Commonplace
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www.common-place.org · vol. 2 · no. 3 · April 2002
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"[T]he dog suddenly interrupted his agitated dance and lunged toward Padlin."

The Hungry Eye, Episode 4
Joshua Brown

Episode 1: Chapter I | II | III | IV
Episode 2: V | VI | VII
Episode 3: VIII | IX | X
Episode 4: XI | XII | XIII

Interview

"Now, my boys, what have we here?"

Padlin had not noticed Kit Burns's approach. He seemed to materialize behind the dog, arms characteristically akimbo.

Padlin glanced to his left. A rather large and long-armed man stood on the other side of Waddley. One broad and horny hand rested in a less than comradely manner on Waddley's rigid shoulder. Padlin noticed the nails on the hand were bitten to the quick.

The view in the other direction was equally, if differently, uninviting. Another associate of Kit Burns leaned against the pit wall, hands plunged in loose trouser pockets. Slovenly as his dress was, this man was in fact rather delicately made--which was probably why he removed one hand from its pocket to display a closed straight razor. He then took out his other hand so that he could more easily open that implement.

A shout--no, a bark--brought Padlin's attention back to the pit. Moving with admirable dexterity and speed, Burns had strapped a leather muzzle over Jakesy's mouth. He held its short leash taut, forcing back the dog's struggling head. Burns patted Jakesy's jerking side, murmuring, "There, there, my beauty," but to no avail. He stood up, holding the protesting Jakesy away from him. The dog skittered in a circle, making Burns's stiffened arm dip and bounce.

"What's your game, mate?" Burns eyed Padlin from under the brim of his fine hat.

When Padlin didn't answer, Waddley cleared his throat: "We are merely Special Artists for Leslie's Illustrated, sir." His attempt to rise was intercepted by his captor's heavy hand. "If you would care to examine my sketches . . . "

"Dry up," Burns ordered, not bothering to look in Waddley's direction. "What I care about, see, is some cove trying to dust my champion."

Waddley shook his head despairingly. "We had no intention of disrupting your sport."

Burns jutted his bristled jaw at Padlin. "What does he have to say about that?"

Waddley turned to his mum partner. "Padlin?" his intonation rising fearfully over the one word.

Padlin's repertoire was limited. "Jakesy," he said.

Burns merely squinted quizzically, but the dog suddenly interrupted his agitated dance and lunged toward Padlin. The master of Sportsmen's Hall lurched forward. He threw out one leg to brace himself, his boot socking the dirt. Cursing, Burns yanked hard on the leash. He looped the lead around one fist and pulled the dog's muzzled and bloodied snout up toward the rafters. Jakesy's front paws clawed the air, his back legs prancing in place on the ground.

"Johnny!" Burns shouted.

Padlin considered how Burns's anger seemed to coalesce around his wide, flapping mouth, like the limited passion expressed in the snapping jaw of a marionette.

Something struck Padlin's right sleeve. He looked down. The razor was sliding across his jacket arm. The lining winked out in the wake of the slice. The delicate razorman snickered in his ear.

And Padlin said, "Mollie Maloney."

This time, Kit Burns visibly startled. His shoulders flinched, his trapdoor jaw gaped. Jakesy, on the other hand, ceased struggling. He sagged from Burns's hovering fist, twisting slightly. Above the dark leather muzzle, the sky-blue eyes gleamed at Padlin.

The reprieve was brief. Burns's free hand balled into a fist. He stepped forward, dropping his leash-laden arm as he moved. The becalmed dog sank to the ground. Burns advanced to the plank wall, his head tilted back. Padlin watched his puppet mouth, heard "Johnny!" rattle out like a cough.

But this time the blade never reached Padlin. Somewhere in its descent, Burns slammed against the planks. His eyes rolling, his hands tearing at the wall, he collapsed. Straddling Burns's back, Jakesy fell with him and then on top of him. The dog's paws clawed at Burns's exposed neck. He pummeled Burns's head with his muzzled snout. Burns was shouting, trying to turn over, the leash twisting about him like a writhing serpent. Johnny the razorman quit Padlin's arm and vaulted the wall. The noise rising from Jakesy cut through the curses, a muffled, high-pitched sound that could be nothing else but a scream.

