A thin milky layer of light from a bare lightbulb at the top of the ten steps shone down to the basement. Tony the Phil looked up at it wide-eyed. If it was a 25-watt bulb, it was as bright as it was ever going to get. If it was a 40-watt bulb, it wasn’t making payroll. If it was a 100-watt bulb, it was on its last legs.
Tony kept his eyes on the lion in the near darkness, even though the animal was taking a nap. He hoped to God the animal wasn’t dreaming of breaking loose, getting his claws into him, and devouring his flesh. He sat quietly on the hard, thin mattress, as far back at the back of the bunk in the corner he was in as he could get.
He thought one of the flame throwers he had seen in Korea would come in handy, just now, just in case, if the lion got loose, except for all the hay. There was hay in the cage, and it was strewn all over the basement floor, too. He thought it might be Timothy hay. They used it at the ballpark. There were piles of it in the corners, and there were several bales stacked up. The basement smelled slightly musty, not dirty, but there was a strong smell of urine.
There were no mice to be seen anywhere.
The two men who had taken him to the storefront, taken him around back, and taken him into the basement, hadn’t been rough with him, but it was clear as day as he went down the stairs that he was going into the basement, and that was that.
“The boss will be down later,” one of them said. “Just sit tight. Lucifer is locked up. Her bark is worse than her bite, anyway.”
They tramped back up the stairs, he heard the lock click, and was left alone with the big cat. The lion twitched and tucked her head into her paws. She was dreaming about something. Maybe the big cat was dreaming of a smooth breeze. Maybe the big cat was dreaming of lying low in the grass beneath a bright blue sky. Or maybe the big cat was dreaming of ripping Big Paulie to ribbons and getting the hell out of the dark basement.
Anything would be better than being alone all the time.
Tony de Marco was a loner who didn’t like being alone. When he was around people, they often made him feel more alone, but it was better than being in a room all by himself. He didn’t like sleeping alone. It hadn’t been bad when he was in the army. He slept with the other GI’s, all of them in their fart sacks. But back home in Brighton Beach he didn’t have a girlfriend. There was no one nearby close by at his side in bed. He was lonely most of the time.
He didn’t have to answer to anybody, like most of the guys he knew, but he didn’t have anybody to talk to, either.
He wasn’t good at talking, anyway. What was there to talk about? At parties, what few he went to, he was always clumsy and lost. He never knew how to start a conversation. He didn’t know how to jump in, jump out, stay loose.
He hadn’t been good at school, but he hadn’t been lousy, either. He never had been involved in even one extracurricular activity. After he graduated he forgot everything about high school. He wasn’t any more anti-social than the next man, but he wasn’t social, not exactly, not at all.
He didn’t care about the small lives everyone led in the big city, doing the same thing every day. riding a bus, working in an office, or a store, or somebody else’s business making something. He didn’t care about what their kids and their wives did. Even though he worked at the ball park, and liked his job, he wondered what in the hell everyone was hollering about. He liked baseball, but it didn’t matter who won or lost. He liked the Brooklyn Dodgers best, but knew that the team could be in Milwaukee, or Los Angeles, and it would be the same team, and the fans hollering it up for them would be different fans but the same fans.
Luca “Big Paulie” Gravano, when he came down to the basement and invited him upstairs for dinner, was different than what Tony the Phil had imagined. He was big, but not as big as he thought he would be. He was a gangster, it was easy to tell, but he was affable and friendly. He didn’t seem dangerous. He didn’t seem notorious. He seemed to be sure of himself.
“C’mon upstairs, Ma has a family spread laid out next door, we can eat, you can relax, go for a walk around the neighborhood afterwards, get a good night’s sleep. We’ve got a bedroom for you, Ma made it up special.”
“I’m a little nervous,” said Tony.
Something was wrong about being taken down into a basement with a lion not twenty feet away, and Big Paulie, who he didn’t know from Adam, draping a beefy arm over his shoulders and giving him a warm smile.
Something was wrong with the whole day, all last week, all the summer. It was a soup sandwich.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Big Paulie.
“Why do you have a lion here in Brooklyn? He’s could be dangerous if he got out.”
“It’s a lioness, a she,” said Big Paulie. “Lucifer is just here to keep the rats away. Besides, she doesn’t know how to break out of her cage anymore.”
“Lucifer is a man’s name, it’s the devil’s name.”
“She’s a man-eater.”
“When can I get out of this basement? It’s damp down here.”
“It’s just for a few hours,” said Big Paulie. “We’ll have you up next door for dinner tonight. Ma is making her special meatballs, and tomorrow we’ll move you a couple of blocks down the street with some of the boys. Wednesday is your birthday and you’ll be setting off the fireworks. It’s going to be a special day. Nobody will ever forget you after that.”
Tony the Phil liked the sound of that. Sometimes he thought he was invisible. At work, in the neighborhood, sometimes people didn’t notice he was right there, right next to them. They didn’t see him. He didn’t like that. He didn’t like it that other people thought he didn’t matter.
It was an hour or two or three, Tony de Marco couldn’t tell, he had forgotten his watch and couldn’t make sense of the time, when Luca Gravano came back, led him up out of the basement, and into the showroom of the Murphy Bed Company. The walls were lined with pull-down beds. A poster read “The Disappearing Bed.” There were some desks and chairs on the ground floor, and an arrangement of a sofa, armchairs, and a coffee table to one side. Luca led him to a side door, they stepped across a passageway between the store and a brownstone, and through another side door.
