Little Pinks

Damon Runyon

January 27 1940

One night in the Canary Club, Case Abies, the bookmaker, slaps a redheaded chorus Judy who is called Your Highness across the mouth and knocks her down a flight of stairs and he uses only his bare hand, at that.

It is agreed by one and all that Case Abies is a little out of line in this situation as he is a big fat guy who outweighs Your Highness maybe a hundred and eighty pounds, but it is also agreed that if some Judy in the city of New York must be knocked down a flight of stairs it may as well be Your Highness, for she is without doubt a great pain in the neck.

And, of course, Case Abies is slightly vexed at the moment as he is just after spending plenty of moolouw in the Canary Club and when it comes on the closing hour for the drum he wishes to go somewhere else and have jolly times and he also wishes to take Your Highness with him for company and so forth, and she refuses to go.

To tell the truth, if Case Abies only thinks to ask somebody in advance he will learn that Your Highness always refuses to go out with anybody for company or anything else, unless she is sure they are in the high income-tax brackets and of excellent social position, and naturally the social position lets Case out.

In fact, the reason she is called Your Highness and is considered such a pain in the neck is because she plays the frost for all who are not well established as practically zillionaires, and she makes no bones of stating that her angle is to find a character of means who is not entirely repulsive and marry him, and when somebody asks her what about love, she says well, what about it, and, of course, there is no answer to this.

Personally, I consider Your Highness’ attitude slightly unromantic, especially for a Judy who is only about twenty-two years old, but many citizens claim that it displays great intelligence, although they all admit they are glad she can never have them in mind for her purpose.

In fact, Joe Gloze, the owner of the Canary Club, states that as far as he is concerned he will just as soon marry a fire plug as Your Highness as he says he figures a fire plug will not be so cold and hard in case of a clinch. But, of course, Joe Gloze admits he is only guessing both ways.

However, no one can deny that Your Highness does very good for herself by specializing in characters of means. They are always taking her nice places and she has fine clothes and fur wraps and other odds and ends such as these characters dearly love to bestow upon chorus Judys for the asking, and Your Highness is not at all tongue-tied when it comes to asking.

Furthermore, she has quite a personal following of these characters and always brings trade to any joint in which she is working, so she gets a good salary although all she has to do is to walk around with the rest of the chorus and look beautiful, which is really no effort at all for Your Highness. In fact, many citizens say that if she is not the most beautiful Judy that ever hits Broadway, she is at least in there somewhere scrambling along close up.

The price is 8 to 5 anywhere along Broadway that Your Highness will sooner or later marry the United States Mint, or maybe the Bank of England, and 20 to 1 that she will make either of them sick of her in two weeks when she winds up in a heap at the foot of the stairs from Case Abies’ slap. I remember she has on a red dress and what with this and her red hair she reminds me more than somewhat of a woodpecker that someone knocks out of a tree with a rock.

Well, while she is lying there, a bus boy in the Canary Club by the name of Little Pinks, who has a very large nose and a short forehead and who does not weigh more than ninety pounds, apron and all, runs down the stairs and begins carrying on in a way that is most distressing to hear, especially to Case Abies, as Little Pinks keeps yelling that Case is a murderer and a no-good and I do not know what all else.

So naturally Case has to go down the stairs and give Little Pinks a few good clops on the chops because such talk is practically vilification of character and by no means pleasing to Case Abies. But the more clops Little Pinks gets the louder he yells and as a scene of this nature is by no means beneficial to an establishment such as the Canary Club, Joe Gloze and two of his captains of waiters go down and assist Case in the clopping, so after a while Little Pinks is very well clopped indeed.

It comes out that Little Pinks is a great admirer of Your Highness, but it is agreed that even so he is going too far in speaking so freely of Case Abies. In fact, after some discussion it is the consensus of opinion that a bus boy has no right to admire anybody and consequently Little Pinks is in great disfavor with one and all, especially when it comes out that his admiration of Your Highness is from a distance and that he never more than says good evening to her in his life and even then she does not answer unless she feels like it. And of course, everybody who knows Your Highness knows that she will very seldom feel like answering a bus boy.

