The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

O’Sullivan’s bar is packed with quiet men who have been drinking for at least a day or more. Benjamin and Ren make their way to the back, where Tom is drinking alone. He looks old, with dark circles under his eyes and lines on his face that look like “ridges spreading across his cheeks.” Benjamin and Ren sit down, and Benjamin tells him that they have a “new man.” Tom is alarmed, understanding that Benjamin is referring to the man they dug up from the cemetery. He points out that the person who murdered him would likely notice that he is “up and about,” but Benjamin says that the man has already killed his murderers. Ren confirms this, though he feels guilty about lying. Tom does not want anything to do with a murderer, but Benjamin continues to reason with him. He sends Ren to the bar for ale and bitters. Ren does not want to go, but Benjamin gives him a stern look. Ren does not want to leave Dolly unattended for too long.

The bartender appears asleep, his head on the counter. Beside him is a bowl of soup that had spilled all over his filthy apron. An “army of pint glasses” crowd around his head, and Ren has no idea how to get his attention. A girl with greenish skin walks by with a tray of beer, which she delivers to a table of card players. She looks to be about twelve years old and wears small hoop earrings in her ears. Ren asks her for the ale and bitters, which she quickly retrieves. After Ren pays her, she asks how he lost his hand. He tries to tell Benjamin’s story about how a circus lion named Pierre ate it, but she does not believe him—and “the words sounded wrong in his mouth,” anyway.

The door suddenly opens, flooding the bar with daylight, and three men dressed in black enter. Ren is convinced they are police officers who have come to arrest him, Benjamin, and Tom. However, the men walk over to the bartender and lift one of his eyelids to reveal an iris that “looked hard and shiny as a marble.” The bartender is dead. One of the men remarks, “They don’t last too long in this place,” and asks the girl where the boss is. She nonchalantly points to the back room, “as if this kind of thing happened at the bar every day.” One of the undertakers walks to the back room while the other two try to carry the bartender away. They cannot straighten him, however, because his body is still too stiff. They roll him onto the floor and lift him under his knees and beneath his arms. His arm extends out, the soup spoon still in his hand, and swings over the heads of the patrons as the undertakers carry him away. Before they can make it out of the bar, one of them stumbles and the bartender’s spoon knocks off someone’s hat. The brim of the hat “was wide like a minister’s, with a blood-red band.” It spins “as if caught in a wind” and lands in some sawdust by the bar rail, “quite knocked out of shape.”

The owner of the hat stands “like a shadow stretching across the wall.” Ren immediately notices that his eyes are too far apart, as though his face was “pushed in.” His skin is very white, and his hair is “plastered to the sides of his chin.” His gloves are the same red as the band of his hat. The undertakers are...

(This entire section contains 1505 words.)

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suddenly very nervous and they drop the bartender, insisting that “It wasn’t intentional.” Everyone in the bar seems anxious, too, and nearby patrons move to a far side of the room. The red-gloved man says nothing; he only walks up to the dead bartender and begins to saw off his hand at the wrist. The girl hides her face against Ren’s sleeve. The man finishes sawing through the bone and points to the girl, demanding a bowl of stew. She rushes to the kitchen, leaving Ren to try and forget the “back-and-forth motion of the knife” making its way through the bartender’s wrist. He begins to feel like he is peering into the well at Saint Anthony’s, listening to the echo of the water—and in that echo Ren remembers a familiar “terror...almost touching it” as the patrons of the bar “mumbled in his ear.” The girl saves him from spilling Benjamin’s drink, which is beginning to tip over in his hand.

He returns to Tom’s table, where Benjamin and Tom are staring at the red-gloved man as he eats stew with the bartender’s hand. Tom insists that they must leave immediately, but Benjamin is not ready to leave yet. Tom, pouring himself another drink, explains that the “mousetrap man,” Mr. McGinty, runs a business for “smuggled things” in O’Sullivan’s bar and takes a “cut” of every sale. When he does not receive his money, “his men do some cutting of their own.” Tom, making a “gesture of apology toward Ren,” says that he does not want to lose his hands. Benjamin does not reply; instead, he stares intently at the red-gloved man eating with the bartender’s hand “as if this act was teaching him something important, something he’d been trying to learn for years.” He looks angrier every time the man raises the bartender’s hand to his mouth to eat a spoonful of stew. Ren has never seen Benjamin look so furious. Finally, Benjamin declares that they will do one final “run” before leaving North Umbrage, telling Ren to “beg [his] way back with Mrs. Sands” before disappearing into the crowd.

Tom pours two drinks and slides one over to Ren, saying that he is “tired of drinking alone.” Though Ren does not want to leave Dolly alone any longer, he takes a drink. Tom begins reminiscing about his friend Christian again, repeating that it is “a shame to lose your fellows.” Ren tries to choke down more whiskey until a “warm, pleasant glow started up the back of his throat.” He asks Tom if Benjamin is his “fellow.” Tom, who is beginning to slur his words, explains that he met “Benji” while he was running away from the army. Benjamin was only slightly older than Ren, and he was sold to the army in order to pay for his uncle’s gambling debt. He was sent out west, where he saw “men shot to pieces, trying to put their stomachs back inside themselves.” Tom took him in, fed him, and showed him how to play cards and “how to be sure a woman wasn’t making a food out of him.”  Now, his and Benjamin’s “paths are so twisted together that they’ll hang us from the same rope.” Ren thinks about Sebastian's whispering that he should have made a wish on the wishing stone the moment he found it. Tom seems to fall asleep, but before Ren can leave the table, stops him and tells him that Brom and Ichy have “nice names” and that Ren should “hold on to them.”

Analysis

The unsettling events in O’Sullivan’s bar offer several suggestions about the novel’s major mysteries. The man with the redgloves and the hat with the blood-red band is undoubtedly one of the “hat boys” that Dolly spoke of—not only because he actually wears a hat, but also because his “pushed in” face seems to allude to Dolly’s earlier claim that he kicked in the faces of the hat boys who tried to murder him. Furthermore, by Tom’s account, the man with the red gloves is likely one of Mr. McGinty’s enforcers. The return of the red color motif in the man's gloves and hat band signals that he is a dangerous man. It is especially important, however, not only that this man saws off the dead bartender’s hand but also that Ren responds as though he were remembering what happened to him. The plot seems to focus in on Ren’s history and the true story behind his missing hand.

O’Sullivan’s bar foreshadows imminent hardship. It is not only grim and dark but also curiously dangerous—as one of the undertakers revealed when remarking that bartenders do not “last too long in this place.” While possible that Mr. McGinty’s illegal business is to blame, it is uncertain what causes the repeated death. All of the unsolved conflict builds upon existing tension that carries the story forward. Given the brutality of the man with the red gloves and Dolly’s already-established murderous tendencies, more violence is expected. Moreover, Benjamin, who was averse to visiting North Umbrage, appears increasingly outraged at the man with the red gloves and decides to embark on a final “run” before fleeing town.

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Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis