Cicero And The Case Of The China Doll Chapter 9: Descent Into Pittsburgh

ERIE, PA

Jenny looked the joint over. It was a shitty craphole, a rotten dive where you could find hookers, gamblers, jokers, dope fiends, beatniks and wachos wandering on off the street in the wee hours of the morning like so many shitty cockroaches scampering out from the filth underneath the ice box when the lights came on.

Jenny pulled the shitty jalopy into Junker’s Diner. Al was working behind the counter on two eggs over easy.

“Are you Al?” Asked Jenny, roaking on a cigarette.

“That’s me.” He added.

“Sam sent me. I’m supposed to go to Elyria. What are you roaking?”

“Actually it’s what we call a cigaretu. It’s from Czechoslovakia. Here light one up.”

Al lit it up and took a long healthy roak.

“I’ll send Dale out to gas up the car.” He handed her a plate of eggs with sausage and a biscuit.

Dale ran out to the pumps, Junkers tossed him a set of keys.

“You’re gonna need a good cup of Joe if you’re driving tonight. Here’s an address. If you get there too early and need some sleep, pull up to the gate, ask for Sister Elise, she will let you in. You’ll be safe there.”

He poured the hot coffee out of a greasy glass urn.

The two figures were framed in the window of the diner in the dark at the end of the counter. Jenny took a long roak.

She took her time eating.

“That’s on me kid, Sam and I go way back.” Al said.

Once she finished her dinner, she headed West on 20. There weren’t many cars on the road.

There was a light fog, but no rain.

It was a long slow ride on 20. She kept right at the speed limit. Every small town had a cop just waiting toget an out of state speeder and keep them overnight for a hefty fine. She didn’t have time for that. The windshield wipers combined with the fog and rain made it difficult to see. In time she was the only one on the road. There were few lights and the road was in disrepair. She thought about turning back nce or twice, but she shrugged it off. She turned on the radio and caught a local music show. They were playing the famous hit: ‘Roak, Roak, Roak’.

She roaked a cigaretu as she drove through Ashtabula and Cleveland trying to stay awake. She wondered if she might pass Sam’s train. She crossed through West Cleveland and veered towards the lake road. Just like Al said, she hit Elyria too early.

She went to the address. It was a large convent. She pulled over at the gate and got out of the car. She covered her head with a newspaper in the driving rain. An old lady came out. “Are you Jenny?”

“Yes.”

“Come on in.”

MALTA

The nurse stood out in the desert. She took a long roak on a Makalakalelu brand Hawaiian cigarette. The heat was vile. It was always the same, always 120 degrees. It was even hot at night. The wind blew so hot it could burn your figures. She wanted to get out of Michigan, but now she missed the Soo. The shitty factories belching out black smoke, the dirty streets, the huge ships on the lake. The forest if you get get away far enough from the waters edge.

The tents were filled with patients from the fighting in Italy. There were too many. Mostly young. Some hurt too badly to speak. She could only do what she could do. But it was the times, everybody had to do their part.

She didn’t plan on being a nurse forever. Enough was enough. In due time she would go back to Dearborn, take some time off, roak a little of the renowned Upper Peninsula Blue schmiee and find her way. She took a roak off of her cigarette.

WEST MIFFLIN, PA

July 28, 1945. The fog rolled in. Now it was thick over the entire county.

“Jim what the hell’s going on with our fuel?”

The navigator crouched over the pilot. “These B-25’s every now and then they just drop fuel. I don’t know why. They just drop fuel. We ain’t gonna make it. Try to hit the airport south of Pittsburgh. Let control know we’ve gotta turn. I’ll plot it out.”

“There’s an airfield past Homestead.”

“Can we make it?”

“I’m not sure.”

The plane slowly descended.

“I can’t get below the clouds, I think a fog has rolled in.”

“Can you see anything?”

“No, nothing.”

“Try to stay along the river. If we stay 500 feet up we won’t hit the bridges.”

“Pittsburgh, this is AAC 237 come in.”

“The radio was silent then crackled.”

“This is Pittsburgh, where in the hell are you? You should be over Murraysville.”

“We’ve had a fuel leak. We may go down. This is an Able Baker alert, Flash precedence, Able Baker Alert.”

“I copy Able-Baker Top Secret. I will alert the team.”

“Roger Pittsburgh.”

“Jim, we’re going down, we’re out of fuel.”

“Life jackets everyone. Get to crash positions, I’m ditching in the river.”

“Level her out, level her out.”

“Drop the nose! Drop the nose, It’s the high level bridge! Jesus!”

“237 this is Pittsburgh….237 this is Pittsburgh…come in 237.. this is Pittsburgh…”

The dispatcher picked up the black cobalt phone. He slowly dialed COraopolis5-2400.

“Mr. Johnson? Yes sir, it’s an Able-Baker AAC 237, down Westbound under the high-level Bridge, Homestead. Flash precedence…Flash Precedence.”

