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 5th Street and Brightwater Court was a wide beat-up plank platform in front of a corrugated fence. Behind the fence was a parking lot. Parking on weekdays was 25 cents for two hours and 35 cents for three hours. Weekdays the cost was a flat 15 cents an hour. It didn’t matter to 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 63rd Street 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 5th floor, he walked across the lobby to the pay phone.
“You might have hit the nail on the head about the little man,” he said when 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.
Storm Drain – A Stan Rittman Mystery
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.