Tag Archives: Hole and Corner

Chapter 11



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?”


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.


“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.’


“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.

She got in and he waved the cabbie to go.

“I’m going to walk,” he said.

The cab turned away into the quiet Manhattan morning.



Chapter 10

Albert Kotin, Predators, 1951 Large

The last bottles of liquid nitroglycerin were tucked into the cavity Tony the Phil had dug out to the side of the base of the drain under center field where it met the larger storm drain sloping away under right field to Bedford Avenue. The tiles he had pried away he had tidily carefully replaced. Even when he threw the beam of his flashlight directly on the wall, he could hardly see any tiles had ever been disturbed.

The Dodgers still had to sweep the Pirates to win the pennant, but it was more than doable. The Buccos were almost 20 games under .500, even with an outfield of Bill Virdon and Roberto Clemente. They had nothing to play for and they would be playing at Ebbets Field, on top of everything, a doubleheader on Saturday and the last game of the season on Sunday.

Brooklyn had everything to play for, including doubling up on the Yankees, doing what they did in 1955 again in a subway series rematch.

If he were a betting man, which he wasn’t, he would bet on the Bums.

He would have bet the nitro was going to be a problem, but when he picked it up at the deli, the first package yesterday and the second package today, it hadn’t been any problem, at all.

“Nah, it ain’t gonna blow you up,” the counterman said. “We keep it in the cooler so it stays stable. It’s packed in ice, so you’ve got a couple of hours. It’s as safe to handle as a baby. It won’t bite you.”

His yellow jacket, yellow TNT sewn into it, was in the back of his locker already. When he pulled the ripcord on it, standing where he was now standing, all hell would break loose on Wednesday. There wouldn’t be any World Series after that.

He was ready. There wasn’t anything left to do, except to wait. If the Bums ran the table, then the table was set for blowing the commander-in-chief to kingdom come.

A stab of pain on both sides of his head buckled Tony the Phil’s knees. His chin fell into his chest and his hands flew to his temples. His eyes watered. “What the fuck?” He went down to the ground, like a dog, his head hanging.

“Fuck me!” he spit whispered to himself.

His headaches had been getting worse all summer, not better, but this was the worst of them, like a grand slam was worse than a single if you were on the wrong side of it. Five minutes passed before he opened his eyes and cautiously brought his head up. He leaned on the wall to bring himself back to his feet. He went back down on all fours and crawled out of the storm drain.

The Brighton Beach Health Resort at 5th Street and Brightwater Court was a wide beat-up plank platform in front of a corrugated fence. Behind the fence was a parking lot. Parking on weekdays was 25 cents for two hours and 35 cents for three hours. Weekdays the cost was a flat 15 cents an hour. It didn’t matter to Tony. He had taken a bus and walked the rest of the way, feeling better.

Behind the parking lot were rows of five-story brownstone walk-ups. In front of the Health Resort was the Brighton Beach Boardwalk and the Lower Bay spread out as far as the eye could see. The four-foot painted letters on the fence said “Health Resort” and smaller letters to the side said Sat. Sun 20 cents per hr Weekdays 15 cents per hr.

A small billboard to the side advertised soda pop. The sign said, “7 Up Likes You.”

Tony the Phil didn’t drink 7 Up because he didn’t like Fresh-up Freddie, the rooster mascot for the soft drink. Freddie dressed in flashy clothes, drove a red sportster, and was free and easy with advice about how to plan fun successful picnics and parties by having plenty of 7 Up on hand. Tony didn’t go on picnics, except by himself, and was rarely invited to parties. When he was invited, he never went.

He threw down three dimes for two hours and found a chaise lounge in the second row of chairs. There were four rows. Everyone got the same quiet beams of sunlight, no matter what row they were in. The backrest was adjustable to three positions. He set it back two stops, wiggling into the cushions.

The woman next to him was a middle-aged fireplug in a long-sleeved black jacket and a black knee-length skirt. She wore black shoes. The woman’s chin bobbed on the folds of her neck. Her hands were folded over her gut and she was breathing softly. Next to her was a young blonde woman in a two-piece bathing suit, her hair pulled up under a white kerchief. On the other side of him were two middle-aged men, one in a white shirt and the other in a blue shirt, their sleeves rolled up.

