Damon Runyon

July 12 1941

One pleasant spring day at the Bowie race track, there comes to me a guy by the name of Fat-Fat, who is a horse player by trade and who is called by this name because he is not only fat but he is double fat. In fact, he is very fat indeed. He has a paper in his hand and he seems greatly pleased and he says to me like this:

“Well,” he says, “The Beard wants me. Yes,” he says, “Uncle Sam at last calls me to join the colors. I have here a summons to report to my draft board in New York City. I understand you are seeking means of transportation there and I will be pleased to have you accompany me in my car as my guest. Why,” Fat-Fat says, “I can scarcely wait to get my uniform. It is long my ambition to serve my country and besides,” he says, “when Cleo my fiancée sees me as a soldier maybe she will speak to me again after giving me the back of her neck for all these months.”

So there I am speeding through Delaware with Fat-Fat in his big, open automobile for at this time he is quite strong in the funds department what with putting over several nice parlays at Bowie and my presence is without doubt a great comfort to him as Fat-Fat always likes to have someone to converse with. But it seems to me he can do just as well alone, as when Fat-Fat gets sunk down behind the wheel all his chins pile up around his neck and he is never able to turn his head one way or the other to see who he is conversing with or how they are taking it. In fact, he just talks straight ahead.

He never talks about anything whatsoever but this Cleo he is in love with, but as most of his words get lost among his chins I never hear half of what he says so I do not try to answer him and anyway Fat-Fat does not care whether you answer him or not as long as you do not try to change the subject from Cleo.

She is a brown-haired pretty who has a dancing background and at the time I am speaking of she is working for Buddy DeSylva in a show by the name of Panama Hattie and she is regarded as one of the prettiest of all the pretties in the show. To tell the truth, she is regarded by some as a gorgeous and it is generally conceded that she is by no means an intellectual, or anyway not offensively so.

I am not very well acquainted with her but Fat-Fat tells me that she is a hard-working and conscientious pretty and that after the show is over at night she hastens right to her home in the Bronx and I have no doubt this is very true, although I also hear from other sources that she generally routes herself to the Bronx by way of the Stork Club, Leon and Eddie’s, La Martinique and similar detours.

Well, as we go buzzing along, suddenly we behold an interesting spectacle at the side of the road. A cow is lying on the ground quite still and a little calf is standing beside it on very wobbly pins going mah-ah-ah, like that, and a guy in overalls and a dirty shirt, who is without doubt a Jasper, is also standing there looking most depressed, and seeing all this, Fat-Fat stops the car and gets out and views the situation a while and the following conversation ensues:

“Hello,” Fat-Fat says. “What comes off?”

“A truck kills my cow,” the Jasper says. “I see it disappearing over the hill just as I come up.”

“Why,” Fat-Fat says, “this is quite pitiful. What about the midget here?” he says, pointing to the calf. “Why is it making such a row? Does it get hit too? I see many a cow in my time,” Fat-Fat says, “but never before do I see a midget one.”

“Look, Fat-Fat,” I say, “this is not a midget. This is a baby cow that is called a calf and a fine specimen it is, too, and it is bawling because its mamma is lying here cold in death. It is now an orphan.”

“Well,” Fat-Fat says, “I never see such a sawed-off cow before so naturally I think it is a midget cow. I never realize there are baby cows. I always figure they come full-size. Look at its big, soft brown eyes. Who do they remind you of?”

I look at the calf’s eyes but they do not remind me of anybody’s except a calf’s and I so state to Fat-Fat who is now squatted down petting the calf and gazing into its eyes while the calf is still going mah-ah-ah.

“They are Cleo’s eyes,” Fat-Fat says. “I never see such a resemblance. Mister,” he says to the Jasper, “is this a boy baby cow or a girl baby cow?”

“Why,” the Jasper says, “it is a cow calf so it must be a girl. If it is a boy it will be a bull calf and not a cow calf at all. Now,” he says, “I must lug this calf nearly two miles to my home back here in the woods. I do not see how they wander so far away in the first place.”

“Why not shoo it along ahead of you?” I say. “Or maybe we can find a piece of string and you can pull it.”

