Chapter 4


Vicki Schreiber stood in the doorway, nudged Barnett Newman into the office, and said to Stan, “I’ll be at MOMA until 11:30, then lunch at Eisenberg’s before I have to hit the typewriter. Join me there?”

It was 10 o’clock the Monday morning.

“See you at noon, dollface,” said Stan Rittman, grinning.

“Watch the language, bub.” Vicki scowled. Stan smiled even more broadly, putting on the mock tip of a hat.

Vicki waved goodbye.

Barnett Newman had thinning hair and a heavy mustache, wore a polka-dotted bow tie with a monocle dangling from a neck strap down the front of his shirt, and had never met or spoken to a private detective in his life.

He was born and bred in New York City, studied philosophy at City College of New York, and worked in his father’s clothing factory in the Bronx before it went bust after the stock market crash. He had been a small-time magazine publisher, ran for mayor in a crazy write-in campaign in 1933, and finally got married in 1936.

His wife went to work and he joined the Art Students League. He made himself into a painter. In 1950 he painted an 8 by 18-foot long picture all-over red. He added four vertical bands of color and called them zips. No one knew what he was talking about.

“It’s no different, really, from meeting another person,” he said about his oversize painting. No one knew what that meant, either.

“Have a seat, Mr. Newman,” said Stan Rittman, standing up at his desk and motioning to one of the two armless wood banker’s chairs that floated around the office.

“Call me Barney.”

“All right, Barney.”

The office of the Duluc Detective Agency wasn’t large, nor was it small. Stan’s desk faced and was not quite to the left of the front door. It backed up to the large windows. Ezra shared Bettina’s desk on the rare occasion he needed to prop stretch his legs up on something. It was perpendicular to Stan’s desk on the right. There were two rows of filing cabinets, a freestanding coat rack, an umbrella stand, and a water cooler. In the small storage room were shelves of stationary and envelopes and invoices. The back of one shelf was for whiskey. A safe was tucked into the corner.

Stan and Ezra kept their guns and cash in the safe.

“Vicki hasn’t told me much, other than she knows you through the magazine, and likes you, and you have a problem with how a friend of yours died.”

“That’s right, Mr. Rittman. Jackson Pollack was my friend. There was a car crash. Neither Lee nor I believe it could have happened the way the Hampton police say it happened. Jack could drive those roads no matter how much he’d had to drink. He could drive them in his sleep.”

“Call me Stan,” said Stan, estimating Barney Newman to be ten fifteen years older than himself and at least twenty years older than Bettina.

“OK, Stan.”

“Betty, can you sit in with us, maybe take a few notes?”

“Sure,” said Bettina, stepping over with a steno pad, sitting down on the other loose banker’s chair next to Barney Newman.

Ezra called her Big Head Bettina because she was smart and because her head was slightly larger than it should have been. He called her Betty to her face because she had punched him in the face the one time he had called her Big Head. She had grown her hair out recently in a high ponytail style with round bangs at the top of her forehead. When he cast an eyeball on her she looked like no worries.

“You said Lee and you. Who’s Lee?” asked Stan.

“Lee Krasner was Jackson Pollack’s wife.”

“Vicki said he died up on Long Island, some small town way out there, is that right?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I’ve heard of Pollack somewhere, probably the papers, a famous artist, if I’ve got that right. What was he doing out in the middle of nowhere?”

“He lived in Springs and he was living it up with his girlfriend.”

“I see.”

Bettina looked up, paused, her pencil quiet in her hand, as neither Stan nor Barney said anything for a few seconds in the gap.

“Why don’t we start at the beginning, tell me all about Jackson Pollack, and what it is you want me to look into,” said Stan, finally.

Most of the work Ezra and Betty and Stan did was insurance and marital work. “I am Dolores, understand? I can’t stand my husband being unfaithful,” said a dark-haired sultry woman wearing a slash of red lipstick. “I’d rather see her dead than unfaithful,” said a burly middle-aged man wearing a diamond pinkie ring. “I hope to God you prove me wrong.” Pinkie went up the river to Sing Sing after all was said and done and dead.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” asked Barney.

“Not at all,” said Stan, and pushed a three-rest yellow glass ashtray towards Barney.

Barnett Newman smoked one cigarette after another with girlish puffs and spoke in a nasally voice with a not quite scrubbed away New Yorkese accent. He didn’t drop r’s or add them where they weren’t wanted or lengthen his o’s and w’s, but it was in the background if you cared to look. He talked with his hands, his cigarette always in his right hand. He shifted forwards and backwards in his seat, riffling his sport coat out by the lapels, and folding himself back into the chair.

“Where should I start?” he asked.

“Start with Jackson Pollack,” said Stan.

“He was one-of-a-kind. He made a new world.”

Nearly an hour-and-a-half later, Barnett Newman’s steps fading away in the hallway, a cloud of not-yet-stale cigarette smoke lingering behind him, Stan turned to Bettina. “One of us is going to have to go up to Springs,” he said.

“Ezra’s on that waterfront thing, and I don’t drive, remember, so it’s going to have to be you,” she said.

“All right, but you find the girlfriend and talk to her, find out what happened, what she thinks or knows happened, especially that part about Pollack aiming for the tree.”

A half-hour later Stan looked into Eisenberg’s a few minutes before noon. He spotted Vicki on one of the red leather stools halfway down the long counter. Her purse was keeping the stool to her left unoccupied. She smiled when she saw him and waved him over

“Do you need a menu?” one of the cooks behind the counter asked while he was still straddling the stool.

“No, I’ll take the lox, eggs, easy on the breath, and don’t forget the cup of pickles.” Vicki ordered smoked salmon on a boiled bagel with lettuce, tomato, and Thousand Island. She avoided the pastrami at Eisenberg’s. “Too fatty and too chewy at the same time,” is how she described it.

“What about the cream cheese and scallions?” he asked.

“What about them?” she said.

“Not much, not by your appetite. Have you ever wondered why they call it Thousand Island?”

“It’s from Thousand Islands, New York, that’s why,” said Vicki. “Maybe fifty years ago, a fishing guide’s wife up there made it up for her husband’s fish dinners. The rest is history.”

“Oh,” said Stan.

“You told me you graduated from detective school.”

Stan looked up from his cup of coffee. “I graduated from the school of hard knocks.”

Vicki laughed. “How did it go with Barney?”

“It’s a hell of a yarn,” he said. “I don’t know what to think about it. There might be something. Betty is going to look into something Barney told us. Maybe you can fill me in on who’s who.”

“You’ve heard of abstract expressionism, I’ve mentioned it, that’s who they are. It’s all here in New York, I mean most of them live and work here or out on Long Island. Jackson was an action painter, the real deal.”

