President Eisenhower threw out the first pitch of the World Series, Micky Mantle hit the first home run in the first inning, Jackie Robinson retaliated in the second inning, and Gil Hodges clobbered a three-run shot into the cheap seats in the third. When that happened, the Bums had all they needed. Sal Maglie settled down and pitched a complete game. By the end of the afternoon the Dodgers led the Yankees one game to none.
The next day the weather was more of the same, although no game was scheduled. Sal Maglie gave his upset stomach and sore shoulder a break. He had won the first game, and that is all that mattered to him.
“He scares you to death on the mound. He’s scowling and gnashing his teeth, and if you try to dig in on him, there goes your Adam’s apple. He’s gonna win if it kills you and him both,”said Danny Litwhiler, a veteran National League outfielder.
He was notorious for his determination and death stare, five o’clock shadow and hard heat. “I own the plate,” he said.
“When he’s pitching, Sal Maglie has a gaunt look, a grim expression, a stubble beard, a great curveball, and a high one that earned him the nickname the Barber,” Joe Durso wrote in The New York Times.
“He isn’t tough at all,” Sal’s wife Kay said. “He lets his beard grow before a game so that he’ll look fierce. I used to wonder what people were talking about when they said he scowled ferociously at the batters. Then I stayed home one day and watched him on TV. I hardly knew him.”
The sky was open for business on Friday, breezy, and in the low 60s. Don Larsen was going for the Yankees and Don Newcombe for the Dodgers. Larsen had come back from a bad 1955 and had a good 1956 season, striking out a career high, while Newcombe, from the Negro Leagues, had a great year. He posted marks of 27–7, 139 strikeouts, and a 3.06 ERA, with five shutouts and 18 complete games, He led the league in winning percentage. He was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player and was awarded the first-ever Cy Young Award.
In Brooklyn Smoky had washed waxed and gassed up the Pontiac Star Chief by the time Stan Ezra and Betty got to the garage. “I’ll need the special hose-down for when we bring her back,” Stan said. Smoky nodded. “It’ll get done, boss,” he said.
Karol and Bartek were waiting in the back lot of the Warsaw Baking Company. Ezra brought Dr. Robert Baird up from the basement, his hands handcuffed behind him, and pushed him into the back seat. “You keep your mouth shut or I will personally throw you into the East River, cuffs and all, understand?”
“I understand,” the psychiatrist said.
Karol and Bartek brought Tony de Marco upstairs. He was sporting two shiners and a goose egg on one side of his face but able to walk. His ribs on one side were bruised from when he fell in a heap after Dottie brained him. He had a concussion, although as long as he played it slow, keeping his head still, he was good to go. He had a bad headache, too, but not the same kind of headache he had all the earlier part of the year. They slid him into the back seat on the driver’s side. Ezra got in on the passenger side, pushing the shrink over, jabbing him with a sharp elbow. Betty sat up front with Stan.
“Idlewood first?” Stan asked.
“The sooner the better,” Ezra said.
Idlewood was the New York International Airport, although many still called it Idlewood. It was in Queens, built during the war on the marshlands of Jamaica Bay. A summer hotel had been torn down, a golf course levelled, and a landing strip called the Jamaica Sea-Airport removed. Idlewood had six runways, one terminal, and the highest volume of international air traffic of any airport globally.
When they pulled up to the terminal, Ezra hopped out, jerked Dr. Baird from the back seat, removed his handcuffs, and his hand on the psychiatrist’s elbow, guided him to the TWA counter. He handed the doctor a satchel.
“Your passport, your ticket, and some cash are in this,” he said. Stan and he had found the passport and $34,400.00 in cash in the psychiatrist’s apartment. There was one hundred dollars in the satchel.
“The plane is going to Paris. You can make your way from there to wherever you stashed your dough in Switzerland. Don’t come back to New York. You understand me?”
“I understand,” the psychiatrist said.
Ezra turned and marched off. He was in a foul frame of mind. He stopped at the exit and took a look back. Dr. Baird was still standing in line. Ezra watched as the line inched forward until the shrink got his pass and walked away to his gate.
Back in the car he gave Tony de Marco a thumb’s up. They drove to Grand Central Station. Ezra escorted Tony to the 20th Century Limited gate and handed him a small suitcase.
“There’s s ticket in there for LA, a change of clothes, and enough dough to get you on your feet and keep you there for a long time.” There was $31,300.00 in a manila envelope in the suitcase. The rest had gone to the Polish and Lithuanian boys, Ezra’s hospital bill, for expenses, the rain-day office fund, and a Friday night dinner. “Don’t come back to New York. Stay on the west coast. You never know, maybe they’ll get a baseball team out there some day.”
