Nothing Happens in Brooklyn

Damon Runyon

April 30 1938

Monday night my wife Ethel ses to me Joe nothing ever happens in this Godforsaken part of Brooklyn. We might as well be dead and buried for all we ever see over here

I ses look Ethel I have saw all I ever want to see and I am only too glad to get home to where it is peace and quiet after working hard all day. I ses anyway this part of Brooklyn is not Godforsaken. I ses my family the Turps have lived around here all my life and so has yours and none of them ever kicked about it much.

Ethel ses yes but nothing ever happens here. I get awful tired of setting around where nothing happens. I ses what do you want to happen? She ses well anything except morning noon and night. I would like to see something new and exciting now and then.

I ses well Ethel if you want a little excitement why don’t you go down the street past the Cassidys’ house. I ses I saw Mabel Cassidy going home just now and it is six thirty so she is bound to be late getting Jim’s dinner and he will be boiling mad at her. I ses the fight is about due to start right now.

Ethel ses well that is not new or exciting and Jim Cassidy is no gentleman. He is awfully jealous of Mabel and every time she is two minutes late he thinks she stopped to talk to some fellow. I ses maybe she did and Ethel ses well all right suppose she did what harm is there in that? Does somebody’s husband have to get jealous every time somebody talks to a fellow?

I ses no I guess not Ethel and she ses would you be jealous of me if I stopped to talk to some fellow? I ses what fellow? She ses any fellow. I ses of course not Ethel baby. I ses I would never be jealous of you and she ses now that’s just it. You do not love me like Jim Cassidy loves Mabel or you would be jealous of me. Everybody is jealous of somebody they really love.

I ses listen Ethel sugar plum, I ses you know I love you ten times more than Jim Cassidy loves Mabel and to prove it I am going to give you a kiss and take you to the movies to see Joan Crawford. Ethel ses why that will be fine Joe and we can stop at the Cassidys’ afterwards and find out what happened.

Tuesday night Clem Chambers who lived next door came knocking at our back door and when I opened it and ses hello Clem he ses Joe this neighborhood is getting terrible. Here I come home to visit my Moms and I find a cop setting out on our front steps with Myrt McGuire. It is enough to make a fellow feel like moving somewheres else.

My wife Ethel heard him and she ses why Clem that is only Petey Angelo setting there with Myrt. Clem ses I know who he is all right but he has got an awful gall setting there on our front steps when I want to see my Moms.

Ethel ses why Clem he has been setting somewheres with Myrt for six years and you know it and they are as much her front steps as they are yours. When people live in two-family houses upstairs and down the front steps belong to both. Myrtle McGuire has been living downstairs next door as long as you have been living upstairs and that is since you was kids.

O Clem ses you are always taking somebody else’s part and Ethel ses anyway if you want to see your Moms why don’t you come around when you know Petey Angelo will be on duty over on Flatbush Avenue? Clem ses well Ethel I would only Petey is on duty in the daytime and you know I cannot come around this neighborhood in the daytime because I never get up early enough. My business keeps me going all night.

Ho Ethel ses that is not the reason. You are afraid people in this neighborhood would recognize you in the daytime and tell the cops. You better not let Petey see you or he will put you in the jail house. I hear every cop in this town is looking for you and so you better lay low. Clem says O let them look. Nobody is afraid of cops. Nobody cares anything about cops. Look at Petey Angelo setting there on my front steps. Would anybody be afraid of him? If Myrt was not out there with him I would go out and throw him into the street but that would make Myrt mad at me. He is the only fellow she ever had and I guess she is afraid of losing him.

I ses well Clem I guess you could throw Petey Angelo into the street all right unless he has got a lot stronger than he was when we was kids and you have got weaker. I ses it has always been a funny thing to me about Petey going on the cops because he was always such a quiet kid. I ses Clem do you remember the time you pulled him out of the water when we was swimming under the bridge at Sand Street and he was about to drown?

Clem ses yes I remember it all right. I grabbed him by the hair and almost pulled it out by the roots and you and Johnny Cronin just stood there and hollered and never made a move to help me. I ses well Clem you know I could not swim so good and Clem ses I never noticed that either of you tried that day. I got a good belting from my old man God rest his soul when I went home for getting my clothes wet.

