After bacon and eggs and toast and coffee, Ike and Mamie Eisenhower walked out of the big two-story house on the long quiet street and shook hands with Joel Carlson and his wife. “Thanks for having us,” said Dwight Eisenhower. They had spent the night in the guest bedroom. At the end of the driveway a man waited with three ballerina dolls in his arms.
Ike lit a cigarette.
“John Krajicek, from Ames,” a Secret Service man in a dark suit said.
The man holding the three dolls gave them to Mamie Eisenhower.
“Thank you so much,” she said, squeezing his arm.
John Krajiceks’s face lit up.
“It is my pleasure,” he said.
The President and Mrs. Eisenhower were in Boone, Iowa, on Friday, September 21st. Today was the last day of summer. Tomorrow was the first day of fall. It was a clear crisp morning.
Once in their car they were driven to 718 Carroll Street, to the house Mamie had been born in sixty years earlier. Mrs. Beatrice Smiley, Mrs. Myrtle Douglas, and Mrs. Awilda Stranberg, all dressed up, all in a bundle, all waiting breathlessly, greeted them on the front porch. They presented Mamie with a photograph of the stone and memorial plaque that had recently been placed on the lawn of her birthplace.
Mamie was slightly unnerved by the cemetery look of it.
Looking down at the plaque, after reading the inscription, Ike noticed a shiny penny in the freshly mowed grass.
“See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck,” he thought.
He picked it up.
Adlai Stevenson was coming to nearby Newton tomorrow to give a speech about farm problems. “We’ve got the ‘Truth Squad’ ready,” Joel Carlson had said over breakfast. Ike rolled the penny between his fingers in his pocket.
Vicki, Bettina, and Dottie plunked down their fifteen cents apiece at the NYCTA booth and walked down the stairs. Dottie stopped to look at a yellow sign trimmed in red on the wall at the entrance to the tunnel.
“Please cooperate. When in doubt, ask any employee. Help keep the subways clean. Use receptacles for paper. Do not rush – Let ‘em off first. Move away from doors. Keep to the right on stairways. Try to shop between 10 and 4. Always be courteous.”
“Run!” she suddenly shouted, running up the platform. “It’s one of those air-conditioned cars!”
Two months earlier the transit system had rolled out the first experimental air-conditioned cars on the East Side IRT line. They were fitted with deodorizers and filters and piped-in soft music. The temperature was maintained in the mid-70s. Signs on every third window said “Air Conditioned Car – Please Keep Windows Closed.”
They were taking the IND line across the river to Brooklyn, across Gravesend, to the end of the line. When they got off the train they walked, crossed Surf Avenue, and hoofed it to Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk.
Dottie felt light as lemonade.
They stopped at the Sodamat at West 15thStreet as they strolled on the Boardwalk.
“Good Drinks Served Right – Skee Ball 5 cents.”
“Look, they have waffles,” said Dottie, pointing to a sign on the front of a counter behind which a man in a white jacket and soda jerk cap was making waffles.
“I thought you wanted a Nathan’s,” said Vicki.
“I do, but later,” said Dottie.
“Did you know hot dogs were invented right here on Coney Island, almost one hundred years ago?” asked Bettina.
“How could Nathan be that old?” asked Dottie.
“It wasn’t Nathan, it was Charley Feltman, who used to boil sausages on a small charcoal stove inside his wagon and then slip them into a roll. He called them red hots at first, but later changed it to hot dogs.”
“How about some ball hop before we eat?” asked Vicki, pointing into the arcade behind the food counter.
“My game is stickball,” said Dottie. “Skee ball is for sissies. They don’t even play stickball here. They play coop-ball. That’s for jellyfish, too.”
“Do you only play stickball?” asked Vicki.
“Oh, no, we play ringolevio and skelly, too, although some kids call it scummy top, even though I don’t know why. Skelly is fun, but all you’ve got are your chalk and the squares and your caps. Ringolevio is way more fun, we run all over, and there’s a jail, and jailbreaks, and everything. Chain chain, double chain, no break away!”
It was a few minutes before eleven when the Eisenhower’s arrived at the National Field Days and Plowing Matches near Colfax. In the past two days he had traveled hundreds of miles through central Iowa, made speeches, informal talks, shook hands, waved and flashed his smile to more than 300,00 people, half of them on Walnut Street in Des Moines, eight and nine deep, on both sides of the street.
Gangs of schoolchildren ran alongside his limousine and kids on bicycles rode behind his police motorcycle escorts
“There’s never been anything like this here before,” said Governor Leo Hoegh, whistling through his teeth in awe and admiration.
Four years earlier, when Harry Truman had campaigned in Iowa, he got sick and tired of hearing “We Like Ike!” from hecklers. “Why don’t you shut up and you might learn something,” he retorted at one stop, veering from his prepared speech. Instead, he became the target of eggs and tomatoes.
As they drove up the dirt road off Highway 6 to the entrance of the Field Days, Dwight Eisenhower glanced at the cardboard signs at the side of the road. He wasn’t the challenger anymore. He was the incumbent. He was the man in office with a record to defend.
“10-cent corn – the same as 1932.”
1932 was the year 24 years ago when Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in that year’s presidential race, more than three years into the Great Depression.
“Ike Promised 100 Per Cent Parity 1952. Didn’t Happen. What Promise – 1956?”
“Ike’s Peace Like Neville Chamberlain’s Peace.”
At the entrance a short round man held up a loosely lettered sign on the end of a broom.
“Adlai and Estes, The Bestest.”
“That was the best waffle I ever had,” said Dottie.
“You had two of them,” said Vicki.
“She’s a growing girl,” said Bettina.
“Those were the best two waffle I ever had,” said Dottie.
“Where to now?” asked Bettina.
“I want to jump off the Eiffel Tower!” exclaimed Dottie.
The Parachute Jump at Steeplechase Park had been built for the 1939 World’s Fair and afterwards moved to Coney Island. It stood 250 feet high, was open-frame, and everyone called it the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn. Twelve cantilevered steel arms sprouted from the top of the tower, eleven of them supporting a two-person canvas seat and a parachute. The riders were belted down, hoisted to the top, then released into a freefall, caught by the parachute, and floated to the ground. Shock absorbers were built into the seats, just in case.
“I’m not going up on that thing,” said Bettina.
“Do you remember the parachute wedding?” Vicki asked Bettina.
“No, I never have heard of it.”
“The couple got married up there. The minister was in the seat next to them and the whole wedding party was on the rest of the seats. When the ceremony was over the married couple parachuted down first, and everyone else followed them, except for the minister. The cables on his seat got tangled and he was up there for more than five hours before firemen could get him down. The tower is right on the ocean, and it got windy, and he was sick as a dog by the time they got him on the ground.”
“That cinches it,” said Bettina.
“You and me both, sister,” said Vicki.
“Mr. President,” said Herb Plambeck. “I’d like to introduce our twenty seven Champion Plowmen and our one and only Champion Plow Woman, Mrs. Pauline Blankenship.”
Ike shook hands with them, taking Pauline Blankenship’s lightly in his. He shook hands with Frank Mendell, chairman of the National Contour Plowing Match, and Dale Hall, chairman of the National Level Land Plowing Match. In the Lunch Tent he met Kay Butler, Queen of the Furrow, and ate sitting between Mamie and Governor Hoegh.
Mrs. Jet Adams supervised the dozen ladies serving lunch. Mamie waved her over.
“You’re doing a wonderful job,” she said.
After lunch Senator B. B. Hickenlooper introduced President Eisenhower to the crowd.
“Most of you know me, and I’m sure have voted for me often,” he said.
There was a wave of good-natured laughter.
“For those of you who don’t know me, and aren’t sure how to pronounce my name, my friends just call me Hick.”
There was another wave of laughter, larger and louder.
“When I was child, my mother sent me to the drug store to get a nickel’s worth of asafetida for her asthma. The druggist just gave it me without writing it out, because he didn’t want to have to write out my full name, Bourke Blakemore Hickenlooper. “
“Just take this home to your mother, Hick,” said the druggist.
Bourke B. Hickenlooper had been a senator since 1944. He wore black frame glasses beneath a pinkish bald pate and was one of the most conservative and isolationist members of a conservative and isolationist party. He hadn’t lost an election since as lieutenant governor of Iowa almost twenty years ago he had made headlines by saving a Cedar Rapids woman from drowning in the Cedar River.
She later told her friends she hadn’t needed saving, but that her savior had insisted.
President Eisenhower’s speech was broadcast live on local TV and radio. He stayed local, steering away from anything contentious. After the address he presented trophies and scrolls to the champion plowmen and champion plow woman.
Henry Steenhock, the owner of the land where the Field Days were held, didn’t think much of the speech.
“I like Ike, but I don’t think I’ll vote for him, even though I’ve been a Republican all my life,” he said. “Flexible price supports have got to go. We’re not looking for a handout, but we deserve price protection. Other businesses are subsidized. Ezra Benson? He’s got to go. Vice-President Nixon? I don’t like his attitude – period. Estes Kefauver, he’s like I am, straight-forward.”
Henry Steenbock always called corn a cash crop and a spade a spade.
“Why do they call it Coney Island?” asked Dottie.
“It’s because of the Dutch,” said Bettina. “When they were here, maybe 300 years ago, here were lots of rabbits in the dunes and on the shoreline, so they called it Konijnen Eiland, which means Rabbit Island, which became Coney Island after the English took over.”
“How did they take over?”
“Somebody always takes over,” said Bettina.
“Why does somebody always take over?”
“It’s the way of the world, child,” said Bettina.
“I want to go on the Wonder Wheel,” said Dottie
“I think we’re up for that,” said Vicki.
The Wonder Wheel at Luna Park was a Ferris wheel and a Chute-the Chutes and a slow-moving roller coaster all in one. It was once called Dip-the-Dip. Some of the cars were stationary, but more of them moved back and forth along tracks between a big outer wheel and a smaller inner wheel as the Wonder Wheel rotated.
They walked past an eight-foot high neon sign spelling out “Wonder Wheel.” There was a stylized wheel with multi-colored spokes. Along the top of the sign were arrows blinking and pointing to the ride.
