Come, Redburn, you’re a gambling man, made a lot of money betting on furs and land. If you don’t want to sell him, how about a wager? Or have you lost your nerve?” Grafton pulled out a stack of playing cards from his waistcoat and waved them in the air.
Horace felt the ground beneath his feet begin to sway. He transferred his weight from one foot to another, fixed on every word.
“You want another slave that badly?” Redburn leaned back and took another puff on his cigar.
“Just that one.” Grafton sneered at Horace.
“It’s against New York law.”
“Look Redburn, you and me, we’re some of the biggest toads in the puddle. We understand business opportunities. The law is of no circumstance to men like us.”
“Still, the law is the law.”
“Dang it, man, the law is for poor critters who don’t have the balls to rise above it. Wealth is power. That’s what makes men like us special.” Grafton stood and poured himself another healthy shot of brandy.
Redburn tasted an acrid bile creep into his throat, but managed a grimace disguised as a smile. “I’d rather think of my position as noblesse oblige,” he said. “The obligation of one in a high station to act honorably to others.”
Grafton flopped back in his chair. “You can take all that noblesse shit and hang it.” He took a swig of his drink. “Don’t tell me, you ain’t never cut corners, a little hornswoggle here and there. Never got caught.”
Redburn thought about the man he cheated out of the New York plot for his hotel, about the underpaid builders, and the favors he paid for under the table. “Perhaps, to an extent,” he said, “But…”
Grafton pushed on. “Then, after a while, you probably done bigger and badder things that ain’t necessarily legal but you told yourself it was just good business.”
“But wagering a free man…”
“A slap on the wrist, a pilfering fine. Most of the time, the law looks the other way. Shit, we’re untouchable! Besides, with blackbirders and kidnappers prowling around, darkies disappear from New York streets every day. Get sold downriver. And I’ll bet you ain’t never raised a ruckus about that before.”
“Well, no, but…”
“No buts about it. Wealth is our religion. We’re the Church of the Privileged, outside the reach of common law. We follow our own doctrine. And government don’t interfere. Hell, we can follow laws we think are right, but if the law goes against our gain, we can ignore it. I say go the whole hog, man, if you got the grit.”
“I have no deficit of grit, sir.”
Horace listened from the corner of the room, as still as the peasants woven into the wall tapestry. His mouth had gone dry, but he dared not go for water fearing he’d awaken the wolves in the room to his presence. But the wolves were ready for meat.
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