i flipped my butt into harry's wastebasket and sat down.
harry leaned back and looked at me. he didn't look like he'd changed much since i saw him last. if anything, he looked meaner than ever.
"that wasn't very polite, jeff." he reached out with his long gorilla arm and pulled the wastebasket closer. he shook it, made sure the butt was out, and put it back down. "and you could set the place on fire. i wouldn't like that."
"very polite? where i been --"
harry held up his hand. "jeff, jeff, stop right there. i don't want to hear about where you've been. i don't want to hear your sad story. if you want to tell your sad story, i got the phone book here - " he picked the phone book up and slapped it back down on the desk - "and you can look up the sad story department under 's' and tell it to them. i hear you guys start to tell your sad stories all day and i'm sick of them. i can get a bag of sad stories cheaper than a bag of peanuts at the polo grounds. "
i just leaned back - in what felt like the same uncomfortable chair he'd always had - and looked at him. "you going to offer me a drink?"
"because this is my office, not the bar. stop at the bar on your way out, and buy - b-u -y, yourself a drink."
"come on, harry, stop trying to act tough. you wouldn't have let me in here in the first place, if you didn't want to hear me out."
harry laughed, that little laugh he had that you could hardly hear. "all right, what can i do for you?"
"it's what i can do for you. i thought you might have something for me."
"maybe? when maybe?"
"whenever. i'll let you know."
"so, can you let me have a little something, keep me going until you let me know.?"
"you mean, pay you before you do anything? no. no, that's not the way i operate. never was."
"i don't know, harry. it seems to me it was. "
"your memory is at fault."
i shook my head. "i don't know if i like this new world i come back to. it seems different somehow. colder, or something."
"yeah, well take it up with jesus, or truman or betty crocker or whoever is in charge. because it ain't me."
it wasn't the time or the place. i decided to give in. but down the line, harry would pay. he would pay like no man had ever paid before.
it's a funny thing about me - i can kind of predict the future. not exactly, not one hundred percent all the time, but still - i am pretty good at it. and the whole time harry was talking, i was thinking about what was going to happen when i left his office. it was one of the reasons i played it cool, why i let harry ride.
because when i got up and left harry's office i was going to meet a dame. and not just any dame. i was going to meet a dame who would almost be too hot for me to handle. who would take me to the end of the night and the edge of oblivion and let me look into the winking eye of the abyss. could i make it back?
i couldn't wait to find out.
"well, okay," i told harry. "if that is the way it has to be, i guess that is the way it has to be.
harry gave me a funny look then, like he hadn't expected me to give up so easy. well, he hadn't, had he?
"not going to try anything funny, are you, jeff?"
he leaned back in his chair. "a lot of things have changed around here."
"i'm sure they have."
"one thing that has changed - i got more people - actually quite a few people - looking out for me now. not that i can't look for myself, you understand. but with all these people looking out for me, you know what?"
"i got more time to look out for myself. and with more time to look out for myself, i can do more good for myself. and the more good i do myself the more people want to be my friend and look out for me even more. and it just goes on like that."
this time i didn't bother to say anything.
harry went on. "it's like - like - what do you call it?"
"yeah - perpetual motion. or you throw a rock in the river and it keeps making circles - more and more circles."
"until they finally hit the shore."
"yeah, but the shore might be in china. anyway, i got lots of new friends."
"that's good. everybody can use friends."
"friends like the mayor, the police commissioner, some city councilors and judges -"
"just some city councilors and judges?"
"for now. well, jeff, i think this fascinating conversation is over. unless you got something else."
i pretended to think a little bit. "i might have something that might interest you."
"and you're just remembering it now? it must be good."
"well - it's - it's not a sure thing. not right now. it's just - a possibility, you know what i mean?"
"i know what you mean. you know, another thing that has changed - i'm not so interested as before in these one time deals." harry gave a little shrug. "you know how it is, you plan them, you bankroll them, more and more people get involved, then some little thing goes wrong, and the whole thing goes down the drain. i've come to prefer more steady sources of income, you know what i'm saying?"
"sure. but i still think you might be interested."
"okay, what is it? a bank? a payroll? don't tell me a jewelry store?"
"no, nothing like that."
"like what, then?" harry rubbed his eyes to show he was impatient.
"you hear about this new thing - the atomic bomb?"
"yeah, i read the papers from time to time. what about the atomic bomb?"
"well - like i say, it's not certain, but i think i might - might be able to steal one or two of them."
harry looked over my shoulder at the door and laughed his little laugh. "that's great, jeff. you got a fence lined up for this bomb, huh? or maybe you could take it out on broadway under your coat like a watch or a tie - hey buddy, want to buy an atomic bomb?"
"no, no - we wouldn't sell it. we would use it ourselves."
"oh? for what?"
"to rule the world."
and then harry did something i had never seen him do before. he laughed, really laughed. laughed out loud, like john q citizen at an abbott and costello movie.
"that's good, jeff," he said when he finished. "that's really good. it's so good, i tell you what i am going to do. i'm going to break my own rule. i'll call out to the bar and tell them you can have a free drink. but just one." he held up a finger. "one."
i stood up. "thanks, harry. and thanks for your time." i wasn't surprised. i knew harry didn't have any imagination. or know how to think big.
at least i had a free drink out of it.
and i had a date with a dame.