The Titan

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter XXXV: A Political Agreement

In the first and second wards of Chicago at this time—wards including the business heart, South Clark Street, the water-front, the river-levee, and the like—were two men, Michael (alias Smiling Mike) Tiernan and Patrick (alias Emerald Pat) Kerrigan, who, for picturequeness of character and sordidness of atmosphere, could not be equaled elsewhere in the city, if in the nation at large. "Smiling" Mike Tiernan, proud possessor of four of the largest and filthiest saloons of this area, was a man of large and genial mold—perhaps six feet one inch in height, broad-shouldered in proportion, with a bovine head, bullet-shaped from one angle, and big, healthy, hairy hands and large feet. He had done many things from digging in a ditch to occupying a seat in the city council from this his beloved ward, which he sold out regularly for one purpose and another; but his chief present joy consisted in sitting behind a solid mahogany railing at a rosewood desk in the back portion of his largest Clark Street hostelry—"The Silver Moon." Here he counted up the returns from his various properties—salons, gambling resorts, and houses of prostitution—which he manipulated with the connivance or blinking courtesy of the present administration, and listened to the pleas and demands of his henchmen and tenants.

The character of Mr. Kerrigan, Mr. Tiernan's only rival in this rather difficult and sordid region, was somewhat different. He was a small man, quite dapper, with a lean, hollow, and somewhat haggard face, but by no means sickly body, a large, strident mustache, a wealth of coal-black hair parted slickly on one side, and a shrewd, genial brown-black eye—constituting altogether a rather pleasing and ornate figure whom it was not at all unsatisfactory to meet. His ears were large and stood out bat-wise from his head; and his eyes gleamed with a smart, evasive light. He was cleverer financially than Tiernan, richer, and no more than thirty-five, whereas Mr. Tiernan was forty-five years of age. Like Mr. Tiernan in the first ward, Mr. Kerrigan was a power in the second, and controlled a most useful and dangerous floating vote. His saloons harbored the largest floating element that was to be found in the city—longshoremen, railroad hands, stevedores, tramps, thugs, thieves, pimps, rounders, detectives, and the like. He was very vain, considered himself handsome, a "killer" with the ladies. Married, and with two children and a sedate young wife, he still had his mistress, who changed from year to year, and his intermediate girls. His clothes were altogether noteworthy, but it was his pride to eschew jewelry, except for one enormous emerald, value fourteen thousand dollars, which he wore in his necktie on occasions, and the wonder of which, pervading all Dearborn Street and the city council, had won him the soubriquet of "Emerald Pat." At first he rejoiced heartily in this title, as he did in a gold and diamond medal awarded him by a Chicago brewery for selling the largest number of barrels of beer of any saloon in Chicago. More recently, the newspapers having begun to pay humorous attention to both himself and Mr. Tiernan, because of their prosperity and individuality, he resented it.

The relation of these two men to the present political situation was peculiar, and, as it turned out, was to constitute the weak spot in the Cowperwood-McKenty campaign. Tiernan and Kerrigan, to begin with, being neighbors and friends, worked together in politics and business, on occasions pooling their issues and doing each other favors. The enterprises in which they were engaged being low and shabby, they needed counsel and consolation. Infinitely beneath a man like McKenty in understanding and a politic grasp of life, they were, nevertheless, as they prospered, somewhat jealous of him and his high estate. They saw with speculative and somewhat jealous eyes how, after his union with Cowperwood, he grew and how he managed to work his will in many ways—by extracting tolls from the police department, and heavy annual campaign contributions from manufacturers favored by the city gas and water departments. McKenty—a born manipulator in this respect—knew where political funds were to be had in an hour of emergency, and he did not hesitate to demand them. Tiernan and Kerrigan had always been fairly treated by him as politics go; but they had never as yet been included in his inner council of plotters. When he was down-town on one errand or another, he stopped in at their places to shake hands with them, to inquire after business, to ask if there was any favor he could do them; but never did he stoop to ask a favor of them or personally to promise any form of reward. That was the business of Dowling and others through whom he worked.

