Chapter 31

   “For you,” said Bettina, frowning, putting her hand over the handset. “He said it was about Dottie and you would want to talk to him.”

   “Police? Hospital?”

   “I don’t think so, didn’t say, doesn’t sound like it.”

   “Young or old?”


   Stan glanced at his watch and noted the time. “Listen in Betty.” He waited a second and picked up his receiver.

   “This is Stan Riddman,” he said cold flat indifferent.

   “We’ve got the girl,” the voice on the other end said. 

   “What girl?”

   “Your girl.”

   “Why do you want her?”

   “We want you to take the cure for the next couple of days, put everything on hold, don’t do nothing about nothing. You do that you get your girl back. You don’t do that you don’t ever see her again.”

   “Where is she?”

   The phone went dead.

   “Somebody’s got Dottie.”

   “I heard. Why? What we’re doing?”

   “They didn’t say, not exactly. They want me to sit on my hands for a few days, don’t do anything, and I’ll get her back. Or else. It’s got to be the small man. Nothing else is going on except the Jackson Pollack business. Goddamn it!”

   “What are you going to do?”

   Stan stood up and went into the utility room. He spun the combination on the office safe and removed two handguns. They were Colt Commander models, aluminum framed, with a short barrel and rounded hammers. The plastic grips were brown. The guns were unloaded. He put four 7-round magazines in his pockets. He reached into the safe a second time.

   “Get hold of Ezra, tell him what’s going on, that I’ve got our .45’s, and to meet me at the house. If I’m not there, I’ll be talking to the neighbors, tell him to find me, the sooner the better.”

   “Be careful.”

   “Here,” he said, handing Betty a snub-nosed .32 and six rounds. “Shoot first, never mind the questions.”

   She didn’t ask if she should call the police. She knew better than that. This had nothing to do with them, even though they would probably have to clean up the consequences afterwards.

   “Somebody’s a dead man,” Stan said.

   There were two beat cops, a radio car, and a plainclothes car on the street when Stan’s taxi eased up to his walk-up.

   “We don’t know much,” one of the dicks said. “Lots of people saw it happen, but nobody saw anything useful, except that there were two of them and they drove a black panel truck.”

   “Thanks,” Stan said, and walked up to the apartment. It was neat and clean, the windows open, fresh autumn air cooling the rooms. He walked into Dottie’s room and saw Mr. Moto lying in a heap on the bed. There was blood on the bedspread. The cat lifted his head and Stan saw the blood was from his paw. When he touched the cat, he hissed. Stan could see his breathing was wheezy fast. Then he saw the scrap of paper and the letters and numbers scrawled in it. When he picked it up, he knew Mr. Moto had scratched out the message with his paw and it was the license plate number of the black truck.

   Stan got a bowl of milk and crumbled up a chunk of tuna, put it in the milk, and placed the bowl on the bed.

   “Ezra and I will take it from here,” he said to Mr. Moto. “You stay here and take care of yourself.”

   The cat eased himself over to the bowl and lapped up the milk, nibbled at the tuna, and went back to sleep, curling up into a ball.

   By the time Ezra came through the front door, Stan had the address the truck was registered to and was sitting in an armchair waiting for him. They talked it over for a minute and five minutes later were in a cab. Stan gave the cabbie an address in Gravesend three blocks away from where they were going. 

   It was a single-family house that had been converted into a two-family house. There were unkempt bushes on both sides of the concrete front porch. The only anything in the drive was a black panel truck. There were closed blinds in every window.

   “I make them on the ground floor, in case they have to leave quick,” Ezra said. “If they were upstairs, they might get stuck.”

   “You take the back door,” Stan said. “I’ll go in through the front. The doors will be locked, maybe chained. When you hear me shoot into the lock, you do the same, kick out the chain, go head over heels.”

   The two men, one of them his face gauzed and red slathered in iodine, barely had time to lunge up from the card table they were sitting at, reaching for their guns, when Stan and Ezra stopped them breakneck.

“Throw the heat on the floor in front of you and kick slide them to me.”

   The men did as they were told. One of the guns was an Orbea Hermanos, a Spanish handgun, a Smith & Wesson copycat. It was a piece of junk. The other one was a real Smith & Wesson Centennial. Stan kicked the Orbea under the sofa. He picked up the Centennial, opened the cylinder, saw it was loaded, put his own gun away, and trained the Smith & Wesson on the men.

   “Both of you on your knees, hands behind your backs,” Stan said. “Where is she?” 

   “Who the fuck is where fuckface” iodine face asked.

   Stan whirled and shot him twice in the chest, the two shots following so fast upon the other it sounded like one gunshot. The man toppled over backward, surprised astonished the sneer still on his lips, three of four seconds from dying, which he did when he hit the floor, a puddle of blood forming under him, the two holes in his chest slowly steadily leaking

   “Jesus Christ!” the other man blurted, jumping to his feet, crazy to run, a stain forming at his crotch.

   Ezra clubbed him on the back of the head with the butt of his Colt .45 and the man went down moaning, still conscious, with a concussion in the making.

   “I said, where is she?” 

   Stan jerked the moaning man’s head up by a handful of slicked-back hair. He held tight, shaking the man’s head, tearing out a tuft of greasy hair. Red and brown spittle ran down the man’s chin. His eyes started to focus.

   “Last time, or you join your friend,” Stan said. 

   “Not my friend,” he mumbled.

   “I’m not asking for explanations. Where is she?”

   “At Luca’s place.”

   “What place is that?”

   “The house, next to the mattress shop.”


   “I don’t know the address.”

   “Let’s go, you can show us.”

   “Luca will kill me if he sees me.”

   “You’ve got the brain of a crayon. You’re halfway to the boneyard right now.”

   “My head hurts bad.”

   Stan wiped the handle of the Smith & Wesson clean and threw it to the side.

   “Where are the keys?”

   “On him.”

   Ezra felt for the keys with the toe of his shoe probing the dead man’s pockets.

   “I’ve got them,” he said.

   Ezra drove the panel truck, the hoodlum in the passenger seat, and Stan crouching behind the passenger seat, the barrel of his Commander pressing into the back of the man’s neck. The man was tied up at the wrists and ankles.

   “Slow down and don’t slam into any potholes,” Stan said to Ezra.

   “Business is booming,” Mario Pugo at Always Tire Service on Atlantic Avenue always said. “The roads are good for my business but they’re bad for my customers. I repair blown tires and bent rims daily. One customer, he picked up his repaired car and drove straight into another pothole. He was back in five minutes.”

   “You know how this gun is, loose as a goose. It could go off any second.”

   The man in the passenger seat stiffened. The truck hit a pothole and shuddered. Stan kept a grip on the man, his hand tight on his shoulder. The Colt .45 stayed quiet. The man told them the store was a front, there was a lion in the basement, a steel door at the side led into the house, the brothers might or might not be there, but the mother was always there. 

   “She’s more them than all of them,” he said.

   When Ezra drove past the Murphy Bed store across the street, up tight against a three-story brick house, Stan threw it a glance. Ezra shifted into third, turned the corner, and found an alley. He parked and Stan dragged the bad man into the back of the truck, found a pile of oily rags, stuffed one into the man’s mouth, gagged him to make sure, blindfolded him, and tied two rags together to tie him tight to a u-bolt.

   “He might have trouble breathing,” Ezra said.

   “That’s not my problem,” Stan said.

   Going towards the door of the store Stan and Ezra had their handguns in their hands their arms down at their sides. They moved slowly, but once they stepped across the threshold, they moved fast. Ezra flipped the open sign the other way, stayed at the door, his back to it, and Stan strode straight to the only man in the store, sitting behind a desk at the back of the store. 