Dottie sat between Vicki and Bettina in one of the sliding cars.
“You can see Manhattan,” said Vicki when it was their turn at the top of the 150-foot-tall wheel and it stopped for a few seconds.
“Look, you can see the Rockaway,” said Bettina.
“It takes you low and it takes you high,” said Vicki.
“When you reach the top it’s like you can touch the sky,” said Dottie. “You can see the whole world.”
“One minute you’re on top, the next minute you’re on the bottom,” said Bettina. “I say, stay in your seat, it’s going to get bumpy, enjoy the ride.”
“Top of the world, ma, top of the world,” said Vicki like a crazy person, bulging her eyeballs and throwing her arms up.
“Isn’t that crazy? One day he’s Yankee Doodle Dandy and the next day he’s a mama’s boy mad dog killer.”
The Wonder Wheel shuddered and started down again.
Dwight Eisenhower and his wife were at the Des Moines Municipal Airport by mid-afternoon for their flight back to Washington D. C. He greeted and answered questions from more than a hundred Iowa weekly newspaper editors, met with two- dozen Iowa Republican Party officials, and was escorted to the Columbine by sixteen Eagle Scouts formed as an Honor Guard.
Inside the plane an aide sat down opposite him.
“Mr. President we have a report that Anastasio Somoza, the president of Nicaragua, has been shot today.”
“Is it serious?”
“The report wasn’t entirely clear, but it said, yes, serious, shot in the chest, point-blank, it might be life-threatening.”
“Where have they taken him?”
“He’s been taken to the Panama Canal Zone hospital.”
“Good, best place for him. Tacho may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch, so tell them to do everything they can to save him.”
“Who shot him?”
“Are you serious? A poet?”
“A poet, yes, sir, a local writer and musician, played violin in a band. He was shot dead, riddled, on the spot.”
“I’ll be damned, a poet with a pistol, mightier than the pen.”
The Columbine touched down at 9:35, taxied to the MATS Terminal, and the Eisenhower’s were in bed by 10:45. The next day Ike stayed in the Mansion all day while it steadily rained, only seeing the Secretary of State for a few minutes. Ike and Mamie attended the Sunday morning service at the National Presbyterian Church, and like the day before spent the rest of the day in the Mansion. Sunday night some of ‘The Gang’ came to dinner at the White House, over drinks planning their next stag trip to the Eisenhower Cabin at the Augusta National Golf Club.
When he was there, which was as often as possible, Ike worked mornings in the three-story seven-bedroom cabin, played golf with his friends in the afternoon, and bridge after dinner. His friends weren’t his friends at the card table, except his partner, and then not always even him.
“How was the Iowa trip?” one of them asked.
“The same as all the others, except it didn’t rain, and the food was better,” said Ike. “I shook a lot of hands, made speeches to the faithful, and got out the vote.”
Dottie peeked over the front edge of the front car down at the track of the Cyclone as the train creaked up to the top of the lift hill, where it was going to curve over the rails and hurtle down. Vicki and Bettina were in the car behind her and Dottie was with her new friend, Ronald, a boy her age whose parents had stayed behind on the platform.
The Cyclone roller coaster was in Astroland at the corner of Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, almost 2700 feet long, with six fan turns and twelve drops. The lift hill was 85 feet high. Six years earlier a man who hadn’t spoken in fourteen years, riding the Cyclone for the first time, screamed while going down the first drop.
“I feel sick,” he muttered when the train returned to the station, and dropped to the ground in a dead faint after realizing he had spoken.
“I have a friend who counts the seconds until the ride is over,” said Ronnie.
“Why does he do that?”
“He can’t stand it.”
“What’s the point of riding it in the first place?”
“I duuno,” said Ronnie. “Every time I ask if he wants to go with me, he says, sure, as soon as I’ve lost my mind, but he always goes anyway.”
“The Cyclone is for when you want to be so scared and so thrilled all at the same time. Maybe he should stick to the merry-go-round.”
“Yeah,” said Ronnie. “You don’t want to ride the roller coaster when you’ve got diarrhea.”
“No way,” said Dottie, making sure their buzz bar was locked in place.
“Did you hear about that girl who got hit in the face by a pigeon and broke her nose going down this hill?” asked Ronnie.
“No!” said Dottie.
“It was alright,” he said. “She had some Kleenex and just stuffed it up her nose nostrils to keep the blood out of her eyes.”
“Yikes!” said Dottie, as the Cyclone shimmied shook roared down the other side of the lift hill. “I don’t have any Kleenex.”
They laughed up and down the trick hill, leaned into the banked turns that twisted and tipped the train, ducked beneath the headchoppers, and inside of two minutes pulled into the station where everyone clambered off.
“My legs feel like fried bacon,” said Ronnie.
“Yeah, that was the mostest fun,” said Dottie.
“Bye to you, too.”
“That was sketchy,” said Vicki.
“Shoot low, they’re sending Shetlands,” said Bettina. “Did you feel that tower sway when we got to the top?”
“Yes, you bet I did.”
“I’m hungry,” said Dottie.
“You’re always hungry,” said Bettina. “Doesn’t Stan feed you?
“So am I,” said Vicki.
“How about a red hot at Nathan’s?” suggested Bettina.
“Yippee ki yay!” exclaimed Dottie.
Bettina looked herself up and down in the full-length mirror. She was wearing a black and white swing dress with a full skirt, red cuffs trimmed just below the elbows of the three quarter sleeves, and a red collar at the top end of three big black buttons. Underneath it she wore a Playtex bra and girdle. Along with the dress she had on a black belt, black shoes, and black gloves.
She had a black short-strapped handbag slung from her wrist and a broad-brimmed red hat on her head. She lifted her chin, looking down at the middle of herself. It was her ping-pong games that kept her fit and the girdle that made her look trim.
“You look good,” she thought, “straight from the fridge.”
She turned one way and the other way, taking a peek at her backside. Halfway out of her apartment door she paused, flipped the clasp on her handbag, and made sure she had an Anchor Life Insurance Company business card.
“Swank,” she thought, looking around Dr. Robert Baird’s waiting room.
Everything was white, except for the floor and the two Barcelona chairs. The floor was gray and the chairs were brown. The round receptionist’s desk was white, as was the sofa and small round table in front of the sofa. The ceiling was white and the fluorescent lighting was bright white.
It was 8:35 in the morning on Friday.
“I’m here to see Dr. Baird,” said Bettina.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“I don’t, but this will only take ten minutes of the doctor’s time. It’s about the death of Jackson Pollack.”
She handed the receptionist her make-believe business card.
“His first appointment at nine hasn’t arrived yet. Let me see if he can see you.”
She was back in less than a minute.
“The doctor will see you,” she said.
“I love your outfit,” she said.
The receptionist was her own age.
“I got the dress at Macy’s, splurged on the bag at Henri Bendel’s down in the Village, and everything else, well, I just picked up here and there.”
Bettina walked into Dr. Baird’s office. It was even whiter than the waiting room. Dr. Robert Baird came around from behind his large desk, his arm extended, shook her hand, and offered her one of the two chairs at the front of the desk.
“How can I help you, Miss Cross, is it?” asked Dr. Baird, swiveling around in his chair to face her
“Cross, Mrs. Betty Cross,” said Bettina.
“A working woman.”
“Yes,” she said. “A working woman.”
She had been turned off by Dr. Baird at first sight. There was something oily about him, as though he were tossing her a few crumbs by just seeing her. She tried to keep it out of her voice and off her face. She crossed her legs and pulled a spiral bound flip pad out of her pocketbook.
The receptionist hadn’t gone to college for just a M. R. S. degree, meaning finding a husband and becoming a Mrs. She was in her mid-20s, neither married nor engaged. Everyone she knew had married right out of high school or while they were in college. Most of them got pregnant inside a year, and most of them were looking forward to their second and third child.
Her mother told her she was in danger of becoming an old maid.
“Better to die an old maid, mom, than marry the wrong man.”
She had her sights set on making money, a small fortune, at least, and stay a single woman, as sensible and respectable as anybody else.
She liked what she saw of the woman from the insurance company. That was what she wanted to be, someone on the go, not someone stuck behind a desk answering a phone and being polite to whoever walked in the door. She was going to make her own way.
“We carried a policy on the life of Jackson Pollack, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to just ask a few questions about him,” said Bettina.
“I don’t understand,” said Dr. Baird.
“We aren’t asking you to violate the doctor patient relationship, but we would like to know if, in your opinion, he had suicidal tendencies.”
“I’ve heard of Jackson Pollack, of course,” said Dr Baird. “I’ve read about him in the papers, it seems he was larger than life, but I never treated him.”
“Oh” said Bettina. “It was our understanding he was your patient.”
“You were misinformed,” said Dr. Baird.
“He wasn’t seeing you about his drinking?”
Jackson Pollack drank heavy most of his life, starting when he was 15-years-old, on the road, helping his father make topographic surveys of the Grand Canyon. He got psychiatric treatment on and off to cure his alcoholism. Joseph Henderson, a Jungian psychoanalyst in Manhattan, found color sequences and symbols in the illuminated manuscript “Splendor Solis” and worked them into explaining Pollack’s dream images to him.
He got help from Dr. Violet Staub de Laszlo.
She wrote the Selective Service System in 1941, after he got his draft notice.
“I have found him to be an inarticulate personality of good intelligence, but with a great deal of emotional insecurity, who finds it difficult to form or maintain any kind of relationship. It has become evident that there is a certain schizoid disposition underlying his instability. I venture to suggest that Pollack be referred for a psychiatric examination.”
He was declared unfit for military service. He got re-acquainted with Lee Krasner. They got married. He broke through to the other side.
After the war he slowed and finally stopped drinking, but after the summer of 1950 he took his first drink in two years and from then on stopped painting and drank heavily until his death. Whenever he was soused at the Cedar Tavern up-and-coming artists walking past him would try to touch him for good luck.
“That’s a mistake, get your goddamned hands off me!”
“I don’t have anything more to say,” he told his homeopathic physician Dr. Elizabeth Wright. “What’s the point?”