It becomes plain to all that Your Highness probably never knows Little Pinks is alive, yet it seems that whenever she goes to work in a night club, Little Pinks always gets himself a bussing job there, just so he can be near her and see her. When this information is made public it is generally agreed that Little Pinks is slightly eccentric and, furthermore, when Joe Gloze gets to figuring that if Pinks is so busy admiring Your Highness he must be neglecting his bussing, he gives Little Pinks a few more clops for luck.

Well, finally it also comes out that Your Highness’ spine is injured so she will never walk again and Case Abies feels so sorry about this that he talks some of paying her hospital expenses, but Joe Gloze convinces him that it will be setting a bad precedent in these situations. In fact, Joe Gloze says it may start his chorus Judys to falling down the stairs of their own free will just to get in hospitals.

There is also a rumor around that Your Highness has a right to sue Case Abies for damages, but as Case soon has thirty-four witnesses, including the cop on the beat, who are willing to swear she attacks him first and that she is undoubtedly under the influence of something at the time, nothing comes of this rumor. In fact, everybody forgets the incident as quickly as possible except Your Highness and maybe Little Pinks, who is bound to remember if only because Joe Gloze gives him the heevus from his job in the Canary Club.

Now all this is some years ago and it comes on a winter when things are pretty tough for one and all and I judge they must be especially tough for bus boys as I meet Little Pinks on Broadway one cold day and he is thinner than an old dime and does not have enough clothes on to make a bathrobe for a mouse. His toes are leaking out of his shoes and he is as blue as a toad from the cold and I stake him to four bits out of the goodness of my heart. Then I ask him if he ever sees Your Highness and he says to me like this:

“Sure, I see her,” Little Pinks says. “I see her all the time. In fact, Your Highness lives in the same place I do which is in a basement over in West Fifty-second Street near Tenth Avenue. I am the only one who does see her nowadays as all her former friends give her the brush-off after she is hurt. She is in the hospital nearly a year and,” he says, “she has to sell all her possessions to pay the expenses. She does not have one penny when I take her to my place to live.”

“How is she now?” I say.

“She is cold,” Little Pinks says. “Always so cold. There is not much heat in our basement and this is one reason why Your Highness is always slightly irritable. But,” he says, “it keeps me so busy hustling around trying to get a few dibs to keep up the installments on the wheel chair I buy her and for food and magazines that I cannot afford a better place. Your Highness must have her magazines so she can keep up with what the society people are doing. They cost quite a lot,” he says.

“Are you married to her?” I say.

“Oh, my goodness, no,” Pinks says. “Do you suppose Your Highness will marry anybody like me? She is too proud to think of such a thing. She is just letting me take care of her until she can get well and marry somebody with a lot of sugar. That is always her dream,” he says. “When she is in good humor she talks about how she will reward me someday.

“But,” Little Pinks says, “she is not often in good humor lately because she is so cold. She says she wants to go to Miami where it is warm and where there are society people like she sees in the magazines. She says she will get a chance to meet guys with money there. Yes,” he says, “I think I will take her to Miami.”

“Well, Pinks,” I say, “that will be fine, but how are you going to get her there? It looks to me as if you may be a little short of what it takes.”

“Why,” Little Pinks says, “I will push her there in her wheel chair.”

“Pinks,” I say, “I guess you are a case for Bellevue. It is thirteen hundred miles to Miami.”

“How far is thirteen hundred miles?” Little Pinks says.

“Pinks,” I say, “thirteen hundred miles is thirteen hundred miles. That is how far it is. You can no more push somebody in a wheel chair such a distance than you can roll a peanut from here to Chicago with your nose.”