   He was a big man. It was Big Paulie.

   “Don’t,” Stan said. “I won’t stand for it.” 

   Big Paulie eased the top drawer he had been sliding open back closed.

   “Get up, come around to the front of the desk, rest your ass on it, and talk to me like I’m looking for a better night’s sleep.”

   “The big sleep is what you’ll be getting,” Luca hissed.

   “Shut up. I would just as soon finish you and walk away, but I want my girl back. Where is she?”

   “You don’t know what you’re getting mixed up in.”

   “I don’t know, and I don’t care. I want my girl. Where is she?”

   When Kid Blast came through the side door briskly confident smug, he saw the two guns first, then the two men, and could have killed himself for not bringing a gun with him. He could have killed himself for not whirling and running, although that would have gotten him killed.

   “Next to the fat man, junior,” Ezra said. “Same rules.”

   Kid Blast joined Big Paulie, the young man’s face twisted, hate in the front of his eyes. There was a roar behind the back door, underneath them, followed by a loud yawn. It was Big Paulie’s lion, the beast he kept in the basement to preserve order in his world. Nobody moved, nobody looked anywhere else but where they had been looking. Stan took a few steps back, the better to train his sidearm on both gangsters.

   “Check the cat out,” he said. “Be careful.”

   Ezra opened the back door gently and immediately stepped back, forced back by the rancid smell. He flipped the light switch and looked into the gloom, trying not to breath too much.  There was hay all over, a large cage, and a skinny-looking tired-looking sad-looking lion in the cage. 

   “She doesn’t look like much, like she needs a few square meals and some fresh air. They’ve got a wire contraption beside the light switch, so they can open and close the cage from up here.”

   Stan stepped up to Kid Blast and hit him hard in the face with the butt of his Colt. It broke the young man’s jaw, some teeth, and laid him flat. Stan grabbed him by the scruff and threw him down the stairs. He sprang the cage door open and slammed the basement door shut, locking it with the skeleton key that was in the lock. 

   “Last time big man or you’re next. Where’s my girl?”

   “Upstairs,” said Big Paulie.

   Stan didn’t bother asking if anybody else was in the house.

   “Sit back down, hands on the desk,” Ezra said, seating himself at a table to the side, his gun nonchalant in his lap. “I don’t like what you did to me, so don’t tempt me with any monkey business.”

   Stan stepped into the house, up three steps, and into a dining room. To his left was a kitchen, to his right a living room, foyer, and stairs leading to the second floor. He knew the mother was in the house, maybe some more of her sons, and for sure somebody keeping the clamps on Dottie. He went up the stairs soundlessly. He smelled garlic seeping out from under one of the bedroom doors. A brown house spider made his way up the edge of the door frame. He watched the spider until it stopped. They both waited. 

   Stan took a step, took a deep breath, and burst into the room.

   A middle-aged woman in a black apron was feeding soup to Dottie, whose hands were free, but not free enough to throw hot soup in anybody’s face. The hand on the spoon was Raffaella Gravano’s hand. The gunman was Italian, like the woman, but not one of the sons. He had the face of a ferret, not the face of the family. He was sitting in a chair next to the bed, and the instant he saw Stan he grabbed Dottie. The bowl of soup tipped and spilled all over the mattress. He lunged to his feet, Dottie held in front of him, a gun at her temple.

   “Drop the piece or the girl dies.”

   Stan lifted his gun, sighting it.

   “Put the gun down, or you go down.”

   “No, I’ve got the upper hand, you lay your hand down.”

   The stand-off lasted another second before Stan fed the facts of life to the man.

   “You’ve got a losing hand. I can make another girl, but nobody is ever making another one of you,” Stan said, his firearm pointed at the man’s forehead. “The only way you stay alive is the girl and I walk away together.”

   “Is that some kind of weird joke?”

   When Stan shot and the bullet zipped fast whooshing past the man’s face so close he could feel the heat of it smell the burnt powder, and slammed into the plaster wall, everyone in the room stopped hearing anything the next instant except the echo of the boom. The gunman didn’t blink. He kept his head, but his hand gripped tense sweaty on the gun handle.

   “And you,” Stan said to the woman, “sit down on the bed, don’t move.” She sat down. “Turn so I can see your hands.” She turned slightly, her hands in her lap.

   “Whatever you’re thinking, stop thinking it.”

   He jabbed his eyes back at the man.

   “Make up your mind.”

   The man hesitated.

   “Never get into a card game with the devil,” Stan said. “He will always deal you a bad hand.”

   The man wavered, but lowered his gun, Dottie ran to Stan, grabbing at him, crying.

   “Dad, dad!”

   “You should be ashamed of yourself, taking a kid for a hostage,” he said to Rafaella Gravano. “Tear that bed sheet into strips.”

   They waited while the woman did what she was told.

   “Stand outside the door, honey,” he said to Dottie prying her off of him. He hog-tied the gunman and Ma Gravano. He kicked the gunman as hard as he could, breaking three ribs. He spat on the floor an inch away from Ma Gravano’s face. He left them on the ground, slamming the door behind him.

   Down the stairs and through the house, keeping his daughter behind him, when he and Dottie stepped past the open steel door into the mattress shop, Ezra was alone. 

   “When I asked the big man who it was that we threw down into the basement, he said it was his younger brother. I thought he wouldn’t mind being his brother’s keeper, so I sent him down to join the family. The cat is harmless, anyway. It’s missing most of its teeth.”

   They left the store by the front door, shutting the lights off, walked to the alley, and rolled the tied-up man out the back door of the panel truck. Ezra found a scrap of paper in the glove box. He wrote “I KIDNAP CHILDREN” on the paper and thumb-tacked it to the man’s chest. When they drove away a mongrel dog trotted up and sniffed at him. When they spotted another alley, they abandoned the truck, wiping it clean, and hailed a cab on the street. 

   Dottie curled up in Stan’s warm embrace, Ezra fast on her other side.

   “How did you find me so fast?”

    “Mr. Moto got the license plate number of the guys who grabbed you, and the rest was easy enough, once we knew where to go to find you.”

   “I saw him try to get at them, but it was two against one, and then they were shooting at him, and I was being gassed, and that’s all I remember. I woke up in that bed and the old lady came in with soup and then there you were. Dad, dad, I’m so glad, so happy you found me,” she said, squeezing him tight, crying again, a flood of tears.

   Stan let her cry, stroking her hair.

   When they got back to Hell’s Kitchen, wending up to the apartment, Dottie ran into her bedroom, and threw herself on her bed next to Mr. Moto. She reached for him. Startled, the cat jumped to the floor, looked at the girl, arched his back, yawned, and walked out of the room his tail held high.


Chapter 32

   “Where is everybody?” Carnellia asked herself. 

   Nobody was in the house, nobody was in the store, nobody was nowhere. After a day and night of persuading herself to visit, there wasn’t anybody at home. She grew up in the brownstone. That never happened. Somebody was always there. There were some family secrets that had to stay under lock and key and the watchful eye.

   “Ma are you here?” she called out again.

   No answer again, even though the kitchen felt and smelled warm. The house felt like somebody was somewhere, but it was quiet like an open book somebody had laid down..

   She heard a thump. She stopped and listened. When she heard another thump, she walked up the stairs, checking the bedrooms. When she went into her old bedroom, she saw her mother, hog-tied on the ground, thumping the floor with her blocky black shoes.

   “Ma! What happened?” 

   She worked at the knots, not getting anywhere, then ran down to the kitchen, grabbed a cook’s knife, and ran back upstairs. She sliced through the cotton fabric freeing her mother hands and feet.

   “What happened?”

   “It was your brother. Where is he?”   

   “Luca tied you up?”

   “No, no, but it was his doing.”

   “Who is this?” Carnellia asked, pointing to the man moaning on the floor.

   Raffaella stepped over and kicked him. He cried out, his broken ribs a sudden sharp pain.

   “That’s for not shooting that son of a bitch when you had the chance.”

   She kicked him again, hard.

   “And that’s for me being tied up in my own home.”

   “What’s going on? What son of a bitch? What innocent girl?”

   “That man must have done something to him and Frankie,” Raffaella said, leaving the room.

   “What about him?”

   “Leave him,” she said, stamping down the stairs.

   They both heard the banging on the basement door as soon as they stepped into the bed store. Carnellia turned the lights on.

   “Who’s in there?” Raffaella demanded

   “Ma, it’s me and Frankie. Unlock the door.”

   “Your sister is here.”

   “Tell her to leave and when she’s gone unlock the door,” Big Paulie said.

   “You won’t talk to your own sister?”

   “You know how I feel about that ma.”

   ‘Then you and Frankie can stay down there in the dark.”

   “Ma, ma,” yelled Frankie. “It’s Luca, not me, he hates her. I love Carnellia, let me out of here.”

   “You and Luca think things over. I’ll come back later tonight.”

   “Ma! Ma!”

   She made sure the store was locked up tight and the lights off, secured the metal door, and the two women went back into the house.

   “What’s going on?” Carnellia asked her mother when they were sitting at the kitchen table, having coffee and biscotti.

   “Your big brother is doing something for Albert, something big, and part of it was kidnapping a little girl. He brought her here, the fool, and asked me to watch her. He left a man, the one who’s tied up, and I was feeding her soup when what I think is her father busted in. Our man had the girl, a bullet at her head, but the father said he didn’t care, he could make another daughter, but if he shot her, he was a dead man the next instant, and nobody was going to make another one of him ever again.”

   “Her father said that?”

   “Yes, and he said he’d shoot him some more when he was dead, so the devil wouldn’t have any doubt he was getting the right man.”

   “What kind of a man would say something like that about his own child?”

   “A heartless man,” said Raffaella. “But the girl didn’t seem to take it the wrong way, she just stood there, until Luca’s stupid man got the shakes and put his gun down. If your father was only here.”

   Luigi Gravano never got the shakes. Raffaella and her husband didn’t come to the United States at the turn of the century, when most of the Italians in New York City showed up. They weren’t birds of passage, either, planning on working hard, saving every penny, and going back home, re-establishing themselves with some land and a better house and a wad under the mattress. Luigi Gravano didn’t work in construction building roads bridges subways and sewers. Raffaella didn’t work as a seamstress They didn’t peddle bread in the street. They made it on the make.   

   After the war times were tough in the south of Italy. All the industry was up north. There were few jobs and few prospects. The dockyard owners on the east coast encouraged immigration, one way or the other. They got their labor cheap and tied it up until the working men could repay the passage. After that many of them stayed on the docks. It was all they knew. 

   Luigi worked the docks where plenty of young Italian men worked informally illegally as longshoremen at the city’s coastal ports. He helped them get work, for a cut, and helped steal freight, for a cut. When their boys grew up, they got into the trade with their old man. When Luigi was shot and killed fighting over a bone of contention, Luca became the family point man. Frankie stayed the loose cannon. The other boys didn’t give lip and there wasn’t a peep from Carnellia, at least until she grew up.

   Luca “Big Paulie” Gravano knew a good thing when he saw one.

   “What is Albert up to?”

   “I don’t know, Luca didn’t say, not exactly. It has something to do with the World Series. Somebody is going to get killed, but why they would do it in such a public place, I don’t know. I have a bad feeling about it. The little girl gave me the evil eye. That was bad. And her father, if looks could kill, I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I don’t like it happening in our house. Your father would never have stood for it. What happened out there stayed out there. It never came in here.”

   She never stopped missing her husband. He four sons were standing on the shoulders of a giant. Luigi always knew in a minute what they spent days figuring out, if they figured it out, at all.

   “Stay for a little dinner,” she said.

   “All right, ma, I will.”

   Although many people in New York City went to their kitchens to feed the cat and dog, that was about all the cooking they knew or did. Raffaello Gravano wasn’t like that. She had fed the family starting with Luigi, then Luca, then the rest of the four kids. She still fed the boys every day, unless they had gone to the mattresses.

   She got a big pot, poured water into it, and put it on the stove. She believed in having a big enough pot so the pasta could roll around in the water while cooking. She made her own spaghetti.

   Earlier in the month the papers had reported about factory made pizza. “In New Jersey a belt-line assembles pizza as if they were General Motors tanks. Dough shell goes on the line, plop goes cheese, squirt goes tomato sauce, shake goes oregano, plastic wrapper enfolds, label stamps, boxed, next.” 

   Raffaella made her own pizza and never bought pizza from Nino Food Products in Newark, New Jersey, or anywhere else. She suspected there wasn’t anybody named Nino. She was sure there was a company called Food Products, although she didn’t care. She didn’t buy unassembled pizza either, the kind that was a fill up package containing the flour mixture, yeast, and sauce with cheese in an envelope.

   She made her own from scratch, made the sauce, rolled out the pie, grated the cheese, and sliced the pepperoni. Sometimes she added pesto and pistachios. She had tried mac and cheese on pizza, but it was too much. 

   When Kraft introduced their mac and cheese in a box twenty years earlier, she fed it to the kids every day. It was quick and easy and fed four for twenty cents. But after fifty or sixty dinners in a row the children started to protest, and when Luigi took their side, she put her apron back on.

   “How is everything in the village?” Raffaella asked her daughter.

   “Good, ma, I like it a lot. There’s some great home-style eating there.”   

   “Nothing is home-style outside of my home.”

   Raffaella had not seen the Look Magazine article with pictures showing how to eat pizza correctly. “Pizza pie has become an American citizen, here to stay,” the story said. If she had seen the article she would have said, “I’m an American citizen and I been staying here for more than thirty years.”

   While she waited for the water to boil, she got the oven lit. She picked up one of the two old loaves of bread from the counter and started tearing cubes out of it by hand. She tore them all the same so the croutons would cook evenly. She tossed them into a bowl as she went and when it was full drizzled the chunks with olive oil and tossed it. She spread the croutons in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them into the oven They would need flipping over halfway through the baking and watching for the crispiness. She didn’t like her croutons to get too brown.

   “Are you still living alone?”

   “Yes, mother, I’ll let you know when the big day shows up.”

   “Don’t get smart-alecky with me.”

   “Sorry, ma, but you know I still live alone on 8th, all alone.”

   “Do you ever see the diamond man?”

   “Oh, yeah, not every day, but we run into each other all the time.” 

   Carnellia lived in a 3rd floor apartment next to Sam Kramer’s jewelry shop. “I was even one of his Space Girls this summer, filling in for a girl who got sick.”

   “What’s that?”

   “He hires out pretty girls, dresses them all in black, with a cape and a helmet that looks like a space helmet, hangs his jewelry around their necks, and they ride around town on a scooter showing it off.”

   Sam Kramer worked with silver and gold and gems. He made a good living and paid his rent. He and his wife and their two children lived upstairs. He was best known, though, for making jewelry out of glass eyes, moose teeth, porcupine quills, old shoe buttons, and pieces of quartz. When he got inspired, he added rare hardwoods, ancient coins, and fossilized sea insects.

   He got written up the year before. Some museums and university art galleries started exhibiting his work. When a friend of his took a finger ring he made to a museum curator, and asked if it were “Egyptian or Etruscan,” the curator said, “Unquestionably Etruscan.”

   “Don’t go fast on those things,” Rafaella said. “You’ll kill yourself falling off. Then they’ll steal the scooter, and you’ll have to take the subway home. The trains are dirty and there are dirty men on them.”

   Carnellia didn’t tell her mother about going barefoot in Washington Square, listening to Ramlin’ Jack Elliott there, drinking cheap wine on the sly in the daytime listening to him trying out his new songs.

   “Well, I fills up my hat brim, drunk a sweet taste, thought about the river going to waste, thought about the dust, thought ’bout the sand, thought about the people, thought ’bout the land, ever’body running round all over creation, just looking for some kind of a little place,” he sang.

   While the pasta was cooking Rafaella sauteed garlic and onion in a pan, browned a small portion of beef, gave it all a good stir, and let it simmer. She brought a bottle of Chianti Spolveri snuggled in straw to the table and poured half a water glass for herself and half that for her daughter.

   “Ma, I’m not a little girl anymore,” Carnellia said and topped off her glass.

   “If you’re so grown up what are you doing living with riff raff and beatniks?”

   She wasn’t ready to talk back to her mother, but she thought it was nutty when a crime boss mother looked on bohemians as beneath her.

   “Have dinner ready, prepare yourself, prepare the children, minimize all noise, be happy to see him, listen to him, make the evening his,” is what Carnellia had read in the “Home Economics High School Textbook” when she was in high school. Keep the house, make the meals, do the dishes and laundry, take care of the kids, and stay gay and gorgeous on top of it. She wasn’t going to have it, not if she could help it. She wanted to stay Carnellia Gravano, and in the meantime find out who she wanted to be, not who everybody else was.

   Even Grace Kelly when she got married six months ago all of a sudden became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. The Kelly part of her went out the window, even though her family paid two million in dowry to the Prince of Monaco.                   

   It didn’t surprise the Gravano family, since they knew in a hearsay way the prince’s mother was romantically involved with the jewel thief Rene the Cane. The “Wedding of the Century” already looked pregnant. Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi had made short work of it. 

   Carnellia wasn’t willing to face high noon at the altar.

   “Have you made any plans besides going to school part-time and working part-time and whatever else you do part-time? You’re going to turn into an old maid before you know it.”

   “I’m not getting married this minute, ma, and that’s final.” 

   Getting married and having children was the number one to-do list for girls. The marriage rate was at an all-time high. Everybody either already had kids or were busy making kids. The family was what made Americans better than Commies, whose mothers all worked in tractor factories while their children spent the day in concrete bunker day cares. Home and hearth were what mattered.

   They ate their Spaghetti Bolognese and drank Chianti and talked about yesterday and the day before. Robert Wagner the city’s mayor was on the cover of Time Magazine. Robert Moses had gotten the cops to push six women away from a project of his near Central Park West. They insisted the play space was needed by their children. The International Longshoremen were threating to go out on strike since their contract had expired on Sunday. Jacob Javits, the Attorney General, was making noises that a walkout might imperil the national safety and health.

   “Hah!” barked Ma Gravano.

   Lucy and Desi were in town to promote the sixth season of “I Love Lucy.”  In a comedy sketch on “The Ed Sullivan Show” Lucy pretended to believe she and Desi would be appearing on Edward Murrow’s “Person to Person” instead of The Great Stone Face Show. The next day Little Ricky made his debut. He was a smash.

   “What about Luca and Frankie?” asked Carnellia after dinner, stacking the dishes in the sink, making ready to go home to Greenwich Village.

   Raffaella picked up the second loaf of stale bread and poured a pitcher of water. “Bring two glasses and a bowl.” They walked into the bed store and across to the basement door. Raffaella unlocked it and put the bread and water down on the narrow landing.

   “Here’s your supper,” she said looking down on her two sons at the bottom of the stairs. “I’ll be back tomorrow, maybe I’ll bring some antipasto and fresh bread, and maybe I will let you out on Thursday morning when this is all over. And keep that lion quiet. If I get another bad night’s sleep, I swear I won’t be back.”

   She turned the lock on her two bad boys and took to an early bed.

Chapter 33

   “No guns?” Ezra asked.

   “No guns.” Stan said.

   “Why not?”

   “There are going to be more than a mob in blue at the ball field today and plenty more in plainclothes. The Secret Service isn’t going to want anyone with a gun within a mile of Ike, so only Bumpy is going strapped.”

   “Him? He was on the wrong side until a few days ago.”

   Stan was sitting at his desk, Ezra, Betty, and Bumpy haphazard alert around the desk. It was 7:30 in the morning. A new moon had lit the clear sky Tuesday night. It was in the 50s at dawn, but not damp. The chill was slowly inching its way up into the low 70s, patches of thin-lipped clouds blinking in the sunny sky

   “He’s going with Dottie. He’ll say he’s a neighbor, or whatever he wants to say. He shouldn’t have a problem.” 

   “The cops hate coons but he’s not going to have a problem?”

   “No, because for one thing, he’s going to be Bojangles stepping out with Shirley Temple, and for another reason, Negroes shoot each other, not presidents.”

   “What if they spot it?” Bumpy asked.

   “Move fast.”

   Hung out to dry, Bumpy thought.

   Frankie Lane was belting out “Hell Hath No Fury,” William Brinkley’s “Don’t Go Near the Water” was topping the best-seller charts, and on TV everybody was watching “The Adventures of Hiram Holliday.” The adventure at Ebbets Field was the first game of the World Series. Bumpy knew he wouldn’t have a problem getting in, going heavy or not heavy. Negroes were invisible most of the time, anyway.

   It was going to be a full house, 34-some thousand hooting and hollering. Dwight Eisenhower was throwing out the first pitch, Whitey “Slick” Ford was pitching for the Yankees. Sal “The Barber” Maglie was pitching for the Dodgers.

   If you crowded the plate, Sal Maglie was going to mow you down. He wasn’t going to let anybody get a quick swing and rip anything down the line. His infielders guarding the lines were good with The Barber’s methods. They could play a step off.

   Whitey Ford wasn’t going to mow anybody down, but he was more than capable of retiring the side. He wasn’t overpowering. He was shifty crafty. He threw different spins speeds swerves and altered his arm motions, putting the ball where he wanted to. 

   “If it takes 27 outs to win, who’s going to get them out more ways than Whitey?” Casey Stengel asked. “Nobody.”

   He got them out in more ways than one. He doctored the ball by mixing spit and dirt in his palms. He rubbed resin, baby oil, and turpentine on his hands to make his fingers sticky. He used a ring with a secret rasp to cut the ball, making it dip and break at the last second. 

   Wally Dropo, the Boston Red Sox infielder who beat Whitey Ford out for Rookie of the Year in 1950, said, “Right away, I could see this guy was going to be trouble. He was like a chess player who used his brain to take the bat right out of my hands. You’d start thinking along with him, and then Whitey had you because he never started you off with the same pitch in any one sequence.”

   “Swing and a miss, strike three, you’re out!” called the home plate umpire, jerking his thumb up and over his shoulder, over and over again.

   “Stay with Dottie this morning, she likes waffles, make sure nobody is shadowing you, and take a cab to Brooklyn,” Stan said.

   “I’ll find a car,” Bumpy said.

   “Jesus, no, Dottie’s got her heart set on meeting Pee Wee,” said Stan. “All she needs is you getting flagged.”

   “I don’t get flagged.”

   “All right, but this once, take a cab.”

   “Sho’ enough, boss.”

    Betty laughed. “That almost sounds real.”

