“You look like hell,” said Stan.
“I feel like hell,” said Bettina.
“Long night,” she said.
“You’ve had coffee?”
At the counter in the deli on the corner Stan asked if he could have a take-out soup, in their largest container, but coffee in it instead.
“Betty,” he said.
“Gotcha,” said the counterman, handing Stan a quart of hot coffee.
“What was the occasion?” asked Stan as Bettina rubbed her temples and quietly slurped the inky black tonic.
“Miles Davis,” she said. ”He’s been at the Café Bohemia most of the month and yesterday was his last night there, so I had to go. Pete and I made a night of it, before the show, at the show, and after the show. Brother, I need an aspirin.”
Stan shook out two tablets of Bayer.
“More?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” said Bettina.
“Miles Davis is the trumpet player, right?”
“Right, but he’s got a quartet that plays with him, and they are hot.”
The Miles Davis Quintet was Philly Joe Jones on drums, Paul Chambers on double bass, William “Red” Garland on piano, and John Coltrane on tenor sax. They were touring promoting their Hackensack, New Jersey recordings, due for release starting the next month.
“Trane was blowing his ass off,” said Miles Davis after the show. “He seemed to be pushing each chord to its outer limits, out into space.”
It was cookin’ with Miles.
“As great as Trane was sounding, Philly Joe was the fire that was making a lot of shit happen. He knew everything that I was going to do, everything I was going to play. He anticipated me, felt what I was thinking. Paul was playing like he’d been around forever and Red was giving me that Ahmad Jamal light touch, and a little bit of Erroll Garner, along with his own shit up in all of that. So, everything was happening.”
Cafe Bohemia was a small club, seating about a hundred, with a small stage and a slightly bigger bar. It had only been open a year, although it had been open for years before that.
“For six years I tried to make the place pay,“ said Jimmy Garofolo, the club’s owner, who lived across the street. “First as a bar and restaurant, then with girly shows, and then with various acts. One night I had to throw out a character who had been drinking without any money to pay for it. The next thing I knew, he was back offering to play a few weeks to pay off his obligation, and because he wanted a regular home base from which to play when he was between engagements.”
“I’ve not been there, never heard of it,” said Stan. “Where is it?”
“Greenwich Village,” said Bettina.
“Somebody told me his name was Charlie Parker and he was a saxophonist,” said Jimmy. “I was pretty naïve about jazz at the time and I didn’t know him from beans, but it turned out he was a big man in the jazz world. When I put out signs announcing he was going to play, I had a stream of people coming in wanting to know if the great Charlie Parker was going to play here. It was the way they said ‘here’ that got me.”
“If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn,” said Charlie Parker between drinks.
The Yardbird died before ever taking the stage at Café Bohemia, before making good on his obligation. But Café Bohemia became a happening, a hotbed of jazz.
“The audience regarded the music as an art form, and even acted a little superior about the fact that they were there and listening to Miles,” said George Avakian.
“No rock ‘n roll, no vocalists, no big bands, no nuttin’ except small jazz combos,” said Jimmy. “Once Birdland and Basin Street were the mecca of all true jazzmen. Now a lot of them won’t go on the road until they’ve played the Bohemia, too.”
“Big crowd?” asked Stan.
“Small crowd,” said Bettina, “but too big for the place. We barely got in, but we made it, and we didn’t give up our seats the rest of the night for nothing or anything. Whenever one of us had to get up, the other one stayed put.”
“They played into the night?”
“They played until closing time. They might have kept playing until sunrise if the management hadn’t started closing the place. When Pete and I were leaving, there was an end of the world crank on the sidewalk. He had a sandwich sign in front of him. It said ‘The End is Near.’ I don’t know what got into me, but I asked him, “Mister, is that a bad thing or a good thing?” He shot me a look, that if looks could kill, I would be looking worse that I do now.”
The sharp jaundiced dirty look was followed by a dirty hand that thrust a fire and brimstone-heavy leaflet at her. There was a picture of an atomic bomb rocketing spewing flames across the sky on it.
“How was the music?”
“High intensity,” said Bettina. “Spontaneous, full of bop, swinging like crazy.”
Stan smiled and rubbed his lower lip with his index finger.
“You don’t know bop from hop, do you?” said Bettina.
“I wouldn’t get past the first dollar of the sixty-four dollar question if that was the first question,” said Stan. “But, across the office it looks like you had a good time.”
“We met somebody there, too, somebody who knew Jackson Pollack.”
“You don’t say,” said Stan. “Who was it?”
“A woman at the next table, smoking up a storm. She was doodling, sketching the band, and when I looked over, I could tell the drawing was good, very good. When I asked her, she said her name was Helen, and when I asked her if she was an artist, she said, yes, she was Helen Frankenthaler, which didn’t mean boo to me, but it turns out she’s one of the abstract painters, and she knew Jackson Pollack. She said she got started, made her breakthrough, because of him.”
“Is that right?”
“That’s what she said, but then the man she was with, somebody named Clem, he had to be twice her age, sour-looking, piped up and said she made her breakthrough when she met him, which made her see red.”
“Is that right?”
“Maybe from his side, but not from hers, definitely not. Pete said she looked like he was a bad taste in her mouth, like she wanted to spit him out.”
“She used Clement Greenburg,” said the sculptor Louise Nevelson. “She used everything in an abominable way.”
“Pete should know,” said Stan.
“You’re right about that, bird dog,” said Bettina.
“Did she mean it in a personal way, this breakthrough?” asked Stan.
