Tag Archives: Stickball

Chapter 21

You are kind of a big man,” Dottie said in the breezy spic and span Brooklyn air.

   “I’m almost 300 pounds,” said Happy Felton. “I used to play football in college, although I always wanted to be a ballplayer, be behind the plate. But I was a perfect circle. How could I be a perfect catcher?” 

   “You would have been perfect to catch a perfect circle, the baseball,” Dottie said,

   Marie had taken Dottie to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers play the Philadelphia Phillies. The view was so good the fans in the bleachers could see the stitching on the uniforms.

   The city’s air was usually so dirty you could touch the grime suspended in it. Coal power plants belched dark smoke. Burnt-up garbage rained ash on everybody except the Upper East Side. Three years earlier more than 200 people died in one week breathing the filthy smog air.

   Dottie was in the right field bullpen, she and two boys, playing throw and catch and throw, warming up for Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang show on WOR-TV. The program aired 25 minutes before every home game. Happy knew how to put on a bang-up matinee. He had been in a medicine-man show, beat the drums in a circus, sang as one of the Four Ambassadors, headlined an orchestra for ten years, appeared on Broadway, and been a contract player for MGM.

   After introducing the kids, Happy always introduced a Dodgers player, who judged the kids on speed, fielding ability, and baseball smarts. This afternoon it wasn’t a player. It was Buzzie Bavasi, the general manager of the team. He had led the Dodgers to National League pennants in 1952, 1953, and 1955. They won their first World Series in franchise history in 1955. 

   They were shooting for the stars the rest of the week.

   “We don’t usually have girls out here,” Buzzie said to Dottie.

   “I always called him Buzzie, not Emil, because he was always buzzing around,” said Emil’s sister Iola.

   Buzzie called his sister Lolly.

   “I can do anything a boy can do, and better,” said Dottie. “I’m the best stickball player in our neighborhood.”

   “Let’s see what you’re made of,” said Emil the Buzz.  

   Tony the Phil walked by on the warning track, glancing over the fence at the kids swinging bats and running imaginary bases. He veered into center field and stopped where he knew the storm drain was. It was where he was planning on planting nitro, enough of it to kill a man, many a man. He looked down at the ground. He hoped it didn’t blow anybody else up besides who was going to be in the car, but he knew it was going to be a hell of a blast.

   He didn’t want anything to happen to Happy or any of the kids who might be in the bullpen. It would be too bad. But he had to do what he had been told to do.  He was going to follow orders. It was all there, all in his head. He had to go ahead.

   After the boys and girls had gone through their paces, and Happy and Buzzie had put their heads together, they pinned that day’s blue ribbon on Dottie. The two boys got baseball equipment for their appearances, and Dottie was told she was eligible to come back the next game, the first of the last series of the regular season, for a solo chat with her favorite Dodger’s player.

   “The Little Colonel!” she exclaimed when asked.

   “Why is he your favorite player,” asked Happy.

   “Because he’s the best shortstop ever. His glove is where base hits go to kick the bucket. He can swallow them down like a kingfish and he can double them up,” Dottie said.

   Pee Wee Reese had been a champion marbles player as a kid in Kentucky. A peewee is a small marble. He was a small child. He could knuckle down, playing ringer, boss-out, and black snake, getting low to the ground. His size was a godsend in the sand. One year he was runner-up to the national champion in the Louisville Courier-Journal’s marble tournament.

   He was an undersized teenager, too, not playing baseball until his senior year in high school. Since then, he’d beefed up gotten into stayed in professional baseball for 17 years, making the National League All-Star team ten years in a row.

   “Can I come back Wednesday instead of this weekend?”

   Buzzie laughed.

   “I like your spirit, but we have to win today, and we have to win when the Pirates come into town, too, for there to even be a next Wednesday.”

   “I just know you will. I’m counting on it. Can I come back Wednesday, please?”

   Happy and Buzzie put their heads back together.

   “Ladies and gentlemen, please join us before the game on Wednesday next week, what we hope will be the first home game of the series, when Dottie Riddman will spend a few minutes talking to Pee Wee Reese. Until then, this is Happy Felton signing off for WOR.” 

    It was going to come down to the weekend, it turned out.

   The Phillies pummeled the Dodgers on the Wednesday with ten hits, taking the game 7 – 3.  Del Ennis drove in two runs on three hits, which was three hits more than Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson all together managed to put together. Only Duke Snider matched Del Ennis, while the rest of the Dodgers eked out two separate harmless singles, one of them a blooper.

   Dottie didn’t go home unhappy, though. She wasn’t somebody who needed her team to win to make the trip to the ballpark worth it. Winning was a part of it all, but everything else, the sunshine in the daytime, jumping to your feet in the stands, peanut shells and tobacco butts, all the fans, the fun of the game, the heroes and goats and memories, was more than anything the whole part of it.

   “If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop ‘em,” said Yogi Berra on the other side of the river.

   Nobody was going to stop her from going to the ballpark.  

   The weather stopped everybody from going to the ballpark on Friday. A drizzling rain started at 5 o’clock. The game was called by Umpire Jocko Conlan at 7:30 and rescheduled as a twin bill on Saturday.

   The Milwaukee Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals that night, 5 – 4, cutting their lead in the National League to half a game over the second-place Dodgers. 

   In the first game against the Pirates on Saturday afternoon Sal No-Hit Maglie was jolted early, giving up two runs in the top of the first, but stiffened, and slammed the door shut. The Dodgers came back with three in the bottom of the frame and won going away, 6 -2. Clem Labine, a crack relief hurler pressed into starting, couldn’t solve Roberto Clemente, who went three for four, in the second game, but the Bucs wasted their other four hits, and were barely able to push across a single run in the eighth.  

   “Sometimes the only thing worse than a Pirates game is a Pirates doubleheader,” said a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Press, a writer who had endured four finishes dead last in the cellar in the past six years.

   After the Dodgers took the front end and then the back end of their doubleheader against the Pirates, it left one game on Sunday for all the marbles. If the Dodgers won, nothing the Braves did would matter.

   Dottie knew in her young bones the Bums would get it done.

Chapter 22

   “I know you,” said Ezra.

   He was looking down at Bumpy Williams handcuffed to a pipe at the back of the boiler room in the basement of the Warsaw Baking Company in Little Poland. The black man’s lips curled up down between a half-smile and a snarl. Ezra sprang at him. Stan, standing between Ezra and Bumpy, held him back.

   “Cut it out,” he said.

   When the Warsaw Bakery opened at 9 o’clock in the morning they had been open for four hours. When the first two women turned on the lights at 5 AM, the first thing they did was clean the kitchen again and prepare dough. By 6 AM everyone was mixing and kneading. By 7 AM they were baking. Buns and bread went in their own bins, doughnuts and cookies were baked on their own trays, and the potato bread had its own oven. 

   Their potato bread had been awarded a blue ribbon for “excellence of freshness, flavor, quality, uniformity, cleanliness, and value” by the Independent Bakers Council of America in 1954. It tasted great made into Moravian Potato Sugar Bread. It tasted great with coffee.

   When Karol, sitting on a stool in the boiler room, cut into his half-loaf of sugar bread, Bumpy Williams nodded at him.

   “I’m hungry,” he said.

   “Later,” said Karol. 

   “I’m thirsty, too.”

   “Later,” said Karol, tipping a mug of coffee up to his mouth.

   The door opened and Bartek slipped in.

   “How’s everything?”

   “Good,” said Karol. “The shrink hasn’t said a word, but sooty is complaining about losing weight.”

   “You gotta stay lean and clean,” said Bartek.

   “Don’t rattle my chain. I got a name and it ain’t sooty, honky,” said Bumpy.

   “You ain’t got no name today, black man, not until we say so, we’ll let you know what day that is, so keep it zipped,” said Karol.

   “You’ve lost your marbles,” said Bumpy Williams.

   “Hear me out,” said Stan. “What matters is getting it done.”

   Karol and Bartek had dragged Dr. Baird away. Stan brought sandwiches and beer, lost the cuffs shackling Bumpy, and they were having lunch over an empty overturned Elmhurst Dairy milk crate. They took bites out of their sausage sandwiches and downed daytime pulls of beer.

   “The Polacks are on the other side of that door, am I right?” asked Bumpy.

   “They might be, but they don’t like being called Polacks,” said Stan. “My father was Polish, but I’m second-generation. Besides, I’m not sensitive. They’re from the old country. They take things the wrong way sometimes. They don’t like the slur, you know what I mean?”  

   “Believe me, man, I know what you mean,” said Bumpy. 

   “I’m not surprised you do,” said Stan.

   “All right, but why should I go along with you? I’ve got it good, no reason to jump ship.”

   “The ship isn’t sinking right now, no, but it’s full of rats. Maybe you think you can trust the colored man, but you can’t, not always. The Dago’s, no, you can’t trust them, and the police will always be dogging you. That’s their mission. Even the Dago’s get dragged down, even when they have Carmine DeSapio and Tammany Hall in their back pockets.”

   Frank Costello, waking up that morning in prison, where for the past two years he had been waking up serving a five-year sentence, woke up still an American, after court attempts to denaturalize him finally failed the day before.

   “By the law of averages, I was bound to win this one,” he whispered in his hoarse voice. 

   He had only been jailed once before, in 1915, for carrying a gun, and only convicted once before for contempt, in 1952, when he walked out on the Senate Crime Committee, pleading a sore throat. But the Federals got him for tax evasion in 1954.

   It didn’t matter to the Prime Minister of the Underworld. He controlled the Lucky Luciano mob from his cell and was embroiled in a power struggle with Vito Genovese and his crime family.

   “You got me over a barrel right now, no matter what I say or do,” said Bumpy.

   “No, just for a few days,” said Stan. “You’re not a dead duck.”

   “What do you mean?”

   “The shrink, I’m going to have to do something about him, but you, I just need to keep you on ice for a few days. You’ll be able to go after that. I can’t keep feeding you.”

   “Just go? Go where?”

   “Back to where you came from. I’ve got nothing for or against you. You didn’t put your hands on my man. After we get square with whatever is going on, you’ll be free to go your own way.”

   “That might put me over the same kind of barrel.”

   “It might, but you won’t be my problem. You can lay low in Harlem.”

   “You can’t never get low enough when they want you.”

   “Think about what I said,” said Stan.

   “I’ll think about it,” said Bumpy.

   “Think what you could do with all that money,” said Dr. Robert Baird, looking up at Karol and Bartek in the other room. 

   He was handcuffed to the chair he was sitting in. Bartek stood with his back to the door. Karol was reading the Daily News, sitting opposite the psychiatrist. 

   “You could go and do whatever you want. You wouldn’t have to live in this rat’s nest of a neighborhood, in this rotten borough.”

   Karol was reading about the Poznan protests basck in the homeland three months earlier that had been put down by 400 tanks and ten thousand soldiers. The ringleaders were being put on trial. There was a picture of a march at the head of which two young men carried a sign aloft.

   “Zadamy Chleba!”

   Another photograph was of three young men accused of killing a policeman during the riots. “I felt great hatred for them,” explained Ludwig Wierzbicki, a fireman at a distillery, when asked why he shot at the secret police.

    “The police treated me inhumanely,” said Stanislaw Kaufman, a year younger than the 21-year-old fireman.

   “I was taken to the commandant of the police who put me through my second christening. I was beaten with rods on my face and knocked over with a blow from behind. An officer dragged me by the hair down to the second floor and beat and kicked me. I was stood up against the wall while he pummeled the back of my head, knocking my face into the wall.”

   Karol looked across at the doctor.

   “Shut your face. We like living here,” he said.

   “I’ll give you fifty thousand dollars each, in cash, if you let me go,” said Dr. Baird. 

   “We’re the housekeepers, not the householders,” said Karol. “You’ve got to talk to Stan about that. He likes knowing what the score is.”

   “He’s a snoopy guy that way.” said Bartek, flipping a cigarette between his lips. “You tell Stan you want to give him fifty, he’s going to wonder where the rest of it is, what you’re holding back from him. 

   Dr. Baird blanched, shrinking back into his chair.

   “The good news is you’re not bust, at least not yet, my man,” said Karol. “The bad news is, you’re close.”

   Dr. Robert Baird didn’t care about being uncared for or unloved. He didn’t care about being unwanted. What gnawed on him was losing everything he had, going hungry and homeless. Maybe poverty was the mother of crime, but he didn’t want to be more than the professional man committing a crime for the fortune it brought him. Poverty was inconvenient. It meant being stuck in one place the rest of your life. He couldn’t stand the thought of being poor. Being rich was glorious weightless. Being poor was miserable. It scared him to think he might have worked his way up from nothing to a life of nothing left.