“I’m sorry about wasting your time,” said Bettina.
“That’s quite all right,” said Dr. Baird.
Bettina retrieved her hat from the coat rack stand. The wall on that side of the office was filled with a ball clock, diplomas, certificates, a letter from the mayor, artsy black-and-white photographs, and a small drawing in a steel frame.
It was a pencil drawing of a man-beast, naked, on his haunches, leaning forward, his nose like a snout, and a snake winding out of his mouth. The initials JP in small squiggly letters were hidden at the bottom, just in sight beneath the man’s calf.
“That’s an interesting drawing,” said Bettina, putting on her hat.
“Oh, that. It’s creepy, if you ask me. It was done by one of the city artists, the one who died a few months ago.”
“The one who crashed his car?”
“Yes, that one. I read all abut it in the papers. He was a drunk. He killed one of the girls in the car with him.”
“Did Dr. Baird know him?”
“Oh, yes, he treated him for months, from about March or April.”
“That picture might be worth a lot of money some day.”
“You think so?”
“I would keep my eye on it,” said Bettina.
After Bettina left, but before she had gotten to the elevator, the receptionist was giving the small drawing a long look, her finger to her chin. She turned back to her desk when she saw her phone blinking.
“Hold my first patient for a few minutes,” said Dr. Baird.
“Yes, sir,” she said.
He dialed the number he’d been given in case of an emergency.
“I had a visitor this morning, a woman who claimed to work for an insurance company that carried a policy on Jackson Pollack’s life,” he said.
“What did she want?”
“She wanted to know if Pollack had ever exhibited suicidal tendencies, if I had been treating him for that.”
“What did you say?”
“I said Jackson Pollack had never been my patient.”
“That was a mistake.”
It wasn’t a mistake from Dr. Baird’s point of view. He planned on being far from New York City by the end of the week, before whatever was supposed to happen happened, more than a half million dollars to the good, almost a million with the rest he had squirreled away, far away in a warm sunny Mediterranean world in a villa where no one would ever find him for the rest of his life. He wasn’t waiting to be paid the balance of what was owed him for the work he had done on Tony de Marco. He suspected the rest of his life depended on getting far away from New York City sooner than later.
“All right, sit tight, we’ll take care of it. What was the broad’s name and who did she say she worked for?”
“He said Jackson Pollack was never a patient of his,” said Bettina after getting back to the office
“We’ve got it from Barney Newman and the wife that he was,” said Stan. “Why would he lie about it when it’s easy enough to see through it?”
“He might be buying time, for some reason.”
“That’s a good thought,” said Stan. “Let’s see if Ezra’s up for some second-story work, do a little digging, get into his files.”
Ezra broke into Whistler Dental Specialists on the fourth floor twenty minutes after they locked up at four o’clock on the Tuesday the following week. He waited and five hours later broke into Dr. Baird’s office in the same building. An hour later he had Jackson Pollack’s file laid out on the receptionist’s desk in front of the Minox spy camera Otis had given him. When he was done photographing it, he returned the file, and removed the film from the camera.
He was wearing a black t-shirt, dark khaki’s, and a brown newsboy cap. He taped the film to the top of the cap’s brim and snapped the bonnet securely to the brim. He put a fresh roll of film into the camera. He tucked the camera away behind the fabric divider in his right front pocket. He waited until it was more than an hour after midnight. He took the fire escape to the first floor and walked out the back door.
He hadn’t taken two steps before he felt, before hearing or seeing them, the two men. A slapjack broke his nose. He hit the ground like he had been dropped. A big man yanked him to his feet and slammed him against the wall. He turned him around. A smaller man with sharp front teeth and a black felt pork pie hat stepped in front of him.
“Hey, don’t I know you,” he said, talking to Ezra’s broken nose.
“No,” said Ezra.
“Sure I do, you’re the zigzag man from down on the docks,” he said, and hit Ezra twice fast high on both sides of his face with the jack.
“Fuck you!” Ezra spit, screaming, and the man hit him in the mouth. Ezra tried to kick him, flailing his legs, but the small man danced away, and then darted in, jabbing him hard in the ribs with the butt end of the slapjack. Ezra felt something crack and slumped in the big man’s arms.
“You’re in a world of hurt, Jew man,” the small man sneered. “What were you doing in there? You tell me or we will take you to another world.”
Bumpy Williams was suddenly behind the small man.
“Let’s beat feet,” said Bumpy. “Radio car just pulled up, blocking that way, they’re coming fast. We got to go the other way.”
The big man let Ezra flop to the ground and the three men walked away quietly briskly.
One of the Radio Motor patrolmen rolled Ezra over.
“Mother of Jesus, you got a bad dose of it,” he said, looking at his face.
The other policeman came back.
“Gone,’ he said. “They must have had a car waiting.”
“Let’s get him to the hospital.”
They helped Ezra to their green, black, and white Ford Tudor RMP, a lit-up ‘Police’ sign on the white roof, one of the policemen sitting in the back seat with Ezra, his battered head in his lap, the other, siren wailing, making the short fast drive to the emergency room at Bellevue Hospital.
It was half past three in the morning by the time Stan and Bettina pulled up chairs next to Ezra’s bed on the seventh floor. A police guard sat outside the door.
“You look bad,” said Stan
“I feel better,” he said. “They doped me up.”
“Do you know who it was?”
“One of them was the rat face who’s usually hiding behind Big Paulie. The other one, I never saw, he had me from behind. I saw his hands, though. It looks like he was a fighter once. There was an eggplant who came running up when the cavalry got there, but I didn’t recognize him.”
“OK, we’ll get them. Did you find anything?”
“Yeah,” said Ezra, his voice muffled by the drugs and swollen busted lip. “The film is in my hat.’
“I need two, three days,” said Ezra.
“Take your time,” said Stan.
In the hallway Stan stopped, the policeman stood up, and Bettina kept her hand on the doorknob.
“Not to worry,” said the uniformed officer. “One of us will be right here until he’s discharged.’
“Thanks,” said Stan.
“Get Karol and Bartek first thing in the morning,” Stan said to Bettina when they were outside. “Tell them what I want, and tell them I want it by the end of the week, all three if they can do it, but rat face, for sure. I don’t care how they do it, just so long as it gets done.”
“It’ll get done,” said Bettina, a sour metallic taste in her mouth.
Stan hailed a taxi for her.
When she got in he waved the cabbie to go.
“I’m going to walk,” he said.
The cab turned away into the quiet Manhattan morning.
The only mistake Bumpy Williams made was having two beers for lunch on an empty stomach. He wasn’t hungry, but he was thirsty. The other mistake he made was breaking his number one no break rule, which was to never assume anything.
“It can make an ass of you,” George Benta at the funeral home had said the day when they mixed up two dead men in wrong coffins and had to dig them up and bury them again.
“Hey, mistakes are just another way of getting things done,“ Bumpy had said to George’s long face.
He assumed Stan Rittman, frog-marching the shrink out the door in the hubbub of the 5 o’clock Friday going home rush, down the sidewalk, and into the alley, was alone. He saw the car, the gal behind the wheel, the open back door, and got to within a step of the peeper, but he never saw Karol.
Stan saw Bumpy coming, but stayed in step with doing what he was doing, not skipping a beat.
Never interrupt anybody when he’s making a mistake was one of his cardinal rules. It had always stood him in good stead at the poker table. The only person he interrupted tripping over her own feet was Dottie.
“Hands where I can see them, nigger,” said Karol.
The third mistake Bumpy Williams made was whirling around, blackjack suddenly in his hand, and slamming his temple into the sideways swinging blunt butt end of Karol’s Colt .45 caliber pistol. The street tilted up to meet his pole-axed face, his knees weak as a baby’s, his brain blank as a bubble.
“Who’s he?” asked Karol.
“Never mind, in the trunk,” said Stan.
Bettina tossed the car keys out the window, Karol snatched them out of the air, and dragged Bumpy Williams by his armpits to the back of the Pontiac, strong-arming the woozy Negro into the trunk.
“You still have a chance, but I hear a sound out of you, it’ll be the last sound you make, and no hard feelings,” he said, his mouth close to Bumpy’s ear. They looked straight at each other. Bumpy tried to make his eyes say he understood. Karol gave him a pat on the arm.
“Good,” he said.
“Let’s go,” said Stan, getting into the back seat on one side of Dr. Robert Baird, Karol on the other side. “Put your chin into your chest, and keep it there,” said Stan. Karol tied a blue and yellow bandana over the psychiatrist’s eyes. Bettina put the car in gear and eased into traffic on Park Avenue. Less than a half hour later they pulled up at the rear of the Warsaw Baking Company in Little Poland.
Bartek was waiting at the back door, slouching against the brick wall.
“You two bring the colored man,” said Stan, leading Dr. Baird by the elbow into the building. “Handcuff him in the boiler room in the meantime. We’ll get to him after the doc.”
“What about the little man?” asked Bartek.
“He was gone,” said Stan. “We’ll find out what he is, where he is. You and Karol sit tight. This won’t take long.”
Bettina parked the car and followed Stan. She bolted the door behind her, took two steps down into the basement, but then went back up to double-check the door. It was bolted fast. It was a metal door.
The Warsaw Baking Company was a two-story brick building between Nassau and Driggs Avenues. One side of the front of the building was double doors and two loading docks. The other side was a single door leading up to a bakery shop. It closed at 5 o’clock. There were two glass block basement windows. There was only one door at the back.
Karol stayed with Bumpy, cuffed to a pipe and sprawled on the concrete floor. Bartek walked around to the front of the building and hopped on to the ledge of one of the loading docks. He leaned back, pushed his flat cap off his forehead, and lit a cigarette. The late afternoon early fall sunlight felt good on his face. A pretty girl walked by. He gave her a wolf whistle.
“Save that for the girls who don’t know the real you, Bartek,” she said, smiling wickedly as she walked past.
“You’re cooking, doll.”
