CLEVELAND LAKEVIEW TROLLEY BARN, EAST 23rd STREET, JUNE 1948
The Trolley Barn was a shitty old building, maybe Cleveland’s shittiest. It was filled with smoke, the sweet, siren smell of ten-thousand sweet-hot sensuous, alluring, burning roak-sticks.
Cicero stood in the last row of the make-shift boxing stands. He thumbed through a yellowed notebook.
“Biff Roosevelt. Biff Roosevelt. Got to be a fake name, got to.” Cicero said to himself.
Cicero closed his notebook and sat back in his seat. He lit up a roak.
The announcer moved to the center of the ring, he held his massive microphone.
“In this corner in the red trunks, weighing One Hundred and Forty-Five Pounds: ‘The Liberation’ Quantrell Damone!”
“In the other corner wearing blue trunks and weighing in at one hundred and forty three pounds, Clinton ‘The Revolution’ Al Haq!”
A man walked into Cicero’s row and sat down.
“Excuse me sir” Said the man, seating himself right next to Cicero.
“It zeems to me zat you are roaking a Czech Zigaretu, no?”
“Yes, I am” Said Cicero.
He was a hulking, hairy man, with hair emanating from his collar and his ears.
“Might I request a Zquare from you my good sir?”
Cicero shook out a roak.
“My name is Browscz. I zee zat Tomascz give you zis zeat?”
“How do you know Thomas?”
“Ah he iz an old friend from zee old country.”
“aah, I see. Do you like the fight game?”
“Zee fisticufss, wery, wery manly.”
Cicero lit the roak for the strange, hairy man.
“I understand you may be looking for a strange fellow. Goes by zee name of Biff?”
Cicero stared at the man for a minute, lighting his cigarette.
“What do you now about him?”
“I know zat ziss Biff is a fake name. I know zat he came here from Bawaria in 1922. I know he iz really a Bawarian Zocialist.”
“How do you know him?”
“How do I know anybody my friend? How do I know anybody.”
The two men leaned back in their chairs, their eyes transfixed on the ring.
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Union of Sowiet Soczialist Respublikas, 1924.
Pawel stood at attention in the shitty, barren, socialist civic room. The Komissar roaked a filterless Карельская сигарет, made of the finest Karelian Tobacco.
“Komrade, Pawel, you are to have been chosen for a wery glorious mission.”
“Da Kommisar, anything for the glory of the Revolution and the triuph of the workers against Kapitalist Oligarchs!”
“Komrade Lenin would to have been proud of you. You will be traveling to America. Can I offer you a Zigaretu?”
“Da Komrade Komissar, is one of those decadent Czech Cigaretus?”
“Da is good, nyet?”
“You will go to America. You will attend a year of high school in Ohio, then you will go to Ohio State, join the ROTC and infiltrate Amerikan Army, to liberate Amerikan worker from Kapitalism!”
“Da Komrade, I hear and obey. What do you know about dees Ohio?”
“Aaah young Komrade. I myself, Vladimir Alexeiovich Podgorny Yusseyevich passed four years in Ohio before the glorious socialist revolution.
It was, how do you say? Krasni-beautiful!
It was wonderous place like worker’s paradise!
Beautfiful sumptuous houses, glorious parks, crystal-clear lakes, fabulous monuments, friendly peoples, high Kultur.
Da, a man could roak Zigaretski from any country in world where fine tobacco is to have been being grown. I envy you Pawel….Ohio.”
CLEVELAND TROLLEY BARN, July 1948.
The skinny black man in boxing regalia with taped hands, stood in front of the wealthy blue-blood.
“Bum a square, my good man?” The blue-blood asked.
“Sure blay, sure.” He answered in a sweet, almost feminine voice.
“The name’s Quantrell Damone, I’m a fighter.”
“The name is Biff Roosevelt, I’m a promoter.” Roosevelt wore a monocle and roaked a magnifiecient Ticonderga-brand Cigarette in a cigarette holder.
“Are you related to FDR, and is this a New York-grown cigarette?”
“Righto my friend, righto on both counts. I’d like to back you for your next few fights, see if we can work out a relationship.”
Damone tried to roak the cigarette from his taped hand.
“I need a new trainer though, the last one quit, says we got a little too close if you know what I mean.”
