Tag Archives: Ed Staskus

Chapter 11

   “Go out there and tell that kike across the street to get the hell away from here,” said Albert Anastasia, biting into a Holy Cannoli, the pastry full of pistachio ice cream nuts bits of chocolate. There was a glass of sweet wine at his elbow. He took a sip.

   “Sure, boss,” a young strongman sitting beside the front door said.

   The man in the car across the street looked like hell, seedy, big bags under his eyes, gray jowls, and a thick cigar stuck in his mouth. He was wearing baggy pants, scuffed shoes, a wrinkled gray shirt, and a loosely knotted worse for the wear Belly Warmer tie. A painted hula girl and palm trees swayed faded out on it.

   The mob bodyguard was wearing a black shirt, razor-creased slacks, a skinny belt, and lizard shoes. He leaned into the Chevy. There was a camera on the passenger side of the seat. He didn’t give it a second look. He didn’t give the driver a second look, either.

   “What do you want here, Weejee? It’s not even nighttime. There isn’t anything going on. No one is going down this afternoon. Jumping time is five in the morning when the liquor runs out. The boss says beat it.”

   “I’m just waiting for a girl,” said Arthur Fellig in a high-pitched voice. 

   “What kind of girl is that?”

   “A girl with a healthy body and a sick mind.”

   “You got a sick mind.”

   Arthur Fellig was a newshound photographer. His nom de guerre was Weejee.

   “He always wanted to see the soul of the person. He wanted to see the essence of the person. And he certainly wanted to see the tits of the person,” said Judy Malina, who was once chased around Weejee’s apartment by the shutterbug.  She escaped before he could get his paws on her boobs.

   “You’re going to need some carbon tetra-chloride for that,” said the bodyguard, pointing to the beer stains on the hula girl.

   “I like them on the wet side, not too icy and deadpan,” said the photographer.

   “All right, enough with the wisecracks, why don’t you get in gear, maybe go down to Sussman Volk’s and take some pictures of the salamis and bolonies.”

   “How about I stay right here?” said the photographer, exhaling a thick puff of smoke from his stogie.

   The bodyguard stepped away from the noxious cloud coming out the car window. He looked down the street. He waved and snapped his fingers once. The policeman on the corner walked up to the car. Arthur Fellig could see the precinct numerals on the shield over the left breast of the man’s jacket. His black tie was knotted in a standard four-in-hand with a gunmetal tie clasp and he wore a blue military shirt with removable brass buttons.

   “This man is bothering Mr. Anastasia.”

    The policeman twirled his nightstick and rapped it briskly on the roof of the Chevy.

   “Move along,” he said.

   Arthur Fellig turned the engine over. “One day I’ll see him flat on his back, sooner than later, if I’ve been hearing it right, and I’ll get the shot, believe you me” he said to the bodyguard, and drove away.

   Albert Anastasia motioned to the waiter for expresso.

   “I got nothing against Jews,” he said to Luca Gravano. “I had plenty of kikes working for me back in the corporation days.” The corporation was the Brownsville Boys. The newspapers called it Murder Incorporated. After gunning down their man, they usually left the impression of a Black Hand on a piece of paper beside the body. 

   If they were in a hurry, they wore a black glove on their trigger hand and left it at that.

   “Gurrah Shapiro, Kid Twist, Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss. What the hell, Meyer and I still work some these days side by side in Cuba. As long as the Commies stay in the mountains, and Batista toes the line, it’s a gold mine down there.”

   President Dwight Eisenhower was running for reelection against Adlai Stevenson. The smart money was on Ike. He had gotten over his heart attack and was back eating pig knuckles and sauerkraut. Fidel Castro and his brother were aggravating the President with their penny arcade talk of invading Cuba and overthrowing Battista. Ike would take care of it after November. It was money in the bank, Albert told his associates.

   Luca Gravano nodded, sipped his coffee, and ate one brutti ma buoni cookie after another from the plate in front of him. They were Tuscan cookies, northern style, but he had always had a taste for them, no matter being from the Mezzogiorno. They were called “ugly but good” and were made of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, amaretto, and oranges. 

   Big Paulie came from Calabria, in the south of Italy, the same as Albert Anastasia. He had come by freighter to New York, the same as Anastasia and his brothers had done years before, jumping ship the same year Anastasia was convicted and sentenced to death in the electric chair at Sing Sing for stabbing and strangling another longshoreman. But, after he got a new trial, almost everyone who had testified against him changed every single word of their testimony. 

   The other witnesses dropped off the face of the earth. The prosecutors threw up their hands. It was the way of the world cynical newspapermen told each over drinks.

   After his release Albert Anastasia threw in with Joe “The Boss” Masseria, making book, hijacking, and running liquor. Ten years later he was one of four gunmen, along with Bugsy Siegel, who cut their boss down with a hailstorm of lead in a Coney Island diner.

   Luca Gravano was the right-hand man under Tony Anastasia on the docks, which meant at the end he worked for Albert Anastasia. He had no problem with that. The only problem he had was staying on his toes wary and careful with the main man every second of every minute of every day.

   The mob kingpin’s friends called him “The Executioner.” His brother “Tough Tony” called him “The Lord High Executioner.” Some of his friends and all of his enemies called him “The Mad Hatter.”

   “He is one grand guy,” said Anthony Coppola, Anastasia’s sometime driver, sometime bodyguard, and most of the time crony. “Lots of people will cry when he’s gone.”

   Big Paulie understood what Albert Anastasia wanted him to do. What he didn’t understand was why there were three bodyguards with them, one outside, and two in the restaurant at a nearby table. It must have shown on his face when he glanced around and behind him.

   “I’m worried about my family,” Anastasia said.

   “What do you mean?”

   “Forget about it, forget about it.”

   His wife and son lived in a mansion on an estate in Fort Lee, across the Hudson River from Manhattan in New jersey, surrounded by a 10-foot-high fence topped with barbed wire. The lawn was looked after by a pack of Doberman Pinschers. The dogs weren’t friendly, nor was the gunman who was always in the house. What was there to worry about? 

   There was the New York County District Attorney. 

   “Make no mistake about it,” the D. A. said. “These are real tough boys, and I mean really tough, but we’re tough, too.” He was pushing to get Anastasia into his office to talk about the murder of his ex-friend, Frank Scalise, a couple of months ago inside a fruit store in broad daylight. 

   But what was that going to come to? There weren’t any witnesses. Even if there were, there weren’t any witnesses. 

   Two years ago, it had been the murder of Vincent Macri, and the disappearance of his brother, Benedetto, both of them Anastasia bodyguards, that had gotten the city lawmen worked up. It had come to nothing. There was the disappearance of Charles Ferri and his wife Marie at about the same time, after the two of them testified against Anastasia in the income tax prosecution the Federals had brought.

   Everybody knew Vincent Macri and Charley Ferri were friends. Everybody knew what had changed hands. Everybody knew it was going to come to nothing.

   “You want me to make sure nobody gets to the doc, right, especially not the private cop.” said Luca Gravano, not exactly asking, but making sure exactly what “The Mad Hatter” was saying.

   “That’s right,” said Albert Anastasia. “Nobody outside of his circle, outside of his work, nobody asking any questions.”

    Luca Gravano knew now what Albert Anastasia wanted. He knew there was a secret and he didn’t need to be let in on it. There weren’t any more questions to ask, except one, to make sure he wouldn’t get the job at hand wrong in any way.

   “If anybody gets too close?”

   “You feed them to that lion of yours.”

   “It’s a female, a lioness,” said Big Paulie.

   “Even better,” said Anastasia. “A man-eater.”


   “Where do you keep her?”

   “In the basement of the store” 

   “That works for you?”

   “Yeah, if we’re doing a shakedown, or if somebody owes us money, and won’t pay up, no matter what, we bring him to the store, and push him halfway down into the basement. We throw a slab of raw meat over his shoulder down to Cleo, that’s the cat. She roars her appreciation and there’s no arguing after that. We always collect.”

   “That’s good, Luca, that’s good,” said Albert Anastasia.


   “Luca Gravano is a savage,” said Chief Inspector Raymond Martin, head of the Brooklyn South detectives. “He held another man’s forearm between his hands and broke the bone over the edge of an office desk, as a way of collecting a debt owed to him. The man told the story to one of my detectives, but he was too frightened to sign a complaint, unless he be killed. He was killed later, anyway.”

   “You take care of this, it’s important. You call me personally, day or night, if you have to,” said Anastasia.

   He stood up, put on his hat, and followed his bodyguards out of the restaurant slowly and deliberately in his money-glow suit. Big Paulie had another cup of coffee and another plate of cookies. When he stepped outside, he threw a nickel down for a copy of the New York Daily News. Wall Street was up on a “rousing rally” of five points. The Woolworth heiress was in court, being sued by a Manhattan florist for not making good on $2,500 worth of flowers. He liked the dame’s style. The crime story on page 3 caught his eye when he saw the picture of George Rosen. 

   “There was a rubber death’s head mask, a grisly Halloween thing of gray and purple, on the seat beside small-time gambler George Rosen, 39, as he and a masked pal stepped from a stolen automobile in Brooklyn shortly before noon yesterday to stage a payroll robbery.”

   George Rosen didn’t get far. In the picture he was lying on his back in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. He hadn’t even had time to slip on the Grim Reaper mask before he was shot dead.

   He knew the man, and if he owed him money, Big Paulie thought, it didn’t matter anymore. He never went after the family. He would have, but It was bad business. There were always too many brothers and uncles.

   He stepped off the sidewalk into the street and stuck his arm out like he meant to have the next cab. An “Otto” DeSoto Deluxe cruised up to his ankles. He got into the back, stretched out his legs, and looked up through the see-through roof. The V8 purred as it idled. The seats were green leather. There was plenty-and-more legroom.

   He lit up a Camel.

   “Where to, chief?”

   “Red Hook.” 

   “You got it.”

   The suspension of the big car was roly-poly. It was like taking one of the ferryboats. He started thinking about what ma would be making for dinner. He liked Ossa Buco, Eggplant Parmigiana, and Pasta Primavera, with semolina bread, olive oil, and pesto on the side. His favorite was Chicken Tetrazzini, named after Luisa Tetrazzini, a soprano known as “The Florentine Nightingale.”

   Luca Gravano’s headquarters was a small storefront in Brooklyn. The sign above the door said it was the Murphy Bed Company, agents and distributors. “The Disappearing Bed” was stenciled across one window. There were several demonstration models in the front showroom, although neither Luca nor his brothers had ever sold a single Murphy bed of any kind. Among themselves they joked it was “the foldaway trap for your worst enemies.”

   He lived next door in an attached brownstone with three of his brothers and his mother.

   “I don’t know anything about the mob. I don’t know anything about any organizations. I only know about my five children, four sons and a daughter,” Raffaella Gravano said one day when she was asked by detectives about the alleged killers, two of her own sons, of a rival bookmaker in front of a Bronx restaurant.

   What she said to policemen wasn’t what she said at home.

   “Women run the show in the south of Italy,” she told her sons. “Maybe our men come home with bloody boots, but I know how to cement guns inside walls. I hold my head high. I keep the memory of the dead alive.”

   “Hey, driver, stop at Alleva’s when you go by,” Big Paulie said to the cab driver as they passed the Church of the Most Precious Blood. 

   “The cheese place?”

   “That’s right.” 

   The Alleva Dairy cheese shop was at the intersection of Mulberry and Grand Streets. The windows were filled with printed and neon signs. Inside were ricotta, mozzarella, and the new hero sandwiches. Prosciutto hung from the tin ceiling. 

   “When I was young, there was one kind of prosciutto,” said one of the old-time butchers. “It was made in the winter, by hand, and aged for two years. It was sweet when you smelled it. A profound perfume. Unmistakable.”

   Luca ordered a sandwich for himself and five pounds of in-bone prosciutto and a knob of fresh mozzarella for his mother. She liked hers sliced over fresh melon. He liked his wrapped around a breadstick. His brothers got the leftovers.

    “When I find the original meal these leftovers have been coming from, I ain’t going to be sharing it with anybody,” said Frankie “Kid Blast” Gravano, one of his brothers. His two other brothers, Larry and Raymond, nodded solemnly that they were with Frankie, even though Frankie meant he was going to be keeping it all to himself.

   Luca was the oldest of the four boys. Kid Blast was the youngest. Luca was the smartest of the four. Kid Blast was the most dangerous of the four. Luca had the authority in the family. Kid Blast wanted it.

   He had taken a gunshot at Luca the summer before.

   “I just blew my top. He said something about me I didn’t like. I purposefully missed him.”

   Their sister, Carnellia, had been engaged to one of Vincent “The Chin” Gigante’s brothers, but backed out of the marriage. “I’m not marrying a peasant,” she said when she got the measure of the man. The jilted lover entered a seminary and was training to become a priest. Carnellia moved out of the family house, got an apartment in Greenwich Village, and went to work in pizzazz. Her new boyfriend, a third-generation German and a Protestant, who was an ad man at a Madison Avenue agency, got her a job writing TV commercials, making whatever might be nice into the must have.

   She called her mother every Sunday night, but the Gravano boys had not spoken a word to their sister in more than a year. Luca flushed red the morning his mother wanted to invite Carnellia to dinner.

   “She’s not coming here in her tight dress and that stuck up wise guy who thinks he’s better than us and we’re all wrongdoers, “he said. “I can see it in her eyes, ma. Except for you, she’s ashamed of us. I don’t want her in this house.”

   “She’s your only sister, my only daughter,” said his mother. 

   “We’re from the Old World, and even though it’s the New World now, what we make for ourselves, in our own world, that’s our new place, and when Carnellia flips she can stay with her estraneo,” said Luca. 

   “We have our pride. When she steps on that she can’t come back here.”

   Raffaella Gravano crossed her arms over her stomach, below her sagging breasts, grim and frustrated in her polka-dotted apron, her eyes speaking daggers.

   “I’m the man of the house now, ma,” Big Paulie said. “Don’t bite my balls off.”