The house was the last in a row of townhouses. It was the color of cold sauce. They went up a set of stairs to the dining room above the parlor. The heavy dark table sat eight but was set for four. The head and foot of the table weren’t set. A young man sat at the table alone. His gun was on the table.
“This is my kid brother Frankie.”
Tony glanced down at the gun next to Frankie’s plate. A fork and knife were on the other side of the plate. The gun was Smith & Wesson 45 caliber “Military” model. It had a long barrel and a blue finish. Tony had seen them in Korea. Frankie was wearing a short-sleeve white shirt open at the neck. His holster was on the floor next to his chair.
“Everybody calls him Kid Blast,” said Big Paulie.
On the walls of the dining room were several photographs and paintings. There was a photograph of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and next to it a photograph of Fiorello La Guardia. There was a color photograph of Pope Pius XII. He wore a red cape and his hands were clasped over his stomach. He was a lean man with the thin face of a bookkeeper.
There was a large framed painting of the Bay of Naples. The water was a bright mixed-up blue. The Roman emperor Caligula, insane and sickly, had once ordered a bridge of boats assembled across the bay so he could ride over the water in a chariot wearing the armor of Alexander the Great.
“The thing that interests me is that today painters do not have to go to a subject-matter outside themselves. Modern painters work in a different way. They work from within,” said Jackson Pollack, down the drain and dead cold sober.
There was a large framed painting of the Infant of Prague. The child was standing on a golden pedestal inscribed JHS – Jesus Savior of Mankind – wearing a red robe puffy sleeves puffy white collar a golden crown on top of golden curls and holding a golden orb, the globus cruciger.
“Honor this image and you shall never want” was written on a slip of paper and tucked into the bottom corner of the frame.
“The modern artist is living in a mechanical age and we have a mechanical means of representing objects in nature such as the camera and photograph. The modern artist, it seems to me, is working and expressing an inner world – in other words – expressing the energy, the motion and the other inner forces. The modern artist is working with space and time, and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating,” Jackson Pollack said, packed-up and eighty-sixed.
There was a large framed copy of Norman Rockwell’s “Progress?” Three boys plead with a construction crew, “Gee, mister, this is our baseball lot!” The man looking out from the seat of the digger back hoe looks bemused. The man with the shovel looks like he wants to agree with the boys.
Big Paulie looked at Tony the Phil looking at the painting.
“You like that one?” asked Luca.
“Yeah,” said Tony
“The important thing is that Clyff and Rothko and I – we’ve changed the nature of painting. I don’t mean there aren’t any other good painters. Bill is a good painter, but he’s a French painter. I told him so, the last time I saw him after his last show. all those pictures in his last show start with an image. You can see it even though he’s covered it up, or at least tried to. Style – that’s the French part of it. He has to cover it up with style,” Jackson Pollack said, all done in and pushing up daisies.
Tony inhaled a waft of after-shave. He wrinkled his nose.
“I like to stink myself up,” said Big Paulie.
The smell of homemade meatballs and spaghetti walked into the room. Raffaella Gravano carried a large platter, her arms bent at the elbow, back straight, and eyes on the table. She put the platter down. There was enough food on it to feed twice as many of them as there were.
Raffaella Gravano was a plain looking woman, short and stout, thick-set and thick-necked. Her face was small, but her eyes, nose, and chin were large, and her expression was expressionless. She had on a short-sleeved print dress cinched at the waist by a thin black belt, her breasts sagging into her stomach, her upper arms beefy, strong, an ugly scar on one of her forearms, and wearing a pair of simple sturdy comfortable black shoes.
She set the platter down on the table, brought glasses of ice and a pitcher of water, and a bottle of red wine.
“Eat, eat,” she said to Tony when he hesitated.
He didn’t have to be told twice. He was hungry. The meatballs were fresh hot delicious. They tasted like the meatballs his mother made when he was a youngster, ground beef with pork, diced yellow onions and pressed fresh garlic, and made by hand marinara sauce. The spaghetti was good. The bread was warm.
“Take that off the table, Frankie,” Raffaella said, nodding at Frankie’s gun.
“Sure, Ma,” said Kid Blast.
The men ate quietly, like wolves, not talking. Raffaella ate, too, but sitting up straight, enjoying savoring the taste of the food she had made, chewing the meatballs rather than gulping them down, drinking her wine like wine, not water.
“Is this wise?” she asked, nodding at Tony, when Big Paulie came up for air.
“It has to be, Ma,” he said.
“I understand,” she said.
Tony slowed down, winding down, finishing his plate, feeling full. There were no clocks in the room, but there was dusk in the windows. He drank some of the semi-sweet wine from his glass and smiled at Ma
“Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, from near Sorbara,” she said.
“Oh, I see,” said Tony, not seeing much of anything.
“The wine is from there. They call it that because the grape clusters look like a sausage of salami. You like it?”
“Yes, and the meatballs, too, very much,” said Tony.
Raffaella turned to her son, Kid Blast.
“Frankie, did you remember to bring that leg of lamb home like I told you?”
“Oh, fuck, Ma, I forgot.”
“Watch your language.”
“Damn, Ma, I’m sorry.’”
“What are we going to do about Lucifer tonight?” she asked. “You know what she’s like when her dinner is late.”
