Chapter 6

Wooldridge the Detective

 

Whenever he got to the station house as late as he had the night before, Wooldridge just slipped down to the basement storeroom and made a bed for himself. He was lounging on a laundry bag when the telephone bell rang upstairs. Wooldridge was oblivious, lost deep in thought. He had just started his customary, semi-annual inspection of his seventyfive disguises. Something looked peculiar about the cattleman disguise. There were gaps in the chaps. He lifted the cowpoke suit out to get a better view of the bare spots as Sergeant Callahan came puffing down the rickety stairs. The mayor wants you to put a lid on some pack of strong arm women, Cliff! Did you see the morning Trib? They robbed some Unitarian minister from Hamburg of seven hundred dollars! Men who go with strange women into alleys are really looking for it, in my opinion, but. . .the Mayor's about ready to have seizures! All he cares about is tourism being ruined. The desk sergeant's ruddy, hairless dome glistened with sweat as his anxious voice went on. Splotchy flames from a single gas jet tossed eerie shadows on Callahan's face, making him look a bit like a jack-o-lantern. Wooldridge's face was half obscured. He didn't bother to turn toward Callahan, but flicked his finger at something on the pair of chaps in his hand. Shapes took flight. "Why does it have to be The Wealthy Cattleman? Tell me that!" Wooldridge asked no one in particular.

"Didn't you hear what I just said? Cliff, wake up! The mayor. . .he wants those women arrested or you're out on your ear!" But Wooldridge just continued looking at the disguise in his hand. The gaslight rippled across both mens' faces and down the chaps, which Wooldridge held out before him. That cattleman outfit had been his good luck piece. The first one of his disguises that fooled anybody. Ladies of ill-repute usually fell for the chaps and long white beard. Prior to his arresting them, that is. Wooldridge shook the chaps, again. A cloud of greenish moths fluttered into Callahan's gaping mouth before he thought to clamp his teeth. He spat out a moth, honked at his nose, and cursed.

"Damn it! One more time is all I'm going to say it! What he said, Cliff. . .he said that things had better get back under control in the Levee and elsewhere or he'll have your hide stretched across his office door as a trophy!" Callahan scurried back up the stairs to get back to his racing forms and away from the moths.

Wooldridge swished at some moths with his right hand. Ingratitude such as this came as both a shock and a surprise. What about the opium dens he had personally infiltrated? He smiled fondly at the Chinese Peddler costume on his rack. And how about the Sunday School bunko racket he had squelched? What were they? Nothing? Wooldridge's lower lip drew out into a pout. He sat down on a crate, put his chin onto his hand, and began planning his next move. What a switch. He had gotten up feeling good about his work and the book he had written. The mayor probably didn't know how well that baby was selling. No other detective had done as much as he had, and it was all there, documented: seventy-five disguises, hundreds of arrests, tens of thousands of dollars in recovered property. Maybe he shouldn't have gone so far in the book as to claim that he had cleaned all the razor-slashing females out of Chicago. Still, those were a great ten pages of endorsements from police officials at the front of the book. And the title was a real stroke of genius. Vampires Exposed: Ferreting Out the Female Grafters. . .Wooldridge stopped musing about the book with a snap. Blasted book only hit the stalls a few weeks ago and now they were back? Blast them! Where were they coming from?

Wooldridge's thoughts flew to Mary Hastings' brothel at 144 Custom House Place. He surveyed his fine disguise collection and decided upon The Tramp, his second favorite disguise. A stakeout at Mary Hastings.' Yes. The Tramp would do. No one would see him. They would be distracted by the rowdy goings-on. Mary's girls were too vicious and depraved to be found in any of the more regulated houses. He boys on the beat were always being called over to break up some kind of ruckus at Mary Hastings'. Mary might well have a finger in this pie. She was as good a guess as any, though, and his job depended on some break-through. Wooldridge wished that Mary was behind this crime wave and that he could catch her at it. There weren't too many madams that Wooldridge actually hated. He hated Mary Hastings. But he enjoyed being a thorn in her side. He did that by camping around her brothel—usually in the cattleman suit—just to observe the comings and goings of her population of girls. Among the youngest girls there were often very few goings out, since Mary kept these prisoners in their rooms with no street clothing. When Wooldridge caught sight of an exceptionally young-looking face at a window, he would stage a raid. He began pulling on the tramp suit and prepared to go.

