“Let me see that again.”
Liz had to whisper the request because we were dressed in black, seated on a couch in Reggie Fleming’s living room Saturday morning. The memorial service went okay, but the house in Daly City was stuffed with working handkerchiefs, and Reggie’s wife and kids needed as much quiet as possible.
Liz turned the bar napkin every which way. All she was missing was a magnifying glass and big Sherlock pipe. “You been to this place?”
“Red Parrot? Nope. Heard of it, though. It’s on Evans Avenue, down near Hunter’s Point. Lots of Latin bands play there.”
“Can you dance?”
“Now you’re being ridiculous.”
Reggie’s wife Diane walked over at that point. I introduced Liz and gave the widow a comforting hug. She looked like she hadn’t slept since Christmas. “Thanks so much for coming, Snappy…” she said, then broke down and I had to hug her again. Liz stood there helplessly.
“I just wish I knew who would do this…Everyone liked Reggie.”
“He never said anything about someone, y’know, out to get him?”
“Oh no. No…He was just so looking forward to starting his new job, buying us a new car. Who would have ever thought he’d end up in that park…” Her voice evaporated on my shoulder. I wanted to tell her about the scoreboard, but what good would that have done?
Afterwards I drove Liz back into the city, giving us plenty of time to think.
“What was his next job?” she asked.
“Construction on the new park. Candlestick Point.”
“Really? I think Seals is pretty nice. Why doesn’t Stoneham just double deck that place and build a parking garage?”
“Don’t get me started. Not sure of all the details but you can bet he got a sweetheart deal.”
“Hmm. Might be worth looking into that deal.”
“Maybe someone else likes Seals Stadium too. Someone who doesn’t want to see it vacated. Someone who would kill to make that not happen.”
“Then why wouldn’t they go after Stoneham? I don’t know, Liz…”
“Well, I still think we oughta check out this nightclub. Have a little tequila, ask around.”
“Or we can just show this napkin to the cops and let them do it.”
“That’s no fun. Where did you say this Candlestick Point is?”
“I didn’t. It’s down near the airport on this little peninsula. Just south of…south of Hunter’s Point.”
We looked at each other. And just like that we had a post-game date.
* * *
The Red Parrot was a kick. Mongo Santamaria and his Afro Cuban Drum Beaters were the headline, and the place was a spicy sardine can. A shiny wood dance floor was packed solid with couples feeling the salsa. The tables were full too, so Liz and I wedged into a spot near the bar. While we ordered margueritas, I quizzed the barkeep about any strange hombres he might have seen in the club lately. He told me to mind my own cheeseburgers in so many words.
Just as Mongo launched into “Pito Pito,” smacking away on his congas, I spotted two guys in a prime booth at the edge of the dance floor. They both wore tropical shirts. One had a fedora and smoked a cigar. Waiters and assorted patrons paid a whole lot of attention to them. I inched closer for a better look, then retreated and nudged Liz.
“Hey. Guess who’s here.”
“If it isn’t Harry Belafonte, I’m not interested.”
“It’s better. Orlando Cepeda and Ruben Gomez!”
“Cepeda’s our rookie slugger. Not burning up the field yet but he did belt a couple winning homers. And Gomez smoked the Phillies on the mound today, remember? When you’re at the game you should check the scorecard once in a while.”
I coaxed her over to the booth. Cepeda and Gomez had big blue drinks. Their eyes looked like bloodshot wading pools. But they were digging Mongo with a vengeance. Cepeda’s giant torso was grinding to the rhythm beneath the table and making it bounce.
“Hey Ruben,” I said to Gomez, “Great game this afternoon.”
He nodded and grinned without looking at me. “Thanks a lot, man.”
Then he looked up at Liz. So did Cepeda, who shoved Ruben over in the booth to make room for us.
“Have a seat, chiquitos! You two like to mambo?”
“Sure!” I said, earning a glare from Liz. “You guys come here a lot after games?”
“Not too much. But for the Mongo Man? Anytime!”
Gomez knocked some ash off his cigar, turned so he was directly facing Liz. “This friend of yours here…he show you the right moves?”
“You gonna move wrong to the music, might as well not move, si?”
Liz was dumbstruck. A slower rumba called “A Ti No Mas” began. Ruben cocked his fedora, slid out of the booth. Came around, took Liz’s hand and she followed him onto the dance floor without a peep of protest.
