pull yourself together, man, george paul wilson exhorted himself sternly, after stan slade had left. are you a man or a mouse? there is nothing to fear but fear itself. don't let the bastards get you down. there is no sense bailing out a boat that isn't leaking.
at times of stress george paul liked to fall back on the old wisdom, as he had been taught to do by his aunt aphrodite, who had trained him since childhood to be a magician and later a jewel thief. when decisive action was required, original thought was only a distraction.
but what was decisive action?
waiting in his room for frisco johnny ramirez to come and cut his throat?
that is, assuming that frisco johnny was actually within a thousand miles of the venerable hotel st crispian, and that slade's "rumor" was not an all too crude ploy by slade to drive george paul out of the safety of his room.
should he go down to the lounge? the prince room, or whatever they called it. george only drank in moderation, and when the exigencies of social amenities seemed to call for it. the last thing he needed right now was to addle his wits with liquor.
the poker game in room 712 actually intrigued him. under more relaxed circumstances george paul would have been happy to join it. he prided himself on being a pretty good player, and even more so, as a result of his training as a magician, on his ability to quickly spot any kind of cheating and double dealing - a talent which itself could often be quite remunerative.
he looked out the window. the snow was starting to come down harder.
leaving the hotel and just going to a show or a movie was not completely out of the question, but not very enticing.
george paul decided to go down to the lounge. he would have just one drink. if he wanted to stay longer he could just drink soda or even have a cup of coffee.
he had come to a decision. he felt better already.
room 712 was larger than most - actually a small suite - and had a large table which was suitable for card games. whether the table had been deliberately put there for that purpose at some time in the hotel's history no one really knew, but enterprising employees like jake had been making use of it when it was available - usually on middle of the week nights - since "forever".
jake, changed out of his bellhop uniform, sat at the table riffling the cards. the only other players who had shown up so far were mortimer and "farmer" brown.
the farmer rubbed his hands together. "might as well get started, don't you think? it's always better to have a game in progress if someone comes by and they're not sure if they want to get in." the farmer was always the first person to show up for the game and he made this same observation at every game.
"sure." they each anted a quarter and jake dealt them each two cards down and one up. it was understood that the game was seven stud unless otherwise specified.
jake preferred seven stud but did not run the game with an iron hand. if a high rolling guest - or almost any guest - wanted something else he obliged. he didn't really mind draw or five stud but hated wild card games like baseball which he regarded as little kids' games. and sometimes guests from west of the mississippi like to play with the joker and he obliged them with that.
jake himself never cheated. the slightest whiff of a reputation for a crooked game was the kiss of death, and besides, he would not have been very good at it.
mort had a queen showing, and jake and the farmer both had sixes.
before jake could look at his hole cards there was a knock on the door.
mortimer got up and opened the door. it was a man he had never seen before, a little guy with slicked back hair who looked like he might be british or european.
mortimer glanced over at jake, who had turned to face the newcomer.
"i was told there might be a game of chance here. by the bellhop. a colored fellow." the man had a slight british accent.
"sure, come in," jake told him. "there's a bar over there, make yourself a drink."
the man hesitated. "the drinks are free?"
"just the first one," jake told him. he was completely serious. the drinks were how he hoped to make money, even if he lost. he didn't cut the pot.
there was another knock. mortimer opened the door again. it was stan.
"well," said the farmer. "no use continuing here until you fellows are ready." he had a jack and a three - and no two cards the same suit - to go with his six. he tossed his three cards in the center of the table.
jake wasn't going to start the night off arguing with him. he glanced at his own cards before tossing them - three clubs, including the ace.
mortimer sat down and looked at his cards before throwing them in - another queen to go with the one showing, and an ace.
george paul pushed open the door to the prince hal room.
just one drink. he was looking forward to it.
the bartender was at the other end of the bar with his back to george paul.
george paul started to sit down on a stool at the bar.
there at the end of the bar, half turned away from george paul, talking to a young blonde woman who looked like she might be a society girl -
or she might have been a waitress or a student at n y u -
george paul's brain spun - what did he care who or what the girl was ? -
it was who and what the man was -
frisco johnny ramirez!
george paul took a deep breath and got up and not too fast, not too slow, walked out of the prince hal room.
he pressed the button for the elevator. with no one in sight he discreetly patted his inside breast pocket, feeling the envelope with the combination to mlle cazotte's safe.
"first time in new york, mister prentice?" farmer brown asked the man with the slight british accent.
"not the first time, no," the man answered politely, but with no indication he was going to expand on his answer. he had introduced himself as albert prentice, a dealer in english biscuits, who was attempting to introduce that ancient and honorable product to a heretofore indifferent american public.
but his name was not really albert prentice. it was really hector mountjoy, and he was known to the police of seven continents as one of the world's foremost and most audacious pickpockets. interpol and the paris surete ranked him as high as number three in the world.
there was another knock on the door.
it was george paul, and after jake let him in, he took a seat at the table directly opposite stan, and to the left of hector mountjoy.
george paul began to breathe a little easier as the night progressed. frisco johnny had not joined the game, but tommy sullivan and one of his boys had.
olaf had come by and played briefly, but had made way for tommy sullivan and gone home. collins had also come by but there had been no room for him and he thought the game looked a little steep for him so he decided not to wait for an opening and went away too.
