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For Mary “Aunt Nanna” Schatzel who ended her life as a bag lady in Grand Central Station; a nicer soul you’d never meet.

 
“THE SECOND AVENUE BUS DOESN’T STOP HERE ANYMORE”

 
    “Get a load of that!” yelled my partner, Raul Rojas; then, he whistled through his teeth.
    “What?” I inquired, as I quickly peered around…for someone…anyone with a weapon, an instinctive response when you consider I rode Patrol, on the midnight shift, in the early seventies for M.P.D. (The City of Miami Police Department) in a sector know as the Pit: the Black ghetto in downtown Miami.  The only thing I saw was Mad Mary, the local bag lady, sitting on the bus bench outside Nairobi’s Stereophonic Diner (one of those old fashioned, sliver-looking diners with fire engine red booths) which was fastened to the corner of Northwest Second Avenue and Eighth Street, right in the depths of the Pit.  “What are you talkin’ about?  Where?” I wanted to know.
    “Where?!  Over there,” answered my partner, while pointing with his finger.  “At Nairobi’s.”
    I scanned the roadway again.  Nothing but the diner and Mad Mary on the bench outside.  
    Mary was a street-savvy, affable, Black woman in her late eighties who was bundled in a long wool coat.  She sported a bucket hat with a flower on it; her time-worn purse was draped over her shoulder; knit gloves, with most of the fingers worn through, covered her hands; and she was donning saggy pantyhose (with more runs in them than Babe Ruth had in his best season with the Yanks) that drooped over her knees and tucked into a pair of matured sneakers—one of which, her toes were leaking out of.  Parked next to her was one of those grocery pushcarts filled with aluminum cans, a couple of blankets, and some knickknacks—probably all of her earthly possessions.  It was December, right around Christmas time, and it was colder than a Soviet prison; that’s why
Mad Mary was wearing her gloves, and we were fitted out in wool jackets.
    “What about Nairobi’s?” I asked.

     “It’s Saturday night, we’re in the middle of the Pit, and this is the only place open at this hour.”
     “So?”
    “So?  LOOK at it!”
    “I am LOOKING at it!”
    “Inside.  LOOK inside!  All the lights are on; the place is ablaze and yet, there’s not a soul to be seen.”
    He was right.  “When you’re right, you’re right, partner,” I said.  “Let’s check it out.”
    We skidded to a stop, bailed out of the squad car and scurried to the front door.  Staying low, I pushed open the plate-glass door and we scooted inside.  It was empty, but the joint must have been packed: every booth on both sides of the aisle, and every seat at the counter, had plates of uneaten food in front of them, next to used silverware.
    Rojas jumped over the counter while I covered him.  Hamburgers, steaks, eggs, hash browns, grits, and ribs were sizzling on the grill.
    “Check this out!” exclaimed my partner.  “None of this soul food is burnt, which means…” his voice trailing off.
    I finished his thought: “Which means: whatever happened must have…just happened.”
    “One thing for sure: everyone vacated the premises in a hurry.”
    “All clear back there?” I asked.
    “Yeah, clear.”
    “Let’s check down the hall.”
    Rojas vaulted back over the counter and we leapfrogged from booth to booth, down the aisle to the rest rooms.
    I kicked open the Ladies’ Room and Raul charged in.  The room was small: one toilet, a sink with a mirror; this wasn’t exactly the Ritz.  Empty.

    Down the hall to the Men’s Room.  
    Raul kicked open the door.  Same set-up: barely enough room inside for two drug dealers to turn around.  Not so empty.  No need to charge in though, for sitting on the lone toilet was a Black male with his pants around his ankles.  He was in his early twenties and it looked as if he’d fallen asleep on the john.  His arms were at his sides, his head drooped forward, his chin resting on his chest; a burnt down—to the filter—cigarette dangled from his lips, the ashes still on his jacket.  That’s what it looked like alright: as if he’d fallen asleep on the commode.  He was just sitting there like a stuffed lemon, if you discounted all of the blood spattered about the walls, behind and to the side of his head.  An obvious Signal 31 (homicide).  No need to check for vitals, this D.O.A. was way beyond resuscitation.
    My partner whistled through his teeth, again: “Get a load of that.  Nasty bit of business in here.”  Another, higher pitched whistle.  “You know, something like this can really break up your day.  And me without a camera.”  Turning towards me, he followed up with: “Some big-time game huntin’ went on in here.”
    “Ya think?  I guess there’s a lesson to be learned here…somewhere,” I responded.
    “I’ll tell you one thing though: If that’d been me, I wouldn’t have left the house lookin’ like that.”
    I didn’t venture forward.  I knew what every rookie knew: don’t contaminate the crime scene by tracking the victim’s blood about and leaving your bloody footprints behind for Homocide to sort out.
    Observing the cigarette, my sidekick commented: “I’ll bet there’s a smoking section where he’s headed.”
    I knelt down and inspected the face of the casualty: there was a small entrance wound (they’re usually smaller than the caliber of the bullet due to the elastic quality of the skin) in his forehead with a surrounding abrasive collar (where the skin was forced inward).  Immediately behind his head was a scarlet mist of blood that had showered the wall like a Jackson Pollack painting.  The spectacle before me resembled one of those Mafia movies: a gangland execution, the patsy getting knocked-off in a bathroom at point blank range; you see the flash from the muzzle of a revolver, then blood from the mark’s head blows back onto the surrounding walls like tapioca pudding.  
    This was definitely an assassination, probably a drug hit.  Whoever wasted the victim, knew he’d be in this bathroom, and knew he’d be in an extremely vulnerable position; which meant, once Mr. Dope Dealer entered the bathroom, he had a shelf life shorter than margarine.  This street pharmacist was dispatched at close range, but it wasn’t a contact wound—where the gun is held to the head—that killed him; that would have left a jagged hole with a stellate pattern.  This was a perforating shot, having an entrance and exit wound.
    There was a mist of blood on the side of the wall.  I knew there had to be another perforating shot to the side of his head…somewhere; I just couldn’t see the laceration through the dearly departed’s, prodigious, Afro hairdo.  The same triggerman wouldn’t cap him in the front, then walk around to his side for another go-around; he’d just blast him twice dead-on and be done with it.
    From the impact spatter patterns on the two walls, there had to have been two shooters—still out there jumpin’ and pumpin’; both—most likely—males, as they make up ninety-five percent of all murderers in this country; both—most likely—Black, considering the circumstances and the locale.
    I stood up.  “I wonder what made a guy like him tick.”
    “Who knows?  I guess we’ll just have to wait for the movie to come out, then we’ll all know,” answered Rojas with a big smirk on his face.  “We better phone this one in on a land-line.”
    The news media, both the press and TV, monitored our radio frequencies.  If we called in this 31 over the air, they’ll be in here drinkin’ coffee with their tape recorders, cameras, and their prying eyes—asking question after question—even before the homicide detectives arrived.  With the cameras came the perennial gawkers, who’d stand for hours…staring straight ahead…with their kids in strollers.
    Heading past the griddles, I told my confederate: “I’ll go outside and see if I can locate any potential witnesses, maybe try and I.D. this guy, even though I already know what everyone’s gonna say: ‘I didn’t see nuthin’.’”  As I swung open the door to leave, I saw my coworker behind the grill putting a hamburger on a bun, then garnishing it with some lettuce and tomatoes.  “What the hell are you doing?”
    “Be a shame to just let all this good food go to waste.”
    “I thought you were gonna call this in.”
    “I am.  I mean, I will.  In a minute.  No need to rush.  The"—searching for the right word—"deceased…ain’t goin’ nowhere.  Besides, the price is right.”  Then, my cohort winked at me.
    “Well, when you’re done, come on outside and help me tape off this crime scene; in the meantime, I’ll be talking to Mad Mary, trying to wheedle the truth out of her as to whether or not she saw anything.”  I shook my head and exited into the bitter night air to interview my…potential witness.
    She saw me coming: “Merry Christmas, Officer.”  The bag lady talked with a Black, Southern accent; with most of her teeth missing, that didn’t improve her diction any.
    “Merry Christmas back at ya, Mary.”
    “Ya look like ya got the jimjams, Officer.  Everythin’ all right?”
    “All right for me, not so all right for the stiff"—nodding my head towards Nairobi's—“in  there.”
    “He dead?”
    “They don't get any deader than him."
    “How’d he die?”
    Searching for the right word…“Suddenly.”
    “Uh-oh.”
    “‘Uh-oh’ is right; they were probably his last words, too.”  Continuing, “You wouldn’t know anything about how he got that way”—nodding again towards the diner—“would you?”
    “Youse mean like…dead?”

