Evaldas and Gediminas watched the two uniformed ensigns step into Connor’s Public House. The young officers stood framed in the doorway, the cool early evening getting dark over their shoulders. They both wore white pants, a white shirt over a white t-shirt, a white belt, and a white cap with a black bill. They wore black shoes. There was a single gold bar on their shoulder boards.
“Hey, shut that door,” someone shouted.
In a minute they had taken stools on both sides of a curvy redhead at the bar.
“Drift,” she said to the one on her left.
“We just want to buy you a drink,” the one on the other side of her said.
“You, too,” she said.
“Butterbars,” said Evaldas.
“Yeah, they probably wash the dishes in the Commandant’s House,” said Gediminas.
“As close to water as they’re going to get,” said Evaldas.
“She’s got a classy chassis, though,” said Gediminas, eyeing the redhead. “Our man is not going to like it us taking him away from her.”
A longshoreman walked in, glanced at the sailors, and parked himself midway down the bar. The bartender poured a draft without asking. The longshoreman took a swig.
“Did you say something to that guy I just saw outside?” he asked.
“The guy with the feather in his hat?”
“Yeah, that one, who said this joint stinks.”
“That one comes in, asks for a glass of water, and asks me what the quickest way is to Mount Kisco,” said the bartender. “I ask him if he’s walking, or does he have a car? He says, of course I have a car. So, I tell him, that would be the quickest way.”
“He was chunky about it. Hey, isn’t that Ratso’s girl?”
“Didn’t she tell them the gate is closed?”
“Yeah, but they didn’t give it any mind.”
“Oh boy, they don’t know from nothing.”
“Keep chicky,” said the bartender.
“You said it brother.”
The Public House was on the corner of Pearl Street and Plymouth Street. The Manhattan Bridge over the East River was a stone’s throw away. The Brooklyn Navy Yard was a cannon shot away. The new Con Edison Hudson Avenue substation, north of John Street facing the river between Jay Street and the Navy Yard, was a light switch away.
“Did you see that game on Friday?” asked Evaldas.
“That’s exactly their problem,” said Gediminas. “No matter that Mantle is going to win the Triple Crown, no matter how many runs they score, if they keep giving up a dozen, they is not going anywhere in October, no matter who they play.”
The Yankees had been in Boston for the weekend, for their last season series at Fenway Park. On Friday night Mickey Mantle hit a home run that tape measured more than five hundred feet. The Bronx Bombers, though, set a dubious club record by stranding twenty runners on base.
Mickey Mantle had 3 hits. Bill Skowron had 5 hits. The only time the Moose failed to reach base was when Ted Williams made an all-out running catch of a screaming line drive in left field.
“He was running like a bunny with his tail on fire,” said Red Barber.
Yogi Berra threw a man out at the plate.
Mickey Mantle threw a man out at the plate.
But, the Sox beat the Yankees, sending almost twice as many runners safely across the plate, 13-7. Mel Allen and Red Barber called the night game on WPIX. “That ball is go-ing, go-ing, gonnne!” Mel Allen blared when Mickey Mantle hit his soaring blast. “It’s got to be one of the longest home runs I’ve ever seen! How about that!”
Evaldas and Gediminas watched the game at the Public House, on Friday night two nights earlier, at the far end of the bar, where one of the bar’s two RCA Victor portable TV’s loomed down at them high up on the wall.
“Did you say something?” one of the sailors said, turning to Evaldas and Gediminas in their booth opposite them.
“Hello there everybody,” Mel Allen said to start the baseball game broadcast.
“This is Red Barber speaking,” said Red Barber. “Let me say hello to you all. Mel and I are here in the catbird seats.”
“Three and two. What’ll he do?” Mel said as the last Yankee hitter squared up in the batter’s box in the top of the ninth inning. “He took a good cut!” he said when the pinstriped slugger struck out to end the game. “Tonight’s game was yet another reminder that baseball is dull only to dull minds,” said Red. “Signing off for WPIX, this is Red Barber and Mel Allen.”
