For years, James E. Cary would meet with his buddies at the Mount Vernon Saloon downtown, sip his favorite Sabuka beer and have a ball.
Cary and his friends, who called him "the mayor of Mount Vernon," would drink, laugh and share stories -- just to have a good time. They were like family.
Yesterday afternoon, the gang was all there at the North Charles Street bar, but not Cary.
The 35-year-old mail handler was gunned down Wednesday night in the 600 block of N. Charles St. as he walked from his
job at the U.S. Post Office on Fayette Street. He had held that position for 17 years.
Friends said Cary, who lived in the 200 block of W. Monument St., often walked to and from work.
According to police, about 10:20 p.m. Wednesday, two teen-agers tried to rob him two or three blocks from his home. Cary resisted the robbers and was shot in the upper chest, police said.
The youths fled. Police were not sure if they had been successful in robbing Cary.
After Cary was shot, witnesses said, he staggered into the Buttery restaurant, across the street at Centre and Charles streets.
The guy came in here, he was yelling he got shot," said Shelly Denlein, 22, a cook and waitress. "Next thing I know, I hear a loud bang. He hit his head on the floor."
Two customers tried to stop Cary from bleeding and to calm him until paramedics and police arrived, Denlein said.
An ambulance arrived and took him to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he died at 11:05 p.m. in the emergency room, police said.
Anthony Marshall, 16, of the 1900 block of W. Mulberry St., was arrested several blocks from the shooting. Police said Marshall, who was charged as an adult with first-degree murder and a handgun violation, was held overnight at the Central District lockup without bail pending a bail review hearing today in Eastside District Court.
Police are still searching for a second suspect, believed to be 15 or 16.
At 6 o'clock last night, sadness filled the Mount Vernon Saloon as Cary's friends gathered and shared the horror of his death. They also shared memories of a man they said was people-oriented, humorous, caring, upbeat, a "regular Joe."
Just last Saturday, Cary had dressed up as a woman and sat in a dunking booth at a music festival in Mount Vernon to help raise money for charity, friends said.
Cary never married. He was born in Essex and attended a Catholic school there, friends said. He had lived in Mount Vernon for at least 16 years.
He had just returned from a two-week trip to Dublin to attend a wedding of friends,the people at the saloon said.
"That's the only good thing," said Foster Taciak about the tragedy. "He went to Ireland and had a good time, the best time of his . . . life."
His co-workers were shocked by the shooting, too. "He was a very nice person," mail clerk Terry Lee, 33, said of Cary. "He always had a smile on his face."
At the tavern, his friends, many with teary eyes, talked about how they had gathered at the bar for at least the last seven years. "This was our living room," said Taciak, 39.
The friends said that Cary, after having been robbed three times before, didn't carry a lot of money and vowed he'd never be robbed again. In fact, Because Cary believed Calvert Street was dangerous to walk at night, he picked Charles Street, which he thought was safer, the friends said.
"It's hard to explain how I feel," said friend and bar manager Michael Ward, 26. "It's a waste."