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Chapter 17

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“I can’t be a catfish without waffles,” said Bumpy Williams.

 

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Chapter 16

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“Hail to the Chief,” said Bettina.

“Good morning is fine,” said Stan. “Besides, it’s Saturday.”

“No, what you were humming, that’s Hail to the Chief, and you’re the chief, so hail to you,” said Bettina.

“That’s what the canary serenaded us with in the basement,” said Stan.

Bettina hummed the tune to herself.

“You’re right,” she said. “I didn’t dope it out when he sang it, but that’s what it is.”

“He said the action would all happen when the little man, Tony de Marco, heard that song,” said Stan. “When he did, he was going to pull the ripcord on his dynamite vest.”

“That means he plans on blowing up Eisenhower,” said Bettina.

“How do you make that?” asked Stan.

“Where have you been?”

“I’m right here,” said Stan, leaning back in his chair.

“All right, all right, don’t get your back up,” said Bettina. “It’s the anthem they play for the president. He walks into a room and the band plays that song. It’s been around about as long as the Star Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve never been invited into the room and I’ve never heard the band.”

“You were in the army, right?”

“Yes.”

“It’s the army band.”

“They didn’t play any songs in the part of the army I was in.”

“I’ve heard it on the radio.”

“I read the papers.”

“They play it on TV.”

“I don’t have a TV.”

“They play it at his funeral, too.”

“I don’t go to funerals, unless it’s business. Even then, nobody wants you to take photographs, so unless I can get Snapshot to go with me, who doesn’t care what anybody says, I don’t even do that much anymore.”

“Yogi Berra said you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

“That doesn’t make sense, and for another thing, Berra plays for the Yankees.”

“Oh, right, sorry. Doesn’t it make you sad, though, missing your own, since everyone says such nice things about you, even though it’s a few days late?” asked Bettina.

“When I breathe for the last time, I’ll be gone for good, and I won’t be missing anything,” said Stan.

“What about the little man’s bomb song? That fuse is burning. Are we going to do anything about it?”

“I’ll be damned if I want to talk to the Secret Service,” said Stan. “They’ll look me up and down as much as they’ll look for him, bomb or no bomb. I’ve got no doubt they are hard to deal with. I have the shrink locked up on my own say so, too. What are they going to say about that? Christ, I had my part of the show done, and now this. If they find that Tony de Marco, fine, but if they don’t, they’ll come back and want to talk to me again and again. If they don’t roust him, and anything does happen, I’ll be in the bull’s eye with them.”

“What if you don’t say anything and something happens?”

“Like Eisenhower being blown up?”

“Exactly that, like Eisenhower being blown up.”

“He made it through the war.”

“He wasn’t on the front lines.”

“He was target number one, the way I used to hear it. The Germans wanted him dead in the worst way.”

“Aren’t you going to do anything?”

“Look, Betty, I know New York City, but I don’t know Washington.”

“It could happen anywhere,” said Bettina. “It doesn’t have to happen in Washington. He travels all over the country, giving speeches, especially now that it’s election time. It could happen here.”

“How could it happen here? How could the little man get close enough, no matter how big his bomb is?”

“Somebody got close to Lincoln, and McKinley, too. FDR dodged it, but only because the fruitcake taking pot shots at him was short and had to stand on a barrel to get the president in sight, and the barrel wobbled, so he ended up hitting everybody around FDR, instead. I think he killed the mayor of Chicago, or the mayor of some place.”

“Why would Eisenhower come campaigning here? He might pick up some votes in Queens, but the other boroughs, no, those are going to the Democrats. He’ll campaign upstate, not here.”

“What about the World Series?”

“What about it?”

“Who do you think throws out the first pitch at the first game of the series.”

“Some big shot.”

“No, not some big shot. It’s always the biggest shot.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Stan.

“All right, give me a few minutes,” said Bettina, picking up her phone.

“Who are you calling?” asked Stan.

“Pete,” said Bettina.

“Pete?”

”Ping-pong Pete.”

Bettina put her index finger into the second finger hole, turned the rotary dial on the shiny black phone to the far bright, put her finger into six more holes, turning each one to the right, and asked for Pete Murphy when she was connected to the operator at the New York Public Library.

“Thanks, Pete,” she said ten minutes later.

“Well, what did you find out?”

“It got started with William Howard Taft.”

“The fat man?”

“The president after Teddy Roosevelt.”

“All right.”

“Forty-six years ago.”

“All right.”

“Pete said it was because he’d had a tough day, meeting with the Suffragists at their convention, and telling them that if women got the vote power might end up in the wrong hands, or words to that effect. Big fat idiot! They gave him a piece of their minds.”

“That was before women had the right to vote?”

“Ten long years before they got the right.”

“It was that long? That would have been just a few years before I was born. I don’t ever give it a thought, to be honest. If I did, I would say Vicki knows more about who to vote for than me, and Dottie has as much right to vote as any boy, probably more right when it comes to some of her friends, especially some the boys.”

“Amen,” said Bettina.

“Who was playing?” asked Stan

“What do you mean?”

“When the first ball was thrown out.”

“Oh, the Phillies were playing the Washington Senators. The White House thought it would pick Taft up if he went to the ball game, after his run-in with the Suffragists. The funny thing is, Taft was supposed to throw the ball to the catcher, Gabby Street, but instead he stood up from his seat in the stands and threw it to the pitcher, Walter Johnson, who wasn’t ready for it, and almost got beaned. Anyway, they’ve been doing it ever since, except not during the war.”

“You think Eisenhower is going to be throwing out the first pitch on Wednesday?”

“I don’t think,” said Bettina. “I know. Pete said Ike is going to be there, throw out the first pitch, and stay for the game.”

“Goddamn it!” Stan growled.

“Where do we go from here?” asked Bettina.

“We’re not going to the Secret Service.”

“We’ve got to do something.”

“All right, have Otis type out a warning, a warning in no uncertain terms, that a man is going to try to blow up Ike when he’s in the city for the game, on a typewriter he’s got in the shop that can never and never will be traced, even if he has to trash it the minute he’s done, and mail it with a Brooklyn postmark, the main post office out there, next day delivery, marked urgent. Tell him to make sure it’s white gloves service, no fingerprints, and tell him to do it right now.”

“Do you think they’ll take it seriously?”

“I don’t know how many threats they get,” said Stan. “It’s got to be a boatload. I don’t know how they map out what’s serious and what’s unserious.”

“What if they don’t take it seriously?

“They take their precautions. It’s a serious business. I don’t know how they do what they do, but it’s got to be day-and-night, round-the-clock. It can’t be easy safeguarding the top man, but it’s got to be a lot harder killing him.”

“We could try to find that Tony the doctor fingered ourselves. What do you think?”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” said Stan. “I think tomorrow is Sunday, Ezra and I have tickets for the game on Wednesday, so we would only have to put aside two days of work to stay on this. We’re not in business to do right, but to turn a profit, which is the right of way in our line of work, but if you and Ezra are willing, we could try.”

“You know Ezra, he’s mad as a hornet, and as for myself, I brought Barney on board, so I’m on board for this,” said Bettina, calling Otis at Osner Business Machines, where he almost always worked on Saturdays, so he could work calmly and quietly by himself, the rest of the workshop more than half empty. He would sooner be neat and organized and methodical than yak it up with the other repairmen.

“Ask Otis if he’s available the next few days, too.”

“Do you want him to join us for lunch?”

“Yes, that’s a good idea, ask if he’s free.”

“Otis is never free.”

“You know what I mean.”

Bettina put her hand over the mouthpiece of the handset.

“He says he can meet us for lunch, but he’s busy, wants to know if we can come up to the restaurant at the boat basin, since he can make it over there in just a few minutes.”

Osner Business Machines was south of 79th Street on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side, north of Hell’s Kitchen. The restaurant was inside the 79th Street Rotunda, built by Robert Moses during the West Side Highway’s conversion into a parkway.

When Stan and Bettina left the office for lunch at 12:30, Dwight Eisenhower had left his office five minutes earlier, changed into swimming trunks, and gone for a half-hour swim in the mansion’s pool. Unlike Richard Nixon, his vice-president, who had lately been lobbying for installing bowling lanes in the White House, Ike had been athletic all his life. He had been a linebacker at West Point, a good one, although when he collided with Jim Thorpe in the 1912 Army – Carlisle Indian Academy game, the All-American running back was hardly messed-up when “Little” Ike tried to drag him down.

“Nobody is going to tackle Jim,” said Jim Thorpe.

“You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world,” said King Gustav V at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. “I would consider it an honor to shake your hand.”

Ten minutes after getting out of the pool President Eisenhower was being photographed, fresh dressed smiling, for the newspapers, shaking hands with Judge William Brennan, who he had just appointed to fill the existing vacancy on the Supreme Court.

“Do you ever wonder about why they only ever sing the first part of the Star Spangled Banner,” asked Bettina when she and Stan were settled in their cab on the way to lunch.

“No,’ said Stan.

“You go to all those ballgames, and you were in the service, you’ve heard it hundreds of times.”

“I don’t want to disillusion you, Betty, but I don’t pay attention to the songs, star spangled, or otherwise.”

“I shouldn’t be surprised, so I’m not,” said Betty,

The first performance of the Star Spangled Banner at a ballgame was at the opening game of the season at Union Ball and Cricket Grounds in Brooklyn in 1862. It became enshrined in baseball’s frame of mind after furloughed Navy sailor and Boston Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas sang the song during the seventh inning stretch of the first game of the 1918 World Series.

“The mind of the baseball fan was on the war. The patriotic outburst following the singing of the national anthem was far greater than the upheaval of emotion which greeted Babe Ruth, the Boston southpaw, when he conquered Hippo Him Vaughn and the Cubs in a seething flinging duel by a score of 1 to 0,” was how the newspapers put it.

“It wasn’t even the real anthem until 1931, when Herbert Hoover signed a bill into law making it official,” said Bettina.

“Since I didn’t know that, I probably don’t know how many parts there are to it,” said Stan. “How many are there?”

“There are four verses.”

“I know the part they sing at ballgames.”

“That’s the first verse.”

“Why don’t they sing the other verses?”

“It would take too long, there are too many words, and some of the words, some people don’t want to hear them.”

“What words are those?”

“Their blood has washed out their foul footstep’s pollution, no refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

“I’ve never heard those lyrics,” said Stan. “How do you know them?”

“I didn’t know them, either, until last month,” said Bettina. “Pete told me about them.”

“He sounds like he might be a Commie,” said Stan, making Betty burst into laughter.

Stan thought the Red Scare was a dodge and sometimes wondered where the money in it was. He admitted to himself it got ambitious men elected, and supposed they were printing hundred dollar bills with the ink the fear they inspired bled their way.

