Please note: Rated "R" for language.
At ten thirty on the night of March 24, 1962, Eddie Cero walked out the back door
of the Southside Boxing Club in Philadelphia with a bloody bandage over his eyebrow
and forty dollars cash in his pocket.
The cut hadn’t hurt when it opened. Now it was throbbing, and all he wanted
was to go somewhere and have a drink to kill the pain and another one to toast what
looked like the end of his life as a welterweight.
He didn’t want to see anybody and he didn’t want anyone seeing him, so he cut
down the alley behind the club, zipping his jacket against the night’s chill. Fifty feet
away from the East Allen traffic, he heard someone grunt and another voice curse, and
he glanced into a doorway to see two punks roughing up a third man, who looked to be
getting the better of it. He walked by with no intention of meddling in their business.
Then one of the punks turned around and said, “What the fuck are you lookin’ at?”
in the wrong tone. Eddie stopped.
A face as thin and pitted as a crescent moon glared from the shadows. “I said, motherfucker, what the fuck are you lookin’ at?”
The partner, a chubby greaseball in a motorcycle jacket that was two sizes too small, turned like a fat lizard to put his two
cents in. “Take a hike, asshole.”
The poor chump in the middle let out a strangled gasp. Eddie stayed where he was.
“Whaddya, fuckin’ deaf?” The moon-faced punk came stalking out in a rude ballet set to the click and flash of a blade. He had
taken three steps when it dawned on him that the interloper hadn’t cut and run. By then it was too late, because Eddie had one
coming, a quick right to the jaw. The punk went down as if a trapdoor had opened under his shoes. The switchblade skittered
across the bricks.
“Whoa, fuckin’ A,” said the fat boy.
Staring up at the night sky with glazed eyes, the pimpled punk moaned and twitched a couple times.
Eddie rubbed his knuckles. “You better get him out of here.”
The fat boy let go of their prey and edged into the alley. He bent down, wrestled his partner under the arms, and dragged him
off in the direction of Ninth Street. Once he got a little distance, he looked back over his shoulder and said, “We’ll see ya ’
The guy named Sal slumped against the doorframe. “Yeah, yeah, same to ya.” His voice was a weary croak.
Eddie walked over to have a look at the victim, a middle-aged guy, Italian. His lower lip was swollen, his left eye was puffing
up all purple, and there was fresh blood dribbling out of one nostril. He looked like an empty sack of nothing, as if the beating
in an alley was just the last insult in what had been a bad day all around. He weaved on his feet, trying to straighten his tie with
one hand and brush the dirt from his sport coat with the other.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. “That was a hell of a smack you gave him.” He peered at Eddie with his good eye, then pointed a
stubby finger. “Hey, I know you. You’re a fighter, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Eddie said shortly. “You going to be okay?” He started moving away.
“Hey, wait a minute.” Sal ambled woozily after him. “Hey, let me buy you a drink. How about it?”
“That’s all right.”
“C’mon, you saved my ass here.”
Eddie said, “It was nothin’. You were doing okay.”
“I wanna buy you a drink, goddamnit!”
Eddie sighed. He didn’t feel like arguing. “All right. One drink. But you don’t owe me, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Sal said. “I don’t owe you. God forbid. So what’s that name again, tough guy?”
“That’s right. I remember. Like zero with a C, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Salvatore Giambroni.” He offered a thick meatball of a hand. “Sal.”
On a good night, Eddie would have gone to Barney’s on Frankford Avenue, but he didn’t want to meet up with that crowd, so
he headed two blocks up to the Corner Bar & Grill on Richmond, where hardly anyone knew him. Plus they had a better
jukebox. Sal shuffled along, one hand dabbing his bloody nose with a handkerchief, while he probed his battered eye with the
fingers of the other and muttered under his breath.
Eddie held the door for him, and they stepped into a long, narrow room of black and gray shadows punctuated by rainbow-
colored beer signs and, at the far end, the amber glow of the jukebox. Shapes huddled against the bar and around the tables. The
few people who were talking kept their voices low. It was that kind of joint.
Eddie headed directly for the booth in the far corner. Sal stopped at the bar and ordered two shots and two bottles of Schmidt’
s. He brought the drinks to the table, sat down, and let out a noisy sigh.
“Here’s to ya, kid.” He clinked Eddie’s glass and downed his whiskey in one gulp. Piece by piece, he pulled himself together.
His back straightened, his good eye widened, and he flexed his sore jaw.
“Yeah, that’s more like it.” He grinned. “Hey, how about me and you? You got a bad eye; I got a bad eye—how about it, eh?”
In the dim, dirty light, Eddie got his first good look at Sal and saw a dago who had obviously been around the block and then
some. They were about the same height, but Sal had at least forty pounds on him. His round face was pockmarked bronze and
boasted an angled hunk of a Calabrese nose, all under a mat of dark brown hair that swept this way and that in Brylcreemed
waves. The eyes—actually, the eye Eddie could see—was as black as an olive and had a merry glint to it, despite the condition
of the rest of the face. All in all, Eddie thought he looked like Louis Prima minus a couple inches and plus a couple pounds.