Bartek lived three blocks away, and Karol lived a block from Bartek, in Little Poland, hard on the East River, where everything and everyone was Polish, drug stores, groceries, hair salons, newsstands, and funeral parlors. Hardware stores and dentists and shoeshine stands advertised their wares and services in their native tongue. The young men had both gotten out of Europe in 1948 when they were both still teenagers and orphans for the rest of their lives. They worked at the bakery and did odd jobs on the side.
One of their sidelines was doing odd jobs for Stan Rittman. It kept them in going out money, going out with girls, going out to ballgames, shows, and going out to eat.
They ate at Czerwony Wreprz, what everyone called the Red Pig, once a week, where they always ordered the signature dish, a giant meal for four served in a wooden boat, of sausages, pierogies, baked hocks, bacon, stuffed cabbage, grilled pork shoulder, and chicken.
“You eat this, you’ll be happy for a week,” said the cook.
The Red Pig looked more like an old country farmhouse than a bar and restaurant, with a long deep stocked bar and plenty of Polish beer on tap. A white bird on a red background was stopped in space over the front door. A sign below the big bird said “Zapraszamy!” It meant you were welcome to enter. The waitresses dressed in traditional folk dresses. Wooden beams lined the ceiling from front to back, lights hung on wagon wheels, and the booths chairs tables were all dark walnut polished to gleam.
Ezra was in the half-empty odds-and-ends basement room of the Warsaw Baking Company when Stan came in, Dr. Baird ahead of him, and Bettina behind them. He was standing in a back corner, his arms folded across his chest, quietly waiting, not angry anymore, but waiting. Stan sat the psychiatrist in a chair at the table in the middle of the room and lifted the bandana from his eyes. He blinked rapidly and squeezed his eyes narrow to keep the light out.
Everything was quiet for several seconds. Ezra stayed behind the doctor. Stan stood on the far side of the table. Bettina locked the door and leaned back on the wall to the side of it. Stan looked down at Dr. Baird.
“This is outrageous, who do you think you are?” Dr. Baird said in a thick voice, starting to stand up. “Where am I? What do you think you’re doing? I’ll have you all arrested, mark my words!”
Ezra stepped up behind the doctor and pushed him halfway back down into his chair.
“Shut up and stay that way until we ask you something,” said Stan. “Turn his pockets out, Ezra, let’s see what we’re going to see before we get started.”
When Ezra pivoted and rousted Dr. Baird to his feet, spreading the lapels of the man’s jacket to search the inside pockets, and they were face to face, the psychiatrist recoiled.
“My God, what happened to you?”
Ezra’s eyes were black and blue, he was wearing a splint over his broken nose, and his busted lower lip was swollen. He moved gingerly, careful to not hurt himself. He glared at the doctor.
“Yeah, your goons did this, and cracked one of my ribs, too. I’m in no mood to finesse you, so be a good boy,” said Ezra, his voice terse.
“My goons? I don’t have any goons. What are you talking about?”
“I already told you to shut up once,” said Stan, as Ezra tossed the doctor’s wallet on the table and shoved him back into the chair.
Stan sat down opposite Dr. Baird.
“I’m going to ask you some questions, doc,’” he said. “Some of the answers I already know. Some of them I don’t know. It will be easier all around if you don’t lie to me, especially if you don’t say you don’t know what this is all about.”
“But I don’t know.”
“We’re getting off on the wrong foot already,” said Stan, quickly getting up, leaning over the table, and grabbing the psychiatrist by the knot of his tie. He jerked him forwards.
“I told you once, I won’t tell you again. I won’t have it. If you lie to me it will only make it a longer night, and I don’t want that.”
He let go and Dr. Baird fell back into his chair, sputtering. He was starting to sweat. His shirt was damp. He wasn’t a coward, but he wasn’t a brave man, either. He was a smart man, but he belatedly realized he was in a locked room, in a basement, with a man bigger than he was in front of him, a short-tempered man, and a man behind him whose mind was seemingly made up for vengeance. He suddenly knew without seeing anything that both of them had guns on their persons. He suddenly knew this had everything to do with Tony de Marco.
He turned to Bettina.
“You can’t let them do this, you’ve got to help me.”
Bettina gave Dr. Baird a breezy look.
“You’re dirty, doc. You lied to Ezra about Jackson Pollack, and then you had him beaten up. We’re going to find out what you know, one way or the other.”
“I didn’t have him beaten up,” Dr Baird protested.
“You know what, doc, I believe you,” said Stan. “But, what you didn’t say says you know all about Jackson Pollack, that you lied to our associate about that. Let’s start there, what do you say?”
It wasn’t asking a question.
“Yes, I treated Jackson Pollack for depression, but I can’t discuss anything about it with you. It would be unethical.”
Stan Rittman was taken aback, but nonplussed. Bettina squawked.
“You’re going to need a better deadbolt than that,” she said, smiling sweetly.
Bartek zipped up his jacket, lolling against the brick wall of the Warsaw Baking Company. The sun was low in the sky. The warm late summer air had cooled.
“Hey, Mikey, Jake, Eryk, what’s shaking?”
“We’re going down to Elsa’s, have some brews, and play some skee ball.”
Elsa’s was the Black Rabbit Tavern and Elsa was Elsa Brouwerji, a friendly middle-aged widow whose husband had tied a cinder block around his neck and thrown himself off the Rockaway Boardwalk a year to the day after the 30 million gallon oil spill six years earlier into the Newtown Creek. He had been, working at the neighborhood’s Standard Oil refinery, accused by his supervisors of negligence and been fired.
It didn’t help matters that a year after his suicide it was determined that Casper Brouwerji hadn’t made the mistake that resulted in the largest oil spill in the country’s history. His widow received a settlement from Standard Oil and bought the Pour House Bar and Grill. She changed the name to the Black Rabbit and thumb tacked a photograph of her husband to the wall above the cash register.
She spat behind her whenever she walked past a Standard service station.
“No, I’m on the clock, errands for Stan. He said it wouldn’t be too long. I’ll catch up with you.”
Jake and Eryk had two days earlier helped roust the thugs who had beaten up Ezra.
Stan lifted his eyes past Dr. Baird’s shoulder.
Ezra reached into his back pocket and snapped a pair of handcuffs on the psychiatrist’s wrists, wrenching his arms behind him, over the backside of the chair.
Stan threw two hinged metal frames with an attached head strap on the table.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
“No,” said Dr Baird.
“This is a Whitehead gag,” said Stan. “It wraps around the front of your head and the parts that are bent fit between your front teeth. When we spread them apart, the frames separate your jaw, holding your mouth open. We can keep it wide open with that ratchet mechanism on each side of the frame.”
Dr. Baird didn’t say a word.
Stan tossed a pair of needle nose pliers on the table.
“Do you know what those are?”
“Yes,” said Dr. Baird.
“Do you know what I’m planning on doing?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Are you going to tell me what I want to know?”
“I was paid to brainwash Jackson Pollack into committing suicide.”
There was a slight stop in the room, but Stan knew enough to keep the line going on the base paths.
“How much were you paid?” he quickly asked.
“Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
Bettina puckered up a whistle of surprise.
“What did you do with the money?”
“It’s in a Swiss bank account.”
“Who paid you to do that?”
“They never told me who they were.”
“Why did they want Jackson Pollack dead?”
“They never said.”
“You didn’t ask?”
“You didn’t care?”
“I need water, a glass of water.”
“No,” said Stan. “Who’s the little man?”
“His name is Tony.”
“Is that his real name?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“What’s his last name?”
Dr. Baird hesitated.
“It’s a secret,” he said quietly.
“There are no secrets among friends, doc. “
“I didn’t keep any record of him at the office, not like Pollack, who was my patient before any of that happened later. I was told my life would be in grave danger if I ever revealed anything about Tony.”
Stan laughed again
“Your life is in danger right here and now,” he said. “You have one foot in the grave. I mean to have his name, or there will be hell to pay.”
“His name is Tony de Marco,” the psychiatrist finally said.
“Where does he live?”
“I don’t know.”
“What does he do for a living?”
“I don’t know.”
“What were you making him do? Was it the same as Pollack?”
“Yes, but different. When he hears the first bars of a song he’s to wait thirty seconds and then pull the ripcord on his dynamite vest.”
“A dynamite vest?”
“A vest packed with TNT.”
“I know what they are,” said Stan.
Some of the Hitler Youth, in the waning days of the war, had adopted the Japanese tactic of throwing themselves under tanks wearing a vest crammed with grenades.
“He’s supposed to blow himself up when he hears a song?”
“What song is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“What does it sound like?”
Dr. Baird hummed a kind of a march. with a drumbeat.
“Is that it? Are there any words?”
“No, no words, and that’s all I ever played for him, a sort of ruffle four times, over and over.”
“Where and when is this supposed to happen?”
“Where he works.”
“Where does he work?
“I don’t know where.”
“Soon, in a few days, I think, since I wasn’t supposed to see him again. That’s all I know.”
“How much were you being paid for this gag?”
“A half million dollars.”
“Jesus!” Ezra hissed.
“What were you planning on doing after it was all over?”
“I was planning on disappearing.”
“I’ll bet you were,” said Stan.
Stan, Bettina, and Ezra went out into the hallway.
“All right, we know what happened to Jackson Pollack, and how, and who did it, more or less. We can wrap it up with Barney Newman, collect our fee, and call it a day,” said Stan.
“Or we can we can keep snooping and find out who it really was who did our painter,” said Betty.
“Goddamn it,” said Stan.
“I’m with you,” said Ezra. “But I’ll be damned if I’ve got anything better to do before the series starts.”
“All right, let’s get Bart down here.”
When Bartek, Karol, Bettina, Stan, and Ezra were all in the hallway, Stan asked Bart and Karol if they were willing and able to keep tabs on Dr. Baird and Bumpy Williams.
“I want them kept here and I want them kept quiet until I say so. I don’t want anyone to know they’re here. I don’t want them going anywhere, either. I don’t want a peep out of them. Can you make that happen?”
Bartek and Karol had survived Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Josef Stalin’s Red Army, and Dwight Eisenhower’s Allied Expeditionary Force. They had survived refugee camps, black marketers, and a tramp steamer to the United States, They had survived being DP’s in Brooklyn.
“What’s in it for us?” asked Bartek.