“What about him?” asked Frankie, looking at Tony the Phil. “He’s got two legs. He could give one up, right? He only needs one leg to stand on to do whatever it is he’s going to do, am I right?”
“You’re right,” said Big Paulie. “But he’s got to get there first, to do what he has got to do, so he needs both legs for now. Maybe he’s the sacrificial lamb, I don’t know, but the boss wants him in one piece and on time for doing up the contract, you got that?”
“OK, OK, don’t bite my head off,” complained Kid Blast.
After the dishes were cleared, Luca and Tony went for a walk around, four blocks up and down and around, around the neighborhood. They walked past bars, luncheonettes, restaurants, Italian cheese stores, barber shops , dairy stores, laundry shops, cut rate luggage stores, men’s wear, women’s wear, leather repair shops, candy cigar soda stands, and the New Deal Sales Company.
They passed a butcher shop that was closed with its lights on, the butcher wrapping up ten pounds of top round for Frankie Gravano. He waved and gave them a thumbs up when he saw them through the window, pantomiming carefully feeding Lucifer her late dinner.
They turned the corner.
“What was all that about a sacrificial lamb?” asked Tony.
“You don’t want to know, kid,” said Big Paulie. “You don’t want to know.”
At noon, at mid-day on Monday, October 1st, President Eisenhower greeted more than nine hundred invited guests to the Sales Executive Group Luncheon in the Main Ballroom of the best and biggest hotel in downtown Cleveland. He spoke briefly, walked out of the hotel, and crossed the street to the Main Speaker’s Platform next to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. He was giving a speech at twelve-thirty.
He was in the middle of two months of pressing flesh and giving speeches.
A dozen black and white Cleveland Police cars blocked off Euclid Avenue, Superior Avenue, Ontario Street, and Rockwell Avenue.
Bert, Mert, and Luke had scampered out of the Memorial Room of the monument out to the roof and to the base of the polished black stone column. They could have climbed to the top, one hundred and twenty-five feet to the top, wending up the six foliated bronze bands listing the names of the thirty battles in which soldiers from Cuyahoga County fought, if they had wanted to. Their eyesight wasn’t the best, not like their sense of smell, but where they were was more than view enough.
Since it was only a month to the election, President Eisenhower got right to the point.
“The opposition say that they alone truly care for the working men and women of America, and that the Republican party is really a vague kind of political conspiracy by big business to destroy organized labor and bring hunger and torment to every worker in America,” he told the overflow crowd.
Secret Service agents watched from the roofs of the May Company and Higbee’s, and from inside the twin steeples of the Old Stone Church. The Berea sandstone of the church had long since turned black from air pollution from the Flats, the nearby industrial valley that sprawled on both sides of the curvy Cuyahoga River. The sun gleamed on the white terra cotta façade of the May Company. The faces of shoppers pressed against upper story windows of the two department stores.
The pastor of the Presbyterian church sat in a lawn chair outside his front doors, his sleeves rolled up, warm in the warm October day.
He had a ploughman’s sandwich, cheese and pickle, wrapped in wax paper in his lap. He unwrapped his sandwich. He took a bite and chewed, slowly, methodically. The sky above Public Square was dappled with small passing clouds. He stretched his legs out. His father had been a pastor. He grew up in the church. He served on all the church committees, was a volunteer at all the events, and made all the hospital and home care visits.
Thank God for Ike, he thought, a day off.
“Have you got your lunch?” asked Vicki that same morning in Hell’s Kitchen.
Dottie held up her lunch box. It was a metal Roy Rogers and Dale Evans lunch box with wood grain printed sides. On the front of the box Roy was riding away on Trigger, and Dale, in a red dress, was waving goodbye from underneath the Double RR Bar Ranch sign.
“Let’s go,” said Vicki.
Dottie went to the Sacred Heart of Jesus School on West 52nd Street. It was an all-children school, all boys and girls. It was the reason Stan had taken their apartment on West 56th Street, so that Dottie could walk to school. It was a large school, more than a thousand students, most of them Irish kids, and growing, A new convent for the Sisters of Charity had been built a few years ago. The Congregation of Christian Brothers, who had a reputation for strong-arm discipline, had their own residence on West 51st Street.
“If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses,“ Stan and Vicki heard Lenny Bruce crack at one of his shows.
Dottie didn’t wear a cross.
Bert and Mert were twins. Luke was an orphan. All his friends called him Eaka Mouse. They usually slept during the day and foraged at night, avoiding birds, but this was a special occasion. They had never seen the top man of the Grand Old Party up close. The birds were staying away because of the hullaballoo, but the mice couldn’t contain their curiosity.
“This is more than political bunk,” said President Eisenhower. “Those men are fretting fear and worried doubt. It is wicked nonsense. We have given to our nation the kind of government that is a living witness to a basic virtue in a democracy, public morality, public service, and public trust. There is no special favoritism, cronyism, or laxity in our administration.”
Luke had the best sense of smell of the three of them. He led the way when they went searching for food, which was fifteen, twenty times a day. Their favorite foods were seeds and grains, which made the monument a dream diner for mice. It was visited by hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, many of whom left behind crumbs of whatever they were snacking on.
The pickings today were going to be out of this world.
None of them liked cheese. No mouse they knew liked cheese. They snickered at the traps filled with shavings of it. Besides, they could smell the hand of a crafty man on the carefully prepared cheese, and they knew to beware.
