All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a free-lance writer from Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Lakewood, Ohio, on the northeastern edge of the Rocky River valley. Ed's short stories and non-fiction are at www.147stanleystreet.com. Write-ups about modern yoga are at www.paperbackyoga.com. The serial biography 'Dogs Never Bite Me' is at www.dogsneverbiteme.wordpress.com. A year of high school is at www.slightlyunhappyconstantly.com. Feature stories about Prince Edward Island are at www.redislandpei.com. 'Storm Drain', a Stan Rittman Mystery, is at www.maninthesewer.com. He edits PEI Theatre, the web site of the Professional Theatre Network of Prince Edward Island, which is at www.peitheatre.com.

Chapter 10

Albert Kotin, Predators, 1951 Large

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 5thStreet 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.

“What?”

“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 63rdStreet 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 5thfloor, 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, Janez behind the building, and Bartek 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 Bartek.

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Chapter 9

large

“It’s really a good day for it,” said Dwight Eisenhower, smiling broadly.

It was going to be his first full round of golf since June. He’d had a heart attack last year. Then when this summer rounded itself into shape, he needed surgery for ileitis. The past week had been filled to the brim with the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Even though he had been unopposed, no need for a stampede, there had been his hard campaigning to drop Dick Nixon from the ticket, to no avail

He was president because it was his duty. Richard Nixon wanted to be president. “Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy,” thought Ike.

The Negro singer Nat King Cole had spoken yesterday, the last day of the convention. He made it happen, no matter the carping about it. He knew he had to give in on the Vice-President, who was a hard-line anti-Communist who the rank-and-file supported. But he knew he didn’t have to give in to Jim Crow. He could take the high road and leave the bloodletting to Tricky Dick.

They drove up to Pebble Beach before the convention ended, before the Nixon’s could invite him to dinner. Richard Nixon’s father was seriously ill, besides, and Ike had urged him to go before it was too late. There were three cars full of Secret Service fore and aft. Charlie Taylor, who’d been at it for years, was in one of the cars. One night when Ike was having trouble opening his safe, and asked for help, his agents told him safecracking wasn’t part of their training. Ike was beside himself until Charlie Taylor got the safe open with no problem.

“I won’t know whether to trust you, or not, after this,” laughed Ike.

He had been driven to his golf outing in a black Lincoln Cosmopolitan. It was one of ten presidential touring cars. They all had extra headroom to accommodate the tall silk hat he wore on formal occasions. The cars were almost 20 feet long, V8’s with Hydra-Matic transmissions, and heavily armored, weighing in at close to ten thousand pounds. One of them was a convertible, a 1950 model built for Harry Truman. It had been fitted with a Plexiglas top since then. Ike called it the Bubble-top.

It was a high sky, blue, dotted with seaside clouds.

“It’s a pleasure, Mr. President,” said “Turk” Archdeacon, his caddy.

“Why, that’s fine,” said President Eisenhower.

Turk had been caddying at Cypress Point since he was nine-years-old, almost 40 years ago. He and Ike walked to the practice tee. It was a cool sunny morning. Ike started whacking balls out into the distance. He wielded Bobby Jones woods with the official five-star general insignia on the heads. At the putting green he placed three balls down on the ground 20-some feet away from the cup.

He sank all three.

“I should quit right there,” he laughed.

He’d been practicing on a green on the White House grounds, and been hitting wedges, irons, and 3-woods, sometimes hitting balls over the south fence. When he did, he sent his valet to retrieve them.

The squirrels that prowled the lawn dug up his putting green, burying acorns nuts hardtack. One morning he finally had enough. “The next time you see one of those squirrels go near my putting green, take a gun and shoot it!” The Secret Service asked the groundskeepers to trap the squirrels, instead, and release them in a park far away.

In a week August would be come and gone.  He would be 66-years-old soon.  “I’m saving that rocker for the day when I feel as old as I really am,” he said, pointing to the rocker in the Oval Office. More days now than not, he felt like the day had drawn near.

His birthday was on October 14th. CBS was planning a “Person to Person” style TV show the night before, on Saturday night. Eddie Fisher was going to sing ‘Counting Your Blessings Instead of Sheep’.  Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel were going to sing ‘Down Among the Sheltering Palms’. Nat King Cole, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, was singing ‘It’s Just a Little Street Where Old Friends Meet’.

He was looking forward to it.

In six weeks he would be throwing out the first pitch for the first game of the World Series. There were five or six teams in the hunt, although the New York Yankees looked like a lock at least to get there. If he were a betting man, which he was, he would be putting his money on the Bronx Bombers.

He liked Cypress Point because it was set in coastal dunes, wandered into the Del Monte forest during the front nine, and then reemerged on the rocky Pacific coastline. The 15th, 16th, and 17thholes played right along the ocean. He’d played golf on many courses around the world. This was one of the best of them.

Dottie was playing stickball in the street.

The street wasn’t West 56th.  Her father had told her to never play stickball on their own street. Broken windows were ruled home runs. Stan didn’t want any home runs near his home. She and her friends always played on West 55thor West 57th.  A boy bigger than her had once teased and pushed her down to the ground about it.

“You always do everything your old man tells you to do?” he said, curling his lip, looking down and straddling her.

She still had the broom handle in her hands. Looking up from the street gutter she whacked him as hard as she could across the shins. When the boy’s father showed up at their apartment that night to complain, her father threw the man out, dragging him down the stairs, threatening him and his son and any of their neighbors with harm if they ever laid hands on his daughter again.

“You did the right thing Dottie,” he said. “If somebody says something rotten to you, be a lady about it. But if somebody pushes you, or grabs you, or hits you, you hit them back as hard as you can. You always do that. That’s so they won’t push you down again.”

“OK, dad,” she said.

It was a good day for stickball. Eight kids had shown up, they had made their teams, and Willy, her friend from Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, had brought a new pinky ball. It wasn’t a Pensy, either. It was the cream of the crop, a Spalding Hi-Bounce.

“Spaldeen!”

They drew a square rectangle with chalk on the brick wall at the back of a vacant lot on West 55thto represent the strike zone. The buildings on both sides were the foul lines. They chalked first and third base on the building walls and second base was a manhole on the sidewalk. If the ball hit any building across the street, it was a home run. If it hit the roof it was a home run-and-a-half.

“There ain’t no runs-and-a-half,” a snot-nosed kid from Chelsea, visiting his cousins, sneered.

“If you’re going to play stickball on West 55th, you better learn Hell’s Kitchen rules,” gibed Willy.

Dottie was batter up. She smacked a hot grounder, but it was caught on the first bounce, and she was out. Willy got as far as third base, but three strikes and you’re out finished their inning. By the time they came back up in the second inning they were behind by five runs.

Dwight Eisenhower looked out at the par-5 10th hole. He had taken off his tan sweater, but still had a tan cap on his head. Seven months ago Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, living legend professionals, had taken on Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward, amateurs, but talented and skillful, in a friendly foursome at Cypress Point.

The 10th hole turned out to be the key to the contest.

“I bet they can beat anybody,” said San Francisco car dealer Eddie Lowery about the two amateurs, who were his employees. He was talking to fellow millionaire George Coleman. The bet and the match were on.

Harvie Ward was a two-time U.S. Amateur champion. Three months later Ken Venturi came within one stroke of winning the Masters. The cypress-strewn rolling dunes of the course on the wind-swept coast, the deep ravines, knee-deep grass, sand on all sides of the fairways, weren’t redoubtable, not to them.

Ben Hogan won the day on the 10th when he rolled in a wedge shot for a 3. The eagle and 27 birdies testified to the unfriendliness of the match. The drinks at the bar rubber-stamped the camaraderie afterwards.

Ike was playing with Harry Hunt, the president of Cypress Point, Sam Morse, a one-time football star who had developed Pebble Beach, and John McCone, a businessman who had been the undersecretary of the Air Force. Ike was partnered with Harry Hunt. They were playing a dollar-dollar-dollar Nassau bet. It was even-steven at the halfway mark, even though Ike had stunk up the 8thhole.

“Where is it?” he asked looking for the green across the dogleg.

He sliced his tee shot into sand. When he got to it he hit it less than ten feet further on. Then he hit it fat, the Ben Hogan ball soaring twenty feet, and falling into somebody’s heel print.

“I’ve had it, pick it up,” he said.

“Have a little trouble?” asked Sam Morse.

“Not a little,” said Ike, “but a lot”

“All right, all right, let’s pick it up, let’s get some roofies,” yelled Willy, urging his team on. “But chips on the ball. I mean it.”

He meant that if his new Spaldeen was roofed, and couldn’t be found, everyone would chip in to pay for a new ball.

Hal came up to the plate, wagged the broom handle menacingly, and planted his high-top rubber-soled Keds firmly in the unravelling asphalt. They were feel-like-everyday’s-a-Saturday shoes. His batted ball hit the side wall at third base where the wall met the ground and bounced back to home plate in a high slow arc.

“It’s a Hindoo,” he shouted.

“No, that ain’t a do-over, foul ball, so it’s a strike,” shouted back Dave Carter, who everyone called Rusty because his hair was red.

“What do you know?”

“I know what I gotta know.”

“Go see where you gotta go,” said Hal.

“No, you stop wasting my time,” said Rusty. “It was a foul ball.”

“Ah, go play stoopball,” shouted Hal.

Stoopball was throwing a pinky against the steps of a stoop, and then catching it, either on the fly or on a bounce. Catching the ball was worth 10 points. Catching a pointer on the fly was worth 100 points. A pointer was when the ball hit the edge of a step and flew back like a line drive, threatening to take your eye out. When you played stoopball you played against yourself.

“You got a lotta skeeve wichoo,” Rusty shouted back at Hal.

“All right, already, strike one,” said Willy, finally.

He knew Rusty would never give in. He was a weisenheimer, besides, someone you had to keep your eyes on, or your Spaldeen might grow legs. It wasn’t that Rusty was a thief. He just kept his nickels in his pocket. Willy had heard he was so cheap he still had his communion money from two years ago.

Rusty had been born in Brooklyn. That was his problem.

Hal hit a cheap, a slow roller, but when Rusty let his guard down, reaching leisurely down for the Spaldeen, it went between his legs, and the next second Hal was standing at first base, smirking.

“Comeback stickball,” he whispered.

Eleven batters later Dottie’s team was on the plus side of the scoreboard, nine to five.

On the tee of the 17th hole Ike lined up his shot. Sea lions on the rocks below him barked. “It’s hard to hit a shot and listen to those seals at the same time,” he said.