“Was he the painter called Jack the Dripper?”

“That’s what Time magazine called him earlier in the year, which was all wrong because he wasn’t painting that way anymore, hadn’t been for a few years. He’s been on the quiet side overall the past two, three years.”

“He’s on the can hear a pin drop side now,” said Stan.

“Another draw in the dark?” asked the counterman.

“Thanks bud,” said Stan, sliding his coffee cup and saucer forward.

“If he’s good, I’m going blind and should get out of the business,” said art dealer Kurt Valentin.

“This is new,” said the painter Giorgio Morandi. “Vitality, energy – new!”

“Was he good?”

“It depends on who you ask. Some people said it was complete disorder without any method, while others said it was a whole new way of making art, visual energy like no one had ever seen. Life magazine wrote him up, said he might be the best at the time.”

“Most of Jackson Pollack’s paintings resemble nothing so much as a mop of tangled hair I have an irresistible urge to comb out,” said an offended reporter for the New York World Telegram.

“Jackson is the greatest painter this country has produced,” said art critic Clement Greenberg

“When I am painting I am not much aware of what is taking place,” said Jackson Pollack. “It is only after that I see what I have done.”

“Lee Krasner, his wife, they got married in the mid-40s, is an artist, a good one, too, but it’s hard to say what school she works in,” said Vicki. “She’s been doing collages for years, as far as I know, not exactly groundbreaking.”

“Lee devoted more time to taking care of Jackson than she did to her work,” said Roger Wilcox. “He was difficult, but she believed in him.”

Roger’s wife, Lucia, whose abstract paintings were spelled out by lively sweeps of color, was someone who from the late 1930s helped get the artist’s colony on the east end of Long Island going, from Alfonso Ossorio and Robert Motherwell to Jackson Pollack. She liked to cook and often fed them in her large kitchen that opened into her large studio.

“Barney is a color field painter,” said Vicki. “He’s not as well known as Mark Rothko, more of a minor key guy, but he talks it up, and he’s committed to what they’re all up to.”

“What are they up to?“ asked Stan.

“Not any one thing,” said Vicki. “They’re mostly all trying to make it, make New York the capitol of the art world, take over from Paris, and when they do they’ll be made. They’re more than halfway there. Most of them, whether it’s abstract or not, most of them are doing something new. An Italian painter, Morandi, he said they dive into the water before they learn to swim. He meant it as a good thing. It’s American-style painting.”

“The name of your business doesn’t sound American, sounds French,” said Barnett Newman. “Do you mind my asking how you’re the Duluc Detective Agency?”

“No, I don’t mind,” said Stan.

“I was in Paris the last year of the war. I was a military policeman, black armband, big yellow MP on my steel pot. After it was all over I stayed. I liked the city, liked the food and drink, and I liked the girls. I ran out of money soon enough and started looking for work. I knew the language reasonably well. A friend of mine introduced me to someone who introduced me to Duluc Investigations.

“The office was on the ground floor right around the corner from the Louvre. Most of the work was about swindle cases and missing persons. It was 1946, so there was a lot of swindling going on and a lot of missing people gone footloose. I stayed for two years, learned a lot, but got homesick.”

“Where’s home, what borough?”


“That’s not New York.”

“No, but after I landed here, back from Europe, a buddy of mine put me up for a few weeks, catching up. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was taking the police exam. I was in blue for almost three years, but I butted up against some hard heads in the department. It wasn’t for me. When I set myself up as an independent, I called the old man back in Paris and asked him if I could use his name on my shingle. He said he was too far away to do anything about it.”

“Will you take this up, take a look at it?” asked Barnett Newman.

“I’ll give it a few days and get back to you. We’ll check out the girl and the hometown and go from there. I’ll need a note from you introducing me to the wife. Let her know I’m coming, if you can. I don’t want to waste my time or your money.” said Stan.

“Are you going to be able to help them?” asked Vicki, reaching for her slice of apple pie.

“He signed on the dotted line, gave us a deposit, but I’m not sure,” said Stan. “Betty is going to try and see the girlfriend who made it out alive and I’m going to drive up to Springs tomorrow, nose around, try to touch base with the widow, stop and see the local cherry toppers, get my hands on what’s in the public record, anything they might be willing to tell me.”

“You won’t take Barney for a ride, or anything like that.”

“No. It sounds like it doesn’t amount to much and it’s probably going to end in nothing. We’ll keep it short.”

“What do you charge?” asked Barney.

“We charge a flat fee for sweeps, backgrounds, interviews, things like that. Yours isn’t anything like that. Your work is going to be $9.50 a man hour, plus expenses,” said Stan. “Expenses mean anything we have to pay out, buying somebody a beer, buying somebody’s talk, buying gas getting out to Springs, incidentals. We’ll check with you first about anything over ten dollars.”

“That sounds all right.”

“How did Jackson Pollack end up in Springs?” asked Stan.

“They were living here in the city, but Jackson got sick of it. He and Lee borrowed some money from their dealer, more from a local bank mortgage, and they moved there, and got married on the way, ten, eleven years ago,” said Barney. “They got an old farm house, no bathroom, no central heating, a barn, five acres, and a great view of the harbor.”

“It doesn’t sound like they got much for their money.”

“Jackson did his best work in Springs,” said Barney, “He loved it out there.”

“I admire his work, a great painter and all that. But he has a difficult character, always drunk and wild, impossible to deal with” said Sidney Janis.

“I know you don’t like monkey wrenches, but I should tell you he wasn’t born with a paintbrush in his hand. It wasn’t simple to spill a Pollack out. He was a self-destructive man,” said Vicki.

“When he went on those drinking spells we didn’t want to see him. We were afraid of him, of his anger,” said Lawrence Larkin.

“Once Jack got to driving the damn thing so fast I was sure we were going to veer off the road. I thought he was out there to kill himself, kill us all,” said Frank Pollack.

“He was so deeply troubled and depressed, in pretty bad shape,” said Grace Borgenight. “Then there was that suicidal drive.”

“He was ambitious, driven, came from a hardscrabble family, but he was dark and antisocial, too,” said Vicki. “He could be mean. He was mean. He went on benders and got into lots of fights, especially at the Cedar Tavern down in the village. They all lived in the neighborhood and hung around there for the cheap drinks. I heard he was banned for a while after he tore the bathroom door off its hinges and hurled it across the room at another painter.”

“I thought most painters were mostly pansies,” said Stan.

“Where have you been? That was never true. It’s a new day and age, anyway,” said Vicki. “The greatest artists have the biggest fights, even though sometimes it’s only with themselves.”

