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The door to Henry’s lunchroom opens and two men come in. A young man named Nick Adams watches them from the other end of the counter.
George, the man running the lunchroom, asks them what they want for dinner. They don’t know.
We learn that one man is named Al.
Both men try to order meals from the dinner menu, which George informs them doesn’t start until six (it’s only five, and the clock is fast).
The men are disgruntled; they get all Oscar the Grouch and give George a hard time, though they order lunch meals.
We get a little bit more information: Al is wearing a derby hat, a large overcoat, and gloves.
The other guy is wearing the same thing.
Then the men want drinks, but George doesn’t have any liquor either, which puts him 0 for 2. (FYI, this is during Prohibition. Read all about it in "setting.")
Al and nameless guy want to know the name of the town. "Summit," George tells them.
The men continue to grumble and act like jerks, mocking George by calling him a "bright boy."
When they get tired of that, Al looks down the lunch counter to Nick, the only other person in the lunchroom. He asks him his name, which Nick gives. The two men call him a "bright boy" as well.
We learn that the other man’s name is Max.
George comes with their meals, and both men eat with their gloves on while they continue to harass George.
Finally, Max calls down the counter to Nick and tells him to go behind the counter.
George, reasonably, wants to know what the hell is going on.
The men don’t explain, but asks who’s in the kitchen.
George responds that it’s only "the nigger that cooks," and Al orders George to call him in.
He does, so we meet Sam, the cook.
Al then takes Nick and Sam back in the kitchen, while Max stays at the counter with George.
We learn that this lunchroom used to be a saloon.
George asks what this is all about (SOMEONE had to), and Al pops his head out from the kitchen, telling Max to move a little bit to the left, "like a photographer arranging for a group picture."
Finally, Max explains that he and Al are there to kill "a big Swede named Ole Andreson" who often eats dinner at this lunchroom at six o’clock. When he adds that they’ve never met Andreson – that they’re killing him "for a friend," Al tells Max to shut up and not talk too much.
Al adds that he’s got Nick and Sam tied up in the kitchen. Max makes a joke about Al having been in a kosher convent (he would seem to be mocking him for being Jewish).
Max then tells George the plan: if anyone comes in to eat, he’s to tell them that the kitchen is closed.
While they wait, three people come into the lunchroom. George plays his part. When he goes to the kitchen to make a sandwich to go for a customer, he sees Al with his derby hat and sawed-off shotgun.
By seven o’clock, George tells the killers that Ole isn’t coming. If he were, he would have been there at six, as usual.
They wait a little longer, another customer comes in and is turned away, and finally Al and Max give up. They leave, deciding that the three men are "all right" and can be left alone.
Al, however, is nervous about leaving them intact, since Max talked too much.
George watches them leave and observes that they look "like a vaudeville team." He goes into the kitchen and unties/ungags Sam and Nick.
Nick, who has "never had a towel in his mouth before," is all "What the hell?" George explains that the men were going to kill Ole Andreson.
Sam, meanwhile, keeps repeating, "I don’t like it."
George tells Nick that he’d better go see Andreson (who lives at Hirsch’s boarding house) and tell him what’s up, though the cook recommends he just keep his nose out of it.
Nick opts to go. He heads to Ole’s boarding house and greets the landlady, who takes him up to Andreson’s room.
Ole is lying on his bed with all his clothes on. We’re told that he used to be a heavyweight prizefighter.
Nick gives him the 411. Ole, who seems totally unfazed, just turns his head to the wall and says there’s "nothing [he] can do about it." He doesn’t even want to know what the men looked like, nor does he want to involve the police.
Nick asks what he can do to help, Ole says "nothing" and tells Nick that the men weren’t bluffing about that whole wanting to kill him thing.
He doesn’t want to get out of town, either, since he’s "through with all that running around." Ole thanks Nick before the young man leaves.
Downstairs, Nick speaks with the landlady before leaving. She tells him that Ole has been lying on his bed like that all day. She thinks it’s funny that he used to be "in the ring," since you’d never know it except for the scars on his face– he seems so gentle.
Nick says goodnight to Mrs. Hirsch, but she explains that she’s not Mrs. Hirsch and just takes care of the place for her. In fact, her name is Mrs. Bell.
Back at the lunchroom, Nick explains what happened. They conclude that the men will kill Ole.
They add that Andreson "must have got mixed up in something in Chicago," speculating that maybe he "double-crossed somebody."
Nick them firmly declares: "I’m going to get out of this town." George agrees that that’s a good idea.
Nick explains that he just can’t bear to stand around thinking of Ole waiting for death. George responds, "Well, you better not think about it."