I ses well you saved Petey’s life that day Clem and Clem ses so what? Now he is a cop. If I ever thought Petey was going to turn out to be a cop I would have let him drown. I hate cops. Still if I had let him drown Myrt would not have had no fellow now.

I ses you used to keep the big kids from picking on him too and Clem ses well I tell you I did not know he was going to turn out to be a cop. I ses I remember Myrt used to run to you any time anybody was going to do anything to Petey. I ses I guess Myrt liked Petey even when they was little kids and Clem ses you are getting to be a regular mind reader Joe.

Then Clem went to the front window and pulled the curtain to one side a little and peeped out and ses can you imagine the gall of that cop with his arm around Myrt and her red head on his shoulder? It makes me sick to my stomach. They are setting right where he would be bound to see me if I tried to go up our stairs too.

Ethel ses look Clem you must not talk like it was just any cop that had his arm around Myrt and her head on his shoulder. It is Petey Angelo and he has a right to have his arm there and her head there because they are in love. You thought you was in love with somebody once yourself Clem so do not make fun of things like that.

Ho ho ho Clem ses. I thought I was in love did I? Well if I was I wound up behind the eight ball and anyway forget it Ethel and give me something to eat. I could plug that cop through the window from here if I wanted to but just think how mad Myrt would be. Ethel ses you better think how mad I would be. It would make me awfully impatient if you did a thing like that in my house.

Then Ethel went into the kitchen and got Clem some ham and eggs and he ate like he was half starved to death and while he was eating I ses listen Clem a nice swell-looking young fellow like you has no business to be around always dodging the cops. I ses you are getting a terrible reputation. I ses think how it worries your Moms not to know where you are or what you are doing. I ses why don’t you settle down and get a job?

Clem laughed and ses Joe you are a good skate and so is Ethel but I am not built like you are. I have got to have my excitement. I could never settle down and live by the clock like you do especially in a neighborhood like this. It is too dead for me.

Ethel ses that is exactly what I told Joe last night Clem. Nothing ever happens around here. Look at Joe now. It is hardly ten o’clock and he is ready to go to bed and start snoring and that is the way everybody else is in this neighborhood. It is disgusting.

I ses see here Ethel I do not want to bring out any family secrets in front of an outsider but when it comes to snoring I know some other people that do a pretty good job of it. I ses I get sleepy early because I work hard all day to earn a living for you.

I ses I do not need excitement like Clem here but what does it get him? I ses he comes around afraid to let the cops see him and hungry enough to eat half a ham and four eggs and I bet on top of that he needs a couple of bucks for his pocket.

Clem laughed again and ses Joe now I know you really are a mind reader so I gave him a couple of bucks and he went out our back door again without trying to go upstairs next door to see his Moms because Petey Angelo was still setting there with Myrt McGuire and he had his arm around her tighter than ever.

I ses Ethel why don’t those two people get married and have it over with and set inside out of the night air? I ses are they still trying to make up their minds after six years or what?

Ethel ses Joe it took you five years to marry me and my Moms and my Pops was getting ready to ask you to call it off and give somebody else a chance so you let Myrtle and Petey alone. They will get married when they are good and ready. I ses all right Ethel and now I am going to bed and if I snore a little I hope you will not tell it all over town.

Wednesday night my wife Ethel ses look Joe old Missus Chambers is sick. She was taken down with the flu this morning. Doc Curtcher ses he thinks she is going to pass on. All she talks about is Clem and she wants to see him. Where do you suppose that no account Clem is?

Why Ethel I ses how in the world would I know where Clem Chambers is? I don’t keep track of people like him. I ses wherever he is he will not come to any good end. I ses I read in the paper this morning where they have got him tied in with that big mail-truck robbery. I ses I never thought a fellow from this neighborhood would turn out to be a tough guy like Clem.

O Ethel ses Clem is not a tough guy. He is just full of pep. I remember how he used to like to tie my pig tails to his desk when we was little kids and he sat behind me in school. I ses look Ethel robbing a mail truck is a little different from tying your pig tails to a desk and it is something more than just pep too.

I ses that Clem is plenty tough now and Ethel ses well anyway I wish I knew where he is because Doc Curtcher ses old Missus Chambers cries for him all the time. She is the nicest old thing in this neighborhood and I am going to take her some soup in a little while. If you hear anything of Clem you be sure and tell me.