When they got to the 79th Street Boat Basin on the Henry Hudson Parkway, they detoured slightly to the restaurant, spotted Otis waiting for them as their cab pulled up, and got a table inside of a few minutes under one of the archways.

“What’s it all about?” asked Otis, after the waitress beat a retreat, Bettina had wanted to make sure there were no “pre-fabricated meats, frozen foods, pre-pared potatoes, or commercial cakes in the larder.”

“There’s none of that, miss,” said the middle-aged woman, smoothing her apron. “I’ve been here nine years, and we make everything fresh to order.”

Stan ordered three glasses of Rheingold on draft.

“Is it about that shrink on Park Avenue?”

“Yes and no,” said Stan.

“Wait, let me ask Otis about the anthem,” said Bettina. “Did you know the Star Spangled Banner has four verses, but nobody ever sings the last three verses?”

“Sure, everybody knows that,” said Otis.

“Is this a set up?” asked Stan, reaching for his glass of beer.

“Ezra told me that gal down on 66th got elected Miss Rheingold this year,” said Otis.

“It’s not official, yet, but she’s going to be the winner, at least, the way we hear it,” said Stan.

Rheingold Beer was brewed in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and every year a new Miss Rheingold was elected. Everywhere the beer was sold were ballots with pictures of six pretty girls to pick from. “Want to give a pretty girl a great big break?’ is what it said at the top of the ballot. The only election in the country that drew more votes than the 25 million the Miss Rheingold election drew was the presidential election every four years.

So many ballots poured into the brewery, nobody could count them.

“We divide the ballots into six piles and weigh them every day,” said Walter Liebman, a chip off the old block of the Liebman’s in 1837 who malted mashed boiled fermented and kegged the first mugs of Rheingold.

Miss Rheingold was in magazines, on billboards, and on the side panels of beer trucks. She wore white gloves and signed autographs. She made promotional tours on both coasts, wore a rhinestone tiara and carried a scepter, rode in parades in an open-top Cadillac wearing a hand-stitched ivory satin dress, and waved to her admirers.

The only thing she never did was ever be seen or photographed drinking a glass of beer.

The Duluc Detective Agency was one of the agencies that did background checks on the six finalists.

“One of the things you don’t want is a Miss Rheingold who is a problem,” said Walter Liebman.

“Who is she?” asked Bettina.

“Her name is Hillie Merritt,” said Stan. “She’s a $25-a-week receptionist at Fortune magazine, married, with a one-year-old.”

“How can you be a miss when you’re married?” asked Bettina.

“You can’t, not technically, but it doesn’t seem to matter to old man Liebman. One of the finalists had to be dropped when Ezra found out, even though she was married to a working man, she was living with a drummer.”

“Out of wedlock?”

“Out of wedlock.”

“My God, such a beautiful girl,” said Walter Liebman. “But living with a drummer!”

“Aren’t drummers usually broke?” asked Bettina.

Otis and Stan both knew Bettina was a jazz band fan and probably knew what she was saying. “If you say so,” said Otis.

“Hillie was next in line, got on the ballot, and in the end it wasn’t even close,“ said Stan. “She won going away.”

Over lunch Stan filled Otis in.

“I can give you the next three days, no problem,” said Otis when Stan was done. “We should be able to brainstorm our man down tomorrow, then go look for him. I am thinking he has got to be close to the Dodgers somehow, otherwise he wouldn’t have much chance of getting close to Eisenhower.”

“Are you figuring it the same way I am?”

“I think so.”

Stan studied the busy river. “He’ll fly into LaGuardia, after lunch, they drive to Ebbets Field, the big man throws out the first pitch, watches the game, and is back in D. C. for dinner by 5 o’clock, unless the little man blows him up first.”

“That’s the way I see it.”

“He’ll do it during the game.”

“That’s how I’m looking at it.”

“Did you get that letter mailed?”

“Yes.”

“All right.”

It was 3 o’clock when Stan and Bettina got back to the office. Stan picked up the scrap of paper Ezra had left lying in the middle of his desktop.

“Bumpy wants to talk.”

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

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Chapter 15

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“I know you,” said Ezra.

He was looking down at Bumpy Williams who was handcuffed to a pipe at the back of the boiler room in the basement of the Warsaw Baking Company in Little Poland. Bumpy’s lips curled, trying to smile. Ezra tried to jump him. Stan, standing between him and Bumpy, held him back.

“Cut it out,” he said.

When the Warsaw Bakery opened at 9 o’clock in the morning they had been open for four hours. When the first two women turned on the lights at 5 AM, the first thing they did was clean the kitchen again and prepare dough. By 6 AM everyone was mixing and kneading. By 7 AM they were baking. Buns and bread went in their own bins, doughnuts and cookies were baked on their own trays, and their potato bread had its own oven.

The potato bread had been awarded a blue ribbon for “excellence of freshness, flavor, quality, uniformity, cleanliness, and value” by the Independent Bakers Council of America in 1954.

When Karol, sitting on a stool in the boiler room, cut into his half-loaf of bread, Bumpy Williams nodded at him.

“I’m hungry,” he said.

“Later,” said Karol.

“I’m thirsty, too.”

“Later,” said Karol, tipping a mug of black coffee up to his mouth.

The door opened and Bartek slipped in.

“How’s everything?”

“Good,” said Karol. “The shrink hasn’t said a word, but sooty is complaining about losing weight.”

“You want to stay lean and clean,” said Bartek.

“Don’t rattle my chain. I got a name and it ain’t sooty, honky,” said Bumpy.

“You ain’t got no name today, big man, not until we say so, so keep it zipped,” said Karol.

“You’re kind of big,” said Dottie on Wednesday, three days earlier.

Marie had taken Dottie to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers play the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I’m almost 300 pounds,” said Happy Felton. “I used to play football in college, although I always wanted to be a ballplayer, be behind the plate. But I was a perfect circle. How could I be a perfect catcher?”

Dottie was in the right field bullpen, she and two boys, playing catch and throw, warming up for Happy Felton’s Knothole Gang show on WOR-TV. The program aired 25 minutes before every home game at Ebbets Field. Happy knew how to put on a matinee. He had been in a medicine-man show, beat the drums in a circus, sang as one of the Four Ambassadors, headlined an orchestra for ten years, had appeared on Broadway, and been a contract player for MGM.

After introducing the kids, Happy always introduced a Dodgers player, who judged the kids on speed, fielding ability, and baseball smarts. This afternoon it wasn’t a player. It was Buzzie Bavasi, the general manager of the team. He had led the Dodgers to National League pennants in 1952, 1953, and 1955. They won their first World Series in franchise history in 1955.

They were shooting for the stars the rest of the week.

“We don’t usually have girls out here,” Buzzie said to Dottie.

“I always called him Buzzie, not Emil, because he was always buzzing around,” said Emil’s sister Iola.

Buzzie called his sister Lolly.

“I can do anything a boy can do, and better,” said Dottie. “I’m the best stickball player in our neighborhood.”

“Let’s see what you’re made of,” said Buzzie.

Tony the Phil walked by on the warning track, glancing over the fence at the kids swinging bats and running imaginary bases, and went his way. He veered into center field and stopped where he knew the storm drain was. It was where he was planning in two days on planting nitro, enough of it to kill a man. He looked down at the ground. He hoped it didn’t blow anybody else up besides who was going to be in the car, but he knew it as going to be a hell of a blast. He didn’t want anything to happen to Happy or any of the kids who might be in the bullpen.

But, he had to do what he had been told to do.  He was going to follow orders. It was all there, all in his head. He had to go ahead.

After the kids had gone through their paces, and Happy and Buzzie had put their heads together, they pinned that day’s blue ribbon on Dottie. The two boys got baseball equipment for their appearances, and Dottie was told she was eligible to come back the next game, the first of the last series of the season, for a solo chat with her favorite Dodger’s player.

The Little Colonel!” she exclaimed when asked.

“Why is he your favorite player,” asked Happy.

“Because he’s the best shortstop ever. His glove is where base hits go to kick the bucket. He can swallow them down and he can double them up. His wife’s name is Dottie, too, the same as mine,“ said Dottie.

Pee Wee Reese had been a champion marbles player as a kid in Louisville, Kentucky. A peewee is a small marble. He was a small child. He could knuckle down playing ringer, boss-out, and black snake, getting low to the ground. His size was a prize in the sand. One year he was runner-up to the national champion in the Courier-Journal’s marble tournament.

He was an undersized teenager, too, not playing baseball until his senior year in high school. Since then he’d grown beefed up and been in professional baseball for 17 years, making the National League all-star team ten years in a row.

“Can I come back Wednesday instead of this weekend?”

Buzzie laughed.

“I like your spirit, but we have to win today and we have to win when the Pirates come into town, too, for there to even be a next Wednesday.”

“I just know you will. I’m counting on it. Can I come back Wednesday, please?”

Buzzie and Happy put their heads back together.

“Ladies and gentlemen, join us before the game on Wednesday next week, what we hope will be the first home game of the series, when Dottie Rittman will spend a few minutes talking to Pee Wee Reese on the show. Until then, this is Happy Felton signing off for WOR.”

It was going to come down to the weekend, it turned out.

The Phillies pummeled the Dodgers with ten hits, taking the game 7 – 3.  Del Ennis drove in two runs on three hits, which was three hits more than Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson all together managed to put together. Only Duke Snider matched Del Ennis, while the rest of the Dodgers eked out two separate harmless singles, one of them a blooper.

Dottie didn’t go home unhappy, though. She wasn’t somebody who needed her team to win to make the trip to the ballpark worthwhile. Winning was a part of it, but everything else, the sunshine in the daytime, jumping to your feet in the stands, peanut shells and tobacco butts, all the fans, the fun of the game, the heroes and goats and memories, was more the whole part of it.

“If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop ‘em,” said Yogi Berra on the other side of the river.

Nobody was going to stop her from going to the ballpark.

The weather stopped everybody from going to the ballpark on Friday. A drizzling rain started at 5 o’clock. The game was called by Umpire Jocko Conlan at 7:30 and rescheduled as a twin bill on Saturday.

The Milwaukee Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals that night, 5 – 4, cutting their lead in the National League to half a game over the second-place Dodgers.

In the first game against the Pirates on Saturday afternoon Sal (No-Hit) Maglie was jolted early, giving up two runs in the top of the first, but stiffened, and slammed the door shut. The Dodgers came back with three in the bottom of the frame and won going away, 6 -2. Clem Labine, a crack relief hurler pressed into starting, couldn’t solve Roberto Clemente, who went three for four, in the second game, but the Bucs scattered their other four hits, and were barely able to push across a single run in the eighth.