The ticket taker pinned a carnation on Tony’s jacket lapel. When he looked puzzled, the uniformed man said, “As always, carnations are given to men and perfume and flowers to women boarding the train.”
The red-carpet treatment all-Pullman train made stops at Grand Central Station for New York–area passengers and the Lasalle Street Station for Chicago-area passengers. From there it was on to Los Angeles. In 1945 diesel-electrics started replacing steam, and a new diesel-electric-powered trainset was commissioned. The replacement was inaugurated by Dwight Eisenhower in September 1948. The express train hauled passengers and mail at 60 MPH. Tony would be in LA on Monday.
Stan was listening to the ballgame, the second game of the World Series, on the Mutual Radio Network when Ezra slid back into the back seat. “It’s still the second inning and both the Dons are done,” he told Ezra.
“What the hell? What did I miss? What’s the score?”
“Six and six” Stan said.
“What happened to Newk?” The hurler was six foot four and from the batter’s box looked like the side of a mountain coming at you. He had a sharp curve and a Fourth of July fastball.
“Fizzled out,” Stan said.
“It’s going to be a long day,” Ezra said.
After Don Newcombe’s day abruptly ended, Yogi Berra hitting a towering grand slam off him, he stormed into the locker room, showered, changed, and stormed out of the ballpark. It was the bottom of the third inning. Cheering erupted when Don Bessent singled, driving in Gil Hodges to put the Bums up by one.
“How about that!” Mike “Buster” Brown, a parking-lot attendant, shouted, listening on a transistor radio, as Don Newcombe walked past.
“How about what?” Don grumbled,
“We’re back up, my man, back up.”
Don the Newk punched him in the gut and walked away.
“If they took a popularity poll, I sure as hell wouldn’t win,” he said, after charges were dropped. “Lots of guys don’t like my attitude. Can’t blame ’em. I don’t like it myself.”
They picked up Pete at the New York Library. He had signed out for a long lunch. They drove to Fine & Schapiro, on West 72nd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues,
where they met Otis and Bumpy, who were already there. They got a table and ordered food. The matzoh balls, kreplach, knishes, and potato pancakes were all made fresh in the back by hand.
“What do you know?” Stan asked Pete halfway through lunch.
“They cleaned it up that night, all the TNT and nitro.”
“There was enough cached into a niche right there next to the grate to blow half the ballpark to kingdom come.”
“Jesus!” Ezra exclaimed.
“What was it all about?” Stan asked. “Why try to kill the president?”
“Nobody is sure, although they’re almost certain neither the Cosa Nostra nor the Communists had anything to do with it.”
“If it wasn’t them, who was it?”
“Eisenhower has been planning on making a major policy speech after he’s elected, warning about what he calls the military-industrial complex. He seems to want to try slowing down the arms race.”
“So, what does that have to with it?”
“There are hundreds of millions of dollars involved, what with the Pentagon, manufacturers, arms merchants, big-league corporations and tough customers. There is some thought behind the scenes that they might have had something to do with it.”
“The hell you say,” Stan said.
“I kept Duluc Detective out of it after I called, after you asked me to get in touch with my Federal friend. He asked me how I knew, but I told him that was out of bounds. He explained it as an anonymous tip. Going forward, I suggest forgetting all about this, don’t talk to anybody outside of yourselves about it. Don’t keep anything in writing. It could be dangerous. I mean, if they thought they could kill a president, they won’t give a thought about killing you.”
They sat in silence while Betty ordered coffee and dessert. The men had hamantaschen and babka cheesecake, while Betty had a black cherry soda ice cream float. When they were done Bumpy and Otis went the way they had come, Ezra and Betty went back to the office to search and destroy, and Stan went home. He called Vicki and sat Dottie down when she came home from school.
“Have you told anybody about Wednesday?” he asked.
“You said not to.”
“Is it something I should not ever talk about?”
“I called Vicki and made reservations at the Tavern in the Green. Are you up for that?”
That summer, as part of what he said were improvements in Central Park, Robert Moses tried to asphalt in a parking lot beside the eating place. Mothers who picnicked with their children at a wooded hollow at the site of the proposed lot complained, but Moses approved destruction of the hollow, anyway. Work started in the middle of the night one night but was stopped after threats of a lawsuit. The master builder went home and sulked.
There was a dance floor and nightly music at the restaurant. An outdoor patio offered dining al fresco. Trees around the restaurant were wrapped in twinkling lights. The Elm Tree Room was built around an elm. The food was toothsome.
Mr. Moto looked up from the windowsill where he was catnapping when Dottie jumped to her feet. His ears perked when he heard food was in the mix. He settled down, though, knowing he wouldn’t be invited.
“I’m calling a cab, cowgirl, so speak now or forever hold your peace.”
“I am ready, yay!” Dottie said high-spirited. “I could eat a horse.”
Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.