the man who had called himself "humphrey p strawfeather" in the coffee shop began walking up broadway.
i shouldn't let myself get riled up, he told himself for the ten thousandth time.
especially by people like that.
"humphrey" hated the whole human race , including himself, but he especially hated rich people and people who thought they were better than anybody else.
he tried to look in the reflections in the windows he passed to see if anybody was following him, but the way the sun was shining he could not do it very well.
this was something he did all the time, because you never knew who was after you.
there was a little park further up broadway where he could do a little panhandling.
then maybe he would catch a bus up to the polo grounds. the giants' game would just be getting over, he could panhandle there too.
he didn't really like to panhandle.
or snatch purses and run, though he did that sometimes too.
he would much rather kill people and take their money. that way he could think of himself as a noble beast of prey prowling the jungle of the city, and not just a pathetic bum.
but he had learned you couldn't kill somebody every single day.
even though there were so many people in the world - way too many.
with these familiar thoughts he wended his way toward morningside heights.
he remembered the danish he had put in his pocket when he let himself get riled up and left the coffee shop.
he took it out and started chewing on it as he walked. it was a little soggy from being wrapped in the handkerchief he had put under his teacup.
"hey, aloysius!" the squeaky voice was right at his elbow. was it talking to him? "aloysius" might have been a name he used.
he used a different name every day. or every time somebody asked him his name. it was like camouflaging himself in the jungle, even though the cops had his fingerprints.
"you look like a dingbat, aloysius, walking along eating a danish pastry in the street. you'll get crumbs all over the street. it's not something respectable people do."
he looked down. a wrinkle faced little person wearing a long stocking cap like santa claus was walking beside him. he couldn't tell if it was male or female. probably male, even with the squeaky voice.
for some reason the little person didn't rile him up. instead he laughed. "do i know you?" he asked, coming as close as he could to smiling.
"aloysius b cadwaller. that's you, right? who could forget a name like that?"
"i might be."
"we was in the tombs together, in the big snowstorm, remember?"
"oh, yeah." humphrey-aloysius looked down at the little man. he remembered being in the tombs in the great snowstorm in 1947, but he didn't remember him.
"jeez, those were the days huh? when they let us out to shovel? with those big shovels? they were made out of pure lead!"
"yeah, right." humphrey-aloysius took another bite of his soggy danish. he kept walking, and the little man kept pace beside him.
"what was that cop's name - that was in charge of us? big irish guy."
"i don't know - how about o'reilly?"
"naw, that wasn't it. it was - it was - "
"cornelius patrick mcshanahan o'shaughnessy."
"now you're being a wise guy. i don't remember you as a wise guy, aloysius."
they crossed w 114th street . humphrey-aloysius looked back over his shoulder .
and saw roselle. she was only about twenty-five feet behind him.
she smiled at him.
he knew right away she was following him.
why? he couldn't be more surprised if eleanor roosevelt or gloria vanderbilt was following him.
had she actually followed him for almost three new york blocks just to annoy him?
he could make mistakes about things, but she couldn't be a cop.
a reporter? he had a little bit of experience with reporters, but she wasn't a reporter any more than she was a cop.
and he'd seen her before, with her boy friend or husband, he was sure of it.
what could she want from him? and where was the boy friend?
she smiled again and came right up to him. "hello, humphrey."
he was still too surprised to be riled up.
"you forgot something, humphrey."
all right, he'd play along for now.
"what did i forget, lady?"
roselle looked him in the eye. "you forgot how much i wanted to be your pal."
roselle looked down at the little man in the stocking cap. "who's your friend?"
"joe", said humphrey.
"everybody has a friend named joe," roselle replied.
the little man spoke up. "that's because happiness is just a guy named joe," he said, staring at roselle.
"why, of course."
"but it's not my name. my name is buddy. buddy bashon. at your service."
people continued to pass by the curiously assorted trio without glancing at them.
"i'm so pleased to meet you," roselle told buddy. "any friend of humphrey's is a friend of mine."
buddy just stared at her.
his first surprise over, humphrey started to revert to his old self.
"what exactly do you want, lady?"
"i told you - i want to be your friend."
"you want something from me. you are trying to set me up for something."
"i am." roselle smiled. "something for both of us. and i don't take no for an answer. i mean to have my way."
humphrey laughed, a little uncertainly, and looked around.
a police car went by, heading downtown. it stopped at the light on 114th street.
"i think i'll walk away, lady. it was nice talking to you."