   Stan came into the room.

   “All right, back in the boiler room with him.”

   “OK, boss,” said Bartek.

   “He tried to buy his way out,” said Karol.

   “How much?” asked Stan.

    “Fifty large each.”

   “He’s throwing you a spitball. He’s buying and selling you short,” said Stan. 

    “Is that right?” 

   “That’s right.”

   “Let’s go you shuckster,” Karol said, freeing Dr. Baird and pulling roughly him to his feet. “Time to go talk about some real bread.” 

   Stan stopped at Miller’s on his way to pick up Vicki. They had plans for drinks at the El Morocco and drinks and dinner later at P. J. Clarke’s down the street. Nat King Cole had named the bacon cheeseburger at Clarke’s the “Cadillac of burgers.” Stan bought two sour pickles out of a barrel for a nickel each and ate them standing outside the storefront.

   They had drinks at the El Morocco, at the bar, at a slight remove from the blue zebra stripe motif. It was crowded. There was a party going on, spilling into the club after the premiere of Arthur Miller’s “A View from a Bridge” at the Coronet Theatre. Marilyn Monroe was there, having divorced Joe DiMaggio after nine months arguing with the umpire and married Arthur Miller three months earlier.

   “Egghead Weds Hourglass” was how the papers bit into and ran with it.

   “I’m a ballplayer, not an actor,” said Joltin’ Joe. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. Who the hell wants to be a writer, if that’s what the Miller was doing with his time.

   Stan and Vicki had another drink at the club. They had more drinks and bacon cheeseburgers at P. J. Clarke’s.

   “Do you think he’ll go for it?” asked Vicki.

    “A day or two will tell,” said Stan.

   Danny Lavezzo was in his usual spot between the front and back rooms, greeting customers, when they got there. The back room was a dining room of bare brick and checked tablecloths A group of regulars met every Friday for lunch at the large oval table. They called themselves the Science Club. Jessie, the saloon’s terrier who ran up and down Third Avenue picking up newspapers, was sleeping behind the bar. 

   Stan spotted two seats at the bar. He and Vicki snagged them. Danny never let unaccompanied women stand at the bar. 

   “It would just encourage prostitutes,” he explained.

   Buzzie Bavasi walked in and walked to the end of the bar. Jessie jumped up, ran past the bartender, and out the door. He came back with a copy of the Herald Tribune. Buzzie tossed fifteen cents into Jessie’s tip jar.

   Anastasio Somoza, who voted himself in as President of Nicaragua, was front page news. He died in the dank morning sometime on Saturday from gunshot wounds after a poet shot him four times pointblank a week earlier. Almost 25 years earlier Anastasio Somoza had assassinated Augusto Sandino and seized power with the help of the United States Marines.

   “I was a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and for the banks,” said Marine General Smedly Butler. “In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.” He followed his orders, though, good soldier and racketeer.

   Dwight Eisenhower had ordered a team of physicians to the Canal Zone to treat the big man, but the big man’s time was up. His son, Luis Somoza, was named Acting President in the afternoon, and looking calm in a white suit, thanked the United States for its “inestimable aid to save the life which guided our destiny.” Luis’s brother took control of the National Guard, making sure their political social economic opponents stayed out of the way. 

   “Oh, goddammit, we forgot the silent prayer,” Dwight Eisenhower cursed, at the meeting with his National Security Council the following week after they too soon broached Anastasio Somoza’s murder with a minute of desultory attention to it. Nobody cared overly much about a spic dictator.

   Bumpy Williams slept like a log, an uncomfortable log. Robert Baird worried his way to daylight. Karol and Bartek drank beer and played cards with the doctor’s pretend money.

   Stan and Vicki paid attention to each other all the evening at P. J. Clarke’s, all the way back to Hell’s Kitchen, and afterwards, too, when they paid even more attention to each other. They didn’t know anything about any shenanigans in any banana republic. It was the last thing on their shenanigan minds.

   Mr. Moto spent the night on the fire escape. He was neutered for the safety of the ladies in the neighborhood. He wasn’t bitter, but still, he wasn’t the man he used to be.

Chapter 23

   “Hail to the chief,” said Bettina.

   “Good morning is fine,” said Stan. “Besides, it’s Saturday.”

   “No, what you were humming, that’s ‘Hail to the Chief,’ and you’re the chief, so hail to you,” id Betty.

   “That’s what the canary serenaded us with in the basement,” said Stan.

   Betty hummed the tune to herself.

   “You’re right,” she said. “I didn’t work it out when he hummed it, but that’s what it is.”

   “He said the action would all happen when the little man heard that song,” Stan said. “When he did, he was going to pull the ripcord on his dynamite vest.”

   “It almost sounds like he plans on blowing up the president,” Betty speculated aloud.

   “How do you make that?” asked Stan.

   “Where have you been?”

   “I’m right here,” said Stan, leaning back in his chair, pointing to the floor..

   “All right, all right, don’t get your dander up,” said Betty. “It’s the anthem they play for the president. He walks into a room and the band plays that song. It’s been around almost as long as the Star-Spangled Banner.”

   “I’ve never been invited to the White House and I’ve never heard the band, although I had a Dutch guy in my outfit who was always telling me “op donderon” until I blew up and asked him what the hell it meant. He said it meant don’t get mad.”

   “You were in the army, right?”

   “Yes.”

   “It’s the army band.” 

   “They didn’t play any songs in my man’s army.”

   “I’ve heard it on the radio.”

   “I don’t have a radio.”

   “They play it on TV.”

   “I don’t have a TV.”

   “You are living in the Middle Ages. Anyway, they play it at the president’s funeral, too.”

   “I don’t go to funerals unless it’s business. Even then, nobody wants you to take photographs anymore, so unless I can get Snapshot to go with me, since he doesn’t care what anybody says, I don’t even do that much anymore.”

   “Yogi Berra said you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

   “That doesn’t make sense. For another thing, Berra plays for the Yankees.”

   “Oh, right, sorry. Doesn’t it make you sad, though, missing your own, since everyone says such nice things about you, even though it’s a few days late?” asked Betty.

   “When I breathe out for the last time, I’ll be gone for good, and I won’t be missing anything where I’m going,” said Stan.

   “Where are you going?”

   “That’s a secret.”

   “What about the little man’s bomb song? That fuse is burning, as far as I can see. Are we going to do anything about it?”

   “I’ll be damned if I want to get involved with the Secret Service,” said Stan, looking peeved. “They’ll look me up and down as much as they’ll look up and down for him, bomb or no bomb. 

I’ve got no doubt they are damned hard to deal with.”

   “On top of that you’ve kidnapped the doctor and are holding him illegally,” Betty offered.

   “What are they going to say about that? Christ, I had my part of the show done, and now this. If they find that Tony de Marco, fine, but if they don’t, they’ll come back and want to talk to me again and again. If they don’t roust him, and something does happen, I’ll be square one in the bull’s eye with them.”

   “What if you don’t say anything and something happens?”   

   “Like Eisenhower being blown up?”

   “Exactly, like Eisenhower being blown up.”

   “He made it through the war.”

   “He wasn’t on the front lines.”

   “He was target number one, the way I used to hear it. The Germans wanted him dead in the worst way.”

   “Aren’t you going to do anything?”

   “Look, Betty, I know New York City, but I don’t know Washington, and what little I know, I don’t like.”

   “It could happen anywhere,” said Betty. “It doesn’t have to happen in Washington. He travels all over the country, giving speeches, especially now that it’s election time. It could happen here.”

   “How could it happen here? How could the little man get close enough, no matter how big his bomb is?”

   “Somebody got close to Lincoln. FDR dodged it twenty years ago, even though it was close, but only because the fruitcake taking pot shots at him was short and had to stand on a barrel, and the barrel wobbled, so he ended up hitting everybody else around FDR, instead. I think he killed the mayor of Chicago, or the mayor of some place.”

   “Why would Eisenhower come campaigning here? He might pick up some votes in Queens, but the other boroughs, no, those are all going to the Democrats, for sure. He’ll campaign upstate, not here.”

   “What about the World Series?”

   “What about it?”

   “Who do you think throws out the first pitch at the first game of the series.”

   “Some big shot.”

   “No, not some big shot. It’s always the big shot.”

   “I don’t know about that,” said Stan.

   “OK, just give me a few minutes,” said Betty, picking up her phone.

   “Who are you calling?” asked Stan.

   “Pete,” she said. 

   “Pete?”

   “My friend Pete, ping-pong Pete.”

   Betty put her index finger into the second finger hole, turned the rotary dial on the shiny black phone to the far right, put her finger into six more holes, turning each one to the right, and asked for Pete Murphy when she was connected to the operator at the New York Public Library. 

   “Thanks, Pete,” she said ten minutes later, hanging up.

   “Well, what did you find out?”

   “The first ball got started with William Howard Taft.”

   “The fat man in the bathtub?”

   “The president after Teddy Roosevelt.”

   “All right.”

   “Forty-six years ago.”

   “All right.”

   “Pete said it was because he’d had a tough day, meeting with the Suffragists at their convention, and telling them that if women got the vote power might end up in the wrong hands, or words to that effect. Big fat idiot! They gave him a piece of their minds, thank goodness.”

   “I take it that was before women had the right to vote?”

   “Ten long years before, big fat idiots keeping it to themselves.”

   “Easy there, honey. That would have been a few years before I was born. Vicki knows more about who to vote for than me, anyway, but that’s only because I don’t read all that crap in the papers.”

   “And you don’t have a radio or TV, so you can be as ignorant as you want to be.”

   “Am I getting on your nerves?” Stan asked.

   “No,” Betty said, squinting.

   “Hey, Dottie has as much right to vote as any boy, probably more, when it comes to some of her friends, especially some of the boys,” Stan said.

   “Amen,” said Betty.

   “Who was playing?” 

   “What do you mean?”

   “When the first ball was thrown out.”

   “Oh, the Phillies were playing the Washington Senators. The White House thought it would pick Taft up if he went to the ball game, after his run-in with the Suffragists. The funny thing is, Taft was supposed to throw the ball to the catcher, Gabby Street, but instead he stood up from his seat in the stands and threw it to the pitcher, Walter Johnson, who wasn’t ready for it, and he almost got beaned. Anyway, they’ve been doing it ever since, except not during the war.”

   “You think Eisenhower is going to be throwing out the first pitch on Wednesday?”

   “I don’t think,” said Betty. “I know so. Pete said Ike is going to be there, throw out the first pitch, and stay for the game.”

   “Goddamn it!” Stan grumbled.

   “Where do we go from here?” asked Betty.

   “We’re not going to the Secret Service.”

   “We’ve got to do something.”

“All right, have Otis type out a warning, a warning in no uncertain terms, that a man is going to try to blow up Ike when he’s in the city for the game, on a typewriter he’s got in the shop that can never and never will be traced, even if he has to trash it the minute he’s done, and mail it with a Queens postmark, the main post office out there, next day delivery, marked urgent. Tell him to make sure it’s white gloves service, no fingerprints, and tell him to do it right now.”

   “Do you think they’ll take it seriously?”

   “I don’t know how many threats they get,” said Stan. “It’s got to be a boatload. I don’t know how they dope out what’s serious and what’s unserious.”

   “What if they don’t take it seriously?”

   “They take their precautions. I don’t know how they do what they do, but it’s got to be day-and-night round-the-clock. It can’t be easy keeping the top man safe, but it’s got to be harder actually killing him.”

   “We could try to find the little man the doctor fingered. What do you think?”

   “I’ve been thinking about it,” said Stan. “I think tomorrow is Sunday, Ezra and I have tickets for the game on Wednesday, so we would only have to put aside two days of work to stay on this. We’re not in business to do right, but to turn a profit, which is the right of way in our line of work, but if you and Ezra are willing, in your spare time, we could try.”

   “You know Ezra, he’s mad as a hornet, and as for myself, I brought Barney on board, so I’m on board for it,” said Bettina.

   She called Otis at Osner Business Machines, where he almost always worked on Saturdays, so he could work calmly and quietly by himself, the rest of the workshop more than half empty. He preferred being neat and organized and methodical than yakking it up with other repairmen.

   “Ask Otis if he’s available the next few days, too.”