Cepeda just smiled and handed me a cigar. “So you some big Giants fan?”
“You can say that.” A lighter appeared in his big hand, and I let him fire me up. “Actually…I’m also an usher at the park. People call me Snappy.”
The lighter snapped shut. Cepeda’s smile dropped through a trap door.
“You the one found that hombre muerto!”
“The body! The one with the knife in him Opening Day!”
“Well, yeah…but that’s why—”
He snatched the lit cigar out of my hand. “Go, man! Get away from me!”
“What’s the problem?”
“YOU the problem! I got a .208 batting number so far and you wanna hex me some more? Adios!”
I tried to reason with him but a 300-pound door man was on me in seconds. Liz slid away from Gomez, came to my rescue. Seconds later we were in the parking lot.
“Well, that got us nowhere in a hurry,” I said, fixing my manhandled shirt collar, “Enjoy your salsa lesson?”
My Coronet was parked at a far, dark edge of the lot. A cold wind whipped off the bay, shook the bushes in front of its hood. As we neared the car, we both stopped talking. Looked around and listened. Our hearts pounding.
There was no new note taped to the door, no knife sticking out of a tire. Whoever this killer was, though, he was spooking us without even being there.
PHL 000 000 100 – 1 4 2
SFG 410 200 00x – 7 9 0
W-Gomez L-Sanford HR: Mays
Like I said, Ruben ruled the roost today, but it was Harry Anderson’s dropped fly with the bases juiced and two outs in the 1st that gave the Giants four unearned runs and put this one away early. The Say Hey Kid is starting to hit now, collecting two singles and a long homer.
PIT 100 013 000 – 5 10 0
L.A. 600 002 00x – 8 13 1
W-Drysdale L-Law HRS: Mazeroski, Skinner, Hodges GWRBI-Hodges
Vern Law has a horrific 1st inning at the Coliseum, and the Bucs never fully recover. The Dodgers take the long series three games to two, and will now swap Pennsylvania guests with the Giants for doubleheaders on Sunday.
CIN 001 002 001 – 4 12 2
STL 030 013 04x – 11 17 0
W-Mabe L-Lawrence HRS: Bilko, Katt, Noren GWBI-Katt
Raymond Katt does it again, mashing one into the Sportsman’s Park bleachers after a Noren single and Smith double in the 2nd. The Cards torch Brooks Lawrence and rebound nicely from getting pasted by Cincy the day before.
MIL 001 000 004 – 5 11 0
CHI 000 000 000 – 0 6 0
W-Burdette L-Hobbie HRS: Covington, Aaron GWRBI-Covington
Burdette gives the Cubbies nothing, as the Braves take three of the five, largely thanks to Hammerin’ Hank. Aaron’s line for the series? 10-for-21 (.476), 2 doubles, 4 walks, 4 homers, 9 RBIs.
K.C. 000 000 000 – 0 4 1
NYY 010 001 20x – 4 12 2
W-Ford L-Terry HR: Howard GWRBI-Richardson
The negative-streakin’ A’s make it eight in a row, as Whitey whitewashes them and Howard collects three hits. After the game, K.C. skipper Harry Craft promises wholesale lineup changes, starting with their Sunday twinbill in D.C.
CLE 020 000 001 – 3 8 3
BAL 310 010 01x – 6 9 0
W-O’Dell L-Grant SV-Wilhelm
Up 5-3 in the 8th with the Tribe rallying, Hoyt Wilhelm comes on to whiff Colavito with the bases loaded and get Vernon on a roller to pretty much ice the game.
DET 001 002 040 – 7 11 1
BOS 000 000 001 – 1 8 0
W-Foytack L-Brewer GWRBI-Maxwell
The Tigers celebrate getting out of New York by sweeping both games at Fenway, as Maxwell and Wilson go 7-for-10 in the second and third spots in the lineup. Boston, 5-0 on the road but struggling at home, can’t wait to pack their bags again.
CHX 002 030 000 – 5 14 0
WAS 000 010 200 – 3 5 0
W-Wynn L-Ramos HRS: Torgeson, Phillips, Lemon GWRBI-Torgeson
On an Al Lopez hunch, Earl Torgeson replaces Fox at the top of the order and goes 3-for-5 with a game-deciding homer to snap the latest Senator win streak at one.
National League through Saturday, May 3
American League through Saturday, May 3