N E W   D E A L   N E T W O R K



The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

Home  |   Project Information  |   Resources
Archive:  Year   |   Author/Artist  |   Subject


Rats

Robert Gold, '38

The Magpie, January 1937, v. 21, n. 1., p. 51.

Adolf frowned as the doorbell of his little grocery shop jangled harshly. He looked up at the clock on the wall of the living-room. Adolf lived in the rear of his store, but everyone knew that the old Dutchman closed his place for business promptly at seven o'clock each evening. It was now nine.

Adolf grumbled to himself, but laying down his pipe, he rose from his easy chair and took off his spectacles. He shut the door of the bed-room where his Ella slept and then pushed aside the curtain that partitioned the living quarters from the shop proper.

He saw a figure in front of the store window, and after hesitating a moment, he crossed the floor and unfastened the door-latch. The newcomer pushed the grocer out of the way and walked over to the counter. When Adolf had closed the door, he spoke quickly.

"Come on, Pop, you're open for business."

Adolf turned on the light and looked at the twisted face of his visitor. "I paid you last veek, Joe," he tried to lift his voice defiantly.

"So—" Joe Connelly slid his hands into his coat pockets. Adolf knew that Joe didn't believe in the Sullivan law. Joe's face broke into a sort of humorless grin. "Don't get excited, Dutchy," he chuckled at the grocer. "I only want thirty bucks this time."

The grocer gasped, "Himmel! I don'd take in dot much in dree veeks—"

Joe leaned over the counter and pulled open the cash drawer. He eyed the empty box and looked back at the grocer. Joe's nonchalance was gone. He knew when to be surly.

"You dirty——, where's the money?" he dug his hands deeper into his pockets.

Adolf drew back. His tiny frame quivered, "I haf no money, Joe. I gif you iff I got."

"Maybe another busted window'll make you kick in with the sugar a little quicker," Joe hinted.

"Gott im Himmel! I haf nein mon—"

"Shut up." Joe peered out of the window. Someone was coming along the sidewalk.

"Listen, Dutchy," he warned the grocer without moving his lips, "I'll be back in two days, see. And you better have thirty bucks ready for me. If you try squealing to the cops well, you remember what happened to the tailor's kid."

Adolf grimaced with horror. The tailor's child had been so much like his own little Ella. But that was before the tailor's child had attempted to cross the street. That was before a heavy car with indistinct license plates raced towards her, a scream—Adolf remembered.

"Now give me some coffee. Make it look like a regular sale."

Adolf disappeared behind the counter, and Joe heard him rummaging around the cans that lined the shelf. Then Adolf came up with a package. Joe took it, handed over a coin, and walked out of the store.

Adolf stared after him. Then shaking his head, he reached for the light string. But before his hand found it, the doorbell rang again and with a sigh, he cautiously opened the door.

"Ah, gut efning, Sargend," he said recognizing the detective. "Come in."

"Thanks," the detective nodded his greeting.

"Want some groceries?" Adolf asked.

"No," the detective glanced around the shop. "Well how is business, Adolf?"

"Fine, Sargend—"

"Why so formal?" the other paused, "I'm Slade to my friends."

"Yah—Slade," Adolf laughed nervously.

Slade's manner changed suddenly, "Why are you holding out on me, Adolf? Can't you trust an old friend?"

"Hold oudt on you?" Adolf echoed.

Slade was serious. "Why are you afraid to tell me about these racketeers?"

"Racketeers?"

The detective laughed. "You're a ham, Adolf. That's rotten acting. You know what I'm talking about. In the last three months, your window was broken four times. That wasn't just bad luck, and besides it wasn't reported to us. I also heard stories of acid used on your stock. Then it all stops. That means only one thing. You're paying them, aren't you?"

"I don'd know anything."

"What was Joe Connelly doing here?"

"To buy groceries." Adolf was sweating.

"Groceries!" Slade's laugh was real. "So the toughest racketeer in the neighborhood came here to buy groceries, eh?" The detective's voice grew gentle. "Just tell me when you pay him—"

"I can'd."

"Don't you see that you'll pay for life." Slade continued, "Do you think that you are the only one that pays? Connelly makes a thousand stops a day when he collects. Every small merchant in this district helps fill his pockets. He'll keep sucking your income until you're wiped out."

"I know nodting."

Slade was almost finished, "I came to you, Adolf, because I thought you were man enough to fight. I thought these rats couldn't scare you. With your testimony we could send Connelly to prison for thirty years. With him gone, this racket would be through."

"No," Adolf shook his head. "Dere are otter vays. Bot vat can der police do. A man gets oudt of prison. He vould know who told you. He could tell somebody. I should risk mine baby—"

"We'll give you protection," Slade assured.

Adolf's face reddened, "Yah, protection like Max Fleisher got."

Slade flushed at the mention of the tailor. The Fleisher baby killing was still an open case on the police dockets. Slade saw no further end in arguing, but before he went, he said softly, "There are a lot of people like you, Adolf."

Adolf stood still a long time after the door slammed. Then he put out the light and went to the rear of the shop. His bent shoulders straightened as he looked in at his sleeping child. He noticed tenderly how her brown curls entwined over her pillow. Adolf's face wrinkled as he smiled. The smile broadened.

"Rats dey are, heh?" he laughed loudly. "Rats!"

The next morning, Adolf opened his store early. The day was clear and warm. The grocery shop was cheerfully brightened by the sunlight that flickered in from the outside. Adolf rested on a stool behind the counter. He smoked contentedly, listening to the usual noises of the street. The yelling of boys, the honking of horns, the rumble of trucks over the cobblestones, the murmur of gossiping women—it all blended into a harmonious conglomeration of sound.

"I apologize."

Detective-sergeant Slade stood in the doorway. "I'd like to take back what I said last night, Adolf, if you'll let me."

Adolf raised his hand, "Dot's all forgotten." He took a deep breath. "It'z a beautiful morning, izn't itt?"

"Yes, Adolf, a clean morning," Slade said evenly. "Joe Connelly was killed last night."

"So?" Adolf didn't stir.

Slade went on, "He was found dead in his apartment."

"Dot is too bad," Adolf shook his head.

"I thought I'd give you the news. There were no clues. It's a closed case as far as the police are concerned," the detective paused, "but the police would like to know who put rat poison in Joe Connelly's coffee."

He commented impersonally, "Well, I'll stop in again. It is a wonderful day."

Adolf thought so too.




The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

Archive:  Year   |   Author/Artist  |   Subject
Home  |   Project Information  |   Resources