Chapter 12

   “It’s a hell of a good day for it,” said Dwight Eisenhower, smiling broadly.

   It was going to be his first full round of golf since June. He had a heart attack last year. Then when this summer rounded into shape, he needed surgery for ileitis. The past week had been filled to the brim with the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Even though he had been unopposed, no need for a stampede, there had been some hard campaigning to get Dick Nixon off the ticket, to no avail.

   Ike was president because it was his duty. Richard Nixon wanted to be president. He didn’t think of it as a duty. He wanted it for himself, in the executive’s chair, at the top. He didn’t think of it as a responsibility. He thought of it as his ambition.

   “Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy,” Ike told Turk, standing next to him with his clubs.

   The Negro singer Nat King Cole had spoken at the Cow Palace yesterday, the last day of the convention, to some cheers and some jeers. Ike made the speech happen, no matter the carping about it. He knew he had to give in on the Vice-President, who was a hardline anti-Communist, who the rank-and-file supported with cheers. “I don’t want those Communist bastards to be successful,” Dick Nixon always said. But Ike knew he didn’t have to give in to Jim Crow, at least not always. He could take the high road and leave the jeering to the dirty tricks gang.

   They drove up to Pebble Beach before the convention ended, before his VP could invite him to dinner. Besides, Richard Nixon’s father was seriously ill, and Ike urged him to go before it was too late. There were three cars full of Secret Service men fore and aft. Charlie Taylor, who’d been at it for years, was in one of the cars.

   One night when Ike was having trouble opening his safe, and asked for help, his agents told him safecracking wasn’t part of their training. Ike was beside himself, giving them his ten-pound look. Charlie got the cranky combination to give in without a struggle. He had been an anti-submarine officer during the war. Safes weren’t safe when he got his hands on them.

    “I won’t know whether to trust you, or not, after this,” said Ike, glancing at the trim crew-cut man.

   Dwight Eisenhower was driven to his golf outing in a black Lincoln Cosmopolitan. It was one of ten presidential touring cars. They all had extra headroom to accommodate the tall silk hat Ike wore on formal occasions. The cars were almost 20 feet long, V8’s with Hydra-Matic transmissions, and heavily armored, weighing in at close to ten thousand pounds. One of them, a convertible, a 1950 model built for Harry Truman, had been fitted with a Plexiglas top.

   Ike called it the Bubble Top. Charlie called it a pain-in-the-ass. Mamie Eisenhower didn’t like sitting under a dome, but she put up with it, like she had with everything else.

   It was a high blue clear day, sunny, dotted with seaside clouds. A pocket-size breeze blew up from the water. It was slightly damp. Dwight Eisenhower nodded at his caddy.

   “It’s a pleasure, Mr. President,” said Turk Archdeacon.

   “Why, that’s fine,” said President Eisenhower.

   Turk had been caddying at Cypress Point since he was nine years-old, almost 40 years since. They walked to the practice tee. It was a pleasant morning. Ike started whacking balls into the distance. He played Bobby Jones woods with the official five-star general insignia engraved on their heads. At the putting green he lined up three balls 20-some feet away from the cup.

   He sank all three.

   “I should quit right here,” he grinned.

   He had been practicing on a green on the White House grounds, and been hitting wedges, irons, and 3-woods, sometimes sending balls sky-high over the south fence. Whenever he did, he sent his valet to retrieve them.

   The squirrels that prowled the lawn dug up his putting green, burying acorns nuts hardtack all their loot. They left small craters behind. One morning he finally had enough. “The next time you see one of those goddamned squirrels go near my putting green, take a gun and shoot it!” The Secret Service asked the groundskeepers to trap the squirrels, instead, and release them in a park somewhere far away.

   In a week August would be come and gone.  He would be 66 years-old soon.  “I’m saving that rocker for the day when I feel as old as I really am,” he said, pointing to the rocker in the Oval Office. More days now than not, he felt like that day was creeping close, step by step.

   His birthday was in October. CBS was planning a “Person to Person” style TV show the night beforehand. Eddie Fisher was going to sing ‘Counting Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.’  Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel were going to sing ‘Down Among the Sheltering Palms.’ Nat King Cole, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, was singing ‘It’s Just a Little Street Where Old Friends Meet.’

   He was looking forward to it.

   In six weeks, he would be throwing out the first pitch for the first game of the World Series. There were five or six teams in the hunt, although the New York Yankees looked like a lock at least to get there. If he were a betting man, which he was, he would be putting his money on the Bronx Bombers.

   He wouldn’t be in the Bubble Top, either, but in the Cream Puff, getting some sunshine and fresh air, what there was of it in New York City.

   He liked Cypress Point because it was set in coastal dunes, wandered into the Del Monte forest during the front nine, and then reemerged on the rocky Pacific coastline. The last holes played right along the ocean. He’d played golf on many courses around the world. This was one of the best of them.

   Dwight Eisenhower looked out over the par-5 10th hole. He had taken off his tan sweater, but still had a white cap on his head. Seven months ago, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, living legend professionals, had taken on the talented and skillful amateurs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward in a white-knuckle friendly foursome at the same Cypress Point.

   The same 10th hole turned out to be the key to unlocking that contest.

   “I bet they can beat anybody,” said San Francisco car dealer Eddie Lowery about the two amateurs, who were his employees. He was talking to fellow millionaire George Coleman. The bet and the match were on in that minute.

   Harvie Ward was a two-time U.S. Amateur champion. Three months later Ken Venturi came within one stroke of winning the Masters. The cypress-strewn rolling dunes of the course on the wind-swept coast, the deep ravines, knee-deep grass, sand on all sides of the fairways, weren’t redoubtable, not to them.

   Ben Hogan turned the corner on the 10th when he rolled in a wedge shot for a 3. The eagle and 27 birdies testified to the unfriendliness of the match. The drinks at the bar rubber-stamped the camaraderie afterwards. There were backslaps and groans about made and missed shots.

   Ike was playing with Harry Hunt, the president of Cypress Point, Sam Morse, a one-time football star who had developed Pebble Beach, and John McCone, a businessman who had been the undersecretary of the Air Force. He was partnered with Harry Hunt. They were playing a dollar-dollar-dollar Nassau bet. It was even-steven at the halfway mark, even though Ike had stunk up the 8th hole.

   “Where is it?” he asked getting there, searching for the green on the 8th across the dogleg.

   He sliced his tee shot into sand. When he got to it, he hit it less than ten feet further on. Then he hit it fat, the Ben Hogan ball soaring less than twenty feet, and falling into somebody’s heel print.

   “I’ve had it, pick it up,” he said.

    “Having a little trouble?” asked Sam Morse.

   “Not a little,” said Ike, “but a lot.”

   On the tee of the 17th hole Ike lined up his shot. Sea lions on the rocks below him barked. “It’s hard to hit a shot and listen to those seals at the same time,” he said, but not so either of the Secret Service agents with them could hear him.

   Dwight Eisenhower was accustomed to having guards around him, during the campaign in North Africa, and later as commander of the Allied Army in Europe. The Nazis had tried to kill him several times. Secret Service agents near his person nearly every minute of the day was like a second skin. He knew what it took to save his skin. When he moved into the White House he didn’t mingle mindlessly, shake hands in crowds, or do anything foolish.

   “Protecting Ike works like clockwork,” said agent Gerald Blaine.

   Mamie Eisenhower gave her agents nicknames. One, who was a good dancer, was 

“Twinkletoes.” He asked Mamie to keep it between themselves. Some of the agents called her “Mom.”

   “You don’t have to worry about me, but don’t let anything happen to my grandchildren,” Ike told Secret Service chief U. E. Baughman.

   The Diaper Detail guarded the four kids. Dwight Eisenhower changed the name of the presidential retreat in Maryland from Shangri-La to Camp David in 1953. “Shangri-La is just a little fancy for a Kansas farm boy,” he said. He renamed it in honor of his 5-year-old grandson, David.

   When Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union leader, visited the retreat he said the name sounded like a place where “stray dogs were sent to die.” That’s the difference between us and them, thought Ike.

   He looked for the fairway on the 18th hole.

   “Where do we aim here?” he asked.

   “Keep it away from the left,” said Harry Hunt. There was a stand of pine trees on the left. “That’s the Iron Curtain. You’ll never get through that stuff.”

   Ike laughed and hit a long drive. His next shot was a 4-iron and he nailed it onto the green, 20 feet short of the pin.

   In 1954 eighty people were convicted of threatening the president and sent to prison or locked away as madmen. In 1955 nearly two thousand honest-to-God threats were made against Dwight Eisenhower’s life. The year before, the Russian KGB officer Peter Deryabin, after defecting, told the CIA about a Soviet plot to kill the president in 1952.

   “We were preparing an operation to assassinate Eisenhower during his visit to Korea in order to create panic among the Americans and win the war there.”

   Whenever he played golf, stern-faced men with good eyesight and high-powered guns took up vantage points on hills, surveying the course with telescopic sights. Other agents, dressed in golf clothes, carried .351 rifles in their golf bags as they tagged along. In whatever parking lot the “Queen Mary,” an outfitted armored car, was the rolling command center.  

   Shortly after Mother’s Day the Secret Service investigated a threat to plant two boxes of explosives at a baseball park where the president was planning on taking in a game. “Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination,” Adolf Hitler had said not many years before. “This is the war of the future.”

   Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied Army derailed the Nazi night train. No one was going to take him by surprise. He was planning on sitting in his rocking chair one day, rocking back and forth, watching his grandchildren trundle on the carpeting.

   He served in the armed forces from one end of his adult life to the other. After he retired, he was dean at Columbia, and then president of the country. He was still the president and, he was sure, he was going to beat Adlai Stevenson worse than he had four years ago. Adlai didn’t know how to talk to folks. He was full of bull.

   Even though he’d commanded millions of men in the last war, Ike thought war was rarely worth going to war for. He hated it. It was a last resort. “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

   “Didn’t you once say that we are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it?” asked Harry Hunt.

   “When we have to, but always remember, the most terrible job in the world is to be a second lieutenant leading a platoon when you’re on the battlefield. There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs. When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it themselves.” 

   The Cold War wasn’t as hot as it had been ever since Nikita Khrushchev denounced Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality earlier in the year, as well as admitting the Man of Steel’s crimes, the outrages committed against Mother Russia. A door had been cracked open. Ike had long thought war settles nothing, even when it’s all over. He was afraid of the arms race, the march towards a nuclear catastrophe.

   “You just can’t have that kind of war,” he told his inner circle. “There aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.”

   “Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative” is what he had written and wanted to say at the Cow Palace, but didn’t, not with Dick Nixon and the Red Scare and the military hand-in-hand with industry. He wanted to call it what it was, a military-industrial complex that was always crying “fire” in a crowded theater.

   But he couldn’t, at least not until after he was re-elected. In the meantime, he planned on speaking softly and carrying a big stick, even if it was only a long shaft wood driver, the biggest stick he had in his bag.

Chapter 13

  “Thanks for stopping by Mrs. Pollack,” Stan said when Lee Krasner was seated and smoking on the other side of his desk.

   “I happened to be Mrs. Jackson Pollack and that’s a mouthful.” She let a jet of tobacco smoke from her Camel stream to the ceiling. “I’m a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent, so call me Lee.”

   “Lee it is,” Stan said, wondering why she called herself Lee, which was more often than not a man’s name, rather than her real name. Her name was Lenore. He knew she was an artist, but not a hit artist. Making it big in a man’s world might mean you had to be a man.

   Betty was at her desk, typing a letter to a client, Tracy Broadstreet, who had made it big in the city. The address was upstate. An upstate women’s prison. Racy Tracy had been one of New York City’s highest paid pornographic screenwriter producer stars.

   “At the time my career was brought to a sudden and final halt in the midst of screaming sirens and shouting cops, I was pulling down anywhere from $1500 to $2500 for a few hours work. Few people know the inside of the profession as well as I do. It’s the movies, the stag shows, that bring home the bullion in the sex racket. I know for sure. I was one of the stars.”

   The Duluc Detective Agency was hired to somehow prove she had been duped into prostitution and everything had gone wrong from there. Betty hadn’t been able to find any proof that Racy Tracy wasn’t the lead man in her own downfall. The letter said so. The invoice, acknowledging payment that Stan had insisted be made in advance and never be refundable under any circumstances, said they had tried.

   Lee Krasner wore her hair short, banks high up her forehead, had wide set eyes, a broad nose, and full lips. Stan thought she looked like an immigrant from Russia. She was wearing black from the waist down, black flatties and loose-fitting black slacks, a silver belt, and a red v-neck shell.

   “Barney hired you, is that right?” she asked. 


   “Why?” she asked.

   “He doesn’t think the accident was an accident.”

   “Jack was a time bomb. His time had come.”

   “Was he suicidal?”

   “Yes, but do you mean, would he ever commit suicide?”

   “What’s the difference?”

   “Jack was suicidal, but he would never commit suicide. He didn’t have it in him. It’s like this. He liked dancing but he didn’t know how to dance. I’m a fairly good dancer. That is to say, I can follow easily. My husband was ghastly and stepped all over me. He didn’t like being ghastly, but he would never have killed himself over it, or anything else, for that matter.”

   “Was he a good driver?”

   “He was careful when he was sober and more careful when he was drunk, although he drove too fast. But he was always faster hitting the brakes when he had to. He drove like a crazy man to scare himself and other people. It was a kind of joke with him.”

   “The tree he hit was fairly far off the road, but there isn’t any indication he ever tried to control the car.”

   “Jack wasn’t always able to control himself, but he could always control his car. It wouldn’t be like him to not slam on the brakes once he started going off the road.”

   “Barnett Newman is our client, but I still want to ask if you have any objection to us keeping at it, nosing around into the circumstances. We are thinking there is something going on, that it wasn’t what it looks like.”

   Lee Krasner stubbed out her cigarette and stood up.

   “Just promise you’ll tell me if that floozy had anything to do with it.”