   “Do you want him to join us for lunch?”

   “Yes, that’s a good idea, ask if he’s free.”

   “Otis is never free.”

   “You know what I mean.”

   Betty put her hand over the mouthpiece of the handset.

   “He says he can meet us for lunch, but he’s busy, wants to know if we can come up to the restaurant at the boat basin, since he can make it over there in just a few minutes.”

   Osner Business Machines was south of 79th Street on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side, north of Hell’s Kitchen. The restaurant was inside the 79th Street Rotunda, built by Robert Moses during the West Side Highway’s conversion into a clean green parkway, as long as you had a car. Robert Moses didn’t like buses trucks or riff raff on his parkways.

   When Stan and Bettina left the office for lunch at 12:30, Dwight Eisenhower had left his office five minutes earlier, changed into swimming trunks, and gone for a half-hour swim in the mansion’s pool. Unlike Richard Nixon, his vice-president, who had lately been lobbying for installing bowling lanes in the White House, Ike had been athletic all his life. He was a linebacker at West Point, a good one, although when he collided with Jim Thorpe in the 1912 game against Carlisle Indian Academy, the All-American running back was hardly bothered when Ike tried to drag him down.

   “Nobody little is going to tackle Jim,” explained Jim Thorpe.

   “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world,” said King Gustav V earlier at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. “I would consider it an honor to shake your hand.”

   Ten minutes after getting out of the pool President Eisenhower was being photographed, fresh dressed smiling, standing in front of asn American flag, for the newspapers, shaking hands with Judge William Brennan, who he had just appointed to fill the existing vacancy on the Supreme Court.

   “Do you ever wonder about why they only ever sing the first part of the Star-Spangled Banner,” asked Betty when she and Stan were settled in their cab on the way to lunch.

   “No,’ said Stan.

   “You go to all those ballgames, and you were in the service, you’ve heard it hundreds of times.”

   “I don’t want to disillusion you, Betty, but I don’t pay attention to songs, spangled or otherwise.”

   “I shouldn’t be surprised, so I’m not,” said Betty.

   The first performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at a ballgame was at the opening game of the season at the Union Ball and Cricket Grounds in Brooklyn in 1862. It became enshrined in baseball’s frame of mind after the furloughed Navy sailor and Boston Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas sang the song during the seventh inning stretch of the first game of the 1918 World Series.

    “The mind of the baseball fan was on the war. The patriotic outburst following the singing of the national anthem was far greater than the upheaval of emotion which greeted Babe Ruth, the Boston southpaw, when he conquered Hippo Vaughn and the Cubs in a seething duel by a score of 1 to 0,” was how the newspapers put it.

   “It wasn’t even the real anthem until 1931, when Herbert Hoover signed a bill into law making it official,” said Betty.

   “Since I didn’t know that I don’t know how many parts there are to it, either,” said Stan. “How many are there?”

   “There are four verses.”

   “I know the part they sing at ballgames.”

   “That’s the first verse.”

   “Why don’t they sing the other verses?”

   “It would take too long, there are too many words, and some of the words, some people don’t want to hear them.”

   “What words are those?”

   “Their blood has washed out their foul footstep’s pollution, no refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

   “I’ve never heard those lyrics,” said Stan. “How do you know them?”

   “I didn’t know them, either, until last month,” said Bettina. “Pete told me about them.”

   “He sounds like he might be a Commie,” said Stan, making Betty break into laughter.

   Stan sometimes wondered where the money in it was, who was lining their pockets on the back of the Red Scare. He didn’t believe there was any patriotism in it. The Red Scare was a dodge. Harry Truman had taken care of all that six or seven years ago. He admitted to himself it got ambitious men elected, and supposed they were printing hundred-dollar bills with the ink the fear they inspired bled their way, which was the way grifters worked.

   When they got to the 79th Street Boat Basin on the Henry Hudson Parkway, they detoured slightly to the restaurant, spotted Otis waiting for them as their cab pulled up, and got a table inside of a few minutes under one of the archways.

   “What’s it all about?” asked Otis, after the waitress beat a retreat. Betty had wanted to make sure there were no “pre-fabricated meats, frozen foods, pre-pared potatoes, or commercial cakes in the larder.” The waitress blinked rapidly.

   “There’s none of that, miss,” the middle-aged woman said, smoothing her apron. “I’ve been here nine years, and we make everything fresh to order.”

   Stan ordered three glasses of Rheingold on draft.

   “Is it about that shrink on Park Avenue?”

   “Yes and no,” said Stan.

   “Wait, let me ask Otis about the anthem,” said Bettina. “Did you know the Star- Spangled Banner has four verses, but nobody ever sings the last three verses?”

   “Sure, everybody knows that,” said Otis.

   “Is this a set up?” asked Stan, reaching for his glass of beer.

   “Ezra told me that gal down on 66th got elected Miss Rheingold this year,” said Otis.

   “It’s not official, yet, but she’s going to be the winner, at least, the way we hear it,” said Stan.

   Rheingold Beer was brewed in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and every year a new Miss Rheingold was elected. Everywhere the beer was sold there were ballots with pictures of six pretty girls to pick from. “Want to give a pretty girl a great big break?’ is what it said at the top of the ballot. The only election in the country that drew more votes than the 25 million the Miss Rheingold election drew was the presidential election every four years.

   So many ballots poured into the brewery, nobody could count them.

   “We divide the ballots into six piles and weigh them every day,” said Walter Liebman, a chip off the old block of the family. The clan had been malting mashing boiling fermenting and kegging Rheingold for more than a hundred years. 

   Miss Rheingold was in magazines, on billboards, and on the side panels of beer trucks. She wore white gloves and signed autographs. She made promotional tours on both coasts, wore a rhinestone tiara and carried a scepter, rode in parades in an open-top Cadillac wearing a hand-stitched ivory satin dress, and waved to her admirers.

   The only thing she wasn’t allowed to do was ever be seen or photographed drinking a glass of beer. There were other things the brewer frowned upon. The Duluc Detective Agency was one of the agencies that did background checks on the six finalists.

   “One of the things you don’t want is a Miss Rheingold who is a problem,” said Walter Liebman.

    “Who is she?” asked Betty. 

   “Her name is Hillie Merritt,” said Stan. “She’s a $25-a-week receptionist at Fortune magazine, married, with a one-year-old.”

   “How can you be a miss when you’re married?” asked Betty. 

   “You can’t, not technically, but it doesn’t seem to matter to old man Liebman. One of the finalists had to be dropped when Ezra found out, even though she was married to a working man, she was living with a drummer.”

   “Out of wedlock?”

   “Out of wedlock.”

   “My God, such a beautiful girl,” said Walter Liebman. “But living with a drummer!”

   “Aren’t drummers usually broke?” Betty asked.

   Otis and Stan both knew Betty was a jazz band fan. “If you say so,” said Otis. The drummer wasn’t that kind of drummer. He was more of a Slick Willie.

   “Hillie was next in line, got on the ballot, and in the end, it wasn’t even close,” said Stan. “She won going away.”

   Over lunch he filled Otis in.

   “I can give you the next three days, no problem,” said Otis when Stan was done. “We should be able to brainstorm our man down tomorrow, then go look for him. I am thinking he has got to be close to the Dodgers somehow, otherwise he wouldn’t have much chance of getting close to Eisenhower.”

   “Are you figuring it the same way I am?”

   “I think so.”

   Stan studied the water flowing past them. “He’ll fly into LaGuardia, after lunch, they drive to Ebbets Field, the big man throws out the first pitch, watches the game, and is back in D. C. for dinner, unless the little man blows him up first.”

   “That’s the way I see it.”

   “He’ll do it during the game. That’s when he’ll have a chance. Otherwise, there is no chance.”

   “That’s how I’m looking at that part of it, too.”

   “Did you get that letter mailed?”

   “Yes.”

   “All right.”

   It was 3 o’clock when Stan and Betty got back to the office. Stan picked up a scrap of paper Ezra had left lying in the middle of his desktop. There was a fifty-cent piece on top of the note.

   “Bumpy wants to talk.”

Chapter 24

  “I can’t be a catfish without no waffles,” said Bumpy Williams.

   Bumpy and Stan walked out the back door of the Warsaw Bakery, around to the front, and down the street.

   “I get the picture,” said Stan.

   Tropical storm Flossy had torn itself to pieces in small bits and passed harmlessly east of the city the day before. It was late in the afternoon, it was in the low 70s, the sun was starting to arc downwards, but the light was still good, sunny and pleasant. The Weather Bureau was keeping a close watch on rain squalls moving up from the Caribbean.

   “It is the weakest sort of a disturbance, but it remains as a suspicious area,” the bureau said.

   No one was taking it seriously. Stan and Bumpy weren’t paying attention. They had moveable feasting on the brain.

   “So, you are up for a bite to eat?”

   “The sooner the better,” said Bumpy.

   They crossed Lorimer Street and walked into McCarren Park, around two baseball fields, and past the pool building, the biggest of the eleven built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. In the summer it was one of the social hubs of Greenpoint. The entrance to the pool was mammoth, arched in brick, and the pool could hold, if it absolutely had to, close to seven thousand swimmers.

   Bumpy looked down, as they walked the other way, at a copy of that week’s New York Age Defender left on a park bench.

   “South Is Using ‘Hitler System’” screamed the headline on the front page.

   “I’ll bet they goddamn do,” he muttered to himself.

   Stan hailed a cab when he and Bumpy stepped out of the park and onto North 12th Street.

   “Tom’s on Washington,” he told the cabbie. “Do you know it?”

   “Prospect Heights, mister. About three miles, maybe ten minutes. Ain’t it a breakfast and lunch joint? No mind, we’ll get you there under the wire, whether it is, or not.”

   Less than ten minutes later the cabbie deposited them in front of Tom’s Restaurant. Stan paid the fare. Bumpy took one look and squinted. It was a small eatery, the windows filled with neon flyers advertisements menus painted platters and both real and artificial plants.

   “What’s that?” asked Bumpy, pointing to a shiny undersized fake rhododendron.

   “Some new kind of plastic.”

   “That what tomorrow looks like?”

   “Probably,” said Stan.

   High on the window to the right of the door white block letters said, “TOM’S EST. 1936.” The casing was dark brown, although above it the signage was white with “RESTAURANT” in lime green and “DRINK COCA COLA” in red and white.

   “How’s the food?” asked Bumpy, taking a step back.

   “Let’s go in, some of the Dodgers eat here, but I’ll let you decide for yourself,” said Stan.

   Ebbets Field was nearby. Jackie Robinson had a sweet tooth and liked Tom’s Frosties, stopping in before day games for a heap of ice cream mixed with a thimbleful of milk.

   “In here, Jackie can sit wherever he wants,” said Gus Vlahavas. There were some diners where the star ballplayer didn’t go because he couldn’t sit down where he wanted without sour looks on the menu. There were other diners he never minded if a cracker with a baseball bat ran the front counter.

   Inside the door a small tart-looking late thirtyish woman greeted them.

   “Hey Stella, I hope we’re not too late for a late lunch. Have you got a booth for me and my friend?” asked Stan, nodding at Bumpy.

   “Yes, come on, there’s an empty booth in the back.”

   In the back wasn’t far back. It might as well have been the front. Stan and Bumpy slid into a booth. Stan flipped cigarettes out for both of them. Bumpy slumped back, letting the smoke slither down into his lungs, exhaling slowly. Stan noticed him counting the American flags in the dining room, big and small, free-standing and on the walls, with his eyes.

   “Gus’s grandfather, Constantin, named the restaurant Tom’s to honor his son,” explained Stan. “Tom was over in the Philippines, got shot up, won some medals for bravery.”

   “I know you like it black,” Stella said to Stan. “But your black friend, him I don’t know.”

   Stella Vlahavas lived upstairs above the restaurant with her husband, worked the cash register, and knew, like her daughter-in-law Phoeni knew, how everyone took their coffee once they had gotten coffee once at Tom’s.

   “Cream and sugar ma’am, thank you,” said Bumpy.

   “Where’s Gus?” asked Stan.

   “He and Nonie had to run home for a minute,” said Stella. Gus and Phoeni who everyone called Nonie, lived in a brownstone around the corner. Gus had worked at the restaurant since he was nine years old, when it was an ice cream shop. He fired up the grill for his father every morning at 5 AM.

   “Tom does the cooking,” Stan said to Bumpy. “I recommend the meat loaf. It’s the star attraction.”