    “Yeah, I mean like…dead.”
    “Me?”
    I gazed about, “I don’t see anyone else around here.”
    “And you won’t neither; they all came flyin’ outta dat diner.”  I saw a barely-discernible smile inch between Mary's gaped teeth.  "Am I a suspect?"  She was having some sport with me.  "Because if I am, I knows my rights.  I want my lawyer.  Plus, I don't haveta say nothin'."
    "That'd be the day that you have nothin' to say...So, when did all of these people come flyin' out of the diner?"
    “Couple minutes before youse pulled up.”
    “Figures.”
    “What figures?”
    “Just my luck, I mean.  ‘Too little, too late,’ so to speak.”
    “‘Too little’ what?"
    “It’s just another saying, Mad—, I mean, Mary.  Did—”
    “Dat’s okay.  I knows everybody ’round here calls me Mad Mary.  They think I’m mad ’cause I sleep outside in a cardboard box on the ground en won’t take no charity.  I got a lot of nicknames.  At the diner, inside, they calls me Mrs. Waffle ’cause I come in once a week en order one waffle.  Dat’s all I can afford in dat place.  One Waffle.  Once a week.”
    “Did you recognize anyone coming out of Nairobi's, Mary?”
    “Recognize everybody ’round here?”
    “What I mean is: Did you happen to notice anyone…like running away?”
    “Ya mean…like...running away faster than everybody else wuz running away?”
    Still razor-sharp, especially for an elderly lady, I thought.  “Something like that.”  I knew this line of questioning wasn’t going to get me anywhere; Mrs. Waffle had her own agenda.
    “Sit down, Officer,” she said, patting the bench next to her, “and stay fer awhile.”
    Lonely old lady, I thought.  Wants to talk to somebody.  Anybody. 
Why not?  No rush.  Gotta stay here and maintain the crime scene until Homicide arrives, anyway.  Just wait’ll they get a load of what’s inside that bathroom!
    We sat there in silence for a moment, then I said: “You know, don’t you, that the Second Avenue bus doesn’t stop her anymore?”
        
    “I knowed…A lot of things don’t stop here no more.”
    “They had to discontinue it; too much crime on it.”
    “Tell me ’bout it!  I got mugged on dat bus.  They stole my portable radio right outta my shopping cart.”
    Shocked and raising my voice:
“Who did?!”
    
“The muggers did!  Who’d ya think did?”
    Glancing at her wire handcart, I asked: “How did you ever get that on the bus?”
    “The bus driver, a nice gentleman by the name of Mr. Leviticus Suggs, helped me git it on.”
    “Why?”
    “Because he’s nice.”
    “No, I mean, why would you want to take a grocery cart on the bus with you?”
    “I couldn’t leave it out here, fer sumone ta steal!.  Had ta take it with me.  It’s got all I own in the world in it.”
    “Once you got it on the bus, what’d you do then?  I mean, where’d you go?”
    “Didn’t go nowheres.  Jest drove ’round all night on the bus en slept; it’s warm in there.”
    I couldn’t believe it, not at her age.  “You don’t have any place to live?”
    She just eyeballed me up and down like:
What a stupid question that is.  I just told you I slept on the bus.
    “Why don’t you go to a shelter?” I wondered out-loud.
    “I already told ya: I don’t take no charity.”
    “It’s not charity; it’s—”
    “What is it then?”
    “—it’s warm in there.”
    “I’s got my memories ta keep me warm.”
    “I’ll bet you do…Seen it all too, I’ll bet.”
    The homeless woman stared at the full moon, reminiscing: “Ya know, I wuz eleven when Myama incorporated itself inta a city.  Back in 1896.  Dat’s when me en my family comes here from Georgia.  My folks worked their ways up from slaves, they did.”  She laughed to herself.  “Course hundreds of years befores we comes here, it wuz an Indian village, ya know.  The Tequesta Indians.  White man’s diseases polished ’em all off.  The Seminoles took their place.