“Hey, you, did you say something about washing dishes?” the sailor said again, standing up, his friend standing up, too, and Ratso Moretti in the meantime walking down the length of the bar from the men’s room towards them.
The redhead turned her stool around, crossed her legs, and started to play with the swivel stick lolling in her gin martini glass.
“Who the fuck are you two rags?” Ratso asked the sailors, glaring up at them from under the brim of his black felt pork pie hat, baring his sharp front teeth. “Why are you sitting with my girl?”
Evaldas and Gediminas both leaned back on their seat cushions, their backs against the wall. Gediminas stretched his legs out. Evaldas popped a toothpick into his mouth.
“What do you plan on doing about it, little man?” asked the bigger of the two sailors.
Ratso took one step back, reached for his fly, unzipped it, and pulled out the handle of a Smith & Wesson .38 Chiefs Special revolver. It was the kind of gun carried by plainclothes and off-duty policemen. He kept his hand on the gun while looking straight at the two sailors.
“Hit the road, Clyde,” he said. “You, too, whatever your name is.”
When they were gone, Ratso sat down next to his girl and wrapped his arm around her waist.
“Meanwhile, back at the ranch,” said Gediminas.
“At least now we know where he hides it,” said Evaldas.
Bartek and Karol sat at the end of the bar and pretended to ignore what was going on. Neither of them wanted anything to happen. Both of them wanted the sailors to go away. They wanted Ratso Moretti to stay snug with his girl, drinking on an empty stomach, stretching the night out. There were four of them and only one of him, but he was a psycho, Karol knew for sure, and had told the others, and it was the number one thing, he said, they had to remember.
“Did you find a plumber this morning?” Gediminas asked Evaldas.
“No, because not only does God rest on Sundays, so do all the plumbers in Brooklyn.”
“What did you do?
“I fixed it myself.”
One of the toilets in the women’s bathroom in the parish hall next door to St. George’s Church on York Street had sprung a leak after mass. The Lithuanian Roman Catholic congregation was around the corner from the Irish Roman Catholic St. Ann’s Church on the corner of Front and Gold Streets. Lithuanians made up more than half of everyone who now lived in Vinegar Hill, but they had never been embraced by the Irish and their two churches, St. Ann’s and St. Edward’s, so they had built their own church.
St. George’s had three arched doorways, three arched second-story window assemblages, and a stepped façade with a cross on top.
“What was the problem?”
The parish priest had dragooned Evaldas on his way out of the parish hall.
“Prasome, galite padeti?” asked the priest.
“The wax ring, that’s all it was.”
“Where did you find a ring on a Sunday?”
“My old man. He’s always loaded for bear.”
“Did you miss breakfast?”
“No, mom warmed it back up for me, fried some more eggs.”
When Ratso Moretti hopped off his bar stool, and his girl slid off hers, and they walked out the front door, Karol and Bartek went out the back door, and Evaldas and Gediminas followed Ratso.
“Goddamn it!” Ratso cursed turning the corner onto the quiet side street next to the Public House where he had parked his new car. He looked down at the driver’s side front tire Karol had flattened before going into the bar.
“What’s the matter mister?” asked Evaldas.
“Flat tire,” said Ratso.
He recognized the young man and the other man from the bar.
“Need a hand?”
“I’ve got all the hands I need,” said Ratso.
Evaldas lit a cigarette, watching and waiting. Gediminas leaned against a lamp pole. Ratso opened the trunk of the car, jacked the car up, and hunched over the tire to loosen the lug nuts.
“This ain’t a show,” he said.
“It is to us.”
When Ratso leaned into the last stubborn lug nut, Evaldas flicked his still lit cigarette butt at the redhead, who was standing in space, bouncing it off her midriff. She squealed in outrage, Ratso twisted toward her, and Evaldas, Gediminas, Karol, and Bartek rushed him, two from the front and two from the back.
