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Chapter Five

It is afternoon, and I have not eaten today. I press my hand over this bulge in my coat pocket, and watch this stiff who stands on the comer. I can see that he is going to eat, and he does not need a bulge in his coat pocket to do it, either. He does not need to risk getting a copper's bullet in his guts. He walks over to this skinny guy with the girl on his arm.

"Buddy," he says, "could you spare a little change to help a hungry man get something to eat?"

This skinny guy with the girl on his arm stops and scowls at this stiff. He does not want to part with his change to help a hungry man get something to eat.

"Why don't you get a job and go to work?" he says.

"There ain't no work," this stiff says. "I can't find no work anywhere."

"I ain't got no money for bums," this guy says.

"Go on," this girl says, "give him some dough. Maybe he is hungry. Times is pretty tough."

"They sure are tough, lady," this stiff says.

This skinny guy growls. He does not care if times are tough or not. His belly is full. He is sitting on top of the world. He has a good-looking girl hanging on his arm. What is a hungry stiff to him? He wants to tell this stiff to get the hell out of his sight, but he can't do that. That would not make a hit with this girl. There is only one thing he can do. Shell out, that's all he can do. This stiff is smart. He knows that's all this guy can do. He has got this guy where he wants him. It must feel pretty good to have one of these bastards where you want him.

 He reaches down in his pocket and pulls out two bits. He would like to pull out a jitney, but he can't do that. This girl is looking. He does not want to look like a cheap skate in front of his girl. A jitney or a ten-cent piece does not go with a girl.She knows a stiff cannot fill up his belly on a ten-cent piece.

"Thank you," this stiff says. "Thank you, and the lady."

 He slouches down the street.

This skinny guy grunts. He does not like parting with his dough.

I admire that stiff. He has got the guts. He does not need to go with a gnawing pain in his belly. I do not need to go with a pain in my belly, either. I have not got the guts to hit me a guy with a girl, but I have got the guts to hit a high-toned[1] restaurant. If I cannot get me a feed in this restaurant, I have got the bulge in my pocket. I am tired of having the pain in my guts. I have made up my mind. This is the last time I will whine for a feed. I am going to show these bastards I will get mine. That is why I have the bulge that I cover up with my hand.

I walk into this and stand by the cash register. I look around. I have hit me some high-toned joints, but never one such as this. There are no counters here. Only tables. Women sit at these tables. It is not evening, but they have on evening gowns. On their feet are gold and silver slippers. They glitter with the jewels that are on their fingers and arms. The men are sporting coats with tails. The tables sparkle with the shine of silver dishes. I stand there, and I cannot imagine people living like this. I cannot believe it. They look up from their tables and stare at me. I do not blame them. I am a crummy-looking customer to be in a joint like this. I know that. But I am here. l am after something to eat. I am going to get something to eat, too, or know the reason why.

"What do you want?" this cashier says.

She has a hard face. She is not going to be friendly. I can see that.

 "I want to see the manager," I say.

"What do you want with the manager? " she says.

"Private business," I say.

This manager is standing at one of the tables. He sees me talking to the cashier and comes over.

"What do you want?" he says.

"I want something to eat," I say. "I am a hungry man."

All these customers can hear me asking for something to eat. It will not do this manager's business any good to turn down a hungry man for something to eat. He knows that. I know he knows it. That's why I am in this classy joint.

He grins and slaps me on the back.

"Sure, I can give a hungry man something to eat," he says.

"Come on back in the kitchen with me."

All these cash customers grin. This manager's all right, they think. We will eat here regular. He deserves our trade. He will feed a hungry man. I can see where this guy is all right, too. I can see where I am going to get a high-class feed. Well, I need a high-class feed. We walk back to the kitchen.

This manager closes the door to the kitchen so these cash customers cannot hear.

"Hey, Fritz," he yells, "give this bum a cup of coffee and send him out the back way."

The lousy bastard. A cup of coffee. Out there he slapped me on the back. He was all smiles out there. He was showing off. I would like to take a sock at this guy, but I cannot. I cannot take any chances on getting pinched[2] while I have the bulge in my pocket.

I walk out the back way without waiting on this coffee.

All right, I think, all right. We will not hit any more restaurants. We will not whine for any more feeds. We will either get it or we won't get it. I walk down the street. I keep my hand in my right coat pocket. There is not so much of a bulge when my hand is there. They will think it is only my hand.

