DEARBORN, MICHIGAN, SIX MONTHS AGO
Cicero took a long Roak on his cigarette. It was the kind of cigarette that made you forget how shitty your life was, made you forget how you missed the big time and ended up a shitty lifeless Pallooka taking one last good drag of pure tobacco roak.
It would be his last full day in Dearborn.
He didn’t have much to pack because he didn’t have much to begin with.
He came to Dearborn in October 1945. He had spent enough time in the Navy and he was done with the sea.
Dearborn was a shitty town. This was a shitty building. His office was shitty and barren, with a huge black cobalt telephone and a shitty desk covered with various papers, summonses, warrants and overflowing ashtrays.
Dearborn was played out. He needed a new scene, new clients, new atmosphere. He opened the window, looked down on the alley below where shitty tomcats wailed and bums stumbled over the reeking garbage. He took a long roak on his cigarette. He went over to the wall. He was taking down his P.I. certificate when the Lady walked in.
She came in so quietly that he didn’t even hear her. Not many people could sneak up on him, but this Dame did.
“Get evicted?” she asked.
He turned around and faced the voice. It was a lady dressed in black, but she wore sunglasses under a light black half-veil.
“Dearborn got the best of you huh? I guess I got here just in time.”
Cicero wiped the dust off of his hands and he shook the ladies hand. She extended him a petite hand covered with a black glove.
“Have a seat?”
“Thank you I’ll stand.”
“I can’t see your eyes.”
“Right…eyes are the windows to the soul. You don’t need to see my eyes. You need to see this.”
The vamp handed Dane a stack of Jacksons.
“This oughta get you started.”
“It’s pretty simple. I’ve been following someone for a couple of years. A real bad character. Between you and me, I just need to find him and then I’m going to take care of the rest. You just find him, get me past his guardian angel and then you are done. There’s $5,000 more plus expenses if you can get me close.”
“Whattya mean ‘Guardian Angel’?”
“Somebody has been protecting this guy. They got him into the country after the war. He knows something that somebody needs. He oughta been hanged, but he skates on and on and on. Obviously somebody big, and I mean real big wants him over here. I don’t care why but I can guess. It’s a new world right order now and I accept that.”
“Look lady, if you mean you’re gonna smoke the guy than you can keep your money. I don’t go to prison for no-one.”
“I never said you had to smoke this shitty bum. I just said find him. You don’t know any more than that and I’m not gonna say anymore. You find this Guardian Angel and you will find him too. Here’s 20 bucks for the train. Go to Erie, Pennsylvania and see a guy named Tomasz. He’s pimp and punk. He referred me to you. Said you were working a case for him.”
“By coincidence, I’m moving to Erie this week.”
“Well then it’ll be a local call.”
“How can I find you?”
“You don’t need to find me, I’ll find you.”
“How did you find me in the first place?”
She pulled out a cigarette case.
“You know what these are gumshoe? They’re Eries, finest PA tobacco, grown in Erie proper. Try one, you’ll need to get used to it.”
She took one of the Eries. Cicero held out a light for her. Then Cicero lit one up. He took a long roak.
She took a roak on her Erie cigarette.
“You got it. Finest PA tobacco. Better than Stroudsburg Red.”
“So how di I find you? Sister Elise ring a bell? Elyria? You came highly recommended. She said I didn’t have much time to catch you here.”
Cicero nodded silently.
He walked her downstairs. She got into a black Buchanan Model R brand automobile with Ohio plates. The name of the car dealer was on the trunk: Fast Bobby’s Used Cars of Toledo.
DOWNTOWN PITTSBURGH, PA
Lorton sat in the middle of the shitty hotel room at Ninth and Liberty. It was on the tenth floor. A long walk up thanks to a broken elevator. The room was dusty, probably hadn’t been occupied for a year. An acrid neon light went on and off outside the window. He dragged the little table into the center of the room and he set up his shitty typewriter. He opened the window a crack and cool, humid, smoky, shitty Pittsburgh air came drifting into the room.