   “I stay in practice,” Bumpy said.

   He took a handful of petty cash from the petty cash box and went out. Stan, Ezra, and Betty locked the office up and went to breakfast. On the street they had to wait while Betty ran back upstairs to put her .32 back in the safe.

   They crossed Tenth Avenue and walked to Ninth Avenue, then walked down it. They walked past a butcher shop selling Chicken Legs and Breast, Sausages Italian Style, and Smoked Butts. Disemboweled small game hung in the windows. They walked past kids playing in front of tenements when they should have been in school. A dog came begging, but they ignored the creature.

   They stepped into Mickeys’ Candy Store and Luncheonette, a greasy spoon at 44th Street and Ninth. Inside the door was a rack of DC comics. A step behind them were old issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland. They sat down on floor-mounted stools at a worn-out counter and ordered coffee. There was an all-day all-night breakfast menu. They had fried scrambled poached eggs ham bacon sausage and sweet rolls with more coffee.

   “That was good. It’s going to be a long day,” Stan said. He lit a cigarette.

   Ezra loosened his belt. He lit a cigarette, too. Betty kept eating. When she was nervous, she had an appetite from the bowels of hell, although she never gained weight.

   “What’s the plan?” asked Ezra.

   “You and I go into the ballpark and prowl around, hoping we catch sight of the little wop. Betty roams around the outside, and if she spots him, she calls in to us,” Stan said. He pulled two black gadgets out of a paper bag. He gave one to Ezra and one to Betty. They were Buck Rogers Remco walkie-talkies.

   “This is a toy,” Ezra said. “You need a string to connect the two to talk.”

   “Otis fixed them up,” said Stan. “They’re good for about three hundred yards. He used the guts of a phone and added that switch to send and receive. Keep it switched on once we get started. The circuit will stay open and we can talk as long as the battery holds out. Otis thinks it should last half a day.”

   “Did you test them?”

   “Yeah, he and I tested them at three hundred yards. They worked, the sound was good, but at four hundred yards they clammed up. We backed up half of the hundred and they worked again, more-or-less, but there was static.”

   “What do we do if we find our man?”

   “We beat some sense into him, if we have to, otherwise we quiet him down so we can watch the game, and afterwards play it by ear.”

   “Do we turn him over?” asked Betty. 

   “We turn him upside down so he spills his guts, but not to any law enforcement until we find out what it’s all about, and even then, we’ll talk it over afterwards, before we do anything that might cause us trouble. The less attention we draw to ourselves the better. We’re skating on thin ice. I don’t want any Feds breathing down my neck. They’ve always got to solve whatever they get their teeth into, like a pit bull who won’t let go, and then there’s their damned lawyers, and they never shut up.”

   “That was a mouthful,” Betty said, wiping butter and crumbs off her lips.

   “I don’t like lawyers near me,” said Stan. 

   “It’s getting on to ten-thirty,” said Ezra. “What do you say we get going Brooklyn-wise?”

   Stan paid the bill, they went out to the street corner, and Betty whistled down an empty five-passenger Checker. They slid into the rear seat. Betty and Stan rolled down their windows.

    “How did I get stuck in the middle?” Ezra complained.

   “Klieg, klieg, klieg, du bist a nar,” Betty said while Ezra sulked.

   “Run us down the new parkway and across the Manhattan to Ebbets,” Stan told the cabbie.

   “Okeydoke,” the cabbie said, putting the big car into gear.

   They cruised onto the shorefront FDR Drive, went through the United Nations Tunnel, and where Pike Slip met the Lower Roadway crossed the Manhattan Bridge. The cab ran down Flatbush Avenue and through Prospect Park.

   “Drop of us at Empire,” Stan told the cabbie. “We’ll walk the rest of the way.”

   “Got tickets to the game?”

   “That’s right.”

   “I’m rooting for the Bums, but they oughta dump that dump they gotta play in.”

   “How’s that?”

   “There’s hardly any parking, just a couple of lots, which is good for me, but not for nobody driving in. It seats maybe half of Yankee Stadium and the seats are bad. The aisles are narrow and the plumbing’s bad. On top of that, it looks like it could go whacked if there was ever a loud enough noise and fall down, especially that big grandstand.”

   “The beer’s good,” Ezra said.

   “The beer’s good,” the cabbie admitted.

   The right field wall was plastered with advertisements for shoe polish, razor blades, and wristwatches. The biggest was the Schaefer Beer sign at the top of the scoreboard. It doubled as a gimmick for the official scorer to rule on hits and errors. 

   Sluggers like Joe Adcock, Stan Musial, and Willy Mays loved the ballpark, hitting the ball hard and over the fence in all directions. Joe Adcock hit four home runs one afternoon two years earlier, adding a double for good measure. Sal Maglie always told his fellow hurlers to “pitch Joe close and then low and away and he’ll never hit it.” The next day the starting Dodger pitcher started him off by launching a beanball and braining him. After that there was no need of low and away.

   The Dodger southpaw who pitched to the hard-headed Milwaukee first baseman, once he recovered and was back in Brooklyn, wasn’t good at taking advice. He grooved his first pitch and Joe Adcock paid the Dodgers back by becoming the only ballplayer to ever hit a deep soaring disappearing speck in the sky over the left field roof. It landed with a crash, denting a passing car hood on Montgomery Avenue.

   “Keep the change,” Stan said, paying the fare.

   The man driving the suddenly dented car hood car stopped, got out, cursed up and down, and kicked the baseball into the nearest sewer.

   “Goddamn kid game!”

    Bedford Avenue between Sullivan Place and Montgomery Avenue was cordoned off, police cars angled across the intersections. The parking lot was roped off and empty, except for what looked like an armored car and a half dozen black Dodge Royal Lancers. The shops and bars on Sullivan were closed, their flat roofs dotted with policemen and men in suits. More men in suits littered the roof over the ballpark’s grandstand. Some more were scattered along both foul lines.

   Stan Ezra Betty stood on the corner of Sullivan Place, looking down the backside of Ebbets Field.

   “They’re going to open the fence there, to the right side of centerfield,” Stan said. “That way Ike can drive in, let everybody see him before he throws out the first pitch and takes his seat for the game. Let’s say around 12:30. Our man won’t be able to get near him here on the street, or from above, so it’s got to happen on the field or the stands.”

   “What about under the field?” asked Betty.

   “Under? What do you mean?” Stan asked

   “Aren’t there tunnels under the field, or drainpipes, or anything like that?”

   “I don’t know about tunnels, but storm drains, there have got to be for when it rains, to get the water off the field. If he’s planning on bursting out of the swamp and surprising everybody, that could maybe happen.”

   “What if he just plants a bomb down there to blow the president up when he’s driving across the field?”

   “How would he set it off? A timing device wouldn’t be any good. He wouldn’t have any way of knowing exactly when Ike is going to be at whatever exact spot on the field. A pressure plate mine, no good either. That’s why they’re always laid out in groups. There have been too many groundskeepers and players on the field for nobody to notice something or get accidentally blown up.”

   “What if he is planning on being underneath Ike when he drives down center field and setting a bomb off? What if “Hail to the Chief” is the cue and when he hears it, he pulls the plug, and it all goes up in rockets? What if it’s just like Jackson Pollack, brainwashed to do something that’s curtains for him, but he does it anyway?”

   “That might make sense,” Stan said as they turned the corner at the main entrance and walked up Franklin Street. “A suicide bomber can’t get close to the president, so he waits for the president to get close to him.”

   “Jesus Christ!” Ezra exclaimed, looking up the street. “There’s our man.”

   Stan snapped his head around.


   “There, about two hundred feet away, just past the last pillar.”