“No,” the Jasper says, “I will have to carry it. It is too young and it is already plumb tuckered out from walking. This is a terrible blow to me as the cow is my sole possession in the way of livestock and she supplies milk for my children. She is a Jersey and a wonderful milker. Now,” he says, “I have no means of getting milk for my children or for this calf either.”

“Mister,” Fat-Fat says, “will you sell this baby cow to me? I will give you a hundred dollars for it. It will make a wonderful present for Cleo my fiancée and something to remember me by when I am in the Army serving my country, and,” he says, “more than anything else she is sure to consider it a most touching gesture when she learns I buy a baby cow just because its eyes remind me of her. Cleo is really very sentimental.”

Well, at this I remonstrate with Fat-Fat and try to explain to him that such a purchase is most ill-advised. But Fat-Fat will not listen to me, and the upshot of it is he gives the Jasper the hundred dollars, and the Jasper, who is practically stunned by the transaction, lifts the calf into the back seat of the car and tells Fat-Fat he must feed it milk out of a bottle for a spell.

So away we go with the calf lying down in the seat and going mah-ah-ah, but presently Fat-Fat finds he cannot keep looking around at the calf on account of his chins preventing him from turning his head and he makes me do the driving while he gets in the back seat with the calf and before long he is calling it Cleo and I can see that this is now the calf’s name.

We stop at the first town we come to and Fat-Fat buys a baby’s nursing bottle with a nipple on it at a drugstore and then he buys some milk and gets a guy in a hamburger joint to warm it up and he feeds Cleo in a way that is astonishing to behold. I never know before that Fat-Fat is so handy in this respect but he tells me he often performs a similar service for his baby brother and his baby sister, too, when he is a kid over on Tenth Avenue. By the time we reach New York City, I can see that Fat-Fat is greatly devoted to Cleo the calf and I can also see that Cleo the calf thinks very well of Fat-Fat, which is not surprising considering he is the source of her warm milk.

We pull up in front of Mindy’s restaurant on Broadway around the dinner hour when the place is well filled with customers and Fat-Fat lifts Cleo the calf out of the car and carries her inside in his arms and naturally it is quite a surprise to one and all to observe this spectacle, especially when Fat-Fat sits down at a table in a booth and puts Cleo on the settee opposite him. In fact, there is so much commotion that Mindy himself appears and when he sees Cleo the calf he does not even shake hands with Fat-Fat and tell him he is glad to see him back but says to him like this:

“Wrong bettors, yes,” Mindy says. “Actors and newspapermen and song writers, yes. But,” Mindy says, “calfs, no. You cannot keep these cattle in my gaff, Fat-Fat.”

“This is Cleo, Mindy,” Fat-Fat says.

“Cleo?” Mindy says. “Ha-ha-ha-ha,” he says. “Cleo just leaves here for the theater full of goulash with the guy with the one eye-glass she is running around with while you are absent. I think he is a nobleman refugee. Everybody is a nobleman refugee nowadays. I do not like his looks. But,” Mindy says, “this is neither here nor there nor elsewhere. You must take this thing out of here, especially,” he says, “as calfs are very seldom house broke.”

Well, at this, Cleo the calf goes mah-ah-ah and who comes up but Ambrose Hammer, the newspaper scribe, who speaks to Mindy as follows:

“See here, Mindy,” he says, “you serve veal in here, do you not?”

“The very best,” Mindy says. “Veal stew, veal chops, veal tenderloin and wiener schnitzel, which is a veal.”

“It all comes from a calf,” Ambrose says. “You also serve calves’ liver, do you not?”

“None better,” Mindy says. “It is very good for nimmicks.”

“You mean anemics,” Ambrose says. “Kindly do not distort the English language, Mindy. Now,” he says, “what is the difference between permitting the by-products of the calf in here and the calf itself? You are being very unreasonable, if you ask me.”

Naturally, Mindy is somewhat nonplused by this argument, especially as he wishes to remain on friendly terms with Ambrose Hammer because sometimes Ambrose mentions the joint in his column, which is very nice publicity indeed, and besides by this time everybody in the place is interested in Cleo the calf and all the pretties are coming up and addressing her in baby language and Mindy can see that she is quite an attraction.

