Page:Manhattan Transfer (John Dos Passos, 1925).djvu/169

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Longlegged Jack of the Isthmus

157

slept late after all that and kept you waiting, poor child, an hour in the Times Drug Store?"

Joe Harland stood in his hall bedroom with his hands in his pockets staring at the picture of The Stag at Bay that hung crooked in the middle of the verdegris wall that hemmed in the shaky iron bed. His clawcold fingers moved restlessly in the bottoms of his trousers pockets. He was talking aloud in a low even voice: "Oh, it's all luck you know, but that's the last time I try the Merivales. Emily'd have given it to me if it hadn't been for that damned old tightwad. Got a soft spot in her heart Emily has. But none of em seem to realize that these things aren't always a man's own fault. It's luck that's all it is, and Lord knows they used to eat out of my hand in the old days." His rising voice grated on his ears. He pressed his lips together. You're getting batty old man. He stepped back and forth in the narrow space between the bed and the wall. Three steps. Three steps. He went to the washstand and drank out of the pitcher. The water tasted of rank wood and sloppails. He spat the last mouthful back. I need a good tenderloin steak not water. He pounded his clenched fists together. I got to do something. I got to do something.

He put on his overcoat to hide the rip in the seat of his trousers. The frayed sleeves tickled his wrists. The dark stairs creaked. He was so weak he kept grabbing the rail for fear of falling. The old woman pounced out of a door on him in the lower hall. The rat had squirmed sideways on her head as if trying to escape from under the thin gray pompadour.

"Meester Harland how about you pay me tree veeks rent?

"I'm just on my way out to cash a check now, Mrs. Budkowitz. You've been so kind about this little matter. . . . And perhaps it will interest you to know that I have