   Stan spotted Tony the Phil as he strolled up to a nondescript door behind the last colonnade and stuck a key into the lock, slipping into the ballpark.

   “Goddamn it,” Stan swore as the three of them ran to the door. There wasn’t an outside knob or handle, just a lock. Ezra pounded on it. Nobody nothing not a thing came to the door.

   “Goddamn it to hell.”

   A scratching noise chirruped from a small mound of dirt between the sidewalk and outside wall of the ballpark near the base of a Johnny pump. The mound suddenly broke free and the head of a hamster-sized star-nosed mole poked up into the daylight. Its nose quivered, it looked up at Stan, and winked. It was gone in an instant.

   “Did that thing wink at you?” Betty asked.

   “The mole blinked at me, yes,” Stan said.

   “I thought they were blind,” Ezra said.

   “We’re the three blind mice,” Stan said. 

   “He’s gone underground, that’s where he is,” Betty said

 “You stay out here,” Stan said to her. “You don’t have a ticket and won’t be able to get in, anyway. Find a phone booth. Get ahold of Karol and Bartek. When you get them tell them to get down here with a car, tell them to find a spot as close to the main entrance as they can. Stay with them and look for us.”

   Ezra and Stan ran swiftly purposefully back down Franklin, past the twelve gilded ticket windows, through one of the twelve turnstiles, and into the buzzing marble rotunda of Ebbets Field.

Chapter 34

   Mr. Moto knew a straight cat when he saw one so when he saw Bumpy Williams stepping out of a cab and walking up to the house, he didn’t sweat it. He could see black and white and blue colors best, like all cats. He wasn’t good with reds and greens. Bumpy looked like a blues man to him. Mr. Moto could feel boneyard blues in his bones when he heard 12 bars thrumming.

   He didn’t know a thing about baseball but knew he could steal home plate faster than Jackie Robinson could blink. He knew Dottie was big on stickball. He didn’t know she was going to Ebbets Field this afternoon for the first game of the World Series between the Bums and the Bombers.

   Dottie was waiting downstairs on the inside stairs. When she saw Bumpy reaching for the door, the cab tail piping smoke, she jumped up and barged outside.

   “I’m ready!”

   She was wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers pinback button on her shirt, had Pee Wee Reese’s 1956 Topps baseball card in her hand, and a blue cap with Chief Wahoo inside a red wishbone “C” on top of her head.

   “You got buck teeth on your head,” Bumpy said.

   “My dad is from Cleveland,” Dottie said. “He gave it to me. He said we have to stay true to our roots. I don’t let anybody say anything about it when I’m wearing it.” She gave Bumpy a pointed look.

   “Yes, ma’am,” he said, and pushed the brim down.

   “I’m hungry,” Dottie said, looking up.

   “So am I. How are you with waffles?”

   “I love waffles.”  

   “Me too. Let’s go.”

   When they drove past the Socony Mobil building, built that year at 42nd Street between Lexington and Third Avenue, Dottie pointed out the window of the cab.

   “It’s a shiny waffle building.”

   The world’s first stainless steel skyscraper was sheathed in thousands of panels studded with pyramid designs. The architectural critic Lewis Mumford from Flushing, Queens, wrote that the building looked like it had the measles. He thought the ideal city was the medieval city. He didn’t say what living in a medieval city without indoor plumbing and running water and power at the push of a button might be like. If she knew who he was, Dottie would have told him to go back to Flushing.

   “You said the ballpark, right?” the hook-nosed cabbie asked, the toothpick in his mouth staying still as a crack in cement, stuck between two close-set teeth.

   “Close enough but drop us off at Flatbush and Lincoln.”

   “Can do.”

   Childs Restaurant on the northwest corner was a two-story building with a grimy fish window featuring an urn facing Flatbush Avenue. A red-faced grill cook was in the window flap-jacking.

   “That’s where he’s going to make our waffles,” Bumpy said, swinging the front door open for Dottie. They sat in a booth. It was purple vinyl with an upside-down white triangle on the back rest. The table was pale green flecked with small white slashes.

   “No need for a bill of fare,” Bumpy said to the waitress. “Two big plates of waffles, butter and syrup, joe for me and lemonade for the young lady.”

   “I don’t want lemonade.” Dottie said.

   “What do you want?”


   “That’s the same as lemonade.”

   “No, it’s not, it’s grapefruit, and it’s carbonated. And one more thing, please make mine a Belgian waffle.”

   The waitress slid away, smoothing her white apron, which matched her white collar and white trim around the sleeves. She looked like a maid in a big house. She checked her no-nonsense non-slip work shoes for coffee stains.

   “Well cut my legs off and call me Shorty if it isn’t Bumpy Williams,” a tall handsome more-or-less Negro man said stopping at their table.

   Bumpy and Dottie looked up. 

   “If it isn’t my man Adam who still has never done nothing for me,” Bumpy said. “How are you?”

   “Keeping the faith, baby, keeping the faith,” said Adam Clayton Powell.

   “How’s Hazel?” Bumpy asked, looking the leggy lady standing next to the congressman up and down and up again.

   “My secretary,” Adam Powell said, nodding at the curves next to him.


   “She’s better.”

   “See her much?”

   “Here and there,” he said.

   Adam Powell’s wife Hazel Scott was summoned and appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee six years earlier. She was a classical and jazz piano player and singer and hosted a variety show on TV. She denied “ever knowingly being connected with the Communist Party or any of its front organizations.” She admitted being associated with socialists, a group she said that “has hated Communists longer and more fiercely than any other.” When the Red Scare in Congress leaned on her, she shot back that they should try “democratic methods to eliminate a good many irresponsible charges.” 

   They didn’t like that and started huffing and puffing. Hazel lamented that entertainers were already “covered with the mud of slander and the filth of scandal” by congressional goons trying to prove their loyalty to the United States. 

   Her TV show “The Hazel Scott Show” was cancelled the next week. She suffered a nervous breakdown. The next three four years she played on and off with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, more often in Europe than the United States. 

   “I think she might be on her way to France, maybe for good,” Adam Powell said.

   “Are you a Negro like Bumpy,” Dottie asked him, looking into his hazel eyes.

   “No, honey, I’m a man who is part African, part German, and part American Indian.”

   “What part of you are you today?”

   “The Bums part of me,” he laughed.

   Dottie pointed to the button on her shirt.

   “You and me both, sister,” he said.

   “I hear you came out for Ike,” Bumpy said.

   “I did, and I’ve been taking a lot of heat for it, but I got some great seats.”

   Bumpy could have told him to stay as far away from the president as possible but he didn’t. He wasn’t loose-lipped when it came to business, especially when business was a bomb that might blow Ike up. His job was to look out for Dottie, not for politicians, who were always looking out for themselves, anyway. He liked Ike, which made him different. He looked and saw waffles coming their way.

   “See you at the ballpark, then.”

   “How’s that? One of your numbers hit to pay for the ticket?”

   “No, that’s for chumps. Dottie here is going to be on the Happy Felton TV show before the game. I’m her escort.”

   “Good for you, Dottie, and put a good word in for your congressman.”

   “She lives in Hell’s Kitchen, not Harlem,” Bumpy said.

   “Close enough,” the congressman said, and wrapping his arm around the waist of his secretary, walked to his table, where a table tent “Reserved” sign sat.

   “Why did he want me to say something about him?” Dottie asked.

   “He’s a politician, a Washington politician. He never spends his own money except by accident, so a good word free of charge on TV is like gold to him.”

   “Oh, he’s a government man. Dad gets sour when anybody talks about the government.”

