By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 14, 1940.
“Well, sir,” said Jimmie Frise, pushing back his chair, “that was a swell meal.”
We sat back and gazed around the little restaurant, observing with benevolent eye the young men of the village who were noisily gathered here, half of them in uniform, all ruddy and raw-boned and full of food.
“These little village and small town cafes,” I said, “have a quality to them that city restaurants can’t catch.”
“It’s the food,” explained Jim. “In these restaurants they have no big bathtub cookers to do the potatoes in and no half-acre steam tables. In the city restaurants they start making today’s lunch last night. They cook lashings of stuff and keep it hot on a steam table. Here the food is cooked to order.”
“Those stewed tomatoes,” I said. “They tasted like tomatoes. Usually stewed tomatoes just taste of onions.”
“Ah,” said Jim, waving his toothpick, “and remember, they get the tomatoes here right off the vine. Those tomatoes we ate were probably picked this morning and popped into the kettle with the dew on them.”
“And that liver and bacon,” I exclaimed.
“Out here in the country,” elucidated Jimmie, “they know calves’ liver when they see it. You don’t get any bull liver or hog liver out here. In the city, the cafe orders 100 pounds of liver from the packing house. The packing house has a bin full of seven tons of liver. The guy there takes a shovel and shovels out 100 pounds. Down it comes to the cafe and the cook just grabs it and flops hunks of liver on to the griddle. There is no personal touch about liver and bacon, the way there is in these little country cafes.”
“Boy, it lies good inside,” I breathed, patting myself.
“I bet they used only one liver for today’s lunch,” said Jim. “I bet the proprietor of this place went down to the store and selected the liver, personal. Took it up and looked at it. Turned it over and inspected it. A liver. One liver. And then brought it home and sliced it and cooked it.”
“He knew how to cook it, too,” I submitted. “Not frizzled to death. You often can’t tell the difference between liver and fried bedroom slipper in the city.”
“Now You’ve Done It”
“Did you note the bacon?” asked Jim.
“Do you get bacon like that in the city?”
“It probably came from the same packing house as the bacon we get at home,” I offered,
“Yes, but you couldn’t sell a small cafe a punk side of bacon,” stated Jim. “The salesman who brings the bacon out here is talking to people who raise hogs. I bet the proprietor didn’t buy that side of bacon with the wrapping paper on it. I bet he unwrapped five or six sides before he chose this one. And I bet he tasted it for cure and smelt it for smoke and sliced a bit off to see how streaky it was.”
“Yet we city slickers think we get the choice stuff,” I said.
“For one particular person in cities,” said Jim, “there are nine people who buy things by label. All wrapped up. They never see what they’ve got until they pour it out at home. In the country everybody is particular. That is why you see all those cars angle parked for hours out in front of the village stores.”
“In the city,” I contributed, “a woman likes to see how quick she can shop. In the small towns a woman likes to see how long she can occupy the merchant. She examines everything. I have seen a woman in a village store take five minutes to buy a piece of cheese.”
“Well, in the country they enjoy living,” explained Jim. “But in the city we enjoy life.”
With which kindly thoughts, we labored to our feet and walked up to the front and paid our check for 40 cents each, including pie. And strolled out into the quiet village street to board the car and proceed on our pleasant September journey.
In villages, in September, you never hurry. September is a time for lingering. All nature lingers. The leaves are obviously lingering on the trees. The sun seems to linger in the near sky. It is, of course, the hour of good-by to summer and we, with all nature, try to pretend that there is no hurry. We try, by lingering ourselves, to persuade the sweet summer to linger too.
Jimmie likes seed stores and I like hardware stores. We strolled along from the restaurant towards the barber shop, where our car was parked, and Jim took 10 minutes to read all the auction sale and horse ads in the seed store window and I took five minutes studying the pails, axes and minor implements in the hardware window, not to mention the single-barrel shotguns and hunting knives.
“Well,” sighed Jimmie, “let’s be on our way.”
And he tugged at the car door handle.
“She’s locked,” he said. “Who locked her?”
“I did,” I said. “I don’t like to leave a car…
“You don’t have to lock a car in a village like this,” said Jim, indignantly.
“Force of habit,” I said.
“The key,” exclaimed Jim, feeling sharply in his pockets.
