he had shaved every day since he was old enough. he had always been a clean cut young man, even before his four years in the army and five on the police force.
and he never went too long without a haircut.
his teachers in school, his superior officers in the army and his superiors on the force, the priests and chaplains he had known all his life, and above all his mother, none of them could even imagine him looking like a bum.
which was good, because it made for a cheap and easy disguise.
along with the shiny suit and the slightly oversized battered fedora that was always tilted over the face of -
taking to heart the unstated but not too subtle warnings of captain callaghan about the - accommodating tendencies - of the fellow officers he would encounter in the ninth precinct, he had so far gone it alone in his search for the mysterious queen of crime, relying on his observations as "slim mccarthy" and not taking up the captain's offer of additional manpower.
even the car at his disposal he had so far left parked in a lot on houston st, because a bum like slim would be unlikely to have a car.
slim mccarthy had been hanging around the automats and bars in the precinct, keeping his "ear to the ground" and striking up the most casual of conversations when possible - but not arousing suspicion by asking outright questions.
slim even cadged an occasional drink at bob's bowery bar and the other watering holes he frequented. dooley didn't drink as a rule, so slim was able to nurse his beers with a verisimilitudinous patience.
dooley/slim had one ace up his sleeve that he had not mentioned to captain callaghan.
he had been truthful with the captain in saying he did not drink - he didn't , except a very occasional beer to be sociable.
he had been truthful with the captain in saying he did not smoke - assuming, correctly - that the captain was referring to smoking tobacco.
but what he did not mention - because the captain did not ask about it - was that he was not unfamiliar with other smokable substances - weed, gage, hemp, mary jane, tea, etc - and since "mrs big" was apparently in the business of providing such, slim could knowledgeably engage in their pursuit, while actually pursuing "mrs big" herself.
dooley had become familiar with these products of satan after meeting a young woman one evening at the library on 42nd street and starting an on and off romance with her.
her name was dolly mainwaring and she was richer than the pope and could afford to hang out with anyone she pleased - from the highest society to the lowest dregs and from the most respectable old school mollusks to the most up to date bohemians - like dooley's main rival for her affections, the notorious painter pete palomine.
but all that, dear reader, is a story for another day.
slim mccarthy pushed open the door of bob's bowery bar.
bob's - and the all night automat on bedford street - were the best places for encountering the closest thing to a good connection he had made so far.
a fellow named landon "rooster" crow whom slim had tapped for small amounts of gage and who seemed to have been mixed up lately in some rough dealings involving the same.
for now he "just wanted to forget it" but slim had patience and didn't push him.
rooster himself claimed to be a poet and did not seem like a bad fellow, though a bit on the nervous side and perhaps would not have been an ideal companion at saipan or okinawa.
slim entered the bar.
was it completely deserted? it seemed to be.
the only person in evidence was the bartender. and the bartender was not bob.
there were some empty glasses and full ashtrays at two tables close together just in front of the bar.
as slim came closer he saw the bartender was scaramanga, the leftist poet, looking like his dog and his goldfish died on the same day.
as there was no one to cadge a drink from, slim decided to buy one, which he could nurse all afternoon if he had to.
"you're just in time," scaramanga told slim as he took a seat.
slim rose affably to the bait. "in time for what?"
"in time not to go to the party."
"oh? what party?"
"i'll tell you all about it. what'll you have?"
"what's the cheapest thing you've got?"
"um - how about a small rheingold draft?"
"sounds like it has my name on it."
"sure you don't want a house bock? fresh brewed. but aged in the wood."
"i'm a rheingold man."
scaramanga gave slim his draft, then proceeded to tell him about estelle's visit, and how she had invited all the poets - including rooster - to a party at her place. but poor scaramanga was stuck here, unless he wanted to risk the wrath of bob for deserting the post he had been entrusted with.
slim took a tiny sip of the rheingold. "she looked rich?" he asked scaramanga.
"well, probably not rich rich. rich enough. bourgeois. very very bourgeois."
slim didn't want to start scaramanga down that road. "she say exactly where they were going?"
scaramanga shrugged. "if she did, i didn't catch it. why, you want to try to catch up with them? "
slim hesitated. "not if i don't know where they're going." too bad, he thought, i'll catch up with rooster some other time. i'll just finish this beer and move on.
and then it hit him.
this rich - or "bourgeois" woman - she might be mrs big!
he had missed his chance! darn!
"hey, mccarthy. how's it going?"
slim looked up. hector phillips stone the romantic poet was standing in front of him.
"what, you decided not to go to the party?" scaramanga asked him.
"sure, i'm going. i just had to hit the head."
"oh. well, take mccarthy with you, i can see he's a good time guy with a twinkle in his eye." scaramanga sighed. "and leave me all alone."
"you want to go?" hector asked slim.
"uh - yeah, i guess so. you know where they're going?"
"yeah, they were headed for the liquor store on 2nd st and then going to her place."
"you got the address?," slim asked hector.
"someplace on lafayette. i wrote it down. but we can catch them anyhow before they get there. slow as studebaker walks. or fagen."
