Chapter 33

   “No guns?” Ezra asked.

   “No guns.” Stan said.

   “Why not?”

   “There are going to be more than a mob in blue at the ball field today and plenty more in plainclothes. The Secret Service isn’t going to want anyone with a gun within a mile of Ike, so only Bumpy is going strapped.”

   “Him? He was on the wrong side until a few days ago.”

   Stan was sitting at his desk, Ezra, Betty, and Bumpy haphazard alert around the desk. It was 7:30 in the morning. A new moon had lit the clear sky Tuesday night. It was in the 50s at dawn, but not damp. The chill was slowly inching its way up into the low 70s, patches of thin-lipped clouds blinking in the sunny sky

   “He’s going with Dottie. He’ll say he’s a neighbor, or whatever he wants to say. He shouldn’t have a problem.” 

   “The cops hate coons but he’s not going to have a problem?”

   “No, because for one thing, he’s going to be Bojangles stepping out with Shirley Temple, and for another reason, Negroes shoot each other, not presidents.”

   “What if they spot it?” Bumpy asked.

   “Move fast.”

   Hung out to dry, Bumpy thought.

   Frankie Lane was belting out “Hell Hath No Fury,” William Brinkley’s “Don’t Go Near the Water” was topping the best-seller charts, and on TV everybody was watching “The Adventures of Hiram Holliday.” The adventure at Ebbets Field was the first game of the World Series. Bumpy knew he wouldn’t have a problem getting in, going heavy or not heavy. Negroes were invisible most of the time, anyway.

   It was going to be a full house, 34-some thousand hooting and hollering. Dwight Eisenhower was throwing out the first pitch, Whitey “Slick” Ford was pitching for the Yankees. Sal “The Barber” Maglie was pitching for the Dodgers.

   If you crowded the plate, Sal Maglie was going to mow you down. He wasn’t going to let anybody get a quick swing and rip anything down the line. His infielders guarding the lines were good with The Barber’s methods. They could play a step off.

   Whitey Ford wasn’t going to mow anybody down, but he was more than capable of retiring the side. He wasn’t overpowering. He was shifty crafty. He threw different spins speeds swerves and altered his arm motions, putting the ball where he wanted to. 

   “If it takes 27 outs to win, who’s going to get them out more ways than Whitey?” Casey Stengel asked. “Nobody.”

   He got them out in more ways than one. He doctored the ball by mixing spit and dirt in his palms. He rubbed resin, baby oil, and turpentine on his hands to make his fingers sticky. He used a ring with a secret rasp to cut the ball, making it dip and break at the last second. 

   Wally Dropo, the Boston Red Sox infielder who beat Whitey Ford out for Rookie of the Year in 1950, said, “Right away, I could see this guy was going to be trouble. He was like a chess player who used his brain to take the bat right out of my hands. You’d start thinking along with him, and then Whitey had you because he never started you off with the same pitch in any one sequence.”

   “Swing and a miss, strike three, you’re out!” called the home plate umpire, jerking his thumb up and over his shoulder, over and over again.

   “Stay with Dottie this morning, she likes waffles, make sure nobody is shadowing you, and take a cab to Brooklyn,” Stan said.

   “I’ll find a car,” Bumpy said.

   “Jesus, no, Dottie’s got her heart set on meeting Pee Wee,” said Stan. “All she needs is you getting flagged.”

   “I don’t get flagged.”

   “All right, but this once, take a cab.”

   “Sho’ enough, boss.”

    Betty laughed. “That almost sounds real.”

   “I stay in practice,” Bumpy said.

   He took a handful of petty cash from the petty cash box and went out. Stan, Ezra, and Betty locked the office up and went to breakfast. On the street they had to wait while Betty ran back upstairs to put her .32 back in the safe.

   They crossed Tenth Avenue and walked to Ninth Avenue, then walked down it. They walked past a butcher shop selling Chicken Legs and Breast, Sausages Italian Style, and Smoked Butts. Disemboweled small game hung in the windows. They walked past kids playing in front of tenements when they should have been in school. A dog came begging, but they ignored the creature.