Chapter 14

Bettina looked herself up down and sideways in the full-length mirror. She was wearing a black and white swing dress with a full skirt, red cuffs trimmed just below the elbows of the three-quarter sleeves, and a red collar at the top end of three big black buttons. Underneath she wore a Playtex bra and girdle. Along with the dress she had on a black belt, black shoes, and black gloves. 

    “You look good,” she thought. “Straight from the fridge.” 

    She had a black short-strapped handbag slung from her wrist and a broad-brimmed red hat on her head. She lifted her chin, looking down at the middle of herself. It was her ping-pong games that kept her fit and the girdle that made her look trim.

   She flashed a peek at her backside. Halfway out of her apartment door she paused, flipped the clasp on her handbag, and made sure she had an Anchor Life Insurance Company business card.

   “Swank,” she thought, once on Park Avenue, looking around Dr. Robert Baird’s waiting room. 

   Everything was white, except for the floor and the two Barcelona chairs. The floor was gray, and the chairs were brown. The round receptionist’s desk was white, as was the sofa and small round table in front of the sofa. The ceiling was white, and the fluorescent lighting was bright white.

   It was 8:35 in the morning on Friday.

   “I’m here to see Dr. Baird,” said Betty.

   “Do you have an appointment?”

   “I don’t, but this will only take ten minutes of the doctor’s time. It’s about the death of one of his patients.”

   She handed the receptionist her make-believe business card.

   “His first appointment at nine hasn’t arrived yet. Let me see if he can see you.”

   She was back in less than a minute.

   “The doctor will see you,” she said.

   “Thank you.”

   “I love your outfit,” she said. 

   “Why, thanks.”

   The receptionist was her own age.

   “I got the dress on sale at Macy’s, splurged on the bag at Henri Bendel’s down in the Village, and everything else, well, I just picked it up here and there.”

   Betty walked into Dr. Baird’s office. It was even whiter than the waiting room. The psychiatrist came around from behind his large desk, his arm extended, shook her hand, and offered her one of the two chairs at the front of the desk.

   “How can I help you, Miss Cross, is it?” asked Dr. Baird, swiveling around in his chair to face her.

   “Cross, Mrs. Betty Cross,” said Betty.

   “A working woman.”

   “Yes,” she said. “A working woman.”

   There’s something oily about him, Betty thought in a flash, as though he were tossing her a few crumbs by just seeing her. She tried to keep the turn off out of her voice and off her face. She crossed her legs and pulled a spiral bound flip pad out of her pocketbook.

   The receptionist sat doing nothing. She hadn’t gone to college for just a M. R. S. degree, meaning finding a husband and becoming a Mrs. She was in her mid-20s, neither married nor engaged. Everyone she knew had married right out of high school or while they were in college. Most of them got pregnant inside a year, and most of them were looking forward to their second and third child. 

   Her mother told her she was in danger of becoming an old maid.

   “Better to die an old maid, mom, than marry the wrong man.”

   She had her sights set on making money, a small fortune, at least, and stay a single woman, as sensible and respectable as anybody else. 

   She liked what she saw of the woman from the insurance company. That was what she wanted to be, someone on the go, not someone stuck behind a desk answering a phone and being polite to whoever walked in the door. She was going to make her own way or cry trying.

   “We carried a policy on the life of Jackson Pollack, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to just ask a few questions about him,” said Betty.

   “I don’t understand,” said Dr. Baird.

    “We aren’t asking you to violate the doctor patient relationship, but we would like to know if, in your opinion, he had suicidal tendencies.”

   “I’ve heard of Jackson Pollack, of course,” said Dr. Baird. “I’ve read about him in the papers, it seems he was larger than life, but I never treated him.”

   “Oh,” said Betty. “It was our understanding he was one of your patients.”

   “You were misinformed,” said Dr. Baird.

   “He wasn’t seeing you about his drinking?”


   Jackson Pollack drank heavy most of his life, starting when he was 15 years-old, on the road, when he was helping his father make topographic surveys of the Grand Canyon. He got psychiatric treatment on and off over the years to cure his alcoholism. Joseph Henderson, a Jungian psychoanalyst in Manhattan, found color sequences and symbols in the illuminated manuscript “Splendor Solis” and worked them into explaining Pollack’s dream images to him.

   Jackson Pollack didn’t give a damn about the “Splendor Solis,” except when he was drinking and pumping himself up with the splendor. Nothing under dream sun sun cured him of it.

   He got help avoiding patriotic mayhem from Dr. Violet Staub de Laszlo. The war was on the horizon. She wrote the Selective Service System in 1941, after he got his draft notice.

   “I have found Jackson Pollack to be an inarticulate personality of good intelligence, but with a great deal of emotional insecurity, who finds it difficult to form or maintain any kind of relationship. It has become evident that there is a certain schizoid disposition underlying his instability. I venture to suggest that Pollack be referred for a psychiatric examination.”

   He was declared unfit for military service. He got re-acquainted with Lee Krasner. They went drinking and dancing. They went to house parties. They got married in a hurry. He broke through to the other side.

   After the war he slowed down, finally stopped drinking, and did his best work, but after the summer of 1950 he took his first drink in two years and from then on stopped painting and drank heavily until his death. Whenever he was soused at the Cedar Tavern up-and-coming artists walking past him always tried to touch him for good luck.

   “That’s a fucking mistake, get your goddamned hands off me!”

   The more he drank the less he worked. “I don’t have anything more to say,” he told his homeopathic physician Dr. Elizabeth Wright. “What’s the point?”

   “I’m sorry about wasting your time,” said Betty. 

   “That’s quite all right,” said Dr. Baird.

   Betty retrieved her hat from the coat rack stand. The wall on that side of the office was filled with a ball clock, diplomas, certificates, a letter from the mayor, artsy black-and-white photographs, and a small drawing in a steel frame at the far end.

   It was a pencil drawing of a man-beast, naked, on his haunches, leaning forward, his nose like a snout, and a snake winding out of his mouth. The initials JP in small squiggly letters were hidden away at the bottom, just in sight beneath the man’s calf.

    “That’s an interesting drawing,” said Betty, fixing her hat.

   “Oh, that. It’s creepy, if you ask me. It was done by one of those new city artists, the one who died a few months ago.”

   “The one who crashed his car?”

   “Yes, that one. I read all about it in the papers. He was a drunk. He killed one of the girls in the car with him.”

   “Did Dr. Baird know him?” 

   “Oh, yes, he treated him for months, from about March or April.”

   “That picture might be worth a lot of money one of these days.”

   “You think so?”

   “I would keep my eye on it,” said Betty.

   After she left, but before she had gotten to the elevator, the receptionist was giving the small drawing a long look, her finger to her chin. She turned back to her desk when she noticed the phone blinking.

   “Hold my first patient for a few minutes,” said Dr. Baird.

   “Yes, sir,” she said.

   He dialed the number he’d been given in case of an emergency.


   “I had a visitor this morning, a woman who claimed to work for an insurance company that 

carried a policy on Jackson Pollack’s life,” he said.

   “What did she want?”   

   “She wanted to know if Pollack had ever exhibited suicidal tendencies, if I had been treating him for that.” 

   “What did you say?”

   “I said Jackson Pollack had never been my patient.”

   “That was a mistake.”

   It wasn’t a mistake from Dr. Baird’s point of view. He planned on being far from New York City by the end of next week, before whatever was supposed to happen happened, hoping to be more than a half million dollars to the good, almost a million with what he had squirreled away in Switzerland, far away in a sunny Mediterranean world in a villa where no one would ever find him for the rest of his life. He wasn’t even waiting to be paid the balance owed him for the work he had done on Tony de Marco. He suspected the rest of his life depended on getting as far away from New York City as he could, the sooner the better.

   “All right, sit tight, we’ll take care of it. What was the broad’s name and who did she say she worked for?”

   “He said Jackson Pollack was never a patient of his,” said Betty after getting back to the office.

   “We’ve got it from Barney Newman and the wife that he was,” said Stan. “Why would he lie about it when it’s easy enough to double-check through it?”

   “He might be buying time, for some reason.”

   “That’s a thought,” said Stan. “Let’s see if Ezra’s up for some second-story work, do a little digging, get into his files.”

   Ezra broke into Whistler Dental Specialists on the fourth floor twenty minutes after they locked up at four o’clock on the Wednesday the following week. He waited tilted back in a dental chair and five hours later broke into Dr. Baird’s office. An hour later he had Jackson Pollack’s file laid out on the receptionist’s desk in front of the Minox spy camera Otis had given him. When he was done photographing it, he returned the file, and removed the film from the camera. 

   He was wearing a black t-shirt, dark khaki’s, and a brown newsboy cap. He taped the film to the top of the cap’s brim and snapped the bonnet securely to the brim. He put a fresh roll of film into the camera. He tucked the camera away behind the fabric divider in his right front pocket. He waited until it was more than an hour after midnight. He took the fire escape to the first floor and walked out the back door.

   He hadn’t taken two steps before he felt, not yet hearing or seeing them, the two men. A slapjack broke his nose. He hit the ground like a bag of potatoes. A big man yanked him to his feet and slammed him against the wall.  He turned him around. A smaller thick man with sharp front teeth and a black felt pork pie hat stepped in front of him.

   “Hey, don’t I know you,” he said, talking to Ezra’s broken nose.

   “No,” said Ezra. 

   “Sure, I do, you’re the zigzag man from down on the docks,” he said, and hit Ezra twice fast high on both sides of his face with the jack. 

   “Fuck you!” Ezra spit, screaming, and the man hit him in the mouth. Ezra tried to kick him, flailing his legs, but the man danced away, and then darted in, jabbing him hard in the ribs with the butt end of the slapjack. Ezra felt something crack and slumped in the big man’s arms.

   “You’re in a world of hurt, Jew man,” the pork pie man sneered. “What were you doing in there? You tell me or we will take you to another world.”

    Bumpy Williams was suddenly behind them, tense.

   “Let’s beat feet,” said Bumpy. “Radio car just pulled up, blocking that way, they’re coming fast. We got to go the other way.”

   The big man let Ezra flop to the ground and the three men walked away, quietly briskly melting away.

   One of the Radio Motor patrolmen rolled Ezra over.

   “Mother of Jesus, you got a bad dose of it,” he said, looking at his face.

   The other policeman came back.

   “Gone,” he said. “They must have had a car waiting.”

   “Let’s get this one to the hospital.”

   They helped Ezra to their green, black, and white Ford Tudor RMP, a lit-up ‘Police’ sign on the white roof, one of the policemen sitting in the back seat with Ezra, his battered head in his lap, the other, siren wailing, making the short fast drive to the emergency room at Bellevue Hospital.

   It was half past three in the morning by the time Stan and Betty pulled up chairs next to Ezra’s bed on the seventh floor. A police guard sat outside the door.

   “You look bad,” said Stan 

   “I feel better,” he said. “They doped me up.”

   “Do you know who it was?” 

   “One of them was the rat face who’s usually with Big Paulie. The other one, I never saw, he had me from behind. I saw his hands, though. It looks like he was a fighter once. There was an eggplant who came running up when the cavalry got there, but I didn’t recognize him.”

   “OK, we’ll get them. Did you find anything?”

   “Yeah,” said Ezra, his voice muffled by the drugs and swollen busted lip. “The film is in my hat.’


   “I need two, three days,” said Ezra.

   “Take your time,” said Stan.

   In the hallway Stan stopped, the policeman stood up, and Betty kept her hand on the doorknob.

   “Not to worry,” said the uniformed officer. “One of us will be right here until he’s discharged.”

   “Get Karol and Bartek first thing in the morning,” Stan said to Betty when they were outside. “Tell them what I want and tell them I want it by the end of the week, all three if they can do it, but rat face, for sure. I don’t care how they do it, just so long as it gets done.”

   “It’ll get done,” said Bettina, a sour metallic taste in her mouth.

   Stan hailed a taxi for her.

   She got in and he waved the cabbie to go.

   “I’m going for a walk,” he said.

   The cab turned away into the almost quiet pre-dawn Manhattan morning.

Chapter 15

   It was hot and humid all up and down the east coast. It was hotter and more humid in Hell’s Kitchen. It was in the 90s and stagnant. The heat was trapping the humidity in the air. It didn’t matter. Dottie was playing stickball in the street.

   The street wasn’t West 56th.  She wasn’t about to break a sweat about that. Her father had told her to never play stickball on their own street. The fronts and windows of buildings were ruled home runs. Stan didn’t want any broken windows near where they lived. Dottie and her friends always played on West 55th or West 57th.  

   A boy bigger than her teased her about it, pushing her to the ground.

   “You always do everything your old man tells you to do, squirt?” he said, curling his lip, looking down and straddling her.

   She had a broom handle stick her hands. Looking up from the gutter she whacked him as hard as she could between his legs. When the boy’s father showed up at their apartment that night to complain that his son might never grow up to be a father, Stan threw the man out, dragging him down the stairs by his collar, threatening him and all of his family and friends with harm if they ever laid hands on his daughter again.

   “You think I’m fooling, look up my police record,” he yelled gone deliberately red in the face in the ashy face of the man when they were on the sidewalk. He calmed down in an instant the instant he was back in the house. He jogged upstairs.

   “You did the right thing Dottie,” he told his daughter. “If somebody says something rotten to you, be a lady about it. But if somebody pushes you, or grabs you, or hits you, you hit them back as hard as you can. You always do that. That’s so they won’t push you down again.”

   “OK, dad,” she said.

   It was a good day for stickball. Eight kids showed up, they picked their teams, and Willy, her friend from Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School, brought a new pinky ball. It wasn’t a Pensy, either. It was the cream of the crop, a Spalding Hi-Bounce.


   They drew a square rectangle in chalk on the brick wall at the back of a vacant lot on West 55th to represent the strike zone. The buildings on both sides were the foul lines. They chalked first and third base on the building walls and second base was a manhole on the sidewalk. If a batted ball hit any of the buildings across the street, it was a home run. If it hit a roof it was a home run-and-a-half. If it hit a window they ran like hell.