 


On getting to Custom House Place, Wooldridge stationed himself across the street from the Hastings brownstone. A skilled actor, he was now totally immersed in his role of tramp. He shuffled around some trash barrels and pulled out a rag or two. He sniffed at them. Traffic at Mary's was steady, but orderly. Girls flitted around behind red draperies, occasionally waving at a passer-by. The men filed into the house in a steady trickle. A very quiet day for Mary's place, marveled Wooldridge. Mary Hastings did not usually rob her patrons, that was something to be said for her, although Wooldridge could think of little else that was printable. The crowds on the street were twice as thick as usual, because of the World's Fair. Most houses had increased their size to almost double. Vina Fields's, the largest house in Chicago, was now up to eighty girls. Wooldridge liked Vina. She was a lady, unlike this Hastings hag. But times were booming for Mary,too. Her girls now appeared to be crowded in, more of them crowded at the windows than Wooldridge could recall seeing before.

Then something caught Wooldridge's eye. A huge, black woman came out Mary Hastings' front door. This woman was nearly a giant. Wooldridge scratched his head. Cissie Ford. She was slightly over six-feet-tall and weighed in at about two hundred pounds. She walked smoothly, like a big cat, her long arms swinging down to her knees. No other policemen wanted to tangle with Cissie, so most of her crimes went unpunished. But she wasn't a prostitute, so why was she there? Picking pockets was her trade. She was good at it. And women as good as Cissie at that trade usually didn't dabble with other things. Anyway, she could not be a resident of Mary Hastings' house unless Mary had changed her policies in mid-stream. Hers was basically a caucasian house. Others were interracial, but Mary's never had been.

Cissie sauntered north. Wooldridge decided to follow. He was careful to use every hiding place. Cissie was no fool and she occasionally looked behind herself to see if anyone were following. At the corner of Halstead, Wooldridge was distracted for an instant by the beginning of a street fight. When he looked back after Cissie, she had disappeared.

Some boys were rolling and slugging at each other in the muck. Wooldridge shouted to the boys to break it up. He ran out into the half-muddy street and began to peel the combatants off each other. Irishers. Bohunks. It was hard to tell the Irishers from the Bohunks, because those labels didn't mean anything. Just what street they were from. The west side of Johnson Street were the Bohunks. East of Johnson were Irishers. Holding the Irisher (whom he recognized as Anton Klima) by an ear, Wooldridge had an urge to kick the boy a good one.

"Why aren't you at work, Klima? Huh? Answer, you scoundrel! Irisher, ain't you! Eh?"

The strapping young fellow grimaced, but said nothing. The Bohunk whom Wooldridge gripped in his other hand said that his ear was being twisted off.

The strapping young fellow grimaced, but said nothing. The Bohunk whom Wooldridge gripped in his other hand said that his ear was being twisted off.

"And that's no more than you deserve, Ryan!"

"He owed me ten—!" Ryan started to complain in a whiny tone.

"Button that lip or I'll do it for you, Ryan!" Wooldridge tightened his grasp on the youth. These kids began their fighting days in Walsh Elementary School. Irisher and Bohunk feuds were a tradition there for decades. Wooldridge was tired of it. He gave the two boys a shake, as if they were wet rats. Which, come to think of it, they were. Wooldridge told the two that he was hauling them in and gave each one a shove. Anton, though physically bigger than either Ryan or Wooldridge, never thought to resist or to try to escape. Like a golden retriever, he had a placid disposition. And he walked in a lurching gait in response to the jabs into his back from Detective Wooldridge. Ryan cried out when Wooldridge jabbed his hand into his back, as if to rouse the sympathy of the multitude there assembled. People turned away and got back to setting up their street stalls, went on their way to work, and so on. Only one bystander was at all moved by the boys' arrests.

Emma Klimova had been standing at the outer edge of the small crowd which had formed. She started to protest about her brother. It wasn't fair, she told herself. He was on his way to get a job as a bouncer, someplace.