“A c-note apiece,” said Stan.
“For how long?”
The World Series started on Wednesday.
“It’s done,” said Karol, the older of the two by several weeks.
“All right, said Stan. “Check with Betty every morning, and if you need anything, check with her again. Look in on the doc now, stay there for a few minutes, we’re going to see what we’ve got with Cotton.”
Stan, Bettina, and Ezra walked into the boiler room. The Negro looked up from where he was handcuffed to a pipe in the back of the room. His mouth curled.
“I know you,” said Ezra, looking down at Bumpy Williams.
The last bottles of liquid nitroglycerin were tucked into the cavity Tony the Phil had dug out to the side of the base of the drain under center field where it met the larger storm drain sloping away under right field to Bedford Avenue. The tiles he had pried away he had tidily carefully replaced. Even when he threw the beam of his flashlight directly on the wall, he could hardly see any tiles had ever been disturbed.
The Dodgers still had to sweep the Pirates to win the pennant, but it was more than doable. The Buccos were almost 20 games under .500, even with an outfield of Bill Virdon and Roberto Clemente. They had nothing to play for and they would be playing at Ebbets Field, on top of everything, a doubleheader on Saturday and the last game of the season on Sunday.
Brooklyn had everything to play for, including doubling up on the Yankees, doing what they did in 1955 again in a subway series rematch.
If he were a betting man, which he wasn’t, he would bet on the Bums.
He would have bet the nitro was going to be a problem, but when he picked it up at the deli, the first package yesterday and the second package today, it hadn’t been any problem, at all.
“Nah, it ain’t gonna blow you up,” the counterman said. “We keep it in the cooler so it stays stable. It’s packed in ice, so you’ve got a couple of hours. It’s as safe to handle as a baby. It won’t bite you.”
His yellow jacket, yellow TNT sewn into it, was in the back of his locker already. When he pulled the ripcord on it, standing where he was now standing, all hell would break loose on Wednesday. There wouldn’t be any World Series after that.
He was ready. There wasn’t anything left to do, except to wait. If the Bums ran the table, then the table was set for blowing the commander-in-chief to kingdom come.
A stab of pain on both sides of his head buckled Tony the Phil’s knees. His chin fell into his chest and his hands flew to his temples. His eyes watered. “What the fuck?” He went down to the ground, like a dog, his head hanging.
“Fuck me!” he spit whispered to himself.
His headaches had been getting worse all summer, not better, but this was the worst of them, like a grand slam was worse than a single if you were on the wrong side of it. Five minutes passed before he opened his eyes and cautiously brought his head up. He leaned on the wall to bring himself back to his feet. He went back down on all fours and crawled out of the storm drain.
The Brighton Beach Health Resort at 5thStreet and Brightwater Court was a wide beat-up plank platform in front of a corrugated fence. Behind the fence was a parking lot. Parking on weekdays was 25 cents for two hours and 35 cents for three hours. Weekdays the cost was a flat 15 cents an hour. It didn’t matter to Tony. He had taken a bus and walked the rest of the way, feeling better.
Behind the parking lot were rows of five-story brownstone walk-ups. In front of the Health Resort was the Brighton Beach Boardwalk and the Lower Bay spread out as far as the eye could see. The four-foot painted letters on the fence said “Health Resort” and smaller letters to the side said Sat. Sun 20 cents per hr Weekdays 15 cents per hr.
A small billboard to the side advertised soda pop. The sign said, “7 Up Likes You.”
Tony the Phil didn’t drink 7 Up because he didn’t like Fresh-up Freddie, the rooster mascot for the soft drink. Freddie dressed in flashy clothes, drove a red sportster, and was free and easy with advice about how to plan fun successful picnics and parties by having plenty of 7 Up on hand. Tony didn’t go on picnics, except by himself, and was rarely invited to parties. When he was invited, he never went.
He threw down three dimes for two hours and found a chaise lounge in the second row of chairs. There were four rows. Everyone got the same quiet beams of sunlight, no matter what row they were in. The backrest was adjustable to three positions. He set it back two stops, wiggling into the cushions.
The woman next to him was a middle-aged fireplug in a long-sleeved black jacket and a black knee-length skirt. She wore black shoes. The woman’s chin bobbed on the folds of her neck. Her hands were folded over her gut and she was breathing softly. Next to her was a young blonde woman in a two-piece bathing suit, her hair pulled up under a white kerchief. On the other side of him were two middle-aged men, one in a white shirt and the other in a blue shirt, their sleeves rolled up.
“I tell you, he ain’t gonna make it,” said the man in the white shirt. “I like Ike, but he should have stepped aside for a younger man.”
“He’s made it this far,” said the man in the blue shirt. “I’ve seen younger men drop dead for no reason at all. He’s got plenty of good reasons to stay on his feet.”
“You know, my temperature’s risin’, And the jukebox blows a fuse, My heart’s beatin’ rhythm, And my soul keeps on singin’ the blues, Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.”
Tony the Phil glanced at the blonde in the two-piece suit. She had a transistor radio banded to her wrist and her wrist near her ear. The radio was gray with a gold tuning dial.
“That one of those new pocket radios?”
“It’s brand new, a Regency,” she said. “I’m listening to WINS, the Alan Freed Show.”
“1010, easy to remember, easy to dial,” said Tony.
“Spinnin’ the discs with finesse, just set your dial to 1010 awhile, to WINS.”
He listened to Bob Garrity’s live late night “Jazz from Birdland” sometimes, after night games.
The first night game at Ebbets Field had been played almost twenty years ago. Some of the old-timers still talked about it. A fife and drum corps marched up and down the outfield. Jessie Owen ran a series of sprinting exhibitions. Johnny Vander Meer, a lanky twenty-two-year-old southpaw, threw a no-hitter for the Bums. Leo Durocher came up in the top of the ninth down three, two outs, and the bases loaded on three straight walks, but Vander Meer got Leo the Lip to hit a lazy pop-up that shut the lights out on the Reds.
“See you later alligator, after ‘while crocodile, Can’t you see you’re in my way now, Don’t you know you cramp my style.”
The first night game was a no-hit shut-out. The crowd went wild. Johnny Vander Meer was mobbed by his teammates.
“I said wait a minute ‘gator, I know you mean it just for play, And this is what I have to say, See you later alligator, after ‘while crocodile.”
Everybody young was listening to rock-n-roll, the new music. Whoever heard of Elvis Presley before the transistor radio? Now he was down for five of the Billboard Top 20 songs. Doris Day was in the Top 10, but time was running out for her and Dean Martin and Perry Como. It was time for Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
“Que sera, sera, Whatever will be, will be, The future’s not ours to see, Que sera, sera, What will be, will be.”
“I heard those things cost an arm and a leg,” said Tony.
“I don’t know,” said the blonde. “My boyfriend got it for me. He said it fell off a truck.”
She laughed, full-mouthed.
The Italian woman in black between them shifted her weight. She had been gurgling snoring quietly, but now stopped. The blonde turned back to Tony.
“Oh, wait, this is my favorite song by Pat Boone,” she said suddenly.
It was ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’.
“I went to the Gypsy and had my fortune read, I went to see a Gypsy, I had my fortune read, I hung my head in sorrow when she said what she said.”
He remembered the song from the time before he went to Korea. It was a big hit by Ivory Joe Hunter, not Pat Boone. Ivory Joe was Ivory Joe’s given name, not a stage name. He was the Baron of the Boogie. He wasn’t the pale youngster from Florida who covered R & B hits for Dot Records. He wasn’t the wholesome Pat Boone who the high school girls loved.
Jesus H. Christ, his head hurt again.
He had felt better for a half-hour, the warm sunshine making him hum, but now his head was pulsing. He felt hot, not warm. Darkness was creeping in on the edge of his vision. He was nauseous and woozy.
“Oh yes I’m the great pretender, ooh, ooh, Adrift in a world of my own, ooh, ooh, I play the game but to my real shame, You’ve left me to dream all alone.”
“Hey mister, are you all right?”
Tony the Phil heard the blonde the second time she asked, even though he wasn’t sure what she was saying.
“I was asking if you’re all right.”
“Headache, bad headache,” he said.
“I got some Bayer in my handbag.”
She pulled a red and black box bag out from under her chaise lounge, flipped the clasp open, and shook out two white tablets of aspirin. He swallowed them dry. They didn’t do him any good, though.
“Thanks,” he said, getting up, unsteady.
“Are you going to be OK?”
“I’ll be fine,” he said.
He couldn’t take a bus or a subway. He needed to see the doctor as soon as possible. The blonde lifted an Oscar Mayer thin-sliced bologna and cheese sandwich slathered with mayo and mustard out of her box bag. Taking a bite she watched Tony the Phil stutter down the plank boardwalk. He waved for a cab, getting in gingerly, slumping slightly forward.
“Don’t know what they’re doing, But they laugh a lot behind the green door, Wish they’d let me in so I could find out, What’s behind the green door.”
Robert Baird looked up from his menu. He had a dirty martini at hand, although the olive brine hadn’t replaced the vermouth, but rather gone along with it. He liked it that way. His glass was cloudier than a traditional martini.
“I’ll have the Omelette Maison to start and the Sangue de Boeuf a la Milanaise for my lunch,” he said.
“Very good, thank you, sir,” said the waiter.
Dr. Robert Baird was at the Quo Vadis restaurant, on the ground floor of the Leonori Building at East 63rdStreet off Madison Avenue, having a late lunch alone in a quiet corner. His office was on the corner of East 66thand Park Avenue, in a 12-story building across the street from the Park Avenue Armory. He practiced his craft on the 5thfloor. It was a ten-minute stroll from his office to the restaurant. He always walked, rain or shine.
The Quo Vadis was opulent, heavy with columns and red velvet, Italian mosiacs in the entry, and the two restaurateurs, Gino Robusti and Bruno Caravaggi, paraded the dining room at night in tuxedos. Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole ate there. Frank Sinatra was one of the few diners not required to wear a tie during dinner. Nevertheless, he always wore a tie.
