My world turned upside down in the days that followed. Jack was so upset that she would not even speak to me; not like the other times, now it was real and final. And I was not surprised; I had let her down, I had not done anything to stop that brute from starting her down a road she vowed she would never take. What did astonish me was that, soon after, Jack took up with Dugan—she became his girl, and it appeared to be her idea. They began sleeping together most nights, and I was relegated to the hall, but I could still hear the lovemaking as well as the arguments which sometimes ended violently.
What I should have done that night on Orange Street, was tell Dugan that I would not let Jack be his whore. He would have knocked me down of course, but it probably would have ended with one blow. One blow would have been enough to keep Jack on my side, then the following day I would have taken her out of that wretched city forever. But I had been too frightened to take that one blow and consequently Jack began another life that could not include me.
Dugan’s prostitutes were livid, of course. This woman who had come from nowhere, had been a boy just days before, was now in a position of power and intimate with their manager. Bridget always carried a razor and, without question, was ready to cut Jack’s throat if they were ever alone together.
But the girls took pity on me, another victim of this situation, and allowed me to stay in the room they shared on the third floor of the Old Brewery. Their room was cleaner than Dugan’s, with pictures on the wall, and flowers, sometimes, on the table. They had a pallet that they shared but very seldom were all three in the room at the same time. They never brought the customers back to their room, there were other rooms for that, and sometimes they just did their business in the ally. My schedule being the opposite of theirs, I usually got the mattress to myself. But not always, and in spite of Dugan’s admonitions, whenever I shared the bed with one of them, she would graciously bestow her charms free of charge.
It took about a week of turmoil, but this new situation eventually became normal and, as much as possible, accepted by all involved. During that time I had no contact at all with Jack or Dugan, then one evening Dugan came to talk to me. He was sufficiently humble; knowing he had bested me and taken away something of value, he felt no need to lord it over me. He had come to ask me a favor which had nothing at all to do with Jack.
“I have a business associate on Wall Street,” he said, “a Mr. Thayer who pays me to guarantee his establishment won’t be robbed. Mr. Thayer lives up around 40th Street, and every day he passes Five Points on his way to work. Well, like so many of his class, Thayer is curious about what goes on here after the sun goes down. He wants to do a night of slummin’, but he’s afraid to come down here alone. I’d escort the man meself, but it’s the same night we’ll be fightin’ the Bowery Boys. I was wonderin’ if you’d be available, Jonathan, to give Mr. Thayer a night on the town. He pays well, and it would all go to you.”
A battle with the Bowery Boys (which everyone pronounced Bowery B’hoys) was a dire and momentous occasion. All of the Irish gangs, regardless of how they felt about each other, would band together to fight against their collective enemy, the Bowery Boys, who viewed themselves as true native-born Americans and resented the rising power of the immigrant gangs. For me as an outsider, there was not a nickel’s worth of difference between these two groups of idlers, wastrels, and thieves, but each side kept a tally of the other’s petty insults and transgressions, and when their cards were full there was nothing left but warfare. When Dugan mentioned battle with the Bowery Boys, I was relieved that he had not come to enlist me to fight. I agreed to escort Thayer around Five Points, but I was unclear exactly what I was expected to do.
“Just the usual,” Dugan said, “show him the dancehalls and the dives, get him drunk, get him fucked, then put him in a hack heading back uptown. Beyond that, just do whatever he asks for.”
That evening I put on my preacher’s suit, wanting to make a good impression on Mr. Thayer, who, judging from the addresses of his home and his place of business, was a man of means. I was to meet him on the corner of Cross and Orange at 7:00; it would be a long night, but I would be paid accordingly. Dugan said he would be wearing a carnation in his lapel so that I would recognize him. But I didn’t need the flower; when I saw a man step out of the hackney, impeccably dressed in a perfectly tailored suit and top hat, I knew it had to be Thayer. He was in his thirties, I would say, wearing a neatly trimmed beard and mustache, and carrying a walking stick. He seemed a bit flighty, I thought, but not out of fear; it was more as if he worried that in looking one direction he would miss something in the other.
When I went up and introduced myself, he was exuberantly glad to see me and shook my hand with both of his. He told me he was ready to experience all of Five Points, and I said I would do my best to make that happen.
