The man had the ropy neck and cauliflower ears of a prize fighter; that, plus the gun in his hand, made me speak softly and persuasively to him, for all that I had three inches and a good fifty pounds on him. “What a shame,” I says to him, “a nice guy like you, all alone out here in this alleyway.”

“It ain’t so bad,” he says, “but thanks for your concern. I kinda like this alley.”

“It’s a swell alley, sure. Suits.” He didn’t say anything, just kept his watery eyes and his gun on me. Not like he was trying to prove anything, but just because they happened to be pointing that way. “You must be waiting for somebody. A date, maybe? Or a business partner. Sure, and didn’t I see the man you must be waiting for, a real starched shirt, top hat and tails sort of a guy, barely able to walk for the cash bulging out his wallet. You musta got your wires crossed, though, because he was definitely a couple of blocks toward downtown. If you hurry you can probably still catch him.”

He liked that. He gave me a grin that showed how much he liked that, and waved his gun at me in a friendly way. Sure, we were pals. “What, and leave you alone here? Mister, this ain’t the kind of place you want to be alone. There’s real roughnecks down here. What my mother’d say if I was to leave you to their tender mercies. Let’s you and me walk together. I’ll take real good care of you, me and this little fella here,” (meaning the gun) ”he don’t say much but he’s got a heart of gold.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you out,” I says.

“Oh, no, I insist,” he says. “Think of my mother.”