    “Back when we’s come here, it resembled one of those old Wild West towns yu’d see in the movies, in the thirties en forties.  Only way ta git here wuz ta take a launch ta Palm Beach from Saint Augustine, then a mule cart the rest of the ways.  Weren’t no roads in them days.  Mail only came once a week, delivered by a fella they called the Barefoot Mailman; he walked it from Palm Beach ta Myama.  It warn’t more than a tradin’ post in the jungle back then.  The city wuz only ’bout two miles long by a mile wide then.  Hot as Satan’s hooves, it wuz—with gumbo-limbo trees, Tequesta Indians mounds, panthers, rattlesnakes, en twelve-foot alligators cruisin’ up en down the river on the watch-out fer dark meat like me, ta bite from ankle ta ear; we is a tasty lot, not all stringy-like...like youse White folk is.
    “Only ’bout couple, hundred families lived here.  Wuz only little shacks en tents fer us ta live in.  Had one lone marshal, Marshall Gray.  He had his-self a goat-drawn wagon en went around collectin’ stray
dogs en unwanted lawbreakers.  I betcha don’t even know what Myama means.”
    “You’d be right there,” I said.
    “It’s from an Indian word, means: ‘Sweet Water.’  Go down ta Biscayne Bay, scoop-up sum a dat water en see how sweet it tastes now.”  She held her nose: “Ya can smell it from here, en we gotta be a couple miles away.  Them sewer lines—runnin’ from downtown ’cross the bay—they bust every other week it seems, dumpin’ tons of raw pollution inta the ocean every other second.  The beachgoers come down with ear en eye infections all the time.  Course the bureaucrats don’t tell them tourists we got any problems with the water.  Them beaches are money in the bank.  This is the land of fun en sun, according ta dat fat man on the TV.  What’s his name?  He broadcasts from the Myama Beach Convention Center all the time.”
    A long pause followed as she considered the matter.  Then, a light bulb flipped on inside her head.  “Jackie Gleason!  Yup, dat’s him.
    “Anyways, they wouldn’t close down those beaches iffin’ the public came out after a day’s swim with two heads on each pair of shoulders.  They’d jest tell ’em: ‘No charge fer the extra noggin youse is now carryin’ ’round, it’s on us; comes with a day of fun en sun at the beach.’”
    She scratched her ankle, then fidgeted with her hair.  “Where wuz I?  I lost my place in this here story, sumwheres”
    “You were telling me," I said, "about how there was nothing here when—”
    “Right!  Julia Tuttle.  It wuz Mrs. Julia Tuttle.  She lived in Fort Dallas: dat were the first fort in these areas; it wuz built ta fight off them Seminoles I told ya ’bout.  The Calvary had ’bout three different wars with ’em over the years.  Never could beat ’em.  Later on’s we traded with ’em fer otter, buckskins, alligator hides, en bird plumes.  Ya knowed who wuz stationed at Fort Dallas?”
    “I have no idea.”
    “Figured ya wouldn’t.  Dat fella who invented baseball, dat’s who.”
    “Abner Doubleday?” I said, amazed.