I had in mind several local resorts to show Mr. Thayer, but he arrived already prepared with a full list of places he wanted to see. From reading the papers, and discussing with other men, he said, he was fully conversant in Five Points nightlife. When he suggested John Allen’s dancehall on Water Street, I thought maybe he meant to make an early night of it, and bed down with one of the whores there. Allen had an army of cheap girls in fancy clothes—black satin bodices, and red silk stockings, red-tipped boots with bells on the ankles. Thayer took a couple of spins on the dance floor and had a jolly time at that, but after a few drinks there he suggested we go to Yankee Sullivan’s, and maybe catch a glimpse of the famous pugilist.
Sullivan, of course, was not there, and with the Dead Rabbits off preparing for battle, his place was quiet that night. We stood at the bar and drank whiskey. Thayer asked me how I liked working for Dugan. I lied and said I liked it just fine. When he asked exactly what I did for Dugan, I turned it around and asked about his job, knowing that nine times out of ten a man would rather talk about his own work than someone else’s. He told me he was a Wall Street broker and speculator.
“You’re the man my father blames for all his troubles,” I said.
Thayer chuckled. “He is not alone in that. What is your father’s occupation?”
“He’s a farmer.”
“Ah.” He said and nodded his head knowingly.
“Tell me something, Mr. Thayer,” I said, “just how would someone like you in New York trouble my father in Massachusetts?”
“It’s all misunderstanding.” he said, “I’ll put it simply; farming is risky business. To add some certainty, a farmer will sign a paper to sell his crops at a fixed price in the spring before they are even planted. He knows exactly what he’ll get for his crops. But if the price is higher at harvest time, they feel we have cheated them. They want it both ways.”
“Then what do you do with the crops?”
He chuckled again. “We never see the crops. We wait for a better price then sell the paper to someone who deals in that sort of thing,”
“I think I see,” I said, “It balances out because if the price is lower at harvest time, you lose money.”
This really made him laugh, “We never lose money, Jonathan.”
He tried to explain the nature of the deals he did, putting things together and taking them apart and doing it all with someone else’s money. I did not follow most of it, but I was left with the impression that maybe my father was right, and respectable as this man was, his dealings were no less shady than Dugan’s.
All the talk of speculation had set his mind on gambling and Thayer suggested we go next to Kit Burn’s Sportsmen’s Hall. Kit Burn’s place featured dog fighting and similar spectacles for the purpose of betting. My only attempt at gambling, the card game on the riverboat, had ended badly enough to cure me of that curse for life. Since I didn’t gamble or share the typical Five Pointer’s love of blood sport, I seldom went to Kit Burn’s. But Dugan said to do what Thayer wanted, so that is where we went.
We joined a crowd packed tightly around the rat-pit, so called because the amusement there often involved betting on which of several terriers could kill the most rats while the crowd looked on. That night, though, it was straight dog fighting—betting on which of two dogs would win a fight to the death. When I told Thayer I didn’t gamble, he gave me money to bet so I could join in the fun anyway. I just bet on the same dogs he did. Either Thayer was a very lucky man, or he had some knowledge of dogs, for we won every bet. I sensed that Thayer was not a man who relied on luck.
The sport was as brutal as you can imagine, and beyond the betting, the sight of two dogs tearing the flesh off of each other until one lay motionless in a pool of his own blood, seemed to rile the blood of all who watched. Arguments over wagers turned into fistfights and when one bettor stabbed another, Thayer and I joined the crowd rushing out the door lest we were stuck inside when the guns came out.
When we were back on the street, I thought maybe it would be time to find Thayer a girl and finish off his adventure. We had been drinking whiskey all night and feared that if he drank much more, a girl would do him no good. But Thayer had his own ideas.
“There is something I have read about and have always been curious to try.” He said, “I understand that opium is available somewhere in the Five Points.”
This was a surprise. I knew less about opium than I did about gambling. I knew there were some Chinese in Five Points who dealt in the stuff but I did not know where to look. Thayer knew the way, though. He led lead me straight to a door on Mott Street with a hand-drawn sign in Chinese characters. We went through the door and into a dark hall where we were met by a Chinaman in silk pajamas with a long black braid down his back. No words were spoken; little communication was necessary. Thayer paid some money, and the man pulled aside a curtain, gesturing us to walk through.
He wasn’t fooling me; Thayer had been there before.