It was about ten o’clock when the lookout let George in. The big play was usually between twelve and three, and now there were only a few people in the place. In one corner of the main room four men were playing bridge, and one of the centre wheels was running.
‘Hell, Mr Barber,’ the lookout said. ‘Little early tonight, ain’t you?’
‘Yeah,’ said George. ‘Boss in?’
‘Yeah,’ said the lookout, ‘and he wants to see you. He was grinning all over his face. But he didn’t say nothing to me.’
‘Somebody kicked in,’ said George.
‘Yeah,’ said the lookout, ‘that’s about it.’
Levin, one of the croupiers, came over to George.
‘Mr Barber,’ he said. The Spade just left. He and the Old Man had a session.’
George grinned and struck at one of his spats with his cane.
‘The Spade was in, was he? Well, no wonder the Old Man was in a good humour.’
‘How do you do it, Mr Barber?’ asked the croupier.
‘Yeah, we been wondering,’ put in the lookout.
‘Well,’ said George, ‘I just talk nice to ‘em and they get ashamed of themselves and pay up.’
The croupier and the lookout laughed.
‘Well,’ said the croupier, ‘it’s a gift, that’s all.’
Somebody knocked at the entrance door, and the lookout went to see who it was. The croupier grinned at George and walked back to his chair. George knocked at Weinberg’s door, then pushed it open. As soon as he saw George, Weinberg began to grin and nod his head.
‘The Spade was in,’ he said.
George sat down and lighted a cigar.
‘Yeah, so I hear.’
‘He settled the whole business, George,’ said Weinberg. ‘You could’ve knocked my eyes off with a ball bat.’
‘Well,’ said George, ‘I thought maybe he’d be in.’
‘Did, eh? Listen, George, how did you ever pry The Spade loose from three grand?’
‘It’s a business secret,’ said George and laughed.
Weinberg sat tapping his desk with a pencil and staring at George. He never could dope him out. Pretty soon he said: ‘George, better watch The Spade. He’s gonna try to make it tough for you.’
‘I told him he could play his IOU’s again, but he said he’d never come in this place as long as you was around. So I told him goodbye.’
‘Well,’ said George, ‘he can play some then, because I’m leaving you.’
Weinberg just sat there tapping with his pencil.
‘I’m fed up,’ said George. ‘I’m going to take me a vacation. I’m sick of Chi. Same old dumps, same old mob.’
‘How long you figure to be away?’ asked Weinberg.
‘About a month. I’m going over east. I got some friends in Toledo.’
‘Well,’ said Weinberg, ‘you’ll have a job when you get back.’
He got up, opened a little safe in the wall behind him, and took out a big, unsealed envelope.
‘Here’s a present for you, George,’ he said. ‘I’m giving you a cut on The Spade’s money besides your regular divvy. I know a right guy when I see one.’
‘OK,’ said George, putting the envelope in his pocket without looking at it.
‘Matter of fact,’ said Weinberg, ‘I never expected to see no more of The Spade’s money. He ain’t paying nobody. He’s blacklisted.’
George sat puffing at his cigar. Weinberg poured out a couple of drinks from the decanter on his desk. They drank.
‘Don’t get sore now,’ said Weinberg, ‘when I ask you this question, but listen, George, you ain’t going to Toledo to hide out, are you?’
George got red in the face.
‘Say…’ he said, and started to rise.
‘All right! All right!’ said Weinberg hurriedly. ‘I didn’t think so, George, I didn’t think so. I just wondered.’
‘Tell you what I’ll do,’ said George. ‘Get your hat and I’ll take you down to The Spade’s restaurant for some lunch.’
Weinberg laughed but he didn’t feel like laughing.
‘Never mind, George,’ he said. ‘I just wondered.’
‘All right,’ said George. ‘But any time you get an idea in your head I’m afraid of a guy like The Spade, get it right out again, because you’re all wrong.’
‘Sure,’ said Weinberg.
After another drink they shook hands, and George went out into the main room. There was another table of bridge going now, and a faro game had opened up.
The lookout opened the door for George.
‘I won’t be seeing you for a while,’ said George.
‘That so?’ said the lookout. ‘Well, watch your step wherever you’re going.’
George got into Toledo late at night. He felt tired and bored, and he didn’t feel any better when the taxi-driver, who had taken him from the depot to the hotel, presented his bill.
