“What the hell am I doing?” Jackson Pollack asked himself, giving the once over to the rise of the road, driving up too fast toward the top of it for what was on the other side. He couldn’t dope it out. He was driving like a crazy man, like what all the shrinks he had ever gone to always told him he wasn’t.
Not crazy, not exactly.
One of them once said, “You’re just in search of a nervous breakdown.” He didn’t tell that one about 1938. It didn’t matter. He knew he was raw on the inside. That’s why the work on the floor worked. He wasn’t a nutcase because he saw psychiatrists. But in the last five minutes he had twice caught himself steering the car straight at the soft shoulder.
He was the next-best driver in Springs, next to Harry Cullum, who told him he was second best on a late afternoon one day in mid-winter when the two of them were having beers at Jungle Pete’s.
“You’ll have the last laugh, just wait and see, Jack,” he said, clapping him on the back. “Maybe not on the road, but you’ll get ‘er done.”
Jackson Pollock’s convertible didn’t have seat belts, even though Harry, the best driver in town, had outfitted his family car with lap belts. He told everyone it was for his wife’s sake. “In stock car racing we never used seat belts if there wasn’t a roll bar, suicide if you do,” said Harry. “Family life is different, different kind of suicide, need a belt.”
The girl in the middle of the front seat, between Ruth and him, was screaming. “Stop the car, let me out, let me out!” He wasn’t going to stop the car, he knew that, but he had a bad feeling. It was a clear, starry night, splashed no moon dark, hot and muggy. The road felt spongy. He felt queer, not himself, not yours truly.
It was August 11, 1956. The car was an Oldsmobile 88. It was a big open-air carriage.
He got his first convertible, a Cadillac, when his action paintings started to get some action, after Life Magazine put him on the cover almost exactly seven years ago. He was wearing denim pants and a denim jacket in the photograph. The jacket was dirty and spattered. It was his high-octane light-of-day look at me now ma year of success. They said he was the new phenomenon of American art.
“He looks like some guy who works at a service station pumping gas,” said Willem de Kooning.
When 1950 got good and done, the next month Art News published a list of the best exhibitions of the year. The top three shows belonged to him. It wasn’t bad for somebody who never graduated from high school.
Even though he purposely used to throw his car keys in the bushes when he was getting drunk at parties, he smashed the Caddy into a tree. He got off light, a citation and no broken bones.
Action painting, he thought, and snorted, spraying spit on the steering wheel. What the hell did that mean? There wasn’t any action, just headlines.
What critics didn’t know wasn’t worth a pot to piss in. “If people would just look at my paintings, I don’t think they would have any trouble enjoying them. It’s like looking at a bed of flowers, you don’t tear your hair out over what it means.” He had meant it when he said it. He’d say it again.
Who needs a critic to find out what art is, or isn’t? Most of them, these days, if they saw him walking on water, crossing the Hudson River at Canal Street, would scribble something about him not being able to swim. All they wanted was to see you drown. The only time he met Man Ray, at the Cedar Tavern when the born-again Frenchman was on his way back to Paris, he told Jackson, over a boatload of drinks, he hated critics.
Franz Kline laughed across the table. “Manny, tell us what you really think.”
“All critics should be assassinated,” he said.
Lee called his work all over painting because he got it all over the flat canvases nailed down on the floor, the hard floor, and his boots and jeans and hands. Bugs and bits of litter and blackened shag from his cigarettes fell into the paint.
“Is Jackson Pollock the greatest living painter in the United States?” is what Life Magazine said, blowing the balloon up, with a picture of him slouching against a wall with a smoke dangling from his mouth, and a couple of pictures of his paintings. He looked good, like he didn’t have a care in the world, didn’t give a damn, like he had the world by the balls. Now it was different. He hadn’t made a painting in more than a year. The ball was over.
He was washed up. He didn’t have anything to say anymore. He was almost sure of it.
“She started to scream,” said Clement Greenberg. “He took it out on this pathetic girl by going even faster. Then he lost control on the curve. The screaming is what did the killing, finally.”
What was her name? He chewed it over in his mind, tossing a glance sideways at her. He couldn’t remember. They were on the Fireplace Road in East Hampton, not far from home. It couldn’t be more than a mile. Not much of a home anymore, though. Lee was in Paris with her friends. She said she was coming back, but he had his fears. He wanted her back, but it had all gone to hell.
Hell-bent in his Olds with two broads in the car and his wife in Europe wasn’t going to get it done, wasn’t going to get it all back. He had to get back on track. Maybe the last analyst he’d seen was right, maybe there was something gumming up the works. He was going to try a fresh approach, the shrink said, calling it hypnotherapy.
He was one of the new downtown brain doctors. “It’s not hypnosis, at least not how most people think of it,” said Dr. Sam Baird. “We’re not going to try to alter or correct your behavior. We’ll try to seed some ideas, sure, but we’ll talk those out before we go ahead.”
He told Lee he was going to get his mind clear this time. “He isn’t full of old-time shit,” he said about the new man.
If any of his neighbors saw his car fast and sloppy staggering down the road they would laugh and say it was like his paintings. Most of them still thought he was nuts, even though they didn’t say so anymore to his face, now that he was in galleries and museums. When he was a nobody, they looked down on him like he was a nobody.
“I could see right away he wasn’t from here,” said Frank Dayton. “I asked a fellow later who he was. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘that’s just a loony artist.’”
“To some goody-goody people he was a bum, just someone to laugh at,” said Sid Miller. “They didn’t think much of his work. They didn’t think he was doing anything.”
“Folks said he painted with a broom,” said Ed Cook. “Near everybody made jokes about his paintings, never thought they’d amount to anything.”
“To hell with them,” he said to Ruth, her elbow laying careless on the shelf of the door. She was a looker, that’s for sure, the juice he needed to get him going again. He had gone dead inside. He knew he had. She was the kind of girl who could crank him up. What’s-her-name in the back seat kept screaming.
“What?” asked Ruth, loud, twisting towards him.
“To hell with them,” he muttered to himself. “What do they know?”
“Slow down a little bit, the car’s a little out of control, take it easy,” she said.
The joke was on them. When he was painting, straddling a canvas, it was when he was most in control. It was when he didn’t have any doubts about himself or what he was doing. He knew exactly what he was doing. He told anybody interested in listening to him, I can control the idea, the flow of paint. There is no accident in the end, not by my hand.
“He picked up can and paint brush and started to move around the canvas,” said Hans Namuth. “It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished, His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white and rust-colored paint onto the canvas. He completely forgot that Lee and I were there. Finally, he said, ‘This is it.’”
I work from the inside out, he told Hans. That’s when I’m in the painting, in the middle of life, but outside of it at the same time. I can see the whole picture. Someone told him his pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, more like a sneer, but it was fine by him. It was a fine compliment. Only twisted lip didn’t know it.
He was good driving his Olds, too, even when he was as drunk as could be, which was what he was now.
“He came in for his eye-opener, a double, about 10:30 before train time, that day.” said Al Cavagnaro. “Start your day the way he did sometimes, you’d be in the same fix he was. If you said he was half bagged up, you’d be about right.”
Doc Klein said it was OK for him to drink and drive. Jack liked that. He knew trees never hit cars except in self-defense. “But stay on the road,” said Doc Klein, a big man laughing a big laugh.
“Goddamn right, I always stay on the road,” said Jackson Pollack. “Except when I’m pulling into Al’s or Pete’s, then I get off the road. I have to. Anyway, there’s no trees in those parking lots.”
“It was continual, almost nightly drunken large parties,” said Patsy Southgate. “Everyone was totally drunk all the time and driving around in cars.”
He wasn’t driving right. He was driving wrong. The screaming girl grabbing his right arm was right. He lived it up driving. But tonight, instead of fluid with the steering wheel, like he was with free-flowing paint out of a can, he was going clumsy, as though he was at cross-purposes, herky-jerky. The quiet precise gestures he used to stream paint from a stick when he was working were usually the same when he drove his car. Tonight, they were too big around, whiplash gestures, like they had a life of their own.
“He had to be moving fast, 85 to 90, anyway,” said Harry Cullum. “There was one hell of a crown where the town tar road begins at the beginning of the left curve. Jeez, I almost lost my car a couple of times there when I was a kid, but finally you smarten up and ride that crown, the one they fixed after Pollock got killed.”
It was after the fact, like an empty bottle of beer thrown out a car window at a stop sign that wasn’t there.
“Jackson’s death is he died of drink and the Town of East Hampton Highway Department,” said Wayne Barker.
It was three years ago, the first week of November, when he stormed over the crown of the road like a firecracker. He came back from the city on Friday, on the train. It snowed all morning and it was still snowing at the end of the day when he found his car in the lot, brushing a mound of snow off the front window with his hands, rubbing the cold out of them at the car’s dashboard heating vent. When he finally got on the road to Springs, he was one of a handful of cars. The storm was blowing off the ocean. The car trembled whenever the road flattened out and he was sideways to the coast.
“I crawled up there, could barely see, and stopped when I saw the pile of snow,” he told Lee later at home, the windows in their sash frames rattling in the wind gusts. “There was a snowdrift, five feet, six feet high, down the other side blocking the way. I backed up a little, to where my rear tires could get a grip on a stretch of clear road and hit the gas as hard as I could. I went as fast as I could, hit the snow head on, everything went white, everything disappeared, no color, just white. By the time I came out the other side the Olds was barely moving, just crawling.”
They laughed about it all night, over dinner, and later in bed again, curling close together under a pile of blankets.
The girl beside him was still screaming. How long could she keep it up? She was driving him nuts. He was driving wrong, all wrong. There was a reason. He knew it, but he also thought, how could there be a reason? What was it? He could feel it. Where was it? He knew it was right there, right at the edge of the front of his brain. It was like the images behind the abstractions in his paintings, right there. But when he tried to think of why he was driving wrong his brain hurt like the next day’s hangover, before getting his hands on some hair of the dog.
He had a hangover all the time now, more than five years-worth of hangovers, but it wasn’t from gin. It was from having rocketed to fame, putting everything he had into it, until he didn’t have anymore, and he quit pouring liquid paint cold turkey. It was all over. After that he couldn’t make a painting that anybody wanted. When he finished his black paintings, he couldn’t give them away. Even his fame couldn’t prime the pump. Nobody thought it was any good.
He knew they weren’t any good.
“An artist is a person who has invented an artist,” Rosenberg burst out with something that meant something one night near the tail end of a long night of poker and drinking.
Rosie always thought he was right, Jackson thought. He got it wrong on the train, though, the day we were riding into the city together. When I said the canvas was an arena, I meant it like it was a living thing, not a dead thing. I didn’t mean slugging it out in the ring. He thought I meant it literally, even though both of us were dead sober at the time, and the next thing I knew I was an action painter.
At least he finally got it right at the card game. Not like Hans. He was like all the others.
When Lee brought her teacher, Hans Hoffman, over to meet Jackson, he saw the sour look on the great man’s face right away. Hans was a neat freak, everything in its place, clean and orderly. His own studio was a mess. There wasn’t a sign of a still life or a life model anywhere.
“You do not work from nature,” said Hans. “You work by heart, not from nature This is no good, you will repeat yourself.”
“I am nature,” said Jackson Pollack.
There wasn’t a drop of a map left in the sky or anywhere on the other side of his windshield. It surprised the breath out of him when he got to the curve at the dip, where the concrete stopped and the town’s blacktop started, and he suddenly veered off the road, aiming for the trees. The car skidded in the sand. He let it slide, its big front-end dead set on the big oak tree to their left.
Going into a skid in the dirt off the road didn’t surprise him. Besides, he was going too fast. He was going fast, that’s all. It didn’t mean anything. The girl next to him stopped screaming. She got small and slowed down. She was squeezing her handbag in her hands with all her might. His hands felt dry and relaxed on the steering wheel. He didn’t squeeze the steering wheel even when he smashed into the tree head-on.
The Oldsmobile broke every bone in its chassis when it hit the one hundred-year-old tree. Jackson Pollack was catapulted over the windshield and into the woods. The front end flipped over, tossing Ruth to the side. When the car landed upside down, crushing the frame of the windshield, the girl with the handbag tight in her hands suddenly stopped gripping it. The car horn blared, stuck, crazed. Gasoline poured out of the punctured gas tank. The taillights blinked on and off and on and off.
“I’m going to be one of my paintings,” Jackson Pollack realized in mid-air, midway to the future, rocketing his way to forever. “I’m going to splatter all over. I’m going to be in nature, be nature, once and for all.”
He hit the oak tree hard. When he careened back, he landed with a mortal thud, even though it was soft ground. There was a barely jutting out of the ground lump of rock granite mottled with luminous moss a pillow for his head.
His neck hit the rock like a falling star. Gravity had been the heaven-sent hand that gave life to the paint and flotsam that dripped splashed flowed down onto his canvasses. It was now the hand that dealt him a death blow. He broke his neck.
He lay there like a tree branch, cracked in the stick, shoeless, his arms and legs haphazard.
When Stan Riddman walked out from under the belly of the Flatiron Building it wasn’t dark, not new dark yet. The sky was lemon and pale blue. It was the first day of the second week of fall, but it felt more like the middle of summer, except for the shorter autumn days. He wore a short sleeve shirt and linen trousers. The thin wallet in his back pocket was flush with more fives and tens than it was with one-spots.
He gave his wallet a friendly pat. The seven-card stud they played in the basement next to the furnace room had been good to him. I can buy the kid some new clothes, get up front on the office rent, and score tickets for the Series, he thought.
The Socialist Labor Party used to have offices in the Flatiron Building, but not down in the underground. He wondered if they would have banned gambling, making it out like it was exploitive, if they had ever come to power. You took your chances at poker, but it was only exploitive if you had no skill at it. You deserved to be taken if you played dreamland cards.
He walked down 22nd Street to Lexington Avenue, turned right, walked through Gramercy Park to Irving Place, and looked for a phone booth
The Yankees were in and the Indians were out, that was for sure. The Redlegs were running on an outside track, but the Braves were neck and neck with the Dodgers. Sal the Barber had no-hit the Phils earlier in the week at Ebbets Field and the Cardinals were going hard at the Braves out in the boondocks. It was all going to come down to the weekend as to whether there was going to be a subway series, the same as last year, or not.
Last year it went seven games, and the oddball thing was the Yankees won three at Ebbets Field and the Dodgers won their four at Yankee Stadium. Neither team won on their home field. Nobody won that bet. Nobody took the backside odds on the seventh game, win or go home, either, especially since Jackie Robinson wasn’t penciled in to play the deciding nine.
Nobody but Stan and Ezra, and anybody else who flipped a coin.
Who would have thought the Cuban would be the difference-maker when he took over right field in the sixth inning? Stan was in the upper deck with his sometime partner, Ezra Aronson. The Yankee dugout was on the first base side, so most of the Bum fans were on the third base side. A client who was a Yankees fan, after Stan had gotten him the black and white’s he needed to get his divorce done, gave a sudden pair of passes to him, so they were on the wrong side.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Ezra said, sitting in a sea of Bronx Bomber fans.
When Yogi Berra hit an opposite field sure double, Ezra sprang out of his seat, like everyone else, but the lightning fast Sandy Amoros caught it coming out of nowhere. He fired a pill to Pee Wee Reese, who relayed it to Gil Hodges, who doubled up the retreating Gil McDougald off first, ending the last threat Stengel’s Squad made that afternoon.
Casey Stengel managed the Yankees. Back in his day, when he still had legs, he had been a good but streaky ballplayer. Good glove, fair bat.
“I was erratic,” he said. “Some days I was amazing, some days I wasn’t.” When he wasn’t, he played it for laughs, catching fly balls behind his back. One afternoon he doffed his cap to the crowd and a sparrow flew out of it. Another day, playing the outfield, he hid in a drainage hole and popped out of it just in time to snag a fly ball.
When he stood leaning over the top rail of the dugout, he looked like a cross of the scowling Jimmy Durante and Santa Claus in pinstripes. He managed the Braves and Dodgers for nine years and chalked up nine straight losing seasons. But after the Bombers hired him in 1948, the only year he hadn’t taken them to the World Series was 1954.
Stan and Ezra were the only men in their section who hadn’t fallen back into their seats, stunned, after Sandy Amoros snagged Yogi Berra’s liner. Stan had to pull Ezra down so there wouldn’t be any hard feelings. As it was, Ezra was so excited there were hard feelings, and Stan had to drag him away to a beer stand.
“This beer is bitter,” Ezra scowled, looking down at the bottle of Ballantine in his hand. Ballantine Beer was on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard, its three-ring sign shining bright, flashing “Purity, Body, Flavor.” Whenever a Yankee hit a homer, Mel Allen, the broadcaster, hollered, “There’s a drive, hit deep, that ball is go-ing, go-ing, gonnne! How about that?! It’s a Ballantine Blast!”
The Brooklyn Dodgers, Ezra’s home borough baseball team, played at Ebbets Field. Their scoreboard boasted a Schaefer Beer sign, with the ‘h’ and the ‘e’ lighting up whenever there was a hit or an error. Below the Schaefer Beer sign was an Abe Stark advertisement.
“Hit Sign Win Suit”.
“That’s some super beer, that Schaeffer’s,” said Ezra, polishing off his bottle of Ballantine and spitting.
Stan Riddman didn’t have a home borough, even though he favored the Bums. He had an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, up from Times Square and down from the Central Park Zoo. He wasn’t from New York or New York City. He was from Chicago, although he wasn’t from there, either. He had been born in Chicago, but when his mother died two years later, in 1922, his father moved the family, himself a new Polish wife two boys two girls two dogs and all their belongings a year later to a small house behind St. Stanislaus Church in Cleveland, Ohio, in the Warszawa neighborhood south of the steel mills, where his father worked the rest of his life.
Stan wasn’t working on anything he thought would bring him free Series passes this year. As long as I put most of this away, he thought to himself, walking down Irving Place, thinking of the jackpot in his pocket, I can blow some of it tonight, and still have enough for ballgames and more card games.
Dottie was at Marie’s for the weekend. That happened about as often as the Series. It wasn’t too early or too late, and if Vicki hasn’t taken any work home, and is at home, and picks up the phone, maybe she could meet him for dinner.
He found the phone booth he’d been looking for and called her. It rang once almost twice before Vicki answered. That’s a good sign, he thought.
“Hey, Vee, it’s Stan.”
“Stan, my man,” she laughed.
“How’s Stuy Town tonight?” he asked.
“Hot, quiet, lonely,” she said.
“How about meeting me at Luchow’s for dinner?” he asked. “I’m buying.”
“Stan, I love you for the dear German or Polack or whatever you are, but the food at Luchow’s is not so good, even if you can ever get though that insanely long menu of theirs.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “Only a dog-eared investigator like me will look into everything the kitchen’s got to offer.”
“All right, but the other thing is, since they seat more than a thousand people, how am I going to find you? And if I do, with that strolling oompah band of theirs, if we do bump into each other and maybe get a table in that goulash and Wiener schnitzel palace, we’ll only be able to make ourselves heard some of the time and not the rest of the time.”
“We can always take our coffee and their pancakes with lingonberry over to the square after dinner and chew the fat, it’ll be quiet there,” he said.
“Chew the fat? What it is I like about you, sometimes I just don’t know.”
“I’ll take that for a yes.”
“Yes, give me a few minutes to change into something fun,” she said gaily. “I hope there’s no goose fest or beer festival going on.”
“Meet me at the far end of Frank’s bar, he’ll find a low-pitched spot in the back for us. Frank says the new herring salad is out of this world.”
“Don’t push your luck, Stan, don’t push your luck,” she said.
Luchow’s was a three-story six-bay building with stone window surrounds, pilasters, and a balustrated parapet on top, while below a red awning led to the front door. The restaurant was near Union Square. It looked like the 19th century, or some more earlier century, heavy Teutonic, North German. A titanic painting of potato gatherers covered most of a wall in one of the seven dining rooms. Another of the rooms was lined with animal heads, their offspring being eaten at the tables below them, while another room was a temple of colorful beer steins.
There was a beer garden in the back.
“Welcome back to the Citadel of Pilsner,” said Frank. He gestured Stan to the side. “Did anybody tell you Hugo died?”
“No, I hadn’t heard, although I heard he wasn’t feeling well,” said Stan. Hugo Schemke had been a waiter at Luchow’s for 50 years. He often said he wasn’t afraid of death. He had firmly no ifs ands or buts believed in reincarnation.
“Did he say he was coming back?”
“He did say that, but I haven’t seen him, yet,” said Frank.
“How’s Ernst doing?” asked Stan. Ernst Seute was the floor manager, a short stout man both friendly and cold-hearted. He had been at Luchow’s a long time, too, since World War One.
“He took a couple days off,” said Frank. “Remember that parade back in April over in Queens, they’ve got some kind of committee now, he’s over there with them trying to make it an annual thing here in Little Germany, calling it the Steuben Parade.”
“You going to be carrying the cornflower flag?’
“Not me, Stan, not me.” Frank was from Czechoslovakia. “I’m an American now.”
Frank led Vicki and Stan to a small round table at the far end of the bar. He brought them glass mugs of Wurzburger Beer and a plate of sardines. Vicki ordered noodle soup and salad. “Hold the herring,” she commanded. Stan asked for a broiled steak sirloin with roasted potatoes and horseradish sauce on the side.
“I saw Barney the other day,” she said, cocking her head. “He told me you’ve made progress.”
“I didn’t think there was anything to it the first day I saw him, that day you brought him over to the office,” said Stan. “I didn’t think there was much to it all that first week the top of the month. But then there was all that action, and Bettina finally got it worked out, that it was the shrink. So, I know who did the thing to get Pollack to drive himself into that tree. I know how they did it. What I don’t know is why they did it.”
“Do you know who they are?’
“No, I don’t, even though one of the two, a psychotic by the name of Ratso Moretti, who roughed up Ezra, is being held at the 17th. He doesn’t seem to know much, but what he does know says a lot. The shrink is going to tell me all about it. He doesn’t know about the talk we’re going to have, yet, but that doesn’t matter.”
“You don’t think Jackson Pollack had anything to do with it?”
“He was the wrong man, that’s all, if you look at it from his point of view. Bettina and I think he was a test run. We think they’re up to something bigger. It’s hard to figure. We can’t see the pay-off in it. You know Betty, though. She’ll piece it together.”
After dinner they looked at the dessert menu, but it was only a peek. Vicki shook her head no.
“How about coffee at my place?” asked Stan. “We can stop and get pastry at that Puerto Rican shop on the corner, sit up on the roof.” It was a clear sky night.
“I can’t pass up that pass,” said Vicki.
They hailed a Checker Cab.
“Take us up 5th to 59th, the corner of the park,” said Stan.
The cabbie dropped them off at the Grand Army Plaza and they walked into the park, following the path below the pond towards the Central Park Driveway and Columbus Circle. He liked her loose breezy walk. They didn’t notice the two greasers, as they strolled on a quiet wooded path south of Center Drive, until the two of them were in front of them, blocking their way.
One was taller and older, the other younger and thinner, their oiled hair combed back. Both of the dagos were wearing high tops, jeans, and white t-shirts, one of them dirtier than the other. The younger boy, he might have been fifteen, had a half-dozen inflamed pencil-thick pencil-long scratches down one side of his face and more of them on his forehead. Small capital SS’s topped with a halo drawn in red ink adorned the left sleeve of his t-shirt. The older dirtier dago had LAMF tattooed on his neck above the collar line to below his right ear.
Stan knew what it meant. It meant ‘Like a Mother Fucker.’ He kept his attention on LAMF.
“Hey, mister, got a double we can have for the subway, so we can make it back home,” he asked, smiling, his teeth big and white as Chiclets.
They were part of the Seven Saints, thieves whose favorite easy pickings was holding back the door of a subway car just before it was ready to leave the station, one of them grabbing and running off with a passenger’s pocketbook, while the other released the door so the woman would be shut tight in the train.
“Where’s home?” asked Stan, stepping forward a half step, nudging Vicki behind him with his left hand on her left hip.
“You writing a book?”
Stan asked again, looking straight at the older boy.
“East Harlem, where you think?”
“Why do you need twenty dollars? The fare’s only some cents.”
“The extra is for in case we get lost.”
“It’d be best if you got lost starting now. “
“I mean to get my twenty, and maybe more,” he said, smiling smirking mean, reaching into his back pocket.
Stan took a fast step forward, his right foot coming down on the forefoot of the boy’s sneaker, grabbing his left wrist as it came out of the back pocket a flash of steel, and broke his nose with a short hard jab using his right elbow. Stepping away he let him fall backward and turned toward the younger boy, flipping the switchblade its business side face front.
“Go,” he said. “Go right now.”
The boy hesitated, looked down at the other Seven Saint on the ground, splattered with blood, and ran away like a squid on roller skates.
Stan let the switchblade fall to the ground and broke the blade off the knife, stepping on it with his heel and pulling until it cracked at the hinge, and threw it at the older boy getting up. It hit him in the chest and bounced away.
“The next time I see you,” he spluttered, on his feet, choking, his mouth half-full of blood.
“The next time I see you, you fill your hand with a knife, I’ll break your face again,” said Stan.
He took a step up to the boy and spoke softly to him. “Actually, it won’t matter what you do, nosebleed, what you’re doing, who you’re with, where you are. The minute I see you is when I’ll stack you up. Make sure you never see me again, make sure I never see you.”
He took Vicki by the arm, shoved the teenager to the side, and they walked away.
“You didn’t have to do that,” said Vicki. “You won plenty of hands. You might have tossed them a dollar-or-two.”
“I know,” said Stan. “But they were working themselves up to be dangerous and that had to stop. The sooner the better.”
“They were just kids.”
“You saw the scratches on the face of the kid who ran away.”
“Of course, the whole side of his face was gruesome.”
“The Seven Saints have an initiation to get into the club,” Stan said. “They find a stray cat and tie him to a telephone pole, about head high, and leave the cat’s four feet free. The kid getting initiated has his hands tied behind his back and he gets to become a Seven Saint if he can kill the cat, using his head as a club.”
“Oh, my God!” Vicki gasped, stopping dead in her tracks. “How do you even know that?”
“I make it my business to know, so I don’t get taken by surprise.”
Stan paused, then said, “I didn’t want them near me. I don’t give a damn about them. I care about you, Dottie, Ezra, Betty, the crew, what we do, not who we do it for or whatever they think it’s all about. I care about getting it done and getting paid. I like playing cards. Throw in a dinner, a dance, a drink with you, I’m all done. I don’t need anymore.”
They passed the USS Maine Monument.
“I don’t want greaser punks in my face.”
They walked out of the park under a quarter moon, crossing Columbus Circle and strolling down Ninth Avenue. At West 56th Street they turned towards the river, stopping in front of a four-floor walk-up with a twin set of fire escapes bolted to the front of the flat face of the brick building.
“Anyway, maybe it will do them some good,” said Stan, fitting his key into the door lock. “Not everyone is as nice as I am. Someday somebody will go ballistic on them.”
“Ballistic?” she asked.
“Like a rocket, a missile that goes haywire.”
“I wish we had a rocket to take us upstairs” she said, as they took the stairs up to the fourth floor. “We forgot our pastry.”
“Another time,” he said.
At the door of the apartment Stan fitted his key into the lock, opened the door, reached for the light switch, and let Vicki go around him as he did. In the shadow of the back of the front room there was a low menacing growl and a sudden movement. It was Mr. Moto. He crossed the room fast. He lunged at Vicki’s lead leg as she stepped across the threshold.
Hey, watch out for my stockings,” she cried out. Vicki was wearing Dancing Daters. “I’ll smack you right on your pink nose if you make them run.”
Mr. Moto skidded to a sudden stop a whisker from her leg.
“That’s better,” said Vicki, bending down to stroke his head.
The big cat arched his back and purred.
Tony de Marco had a pounding headache. It started the minute he stood up from an unsound sleep, and it bothered him through breakfast. It bothered him walking to the newsstand to get his copy of the Daily Mirror. It bothered him as he rode the train to Ebbets Field.
He couldn’t shake it off. His head shaking even slightly made it worse. It felt like his brain had gotten too big for his head, like it was swollen. He closed his eyes. He tried to read the tabloid, but he couldn’t concentrate. He closed his eyes again. Five minutes later he was getting some shuteye, lulled to sleep by the rocking of the train.