The psychiatrist was hungry. He almost felt famished. He finished his omelet and ordered another martini. He knew the groundskeeper was falling apart, but there was only so much he could do. The problem was the time it was taking. It was taking too long getting to D-Day. The young man’s headaches had been getting worse. There was less than a week to go, but he was concerned.
He had been using scopolamine to fine-tune the hypnosis sessions, and there hadn’t been any adverse effects, no dry mouth, no itching, or hallucinations. Headaches weren’t listed in the literature as an adverse effect. He was puzzled, although not surprised, by the headaches. Jackson Pollack had come down with several migraine-like headaches in July.
If it happens again, I’ll use a narcotic he thought, biting into his beef.
It was the first time he had ordered the Sangue de Boeuf at Quo Vadis. It was literally melting in his mouth. This is terribly delicious, he realized, at the same instant realizing it was Tony de Marco stumbling past a surprised waiter’s outstretched arms towards his table.
“Doc, you gotta help me.”
“It’s all right, Lorenzo,” Dr. Baird said to the waiter. “Help him into his seat, and bring a glass of ice water.”
Tony’s face was flushed and he looked hot. A side effect of scopolamine was dyshidrosis, a reduced ability to sweat in order to cool off. Tony drank down the tumbler of water and Dr. Baird ordered another.
“Doc, I’ve been getting worse headaches,” said Tony. “The dope you gave me helped, but it doesn’t help anymore. I need something to keep my head screwed on straight.”
Dr. Baird ate his beef while he listened to Tony. He knew he was going to have to get him back to the office, but he wanted to finish his lunch first. He had an enormous fondness for delicious food. He was willing to miss dessert, but wasn’t willing to walk away from his entrée.
“Drink a little more water, and we’ll go in a few minutes, as soon as you’ve cooled down. I’m sure we’ve got something that will help you,” said the psychiatrist, lifting another forkful of Sangue De Boeuf to his mouth.
“I want your body temperature to go down a little first,” he said, stalling, looking down at his plate. There were only a few bites left. He quickly lifted another slice of beef with his fork. He saw Lorenzo approaching their table and made eye contact. He gestured a phantom signature in the air. The waiter understood and made a u-turn.
As Dr. Baird and Tony the Phil walked past the bar to the front door, Tony supported at the elbow by the doctor, Stan Rittman, sitting at the bar, looked down into the bourbon in front of him. There were three ice cubes in the glass. He liked the way the bourbon interacted with the cold.
On the street the doctor hailed a cab. Walking past them, Stan overheard the address the doctor gave the cabbie, and decided to walk. He would be there practically at the same time, anyway. The cab was puling away when he got there. He watched the two men enter the building, waited a moment, and followed them inside. They were standing at the elevator, their backs to him. He watched them get inside the elevator, and when he saw it had stopped on the 5thfloor, he walked across the lobby to the pay phone.
“You might have hit the nail on the head about the little man,” he said when Bettina answered the office phone. “He’s with our bird, going up.”
“Where are you?”
“In the lobby of the doc’s building,” he said.
“Are you ready to do the bum’s rush?” she asked.
“Yes, get the guys over here as fast as possible, Bartek behind the building, and Karol with me,” he said. “You wait with the car in the alley to the Madison side.”
“Give me ten minutes.”
“It’s going to happen fast, stay on your toes”
“Don’t worry about my end. Oh, last thing, are you going to grab the both of them?”
“You bet I am.”
Ten minutes gave him just enough time to smoke a cigarette. He leaned against the wall next to the pay phone and lit a Camel. He slowly exhaled twin plumes of smoke through his nostrils and waited for Karol.
“It’s really a good day for it,” said Dwight Eisenhower, smiling broadly.
It was going to be his first full round of golf since June. He’d had a heart attack last year. Then when this summer rounded itself into shape, he needed surgery for ileitis. The past week had been filled to the brim with the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Even though he had been unopposed, no need for a stampede, there had been his hard campaigning to drop Dick Nixon from the ticket, to no avail
He was president because it was his duty. Richard Nixon wanted to be president. “Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy,” thought Ike.
The Negro singer Nat King Cole had spoken yesterday, the last day of the convention. He made it happen, no matter the carping about it. He knew he had to give in on the Vice-President, who was a hard-line anti-Communist who the rank-and-file supported. But he knew he didn’t have to give in to Jim Crow. He could take the high road and leave the bloodletting to Tricky Dick.
They drove up to Pebble Beach before the convention ended, before the Nixon’s could invite him to dinner. Richard Nixon’s father was seriously ill, besides, and Ike had urged him to go before it was too late. There were three cars full of Secret Service fore and aft. Charlie Taylor, who’d been at it for years, was in one of the cars. One night when Ike was having trouble opening his safe, and asked for help, his agents told him safecracking wasn’t part of their training. Ike was beside himself until Charlie Taylor got the safe open with no problem.
“I won’t know whether to trust you, or not, after this,” laughed Ike.
He had been driven to his golf outing in a black Lincoln Cosmopolitan. It was one of ten presidential touring cars. They all had extra headroom to accommodate the tall silk hat he wore on formal occasions. The cars were almost 20 feet long, V8’s with Hydra-Matic transmissions, and heavily armored, weighing in at close to ten thousand pounds. One of them was a convertible, a 1950 model built for Harry Truman. It had been fitted with a Plexiglas top since then. Ike called it the Bubble-top.
It was a high sky, blue, dotted with seaside clouds.
“It’s a pleasure, Mr. President,” said “Turk” Archdeacon, his caddy.
“Why, that’s fine,” said President Eisenhower.
Turk had been caddying at Cypress Point since he was nine-years-old, almost 40 years ago. He and Ike walked to the practice tee. It was a cool sunny morning. Ike started whacking balls out into the distance. He played with Bobby Jones woods with the official five-star general insignia on the heads. At the putting green he placed three balls down on the ground 20-some feet away from the cup.
He sank all three.
“I should quit right there,” he laughed.
He’d been practicing on a green on the White House grounds, and been hitting wedges, irons, and 3-woods, sometimes hitting balls over the south fence. When he did, he sent his valet to retrieve them.
The squirrels that prowled the lawn dug up his putting green, burying acorns nuts hardtack. One morning he finally had enough. “The next time you see one of those squirrels go near my putting green, take a gun and shoot it!” The Secret Service asked the groundskeepers to trap the squirrels, instead, and release them in a park far away.
In a week August would be come and gone. He would be 66-years-old soon. “I’m saving that rocker for the day when I feel as old as I really am,” he said, pointing to the rocker in the Oval Office. More days now than not, he felt like the day had drawn near.
His birthday was on October 14th. CBS was planning a “Person to Person” style TV show the night before, on Saturday night. Eddie Fisher was going to sing ‘Counting Your Blessings Instead of Sheep’. Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel were going to sing ‘Down Among the Sheltering Palms’. Nat King Cole, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, was singing ‘It’s Just a Little Street Where Old Friends Meet’.
He was looking forward to it.
In six weeks he would be throwing out the first pitch for the first game of the World Series. There were five or six teams in the hunt, although the New York Yankees looked like a lock at least to get there. If he were a betting man, which he was, he would be putting his money on the Bronx Bombers.
He liked Cypress Point because it was set in coastal dunes, wandered into the Del Monte forest during the front nine, and then reemerged on the rocky Pacific coastline. The 15th, 16th, and 17thholes played right along the ocean. He’d played golf on many courses around the world. This was one of the best of them.
Dottie was playing stickball in the street.
The street wasn’t West 56th. Her father had told her to never play stickball on their own street. Broken windows were ruled home runs. Stan didn’t want any home runs near his home. She and her friends always played on West 55thor West 57th. A boy bigger than her had once teased and pushed her down to the ground about it.
“You always do everything your old man tells you to do?” he said, curling his lip, looking down and straddling her.
She still had the broom handle in her hands. Looking up from the street gutter she whacked him as hard as she could across the shins. When the boy’s father showed up at their apartment that night to complain, her father threw the man out, dragging him down the stairs, threatening him and his son and any of their neighbors with harm if they ever laid hands on his daughter again.
“You did the right thing Dottie,” he said. “If somebody says something rotten to you, be a lady about it. But if somebody pushes you, or grabs you, or hits you, you hit them back as hard as you can. You always do that. That’s so they won’t push you down again.”
“OK, dad,” she said.
It was a good day for stickball. Eight kids had shown up, they had made their teams, and Willy, her friend from Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, had brought a new pinky ball. It wasn’t a Pensy, either. It was the cream of the crop, a Spalding Hi-Bounce.
They drew a square rectangle with chalk on the brick wall at the back of a vacant lot on West 55thto represent the strike zone. The buildings on both sides were the foul lines. They chalked first and third base on the building walls and second base was a manhole on the sidewalk. If the ball hit any building across the street, it was a home run. If it hit the roof it was a home run-and-a-half.
“There ain’t no runs-and-a-half,” a snot-nosed kid from Chelsea, visiting his cousins, sneered.
“If you’re going to play stickball on West 55th, you better learn Hell’s Kitchen rules,” gibed Willy.
Dottie was batter up. She smacked a hot grounder, but it was caught on the first bounce, and she was out. Willy got as far as third base, but three strikes and you’re out finished their inning. By the time they came back up in the second inning they were behind by five runs.
Dwight Eisenhower looked out at the par-5 10th hole. He had taken off his tan sweater, but still had a white cap on his head. Seven months ago Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, living legend professionals, had taken on Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward, amateurs, but talented and skillful, in a friendly foursome at Cypress Point.
The 10th hole turned out to be the key to the contest.
“I bet they can beat anybody,” said San Francisco car dealer Eddie Lowery about the two amateurs, who were his employees. He was talking to fellow millionaire George Coleman. The bet and the match were on.
Harvie Ward was a two-time U.S. Amateur champion. Three months later Ken Venturi came within one stroke of winning the Masters. The cypress-strewn rolling dunes of the course on the wind-swept coast, the deep ravines, knee-deep grass, sand on all sides of the fairways, weren’t redoubtable, not to them.
Ben Hogan won the day on the 10th when he rolled in a wedge shot for a 3. The eagle and 27 birdies testified to the unfriendliness of the match. The drinks at the bar rubber-stamped the camaraderie afterwards.
