Comprehension Exercise – Creative Writing – 160

Comprehension Exercise

Creative Writing – 160

Read the following piece and answer all the comprehension questions given underneath

Making a million legally has always been difficult. Making a million illegally has always been a little easier. Keeping a million when you have made it is perhaps the most difficult of all. Henryk Metelski was one of those rare men who managed all three. Even if the million he had made legally came after the million he had made illegally, what put him a yard ahead of the others was that he managed to keep it all.

Henryk Metelski was born on the Lower East Side of New York on May 17, 1909. His parents were Polish and had emigrated to America at the turn of the century. Henryk’s father was a baker by profession and had easily found a job in New York, where the immigrant Poles specialised in baking black rye bread and running small restaurants. Both parents would have liked Henryk to have been an academic success, but he was not gifted in that direction and never became an outstanding pupil at his high school. He was a sly, smart little boy, unloved by the school authorities for his indifference to stirring tales of the War of Independence and the Liberty Bell, and for his control of the underground school market in soft drugs and liquor. Little Henryk did not consider that the best things in life were free, and the pursuit of money and power came to him as naturally as does the pursuit of a mouse to a cat.

Of course, he joined the Polish gang, who were never as powerful as the Irish or the Italians, but managed to hold their own on the East Side. Despite his frail build and puny size, his natural cunning equipped him to run the smaller operations while older and tougher boys fell in with his plans. The Polish gang were responsible for the numbers racket, which they organised in their small neighbourhood, and because it was exclusively a Polish area they had little interference from the other big gangs, who were always at war amongst themselves. It is only the shrimps who survive among the sharks. Henryk quickly became the brains behind the Polish gang, never allowing himself to be caught red-handed, never even picked up, although it was obvious to the police of the Nineteenth Precinct that he was the one they should be trying to nail.

When Henryk was a pimply and nourishing fourteen-year-old his father died of what we now know as cancer. His mother survived her husband’s death by no more than a few months, leaving their only child to bring himself up. Henryk should have gone into the district orphanage for destitute children, but in the early 1920s it was not hard for a boy to disappear in New York—what was harder was to survive. Henryk became a master of survival, a schooling which was to prove very useful in later life.

He knocked around the East Side of New York with his belt tightened and his eyes open, shining shoes here, washing dishes there, looking always for an entrance to the maze at the heart of which lie wealth and prestige. He discovered one when his roommate, Jan Pelnik, a messenger boy on the New York Stock Exchange, put himself temporarily out of action with a sausage garnished with salmonella. Henryk, deputed to report this mishap to the Chief Messenger, upgraded food poisoning to tuberculosis, and talked himself into the ensuing job vacancy. Then he changed his room, donned his new uniform and started work.

Most of the messages he delivered during the early twenties read “Buy.” Many of them were quickly acted upon, for this was a boom era. Henryk saw men of little ability make fortunes while he was nothing but an observer. His instincts directed him towards those individuals who made more money in a week on the Exchange than he could in a lifetime on his salary.

He set about learning to understand how the Stock Exchange operated, he listened to conversations, read messages, found out which newspapers to study and by the age of eighteen he had had four years’ experience on Wall Street. Four years which to most messenger boys would have been nothing more than walking across floors handing over bits of paper, four years which to Henryk Metelski had been the equivalent of a master’s degree from Harvard Business School (not that he knew then that one day he would lecture to that august body).

In July 1927 he took a midmorning message to Halgarten & Co., a well-established broking firm, making his usual detour via the washroom. He had perfected a system whereby he would lock himself into a cubicle, read the message he was carrying, decide whether it was of any value to him and, if it was, telephone Witold Gronowich, an older Pole who ran a small insurance brokerage for his fellow countrymen. Henryk reckoned to pick up twenty to twenty-five dollars a week extra with the information he supplied. Gronowich, being unable to place large sums on the market, never led any leaks back to his young informant.

