Little things were digging into my back. Pinching my neck. I opened my eyes in near-darkness. I had been thrown into some kind of wooden, coffin-shaped box. Pressed up on the top and all it did was rattle a padlock that kept me inside. I reached under my sweat-caked shirt, picked off a handful of chicken feed.
I heard low voices. One was Sal, the other Harrah. The faint wimpering was clearly Billy Frack’s. I balled a fist and pounded the top of the feed box.
“HE’S ALIVE!!” I heard Sal yell in mock-Frankenstein sarcasm. Footsteps drew closer, then the entire box shook like an earthquake fault.
“Better do something with him quick”, added Harrah, “I got that trainer and his wife comin’ by in two hours.”
“Pardon my spanish, amigo, but could you hold your horses?”
Their wave of idiotic chuckling was suddenly cut off by the creaking sound of the barn door.
“Who the hell are YOU now?” asked Sal.
The voice that answered was loud, raspy. And instantly recognizable.
“Don’t you know that he’s mine?”
There was an odd, whizzing sound. An awful gasp. A horrible gurgling. Something heavy landed on top of my box, rolled off. A single gunshot rang out. A man screamed. More gurgling.
Then, total silence. I lay there, afraid to breathe. A new set of heavier footsteps approached my box, and a key carefully slid into the padlock. Turned. I heard the footsteps leave the barn again.
I laid there another thirty seconds, then braced myself. Slowly raised the box’s lid. Sat up, hay still in my hair, my nose sore and red. Gazed around.
Blood was absolutely everywhere. Sal, Harrah and Sal’s satin-jacketed friend lay on the floor, either stabbed to death, their throats cut, or both. Billy was propped awkwardly in a corner. Both of his hands mangled, a bullet hole in his forehead, his eyes lifeless. I had no clue how I was going to break news of this nightmare to Liz, but there was no time to think about that. I said an atheist’s prayer for the poor kid, picked up Braggo’s .38 that had been dropped beside him.
Morning light filtered into the barn through the door’s slats. I stumbled outside. Saw one dead ranch hand draped over a barbed wire fence, another head first in a pig trough. I walked over to the house, quietly walked inside.
Mrs. Harrah and what looked like her sister were both lying dead in the kitchen. Strangled with their own apron strings. A coffee cake was burning in the oven and I turned it off.
I spotted a few dollar bills on the counter and grabbed them. Opened a cookie jar and found a few more. Located Sal’s study, went through his desk and nabbed a few wads of bills from the drawers. Checked the pockets of every corpse for extra cash and hurried back down the ranch driveway.
Braggo’s Cadillac was parked just outside the gate, a few yards from my car. Braggo was slumped over the steering wheel, wheezing out blood, almost dead from multiple stab wounds. He was trying to whisper something.
“What’s that?…Listen Braggo, I have to find Mickey. Where’s he live?”
“Shut up! Where’s Mickey live?”
His eyes fluttered for a moment. “Brentwood…Moreno…513…” And he died right on the wheel.
On the Dodge steering wheel, a note from my infamous friend was waiting for me:
Nice work, Milton. But don’t stop now. You’re getting oh so close.
* * *
I high-tailed it back to L.A. Made it to Brentwood around noon. 513 Moreno was a sweet property, but no one seemed to be home. I’d heard Mickey Cohen had a complete security system installed, but for some reason it wasn’t on, because I walked right through an unlocked gate around the side.
The pool area was empty. Its perfect water shimmering in the hot midday sun. I was about to leave again and heard a glass shatter in the open pool house. I crept over to the door.
Heard nothing. Stepped inside. Its blinds were lowered. The plush furniture looked pretty unfestive.
I heard someone breathing. Stepped around the bar and saw something I never thought possible: Mickey Cohen cowering on the floor. Still in his bathrobe. Armed with a corkscrew, and even that was shaking. He stared at me, his eyes bugging out.
“It’s you…You’re him!”
“I’m him? Him who?”
“Who the hell is Miser Solstein?”
He lowered the corkscrew. “He’s supposed to be Jewish. Some say his father was Italian. Which is sort of the same thing…Anyway, nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Bugsy Siegel tell it, anybody could have worked for Solstein. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
“Yeah, well…Nice fairy tale, Mickey. Meanwhile, another buddy of mine is dead and it’s all your fault.”
“He killed them all, I tell ya! He’s a heartless butcher! And now he’ll get me! I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Miser Solstein!!”
“Oh, cut the crap. It was the damn Peanut Killer, and you’re the least of his worries. Here—” I tossed the cash I’d collected from the ranch at him. “Comes to about two grand and change. Sal’s dead, and your Giants might win anyway, so you can leave me alone now.”
