on a lazy afternoon, roselle has attempted to take slumming to a new level by enticing the drifter "humphey p strawfeather" to murder jerry.
the man who had called himself "humphrey p strawfeather" stared at the woman who had just treated him to the best meal he had had in a week, and then told him she wanted him to murder her husband.
"i don't believe you, " he told her.
"no? why not?"
"it don't make no sense. you don't even know me."
"and you don't know me. that's the point. the less you know about me, the less you can tell the police. and if i tried to ask one of my friends to help me - well. i ask you, would that be any way to treat a friend? to ask them to maybe get into trouble for me? do i look like that sort of person?"
humphrey stated at her. "you know, lady, even though you got all sorts of dough, i bet you don't really have a lot of friends."
"ha, ha! you may be right. i don't have any friends who would run through the proverbial brick wall for me if that is what you mean." she took a pack of herbert tareyton cigarettes and a ronson cigarette lighter out of her purse. "but's that not really here or there, is it? "
"what's here or there is whether you're serious. and if you are serious, why you picked me."
"well, what would you have me do? go to the better business bureau and ask them to recommend someone?" she lit her cigarette, and blew a smoke ring.
"yeah, but why me?"
"why not you? i like your looks."
humphrey laughed. "yeah, sure you do."
"ha, ha! i mean, i like your looks for what i am proposing. would you like one of my cigarettes? i see you looking at the pack like a hungry wolf."
"yeah, thanks. i'm out myself." he took a cigarette and she lit it for him with the ronson.
"you see, humphrey, as soon as i saw you, i thought, that's the man for what i have in mind. you have killed people, humphrey, haven't you?"
humphrey was a bit startled. "well, uh, a lot of guys have killed people. in the war and all."
"that's not what i meant and you know it. you see, i'm a pretty good judge of people. and do you know why i'm a pretty good judge of people."
"no, why?" humphrey looked down into his empty coffee cup.
"because i practice. people interest me , and i watch them all the time. some people might think just because i'm a nasty person other people don't interest me, but i assure you that the opposite is true. i think the most fun in the world is watching other people, trying to figure out what they do. you see a little woman with a kerchief around her head carrying a bag of groceries, does she beat her husband with a frying pan every night?
maybe she has poisoned three husbands already, and was a guard in a concentration camp during the war. or you see a priest in black or a rabbi, do they cry themselves to sleep every night, dreaming of some woman in their congregation with nine kids and a backside the size of grant's tomb? "
"uh - i want another cup of coffee."
"let me finish, please. like i say, it's ever so much more interesting than the cin-e-ma or the the- a - ter , which are so predictable."
"yeah, where the bad guy always gets caught."
"exactly. now see here, humphrey, if you want to see how serious i am, i have just the thing here. we could sit here and palaver, and talk about going to the police, but we both know neither of us is going to do any such thing." she reached into her purse again. she took out a greenback and shoved it across the table. "are you familiar with these?"
it was a one hundred dollar bill.
"yeah, i seen these before. i used to see them all the time, at the track, and in casinos out on the water, back when i was on top."
"how nice for you. go ahead, take it. no strings attached."
humphrey hesitated, but only for a second. he folded the bill and put it in his shirt pocket.
"no strings attached. just a token of my sincere intentions. think my offer over. if you are interested, meet me here on wednesday, at five o'clock. " she zipped up her purse, and looked over her shoulder. the woman who had served them was back behind the counter, staring into space. she was not nearly close enough to have heard them, talking in their low tones.
"i am going to leave now. i will pay enough for you to have some dessert and more coffee, and your little friend too, if he decides to come back and not go to south america with my dollar. "
"i don't know nothing about him. what about the smokes he was buying you?"
"i am sure you can divide them most agreeably between you." she stood up.
"so long." humphrey didn't look up at her.
"ta ta. till wednesday. "
roselle spent the rest of the afternoon walking around uptown and, true to her stated inclinations, looking at people.
she stopped in at the west end bar for about half an hour but the marijuana seller she sometimes encountered there did not show up.
as dusk settled in, she got a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich and a cup of coffee at a little diner on columbus avenue. then she got a cab back to the apartment on east 82nd st.
morris the doorman was waiting for her with a familiar expression, one combining greed and obsequiousness with just a pinch of moral disapproval.
he bowed slightly to roselle. "mister winfield arrived a little while ago, ma'am."
"did he? and did he require assistance?"
"he did indeed, ma'am. considerable assistance, if i may say so."
"i am sure you responded to the situation with your usual efficiency, morris." she slipped him a fifty dollar bill.
"thank you, ma'am." he touched his cap and opened the door for her.
jerry was sprawled across his bed. morris had gotten his jacket and his shoes off and loosened his tie. he did not look as if he would wake up any time soon.
what a slob he's getting to be, thought roselle. she lit a cigarette, then went over and opened a window, but the breeze blowing in was too cold, so she closed it again.
she made up her mind to go through with her plan with humphrey - or some one else, if humphrey didn't come through.
pursuing humphrey as she had had been a spur of the moment thing, though she had had doing something like it in her mind for a while. and she had at first thought she might just have a little fun with humphrey, and let jerry in on the fun.
but now she changed her mind. she would do it for real. she felt humphrey was dangerous, but she had complete confidence in her ability to handle any human male.
maybe she could even make something out of humphrey after jerry was out of the way and she had his money. not marry him of course - ha ha! she had believed humphrey when he said he had been "on top" - though his idea of "on top" and roselle's would not be quite the same. but maybe he wasn't completely raw and she could touch him up a little.
new york was getting to be a bore. people were interesting in some ways, but in other ways they were boring and never wanted to have any fun.
maybe she could take humphrey - or somebody else like him, a little better looking - to some place like tangier or hong kong or a plantation in bolivia.
and they could have some real fun.
night had fallen. humphrey walked down broadway, lost in thought, hardly noticing where he was going.
he had ditched buddy, after taking one of the packs of cigarettes from him , and, in a fit of generosity, letting him keep all roselle's change.
the hundred dollar bill was burning a hole in his pocket. it had been a while since he had so much money at one time.
too long. and that just wasn't right.
he decided to meet roselle on wednesday, back at the little diner.
he would make something out of all this, he wasn't sure what.