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(c. 1929)

by Charles MacArthur

Chapter V.

The trysting place was an amusement park near the city limits, in deference to certain sentimental associations that Stovich nurtured in his breast. The first beautiful hours of his romance had passed amid the lights and thrills and pleasant music of the place. The precipitous perils of the roller-coaster had made it possible for him to encircle Gracie’s slender waist for the first intoxicating time; and it was among the tenebrous windings of the Old Mill that he had poured out his love and replaced Ernest as Gracie’s cavalier.

Multicolored memories of joy made riot in his heart as he reached the outer gate. Magic casements opened out on fiery pleasures to be. The shuffling of feet, the cries of the barkers, the merry click of the turnstiles, made sweet medley with his thoughts. In fancy, he led Gracie to the Old Mill and once again declared his passion as their craft bumped tranquilly along the dark mazes, past canvas Neptunes and plaster mermaids, out into the joyous sunshine. In fancy, she threw her arms about his neck and kissed him, signifying assent. Forthwith his mind envisaged a thousand and one rainbow nights with his beloved, rapturously explored the enpurpled borderlands of dreams, paused long in each vale and bower.

He was jarred rudely into consciousness by a tug at his sleeve and a hoarse suggestion:

“Guess your weight, mister?”

Stovich’s first impulse was to kill the impious hoodlum who had arrested such a glowing train of thought, until it occurred to him that it might not be a bad idea to yield to the fellow’s suggestion. First, he had not weighed himself in a long time. Second, there was a good chance that the man might guess wrong, in which event he had promised that the experiment would cost nothing. Finally, it was a cheap and interesting way to spend the time against Gracie’s arrival. Moved by these reasons, he followed the shillaber to a tripod from which swung a chair.

The weight-guesser patted him professionally about the body. Stovich smiled confidently.

He did not see the fellow pause at his hip pocket and draw a cross with a piece of chalk, any more than he felt that same pocket explored and emptied of his wallet as he took his seat in the chair. It was very expertly done.

“Well, well, well -- what’s this?” cried the weight-guesser as he gazed into his dial a second later. “Two hundred and forty pounds! I certainly got fooled that time!”

“You certainly did,” laughed Stovich cheerfully, as he skipped out of the chair. He roared at the other’s chagrin.

“It’s the way I carry it,” he volunteered. “You don’t see no bay-window here, brother.”

The weight-guesser was no longer interested, however, and Stovich wandered proudly away. He continued to glow at his ability to carry weight deceptively; until he began to wonder what had happened to Gracie. She was usually so punctual.

An hour went by. Stovich wanted to telephone her house, but he reflected that if he did so, Gracie would doubtless appear at the rendezvous and go away again the moment he entered the drugstore booth. So for another hour, he tried to figure out a solution to this dilemma. There was none. He was tired from walking up and down, but there was no place to sit. He was hungry, but there was nothing to eat.

Hold! Just inside the amusement park stood a frankfurter stand operated by a swarthy Greek who enjoined passersby to come and get them while they were hot. Stovich meditated. It would cost him ten cents to enter the park, but there were seats inside from which he could survey the entrance. And he felt that he was starving to death. Resolutely, he found a dime and entered and made his way toward the vendor of hot dogs.

But ere he approached, several small boys, possessed of many devils and an unreasonable antipathy to Greeks, swooped down on the stand and gathered up a dozen frankfurters that were toasting on the griddle; running away again faster than Balaam traversed the blue fields of Jerusalem. The proprietor uttered a terrible shriek and gave chase, calling God and man to his assistance. But the boys, anticipating pursuit, had stationed a large band of confederates among some trees hard by the stand. This auxiliary party now made a hasty sortie and began a successful sack of the establishment; perceiving which, the bewildered and bedeviled Greek turned from one pursuit to another, and so lost his chance to capture either or any of the robber band. Delirious with rage and disappointment, he was taking stock of his frankfurters as Stovich drew nigh.

The latter listened patiently to a long tale of injustices, delivered entirely in Greek, while a fresh hot dog was being roasted and inserted into a bun. It was heavily anointed with mustard and a pint of chow-chow at Stovich’s request and under his personal supervision. He accepted it eagerly and took a large and greedy bite without preliminary payment.

“Say!” cried the Greek in no uncertain tones, “that’s fifteen cents!”

Stovich nodded, being wholly unable to reply, and complacently reached for the pocket in which he kept his small change. It was empty, his last dime having been spent for admission to the park. The Greek watched his movements with catlike concern and growing alarm.

Stovich smiled with renewed assurance. He reached for his wallet -- and stopped dead.

He sensed, rather than felt, a large emptiness in his back pocket. His jaw dropped; he stood as one stricken of the palsy.

“Well?” said the Greek ominously.

“It’s gone!” cried Stovich. “My wallet! -- with a hundred dollars in it!”

“Yes!” mocked the hot-dog entrepreneur. “Well, never mind your hundred dollars! How about my fifteen cents?”

“I had it,” shouted Stovich, “when I left the jail!”

This remark was unfortunate, for at the word “jail” the Greek considered that he was again the victim of lawbreakers and leaped halfway across the counter to seize what was left of the hot dog from Stovich’s shaking fingers.

Not content with the recovery of his property, he hurled it full into Stovich’s face with a great resultant splatter of chow-chow and mustard sauce. Blinded for a moment, Stovich offered no resistance and did not wake up to his peril until the Greek, thoroughly angered by the vicissitudes of the day, jumped over the counter and punched him in the eye, screaming loudly for the police. Another and another blow followed the first. By the time the police came, one of Stovich’s eyes was closed and some very costly bridge work was a total wreck.

The police separated them and listened to his story. Painfully, he went over the events of the day in an effort to recall when and where his pocket had been plucked. Suddenly, and with great light, he remembered the exploratory technique of the weight-guesser.

He was all for leading the officers to the spot at once, but they assured him that it would be a great mistake for a man of his position to appear on the street in such a bruised and be-mustarded condition, and persuaded him to wash his face first of all. While he was doing this, the sergeant sneaked down the street and warned the weight-guesser to get out of sight for the next few minutes. When Stovich conducted the police to the scene, the trimmers were far away, chair, tripod, wallet, and all.

© 2003-04 The Estate of Charles G. MacArthur. All Rights Reserved.

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