Continued from here:
Bill Wadlegh had heard of luck but he had rarely met it.
Oh, there’d been a time when things were different for him. He’d talked about that to all and sundry, and said it again without prompting. The more alcohol was involved, the more he’d talk about it in detail, but unlike some drunks – and he knew he was no drunk, no man would call him that and get away with it – he never told everything, never spilled his guts to any cheap fool in a bar, any tart looking for whatever coins he might have. No sir, not Bill. He was a practical man and he was a man’s man, and he wasn’t going to spend his time going over all his troubles when the lesson could be more easily told in simpler terms.
“Dammit, you fool, don’t come here with your slop talk, your complaints. You think I care for it? You think I came to the City just to hear you cry and moan? You think I came here just to hear you say that you’re a proud son of a father who doesn’t understand you? You think I came here just to hear you say how you’re a good woman at heart? Shut your mouth and have a drink, and I’ll tell you what’s hard in life.”
The rants varied depending on the audience but Bill had his message and he knew how to make it clear to people, and once or twice he had them cowering in a corner. Damn puppies, think they have anything to complain about, they don’t know what suffering is, they think it’s something to do with sobbing over some cheap gin about their empty wallets, their diseases they got from that cheap slut over one street, that one cop they forgot to pay off. Idiots!
“I’ll have you know, I’ll have you KNOW, you damn cheapskate, you miserable cow, what suffering is. You’ll hear it about it from me, and you’ll be hearing about it. You can’t escape from it. When that day comes for you all you’ll be thinking about, all you’ll want to remember, is what I was telling you, and if you’re going to just sit there and pretend not to listen, if you’re going to give me the eye, then to hell with you, because you’re getting free talk from me, and that talk, that’s what’s going to have you save your worthless backside. Nothing else will.”
He had had it rough, he knew. And damned if they’d ever find out everything, those vultures. He’d never tell them what he saw when he was growing up, those milksops, they couldn’t handle it and they wouldn’t be able to understand. Some of the stories might freeze a man to the bones, might cause a woman to faint, dammit, he’d seen it, he’d lived it. To think that some people would just cry when they couldn’t get their rotgut every day, he’d wanted nothing more than to grab them, throw them to the ground, ask them where they thought they deserved any consideration. They wanted people to hear their stories? Nobody was interested in them, them or their stories. Ingrates!
“I wouldn’t be telling any of you this, ANY of you, if I didn’t think you needed it, and you do, and don’t think it’s out of some sense of kindness. Kindness! None of you know it, none of you deserve it, you’re all dregs, filth, and think you’re better than that. Think you’ll be walking the fancy streets one day, a husband to watch after you, a clean woman by your side? Well-behaved brats following you in the street all simpering and polite? GodDAMN if you think you even think that’s real, and godDAMN you if you think you deserve it in the slightest. You’re down here for a reason, and the only reason is because you’re worse than scum. This is the only place for you in the City unless you ever have the guts to leave, and none of you ever will, and I’m the one who’ll be telling you that, I’m the one telling you NOW.”
They tried to look somewhere else from time to time, they tried to pretend he wasn’t speaking to him, oh he knew that beyond a doubt, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. Stop HIM? He couldn’t be stopped before and now that he was here, he was going to make it clear that not only could he not be stopped but that he was a damned force of nature, he was the one going to be making all these liars get it through their heads, stop lying to THEMSELVES about what they were and what they were going to be doing every damned day, hitting the bottle, lost in their opium, raping and murdering and god knows what else. He’d seen them all, every one of them, all trying to pretend otherwise, all trying to pretend they were the ones that were sinned against, he’d even seen a few pretend to pray. Like God would hear any of them!
“You’ll never get what you say is your fair share, you’ll never even think to try for that. You’ll just wish it all away, gamble every last dime you ever stole or cheated out of someone, every LAST one, and you’ll think you’ll know what bad luck is. I KNOW what bad luck is, I KNOW what it means to suffer, and damn you all if you think you can ignore me. Damn you ALL if you think you can keep me quiet! I’ll tell you fools all again, this is all you will ever be able to get out of life, this is ALL you’ll ever be able to manage! It’ll be nothing for you in the end but a cheap grave and maybe some old fool of a priest mumbling over you. That’s all you’ll ever GET.”
And Bill Wadlegh would turn back to his beer, and wait for the time to say it all again.
“You, you’re smarter than most.”