He woke up when his stop was called. He felt a little better. He knew he wouldn’t miss his station when he dozed off, which is why he could doze off. He never missed it, even though his hearing was bad. It was like his brain screened out the talk of the passengers but was primed to hear the voice of the PA system.
“Goddamn that Robert Moses,” he cursed, getting off the train, crossing Bedford Avenue, seeing the ballpark come into sight.
Everybody knew somebody was going to have to blow up the Moses limo before the Dodgers ever got a new stadium. Ebbets Field was the smallest park in the National League. The seats were bad. The toilets were bad. There was practically no parking anywhere. Even sold-out games didn’t help, although they helped. The Atlantic Yards was where the team wanted to go. But Moses wanted them to move to a city-owned stadium in Queens. Robert Moses was the city’s all-powerful mover and shaker. If anybody could make it happen, he could make it happen.
That wasn’t going to happen. “We’re the Brooklyn Dodgers, not the Queens Dodgers,” the boss said. No one wanted to be a Queen Bum.
Walter O’Malley was determined to get a bigger ballpark somewhere else. He’d been planning it for ten years. They were already playing seven or eight of their home games at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. They’d played the first one there almost two weeks ago, edging the Phillies by a run. The stink of relocating was in the air. O’Malley was going to face Moses down. There was no doubt about it.
The big man was going to move the team, that was for almost sure, maybe move out of Brooklyn, maybe even move to the west coast, even though there wasn’t a team anywhere west of Kansas City. It would be like moving to the moon.
“Jeez, Jersey City, already!” and Tony spat on the sidewalk.
King Hanky-Panky of Jersey City was gone, he wasn’t the mayor anymore, but his gang was still running things, and he was still living like a millionaire. Anybody who said anything about it to him was told he was a rotten commie. Then he was thrown out of town.
The drive to the ballpark was terrible. There were no shoulders on the Pulaski Skyway over the Hackensack and Passaic rivers and the breakdown lane was in the middle of the bridge. Everybody called it the suicide lane. They were finally building a concrete median this summer to put a stop to the head-on accidents. Once you got over the bridge it smelled like soap and perfume, especially the closer downwind you got to the Colgate Plant on Hudson Street.
It was the first day of May. It was sunny, in the low 50s, the sky far away. By the time they got to work on the field it might hit 60. The team was in Cincy playing the Redlegs. The grounds crew had the rest of the week and more to get the home field in tip-top shape. After that it was rule the roost games the rest of the month.
Tony de Marco walked past the ballpark, crossed Flatbush Avenue, and walked into Prospect Park. He had a half-hour to kill. When he got to the shoreline opposite Duck Island, he found a bench and sat down, looking out over the water. He pulled a pack of cigarettes and a Ronson lighter from his jacket pocket. His headache wasn’t any worse. It was probably a little better. He hoped so.
“L & M filters are just what the doctor ordered!” is what the ads said. Maybe a smoke would make him feel better. He leaned back and lit up, watching ducks and a line of ducklings, all waddling into the water. One of the mallards stayed on the shore, sideways, keeping that side of his eyes on him.
There was a wall of six and seven-foot-tall butterfly bushes flanking and to the back of his bench. In the summer, once it got hot and the red lilac-like flowers bloomed, the bushes attracted butterflies and hummingbirds. Now that the ducks were back, he would have to remember to bring a bag of stale bread to the park.
Tony sometimes ate lunch in Prospect Park when the team was on the road. When they were at home there was too much work to do. He was on the gang that rolled the tarpaulin out when rainstorms loomed, like everyone else, and he had his assigned work, but he didn’t do any mowing. The head groundskeeper made sure the grass was cut everyday if the team was in town. He might cut the infield grass shorter than usual if a bunt happy team was on the schedule. When Jackie Robinson had been faster than just about anybody the grass was kept long and the dirt in front of home plate watered down for him.
The Colored Comet’s first ever hit for the Dodgers had been a bunt single.
One of Tony’s jobs was laying the foul lines, the coaching boxes, and batting boxes. Jackie Robinson stole home plate two and three times a year. Tony made sure the chalk line from third base to home was straight as an arrow.
He took a drag and felt better. He would have to tell the doc about his headaches. He had been able to help him with his bad dreams without shock treatments or talking about combat fatigue and the rest of the osycho crap. He knew most of the VA shrinks yakked it up about hostility and neurosis aroused by war. They didn’t know anything about winter in Korea that never stopped and mud frozen solid. They didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. They didn’t know how goddamned horrible it was.
He was lucky to have found Doc Baird, although when he thought about it, it was more like Doc Baird had found him. He couldn’t remember exactly how it happened. Besides the ear doctor in Japan, who told him he had lost some of his hearing, Doc Baird was the only doctor he had talked to the past three years who made sure to face his good ear when they were talking.
“They didn’t have earplugs or nothing for us,” Tony told the doctor.
“They’d say, you just have to live with it. Put paper or cotton in your ears. They didn’t care about us. I had to go to a MASH hospital one time. There was something wrong with me. I thought it might have been pneumonia. That night they brought in a bunch of guys who’d been in a firefight, crying and hollering, all mangled up. I couldn’t stand it. I left and hitchhiked back to my outfit.”
The ducklings swam in a broken line behind the drab-feathered mother duck, who was putting up a racket to keep her brood together and safe. He had once seen a turtle rise up and gobble down a duckling. It was gone just like that.
“When did you serve in Korea?” asked Doctor Baird.
“I was there from the start, at Inchon. I got drafted in 1949, right after I turned 21, when the new law said everybody over 18 had to register. I didn’t have any luck. Only ten thousand guys got drafted that whole year and I was one of them. I didn’t want to go. My doctor wrote them a letter saying I had a bad back and you can’t use him. My boss wrote a letter saying we can’t spare him, we need him for the work team, but they didn’t listen to nothing.”
“You didn’t want to join up?”
“No, but when my number was finally up, I went down to the draft board. There was a big Marine there. He got us all lined up. He’d hit a guy in the chest. Marine! A couple more guys, he would hit another one in the chest. Marine! When he got to me, he looked me up and down, and went to the next guy. He didn’t want me. I weighed under 140 pounds then. They pushed me into the Army for two years and sent me to Fort Dix. We had a newspaper there, the Stars and Stripes. It said, ‘Fort Dix Turns Out Killers’. They called us killers. I didn’t know what it was all about. I wasn’t mad at anybody. I wasn’t a killer.”
The ducks dipped their heads underwater as they swam, scooping up plants and insects. The drake on the shoreline walked off looking for land bugs. Waddling away he twisted his head around and grunted, then whistled at Tony. He didn’t hear the whistle, just like he barely heard birdsongs, if they went into his bad ear.
“You lost most of your hearing in the one ear while you were in the artillery?”
“A lot in the one ear, yeah. I wasn’t supposed to be in that racket, but that’s what happened,” said Tony.
“Most of the guys I trained with went to Europe. Three squads of us got sent to Korea. I had to fly to Seattle, wait thirty days, and then they put us on a ship across the Pacific, which took another twenty days. When we landed in Yokohama, we said, maybe we’ll just stay in Japan, but the next thing I knew I was landing at Inchon in a barge. That whole town was blown to bits.
“I was trained for the infantry, but after we landed, they said, we have enough infantry guys, we need guys in the artillery. They sent me to the 37th Field Artillery Battalion, the Second Division. They gave us a patch for our sleeve with a star and an Indian on it. We used to say, ‘Second to None!’ Right away they put me on a gun section, and we got orders for a fire mission. We had twelve guns, 105’s, loud, just boom, boom, boom. When it was over and guys were talking, I only saw lips moving. I couldn’t hear a damn thing for a half hour, right off the bat, the first time. I wasn’t used to that kind of noise.”
“How did you get captured?” asked Doctor Baird.
“What happened, after about four months, after Inchon, they said, you’ve got infantry training, right, we’re going to make you a forward observer, so I had go back to the infantry. My job was to tell our guys where to shoot the stuff. If there were ten thousand gooks in the open, we’d say, shoot the stuff that explodes in the air. It would rain down on those guys, the shrapnel getting them. Other times it was quick shells, the kind that explode the instant they hit the ground, or delays, the kind that stick in the ground and blow up later.”
“You were fighting the North Koreans?”
“No, we were fighting the Chinese, tough, small, always blowing bugles, padded up in quilt coats. They knew how to stay warm, not like us, with the summer outfits MacArthur sent us. They were good with mortars. If a round landed in front of you, and right away another landed behind you, we always said, get the hell out of the middle. There wasn’t anything but hills in Korea. We would lob over the hills when the infantry was going up one side to take it. We tried to shoot over them, down on the gooks, but sometimes it would land on our own guys.”
It was friendly fire gone unfriendly.
“That’s what happened to me and my buddy. We got caught up in some wire. You always had to watch for incoming rounds. As long as you heard a whistle, you’re OK. The one that gets you, you never hear it. He got killed, and I got all cut up. I couldn’t get off the wire. I still have scars on my arms. The Chinese picked me up. They had me for about three weeks, it was bad, and I got sick, something in my stomach, and when there was a prisoner exchange, they sent me back. I got flown to Japan and was in a hospital for a month, but I made it.”
Tony stubbed the L & M out under his heel. He tucked his lighter away. It was time to go to work. He thought about the Greek kid. It was the kind of thing that happened when you were doing the killing while the other guy was trying to kill you.
“There was one Greek kid I knew, he was a baseball player, but he got a leg blown off. They gave him an artificial leg. He didn’t tell anybody about it and tried to come back. He was still trying to make it in the minors after I got home, but, of course, he never made it.”
The home plate entrance to Ebbets Field was an 80-foot rotunda made of Italian marble. Tony went around the back, to a door behind the bleachers in center field. He checked in with the watchman.
“When I got healthy, they said, you can go home unless you want to re-up. We’ll give you $300.00 if you do that. We made $90.00 a month and they paid us $45.00 extra whenever we were in combat. But they didn’t want to pay me for the couple of months I still had left on my two years, so I said, no way.”
“You went home after you got better?” asked Doctor Baird.
“Yeah, I came home to Brooklyn, got my old job back, except my old job was turned into cleaning up in the aisles, but I worked my way back up. I’m doing maintenance work, better pay.”
After Tony changed into his work clothes in the cramped grounds crew locker room, he walked out to the field. They were raking the sand clay mix today, the infield, foul lines, and on-deck plot. His headache was gone. The ballpark was going to look good for the Giants next week.
“Hey Tony, big night tonight with Phil?” asked one of the three men with rakes on their shoulders as he walked up to them with his own rake.
“You bet,” he said. ”It’s Bilko tonight. He gets it over on the con men who try to gyp one of his guys. Ike’s going to like this one”
Dwight Eisenhower was a fan of “You’ll Never Get Rich.” Earlier in the season the King of Chutzpah had gotten a telegram from Ike’s press secretary. “The Old Man missed last night’s show,” it said. A print of the show was immediately shipped to the White House.
“You must have seen it filmed.”
“That would be a good bet. They made everybody roll around on the floor, except for Silver, dressed up in their uniforms because the uniforms came in looking too crisp, too starchy, for being in the motor pool. They looked scruffy enough when they were done.”
The show was filmed live in Chelsea in a building that used to be the armory of the Ninth Mounted Cavalry. It was shot like a play and recorded to film. It was a comedy and Phil Silvers ad-libbed like a man lost in his own thoughts. Tony had been in the audience more than a dozen times. He always looked forward to Phil Silvers coming up with something off the top of his cue ball head.
It was why Tony de Marco’s new nickname was Tony the Phil.
Tony was a big fan of Master Sergeant Ernest Bilko, who was named after Chicago Cubs first baseman Steve Bilko. “Bingo to Bango to Bilko” was the way the Chicago radio play-by-play man called double plays executed by shortstop Ernie Banks, second baseman Gene Baker, and Steve Bilko.
Tony never missed a show, unless the Dodgers were playing under the lights, when it was Fernandez to Robinson to Nelson.
He wasn’t the only fan of the show among the crew, but he was the show’s biggest fan among them all. Sergeant Bilko was a pushy patsy whose get-rich-quick schemes almost always fell flat on their face. His tips for success and riches never panned out either, but nobody ever bad-mouthed him for trying. They loved him for trying.
“They always lose, sure, but they don’t blame me, because to a gambler a bad tip is better than no tip at all,” said Phil Silvers.
A short man wearing a plaid cap, a stogie stuck in his thick lips, standing on the far side of the pitcher’s mound in a pair of green knee-high rubber boots, waved a hand at Tony.
“Tony, go out there and check the drainage in center,” said Max Ringolsby, the crew chief, pointing over the top of the second base bag. “Duke said something about the grass being damp out there, maybe the drain is clogged up.”
The Duke of Flatbush was one of the team’s best outfielders, usually assigned to roam center field. The year before he was the National League’s MVP runner-up. Nobody wanted to see him go head over heels on a slick spot.
Tony walked off the infield, into the outfield, to the middle of center field, and found the drain. He got down on his hands and knees. The ground was more waterlogged than it should have been. Drainpipes crossed the field and water flowed down a slight fall to a larger drainpipe that ran into the storm water system. The pipe was about four inches below the sand, clay, and gravel that was below the grass.
Tony cut a block of sod from around the drain and dug down to the drain grate. It was stopped up with debris. He retrieved a screwdriver from the tool room and removed the cover. He put it on the ground beside him and started cleaning it. He had the feeling somebody was watching him. He looked around the field. Almost everyone was working at something. Nobody was watching him.
But he could smell a rat when he saw one.
He bent forward and looked into the drain. A dark-eyed brown rat leaned up and looked back at him. He might have been a foot-and-half stretched out. His teeth were long but gnawed down. Rats chewed on anything, cement, brick, and lead pipes. One of the guys fed scrambled eggs to the rats that loitered in their locker room. Tony wondered what he was doing up and about in the middle of the day. He didn’t wonder that the rat was in the sewer. They could tread water for days.
The rats bred and lived and died and bred in Ebbets Field. They never left. Why would they leave? They had been there since the stadium was built in 1913, generation after generation, because there were always leftover hot dogs roasted peanuts soft pretzels and Cracker Jack beneath seats and around overflowing trash bins.
“Boo,” said Tony the Phil.
The brown rat blinked twitched and skittered back into the storm drain.
Vicki Adams stood in the doorway, leaned forward, nudged Barnett Newman into the office, and said to Stan, “Here he is. I’ll be at MOMA until 11:30, then lunch at Eisenberg’s before I have to hit the typewriter. Join me there?”
It was 10 o’clock the Monday morning.
“See you at noon, dollface,” Stan Riddman said. He grinned wolfishly.
“Watch the language, bub.” Vicki scowled. Stan threw her a sheepish look, apologizing with a two-finger salute. It was how the Polish Armed Services saluted. Stan picked it up during the war.
Vicki waved goodbye and went out the door.
Barnett Newman had thinning hair and a heavy mustache. He wore a polka-dotted bow tie with a monocle dangling from a neck strap down the front of his shirt. He was a heavy man who had not gone heavy. He had never met spoken looked a private eye in the eye in his life.
He was born and bred in New York City, and was sure he would die in NYC, studied philosophy at City College of New York, and worked in his father’s clothing factory in the Bronx before it went bust after the stock market crash. He had been a small-time magazine publisher, ran for mayor in a whimsical write-in campaign in 1933, and finally gave up the bachelor life and got married in 1936.
His wife went to work, and he joined the Art Students League. He kept at it. He made himself into a painter of strict abstraction. In 1950 he painted an 8 by 18-foot long picture in all-over red. He added four vertical bands of color and called them zips. No one knew what he was talking about. He spent hours days weeks explaining it. Barnett Newman enjoyed polemics more than most people.
“It’s no different, really, from meeting another person,” he said about his oversize painting. No one knew what that meant, either.
“Have a seat, Mr. Newman,” said Stan Rittman, standing up at his desk and motioning to one of the two armless wood banker’s chairs that floated around the office.
“Call me Barney.”
“All right, Barney.”
The office of the Duluc Detective Agency wasn’t large. It wasn’t small, either. It had a separate side entrance as well as the front door. The side door went into another office they kept behind an unmarked front door. Stan’s desk faced and was not quite to the left of the front door. It backed on the windows looking down to 48th Street. Ezra shared Bettina’s desk on the rare occasion he had paperwork to work on or needed to prop his legs up on something. It was perpendicular to Stan’s desk on the right. There were two rows of filing cabinets, a freestanding coat rack, an umbrella stand, and a water cooler. In a small storage room were shelves of typewriter ribbon stationary invoices envelopes stamps pens and pencils. One shelf was for whiskey. A floor safe was tucked into a back corner. Stan and Ezra kept their cash and guns in the safe.
“Vicki hasn’t told me much, other than she knows you through the magazine, and likes you, and you have a problem with how a friend of yours died.”
“That’s right, Mr. Rittman. He was Jackson Pollack, who was my friend. There was a car crash. I don’t believe it happened the way the Hampton police say it happened. Lee is having a hard time believing he could have crashed. Jack could drive those roads blindfolded no matter how much he’d had to drink. He could drive them in his sleep.”
“Call me Stan,” said Stan, thinking Barney Newman to be ten fifteen years older than himself and at least twenty years older than Bettina.
“Betty, can you sit in with us, maybe take a few notes?”
“Sure,” said Bettina, stepping over with a steno pad, sitting down on the other loose chair next to Barney Newman.
Ezra called her Big Head Bettina behind her back because she was smart and because her head was slightly larger than it should have been. He called her Betty to her face because she had punched him in the nose the one and only time he called her Big Head. She had grown her hair out recently in a high ponytail style with round bangs at the top of her forehead. When Stan threw an eye on her now, she looked like no worries.
“You said Lee. Who is Lee?” asked Stan.
“Lee Krasner was Jackson Pollack’s wife.”
“Vicki said he died up on Long Island, some small town out there, is that right?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I’ve heard of him somewhere, probably the papers, some kind of famous artist, if I’ve got that right. What was he doing driving around in the middle of nowhere?”
“He lived in Springs at the far end of the island and he was living it up with his girlfriend while his wife was in Paris.”
“I see,” Stan said, thinking, this is more like it.
Bettina looked up, paused, her pencil quiet in her hand, as neither Stan nor Barney said anything for a few seconds in the lag of Barney letting them soak it in. He didn’t know Stan and Betty had heard about cheating a hundred times before.
“Why don’t we start at the beginning, tell me all about Jackson Pollack, and what it is you want me to look into,” Stan said.
Most of the work Ezra and Betty and Stan did was insurance and marital work. None of their clients had ever been an artist, wed or single, insured or not insured, dead or alive.
“I didn’t steal no inventory of my own,” said a small-time supplier of slabs of beef. “I am the Dolores, understand? I can’t stand my husband being unfaithful,” said a dark-haired sultry woman wearing a slash of red lipstick. “I’d rather see her dead than unfaithful,” said a burly middle-aged man wearing a diamond pinkie ring. “I hope to God you prove me wrong.” The Pinkie Man went up the river to Sing Sing after all was said and done in a faithless world.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” asked Barney.
“No, I don’t mind,” said Stan, and pushed a three-rest yellow glass ashtray towards him.
Barnett Newman smoked one cigarette after another with girlish puffs and spoke in a nasally voice with a not quite scrubbed away New Yorkese accent. He didn’t drop r’s or add them where they weren’t wanted, or lengthen his o’s and w’s, but it was in the background if you cared to listen. He talked with his hands, his cigarette always in his right hand. He shifted forwards and backwards in his seat, riffling his sport coat out by the lapels, and folding himself back into the chair.
“Where should I start?” he asked.
“Start with Jackson Pollack,” said Stan.
“He was one-of-a-kind, a new man, a new artist. He made himself out of nothing.
He made a new world out of nothing.”
Nearly an hour-and-a-half later, Barnett Newman’s steps fading away in the hallway, a haze of not-yet-stale cigarette smoke lingering behind him, Stan turned to Bettina. “One of us is going to have to go up to Springs,” he said.
“Ezra’s on that waterfront thing, and I don’t drive, remember, so it’s going to have to be you,” she said.
“All right, but you find the girlfriend and talk to her, find out what happened, what she thinks or knows happened, especially that part about Pollack aiming for the tree.”
A half-hour later Stan quick looked into Eisenberg’s. It was a few minutes before noon. He spotted Vicki on one of the red leather stools halfway down the long counter. Her purse was keeping the stool to her left reserved. She smiled when she saw him and waved him over
“Do you need a menu?” one of the cooks behind the counter asked him when he was still halfway down to sitting on the vacant stool.
“No, I’ll take the lox, eggs, easy on the breath, and don’t forget the cup of pickles.”
Vicki ordered smoked salmon on a boiled bagel with lettuce, tomato, and Thousand Island. She avoided the pastrami at Eisenberg’s. “Too fatty and too chewy at the same time,” is how she described it, looking down her nose.
“What about the cream cheese and scallions?” he asked.
“What about them?” she said.
“Not much, not by your appetite. Have you ever wondered why they call it Thousand Island?”
“It’s from Thousand Islands, New York, that’s why,” said Vicki. “Maybe fifty years ago, a fishing guide’s wife up there made it up for her husband’s fish dinners. The rest is history.”
“Oh,” said Stan.
“You couldn’t put the Thousand Islands thing together?”
“You told me you graduated from detective school.”
Stan looked up from his cup of coffee.
“I graduated from the school of hard knocks.”
Vicki laughed, spitting bits of salmon.
“How did it go with Barney?”
“It’s a hell of a yarn,” he said. “I don’t know what to think about it. There might be something to it, who knows. Betty is going to look into something Barney told us, about the girlfriend. Maybe you can fill me in on who’s who.”
“You’ve heard of abstract expressionism, I’ve mentioned it, that’s who they are, the painters, it’s all here in New York. Most of them live and work here or out on Long Island. Jackson was an action painter, the real deal.”
“Wasn’t he the painter they called Jack the Dripper?”
“That’s what Time magazine called him earlier in the year, which was all wrong because he wasn’t painting that way anymore, hadn’t been for a few years. He’s been on the quiet side overall the past two, three years.”
“He’s on the hear a pin drop side now,” said Stan.
“Another draw in the dark?” asked the counterman.
“Thanks bud,” said Stan, sliding his coffee cup and saucer forward.
“He was famous,” said Vicki, “Not everyone thought he was good, though. Some hated him and others loved him.”
“If he’s good, I’m going blind and should get out of the business,” complained art dealer Kurt Valentin.
“This is new,” exclaimed the painter Giorgio Morandi. “Vitality, energy, new!”
“Was he good?”
“It depends on who you ask. I liked his work. Some people said it was a complete mess without any method, while others said it was a whole new way of making art, visual energy like no one had ever seen. Life magazine wrote him up, said he might be the best, right around 1950.”
“Most of Jackson Pollack’s paintings resemble nothing so much as a mop of tangled hair I have an irresistible urge to comb out,” an offended reporter for the New York World Telegram bellyached.
“Jackson is the greatest painter this country has produced,” acclaimed art critic Clement Greenberg.
“Some people thought he was off his rocker and didn’t know what he was doing,” Vicki said.
“When I am painting, I am not much aware of what is taking place,” explained Jackson Pollack. “It is only after that I see what I have done.”
“What about his wife?” Stan asked.
“They got married in the mid-40s, Lee Krasner, an artist, a good one, too, but it’s hard to say what school she works in,” said Vicki. “She’s been doing collages for years, as far as I know, not exactly groundbreaking.”
“Lee devoted more time to taking care of Jackson than she did to her work,” Roger Wilcox reminisced. “He was difficult, but she believed in him.”
Roger Wilcox’s wife, Lucia, whose own abstract paintings were spelled out with lively sweeps of color, was someone who from the late 1930s helped get the artist’s colony on the east end of Long Island going, from Alfonso Ossorio and Robert Motherwell to Jackson Pollack. She liked to cook and fed the hungry artists who stopped by her large kitchen that opened into her large studio. She believed in Abstract Expressionism.
“Barney is a color field painter,” said Vicki. “He’s not as well-known as Mark Rothko, more of a minor key guy, but he talks it up, and he’s committed to what they’re all up to.”
“What are they up to?” Stan asked.
“Not any one thing. They’re mostly all trying to make it, make New York the capitol of the art world, take over from Paris, and when they do, they’ll be made men. They’re more than halfway there. Most of them, whether it’s abstract or not, most of them are doing something new. An Italian painter, Morandi, he said they dive into the water before they learn to swim. He meant it as a good thing. It’s American-style painting.”
Before he left the Duluc Detective Agency, Barnett Newman asked Stan, “The name of your business doesn’t sound American, sounds French. Do you mind my asking why you’re not Ace or Ajax Detectives?”
“No, I don’t mind,” said Stan. “I was in Paris the last year of the war. I was a military policeman, black armband, big yellow MP on my steel pot. After it was all over, I stayed. I liked the city, liked the food and drink, and I liked the girls. I ran out of money soon enough and started looking for work. I knew the language reasonably well. A friend of mine introduced me to someone who introduced me to Duluc Investigations.”
Stan stubbed his butt out.
“The office was on the ground floor right around the corner from the Louvre. Most of the work was swindle cases and missing persons. It was 1946, so there was a lot of swindling going on and a lot of folks gone footloose. I stayed for two years, learned a lot, but got homesick.”
“What borough, where’s home?”
“That’s not New York.”
“No, but after I shipped back here, back from Europe, a buddy of mine put me up for a few weeks, catching up. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was taking the police exam. I didn’t make it back to Ohio. I was in blue for almost three years, but I butted heads with some heads in the department. It wasn’t for me anymore, taking orders. When I set myself up as an independent, I called the old man back in Paris and asked him if I could use his name on my shingle. He said he was too far away to do anything about it.”
“Will you take it up, find out what happened to Jackson?” asked Barnett Newman.
“I’ll give it a few days and get back to you. We’ll check out the girl and the hometown and go from there. I’ll need something from you introducing me to the wife. Let her know I’m coming, if you can. I don’t want to waste my time or your money.” said Stan.
“Are you going to be able to help them?” asked Vicki, reaching for her slice of apple pie.
“He signed on the dotted line, gave us a deposit, but I’m not sure,” said Stan. “Betty is going to try and see the girlfriend who made it out alive and I’m going to drive up to Springs tomorrow, nose around, see if I can touch base with the widow, stop and see the local cherry tops, get my hands on what’s in the public record, anything they might be willing to tell me.”
“You won’t take Barney for a ride, or anything like that.”
“It sounds like it doesn’t amount to much and it’s probably going to end in nothing. We’ll keep it short, won’t pad it.”
“What do you charge?” Barney had asked
“We charge a flat fee for sweeps, backgrounds, interviews, things in that vein. Yours isn’t anything like that. Your work is going to be $10.00 a man hour, plus expenses. That means anything we have to pay out, buying somebody a beer, buying somebody’s talk, buying gas getting out to Springs, incidentals. We’ll check with you first about anything over twenty dollars.”
“That sounds all right.”
“How did Jackson Pollack end up in Springs?” asked Stan.
“They were living here in the city, but Jackson got sick of it. He and Lee borrowed some money from their dealer, more from a local bank, and they moved there, and got married on the way, ten, eleven years ago,” said Barney. “They bought an old farmhouse, no bathroom, no central heating, a barn, five acres, a great view of the harbor, and a mortgage.”
“It doesn’t sound like they got much for their money, except lots of land and a view.”
“Jackson did his best work in Springs,” said Barney, “He loved it out there.”
“He wasn’t born with a paintbrush in his hand,” Vicki said. “He was from Wyoming. The only thing they paint there are houses. He was a self-destructive man. I’ve heard it from more than one person.”
“I admire his work, a great painter and all that. But he was a difficult character, always drunk and wild, impossible to deal with” said Sidney Janis, after Jackson Pollack wasn’t difficult anymore
“When he went on those drinking spells, we didn’t want to see him. We were afraid of him, of his anger,” said Lawrence Larkin.
“One time, Jack got to driving his damn car so fast I was sure we were going to veer off the road. I thought he was out there to kill himself, kill us all,” said his brother, Frank Pollack.
“He was driven, came from a hardscrabble family. He was ambitious but antisocial, too,” said Vicki. “He could be mean. He was mean, the way I hear it. He went on benders and got into lots of fights, especially at the Cedar Tavern. They all lived in the neighborhood and hung around there for the cheap drinks. He was banned for a while after he tore the bathroom door off its hinges and threw it across the room at another painter.”