“I tell you, he ain’t gonna make it,” said the man in the white shirt. “I like Ike, but he should have stepped aside for a younger man.”

“He’s made it this far,” said the man in the blue shirt. “I’ve seen younger men drop dead for no reason at all. He’s got plenty of good reasons to stay on his feet.”

“You know, my temperature’s risin’, And the jukebox blows a fuse, My heart’s beatin’ rhythm, And my soul keeps on singin’ the blues, Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.”

Tony the Phil glanced at the blonde in the two-piece suit. She had a transistor radio banded to her wrist and her wrist near her ear. The radio was gray with a gold tuning dial.

“That one of those new pocket radios?”

“It’s brand new, a Regency,” she said. “I’m listening to WINS, the Alan Freed Show.”

“1010, easy to remember, easy to dial,” said Tony.

“Spinnin’ the discs with finesse, just set your dial to 1010 awhile, to WINS.”

He listened to Bob Garrity’s live late night “Jazz from Birdland” sometimes, after night games.

The first night game at Ebbets Field had been played almost twenty years ago. Some of the old-timers still talked about it. A fife and drum corps marched up and down the outfield. Jessie Owen ran a series of sprinting exhibitions. Johnny Vander Meer, a lanky twenty-two-year-old southpaw, threw a no-hitter for the Bums. Leo Durocher came up in the top of the ninth down three, two outs, and the bases loaded on three straight walks, but Vander Meer got Leo the Lip to hit a lazy pop-up that shut the lights out on the Reds.

“See you later alligator, after ‘while crocodile, Can’t you see you’re in my way now, Don’t you know you cramp my style.”

The first night game was a no-hit shut-out. The crowd went wild. Johnny Vander Meer was mobbed by his teammates.

“I said wait a minute ‘gator, I know you mean it just for play, And this is what I have to say, See you later alligator, after ‘while crocodile.”

Everybody young was listening to rock-n-roll, the new music. Whoever heard of Elvis Presley before the transistor radio? Now he was down for five of the Billboard Top 20 songs. Doris Day was in the Top 10, but time was running out for her and Dean Martin and Perry Como. It was time for Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.

“Que sera, sera, Whatever will be, will be, The future’s not ours to see, Que sera, sera, What will be, will be.”

“I heard those things cost an arm and a leg,” said Tony.

“I don’t know,” said the blonde. “My boyfriend got it for me. He said it fell off a truck.”

She laughed, full-mouthed.

The Italian woman in black between them shifted her weight. She had been gurgling snoring quietly, but now stopped. The blonde turned back to Tony.

“Oh, wait, this is my favorite song by Pat Boone,” she said suddenly.

It was ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’.

“I went to the Gypsy and had my fortune read, I went to see a Gypsy, I had my fortune read, I hung my head in sorrow when she said what she said.”

He remembered the song from the time before he went to Korea. It was a big hit by Ivory Joe Hunter, not Pat Boone. Ivory Joe was Ivory Joe’s given name, not a stage name. He was the Baron of the Boogie. He wasn’t the pale youngster from Florida who covered R & B hits for Dot Records. He wasn’t the wholesome Pat Boone who the high school girls loved.

Jesus H. Christ, his head hurt again.

He had felt better for a half-hour, the warm sunshine making him hum, but now his head was pulsing. He felt hot, not warm. Darkness was creeping in on the edge of his vision. He was nauseous and woozy.

“Oh yes I’m the great pretender, ooh, ooh, Adrift in a world of my own, ooh, ooh, I play the game but to my real shame, You’ve left me to dream all alone.”

“Hey mister, are you all right?”

Tony the Phil heard the blonde the second time she asked, even though he wasn’t sure what she was saying.


“I was asking if you’re all right.”

“Headache, bad headache,” he said.

“I got some Bayer in my handbag.”

She pulled a red and black box bag out from under her chaise lounge, flipped the clasp open, and shook out two white tablets of aspirin. He swallowed them dry. They didn’t do him any good, though.

