Wednesday, March 9, 1955
Johnny seemed to know the way to get to Boston like the back of his hand. Once we got to Bellows Falls, he crossed the Connecticut River, and then followed a series of backroads without ever consulting a map.
“How often have you made this trip?” asked Carter.
“Probably twenty times, at least,” replied Johnny.
As we drove, the skies cleared off completely, revealing a beautiful blue. At one point, I nodded off. When I came to, we were parked in front of a service station. I was alone in the backseat and Frankie was by himself up front.
“Have a good nap?” he asked as I stretched.
“Yeah. Where are we?”
“Just outside of Nashua. We’re probably an hour and a half from the hotel.”
I sighed. “Good. I assume they have central heating there.”
Frankie laughed. “They probably do.”
Right then, Carter opened the door and asked, “Need to hit the head?”
I laughed. “I’m good. Did you pay for everything?”
He sat down next to me and said, “Sure did, Boss.”
“Good. What day is it?” I asked.
“Wednesday,” replied Frankie. He grinned. “Where were you two at this time last week?”
I shrugged. “I dunno.”
Carter replied, “We were sleeping soundly inside a renovated Pan American Clipper that was tied up at an uncharted island in the middle of the South Pacific.”
“Are you sure?” I asked drowsily.
“Positive. Thursday is the day we left. But on Wednesday—”
I put my hand over Carter’s mouth. “I don’t think Frankie wants to know about what we did on Wednesday of last week.”
Carter grinned as I removed my hand while Frankie laughed.
. . .
It was half past noon when we pulled up in front of The Commander hotel in Cambridge. A doubting doorman opened Frankie’s door and asked, “Checking in?”
He replied, “Yeah.”
Carter opened his door and the two of us got out while Frankie walked around the car and opened Maria’s door for her.
The doorman looked us all over and asked, “Luggage?”
I handed him a hundred and said, “In the trunk.”
He looked at the C-note for a long moment, shrugged, and said, “The front desk is just to the right past the front door.”
“Nick, I’ll stay with the luggage.” That was Johnny.
I nodded and said, “Thanks.” I guessed he was getting the same feeling I had that the doorman was suspicious of who was driving up in a dirty ’48 Plymouth.
While Frankie and Maria had a look at the impressive lobby, Carter and I walked up to the front desk. A red-headed woman with a pair of gold pince-nez smiled tolerantly and asked, “Good morning. Do you have a reservation?”
I nodded. “Williams. We should have two suites and four rooms.”
She raised a penciled-on eyebrow and said, “Oh yes. I took that call myself this morning. I’m wondering if this is the hotel where you mean to stay.” Her manner of speaking was precise and polished. She reminded me of the gal in Singin’ In The Rain who emphasized, “Round tones.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Well. Two suites. Four rooms?” She looked at me as if she’d asked why we were tracking in mud.
I pulled out my wallet and handed her my Diners’ Club card.
She looked at it, looked up at me, and frowned. “Where did you get this?”
I tried not to laugh. “It came in the mail.”
She pointed at my name on the card. “And this is your name?”
“Well then, Mr. Williams, would you wait here while I make a telephone call?”
I nodded again as she walked through a door behind the desk. Behind me, I heard Carter mutter something. I whispered back, “Keep it cool, Frankie, keep it cool.”
. . .
After about ten minutes, she returned with a slightly more friendly smile. “My apologies, Mr. Williams.” She handed me the card. “Of course, you have unlimited credit with us.” She opened a book and looked at it. “Now, let me see what I can offer you.”
I nodded but didn’t say anything.
After a moment, she looked up and said, “Just as I’d hoped. I can accommodate you in Suite 600, our Presidential Suite. Our Commonwealth Suite is also available, which is Suite 620. In addition, I do have four rooms on the sixth floor. All are available right now. Will that be suitable?”
I nodded and said, “That’s fine.”
“Very good. Will you sign the book, please?”
She turned the registration book in my direction. I did just as she asked and signed. She turned it back and asked for my address. I gave it to her and she wrote it in the book.
“Now, who are the others in your party?”
. . .
The five of us met in the lobby at half past 1.
“Lunch?” asked Maria.
Carter said, “How about here?”
Johnny shook his head vigorously. “There’s a great Italian place not far from here. George and I used to go there all the time.”
I looked up at Carter, who shrugged. I said, “Carter doesn’t like garlic.”
Johnny stepped back dramatically. “Doesn’t like garlic!”
Frankie added, “Yeah! Who doesn’t like garlic?”
“Kids raised in Georgia?” I answered doubtfully.
Carter shook his head. “You know as well as I do, Nick, that Georgia ain’t to blame. It was my ass of a father.” He clapped Johnny on the shoulder. “Lead on. I’ll survive.”
. . .
Lunch was delicious and satisfying. The waiter was able to convince the cook to make a quick fresh tomato sauce without garlic for Carter’s spaghetti and meatballs.
Once we were sitting over coffee, I looked at Johnny. “We’re all going to need some clothes for the next few days. Do you even have a toothbrush?”
