Chapter 22

   “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 tasted 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.

   “How’s everything?”

   “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.

   “Zadamy Chleba!”

   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?” 

   “That’s right.”

   “Let’s go you 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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s