Dwight Eisenhower was accustomed to having guards around him, during the campaign in North Africa, and later as commander of the Allied Army in Europe. The Nazis had tried to kill him several times. Secret Service agents near his person nearly every minute of the day was like a second skin. He knew what it took to save his skin. When he moved into the White House he didn’t mingle mindlessly, shake hands in crowds, or do anything stupid.

“Protecting Ike works like clockwork,” said Secret Service agent Gerald Blaine.

Mamie Eisenhower gave her agents nicknames. One, who was a good dancer, was “Twinkletoes”. He asked Mamie to keep it between themselves. Some of the agents called her “Mom”.

“You don’t have to worry about me, but don’t let anything happen to my grandchildren,” Ike told Secret Service chief U. E. Baughman. The Diaper Detail guarded the four kids. Dwight Eisenhower changed the name of the presidential retreat in Maryland in 1953 from Shangri-La to Camp David. “Shangri-La is just a little fancy for a Kansas farm boy,” he said. He renamed it in honor of his 5-year-old grandson, David.

When Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union leader, visited the retreat he said the name sounded like a place where “stray dogs were sent to die.”

Ike looked for the fairway on the 18th  hole. “Where do we aim here?” he asked.

“Keep it away from the right,” said Harry Hunt There was a stand of pine trees on the right. “That’s the Iron Curtain. You’ll never get through that stuff.”

Ike laughed and hit a long drive. His next shot was a 4-iron and he nailed it onto the green 20 feet short of the pin.

In 1954 eighty people were convicted of threatening the president, sent to prison or locked away as madmen. In 1955 nearly two thousand credible threats were made against Dwight Eisenhower’s life. The year before, the Russian KGB officer Peter Deryabin, after defecting, had told the CIA about a plot to kill the president in 1952.

“We were preparing an operation to assassinate Eisenhower during his visit to Korea in order to create panic among the Americans and win the war in Korea.”

Shortly after Mother’s Day the Secret Service investigated a threat to plant two boxes of explosives at a baseball park where the president was planning on taking in a game. Whenever he played golf, agents with high-powered guns took up vantage points on hills, surveying the course with telescopic sights. Other agents, dressed in golf clothes, carried .351 rifles in their golf bags as they tagged along. In the parking lots the “Queen Mary”, an outfitted armored car, was the rolling command center.

“Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination,” Adolf Hitler had said. “This is the war of the future.”

“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,” Dwight Eisenhower said. He and the Allied Army had derailed the Nazi night train. No one was going to take him by surprise. He was planning on sitting in his rocking chair one day, rocking back and forth.

The woman sitting on the stoop across the street watched Dottie and her friends walk away, their stickball game over, one of them bouncing his pinky, talking happily.

“We killed them, just killed them,” said Willy.

“We sure did,” said Hal.

“What a game!” said Dottie.

“Yeah, first we were down, came back big, you put some Chinese on that ball between Rusty’s legs, they slipped ahead, and then we score fourteen just like that, and it’s all over.”

“Did you see Rusty, the putz, pulling that long face?” asked Hal.

“Oh, he’ll be back, he loves stickball,” said Dottie.

Dwight Eisenhower had served in the armed forces from one end of his adult life to the other. After he retired he was dean at Columbia, and then president. He was still the president and, he was sure, he was going to beat Adlai Stevenson better than he had four years ago.

Even though he’d commanded millions of men in the last war, he thought war was rarely worth going to war for. He hated it. “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

“Didn’t you once say that we are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it?” asked Harry Hunt.

“When we have to, but always remember, the most terrible job in the world is to be a second lieutenant leading a platoon when you’re on the battlefield. There‘s no glory in battle worth the blood it costs. When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it themselves. After my experience, I’ve come to hate war.”

The Cold War wasn’t as hot as it had been ever since Nikita Khrushchev had denounced Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality earlier in the year, as well as admitting the Man of Steel’s crimes committed against Mother Russia. A door had been cracked open. Ike had long thought war settles nothing, even when it’s all over. He was afraid of the arms race, the march towards a nuclear catastrophe.

“You just can’t have this kind of war,” he’s told his inner circle. “There aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.”

“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative” is what he had written and wanted to say at the Cow Palace, but didn’t, not with Dick Nixon and the Red Scare and the military hand-in-hand with industry. He wanted to call it what it was, a military-industrial complex that was always crying “fire” in a crowded assembly

But he couldn’t, at least not until after he was re-elected.

In the meantime, he planned on speaking softly and carrying a big stick, even if it was only a long shaft wood driver, the biggest club he had in his bag.

Chapter 8

kline

“Go out there and tell that stronzo kike across the street to get the hell away from here,” said Albert Anastasia.

“Sure, boss.”

The man in the car across the street looked like hell, seedy, big bags under his eyes, gray jowls, and a thick cigar stuck in his mouth. He was wearing baggy pants, scuffed shoes, a wrinkled gray shirt, and a loosely knotted worse for wear Belly Warmer tie. A hula girl and palm trees swayed painted faded on it.

The mob bodyguard was wearing a black shirt, razor-creased slacks, a skinny belt, and lizard shoes. He leaned into the Chevy. There was a camera on the passenger side of the seat. He didn’t give it a second look.

“What do you want here, Weejee? It’s not even dark, yet. There isn’t anything going on. No one is going down this afternoon. Jumping time is five in the morning when the liquor runs out. The boss says beat it.”

“I’m just waiting for a girl,” said Arthur Fellig in a high-pitched voice.

“ What kind of girl?’

“A girl with a healthy body and a sick mind.”

“You got a sick mind.”

Arthur Fellig was a newshound photographer.

“He always wanted to see the soul of the person. He wanted to see the essence of the person. And he certainly wanted to see the tits of the person,” said Judy Malina, who was once chased around Weejee’s apartment. She escaped before he could get his paws on her breasts.

“You’re going to need some carbon tetra-chloride for that,” said the bodyguard, pointing to the beer stains on the hula girl.

“I like them on the wet side, not too icy and deadpan,” said the photographer.

“All right, why don’t you get in gear, maybe go down to Sussman Volk’s and take some pictures of the salamis and bolonies.”

“How about I stay right here?” said the photographer, exhaling a foul cloud of smoke from his stogie.

The bodyguard moved away from the car window. He looked down the street. He waved and snapped his fingers once. The policeman on the corner walked up to the car. Arthur Fellig could see the precinct numerals on the shield over the left breast of the man’s jacket. His black tie was knotted in a standard four-in-hand with a gunmetal tie clasp and he wore a blue military shirt with removable brass buttons.

“This man is bothering Mr. Anastasia.”

The policeman twirled his nightstick and rapped on the roof of the Chevy.

“Move along,” he said.

Arthur Fellig turned the engine over. “I’ll see him flat on his back some day, sooner than later, if I’ve been hearing it right, and I’ll get the shot,” he said to the bodyguard, and drove away.

Albert Anastasia motioned to the waiter for coffee.

“I got nothing against Jews,” he said to Luca “Big Paulie” Gravano. “I had plenty of kikes working for me back in the corporation days.” The corporation was the Brownsville Boys. The newspapers called it Murder Incorporated. After gunning down their man, they often left a Black Hand impression on a piece of paper beside the body.

If they were in a hurry they wore a black glove on their trigger hand and left it at that.

“Gurrah Shapiro, Kid Twist, Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss. What the hell, Meyer and I still work some side by side in Cuba. As long as the Commies stay in the mountains, and Batista toes the line, it’s a gold mine down there.”

President Eisenhower was running for reelection against Adlai Stevenson. The smart money was on Ike. He had gotten over his heart attack and was back eating pig knuckles and sauerkraut. Fidel Castro and his brother were aggravating the President with their penny arcade talk of invading Cuba. Ike would take care of it after November.

Luca Gravano nodded, sipped his coffee, and ate one brutti ma buoni cookie after another from the plate in front of him. They were Tuscan cookies, northern style, but he had always had a taste for them. They were called “ugly but good” and were made of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, amaretto, and oranges.

“Big Paulie” came from Calabria, in the south of Italy, the same as Albert Anastasia. He had come by freighter to New York, the same as Anastasia and his brothers had done years before, jumping ship the same year Anastasia was convicted and sentenced to death in the electric chair at Sing Sing for stabbing and strangling another longshoreman. But, after he got a new trial, almost everyone who had testified against him changed every word of their testimony. The other witnesses dropped off the face of the earth.

After his release he threw in with Joe “The Boss” Masseria, making book, hijacking, and running liquor. Ten years later he was one of four gunmen, along with Bugsy Siegel, who cut down “The Boss” in a Coney Island diner.

Luca Gravano was the right-hand man under Tony Anastasia on the docks, which meant he worked for Albert Anastasia. He had no problem with that. The only problem he had was staying on his toes wary and careful with Albert Anastasia every second of every minute.

The mob kingpin’s friends called him “The Executioner”. His brother “Tough Tony” called him “The Lord High Executioner”. Some of his friends and all of his enemies called him “The Mad Hatter”.

“He is one grand guy,” said Anthony Coppola, Anastasia’s sometime driver, sometime bodyguard, and most of the time crony. “Lots of people will cry when he’s gone.”

Luca understood what Albert Anastasia wanted him to do. What he didn’t understand was why there were three bodyguards with them, one outside, and two in the restaurant at a nearby table. It must have shown on his face when he glanced around and behind him.

“I’m worried about my family,” Anastasia said.

“What do you mean?”

“Forget about it, forget about it.”

His wife and son lived in a mansion in Fort Lee, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, the estate surrounded by a 10-foot-high fence topped with barbed wire, and the lawn looked after by a pack of Doberman Pinschers. What was there to worry about?

There was the New York County District Attorney. “Make no mistake about it,” he said. “These are real tough boys, and I mean really tough, but we’re tough, too.” He was pushing to get Anastasia into his office to talk about the murder of his ex-friend, Frank Scalise, a couple of months ago inside a fruit store in broad daylight. But what was that going to come to?

There weren’t any witnesses, and even if there were, there weren’t any witnesses.

Two years ago it had been the murder of Vincent Macri, and the disappearance of his brother, Benedetto, both of them Anastasia bodyguards, that had gotten the city lawmen worked up. It had come to nothing. There was the disappearance of Charles Ferri and his wife Marie, too, at about the same time, after the two of them testified against Anastasia in the income tax prosecution the Federals had brought against “The Executioner”.

Everybody knew Vincent Macri and Charley Ferri were friends. Everybody knew what had changed hands. Everybody knew it was going to come to nothing.