He lit up a cigarette and took a long roak. He put his pistol on the bed, then he centered a sheet of shitty half-yellowed onion-skin paper in the typewriter. He clattered away at the keys. Lorton kept typing. It was always shitty hotels. Always on the road. Nothing to keep him company but his shitty stories about people, the war whatever. It kept his mind occupied long enough to drown out everything else.
“Who knows what a character like that was writing about.” Thought Cicero. Lorton couldn’t have known he was still being watched. But by whom? Right across the street is his even shittier hotel, Cicero kept the room dark. He kept back from the window-frame. This joker wasn’t gonna give him the slip this time. Cicero drank from a cup of black, shitty, greasy coffee he got at a shitty all-night cafe down on Liberty.
The cafe had been filled with the usual crowd of mill-workers, hobos, bums, freaks, drunks, losers, addicts, hookers, transvestites and palookas-the usual crowd. He fit right in with his fedora and white shoes. It had been a good place to go over his notes. Something didn’t smell right. He pulled out the envelope and looked at the paper. He held it up to the light. It had a strange watermark, but it wasn’t an OSS watermark. It was the watermark of something called the Keystone Office Supply Company. He walked over to the shitty phone-booth where he found a torn-up, shitty, four-year-old phone book. Sure enough Keystone Office Supply Company on 23 South Millvale. He would find it in the morning.
SHADYSIDE, PITTSBURGH 1930
Tuesday and night was falling. October 1, 1930. The Captain was cleaning out his office. He pulled the faded black and white photos from the wood-paneled wall of the little office. His window looked out of the Armory down onto Emerson Street.
The First Sergeant walked into the Captain’s Office with a gift-wrapped box.
“Captain. The men wanted to give you a little gift. When we heard you were getting promoted, we all chipped in and bought you this.”
The Captain stood up. He had a long scar on his neck. He thought about throwing his cigarette on the floor, but instead he put it into an ashtray. He looked out over the drill floor. The men were putting the horses back into the stable and cleaning up. He opened the box. It was a brand-new 1931 Johnson-Valdez TM brand typewriter. The most modern and sleekest typewriter ever made. The one with the glass disks over the little round keys. He admired it carefully.
“Top, I can’t thank you enough. I know times are hard and the boys don’t have that much money.”
“Sir, a lot of the older guys were with you at Varennes. Anyway Colonel Wood paid for most of it.”
The Captain shook the First Sergeant’s hand.
“Rumor has it that a Major down at Divarty asked for you by name.”
The Captain carried the box down the stairs and out into the dark street.
He took a long look back at the Armory. He had a feeling it would never be home again.
He walked under the maples and through crisp leaves.
He still had his shitty jalopy, after all these years.
The Police Chief staggered back into the downtown precinct station.
“Oi boys it is I. Sure and begorrah, what a long noit of honoring the daid. Sergeant O’Rourke run over by a vicious Noomber Faugherty-Two streetcar on its way to Library. But what a wake it was!”
Kenny O’Donegal was a tall, red-headed Irishman. He had worked his way up from manure boy to patrolman and was now chief of police.
“And to what do I owe da pleasure of seeing one of me old boys and his new partner?”
Officer Colmar spoke first.
“I think something’s funny goin on dahn da run anat.”
“What do ya mean funny, Frankie me bye?”
“I ain’t tryina jag yer wires anat. Yunz know we been dahna ‘Run’ anat fer da last few nights.”
“Ah Frankie me bye, good doughnuts and the call-box?”
“We’ll dese characters been comin’ dahn Big Joe’s. Been makin cawntact regular. Not Millhunks anat dahn dere fer shot ana beer. Yunz know dey redd up dahnnere. Joe’s been sayin’ haas needs redd up. Place needs redd up, needs warshed anat. Like I sez to da old lady, yunz take da kidz ott da hass and dahn muhseum anat, so I pick up da extra shift anat? So she sez yunz gotta go dahnere watch ott fer dat Ian he’s a jagoff.”
