The hands of the clock were reaching high In an old midtown hotel; I name no name, but its sordid fame Is table talk in hell. I name no name, but hell's own flame Illumes the lobby garish, A gilded snare just off Times Square For the maidens of the parish.
The revolving door swept the grimy floor Like a crinoline grotesque, And a lowly bum from an ancient slum Crept furtively past the desk. His footsteps sift into the lift As a knife in the sheath is slipped, Stealthy and swift into the lift As a vampire into a crypt.
Old Maxie, the elevator boy, Was reading an ode by Shelley, But he dropped the ode as it were a toad When the gun jammed into his belly. There came a whisper as soft as mud In the bed of an old canal: "Take me up to the suite of Pinball Pete, The rat who betrayed my gal."
The lift doth rise with groans and sighs Like a duchess for the waltz, Then in middle shaft, like a duchess daft, It changes its mind and halts. The bum bites lip as the landlocked ship Doth neither fall nor rise, But Maxie the elevator boy Regards him with burning eyes. "First, to explore the thirteenth floor," Says Maxie, "would be wise."
Quoth the bum, "There is moss on your double cross, I have been this way before, I have cased the joint at every point, And there is no thirteenth floor. The architect he skipped direct From twelve unto fourteen, There is twelve below and fourteen above, And nothing in between, For the vermin who dwell in this hotel Could never abide thirteen."
Said Max, "Thirteen, that floor obscene, Is hidden from human sight; But once a year it doth appear, On this Walpurgis Night. Ere you peril your soul in murderer's role, Heed those who sinned of yore; The path they trod led away from God, And onto the thirteenth floor, Where those they slew, a grisly crew, Reproach them forevermore.
"We are higher than twelve and below fourteen," Said Maxie to the bum, "And the sickening draft that taints the shaft Is a whiff of kingdom come. The sickening draft that taints the shaft Blows through the devil's door!" And he squashed the latch like a fungus patch, And revealed the thirteenth floor.
It was cheap cigars like lurid scars That glowed in the rancid gloom, The murk was a-boil with fusel oil And the reek of stale perfume. And round and round there dragged and wound A loathsome conga chain, The square and the hep in slow lock step, The slayer and the slain. (For the souls of the victims ascend on high, But their bodies below remain.)
The clean souls fly to their home in the sky, But their bodies remain below To pursue the Cain who each has slain And harry him to and fro. When life is extinct each corpse is linked To its gibbering murderer, As a chicken is bound with wire around The neck of a killer cur.
Handcuffed to Hate come Doctor Waite (He tastes the poison now), And Ruth and Judd and a head of blood With horns upon its brow. Up sashays Nan with her feathery fan From Floradora bright; She never hung for Caesar Young But she's dancing with him tonight.
Here's the bulging hip and the foam-flecked lip Of the mad dog, Vincent Coll, And over there that ill-met pair, Becker and Rosenthal, Here's Legs and Dutch and a dozen such Of braggart bullies and brutes, And each one bends 'neath the weight of friends Who are wearing concrete suits.
Now the damned make way for the double-damned Who emerge with shuffling pace From the nightmare zone of persons unknown, With neither name nor face. And poor Dot King to one doth cling, Joined in a ghastly jig, While Elwell doth jape at a goblin shape And tickle it with his wig.
See Rothstein pass like breath on a glass, The original Black Sox kid; He riffles the pack, riding piggyback On the killer whose name he hid. And smeared like brine on a slavering swine, Starr Faithful, once so fair, Drawn from the sea to her debauchee, With the salt sand in her hair.
And still they come, and from the bum The icy sweat doth spray; His white lips scream as in a dream, "For God's sake, let's away! If ever I meet with Pinball Pete I will not seek his gore, Lest a treadmill grim I must trudge with him On the hideous thirteenth floor."
"For you I rejoice," said Maxie's voice, "And I bid you go in peace, But I am late for a dancing date That nevermore will cease. So remember, friend, as your way you wend, That it would have happened to you, But I turned the heat on Pinball Pete; You see - I had a daughter, too!"
The bum reached out and he tried to shout, But the door in his face was slammed, And silent as stone he rode down alone From the floor of the double-damned.