   “There ain’t no runs-and-a-half,” a snot-nosed kid from Chelsea, who was visiting his cousins, sneered and leered.

   “If you’re going to play stickball on West 55th, you better learn Hell’s Kitchen rules,” gibed Willy.

   Dottie was batter up. She smacked a hot grounder, but it was caught on the first bounce, and she was out. Willy got as far as third base, but three strikes and you’re out finished their inning. By the time they came back up in the second they were behind by five runs. It wasn’t looking good for the home team.

   “All right, all right, let’s pick it up, let’s get some roofies,” yelled Willy, urging his team on. “But chips on the ball. I mean it.” He meant that if his new Spaldeen was roofed, and couldn’t be found, everyone would chip in to pay for a new ball.

   Hal came up to the plate, wagged the broom handle menacingly, and planted his high-top rubber soled Keds firmly in the squishy unravelling asphalt. They were new and felt like Saturday shoes. His batted ball hit the side wall at third base where the wall met the ground and bounced back to home plate in a high slow arc.

   “It’s a Hindoo,” he shouted.

   “No, that ain’t a do-over, it’s a foul ball, so it’s a strike,” shouted back Dave Carter, who everyone called Rusty because his hair was red.

   “What do you know?”

   “I know what I gotta know.”

   “Go see where you gotta go,” said Hal.

   “No, you stop wasting my time,” said Rusty. “It was a foul ball.”

   “Ah, go play stoopball,” shouted Hal.

   Stoopball was throwing a pinky against the steps of a stoop, and then catching it, either on the fly or on a bounce. Catching the ball was worth 10 points. Catching a pointer on the fly was worth 100 points. A pointer was when the ball hit the edge of a step and flew back like a line drive, threatening to take your eye out. When you played stoopball, you played against yourself.

   “You got a lotta skeeve wichoo,” Rusty shouted back at Hal.

   “All right, already, strike one,” said Willy, exasperated.

   He knew Rusty would never give in. He was a weisenheimer. He was someone you had to keep your eyes on, too, or your Spaldeen might grow legs. It wasn’t that Rusty was a thief. He just kept his nickels in his pocket, and everything else, too. Willy had heard he was such a tightwad he still had his communion money from two years ago.

   Rusty had been born in Philadelphia. That was his problem. Willy sympathized, slightly.

   Hal hit a cheap on the next pitch, a slow roller, but when Rusty let his guard down, reaching leisurely down for the Spaldeen, it went between his legs, and the next instant Hal was standing at first base, smirking.

   “Comeback stickball,” he whispered to himself. “Our game.”

   Eleven batters later Dottie’s team was on the plus side of the scoreboard, nine to five.

   The woman sitting on the stoop across the street watching her windows watched Dottie and her friends walk down the sidewalk, when the game was over, one of them bouncing his pinky, all of them talking happily.

   “We killed them, just killed them,” said Willy.

   “We sure did,” said Hal.

   “What a game!” said Dottie.

   “Yeah, first we were down, came back big, you put some Chinese on that ball between Rusty’s legs, they slipped ahead, and then we score fourteen just like that, and it’s all over.”

   “Did you see him, the putz, pulling that long face?” asked Hal.

   “Oh, he’ll be back, no biggie, he loves playing on the street,” said Dottie.

   Dottie was so glad her team had fought and won. They scrapped for every run. It was worth it. She didn’t mind losing once in a while, but she liked winning better. She stripped off her hot sweaty clothes, rubbed down with a cool sponge, and put on a fresh pair of shorts and a t-shirt.  

   She put her stick away in a corner beside her bedroom window. In the summer she loved her friends, no matter what team they were on, and loved playing stickball with them more than anything in the world. When it was wet and windy, the pinky and chalk and sticks stashed, and they were clambaking the grapevine, it always flipped its way back to playing ball.

Chapter 16

   The last bottles of liquid nitroglycerin were tucked into the cavity Tony the Phil dug out to the side of the base of the drain under center field where it met the larger storm drain. It sloped away under right field from there to Bedford Avenue. The tiles he pried away he tidily carefully anxiously replaced. When he threw the beam of his flashlight directly on the wall, he could hardly see that any tiles had ever been disturbed.

   Sure, the Dodgers still had to sweep the Pirates to win the pennant, but it was more than doable. The Buccos were almost 20 games under .500, even with an outfield featuring Bill Virdon and Roberto Clemente. They had nothing to play for. On top of that, they would be playing at packed to the gills Ebbets Field, a doubleheader on Saturday and the last game of the season on Sunday.

   Brooklyn had everything to play for, including doubling up on the Yankees, doing what they did in 1955 again in a subway series rematch. If he were a betting man, which he wasn’t, since he couldn’t afford to throw money away, he would bet on the Bums.

   He would have bet the nitro was going to be a problem, but when he picked it up at the deli, the first package yesterday and the second package today, it hadn’t been any problem, at all.

   “Nah, it ain’t gonna blow you up,” the counterman said. “We keep it in the cooler, so it stays stable. It’s packed in ice, so you’ve got a couple of hours. It’s as safe to handle as a baby. It won’t bite you. Just don’t drop it. You know how babies are.”

   His yellow jacket, yellow TNT sewn into it, was all ready and safely ready in the back of his locker. When he pulled the ripcord on it, standing where he was now standing, all hell would break loose on Wednesday. There wouldn’t be any World Series after that.

   He was calm ready steady. There wasn’t anything left to do, except to wait. If the Bums ran the table, then the table was set for blowing the commander-in-chief to kingdom come.

   A stab of pain on both sides of his head buckled Tony’s knees. His chin fell into his chest and his hands flew to his temples. His eyes watered. “What the fuck?” He went down to the ground, like a dog, his head hanging. He started to pant like a dog.

   “Fuck me!” he spit whispered to himself.

   His headaches had been getting worse all summer, not better, but this was the worst of them. A grand slam was worse than a single if you were on the wrong side of it. He was on the wrong side of the slam. Five minutes passed before he opened his eyes and cautiously brought his head up. He put his hands on the wall to bring himself to his feet. It was no good. He went back down on all fours and crawled out of the storm drain.

   He felt better once he made it outside. He stumbled getting up and lurched out of the ballpark. It was a sunny day. He needed some sun.

   The Brighton Beach Health Resort at 5th Street and Brightwater Court was a wide beat-up plank platform in front of a corrugated fence. Behind the fence was a parking lot. Parking on weekdays was 25 cents for two hours and 35 cents for three hours. Weekdays the cost was a flat 15 cents an hour. It didn’t matter to him. He didn’t have a car. He took a bus and walked the rest of the way.

   Behind the parking lot were rows of five-story walk-ups. In front of the Health Resort was the Brighton Beach Boardwalk. The Lower Bay spread out as far as the eye could see. The four-foot painted letters on the fence said, “Health Resort” and smaller letters to the side said “Sat. Sun 20 cents per hr. Weekdays 15 cents per hr. “

   A small billboard to the side advertised soda pop. The sign said, “7 Up Likes You.” 

   Tony the Phil didn’t drink 7 Up because he didn’t like Fresh-up Freddie, the mascot rooster for the soft drink. Freddie dressed in flashy clothes, drove a red sportster, and was free and easy with advice about how to plan fun successful picnics and parties by having plenty of 7 Up on hand. Tony didn’t go on picnics, except by himself, and was rarely invited to parties. He drank Dr. Pepper. 

   It was “The Friendly Pepper Upper.”

   He threw down three dimes for two hours and found a chaise lounge in the second row of chairs. There were four rows. Everyone got the same bright beams of sunlight, no matter what row they were in. The backrest was adjustable to three positions. He set it back two stops, wiggling into the cushions. 

   The woman next to him was a middle-aged logjam in a long-sleeved black jacket and a black knee-length skirt. She was wearing orthopedic black shoes. The woman’s chin bobbed softly on the folds of her neck. Her hands were folded over her gut and she was breathing softly. Next to her was a young blonde woman in a two-piece bathing suit, her hair pulled up under a white kerchief. On the other side of him were two middle-aged men, one in a red shirt and the other in a blue shirt, their sleeves rolled up.

   “I tell you, he ain’t gonna make it,” said the man in the red shirt. “I like Ike, but he should have stepped aside for a younger man.”

   “He’s made it this far,” said the man in the blue shirt. “I’ve seen younger men drop dead for no reason at all. He’s got plenty of good reasons to stay on his feet.” 

   “You know, my temperature’s risin’, and the jukebox blows a fuse, my heart’s beatin’ rhythm, and my soul keeps on singin’ the blues, roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.”

   Tony the Phil glanced at the blonde in the two-piece suit. She had a transistor radio banded to her wrist and her wrist near her ear. The radio was gray with a gold tuning dial. It was the closest Tony had been to one of the gadgets.

   “That one of those new pocket radios?”

   “It’s a Regency,” she said. “I’m listening to WINS, the Alan Freed Show.” 

   “1010, easy to remember, easy to dial,” said Tony.

    “Spinnin’ the discs with finesse, just set your dial to 1010 awhile, to WINS.”

   He listened to Bob Garrity’s live late night “Jazz from Birdland” sometimes, after night games, when he couldn’t sleep in the dank stuffy dark air of his apartment.

   The first night game at Ebbets Field had been played almost twenty years ago. Some of the old-timers still talked about it. A fife and drum corps marched up and down the outfield. Jessie Owen ran a series of sprinting exhibitions. Johnny Vander Meer, a lanky twenty-two-year-old southpaw, threw a no-hitter for the Bums. Leo Durocher came up in the top of the ninth down three, two outs, and the bases loaded after three straight walks, but Vander Meer got Leo the Lip to hit a loser’s pop-up that shut the lights out on the Reds.

   “See you later alligator, after ‘while crocodile, can’t you see you’re in my way now, don’t you know you cramp my style.”

   The crowd went wild. Popcorn peanuts beer were thrown up into air. Johnny Vander Meer was mobbed by his teammates. 

   “I said wait a minute ‘gator, I know you mean it just for play, and this is what I have to say, see you later alligator, after ‘while crocodile.”

   Everybody young was listening to rock-n-roll, the new music. Whoever heard of Elvis Presley before the transistor radio? Now he was down for five of the Billboard Top 20 songs. Doris Day was in the Top 10, but time was running out for her and Dean Martin and Perry Como. It was time for Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent and Frankie Lymon.

   “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, Que sera, sera, what will be, will be.” That’s the way it was shaping up to be.

    “I heard those things cost an arm and a leg,” said Tony.

   “I don’t know,” said the blonde. “My boyfriend got it for me. He said it fell off a truck.”

   She laughed, full-mouthed, bright and happy.

   The logjam in black between them shifted her weight. The chaise lounge groaned. She had been gurgling snoring quietly, but now stopped. The blonde turned back to Tony.

   “Oh, wait, this is my favorite song by Pat Boone,” she said suddenly.

   It was ‘I Almost Lost My Mind.’ The girl bobbed to the song. Tony stayed still.

   “I went to the Gypsy and had my fortune read, I went to see a Gypsy, I had my fortune read, I hung my head in sorrow when she said what she said.”

   He remembered the song from the time before he went to Korea. It was a big hit then by Ivory Joe Hunter, not by no Pat Boone. Ivory Joe was Ivory Joe’s given name, not a stage name. He was the Baron of the Boogie. He wasn’t the cheery youngster from Florida who covered R & B hits for Dot Records. He wasn’t the wholesome Pat Boone who the high school girls loved. He wasn’t just piggybank jiving.

   “Jesus H. Christ,” his head hurt again.

   He had felt better for a half-hour, the warm sun making him hum, but now his head was pulsing. He felt hot, not warm. Some kind of brown was ooze creeping in on the edge of his vision. He was nauseous and woozy.

   “Oh yes I’m the great pretender, ooh, ooh, adrift in a world of my own, ooh, ooh, I play the game but to my real shame, you’ve left me to dream all alone.”

   “Hey mister, are you all right?”

   Tony heard the blonde the second or third time she asked, even though he wasn’t sure what she was saying.


   “I was asking if you’re all right.”

   “Headache, bad headache,” he said.  

   “I got some Bayer in my handbag.” 

   She pulled a red and black box bag out from under her chaise lounge, flipped the clasp open, and shook out two white tablets of aspirin. He swallowed them dry. They didn’t do him any good, though, not then or ever.

   “Thanks,” he said, getting up, sketchy.

   “Are you going to be OK?”

   “I’ll be fine,” he said. 

   He couldn’t take a bus or a subway. He was goddamn wobbly. He needed to see the doc as soon as possible. Behind him the blonde lifted an Oscar Mayer thin-sliced bologna and cheese sandwich slathered with mayo and mustard out of her bag. Taking a bite, she watched Tony the Phil stutter down the plank boardwalk. He waved for a cab, getting in gingerly, slumping slightly forward.

   “Don’t know what they’re doing, but they laugh a lot behind the green door, wish they’d let me in so I could find out, what’s behind the green door.”

   Uptown, Dr. Robert Baird put down his menu. He had a dirty martini at hand, although the olive brine hadn’t replaced the vermouth, but rather gone along with it. He liked it that way. The glass was cloudier than a traditional martini.

   “I’ll have the Omelette Maison to start and the Sangue de Boeuf a la Milanaise for my lunch,” he said.

    “Very good, thank you, sir,” said the waiter.

   He was at the Quo Vadis restaurant, on the ground floor of the Leonori Building at East 63rd Street off Madison Avenue, having a late lunch alone in a quiet corner. His office was on the corner of East 66th and Park Avenue, in a 12-story building across the street from the Park Avenue Armory. He practiced his craft on the 5th floor. It was a ten-minute stroll from his office to the restaurant. He always walked, rain or storm under an umbrella or shine.

   The Quo Vadis was opulent, heavy with columns and red velvet, Italian mosiacs in the entry, and the two restaurateurs, Gino Robusti and Bruno Caravaggi, paraded the dining room at night in tuxedos. Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole ate there. Frank Sinatra was one of the few diners not required to wear a tie during dinner. Nevertheless, he always wore a tie, out of respect.

