The Straight Dope
It is all good and well for Pop to yell at me about the Law, but I think Pop does not realize sometimes it can get to be very discouraging indeed. For instance, ever since these courthouse characters where Pop used to work as a legman, ever since they framed him up the river, Pop is telling me, Georgie, he sez—says—you got to do like the Law tells you to do, just as if you was grown up and could get sent to the Pen.
And now Bennie, my brother-in,law, who is a attorney-at-law, my sister having got tired listening to Pop and decided to get the straight dope, now Bennie says I am an infant according to the Book, and that I got to do things different from the way grown up people do sometimes, and this is all very confusing.
Now the thing is, I got lots of contacts here on Cherry Street, and I got my good name as a business man to think of, too, so it is very discouraging at this point to find out for instance that I cannot sign my name to a contract and have it mean something, and my word is worthless because I am a legal infant.
Our gang has always gone strictly by contracts, on account my old man had beat this idea into me, and I seen to it, or rather me and my pal Muggsy, we seen—saw to it, together, that our gang did not act like Dead End Kids, we always went according to the Book, and always wrote out contracts when there was something important, like money, in the deal; and this is OK as long as it is strictly between us but it looks now like all our contracts is about as good as Hitler’s treaties was, and are only scraps of paper, like they say on the radio, on account the Law says we are all only infants, and our names do not mean a thing.
In some ways, it is good now that I know this, but I will say I could have saved a lot of trouble for Muggsy and I if I had known it before; and I would still have my good name, which without it I can not be a successful business man. I figured I had this contract business solid after the first time I make a mistake. This time, Muggsy and me, we thought we was being pretty smart, in spite of being honest. There is a very nasty guy on our block, name of Gink Fordham. Gink is what he was always been called, although he has a name like Sommers or something, but Gink is what he is called, because he is such a gink and always was one, even when he was no higher than the front stoop.
Well this Gink, he is a year, two, younger than Muggsy and me and an awful pain in the neck. He is always making fun of the Law, and says we are a couple of dopes who would not be able to go according to the Book no matter how hard we tried, because he sez it is full of tricks that only a lawyer could figure out, and furthermore that all lawyers are crooks. I cannot let him get away with that, on account Benny being married to my sister.
Well, Muggsy an’ me, we had to take care of this junior G-man, so we get on to something that we was sure would get him, and that is still strictly legal. We got the angle one day when we was waiting around old man Hoffman’s where we get a job sometimes delivering groceries, end Gink’s ma was in there shootin’ off her mouth to the neighbors about her angel boy, an’ she says she don’t know what to do because her darling cannot stand the smell of cooking cabbage and gets sick from it, and the neighbors in the flat downstairs are forever cookin’ cabbage; the smell comes up through the air shaft, and she can’t shut the window on account the heat.
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An Awful Pain in the Neck
Muggsy and me, we look at each other, and right away I know he got the same idea I got. We go take us a little stroll by the fruit market, and Muggsy walks by and there is a cabbage on the ground, on account he walked too close, and I find it on the ground, which is strictly legal, on account if you find something it aint—isn’t—the same as stealing it, and I found this here cabbage. We take it up to my place, on account Muggsy’ ma would’ve asked too many questions, and boil it up good—just a piece of it, that is, saving the rest for other days.
Now this Gink, he delivers newspapers, and he has a regular route he got to go on every morning. Well Muggsy and me, we get up early the next morning after that cabbage is cooked good, and put each of us a little piece in a paper bag, and we go take us another stroll right along Gink’s route, maybe a half a dozen feet ahead of Gink. He was trying to lose us, we could see that, but as slow as he went, we could go slower, and he had to get his papers out, so he had to walk behind us all the way, an’ it was a nice hot summer day, too.
Next day we do the same, and the day after, and Gink, he knew what it was all about. But there wasn’t anything the poor gink could go about it. It is a free country, and we have as much a right to walk around town with a paper bag full of cooked cabbage as this Gink has to deliver his papers, And he got to deliver the papers, too, so he is stuck.
Well, we didn’t say nothin’ to him, we just waited. And after a few more days of this, Gink is beginning to turn pale green just at the sight of us, an’ finally, he come up to us one day when we had left the cabbage bags at home, on account we was all slicked up for a date with a couple sweet chicks from the next block, and he sez, Georgie, he sez, I will make a deal. We look like we do not know what he is talking about, until he come out and says, I know I have been antagganizin’ you, and I will not do it any more, if you will only stop following me around with cabbage.
“Who’s been following who?” we sez. “We notice you seem to be behind us every time we go out for a pleasure stroll in the morning lately.
“Muggsie” he sez, because he knows Muggsie got a softer heart than me—“Muggsie, will you please believe me, I will not talk about Georgie’s Pop any more, or about lawyers.”
Well, we finally make a deal with him, and we make him go down with us to the Cherry Street Boys’ Club where we got a basement club room for our gang, and we got paper and pens and everything for a contract, and he signs on the dotted line that he will not say anything more like he was saying, and that furthermore, whereas he had been a chief offender in the past, he would henceforth tell us should anybody he knew make any remarks of the same nature.
So he signed, and we did, and it was a contract.