the farmer, after losing a few hands, had decided the game was a bit too rich for his blood too, and departed with profuse apologies to all.
jake, mortimer, george paul, hector mountjoy aka "albert prentice", tommy sullivan and his boy, and stan were now elbow to elbow around the table.
jake wished mort would go home so a seat would be open if someone else showed up, but mort had slowly built up some modest winnings and was showing no sign of going anywhere.
george paul won a nice pot. as he raked it in, he felt almost euphoric.
suddenly it hit him. what if frisco johnny was waiting for him - back in his room!
hector mountjoy had felt nervousness coming off of george paul like radioactivity all evening.
the chap must have something on him worth lifting. it was time to step up and play the game.
tommy's boy had been losing, and whining, all night.
"this table stakes is for little girls. let's play pot limit."
"that would be a great idea," jake told him. "if we had a bank in the hotel." the punk was getting on his nerves.
"yeah, and if it was open all night," stan added.
"excuses, excuses. you guys just don't want to play. if you don't have the money, you shouldn't play."
"eddie, stuff it," tommy told him.
there was about a thousand dollars in the pot. eddie, hector mountjoy and stan were in for the last card, down and dirty. hector, high with a pair of nines , checked.
stan had nothing showing. he bet what he had in front of him - about nineteen hundred dollars. hector folded immediately.
eddie took his time. he lit a cigarette.
he counted the money in front of him. he had a little over seventeen hundred. as soon as he finished counting it he looked at stan.
"call." he put his money in the center of the table.
jake started to count stan's bet and eddie's bet .
stan threw his cards away. "you win, kid, i got nothing."
jake stopped counting. "you're about two hundred short," he told eddie.
eddie smiled. "give him two hundred back."
stan stood up. "thank you," he told eddie. he took the two hundred from jake and left.
"the night is young," tommy sullivan announced, as the door closed behind stan. "plenty of time for some of us unlucky bastards to get even."
george paul had been slightly flummoxed by all this. then he realized what stan was doing.
ha, ha! just to have an excuse to get out of the game - not that he could not just leave a big winner if he wanted to - he had thrown all his winnings away so he could sneak away and get into george paul's room. while george paul was '"trapped" giving tommy and the englishman a chance to win their money back.
ha, ha! brilliant move, slade!
because the combination to mlle cazotte's safe was not in the room, but safe in george paul's inside pocket.
ha, ha! he had always thought slade was an idiot - just a glorified pretty boy. now he knew it.
it was with some trepidation that george paul made his way back to his room after the game finally broke up. he had tried to think of some reason to ask jake to accompany him but could not think of one.
he had finally ended up winning about four hundred dollars. not bad, if he could get through the night alive.
he switched on the light. he knew right away the room was empty, but he checked the closets and the bathroom anyway.
whew! now, with no one watching, he reached into his inside pocket.
the envelope was gone.
he fought off panic. had slade gotten it? there was no way!
and of course he could still remember the combination. the paper was just a safety measure, a fallback.
he could remember it.
the snow had let up some, but was still coming down.
stan, jake and mortimer were the only customers at the all night automat beside the hotel.
the young woman at the change counter was reading "the custom of the country" by edith wharton, and paying them no mind.
stan brushed aside jake's and mort's commiserations. "it's called gambling, boys. if the kid folds, i'm good a grand. if he calls, i'm out of the game, which is what i wanted anyway." he took a sip of his coffee. he didn't mention his visit to george paul's room. or its unsatisfactory result.
jake shook his head. "if you say so, stan."
mortimer stood up. "i got to go. i wouldn't want mom to make my breakfast and me not be there to eat it."
"don't spend all that dough in one place," jake told him.
mort had ended up winning eighteen dollars.
jake had lost seventy-four dollars in the game, but made fifty back on the drinks, and eddie, who had been the big winner, had tipped him twenty dollars.
hector mountjoy had felt pleased with himself when he got back to his room on the third floor. true, he had lost a little over a hundred dollars - which he could afford. but he had proven to himself that he had not lost his touch at the most delicate operations by getting the envelope out of the coat pocket of the nervous chap.
he took the envelope and carefully opened it. which was not difficult, as it was not sealed.
it was empty.
surely there had been something in it. had he somehow dislodged it himself?
suddenly he was not so pleased with himself.
was he getting old?
in her six months of employment at the hotel, harriet had had to clean some smoky rooms, but this was one of the worst.
back on her home island, people liked to smoke a little gage once in a while, but not so much tobacco. and the tobacco they did smoke, though strong, was cleaner than the tobacco in american cigarettes.
even though it was still dark, and snowing a bit, she opened the windows wide to let some air in.
jake and mortimer had made a half hearted attempt to straighten the room out, but it was still a mess.
she noticed a small piece of stiff paper under the table, almost under her foot and picked it up.
there were some numbers written on it. too many numbers to be a telephone number. harriet decided to play the last three numbers - 364 - with the man on the corner on her way home.
she put the piece of paper down on the table.
wind was starting to come through the window with a little snow. but the room was still kind of nasty and she decided to leave the window open a little longer.
the wind picked up the piece of paper and blew it out the window, into the snowy night.