"there is a police car right over there."
"so? i didn't do nothing."
"i'll tell them you did. i'll tell them you did something nasty. who are they going to believe, you or me?"
"you don't have any witnesses."
"i don't need them." roselle looked back at the police car. the light had changed and it was pulling out. "at the very least they'll throw you in jail overnight."
"they are gone."
roselle laughed. "what are they, the only police in new york? come on, humphrey, i'm just trying to be your friend."
"what about me?" buddy asked. "can i be your friend?"
"why not? but i really want humphrey to be my friend. i have my little heart set on it. come on, humphrey, don't be difficult."
"this is crazy. you're crazy. why are you picking on me like this?"
"there's a nice little diner over there, let's go and over a grab a seat. i'll bet they have the most wonderful hamburgers. my treat, of course."
for the first time humphrey wavered. "how about a steak sandwich?"
"how about one? let's go."
roselle walked into the slow moving traffic on broadway. horns honked but the are stopped.
humphrey followed her and buddy followed him.
jerry was making good on his determination to have a few drinks.
"i don't know, pal. you look like you might have had enough."
"hey, the day is young. it's only - it's only the afternoon. "
"it's quarter to three, if you could read the clock."
"it's quarter to three, there's no one on the place except you and me. so set em up, joe..."
"quarter to three in the afternoon."
"i know, there's too much light in here. can't you draw the shades a little tighter."
"you got enough money for a cab to take you home? just in case you need it, i mean."
"do i have enough money for a cab? buddy, i got enough money to buy every cab in new york and line them up from here to yonkers - line them up from here to yonkers for a parade to take me home ..."
"okay, you've made your point."
"i've had a hard day. you know what happened to me today?"
"i got treated like dirt."
"people are like that sometimes."
"people looking at me sideways with their beady little eyes - i knew what they were thinking - thinking i didn't really belong there - i didn't know anything - "
"but what do they know, right?'
"treating me like garbage just because i'm worth forty-five million dollars."
"look here, you sure you don't want that cab?"
"no, i want another drink."
roselle flicked some ashes into the saucer of her coffee cup.
humphrey and buddy were finishing up their steak sandwiches. buddy had a big smear of ketchup on his left cheek.
no one else was in the diner. the waitress who had served them was not in sight.
roselle had only had coffee.
"you sure you don't want anything?" humphrey asked her.
"no, i'm just enjoying watching you two eat."
"how about some dessert?" buddy asked.
"dessert?" roselle reached into the purse she had beside her on the seat in the booth. "i tell you what." roselle took a dollar out of the purse. "why don't you go over to that drugstore on the corner and buy me a couple of packs of cigarettes. tareytons. when you get back, i'll buy you some dessert, how's that? chocolate cake, strawberry shortcake, whatever they got.".
"sure. what if they don't have tareytons?"
"chesterfields. get chesterfields." roselle handed buddy the dollar. "and look here - take your time. take a little walk, get some fresh air. you're a growing boy, you look like you need it."
"sure, sure, i get it. i get your drift. " buddy stood up and carefully folded the dollar and put it in his coat pocket.
roselle turned and watched buddy as he went out the door.
"how much can you trust him?" she asked humphrey when the door was closed.
"trust him? i don't even know him. any more than i know you. he just came up to me on the street, just now."
"i see. i thought he was your old pal."
"nah, he's just along for the ride. he said he recognized me, i didn't recognize him."
humphrey looked around. the waitress had not returned behind the counter.
"so what is all this? you keep talking about fun. what kind of fun exactly?"
roselle took her time lighting the next to last cigarette in her pack.
"humphrey, i think you must have guessed what kind of fun i'm talking about. it can only be one thing."
as originally appearing in the july-august 1951 issue of sinister destinies magazine
illustrated by konrad kraus and roy dismas
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
part one of several
jerry and roselle winfield were a beautiful couple.
they had been together for almost five years, longer than any of their friends would have expected.
and longer than any of their married friends had been together.
in most ways jerry and roselle were typical members of their class of people, and did the same things and enjoyed the same things as their friends.
they enjoyed spending money (which they both had huge amounts of), drinking , smoking opium and reefers, skiing in the winter, frolicking on european and south american beaches in the summer, having intense but casual affairs with strangers, and all that sort of thing.
but what jerry and roselle really enjoyed more than anything else, and what they enjoyed doing in one another's company more than anything, was making fun of people.
their friends and relations of course, but even more so complete strangers.
