In Hemingway's "The Killers," how did the hit men know Ole Andreson was living in Summit?
Are there any clues in "The Killers" to help the reader guess how the hit men, Max and Al, knew that their quarry, Ole Andreson, was living in the town of Summit and also believe that he came to the same diner every night at six o'clock? Presumably Max and Al are only doing the job as a favor for a friend who probably lives in Chicago, and presumably this friend told the hit men where to find Ole--but how did the friend come to this knowledge? Are there any clues in the text of the story?
Hemingway claimed that he could leave out a lot of details as long as he knew what those details were himself. This is his so-called "iceberg theory," which he originally described in The Green Hills of Africa. "The Killers" raises many questions which are not answered in the story, but presumably Hemingway knew all the answers. Here are a few questions:
How did the hit men know Ole Andreson was living in Summit? Obviously these men, who were only doing the job as a favor to a friend, had been told by the friend that Ole was living there. But that doesn't answer the question. How did the friend know?
Was Ole Andreson the big Swede's real name? If he was on the lam, why didn't he just change his name? Maybe he did, and Ole Andreson was an alias.
That raises another question. Why do Max and Al call each other by their names? Aren't they giving away important clues? Or are these names also aliases which they made up to deceive whoever would be in the diner? Or does the fact that they are calling each other by their real names indicate that they intend to kill all witnesses at the same time they kill Ole? Hemingway would have had to give them names in order for the reader to tell them apart, but would Hemingway have thought of giving them false names?
The name Summit indicates that this town is on a mountain. What sort of enterprise goes on in that region to support a town big enough to have a streetcar line? I think it would have to be either mining or lumbering. Ole must be working there. He obviously doesn't have much money or he wouldn't be living in a cheap rooming-house. It would seem that, because he is a big man who does hard labor, he would be hungry and want to eat dinner as soon as possible after work. Since dinner is not served until six o'clock, that is why he would arrive pretty regularly at six. However, business seems very slow on this evening. It is probably a Sunday, and Ole is not hungry because he wasn't working that day.
What did Ole do that made the hit men's "friend" want to have him killed? Hemingway must have known the answer to this? Since Ole was a boxer, it seems likely that he took a dive when he wasn't supposed to do so and thereby cost some gambler a lot of money. Or, on the other hand, he may not have taken a dive when he was supposed to. That would suggest that Ole was the favorite in the match. Hemingway wrote a great story about crooked boxing in "Fifty Grand."
How did the friend get the erroneous information that Ole ate at the same lunch-room at the same time every night? This certainly sounds like a clue! Who would know that Ole ate there frequently but thought he ate there every night? One possibility is the owner himself, Henry, who is not depicted in the story. Does Henry have a reason for not being there? Or does he only work in the daytime and leave the night business to George and Sam the cook? The place is called Henry's Lunch-Room. Maybe lunchtime is the peak business time, so that's when Henry works there.
These are all things in the 90 percent of the iceberg that lie beneath the surface. It is natural to wonder how Hemingway would have explained them, assuming that he knew. There are many other such questions about this story, of course.
In regard to what Hemingway did and did not put in the story, since Hemingway starts the story in medias res (in the middle of on-going action and events), the clues to how Al and Max know when and where to go seem to be outside the purview of the story. There is however, one remote possibility of a clue. Max says to Al: "“You were in a kosher convent. That’s where you were.” The owner of Ole's boarding house is Mrs. Hirsch:
“I’m not Mrs. Hirsch,” the woman said. “She owns the place. I just look after it for her. I’m Mrs. Bell.”
"Hirsch" is a Jewish name from the Yiddish for "deer" associated with a blessing from the patriarch Jacob. Through a double Jewish allusion, "kosher" and "Hirsch," Al and Max are connected to an insider with inside information on Ole.
It is possible that these two lines constitute a clue as to where the information of Ole's whereabouts and habits came from: Mrs. Hirsch, with connections in Chicago. This would also be a clue as to how the "sometimes" element of Ole's dinning habits was overlooked: Mrs. Hirsch is the owner, but it is Mrs. Bell who is present and attentive daily. [Interesting quest!]
The Killers have clearly done their work very carefully, or perhaps we can infer that they have been told where Ole Anderson can be found by the person who has instructed them to kill Ole Anderson in the first place. In a sense, this is an unimportant detail as we are not told the answer. What is important is the psychological portrait that Hemingway gives us of two killers.
Answers #2 and #3 would help to explain why Ole comes to the same diner every night at six o'clock--"when he comes"--but they do not attempt to explain why the hit men know he is living in such an obscure, remote place as Summit. They have to know he is living in Summit before they can establish where and when he eats his dinners. And why do they believe he comes there every night when George says, "Sometimes he comes here." Obviously George is telling the truth because Ole doesn't come there for dinner on the very night the killers are waiting for him. Where they got the information that he ate there may be less important as a clue than where they got the erroneous information that he always ate there.
Ole obviously doesn't have a lot of money. He lives in a cheap rooming house and eats in a working men's diner. He must have a job. He probably eats at six o'clock because that is right after he gets off work and also because, as pointed out in answer #3, that is when they start serving the dinners. Ole is a big man with little education. He probably does hard manual labor all day and gets hungry, so he would probably want to eat dinner as soon as possible after work.
In support of the answer above, consider this moment from the story:
‘Talk to me, bright boy,’ Max said. ‘What do you think’s going to happen?’
George did not say anything.
‘I'll tell you,’ Max Said. ‘We’re going to kill a Swede. Do you know a big Swede named Ole Anderson?
‘He comes in here to eat every night, don't he?’
‘Sometimes he comes here.’
‘He comes here at six o’clock, don’t he?
‘If he comes.’
‘We know all that, bright boy,’ Max said.
Ole does indeed seem to be a creature of habit, both in the timing and in the place of his meals. Elsewhere in the story, there is some indication that many people in the town eat supper at the same restaurant where Ole eats:
‘This is a hot town,’ said the other. ‘What do they call it?’
‘Ever hear of it?’ Al asked his friend.
‘No,’ said the friend.
‘What do you do here nights?’ Al asked.
‘They eat the dinner,’ his friend said. ‘They all come here and eat the big dinner.’
‘That’s right.’ George said.
Moreover, it is clearly indicated elsewhere that supper is never served until precisely six o'clock:
‘I’ll have a roast pork tenderloin with apple sauce and mashed potatoes,' the first man said.
‘It isn’t ready yet.’
‘What the hell do you put it on the card for?’
‘That’s the dinner,’ George explained. ‘You can get that at six o'clock.’
George looked at the clock on the wall behind the counter.
‘It’s five o'clock’
‘The clock says twenty minutes past five,’ the second man said.
‘It’s twenty minutes fast.’
Yes, I think the time is significant. It seems that their quarry is a creature of habit. When people have habits, they are easy to stalk. Since it is such a small town, it seems likely to it would have been relatively easy to find out one man's habits.