A Job for the Macarone

Damon Runyon

September 25 1937

When the last race meeting of the winter season closes in Miami and it is time for one and all to move on to Maryland, I take a swivel at the weather reports one day and I observe that it is still down around freezing in those parts.

So thinks I to myself, I will remain in the sunny southland a while longer and continue enjoying the balmy breezes, and the ocean bathing, and all this and that, until the weather settles up yonder, and also until I acquire a blow stake, for at this time my bank-roll is worn down to a nubbin and, in fact, I do not have enough ready to get myself as far as Jax, even by walking.

Well, while waiting around Miami, trying to think of some way of making a scratch, I spend my evenings in the Shark Fin Grill, which is a little scatter on Biscayne Boulevard near the docks that is conducted by a friend of mine by the name of Chesty Charles.

He is called by this name because he has a chest like a tub and he walks with it stuck out in front of him, and the reason Charles keeps his chest out is because if he pulls it in, his stomach will take its place, only farther down, and Charles does not wish his stomach to show in this manner, as he likes to think he has a nice shape.

At the time I am speaking of, Chesty Charles is not as young as he used to be, and he wishes to go along very quiet and avoiding undue excitement, but anybody can see that he is such a character as observes a few things in his time. In fact, anybody can see that he is such a character as is around and about no little and quite some before he settles down to conducting the Shark Fin Grill.

The reason Charles calls his place the Shark Fin Grill is because it sounds nice, although, of course, Charles does not really grill anything there, and, personally, I think the name is somewhat confusing to strangers.

In fact, one night a character with a beard, from Rumson, New Jersey, comes in and orders a grilled porterhouse; and when he learns he cannot get same, he lets out a chirp that Charles has no right to call his place a grill when he does not grill anything and claims that Charles is obtaining money under false pretences.

It finally becomes necessary for Charles to tap him on the pimple with a beer mallet, and afterward the constables come around, saying what is going on here, and what do you mean by tapping people with beer mallets, and the only way Charles can wiggle out of it is by stating that the character with the beard claims that Mae West has no sex appeal. So the constables go away saying Charles does quite right and one of them has half a mind to tap the character himself with something.

Well, anyway, one night I am in the Shark Fin Grill playing rummy with Charles and there is nobody else whatever in the joint, because, by this time, the quiet season is on in Miami and Charles’s business thins out more than somewhat; and just as I beat Charles a pretty good score, who comes in but two characters in sport shirts, and one of them has that thing in his hand and he says to us like this:

“Reach,” he says. “This is a stick-up. No beefs, now,” he says.

Well, Chesty Charles and me raise our hands as high as possible, and, in fact, I am only sorry I cannot raise mine higher than possible, and Chesty Charles says: “No beefs,” he says. “But,” he says, “boys, you are on an awful bust. All you are liable to get around this drum is fleas. If there is any dough here I will be using it myself,” Chesty says.

“Well,” one of the characters says, “we will have a look at your damper, anyway. Maybe you overlook a few coarse notes here and there.”

So one character keeps that thing pointed at Chesty Charles and me, and the other goes through the cash register, but, just as Charles says, there is nothing in it. Then the character comes over and gives Charles and me a fanning, but all he finds is eighty cents on Charles, and he seems inclined to be a little vexed at the scarcity of ready between us and he acts as if he is thinking of clouting us around some for our shortage, as these git-’em-up characters will sometimes do if they are vexed, when all of a sudden Charles looks at one of the characters and speaks as follows:

“Why,” Chesty Charles says, “do my eyes deceive me, or do I behold The Macarone, out of Kansas City?”

“Why, yes,” the character says. “Why, hello, Chesty,” he says. “Meet my friend Willie,” he says. “He is out of Kansas City too. Why, I never expect to find you in such a joint as this, Chesty,” he says. “Especially a joint where there is so little dough.”

“Well,” Chesty Charles says, “you ought to drop around when the season is on. Things are livelier then. But,” he says, “sit down and let’s have a talk. I am glad to see you, Mac,” he says.

So they sit down and Chesty Charles puts out a bottle of Scotch and some glasses and we become quite sociable, to be sure, and presently The Macarone is explaining that Willie and him have been over in Havana all winter, working with a pay-off mob out of Indianapolis, Indiana, that has a store there, but that business is rotten, and they are now en route north and just stop over in Miami to pick up a few dibs, if possible, for walk-about money.