they enjoyed sitting in bars and cafes and restaurants, and in good weather, park benches, and looking at the people they saw sitting or passing by, and speculating about their miserable and dreary little lives, and making up stories about them.
it was all great fun.
often when they had a load on or were high on gage (which was most of the time) they spoke a little too loudly, and the objects of their derision would hear them.
some of these people would pretend not to hear or even slink away, but more often than not, they would take exception and attempt to mock jerry and roselle in turn - with the pathetic and transparent jealousy of the peasantry.
sometimes they would even threaten jerry and roselle with violence.
jerry and roselle had a cure-all for these awkward situations - money.
they both carried thick rolls of twenty-dollar bills, and a few hundred dollar bills, and found that these, used judiciously, would inevitably placate the most surly and aggrieved proles.
one afternoon jerry and roselle arranged to meet at one of their favorite spots - a bench in a small park behind a bus stop on broadway near 112th st.
jerry had spent most of the morning at his office - actually his grandfather's office - where jerry put in an appearance about once every two weeks, and he only had a mild buzz on, from the couple of drinks he needed after his ordeal.
roselle had spent the morning in a hotel on tenth avenue with a cab driver who was of course also an artist, and they had enjoyed a couple of reefers, and she was in a very mellow mood.
which was in no way spoiled by the light rain that was falling when they met.
they retreated from the park bench to a small coffee shop on the other side of the street.
which turned out to be empty. it was just after two o'clock, and the lunchtime customers, if there had been any, were gone.
jerry and roselle purchased cups of black coffee and jelly doughnuts from the disgustingly friendly little woman behind the counter , and sat at one of the three small tables, the one closest to the window.
jerry did not seem much in the mood for fun, but roselle was planning an attack on the woman at the counter when the small bell above the door rang, and a man walked in.
the man was about thirty, neither fat nor thin, short nor tall, and kind of shabby, one or two steps up from a complete bum . the friendly woman addressed him as "sir" and not by name when he bought a cup of tea and a danish so he probably was not a regular customer.
he took a seat at the table furthest from the window, without glancing at jerry and roselle.
jerry was not in the mood. the guy didn't inspire any humorous thoughts in him, and besides, the place was so small and empty he was certain to hear anything they said.
all jerry wanted to do after his hard morning in the office was finish his coffee and doughnut and find a dark bar and get smashed. if roselle didn't want to come with him she could go shopping or to a movie.
the man at the other table took out a handkerchief and placed it in the saucer under his tea cup. then he took his spoon and squeezed the tea bag against the inside of the cup with it.
"darling," said roselle in a loud voice, "do you remember my aunt betsy?"
oh no, thought jerry. "aunt betsy" was a fictional character, one of many jerry and roselle used when they wanted to actively antagonize one of their targets.
"sort of," jerry answered, in a tone indicating he wasn't quite up to playing along with her.
"well, she used to squeeze her teabag in her cup the way that man just did. i thought it was the most disgusting little old lady thing. even from a real little old lady, let alone from a grown man- ohhh!" roselle pressed her hand to her throat. "i don't think i've ever seen such a thing anywhere else, not even from the biggest pansies on park avenue."
the man was startled. he made no pretense of not hearing her, but stared right at her.
"excuse me," roselle asked him, "but why are you looking at me like that? are you eavesdropping on us?"
the man did not reply. he had seemed nondescript when he came in, but now jerry thought he had a real mean look in his eyes.
not that jerry didn't think he could handle him if he had to. but what a bore.
roselle was enjoying herself. she raised her eyebrows at the man. "hmmm? were you listening to our private conversation?"
"i know you," the man said.
"i seen you two before. pulling this same kind of malarkey. trying to rile people up, just for fun. and because you think you own the earth."
"really? you don't think we should own the earth? are you some kind of red?"
the man ignored this. "yeah. somewhere downtown. bennie's on 44th street maybe?"
roselle laughed. "bennie's on 44th street? i am afraid that doesn't sound like quite the sort of place we frequent.."
"somewhere else, then. but i seen you."
"look here, fellow," jerry put in. "that's quite enough."
"you started it," the man answered.
"hey, hey!" the woman behind the counter cried. "that's enough! this is a coffee shop, not a barroom on the bowery. we are in the shadow of columbia university, where they developed the atomic bomb, so let's act civilized."
jerry wasn't sure she had her facts straight, but he nodded to the man. "if my wife's sense of humor doesn't sit well with you, that's just too damned bad. it's a small place, do you expect us to whisper?"
the man stood up. "where do you think you get off making fun of me?"