“You want me to make sure nobody gets to the doc, right, especially not the private cop.” said Luca Gravano, not exactly asking, but making sure exactly what “The Mad Hatter” was saying.

“That’s right,” said Albert Anastasia. “Nobody outside of his circle, outside of his work, nobody asking any questions.”

Luca Gravano knew what Albert Anastasia wanted. He knew there was a secret, but he didn’t need to be let in on it. There weren’t any more questions he needed to ask, except one, to make sure he wouldn’t get the job at hand wrong in any way.

“If anybody gets too close?”

“You feed them to that lion of yours.”

“It’s a female, a lioness,” said Gravano.

“Even better,” said Anastasia.

“Yeah.”

“Where do you keep her?”

“In the basement of the store”

“That works for you?”

“Yeah, if we’re doing a shakedown, or when somebody owes us money, and won’t pay up, no matter what, we bring him to the store, and push him halfway down into the basement. We throw a slab of raw meat over his shoulder down to Cleo, that’s the cat. She roars her appreciation and there’s no arguing after that. We always collect.”

“That’s good, Paulie, that’s good,” said Albert Anastasia.

“Yeah.”

“He is a savage,’ said Chief Inspector Raymond Martin, head of the Brooklyn South detectives. “He held another man’s forearm between his hands and broke the bone over the edge of an office desk, as a way of collecting a debt owed to his combination. The man told the story to one of my detectives, but he was too frightened to sign a complaint, unless he be killed. He was killed later, anyway.”

“You take care of this, it’s important. You call me personally, day or night, if you have to,” said Anastasia.

He stood up, put on his hat, and followed his bodyguards out of the restaurant slowly and deliberately in his money-glow suit. Luca Gravano had another cup of coffee and another plate of cookies. When he stepped outside he threw a nickel down for a copy of the New York Daily News. Wall Street was up on a “rousing rally” of five points. The Woolworth heiress was in court, being sued by a Manhattan florist for not making good on $2,500 worth of flowers. He liked her style. The crime story on page 3 caught his eye when he saw the picture of George Rosen.

“There was a rubber death’s head mask, a grisly Halloween thing of gray and purple, on the seat beside small-time gambler George Rosen, 39, as he and a masked pal stepped from a stolen automobile in Brooklyn shortly before noon yesterday to stage a payroll robbery.” George didn’t get far. He was lying on his back in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. He hadn’t even had time to slip on the Grim Reaper before he was shot dead.

If George Rosen owed him money, it didn’t matter anymore, he thought.

He stepped off the sidewalk into the street and stuck his arm out like he meant it. An “Otto” DeSoto Deluxe cruised up to his ankles. He got into the back of the cab, stretched out his legs, and looked up through the see-through roof. The V8 purred as it idled. The seats were green leather. There was plenty-and-more legroom.

He lit up a Camel.

“Where to, chief?”

“Red Hook.”

“You got it.”

The suspension of the big car was roly-poly. It was like taking one of the ferryboats. He started thinking about what ma would be making for dinner. He liked Ossa Buco, Eggplant Parmigiana, and Pasta Primavera, with semolina bread, olive oil, and pesto on the side. His favorite was Chicken Tetrazzini, named after Luisa Tetrazzini, a soprano known as “The Florentine Nightingale”.

Luca Gravano’s headquarters was a small storefront in Brooklyn, The sign above the door said it was the Murphy Bed Company, agents and distributors. “The Disappearing Bed” was stenciled across one window. There were several demonstration models in the front showroom, although neither Luca nor his brothers had ever sold a single Murphy of any kind. Among themselves they joked it was “the foldaway trap for your worst enemies.”

He lived next door in a brownstone with three of his brothers and his mother.

“I don’t know anything about the mob. I don’t know anything about any organizations. I only know about my five children, four sons and a daughter,” said Raffaella Gravano one day when she was asked by detectives about the alleged killers, two of her sons, of a rival bookmaker in front of Bronx restaurant.

What she said to policemen wasn’t what she said at home.

“Women run the show in the south of Italy,” she told her sons. “Maybe our men come home with bloody boots, but I know how to cement guns inside walls. I hold my head high. I keep the memory of the dead alive.”

“Hey, driver, stop at Alleva’s when you go by,” said ”Big Paulie” to the cab driver as they passed the Church of the Most Precious Blood.

“The cheese place?”

“That’s right.”

The Alleva Dairy cheese shop was at the intersection of Mulberry and Grand Streets. The windows were filled with printed and neon signs. Inside were ricotta, mozzarella, and the new hero sandwiches. Prosciutto hung from the tin ceiling.

“When I was young, there was one kind of prosciutto,” said one of the old butchers. “It was made in the winter, by hand, and aged for two years. It was sweet when you smelled it. A profound perfume. Unmistakable.”

Luca ordered a sandwich for himself and five pounds of in-bone prosciutto and a knob of fresh mozzarella for his mother. She liked hers sliced over fresh melon. He liked his wrapped around a breadstick. His brothers got the leftovers.

“When I find the original meal these leftovers have been coming from, I ain’t going to be sharing it with anybody,” said Frankie “Kid Blast” Gravano, one of his brothers. His two other brothers, Larry and Raymond, nodded that they were with Frankie, even though Frankie meant he was going to be keeping it all to himself.

Luca was the oldest of the four boys. “Kid Blast” was the youngest. Luca was the smartest of the four. “Kid Blast” was the most dangerous of the four. Luca had the authority in the family. “Kid Blast” wanted it.

He had taken a shot at Luca the summer before.

“I just blew my top. He said something about me I didn’t like. I purposefully missed him.”

Their sister, Carnellia, had been engaged to one of Vincent “Chin” Gigante’s brothers, but had backed out of the marriage. “I’m not marrying a peasant,” she said. He entered a seminary and was training to become a priest. Carnellia moved out of the family house, got an apartment in Greenwich Village, and went to work in pizzazz. Her new boyfriend, a third-generation German and a Protestant, who was an ad man at a Madison Avenue agency, got her a job there scripting TV commercials making the might be nice into the must have.

Carnellia called her mother every Sunday night, but the Gravano boys had not spoken a word to their sister in more than a year. Luca had seen red the morning his mother wanted to invite Carnellia to dinner. “She’s not coming here in her tight dress and that stuck up wise guy who thinks we’re all wrongdoers,” he said.

“I can see it in her eyes, ma. Except for you, she’s ashamed of us. I don’t want her in this house.”

“She’s your only sister, my only daughter,” said his mother.

“We’re from the Old World, but it’s the New World now, what we make for ourselves, in our own world, and when Carnellia flips she can stay there,” said Luca. ”What we have is us, our family, and our pride. When she spits on that she can’t come back here.”

Raffaella Gravano crossed her arms over her stomach, below her sagging breasts, grim and frustrated in her polka-dotted apron.

“I’m the man of the house, ma,” he said. “Don’t bite my head off.”

Chapter 7

Helen-Frankenthaler-First-Creatures-1959.-Oil-enamel-charcoal-and-pencil-on-sized-primed-linen

Bumpy Williams had a receding dimpled off-center chin and dead-set eyes. There was an ugly scar on one side of his chin. His eyes were a colorless brown. He wore a brown single-breasted jacket and brown pleated trousers, although his shoes were City Club two lace two tones. His face was what made him good at what he did. No one could ever remember what he looked like. Nobody wanted to get caught staring at his chin and nobody ever looked in the vicinity of his eyes, which when he was on the job had a flat cold gaze.

Most people couldn’t have said whether he was a white or black man. He was a Negro. He had a rolled up dog-eared copy of All-Negro Comics in his back pocket. He had five dollars and change in his wallet, a 6-ounce stainless steel flask with a picture of a roller skating chimp on it in his jacket pocket, and a Vest Pocket Colt .25 in a vest pocket. It was only good at close range, but it was better than nothing.

He looked across the curb at the four-story building on the other side of the street. Queen Stephanie’s man had said the snooper worked on the second floor. A sign on the building said “Duluc Detective” in green and white neon letters. The building was one back from the corner of West 48th  Street and 10thAvenue.

Bumpy looked into the parking lot behind him. “This is going to be easy,” he thought. He would put the glad hand on a car, park it in the lot where he could spy the front door, and keep track of the comings and goings. A separate door on the side in plain sight led up to the snooper’s office. There was a cobbler’s shop on the ground floor and apartments on the top two floors.

He could see an oversized gold register through the street window and a line of shoeshine chairs with brass pedestals. The repair shop was probably in the basement. The heels of his two tones needed repairing, but he didn’t like the idea of leaving his shoes in Hell’s Kitchen.

He always took his shoes to Tony’s Shoe Repair in mid-town, in the garment district, off Seventh Avenue, even though there wasn’t a Tony. “The real Tony was the guy who opened the store in 1928 and sold it six years later to another guy named Gaetano. He kept Tony’s sign, so he became the second Tony, and his son Dan became the third Tony,” was how it was explained it to him one afternoon.

There were too many Poles, Greeks, and Irish in Hell’s Kitchen. The cops were all Irish. There were too many Italians and Puerto Ricans. Everybody spoke a foreign language. There were too many longshoremen. There was too much stickball and stoopball. There were too many kids on scooters. There were too many tough kids. They didn’t carry weapons though, no guns, no knives. They thought they were tough enough, he knew, to fight natural, with their hands.

He had gotten into a beef with one of them, not even shaving age, hands like boxing gloves, fingers as thick as thumbs. He had hit the boy on the head and nothing happened, except the second finger on his own right hand was still bent, a year later.

When Stan Rittman walked past Bumpy Williams, espresso in hand and biscotti in a bag, and went in the side door, Bumpy went looking for a car to steal. By the time Stan and Bettina were sitting opposite one another at Stan’s desk, biscotti spread out on the torn open bag, espresso still hot, Stan’s notes and Bettina’s notebook at the ready, Bumpy was back with somebody’s car.

He would leave it behind when he left. It would be cleaner than when he stole it, too. He didn’t like spending all day in a dirty car.

Stan swept crumbs off his desk into the palm of his hand and shook them into the trashcan next to his desk.

“’He looked like an old dead tree lying in the brush,’ was what one of Pollack’s neighbors said,” he said. “The man helped the police search the woods with a flashlight. ‘There was a little blood run down from the forehead, no other damage except for the neck swollen like a balloon,’” he read from his notes.

“I talked to the undertaker up there who handled Pollack and the dead girl. He said Pollack died of a compound fracture of the skull and the girl died of a broken neck.”

“What do the police think?” asked Bettina.