    “The same.  He wuz a lieutenant in the army, stationed at Fort Dallas, en fought them there Seminoles.  The Everglades wuz only ’bout a mile outside a town wheres they all lived, back then; taday, ya gotta go ’bout forty ta fifty miles ta git ta it…or what’s left of it.”
    I discretely edged over, just a scootch on the bench, as a puissant body odor emanated from my new friend.
    “Anyways, this Mrs. Tuttle…I’d knowed her, ya know.  Big lady.  Always dressed in white, or so it seemed ta me; kept the heat offa her, I guess she figured.  Ta my way of thinkin’ it didn’t help much; she died only two years after I got here, in 1898.  Didn’t make it ta fifty, she didn’t.  Hadn’t no air conditioners back then, ta keep the heat off us; but, I s’pose ya knowed dat.  Didn’t have no electricity, nor runnin’ water neither.
    “Flagler Street—which warn’t nuthin’ but a muddy, rutted road fer horses en carts back then—wuz named after Henry Flagler, who made his money conspirin’ with Rockefeller, dat chiseler in the Standard Oil Company.
    “Well, Mrs. Tuttle, she got Flagler there ta build his Florida East Coast Railroad ta Myama.  And, he builts this fancy Royal Palm Hotel here, ta boot, at the mouth of the Myama River—right in the middle of what’s now DuPont Plaza.  It wuz a grand hotel: five stories high on fifteen acres, it wuz—over twice the size of dat Orange Bowl.  It had verandas, walkways, en paths dat led ta the river, en ta Biscayne Bay.  It wuz beautiful.
    “Dat’s how we came ta git here.  My paw came down ta help build dat railroad.  When dat wuz finished, he helped build this place inta the metropolises dat it is taday, startin’ with dat fancy Royal Palm Hotel.”
    She reached down for a brief moment and quickly rubbed the toes of her sneakers.  “I gots tired feet; they don’t work as good as they used ta.”
    Finished massaging, she continued: “Couple years after we arrived, in ’99, a big yellow fever epidemic came along.  Thank God, the Lord kept me from catchin’ it.  Ticks caused it, off a cattle boat dat come in from Cuba, they said.”
    “Who said?” I wondered.
    “The Myama Metropolis, the local newspaper, dat’s who said.  They quarantined the whole town, fer like three en a half months.  Nuthin’ moved, en nobody worked.  It wuz  hard times.  People died.  Then, Mr. Flagler offered work ta my paw, en anyone else who wanted it—building roads en sidewalks.  My paw, he had plenty of work then.
    “Naw, dat yellow fever never did git us, nor did the big hurricane of nineteen en twenty-six dat blew through here.  I remembers all them disasters.”  Selective memory, I guessed.  “Dat wuz a monster! if ever I sees one: leveled downtown, knocked us on our asses but good, it did.  But, we alls come back from it.”
    She took a large gulp of air about here; she needed it, being so long-winded.
    “See wheres we’re sittin’ now?”
    There was no need for me to reply, as I knew it was a rhetorical question on her part.
     “Well, this here wuz Avenue G in those days; it wuz the heart of whats they called ‘Colored Town.’  Sumthin’ ’bout sum restrictive land deeds, or sumthin’—which I never did all understand—confined us ta this here area.  It wuz only later dat it came ta be called ‘Overtown.’  We had us a place in Good Bread Alley.”
    “Where’s Good Bread Alley?” I asked.
    “Ain’t there no more.  Used ta be this little, dirt alleyway off Eleventh Street by Northwest Second Avenue: had several little shanties in there, built up on cinder blocks.  The digs were no bigger than a backyard tool shed they'd sell at Sear’s taday.  But, it wuz home ta us, especially after livin’ in a tent city when we firsts gits here.”
    She scanned her surroundings and slowly shook her head.
    “It’s all gone.  It’s what they calls a ‘blighted’ neighborhood now; didn’t use ta be though.  We had our own general stores, churches, en theaters.
    “We had us the Lyric Theater.  It wuz called ‘the most beautiful en costly playhouse owned by colored people in all the Southland.’  Dat’s a direct quote; I remembers hearin’ it read ta me once outta the newspaper…Yup, it’s all gone now.”
    She paused.  A twist in expressions overtook her face, as if extracting some significant event from the depths of her mind.
    “Wuz ’bout 1907 dat Myama first got its own pole-lease force.  They wuz spiffy-lookin’; all the coppers had nice blue uniforms with brass buttons en gray helmets, bully clubs—which they warn’t hesitant ta use, neither—en them Smith & Wesson’s, .32 caliber.  
    "The first Chief of Police wuz a man named Frank Hardee.  I remembers the first cop dat got gunned-down: Patrolman John Ribblet.  Back in nineteen en fifteen.  I remembers it well.  Wuz on my thirtieth birthday, it happened.  Got his-self murdered in a shoot-out with the Ashley Gang.  Bob Ashley wuz tryin’ ta break his brother outta the jail when things took a turn fer the worse.
    “I remembers this other officer; Johnson wuz his name.  Back in ’27, his friend wuz tryin’ ta put-down his sick dog with a revolver en missed.  Johnson tried ta fetch the gun from him en it discharged; he ended up killin’ his-self.  Sorta ironic, it wuz.”
    “To say the least,” I interjected.
    “But, ya want ta hear even more ironicer?  I remembers a Patrolman Wichman.  He died back in ’48, probably ’bout the time youse wuz bein’ born.  He wuz over on Flagler en Northeast Second Avenue talkin’ ta a cab driver when this truck backed-up, knocked down a utility poll –which fell on the taxicab—bounced off, hits Wichman in the head en flattens him.  He wuz only twenty-two years old.  Only been on the force six months.  If dat ain’t ironic enough fer ya, he fought at Iwo Jima en survived; comes here en a utility pole does him in.”
    The bag lady opened her overcoat a bit and pulled at a thread on the sweater underneath.
    “They have a Wall of Honor in the lobby of the police station," I explained, "with all of the officers names on it that have died in the line of duty.  
    “I knows.  I seen it once, when I went in there ta fill out a report—when they stole my portable radio.  Nobody’s did ever catch anybody fer dat.”
    This blithe spirit was in full flow.
    “Ya know, after sundown, we wuz never allowed ta cross over them railroad tracks dat run smack down through the middle of the city, jest West of North Myama Avenue–Avenue D, we called it back then.  We coulds come over in the day ta work, but youse had better be back when the sun went down…or else.”
    “Or else, what?” I asked.
    “Or else…suffer the consequences is what!”
    “And what might they be?”
    She gazed right though me with mysterious eyes.  “A good ass-whuppin’ is what they might be,’ Sonny.”
    “By who?”
    “By youse!  Dat’s who.  The pole-leases.  However, iffin’ youse wuz White, the cops, they’d escorted youse ta the outskirts of town en dropped ya ass off; told ya ta never come back.  Dat’s how they handled ‘undesirables’ in those days.”
    I started to laugh at the way she said things; she had a way with words.  But, the homeless lady misuderstood me and became indignant.
    “Ya think dat’s funny.  Youse coulds git plugged fer less in this town, once upon a time.  I remembers an officer once shot a jaywalker fer crossing in the middle of the street…at high noon.  He did!  I mean, how much traffic did we have back then ta have ta drop the hammer on a jaywalker?