We both looked in the window. And there, in the ignition lock, inside, was the key.
“Now you’ve done it,” cried Jim, trying the rear door of the car. “The key is locked inside and all the windows up.”
“You shouldn’t have left the key in the car,” I retorted.
“You shouldn’t have locked the doors,” accused Jim.
“I just pushed down those little buttons,” I declared. “It’s a habit I have when I get out to leave a car. But it’s criminal to leave a car with the key in it. In some cities you can be fined for that.”
“Well, what do we do?” demanded Jim. “Do we stand here all day and argue about it? Where’s the garage?”
We walked to the far end of the village and found the garage man was away at a fall fair in a neighboring town. Only a boy of about 14 was on duty to sell gas. He said he couldn’t leave the job and, anyway, he didn’t know how to get a car open that was locked with the key inside. He said he didn’t think anybody did.
So we borrowed a long piece of stiff wire from him and went back to the car. With a knife-blade we pried the window nearest the steering wheel and got it down about an inch. Then we bent a short hook on the wire and snaked it carefully through and tried to set the hook through the hole in the key.
“As an artist, skilled in the delicate control of the hands,” I submitted, “you ought to be able to hook that wire into the key.”
“I’ve got it,” said Jim. “Now to pull it out.”
“Easy, easy,” I cautioned, joining Jim with my nose pressed against the glass.
Jim tugged and pulled. But it was a straight up pull and the key has to come out horizontally.
“Get a thin stick,” ordered Jim, “and insert it in and push down on the wire while I pull.”
I located along thin stick and slid it in the crack of the window and then lowered it, by holding it gingerly in my finger tip and thumb, and after a lot of manipulating got it pressed against the wire Jim had hooked into the key.
“Now press down,” said Jim. And he gave a good steady pull and the key snapped smartly out of the lock and fell off the hook on the wire and lay on the car seat, perilously near the crack in the upholstery between the seat and the back.
“You pressed too hard,” said Jim sharply.
“You yanked it,” I protested.
So Jim drew the wire out and put a different sort of hook in the end and then slid it through again and started fishing cautiously to slip it under the key and get the hook through the hole. First try, the key slid towards the crack. Second try, Jim got the hook under the key, but when he tried to lift it the key slid right on to the crack.
“People who lock cars,” said Jim, “ought to have their head read.”
But by the most careful manipulation Jim got the hook under the key this time and raised it slowly against the back of the seat and by a tiny and clever twitch put the hook right through the hole.
“Steady nerves,” I said. “That’s what does it.”
Slowly Jim drew the wire up and bent it through the crack in the window. The key vibrated and danced on the wire.
“Slide it towards you, down the wire,” I warned.
Jim continued to draw the wire through the crack, bringing the key nearer and nearer on the jiggling hook. Just as he got it near enough to reach with his fingers stuck through the window, the wire gave a special vibration and the key leaped off the hook, touched the window and fell down alongside the seat between the door and the cushion.
“That’s done it,” muttered Jim.
“Why didn’t you slide it down the wire towards your hand?” I cried. “It couldn’t have got off then.”
“Well, we’re stuck,” said Jim. “Have you any other good suggestions?”
“There ought to be some way of solving this,” I offered. “Any number of people must lock their key in the car.”
“No,” said Jim, “I don’t think there are more than one in a million who would be such a fool.”
“I’m sorry, Jim,” I said quite humbly. “We were having such a good time. That swell meal. All ruined. Our trip shot.”
“We’ll have to bust a window,” said Jim.
“It seems a pity.” I protested. “But it probably doesn’t cost more than a couple of dollars. I’ll pay the shot.”
We walked over to a line beside the hardware store and without trouble found a couple of rocks about the size of bricks.
“One will do it,” said Jim, still cool.
“If I’m going to pay for it,” I said, “I ought to have the fun of heaving one brick.”
Jim led back to the car and without the slightest preamble or compunction lifted his rock and slammed it through the window of the car. As the glass crashed into splinters, out from the barber shop leaped an elderly gent in a sailor’s cap, who proved to be the constable.
“Hold it,” he roared hoarsely. “I been watching you two. What’s going on here? Lower that rock, mister.”
I dropped my brick.
“We locked the car and left the key inside,” said Jim.
