Perhaps it's a misnomer to refer to her as "the other typist," as there were other typists all along. I was one of three. There was a forty-year- old woman named Iris with a gaunt face, sharp jaw, and gray, birdlike eyes. Every day Iris wore a different colored ladies' necktie. Iris was always complaisant to do extra typing when it was needed, and this was much appreciated. (Crime does not take weekends or observe bank holidays, the Sergeant is fond of saying.) As far as social particulars went, Iris had never been married, and it was difficult to imagine marriage had ever been one of her aspirations.
Then there was Marie, who was in many ways an opposite composite of Iris. Marie was rotund and always merry and walked with a slightly hobbled step from where an omnibus had run over her left foot when she was just a child. Marie was barely thirty but had already married twicethe ?rst of her husbands had run off with a chorus girl. Without being able to locate him to secure a proper divorce, Marie had simply shrugged away the legal contract and married her second husband, a man named Horace, who was kind to her but was sick all the time with gout. Marie worked at the precinct because she was under no illusion that Horace would be able to provide for her. She was a sentimental woman who had married for love, despite the fact the gout was bound to get worse and keep him off his feet more and more. The crude remark was often made behind Marie's back that between her mangled left foot and Horace's gout- swollen feet, they probably danced one "helluva" waltz together. People never said these things while she was in the room, but Marie was no fool and she was aware this joke was often bandied about. She had decided long ago to pretend ignorance. She was generally for anything that facilitated greater camaraderie, and in consequence everybody seemed to like working with her.
And then there was me, of course. I'd worked at the precinct for a little over two years and had already garnered a reputation for being the fastest and most accurate typist. Among the three of us we were able to keep up with all the precinct's needs, typing the paperwork for all the bookings, confessions, and correspondence. We were able to keep up, that is, until the Volstead Act triggered a serious boost in our business, so to speak.
In the beginning, the Volstead Act wasn't very popular among the officers at the precinct, and for a while enforcement of the act was distinctly halfhearted. The patrolmen grumbled and only offered minimal assistance as the Anti-Saloon League closed down one watering hole after another. Offi cers who happened upon ?asks of bathtub gin often let the perpetrators off with a warning, taking care, of course, to con?scate the evidence. Despite the Woman's Christian Temperance Union's best efforts to make the nation think so, not everyone believed the devil was really in the drink. There were even judges who couldn't seem to muster the appropriate amount of outrage to earnestly punish the bootleggers who very fully and ?agrantly ?outed the law. Seems only natural after a hard day's work a man should want a tall drink of something, the Lieutenant Detective once said quite loudly for everyone to hear, shrugging his shoulders.
Things went on like this for a time. Periodically an assortment of men from the neighborhoodmany of them husbands and fatherswere hauled in for selling moonshine and allowed to go with a simple rap on the knuckles. No one cared to do much more than this.
But they say it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and in our case the squeaky wheel was Assistant Attorney General Mabel Willebrandt and the grease was us. I can't claim to be an expert on her legal career, but from what I've read in all the papers, Mrs. Willebrandt holds the dubious distinction of taking on issues of poorly enforced legislation her lazier and more prudent male counterparts won't touch, and then proceeding to tackle such issues with surprising gusto, often making headlines in the process. I suppose it is only natural Mrs. Willebrandt has made herself into a patron saint of lost legal causes; she is a woman, after all, and there is little risk in letting a woman have charge of the unpopular issues. When a woman fails at her profession it is considered something rather different from when a man fails at his. However, it was clear Mrs. Willebrandt had no intention of failing, and she proved herself to be both tenacious and resourceful. While she was unable to make much of an alliance with Mayor Hylan, she did succeed in talking some "good sense" into the mayor's wife, Miriam. Between the two of them, they succeeded in stirring up enough press to make the case that New York City should set more of an example for the rest of the nation and take more decisive action in trying to convert itself into a model "dry" city. I tell you all this because the result of all the political posturing was our precinct was selected to serve as a special apparatus of "the Noble Experiment." This is what I mean when I say we were to be the grease intended to quiet Mrs. Willebrandt's squeaky wheel.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...