    “Back in the twenties, I wuz livin’ with my husband at the time, 'Stump’ Farley.  Yeah, old Stump.  Everybody called him dat ’cause he only had one leg.  He also had a dead eye ta go with his bum leg.  It wuz from him's I gots my man-trainin’.
    “He wuz a short man—like he wuz always standin’ in a hole—but straight as a yardstick.  A little on the skinny side too; always tryin’ ta fat-up, he wuz.  He warn’t nobody’s dreamboat—sorta like Elmer Fudd with a real dark tan—but dat ain’t why I fell in love with him.  He wuz a simple man; never wanted ta be 'the big show.'  Lost his leg in the Great War: the ‘war ta end all wars.’  Yeah, right!  Take a gander ’round ya; don’t appears ta have worked out to well, dat 'war ta end all wars.’”
    “Whatever happened to Mr. Farley?”
    “Sadly, we hads ta put him away in the booby hatch.  He slipped off his meds en got peculiar on us.  Little did we knows he’d taken a fit and wuz at the end of his tether.  Caught him walkin’ 'round one day in Burdine’s, dat downtown department store.”
    “What’s so peculiar about that?” I asked.
    “He wuz dressed casual like…in flip-flops en a purple Speedo.  Boy! wuz dat a sight ta behold.”
    “I’ll bet” was the only response I could come up with.
    “Thought he wuz the Pope, fer sum strange reason.”
    “That is strange,” I agreed.
    “What’s even stranger is, we ain’t even Catholics.  We’s Baptists.  He had other…‘issues’…as they like ta say taday; insteada sayin’ 'youse a nut.'
    “As a point of curiosity, ya ever noticed how a mental person with money is called one of those ‘eccentrics,’ whereas the rest of us, without money, is crazy?”
    “It sounds like you had a good marriage,” I said.
    “We did…long as ya understand what the concept of marriage is really all about.”
    “And what's that?”
    “Marriage is the equivalent of holding a wolf by its ears.”
    Holding back a laugh, for fear of offending her again, I merely responded: “Well, I’m sorry about your husband.”
    “Don’t be.  We had us a good life together, while it lasted.  He gave me a wonderful baby girl.  We’s named her Joy.  She wuz too…Such a wonderful joy.”
    “Was?”
    “Yeah, she died on us.  Up en sudden like, one Christmas.  Right 'bout this time.  God Almighty, dat seems like another lifetime; it truly does.  I think dat, en ‘the war ta end all wars’, wuz what finally nudged Stump ’rounds the bend.”
    “I’m sorry, Mary, that things didn’t work out better.”
    “Hey, like I told ya: don’t be sorry’s; luck jest didn’t run my way, is all.  Life ain’t all moonlight, roses, and gypsy violins.  Ya can’t sit 'round all yur time on this earth wonderin’ when youse gits ta dance, or when the bell’s gonna ring fer ya.  Sum folks act all snarled–up when they’s dealt a bad turn.  They gits all tramurized, like there’s a rule sumwhere ’bout how everythin’s s’pose ta be fair or sumthin’.  No use chasin’ dat carrot ’cause the world ain’t even close ta bein’ fair, en I’s knowed dat ever since the day I wuz born.
    “I think 'bout my little girl like this: sum peoples don’t ever git the chance ta have childrens fer any length of time; we had ours fer a full five years.  Dat’s more better than nuthin’.  I don’t have ta be able ta read no owl feathers ta knows life is gulped and gone, simple as dat.  Ya have ta set yur teeth ta dat; it’s jest a fact of livin’, it is; like gittin’ tomato-red saddle boils when ya rides a horse…I ain’t got no regrets.”
    She thought hard for a long minute, then wiped a tear from her eye.  
    “Well, maybe one,” she continued.  “We’s had ta bury her in a Potter’s Field; ya know, one of those pauper’s cemeteries.  We wuz embarrassed 'bout dat, we wuz.  But, we wuz sort of out at the elbows at the time, if ya will.  We’s never ever did have no good-time money ball lyin’ 'round, not even fer a decent burial; barely could bankroll the necessities back then.  Mind ya, we warn’t so poor dat we hads ta resort ta eatin’ door mice instead of a good rump steak—horror on horror!
    “Nuthin’ like a good rump steak, I always say.  Not like the stuff ya git in there,” she said, as she flicked her head towards Nairobi's.  “They don’t urinate on their meat and dat’s the secret ta a good steak.”
    “You mean marinate their meat, don’t you?” trying to correct her gaffe.
    “Whatever…Anyways, we bundled her off, my little Joy, in a plywood box with a stuffed teddy bear, we did.  Wuz the only thing my little, baby girl ever did have of her own in this world–dat stuffed teddy bear.  I still feels bad 'bout dat: that cheap wooden box, I mean.  Felt it wuz an unjustice…ta Joy, dat is.  She never done nuthin’ wrong ta deserve dat, but wuz nuthin’ we coulds do; at the time, we wuz unmoneyed.
    “Can’t even find the grave taday, ta put sum flowers on it.  Sumone told me theys paved over it with a bank.  Dat’s progress, they say.”
    She sighed, as if putting down a heavy weight that she’d been carrying around, as I wiped a tear from my eye; then, she continued.   “Anyways, I wuz tellin’ ya ’bout our place in Good Bread Alley.  Me en Stump wuz sittin’ out front, one rainy night, en I remembers these two White cops chased down this Negra man en beats him ta death with their bully clubs.  I heard he wuz a bad man though; robbed peoples en beat his wife, so’s the cops beat him…ta death.  Didn’t have ta jest leave him there though…like a dead dog in the rain…in Good Bread Alley.
    “Suma them cops were real, bonafided, hard-core Kluxers, they wuz.  Them grand dragons, in their white robes en pointy dunce hats, had these big bonfires goin’ right down the block from us; they meant fer us ta see ’em and hear ’em.  Couldn’t help but hear ’em, all singin’: ‘Look out Nigger, the clan is getting’ bigger!’  Wuz a warnin’, I guess, fer us ta behave.  En ya want ta knows sumthin’ else?  Forty, fifty years later, it hadn’t a changed much neither; it wuz still the same.
    “I remembers when Sammy Davis Jr. came ta town ta play the Fontainebleau, over on Myama Beach in the fifties—ya knows dat fancy-Dan place dat sells them two-dollar drinks.
    “TWO-DOLLAR DRINKS!  Can ya imagine dat?  Ya coulds git a whole fifth fer half dat price, if ya knew wheres ta go.
    “Anyways, ole Sammy wuz good enough ta pack ’em in at their club, but the White folks wouldn’t let him sleep with ’em.  He had ta come over here ta the Sir John Hotel—two blocks south of here—en sleep with all the Colored folks.  Same old, same old.  He wuz good enough ta work over there, but even he, with all his money en fame, had ta gits back over them railroad tracks when the time came.  Same with dat potty-mouthed comedian.  What wuz his name?”
    “Jackie Gleason?”
    “Naw, not him…Ya knows who I mean…Lenny sumthin’.”
    “You mean Lenny Bruce?”
    “Yup, dat’s him.”
    "How'd you forget his name?" I wondered.
    She straightened up in her seat and smoothed out the folds in her coat.  “I can’t be expected ta remembers every name, ya know; afteralls, I’m eighty-seven.”  She sighed, then blew some gas about before continuing her monologue.  “He lived—dat Lenny joker—jest south of here too, at the Tami-Ami Hotel.”  Then, she smiled, pleased with herself again for having conjured up so much on this rambling trip down Memory Lane.