“Thanks,” he said, getting up, unsteady.

“Are you going to be OK?”

“I’ll be fine,” he said.

He couldn’t take a bus or a subway. He needed to see the doctor as soon as possible. The blonde lifted an Oscar Mayer thin-sliced bologna and cheese sandwich slathered with mayo and mustard out of her box bag. Taking a bite she watched Tony the Phil stutter down the plank boardwalk. He waved for a cab, getting in gingerly, slumping slightly forward.

“Don’t know what they’re doing, But they laugh a lot behind the green door, Wish they’d let me in so I could find out, What’s behind the green door.”

Robert Baird looked up from his menu. He had a dirty martini at hand, although the olive brine hadn’t replaced the vermouth, but rather gone along with it. He liked it that way. His glass was cloudier than a traditional martini.

“I’ll have the Omelette Maison to start and the Sangue de Boeuf a la Milanaise for my lunch,” he said.

“Very good, thank you, sir,” said the waiter.

Dr. Robert Baird was at the Quo Vadis restaurant, on the ground floor of the Leonori Building at East 63rd Street off Madison Avenue, having a late lunch alone in a quiet corner. His office was on the corner of East 66thand Park Avenue, in a 12-story building across the street from the Park Avenue Armory. He practiced his craft on the 5thfloor. It was a ten-minute stroll from his office to the restaurant. He always walked, rain or shine.

The Quo Vadis was opulent, heavy with columns and red velvet, Italian mosiacs in the entry, and the two restaurateurs, Gino Robusti and Bruno Caravaggi, paraded the dining room at night in tuxedos. Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole ate there. Frank Sinatra was one of the few diners not required to wear a tie during dinner. Nevertheless, he always wore a tie.

The psychiatrist was hungry. He almost felt famished. He finished his omelet and ordered another martini. He knew the groundskeeper was falling apart, but there was only so much he could do. The problem was the time it was taking. It was taking too long getting to D-Day. The young man’s headaches had been getting worse. There was less than a week to go, but he was concerned.

He had been using scopolamine to fine-tune the hypnosis sessions, and there hadn’t been any adverse effects, no dry mouth, no itching, or hallucinations.  Headaches weren’t listed in the literature as an adverse effect. He was puzzled, although not surprised, by the headaches. Jackson Pollack had come down with several migraine-like headaches in July.

If it happens again, I’ll use a narcotic he thought, biting into his beef.

It was the first time he had ordered the Sangue de Boeuf at Quo Vadis. It was literally melting in his mouth. This is terribly delicious, he realized, at the same instant realizing it was Tony de Marco stumbling past a surprised waiter’s outstretched arms towards his table.

“Doc, you gotta help me.”

“It’s all right, Lorenzo,” Dr. Baird said to the waiter. “Help him into his seat, and bring a glass of ice water.”

Tony’s face was flushed and he looked hot. A side effect of scopolamine was dyshidrosis, a reduced ability to sweat in order to cool off. Tony drank down the tumbler of water and Dr. Baird ordered another.

“Doc, I’ve been getting worse headaches,” said Tony. “The dope you gave me helped, but it doesn’t help anymore. I need something to keep my head screwed on straight.”

Dr. Baird ate his beef while he listened to Tony. He knew he was going to have to get him back to the office, but he wanted to finish his lunch first. He had an enormous fondness for delicious food. He was willing to miss dessert, but wasn’t willing to walk away from his entrée.

“Drink a little more water, and we’ll go in a few minutes, as soon as you’ve cooled down. I’m sure we’ve got something that will help you,” said the psychiatrist, lifting another forkful of Sangue De Boeuf to his mouth.

“I want your body temperature to go down a little first,” he said, stalling, looking down at his plate. There were only a few bites left. He quickly lifted another slice of beef with his fork. He saw Lorenzo approaching their table and made eye contact. He gestured a phantom signature in the air. The waiter understood and made a u-turn.

As Dr. Baird and Tony the Phil walked past the bar to the front door, Tony supported at the elbow by the doctor, Stan Rittman, sitting at the bar, looked down into the bourbon in front of him. There were three ice cubes in the glass. He liked the way the bourbon interacted with the cold.