   “Honey just be glad we aren’t getting all the government we’re paying for,” Bumpy said, and dug into his stack of waffles, topped with fried eggs and bacon. Dottie pushed butter into the pockets of her plate-sized Belgian waffle and poured Sleepy Hollow syrup on it, spreading it with her knife and licking the blade clean.

   “Hey, don’t lick that off your knife, you’ll cut your tongue,” Bumpy said. “How are you going to be able to talk to Pee Wee if that happens?”

   “Oh my gosh!” Dottie exclaimed, putting the knife down in a flash.

   After their late breakfast they walked up Flatbush to Empire Blvd to Ebbets Field. The streets were full of cars and the sidewalks were full of fans. Vendors were everywhere. Scalpers were peddling tickets. The Mounted Police Unit was out in force, their horses leaving piles of shit behind them. The ballpark stood on one square block. It was surrounded on all four sides by shops and apartments and parking lots. 

   “Did you know Bugs Bunny was born in Ebbets Field down the left field foul line?” Bumpy asked Dottie.

   “He was not! Was he? Who says so?”

   “Warner Brothers says so, the outfit he works for. He was born there just before his first cartoon in 1940.”

   “He was born on the field, out in the open?”

   “That’s the way rabbits do it,” Bumpy said. “They build their nests out in the open, in plain sight, the last place anybody would expect, and that keeps them safe.”

   “So, they are right there but nobody can see them?”

   “That’s right, it’s like they’re invisible.”

   “But Bugs always pops up out of a hole.”

   “That’s just in the movies.”

   The stadium was named after Charlie Ebbets, who started out as a ticket taker for the team and grew up to become its owner. He laid the foundation for the new diamond by buying land in secret starting in 1905, more than a thousand small parcels of it, finally accumulating enough ground to build the ballpark eight years later.

   Fans bought tickets at gilded ticket windows, went into the marble rotunda through gilded turnstiles, and if they looked up saw a colossal chandelier with twelve baseball bats holding twelve baseball look-a-like lamps. 

   Dottie flashed her Happy Felton pass at one of the turnstiles.

   “Who’s he?” the ticket taker, flanked by a policeman, asked, pointing at Bumpy.

   “That’s my Uncle Bumpy,” Dottie said.

   “Your uncle?”

   “I work for Duluc Detective, and the boss asked me to watch his kid while she was here, seeing as she was going to be alone.”

   “All right, just don’t let the TV camera see you. You aren’t any Dark Destroyer, not on my beat,” the policeman said.

   “Yes, boss,” Bumpy said.

   “That policeman sounded mean to you,” Dottie said as they walked towards the field.

   “A happy raisin in the sun is a field of dreams, honey, a field of dreams.”

   Happy Felton was glad to see them, especially since they were on time. He explained the skit, where Dottie would stand, and where the camera and microphone would be. He showed her the certificate Pee Wee Reese would be handing her. “Hey, somebody roust Pee Wee, tell him we’re almost ready to go with the girl.” He told Dottie her time in the spotlight would last five minutes and to not be nervous.

   “I’m not nervous,” she said. “But I can’t wait to meet him.”

   He was more, not less what she thought he was going to be. He was taller.

   “You’re not a pee wee,” she said.

   “Not me, kid,” he said.

   Harold Henry Reese was five-foot-ten in his bare feet and pushing nearly 170-pounds. He played small ball, bunting, slashing singles, and stealing bases but he wasn’t a small man. He played the hole, shortstop, was the team captain, and wore number one on the back of his uniform shirt. 

   “He takes charge out there in a way to help all of us, especially the pitchers,” said Jackie Robinson, the team’s second baseman. “When Pee Wee tells us where to play or gives some of us the devil, somehow it is easy to take. He just has a way about him of saying the right thing,”

   Pee Wee and Jackie were the aces in the hole, the men who plugged the gaps between the bags. Not many balls got by them. They played shoulder to shoulder turning double plays. They ignored the catcalls on the road. They made their stand ending innings.

   “I like your button, but I don’t know about that cap,” said Pee Wee.

   “My dad is from Cleveland.” 

   “Well, that makes it all right then. It seems to fit you A-OK.”

   “I took a hot bath in it and wore it until it dried. Then I curved the bill and stuck it in one of my dad’s favorite coffee mugs overnight. The next morning, he was mad about it, and made me wash it out twice.”

   Happy Felton introduced the baseball player and the stickball player to each other and to the TV audience.

   “Your name is Dottie?”


   “That’s my wife’s name. Not only that you look a lot like her.”

   Dottie beamed, happy as could be.

   “Would you sign my baseball card?”

   “I sure will.”

   When he did, he congratulated her on her ball skills, she said she was rooting heart and soul for the Dodgers, he presented her with an official Dodger’s Certificate of Achievement, she held it up for the camera, and he pulled a big marble out of his pants pocket, handing it to her.

   “I played marbles when I was your age. This one is a shooter. The smaller ones we called ducks. You’ve heard about playing for keeps.”

   “That’s what my dad always says to do.”

   “That’s what you always do playing marbles, and baseball, and everything else. This one is yours to keep. You never know when it might come in handy.”

   Her five minutes were over in the blink of an eye. Pee Wee Reese glided away, Happy Felton eased her to the side, and Bumpy waved for her to come with him. As they walked down the right field foul line Dottie looked toward the opposite dugout.

   “Look, there’s dad,” Dottie said suddenly, pointing past Bumpy, who was on the inside track. 

   Stan and Ezra were in front of the third base home team dugout talking to a short thickset man smoking a fat cigar. The man pointed down the left field line. Another man, who had been leaning over the dugout, waved, and shouted something, and the cigar waggled him onto the field. The man stepped on the roof of the dugout and jumped down to the field. Stan Ezra the Cigar Man and the jumper huddled, and then went running up the foul line.

   “You stay here,” Bumpy said, starting to go around home plate. Dottie hesitated, but then ran straight across the field, cutting the corner in front of the pitcher’s mound.

   “Oh hell, “Bumpy swore under his breath, and broke into a sprint after her.

Chapter 35

   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. 

   “Who’s she?’

   “Boss’s daughter.”

   “What do you want?”

   “Get you out of here.”

   “I have to do something first.”

   “It’s been called off.”

   “Who says?

   “The man with the lion,” Ezra said, taking a stab in the dark.

   “You’re lying.”

   “No,” he said. “it’s a no go.”

   “Go away.”

   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.

Chapter 36

   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?”

   “That’s right.”


   “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, Lithuanian Journal, and 147 Stanley Street Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

Chapter 37

  Dwight Eisenhower smiled his broad smile and put his legs up. The inaugurations for his second term as President of the United States were over, one held privately two days earlier and one publicly yesterday at the East Portico of the United States Capitol. Chief Justice Earl Warren swore him in while Senate Minority Leader William Knowland swore in Richard Nixon. It was Tuesday and he was sitting in the Oval Office doing nothing for the time being.

   He wasn’t a smug man but gave himself credit for crushing Adlai Stevenson in 1952 by 442 to 89 electoral votes and again last year 457 to 73 electoral votes. A new law prevented him from running a third time, although if it wasn’t illegal, he thought he might goose egg his opponent the next time around.

   After the swearing in at the Capitol he rode in an open car, standing on the back seat, doffing his hat, and waving. His Secret Service bodyguards eyed the crowd, looking for anything that didn’t look right. Nobody took any potshots at him.

   He grinned to himself thinking about Bill Knowland swearing in Richard Nixon. The senator had been battling the vice-president for years over control of the California Republican Party. There was no love lost between the two men. The senator’s father owned and operated the Oakland Tribune newspaper. One day as Dick Nixon was being driven across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland an aide pointed out the Tribune Tower.

