Authors: Stanley Ellin
It waves me forth again; I'll follow it
What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord. Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff â¦
saw Al Judge before that night.
On the top of his column in the
they had a picture of him, but it wasn't a very good picture. In, the picture he had wavy black hair and kind of a thin, pointed face, but when I saw him his hair was almost all grey, and his face was soft and pudgy. There was a big roll of fat under his chin, and his eyes were squinted up under more fat. I guess it was a pretty old picture.
I used to read the
every night before I went to bed. I started with the pictures, and plenty of times they showed nice-looking girls with lots of stuff showing, or maybe wrecks with bodies laying around. That was all right.
Then I read all the comics, even the ones I didn't like so much. They had two pages of comics, and I started at the top of the left-hand page and read all the way down, and then I did the same thing with the right-hand page. It felt wrong if I didn't read them before I went to bed. Like one night, Buttsy, the newspaper boy, didn't leave any papers. He used to leave some at the bar every night, and then have a free beer. The night he didn't leave them, I went out and bought the
because I couldn't go to sleep until I read the comics.
After that I would read down page three, which is the page with all the killings and stuff. Nearly every night there would be something about a husband catching his wife naked with another man, or some crazy guy grabbing a little girl and giving her the works. When I went to bed I would try and see the whole thing happening in my mind.
Mostly I didn't read other news, because it had numbers in it. I mean, stuff about Democrats or Republicans or Russia and it would be all full of big numbers. That stuff puts me to sleep.
The part I saved for last was the sports section. And the best thing in it was Al Judge's column, âThe Judge's Bench'. It was a good column all right, all about the different sports and about people who hung around sports. Sometimes in his column he would write about an Irishman or an Italian or a Jew he knew about, and then he would kid them along and write in their kind of dialect. I had to laugh when I read it.
Every Saturday in the column he would call it âJudge's Decisions', and he would tell inside stuff about tinhorn gamblers and how they were dirtying up sports. He put their names right down, and he wasn't afraid of anyone. I think I liked Al Judge a lot before I knew I had to kill him.
That night was November eighth, and I know because it was my sixteenth birthday, and I was sitting in back of the bar waiting to go to the fights at Madison Square Garden with my father. My father's name is Andy LaMain, and he owned Handy Andy's Bar and Grill near Ninth Avenue and Twentieth Street.
Once it used to be just plain Andy's Bar and Grill. Then Flanagan, the helper, told me a guy one time asked, âWhat kind of a name is LaMain?' and my father said, âFrench.'
âWell, what does it mean in French?'
My father said, âIt means “the hand”,' and that's how they got to calling him Handy Andy. He liked it, so he put it on the window. It's better than what the kids call me over at High School. They call me Froggy because my father was French, and they think it's a big joke because I'm not even the oldest one in the class but I'm big and I look older than anybody.
Sometimes I come into a new class and everybody shuts up because they think maybe I'm the teacher. Then they see where I sit so they know I'm not, and they start picking on me and making all kinds of jokes about it. Even the teachers pick on me because they must figure I'm older than anybody around, only they call me by my real name. My real name is George LaMain after my grandfather, but he spelled it Georges with an s
because he came from France and that's how they do it there.
My grandfather was a hero all right. He didn't have to, but when the First World War started, he went back to France so he could get in the army there, and he got killed in the Battle of Verdun. I have his picture, and he is standing there in his uniform looking pretty tough. My father said that my grandfather was never afraid of anything. Plenty of times I think that when the next war comes I will be built up so I can put on a uniform and maybe die a hero like my grandfather.
I think I could have even got into the Marines in this war if I wanted to. Plenty of times I read in the
about kids only fourteen, fifteen, who got in and nobody guessed how old they were until their mothers started yelling or something. That wouldn't have stopped me because I didn't have any mother to worry about. Long ago my father told me how she died when I was only a little kid.
Anyhow, the way I look, I think I could have got into the Marines easy if they didn't mind me being a little skinny. Only when my father read about one of the kids once, he made a crack about it so I knew he wouldn't like it. He wanted me around the bar where he could see I didn't get into any trouble.
The Bar and Grill is long and very narrow, and as soon as you step in from the street you are standing at the bar. It is so narrow that if a couple of guys bunch up at the bar, you have to squeeze by them to get to the back. In the back is a cookstove against the wall, and some old tables and chairs. Flanagan, the helper, could cook good hamburgers on that stove. Thick, kind of raw, with raw onions on top. He made good frankfurters too. Suppertimes he would make me mostly chops and beans because that's where I ate supper.