Thursday morning my wife Ethel woke me up and ses hey Joe it just ses on the radio that the cops have got Clem Chambers penned up in a building on Clinton Street and that two hundred cops and the fire department are around the place trying to get him out. They are shooting and throwing tear-gas bombs into the building but Clem just will not come out and he is shooting back at them too.

I ses they ought to try the fire hose on him Ethel. I ses when Clem was here the other night he did not smell to me like he had taken a bath since the time he pulled Petey Angelo out of the river. I ses I guess that two bucks I gave him is a goner all right although I did not expect anything else and Ethel ses well I am going to run over there and tell Clem his Moms is sick before something happens to him.

I ses from what you tell me the radio ses Ethel old Clem may not be seeing callers but Ethel ses Joe you come on now and stop arguing. Missus Chambers was pretty bad when I saw her last night and Doc Curtcher ses he will bet anybody she does not last two days longer and I promised I would bring Clem to her as soon as I could find him.

So my wife Ethel put on her new hat and I got out the old bucket and we drove down to Clinton Street. We found the street all roped off and just like the radio ses there was a lot of cops banging away with pistols and rifles at a building. It was a little flat one-story building that had been a store of some kind but was empty with the windows boarded up in front and sometimes some of the cops hit the building too but that was only the best shots.

My wife Ethel started to duck under a rope half a block away from the building and a cop pushed her back and ses you cannot go through that street. She ses why not? The cop ses because that is my orders. Ethel ses who gave you those orders? The cop ses my captain gave them to me and who wants to know anyway?

Ethel ses look cop I must go and speak to the fellow you have got penned up in that building. I must tell him about his Moms. She is sick and wants to see him. Doc Curtcher ses it will be for the last time so I have to hurry.

The cop ses lady you must be crazy. Ethel ses well it is a good thing you are a cop or my husband here would slap you down for calling me crazy. The cop looked at me and ses don’t let me being a cop bother you Mack. If you feel like slapping somebody down just start slapping now.

I ses look cop I am not after any trouble with anybody and my name is not Mack. It is Joe. I ses I am just here with my wife on an errand. O the cop ses then you are not going to slap me down like your wife ses hey Mack? I ses cop I make my own matches not my wife and he laughed and ses well you are lucky Mack. It is sometimes the other way around with me. Anyway the best thing you two can do is to take a nice walk because this is a bad spot right now.

Ethel ses cop I tell you I must talk to the fellow in that building and tell him about his Moms. If your Moms was so sick she could not get well and she wanted to see you what would you think if a cop tried to keep somebody from telling you? The cop ses lady please go away because here comes my captain and he will be sore if he finds me talking to you.

The captain was a fat fellow and had a sour-looking face and Ethel ses to him Captain you are just the man I want to see. This cop here ses I cannot go through this rope to see the fellow you have got penned up in that building and tell him his Moms is sick.

The captain looked sourer than ever and ses you must be crazy and Ethel ses listen Captain do all the cops in Brooklyn go around telling people they are crazy? The captain ses yes when they talk like you. You look like a nice respectable lady but you talk awful crazy. Madam that fellow in that building is one of the most desperate men in the world.

Ethel ses O he is not. He is only Clem Chambers. I know him well. The captain ses O you do hey? Ethel ses yes I do and so does my husband Joe here. We was raised up with him. The captain looked at me and ses maybe I ought to lock you up and I ses what for? He ses I do not know yet but I may think of something later.

I ses look Captain you are big people and we are only little people but do not be talking about locking somebody up unless they have done something and what have we done? I ses Captain I am a citizen of the United States of America and I know my rights. He ses O you do hey? I ses yes I do and he ses what else do you know?

I ses I know Sweeney the district leader and he will not stand for you locking me up unless I have done something. The captain ses you know Sweeney do you? I ses yes I do. I ses he ses hello to me any time I see him. Well the captain ses all right then you go on about your business and take your wife with you.

Ethel ses yes but I tell you I have got to see Clem Chambers and give him a message about his Moms and the captain ses Madam that fellow in there would shoot you down like a pigeon if you went near him. He has already winged three of my men and a bystander name of Coolidge and Coolidge is bad off.

O Ethel ses you talk foolish. Clem would not shoot me down. If he shot your cops it was just in fun. He did not mean it. I do not know anything about that fellow Coolidge but what was he doing around here anyway? The captain ses O he did not mean it hey? It was just in fun hey? Well do you know he has also got a cop captured in there with him? He has got Officer Angelo and has probably shot him too by now.