“They think he had a hell of a lot to drink, they think he was a hell of an unhappy man, and they think it was a hell of an accident. I talked to an Earl Finch, he was the patrolman on the scene.”

“I knew he was dead from the look of him,” said Earl Finch. ”It was so dark up there I don’t think I even covered him up.”

”Jesus!” said Dr. William Abel when Patrolman Earl Finch showed him the body of Jackson Pollack fifty feet into the woods.

The East Hampton police report showed Earl Finch radioed back to the station at 10:30 PM. It was less than twenty minutes after the accident. “Two dead at scene of accident.” One girl was crushed by the upside down Olds, the other girl fractured her pelvis, and Jackson Pollack died of a head injury.  He was wearing “a black velvet shirt, gray pants, a brown belt, blue shorts, brown socks, no shoes, no jewelry, and no ID.”

“Who called in the accident?”

“Three or four people. One of the neighbors said he heard the car barreling down the road and told his wife, ‘That fool isn’t going to make the curve.’ The others heard the car horn after the accident had already happened.”

“After, not before?”

“Yeah, I guess the horn got stuck and started blowing and wouldn’t stop.”

“What bothered us was that horn blowing,” said a neighbor “We jumped in the car.” They drove to the crash. “There wasn’t anyone around, just this girl with her head toward that piled-in car and blood on her coming out of her scalp. We had to holler at her with the horn blaring.”

“What is Springs like?” asked Bettina.

“Small,” said Stan. “It’s sort of a thumb of land stuck out into a bay, so there’s water on three sides. There’s a lot of the middle of nothing there. The locals call themselves Bonackers.”

“I’m going to be a Bonacker same as you some day,” said Jackson Pollack, reaching for a beer at the Joe Loris bar in the East Hampton Hotel.

“You only got to wait four hundred years,” said George Sid Miller.

“Everybody says he drank phenomenal amounts of beer,” said Stan. “They say it had been going on for about fours years. Before that he’d been good, although he seems to have always drunk plenty. One of his neighbors said if he hadn’t killed himself in that car he would have killed himself with drink, sooner rather than later.”

“How about the car? Did anybody check to see if it had been tampered with?”

“No, it was turned over, busted, and a wrecker hauled it away. It wasn’t the first car he had driven into a tree, either, He had a Caddy, did it about five years earlier. I talked to a Jim Brooks, one of his friends, and a painter. He said, ‘I expected him to kill himself in an automobile, and I knew he wanted not to do it alone.’’’

“So he was suicidal?”

“Not that anyone said, but some of them said he was self-destructive. They seemed to think there was a difference. One guy at Jungle Pete’s said Pollack was too much of a coward to kill himself.”

“What is Jungle Pete’s?” asked Bettina.

“He came to my restaurant every day for eggs and home fries, toast and coffee,” said Nina Federico. “He bought a second hand bike and would come evenings on the bike for beers. He didn’t always get home on the bike.”

“There’s a couple who live right there, “ said Stan. “Nina would give them the high sign and they would take him home. The beer is a nickel. I spent some of the night before there. The locals bring their kids in their pajamas, the kids fall asleep on the floor, and the parents dance and party all night.”

“It sounds like a house party. What was their house like in Springs?”

“There was a lot of paint in a studio, a converted barn, it looked like to me, but you wouldn’t know he was a famous artist by his house, even though he was famous enough that the Times ran the story of his death on page one.”

“Did he have any problems in the neighborhood?”

“He seems to have had a soft spot for kids and dogs. Somebody said he had a pet crow for a while. One lady said he was an innocent, childlike person, except when he was in a car. Everybody had seen him falling down drunk, more than once. I talked to a doctor neighbor of his who said Pollack would put away two, three cases of beer when he was on a bender.”

“Jesus!” said Bettina.

“Found Jackson Pollack outside on the sidewalk lying down,” said the East Hampton police blotter.

“He could be mean, got into fights, broke his ankle just a few years ago fighting with some other artist, but I didn’t talk to anybody who disliked him, although not everybody liked him. There were more people than not who felt sorry for him.”

“Did anything look funny about the crash?”

“Not to anybody up there,” said Stan. “Not to me, either.”

Bumpy William cracked open All-Negro Comics and balanced it on the steering wheel. Ace Harlem was the private detective of the cover story and the bad guys were zoot-suited, jive-talking, back alley muggers. He was planning on re-reading both “Lion Man and Bubba” and “Sugarfoot”, which was about the traveling musicians Sugarfoot and Snake Oil being on the prowl after a farmer’s daughter.

He had brought a double-decker sandwich and thermos of coffee with him.

He peeled back the parchment paper the sandwich was wrapped in and spread it out on his lap. He poured himself a cup of coffee and put the cup on top of the dashboard.

It was after two o’clock when he finished eating and brushing crumbs out of the car. “Remember – Crime Doesn’t Pay, Kids!” Ace Harlem said on the back cover of the comic book. Bumpy folded it and slipped it into the inside pocket of his jacket.

“While you were re-discovering that Pollack drank like a fish and finding out what he was wearing when he died, I talked to the death-car girl,” said Bettina. “Maybe everybody back home expected something like that accident to happen, but she says it wasn’t an accident. She says Jackson Pollack swerved off the road and accelerated into the oak trees he hit.”

“She thinks he was committing suicide?”

“No,” said Bettina. “She calls it his death-day.”

“What’s the difference?”

“At the moment he died I believe his soul went into my body,” said Ruth Kligman. “When I was convalescing in the hospital, he came and visited me. I’m like Cleopatra and he was like Marc Anthony. He was a very deep soul mate. The minute I met him I felt I had known him for years.”

“You don’t believe any of that anymore than I do, Betty.”

“No,” said Bettina. “But, she was right there and she believes he deliberately drove off the road.”

“There were no skid marks, on or off the road, according to the police report,” said Stan. “The police sergeant I talked to estimates he was going sixty to seventy when he hit the trees.”

The Olds fishtailed almost two hundred feet through underbrush before colliding with the forest, pivoting, going end over, a hubcap rolling away, empty cans of Rheingold spraying into the dark.

“If we take it for granted it wasn’t an accident, and we take it for granted he wasn’t trying to commit suicide, what do we have?” asked Stan.

“We have him driving into the tree on purpose, but not for any suicidal reason,” said Bettina.

“If that’s what we have, why would he do that? “

“Maybe somebody brainwashed him into doing it.”

Stan and Betty gave it some thought.

“If that’s what we’ve got, then who would have done it? Who had the means and opportunity to brainwash Jackson Pollack? I can’t see it happening out there in Springs.”

“Barney Newman told us he had been in and out of therapy for a long time,” said Bettina. “We could start with his doctor. We know Pollack came into the city often, did business with his dealers, went drinking with his pals at the Cedar Tavern, ran around with his girlfriend. I would expect his doctor to be here in the city.”

“All right, let’s find out he who was and try to get a line on him.”

“Does that mean me?”

“That’s why you make the big bucks,” said Stan.

“When did that happen?” asked Bettina.

Bumpy Williams found a phone booth and called in his watching day.

“He didn’t do nothing all day. He’s got some girl, probably his office girl, and a Jew man came and went. Other than that he was in his office all day and then went home. I didn’t see a wife, but he’s got a little girl. I’m gonna head up to the barbershop, get a wig chop, maybe stop up at Joe Wells’ for some fried chicken and waffles.”

Wells’ Restaurant, sometimes an eatery, sometimes a nightclub, was on Seventh Avenue between 132ndand 133rd. Bumpy Williams was from South Carolina, but had grown up and still lived on 132thStreet. He lived on the top floor of a brownstone. Benta’s Funeral Home was on the first and parlor floors of the building.

“We like your looks,” they said when they had rented the rooms to him after the war.

Benta’s buried famous, infamous, and nobody Negro’s. If you had plenty of dead presidents, you could order a gold, green, or red hearse, with a colored coffin to match. If you were low on folding money, George Benta made arrangements. Nobody was ever turned away.

It wasn’t that the funeral director was over generous. Going up the stairs one day Bumpy heard George behind him. “Don’t forget to turn off that hall light when you turn in. My name is George Benta, not Thomas Edison.”

George Benta was a frugal man. Bumpy had no problem with that.

“Stop by the shop and we’ll pay you for the day. The Queen says best we pay you by the day. She says there’s something queer going on, so we’ll keep it close. We maybe will need you again the next couple of days.”

Queen Stephanie Johnson ran the numbers in Harlem, the uptown colored arm of Albert Anastasia’s Italian Hand. Bumpy knew if he was doing work for her he was doing work for them. That’s where the money came from. “The Mad Hatter says there’s no such thing as good money or bad money,” Queen Stephanie said one day when they were smoking after Bumpy had made a delivery to her runners and controllers.

“There’s just money, Albert says.”

Benta’s had buried Alain Locke, a big-time Negro, two years ago. W. E. B. Du Bois, Mrs. Paul Robeson, and Charles Johnson all paid their respects. Nobody could find a place to park. Nobody could stay long. There wasn’t enough space to stand. The breathing air in the chapel had started to get thin.

Bumpy was standing at the front door with George Benta after it was all over and the casket coach was pulling away. George was in his work clothes, a long coat, pinstripes, and gray gloves. His wife, Pearl, was accompanying the funeral procession.

“Do you know that little man kept sperm samples from all his lovers in a small box? One of them tried to slip it into the coffin. I slapped his hand away. I wouldn’t touch that box, though, not on your life.”

Bumpy looked down the street

“You pay me what you said, I’ll lean on a light pole every day of the week,” he said to Queen Stephanie’s man. “But I’ll check with you in the morning. King Cole is supposed to be in town for that new TV show he’s doing soon, and word is he might be singing it up at the supper club tonight.”

Bumpy hung up, stuck two fingers into his mouth, and whistled down a cab.

“Harlem,” he said, getting in beside the driver. He knew it was like going to an afternoon matinee and sitting next to the only other person at the movies, but he liked riding shotgun.

He was looking forward to seeing a show tonight.

“When I perform it’s like sitting down at my piano and telling fairy stories,” said Nat King Cole.

It had only been five months since King Cole had been attacked in Birmingham, Alabama, during a show, when half-a-dozen white men swarmed over the footlights and rushed him, grabbing his legs, wrenching his back, taking him down to the floor of the stage before the police were able to break up the melee.

“Alabama is no place for immoral nigger rock and roll music,” said Willie Hinson the next morning standing in front of the storefront office of the White Citizen’s Council.

Bumpy had already killed one white man.

He thought he might have to kill another one some day.

