Cicero And The Case Of The China Doll Chapter 4: Mill Days


Five Mile Run is old Pittsburgh. Little houses thrown up right between two giant smoke-belching steel mills. Half of the neighborhood hides under a shitty, rusted-out bridge. The rest you can only get to by a run-down, shabby cobblestone street or a dilapidated concrete staircase.  Sometimes the stench from the shitty sewer-stinking run wafts up across the streets and leaves its shitty, rotten, brownuous, algae and bowel movement stench over the houses. Somewhere in the gloaming are two cops, one a young wiseass the other one been around a while.

So, ye better move along there.” Said Officer O’Valera of the Pittsburgh Police Force. He was a big red-haired paddy, Molly Maguire, Nanty-Glo Irishman. A third generation cop.

“Smells a little like Roak to me, anat.” deadpanned officer Colmar.

“No man, I’m not roaking the schmiee. You sexy, shitty coppers don’t get it” Said the kid. He coughed a few times and his eyes looked glassy.

Officer O’Valera grabbed the kid and shook him upside down.

“You watch yer mout’ when yer talkin’ to the law, you no account punk!”

A small, sweet-hot, ice-cool reeferstick fell out of the kid’s pocket.

“So  Rhoagckeing the Schmieghffre are ye?” The club descended on the kid’s skull with a sickening thump.

The kid got up and started running up the hill towards Greenfield.

“Let dat be a lesson to ye, ye young punk!”

“You didn’t have to crack his skull anat’ Jerry. Don’t be such a jagoff” said officer Colmar.

“Well, he needs to larn, you don’t go Rhoaghckeing the Schmieghffre on moy beat.”

Colmar shook his head. “Rookie” He muttered under his breath.

“Listen, I ain’t tryinta jag yer wires anat, yunz is my new partner. And yunz is a rookie. Yunz gotta get yer attitude redd up anat. You do what I say or the next hat you gonna have will be a helmet with a lantern on it and you’ll be digging coal with your uncle back in Nanty Glo anat’! Are we clear?”

“Aye Frank, I’m sorry, yer de boss.”

The two officers continued down the street to the donut shop in five mile run.

They walked up the steps and they could smell, almost feel the doughnuts. The alluring, sensuous, erotic, sweet-hot smell of fresh doughnuts. Each officer took a second to inhale the hypnotic fumes, the sugar, the dough.

“Wir haben gutes doughnuts today mein freundens!”, barked the proprietor, a young German man who had come to Pittsburgh just after the war.

“Ye sure do, Blaise me bye. Could you be doing me up fer six crullers?”

“Yeah, yunz got dem coconut chocolate doughnuts anat?”

The disaffected young German war orphan handed them their doughnuts and two coffees.

The coffees, were black, black as anthracite coal. They held not a smidgen of sugar or milk, just pure Karelian coffee.

Officer Colmar looked out through the open door of the doughnut shop. A sleek, shiny 1940 Runnamoker Roadster sedan cruised past them and parked just across the alley from Big Joe’s.

Two men got out and looked around. They were just out of the streetlight. One of them had what looked like a case for a String Bass, the other a case for a saxophone, a smooth, sweet, silky saxophone. One of the men pulled out a pack of Kanawha TM Brand genuine North Carolina cigarettes. He handed the other man a cigarette and they lit up, the match-strike faintly illuminating their faces in an acrid, lurid light. They had short hair and military style haircuts. They were both in their mid to late 40s. One tall, one average height.

The men went into Big Joe’s.

“I don’t loik the look of these characters Frankie. Something smells rotten in the run.” Said Officer O’Valera.

“Let’s grab a doughnut then we’ll stop over and see what’s what anat wit dese jagoffs. I ain’t had E-frickin’ nothing to eat all day.”


The Train slowed imperceptibly at first, then slower then slower, then it lurched to a halt. He could hear the powerful erotic sound of the giant, greased, hard metallic, manly pistons slowly, rhythmically, pumping to a halt. Cicero glanced over his shoulder and looked back through the car. He opened the door and went through the back of the car to the roaking car. They were a few people roaking cigarettes. A thick pallor of sweet, nicotine-filled roak was in the air.

“What’s the news?” He asked a porter.

“They’s something on the track now mister. Fireman’s gone up to check it out. I surely let you know when I find out myself now, you know what I’m saying?”

“Thanks partner, I appreciate it.”

Cicero handed the porter a cigarette.

The porter eyed the cigarette and winked at Cicero.

“This a good cigarette, man thanks! I need that tar for my lungs you see. Now I’m a man and youse a man so we can talk you see? Something strange in the air tonight. And that ain’t no jive.”

Cicero winked back and then he went up to the little bar in the roaking car.

The bartender eyed him up.

“We got whiskey, we got gin, what’s yer pleasure, mister?”

“I’ll have a whiskey and whatever this little lady right here was drinking.”

