olaf stood at his post outside the door of the venerable hotel st crispian on the seventh avenue side. the snow continued to fall, but he didn't mind it or the cold , especially as the wind was not blowing in his face, but down seventh avenue towards morton st.
in fact , the cold was helping him to stay awake. he was almost at the end of a twelve hour shift. a long shift, especially for a man like himself who was not getting any younger.
it was thursday night. sometimes there was a poker game on thursday night, organized by jake the enterprising bellhop, if he could find a suitable empty room. right now olaf did not feel quite up to it, but he knew he might feel differently when he got off, and was warmed up with a drink inside him.
athough sometimes jake roped in some high rollers from the guests and that made the game a bit uncomfortable for employees like olaf and mortimer the elevator operator, who did not have the most unlimited resources of cash.
jake was the sort of fellow - always looking for some kind of angle, but not very good at it - that olaf would have avoided and somewhat looked down on in his younger days, but age had made him more tolerant of such behavior as of just about any behavior.
olaf's reverie was interrupted by a man suddenly looming up out of the snow. olaf had not seen a car go in or out of the garage so he must have come along the street, without olaf noticing him, probably from the direction of leroy st. the amount of snow on his coat seemed to confirm this.
the man carried a very small suitcase, one of the smallest olaf had ever seen. olaf could not remember having seen the man before. olaf prided himself on his ability to remember faces, though he had enough sense not to claim he "never" forgot one.
this individual was one of the most completely nondescript persons he had ever seen. his face and hair, his height and weight, and his overcoat and suit and hat were all off the rack - the biggest rack in the biggest store in the biggest city in the world. only the small suitcase might catch the eye of an astute observer like olaf - and a tiny, almost invisible scar just above his left eyebrow.
"good evening, sir," olaf greeted the man. he opened the door and glanced at the suitcase. "will you be checking in, or just enjoying the amenities of the prince hal room? i am afraid the coffee shop has closed."
"well, i was hoping to check in," the man replied, as he stepped inside the door and began knocking the snow off his coat. "do you think that will be a problem?"
"not likely, sir. i have not noticed any unusual activity tonight so i imagine a selection of rooms is probably available."
"unusual activity!" the nondescript man laughed, and shook the snow off his hat. "unusual activity! i , personally, detest all unusual activity."
"most people do, sir. do you need any assistance with your luggage?"
"oh, no, no!" the man waved the little suitcase, to show how light it was.
olaf nodded. "if you need anything, sir, i, or my replacement in about an hour, will be happy to oblige. as will the front desk and the entire staff of the hotel st crispian."
"thank you," the man smiled. "but i am only looking forward to a good night's sleep."
"very good, sir. you will find the lobby and the front desk at the end of the corridor and to your right."
"thank you." and the man headed down the corridor past the side door of the prince hal room.
but his arrival had not gone unnoticed.
"georgie, georgie, georgie. always on time, and so predictable."
stan slade turned away from the window of the coffee shop on the corner of morton street.
he decided to give georgie twenty minutes to settle in.
he was almost certain to go up to his room and stay there. and not go down to the prince hal room, or back outside.
that's if it was georgie, stan reminded himself. he couldn't really see him that well, especially with the snow. but he had been right on time. right on time according to the information stan had so carefully obtained. and paid good money for.
he wished someone else would come into the coffee shop.
there was something about the way the woman behind the counter was staring at him that made him a little nervous.
at least she wasn't talkative.
stan lit another cigarette.
outside, the snow started falling a little harder.
jake walked slowly down the corridor of the fourth floor, pondering his encounter with tommy sullivan.
he could see a light coming from the elevator. mortimer had waited for him. another indication that despite the snow it was still a slow night.
mortimer stuck his head out of the elevator. "come on, jake. i just got a light from the lobby."
the person coming up might be a new check-in - in which case collins, the other bellhop on duty would be with him, or it might be one of the regular guests , and collins would be picking up the next newcomer anyway.
so jake was really in no hurry, but he didn't feel like arguing with mortimer so he picked up his pace and got into the elevator.
"you mean what you said about the poker game?"
"sure, why not? i'll at least try to get it going. tommy said he might play, and i know tommy so that means he will." jake was not that crazy about letting mortimer play. mortimer was a surprisingly good, and extremely conservative player, and jake only liked to let him play if he really needed to fill a game up. mort could be a real game-killer, the biggest rock that ever fell into the deep blue sea.
