Wednesday, February 26, 2014

stormy thursday

by horace p sternwall

part one of four

illustrated by roy dismas and eddie el greco

it had been snowing for about twenty minutes. standing just inside the front door of the venerable hotel st crispian, jake the bellhop watched the large fluffy flakes drift down onto the sidewalk and the cars parked on bedford street.

jake did not care much for snow, as something to have to walk through or in, but sometimes it was good for business at the hotel as a few people who might be afraid of getting stuck on the trains or highways would check in for one night. or maybe they wanted to get safe in a hotel and not have to try to get a cab in a foot of snow when the bars and clubs closed.

and those were often the best guests for wanting the bellhop to get them something. something a little more expensive than a pack of cigarettes or a pack of gum.

and it was thursday night. maybe later, jake could get a poker game going. for some reason, thursday was usually a good night to get a game started. he didn't know why, but it just was.

roland was at the desk, had just come on a little earlier than his usual late night shift. roland wasn't the most interesting guy to talk to - he hardly talked at all - though when he did he would sometimes go into these long weird monologues - but he was easygoing and didn't care if jake or the other bellhops wandered around the lobby or hung around the front door, instead of staying at their bellhop posts, like some of the older desk clerks made them do.

a highly polished black desoto pulled up to the curb outside. jake didn't recognize the car itself but there was something about it that jogged his memory.

the shine job! tommy sullivan had always liked his cars polished to a high shine.

tommy sullivan had been jake's old boss when jake had been a young man trying to make his way - most unsuccessfully - in unlawful enterprise. could tommy sullivan be checking into the crispian for some reason on this snowy thursday night?

jake wasn't crazy about the idea of seeing tommy sullivan, and having tommy see him in his bellhop monkey suit, and make some smart remark. still, tommy was always a good tipper.

the other night jake had seen a movie with victor mature, in which victor mature had just gotten out of the slam and his old boss and cronies in crime wouldn't leave him alone and kept pestering him to come back in with them. they wouldn't "let him go straight".

jake had gotten out of prison about a year ago, and his problem was not that his old pals would not let him "go straight" but that they wouldn't have him back.

so here he was, honestly employed. mostly honestly, most of the time.

the back door of the desoto opened and a man carrying a small suitcase got out.

it was tommy sullivan, looking dapper as ever in his grey fedora and camels hair coat. he looked up and down the street, then waved to the driver and the desoto pulled away from the curb.

jake opened the door for him. most of the time there was no doorman on duty at this "front" door, although old olaf or some other doorman was always on duty on the other side, on seventh avenue, where most of the guests came in and where the garage and the outside entrance to the prince hal room were.

tommy didn't seem either surprised or particularly interested in seeing jake. he handed him the small suitcase, so jake supposed there couldn't be anything too valuable in it, probably just a change of clothes. it was light.

"how's it going, boyo?" tommy asked jake, as if they saw each other every day, instead of just once or twice since jake got out.

"great, tommy, great. keeping out of trouble."

"glad to hear it." tommy's eyes scanned the lobby when the door closed behind them.

the lobby was empty. even the regulars like "farmer" brown and miss charlton were not in their usual chairs under the potted palms, but probably in the prince hal room.

nolan, the house detective, was somewhere else too.

"keeping out of trouble, that's what i'm doing myself," tommy added. then, in a lower voice, with a glance over at roland, "don't call me tommy, i'm registered as charles mclaughlin."

"sure," jake agreed. then, a little louder, "sorry, sir, i thought you was someone i used to know."

if roland was paying any attention to this, he gave no indication of it.

tommy stepped over to the desk, with jake behind him.

"good evening, sir," roland intoned in his sleepy but polite voice. "do you have a reservation?'

"yes, charles mclaughlin, from binghamton."

"mister mclaughlin, of course. i believe you are in room 406. yes, 406." roland produced a room key. jake stepped up and took it.

"a couple of associates of mine also booked rooms - maybe one room together?" tommy asked roland. "mister williams and mr stanley."

roland looked down at his register. "yes, they are in room 407, right across from you. they arrived this afternoon."

"perfect, perfect. now if i can just sign in?"