I left him cowering, grabbed an ugly alligator shirt off a chair to change into, and headed back to the Coliseum.
* * *
It was the best of the three matches there, and the season series finale. Dick Gray popped a two-run homer off McCormick to put the Dodgers up 4-3 in the 6th, but three innings of good pitching is too much to ask of L.A.’s inflammable bullpen. Craig gave up a Mays single and Cepeda homer in the 7th, a Hodges error was followed by a Bob Schmidt homer in the 9th, and that was that, the Giants easily taking the series for the year, 14-8.
Seconds after Cimoli flied out to end the thing, someone smelling of Asian cologne dropped into the sunny seat beside me. It was Valmy Thomas, dressed in his street clothes already.
“Nice whack from Schmitty, eh?”
“Sure was. What are you doing up here?”
“Oh, Rigney and the boys thought you might need a personal escort and a bit of coaxin’ to the plane.”
“Three games at Wrigley with the Cubs start tomorrow. Did you forget?”
“Um, no. But I have to—”
“Come with us, right? Great idea, Mr. Goodluck!” He helped me to my feet, looked straight at me. “Listen, Drake. I don’t care if Adolf, Benito, Jack the Ripper, and Leopold and Loeb are after you. We’re only one game ahead of those jokers, the Braves are alive again and we gotta widen that lead.”
I sighed. Hated to leave my wheels, but come to think of it, getting out of L.A. at that moment wasn’t the dumbest idea.
S.F. 200 010 203 – 8 12 1
L.A. 100 102 000 – 4 8 1
W-McCormick L-Craig HRS: Cepeda, Hodges, Gray GWRBI-Cepeda
STL 000 000 001 – 1 6 3
CHI 111 010 00x – 4 10 0
W-Drott L-Jones HR: Walls GWRBI-Long
Your checklist for today’s Cardinals’ slamming into the .500 Force Field Wall: Sam Jones start? Check. Non-existent offense behind him? Check. Atrocious defense behind him? Check. Inability to retire Cubs with two outs and nobody on base? Check, in four different innings. Anyway, the Cubbies’ 75th win gears them up for their big weekend showdown with the Giants. It’ll be Miller vs. Phillips tomorrow, Antonelli vs. Hobbie on Saturday, Gomez vs. Hillman on Sunday. And whether I like it or not, I’ll be there!
MIL 010 000 011 – 3 10 0
PHI 100 000 000 – 1 5 2
W-Willey L-Roberts SV-Robinson HRS: Crandall, Aaron GWRBI-Aaron
Make that FOUR straight game-winning hits for Hank Aaron, now with 16 on the year, as he knocks a solo blast off the tough Robin Roberts in the 8th. Now it gets tough, because Milwaukee heads to Forbes Field for the weekend.
CIN 000 100 000 0 – 1 5 0
PIT 010 000 000 2 – 3 8 0
W-Raydon L-Schmidt HRS: Robinson, Kluszewski GWRBI-Kluszewski
That’s right, the resurgent (again) Buccos take their 8th straight and second in a row over the previously hot Reds to finish the year 10-12 against them, winning on a two-run Klu muscle job in the 10th.
CHX 010 000 100 – 2 8 1
DET 000 001 000 – 1 8 0
W-Wilson L-Lary SV-Shaw GWRBI-Torgeson
Apparently, I haven’t been paying attention. This was Chicago’s 12th win in a row! Three gutty relief innings by Bob Shaw wins it for Jim Wilson, thanks to three singles in the 7th. Really, since Skowron beat them with a trot-off homer back on August 22, they haven’t lost. And Nellie Fox is hitting .446 during the streak.
BOS 000 000 010 – 1 6 1
BAL 000 020 00x – 2 8 0
W-Harshman L-Sullivan SV-Wilhelm HRS: Buddin, Triandos GWRBI-Triandos
Also taking advantage of the Yankees’ day off are the Birds, who peck their way closer on Gus Triandos’ 35th homer. Boston, now without Ted Williams yet again, continue their post-Bronxian death march.
K.C. 100 010 000 000 000 01 – 3 13 1
CLE 200 000 000 000 000 02 – 4 13 1
W-Grant L-Terry HRS: Doby, Minoso GWRBI-Minoso
And for the main event on today’s epidemic of pitching games in chilly fall weather, I give you 17 innings of countless failed opportunities. Hector Lopez finally drives in an A’s run in the top of the 17th, only to have Minnie Minoso crack a two-run shot in the bottom half. The story of Kansas City’s season.
TEAM RUN DIFFERENTIALS!
Red Sox +88
White Sox +31
National League through Thursday, September 4
American League through Thursday, September 4