Ethel ses that is funny and the captain ses what’s funny? Ethel ses why that must be Petey Angelo. The captain ses his name is Pete all right. Do you know him too? Do you know everybody in Brooklyn? Ethel ses Clem Chambers and Petey Angelo are not everybody in Brooklyn but I know them all right and they are both nice fellows only Clem does not like Petey for going on the cops.

All this time there was shooting at the building going on from cops in doorways along the street inside the ropes and from the tops of other buildings and once in a while a shot came from the building and everybody ducked and the captain ses you see how dangerous it is around here? I ses yes I see only we were on the same side of the street as the building and at an angle where Clem Chambers shots were not liable to hit us unless he could throw curves like Mungo the Dodgers pitcher.

While I was talking to the captain my wife Ethel ducked under the rope and past the cop inside and ran down the sidewalk toward the building where Clem was and everybody yelled hey at her but she paid no attention.

The captain ses that woman is a dee fool. I ses Captain you are speaking about my wife and he ses so what? She is still a dee fool and what do you want to make of it? I ses nothing Captain. I ses you have got that uniform on and you are big people and I guess you can talk to little people like me any way you want but I will have to tell Sweeney you called my wife a dee fool. The captain ses all women are dee fools. I am a married man myself.

By this time Ethel was in front of the building pounding with her fist on one of the boarded-up windows and the cops had stopped shooting and were watching her. Ethel told me afterwards that when she had pounded her fist black and blue Clem Chambers ses who is it? Who is out there making all that racket?

Ethel ses it is me Clem. It is Ethel Turp and don’t you go shooting off those pistols at me because I have got my new hat on. Clem says O hello Ethel. You better go away from here. This is no place for a lady. I will not shoot you but those cops might. They don’t shoot very good and might hit you accidental. How is Joe?

Joe is all right Ethel ses. He is up the street now arguing with the cops. But I come to tell you about your Moms Clem. She is awful sick and she wants to see you. Clem I think you better go see her because she is sick in bed. Clem ses she is? Ethel ses yes she is. Another thing Clem what are you doing in there with Petey Angelo?

Clem ses why Ethel I am not doing a thing in this world with him. He climbed on the roof of this joint and was looking around for some way to get in and arrest me and he fell through the skylight right on top of me. He cut a big gash in his side on the glass coming through and if I was not here to bandage him up he would have bled to death.

Ethel ses what is he doing now? Clem ses he is laying here quiet. I have got him tied up with his shirt so he will not go near a window and get shot by those cops. I don’t want Myrt blaming me for him getting shot. He does not feel good. Ethel ses tell him hello Clem. Tell him Joe and me are out here. Clem ses all right Ethel but I have got his mouth stuffed up so he cannot say hello back to you.

Ethel ses look Clem don’t you let Petey Angelo come to no harm like choking to death and Clem ses hey Ethel if I had wanted him to come to harm I would not have bandaged him up or I would have shot him coming through the skylight. I don’t want anything to happen to Myrt’s only fellow any more than you do.

Ethel ses well I think it is a mean trick to stuff a fellow’s mouth up so he cannot say hello to people. You ought to be ashamed of yourself Clem Chambers for doing a trick like that to an old friend. Clem ses he is no friend of mine. He was trying to cop a sneak on me but don’t you worry about him and tell Myrt if you see her not to worry either.

Well all right Ethel ses but you come on out of there and go with me and Joe to see your Moms right away. Clem ses why Ethel those cops would pick me off the minute I stepped out of this place. I guess they will get me in the long run anyway but I will get some of them first.

Ethel ses look here Clem Chambers you stop this foolishness. Your Moms is not going to get well and she wants to see you before she goes away. So you come on out of there and bring Petey Angelo with you and take that stuffing out of his mouth.

Clem ses Ethel you mean my Moms is going to die? Ethel said yes Clem that is what I mean and I am awfully sorry. Clem ses well that is different. If she is going to die I guess I ought to see her. I would hate for her to go without me seeing her. She was always a wonderful Moms to me Ethel but how am I going to get out of here without those cops picking me off?

Ethel ses why Clem I will ask the cops not to shoot you when you come out if you promise to give yourself up to them and then they can take you to your house and let you see your Moms. Clem ses I do not want any cops going with me when I see her. I do not want my Moms to know I am in trouble like that. Ethel you tell those cops if they will not shoot at me when I come out I will go home with you and see my Moms and then give myself up to them or else I will stay here and get plenty of them before they get me because I am a better shot.

