clean up our ward!"

Jane looked deeply into John Coughlin's eyes before she spoke. Why, either he's more of a rascal than I thought or this man is totally sincere, Jane noted to herself. "What do you want from us here, Mister Coughlin? You know I don't contribute to politicians to gain their favor."

"I heard you're plannin' to run for garbage inspector and I want you to know, Ma'am, that you have my solid backing. That's all," Bathhouse smiled a huge walrusy grin. "Do you think my heart is made of stone? I see them little coffins comin' out from the tenements every blessed day, summer and winter. And, by God, something's finally goin' to be done! Good mornin' to ye!" He turned and headed for the door before Jane could struggle to find diplomatic words. She sat wide-eyed as Bathhouse John took Emma by the sleeve and led her out into the hall.

"It's your mother, Emma. She says to tell you that she ain't mad. They've done with Vina's place and are livin' in a one room walk-up. . .Here's the address. She would like to see you. That's all," Bathhouse John smiled and nodded at the paper.

"And Anton?" Emma asked. "Mister Coughlin, he got so angry because I was brought home by. . ."

"Forget Anton. He works steady days now at Yerkes's Observatory. You know, settin' tile. He's only home on weekends, it being such a devilish long train ride down from Lake Geneva. And expensive to boot."

"HE works for Yerkes, now?" Emma broke out into shrill laughter.

"What's so funny?" Bathhouse John said, his intuitive sense rising. "It was the only job that he could get, settin' tile."

Emma wiped at her eye, which had welled up with tears from her sudden hilarity. "Oh. . .nothing, nothing. I just thought he had something against Mister Yerkes, that's all."

Bathhouse John smirked. "The whole city of Chicago has something against that bastard—excuse my language—but if that were enough cause to starve oneself I never heard tell."

Emma smiled. "No, I never heard tell, either." She wondered momentarily if Bathhouse knew. . .No, he didn't seem to be fishing or trying to draw her out about HER job.

"Your mamma Annie told me to pass this message on to you, Emma. Just stop in and see her," Bathhouse said a breezy good- bye bustled off on his never-ending rounds.

Emma went back into Miss Jane's office and picked up the bundle of papers belonging to the dead boy. Jane looked up quizzically. "Oh, Mister Coughlin had a message from my mother, ma'am," said Emma. Jane nodded and went back to her writing. "I'll get these over to Missus Saranoff now."

"How does this sound for an opener, Emma? Heaven knows, I'm no writer, and I can't make lightning shoot out of my pen like Mister Stead. But listen,

'Our horses are our faithful companions
and helpers. But can they be what will
eventually bring this great city down?
Our horses produce heaps of trash. The
everage horse in Chicago produces twenty-
two pounds of manure each day. We have
a horse population of one hundred-twenty 
thousand in Chicago. The manure would make 
a one-acre pile rising fourteen hundred feet 
in the air. . .'

Emma didn't quite see the point. She asked why the statisics on horse manure were so important.

"The latest studies at the University of Chicago show that tuberculosis germs live in the manure, Emma," Jane tapped the end of her pen on the paper. "And we just finished taking samples of the dust at the Saranoff's rag shop. It was full of those germs."

"Then every time the manure dries and gets powdered into dust. . ." Emma looked at the open window with the fine sifting of dust on its ledge.

"Yes, it goes everywhere," Jane nodded. "When the weather is hot, such as today. Look, see that gust blowing at the curtain? It's blowing into the nursery. Into the baker's. . ." Jane looked down and stroked Sally.

"I think you will make people understand with those figures," Emma held up the Czerny book. "it won't help Solly, but you may help some others. I had better get these to his mother."

Jane nodded, looking down at her notes as Emma left the room. Jane was so engrossed in what she was doing, planning her initial speeches as candidate for Ward One's garbage inspector that her hand stopped petting the big orange cat.

"Mew?" Sally tried a couple of wake-up calls to no response. Sally knew she could not rouse the woman from her studies. So she jumped back up on the bookcase, barely grazing the white marble bust of Shakespeare.


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