“Well,” he says, “I will have to think this situation over.”

So he retires to the kitchen and Fat-Fat and I have our dinner and Cleo the calf has her milk out of the bottle and Ambrose Hammer sits down with us and listens with great interest to Fat-Fat’s story of how he comes to buy Cleo the calf because of her eyes and why he calls her Cleo and all this and that. In fact, Ambrose is so interested that he goes to his office and writes a very fine story about Fat-Fat and Cleo the calf and also about Cleo the pretty, but of course we do not know this until the blat Ambrose works for comes out the next morning.

In the meantime, Fat-Fat takes Cleo the calf around to the hotel in West Forty-ninth Street where he always lives in New York, figuring to register her there and then go looking for Cleo the pretty and have a reunion and one thing and another with her. But he has great difficulty convincing the night clerk that Cleo the calf is acceptable as a lodger because it seems that just a couple of weeks previously the clerk admits a guest with a boa constrictor and this boa constrictor escapes during the night and goes visiting in other rooms and causes so much unrest in the hotel that the clerk does not get a wink of sleep throughout his watch.

However, Fat-Fat is an old patron of the hotel and besides he stakes the clerk to a sawsky, so he gets his old room and by this time he is pretty well tuckered out himself so he decides to get a good night’s sleep before looking for Cleo the pretty and while Cleo the calf goes mah-ah-ah most of the night, it does not seem to disturb the other guests and does not bother the clerk at all, as it seems he is raised on a farm and is accustomed to such sounds in the night.

Well, soon after daylight the next morning the hotel is surrounded by reporters and photographers from the afternoon blats because it seems Ambrose Hammer makes Fat-Fat and Cleo the calf sound very interesting, indeed, but it also seems that even before they get there Cleo the pretty has Fat-Fat on the phone and that she is sizzling about Fat-Fat telling Ambrose the calf s eyes remind him of hers and claiming that this is just the same thing as comparing her to a cow.

“Furthermore,” Fat-Fat says when he is telling me about this incident later in the day, “she informs me that I am nothing but a tub of lard and that if I ever as much as look at her again she will call the cops. She says anyway she is now in love with a very high-class guy by the name of Henri something and is going to marry him. When I tell her I buy Cleo the calf as a present for her she spurns my token in words I am never before aware she even knows.

“I also have other bad news,” Fat-Fat says. “I am rejected today by the doctors for the Army. They say I am too corpulent. They give me the elbow without even permitting me to remove my garments. Now I cannot even serve my country. On top of everything else, I blow a good bet on Air Brigade in the fourth at Jamaica. I am most despondent,” Fat-Fat says. “But,” he says, “I am now very glad I buy Cleo the calf or I will have nothing whatever to console myself with. I can always gaze into her eyes and remind myself of my lost love.”

For a couple of days the hotel receives so much publicity in connection with Cleo the calf that the management is greatly pleased with her presence but when the blats stop talking about her she gets to be quite a bore, and they request Fat-Fat to remove her, especially as guys from the health department commence coming around and stating that it is setting a bad precedent to other hotels to have a calf as a guest.

So Fat-Fat has to get rid of Cleo the calf or find another place to live and by this time he is very fond of her, indeed, and cannot bear the idea of parting from her. Finally he finds a spot over on Eleventh Avenue along in the Fifties not far from the North River docks where an old bundle by the name of Mrs. Squamm runs a small fleabag and who is very glad to have Fat-Fat and Cleo the calf. In fact, Mrs. Squamm states that she often longs for a touch of rural atmosphere over on Eleventh Avenue and feels that Cleo the calf will provide same.

Furthermore, right next door to Mrs. Squamm’s little fleabag there is a fenced-in vacant lot covering half a block which is once occupied by a house that burns down years ago leaving nothing but a big hole in the ground in the center of the lot that is formerly the cellar, and Fat-Fat can see that this lot will be very handy for Cleo the calf to romp about in when she gets older, especially as Mrs. Squamm’s kitchen where Cleo the calf sleeps opens right into the lot.

Now the summer passes by and I do not see Fat-Fat for some time although I hear of him hustling and bustling about the race courses at his trade as a horse player, and then one night I run into him in front of Mindy’s and ask him how Cleo the calf is.

