by the time mortimer had helped miss wilde up to her suite, gone back downstairs to the employee's room to get his coat and cap, and filled jackson and chester the bellhop in on what had happened at the automat, the police cars had all left and everything outside seemed back to normal.
he stopped in at the automat. it was now after five o'clock and it was filling up a little.
everyone who had been there at the time of the arrests was gone. jake and cosette had gone home.
betty, who had been shouting louder than anybody - mostly about the reward money - had gone somewhere. maybe she went with the police, to try to collect.
polly, the pretty and polite though not overwhelmingly friendly change girl who worked the graveyard shift was gone too, replaced by louise, the grumpy middle-aged woman who worked the morning shift.
mortimer, of course, talked to everybody and knew everybody's name, even the kind of people whom most of their fellow humans would regard as somewhat less than friendly. but louise looked like she was in an especially foul mood so he just nodded to her.
besides, it was not likely that she would know anything that he didn't.
he would pick up a paper on his way home, at maxie fleischman's newstand on bleecker street, either the gazette or the federal-democrat or both. maybe one of them already had an extra out.
you didn't see as many newsboys out on the street shouting "extra! extra! " as you used to, like you did before the war.
times were changing. mortimer didn't like it much, but what could you do?
he didn't really want a cup of coffee or anything else - his mother would make him a nice cup of chase and sanborn when he got home. but he didn't like to stop in at a place without buying something - it just seemed rude - so he got a cup of coffee and took a seat beside the window.
what a night! not that he hadn't seen plenty of even crazier nights in his twenty-six years at the st crispian. especially when the stock market crashed. and during the war.
still, it was a pretty wild night.
with stan coming and jake "disappearing" and nolan and miss wilde running around and the fight in the alley between young mr collinson and the man with the black mustache and meeting flossie flanagan and finally stan and the lady who had checked into the blue suite getting arrested - had it all really happened?
sure it had "really" happened - the way everything "really" happened. but mortimer knew better.
or did he?
how did he know that he knew? maybe he didn't know that he didn't know.
but one thing he was more sure of than ever - that nothing really existed except manhattan - manhattan up to the central park reservoir.
because maybe even that didn't really exist.
where had stan gone? he wasn't really on his way back to sing sing because there was no sing sing.
and the lady in the blue suite? where did they take her? to the same place as stan?
maybe there was a big hotel up behind the reservoir, and stan and the lady were staying there - with judge crater and amelia earhart and john dillinger and pretty boy floyd and hitler and tojo and mussolini and babe ruth and lou gehrig and president roosevelt and al capone and all the other people who were supposed to be "out there" beyond manhattan, but disappeared or died and were never heard from again.
how do you know? it made as much sense as anything.
but maybe nothing made sense.
maybe even manhattan was just a dream, rolling around with a million other dreams like the gum in a gumball machine.
mortimer finished his coffee and left the automat. he turned east on morton street down to bleecker and began walking south down bleecker to his apartment near the bowery.
he stopped at maxie's newstand and bought the federal-democrat. but none of the papers had their extras out yet.
not like the old days. if there really were any old days or new days.
his mother was waiting for him. "you're late," she told mortimer. but he was often late for one reason or another, and it was no big deal.
"it was busy," he told her. he took his seat at the kitchen table and she began making the chase and sanborn. since there was nothing about stan being arrested, he turned the federal-democrat to the sports page. "i had to help a lady up to her room. she was indisposed."
"that was nice of you. i got some nice fresh eggs at mister o'grady's yesterday," his mother said. "would you like one?"
"hard boiled or soft?" she had been asking him that for that for over thirty years, and he always said soft.
"soft," he told her again.
"and you should have a piece of toast. you need to keep your strength up."