Ethel ses all right Clem but you send Petey Angelo out here at once so I can take that stuffing out of his mouth or Myrt will be good and mad at you and Clem says okay Ethel but you be sure and tell Myrt that no matter how bad Petey looks I had nothing to do with it. He had no business falling through the skylight.

Then pretty soon the front door of the building opened a little ways and Petey came out and he must have been pushed from behind by Clem because he almost fell over on Ethel. Petey was pretty white and weak as he leaned up against Ethel when they walked back to where I was still standing with the captain.

Ethel ses hello Captain I see you are still here. Well I talked with Clem and he ses if you cops will let him go with me to see his Moms he will give himself up to them afterwards. The captain ses O he does hey? That is very very nice of him. Madam do you know I may put you under arrest for communicating with a criminal? Ethel ses what is that? The captain ses what is what? Ethel ses what is communicating with a criminal?

The captain ses look Madam you ses yourself you talked to that fellow in that building yonder and that is communicating with a criminal. Ethel ses O you mean Clem Chambers. Why all I did was to take a message to him about his Moms and I got Petey Angelo here out of that place when he was laying there with his mouth stuffed up and I have brought a message back to you and I do not think it is very nice of you to talk of putting me under arrest.

The captain ses O is that so? Ethel ses yes that is so. If you want to arrest Clem Chambers without no more trouble you let him see his Moms first and then he will give himself up but if you want to try to arrest him anyway and get some more of your cops shot up why you just go ahead.

The captain ses O you are trying to dictate to somebody hey? Ethel ses no I am not but I see a lot of fellows up the street with cards in their hats and I bet they are newspaper reporters and if you get any more of your cops shot up by Clem Chambers when it is unnecessary I will tell them why it happened that way.

Look lady the captain ses will you please stop talking a while and let me think? How do you know this fellow will keep his word about giving himself up after he sees his Moms if we let him go there without any cops? Ethel ses well you let Petey Angelo here follow us if Petey is not too sick only he must not come too close because Clem does not like him since he went on the cops.

Petey ses I am all right except I am a little weak. He ses Captain if Clem Chambers told Missus Turp here he would give himself up he will do it. I will vouch for it myself. The captain ses O you will huh? Well who will vouch for you? I ses I will Captain. I ses you ask Sweeney the district leader about me and he will tell you Joe Turp’s word is as good as wheat in the bin. I ses Sweeney will tell you that I always vote the right way.

The captain thought a while and then he ses well maybe it is a good idea not to get any more cops shot up than is necessary. We need all the men we got in Brooklyn just now. Lady you go ahead and tell that fellow okay but keep away from those reporters. I will do all the talking to them that is to be done.

So my wife Ethel went back to the building and pounded on the boarded up window again and ses come on out Clem everything is all right and Clem came out and got in the old bucket with us and I drove him home and Petey Angelo followed on a motorcycle.

Thursday night Clem walked out of the front door of his house and Petey Angelo was setting on the door steps waiting for him and Clem ses well cop it is all over. Moms just died. Myrt is up there with her. Say cop I guess you can keep setting on my front door steps from now on.

Monday night six months later my wife Ethel ses to me Joe this is certainly the deadest neighborhood in Brooklyn. I do wish something would happen here once in a while and I ses Ethel they pushed Clem Chambers off at Sing Sing today for shooting that fellow that died the day after he gave himself up. I ses what was that fellow’s name?

Ethel ses his name was Coolidge. That’s too bad about Clem. He was the only fellow in this neighborhood that ever had much pep but I am glad his Moms did not live to see how he ended up. Well maybe if he had not been unlucky in love he would have turned out different.

I ses Ethel I heard you crack something once before about Clem being in love with somebody. I ses I knew Clem Chambers pretty well all his life and I never knew him to be in love with anybody except himself and Ethel ses no Joe you did not know. In some ways Clem was a gentleman. He never told anybody but me.

I ses O then he loved you did he? I ses it is a fine thing for a man’s wife to have a dirty crook like Clem Chambers in love with her and Ethel ses O Joe now I know you love me because you are jealous but Clem was not in love with me. If you must know Joe it was Petey Angelo’s wife Myrt.