They finished their drinks and Bond called for the check.
'All this evening's on me,' he said. 'I've got a lot of money to get rid of and I've brought three hundred dollars of it along with me.'
'Suits me,' said Leiter, who knew about Bond's thousand dollars.
As the waiter was picking up the change, Leiter suddenly said, 'Know where The Big Man's operating tonight?'
The waiter showed the whites of his eyes.
He leant forward and flicked the table down with his napkin.
'I've got a wife'n kids, Boss,' he muttered out of the corner of his mouth. He stacked the glasses on his tray and went back to the bar.
'Mr. Big's got the best protection of all,' said Leiter. 'Fear.”
They went out on to Seventh Avenue. The rain had stopped, but 'Hawkins', the bone-chilling wind from the north which the negroes greet with a reverent 'Hawkins is here', had come instead to keep the streets free of their usual crowds. Leiter and Bond moved with the trickle of couples on the sidewalk. The looks they got were mostly contemptuous or frankly hostile. One or two men spat in the gutter when they had passed.
Bond suddenly felt the force of what Leiter had told him. They were trespassing. They just weren't wanted. Bond felt the uneasiness that he had known so well during the war, when he had been working for a time behind the enemy lines. He shrugged the feeling away.
'We'll go to Ma Frazier's, further up the Avenue,' said Leiter. 'Best food in Harlem , or at any rate it used to be.'
As they went along Bond gazed into the shop windows.
He was struck by the number of barbers' saloons and 'beauticians'. They all advertised various forms of hair-straightener — 'Apex Glossatina, for use with the hot comb', 'Silky Strate. Leaves no redness, no burn' - or nostrums for bleaching the skin. Next in frequency were the haberdashers and clothes shops, with fantastic men's snakeskin shoes, shirts with small aeroplanes as a pattern, peg-top trousers with inch-wide stripes, zoot suits. All the book shops were full of educational literature - how to learn this, how to do that - and comics. There were several shops devoted to lucky charms and various occultisms — Seven Keys to Power, 'The Strangest book ever written', with sub-titles such as: 'If you are CROSSED, shows you how to remove and cast it back.' 'Chant your desires in the Silent Tongue.' 'Cast a Spell on Anyone, no matter where.' 'Make any person Love you.' Among the charms were 'High John the Conqueror Root', 'Money Drawing Brand Oil', 'Sachet Powders, Uncrossing Brand', Tncense, Jinx removing Brand', and the 'Lucky Whamie Hand Charm, giving Protection from Evil. Confuses and Baffles Enemies'.
Bond reflected it was no wonder that the Big Man found Voodooism such a powerful weapon on minds that still recoiled at a white chicken's feather or crossed sticks in the road - right in the middle of the shining capital city of the Western world.
'I'm glad we came up here,' said Bond. 'I'm beginning to get the hang of Mr. Big. One just doesn't catch the smell of all this in a country like England . We're a superstitious lot there of course — particularly the Celts — but here one can almost hear the drums.'
Leiter grunted. 'I'll be glad to get back to my bed,' he said. 'But we need to size up this guy before we decide how to get at him.'
Ma Frazier's was a cheerful contrast to the bitter streets. They had an excellent meal of Little Neck Clams and Fried Chicken Maryland with bacon and sweet corn. 'We've got to have it,' said Leiter. 'It's the national dish.'
It was very civilized in the warm restaurant. Their waiter seemed glad to see them and pointed out various celebrities, but when Leiter slipped in a question about Mr. Big the waiter seemed not to hear. He kept away from them until they called for their bill.
Leiter repeated the question.
'Sorry, Sah,' said the waiter briefly. 'Ah cain't recall a gemmun of dat name.'
By the time they left the restaurant it was ten-thirty and the Avenue was almost deserted. They took a cab to the Savoy Ballroom, had a Scotch-and-soda, and watched the dancers.
'Most modern dances were invented here,' said Leiter. 'That's how good it is. The Lindy Hop, Truckin', the Susie Q, the Shag. All started on that floor. Every big American band you've ever heard of is proud that it once played here - Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Galloway, Noble Sissle, Fletcher Henderson. It's the Mecca of jazz and jive.'
They had a table near the rail round the huge floor. Bond was spellbound. He found many of the girls very beautiful. The music hammered its way into his pulse until he almost forgot what he was there for.
'Gets you, doesn't it?' said Leiter at last. 'I could stay here all night. Better move along. We'll miss out Small's Paradise. Much the same as this, but not quite in the same class. Think I'll take you to “Yeah Man”, back on Seventh. After that we must get moving to one of Mr. Big's own joints. Trouble is, they don't open till midnight. I'll pay a visit to the washroom while you get the check. See if I can get a line on where we're likely to find him tonight. We don't want to have to go to all his places.'
Bond paid the check and met Leiter downstairs in the narrow entrance hall.
Leiter drew him outside and they walked up the street looking for a cab.
'Cost me twenty bucks,' said Leiter, 'but the word is he'll be at The Boneyard. Small place on Lenox Avenue. Quite close to his headquarters. Hottest strip in town. Girl called G-G Sumatra. We'll have another drink at “Yeah Man” and hear the piano. Move on at about twelve-thirty.'
The big switchboard, now only a few blocks away, was almost quiet. The two men had been checked in and out of Sugar Ray's, Ma Frazier's and the Savoy Ballroom.
Midnight had them entering 'Yeah Man'. At twelve-thirty the final call came and then the board was silent.
Mr. Big spoke on the house-phone. First to the head waiter.