Ike was playing with Harry Hunt, the president of Cypress Point, Sam Morse, a one-time football star who had developed Pebble Beach, and John McCone, a businessman who had been the undersecretary of the Air Force. Ike was partnered with Harry Hunt. They were playing a dollar-dollar-dollar Nassau bet. It was even-steven at the halfway mark, even though Ike had stunk up the 8thhole.
“Where is it?” he asked looking for the green across the dogleg.
He sliced his tee shot into sand. When he got to it he hit it less than ten feet further on. Then he hit it fat, the Ben Hogan ball soaring twenty feet, and falling into somebody’s heel print.
“I’ve had it, pick it up,” he said.
“Have a little trouble?” asked Sam Morse.
“Not a little,” said Ike, “but a lot”
“All right, all right, let’s pick it up, let’s get some roofies,” yelled Willy, urging his team on. “But chips on the ball. I mean it.”
He meant that if his new Spaldeen was roofed, and couldn’t be found, everyone would chip in to pay for a new ball.
Hal came up to the plate, wagged the broom handle menacingly, and planted his high-top rubber-soled Keds firmly in the unravelling asphalt. They were feel-like-everyday’s-a-Saturday shoes. His batted ball hit the side wall at third base where the wall met the ground and bounced back to home plate in a high slow arc.
“It’s a Hindoo,” he shouted.
“No, that ain’t a do-over, foul ball, so it’s a strike,” shouted back Dave Carter, who everyone called Rusty because his hair was red.
“What do you know?”
“I know what I gotta know.”
“Go see where you gotta go,” said Hal.
“No, you stop wasting my time,” said Rusty. “It was a foul ball.”
“Ah, go play stoopball,” shouted Hal.
Stoopball was throwing a pinky against the steps of a stoop, and then catching it, either on the fly or on a bounce. Catching the ball was worth 10 points. Catching a pointer on the fly was worth 100 points. A pointer was when the ball hit the edge of a step and flew back like a line drive, threatening to take your eye out. When you played stoopball you played against yourself.
“You got a lotta skeeve wichoo,” Rusty shouted back at Hal.
“All right, already, strike one,” said Willy, finally.
He knew Rusty would never give in. He was a weisenheimer, besides, someone you had to keep your eyes on, or your Spaldeen might grow legs. It wasn’t that Rusty was a thief. He just kept his nickels in his pocket. Willy had heard he was so cheap he still had his communion money from two years ago.
Rusty had been born in Brooklyn. That was his problem.
Hal hit a cheap, a slow roller, but when Rusty let his guard down, reaching leisurely down for the Spaldeen, it went between his legs, and the next second Hal was standing at first base, smirking.
“Comeback stickball,” he whispered.
Eleven batters later Dottie’s team was on the plus side of the scoreboard, nine to five.
On the tee of the 17th hole Ike lined up his shot. Sea lions on the rocks below him barked. “It’s hard to hit a shot and listen to those seals at the same time,” he said.
Dwight Eisenhower was accustomed to having guards around him, during the campaign in North Africa, and later as commander of the Allied Army in Europe. The Nazis had tried to kill him several times. Secret Service agents near his person nearly every minute of the day was like a second skin. He knew what it took to save his skin. When he moved into the White House he didn’t mingle mindlessly, shake hands in crowds, or do anything stupid.
“Protecting Ike works like clockwork,” said Secret Service agent Gerald Blaine.
Mamie Eisenhower gave her agents nicknames. One, who was a good dancer, was “Twinkletoes”. He asked Mamie to keep it between themselves. Some of the agents called her “Mom”.
“You don’t have to worry about me, but don’t let anything happen to my grandchildren,” Ike told Secret Service chief U. E. Baughman. The Diaper Detail guarded the four kids. Dwight Eisenhower changed the name of the presidential retreat in Maryland in 1953 from Shangri-La to Camp David. “Shangri-La is just a little fancy for a Kansas farm boy,” he said. He renamed it in honor of his 5-year-old grandson, David.
When Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union leader, visited the retreat he said the name sounded like a place where “stray dogs were sent to die.”
Ike looked for the fairway on the 18th hole. “Where do we aim here?” he asked.
“Keep it away from the right,” said Harry Hunt There was a stand of pine trees on the right. “That’s the Iron Curtain. You’ll never get through that stuff.”
Ike laughed and hit a long drive. His next shot was a 4-iron and he nailed it onto the green 20 feet short of the pin.
In 1954 eighty people were convicted of threatening the president, sent to prison or locked away as madmen. In 1955 nearly two thousand credible threats were made against Dwight Eisenhower’s life. The year before, the Russian KGB officer Peter Deryabin, after defecting, had told the CIA about a plot to kill the president in 1952.
“We were preparing an operation to assassinate Eisenhower during his visit to Korea in order to create panic among the Americans and win the war in Korea.”
Shortly after Mother’s Day the Secret Service investigated a threat to plant two boxes of explosives at a baseball park where the president was planning on taking in a game. Whenever he played golf, agents with high-powered guns took up vantage points on hills, surveying the course with telescopic sights. Other agents, dressed in golf clothes, carried .351 rifles in their golf bags as they tagged along. In the parking lots the “Queen Mary”, an outfitted armored car, was the rolling command center.
“Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination,” Adolf Hitler had said. “This is the war of the future.”
“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,” Dwight Eisenhower said. He and the Allied Army had derailed the Nazi night train. No one was going to take him by surprise. He was planning on sitting in his rocking chair one day, rocking back and forth.
The woman sitting on the stoop across the street watched Dottie and her friends walk away, their stickball game over, one of them bouncing his pinky, talking happily.
“We killed them, just killed them,” said Willy.
“We sure did,” said Hal.
“What a game!” said Dottie.
“Yeah, first we were down, came back big, you put some Chinese on that ball between Rusty’s legs, they slipped ahead, and then we score fourteen just like that, and it’s all over.”
“Did you see Rusty, the putz, pulling that long face?” asked Hal.
“Oh, he’ll be back, he loves stickball,” said Dottie.
Dwight Eisenhower had served in the armed forces from one end of his adult life to the other. After he retired he was dean at Columbia, and then president. He was still the president and, he was sure, he was going to beat Adlai Stevenson better than he had four years ago.
Even though he’d commanded millions of men in the last war, he thought war was rarely worth going to war for. He hated it. “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
“Didn’t you once say that we are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it?” asked Harry Hunt.
“When we have to, but always remember, the most terrible job in the world is to be a second lieutenant leading a platoon when you’re on the battlefield. There‘s no glory in battle worth the blood it costs. When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it themselves. After my experience, I’ve come to hate war.”
The Cold War wasn’t as hot as it had been ever since Nikita Khrushchev had denounced Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality earlier in the year, as well as admitting the Man of Steel’s crimes committed against Mother Russia. A door had been cracked open. Ike had long thought war settles nothing, even when it’s all over. He was afraid of the arms race, the march towards a nuclear catastrophe.
“You just can’t have this kind of war,” he’s told his inner circle. “There aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.”
“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative” is what he had written and wanted to say at the Cow Palace, but didn’t, not with Dick Nixon and the Red Scare and the military hand-in-hand with industry. He wanted to call it what it was, a military-industrial complex that was always crying “fire” in a crowded theater.
But he couldn’t, at least not until after he was re-elected.
In the meantime, he planned on speaking softly and carrying a big stick, even if it was only a long shaft wood driver, the biggest club he had in his bag.
“Go out there and tell that stronzo kike across the street to get the hell away from here,” said Albert Anastasia.
The man in the car across the street looked like hell, seedy, big bags under his eyes, gray jowls, and a thick cigar stuck in his mouth. He was wearing baggy pants, scuffed shoes, a wrinkled gray shirt, and a loosely knotted worse for wear Belly Warmer tie. A hula girl and palm trees swayed painted faded on it.
The mob bodyguard was wearing a black shirt, razor-creased slacks, a skinny belt, and lizard shoes. He leaned into the Chevy. There was a camera on the passenger side of the seat. He didn’t give it a second look.
“What do you want here, Weejee? It’s not even dark, yet. There isn’t anything going on. No one is going down this afternoon. Jumping time is five in the morning when the liquor runs out. The boss says beat it.”
“I’m just waiting for a girl,” said Arthur Fellig in a high-pitched voice.
“ What kind of girl?’
“A girl with a healthy body and a sick mind.”
“You got a sick mind.”
Arthur Fellig was a newshound photographer.
“He always wanted to see the soul of the person. He wanted to see the essence of the person. And he certainly wanted to see the tits of the person,” said Judy Malina, who was once chased around Weejee’s apartment. She escaped before he could get his paws on her breasts.
“You’re going to need some carbon tetra-chloride for that,” said the bodyguard, pointing to the beer stains on the hula girl.
“I like them on the wet side, not too icy and deadpan,” said the photographer.
“All right, why don’t you get in gear, maybe go down to Sussman Volk’s and take some pictures of the salamis and bolonies.”
“How about I stay right here?” said the photographer, exhaling a foul cloud of smoke from his stogie.
The bodyguard moved away from the car window. He looked down the street. He waved and snapped his fingers once. The policeman on the corner walked up to the car. Arthur Fellig could see the precinct numerals on the shield over the left breast of the man’s jacket. His black tie was knotted in a standard four-in-hand with a gunmetal tie clasp and he wore a blue military shirt with removable brass buttons.
“This man is bothering Mr. Anastasia.”
The policeman twirled his nightstick and rapped on the roof of the Chevy.
“Move along,” he said.
Arthur Fellig turned the engine over. “I’ll see him flat on his back some day, sooner than later, if I’ve been hearing it right, and I’ll get the shot,” he said to the bodyguard, and drove away.
Albert Anastasia motioned to the waiter for coffee.
“I got nothing against Jews,” he said to Luca “Big Paulie” Gravano. “I had plenty of kikes working for me back in the corporation days.” The corporation was the Brownsville Boys. The newspapers called it Murder Incorporated. After gunning down their man, they often left a Black Hand impression on a piece of paper beside the body.
