“It’s you and me, babe,” said Vicki.
“Yay!” exclaimed Dottie.
“You sound awfully happy to have your dad out of the way.”
“No, no, it’s not that, I love dad, he’s the bestest, but I see him all the time,” said Dottie. “Besides, he told me he’s on a big job and mom is busy, that’s OK, she’s always busy, and he said you would be staying over for a few days, and I like that, a lot.”
Vicki had gone to Stan’s Sunday night, made dinner, and put Dottie to bed. Stan and Vicki stayed up late, playing cards, talking, drinking the better half of a bottle of red wine, going for a walk, and finishing their wine splashed out feeling tight on the sofa.
“This is good,” said Stan.
He looked at the bottle. It said ‘Classico Chianti.’ There was a black rooster on the label.
“I thought Chianti came in a fat bottle in a straw basket,” said Stan.
“Sure, it does, but that’s rotgut. The basket is called a fiasco. There’s a reason they call it that. Sometimes they die from drinking it in the old country. It’s your birthday tomorrow. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
Mr. Moto gave Vicki a sidelong glance.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she said to the cat.
“Dottie comes first with Mr. Moto, but then me,” said Stan. “Sometimes we think he’s part dog.”
Monday morning, the first of October, the weather was good, sunny, in the high 50s, with no rain predicted the rest of the week. In two weeks to the day it would be Dwight Eisenhower’s birthday. In six weeks to the day it would be Mamie Eisenhower’s birthday.
In the morning, by the time Stan rolled over, slapped Vicki on the rear, and shuffled to the bathroom, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower had been awake more than two hours. They had arrived at the Terminal Station in Cleveland, Ohio, Stan’s hometown, on a 12-car campaign train on an overnight run from Washington. The station was in the prime of its life. But President Eisenhower was putting intercity train travel and the Cleveland Union Terminal, and all its ilk, slowly but surely out of business by federally subsidizing a network of interstate highways.
“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,” he said, without a doubt in his mind.
By the time Stan had finished dressing and was on his way to the office to pick up Bettina, the President and Mrs. Eisenhower were walking through the lobby of the Cleveland Hotel on Public Square.
It was warm, expected to hit the 70s. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Public Square, across the street, glistened in the early autumn sun. The fire department had cleaned the monument over the weekend, spraying it with hundreds of gallons of white vinegar, and then hosing off the bird droppings and grime.
The monument was built thirty years after the Civil War, a 125-foot granite shaft atop a square base housing a memorial hall, larger than life bronzes lining the outside, and marble tablets inside with the names of all the more than nine thousand Union soldiers from Cuyahoga County, the county in which the city lay, who died in the war.
“Good morning, Mr. President,” said Robert Bridle, the manager of the hotel. “Good morning, Mr. Mayor,” he said to Anthony Celebrezze, the city’s mayor.
Anthony Celebrezze was a Democrat, mayor of the fifth-largest city in the United States. He knew how to get things done. Dwight Eisenhower meant the keys to the federal purse-strings.
The mayor was an immigrant from Italy. His father had been a shepherd in Anzi, and then a track laborer on the Wheeling and Lake Erie after he migrated to the United States. Tony Celebrezze put himself through John Carroll College by working as a freight truck driver and a boxer, fighting it out in undercards.
It was Charlie Jordan’s birthday, too, who died during the war, at home, in the bedroom of his mother’s home. He had been a magician with cards, one of the best, although he never performed live in public. Stan had a dog-eared copy of his book “Thirty Card Mysteries.” It was where he learned ‘The Gray Code,’ a method of false counting.
“Did you give your dad anything for his birthday?” asked Vicki.
“He said all he wanted was a big kiss, so I gave him a big kiss,” said Dottie.
It was Irwin Kostal’s birthday, too, but he was busy working on arrangements for a new musical by Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents about Puerto Rican gangs. They were calling it “West Side Story.” After lunch he threw away the news clippings about gang violence Jerome Robbins sent him every day. He never read them.
“How about we make your dad a birthday cake after school, surprise him when he gets home?” Vicki asked Dottie.
“Oh, yeah, that would be great,’ said Dottie. “We should get him a beer, too.”
“Maybe two, maybe that would be better,” said Dottie.
