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Max and Al do a lot of talking for men supposed to be stone-cold killers. They come from the bootleg capital of America and must have been drinking out of a bottle all the way from Chicago. Hemingway does not say they are drunk, but he needed both talking to convey exposition through dialogue. The author drops many hints both are drunk. Consider the following, for example:

"Got anything to drink?" Al asked.
"Silver beer, bevo, ginger-ale," George said.
"I mean you go anything to drink."
"Just those I said."
"This is a hot town," said the other. "What do they call it?"
"Summit."
"Ever hear of it?" Al asked his friend.
"No," said the friend.

Their uncouth, hostile, volatile exhibitionism suggests a couple of drunks who have emptied their own bottle. They pretend not to know the name of the town in order to get George to name it for the benefit of the reader, which is similar to the following:

Al asks Nick, "What's your name?"
"Adams."

Then moments later, the following is asked:

"What's the bright boy's name down the counter?" Al asked Max.

Nick just told Al his name. Al also sounds like a drunk when they first sit down and Max asks the following:

"What do you want to eat, Al?"
"I don't know," said Al. "I don't know what I want to eat."

We have all seen drunks who act that way in public places. Most of their dialogue is unnecessary banter but it is essential to conveying information without straight prose exposition. Consider the following, for example:

"Who's out in the kitchen?"
"The nigger."
"What do you mean the nigger?"
"The nigger that cooks."

George obeys their order. "Sam," he called. "Come in here a minute."

Now we know everyone by name. We know the cook's name is Sam and that he is black. We even learn that one killer is a Catholic and the other a Jew:

"You talk too damn much," Al said. "The nigger and my bright boy are amused by themselves. I got them tied up like a couple of girl friends in the convent."
"I suppose you were in a convent."
"You never know."
"You were in a kosher convent. That's where you were."

Max talks too much because he is drunk. Al warns him several times. Both talk too much. Max resents Al's innuendo about girls in convents. He must be a Catholic. Al must be Jewish. This is rather unusual. It suggests that the man who hired these killers got them from two different mobs, probably even from two different cities, and that they scarcely know each other, which is the way the "friend" wanted it for his own protection.

Max and Al have to keep talking in order to convey information which would be given in straight prose exposition in traditional fiction. And these professional killers would not be talking so much if they had not consumed a whole quart of bootleg whiskey on their drive from Chicago. Nick and Sam do virtually no talking throughout their ordeal. George talks as little as possible because he is scared and intimidated. It is up to Max and Al to fill up pages with their stupidities. When they finally get around to telling George why they are here it is because they are going to need him to identify Ole. They cannot just shoot any big man who arrives around six o'clock and looks as if he might be Swedish. They are just drunk enough to do a lot of unprofessional talking but just sober enough to handle their assignment.

What does not happen in Hemingway's story is as important as what does. One thing that would have happened is that George would have put the finger on Ole in hopes of saving his own life. George shows he is willing to cooperate when he asks, "what you going to do with us afterward?" He has already consigned Ole to his fate. Notice the tightness in George's throat implied by leaving out the word "are."

The killers fully intend to eliminate all three witnesses, as shown by the following:

"So long, bright boy," he said to George. "You got a lot of luck."
"That's the truth," Max said. "You ought to play the races, bright boy."

It would be easy enough for Al to kill all three witnesses. He has a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun. One shot would kill Ole. The other would kill George. Nick and Sam are tied up and can be killed after Al reloads.

Max and Al may not be as tough as they act. They may need liquor to bolster their nerve for what they have to do.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
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