Stan paid the bill, pocketing the receipt for expenses, and they stepped out of the no-frills luncheonette onto the sidewalk. Stan flagged down a hack, pecked Vicki on the cheek, and held the door of the car open as she slid into the back seat.

“Where can I see some of Pollack’s paintings?” he asked when Vicki rolled down the window.

“I would try the Sidney Janis Gallery.”

“And the Cedar Tavern is down in Greenwich Village, right?” he asked as the cabbie shifted into gear.

“You’re such a pansy about modern art, you’ll need a stiff pick-me-up after you see the all-overs, believe me,” she cackled out the window as the cab pulled away from the curb, merging into the midtown midday traffic.


Chapter 3


Tony the Phil had a pounding headache, which happened the minute he stood up from a dead sleep, and bothered him through breakfast. It bothered him walking to the newsstand to get his copy of the Daily Mirror. It still bothered him as he rode the train to Ebbets Field.

He couldn’t shake it off. Shaking his head made it worse. He closed his eyes. He tried to read the tabloid, but he couldn’t concentrate. He closed his eyes again. Five minutes later he was getting some shut-eye, lulled to sleep by the rocking of the train.

He woke up when his stop was called. He felt a little better. He knew he wouldn’t miss his station when he dozed off. He never did, even though his hearing was bad. It was like his brain screened out the talk of the passengers, but was primed to hear the voice of the PA system.

“Goddamn Robert Moses,” he thought, crossing Bedford Avenue, the ballpark in sight. Everybody knew somebody was going to have to blow up his limo before the Dodgers got a new stadium. Ebbets Field was the smallest park in the National League. The plumbing was bad. Even sold-out games didn’t help, although they helped. There was practically no parking anywhere and the Atlantic Yards was where the team should go. But Moses wanted them to move to a city-owned stadium in Queens. That wasn’t going to happen.

“We’re the Brooklyn Dodgers, not the Queens Dodgers,” the boss had said.

The boss was determined to get a bigger ballpark. He’d been planning for ten years. He was already playing seven or eight of their home games at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. They’d played the first one there almost two weeks ago, edging the Phillies by a run. The threat of relocating was in the air. O’Malley was going to face Moses down. He was making his point. There was no doubt about it.

The front office was going to move the team, that was for sure, maybe move out of Brooklyn, maybe even move to the west coast, even though there wasn’t a team anywhere west of Kansas City.

“Christ, Jersey City!” he spat on the sidewalk.

King Hanky-Panky was gone, he wasn’t the mayor anymore, but his gang was still running things, and he was still living like a millionaire, and anybody who said anything about it to him was told he was a rotten commie. There were no shoulders on the Pulaski Skyway over the Hackensack and Passaic rivers and the breakdown lane was in the middle of the bridge. Everybody called it the suicide lane. They were finally building a concrete median this summer to put a stop to the head-on accidents. Once you got over the bridge to Jersey City it smelled like soap and perfume, especially the closer downwind you got to the Colgate Plant on Hudson Street.

It was the first day of May. It was sunny, in the low 50s. By the time they got to work on the field it might hit 60. The team was in Cincinnati playing the Redlegs. The grounds crew had the rest of the week and more to get the field in tip-top shape. After that it was home games the rest of the month.

Tony De Marco walked past the ballpark, crossed Flatbush Avenue, and walked into Prospect Park. He had a half-hour to kill. When he got to the shoreline opposite Duck Island he found a bench and sat down, looking out over the water. He pulled a pack of cigarettes and a Ronson lighter from his jacket pocket. His headache wasn’t any worse. It was probably a little better.

“L & M filters are just what the doctor ordered!” is what the ads said. Maybe a smoke would help him feel better. He leaned back and lit up, watching ducks and a line of ducklings waddle into the water. One of the mallards stayed on the shore, in profile, keeping that side of his eyes on him.

There was a grouping of six and seven-foot-tall butterfly bushes flanking and to the back of his bench. In the summer, once it got hot and the red lilac-like flowers bloomed, the bushes attracted butterflies and hummingbirds. Now that the ducks were back he would have to remember to bring a bag of stale bread to the park.

Tony ate lunch in Prospect Park sometimes when the team was on the road. When they were at home there was too much work to do. He helped roll the tarpaulin out for rainstorms, like everyone else, and he had assigned work, but he didn’t do any mowing. The head groundskeeper made sure the grass was cut everyday if the team was in town, He might cut the infield grass shorter than usual if a bunt happy team was on the schedule. When Jackie Robinson had been faster than just about anybody the grass was often kept long and the dirt in front of home plate watered down for him. His first ever hit for the Dodgers had been a bunt single.

One of Tony’s jobs was laying the foul lines, coaching boxes, and batting boxes. The Colored Comet stole the plate two and three times a year. Tony made sure the chalk line from third base to home was straight as an arrow.

He took a deep drag and felt better. He would have to tell the doc about his headaches. He’s been able to help him with his bad dreams without shock treatments or talking about combat fatigue. He knew most of the VA shrinks yakked it up about hostility and neurosis aroused by war. They didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. They never talked about how goddamned horrible it was.

He was lucky to have found Doc Baird, although when he thought about it, it was more like Doc Baird had found him. He couldn’t remember exactly how it happened. Besides the ear doctor in Japan, who told him he had lost some of his hearing, Doc Baird was the only doctor he had talked to the past three years who made sure to face him when they were talking.

“They didn’t have earplugs or nothing for us,” said Tony the Phil. “They’d say, you just have to live with it. Put paper or cotton in your ears. They didn’t care about us. I had to go to a MASH hospital one time. There was something wrong with me. I thought it might have been pneumonia. That night they brought in a bunch of guys who’d been in a firefight, crying and hollering, all mangled up. I couldn’t stand it. I left and hitchhiked back to my outfit.”

The ducklings swam in a slightly broken line behind the drab-feathered mother duck, putting up a racket to keep her brood together and safe. He had once seen a turtle rise up and gobble down a duckling.

“When did you serve in Korea?” asked Doctor Baird.

“I was there from the start, at Inchon. I got drafted in 1949, right after I turned 21, when the new law said everybody over 18 had to register. I just didn’t have any luck. Only ten thousand guys got drafted that whole year and I was one of them. I didn’t want to go. My doctor wrote them a letter saying I had a bad back and you can’t use him. My boss wrote a letter saying we can’t spare him, we need him for the team, but they didn’t listen to nothing.”

“You didn’t want to join up?”

“No, but when my number was finally up I went down to the draft board. There was a big Marine there. He got us all lined up. He’d hit a guy in the chest. Marine! A couple more guys, he’s hit another one in the chest. Marine! When he got to me he went to the next guy. He didn’t want me. Hell, I only weighed 140 pounds then. They put me in the Army for two years and sent me to Fort Dix. We had a newspaper there, the Stars and Stripes. It said, ‘Fort Dix Turns Out Killers’. They called us killers. I wasn’t mad at anybody. I wasn’t a killer.”