It was Bonnie Parker’s birthday, too, who had died young more than twenty years earlier. She and her gang had robbed small stores, gas stations, and banks, killing nine policemen in three years. Stan had been a military policeman, a uniformed NYC patrolman, and was a licensed private detective. He bore no truck with cop killers.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he thought, leaning against a building across the street from the building Dr. Baird’s office occupied, the building Bettina had gone into a few minutes ago, a few minutes before nine.
He watched the two eyeties watching her, one of them trailing her, the other staying behind. Stan looked down the block. Bumpy was in his car, playing dumb, the engine idling. He had come to work early his first day, packing a lunch and packing a pistol. Stan didn’t carry a gun as a rule-of-thumb, only when he thought he might need it, fully loaded.
“It’s best to not use dynamite when you go ice fishing, unless there is no other way,” Old Man Duluc had told him. “Then make sure you bring matches.”
He didn’t make it an agency rule one way or the other. There was no manual. He left it up to whoever he was working with.
“You’re welcome to it, but I don’t think it’s going to be necessary, at least not today,” he said.
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather have a biscuit with me every day,” said Bumpy. “I don’t believe in letting anyone close distance on me.”
“I can understand that,” said Stan.
He told Betty to be careful, not bother bluffing, flashing her fake business card, but getting the hell out if anything started to happen. He didn’t think they were up to more than watching and waiting, even though push was coming to shove.
“You know where the fire exits are?” he asked her.
“I know where they are,” she said.
“Where are they?”
She told him.
“OK,” he said.
Bonnie Parker had been twenty-four when she and her lowlife boyfriend Clyde Barrow were shot to death in their high-living Ford Deluxe V-8 by Texas Rangers and Louisiana police bearing automatic rifles. Push had come to shove later than sooner for them, but when Frank Hamer and his lawmen opened fire they stopped only when their guns ran out of ammunition. The Louisiana policemen, unlike the Rangers, weren’t used to the sustained gunfire, and went deaf the rest of the day.
It was Stan Rittman’s birthday. He was thirty-four years old. He had seen plenty of wrong-doers racketeers burglars stickup men highwaymen to know the two young thugs watching Betty bore watching, but not worrying about. Once Betty was back, in a cab with him, Bumpy would follow the followers and find out where they got their marching orders from.
Stan was betting good money on Big Paulie. Ezra was hoping it was Big Paulie. Stan was hoping Ezra wouldn’t blow his stack.
Dr. Baird’s receptionist looked up when Bettina walked in at five minutes after nine.
“Good morning,” she said. “I’m afraid the doctor isn’t in.”
“I know,” said Bettina.
“Oh, in that case, how can I help you?”
“I wonder if you would mind looking at this drawing?” she asked, unrolling the police-style sketch Lefty had made last night and flattening it out on the receptionist’s desk.
”Do you happen to recognize this man as one of Dr. Baird’s patients?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Is he a small man, on the younger side?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Do you have an address for him?”
“No, Dr. Baird said he was a special case, and he would be handling all the billing and correspondence himself. He never gave me a file,” she said, waving a hand at the filing cabinets.
“Al right, thanks,” said Bettina, rolling up the drawing. “You’ve been a big help.”
“What’s going on?” asked the receptionist.
Bettina had the office door half open. There was a man lounging near the elevators, as though he was minding somebody else’s business. She let go of the door and stepped back into the office. She knew a second-string goombah when she saw one.
“Dr. Baird isn’t going to be in today, or any time soon. He’s going to be moving on in few days, maybe out of state, maybe out of the country. If I was smart girl, I would get out of Dodge. I would lock up and leave the minute I’m gone. I would also take that drawing with me,” she said, pointing to what she was sure was a drawing by Jackson Pollack.
“It’s by an artist by the name of Jackson Pollack. He died a couple of months ago, so there won’t be anymore drawings by him, which means that one is a one-of-a-kind.”
“Oh, I see,” said the receptionist.
“One last thing, after I’m gone, and you’ve locked up, take the fire exit.”
“Why should I do that?”
“For your health.”
“Oh,” said the receptionist.
“Be quiet about it, too.”