Sitting in the washroom Henryk began to realise that he was reading a message of some considerable significance. The governor of Texas was going to grant the Standard Oil Company permission to complete a pipeline from Chicago to Mexico, all other public bodies involved having already agreed to the proposal. The market was aware that the company had been trying to obtain this final permission for nearly a year. The message was to be passed direct to John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s broker, Tucker Anthony, immediately. The granting of this pipeline would open up the entire North to a ready access of oil, and that would mean increased profits. It was obvious to Henryk that Standard Oil shares would rise steadily on the market once the news had broken, especially as Standard Oil already controlled 90 per cent of the oil refineries in America.

In normal circumstances Henryk would have sent this information immediately to Mr. Gronowich, and was about to do so when he noticed a rather overweight man (who had obviously had too many Wall Street lunches) also leaving the washroom, drop a piece of paper. As there was no one else about at the time Henryk picked it up and retreated once again to his private cubicle, thinking at best it would be another piece of information. In fact, it was a cheque for $50,000 made out to cash from a Mrs. Rose Rennick.

Henryk thought quickly. He quit the washroom at speed and was soon standing on Wall Street itself. He made his way to a small coffee shop on Rector Street, where he carefully worked out his plan and then he acted on it immediately.

First, he cashed the cheque at a branch of the Morgan Bank on the southwest side of Wall Street, knowing that as he was wearing the smart uniform of a messenger at the Exchange it would be assumed that he was no more than a carrier for some distinguished firm. He then returned to the Exchange and acquired from a floor broker 2,500 Standard Oil shares at $19.85, leaving himself $126.61 change after brokerage charges. He placed the $126.61 in a deposit account at the Morgan Bank. Then, sweating in tense anticipation of an announcement from the governor’s office, he put himself through the motions of a normal day’s work, too preoccupied with Standard Oil even to make a detour via the washroom with the messages he carried.

No announcement came. Henryk was not to know that it was being held up until the Exchange had officially closed at four o’clock because the governor himself was buying shares anywhere and everywhere he could lay his grubby hands on them, pushing the shares to $20.05 by the close of business without any official announcement. Henryk went home that night petrified that he had made a disastrous mistake. He had visions of going to jail, losing his job and everything he had built up over the past four years.

He was unable to sleep that night and became steadily more restless in his small room. At one o’clock he could stand it no longer, so he rose, shaved, dressed and took a train to Grand Central Station. From there he walked to Times Square, where with trembling hands he bought the first edition of the Wall Street Journal. And there it was, shrieking across the headlines—

Comprehension Questions

1. In what way was Henryk Metelski unique in managing his own finances?

2. What did Henryk’s parents want him to be? In what did Henryk excel in school? What was his natural God-given instinct?

3. Did Henryk succeed as a hooligan? What special qualities he had for being the leader of the Polish gang? Did he evade the Nineteenth Precinct Police?

4. What misfortune befell Henryk when he was 14? Why he opted to go to New York instead of going to an orphanage?

5.  How did Henryk make a living in the East Side of New York?

6. Why did his friend Jan Pelnk fall sick?

7. How did Henryk get the messenger job of Pelnik?

8. In what way did Henryk benefit from his four years of work in the Stock Exchange?

9. How did Henryk manage to earn 20 to 25 dollars more each weak? Why the amount was of not much use to him?

10. Why was it apparent to Heneryk that Standard Oil Co.’s share would gain in value soon?

11. Why was Henryk so quick to rush to the Coffee Shop in Rector Street?

12. Why did he not worry much to encash the large check? What he did with the money?

13. Why was Henryk expecting an announcement from the governor’s office that caused him so much momentary anxiety?

14. What was the fear that gripped Henryk’s mind that night?

15. Why did Henrryk buy more than one newspaper?

16. Who is Mrs. Rennik? Why did Henryk want to repay 50,000 Dollars to her?

Model Answers

1. Heenryk was an astute manager of his money. First, he made money through illegal means followed by his success in making money legally. But, he never squandered his newly-acquired riches.