   Dr. Baird was hungry. He was almost famished, having missed breakfast. He finished his omelet and ordered another martini. When he thought about it, he knew his special patient was falling apart, but there was only so much he could do. The problem was the time it was taking. It was taking too long getting to D-Day. The man’s headaches had been getting worse. There was less than a week to go, but he was concerned.

  He had been using scopolamine to fine-tune the hypnosis sessions, and there hadn’t been any adverse effects, no dry mouth, no itching, or hallucinations.  Headaches weren’t listed in the literature as an adverse effect. He was puzzled, although not surprised, by the headaches. The literature wasn’t always right. Jackson Pollack had come down with several migraine-like headaches in July.

   If it happens again, I’ll use a strong narcotic again, he thought, biting into his beef.

   It was the first time he had ordered the Sangue de Boeuf at Quo Vadis. It was literally melting in his mouth. This is absolutely delicious, he realized, at the same time resenting that he was seeing Tony de Marco stumbling past a surprised annoyed waiter’s outstretched arms towards his table.

   “Doc, you gotta help me.” 

   “It’s all right, Lorenzo,” Dr. Baird said to the waiter. “Help him into his seat and bring a glass of ice water.”

   Tony’s face was flushed, and he looked like he might explode. A side effect of scopolamine was dyshidrosis, a reduced ability to sweat in order to cool off. Tony gulped down a tumbler of water and Dr. Baird ordered another. 

   “Doc, I’ve been getting worse headaches,” said Tony. “The dope you gave me helped, but it doesn’t help anymore. I need something more to keep my head screwed on straight.”

   Dr. Baird went back to his beef while he watched Tony. He knew he was going to have to get him back to the office, but he wanted to finish his lunch first. He had an enormous fondness for delicious food. He was willing to miss dessert but wasn’t willing to walk away from his entrée.

   “Drink a little more water, and we’ll go in a few minutes, as soon as you’ve cooled down. I’m sure we’ve got something that will help you,” said the psychiatrist, lifting another forkful of Sangue De Boeuf to his mouth.

   “My head is killing me.”

   “I want your body temperature to go down a little first,” the doctor said, stalling, looking down at his plate. There were only a few bites left. He quickly lifted another slice of beef with his fork. He saw Lorenzo approaching their table and made eye contact. He gestured a phantom signature in the air. The waiter understood and made a u-turn. 

  When Dr. Baird and Tony walked past the bar to the front door, Tony supported at the elbow by the doctor, Stan Riddman, sitting at the bar, looked down into the bourbon in front of him. There were three ice cubes in the glass. He liked the way the bourbon got along with the cold. 

   On the street the doctor hailed a cab. Walking past them, Stan overheard the address the doctor gave the cabbie, and decided to walk. He would be there practically at the same time, anyway. The cab was pulling away from the curb of East 66th and Park when he got there. He watched the two men enter the building, waited a moment, and followed them inside. They were standing at the elevator, their backs to him. He watched them get inside the elevator, and when he saw it stopped on the 5th floor, he walked across the lobby to the pay phone.

   “You might have hit the nail on the head about the little man,” he said when Betty answered the office phone. “He’s with our bird.”

   “Where are you?”

   “In the lobby of the doc’s building,” he said.

   “Are you going for the bum’s rush?” she asked.

   “Yes, get the guys over here as fast as possible, Bartek behind the building, and Karol with me,” he said. “You be with the car in the alley on the Madison side.”

   “Give me ten minutes.”

   “It’s going to happen fast, stay on your toes”   

  “Don’t worry about our end. Oh, one last thing, you are going to grab the both of them?”

   “You bet I am.”

   The shrink wouldn’t be any problem. He would shrink down to size fast enough. Karol would escort him out on his elbow. The dago might be a problem. He looked nervous and wracked up about something. Ten minutes gave him just enough time to have a square. He leaned against the wall next to the pay phone and lit a Camel. He slowly exhaled twin plumes of smoke through his nostrils and waited for Karol. Bartek would be on his scooter in the alley, waiting idly.

   Stan waited behind his cigarette smoke, the clock in his head ticking.

Chapter 17

   The mistake Bumpy Williams made was having two beers for lunch on an empty stomach. He wasn’t hungry, but he was thirsty, so he had two instead of one. The other mistake he made was breaking his number one no break rule, which was never assume anything. 

   “It can make an ass of you,” George Benta said at the funeral home when his men mixed up two dead men in what they thought were the right coffins but were the wrong coffins and had to dig them up and bury them again.

    “Hey, don’t worry about it, mistakes are just another way of getting the right thing done,” Bumpy said to George’s long face.

   He assumed Stan Rittman, frog-marching the Park Avenue headshrinker out the door of his office building in the hubbub of the 5 o’clock Friday going home rush, down the sidewalk, and into the alley, was alone. He saw the car, the open back door, and got to within a step of the peeper, but he never saw Karol.

   Stan saw Bumpy coming but stayed in step with doing what he was doing, not skipping a beat. Never interrupt anybody when he’s making a mistake was one of his cardinal rules. It had always stood him in good stead at the poker table. The only person he interrupted tripping over her own two feet was Dottie.

   “Hands where I can see them, nigger,” said Karol. 

   The third mistake Bumpy made was whirling around, blackjack suddenly in his hand, and whirlpooling his temple into the swinging blunt butt end of Karol’s Colt .45 pistol. The street tilted up to meet his pole-axed face, his knees gone weak as a baby’s, his brain blank as a bubble.

   “Who’s he?” asked Karol.

   “Who cares, in the trunk with him,” said Stan.

   Bartek smirked up a storm, bringing up the rear.

   Betty tossed the car keys out the window, Karol snatched them out of the air, and dragging Bumpy Williams by his armpits the woozy man’s heels hopscotch bumping to the back of the Pontiac, strong-armed the blank-faced Negro into the trunk. 

   “You still have a chance, but I hear a sound out of you, it’ll be the last sound you make, and no hard feelings,” Karol said, his mouth close to Bumpy’s ear. They looked straight at each other. Bumpy tried to make his eyes say he understood. Karol gave him a pat on the shoulder.

   “Good,” he said.

   “Let’s go,” said Stan, getting into the back seat on one side of the doctor, Karol on the other side. “Stick your chin into your chest, and keep it stuck there,” Stan to Park Avenue. Karol tied a blue and yellow bandana over the psychiatrist’s eyes. Betty put the car in gear and eased into traffic. Less than a half hour later they pulled up to the back of the Warsaw Baking Company in Little Poland. 

   Bartek was already waiting at the rear door, leaning against the brick wall, a smoke dangling from his lips. He had ridden his Twin out of the alley and beaten all the traffic. The Marman Twin was a motorcycle made in California by a company owned by one of the Marx Brothers, Zeppo Marx. Its engine was a drone airplane engine from World War Two. The ride was a nimble zippy ride. 

   “You two bring the colored man,” said Stan, leading Dr. Baird hard by the elbow into the building. “Handcuff him in the boiler room. We’ll get to him after the shrink.”

   “What about the little man?” asked Bartek.

   “He was gone,” said Stan. “We’ll find out who what and where he is. You and Karol sit tight. This won’t take long. He’s posh. He’ll fold fast.”

   Betty parked the car and followed Stan. She bolted the door behind her, took two steps down into the basement, but went back up to double-check the door. It was bolted fast. It was a metal door, a heavy metal door.

   The Warsaw Baking Company was a two-story brick building between Nassau and Driggs Avenues. One side of the front of the building was double doors and two loading docks. The other side was a single door leading up to a bakery shop. It closed at 5 o’clock. It was closed now. There were two glass block basement windows. There was one door at the back, and it was locked tight.

   Karol stayed with Bumpy, cuffed to a pipe and sprawled on the concrete floor. Bartek walked around to the front of the building and hopped on the ledge of one of the loading docks. He leaned back, pushed his flat cap off his forehead, and lit a cigarette. The late afternoon early fall sunlight felt good on his face. A pretty girl he recognized walked by. He delivered a wolf whistle by air mail. 

   “Save that for the girls who don’t know the real you, Bart,” she said, smiling wickedly as she walked past.

   “You’re cooking, doll.”

   “Steady boy.”

   Bartek lived three blocks away, and Karol lived a block from him, in Little Poland, hard on the East River. Everything and everyone were Polish, drug stores, groceries, hair salons, newsstands, and social clubs. Hardware stores and dentists and shoeshine stands advertised their wares and services in the native tongue. The young men had both gotten out of Europe in 1948 when they were both still teenagers and both orphaned for the rest of their lives.

   They worked at the bakery and did odd jobs on the side. One of their sidelines was doing odd jobs for Stan Riddman. It kept them in going out money, going out with girls, going out to ballgames, and going out to eat. They ate at Czerwony Wreprz, what everyone called the Red Pig, once a week, where they always ordered the signature dish, a whopping meal for four served in a wooden boat, sausages, pierogies, baked hocks, bacon, stuffed cabbage, grilled pork shoulder, and chicken. 

   “You eat this, you’ll be happy for a week,” the cook said

   The Red Pig looked more like an old country farmhouse than a big city bar and restaurant, with a long deep bar and plenty-and-more Polish beer on tap. A white bird on a red background was stopped in space over the front door. A sign beneath the big bird said “Zapraszamy!” It meant you were welcome to enter. The waitresses dressed in traditional folk dresses. Wooden beams lined the ceiling from front to back, lights hung on wagon wheels, and the booths chairs tables were all dark walnut polished to gleam in the thick cigarette smoke.

   Ezra was in the half-empty odds-and-ends room in the basement when Stan came in, Dr. Baird ahead of him, and Betty behind them. He was tucked into a back corner, his arms folded across his chest, quietly waiting, not angry anymore, but biding his time. Stan sat the psychiatrist in a chair at the table in the middle of the room and lifted the bandana from his eyes. Dr. Baird blinked rapidly and squeezed his eyes slits to keep the light out.

   Everything was quiet for several seconds. It stretched to minutes. Ezra stayed behind the doctor. Stan stood on the far side of the table. Betty locked the door and leaned back on the wall to the side of it. Stan looked down at Dr. Baird.

   “This is outrageous, who do you think you are?” Dr. Baird finally said in an upset choked-up  voice, starting to stand up. “Where am I?  What do you think you’re doing? I’ll have you all arrested, mark my words!”

   Ezra stepped up behind the doctor and pushed him by the top of his head back down into his chair.

   “Shut up and stay that way until we ask you something,” said Stan. “Turn his pockets out, Ezra, let’s see what we’re going to see before we get started.”

   “I know your name now. You hoodlums will pay for this.”

   “My name is Stan Riddman,” Stan said. “It’s spelled with two d’s. The only one who’s going to pay up is you. Keep your trap shut.”

   When Ezra pivoted and rousted Dr. Baird halfway to his feet, spreading the lapels of the man’s jacket to search the inside pockets, and the men were face to face, the doctor recoiled.

   “My God, what happened to you?” 

   Ezra’s eyes were black and blue, he was wearing a splint over his broken nose, and his busted lower lip was swollen bad. He spoke gingerly, careful to not hurt himself. He glared at the doctor.

   “Yeah, your goons did this, and cracked one of my ribs, too. I’m in no mood to finesse you, so be a good boy,” said Ezra, his voice slow thin terse.

   “My goons? I don’t have any goons. What are you talking about?”

   “I already told you to shut up twice,” said Stan, as Ezra tossed the doctor’s wallet on the table and shoved him back into the chair. “The third time is going to be the charm.”

   “He’s clean.”

   Stan sat down opposite Dr. Baird. 

   “I’m going to ask you some questions, doc,’” he said. “Some of the answers I already know. Some of them I don’t know. It will be easier all around if you don’t lie to me, especially if you don’t say you don’t know what this is all about.”

   “But I don’t know.”

   “We’re getting off on the wrong foot already,” said Stan, getting up quickly, leaning over the table, and grabbing the doctor by the knot of his tie. He jerked him towards him. Dr. Baird’s chin hit the tabletop and was dragged forward.

   “I told you once, I won’t tell you again. I won’t have it. If you lie to me it will only make it a longer night, and we don’t want that.”

   He let go and Dr. Baird fell back into his chair, lurching sputtering. He was starting to sweat. His shirt was damp. He wasn’t a weak man, not altogether, but he wasn’t a brave man, either. He was a smart man, and realized he was in a locked room, in a basement, with a man bigger than he was in front of him, a short-tempered man, and a man behind him whose mind was seemingly bent for revenge. He belatedly knew without having to know that both had guns on them.

   The leader had spelled his name out to him. He didn’t like what that might mean. He knew this had everything to do with Tony de Marco. He knew they weren’t suddenly unexpectedly going to let him go free. He turned to Bettina.

   “You can’t let them do this. You’ve got to help me.”

   Betty gave Dr. Baird a breezy look. “You’re dirty, my fine man. You lied to us about Jackson Pollack, and then you had Ezra beaten up. We’re going to find out what you know, one way or the other.” 

   “I didn’t have him beaten up,” Dr. Baird protested.

   “You know what, doc, I believe you,” said Stan. “You didn’t get your hands dirty. But you know all about Jackson Pollack, you lied about that. Let’s start there, what do you say?”

    Stan wasn’t asking a question.

   “I treated Jackson Pollack for depression, but I can’t discuss anything about it with you. It would be unethical.”

   Stan was taken aback. He didn’t know what to say for a second.Ezra’s face jabbed his brain when he started laughing. He stopped. Bettina squawked and said, “You’re going to need a better deadbolt than that,” and smiled sweetly.

   Outside Bartek zipped up his jacket, lolling against the brick wall of the Warsaw Baking Company. The sun was low in the sky. The warm late summer air had cooled off.

   “Yo, Bart.”

   “Hey, Mikey, Jake, Eryk, what’s shaking?”

    “We’re going down to Elsa’s, have some brews, and play some skee ball.”