“Sometimes the only thing worse than a Pirates game is a Pirates doubleheader,” said a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Press, a writer who had endured four finishes landing dead last in the cellar in the past six years.

After the Dodgers took the front end and then the back end of their doubleheader against the Pirates, it left one game on Sunday for all the marbles. If the Dodgers won, nothing the Braves did would matter.

“You’ve lost your marbles,” said Bumpy Williams.

“Hear me out,” said Stan.

Karol and Bartek had dragged Dr. Baird away. Stan brought sandwiches and beer, lost the cuffs shackling Bumpy, and they were having lunch over an empty overturned Elmhurst Dairy milk crate. They took bites out of their sausage sandwiches and downed daytime pulls of beer.

“The Polacks are on the other side of that door, am I right?” asked Bumpy.

“They might be, but they don’t like being called Polacks,” said Stan. “My father was Polish, but I’m second-generation. They’re from the old country. Besides, I’m not sensitive. They’re young. They take things the wrong way. They don’t like the slur, you know what I mean?”

“Believe me, man, I know what you mean,” said Bumpy.

“I’ll bet you do,” said Stan.

“All right, but why should I go along with you? I’ve got it good, no reason to jump ship.”

“It’s not sinking right now, no, but it’s full of rats. Maybe you think you can trust the colored man, but you can’t, not always. The Dago’s, no, you can’t trust them, and the police will always be dogging you. Even the Dago’s get dragged down, even when they have Carmine DeSapio and Tammany Hall in their back pockets.”

Frank Costello, waking up that morning in prison, where for the past two years he had been waking up serving a five-year sentence, woke up still an American, after court attempts to denaturalize him finally failed the day before.

“By the law of averages I was bound to win this one,” he whispered in his hoarse voice.

He had only been jailed once before in 1915 for carrying a gun, and convicted once before for contempt in 1952 when he walked out on the Senate Crime Committee, pleading a sore throat, but the Federals had gotten him for tax evasion in 1954.

It didn’t matter to the Prime Minister of the Underworld, since he controlled the Lucky Luciano mob from his prison cell, and was embroiled in a power struggle with Vito Genovese and his crime family.

“You got me over a barrel right now, no matter what I say or do,” said Bumpy.

“No, just for a few days,” said Stan.

“What do you mean?”

“The shrink, I’m going to have to do something about him, but you, I just need to keep you on ice for a few days. You’ll be able to go after that. I can’t keep feeding you.”

“Just go? Go where?”

“Back to where you came from. I’ve got nothing for or against you. You didn’t put your hands on Ezra. After we get square with whatever is going on, you’ll be free to go your own way.”

“That might put me over the same kind of barrel.”

“It might, but you won’t be my problem. You can lay low in Harlem.”

“You can’t never get low enough when they want you.”

“Think about what I said,” said Stan.

“I’ll think about it,” said Bumpy.

“Think what you could do with all that money,” said Dr. Robert Baird, looking up at Karol and Bartek.

He was handcuffed to the chair he was sitting in. Bartek stood with his back to the door. Karol was reading the Daily News, sitting opposite the psychiatrist.

“You could go and do whatever you want. You wouldn’t have to live in this rat’s nest of a neighborhood, in this rotten borough.”

Karol was reading about the Poznan protests three months earlier that had been put down by 400 tanks and ten thousand soldiers. The ringleaders were being put on trial. There was a picture of a march at the head of which two young men carried a sign aloft.

“Zadamy Chleba!”

Another photograph was of three young men accused of killing a policeman during the riots. “I felt great hatred for them,” explained Ludwig Wierzbicki, a fireman at a distillery, when asked why he shot at the secret police.

“The police treated me inhumanely,” said Stanislaw Kaufman, a year younger than the 21-year-old fireman.

“I was taken to the commandant of the police who put me through my second christening. I was beaten with rods on my face and knocked over with a blow from behind. An officer dragged me by the hair down to the second floor and beat and kicked me. I was stood up against the wall while he pummeled the back of my head, knocking my face into the wall.”

Karol looked across at the doctor.

“Shut your face. We like living here,” he said.

“I’ll give you fifty thousand dollars each, in cash, if you let me go,” said Dr. Baird.

“We’re the housekeepers, not the householders,” said Karol. “You’ve got to talk to Stan about that.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Bartek, flipping a cigarette between his lips. “You tell Stan you want to give him fifty, he’s going to wonder where the rest of it is, what you’re holding back from him. He’s a snoopy guy that way.”

Dr. Baird blanched, shrinking back into his chair.

“The good news is you’re not bust, yet,” said Karol. “The bad news is, you’re close.”

Dr. Robert Baird didn’t care about being uncared for or unloved. He didn’t care about being unwanted. What gnawed on him was losing everything he had, going hungry and homeless. Maybe poverty was the mother of crime, but he didn’t want to be any more than the professional man committing a crime for the fortune it brought him. Poverty was inconvenient. It meant being stuck in one place the rest of your life. He couldn’t stand the thought of being poor. Being rich was glorious. Being poor was miserable. It scared him to think he might have worked his way up from nothing to a life of nothing left.

Stan Rittman came into the room.

“All right, back in the boiler room with him.”

“OK, boss,” said Bartek.

“He tried to buy his way out,” said Karol.

“How much?” asked Stan.

“Fifty large each.”

“He’s throwing you a curveball. He’s buying you short,” said Stan.

“Is that right?”

“That’s right.”

“Let’s go, shuckster,” Karol said, freeing Dr. Baird and pulling him to his feet. “Time to go talk about some real bread.”

Stan stopped at Miller’s on his way to pick up Vicki. They had plans for drinks and maybe dinner at the El Morocco and drinks and maybe dinner later at P. J. Clarke’s down the street. Nat King Cole had named the bacon cheeseburger at Clarke’s the “Cadillac of burgers.” Stan bought two sour pickles out of a barrel for a nickel each and ate them standing outside the storefront.

They had drinks at the El Morocco, at the bar, at a slight remove from the blue zebra stripe motif. It was crowded. There was a party going on, spilling into the club after the premiere of Arthur Miller’s “A View From a Bridge” at the Coronet Theatre. Marilyn Monroe was there, having divorced Joe DiMaggio after nine months and married Arthur Miller three months earlier.

“Egghead Weds Hourglass” was how the papers ran with it.

“I’m a ballplayer, not an actor,” said Joltin’ Joe.

Stan and Vicki didn’t have dinner at the club. They had more drinks and bacon cheeseburgers at P. J. Clarke’s.

Danny Lavezzo was in his usual spot between the front and back rooms, greeting his customers, when they got there. The back room was a dining room of bare brick and checked tablecloths A group of regulars met every Friday for lunch at the large oval table. They called themselves the Science Club. Jessie, the saloon’s terrier who ran up and down Third Avenue picking up newspapers, was sleeping behind the bar.

Stan spotted two seats at the bar. He and Vicki snagged them. Danny never let unaccompanied women stand at the bar.

“It would just encourage prostitutes,” he said.

Buzzie Bavasi walked in and walked to the end of the bar. Jessie jumped up, ran past the bartender, and out the door. He came back with a copy of the Herald Tribune. Buzzie tossed fifteen cents into Jessie’s tip jar.

Anastasio Somoza, the President who made himself President of Nicaragua in 1937, had died in the still dark morning sometime on Saturday from gunshot wounds after a poet shot him four times pointblank a week earlier. Almost 25 years earlier Anastasio Somoza had assassinated Augusto Sandino and seized power with the help of the United States Marines.

“I was a high class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and for the banks,” said Marine General Smedly Butler. “In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

Dwight Eisenhower had ordered a team of physicians to the Canal Zone to treat the dictator, but the big man’s time was up

His son, Luis Somoza, was named Acting President in the afternoon, and looking calm in a white suit, thanked the United States for its “inestimable aid to save the life which guided our destiny.” Luis’s brother Anastasio took control of the National Guard, making sure their political opponents stayed out of the way.

“Oh, goddammit, we forgot the silent prayer,” said Dwight Eisenhower, opening the meeting with his National Security Council the following week when they too soon broached Anastasio Somoza’s murder with a minute of desultory attention to it.

Stan and Vicki paid attention to each other all the evening at P. J. Clarke’s, all the way back to Hell’s Kitchen, and afterwards, too, when they paid even more attention to each other.

Mr. Moto spent the night on the fire escape.

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

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Chapter 14

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Evaldas and Gediminas watched the two uniformed ensigns step into Connor’s Public House. The young officers stood framed in the doorway, the cool early evening getting dark over their shoulders. They both wore white pants, a white shirt over a white t-shirt, a white belt, and a white cap with a black bill. They wore black shoes. There was a single gold bar on their shoulder boards.

“Hey, shut that door,” someone shouted.

In a minute they had taken stools on both sides of a curvy redhead at the bar.

“Drift,” she said to the one on her left. 

“We just want to buy you a drink,” the one on the other side of her said.

“You, too,” she said.

“Butterbars,” said Evaldas.

“Yeah, they probably wash the dishes in the Commandant’s House,” said Gediminas.

“As close to water as they’re going to get,” said Evaldas. 

“She’s got a classy chassis, though,” said Gediminas, eyeing the redhead. “Our man is not going to like it us taking him away from her.”

A longshoreman walked in, glanced at the sailors, and parked himself midway down the bar. The bartender poured a draft without asking. The longshoreman took a swig.

“Did you say something to that guy I just saw outside?” he asked. 

“The guy with the feather in his hat?” 

“Yeah, that one, who said this joint stinks.”

“That one comes in, asks for a glass of water, and asks me what the quickest way is to Mount Kisco,” said the bartender. “I ask him if he’s walking, or does he have a car? He says, of course I have a car. So, I tell him, that would be the quickest way.” 

“He was chunky about it. Hey, isn’t that Ratso’s girl?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Didn’t she tell them the gate is closed?” 

“Yeah, but they didn’t give it any mind.” 

“Oh boy, they don’t know from nothing.” 

“Keep chicky,” said the bartender. 

“You said it brother.”

The Public House was on the corner of Pearl Street and Plymouth Street. The Manhattan Bridge over the East River was a stone’s throw away. The Brooklyn Navy Yard was a cannon shot away. The new Con Edison Hudson Avenue substation, north of John Street facing the river between Jay Street and the Navy Yard, was a light switch away.

“Did you see that game on Friday?” asked Evaldas.

“That’s exactly their problem,” said Gediminas. “No matter that Mantle is going to win the Triple Crown, no matter how many runs they score, if they keep giving up a dozen, they is not going anywhere in October, no matter who they play.”