“I’m not sure I do, but anyway the fellow I’ve got, for you, Mr. Browscz, was once the champion of Hungary. Fought in the Olympics back in ’28.”
“Hungary, yes Hungary you say, I studied a little geography in grade school, is it possible that he…is…a…Gypsy?”
“Why yes, in fact he is my boy…Whoa!”
Quantrell’s eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out in a heap as soon as Biff uttered the word ‘Gypsy’.
CONNEAUT, OHIO, 1924
The prim and proper bespectacled lady teacher stood rigidly in front of the class.
A nervous blond-haired student stood next to her.
“Welcome to Lakeside High School. We have a new student. He’s a refugee from Eastern Europe.”
“Chello, my name is to have been Petrick Yoshua. I am to have been from Poland. I flee Kommunistivwe. My family was to have been killed by NKVD. I am to have been very glad to have been coming to Amerika! Land of freedom and Eagle, like great hawk!”
The class cheered. Joshua took his seat.
Joshua looked around the class. “Plan is to have been working to perfection.” He thought to himself.
CLEVELAND TROLLEY BARN
Cicero smelled something strange, a hypnotic smell, but not tobacco wafting from behind, he turned around to see a man dressed in a black suit, expensive Italian shoes and a black hat.
“The Rokkoman Schmiee! What the hell are you doing here?”
The Rokkoman shook Cicero’s hand with a two-handed grip.
“Aah I love the fight game, my friend. On the undercard is going to be Seamus “Catbox” McTaggerty and Dzindzic “The Pifwick” Grbac.”
“How are you out on the streets and not in the hoosegow?”
“American justice my friend, I am a capitalist, and I hate shitty Bolsheviks. Your people in Washington just love that! I’m a businessman now. I have a little import-export place in Homestead. You oughta check it out.”
“Is that where you imported that good Schmiee I smell?”
“Schmiee? This is a flavored Indian cigar called a ‘Cigarachee’, grown from the finest Goa Tobacco. Would you like to try it?”
The Rokkoman pulled a slim cigar out of a soft silver packet marked ‘Royal Cigarachee’ Flavored Cigarettes, Ltd.
“Do you roak the Cigarachee?” He asked Browscz.
The Rokkoman handed a Cigarachee to Browscz and to Cicero. He lit their Cigarachees with a silver lighter bearing a 1st Cavalry emblem.
“Where’d you get that?” Asked Cicero.
“A mutual friend by the name of Lorton, Paul Lorton.”
Cicero looked up with a raised eyebrow. The three men roaked their Cigarachees in silence, then stood for the National Anthem with hand over hearts.
“I love my new country!” Said the Rokkoman.
“Hewre Hewre!” Said Browscz.
“You know, look at this fighter. I train this one, this Damone. He is a wery hot fiwghter, wery, wery hot. I no sit in the corner, too out in the open for me. I have goowd cornermawn.”
The fight between the two middleweights began. The two fighters crashed into each other with desperate, murderous violence.
The smoke of a thousand Cigarettes, Cigars, Cigaretus and Cigarachees filled the ancient Car Barn.
The Rokkoman read out loud from the card: “Listen gents, we’ve got Muktub ‘The Arab’ Hashiim vs. ‘The River’ Slayton Bosephus McCool, then we’ve got Fafafini ‘The Triumph’ Pa’na’muat’a’fui vs Moishe ‘The Rooster’ Kachboim. Wow they’ve got Kyle ‘The Awakening’ Polidori vs. Balthazar ‘The Symphony’ Bachtoven. I’ve got a a big roll of Bhat on these lugs let me tell you.”
Cicero reached back for the card. The Rokkoman lit another Cigarachee and handed first the fight card and then the Cigarachee to Cicero.
“Browscz, you know this guy Damone pretty well right? Can you get me down there to talk to him after the fight?”
“Only if he win, otherwise he get wery bitchy like a little giwrl!”
“Do your best, man. Something tells me you’ve got a dog in this hunt.”
“I do. It’s this Biff Roowsevelt. He steal from Damone, take his money, steal from me, make me loowk wery bad. I looking for some payback. Also Biff help Kommunistivwe. No good for Hungariawn man.”
