You could see in the dark room somebody moving. The door to the room was open and someone was inside pacing and moaning.
Max said, “Lookit, Sidney, let’s blow before the cops come.” We heard sirens tearing up Broadway.
Back upstairs on the radio was the Jack Benny Show and Don Wilson talked to Jack and Rochester.
Heavy rain bubbled on the windows above Times Square. Mary said, “That was sure something, wasn’t it? Did you ever think?”
“Shows to go you what a woman can do,” I said.
“Shot her lover man dead,” said Max, and acted unfazed.
Mary was washing dishes. We were waiting for a dark man named Adrian Cream from Evangeline, Louisianna, to bring some smack and Mabel Lilly. It wasn’t good the girl shot her boy downstairs therefore.
“I’ll tell you what, you hermaphrodicks, if you can sit here with no balls and not getting anyplace in the world, I don’t know what,” said Norm Latham. Norm had his shirtsleeves turned up and bit on a nickel cigar and wiped dishes. He booked gigs for us now and then.
I could hear bright red sirens. I could hear people downstairs. A woman screamed and another cried out, “Oh Oh Oh.”
Norm said, “I go out on a limb for you, and you’re lacey pant queers as far as I can see.”
“Aw, lay off, Norm,” Mary said.
“Shut up, Mary, you’re just a hole in the mattress as far as I can see.”
“Aw, lay off,” Mary said.
“Now Harry and Tito’s got a band and man oh man they swing,” Norm said. He had a bulldog mouth with the stogie and a dishrag over his shoulder like something dead. “They’re men who when they play, they get dough for it. Imagine!”
He was sore because he got us a two-set on Rivington and we didn’t get paid. Had I my 32/20, I would have shot Norm in his knee.
I shook out a Lucky and Max was right there with a match, quick as sin.
“Thanks, Flash,” I said. Max was fast. He was chewing gum, combing his hair. The teeth of the comb slid right through his shiny hair.
“Gee but I wish I had his curls,” Mary said.
Max had dark brown hair and coffee brown eyes. He was real sharp, the way drummers are in a pencil striped suit. We might go fluffing, and Max would do something quaint to bring the band back with those drums and put us back in time. He was a solid four–four drummer. He had some licks but was technically not the best but he was the fastest drummer you ever saw, brother. He could have been the fastest drummer in the world.
I was getting on fire and itchy but there was the knock at last and in came Adrian Cream, a Negro man, with Mabel Lilly.
“Holy cow, Sidney!” she said to me. “You never said the place would be crawling with police. I had to drag Adrian up here.”
“No, everything is Jake,” Max said, panicky.
We all started cooling down Adrian Cream. “It’s nothing to do with us,” I said.
“Sure, it’s all right, see?” Max said.
Norm Latham said, “Just relax, pal, you want some coffee, pal?”
“Lotsa’ sugar, sure, thanks,” said he, the thin Negro in a wet raincoat and almost-Chinaman eyes.
“Sure thing. We’re on the ups all right,” Norm Latham said, “Say, did you bring the jazz?”
Mary wanted to know that too. “Did you, man?”
“I thought somebody mentioned hot coffee?” he said and shivered in his wet hat and hugged his sides. Norm didn’t like to be played this way. Me and Max and Mary were plenty used to it. Your dealer can play you around and what can you do about it?
“Is somebody else in here?” Adrian Cream asked. He heard the cracking dinging typewriter from the back room. I said, “Pay that no mind, that’s just Mabel Lily’s husband.”
“That’s nobody, just my husband, Mr. Lily, typing his magazine stories.”
“He writes stories, huh? And you cats have a band?” Adrian Cream asked.
Your dealer always wanted to jaw with the clients. I never understood it. He would always do it, like string you out. Play you out. As if you were friends and this was not business and you had to pretend you were interested in anything he said. Because he could always not have it or have it where you would never find it so you had to be a cunt for him.
Mary sat and crossed her gams and showed him these which were long. In my mind, I was shooting his head with my gun.
That’s me for you.
But we got our shit and paid and said goodbye.
We got the rigs and spikes and tied off and shot up and we were drifting in a world of heavenly loveliness. The city night was dreamland. I melted outwards from the center.