“Why,” Fat-Fat says, “she is fine and growing like a weed. I play with her every day, wrestling and rolling about on the floor with her to strengthen her muscles and also to reduce my own weight. I never give up hope of being permitted to serve my country in the Army. She runs about the lot next door when I am at the track and is enjoying herself in a way that is a pleasure to behold. But,” Fat-Fat says, “I am sorry to say that there has come up some friction between Cleo the calf and a bunch of small kids who also wish to use the lot as a playground. She detests them.”

“What about the other Cleo?” I ask.

At this, the tears start rolling down Fat-Fat’s cheeks and he is unable to speak, so I can see he is deeply affected and naturally I am very sorry for him, especially as I hear rumors along Broadway that Cleo the pretty seems to be crazy about this Henri. In fact, I observe them one night together in the Stork Club holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes in such a way that I can see it must be love.

Personally, I cannot blame her much as this Henri is a good-looking guy with a small mustache and is very well dressed except for a monocle and alongside of him Fat-Fat is naturally nothing but a plater compared to a stake horse, but of course looks are not everything. To tell the truth, they are only about eighty per cent. I make a few inquiries about Henri but nobody seems to have any line on him except that he is undoubtedly a foreign guy and seems to have plenty of beesom but at this time there are so many foreign guys in New York with plenty of beesom that no one ever bothers to find out who they are or where they are from, or whatever.

Well, one night in the late fall, Fat-Fat calls me up at Mindy’s and requests me to come over to Mrs. Squamm’s house and keep him company, stating that he is not feeling well and does not wish to go out. He also states that Mrs. Squamm goes to bed early and Cleo the calf is sleeping out in the lot because she is now so big she takes up too much room in the kitchen, and that he is low in his mind and lonesome. So I go there and am playing him a little pinochle and permitting him to win to cheer him up when along towards midnight there comes a knock at the door and when Fat-Fat opens it who rushes in but a big guy and a couple of smaller guys and the big guy displays a badge in his hand and speaks like this:

“Jubble is the name,” he says. “Federal Bureau of Investigation. Where are they?”

“Where are who?” Fat-Fat says.

“Kindly do not stall,” Jubble says. “One of my guys hears her give this house address to the taxi jockey as they drive away from the Stork Club. They leave the cab, which is now in our custody, waiting down the street a block off and walk here and the jockey says he sees them climb over the fence into the lot next door, and as we do not observe hide nor hair of them in the lot they must be in this house because there is no other house around close. Come, come,” he says, “speak up.”

Now all of a sudden we hear Cleo the calf’s voice out in the lot going mah-ah-ah as if she is in distress and Fat-Fat runs out the back door of the kitchen and into the lot and Jubble and his guys run after him and so do I. The street lights outside the fence throw a dim light all over the lot but Cleo the calf is not to be seen although we can still hear her. So Fat-Fat follows the sound of her voice until it brings him to the hole in the ground that is once a cellar and as the voice seems to come from this hole, Jubble and his guys all turn flashlights into the hole and we observe a somewhat unusual scene.

Cleo the calf and Cleo the pretty and Henri the foreign guy are all down in the hole and Cleo the calf is chasing Cleo the pretty and Henri back and forth in this space which is about the size and depth of a long, narrow room, in a most surprising manner and going mah-ah-ah in a tone that indicates she is greatly vexed, and I can see that Cleo the calf is much more developed since I last notice her and in fact she is quite large.

Now and then Henri tries to climb up one side of the hole, digging his fingers in the dirt wail and Cleo the calf immediately butts him vigorously from behind and knocks him down. Once while we are gazing at this scene, Cleo the pretty also tries to climb the wall and Cleo the calf butts her in the same place she does Henri and just as vigorously and Cleo the pretty is sobbing and Henri is using the most ungenteel language and Cleo the calf keeps going mah-ah-ah so there is really some little confusion, and on viewing all this, Fat-Fat becomes slightly indignant and speaks as follows:

“See here, now,” Fat-Fat says, “you must not be playing tag with Cleo the calf at such an hour in a hole in the ground. She is supposed to be getting her rest.”

