The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter

  Mr. Halloran went on, following his feet that knew the way to Billy’s Place, head down, not speaking to passersby any more, but talking it out with himself again, again. What a track to go over seeing clearly one by one the crossroads where he might have taken a different turn that would have changed all his fortunes; but no, he had gone the other way and now it was too late. She wouldn’t say a thing but “It’s not right and you know it, Halloran,” so what could a man do in all? Ah, you could have gone on with your rightful affairs like any other man, Halloran, it’s not the woman’s place to decide such things; she’d have come round once she saw the money, or a good whack on the backsides would have put her in her place. Never had mortal woman needed a good walloping worse than Lacey Mahaffy, but he could never find it in his heart to give it to her for her own good. That was just another of your many mistakes, Halloran. But there was always the lifelong job with the G. and I. and peace in the house more or less. Many a man envied me in those days I remember, and I was resting easy on the savings and knowing with that and the pension I could finish out my life with some little business of my own. “What came of that?” Mr. Halloran inquired in a low voice, looking around him. Nobody answered. You know well what came of it, Halloran. You were fired out like a delivery boy, two years before your time was out. Why did you sit there watching the trick being played on others before you, knowing well it could happen to you and never quite believing what you saw with your own eyes? G. and I. gave me my start, when I was green in this country, and they were my own kind or I thought so. Well, it’s done now. Yes, it’s done now, but there was all the years you could have cashed in on the numbers game with the best of them, helping collect the protection money and taking your cut. You could have had a fortune by now in Lacey’s name, safe in the bank. It was good quiet profit and none the wiser. But they’re wiser now, Halloran, don’t forget; still it’s a lump of grief and disappointment to swallow all the same. The game’s up with Connolly, maybe; Lacey Mahaffy had said, “Numbers is just another way of stealing from the poor, and you weren’t born to be a thief like that McCorkery.” Ah, God, no, Halloran, you were born to rot on relief and maybe that’s honest enough for her. That Lacey!— A fortune in her name would have been no good to me whatever. She’s got all the savings tied up, such as they are, she’ll pinch and she’ll starve, she’ll wash dirty clothes first, she won’t give up a penny to live on. She has stood in my way, McCorkery, like a skeleton rattling its bones, and you were right about her, she has been my ruin. “Ah, it’s not too late yet, Halloran,” said McCorkery, appearing plain as day inside Mr. Halloran’s head with the same old face and way with him. “Never say die, Halloran. Elections are coming on again, it’s a busy time for all, there’s work to be done and you’re the very man I’m looking for. Why didn’t you come to me sooner, you know I never forget an old friend. You don’t deserve your ill fortune, Halloran,” McCorkery told him; “I said so to others and I say it now to your face, never did man deserve more of the world than you, Halloran, but the truth is, there’s not always enough good luck to go round; but it’s your turn now, and I’ve got a job for you up to your abilities at last. For a man like you, there’s nothing to it at all, you can toss it off with one hand tied, Halloran, and good money in it. Organization work, just among your own neighbors, where you’re known and respected for a man of your word and an old friend of Gerald McCorkery. Now look, Halloran,” said Gerald McCorkery, tipping him the wink, “do I need to say more? It’s voters in large numbers we’re after, Halloran, and you’re to bring them in, alive or dead. Keep your eye on the situation at all times and get in touch with me when necessary. And name your figure in the way of money. And come up to the house sometimes, Halloran, why don’t you? Rosie has asked me a hundred times, ‘Whatever went with Halloran, the life of the party?’ That’s the way you stand with Rosie, Halloran. We’re in a two-story flat now with green velvet curtains and carpets you can sink to your shoe-tops in, and there’s no reason at all why you shouldn’t have the same kind of place if you want it. With your gifts, you were never meant to be a poor man.”