The big windows were dotted with drops and some drops were bright with the reflections of electric lights from 43rd street and Broadway.
We went down to the lobby using the elevator and got into Norm’s Hudson Hornet sedan.
“What’s Tito’s band like?” Mary asked Norm.
“They swing,” he slurred. “But listen, baby, they are not as good as you boys. They are not as good.”
“We forgot Mr. Lily,” said Mabel Lily.
I said, “He’ll be all right. He’ll be cool. It’s cool. He can write a story about it.”
Through the windshield, the lights were liquefied by rain and then they got smeared with big sweeps of the wiper blades. The Aragon Theater was showing that movie with Harry James playing in the background and Honolulu Lulu on the bill. The Paramount had Palm Beach Something and New York Trunk Mystery. The RKO had nothing and three sailors talking to a whore in front, also that redheaded guy who sold peanuts from his cart.
We stopped at Luigi’s Pawn on Eighth and I went in to get my axe. Luigi was a fairy and he said, “Sidney you look like hell.”
“Lay off that stuff and get my musical instrument.”
“Why, you’re nothing but a big hophead!”
“That’s as may be, but give me my horn so’s I can make some money and I’ll pay you then.”
“Well, didn’t you get paid when you played at the Café Roma? I heard you on the radio. Is that Max and Mary coming in? Yoo-hoo! Hello!”
“You never heard us on no radio,” I said. I snapped a match and remembered when Fred Astaire who had a turkey ranch out in San Diego once said to me, “Come and get a bird, Sidney, gratis, for Thanksgiving.” That’s what a big shot I was once.
I also knew Dick Powell and June Allison and Frenchie La Beck and I had been to bed with a girl who was in a movie called The Gay Prisoner, and in another played the girlfriend of Dennis O’Keefe. So I got sore.
“What’s that, a gun?” Luigi said.
“It’s a gun.” I had brought my 32/20.
“You never heard of the Sullivan Act? Now you’re in hot water, Sidney.”
I said I would kill him if he didn’t get me my horn and he did.
On the drive downtown to The Blue Diamond, Max was sniffling and putting his hands on Mary’s bosoms. Mary was looking google-eyed at him.
She was a knockout and seeing such a nice looking broad get felt up and liking it made me sad and I cried wetly and plentifully. That was just the junk, although.
Norm turned on Houston to the Bowery and it had a deadbeat who looked like a blister, black blue and red. Over on Avenue D, we got a view of the Williamsburg Bridge and then on down Cherry Street, where the club was, a basement level joint with a low ceiling so Max had to duck up on the stand to get behind his kit.
It was raining in sheets so we weren’t looking for crowds. Abe Goldbarth was the owner and he was yelling at his bartender.
“You’re giving him the business, Abraham,” Norm said.
“Dat may be the only biness we get tonight!” Abe said.
We had never even rehearsed with the reed man, who was a Jewish kid like Max and we didn’t know what the hell was going on and Chico Barnes was going to play piano with us.
We wintered together once in Saginaw at a farm Chico owned, me and him. We could get the Windsor Hotel on a Detroit Station, the Starlight Room, and Chico had a crystal set for a hobby. Jesus, it was cold but we ate flapjacks and bacon and cut lumber and drank coffee and whiskey. He had a piano in his cabin and we played some together and we got jived and far far out.
I hadn’t seen him in a while and then I did.
“H’lo, Chico,” I said.
“Goddamn it, Sidney,” is all he said.
Well, if he didn’t like it that I did a hit of smack, he could eat it raw, was what I thought.
Mabel Lily had the alto. When we got started she followed Chico’s intro with Mood Indigo. We always started with Mood Indigo with a strange line up. That was because everybody knew it so well and you could just set it up with Max on snares. Additionally, the audiences loved it. They heard you were playing Mood Indigo they were happy.
Mary sang some numbers and her voice was sweeter than sugar and she sang the one where we really blew. Max was draggy from the shots but he perked up for that one, called Hurricane. We blew down the place.
“Fuck me, daddy‑O,” Max said, and wiped sweat off his brow.
Square Johns and idiots and broads with nice legs filled the place after midnight and we broke and I went outside into the frosty night where there were snowflakes on the wind. I went over to the river and thought how everything had to be faster, faster, like the speed of thought.