Bill was back in his building, one room over from where he stayed as he could. He had some money, hoarded it, spent it carefully, not much, he knew it would all be stolen from him at some point, so he kept little on him. He didn’t trust anyone in this building, almost, and he figured his neighbor would be in his room at some point in the end. But they’d been talking one day, bored, unable to do anything but sit around and wait for the weather to change, and they’d talked since. He thought his neighbor was all right, a queer sort but not disrespectful.
“You know to listen.”
“It’s true, Bill. I have to.”
Bill regarded that a bit carefully, but sensed no mockery. Bill’d forgotten the other’s last name some time ago and he hadn’t offered it up again, so Bill figured there was no reason for it. But he had feelings about his new first name and said so.
“Call yourself Fred, call yourself Dick, whatever matters to you, boy. But Black Dick? What kind of fool do you think I am? You think I’m supposed to be frightened of you, is that your plan?”
“Not my plan at all, Bill. I’m out to frighten others.”
“Huh.” Bill burped, then took back some more of the beer that Dick or whatever he wanted to be called had offered to share with him – now that, Bill thought, that was a sign of respect. Always seemed to have a drink to share when Bill felt the need, and again, Bill was no drunk, never a drunk. Just good to have that around, though. “You think you will?”
“I think I’ll…I’ll do something, Bill. Make that mark I always knew I was going to make in life.”
“Anyone else told me that, I would laugh at ‘em first, take their wallet next, grind them into dirt. Fool’s talk, Dick, or ‘Black’ Dick or whatever it is now.”
Bill thought his neighbor seemed both a little put out and also somehow grimmer. He pulled at his mustache, then stood and walked around in the room, watched by Bill, who said nothing but had another sip of the brew. It was good enough beer, better than swill, Bill had had better but Bill wasn’t going to complain.
“Bill, I’ve got to ask you a question.” His voice was suddenly abrupt and Bill frowned at him. “You’ll think me a fool, I know, but if I don’t ask, I’ll think something’s wrong with me. I haven’t even told Josie.”
“Why would you tell her? What use is she for anything beyond what she is?” Bill knew his way around women and knew that Josie, who barely spoke to him when all three were together, thought herself high and mighty, nose to the air. He’d long wanted to show her what he thought of her, but he respected the arrangement she had with Dick…Black Dick, fine…and if he wanted to associate with a woman like that, fine. He’d heard the arguments and also what sounded like a blow or two, which was fine with him. Let him do what Bill couldn’t, and longed to do, in that way and in others.
“What do you think of these walls, Bill?” He moved to the wall he shared with Bill’s room and rapped on it hard. “Do they seem stable to you?”
“Stable?” Bill frowned at the other, wondering if he really had become a bit of a fool after all. “This building’s a deathtrap disaster, it’ll burn to the ground one day and probably with us in it. You think that wall is solid? Boy I’ve heard you and Josie in here almost every night, doing everything – yes, I mean everything – and some nights I’ve wanted to punch my damn fist through it just to let you know how I feel. But I don’t, because you show respect, but you think these walls have anything like that? They’re trash.” Bill found himself angry in a way that surprised even himself. Why be in a rage over a wall? A stupid thing, especially a wall like this.
He looked at Bill thoughtfully, then turned back to look at the wall. After a second, he said, “Bill, have you ever seen these walls…these walls move?”
“MOVE?” Bill lurched to his feet, swaying a bit. Damned floors, they were never built right, not to the way Bill thought. “Maybe I do think you’re a fool now. These walls are thin, but walls don’t move. Not unless you’ve been making it seem like they have with all that stuff you take.”
He looked angrily at Bill but said nothing in response. Bill sat back down in the chair with a snort and shook his head. “Moving walls. That is something new to me. But you want to believe it, you can.”
There was a knock at the door. Bill hated being interrupted. “Whatever you want can wait! We’re talking in here.” Bill looked at his neighbor. “That is unless you mind.”
“No, no I—” His neighbor suddenly pulled up when he heard the voice on the other side of the door.
“I must say, Richard, I had not realized that you had let your neighbor do your speaking for you. It seems a bit strange.”
Bill recognized the voice and growled inwardly. He quickly rose again and jerked open the door with an angry start.
“It would be you.” Bill stared at him for a few seconds, then turned slightly. “I think I’d better leave now. The air in here will just get worse.” He turned back, paused and then sneered at the new visitor. “And to think I share your name.”
“Just the first. Thankfully not the last.”
Bill brushed him aside and decided to go down into the street. There were people who he should talk to, and he’d rather not have to listen to a conversation he’d already heard some fifty or so times.