There's no honor among thieves.

In The Gutter, that extends to best friends.

Politics by Chris McGinley

The Bogsiders controlled pretty much everything north of Fourteenth Street and west of Crescent Avenue. That included booze, girls, gambling, and what they called "negotiables."

The Sots ran the area south of Tenth Street and east of the Park.

That left a no man's land of four blocks. Or as Blackie Mullen called it: "The Fuckin' Four." Four blocks where absolutely anything could happen . . . and did.

Jimmy O'Hearn was once the skipper of the Bogsiders, but he traded in his bowler for a top hat. Now he was just another ward boss in a city of ward bosses. He wanted control of The Four, but this he couldn't do without Blackie, the new skipper.

The two met at Sullivan's, a dank dive that sold steam beer for five cents a bucket to rummies and the whores who charged little more. Jimmy wore a bowler and his shirtsleeves.

Blackie couldn't resist a jab. "Well, well . . . look at the swell."

"Been a long time, Blackie."

"It has, Boyo. Or should I say, Boss?”

"Just don't say it too loud." Jimmy winced.

Blackie chuckled.

"What's the game?" Blackie asked. "You want me for ward underboss?" He tipped his hat in mock deference, his smile revealing a gold canine. The coal black hair for which he was named was greasy and matted down in an affront to civility, maybe even an affront to the position of gang skipper.

Jimmy looked around and felt a sickening sense of the old life. The thought of what lay ahead nauseated him. Even so, he laid out his plans for the takeover of the Fuckin' Four and what was in it for Blackie, his crew, and Jimmy himself. It was a sweet deal of power and money for everyone, but it meant that Scotch Wells, the Sots' skipper, would have to go. That was fine with Blackie.

It would be made to look like a truce, a territory share. Jimmy would approach Scotch with a bogus deal. Scotch would naturally suspect a set up, Jimmy being a former Bogsider and all. Jimmy would push the fact of his own legitimacy as ward boss and a reformed man. He'd make a diplomatic appeal to the rival skipper.

"Scotch"ll never go for it," Blackie said. "He knows who you are. Who you were, I mean." There was enough of a slight there to get Jimmy's attention, but not enough to rile him. The play was bigger than the players.

"Let me talk with Scotch. He's a diplomat. He'll see the sense in a power share," Jimmy said.

"Maybe. But you're gonna need to convince him. He won't trust me."

"That's why we let Scotch pick the place where he thinks we're gonna close the deal. Somewhere in The Four. Each party brings a second,” Jimmy said. “Scotch's boy is Mickey McNulty. He'll check us out. Make sure we're not carrying."

"How do we know they're not carrying?" Blackie said.

"I'll check them out. I'm your second. You're the skipper now, not me."

Blackie liked the sound of it. "Okay," he said, "but how do we get the drop on 'em?"

"You're a gun guy. Everybody knows. That's what they'll expect. That's why you're gonna get a straight edge into the fold of your bowler. After the pat downs, we sit and talk,” Jimmy said. “That's when you take off your hat. I take the edge out and kill Scotch. You just have to get Mickey to the ground. After I cut Scotch, I'll do Mickey. Then it's all over."

As Blackie laughed, the canine shone again. "Jesus. You sure you got the nuts for this, Mr. Ward Boss? Been a long time since you used a blade, hasn't it?"

"I don't like it, but it's the only way. And they won't expect it. I'm just a politician now. I'm not a gangster anymore, Blackie."

It was a humble admission, especially for a former skipper."Well," Blackie said, "I sure as hell don't know anything about politics. So ya got me there."

"Okay, then."

"One more thing," Blackie added. "How do you know they won't try to take us out first?"

"It would be professional suicide to kill a ward boss. Scotch is too smart for a double cross like that."


Scotch picked the back room of Mueller's, a German ale house that changed hands so often no one remembered Mueller, if there ever was one.

McNulty checked Jimmy for weapons then patted down Blackie.

"You seem to be enjoying yourself, Mickey," Blackie said.

McNulty swallowed that one. It was bitter and Scotch could see it.

"Easy now, Mickey," Scotch advised.

Jimmy patted down Scotch and McNulty. The men sat down at an old, scarred wooden table.  

When Blackie set his hat down, Jimmy swept it up and opened the edge in one clean motion, the old instincts taking over. 

Blackie's throat opened up like a giant red maw that vomited blood. His head hit the table. 

A moment later, Jimmy and Scotch shook hands over it.

"You're right, Blackie, you sure as hell don't know politics," Jimmy said. He arranged his top hat and the men walked out the back door.

Chris McGinley teaches middle school in Lexington, KY and has previously appeared in Out of the Gutter.