On the street the doctor hailed a cab. Walking past them, Stan overheard the address the doctor gave the cabbie, and decided to walk. He would be there practically at the same time, anyway. The cab was puling away when he got there. He watched the two men enter the building, waited a moment, and followed them inside. They were standing at the elevator, their backs to him. He watched them get inside the elevator, and when he saw it had stopped on the  5th floor, he walked across the lobby to the pay phone.

“You might have hit the nail on the head about the little man,” he said when Bettina answered the office phone. “He’s with our bird, going up.”

“Where are you?”

“In the lobby of the doc’s building,” he said.

“Are you ready to do the bum’s rush?” she asked.

“Yes, get the guys over here as fast as possible, Bartek behind the building, and Karol with me,” he said. “You wait with the car in the alley to the Madison side.”

“Give me ten minutes.”

“It’s going to happen fast, stay on your toes”

“Don’t worry about my end. Oh, last thing, are you going to grab the both of them?”

“You bet I am.”

Ten minutes gave him just enough time to smoke a cigarette. He leaned against the wall next to the pay phone and lit a Camel. He slowly exhaled twin plumes of smoke through his nostrils and waited for Karol.



Chapter 9


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

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

Ike was president because it was his duty. Richard Nixon wanted to be president. He wanted it for himself.

“Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy,” thought President Eisenhower.

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

They drove up to Pebble Beach before the convention ended, before the Nixon’s could invite him to dinner. Richard Nixon’s father was seriously ill, besides, and Ike urged him to go before it was too late. There were three cars full of Secret Service fore and aft. Charlie Taylor, who’d been at it for years, was in one of the cars.

One night when Ike was having trouble opening his safe, and asked for help, his agents told him safecracking wasn’t part of their training. Ike was beside himself until Charlie Taylor got the cranky combination to give with no problem.

“I won’t know whether to trust you, or not, after this,” said Ike, glancing at Charlie.

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

Ike called it the Bubble-top. Charlie Taylor called it a pain-in-the-ass. Mamie didn’t like sitting under a dome, but she put up with it.

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

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

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

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

He sank all three.

“I should quit right there,” he laughed.

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

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

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

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

He was looking forward to it.

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

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

This was one of the best of them.

On the other coast it was hot and humid in Hell’s Kitchen. It was in the 90s and stagnant. The heat was trapping the humidity in the air. Dottie was playing stickball in the street.

The street wasn’t West 56th.  Her father had told her to never play stickball on their own street. The fronts and windows of buildings were ruled home runs. Stan didn’t want any broken windows near where they lived. Dottie and her friends always played on West 55th or West 57th.  A boy bigger than her had once teased her about it, pushing her to the ground.

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

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

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

“OK, dad,” she said.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is it?” he had asked getting there, looking for the green across the dogleg.

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

“I’ve had it, pick it up,” he said.

“Having a little trouble?” asked Sam Morse.

“Not a little,” said Ike, “but a lot.”

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

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

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

“It’s a Hindoo,” he shouted.

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

“What do you know?”

“I know what I gotta know.”

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

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

“Ah, go play stoopball,” shouted Hal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Comeback stickball,” he whispered to himself.

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

On the tee of the 17th hole Ike lined up his shot. Sea lions on the rocks below him barked. “It’s hard to hit a shot and listen to those seals at the same time,” he said, but not so either of the Secret Service agents with them could hear him.

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

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

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

“You don’t have to worry about me, but don’t let anything happen to my grandchildren,” Ike told Secret Service chief U. E. Baughman.

The Diaper Detail guarded the four kids. Dwight Eisenhower changed the name of the presidential retreat in Maryland from Shangri-La to Camp David in 1953. “Shangri-La is just a little fancy for a Kansas farm boy,” he said. He renamed it in honor of his 5-year-old grandson, David.

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

Ike looked for the fairway on the 18th  hole.

“Where do we aim here?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination,” Adolf Hitler had said not many years before. “This is the war of the future.”

