Who Killed Jack Robinson

Frank Thomas Smith

Chapter 6

We didn’t want to talk about the case with the taxi driver listening, so we enjoyed the scenery. The sun was going down like a hanging curve over Logan airport and the river and I almost expected a cosmic bat to give it a swack. When it finally dropped below the horizon it left the kind of colors in the sky that make you think that whatever it is you’re doing isn’t as important as you thought it was. The driver, a hulking black guy, finally broke the spell.
    “That was Joshua Hollingsworth, wasn’t it?”
    “Yes,” Jim answered.
    “You guys scouts or sumpin?”
    “Something like that.”
     “That’s what I thought. Hey, I know a kid fields like a angel, can hit too.”
     “Uh huh.”
     “Maybe you’d like to see him.”
    “Actually we’re from out of town,” Jim said politely. “Why don’t you talk to Mr. Hollingsworth?”
   “Yeah, might do that,” the driver said and lowered his eyes from the rear-view mirror to the road just in time to swerve around a slow moving truck. “Kid can really catch ‘em, fast too.”         

  Inside the chaos of the terminal, we saw that the American Airlines flight to LaGuardia had just departed. “Let’s go down to Eastern,” I said, “they probably have a shuttle on the half-hour.”
    “Er, Mr. Stark … I mean Darrell,” Jim said and stopped walking. “I’d like to talk to you about something. Maybe we could have a beer and wait for the American flight. It’s only an hour.”
   Actually I was relieved. Changing airlines on a whim could be bad luck. After a crash there are always stories about some guy who survived because he missed the flight. But what about the ones who went down in flames because they changed flights at the last minute? That’s silly, I know, but… “Sure, Jim,” I said. “There’s a bar over there somewhere.”
    When we finally found the bar and I had sipped my beer, I said, “So what’s on you mind, Jim?”
    He drank half a glass, paused, and said, “Are we going back now and leave the Jerry Rose case up in the air?”
    “What do you mean – up in the air?” though I knew what he meant.
   “Well, what do we know? That Jerry was probably killed because of a gambling debt…Do you believe that, by the way?”
    “Sounds like a reasonable explanation.”
    “Then it wasn’t a common mugging.”
    “Probably not.”
   “So shouldn’t we try to find out who did it, or at least tell the police what we know?” He looked at me with burning black eyes. I looked away and finished my beer.  
  “First of all, Jim,” I said, looking at him now, “that isn’t our job. And even if it was—or if you argue that we have some kind of moral obligation to make it our job—we don’t have the time. We’d have to hang around here, make contacts in the gambling underworld, feel around in a strange city. And even if we had some success we’d probably be pointing at an anonymous hit man for the mafia. As far as the police are concerned, we have no evidence. All we know is what Joshua Hollingsworth told us, and we’re sworn to secrecy about our source.”
    “Yes, but…”
    “No, wait. Assuming the gambling theory is correct, and I think it is, it means that Rose was murdered for a reason, but there’s no connection with Jackie Robinson, which is what we came here to find out.” I tapped on the bar for two more beers.             “Now, what were you going to say?”
    “That I’d like to try anyway.”
    Jesus, what did I have here, I asked myself, a fucking idealist detective. I thought a while, then said, “I’ll make a deal with you, Jim. You come with me to Charlotte; I’ll need you there. Then, when we’re finished, you can come back here.” And learn that in this business you’ve got to set limits and stick to them and not try to be Dick Tracy.
    “Sure, Darrell,“ Jim said, looking surprised that I’d acquiesced.
    “You’ll need funds here anyway and I don’t have enough on me. He started to say that he needed very little, that kind of shit, but I stopped him. “We’ll put it on Branch Rickey’s account, don’t worry.”

    We’d put down four beers apiece by the time the flight was called, late, so we were in a good mood when we boarded and we slept from take-off till they announced imminent landing in New York, and please fasten your seatbelts. The glittering skyline seemed to beckon all humanity to its fascinating life, and I wondered why not everyone in the world wanted to live here—or maybe they did.
    As soon as we got into the terminal at LaGuardia I bought two tickets to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the ten o’clock flight the next morning. “See you here at nine-thirty,” I said to Jim, knowing that he’d be earlier than that. Then I phoned Charlie, hoping to get her before she left the office. She answered after the first ring.
    “I was afraid I’d missed you,” I said.
    “No, I was waiting for your call,” she said in that throaty sexy voice. Can a voice be sexy? You’re damned right it can.
    “Great. I didn’t miss you now, but I missed you all day.”
    “I’ll be gone all day tomorrow too.”
    “That’s what I thought.”
    “Could you come over tonight?”
    “Well, I don’t know. I’ll have to give that some serious thought… (pause) OK, I accept.”
    We both laughed. “What time?” I asked.
   “I have to go to rehearsal tonight, I mean right now. Should be finished about nine-thirty, so I’ll see you at around ten. Is that all right, darling?”
    “No, it’s much too late, but what can I do about it…nothing. At least it’ll give me time to cook up something delicious.”
     “Ah, then it will be worth it.”
     “See ya, honey.” Click.
    On the way home I bought some filet of sole and two bottles of Chilean white wine—those days still a well-kept secret that it’s better than French, and at a tenth the price. My apartment is on the top floor of a Brownstone building in Brooklyn Heights overlooking the river and has a marvelous view of Manhattan’s skyline. I say “is” because I still live here and wouldn’t move if they paid me the Empire State Building. At that time the neighborhood was rundown, but over the past few years I’ve been offered a small fortune to move, because it’s rent-controlled and I’m paying a pittance, though last year I volunteered a ten per cent increase.
    I put some Mozart on the record player, showered and opened Anna Karenina for another reading. When Charlie arrived at ten on the button, I put the filet in the oven and she went into the bathroom to shower and change her clothes. She had an overnight bag with her, which she must have taken to the office in the morning. I smiled to myself like the Cheshire cat. At dinner we talked about her play and career. The problem for black actresses was—and to a certain extent still is—that there were so few parts available for them. So they were more or less confined to the Negro theater. Charlie had been in two Broadway plays though. In one she was a maid and in the other a Nubian slave. She made a joke of it and had funny stories to tell about the productions, but deep down it hurt, I knew.
    We finished a bottle and a half of the wine, but skipped coffee and rushed to the bedroom. I left the curtains open so we could watch Manhattan watching us. I undressed her first and was transfixed as always as her gorgeous brown body and small, tight breasts with their outsized purple nipples slowly emerged. Then she undressed me and by that time I would have been a screaming rocket, if it weren’t for the wine. Ah, youth! But Charlie and I still have our fun, though not as often and not as passionately. It’s a gentle love now.
    Charlie had—still has from another point of view—the most beautiful ass in world. She has said it herself and I confirm it. Before sleep, she nuzzled it into my curved, receptive groin and mumbled: “Oh by the way, Gladys Rounder called today.”
    “Shit, what did she want?” At that moment I didn’t really want to know.
   “I better tell you now since you’re not going to the office tomorrow and I might forget in the morning. She said she wants to write to Jackie Robinson about the danger he’s in, thinks he should know.”
    Relief. “Well, call her and tell her that he already knows. Branch Rickey told him. And we don’t want any more letters. Please!”
    “Yes, all right. A funny thing, though…”
    “She called him John Robinson this time.”
    I recalled then that she had called him Jack instead of Jackie before. “Yeah, well next time maybe she’ll call him Babe.” My eyelids felt like they had weights on them. Something was nagging at my mind’s eye, but I couldn’t see it because both my eyes and my mind closed down for the night.       

© 2002 Frank Thomas Smith

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