In Brooklyn, Bumpy followed the two men who were following Stan and Betty. When they got to Ebbets Field, the men parked across the street from the main entrance to the ballpark. Bumpy passed them, doubled back, and parked a block behind them. He turned off the engine and got comfortable.
It was inside of fifteen minutes that the zip on the passenger side of the car got out, walked down the street, turned into a corner store, and came back with a brown bag with a bottle of Sneaky Pete in it.
“Dumb asses,” Bumpy said to himself.
He understood when the pie isn’t perfect, cut it into wedges, but if it was him, he would throw the two slices of stupidity out of the hoodlum roll call and send them back to Sicily where they came from.
The one-year sale on fresh blood from the homeland had been going on for seven years. It was getting stale. On the other hand, Bumpy thought, it isn’t like I’ve got to reinvent the wheel with them.
When Stan and Bettina walked out of the ballpark and hailed a cab, the two men in the car didn’t follow them. Instead, the man on the passenger side got out again, sauntered to a phone booth outside the corner store, and made a call.
“All right, and you’re sure they didn’t make you?”
“And no one was on your tail?”
“All right, I’ll pass it on to the skipper. You two go home, or wherever, and lay low for the next few days. Stay straight, don’t boost anything, stay out of trouble, but stay heavy, just in case we need you, understand?”
“I got it,” the man in the telephone booth said.
The man on the other end of the line hung up.
The two slices of pie sat in their car and finished their Sneaky Pete.
“The men of the opposition know perfectly well that one of the main reasons they were thrown out of office four years ago was their tolerance of the fiery of inflation,” said President Eisenhower. “Just in the final seven years of their tenure of office this economic fever had cut the value of the dollar by almost one-third, damaging the livelihood of the aged, the pensioned, all salaried workers.”
Luke had recently chewed up the front page of the Cleveland Press for bedding. He noticed an article about last month’s government index showing living costs at a record high point.
“The cost of living has been remarkably stabilized,” the trim balding man in a brown suit below them said earnestly. “During the previous Democratic administration, the cost of living increase was twenty times as great.”
Mert gave Bert and Luke the high sign. They couldn’t go down to look for food, but the speechifying was making them sleepy. It was a lot of cutting corners and trying to corner the other guy. The three mice stretched, groomed themselves briefly, efficiently, curled up together, and were soon napping.
Ezra met Stan and Bettina when they got to Brighton Beach.
“He’s gone,” said Ezra.
“The lady of the house says he left yesterday, with a couple of guys, had an overnight bag with him. She saw the car, but doesn’t know the make, much less the plates. I asked around, talked to some of the neighbors, nobody saw anything, so that’s a dead end. My guess is they’re guessing we’re on to him and have got him on ice somewhere until Wednesday.”
“That sounds about right,” said Stan. “We’ll have to snag him at the ballpark. We’ve got tickets for the game, so getting in won’t be any problem.”
“No, no problem and we can get in early, spread out,” said Ezra.
“Are we still keeping this to ourselves?”
“Yes,” said Ezra. “The Secret Service is always on high alert, so our ruffling their feathers won’t make any difference. Besides, they don’t trust anybody. Whatever we tell them is likely to get us in a jam.”
“I’m on the same page,” said Stan. “But what if we don’t get our man and he gets to Ike?”
“We’re not anybody’s bodyguard,” said Ezra. “He’s got all the bodyguards he needs.”
“But we know who is and what he looks like,” said Bettina. “They don’t.”
“Yes,” said Ezra.
They had walked down to Brighton Beach Avenue.
“Did you read that tawk from Ike on Stevenson?” one man asked his companion as they strolled past the Duluc Detective operatives.
“Yeah, just more smoke and mirrors from the Republicans.”
“The thing is, how do you even know he’s telling the truth, when you know you’d lie about it if you was him?”
“Fawget about it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got that. Let’s stop in here.”
They were approaching a diner.
“Let’s get some cawfee and a bite.”
“That’s a good idea, I’m with you.”
“We can’t be sure we know with one hundred percent certainty what our man is up to,” said Stan.
“No,” said Ezra.
“It puts us in a bad spot.”
“Yes,” said Ezra.
“OK, we’ll play it the way we have been. It might be a squeeze, but I don’t want to get in the middle of a political assassination, if it is an assassination, and everything that would bring down on us, hell in a hand basket.”
“No good deed goes unpunished,” said Ezra.
“We’re getting paid to find out what happened to Jackson Pollack, not anything else,” said Stan.
Bettina wanted to argue, but when she remembered some of the things Pete had told her, after their ping-pong games, or out for a drink, she bit her tongue. TF is what Pete muttered when what he said fell on deaf ears. She didn’t want to be the mouse in the headlights with the Feds at the wheel. She knew Pete was right about the high and low.
Two teenagers slouched past them. Both of them were wearing large bright medal medallions. One of them had a girl’s ear-clip stuck onto an earlobe.
“You going to the skin battle tonight?” asked one.
“Diddley bop, I’m all in,” the other one said.
“You got your stenjer ready?”
He had wet his Alpine-style hat, his stenjer, under a faucet the night before, rolled the narrow brims tight, and dried it on a radiator.
“Don’t forget to pull it down over your ears.”
“Ain’t that like punking out?”