Naturally men of strong, restive, animal disposition, finding no complete outlet for all their growing capacity, Tiernan and Kerrigan were both curious to see in what way they could add to their honors and emoluments. Their wards, more than any in the city, were increasing in what might be called a vote-piling capacity, the honest, legitimate vote not being so large, but the opportunities afforded for colonizing, repeating, and ballot-box stuffing being immense. In a doubtful mayoralty campaign the first and second wards alone, coupled with a portion of the third adjoining them, would register sufficient illegitimate votes (after voting-hours, if necessary) to completely change the complexion of the city as to the general officers nominated. Large amounts of money were sent to Tiernan and Kerrigan around election time by the Democratic County Committee to be disposed of as they saw fit. They merely sent in a rough estimate of how much they would need, and always received a little more than they asked for. They never made nor were asked to make accounting afterward. Tiernan would receive as high as fifteen and eighteen, Kerrigan sometimes as much as twenty to twenty-five thousand dollars, his being the pivotal ward under such circumstances.

McKenty had recently begun to recognize that these two men would soon have to be given fuller consideration, for they were becoming more or less influential. But how? Their personalities, let alone the reputation of their wards and the methods they employed, were not such as to command public confidence. In the mean time, owing to the tremendous growth of the city, the growth of their own private business, and the amount of ballot-box stuffing, repeating, and the like which was required of them, they were growing more and more restless. Why should not they be slated for higher offices? they now frequently asked themselves. Tiernan would have been delighted to have been nominated for sheriff or city treasurer. He considered himself eminently qualified. Kerrigan at the last city convention had privately urged on Dowling the wisdom of nominating him for the position of commissioner of highways and sewers, which office he was anxious to obtain because of its reported commercial perquisites; but this year, of all times, owing to the need of nominating an unblemished ticket to defeat the sharp Republican opposition, such a nomination was not possible. It would have drawn the fire of all the respectable elements in the city. As a result both Tiernan and Kerrigan, thinking over their services, past and future, felt very much disgruntled. They were really not large enough mentally to understand how dangerous—outside of certain fields of activity—they were to the party.

After his conference with Hand, Gilgan, going about the city with the promise of ready cash on his lips, was able to arouse considerable enthusiasm for the Republican cause. In the wards and sections where the so-called "better element" prevailed it seemed probable, because of the heavy moral teaching of the newspapers, that the respectable vote would array itself almost solidly this time against Cowperwood. In the poorer wards it would not be so easy. True, it was possible, by a sufficient outlay of cash, to find certain hardy bucaneers who could be induced to knife their own brothers, but the result was not certain. Having heard through one person and another of the disgruntled mood of both Kerrigan and Tiernan, and recognizing himself, even if he was a Republican, to be a man much more of their own stripe than either McKenty or Dowling, Gilgan decided to visit that lusty pair and see what could be done by way of alienating them from the present center of power.

After due reflection he first sought out "Emerald Pat" Kerrigan, whom he knew personally but with whom he was by no means intimate politically, at his "Emporium Bar" in Dearborn Street. This particular saloon, a feature of political Chicago at this time, was a large affair containing among other marvelous saloon fixtures a circular bar of cherry wood twelve feet in diameter, which glowed as a small mountain with the customary plain and colored glasses, bottles, labels, and mirrors. The floor was a composition of small, shaded red-and-green marbles; the ceiling a daub of pinky, fleshy nudes floating among diaphanous clouds; the walls were alternate panels of cerise and brown set in rosewood. Mr. Kerrigan, when other duties were not pressing, was usually to be found standing chatting with several friends and surveying the wonders of his bar trade, which was very large. On the day of Mr. Gilgan's call he was resplendent in a dark-brown suit with a fine red stripe in it, Cordovan leather shoes, a wine-colored tie ornamented with the emerald of so much renown, and a straw hat of flaring proportions and novel weave. About his waist, in lieu of a waistcoat, was fastened one of the eccentricities of the day, a manufactured silk sash. He formed an interesting contrast with Mr. Gilgan, who now came up very moist, pink, and warm, in a fine, light tweed of creamy, showy texture, straw hat, and yellow shoes.