If they were in a hurry they wore a black glove on their trigger hand and left it at that.
“Gurrah Shapiro, Kid Twist, Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss. What the hell, Meyer and I still work some side by side in Cuba. As long as the Commies stay in the mountains, and Batista toes the line, it’s a gold mine down there.”
President Eisenhower was running for reelection against Adlai Stevenson. The smart money was on Ike. He had gotten over his heart attack and was back eating pig knuckles and sauerkraut. Fidel Castro and his brother were aggravating the President with their penny arcade talk of invading Cuba. Ike would take care of it after November.
Luca Gravano nodded, sipped his coffee, and ate one brutti ma buoni cookie after another from the plate in front of him. They were Tuscan cookies, northern style, but he had always had a taste for them. They were called “ugly but good” and were made of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, amaretto, and oranges.
“Big Paulie” came from Calabria, in the south of Italy, the same as Albert Anastasia. He had come by freighter to New York, the same as Anastasia and his brothers had done years before, jumping ship the same year Anastasia was convicted and sentenced to death in the electric chair at Sing Sing for stabbing and strangling another longshoreman. But, after he got a new trial, almost everyone who had testified against him changed every word of their testimony. The other witnesses dropped off the face of the earth.
After his release he threw in with Joe “The Boss” Masseria, making book, hijacking, and running liquor. Ten years later he was one of four gunmen, along with Bugsy Siegel, who cut down “The Boss” in a Coney Island diner.
Luca Gravano was the right-hand man under Tony Anastasia on the docks, which meant he worked for Albert Anastasia. He had no problem with that. The only problem he had was staying on his toes wary and careful with Albert Anastasia every second of every minute.
The mob kingpin’s friends called him “The Executioner”. His brother “Tough Tony” called him “The Lord High Executioner”. Some of his friends and all of his enemies called him “The Mad Hatter”.
“He is one grand guy,” said Anthony Coppola, Anastasia’s sometime driver, sometime bodyguard, and most of the time crony. “Lots of people will cry when he’s gone.”
Luca understood what Albert Anastasia wanted him to do. What he didn’t understand was why there were three bodyguards with them, one outside, and two in the restaurant at a nearby table. It must have shown on his face when he glanced around and behind him.
“I’m worried about my family,” Anastasia said.
“What do you mean?”
“Forget about it, forget about it.”
His wife and son lived in a mansion in Fort Lee, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, the estate surrounded by a 10-foot-high fence topped with barbed wire, and the lawn looked after by a pack of Doberman Pinschers. What was there to worry about?
There was the New York County District Attorney. “Make no mistake about it,” he said. “These are real tough boys, and I mean really tough, but we’re tough, too.” He was pushing to get Anastasia into his office to talk about the murder of his ex-friend, Frank Scalise, a couple of months ago inside a fruit store in broad daylight. But what was that going to come to?
There weren’t any witnesses, and even if there were, there weren’t any witnesses.
Two years ago it had been the murder of Vincent Macri, and the disappearance of his brother, Benedetto, both of them Anastasia bodyguards, that had gotten the city lawmen worked up. It had come to nothing. There was the disappearance of Charles Ferri and his wife Marie, too, at about the same time, after the two of them testified against Anastasia in the income tax prosecution the Federals had brought against “The Executioner”.
Everybody knew Vincent Macri and Charley Ferri were friends. Everybody knew what had changed hands. Everybody knew it was going to come to nothing.
“You want me to make sure nobody gets to the doc, right, especially not the private cop.” said Luca Gravano, not exactly asking, but making sure exactly what “The Mad Hatter” was saying.
“That’s right,” said Albert Anastasia. “Nobody outside of his circle, outside of his work, nobody asking any questions.”
Luca Gravano knew what Albert Anastasia wanted. He knew there was a secret, but he didn’t need to be let in on it. There weren’t any more questions he needed to ask, except one, to make sure he wouldn’t get the job at hand wrong in any way.
“If anybody gets too close?”
“You feed them to that lion of yours.”
“It’s a female, a lioness,” said Gravano.
“Even better,” said Anastasia.
“Where do you keep her?”
“In the basement of the store”
“That works for you?”
“Yeah, if we’re doing a shakedown, or when somebody owes us money, and won’t pay up, no matter what, we bring him to the store, and push him halfway down into the basement. We throw a slab of raw meat over his shoulder down to Cleo, that’s the cat. She roars her appreciation and there’s no arguing after that. We always collect.”
“That’s good, Paulie, that’s good,” said Albert Anastasia.
“He is a savage,’ said Chief Inspector Raymond Martin, head of the Brooklyn South detectives. “He held another man’s forearm between his hands and broke the bone over the edge of an office desk, as a way of collecting a debt owed to his combination. The man told the story to one of my detectives, but he was too frightened to sign a complaint, unless he be killed. He was killed later, anyway.”
“You take care of this, it’s important. You call me personally, day or night, if you have to,” said Anastasia.
He stood up, put on his hat, and followed his bodyguards out of the restaurant slowly and deliberately in his money-glow suit. Luca Gravano had another cup of coffee and another plate of cookies. When he stepped outside he threw a nickel down for a copy of the New York Daily News. Wall Street was up on a “rousing rally” of five points. The Woolworth heiress was in court, being sued by a Manhattan florist for not making good on $2,500 worth of flowers. He liked her style. The crime story on page 3 caught his eye when he saw the picture of George Rosen.
“There was a rubber death’s head mask, a grisly Halloween thing of gray and purple, on the seat beside small-time gambler George Rosen, 39, as he and a masked pal stepped from a stolen automobile in Brooklyn shortly before noon yesterday to stage a payroll robbery.” George didn’t get far. He was lying on his back in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. He hadn’t even had time to slip on the Grim Reaper before he was shot dead.
If George Rosen owed him money, it didn’t matter anymore, he thought.
He stepped off the sidewalk into the street and stuck his arm out like he meant it. An “Otto” DeSoto Deluxe cruised up to his ankles. He got into the back of the cab, stretched out his legs, and looked up through the see-through roof. The V8 purred as it idled. The seats were green leather. There was plenty-and-more legroom.
He lit up a Camel.
“Where to, chief?”
“You got it.”
The suspension of the big car was roly-poly. It was like taking one of the ferryboats. He started thinking about what ma would be making for dinner. He liked Ossa Buco, Eggplant Parmigiana, and Pasta Primavera, with semolina bread, olive oil, and pesto on the side. His favorite was Chicken Tetrazzini, named after Luisa Tetrazzini, a soprano known as “The Florentine Nightingale”.
Luca Gravano’s headquarters was a small storefront in Brooklyn, The sign above the door said it was the Murphy Bed Company, agents and distributors. “The Disappearing Bed” was stenciled across one window. There were several demonstration models in the front showroom, although neither Luca nor his brothers had ever sold a single Murphy of any kind. Among themselves they joked it was “the foldaway trap for your worst enemies.”
He lived next door in a brownstone with three of his brothers and his mother.
“I don’t know anything about the mob. I don’t know anything about any organizations. I only know about my five children, four sons and a daughter,” said Raffaella Gravano one day when she was asked by detectives about the alleged killers, two of her sons, of a rival bookmaker in front of Bronx restaurant.
What she said to policemen wasn’t what she said at home.
“Women run the show in the south of Italy,” she told her sons. “Maybe our men come home with bloody boots, but I know how to cement guns inside walls. I hold my head high. I keep the memory of the dead alive.”
“Hey, driver, stop at Alleva’s when you go by,” said ”Big Paulie” to the cab driver as they passed the Church of the Most Precious Blood.
“The cheese place?”
The Alleva Dairy cheese shop was at the intersection of Mulberry and Grand Streets. The windows were filled with printed and neon signs. Inside were ricotta, mozzarella, and the new hero sandwiches. Prosciutto hung from the tin ceiling.
“When I was young, there was one kind of prosciutto,” said one of the old butchers. “It was made in the winter, by hand, and aged for two years. It was sweet when you smelled it. A profound perfume. Unmistakable.”
Luca ordered a sandwich for himself and five pounds of in-bone prosciutto and a knob of fresh mozzarella for his mother. She liked hers sliced over fresh melon. He liked his wrapped around a breadstick. His brothers got the leftovers.
“When I find the original meal these leftovers have been coming from, I ain’t going to be sharing it with anybody,” said Frankie “Kid Blast” Gravano, one of his brothers. His two other brothers, Larry and Raymond, nodded that they were with Frankie, even though Frankie meant he was going to be keeping it all to himself.
Luca was the oldest of the four boys. “Kid Blast” was the youngest. Luca was the smartest of the four. “Kid Blast” was the most dangerous of the four. Luca had the authority in the family. “Kid Blast” wanted it.
He had taken a shot at Luca the summer before.
“I just blew my top. He said something about me I didn’t like. I purposefully missed him.”
Their sister, Carnellia, had been engaged to one of Vincent “Chin” Gigante’s brothers, but had backed out of the marriage. “I’m not marrying a peasant,” she said. He entered a seminary and was training to become a priest. Carnellia moved out of the family house, got an apartment in Greenwich Village, and went to work in pizzazz. Her new boyfriend, a third-generation German and a Protestant, who was an ad man at a Madison Avenue agency, got her a job there scripting TV commercials making the might be nice into the must have.
Carnellia called her mother every Sunday night, but the Gravano boys had not spoken a word to their sister in more than a year. Luca had seen red the morning his mother wanted to invite Carnellia to dinner. “She’s not coming here in her tight dress and that stuck up wise guy who thinks we’re all wrongdoers,” he said.
“I can see it in her eyes, ma. Except for you, she’s ashamed of us. I don’t want her in this house.”
“She’s your only sister, my only daughter,” said his mother.
“We’re from the Old World, but it’s the New World now, what we make for ourselves, in our own world, and when Carnellia flips she can stay there,” said Luca. ”What we have is us, our family, and our pride. When she spits on that she can’t come back here.”
Raffaella Gravano crossed her arms over her stomach, below her sagging breasts, grim and frustrated in her polka-dotted apron.
“I’m the man of the house, ma,” he said. “Don’t bite my head off.”