Where did the one dollar go?

Till they acquired it, it was a nightclub that catered to serenading men and their buxom lady loves. Then it changed hands — and character. Mario, Zucchi and Fat Tony, as he was called, had grown up together on Manhattan’s Mulberry Street, nicknamed Little Italy. The Italian connection made them ‘Mafia’ men, given their propensity for drugs, whores and gambling. Pooling a princely $3500, they reopened the Inn on 53 Christopher Street as a ‘bottle club’ — bottles were fictitiously labelled to evade police raids. A third of their resources was spent on redoing the club’s interiors, lighting and all.

The gay clientele for whom the club was intended found it the most congenial watering hole in the Village. Friday and Saturday nights saw such brisk business that in no time the Mafia broke even and earned hefty returns on their investment.

A venture as risky as this, however, could not do without its share of bouncers at the entrance. First, there was Bouncer Ed Murphy, the biceps guy with a pierced ear who had a penchant for kickbacks and took them from everyone — from the Mafia; from lust-torn teenagers whom he introduced to each other; and from the New York Police Department who beat him up one night for two-timing. Then there was Bouncer Petey, Italian like the Mafia, with a street accent. He pretended he did not know English and only allowed in those who wore black shirts and ties.

At the main bar, where one could buy assorted types of bottled liquor, as well as uppers, Desbutal and acid, was Maggie Jiggs, a horny queen and her official lover Tommy Long, who eccentrically kept a toy duck on the counter that quacked whenever someone left a tip.

The Mafia devised the following modus operandi to screen customers. Clients were first surveyed top to bottom by Ed Murphy through a peephole in the wooden front door. He let them in only if he had a hunch they were not gay-bashing straights or policemen in mufti. Next, Petey frisked them (the frisking could verge on molestation, depending on whether the client is Petey’s type or not). If customers passed both tests, they came to a table where they signed their names in a register (no one was insane enough to sign their real names). They then shelled out three dollars for coupons that entitled them to two drinks diluted with water. Collecting these, they went a step down and landed at the main bar where Maggie presided with flourish. On the other side of the bar was a psychedelic dance floor where the fags went berserk, drugs and alcohol getting them to gesticulate wildly while hot numbers played on the juke box.

Before opening time one Saturday afternoon in October, Mario, Zucchi and Fat Tony sat at a table beside the bar and played bridge. They ordered beer, but insisted that Tommy Long who was at the bar treat them as paying customers and bill them.

“Well,” said Tommy Long, “if that’s what you want.”

The game of bridge went on till the sun went down. None kept tabs on how much beer they drank. But Tommy Long had the cheque ready.

“Gentleman,” he good humouredly said, “what you owe me is a neat 75 bucks.”

The Mafia did not haggle. Instead, Fat Tony slapped down his share of 25 dollars on the table. Mario and Zucchi did likewise.

Now Tommy Long, playing the magnanimous barman, decided he would give the trio a five buck discount for the club, after all, was theirs. Then he had second thoughts. He pocketed two bucks out of this as his tip, which alerted the Mafia by making his toy duck quack. But they were too pissed to notice.

Tommy Long, walking up to the Mafia, placed three dollars on their table with a note that said, ‘thank you’. Mario, Zucchi and Fat Tony merrily took a dollar each and got up to go.

Afterwards, when Tommy Long discussed the afternoon with Maggie Jiggs, she told him that if he had returned a dollar each to Mario, Zucchi and Fat Tony, it meant each of them had paid him only 24 bucks. That came to 72 bucks, and Tommy Long’s two bucks tip took the total to 74. So where did one dollar go?

“Indeed,” said Tommy Long, who as a boy had always failed in Math. “Where did one dollar go?”

He searched his pockets but did not find it. Then he asked Ed Murphy and Petey. They did not know, they too did not have an answer. Nor did any of Tommy Long’s customers. The truth was there was no answer.

Eventually, Stonewall would pass into legend and the story of the mysteriously missing one dollar that Saturday afternoon would be forgotten by all.