   They stepped into Mickeys’ Candy Store and Luncheonette, a greasy spoon at 44th Street and Ninth. Inside the door was a rack of DC comics. A step behind them were old issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland. They sat down on floor-mounted stools at a worn-out counter and ordered coffee. There was an all-day all-night breakfast menu. They had fried scrambled poached eggs ham bacon sausage and sweet rolls with more coffee.

   “That was good. It’s going to be a long day,” Stan said. He lit a cigarette.

   Ezra loosened his belt. He lit a cigarette, too. Betty kept eating. When she was nervous, she had an appetite from the bowels of hell, although she never gained weight.

   “What’s the plan?” asked Ezra.

   “You and I go into the ballpark and prowl around, hoping we catch sight of the little wop. Betty roams around the outside, and if she spots him, she calls in to us,” Stan said. He pulled two black gadgets out of a paper bag. He gave one to Ezra and one to Betty. They were Buck Rogers Remco walkie-talkies.

   “This is a toy,” Ezra said. “You need a string to connect the two to talk.”

   “Otis fixed them up,” said Stan. “They’re good for about three hundred yards. He used the guts of a phone and added that switch to send and receive. Keep it switched on once we get started. The circuit will stay open and we can talk as long as the battery holds out. Otis thinks it should last half a day.”

   “Did you test them?”

   “Yeah, he and I tested them at three hundred yards. They worked, the sound was good, but at four hundred yards they clammed up. We backed up half of the hundred and they worked again, more-or-less, but there was static.”

   “What do we do if we find our man?”

   “We beat some sense into him, if we have to, otherwise we quiet him down so we can watch the game, and afterwards play it by ear.”

   “Do we turn him over?” asked Betty. 

   “We turn him upside down so he spills his guts, but not to any law enforcement until we find out what it’s all about, and even then, we’ll talk it over afterwards, before we do anything that might cause us trouble. The less attention we draw to ourselves the better. We’re skating on thin ice. I don’t want any Feds breathing down my neck. They’ve always got to solve whatever they get their teeth into, like a pit bull who won’t let go, and then there’s their damned lawyers, and they never shut up.”

   “That was a mouthful,” Betty said, wiping butter and crumbs off her lips.

   “I don’t like lawyers near me,” said Stan. 

   “It’s getting on to ten-thirty,” said Ezra. “What do you say we get going Brooklyn-wise?”

   Stan paid the bill, they went out to the street corner, and Betty whistled down an empty five-passenger Checker. They slid into the rear seat. Betty and Stan rolled down their windows.

    “How did I get stuck in the middle?” Ezra complained.

   “Klieg, klieg, klieg, du bist a nar,” Betty said while Ezra sulked.

   “Run us down the new parkway and across the Manhattan to Ebbets,” Stan told the cabbie.

   “Okeydoke,” the cabbie said, putting the big car into gear.

   They cruised onto the shorefront FDR Drive, went through the United Nations Tunnel, and where Pike Slip met the Lower Roadway crossed the Manhattan Bridge. The cab ran down Flatbush Avenue and through Prospect Park.

   “Drop of us at Empire,” Stan told the cabbie. “We’ll walk the rest of the way.”

   “Got tickets to the game?”

   “That’s right.”

   “I’m rooting for the Bums, but they oughta dump that dump they gotta play in.”

   “How’s that?”

   “There’s hardly any parking, just a couple of lots, which is good for me, but not for nobody driving in. It seats maybe half of Yankee Stadium and the seats are bad. The aisles are narrow and the plumbing’s bad. On top of that, it looks like it could go whacked if there was ever a loud enough noise and fall down, especially that big grandstand.”

   “The beer’s good,” Ezra said.

   “The beer’s good,” the cabbie admitted.

   The right field wall was plastered with advertisements for shoe polish, razor blades, and wristwatches. The biggest was the Schaefer Beer sign at the top of the scoreboard. It doubled as a gimmick for the official scorer to rule on hits and errors. 

   Sluggers like Joe Adcock, Stan Musial, and Willy Mays loved the ballpark, hitting the ball hard and over the fence in all directions. Joe Adcock hit four home runs one afternoon two years earlier, adding a double for good measure. Sal Maglie always told his fellow hurlers to “pitch Joe close and then low and away and he’ll never hit it.” The next day the starting Dodger pitcher started him off by launching a beanball and braining him. After that there was no need of low and away.