I was just finishing supper when Al Judge came in. I had steak and French fried potatoes because it was my birthday, and I was drinking coke out of a bottle because my father wouldn't let me drink beer or any hard stuff. That was all right with me because I didn't really like beer anyhow. One time, when my father wasn't there, Flanagan let me try a little but it tasted awful. I figured it would be like the nut-brown ale Robin Hood used to drink, because I read about it and I knew beer was a lot like ale. But when I imagined drinking nut-brown ale, it always tasted like root beer, which is a good drink.
Flanagan was scared after he let me try the beer, because he knew how my father felt. My father wouldn't let me smoke either, or talk about girls. He was very strict.
But for my birthday he promised he would take Frances and me to the fights at the Garden. Frances was his girl friend. Her name was Frances Sedziaski, but she was awfully pretty, not big like some Polacks are. Only she used to nag me about church and eating and that kind of stuff. I guess she couldn't help it, because she was a nurse over at Chelsea Hospital, so what with feeding the sick people and watching the priest send them off when they died, she was a bug on those angles.
One time she said, âYou don't eat enough, and you read too much. My God, you're only a kid, and you look like an old man.' And then when she could she would cook supper for me upstairs in our rooms. All lettuce and tomatoes and stuff.
Sometimes we were walking together and the guys would give her the eye â she was blonde and she even looked good in her nurse's uniform â and then she would turn red and say to me, âSee that? Do you want to grow up like that? When was the last time you went to confession?' Just as if
So I lied about it and told her a week ago, two weeks ago, or I promised to go pretty soon. She knew I was lying about it, but she couldn't say so.
I say one thing for her though. She was crazy about my father. Every day, she called up at the bar at least once, and when they both had free time together, she was always around. Now and then he gave me money to carry me over a weekend, and he would take a trip somewhere. I figured Frances was with him, but it wasn't any of my business. Anyhow, I liked eating by myself. I could eat for two hours and almost read a whole book.
When my father first told me Frances was coming along to the fights, I didn't like the idea too much. Rocks Abruzzo was fighting Joe Shotfield, and Rocks is a real killer. Biff bam! He socks them and they stay down.
But if Frances was there and saw too much blood or something, she might say how awful it was and even want to go home. So when my father told me that Frances wasn't coming, a couple of weeks later, it was all right with me.
Now and then Frances and my father would have real loud arguments, and she wouldn't show up for a couple of days. This time she wasn't around for more than a week, and I figured they must have had a real bust-up. It couldn't have happened at a better time.
I didn't mind eating supper at a back table of the bar, because I could read while I was eating. I was reading a book called
by Rudyard Kipling. I didn't like it at the beginning, but it got better as you went along. It was about a boy in India who was a spy. He wasn't afraid of anything, and he was plenty smart. I kept the book under the bar, and I read some of it every night at supper.
I was so busy reading that I didn't hear Al Judge come in. Or the others either. Then everything got so quiet that I looked up. A lot of quiet can be just as noisy as a lot of noise, if you get what I mean. Like when they tore down the Ninth Avenue âL' and I couldn't fall asleep at night because the trains weren't banging along any more by my window.
So I looked up, and then I saw this man standing at the bar. He was a big man with gray wavy hair and that kind of fattish face I told you about. He had on a big black overcoat with the buttons all open, and around his neck he had a long white scarf that hung down loose in front of him. And he had a cane in his hand.
Standing right alongside him was Sam Schwartz who is a delivery driver for the
and plenty tough. He curses like anything when the candy-store man takes too long counting out money on collection day, only now he wasn't saying anything. Just standing there and looking at my father. And standing with his back to the door was another delivery-man with a twisted nose whom I didn't know. I knew he was a delivery driver because he had his work apron on with the words âDaily Press' printed on it in big red letters. There were six or seven regular customers standing at the bar and drinking, and they all stopped talking. It was so quiet my ears hummed.
The big man with the cane hardly opened his mouth when he talked so it was hard to hear him. He said to my father, âYou're LaMain, aren't you?' and my father said, âYes, Mr Judge.'
That's how I knew it was Al Judge, because it wasn't a usual kind of name, and he looked a little like his picture too. He said, âYou know why I'm here, don't you, LaMain?'
I never saw my father scared about anything in my whole life, but I knew from the way his face went all pale and sick that he was now. All he did was nod his head up and down while everybody looked at him, not saying a word.