Tommy Fitzgerald plunked down four cents for a copy of the Daily News. The headline read, “Maglie Opens Against Ford.” Underneath it was a smaller headline, “Ike Will Toss Out First Ball.”
“Two for the price of one,” Bulmer MacNeill said. “You got any action on who shaves the corner, Big Ike or Sal the Barber?”
“Ike is going to lob it down the heart of the plate and the Barber is going to be bringing the razor.”
Dwight Eisenhower was the mastermind of big band music, but Sal Maglie was the master of chin music. It didn’t do any good trying to challenge the Barber. He didn’t knock you down with high and inside just for the hell of it, just as well as looking at you. He did it for a reason. He did it to keep you from crowding the plate. He did it so you couldn’t shorten your swing.
Ike let on to Brooklyn Dodger catcher Roy Campanella that he was rooting for the Bums. When Campy told Sal, the hurler told him presidential votes of confidence weren’t going to do either of them any good once the game started.
“You set them up and I’ll deliver the goods,” he said.
Jimmy Jemail, The Daily News’ Inquiring Fotographer, asked New Yorkers, “Which interests you more, the World Series or the presidential election?”
It was one-sided hefty for the Series.
New York’s mayor Robert Wagner didn’t go to the opener, nor did Attorney General Jacob Javits, his Republican opponent in a tough Senate race. Senator Prescott Bush, grandfather of 10-year-old George W. Bush, who was in town to attack the mayor as a champion of Democratic segregationists in the South, brought his grandson. The boy was nuts for baseball. Adlai Stevenson was throwing out the first pitch the second game of the Series. He was in second place every which way.
Robert Moses didn’t bother going, even though the weather was ideal, in the mid-60s with moderate winds. He had better things to do, since he knew the Dodgers were done in New York City, whether they won the series or not. He spent the day at Jones Beach eating peanuts in the back seat of his limo.
The opera soloist Everett McCooey was going to belt out the National Anthem. Tommy and Bulmer had ringside seats. They got into the ballpark early, flashed their $10.50 lower box tickets, forked out for dogs and beer, and took their seats. Tommy was ignoring Bulmer’s burping when he overheard Stan and Max Ringolsby talking about the storm drain under the outfield and how to get there.
“I work up here on the field,” Max said. “Tony has been taking care of down there, since the beginning of the year. He was the only one who fit.”
“How do we get down there?” Stan asked.
“I don’t have time to show you,” Max said. “I could holler for somebody, if anybody is available. It isn’t any kind of day in day out here today, you know what I mean?”
“I know what you mean, but we don’t have time. Just point the way.”
“Hey mister!” Tommy shouted across the top of the third base dugout. “I know the way.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m a pipe fitter, worked here last year. I know all the ins and outs of down there.”
“C’mon, we need you, it’s life and death.”
Tommy stepped on the roof of the dugout and vaulted onto the field. “What the hell,” Bulmer gaped. Tommy ran to the huddle. “Follow me,” he said.
They followed him up the third base foul line, through a door in the fence, through a door at the base of the stands, and through another door into a hallway. The walls were lined with insulated electrical cables.
They found the manhole leading down into the storm drain.
“It’s a straight shot to the main drain in center field,” Tommy said. “It’s like a cistern. Getting there is tight, though. You’re too big, believe me, even on your hands and knees,” looking at Stan. He nodded at Ezra. “Your buddy could do it.”
“He’s down there, the son-of-a-bitch,” Stan said.
“How do you know?” Ezra asked.
“Look at the scratches there on the cover, around those two holes.”
“I see them, fresh marks.”
“There’s got to be a manhole key right here somewhere,” Tommy said
They found it right away. Tommy stuck the key into the cover, straddled the manhole, and started to lift. He dropped it back in place. “Jesus, this thing is heavy.” He tried again, his back straight and knees bent. When he had it up half a foot, he swiveled it to the side. Stan looked down and then looked at Ezra.
“You’re going to have to go,” Stan said. “Between you and me you’re the one small enough.”
“If you start smelling rotten eggs, that will be methane. If you start coughing, or your eyes get watery or irritated, that will be more methane,” Tommy said. “Don’t light no matches.”