"of course, sir."

tommy signed in, and then he and jake made their way across the lobby to the elevators.

mortimer was on his stool outside the elevator. as they got into the elevator he started his usual spiel, without mentioning having ever seen tommy before, so jake supposed he never had.

"a beautiful night, sir, even with the snow, don't you think? i always think the first snowfall has something beautiful about it, like seeing a baby born."

tommy laughed at mort's observation with his big tammany hall type grin. "indeed," he answered.

"you from around here, sir?" mortimer asked.

"i'm from binghamton."

"binghamton! but i bet you was born around west 49th street. i'm pretty good at spotting accents."

tommy grimaced slightly. "ha, ha, very good! yes, i was, but i moved up to the sticks when i was just a little tyke."

"i can spot more different accents than carter's got little green pills."

the old elevator made its slow way up to the fourth floor. jake decided to play it like he had never seen tommy before.

"say, mort," jake asked. "you getting off any time soon?"

"in about an hour, why?"

"i thought i might get a game going later. it is thursday night."

mortimer understood that this was jake's way of letting the guest know about the game. "maybe. i might have to get home."

"a game?" asked tommy. "i hope you mean a poker game."

"what else?" asked mortimer.

"i'm glad to hear that. because i hate to see white boys playing dice."

they reached the fourth floor and tommy and jake got off.

"enjoy your stay at the crispian, sir!" mortimer called after them. tommy waved back to him without looking around.

tommy and jake didn't speak until jake closed the door of room 406 behind them.

jake put the suitcase down beside the bed. "you want me to open this?"

"hell, no, just leave it there." tommy took his hat and overcoat off and put the hat on the dresser and draped the coat over a chair. then he lay down on the bed and rubbed his eyes.

jake went over and looked out the window at seventh avenue. he wasn't crazy about tommy's company but wasn't in any hurry until he got a tip.

"so what's this about a game? is it on the level? "

"it's a regular thing, i try to get one going every thursday, some of the guests, some of the guys who work here. you're welcome to sit in - you and the guys you got next door - williams and whoever. whoever they are, i didn't see them come in."

"a couple of new guys, you wouldn't know them." tommy sighed. "as you might have figured out, boyo, i'm kind of laying low here, maybe i should just stay in my room, that's kind of the point of this whole thing."

"sure, tommy, sure. i should have figured that. is there anybody i should be looking out for?"

tommy examined his finely manicured fingernails. "i had a slight disagreement with al maldonado. al the grocery man. nothing that can't be worked out. meanwhile i hear he's brought this guy in - frisco tony, frisco willie, some damn name like that, frisco freddy. but we'll work it out. "

"i'll keep an eye out for this guy, tommy. and my ear to the ground. meanwhile, is there anything else i can get you?"

tommy sat up. "yeah, get me a half pint of old granddad. make it a pint. and some soda water. and a couple of packs of old golds.'" he peeled a couple of bills off a roll he took from his pocket and gave them to jake. "keep the change."

jake's eyes widened. two double sawbucks! "wow! thanks, tommy!"

"consider it a retainer. in case i might want to use you later."

"sure, sure. uh - i don't suppose you'd be interested in some female companionship?"

"are you kidding? in a situation like this, the last thing you need is some dizzy bigmouth dame. i'm not going to be here for a month."

"right. just thought i'd ask." jake put the two bills in his pocket and headed for the door.

he turned with his hand on the doorknob. "you know, tommy, just one thing."


"i'm not going to tell you your business - "

"i hope not."

"but there was one thing i noticed when you came in."


"how shined up your car was. before you even got out of the car, i thought, hey that looks like tommy's car, all shined up like that. you don't see that so much any more."

"you don't say."

"so if you are laying low, if you get my drift…"

"a guy's got to look good, what are you trying to say?"

"times have changed. you see guys now, they don't even hardly shine their shoes, let alone their cars. you know what i'm saying?"

tommy shook his head and lay back down on the bed. "i can't believe that. the world may be going to hell, but it can't be as bad as that."

jake shrugged. "if you say so. i'm just trying to be helpful." he started to open the door.

"wait," tommy said.


"that game, maybe i will get in it. let me know if you get it started."

"sure, tommy, sure."

jake left and closed the door behind him.

part two

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