   Bumpy had a platter of meat loaf with eggs and potato hash.

   Stan ate light, blueberry and ricotta pancakes served with flavored butter.

   “All right, what do you have in mind?” asked Bumpy, finishing his lunch, pushing his empty platter away, fiddling with a toothpick.

   Stella brought them a plate of cookies and orange slices, refilling their coffee cups.

   “What I have in mind is you throwing in with us,” said Stan. “We’ve been talking about adding a man, and you strike me as capable. I think you know you don’t get three strikes with the mob. It’s strike one and you’re out. It’s not whether, it’s when, when it comes to the hoods. This might be the when. You and the other two wise guys didn’t get it done the other night.”

   “The hell if I don’t know it.”

   “Throw in with us, the pay is good, you’d be surprised, even better sometimes than other times.”

   “Bird of paradise, huh?”

   Stan laughed.  

   “I’ll tell you what the bird of paradise is, which is the Belgian waffle sundae for dessert.”

   Bumpy ordered the Belgian waffle sundae.

   “No, I’m not saying it’s all clover,” said Stan. “What I am saying is it’s good, it’s steady, and we won’t stick a knife in your back. We might tell you to take a walk, but it won’t be a walk off the end of a pier in the middle of the night. We don’t expect anyone toeing the line blindly, or dying for us, or any of that Hitler bullshit, like the gangsters do. We’re not catbirds.”

   “I’ll think about it,” Bumpy said.

   “No, no thinking,” Stan said. “You’re either in with us or you’re not.”

   Bumpy looked down at what was on his plate.

   “No thinking?”

   “No, none of that.”

   “OK, hell, I’m in,” he said, digging into his waffle sundae.

   When their late lunch was done Stan paid the check, said hello and goodbye to Gus, who walked in as they walked out, and he and Bumpy shook hands to seal the deal.

   “You know where we are, since you’ve been keeping eagle eyes on us,” said Stan. “Don’t come into the office before nine, but don’t come in after ten, either. I’ll see you Monday.”

   “Monday it is, bossman.”

Chapter 25

   “No, you can’t. It’s impossible.”   

    “I bet I can,” said Tommy, casting his mind’s eye on as the crow flies, on the hands of the clock, thinking it wasn’t far-fetched, not for what he had in mind to try. The brew crew at his table were making him out the chump, but he had the ace card.

   “If you’re saying, Thomy Fitz, you can make it from New Jersey to here anytime you want to in fifteen minutes flat, I’ll take that bet,” said Bulmer MacNeill, waving his hands, ready to reach for his wallet.

   “I’ll be back here in no time give or take a minute and be having a draft to celebrate before anybody catches their wheezy beery breath.”

   “Watch your mouth,” said Bulmer. “There’s still plenty of us left living and breathing in the neighborhood.”

   “Hell, we’ll all take that bet,” piped up the two other young men at the table.

   “I’ll make a fine landing at our place here and have a fine time taking your money,” Thomas Fitzgerald laughed, bending his elbow again that early evening with his friends at a bachelor party being staged at Joe’s, a corner bar at St. Nicholas Avenue and 191st Street in Washington Heights.

   “Helen’s not going to like you losing the family fortune,” said Pat Hartling.

   “I’m going to be piling it on to the family fortune,” said Tommy. “The wife is going to be happy as pie.”

   “The bet’s on?”

   “It’s on, but not until round midnight, and I’ll need one of you to come with me, so we’re all clear about when I got started and when I got back here, so that there is no disagreement among friends afterwards.”

   “You’re on,” said Bulmer.

   It was after midnight when Tommy and Bulmer staggered out of Joe’s, staggered to    Tommy’s car, and staggered down a succession of roads and streets to the Teterboro School of Aeronautics on the west side of the Hudson River. It was near Tommy’s home in Emerson, New Jersey. He drove slowly carefully watchfully. His wife and sons were sound asleep, and he didn’t want to wake them. It was close to one o’clock when he spotted the red and white Cessna 140 on the runway. He eyeballed its wingspan, which he estimated at about thirty feet.

   “That’ll do,” he thought. He checked the underside of the wings. It said N252.

   “Never seen that one. I wonder whose it is?” he asked himself.

   “Tommy, what’s going on?” asked Bulmer, teetering on the dizzy expanse of concrete.

   Tommy opened the door on the pilot’s side and looked at the controls. It was a late 1940s model with a white dashboard, black and red control wheels, and two-tone tan seats. It had shipshape wing flaps and he guessed the stall speed was about 35 knots.

   “This will do just fine,” he said to himself.

   He had a pilot’s license, but not a plane. He hardly ever actually flew an airplane, although he knew them well enough. Tommy Fitzgerald was a union steamfitter and worked part-time as a mechanic at the airport. Twelve years earlier he lied about his age and volunteered for the Marines. He was sent to the Pacific and saw combat. When the war ended, he was fifteen years old. Four years later he volunteered for the Army and was sent to Korea. He came home after winning both the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

   “During a strategic withdrawal Corporal Fitzpatrick noticed a wounded officer, about 100 yards forward of his position. Attempting a rescue, he and a companion were seriously wounded. Despite severe pain and loss of blood, Corporal Fitzpatrick made it back to safety, directed a second successful rescue party while organizing and providing covering fire to support the rescue,” is what the Silver Star citation said.

   “You saved my life,” is what the officer said.

   After recovering he was sent home. But first he went to Tokyo. He did some more recovering there. Then he went to San Francisco. He had a good time and needed to recover again afterwards.

   Stealing a Cessna wasn’t going to be much of a problem. Landing it in front of Joe’s was going to be challenging, but he was sure he could do it. Besides, he needed another drink-or-two before chalking up the night. He checked the gas gauge. The gas tank was nearly full. George Washington High School was near the bar. He could land on their lighted ball field.

   “What time is it?”

   “You’re going back in that thing?” Bulmer asked, slow on the uptake.

   “Take my car,” said Tommy. “I’ll take off at a quarter after two. Check your watch when I’m off the ground. I’ll see you back at Joe’s.”

   He made sure the radio and navigation lights were off. The Cessna was a simple airplane, a steadfast Continental engine up front, manual flaps, a yoke, throttle, and rudders. He pushed the power up for takeoff. It was a short strip, so he levered the flaps in 25 degrees as he hit 30 knots. The plane launched itself into the air and he bled the flaps off. Inside of a couple of minutes he was at a 90-knot cruise speed with a 2:30 AM by his reckoning landing at Joe’s.

   The Teterboro control tower operator watched the airplane take off. It took him a minute to realize it didn’t have clearance. It took him another minute to realize whoever was piloting the plane wasn’t responding to his radio calls. It took him a few more minutes to find out the plane been stolen. He picked up the telephone and dialed the police.

   Sailing over New York City the bird’s-eye view from the airplane at 5000 feet was of the big city all wide bright spread out. The cabin was only three-or-so feet across at the elbows and Tommy could see clearly on both sides of him. But the field at George Washington High School was dark. What had made him think it would be lit up? He circled the school and thought fast. He banked the Cessna, keeping the sink rate steady, blipped the throttle over the threshold and rolled the yoke forward. He soared over Snake Hill, gliding between stores buildings tenements on both sides of the street, and landed neatly in front of Joe’s.

   “I saw something coming down,” said John Johnson, driving a jalopy, slamming on his brakes. “I didn’t know what to imagine. The plane skidded over the top of my car and made a perfect landing ahead of me. I saw a man get out and run.”

   The man was husky tall wearing a gray suit bare headed and laughing up a storm. Tommy ran into Joe’s. It was 2:25 in the morning. It was twenty minutes before last call and more than a half-hour before closing time.

   “Time to pay up, boys,” he said, throwing himself down onto a bar stool, swiveling to face his friends.

   “Where’s Bulmer?”

   “He’ll be along. Now reach for your wallets.”

   Bumpy didn’t often leave Harlem on Saturday nights for Striver’s Row or Sugar Hill or Washington Heights, but there was a bar in Washington Heights he liked, and after lunch with Stan Riddman, taking a nap, changing his clothes, and putting some money in his wallet, he took a subway to the 191st station. He had seen neighborhood kids jump the fence at 200th Street and jump on top of the IRT 7th Avenue cars, riding them to Van Courtland Park. He knew without a doubt that one of them was going to kill himself doing that one of these days. He walked up out of the subway and down the street towards Shorty’s.

   There was gang graffiti everywhere on a brick wall that once was part of an apartment building that collapsed. Lucky Lords. The Enchanters. Egyptian Kings. One of the Egyptian Kings, called the Cape Man, had shot a Lucky Lord, who ran out of luck that day and went to the Lord.

   Farther down somebody had spray-painted “GUNS FOR THE JEWS.”

   There were plenty of Irish and Germans and Italians in Washington Heights, but there were Jews, too, and some Puerto Ricans, as well as Negroes. Irish whiskey, Italian bread and pasta, and Jewish pastries were always right around the corner. The five-story apartment building that had collapsed into a heap happened when the abandoned icehouse next to it exploded.

   “It was horrible, said Dorothy Fiege. “The rumor mill said it was kids playing with matches, causing leftover ammonia fumes to ignite. The icehouse came down and cut the apartment building in half. It was like you were looking into a dollhouse. I don’t remember how many people were killed, but among them was Old Joe, the Good Humor Ice Cream man who used to ride his refrigerated bicycle around the neighborhood.”

   Up and down Washington Heights was working men and women, kids, baby carriages, and veterans. Some of them limped, others walked with a cane, and one walked very carefully. His eyes had been damaged by a grenade. More than a few of them drank too much, even though most of them were still family men and held steady jobs.

   Bumpy strolled into Shorty’s and found a seat on a stool near the end of the bar. He was black and free. That felt good. On Monday he would have steady work. What was he thinking? He had been thinking about it and now it happened. It deserved a drink. He settled in for one or two.

   Harvey Joffe, a Surface Transportation bus driver, was on 191st Street when the Cessna came in from nowhere for a landing

   “I had just got back into my seat when all of a sudden I heard something that sounded like a large fan,” he said. “I looked in my rearview mirror and saw this plane coming at me. The plane hit the ground and bounced twenty feet in the air. I thought he was going to take off again. Then he hit the ground again and taxied. “

   Harvey Joffe stopped and jumped out of his bus.

   “God forbid if I ever hit a plane. What could I say at the safety hearing?”

   “That was an almost impossible landing,” said Sgt. Harold Behrens of the Police Aviation Bureau.

   “When I saw it, I thought maybe they had trucked it in, as a practical joke,” said Sammy Garcia, a kid in the neighborhood who woke up slowly from a dream and looked out his bedroom window. 

   “I thought, there was no way a man landed in that narrow street.”

   “A great many terrible things could have happened,” said Magistrate Edward Chapman on Monday morning when Tommy Fitzgerald was arraigned for breaking the city code forbidding landing airplanes on New York City streets.

   That same morning the Cessna 140, after being pushed aside to allow busses and cars to get by, with the back half of it on the sidewalk and the wheels in the gutter, was taken apart and towed to the police station at 182nd Street.

   “He landed on a street with lampposts and cars parked on both sides,” said Fred Hartling, a friend of the family who lived in the neighborhood. “Tommy had a crazy side, but he pulled off a miracle.”

   “What the hell is that?” Bumpy asked himself, stopping short coming out of Shorty’s, astonished at the sight of an airplane in the middle of the street in the middle of Washington Heights in the middle of Manhattan. 

   “That’s a tight fit,” he thought. Then he noticed it was blocking the front of the opening to the subway.

  Where was there another station? How was he going to get back to Harlem? Maybe he could boost somebody’s jalopy. He walked up the street, in the direction home, keeping his eyes wide open, just in case anything else came down from the sky.

Chapter 26

   “You look like hell,” Stan said.

   “I feel like hell,” said Bettina, looking gray.

   “Long night?”

   “Long night,” she said.

   “You’ve had coffee?”

   “Yes.”

   “More?”

   “Yes, please.”

   When he was at the counter in the deli on the corner, Stan asked if he could have take-out soup, in their biggest container, but “substitute coffee for the soup.”

    “No soup?”

   “No.”

   “Long night?”

   “Betty,” he said.

   “Gotcha,” said the counterman, handing Stan a quart of hot coffee.

   “What was the occasion?” Stan asked as Betty rubbed her temples and slurped the inky black tonic.