Paul Lorton put the phone down. He sat at a shitty metal desk in a tin shed at the County Airport in West Mifflin. He looked at the paper that sat at a slight angle in his shitty Johnson-Valdez brand typewriter. The story would have to wait. He took a roak off his cigarette. Then he looked at the butt, dropped it on the shitty grey tile floor and ground it in with the heel of his right shoe. He went out of the shed to gather the recovery team.

MONOGAHELA RIVER, HOMESTEAD, PA

They stood at the water’s edge.

“We need to get this ship out of here now. How are the crew?”

“We took them to base hospital sir, by the way, I have to ask, is that a Czech Cigaretu you’re smoking?”

“Why yes, do you want to try one?”

“You bet sir, you bet, my mama used to roak these back in the old country.”

The recovery vehicles pulled the plane from the river in the dark. It was pulled out in pieces, loaded into truck and carted away to a warehouse in West Mifflin.

The warehouse was owned by a strange old Siamese man.

DOWNTOWN PITTSBURGH

The Express rolled into Pittsburgh after a long delay in Butler. A load of pipes coming from Ford City had rolled right onto the track. The tall man had slept right through it.

It was still early, it was dark in the city. He hadn’t been here since the summer of ’45. It was his last assignment before he went back to Japan. He picked up his case and he put on his jacket. He climbed down from the train and walked passed a man who was lighting a cigarette.

He went over to the shitty hotel. It was the hotel that was recommended. That meant only that his handlers were tailing him to make sure he did his job. He lit up a cigaretu. He looked around, then he noticed a lady in the gloom across the street in a doorway. She looked like an engineer. She was wearing a hard hat. He chuckled to himself and then he went into the shitty hotel.

SOUTHEAST OF BRADDOCK, PA

“Sam, wake up.” The old man said tapping him on the shoulder. “I’m gonna drop the Kraut off at the next stop in McKeesport. I’ll handle him. I think he’s in a more agreeable mood now.”

Sam nodded with a look of combined horror and understanding.

“A sailor’s way is a sailor’s way Dad. I know you did it for me.”

The old man winked. Sam looked into the passenger compartment and saw the German tied up asleep on the bed.

Cicero shook hands with the old man as he got off the local. He went to buy a Greenfield Post-Dispatch newspaper. He took out a cigarette. As he lit it up a tall man passed right behind him out the door of the Railroad station into the darkness of the early morning.

The tall man walked up Grant Street. He turned quickly down Seventh Avenue and he was gone into the mist.

Sam walked outside. He turned towards 12th Avenue. There was a shitty flophouse he knew well. He stopped into a gritty diner on 11th.

The man put a cup of coffee down in front of Sam.

“You want the special, Sam?”

“Yeah that’ll work for me.”

Sam drank his coffee black.

He began to read through the Greenfield Post-Dispatch.

Something in the entertainment section caught his eye. ‘Alex Van Gelder Trio appearing Friday and Saturday Night at Big Joe’s.’

There was a grainy photo showing the trio. He memorized the faces. They didn’t look much like musicians. But one of them looked familiar. The sax player. The photo was black and white, but damned if you couldn’t figure he had red hair. Then he looked at the shoes. White two-toned shoes. It was the man who got off the elevator in Erie! The man who left him the packet on the Rokkoman!

MT. LEBANON, PA

The Runnamoker Roadster pulled into the garage of the little house in Mt. Lebanon. “It’s quiet here May. We’ll be alright for a while.”

The Sax player got out, looked around and pulled closed the twin doors of the garage. The two men and the lady entered the house.

All the shades were pulled down. I’ve got a room for you upstairs. Lynn’ll take care of you. She’s asleep right now, she couldn’t wait up. The bass player pulled out a skillet.

“Anyone want breakfast?”

Everyone nodded.

The bass played clanked a pan, and a voice was heard upstairs.

“Ian get the hell out of my kitchen.”

A lady came downstairs. It was Lynn.

“French toast? Sausage?”

Everyone nodded.

Lynn gave the vamp a hug.

“It’s good to see you again kid.”

“You too Lynn.”

“Whose house is this anyway?” May asked.

“It belongs to the car dealer from Toledo, Bob.”

“I bought a car from him, Lynn, because you told me to. It’s a good car though. I shouldn’t complain.”

FIVE MILE RUN

Charlie was cleaning up the bar. The cooks and the busboys were cleaning up for the night. Alex was walking out of the door with his wife, when a large man with sunglasses tried to go in.

“The bar’s closed sport.”

“What you mean the bar crosed?”

“Just what I said you moron, are you deaf or you don’t speak English too well?”

“Hummph. You talk big words thin man.”

“Well that ain’t gonna make the bar open, it’s closed.”

His wife didn’t like the man.

“Alex let’s get out of here. This guy gives me the creeps. He smells like Marihjuana Cigarettes.”