"How are you, Kerrigan?" he observed, genially, there being no political enmity between them. "How's the first, and how's trade? I see you haven't lost the emerald yet?"

"No. No danger of that. Oh, trade's all right. And so's the first. How's Mr. Gilgan?" Kerrigan extended his hand cordially.

"I have a word to say to you. Have you any time to spare?"

For answer Mr. Kerrigan led the way into the back room. Already he had heard rumors of a strong Republican opposition at the coming election.

Mr. Gilgan sat down. "It's about things this fall I've come to see you, of course," he began, smilingly. "You and I are supposed to be on opposite sides of the fence, and we are as a rule, but I am wondering whether we need be this time or not?"

Mr. Kerrigan, shrewd though seemingly simple, fixed him with an amiable eye. "What's your scheme?" he said. "I'm always open to a good idea."

"Well, it's just this," began Mr. Gilgan, feeling his way. "You have a fine big ward here that you carry in your vest pocket, and so has Tiernan, as we all know; and we all know, too, that if it wasn't for what you and him can do there wouldn't always be a Democratic mayor elected. Now, I have an idea, from looking into the thing, that neither you nor Tiernan have got as much out of it so far as you might have."

Mr. Kerrigan was too cautious to comment as to that, though Mr. Gilgan paused for a moment.

"Now, I have a plan, as I say, and you can take it or leave it, just as you want, and no hard feelings one way or the other. I think the Republicans are going to win this fall—McKenty or no McKenty—first, second, and third wards with us or not, as they choose. The doings of the big fellow"—he was referring to McKenty—"with the other fellow in North Clark Street"—Mr. Gilgan preferred to be a little enigmatic at times—"are very much in the wind just now. You see how the papers stand. I happen to know where there's any quantity of money coming into the game from big financial quarters who have no use for this railroad man. It's a solid La Salle and Dearborn Street line-up, so far as I can see. Why, I don't know. But so it is. Maybe you know better than I do. Anyhow, that's the way it stands now. Add to that the fact that there are eight naturally Republican wards as it is, and ten more where there is always a fighting chance, and you begin to see what I'm driving at. Count out these last ten, though, and bet only on the eight that are sure to stand. That leaves twenty-three wards that we Republicans always conceded to you people; but if we manage to carry thirteen of them along with the eight I'm talking about, we'll have a majority in council, and"—flick! he snapped his fingers—"out you go—you, McKenty, Cowperwood, and all the rest. No more franchises, no more street-paving contracts, no more gas deals. Nothing—for two years, anyhow, and maybe longer. If we win we'll take the jobs and the fat deals." He paused and surveyed Kerrigan cheerfully but defiantly.

"Now, I've just been all over the city," he continued, "in every ward and precinct, so I know something of what I am talking about. I have the men and the cash to put up a fight all along the line this time. This fall we win—me and the big fellows over there in La Salle Street, and all the Republicans or Democrats or Prohibitionists, or whoever else comes in with us—do you get me? We're going to put up the biggest political fight Chicago has ever seen. I'm not naming any names just yet, but when the time comes you'll see. Now, what I want to ask of you is this, and I'll not mince me words nor beat around the bush. Will you and Tiernan come in with me and Edstrom to take over the city and run it during the next two years? If you will, we can win hands down. It will be a case of share and share alike on everything—police, gas, water, highways, street-railways, everything—or we'll divide beforehand and put it down in black and white. I know that you and Tiernan work together, or I wouldn't talk about this. Edstrom has the Swedes where he wants them, and he'll poll twenty thousand of them this fall. There's Ungerich with his Germans; one of us might make a deal with him afterward, give him most any office he wants. If we win this time we can hold the city for six or eight years anyhow, most likely, and after that—well, there's no use lookin' too far in the future—Anyhow we'd have a majority of the council and carry the mayor along with it."

"If—" commented Mr. Kerrigan, dryly.