“No, it’s going to be tight fighting, but you still want to take care of your ears.”
“I got it.”
“You’ve got to have heart, though.”
“I’ll tell you who’s got heart, Blood’s got heart.”
“You got that right. He isn’t afraid of anything or anybody. He will do absolutely anything. If he has to fight five against one, he’ll fight five against one. He’s a butcher, man. If you need someone to pull the trigger, he’ll pull the trigger.”
“Get that man a stenjer.”
“Fast, faster, disaster!”
They both laughed, taking their own sweet time.
Stan, Bettina, and Ezra walked in silence.
“Anybody hungry?” asked Betty.
“I’m dog hungry,” said Ezra.
“Same here,” said Stan.
“How about H & S? We could walk, it’s not far.”
They passed an apartment house. At the top of it an inscription in block letters read MOTHER JONES. Bettina knew who she was, which was Mary Harris Jones, a labor organizer for the Socialist Party of America, fifty or sixty years ago. A district attorney had called her “the most dangerous woman in America.”
Pete said, laughing, that women couldn’t even vote in her day, which was what really made them dangerous, pivoting into the 20th century.
“When you want something bad enough is when you get dangerous,” he said.
Stan, Betty, and Ezra walked to the deli on Sheepshead Bay Road.
President Eisenhower wrapped up his speech, stepped down from the platform, and was in his big car in his motorcade on its way to Cleveland Hopkins Airport by one o’clock. He and Mamie boarded the Columbine and were airborne to Lexington, Kentucky by one-thirty. In the next two days, at the same time of the day the Boeing lifted off, Dwight Eisenhower would be tossing out the first pitch of the 1956 World Series at Ebbets Field instead of tossing out half-truths.
“There it is,” said Bettina, pointing to the blue and white H & S Hebrew National Deli porcelain sign across the street.
She had mushroom barley soup and toasted challah, while Ezra and Stan ordered pastrami sandwiches. Betty winced at the tongue offerings on the menu. One of them touted itself as center cut tongue, better than the other parts of the tongue.
“Look at this,” said Stan. He pointed to a sign on the wall
“Instant Heart Attack.”
It was a three-quarter pound meat sandwich, your choice of animal, with potato latkes instead of bread.
“Our food is delicious, but it can kill you,” said the waiter.
After they had finished, and were having tea, Ezra said, “I didn’t want to mention it while we were eating, but some of the deli’s I eat at, you can’t find what they offer anywhere else. There’s a place, they have something called pitcha, which is made by cooking calves’ feet and making a gelatinous block of it, chilling it, with bits of meat in it.”
“Oh, my God!” said Betty.
“I’ve never had it,” said Ezra.
“Thank God for that!” said Betty.
Outside, on the sidewalk they heard a man in the distance, a man coming their way.
“Ice cream! Get your Good Humor ice cream here, ice cream, orange drinks. Get your Good Humor ice cream here.”
He was a black man wearing black shoes and khaki pants. He had two large boxes slung over his shoulders. One was filled with ice cream and the other one with orange drinks. His face was shiny.
Stan asked if he had vanilla.
“Yes sir,” the man said.
“I’ll have one, too, “said Betty.
“What other flavors do you have?” asked Ezra.
“Strawberry, chocolate, eclairs, fudge.”
“I’ll take a strawberry,” said Ezra.
When the ice cream man opened his box, white smoke from the dried ice spilled out of it. After they paid him, he grunted when he lifted the two boxes up, slinging them back over his shoulders, and wiped his face with a handkerchief.
“Ice cream, ice cream, get your Good Humor ice cream here.”
His voice trailed off as he went down the sidewalk.
Most days, Monday through Saturday, as long as the weather was good, the mice looked forward to the nut ladies, the woman who looked more-or-less like Doris Day, and Mammy Two Shoes, who only looked like herself, a middle-aged Slovenian woman with dark skin dark hair dark eyes, to take their mid-day break on the steps of the monument. They worked across the square, at Morrow’s Nut House, near the revolving doors of the May Company.
They worked behind the glass counter display case, selling fresh warm lightly salted cashews and redskin peanuts, Spanish peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts. Morrow’s was on the corner, on the intersection, on a CTS bus stop. They pumped the smell of roasting nuts out onto the sidewalk all day.
Bert, Mert, and Luke weren’t waiting for the nut ladies today. There was a horn of plenty waiting for them on all sides of the Sailors and Soldiers Monument. Who said the GOP never did anything for the little man?
The three mice had girlfriends, Mary, Suzy, and Perla.
“Hey guys, let’s rake it in, and go to the submarine races,” said Bert.
Eaka Mouse knew what that meant. It was feedbag and hanky-panky time. They weren’t three blind mice.
“Come on, snake, let’s rattle.”
“It’s you and me, babe,” said Vicki.
“Yay!” exclaimed Dottie.
“You sound awfully happy to have your dad out of the way.”
“No, no, it’s not that, I love dad, he’s the bestest, but I see him all the time,” said Dottie. “Besides, he told me he’s on a big job and mom is busy, that’s OK, she’s always busy, and he said you would be staying over for a few days, and I like that, a lot.”
Vicki had gone to Stan’s Sunday night, made dinner, and put Dottie to bed. Stan and Vicki stayed up late, playing cards, talking, drinking the better half of a bottle of red wine, going for a walk, and finishing their wine splashed out feeling tight on the sofa.
