The car was ready the minute Stan walked in. Smokey the garage man tossed the car keys to him.
“All gassed up,” he said.
Stan got into the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and eased the 1955 Pontiac Star Chief into the flow of traffic for the drive out to the far end of Long Island. The engine hummed, 1954’s straight-eight replaced by a new V-8. The sedan was a light gray color, two ‘Silver Streaks’ running the length of the hood and showcase leather upholstery. Although neither he nor Ezra drove it overmuch, and might have been able to do without it, they both liked the car, and since in their line of work, they reasoned, some things happen somewhere else besides the city, they would be better off getting there in a Star Chief, instead of some heap of nuts and bolts, like a Ford.
“Fix or repair daily,” is what Smokey said about Fords.
He was concerned for the car whenever Ezra took it out for whatever reason. Stan was a careful driver, usually staying a few miles–or-so below the speed limit, always signaling, never trying to beat a light, but Ezra was not the nice guy at a dogfight behind the wheel. He hadn’t put a wrinkle in the Star Chief, yet, but it was only a matter of time. Riding in the car with Ezra was like bad weather no matter the weather.
They kept the Pontiac garaged in Brooklyn to keep expenses down. He guided the car through East New York, through Queens, and on to Route 27, and was on his way the more than one hundred miles to East Hampton. From there the Fireplace Road would take him directly to Springs and whatever Jackson Pollack had left behind.
He slipped past convertibles, panel vans, and station wagons full of wives and kids going to Howard Beach, Lido Beach, and Jones Beach. He kept his mind off his errand. The old man had always said not to overthink the work, especially at the beginning, when there wasn’t much to think about, anyway.
The drive took almost four hours. The road was a two-lane that went through every town on the way. He stopped in Patchogue to stretch his legs in the shadow of a billboard. Stan craned his neck to look up at it.
‘Patchogue: Biggest Shopping Center on Long Island.’
There were at least six gas stations in Bridgehampton, a small potato farm town north of Sagaponack Pond. He pulled into the Sinclair, even though he was less than ten miles from East Hampton. A side lot was filled with tractors, sprayers, and harvesters waiting to be repaired.
“Fill it up?”
Stan got out of the car while the attendant, dressed in a shirt and cap with the company’s logo, limped to the pump. A teenager ran up and cleaned off the windshield, checked the oil, and added air to one of the tires. There was a sign in the window.
‘Free All-Plastic Dinosaur Piggy Bank with Every Fill-up.’
“Make it 5 gallons,” said Stan.
“$1.25,” said the attendant.
Stan pulled some singles from his wallet. While the attendant went into the station to make change, he looked at one of the Silver Certificates still in his wallet. Congress had passed and President Eisenhower signed a new law the month before. “In God We Trust” was now the motto of the United States and it was going to be on all paper money starting the next year. Stan didn’t follow the Red Scare or the Cold War in the papers, but he knew enough to understand why the USA had to be a God-fearing and the Commies had to be atheists.
A piece of paper stained by water oil dirt was taped to one of the gas pumps.
‘In god we trust. All others pay cash.’
Stan wasn’t a religious man, but he thought printing God’s name on money might be sacrilegious. God didn’t care how much money you had in your wallet. What about what happened to the money lenders in the temple?
East Hampton’s Main Street was lined with elm trees. He located the police station on Newtown Lane. They had their own gas pumps on the sidewalk outside the front door and two cells in the back. The post office was across the street. He drove past Bohack’s, the burg’s grocery store. There were no street numbers on many of the houses. There was one traffic light in the center of town. He stopped at it when it turned red.
A loose group of Negro migrant workers sat on benches with bottles of Thunderbird in paper bags. It might have been their day off. Across the street the Candy Kitchen was full for lunch. There were no dark faces at the counter or at any table and there were no half-empty glasses of curb juice.
He was going to have to stay the night, find somewhere for dinner and a bed.
A woman was watering the lawn and a bed of flowers in front of a small white flat-roofed building. He pulled over. A sign said, ‘Ladies Village Improvement Society’.
“Hello,” said Stan.
“Hello,” said the woman, turning off the nozzle of her garden hose.
“I wonder if you could tell me where I can find a motor inn?”
“Montauk is where I would try,” she said. “They’ve built more than a half-dozen new ones up there in the past few years. It’s just fifteen-or-so miles up the road.”
“Thanks,” he said, and added, “Do you mind my asking what the society does?”
“Not at all,” she said, brightening. “We water all the flowers and gardens downtown, help keep the public order, not that I’m saying the police don’t care, and make sure all the stores are closed on Sundays. We do our best to make sure everyone is in proper dress whenever they’re out in public, too.”
A busybody’s work is never done, thought Stan.
It wasn’t far from East Hampton to Springs, about four miles. He found Jackson Pollack’s two-story wood-shingled house on the Fireplace Road. It looked like an old farmhouse. There was a cherry tree next to the house, silver maples all around, and the long backyard sloping down to salt marshes. There was a small barn behind and to the side of the house. When Stan looked in through one of the windows, he saw a floor spattered with paint and footprints. The floor shelves workbenches were crowded with cans of paint and half-empty cans full of sticks brushes and turkey basters. Canvases were rolled up on top of a cabinet. A pile of sand was in one corner, a stepladder in another.
A clear-eyed expansive light poured in through a large high window. He walked back to the house and looked in through the living room window. There were paintings hanging on the walls, all of them filled with sprawling looping crazy colors. Jazz records littered the floor in front of a record player.
There was no one in sight. He got into his Star Chief and drove to Montauk. There were no sidewalks in town. He parked at an angle. A horse was tied up to a telephone pole. He ate at Gosman’s Deck, a clam bar shack, and had clams, pasta with olive oil and chopped tomatoes, and a bottle of Falstaff.
He found a reasonably priced room at Uncle Tom’s Cabins.
“There’s a nice beach down on Fort Pond,” said the woman in black capris and a red and white Roman shirt, a cigarette burning in the ashtray at her elbow, behind the counter.
It was a five-minute walk. He took his time.
Stan sat on the beach, his back against a pretzel log of driftwood, and watched the sun go down. He got to his feet before it got too dark to see, making his way back to the motor inn. He walked up the crushed clamshell driveway, guided by the light on the wall next to his room door that he had turned on before going to the beach.
Barney Newman had said Jackson Pollack did his drinking at Jungle Pete’s. It wasn’t overly late. He could drive up there for another beer. He would get the lay of the land tomorrow, talk it up wherever Jackson Pollack had done his stomping and dying, drive back to the city, and compare snapshots with Betty the day later. He didn’t believe darkness could be understood by overwhelming it with a flood of light, although shining a light on it helped.
Slow and steady out on Long Island. That was the way he was going to play it. No one hand, no matter how good, ever busted the bank. But, with a good flashlight, the potholes in a dark road could lead to the key of the brain-twister, if there was a brain-twister.