Runner follows Charlie Feehan’s entrance into Richmond’s world of organized crime, which is gradually taking over Melbourne. At first, Charlie romanticizes both crime and the more illicit aspects of urban life, and since he has few alternatives for helping support his family, he readily joins in. But once he starts working for Squizzy Taylor’s gang, he realizes that organized crime is far from his romantic notion of it. Charlie decides to apply to be Squizzy’s runner instead of seeking a “respectable” job because the “sleazy streets” of Richmond have “seduced” him. The excitement of brothels, gambling dens, and speakeasies seem like an escape from the struggles of his everyday life. Since organized crime is new to Richmond, gangs are still establishing themselves, and Charlie faces few risks from other criminals for allying with Squizzy. As tensions rise between rival gangs, however, these gangs grow more methodical and more violent. By the end of the story, Charlie observes, “gangsterism ha[s] arrived,” and Squizzy’s gang is at war with their enemies. This increasing violence makes Charlie understand that crime is more than just an exciting pastime––it can have life-altering consequences. Charlie’s growing understanding of Squizzy Taylor himself follows his disillusionment with Richmond’s underworld. At first, he is charmed by and grateful to Squizzy, but he gradually loses respect for the gangster as Squizzy proves that his charisma conceals a violent streak and a disregard for people’s lives. Charlie’s slow realization about the true nature of crime highlights that the flashy excitement of organized crime can “seduce” young people, especially those like Charlie who have few other opportunities, but under that excitement lurks violence, cruelty, and danger.
Crime Quotes in Runner
True, it was the warmth I sought each night I headed out. It was the prickle of skin and the sweat on my brow. But soon there was something more. The sleazy streets seduced me, and, like a moth to the flame, I gladly surrendered.
I’d heard that [Squizzy Taylor] was a man not to be trusted––a scheming blaggard who’d squeal on his mother to save his own skin. But already I liked him. There was something about him I admired. Pint-sized and snappily dressed, Squizzy Taylor commanded respect. And what’s more, he got it.
Normally I would have felt uneasy, limping through the city streets in the daylight hours. Without an adult escort, I was fair game to be collared by a truant officer. But today, I felt different. Today, although my victory had not been entirely aboveboard, I had joined the ranks of the gainfully employed. I was one of them.
I didn’t want what other people wanted. I didn’t want to be like Nostrils, sticking labels on tins of jam at Rosella’s, or like my father, who’d busted his gut down on the wharf for years. I wanted something more than that. I wanted a piece of the action. It didn’t have to be a huge helping, just a slice of it.
Enough to give Ma and Jack a better life.
I stood next to Nostrils, smiling confidently, almost daring the copper to take it further. Never before would I have had the nerve, but as he looked into my eyes I held his gaze, and it was then that I realized what I loved about working for Squizzy Taylor. It was more than just the money. It was the power I loved as well.
I ran during the day and I ran at night. In fact, I ran so much that I didn’t bother changing into my father’s old boots anymore. Ma and I both had our secrets now […]. I avoided her as best I could, preferring to spend my time with Nostrils or Squizzy or Dolly. At least with them I didn’t have to pretend.
[…A] wave of bravado rose in my chest. I reached down and grabbed an apple, then tossed it into the air. When it landed in my right hand, I lifted it up to my mouth and took a healthy bite[…].
“It’s a pleasure doin’ business with ya,” I said, taking the envelope from his outstretched hand. “And by the way, them apples––they’re a bit on the green side.”
During the city runs, I’d been able to distance myself from Squizzy’s debtors. To me they were simply names on a list.
But now, after my meeting with the Cornwalls, I realized that these people were more than just names. They were real people, desperate people––people with families, people just like Ma and me.
I’d grown accustomed to [Squizzy’s] sarcastic tongue. But tonight the tone in his voice was different. There was a viciousness in it, and it frightened me.
“What the flamin’ ‘eck d’ya think yer up ta?” he roared. “Ya thinkin’ a joinin’ the priesthood, are ya, lad? It’s charity work yer interested in, is it?” […]
“Mr. Taylor, I can explain […].”
In a flash, Squizzy jumped to his feet, gun in hand. He rushed me and stopped only a few inches from my face.
Full of rage, I dropped by eyes to the ground and saw my shiny black boots. Right then, something clicked inside my head. Everything became clear. Silently I left the office and made my way to the laundry. After changing into my father’s old boots, I strode back down the hall. I […] placed the boots on the table, right under Squizzy’s nose.