Jimmy Valentine moves to Elmore, Arkansas to establish a new identity and to start a store as a "front" from which to continue to operate as a safecracker but look like a respectable businessman. He chooses to open a shoe store because he has had ten months experience working on shoes in prison. His choice of the name Ralph Spencer is purely arbitrary. It could have been any other alias. He sensed that he was getting too well known in his old territory in Indiana and that vicinity. For example, the warden seemed to know all about him. And the man called Mike who runs the restaurant and rooming-house where Jimmy lives shows too much curiosity.
“Got anything on?” asked Mike Dolan, genially.
“Me?” said Jimmy, in a puzzled tone. “I don't understand. I'm representing the New York Amalgamated Short Snap Biscuit Cracker and Frazzled Wheat Company.”
This statement delighted Mike to such an extent that Jimmy had to take a seltzer-and-milk on the spot. He never touched “hard” drinks.
Mike's place is probably a hangout for numerous shady characters. If Mike knows about Jimmy's business, then he must discuss it with all his other customers. Jimmy wants to maintain a low profile. Ben Price, an operative for a private detective agency like the famous Pinkerton's, also knows all about Jimmy, and Jimmy probably knows that Price, his nemesis, will be on his trail for the four bank jobs he pulled right after getting "sprung" from prison.
Ben Price knew Jimmy's habits. He had learned them while working on the Springfield case. Long jumps, quick get-aways, no confederates, and a taste for good society—these ways had helped Mr. Valentine to become noted as a successful dodger of retribution. It was given out that Ben Price had taken up the trail of the elusive cracksman, and other people with burglar-proof safes felt more at ease.
Ben Price knows Jimmy because he arrested him for a bank job in Springfield. That is why Jimmy is in prison when the story opens. He put up a fight when Ben arrested him. The evidence of the fight is still in Jimmy's old room at Mike's place.
There on the floor was still Ben Price's collar-button that had been torn from that eminent detective's shirt-band when they had overpowered Jimmy to arrest him.
In those days all the men wore shirts with detachable collars. The collars were held in place with a collar-button. The idea was that men could wear the same shirt for several days but change the collar to look fresh.
So Jimmy wisely moves a long distance to a small town and changes his name. But he falls in love at first sight with a beautiful small-town girl named Annabel Adams.
”Jimmy Valentine looked into her eyes, forgot what he was, and became another man.
Jimmy decides on the spur of the moment, not just to pose as an honest businessman, but actually to become one. He wants to win Annabel's love, and he knows he can't do that and remain a crook. He is successful as a businessman because he is smart, good-looking, talented, and extremely likable.
O. Henry does not state how Ben Price traced Jimmy to Elmore, Arkansas. But Price is a top-notch detective and would know how to trace people by asking a lot of questions. O. Henry specifies that Jimmy is very distinctive-looking. For example:
The clerk was impressed by the clothes and manner of Jimmy. He, himself, was something of a pattern of fashion to the thinly gilded youth of Elmore, but he now perceived his shortcomings. While trying to figure out Jimmy's manner of tying his four-in-hand he cordially gave information.
And Ben Price works for a big detective agency. They have operatives and informants all over the country. Price refers to Jimmy as "Dandy" Jim. He can send out a precise description of the man he is looking for and get all sorts of feedback by letter and telegram. The fact that Price is able to trace Jimmy to Elmore is proof of his power and acumen. O. Henry doesn't even bother to explain why Ben Price shows up in Elmore. The reader would assume that the detective was an expert at finding people if he wanted to find them. And Price is strongly motivated to find Jimmy because he pulled four bank jobs around Indiana.
Ben Price investigated the scenes of the robberies, and was heard to remark:“That's Dandy Jim Valentine's autograph. He's resumed business....Yes, I guess I want Mr. Valentine. He'll do his bit next time without any short-time or clemency foolishness.”