"Stop, you! That is my bro—!" A hand grabbed her wrist tightly. She turned and tried to jerk away her arm. "Let me go! That's my brother and I want—" She looked up into the largest pair of eyes that she had ever seen on a man. They were like a collie dog's eyes. And they were laughing at some hidden joke. The man began to speak in a smooth, deep voice. He told Emma that she didn't want to do that. That detective was in a bad mood and he would arrest her. He knew that detective, said the man. Emma looked after her brother, who was being cuffed by the detective and shoved down the street. She squinted and wrinkled her forehead, still wanting to follow and to protest. But the gentleman's soothing, low voice continued. He let go of Emma's arm. Emma noticed the big rings and cravat pin that the gentleman was wearing. He must be a wealthy man. Emma thought she had better listen. Wealthy people were seldom arrested. They knew how things worked. The man smiled. He told Emma to wait and went over to a fine carriage. He came back with a business card and handed it to Emma. Charles Tyson Yerkes was the name printed on the card. Emma read the name slowly out loud. It meant not a thing to her. Yerkes offered Emma a lift to her home. She had a funny pixie face and it amused him. Emma shook her head slowly, but thanked the gentleman. She had better walk. He told her that was very wise.

"One other thing." He motioned to Emma. She walked a step in his direction. "Look, girlie," said Yerkes, smiling into her face. "This may be of interest. I have a telescope going on display July first. Here is a pass to the World's Fair. You must see it. It's a honey." He told her how to get through the Manufactures Building to the place where his telescope would be shown.

Emma thanked the man. Telescope? This was all beyond her. Maybe Anton would like to see such a thing.

The man said that he had to go. Emma should remember not to get into fights. She nodded. "That is, unless you're a lobster," said the man.

"A. . .lobster?" Emma repeated, fearing that she must have misheard. The man smiled again and told Emma that when he was a young lad in Philadelphia, he saw a jelly fish in a fish market aquarium. Pretty little thing. He didn't notice at it first, but there was a lobster down on the sand below that jelly fish. He passed the tank daily. But one night—nip!—the lobster must have taken a bite of that poor, dumb creature. Each day he walked past and each day more of the jelly fish would be gone. The man's large eyes twinkled at his amusing secret as he continued.

"That jelly fish had no weapon, you see. Finally, the jelly fish was all gone. I decided then and there that there were only two things you could be, lobster or jelly fish. If you're going to go getting into fights, you had better be sure that you are a lobster, girlie." The man tipped his hat, and got up into the driver's seat of the carriage. He flicked the reins, and, in an instant, the horses trotted off, kicking plumes of muck in either direction. Emma looked down at the card and free pass to the Fair. She didn't know what to make of the man's strange talk about lobsters and jellyfish, but she assumed this was because she was stupid. He was a gentleman, so what he said must be wise. But what on earth did it mean? She put the cards into her skirt pocket and began walking north on Maxwell Street.

As for Yerkes himself, he was pleased to have observed a bit of—what did they call it—life in the raw. A street fight. Yerkes did not go slumming for no reason. He was there on Maxwell Street to scout a new route for his street rail system. A line to connect and run past Mister Fields' dry goods palace. Before he could think to do it. They thought that they were going to ruin him, Field, those stodgy bankers and those gutter snipes of the press. And when all these combined, a lesser man than Yerkes would have folded his tent and stolen away in the night. They knew, those bankers, that Yerkes had put out promissory notes to buy the south side lines. And so they had gathered those notes quietly and called them in. He knew what it was that those gray-faced men hated him for. He flaunted his girls in public. The bankers did not take to flaunting and so they had called in the notes. Field was in on it, too. Yerkes was sure of that. But what they had no way of knowing was that he had promised the university a telescope. What timing! On the basis of that promise and lots of press coverage, his credit had gone back up through the ceiling. Never had to put out a cent, until later, either. Running a profitable line right past Fields' store was going to be a pleasure.

Yerkes gave a tug on the reins and the horses avoided an urchin in the street. The street was teeming with children. Yerkes marveled at the population density. Smells of rotting fish, overripe fruit and pickled cabbage came from the stalls and wagons all shoved up together along plank sidewalk.

There was a din of shouting as old women croaked, "Kapusta! Pierogi!" . . .And many other syllables which were strange to Yerkes. He liked to experience the barbarism of Maxwell Street every now and then, just to keep the old blood circulating. He drove on.

 

 


 

Emma thought about the strange gentleman all the way to her doorway. Would her face tell Maminka that something strange had happened? She opened the door of the flat quietly. Emma? a weary voice responded. Maminka had good hearing. Emma took over the stitching in of the labels from Maminka, who was going to make up a bunch of fruit boiled dumplings. Some of these they could sell. Some they would eat. Someone had left a bag of apricots on the doorstep. Maminka was sure that it was Missus Hlavaty who left the fruit. Her son had some fruit trees and one old woman didn't eat all that much. Maminka had taken care of Missus Hlavaty, the bird lady, one time when she was sick. Missus Hlavaty didn't like being around most people, but she had made an exception in Maminka's case.