     “Ya know, we didn’t even git Negra pole-leases ’til 1944, en it wuz 1950 befores we got us our own Negra precinct ta put ’em in.  Dat wuz jest ’bout the time they allows women on the force.  I remembers ’em, two of ’em: Dorothy Gramling en Lillian Gheer.  Youse wouldn’t knows nuthin’ ’bout no segregation.  I sure does though.”
    “Hey, even as late as last year, when I came on, there were only nine women on the force,” I interrupted, trying to get a word into Mrs. Waffle’s soliloquy.
     Undaunted, she pushed on.
    “The rich en famous all live here now: Madonna, dat Sylvester Stallone, Versace, Calvin Klein.  Well, actually, the rich en famous always kinda lived here, come ta think of it.  Dat writer Damon Runyan lived here, on Palm Island—one of them islands on the ways over ta the beach.  Barbara Walters wuz brought up there too.  Same island as Mr. Runyan and where dat Ca-pone-ie gangster lived on, back in the twenties.  Course I don’t knowed if they wuz neighbors or not.
    “Dat Ca-pone-ie fellow, he died there, back in ’47.  Had sumthin’ wrong with his brain from goin’ ta bed with too many of them ho’s.”
    “With who?” I asked.
    “Ho’s.”
    “He went to bed with hoes?”
    “HO’S…HO’S!  Ya know…ho’s; men pays ’em ta go ta bed with ’em, when theys can’t git a respectable woman ta sleep with ’em fer free.”
    “Oh, whores.”
    “Yeah,…ho’s.  As opposed ta ‘Hi De Ho.’  I always liked him.”
    “Who?” I asked her.
    “The ‘Hi De Ho’ man, dat’s who."
    “Who wuz the ‘Hi De Ho’ man?"
    “Ya never heard of him?  The ‘Hi De Ho’ man?  Dat wuz dat great jazzman, Cab Calloway.  Always went 'rounds singin’: ‘Hi De Hi, Hi De Ho!’  The ‘Hi De HO’ man, he wuz.
    “Youse better shape up fast, Sonny, or they’s gonna eat ya alive out here on the street.”  Then, she muttered—half under her breath, but still audible enough for me to hear—“Doesn’t knowed what a ho is.”  As an afterthought, she shook her head, sadly.  I just smiled.
    “Anyways, syphilis—I think—is what he had,” she continued.
    “Who?”
    “BIG AL!  Who’s we talkin’ 'bout here?  Pay attention!  I’m eighty-seven en I’m followin’ along here jest fine.  Youse still in ya early twenties, I suspect.  Ya should be a whole lot sharper than me.  It should be the other ways ’round, with me havin’ trouble followin’ this story en youse bein’ the quick one, ’stead of the other ways ’round.  Growin’ old ain’t fer sissies, ya know.”
    I just replied with a simple, “I know.”
    “What’s ya gonna be like when ya git ta be my age, iffin’ youse this slow now?”
    “Sorry,” was all I could lamely mumble.
    “Anyways, I remembers now.  It most definitely wuz syphilis; dat being the correct medical terminology fer his undoin’.  I don’t knowed dat dat Ca-pone-ie gunsel wuz much of a God-fearin’, Christian man.  I think he was un-churched myself and dat’s what youse git when ya don’t heed the Lord: youse brain goes kaput on ya, jest like his did…along with his pecker, which fell off in little pieces, I heard.”
    I though to myself: This woman is amazing!  What a memory she had.  It was just like in one of those Psychology books I read when I went to college; some of these old-timers have great long term versus short-term memories.  They can summon to mind walking along the railroad tracks in aught-six and the color of the sweater they had on back then, but they can’t recollect what they had for breakfast this morning, or even if they had breakfast this morning.
    Mary blew on her half-gloved hands to warm them up.  “Yup, Myama sure has changed.  Pam American World Airways started here in nineteen en twenty-seven, same year as Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic.  Eastern wuz here too.  They’re all gone now.
    “The Latinos came here, after dat bearded hooligan took over Cuba in ’59.  They moved right across the river from Overtown in what they calls ‘Little Havana’ and took over.  Now drug money from them South American cartels runs it all.  They funnel their illegal monies inta buyin’ shoppin’ centers, en banks; everybody’s on the payroll: the politicians, contractors, city commissioners, the cops, bankers, real estate brokers…EVERYBODY!  This is one corrupt-ass, good-ole boy, Goober town—it surely is.  Kinda always wuz though.
    “In the late twenties—fer ’bouts fifteen years—we had ’bouts five officers, en four different Police Chiefs either indicted, suspended, or forced ta resign.  One chief—named Quigg—wuz indicted fer first-degree murder, acquitted, then charged with assault en battery, acquitted, then fired fer neglect of duty—which I always thought wuz a hair-shirt kinda charge.  He wuz later appointed Chief of Police agin.  TWO, more, different times—actually.  They could never git him by the short hairs.
    “We’s became the nation’s winter playground in the thirties with our beaches, top-notch entertainment, en fancy hotels.  We had bootleg liquor flowin’ in off the coastline and speakeasies on every corner—nun of ’em legal, but everybody knew where they wuz.
    “We had us horse parlors, and lots a gamblin’ houses.  Meyer Lansky had his-self four of them illegal casinos: the Plantation, the Colonial Inn, Club Boheme, en Green Acres; and dat ain’t even includin’ all the gamblin’ goin’ on in the taverns en pool halls.
    “Then, there wuz the prostitution; they calls ’em B-girls then, jest a fancy name fer ho’s—same ones dat got Big Al, probably.”
    “You mean the Miami Police didn’t shut those places down?”  I wanted to know.
    “We youse ta calls ’em the ‘Do-nuthin’ Myama Police’ back then.  They couldn’t find a goat’s ass with a stick.  They couldn’t even put the kibosh on sum crazed Eyetalian, with a Saturday Night Special, fixed on shootin’ up the Bandshell in Bayfront Park, back in ’33, when FDR came here while campaignin’ fer President.  Good thing dat spaghetti bender wuz a bum shot; he ended up fittin’ the Mayor of She-cog-go fer a wooden overcoat instead.”
    While the bag lady was straightening her hat, it dawned on me that I had probably just learned more in ten minutes about Miami–and just maybe the world—sitting on a bus bench with her, than a month of Sundays spent in church.  “It sure sounds like you’ve had a full life, Mary.  Not too many people get to have one of those; surely, not the dude in there”—nodding my head once again towards Nairobi's—“on the john.”
    “And It ain’t over yet!” she assured me.
    “I meant, so far…You made me think about one thing though: just what a mess this country is.”
    “Sonny, this country’s been a mess since they put Washington on a horse.”
    Mrs. Farley just sat there for another full minute, staring up at the full moon, smiling and reminiscing, keeping warm with her memories.
    “Say, Mary,” I inquired.  “You hungry?”
    “Youse don’t have ta ring no tea bell ta gits me ta dinner; I’m always hungry.  Come ta think of it, I’m down ta my last Fig Newton in my purse, en dat one is stale.  Sumtimes my fingers lock-up when I hold a fork, but I can always work 'rounds dat.  Besides, it’s ’bout time fer me ta cut out all this here jawin’ anyways.”
    “Great!  I know a place where they have so much food lying around it’d be a shame to let it all go to waste…Besides, the price is right.”  Then, I winked at her.
    Mrs. Waffle skyrocketed off that Second Avenue bus bench like a pop-tart erupting from a toaster, winked back, and said: “Hi De Ho!  That sure beats giggin’ frogs!”
  