The Macarone seems to be quite an interesting character in many respects and I can see that he and Charles know each other from several places. The Macarone is maybe around forty and he is tall and black-looking, but the character he calls Willie is younger and by no means gabby, and, in fact, he scarcely has a word to say. We sit there quite a while drinking Scotches and speaking of this and that, and finally Chesty Charles says to The Macarone:

“Mac,” he says, “come to think of it, I may be able to drop something in your lap, at that. Only last night a character is in here with a right nice proposition, but,” Chesty says, “it is not in my line, so it does not interest me.”

“Chesty,” The Macarone says, “any proposition that is not in your line must be a very unusual proposition indeed. Let me hear this one,” he says.

“Well,” Chesty says, “it is a trifle unusual, but,” he says, “it seems quite sound, and I only regret that I cannot handle it in person. I am froze in here with this business and I do not feel free to engage in any outside enterprises. The character I refer to,” he says, “is Mr. Cleeburn T. Box, who lives on a big estate over here on the bay front with his nephew. Mr. Cleeburn T. Box wishes to quit these earthly scenes,” Chesty says. “He is sick and tired of living. His nerves are shot to pieces. He cannot eat. He is in tough shape.

“But,” Chesty says, “he finds he does not have the nerve to push himself off. So he wishes to find some good reliable party to push him off, for which service he will pay five thousand dollars cash money. He will deposit the dough with me,” Chesty says. “He realizes that I am quite trustworthy. It is a soft touch, Mac,” he says. “Of course,” he says, “I am entitled to the usual twenty-five per cent. commission for finding the plant.”

“Well,” The Macarone says, “this Mr. Box must be quite an eccentric character. But,” he says, “I can understand his reluctance about pushing himself off. Personally, I will not care to push myself off. However,” he says, “the proposition seems to have complications. I hear it is against the law in Florida to push people off, even if they wish to be pushed.”

“Well,” Chesty says, “Mr. Box thinks of this too. His idea is that the party who is to do this service for him will slip into his house over on the bay front some night and push him off while he is asleep, so he will never know what happens to him. You understand, he wishes this matter to be as unexpected and painless as possible. Then,” Chesty says, “the party can leave that thing with which he does the pushing on the premises and it will look as if Mr. Box does the pushing in person.”

“What about a club?” The Macarone says. “Or maybe a shiv? That thing makes a lot of racket.”

“Why,” Chesty says, “how can you make a club or shiv look like anything but something illegal if you use them to push anybody? You need not be afraid of making a racket, because,” he says, “no one lives within hearing distance of the joint, and Mr. Box will see that all his servants and everybody else are away from the place every night, once I give him the word the deal is on. He will place the dough at my disposal when he gets this word. Of course he does not wish to know what night it is to happen, but it must be some night soon after the transaction is agreed to.”

“Well,” The Macarone says, “this is one of the most interesting and unusual propositions ever presented to me. Personally,” he says, “I do not see why Mr. Box does not get somebody to put something in his tea. Anybody will be glad to do him such a favor.”

“He is afraid of suffering,” Chesty Charles says. “He is one of the most nervous characters I ever encounter in my life. Look, Mac,” he says, “this is a job that scarcely requires human intelligence. I have here a diagram that shows the layout of the joint.”

And with this, Chesty Charles outs with a sheet of paper and spreads it out on the table, and begins explaining it to The Macarone with his finger.

“Now,” he says, “this shows every door and window on the ground floor. Here is a wing of the house. Here is Mr. CIeeburn T. Box’s room on the ground floor overlooking the bay. Here is a French window that is never locked,” he says. “Here is his bed against the wall, not two steps from the window. Why,” Chesty says, “it is as simple as WPA.”

“Well,” The Macarone says, “you are dead sure Mr. Box will not mind being pushed? Because, after all, I do not have any reason to push him on my own account, and I am doing my best at this time to lead a clean life and keep out of unpleasant situations.”

“He will love it,” Chesty says.

So The Macarone finally says he will give the matter his earnest consideration and will let Chesty Charles have his answer in a couple of days. Then we all have some more Scotches, and it is now past closing-time, and The Macarone and Willie take their departure, and I say to Chesty like this:

“Chesty,” I say, “all this sounds to me like a very strange proposition, and I do not believe anybody in this world is dumb enough to accept same.”

“Well,” Chesty says, “I always hear The Macarone is the dumbest character in the Middle West. Maybe he will wind up taking in the South too,” he says, and then Chesty laughs and we have another Scotch by ourselves before we leave.