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

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

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

“We sure did,” said Hal.

“What a game!” said Dottie.

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

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

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

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

Dottie was so glad her team had won.

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

They had scrapped for every run. It was worth it. She didn’t mind losing once in awhile, but she liked winning better.

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

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

Dottie stripped off her hot sweaty clothes, rubbed down with a cool sponge, and put on a fresh pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

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

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

Dottie put her stick bat away in a corner near her bedroom window. In the summer she loved her friends, no matter what team they were on, and stickball more than anything in the world. She even liked Rusty a little bit when it was sunny and warm.

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

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

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


Chapter 8


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

“Sure, boss.”

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

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

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

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

“ What kind of girl?’

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

“You got a sick mind.”

Arthur Fellig was a newshound photographer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This man is bothering Mr. Anastasia.”

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

“Move along,” he said.

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

Albert Anastasia motioned to the waiter for coffee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

“Forget about it, forget about it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If anybody gets too close?”

“You feed them to that lion of yours.”

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

“Even better,” said Anastasia.


“Where do you keep her?”

“In the basement of the store”

“That works for you?”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

He lit up a Camel.

“Where to, chief?”

“Red Hook.”

“You got it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The cheese place?”

“That’s right.”

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

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

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

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

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

He had taken a shot at Luca the summer before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Chapter 7


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do the police think?” asked Bettina.

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

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

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

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

“Who called in the accident?”

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

“After, not before?”

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

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

“What is Springs like?” asked Bettina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So he was suicidal?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did he have any problems in the neighborhood?”

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

“Jesus!” said Bettina.

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

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

“Did anything look funny about the crash?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She thinks he was committing suicide?”

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

“What’s the difference?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe somebody brainwashed him into doing it.”

Stan and Betty gave it some thought.

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

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

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

“Does that mean me?”

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

“When did that happen?” asked Bettina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There’s just money, Albert says.”

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

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

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

Bumpy looked down the street

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

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

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

He was looking forward to seeing a show tonight.

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

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

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

Bumpy had already killed one white man.

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


Chapter 6


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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, what did he say?”

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

“That wasn’t nice.”

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

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

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

Or they were wasting their time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She wished her pee smelled like popcorn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ride ‘em, cowboy!” Otis whooped.

“I’m a cowgirl!” Dottie yelled.

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

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

“The smells,” said Dottie.

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

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

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

“What else do you like about the zoo?”

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

“No, I don’t, either,” said Otis.

“Why do they put them in cages?”

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

“Are they the most dangerous?”

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

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

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

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

“Dad says some people belong in zoos.”

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

“Nobody puts people in zoos, do they?

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

“What kind of people?”

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

“They didn’t mind?” asked Dottie.

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

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

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

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

“OK, let’s go,” said Otis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, what does it mean?”

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

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

“No, it was in my book.”

“What book was that?”

“Tawny Scrawny Lion.”

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

“You have to read the book.”

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

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

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

“Yes,” said Otis.

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Yeah. What do you know?”

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

“Did you get a name?”

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

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

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

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


Chapter 5


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

It was a bad day to have a bad day.

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

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

He stank of high-priced cologne.

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

He could use a lucky penny.

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

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

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

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

“Fair enough,” said Ezra.

“You private?” asked Big Paulie.

“Yeah,” said Ezra.

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

“The Archer Agency,” Ezra lied.

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

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

“Fair enough,” said Ezra.

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

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

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

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

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

“I need a drink,” he thought.

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

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

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

“Ballantine, Schlitz, Rheingold.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll have a Rheingold,” said Ezra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did they meet?” asked Bettina.

“Audrey Flack hooked them up,” said Pete.

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

“Who’s Audrey Flack?” asked Bettina

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

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

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

Baby got backspin was her motto.

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

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

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

“Spin it to win it,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All gassed up,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Patchogue: Biggest Shopping Center on Long Island.’

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

“Fill it up?”


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

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

“Make it 5 gallons,” said Stan.

“$1.25” said the attendant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello,” said Stan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An expansive light poured in through a large high window.

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

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

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

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

It was a five-minute walk.

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

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

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