The vamp turned around. A spunky little blond in a black dress. She looked good, real good. She pulled out a Katawba brand North Carolina genuine ladies’ cigarette. She turned towards Cicero and let him light her up.

“Going anywhere special, Mister?” She said, taking a long roak and blowing it out of the corner of her red-lipstick-coated mouth.

“Well I was going to Elyria.”

“I’m from Elyria, and believe me it ain’t special.” She said, eyeing him up and down and blowing another trail of steaming hot roak.

“If you’re from Elyria it’s special alright.” Cicero said, exhaling a roak ring.

“Oh, please, that’s a weak load of bullshit, but I’ll take a compliment where I can get it.”

The bartender poured their drinks. Cicero put a couple of Jeffersons down on the bar. Dellinger winked and put the twos in his shirt pocket.

“I like twos. The strippers like ’em a lot better than ones!” The bartender said.

The vamp looked Cicero up and down again.

“Nancy’s the name, lawyer’s the game. I prosecute two-bit punks, perverts, palookas, jokers, pimps, hookers, junkies, reefer-stick roakers, pot-smokers, doobage stokers, scumbags and generally bad guys up in Cleveland.”

“What do you do when you aren’t chasing punks.”

“I tend to ride trains and talk to strangers. What do you do mister?”

Cicero smiled and took a long roak on his cigarette.

“I’m a licensed private eye to tell you the truth.”

“What kind of work do you specialize in?”

“I find people.”

“I may have a job for you. I’ve been looking for one character for some time. Skipped bail and skipped out of town. This guy’s rich, but he needs to ante up. It’s always the rich ones that cut out on a debt. I don’t even care how we get him, but he made me look bad and he’s gonna pay. Take my card.”

Cicero took a look at her card. Attached to it was a ticket for the Cleveland Football Game against Detroit.

“First of all nothing could make you look bad and I think we can do business.”

“You’re full of crap mister, a big steaming pile of festering, corn-studded, sweet-hot, cow crap but if you can find this guy you’ll be alright in my book. Meet me at Cleveland Municipal that seat will get you there. It’s the last game of the year. Don’t be late.”


The colonel and the beachmaster crawled their way out of the shellhole.

“It’s been a good game squid. Take care of the boys will you?”

“I got it sir, don’t worry. We’ll get the cannons on the street and off the beach in no time.”

You sure you don’t want this knife back?”

“Nope I lost it fair and square, bad luck to welsh on a bet. I was lucky to get a card game in. Today’s soldiers are a bunch of sweet, panty-waist, red-hot, effeminate, sissy-marys.”

“Yeah, yeah” the beachmaster said, dreamily visualizing the young soldiers.

The beachmaster shook the Colonel’s hand. The Colonel headed over the sand dunes to the ancient cobbled Roman street. The beachmaster saw the Colonel stop and pull out a pair of small binoculars. He said something into a walkie-talkie and then he disappeared into an ancient Campanile.

It was going to be a long night and another long day until everybody was ashore. The shells were coming in every couple of minutes and the ships were responding with thunderous salvos across the town. He had a job to do and it couldn’t wait. All night long and the next day the beachmaster directed traffic.

Night fell again and he went back to the comfort of the same shell hole where he had played the card game with the Colonel. He felt the shell but he never heard it.

He woke up flat on his back. He was on board ship again. He felt like he was in a dream and everything was moving slowly. He couldn’t hear anything but he saw people standing around him.

“Whaddya think Doc? Is he gonna make it? Can we hold onto the leg?”

The doctor was a thin, studious-looking Hawaiian man. He took a long draw on a pure Virginia Roakanoake-brand filterless cigarette.

“The leg will be OK. We can save it but he’s been in shock. He lost a lot of blood. We just have to wait and see. Son, you better take a long roak off of this cigaretu. I’m a doctor, I know nothing is better for you when you’ve had a trauma then a good shot of clean, healthy, tar and nicotine. This is a czech brand, pretty good species of roak if you ask me. Hell, when I’m not golfing back in Maui, I’m roaking a serious Hawaiian cigarette.”

“Hawaiian? I’ll have to try that. I’ve never had a real Hawaiian cigaretu!”

“In Hawaii we call them Cigakalekemakies, the best!”

The beachmaster took a long roak on the cigarette. Cicero drifted off to a deep sleep. He dropped the cigarette right next to the oxygen tank. He had disturbed dreams. He was back in the Merchant Marine in the 30s, working with his old man. His dad always came to him in dreams just like this.


“Get yer head out of yer arse boy and you’ll be alright.” The old man said to him and they walked around the dark deck of the ship off the Carolina Coast. “You’ll be alright.”

“I’ll be alright, but the storm’s comin’ in.”

“Sammy I been on these seas for over 30 years. We’ll make it to Wilmington. Shiver me pissers, I tell ye we’ll make it. You’ve got to live for nights just like these. Ah the sea in a storm, there’s nothing better.”

