Authors: James M. Cain
James M. Cain
LOVE'S LOVELY COUNTERFEIT
Through the revolving door came a tall man with big shoulders, who crossed to the elevators, and after nodding to the starter, stood looking over the lobby. It was the standard lobby, for hotels of the first class in cities of the second class, to be found all over the United States: it had quiet, comfortable furniture; illuminated signs with green letters over the windows of grand functionaries; oil paintings of lakes, streams, and forests; and heavy urns, filled with sand, for cigarettes. Various desks, tables, and booths, staffed with women in assorted uniforms, gave it a touch of high, wartime consecration. Yet, in spite of all this, it contrived to seem a bit disreputable. Possibly the clientele, now debouching from dining room, fountain room, and cocktail bar, grabbing its hats after lunch, and hastening away, had something to do with this. It was made up of men distinctly political, together with the slightly too good-looking women one encounters behind desks in city halls. Indeed, many of them, after leaving the hotel, streamed over to the City Hall across the street, a traffic cop blowing his whistle as each batch appeared, and making this rite seem portentous, as though the vehicles that he stopped had all the panting impatience of an Empire State Express.
The man at the elevators, however, noted little of this, and seemed so much a part of it that he may have been incapable of seeing it. He was at least six feet, and something about his carriage suggested that at some time in his life he had been a professional athlete. His face, however, was at variance with the rest of him. Although he was not far from thirty, it had a juvenile look, and the part that was face, as distinguished from the parts that were cheek, jowl, and chin, seemed curiously small. Allowing for that, he had a fair amount of masculine good looks. His hair was light, with the tawniness that touches such hair in the late twenties. His eyes were blue, his skin showed the sunburn of many seasons; his step, as he entered the car, was springy. He rode up to the seventh floor, got out, walked down a corridor, stopped before a door with no number on it, pressed a button. A slot opened, then the door opened, and he went in.
The room he entered was large, with the usual hotel furniture and a grand piano that was enameled in green and pointed in gold. He gave a wipe at this as he went by, so the keys made a startled clatter, and went on to an office that adjoined the big room. Seated at a desk here was the owner of the hotel, Mr. Sol Caspar, who had no share of masculine good looks or any other kind of good looks. He was a short, squatty man in his middle thirties, and although it was a warm day in May, and the people in the lobby had been wearing straw hats, he was dressed in a heavy brown suit, with handkerchief to match and custom-made shoes. There was a six-pointed star on his ring and a mazuza on the door-casing, but these were caprices, or possibly affectations for business reasons. Actually he had no Hebraic connections, for his real name was Salvatore Gasparro, and no doubt it was his origin that prompted him to name his hotel for Columbus, a popular hero with Italo-Americans. He was playing solitaire with his hat on the back of his head, and didn't look up when the other man came in and sat down. Nor did he look up a few minutes later, when a bellboy appeared, set a package on the desk, opened it, and tiptoed out. Soon, however, he put the cards away and gave his attention to the package. It was an album of records, and he put them on a phonograph that stood against the wall behind him. Then he snapped a button, sat at iris desk, lit a cigar, and took off his hat. They were of the opera
and evidently met with his approval. When the tenor sang an aria full of high notes he played it over, then played it over again. But when a minor tenor started a slow recitative he became bored, and stopped the machine.
Only then did he greet his visitor, who had sat staring straight in front of him, obviously not entertained by the music. In a rough, high voice, though without any trace of accent, he said: "H'y, Benny."
"How they treating you?"
"O.K. so far."
"They got you in the draft yet?"
"No, I still got my football hernia."
"Oh that's right. What you got on tonight?"
"I guess you forgot. This is my day off."
"I said what you got on?"
"...Nothing I can think of now. Why?"
"What kind of a job?"
"Don't take it like that, Benny. You ought to know by now I don't call on you for any rough stuff. This is nothing to be worried about. Political meeting."
"And what's that?"
"Where the voters get together and pick out who's not going to be elected. Or so I hear. I never been to one."
"And where do I come in?"
"You look it over."
"I still don't get it."
"They got a Swede that's running for mayor. A lug that says he's out to get me. It's about time I found out what he's up to."
"You mean this milkman, Jansen?"
"How would I know what he's up to?"
"Maybe you don't get all the fine points, but you can see who's there. That's the main idea."
"I don't know any of these birds."
Mr. Caspar's eyes were the most arresting part of his face. In color they were dark brown, but each of them was ever so slightly out of line, so that when they focused on an object they looked like a pair of glass eyes. They focused now on Ben Grace, and presently shifted with a decidedly maniacal flicker. When Mr. Caspar spoke he shouted, his voice trembling with rage: "Listen, Ben, quit cracking dumb. You go to that meeting, and see you get there on time. If it's just voters, nuts. But if this guy's got friends, I got to know it. I got tipped today there's wise money back of him, that's figuring to knock me off. You know who they are, don't you?"
"I guess so."
"And you can see if they're there, can't you? If you want to you can find out what's going on, can't you?"
"O.K., Sol, but make it plain."
"And let me know."
"Where's the meeting?"
"All right, I'll be there."
"And take the bookies today."
"How do you get that way? Isn't it enough that I work tonight? Have I got to work all day too? This is supposed to be my day off."