"hey," said scaramanga, "why don't you give me the address? maybe i can come over if maureen gets here early."
slim waited impatiently while hector wrote the address down on a copy of the new york federal-democrat that bob had behind the bar.
"there you go," hector told scaramanga. "we hate to leave you here."
"i know you do."
"it will be nice and quiet. maybe you can find the time to write a nice poem."
what was that?
mrs wagner froze, her pencil poised over the new york times crossword.
it sounded like a gang of chimpanzees outside in the hall.
she was almost afraid to crack open the door and look outside.
it was that horrible nasty tongued chalmers woman - no surprise there. but who - or what - did she have with her?
they looked like the kind of raggedy fellows mrs wagner sometimes saw being loaded in or out of a wagon in front of the police station when she walked past it on her way to the drugstore or the cleaners.
one big purple faced fellow - an irishman! - was so ferocious looking she thought she would faint.
even in her agitated state mrs wagner realized that the others crowding the corridor while mrs charmers opened her door were rather harmless, even pathetic looking.
the irishman turned and shouted down the hall. "hey, mccarthy, i thought you said yer could carry that by yerself!"
"coming, sergeant!" a sarcastic response floated up.
mrs wagner poked her head out a bit more.
a young man balancing a big cardboard case on his shoulder drew level with the irishman.
although he was as raggedy as the others and needed a shave, somehow he still looked young and handsome and reminded mrs wagner of -
- of carl -
carl, whom she still thought of almost every day…
mrs wagner closed the door.
of course she would eventually make her way across the hall and confront the odious chalmers woman - she was not to be intimidated!
and call the police if need be - and obviously it would need be - but there was something about the young man with the case on his shoulder…
"all you sinners gather round! this is the main attraction!"
estelle had never completely sobered up from the night before, and now she was in full bloom.
"i'm going to do my salome dance! make some room! i need some room for my salome dance!"
the radio was blasting. estelle had tried to find some dizzy gillespie or charlie parker but had settled for stan kenton.
played as loud as the radio could be turned up.
seamas mcseamas began clapping his big hands - he could clap pretty loud - and laughing.
fagen the nature poet and hector and studebaker the western poet all started clapping half-heartedly.
"damn, it's hot in here!" estelle took her dress off over her head and started doing her salome dance in her slip.
seamas kept up his loud clapping. the music stopped and the disc jockey said something and then played something by duke ellington.
slim took a sip of one of the beers from the case he had hauled up. it wasn't very cold. he glanced back at the door.
he had already made up his mind that estelle was not mrs big.
estelle was doing her salome dance with a bottle of schenley's in her left hand. so far she was keeping her slip on.
but she stopped to kick her shoes off. "can't do my salome dance with these clunkers on!"
as she did she seemed to notice slim for the first time. "ohhh - who are you?"
"heh, heh. i'm just along for the ride, ma'am."
"what a cutie! even though you could use a nice shave. and maybe a bath." estelle took a swig from the bottle of schenley's. "want to dance?"
"i -um- don't know how to do the salome dance, ma'am."
"oh, but i bet you can do the foxtrot, can't you, sweetie? come on, i can warm up for my salome dance with a nice foxtrot."
"but, ma'am, you're already doing your salome dance."
"awww . don't be like that, sweetie. we're having a party!"
seamas was choking with laughter. he took a big swig of his warm beer.
suddenly there was a knock on the door.
"who can that be?" estelle asked. "who can that possibly be?"
she went over and opened the door, still holding the bottle of schenley's.
mrs wagner stood there.
"veronica!" shouted estelle. "it's veronica, my best friend." she threw her arms around veronica and gave her a big sloppy kiss. "come on in, veronica, we're having a party!"
mrs wagner squirmed in estelle's grasp. her eyes fell on slim, seated on one of the couches estelle had pulled into the center of the room.
"yes," mrs wagner heard herself say. "i think i will come in just for a little bit."
reader, we can not do justice to the further proceedings of the afternoon in the space allotted us. what wassail they made, and what merriment ensued, it would take a veritable homer or rabelais to delineate.
suffice to say that the police were eventually summoned, that slim and his friend rooster managed to slip away without being arrested - for which cleverness slim was much applauded by his fellows, giving him great credit amongst them - and all the other participants were taken to the station.
estelle and veronica were released on personal recognizance and later paid some fines for disturbing the peace.
the other poets were not so fortunate, and did a few days in "the pokey" before being set free to make room for new miscreants.
except for seamas, who was charged with resisting arrest and attempted assault on a police officer, and whose shoes did not hit the hallowed pavement of the bowery for eleven months.
peter divorced estelle, and later married mr ferguson's oldest daughter, a young woman who shared his devotion to the lord and the holy scriptures.
as part of the divorce settlement, estelle kept the rent-stabilized apartment on lafayette street. estelle and veronica wagner became truly the best of friends and spent long mornings and afternoons together watching television and getting wasted .
but neither of them ever saw slim mccarthy, or any of the poets, again.