As Ratso started to stand up, Karol kicked him as hard as he could in the groin, the holstered gun Ratso trying to reach adding insult to injury. He doubled over, grabbed his stomach, fell over, and lay on the ground in a fetal position. He teared up and then threw up.
Bartek threw a muslin cloth bag quickly over Ratso’s head and tightened the drawstring. Karol tied his hands behind his back with clothesline. Bartek reached into Ratso’s pants and pulled out the holster with the small revolver. He went in the passenger side front door and tossed the holster and gun into the glove box of the Chevy.
As Evaldas and Gediminas dragged Ratso to Karol’s hunk of junk behind the Public House, Bartek turned to the redhead.
“Drift,” he said grimly. “And keep your mouth shut, or we’ll take you next.”
“Thanks, boys, we’ll settle up tomorrow,” said Karol after they had dumped Ratso into the trunk, tying his feet together and binding them to his bound wrists so that he lay like a sack of potatoes on his side, still groaning.
Evaldas touched his forefinger to his thumb and pointed the remaining three fingers of his right hand straight up.
Karol and Bartek drove to Sunset Park, turned onto 53rd Street at 3rd Avenue, and finally pulled into and parked behind a three-story abandoned brick building. On the side of the building a painted billboard advertising “R. Moses & Son, Men’s Clothes” was fading away. The storefront’s windows were boarded up and all the other windows on every floor were dark.
They manhandled Ratso through a back door and into a small featureless room. A table lamp on the floor tried to make sense of the dark with a 25-watt bulb. Stan was standing in a corner in the shadows smoking a cigarette. They dropped Ratso on the floor. Bartek stood with his back to the door.
“Let him loose, except for his hands.” said Stan.
Karol untied Ratso’s feet, yanked the bag off his head, and moved back to stand next to Bartek. Stan stayed where he was, in the gloom. Ratso stayed where he was, too. He felt better, but he still felt horrible. He had a weird stomachache.
“Tell me about Jackson Pollack,” said Stan.
“I don’t know no Polacks,” said Ratso.
“You know us now,” Karol said under his breath.
“Not Polacks. I said Pollack, as in Jackson Pollack, the painter.”
“I don’t know no painters.”
“Why did you jump my associate the other night?
“I don’t know no associates. Who the fuck are you, anyway?”
“I don’t know how your sack is feeling, but if it was me, I wouldn’t want it to happen again, especially not now, not so soon,” said Stan.
“What do you want?”
“What were you doing in the middle of the night outside the shrink’s office? Why did you jump my man? What does Jackson Pollack have to do with Big Paulie?”
“You’re a dead man when Luca finds out about this,” Ratso screamed.
Stan stepped forward, bent down, and framed an inch with his fingers in Ratso’s red face.
“You’re this close to being a dead man,” he said.
He aimed a kick at Ratso’s nuts. The hoodlum rolled over in a flash. Stan kicked him in the side, aiming for his kidney. Ratso gasped in pain and rage. Stan stepped over him, bent down again, nose to nose with the convulsed thug.
“You’re going to tell me what I want to know,” he said.
After Ratso Moretti ratted out Big Paulie and Dr. Robert Baird and they had hog-tied him again, Stan Rittman stopped at a phone booth on his way home, the cab driver waiting at the curb, and called the desk sergeant at the 17th Precinct. He told him where to find Ratso, told him Ratso wanted to confess to assaulting Ezra Aronson four nights earlier, and was asking to be held in custody for his own protection.
“Does he need medical attention?” asked the sergeant.
“No, he’ll be fine, just a few bumps and bruises.”
“What do I tell the captain? Is anybody going to be looking for Morelli, trying to spring him?”
“Nobody but his bad girl knows anything, but she was a good girl the last we saw her and promised to stay clammed up. Ratso’s car is just outside the Public House in Vinegar Hill. His gun is in the glove box. It’s a Chiefs Special.”