Caspar's eyes fastened on Grace again, and he opened his mouth to say something, but at that moment Mrs. Caspar came in. She was a small, fat, bright-eyed Italian woman, leading a four-year-old boy, Franklin, by the hand. Grace jumped up when he saw her, and she nodded at him pleasantly, then began a report to Caspar, of the dentist's examination of Frankie's tooth. Ben, after giving Frankie a penny, started out. Caspar, however, hadn't forgotten him. "What do you say, Benny?"
"I say O.K."
In the big room, as Grace crossed it again, two men were sitting. One called himself Bugs Lenhardt, and sat reading a paper, near the door, where he could cover the slot with a minimum of effort. He was young, small, and vacant-eyed. The other, Lefty Gauss, had let Grace in, and now got up and walked out with him. He was of medium size and bandy-legged, with gray streaks in his hair and a frank, friendly air that suggested farms and other wholesome things. Actually he was a killer who had done considerable penal servitude, and the gray streaks in his hair came from operations in prisons, performed by doctors told off to get lead out of him, and not too particular how they did it. He and Grace stood silently in front of the elevators, then went down to the lobby, out to the street, and into a cocktail bar not far away with but a few glum words. It was only when they were settled in a dark corner that Ben began to talk and Gauss to listen.
Ben was full of grievances, some of them, such as his resentment that Caspar called him Benny, trivial, some of them, such as his dislike of gunfire, vital. This last he tried to place in an admirable light, as though it were a matter of citizenship, not fear. He insisted that he had never wanted his job in the first place, except temporarily when a serious injury ended his football career, and cited his refusal to wear a uniform as proof of his high-toned attitude. Yet a captious eavesdropper might have reflected that upright citizens do not as a rule become chauffeurs to notorious racketeers, whether they wear a uniform or not. Lefty listened sympathetically, shaking his beer to bring up the foam, nodding, and putting in understanding comment. Then presently he said, "Well, you got it tough, you sure have. But any time it gets too tough, just take a look at me."
"Anyway, he gives you a day off."
"And he don't stick you behind the wheel of a car that's armored behind but wide open in front, and every street named Goon Street as soon as
"You too, hey?"
"Say, Lefty, what's going on today?"
"I got to split a heist, that's all."
"I didn't hear about it."
"They haven't got it yet. They're pulling it this afternoon-bank over in Castleton, right after closing time, the late depositor gag.
they pull it. If that depositor ever gets in, which isn't any more than a one to five bet."
"You'll know soon. It's three-thirty."
"Castleton's on mountain time."
"That's right. I forgot."
"You ever sat in on a divvy, Ben?"
"I don't know any yeggs."
"Four wild kids, anywhere from eighteen to twenty, scared so bad the slobber is running out of their mouths, couple of them coked to the ears, their suspenders stretched double from the gats they got in their pants. And Sol takes half, see? For protection, for giving them a place to lay up, he cuts off that much. O.K., he says part goes to the cops, but that don't help me any. There's the dough, all over the bed, in a room at the Globe Hotel. And there's the kids, kissing it and tasting it and smelling it. And there's me, that never seen one of them before, that hasn't got a pal in the bunch. I got to take half and get out. And maybe Sol crossed me. Maybe he
take care of the cops, and they come in on me, and it's ten years till the next beer. And for all that—now here's where it gets good-Solly, he slips me a hundred bucks."
"Why do we take it, what he dishes out?"
"Well, for one thing, bucking Sol is not healthy. And me, I
to take it. I'm not what I was. I don't get calls anymore. To help on a job, I mean. I got to play along. You, of course you're different."
"In what way?"
"I figure you for a chiseler."
"What do you mean by that, Lefty?"
"Sounds like there might be more."
"Not unless you ask for it."
"A chiseler, he's not crooked and he's not straight. He's just in between."
"Maybe he's just smart."
"I don't say he's not. I should say I don't. He takes it where he can get it, he's willing to live and let live, he don't want any trouble. If he can only hold it, what he's got, he'll die rich, and of a regular disease, with a doctor's certificate, 'stead of a coroner's. Still, he'll never be a big operator."
"A big operator, he runs it, or he don't operate."
Lefty then gave a disquisition on the use of force: so long as Sol didn't mind trouble and Ben did, Sol would run it. It was diplomatically phrased, but Ben looked sulky, and Lefty added: "Listen, no hard feelings about it. Because maybe you're the one that
smart. You're putting it by all the time, or I
you got that little savings account tucked away somewhere. You're young, and when Sol gets it you can always get a job."
"What do you mean, when Sol gets it?"
"Oh, he'll get it."
"You mean this Swede Jansen that's running for Mayor."
"He hasn't got a chance."
"He's got Sol worried."
"You mean Mayor Maddux has."
"I don't get it."
"Well, Sol's the main beneficiary of this, our present administration, isn't he? The boys had to figure some way to make him kick in. So Maddux told him who's back of the Swede."
"You mean Delany?"
"I mean our polo-playing, whiskey-drinking, white-tie-wearing, evil young man named Bill Delany, that gets by for a gentleman jockey but he's really a hoodlum bookie, and Sol has to cut him in whether he wants to or not, because he's got the Chicago connections. And for that reason, Solly hates him so hard that all Maddux has to do is wink him in and he's there, even if he's not. Delany, he's got no more to do with the Swede than you have, but he could have. It could be the Swede that's going to knock Solly off. It could be anybody. For big enough dough, plenty guys don't mind trouble. One of them sees his disconnect button and leans on it, that's all."