“It don’t look natural to me,” said the constable, who was now joined by the barber and several other citizens, including the young men from the cafe, “to see a man heaving a rock through the window of his own car.”
“It’s my car all right,” said Jim.
“Show me your car license,” said the constable.
“Certainly,” said Jim; but I knew by the way he started to fumble that he didn’t have it. “I’ve got my old fishing clothes on. I must have left it in my city clothes.”
“Oh, yeah,” said the constable. “Going fishing. But I don’t see no fishing tackle in the car.”
“We were looking over the country for some duck shooting ponds,” I put in.
“Duck shooting?” said the constable and the crowd all began to look tough. “There’s no duck shooting within 40 miles of here.”
He walked around the car and studied the license plate. He tried the door handles on the far side. And, to our horror, the door opened.
“Well, well, well,” said the constable grimly. “So you locked the car, hey?”
“Well, I’ll be jiggered,” gasped Jim.
“And you heave a rock through the window of your own car, hey?” said the constable, returning around the front and taking his stick firmly in hand.
“We didn’t try the far doors,” I explained.
“No,” said the constable. “You just try the one door, and when it won’t open you heave rock through a seven-dollar window.”
“Seven dollars!” I protested.
“Maybe more,” said one of the boys in the crowd.
“I guess you gents will walk up street to the town clerk’s house,” said the constable, “while I do a little telephoning.”
“Look,” said Jim, “there ought to be some way of proving this is my car. I admit it looks very stupid and phony. But these things are likely to happen to anybody.”
“Not around here they don’t happen,” said the constable. “Make way, folks. Now you two birds just walk ahead of me up street here.”
“We can telephone,” I contributed, “We’ll give you names to phone and they will identify us by our voices.”
“The town clerk will advise the course of law,” stated the constable firmly. “Even if it is your car, you can’t go smashing glass on the public highway I know my by-laws.”
The crowd stood aside and Jim and I marched up the street with the old gent behind us. I tried to engage him in more dignified conversation and get him to walk with us. But he would have none of that He walked officially in rear of us. We passed the garage and, three houses up, turned into a white painted cottage, where the town clerk was sitting on the veranda asleep.
The constable woke him and explained the situation in a few dramatic sentences. He is sitting in the barber shop. Sees two characters walk up and try to pry windows of car open. Came back with wire. Try to fish key out. All the time keep looking around in a very suspicious manner.
“We weren’t suspicious at all,” I cut in.
“Order,” said the town clerk.
“Finally, to my amazement,” said the constable, “and I have witnesses out there on the street to bear me out, they come back armed with a big rock each. And before I could move a finger, they heave the rock through the car window.”
“We knew no other way of opening locked car,” said Jim.
“They worked on the far side of the car,” stated the constable. “Not once did they try the doors on my side, on the street or public side of the car. Yet when I went out a moment later and tried the other doors of the car, they opened without the least difficulty.”
“It’s a case,” said the town clerk. “Abe. it’s a case. I think you are justified in calling the county police. These may be the car thieves they have been on the lookout for.”
“Before we go any further,” said Jimmie “can we put in a long-distance call and identify ourselves to you? As the owner of that car?”
“At your expense?” said the town clerk.
“Just a minute,” said the constable. “How do we know they won’t put in a call to confederates in the city. How do we know who identifies them? On the face of it, this case don’t make sense.”
“Would our bank manager do?” asked Jim.
So we let them put in the call at our expense, to the branch bank where Jim keeps his account, and the bank manager described Jimmie in detail. Then he talked to Jimmie on the telephone and the town clerk and the constable both followed and accepted the bank manager’s assurance that it was indeed Jimmie. And, he added, if there was a short, fat little man with Jim that clinched it.
He shook hands all round and congratulated the constable on having the public interest so close to heart. Out on the sidewalk, the crowd stood and listened to the play-by-play detail of the case, and they all accompanied us back to the car and even helped pick up the fragments of glass off the road.
We shook hands with everybody that wanted to shake hands and when we drove off they all waved good-by very friendly.
These little towns and villages,” said Jim, resting his elbow out the vacant window very comfortably, “are interesting and pleasant little places.”
Editor’s Note: 40 cents in 1940 would be $7.75 in 2022. $7 would be $135.