  Ah, but Lacey Mahaffy wouldn’t have it, maybe. “Then get yourself another sort of woman, Halloran, you’re a good man still, find yourself a woman like Rosie to snuggle down with at night.” Yes, but McCorkery, you forget that Lacey Mahaffy had legs and hair and eyes and a complexion fit for a chorus girl. But would she do anything with them? Never. Would you believe there was a woman wouldn’t take off all her clothes at once even to bathe herself? What a hateful thing she was with her evil mind thinking everything was a sin, and never giving a man a chance to show himself a man in any way. But she’s faded away now, her mean soul shows out all over her, she’s ugly as sin itself now, McCorkery. “It’s what I told you would happen,” said McCorkery, “but now with the job and the money you can go your ways and let Lacey Mahaffy go hers.” I’ll do it, McCorkery. “And forget about Connolly. Just remember I’m my own man and always was. Connolly’s finished, but I’m not. Stronger than ever, Halloran, with Connolly out of the way. I saw this coming long ever ago, Halloran, I got clear of it. They don’t catch McCorkery with his pants down, Halloran. And I almost forgot. . . Here’s something for the running expenses to start. Take this for the present, and there’s more to come. . . .”

  Mr. Halloran stopped short, a familiar smell floated under his nose: the warm beer-and-beefsteak smell of Billy’s Place, sawdust and onions, like any other bar maybe, but with something of its own besides. The talk within him stopped also as if a hand had been laid on his mind. He drew his fist out of his pocket almost expecting to find green money in it. The half dollar was in his palm. “I’ll stay while it lasts and hope McCorkery will come in.”

  The moment he stepped inside his eye lighted on McCorkery standing at the bar pouring his own drink from the bottle before him. Billy was mopping the bar before him idly, and his eye, swimming toward Halloran, looked like an oyster in its own juice. McCorkery saw him too. “Well, blow me down,” he said, in a voice that had almost lost its old County Mayo ring, “if it ain’t my old sidekick from the G. and I. Step right up, Halloran,” he said, his poker-face as good as ever, no man ever saw Gerald McCorkery surprised at anything. “Step up and name your choice.”

  Mr. Halloran glowed suddenly with the warmth around the heart he always had at the sight of McCorkery, he couldn’t put a name on it, but there was something about the man. Ah, it was Gerald all right, the same, who never forgot a friend and never seemed to care whether a man was rich or poor, with his face of granite and his eyes like blue agates in his head, a rock of a man surely. There he was, saying “Step right up,” as if they had parted only yesterday; portly and solid in his expensive-looking clothes, as always; his hat a darker gray than his suit, with a devil-may-care roll to the brim, but nothing sporting, mind you. All first-rate, well made, and the right thing for him, more power to him. Mr. Halloran said, “Ah, McCorkery, you’re the one man on this round earth I hoped to see today, but I says to myself, maybe he doesn’t come round to Billy’s Place so much nowadays.”

  “And why not?” asked McCorkery, “I’ve been coming around to Billy’s Place for twenty-five years now, it’s still headquarters for the old guard of the McCorkery Club, Halloran.” He took in Mr. Halloran from head to foot in a flash of a glance and turned toward the bottle.

  “I was going to have a beer,” said Mr. Halloran, “but the smell of that whiskey changes my mind for me.” McCorkery poured a second glass, they lifted the drinks with an identical crook of the elbow, a flick of the wrist at each other.

  “Here’s to crime,” said McCorkery, and “Here’s looking at you,” said Mr. Halloran, merrily. Ah, to hell with it, he was back where he belonged, in good company. He put his foot on the rail and snapped down his whiskey, and no sooner was his glass on the bar than McCorkery was filling it again. “Just time for a few quick ones,” he said, “before the boys get here.” Mr. Halloran downed that one, too, before he noticed that McCo
rkery hadn’t filled his own glass. “I’m ahead of you,” said McCorkery, “I’ll skip this one.”

  There was a short pause, a silence fell around them that seemed to ooze like a fog from somewhere deep in McCorkery, it was suddenly as if he had not really been there at all, or hadn’t uttered a word. Then he said outright: “Well, Halloran, let’s have it. What’s on your mind?” And he poured two more drinks. That was McCorkery all over, reading your thoughts and coming straight to the point.

  Mr. Halloran closed his hand round his glass and peered into the little pool of whiskey. “Maybe we could sit down,” he said, feeling weak-kneed all at once. McCorkery took the bottle and moved over to the nearest table. He sat facing the door, his look straying there now and then, but he had a set, listening face as if he was ready to hear anything.

  “You know what I’ve had at home all these years,” began Mr. Halloran, solemnly, and paused.

  “Oh, God, yes,” said McCorkery with simple good-fellowship. “How is herself these days?”