   “Miles Davis,” she said. “He and his band have been at the Café Bohemia most of the month and yesterday was his last night, so I had to go. Pete and I made a night of it, before the show, at the show, and after the show. Brother, I need an aspirin.”

   Stan shook out two tablets of Bayer.

   “More?” he asked.

   “Yes, please,” said Betty.

   “Miles Davis is the trumpet player, right?”

   “Right, and he’s got a four-pack that plays with him, and they are hot.”

   The Miles Davis Quintet was Philly Joe Jones on drums, Paul Chambers on double bass, Red Garland on piano, and John Coltrane on tenor sax. They were touring promoting their Hackensack, New Jersey recordings, due for release starting the next month.

   “Trane was blowing his ass off,” said Miles Davis after the show. “He was pushing each chord to its outer limits, out into space.”

    It was cookin’ with Miles.

   “As great as Trane was sounding, Philly Joe was the fire that was making a lot of shit happen,” the horn man said. “Philly knew everything I was going to do, everything I was going to play. He anticipated me, felt what I was thinking. Paul was playing like he’d been around forever and Red was giving me that Ahmad Jamal light touch, and a little bit of Erroll Garner, along with his own shit up in all of that. So, everything was happening.” 

   Cafe Bohemia was a small club, seating about a tight hundred, with a small sturdy stage and a slightly bigger bar. It had only been open a year, although it had been open for years before that.

   “For six years I tried to make the place pay,” said Jimmy Garofolo, the club’s owner, who lived across the street. “First as a bar and restaurant, then with girly shows, and then with various acts. One night I had to throw out a character who had been drinking without any money to pay for it. The next thing I knew, he was back offering to play a few weeks to pay off his obligation, and because he wanted a regular home base from which to play when he was between engagements.”

   “I’ve not been there, never heard of it,” said Stan. “Where is it?”

   “Greenwich Village,” said Betty.

   “Somebody told me his name was Charlie Parker and he was a saxophonist,” said Jimmy. “I was pretty naïve about jazz at the time and I didn’t know him from beans, but it turned out he was a big man in the jazz world. When I put out signs announcing he was going to play, I had a stream of people coming in wanting to know if the great Charlie Parker was going to play here. It was the way they said ‘here’ that got me.”

   “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn,” said Charlie Parker between drinks.

   The Yardbird died before ever taking the stage at Café Bohemia, before making good on his obligation. But Café Bohemia became a happening, a hotbed of jazz. It was Gravesend when Miles Davis played there.

   “The audience regarded the music as an art form, and even acted a little superior about the fact that they were there and listening to Miles,” said George Avakian, adding color to the painting.

   “No rock ‘n roll, no vocalists, no big bands, no nuttin’ except small jazz combos,” said Jimmy. “Once Birdland and Basin Street were the mecca of all true jazzmen. Now a lot of them won’t go on the road until they’ve played the Bohemia.”

   “Big crowd?”  asked Stan.

   “Small crowd,” said Betty, “but too big for the place. We barely got in, but we made it, and we didn’t give up our seats the rest of the night for nothing. Whenever one of us had to get up, the other one stayed put.”

   “They played into the night?”

   “They played until closing time. They might have kept playing until sunrise if the management hadn’t started closing the place. Then when Pete and I were leaving, there was an end of the world crank parading the sidewalk. He had a sandwich sign in front of him. It said, ‘The End is Near.’ I don’t know what got into me, but I asked him, “Mister, is that a bad thing or a good thing?” He shot me a look, that if looks could kill, I would be looking worse that I do now.”   

   The sharp jaundiced dirty look was followed by a dirty hand that thrust a fire and brimstone leaflet at her. There was a picture of a Peter Panda missile spewing flames across the sky on the paper.

   “Project 56,” he said. “We’re all going to burn.”

   “How was the music?” Stan asked.

   “High intensity,” said Betty. “Spontaneous, full of bop, swinging like crazy.”

   Stan smiled and rubbed his lower lip with his index finger.

   “You don’t know bop from hop, do you?” Betty asked.

   “I wouldn’t get past the first dime of the first dollar of the sixty-four-dollar question if that was the first question,” said Stan. “But, from across the office it looks to me like you had a good time.”

   “We met somebody there, somebody who knew Jackson Pollack.”

   “You don’t say,” said Stan. “Who was it?”

   “A woman at the next table, smoking up a storm. She was doodling, sketching the band, and when I looked over, I could tell the drawing was good, very good. When I asked her, she said her name was Helen, and when I asked her if she was an artist, she said, yes, she was Helen Frankenthaler, which didn’t mean boo to me, but it turns out she’s one of the abstract painters, and she knew Jackson Pollack. She said she got started, made her breakthrough, because of him.”

   “Is that right?”   

   “That’s what she said, but then the man she was with, somebody named Clem, he had to be twice her age, sour-looking, broke in and piped up saying she made her breakthrough when she met him, which made her see red.”

   “Is that right?”

   “What is this right and wrong thing you’ve got going, but, yes, that’s right.”

   “Not green?”

   “Maybe from his side, but not from hers, definitely not. Pete said she looked like he was a bad taste in her mouth, like she wanted to spit him out.”

   “Pete should know,” said Stan.

   “You’re right about that, bird dog,” said Betty.

   “Did she mean it in a personal way, this breakthrough?” asked Stan.

   “No, I think she meant it in some kind of artist technical way. There was something bad jagged going on with the Clem, though.”

   “Something jagged?”

   “Something tense personal, like he got on her nerves, like I said. It was like she wanted him gone.”

   “Did she say anything personal about our man?”

   “She said when she heard the news about Jackson, she was shocked. She said she could hardly believe it. She said he was a mess, had been a mess for a long time, wasn’t going to stop being a mess, but he could handle any amount of booze and handle any car no matter how smashed he was.”

   “That ties into what we think we know,” said Stan.

   The door to the office opened and Otis walked in, nodded to Stan, looked at Betty, and said, “You look like hell.”

   “Enough of that,” she said, and sloshed more coffee down the hatch.

   Otis rolled a chair to the client side of Stan’s desk and sat down. He flipped open a memo notepad, pulled a black Eberhard Microtomic pencil out of his pocket, and put the notepad and pencil on Stan’s desk.

   “Long night?” he asked Betty.

   “Miles Davis down in the village,” she said.

   “He’s got one hell of a band these days,” said Otis.

   “You know about them?” asked Stan.

   “Of course,” said Otis.

“Why is lately I seem to be the last one to know?” Stan grumbled. “All right, let’s get started, see if we can narrow down who our rocket from the tombs might be.”

   “First steps always work for me,” said Otis.   

   “We know the shrink jazzed Jackson Pollack up to drive his car off the road and get himself killed,” said Stan. “We know he has worked up another man to do something, which looks like it is blowing up Eisenhower. We know the mob has been brought in for protection, although I would be surprised if they know what they are on the wrong side of. Assassinations are their style, but not this, at least I don’t think so. We know the White House is flying into the game on Wednesday afternoon, and if anything is going to happen it is going to happen at Ebbets Field.”

   “The airport will be tight as a drum, the route to the ballpark will be kept out of the papers, the same for the way back, and the same for security at the airport on the flight out,” said Otis. “If it’s going to happen, I agree, the odds are it’s going to happen at the ballgame.”

   “We think our bomber is somebody under 30, a small man, by the name of Tony de Marco,” said Stan. “How many Anthony de Marco’s are there in the five boroughs?”

   “Not counting Staten island, where every other person is Italian, there are six hundred and nineteen Anthony de Marco’s,” said Betty.

   “How do you know that?” asked Otis.

   “Let your thumbs do the walking,” said Betty.

   “You leafed through the phone book?”

   “I slipped on my nubbed thumb tip and took a stroll.”

   “You should take that to Madison Avenue, maybe AT&T would be interested in a new slogan.”

   “Who walks on their thumbs?”

   “How about let your fingers do the walking?”

   “That sounds better.”

   “Let’s get back on track here,” Stan said.

   “There are too many Tony’s to go looking for in just a few days, even if there were lots more of us,” said Otis. 

   “There are too many wop neighborhoods in the city, no matter how many of us there were,” said Stan. “He might even be up the road, or out on Long Island.”

   “Do we know what he looks like?” asked Betty.

   “No, we don’t,” said Stan. “That gives me an idea. Let’s get a drawing of him. The shrink can flesh him out for us. We just need an artist. Is Lefty in town, do you know?”

   “He’s in town until tomorrow,” said Otis.

   Gurnee Ford was an apprentice locomotive engineer for the New York Central, hauling passenger freight from the city to Albany Buffalo Cleveland Chicago St. Louis and back. The engineer sat on the left of the cab of the diesel-electric locomotive. Gurnee sat on the right side, and by necessity used his left hand on most of the controls and devices. It didn’t take long for him to become Lefty.

   He had been an art student until he got married and inside of three years had a family, a boy and a girl. He gave up art. He started work on the railroad as a brakeman, became a head brakeman, and was soon up front. He kept a sketchbook, drawing pictures for his children of the places the train went.

   “Can you roust him up, tell him it’s worth a hundred, take him over to the bakery, and sit him down with the doc?”

   “Yes, I can do that,” said Otis, making a note in his notepad. 

   “I want a police sketch, as good as possible, of Tony de Marco. Before you sit Lefty down in front of him, talk to the shrink in a quiet corner, and tell him I will be showing the drawing to his office receptionist the first thing Monday morning, and if she doesn’t recognize Tony in the drawing, I am going to go right to the bakery and beat his brains out, toss him in the street for the dogs, and afterwards throw his body into the East River.”

   “In those words?”

   “In those words, slowly and surely, and make sure he knows I said so. He’ll understand to stay tried and true then.”

   After Otis was gone, Betty sighed.

   “I finally feel better,” she said. “That head shrinker bothers me.”

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

   “You should have been there,” she said. “It was a hell of a show.”

   “Maybe next time.”

   “Sure,” said Betty. “Bring Vicki, we’ll make a night of it.”

   “That might be too much night for Vic.”

   “She’s a big girl. Besides, you mean it might be too much for you.”   

   “How do you figure the big show?”

   “Since it’s almost sure to happen at the ballpark, he’s got to somehow be a part of the Dodgers,” Betty said. “Not one of the ballplayers, but no Joe Schmo in the stands, either. I figure him to be someone who works for the team, selling tickets, beer man, grounds crew, somebody like that.”

   “All right,” Stan said. “Once we get our sketch that’s the track we’ll take. You be here bright and early tomorrow, we’ll get over to Park Avenue, you talk to the gal behind the desk, and show her the sketch. If she can say it’s him, we’ll go over to Ebbets Field and start snooping.”

   “You’re the boss,” said Bettina, and started humming a tune.

   “What’s that?” asked Stan.

   “Something Miles Davis played last night.”

   “It sounds good.” said Stan. “What’s it called?”

   “Just Squeeze Me.”

   “Let’s see if we can put the squeeze on our man,” Stan said, cold sober pokerfaced.

Chapter 27

   Monday morning, the 1st day of October, the weather was good, in the high 50s, with no rain predicted the rest of the week in the Ohio Valley or on the East Coast. In two weeks to the day, it would be Dwight Eisenhower’s birthday. In six weeks to the day, it would be Mamie Eisenhower’s birthday. The presidential election was coming up next month. The cake was in the oven.

   By the time the sun was up and running Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower had been awake more than two hours. They arrived at the underground Union Terminal Station in Cleveland, Ohio, riding a 12-car campaign train on an overnight run from Washington. The Terminal Tower office complex foundations were 250 feet deep. More than a thousand buildings were demolished finding space for it in 1924.  When it was done in 1927 it was the tallest building in the world outside of New York City. The first Nickel Plate Railroad train pulled into the station two years later to hurrahs.

   The station was in the prime of its life, but President Eisenhower was putting intercity train travel and the Cleveland Union Terminal, and all its kind, slowly but surely out of business by federally subsidizing a network of interstate highways.

   “Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him,” he explained, without a doubt in his mind about the right-of-way of his road project. It had been in the back of his mind since the Louisiana Maneuvers before the war. It was when his U. S. Army trucks got stuck all over the place because of the country’s bad roads that he said to himself, “We need better roads.”

   The Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Public Square, across the street, glistened in the early autumn sun. The fire department had spray cleaned the monument over the weekend, showering it with hundreds of gallons of white vinegar, and then hosing off the bird droppings and grime. The hometown vermin didn’t appreciate it, but what could they do?