"you can get in, mort," jake added. "but try to play like a man, huh? not like a little old lady at the church social in poughkeepsie."
"jake, come on. i got my game, i got to play it."
"yeah, you got your game. don't we all?"
they reached the lobby with a bump and mortimer slid the door open.
the person waiting was the regular guest and lobby sitter "farmer" brown. his eyes lit up when he saw jake.
"jake, my boy. just the fellow i want to see. think we'll have a game tonight?"
"i'm working on it, mister brown. i'll let you know." jake liked the farmer as a player. he was just good enough to stay in the game and keep it filled up. you wouldn't watch him play and say, jeez, what a fish, but at the end of the night he always seemed to lose.
the farmer got into the elevator and jake headed back to the desk.
a guy was checking in. an ordinary sized guy, his back was to jake and he didn't look familiar. collins was behind him with a suitcase about the size of a lunchbox.
"the coffee shop will open promptly at six, mister rogers," roland was saying. "but if you want something from the prince hal room or from outside tonight, just call down. and the prince hal room will be open until three."
"three o'clock!" the newcomer said. "you city folks sure have your wicked ways!"
jake glanced at the guy as he went over to look out the door again. he didn't recognize him.
it was still snowing. jake wondered if collins would remember to tell the guy about the game.
having disposed of the bellhop with a perfectly calibrated tip - not large enough to remember or small enough to resent - "mister rogers" exhaled and lay back on the bed in room 614 .
his little suitcase was lying flat on the dresser where he could see it.
although he had checked in as "charles rogers" from massillon ohio, his name was not really charles rogers.
his name was george paul wilson. he was an international jewel thief, one of the best. he was well known to the police of the proverbial seven continents.
but hardly to anybody else. he maintained the lowest of profiles, and detested the flamboyant types like stanley slade and st louis steve mccarthy, who in his opinion only brought unnecessary attention to the proud and ancient profession of jewel thief.
george paul was keenly aware that nature had favored him with the most valuable asset a thief could possess - a totally unmemorable exterior person.
he carefully maintained nature's gift. he did not eat or drink to excess. he stayed trim, but did not build himself up or try to look like charles atlas either.
he had only ever had one problem relating to his appearance.
despite his modest outward behavior, and although he did not consort with actresses and other "high-powered" females the way slade and mccarthy and their ilk did, george paul had a secret life.
a secret inner life.
he was, especially in his dreams, subject to the wildest, most terrifying and most shameful and perverted fantasies any man had ever had.
and sometimes when these fantasies reached their most feverish crescendoes, they manifested themselves -
in the form of a pimple or blister just above his left eye.
which had been so recurrent and relentless as to leave a barely perceptible scar.
now, lying on the bed, he wondered if the wind and snow had blown away the ridiculously expensive makeup he used to cover it up.
with a sigh, he got up to check himself in the bathroom mirror.
after he had done that, he could start considering more serious matters.
betty, one of the regular customers, came in out of the snow and edna got her a cup of coffee.
betty went over to a table and edna noticed that the guy who had been sitting beside the window was gone. with his suitcase.
edna had not liked his looks. but she did not like many people's looks.
"mister slade!" roland seemed to almost wake from his eternal reverie.
"we meet again, roland." stan smiled.
jake appeared at stan's elbow. he and stan did not bother to speak to each other.
"will you be with us long this time, mister slade?" roland asked.
"just one or two nights. don't put yourself out, any room will do."
"how does 618 sound? it doesn't have the greatest view but it is a bit larger than most."
"perfect. sounds great."
jake picked up stan's suitcase and they crossed the lobby to the elevator. mortimer wasn't there and jake pressed the bell.
"working late?" stan finally asked jake.
"no, i'm almost off."
"great, come up and see me when you do, i might make it worth your while."
"sure, stan. but hey, tonight is thursday, you know."
"so?" stan thought for a second. "what is that, your poker game night?"
"it is. think you want to get in?"
"um - probably not. i got other things to do. but come up and see me, it won't take long."
they heard the thump of the elevator arriving.
after reapplying the makeup to his mark of cain, george paul returned to the little suitcase, and from under the neatly folded single change of clothing took out a small unmarked white envelope.
he knew he should not think too long or hard about such things, but -