   “Bastards,” the vice-president grumbled.  

    “William Knowland brings to his leadership post an absolute, unflinching integrity that rises above politics,” Ike said. “In the councils of government, he inspires faith in his motives and gives weight to his words.”

   When the president was asked by a reporter “if you could give us an example of a major idea of Richard Nixon’s that you have adopted as the final decider,” Ike thought a minute before answering.

    “I don’t remember,” he finally said. “If you give me a week, I might think of one.”

   He dropped the brainwork before it gave him a headache. He moved on to another thought. What he was thinking of was reviving his administration’s promotion of American art. They had pioneered funding for international art exhibitions as well as sponsoring tours of American jazz, dance, and theater. He thought of it as psychological warfare, countering Soviet propaganda.

   “As long as our artists are free to create with sincerity and conviction, there will be healthy controversy and progress in art,” he said in 1954. “How different it is in tyranny. When artists are made the slaves and tools of the state, when artists become the chief propagandists of a cause, progress is arrested, and creation and genius are destroyed.” When the Russians spouted off about racism in the United States, he sent the opera “Porgy and Bess” on tour.

   He looked out the window. There was a light fog, light rain, and it was in the mid-40s. He wanted to play a round of golf, but even his presidential powers weren’t going to make that happen. He looked around for a cigarette even though he had stopped smoking when he became the commander-in-chief. He smoked three and four packs of Camel cigarettes for decades until his doctor told him to stop, or else. But when he tried to drop the habit, it wasn’t easy. He realized going cold turkey wasn’t going to work for him.

   “I decided to make a game of the whole business and try to achieve a feeling of some superiority when I saw others smoking while I no longer did,” he said. He left packs of cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays on shelves and tables around his office. “I made it a practice to offer a cigarette to anyone who came in while mentally reminding myself as I sat down, ‘I don’t have to do what that poor fellow is doing.’”

   He thought about Jackson Pollack, who had died less than five months earlier. He didn’t especially like the man’s drip paintings. “It’s a piece of canvas that looks like a broken-down Tin Lizzie, loaded with paint, has been driven over it.” But there was no denying he was celebrated as the quintessential American action painter. He wondered if a retrospective might be in order, something on the order of a world tour, something that would demonstrate how alive and virile American art was.

   Ten years earlier the State Department bought nearly eighty paintings from modern artists and mounted them in a traveling exhibition called “Advancing American Art.” The show toured South America and Europe. Maybe the same could be done for Jackson Pollack before everybody forgot about him.

   Ike started painting after the war when he was president of Columbia University. He had finished dozens of canvasses. He worked in oils. He made a painting of his family home where he grew up as Little Ike. His favorite was the portrait he painted of Mamie, his wife. She liked it, too. When he was asked about the symbolism of one of his non-portraits, he said, “They would have burned this shit a long time ago if I weren’t President of the United States.”

   When he thought about Jackson Pollack, he thought about what he painted in his spare time. It wasn’t abstraction by any means. “I am hopeless if you talk abstraction or heavy impressionism,” he said. “I wouldn’t know a thing about it because I want to paint something that you can see whether I use the color I should have or not. Except for people coming and seeing me painting and saying, ‘Oh, give me that one Ike,’ or ‘Oh, please can I have this one’ and so on, otherwise none of these would exist, I tell you.”

   He wrote to Winston Churchill, his comrade in arms during the war, whose paintings he liked. “I have a lot of fun since I took it up, in my somewhat miserable way, your hobby of painting. I have had no instruction, have no talent, and certainly no justification for covering nice, white canvas with the kind of daubs that seem constantly to spring from my brushes. Nevertheless, I like it tremendously.”

   President Eisenhower had been briefed about the failed attempt on his life at Ebbets Field. He was filled in about the dummy run which resulted in polishing off Jackson Pollack. He learned a New York City mobster was involved, and a New York City private detective had saved the day. He regretted the painter’s death but took it in stride. He had been in the middle of a maelstrom, being the allied commander in Europe during World War Two, that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people. There had been threats to his life during the war and during his first term in office. Jackson Pollack didn’t see it coming, he thought, but I see it coming every day. 

   He had read about Jackson Pollack’s death in The New York Times, about how he had been ejected from his car after slamming into a tree and been killed when his head hit a rock landing headfirst. One of his own top men, “Old Blood and Guts,” died in a fender bender.  Some of the men under his command often said, “our blood his guts.” It was seven months after VE Day. He was sitting in the back of his Cadillac limousine when the driver plunked into the passenger-side of a left-turning Army truck in Manheim, Germany. 

   He was on his way to a pheasant hunting trip with his Chief of Staff. Minutes before the low-speed accident, glancing at derelict cars abandoned on the side of the road, he said, “How awful war is.” George Patton knew what he was talking about. He had been the first officer appointed to the new U. S Army Tank Corps. in 1917.

   His car was barely damaged. Nobody was hurt except him. He suffered a gash on his forehead. Within minutes he was unexpectedly paralyzed. He was taken to the 130th Station Hospital in Heidelberg. X-rays revealed two crushed vertebrae. He had broken his neck when he hit the glass partition separating him from his driver.

   He lay in traction for nearly two weeks. Fishhooks were stuck into his cheeks on both sides of his upper jaw. They were attached to weights to stabilize his neck. When he showed few signs of recovery, doctors put him into a body cast to prepare him for a flight home, but he died before the flight was finalized. 

   Jackson Pollack, it turned out, had a harder head than George Patton. It had taken more to kill the Long Island painter than it did to kill the three-star general of the Third Army. When George Patton wheeled his armored divisions to counterattack during the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, he said, “The Krauts have stuck their heads in the meat grinder and I’ve got hold of the handle.”

   There was one thing Ike liked about the Abstract Expressionist’s paintings and that was their size. They were mural-size. They spilled off their canvasses and into infinity. They didn’t have a beginning or an end. His own paintings were a slice of life. Jackson Pollack’s paintings were life. Ike reproduced what he saw. Jackson Pollack reproduced himself. He was there to see if anybody looked.

   President Eisenhower doodled when he was thinking. He was doodling as he sat in his easy chair. He drew trees with a pencil. He wrote Pollack’s name at the ends of the topmost branches and then drew a hammer and sickle on another sheet of his notepad. If the State Department could be persuaded to stage a show, it would accomplish one more thing, besides beneficial propaganda about the manliness of American culture. It would send a signal to the Communists and their fellow travelers that the White House was fully aware of what they up to. 

   They were barking up the wrong tree if they thought he could be turned from his task as easily as they thought. He played poker through his years at West Point, in the peacetime Army after World War One, in the Philippines while serving time under the son-of-a-bitch Douglas MacArthur, and during the war years. He was married to a well-off woman, but if he hadn’t been he could have lived well enough on his winnings. He didn’t keep any cards up his well-worn sleeve, but the Ace of Spades was tattooed on his ass. 

   He had a warm smile that could turn cold as the North Pole in an instant. The Cold War was the new war. He had prevailed in Europe and Korea. He wasn’t about to lose the current conflict, no matter how far in the shadows it tried to stay. He turned on the table lamp beside him.

   His vice-president had been bruised in a sledding accident that morning. He had a cast-iron head, though, and survived, but wouldn’t be bothering him for a few days. He thanked God for small miracles. When Mamie walked in and announced lunch, he said he wasn’t altogether hungry and would just have toast and coffee. He drank upwards of twenty cups of coffee a day.

   “No, Mr. President,” she said. “You might run the country, but I turn the pork chops. Come and take your place at the table.”

A Stan Riddman Mystery