The assistant manager of the store who had hired Vic was Mr. Casey, an atypical Boston Irishmen. Where most of his ethnicity were large, humorous, and loud, Mr. Casey was small, suspicious, and easily overlooked. He came every night to make sure that the cleaning crew cleaned, and remained just long enough to repeat his instructions, with a pointing forefinger, to Vic.
As usual, Lizzie arrived, straining at her leash and virtually dragging her handler, a big man, across the floor to Vic. The people on the cleaning crew were terrified of her, which was embarrassing in an unusual way. Insofar as Lizzie was predictable, which wasn’t very far, she liked vibrant young people, and also affluent people. She had a surprising ability to sense social class, and seemed to be upwardly mobile. She wanted to kill poor people, or any person who seemed to have any sort of problem. There were people on the cleaning crew in Lizzie’s disfavored categories, and Vic and the handler made sure that they were gone before unleashing Lizzie. The handler said to Vic, “I only hope she don’t snap her leash one day and chew a leg off someone.”
Vic said that he also hoped that that wouldn’t happen. He then locked the main door after the handler, leaving himself and Lizzie in command of more square feet of floor space than he cared to calculate.
As an alternative to Sears Roebuck and its famous catalogue, Jordan Marsh had a certain glamour. It was thoroughly urban. There was no hint of housewives in gingham dresses looking out from their front doors across the prairie for mailmen with their orders. The store had been tastefully refurbished since the war, and it stocked many items that few prairie dwellers, or even Brownsvillians, were likely to own. Some of those items were rather sexy, and Vic usually looked around a bit before beginning his routine.
That routine began with a warm-up phase. With little encouragement, Lizzie would perform a strange furious dance, barking in a frightening way and practically turning somersaults. Once she was occupied, Vic hid behind a counter. She then searched frantically, racing down the aisles and skidding sideways at the turns. Once she found him, he ran, taking advantage of the fact that he had better traction on the linoleum. A couple of times he ran up and down the shut-down escalators with Lizzie in hot pursuit. Then, in the game proper, he hopped on a bike in the sporting goods department.
Even with the bike, Vic couldn’t outdistance Lizzie on the straightaways. But his traction on the turns was even better than on foot, and he could lose her long enough to get to an escalator. Then, jumping off the bike, he could run up or down. Lizzie knew what it meant when she found the bike near an escalator, and the pursuit would be on. However, she wouldn’t know whether he had gone up or down, and would eventually guess wrong. At that point, Vic would find her and end the game.
Once Vic spread out his pad and sleeping bag, it took a while to calm Lizzie down. She had a way of walking on him, or sitting on his feet, not to mention lapping his face, which was distracting. However, they would eventually arrive at an accommodation. Curled up beside him, she slept happily, except when there were noises that she didn’t like. Once a night, on the average, there would be a mad rush to a glass door to terrify a homeless person just outside it.
In the morning, the handler was supposed to arrive at quarter to eight, right outside the doors on the street floor. On this day, he was late, Mr. Casey arriving first. Vic gestured whether he wanted to be let in, but the other made a dismissing gesture and waited outside. Although Vic could see his breath in the sharp morning air, Casey seemed more comfortable outside at a safe distance from Lizzie. When the handler arrived a few minutes later, he got what looked like a reprimand. Upon being relieved, Vic threw on his Salvation Army coat, picked up his pack, and went off to the Park Street Station of the MTA.
The second class Vic audited was the math class which contained Vicki. She was almost late, so they could exchange only a few words before Martz came in and greeted the dozen students.
At that moment, Vic, looking out of the corner of his eye at Vicki, did some analysis. She had huge horrible black-framed glasses, rather like those worn by his mother. That wasn’t good. The difference was that Vicki’s glasses kept sliding down her nose. She pushed them back up at least once a second, always with her left hand. Was that the reason that she seemed to be constantly in motion?
Reading from the bottom, Vicki had ugly black shoes, white socks, a long loose skirt, and a shapeless, well worn, gray sweater. He already knew that she was tall, at least five ten to his six-four, and it was obvious that she was slim. All in all, it was hard to guess what she might look like, not only naked, but in ordinary female get-up.
After class, they went in different directions for their next classes. Vic, watching Vicki as she strode powerfully off, got a shock. She greeted a young man off to the side who joined her. The young man was Sy Rosen.
Sy, whose street name was ‘Pinny Schmuckla’ was from Brownsville. Although he was older, they had played on the same football and basketball teams. They were, in fact, friends. Sy would undoubtedly have greeted Vic warmly if he had seen him.
The problem, of course, was that Vic was in hiding from the Mafia. Brownsville was a criminal neighborhood, the home of the Murder Incorporated gang of not terribly long ago. Abe Relles, the man who pretended to be shaking hands while driving an ice pick into the stomach of his victim, was a local hero. It was fortunate, at least, that MI was a Jewish organization, distinct from the Italian Mafia which was so interested in the Bleznik family. But, still, Brownsville was a relatively small place, and there were connections. If Sy reported back home that Vic was at Harvard, it would eventually get to the wrong people.
