The chapter opens with a line from Wendy Cope’s “A Policeman’s Lot” that describes mythical creatures in the rubble. Shadow asks Wednesday about Mr. Stone and Mr. Wood as they drive into Wisconsin. Wednesday replies that they are members of the opposition, who believe that they are doing the right thing—the most dangerous kind of people. Wednesday happily comments that Shadow’s kidnapping convinced a lot of the gods to join his side. They drive all through Christmas Eve and into Christmas day, stopping for lunch at a diner where Wednesday shamelessly flirts with the teenage waitress.
As well as the obvious similarities of mythical creatures in an urban setting, “A policeman’s lot” also describes the necessity of policing an author’s mind as all the mythical creatures spring to life from the author’s thoughts, tying into Gaiman’s idea that the gods are created when people dream them up and believe in them. The immense power of belief is also shown through Wednesday’s discussion of the New Gods’ belief that they are right, which fuels them to do more drastic things than they would for a cause in which they did not believe.
Wednesday begins to talk about some of his favorite grifts (cons or swindles) over the years, like the “Fiddle Game.” This two-man con involves one man pretending to be a down-on-his luck fiddler who has to leave his fiddle as collateral for a stay at a hotel while he goes to get money. Meanwhile, the second man comes to the hotel and appraises the fiddle as a one-of-a-kind rare instrument worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the hotel owner is greedy, he will buy the fiddle from the first man when he returns, paying at least a couple thousand so he can make a bigger profit. The two men then skip town before the hotel owner can figure out that the fiddle is only a cheap imitation.
Wednesday especially likes the fiddle game because it preys on humans’ weakest impulses. If the hotel owner is not greedy, he will just give the fiddle back to the first man and the two con men will have to try again. It seems as though Wednesday enjoys having at least a semblance of justice in his cons, taking money from people who “deserve” to have their money taken.
The waitress brings Shadow pie and Wednesday talks about his absolute favorite grift: The Bishop Game. One man dressed as a clergyman goes to a jewelry store and buys an expensive necklace with cash. As one of the bills is smudged, the jewelry store is forced to check if the bills are real, though they are reluctant to distrust a bishop. The bills are real, so the jewelry store owner apologizes and packs up the necklace for the bishop. As the bishop leaves, a “policeman” appears and exposes the bishop as a con man, arrests him, then takes the cash and the necklace as “evidence.” The bishop and the policeman leave town with their cash, a valuable necklace, and no one the wiser that they are working together.
Both of these cons require two men working together, even though they look like they are foes—foreshadowing how Odin and Loki are actually working together in Wednesday’s can, while seeming to be enemies. Wednesday’s nostalgia for these grifts is another sign that he is struggling to adapt to a changing America, where cons and grifts are more likely to take place online than in person.
With his stories over, Wednesday arranges to meet the waitress at a nearby hotel, explaining to Shadow that this is the best way to make himself feel alive when Shadow questions the legality of his actions due to the waitress’s age. Wednesday gives Shadow the keys to an apartment and a wallet with identification for Mike Ainsel, with directions to board a Greyhound bus headed for a small town named Lakeside. As Shadow and Wednesday walk out of the restaurant, Shadow notices that Wednesday prefers cons that require two people. He asks if Wednesday used to have a partner. Wednesday sighs that he did once, but no longer.
Wednesday again takes advantage of a young woman in order to give himself power. The alias Wednesday gives Shadow recalls a fairy tale from Ireland, in which a character introduces himself as “my own self” (M. Ainsel in an Irish accent) in order to disguise his true identity. Taking on this name will force Shadow to figure out what his own identity actually is. Wednesday’s reference to an old partner makes it very strange that he is now working alone – partly explaining why Wednesday wanted Shadow to work for him, but also hinting that Wednesday might have a partner who is hidden for now.