It pierced to Padlin's core and ricocheted up and down his spine. He covered his ears as the deceptively delicate Johnny fell to the pit floor and grappled for Jakesy's spiraling leash.

He barely heard the police whistle. The falsetto wail merged with the dog's savage cry, only its trill denoting a new presence. A blow against Padlin's shoulder sent him reeling. He fell between the bleacher seats. His hat struck the wall, driving the brim partly over his eyes. Boots and blue trouser legs trampled about his head, sprinkling the smell of the street's shit and muck into his nostrils. He heard the familiar hollow thuds of wood against bone and the earthly howls of human pain. He was wrenched upright, shoved, slapped, and punched forward, out of the bleachers, up the aisle.

Padlin felt cool, wet air against his cheeks and he caught the rankness of the East River. He managed to wrench one arm free and lifted his hat. A short, mutton-chopped cop grabbed his sleeve and pushed Padlin toward the open doors of a Black Maria. Waddley was already sprawled inside, his pants twisted up, exposing skinny, muscleless calves. Padlin wondered how such sticks could support the heft of Waddley's torso.

"You two," the cop said, "wait in the wagon."

Padlin tried to twist out of the cop's grasp. "Find the dog," he shouted into the florid face.

Dwarfed as he was by Padlin, the cop had a murderous grip. "Just get the hell in there!" He kicked out his leg, tripping Padlin who tumbled into the paddy wagon.

Padlin pushed himself off the floor, away from Waddley. He leaned his back against the unpainted side of the wagon's interior. Sensation was rapidly returning to him, an unpleasant trickle that augured a panicky flood.

Padlin glanced out the door. Another black wagon was parked a few yards away. Two policemen dragged a man to its doors. One had him by the seat of his pants, the other by his collar. They released their hold and, like a well-trained circus act, the former collar-grabber swung one of the doors into the man's face and his partner clubbed him into the wagon.

"I lost my pad."

Waddley had worked himself up against the opposite side.

"I can't believe it," he said, shaking his head. He began to straighten out his trousers, emitting little grunts as his stomach bounced against his knees.

Padlin could feel the stream of dread growing inside him. "Did you see what happened to the dog?"

Waddley looked up. A rueful smile twisted his little mouth. "He speaks! My esteemed colleague, the son of a bitch, speaks!"

Before even Padlin, himself, was aware of it, he'd lurched across the wagon, grasped Waddley's lapels, and thumped him against the wall.

"Tell me!" Padlin shouted.

"Damn you!" Waddley hollered into Padlin's beard, his hands around Padlin's wrists. "Damn you to hell! Leave me be!"

Padlin fell back to his side of the wagon. Waddley ran his fingers over his crumpled lapels. "What right do you have to demand anything?" Contorting, he pulled a large plaid cloth from his trouser pocket and wiped his face. Waddley detached his spectacles and began polishing them. "You threatened me with bodily harm this morning. When that attempt failed, you disrupted the dog match to get me hurt. And when that effort failed, you went to the unbelievable extremity of attempting to destroy yourself to destroy me."

Waddley rearranged the wires around his ears and settled his head against the wall. He had regained his composure and his nasty smile. "The irony is that you have me to thank for your rescue. I doubt Quidroon would have called the police to save you."

Outside, in the street, as if cued by Waddley, the fine-boned razorman and his thicker accomplice came into view. His body sagging between two policemen, Johnny's head lolled forward and the tips of his boots skittered behind. His friend was the greater burden, requiring the rough administration of four officers. He'd lost his derby, but he had a brilliant red stain covering the crown of his head as a replacement. The adjoining black wagon bounced as the two men were thrown inside.

Padlin was through with talking. He climbed out of the wagon and watched the police push, pull, and pummel the few other Bandbox patrons who had had the misfortune to linger after the dogfight. Moans and protests emanated from the other Black Maria, momentarily rising with each new deposit, the cops making sure to also apply a few dubs of the club to the already incarcerated clientele.


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Padlin slouched against the wagon and conjured his editor's face in his mind, the expression of surprise and hurt that Quidroon would manufacture if Padlin confronted him, a variation on Waddley's performance: That's the thanks I get for rescuing you, Padlin? Yet, as Quidroon feigned distress, his eyes would retain the cold color of triumph, knowing that he had insured his control over the plot of the evening: no matter what Padlin did, it was Quidroon's story and he had concocted its inevitable conclusion.

