Who Killed Jack Robinson

Frank Thomas Smith

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Chapter 7

Jimmy Mckew had begun thinking up his plan while we were talking with Joshua Hollingsworth in Boston. He didn’t know yet that my plan was different. When he realized that we were going back to New York he decided he’d have to do it alone, if I let him. Who knows, he might have tried it even without my permission. He was disappointed in me, I knew, because I was willing to ignore a good tip on a murder just because it wasn’t what we were being paid for. He didn’t know that I wasn’t getting paid anything, except expenses, and his time was coming out of my pocket. I don’t like having to defend myself though, so I didn’t tell him that.
    He took a taxi back to the baseball field, where the Beacons were still practicing. A lot of people were in the stands watching, so Jimmy took a seat in the last row and watched with them. The sun was going down and the practice couldn’t last much longer, and it didn’t. Joshua Hollingsworth said something to the players bunched around him, then walked to a late model car parked on the street and drove off. Most of the other players left that way too, although their cars weren’t that new. They just changed their shoes, put jackets over the baseball uniforms and left. It was a public park so there was no locker room to change in.
    As Jimmy had hoped, a group of players decided they were too thirsty to call it a day and walked towards the bar where we had interviewed Hollingsworth. Jimmy walked around the block twice in order to let them wet their whistles and relax before confronting them. When he walked into the bar it was crowded with men, all black, mostly wearing overalls, with lunch pails at their feet. Jimmy regretted that he stood out in his suit and tie, but there was nothing to do about that. The ball players were easily identifiable because of their baseball jackets. Three were hunched over the bar talking animatedly with some workers and the bartender. Jimmy looked around for the other two and saw them seated in a booth in the rear. Jimmy approached them, smiled, and said, “You fellas beacons?” Stupid question, but he had to start somehow.
    “Yes, sir,” the younger one – he looked about 17 – said. The other one was a couple of years older, and nodded.
    “Mind if I join you?”
    “Help yourself,” the older one said. “You a scout?” he added when Jimmy had slid in beside him. They had seen us talking to Joshua Hollingsworth and figured we could only be scouts or cops; they hoped the former.
    “Not exactly.” Jimmy gave each of them a card, which they studied in silence, not looking too happy.
    “I need help,” Jimmy said, and they looked up at him. “We think that Jerry Rose was murdered for a reason, and we think we know the reason. But we don’t know who killed him.” They just stared at him, so he went on. “Jerry was a gambler, wasn’t he?”
    “You was talking to Mr. Hollingsworth,” the older one said.
    Jimmy nodded.
    “What’d he tell you?”
    “He didn’t know much, hardly anything in fact. But he’s the manager. So we thought that his friends, guys who were closer to him, could tell us more.”
    “We don’t know no more that Mr. Hollingsworth,” the older one said.
    Jimmy had a raging thirst and noticed that the ballplayers’ glasses were empty. “Is there a waiter here?”
    “No, you gotta order at the bar.”
    Jimmy looked at the crowded bar uncertainly. He wanted to keep as low a profile as possible and elbowing through the crowd to order beer wasn’t the way to do it. The younger Beacon, seeming to sense his discomfort, said, “I’ll get the beers,” and started to slide out from the booth.
    Jimmy took a fiver from his wallet and tried to hand it to the kid. But, “That’s OK,” the kid said, “I’ll get it.”
    “No, no,” Jimmy said, “It’s on my expense account.”  …didn’t he wish.
    Oh, well, in that case…” The kid took the bill and went to the bar.
    “How’s the team look like for next season?” Jimmy asked, making small talk until the kid got back.
    “Not too bad,” the older Beacon said. “We’re hurtin’ though, without Jerry. He was out best pitcher.” So he wanted to talk about Jerry Rose, Jimmy thought. Better haul him in before he wriggles free.
    “Who do you think killed him?”
    “Cal..” he pointed with his eyes at the bar  “… is my kid brother. Let’s keep him outa this, O.K?”
    “Guy name of Billy Buno…he’s mafia.”
    “Negro or Italian?”
    “Negro, but they all answer to the wops.”
    “How do you know?”
    “You asked. I know. And you forgot who told ya.”
    “I don’t even know who told me,” Billy said. “Where do I find this Billy Buno?”
    “Last booth, behind you…Don’t look around. Go to the head or something to look.”
    “Was it because of a gambling debt?”
    “Mo’ o’ less. Jerry didn’t owe much, maybe a couple grand, but a lotta people owe and they was teachin us a lesson. Ya know?”
    “And who’s Billy Buno?” Jimmy asked. “Is that his real name?”
    “Hit man, showed up around here couple months ago, don’t know if it’s his real name, prabally not.” He was talking fast, wanting to finish before the kid got back.
    “Any evidence?”
    “How bout Billy Buno tellin the whole mothafuckin Beacons team?”
    Jimmy was really excited now, but he kept as calm looking a face as he could. “What’d he say?”
    The Beacon looked at Jimmy and squeezed his eye to slits. “’Jerry Rose was Romano’s message to you niggers,’” was what he said.
    "Who's Romano?"
    "Wop mafia boss. Johnny Romano. Everone knows him."  
     “Was Mr. Higgensworth there…when he said that, I mean?”
    “No. My kid brother wasn’t there neither. Wasn’t on the team yet.”
    “Any chance of you guys talking to the authorities?”
    “Not to the cops. They don’t give a shit. Mafia owns 'em anyway.”
    The kid came back to the booth carrying three full beer glasses pressed precariously between his two hands. He set them on the table, slid into the booth and placed the change in front of Jimmy. Jimmy lifted his glass in a toast. The others lifted their glasses and he met the older one’s eyes that said to him: keep my brother out of this.
    “Well, thanks, brothers,” Jimmy said. He drank his beer down in three swigs, See ya – and good luck this year.” He shook hands with both of them and walked casually to the men’s room, where he took a piss and bathed his face in cold water. He checked out the last booth upon leaving the Men’s Room. Billy Buno, a beefy guy with a long scar on his forehead, had his left arm around a woman’s neck. A gold ring glistened on his finger. The other hand was fondling her breast – the only female breast in the place. Jimmy left the bar and walked a few blocks before finding a taxi. He went to the airport and caught the first flight to LaGuardia.
    I was just leaving the office to go to Charlie’s place when he came charging in, all excited, and told me what he’d found out in Boston. He sat there across from me looking like a kid who’d just come home with a good report card waiting for a slap on the back.
    “Well, that’s good work, Jimmy,” I said, anxious to leave and fall into Charlie’s embrace, “congratulations.” Problem seems to be that the Beacons don’t trust the cops, probably with good reason. So what can you do with the information?”
    “I was thinking about that on the plane,” Jimmy answered, leaning forward. “You ever heard of Jack Kennedy?”
    “Sure. A Massachusetts pol. They love him up there.”
    “He’s a senator. I want to go to Washington and tell him about this. Maybe he’ll get the D.A. in Boston to do something. What do you think?”
    I thought he was crazy and that this was getting expensive. On the other hand, if I said no Jimmy McKew might quit and try it on his own, which would make a hard try practically impossible. At least now he had his Private Investigator credentials. Anyway, I didn’t have time to argue.
    “It’s a long shot, Jimmy, but…what the hell, go ahead. I’ll tell Charlie to give you the expense money.”
    “Thanks Mr. Stark, thanks a lot..I mean Darrell.”