                                                                                          THE END
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Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure of the former.”

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

 “EVERYBODY COMES TO VIC’S”
 

     DID YOU CALL THE POLICE?” I yelled—over the band—to the White/male in the yellow short-sleeved shirt with green palm trees all over it, who was sitting atop a bar stool.
    I’d gotten a call from the dispatcher reference a 29 (robbery) at Vic’s.  "Contact a White/male tourist at the bar.  No further information."  It had to be this doofus in the high chair, swaying back and forth—like a bobble doll—to the rhythm of the music while singing to himself.  He was a little glazed over, but he wasn’t behind the cork…not yet, and he was the only White/male at the bar.  He had to be a tourist, considering the shirt he was dressed in.  It was the middle of January; I was wearing my M.P.D. (Miami Police Department) winter jacket and this kid (he couldn’t have been more than twenty-three or four) was in a short-sleeved shirt.  And he was White, all right.  Most definitely White.  He couldn’t have been a paler shade of white if he’d painted himself the color of china.  John Doe had either been living in a coffin like Dracula, or else he’d been chained to his bed since Hector was a pup and only recently chewed through his leg irons and went over the wall.
    It was the early seventies and Miami was a big/little town back then.  The tallest building was the courthouse on West Flagler Street and Northwest First Avenue, which was under twenty stories, not like the seventy-story plus hotels they have today.  I’d just cleared probation and was working “C” shift in 40 sector.  Vic’s was the only nightspot in downtown Miami still open at two in the morning; that shows you how small Miami was in the seventies.
    I looked around.  The gin joint was filled with smoke as thick as a wrestler’s arm, was louder than a convention of daquifried Shriners, and filled to the rafters with the dregs of society: small-time chiselers, big-time swindlers, dope dealers, streetwalkers, pimps, burglars, smugglers, pickpockets, and snowbirds.  The typical night trade in this muckheap consisted of the beaten and the dispossessed; it was a place where the riff-raff and alcoholics could go to bond.  I was reminded of that line from Casablanca—starring Humphrey Bogart as the owner and namesake of Rick’s Place—when Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) says, while looking for a suspect, “There’s no hurry.  Tonight he’ll be at Rick’s.  Everybody comes to Rick’s.”  In addition to being the Cocaine Capitol of the World, Miami was fast becoming Casablanca West.
    Numbnuts cupped his hand over his right ear and yelled back, “WHAT?” which was followed by, “YOU MUST BE LOOKIN’ FER ME.”  It was late and I had done my fair share of yelling for the night.  I signaled the complainant to follow me outside where it was quieter.
    “You call the police?” I asked when we hit the street.
    “Yes officer,” he said.
    At least, he was a polite kid.  “What’s your name?”
    “Jamie.  Jamie Baluster.”
    He looked like a Jamie, too: pale and underweight.  “Somebody rob you, Jamie?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    I pulled out my notebook.  “Okay, tell me about it.”
    “This Black guy, he made me write him a check for ten dollars.”
    Ten dollars was worth a lot more back in those days.  “What’d he do?  Pull a gun on you?  Threaten you with a knife?”
    “No.”
    This inauspicious beginning gave me considerable pause for thought.  “What d’ya mean: ‘No?’  He musta had some type of weapon to make you write him a check.”
    “He didn’t have any weapon.”
    “Did he make any verbal threats against you, or your life?"
    "N
o, sir.”
    I put my pad in my back pocket and tried concentrating on whom I was dealing with.  “You know, Jamie, I’m trying awfully hard, but I just don’t seem to be getting this.  If he didn’t make threats against your life, or use any type of weapon, I’m sorta in the soup here as to precisely how he made you write him a check.”
    “I felt I had to.”
    “Why?” I wanted to know.
    “I felt if I didn’t, something would happen to me.”
    “Something?  Something like what?”
    “I don’t know exactly…But, it wasn’t something good,”  he replied back.
    “What’d this guy do with your check after he made you write it?”
    “He put it in his wallet.”
    “That’s it?  He just put it in his wallet and resumed drinking?”
    “Yeah.”
    Shaking my head, I continued.  “So, then what’d you do?”
    “I called the police, of course.”
    “Of course,” I repeated—very skeptically—then rocked back on my heels, for a second or two, wondering if I should Baker Act (transport to the psycho ward) this lounge lizard or “check a 12” (go to supper) when the fool, with goose bumps all over his arms, piped up: “Why don’t you ask him?”
    For a moment, I thought he’d suddenly turned into one of those smart-aleck Bowery bums who spewd out brickbats and which most cops usually bump into at two on a Saturday morning.  And here he’d been so polite…up to now.  “That’d be nice, Jamie, but how in the world do you expect me to find him now?”
    “You walked right past him.  He was the brother sitting next to me.”
    “WHAT?!”  Flabbergasted, I tried to get my tongue under control as I spoke.  “Wh…Why didn’t you say something?”
    “I just did.”
    “I mean before he left!”
    “He didn’t leave.  He’s still there.  Sitting at the bar, smoking a cigarette, right next to my drink.”
    I peeked through the window.  “You mean the bro in red bellbottoms with the yellow Superfly hat on?”
    Doofus looked through the same pane of glass, then stepped back.  “Yeah, that’s him.”
    “UN—F---ING—BELIEVABLE!  All I’m missing here is a monkey and a crank handle,” blurted out of me.  “Wait here,” I told Baluster as I stepped inside and approached the Black/male.  At least, the band was on a break.  “Excuse me, sir,” I began, “but I’ve got a bit of a problem, and maybe you could help me out.”
    “If I can, officer.”  Another polite soul, I thought to myself.  Everyone’s so polite tonight.  I wonder how long this is gonna last.
    “What’s your name, by the way?” I asked.
    “Willie.  Willie Charles.”
    “Well Willie, you see that White huckleberry outside there, peeping through the windowpane?”
    “Yeah.”
    “You know him?”
    “No, I don’t know him...exactly.  He was sitting next to me before, drinking, and we talked back and forth for a while.  But, that’s all.  I don’t actually know him.”
    “Right.  Well, look…This is my problem.  He claims you made him sign over a check for ten dollars.”
    Superfly stared at me, as if I had two heads, and one of them just caught fire.  Then, he burst out laughing.  “You’re kiddin’, right?”
    I shook my head, no.  “I wish I were.”
    “This is some kinda joke, right?  I mean, you White guys really got some kinda weird sense of humor at times.”
    “Well Willie, that may be, but this ain’t one of those times.”
    All the blood suddenly drained out of Mr. Charles’ black face; he turned as white as my complainant.  “You’re serious, ain’t ya?”
    “‘Fraid so, Willie.”  Then, he got belligerent.  Now...the politeness was over for the night.
    “Hey! I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout no check.  Nuthin’, ya hear me.  NUTHIN’!  And I don’t appreciate some White honky framin’ me up!”
    “Nobody said you did anything, Willie.”
    “That White dude did.  He said I MADE him write me a check for…for what?”
    “Ten dollars,” I replied.
    “Yeah.  Ten dollars.  Ten dollars ain’t nuthin’, that’s SUMTHIN’!; otherwise, you wouldn’t be standin’ here askin’ me all about it, if it weren’t NUTHIN’!”
    Superfly’s voice was so high pitched and fast, it sounded like he was talking in Mandarin Chinese.  And his eyes were as big as buggy wheels.  “Settle down...Settle down,” I said.  “Don’t go getting all excitable on me now.”
    “It’s just that I ain’t taken my medicine today, and I get all sorta fizzed up when I’m being falsely accused of sumthin’ I didn’t do.”
    “I’ll tell you what.”
    “What?” inquired Mr. Charles rather suspiciously, as if he’d been down this road before…Quite a few times before.
    “There’s one way we can clear this mess up, once and for all,” I told him.
    “How’s that?”
    “Since you say you don’t know anything about this guy and his check,—
    “Which I don’t.”
    “—then you wouldn’t mind if I gave your wallet a quick thumb check, just to see if there’s anything in there belongin' to a Jamie Baluster.  Since you didn’t do anything, then you wouldn’t mind, would you?”
    “No, I wouldn’t mind.”  Mr. Charles pulled out his poke and emptied the contents on the bar: some currency, paperclips, a condom, but mostly bits and pieces of paper, and matchbook covers with phone numbers, addresses on them (one even had his blood type on it), and other miscellaneous, useless information spilled out.  I eyeballed a lone, folded piece of paper, then opened it.  Bingo!  It was a check for ten dollars, drawn on a bank account in Maryland, belonging to a Mr. James Baluster.  I looked at the check, then at Willie Charles.  Willie Charles looked at the check, then at me.  Then, we both looked at the check, then at each other.
    “I suppose you don’t know how this here check got in your wallet, do you, Willie?”
    Mr. Charles looked at me as if I were speaking in tongues, all of which he didn’t understand.
    “Look, Willie.  I wouldn’t want to get you ‘all sorta fizzed up’ or anything, especially since you ‘ain’t taken your medicine today’ and all.  But, it seems to me I remember you telling me you ‘don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout no check,’ so—and I’m just guessing here—you probably have absolutely no idea how this check for ten dollars, signed by that White honky freezing his ass off out there on the sidewalk, got in your wallet.”
    Mr. Charles took a deep breath and a large gulp.  “I have no idea.”
    “I didn’t think so…But, I got one.  An idea, that is.  It just came to me, sort of like an epiphany you’d get while in church.  You do go to church don’t you, Willie?”  Superfly had a look on his face that said: If I get through this, I’m gonna start this Sunday.
    “I’ll bet you,” I continued, “that’s how that slick White dude—who falsely accused you before—carried out his frame-up of you.  He put his check in your wallet when you weren’t looking.  I’ll bet you that’s how this all happened.”
    “You think so?”  Even Superfly sounded like he kinda half-assed believed that story, or, at least, wanted to.
    “Sure.  But, I’ll tell you what.  We ain’t gonna let him out-fox us.”
    
