For months Rudolph Klein had been living in a little Mexican town on the border.
There were really two towns, but they were built together with only a strip of a
hundred feet between. Along this strip ran the border itself, with a tent pitched on
the American side, and patrols of soldiers guarding it. The American side was
bright and clean, orderly and self-respecting, but only a hundred feet away,
unkempt, dusty, with adobe buildings and a notorious gambling-hell in plain view,
was Mexico itself - leisurely, improvident, not overscrupulous Mexico.
At first Rudolph was fairly contented. It amused him. He liked the idleness of it.
He liked kicking the innumerable Mexican dogs out of his way. He liked baiting
the croupiers in the "Owl." He liked wandering into that notorious resort and
shoving Hindus, Chinamen, and Mexicans out of the way, while he flung down a
silver dollar and watched the dealers with cunning, avaricious eyes.
He liked his own situation, too. It amused him to think that here he was safe,
while only a hundred feet away he was a criminal, fugitive from the law. He liked
to go to the very border itself, and jeer at the men on guard there.
"If I was on that side," he would say, "you'd have me in one of those rotten
uniforms, wouldn't you? Come on over, fellows. The liquor's fine."
Then, one day, a Chinaman he had insulted gave him an unexpected shove, and
he had managed to save himself by a foot from the clutch of a quiet-faced man in
plain clothes who spent a certain amount of time lounging on the other side of the
That had sobered him. He kept away from the border itself after that, although
the temptation of it drew him. After a few weeks, when the novelty had worn off,
he began to hunger for the clean little American town across the line. He wanted
to talk to some one. He wanted to boast, to be candid. These Mexicans only
laughed when he bragged to them. But he dared not cross.
There was a high-fenced enclosure behind the "Owl," the segregated district of
the town. There, in tiny one-roomed houses built in rows like barracks were the
girls and women who had drifted to this jumping-off place of the world. In the
daytime they slept or sat on the narrow, ramshackle porches, untidy, noisy,
unspeakably wretched. At night, however, they blossomed forth in tawdry finery,
in the dancing-space behind the gambling-tables. Some of them were fixtures.
They had drifted there from New Orleans, perhaps, or southern California, and
they lacked the initiative or the money to get away. But most of them came in,
stayed a month or two, found the place a nightmare, with its shootings and
stabbings, and then disappeared.
At first Rudolph was popular in this hell of the underworld. He spent money
easily, he danced well, he had audacity and a sort of sardonic humor. They
asked no questions, those poor wretches who ad themselves slid over the edge
of life. They took what came, grateful for little pleasures, glad even to talk their