"If," replied Mr. Gilgan, sententiously. "You're very right. There's a big 'if' in there, I'll admit. But if these two wards—yours and Tiernan's—could by any chance be carried for the Republicans they'd be equal to any four or five of the others."

"Very true," replied Mr. Kerrigan, "if they could be carried for the Republicans. But they can't be. What do you want me to do, anyhow? Lose me seat in council and be run out of the Democratic party? What's your game? You don't take me for a plain damn fool, do you?"

"Sorry the man that ever took 'Emerald Pat' for that," answered Gilgan, with honeyed compliment. "I never would. But no one is askin' ye to lose your seat in council and be run out of the Democratic party. What's to hinder you from electin' yourself and droppin' the rest of the ticket?" He had almost said "knifing."

Mr. Kerrigan smiled. In spite of all his previous dissatisfaction with the Chicago situation he had not thought of Mr. Gilgan's talk as leading to this. It was an interesting idea. He had "knifed" people before—here and there a particular candidate whom it was desirable to undo. If the Democratic party was in any danger of losing this fall, and if Gilgan was honest in his desire to divide and control, it might not be such a bad thing. Neither Cowperwood, McKenty, nor Dowling had ever favored him in any particular way. If they lost through him, and he could still keep himself in power, they would have to make terms with him. There was no chance of their running him out. Why shouldn't he knife the ticket? It was worth thinking over, to say the least.

"That's all very fine," he observed, dryly, after his meditations had run their course; "but how do I know that you wouldn't turn around and 'welch' on the agreement afterward?" (Mr. Gilgan stirred irritably at the suggestion.) "Dave Morrissey came to me four years ago to help him out, and a lot of satisfaction I got afterward." Kerrigan was referring to a man whom he had helped make county clerk, and who had turned on him when he asked for return favors and his support for the office of commissioner of highways. Morrissey had become a prominent politician.

"That's very easy to say," replied Gilgan, irritably, "but it's not true of me. Ask any man in my district. Ask the men who know me. I'll put my part of the bargain in black and white if you'll put yours. If I don't make good, show me up afterward. I'll take you to the people that are backing me. I'll show you the money. I've got the goods this time. What do you stand to lose, anyhow? They can't run you out for cutting the ticket. They can't prove it. We'll bring police in here to make it look like a fair vote. I'll put up as much money as they will to carry this district, and more."

Mr. Kerrigan suddenly saw a grand coup here. He could "draw down" from the Democrats, as he would have expressed it, twenty to twenty-five thousand dollars to do the dirty work here. Gilgan would furnish him as much and more—the situation being so critical. Perhaps fifteen or eighteen thousand would be necessary to poll the number of votes required either way. At the last hour, before stuffing the boxes, he would learn how the city was going. If it looked favorable for the Republicans it would be easy to complete the victory and complain that his lieutenants had been suborned. If it looked certain for the Democrats he could throw Gilgan and pocket his funds. In either case he would be "in" twenty-five to thirty thousand dollars, and he would still be councilman.

"All very fine," replied Mr. Kerrigan, pretending a dullness which he did not feel; "but it's damned ticklish business at best. I don't know that I want anything to do with it even if we could win. It's true the City Hall crowd have never played into my hands very much; but this is a Democratic district, and I'm a Democrat. If it ever got out that I had thrown the party it would be pretty near all day with me.

"I'm a man of my word," declared Mr. Gilgan, emphatically, getting up. "I never threw a man or a bet in my life. Look at me record in the eighteenth. Did you ever hear any one say that I had?"

"No, I never did," returned Kerrigan, mildly. "But it's a pretty large thing you're proposing, Mr. Gilgan. I wouldn't want to say what I thought about it offhand. This ward is supposed to be Democratic. It couldn't be swung over into the Republican column without a good bit of fuss being made about it. You'd better see Mr. Tiernan first and hear what he has to say. Afterward I might be willing to talk about it further. Not now, though—not now."

Mr. Gilgan went away quite jauntily and cheerfully. He was not at all downcast.

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