“No, I think she meant it in some kind of artist technical way. There was something jagged going on with the Clem, though.”
“Something tense personal, like he got on her nerves, like I said, like she wanted him gone.”
“Did she say anything personal about our man?”
“She said when she heard the news about Jackson she was shocked. She said she could hardly believe it. She said he was a mess, had been a mess for a long time, wasn’t going to stop being a mess, but he could handle any amount of booze and handle any car no matter how smashed he was.”
“That ties in to what we think,” said Stan.
The door to the office opened and Otis walked in, nodded to Stan, looked at Bettina, and said, “You look like hell.”
“Enough of that,” said Bettina, and poured more coffee into herself.
Otis rolled a chair to the client side of Stan’s desk and sat down. He flipped open a memo notepad, pulled a black Eberhard Faber Microtomic pencil out of his pocket, and put the notepad and pencil on Stan’s desk.
“Long night?” he asked Bettina.
“Miles Davis down in the village,” she said.
“He’s got one hell of a band these days,” said Otis.
“You know about them?” asked Stan.
“Of course,” said Otis.
“All right, all right, I’ll stay the only one not in the know.” said Stan. “Let’s get started, see if we can narrow down who our rocket from the tombs might be.”
“All right,” said Otis.
“We know the shrink worked Jackson Pollack up to drive his car off a cliff and get himself killed,” said Stan. “We know he has worked up another man to do something, which looks like it is blowing up Eisenhower. We know the mob has been brought in for protection, although I would be surprised if they know what it is they’re on the wrong side of. Assassinations are their style, but not this, at least I don’t think so. We know the White House is flying in to the game on Wednesday afternoon, and if anything is going to happen it is going to probably happen at Ebbets Field.”
“The airport will be tight as a drum, the route to the ballpark will be kept out of the papers, the same for the way back, and the same for the security at the airport on the flight out,” said Otis. “If it’s going to happen, the odds are it’s going to happen at the ballgame.”
“We think our bomber is somebody under 30, a small man, by the name of Tony de Marco,” said Stan. “How many Anthony de Marco’s are there in the five boroughs?”
“Not counting Staten island, where every other person is Italian, there are six hundred and nineteen Anthony de Marco’s,” said Bettina.
“How do you know that?” asked Otis.
“Let your thumbs do the walking,” said Bettina.
“You leafed through the phone books?”
“I slipped on my nubbed thumb tip and took a stroll.”
“You should take that to Madison Avenue, maybe AT&T would be interested in a new slogan.”
“Who walks on their thumbs?”
“How about let your fingers do the walking?”
“That sounds better.”
“Hey, let’s get back on track here,” said Stan.
“There are too many Tony’s to go looking for in just a few days, even if there were lots more of us,” said Otis.
“There are too many wop neighborhoods in the city, no matter how many of us there were,” said Stan. “He might even be up the road, or out on Long island.”
“Do we know what he looks like?” asked Bettina.
“No, we don’t,” said Stan. “That give me an idea. Let’s get a drawing of him. The shrink can flesh him out for us. We just need an artist. Is Lefty in town, do you know?”
“He’s in town until tomorrow,” said Otis.
Gurnee “Lefty” Ford was an apprentice locomotive engineer for the New York Central, hauling passenger freight from the city to Albany Buffalo Cleveland Chicago St. Louis, and back. His engineer sat on the left of the cab of the diesel-electric locomotive. Gurnee sat on the right side, and he used by necessity his left hand on most of the controls and devices.
Lefty had been an art student until he got married and inside of three years had a family, a boy and a girl. He gave up art. He started work on the railroad as a brakeman, became a head brakeman, and was soon up front. He kept a sketchbook, drawing pictures for his children of the places the train went.
“Can you roust him up, tell him it’s worth a hundred, take him over to the bakery, and sit him down with the doc?”
“Yes, I can do that,” said Otis, making a note in his notepad.
“I want a police sketch, as good as possible, of Tony de Marco. Before you sit Lefty down in front of him, talk to the shrink in a quiet corner, and tell him I will be showing the drawing to his office receptionist the first thing Monday morning, and if she doesn’t recognize Tony in the drawing, I am going to go right to the bakery and beat his brains out, toss them in the street for the dogs, and afterwards throw his body into the East River.”
“In those words?”
“In those words, slowly and surely,” said Stan.
After Otis had gone, Bettina sighed.
“I finally feel better,” she said.
“Good,” said Stan.
“You should have been there,” she said. “It was a hell of a show.”
“Maybe next time.”
“Sure,” said Bettina. “Bring Vicki, we’ll make a night of it.”
“That might be too much night for Vic.”
“She’s a big girl.”
“How do you figure it, Betty?”
“Since it’s almost sure to happen at the Dodgers ballpark, he’s got to somehow be a part of the Brooklyn Dodgers,” she said. “Not one of the ballplayers, but no Joe Schmo in the stands, either. I figure him to be someone who works for the team, selling tickets, beer man, grounds crew, somebody like that.”
“All right,’ said Stan. “Once we get our sketch that’s the track we’ll take. You be here bright and early tomorrow, we’ll get over to Park Avenue, you talk to the gal behind the desk, and show her the sketch. If she can say it’s him, we’ll go over to Ebbets Field and start snooping.”
“You’re the boss,” said Bettina, and started humming a tune.
“What’s that?” asked Stan.
“Something Miles Davis played last night.”
“It sounds good.” said Stan. “What’s it called?”
“Just Squeeze Me.”
Storm Drain – A Stan Rittman Mystery
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.