The ducks dipped their heads underwater as they swam, scooping up plants and insects. The drake on the shoreline walked off looking for land bugs. Waddling away he twisted his head around and grunted, then whistled at Tony. He didn’t hear the whistle, just like he barely heard birdsongs.

“You lost almost half your hearing while you were in the artillery?”

“I wasn’t supposed to be, but that’s what happened,” said Tony. “Most of the guys I trained with went to Europe. Three squads of us got sent to Korea. I had to fly to Seattle, wait thirty days, and then they put us on a ship across the Pacific, which took another twenty days. When we landed in Yokohama, we said, maybe we’ll just stay in Japan, but the next thing I knew I was landing at Inchon in a barge. That whole town was blown to bits.

“I was trained for the infantry, but after we landed they said, we have enough infantry guys, we need guys in the artillery. They sent me to the 37th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Division. They gave us a patch for our sleeve with a star and an Indian on it. We used to say, ‘Second to None!’ Right away they put me on a gun section and we got orders for a fire mission. We had twelve guns, 105’s, loud, just boom, boom, boom.

“When it was over and guys were talking, I only saw lips moving. I couldn’t hear a damn thing for a half hour, right off the bat. I wasn’t used to that kind of noise.”

“How did you get captured?” asked Doctor Baird.

“After about four months, after Inchon, what happened, they said, you’ve got infantry training, we’re going to make you a forward observer, so I had go with the infantry. My job was to tell our guys where to shoot the stuff. If there were ten thousand gooks in the open, we’d say, shoot the stuff that explodes in the air. It would rain down on those guys, the shrapnel getting them. Other times it was quick shells, the kind that explode the instant they hit the ground, or delays, the kind that stick in the ground and wait a while.”

“You were battling the North Koreans?”

“No, we were fighting the Chinese, tough soldiers. They were good with mortars. If a round landed in front of you, and right away another landed behind you, we always said, get the hell out of the middle. There wasn’t anything but hills in Korea. We would lob over the hills when the infantry was going up one side to take it. We tried to shoot over them, down on the gooks, but sometimes it would land on our own guys.

“That’s what happened to me and my buddy. We got caught up in some wire. You always had to watch for incoming rounds. As long as you heard a whistle, you’re OK. The one that gets you, you never hear it. He got killed, and I got nicked up. I couldn’t get off the wire. I still have scars on my arms. The Chinese picked me up. They had me for about three weeks, but I got sick, something in my stomach, and when there was a prisoner exchange they sent me back. I got flown to Japan and was in a hospital for a month, but I made it.”

Tony stubbed the L & M out under his heel. He tucked his lighter away. It was time to get to work.

“There was one Greek kid I knew, he was a baseball player, but he got a leg blown off. They gave him an artificial leg. He didn’t tell anybody about it and tried to come back. He was still trying to make it in the minors after I got home, but, of course, he couldn’t make it.”

The home plate entrance to Ebbets Field was an 80-foot rotunda made of Italian marble. Tony De Marco went around the back, to a door behind the bleachers in center field. He checked in with the watchman.

“When I got healthy they said, you can go home unless you want to re-up. We’ll give you $300.00 if you do that. We made $90.00 a month and they paid us $45.00 extra whenever we were in combat. But they didn’t want to pay me for the couple months I had left on my two years, so I said, no way.”

“So you went home after you got better,” said Doctor Baird.

“Yeah, I came home to Brooklyn, got my old job back, except my old job was cleaning up in the aisles, and now I’m doing maintenance work.”

After Tony changed into his work clothes in the cramped grounds crew locker room, he walked out to the field. They were raking the sand clay mix today, the infield, foul lines, and on-deck plot. His headache was gone. The ballpark was going to look good for the Giants next week.

“Hey Tony, big night tonight with Phil?” asked one of the three men with rakes on their shoulders as he walked up to them with his own rake.

“You bet,” he said. ”It’s Bilko tonight. Except Bilko this time gets it over on the con men who try to gyp one of the guys. Ike’s going to like this one”

Dwight Eisenhower was a fan of “You’ll Never Get Rich”. Earlier in the season the King of Chutzpah had gotten a telegram from Ike’s press secretary. “The Old Man missed last night’s show.” A print of the show was immediately shipped to the White House.

“You must have seen it filmed.”

“That would be a good bet, too. They made everybody roll around on the floor, except for Phil, in their uniforms because the uniforms came in looking too crisp, too starchy, for being in the motor pool. They looked scruffy enough when they were done.”

The show was filmed live in Chelsea in a building that used to be the armory of the Ninth Mounted Cavalry. It was shot like a play and recorded to film. It didn’t matter that that it was a comedy and Phil Silvers ad-libbed like a man lost in his own schemes. Tony had been in the audience more than a dozen times. He looked forward to Phil Silvers coming up with something off the top of his cue ball.

Tony the Phil was a big fan of Master Sergeant Ernest Bilko, who was named after Chicago Cubs first baseman Steve Bilko. “Bingo to Bango to Bilko” was the way the Chicago radio play-by-play man called double plays involving short stop Ernie Banks, second baseman Gene Baker, and Steve Bilko. Tony never missed a show, unless the Dodgers were playing under the lights.

He wasn’t the only fan of the show among the crew, but he was the show’s biggest fan among them. Sergeant Bilko was a pushy patsy whose get-rich-quick schemes almost always fell flat on their face. His tips never panned out either, but nobody ever bad-mouthed him for trying. They loved him for trying.

“They always lose, but they don’t blame me, because to a gambler a bad tip is better than no tip at all,” said Phil Silvers.

A short man wearing a plaid cap, a stogie stuck in his thick lips, standing on the far side of the pitcher’s mound in a pair of green knee-high rubber boots, waved a hand at Tony.

“Tony, go out there and check the drainage in center,” said Max Ringolsby, the crew chief, pointing over the top of the second base bag. “Duke said something about the grass being damp out there, maybe the drain is clogged up.”

The Duke of Flatbush was one of the team’s outfielders, usually assigned to roam center field. The year before he was the National League’s MVP runner-up. Nobody wanted to see him go head over heels on a slick spot.

Tony walked off the infield, into the outfield, to the middle of center field, and found the drain. He got down on his hands and knees. The ground was more waterlogged than it should have been. Drain pipes crossed the field and water flowed down a very slight fall to a larger drain pipe that ran into the storm water system. The pipe was about four inches below the sand, clay, and gravel that was below the grass.