“He threw a door at somebody? I thought most painters were mostly pansies.”
“Where have you been? That has never been true. It’s a new day and age, anyway,” said Vicki. “The greatest artists have the biggest fights, even though sometimes it’s only with themselves.”
Stan paid the bill, pocketing the receipt, and they stepped out of the no-frills luncheonette onto the sidewalk. Stan flagged down a hack, pecked Vicki on the cheek, and held the door of the car open as she slid into the back seat.
“Where can I see some of Pollack’s paintings?” he asked when Vicki rolled down the window.
“I would try the Sidney Janis Gallery.”
“And the Cedar Tavern is down in Greenwich Village, right?” he asked as the cabbie shifted into gear.
“Go to the Cedar afterwards., after you see the paintings. You’re such a numbskull about modern art, you’ll need a stiff pick-me-up after you see the all-overs, believe me,” she cackled unladylike, pleased with herself. Her hand wiggle waved out the window as the cab pulled away from the curb, merging into the midtown midday traffic.
It was hot, humid, the city as far as the eye could see smelled bad, and the ceiling was dotted with dull clouds. The hot dog Ezra wolfed down for breakfast was giving him trouble. On top of that, the bunion topping his left big toe was throbbing in the new shoes he neglected to stretch beforehand.
It was a bad day to be having a bad day.
But that’s what it was turning into. Now the other penny was dropping. Two pennies, one of them big and mean, the other one smaller and meaner. He was sure nobody was behind him to trip him up but running fast and far was going to be a problem with his goddamn bunion. He kept his hands at his sides, his right hand balled into a fist.
“You can forget about that roll of pennies in your hand,” said the man next to Big Paulie
Luca Gravano was Big Paulie. He wasn’t big tall. He was big all around, a dark suit, dark tie, and white shirt. His face was pockmarked, and he wore thick black browline glasses. The lenses looked like they were smeared with a thin film of Vaseline. His brown eyes were slippery and unfocused.
He stank of low-priced cologne.
“They’re not Lincoln’s,” said Ezra. “They’re Jefferson’s.”
He could use a lucky penny.
“OK, let’s cut the crap,” said Big Paulie. “We ain’t going to get up to anything here, broad daylight, all these guys around, left and right.” He waved a thick hand over his shoulder. “We just wanna know what it is you wanna know.”
Ezra looked past the big man. On the finger pier side was a freighter. Hemp slings were easing swaying pallets off the boat. In the distance he could see the Statue of Liberty. On the dockside was a two-story brick building. A loose group of longshoremen was coming their way, baling hooks in their belts. They would be D & D if anything did get up.
“I don’t know nothing about it,” they would all say, deaf and dumb, after it was all over. But they could be the smoke screen Ezra needed to be on his way.
“I’m trying to get a line on Tommy Dunn,” Ezra lied.
“Never heard of him,” said Big Paulie’s man in shirtsleeves.
“Fair enough,” said Ezra.
“You private?” asked Big Paulie.
“Yeah,” said Ezra.
“Who you work for?” the henchman asked. He had yellow fingernails and sharp front teeth. He wore a black felt pork pie hat.
“Ace Detectives,” Ezra lied.
“I’ve heard of them,” said the tough mean-looking man.
“Best we don’t see you down here again,” said Big Paulie.
“I take your meaning,” said Ezra.
He took a step back, smiling meekly, turning and walking away in stride with the group of longshoremen going his way. He hated shucking and jiving, but he knew enough to hedge his bets. The hoodlums ran the shaping-up, the loading, and the quickie strikes. They hired you for the day if you were willing to kick back part of your day’s pay. At the shape-up you let them know by putting a toothpick behind your ear or wearing a red scarf or whatever the hell it was they wanted to see.
They controlled the cargo theft, the back-door money stevedores paid to keep the peace, and the shylocking from one end of Red Hook to the other end. They didn’t steal everything, although they tried. The unions were the hoodlums. The businessmen were the hoodlums. The pols were the hoodlums. The whole business was hoods.
The Waterfront Commission hadn’t gotten much done since they got started, even though the State of New York and Congress of the United States were both in word and writing on board. It was taking some doing to make it into deeds.
It was just two-some years ago on Christmas week when a new union butted heads with the ILA. Tony “Tough“ Anastasio flooded the streets with the faithful. It took more a thousand club-swinging City of New York policemen to break up the melee at the Port of New York.
In the end, gang rule stayed the rule on the docks.
Ezra put the roll of nickels back in his pants pocket. He walked the length of the wire fence to the gate. Through the gate he turned his back on the Buttermilk Channel. He couldn’t settle down, a sinking feeling in his gut slowing him down. Red Hook was surrounded by water on three sides. A longshoreman smoking alone stared at him. He crossed the street into the neighborhood. The houses, six-story brown brick apartment buildings, were less than twenty years old, but they were already going suspicious and seedy.
“I need a drink,” he thought.
Most days Ezra ran on caffeine and nicotine. Most nights he ran on alcohol and nicotine. Even though it was only late morning, today wasn’t most days.
He found a bar grill at the corner of Court Street and Hamilton Avenue. Sitting down at the bar he ordered a shot and a chaser. He looked up at the bartender. The man was wearing a bow tie. He looked like an old tossed-out mattress wearing a bow tie.
“What have you got on tap?” asked Ezra.
“Ballantine, Schlitz, Rheingold.”
A couple of longshoremen sat on stools a couple of stools away. Squat bottles of beer squatted in front of them. Neither man had a glass.
The TV on a shelf behind the bar was on, although the sound had been turned down to nothing. A beer commercial was running. It was a ticker tape parade through Times Square, but instead of war heroes or celebrities everybody in the parade was a bottle of Rheingold Extra Dry.
“No one knew what that was about,” said one of the longshoremen, pulling a pack of Luckies out of his shirt pocket.
“I got no trouble,” said the other one. “I support my family. I got my four kids. It’s good work.”
“Nothing changes,” said the Lucky Strike man lighting his cigarette. “You just live every day as if it’s your last.”
“I’ll have a Rheingold,” said Ezra Aronson. “Cold as can be, no glass.”
“I’ll have that one,” said Bettina, pointing to a fresh cheese Danish the spinning steel drum had just fed into the window. Pete Murphy deposited three nickels, turned the handle in the lower left corner of the window, and pulled out the plate. He bought a ham sandwich for himself. They poured two cups of steaming brewed coffee, paying a nickel each, and found seats in the cafeteria.
The automat had recently installed photo booths in a row along a back wall. “The New Photographic Sensation! 4 Poses 25 cents! Ready in 2 Minutes!” A young woman wearing a polka-dotted swing dress stood combing her hair in front of one at the small square mirrors next to the entry curtain.
Pete and Betty had finished playing three games of ping-pong at the pool parlor on 42nd Street, working up an appetite. After two games it was one up. Pete won the hard-fought rubber game. After lunch he was going back to work across the street at the New York Public Library and Betty was going downtown to talk to Ruth Kligman, Jackson Pollock’s girlfriend, the young woman who survived the car crash in Springs the month before.
In the meantime, Pete had written up notes about her from clippings on her.
“Ruth was the girlfriend and the other one, the girl who didn’t make it, her name was Edith Metzger,” said Pete, biting into his sandwich. “She was a hairdresser in the Bronx. It’s too bad, since she was only along for the ride, a young girl.”
“You never want to be the innocent bystander,” said Bettina.
“It was a tough weekend all around up there in East Hampton and Southampton,” said Pete. “Ten people died in smash-ups.”
Ruth Kligman and Jackson Pollack had only met earlier in the year before the accident.
“How did they meet?” asked Bettina.
“Audrey Flack hooked them up,” said Pete.
“She wanted to meet important artists,” was how Audrey Flack put it. “I drew her a map of how to get to the Cedar Tavern. She asked me which one was the most important and I said Pollack. She went right to the bar and made a beeline for him.”
“Who’s Audrey Flack?” asked Betty.
“About the same age as Kligman, but an artist, not a hanger-on,” said Pete. “Cooper Union, BFA from Yale, the Institute of Fine Arts here in the city.”
“I remember Pollack’s grin, his arm around her and the finger with the missing tip caressing her shoulder bare above the halter,” Audrey remembered. “I saw what he meant when he said loaded with extras.”
Pete and Betty played ping-pong at the pool hall once or twice a week. Pete was an attacker, standing about three feet away from the table, going at the ball at the top of the bounce, aiming to end points quickly. Serve it smash it was his motto. Betty believed in outwit beats outhit. She was a close to the table defender, countering with under-spin blocks trying to force weak topspin returns then volleying with a well-placed drive or loop.
Baby got backspin was her motto.
Pete led with more long serves than not, with different amounts of topspin backspin sidespin, looking for a counterattack on the third and fifth balls. On the flip side Bettina offered up under-spin and no-spin serves so the ball slowed down or skidded when hitting the table.
“If you want a soft serve, go to Dairy Queen,” complained Pete.
Once in play she spun the ball more often than not. She wasn’t wet behind the ears. She played the long game.
“Spin it to win it,” she said pointedly to Pete.
“The Kligman was working at the Collector’s Gallery when she met Pollack on purpose,” said Pete. “She was new and single, had the Elizabeth Taylor look and feel. He was 44 and married. He was looking for some feeling.”
“He looked tired out and sad,” said Ruth, looking back “His body seemed as though it couldn’t stand up on its own.” He was slump shouldered, bleary-eyed, wan.
She told anyone who would listen that she brought his energy back up. Jackson Pollack fell head over heels for the 26-year-old in a red dress. He spent nights in New York City with her. She moved to Sag Harbor at the start of summer to be closer to him.
“He felt good about her,” said Jim Brooks, the painter who moved into the Greenwich Village apartment Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner moved out of when they moved to Springs. “You know, a pretty, voluptuous gal, thinking he was the greatest man on the word.”
“It looks like the girlfriend knew about the wife and the wife knew about the girlfriend,” said Pete. “The wife went to Europe in July, gave Pollack his marching orders, told him it was going to have to be her or the floozy, and he had until Labor Day to decide. He moved the floozy into their house on Fireplace Road the same afternoon the wife left.”
“His dream was to have both, like a little boy,” said Patsy Southgate between scribbles in her journal.
“Lee was dealing with a powder keg,” said Nick Carone, an artist friend of the Pollack’s.
“I will never give Jackson a divorce,” said Lee.
“The car was flipped over, cans of Rheingold all over,” said Pete. “The young girl was pinned under the car, DOA. The girlfriend broke a leg and Pollack got rocketed into the woods. He was DOA, too.”
“It sounds like a hell of a mess,” said Betty.
After the accident Patsy Southgate visited Ruth. “She didn’t look much banged up to me,” she said. “In fact, she looked great.”
The eager beaver Ruth, leaning back on a sofa, her bare legs propped up on an ottoman, in a friend’s living room in the East Village, related how what happened was going to happen, no matter what.
“Edith started screaming, ‘Stop the car, let me out!’ but he put his foot all the way to the floor. He was speeding wildly,” she said. She made it sound like he had meant to drive himself to death, as though the car crash was no accident, no speed limit to save you from your own fate.
“It had to happen. Jackson was schizoid and he couldn’t be stopped. Edith was scared by the situation with him. She was a victim, but she always was. Jackson was a victim, too. He had to die,” Ruth said.
“It was a mess,” said Pete, “but at the wake about a week later, out at their house there in Springs, a lot of people said afterwards it was the best party they had ever been to.”
“The best chili I ever had in my life, really hot stuff,” said Franz Kline.
“What stays with me is that baked Virginia ham,” said Morton Feldman. “I never tasted such ham, never.”
“I had too much to drink,” said Charles Pollack. “I remember dancing with a black girl.”
Artists are always hungry, whether they are starving, or not.
“We all had a good time,” said Clement Greenburg.
“Thanks, Pete,” said Bettina. “How about Friday? You were good, but I can be better. You owe me a rematch.”
“See you then,” he said. “Bring your lucky paddle. Let me know how it goes with the girlfriend. I’ll be all ears.”
Betty whistled a cab up to go down to the East Village to talk to Ruth Kligman, the siren on the rocks that sank Jackson Pollack.
Smokey the garage man tossed the car keys to Stan Riddman.
“All gassed up,” he said.
Stan got into the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and eased the 1955 Pontiac Star Chief into the flow of traffic for the drive out to the far end of Long Island. The engine hummed, 1954’s straight-eight replaced by a new V-8. The sedan was a light gray color, two ‘Silver Streaks’ running the length of the hood, and showcase leather upholstery. Although neither he nor Ezra drove it overmuch, and might have been able to do without it, they both liked the car, and since in their line of work, they reasoned, some things happen somewhere else besides the city, they would be better off getting there in a Star Chief, instead of some heap of nuts and bolts, like a Ford.
“Fix or repair daily,” is what Smokey said about Fords.
He was concerned for the car whenever Ezra took it out for whatever reason. Stan was a careful driver, usually staying a few miles–or-so below the speed limit, always signaling, never trying to beat a light, but Ezra was not the nice guy at a dogfight behind the wheel. He hadn’t put a wrinkle in the Star Chief, yet, but it was only a matter of time. Riding in the car with Ezra was like bad weather no matter the weather.
They kept the Pontiac garaged in Brooklyn to keep expenses down. He guided the car through East New York, through Queens, and on to Route 27, and was on his way the more than one hundred miles to East Hampton. From there the Fireplace Road would take him directly to Springs and whatever Jackson Pollack had left behind.
He slipped past convertibles, panel vans, and station wagons full of wives and kids going to Howard Beach, Lido Beach, and Jones Beach. He kept his mind off his errand. The old man had always said not to overthink the work, especially at the beginning, when there wasn’t much to think about, anyway.
The drive took almost four hours. The road was a two-lane that went through every town on the way. He stopped in Patchogue to stretch his legs in the shadow of a billboard. Stan craned his neck to look up at it.
‘Patchogue: Biggest Shopping Center on Long Island.’
There were at least six gas stations in Bridgehampton, a small potato farm town north of Sagaponack Pond. He pulled into the Sinclair, even though he was less than ten miles from East Hampton. A side lot was filled with tractors, sprayers, and harvesters waiting to be repaired.
“Fill it up?”
Stan got out of the car while the attendant, dressed in a shirt and cap with the company’s logo, limped to the pump. A teenager ran up and cleaned off the windshield, checked the oil, and added air to one of the tires. There was a sign in the window.
‘Free All-Plastic Dinosaur Piggy Bank with Every Fill-up.’
“Make it 5 gallons,” said Stan.
“$1.25,” said the attendant.
Stan pulled some singles from his wallet. While the attendant went into the station to make change, he looked at one of the Silver Certificates still in his wallet. Congress had passed and President Eisenhower signed a new law the month before. “In God We Trust” was now the motto of the United States and it was going to be on all paper money starting the next year. Stan didn’t follow the Red Scare or the Cold War in the papers, but he knew enough to understand why the USA had to be a God-fearing and the Commies had to be atheists.
A piece of paper stained by water oil dirt was taped to one of the gas pumps.
‘In god we trust. All others pay cash.’
Stan wasn’t a religious man, but he thought printing God’s name on money might be sacrilegious. God didn’t care how much money you had in your wallet. What about what happened to the money lenders in the temple?
East Hampton’s Main Street was lined with elm trees. He located the police station on Newtown Lane. They had their own gas pumps on the sidewalk outside the front door and two cells in the back. The post office was across the street. He drove past Bohack’s, the burg’s grocery store. There were no street numbers on many of the houses. There was one traffic light in the center of town. He stopped at it when it turned red.
A loose group of Negro migrant workers sat on benches with bottles of Thunderbird in paper bags. It might have been their day off. Across the street the Candy Kitchen was full for lunch. There were no dark faces at the counter or at any table and there were no half-empty glasses of curb juice.
He was going to have to stay the night, find somewhere for dinner and a bed.
A woman was watering the lawn and a bed of flowers in front of a small white flat-roofed building. He pulled over. A sign said, ‘Ladies Village Improvement Society’.
“Hello,” said Stan.
“Hello,” said the woman, turning off the nozzle of her garden hose.
“I wonder if you could tell me where I can find a motor inn?”
“Montauk is where I would try,” she said. “They’ve built more than a half-dozen new ones up there in the past few years. It’s just fifteen-or-so miles up the road.”
“Thanks,” he said, and added, “Do you mind my asking what the society does?”
“Not at all,” she said, brightening. “We water all the flowers and gardens downtown, help keep the public order, not that I’m saying the police don’t care, and make sure all the stores are closed on Sundays. We do our best to make sure everyone is in proper dress whenever they’re out in public, too.”
A busybody’s work is never done, thought Stan.
It wasn’t far from East Hampton to Springs, about four miles. He found Jackson Pollack’s two-story wood-shingled house on the Fireplace Road. It looked like an old farmhouse. There was a cherry tree next to the house, silver maples all around, and the long backyard sloping down to salt marshes. There was a small barn behind and to the side of the house. When Stan looked in through one of the windows, he saw a floor spattered with paint and footprints. The floor shelves workbenches were crowded with cans of paint and half-empty cans full of sticks brushes and turkey basters. Canvases were rolled up on top of a cabinet. A pile of sand was in one corner, a stepladder in another.
A clear-eyed expansive light poured in through a large high window.
He walked back to the house and looked in through the living room window. There were paintings hanging on the walls, all of them filled with sprawling looping crazy colors. Jazz records littered the floor in front of a record player.
There was no one in sight. He got into his Star Chief and drove to Montauk. There were no sidewalks in town. He parked at an angle. A horse was tied up to a telephone pole. He ate at Gosman’s Deck, a clam bar shack, and had clams, pasta with olive oil and chopped tomatoes, and a bottle of Falstaff.
He found a reasonably priced room at Uncle Tom’s Cabins.
“There’s a nice beach down on Fort Pond,” said the woman in black capris and a red and white Roman shirt, a cigarette burning in the ashtray at her elbow, behind the counter.
It was a five-minute walk. He took his time.
Stan sat on the beach, his back against a pretzel log of driftwood, and watched the sun go down. He got to his feet before it got too dark to see, making his way back to the motor inn. He walked up the crushed clamshell driveway, guided by the light on the wall next to his room door that he had turned on before going to the beach.
Barney Newman had said Jackson Pollack did his drinking at Jungle Pete’s. It wasn’t overly late. He could drive up there for another beer. He would get the lay of the land tomorrow, talk it up wherever Jackson Pollack had done his stomping and dying, drive back to the city, and compare snapshots with Betty the day later. He didn’t believe darkness could be understood by overwhelming it with a flood of light, although shining a light on it helped.
Slow and steady out on Long Island. That was the way he was going to play it. No one hand, no matter how good, ever busted the bank. But, with a good flashlight, the potholes in a dark road could lead to the key of the brain-twister, if there was a brain-twister.
Slow and steady out on Long Island. That was the way he was going to play it. No one hand, no matter how good, ever busted the bank. But, with a good flashlight, the potholes in a dark road could lead to the key of the brain-twister, if there was a brain-twister.
“Is it the same as being in jail?” asked Dottie.
“None of them have committed a crime, so it’s not the same, not exactly, even though they’re all behind bars,” said Otis.
Dottie Riddman and Otis Arnold were at the Central Park Zoo. All the animals were behind bars. They were innocent, in their own way, but it didn’t matter to their keepers, no matter how well-meaning the keepers were. The lions might have bitten their heads off if they could, but they couldn’t.
“I asked Ezra to take me before school started,” said Dottie.
“What am I, chopped liver?” asked Otis.
“No, you’re Oats!” said Dottie, laughing gaily. “Do you know what he said?”
“No, what did he say?”
“If the zoo wants you, let them come and get you.”
“That wasn’t nice.”
“I think he meant he was busy,” said Dottie. “He had to do something for dad.”
Otis liked Dottie, even though he didn’t especially like children. They were needy, messy, and noisy. He didn’t dislike them, but he didn’t like them, either. Only Dottie. She was a tomboy as much as she was a 12-year-old girl. He liked that.
Children were always being told by their parents to listen, but what they did more than listen, tending to only listen to the voice in their heads, was watch, sizing you up. When they weren’t watching, they were imitating whoever and whatever was in the neighborhood worth imitating. When they weren’t doing that, they were moving around all the time, getting lost and found,
Or they were wasting their time. He thought it was OK for children to waste some of their time, but only if there was something in the wasting. Otherwise, it was lost time.
Dottie was 12 years-old – “No, I’m not, I’m almost thirteen!” – but she knew how to listen and talk and not size him up. She had fun going to the movies, the park, the zoo, but she didn’t play around at being playful. She wasted less time than most children.
Otis took the day off from Osner Business Machines to take Dottie to the zoo. Dottie took the day off from school. Otis had heard fifty thousand people tramped through the zoo on Saturdays and Sundays, so weekends were out. It had to be a weekday. School had just started, but it might be the last time Dottie could go to the zoo, and she convinced everyone it was worth playing hooky for. Stan wrote a note for her before he drove out to the far end of Long Island.
It wasn’t any stretch Otis getting the day off. He was the best repairman in the shop on the Upper West Side, two or three times faster than the other repairmen, and he got the stickiest jobs done with the least effort. It didn’t matter of it was keys or platens or carriages. It didn’t matter if it was a Royal, an Underwood, or a Smith-Corona.
Besides, he didn’t absolutely need a full-scale paycheck every two weeks. He lived quietly, for the most part, and had a nest egg squirreled away. Nobody knew anything about it. Otis kept some things close to the bone. He worked part-time at the typewriter repair shop and part-time for the Duluc Detective Agency. His cash savings were the payoff for being a part-time off-the-record do-it-all big city gumshoe.
Dottie and Otis ate breakfast together and he treated her to a cab ride to the Pond. They took a long walk around it, fed ducks with old lettuce Otis had torn into small pieces beforehand, and finally walked up East Drive to Park Road to the Central Park Zoo.
The Central Park Zoo was sometimes called the Robert Moses Zoo, because Moses had redesigned and rebuilt it twenty years before, from a rough-and ready place to a picture-book place of limestone and brick buildings. It was on the small side, maybe seven acres, but it had tropic, temperate, and polar animals, bird and monkey houses, and a sea lion pool in the middle of it. Eight outsize granite eagles were two-by-two on the four corners of the pool.
Nobody had to guess what was inside the animal houses. Friezes were everyone’s guide. Rocky Mountain sheep on the antelope house, a gorilla chewing on a twig on the monkey house, and marching penguins on the bird house. Every house had a chimney, too, and on every chimney was an iron weathervane of the animal inside.
The Arsenal, a hundred years old, had always been there and was still there. In its time it had been a weather bureau, a police precinct, and an art gallery. The front of the Arsenal faced Fifth Avenue. The turrets on the roof were offices for the parks department. In summer the office workers kept time for lunch hour by listening through their open back windows for the sea lions barking for their fish fillets.
Dottie liked the bearcats, which weren’t bears or cats, but like dust mops with a long tail and a pointy face. She liked them because they smelled like popcorn. “When they pee, it soaks their feet and fuzzy tails,” a zookeeper told her. “That’s what smells like popcorn.”
She wished her pee smelled like popcorn.
In the park near their apartment she had noticed, down on her hands and knees and her nose to the ground, that some of the ants smelled like lemon drops and the flat creepy crawlers smelled like cherry cola. She told her dad, but he didn’t pay attention behind his newspaper.
Otis was the Duluc Detective Agency’s jack-of-all-trades. He was the master of some of them. He could pick most locks in a minute. He knew how to start and stop anybody’s car. He operated all the photographic equipment and sound recordings. He was even good at lifting prints, if he had to.
He owned an Exakta and a new Leica. The Leica M3 was the finest 35 mm ever made, he reckoned. He had a Minox spy camera, which was handy when he was rifling mail.
He used a letter remover that didn’t disturb the gummed seals. He would insert the pincer-like device into the unsealed gap at the top of the envelope, turn the handle of the remover to wind up the letter, extract it from the envelope, photograph it, and carefully repeat the process to return the letter.
He had picked up a button camera, too. A coat button hid a lens that screwed into a small camera. A cord ran into a pocket. When he was ready to take a photo, he put his hand in his pocket and pulled a lever, shooting the still onto 16mm subminiature film.
He used a Mohawk midget recorder to wiretap telephones and a Minifon portable wire recorder with long play cassettes, a watch microphone, and a shoulder harness, when he was working face-to-face. Otis had a face like Eleanor Roosevelt’s, making everyone think they had seen him somewhere before.
Otis and Dottie had a late lunch at Kelly’s Restaurant. A bronze statue of a tigress, her jaws clamped on a dead peacock, her young sniffing at her feet, was front-and-center in front of the eatery. Dottie clambered on top of it, straddling the tigress like a horse.
“Ride ‘em, cowboy!” Otis whooped.
“I’m a cowgirl!” Dottie yelled.
They sat outside on the terrace at a table beneath an umbrella. Otis was outnumbered ten to one by women and twenty to one by children. He had a broiled hamburger sandwich and stewed fruit. Dottie had a cold sliced ham sandwich and applesauce. Otis drank an A & W root beer and Dottie had an Orange Crush. He stretched his legs out and Dottie curled hers up underneath her.
“What do you like best about the zoo?” asked Otis.
“The smells,” said Dottie.
It smells like shit, he wanted to say. It’s a safe place to fart, that’s for sure. No matter how well the cage keepers did their jobs, animals urinated and defecated all day long. If human beings didn’t use bathrooms there would be one hell of a smell worldwide. Not only that, animals didn’t bathe. Their body odor was everywhere downwind. You could smell the zoo a mile away.
The zoo was hard on the flank of Fifth Avenue. What was it like every summer, on stagnant hot humid summer days, the nearby apartment windows open to catch a breeze, he wondered? Whatever breeze they caught, the wind was westerly, and Fifth Avenue was on the east side of the park.
“That goo that comes out of the beaver butts, it smells like vanilla, and those toads in the mud, they smell like peanut butter, even though the smell makes me sneeze and my eyes burn,” said Dottie.
“What else do you like about the zoo?”
“I like being in the park, the sunshine, and the animals, but I don’t like that they’re in cages.”
“No, I don’t, either,” said Otis.
“Why do they put them in cages?”
“They do that to protect us. Lions and bears can be very dangerous.”
“Are they the most dangerous?”
“No, people are the most dangerous. Animals only kill to eat or defend themselves. We kill animals to eat, too, like chickens and pigs, but we also kill elephants for their tusks, tigers for their teeth, and bears for their fur. Sometimes people kill animals for no reason.”
“Lions and bears don’t live in cages at home, do they?”
“No, they live in jungles and forests, which is too bad for them, because their cages are thousands of times smaller than where they used to live.”
There were two six-foot bronze statues on either side of the restaurant. One was Dancing Goat and the other one was Honey Bear. The goat was rearing up and ducks at his feet sprayed water out of their mouths. The bear was on its hind legs, twisting its neck and head to one side, and sticking his tongue out. There were bronze frogs spraying water at his feet.
“Dad says some people belong in zoos.”
“He means bad people, not zoos so much, but behind bars.”
“Nobody puts people in zoos, do they?”
“Not anymore, but they used to, they were the zoo, a hundred years ago. They were like traveling zoos, people from India and Africa.”
“What kind of people?”
“Strange people, different people, rope dancers, camel herders, Zulu fighters. There were whole villages, primitive people on display.”
“They didn’t mind?” asked Dottie.
“I don’t know,” said Otis. “I know I would mind.”
They watched boys and girls glide by on bicycles. Mothers pushed strollers, slow, slower, talking to their friends. A mime wheeled past on a unicycle, pretending to have great difficulty staying upright.
After lunch Otis and Dottie walked across the terrace to the sea lion pool. Dottie hopped on the bottom rail of the fence to get a better view. One of the sea lions was napping on top of a platform. Another one, across the gap from her, on the other side of the second, inner metal fence, was slip sliding on the wet ledge, barking at the sleeper. Other seals were sunbathing and three were chasing each other in the water.
“Let’s go see the real lions,” said Dottie.
“OK, let’s go,” said Otis.
The lion they saw spread out in his cage was seven feet long, or more.
“Jesus!” said Otis. “He must be three hundred, four hundred pounds.”
How do tamers get into the ring with them, he wondered? I wouldn’t dare. It would be like trying to stare down a crazy gangster with dead eyes and a Thompson.
“What does it say?” asked Dottie, pointing to the label screwed to the wall. Otis read the label to her.