  “Worse than ever,” said Mr. Halloran, “but that’s not it.”

  “What is it, then, Halloran?” asked McCorkery, pouring drinks. “You know well you can speak out your mind to me. Is it a loan?”

  “No,” said Mr. Halloran. “It’s a job.”

  “Now that’s a different matter,” said McCorkery. “What kind of a job?”

  Mr. Halloran, his head sunk between his shoulders, saw McCorkery wave a hand and nod at half a dozen men who came in and ranged themselves along the bar. “Some of the boys,” said McCorkery. “Go on.” His face was tougher, and quieter, as if the drink gave him a firm hold on himself. Mr. Halloran said what he had planned to say, had said already on the way down, and it still sounded reasonable and right to him. McCorkery waited until he had finished, and got up, putting a hand on Mr. Halloran’s shoulder. “Stay where you are, and help yourself,” he said, giving the bottle a little push, “and anything else you want, Halloran, order it on me. I’ll be back in a few minutes, and you know I’ll help you out if I can.”

  Halloran understood everything but it was through a soft warm fog, and he hardly noticed when McCorkery passed him again with the men, all in that creepy quiet way like footpads on a dark street. They went into the back room, the door opened on a bright light and closed again, and Mr. Halloran reached for the bottle to help himself wait until McCorkery should come again bringing the good word. He felt comfortable and easy as if he hadn’t a bone or muscle in him, but his elbow slipped off the table once or twice and he upset his drink on his sleeve. Ah, McCorkery, is it the whole family you’re taking on with the jobs? For my Maggie’s husband is in now with the Little Tammany Association. “There’s a bright lad will go far and I’ve got my eye on him, Halloran,” said the friendly voice of McCorkery in his mind, and the brown face, softer than he remembered it, came up clearly behind his closed eyes.

  “Ah, well, it’s like myself beginning all over again in him,” said Mr. Halloran, aloud, “besides my own job that I might have had all this time if I’d just come to see you sooner.”

  “True for you,” said McCorkery in a merry County Mayo voice, inside Mr. Halloran’s head, “and now let’s drink to the gay future for old times’ sake and be damned to Lacey Mahaffy.” Mr. Halloran reached for the bottle but it skipped sideways, rolled out of reach like a creature, and exploded at his feet. When he stood up the chair fell backward from under him. He leaned on the table and it folded up under his hands like cardboard.

  “Wait now, take it easy,” said McCorkery, and there he was, real enough, holding Mr. Halloran braced on the one side, motioning with his hand to the boys in the back room, who came out quietly and took hold of Mr. Halloran, some of them, on the other side. Their faces were all Irish, but not an Irishman Mr. Halloran knew in the lot, and he did not like any face he saw. “Let me be,” he said with dignity, “I came here to see Gerald J. McCorkery, a friend of mine from old times, and let not a thug among you lay a finger upon me.”

  “Come on, Big Shot,” said one of the younger men, in a voice like a file grating, “come on now, it’s time to go.”

  “That’s a fine low lot you’ve picked to run with, McCorkery,” said Mr. Halloran, bracing his heels against the slow weight they put upon him toward the door, “I wouldn’t trust one of them far as I could throw him by the tail.”

  “All right, all right, Halloran,” said McCorkery. “Come on with me. Lay off him, Finnegan.” He was leaning over Mr. Halloran and pressing something into his right hand. It was money, a neat little roll of it, good smooth thick money, no other feel like it in the world, you couldn’t mistake it. Ah, he’d have an argument to show Lacey Mahaffy would knock her off her feet. Honest money with a job to back it up. “You’ll stand by your given word, McCorkery, as ever?” he asked, peering into the rock-colored face above him, his feet weaving a dance under him, his heart ready to break with gratitude.

  “Ah, sure, sure,” said McCorkery in a loud hearty voice with a kind of curse in it. “Crisakes, get on with him, do.” Mr. Halloran found himself eased into a taxicab at the curb, with McCorkery speaking to the driver and giving him money. “So long, Big Shot,” said one of the thug faces, and the taxicab door thumped to. Mr. Halloran bobbed about on the seat for a while, trying to think. He leaned forward and spoke to the driver. “Take me to my friend Gerald I. McCorkery’s house,” he said, “I’ve got important business. Don’t pay any attention to what he said. Take me to his house.”

