Chapter 4: Alcohol and the Black Cat
The next day, I wanted to go back and see if I could get some real information out of Plug Ugly gang leader Walter McKenzie in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was doing business all along the docks during the time Poe was working in New York. Today, he was limited to the docks in Jersey. I was hoping he could supply me with some specific clues about Poe and his relationship with the murdered tobacco shop girl.
The cobblestone streets in the poorer neighborhoods collected refuse and dead animals. People threw their garbage out of the windows and the dead rats, dogs and cats fell down into big cracks in the road where they would stink to high heaven. One of our tortures as children would be to force the victim’s face down into one of these cracks until he or she began screaming for release.
I went through the same inspection process as I entered the dockside building where McKenzie had his center of business. “Watch it with your hands, ladies,” I told them, “don’t touch anything you don’t want to buy,” I added, as they felt all around my legs and up my back.
“He’s clean,” said a ham-fisted gangster wearing a dock worker’s uniform of black gabardines and red suspenders. He also had a cargo hook hanging from his belt that probably served more as a weapon than as a loading utensil. The three of them pushed me into the back room and slammed the door.
Today, Walter McKenzie was not in his cups. Instead, he had two prostitutes, one on each knee, giving him little chucks under his three chins and whispering sweet nothings in his cauliflower ears. They wore Chinese gowns with gold dragons on the front, and their black stockings could be seen as their legs crossed each other.
He swiveled his big chair around toward me. “O’Malley, is it? Ya ain’t no relation to Father O’Malley, the priest who comes down to the docks to tell us we’re all goin’ to Hades, are ya now?”
“No, I’m just trying to show the world that the Irish aren’t all a bunch of sots and drunkards. I thought maybe you could answer a few questions for me now that you’re not besotted. The case I’m working on has to do with events happening in New York City from 1846 to 1849.”
“It depends. I ain’t no stool pigeon. And I won’t help the police,” McKenzie said, pushing the girls off his knees and standing up. “Get back to work on your backs!” he laughed, and the women left the room giggling.
“I won’t ask anything that would put your grand reputation in jeopardy,” I said, “and I am not a flat foot. I’m a vet who’s trying to make a living in private investigations.”
“A man of the Union, are ya then?”
“That’s a horse of a different color, now ain’t it? Ask away, O’Malley, me boy-o. Ya risked your life so’s the likes of me can stay in business, and I’ll give ya my best memory, ‘though there’s been a lot of malt into me bowels and a few whacks on me skull during all these years,” McKenzie laughed, pointing to his head.
“Did you ever work for a gentleman by the name of John Anderson? He owned a tobacco shop in New York during those years,” I said.
“Anderson. Let me see now. That name’s familiar. It was an Anderson come to me about that Rogers girl. Mary Rogers was her name. But it weren’t a Mister Anderson. It were Missus Anderson who come to me about the woman trouble that Rogers was having. She was ready with the money, and I told her about the best: Madame Restell, the female doctor with the mansion on Fifth Avenue.”
I tried a different approach on the old blackguard. “All right. I know about Mary Rogers and her troubles. What I want to know is if Mister Anderson was mentioned at any point in your conversation with his wife?”
McKenzie furrowed his brow. “Ya know, she did say that the girl was living with them when she got into trouble. I thought it were strange, but these rich bastards are always knockin’ up the hired help, if ya know what I mean,” he snickered into his big hand. “She also asked me if I could send somebody to follow this Mary Rogers around. Missus Anderson said she was worried that she’d get into more girl trouble. So’s I sent Bernie Ryan to do it.”
Most of this information, except for the hired goon, verified what the poet William Ross Wallace was telling me about Anderson and his relationship with the Rogers girl. Ergo, if Anderson got his tobacco shop girl pregnant, and his wife found out about it, then she would certainly want to have the problem taken care of post haste. Mary Rogers and her mother moved into their own place shortly after that. She was finally out of temptation’s way.
However, if Anderson did impregnate the girl, it still didn’t prove he wanted to kill Poe. Poe, in fact, according to Wallace, was hired to write the story that helped keep the police from suspecting the tobacconist millionaire of killing the girl. Anderson would not have wanted Poe harmed, if he were being helped by the famous writer. No, there must be another connection between Poe’s death and the death of Mary Rogers, and I needed more information to find out what that connection was.
“Is there any more information you remember about Rogers and the Andersons? Also, did you ever hear about Edgar Allan Poe having anything to do with the Rogers death?” I asked McKenzie.
“No, all I knew were that Missus Anderson wanted the problem handled by the best. I never heard no Mister Poe mentioned at all, me boy-o,” said McKenzie.
I got up from my chair and reached out to shake Walter McKenzie’s hand. His grip was still strong at age sixty-two. “Thank you. I’ll be in touch, if you don’t mind, if I can think of anything else,” I said, and I handed him one of my business cards. “If you remember anything, just send me a message,” I said, and I left the room.
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Genre – Historical Steampunk Mystery
Rating – PG13
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