“You don’t say.”
“You might want to have that gun tested by ballistics, see if it matches anything.”
“OK, Stan, we’ll have a car there in five minutes-or-so.”
Ten minutes later three policemen and a plainclothes officer spilling out of two cars flash-lighted their way into the back of the left in the lurch building, hauled Ratso Moretti out the door, untied him then handcuffed him, tossed him face first into the back of one of the radio cars, and quietly drove him to the 17th Precinct, forcing him into a basement cell at the end of a hallway, and forgetting about him for the rest of the next week.
Thirty minutes later Stan Rittman was home in Hell’s Kitchen, in one of his two orange wingback armchairs, a bottle of Blatz Pilsner on the coffee table, while Mr. Moto licked his chops on the sofa on the other side of the table. Stan took a pull on his bottle of beer and watched the cat. He had thought about getting another to keep him company, but Mr. Moto didn’t seem to mind his solitary life.
Mr. Moto liked Puss ’N Boots best, fish followed by chicken followed by beef followed by any other meat. He wasn’t picky. He didn’t think it did any harm to ask Stan for what he wanted, but the story of cats was the story of meat, he thought. Stan fed Mr. Moto with his poker winnings.
“Puss ‘N Boots adds the Plus!”
Mr. Moto wasn’t a mixed-up cat. He lived day-to-day, every day a new day, taking what came his way. He liked fresh water and food in the morning, a long nap from late morning into the late afternoon, and a clean supply of Kitty Litter when he couldn’t get down the fire escape to the flowerbeds.
“Ask Kitty. She Knows. It absorbs and deodorizes. Takes the place of sand.”
Stan had stopped at Manganaro’s Grosseria Italiana, a sandwich shop, restaurant, and grocery on 9th Avenue, for a slice of Hero-Boy. The whole six-foot hero was 22-pounds and cost $16.50. The wait staff was surly, but the sandwiches were worth the wait. He took a bite, chewed, and washed it down with his Blatz.
Ezra was out of the hospital. He would stop and see him tomorrow morning, tell him they had snatched Ratso, who had spilled his guts, but that it still wasn’t clear what was going on. It looked like Dr. Baird had engineered Jackson Pollack’s death somehow, but why? Where was the pay-off in it? Vicki had explained that since Jackson Pollack had died unexpectedly, and had died young, and had simply died, there weren’t going to be any more paintings by him. Since he was well known, by collectors and museums, prices for his art were going to go up.
“He was in demand, he’s still in demand, especially the drip paintings,” said Vicki. “But nobody kills a painter to make a profit on his art, not even in New York. Besides, It’s a long-term investment, not like kidnapping somebody for the ransom.”
He would sort it out next week. Stan finished his sandwich, finished his bottle of Blatz, and went to bed. Mr. Moto followed him, curling up just inches from Stan’s face, and was aleep before Stan was. He had never been bothered by insomnia. In the middle of the night he pricked up his ears.
Mr. Moto could smell a rat when he had to. He was a working mouser. When he went to the bedroom window, though, it was just a ladybug on the sill. It was red with black spots. Mr. Moto stretched up on his hind legs and sniffed the bug, which opened its wings, flew in a circle, and landed on Mr. Moto’s nose.
“Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children shall burn!””
Mr. Moto believed ladybugs were lucky. He believed when a ladybug landed on you your wishes would be granted. He also believed it was unlucky to harm them. He licked the bug off his nose and spat it out through the open window. He jumped on the ledge, crouched, and looked out into the big city night.
Four hours later, near the end of the night, near the onset of dawn, while a lone policeman watched now that it was all over and the car had been searched and fingerprinted, a tow truck hooked Ratso Moretti’s new Chevrolet and dragged it away to the NYPD Tow Pound.
Storm Drain – A Stan Rittman Mystery
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.