Well, even in the confusion I notice that the hole that is once a cellar looks as if somebody recently clears it out and does a lot of digging as if to make it deeper as there is much fresh earth around and about and there are steps dug in one wall as if to enable whoever does the digging to climb in and out and I also notice that there are light boards across the hole like a flat roof, and it is plain to be seen that these boards give way under some kind of weight in the middle so I figure this is where Cleo the calf and Cleo the pretty and Henri drop through into the hole. Furthermore, Jubble seems to notice this, too, because he says:

“Why,” he says, “this is really most ingenious. I must tell our chief, Mr. Hoover, about this spy trap. Maybe we can build a few in Washington.”

“What makes it a spy trap?” I say.

“It traps this Henri guy, does it not?” Jubble says. “And he is a spy. He is Henri la Porte, alias Muller, the most dangerous secret agent and saboteur in the world. We are tailing him for months. Johnson,” he says to one of his guys, “jump down in there and put the handcuffs on him, although,” he says, “maybe you better wait until somebody surrounds the animal that is pursuing him.”

At this, Fat-Fat drops down into the hole and puts his arms around Cleo the calf and calls her pet names and quiets her down and then this Johnson follows him into the hole and applies the darbolas to Henri’s wrists and all the time Henri is putting up quite a bleat and saying he will see his ambassador and maybe the President, and Cleo the pretty is sitting on the ground down in the hole crying as if her heart will break.

We finally get them all out of the hole but Cleo the calf and go back to Mrs. Squamm’s house and on the way I ask Fat-Fat if he notices the way the old cellar is fixed up and he says he does and that he is greatly bewildered by same but that it is best not to speak of this matter until we see what is what. He says there is undoubtedly more here than meets the eye, and about now a tall guy I do not see before comes into the house with still another guy that I can see is a taxicab jockey and the tall guy whispers something to Jubble and Jubble says like this:

“Fine,” he says. “I am glad you put it in a safe place. Well.” he says, gazing at Cleo the pretty who is still crying no little, “I must also put this beautiful under arrest as an accomplice, although.” he says, “it is by no means the established policy of our chief, Mr. Hoover, to molest beautifuls.”

Now of course here is a predicament to be sure, because anybody can see that being arrested as an accomplice to a saboteur will present Cleo the pretty in an unfavorable light before her public and Cleo the pretty begins to cry louder than ever and she looks at Fat-Fat and speaks to him as follows:

“Irving,” she says, “save me.”

“Why,” Fat-Fat says to Jubble, “what do you mean she is an accomplice? She is my fiancée and my personal assistant. I have her stool this Henri guy into the lot so we can trap him in exactly the manner you observe, although,” Fat-Fat says, “of course I do not know he is as great a scapegrace as you state. I figure he is just a fiancée thief and it is my intention to give him a going-over and this marvelous here is in on the play.”

“Oh,” Jubble says, “I beg your pardon, Miss. I beg everybody’s pardon. Why,” he says, “you may get a medal for this. Now I must hasten to my office and leave my lads to follow with the prisoner. But,” he says, “we must keep this capture quiet until we round up any others who may be connected with Henri.”

As Jubble departs and while I am still thinking of what an exaggeration Fat-Fat is guilty of, and am also still wondering about the cellar, Cleo the pretty throws herself into Fat-Fat’s arms and kisses him and says:

“Irving,” she says, “forgive me for everything, I never really love anybody but you.”

“Why,” Fat-Fat says, “I forgive you, all right, but how do you come to be in this lot out here in the first place, not to mention being down in the hole?”

“Oh,” Cleo the pretty says, “I am going away and I get to thinking of you, and I remember your address here, because I always keep track of you, and I induce Henri to make a stop. He is putting me aboard a ship that sails for South America at midnight and he is going to join me there later and we are to be married. I want to see you for the last time, but Henri has the cab stop before we reach your door. I can see now he must suspect we are being followed.

“We walk the rest of the way,” Cleo the pretty says, “but Henri is evidently still suspicious as he boosts me over the fence into the lot and follows after me and tells me we must wait there a while and what do I see in the lot but a terrible animal and for no reason this animal becomes angry and chases us around until we run across what looks like solid ground but which gives way under our feet and drops us into the hole. It is a dreadful experience, Irving,” she says.