  “Yeah?” said the driver, without turning his head. “Well, here’s where you get out, see? Right here.” He reached back and opened the door. And sure enough, Mr. Halloran was standing on the sidewalk in front of the flat in Perry Street, alone except for the rows of garbage cans, the taxicab hooting its way around the corner, and a cop coming toward him, plainly to be seen under the street light.

  “You should cast your vote for McCorkery, the poor man’s friend,” Mr. Halloran told the cop, “McCorkery’s the man who will get us all off the spot. Stands by his old friends like a maniac. Got a wife named Rosie. Vote for McCorkery,” said Mr. Halloran, working hard at his job, “and you’ll be Chief of the Force when Halloran says the word.”

  “To hell with McCorkery, that stooge,” said the cop, his mouth square and sour with the things he said and the things he saw and did every night on that beat. “There you are drunk again, Halloran, shame to you, with Lacey Mahaffy working her heart out over the washboard to buy your beer.”

  “It wasn’t beer and she didn’t buy it, mind you,” said Mr. Halloran, “and what do you know about Lacey Mahaffy?”

  “I knew her from old when I used to run errands for St. Veronica’s Altar Society,” said the cop, “and she was a great one, even then. Nothing good enough.”

  “It’s the same today,” said Mr. Halloran, almost sober for a moment.

  “Well, go on up now and stay up till you’re fit to be seen,” said the cop, censoriously.

  “You’re Johnny Maginnis,” said Mr. Halloran, “I know you well.”

  “You should know me by now,” said the cop.

  Mr. Halloran worked his way upstairs partly on his hands and knees, but once at his own door he stood up, gave a great blow on the panel with his fist, turned the knob and surged in like a wave after the door itself, holding out the money toward Mrs. Halloran, who had finished ironing and was at her mending.

  She got up very slowly, her bony hand over her mouth, her eyes starting out at what she saw. “Ah, did you steal it?” she asked. “Did you kill somebody for that?” the words grated up from her throat in a dark whisper. Mr. Halloran glared back at her in fear.

  “Suffering Saints, Lacey Mahaffy,” he shouted until the whole houseful could hear him, “haven’t ye any mind at all that you can’t see your husband has had a turn of fortune and a job and times are changed from tonight? Stealing, is it? That’s for your great friends the Connollys with their religion. Connolly steals, but Halloran is an honest man with a job in the McCo
rkery Club, and money in pocket.”

  “McCorkery, is it?” said Mrs. Halloran, loudly too. “Ah, so there’s the whole family, young and old, wicked and innocent, taking their bread from McCorkery, at last. Well, it’s no bread of mine, I’ll earn my own as I have, you can keep your dirty money to yourself, Halloran, mind you I mean it.”

  “Great God, woman,” moaned Mr. Halloran, and he tottered from the door to the table, to the ironing board, and stood there, ready to weep with rage, “haven’t you a soul even that you won’t come along with your husband when he’s riding to riches and glory on the Tiger’s back itself, with everything for the taking and no questions asked?”

  “Yes, I have a soul,” cried Mrs. Halloran, clenching her fists, her hair flying. “Surely I have a soul and I’ll save it yet in spite of you. . . .”

  She was standing there before him in a kind of faded gingham winding sheet, with her dead hands upraised, her dead eyes blind but fixed upon him, her voice coming up hollow from the deep tomb, her throat thick with grave damp. The ghost of Lacey Mahaffy was threatening him, it came nearer, growing taller as it came, the face changing to a demon’s face with a fixed glassy grin. “It’s all that drink on an empty stomach,” said the ghost, in a hoarse growl. Mr. Halloran fetched a yell of horror right out of his very boots, and seized the flatiron from the board. “Ah, God damn you, Lacey Mahaffy, you devil, keep away, keep away,” he howled, but she advanced on air, grinning and growling. He raised the flatiron and hurled it without aiming, and the specter, whoever it was, whatever it was, sank and was gone. He did not look, but broke out of the room and was back on the sidewalk before he knew he had meant to go there. Maginnis came up at once. “Hey there now, Halloran,” he said, “I mean business this time. You get back upstairs or I’ll run you in. Come along now, I’ll help you get there this time, and that’s the last of it. On relief the way you are, and drinking your head off.”

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