Chapter 6

2.kline

“Is it the same as being in jail?” asked Dottie.

“None of them have committed a crime, so it’s not the same, even though they’re all behind bars,” said Otis.

Dottie Rittman and Otis Arnold were at the Central Park Zoo.

“I asked Ezra to take me last week,” said Dottie.

“What am I, chopped liver?” asked Otis.

“No, you’re Oats!” said Dottie, laughing gaily. “Do you know what he said?”

“No, what did he say?”

“If the zoo wants you, let them come and get you.”

“That wasn’t nice.”

“I think he meant he was busy,” said Dottie. “He had to do something for dad.”

Otis liked Dottie, even though he didn’t especially like children. They were needy, messy, and noisy. He didn’t dislike them, but he didn’t like them, either.

Children were always being told by their parents to listen, but what they did more than listen, tending not to, was watch, sizing you up. When they weren’t listening or watching, they were imitating whoever and whatever was in the neighborhood. When they weren’t doing that, they were moving around all the time, getting lost and found,

Or they were wasting their time.

He thought it was OK for children to waste some of their time, but only if there was something in the wasting.

Dottie was nine-years-old – “No, I’m not, I’m almost ten!” – but she knew how to listen and talk and not size him up. She had fun going to the movies, the park, the zoo, but she didn’t play at being playful. She wasted less time than most children, too.

Otis had taken the day off from Osner Business Machines to take Dottie to the zoo. It was a weekday, the middle of August, and there were no major holidays in sight. He had heard fifty thousand people tramped through the zoo on Sundays. They had breakfast together and he treated her to a cab ride to the Pond. They took a long walk around it, fed some ducks with lettuce Otis had torn into small pieces beforehand, and finally walked up East Drive to Park Road to the Central Park Zoo.

It wasn’t any stretch getting the day off. He was the best repairman in the shop on the Upper West Side, two or three times faster than the other repairmen, and he got the stickiest jobs done with the least effort. It didn’t matter of it was keys or platens or carriages. It didn’t matter if it was a Royal, an Underwood, or a Smith-Corona.

Besides, he didn’t need a full-scale paycheck every two weeks. He lived quietly, for the most part, and had a wad of money squirreled away, besides. Stan and Ezra knew about it, but no one else. He worked part-time at the typewriter repair shop and part-time for the Duluc Detective Agency. His cash savings were the payoff for being an off-the-record do-it-all part-time gumshoe.

The Central Park Zoo was sometimes called the Robert Moses Zoo, because Moses had redesigned and rebuilt it twenty years ago, from a rough-and ready place to a picture-book place of limestone and brick buildings. It was on the small side, maybe seven acres, but it had tropic, temperate, and polar animals, bird and monkey houses, and a sea lion pool in the middle of it all. Eight big granite eagles were two-by-two on the four corners of the pool.

Nobody had to guess what was inside the animal houses. Friezes were the guides. Rocky Mountain sheep on the antelope house, a gorilla chewing on a twig on the monkey house, and marching penguins on the bird house. Every house had a chimney, too, and on every chimney was an iron weathervane of the animal inside.

The Arsenal, a hundred years old, had always been there and was still there. In its time it had been a weather bureau, a police precinct, and an art gallery. The front of the Arsenal faced Fifth Avenue. The turrets on the roof were offices for the parks department. In summer they kept watch for lunch hour by listening through their open back windows for the sea lions barking for their fish fillets.

Dottie liked the bearcats, which weren’t bears or cats, but like dust mops with a long tail and a pointy face. She liked them because they smelled like popcorn. “When they pee it soaks their feet and their fuzzy tails,” a zookeeper told her. “That’s what smells like popcorn.”

She wished her pee smelled like popcorn.

In the park near her dad’s apartment she had noticed, on her hands and knees and her nose to the ground, the ants smelled like lemon drops and the flat creepy crawlers smelled like cherry cola.

Otis Arnold was the Duluc Detective Agency’s jack-of-all-trades. He was the master of some of them. He was very good at lifting fingerprints. He could pick most locks in a minute. He knew how to start and stop anybody’s car. He operated all the photographic equipment and sound recordings.

He owned an Exakta and a new Leica. The Leica M3 was the finest camera ever made, he reckoned. He had a Minox spy camera, which was handy when he was rifling mail. He used a letter remover that didn’t disturb the gummed seals. He would insert the pincer-like device into the unsealed gap at the top of the envelope, turn the handle of the remover to wind up the letter, extract it from the envelope, photograph it, and carefully repeat the process to return the letter.

He had picked up a button camera, too. A coat button hid a lens that screwed into a small camera. A cord ran into a pocket. When he was ready to take a photo, he put his hand in his pocket and pulled a lever, shooting the still onto 16mm subminiature film.

He used a Mohawk midget recorder to wiretap telephones and a Minifon portable wire recorder with long play cassettes, a watch microphone, and a shoulder harness, when he was working face-to-face.

Otis and Dottie had a late lunch at Kelly’s Restaurant. A large bronze statue of a tigress, her jaws clamped on a dead peacock, her young sniffing at her feet, was front-and-center in front of the eatery. Dottie clambered on top of it, straddling the tigress like a horse.

“Ride ‘em, cowboy!” Otis whooped.

“I’m a cowgirl!” Dottie yelled.

They sat outside on the terrace at a table beneath an umbrella. Otis was outnumbered ten to one by women and twenty to one by children. He had a broiled hamburger sandwich and stewed fruit. Dottie had a cold sliced ham sandwich and applesauce. Otis drank an A & W root beer and Dottie had an Orange Crush. He stretched his legs out and Dottie curled hers up underneath her.

“What do you like best about the zoo?” asked Otis.

“The smells,” said Dottie.

It smells like shit, he wanted to say. It’s a safe place to fart. No matter how well the cage keepers did their jobs, animals urinated and defecated all day long. If human beings didn’t use bathrooms there would be one hell of a smell worldwide. Not only that, animals didn’t bathe, Their body odor was everywhere downwind.

The zoo was hard on the flank of Fifth Avenue. What was it like in the summer, on stagnant hot humid summer days, nearby apartment windows open to catch a breeze? Whatever breeze they caught, the wind was westerly, and Fifth Avenue was on the east side of the park.

“That goo that comes out of the beaver butts, it smells like vanilla, and those toads in the mud, they smell like peanut butter, even though the smell makes me sneeze and my eyes burn,” said Dottie.

“What else do you like about the zoo?”

“I like being in the park, and the animals, but I don’t like that they’re in cages.”

“No, I don’t, either,” said Otis.

“Why do they put them in cages?”

“They do that to protect us. Lions and bears can be very dangerous.”

“Are they the most dangerous?”

“No, people are the most dangerous. Animals kill to eat. People kill animals to eat, too, like chickens and pigs, but they also kill elephants for their tusks, tigers for their teeth, and bears for their fur. Sometimes they kill animals for no reason.”

“Lions and bears don’t live in cages at home, do they?”

“No they live in forests, which is too bad, because their cages are thousands of times smaller than where they live.”

There were two six-foot bronze statues on either side of the restaurant. One was Dancing Goat and the other one was Honey Bear. The goat was rearing up and ducks at his feet sprayed water out of their mouths. The bear was on its hind legs, twisting its neck and head to one side, and sticking his tongue out. There were bronze frogs spraying water at his feet.

“Dad says some people belong in zoos.”

“He means bad people, not zoos so much, but behind bars.“

“Nobody puts people in zoos, do they?

“Not anymore, but they used to, a hundred years ago. They were like traveling zoos, people from India and Africa.”

“What kind of people?”

“Exotic people, different people, Rope dancers, camel herders, Zulu fighters. There were whole villages, primitive people on display.”

“They didn’t mind?” asked Dottie.

“I don’t know,” said Otis. “I know I would mind.”

They watched boys and girls glide by on bicycles. Mothers pushed strollers, slow, talking to their friends. A mime wheeled past on a unicycle, pretending to have great difficulty.

After lunch Otis and Dottie walked across the terrace to the sea lion pool. Dottie hopped on the bottom rail of the fence to get a better view. One of the sea lions was napping on top of one of the platforms. Another one, across the gap from her, on the other side of a second, inner metal fence, was slip sliding on the wet ledge, barking at the sleeper. Other seals were sunbathing and three were chasing each other in the water.

“Let’s go see the lions,” said Dottie.

“OK, let’s go,” said Otis.

The lion spread out in the cage was seven feet long, or more.

“Jesus!” said Otis. “He must be three hundred, four hundred pounds.”

How do tamers get into the ring with them, he wondered.

“What does it say?” asked Dottie, pointing to the label screwed to the wall. Otis read the label to her.

“The Southeast African lion, also known as the Kalahari or Transvaal lion, is found in the southern parts of Africa. Groups of them called prides live in open woodlands, savannas, and grassy plains. They survive 10 years in the wild and up to 20 in captivity. Lions spend most of their time resting, napping and sleeping. They hunt at dawn and dusk. Males guard cubs while lionesses hunt.”

“Do you know what lion means?” asked Dottie.

“No, what does it mean?”

“It means king. That’s why they’re king of the jungle.”

“You’ve seen too many Tarzan movies,” said Otis.

“No, it was in my book.”

“What book was that?”

“Tawny Scrawny Lion.”

“It doesn’t sound like he was much of a king.”

“You have to read the book.”

Otis and Dottie were less than eight feet away from the lion. The big cat was a male, straw and leaves stuck in his short, light-colored mane, his face like a sphinx. He had a long tail with a black tassel at the end of it. He flicked his tail. When Dottie walked to the other end of the cage, the lion followed her with his orangey brown eyes by turning his head. She walked halfway back to Otis and stopped.

Dottie looked up into the lion’s eyes. She was excited and scared. The lion opened his mouth, stuck out his tongue, and panted several times. She took a step back. She couldn’t look away.

“Do you think he wants to eat me?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Otis.

“Can we stop at the monkey house before we leave?”

“Sure, Dots, let’s go,” said Otis, taking her hand.

They left the Central Park Zoo twenty minutes later. Dottie looked back over her shoulder, walking out the gate of the zoo, at the clock at the top of the musical clock tower. There were dancing bears and elephants on ledges beneath the clock. Above the clock was a cast iron bell. It was a quarter to four.

It was four o’clock when Stan Rittman checked his watch. There was time enough to make it home with daylight to spare. He slid into the Star Chief, started up the car, and started the drive back to the other end of Long Island.

It was a quarter after four when a skinny East Hampton policeman slid into the phone booth a block away from the station and called the number on the slip of paper the one hundred dollar bill had been paper-clipped to.