   The Dodger southpaw who pitched to the hard-headed Milwaukee first baseman, once he recovered and was back in Brooklyn, wasn’t good at taking advice. He grooved his first pitch and Joe Adcock paid the Dodgers back by becoming the only ballplayer to ever hit a deep soaring disappearing speck in the sky over the left field roof. It landed with a crash, denting a passing car hood on Montgomery Avenue.

   “Keep the change,” Stan said, paying the fare.

   The man driving the suddenly dented car hood car stopped, got out, cursed up and down, and kicked the baseball into the nearest sewer.

   “Goddamn kid game!”

    Bedford Avenue between Sullivan Place and Montgomery Avenue was cordoned off, police cars angled across the intersections. The parking lot was roped off and empty, except for what looked like an armored car and a half dozen black Dodge Royal Lancers. The shops and bars on Sullivan were closed, their flat roofs dotted with policemen and men in suits. More men in suits littered the roof over the ballpark’s grandstand. Some more were scattered along both foul lines.

   Stan Ezra Betty stood on the corner of Sullivan Place, looking down the backside of Ebbets Field.

   “They’re going to open the fence there, to the right side of centerfield,” Stan said. “That way Ike can drive in, let everybody see him before he throws out the first pitch and takes his seat for the game. Let’s say around 12:30. Our man won’t be able to get near him here on the street, or from above, so it’s got to happen on the field or the stands.”

   “What about under the field?” asked Betty.

   “Under? What do you mean?” Stan asked

   “Aren’t there tunnels under the field, or drainpipes, or anything like that?”

   “I don’t know about tunnels, but storm drains, there have got to be for when it rains, to get the water off the field. If he’s planning on bursting out of the swamp and surprising everybody, that could maybe happen.”

   “What if he just plants a bomb down there to blow the president up when he’s driving across the field?”

   “How would he set it off? A timing device wouldn’t be any good. He wouldn’t have any way of knowing exactly when Ike is going to be at whatever exact spot on the field. A pressure plate mine, no good either. That’s why they’re always laid out in groups. There have been too many groundskeepers and players on the field for nobody to notice something or get accidentally blown up.”

   “What if he is planning on being underneath Ike when he drives down center field and setting a bomb off? What if “Hail to the Chief” is the cue and when he hears it, he pulls the plug, and it all goes up in rockets? What if it’s just like Jackson Pollack, brainwashed to do something that’s curtains for him, but he does it anyway?”

   “That might make sense,” Stan said as they turned the corner at the main entrance and walked up Franklin Street. “A suicide bomber can’t get close to the president, so he waits for the president to get close to him.”

   “Jesus Christ!” Ezra exclaimed, looking up the street. “There’s our man.”

   Stan snapped his head around.

   “Where?”

   “There, about two hundred feet away, just past the last pillar.”

   Stan spotted Tony the Phil as he strolled up to a nondescript door behind the last colonnade and stuck a key into the lock, slipping into the ballpark.

   “Goddamn it,” Stan swore as the three of them ran to the door. There wasn’t an outside knob or handle, just a lock. Ezra pounded on it. Nobody nothing not a thing came to the door.

   “Goddamn it to hell.”

   A scratching noise chirruped from a small mound of dirt between the sidewalk and outside wall of the ballpark near the base of a Johnny pump. The mound suddenly broke free and the head of a hamster-sized star-nosed mole poked up into the daylight. Its nose quivered, it looked up at Stan, and winked. It was gone in an instant.

   “Did that thing wink at you?” Betty asked.

   “The mole blinked at me, yes,” Stan said.

   “I thought they were blind,” Ezra said.

   “We’re the three blind mice,” Stan said. 

   “He’s gone underground, that’s where he is,” Betty said

 “You stay out here,” Stan said to her. “You don’t have a ticket and won’t be able to get in, anyway. Find a phone booth. Get ahold of Karol and Bartek. When you get them tell them to get down here with a car, tell them to find a spot as close to the main entrance as they can. Stay with them and look for us.”

   Ezra and Stan ran swiftly purposefully back down Franklin, past the twelve gilded ticket windows, through one of the twelve turnstiles, and into the buzzing marble rotunda of Ebbets Field.

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