   The monument was built thirty years after the Civil War, a 125-foot granite shaft on top of a square base housing a memorial hall, larger than life bronzes lining the outside, and marble tablets inside with all the names of the more than nine thousand Union soldiers from Cuyahoga County, the county in which the city lay, who were shot dead during the war by Johnny Reb.

   “Good morning, Mr. President,” said Robert Bridle, manager of the hotel. “Good morning, Mr. Mayor,” he said again, turning to Anthony Celebrezze, the city’s mayor. The Hotel Cleveland was shaped like an “E” opening onto Superior Avenue. Mr. Brindle’s mouth puckered like an “O” when he said “morning.” The one thousand rooms were built in 1918 by the Van Sweringen brothers, who built the Union Terminal Station ten years later.

   Anthony Celebrezze was a Democrat, mayor of the fifth-largest city in the United States. He knew how to get things done. Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, meant the keys to the federal purse-strings to him. He was going to try to loosen those strings. He knew how to roll with the punches if he had to. He knew it was a rat race.

   The mayor’s father had been a shepherd in Italy, and then a track laborer on the Wheeling and Lake Erie after he emigrated to the United States. Tony Celebrezze put himself through John Carroll College by working as a freight truck driver and a boxer, fighting it out for peanuts in bitter undercards.

   Dwight Eisenhower was giving a speech in the hotel to the faithful, taking a short break, and then giving a speech in front of Higbee’s beside the monument to friends enemies passersby loafers and the lunch crowd. Downtown Cleveland was spic and span. The commander-in-chief liked what he saw. The dummies in the window of a clothes shop on Euclid Ave. came to life and waved when he and Mamie passed by. Ike tipped his hat smiling broadly.

   It was noon on the dot when he greeted more than nine hundred invited guests to the Sales Executive Group Luncheon in the Main Ballroom. He spoke briefly, walked out of the hotel, and tossed at look at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. He strode up some stairs to the speaker’s platform. He was giving his speech at twelve-thirty.

   He was in the middle of two months of pressing the flesh kissing babies and giving the same stump speech. His mouth had gone dry, and palms rubbed chapped. Flecks of baby spit littered his suits. He rubbed somebody’s dandruff out of his eyes. When he looked, a dozen black and white Cleveland Police cars blocked off Euclid Avenue, Superior Avenue, Ontario Street, and Rockwell Avenue.

   Bert Mert and Luke scampered out of the Memorial Room of the monument to the roof and to the base of the polished black stone column. The three rats could have climbed to the top, one hundred and twenty-five feet to the top, wending up the six foliated bronze bands listing the names of the thirty battles in which soldiers from Cuyahoga County fought, if they wanted to. Their eyesight wasn’t the best, not like their sense of smell, but their perch was more than view enough. 

   Since it was only a month to the election, President Eisenhower got right to the point.

   “The opposition say that they alone truly care for the working men and women of America, and that the Republican party is a vague kind of political conspiracy by big business to destroy organized labor and bring hunger and torment to every worker in America,” he told the overflow crowd. 

   “That’s right!” a loudmouth yelled from the crowd.

   Secret Service agents watched from the roofs of the May Company and Higbee’s, and from inside the twin steeples of the Old Stone Church. The Berea sandstone of the church had long since turned black from air pollution floating up from the Flats, the nearby industrial valley that sprawled on both sides of the Cuyahoga River. The sun gleamed on the terra cotta façade of the May Company. The faces of shoppers were pressed against upper story windows of the two department stores. 

   The pastor of the Presbyterian church sat in a lawn chair outside his front doors, his sleeves rolled up, warm in the warm October day. He had a ploughman’s sandwich, cheese and pickle, wrapped in wax paper in his lap. He unwrapped his sandwich. He took a bite and chewed, slowly, methodically. The sky above Public Square was dappled with small passing clouds. He stretched his legs out. 

   His father had been a pastor. He grew up in the church. He served on all the church committees, was a volunteer at all the events, and made all the hospital and home care visits. Thank God for Dwight D. Eisenhower, he thought, basking on a day off.

   Bert and Mert were Tremont twins. Luke was an orphan. He didn’t know where he came from. All his friends called him Eaka Mouse, even though he was a rat. They usually slept during the day and foraged at night, avoiding birds, but this was a special occasion. They had never seen the top man of the Grand Old Party up close. The birds were staying away because of the hullaballoo, but the rodents couldn’t contain their curiosity.

   “This is more than political bunk,” said President Eisenhower. “Those men are fretting fear and worried doubt. It is wicked nonsense. We have given to our nation the kind of government that is living witness to a basic virtue in a democracy, public morality, public service, and public trust. There is no special favoritism, cronyism, or laxity in our administration.”

   “That’s what they all say, “somebody bellowed.

   Luke had the best sense of smell of the three of them. He led the way when they went searching for food, which was fifteen, twenty times a day. Their favorite foods were seeds and grains, which made the monument an all-day dream diner for rats. It was visited by hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, many of whom left behind crumbs of whatever they were snacking on.

   The pickings today were going to be out of this world.

   In the wild they were vegetarians, but city life was different. They ate almost anything they could get. None of them liked cheese. No rat they knew liked cheese. They laughed at the traps filled with shavings of it. They weren’t looney tunes. Besides, they could smell the hand of the craft of man on carefully prepared cheese and knew to beware.

   “The men of the opposition know perfectly well that one of the main reasons they were thrown out of office four years ago was their tolerance of the fire of inflation,” said President Eisenhower. “Just in the final seven years of their tenure of office this economic fever had cut the value of the dollar by almost one-third, damaging the livelihood of the aged, the pensioned, all salaried workers.”

   “What about the Bonus Army?” a harsh voice called out. “Whadda ya got to say about that?”

   Luke had recently chewed up a front page of the Cleveland Press for bedding. He noticed a feature article about last month’s government index showing living costs had gone up to a record high point.

   “The cost of living has been remarkably stabilized,” the trim balding man in a brown suit below them earnestly proclaimed “During the previous Democratic administration, the cost-of-living increase was twenty times as great.”

   Mert gave Bert and Luke the high sign. They had heard the lying grift of the campaign trail wash over them before. They couldn’t go down to look for food, but the speechifying was making them sleepy. It was a lot of cutting corners and trying to corner the other guy. The three rats stretched, groomed themselves briefly, efficiently, curled up together, and were soon napping.

   President Eisenhower wrapped up his speech, stepped down from the platform, and was in his limo in his motorcade on its way to Cleveland Hopkins Airport by one o’clock. He and Mamie boarded the Columbine and were airborne to Lexington, Kentucky by one-thirty. In two days, at about the same time of day, Dwight Eisenhower would be tossing out the first pitch of the 1956 World Series at Ebbets Field instead of tossing out half-truths.

   The rodents ate almost anything but avoided ice cream. They loved Canadian bacon more than anything. Most days, Monday through Saturday, as long as the weather was good, they looked forward to the nut lady, the woman who looked more-or-less like Doris Day and Mammy Two Shoes all rolled up in one, a middle-aged Slovenian woman with dark skin dark hair dark eyes, taking their mid-day break on the steps of the monument. She worked across the square, at Morrow’s Nut House, near the revolving doors of the May Company. 

   She brought them bits of bacon mixed with nuts.

   The nut lady worked behind the glass counter display case, selling fresh warm lightly salted cashews and redskin peanuts, Spanish peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and oily rich walnuts. Morrow’s Nut House was on the corner, on the intersection, at a CTS bus stop where passengers lingered waiting for their ride. The shop pumped the smell of roasting nuts out onto the sidewalk all day long.

   Bert Mert and Luke weren’t waiting for her today. There was a horn of plenty waiting for them on all sides of the Sailors and Soldiers Monument. Who said the GOP never did anything for the little man? They were ready to vote for Ike at a minute’s notice.

   But they had better things to do with their time. They were their own men. The three rats had girlfriends, Mary, Suzy, and Perla waiting in the wings ready to make nice.

   “Hey guys, let’s rake it in, and go to the submarine races,” said Bert.

   The crowd had dispersed. The lunch time crowd went back to work. The shoppers went back to the stores. The loafers went back to loafing.

   Eaka Mouse knew exactly what Bert meant. It was juice it up and hanky-panky time. They weren’t three blind mice.

   “Come on, snake, let’s rattle.”

Chapter 28

   “Ike Campaigns in Cleveland” was the caption under a picture of the Chief Executive waving smiling from the window of his train pulling into the Terminal Tower. Stan Riddman got the Post and Daily News delivered every day. The Daily News was big on pictures, calling itself “New York’s Picture Newspaper.” It was their kind of doorstep reporting.

   “Did you see the president is in Cleveland, your dad’s hometown?” Vicki asked Dottie.

   “I saw it,” the girl said, flipping through the tabloid, ignoring her breakfast.

   “Have you got your lunch?” asked Vicki, a Wirephoto step away from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument

   Dottie held up it up. It was a metal Roy Rogers and Dale Evans lunch box with wood grain printed sides. On the front Roy was riding away on Trigger, and Dale, in a red dress, was waving goodbye from beneath the Double RR Bar Ranch sign.

   “Let’s go, hustle it up.” said Vicki.

   Dottie went to the Sacred Heart of Jesus School on West 52nd Street. It was an all-children school, all boys and girls. It was the reason Stan had taken their apartment on West 56th Street, so that Dottie could walk to school. It was a large school, more than a thousand students, most of them Irish kids. A new convent for the Sisters of Charity had been built a few years ago. The Congregation of Christian Brothers, who had a reputation for strong-arm discipline, had their own residence on West 51st Street.

   “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses,” Stan and Vicki heard Lenny Bruce crack at one of his shows.

   Dottie didn’t wear a crucifix.

   Down in Brooklyn, Bumpy Williams followed the two men who were following the boss and his Girl Friday. When they got to Ebbets Field, the men parked across the street from the main entrance to the ballpark. Bumpy passed them, doubled back, and parked a block behind them. He turned off the engine and got comfortable.

   It was inside of fifteen minutes that the young man on the passenger side of the late model black panel truck got out, walked down the street, turned into a corner store, and came back with a brown bag wrapped around a bottle of Sneaky Pete.

   “Dumb asses,” Bumpy said to himself.

   He understood when the pie isn’t perfect, cut it into wedges, but if it was him, he would have thrown the two slices of stupidity out of the hoodlum roll call and sent them back to Sicily where they came from.

   The one-year sale on fresh blood from the homeland had been going on for seven years. It was getting thin back in southern Italy. On the other hand, Bumpy thought, it isn’t like I’ve got to reinvent the wheel with them.

   When Stan and Bettina walked out of the ballpark and hailed a cab, the two hoods in the panel truck didn’t follow them. Instead, the man on the passenger side got out again, sauntered to a phone booth outside the corner store, and made a call.

   “All right, and you’re sure they didn’t make you?” 

   “Nah.”

   “And no one was on your tail?” 

   “No way.”

   “All right, I’ll pass it on to the boss. You two go to the house and lay low. Stay handy, stay straight, don’t boost anything, stay out of trouble, just in case we need you, understand?”

   “I got it,” the man in the telephone booth said. 

   The man on the other end of the line hung up.

   The mobster errand boys sat in the panel truck and finished their Sneaky Pete.

   When Stan and Bettina got to Brighton Beach Ezra met them.

   “He’s gone,” said Ezra. 

   “The lady of the house says he left yesterday, with a couple of guys, had an overnight bag with him. She saw the truck, thinks it might have been black, but doesn’t know the make, much less the plates. I asked around, talked to some of the neighbors, nobody saw anything, so that’s a dead end. My guess is they’re guessing we’re on to him and have got him on ice somewhere until Wednesday.”

   “That sounds about right,” said Stan. “We’ll have to snag him at the ballpark. We’ve got tickets for the game, so getting in won’t be any problem.”

   “No, and we can get in early, spread out,” said Ezra.

   “Are we still on the same page about keeping this to ourselves?”

   “Yes,” said Ezra. “The Secret Service is always on high alert, so our ruffling their feathers won’t make any difference. Besides, they don’t trust anybody. Whatever we tell them is likely to get us in a jam.”

   “I’m stirring the same pot,” said Stan. 

   “What if we don’t get our man and he gets too close for comfort?” Betty asked.

   “We’re not anybody’s bodyguard,” said Ezra. “He’s got all the bodyguards he needs.”

   “But we know who is and what he looks like,” she said. “They don’t.”

   “That’s how the biscuit crumbles,” Ezra said.

   They walked down to Brighton Beach Avenue.