'Two white men coming in five minutes. Give them the Z table.'
'Yes, Sir, Boss,' said the head waiter. He hurried across the dance-floor to a table away on the right, obscured from most of the room by a wide pillar. It was next to the Service entrance but with a good view of the floor and the band opposite.
It was occupied by a party of four, two men and two girls 'Sorry folks,' said the head waiter. 'Been a mistake. Table's reserved. Newspaper men from downtown.'
One of the men began to argue.
'Move, Bud,' said the head waiter crisply. 'Lofty, show these folks to table F. Drinks is on the house. Sam,' he beckoned to another waiter, 'clear the table. Two covers.' The party of four moved docilely away, mollified by the prospect of free liquor. The head waiter put a Reserved sign on table Z, surveyed it and returned to his post at his table-plan on the high desk beside the curtained entrance.
Meanwhile Mr. Big had made two more calls on the house-phone. One to the Master of Ceremonies.
'Lights out at the end of G-G's act.'
'Yes, Sir, Boss,' said the MC with alacrity.
The other call was to four men who were playing craps in the basement. It was a long call, and very detailed.
At twelve forty-five Bond and Leiter paid off their cab and walked in under the sign which announced 'The Boneyard' in violet and green neon.
The thudding rhythm and the sour-sweet smell rocked them as they pushed through the heavy curtains inside the swing door. The eyes of the hat-check girls glowed and beckoned.
'Have you reserved, Sir?' asked the head waiter.
'No,' said Leiter. 'We don't mind sitting at the bar.'
The head waiter consulted his table-plan. He seemed to decide. He put his pencil firmly through a space at the end of the card.
'Party hasn't shown. Guess Ah cain't hold their res'vation all night. This way, please.' He held his card high over his head and led them round the small crowded dance-floor. He pulled out one of the two chairs and removed the 'Reserved' sign.
'Sam,' he called a waiter over. 'Look after these gem-mums order.' He moved away.
They ordered Scotch-and-soda and chicken sandwiches.
Bond sniffed. 'Marihuana,” he commented.
'Most of the real hep-cats smoke reefers,' explained Leiter. 'Wouldn't be allowed most places.'
Bond looked round. The music had stopped. The small four-piece band, clarinet, double-bass, electric guitar and drums, was moving out of the corner opposite. The dozen or so couples were walking and jiving to their tables and the crimson light was turned off under the glass dance-floor. Instead, pencil-thin lights in the roof came on and hit coloured glass witchballs, larger than footballs, that hung at intervals round the wall. They were of different hues, golden, blue, green, violet, red. As the beams of light hit them, they glowed like coloured suns. The walls, varnished black, mirrored their reflections as did the sweat on the ebony faces of the men. Sometimes a man sitting between two lights showed cheeks of different colour, green on one side, perhaps, and red on the other. The lighting made it impossible to distinguish features unless they were only a few feet away. Some of the lights turned the girls' lipstick black, others lit their whole faces in a warm glow on one side and gave the other profile the luminosity of a drowned corpse.
The whole scene was macabre and livid, as if El Greco had done a painting by moonlight of an exhumed graveyard in a burning town.
It was not a large room, perhaps sixty foot square. There were about fifty tables and the customers were packed in like black olives in a jar. It was hot and the air was thick with smoke and the sweet, feral smell of two hundred negro bodies. The noise was terrific - an undertone of the jabber of negroes enjoying themselves without restraint, punctuated by sharp bursts of noise, shouts and high giggles, as loud voices called to each other across the room.
'Sweet Jeessus, look who's hyar…'
'Where you been keepin yoself, baby…'
'Gawd's troof. It's Pinkus… Hi Pinkus…'
'Lemme be… Lemme be, Fse telling ya…' (The noise of a slap.)
'Where's G-G. Cmon G-G. Strut yo stuff…'
From time to time a man or girl would erupt on to the dance-floor and start a wild solo jive. Friends would clap the rhythm. There would be a burst of catcalls and whistles. If it was a girl, there would be cries of 'Strip, strip, strip,' 'Get hot, baby!' 'Shake it, shake it,' and the MC would come out and clear the floor amidst groans and shouts of derision.
The sweat began to bead on Bond's forehead. Leiter leant over and cupped his hands. 'Three exits. Front. Service behind us. Behind the band.' Bond nodded. At that moment he felt it didn't matter. This was nothing new to Leiter, but for Bond it was a close-up of the raw material on which The Big Man worked, the clay in his hands. The evening was gradually putting flesh on the dossiers he had read in London and New York . If the evening ended now, without any closer sight of Mr. Big himself, Bond still felt his education in the case would be almost complete. He took a deep draught of his whisky. There was a burst of applause. The MC had come out on to the dance-floor, a tall negro in immaculate tails with a red carnation in his button hole. He stood, holding up his hands. A single white spotlight caught him. The rest of the room went dark.
There was silence.
'Folks,' announced the MG with a broad flash of gold and white teeth. 'This is it.'
There was excited clapping.
He turned to the left of the floor, directly across from Leiter and Bond.
He flung out his right hand. Another spot came on.
'Mistah Jungles Japhet 'n his drums.'
A crash of applause, catcalls, whistles.
Four grinning negroes in flame-coloured shirts and peg-top white trousers were revealed, squatting astride four tapering barrels with rawhide membranes. The drums were of different sizes. The negroes were all gaunt and stringy. The one sitting astride the bass drum rose briefly and shook clasped hands at the spectators.