    Elsa’s was the Black Rabbit Tavern and Elsa was Elsa Brouwerji, a friendly middle-aged widow whose husband had tied a cinder block around his neck and thrown himself off the Rockaway Boardwalk a year to the day after the 30-million-gallon oil spill six years earlier poured into the Newtown Creek. He had been working at the neighborhood’s Standard Oil refinery and was accused by his supervisors of negligence and been fired. 

    It didn’t help matters that after his suicide it was determined that Casper Brouwerji hadn’t made the mistake that resulted in the biggest oil spill in the country’s history. His widow got a settlement from Standard Oil and bought the Pour House Bar and Grill. She changed the name to the Black Rabbit and thumb tacked a photograph of her husband to the wall above the cash register.

   She cursed loudly and spat on the sidewalk behind her whenever she walked past a Standard service station.

   “Are you coming?”

   “No, I’m on the clock, errands for Stan. He said it wouldn’t be too long. I’ll catch up with you.”

   Stan lifted his eyes over Dr. Baird’s shoulder.

   “This is taking too long,” he said.

   Ezra reached into his back pocket and wrenching the doctor’s arms behind him, over the backside of the chair, snapped a pair of handcuffs tight hurtful on his wrists. Stan threw two hinged metal frames with an attached head strap on the table.

   “Do you know what this is?” he asked.

   “No,” said Dr. Baird.

    “This is a Whitehead gag,” said Stan. “It wraps around the front of your head and the parts that are bent fit between your front teeth. When we spread them apart, the frames separate your jaw, holding your mouth open. We can get it wide open and keep it that way with that ratchet mechanism on each side of the frame.”

   Dr. Baird didn’t say a word. He felt himself getting warm warmer.

   Stan tossed a pair of needle nose pliers on the table. 

   “Do you know what those are?” 

   “Yes,” said Dr. Baird.

   “Do you know what I’m planning on doing?” 

   “Yes, I think so.”

   “Are you going to tell me what I want to know?”


   “Spill it.”

   “I was paid to brainwash Jackson Pollack into committing suicide,” the doctor said.

   There was a slight stop of breath in the room, but Stan knew enough to keep the line going on the base paths.

   “How much were you paid?” he asked.

   “One hundred and seventy fifty thousand dollars.”

   Bettina puckered up and whistled, surprised impressed. 

   “What did you do with the money?”

   “It’s in a Swiss bank account.”

   “Who paid you to do that?”

   “They never told me who they were.”

   “Why did they want Jackson Pollack dead?”

   “They never said.”

   “You didn’t ask?”


   “You didn’t care?”

   “I need water, a glass of water.”

   “No, no water, no nothing,” said Stan. “Who’s the little man?”

   “His name is Tony.”

   “Is that his real name?” 

   “Yes, I think so.”

   “What’s his last name?”

   Dr. Baird hesitated.

   “It’s a secret,” he said, murmuring.

   Stan laughed.

   “There are no secrets among friends, doc. “

   “I didn’t keep any record of him at the office, not like Pollack, who was my patient before any of that happened later with Tony. I was told my life would be in grave danger if I ever revealed anything about him to anybody.”

    Stan laughed again

   “Your life is in danger right here and now,” he said. “You have one foot on a banana peel and the other one in the grave, is what I mean. I mean to have his name, or there will be hell to pay.”

   “His name is Tony de Marco,” the psychiatrist finally said.

   “Where does he live?”

   “I don’t know.”

   “What does he do for a living?”

   “I don’t know.”

   “What were you making him do? Was it the same as Pollack?”

   “Yes, but different. When he hears the first bars of a certain song, he’s supposed to wait thirty seconds and then pull the ripcord on his dynamite vest.”

   “A dynamite vest?”

   “A vest packed with TNT.”

   “I know what they are,” said Stan.

    Some of the Hitler Youth, in the waning days of the war, when all hope was gone, had adopted Japanese tactics, throwing themselves under tanks wearing a vest crammed with grenades.

   “He’s supposed to blow himself up when he hears a song?”


   “What song is it?”

   “I don’t know the name of it.”

   “What does it sound like?”

   Dr. Baird hummed a kind of a march with a drumbeat.

   “That sounds familiar,” Betty said.

   “Is that it? Are there any words?”

   “No, no words, and that’s all I ever played for him, a kind of four-time ruffle, over and over.”

   “Where and when is this supposed to happen?”

   “Where he works.”

   “Where does he work?

   “I don’t know where.”

   “OK, when?”

   “Soon, in a few days, I think, since I wasn’t supposed to see him again. That’s all I know.”

    “How much were you being paid for this gag?”

   “The same as before.”

   “Jesus!” Ezra hissed, hating the rich man who had almost gotten him killed. “And the goys call us money hungry,” he thought.

   “What were you planning on doing after it was all over?”

   “I was planning on disappearing.”

   “I’ll bet you were,” said Stan.

   Stan, Bettina, and Ezra went out into the hallway.

   “All right, we know what happened to Jackson Pollack, and how, and who did it, more or less. We can wrap it up with Barney Newman, collect our fee, and call it a day,” said Stan. “We can honestly tell him it wasn’t an accident.”

   “Or we can keep snooping and find out who it really was who did our painter,” said Betty.

    “Oh, jeez” Stan exclaimed. “What about the Series?”   

   “I’m with you,” said Ezra. “But I’ll be damned if I’ve got anything better to do before the first game.”

   “All right, all right, let’s get Bart down here.”

   When Bartek, Karol, Bettina, Stan, and Ezra were all in the hallway, Stan asked Bart and Karol if they were willing and able to sit tight on Dr. Baird and Bumpy Williams in the basement.

   “I want them kept here and I want them kept quiet until I say so. I don’t want anyone to know they’re here. I don’t want them wandering off. I don’t want a peep out of them. Can you make that happen?”

   Bartek and Karol had survived Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Josef Stalin’s Red Army, and Dwight Eisenhower’s Allied Expeditionary Force. They had survived refugee camps, black marketers, and the deck of a tramp steamer to the United States. They were still surviving being DP’s in Brooklyn.

   “What’s in it for us?” asked Bartek.

   “A c-note apiece,” said Stan. 

   “For how long?”

   “Until Wednesday.”

   The World Series started on Wednesday.

   “Done, two chunks for the price of one,” said Karol, the older of the two by several weeks.

   “All right,” said Stan. “Check with Betty every morning, and whenever you need anything, check with her again. Look in on the doc now, stay there for a few minutes, we’re going to see what we’ve got going with Cotton.”

    Stan, Bettina, and Ezra walked into the boiler room. The Negro looked up from where he was handcuffed to a pipe in the back of the room. His lips curled, trying to smile. Stan stood between Ezra and Bumpy.

   “I know you,” said Ezra, looking past Stan and down at Bumpy Williams.

   “Uh, oh,” Bumpy muttered.

Chapter 18

   After bacon and eggs and toast and coffee, Ike and Mamie Eisenhower walked out of the big two-story house on the long quiet street and shook hands with Joel Carlson and his wife. “Thanks for having us,” said Dwight Eisenhower. The couple had spent the night in the guest bedroom. At the end of the driveway a man waited with three ballerina dolls in his arms. 

   Ike lit a cigarette. He looked at the man. He looked at the man standing next to him.

   “John Krajicek, from Ames,” said the Secret Service agent in a dark suit.

   The man holding the three dolls gave them to Mamie Eisenhower.

   “Thank you so much,” she said, squeezing his arm.

   John Krajiceks’s face lit up.   

   “It is my pleasure,” he said.

   The President and Mrs. Eisenhower were in Boone, Iowa, on a Friday. It was the last day of summer. The next day was the first day of fall. It was a clear crisp Midwestern morning.

   Once in their car they were driven to Carroll Street, to the house Mamie was born in sixty years earlier. Mrs. Beatrice Smiley, Mrs. Myrtle Douglas, and Mrs. Awilda Stranberg, all dressed up, all in a huddle anxious, all waiting their breathing bated, greeted them on the front porch. They presented Mamie with a photograph of the stone and memorial plaque that had recently been placed on the lawn of her birthplace.

   Mamie was slightly unnerved by the God’s green acre look of it, like a memorial garden.

   Looking down at the plaque, after reading the inscription, Ike noticed a shiny penny in the freshly mowed grass. “See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck,” he thought. He picked it up.

   Adlai Stevenson was coming to nearby Newton tomorrow to give a speech about farm problems. “We’ve got the Truth Squad ready,” Joel Carlson said over breakfast. Ike rolled the penny between his fingers in his pocket. The truth was he didn’t care about the Truth Squad. He had Adlai Stevenson in his pocket.

   It was a few minutes before eleven when the Eisenhower’s arrived at the National Field Days and Plowing Matches near Colfax. In the past two days he had traveled hundreds of miles through central Iowa, made speeches, had impromptu informal talks, shook hands, shook more hands, waved and flashed his smile to more than 300,00 people, half of them on Walnut Street in Des Moines, eight and nine deep, on both sides of the street. 

   Gangs of schoolchildren ran alongside his limousine and kids on bicycles rode behind the police motorcycle escorts.

   “There’s never been anything like this here before,” said Governor Leo Hoegh, whistling through his gap teeth in awe and admiration.

   Eight years earlier, when Harry Truman campaigned in Iowa, he got sick and tired of hearing “We Like Ike!” from hecklers. “Why don’t you shut up and you might learn something,” he retorted at one stop, veering from his prepared speech. When he did, he became the target of eggs and tomatoes. But Ike didn’t run in 1948 and Harry Truman got the last laugh the morning after Thomas E. Dewey beat him.

   As they drove up the dirt road off Highway 6 to the entrance of the Field Days, Dwight Eisenhower glanced at the cardboard signs at the side of the road. He wasn’t the challenger anymore. He was the incumbent. He was the man in the Oval Office with a record to defend.

   “10-cent corn. The same as 1932.”

   1932 was the year 24 years ago when Franklin Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in that year’s presidential race, more than three years into the Great Depression.

   “Ike Promised 100 Per Cent Parity 1952. Didn’t Happen. What Promise in 1956?”

   “Ike’s Peace Like Neville Chamberlain’s Peace.”

   At the entrance a short round man held up a loosely lettered sign stuck on the end of a broomstick. “Adlai and Estes, The Bestest.” 

   “Mr. President,” said Herb Plambeck. “I’d like to introduce our twenty-seven Champion Plowmen and our one and only Champion Plow Woman, Mrs. Pauline Blankenship.”

   Ike shook hands with them, taking Pauline Blankenship’s lightly, even though her hand was bigger and stronger than his. He shook hands with Frank Mendell, chairman of the National Contour Plowing Match, and Dale Hall, chairman of the National Level Land Plowing Match. In the lunch tent he met Kay Butler, Queen of the Furrow, and ate sitting between Mamie and Governor Hoegh. 

   Mrs. Jet Adams supervised the dozen ladies serving lunch. Mamie waved her over. “You’re doing a wonderful job,” she said.

   After lunch Senator B. B. Hickenlooper introduced President Eisenhower to the crowd after introducing himself.

   “Most of you know me, and I’m sure have voted for me often,” he said.

   There was a wave of good-natured laughter.

   “For those of you who don’t know me, and aren’t sure how to pronounce my name, my friends just call me Hick.”

   There was another wave of laughter, longer larger louder.

   “When I was child, my mother sent me to the drug store to get a nickel’s worth of asafetida for her asthma. The druggist just gave it me without writing it out, because he didn’t want to have to write out my full name, Bourke Blakemore Hickenlooper. “

   “Just take this home to your mother, Hick,” said the druggist. 

   Bourke Hickenlooper had been a senator since 1944. He wore black frame glasses beneath a pinkish bald pate and was one of the most conservative and isolationist members in the United States Senate. He hadn’t lost an election since as lieutenant governor of Iowa almost twenty years ago he made headlines by saving a Cedar Rapids woman from drowning in the Cedar River.

   She later told her friends she hadn’t needed saving, but that her savior had insisted. Hick knew a hick state like Iowa when he saw one.

   President Eisenhower’s speech was broadcast live on local TV and radio. He stayed local, steering away from anything controversial, the bland leading the bland. After the address he presented trophies and scrolls to the champion plowmen and champion plow woman.

   Henry Steenhock, the owner of the land where the Field Days was held, didn’t think much of the speech. 

   “I like Ike, but I don’t think I’ll vote for him, even though I’ve been a Republican all my life,” he said. “Flexible price supports have got to go. We’re not looking for a handout, but we deserve price protection. Other businesses are subsidized. Ezra Benson? He’s got to go. Vice-President Nixon? I don’t like his attitude, period. Estes Kefauver, he’s like I am, straight-forward.”

   Henry Steenbock always called corn a cash crop and a spade a spade. He was a small wound-up man urgent upright in his beliefs. He went to church on Sundays and went to work every day except Sundays.

    Dwight Eisenhower and his wife were at the Des Moines Municipal Airport by mid-afternoon for their flight back to Washington D. C. He greeted and answered questions from more than a hundred weekly state newspaper editors, met with two-dozen state Republican Party officials, and was escorted to the Columbine by sixteen Eagle Scouts formed as an Honor Guard.

   Once inside the plane an aide sat down across from him.

   “Mr. President we have a report that Anastasio Somoza, the president of Nicaragua, has been shot today.”

   “Is it serious?” 

   “The report isn’t entirely clear, but it said, yes, serious, shot in the chest, point-blank, and it might be life-threatening.”

   “Where have they taken him?” 

   “He’s been taken to the Panama Canal Zone hospital.”   

   “Good, best place for him. He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but Tacho’s our son-of-a-bitch, so tell them to do everything they can to save him.”

   “Yes, sir.”

   “Who shot him?”

   “A poet.”

   “Well, goddamn it. A poet, you say?”

   “A poet, yes, sir, a local writer and musician, played violin in a band. He was shot dead, riddled, on the spot.”

   “A poet with a popgun, mightier than the pen.”

