At the first phone booth he came to, Max stepped inside and pulled the door closed. He bent down, and with considerable difficulty, since the built had not been built for the purpose of removing a shoe, he unlaced his right oxford, slipped it from his foot, then straightened and spoke into the sole, while listening at the heel.
Max: 86 here – that you, Chief?
Chief: What took you so long? I’ve been ringing you for a good ten minutes!
Max: Sorry, Chief. I was indisposed.
Chief: Oh . . . in the shower?
Max: No, taking a stroll . . . enjoying the carbon monoxide on Madison Avenue. It’s lovely at this time of year.
Chief: Max, I need you right away. There’s another crisis. How soon can you –
Max (interrupting): Excuse me, Chief. Hang on a second.
Max turned toward the door of the booth, where, outside, a matronly middle-aged woman was rapping on the glass. He opened the door a crack and spoke to her.
“Sorry, Madam,” he said, “this booth is in use.”
“I have to make a call,” the woman said irritably.
“This isn’t a dressing room, it’s a telephone booth. If you want to change your shoes, find a shoe store.”
“Madam, I happen to be on the phone,” Max said.
“You are not. The phone is on the hook.”
Max glanced back over his shoulder. “Oh . . . that phone.” Then, facing the woman again, he said, “It so happens, Madam, that I’m talking through my shoe. Now . . . if you’ll excuse me . . .”
He pulled the door closed, and resumed his conversation with the Chief.
Max: Sorry, Chief. A little misunderstanding with a civilian. Now . . . what were you saying?
Chief: I said there’s a crisis afoot. And, following our procedure of assigning cases by rotation, your number came up. I need you here at Control right away. How soon can you –
Max (interrupting again): Chief . . . can you hold on? That civilian is back. I’ll just be a second.
The middle-aged matron had returned, accompanied by a uniformed policeman. The policeman had rapped on the glass with his night stick. Once more, Max opened the door a crack.
“Yes, officer, what can I do for you?” Max said.
“That’s a telephone booth, buddy,” the policeman said. “And this lady wants to make a call.”
“Officer, as I told the lady, the booth is in use,” Max said. “I’m making a call myself. A very important call. If it’s anything like most of my calls, the fate of the whole civilized world may hang in the balance.”
“Now I believe him!” the woman snorted. “He told me he was talking through his hat!”
“My shoe, Madam!” Max said. “I said my shoe – I’m talking through my shoe.” He opened the door the rest of the way and handed his oxford to the policeman. “Here, officer, try it yourself. The Chief is on the line. He’ll explain it to you.”
Suspiciously, the policeman accepted the phone.
“No, no, you speak into the sole,” Max said. “The heel is for listening.”
The policeman turned the shoe around.
“Go ahead,” Max said. “Say, ‘Hello, Chief’ or something like that. Just don’t ask him about his rheumatism – it’s a very sore point.
The policeman spoke. “Chief . . .?”
As a reply came back, his mouth dropped open. Then, after a second, he said, “Sure, Chief, I understand. I thought he was a nut. Naturally, when he –” He listened again. Then, nodding, said, “Right, you can count on me. The fate of the whole civilized world is very important to me, too.”
The policeman handed the shoe back to Max, then turned to the matron. “Sorry, lady,” he said, “this booth is in use.”