“Well,” he says, “I must try because Your Highness cannot stand the cold much longer. Now I must hurry home to cook the dinner, and,” he says, “tonight is the night I do the washing. Your Highness does not like to be without clean clothes, especially lingerie. I am a good cook and launderer now and nobody can dust and sweep or wait on an invalid better than I can. Your Highness takes a lot of waiting on,” he says. “I used to forget things but now she keeps a long cane at her chair to remind me when I forget.”

“Pinks,” I say, “everybody knows his own business best, but what is the idea of your working and slaving for a cold, selfish little broad such as Your Highness if you are not married to her and are not even going to get married to her? What is your percentage?” I say.

“Why,” Little Pinks says, “I love her.”

And with this he goes on down the street and I can see that he shrinks a lot since I last see him and in fact he is now so small that I look for him to fall out of the hole in the seat of his pants any minute.

Well, it comes on the winter of 1938 and I am in Chesty Charles’ little grill on Biscayne Boulevard in the city of Miami thinking of very little when I notice that the character who is doing porter work around the joint seems to be nobody but Little Pinks although he is without doubt greatly altered. So I ask Chesty if this is not who the porter is and Chesty says to me like this:

“All I know,” Chesty says, “is that he is a little stirry. He comes to me with a screeve from some old friends of mine in the canneroo at Raiford. He is just after doing a three-er and it seems to leave some impression on him. He talks to himself a lot. Yes,” Chesty says, “he is without doubt stir-crazy.”

After a while, when the porter does not seem to have anything on his hands, I walk over to him and slap him on the back and speak to him as follows:

“Hello, Pinks,” I say. “How is everything?”

He turns around and looks at me a minute and I can see that it is Little Pinks all right and then he says:

“Oh, hello.”

“Do you remember me?” I say.

“Sure,” Little Pinks says. “You give me four bits on Broadway one day. It is a cold day.”

“How is Your Highness?” I say.

At this, Little Pinks puts his finger on his lips and says shush and then he takes me by the arm and leads me out the back door of the grill into a sort of area-way where they keep the garbage cans and he motions me to sit down on one can and he sits on the other and says like this:

“It is now over four years ago,” he says, “since I bring Your Highness down here.”

“Wait a minute, Pinks,” I say. “You state you bring her. How do you bring her?”

“I push her in her wheel chair,” he says.

“You push her in her wheel chair thirteen hundred miles?” I say. “Pinks, do you think you are kidding somebody?”

“Wait till I tell the story,” he says. “It is thirteen hundred miles. It does not seem like a block to me now. But let me tell it all.”

It is not so difficult as it may sound to push a wheel chair from New York City to Miami (Little Pinks says) with such a tiny thing as Your Highness in the chair as by the time we start she does not weigh much more than a bag of popcorn and besides it is a very nice wheel chair with rubber tires and ball-bearing wheels and rolls very easy, to be sure.

In fact, the only tough part of the journey is from the basement in West Fifty-second Street to the ferry that takes us across the river to the Jersey side. After that we thumb our way along, with Your Highness doing the thumbing and we get many a lift in empty trucks, although the drivers are generally greatly surprised, indeed, at the spectacle of a Judy in a wheel chair asking for a ride.

But it is seldom an empty comes along without stopping for us and usually the driver has to get off and help lift Your Highness, chair and all, into the truck and block the wheels so the chair will not roll out on the bumps and sometimes Your Highness is so bossy about the job that she gets the drivers to asking her who she thinks she is.

She likes the open trucks best and often passes up closed vans that offer a lift to wait for one without a top so she can sit in her chair and watch the scenery on all sides and pretend she is somebody big like a queen. When she is in one of those open trucks she nearly always pretends she is Cleopatra in her royal barge scooting along the Nile which is an idea she gets from some movie and while I do not mind her pretending to be Cleopatra or anybody else I can see that her conversation often makes the truck drivers very nervous.