It was an old ship. It brought freight up and down the coast since 19-aught-5 when she was refitted from a Spanish-American War Steel Steam Frigate. She survived wars and worse weather than this. The storm grew worse and worse. It was a jet-black violent night on the shore.

Sam’s father thought to himself and he pulled the hawser: “These were nights for real men, manly men, not a bunch of sissy boys doing their nails on a wraparound porch in Charleston. Clean shaven, clean smelling sissy-marys, aah the smell of it!”

The men fought the waves on the deck, closing all the hatches and securing equipment the best they could. The ship began to roll.

“We may have to ground her, let’s see what the Captain wants to do.”

The two men walked into the wheelhouse.

“Sir, how goes it?”

“Not well big Sammy, not well. I’m gonna take her right in towards Hatteras lighthouse and try to hit the sandbar without breaking up, then we’ll figure it out in the morning. You lads better stay below or you’ll both end up in the water. You boys better have a cigarette. Just so happens I’ve got a powerful, filterless North Carolina Kanawha-brand cigarette. Powerful storms call for powerful cigarettes. You better share a whiskey with me too so you have all of your faculties. Nothing makes you think clearer and handle a ship better than a few shots of alcohol! Now get back to yer posts and we’ll try to beat this thing.”


The Colonel watched the German positons from the top of the Campanile. He hid behind a tapestry in the dark where he couldn’t be seen. It always seemed he was in Europe. And it always seemed he was up in a church tower. How he could be back here again defied his imagination. He was definitely getting too old for this. He wiped the lenses on his binoculars. He lit up a cigarette and took a long luxurious roak on the delicious fumes.

“Able-Baker 1-7, Able-Baker 1-7 this is Yankee-Zulu 2-5, how read over?”

There was static and then a voice.

“Yankee-Zulu 2-5, this is Able-Baker 1-7, authenticate Zulu over.”

” I authenticate Bravo, Fire mission, I send grid Alpha-Zulu 6321-3456 over.”

” I have grid Alpha-Zulu 6321-3456, break, hang time 2 minutes 11 seconds.”

The Colonel waited for the big guns of the battleship to open up on the German positions. He knew he could be hit by his own fire or by the German Artillery at any time. The shells would explode nearby with a hollow, deathly ringing and then there was silence and then rudely, he would wait again for the next shell, like he expected it. It was always the same way. It was scarier than being shot at because you couldn’t hear it in time to get out of the way. You just hoped you were one of the lucky ones. It was as if the shells had animus, inherent intelligence and evil wrapped up in an inanimate object.

He should have retired a long time ago. He missed Lynn’s sweet voice and he wanted to be anywhere else but in the Campanile, but he was here and it had to be done. The only way out was time. He looked at his watch. The Campanile shook violently and ancient dust fell on his helmet. He ran down the rickety, wooden stairs in time for the splash.


Mr. Schmiee and his assistant looked over the blueprint for the new layout of the Steel plant.

“German engineering and Japanese workers! The best possible combination.”

His companion adjusted his monocle and looked over the plans.

The German motioned to his assistant, a burly gruff Gypsy named Slava.

“Oh yes, gypsy, you did und excellent job, you hairy, filthy, decadent…GYPSY!”

The German shuddered violently and then composed himself.

“These Americans need us Japanese, there is no other way! Without the Germans, Japanese and Italians they can’t defeat the Bolsheviks, so first they crush us, now they need us! One day Japan will rise again! But this time we will make all the steel and all the cars and all the radios and the Americans will have to buy it from us. First we take over the plant from these dupes and the rest is easy!” The burly Japanese man took a long roak from what appeared to be a hand-rolled cigarette. But it was no cigarette. It was another substance, a substance so vile and capable of inducing such evil in the hearts of men, that common decency and true red-blooded Americanism prevents it from being mentioned here.

“Zo too dey need unsere scientists und doctors and research from various experiments on Juden und Slavs und ach ja! Ach Ja, GYPSIES!”

The German shuddered violently, with his eyes rolling back in his head. He nearly fell over and Slava steadied him.

“Easy Baron, Browscz is here for you as always. Browscz is here.”


Cicero excused himself from the Dame and he went in between the train cars. He pulled out his notebook and he began to review his shitty scribbles from the day. There was still something missing, something wasn’t right. It was damn hard trying to solve a case while he was riding the rails. He needed a payphone. The payphone-apex of American technology, the ultimate in modern jet-age communication and convenience at a low cost to the common man. It was the only way. He would have to make use of every resource he had.

He lit up a cigarette, but not just any cigarette, it was one of the original Cigaretu from the silver case he got from the U-Boat Kapitan many years before. He only roaked one every three months or so. The ice-cold nicotine calmed his lungs and soothed his mind. He thought about what might have happened to the rugged young unshaven Kapitan…

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