Couple weeks after, we hear of a kid shootin’ off about lawyers and about our gang, the Cherry Street Boys’ Club, going always according to the Book, and this Gink was standing around and didn’t do nothing. Well, this is breach of contract, and we could sue him for it, and so we went to see Bennie, and to find out for sure, on account there have been too many times before when we was ready to sue somebody, and found out after we made public laughingstocks of ourselves that we were wrong.
(To find out what Bennie said, see Chapter 4 - WHAT BENNIE TOLD GEORGIE. Did they, or did they not have a contract? Forget about the underage ; this is strictly between us boys.)
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Gettin’ Straightened Out
Well, after Bennie got us all straightened out, and we had found out everything all about contracts, this other business come along that has left me so discouraged. Like I said I got contacts in this neighborhood, and I have built up a pretty fair name for myself as a guy who can be depended on if he ses he can produce anything. And now Sandy Malone is going around tearing down my reputation, and I do not see what I can do about it, because he is absolutely right, and I cannot go around telling people what a dope I was and that I did not know, but from now on I am not going into any other people’s business, but will stick strictly to two-party deals.
This Sandy Malone he runs the bowling alley down the corner, and he ask me one day did I want to be a pin boy. Well I did not care to do anything so warm in the summertime, but I did manage to locate some suckers for him, an after a while he come to depend on me to replace them as they dropped out, because it is quite some job down there on a hot day.
Well, all the kids knew I was working practically as personnel manager for Sandy. He didn’t pay me nothin’, but I could bowl free any time there was an empty alley, an’ this kind of exercise I like better than setten em up. Sandy was happy, cause he knew I knew which kids could be trusted, on account there’s a lot of portable stuff around a bowling alley. Well, like I said, all the kids knew I was the in-between man for Sandy Malone if they wanted to do any business with him. Then one day Johnnie Graumeier comes to me with a business proposition.
Johnnie is a pretty old guy. He’s almost twenty-one, and he has been running a sort of second-hand business, buying and selling stuff, ever since he got his working papers. He says he has seen Malone about this deal, but as Malone does not know him, he will not okay it unless I say the word. Malone says I am his gent or something, and if I give the word Johnny is okay, the deal is on.
Well, I have known Johnnie a long time, and I know he has been dealing in small stuff, so I was a little surprised to find out what he wants to sell Malone is a complete refreshment counter. He will bring all the fittings and fixings, only he will not install it, but he’s giving it away practically, he sez, it’s so cheap. Like said, I was surprised to find him up in this half-agrand-class, but I use to know him pretty well, a few years back, though I have not seen much of him lately, and I figure he’s okay. I am very flattered too, that Malone thinks so much of my judgment, so after I think about it a while, and ask around to see if anybody knows if he’s been mixed up in anything I don’t know about, I give Malone the go-ahead.
Well, everything went fine, right up to the end. Johnny delivered this here fountain and counter, and it sure was a beaut, and worth a lot more than the five hundred Malone was paying. He collected his dough, and the next day, just as Sandy was starting to install it, on account of being too cheap to have some carpenters do it for him, Johnny comes around and says he wants it back.
“What the H—?” sez Sandy.
Johnny says, “You got to give it back, and here is your money.”
“This is oney three hundred,” sea Sandy.
Johnny sez, that’s right, and you got to give it back anyhow, because I am a minor, and I have spent the other two hundred and do not have it anymore, I find I do not have legal right to this property I have sold you and must return it.
I was hangin’ around that day, and Sandy turns at me, and sez, “What’s goin’ on here? What you got to do with this?”
But I was just standin there with my mouth open, an after Sandy got all done bawlin’ me out, I ran an got Bennie.
(What Bennie told Georgie this time is in the next chapter. You’re in for a surprise.)
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What Bennie Told Georgie
(1) This agreement signed by Gink and Georgie and Muggsy was not a contract, no matter how old the three were, first of all because it was onesided, and a court will always hold up to question an agreement whereby one party performs a service for another, with no expressed return. More important, however, is the fact that this agreement concerns a moral obligation, since no exchange of money is involved, but only a normally friendly service, Gink cannot be held legally responsible. If Georgie had promised to do a similar service for Gink, the first objection would be satisfied, but the second would hold true.
(2) Although they had not signed anything, Malone and Johnny had made a contract, but only Malone was bound by it. The law does some peculiar things where minors are concerned. Although in this case, Johnny’s intentions were clearly dishonest, the law assumes that a minor is not sufficiently clearheaded to pull off a deal like this, and would interpret the whole exchange as though Johnny had made a sale he did not fully intend, then, after spending some of the money, wanted to revoke the sale, and he would be allowed to get his goods back in return for what part of the money he still had. The object of the law is to discourage contracts with minors, since in the large majority of cases, if anyone was cheated, it would be the minor.
Incidentally, contrary to popular opinion, Johnny’s parents would not be liable for the other two hundred dollars. They would be liable only if they were present at the scene of the transaction or if Johnny were in some way engaged on some errand or job for them at the time that he made the deal.
~ The End ~
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By Thrya Samter Winslow
(56 min read)
The Black Mask | Aug. 1922 | Vol. 5 No. 5
The story about the execution of Stuart Dennison shook Irma as she recalled her old life back in New York. Before she was Irma Martin. When she was Mrs. Stuart Dennison.
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