he decided to give jake about another half hour - enough for one more cup of coffee. his mind began to drift back to an island under a blue sky - and there was the big schmuck coming through the door. if he wasn't so tall he might have missed him because he came in right behind a young black woman. right behind her.
now he was talking to her. what was he trying to do, score with her? wait, now he was looking around. and when he saw lullaby he pointed at him, and the young woman nodded and headed toward his table, while jake went over to the change counter.
what the - ?
she walked right up to him. "mister lewinsky?"
he was taken aback for half a second by being addressed as "mister". "that's me."
"i'm miss jones." she took her coat off and hung it on the back of her chair. "i'm here on behalf of mister brown." she stuck her hat on the chair and sat down.
"and - uh - mister brown is jake's friend? that might be interested in my story?"
"my friend's story, actually."
"right. it's always friends who have stories."
"you want a cup of coffee?"
"thanks, but jake is getting us both coffees."
"maybe we should wait for him."
cosette shrugged. "you can if you want. but it's me, not him, who is here for mister brown."
lullaby was starting to get his bearings. this girl was almost right out of his fantasies about "south sea island" maidens - a little darker, and not nearly as endowed, but still - and looking right at him, staring him down actually -
"want a cigarette?"
"no thanks, i don't smoke."
"um - that's kind of unusual."
cosette started to say, "you empty twenty thousand ashtrays and see if you feel like smoking". but why let on that she was a maid? let this guy think she was mata hari or the queen of the night or something. so she just said, "i never got in the habit."
lullaby looked over at jake. he was taking his time, seemed to be chatting up the girl at the change counter.
the trees they were walking through, though giving a bit of shade, made it even hotter.
wilkinson wanted a drink.
margrave needed a drink.
mercer was on the verge of weeping for want of a drink. however, as the assistant manager of the main plantation, and de facto manager since the murder of hawkins, it was up to him to escort the man from the colonial office, who had arrived to investigate the crime, around the plantation and the settlement.
despite their differences, wilkinson, margrave and mercer had been united in hoping the colonial office (100) fellow would regard his mission as a formality, and quickly retire with them to the relative cool of the bar at the hotel.
but ashley, the man sent from cairo, was having none of it. right keen, he was, and determined to "get to the bottom" of the matter.
he insisted on being led to the spot where the body of hawkins had been found.
the spot mercer led him to was quite indistinguishable from the rest of the path and the wood around it.
ashley looked around. "so, this is where the body was found?"
"close enough," mercer answered (200) , after a slight hesitation.
"close enough, eh?" ashley snorted. he looked the sweating mercer up and down like a colonel inspecting a private on parade. "but it was you who discovered him, was it not?"
"one of the boys discovered him. he came to me. i was the first white man to see him."
"so far as you know you were the first white man to see him."
mercer winced. behind him margrave and wilkinson rolled their eyes. "what is that
supposed to mean?" mercer asked.
"what does it mean? it means that if he had been shot (300) by a white man, that white man would have been the last to see him, would he not?"
"he wasn't shot by a white man. he was shot by a native."
"you know that, do you? how do you know that?"
good god, was this son of a bitch a bloody barrister as well as a sniveling bureaucrat? "it's what the natives do," mercer answered gamely. "besides, none of us had any reason to kill him. why would any of us want to do him in?"
illustrations by danny delacroix and rhoda penmarq
*Associate Professor of Romance Literature, Assistant Life Coach, Olney Community College; editor of Mrs. Biddle’s Bequest and Four Other Novels of Intrigue by Horace P. Sternwall, with an Afterword by Oscar Levant; Olney Community College Press. Made possible in part by a generous grant from Bob’s Bowery Bar on the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Serving fine beers and cocktails from 7am to 4am daily. Featuring Bob’s Bowery Bar’s World Famous Nickel Hot Dogs, with Mom’s Sauerkraut. ‘I’ve lived off Bob’s nickel hot dogs for years now.” – Howard Paul Studebaker, poet, author of Aubades of the Old West and Cowboy Villanelles.
Welcome to Bob’s Bowery Bar, home away from home to the damned, the doomed, and the dead of spirit.
Seamas McSeamas, the Irish poet, pulled himself up onto the cracked leather seat of the bar stool and laid a five-dollar bill on the bar.
“Quod erat effin’ demonstrandum,” he said.
“I told ya,” said Howard Paul Studebaker, the Western Poet. “What’d I tell ya?”
“Lovely as a summer’s goddam day,” said Frank X Fagen the nature poet, staring at the five-spot as if it were a beautiful flower or some sort, he could never remember the names of flowers.
“Bob,” said Seamas to Bob, the eponymous proprietor of this dank and dark hellhole, “’tree more Rheingolds for me and me companions, and ya better line up ‘tree more shots of Carstairs whiskey as well, and take it out of this fiver right here.”
Seamas tapped the five-dollar bill with his filthy finger.
Not twenty-eight minutes later (and despite the fact that at Bob’s a mug of Rheingold only cost fifteen cents and a shot of Carstairs only fifty cents) only forty-five cents remained from Seamas’s five dollars.
“We’re runnin’ low, boys, dangerously low,” said Seamas. “Your turn, Frank X.”
Frank X Fagen the nature poet lifted his emaciated body off of his bar stool.
“Save my seat, fellows,” he said. He stubbed out the last quarter-inch of the Old Gold he had been smoking. “And wish me luck.”
“Just hurry back, for Christ’s sake,” said Howard Paul Studebaker.
“I’ll be as quick as I can,” said Frank X.
“God speed to ya, Frankie me boy,” said Seamas.
Frank X staggered over to the table where sat the two failed hipsters, Landon “Rooster” Crow and Alice “Sniffy” Smith.
nolan noticed the guy sitting at the bar as soon as he entered the prince hal room.
it was not exactly that he "didn't like his looks". more like he excited his curiosity a little bit. nolan could not quite place him. and there were not too many people nolan could not place.
nolan took the first stool at the bar, in front of the passage from the lobby. there was one empty stool between him and the stranger, who, he now saw, was drinking coffee.
despite the late hour, the place was still pretty full, with most of the tables taken, though not a lot of people at the bar. tony winston was noodling at the piano, but the other band members were either taking a break or had played their last set.
no sign of miss shirley de la salle. too bad, she was about the only thing in the place nolan thought worth looking at.
you didn't need a watch or a clock to tell how late it was - you just had to look at the smoke in the room, which now formed a cloud as thick as a feather mattress just below the ceiling.
two people who were at the bar, at the far end, were miss hyacinth wilde, and the girl reporter - what was her name again? flaherty? flanagan. the pair were deep in conversation, waving their cigarettes at each other, and took no notice of nolan.
raoul left the stranger, whom he had been listening politely to, and came over to nolan.
"another rheingold, mister nolan?"
"it's getting a little late, raoul. i think i'll have what this gentleman is having - a nice cup of coffee."
"coming right up. a little cream, no sugar, right?"
as raoul had just made a fresh pot for the stranger, he had nolan's cup ready quickly, and set it down in front of him.