   “Did you read that tawk from Ike on Stevenson?” a man fat as a duck asked his companion as they strolled past the Duluc Detective operatives going the other way.

   “Yeah, just more smoke and mirrors from the Republicans.”

   “The thing is, how do you even know he’s telling the truth, when you know you’d lie about it if you was him?”

   “Fawget about it.”

   “Yeah, yeah, I got that. Let’s stop in here.”

   They were approaching a diner.

   “Let’s get some cawfee and a bite.”

   “That’s a good idea, I’m with you.”

   “We can’t be sure we know with one hundred percent certainty what our man is up to,” said Stan. 

   “No,” said Ezra.

   “It puts us in a bad spot.”

   “Yes,” said Ezra.

   “OK, we’ll play it the way we have been. It might be a squeeze, but I don’t want to get in the middle of a political assassination, if it is an assassination, and everything that would bring down on us, hell in a hand basket.”

   “No good deed goes unpunished,” said Ezra.

   “We’re getting paid to find out what happened to Jackson Pollack, not anything else,” Stan said, disgruntled. “Let’s try to not get crazy derailed.”

   Betty wanted to argue, but when she remembered some of the things Pete had told her, after their ping-pong games, or out for a drink, she bit her tongue. TF is what Pete always muttered when what he said fell on deaf ears. She didn’t want to be the deer in the headlights with the Feds at the wheel. She knew Pete was right about the high and low.

   Two teenagers slouched past them. Both of them were wearing bright medal medallions. One of them had a girl’s ear-clip stuck onto an earlobe.

   “You going to the skin battle tonight?” asked one.

   “Diddley bop,” the other one said.

   “You got your stenjer ready?”

   “You bet.”

   He had doused his Alpine-style hat, his stenjer, under a faucet the night before, rolled the narrow brims tight, and dried it on a radiator.

   “Don’t forget to pull it down over your ears.”

   “Ain’t that like punking out?” 

   “No, it’s going to be tight fighting, but you still want to take care of your South Brooklyn Boy ears.”

   “I got it.”

   “You’ve got to have heart, though.”

   “I’ll tell you who’s got heart, Blood’s got heart.”

   “You got that right. He ain’t afraid of nobody. He will do absolutely anything. If he has to fight five against one, he’ll fight five against one. He’s a butcher, man. If you need someone to pull the trigger, he’ll pull the trigger.”

   “Get that man a stenjer.”

   “Fast, faster, disaster!”

   They both laughed, taking their own sweet time.

   Stan, Bettina, and Ezra walked in silence.

   “Anybody hungry?” asked Betty.

   “I’m dog hungry,” said Ezra.

   “Same here,” said Stan.

   “How about H & S? We could walk, it’s not far.”

   They passed an apartment house. At the top of it an inscription in block letters read MOTHER JONES. Betty knew who she was, which was Mary Harris Jones, a labor organizer for the Socialist Party of America, fifty or sixty years ago. A district attorney had called her “the most dangerous woman in America.” Pete said that women couldn’t even vote in her day, which was what made them especially dangerous, pivoting into the 20thcentury.

   “When you want something bad enough is when you get dangerous,” he said.

   Stan, Betty, and Ezra strolled to the deli on Sheepshead Bay Road.

   “There it is,” said Bettina, pointing to the blue and white H & S Hebrew National Deli porcelain sign across the street.

   She had mushroom barley soup and toasted challah, while Ezra and Stan ordered pastrami sandwiches. Betty winced at the tongue offerings on the menu. One of them touted itself as center cut tongue, better than the other parts of the tongue. That is disgusting, she thought.

   “Look at this,” said Stan. He pointed to a sign on the wall

   “Instant Heart Attack,” the sign said.

   It was a three-quarter pound meat sandwich, your choice of animal, with potato latkes instead of bread.

   “Our food is delicious, but it can kill you,” said the waiter.

   After they finished, and were having coffee, Ezra said, “I didn’t want to mention it while we were eating, but some of the deli’s I eat at, you find tidbits nowhere else. There’s a place, they have something called pitcha, which is made by cooking calves’ feet and making a big gel block of it, chilling it, with bits of meat in it.”

   “That sounds like the Dark Ages,” said Betty.

   “I’ve never had it,” said Ezra.

   “Thank God for that!”

   Outside, on the sidewalk they heard a man in the distance. He was coming their way.

   “Ice cream! Get your Good Humor ice cream here, ice cream, orange drinks. Get your Good Humor ice cream here.”

    He was a skinny black man wearing black shoes and khaki pants. He had two large boxes slung over his shoulders. One was filled with ice cream and the other one with orange drinks. His face was shiny.

   Stan asked if he had vanilla.

   “Yes sir,” the man said.

   “I’ll have one, too, “said Betty.

    “What other flavors do you have?” asked Ezra.

   “Strawberry, chocolate, eclairs, fudge.”

   “I’ll take a strawberry,” said Ezra.

   When the ice cream man opened his box, white smoke from the dried ice spilled out. After they paid him, he grunted when he lifted the two boxes up, slinging them back over his shoulders, and wiped his face with a handkerchief. In the instant the boxes were up in the air, Stan saw a gravity knife taped to the underside of one of them. He knew what it was since Luftwaffe paratroopers had carried them.

   Switchblades had been made illegal two years earlier, but not gravity knives. They lacked a spring, so everyone with a warehouse full of worthless switchblades took out the springs and sold them as gravity knives. That summer, after borough flatfeet got tired of being taunted by punks with gravity knives, Albany banned them, too  

   “Ice cream, ice cream, get your Good Humor ice cream here.”

   His voice trailed off as he went down the sidewalk.

   Stan Ezra Betty wiped their lips clean and went back to their business, looking for the man mouse on the loose.

Chapter 29

   There was a watery kind of light from a bare lightbulb at the top of the stairs slithering down to the basement. If it was a 25-watt bulb, it was as bright as it was ever going to get. If it was a 40-watt bulb, it wasn’t making payroll. If it was a 60-watt bulb, it was on its last legs.

   Tony de Marco kept his eyes on the lion in the dimness, even though the animal was sleeping. The cat’s ears twitched. He hoped to God the beast wasn’t dreaming of ripping him apart. He sat quietly on the hard, thin mattress, as far back at the back of the bunk in the corner of the basement as he could get. It smelled bad rank horrible.

   He thought one of the flame throwers he had seen in Korea would come in handy, just now, just in case, if the lion got loose, except for all the hay. There was hay in the cage, and it was strewn all over the basement floor, too. He looked closely at it. He thought it might be Timothy hay, since they used it at the ballpark. There were piles of it in the corners, and there were several bales stacked up. The basement was damp and there was a strong smell of urine. 

   There were no mice to be seen anywhere.

   The two men who had taken him to the storefront, taken him around back, and taken him into the basement, hadn’t been rough with him, but it was clear as day as he went down the stairs that he was going into the basement, and that was that.

   “The boss will be down later,” one of them said. “Just sit tight. Lucifer is locked up. Her bark is worse than her bite, anyway. She would probably lose another tooth by biting you.”

   They tramped back up the stairs, he heard the lock click, and he was left alone. The lion blinked and tucked her head into her paws. She was dreaming about something. Maybe the cat was dreaming of a silky breeze. Maybe the cat was dreaming of lying low in the grass beneath a bright blue sky. Or maybe the cat was dreaming of shredding Big Paulie to ribbons and getting the hell out of the dark basement.

   Anything would be better than being alone all the time in a cage in the dark, in solitary confinement.

   Tony the Phil was a loner who didn’t like being alone. When he was around people, they usually made him feel even more alone, but it was better than being in a room all by himself. He didn’t like sleeping alone. It hadn’t been bad when he was in the army. He slept with the other grunts in their fart sacks. But back home in Brighton Beach he didn’t have a girlfriend. There was no one nearby close-by at his side in bed.

   He didn’t have to answer to anybody, like most of the guys he knew, but he didn’t have anybody to talk to, either.

   He wasn’t good at talking, anyway. What was there to talk about?  At parties, what few he went to, he always felt clumsy and lost. He never knew how to start a conversation. He didn’t know how to end one, either.

   He hadn’t been good at school, but he hadn’t been lousy, either. He never had been involved in any extracurricular activities. He wasn’t any more anti-social than the next man, but he wasn’t exactly social, more queer duck than palsy-walsy.

   He didn’t care about the small lives everyone led in the big city, doing the same thing every day. riding a bus, working in an office, or a store, or somebody else’s shop business making something. He didn’t care about what kids and their mothers did. Even though he worked at the ballpark, and liked his job, he wondered what in the hell everyone was hollering about. He liked baseball, but it didn’t matter to him who won or lost. He liked the Brooklyn Dodgers best, but knew that the team could be in Milwaukee, or Los Angeles, and it would be the same team, and the fans hollering it up for them would be different fans but the same fans.

   When Luca Gravano came down to the basement and invited him upstairs for dinner, he was different than what Tony had imagined. He was big, but not as big as he thought he would be. He was a gangster, it was easy to tell, but he was affable and friendly. He didn’t seem dangerous. He didn’t seem notorious. He seemed to be sure of himself, sure, but that was natural.

   “We’ll get you upstairs soon, Ma is laying a spread out, we can eat, you can relax, go for a walk around the neighborhood afterwards, get a good night’s sleep. We’ve got a bedroom for you. Ma made it up nice. She can bring soup up for you anytime you want.”

   “I’m a little nervous,” said Tony

   Something was wrong about being locked up a basement with a lion not twenty feet away, and Big Paulie, who he didn’t know from Adam, draping a beefy arm over his shoulders and giving him a warm smile.

   Something was wrong. It was like Korea. It was a soup sandwich.

   “Don’t worry about it,” said Big Paulie.  

   “Why do you have a lion here in Brooklyn? He could be dangerous if he got out.”

   “It’s a lioness, he’s a she,” said Big Paulie. “Lucifer is just here to keep the rats away. Besides, she doesn’t know how to break out of her cage anymore.”

   “Lucifer is a man’s name, it’s the devil’s name.”

   “She’s a man-eater.”

   “When can I get out of this basement? It’s clammy down here.”

   “It’s just for a few hours,” said Big Paulie. “We’ll have you next door for dinner, Ma is cooking something special, and tomorrow we’ll move you a couple of blocks down the street with some of the boys. Wednesday is the big day and you’ll be setting off the fireworks. It’s going to be a special day. Nobody will ever forget you after that.”

   Tony the Phil liked the sound of that. Sometimes he thought he was invisible. At work, in the neighborhood, sometimes people didn’t notice he was right there, right next to them. They didn’t see him. He didn’t like that. He didn’t like it that other people thought he didn’t matter.

   It was an hour or two or three, Tony couldn’t tell, he had forgotten his watch and couldn’t make sense of the time, when Luca came back, led him up out of the basement, and into the showroom of the Murphy Bed Company. The walls were lined with pull-down beds. A poster read “The Disappearing Bed.” There were some desks and chairs on the ground floor, and an arrangement of a sofa, armchairs, and a coffee table to one side. Luca led him to a side door, they stepped across a passageway between the store and a brownstone, and through another side door.

   The house was the last in a row of townhouses. It was the color of cold sauce. They went up a set of stairs to the dining room above the parlor. A heavy dark table sat eight but was set for four. The head and foot of the table weren’t set. A young man sat at the table alone. His gun was flat on the table. 

   “This is my kid brother Frankie.”

   Tony glanced down at the gun next to Frankie’s plate. A fork and knife were on the other side of the plate. The gun was Smith & Wesson “Military” model. It had a long barrel and a blue finish. Tony had seen them in the service. Frankie was wearing a short-sleeve white shirt open at the neck. His holster was on the floor next to his chair.

   “Everybody calls him Kid Blast,” said Big Paulie.

   On the walls of the dining room were several photographs and paintings. There was a photograph of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and next to it a photograph of Fiorello La Guardia.  There was a color photograph of Pope Pius XII. He wore a red cape, and his hands were clasped over his stomach. He was a lean man with the thin bland face of a bookkeeper.

   There was a framed painting of the Bay of Naples. The water was a bright mixed-up blue. The Roman emperor Caligula, insane and sickly, had once ordered a bridge of boats assembled across the bay so he could ride over the water in a chariot wearing the armor of Alexander the Great. If he had rocked the boats, he would have sunk straight to the bottom, not being able to stand on anybody’s shoulders.