She watched Bettina walk to the elevator and watched a young man with a toothpick in his mouth get in with her. The elevator went down. She stood up from her chair. She rifled the office for anything on paper that referred to her, stuffed everything into her handbag, and took the drawing off the wall. She replaced it with a framed certificate Dr. Baird no longer displayed. She walked out with the Jackson Pollack, carrying it partly hidden between several New Yorker magazines, shut off the lights, locked the office door, and left the building by the fire stairs.
When she got outside, she walked some blocks and boarded the first passing bus. She sat down behind the driver. No one got on at the same time, or at the next stop. She didn’t get off until the bus reached the end of the line and she waited to be the last passenger off. It was only when she was on a bus going back the same way that she relaxed, letting out a long slow breath.
It wasn’t even ten in the morning, yet, she thought. Monday morning. She was out of a job. She didn’t care. Dr. Baird was a cold fish, and barely paid her Park Avenue pay. She would take the rest of the week off and start looking for a better job next Monday. She might try Madison Avenue. Her boyfriend wrote copy. He knew somebody at one of the art museums. She would tell him about the picture. Maybe it was worth something.
“Are you and Betty taking me to the game on Wednesday?” asked Dottie. “I’m going to talk to Pee Wee Reese before the game.”
Six years earlier Pee Wee Reese had become the only pro ballplayer to ever hit a home run without hitting a home run. He drilled a line drive to the right field fence, where it hit the fencing, caromed, dropped down on one of the advertising boards part-way down the wall, out of reach, bounced, rolled, and came to a stop. The players and fans in the stands could all plainly see the ball. Pee Wee Reese sauntered around the bases. The umpires huddled and finally ruled it a home run. Someone found a ladder, hauled it to the fence, and retrieved the ball. The rightfielder disgustedly threw it into the stands, rewarded by a chorus of Bronx cheers. Howlin’ Hilda banged on her cow bell.
Casey Stengel, who would be managing the New York Yankees in two days, hit the first ever home run at Ebbets Field, in 1913, an inside-the-park job. He had to run like hell to get it done.
“I’m going to be on TV!”
“I know,” laughed Vicki. “You’re going to be a big star.”
“So, we’re all going?”
“Betty is on that job with your dad, and I don’t think she’s going to be able to make it, unless they break it in the next couple of days, but I’ll take you. Stan and Ezra have tickets for the game. Maybe he’ll be able to make it. Maybe we’ll see him there and we can squeeze into the stands with him.”
“If I see him, I’m going to wave to him from the field,” said Dottie.
“Make sure you wear your Bum’s cap and wave that.”
The offices at Ebbets Field were above the main entrance. The main entry was through an 80-foot round rotunda of iron and stucco almost thirty feet high. A chandelier hung down the middle. The flooring was Italian marble tile. The first game ever played at Ebbets Field was delayed when no one remembered to bring the key to the gate. It was delayed again when they remembered they had forgotten to have the Star and Stripes on hand to raise on the centerfield flagpole. Someone rushed to a nearby hardware store to find a flag.
“Howlin’ Hilda?” asked Bettina.
“She comes to all the games,” said Stan. “Hilda somebody-or-other, she sits in the bleachers and yells her head off. She’s loud, extremely loud. She used to work at the ballpark, back when it opened, probably, breaking down 50-pound bags of peanuts into the small bags they sell. She’d stay, they gave them free passes, and watch the games. For awhile she banged on a cast iron skillet with a metal ladle, but the team gave her a brass cow bell, instead. They said it was because she was so dedicated, but Ezra and I think it was so she wouldn’t kill anyone with that skillet.”
No one in the offices recognized the man in the picture once Stan and Betty started showing it around, once they had talked their way in, accompanied by an off-duty moonlighting city policeman who remembered Stan, until one of the office girls suggested they try maintenance and the field crew. Several of the men in maintenance recognized the face.
“Go talk to Max,” one of them said.
“Max Ringolsby, he’s the crew chief. I think he’s in the visitor’s clubhouse this morning, thinking up ways to make it more uncomfortable than it already is. Follow the smoke. You’ll find him.”
It wasn’t hard spotting the signals. Smoke was pouring out of the dugout. A short thick-set man wearing a plaid cap was on the steps, a half-foot of cigar in his mouth, leaning on the front railing looking out onto the field.