“Yeah.”

“This is East Hampton. You wanted to know if anyone ever came up here snooping around into Jackson Pollock, right?”

“Yeah. What do you know?”

“There was a guy here today, talked to the chief, some of Pollock’s neighbors, spent the day sticking his nose into things.”

“Did you get a name?”

“He said his name was Stan Rittman, a private dick from the city.”

“OK, forget this number, don’t call again.”

The policeman crumpled the piece of paper in his hand, stepped out of the phone booth, and threw it down on the sidewalk. A woman walking past, a member of the Ladies Village Improvement Society, snapped a disapproving look at him.

“Mind your own business,” said the skinny policeman, kicking the paper into the gutter, where it rolled into a storm drain.

Chapter 5

ec7ca10bfdf137855977aff61d12f113--abstract-expressionism

It was hot, humid, and the sky was spotted with dull clouds. The hot dog Ezra had wolfed down for breakfast was giving him trouble. On top of that, the bunion topping his left big toe was aching in the new shoes he had neglected to stretch beforehand.

It was a bad day to have a bad day.

But that’s what it was turning into. He was sure nobody was behind him, but running fast and far was going to be a problem with his goddamn bunion. He kept his hands at his sides, his right hand balled into a fist.

“You can forget about that roll of pennies in your hand,” said the small man next to Luca “Big Paulie” Gravano. Big Paulie wasn’t big tall. He was big all around, a dark suit, dark tie, and white shirt. His face was pockmarked and he wore thick browline glasses. The lenses seemed like they were smeared with a thin film of Vaseline. His brown eyes looked slippery and unfocused.

He stank of high-priced cologne.

“They’re not pennies,” said Ezra. “They’re Jefferson’s.”

He could use a lucky penny.

“Hey, let’s cut the crap,” said Big Paulie. “We ain’t gong to get up to anything here, broad daylight, all these guys all around here,” waving a fat hand over his shoulder. “We just wanna know what is it you wanna know.”

Ezra looked past Big Paulie. On the finger pier side was a boat. Hemp slings were easing swaying pallets off the boat. In the distance he could see the Statue of Liberty. On the dockside was a two-story brick building. A loose group of longshoreman was coming their way, baling hooks in their belts. They would be D & D, deaf and dumb, if anything did get up. “I don’t know nothing about it,” they would all say after it was all over. But, they could be the smoke screen Ezra needed to be on his way.

“I’m trying to get a line on Tommy Dunn,” Ezra lied.

“Never heard of him,” said the small man in shirtsleeves.

“Fair enough,” said Ezra.

“You private?” asked Big Paulie.

“Yeah,” said Ezra.

“Who you work for?” asked the small man .He had yellow fingernails and sharp front teeth. He wore a black felt pork pie hat.

“The Archer Agency,” Ezra lied.

“I’ve heard of them,” said the small man.

“Best we don’t see you down here again,” said Big Paulie.

“Fair enough,” said Ezra.

He took a step back, smiling weakly, turning and walking away in stride in front of the group of longshoremen going his way. He hated shucking and jiving, but he knew enough to hedge his bets. The hoodlums ran the shaping up, the loading, and the quickie strikes. They hired you for the day if you were willing to kick back part of your day’s pay. At the shape-up you let them know by putting a toothpick behind your ear or wearing a red scarf or whatever the hell it was they wanted to see.

They controlled the cargo theft, the back-door money stevedores paid to keep the peace, and the shylocking from one end of Red Hook to the other end. They didn’t steal everything, although they tried. The unions were the hoodlums. The businessmen were the hoodlums. The pols were the hoodlums.

The Waterfront Commission hadn’t gotten much done since they got started, even though the State of New York and Congress of the United States were both in word and writing on board.

It was just two-some years ago on a Christmas week when a new union butted heads with the ILA. Tony “Tough“ Anastasio flooded the streets with the faithful. It took more a thousand club-swinging City of New York police to break up the melee at the Port of New York. In the end, gang rule stayed the rule on the docks.

Ezra Aronson put the roll of nickels back in his pant’s pocket. He walked the length of the wire fence to the gate. Through the gate he turned his back on the Buttermilk Channel. He couldn’t get away from the sinking feeling in his gut, though. Red Hook was surrounded by water on three sides. A longshoreman smoking alone stared at him suspiciously. He crossed the street into the neighborhood. The houses, six-story brown brick apartment buildings, were less than twenty years old, but they were already getting seedy.

“I need a drink,” he thought.

Most days Ezra ran on caffeine and nicotine. Most nights he ran on alcohol and nicotine. Even though it was only late morning, today wasn’t most days.

He found a restaurant bar grill at the corner of Court Street and Hamilton Avenue. At the bar he ordered a shot and a chaser.

“What have you got on tap?” he asked the bartender.

“Ballantine, Schlitz, Rheingold.”

A couple of longshoremen were on stools a couple of stools away.

The TV on a shelf behind the bar was on, although the sound had been turned down. A beer commercial was running. It was a ticker tape parade through Times Square, but instead of war heroes everybody in the parade was a bottle of Rheingold Extra Dry.

“No one knew what that was about,” one of the longshoreman said, pulling a pack of Luckies out of his shirt pocket with dirty thick fingers.

“I got no trouble,” said the other one. “I support my family. I got my four kids. It’s good work.”

“Nothing changes,” said the Lucky Strike man lighting his cigarette. “You just live every day as if it’s your last.”

“I’ll have a Rheingold,” said Ezra.

“I’ll have that one,” said Bettina Kohler, pointing to the fresh cheese Danish the spinning steel drum had just fed into the window. Pete De Marco deposited three nickels, turned the handle in the lower left corner of the window, and pulled out the plate. He bought a ham sandwich for himself. They poured two cups of steaming brewed coffee for a nickel each and found seats in the cafeteria.

The automat had recently installed photo booths in a row along a back wall. “The New Photographic Sensation! 4 Poses 25 cents! Ready in 2 Minutes!” A young woman wearing a polka-dotted swing dress stood combing her hair in front of one at the small square mirror next to the entry curtain.

Pete and Bettina had played three games of ping-pong at the pool parlor on 42nd Street, working up an appetite. Pete won the rubber game. After lunch he was going back to work across the street at the New York Public Library and Bettina was going downtown to talk to Ruth Kligman, Jackson Pollock’s girlfriend, the girl who had survived the car crash in Springs the month before.

In the meantime, Pete had written up notes on Ruth Kligman.

“Ruth was the girlfriend and the other one, the girl who didn’t make it, her name was Edith Metzger,” said Pete, biting into his sandwich. “She was a hairdresser in the Bronz. It’s too bad, since she was only along for the ride.”

“You never want to be the innocent bystander,” said Bettina.

“It was a tough weekend all around up there in East Hampton and Southampton,” said Pete. “Ten people died in smash-ups.”

Ruth and Jackson Pollack had only met a few months before.

“How did they meet?” asked Bettina.

“Audrey Flack hooked them up,” said Pete.

“She wanted to meet important artists,” said Audrey. “I drew her a map of how to get to the Cedar Tavern. She asked which one was the most important and I said Pollack. She went right to the bar and made a beeline for Pollack.”

“Who’s Audrey Flack?” asked Bettina

“Young, about the same age as Kligman, but an artist, not a hanger-on,” said Pete. “Cooper Union, BFA from Yale, the Institute of Fine Arts here in the city.”

“I remember his grin, his arm around her and the finger with the missing tip caressing her shoulder bare above the halter,” said Audrey. “I saw what he meant about ‘loaded with extras.’”

Pete and Bettina played ping-pong at the pool hall once or twice a week. Pete was an attacker, standing about three feet away from the table, going at the ball at the top of the bounce, aiming to end points quickly. Serve it smash it was his motto. Bettina believed in outwit beats outhit. She was a close to the table defender, countering with under-spin blocks forcing weak topspin shots, then volleying with a well-placed drive or loop.

Baby got backspin was her motto.

Pete led with more long serves than not, with different amounts of topspin backspin sidespin, looking for a counterattack on the third and fifth balls. On the flip side Bettina offered up under-spin and no-spin serves so the ball slowed down or skidded when hitting the table.

“If you want a soft serve, go to Dairy Queen,” complained Pete.

Once in play she spun the ball more often than not. She played the long game.

“Spin it to win it,” she said.

“She was working at the Collector’s Gallery when she met Pollack,” said Pete. “She was young and single, had the Elizabeth Taylor look and feel. He was 44 and married.”

“He looked tired out, sad,” said Ruth Kligman. “His body seemed as though it couldn’t stand up on its own.“

She told anyone who would listen that she brought his energy back up. Jackson Pollack fell head over heels for the 26-year-old in a red dress. He spent nights in New York City with her. She moved to Sag harbor at the start of summer to be closer to him.

“He felt good about her,” said Jim Brooks, the painter who moved into the Greenwich Village apartment Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner moved out of when they moved to Springs. “You know, a pretty, voluptuous gal, thinking he was the greatest man on the word.”

“It looks like the girlfriend knew about the wife and the wife knew about the girlfriend,” said Pete. “The wife went to Europe in July, gave Pollack his marching orders, told him it was going to have to be her or the floozy, and he had until Labor Day to decide. He moved the floozy into their house on Fireplace Road on the afternoon the wife left.”

“His dream was to have both, like a little boy,” said Patsy Southgate.

“Lee was dealing with a powder keg,” said Nick Carone, an artist friend.

“I will never give Jackson a divorce,” said Lee Krasner.

“The car was flipped over, cans of Rheingold all over,” said Pete. “The young girl was pinned under the car, DOA. The girlfriend broke a leg and Pollack got rocketed into the woods. He was DOA, too.”

“It sounds like it was a hell of a mess,” said Bettina.

After the accident Patsy Southgate visited Ruth in the Southampton Hospital. “She didn’t look much banged up to me,” she said. “In fact, she looked great.”

What Bettina took away later from talking to an eager Ruth Kligman, leaning back on a sofa, her bare legs propped up on an ottoman, in a friend’s living room in the East Village, was that what happened was going to happen.

“Edith started screaming, ‘Stop the car, let me out!’ but he put his foot all the way to the floor. He was speeding wildly,” she said.

It was almost as though he had meant to drive himself to death, as though whatever happened was misnamed an accident, no speed limits to save you from your own fate.

“It had to happen. Jackson was schizoid and he couldn’t be stopped. Edith was scared by the situation with him. She was a victim, but she always was. Jackson was a victim, too. He had to die.”