The Yankees had been in Boston for the weekend, for their last season series at Fenway Park. On Friday night Mickey Mantle hit a home run that tape measured more than five hundred feet. The Bronx Bombers, though, set a dubious club record by stranding twenty runners on base.

Mickey Mantle had 3 hits. Bill Skowron had 5 hits. The only time the Moose failed to reach base was when Ted Williams made an all-out running catch of a screaming line drive in left field.  

“He was running like a bunny with his tail on fire,” said Red Barber.

Yogi Berra threw a man out at the plate.

Mickey Mantle threw a man out at the plate.

But, the Sox beat the Yankees, sending almost twice as many runners safely across the plate, 13-7. Mel Allen and Red Barber called the night game on WPIX. “That ball is go-ing, go-ing, gonnne!” Mel Allen blared when Mickey Mantle hit his soaring blast. “It’s got to be one of the longest home runs I’ve ever seen! How about that!”

Evaldas and Gediminas watched the game at the Public House, on Friday night two nights earlier, at the far end of the bar, where one of the bar’s two RCA Victor portable TV’s loomed down at them high up on the wall.

“Did you say something?” one of the sailors said, turning to Evaldas and Gediminas in their booth opposite them.

“Hello there everybody,” Mel Allen said to start the baseball game broadcast.  

“This is Red Barber speaking,” said Red Barber. “Let me say hello to you all. Mel and I are here in the catbird seats.”

“Three and two. What’ll he do?” Mel said as the last Yankee hitter squared up in the batter’s box in the top of the ninth inning.  “He took a good cut!” he said when the pinstriped slugger struck out to end the game.  “Tonight’s game was yet another reminder that baseball is dull only to dull minds,” said Red. “Signing off for WPIX, this is Red Barber and Mel Allen.” 

“Hey, you, did you say something about washing dishes?” the sailor said again, standing up, his friend standing up, too, and Ratso Moretti in the meantime walking down the length of the bar from the men’s room towards them.

The redhead turned her stool around, crossed her legs, and started to play with the swivel stick lolling in her gin martini glass.

 “Who the fuck are you two rags?” Ratso asked the sailors, glaring up at them from under the brim of his black felt pork pie hat, baring his sharp front teeth. “Why are you sitting with my girl?” 

Evaldas and Gediminas both leaned back on their seat cushions, their backs against the wall. Gediminas stretched his legs out. Evaldas popped a toothpick into his mouth.

“What do you plan on doing about it, little man?” asked the bigger of the two sailors.

Ratso took one step back, reached for his fly, unzipped it, and pulled out the handle of a Smith & Wesson .38 Chiefs Special revolver. It was the kind of gun carried by plainclothes and off-duty policemen. He kept his hand on the gun while looking straight at the two sailors.

“Hit the road, Clyde,” he said. “You, too, whatever your name is.”

When they were gone, Ratso sat down next to his girl and wrapped his arm around her waist.

“Meanwhile, back at the ranch,” said Gediminas.  

“At least now we know where he hides it,” said Evaldas.

Bartek and Karol sat at the end of the bar and pretended to ignore what was going on. Neither of them wanted anything to happen. Both of them wanted the sailors to go away. They wanted Ratso Moretti to stay snug with his girl, drinking on an empty stomach, stretching the night out. There were four of them and only one of him, but he was a psycho, Karol knew for sure, and had told the others, and it was the number one thing, he said, they had to remember.

“Did you find a plumber this morning?” Gediminas asked Evaldas.

“No, because not only does God rest on Sundays, so do all the plumbers in Brooklyn.”

“What did you do?

“I fixed it myself.” 

One of the toilets in the women’s bathroom in the parish hall next door to St. George’s Church on York Street had sprung a leak after mass. The Lithuanian Roman Catholic congregation was around the corner from the Irish Roman Catholic St. Ann’s Church on the corner of Front and Gold Streets. Lithuanians made up more than half of everyone who now lived in Vinegar Hill, but they had never been embraced by the Irish and their two churches, St. Ann’s and St. Edward’s, so they had built their own church. 

St. George’s had three arched doorways, three arched second-story window assemblages, and a stepped façade with a cross on top. 

“What was the problem?”

The parish priest had dragooned Evaldas on his way out of the parish hall.   

“Prasome, galite padeti?” asked the priest. 

“The wax ring, that’s all it was.”   

“Where did you find a ring on a Sunday?”

“My old man. He’s always loaded for bear.”

“Did you miss breakfast?” 

“No, mom warmed it back up for me, fried some more eggs.” 

When Ratso Moretti hopped off his bar stool, and his girl slid off hers, and they walked out the front door, Karol and Bartek went out the back door, and Evaldas and Gediminas followed Ratso.

“Goddamn it!” Ratso cursed turning the corner onto the quiet side street next to the Public House where he had parked his new car. He looked down at the driver’s side front tire Karol had flattened before going into the bar. 

“Motherfucker!”

“What’s the matter mister?” asked Evaldas. 

“Flat tire,” said Ratso.

He recognized the young man and the other man from the bar.

“Need a hand?”

“I’ve got all the hands I need,” said Ratso.

“Suit yourself.”

Evaldas lit a cigarette, watching and waiting. Gediminas leaned against a lamp pole. Ratso opened the trunk of the car, jacked the car up, and hunched over the tire to loosen the lug nuts.

“This ain’t a show,” he said.

“It is to us.” 

“Suit yourself.”

When Ratso leaned into the last stubborn lug nut, Evaldas flicked his still lit cigarette butt at the redhead, who was standing in space, bouncing it off her midriff. She squealed in outrage, Ratso twisted toward her, and Evaldas, Gediminas, Karol, and Bartek rushed him, two from the front and two from the back.

As Ratso started to stand up, Karol kicked him as hard as he could in the groin, the holstered gun Ratso trying to reach adding insult to injury. He doubled over, grabbed his stomach, fell over, and lay on the ground in a fetal position. He teared up and then threw up.

Bartek threw a muslin cloth bag quickly over Ratso’s head and tightened the drawstring. Karol tied his hands behind his back with clothesline. Bartek reached into Ratso’s pants and pulled out the holster with the small revolver. He went in the passenger side front door and tossed the holster and gun into the glove box of the Chevy.

As Evaldas and Gediminas dragged Ratso to Karol’s hunk of junk behind the Public House, Bartek turned to the redhead.

“Drift,” he said grimly. “And keep your mouth shut, or we’ll take you next.”

“Thanks, boys, we’ll settle up tomorrow,” said Karol after they had dumped Ratso into the trunk, tying his feet together and binding them to his bound wrists so that he lay like a sack of potatoes on his side, still groaning.

Evaldas touched his forefinger to his thumb and pointed the remaining three fingers of his right hand straight up.

Karol and Bartek drove to Sunset Park, turned onto 53rd Street at 3rd Avenue, and finally pulled into and parked behind a three-story abandoned brick building. On the side of the building a painted billboard advertising “R. Moses & Son, Men’s Clothes” was fading away. The storefront’s windows were boarded up and all the other windows on every floor were dark. 

They manhandled Ratso through a back door and into a small featureless room. A table lamp on the floor tried to make sense of the dark with a 25-watt bulb. Stan was standing in a corner in the shadows smoking a cigarette. They dropped Ratso on the floor. Bartek stood with his back to the door.

“Let him loose, except for his hands.” said Stan.

Karol untied Ratso’s feet, yanked the bag off his head, and moved back to stand next to Bartek. Stan stayed where he was, in the gloom. Ratso stayed where he was, too. He felt better, but he still felt horrible. He had a weird stomachache. 

“Tell me about Jackson Pollack,” said Stan.

“I don’t know no Polacks,” said Ratso. 

“You know us now,” Karol said under his breath.

“Not Polacks. I said Pollack, as in Jackson Pollack, the painter.” 

“I don’t know no painters.”  

“Why did you jump my associate the other night?

“I don’t know no associates. Who the fuck are you, anyway?”

“I don’t know how your sack is feeling, but if it was me, I wouldn’t want it to happen again, especially not now, not so soon,” said Stan.

“What do you want?”

“What were you doing in the middle of the night outside the shrink’s office? Why did you jump my man? What does Jackson Pollack have to do with Big Paulie?”

“You’re a dead man when Luca finds out about this,” Ratso screamed.

Stan stepped forward, bent down, and framed an inch with his fingers in Ratso’s red face.

“You’re this close to being a dead man,” he said.

He aimed a kick at Ratso’s nuts. The hoodlum rolled over in a flash. Stan kicked him in the side, aiming for his kidney. Ratso gasped in pain and rage. Stan stepped over him, bent down again, nose to nose with the convulsed thug. 

“You’re going to tell me what I want to know,” he said.

After Ratso Moretti ratted out Big Paulie and Dr. Robert Baird and they had hog-tied him again, Stan Rittman stopped at a phone booth on his way home, the cab driver waiting at the curb, and called the desk sergeant at the 17th Precinct. He told him where to find Ratso, told him Ratso wanted to confess to assaulting Ezra Aronson four nights earlier, and was asking to be held in custody for his own protection.

“Does he need medical attention?” asked the sergeant.

“No, he’ll be fine, just a few bumps and bruises.” 

“What do I tell the captain? Is anybody going to be looking for Morelli, trying to spring him?”  

“Nobody but his bad girl knows anything, but she was a good girl the last we saw her and promised to stay clammed up. Ratso’s car is just outside the Public House in Vinegar Hill. His gun is in the glove box. It’s a Chiefs Special.”

“You don’t say.”

“You might want to have that gun tested by ballistics, see if it matches anything.”

“OK, Stan, we’ll have a car there in five minutes-or-so.”

Ten minutes later three policemen and a plainclothes officer spilling out of two cars flash-lighted their way into the back of the left in the lurch building, hauled Ratso Moretti out the door, untied him then handcuffed him, tossed him face first into the back of one of the radio cars, and quietly drove him to the 17th Precinct, forcing him into a basement cell at the end of a hallway, and forgetting about him for the rest of the next week.

Thirty minutes later Stan Rittman was home in Hell’s Kitchen, in one of his two orange wingback armchairs, a bottle of Blatz Pilsner on the coffee table, while Mr. Moto licked his chops on the sofa on the other side of the table. Stan took a pull on his bottle of beer and watched the cat. He had thought about getting another to keep him company, but Mr. Moto didn’t seem to mind his solitary life.

Mr. Moto liked Puss ’N Boots best, fish followed by chicken followed by beef followed by any other meat. He wasn’t picky. He didn’t think it did any harm to ask Stan for what he wanted, but the story of cats was the story of meat, he thought. Stan fed Mr. Moto with his poker winnings.