Once in the state of South Carolina when I am pushing the chair along a road we are stopped by an automobile containing three characters who are very hard-looking, indeed, and one of these characters outs with a large Betsy and requests us to hold up our hands. Then one of the others fan me to see if I have any funds or valuables, and the third character looks Your Highness over and they are surprised and slightly annoyed to find only eighty-six cents on us all told.

So they start questioning us and when I tell them all about Your Highness and me, they are more surprised than ever and one of them picks Your Highness up out of her wheel chair and puts her in the automobile. They make me get in after her and then they tie a rope to the wheel chair and tow it quite a distance behind the automobile, traveling very slow, so as not to yank the chair around too much.

They let us go at a crossroads where they say they must branch off to get to a town off the main highway where they wish to rob a bank and, furthermore, they give me a pound note for my pocket and one of them who listens to Your Highness more than anyone else says that what I really deserve is a gold medal although he does not state why.

Another time in Georgia, I somehow lose the highway and hit a road that goes nowhere but into a swamp and the next thing we know we are in the midst of a bunch of five stove lids in striped clothes and it turns out that they are escaped convicts and are very desperate guys.

Personally, I figure we are going to have a lot of trouble with these parties, but right away Your Highness puts them to work fixing up a camp for us for the night and ordering them around until one of them tells me he will be glad to return to the prison and give himself up, especially as every time one of the stove lids gets close enough to Your Highness’ chair she reaches out and gives him a good belt with her cane.

It takes us about two weeks to get to Miami between her thumbing and my pushing and we live very good on the way. Sometimes I mooch a dookey at a kitchen door but Your Highness does not care much for Southern cooking and prefers canned goods such as I am able to obtain by climbing in the windows of country stores at night. Once I enter a hen-roost and sneeze a pullet when Your Highness thinks she feels in a mood for a little chicken a la king, but the pullet turns out to be very tough and Your Highness is most critical, indeed.

However, she cheers up no little and quite some when she feels the sun and sees the ocean in Miami. In fact, she is so cheerful that she forgets to remind me of anything with her cane for one whole day and has only a few cross words for me. The first thing I do is to find a room for her in a small rooming house on Miami Beach and the next thing I do is get myself a job bussing in a restaurant not far from the rooming house.

Then every morning before I go to work, I push her in her wheel chair over to a big hotel on the beach that is called the Roney Plaza and she sits there on the sidewalks all day long watching the people walking up and down and here and there and to and fro and, the chances are, trying to flirt with any guy that she figures has as much as nine dollars in his pockets, for Your Highness never for a minute forgets her dream of marrying someone with money and social position, but, anyway, money.

Well, to tell the truth, Your Highness is now not as beautiful as formerly, though I never before admit it to anybody. In fact, she is so thin she is almost a shadow and her face is drawn down to the size of a nickel and there is no more glint in her hair and she is by no means such a looking Judy as will attract the attention of guys, especially as the shape that once draws them her way in herds is no longer on public view.

But Your Highness does not realize the change in her appearance and when she finds that the only ones who smile at her and stop and talk to her as she is sitting there are kindhearted old Judys, and that guys never rap to her at all, she becomes somewhat impatient and one day she speaks to me as follows:

“Pinks,” she said, “I know what is wrong. I do not have any jewelry. I notice that anybody who has a lot of jewelry on always attracts plenty of attention even if they are as ugly as anything. Pinks, you get me a lot of jewelry,” she says.

“Well, Your Highness,” I say, “this is quite an order to be sure. I do not know how I am going to get you any jewelry. I am wondering right now about the room rent.”

“Oh,” she says, “you can get it. You get those groceries and that chicken when you want them. Pinks, I must have a lot of jewelry. I must, I must, I must.”

Then she gets mad at me and the way Your Highness gets mad at me is to never say a word but just sit looking sad and it almost breaks my heart when she does this. In fact, I can scarcely sleep when she is mad at me, so instead of trying I spend the next few nights looking around a little and casing a few big houses in which I figure there is bound to be plenty of jewelry.

