Time, in the changeless world of a prison cell, very quickly loses all meaning. The scenery in the dark cell never varied. My cellmate slept silently, his face to the wall, as still as death. Through the iron grating of the cell door, I could see the other cells on the tier, a scene fixed and stationary like a painting on canvas. The random voices of the other prisoners, muted and unintelligible, were the only signs of life and soon faded into the background of my awareness becoming nothing more significant than crickets on a hot summer night.
How long did I sit in the cell? One hour? Three hours? A full day? I had no way to tell. Perhaps I had finally died and gone to hell and was experiencing eternity. In some ways, the timeless calm was preferable to the frantic and dangerous activity of my normal earthly existence, but not enough to mitigate the ponderous and unrelenting boredom.
At length, the jailer returned and took me from the cell and walked me out of the prison. We entered a narrow corridor with windows on both sides overlooking the city; “The Bridge of Sighs” the jailer called it. On the other side of the bridge was the criminal court building. We entered a crowded courtroom, and I was thrown back into the familiar din of worldly chaos. I sat on a bench to await my turn to appear before a judge who was meting out justice to a motley assortment of petty criminals. Drunks, brawlers, prostitutes, and thieves of every stripe were brought before the judge. Everyone seemed to speak at once until the judge pounded his gavel and read his sentence, which invariably sent the prisoner back into the Tombs.
When I was called, the officer who arrested me also stood before the judge while a city attorney read the charges against me. The judge asked me my name and where I lived. I told who I was and said I lived at the Old Brewery in the room of Mr. Dugan.
“Dugan of the Dead Rabbits?” asked the policeman, speaking for the first time.
“Yes, sir,” I said, “I believe Mr. Dugan is a member of that organization.”
The officer looked concerned, “And are you in the employ of Mr. Dugan?”
“You could say that, yes.”
The policeman whispered something in the attorney’s ear, and the attorney nodded.
“Your honor we would like to request a continuance of this case while we investigate the matter more fully.” said the attorney.
“Granted.” said the judge with a pound of the gavel. The next case was called, and I was returned to my timeless jail cell.
When next I was taken from my cell I did not cross the Bridge of Sighs, but was escorted out of the Tombs through the same side door I entered. Outside the door, the officer who arrested me was chatting with Dugan. The jailer handed me over to my arresting officer who handed me over to Dugan.
“Thanks again, Murphy,” said Dugan.
“My pleasure,” said the policeman, “just try to keep a shorter leash on this one, Dugan.”
Dugan said not a word as he walked me back to the Old Brewery and into his room. He shut the door behind us, then smacked me across the face with the back of his hand with so much force that it knocked me onto the floor.
“What in the name of Chroist was ya thinkin’, Jonathan?” he screamed at me, “stealin’ in front of a copper. Didja even look to see if ya was safe? And stealin’ apples? If there is any risk at all of getting caught, at least make sure the score is worth it.”
Dugan continued to berate me loudly, and I could offer no defense. There was no way to hide my utter lack of experience in big city theft. Soon Dugan calmed down a bit and explained to me the complications my error had caused him.
“Dealing with the police is a tricky thing, Jonathan. They’ll turn a blind eye to most anything if you make sure they get a cut, but there are some things they can’t ignore. One is stealing right under their noses. Makes ‘em look bad; makes the citizens restless. Complaints get filed, and the whole system gets a shakin’. I had to call in a favor to get you out of the Tombs, not to mention the embarrassment you caused me. Were the police so lax when you were on the Eire that you could practice theft in front of their eyes, or is there no law at all on the canal?”
I was tempted to say the latter, but I knew the question was rhetorical. I just stayed on the floor until I thought the storm had subsided. Dugan got quiet and, thinking the worst was over, I rose to my feet. It was premature; I was no sooner standing than he smacked me down again and continued screaming at me. This cycle might have gone on all afternoon had not Jack burst into the room.
“Look what I stole, I bet I outdone Pratt.” Jack said. She was carrying a three foot tall painted statue; a woman in a light blue robe trimmed in gold. “Everything’s locked up so tight in this town I was having no luck at all. Then I went inside the biggest church I ever seen and it’s just loaded with goods that no one is guarding. There’s a box of money in there ripe for the taking, but I thought this statue would impress you more, the gold alone has to be worth something.”
Dugan just stared at her, his mouth gaping nearly as wide as his eyes. He took the statue from Jack’s arms and gently set it on the floor. Then with the back of his hand across her face, he knocked Jack onto the floor.
“Ya don’t steal from the goddamn church, Jack.” He screamed, “How big a fool are ya comin’ in here carrying the Virgin Mary? J’ever stop to think there might be a reason the church ain’t guarded? Everything inside there belongs to God and the priest and the parishioners and believe me, you don’t want to get on the bad side of any of them.”
“Well, I ain’t Catholic,” Jack said.
Dugan kicked her in the ribs.
“Shut up,” he said. “Just when I’m thinkin’ there’s no one stupider in the world than Jonathan Pratt, you come through the door, Jack, with the Holy Mother under your arm. There is no way I can maintain my criminal operations in Five Points without the good graces of the police and the church; in one morning’s work, you two half-wits have managed to queer me with both. Now I’ve got to go and make this right with Father Flynn, or none of us will be able to walk down the street in safety. You boys stay here till I get back.”
Dugan picked up the statue and left.