I'm pretty good at loitering. If you loiter too aggressively, people get upset, maybe a cop will move you along. Cross the line into vagrancy, maybe the cop will take you in. I was standing across the Avenue C from the Vanderbilt House Grill Restaurant, and I was standing in such a way that most passersby didn't even see that I was there.
Could be that they weren't noticing me because it was starting to snow, and all they could see was wherever they were going, but I preferred to think it was skill. Little Augie Orgen was paying me twenty dollars a day plus expenses, and even in my own head, I didn't want to think he was getting a bad deal. Compared to some of the people I worked for, Little Augie was a sweetheart, but that meant not getting set on fire before he killed me, if I cheated him.
Not that I had any reason to cheat him. All I had to do to earn my double sawbuck for the day was to endure a little cold, and watch some fireworks. Which were about to start; Izzy Rubinstein, one of the best stink-bombers in the business, was headed through the Vanderbilt's front door.
A job like that, you go in, throw your bombs, and get out before anyone has a chance to get between you and the door. Izzy went in, but he didn't come out. Not for a half hour. When he did come out, he jammed his hat down and headed off, more or less in my direction.
I got in his way, and he tried to knock me down. Unlike a lot of people who work for Little Augie, I'm not a professional bruiser, but I'm also not a guy you can just walk over. "Hey," I said, when he bumped me. "What's your problem, Mac?"
Izzy knew me, but the look he gave was utterly devoid of recognition. He just bounced off and kept going, headed over to the el. "Hey," I said, running to catch up, but the little guy put on the gas, and started a full out run, his hat falling off in his haste.
I had longer legs than Izzy, and maybe I could have caught him, but what the hell would've been the point? I wanted him to tell me how things had gone, and he had told me, even if he hadn't used words. Augie had called me in because it looked like there was magic involved, and it turned out he was right. I picked up Izzy's hat, and ducked into a drugstore to make a call.
"Gurrah," I said, once I was connected, "It's Benny Newman. Put me through to Little Augie."
Some guys, when they get an uncomplimentary nickname, they didn't like that. Ben Siegel, for instance, didn't like it when people called him Bugsy. Once he put a fire-ax through a guy's head for calling him Bugsy, which didn't exactly disprove the claim that he was a violent nutcase. Hell, it didn't even stop people from calling him Bugsy. The sort of crowd he ran with wasn't discouraged by the occasional fire-ax.
Other guys, they didn't mind so much. Gurrah Shapiro, the guy who had grunted at me on the phone, was called that because while he liked to tell people to "get out of here", he couldn't pronounce English so well. He never complained about it, to the best of my knowledge. Could be because I never understood a word the man said.
Jacob "Little Augie" Orgen was five foot nothing, but not only he didn't mind being called Little Augie, when he was a kid, he called his gang the Little Augies. Now, he calls them things like the New York Laundry Workers Union, The Tailors and Seamstress's Union, AFL local chapters 9316, 1400, and 3141, and so on. Different names, same faces.
"Mister Newman," said Little Augie, once I was on. "What's the news?"
"The news is that Izzy didn't stinkbomb the Vanderbilt House Grill Restaurant," I said. "I didn't get a chance to talk to him about it, but it looks like you were right."
"Can you do something about it?"
"Hell of a question," I said. "I don't know."
Augie didn't say anything, which meant that I had to come up with a better answer. "Look," I said. "Everything has a hole in it somewhere, right? I'll try a few things, and see what I can do."
"Fine," said Augie. "Come down, we'll talk about it."
Augie's office was down on the Lower East Side, and it seemed like I had to go visit him, so I walked over to 2nd Avenue, paid my nickel, and got on the train.
As I understood it, the problem Augie had with the Vanderbilt House Grill Restaurant was that its owner, a gentleman by the name of George Vanderbilt, was paying his workers 43 cents an hour, and having them work 70 hour weeks. Union rate was a dollar an hour, and Union rules said that they couldn't work more than 53 hours a week. George Vanderbilt also wasn't paying Augie anything to overlook those transgressions. Normally Augie would solve problems like that with stinkbombs and strikes and lead pipes in back alleys, but something was stopping that. Sometimes, you need magic to fight magic.
Which is where I came in. The problem was that I was nothing like good enough to take this guy on, assuming that he had stopped Izzy and turned him around using nothing other than magic. I know some things, but I'm not the most talented guy in the business. Results like that aren't anything I can manage.
Augie's office was upstairs from a grocery store. The snow had picked up while I was on the train, but there were still some people at work on the streets. For instance, there were two guys in gray coats and homburgs loading something into the back of a Hudson, in the alley behind the grocery. I didn't see them, they didn't see me, and I made my way upstairs, past a few other guys I didn't see.