Grasping for a life-preserver and completely bewildered, Willie asked: "We ain’t?”
    “Nah.  Here’s what we'll do.  Since this check really isn’t even supposed to be in your wallet anyhow, I’ll wager you wouldn’t mind me tearing it up.  That way, there's no evidence.  And Jamie out there, can’t get away with this frame-up.”
    “No, I wouldn’t mind.”
    “I didn’t think you would.  There ain’t no flies on you, Willie.”  I ripped the check into several pieces, tipped my eight-cornered police hat, and walked outside.  “Here,” I said to the halfwit in the tropical shirt, then handed him the shredded pieces of his check.
    “Oh, thank you.  Thank you, officer.”
    “No problem.  But, I’d call it a night if I were you, Jamie.”
    "What do you mean?”
    “I mean: I wouldn’t go back in there, sit down next to that buckaroo, and start drinking all over again, as if nothing happened.  I don’t think he’d be real happy to see you.”
    “Oh.  Yeah.  Maybe you’re right…I better not do that…Thanks again.”
    “No problem.  Have a nice night.”
    By now, several police units had swung by to back me up; they were gathered on the corner, talking.  I strolled over and joined them.  Several minutes later, Pinhead traipsed-up and thanked me again for my help.  I told him, again, to forget about it, then lumbered across the street to one of those all night open-air cafeterias that sling hash.  When I turned around, after ordering, he was back with a bang; there stood my complainant, who proceeded to thank me profusely...again.  “No problem,” I told him for the umpteenth time.
    Ten minutes later, I was back on the corner with my sidekicks when along came Numbnuts, AGAIN!  He threw his right arm around my shoulder as if I was his long lost buddy, as if we’d gone to boot camp together on Parris Island.  What's with this guy, I wondered.  There’s nothing worse in life than having some rum pot—who’s walking around like he’s got gum on the bottom of his shoes—horse collar you and blow his hot, drunken breath into your ear while you stand there, cold-stone sober, trying to eat your supper—a hot dog—and drink your Coke in peace.  Suddenly, the thought struck me: This bozo must think we’ve got some kinda relationship going here; I’d better nip this in the bud.  I turned on him. “Show me some I.D., Jamie.”
    Usually, police officers never run the complainant of a call, but this kid really aggravated me.  Who knows, I reasoned, he might come back a hit reference a bench warrant from an old ticket, or maybe he’d be wanted on some bygone misdemeanor like pilfering an altar cloth from a monastery.
    He grinned from ear to ear. “‘No problem,’ as you say,” and whipped out a Maryland driver’s license.
    I ran him through N.C.I.C. (National Crime Information Center: a computerized index of criminal justice information run by the F.B.I.) which took about ten minutes.  Meanwhile, he just stood there, right next to me the entire time—chatting incessantly—oblivious to the universe around him.  Finally, N.C.I.C. came back.  He was a hit, alright.  But, not reference a bench warrant, or anything as trivial as that.  He was wanted for escaping from the Maryland State Penitentiary where he was doing twenty years for armed robbery.  Whoa!  No wonder he was so pale looking.
    Later, I surmised what must have happened.  Superfly was a pimp and had offered to procure a prostitute for my stick-up artist, and Numbnuts—who must have been short of cash—wrote him a check.  Once Willie had the check, he simply reneged on the hooker.
    As I cuffed Baluster and put him in the back of my squad car, I couldn’t help but think: If I’d just escaped from the big house, the last thing I’d do was call a cop…FOR ANYTHING!
    Jamie must have been a lot more bemused from the boilermakers he’d been drinking than I first thought, or else he had rubber cajones the size of Florida.  But, let’s say I was soused to the gills and didn’t have any common sense, like my escapee here. After a police officer helped me out of whatever problem I might have had, I surely wouldn’t have hung around and cheesed him off (especially after he hinted to me—three times—to disappear) to the point of running a background inquiry on me.  Then, give the officer my real name on a valid driver’s license, along with a current bank account.  What was he thinking?  As a fugitive from a federal prison, he wouldn’t be in the computer?  I knew two things for sure though (other than he certainly made a hash of this vacation): This would be his last evening with the living and that shirt, with the palm trees all over, just might be back in style when he finally got out of the slammer.  I guess it’s true what they say: Some criminals just want to get caught.
    I peered back at the entrance to the dive and there—standing by the door—was Willie, smiling.  What a pimp he must be.  I mean: What flesh peddler takes a check, then denies—to a cop—that he took it; then, lets the same cop rummage through his wallet and ferret out the check he isn’t supposed to have taken.  I couldn’t decide which of these two losers was more in need of a brain transplant.
    I squinted back through the cage into my cruiser; there sat Jamie, jabbering away.  It was as if he lived a life without consequences, impervious to any of its dangers.  I shook my head.  The cosmos is full of idiots and nutters, and they all—I mean—Everybody comes to Vic’s.

                                                                        THE END

© Copyright w/Library of Congress
CERTIFICATE OF REGISTRATION NUMBER - TXu 1-216-504
All Rights Reserved

First Published in Cynic Magazine - June, 2006.
Cynic magazine re-published it in January, 2007 as one their "Best Stories of 2006";  was one of only 15 stories published from 143
stories that were selected.

 

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