“Puss ‘N Boots adds the Plus!”

Mr. Moto wasn’t a mixed-up cat. He lived day-to-day, every day a new day, taking what came his way. He liked fresh water and food in the morning, a long nap from late morning into the late afternoon, and a clean supply of Kitty Litter when he couldn’t get down the fire escape to the flowerbeds.

“Ask Kitty. She Knows. It absorbs and deodorizes. Takes the place of sand.” 

Stan had stopped at Manganaro’s Grosseria Italiana, a sandwich shop, restaurant, and grocery on 9th Avenue, for a slice of Hero-Boy. The whole six-foot hero was 22-pounds and cost $16.50. The wait staff was surly, but the sandwiches were worth the wait. He took a bite, chewed, and washed it down with his Blatz.

Ezra was out of the hospital. He would stop and see him tomorrow morning, tell him they had snatched Ratso, who had spilled his guts, but that it still wasn’t clear what was going on. It looked like Dr. Baird had engineered Jackson Pollack’s death somehow, but why? Where was the pay-off in it? Vicki had explained that since Jackson Pollack had died unexpectedly, and had died young, and had simply died, there weren’t going to be any more paintings by him. Since he was well known, by collectors and museums, prices for his art were going to go up. 

“He was in demand, he’s still in demand, especially the drip paintings,” said Vicki. “But nobody kills a painter to make a profit on his art, not even in New York. Besides, It’s a long-term investment, not like kidnapping somebody for the ransom.”

He would sort it out next week. Stan finished his sandwich, finished his bottle of Blatz, and went to bed. Mr. Moto followed him, curling up just inches from Stan’s face, and was aleep before Stan was. He had never been bothered by insomnia. In the middle of the night he pricked up his ears.

Mr. Moto could smell a rat when he had to. He was a working mouser. When he went to the bedroom window, though, it was just a ladybug on the sill. It was red with black spots. Mr. Moto stretched up on his hind legs and sniffed the bug, which opened its wings, flew in a circle, and landed on Mr. Moto’s nose.

“Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children shall burn!””

Mr. Moto believed ladybugs were lucky. He believed when a ladybug landed on you your wishes would be granted. He also believed it was unlucky to harm them. He licked the bug off his nose and spat it out through the open window. He jumped on the ledge, crouched, and looked out into the big city night.

Four hours later, near the end of the night, near the onset of dawn, while a lone policeman watched now that it was all over and the car had been searched and fingerprinted, a tow truck hooked Ratso Moretti’s new Chevrolet and dragged it away to the NYPD Tow Pound.

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

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Chapter 13

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After bacon and eggs and toast and coffee, Ike and Mamie Eisenhower walked out of the big two-story house on the long quiet street and shook hands with Joel Carlson and his wife. “Thanks for having us,” said Dwight Eisenhower. They had spent the night in the guest bedroom. At the end of the driveway a man waited with three ballerina dolls in his arms.

Ike lit a cigarette.

“John Krajicek, from Ames,” said a Secret Service man in a dark suit.

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

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

John Krajiceks’s face lit up.

“It is my pleasure,” he said.

The President and Mrs. Eisenhower were in Boone, Iowa, on Friday, September 21st. Today was the last day of summer. Tomorrow was the first day of fall. It was a clear crisp morning.

Once in their car they were driven to 718 Carroll Street, to the house Mamie had been born in sixty years earlier. Mrs. Beatrice Smiley, Mrs. Myrtle Douglas, and Mrs. Awilda Stranberg, all dressed up, all in a bundle, all waiting breathlessly, greeted them on the front porch. They presented Mamie with a photograph of the stone and memorial plaque that had recently been placed on the lawn of her birthplace.

Mamie was slightly unnerved by the God’s acre look  of it.

Looking down at the plaque, after reading the inscription, Ike noticed a shiny penny in the freshly mowed grass.

“See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck,” he thought.

He picked it up.

Adlai Stevenson was coming to nearby Newton tomorrow to give a speech about farm problems. “We’ve got the ‘Truth Squad’ ready,” Joel Carlson had said over breakfast. Ike rolled the penny between his fingers in his pocket.

Vicki, Bettina, and Dottie plunked down their fifteen cents apiece at the NYCTA booth and walked down the stairs. Dottie stopped to look at a yellow sign trimmed in red on the wall at the entrance to the tunnel.

“Please cooperate. When in doubt, ask any employee. Help keep the subways clean. Use receptacles for paper. Do not rush – Let ‘em off first. Move away from doors. Keep to the right on stairways. Try to shop between 10 and 4. Always be courteous.”

“Run!” she suddenly shouted, running up the platform. “It’s one of those air-conditioned cars!”

Two months earlier the transit system had rolled out the first experimental air-conditioned cars on the East Side IRT line. They were fitted with deodorizers and filters and piped-in soft music. The temperature was maintained in the mid-70s. Signs on every third window said “Air Conditioned Car – Please Keep Windows Closed.”

They were taking the IND line across the river to Brooklyn, across Gravesend, to the end of the line. When they got off the train they walked, crossed Mermaid Avenue, and hoofed it to Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk.

Dottie felt light as lemonade.

They stopped at the Sodamat at West 15thStreet as they strolled on the Boardwalk.

“Good Drinks Served Right – Skee Ball 5 cents.”

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

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

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

“I do, but later,” said Dottie.

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

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

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

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

“My game is stickball,” said Dottie. “Skee ball is for sissies. They don’t even play stickball here. They play coop-ball. That’s for jellyfish, too.”

“Do you only play stickball?” asked Vicki.

“Oh, no, we play ringolevio and skelly, too, although some kids call it scummy top, even though I don’t know why. Skelly is fun, but all you’ve got are your chalk and the squares and your caps. Ringolevio is way more fun, we run all over, and there’s a jail, and jailbreaks, and everything. Chain chain, double chain, no break away!”

It was a few minutes before eleven when the Eisenhower’s arrived at the National Field Days and Plowing Matches near Colfax. In the past two days he had traveled hundreds of miles through central Iowa, made speeches, informal talks, shook hands, waved and flashed his smile to more than 300,00 people, half of them on Walnut Street in Des Moines, eight and nine deep, on both sides of the street.

Gangs of schoolchildren ran alongside his limousine and kids on bicycles rode behind his police motorcycle escorts.

“There’s never been anything like this here before,” said Governor Leo Hoegh, whistling through his teeth in awe and admiration.

Four years earlier, when Harry Truman had campaigned in Iowa, he got sick and tired of hearing “We Like Ike!” from hecklers. “Why don’t you shut up and you might learn something,” he retorted at one stop, veering from his prepared speech. Instead, he became the target of eggs and tomatoes.

As they drove up the dirt road off Highway 6 to the entrance of the Field Days, Dwight Eisenhower glanced at the cardboard signs at the side of the road. He wasn’t the challenger anymore. He was the incumbent. He was the man in office with a record to defend.

“10-cent corn  – the same as 1932.”

1932 was the year 24 years ago when Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in that year’s presidential race, more than three years into the Great Depression.

“Ike Promised 100 Per Cent Parity 1952. Didn’t Happen. What Promise – 1956?”

“Ike’s Peace Like Neville Chamberlain’s Peace.”

At the entrance a short round man held up a loosely lettered sign on the end of a broom.

“Adlai and Estes, The Bestest.”

“That was the best waffle I ever had,” said Dottie.

“You had two of them,” said Vicki.

“She’s a growing girl,” said Bettina.

“Those were the best two waffle I ever had,” said Dottie.

“Where to now?” asked Bettina.

“I want to jump off the Eiffel Tower!” exclaimed Dottie.

The Parachute Jump at Steeplechase Park had been built for the 1939 World’s Fair and afterwards moved to Coney Island. It stood 250 feet high, was open-frame, and everyone called it the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn. Twelve cantilevered steel arms sprouted from the top of the tower, eleven of them supporting a two-person canvas seat and a parachute. The riders were belted down, hoisted to the top, then released into a freefall, caught by the parachute, and floated to the ground. Shock absorbers were built into the seats, just in case.

“I’m not going up on that thing,” said Bettina.

“Do you remember the parachute wedding?” Vicki asked Bettina.

“No, I never have heard of it.”

“The couple got married up there. The minister was in the seat next to them and the whole wedding party was on the rest of the seats. When the ceremony was over the married couple parachuted down first, and everyone else followed them, except for the minister. The cables on his seat got tangled and he was up there for more than five hours before firemen could get him down. The tower is right on the ocean, and it got windy, and he was sick as a dog by the time they got him on the ground.”

“That cinches it,” said Bettina.

“You and me both, sister,” said Vicki.

“Mr. President,” said Herb Plambeck. “I’d like to introduce our twenty seven Champion Plowmen and our one and only Champion Plow Woman, Mrs. Pauline Blankenship.”

Ike shook hands with them, taking Pauline Blankenship’s lightly in his. He shook hands with Frank Mendell, chairman of the National Contour Plowing Match, and Dale Hall, chairman of the National Level Land Plowing Match. In the Lunch Tent he met Kay Butler, Queen of the Furrow, and ate sitting between Mamie and Governor Hoegh.

Mrs. Jet Adams supervised the dozen ladies serving lunch. Mamie waved her over.

“You’re doing a wonderful job,” she said.

After lunch Senator B. B. Hickenlooper introduced President Eisenhower to the crowd after introducing himself at length.

“Most of you know me, and I’m sure have voted for me often,” he said.

There was a wave of good-natured laughter.

“For those of you who don’t know me, and aren’t sure how to pronounce my name, my friends just call me Hick.”

There was another wave of laughter, larger and louder.

“When I was child, my mother sent me to the drug store to get a nickel’s worth of asafetida for her asthma. The druggist just gave it me without writing it out, because he didn’t want to have to write out my full name, Bourke Blakemore Hickenlooper. “

“Just take this home to your mother, Hick,” said the druggist.

Bourke B. Hickenlooper had been a senator since 1944. He wore black frame glasses beneath a pinkish bald pate and was one of the most conservative and isolationist members in the United States Senate. He hadn’t lost an election since as lieutenant governor of Iowa almost twenty years ago he had made headlines by saving a Cedar Rapids woman from drowning in the Cedar River.

She later told her friends she hadn’t needed saving, but that her savior had insisted.

President Eisenhower’s speech was broadcast live on local TV and radio. He stayed local, steering away from anything contentious, the bland leading the bland. After the address he presented trophies and scrolls to the champion plowmen and champion plow woman.

Henry Steenhock, the owner of the land where the Field Days were held, didn’t think much of the speech.

