The story begins abruptly with two gangsters, Al and Max, entering a small diner in the town of Summit, Illinois, near Chicago. They try to order dinner, but George, the counterman, tells them that the dinner menu will not be available until six o’clock. After asking for eggs with ham and bacon, the two gangsters order the only other customer in the place, Nick Adams, to go behind the counter with George. Next they ask who is in the kitchen, and they are told that the only other person there is Sam, the black cook. They tell George to have him come out. Al takes Nick and Sam into the kitchen, where he ties and gags them; then he props up the slit where dishes are passed through from the kitchen and positions himself with a sawed-off shotgun aimed at the counter, while Max remains at the counter talking to George. He tells George that they are going to kill Ole Andreson, a Swede who usually comes into the diner at six.
They wait until after seven for Ole Andreson, who never comes in, and they finally leave, with Al concealing the shotgun under his coat. George goes into the kitchen and unties the other two. He tells Nick where Andreson lives and advises him to go and warn him. Nick goes to Andreson’s boardinghouse, and, after speaking to the woman who looks after the place, he goes to Ole’s room, where he finds Ole lying in bed. When Nick asks Ole if he should go and tell the police, Ole tells him not to, that it would not do any good, and he rolls over in the bed toward the wall, saying he “got in wrong,” and that there is nothing he can do to save himself.
Nick then returns to the diner, where he tells George and Sam what Ole said. Sam says that he does not want to hear it and shuts the kitchen door. George says that Ole must have double-crossed someone from Chicago, and Nick says that he “can’t stand to think about him waiting in the room and knowing he’s going to get it,” and that he is going to get out of town. George tells him that that is a good thing to do, and that he had better not think about Ole’s dilemma.
“The Killers” was first published at the height of the Prohibition Era in 1927, a time when criminal activity was rampant throughout the United States, most notably in and around Chicago. Like many of Hemingway’s short stories of the 1920s, it features the character of Nick Adams playing a passive, but nonetheless central, role as a reactor to the plot’s events. It begins when two men (Al and Max) enter a diner in a small town near Chicago and order dinner. When the counterman George says that they must wait until six o’clock for dinner, they order ham and eggs and then scan the scene. They see that young Nick is the only other customer there, order him to go around the counter with George, and then call the cook, Sam, from the kitchen.
It becomes plain that Al and Max are professional killers or hit-men. One of them takes Nick and Sam back to the kitchen where he first ties them up and then gags...
(The entire section is 1,797 words.)