Now, the next afternoon I am over on South Beach, taking a little dip in the ocean, and who do I run into engaged in the same pastime but The Macarone and Willie. There are also numerous other parties along the beach, splashing about in the water in their bathing-suits or stretched out on the sand, and The Macarone speaks of Chesty Charles’s proposition like this:

“It sounds all right,” The Macarone says. “In fact,” he says, “it sounds so all right that the only thing that bothers me is I cannot figure out why Chesty does not take it over one hundred per cent. But,” he says, “I can see Chesty is getting old, and maybe he loses his nerve. Well,” The Macarone says, “that is the way it always is with old folks. They lose their nerve.”

Then The Macarone starts swimming towards a float pretty well out in the water, and what happens when he is about half-way to the float but he starts flapping around in the water no little, and it is plain to be seen that he is in some difficulty and seems about to drown. In fact, The Macarone issues loud cries for help, but, personally, I do not see where it is any of my put-in to help him, as he is just a chance acquaintance of mine and, furthermore, I cannot swim.

Well, it seems that Willie cannot swim either, and he is saying it is too bad that The Macarone has to go in such a fashion, and he is also saying he better go and get The Macarone’s clothes before someone else thinks of it. But about this time a little Judy with about as much bathing-suit on as will make a boxing glove for a mosquito jumps off the float and swims to The Macarone and seizes him by one ear and holds his head above the water until a lifeguard with hair on his chest gets out there and takes The Macarone off her hands.

Well, the lifeguard tows The Macarone ashore and rolls him over a barrel and gets enough water out of him to float the Queen Mary, and by and by The Macarone is as good as new, and he starts looking around for the little Judy who holds him up in the water.

“She almost pulls my ear out by the roots,” The Macarone says. “But,” he says, “I will forgive this torture because she saves my life. Who is she, and where is she?”

Well, the lifeguard, who turns out to be a character by the name of Dorgan, says she is Miss Mary Peering and that she works in the evening in a barbecue stand over on Fifth Street, and what is more, she is a right nifty little swimmer, but, of course, The Macarone already knows this. But now nothing will do but we must go to the barbecue stand and find Miss Mary Peering, and there she is in a blue linen uniform and with a Southern accent, dealing hot dogs and hamburger sandwiches and one thing and another, to the customers.

She is a pretty little Judy who is maybe nineteen years of age, and when The Macarone steps forward and thanks her for saving his life, she laughs and says it is nothing whatever, and at first The Macarone figures that this crack is by no means complimentary, and is disposed to chide her for same, especially when he gets to thinking about his ear. But he can see that the little Judy has no idea of getting out of line with him, and he becomes very friendly towards her.

We sit there quite a while with The Macarone talking to her between customers, and finally he asks her if she has a sweet-pea anywhere in the background of her career, and at this she bursts into tears and almost drops an order of pork and beans.

“Yes,” she says, “I am in love with a wonderful young character by the name of Lionel Box. He is a nephew of Mr. Cleeburn T. Box, and Mr. Cleeburn T. Box is greatly opposed to our friendship. Lionel wishes to marry me, but,” she says, “Mr. Cleeburn T. Box is his guardian and says he will not hear of Lionel marrying beneath his station. Lionel will be very rich when he is of age, a year from now, and then he can do as he pleases, but just at present his Uncle Cleeburn keeps him from even seeing me. Oh,” she says, “I am heartbroken.”

“Where is this Lionel now?” The Macarone says.

“That is just it,” Miss Mary Peering says. “He is home, sick with the grippe or some such, and his Uncle Cleeburn will not as much as let him answer the telephone. His Uncle Cleeburn acts awful crazy, if you ask me. But,” she says, “just wait until Lionel is of age and we can be married. Then we will go so far away from his Uncle Cleeburn he can never catch up with us again.”

Well, at this news The Macarone seems to become very thoughtful, and at first I think it is because he is disappointed to find Miss Mary Peering has a sweet-pea in the background, but after a little more talk, he thanks her again for saving his life and pats her hand and tells her not to worry about nothing, not even about what she does to his ear.

Then we go to the Shark Fin Grill and find Chesty Charles sitting out in front with his chair tilted up against the wall, and The Macarone says to him like this:

“Chesty,” he says, “have the dough on call for me from now on. I will take care of this matter for Mr. Cleeburn T. Box. I study it over carefully,” The Macarone says, “and I can see how I will render Mr. Box a service and at the same time do a new friend of mine a favor.