“It was a mess,” said Pete, “but at the wake about a week later, out at their house there in Springs, a lot of people said afterwards it was the best party they had ever been to.”

“The best chili I ever had in my life, really hot stuff,” said Franz Kline.

“What stays with me is that baked Virginia ham,” said Morton Feldman. “I never tasted such ham, never.”

“I had too much to drink,” said Charles Pollack. “I remember dancing with a black girl.”

“We all had a good time,” said Clement Greenburg.

“Thanks, Pete,” said Bettina. “How about Friday? You were good, but I can be better. You owe me a rematch.”

“See you then,” he said. “Bring your lucky paddle.”

Bettina whistled a cab to go down to the East Village to talk to Ruth Kligman.

Smokey the garage man tossed the car keys to Stan Rittman.

“All gassed up,” he said.

Stan got into the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and eased the 1955 Pontiac Star Chief into the flow of traffic for the drive out to far end of Long Island. The engine hummed, 1954’s straight-eight replaced by a new V-8. The sedan was a light gray color, two wide ‘Silver Streaks’ running the length of the hood, and showcase leather upholstery. Although neither he nor Ezra drove it overmuch, and might have been able to do without it, they both liked the car, and since in their line of work, they reasoned, some things happen somewhere else besides the city, they would be better off getting there in a Star Chief.

He was concerned for the car whenever Ezra took it out for whatever reason. Stan was a careful driver, usually staying a few miles–or-so below the speed limit, always signaling, never trying to beat a light, but Ezra was barely the nice guy at a dogfight behind the wheel. He hadn’t put a wrinkle in the car, yet, but it was only a matter of time. Riding in the car with Ezra, which he avoided doing, was like a high wire in bad weather no matter the weather.

They kept the Pontiac garaged in Brooklyn to keep expenses down. He guided the car through East New York, through Queens, and on to Route 27, and was on his way the more than one hundred miles to East Hampton. From there the Fireplace Road would take him directly to Springs and Jackson Pollack, or whatever was left of him.

He slipped past convertibles, panel vans, and station wagons full of wives and kids going to Howard Beach, Lido Beach, and Jones Beach. He kept his mind off his errand. The old man had always said not to overthink the work, especially at the beginning, when there wasn’t much to think about, anyway.

The drive took almost four hours. The road was a two-lane that went through every town on the way. He stopped in Patchogue to stretch his legs in the shadow of a billboard. Stan craned his neck to look up at it.

‘Patchogue: Biggest Shopping Center on Long Island.’

There were at least six gas stations in Bridgehampton, a small potato farm town north of Sagaponack Pond. He pulled into the Sinclair, even though he was less than ten miles from East Hampton. A side lot was filled with tractors, sprayers, and harvesters waiting to be repaired.

“Fill it up?”

“Yes.”

Stan got out of the car while the attendant, dressed in a shirt and cap with the company’s logo, limped to the pump. A teenager ran up and cleaned off the windshield, checked the oil, and added air to one of the tires. There was a sign in the window.

‘Free All-Plastic Dinosaur Piggy Bank With Every Fill-up.’

“Make it 5 gallons,” said Stan.

“$1.25” said the attendant.

Stan pulled some singles from his wallet. While the attendant went into the station to make change, he looked at one of the Silver Certificates in his hand. Congress had passed and President Eisenhower had signed a new law the month before. “In God We Trust” was now the motto of the United States and it was going to be on all paper money starting the next year. Stan didn’t follow the Red Scare or the Cold War in the papers, but he knew enough about motivation to understand why the USA was being a God-fearing nation and the Soviet Union were atheists.

A piece of paper stained by water oil dirt was taped to one of the gas pumps.

‘In God we trust. All others pay cash.’

Stan wasn’t a religious man, but he thought using God’s name on money was probably sacrilegious.

East Hampton’s Main Street was lined with elm trees. He located the police station on Newtown Lane. They had their own two gas pumps on the sidewalk outside the front door and two cells in the back. The post office was across the street. He drove past Bohack’s, the grocery store. There were no street numbers on many of the houses. There was one traffic light in the center of town. He stopped at it when it turned red.

A loose group of black migrant workers sat on benches with bottles of Thunderbird in paper bags. It might have been their day off. Across the street the Candy Kitchen was full for lunch. There were no black faces at the counter or at any table and there were no half-empty glasses of curb juice.

He was going to have to stay the night, find somewhere for dinner and a bed.

A woman was watering the lawn and a bed of flowers in front of a small white flat-roofed building. He pulled over. A sign said ‘Ladies Village Improvement Society’.

“Hello,” said Stan.

“Hello,” said the woman, turning off the nozzle of her garden hose.

“I wonder if you could tell me where I can find a motor inn?”

“Montauk is where I would try,” she said. “They’ve built more than a half-dozen new ones up there in the past few years. It’s just fifteen-or-so miles up the road.”

“Thanks,” he said, and added, “Do you mind my asking what the society does?”

“Not at all,” she said, brightening. “We water all the flowers and gardens downtown, of course, help keep public order, not that I’m saying the police don’t care, and make sure all the stores are closed on Sundays. We do our best to keep everyone in proper dress whenever they’re out in public, too.”

A busybody’s work is never done, thought Stan.

It wasn’t far from East Hampton to Springs, about four miles. He found Jackson Pollack’s two-story wood-shingled house on the Fireplace Road. It looked like an old farmhouse. There was a cherry tree next to the house, silver maples all around, and the long backyard sloped down to salt marshes. There was a small barn behind and to the side of the house. When Stan looked in through one of the windows he saw a floor spattered with paint and footprints. The floor shelves workbenches were crowded with cans of paint and half-empty cans full of sticks brushes and turkey basters. Canvases were rolled up on top of a cabinet. A pile of sand was in one corner, a stepladder in another.

An expansive light poured in through a large high window.

He walked back to the house and looked in through the living room window. There were paintings hanging on the walls, filled with sprawling looping crazy colors. Jazz records littered the floor in front of a record player.

There was no one in sight. He got into his Star Chief and drove to Montauk. There were no sidewalks in town. He parked at an angle. A horse was tied up to a telephone pole. He ate at Gosman’s Deck, a clam bar shack, and had clams, pasta with olive oil and chopped tomatoes, and a bottle of Rheingold.

He found a reasonably priced room at Uncle Tom’s Cabins.

“There’s a nice beach down on Fort Pond,” said the woman in black capris and a red and white Roman shirt, a cigarette burning in the ashtray at her elbow, behind the counter.

It was a five-minute walk.

Stan sat on the beach, his back against a pretzel log of driftwood, and watched the sun go down. He got to his feet before it got too dark to see, making his way back to the motor inn. He walked up the crushed clamshell driveway, guided by the light next to his room door that he had turned on before going to the beach.

Barnett Newman had said Jackson Pollack had done his drinking at Jungle Pete’s. It wasn’t overly late. He could drive up there for another beer. He would get the lay of the land tomorrow, talk it up wherever Jackson Pollack had done his stomping and dying, drive back to the city, and compare snapshots with Betty the day later. He didn’t believe darkness could be understood by overwhelming it with a flood of light. No hand, no matter how good, could bust the bank.

But, with a good flashlight, the potholes In the dark road might lead to something.

Chapter 4

Yellow

Vicki Schreiber stood in the doorway, nudged Barnett Newman into the office, and said to Stan, “I’ll be at MOMA until 11:30, then lunch at Eisenberg’s before I have to hit the typewriter. Join me there?”

It was 10 o’clock the Monday morning.

“See you at noon, dollface,” said Stan Rittman, grinning.

“Watch the language, bub.” Vicki scowled. Stan smiled even more broadly, putting on the mock tip of a hat.

Vicki waved goodbye.

Barnett Newman had thinning hair and a heavy mustache, wore a polka-dotted bow tie with a monocle dangling from a neck strap down the front of his shirt, and had never met or spoken to a private detective in his life.

He was born and bred in New York City, studied philosophy at City College of New York, and worked in his father’s clothing factory in the Bronx before it went bust after the stock market crash. He had been a small-time magazine publisher, ran for mayor in a crazy write-in campaign in 1933, and finally got married in 1936.

His wife went to work and he joined the Art Students League. He made himself into a painter. In 1950 he painted an 8 by 18-foot long picture all-over red. He added four vertical bands of color and called them zips. No one knew what he was talking about.

“It’s no different, really, from meeting another person,” he said about his oversize painting. No one knew what that meant, either.

“Have a seat, Mr. Newman,” said Stan Rittman, standing up at his desk and motioning to one of the two armless wood banker’s chairs that floated around the office.

“Call me Barney.”

“All right, Barney.”

The office of the Duluc Detective Agency wasn’t large, nor was it small. It had a separate side entrance. Stan’s desk faced and was not quite to the left of the front door. It backed up to the windows looking down on 48th Street. Ezra shared Bettina’s desk on the rare occasion he needed to prop stretch his legs up on something. It was perpendicular to Stan’s desk on the right. There were two rows of filing cabinets, a freestanding coat rack, an umbrella stand, and a water cooler. In the small storage room were shelves of stationary and envelopes and invoices. The back of one shelf was for whiskey. A safe was tucked into the corner.

Stan and Ezra kept their guns and cash in the safe.

“Vicki hasn’t told me much, other than she knows you through the magazine, and likes you, and you have a problem with how a friend of yours died.”

“That’s right, Mr. Rittman. Jackson Pollack was my friend. There was a car crash. Neither Lee nor I believe it could have happened the way the Hampton police say it happened. Jack could drive those roads no matter how much he’d had to drink. He could drive them in his sleep.”

“Call me Stan,” said Stan, estimating Barney Newman to be ten fifteen years older than himself and at least twenty years older than Bettina.

“OK, Stan.”

“Betty, can you sit in with us, maybe take a few notes?”

“Sure,” said Bettina, stepping over with a steno pad, sitting down on the other loose banker’s chair next to Barney Newman.

Ezra called her Big Head Bettina because she was smart and because her head was slightly larger than it should have been. He called her Betty to her face because she had punched him in the face the one time he had called her Big Head. She had grown her hair out recently in a high ponytail style with round bangs at the top of her forehead. When he cast an eyeball on her she looked like no worries.

“You said Lee and you. Who’s Lee?” asked Stan.

“Lee Krasner was Jackson Pollack’s wife.”

“Vicki said he died up on Long Island, some small town way out there, is that right?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I’ve heard of Pollack somewhere, probably the papers, a famous artist, if I’ve got that right. What was he doing out in the middle of nowhere?”

