The Thin Line

Damon Runyon

Our Old Man was once asked if he believed it possible for the living to communicate with the spirits of the departed and he said he had an open mind on the subject. He said he did not dismiss the idea in its entirety but that he did not believe it would work in all cases. He said he thought it depended to some extent upon the character, disposition and the environment in life of the departed.

He said he once spent three nights hand-running in a house back in our old home town of Pueblo in which a mysterious murder had been committed on the theory that the spirit of the murdered man might be hanging around the premises and that he could get the shade to give him a clue to the murderer, but that he never would have embarked on this adventure had he paused to reflect on the character of the departed.

He said he should have remembered that the departed had been noted as one of the most unobliging citizens of the community besides being suspected of dishonesty and that there was no reason to think he would change after reaching the beyond. Our Old Man said if he had thought of this it would have saved him a couple of sleepless nights during which he roamed the house calling on the spirit of the departed to appear and give him a tip, which Our Old Man planned using as the basis of an exclusive story in the Chieftain, for which he was a reporter at the time.

On the third night, worn out from his vigil, he went to sleep and when he awoke he found that his pocket had been picked of six dollars and eighty cents which he had been saving to pay his room rent and laundry. So he gave up the quest, telling everybody that it served him right for thinking the spirit of the murdered man would come around to do a favor or for any other than a despicable purpose. Our Old Man said the worst part of it was that his rooming house landlady, and Wing Foo, the Chinese laundryman, both refused to believe his story and made a little trouble for him.

He said one time he attended a regular séance conducted by an alleged spiritualist because he wanted to get in touch with the spirit of a departed pal by the name of Bill to find out where Bill had put some fishing tackle belonging to him. The alleged spiritualist was a big fellow with a fat stomach and Our Old Man said he was surprised to find at the séance the widow of the departed Bill and also the widows of several other departeds, so he judged the spiritualist was doing a swell business.

Bill’s widow was the first to get in her order for communication with the spirit of the departed and sure enough the spiritualist raised a voice in a darkened room that he said was Bill’s. Our Old Man was just about to break in and ask Bill’s spirit about the fishing tackle when he heard the voice addressing the widow and asking her how she felt and if she still loved him and Our Old Man got right up and said:

“See here, Abbie (that was the widow’s name), you know blame well that old Bill wouldn’t want to come within fifty miles of any place where he thought you’d be and if he did he wouldn’t care a whoop how you felt. You know that I know he hadn’t spoken a word to you in three years prior to joining the departed and that he wouldn’t ask you if you still loved him because he was on to you carrying on with that fellow that runs the livery stable.”

These remarks caused quite a stir because all the ladies present knew they were true and they began running out of the place denouncing the spiritualist fellow as a fake although Our Old Man tried to stop them by telling them that he made no such charges but that he just thought maybe the spiritualist had got hold of the wrong spirit.

The next day a couple of the widow’s grown children came around and thanked Our Old Man for rescuing their maw from the clutches of the spiritualist as it seems she had been paying him money to communicate with the spirit of the departed Bill but they did not offer to pay the doctor’s bill for patching up the wounds the spiritualist inflicted on Our Old Man, who said he would not have minded if he had been able to find out about the fishing tackle.