“The Southeast African lion, also known as the Kalahari or Transvaal lion, is found in the southern parts of Africa. Groups of them called prides live in open woodlands, savannas, and grassy plains. They survive 10 years in the wild and up to 20 in captivity. Lions spend most of their time resting, napping and sleeping. They hunt at dawn and dusk.”
“Do you know what lion means?” asked Dottie.
“No, what does it mean?”
“It means king. That’s why they’re king of the jungle.”
“You’ve seen too many Tarzan movies,” said Otis.
“No, it was in my book.”
“What book was that?”
“Tawny Scrawny Lion.”
“It doesn’t sound like he was much of a king.”
“You have to read the book.”
Otis and Dottie were less than eight feet away from the lion. The big cat was a male, straw and leaves stuck in his short, light-colored mane, his face like a sphinx. He had a long tail with a black tassel at the end of it. He flicked his tail. When Dottie walked to the other end of the cage, the lion followed her with his bloodshot orangey brown eyes, turning his big head. She walked halfway back to Otis and stopped.
Dottie looked up into the lion’s eyes. She was excited and scared. The lion opened his mouth, stuck out his tongue, and panted several times. She took a step back. She couldn’t look away.
“Do you think he wants to eat me?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Otis.
“Maybe we should go. Can we stop at the monkey house before we leave?”
“Sure, Dots, let’s go,” said Otis, taking her hand.
They left the Central Park Zoo twenty minutes later. Dottie looked back over her shoulder, walking out the gate of the zoo, at the clock at the top of the musical clock tower. There were dancing bears and elephants on ledges beneath the clock. Above the clock was a cast iron bell. It was a quarter to four. It would be four o’clock by the time they found a cab.
They left the Central Park Zoo twenty minutes later. Dottie looked back over her shoulder, walking out the gate of the zoo, at the clock at the top of the musical clock tower. There were dancing bears and elephants on ledges beneath the clock. Above the clock was a cast iron bell. It was a quarter to four. It would be four o’clock by the time they found a cab.
On Long Island it was four o’clock when Stan Riddman looked at his watch. There was time enough to make it home with daylight to spare. He could have dinner, a cold beer, and if Dottie wasn’t staying over with Otis, no matter the confirmed bachelor he was, tuck her into bed. He slid into the Star Chief, started up the car, and started the drive back to the other end of Long Island.
It was a quarter after four when a skinny East Hampton policeman slid into the phone booth a block away from the station and called the number on the slip of paper the one-hundred-dollar bill had been paper-clipped to.
“This is East Hampton. You wanted to know if anyone ever came up here snooping around after Jackson Pollock, right?”
“Yeah. What do you know?”
“There was a guy here today, talked to the chief, some of Pollock’s neighbors, spent the day sticking his nose into things.”
“Did you get a name?”
“He said his name was Stan Riddman, a private dick from the city.”
“OK, forget this number, don’t call again.”
The policeman crumpled the piece of paper in his hand, stepped out of the phone booth, and threw it down on the sidewalk. A woman walking past, a member of the Ladies Village Improvement Society, snapped a disapproving look at him.
“Mind your own business,” said the skinny policeman, kicking the paper into the gutter.
When he was gone the woman from the Improvement Society circled back, bent down, picked up the crumb of paper, and threw it into a trash can.
“Disgusting man,” she groused, straightening herself up.
Bumpy Williams wore a dimpled receding off-center chin and had dead eyes. They were a colorless brown. At the same time, they were dead set on the prize when he was on the job. He rarely missed what he meant to see and have.
He was wearing a brown single-breasted jacket with brown pleated trousers, but his shoes were gaudy City Club two-lace two-tones. His face was what made him good at what he did. Most people couldn’t ever remember what he looked like, even though there was an ugly jagged scar on one side of his chin. Nobody wanted to get caught staring at his chin or the scar and nobody ever looked in the vicinity of his eyes, which when he was working had a cold flat gaze.
Some people couldn’t even say whether he was a white or black man, even though he was a Negro. They avoided him, hugging the gutter side of the sidewalk. It was Thursday, a week before the end of summer, and he could hear Doris Day singing ‘Whatever Will Be Will Be’ on a car radio easing down the street. “White people are always down in the damned dumps,” he thought. Little Richard had ‘Rip It Up’ and ‘Ready Teddy’ on the Billboard 100 chart. That was slippin’ and slidin’ music.
He had a dog-eared rolled-up copy of All-Negro Comics in his back pocket. He had five dollars and change in his wallet in another back pocket, a 6-ounce stainless steel flask with a picture of a roller-skating chimp on it in his jacket pocket, and a Vest Pocket Colt .25 in a vest pocket. It was only good at close range, but it was better than nothing.
He stood still and looked across the curb at the four-story building on the other side of the street. Queen Stephanie’s man had said the snooper worked on the second floor. A sign on the building said ‘Duluc Detective’ in green and white neon letters. The building was one back from the corner of West 48th Street and 10th Avenue.
Bumpy looked into the parking lot behind him. “This is going to be easy,” he thought. He would put the glad hand on a car, park it in the lot where he could spy on the front door, keeping track of the comings and goings. A separate door on the side in plain sight led up to the private cop’s office. There was a cobbler’s shop on the ground floor and apartments on the top two floors.
He could see an oversized gold register through the street window and a line of shoeshine chairs with brass pedestals. The repair shop was probably in the basement. The heels of his two-tones needed repairing, but he didn’t like the idea of leaving his shoes in Hell’s Kitchen.
Bumpy took his shoes to Tony’s Shoe Repair in mid-town, in the garment district, off Seventh Avenue, even though there wasn’t a Tony anymore. The real Tony was the guy who opened the store in 1928 and sold it six years later to another guy named Gaetano. He kept Tony’s sign, so he became the second Tony, even though he wasn’t, and his son Dan became the third Tony.
There were Poles, Greeks, and Irish in Hell’s Kitchen. The cops were all Irish. There were Italians and Puerto Ricans. Everybody talked a foreign language. There were drivers, factory men, and longshoremen. There was stickball and stoopball on the streets. There were too many kids on scooters. There were too many tough kids. They didn’t carry weapons though, no guns, no knives. They thought they were tough enough to fight natural, with their hands.
He had gotten into a beef with one of them, not even a shaving age punk ass, hands like boxing gloves, fingers as thick as thumbs. He hit the boy on the head, and nothing happened, except the second finger on his own right hand got the worse of it. It was still bent, a year later.
When Stan Riddman walked past Bumpy, espresso in hand and biscotti in a bag, and went in the side door, Bumpy went looking for a car to steal. By the time Stan and Bettina were sitting opposite one another at Stan’s desk, biscotti spread out on the torn open bag, espresso still hot, Stan’s notes and Bettina’s notebook at hand, Bumpy was back with somebody else’s car.
He would leave it behind when he left. It would be cleaner than when he stole it, too. He didn’t like spending all day in a dirty car, so he always tidied it up first thing.
Stan swept crumbs off his desk into the palm of his hand and shook them into the trashcan next to his desk.
“’He looked like an old dead tree lying in the brush,’ was what one of Pollack’s neighbors said,” he said. “The man helped the police search the woods with a flashlight. ‘There was a little blood run down from the forehead, no other damage except for the neck swollen like a balloon,’” Stan read from his notes.
“I talked to the undertaker up there who handled Pollack and the dead girl. He said Pollack died of a compound fracture of the skull and the girl died of a broken neck.”
“What do the police think?” asked Bettina.
“They think he had a hell of a lot to drink, they think he was a hell of an unhappy man, and they think it was a hell of an accident. I talked to an Earl Finch. He was the patrolman on the scene.”
“I knew he was dead from the look of him,” said Police Officer Finch. “It was so dark up there I don’t think I even covered him up.”
“Jesus!” said Dr. William Abel when he was led to the broken-down body of Jackson Pollack hundreds of feet into the dark woods.
The East Hampton police report showed Earl Finch radioed back to the station at 10:30 PM. It was less than twenty minutes after the accident. “Two dead at scene of accident.” One girl was crushed by the upside down Olds, the other girl fractured her pelvis, and Jackson Pollack died of a head injury, was how the report put it.
Jackson Pollack was wearing “a black velvet shirt, gray pants, a brown belt, blue shorts, brown socks, no shoes, no jewelry, and no ID.” Officer Finch knew who it was without having to look at the face.
“Who called in the accident?”
“Three or four people. One of the neighbors said he heard the car barreling down the road and told his wife, ‘That fool isn’t going to make the curve.’ The others heard the car horn after the accident happened.”
“After, not before?”
“Yeah, I guess the horn got stuck and started blowing and wouldn’t stop.”
“What bothered us was that horn blowing,” said a neighbor “We jumped in the car.” They drove to the crash. “There wasn’t anyone around, just this girl with her head toward that piled-in car and blood on her coming out of her scalp. We had to holler at her with the horn blaring.”
“It sounds like a small town. What is Springs like?” asked Betty.
“Small,” said Stan. “It’s sort of a thumb of land stuck out into a bay, so there’s water on three sides. There’s a lot of in the middle of nothing there. The locals call themselves Bonackers.”
“I’m going to be a Bonacker same as you some day,” Jackson Pollack said one day, reaching for a beer at the Joe Loris bar in the East Hampton Hotel.
“You only got to wait four hundred years,” said George Sid Miller.
“Everybody says he drank phenomenal amounts of beer,” said Stan. “They say it had been going on for about four years. Before that he’d been good, although he seems to have always drunk plenty. One of his neighbors said if he hadn’t killed himself in that car, he would have killed himself with drink, sooner rather than later.”
“How about the car? Did anybody check to see if it had been tampered with?”
“No, it was turned over, busted, and a wrecker hauled it away. It wasn’t the first car he had driven into a tree, either, He had a Caddy, did it about five years earlier. I talked to a Jim Brooks, one of his friends, and a painter. He said, ‘I expected him to kill himself in an automobile, and I knew he wanted not to do it alone.’’’
“So, he was suicidal?”
“Not that anyone said, but some of them said he was self-destructive. They seemed to think there was a difference. One guy at Jungle Pete’s said Pollack was too much of a coward to kill himself.”
“What is Jungle Pete’s?” asked Betty.
“A bar diner restaurant social club, rough around the edges.”
“He came to my restaurant every day for eggs and home fries, toast and coffee,” said Nina Federico at Jungle Pete’s. “He bought a second-hand bike and would come over evenings on the bike for beers. He didn’t always get home on the bike, though.”
“There’s a couple who live right there,” said Stan. “Nina would give them the high sign and they would take him home. The beer is a nickel. I spent some of an evening there. The locals bring their kids in their pajamas, the kids fall asleep on the floor, and their parents dance and party all night.”
“It sounds like a house party. What was their house like in Springs?”
“There was a lot of paint in a studio, a converted barn, it looked like to me, but you wouldn’t know he was a famous artist by his house, even though he was famous enough that the New York Times ran the story of his death on page one.”
“Did he have any problems in the neighborhood?”
“He seems to have had a soft spot for kids and dogs. Somebody said he had a pet crow for a while. One lady said he was an innocent, childlike person, except when he was in a car. Everybody had seen him falling down drunk, more than once. I talked to a doctor neighbor of his who said Pollack would put away two, three cases of beer when he was on a bender.”
“Jesus!” said Betty.
“Found Jackson Pollack outside on the sidewalk lying down,” said the East Hampton police blotter more than once.
“He could be mean, got into fights, broke his ankle just a few years ago fighting with some other artist, but I didn’t talk to anybody who disliked him, although not everybody liked him. There were more people than not who felt sorry for him.”
“Did anything look funny about the crash?”
“Not to anybody up there.” said Stan. “Not to me, either. They seemed surprised it happened but not surprised.”
Bumpy Williams cracked open his All-Negro Comics and balanced it on the steering wheel. Ace Harlem was the private detective of the cover story and the bad guys were zoot-suited, jive-talking, back alley muggers. He was planning on re-reading both “Lion Man and Bubba” and “Sugarfoot,” all about the traveling musicians Sugarfoot and Snake Oil gone on the prowl for a farmer’s daughter.
He had brought a double-decker sandwich and thermos of coffee with him.
He peeled back the parchment paper the sandwich was wrapped in and spread it out on his lap. He poured himself a cup of coffee and put the cup on top of the dashboard.
It was after two o’clock when he finished eating and tossing crumbs out of the car. “Remember – Crime Doesn’t Pay, Kids!” Ace Harlem said on the back cover of the comic book. Bumpy folded it and slipped it into the inside pocket of his jacket.
“While you were re-discovering that Pollack drank like a fish and finding out what he was wearing when he died, I talked to the death-car girl,” said Betty. “Maybe everybody back home expected or didn’t expect something like that accident to happen, she says it wasn’t an accident. She says Jackson Pollack swerved off the road and accelerated into the oak tree he smashed intot.”
“She thinks he was committing suicide?”
“No,” said Betty. “She calls it his death-day.”
“What’s the difference?”
“At the moment he died I believe his soul went into my body,” explained Ruth Kligman. “When I was convalescing in the hospital, he came and visited me. I’m like Cleopatra and he was like Marc Anthony. He was a very deep soul mate. The minute I met him I felt I had known him for years.”
“He visited her?”
“You don’t believe any of that any more than I do, Betty.”
“No,” she said. “But she was right there, and she believes he deliberately drove off the road.”
“There were no skid marks, on or off the road, according to the police report,” Stan said. “The police sergeant I talked to estimates he was going sixty to seventy when he hit the tree.”
The Oldsmobile fishtailed almost two hundred feet through underbrush before colliding with the guts of the forest, pivoting, going end over, a hubcap rolling away, empty cans of Rheingold spraying into the dark.
“If we take it for granted it wasn’t an accident, and we take it for granted he wasn’t trying to commit suicide, what do we have?” asked Stan.
“We have him driving into the tree on purpose, but not for any suicidal reason,” said Betty.
“If that’s what we have, that’s crazy. Why would he do that?”
“Maybe somebody brainwashed him into doing it.”
Stan and Betty gave it some thought.
“If that’s what we’ve got, then who would have done the brainwashing? Who had the means and opportunity to lead Jackson Pollack down that path? I can’t see it happening out there in Springs.”
“Barney Newman told us he had been in and out of therapy for a long time,” said Betty. “We could start with his doctor. We know Pollack came into the city often, did business with his dealers, went drinking with his pals at the Cedar Tavern, ran around with his girlfriend. I would expect his doctor to be here in the city.”
“All right, let’s find out who he was, try to get a line on him.”
“Does that mean me?”
“That’s why you make the big bucks,” said Stan.
“When did that happen?” asked Betty.
At the end of the day Bumpy Williams found a phone booth and called in his watching the detective’s day.
“He didn’t do nothing all day. He’s got some girl, probably his office girl, and a Jew man came and went. Other than that, he was in the office all day and then went home. I didn’t see a wife, but he’s got a little girl. That’s it. I’m gonna head up to the barbershop, get a wig chop, maybe stop up at Joe Wells’ for some fried chicken and waffles.”
Wells’ Restaurant, sometimes an eatery, sometimes a nightclub, was on Seventh Avenue between 132nd and 133rd. Bumpy Williams was from South Carolina but had grown up and still lived on 132th Street. He lived on the top floor of a brownstone. Benta’s Funeral Home was on the first and parlor floors of the building.
“We like your looks,” they said when they rented the rooms to him after the war. “The crown is yours.” He had lived there ever since.
Benta’s buried famous, infamous, and nobody no-how Negro’s. If you had plenty of dead presidents, you could order a gold, green, or red hearse, with a colored coffin to match. If you were low on folding money, George Benta made arrangements. Nobody was ever turned away.
It wasn’t that the funeral director was over generous. Going up the stairs one day Bumpy heard George behind him. “Don’t forget to turn that hall light off when you turn in. My name is George Benta, not Thomas Edison.”
George Benta wasn’t a stingy man. He was a frugal man. Bumpy had no problem with that.
“Stop by the shop and we’ll pay you for the day. The Queen says best we pay you by the day. She says there’s something queer going on, so we’ll keep it close. We maybe will need you again the next couple of days.”
Queenie Johnson ran the numbers in Harlem, the uptown colored arm of Albert Anastasia’s Italian Hand. Bumpy knew if he was doing work for her, he was doing work for them. That’s where the money came from.
“The Mad Hatter says there’s no such thing as good money or bad money,” Queenie said one day when they were smoking after Bumpy had made a delivery to her runners and controllers. “There’s just money, is what Albert says.”
Benta’s had buried Alain Locke, a big-time Negro, two years ago. W. E. B. Du Bois, Mrs. Paul Robeson, and Charles Johnson all came and paid their respects. Nobody could find a place to park. Nobody stayed over long. There wasn’t enough space to stand. The breathing air in the grieving chapel started to get run out
Bumpy was standing at the front door with George Benta after it was all over and the casket coach was pulling away. George was in his work clothes, a long coat, pinstripes, and gray gloves. His wife, Pearl, was accompanying the funeral procession.
“Do you know that little man kept sperm samples from all his man lovers in a small box? One of them tried to slip it into the coffin. I slapped his hand away. I wouldn’t touch that box, though, not on your life.”
Bumpy looked down the street, putting sperm out of his mind.
“You pay me what you said, I’ll lean on a light pole every day of the week,” he said to Queenie’s man. “I’ll check with you in the morning. King Cole is supposed to be in town for that new TV show he’s doing, and word is he might be singing it up at the supper club tonight.”
Bumpy hung up, stuck two fingers into his mouth, and whistled down a cab.
“Harlem,” he said, getting in beside the driver. He knew it was like going to an afternoon matinee and sitting next to the only other person at the movies, but he liked riding shotgun.
He was looking forward to seeing a show tonight.
“When I perform it’s like sitting down at my piano and telling fairy stories,” King Cole always said before a show.
It was five months since he had been attacked in Birmingham, Alabama, during a show, when half-a-dozen white men swarmed over the footlights and rushed him, grabbing his legs, wrenching his back, taking him down to the floor of the stage before the police were able to break up the melee.
“Alabama is no place for immoral nigger rock and roll music,” said Willie Hinson the next morning standing in front of the storefront office of the White Citizen’s Council.
Bumpy had heard all about it. He had already killed one white man. He thought he might have to kill another one someday, if not for any reason, then on principle.
“Go out there and tell that kike across the street to get the hell away from here,” said Albert Anastasia, biting into a Holy Cannoli, the pastry full of pistachio ice cream nuts bits of chocolate. There was a glass of sweet wine at his elbow. He took a sip.
The man in the car across the street looked like hell, seedy, big bags under his eyes, gray jowls, and a thick cigar stuck in his mouth. He was wearing baggy pants, scuffed shoes, a wrinkled gray shirt, and a loosely knotted worse for the wear Belly Warmer tie. A painted hula girl and palm trees swayed faded out on it.
The mob bodyguard was wearing a black shirt, razor-creased slacks, a skinny belt, and lizard shoes. He leaned into the Chevy. There was a camera on the passenger side of the seat. He didn’t give it a second look. He didn’t give the driver a second look, either.
“What do you want here, Weejee? It’s not even nighttime. There isn’t anything going on. No one is going down this afternoon. Jumping time is five in the morning when the liquor runs out. The boss says beat it.”
“I’m just waiting for a girl,” said Arthur Fellig in a high-pitched voice.
“What kind of girl is that?”
“A girl with a healthy body and a sick mind.”
“You got a sick mind.”
Arthur Fellig was a newshound photographer. His nom de guerre was Weejee.
“He always wanted to see the soul of the person. He wanted to see the essence of the person. And he certainly wanted to see the tits of the person,” said Judy Malina, who was once chased around Weejee’s apartment by the shutterbug. She escaped before he could get his paws on her boobs.
“You’re going to need some carbon tetra-chloride for that,” said the bodyguard, pointing to the beer stains on the hula girl.
“I like them on the wet side, not too icy and deadpan,” said the photographer.
“All right, enough with the wisecracks, why don’t you get in gear, maybe go down to Sussman Volk’s and take some pictures of the salamis and bolonies.”
“How about I stay right here?” said the photographer, exhaling a thick puff of smoke from his stogie.
The bodyguard stepped away from the noxious cloud coming out the car window. He looked down the street. He waved and snapped his fingers once. The policeman on the corner walked up to the car. Arthur Fellig could see the precinct numerals on the shield over the left breast of the man’s jacket. His black tie was knotted in a standard four-in-hand with a gunmetal tie clasp and he wore a blue military shirt with removable brass buttons.
“This man is bothering Mr. Anastasia.”
The policeman twirled his nightstick and rapped it briskly on the roof of the Chevy.
“Move along,” he said.
Arthur Fellig turned the engine over. “One day I’ll see him flat on his back, sooner than later, if I’ve been hearing it right, and I’ll get the shot, believe you me” he said to the bodyguard, and drove away.
Albert Anastasia motioned to the waiter for expresso.
“I got nothing against Jews,” he said to Luca Gravano. “I had plenty of kikes working for me back in the corporation days.” The corporation was the Brownsville Boys. The newspapers called it Murder Incorporated. After gunning down their man, they usually left the impression of a Black Hand on a piece of paper beside the body.
If they were in a hurry, they wore a black glove on their trigger hand and left it at that.
“Gurrah Shapiro, Kid Twist, Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss. What the hell, Meyer and I still work some these days side by side in Cuba. As long as the Commies stay in the mountains, and Batista toes the line, it’s a gold mine down there.”
President Dwight Eisenhower was running for reelection against Adlai Stevenson. The smart money was on Ike. He had gotten over his heart attack and was back eating pig knuckles and sauerkraut. Fidel Castro and his brother were aggravating the President with their penny arcade talk of invading Cuba and overthrowing Battista. Ike would take care of it after November. It was money in the bank, Albert told his associates.
Luca Gravano nodded, sipped his coffee, and ate one brutti ma buoni cookie after another from the plate in front of him. They were Tuscan cookies, northern style, but he had always had a taste for them, no matter being from the Mezzogiorno. They were called “ugly but good” and were made of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, amaretto, and oranges.
Big Paulie came from Calabria, in the south of Italy, the same as Albert Anastasia. He had come by freighter to New York, the same as Anastasia and his brothers had done years before, jumping ship the same year Anastasia was convicted and sentenced to death in the electric chair at Sing Sing for stabbing and strangling another longshoreman. But, after he got a new trial, almost everyone who had testified against him changed every single word of their testimony.
The other witnesses dropped off the face of the earth. The prosecutors threw up their hands. It was the way of the world cynical newspapermen told each over drinks.
After his release Albert Anastasia threw in with Joe “The Boss” Masseria, making book, hijacking, and running liquor. Ten years later he was one of four gunmen, along with Bugsy Siegel, who cut their boss down with a hailstorm of lead in a Coney Island diner.
Luca Gravano was the right-hand man under Tony Anastasia on the docks, which meant at the end he worked for Albert Anastasia. He had no problem with that. The only problem he had was staying on his toes wary and careful with the main man every second of every minute of every day.
The mob kingpin’s friends called him “The Executioner.” His brother “Tough Tony” called him “The Lord High Executioner.” Some of his friends and all of his enemies called him “The Mad Hatter.”
“He is one grand guy,” said Anthony Coppola, Anastasia’s sometime driver, sometime bodyguard, and most of the time crony. “Lots of people will cry when he’s gone.”
Big Paulie understood what Albert Anastasia wanted him to do. What he didn’t understand was why there were three bodyguards with them, one outside, and two in the restaurant at a nearby table. It must have shown on his face when he glanced around and behind him.
“I’m worried about my family,” Anastasia said.
“What do you mean?”
“Forget about it, forget about it.”
His wife and son lived in a mansion on an estate in Fort Lee, across the Hudson River from Manhattan in New jersey, surrounded by a 10-foot-high fence topped with barbed wire. The lawn was looked after by a pack of Doberman Pinschers. The dogs weren’t friendly, nor was the gunman who was always in the house. What was there to worry about?
There was the New York County District Attorney.
“Make no mistake about it,” the D. A. said. “These are real tough boys, and I mean really tough, but we’re tough, too.” He was pushing to get Anastasia into his office to talk about the murder of his ex-friend, Frank Scalise, a couple of months ago inside a fruit store in broad daylight.
But what was that going to come to? There weren’t any witnesses. Even if there were, there weren’t any witnesses.
Two years ago, it had been the murder of Vincent Macri, and the disappearance of his brother, Benedetto, both of them Anastasia bodyguards, that had gotten the city lawmen worked up. It had come to nothing. There was the disappearance of Charles Ferri and his wife Marie at about the same time, after the two of them testified against Anastasia in the income tax prosecution the Federals had brought.
Everybody knew Vincent Macri and Charley Ferri were friends. Everybody knew what had changed hands. Everybody knew it was going to come to nothing.
“You want me to make sure nobody gets to the doc, right, especially not the private cop.” said Luca Gravano, not exactly asking, but making sure exactly what “The Mad Hatter” was saying.
“That’s right,” said Albert Anastasia. “Nobody outside of his circle, outside of his work, nobody asking any questions.”
Luca Gravano knew now what Albert Anastasia wanted. He knew there was a secret and he didn’t need to be let in on it. There weren’t any more questions to ask, except one, to make sure he wouldn’t get the job at hand wrong in any way.
“If anybody gets too close?”
“You feed them to that lion of yours.”
“It’s a female, a lioness,” said Big Paulie.
“Even better,” said Anastasia. “A man-eater.”
“Where do you keep her?”
“In the basement of the store”
“That works for you?”
“Yeah, if we’re doing a shakedown, or if somebody owes us money, and won’t pay up, no matter what, we bring him to the store, and push him halfway down into the basement. We throw a slab of raw meat over his shoulder down to Cleo, that’s the cat. She roars her appreciation and there’s no arguing after that. We always collect.”
“That’s good, Luca, that’s good,” said Albert Anastasia.
“Luca Gravano is a savage,” said Chief Inspector Raymond Martin, head of the Brooklyn South detectives. “He held another man’s forearm between his hands and broke the bone over the edge of an office desk, as a way of collecting a debt owed to him. The man told the story to one of my detectives, but he was too frightened to sign a complaint, unless he be killed. He was killed later, anyway.”
“You take care of this, it’s important. You call me personally, day or night, if you have to,” said Anastasia.
He stood up, put on his hat, and followed his bodyguards out of the restaurant slowly and deliberately in his money-glow suit. Big Paulie had another cup of coffee and another plate of cookies. When he stepped outside, he threw a nickel down for a copy of the New York Daily News. Wall Street was up on a “rousing rally” of five points. The Woolworth heiress was in court, being sued by a Manhattan florist for not making good on $2,500 worth of flowers. He liked the dame’s style. The crime story on page 3 caught his eye when he saw the picture of George Rosen.
“There was a rubber death’s head mask, a grisly Halloween thing of gray and purple, on the seat beside small-time gambler George Rosen, 39, as he and a masked pal stepped from a stolen automobile in Brooklyn shortly before noon yesterday to stage a payroll robbery.”
George Rosen didn’t get far. In the picture he was lying on his back in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. He hadn’t even had time to slip on the Grim Reaper mask before he was shot dead.
He knew the man, and if he owed him money, Big Paulie thought, it didn’t matter anymore. He never went after the family. He would have, but It was bad business. There were always too many brothers and uncles.
He stepped off the sidewalk into the street and stuck his arm out like he meant to have the next cab. An “Otto” DeSoto Deluxe cruised up to his ankles. He got into the back, stretched out his legs, and looked up through the see-through roof. The V8 purred as it idled. The seats were green leather. There was plenty-and-more legroom.
He lit up a Camel.
“Where to, chief?”
“You got it.”
The suspension of the big car was roly-poly. It was like taking one of the ferryboats. He started thinking about what ma would be making for dinner. He liked Ossa Buco, Eggplant Parmigiana, and Pasta Primavera, with semolina bread, olive oil, and pesto on the side. His favorite was Chicken Tetrazzini, named after Luisa Tetrazzini, a soprano known as “The Florentine Nightingale.”
Luca Gravano’s headquarters was a small storefront in Brooklyn. The sign above the door said it was the Murphy Bed Company, agents and distributors. “The Disappearing Bed” was stenciled across one window. There were several demonstration models in the front showroom, although neither Luca nor his brothers had ever sold a single Murphy bed of any kind. Among themselves they joked it was “the foldaway trap for your worst enemies.”
He lived next door in an attached brownstone with three of his brothers and his mother.
