Now it comes, the winter of 2020. After a long hard ten or eleven months, times are very tough indeed. With the economy going all to pieces, and businesses busting right and left, the pandemic, and the law getting very nasty about this and that, citizens of Chicago are compelled to do the best they can. There is very little scratch anywhere and along Halstead Street, many citizens are wearing last year’s clothes and have practically nothing to bet on the races or anything else, and it is a condition that will touch anybody’s heart.
So, I am not surprised to hear rumors that the snatching of certain parties is going on in spots, because while snatching is by no means a high-class business, and is even considered somewhat illegal, it is something to tide certain people over during hard times. I am talking to Mitch Riller, the newspaper scribe, one night and something about the snatching business comes up, and Riller is trying to tell me that it is one of the oldest dodges in the world, only he calls it kidnapping and that it is a very, very wicked proposition.
Kidnapping is a title that will be very repulsive to guys who are on the snatch nowadays. I am not surprised to hear that snatching is being done by a character by the name of Harry the Horse, who comes from Chicago, and who is a character who does not care much what sort of business he is in, and who is mobbed up with other characters from Chicago such as Spanish John and Little Isadore, who do not care what sort of business they are in, either. In fact, Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore are very hard characters in every respect, and there is considerable indignation expressed around and about when they move over from Chicago into Springfield and start snatching because the citizens of Springfield feel that if there is any snatching done in their territory, they are entitled to do it themselves.
But Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore pay no attention whatever to local sentiment and go on the snatch on a pretty fair scale, and by and by I am hearing rumors of some very nice scores. These scores are not extra-large scores, to be sure, but they are enough to keep the wolf from the door, and in fact, from three different doors, and before long Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore are around the race-tracks betting on the horses because if there is one thing they are all very fond of, it is betting on the horses.
Well, anyway, knowing that Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore are now on the snatch, I am by no means pleased to see them come along one Tuesday evening when I am standing at the corner of North and Wells, although of course I give them a very jolly hello, and say I hope and trust they are feeling nice. They stand there talking to me a few minutes, and I am very glad indeed that Tom Dart, the Cook County sheriff, does not happen along and see us because it will give Tom a very bad impression of me to see me in such company, even though I am not responsible for the company. But naturally, I cannot haul off and walk away from this company at once, because Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore may get the idea that I am playing the chill for them, and will feel hurt.
‘Well,’ I say to Harry the Horse, ‘how are things going, Harry?’
‘They are going no good,’ Harry says. ‘We do not beat a race in four days. In fact,’ he says, ‘we go overboard to-day. We are washed out. We owe every bookmaker at the track that will trust us, and now we are out trying to raise some scratch to pay off. A guy must pay his bookmaker no matter what.’
Well, of course, this is very true, indeed, because if a guy does not pay his bookmaker it will lower his business standing quite some, as the bookmaker is sure to go around putting the blast on him, so I am pleased to hear Harry the Horse mention such honorable principles.
‘By the way,’ Harry says, ‘do you know a guy by the name of J.B. Pritzker?’
Now I do not know Pritzker personally, but of course, I know who Pritzker is, and so does everybody else in this town that ever goes to a voting booth, because J.B. Pritzker is the governor of Illinois, and has plenty of scratch.
Harry the Horse says, ‘We are going to put the snatch on this Governor J.B. Pritzker.’ ‘What gives us the idea is some political guys who try to snatch the governor of Michigan’ says Harry. ‘But this governor is a very tough doll indeed and the snatchers are mopes and are all in jail now.’ ‘We are seasoned professionals who do not want anything political’ continues Harry. ‘We just want some of Pritzker’s scratch’.
Well, this is the most disquieting news to me, not because I care if they snatch the governor or not, but because somebody may see me talking to them who will remember about it when Pritzker is snatched. But of course, it will not be good policy for me to show Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore that I am nervous, so I only speak as follows:
‘Harry,’ I say, ‘every man knows his own business best, and I judge you know what you are doing. But,’ I say, ‘you are snatching a hard guy when you snatch Pritzker. A very hard guy, indeed. In fact,’ I say, ‘I hear the softest thing about him is his front teeth, so it may be very difficult for you to get him to settle after you snatch him.’
Pretty soon I bid them all good evening, very polite, and take the wind, and I do not see Harry the Horse or Spanish John or Little Isadore again for a month. In the meantime, I hear gossip here and there that Pritzker is missing for several days, and when he finally shows up again he gives it out that he is very sick with COVID-19 during his absence, but I can put two and two together as well as anybody in this town and I figure that Pritzker is snatched by Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore, and the chances are it costs him plenty. So I am looking for Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore to be around the Arlington Park race-track with plenty of scratch and betting them higher than a cat’s back, but they never show up, and what is more I hear they are working every day handling odd jobs.