The big man looked around for a minute, then he got into a brand-new jet-black Runnamoker sedan and he sped angrily away.

Alex opened the door for the blond lady. He looked down the street. Then he got in and they drove up Squirrel Avenue to Greenfield Hill.

ELYRIA, OHIO

Jenny pulled up at the restaurant in Elyria. She had slept at the convent until 8AM. They were making breakfast.

The owner came out from the kitchen.

“Whattya want lady?”

“Sam sent me.”

“Sam Cicero? The private eye? Bobby told me he might be coming.”

“You want to know about the guy?”

“What guy?”

“Japanese guy, name of Hash’ he’s one of my cooks, lives downstairs. Ran outta here pretty quick last night, said he had to borrow my car. I lent him the old Buchanan Model Q four-door.”

“What do you know about him?”

“He’s a pretty good Joe. Goes to church a lot. Does his work, never complains. Some weird Dame comes in once a week and leaves him an envelope. I think she’s oriental, but she doesn’t sound Japanese.”

Jenny was taking notes in her green cloth-bound notebook.

“I’ll have an Orange Juice.”

“Coming right up lady.”

The man came back with the juice.

“Hash is a pretty good guy. Never bothers anyone. There must be something going on. Do you wanna take a look in his apartment?”

“Sure, let’s go.”

The two descended the stairs to a surprisingly airy basement apartment. There was a bead curtain at the entrance. Inside it looked like a Japanese house, with rice paper walls. It was relatively barren except for a dresser. She looked at the dresser. There was a newspaper article in Japanese. She picked it up and put it in her pocket.

“Seen enough?”

The two went back upstairs. Jenny finished her juice and went back across the street.

“Sister Elise?”

“Yes dear.”

“Does anyone here speak Japanese?”

“I do dear, I was in the orient for almost 50 years.”

“Can you read this?”

Sister Elise adjusted her glasses.

“It’s from this week’s Naoshimi Intelligencer and News Register. It says Japanese business delegation headed to Cleveland and then Pittsburgh to learn American Steel-making techniques. It also says in honor of the visit, a Ka-ra-te fighting exhibition will be held between a Rokkoman Schmie and a Hashiri Sakomoto both of Naoshima, at 333 26th street in Munhall, Pennsylvania at 6:00 P.M.”

“Thank You Sister. I will be on my way now, thanks for your hospitality.”

“You are welcome dear.”

Jenny went back across the street. She put the newspaper article back where she had found it. She headed back to her car. Something was bothering her. How could she call Sam? Should she stay at the convent? Or should she head to Pittsburgh. She decided the best bet was to head to Pittsburgh. She got in the car and headed towards Youngstown.

MIEWSWICSZIEWM CONCENTRATION CAMP, NAZI OCCUPIED SILESIA

Rachel was beyond despair. She knew that she would never come out of here alive. Nobody did. No-one was coming to the rescue.

“Don’t be afraid, youwng lady.” Said the old gypsy woman in the bunk across from her.

“But I am afraid.” said Rachel.

“You need something to beliewve in. I am a gypsy lady and I have one thing that I believe in.”

“What is that? What can you possibly believe in that can give you hope?’

“It is one thiwng. It is Ohio.”

“The place in America? My boyfriend spoke of this place. Only he had never seen it. He only heard about it. A place of unsurpassed beauty. Where anyone can get rich. Where the streets are paved with gold. If only such a place really existed.”

“Shut up you idiots! There is no such place as Ohio! It is a myth! Streets paved with gold! Everyone treated like a human being! Impossible!” Said an angry Thessalonikian Jewish woman.

“You shut up! There is such a place. I WAS THERE! When I was a little gypsy girl, we travwel to America with the traveling acrobats circus. I saw it, Cleveland, Conneauwt, Columbuws, Youwngstown- it is all true! Everyone is treated with dignity and respect, all people are equal. Everyone has a chance to succeed. Beautiful streets, beautiful homes, industry, education, nothing like this!”

“I would love to see it. I must live to see it. I believe my boyfriend was going to go there.” Said Rachel.

“My son Browscz, he have children there. My grandchidren. We surviwve together to get to Ohio. The greatest place in the world!”

DOWNTOWN PITTSBURGH

It was beginning to add up for Cicero. Paul Lorton was still with the government. It was the only thing that made sense. That meant everyone involved was mixed in with the government too. Even his client and her pals. It was also tied into the visit with the Steel plant. Thomas seemed to be tied into it too. He knew something. He owed somebody something.

Too many foreigners from too many places seemed to have an easy ticket to the US. Only the government could make that happen, but why? Sam roaked a cigaretu.

He saw a black woman in a power company uniform at the end of the bar. She was roaking a cigarette. It smelled familiar. Why would she be in here in a power engineering uniform with a hard hat roaking a Czech Cigaretu?

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