The Gentle Grafter HTML version

The Man Higher Up
Across our two dishes of spaghetti, in a corner of Provenzano's restaurant, Jeff Peters was
explaining to me the three kinds of graft.
Every winter Jeff comes to New York to eat spaghetti, to watch the shipping in East
River from the depths of his chinchilla overcoat, and to lay in a supply of Chicago-made
clothing at one of the Fulton street stores. During the other three seasons he may be found
further west—his range is from Spokane to Tampa. In his profession he takes a pride
which he supports and defends with a serious and unique philosophy of ethics. His
profession is no new one. He is an incorporated, uncapitalized, unlimited asylum for the
reception of the restless and unwise dollars of his fellowmen.
In the wilderness of stone in which Jeff seeks his annual lonely holiday he is glad to
palaver of his many adventures, as a boy will whistle after sundown in a wood.
Wherefore, I mark on my calendar the time of his coming, and open a question of
privilege at Provenzano's concerning the little wine-stained table in the corner between
the rakish rubber plant and the framed palazzio della something on the wall.
"There are two kinds of graft," said Jeff, "that ought to be wiped out by law. I mean Wall
Street speculation, and burglary."
"Nearly everybody will agree with you as to one of them," said I, with a laugh.
"Well, burglary ought to be wiped out, too," said Jeff; and I wondered whether the laugh
had been redundant.
"About three months ago," said Jeff, "it was my privilege to become familiar with a
sample of each of the aforesaid branches of illegitimate art. I was sine qua grata with a
member of the housebreakers' union and one of the John D. Napoleons of finance at the
same time."
"Interesting combination," said I, with a yawn. "Did I tell you I bagged a duck and a
ground-squirrel at one shot last week over in the Ramapos?" I knew well how to draw
Jeff's stories.
"Let me tell you first about these barnacles that clog the wheels of society by poisoning
the springs of rectitude with their upas-like eye," said Jeff, with the pure gleam of the
muck-raker in his own.
"As I said, three months ago I got into bad company. There are two times in a man's life
when he does this—when he's dead broke, and when he's rich.