"Do you like brook trout?" Mr. Jim asked me in a way I took to be an invitation to lunch. When I replied yes, he said, "Fine. I know a little place that serves the best in the East." We climbed into the Cadillac with Stodey behind the wheel.
That little place turned out to be an inn in Stroudsburg, Pa., 300 miles away. Mr. Jim was right, too. It served the best brook trout in the East or, at any rate, the best I had ever eaten. My taste buds may have been a little less critical than usual, because it was past 6 p.m. when we sat down to lunch.
After that, Mr. Jim decided we should go somewhere for a drink. Somewhere turned out to be a corner bar in Atlantic City, 150 miles away, where we spent the night exchanging inanities with three B-girls while Mr. Jim outdrank all of us. He gave the girls $50 each, which he borrowed from Stodey, for their company, then told Stodey to take us back to the casino in Maryland. I don't know who drove me home from there. I was too tired to care.
At the height of Prohibition, Mr. Jim had been kidnapped by some out-of-town racketeers for $40,000 ransom. Three men spirited him, blindfolded, to a backwoods cottage in Virginia. There they waited for three days, but nobody offered to pay Mr. Jim's ransom. That bothered Mr. Jim not at all. He whiled away the time napping, telling stories and puffing on his Havanas. To kill time, he suggested that they play some hearts. Mr. Jim beat them out of several thousand dollars for which he took a marker.
On the fifth day the kidnappers began getting nervous. Mr. Jim, on the other hand, was enjoying himself immensely. He was playing cards against three of the biggest patsies he had ever seen. Finally, one of the men blew his stack. "Why doesn't somebody pay your ransom?" he demanded. "That's easy," said Mr. Jim. "I'm the only guy I know who's got $40,000, and nobody knows where I keep my money. But I'll tell you what. You take me home, and I'll get your money for you."
The kidnappers looked at him in disbelief. Then they turned to each other and shrugged their shoulders, as if to ask what they had to lose. They drove Mr. Jim to his row house, the sight of which must have convinced them that he had pulled a fast one on them. But, true to his word, Mr. Jim strolled into the house, kissed Miss Annie on the cheek as though he had been away on a business trip, then walked back to the car with 40 thousand-dollar bills. He counted out 36 of them and tucked the other four back in his pocket. "These are what you owe me for the hearts game," he said and walked away.
Mr. Jim died late in November of 1949, about a month after my father. Jimmy's Place never opened again. Three days after Mr. Jim's death, his attorney took three members of the Internal Revenue Service to Mr. Jim's home. In the living room he pulled back a curtain that covered a shelf. On it sat a safe so small a 12-year-old could have walked off with it. Inside was $1,300,000 in cash, which was just part of Mr. Jim's total estate of $2,245,430.84, most of which, also in cash, was scattered all over town.
Months of haggling preceded the sale of the property on which Jimmy's Place stood. Finally it was sold to a company that wanted to turn it into a frozen-food storage center. It took the wreckers weeks to raze the old barn, which proved to be as strong as a medieval fortress. When the work was all done, Walter Haight, the racing writer for
The Washington Post
, reported, "Well, they finally closed down Jimmy's Place, but, by God, they had to do it the hard way."