But it is not my hand. I have a gat in this pocket. It is heavy and black. It is a good gat. It will shoot straight. It will shoot straight if I can keep my hand from shaking, and I will have to keep my hand from shaking. I will not be caught. I have thought it all out. I have spent the night thinking it all out. I have made up my mind. Before I will be caught, I will shoot. And I will shoot straight. If I cannot get away, if they corner me, just one of these little slugs will be enough for me. My troubles will be over. I will not have any more to worry about. They have starved me to death long enough. I am tired of walking the streets all day long asking for work. They laugh at you for asking for work.

"There is no work," they say. "We cannot keep the men we have. If it's a meal you want, you can go to the mission. You can get a good meal at the mission.

"I will stop asking for work. I will quit standing in the souplines for hours for a bowl of slop. I have made up my mind to take a chance. You can only die once.

I finger this gat. I have waited a long time to get my fingers on a gat like this. At night, on the cold ground in the jungles, I have dreamed about a gat like this. Blue black. A gat that will shoot straight. A gat that will not miss. Now I have it. The stiff I stole this gat from was drunk. He does not need this gat. He will be soused up for a week. Maybe in a week I will give him back his gat, and a wad of dough besides. 

I walk on down the street. It is clogged with people. They do not look at me, and if they do, they do not see me. They do not notice my ragged clothes, and my beard that I have let grow for a week. They have troubles of their own. Some of these guys I pass on the street are wishing to Christ they could get their fingers on a gat. Well, I have my fingers on a gat. They are around the handle now. It is a good handle. It is not smooth and shiny like the rest of the gat, but rough. It is rough so you can get a good grip on it. It will not slip out of your hands.

I have planned it all out. There must be no hitch in my planning. In my pocket is my razor. After I have pulled this job and got away, I will shave. You would not know I am the same guy when I have shaved. I will have plenty of dough in my kick, too. Stacks of dough like these tellers have in their wire cages in the banks. That will make me a different guy.

It is time I got down the street. I know the time. I have picked the best time. I have had my fingers on this gat for two days now. I have been figuring during those two days. I know what I am doing. I know just what to do. This cop will be passing that joint now. There is a box on the corner[3]. He will be reporting. He will not be back for an hour. Well, an hour will make lots of difference. There's lots can happen in an hour. In an hour I will be a rich man. I will be a rich man or I will be stretched out on a marble slab in the morgue.

I stop across the street. This is not a big bank. It is a branch bank. I know better than to try to hold up a big bank. I know what I am doing. I am not crazy. I am not a fool. I look across through the window. There are men in white shirts working in there. Their sleeves are rolled up. It is hot in there. I watch them as they pass out these bills to the line of customers in front of their windows. In the drawers in front of them are piles of bills. There are plenty of these piles. One or two of them will keep me for life. I will not have anything to worry about. I will be fixed for life. What have I got to lose? Nothing. What have I got to live for? Soup and stale bread, that is what I have to live for. That is what I have to lose.

I have thought it all out. There is an alley a little ways from this bank. It leads to several short streets. There is a barrel in the rear of one of these stores in the alley. In this barrel I will throw my gat and my coat and hat. I will walk out on one of these short streets. Up the street a little ways there is a picture show. I will go in. I will not hand the ticket girl one of these bills that I get in the bank. That might give me away. I am taking no chances. I have a two-bit piece in my pants pocket for that. There must not be any slip. I will stay in this show while they are hunting for me. I will shave in the toilet. At night I will come out. I will not hang around the streets. I will go to the mission. They will never look for me in the mission. The last place in the world they will look for a guy with plenty of jack will be the mission. I will not spend any money in this town. I will stay in this mission as long as they will let me. Then I will leave town, but it will be on no drag with its hard, cold box cars I will leave on. I will leave on a passenger, and it will not be on the blinds with the roar of the wind, and the sound of the wheels underneath me. It will be on the cushions.