“In the meantime,” The Macarone says, “you keep Willie here amused. It is a one-handed job, and I do not care to use him on it in any manner, shape or form. He is a nice character, but,” The Macarone says, “he sometimes makes wrong moves. He is too handy with that thing to suit me. By the way, Chesty,” he says, “what does Mr. Cleeburn T. Box look like?”

“Well,” Chesty says, “he will be the only one you find in the room indicated on the diagram, so his looks do not make any difference, but,” he says, “he is smooth-shaved and has thick black hair.”

Now, several nights pass away, and every night I drop into the Shark Fin Grill to visit with Chesty Charles, but The Macarone does not show up but once, and this is to personally view the five thousand dollars that Charles now has in his safe, although Willie comes in now and then and sits around a while. But Willie is a most restless character, and he does not seem to be able to hold still more than a few minutes at a time, and he is always wandering around and about the city.

Finally, along towards four bells one morning, when Chesty Charles is getting ready to close the Shark Fin Grill, in walks The Macarone, and it is plain to be seen that he has something on his mind.

A couple of customers are still in the joint and The Macarone waits until they depart, and then he steps over to the bar, where Chesty Charles is working, and gazes at Chesty for quite a spell without saying as much as aye, yes, or no.

“Well?” Chesty says.

“Well, Chesty,” The Macarone says, “I go to the home of your Mr. Cleeburn T. Box a little while ago. It is a nice place. A little more shrubbery than we like in Kansas City, but still a nice place. It must stand somebody maybe half a million. I follow your diagram, Chesty,” he says. “I find the wing marked X and I make my way through plenty of cactus and Spanish bayonets, and I do not know what all else, and enter the house by way of an open French window.

“I find myself in a room in which there are no lights, but,” The Macarone says, “as soon as my eyes become accustomed to the darkness, I can see that is all just as the diagram shows. There is a bed within a few steps of the window and there is a character asleep on the bed. He is snoring pretty good too. In fact,” The Macarone says, “he is snoring about as good as anybody I ever hear, and I do not bar Willie, who is a wonderful snorer.”

“All right,” Chesty Charles says.

“Show me the dough again, Chesty,” The Macarone says.

So Chesty goes to his safe and opens it and outs with a nice package of the soft and places it on the back bar where The Macarone can see it, and the sight of the money seems to please The Macarone no little.

“All right,” Chesty says. “Then what?”

“Well, Chesty,” The Macarone says, “there I am with that thing in my hand, and there is this character on the bed asleep, and there is no sound except his snoring and the wind in some palm-trees outside. Chesty,” he says, “are you ever in a strange house at night with the wind working on the palm-trees outside?”

“No,” Chesty says. “I do not care for palm-trees.”

“It is a lonesome sound,” The Macarone says. “Well,” he says, “I step over to the bed, and I can see by the outline of the character on the bed that he is sleeping on his back, which is a good thing, as it saves me the trouble of turning him over and maybe waking him up. You see, Chesty,” he says, “I give this matter some scientific study beforehand. I figure that the right idea in this case is to push this character in such a manner that there can be no doubt that he pushes himself, so it must be done from in front, and from close up.

“Well,” The Macarone says, “I wait right over this character on the bed until my eyes make out the outline of his face in the dark, and I put that thing down close to his nose, and just as I am about to give it to him, the moon comes out from behind a cloud over the bay and spills plenty of light through the open French window and over the character on the bed.

“And,” The Macarone says, “I observe that this character on the bed is holding some object clasped to his breast, and that he has a large smile on his face, as if he is dreaming very pleasant dreams, indeed; and when I gently remove the object from his fingers, thinking it may be something of value to me, and hold it up to the light, what is it but a framed stand photograph of a young friend of mine by the name of Miss Mary Peering.

“But,” The Macarone says, “I hope and trust that no one will ever relate to Miss Mary Peering the story of me finding this character asleep with her picture, and snoring, because,” he says, “snoring is without doubt a great knock to romance.”

“So?” Chesty Charles says.

“So,” The Macarone says, “I come away as quietly as possible without disturbing the character on the bed, and here I am, Chesty, and there you are, and it comes to my mind that somebody tries to drop me in on a great piece of skullduggery.”