“So what happened to you?” Sal Giambroni asked, like he had a right to know. “You have a fight tonight?”
“The other guy.”
“What other guy?”
“Oh, yeah, I’ve seen him,” Sal said. “He’s decent.”
“He’s a fucking cheap-shot punk,” Eddie said.
Sal gave him a quizzical look and leaned over the table as if divulging a secret. “So, you wanna know what that was about? I
mean in the alley there.”
Eddie said, “It’s none of—”
“I poked my nose into the wrong hole.”
Eddie took a tiny sip of his whiskey, then a small sip of his beer. He was going to hear about it whether he wanted to or not.
“I’m a private detective,” Sal said. “An investigator. Of private matters, all right? This one particular party doesn’t care for my
modus operandi and sent those punks to teach me a lesson.”
Sal sat back. “Nah, that was nothing. Once I had this cafone try to run me over with his car. Another time a guy tried to push
me out a window. Twelfth floor. I saw the gates of heaven, it was that close.” He spread his hands, palms upward. “These
things happen. What you call your occupational hazards.”
“Maybe you should get another occupation.”
“Yeah, look who’s talkin’,” Sal retorted. Eddie shot him a hard glance, and Sal said, “Hey, that’ll heal, right? So when’s your
next fight? Maybe I’ll come, y’know, see you in action.”
“I don’t have one.”
Sal gestured at the bandage. “’Cause of that?”
Eddie drummed absent fingers. “I think I might stop for a little while. Do something else.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“Like, I don’t know right now.”
The older man drank off his beer and placed the empty bottle on the table, along with a five-dollar bill. “Hey, how about you
go get us another round,” he said. “I got something I want to talk to you about.”
Though Eddie couldn’t imagine what Sal Giambroni wanted to talk to him about and was sure he didn’t care, he got up to fetch
the drinks. He asked the bartender to wrap some ice, too. While he waited, he stepped over to the jukebox, dropped in a
quarter, and picked out five plays. An oily Dean Martin gave way to a gritty Irma Thomas. It never
failed; right away he felt better.
Sal accepted the balled towel with a grateful nod, planted it over his swollen eye, and waited for Eddie to get settled. Then he
said, “The deal is I need somebody to help out with some things.”
“What things?” Eddie said.
“Cases and so forth,” Sal said. “Mostly surveillance, occasionally somebody to be a physical presence, et cetera, et cetera.
Nothin’ a guy like yourself couldn’t handle. I wouldn’t pay you a salary. It would be on a case-by-case basis. Which means
cash in your hand pretty much every day.”
Eddie sat back. “I wouldn’t be interested in anything like that. Thanks for the offer, though.”
The brow over Sal’s unswollen eye arched. “Oh, no? You ain’t going to fight, so what are you going to do?” He drew himself
up, trying to look dignified. “You work for me, you don’t have to break your ass, and once in a while something interesting
“What, like getting run over by a car? Or pushed out a window? Or worked over in an alley?”
Sal made a shooing motion. “These things occur now and then. Don’t worry about it. Hey, c’mon, who’s going to fuck with
you?” He grinned and hunched over in a fighter’s crouch, his fists bobbing like meaty pistons. “Middleweight, right?”
“Welter,” Eddie said.
Sal kept talking and he kept shaking his head, and they both kept drinking. The party moved to a club on Seventh Street called
the Blue Door. They walked in just in time to catch the last heartfelt throbs of a blues song and then see a slip of motion as the
singer turned and left the stage to a round of applause.
The house music came up amid a swirl of curling smoke, painted lips, and the blush of cleavages, as glass tinked and women
laughed all sultry and wicked, a kind of jagged jazz all on its own.
In the backstage closet that served as a dressing room, the singer dabbed the sweat from her brow with a ragged towel and
studied her reflection in the cracked mirror. Her throat was aching just a little, the way it always did by the middle of the
evening. Once she got her second wind, she could go all night. She could keep on singing like there was no tomorrow and wash
everything away: the smoke, the faces, the rude chatter, and the hard memories of what had brought her to this place.
She picked up the cigarette that was burning in the ashtray, stood up, and made her way to the side of the stage, where she
could watch the room without being seen.
It was late and the crowd was thinning, mostly stragglers and those few kind souls who had come just to listen to her. Then she
saw an odd pair, a thickset man who flailed his arms as he was talking and a younger partner who was listening to him, or
pretending to. The younger one stood still amid the noise and motion, cutting a figure in his poise and silence that was just a
little dangerous. His eyes shifted and for a moment seemed to fix on her, causing her to take a step away, even though she knew
he couldn’t see her in the shadows.
She scanned the rest of the crowd, saw no one to draw her interest, and slipped back to the dressing room to rest. Late as it
was, she still had two shows to go.
They went on swilling drinks, Sal kept yakking, and somewhere along the line, Eddie heard himself agreeing to report on
Monday to “SG Confidential Investigations,” as it said on the card. That’s how it started.