“I like Ike, but I don’t think I’ll vote for him, even though I’ve been a Republican all my life,” he said. “Flexible price supports have got to go. We’re not looking for a handout, but we deserve price protection. Other businesses are subsidized. Ezra Benson? He’s got to go. Vice-President Nixon? I don’t like his attitude – period. Estes Kefauver, he’s like I am, straight-forward.”

Henry Steenbock always called corn a cash crop and a spade a spade.

“Why do they call it Coney Island?” asked Dottie.

“It’s because of the Dutch,” said Bettina. “When they were here, maybe 300 years ago, there were lots of rabbits in the dunes, so they called it Konijnen Eiland, which means Rabbit Island, which became Coney Island after the English took over.”

“How did they take over?”

“Somebody always takes over,” said Bettina.

“Why does somebody always take over?”

“It’s the way of the world, child,” said Bettina.

“I want to go on the Wonder Wheel,” said Dottie.

“I think we’re up for that,” said Vicki.

The Wonder Wheel at Luna Park was a Ferris wheel and a Chute-the Chutes and a slow-moving roller coaster all in one. It was once called Dip-the-Dip. Some of the cars were stationary, but more than less of them moved back and forth along tracks between a big outer wheel and a smaller inner wheel as the Wonder Wheel rotated.

They walked past an eight-foot high neon sign spelling out “Wonder Wheel.” Through the middle of the sign was an arrow blinking and pointing to the ride.

“Thrills.”

Dottie sat between Vicki and Bettina in one of the sliding cars.

“You can see Manhattan,” said Vicki when it was their turn at the top of the 150-foot-tall wheel and it stopped for a few seconds.

“Look, you can see the Rockaway,” said Bettina.

“It takes you low and it takes you high,” said Vicki.

“When you reach the top it’s like you can touch the sky,” said Dottie. “You can see the whole world.”

“One minute you’re on top, the next minute you’re on the bottom,” said Bettina. “I say, stay in your seat, it’s going to get bumpy, enjoy the ride.”

“Top of the world, ma, top of the world,” said Vicki like a crazy person, bulging her eyeballs and throwing her arms up.

Bettina laughed.

“Isn’t that crazy? One day he’s Yankee Doodle Dandy and the next day he’s a mama’s boy mad dog killer.”

The Wonder Wheel shuddered and started down again.

Dwight Eisenhower and his wife were at the Des Moines Municipal Airport by mid-afternoon for their flight back to Washington D. C. He greeted and answered questions from more than a hundred Iowa weekly newspaper editors, met with two- dozen Iowa Republican Party officials, and was escorted to the Columbine by sixteen Eagle Scouts formed as an Honor Guard.

Inside the plane an aide sat down opposite him.

“Mr. President we have a report that Anastasio Somoza, the president of Nicaragua, has been shot today.”

“Is it serious?”

“The report wasn’t entirely clear, but it said, yes, serious, shot in the chest, point-blank, it might be life-threatening.”

“Where have they taken him?”

“He’s been taken to the Panama Canal Zone hospital.”

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

“Yes, sir.”

“Who shot him?”

“A poet.”

“Are you serious? Well, goddamn it. A poet?”

“A poet, yes, sir, a local writer and musician, played violin in a band. He was shot dead, riddled, on the spot.”

“I’ll be damned, a poet with a pistol, mightier than the pen.”

The Columbine touched down at 9:35, taxied to the MATS Terminal, and the Eisenhower’s were in bed by 10:45. The next day Ike stayed in the Mansion all day while it steadily rained, only seeing the Secretary of State for a few minutes. Ike and Mamie attended the Sunday morning service at the National Presbyterian Church, and like the day before spent the rest of the day in the Mansion. Sunday night some of ‘The Gang’ came to dinner at the White House, over drinks planning their next stag trip to the Eisenhower Cabin at the Augusta National Golf Club.

When he was there, which was as often as possible, Ike worked mornings in the three-story seven-bedroom cabin, played golf with his friends in the afternoon, and bridge after dinner. His friends weren’t his friends at the card table, except his partner, and then not always even him.

“How was the Iowa trip?” one of them asked.

“The same as all the others, except it didn’t rain, and the food was better,” said Ike. “I shook a lot of hands, made speeches to the faithful, and got out the vote.”

Dottie peeked over the front edge of the front car down at the track of the Cyclone as the train creaked up to the top of the lift hill, where it was going to curve over the rails and hurtle down. Vicki and Bettina were in the car behind her and Dottie was with her new friend, Ronald, a boy her age whose parents had stayed behind on the platform.

The Cyclone roller coaster was in Astroland at the corner of Surf Avenue and West 10thStreet, almost 2700 feet long, with six fan turns and twelve drops. The lift hill was 85 feet high. Six years earlier a man who hadn’t spoken in fourteen years, riding the Cyclone for the first time, screamed while going down the first drop.

“I feel sick,” he muttered when the train returned to the station, and dropped to the ground in a dead faint after realizing he had spoken.

“I have a friend who counts the seconds until the ride is over,” said Ronnie.

“Why does he do that?”

“He can’t stand it.”

“What’s the point of riding it in the first place?”

“I duuno,” said Ronnie. “Every time I ask if he wants to go with me, he says, sure, as soon as I’ve lost my mind, but he always goes anyway.”

“The Cyclone is for when you want to be so scared and so thrilled all at the same time. Maybe he should stick to the merry-go-round.”

“Yeah,” said Ronnie. “You don’t want to ride the roller coaster when you’ve got diarrhea.”

“No way,” said Dottie, making sure their buzz bar was locked in place.

“Did you hear about that girl who got hit in the face by a pigeon and broke her nose going down this hill?” asked Ronnie.

“No!” said Dottie.

“It was alright,” he said. “She had some Kleenex and just stuffed it up her nose nostrils to keep the blood out of her eyes.”

“Yikes!” said Dottie, as the Cyclone shimmied shook roared down the other side of the lift hill. “I don’t have any Kleenex.”

They laughed up and down the trick hill, leaned into the banked turns that twisted and tipped the train, ducked beneath the headchoppers, and inside of two minutes pulled into the station where everyone clambered off.

“My legs feel like fried bacon,” said Ronnie.

“Yeah, that was the mostest fun,” said Dottie.

“Bye.”

“Bye to you, too.”

“That was sketchy,” said Vicki.

“Shoot low, they’re sending Shetlands,” said Bettina. “Did you feel that tower sway when we got to the top?”

“Yes, you bet I did.”

“I’m hungry,” said Dottie.

“You’re always hungry,” said Bettina. “Doesn’t Stan feed you?

“So am I,” said Vicki.

“How about a red hot at Nathan’s?” suggested Bettina.

“Yippee ki yay!” exclaimed Dottie.

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Chapter 12

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Bettina looked herself up and down in the full-length mirror. She was wearing a black and white swing dress with a full skirt, red cuffs trimmed just below the elbows of the three quarter sleeves, and a red collar at the top end of three big black buttons. Underneath it she wore a Playtex bra and girdle. Along with the dress she had on a black belt, black shoes, and black gloves.

She had a black short-strapped handbag slung from her wrist and a broad-brimmed red hat on her head. She lifted her chin, looking down at the middle of herself. It was her ping-pong games that kept her fit and the girdle that made her look trim.

“You look good,” she thought, “straight from the fridge.”

She turned one way and the other way, taking a peek at her backside. Halfway out of her apartment door she paused, flipped the clasp on her handbag, and made sure she had an Anchor Life Insurance Company business card.

“Swank,” she thought, looking around Dr. Robert Baird’s waiting room.

Everything was white, except for the floor and the two Barcelona chairs. The floor was gray and the chairs were brown. The round receptionist’s desk was white, as was the sofa and small round table in front of the sofa. The ceiling was white and the fluorescent lighting was bright white.

It was 8:35 in the morning on Friday.

“I’m here to see Dr. Baird,” said Bettina.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“I don’t, but this will only take ten minutes of the doctor’s time. It’s about the death of Jackson Pollack.”

She handed the receptionist her make-believe business card.

“His first appointment at nine hasn’t arrived yet. Let me see if he can see you.”

She was back in less than a minute.

“The doctor will see you,” she said.

“Thank you.”

“I love your outfit,” she said.

“Why, thanks.”

The receptionist was her own age.

“I got the dress at Macy’s, splurged on the bag at Henri Bendel’s down in the Village, and everything else, well, I just picked up here and there.”

Bettina walked into Dr. Baird’s office. It was even whiter than the waiting room. Dr. Robert Baird came around from behind his large desk, his arm extended, shook her hand, and offered her one of the two chairs at the front of the desk.

“How can I help you, Miss Cross, is it?” asked Dr. Baird, swiveling around in his chair to face her

“Cross, Mrs. Betty Cross,” said Bettina.

“A working woman.”

“Yes,” she said. “A working woman.”

She had been turned off by Dr. Baird at first sight. There was something oily about him, as though he were tossing her a few crumbs by just seeing her. She tried to keep it out of her voice and off her face. She crossed her legs and pulled a spiral bound flip pad out of her pocketbook.

The receptionist hadn’t gone to college for just a M. R. S. degree, meaning finding a husband and becoming a Mrs. She was in her mid-20s, neither married nor engaged. Everyone she knew had married right out of high school or while they were in college. Most of them got pregnant inside a year, and most of them were looking forward to their second and third child.

Her mother told her she was in danger of becoming an old maid.

“Better to die an old maid, mom, than marry the wrong man.”

She had her sights set on making money, a small fortune, at least, and stay a single woman, as sensible and respectable as anybody else.

She liked what she saw of the woman from the insurance company. That was what she wanted to be, someone on the go, not someone stuck behind a desk answering a phone and being polite to whoever walked in the door. She was going to make her own way.

“We carried a policy on the life of Jackson Pollack, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to just ask a few questions about him,” said Bettina.

“I don’t understand,” said Dr. Baird.

“We aren’t asking you to violate the doctor patient relationship, but we would like to know if, in your opinion, he had suicidal tendencies.”

“I’ve heard of Jackson Pollack, of course,” said Dr Baird. “I’ve read about him in the papers, it seems he was larger than life, but I never treated him.”

“Oh” said Bettina. “It was our understanding he was your patient.”

“You were misinformed,” said Dr. Baird.

“He wasn’t seeing you about his drinking?”

“No.”

Jackson Pollack drank heavy most of his life, starting when he was 15-years-old, on the road, helping his father make topographic surveys of the Grand Canyon. He got psychiatric treatment on and off to cure his alcoholism. Joseph Henderson, a Jungian psychoanalyst in Manhattan, found color sequences and symbols in the illuminated manuscript “Splendor Solis” and worked them into explaining Pollack’s dream images to him.

