Tommy pulled the Studebaker into a parking lot in back of the Knickerbocker Building. “We can walk from here,” he said. “A couple blocks walk in the cold air, do us good.”
“Tommy, can I ask you something?” said Addison.
“About this gun.”
The big gun was heavy in his coat pocket.
“What about it?” said Tommy.
“Well, should I keep it in my pocket, or –”
“Yeah, keep it in your pocket.”
Tommy got out of the car, so Addison got out also. The air was cold.
“Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say, Tommy?” said the parking lot attendant.
Tommy tossed the fellow his car keys.
“I say if there’s a scratch on this car when I come back for it I’m sticking you in the trunk and dumping you in the Hudson River.”
“Ha ha, you want me to polish it up for ya, Tommy?”
“Sure, kid. Make it shine, like your nose.”
“Ha ha, you’re all reet, Tommy.”
Tommy took a bill out of his pocket, folded lengthwise.
“Here ya go, Curly.”
“Gee, a fin! Thanks, Tommy.”
“Merry Christmas, kid.”
“I don’t care what they say about you, Tommy.”
“Long as it ain’t the truth, right?”
“That’s right, Tommy. I’ll shine this baby up so good it’ll blind ya.”
“Yeah, you do that, Curly.”
Tommy and Addison walked together out of the lot and up Broadway through the throngs of people getting out of their jobs.
Addison was beginning to have second thoughts. He had never held a gun before in his life. He had been 4-F for the draft – flat feet and knock knees, and had spent the war years working in a plant in North Carolina that made parachutes. The pistol in his coat pocket seemed to drag his whole torso out of balance. Why had Tommy asked him to hold it? What had Tommy done in that Sailor Sid’s bar? Addison had heard a distinct popping sound. Had Tommy really not killed anyone? Maybe he had just wounded someone. “Just” wounded someone? And here was Addison – an intellectual, a Swarthmore man – walking along carrying this pistol! What had he gotten himself into? And all because he wanted to impress everyone by seeming friendly with the famous Tommy McCarthy, the big river boss. What a fool he was!
At the corner of Broadway and 42nd they came upon a sidewalk Santa Claus tinkling his bell.
“Hey, Tommy, what’s up?” said the Santa. His eyes were bloodshot, his nose was blotchy and red, and, even from several feet away, Addison could smell the alcohol on the man’s breath.
“Merry Christmas, Saul,” said Tommy. He took a roll of bills out of his pocket, peeled off a five and dropped it into the slot in the man’s kettle. Then he peeled off another five and handed it to the Santa, in that folded lengthwise way. “Buy yourself a little Christmas cheer with this.”
“Gee, thanks, Tommy,” said the Santa. “Merry Christmas to ya!”
“And a happy Hannukah to you, Saul,” said Tommy.
They walked on along 42nd Street toward Times Square.
“See, Anderson,” said Tommy, “this is why I can’t walk around too much. At this rate I ain’t gonna have the price of a ticket by the time we get to the movie.”
“Heh heh,” said Addison. “By the way, my name is actually –”
“But ya gotta spread the good will, y’know? In my line of work ya gotta spread the good will. Ya never know, someday I might need a favor from that parking lot kid, or from Saul the Jewish Santa. You know what I mean?”
“It’s the season of good will, anyways.”
“Ya gotta have good will, Anderson.”
“Certainly,” said Addison. “By the way, Tommy, do you mind if I ask you something again?”
“Nah, as long as it ain’t for a handout.”
“No, not at all!”
“Just kidding. What is it.”
“Well, how long do you want me to carry the gun?”
“What, the gun I gave you?”
“Yeah, keep it till I ask for it back.”
“Keep it until –”
“I’ll let you know when I want it back. Why, you worried?”
“Well, just a little, I guess. I mean, don’t you need a license to carry a gun?”
“Well, you see, I don’t have a license, so –”
“Neither do I.”
“Don’t worry about it, Anderson. I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Oh. Uh –”
“You got a job?”
“A job. Something you do so that somebody gives you money for it.”
“Well, not really, you see, I’m working on a book –”
“What kind of book?”
“Well, it’s a study of literary trends in the –”
“You want a job?” That parachute factory job was the only job Addison had ever had, and after more than three years of that hell he had never wanted another one, not as long as his grandmother kept the checks coming – “Well, gee, Tommy, I’m pretty busy with my book, you see, and, uh –”
“How about just like a part-time job. Like, on call.”
“Yeah, like when I need ya. Sometimes I’ll need ya, most of the time I won’t.”
“Gee, uh –”
“I’ll give ya a C-note a week, irregardless whether I need ya.”
“A hundred bucks.”
“A hundred dollars?”
“Yeah, starting today.”
Tommy stepped into the entranceway of Nedick’s. He took out that roll of bills again. He licked his thumb and started counting off bills. He peeled off a wad, and then stuck it into Addison’s coat pocket, the same one that the gun was in.
“Gee, Tommy,” said Addison.
“I need a guy like you,” said Tommy. “Well spoken like. You go to college?”
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact I did. I went to –”
“Let’s go see that movie now.”
They went out onto the sidewalk again. It was starting to snow. They walked along and Addison put his hand into the pocket, with the gun, and the hundred dollars. He’d only made forty-nine a week at the parachute factory. How could he say no?
The snow came down harder, and by the time they reached the Vauxhall Theatre it was coming down really hard.
(Please click here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq.}