He shook his head.
“OK,” I said, “I think we need a trip to a department store first, for essentials. Then we need to find a really good men’s haberdasher and a ladies shop.”
Johnny said, “We can do almost all of that at the Downtown Crossing across the river in Boston. There’s a big Jordan Marsh store and Filene’s and Kennedy’s plus a whole lotta other stores, all right there.”
“Good.” I looked over at Maria who was quietly stirring her coffee. I asked her, “Do you have a way that you handle this?”
She smiled and looked up. Before she could say anything, Frankie said, “Why don’t we all meet back at the hotel lobby at 6 or so?”
I nodded. Carter had anticipated that it might be needed so I pulled a small envelope out of my coat pocket and handed it to Frankie. “That should cover whatever you need.”
He tried to push it back to me. “That’s OK, Nick.”
I pushed it back. “Think of it as a bonus. Or overtime, if you want.”
He shrugged and pocketed the envelope. It was five hundred bucks.
“You two have been working double time for almost a week,” added Carter.
Maria said, “I know it sounds strange, but I’ve never had as much fun as I’ve had since we started working for you, Nick.”
I smiled. “I understand. Nothing like being hot on the trail of whatever you’re looking for, right?”
She nodded and looked at Carter. “What about you two? You flew across the ocean and then flew across the country.”
Carter smiled at her. “This is the most important case we’ve worked on and I’m real grateful the two of you have been right here with us. Means a lot to us both.”
I nodded. “It does. Thanks.”
. . .
After we put Frankie and Maria in a cab, Johnny, Carter, and I grabbed the next one. Johnny told the driver, “Downtown Crossing.”
The man flipped the meter on and said something I didn’t understand. In between Johnny and Carter, I sat back in the seat of yet another Plymouth sedan and watched as the driver made his way across a river and over into the heart of Boston.
From what I could tell, the city was a tangle of congested streets that wound around each other in a way that made no sense to me.
As we sat in slow-moving traffic, Johnny said, “If we go to Jordan Marsh, I bet they’ll deliver everything to the hotel. We should take The T back.”
“What’s the T?” asked Carter.
“It’s the subway.”
I said, “Would it be faster than this?”
Johnny and the cab driver both laughed. Johnny said, “We’d already be there, if we’d taken it.”
“Good to know,” I replied.
. . .
Jordan Marsh had a store just for men that Johnny said would carry about everything we needed. I approached a store manager and explained what we were doing. He called over a man he introduced as Michael.
Michael, who was obviously in the life, took charge of getting us outfitted for the next few days. He set us up in our private fitting room on the fourth floor and, using a small team of runners, had all sorts of things brought to us. He even called in a couple of gals to do all the tailoring on the spot so we wouldn’t have to wait for anything.
It was half past 5 when we were done. After writing out a check for the total and handing it over, I asked, “Can you have all this sent to our hotel?”
Michael smiled. “Of course, Mr. Williams. Courtesy of the store. Where are you staying?”
He nodded. “Very nice. Handy to Harvard. If you’ve never done so, you should take a walk around the university grounds. Quite beautiful, even at this time of year. Anything else?” Like the woman at the hotel, I’d noticed that Michael didn’t seem to talk like anyone else we came across. He had a very precise way of speaking, although his tones weren’t as round.
I shook my head and pressed a hundred in his palm. “Thanks for everything.”
Without looking at the bill, he quickly slipped it into his pocket. “Entirely my pleasure.” He looked around the room. Besides the four of us, only the two gals were in the room. He leaned in and quietly said, “I’m a huge fan of you and Mr. Jones. This really has been a thrill.”
I smiled and said, “Thanks, again.” I was getting more comfortable with statements like that but not completely. I’d figured out to just thank whoever it was and move on. That seemed to be the best approach.
He nodded. “Again, my pleasure. Will you need a taxi?”
Johnny piped up. “We’re gonna take The T.”
Michael smiled. “Entirely wise at this time of day.”
With that, he escorted us through the store to the elevator. He pressed the down button. “I hope you enjoy your stay here in the area, Mr. Williams. Mr Jones.” Looking up at Carter, I noticed him blush slightly. I couldn’t blame him. I’d already proven that Carter was the most handsome man on five continents. There was still Africa and Antarctica to explore, but I figured I was right in thinking he was the most handsome man in the world.
. . .
When we walked out of the store, it was already dark. We made a quick trip to a Rexall that was a couple of blocks away. Once we had everything, Johnny led us to the local subway station. We walked down a flight of stairs, put our nickels in the turnstiles, and made our way to the platform, such as it was. I was expecting something like what we’d seen in New York back in ’49. But the train was a lot shorter and we had to step up to get into it once it arrived. Of course, being nearly 6 in the evening, it was packed. However, we didn’t have to change trains. The one we were on dropped us right at Harvard Square.
It was a flew blocks walk along a very crowded sidewalk to the hotel. Once we arrived, I stopped at the desk to ask for messages. A thin man handed me a couple of telegrams and two folded-over notes.
Thanks for any comments you have about this!