“I don’t know anything about the mob. I don’t know anything about any organizations. I only know about my five children, four sons and a daughter,” Raffaella Gravano said one day when she was asked by detectives about the alleged killers, two of her own sons, of a rival bookmaker in front of a Bronx restaurant.
What she said to policemen wasn’t what she said at home.
“Women run the show in the south of Italy,” she told her sons. “Maybe our men come home with bloody boots, but I know how to cement guns inside walls. I hold my head high. I keep the memory of the dead alive.”
“Hey, driver, stop at Alleva’s when you go by,” Big Paulie said to the cab driver as they passed the Church of the Most Precious Blood.
“The cheese place?”
The Alleva Dairy cheese shop was at the intersection of Mulberry and Grand Streets. The windows were filled with printed and neon signs. Inside were ricotta, mozzarella, and the new hero sandwiches. Prosciutto hung from the tin ceiling.
“When I was young, there was one kind of prosciutto,” said one of the old-time butchers. “It was made in the winter, by hand, and aged for two years. It was sweet when you smelled it. A profound perfume. Unmistakable.”
Luca ordered a sandwich for himself and five pounds of in-bone prosciutto and a knob of fresh mozzarella for his mother. She liked hers sliced over fresh melon. He liked his wrapped around a breadstick. His brothers got the leftovers.
“When I find the original meal these leftovers have been coming from, I ain’t going to be sharing it with anybody,” said Frankie “Kid Blast” Gravano, one of his brothers. His two other brothers, Larry and Raymond, nodded solemnly that they were with Frankie, even though Frankie meant he was going to be keeping it all to himself.
Luca was the oldest of the four boys. Kid Blast was the youngest. Luca was the smartest of the four. Kid Blast was the most dangerous of the four. Luca had the authority in the family. Kid Blast wanted it.
He had taken a gunshot at Luca the summer before.
“I just blew my top. He said something about me I didn’t like. I purposefully missed him.”
Their sister, Carnellia, had been engaged to one of Vincent “The Chin” Gigante’s brothers, but backed out of the marriage. “I’m not marrying a peasant,” she said when she got the measure of the man. The jilted lover entered a seminary and was training to become a priest. Carnellia moved out of the family house, got an apartment in Greenwich Village, and went to work in pizzazz. Her new boyfriend, a third-generation German and a Protestant, who was an ad man at a Madison Avenue agency, got her a job writing TV commercials, making whatever might be nice into the must have.
She called her mother every Sunday night, but the Gravano boys had not spoken a word to their sister in more than a year. Luca flushed red the morning his mother wanted to invite Carnellia to dinner.
“She’s not coming here in her tight dress and that stuck up wise guy who thinks he’s better than us and we’re all wrongdoers, “he said. “I can see it in her eyes, ma. Except for you, she’s ashamed of us. I don’t want her in this house.”
“She’s your only sister, my only daughter,” said his mother.
“We’re from the Old World, and even though it’s the New World now, what we make for ourselves, in our own world, that’s our new place, and when Carnellia flips she can stay with her estraneo,” said Luca.
“We have our pride. When she steps on that she can’t come back here.”
Raffaella Gravano crossed her arms over her stomach, below her sagging breasts, grim and frustrated in her polka-dotted apron, her eyes speaking daggers.
“I’m the man of the house now, ma,” Big Paulie said. “Don’t bite my balls off.”
“It’s a hell of a good day for it,” said Dwight Eisenhower, smiling broadly.
It was going to be his first full round of golf since June. He had a heart attack last year. Then when this summer rounded into shape, he needed surgery for ileitis. The past week had been filled to the brim with the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Even though he had been unopposed, no need for a stampede, there had been some hard campaigning to get Dick Nixon off the ticket, to no avail.
Ike was president because it was his duty. Richard Nixon wanted to be president. He didn’t think of it as a duty. He wanted it for himself, in the executive’s chair, at the top. He didn’t think of it as a responsibility. He thought of it as his ambition.
“Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy,” Ike told Turk, standing next to him with his clubs.
The Negro singer Nat King Cole had spoken at the Cow Palace yesterday, the last day of the convention, to some cheers and some jeers. Ike made the speech happen, no matter the carping about it. He knew he had to give in on the Vice-President, who was a hardline anti-Communist, who the rank-and-file supported with cheers. “I don’t want those Communist bastards to be successful,” Dick Nixon always said. But Ike knew he didn’t have to give in to Jim Crow, at least not always. He could take the high road and leave the jeering to the dirty tricks gang.
They drove up to Pebble Beach before the convention ended, before his VP could invite him to dinner. Besides, Richard Nixon’s father was seriously ill, and Ike urged him to go before it was too late. There were three cars full of Secret Service men fore and aft. Charlie Taylor, who’d been at it for years, was in one of the cars.
One night when Ike was having trouble opening his safe, and asked for help, his agents told him safecracking wasn’t part of their training. Ike was beside himself, giving them his ten-pound look. Charlie got the cranky combination to give in without a struggle. He had been an anti-submarine officer during the war. Safes weren’t safe when he got his hands on them.
“I won’t know whether to trust you, or not, after this,” said Ike, glancing at the trim crew-cut man.
Dwight Eisenhower was driven to his golf outing in a black Lincoln Cosmopolitan. It was one of ten presidential touring cars. They all had extra headroom to accommodate the tall silk hat Ike wore on formal occasions. The cars were almost 20 feet long, V8’s with Hydra-Matic transmissions, and heavily armored, weighing in at close to ten thousand pounds. One of them, a convertible, a 1950 model built for Harry Truman, had been fitted with a Plexiglas top.
Ike called it the Bubble Top. Charlie called it a pain-in-the-ass. Mamie Eisenhower didn’t like sitting under a dome, but she put up with it, like she had with everything else.
It was a high blue clear day, sunny, dotted with seaside clouds. A pocket-size breeze blew up from the water. It was slightly damp. Dwight Eisenhower nodded at his caddy.
“It’s a pleasure, Mr. President,” said Turk Archdeacon.
“Why, that’s fine,” said President Eisenhower.
Turk had been caddying at Cypress Point since he was nine years-old, almost 40 years since. They walked to the practice tee. It was a pleasant morning. Ike started whacking balls into the distance. He played with Bobby Jones woods, the official five-star general insignia engraved on their heads. At the putting green he lined up three balls 20-some feet away from the cup.
He sank all three.
“I should quit right here,” he grinned.
He had been practicing on a green on the White House grounds, and been hitting wedges, irons, and 3-woods, sometimes sending balls sky-high over the south fence. Whenever he did, he sent his valet to retrieve them.
The squirrels that prowled the lawn dug up his putting green, burying acorns nuts hardtack all their loot. They left small craters behind. One morning he finally had enough. “The next time you see one of those goddamned squirrels go near my putting green, take a gun and shoot it!” The Secret Service asked the groundskeepers to trap the squirrels, instead, and release them in a park somewhere far away.
In a week August would be come and gone. He would be 66 years-old soon. “I’m saving that rocker for the day when I feel as old as I really am,” he said, pointing to the rocker in the Oval Office. More days now than not, he felt like that day was creeping close, step by step.
His birthday was in October. CBS was planning a “Person to Person” style TV show the night beforehand. Eddie Fisher was going to sing ‘Counting Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.’ Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel were going to sing ‘Down Among the Sheltering Palms.’ Nat King Cole, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, was singing ‘It’s Just a Little Street Where Old Friends Meet.’
He was looking forward to it.
In six weeks, he would be throwing out the first pitch for the first game of the World Series. There were five or six teams in the hunt, although the New York Yankees looked like a lock at least to get there. If he were a betting man, which he was, he would be putting his money on the Bronx Bombers.
He wouldn’t be in the Bubble Top, either, but in the Cream Puff, getting some sunshine and fresh air, what there was of it in New York City.
He liked Cypress Point because it was set in coastal dunes, wandered into the Del Monte forest during the front nine, and then reemerged on the rocky Pacific coastline. The last holes played right along the ocean. He’d played golf on many courses around the world. This was one of the best of them.
Dwight Eisenhower looked out over the par-5 10th hole. He had taken off his tan sweater, but still had a white cap on his head. Seven months ago, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, living legend professionals, had taken on the talented and skillful amateurs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward in a white-knuckle friendly foursome at the same Cypress Point.
The same 10th hole turned out to be the key to unlocking that contest.
“I bet they can beat anybody,” said San Francisco car dealer Eddie Lowery about the two amateurs, who were his employees. He was talking to fellow millionaire George Coleman. The bet and the match were on in that minute.
Harvie Ward was a two-time U.S. Amateur champion. Three months later Ken Venturi came within one stroke of winning the Masters. The cypress-strewn rolling dunes of the course on the wind-swept coast, the deep ravines, knee-deep grass, sand on all sides of the fairways, weren’t redoubtable, not to them.
Ben Hogan turned the corner on the 10th when he rolled in a wedge shot for a 3. The eagle and 27 birdies testified to the unfriendliness of the match. The drinks at the bar rubber-stamped the camaraderie afterwards. There were backslaps and groans about made and missed shots.
Ike was playing with Harry Hunt, the president of Cypress Point, Sam Morse, a one-time football star who had developed Pebble Beach, and John McCone, a businessman who had been the undersecretary of the Air Force. He was partnered with Harry Hunt. They were playing a dollar-dollar-dollar Nassau bet. It was even-steven at the halfway mark, even though Ike had stunk up the 8th hole.
“Where is it?” he asked getting there, searching for the green on the 8th across the dogleg.
He sliced his tee shot into sand. When he got to it, he hit it less than ten feet further on. Then he hit it fat, the Ben Hogan ball soaring less than twenty feet, and falling into somebody’s heel print.
“I’ve had it, pick it up,” he said.
“Having a little trouble?” asked Sam Morse.
“Not a little,” said Ike, “but a lot.”
On the tee of the 17th hole Ike lined up his shot. Sea lions on the rocks below him barked. “It’s hard to hit a shot and listen to those seals at the same time,” he said, but not so either of the Secret Service agents with them could hear him.
Dwight Eisenhower was accustomed to having guards around him, during the campaign in North Africa, and later as commander of the Allied Army in Europe. The Nazis had tried to kill him several times. Secret Service agents near his person nearly every minute of the day was like a second skin. He knew what it took to save his skin. When he moved into the White House he didn’t mingle mindlessly, shake hands in crowds, or do anything foolish.
“Protecting Ike works like clockwork,” said agent Gerald Blaine.
Mamie Eisenhower gave her agents nicknames. One, who was a good dancer, was
“Twinkletoes.” He asked Mamie to keep it between themselves. Some of the agents called her “Mom.”
“You don’t have to worry about me, but don’t let anything happen to my grandchildren,” Ike told Secret Service chief U. E. Baughman.
The Diaper Detail guarded the four kids. Dwight Eisenhower changed the name of the presidential retreat in Maryland from Shangri-La to Camp David in 1953. “Shangri-La is just a little fancy for a Kansas farm boy,” he said. He renamed it in honor of his 5-year-old grandson, David.
When Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union leader, visited the retreat he said the name sounded like a place where “stray dogs were sent to die.” That’s the difference between us and them, thought Ike.
He looked for the fairway on the 18th hole.
“Where do we aim here?” he asked.
“Keep it away from the left,” said Harry Hunt. There was a stand of pine trees on the left. “That’s the Iron Curtain. You’ll never get through that stuff.”
Ike laughed and hit a long drive. His next shot was a 4-iron and he nailed it onto the green, 20 feet short of the pin.
In 1954 eighty people were convicted of threatening the president and sent to prison or locked away as madmen. In 1955 nearly two thousand honest-to-God threats were made against Dwight Eisenhower’s life. The year before, the Russian KGB officer Peter Deryabin, after defecting, told the CIA about a Soviet plot to kill the president in 1952.
“We were preparing an operation to assassinate Eisenhower during his visit to Korea in order to create panic among the Americans and win the war there.”
Whenever he played golf, stern-faced men with good eyesight and high-powered guns took up vantage points on hills, surveying the course with telescopic sights. Other agents, dressed in golf clothes, carried .351 rifles in their golf bags as they tagged along. In whatever parking lot the “Queen Mary,” an outfitted armored car, was the rolling command center.
Shortly after Mother’s Day the Secret Service investigated a threat to plant two boxes of explosives at a baseball park where the president was planning on taking in a game. “Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination,” Adolf Hitler had said not many years before. “This is the war of the future.”
Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied Army derailed the Nazi night train. No one was going to take him by surprise. He was planning on sitting in his rocking chair one day, rocking back and forth, watching his grandchildren trundle on the carpeting.
He served in the armed forces from one end of his adult life to the other. After he retired, he was dean at Columbia, and then president of the country. He was still the president and, he was sure, he was going to beat Adlai Stevenson worse than he had four years ago. Adlai didn’t know how to talk to folks. He was full of bull.
Even though he’d commanded millions of men in the last war, Ike thought war was rarely worth going to war for. He hated it. It was a last resort. “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
“Didn’t you once say that we are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it?” asked Harry Hunt.
“When we have to, but always remember, the most terrible job in the world is to be a second lieutenant leading a platoon when you’re on the battlefield. There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs. When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it themselves.”
The Cold War wasn’t as hot as it had been ever since Nikita Khrushchev denounced Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality earlier in the year, as well as admitting the Man of Steel’s crimes, the outrages committed against Mother Russia. A door had been cracked open. Ike had long thought war settles nothing, even when it’s all over. He was afraid of the arms race, the march towards a nuclear catastrophe.
“You just can’t have that kind of war,” he told his inner circle. “There aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.”
“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative” is what he had written and wanted to say at the Cow Palace, but didn’t, not with Dick Nixon and the Red Scare and the military hand-in-hand with industry. He wanted to call it what it was, a military-industrial complex that was always crying “fire” in a crowded theater.
But he couldn’t, at least not until after he was re-elected. In the meantime, he planned on speaking softly and carrying a big stick, even if it was only a long shaft wood driver, the biggest stick he had in his bag.
“Thanks for stopping by Mrs. Pollack,” Stan said when Lee Krasner was seated and smoking on the other side of his desk.
“I happened to be Mrs. Jackson Pollack and that’s a mouthful.” She let a jet of tobacco smoke from her Camel stream to the ceiling. “I’m a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent, so call me Lee.”
“Lee it is,” Stan said, wondering why she called herself Lee, which was more often than not a man’s name, rather than her real name. Her name was Lenore. He knew she was an artist, but not a hit artist. Making it big in a man’s world might mean you had to be a man.
Betty was at her desk, typing a letter to a client, Tracy Broadstreet, who had made it big in the city. The address was upstate. An upstate women’s prison. Racy Tracy had been one of New York City’s highest paid pornographic screenwriter producer stars.
“At the time my career was brought to a sudden and final halt in the midst of screaming sirens and shouting cops, I was pulling down anywhere from $1500 to $2500 for a few hours work. Few people know the inside of the profession as well as I do. It’s the movies, the stag shows, that bring home the bullion in the sex racket. I know for sure. I was one of the stars.”
The Duluc Detective Agency was hired to somehow prove she had been duped into prostitution and everything had gone wrong from there. Betty hadn’t been able to find any proof that Racy Tracy wasn’t the lead man in her own downfall. The letter said so. The invoice, acknowledging payment that Stan had insisted be made in advance and never be refundable under any circumstances, said they had tried.
Lee Krasner wore her hair short, banks high up her forehead, had wide set eyes, a broad nose, and full lips. Stan thought she looked like an immigrant from Russia. She was wearing black from the waist down, black flatties and loose-fitting black slacks, a silver belt, and a red v-neck shell.
“Barney hired you, is that right?” she asked.
“Why?” she asked.
“He doesn’t think the accident was an accident.”
“Jack was a time bomb. His time had come.”
“Was he suicidal?”
“Yes, but do you mean, would he ever commit suicide?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Jack was suicidal, but he would never commit suicide. He didn’t have it in him. It’s like this. He liked dancing but he didn’t know how to dance. I’m a fairly good dancer. That is to say, I can follow easily. My husband was ghastly and stepped all over me. He didn’t like being ghastly, but he would never have killed himself over it, or anything else, for that matter.”
“Was he a good driver?”
“He was careful when he was sober and more careful when he was drunk, although he drove too fast. But he was always faster hitting the brakes when he had to. He drove like a crazy man to scare himself and other people. It was a kind of joke with him.”
“The tree he hit was fairly far off the road, but there isn’t any indication he ever tried to control the car.”
“Jack wasn’t always able to control himself, but he could always control his car. It wouldn’t be like him to not slam on the brakes once he started going off the road.”
“Barnett Newman is our client, but I still want to ask if you have any objection to us keeping at it, nosing around into the circumstances. We are thinking there is something going on, that it wasn’t what it looks like.”
Lee Krasner stubbed out her cigarette and stood up.
“Just promise you’ll tell me if that floozy had anything to do with it.”
Bettina looked herself up down and sideways in the full-length mirror. She was wearing a black and white swing dress with a full skirt, red cuffs trimmed just below the elbows of the three-quarter sleeves, and a red collar at the top end of three big black buttons. Underneath she wore a Playtex bra and girdle. Along with the dress she had on a black belt, black shoes, and black gloves.
“You look good,” she thought. “Straight from the fridge.”
She had a black short-strapped handbag slung from her wrist and a broad-brimmed red hat on her head. She lifted her chin, looking down at the middle of herself. It was her ping-pong games that kept her fit and the girdle that made her look trim.
She flashed a peek at her backside. Halfway out of her apartment door she paused, flipped the clasp on her handbag, and made sure she had an Anchor Life Insurance Company business card.
“Swank,” she thought, once on Park Avenue, looking around Dr. Robert Baird’s waiting room.
Everything was white, except for the floor and the two Barcelona chairs. The floor was gray, and the chairs were brown. The round receptionist’s desk was white, as was the sofa and small round table in front of the sofa. The ceiling was white, and the fluorescent lighting was bright white.
It was 8:35 in the morning on Friday.
“I’m here to see Dr. Baird,” said Betty.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“I don’t, but this will only take ten minutes of the doctor’s time. It’s about the death of one of his patients.”
She handed the receptionist her make-believe business card.
“His first appointment at nine hasn’t arrived yet. Let me see if he can see you.”
She was back in less than a minute.
“The doctor will see you,” she said.
“I love your outfit,” she said.
The receptionist was her own age.
“I got the dress on sale at Macy’s, splurged on the bag at Henri Bendel’s down in the Village, and everything else, well, I just picked it up here and there.”
Betty walked into Dr. Baird’s office. It was even whiter than the waiting room. The psychiatrist came around from behind his large desk, his arm extended, shook her hand, and offered her one of the two chairs at the front of the desk.
“How can I help you, Miss Cross, is it?” asked Dr. Baird, swiveling around in his chair to face her.
“Cross, Mrs. Betty Cross,” said Betty.
“A working woman.”
“Yes,” she said. “A working woman.”
There’s something oily about him, Betty thought in a flash, as though he were tossing her a few crumbs by just seeing her. She tried to keep the turn off out of her voice and off her face. She crossed her legs and pulled a spiral bound flip pad out of her pocketbook.
The receptionist sat doing nothing. She hadn’t gone to college for just a M. R. S. degree, meaning finding a husband and becoming a Mrs. She was in her mid-20s, neither married nor engaged. Everyone she knew had married right out of high school or while they were in college. Most of them got pregnant inside a year, and most of them were looking forward to their second and third child.
Her mother told her she was in danger of becoming an old maid.
“Better to die an old maid, mom, than marry the wrong man.”
She had her sights set on making money, a small fortune, at least, and stay a single woman, as sensible and respectable as anybody else.
She liked what she saw of the woman from the insurance company. That was what she wanted to be, someone on the go, not someone stuck behind a desk answering a phone and being polite to whoever walked in the door. She was going to make her own way or cry trying.
“We carried a policy on the life of Jackson Pollack, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to just ask a few questions about him,” said Betty.
“I don’t understand,” said Dr. Baird.
“We aren’t asking you to violate the doctor patient relationship, but we would like to know if, in your opinion, he had suicidal tendencies.”
“I’ve heard of Jackson Pollack, of course,” said Dr. Baird. “I’ve read about him in the papers, it seems he was larger than life, but I never treated him.”
“Oh,” said Betty. “It was our understanding he was one of your patients.”
“You were misinformed,” said Dr. Baird.
“He wasn’t seeing you about his drinking?”
Jackson Pollack drank heavy most of his life, starting when he was 15 years-old, on the road, when he was helping his father make topographic surveys of the Grand Canyon. He got psychiatric treatment on and off over the years to cure his alcoholism. Joseph Henderson, a Jungian psychoanalyst in Manhattan, found color sequences and symbols in the illuminated manuscript “Splendor Solis” and worked them into explaining Pollack’s dream images to him.
Jackson Pollack didn’t give a damn about the “Splendor Solis,” except when he was drinking and pumping himself up with the splendor. Nothing under dream sun sun cured him of it.
He got help avoiding patriotic mayhem from Dr. Violet Staub de Laszlo. The war was on the horizon. She wrote the Selective Service System in 1941, after he got his draft notice.
“I have found Jackson Pollack to be an inarticulate personality of good intelligence, but with a great deal of emotional insecurity, who finds it difficult to form or maintain any kind of relationship. It has become evident that there is a certain schizoid disposition underlying his instability. I venture to suggest that Pollack be referred for a psychiatric examination.”
He was declared unfit for military service. He got re-acquainted with Lee Krasner. They went drinking and dancing. They went to house parties. They got married in a hurry. He broke through to the other side.
After the war he slowed down, finally stopped drinking, and did his best work, but after the summer of 1950 he took his first drink in two years and from then on stopped painting and drank heavily until his death. Whenever he was soused at the Cedar Tavern up-and-coming artists walking past him always tried to touch him for good luck.
“That’s a fucking mistake, get your goddamned hands off me!”
The more he drank the less he worked. “I don’t have anything more to say,” he told his homeopathic physician Dr. Elizabeth Wright. “What’s the point?”
“I’m sorry about wasting your time,” said Betty.
“That’s quite all right,” said Dr. Baird.
Betty retrieved her hat from the coat rack stand. The wall on that side of the office was filled with a ball clock, diplomas, certificates, a letter from the mayor, artsy black-and-white photographs, and a small drawing in a steel frame at the far end.
It was a pencil drawing of a man-beast, naked, on his haunches, leaning forward, his nose like a snout, and a snake winding out of his mouth. The initials JP in small squiggly letters were hidden away at the bottom, just in sight beneath the man’s calf.
“That’s an interesting drawing,” said Betty, fixing her hat.
“Oh, that. It’s creepy, if you ask me. It was done by one of those new city artists, the one who died a few months ago.”
“The one who crashed his car?”
“Yes, that one. I read all about it in the papers. He was a drunk. He killed one of the girls in the car with him.”
“Did Dr. Baird know him?”
“Oh, yes, he treated him for months, from about March or April.”
“That picture might be worth a lot of money one of these days.”
“You think so?”
“I would keep my eye on it,” said Betty.
After she left, but before she had gotten to the elevator, the receptionist was giving the small drawing a long look, her finger to her chin. She turned back to her desk when she noticed the phone blinking.
“Hold my first patient for a few minutes,” said Dr. Baird.
“Yes, sir,” she said.
He dialed the number he’d been given in case of an emergency.
“I had a visitor this morning, a woman who claimed to work for an insurance company that
carried a policy on Jackson Pollack’s life,” he said.
“What did she want?”
“She wanted to know if Pollack had ever exhibited suicidal tendencies, if I had been treating him for that.”
“What did you say?”
“I said Jackson Pollack had never been my patient.”
“That was a mistake.”
It wasn’t a mistake from Dr. Baird’s point of view. He planned on being far from New York City by the end of next week, before whatever was supposed to happen happened, hoping to be more than a half million dollars to the good, almost a million with what he had squirreled away in Switzerland, far away in a sunny Mediterranean world in a villa where no one would ever find him for the rest of his life. He wasn’t even waiting to be paid the balance owed him for the work he had done on Tony de Marco. He suspected the rest of his life depended on getting as far away from New York City as he could, the sooner the better.
“All right, sit tight, we’ll take care of it. What was the broad’s name and who did she say she worked for?”
“He said Jackson Pollack was never a patient of his,” said Betty after getting back to the office.
“We’ve got it from Barney Newman and the wife that he was,” said Stan. “Why would he lie about it when it’s easy enough to double-check through it?”
“He might be buying time, for some reason.”
“That’s a thought,” said Stan. “Let’s see if Ezra’s up for some second-story work, do a little digging, get into his files.”
Ezra broke into Whistler Dental Specialists on the fourth floor twenty minutes after they locked up at four o’clock on the Wednesday the following week. He waited tilted back in a dental chair and five hours later broke into Dr. Baird’s office. An hour later he had Jackson Pollack’s file laid out on the receptionist’s desk in front of the Minox spy camera Otis had given him. When he was done photographing it, he returned the file, and removed the film from the camera.
He was wearing a black t-shirt, dark khaki’s, and a brown newsboy cap. He taped the film to the top of the cap’s brim and snapped the bonnet securely to the brim. He put a fresh roll of film into the camera. He tucked the camera away behind the fabric divider in his right front pocket. He waited until it was more than an hour after midnight. He took the fire escape to the first floor and walked out the back door.
He hadn’t taken two steps before he felt, not yet hearing or seeing them, the two men. A slapjack broke his nose. He hit the ground like a bag of potatoes. A big man yanked him to his feet and slammed him against the wall. He turned him around. A smaller thick man with sharp front teeth and a black felt pork pie hat stepped in front of him.
“Hey, don’t I know you,” he said, talking to Ezra’s broken nose.
“No,” said Ezra.
“Sure, I do, you’re the zigzag man from down on the docks,” he said, and hit Ezra twice fast high on both sides of his face with the jack.
“Fuck you!” Ezra spit, screaming, and the man hit him in the mouth. Ezra tried to kick him, flailing his legs, but the man danced away, and then darted in, jabbing him hard in the ribs with the butt end of the slapjack. Ezra felt something crack and slumped in the big man’s arms.
“You’re in a world of hurt, Jew man,” the pork pie man sneered. “What were you doing in there? You tell me or we will take you to another world.”
Bumpy Williams was suddenly behind them, tense.
“Let’s beat feet,” said Bumpy. “Radio car just pulled up, blocking that way, they’re coming fast. We got to go the other way.”
The big man let Ezra flop to the ground and the three men walked away, quietly briskly melting away.
One of the Radio Motor patrolmen rolled Ezra over.
“Mother of Jesus, you got a bad dose of it,” he said, looking at his face.
The other policeman came back.
“Gone,” he said. “They must have had a car waiting.”
“Let’s get this one to the hospital.”
They helped Ezra to their green, black, and white Ford Tudor RMP, a lit-up ‘Police’ sign on the white roof, one of the policemen sitting in the back seat with Ezra, his battered head in his lap, the other, siren wailing, making the short fast drive to the emergency room at Bellevue Hospital.
It was half past three in the morning by the time Stan and Betty pulled up chairs next to Ezra’s bed on the seventh floor. A police guard sat outside the door.
“You look bad,” said Stan
“I feel better,” he said. “They doped me up.”
“Do you know who it was?”
“One of them was the rat face who’s usually with Big Paulie. The other one, I never saw, he had me from behind. I saw his hands, though. It looks like he was a fighter once. There was an eggplant who came running up when the cavalry got there, but I didn’t recognize him.”
“OK, we’ll get them. Did you find anything?”
“Yeah,” said Ezra, his voice muffled by the drugs and swollen busted lip. “The film is in my hat.’
“I need two, three days,” said Ezra.
“Take your time,” said Stan.
In the hallway Stan stopped, the policeman stood up, and Betty kept her hand on the doorknob.
“Not to worry,” said the uniformed officer. “One of us will be right here until he’s discharged.”
“Get Karol and Bartek first thing in the morning,” Stan said to Betty when they were outside. “Tell them what I want and tell them I want it by the end of the week, all three if they can do it, but rat face, for sure. I don’t care how they do it, just so long as it gets done.”
“It’ll get done,” said Bettina, a sour metallic taste in her mouth.
Stan hailed a taxi for her.
She got in and he waved the cabbie to go.
“I’m going for a walk,” he said.
The cab turned away into the almost quiet pre-dawn Manhattan morning.