And what a story it was! The readers of Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper would consume it with decorous glee: blood sport illustrated and avenged: evil and corruption brought to justice: morality preserved. Padlin watched the villain of the piece emerge from the storefront entrance of Sportsmen's Hall, spread-eagled and struggling, a cop harboring each limb. Once, twice, thrice, the cops swung Kit Burns, a bellowing sack of potatoes, before the entrance of the Black Maria. He disappeared within, his howl trailing behind. Yes, the readers would love the story, duly illustrated by the observant and inventive Little Waddley.

The doors of the wagon were slammed shut and the denizens of the Bandbox were carted off. The rattling of the horses' hooves had diminished when the mutton-chopped cop returned.

"Well, that takes care of that," he said. He contentedly shaved his hands as if he was clearing the grime of crime from his incorruptible person. "We'll be off now. You'll inform Mr. Leslie that we performed admirably." He wasn't asking a question; he was reiterating the agreed rules of the game.

Waddley jumped down and the cop began to walk around to the front of the wagon. Just as he rounded the corner, he turned back and faced Padlin.

"You was asking about the dogs before, right?" he said. "You can report that the ones in the Bandbox's kennel, and a mean bunch they was, are on their way to the pound." He saluted, as if putting the seal to the bargain, and left.

Waddley stood in the center of the street, forlornly looking after the second departing wagon. He scanned the dark fronts of the low buildings. The gaslights were few and far between on Water Street. The shadows of a hundred silent observers filled the windows above them. "I think it would be wise if we departed as well," he said.

Padlin started to walk away. Waddley quickly joined him, his head swiveling at each doorway and alley they passed.

They turned off Water Street, moving away from the rough haunts of the seamen and stevedores around Peck's Slip, toward the lights and traffic of Pearl Street. The prospect ahead seemed to relieve Waddley. He began to whistle.

Waddley's energetic, if off-key, fluting curled around Padlin's thoughts, which were very much preoccupied with the whereabouts of Jakesy. Padlin knew where the Bandbox's dogs had been taken, and he knew just as surely that there was no point in his visiting the pound. Among the brawny and battered curs, snapping and mewling as they awaited execution or Burns's return--their fates teetering on how well he was immersed in the payoffs and favors of Democratic politics--one dog would be missing. Jakesy had escaped. Padlin was sure of it . . . and somehow that realization brought him close enough to the comfort he had been seeking. Jakesy was gone. Padlin embraced that certainty and the vague feeling of release it elicited.

Jakesy was gone, taking Mollie Maloney's unlearnable end and unattainable face with him. Padlin's exhaustion rushed over him, stemming any further reflection. All he could picture now was the salvation of his unkempt room, littered by the remnants of his unsuccessful efforts of the night before. Tomorrow he would condemn them to the trash. Tonight, though, he would sleep. He was sure of that.


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Two toughs were holding up the lamppost on the corner of Pearl and Dover. As Padlin and Waddley approached, they maladroitly detached themselves from their prop and stepped out onto the sidewalk. They were fairly large specimens, dressed for the evening in the beaver hats and red flannel shirts favored by rough sporting men. Their backs were to the gaslight, turning their faces into amorphous masks, featureless in the murk. To Padlin, his mind apparently not yet completely devoid of canine imagery, they suggested Cerebus, the two-headed sentinel of Hades, guarding entrance and egress to the underworld.

Waddley bumped up against Padlin, trying to lose himself in the larger man's shadow. Padlin picked up his pace, not to get by the toughs but to permit them to better spy Waddley's diminutive aspect.

"You," one of the ruffians shouted, placing himself in Waddley's path. Waddley hesitated. Padlin brushed by.

"You want to fight me, do you?" The tough played with the greasy soaplocks that cascaded from under his hat, corkscrewing the long sideburns.

"No," Waddley said. The wrong answer in an old street ploy. Any answer was the wrong answer. The best response was silence.

Walking into Pearl Street, Padlin pictured the bullboy behind him squaring his shoulders, cracking his knuckles in anticipation.

"So," he heard the tough say, "I'm a liar, am I?"

Later, Padlin wasn't sure if he'd actually heard the fist collide with Waddley's jaw.

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