Tony cut a block of sod from around the drain and dug down to the drain grate. It was stopped up with debris. He retrieved a screwdriver from the tool room and removed the cover. He put it on the ground beside him and started cleaning it. He had the feeling someone was watching him. He looked around the field. Almost everyone was working at something. Nobody was watching him.

But, he could smell a rat when he saw one.

He bent forward and looked into the drain. A dark-eyed brown rat leaned up and looked back at him. He might have been a foot-and-half. His teeth were long, but gnawed down. Rats chewed on anything, cement, brick, and lead pipes. One of the guys fed scrambled eggs to the rats that visited their locker room. Tony wondered what he was doing up in the middle of the day. He didn’t wonder that the rat was in the sewer. They could tread water for days.

The rats bred and lived and died and bred in Ebbets Field. They never left. They’d been there since the stadium was built in 1913 because there were always leftover hot dogs, roasted peanuts, soft pretzels, and Cracker Jack beneath seats and around overflowing trash bins,

“Boo,” said Tony the Phil.

The brown rat blinked and slipped back into the storm drain.


Chapter 2


When Stan Rittman walked out of the basement of the Flatiron Building it wasn’t dark, yet. It was the first day of the second week of fall, but it felt like the middle of summer, except for the autumn-like light. He wore a short sleeve shirt and linen trousers. The thin wallet in his back pocket was flush with more fives and tens than it was with one-spots.

He gave his wallet a friendly pat. I can buy the kid some new clothes, get up front on the office rent, and score tickets for the Series. The Socialist Labor Party used to have offices in the Flatiron Building, but not in the basement behind the boiler room. He wondered if they would have banned gambling, arguing it was exploitive. You took your chances at poker, but it was only gambling if you had no skill at it.

He walked down 22nd Street to Lexington Avenue, turned right, walked through Gramercy Park to Irving Place, and looked for a phone booth

The Yankees were in and the Indians were out, that was for sure. The Redlegs were running on an outside track, but the Braves were neck and neck with the Dodgers. Sal the Barber had no-hit the Phils earlier in the week at Ebbets Field and this afternoon the Cardinals had edged the Braves out in the boondocks, getting the Dodgers to within a half-game. It was all going to come down to tomorrow as to whether there was going to be a subway series, the same as last year, or not.

Last year it went seven, the damned thing being the Yankees won three at Ebbets Field and the Dodgers won their four at Yankee Stadium. Neither team won on their home field. Nobody won that bet. Nobody took the backside odds on the seventh game, win or go home, especially since Jackie Robinson wasn’t penciled in to play the deciding nine.

Who would have thought the Cuban would be the difference-maker when he took over right field in the sixth inning? Stan was in the upper deck with his sometime partner, Ezra. The Yankee dugout was on the first base side, so most of the Bum fans were on the third base side. A client who was a Yankee fan, after Stan had gotten him the photographs he needed to get his divorce done, had given the tickets to Stan. They sat in a sea of Bronx Bomber fans.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” said Ezra.

When Yogi Berra hit an opposite field sure double, Ezra sprang out of his seat, like everyone else, but the lightening fast Sandy Amoros caught it coming out of nowhere. He fired a pill to Pee Wee Reese, who relayed it to Gil Hodges, who doubled up the retreating Gil McDougald off first, ending the last threat Stengel’s Squad made that afternoon.

Casey Stengel managed the Yankees. He had been a streaky ballplayer in his day. “I was erratic,” he said. “Some days I was amazing, some days I wasn’t.” When he wasn’t, he played it for laughs, catching fly balls behind his back. One afternoon he doffed his cap to the crowd and a sparrow flew out of it. Another day, playing the outfield, he hid in a drainage hole and popped up out of it just in time to snag a fly ball.

When he stood leaning over the top rail of the dugout he looked like a cross of a scowling Jimmy Durante and Santa Claus in pinstripes. He managed the Braves and Dodgers for nine years and chalked up nine straight losing seasons. But after the Bombers hired him in 1948, the only year he hadn’t taken them to the World Series was 1954.

Stan and Ezra were the only men in the their section who hadn’t fallen back into their seats, stunned, after Amoros snagged Berra’s liner. Stan had to pull Ezra down so there wouldn’t be any hard feelings. As it was, Ezra was so excited in the end there were hard feelings, and Stan dragged him away to a beer stand.

“This beer is bitter,” scowled Ezra, looking down at the bottle of Ballantine in his hand. Ballantine Beer was on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard, its three-ring sign shining bright, Purity, Body, and Flavor. Whenever a Bronx Bomber hit a homer, Mel Allen, the broadcaster, hollered, “There’s a drive, hit deep, that ball is go-ing, go-ing, gonnne! How about that?! It’s a Ballantine Blast!”

The Brooklyn Dodgers, Ezra’s home borough baseball team, played at Ebbets Field. The scoreboard boasted a big Schaefer Beer sign, with the ‘h’ and the ‘e’ lighting up whenever there was a hit or an error. “That’s some super beer, that Schaeffer’s,” said Ezra, polishing off his bottle of Ballantine Beer.

Below the Schaefer Beer sign was an Abe Stark advertisement. “Hit Sign, Win Suit”.

Stan Rittman didn’t have a home borough, although he had an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, up from Times Square and down from the Central Park Zoo. He wasn’t from New York or New York City. He was from Chicago, although he wasn’t from there, either. He had been born in Chicago, but when his mother died two years later, in 1922, his father moved the family, himself a new wife two brothers two sisters two dogs and all their belongings to a small house behind St. Stanislaus Church in Cleveland, Ohio, in the Warszawa neighborhood south of the steel mills, where his father worked the rest of his life.

As long as I put some of this away, Stan thought to himself, walking down Irving Place, thinking of the jackpot in his pocket, I can blow some of it tonight.

Dottie was at Marie’s for the weekend, it wasn’t too early or too late, and if Vicki hasn’t taken any work home, and is at home, and picks up the phone, maybe she could meet him for dinner.

He found the phone booth he’d been looking for and called her. It rang almost two times before Vicki answered. That’s a good sign, he thought.


“Hey, Vick, it’s Stan.”

“Stan, my man,” she laughed.

“How’s Stuy Town tonight?” he asked.

“Hot, quiet, lonely,” she said.

“How about meeting me at Luchow’s for dinner?” he asked. “I’m buying.”

“Stan, I love you for the dear, dear Pollack you are, but the food at Luchow’s is not so good, even if you can ever get though that insanely long menu of theirs.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “Only a dog-earred obsessive P. I. like me would look into everything the kitchen’s got to offer.”

“All right, but the other thing is, since they seat more than a thousand people, how am I ever going to find you? The last thing, with that strolling oompah band of theirs, if we do find each other and maybe get a table in that goulash and Wiener schnitzel palace, we’ll only be able to make ourselves heard some time and not the rest of the time.”