“You can’t turn around, no matter what, so be quick,” Stan said. “Do you have a sap with you, anything?”
“I’ve got a roll of dimes,” Ezra said. “I’ll try to buy him off.”
“He’ll need a flashlight,” Tommy said.
“I’ll get that,” Bumpy said.
“Where did you come from?” Stan asked.
“Followed the bouncing dot,” Bumpy said, pointing to Dottie behind him.
“The short guy with the big cigar, on the field, ask him for a light, fast.”
Bumpy went fast and was back fast with a Big Beam. Ezra went down the ladder of the manhole. Bumpy tossed the all-in-one lantern beacon flashlight down. Ezra turned in on and off, on and off, and gave Stan a thumbs up.
“Take a right and keep going,” Tommy told him. “Don’t take any branches. You’ll end up at the centerfield drain in about a hundred, hundred and fifty feet.”
“Get that rat out of there,” Stan said, on his hands and knees, peering down. “Be careful, yourself, not with him. Don’t get yourself blown up. Betty would never forgive me.”
Ezra flashed Stan a wry grin and, hunched over, disappeared into the dark. They saw the backside glow of the flashlight dim off. When it was dark again Stan stood up.
“Dottie, get the hell out of here, out of the ballpark.”
“What’s going on dad.”
“It’s the same bad guys who grabbed you. I think they might be trying to blow up the president when he gets here to throw out the first pitch.”
“What about you and Ezra?”
“Ezra went down into the sewer to try to stop him. Bumpy and I are going to wait here for when he brings the bomb man out.”
“I don’t want to go without you.”
“Betty’s outside with Karol and Bartek. Go find the car and wait for me there.”
“What if Ezra needs help? He’s all alone.”
“You heard me, go,” Stan snapped at her.
Dottie knew enough not to argue. She backed away, trudged off, and quickly slid behind a steel beam. Bumpy and Stan and Tommy lit cigarettes.
“You shouldn’t stay,” Stan said to Tommy.
“I’m on a streak,” Tommy said. “Better I stay and maybe bring you luck.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m the guy who landed that plane in town a couple of days ago and rolled it to the softest stop you ever saw. I won a nice wad of dough doing it, too, although I’ll probably have to shell some of it for the fine.”
“Hell man, I was there,” Bumpy exclaimed. “I didn’t see you do it, but the plane was blocking my subway stop and I had to hoof it up the street.”
“That was me,” Tommy said, grinning mischievously.
“I read about that,” Stan said. “The paper said the pilot was either no compare or lucky as a rabbit’s foot.”
“I don’t have a pilot’s license, so I guess there was some luck involved.”
“I’ll be damned,” Stan said.
Dottie saw her chance. The three men had their backs to the manhole. She tiptoed around behind them and quietly descended the ladder. At the bottom she turned right and feeling for the wall in the impenetrable dark, started after Ezra. The stone was cold and damp. She didn’t think about what she might or might not be able to do to help Ezra. She felt for the big marble Pee Wee Reese had given her. It was safe in her pocket.
She thought her eyes might adjust to the darkness, but they didn’t. It was pitch black and stayed pitch black. It was the same kind of dark she remembered when she was a little girl and her mother had hidden her in the back of a closet. She walked slowly carefully on the slime underfoot. She saw Ezra ahead. He was crouched on his haunches watching something she couldn’t see. His Big beam was off. When she tapped him on the shoulder, he pivoted with a blackjack in his hand. She recoiled as he stopped in mid-strike. He put a finger to his lips. She nodded OK.
Ezra turned back to what he had been looking at. The back of his neck was wet with sweat. Dottie looked over his shoulder. Ahead of them, in a small cavern, was a small man. He was looking up through a drainage grate knotted with grass. When he turned slightly to the side, she saw orange sticks strapped to the front of him.
Ezra suddenly sneezed and the small man whirled around, stabbing at them with a pocket flashlight.
“Who the fuck are you?” Tony the Phil asked, surprised and angry.
“The boss sent me,” Ezra said.
