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Such a Killing Crime

Chapter One

Until the mugging, the night was damned near perfect.

The March air was clear and crisp and I was walking through Greenwich Village with a beautiful girl. She wasn't my girl, true, but she was beautiful and she seemed to be enjoying my company.

"Good God," I said. "They're opening another one." I pointed across Third Street to an old storefront, now showing off a proud new sign: Café Santo.

"Unbelievable," said Carol Meisel. "Where do they all come from?"

It was three in the morning and we were headed home from the Riding Beggar, the coffee house where we both worked. The other waitresses usually walked home together, but Carol often stuck around until we locked up. She lived on Waverly Place, on my way home more or less, and I wouldn't have felt right asking a girl employee to walk home alone that time of night.

"Where does who come from?" I asked. "The cafés?"

She shook her long blond hair. "I mean all the people. The owners, the performers.... Two years ago, back in 1961, how many clubs were there in this city where you could hear folksingers?"

"Not many. And now there are must be twenty just on MacDougal Street alone. Anybody who can hit two chords and remember most of the words to Freight Train is heading to the Village. Ever since Time did that story on Joan Baez."

Carol laughed. "The cover girl. That's what Katy Poe calls her."

In November Time had published an article on Joanie, written by a guy named John McPhee. They put her picture on the cover, all right, a drawing that made that beautiful woman look like a cross between a cocker spaniel and a stick insect.

"Well," I said, "naturally Katy gets mad when a traditional singer makes it big. It takes away her excuses."

"You mean she'd rather think that she's not a star because people prefer the Beach Boys to ballads? You're probably right about that."

"She's a good opening act, but...." I shrugged. "She's got no stage presence."

"Well, you'd know, Joe," said Carol. "I've never seen anyone who could pick out talent like you."

I laughed off the flattery. "The Ed Sullivan of Greenwich Village."

"Well, not with the budget Max gives you." Max Karzoff owned the Riding Beggar. "And all this competition-"

"That reminds me. Have you heard the Max Karzoff theory on the folk revival? He traces it all back to one main factor."

"No, what's that?"

"The New York City Cabaret Law." We were under a street light and Carol stopped and gave me her serious frown, the thing I remember best about her. She was trying to tell if I was kidding. "The what law?"

"Cabaret. A bar or a club in this city needs an extra license to have certain kinds of live music. A very expensive license, too. The law was passed a long time ago to keep jazz out of nice neighborhoods."

"So how does that effect folk music?"

"The law forbids wind instruments, or bands of a certain size. That created a seller's market for anyone with a guitar."

"Huh," she said. "And that's the cause of a national rise in folk music? What a cynical point of view."

We started walking again. "Max has been running restaurants and clubs in this town for thirty years. That would make a cynic out of Dr. Schweitzer."


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