2. Henryk belied the hopes of his parents by showing no inclination towards academics. He showed no interest in reading parts of American history, thus making his teachers losing interest in him. He was, however, good at selling soft narcotics and cigarettes in the sly in the school. He was not a  day-dreamer, and realized that all the good things in  life would need efforts. Fortunately for him, opportunities came his way in plenty.

3. Henryk was a boy of the streets. He led small gangs with aplomb despite being slim and weak. He confronted the muscular Italian and Irish gangs with success. His talent attracted older and tougher Poles to his way. He could evade the police with ease and was never arrested, even by the Nineteenth Metropolitan police.

4. Heneryk’s father succumbed to caner, and his mother  died within months of his father’s death. Henryk chose not to go to the orphanage. He saw opportunities in New York, where he felt he could earn a living, but it was not so easy. The struggle to make both ends meet made him and gritty.

5. Henryk moved around in the East Side of New York doing all sorts odd jobs like washing dishes, polishing shoes etc. He was determined to succeed in the place known for its wealth and affluence. He lived with a guy named John Pelnik who worked as a messenger in New York Stock Exchange. One day Henryk wickedly infected a piece of sausage meant for his roommate Paleniklinkby salmnonella. Pelink got sick in his stomach and sent Henryk to report the same to his boss. Clever Henryk told the boss that Palenik was down with TB. The manager terminated Pelanik’s job gave it to Henryk. Like this, through deceit, he managed a job.

6. Henryk got Pelnik’s sausage laced with salmnnonella. This led to stomach trouble for Jan Pelank.

7. Jan Pelnik’s sickness was planned by Henryk through poising of the former’s sausage. Henryk was sent to inform the manager where he disclosed that his friend was down with TB, a serious disease. This made the manager drop Pelnik and take in Henryk.

8. Henryk was an avid learner. He made the best use of his time in the Stock Exchange, reading papers, listening to conversations, and picking up new skills. His gain in knowledge was stupendous, almost to that of a Harvard degree.

9. Henryk was an errand boy who carried messages from office to office. When he got one, he would rush to a toilet at a certain distance and lock himself up for a short time to be able to read the contents. If he found worthwhile, he would call up his Polish friend Witold Gronowich to pass on the information. Witold Gronowich was a small time Polish broker who did some business for his countrymen. For such services, Witold Gronowich used to pay Henryk 20 to 25 dollars a week. The amount was too small to be used to buy shares.

10. Standard Oil Co had long been waiting to get the highly lucrative pipeline laying contract from the Governor of Texas. The paper that fell into Henryk’s hand had this important message. The award was due to be given very soon. With such orders in hand Standard Oil was bound to make profits and its shares would go up.

11. Henryk was a quick thinker with a sharp mind. He rushed to the Rector Street Coffee Shop to get some quiet time to chalk out his plans for the immediate future. He wanted to make the best use of the twin opportunities – the availability of 50000 dollars cheque and the prospect of a windfall profit through soaring prices of Standard Oil prices about which no one knew at that point of time.

12. He was wearing the uniform of New York Stock Exchange. That added credibility to his presenting a large check for encashment. The element of suspicion was almost not there.

13. The Governor’s office had to announce the award of the contract, only after which the anticipated rise in share prices could occur.

14. The 50000 cheque he encashed was an act of fraud. It could send him to jail for years. Even using classified information to know the likely rise or fall of shares is a crime. If caught, he could land in jail with stiff terms.  Thinking these, he became nervous.

15. Henryk’s mind was in turmoil. He was eager to know if the surge in share prices of Standard Oil would really come through. To make sure, he bought two newspapers.

16. Mrs.Rsenick was an old lady who lived in New York. She was the rightful owner of the cheque. Henryk thought paying off the amount before the police came could lessen his guilt. So, he took his decision.

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