“This is good,” said Stan.
He looked at the bottle. It said ‘Classico Chianti.’ There was a black rooster on the label.
“I thought Chianti came in a fat bottle in a straw basket,” said Stan.
“Sure, it does, but that’s rotgut. The basket is called a fiasco. There’s a reason they call it that. Sometimes they die from drinking it in the old country. It’s your birthday tomorrow. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
Mr. Moto gave Vicki a sidelong glance.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she said to the cat.
“Dottie comes first with Mr. Moto, but then me,” said Stan. “Sometimes we think he’s part dog.”
Monday morning, the first of October, the weather was good, sunny, in the high 50s, with no rain predicted the rest of the week. In two weeks to the day it would be Dwight Eisenhower’s birthday. In six weeks to the day it would be Mamie Eisenhower’s birthday.
In the morning, by the time Stan rolled over, slapped Vicki on the rear, and shuffled to the bathroom, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower had been awake more than two hours. They had arrived at the Terminal Station in Cleveland, Ohio, Stan’s hometown, on a 12-car campaign train on an overnight run from Washington. The station was in the prime of its life. But President Eisenhower was putting intercity train travel and the Cleveland Union Terminal, and all its ilk, slowly but surely out of business by federally subsidizing a network of interstate highways.
“Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him,” he said, without a doubt in his mind.
By the time Stan had finished dressing and was on his way to the office to pick up Bettina, the President and Mrs. Eisenhower were walking through the lobby of the Cleveland Hotel on Public Square.
It was warm, expected to hit the 70s. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Public Square, across the street, glistened in the early autumn sun. The fire department had cleaned the monument over the weekend, spraying it with hundreds of gallons of white vinegar, and then hosing off the bird droppings and grime.
The monument was built thirty years after the Civil War, a 125-foot granite shaft atop a square base housing a memorial hall, larger than life bronzes lining the outside, and marble tablets inside with the names of all the more than nine thousand Union soldiers from Cuyahoga County, the county in which the city lay, who died in the war.
“Good morning, Mr. President,” said Robert Bridle, the manager of the hotel. “Good morning, Mr. Mayor,” he said to Anthony Celebrezze, the city’s mayor.
Anthony Celebrezze was a Democrat, mayor of the fifth-largest city in the United States. He knew how to get things done. Dwight Eisenhower meant the keys to the federal purse-strings.
The mayor was an immigrant from Italy. His father had been a shepherd in Anzi, and then a track laborer on the Wheeling and Lake Erie after he migrated to the United States. Tony Celebrezze put himself through John Carroll College by working as a freight truck driver and a boxer, fighting it out in undercards.
It was Charlie Jordan’s birthday, too, who died during the war, at home, in the bedroom of his mother’s home. He had been a magician with cards, one of the best, although he never performed live in public. Stan had a dog-eared copy of his book “Thirty Card Mysteries.” It was where he learned ‘The Gray Code,’ a method of false counting.
“Did you give your dad anything for his birthday?” asked Vicki.
“He said all he wanted was a big kiss, so I gave him a big kiss,” said Dottie.
It was Irwin Kostal’s birthday, too, but he was busy working on arrangements for a new musical by Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents about Puerto Rican gangs. They were calling it “West Side Story.” After lunch he threw away the news clippings about gang violence Jerome Robbins sent him every day. He never read them.
“How about we make your dad a birthday cake after school, surprise him when he gets home?” Vicki asked Dottie.
“Oh, yeah, that would be great,’ said Dottie. “We should get him a beer, too.”
“Maybe two, maybe that would be better,” said Dottie.
It was Bonnie Parker’s birthday, too, who had died young more than twenty years earlier. She and her gang had robbed small stores, gas stations, and banks, killing nine policemen in three years. Stan had been a military policeman, a uniformed NYC patrolman, and was a licensed private detective. He bore no truck with cop killers.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he thought, leaning against a building across the street from the building Dr. Baird’s office occupied, the building Bettina had gone into a few minutes ago, a few minutes before nine.
He watched the two eyeties watching her, one of them trailing her, the other staying behind. Stan looked down the block. Bumpy was in his car, playing dumb, the engine idling. He had come to work early his first day, packing a lunch and packing a pistol. Stan didn’t carry a gun as a rule-of-thumb, only when he thought he might need it, fully loaded.
“It’s best to not use dynamite when you go ice fishing, unless there is no other way,” Old Man Duluc had told him. “Then make sure you bring matches.”
He didn’t make it an agency rule one way or the other. There was no manual. He left it up to whoever he was working with.
“You’re welcome to it, but I don’t think it’s going to be necessary, at least not today,” he said.
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather have a biscuit with me every day,” said Bumpy. “I don’t believe in letting anyone close distance on me.”
“I can understand that,” said Stan.
He told Betty to be careful, not bother bluffing, flashing her fake business card, but getting the hell out if anything started to happen. He didn’t think they were up to more than watching and waiting, even though push was coming to shove.
“You know where the fire exits are?” he asked her.
“I know where they are,” she said.
“Where are they?”
She told him.
“OK,” he said.
Bonnie Parker had been twenty-four when she and her lowlife boyfriend Clyde Barrow were shot to death in their high-living Ford Deluxe V-8 by Texas Rangers and Louisiana police bearing automatic rifles. Push had come to shove later than sooner for them, but when Frank Hamer and his lawmen opened fire they stopped only when their guns ran out of ammunition. The Louisiana policemen, unlike the Rangers, weren’t used to the sustained gunfire, and went deaf the rest of the day.
