he had spent most of his life daydreaming, including his years growing up in the bronx, the almost five years he spent "in the war" and after it at camp wade hampton in south carolina, and the years he had spent since, hanging around broadway and times square and the race tracks.
he even found himself daydreaming during races he had bet heavily on (heavily for him), and was hanging on the rail himself to watch. he would often have to check the board to see who had won, having been too absorbed in his reveries to notice when the horses crossed the finish line.
as a child he had sometimes described the contents of his daydreams to his grandmother, the only person who listened to him, or was at least polite or bored or immobile enough to pretend to listen to him.
when he had finished, or trailed off with his recital, his grandmother would usually ask the same question.
"and then what?"
he had never had much of an answer.
of course, as he grew older, he learned to keep the pictures that floated in his mind to himself, and often masked his semi-conscious state by pretending to read a newspaper or comic book or magazine while his mind drifted. he could even look at the racing form without registering a thing.
one thing he liked about cafeterias and coffee shops and automats - and one reason he spent so much time in them - was that he could sit staring into space for long stretches and no one thought anything of it.
so he was content to wait on jake in the automat beside the hotel st crispian, without becoming unduly annoyed at jake not showing up, or even caring much whether he showed up at all.
maybe he was wasting his time with jake anyway. jake might even be telling the truth about not being tight with tommy sullivan any more. and who was this mysterious guy who "might be interested'? and did he, lullaby, really want to deal with tommy sullivan anyway?
wasn't it bad enough dealing with a whacko like gray? wasn't the whole thing crazy? but there were so few angles and opportunities these days you had to follow up on what you could get.
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.
"i'm not sure where to begin."
"the beginning would be good."
"i'm not sure the whole thing makes a lot of sense."
"that's what i'm here for - to decide if it makes any sense." she smiled at him. "take your time. the night is young. who's going anywhere? this fine establishment is open twenty-four hours. so let's hear it."
it was the deadest time of the night, when mortimer usually got his best rest and often his best dreams on his stool beside the elevator.
"mortimer! wake up"
mortimer opened his eyes. a familiar face - but he could not quite place it - was looking down at him. it was - it was stan slade! he had shaved off his mustache and dyed his hair black, but it was stan. there was something else -
"yeah. keep your voice down."
"sure, stan - but -"
"that hat - it doesn't go with that suit."
"i mean it's a nice suit and a nice hat - "
"i know, mort, but right now they will have to do."
"sure, sure, i was just saying - "
"listen, have you seen hyacinth? i mean, just now? did she go back upstairs?"
"uh - i don't think so. i was -"
"we all need our rest. anyone else been running the elevator?"
"she wouldn't walk up. so, listen, if you see her, and she's alone, tell her i'm over at the automat. all right?"
"sure. you think it's safe?"
"it will have to be." the "disguise" probably would not fool anyone who knew him, but should be good enough for the people looking at the wanted posters and the newspapers.
stan hesitated. this would be one of the hardest parts of the whole day and night.
"say, mort - "
"do you think you could lend me a dollar - for the automat?"
"sure, stan, sure. here, take two dollars."
"thanks, mort. i won't forget this. i'll make it up to you, i promise."
stan stepped away from the elevator and looked across the lobby. jake was gone. cosette was gone. she would have told roland about the broken window in room 603, but he was still behind the desk. it didn't look like he was going to go up and check on it himself.
stan pulled his hat down over his eyes - not too far down, he told himself - and started across the lobby.