“close enough. and headed that way.” donnelly began making a u-turn on third avenue as he spoke.
“call from east 86th and madison. suspicious character in the area.”
“that’s it?” donnelly straightened out on third avenue and headed north. “did this personage actually do anything suspicious?”
“he aroused a citizen’s suspicions. a rich dame. just get on it.”
“a rich dame? young or old?”
“what do you care? we serve all citizens. young or old, rich or poor.”
donnelly was approaching east 83d street. “right. this rich dame, does she have an address? or a name? do you want me to reassure her if i don’t find anything?”
“her name is collinson. she’s really rich, we’ve dealt with her before. don’t you deal with her, unless the guy is actually breaking into her house. number 17. call me, if you find anything, or if you don’t find anything. got it?”
the conversation was over. donnelly turned left on 83rd street.
collinson. patrolman ignatius donnelly thought he recognized the name. and suspected he knew why the police had dealt with miss collinson before.
he knew there was a collinson art gallery on 84th street. art galleries were always complaining about suspicious characters and lowlifes hanging around their premises
donnelly thought he knew a thing or two about art and still had some interest in it. in his younger days he had aspired to be an artist instead of a useful member of society, and he had studied art on the g i bill before being forced to support himself by joining new york’s finest.
he reached madison and turned north again.
he slowed down at 86th street. there was a light on on the third floor of a building on the northwest corner. he turned left and and read the number - 17.
nobody hanging around right under the streetlights. donnelly slowed the car down to walking speed.
he crawled down 86th toward 5th avenue and central park. nobody, suspicious or otherwise.
ah - there was somebody. on the right side of the street, staying close to the buildings.
donnelly pulled up beside the walking man. a skinny little guy, in a hat a size too big for him and an overcoat a size too small.
the guy knew enough not to try to ignore him. donnelly got out of the car.
“good evening, officer. or should i say good morning?” despite the crummy clothes, a “cultured” voice. and the guy didn’t sound nervous. like he was used to being stopped by the police, or he naturally felt the police were there to serve him, or maybe some combination of both.
donnely approached him, and thought he recognized him. maybe it was just because he had been reminded of art school … but, no, he did know him.
“spence. spencer sinclair spence. the third or the fourth, i can’t remember which.”
the little man started. “do i know you, officer? you … obviously know me.”
“ignatius donnelly. from mother silver’s art classes. on thirteenth street.”
“donnelly! i never… never would have recognized you. you are … um…”
“all grown up.”
“ha, ha, all grown up. i think i recall someone mentioning you had … joined the force. is that a correct expression - ‘joined the force’?
“correct enough, spence.”
spence laughed, a laugh just short of a giggle. “i recall you had a nickname… can’t quite remember it…”
“it’s best forgotten,” donnelly told him. “but it was scarface.”
“of course. scarface donnelly! how could i forget?” suddenly spence stopped laughing. “well, what can i do for this morning, officer donnelly.”
donnelly looked back up the street. “we got a call about a suspicious character. from a woman named collinson. i don’t really know, but it might be a collinson connected with the collinson art gallery. “ he turned and faced spence. “know anything about it?”
spence hesitated. “well, i have to admit i was … what you might call ‘hanging around’ the townhouse on the corner back there. but i didn’t know who lived there. i was waiting for someone who had gone in there … a fellow who owes me some money.”
donnelly let spence’s story hang in the air for a few seconds. “so you were the suspicious character.”
“no, no. do i look like a suspicious - or dangerous - character?”
“maybe not to me. maybe to a woman looking out a window at night.”
“no, no, you see… i saw a nasty looking character myself. that was why i gave up my vigil.”
“waiting for this fellow who owes me money. look, we can go back there. he is probably still there and you can verify that he does owe me money. it is actually somebody we both know quite well.”
“palomine! that jerk!” donnelly looked back toward the townhouse.
spence laughed nervously. “yes, palomine. he has certainly left us both in the dust, hasn’t he? fame-wise, anyway.”
“and he owes you money, spence? what great sum does he owe you, that you are going to follow him and beat him up or kill him for it?”
“ha. ha! who said anything about beating him up or killing him? but i was determined to confront him.”
“and how much money was this about?”
“you needn’t laugh, donnelly. i am sure you can tell to look at me that… that my ships have not been coming in with any regularity. fifteen dollars would mean a lot to me right now.”
“hey, i would pick fifteen dollars up myself if it was lying in the street. so why did you leave? because you saw me coming?”
“i told you. this really scary looking bruiser showed up, on the other corner. maybe he was waiting for palomine too. anyway i got cold feet and left.”
donnelly thought for a few seconds. “tell you what, spence. why don’t you get in the car? we will drive around a little, see if we can spot this desperado. then we’ll take it from there.”
spence’s shoulders slumped. “i don’t suppose i have much choice.”
“no, you do not. listen, if all goes well maybe i will end up buying you a cup of coffee and we can talk about old times. how does that sound?"