It was hot and humid all up and down the east coast. It was hotter and more humid in Hell’s Kitchen. It was in the 90s and stagnant. The heat was trapping the humidity in the air. It didn’t matter. Dottie was playing stickball in the street.
The street wasn’t West 56th. She wasn’t about to break a sweat about that. Her father had told her to never play stickball on their own street. The fronts and windows of buildings were ruled home runs. Stan didn’t want any broken windows near where they lived. Dottie and her friends always played on West 55th or West 57th.
A boy bigger than her teased her about it, pushing her to the ground.
“You always do everything your old man tells you to do, squirt?” he said, curling his lip, looking down and straddling her.
She had a broom handle stick her hands. Looking up from the gutter she whacked him as hard as she could between his legs. When the boy’s father showed up at their apartment that night to complain that his son might never grow up to be a father, Stan threw the man out, dragging him down the stairs by his collar, threatening him and all of his family and friends with harm if they ever laid hands on his daughter again.
“You think I’m fooling, look up my police record,” he yelled gone deliberately red in the face in the ashy face of the man when they were on the sidewalk. He calmed down in an instant the instant he was back in the house. He jogged upstairs.
“You did the right thing Dottie,” he told his daughter. “If somebody says something rotten to you, be a lady about it. But if somebody pushes you, or grabs you, or hits you, you hit them back as hard as you can. You always do that. That’s so they won’t push you down again.”
“OK, dad,” she said.
It was a good day for stickball. Eight kids showed up, they picked their teams, and Willy, her friend from Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School, brought a new pinky ball. It wasn’t a Pensy, either. It was the cream of the crop, a Spalding Hi-Bounce.
They drew a square rectangle in chalk on the brick wall at the back of a vacant lot on West 55th to represent the strike zone. The buildings on both sides were the foul lines. They chalked first and third base on the building walls and second base was a manhole on the sidewalk. If a batted ball hit any of the buildings across the street, it was a home run. If it hit a roof it was a home run-and-a-half. If it hit a window they ran like hell.
“There ain’t no runs-and-a-half,” a snot-nosed kid from Chelsea, who was visiting his cousins, sneered and leered.
“If you’re going to play stickball on West 55th, you better learn Hell’s Kitchen rules,” gibed Willy.
Dottie was batter up. She smacked a hot grounder, but it was caught on the first bounce, and she was out. Willy got as far as third base, but three strikes and you’re out finished their inning. By the time they came back up in the second they were behind by five runs. It wasn’t looking good for the home team.
“All right, all right, let’s pick it up, let’s get some roofies,” yelled Willy, urging his team on. “But chips on the ball. I mean it.” He meant that if his new Spaldeen was roofed, and couldn’t be found, everyone would chip in to pay for a new ball.
Hal came up to the plate, wagged the broom handle menacingly, and planted his high-top rubber soled Keds firmly in the squishy unravelling asphalt. They were new and felt like Saturday shoes. His batted ball hit the side wall at third base where the wall met the ground and bounced back to home plate in a high slow arc.
“It’s a Hindoo,” he shouted.
“No, that ain’t a do-over, it’s a foul ball, so it’s a strike,” shouted back Dave Carter, who everyone called Rusty because his hair was red.
“What do you know?”
“I know what I gotta know.”
“Go see where you gotta go,” said Hal.
“No, you stop wasting my time,” said Rusty. “It was a foul ball.”
“Ah, go play stoopball,” shouted Hal.
Stoopball was throwing a pinky against the steps of a stoop, and then catching it, either on the fly or on a bounce. Catching the ball was worth 10 points. Catching a pointer on the fly was worth 100 points. A pointer was when the ball hit the edge of a step and flew back like a line drive, threatening to take your eye out. When you played stoopball, you played against yourself.
“You got a lotta skeeve wichoo,” Rusty shouted back at Hal.
“All right, already, strike one,” said Willy, exasperated.
He knew Rusty would never give in. He was a weisenheimer. He was someone you had to keep your eyes on, too, or your Spaldeen might grow legs. It wasn’t that Rusty was a thief. He just kept his nickels in his pocket, and everything else, too. Willy had heard he was such a tightwad he still had his communion money from two years ago.
Rusty had been born in Philadelphia. That was his problem. Willy sympathized, slightly.
Hal hit a cheap on the next pitch, a slow roller, but when Rusty let his guard down, reaching leisurely down for the Spaldeen, it went between his legs, and the next instant Hal was standing at first base, smirking.
“Comeback stickball,” he whispered to himself. “Our game.”
Eleven batters later Dottie’s team was on the plus side of the scoreboard, nine to five.
The woman sitting on the stoop across the street watching her windows watched Dottie and her friends walk down the sidewalk, when the game was over, one of them bouncing his pinky, all of them talking happily.
“We killed them, just killed them,” said Willy.
“We sure did,” said Hal.
“What a game!” said Dottie.
“Yeah, first we were down, came back big, you put some Chinese on that ball between Rusty’s legs, they slipped ahead, and then we score fourteen just like that, and it’s all over.”
“Did you see him, the putz, pulling that long face?” asked Hal.
“Oh, he’ll be back, no biggie, he loves playing on the street,” said Dottie.
Dottie was so glad her team had fought and won. They scrapped for every run. It was worth it. She didn’t mind losing once in a while, but she liked winning better. She stripped off her hot sweaty clothes, rubbed down with a cool sponge, and put on a fresh pair of shorts and a t-shirt.
She put her stick away in a corner beside her bedroom window. In the summer she loved her friends, no matter what team they were on, and loved playing stickball with them more than anything in the world. When it was wet and windy, the pinky and chalk and sticks stashed, and they were clambaking the grapevine, it always flipped its way back to playing ball.
The last bottles of liquid nitroglycerin were tucked into the cavity Tony the Phil dug out to the side of the base of the drain under center field where it met the larger storm drain. It sloped away under right field from there to Bedford Avenue. The tiles he pried away he tidily carefully anxiously replaced. When he threw the beam of his flashlight directly on the wall, he could hardly see that any tiles had ever been disturbed.
Sure, the Dodgers still had to sweep the Pirates to win the pennant, but it was more than doable. The Buccos were almost 20 games under .500, even with an outfield featuring Bill Virdon and Roberto Clemente. They had nothing to play for. On top of that, they would be playing at packed to the gills Ebbets Field, a doubleheader on Saturday and the last game of the season on Sunday.
Brooklyn had everything to play for, including doubling up on the Yankees, doing what they did in 1955 again in a subway series rematch. If he were a betting man, which he wasn’t, since he couldn’t afford to throw money away, he would bet on the Bums.
He would have bet the nitro was going to be a problem, but when he picked it up at the deli, the first package yesterday and the second package today, it hadn’t been any problem, at all.
“Nah, it ain’t gonna blow you up,” the counterman said. “We keep it in the cooler, so it stays stable. It’s packed in ice, so you’ve got a couple of hours. It’s as safe to handle as a baby. It won’t bite you. Just don’t drop it. You know how babies are.”
His yellow jacket, yellow TNT sewn into it, was all ready and safely ready in the back of his locker. When he pulled the ripcord on it, standing where he was now standing, all hell would break loose on Wednesday. There wouldn’t be any World Series after that.
He was calm ready steady. There wasn’t anything left to do, except to wait. If the Bums ran the table, then the table was set for blowing the commander-in-chief to kingdom come.
A stab of pain on both sides of his head buckled Tony’s knees. His chin fell into his chest and his hands flew to his temples. His eyes watered. “What the fuck?” He went down to the ground, like a dog, his head hanging. He started to pant like a dog.
“Fuck me!” he spit whispered to himself.
His headaches had been getting worse all summer, not better, but this was the worst of them. A grand slam was worse than a single if you were on the wrong side of it. He was on the wrong side of the slam. Five minutes passed before he opened his eyes and cautiously brought his head up. He put his hands on the wall to bring himself to his feet. It was no good. He went back down on all fours and crawled out of the storm drain.
He felt better once he made it outside. He stumbled getting up and lurched out of the ballpark. It was a sunny day. He needed some sun.
The Brighton Beach Health Resort at 5th Street and Brightwater Court was a wide beat-up plank platform in front of a corrugated fence. Behind the fence was a parking lot. Parking on weekdays was 25 cents for two hours and 35 cents for three hours. Weekdays the cost was a flat 15 cents an hour. It didn’t matter to him. He didn’t have a car. He took a bus and walked the rest of the way.
Behind the parking lot were rows of five-story walk-ups. In front of the Health Resort was the Brighton Beach Boardwalk. The Lower Bay spread out as far as the eye could see. The four-foot painted letters on the fence said, “Health Resort” and smaller letters to the side said “Sat. Sun 20 cents per hr. Weekdays 15 cents per hr. “
A small billboard to the side advertised soda pop. The sign said, “7 Up Likes You.”
Tony the Phil didn’t drink 7 Up because he didn’t like Fresh-up Freddie, the mascot rooster for the soft drink. Freddie dressed in flashy clothes, drove a red sportster, and was free and easy with advice about how to plan fun successful picnics and parties by having plenty of 7 Up on hand. Tony didn’t go on picnics, except by himself, and was rarely invited to parties. He drank Dr. Pepper.
It was “The Friendly Pepper Upper.”
He threw down three dimes for two hours and found a chaise lounge in the second row of chairs. There were four rows. Everyone got the same bright beams of sunlight, no matter what row they were in. The backrest was adjustable to three positions. He set it back two stops, wiggling into the cushions.
The woman next to him was a middle-aged logjam in a long-sleeved black jacket and a black knee-length skirt. She was wearing orthopedic black shoes. The woman’s chin bobbed softly on the folds of her neck. Her hands were folded over her gut and she was breathing softly. Next to her was a young blonde woman in a two-piece bathing suit, her hair pulled up under a white kerchief. On the other side of him were two middle-aged men, one in a red shirt and the other in a blue shirt, their sleeves rolled up.
“I tell you, he ain’t gonna make it,” said the man in the red shirt. “I like Ike, but he should have stepped aside for a younger man.”
“He’s made it this far,” said the man in the blue shirt. “I’ve seen younger men drop dead for no reason at all. He’s got plenty of good reasons to stay on his feet.”
“You know, my temperature’s risin’, and the jukebox blows a fuse, my heart’s beatin’ rhythm, and my soul keeps on singin’ the blues, roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.”
Tony the Phil glanced at the blonde in the two-piece suit. She had a transistor radio banded to her wrist and her wrist near her ear. The radio was gray with a gold tuning dial. It was the closest Tony had been to one of the gadgets.
“That one of those new pocket radios?”
“It’s a Regency,” she said. “I’m listening to WINS, the Alan Freed Show.”
“1010, easy to remember, easy to dial,” said Tony.
“Spinnin’ the discs with finesse, just set your dial to 1010 awhile, to WINS.”
He listened to Bob Garrity’s live late night “Jazz from Birdland” sometimes, after night games, when he couldn’t sleep in the dank stuffy dark air of his apartment.
The first night game at Ebbets Field had been played almost twenty years ago. Some of the old-timers still talked about it. A fife and drum corps marched up and down the outfield. Jessie Owen ran a series of sprinting exhibitions. Johnny Vander Meer, a lanky twenty-two-year-old southpaw, threw a no-hitter for the Bums. Leo Durocher came up in the top of the ninth down three, two outs, and the bases loaded after three straight walks, but Vander Meer got Leo the Lip to hit a loser’s pop-up that shut the lights out on the Reds.
“See you later alligator, after ‘while crocodile, can’t you see you’re in my way now, don’t you know you cramp my style.”
The crowd went wild. Popcorn peanuts beer were thrown up into air. Johnny Vander Meer was mobbed by his teammates.
“I said wait a minute ‘gator, I know you mean it just for play, and this is what I have to say, see you later alligator, after ‘while crocodile.”
Everybody young was listening to rock-n-roll, the new music. Whoever heard of Elvis Presley before the transistor radio? Now he was down for five of the Billboard Top 20 songs. Doris Day was in the Top 10, but time was running out for her and Dean Martin and Perry Como. It was time for Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent and Frankie Lymon.
“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, Que sera, sera, what will be, will be.” That’s the way it was shaping up to be.
“I heard those things cost an arm and a leg,” said Tony.
“I don’t know,” said the blonde. “My boyfriend got it for me. He said it fell off a truck.”
She laughed, full-mouthed, bright and happy.
The logjam in black between them shifted her weight. The chaise lounge groaned. She had been gurgling snoring quietly, but now stopped. The blonde turned back to Tony.
“Oh, wait, this is my favorite song by Pat Boone,” she said suddenly.
It was ‘I Almost Lost My Mind.’ The girl bobbed to the song. Tony stayed still.
“I went to the Gypsy and had my fortune read, I went to see a Gypsy, I had my fortune read, I hung my head in sorrow when she said what she said.”
He remembered the song from the time before he went to Korea. It was a big hit then by Ivory Joe Hunter, not by no Pat Boone. Ivory Joe was Ivory Joe’s given name, not a stage name. He was the Baron of the Boogie. He wasn’t the cheery youngster from Florida who covered R & B hits for Dot Records. He wasn’t the wholesome Pat Boone who the high school girls loved. He wasn’t just piggybank jiving.
“Jesus H. Christ,” his head hurt again.
He had felt better for a half-hour, the warm sun making him hum, but now his head was pulsing. He felt hot, not warm. Some kind of brown was ooze creeping in on the edge of his vision. He was nauseous and woozy.
“Oh yes I’m the great pretender, ooh, ooh, adrift in a world of my own, ooh, ooh, I play the game but to my real shame, you’ve left me to dream all alone.”
“Hey mister, are you all right?”
Tony heard the blonde the second or third time she asked, even though he wasn’t sure what she was saying.
“I was asking if you’re all right.”
“Headache, bad headache,” he said.
“I got some Bayer in my handbag.”
She pulled a red and black box bag out from under her chaise lounge, flipped the clasp open, and shook out two white tablets of aspirin. He swallowed them dry. They didn’t do him any good, though, not then or ever.
“Thanks,” he said, getting up, sketchy.
“Are you going to be OK?”
“I’ll be fine,” he said.
He couldn’t take a bus or a subway. He was goddamn wobbly. He needed to see the doc as soon as possible. Behind him the blonde lifted an Oscar Mayer thin-sliced bologna and cheese sandwich slathered with mayo and mustard out of her bag. Taking a bite, she watched Tony the Phil stutter down the plank boardwalk. He waved for a cab, getting in gingerly, slumping slightly forward.
“Don’t know what they’re doing, but they laugh a lot behind the green door, wish they’d let me in so I could find out, what’s behind the green door.”
Uptown, Dr. Robert Baird put down his menu. He had a dirty martini at hand, although the olive brine hadn’t replaced the vermouth, but rather gone along with it. He liked it that way. The glass was cloudier than a traditional martini.
“I’ll have the Omelette Maison to start and the Sangue de Boeuf a la Milanaise for my lunch,” he said.
“Very good, thank you, sir,” said the waiter.
He was at the Quo Vadis restaurant, on the ground floor of the Leonori Building at East 63rd Street off Madison Avenue, having a late lunch alone in a quiet corner. His office was on the corner of East 66th and Park Avenue, in a 12-story building across the street from the Park Avenue Armory. He practiced his craft on the 5th floor. It was a ten-minute stroll from his office to the restaurant. He always walked, rain or storm under an umbrella or shine.
The Quo Vadis was opulent, heavy with columns and red velvet, Italian mosiacs in the entry, and the two restaurateurs, Gino Robusti and Bruno Caravaggi, paraded the dining room at night in tuxedos. Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole ate there. Frank Sinatra was one of the few diners not required to wear a tie during dinner. Nevertheless, he always wore a tie, out of respect.
Dr. Baird was hungry. He was almost famished, having missed breakfast. He finished his omelet and ordered another martini. When he thought about it, he knew his special patient was falling apart, but there was only so much he could do. The problem was the time it was taking. It was taking too long getting to D-Day. The man’s headaches had been getting worse. There was less than a week to go, but he was concerned.
He had been using scopolamine to fine-tune the hypnosis sessions, and there hadn’t been any adverse effects, no dry mouth, no itching, or hallucinations. Headaches weren’t listed in the literature as an adverse effect. He was puzzled, although not surprised, by the headaches. The literature wasn’t always right. Jackson Pollack had come down with several migraine-like headaches in July.
If it happens again, I’ll use a strong narcotic again, he thought, biting into his beef.
It was the first time he had ordered the Sangue de Boeuf at Quo Vadis. It was literally melting in his mouth. This is absolutely delicious, he realized, at the same time resenting that he was seeing Tony de Marco stumbling past a surprised annoyed waiter’s outstretched arms towards his table.
“Doc, you gotta help me.”
“It’s all right, Lorenzo,” Dr. Baird said to the waiter. “Help him into his seat and bring a glass of ice water.”
Tony’s face was flushed, and he looked like he might explode. A side effect of scopolamine was dyshidrosis, a reduced ability to sweat in order to cool off. Tony gulped down a tumbler of water and Dr. Baird ordered another.
“Doc, I’ve been getting worse headaches,” said Tony. “The dope you gave me helped, but it doesn’t help anymore. I need something more to keep my head screwed on straight.”
Dr. Baird went back to his beef while he watched Tony. He knew he was going to have to get him back to the office, but he wanted to finish his lunch first. He had an enormous fondness for delicious food. He was willing to miss dessert but wasn’t willing to walk away from his entrée.
“Drink a little more water, and we’ll go in a few minutes, as soon as you’ve cooled down. I’m sure we’ve got something that will help you,” said the psychiatrist, lifting another forkful of Sangue De Boeuf to his mouth.
“My head is killing me.”
“I want your body temperature to go down a little first,” the doctor said, stalling, looking down at his plate. There were only a few bites left. He quickly lifted another slice of beef with his fork. He saw Lorenzo approaching their table and made eye contact. He gestured a phantom signature in the air. The waiter understood and made a u-turn.
Whens Dr. Baird and Tony walked past the bar to the front door, Tony supported at the elbow by the doctor, Stan Riddman, sitting at the bar, looked down into the bourbon in front of him. There were three ice cubes in the glass. He liked the way the bourbon got along with the cold.
On the street the doctor hailed a cab. Walking past them, Stan overheard the address the doctor gave the cabbie, and decided to walk. He would be there practically at the same time, anyway. The cab was pulling away from the curb of East 66th and Park when he got there. He watched the two men enter the building, waited a moment, and followed them inside. They were standing at the elevator, their backs to him. He watched them get inside the elevator, and when he saw it stopped on the 5th floor, he walked across the lobby to the pay phone.
“You might have hit the nail on the head about the little man,” he said when Betty answered the office phone. “He’s with our bird.”
“Where are you?”
“In the lobby of the doc’s building,” he said.
“Are you going for the bum’s rush?” she asked.
“Yes, get the guys over here as fast as possible, Bartek behind the building, and Karol with me,” he said. “You be with the car in the alley on the Madison side.”
“Give me ten minutes.”
“It’s going to happen fast, stay on your toes”
“Don’t worry about our end. Oh, one last thing, you are going to grab the both of them?”
“You bet I am.”
The shrink wouldn’t be any problem. He would shrink down to size fast enough. Karol would escort him out on his elbow. The dago might be a problem. He looked nervous and wracked up about something. Ten minutes gave him just enough time to have a square. He leaned against the wall next to the pay phone and lit a Camel. He slowly exhaled twin plumes of smoke through his nostrils and waited for Karol. Bartek would be on his scooter in the alley, waiting idly.
Stan waited behind his cigarette smoke, the clock in his head ticking.
The mistake Bumpy Williams made was having two beers for lunch on an empty stomach. He wasn’t hungry, but he was thirsty, so he had two instead of just one. The other mistake he made was breaking his number one no break rule, which was never assume anything.
“It can make an ass of you,” George Benta said at the funeral home when his men mixed up two dead men in what they thought were the right coffins but were the wrong coffins and had to dig them up and bury them again.
“Hey, don’t worry about it, mistakes are just another way of finally getting the right thing done,” Bumpy said to George’s long face.
He assumed Stan Rittman, frog-marching the Park Avenue headshrinker out the door of his office building in the hubbub of the 5 o’clock Friday going home rush, down the sidewalk, and into the alley, was alone. He saw the car, the open back door, and got to within a step of the peeper, but he never saw Karol.
Stan saw Bumpy coming but stayed in step with doing what he was doing, not skipping a beat. Never interrupt anybody when he’s making a mistake was one of his cardinal rules. It had always stood him in good stead at the poker table. The only person he interrupted tripping over her own two feet was Dottie.
“Hands where I can see them, nigger,” said Karol.
The third mistake Bumpy made was whirling around, blackjack suddenly in his hand, and whirlpooling his temple into the swinging blunt butt end of Karol’s Colt .45 pistol. The street tilted up to meet his pole-axed face, his knees weak as a baby’s, his brain blank as a bubble.
“Who’s he?” asked Karol.
“Who cares, in the trunk with him,” said Stan.
Bartek grinned up a storm, bringing up the rear.
Betty tossed the car keys out the window, Karol snatched them out of the air, and dragging Bumpy Williams by his armpits the woozy man’s heels hopscotching to the back of the Pontiac, strong-armed the blank-faced Negro into the trunk.
“You still have a chance, but I hear a sound out of you, it’ll be the last sound you make, and no hard feelings,” Karol said, his mouth close to Bumpy’s ear. They looked straight at each other. Bumpy tried to make his eyes say he understood. Karol gave him a pat on the shoulder.
“Good,” he said.
“Let’s go,” said Stan, getting into the back seat on one side of the doctor, Karol on the other side. “Stick your chin into your chest, and keep it stuck there,” Stan to Park Avenue. Karol tied a blue and yellow dotted bandana over the psychiatrist’s eyes. Betty put the car in gear and eased into traffic. Less than a half hour later they pulled up at the back of the Warsaw Baking Company in Little Poland.
Bartek was already waiting at the rear door, leaning against the brick wall, a smoke dangling from his lips. He had ridden his Twin out of the alley and beaten all the traffic.
The Marman Twin was a motorcycle made in California by a company owned by one of the Marx Brothers, the Zeppo Marx. Its engine was a drone airplane engine from World War Two. The ride was a nimble zippy ride.
“You two bring the colored man,” said Stan, leading Dr. Baird hard by the elbow into the building. “Handcuff him in the boiler room in the meantime. We’ll get to him after the doc.”
“What about the little man?” asked Bartek.
“He was gone,” said Stan. “We’ll find out who what and where he is. You and Karol sit tight. This won’t take long. He’s posh.”
Betty parked the car and followed Stan. She bolted the door behind her, took two steps down into the basement, but then went back up to double-check the door. It was bolted fast. It was a metal door, a heavy metal door.
The Warsaw Baking Company was a two-story brick building between Nassau and Driggs Avenues. One side of the front of the building was double doors and two loading docks. The other side was a single door leading up to a bakery shop. It closed at 5 o’clock. It was closed. There were two glass block basement windows. There was one door at the back and it was locked tight.
Karol stayed with Bumpy, cuffed to a pipe and sprawled on the concrete floor. Bartek walked around to the front of the building and hopped on to the ledge of one of the loading docks. He leaned back, pushed his flat cap off his forehead, and lit a cigarette. The late afternoon early fall sunlight felt good on his face. A pretty girl he recognized walked by. He sent her a wolf whistle.
“Save that for the girls who don’t know the real you, Bart,” she said, smiling wickedly as she walked past.
“You’re cooking, doll.”
Bartek lived three blocks away, and Karol lived a block from him, in Little Poland, hard on the East River. Everything and everyone were Polish, drug stores, groceries, hair salons, newsstands, and social clubs. Hardware stores and dentists and shoeshine stands advertised their wares and services in their native tongue. The young men had both gotten out of Europe in 1948 when they were both still teenagers and both gone orphaned for the rest of their lives.
They worked at the bakery and did odd jobs on the side. One of their sidelines was doing odd jobs for Stan Riddman. It kept them in going out money, going out with girls, going out to ballgames, and going out to eat.
They ate at Czerwony Wreprz, what everyone called the Red Pig, once a week, where they always ordered the signature dish, a whopping meal for four served in a wooden boat, of sausages, pierogies, baked hocks, bacon, stuffed cabbage, grilled pork shoulder, and chicken.
“You eat this, you’ll be happy for a week,” said the cook.
The Red Pig looked more like an old country farmhouse than a big city bar and restaurant, with a long deep bar and plenty-and-more Polish beer on tap. A white bird on a red background was stopped in space over the front door. A sign below the big bird said “Zapraszamy!” It meant you were welcome to enter. The waitresses dressed in traditional folk dresses. Wooden beams lined the ceiling from front to back, lights hung on wagon wheels, and the booths chairs tables were all dark walnut polished to gleam in the thick cigarette smoke.
Ezra was in the half-empty odds-and-ends room in the basement when Stan came in, Dr. Baird ahead of him, and Betty behind them. He was tucked into a back corner, his arms folded across his chest, quietly waiting, not angry anymore, but biding his time. Stan sat the psychiatrist in a chair at the table in the middle of the room and lifted the bandana from his eyes. Dr. Baird blinked rapidly and squeezed his eyes slits to keep the light out.
Everything was quiet for several seconds. It stretched to minutes. Ezra stayed behind the doctor. Stan stood on the far side of the table. Betty locked the door and leaned back on the wall to the side of it. Stan looked down at Dr. Baird.
“This is outrageous, who do you think you are?” Dr. Baird finally said in an upset choked-up voice, starting to stand up. “Where am I? What do you think you’re doing? I’ll have you all arrested, mark my words!”
Ezra stepped up behind the doctor and pushed him by the top of his head back down into his chair.
“Shut up and stay that way until we ask you something,” said Stan. “Turn his pockets out, Ezra, let’s see what we’re going to see before we get started.”
“I know your name now. You hoodlums will pay for this.”
“My name is Stan Riddman,” Stan said. “It’s spelled with two d’s. The only one who’s going to pay up is you. Keep your trap shut.”
When Ezra pivoted and rousted Dr. Baird halfway to his feet, spreading the lapels of the man’s jacket to search the inside pockets, and the men were face to face, the doctor recoiled.
“My God, what happened to you?”
Ezra’s eyes were black and blue, he was wearing a splint over his broken nose, and his busted lower lip was swollen bad. He spoke gingerly, careful to not hurt himself. He glared at the doctor.
“Yeah, your goons did this, and cracked one of my ribs, too. I’m in no mood to finesse you, so be a good boy,” said Ezra, his voice slow thin terse.
“My goons? I don’t have any goons. What are you talking about?”
“I already told you to shut up twice,” said Stan, as Ezra tossed the doctor’s wallet on the table and shoved him back into the chair. “The third time is going to be the charm.”
Stan sat down opposite Dr. Baird.
“I’m going to ask you some questions, doc,’” he said. “Some of the answers I already know. Some of them I don’t know. It will be easier all around if you don’t lie to me, especially if you don’t say you don’t know what this is all about.”
“But I don’t know.”
“We’re getting off on the wrong foot already,” said Stan, getting up quickly, leaning over the table, and grabbing the doctor by the knot of his tie. He jerked him towards him. Dr. Baird’s chin hit the tabletop and was dragged forward.
“I told you once, I won’t tell you again. I won’t have it. If you lie to me it will only make it a longer night, and we don’t want that.”
He let go and Dr. Baird fell back into his chair, lurching sputtering. He was starting to sweat. His shirt was damp. He wasn’t a weak man, not altogether, but he wasn’t a brave man, either. He was a smart man, and realized he was in a locked room, in a basement, with a man bigger than he was in front of him, a short-tempered man, and a man behind him whose mind was seemingly bent for revenge. He belatedly knew without having to know that both had guns on them.
The leader had spelled his name out to him. He didn’t like what that might mean. He knew this had everything to do with Tony de Marco. He knew they weren’t suddenly unexpectedly going to let him go free. He turned to Bettina.
“You can’t let them do this. You’ve got to help me.”
Betty gave Dr. Baird a breezy look. “You’re dirty, my fine man. You lied to us about Jackson Pollack, and then you had Ezra beaten up. We’re going to find out what you know, one way or the other.”
“I didn’t have him beaten up,” Dr. Baird protested.
“You know what, doc, I believe you,” said Stan. “You didn’t get your hands dirty. But you know all about Jackson Pollack, you lied about that. Let’s start there, what do you say?”
Stan wasn’t asking a question.
“I treated Jackson Pollack for depression, but I can’t discuss anything about it with you. It would be unethical.”