And all of a sudden, The Macarone outs with that thing and jams the nozzle of it into Chesty Charles’s chest, and says:

“Hand over that dough, Chesty,” he says. “A nice thing you are trying to get a respectable character like me into, because you know very well it cannot be your Mr. Cleeburn T. Box on the bed in that room with Miss Mary Peering’s photograph clasped to his breast and smiling so. Chesty,” he says, “I fear you almost make a criminal of me, and for two cents I will give you a pushing for your own self, right here and now.”

“Why, Mac,” Chesty says, “you are a trifle hasty. If it is not Mr. Cleeburn T. Box in that bed, I cannot think who it can be, but,” he says, “maybe some last-minute switch comes up in the occupant of the bed by accident. Maybe it is something Mr. Cleeburn T. Box will easily explain when I see him again. Why,” Chesty says, “I cannot believe Mr. Cleeburn T. Box means any fraud in this matter. He seems to me to be a nice, honest character, and very sincere in his wish to be pushed.”

Then Chesty Charles goes on to state that if there is any fraud in this matter, he is also a victim of same, and he says he will surely speak harshly to Mr. Cleeburn T. Box about it the first time he gets a chance. In fact, Chesty Charles becomes quite indignant when he gets to thinking that maybe Mr. Cleeburn T. Box may be deceiving him and finally The Macarone says:

“Well, all right,” he says. “Maybe you are not in on anything, at that, and, in fact, I do not see what it is all about, anyway; but,” he says, “it is my opinion that your Mr. Cleeburn T. Box is without doubt nothing but a great scalawag somewhere. Anyway, hand over the dough, Chesty,” he says. “I am going to collect on my good intentions.”

So Chesty Charles takes the package off the back bar and hands it over to The Macarone, and as The Macarone is disposing of it in his pants’ pocket, Chesty says to him like this: “But look, Mac,” he says, “I am entitled to my twenty-five per cent. for finding the plant, just the same.”

Well, The Macarone seems to be thinking this over, and, personally, I figure there is much justice in what Chesty Charles says, and while The Macarone is thinking, there is a noise at the door of somebody coming in, and The Macarone hides that thing under his coat, though I notice he keeps his hand under there, too, until it turns out that the party coming in is nobody but Willie.

“Well,” Willie says, “I have quite an interesting experience just now while I am taking a stroll away out on the Boulevard. It is right pretty out that way, to be sure,” he says. “I meet a cop and get to talking to him about this and that, and while we are talking the cop says, “Good evening, Mr. Box,” to a character who goes walking past.

“The cop says this character is Mr. Cleeburn T. Box,” Willie says. “I say Mr. Box looks worried, and the cop says yes, his nephew is sick, and maybe he is worrying about him. But,” Willie says, “the cop says, “If I am Mr. Box, I will not be worrying about such a thing, because if the nephew dies before he comes of age, Mr. Box is the sole heir to his brother’s estate of maybe ten million dollars, and the nephew is not yet of age.”

“Well, cop,” I say,” Willie says, “are you sure this is Mr. Cleeburn T. Box?” and the cop says yes, he knows him for over ten years, and that he meets up with him every night on the Boulevard for the past week, just the same as tonight, because it seems Mr. Cleeburn T. Box takes to strolling that way quite some lately.

“So,” Willie says, “I figure to save everybody a lot of bother, and I follow Mr. Cleeburn T. Box away out the Boulevard after I leave the cop, and when I get to a spot that seems nice and quiet and with nobody around, I step close enough for powder marks to show good and give it to Mr. Cleeburn T. Box between the eyes. Then,” Willie says, “I leave that thing in his right hand, and if they do not say it is a clear case of him pushing himself when they find him, I will eat my hat.”

“Willie,” The Macarone says, “is your Mr. Cleeburn T. Box clean-shaved and does he have thick black hair?”

“Why, no,” Willie says. “He has a big mouser on his upper lip and no hair whatsoever on his head. In fact,” he says, “he is as bald as a biscuit, and maybe balder.”

Now, at this The Macarone turns to Chesty Charles, but by the time he is half turned, Chesty is out the back door of the Shark Fin Grill and is taking it on the Jesse Owens up the street, and The Macarone seems greatly surprised and somewhat disappointed, and says to me like this:

“Well,” he says, “Willie and me cannot wait for Chesty to return, but,” he says, “you can tell him for me that, under the circumstances, I am compelled to reject his request for twenty-five per cent. for finding the plant. And,” The Macarone says, “if ever you hear of the nephew of the late Mr. Cleeburn T. Box beefing about a missing photograph of Miss Mary Peering, you can tell him that it is in good hands.”