Everyone looked at officer Colmar in confused silence.
“Frankie, what in the name O’ Holy St. Patrick did ye just say?”
Jerry decided it was time to speak up. “What he said Chief, was that some evil-looking new characters have been comin’ down to Big Joe’s, not yer usual mill workers and the like, but some bad characters. Not people from the Run. Been mixing in with the locals.”
“Aye, aye, I get it. I’ve heard some rumors to dat effect me lads. Keep me posted. I’ll drop down there incognito. I’ve got to see a friend down at the Bessie Works West-Pittsburgh Steel Company Inc. anyway. Good work me lads.”
The chief gave Jerry a friendly but violent slap in the side of his head.
“Good to see anudder bye from Nanty Glo’ on da farce and not a shitey thieving Welshman.”
8th AVENUE HOMESTEAD, PA
The quiet bespectacled man walked into the Honshu Restaurant in Homestead. He took a seat at a table in the back corner. A huge American flag adorned the wall. The room was dark and smoky and smelled of steak and shrimp.
The waiter went to bring him a Saki. A large shadow appeared at the door. A large man came in and hung up his coat on the hook. Another tall thin man came in. The big man was roaking a large cigar. The thin man was roaking a cigarette and wearing a Eurpoean monocle. They sat down at the same dark table in the corner.
“You are pretty brave to show up here my old friend.” Said the big man to the man who was sitting in the corner seat.
“I should have killed you for what you did. But I need you more alive than dead because I know you are foolish and sentimental and you will lead me to the girl.”
“I just wanted to give you news from your father. That is more important is it not? Than some old grudge from a war long lost, and one maybe better forgotten by all of us?”
“I don;t care about that war! I never did! I’m an American now and that works out just fine for me. I should have been born an American! What news do you bring me?”
“Your father, the Samurai of Naoshimi is moving to San Francisco. There is nothing left for him in Nippon. Your disgrace has haunted him and he cannot live on the Island. Only in America can he find the anonymity he seeks. He says if you visit him and heed his advice maybe you can redeem yourself. You can find him at 23 Panay Court Apartment 5”
“Dies vun, I like dies vun, he is very smart.” Said the man with the monocle.
But I don’t so much think you can trust him Ja? I knew somevun like him a long time ago, pulled a bit of der double cross on me. He vas a GYPSY!” The thin man shuddered and then composed himself.
“You will come with us my friend. We all have new names you see. I am Rick M. O’Shaughnessy-now a Greenfield Hill Restaurateur. My continental friend here is now known as Sol Schlafferman and he runs a little Deli in Squirrel Hill. And you, Hal Sherry, weren’t too hard to find. We have been casing your little import-export store in Elyria for weeks. You will tell us where the girl is. And we will finish where we left off. You owe me…The final…battle…IT IS TRADITION!”
“You vill talk mein Freund, oh yes you vill talk. Ve have veys of making you talk. Look at you, you are soft, and weak like a voman, nein, nein EIN GYP-SY!” The thin man shuddered violently, then he took a long soothing roak on his cigarette.
The three men quietly finished their drinks. There walked out of the store and into a waiting 1948 black Fillmore. Inside the Fillmore was a distinguished-looking older business man. His hands and feet were tied.
“You’ll never get away with this, you rotten punks!”
“You will see a demonstration of our bad will? If you do not give us what we desire.” Said Rick.
The Fillmore headed down the river to Donora. It was along smoky, shitty, drab drive down 837 to this shitty ramshackle Mill Town.
Sol untied the executive, but kept a Parabellum at his back.
Rick, Hal and Sol walked into a large industrial complex with the executive.
“You vill now see a demonstration of my powers?”