Emma had been able to get apples very cheaply from Missus Steinmann over at Maxwell Street. Fruit dumplings—knedliky—were more than popular with the people. They made a meal of them. A husky man could eat as many as twenty-five or thirty golf ball-sized dumplings at a sitting. And because they were cheap, they would sell. Apricot was Julka's favorite and Maminka had to keep slapping her hands, because she was trying to eat them all raw. The bits of light faded from the walls and the flat grew dark. At the last possible moment, Maminka lit the gas jet up in the kitchen area. By then the dough was rolled, all dozen batches, and still Anton did not come home. Emma didn't know whether to lie about where Anton was. She said that Anton told her he needed some time to think and that he was coming home later. Maminka told Emma to study her English lesson for awhile and went to the window. Then she turned back to Emma. She wiped her hands on her apron, thoughtfully.

"When. . .later?" Maminka looked at Emma with a hint of suspicion. Emma protested that she was no judge of how long her brother would need to sort out his thoughts. Maybe he had a lot of thoughts! Maminka snorted. "Sort out his thoughts!" She waved her hands in the air. Maminka was developing sweaters' hunch. She patted back some gray wires into the bun at the back of her neck and bent back over the purple velvet cape into which she was putting a black silk liner. Emma evaded her mother's questions and comments for some time until a man in a dark, cut-away coat came to the door and presented them with a paper. The paper was signed by the collection agency for Mister Marshall Field and Emma spelled out the words for Maminka. Mister Field was going to sue the Klima family for damages, the paper said. Such damages being unrecoverable in cash, the male or female head of household would be remanded to the Bridewell to serve out a sentence. Maminka kept winding and unwinding her apron around her hands as Emma read the strange, lawyer words to her. They sat facing each other for a long time without talking, while Julka crept over to the table and ate several more fruit dumplings.

 

 


 

Over at Harrison Street Station, Anton was being questioned about several petty thefts in the neighborhood. Wooldridge walked into the grilling room and found himself unexpectedly speaking up in Anton's behalf.

"No, no, you've got the wrong one here. This one's Klima. I've never known him to steal!" bellowed Woodridge.

The sergeant muttered to pardon him. He had a devil of a time telling one hunky from the next.

"Well, this one's Klima. And I say he's no thief." Anton looked up at Wooldridge and knitted his brows. First, the man had hauled him in and now the same detective was getting him off. There was no understanding the workings of the courts in this strange country. Wooldridge beckoned to Anton with a finger.

"Listen, boy, we're all backlogged, you see. World's Fair. Razor-slashing females. Ah, what I mean to say is. . .Get on home! And don't let me catch you brawling, again!" Anton was given his empty wallet and released. He caught sight of young Ryan and an older man going out the side door of the station. The older man was quite a dresser. He wore a forest green frock coat over light green trousers. He had a natty bowler hat and an ivory cane. When he turned and Anton got a view of his face, with the oversized walrus moustache, he recognized that older man as the famous alderman, Bathhouse John Coughlin. Why, that had to be it! Uncle Bathhouse must have put out the order that his nephew and the other one should be released without delay. Bathhouse John himself. Anton nodded. Like the nobles they were, these Chicago aldermen. It was truly amazing what they could do.

Anton reached his home after eleven. He was dead tired, but told his mother and sister that he was certain to get a job the next day. Emma showed the paper to Anton that the man in the suit had brought. He frowned over the paper which was printed on a heavy cream-colored paper. He scratched his head. Nothing good ever came from such official writings. How soon the men from Field's would try to collect he could not guess. He must do something, he said looking at Maminka's frightened eyes, first thing in the morning he would do something. Emma and Maminka went on sewing into the night as Julka snored softly in the corner on her little cot. Anton got a few hours of sleep. He got up with the sunrise and walked over to Flynn's Saloon. Anton told the serious trouble that they were all in. He really needed a job and fast. Flynn told Anton that word was out that Vina Fields's bordello needed a bouncer. And from what Flynn had heard of Vina, she had a soft heart. She might take the women in for awhile, said Flynn. Anton liked saloonkeepers. They tended to know things like this. Helpful things. Flynn wiped his hands on his bar apron, picked up a bit of paper and wrote out the address. Anton thanked him and went east towards the Levee, wondering how he would explain his new job to Maminka. Jobs were few. She would probably not ask too closely, decided Anton.


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