   “The thing that interests me is that today painters do not have to go to a subject-matter outside themselves. Modern painters work in a different way. They work from within,” Jackson Pollack once said, for once cold sober.

   There was a framed painting of the Infant of Prague. The child was standing on a golden pedestal inscribed JHS “Jesus Savior of Mankind” wearing a red robe puffy sleeves puffy white collar a golden crown on top of golden curls and holding a golden orb, which was the globus cruciger.

   “Honor this image and you shall never want” was written on a slip of paper and tucked into the bottom corner of the frame.

   “The modern artist is living in a mechanical age and we have a mechanical means of representing objects in nature such as the camera and photograph,” said Jackson Pollack, packed up and eighty-sixed since then. “The modern artist, it seems to me, is working and expressing an inner world, expressing the energy, the motion and the other inner forces. The modern artist is working with space and time and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating.”

   There was a framed copy of Norman Rockwell’s “Progress?” Three boys plead with a construction crew, “Gee, mister, this is our baseball lot!” The man looking out from the seat of the digger backhoe looks bemused. The man with the shovel looks like he wants to agree with the boys. 

   Big Paulie looked at Tony the Phil looking at the painting.

   “You like that one?” asked Luca.

    “Yeah,” said Tony

   “The important thing is that Clyff and Rothko and I, we’ve changed the nature of painting. I don’t mean there aren’t any other good painters. Bill is a good painter, but he’s a French painter. I told him so, the last time I saw him after his last show. all those pictures in his last show start with an image. You can see it even though he’s covered it up, or at least tried to. Style, that’s the French part of it. He has to cover it up with style,” Jackson Pollack said, done in and finally pushing up daisies.

   Tony inhaled a waft of cheap after-shave. He wrinkled his nose.

   “I like to stink myself up,” said Big Paulie.

   The smell of homemade meatballs and spaghetti walked into the room. Raffaella Gravano carried a large platter, her arms bent at the elbow, back straight, and eyes on the table. She put the platter down. There was enough food on it to feed twice as many of them as there were.

   Raffaella Gravano was a plain looking woman, short and stout, thick-set and thick-necked. Her face was small, but her eyes, nose, and chin were large, and her expression was expressionless. She had on a short-sleeved print dress cinched at the waist by a thin black belt, her breasts sagging into her stomach, her upper arms beefy, strong, an ugly scar on one of her forearms, and wearing a pair of simple sturdy comfortable black shoes.

   She set the platter down on the table, brought glasses of ice and a pitcher of water, and a bottle of red wine.

   “Eat, eat,” she said to Tony when he hesitated.

   He didn’t have to be told twice. He was hungry. The meatballs were fresh hot delicious. They tasted like the meatballs his mother made when he was a kid, ground beef with pork, diced yellow onions and pressed fresh garlic, and made all by hand marinara sauce. The spaghetti was good. The bread was warm.

   “Take that off the table, Frankie,” Raffaella said, nodding at Frankie’s gun.

   “Sure, Ma,” said Kid Blast.

   The men ate quietly, like wolves, not talking. Raffaella ate, too, but sitting up straight, enjoying savoring the taste of the food she had made, chewing the meatballs rather than gulping them down, drinking her wine like wine, not water.

   “Is this wise?” she asked, nodding at Tony, when Big Paulie came up for air.

   “It has to be, Ma,” he said.

   “I understand,” she said. 

   Tony slowed down, winding down, finishing his plate, feeling full. There were no clocks in the room, but there was a soft dusk in the windows. He drank some of the semi-sweet wine from his glass and smiled at Ma.

   “Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, from near Sorbara,” she said.

   “Oh, I see,” said Tony, not seeing much of anything.

   “The wine is from there. They call it that because the grape clusters look like a sausage of salami. You like it?”

   “Yes, and the meatballs, too, very much,” said Tony.

   Raffaella turned to her son, Kid Blast.

   “Frankie, did you remember to bring that leg of lamb home like I told you?”

   “Oh, fuck, Ma, I forgot.”

   “Watch your language.”

   “I’m sorry Ma.’”

   “What are we going to do about Lucifer tonight?” she asked. “You know what she’s like when her dinner is late.”

   “What about him?” asked Frankie, pointing at Tony the Phil. “He’s got two legs. He could give one up, right? He only needs one leg to stand on to do whatever it is he’s going to do, am I right?”

   “You’re right,” said Big Paulie. “But he’s got to get there first, to do what he has got to do, so he needs both legs for now. Maybe he’s the sacrificial lamb, I don’t know, but the boss wants him in one piece and on time for doing the contract, you got that?”

   “OK, OK, don’t get on your high horse,” complained Kid Blast. “What is the contract, anyway?”

   “I don’t know, and you know better than to ask.”

   After the dishes were cleared, Luca and Tony went for a walk, four blocks up and down and around the neighborhood. They walked past bars, luncheonettes, restaurants, Italian cheese stores, barber shops, dairy stores, laundry shops, cut rate luggage stores, men’s wear, women’s wear, leather repair shops, candy cigar soda stands, and the New Deal Sales Company.

   They passed a butcher shop that was closed but with its lights on, the butcher wrapping up ten pounds of top round for Frankie Gravano. He waved and gave them a thumbs up when he saw them through the window, pantomiming feeding Lucifer her late dinner.

   They turned the corner.

   “What’s a sacrificial lamb?” asked Tony.

   “You don’t want to know, kid,” said Big Paulie, grinning like the big bad wolf. “You don’t want to know.”

Chapter 30

   Even though Mr. Moto didn’t know how to think, he did a lot of thinking. There was no sense of getting on the wrong side of “I think, therefore I am.” It was a breezy sunny morning. He sat on the platform of the fire escape, looking out on Hell’s Kitchen and wondered, why is there something rather than nothing?

   There was a lot of everything in New York City, as far as he could see. It was true he slept more than not, sometimes sixteen hours a day, but between sitting around in windows on stoops on the roof and prowling the land, he saw enough. Where did it all come from? Where was it all going? What was it all about?

   “To be or not to be.” Where had he heard that? Was that what it was all about? Was it all just something and not nothing and never mind in between? It was the simplest explanation, and the one he liked the most, but there was something about it that nagged him. He never knew his dad, but he remembered his mom. That was where he came from. He came from her. Everything had to come from something, right?

   As far as he could tell, even though he couldn’t read, there were five No. 1 concepts that philosophy revolved around, language, knowledge, truth, being, and good. He couldn’t talk, so it got shot down to four in his world. The truth was always up for grabs, leaving three. There was no need wasting time arguing what was right and wrong. He knew good and evil when he saw it. 

   When it came to knowledge, he knew what he knew. “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” That left being, and being a cat, he was solid with that gospel truth. He was always being, no matter what he was doing. That’s what life was all about. Be true to yourself.

   It was about eating, too. He was a stickler for clean water in his bowl, refreshed every day. He got cross if it was stale. Stan gave him canned fish in the morning, he ate all of it every day, and the rest of the day nibbled on dry food. 

   Mr. Moto didn’t like “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates was full of bull. If what he said was true, most life of all kinds wasn’t worth living. Who had the time to look inward all the time? 

   He never examined his own life. He didn’t know a single other cat, nor had he ever heard of any, who did. He didn’t believe animals ever did. He didn’t think many people did, either, at least not in his neck of the woods. Who was Socrates to say their lives weren’t worth living? No wonder they poisoned him when they got the chance. He must have been a pain in the ass.

   Mr. Moto flopped down on the ground, stuck a hind leg up, and cleaned his butt.

   He didn’t like Kant, either. The man could never just come out and say what he meant. “A categorical imperative would be one which represented an action as objectively necessary in itself, without reference to any other purpose.” What did that even mean? If it meant what he though it meant, it was all hot air. One thing always led to another. He knew that for sure.

   He thought it might mean something like, it is never right to lie. Should that idea be universally applied? If everybody lied, trust would disappear, so lying is wrong in all cases. What a lot of more bull! Kant was worse than Socrates. Mr. Moto distrusted almost everybody, and it stood him in good stead. He was willing and able to lie to anybody he didn’t trust. Whatever works was his motto.

   His chief goal was survival. “We must all cultivate our own wisdom.” Voltaire was more like it, more to his liking.

   He was taking the air on the fire escape, the wrought iron stairs bolted to the front of the building. It was where he did his best thinking. It was also where he stayed abreast of the street’s comings and goings. The World Series, whatever that was, was on everybody’s lips. Everybody was saying it was the Subway Series. It was starting tomorrow. He heard Dottie saying she was going to be on the picture box, talking to one of the big men, although he was a small man, somebody by the name of Pee Wee Reese. Somebody sitting on the stoop next door was reading Sports Illustrated. Micky Mantle was on the cover.

   When he looked down at the sunlit pavement, watching Dottie come out the front door and start off to school, he didn’t like what he saw. A black 1955 Chevrolet panel truck was parked at the curb. Two men in dark suits, wearing fedoras pulled down over their eyes, were getting out of the truck. They weren’t in the trades, that was for sure. They were guinea gangsters.

   When they blocked Dottie’s way and reached for her, clamping a sweet-smelling wet handkerchief over her mouth, Mr. Moto ears pinned back sprang into action and raced down the steps of the fire escape. He whirled on the sidewalk and ran straight at the struggle. Dottie was kicking furiously at the men. Leaping from the second story he jumped over the back of the man holding her from behind, over Dottie’s head, and on to the face of the man facing him. The man screamed as Mr. Moto raked his face with his claws.

   “Hey, what’s going on?” Sports Illustrated on the stoop yelled, standing up.

   The hoodlum grabbed at the cat, got hold and flung him away. Blood gushed from his face and one eye. Mr. Moto pivoted and went at him again, coming up short landing on his chest, and grabbed with all his claws digging in at the man’s shirt. The goon flung him off again, bellowing. The cat landed on all fours and glared.

   Dottie went limp from the chloroform on the kerchief and the men dragged her to the back of the panel truck, tossing her inside, and slamming the doors shut. An empty bottle of Sneaky Pete rolled into the gutter. Mr. Moto went after them again but had to dodge bullets from the soon-to-be-Scarface, and dashed behind a trash can, more bullets ripping through the thin metal and ricocheting off concrete.

   The man on the stoop threw himself flat, cradling his head with his arms.

   When the truck started pulling away, heads appearing in windows, and shouts that it was gunfire, not backfire, he ran after it. When he jumped at one of the rear wheels, hoping to puncture it, all he got for his efforts was two ripped-out claws and bruised ribs when he was flung off the spinning steelbelt to the curb.

   He looked up at the disappearing truck and instantly memorized the license plate number. Back on the sidewalk he pulled a scrap of paper from the overturned trash can and wrote the letters and numbers on it in his own blood. Even though he didn’t know how to write, he could recreate symbols. He didn’t know what the symbols meant, but they had to mean something. Stan would know.

   He heard a whistle. A patrolman was running up the sidewalk. A woman yelled out her window, “They grabbed the Riddman girl!”

   “What happened?”

   “I don’t know, two guys were dragging her. She looked like she was knocked out. They threw her into their truck and raced away.”

   “Did you see their faces?”

   “No.”

   “How about the plates?”

   “No.”

   “Which way did they go?”

   “That way.”

   It wasn’t any better sledding with anybody else. Everybody had seen what happened, but nobody knew what the trail looked like. The patrolman wrote down what he heard and waited for the plainclothes car.

   On the sidewalk Mr. Moto felt bad. If he wanted to be honest with himself, he felt horrible. He had stanched the bleeding by licking his paw, but he was having a hard time breathing. His chest hurt like hell. When he tried to walk, he felt like he had strained a tendon or a ligament or some damn thing in his right back leg. He knew what he was made of. He was a mess. He limped when he got going. There wasn’t any way he was going to be able to scurry up the wood trim to the awning to the second-floor platform and back to the open window of the apartment. He waited at the front door until the woman in 1A came running out, slipped into the foyer, and through the quietly closing inner door.

   He dragged himself up to the fourth floor, to the hallway window, and gingerly hopped up on the sill. He went out to the fire escape and back into the apartment through the living room window. 

   The apartment was a living room dining room kitchen and two bedrooms. He went to his water bowl first, caught his breath, and lapped up enough to slake his dry mouth. He staggered to Dottie’s room, stopping inside the door to catch his breath again. His chest hurt bad. He clawed his way up onto the bed, let the scrap of paper fall from his mouth, and lay there until his wheezing tapered off.

   He fell into a dreamless one life gone sleep.