“You monster! This could kill hundreds of people.
The German turned a valve on a giant smokestack.
“We haff done our homework, Ja? Tonight vill be a once in a century inversion. Der smog will crush der Mon Valley. Dis vill release toxic filth into the air und it vill how do you say eliminate many peoples? I haff calculated that it will crush the town of Donora with funfteen minutes, nein?”
They left the plant and drove to a hilltop. They Hal and the executive watched in horror as the thick brown smoke poured out of the chimney and formed into a giant toxic cloud above the little town. Then the smog descended on the helpless city.
“You monster! Stop it! I’ll give you the Bessie Works!”
The men drove back down to the Industrial plant and the German turned off the valve. But it had done its awful work.
At gunpoint the helpless Anglo-Saxon executive called the President of the Bessie Works.
“Yes, they’re coming tomorrow. Make the contract with the delegation as we discussed.”
Cicero went down to the lobby.
There was a pay phone on the wall.
Cicero put in a nickel.
“Operator, how may I help you sir and or ma’am?”
“Long distance, ELyria 5-2368.”
“Is that Elyria, Ohio?”
“Person to person or station to station.”
“Person to person.”
“Please deposit 30 cents. I will connect you sir.”
Sam fumbled for the change and one by one he put dimes and nickels into the round slots on the face of the payphone.
“Hello, St. Mary of the Blessed Sacrament of the Immaculate Conception, how may I help you?”
“Is there a lady named Jenny staying there?”
“Yes, she’s been here since this afternoon. She just woke up from a nap. Please hold on.”
“Jenny, it’s Sam, what have ya got.”
“Well it breaks down like this, this client of yours is in tight with a trio from Pittsburgh. A guy named Ian who plays the bass. A guy named Pat who plays the sax, and a lady named Lynn. They all play together down at Big Joe’s in The Run.”
“That explains the connection to McGlory.”
“Wait this gets better. There’s some weird Japanese guy named Hash who took off to come to Pittsburgh last night. He borrowed the restaurant owner’s sedan. He hangs out in a Japanese joint in Homestead. Seems he’s looking for the same guy your client is. The guy you’re looking for has something to do with the steel business.”
“Jenny that’s great scoop, thanks!”
“What do you want me to do now?”
“Can you come down to Pittsburgh?”
“Meet you where and when?”
“Roentgen’s Diner in Friendship on Baum Boulevard. midnight tomorrow night.”
Cicero walked out onto the street. He caught a trolley down Liberty towards Friendship. It was the usual crowd, people coming home from the mill, people going to the mill, drunks, bums, losers and politicians. He watched the scenery as he went by. Big industrial buildings, then shabby, little, soot-covered little houses.
People got on and off the trolley. Finally Cicero got off at Millvale. He walked about four blocks across the little bridge towards Oakland. 23 South Millvale. It was still open. Cicero walked in and a bell jingled. A young woman was behind the counter.
“How can I help you? We don’t get many people in this late at night.”
“Yeah, I want to buy a ream of paper.”
“You come in just before closing to buy a ream of paper? Either you’re a writer or a detective.”
“OK I’m a detective. You sell paper with your own watermark?”
“Sure do. We have a plant in Blawnox.”
“Ever sell Johnson-Valdez TM brand typewriters?”
“Sell ’em and service ’em since 1899.”
“1899, huh? Ever sell one to a tall guy with a scar on his neck?”
“Nope, but we service it about once every six months, at least since ’46.”
“You got a name?”
“I’m Shannon. Pleased to meet you”
“Nice to meet you, but his name.”
“Paul Lorton, the writer.”
“I know him little sister, but he’s no writer.”
“Then you must know that he’s Ian Jerrold’s brother.”
“Ian Jerrold? You’re kidding.
“I wouldn’t kid a kidder.”
Cicero brought out a couple of squares. He lit one up for the lady. They roaked a while, then he walked out into the mist.