“He lived in Springs and he was living it up with his girlfriend.”

“I see.”

Bettina looked up, paused, her pencil quiet in her hand, as neither Stan nor Barney said anything for a few seconds in the gap.

“Why don’t we start at the beginning, tell me all about Jackson Pollack, and what it is you want me to look into,” said Stan, finally.

Most of the work Ezra and Betty and Stan did was insurance and marital work. “I am Dolores, understand? I can’t stand my husband being unfaithful,” said a dark-haired sultry woman wearing a slash of red lipstick. “I’d rather see her dead than unfaithful,” said a burly middle-aged man wearing a diamond pinkie ring. “I hope to God you prove me wrong.” Pinkie went up the river to Sing Sing after all was said and done and dead.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” asked Barney.

“Not at all,” said Stan, and pushed a three-rest yellow glass ashtray towards Barney.

Barnett Newman smoked one cigarette after another with girlish puffs and spoke in a nasally voice with a not quite scrubbed away New Yorkese accent. He didn’t drop r’s or add them where they weren’t wanted or lengthen his o’s and w’s, but it was in the background if you cared to look. He talked with his hands, his cigarette always in his right hand. He shifted forwards and backwards in his seat, riffling his sport coat out by the lapels, and folding himself back into the chair.

“Where should I start?” he asked.

“Start with Jackson Pollack,” said Stan.

“He was one-of-a-kind. He made a new world.”

Nearly an hour-and-a-half later, Barnett Newman’s steps fading away in the hallway, a cloud of not-yet-stale cigarette smoke lingering behind him, Stan turned to Bettina. “One of us is going to have to go up to Springs,” he said.

“Ezra’s on that waterfront thing, and I don’t drive, remember, so it’s going to have to be you,” she said.

“All right, but you find the girlfriend and talk to her, find out what happened, what she thinks or knows happened, especially that part about Pollack aiming for the tree.”

A half-hour later Stan looked into Eisenberg’s a few minutes before noon. He spotted Vicki on one of the red leather stools halfway down the long counter. Her purse was keeping the stool to her left unoccupied. She smiled when she saw him and waved him over

“Do you need a menu?” one of the cooks behind the counter asked while he was still straddling the stool.

“No, I’ll take the lox, eggs, easy on the breath, and don’t forget the cup of pickles.” Vicki ordered smoked salmon on a boiled bagel with lettuce, tomato, and Thousand Island. She avoided the pastrami at Eisenberg’s. “Too fatty and too chewy at the same time,” is how she described it.

“What about the cream cheese and scallions?” he asked.

“What about them?” she said.

“Not much, not by your appetite. Have you ever wondered why they call it Thousand Island?”

“It’s from Thousand Islands, New York, that’s why,” said Vicki. “Maybe fifty years ago, a fishing guide’s wife up there made it up for her husband’s fish dinners. The rest is history.”

“Oh,” said Stan.

“You told me you graduated from detective school.”

Stan looked up from his cup of coffee. “I graduated from the school of hard knocks.”

Vicki laughed. “How did it go with Barney?”

“It’s a hell of a yarn,” he said. “I don’t know what to think about it. There might be something. Betty is going to look into something Barney told us. Maybe you can fill me in on who’s who.”

“You’ve heard of abstract expressionism, I’ve mentioned it, that’s who they are. It’s all here in New York, I mean most of them live and work here or out on Long Island. Jackson was an action painter, the real deal.”

“Was he the painter called Jack the Dripper?”

“That’s what Time magazine called him earlier in the year, which was all wrong because he wasn’t painting that way anymore, hadn’t been for a few years. He’s been on the quiet side overall the past two, three years.”

“He’s on the can hear a pin drop side now,” said Stan.

“Another draw in the dark?” asked the counterman.

“Thanks bud,” said Stan, sliding his coffee cup and saucer forward.

“If he’s good, I’m going blind and should get out of the business,” said art dealer Kurt Valentin.

“This is new,” said the painter Giorgio Morandi. “Vitality, energy – new!”

“Was he good?”

“It depends on who you ask. Some people said it was complete disorder without any method, while others said it was a whole new way of making art, visual energy like no one had ever seen. Life magazine wrote him up, said he might be the best at the time.”

“Most of Jackson Pollack’s paintings resemble nothing so much as a mop of tangled hair I have an irresistible urge to comb out,” said an offended reporter for the New York World Telegram.

“Jackson is the greatest painter this country has produced,” said art critic Clement Greenberg

“When I am painting I am not much aware of what is taking place,” said Jackson Pollack. “It is only after that I see what I have done.”

“Lee Krasner, his wife, they got married in the mid-40s, is an artist, a good one, too, but it’s hard to say what school she works in,” said Vicki. “She’s been doing collages for years, as far as I know, not exactly groundbreaking.”

“Lee devoted more time to taking care of Jackson than she did to her work,” said Roger Wilcox. “He was difficult, but she believed in him.”

Roger’s wife, Lucia, whose abstract paintings were spelled out by lively sweeps of color, was someone who from the late 1930s helped get the artist’s colony on the east end of Long Island going, from Alfonso Ossorio and Robert Motherwell to Jackson Pollack. She liked to cook and often fed them in her large kitchen that opened into her large studio.

“Barney is a color field painter,” said Vicki. “He’s not as well known as Mark Rothko, more of a minor key guy, but he talks it up, and he’s committed to what they’re all up to.”

“What are they up to?“ asked Stan.

“Not any one thing,” said Vicki. “They’re mostly all trying to make it, make New York the capitol of the art world, take over from Paris, and when they do they’ll be made. They’re more than halfway there. Most of them, whether it’s abstract or not, most of them are doing something new. An Italian painter, Morandi, he said they dive into the water before they learn to swim. He meant it as a good thing. It’s American-style painting.”

“The name of your business doesn’t sound American, sounds French,” said Barnett Newman. “Do you mind my asking how you’re the Duluc Detective Agency?”

“No, I don’t mind,” said Stan.

“I was in Paris the last year of the war. I was a military policeman, black armband, big yellow MP on my steel pot. After it was all over I stayed. I liked the city, liked the food and drink, and I liked the girls. I ran out of money soon enough and started looking for work. I knew the language reasonably well. A friend of mine introduced me to someone who introduced me to Duluc Investigations.

“The office was on the ground floor right around the corner from the Louvre. Most of the work was about swindle cases and missing persons. It was 1946, so there was a lot of swindling going on and a lot of missing people gone footloose. I stayed for two years, learned a lot, but got homesick.”

“Where’s home, what borough?”

“Cleveland.”

“That’s not New York.”

“No, but after I landed here, back from Europe, a buddy of mine put me up for a few weeks, catching up. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was taking the police exam. I was in blue for almost three years, but I butted up against some hard heads in the department. It wasn’t for me. When I set myself up as an independent, I called the old man back in Paris and asked him if I could use his name on my shingle. He said he was too far away to do anything about it.”

“Will you take this up, take a look at it?” asked Barnett Newman.

“I’ll give it a few days and get back to you. We’ll check out the girl and the hometown and go from there. I’ll need a note from you introducing me to the wife. Let her know I’m coming, if you can. I don’t want to waste my time or your money.” said Stan.

“Are you going to be able to help them?” asked Vicki, reaching for her slice of apple pie.

“He signed on the dotted line, gave us a deposit, but I’m not sure,” said Stan. “Betty is going to try and see the girlfriend who made it out alive and I’m going to drive up to Springs tomorrow, nose around, try to touch base with the widow, stop and see the local cherry toppers, get my hands on what’s in the public record, anything they might be willing to tell me.”

“You won’t take Barney for a ride, or anything like that.”

“No. It sounds like it doesn’t amount to much and it’s probably going to end in nothing. We’ll keep it short.”

“What do you charge?” asked Barney.

“We charge a flat fee for sweeps, backgrounds, interviews, things like that. Yours isn’t anything like that. Your work is going to be $9.50 a man hour, plus expenses,” said Stan. “Expenses mean anything we have to pay out, buying somebody a beer, buying somebody’s talk, buying gas getting out to Springs, incidentals. We’ll check with you first about anything over ten dollars.”

“That sounds all right.”

“How did Jackson Pollack end up in Springs?” asked Stan.

“They were living here in the city, but Jackson got sick of it. He and Lee borrowed some money from their dealer, more from a local bank mortgage, and they moved there, and got married on the way, ten, eleven years ago,” said Barney. “They got an old farm house, no bathroom, no central heating, a barn, five acres, and a great view of the harbor.”

“It doesn’t sound like they got much for their money.”

“Jackson did his best work in Springs,” said Barney, “He loved it out there.”

“I admire his work, a great painter and all that. But he has a difficult character, always drunk and wild, impossible to deal with” said Sidney Janis.

“I know you don’t like monkey wrenches, but I should tell you he wasn’t born with a paintbrush in his hand. It wasn’t simple to spill a Pollack out. He was a self-destructive man,” said Vicki.

“When he went on those drinking spells we didn’t want to see him. We were afraid of him, of his anger,” said Lawrence Larkin.

“Once Jack got to driving the damn thing so fast I was sure we were going to veer off the road. I thought he was out there to kill himself, kill us all,” said Frank Pollack.

“He was so deeply troubled and depressed, in pretty bad shape,” said Grace Borgenight. “Then there was that suicidal drive.”

“He was ambitious, driven, came from a hardscrabble family, but he was dark and antisocial, too,” said Vicki. “He could be mean. He was mean. He went on benders and got into lots of fights, especially at the Cedar Tavern down in the village. They all lived in the neighborhood and hung around there for the cheap drinks. I heard he was banned for a while after he tore the bathroom door off its hinges and hurled it across the room at another painter.”

“I thought most painters were mostly pansies,” said Stan.

“Where have you been? That was never true. It’s a new day and age, anyway,” said Vicki. “The greatest artists have the biggest fights, even though sometimes it’s only with themselves.”

Stan paid the bill, pocketing the receipt for expenses, and they stepped out of the no-frills luncheonette onto the sidewalk. Stan flagged down a hack, pecked Vicki on the cheek, and held the door of the car open as she slid into the back seat.

“Where can I see some of Pollack’s paintings?” he asked when Vicki rolled down the window.

“I would try the Sidney Janis Gallery.”

“And the Cedar Tavern is down in Greenwich Village, right?” he asked as the cabbie shifted into gear.

“You’re such a pansy about modern art, you’ll need a stiff pick-me-up after you see the all-overs, believe me,” she cackled out the window as the cab pulled away from the curb, merging into the midtown midday traffic.