Rows upon rows of dark-brown stained chairs filled the west half of the courtroom, facing a three-foot railing that enclosed a jury box and space reserved for counsel tables, the clerk and the District Attorney representing the people.
At the extreme east rose in severe dignity the dais or bench above which ascended a draped canopy of rich brown plush. Here Justice Pomeroy presided, in his robes of silk, a striking, white-haired figure of a man, whose face was seamed and whose eyes were keen with thought and observation.
Across the street, reached by the famous Bridge of Sighs, loomed the great grey hulk of stone and steel bars, the city prison, usually referred to as “The Tombs.” As if there had been some cunning design in the juxtaposition, the massive jail reared itself outside the windows as an object lesson. It was a perpetual warning to the lawbreaker. Its towers and projections jutted out as so many rocks on a dangerous shore where had been wrecked thousands of promising careers just embarked on the troublesome seas of life.
Skirting the line of southern windows through which The Tombs was visible, ran a steel wire screen, eight feet high, marking off a narrow chute that hugged the walls to a door at the rear of the courtroom leading to the detention pen. Ordinarily prisoners were brought over the Bridge of Sighs in small droves and herded in the detention pens just outside the courtroom until their cases were called.
The line-up of prisoners at such times awaiting their turn at the bar of justice affords ample opportunity for study to the professional or the amateur criminalist.
Almost daily in this court one might look upon murderers, bank looters, clever forgers, taxicab robbers, safe crackers, highwaymen, second-story men, shoplifters, pickpockets, thieves, big and little—all sorts and conditions of crooks come to pay the price.
The court was crowded, for the gang leaders knew that this was a show-down for them. Carton himself, not one of his assistants, was to conduct the case. If Dopey Jack, who had violated almost every law in the revised statutes and had never suffered anything worse than a suspended sentence, could not get off, then no one could. And it was unthinkable that Dopey should not only be arrested and held in jail without bail, but even be convicted on such a trivial matter as slight irregularities that swung the primaries in a large section of the city for his superior, “higher up.”
Rubano’s father, a decent, sorrowing old man, sat in the rear of the courtroom, probably wondering how it had all happened, for he came evidently of a clean, law-abiding family.
But there was nothing in the appearance of the insolent criminal at the bar to show that he was of the same breed. He was no longer the athlete, whom “prize fighting” had inculcated with principles of manliness and fair play as well as a strong body. All that, as I had seen often before, was a pitiful lie. He was rat-eyed and soft-handed. His skin had the pastiness that comes of more exposure to the glare of vile dance halls than the sunlight of day. His black hair was slicked down; he was faultlessly tailored and his shoes had those high, bulging toes which are the extreme of Fourteenth Street fashion.