He got help from Dr. Violet Staub de Laszlo.

She wrote the Selective Service System in 1941, after he got his draft notice.

“I have found him to be an inarticulate personality of good intelligence, but with a great deal of emotional insecurity, who finds it difficult to form or maintain any kind of relationship. It has become evident that there is a certain schizoid disposition underlying his instability. I venture to suggest that Pollack be referred for a psychiatric examination.”

He was declared unfit for military service. He got re-acquainted with Lee Krasner. They got married. He broke through to the other side.

After the war he slowed and finally stopped drinking, but after the summer of 1950 he took his first drink in two years and from then on stopped painting and drank heavily until his death. Whenever he was soused at the Cedar Tavern up-and-coming artists walking past him would try to touch him for good luck.

“That’s a mistake, get your goddamned hands off me!”

“I don’t have anything more to say,” he told his homeopathic physician Dr. Elizabeth Wright. “What’s the point?”

“I’m sorry about wasting your time,” said Bettina.

“That’s quite all right,” said Dr. Baird.

Bettina retrieved her hat from the coat rack stand. The wall on that side of the office was filled with a ball clock, diplomas, certificates, a letter from the mayor, artsy black-and-white photographs, and a small drawing in a steel frame.

It was a pencil drawing of a man-beast, naked, on his haunches, leaning forward, his nose like a snout, and a snake winding out of his mouth. The initials JP in small squiggly letters were hidden at the bottom, just in sight beneath the man’s calf.

“That’s an interesting drawing,” said Bettina, putting on her hat.

“Oh, that. It’s creepy, if you ask me. It was done by one of the city artists, the one who died a few months ago.”

“The one who crashed his car?”

“Yes, that one. I read all abut it in the papers. He was a drunk. He killed one of the girls in the car with him.”

“Did Dr. Baird know him?”

“Oh, yes, he treated him for months, from about March or April.”

“That picture might be worth a lot of money some day.”

“You think so?”

“I would keep my eye on it,” said Bettina.

After Bettina left, but before she had gotten to the elevator, the receptionist was giving the small drawing a long look, her finger to her chin. She turned back to her desk when she saw her phone blinking.

“Hold my first patient for a few minutes,” said Dr. Baird.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

He dialed the number he’d been given in case of an emergency.

“Yeah?”

“I had a visitor this morning, a woman who claimed to work for an insurance company that carried a policy on Jackson Pollack’s life,” he said.

“What did she want?”

“She wanted to know if Pollack had ever exhibited suicidal tendencies, if I had been treating him for that.”

“What did you say?”

“I said Jackson Pollack had never been my patient.”

“That was a mistake.”

It wasn’t a mistake from Dr. Baird’s point of view. He planned on being far from New York City by the end of the week, before whatever was supposed to happen happened, more than a half million dollars to the good, almost a million with the rest he had squirreled away, far away in a warm sunny Mediterranean world in a villa where no one would ever find him for the rest of his life. He wasn’t waiting to be paid the balance of what was owed him for the work he had done on Tony de Marco. He suspected the rest of his life depended on getting far away from New York City sooner than later.

“All right, sit tight, we’ll take care of it. What was the broad’s name and who did she say she worked for?”

“He said Jackson Pollack was never a patient of his,” said Bettina after getting back to the office

“We’ve got it from Barney Newman and the wife that he was,” said Stan. “Why would he lie about it when it’s easy enough to see through it?”

“He might be buying time, for some reason.”

“That’s a good thought,” said Stan. “Let’s see if Ezra’s up for some second-story work, do a little digging, get into his files.”

Ezra broke into Whistler Dental Specialists on the fourth floor twenty minutes after they locked up at four o’clock on the Tuesday the following week. He waited and five hours later broke into Dr. Baird’s office in the same building. An hour later he had Jackson Pollack’s file laid out on the receptionist’s desk in front of the Minox spy camera Otis had given him. When he was done photographing it, he returned the file, and removed the film from the camera.

He was wearing a black t-shirt, dark khaki’s, and a brown newsboy cap. He taped the film to the top of the cap’s brim and snapped the bonnet securely to the brim. He put a fresh roll of film into the camera. He tucked the camera away behind the fabric divider in his right front pocket. He waited until it was more than an hour after midnight. He took the fire escape to the first floor and walked out the back door.

He hadn’t taken two steps before he felt, before hearing or seeing them, the two men. A slapjack broke his nose. He hit the ground like he had been dropped. A big man yanked him to his feet and slammed him against the wall.  He turned him around. A smaller man with sharp front teeth and a black felt pork pie hat stepped in front of him.

“Hey, don’t I know you,” he said, talking to Ezra’s broken nose.

“No,” said Ezra.

“Sure I do, you’re the zigzag man from down on the docks,” he said, and hit Ezra twice fast high on both sides of his face with the jack.

“Fuck you!” Ezra spit, screaming, and the man hit him in the mouth. Ezra tried to kick him, flailing his legs, but the small man danced away, and then darted in, jabbing him hard in the ribs with the butt end of the slapjack. Ezra felt something crack and slumped in the big man’s arms.

“You’re in a world of hurt, Jew man,” the small man sneered. “What were you doing in there? You tell me or we will take you to another world.”

Bumpy Williams was suddenly behind the small man.

“Let’s beat feet,” said Bumpy. “Radio car just pulled up, blocking that way, they’re coming fast. We got to go the other way.”

The big man let Ezra flop to the ground and the three men walked away quietly briskly.

One of the Radio Motor patrolmen rolled Ezra over.

“Mother of Jesus, you got a bad dose of it,” he said, looking at his face.

The other policeman came back.

“Gone,’ he said. “They must have had a car waiting.”

“Let’s get him to the hospital.”

They helped Ezra to their green, black, and white Ford Tudor RMP, a lit-up ‘Police’ sign on the white roof, one of the policemen sitting in the back seat with Ezra, his battered head in his lap, the other, siren wailing, making the short fast drive to the emergency room at Bellevue Hospital.

It was half past three in the morning by the time Stan and Bettina pulled up chairs next to Ezra’s bed on the seventh floor. A police guard sat outside the door.

“You look bad,” said Stan

“I feel better,” he said. “They doped me up.”

“Do you know who it was?”

“One of them was the rat face who’s usually hiding behind Big Paulie. The other one, I never saw, he had me from behind. I saw his hands, though. It looks like he was a fighter once. There was an eggplant who came running up when the cavalry got there, but I didn’t recognize him.”

“OK, we’ll get them. Did you find anything?”

“Yeah,” said Ezra, his voice muffled by the drugs and swollen busted lip. “The film is in my hat.’

“OK.”

“I need two, three days,” said Ezra.

“Take your time,” said Stan.

In the hallway Stan stopped, the policeman stood up, and Bettina kept her hand on the doorknob.

“Not to worry,” said the uniformed officer. “One of us will be right here until he’s discharged.’

“Thanks,” said Stan.

“Get Karol and Bartek first thing in the morning,” Stan said to Bettina when they were outside. “Tell them what I want, and tell them I want it by the end of the week, all three if they can do it, but rat face, for sure. I don’t care how they do it, just so long as it gets done.”

“It’ll get done,” said Bettina, a sour metallic taste in her mouth.

Stan hailed a taxi for her.

When she got in he waved the cabbie to go.

“I’m going to walk,” he said.

The cab turned away into the quiet Manhattan morning.

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Chapter 11

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The only mistake Bumpy Williams made was having two beers for lunch on an empty stomach. He wasn’t hungry, but he was thirsty. The other mistake he made was breaking his number one no break rule, which was to never assume anything.

“It can make an ass of you,” George Benta at the funeral home had said the day when they mixed up two dead men in wrong coffins and had to dig them up and bury them again.

“Hey, mistakes are just another way of getting things done,“ Bumpy had said to George’s long face.

He assumed Stan Rittman, frog-marching the shrink out the door in the hubbub of the 5 o’clock Friday going home rush, down the sidewalk, and into the alley, was alone. He saw the car, the gal behind the wheel, the open back door, and got to within a step of the peeper, but he never saw Karol.

Stan saw Bumpy coming, but stayed in step with doing what he was doing, not skipping a beat.

Never interrupt anybody when he’s making a mistake was one of his cardinal rules. It had always stood him in good stead at the poker table. The only person he interrupted tripping over her own feet was Dottie.

“Hands where I can see them, nigger,” said Karol.

The third mistake Bumpy Williams made was whirling around, blackjack suddenly in his hand, and slamming his temple into the sideways swinging blunt butt end of Karol’s Colt .45 caliber pistol. The street tilted up to meet his pole-axed face, his knees weak as a baby’s, his brain blank as a bubble.

“Who’s he?” asked Karol.

“Never mind, in the trunk,” said Stan.

Bettina tossed the car keys out the window, Karol snatched them out of the air, and dragged Bumpy Williams by his armpits to the back of the Pontiac, strong-arming the woozy Negro into the trunk.

“You still have a chance, but I hear a sound out of you, it’ll be the last sound you make, and no hard feelings,” he said, his mouth close to Bumpy’s ear. They looked straight at each other. Bumpy tried to make his eyes say he understood. Karol gave him a pat on the arm.

“Good,” he said.

“Let’s go,” said Stan, getting into the back seat on one side of Dr. Robert Baird, Karol on the other side. “Put your chin into your chest, and keep it there,” said Stan. Karol tied a blue and yellow bandana over the psychiatrist’s eyes. Bettina put the car in gear and eased into traffic on Park Avenue. Less than a half hour later they pulled up at the rear of the Warsaw Baking Company in Little Poland.

Bartek was waiting at the back door, slouching against the brick wall.

“You two bring the colored man,” said Stan, leading Dr. Baird by the elbow into the building. “Handcuff him in the boiler room in the meantime. We’ll get to him after the doc.”

“What about the little man?” asked Bartek.

“He was gone,” said Stan. “We’ll find out what he is, where he is. You and Karol sit tight. This won’t take long.”

Bettina parked the car and followed Stan. She bolted the door behind her, took two steps down into the basement, but then went back up to double-check the door. It was bolted fast. It was a metal door.

The Warsaw Baking Company was a two-story brick building between Nassau and Driggs Avenues. One side of the front of the building was double doors and two loading docks. The other side was a single door leading up to a bakery shop. It closed at 5 o’clock. There were two glass block basement windows. There was only one door at the back.

Karol stayed with Bumpy, cuffed to a pipe and sprawled on the concrete floor. Bartek walked around to the front of the building and hopped on to the ledge of one of the loading docks. He leaned back, pushed his flat cap off his forehead, and lit a cigarette. The late afternoon early fall sunlight felt good on his face. A pretty girl walked by. He gave her a wolf whistle.

