Chapter 13

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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,” said a Secret Service man in a dark suit.

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

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

John Krajiceks’s face lit up.

“It is my pleasure,” he said.

The President and Mrs. Eisenhower were in Boone, Iowa, on 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 God’s acre 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 Mermaid 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.”

There were prize games, hammer games, rifle ranges, freak shows, and fortune-tellers on Coney Island.

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

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

“I do, but later,” said Dottie.

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

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

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

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

“My game is stickball,” said Dottie. “Skee ball is for 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 after introducing himself at length.

“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 in the United States Senate. 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, the bland leading the bland. After the address he presented trophies and scrolls to the champion plowmen and champion plow woman.

Henry Steenhock, the owner of the land where the Field Days 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, there were lots of rabbits in the dunes, so they called it Konijnen Eiland, which means Rabbit Island, which became Coney Island after the English took over.”

“How did they take over?”

“Somebody always takes over,” said 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 than less 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.” Through the middle of the sign was an arrow blinking and pointing to the ride.

“Thrills.”

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.

Bettina laughed.

“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. he may be a son of a bitch, but Tacho’s our son of a bitch, so tell them to do everything they can to save him.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who shot him?”

“A poet.”

“Are you serious? Well, goddamn it. 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 10thStreet, 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.”

“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.

Storm Drain: A Stan Rittman Mystery. If you enjoyed this chapter, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

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Chapter 12

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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 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 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.”

“Steady boy.”

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.

“He’s clean.”

Stan sat down opposite Dr. Baird.

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

“But I don’t know.”

“We’re getting off on the wrong foot already,” said Stan, 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. 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.

“Yo, Bart.”

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

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

Elsa’s was the Black Rabbit Tavern and Elsa was Elsa Brouwerji, a friendly middle-aged widow whose husband had tied a cinder block around his neck and thrown himself off the Rockaway Boardwalk a year to the day after the 30 million gallon oil spill six years earlier 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.

“You coming?”

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

Stan lifted his eyes 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?”

“Yes.”

“Spill it.”

“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?”

“No.”

“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.

Stan laughed.

“There are no secrets among friends, doc. “

“I didn’t keep any record of him at the office, not like Pollack, who was my patient before any of that happened later. 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 certain 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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“OK, when?”

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

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

“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?”

“Until Wednesday.”

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 lips curled, trying to smile. Stan stood between Ezra and Bumpy.

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

Storm Drain: A Stan Rittman Mystery. If you enjoyed this chapter, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate.

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.