‘Brother,’ said George, ‘you don’t need no gun.’
‘What’s that!’ exclaimed the taxi-driver, scowling.
‘You heard me,’ said George. ‘You don’t need no gun.’
‘Well,’ said the taxi-driver, ‘that’s our regular rate, Mister. Maybe you better take a street car.’
Then he climbed into his cab and drove off. George stood there staring at the cab till it turned a corner.
‘Damn’ hick!’ he said. ‘Talking to me like that!’
The doorman took his bags.
‘You sure got some smart boys in this town,’ said George.
The doorman merely put his head on one side and grinned.
There were three men ahead of George at the desk, and he had to wait. The clerk ignored him.
‘Say,’ said George, finally, ‘give me one of them cards. I can be filling it out.’
The clerk stared at him and then handed him a card. George screwed up his mouth and wrote very carefully: Mr Geo. P. Barber, Chicago, Ill.
The clerk glanced at the card and said: ‘You’ll have to give us an address, Mr Barber, please.’
‘Allard Hotel,’ said George. ‘Listen, I’m tired, and I can’t be standing around in this lobby all night.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said the clerk. ‘About how long will you be here?’
‘I don’t know,’ said George. ‘It all depends.’
As soon as George was settled in his room he unpacked his bag and undressed slowly. He still felt tired and bored.
‘Some town,’ he said. ‘Why, the way them birds act you’d think this was a town.’
He turned out the lights, lighted a cigarette, and sat down at a window in his pyjamas. It was about twelve o’clock and the streets were nearly empty.
‘Good Lord,’ he said. ‘Why, in Chi it’s busier than this five miles north.’
He flung the cigarette out the window and climbed into bed. He lay thinking about The Spade and Weinberg. Finally he fell asleep.
He woke early the next morning, which was unusual for him, and discovered that he had a headache and a sore throat.
‘Hell!’ he said.
He pulled on his clothes hurriedly and went across the street to a little Italian restaurant with a green facade and an aquarium in the window. The place was empty. He sat down at a table in the front and stared out into the street. A waiter came over and handed him a menu. The waiter was tall and stooped, with a dark, sad face. He studied George for a moment, then addressed him in Italian. George turned and stared at the waiter. He did not like to be reminded that he had been born Giovanni Pasquale Barbieri.
‘Talk American! Talk American!’ he said.
‘Yes, sir,’ said the waiter. ‘You a stranger here?’
‘Yeah,’ said George.
‘I seen you come out of the hotel, so I thought you was.’
‘Yeah,’ said George, with a certain amount of pride, ‘I’m from Chicago.’
‘Me, too,’ said the waiter. ‘My brother’s got a plumbing shop on Grand Avenue.’
‘Yeah?’ said George. ‘Well, I live 4000 numbers north on Sheridan.’
‘That so? Pretty swell out there, ain’t it?’
‘Not bad,’ said George. ‘Say what do you do around here for excitement?’
The waiter smiled sadly and shrugged.
‘That’s what I thought,’ said George.
‘If I ever get me some money I’m going back to Chicago,’ said the waiter.
George ate his breakfast hurriedly and gave the waiter a big tip. The waiter smiled sadly.
Thank you. We don’t get no tip around here like that.’
‘Small town, small money,’ said George.
The waiter helped him on with his overcoat, then George returned to the hotel. He didn’t know what to do with himself, so he went to bed. When he woke up his headache was worse and he could hardly swallow.
‘By God, if I ain’t got me a nice cold,’ he said.
He dressed in his best blue-serge suit and took a taxi down to Chiggi’s. Chiggi was in the beer racket and was making good. He had a new place now with mirrors all around the wall and white tablecloths. The bouncer took him back to Chiggi’s office. Chiggi got up and shook hands.
‘Hello, George,’ he said. ‘How’s tricks?’
‘I ain’t starving.’
‘In bad over in Chi?’
‘Me? I should say not.’
Chiggi just grinned and said nothing.
‘Listen,’ said George, ‘does a guy have to be in bad to leave Chi?’
‘Well,’ said Chiggi, ‘the only guys I ever knew that left were in bad.’
‘Here’s one that ain’t.’
‘That’s your story, anyway,’ said Chiggi, grinning.