It was Stan Rittman’s birthday. He was thirty-four years old. He had seen plenty of wrong-doers racketeers burglars stickup men highwaymen to know the two young thugs watching Betty bore watching, but not worrying about. Once Betty was back, in a cab with him, Bumpy would follow the followers and find out where they got their marching orders from.
Stan was betting good money on Big Paulie. Ezra was hoping it was Big Paulie. Stan was hoping Ezra wouldn’t blow his stack.
Dr. Baird’s receptionist looked up when Bettina walked in at five minutes after nine.
“Good morning,” she said. “I’m afraid the doctor isn’t in.”
“I know,” said Bettina.
“Oh, in that case, how can I help you?”
“I wonder if you would mind looking at this drawing?” she asked, unrolling the police-style sketch Lefty had made last night and flattening it out on the receptionist’s desk.
”Do you happen to recognize this man as one of Dr. Baird’s patients?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Is he a small man, on the younger side?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Do you have an address for him?”
“No, Dr. Baird said he was a special case, and he would be handling all the billing and correspondence himself. He never gave me a file,” she said, waving a hand at the filing cabinets.
“Al right, thanks,” said Bettina, rolling up the drawing. “You’ve been a big help.”
“What’s going on?” asked the receptionist.
Bettina had the office door half open. There was a man lounging near the elevators, as though he was minding somebody else’s business. She let go of the door and stepped back into the office. She knew a second-string goombah when she saw one.
“Dr. Baird isn’t going to be in today, or any time soon. He’s going to be moving on in few days, maybe out of state, maybe out of the country. If I was smart girl, I would get out of Dodge. I would lock up and leave the minute I’m gone. I would also take that drawing with me,” she said, pointing to what she was sure was a drawing by Jackson Pollack.
“It’s by an artist by the name of Jackson Pollack. He died a couple of months ago, so there won’t be anymore drawings by him, which means that one is a one-of-a-kind.”
“Oh, I see,” said the receptionist.
“One last thing, after I’m gone, and you’ve locked up, take the fire exit.”
“Why should I do that?”
“For your health.”
“Oh,” said the receptionist.
“Be quiet about it, too.”
She watched Bettina walk to the elevator and watched a young man with a toothpick in his mouth get in with her. The elevator went down. She stood up from her chair. She rifled the office for anything on paper that referred to her, stuffed everything into her handbag, and took the drawing off the wall. She replaced it with a framed certificate Dr. Baird no longer displayed. She walked out with the Jackson Pollack, carrying it partly hidden between several New Yorker magazines, shut off the lights, locked the office door, and left the building by the fire stairs.
When she got outside, she walked some blocks and boarded the first passing bus. She sat down behind the driver. No one got on at the same time, or at the next stop. She didn’t get off until the bus reached the end of the line and she waited to be the last passenger off. It was only when she was on a bus going back the same way that she relaxed, letting out a long slow breath.
It wasn’t even ten in the morning, yet, she thought. Monday morning. She was out of a job. She didn’t care. Dr. Baird was a cold fish, and barely paid her Park Avenue pay. She would take the rest of the week off and start looking for a better job next Monday. She might try Madison Avenue. Her boyfriend wrote copy. He knew somebody at one of the art museums. She would tell him about the picture. Maybe it was worth something.
“Are you and Betty taking me to the game on Wednesday?” asked Dottie. “I’m going to talk to Pee Wee Reese before the game.”
Six years earlier Pee Wee Reese had become the only pro ballplayer to ever hit a home run without hitting a home run. He drilled a line drive to the right field fence, where it hit the fencing, caromed, dropped down on one of the advertising boards part-way down the wall, out of reach, bounced, rolled, and came to a stop. The players and fans in the stands could all plainly see the ball. Pee Wee Reese sauntered around the bases. The umpires huddled and finally ruled it a home run. Someone found a ladder, hauled it to the fence, and retrieved the ball. The rightfielder disgustedly threw it into the stands, rewarded by a chorus of Bronx cheers. Howlin’ Hilda banged on her cow bell.
Casey Stengel, who would be managing the New York Yankees in two days, hit the first ever home run at Ebbets Field, in 1913, an inside-the-park job. He had to run like hell to get it done.
“I’m going to be on TV!”
“I know,” laughed Vicki. “You’re going to be a big star.”
“So, we’re all going?”
“Betty is on that job with your dad, and I don’t think she’s going to be able to make it, unless they break it in the next couple of days, but I’ll take you. Stan and Ezra have tickets for the game. Maybe he’ll be able to make it. Maybe we’ll see him there and we can squeeze into the stands with him.”
“If I see him, I’m going to wave to him from the field,” said Dottie.
“Make sure you wear your Bum’s cap and wave that.”
The offices at Ebbets Field were above the main entrance. The main entry was through an 80-foot round rotunda of iron and stucco almost thirty feet high. A chandelier hung down the middle. The flooring was Italian marble tile. The first game ever played at Ebbets Field was delayed when no one remembered to bring the key to the gate. It was delayed again when they remembered they had forgotten to have the Star and Stripes on hand to raise on the centerfield flagpole. Someone rushed to a nearby hardware store to find a flag.
