“All riiiiiight! Gosh, I’m going to get it!”
“All you have to do is to go in and say you want the ice cream that Mrs. Babbitt ordered yesterday by ’phone, and it will be all ready for you.”
At ten-thirty she telephoned to him not to forget the ice cream from Vecchia’s.
He was surprised and blasted then by a thought. He wondered whether Floral Heights dinners were worth the hideous toil involved. But he repented the sacrilege in the excitement of buying the materials for cocktails.
Now this was the manner of obtaining alcohol under the reign of righteousness and prohibition:
He drove from the severe rectangular streets of the modern business center into the tangled byways of Old Town—jagged blocks filled with sooty warehouses and lofts; on into The Arbor, once a pleasant orchard but now a morass of lodging-houses, tenements, and brothels. Exquisite shivers chilled his spine and stomach, and he looked at every policeman with intense innocence, as one who loved the law, and admired the Force, and longed to stop and play with them. He parked his car a block from Healey Hanson’s saloon, worrying, “Well, rats, if anybody did see me, they’d think I was here on business.”
He entered a place curiously like the saloons of ante-prohibition days, with a long greasy bar with sawdust in front and streaky mirror behind, a pine table at which a dirty old man dreamed over a glass of something which resembled whisky, and with two men at the bar, drinking something which resembled beer, and giving that impression of forming a large crowd which two men always give in a saloon. The bartender, a tall pale Swede with a diamond in his lilac scarf, stared at Babbitt as he stalked plumply up to the bar and whispered, “I’d, uh—Friend of Hanson’s sent me here. Like to get some gin.”
The bartender gazed down on him in the manner of an outraged bishop. “I guess you got the wrong place, my friend. We sell nothing but soft drinks here.” He cleaned the bar with a rag which would itself have done with a little cleaning, and glared across his mechanically moving elbow.
The old dreamer at the table petitioned the bartender, “Say, Oscar, listen.”
Oscar did not listen.
“Aw, say, Oscar, listen, will yuh? Say, lis-sen!”
The decayed and drowsy voice of the loafer, the agreeable stink of beer-dregs, threw a spell of inanition over Babbitt. The bartender moved grimly toward the crowd of two men. Babbitt followed him as delicately as a cat, and wheedled, “Say, Oscar, I want to speak to Mr. Hanson.”
“Whajuh wanta see him for?”
“I just want to talk to him. Here’s my card.”
It was a beautiful card, an engraved card, a card in the blackest black and the sharpest red, announcing that Mr. George F. Babbitt was Estates, Insurance, Rents. The bartender held it as though it weighed ten pounds, and read it as though it were a hundred words long. He did not bend from his episcopal dignity, but he growled, “I’ll see if he’s around.”