The bouncer came and called Chiggi, and George put his feet up on Chiggi’s desk and sat looking at the wall. From time to time he felt his throat. Once or twice he sneezed.
‘It’s a damn’ good thing I didn’t come over on a sleeper; I’d’ve had pneumonia,’ he thought.
Chiggi came back and they organised a poker game. George played listlessly and dropped two hundred dollars. Then he went out into the dance hall, got himself a girl, and danced a couple of times. The music wasn’t bad, the floor was good, and the girl was a cute kid and willing, but George wasn’t having a good time.
‘Say,’ he thought, ‘what the devil’s wrong with me?’
About two o’clock he left Chiggi’s, got a taxi, and went back to the hotel. It was raining. He sat hunched in one corner of the taxi with his coat collar turned up.
He went to bed as soon as he could get his clothes off, but he didn’t sleep well and kept tossing around.
At eleven o’clock the next morning he came down into the lobby. He went over to the mail clerk to ask if he had any mail; not that he was expecting any, but just to give the impression that he was the kind of man that got mail, important mail. The girl handed him a sealed envelope with his name on it. Surprised, he tore it open and read:
…as your stay is marked on our cards as indefinite, and as you are not listed among our reservations, we must ask that your room be vacated by six tonight. There are several conventions in town this week and it is absolutely necessary that we take care of our reservations.
W. W. Hurlburt, Asst. Mgr.
‘Well, tie that!’ said George.
The girl at the mail desk stared at him.
‘Say, sister,’ he said, ‘where’s the assistant manager’s office?’
She pointed. He went over and knocked at the door, and then went in. A big, bald-headed man looked up.
‘Listen,’ said George, ‘are you the assistant manager?’
‘I am,’ said the big man.
George tossed him the letter.
‘Sorry,’ said the big man, ‘but what can we do, Mr Barber?’
‘I’ll tell you what you can do,’ said George. ‘You can tear that letter up and forget about it.’
‘You think I’m going to leave, I suppose?’
‘Well,’ said the big man, ‘I guess you’ll have to.’
‘Oh, that’s it,’ said George, smiling. ‘Well, try to put me out.’
The big man stared at him.
‘Yeah,’ said George. ‘Try to put me out. I’d like to see somebody come up and put me out. I’ll learn them something.’
‘Well, Mr Barber,’ said the big man, ‘as a matter of fact, it is a little unusual for us to do anything like this. That is, it’s not customary. But we were instructed to do so. That’s all I can tell you.’
George stared at him for a moment. ‘You mean the bulls?’
‘Sorry,’ said the big man. ‘That’s all I can tell you.’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’m staying, so don’t try to rent that room.’
He went out, banging the door, ate his dinner at the Italian restaurant across the street, talked with the waiter for a quarter of an hour and gave him another big tip; then he took a taxi out to Chiggi’s. But Chiggi had been called to Detroit on business. George had a couple of cocktails and sat talking with Curly, the bouncer, about Chicago Red, who had once been Chiggi’s partner, and Rico, the gang leader, who had been killed by the police in the alley back of Chiggi’s old place. At four o’clock George got a taxi and went back to the hotel. All the way to the hotel he sat trying to figure out why he had come to Toledo. This was sure a hell of a vacation!
The key clerk gave him his key without a word, and George smiled.
‘Bluffed ‘em out,’ he said.
But when lie opened his door he saw a man sitting by the window reading a magazine. His hand went involuntarily toward his armpit. The man stood up; he was big and had a tough, Irish face.
‘My name’s Geygan,’ said the man, turning back his coat. ‘I want to see you a minute. Your name’s Barber, ain’t it?’
‘Yeah,’ said George. ‘What’s the song, flatfoot?’
Geygan stared at him. ‘You talking to me, kid?’
‘There ain’t nobody else in the room that I see,’ said George.
‘Smart boy,’ said Geygan. ‘Come over till I fan you.’
‘You’ll fan nobody,’ said George. ‘What’s the game?’
Geygan came over to George, whirled him around, and patted his pockets; then he lifted George’s arms and felt his ribs; then he slapped his trouser legs. George was stupefied.
Geygan laughed. ‘I thought you Chicago birds packed rods,’ he said.
‘What would I do with a rod in this tank town!’ said George.