   The plane touched down at 9:35, taxied to the MATS Terminal, and the Eisenhower’s were in bed by 10:45. The next day Ike stayed in the Mansion all day while it rained, only seeing the Secretary of State for a few minutes. Ike and Mamie attended the Sunday morning service at the National Presbyterian Church, and like the day before spent the rest of the day in the Mansion. Sunday night some of Ike’s Gang came to dinner at the White House, and over drinks planned their next stag trip to the Eisenhower Cabin at the Augusta National Golf Club.

   When he was there, which was as often as possible, Ike worked mornings in the three-story seven-bedroom cabin, played golf with his friends in the afternoon, and bridge after dinner. His friends weren’t his friends at the card table, however, except his partner, and then not always even him. Ike had cut his teeth playing poker while at West Point. While a cadet he learned to purposely lose sometimes, so as to not arouse envy and suspicion.

    “How was the Iowa trip?” one of them asked.

   “The same as all the others, except it didn’t rain, and the food was better,” he said. “I got an eyeful of field corn, shook a lot of hands, and gave speeches to the faithful. I got out the vote out.”

   “We heard you’re going to New York for the Series.”

   “You bet.”

   He was looking forward to going out to the old ballgame.

Chapter 19

   Vicki, Bettina, and Dottie plunked down their fifteen cents apiece at a NYCTA booth and walked down the stairs. Dottie stopped to look at a yellow sign trimmed in red on the wall at the entrance to the tunnel.

   “Please cooperate. When in doubt, ask any employee. Help keep the subways clean. Use receptacles for paper. Do not rush. Let ‘em off first. Move away from doors. Keep to the right on stairways. Try to shop between 10 and 4. Always be courteous.”

   “Run!” she suddenly shouted, running up the platform. “It’s one of those air-conditioned cars!” 

   Two months earlier the transit system had rolled out the first experimental air-conditioned cars on the East Side IRT line. They were fitted with deodorizers and filters and piped-in soft music. The temperature was maintained in the mid-70s. Signs on every third window said, “Air-Conditioned Car. Please Keep Windows Closed.”

   They were taking the IND line across the river to Brooklyn, across Gravesend, to the end of the line. When they got off the train they walked, crossed Mermaid Avenue, and hoofed it to Coney Island Beach and the Boardwalk.

    Dottie felt light as lemonade.

   They stopped at the Sodamat on West 15th Street as they strolled on the Boardwalk. “Good Drinks Served Right. Skee Ball 5 cents.” There were prize games, hammer games, rifle ranges, freak shows, and fortune-tellers up and down Coney Island.

   “Look, they have waffles,” said Dottie, pointing to a sign on the front of a counter behind which a man in a white jacket and soda jerk cap was making waffles.

   “I thought you wanted a Nathan’s,” said Vicki.

   “I do, but later,” said Dottie.

   “Did you know hot dogs were invented right here on Coney Island, almost one hundred years ago?” asked Bettina.

   “Not so fast, how could Nathan have done that?” asked Dottie. 

   “It wasn’t Nathan, it was Charley Feltman, who used to boil sausages on a small charcoal stove inside his wagon and then slip them into a roll. He called them red hots at first, but later changed it to hot dogs.”

   “How about some ball hop before we eat?” asked Vicki, pointing into the arcade behind the food counter.

   “My game is stickball,” said Dottie. “Skee ball is for jellyfish. They don’t even play stickball here. They play coop-ball. That’s for jellyfish, too.”

   “Do you only play stickball?” asked Vicki. 

   “Oh, no, we play ringolevio and skelly, too, although some kids call it scummy top. Skelly is fun, but all you’ve got are your chalk and the squares and your caps. Ringolevio is way more fun, we run all over, and there’s a jail, and jailbreaks, and everything.  Chain, chain, double chain, no break away!” 

   “Let’s break the chain and go eat,” said Betty. They ordered waffles.

   “That was the best waffle I ever had,” Dottie said afterwards

    “You had two of them,” said Vicki.

   “She’s a growing girl,” said Betty.

   “Those were the best two waffles I ever had,” said Dottie.

   “Where to now?” asked Betty.

   “I want to jump off the Eiffel Tower!” exclaimed Dottie. 

   The Parachute Jump at Steeplechase Park had been built for the 1939 World’s Fair and later moved to Coney Island. It stood 250 feet high, was open-frame, and everyone called it the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn. Twelve cantilevered steel arms sprouted from the top of the tower, eleven of them supporting two-person canvas seats and parachutes. The riders were belted down, hoisted to the top, then released into freefall, caught by the parachute, and floated to the ground. Shock absorbers were built into the seats, just in case.

   “I’m not going up on that thing,” said Betty.

   “Do you remember the parachute wedding?” Vicki asked her.

   “No, I never heard of it.”

   “A couple got married up there. The minister was in the seat next to them and the whole wedding party was on the rest of the seats. When the ceremony was over the married couple parachuted down first, and everyone else followed them, except for the minister. The cables on his seat got tangled and he was up there for more than five hours before firemen could get him down. The tower is right on the ocean, and it was windy, and he got sick as a dog, puking on the wedding party.”

   “That cinches it,” said Betty.

   “You and me both, sister,” said Vicki. “Time to plow back through the crowd.”

   “Why do they call it Coney Island?” asked Dottie, taking a last longing look up at the parachute ride she wasn’t going to ride.

   “It’s because of the Dutch,” said Bettina. “When they were here, maybe three hundred years ago, there were lots of rabbits in the dunes, so they called it Konijnen Eiland, which means Rabbit Island, which became Coney Island after the English took over.”

   “How did they take over?”

   “Somebody always takes over,” said Betty.

   “Why does somebody always take over?”

   “It’s the way of the world, child,” said Betty.

   “I want to go on the Wonder Wheel,” said Dottie. 

   “I think we’re up for that,” said Vicki.

   The Wonder Wheel at Luna Park was a Ferris wheel and a Chute-the Chutes and a slow-moving roller coaster all in one. It was once called Dip-the-Dip. Some of the cars were stationary, but more than less of them moved back and forth along tracks between a big outer wheel and a smaller inner wheel as all of it rotated.   

   They walked past an eight-foot-high neon sign spelling out “Wonder Wheel.” Through the middle of the sign was an arrow blinking and pointing to the ride. “Thrills!” it said.

   Dottie sat between Vicki and Betty in one of the sliding cars. 

   “You can see Manhattan,” said Vicki when it was their turn at the top of the 150-foot-tall big wheel and it stopped for a few seconds.

  “Look, you can see the Rockaway,” said Betty.

   “It takes you low and it takes you high,” said Vicki.

   “When you reach the top it’s like you can touch the sky,” said Dottie. “You can see the whole world.”

   “One minute you’re on top, the next minute down you go,” said Betty. “I say, stay in your seat, it’s going to get bumpy, enjoy the ride.”

   “Top of the world, ma, top of the world,” said Vicki like a crazy person, bulging her eyeballs and throwing her arms up.

    Betty laughed.

   “One day he’s a mama’s boy mad dog killer and the next day, older and wiser, he’s Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

   Dottie wondered, what are they talking about? 

   The Wonder Wheel shuddered and started down again.

   “Can we go fast now?” Dottie asked when they were on the ground.

   The Cyclone was in Astroland at the corner of Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, almost 2700 feet long, with six fan turns and twelve drops. The lift hill was 85 feet high. Six years earlier a man who hadn’t spoken in fourteen years, riding a roller coaster for the first time, screamed while going down the first drop.

   “I feel sick,” he muttered when the train returned to the station. He dropped to the ground in a dead faint after realizing he had spoken.

   Dottie peeked over the front edge of the front car down at the track of the Cyclone as the train creaked to the top of the lift hill, where it was going to curve over the rails and hurtle down. Vicki and Betty were in the car behind her, after she had pleaded with them to go on the coaster, and she was with her new friend, Ronald, a boy her age whose parents had stayed behind on the platform. 

   “I have a friend who counts the seconds until the ride is over,” said Ronnie. 

   “Why does he do that?”

   “He can’t stand it.”

   “What’s the point of riding it in the first place?” 

   “I dunno,” said Ronnie. “Every time I ask if he wants to go with me, he says, sure, as soon as I’ve lost my mind, but he always goes anyway.”

   “The Cyclone is for when you want to be scared and thrilled all at the same time. Maybe he should stick to the merry-go-round.”

   “Yeah,” said Ronnie. “You don’t want to ride the roller coaster when you’ve got diarrhea.”

   “No way,” said Dottie, making sure their buzz bar was locked in place.

   “Did you hear about that girl who got hit in the face by a pigeon and broke her nose going down this hill?” asked Ronnie.

   “No!” said Dottie.

   “It was alright,” he said. “She had some Kleenex and stuffed it up her nose nostrils to keep the blood out of her eyes.”

   “Yikes!” said Dottie, as the Cyclone shimmied shook roared down the other side of the lift hill. “If that happens, I don’t have any Kleenex.”

   They laughed up and down the trick hill, leaned into the banked turns that twisted and tipped the train, ducked beneath the head-choppers, and inside of two minutes pulled back into the station where everybody clambered off. 

   “My legs feel like fried bacon,” said Ronnie.

   “Yeah, that was the mostest fun,” said Dottie.


   “Bye to you, too.”

   “That was sketchy,” said Vicki.

   “Shoot low, they’re sending Shetlands,” said Betty. “Did you feel that tower sway when we got to the top?”

   “You bet I did.”

   “I’m hungry,” said Dottie.

   “You’re always hungry,” said Bettina. “Doesn’t Stan feed you? Do you have a hollow leg, or what?”

   “So am I, hungry, I mean,” said Vicki.

   “How about a red hot at Nathan’s?” Betty suggested. 

   “Yippee ki yay!” exclaimed Dottie.

Chapter 20

 Egidijus and Rokas watched the ensigns, young men strutting between lieutenant and chief warrant officer, step into Connor’s Public House. The navy stood framed in the doorway, the long evening going dark over their shoulders. They both wore white pants, a white shirt over a white t-shirt, a white belt, and a white cap with a black bill. They wore black shoes. There was a single gold bar on their shoulder boards.

   “Hey, shut that door, you live in a barn,” somebody yelled out.

   In the next minute, their eyes locking on primetime, they took stools on both sides of a curvy redhead at the bar. They each gave her a smile. She looked them over sparingly scornfully.

   “Drift,” she said to the one on her left. 

   “We just want to buy you a drink,” the one on the other side of her said.

   “You, too,” she said.

   “Butterbars,” said Egidijus. “Nieku nezino.”

   “Yeah, they probably do the dishes in the guardhouse,” said Rokas.

   “As close to water as they’re going to get,” Giles said. 

   Egidijus became Giles the minute he landed on Ellis Island.

   Sam Ellis never meant his island to be a welcome place, unless it was the last welcome. Before the first immigrant ever landed there, it was where criminals and pirates were hung out to dry. New Yorkers called it Gibbet island, for the wooden hanging post where the dead were left on display for weeks as a warning to others.

   “She’s got a classy chassis, though,” said Rocky, eyeing the redhead. “Our man is not going to like us snatching him, ruining his night in more ways than one.” 

   Rokas had been in line behind Egidijus and became Rocky right on the spot.

   A longshoreman walked in, glanced at the sailors, and parked himself midway down the bar. The bartender poured a draft without asking. The longshoreman took a swig.

   “Did you say something to that guy I just saw outside?” he asked the bartender.

   “The guy with the feather in his hat?” 

   “Yeah, that one, who said this joint stinks.”

   “That one comes in, wants a glass of water, and asks me what the quickest way is to Mount Kisco,” said the bartender. “I ask him if he’s walking, or does he have a car? He says, of course I have a car. So, I tell him, that would be the quickest way.” 

   “He was chunky about it, that’s sure. Hey, isn’t that Ratso’s girl?” 


   “Didn’t she tell them the gate is closed?” 

   “Yeah, but they didn’t give it any mind.” 

   “Oh boy, they don’t know from nothing.” 

   “Keep your head chicky,” said the bartender, tapping his temple with two fingers.

   “You said it, brother.”

   The Public House was on the corner of Pearl Street and Plymouth Street. The Manhattan Bridge over the East River was a stone’s throw away. The Brooklyn Navy Yard was a cannon shot away. The new Con Edison Hudson Avenue substation, north of John Street facing the river between Jay Street and the Navy Yard, was a light switch away.

   “Did you see the game on TV Friday?” asked Giles.

   “The TV’s were working, and I saw the problem in black and white,” said Rocky. “No matter that Mickey is going to win the Triple Crown, no matter how many runs they score, if they keep giving up a dozen, they are not going anywhere in October, no matter who they play.”

   The Yankees had been in Boston for the weekend, for their last season series at Fenway Park. On Friday night Mickey Mantle hit a home run that tape measured more than five hundred feet. The Bronx Bombers, though, set a dubious club record by stranding twenty runners on base.

   The Mick had three hits. Bill Skowron had five hits. The only time the Moose failed to reach base was when Ted Williams made an all-out running diving catch of a screaming line drive in left field.  

   “He was running like a bunny with his tail on fire,” said Red Barber, after the outfielder got up, checking all his body parts.

   Yogi Berra threw a man out at the plate. Mickey Mantle threw a man out at the plate. The Yankees crossed the plate plenty enough themselves. But the Red Sox still beat the Yankees, sending almost twice as many runners safely across the plate, 13-7 at the final count. 

   Mel Allen and Red Barber called the night game on WPIX, the station’s transmitter on top of the Empire State Building spreading the play-by-play out to the five boroughs. The next morning it would be Officer Joe’s turn. The year before weather forecaster Joe Bolton had put on a policeman’s uniform and started hosting shows based around the Little Rascals and Three Stooges. The kids loved Officer Joe’s taste in comedy.

   “That ball is go-ing, go-ing, gonnne!” Mel Allen blared when Mickey Mantle hit his soaring blast. “It’s got to be one of the longest homers I’ve ever seen! How about that!”

   Rocky watched the game at the Public House, on Friday night two nights earlier, at the far end of the bar, where one of the bar’s two RCA Victor portable TV’s squinted down on him from high up on the wall.

