“—It puts him in solid with big men like Doc Dilling and—”
“George! Paul Riesling—”
“Yes, sure, I’ll ’phone Paul and let him know about it right away.”
“Georgie! Listen! Paul’s in jail. He shot his wife, he shot Zilla, this noon. She may not live.”
He drove to the City Prison, not blindly, but with unusual fussy care at corners, the fussiness of an old woman potting plants. It kept him from facing the obscenity of fate.
The attendant said, “Naw, you can’t see any of the prisoners till three-thirty—visiting-hour.”
It was three. For half an hour Babbitt sat looking at a calendar and a clock on a whitewashed wall. The chair was hard and mean and creaky. People went through the office and, he thought, stared at him. He felt a belligerent defiance which broke into a wincing fear of this machine which was grinding Paul—Paul——
Exactly at half-past three he sent in his name.
The attendant returned with “Riesling says he don’t want to see you.”
“You’re crazy! You didn’t give him my name! Tell him it’s George wants to see him, George Babbitt.”
“Yuh, I told him, all right, all right! He said he didn’t want to see you.”
“Then take me in anyway.”
“Nothing doing. If you ain’t his lawyer, if he don’t want to see you, that’s all there is to it.”
“But, my god—Say, let me see the warden.”
“He’s busy. Come on, now, you—” Babbitt reared over him. The attendant hastily changed to a coaxing “You can come back and try to-morrow. Probably the poor guy is off his nut.”
Babbitt drove, not at all carefully or fussily, sliding viciously past trucks, ignoring the truckmen’s curses, to the City Hall; he stopped with a grind of wheels against the curb, and ran up the marble steps to the office of the Hon. Mr. Lucas Prout, the mayor. He bribed the mayor’s doorman with a dollar; he was instantly inside, demanding, “You remember me, Mr. Prout? Babbitt—vice-president of the Boosters—campaigned for you? Say, have you heard about poor Riesling? Well, I want an order on the warden or whatever you call um of the City Prison to take me back and see him. Good. Thanks.”
In fifteen minutes he was pounding down the prison corridor to a cage where Paul Riesling sat on a cot, twisted like an old beggar, legs crossed, arms in a knot, biting at his clenched fist.
Paul looked up blankly as the keeper unlocked the cell, admitted Babbitt, and left them together. He spoke slowly: “Go on! Be moral!”
Babbitt plumped on the couch beside him. “I’m not going to be moral! I don’t care what happened! I just want to do anything I can. I’m glad Zilla got what was coming to her.”