The Yankees had just lost the 1955 World Series in a tight game seven. Lefty Tommy Byrne held the Dodgers to just two runs. It wasn’t good enough, because lefty Johnny Podres had improbably shut the Yanks out. The Mighty Yankees. I tried to tell myself that it was only right that the Bums won their first after losing the Series seven straight times to the Yankees. But it still didn’t feel right. There was something else going on, like some gods were against them. Like how Yogi Berra’s slicing line drive to left field in the sixth inning got caught by Sandy Amoros barely, amazingly. That catch started a rally-killing double play. That ball wouldn’t have been caught, couldn’t have been caught by a righty. The lefty Amoros had just come in to take righty Junior Gilliam’s place, making that impossible catch possible. I knew then higher forces were at work.
When the Yankees were in the Series, you just expected them to win like you expected the moon in the evening and the sun in the morning. That was how it was supposed to be. That was how the world was supposed to work. Then I noticed that it all had to do with lefties—left field—left handers—even Yogi batted left while he threw right. All bad signs. Everything backwards. Everything sinister. Everything wrong.
On the day after the World Series ended, I was sitting in the Coney Island Grill having a late breakfast and reading about the Series in the New York Daily Mirror, when, without warning, the whole place was rocked by a powerful blast. I could hear glass flying all around me. One of the waitresses caught a small piece in her arm. She was crying. I could see a trickle of blood drip on the counter, but she seemed okay. Everybody else inside seemed okay. But nobody said a word. Across the street, I saw thick dark smoke plumes coming out of the Post Office. And I knew it was bad, very bad..
“Call the cops!”
I ran out the door and immediately saw about a half dozen people walking around in a kind of trance. Two others were kneeling on the sidewalk. Their clothes were torn, but I saw no wounds. As I got closer, I saw two bodies face down on the steps. They looked like they were swimming. Then I caught sight of a man rubbing his legs as if to make sure that they were both still there, and that he was alive and this was all real. It was real all right. Through the smoke I could see another body. I knew she couldn’t feel anything anymore. I heard a weak cry and turned to see a woman staring up at the sky as if she were waiting for something to appear out of the clouds. A man a few feet away from her looked like he was sleeping peacefully on the steps, except that the back of his head was missing. I stepped over what might have been a hand or a couple of raw pork chops when I saw a woman’s leg move. I could see a big piece of glass quickly turning red sticking out of her leg. She reached for it without coming close. I didn’t want her to remove the glass. I checked her for more injuries.
“What happened?” Her blonde hair was matted with blood and her big brown eyes wouldn’t focus. She reached for my arm but couldn’t quite get her hand to work.
“There was an explosion. How do you feel? Any pain?”
“I don’t feel anything. Who are you?”
“Trying to help. I hear the ambulance. It’s coming. Just hold on.”
“Are you hurt, too?”
“No, I’m okay. I’m fine. Don’t move. Don’t touch your leg. Leave the glass alone. Help’s coming.”
“Why?” I had no answers. I didn’t even know what she was asking. Then her eyes closed. I hoped it wasn’t for the last time.
I knew it was a bomb as soon as I heard it. This was no gas explosion. I could see pieces of the olive drab mailbox scattered around the courtyard leading to the front door. A bomb in downtown Stamford was even more unlikely than the Dodgers winning the Series. I couldn’t make sense of it. Like the man rubbing his leg, I was trying to figure out if it was real even as I knew it was. The ambulance crew completely ignored me when they saw I wasn’t injured. The cops were there right after the ambulance, and a Sgt. Leonard asked me a few questions and then told me to get out of the way. I went back to the Coney Island and stood next to the cracked window. I could see a small piece of metal stuck in it. It looked exactly like shrapnel.
The bombing was all over the front page of the Stamford Advocate the next day. The story was thin. At 10:22 on October fifth, a bomb exploded in one of the two mailboxes in front of the Stamford Post Office. Two people were dead and seven were injured, three seriously, including the woman I had knelt next to. Her name was Helen Michelsen. She was forty-five. There were pictures of the two dead victims. One man and one woman. Both had lived in Stamford all their lives. One in Shippan and the other in Belltown. I wondered if they had ever crossed paths before. The paper said the police were trying to determine if an explosion outside the Yale & Towne factory a month earlier was connected to this bombing. It was hard to see the connection between a explosion in an empty parking lot and this bomb.
The Advocate asked for help from the public. They even published a short guide on how to spot a suspicious character that, except for a few nuns and most school kids, applied to just about everyone. I read the list over and had to admit I often walked with my head down and I certainly avoided making a lot of eye contact. I was often alone and sometimes I even muttered to myself. I didn’t expect they’d get much from the guide.
After a few days, the bombing slipped further back into the paper until there was no more news about it. The police clearly had few clues and no idea who was responsible.
After a week or so, I pretty much forgot about it too. The word on the street was that it had to be a Post Office worker pissed at his supervisor or the government, or it was just some lunatic who hated everybody, or all of the above. When I heard somebody say it was a communist, I knew life was getting back to normal. Anyway, what can you do? everybody seemed to be saying. You had to live.
I had plenty of time on my hands because I had been in the middle of a huge mess of my own making known as the Greenwich Massacre. The effects lingered on for months. I never fired a shot, at least not in Greenwich, but that didn’t matter because the people who counted figured I was behind the unlikely shoot-out between a Wall Street investor and his hired army and a small time mobster and his gang. And they were right.
