“Ike Campaigns in Cleveland” was the caption under a picture of the Chief Executive waving smiling from the window of his train pulling into the Terminal Tower. Stan Riddman got the Post and Daily News delivered every day. The Daily News was big on pictures, calling itself “New York’s Picture Newspaper.” It was their kind of doorstep reporting.
“Did you see the president is in Cleveland, your dad’s hometown?” Vicki asked Dottie.
“I saw it,” the girl said, flipping through the tabloid, ignoring her breakfast.
“Have you got your lunch?” asked Vicki, a Wirephoto step away from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Dottie held up it up. It was a metal Roy Rogers and Dale Evans lunch box with wood grain printed sides. On the front Roy was riding away on Trigger, and Dale, in a red dress, was waving goodbye from beneath the Double RR Bar Ranch sign.
“Let’s go, hustle it up.” said Vicki.
Dottie went to the Sacred Heart of Jesus School on West 52nd Street. It was an all-children school, all boys and girls. It was the reason Stan had taken their apartment on West 56th Street, so that Dottie could walk to school. It was a large school, more than a thousand students, most of them Irish kids. A new convent for the Sisters of Charity had been built a few years ago. The Congregation of Christian Brothers, who had a reputation for strong-arm discipline, had their own residence on West 51st Street.
“If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses,” Stan and Vicki heard Lenny Bruce crack at one of his shows.
Dottie didn’t wear a crucifix.
Down in Brooklyn, Bumpy Williams followed the two men who were following the boss and his Girl Friday. When they got to Ebbets Field, the men parked across the street from the main entrance to the ballpark. Bumpy passed them, doubled back, and parked a block behind them. He turned off the engine and got comfortable.
It was inside of fifteen minutes that the young man on the passenger side of the late model black panel truck got out, walked down the street, turned into a corner store, and came back with a brown bag wrapped around a bottle of Sneaky Pete.
“Dumb asses,” Bumpy said to himself.
He understood when the pie isn’t perfect, cut it into wedges, but if it was him, he would have thrown the two slices of stupidity out of the hoodlum roll call and sent them back to Sicily where they came from.
The one-year sale on fresh blood from the homeland had been going on for seven years. It was getting thin back in southern Italy. On the other hand, Bumpy thought, it isn’t like I’ve got to reinvent the wheel with them.
When Stan and Bettina walked out of the ballpark and hailed a cab, the two hoods in the panel truck didn’t follow them. Instead, the man on the passenger side got out again, sauntered to a phone booth outside the corner store, and made a call.
“All right, and you’re sure they didn’t make you?”
“And no one was on your tail?”
“All right, I’ll pass it on to the boss. You two go to the house and lay low. Stay handy, stay straight, don’t boost anything, stay out of trouble, just in case we need you, understand?”
“I got it,” the man in the telephone booth said.
The man on the other end of the line hung up.
The mobster errand boys sat in the panel truck and finished their Sneaky Pete.
When Stan and Bettina got to Brighton Beach Ezra met them.
“He’s gone,” said Ezra.
“The lady of the house says he left yesterday, with a couple of guys, had an overnight bag with him. She saw the truck, thinks it might have been black, but doesn’t know the make, much less the plates. I asked around, talked to some of the neighbors, nobody saw anything, so that’s a dead end. My guess is they’re guessing we’re on to him and have got him on ice somewhere until Wednesday.”
“That sounds about right,” said Stan. “We’ll have to snag him at the ballpark. We’ve got tickets for the game, so getting in won’t be any problem.”
“No, and we can get in early, spread out,” said Ezra.
“Are we still on the same page about keeping this to ourselves?”
“Yes,” said Ezra. “The Secret Service is always on high alert, so our ruffling their feathers won’t make any difference. Besides, they don’t trust anybody. Whatever we tell them is likely to get us in a jam.”
“I’m stirring the same pot,” said Stan.
“What if we don’t get our man and he gets too close for comfort?” Betty asked.
“We’re not anybody’s bodyguard,” said Ezra. “He’s got all the bodyguards he needs.”
“But we know who is and what he looks like,” she said. “They don’t.”
“That’s how the biscuit crumbles,” Ezra said.
They walked down to Brighton Beach Avenue.
“Did you read that tawk from Ike on Stevenson?” a man fat as a duck asked his companion as they strolled past the Duluc Detective operatives going the other way.
“Yeah, just more smoke and mirrors from the Republicans.”
“The thing is, how do you even know he’s telling the truth, when you know you’d lie about it if you was him?”
“Fawget about it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got that. Let’s stop in here.”
They were approaching a diner.
“Let’s get some cawfee and a bite.”
“That’s a good idea, I’m with you.”
“We can’t be sure we know with one hundred percent certainty what our man is up to,” said Stan.
“No,” said Ezra.
“It puts us in a bad spot.”
“Yes,” said Ezra.