Stan was taken aback. He didn’t know what to say for a second.Ezra’s face jabbed his brain when he started laughing. He stopped. Bettina squawked and said, “You’re going to need a better deadbolt than that,” and smiled sweetly.
Outside Bartek zipped up his jacket, lolling against the brick wall of the Warsaw Baking Company. The sun was low in the sky. The warm late summer air had cooled off.
“Hey, Mikey, Jake, Eryk, what’s shaking?”
“We’re going down to Elsa’s, have some brews, and play some skee ball.”
Elsa’s was the Black Rabbit Tavern and Elsa was Elsa Brouwerji, a friendly middle-aged widow whose husband had tied a cinder block around his neck and thrown himself off the Rockaway Boardwalk a year to the day after the 30 million-gallon oil spill six years earlier poured into the Newtown Creek. He had been working at the neighborhood’s Standard Oil refinery and was accused by his supervisors of negligence and been fired.
It didn’t help matters that after his suicide it was determined that Casper Brouwerji hadn’t made the mistake that resulted in the biggest oil spill in the country’s history. His widow got a settlement from Standard Oil and bought the Pour House Bar and Grill. She changed the name to the Black Rabbit and thumb tacked a photograph of her husband to the wall above the cash register.
She cursed loudly and spat on the sidewalk behind her whenever she walked past a Standard service station.
“Are you coming?”
“No, I’m on the clock, errands for Stan. He said it wouldn’t be too long. I’ll catch up with you.”
Stan lifted his eyes over Dr. Baird’s shoulder.
“This is taking too long,” he said.
Ezra reached into his back pocket and wrenching the doctor’s arms behind him, over the backside of the chair, snapped a pair of handcuffs tight hurtful on his wrists. Stan threw two hinged metal frames with an attached head strap on the table.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
“No,” said Dr. Baird.
“This is a Whitehead gag,” said Stan. “It wraps around the front of your head and the parts that are bent fit between your front teeth. When we spread them apart, the frames separate your jaw, holding your mouth open. We can get it wide open and keep it that way with that ratchet mechanism on each side of the frame.”
Dr. Baird didn’t say a word. He felt himself getting warm warmer.
Stan tossed a pair of needle nose pliers on the table.
“Do you know what those are?”
“Yes,” said Dr. Baird.
“Do you know what I’m planning on doing?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Are you going to tell me what I want to know?”
“I was paid to brainwash Jackson Pollack into committing suicide,” the doctor said.
There was a slight stop of breath in the room, but Stan knew enough to keep the line going on the base paths.
“How much were you paid?” he asked.
“One hundred and seventy fifty thousand dollars.”
Bettina puckered up and whistled, surprised impressed.
“What did you do with the money?”
“It’s in a Swiss bank account.”
“Who paid you to do that?”
“They never told me who they were.”
“Why did they want Jackson Pollack dead?”
“They never said.”
“You didn’t ask?”
“You didn’t care?”
“I need water, a glass of water.”
“No, no water, no nothing,” said Stan. “Who’s the little man?”
“His name is Tony.”
“Is that his real name?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“What’s his last name?”
Dr. Baird hesitated.
“It’s a secret,” he said, murmuring.
“There are no secrets among friends, doc. “
“I didn’t keep any record of him at the office, not like Pollack, who was my patient before any of that happened later with Tony. I was told my life would be in grave danger if I ever revealed anything about him to anybody.”
Stan laughed again
“Your life is in danger right here and now,” he said. “You have one foot on a banana peel and the other one in the grave, is what I mean. I mean to have his name, or there will be hell to pay.”
“His name is Tony de Marco,” the psychiatrist finally said.
“Where does he live?”
“I don’t know.”
“What does he do for a living?”
“I don’t know.”
“What were you making him do? Was it the same as Pollack?”
“Yes, but different. When he hears the first bars of a certain song, he’s supposed to wait thirty seconds and then pull the ripcord on his dynamite vest.”
“A dynamite vest?”
“A vest packed with TNT.”
“I know what they are,” said Stan.
Some of the Hitler Youth, in the waning days of the war, when all hope was gone, had adopted Japanese tactics, throwing themselves under tanks wearing a vest crammed with grenades.
“He’s supposed to blow himself up when he hears a song?”
“What song is it?”
“I don’t know the name of it.”
“What does it sound like?”
Dr. Baird hummed a kind of a march with a drumbeat.
“That sounds familiar,” Betty said.
“Is that it? Are there any words?”
“No, no words, and that’s all I ever played for him, a kind of four-time ruffle, over and over.”
“Where and when is this supposed to happen?”
“Where he works.”
“Where does he work?
“I don’t know where.”
“Soon, in a few days, I think, since I wasn’t supposed to see him again. That’s all I know.”
“How much were you being paid for this gag?”
“The same as before.”
“Jesus!” Ezra hissed, hating the rich man who had almost gotten him killed. “And the goys call us money hungry,” he thought.
“What were you planning on doing after it was all over?”
“I was planning on disappearing.”
“I’ll bet you were,” said Stan.
Stan, Bettina, and Ezra went out into the hallway.
“All right, we know what happened to Jackson Pollack, and how, and who did it, more or less. We can wrap it up with Barney Newman, collect our fee, and call it a day,” said Stan. “We can honestly tell him it wasn’t an accident.”
“Or we can we can keep snooping and find out who it really was who did our painter,” said Betty.
“Oh, jeez” Stan exclaimed. “What about the Series?”
“I’m with you,” said Ezra. “But I’ll be damned if I’ve got anything better to do before the first game.”
“All right, all right, let’s get Bart down here.”
When Bartek, Karol, Bettina, Stan, and Ezra were all in the hallway, Stan asked Bart and Karol if they were willing and able to sit tight on Dr. Baird and Bumpy Williams in the basement.
“I want them kept here and I want them kept quiet until I say so. I don’t want anyone to know they’re here. I don’t want them wandering off. I don’t want a peep out of them. Can you make that happen?”
Bartek and Karol had survived Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Josef Stalin’s Red Army, and Dwight Eisenhower’s Allied Expeditionary Force. They had survived refugee camps, black marketers, and the deck of a tramp steamer to the United States. They were still surviving being DP’s in Brooklyn.
“What’s in it for us?” asked Bartek.
“A c-note apiece,” said Stan.
“For how long?”
The World Series started on Wednesday.
“Done, two chunks for the price of one,” said Karol, the older of the two by several weeks.
“All right,” said Stan. “Check with Betty every morning, and whenever you need anything, check with her again. Look in on the doc now, stay there for a few minutes, we’re going to see what we’ve got going with Cotton.”
Stan, Bettina, and Ezra walked into the boiler room. The Negro looked up from where he was handcuffed to a pipe in the back of the room. His lips curled, trying to smile. Stan stood between Ezra and Bumpy.
“I know you,” said Ezra, looking past Stan and down at Bumpy Williams.
“Uh, oh,” Bumpy muttered.
After bacon and eggs and toast and coffee, Ike and Mamie Eisenhower walked out of the big two-story house on the long quiet street and shook hands with Joel Carlson and his wife. “Thanks for having us,” said Dwight Eisenhower. The couple had spent the night in the guest bedroom. At the end of the driveway a man waited with three ballerina dolls in his arms.
Ike lit a cigarette. He looked at the man. He looked at the man standing next to him.
“John Krajicek, from Ames,” said the Secret Service agent in a dark suit.
The man holding the three dolls gave them to Mamie Eisenhower.
“Thank you so much,” she said, squeezing his arm.
John Krajiceks’s face lit up.
“It is my pleasure,” he said.
The President and Mrs. Eisenhower were in Boone, Iowa, on a Friday. It was the last day of summer. The next day was the first day of fall. It was a clear crisp Midwestern morning.
Once in their car they were driven to Carroll Street, to the house Mamie was born in sixty years earlier. Mrs. Beatrice Smiley, Mrs. Myrtle Douglas, and Mrs. Awilda Stranberg, all dressed up, all in a huddle anxious, all waiting their breathing bated, greeted them on the front porch. They presented Mamie with a photograph of the stone and memorial plaque that had recently been placed on the lawn of her birthplace.
Mamie was slightly unnerved by the God’s green acre look of it, like a memorial garden.
Looking down at the plaque, after reading the inscription, Ike noticed a shiny penny in the freshly mowed grass. “See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck,” he thought. He picked it up.
Adlai Stevenson was coming to nearby Newton tomorrow to give a speech about farm problems. “We’ve got the Truth Squad ready,” Joel Carlson said over breakfast. Ike rolled the penny between his fingers in his pocket. The truth was he didn’t care about the Truth Squad. He had Adlai Stevenson in his pocket.
It was a few minutes before eleven when the Eisenhower’s arrived at the National Field Days and Plowing Matches near Colfax. In the past two days he had traveled hundreds of miles through central Iowa, made speeches, had impromptu informal talks, shook hands, shook more hands, waved and flashed his smile to more than 300,00 people, half of them on Walnut Street in Des Moines, eight and nine deep, on both sides of the street.
Gangs of schoolchildren ran alongside his limousine and kids on bicycles rode behind the police motorcycle escorts.
“There’s never been anything like this here before,” said Governor Leo Hoegh, whistling through his gap teeth in awe and admiration.
Eight years earlier, when Harry Truman campaigned in Iowa, he got sick and tired of hearing “We Like Ike!” from hecklers. “Why don’t you shut up and you might learn something,” he retorted at one stop, veering from his prepared speech. When he did, he became the target of eggs and tomatoes. But Ike didn’t run in 1948 and Harry Truman got the last laugh the morning after Thomas E. Dewey beat him.
As they drove up the dirt road off Highway 6 to the entrance of the Field Days, Dwight Eisenhower glanced at the cardboard signs at the side of the road. He wasn’t the challenger anymore. He was the incumbent. He was the man in the Oval Office with a record to defend.
“10-cent corn. The same as 1932.”
1932 was the year 24 years ago when Franklin Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in that year’s presidential race, more than three years into the Great Depression.
“Ike Promised 100 Per Cent Parity 1952. Didn’t Happen. What Promise in 1956?”
“Ike’s Peace Like Neville Chamberlain’s Peace.”
At the entrance a short round man held up a loosely lettered sign stuck on the end of a broomstick. “Adlai and Estes, The Bestest.”
“Mr. President,” said Herb Plambeck. “I’d like to introduce our twenty-seven Champion Plowmen and our one and only Champion Plow Woman, Mrs. Pauline Blankenship.”
Ike shook hands with them, taking Pauline Blankenship’s lightly, even though her hand was bigger and stronger than his. He shook hands with Frank Mendell, chairman of the National Contour Plowing Match, and Dale Hall, chairman of the National Level Land Plowing Match. In the lunch tent he met Kay Butler, Queen of the Furrow, and ate sitting between Mamie and Governor Hoegh.
Mrs. Jet Adams supervised the dozen ladies serving lunch. Mamie waved her over. “You’re doing a wonderful job,” she said.
After lunch Senator B. B. Hickenlooper introduced President Eisenhower to the crowd after introducing himself.
“Most of you know me, and I’m sure have voted for me often,” he said.
There was a wave of good-natured laughter.
“For those of you who don’t know me, and aren’t sure how to pronounce my name, my friends just call me Hick.”
There was another wave of laughter, longer larger louder.
“When I was child, my mother sent me to the drug store to get a nickel’s worth of asafetida for her asthma. The druggist just gave it me without writing it out, because he didn’t want to have to write out my full name, Bourke Blakemore Hickenlooper. “
“Just take this home to your mother, Hick,” said the druggist.
Bourke Hickenlooper had been a senator since 1944. He wore black frame glasses beneath a pinkish bald pate and was one of the most conservative and isolationist members in the United States Senate. He hadn’t lost an election since as lieutenant governor of Iowa almost twenty years ago he made headlines by saving a Cedar Rapids woman from drowning in the Cedar River.
She later told her friends she hadn’t needed saving, but that her savior had insisted. Hick knew a hick state like Iowa when he saw one.
President Eisenhower’s speech was broadcast live on local TV and radio. He stayed local, steering away from anything controversial, the bland leading the bland. After the address he presented trophies and scrolls to the champion plowmen and champion plow woman.
Henry Steenhock, the owner of the land where the Field Days was held, didn’t think much of the speech.
“I like Ike, but I don’t think I’ll vote for him, even though I’ve been a Republican all my life,” he said. “Flexible price supports have got to go. We’re not looking for a handout, but we deserve price protection. Other businesses are subsidized. Ezra Benson? He’s got to go. Vice-President Nixon? I don’t like his attitude, period. Estes Kefauver, he’s like I am, straight-forward.”
Henry Steenbock always called corn a cash crop and a spade a spade. He was a small wound-up man urgent upright in his beliefs. He went to church on Sundays and went to work every day except Sundays.
Dwight Eisenhower and his wife were at the Des Moines Municipal Airport by mid-afternoon for their flight back to Washington D. C. He greeted and answered questions from more than a hundred weekly state newspaper editors, met with two-dozen state Republican Party officials, and was escorted to the Columbine by sixteen Eagle Scouts formed as an Honor Guard.
Once inside the plane an aide sat down across from him.
“Mr. President we have a report that Anastasio Somoza, the president of Nicaragua, has been shot today.”
“Is it serious?”
“The report is’t entirely clear, but it said, yes, serious, shot in the chest, point-blank, and it might be life-threatening.”
“Where have they taken him?”
“He’s been taken to the Panama Canal Zone hospital.”
“Good, best place for him. He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but Tacho’s our son-of-a-bitch, so tell them to do everything they can to save him.”
“Who shot him?”
“Well, goddamn it. A poet, you say?”
“A poet, yes, sir, a local writer and musician, played violin in a band. He was shot dead, riddled, on the spot.”
“A poet with a popgun, mightier than the pen.”
The plane touched down at 9:35, taxied to the MATS Terminal, and the Eisenhower’s were in bed by 10:45. The next day Ike stayed in the Mansion all day while it rained, only seeing the Secretary of State for a few minutes. Ike and Mamie attended the Sunday morning service at the National Presbyterian Church, and like the day before spent the rest of the day in the Mansion. Sunday night some of Ike’s Gang came to dinner at the White House, and over drinks planned their next stag trip to the Eisenhower Cabin at the Augusta National Golf Club.
When he was there, which was as often as possible, Ike worked mornings in the three-story seven-bedroom cabin, played golf with his friends in the afternoon, and bridge after dinner. His friends weren’t his friends at the card table, however, except his partner, and then not always even him. Ike had cut his teeth playing poker while at West Point. While a cadet he learned to purposely lose sometimes, so as to not arouse envy and suspicion.
“How was the Iowa trip?” one of them asked.
“The same as all the others, except it didn’t rain, and the food was better,” he said. “I got an eyeful of field corn, shook a lot of hands, and gave speeches to the faithful. I got out the vote out.”
“We heard you’re going to New York for the Series.”
He was looking forward to going out to the old ballgame.
Vicki, Bettina, and Dottie plunked down their fifteen cents apiece at a NYCTA booth and walked down the stairs. Dottie stopped to look at a yellow sign trimmed in red on the wall at the entrance to the tunnel.
“Please cooperate. When in doubt, ask any employee. Help keep the subways clean. Use receptacles for paper. Do not rush. Let ‘em off first. Move away from doors. Keep to the right on stairways. Try to shop between 10 and 4. Always be courteous.”
“Run!” she suddenly shouted, running up the platform. “It’s one of those air-conditioned cars!”
Two months earlier the transit system had rolled out the first experimental air-conditioned cars on the East Side IRT line. They were fitted with deodorizers and filters and piped-in soft music. The temperature was maintained in the mid-70s. Signs on every third window said, “Air-Conditioned Car. Please Keep Windows Closed.”
They were taking the IND line across the river to Brooklyn, across Gravesend, to the end of the line. When they got off the train they walked, crossed Mermaid Avenue, and hoofed it to Coney Island Beach and the Boardwalk.
Dottie felt light as lemonade.
They stopped at the Sodamat on West 15th Street as they strolled on the Boardwalk. “Good Drinks Served Right. Skee Ball 5 cents.” There were prize games, hammer games, rifle ranges, freak shows, and fortune-tellers up and down Coney Island.
“Look, they have waffles,” said Dottie, pointing to a sign on the front of a counter behind which a man in a white jacket and soda jerk cap was making waffles.
“I thought you wanted a Nathan’s,” said Vicki.
“I do, but later,” said Dottie.
“Did you know hot dogs were invented right here on Coney Island, almost one hundred years ago?” asked Bettina.
“Not so fast, how could Nathan have done that?” asked Dottie.
“It wasn’t Nathan, it was Charley Feltman, who used to boil sausages on a small charcoal stove inside his wagon and then slip them into a roll. He called them red hots at first, but later changed it to hot dogs.”
“How about some ball hop before we eat?” asked Vicki, pointing into the arcade behind the food counter.
“My game is stickball,” said Dottie. “Skee ball is for jellyfish. They don’t even play stickball here. They play coop-ball. That’s for jellyfish, too.”
“Do you only play stickball?” asked Vicki.
“Oh, no, we play ringolevio and skelly, too, although some kids call it scummy top. Skelly is fun, but all you’ve got are your chalk and the squares and your caps. Ringolevio is way more fun, we run all over, and there’s a jail, and jailbreaks, and everything. Chain, chain, double chain, no break away!”
“Let’s break the chain and go eat,” said Betty. They ordered waffles.
“That was the best waffle I ever had,” Dottie said afterwards
“You had two of them,” said Vicki.
“She’s a growing girl,” said Betty.
“Those were the best two waffles I ever had,” said Dottie.
“Where to now?” asked Betty.
“I want to jump off the Eiffel Tower!” exclaimed Dottie.
The Parachute Jump at Steeplechase Park had been built for the 1939 World’s Fair and later moved to Coney Island. It stood 250 feet high, was open-frame, and everyone called it the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn. Twelve cantilevered steel arms sprouted from the top of the tower, eleven of them supporting two-person canvas seats and parachutes. The riders were belted down, hoisted to the top, then released into freefall, caught by the parachute, and floated to the ground. Shock absorbers were built into the seats, just in case.
“I’m not going up on that thing,” said Betty.
“Do you remember the parachute wedding?” Vicki asked her.
“No, I never heard of it.”
“A couple got married up there. The minister was in the seat next to them and the whole wedding party was on the rest of the seats. When the ceremony was over the married couple parachuted down first, and everyone else followed them, except for the minister. The cables on his seat got tangled and he was up there for more than five hours before firemen could get him down. The tower is right on the ocean, and it was windy, and he got sick as a dog, puking on the wedding party.”
“That cinches it,” said Betty.
“You and me both, sister,” said Vicki. “Time to plow back through the crowd.”
“Why do they call it Coney Island?” asked Dottie, taking a last longing look up at the parachute ride she wasn’t going to ride.
“It’s because of the Dutch,” said Bettina. “When they were here, maybe three hundred years ago, there were lots of rabbits in the dunes, so they called it Konijnen Eiland, which means Rabbit Island, which became Coney Island after the English took over.”
“How did they take over?”
“Somebody always takes over,” said Betty.
“Why does somebody always take over?”
“It’s the way of the world, child,” said Betty.
“I want to go on the Wonder Wheel,” said Dottie.
“I think we’re up for that,” said Vicki.
The Wonder Wheel at Luna Park was a Ferris wheel and a Chute-the Chutes and a slow-moving roller coaster all in one. It was once called Dip-the-Dip. Some of the cars were stationary, but more than less of them moved back and forth along tracks between a big outer wheel and a smaller inner wheel as all of it rotated.
They walked past an eight-foot high neon sign spelling out “Wonder Wheel.” Through the middle of the sign was an arrow blinking and pointing to the ride. “Thrills!” it said.
Dottie sat between Vicki and Betty in one of the sliding cars.
“You can see Manhattan,” said Vicki when it was their turn at the top of the 150-foot-tall big wheel and it stopped for a few seconds.
“Look, you can see the Rockaway,” said Betty.
“It takes you low and it takes you high,” said Vicki.
“When you reach the top it’s like you can touch the sky,” said Dottie. “You can see the whole world.”
“One minute you’re on top, the next minute down you go,” said Betty. “I say, stay in your seat, it’s going to get bumpy, enjoy the ride.”
“Top of the world, ma, top of the world,” said Vicki like a crazy person, bulging her eyeballs and throwing her arms up.
“One day he’s a mama’s boy mad dog killer and the next day, older and wiser, he’s Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
Dottie wondered, what are they talking about?
The Wonder Wheel shuddered and started down again.
“Can we go fast now?” Dottie asked when they were on the ground.
The Cyclone was in Astroland at the corner of Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, almost 2700 feet long, with six fan turns and twelve drops. The lift hill was 85 feet high. Six years earlier a man who hadn’t spoken in fourteen years, riding a roller coaster for the first time, screamed while going down the first drop.
“I feel sick,” he muttered when the train returned to the station. He dropped to the ground in a dead faint after realizing he had spoken.
Dottie peeked over the front edge of the front car down at the track of the Cyclone as the train creaked to the top of the lift hill, where it was going to curve over the rails and hurtle down. Vicki and Betty were in the car behind her, after she had pleaded with them to go on the coaster, and she was with her new friend, Ronald, a boy her age whose parents had stayed behind on the platform.
“I have a friend who counts the seconds until the ride is over,” said Ronnie.
“Why does he do that?”
“He can’t stand it.”
“What’s the point of riding it in the first place?”
“I dunno,” said Ronnie. “Every time I ask if he wants to go with me, he says, sure, as soon as I’ve lost my mind, but he always goes anyway.”
“The Cyclone is for when you want to be scared and thrilled all at the same time. Maybe he should stick to the merry-go-round.”
“Yeah,” said Ronnie. “You don’t want to ride the roller coaster when you’ve got diarrhea.”
“No way,” said Dottie, making sure their buzz bar was locked in place.
“Did you hear about that girl who got hit in the face by a pigeon and broke her nose going down this hill?” asked Ronnie.
“No!” said Dottie.
“It was alright,” he said. “She had some Kleenex and stuffed it up her nose nostrils to keep the blood out of her eyes.”
“Yikes!” said Dottie, as the Cyclone shimmied shook roared down the other side of the lift hill. “If that happens, I don’t have any Kleenex.”
They laughed up and down the trick hill, leaned into the banked turns that twisted and tipped the train, ducked beneath the head-choppers, and inside of two minutes pulled back into the station where everybody clambered off.
“My legs feel like fried bacon,” said Ronnie.
“Yeah, that was the mostest fun,” said Dottie.
“Bye to you, too.”
“That was sketchy,” said Vicki.
“Shoot low, they’re sending Shetlands,” said Betty. “Did you feel that tower sway when we got to the top?”
“You bet I did.”
“I’m hungry,” said Dottie.
“You’re always hungry,” said Bettina. “Doesn’t Stan feed you? Do you have a hollow leg, or what?”
“So am I, hungry, I mean,” said Vicki.
“How about a red hot at Nathan’s?” Betty suggested.
“Yippee ki yay!” exclaimed Dottie.
Egidijus and Rokas watched the ensigns, young men strutting between lieutenant and chief warrant officer, step into Connor’s Public House. The navy stood framed in the doorway, the long evening going dark over their shoulders. They both wore white pants, a white shirt over a white t-shirt, a white belt, and a white cap with a black bill. They wore black shoes. There was a single gold bar on their shoulder boards.
“Hey, shut that door, you live in a barn,” somebody yelled out.
In the next minute, their eyes locking on primetime, they took stools on both sides of a curvy redhead at the bar. They each gave her a smile. She looked them over sparingly scornfully.
“Drift,” she said to the one on her left.
“We just want to buy you a drink,” the one on the other side of her said.
“You, too,” she said.
“Butterbars,” said Egidijus. “Nieku nezino.”
“Yeah, they probably do the dishes in the guardhouse,” said Rokas.
“As close to water as they’re going to get,” Giles said.
Egidijus became Giles the minute he landed on Ellis Island.
Sam Ellis never meant his island to be a welcome place, unless it was the last welcome. Before the first immigrant ever landed there, it was where criminals and pirates were hung out to dry. New Yorkers called it Gibbet island, for the wooden hanging post where the dead were left on display for weeks as a warning to others.
“She’s got a classy chassis, though,” said Rocky, eyeing the redhead. “Our man is not going to like us snatching him, ruining his night in more ways than one.”
Rokas had been in line behind Egidijus and became Rocky right on the spot.
A longshoreman walked in, glanced at the sailors, and parked himself midway down the bar. The bartender poured a draft without asking. The longshoreman took a swig.
“Did you say something to that guy I just saw outside?” he asked the bartender.
“The guy with the feather in his hat?”
“Yeah, that one, who said this joint stinks.”
“That one comes in, wants a glass of water, and asks me what the quickest way is to Mount Kisco,” said the bartender. “I ask him if he’s walking, or does he have a car? He says, of course I have a car. So, I tell him, that would be the quickest way.”
“He was chunky about it, that’s sure. Hey, isn’t that Ratso’s girl?”
“Didn’t she tell them the gate is closed?”
“Yeah, but they didn’t give it any mind.”
“Oh boy, they don’t know from nothing.”
“Keep your head chicky,” said the bartender, tapping his temple with two fingers.
“You said it, brother.”
The Public House was on the corner of Pearl Street and Plymouth Street. The Manhattan Bridge over the East River was a stone’s throw away. The Brooklyn Navy Yard was a cannon shot away. The new Con Edison Hudson Avenue substation, north of John Street facing the river between Jay Street and the Navy Yard, was a light switch away.
“Did you see the game on TV Friday?” asked Giles.
“The TV’s were working, and I saw the problem in black and white,” said Rocky. “No matter that Mickey is going to win the Triple Crown, no matter how many runs they score, if they keep giving up a dozen, they are not going anywhere in October, no matter who they play.”
The Yankees had been in Boston for the weekend, for their last season series at Fenway Park. On Friday night Mickey Mantle hit a home run that tape measured more than five hundred feet. The Bronx Bombers, though, set a dubious club record by stranding twenty runners on base.
The Mick had three hits. Bill Skowron had five hits. The only time the Moose failed to reach base was when Ted Williams made an all-out running diving catch of a screaming line drive in left field.
“He was running like a bunny with his tail on fire,” said Red Barber, after the outfielder got up, checking all his body parts.
Yogi Berra threw a man out at the plate. Mickey Mantle threw a man out at the plate. The Yankees crossed the plate plenty enough themselves. But the Red Sox still beat the Yankees, sending almost twice as many runners safely across the plate, 13-7 at the final count.
Mel Allen and Red Barber called the night game on WPIX, the station’s transmitter on top of the Empire State Building spreading the play-by-play out to the five boroughs. The next morning it would be Officer Joe’s turn. The year before weather forecaster Joe Bolton had put on a policeman’s uniform and started hosting shows based around the Little Rascals and Three Stooges. The kids loved Officer Joe’s taste in comedy.
“That ball is go-ing, go-ing, gonnne!” Mel Allen blared when Mickey Mantle hit his soaring blast. “It’s got to be one of the longest homers I’ve ever seen! How about that!”
Rocky watched the game at the Public House, on Friday night two nights earlier, at the far end of the bar, where one of the bar’s two RCA Victor portable TV’s squinted down on him from high up on the wall.
“Did you say something?” one of the sailors said, turning to Giles and Rocky in the booth opposite them.
“Hello there everybody,” Mel Allen said to start the televised live baseball game broadcast.
“This is Red Barber speaking,” said Red Barber. “Let me say hello to you all. Mel and I are here in the catbird seats.”
“Hey, did you hear me? I’m talking to you.” The sailor set his Tab Hunter face in stone.
“Three and two. What’ll he do?” Mel asked as the game neared its end and the last Yankee hitter squared up in the batter’s box.
“He took a good cut!” he exclaimed when the pinstriped slugger struck out to finish the game. “Tonight’s game was yet another reminder that baseball is dull only to dull minds,” said Red. “Signing off for WPIX, this is Red Barber and Mel Allen.”
“Hey, you, did you say something about washing dishes?” the sailor piped up again,
standing up, his friend standing up, too, and Ratso Moretti in the meantime walking down the length of the bar from the men’s room towards them, having spotted the fleet buzzing his queen bee.
The redhead swung her stool around to the bar, crossed her legs, and played with the swivel stick lolling in her gin martini glass.