"where do i get off? i get off because i go to bed at night on east 85th street, and you look like you sleep in the back row of a movie theater on 42nd street, how does that suit you?"
"nobody talks to humphrey p strawfeather that way."
roselle whooped with laughter at the man's name. "humphrey! oh humphrey!"
now the little woman came out from behind her counter. "i said that's enough! do i have to call a cop?"
"no, lady, you don't have to call no cop," humphrey p strawfeather assured her. "i ain't starting nothing - here." he picked up his cup and for a second jerry thought he was going to throw the tea in his face, but he drank it down in one gulp. then he wrapped the danish in the handkerchief he had put across the saucer, and put it in his pocket.
"see you around, pal." he touched his hat, which he had never taken off, and left.
"my, my, that was exciting," roselle laughed. "he actually threatened you." her eyes widened in mock horror. "maybe we should call the police. or - i know! - hire a private eye to track him down."
jerry managed a laugh too. "well, if that was his his real name, and he's in the phone book - which is rather doubtful - they shouldn't have any problem."
the little woman went back behind the counter. her friendly manner had completely vanished.
"let's get out of here," jerry said. he stood up and took out his wallet.
"all right," roselle wolfed down her doughnut with a swig of coffee.
"look here." jerry approached the woman at the counter. "we are sorry we caused you any inconvenience or made you nervous. let me make it up to you." he put a twenty dollar bill on the counter.
she looked at him warily but picked it up.
"now what?" roselle asked when they got outside. the rain had stopped, but it looked as if it might start up again at any minute.
"now what? i'm going to find the darkest bar i can and drink everything they have behind it. you can come with me if you like. or you can go shopping or - "
"yes, i think i'll go shopping."
"fine. i'll see you tonight." turning up he lapels of his jacket against the wind, jerry pointed himself downtown.
"don't forget - marge and chester are coming over at nine tonight."
"enjoy your afternoon." roselle watched as jerry moved away.
perfect, she thought. she had no intention of shopping unless she had to.
she had noticed humphrey p strawfeather heading uptown and she had decided to try to follow him.
that is, sensitive to what other people thought of him.
he had a strong sense of his own importance and a stronger sense of grievance.
he knew enough to try to make these qualities not too obvious.
the greatest burden of his life was that he had gone to the university of pennsylvania.
he now wished he had gone to penn state - although his mother and his aunt daphne would not have approved, uncle sidney might have intervened on his behalf - when it became apparent that he could not get into princeton or yale.
true, he had avoided the fate aunt daphne - the family matriarch and purse-string holder and a great social reformer- had envisioned for him, to go to nyu - with a lot of jews! - but the penn state men - among whom he spent much of his life - tended to look down on penn men as sissies, though they could hardly have taken issue with a man's going to princeton or yale.
how norton wished he could tie his ties with the easy mastery of a princeton man, or hold a scotch and soda in his hand with the effortless insouciance of a penn state man!
norton's life had reached a turning point.
he was twenty-seven years old and not married.
mister talbot, the elderly head of the firm, liked his employees to be married. it was almost impossible to be promoted unless one's seriousness and dependability had been demonstrated in this time-honored way.
norton's mother and his aunt ellen had been trying to find him a suitable girl - such things were beneath aunt daphne, who believed that old-fashioned matchmaking went out with the model t and kerosene lamps - and his sister paula had made a few half hearted attempts to help out.
norton made a sincere attempt to appreciate their efforts on his behalf -
but could they really find a girl that would not excite the secret - or maybe not so secret when norton was not in the room - amusement of fellows like phil packer and dennis clevenger, the leaders of norton's group?
who themselves were determined to remain bachelors until they were thirty at least.
neither of them had to worry about a mister talbot, as phil packer had his own law practice, and dennis clevenger did not work regular hours at all but just played the market.
as for the idea that norton might find and win a suitable girl on his own...
norton stood before a fireplace on a cold january evening, at phil packer's apartment on the south side.
light snow was falling outside.
phil was still sporting the vestiges of a black eye he had received on new year's eve, when he had added to his legend by getting arrested and spending five hours in jail on the busy night before his bail could be processed.
but that was already ancient history and an old joke. dennis , and phil's girl samantha winston, the only persons who had been allowed to twit phil about it , had moved on.
it had been a dull night. phil was not in the best humor.
strangely, neither dennis nor samantha were making much effort to cheer him up.
norton and bill meriweather were the only other persons left.
fat bill meriweather was totally tanked, and had a strange smirk on his face, as if he expected something amusing to happen at any minute.
norton wondered if he should make his excuses and leave.
with almost nobody left he could not slip out without being noticed, and if he announced he was leaving might that not look as if he, norton, was not pleased to be in phil's company?
suddenly the phone rang.
after a couple of rings samantha picked it up.
