John McGurk, Entrepreneur
The dancer kicked her leg high and swished her pink dress, cut low how McGurk liked it. He watched her and not the screaming woman who kicked her legs even higher, albeit with the benefit of a man carrying her aloft toward the door and the waiting Bowery cop.
“Where do they get it?” the barman asked him beneath the piano music. He poured three more fingers of whiskey for a swaying, unshaven man.
McGurk stroked his moustache and eyed the dancers, choosing. “Get what?”
“The carbolic acid.”
McGurk’s flat gaze remained on the edges of the dress, which had slipped a little, it seemed to him. “Don’t your missus clean house, Willie?”
“Not if she can help it.” A customer put three bits on the bar, so Willie extended the tube to him. The man took a deep breath, then began gulping as the crowd began hooting around him. “It could be a problem, Mr. McGurk,” Willie said.
The dancer on the left had stopped smiling, McGurk noted. He didn’t pay her to frown. She’d get a little pick-her-up before her time upstairs. “How’s that?”
“These women. That’s the third one tried to kill herself, now. In two weeks. The cops might ask questions about upstairs.”
“They all know upstairs. There ain’t a one of ’em but he dips his wick at McGurk’s after a patrol.”
The drinker coughed beer onto the floor. The surrounding patrons jeered, and McGurk smelled the camphor he cut the beer with. A drunkard reached for a dancer’s leg, then yelped as she brought down her heel on his hand.
“The customers, then,” Willy said. “Bit hard to have your fun while some woman’s burning her throat out next to you. And everybody’s heard about it.”
McGurk turned to his barkeep. “That’s right,” he said. “Everybody’s heard about it.”
John McGurk was a diligent man. He worked through the wee hours. Before the Bowery rose from its stupor sometime the next afternoon, he had affixed his new sign to the crumbling brick. New York City had 7,000 saloons, but everyone would hear about McGurk’s Suicide Hall.