“Who the fuck are you two rags?” Ratso barked at the sailors, glaring up at them from under the brim of his black felt pork pie hat, baring his sharp front teeth. “Why are you sitting with my lady?”
Giles and Rocky leaned back on their seat cushions, their backs against the wall. Rocky stretched his legs out. Giles popped a toothpick into his mouth.
“What do you plan on doing about it, little man?” asked the bigger of the two sailors. Ratso wasn’t short, but he wasn’t tall, either. The sailors were both tall.
Ratso took one step back, reached down for his fly, unzipped it, and flashed the handle of a Smith & Wesson .38 Chiefs Special revolver. It was the kind of gun carried by plainclothes and off-duty policemen. He kept his hand on the gun while looking straight at the two sailors.
“Hit the road, Clyde,” he said. “You, too, whatever your name is.”
The sailors backed away and backed out of the bar. Nobody paid any attention, but everybody was focused on the retreat out of the corner of their eyes. When the white uniforms were gone, and he had zipped back up, Ratso sat down next to his squeeze and wrapped his arm around her waist.
“Meanwhile, back at the ranch,” said Rocky.
“At least now we know where he hides it,” said Giles.
Bartek and Karol were at the far end of the bar. They didn’t want anything to happen just right now. They wanted Ratso to stay snug with his girl, drinking on an empty stomach, stretching the night out. There were four of them and only one of him, but he was a psycho crazy man. Karol knew it for sure, and told the others, and it was the number one thing, he said, they had to remember. There was no sense in letting their out back in the dark appointment go down the drain.
“Did you find a plumber this morning?” Rocky asked Giles.
“No, because not only does God rest on Sundays, so do all the plumbers in Brooklyn.”
“What did you do?
“I fixed it myself.”
One of the toilets in the women’s bathroom in the parish hall next door to St. George’s Church on York Street sprang a leak after mass. The Lithuanian Roman Catholic congregation was around the corner from the Irish Roman Catholic St. Ann’s Church on the corner of Front and Gold Streets. Lithuanians made up more than half of everybody who lived in Vinegar Hill, but they had never been embraced by the Irish and their church, who were there first, so they built their own.
St. George’s had three arched doorways, three arched second-story window assemblages, and a stepped façade with a cross on top. It looked first-class when the sun was shining on it. It looked first-class at midnight in a thunderstorm. It looked first-class at midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
“What was the problem?”
The parish priest dragooned Giles on his way out of the parish hall.
“Prasome, gali padet?” asked the priest.
“The wax ring, that’s all it was.”
“Where did you find a wax ring on a Sunday?”
“My old man. He’s always loaded for bear.”
“Did you miss breakfast?”
“No, mom warmed it back up for me, fried some more eggs, fresh coffee, and a torte.”
When Ratso hopped off his bar stool, and his girl slid off hers, and they walked out the front door, Karol and Bartek went out the back door. Giles and Rocky followed Ratso out the front door.
“Goddamn it!” Ratso cursed turning the corner into the quiet side street next to the Public House where he had parked his new car. He looked down at the driver’s side front tire Karol had flattened with his switchblade before going inside.
“What’s the matter mister?” asked Giles.
“Flat tire,” said Ratso.
He recognized the young man and the other one from the bar.
“Need a hand?”
“I’ve got all the hands I need,” said Ratso.
Giles fired up a cigarette, watching and waiting. Rocky leaned against a lamp pole. Ratso opened the trunk of the car, looking over his shoulder at them, and hunched low at the tire to loosen the lug nuts.
“This ain’t a show,” he said.
“It is to us.”
When Ratso struggled with the last stubborn lug nut, Giles flicked his still lit cigarette butt at the redhead, who was standing in space, bouncing it off her midriff. She squealed in outrage, Ratso twisted toward her, and Giles, Rocky, Karol, and Bartek rushed him, two from the front and two from the back.
As Ratso started to stand up, Karol kicked him as hard as he could in the groin, the holstered gun Ratso trying to reach adding insult to injury. He doubled over, grabbed his stomach, fell over, and lay on the ground in a fetal position. His eyes ran rainwater and he threw up.
Bartek threw a muslin cloth bag over his head and tightened the drawstring. Karol tied his hands behind his back with clothesline. Bartek reached into Ratso’s pants and pulled out the holster with the small revolver. He went to the passenger side front door and tossed the holster and gun into the glove box of the Chevy.
While Giles and Rocky hauled him to Karol’s hunk of junk behind the Public House, Bartek turned to the redhead.
“Vamoose,” he said sharply. “And keep your mouth shut, or we’ll take you next.”
She backed away, smoothed her skirt, gave him a smile, cute cunning snaky light-footed on her feet, and walked back into the Public House.
“Durna mergaite,” Giles said.
“Yeah, but steamy,” Rocky said.
“Going to be a hell-wife.”
At the mouth of the intersection they heard a bullhorn, “Get your hot knishes, I got to send my wife to the Catskills, get your knishes.”
The truck was light blue dented and dirty. It was three-wheeled, a cab pulling a cart, with a Saint Bernard-sized pretzel on top. A sign on the side said, “Hot knishes & pretzels, 10 cents, 3 for $.25.”
“Hey, what kind of knishes do you have?”
“I have kasha or potato.”
“I’ll take three potato.”
“Sorry, all I have is kasha.”
There was a tin saltshaker tied by a string to the cart. The pastry was hot with buckwheat groats inside. The brown bag the street vendor put them into instantly became saturated with enough oil to deep fry three more knishes. He poured in a handful of salt.
“You’re out of your neighborhood, working late,” Giles said.
“It’s my wife,” the Jew said.
Giles and Rocky both got bottles of cold Orange Crush.
“Thanks, boys, we’ll settle up tomorrow,” said Karol when Ratso was safe and sound in the trunk, his feet tied together and hogged to his bound wrists so that he lay like a sad sack of potatoes on his side, still groaning.
Giles touched his forefinger to his thumb and pointed the remaining three fingers of his right hand straight up.
Karol and Bartek drove to Sunset Park, turned onto 53rd Street at 3rd Avenue, and finally pulled into and parked behind a three-story abandoned brick building. On the side of the building a painted billboard advertising “R. Moses & Son, Men’s Clothes” was fading away. The storefront’s windows were boarded up and the other windows on every floor were dark.
They manhandled Ratso through a back door and into a small featureless room. A table lamp on the floor tried to make sense of the dark with a 40-watt bulb. Stan was standing in a corner in the gloom smoking a cigarette. They dropped Ratso on the floor. Bartek stood sentry at the door.
“Let him loose, except for his hands,” said Stan.
Karol untied Ratso’s feet, yanked the bag off his head, and moved back to stand next to Bartek. Stan stayed where he was, in the shadows. Ratso stayed where he was, too. He felt better, but he still felt horrible. He had a horrible weird stomachache.
“Tell me about Jackson Pollack,” said Stan.
“I don’t know no Polacks,” said Ratso.
“You know us now,” Karol said under his breath.
“Not Polacks. I said Pollack, as in Jackson Pollack, the painter.”
“I don’t know no painters.”
“Why did you jump my associate the other night?”
“I don’t know no associates. Who the fuck are you, anyway?”
“I don’t know how your sack is feeling, but if it was me, I wouldn’t want it to happen again, especially not now, not so soon,” said Stan.
“What do you want?”
“What were you doing in the middle of the night outside the shrink’s office? Why did you jump my man? What does Jackson Pollack have to do with Big Paulie?”
“You’re a dead man when Luca finds out about this,” Ratso said, spitting terse vehement.
Stan stepped forward, bent down, and framed an inch with his fingers in Ratso’s red face.
“You’re this close to being a dead man,” he said.
He aimed a kick at Ratso’s nuts. The gunman rolled over in a flash. Stan kicked him in the side, aiming for his kidney. Ratso gasped in pain and rage. Stan stepped over him, bent down again, nose to nose with the convulsing thug.
“You’re going to tell me what I want to know,” he said.
It didn’t take long. After Ratso ratted out Big Paulie and Park Avenue and they had hog-tied him again, Stan stopped at a phone booth on his way home, the cab driver waiting at the curb, and called the desk sergeant at the 17th Precinct. He told him where to find Ratso, told him he wanted to confess to assaulting Ezra four nights earlier, and wanted to be held in custody for his own protection.
“Does he need medical attention?” asked the sergeant.
“No, he’ll be fine, just a few bumps and bruises.”
“What do I tell the captain? Is anybody going to be looking for Morelli, trying to spring him?”
“Nobody except his bad girl knows anything, but she was a good girl the last we saw her and promised to stay quiet. Ratso’s car is just outside the Public House in Vinegar Hill. His gun is in the glove box. It’s a Chiefs Special.”
“You don’t say.”
“You might want to have that gun run up. Ballistics might find it matches something.”
“OK, we’ll have a car there in five minutes-or-so.”
Ten minutes later three policemen and a plainclothes officer spilling out of two cars flash-lighted their way into the back of the building, hauled the left in the lurch Ratso Moretti out the door, untied him then handcuffed him, tossed him face first into the back of one of the radio cars, and drove him to the 17th Precinct, forcing him into a basement cell at the end of a hallway, and forgetting about him for the rest of the next week.
Thirty minutes later Stan was home in Hell’s Kitchen, in one of his two orange wingback armchairs, a bottle of Blatz on the coffee table, while Mr. Moto licked his chops on the sofa on the other side of the table. Stan took a pull on his bottle of beer and watched the cat. He thought about getting another one to keep him company, but Mr. Moto didn’t seem to mind his solitary life.
The cat slept and ate and slept some more. He went out on the prowl. Sometimes he sat on the fire escape, seeming to be thinking.
When it came to chow, Mr. Moto liked Puss ’N Boots best, fish followed by chicken followed by beef followed by any other meat. He wasn’t picky. He didn’t think it did any harm to ask Stan for what he wanted, since the story of cats was the story of freeloaders. Stan kept Mr. Moto happy carnivorous with his poker winnings.
“Puss ‘N Boots adds the Plus!”
He wasn’t a mixed-up cat. He lived day-to-day, every day a new day, taking what came his way. He liked fresh water and food in the morning, a long nap from late morning into the late afternoon, and a clean supply of Kitty Litter when he couldn’t get down to the flowerbeds.
“Ask Kitty. She Knows. It absorbs and deodorizes. Takes the place of sand.”
Stan had stopped at Manganaro’s Grosseria Italiana, on his way home, a sandwich shop, restaurant, and grocery on 9th Avenue, for a slice of Hero-Boy. The entire six-foot hero, if you wanted it, was 22-pounds and cost $16.50. The wait staff was surly, but the sandwiches were worth the wait. He took a bite, chewed, and washed it down with his beer.
Ezra was out of the hospital. He would stop and see him tomorrow morning, tell him they had snatched Ratso, who had spilled his guts, but it still wasn’t clear what was going on. It looked like Dr. Baird had engineered Jackson Pollack’s death somehow, but why? Where was the pay-off in it? Vicki said that since Jackson Pollack died unexpectedly, died young, and had simply died, there weren’t going to be any more paintings by him. Since he was well known, by collectors and museums, prices for his art were going to go up.
“He was in demand, now he’s in big demand, especially the drip paintings,” she said. “But nobody kills a painter to make a profit on his art, not even here in New York. It’s a long-term investment, not like kidnapping somebody for the ransom.”
He would sort it out next week. Stan finished his sandwich, finished his bottle of beer, and went to bed. Mr. Moto followed him, curling up just inches from Stan’s face, and was asleep fast faster fastest. He had never been bothered by insomnia. In the middle of the night, in the middle of a dream, he pricked up his ears.
Mr. Moto could smell a rat when he had to. When he went to the bedroom window, though, it was just a ladybug on the sill. It was red with black spots. He stretched up on his hind legs and sniffed the bug, which opened its wings, flew in circles, and landed on his nose.
“Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children shall burn!”
Mr. Moto believed ladybugs were lucky. He believed when a ladybug landed on you your wishes would be granted. He also believed it was unlucky to harm them. He licked the bug off his nose and spat it out through the open window. He jumped on the ledge, crouched, and watched the bug fly out into the big city.
In his jail cell at the bottom of nowhere, Ratso Moretti tried to stare down the foot-long rat staring back at him. The rat wasn’t having any of it. Nobody was going to stare him down in the kingdom of vermin.
Four hours later, near the end of the night, near the onset of dawn, while a dead on his feet policeman watched, now that it was all over and the car had been searched and dusted for fingerprints, a tow truck hooked the new Chevrolet with a sad flat tire and dragged it off Vinegar Hill to the NYPD Tow Pound.
“You are kind of a big man,” Dottie said in the breezy spic and span Brooklyn air.
“I’m almost 300 pounds,” said Happy Felton. “I used to play football in college, although I always wanted to be a ballplayer, be behind the plate. But I was a perfect circle. How could I be a perfect catcher?”
“You would have been perfect to catch a perfect circle, the baseball,” Dottie said,
Marie had taken Dottie to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers play the Philadelphia Phillies. The view was so good the fans in the bleachers could see the stitching on the uniforms.
The city’s air was usually so dirty you could touch the grime suspended in it. Coal power plants belched dark smoke. Burnt-up garbage rained ash on everybody except the Upper East Side. Three years earlier more than 200 people died in one week breathing the filthy smog air.
Dottie was in the right field bullpen, she and two boys, playing throw and catch and throw, warming up for Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang show on WOR-TV. The program aired 25 minutes before every home game. Happy knew how to put on a bang-up matinee. He had been in a medicine-man show, beat the drums in a circus, sang as one of the Four Ambassadors, headlined an orchestra for ten years, appeared on Broadway, and been a contract player for MGM.
After introducing the kids, Happy always introduced a Dodgers player, who judged the kids on speed, fielding ability, and baseball smarts. This afternoon it wasn’t a player. It was Buzzie Bavasi, the general manager of the team. He had led the Dodgers to National League pennants in 1952, 1953, and 1955. They won their first World Series in franchise history in 1955.
They were shooting for the stars the rest of the week.
“We don’t usually have girls out here,” Buzzie said to Dottie.
“I always called him Buzzie, not Emil, because he was always buzzing around,” said Emil’s sister Iola.
Buzzie called his sister Lolly.
“I can do anything a boy can do, and better,” said Dottie. “I’m the best stickball player in our neighborhood.”
“Let’s see what you’re made of,” said Emil the Buzz.
Tony the Phil walked by on the warning track, glancing over the fence at the kids swinging bats and running imaginary bases. He veered into center field and stopped where he knew the storm drain was. It was where he was planning on planting nitro, enough of it to kill a man, many a man. He looked down at the ground. He hoped it didn’t blow anybody else up besides who was going to be in the car, but he knew it was going to be a hell of a blast.
He didn’t want anything to happen to Happy or any of the kids who might be in the bullpen. It would be too bad. But he had to do what he had been told to do. He was going to follow orders. It was all there, all in his head. He had to go ahead.
After the boys and girls had gone through their paces, and Happy and Buzzie had put their heads together, they pinned that day’s blue ribbon on Dottie. The two boys got baseball equipment for their appearances, and Dottie was told she was eligible to come back the next game, the first of the last series of the regular season, for a solo chat with her favorite Dodger’s player.
“The Little Colonel!” she exclaimed when asked.
“Why is he your favorite player,” asked Happy.
“Because he’s the best shortstop ever. His glove is where base hits go to kick the bucket. He can swallow them down and he can double them up. His wife’s name is Dottie, too, the same as me,” Dottie said.
Pee Wee Reese had been a champion marbles player as a kid in Kentucky. A peewee is a small marble. He was a small child. He could knuckle down, playing ringer, boss-out, and black snake, getting low to the ground. His size was a godsend in the sand. One year he was runner-up to the national champion in the Louisville Courier-Journal’s marble tournament.
He was an undersized teenager, too, not playing baseball until his senior year in high school. Since then, he’d beefed up gotten into stayed in professional baseball for 17 years, making the National League all-star team ten years in a row.
“Can I come back Wednesday instead of this weekend?”
“I like your spirit, but we have to win today, and we have to win when the Pirates come into town, too, for there to even be a next Wednesday.”
“I just know you will. I’m counting on it. Can I come back Wednesday, please?”
Happy and Buzzie put their heads back together.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please join us before the game on Wednesday next week, what we hope will be the first home game of the series, when Dottie Riddman will spend a few minutes talking to Pee Wee Reese. Until then, this is Happy Felton signing off for WOR.”
It was going to come down to the weekend, it turned out.
The Phillies pummeled the Dodgers on the Wednesday with ten hits, taking the game 7 – 3. Del Ennis drove in two runs on three hits, which was three hits more than Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson all together managed to put together. Only Duke Snider matched Del Ennis, while the rest of the Dodgers eked out two separate harmless singles, one of them a blooper.
Dottie didn’t go home unhappy, though. She wasn’t somebody who needed her team to win to make the trip to the ballpark worth it. Winning was a part of it all, but everything else, the sunshine in the daytime, jumping to your feet in the stands, peanut shells and tobacco butts, all the fans, the fun of the game, the heroes and goats and memories, was more than anything the whole part of it.
“If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop ‘em,” said Yogi Berra on the other side of the river.
Nobody was going to stop her from going to the ballpark.
The weather stopped everybody from going to the ballpark on Friday. A drizzling rain started at 5 o’clock. The game was called by Umpire Jocko Conlan at 7:30 and rescheduled as a twin bill on Saturday.
The Milwaukee Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals that night, 5 – 4, cutting their lead in the National League to half a game over the second-place Dodgers.
In the first game against the Pirates on Saturday afternoon Sal No-Hit Maglie was jolted early, giving up two runs in the top of the first, but stiffened, and slammed the door shut. The Dodgers came back with three in the bottom of the frame and won going away, 6 -2. Clem Labine, a crack relief hurler pressed into starting, couldn’t solve Roberto Clemente, who went three for four, in the second game, but the Bucs wasted their other four hits, and were barely able to push across a single run in the eighth.
“Sometimes the only thing worse than a Pirates game is a Pirates doubleheader,” said a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Press, a writer who had endured four finishes dead last in the cellar in the past six years.
After the Dodgers took the front end and then the back end of their doubleheader against the Pirates, it left one game on Sunday for all the marbles. If the Dodgers won, nothing the Braves did would matter.
Dottie just knew the Bums would get it done.
“I know you,” said Ezra.
He was looking down at Bumpy Williams handcuffed to a pipe at the back of the boiler room in the basement of the Warsaw Baking Company in Little Poland. The black man’s lips curled up down between a half-smile and a snarl. Ezra sprang at him. Stan, standing between Ezra and Bumpy, held him back.
“Cut it out,” he said.
When the Warsaw Bakery opened at 9 o’clock in the morning they had been open for four hours. When the first two women turned on the lights at 5 AM, the first thing they did was clean the kitchen again and prepare dough. By 6 AM everyone was mixing and kneading. By 7 AM they were baking. Buns and bread went in their own bins, doughnuts and cookies were baked on their own trays, and the potato bread had its own oven.
Their potato bread had been awarded a blue ribbon for “excellence of freshness, flavor, quality, uniformity, cleanliness, and value” by the Independent Bakers Council of America in 1954. It tatsted great made into Moravian Potato Sugar Bread. It tasted great with coffee.
When Karol, sitting on a stool in the boiler room, cut into his half-loaf of sugar bread, Bumpy Williams nodded at him.
“I’m hungry,” he said.
“Later,” said Karol.
“I’m thirsty, too.”
“Later,” said Karol, tipping a mug of coffee up to his mouth.
The door opened and Bartek slipped in.
“Good,” said Karol. “The shrink hasn’t said a word, but sooty is complaining about losing weight.”
“You gotta stay lean and clean,” said Bartek.
“Don’t rattle my chain. I got a name and it ain’t sooty, honky,” said Bumpy.
“You ain’t got no name today, black man, not until we say so, we’ll let you know what day that is, so keep it zipped,” said Karol.
“You’ve lost your marbles,” said Bumpy Williams.
“Hear me out,” said Stan. “What matters is getting it done.”
Karol and Bartek had dragged Dr. Baird away. Stan brought sandwiches and beer, lost the cuffs shackling Bumpy, and they were having lunch over an empty overturned Elmhurst Dairy milk crate. They took bites out of their sausage sandwiches and downed daytime pulls of beer.
“The Polacks are on the other side of that door, am I right?” asked Bumpy.
“They might be, but they don’t like being called Polacks,” said Stan. “My father was Polish, but I’m second-generation. Besides, I’m not sensitive. They’re from the old country. They take things the wrong way sometimes. They don’t like the slur, you know what I mean?”
“Believe me, man, I know what you mean,” said Bumpy.
“I’m not surprised you do,” said Stan.
“All right, but why should I go along with you? I’ve got it good, no reason to jump ship.”
“The ship isn’t sinking right now, no, but it’s full of rats. Maybe you think you can trust the colored man, but you can’t, not always. The Dago’s, no, you can’t trust them, and the police will always be dogging you. That’s their mission. Even the Dago’s get dragged down, even when they have Carmine DeSapio and Tammany Hall in their back pockets.”
Frank Costello, waking up that morning in prison, where for the past two years he had been waking up serving a five-year sentence, woke up still an American, after court attempts to denaturalize him finally failed the day before.
“By the law of averages, I was bound to win this one,” he whispered in his hoarse voice.
He had only been jailed once before, in 1915, for carrying a gun, and only convicted once before for contempt, in 1952, when he walked out on the Senate Crime Committee, pleading a sore throat. But the Federals got him for tax evasion in 1954.
It didn’t matter to the Prime Minister of the Underworld. He controlled the Lucky Luciano mob from his cell and was embroiled in a power struggle with Vito Genovese and his crime family.
“You got me over a barrel right now, no matter what I say or do,” said Bumpy.
“No, just for a few days,” said Stan. “You’re not a dead duck.”
“What do you mean?”
“The shrink, I’m going to have to do something about him, but you, I just need to keep you on ice for a few days. You’ll be able to go after that. I can’t keep feeding you.”
“Just go? Go where?”
“Back to where you came from. I’ve got nothing for or against you. You didn’t put your hands on my man. After we get square with whatever is going on, you’ll be free to go your own way.”
“That might put me over the same kind of barrel.”
“It might, but you won’t be my problem. You can lay low in Harlem.”
“You can’t never get low enough when they want you.”
“Think about what I said,” said Stan.
“I’ll think about it,” said Bumpy.
“Think what you could do with all that money,” said Dr. Robert Baird, looking up at Karol and Bartek in the other room.
He was handcuffed to the chair he was sitting in. Bartek stood with his back to the door. Karol was reading the Daily News, sitting opposite the psychiatrist.
“You could go and do whatever you want. You wouldn’t have to live in this rat’s nest of a neighborhood, in this rotten borough.”
Karol was reading about the Poznan protests basck in the homeland three months earlier that had been put down by 400 tanks and ten thousand soldiers. The ringleaders were being put on trial. There was a picture of a march at the head of which two young men carried a sign aloft.
Another photograph was of three young men accused of killing a policeman during the riots. “I felt great hatred for them,” explained Ludwig Wierzbicki, a fireman at a distillery, when asked why he shot at the secret police.
“The police treated me inhumanely,” said Stanislaw Kaufman, a year younger than the 21-year-old fireman.
“I was taken to the commandant of the police who put me through my second christening. I was beaten with rods on my face and knocked over with a blow from behind. An officer dragged me by the hair down to the second floor and beat and kicked me. I was stood up against the wall while he pummeled the back of my head, knocking my face into the wall.”
Karol looked across at the doctor.
“Shut your face. We like living here,” he said.
“I’ll give you fifty thousand dollars each, in cash, if you let me go,” said Dr. Baird.
“We’re the housekeepers, not the householders,” said Karol. “You’ve got to talk to Stan about that. He likes knowing what the score is.”
“He’s a snoopy guy that way.” said Bartek, flipping a cigarette between his lips. “You tell Stan you want to give him fifty, he’s going to wonder where the rest of it is, what you’re holding back from him.
Dr. Baird blanched, shrinking back into his chair.
“The good news is you’re not bust, at least not yet, my man,” said Karol. “The bad news is, you’re close.”
Dr. Robert Baird didn’t care about being uncared for or unloved. He didn’t care about being unwanted. What gnawed on him was losing everything he had, going hungry and homeless. Maybe poverty was the mother of crime, but he didn’t want to be more than the professional man committing a crime for the fortune it brought him. Poverty was inconvenient. It meant being stuck in one place the rest of your life. He couldn’t stand the thought of being poor. Being rich was glorious weightless. Being poor was miserable. It scared him to think he might have worked his way up from nothing to a life of nothing left.
Stan came into the room.
“All right, back in the boiler room with him.”
“OK, boss,” said Bartek.
“He tried to buy his way out,” said Karol.
“How much?” asked Stan.
“Fifty large each.”
“He’s throwing you a spitball. He’s buying and selling you short,” said Stan.
“Is that right?”
“Let’s go, shuckster,” Karol said, freeing Dr. Baird and pulling roughly him to his feet. “Time to go talk about some real bread.”
Stan stopped at Miller’s on his way to pick up Vicki. They had plans for drinks at the El Morocco and drinks and dinner later at P. J. Clarke’s down the street. Nat King Cole had named the bacon cheeseburger at Clarke’s the “Cadillac of burgers.” Stan bought two sour pickles out of a barrel for a nickel each and ate them standing outside the storefront.
They had drinks at the El Morocco, at the bar, at a slight remove from the blue zebra stripe motif. It was crowded. There was a party going on, spilling into the club after the premiere of Arthur Miller’s “A View from a Bridge” at the Coronet Theatre. Marilyn Monroe was there, having divorced Joe DiMaggio after nine months arguing with the umpire and married Arthur Miller three months earlier.
“Egghead Weds Hourglass” was how the papers bit into and ran with it.
“I’m a ballplayer, not an actor,” said Joltin’ Joe. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. Who the hell wants to be a writer, if that’s what the Miller was doing with his time.
Stan and Vicki had another drink at the club. They had more drinks and bacon cheeseburgers at P. J. Clarke’s.
“Do you think he’ll go for it?” asked Vicki.
“A day or two will tell,” said Stan.
Danny Lavezzo was in his usual spot between the front and back rooms, greeting customers, when they got there. The back room was a dining room of bare brick and checked tablecloths A group of regulars met every Friday for lunch at the large oval table. They called themselves the Science Club. Jessie, the saloon’s terrier who ran up and down Third Avenue picking up newspapers, was sleeping behind the bar.
Stan spotted two seats at the bar. He and Vicki snagged them. Danny never let unaccompanied women stand at the bar.
“It would just encourage prostitutes,” he explained.
Buzzie Bavasi walked in and walked to the end of the bar. Jessie jumped up, ran past the bartender, and out the door. He came back with a copy of the Herald Tribune. Buzzie tossed fifteen cents into Jessie’s tip jar.
Anastasio Somoza, who voted himself in as President of Nicaragua, was front page news. He died in the dank morning sometime on Saturday from gunshot wounds after a poet shot him four times pointblank a week earlier. Almost 25 years earlier Anastasio Somoza had assassinated Augusto Sandino and seized power with the help of the United States Marines.
“I was a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and for the banks,” said Marine General Smedly Butler. “In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.” He followed his orders, though, good soldier and racketeer.
Dwight Eisenhower had ordered a team of physicians to the Canal Zone to treat the big man, but the big man’s time was up. His son, Luis Somoza, was named Acting President in the afternoon, and looking calm in a white suit, thanked the United States for its “inestimable aid to save the life which guided our destiny.” Luis’s brother took control of the National Guard, making sure their political social economic opponents stayed out of the way.
“Oh, goddammit, we forgot the silent prayer,” Dwight Eisenhower cursed, at the meeting with his National Security Council the following week after they too soon broached Anastasio Somoza’s murder with a minute of desultory attention to it. Nobody cared overly much about a spic dictator.
Bumpy Williams slept like a log, an uncomfortable log. Robert Baird worried his way to daylight. Karol and Bartek drank beer and played cards with the doctor’s pretend money.
Stan and Vicki paid attention to each other all the evening at P. J. Clarke’s, all the way back to Hell’s Kitchen, and afterwards, too, when they paid even more attention to each other. They didn’t know anything about any shenanigans in any banana republic. It was the last thing on their shenanigan minds.
Mr. Moto spent the night on the fire escape. He was neutered for the safety of the ladies in the neighborhood. He wasn’t bitter, but still, he wasn’t the man he used to be.