“We can take our coffee and their pancakes with lingonberry over to the square after dinner and chew the fat there,” he said.

“Chew the fat? What is it I like about you, sometimes I just don’t know,” she said.

“I’ll take that for a yes.”

“Yes, give me a few minutes to change into something fun,” she said lightly. “I hope there’s no goose fest or beer festival going on.”

“Meet me at the far end of Frank’s bar, he’ll find a quiet spot in the back for us. Frank says the new herring salad is out of this world.”

“Don’t push your luck, Stan, don’t push your luck,” she said.

Luchow’s was a three-story six-bay reddish building with stone window surrounds, pilasters, and a balustrated parapet on top, while below a red awning led to the front door. The restaurant was near Union Square. It looked like the 19th century, or some earlier century, heavy Teutonic, North German. A huge painting of potato gatherers covered most of a wall in one of the seven dining rooms. Another of the rooms was lined with animal heads, their descendants being eaten at the tables below them, while another was a kind of temple of colorful beer steins. There was a beer garden in the back.

“Welcome back to the Citadel of Pilsner,” said Frank. He gestured Stan to the side. “Did anybody tell you Hugo died?”

“No, I hadn’t heard, although I heard he wasn’t feeling well,” said Stan. Hugo Schemke had been a waiter at Luchow’s for 50 years. He firmly no ifs ands or buts believed in reincarnation.

“Did he say he was coming back?”

“He did say that, but I haven’t seen him, yet,” said Frank.

“How’s Ernst doing?” asked Stan. Ernst Seute was the floor manager, a short stout man both friendly and cold-hearted. He had been at Luchow’s since World War One.

“He took a couple days off,” said Frank. “Remember that parade back in April over in Queens, they’ve got some kind of committee now, he’s over there with them trying to make it an annual thing here in Little Germany, calling it the Steuben Parade.”

“You going to be carrying the cornflower flag?’

“Not me, Stan, not me.” Frank was from Czechoslovakia.

Frank led Vicki and Stan to a small round table at the far end of the bar. He brought them glass mugs of Wurzburger Beer and a plate of sardines. Vicki ordered noodle soup and salad. “Hold the herring,” she commanded. Stan asked for a broiled steak sirloin with roasted potatoes and horseradish sauce on the side.

“I saw Barney the other day,” she said, cocking her head. “He told me you’ve made progress.”

“I didn’t think there was anything to it the first day I saw him, that day you brought him over to the office,” said Stan. “I didn’t think there was much to it all that first week the top of the month. But, then there was all that action, and Bettina finally got it worked out, that it was the shrink. So, I know who did what to get Pollack to drive himself into that tree out in Springs. I know how they did it. What I don’t know is why they did it.”

“Do you know who they are?’

“No, I don’t, even though a couple of them are on ice, but the shrink is going to tell me, no matter that he doesn’t know about the talk we’re going to have, yet.”

“You don’t think Jackson Pollack had anything to do with it?”

“He was the wrong man, that’s all, if you look at it from his point of view. Bettina and I think he was a test run. We think they’re up to something bigger. It’s hard to figure. We can’t see the pay-off in it. You know her, though. She’ll piece it together.”

After dinner they looked at the dessert menu, but it was only a peek.

“How about coffee at my place?” asked Stan. “We can stop and get pastry at that Puerto Rican shop on the corner, sit up on the roof.” It was a clear sky night.

“I can’t pass up that pass,” said Vicki.

They hailed a Checker Cab.

“Take us up 5th to 59th, the corner of the park,” said Stan.

The cabbie dropped them off at the Grand Army Plaza and they walked into the park, following the path below the pond towards the Central Park Driveway and Columbus Circle. He liked her careless walk. They didn’t notice the two greasers, as they strolled on a quiet wooded path south of Center Drive, until the two of them were in front of them, blocking their way.

One was taller and older, the other younger and thinner, their oiled hair combed back. Both of the dagos were wearing high tops, jeans, and white t-shirts, one of them dirtier than the other. The younger boy, he might have been fifteen, had small capital SS’s topped with a halo drawn in red ink on his left sleeve. The older cleaner dago had LAMF tattooed on his neck above the collar line and below his right ear.

Stan knew what it meant. It meant ‘Like a Mother Fucker’. He kept his attention on LAMF.

“Hey, mister, got a double we can have for the subway, so we can make it back home,” he asked, smiling, his teeth big and white as Chiclets.

They were part of the Seven Saints, thieves whose favorite dodge was holding back the door of a subway car just before it was ready to leave the station, one of them grabbing and running off with a passenger’s pocketbook, while the other released the door so the woman would be shut tight in the train.

“Where’s home?” asked Stan, stepping forward a half step, nudging Vicki behind him with his left hand on her left hip.

“You writing a book?”

Stan asked again, looking straight at the older boy.

“Harlem, where you think?”

“Why do you need twenty dollars? The fare’s only fifteen cents.”

“The extra is for in case we get lost.”

“It’d be best if you got lost starting now. “

“I mean to get what I want,” he said, reaching into his back pocket.

Stan took a fast deliberate step forward, his right foot coming down on the forefoot of the boy’s sneaker, grabbing his left wrist as it came out of the back pocket a flash of steel, and broke his nose with a short hard jab with his right elbow. Stepping away he let him fall backward and turned toward the younger boy, flipping the switchblade its business side face front.

“Go,” he said. “Go right now.”

The boy hesitated, looked down at the other Seven Saint on the ground, splattered with blood, and ran away like a squid on roller skates.

Stan let the switchblade fall to the ground and broke the blade off the knife, stepping on it with his heel and pulling up until it cracked at the hinge, and threw it at the older boy getting up. It hit him in the chest and bounced away.

“The next time I see you,” he spluttered, on his feet, choking, his mouth half-full of blood.

“The next time I see you, you fill your hand with a knife, I’ll break your face again and both your hands on top of it,” said Stan. He took a step up to the boy and spoke softly to him so Vicki wouldn’t hear what he was saying. “Actually, it won’t matter what you do, nosebleed, who you’re with, where you are. The minute I see you is when I’ll stack you up. Make sure you never see me again, make sure I never see you.”

He took Vicki by the arm, eased the teenager to the side, and they walked away.

“You didn’t have to do that,” said Vicki. “You won plenty of hands tonight. You could afford to give up a few chips. You might have tossed them a dollar-or-two.”

“I know,” said Stan.

“But, here’s the thing Vicki, I care about you and me here in the park. I don’t care about them. They were working themselves up to be dangerous and that had to stop. The sooner the better.”