Two questions occurred to Vic, almost together. Was Sy a boyfriend of Vicki? Should he approach Sy and swear him to secrecy?
The second had to be dismissed. Sy was a reliable friend, but Vic couldn’t take that risk with anyone. The first question was more complex. He knew that Vicki did have dates, but he didn’t know who they were with, or how serious they might be. In the worst case, he might have to stop seeing her altogether, and not even go to the class. Even then, there would be the risk of meeting Sy by chance.
By the time that Vic met Vicki for coffee that afternoon, he had sorted some things out. When there was an opportunity, he remarked, “I saw you with someone this morning who looked vaguely familiar. I may know him from somewhere.”
Vicki couldn’t think who it had been, but, when given a description, she replied, “Oh, that’s Sy Rosen, a basketball player from Brooklyn. I went out with him once, and we didn’t seem to have a lot to say to each other. But he’s nice, and I’m always happy to see him.”
“No, I don’t know him. I must have been thinking of someone else.”
“The funny thing is that you two have a lot in common. The same size, and both athletic. Besides, you’ve always seemed to me more Brooklyn than California.”
This was getting into dangerous territory, so Vic laughed and asked, “How many guys do you go out with?”
“Not so many, these days. I started out with athletes from the New York area, like Sy. They’re nice and fun. They want to make money, and, since there’s no undergraduate business school here, they all major in economics. But they aren’t future economists, or academics or intellectuals of any kind. So I drifted away from them. Then, I went out with an engineer from MIT for a while, but he’s a total technologist who can go on for hours about electrical circuits and things I’m really not interested in. How many girls do you go out with?”
“I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a real date. I used to have study dates, usually in the girl’s house with her family present. Since I’ve been living on the land, there hasn’t been much opportunity.”
“How about the women you might meet in empty boxcars?”
“Very rare, and not so attractive. You’ve had more opportunities. I’ve heard about those Radcliffe dances where there are twelve boys to every girl.”
“Yeah. They have an amazing name, the Jolly-Ups. Left over from a century or two ago.”
“So you went to them?”
“As a freshman. Of course, I was only sixteen, and a little out of place. Except that, then as now, I looked thirty or so.”
“Then we’re the same age. It’s those glasses that make you look like a lady orthodontist.”
“As you might guess, I got them from a family friend who gets things for people wholesale.”
“I know the pattern.”
“There you are, being the New York Jew again.”
“There are also California Jews. I’m living proof.”
“Incidentally, that reminds me about your offer to get me clothes at a discount.”
“Sure. We could go over any time.”
“I’ll have to get myself fixed up to go to a department store. Salesladies would sneer at me the way I am now.”
“I can offer some immediate help.”
With that, Vic asked the lady behind the counter if she had a large elastic band. When she produced one, he returned to the table and removed Vicki’s glasses. The elastic turned out to be the right size, and he affixed it to the ear pieces. In the process, he noticed that she had green eyes and asked,
“Do you really need glasses?”
“I’m somewhat near-sighted. When I go without, I don’t recognize people at a distance. They think I’m snubbing them.”
“Not a major problem if your friends know you can’t see them.”
He then put the glasses back on Vicki, who said,
“With the elastic outside my hair, I must look like a termite inspector on a serious mission.”
“You’ll be the only one at Radcliffe.”
After leaving Vicki, Vic did some deep thinking. He should have remembered that the brighter athletes from Brooklyn went to Ivy League colleges on scholarships. Sy wouldn’t be the only one at Harvard. Not surprisingly, they all majored in economics.
Consulting the Harvard catalogues which were his prized possessions, Vic checked to see when and where the economics classes met. It was possible to plot a route which kept well away from them.
Vic had originally considered infiltrating the Harvard intramural sports activities. In most leagues, teams would often find themselves short a player, and would be happy to recruit a talented bystander. That would have been a sure way of coming across Sy and the others. Fortunately, Vic had gone in a different direction.
Across the river, there was a recreational football league that played its games on the Boston Common. It was miles from Harvard geographically, and even farther in other dimensions. Unlike the pretty fields of Harvard, these didn’t have much grass. There were instead lots of stones and a significant amount of broken glass. There was almost no chance of meeting the wrong people.
The team Vic joined was sponsored by one of the two burlesque houses in Scollay Square, and the team had shirts with the name and a suggestive logo. The players ranged in age from late teen-agers to men in their forties, and few seemed to have come from privileged backgrounds. Vic was welcome because of his size and ability, and he didn’t have to do much pretending. He announced himself as a drifter, and no one had any problems with that. In fact, it wasn’t far from the truth.