One night I enter one of these houses by way of a loose window and make my way very quietly to a bedroom in which I can see somebody is sleeping and there on a bureau in plain sight is a whole hatful of jewelry. In fact, there is a big square-cut diamond ring and a batch of diamond bracelets and a large diamond clip, so I figure that the party sleeping in the bedroom is some Judy and that she wears this jewelry earlier in the evening and is careless enough not to put it away in a safe place when she is going to bed.

Anyway, I remove the jewelry and present it the next morning to Your Highness and she is quite pleased with it, although she states that the square-cut diamond is not of first-class color and that the mountings of the bracelets are old-fashioned and cheap. However, she says they will do very well and she puts all the jewelry on and sits looking at herself in a mirror for half an hour. She never asks me where I get it or how. One thing about Your Highness, she never wishes to know where anybody gets anything or how as long as she gets it herself.

I push her in her chair over to the Roney as usual and when I go for her late in the afternoon she is smiling and happy and says that just as she figures the jewelry attracts plenty of attention to her, although she admits she does not get much of a tumble from any young guys who look as if they may be worth getting a tumble from.

“But,” Your Highness says, “they will come later. This afternoon a very fine-looking old party who says he is Dr. Quincey, of Chicago, and his wife talk to me an hour. She is old, too, but nice. Pinks, I think they are rich and maybe they will introduce me to people. Maybe they have a son. They are much interested in my jewelry.”

Well, about an hour later I can understand this interest because a gendarme comes around to the rooming house and calls me out and tells me I am under arrest charged with the burglary of the home of Dr. Quincey, of Chicago, of sixty thousand dollars’ worth of swag, and while I am naturally somewhat perturbed by this announcement, I can see that what Your Highness knows about the value of jewelry is not much.

The gendarme takes me to the police station and into a room where several other coppers are waiting and also an old guy with a beard that they tell me is this Dr. Quincey and I am quite surprised to see him smile at me and to observe that he does not seem to be anywhere near as indignant as I will be myself upon beholding a guy who knocks me off for my valuables.

In fact, it is Dr. Quincey who starts questioning me instead of the cops and what he questions me most about is Your Highness and finally I tell him the whole story about us from start to finish including the part about where I finally enter his house and remove the jewelry and when I speak of this the cops are all in favor of immediately placing me in the jailhouse without any more dickering and then sending out and arresting Your Highness, too, and recovering the jewelry.

“One moment, gentlemen,” this Dr. Quincey says. “I have a long talk with the girl today and observe her closely. She is extremely ill. There is no doubt of that. She is not only extremely ill but,” he says, “she has strange delusions of grandeur.”

“Is that bad, Doc?” I say.

“Never mind,” he says. “I am not willing to condone this young fellow’s crime, but let us suspend action on him temporarily. Say nothing to the girl and let her keep on wearing the jewelry a while longer under surveillance and let Pinks remain at liberty in the meantime if he promises to give himself up when you send for him and accept punishment afterward.”

“What do you mean afterward?” I say.

“Never mind,” he says. “We will let you know later. Do you agree?”

Well, naturally I am glad to agree to anything whatever if it is going to keep me out of the pokey but the coppers are by no means so eager. They say I have all the earmarks of a guy who will breeze off out of their reach as soon as they take their hands off me, but the old guy has them send me out of the room and has a long talk with them in private and then they tell me I can go until they want me.

Of course I do not tell Your Highness what comes off and she goes on wearing the jewelry every day and taking great pleasure in same but I notice that one of the coppers I see in the room is always around somewhere close in plain clothes, so I judge they are taking no chances on the jewelry evaporating.

In fact, sometimes the copper talks to Your Highness and as he is a young guy and by no means bad-looking, and is always hanging around, she commences to figure that maybe he has a crush on her and she plays plenty of swell for him.