“Save that for the girls who don’t know the real you, Bartek,” she said, smiling wickedly as she walked past.

“You’re cooking, doll.”

“Steady boy.”

Bartek lived three blocks away, and Karol lived a block from Bartek, in Little Poland, hard on the East River, where everything and everyone was Polish, drug stores, groceries, hair salons, newsstands, and funeral parlors.  Hardware stores and dentists and shoeshine stands advertised their wares and services in their native tongue. The young men had both gotten out of Europe in 1948 when they were both still teenagers and orphans for the rest of their lives. They worked at the bakery and did odd jobs on the side.

One of their sidelines was doing odd jobs for Stan Rittman. It kept them in going out money, going out with girls, going out to ballgames, shows, and going out to eat.

They ate at Czerwony Wreprz, what everyone called the Red Pig, once a week, where they always ordered the signature dish, a giant meal for four served in a wooden boat, of sausages, pierogies, baked hocks, bacon, stuffed cabbage, grilled pork shoulder, and chicken.

“You eat this, you’ll be happy for a week,” said the cook.

The Red Pig looked more like an old country farmhouse than a bar and restaurant, with a long deep stocked bar and plenty of Polish beer on tap. A white bird on a red background was stopped in space over the front door. A sign below the big bird said “Zapraszamy!” It meant you were welcome to enter. The waitresses dressed in traditional folk dresses. Wooden beams lined the ceiling from front to back, lights hung on wagon wheels, and the booths chairs tables were all dark walnut polished to gleam.

Ezra was in the half-empty odds-and-ends basement room of the Warsaw Baking Company when Stan came in, Dr. Baird ahead of him, and Bettina behind them. He was standing in a back corner, his arms folded across his chest, quietly waiting, not angry anymore, but waiting. Stan sat the psychiatrist in a chair at the table in the middle of the room and lifted the bandana from his eyes. He blinked rapidly and squeezed his eyes narrow to keep the light out.

Everything was quiet for several seconds. Ezra stayed behind the doctor. Stan stood on the far side of the table. Bettina locked the door and leaned back on the wall to the side of it. Stan looked down at Dr. Baird.

“This is outrageous, who do you think you are?” Dr. Baird said in a thick voice, starting to stand up. “Where am I?  What do you think you’re doing? I’ll have you all arrested, mark my words!”

Ezra stepped up behind the doctor and pushed him halfway back down into his chair.

“Shut up and stay that way until we ask you something,” said Stan. “Turn his pockets out, Ezra, let’s see what we’re going to see before we get started.”

When Ezra pivoted and rousted Dr. Baird to his feet, spreading the lapels of the man’s jacket to search the inside pockets, and they were face to face, the psychiatrist recoiled.

“My God, what happened to you?”

Ezra’s eyes were black and blue, he was wearing a splint over his broken nose, and his busted lower lip was swollen. He moved gingerly, careful to not hurt himself. He glared at the doctor.

“Yeah, your goons did this, and cracked one of my ribs, too. I’m in no mood to finesse you, so be a good boy,” said Ezra, his voice terse.

“My goons? I don’t have any goons. What are you talking about?”

“I already told you to shut up once,” said Stan, as Ezra tossed the doctor’s wallet on the table and shoved him back into the chair.

“He’s clean.”

Stan sat down opposite Dr. Baird.

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

“But I don’t know.”

“We’re getting off on the wrong foot already,” said Stan, quickly getting up, leaning over the table, and grabbing the psychiatrist by the knot of his tie. He jerked him forwards.

“I told you once, I won’t tell you again. I won’t have it. If you lie to me it will only make it a longer night, and I don’t want that.”

He let go and Dr. Baird fell back into his chair, sputtering. He was starting to sweat. His shirt was damp. He wasn’t a coward, but he wasn’t a brave man, either. He was a smart man, but he belatedly realized he was in a locked room, in a basement, with a man bigger than he was in front of him, a short-tempered man, and a man behind him whose mind was seemingly made up for vengeance. He suddenly knew without seeing anything that both of them had guns on their persons. He suddenly knew this had everything to do with Tony de Marco.

He turned to Bettina.

“You can’t let them do this, you’ve got to help me.”

Bettina gave Dr. Baird a breezy look.

“You’re dirty, doc. You lied to Ezra about Jackson Pollack, and then you had him beaten up. We’re going to find out what you know, one way or the other.”

“I didn’t have him beaten up,” Dr Baird protested.

“You know what, doc, I believe you,” said Stan. “But, what you didn’t say says you know all about Jackson Pollack, that you lied to our associate about that. Let’s start there, what do you say?”

It wasn’t asking a question.

“Yes, I treated Jackson Pollack for depression, but I can’t discuss anything about it with you. It would be unethical.”

Stan Rittman was taken aback, but nonplussed. Bettina squawked.

“You’re going to need a better deadbolt than that,” she said, smiling sweetly.

Bartek zipped up his jacket, lolling against the brick wall of the Warsaw Baking Company. The sun was low in the sky. The warm late summer air had cooled.

“Yo, Bart.”

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

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

Elsa’s was the Black Rabbit Tavern and Elsa was Elsa Brouwerji, a friendly middle-aged widow whose husband had tied a cinder block around his neck and thrown himself off the Rockaway Boardwalk a year to the day after the 30 million gallon oil spill six years earlier into the Newtown Creek. He had been, working at the neighborhood’s Standard Oil refinery, accused by his supervisors of negligence and been fired.

It didn’t help matters that a year after his suicide it was determined that Casper Brouwerji hadn’t made the mistake that resulted in the largest oil spill in the country’s history. His widow received a settlement from Standard Oil and bought the Pour House Bar and Grill. She changed the name to the Black Rabbit and thumb tacked a photograph of her husband to the wall above the cash register.

She spat behind her whenever she walked past a Standard service station.

“You coming?”

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

Stan lifted his eyes past Dr. Baird’s shoulder.

Ezra reached into his back pocket and snapped a pair of handcuffs on the psychiatrist’s wrists, wrenching his arms behind him, over the backside of the chair.

Stan threw two hinged metal frames with an attached head strap on the table.

“Do you know what this is?” he asked.

“No,” said Dr Baird.

“This is a Whitehead gag,” said Stan. “It wraps around the front of your head and the parts that are bent fit between your front teeth. When we spread them apart, the frames separate your jaw, holding your mouth open. We can keep it wide open with that ratchet mechanism on each side of the frame.”

Dr. Baird didn’t say a word.

Stan tossed a pair of needle nose pliers on the table.

“Do you know what those are?”

“Yes,” said Dr. Baird.

“Do you know what I’m planning on doing?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Are you going to tell me what I want to know?”

“Yes.”

“Spill it.”

“I was paid to brainwash Jackson Pollack into committing suicide.”

There was a slight stop in the room, but Stan knew enough to keep the line going on the base paths.

“How much were you paid?” he quickly asked.

“Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

Bettina puckered up a whistle of surprise.

“What did you do with the money?”

“It’s in a Swiss bank account.”

“Who paid you to do that?”

“They never told me who they were.”

“Why did they want Jackson Pollack dead?”

“They never said.”

“You didn’t ask?”

“No.”

“You didn’t care?”

“I need water, a glass of water.”

“No,” said Stan. “Who’s the little man?”

“His name is Tony.”

“Is that his real name?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“What’s his last name?”

Dr. Baird hesitated.

“It’s a secret,” he said quietly.

Stan laughed.

“There are no secrets among friends, doc. “

“I didn’t keep any record of him at the office, not like Pollack, who was my patient before any of that happened later. I was told my life would be in grave danger if I ever revealed anything about Tony.”

Stan laughed again

“Your life is in danger right here and now,” he said. “You have one foot in the grave. I mean to have his name, or there will be hell to pay.”

“His name is Tony de Marco,” the psychiatrist finally said.

“Where does he live?”

“I don’t know.”

“What does he do for a living?”

“I don’t know.”

“What were you making him do? Was it the same as Pollack?”

“Yes, but different. When he hears the first bars of a song he’s to wait thirty seconds and then pull the ripcord on his dynamite vest.”

“A dynamite vest?”

“A vest packed with TNT.”

“I know what they are,” said Stan.

Some of the Hitler Youth, in the waning days of the war, had adopted the Japanese tactic of throwing themselves under tanks wearing a vest crammed with grenades.

“He’s supposed to blow himself up when he hears a song?”

“Yes.”

“What song is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What does it sound like?”

Dr. Baird hummed a kind of a march. with a drumbeat.

“Is that it? Are there any words?”

“No, no words, and that’s all I ever played for him, a sort of ruffle four times, over and over.”

“Where and when is this supposed to happen?”

“Where he works.”

“Where does he work?

“I don’t know where.”

“OK, when?”

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

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

“A half million dollars.”

“Jesus!” Ezra hissed.

“What were you planning on doing after it was all over?”

“I was planning on disappearing.”

“I’ll bet you were,” said Stan.

Stan, Bettina, and Ezra went out into the hallway.

“All right, we know what happened to Jackson Pollack, and how, and who did it, more or less. We can wrap it up with Barney Newman, collect our fee, and call it a day,” said Stan.

“Or we can we can keep snooping and find out who it really was who did our painter,” said Betty.

“Goddamn it,” said Stan.

“I’m with you,” said Ezra. “But I’ll be damned if I’ve got anything better to do before the series starts.”

“All right, let’s get Bart down here.”

When Bartek, Karol, Bettina, Stan, and Ezra were all in the hallway, Stan asked Bart and Karol if they were willing and able to keep tabs on Dr. Baird and Bumpy Williams.

“I want them kept here and I want them kept quiet until I say so. I don’t want anyone to know they’re here. I don’t want them going anywhere, either. I don’t want a peep out of them. Can you make that happen?”

Bartek and Karol had survived Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Josef Stalin’s Red Army, and Dwight Eisenhower’s Allied Expeditionary Force. They had survived refugee camps, black marketers, and a tramp steamer to the United States, They had survived being DP’s in Brooklyn.

“What’s in it for us?” asked Bartek.

“A c-note apiece,” said Stan.

“For how long?”

“Until Wednesday.”

The World Series started on Wednesday.

“It’s done,” said Karol, the older of the two by several weeks.

“All right, said Stan. “Check with Betty every morning, and if you need anything, check with her again. Look in on the doc now, stay there for a few minutes, we’re going to see what we’ve got with Cotton.”

Stan, Bettina, and Ezra walked into the boiler room. The Negro looked up from where he was handcuffed to a pipe in the back of the room. His lips curled, trying to smile. Stan stood between Ezra and Bumpy.

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

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

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