"hello? helen! " samantha listened for a few seconds. "sure, come on over. i'll tell the doorman to let you in." pause. "all right, i'll go down and be there myself."
samantha headed for the door of the apartment.
norton wondered if this might not be time for him to leave.
apparently reading his mind, bill meriweather leered at him. "can't leave now, old man. this helen might be a hot number, ha ha!"
and then dennis clevenger was in front of norton, taking his glass from him. "here, let me freshen that up."
norton was trapped. he started to lean back against the fireplace, then decided to find a chair.
phil got up and began poking at the fire, making it blaze up.
samantha arrived with helen, who was surprisingly ugly. skinny, with a muddy complexion and a nose that was way too long.
norton immediately deduced that she must have lots of money. lots of money. phil and dennis would never be in the same room with such a girl unless she had enough money to load the queen mary with gold bullion and sink it.
samantha was acting ecstatic at seeing helen. phil stood up and seemed quite happy to see her, as did dennis after getting norton his new drink.
phil himself was making the introductions.
"helen, this is bill meriweather. he doesn't look like much, but he's got enough money to burn a wet mule."
"charmed, i'm sure," helen rasped in a rough voice.
"likewise." bill made a half hearted attempted to get up from the soft couch he was slumped in, but gave it up.
norton stood up. "and this is norton." phil gave norton a slap on the back that would have knocked him over if he had not been expecting it. "he's a bit of a pansy, but one thing about him, he can hold his liquor. isn't that right, nort?"
what could norton say? "i try," he laughed.
"nort!" cried helen. "nort the sport! pleased to meet you, nort the sport!" norton realized helen was already quite drunk. "and he tries!" she turned around to bill, dennis and samantha. "what can we all do but try?"
"i know! " cried samantha. "i know what we can do."
"and what's that, sweetie?" asked helen.
"let's get drunk!"
"we get drunk every night," drawled bill meriweather.
"i mean really drunk this time!"
"great idea!" dennis chimed in.
"and let's get out of here," samantha shouted. "it's too damned hot in here!"
norton was climbing a long flight of dark stairs. it kept getting longer and longer.
he started crawling on his hands and knees.
he heard voices, loud confused voices.
suddenly something hit him in the face, blinding him.
something ice cold!
and waking him up. he was suddenly awake, lying on his side. on the sidewalk, in a couple of inches of snow. with a puddle of cold water forming under his face.
he tried to get up but could not. there was something tied to his back, preventing him from sitting up.
and there was something else on his head and falling into his eyes. he reached for it. it felt like - a wig of some kind?
now he was aware of laughter. very loud laughter from in front of a bar across the street.
he recognized it as the 262 club, where he had tagged along after phil and dennis on their slumming expeditions a couple of times before.
phil, dennis, and helen were standing on the sidewalk and laughing to beat the band and pointing at him.
then norton heard other laughter behind him. more like the laughter of children.
he turned and saw a couple of little boys. one of then was very dark - was he actually a negro? - and holding a pail in his hand.
"they paid me, mister, " the little negro boy said, still laughing. "it was your friends over there, they paid me to do it."
norton tried to right himself again but could not. what was stuck to his back?
he heard another voice.
"william harrison, you get away from that man!"
a negro woman in a heavy overcoat and with a red kerchief on her head appeared in norton's sight.
"what mischief are you up to now?" she cried.
william harrison dropped the pail with a clang and he and his lighter skinned friend ran off into the darkness. the pail rolled around in the snow.
"and you, sir!" the negro woman shook her finger at norton. "a grown man up to such nonsense! dressing up like a chicken! and it's not even new year's eve. new years was two weeks ago!"
"help me," norton begged her.
"hey, jasper! "
jasper looked up from his typewriter. flossie flanagan was standing in front of his tiny desk with her hands on her hips.
"think you can tear yourself away from the great american novel long enough to do a little work for the good old federal-democrat?"
jasper didn't bother explaining he was only writing a short story. "i did some work this morning."
"well, your uncle seems to think you can do some more. he specifically wants you to go with me on this story."