“I do not understand it,” Fat-Fat says. “It is not in keeping with Cleo the calf’s character to display such temper. I guess she realizes Henri is a wrongie.”

“Irving,” Cleo the pretty says, “you must not think Henri is as bad as these parties state. He is very kind to me and gives me a perfectly huge basket of fruits and flowers and candies for my going-away present. I leave it in the cab and, Irving,” she says, “I trust you will recover it for me.”

At this, the tall guy who comes in last and who seems to be questioning the taxicab jockey, steps over to Cleo the pretty and taps her on the shoulder and says:

“Sister,” he says, “Henri is not putting you on a boat for South America. He is putting you on one that is going to Egypt and is loaded with war supplies. And in the basket of stuff he gives you for a present is a time bomb that will sink the ship and you with it inside of twelve hours.”

“Why,” Cleo the pretty says, “maybe he is a rascal after all. But,” she says, “it is a beautiful basket.”

Afterwards I hear this same tall guy talking to Henri in another room and he says to Henri like this:

“Muller,” he says, “how do you ever come to join out with a dumb broad such as this?”

“Why,” Henri says, “I need a dumb one for my purpose. But I am dumber than she is. If I do not let her talk me into making this stop for a farewell to the blubberhead I will have her aboard the Zoozoo and my work will be accomplished.”

But of course I do not mention this conversation to Fat-Fat or to Cleo the pretty either as I fear it may cast a slight cloud over their happiness.

“Well,” Fat-Fat says, when the guys finally leave with Henri, “everything turns out for the best. But,” he says, “I am still puzzled as to how such a gentle little thing comes to commit this violent assault. Maybe I do wrong in teaching her to butt,” he says.

Then Fat-Fat and Cleo the pretty kiss and hug again and their pleasure in this proceeding is really beautiful to behold and later Cleo the pretty tells me in confidence that what makes her realize that she truly loves Fat-Fat is that when she sees Cleo the calf in the lot and remembers the rumors that come to her ears of how Fat-Fat adores this creature, a terrible wave of jealousy comes over her and she cannot resist giving Cleo the calf a good kick in the slats. And Cleo the pretty says this kick is undoubtedly what stirs Cleo the calf to a passion and causes her to run them into the hole.

I drop over to Mrs. Squamm’s a few days later and Fat-Fat and Cleo the pretty and Mrs. Squamm are having something to eat in the kitchen and Cleo the calf is standing half in and half out of the doorway watching them and I give them all a huge hello including Cleo the calf and sit down and Fat-Fat says to me like this:

“Well,” he says, “Mrs. Squamm finds out about the cellar for me. It seems the little kids of the neighborhood who are disputing with Cleo the calf for possession of the lot see a movie about big-game hunters in Africa or some such place and observe how they trap lions and tigers and elephants and all this and that and they are pretending among themselves as kids will do that Cleo the calf is a tiger and they make a trap of the cellar similar to something they see in the movies to snare her. Mrs. Squamm says it is called a pitfall. She thinks they are playing they are Frank Bucks. My gracious,” Fat-Fat says, “when I am a kid, Jesse James is plenty good enough for me.”

“Well,” I say, “no doubt you will soon be passing about the neighborhood distributing a few bootses in the pantses?”

“By no means,” Fat-Fat says. “Let us say no more about this incident as I am receiving great credit for personally trapping Henri and in fact I am to be rewarded with a job in the service of the Beard. They are going to send me to a school and make an undercover guy of me to run down other secret agents and saboteurs and such. So I will get to serve my country after all.”

“Congratulations, Fat-Fat,” I say. “And what is to become of Cleo the pretty here and also of Cleo the calf?”

“Oh,” Fat-Fat says, “I am buying a little farm up the Hudson. We are going to live there and raise a lot of little Cleos on both sides.”

Then he and Cleo the pretty begin hugging and kissing again and Mrs. Squamm laughs heartily and Cleo the calf goes moo-oo-oo, like that, so I can see her voice is commencing to change no little.