Stan paused, then said, without thinking, “I care about you, Dottie, Ezra and Betty, what we do, not who we do it for or whatever they think it’s all about. I care about getting it done and getting paid. I like playing cards and I like the Dodgers. When you throw in a dinner, a dance, a drink, I’m all done. I don’t need anymore. I don’t want anymore.”

They passed the USS Maine Monument.

“I don’t want greasers in my face.”

They walked out of the park under a quarter moon, crossing Columbus Circle and strolling down 9th Avenue. At 56th St. they turned towards the river, stopping in front of a four-floor walk-up with a twin set of fire escapes bolted to the front of the flat face of the brick building.

“Anyway, maybe it will do them some good,” said Stan, fitting his key into the door lock. “Not everyone is as nice as I am. Someday somebody will go ballistic on them.”

“Ballistic?” she asked.

“Like a rocket, a missile that goes haywire.”

“Oh,” she said, as they took the stairs up to the fourth floor. “We forgot our pastry.”

“Another time,” he said.

At the door of the apartment Stan fitted his key into the lock, opened the door, reached for the light switch, and let Vicki go around him as he did. In the shadow of the back of the front room there was a low menacing growl and a sudden movement. It was Mr. Moto. He crossed the room fast. He lunged at Vicki’s lead leg as she stepped across the threshold.

“Hey, watch out for my stockings,” cried Vicki. She was wearing Dancing Daters. “I’ll smack you right on your pink nose if you make them run.”

Mr. Moto came to a sudden stop a whisker from her leg.

“That’s better,” said Vicki, bending down to stroke his head.

Mr. Moto arched his back and purred.


Chapter 1


“What in the hell am I doing?” Jackson Pollack asked himself, surveying the rise of the road, driving up too fast toward the top of it for what was on the other side. He couldn’t dope it out. He was driving like a crazy man, like what all the shrinks he had ever gone to always told him he wasn’t.

Not crazy, not exactly.

One of them had said, “You’re just in search of a nervous breakdown.” He didn’t tell that one about 1938. It didn’t matter. He knew he was raw. That’s why the work worked. He wasn’t a nutcase because he saw psychiatrists. But, in the last five minutes he had twice caught himself steering the car at the soft shoulder.

He was the second best driver in Springs, next to Harry Cullum, who had told him he was second best on a late afternoon one day in mid-winter when the two of them were having beers at Jungle Pete’s. “You’ll have the last laugh, just wait and see, Jack,” he said, clapping him on the back.

“Maybe not on the road, but you’ll get ‘er done.”

Jackson Pollock’s convertible didn’t have seat belts, although Harry, the best driver in town, had outfitted his own family car with lap belts. He told everyone it was for his wife’s sake. “In stock car racing we never used seat belts if there wasn’t a roll bar, suicide if you do,” said Harry.

The girl in the middle of the front seat, between Ruth and him, was screaming. “Stop the car, let me out, let me out!” He wasn’t going to stop the car, he knew that, but he had a bad feeling. It was a clear, starry night, splashed dark, hot and muggy. The road felt spongy.

The car was a 1950 Olds 88, a big open air carriage. He got it when his action paintings had started to get some action, after Life Magazine put him on the cover almost exactly seven years ago. They said he was the shining new phenomenon of American art. When 1950 got good and done, the next month Art News published a list of the best exhibitions of the year. The top three shows belonged to him. It wasn’t bad for somebody who never graduated from high school.

He bought his own shiny new car after that.

Action painting, he thought, and snorted, spraying spit on the steering wheel. What critics didn’t know wasn’t worth a pot to piss in.  “If people would just look at my paintings, I don’t think they would have any trouble enjoying them. It’s like looking at a bed of flowers, you don’t tear your hair out over what it means.” He had meant it when he said it. He’d say it again, too.

Who needs a critic to find out what is, or isn’t art. Most of them, if they saw him walking on water, crossing the Hudson River at Canal Street, would scribble something about him not being able to swim. The only time he met Man Ray, at the Cedar Tavern when the man was finally on his way back to Paris, he told Jackson, “All critics should be assassinated.”

Lee called his work all over painting because he got it all over the flat canvas nailed down on the floor, the hard floor, his boots and jeans and hands. Bugs and bits of litter and blackened shag from his cigarettes fell into the paint.

“Is Jackson Pollock the greatest living painter in the United States?” is what Life Magazine blew the balloon up with, headlining the story, and a picture of him, slouching against a wall with a smoke dangling from his mouth, and a couple of pictures of his paintings. He looked good, like he didn’t have a care in the world, didn’t give a damn, like he had the world by the balls. Now was different. He hadn’t made a painting in more than a year. He felt washed up.

He wasn’t sure he had anything to say anymore.

“She started to scream,” said Clement Greenberg. “He took it out on this pathetic girl by going even faster. Then he lost control on the curve. The screaming is what did the killing, finally.”

What was her name? he chewed over in his mind, sliding a glance sideways at her. He couldn’t remember. They were on the Fireplace Road in East Hampton, not far from home. It couldn’t be more than a mile. Not much of a home anymore, anyway. Lee was in Paris with her friends. She had said she was coming back, but he wasn’t sure. He wanted her back, but it had all gone to hell.

Hell-bent in his Olds with two broads in the car and his wife in Europe wasn’t going to get it done, wasn’t going to get it back. He had to get back on track. Maybe the last shrink he’d seen was right, maybe there was something gumming up the works. He was going to try a new approach, he’d said, called hypnotherapy.

He was a new downtown brain doctor. “It’s not hypnosis, at least not how most people think of it,” said Dr. Sam Baird. “We’re not going to try to alter or correct your behavior. We’ll try to seed some ideas, sure, but we’ll talk those out before we go ahead.”

He told Lee he was going to get clear with Dr. Baird. “He isn’t full of old-time shit,” he said.

If any of his neighbors saw him staggering his car down the road they would laugh and say it was like his paintings. Most of them still thought he was nuts, even though they didn’t say so anymore to his face, now that he was in museums and galleries. When he was a nobody they looked down on him like he was a nobody.

“I could see right away he wasn’t from here,” said Frank Dayton. “I asked a fellow later who he was. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘that’s just a crazy artist.'”

“To some goody-goody people he was a bum, just someone to laugh at,” said Sid Miller. “They didn’t think much of his work, didn’t think he was doing anything.”

“Folks said he painted with a broom,” said Ed Cook. “Near everybody made jokes about his paintings, never thought they’d amount to anything.”

“To hell with them,” he said to Ruth sitting close next to him. She was a looker, that’s for sure, the juice he needed to get him going again. He had gone dead inside. He knew he had. She was the kind of girl who could crank him up. What’s-her-name in the back seat kept screaming.

“What?” asked Ruth, loud, twisting towards him.