“What do you want?”
“Get you out of here.”
“I have to do something first.”
“It’s been called off.”
“The man with the lion,” Ezra said, taking a stab in the dark.
“No,” he said. “it’s a no go.”
When Ezra started to stand up, Tony the Phil reached for the detonator on his vest. Ezra stopped and put his hands up palms out. “Don’t,” he said.
“Don’t come any closer,” Tony said.
“All right, you’re the boss.”
Tony Ezra and Dottie heard clapping cheering and hollering start and swell above them. Ezra knew President Eisenhower must have come into view of the crowd. His limo would be coming through the centerfield fence any moment. In a minute after that the big organ would be striking up “Hail to the Chief” and the limo would be directly above them. When it was, it would be blast-off for all of them. He felt Dottie fumbling behind him. She was suddenly on her feet throwing her big marble, except it slipped out of her soggy hand. It hit the wall to the left of Tony the Phil, caromed, and hit him dead to rights in the temple. He went down like a shot.
“Hindoo!” Dottie whooped.
Ezra sprang up, jumped on top of Tony, and pinned the unconscious man’s arms to the ground with his knees. He looked at the detonator, a blast cap. He removed it, removed the vest from Tony, and carefully laid both to the side, as far away from each other as possible.
“Jesus Christ,” he finally exhaled.
“Is he breathing?” Dottie anxiously asked. Ezra bent over and checked.
“Yes,” he said.
Just then the Ebbets Field organ queen Glady Goodding broke into “Hail to the Chief.” She lived in a hotel around the corner from Madison Square Garden. On game days she rode the subway to the ballpark, with her fox terrier in her lap. He sat beside her at the organ. He stood up on his hind legs, surveying the field, when he heard the new song, wondering what all the excitement was about. The dog liked it when players made requests, but he hadn’t heard this much noise since the year before when the Bums won the whole ball of wax.
“They call me up or make signs,” Gladys explained. “Now take Red Barrett, the Boston pitcher. He likes the tune “Paper Doll.” The first time he wanted me to play it he kept moving his fingers like scissors, then making believe to rock a doll in his arm, until finally I caught on. Gene Hermanski likes polkas and mazurkas. Red Corriden, the Yankee coach who used to be with the Dodgers, has to have “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” And, of course, I always play something to do with Dixie when Dixie Walker makes a home run.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Ezra said.
He dragged Tony by his legs, his ankles tucked into Ezra’s armpits, his head bouncing all the way back. Dottie brought up the rear with the Big Beam, illuminating the way. When they got to the way out, Stan looked down on them.
“Got your man?” he asked.
“He’s right behind me, out cold.”
“And what are you doing down there?” Stan exploded, spying Dottie.
“I went to help Ezra.”
“She’s who took him down,” Ezra said.
“That’s right, with a marble.”
“Never mind about that now, let’s get him and us out of here.”
Bumpy and Tommy lifted Tony the Phil from below while Stan pulled him from the top. When they had him above ground, still out cold, Tommy found a two-wheel dual-handle hand cart and they trussed Tony to it. Once they were out of the ballpark Bumpy spotted Betty waving and they walked over to the car like hauling a man on a hand cart was all in a day’s work.
“Thanks flyboy,” Stan said to Tommy
“My pleasure,” Tommy said. “You’ll have to tell me what it was all about some day.”
Karol and Bartek had the trunk ready, and they loaded Tony into it. When they were done, they walked away. Bumpy went back into the ballpark, Stan’s ticket in his pocket, settling down to watch the game. The man sitting beside him asked, “What do you think, beg fella, are the Bums going to get it done?”
“Man, I don’t know what I’m thinking,” Bumpy said. “I ain’t no mind reader.”
Stan took the wheel, Betty beside him, with Ezra and Dottie in the back. Tony the Phil didn’t make a peep in in the trunk. The traffic was light as they drove to Warsaw Baking Company.
“My Pee Wee marble!” Dottie burst out. “I forgot it in the sewer. We’ve got to go back.”
Ezra reached into his pants pocket and pulled out the marble.
“Here you go, kid,” he said.