“Howlin’ Hilda?” asked Bettina.
“She comes to all the games,” said Stan. “Hilda somebody-or-other, she sits in the bleachers and yells her head off. She’s loud, extremely loud. She used to work at the ballpark, back when it opened, probably, breaking down 50-pound bags of peanuts into the small bags they sell. She’d stay, they gave them free passes, and watch the games. For awhile she banged on a cast iron skillet with a metal ladle, but the team gave her a brass cow bell, instead. They said it was because she was so dedicated, but Ezra and I think it was so she wouldn’t kill anyone with that skillet.”
No one in the offices recognized the man in the picture once Stan and Betty started showing it around, once they had talked their way in, accompanied by an off-duty moonlighting city policeman who remembered Stan, until one of the office girls suggested they try maintenance and the field crew. Several of the men in maintenance recognized the face.
“Go talk to Max,” one of them said.
“Max Ringolsby, he’s the crew chief. I think he’s in the visitor’s clubhouse this morning, thinking up ways to make it more uncomfortable than it already is. Follow the smoke. You’ll find him.”
It wasn’t hard spotting the signals. Smoke was pouring out of the dugout. A short thick-set man wearing a plaid cap was on the steps, a half-foot of cigar in his mouth, leaning on the front railing looking out onto the field.
“If the stogie bothers you, lady, I can put it out,” Max said to Bettina. “I don’t mind.”
“If you don’t mind, it won’t matter to me, and as long as you don’t offer me one, I’m good with the smoke,” answered Betty. “At least for a few minutes.”
“Now you’re my kind of broad,” said Max.
He exhaled a beach ball-sized cloud of grayish white cigar smoke. It smelled like cedar and oak nuts.
“That doesn’t smell half bad,” said Bettina.
“Say, do you remember Frenchy Bordagaray?” Max asked Stan.
“I can’t say that I do. Should I?”
“I’ve seen you at ballgames,” said Max. “You come with a kike, right?”
“That’s right,” said Stan. “You’ve got a good eye.”
“Frenchy played for the Dodgers back in the 40s,” said Max.
“Before my time,” said Stan.
“He played for the Bums back in the 30s, too, played for the Senators, the Cards, the Yankees, and then came back here. He was a good ballplayer, fast. When he was with the Senators, before games, sometimes they had races, one hundred yards, between him and a horse. He never won, but the horses never beat him by much.”
“Is that right?”
“Anyway, this La Corona is the same cigar Frenchy used to smoke,” said Max. “It cost us a game one time. He was on second, tail end of the game, tried to come home on a sharp single, but got tagged out at the box when he didn’t slide into the plate. He said he didn’t want to ruin the La Corona’s he had tucked away in his back pocket.”
“Why do they call the Dodgers the bums?” asked Bettina.
“It happened because dem bums were bums for such a long time,” said Stan. “At least they don’t call them pigs, since the stadium was built on land that used to be a garbage dump called Pigtown, because so many pigs grazed there. The name just stuck. It wasn’t until last year, when they beat the Yankees and took the Series, that the Daily News had a hobo on the front page asking “WHO’S A BUM?” and it finally stopped being a lovable loser thing, which had gotten old.”
“That’s right, sister,” said Max.
“We’re looking for somebody, we think he works here,” said Stan. “Do you mind looking at a drawing?”
“Yeah, that’s Tony,” said Max, glancing at the drawing.
“Tony de Marco?”
“Have you seen him today?”
“No, I haven’t seen him today. If you see him, tell him he’s fired for not showing up two days before the Series, and for not calling me with any reason about why, and he don’t need to show up again, not tomorrow or ever.”
Stan took a business card out of his wallet and gave it to Max. He wrote Ezra and Betty’s names on the back of the card.
“If he shows up, would you call me, or my associates, and let us know?”
“Sure,” said Max. “Can I ask what it’s all about?”
“It’s confidential,” said Stan, “but it’s nothing to do with the team. We think he’s involved in something, in a case we’re working on. It might be serious, so we’d appreciate knowing right away.”
“I’ve got you,” said Max.
He walked them back towards the main entry.
“You’ve got lots of grim-looking guys in grays suits around,” said Stan.
“Yeah, Secret Service,” said Max. “Think they know everything. They’re sniffing around everywhere from top to bottom, so that everything will be safe and secure on Wednesday when Ike is here for the game. He’s throwing out the first pitch.”
“I heard about that,” said Stan.
“We’re going to be opening up the centerfield fence and his limo is going to drive right on to the field all the way to home plate. I hope to God it stays dry, otherwise we’re going to have a hell of a time with tire tracks. One of the agents told me the limo weighs as much as a Sherman tank.”
The stadium organ sounded, lumbering, then tip-toeing into a rendition of “Three Blind Mice.”
“That’s Gladys, warming up,” said Max. “She’s got a good sense of humor, or just a good sense of sarcasm, but she plays that whenever she thinks the umpires have gotten it wrong, at least wrong from our point of view.”
The unofficial Dodgers fan band, the “Sym-Phoney Band,” had played the song for years before every game, at the moment the umpires stepped onto the field for the ballgame, until the league office ordered them to stop.
Gladys Gooding ignored the league office.
“Three blind mice, three blind mice, did you ever see such a sight in your life, as three blind mice,” she played, pumping the nursery rhyme out into the nearly empty stadium on her electric organ.