“To hell with them,” he muttered to himself. “What do they know?”

“Slow down a little bit, the car’s a little out of control, take it easy,” she said.

The joke was on them. When he was painting, standing over a canvas, it was when he was most in control. It was when he didn’t have any doubts about himself or what he was doing. He knew exactly what he was doing. He had told anybody interested in listening, I can control the flow of paint. There is no accident.

“He picked up can and paint brush and started to move around the canvas,” said Hans Namuth. “It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished, His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white and rust-colored paint onto the canvas. He completely forgot that Lee and I were there. Finally, he said, ‘This is it.'”

I work from the inside out. That’s when I’m in the painting, in the middle of life, but outside of it at the same time, when I can see the whole picture. Someone said my pictures don’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was. It was a fine compliment. Only he didn’t know it.

He was good driving his Olds, too, even when he was as drunk as could be, which was what he was now. “He came in for his eye-opener, a double, about 10:30 before train time,” said Al Cavagnaro. “Start your day the way he did sometimes, you’d be in the same fix he was. If you said he was half bagged up, you’d be about right.”

Doc Klein had said it was OK for him to drink and drive. He said trees never hit cars except in self-defense. “Stay on the road,” said Doc Klein, a big man laughing a big laugh.

“Goddamn right, I always stay on the road,” said Jackson Pollack. “Except when I’m pulling into Al’s or Pete’s, then I get off the road. Besides, there’s no trees in those parking lots.”

“It was continual, almost nightly drunken large parties,” said Patsy Southgate. “Everyone was totally drunk all the time and driving around in cars.”

He wasn’t driving right, though. He was driving wrong. The screaming girl grabbing his right arm was right. He liked to drive. But, tonight, instead of fluid with the steering wheel, like he was with free-flowing paint out of a can, he was clumsy, crazy clumsy, as though he was at cross-purposes. Herky jerky. The quiet precise gestures he used to stream paint from a stick when he was working were usually the same when he drove his car. Tonight they were too big around, whiplash gestures, like they had a life of their own.

“He had to be moving fast, 85 to 90, anyway,” said Harry Cullum. “There was one hell of a crown where the town tar road begins at the beginning of the left curve. Jeez, I almost lost my car a couple of times there when I was a kid, but finally you smarten up and ride that crown, the one they fixed after Pollock got killed.”

“My version of Jackson’s death is he died of drink and the Town of East Hampton Highway Department,” said Wayne Barker.

It was three years ago, the first week of November, when he had come down the crown of the road like a stick of dynamite. He came back from the city on Friday, on the train. It snowed all morning and it was still snowing at the end of the day when he found his car in the lot, brushing a foot of snow off his windows with his hands, rubbing the cold out of them in front of the car’s dashboard heating vent. When he finally got on the road to Springs he was one of a handful of cars. The storm was blowing off the ocean. The car trembled whenever the road flattened out and he was sideways to the coastal wind.

“I crawled up there, could barely see, and stopped when I saw the pile of snow,” he told Lee that night at home, the windows in their sash frames rattling in the 75 MPH gusts. “There was a snowdrift, five feet, six feet high, down the other side blocking the way. I backed up a little, to where my rear tires could get a grip on a stretch of clear road, and hit the gas as hard as I could. I went as fast as I could, hit the snow head on, everything went white, everything disappeared, no color, just white. By the time I came out the other side the Olds was barely moving.”

They laughed about it all night, over dinner, and later in bed again, curling close together under a mound of blankets.

The girl beside him was still screaming. How long could she keep it up? She was driving him nuts. He was driving wrong, all wrong. There was a reason. He knew it, but he also thought, how could there be a reason? What was it? Where was it? He knew it was right there, right at the edge of the front of his brain. It was like the images behind the abstractions in his paintings, right there. But when he tried hard to think of why he was driving wrong his brain hurt like a next morning’s hangover before getting his hands on some hair of the dog.

He had a hangover all the time now, more than five years worth, but it wasn’t from gin, it was from having rocketed to fame, putting everything he had into it, until he didn’t have anymore, and he quit pouring liquid paint cold turkey. It was all over. After that he couldn’t make a painting that anybody wanted.  When he did his black paintings on unprimed canvas, he couldn’t give them away. Even his fame couldn’t prime the pump. Nobody thought it was any good.

“An artist is a person who has invented an artist,” Rosie burst out one night near the tail end of a long night of poker and drinking.

Rosenberg always thought he was right, Jackson thought. He got it wrong on the train, though, the day we were riding into the city together. When I told him the canvas was an arena, I meant it like it was a living thing, not a dead thing, not slugging it out in the ring. He thought I somehow meant it literally, even though both of us were dead sober at the time, and the next thing I knew I was an action painter.

At least he got it right at the card game.

Not like Hans.

When Lee brought her teacher, Hans Hoffman, over to meet him, he saw the sour look on the great man’s face right away. Hans was a neat freak, everything in it’s place, clean and orderly. His own studio was a mess. There wasn’t a sign of a still life or a life model anywhere.

“You do not work from nature,” said Hans. “You work by heart, not from nature This is no good, you will repeat yourself.”

“I am nature,” said Jackson Pollack.

There wasn’t a drop of daylight left in the sky or anywhere on the other side of his windshield. It surprised the hell out of him when he got to the curve at the dip, where the concrete stopped and town’s blacktop started, and he suddenly veered off the road, aiming for the trees. The car skidded in the sand. He let it slide, its big front end dead set on the big oak tree to their left.

Skidding in the dirt off the road didn’t surprise him. Besides, he was going too fast. He was going fast, that’s all. The girl next to him stopped screaming. She slowed down. She was squeezing a small pillow in her hands with all her might. His hands felt dry and relaxed on the steering wheel. He didn’t squeeze the steering wheel even when he smashed into the tree head-on.

The car broke every bone in its chassis when it hit the tree. Jackson Pollack was catapulted over the windshield and into the woods. The mangled car flipped over, tossing Ruth to the side. When the Olds landed upside down, crushing the framework of the windshield, the girl with the pillow in her hands suddenly stopped gripping it. The car horn blared, stuck. Gasoline poured out of the punctured gas tank. The taillights blinked on and off and on and off.

“I’m going to be one of my paintings in a second,” thought Jackson Pollack in mid-air, halfway to the future, rocketing his way to forever. “I’m going to splatter all over. I’m going to be in nature, be nature, finally, once and for all.” When he landed with a hard thud, however, he landed on soft ground, except for a just barely jutting out of the ground lump of granite rock. It was mottled with luminous moss. His neck hit the rock like a falling star.

He lay there like a broken tree branch, shoeless, his arms and legs haphazard..


A Stan Rittman Mystery