When I come to get her when he is around, she gives me a large bawling out for this and that and lets on that I am just a guy working for her, although of course he knows very well who I am. Then the copper happens to let it out that he is married and after that he cannot get close enough to her to hand her a grapefruit.

Your Highness tells me that Dr. Quincey and his wife are around to see her often and she says that sometimes she thinks that maybe the old Doctor likes her pretty well himself. In fact, she says she thinks Dr. Quincey has plenty of gall to look at her the way he does right in front of his wife and I say maybe he is only admiring her jewelry.

Now for several days Your Highness is very thoughtful and has little to say and it seems to me that she is getting so she is not much more than a shadow in her chair. Her eyes are as big as dinner plates and once I think she is crying which is a great surprise to me as I never before see her shed a tear. Then one afternoon I go to the Roney Plaza to get her and I find her watching the sunset instead of the people and after a while she looks at me and smiles and says:

”Come close to me, Little Pinks.”

It is one of the few times she ever calls me Little Pinks. Generally it is just Pinks and it is not often she smiles at me, either. So I go up to the side of her chair but only figuring that the chances are she wishes to get me close enough to give me a belt with her cane for something I forget to remember and she says:

“Kneel down, Little Pinks.”

Well, of course, this is an unusual request, especially in such a place, but if there is one thing I am accustomed to from Your Highness it is unusual requests, so I kneel down in front of her chair and she reaches out with her cane but instead of belting me she taps me on the shoulder with it and says:

“Rise up, Sir Little Pinks, my brave and true knight. Rise up and may God bless you forever and always.”

Naturally I figure this is something else Your Highness gets from a movie or maybe out of a book and I am wondering what the idea is when I see that there are real tears running down her cheeks and she holds out her thin arms to me and says:

“Kiss me, Little Pinks.”

So I kiss her for the first and only time in my life and she holds me tight to her breast a moment and slowly whispers:

“Little Pinks, I love you.”

Now I feel her arms loosen and her poor little body slips down farther in the chair and I do not need Dr. Quincey who happens along just then to tell me Your Highness is dead. He says she lasts longer than he expects from the first time he ever sees her.

I get her buried out here in a little cemetery in the sun where she will never be cold again and then I go to the police station and give myself up and cop a plea of guilty to robbery and take two to ten years. I am now out on parole (Little Pinks says) and this is all there is to the story.

“Pinks,” I say, “I am indeed very sorry for you.”

“Sorry for me?” Little Pinks says. “Say,” he says, “I am sorry for you. You never kiss Your Highness and hear her say she loves you.”

Well, it is a couple of weeks before I am in Chesty’s drum again and I do not see Little Pinks around, so I ask Chesty what becomes of his porter and Chesty says to me like this:

“Why,” he says, “they pick him up again for violating his parole and send him back to Raiford. I do not know how or why he violates it because I never think to ask, but,” he says, “that guy is better off there because he surely is off his nut.”

So I call up a guy I know by the name of Smiddy who works in the sheriff’s office and ask him if he can remember anything about a character by the name of something that sounds like Pinks.

“Wait until I look in the record,” Smiddy says. “Pinks, Pinks, Pinks,” he keeps saying, so I figure he is going through a book. “Say,” he says, “here is a guy by the name of Pincus who is grabbed for parole violation. Maybe he is your guy. I remember him now myself. It is a most unusual case.”

“What is most unusual about it?” I say.

“Why,” Smiddy says, “this Pincus makes his way into the hotel room of a winter tourist by the name of Abies and for no reason anybody can figure out he ties Abies to his bed at the point of a Betsy and bangs him across the back with a baseball bat until he permanently injures the poor guy’s spine. Do you know what I think?” Smiddy says.

“No,” I say, “what do you think?”

“I think this Pincus is daffy,” Smiddy says. “But,” he says, “of course we cannot have our winter tourists treated like Mr. Abies.”