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Legs

William Kennedy

Chapter 4: Johnny Raw, Jack Gentleman, Part II

Chapter 4: Johnny Raw, Jack Gentleman: Part I

Chapter 5: Playing the Jack

Summary

Marcus recalls a story that Flossie told him years later about the night Jack got his shooter. She was working at a whorehouse in midtown Manhattan with a guy from St. Louis named Billy Blue. They were having sex and Billy put a gun in her mouth and asked her if she liked his pistol. Suddenly, the door burst open to reveal Jack with The Goose and Biondo. They shot Billy and the Goose mangled his head with an ice pick. About a month later, Jack came back to apologize to Flossie and they ended up having sex.

After Jack tells the story of his first murder, Marcus decides to believe him about Northrup. Jack gives Marcus one hundred eighty thousand dollars of the Biondo money, which Marcus carries around in a money belt, stashed inside a copy of Ernest Dimnet's The Art of Thinking and stuffed into slots of Jack's jewel bag. After Marcus takes the money, he goes to the bar and meets a woman. He takes her back to his room and makes violent love to her. They don't even have time to get their clothes off, and Marcus doesn't remember her name. They arrive in Belgium, but are not allowed in and must go to Germany by train. In Aachen, Jack is detained and held for four days. Marcus finds a German lawyer named Schwarzkopf. They meet him one day for lunch in a Bremen hotel. Schwarzkopf brings along his nephew Weissberg, a young drunk who had written a popular play about pimps and smalltime crooks in Berlin. He has also brought along a quiet, dirty-looking whore. Weissberg tells Jack that he wants to follow him to America, to observe his every action, and to write a great play about his life and crimes. He believes that there are similarities between great artists, whores, and criminals. Jack shoots a small pistol into the ground between Weissberg's legs and tells him that he's just a foolish kid. Weissberg wets his pants and cries.

Jack takes a freighter, the Hannover, out of Hamburg, back to the States. He is the only passenger aboard, but wanders below deck one day and discovers that the boat is carrying forty-five hundred canaries. A sailor is feeding them. Jack asks if he can help, but the sailor says no, that they wouldn't like him. That's why they stopped singing when he came down. Jack opens a cage and takes out a canary, but suddenly it is dead. He opens another cage, and a canary flies out and relieves itself on the floor in front of Jack. One morning Jack notices the sailor opening the hatch, and he listens to the birds singing below. The sailor says they sing to overcome their sadness, which he knows because he was a bird once. He rolls up his sleeve and shows Jack his arm, which is covered with brown feathers. He says he was a barn swallow before he became a sailor, and he had more fun as a bird.

Marcus takes a liner and beats Jack home. He recalls a story that a sailor aboard the Hannover tells him when he goes to pick Jack up. The sailor says that one day he went to find out why Jack wasn't coming to dinner. Jack had three dead birds in his cabin, and he was sick. He stayed in his cabin for three days, and when he came out he wanted to buy three birds. He said they were his friends. The sailor looked for the dead birds in his cabin, but they were gone.

Fogerty can't leave the state because of his ties to a rum boat raid that had happened the week before the Europe trip, so Marcus picks up Jack in Philadelphia. The press and the public mob Jack again upon his arrival. Marcus estimates that there are three thousand people and a hundred cops. Jack tells Marcus that Northrup tipped off the feds about the rum boat shipment, which led to a loss of two hundred thousand dollars for Jack. Marcus says he received a death threat from Biondo, who wants his money back. As Jack disembarks, some in the crowd cheer him, others curse. Women swoon. Someone calls Jack a bird in a gilded cage. Jack's cousin, William, an ironworker, emerges from the crowd and asks him if his lapel pin is Protestant. William calls him a traitor to his religion and his family.

Jack gets into his car. He was going to visit his family while in Philly, but the press follows him so he drives to Newark instead. There, he buys presents for his women. He picks out a pair of gray Brussels griffon dogs for Alice, which he can tell her he got in Belgium. Marcus suggests giving puppies to Kiki, too, but Jack says that Kiki would let them die. He buys her an eight-hundred- dollar diamond instead. They go to a speakeasy, where Jack is warmly received. He gets drunk and pukes all over Marcus on the way to see Kiki at the Monticello Hotel.

Analysis

Weissberg, the playwright, believes that there is an artistic quality to what Jack does, a kind of beauty in crime and violence. But Jack's totally rejects this notion, as his reaction to Weissberg's idea of writing a play about his life suggests. Jack does not relish the idea of being immortalized on the page. It seems that Marcus agrees with Weissberg, however, because he writes a book about Jack, which indicates that he feels there is an artistic quality to the man's life. The fact that Marcus would write such a book even though he knows that Jack does not want to be immortalized or depicted as an artist suggests that Marcus has written this book at least partially for himself. Legs exists to mythologize Marcus almost as much as it does to mythologize Jack.

Jack's odd experience on the canary-carrying freight boat emphasizes the already developing link between Jack and canaries. As Jack leaves the freighter, someone calls him a bird in a gilded cage. The comparison is apt, for while Jack has plenty of money, his lifestyle and his crimes trap him, sometimes literally putting him behind bars. Jack spends much of his life as a fugitive. He is banned from Manhattan and forced to live Upstate. It is appropriate that Jack is connected both to cats and to caged birds; the two connections contradict each other just as Jack's consciousness contradicts itself. Alice and Kiki are also connected to canaries because Jack named his two canaries after the two women. Kiki is most like a canary, for she is constantly held in a hotel under the supervision of one of Jack's men.

Jack struggles internally with questions of family loyalty and Irish Catholicism. The importance of family to Jack is evident in his extremely close relationship with his brother. Although Eddie has died by the time most of the events in this novel take place, we can see evidence of Jack's attachment to him in the fact that he finds Fogerty, who looks just like Eddie, to act as his right hand man. Jack goes to church fairly regularly, donates money to the church, is married to a religious women, and keeps a rosary around. But Jack also has a fascination with the Masons. When his cousin sees his lapel pin and calls him a turncoat, Jack claims that it is just business. Yet Jack's interest in Masonic symbology extends beyond practicality. The awkward encounter with his cousin affects Jack, and might be one of the reasons he decides not to visit his family while in Philadelphia. Jack feels much more at home in the Newark speakeasy than with the family he has left behind.

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