I press my hand over my pocket to cover up this bulge and walk across the street and into the bank. To the left are the writing-tables. Two women are writing checks. To the right are the bank guys' cages. There are five windows here. Through each one I can see a guy dishing out money. I go up to one of these tables and let on like I am writing a check. I am not writing a check. I am seeing if the coast is clear. I have always wondered how a guy felt when he was robbing a bank. Now I know. I am getting ready to stick up this bank myself. I cannot imagine me holding up a bank. I know how these guys felt now. I know the sickish feeling they had in the pit of their bellies. I know the jerky shake of their hands. I am not going to weaken now. I have made up my mind. Shaky hands or not, I will sleep in no more lousy mission flops. I have whined for my last meal. I have the gat and I am going to use it if I have to. No one cares whether I live or die. They would let me starve to death on the streets without lifting a hand to help me. Why should I care about these guys that hand out these piles of bills from their wire cages? What are they to me? If I stemmed one of these guys on the street, he would tell me to get the hell out of his sight before he called a cop. To hell with everybody. I am going to get mine.

I get in this line that waits in front of the first cage. When I go out of here, I will have to do it on the run. I do not want to run in front of any more wire cages than I have to. They have got gats themselves in those wire cages. It is not their dough, but these bastards would take a pot shot at me just to see me drop or maybe get a raise in pay. There are five people standing in front of me. Two women and three men. I stand behind this fat woman with the big wrinkles in the back of her neck. She makes a good screen[4]. They cannot see me holding my hand over this bulge that is in my coat pocket. There are only two people in line at this next cage, but I stay where I am. I want to be near the door.

This line moves up slow. I have never seen a line move so slow. You would think this was a soup-line it moves so slow. It is this fat woman's turn. She steps up to the window. I am right behind her. She shields me so that this guy in the cage in the white shirt-sleeves can hardly see me. At least he cannot see the bulge that is in my pocket. I glance sideways at this guy who is in the next cage. He is through with everyone in his line. He closes and locks this drawer with all the stacks of bills in it. He comes out of his cage and locks the door behind him. He goes into a room in the rear. That is a break for me. I will not have this guy taking pot shots at me from his cage, anyway. I put my hand in my pocket. I press my fingers tight around this gat. I feel the roughness of the handle. The roughness that is rough so that you can shoot it straight. I hope that I will not have to shoot straight. I hope that I will not have to shoot at all. My hand is shaking so. And my legs, too. I can feel them knocking against each other. It will not do to have my legs knocking against each other. My legs are what I am depending on to get me away from here fast.

This fat woman steps away from the window. I step up. I look at this guy. He looks at me.

"Yes, sir?" he says.

I do not say anything. I have nothing to say. I give this gat a yank, but it does not come out of my pocket. Only the handle comes out. Only the handle and a part of the lining of my coat. Something has happened. It is stuck in the torn lining of my pocket. I yank hard again, but it does not come out. This guy back of the wire cage thinks that there is something wrong. He steps closer to the window and peers out. He sees that my hand is in my pocket. He thinks there is something up. His face goes from pale to a sickish green. I know what that guy is feeling. I have the same feeling in the pit of my own belly. It is a sickish feeling, a vomity feeling. He takes a step back away from the window.

"What do you want?" he says. "What are you pulling at your pocket for?"

This guy is scared. He is plenty scared, but he has nothing on me. So am I.

"I have nothing in my pocket," I say. "Can't a guy put his hand in his pocket, if he wants to?"

I cannot take my hand out of my pocket. I am afraid he will see the bulge.

"What do you want?" he says. "What are you standing there pulling at your pocket for?"

"How much," I say, "how much does it take to start a checking account?"

"Twenty dollars," he says. "Twenty dollars."

He is not thinking what he is saying. His eyes are glued to my hand that is in my pocket. I cannot fool this guy with asking questions. He knows that there is something up. He does not take his eyes off my hand that is in my pocket. I cannot pull at this gat while he is looking. He will yell or set off the alarm. I can feel the cold sweat that stands out on my forehead. Christ, but I am scared. I have to get out of here, but how am I going to get out of here?