“I love a good fight.” Said the Rokkoman puffing on a Cigarachee. He paused to examine the Cigarachee.
“You know every time, I find a good roak, a better one comes along. It’s just amazing gents, just amazing.”
“Rokkoman, how the hell did you stay out of prison?” Asked Cicero, turning around to look at the Rokkoman out of one skeptical eye.
“You know it’s just amazing what you can get away with in America if you hate Communists!” The Rokkoman laughed uproariously, nudging Browscz who also broke out in a hearty laugh. He handed Cicero another Cigarachee.
Round One ended and the fighters retreated to their corners. Cicero walked down from his seat and out into the concession area. He found a phone booth. He fed nickels into the shitty payphone.
“Operator, how may I help you, sir and/or madam?”
“Yes, I’d like BAum7-2368 please.”
“Station to Station or person to person?”
“Person to Person, for a Paul Lorton”
“Please deposit five cents for the first three minutes.”
“Hello, Bookstore, how may I help you?”
“Yes, may I speak to a Paul Lorton?”
“He’s standing right here.” Shannon handed Lorton the phone.
“Paul, this is Cicero, how are you?”
“Getting by, getting by.”
“Ever heart of a character named Biff Roosevelt?”
“Care to elaborate?”
“He’s an asshole, commie, two-faced pinko perv.”
“What do you know about him?”
“Meet me tonight at ‘Righters Diner’ on Baum around midnight. Come alone. Bring Cigaretus, a carton.”
“It’ll take a couple hours to drive down, but I’ll be there.”
SHANNON’S BOOKSTORE AND OFFICE SUPPLIES, PITTSBURGH, PA
Paul Lorton browsed the old books. The bookstore looked like it had been there forever, ancient tomes next to shitty pulp paperbacks.
“Lorton, do you want to roak the schmiee? Asked Shannon blithely.”
“I’ve been known to roak a few. I recommend we light up a Cigarachee first. It will hide the roak.”
“Roak, that’s a funny word, lately of Nova Scotian derivation I think.”
The two walked out behind the bookstore into a shitty, dark alley. It was the kind of alley filled with rotten stench, years of greasy filth dumped from greasy spoon restaurants and the flotsam and jetsam of tattered humanity.
Lorton lit up two Cigarachees. He handed one to Shannon. She roaked it blithely. She brought out a demonic roak-stick. She lit up the evil substance and they began to share the satanic herb. Soon violent, perverse thoughts and apocalyptic visions began to fill their heads. They moved towards each other. He began to unbutton her garter. [CENSORED PA Department of Agriculture, PL No 2543 of 1797]
23 MINUTES LATER
“Cigarachee?” She asked. She fastened her garters and Lorton helped her re-adjust her corset. They looked around, but the alley was still deserted, except for a lone falcon standing silently atop a telephone pole. They roaked the Cigarachees.
As they climbed into the bookstore’s back screen door, Lorton was clubbed from behind and knocked unconscious.
“Who the hell are you?” Shannon shouted.
“You don’t need to know who I am, but you are komink mit me.”
The man who spoke was a bald headed German with a dueling scar. He was flanked by two large Asian men who were dressed in fancy Italian suits.
“Take her mit us.”
“Should we ‘take care of’ the man?” Asked one of the Asian men.
“No leave him here. He is useless to us. Vee need der girl.” The German man reached into Lorton’s pocket and pulled out a silver Cigaretu case with a 1st Cavalry symbol on it.
“I vill only need zis.”
CLEVELAND TROLLEY BARN
“Look Fafafini’s got him! He’s going down, he’s going down!” Yelled the Rokkoman jumping to his feet. “I stand to win 8 g’s on that lug!”
The crowd was on its feet. The referee slowly counted out the battered Kachboim.
“Have you got another Cigarachee, Rokkoman?” Asked Cicero.
“Aah I won 8 g’s on the Fafafini! Take a whole pack Sam.”
“Thanks Rokkoman, you’re OK for a filthy, rotten, devious Jap.”
“That’s ’cause I think American, Sam, go with the winner I always say, go with a winner. If I was back in Japan, I’d be in prison or back in the village. No need for Ronin or Samurai anymore. They just make stinking radios for you round-eye devils!”
The three man laughed out loud.