“OK, we’ll play it the way we have been. It might be a squeeze, but I don’t want to get in the middle of a political assassination, if it is an assassination, and everything that would bring down on us, hell in a hand basket.”
“No good deed goes unpunished,” said Ezra.
“We’re getting paid to find out what happened to Jackson Pollack, not anything else,” Stan said, disgruntled. “Let’s try to not get crazy derailed.”
Betty wanted to argue, but when she remembered some of the things Pete had told her, after their ping-pong games, or out for a drink, she bit her tongue. TF is what Pete always muttered when what he said fell on deaf ears. She didn’t want to be the deer in the headlights with the Feds at the wheel. She knew Pete was right about the high and low.
Two teenagers slouched past them. Both of them were wearing bright medal medallions. One of them had a girl’s ear-clip stuck onto an earlobe.
“You going to the skin battle tonight?” asked one.
“Diddley bop,” the other one said.
“You got your stenjer ready?”
He had doused his Alpine-style hat, his stenjer, under a faucet the night before, rolled the narrow brims tight, and dried it on a radiator.
“Don’t forget to pull it down over your ears.”
“Ain’t that like punking out?”
“No, it’s going to be tight fighting, but you still want to take care of your South Brooklyn Boy ears.”
“I got it.”
“You’ve got to have heart, though.”
“I’ll tell you who’s got heart, Blood’s got heart.”
“You got that right. He ain’t afraid of nobody. He will do absolutely anything. If he has to fight five against one, he’ll fight five against one. He’s a butcher, man. If you need someone to pull the trigger, he’ll pull the trigger.”
“Get that man a stenjer.”
“Fast, faster, disaster!”
They both laughed, taking their own sweet time.
Stan, Bettina, and Ezra walked in silence.
“Anybody hungry?” asked Betty.
“I’m dog hungry,” said Ezra.
“Same here,” said Stan.
“How about H & S? We could walk, it’s not far.”
They passed an apartment house. At the top of it an inscription in block letters read MOTHER JONES. Betty knew who she was, which was Mary Harris Jones, a labor organizer for the Socialist Party of America, fifty or sixty years ago. A district attorney had called her “the most dangerous woman in America.” Pete said that women couldn’t even vote in her day, which was what made them especially dangerous, pivoting into the 20thcentury.
“When you want something bad enough is when you get dangerous,” he said.
Stan, Betty, and Ezra strolled to the deli on Sheepshead Bay Road.
“There it is,” said Bettina, pointing to the blue and white H & S Hebrew National Deli porcelain sign across the street.
She had mushroom barley soup and toasted challah, while Ezra and Stan ordered pastrami sandwiches. Betty winced at the tongue offerings on the menu. One of them touted itself as center cut tongue, better than the other parts of the tongue. That is disgusting, she thought.
“Look at this,” said Stan. He pointed to a sign on the wall
“Instant Heart Attack,” the sign said.
It was a three-quarter pound meat sandwich, your choice of animal, with potato latkes instead of bread.
“Our food is delicious, but it can kill you,” said the waiter.
After they finished, and were having coffee, Ezra said, “I didn’t want to mention it while we were eating, but some of the deli’s I eat at, you find tidbits nowhere else. There’s a place, they have something called pitcha, which is made by cooking calves’ feet and making a big gel block of it, chilling it, with bits of meat in it.”
“That sounds like the Dark Ages,” said Betty.
“I’ve never had it,” said Ezra.
“Thank God for that!”
Outside, on the sidewalk they heard a man in the distance. He was coming their way.
“Ice cream! Get your Good Humor ice cream here, ice cream, orange drinks. Get your Good Humor ice cream here.”
He was a skinny black man wearing black shoes and khaki pants. He had two large boxes slung over his shoulders. One was filled with ice cream and the other one with orange drinks. His face was shiny.
Stan asked if he had vanilla.
“Yes sir,” the man said.
“I’ll have one, too, “said Betty.
“What other flavors do you have?” asked Ezra.
“Strawberry, chocolate, eclairs, fudge.”
“I’ll take a strawberry,” said Ezra.
When the ice cream man opened his box, white smoke from the dried ice spilled out. After they paid him, he grunted when he lifted the two boxes up, slinging them back over his shoulders, and wiped his face with a handkerchief. In the instant the boxes were up in the air, Stan saw a gravity knife taped to the underside of one of them. He knew what it was since Luftwaffe paratroopers had carried them.
Switchblades had been made illegal two years earlier, but not gravity knives. They lacked a spring, so everyone with a warehouse full of worthless switchblades took out the springs and sold them as gravity knives. That summer, after borough flatfeet got tired of being taunted by punks with gravity knives, Albany banned them, too
“Ice cream, ice cream, get your Good Humor ice cream here.”
His voice trailed off as he went down the sidewalk.
Stan Ezra Betty wiped their lips clean and went back to their business, looking for the man mouse on the loose.