   “Did you say something?” one of the sailors said, turning to Giles and Rocky in the booth opposite them.

   “Hello there everybody,” Mel Allen said to start the televised live baseball game broadcast.  

   “This is Red Barber speaking,” said Red Barber. “Let me say hello to you all. Mel and I are here in the catbird seats.”

   “Hey, did you hear me? I’m talking to you.” The sailor set his Tab Hunter face in stone.

   “Three and two. What’ll he do?” Mel asked as the game neared its end and the last Yankee hitter squared up in the batter’s box. 

   “He took a good cut!” he exclaimed when the pinstriped slugger struck out to finish the game. “Tonight’s game was yet another reminder that baseball is dull only to dull minds,” said Red. “Signing off for WPIX, this is Red Barber and Mel Allen.” 

   “Hey, you, did you say something about washing dishes?” the sailor piped up again, 

standing up, his friend standing up, too, and Ratso Moretti in the meantime walking down the length of the bar from the men’s room towards them, having spotted the fleet buzzing his queen bee.

   The redhead swung her stool around to the bar, crossed her legs, and played with the swivel stick lolling in her gin martini glass.

    “Who the fuck are you two rags?” Ratso barked at the sailors, glaring up at them from under the brim of his black felt pork pie hat, baring his sharp front teeth. “Why are you sitting with my lady?” 

   Giles and Rocky leaned back on their seat cushions, their backs against the wall. Rocky stretched his legs out. Giles popped a toothpick into his mouth.

   “What do you plan on doing about it, little man?” asked the bigger of the two sailors. Ratso wasn’t short, but he wasn’t tall, either. The sailors were both tall.

   Ratso took one step back, reached down for his fly, unzipped it, and flashed the handle of a Smith & Wesson .38 Chiefs Special revolver. It was the kind of gun carried by plainclothes and off-duty policemen. He kept his hand on the gun while looking straight at the two sailors.

   “Hit the road, Clyde,” he said. “You, too, whatever your name is.”

   The sailors backed away and backed out of the bar.  Nobody paid any attention, but everybody was focused on the retreat out of the corner of their eyes. When the white uniforms were gone, and he had zipped back up, Ratso sat down next to his squeeze and wrapped his arm around her waist.

   “Meanwhile, back at the ranch,” said Rocky.  

   “At least now we know where he hides it,” said Giles.

   Bartek and Karol were at the far end of the bar. They didn’t want anything to happen just right now. They wanted Ratso to stay snug with his girl, drinking on an empty stomach, stretching the night out. There were four of them and only one of him, but he was a psycho crazy man. Karol knew it for sure, and told the others, and it was the number one thing, he said, they had to remember. There was no sense in letting their out back in the dark appointment go down the drain.

   “Did you find a plumber this morning?” Rocky asked Giles.

   “No, because not only does God rest on Sundays, so do all the plumbers in Brooklyn.”

   “What did you do?

   “I fixed it myself.” 

   One of the toilets in the women’s bathroom in the parish hall next door to St. George’s Church on York Street sprang a leak after mass. The Lithuanian Roman Catholic congregation was around the corner from the Irish Roman Catholic St. Ann’s Church on the corner of Front and Gold Streets. Lithuanians made up more than half of everybody who lived in Vinegar Hill, but they had never been embraced by the Irish and their church, who were there first, so they built their own. 

   St. George’s had three arched doorways, three arched second-story window assemblages, and a stepped façade with a cross on top. It looked first-class when the sun was shining on it. It looked first-class at midnight in a thunderstorm. It looked first-class at midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

   “What was the problem?”

   The parish priest dragooned Giles on his way out of the parish hall.   

   “Prasome, gali padet?” asked the priest. 

   “The wax ring, that’s all it was.”   

   “Where did you find a wax ring on a Sunday?”

   “My old man. He’s always loaded for bear.”

   “Did you miss breakfast?” 

   “No, mom warmed it back up for me, fried some more eggs, fresh coffee, and a torte.” 

   When Ratso hopped off his bar stool, and his girl slid off hers, and they walked out the front door, Karol and Bartek went out the back door. Giles and Rocky followed Ratso out the front door.

   “Goddamn it!” Ratso cursed turning the corner into the quiet side street next to the Public House where he had parked his new car. He looked down at the driver’s side front tire Karol had flattened with his switchblade before going inside. 


   “What’s the matter mister?” asked Giles. 

   “Flat tire,” said Ratso.

   He recognized the young man and the other one from the bar.

   “Need a hand?”

   “I’ve got all the hands I need,” said Ratso.

   “Suit yourself.”

   Giles fired up a cigarette, watching and waiting. Rocky leaned against a lamp pole. Ratso opened the trunk of the car, looking over his shoulder at them, and hunched low at the tire to loosen the lug nuts.

   “This ain’t a show,” he said.

   “It is to us.” 

   “Suit yourself.”

   When Ratso struggled with the last stubborn lug nut, Giles flicked his still lit cigarette butt at the redhead, who was standing in space, bouncing it off her midriff. She squealed in outrage, Ratso twisted toward her, and Giles, Rocky, Karol, and Bartek rushed him, two from the front and two from the back.

   As Ratso started to stand up, Karol kicked him as hard as he could in the groin, the holstered gun Ratso trying to reach adding insult to injury. He doubled over, grabbed his stomach, fell over, and lay on the ground in a fetal position. His eyes ran salty pain and he threw up.

   Bartek threw a muslin cloth bag over his head and tightened the drawstring. Karol tied his hands behind his back with clothesline. Bartek reached into Ratso’s pants and pulled out the holster with the small revolver. He went to the passenger side front door and tossed the holster and gun into the glove box of the Chevy.

   While Giles and Rocky hauled him to Karol’s hunk of junk behind the Public House, Bartek turned to the redhead.

   “Vamoose,” he said sharply. “And keep your mouth shut, or we’ll take you next.”

   She backed away, smoothed her skirt, gave him a smile, cute cunning snaky light-footed on her feet, and walked back into the Public House.

   “Durna mergaite,” Giles said.

   “Yeah, but steamy,” Rocky said.

   “Going to be a hell-wife.”

   At the mouth of the intersection, they heard a bullhorn, “Get your hot knishes, I got to send my wife to the Catskills, get your knishes.”

   The truck was light blue dented and dirty. It was three-wheeled, a cab pulling a cart, with a Saint Bernard-sized pretzel on top. A sign on the side said, “Hot knishes & pretzels, 10 cents, 3 for $.25.”

   “Hey, what kind of knishes do you have?”

   “I have kasha or potato.”

   “I’ll take three potato.”

   “Sorry, all I have is kasha.”

   There was a tin saltshaker tied by a string to the cart. The pastry was hot with buckwheat groats inside. The brown bag the street vendor put them into instantly became saturated with enough oil to deep fry three more knishes. He poured in a handful of salt.

   “You’re out of your neighborhood, working late,” Giles said. 

   “It’s my wife,” the Jew said.

   Giles and Rocky both got bottles of cold Orange Crush.

   “Thanks, boys, we’ll settle up tomorrow,” said Karol when Ratso was safe and sound in the trunk, his feet tied together and hogged to his bound wrists so that he lay like a sad sack of potatoes on his side, still groaning.

   Giles touched his forefinger to his thumb and pointed the remaining three fingers of his right hand straight up.

   Karol and Bartek drove to Sunset Park, turned onto 53rd Street at 3rd Avenue, and finally pulled into and parked behind a three-story abandoned brick building. On the side of the building a painted billboard advertising “R. Moses & Son, Men’s Clothes” was fading away. The storefront’s windows were boarded up and the other windows on every floor were dark. 

   They manhandled Ratso through a back door and into a small featureless room. A table lamp on the floor tried to make sense of the dark with a 40-watt bulb. Stan was standing in a corner in the gloom smoking a cigarette. They dropped Ratso on the floor. Bartek stood sentry at the door.

   “Let him loose, except for his hands,” said Stan.

   Karol untied Ratso’s feet, yanked the bag off his head, and moved back to stand next to Bartek. Stan stayed where he was, in the shadows. Ratso stayed where he was, too. He felt better, but he still felt horrible. He had a weird stomachache. 

   “Tell me about Jackson Pollack,” said Stan.

   “I don’t know no Polacks,” said Ratso. 

   “You know us now,” Karol said under his breath.

   “Not Polacks. I said Pollack, as in Jackson Pollack, the painter.” 

   “I don’t know no painters.”  

   “Why did you jump my associate the other night?”

   “I don’t know no associates. Who the fuck are you, anyway?”

   “I don’t know how your sack is feeling, but if it was me, I wouldn’t want it to happen again, especially not now, not so soon,” said Stan.

   “What do you want?”

   “What were you doing in the middle of the night outside the shrink’s office? Why did you jump my man? What does Jackson Pollack have to do with Big Paulie?”

   “You’re a dead man when Luca finds out about this,” Ratso said, spitting terse vehement.

   Stan stepped forward, bent down, and framed an inch with his fingers in Ratso’s red face.

   “You’re this close to being a dead man,” he said.

   He aimed a kick at Ratso’s nuts. The gunman rolled over in a flash. Stan kicked him in the side, aiming for his kidney. Ratso gasped in pain and rage. Stan stepped over him, bent down again, nose to nose with the convulsing thug. 

   “You’re going to tell me what I want to know,” he said.

   It didn’t take long. After Ratso ratted out Big Paulie and Park Avenue and they had hog-tied him again, Stan stopped at a phone booth on his way home, the cab driver waiting at the curb, and called the desk sergeant at the 17th Precinct. He told him where to find Ratso, told him he wanted to confess to assaulting Ezra four nights earlier, and wanted to be held in custody for his own protection.

   “Does he need medical attention?” asked the sergeant.

   “No, he’ll be fine, just a few bumps and bruises.” 

   “What do I tell the captain? Is anybody going to be looking for Morelli, trying to spring him?”  

   “Nobody except his bad girl knows anything, but she was a good girl the last we saw her and promised to stay quiet. Ratso’s car is just outside the Public House in Vinegar Hill. His gun is in the glove box. It’s a Chiefs Special.”

   “You don’t say.”

   “You might want to have that gun run up. Ballistics might find it matches something.”

   “OK, we’ll have a car there in five minutes-or-so.”

   Ten minutes later three policemen and a plainclothes officer spilling out of two cars flash-lighted their way into the back of the building, hauled the left in the lurch Ratso Moretti out the door, untied him then handcuffed him, tossed him face first into the back of one of the radio cars, and drove him to the 17th Precinct, forcing him into a basement cell at the end of a hallway, and forgetting about him for the rest of the next week.

   Thirty minutes later Stan was home in Hell’s Kitchen, in one of his two orange wingback armchairs, a bottle of Blatz on the coffee table, while Mr. Moto licked his chops on the sofa on the other side of the table. Stan took a pull on his bottle of beer and watched the cat. He thought about getting another one to keep him company, but Mr. Moto didn’t seem to mind his solitary life. 

   The cat slept and ate and slept some more. He went out on the prowl. Sometimes he sat on the fire escape, seeming to be thinking.

   When it came to chow, Mr. Moto liked Puss ’N Boots best, fish followed by chicken followed by beef followed by any other meat. He wasn’t picky. He didn’t think it did any harm to ask Stan for what he wanted, since the story of cats was the story of freeloaders. Stan kept Mr. Moto happy carnivorous with his poker winnings.

   “Puss ‘N Boots adds the Plus!”

   He wasn’t a mixed-up cat. He lived day-to-day, every day a new day, taking what came his way. He liked fresh water and food in the morning, a long nap from late morning into the late afternoon, and a clean supply of Kitty Litter when he couldn’t get down to the flowerbeds.

   “Ask Kitty. She Knows. It absorbs and deodorizes. Takes the place of sand.” 

   Stan had stopped at Manganaro’s Grosseria Italiana, on his way home, a sandwich shop, restaurant, and grocery on 9th Avenue, for a slice of Hero-Boy. The entire six-foot hero, if you wanted it, was 22-pounds and cost $16.50. The wait staff was surly, but the sandwiches were worth the wait. He took a bite, chewed, and washed it down with his beer.

   Ezra was out of the hospital. He would stop and see him tomorrow morning, tell him they had snatched Ratso, who had spilled his guts, but it still wasn’t clear what was going on. It looked like Dr. Baird had engineered Jackson Pollack’s death somehow, but why? Where was the pay-off in it? Vicki said that since Jackson Pollack died unexpectedly, died young, and had simply died, there weren’t going to be any more paintings by him. Since he was well known, by collectors and museums, prices for his art were going to go up. 

   “He was in demand, now he’s in big demand, especially the drip paintings,” she said. “But nobody kills a painter to make a profit on his art, not even here in New York. It’s a long-term investment, not like kidnapping somebody for the ransom.”

   He would sort it out next week. Stan finished his sandwich, finished his bottle of beer, and went to bed. Mr. Moto followed him, curling up just inches from Stan’s face, and was asleep fast faster fastest. He had never been bothered by insomnia. In the middle of the night, in the middle of a dream, he pricked up his ears.

   Mr. Moto could smell a rat when he had to. When he went to the bedroom window, though, it was just a ladybug on the sill. It was red with black spots. He stretched up on his hind legs and sniffed the bug, which opened its wings, flew in circles, and landed on his nose.

   “Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children shall burn!”

   Mr. Moto believed ladybugs were lucky. He believed when a ladybug landed on you your wishes would be granted. He also believed it was unlucky to harm them. He licked the bug off his nose and spat it out through the open window. He jumped on the ledge, crouched, and watched the bug fly out into the big city.

   In his jail cell at the bottom of nowhere, Ratso Moretti tried to stare down the foot-long rat staring back at him. The rat wasn’t having any of it. Nobody was going to stare him down in the kingdom of vermin.

   Four hours later, near the end of the night, near the onset of dawn, while a dead on his feet policeman watched, now that it was all over and the car had been searched and dusted for fingerprints, a tow truck hooked the new Chevrolet with a sad flat tire and dragged it off Vinegar Hill to the NYPD Tow Pound.