Shadow boards his greyhound bus and falls asleep. He dreams of the cave with the Buffalo Man again, and the Buffalo Man asks if Shadow “believes” yet. The Buffalo Man tells Shadow that “this is not a land for gods,” but a land of dreams and fire. Shadow asks how he can help Laura, but the Buffalo Man only points to a small skylight in the roof of the cave. Shadow’s dream changes, and he feels as though he is being pushed through the small hole in the cave roof. Afraid that he will be crushed in the rock, Shadow offers himself as a sacrifice in order to escape. The land pushes Shadow out of the hole, as if birthing Shadow anew. A voice that sounds like fire whispers to Shadow that the star people are coming and will make heroes out of men.
The Buffalo Man is again tied to the American land itself, speaking for the land about what belongs there. Shadow’s experience being pushed through the earth parallels Odin’s formative myth, in which Odin sacrifices himself to himself in order to gain more wisdom. Shadow might receive some wisdom in return for the sacrifice of his body, as the voice tells him—but it also symbolizes Shadow’s rebirth as Mike Ainsel, a new identity in which Shadow can come into his own instead of constantly shadowing and mirroring others.
The bus driver shakes Shadow awake at a rest stop for a break. Two teenage girls board the bus and sit directly in front of Shadow, one trying to gossip about sex (Sophie) while the other speaks about her volunteer work at an animal hospital (Alison). The bus reaches Lakeside, which the bus driver emphasizes is a good town. Shadow and the two girls get off, the girls still chatting. Shadow tries not to eavesdrop, but accidentally catches the eye of the girl talking about animals. He smiles and says, “Merry Christmas,” and the girl smiles back. Sophie tells Alison not to be such a “spaz” and the girls go to get in a car that has just driven up.
Sophie seems to represent the worst stereotypes of the modern American teen while Alison maintains more innocence and the values of a by-gone time. Shadow does not want to scare the girls, aware of the danger his appearance connotes to most strangers, but he also cannot help but show his kind soul. Alison is more receptive, another sign that she is a remnant of a friendlier and safer time in which people could be nice to strangers on the street.
Shadow wonders how he is going to get to his new apartment, when an old man gets out of his car and offers Shadow a ride wherever he needs to go. Shadow gratefully agrees, as it is freezing, and gets in the old man’s vintage Wendt Phoenix. The old man introduces himself as Richie Hinzelmann, and Shadow responds that he is Mike Ainsel. Hinzelmann gives Shadow a short tour of the town, including the frozen lake at the end of Main Street. Hinzelmann tells a dubious story about a deer that got frozen into the lake one year when the freeze came fast. They reach Shadow’s new apartment and Hinzelmann lets Shadow out.
Hinzelmann’s name tips off those with knowledge of German forest spirits, as it is the name of one of the most mischievous “kobolds” of German legends. Furthermore, his very niceness stands out in a novel full of duplicitous people who hide their malicious intent behind a fake smile (such as Media and Wednesday). HInzelmann’s vintage car shows that he is very connected to maintaining the past, even if it is expensive or difficult. Similarly, Hinzelmann’s tall tales come across as nostalgia for a lost era, when magic was more alive in America.
Shadow’s new apartment is freezing and Shadow hopes that the cold won’t keep him awake all night. He wonders when Wednesday will come get him again, and decides to practice his coin tricks to keep himself busy while he lives in Lakeside. His mind wanders to Laura, and suddenly Shadow feels like he can see her, standing outside her mother’s house in Eagle Point with her hands pressed against the window while her family celebrates Christmas. Shadow struggles not to cry and turns over in bed, trying to keep his mind away from Laura. He feels as through wings brush through his mind, and then is able to sleep.
Shadow’s coin tricks both show how he is similar to Wednesday—constantly practicing tricks and cons—and different, as Shadow only practices these illusions for amusement and distraction, not for personal gain. Meanwhile, Laura is feeling the ill effects of living a lie, as her half-life as a corpse allows her to get just close enough to see all the family, love, warmth, and life she is missing. The wings that beat through Shadow’s mind possibly belong to one of Wednesday’s ravens, which have control over thought and memory.