“If the stogie bothers you, lady, I can put it out,” Max said to Bettina. “I don’t mind.”
“If you don’t mind, it won’t matter to me, and as long as you don’t offer me one, I’m good with the smoke,” answered Betty. “At least for a few minutes.”
“Now you’re my kind of broad,” said Max.
He exhaled a beach ball-sized cloud of grayish white cigar smoke. It smelled like cedar and oak nuts.
“That doesn’t smell half bad,” said Bettina.
“Say, do you remember Frenchy Bordagaray?” Max asked Stan.
“I can’t say that I do. Should I?”
“I’ve seen you at ballgames,” said Max. “You come with a kike, right?”
“That’s right,” said Stan. “You’ve got a good eye.”
“Frenchy played for the Dodgers back in the 40s,” said Max.
“Before my time,” said Stan.
“He played for the Bums back in the 30s, too, played for the Senators, the Cards, the Yankees, and then came back here. He was a good ballplayer, fast. When he was with the Senators, before games, sometimes they had races, one hundred yards, between him and a horse. He never won, but the horses never beat him by much.”
“Is that right?”
“Anyway, this La Corona is the same cigar Frenchy used to smoke,” said Max. “It cost us a game one time. He was on second, tail end of the game, tried to come home on a sharp single, but got tagged out at the box when he didn’t slide into the plate. He said he didn’t want to ruin the La Corona’s he had tucked away in his back pocket.”
“Why do they call the Dodgers the bums?” asked Bettina.
“It happened because dem bums were bums for such a long time,” said Stan. “At least they don’t call them pigs, since the stadium was built on land that used to be a garbage dump called Pigtown, because so many pigs grazed there. The name just stuck. It wasn’t until last year, when they beat the Yankees and took the Series, that the Daily News had a hobo on the front page asking “WHO’S A BUM?” and it finally stopped being a lovable loser thing, which had gotten old.”
“That’s right, sister,” said Max.
“We’re looking for somebody, we think he works here,” said Stan. “Do you mind looking at a drawing?”
“Yeah, that’s Tony,” said Max, glancing at the drawing.
“Tony de Marco?”
“Have you seen him today?”
“No, I haven’t seen him today. If you see him, tell him he’s fired for not showing up two days before the Series, and for not calling me with any reason about why, and he don’t need to show up again, not tomorrow or ever.”
Stan took a business card out of his wallet and gave it to Max. He wrote Ezra and Betty’s names on the back of the card.
“If he shows up, would you call me, or my associates, and let us know?”
“Sure,” said Max. “Can I ask what it’s all about?”
“It’s confidential,” said Stan, “but it’s nothing to do with the team. We think he’s involved in something, in a case we’re working on. It might be serious, so we’d appreciate knowing right away.”
“I’ve got you,” said Max.
He walked them back towards the main entry.
“You’ve got lots of grim-looking guys in grays suits around,” said Stan.
“Yeah, Secret Service,” said Max. “Think they know everything. They’re sniffing around everywhere from top to bottom, so that everything will be safe and secure on Wednesday when Ike is here for the game. He’s throwing out the first pitch.”
“I heard about that,” said Stan.
“We’re going to be opening up the centerfield fence and his limo is going to drive right on to the field all the way to home plate. I hope to God it stays dry, otherwise we’re going to have a hell of a time with tire tracks. One of the agents told me the limo weighs as much as a Sherman tank.”
The stadium organ sounded, lumbering, then tip-toeing into a rendition of “Three Blind Mice.”
“That’s Gladys, warming up,” said Max. “She’s got a good sense of humor, or just a good sense of sarcasm, but she plays that whenever she thinks the umpires have gotten it wrong, at least wrong from our point of view.”
The unofficial Dodgers fan band, the “Sym-Phoney Band,” had played the song for years before every game, at the moment the umpires stepped onto the field for the ballgame, until the league office ordered them to stop.
Gladys Gooding ignored the league office.
“Three blind mice, three blind mice, did you ever see such a sight in your life, as three blind mice,” she played, pumping the nursery rhyme out into the nearly empty stadium on her electric organ.
Storm Drain – A Stan Rittman Mystery
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.