‘All right,’ said Geygan. ‘Now listen careful to what I say. Tonight you leave town. Get that? You birds can’t light here. That’s all. We’ve had some of you birds over here and we don’t like you, see? Beat it and no questions asked. You stick around here and we’ll put you away.’
George grinned. ‘Putting it on big, hunh?’
‘Yeah. You better not be in the city limits at twelve tonight or…’
‘Listen,’ said George, interrupting, ‘you hick bulls can’t bluff me that easy. Just try and do something, that’s all. Just try and do something. You ain’t got a thing on me.’
‘All right,’ said Geygan.
Geygan went out. George took off his overcoat and sat down in the chair by the window.
‘Can you beat that!’ he thought. ‘It’s a damn’ good thing I got my rods in the trunk. Why, that mug actually fanned me. Yeah. Say, what kind of a town is this, anyway? No wonder Chicago Red hit for home!’
He got up and unlocked his trunk. There was a false bottom in it where he kept his guns and his liquor. That was safe. Well, they didn’t have a thing on him. Let them try and put him out. All the same, he began to feel uneasy. But, hell, he couldn’t let these small-town cops scare him.
He was taking off his shoes when somebody knocked at the door.
’I wonder what the game is,’ he thought.
Then he went over and opened the door. Geygan and two other plainclothesmen stepped in.
‘There he is, chief. You talk to him. He won’t listen to me.’
‘Say,’ said the chief, a big grey-haired man, ‘they tell me you’ve decided to prolong your visit.’
‘Yeah,’ said George, ‘indefinitely.’
‘Well,’ said the chief, ‘if you want to stay here, why, I guess we can accommodate you. Fan him, Buck.’
‘Say,’ said George, ‘I been fanned so much I got calluses.’
‘That’s too bad,’ said the chief. ‘Go ahead, Buck.’
Buck whirled George around and gave him the same kind of search Geygan had given him, with this difference: he found a gun in his hip pocket, a small nickel-plated.32. George stared at the gun and began to sweat.
‘Geygan,’ said the chief, ‘you didn’t do a very good job.’
‘I guess not,’ said Geygan.
‘You never found that cap pistol on me,’ said George, staring hard at Buck.
‘Will you listen to that, Buck!’ said the chief. ‘He thinks you’re a magician.’
‘Why, you planted that gun on me,’ said George. ‘That’s a hell of a way to do.’
‘Well,’ said the chief, ‘when your case comes up, you can tell it all to the judge.’
‘My case!’ cried George.
‘Why, sure,’ said the chief. ‘We send ‘em up for carrying rods here.’
George stood looking at the floor. By God, they had him. Wasn’t that a break. Well, it was up to Chiggi now.
‘Listen,’ said the chief, ‘we ain’t looking for no trouble and we’re right guys, Barber. I’ll make you a little proposition. You pack up and take the next train back to Chicago and we’ll forget about the.32.’
‘He don’t want to go back to Chicago,’ said Geygan. ‘He told me.’
George walked over to the window and stood there looking down at the street.
‘OK,’ he said, ‘I’ll go.’
‘All right,’ said the chief. ‘Buck, you stick with the Chicago boy and see that he gets on the right train.’
‘All right, chief,’ said Buck.
Geygan and the chief went out. Buck sat down and began to read a newspaper.
Weinberg was sitting at his desk, smoking a big cigar, when George opened the door. Seeing George, he nearly dropped his cigar.
‘Hello, boss,’ said George.
‘By God, I thought you was a ghost,’ said Weinberg. ‘What’s wrong with your voice?’
‘I caught a cold over in Toledo.’
‘You been to Toledo and back already! Did you go by airplane?’
‘No, but I made a quick trip. What a hick town. You ought to go there once, and look it over.’
‘Chicago suits me,’ said Weinberg.
George sat down, and Weinberg poured him a drink. George didn’t say anything, but just sat there sipping his drink.
Pretty soon Weinberg said: ‘George, I was hoping you’d stay in Toledo for a while. Rocco was in the other night and he told me that The Spade was telling everybody that your number was up.’
‘Ain’t that funny!’
Weinberg didn’t think it was funny, but he laughed and poured himself another drink.
‘Yeah,’ said George, ‘that’s the best one I’ve heard this year.’