I turn around and start walking towards the door. I walk fast. I can feel this guy's eyes boring into the back of my head as I walk. I can feel the eyes of everyone that is in this bank on the bulge in my pocket that I cover up with my hand. I strain my ears waiting for the screech of the alarm. I wait to hear this guy yell for me to stop. I turn around and look back. This guy is backing out of his cage. His eyes never leave me. I see him there backing out of his cage, a pale, sickly look on his face. He is going after one of the cops that guard the bank. They must not catch me. They must not catch me with this bulge in my pocket that is the gat. I start to run. I shove this woman out of the way who is coming through the door. I swing round the doorway and hit up the street. The alley is what I want to reach. I must reach the alley before this cop gets to the street with his gat. I cannot have this cop filling me full of holes from behind. I run as fast as my shaking legs will carry me. I hear the slam of my feet on the sidewalk. I do not look back, but I can feel these people stop in their tracks and watch me run. I make it to this alley and the barrel round the comer. I do not stop here. I keep going. I run faster. Halfway up this alley, I glance back. No one has turned the corner yet. I spot this coal-chute that leads to the basement of one of these stores. I dive head-first into this and slide to the bottom. This basement has not been used for a long time. It is thick with cobwebs that stretch from the ceiling to the floor. They cover my face and get into my eyes as I clamber to the rafters from this box on the floor. These rafters are close together. I stretch myself out on them and lie quiet. There is only the sound of my gasping for breath as I lie here.

Outside, on the street, I imagine I can hear the voices of men yelling. I do not know if they are yelling about me or not. I do not even know if they are hunting for me or not. But I cannot forget that look in the teller's eyes as he looked at my hand in my coat pocket. I cannot forget the way he backed to the rear of the cage when he saw the bulge. He did not press the alarm. There was no alarm. I would have heard it if there was. If these guys outside are hunting for me, they are bastards. They would like to try what I tried, but they have not got the guts. They know they have not got the guts. That's why they are hunting for me. They have not got the guts to do what they want to do, so they are taking it out on a guy who has the guts.

I strain my ears for sounds in the alley outside, but there are none. But there are sounds on the street. I imagine I can hear the words "bank-robber." I crouch low on my rafters. I must not make a sound. Even if they crawl into the coal-chute, I must keep my head. I must lie still. I clutch this gat tighter in my hand. I must have it ready. If they come in here, they will have to have a light to see. When they flash that light on me, the guy that does it will not flash any more lights. He will be holding the light in his right hand. I will shoot to the left. But I will make sure. I will shoot once to the left and once to the right. I will show the bastards it does not pay to hunt for me. What do they know what is right and wrong? How can they know? They have not lived for years in lousy mission flops. They have not eaten swill from the restaurant garbage cans. They have good jobs. They do not know what is right or what is wrong.

I crouch here for hours. My body aches from every joint. The cramps shoot up my legs and up my back. The light that comes from the coal-chute grows from dim to pitch-dark. Outside it is night. There is no sound in the alley. Noises still come from the street. That noise would not be for me now. That is just the ordinary noise from the street. I think. Do not be a damn fool, I tell myself. They are not hunting for you. They were never hunting for you. There were plenty of people saw you come down this alley. If they were hunting for you, they would have searched this alley from top to bottom. These cellars would be the first place they would search. If you hide this gat, what can they do to you? Nothing. Nothing is what they can do to me. That teller did not see the gat in my pocket. All he saw was the bulge. He thought it was a gat, but he cannot prove it. You cannot send a guy up because you think he is packing a gat. You have got to see the gat. I did not say for him to fork over the money. I was too busy trying to get the gat out of my pocket to say anything. All I said was how much does it take to start a checking account? You cannot send a stiff up for asking about a checking account. No, even if they catch me, they can do nothing to me. But I will have to get rid of the gat. If they catch me with this gat on me, it will be just too bad.

I climb down off these rafters and stretch my legs. They are so stiff I can hardly move them. I hide this gat underneath a pile of rubbish in the corner. First I rub the finger-prints off. Me and this gat are finished. They can never prove that I owned this gat. I have got nothing to worry about. I climb back up this coal-chute and into the alley. I look around. There is no one here. They are not hunting for me. I brush the cobwebs off me and walk out to the street.

This guy in the tweed suit is standing on the comer. I walk up to him.

"Buddy," I say, "I am down on my luck with no place to flop. Could you spare me a few dimes to get me a flop?"

[1] High-Toned: “superior, high quality; thus occas. low-toned, low quality” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[2] Getting Pinched: having something stolen off of you or stolen (Reverso Dictionary. web.)

[3] Box on the corner: “police box/booth” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web). referring to a smaller version of a police station, a detachment of a larger station.

[4] Screen: here in the sense of “something that shelters, protects, or hides” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, web).

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