“Look” said Browscz. “It’s Catbox McTaggerty’s cornerman. He may still be too banged up to fight.”
“Shite! I’ve got 2 C-notes on Grbac.” Said the Rokkoman.
Cicero got a funny feeling. “This is some kind of a setup.” He thought. Why did Tomascz give him the tickets? Something smelled fishy, like the stench of rotting ghoti on a shitty Jersey dock.
FISH (GHOTI) HOUSE, STRIP DISTRICT, PITTSBURGH
The men marched Shannon into a basement of a fish house in the strip district. No-one noticed the group in the dark amidst the bustle of the produce men unloading and loading boxes of fresh ghoti. They threw Shannon into a small dimly-lit room.
“Vee have another dame to keep you company. Have a nice evening, Vee vill be back.”
“This place stinks like ghoti!” She turned and yelled futiley up the stairs.
Seated on the floor was another woman with a gag in her mouth. Her hands were tied behind her back. She was a pretty, petite blonde, but looked very sophisticated. Shannon took the gag out of her mouth.
“Are you OK? Did they molest you?”
“No, unfortunately, no-one molested me. They all seem to be a bunch of fruits, it’s very strange.”
“Why are we here?”
“Someone really doesn’t want us to find Biff Roosevelt, or they want to find him first.”
“Who the hell is Biff Roosevelt?” Asked Shannon. “Cigarachee?”
Shannon put a lit Cigarachee into the lady’s mouth.
“Are you going to untie me? Or just leave me here like this, kid?”
“Sorry Ma’am, but cigarettes always come first, it’s healthier that way.”
“I’m not a Ma’am, I’m Nancy. I’m from Cleveland. These Cigarachees, they come from Calcutta, right?”
“Yes Ma’am, I’ve been there.”
“I was there too. With my fifth husband. He was British, an idiot. But he knew tobacco. Didn’t know women too well. Probably a fruit.”
Lorton awoke on the floor of the bookstore. It took him a while to regain his senses.
It wasn’t the first time a character like him had been knocked out and it wouldn’t be the last.
Palookas like Lorton are used to being knocked around from time to time, but Lorton was a little different from the average Joe.
If you knocked him around, you better look over your shoulder or you’ll find a blackjack or tire iron in your face.
Lorton was from a generation that gave as good as they got and this time, someone was gonna really get clobbered.
He dusted himself off and he looked through the bookstore, but Shannon was gone. Someone had taken her, but why?
He found his crumpled fedora and he headed out into the gloaming. He had to get to the Diner.
He still had his gat in his sock-garter thank Khufu. At least they hadn’t found his 1925 Ivory-Schmouck pistol.
TIJUANA, OLD MEXICO, AUGUST 1936
Lorton woke up on the third floor of a shitty Tijuana flophouse, naked from the waist down, robbed of every last cent, a deck of cards in one hand, missing a 9 of diamonds; and a .45 in the other with a few empty chambers.
He looked like any other sterno-0drinking bum, passed out in a pool of his own or someone else’s vomit. He walked downstairs dressed as he was and he pressed the revolver up to the temple of a Mexican who had his pants slung over the back of the chair. Lorton grabbed a Cigarillo from the Mexican’s mouth and started to roak it himself.
“Tu andele!” Lorton said motioning the Mexican towards the door. The conversation stopped and Lorton walked the Mexican out back. Lorton put his pants back on and he snatched his hat back off the Mexican’s head.
“So you had a little Chiste with me eh? Mis cosas! Mi Dinero-AHORA!” shouted Lorton.
“Bajarse los pantalones!”
The Mexican removed his pants.
“No senor! It was all a big joke, you see…you lose the money in a card game, you lose the pantalones too, I was going to give them back!”
“Too tarde for lo siento, amigo, too tarde!”
“No senor ! No!” Jeeeeeeeeeeeees! [CENSORED PA Department of Agriculture PL no 2543 of 1797]
Needless to say, Lorton was not a man to be trifled with. He patted himself down.
The cigarette case was gone. He checked his watch. It was 11:45PM.
He walked up the darkened, shitty street to Righter’s Diner.
Cicero had to know something. But what if Cicero was involved?
That didn’t make sense, but not much did.
At least Lorton still had his gat and he wasn’t afraid to use it.