“He will loot the Metropolitan Museum,” said this one, “but what will he do with the metropolitan police?”
“Well,” said Mr. Lichtenstein, “I am only supposing. But suppose some fine night a building somewhere central was blown up with dynamite. Suppose the sound was so big that it could be heard in every part of greater New York. Suppose at the sound every policeman in greater New York was shot dead in his tracks—”
Bubbles’s hair began to bristle. “Say,” he cried in his excitement, “the straw hats—the soft straw hats that Blizzard makes and don’t sell—they’re the white cockades!”
Mr. Blicker guffawed. Mr. Lichtenstein rose and paced the room.
“And that proves,” he exclaimed, “that nothing is to happen when you and I are wearing straw hats—but in winter. Bubbles, you’re a bright boy!”
“You are both so bright,” said Mr. Blicker, “you keep me all the time laughing.”
“Well,” said Mr. Lichtenstein, “that may be, but suppose you tell me why Blizzard makes straw hats and don’t sell ’em. Tell me why he’s dug such a great hole under his house with a passage leading to the river, and ships. Tell me why O’Hagan is drilling men in the West. Tell me why Blizzard has gone out of the white-slave business. It fetched him in a pretty penny.”
“I think I can answer the last question,” said Bubbles.
“I think,” said the small boy, “that he’s got some good in him somewhere, and I know he’s dead gone on my Miss Ferris. I think he’s ashamed o’ some o’ the things he’s done.”
Mr. Lichtenstein considered this at some length. Then he said: “Well, that’s possible. But it’s an absolutely new idea to me. Blizzard ashamed? Hum!”
“True that policemen take money in exchange for protection? True that they practise blackmail and extortion? Of course it’s true. Whenever a big temptation appears loose in a city half the people who get a look at it trip and fall. Oh, I’d like to reform this city, Miss Barbara—and this country. I’d like to be dictator for six months.”
“Who wouldn’t?” said Barbara. “But what would you do? Where would you begin?”
“I should be drastic at first,” said the legless man, “and kind later. I’d begin,” he went on, his eyes smiling, “with a general massacre of incompetents—old men with too little money, young men with too much—old maids, aliens, incurables, the races that are too clever to work, the races that are too stupid, habitual drunkards, spreaders of disease, the women who abolished the canteen, the women who wear aigrettes. After that I should destroy all possibilities of graft.”
“How?” asked Barbara.
“Why,” said he, “the simplest way in the world—legalize the business that now pays for protection. There would be no more of them than there are now, and they could be regulated and kept to confined limits of cities. Don’t blame the police for graft: blame all who believe that human nature can be abolished by law. But,” and this time his whole face smiled, “I shall never be dictator. The thing to do is to start a new country, and make no mistakes.”