The game that day was scheduled for 6:30 PM. That meant that it would be in darkness. There were lights, but they didn’t work very well. In any case, the kind of football that was played wasn’t very scientific, and could almost have been played in the dark.
The player-manager was Swede Hanson, a pre-war tackle for the Detroit Lions, and, in the war, a combat marine in the Pacific. After the war, he had quickly become a real estate tycoon. It was partly, Vic suspected, because his mere presence intimidated others into making deals unfavorable to themselves.
In his late thirties, Swede was still very much the son of a boilermaker in Sandusky, Ohio. He still liked to pancake opposing linemen, and his motivation in organizing the team was probably to give himself the opportunity to do so. Almost bald, but with blonde eyebrows highlighting his jagged face, Swede’s appearance was odd enough to give most people momentary pause. In both football and the business, he hardly needed such an advantage.
Just when people had gotten themselves ready for an onslaught, Swede would often say something funny in a surprisingly educated voice. Vic had wondered why he took funding for the team, which he obviously didn’t need, from the burlesque house. However, it seemed to be part of Swede’s sense of humor to have the team so identified.
The game was two-handed touch, although it was often necessary to tackle the ball carrier to prove that both hands had, in fact, touched him. An unusual feature of the league was the seven-man teams with four lineman and three backs. The Tigers played an unbalanced line, usually to the right with Swede playing, just a step back of the line, between the right tackle and the end. Vic was the right end.
They mostly ran the ball with Swede coming through the slot and wiping out at least one man. The tackle and fullback were big young guys who compounded the damage.
The tailback was a small fast man who might previously have used his speed to out-distance the police. He generally followed the blockers, but he could also break to the outside. In that case, Vic’s job was to block the outside man, usually a defensive back much smaller than himself. It was, however, challenging. The defender seldom remained in position to be blocked and Vic, calculating where the tailback behind him would be, had to knock him in the right direction. There was no point in wiping him out if he landed at the tailback’s feet.
It was supposed to be the runner’s job, by making feints, to set up the block for the man in front of him, but this tailback made his moves out of sequence, often faking the defender into his own path. Even so, Vic was often able to make the block.
After one game, Swede confided to Vic, “Terry doesn’t have any fucking idea how to run, but, if we spring him, they can’t catch him from behind.”
It amused Vic that Swede said, ‘doesn’t’, where one would have expected him to say, ‘don’t’, as in Brooklynese. Swede, perceptive as he probably always had been, had acquired a certain polish.
They always won, often by huge scores. For Vic, the most interesting games were those in which the Tigers, way ahead in the second half, lent him to the other team. It was then that he got to play against Swede.
On this day, the opportunity came relatively late in the game. Vic, on defense, lined up directly opposite Swede in the slot. At some two seventy, Swede still had remarkable quickness and acceleration. With a head start of a couple of yards, he was a freight train.
Vic, knowing that Swede would have to charge straight ahead between two of his own men, pretended to be about to challenge him. However, when the ball was snapped he moved quickly to his left as Swede charged past. Terry should have been right behind Swede, but, fast as he was, he didn’t have the acceleration. There was a gap that Vic dove into, tagging Terry with both hands. Swede, coming back, laughed and said, “Clever. But that won’t happen again.”
Vic was inclined to agree.
There was, of course, no locker room. The players of both teams, after gathering in groups to cheer one another, drifted off. Since it wasn’t safe to leave a pack with clothing, or even a coat, on the sideline among the criminally inclined onlookers, Vic was always cold when a game ended. He was hustling across the common to the MTA station when Swede, carrying a bag with the team equipment, caught up with him.
“How old are you, young man?”
With some hesitation, Vic answered,
“That’s about what I guessed. But you’re an old seventeen.”
Vic nodded, and Swede, laughing, asked, “Are you sleeping under bridges?”
Vic, laughing himself, explained about his sleeping arrangement with the janitors, without saying where it was. He then added, “I’ve now got a night watchman job on which I can also get some sleep.”
“Don’t you have to punch a time clock every hour?”
“No. The watch-dog is so scary that they don’t worry.”
“You must have truce with the dog.”
“Yeah. She and I play games in the closed store.”
“I see. Is she your best friend?”
“Close to it.”
“Anyhow, that’s a good job for a studious young man. Lots of study time.”
Vic hadn’t said that he was a student, but Swede wasn’t the first one to jump to that conclusion. Vic supposed that it was the way he spoke, and admitted that he was interested in mathematics. Swede asked, “Did you finish high school before you took to the streets?”
By degrees, Vic explained about Harvard. Swede replied, “A great many young people try to get certificates without really learning anything. It’s nice to see someone who wants to learn without worrying about the certificates.”
“Yeah, I guess I’ll eventually have to graduate from somewhere.”
“I may be able to help with that.”