That was also a big mess. Bodies everywhere. And then the scandals that brought the press to Stamford like seagulls to Utah. There was nothing they could pin on me, but the end result was that few people wanted to have anything to do with me. Maybe they just thought being around me would get them killed somehow. Not a bad play, given my history. Binny the Bookie no longer answered the phone for me. David Fenner, my friend the lawyer, didn’t have real jobs for me anymore, and I had collected all my IOUs from the cops.
I was down to scratch money. I was out of my nice apartment and into a room on Elm Street. It was a good thing I didn’t have an office because I would have lost that, too. At least I had a little left from selling my beautiful Olds convertible. I now had a peppy little ’50 Ford sedan with a dent the size of a man’s head in the passenger door. I was picking up a little money here and there. Fenner didn’t want me to handle investigations for him, but he did let me deliver legal papers around town. He often sent me off on my deliveries with, “Please, Varian, no more than three bodies on this one.” And on weekends I provided a little muscle at Tricky’s Bar on East Main.
So a week or so after the bombing, I had resumed what was left of my life. I was at Tricky’s on Friday and Saturday nights. During the week, I drove to this office and that delivering contracts, wills, and depositions that I had no interest in or real knowledge of. I was a thirty-one-year-old errand boy. It didn’t bother me that much. I just didn’t like the looks of pity I got from the secretaries.
On Saturdays, I was in the habit of stopping by Lydia Tower’s apartment after the bar closed. Lydia and I had a nice arrangement. And she had a nicer apartment than I had. She wasn’t married anymore and didn’t want to be again. Bill Tower had been a big disappointment to her. And so was marriage. That’s how she described it. A disappointment. I knew him. He was a jerk. And a drunk. She had a good job at Pitney Bowes and needed nothing from a man except some companionship. Once a week or maybe twice a week was enough for her. She liked her work and was proud she was a boss. She liked the fact that more men reported to her than women. And she was a good-looking woman. Tall with long brown hair and a very nice body, she was easy to be with.
One night in mid October, I knocked on Lydia’s door and she answered it wearing only a deep purple silk robe. She opened it as I closed the door.
“I missed you.”
“You know what I was thinking?”
“I have a pretty good idea.”
“I bet you do.”
“Sit in that chair.”
“Just do it.”
I walked across the room and sat down and waited while she looked at me like I was a piece of furniture that she wanted to make sure was in just the right place.
“Do you want a drink?”
I heard her pour two drinks.
“Shut up. This is my deal. You’ll like it.”
She handed me the drink and knelt between my legs. Then she reached for my belt and eased my pants down. Then she filled her mouth with whiskey. I could feel the cool alcohol spilling out and then the warmth of her mouth. She licked the whiskey off and then took all of me into her mouth. She was someplace else. So was I until I exploded and she swallowed it all with a whiskey chaser.
“That was different.”
“But you liked it, right?”
“What’s not to like?”
“Good. I was thinking about it all day.”
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. And if you stick around, you’ll see. But it’s no big deal. I wanted to do it, that’s all.”
“Okay. Bill came around yesterday. He was looking for money. Big surprise. I told him I didn’t care what kind of trouble he was in. No more money. I told him not to bother me anymore and you know what he called me? ‘A dirty cocksucker.’ Nice, right? To his ex-wife? And that was funny to me.”
“Yeah, funny. He used to beg me. ‘Just put it in your mouth. For me, honey. I don’t have to come. Just for me, baby. Please.’ And I wouldn’t no matter how much he begged. I thought it was disgusting how he begged. I hated that voice he had when he begged. I hated it so much. That’s when I really started to hate him.”
“So I guess you showed him.”
“I guess so. And you know what? I liked it. I liked having that much control. I could feel everything you were feeling. I even liked being on my knees. Who knew? And you know what else? I didn’t feel like a whore. Not at all.”
She got up and lit a cigarette and walked back to the bar for another drink.
“You know, you’re different.” She looked me over like I was a Hudson on a used car lot.
“So you’re callin’ me a…”
“No, you’re easy to be with. You know why you’re different?”
“Yeah, you are. Take it from me, you’re different.”
“You know how many men in the whole town I could have told what I just told you?”
“I have no idea.”
“Not many. Maybe none. And another thing about you that’s different. You always act like you want me to enjoy myself first.”
“I want you to enjoy yourself. Isn’t that the idea?”
“Not for a lot of men.”
“Hey, that makes no sense to me. Why wouldn’t…”
“Yeah, that’s why you’re different. I like that. I like that you don’t just think about or with your…dick.”
“But I do…all the time.”
“Good, but you think about it in me. You think about me. That’s what’s different, too.”
We drank and talked and listened to the radio. I found some jazz on a station from New York. Gerry Mulligan. She wouldn’t let me get out of the chair. Then she straddled me and reached down and took hold of me.
“Now it is my turn. It’s your fault. You make me talk dirty. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been this hot.”
“Let me cool you down.”
Then we heard the explosion. It seemed to come from downtown. I guessed right in the center of town. She jumped up. I got out of the chair and walked to the window. I could see the flames leaping high and bright in the night sky.
“What the hell’s going on, Varian?”
“I wish I knew.”