Naturally, this is very surprising to me. Now one night I am in the Billy Goat Tavern on Lake Street, talking of this and that with the owner, when in comes Harry the Horse, looking very weary and by no means prosperous. Naturally, I give him a large hello, and by and by we get to gabbing together and I ask him whatever becomes of the Pritzker matter, and Harry the Horse tells me as follows:
“Yes [Harry the Horse says], we snatch Governor Pritzker all right. In fact, we snatch him the very next night after we are talking to you, or on a Wednesday night. We take Pritzker to a certain spot on Stevenson Drive where we have a nice little apartment all ready. When we get there I tell the governor that he can call up anybody he wishes and state that the snatch is on him and that it will require twenty-five G’s, cash money, to take it off. Well, I will say one thing for J.B. Pritzker, although everybody is always weighing in the sacks on him and saying he is no good–he takes it like a gentleman, and very calm and businesslike. Furthermore, he does not seem alarmed, as many citizens are when they find themselves in such a situation. He recognizes the justice of our claim at once, saying as follows:
‘I will telephone my business’ he says. ‘But,’ he says, ‘if you gentlemen will pardon the question because this is a new experience to me, how do I know everything will be okay for me after you get the scratch?’
‘Why,’ I say to Pritzker, somewhat indignant, ‘it is well known to one and all in this town that my word is my bond. There are two things I am bound to do,’ I say, ‘and one is to keep my word in such a situation as this, and the other is to pay anything I owe a bookmaker, no matter what, for these are obligations of honor with me.’
‘Well,’ the governor says, ‘of course I do not know you gentlemen, but if you pay your bookmaker you are an honest guy, and one in a million.’
‘Now J.B. Pritzker turns out to be very good company, because he knows a lot of political stories and plenty of scandals, and he keeps us much interested. He talks along with us as if he knows us all his life, and he seems very nonchalant indeed. Pritzker suggests we play cards to pass the time until the scratch shows up. I tell him that we do not have anything to bet with because we are overboard with every bookmaker we know.
‘Why,’ Governor Pritzker says, very polite, ‘if you gentlemen wish to bet on cards I will gladly book to you. It is a good way to pass away the time while we are waiting’. Pritzker says, ‘I will take your markers, because I hear what you say about always paying your bookmaker, and you put yourself away with me as an honest guy, and these other gentlemen also impress me as honest guys.’
‘Now, what happens but we begin betting Pritzker for Little Isadore and Spanish John and I are guys who like plenty of action when we start. Pritzker is a good card player and wins- a lot. We write out markers for whatever we wish to bet and hand them to the governor and he sticks these markers in an inside pocket, and along in the late afternoon, it looks as if he has a tumor on his chest. it is a lot of fun even though Pritzker is the big winner, and Little Isadore and Spanish John and J.B. Pritzker and I are all little pals together until all the card playing is over and Pritzker takes out the markers and starts counting himself up. It comes out then that I owe Pritzker ten G’s, and Spanish John owes him six G’s, and Little Isadore owes him four G’s. But the next day is worse than ever. At the end of the day, I am in a total of twenty G’s, while Spanish John owes fifteen, and Little Isadore fifteen, a total of fifty G’s among the three of us. When it comes on midnight Spanish John goes out and gets a little valise off of Pritzker’s business associate. Then Spanish John comes back to the apartment and we open the valise and the twenty-five G’s are there okay, and we cut this scratch three ways. Then I tell Pritzker he is free to go on about his business, and good luck to him, at that, but the governor looks at me as if he is very much surprised, and hurt, and says to me like this:’
‘Well, gentlemen, thank you for your courtesy, but what about the scratch you owe me? What about these markers? Surely, gentlemen, you will pay your bookmaker?’
‘Well, of course, we owe Pritzker these markers, all right, and of course, a man must pay his bookmaker, no matter what, so I hand over my bit and the governor puts down something in a little note-book that he takes out of his kick. Then Spanish John and Little Isadore hand over their dough, too, and Pritzker puts down something more in the little note-book.
‘Now,’ Governor Pritzker says, ‘I credit each of your accounts with these payments, but you gentlemen still owe me a matter of twenty-five G’s over and above the twenty-five, I credit you with, and I hope and trust you will make arrangements to settle this at once because,’ he says, ‘I do not care to extend such accommodations over any considerable period.’
‘But,’ I say, ‘we do not have any more scratch after paying you the twenty-five G’s on account.’ So [Harry the Horse says] we quit the snatching business because there is no use continuing while this obligation is outstanding against us, and we go back to Chicago to earn enough scratch to pay our just debt to Pritzker.'”
‘So, the moral of the story is do not put the snatch on governors?’ I ask.
‘No.’ says Harry. ‘The moral of the story is, do not play card with Illinois politicians.’
Read https://hackneybooks.co.uk/books/88/187/TheSnatchingOfBookieBob.html by Damon Runyon. The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation: https://www.damonrunyon.org/
Thanks and a tip of the hat to SecretName101 for the image.