Thursday, April 6, 2023

Fadge: Ellie Stone’s Second to None from James W. Ziskin

Which secondary character have you created that you find the most intriguing and memorable? Please share the scene where they appeared and outline the impact they had on the story and on you.

Fadge dealing with a deadbeat teenage customer

Readers of my Ellie Stone mysteries have often expressed their affection for Ellie’s best friend, Ron “Fadge” Fiorello. He’s my favorite secondary character, too. Fadge is 6’ 2” tall and weighs more than 300 pounds. He owns the ice-cream shop across the street from Ellie’s apartment. A large man with larger appetites, he’s an inveterate gambler who wins big and loses even bigger.

Fadge is Watson to Ellie’s Holmes. But he’s also her protector.

I’ll let Ellie describe him here through five passages, one from the series debut, STYX & STONE, and four more from A STONE’S THROW, the sixth Ellie Stone mystery. That’s the book where Fadge takes on a starring role.

STYX & STONE — Fadge’s first appearance

Having recently moved to New Holland, I had been frequenting the shop for a few weeks, enjoying the occasional cup of coffee over a newspaper, which I liked to read in a booth near the back. On that day, I arrived just before lunch, and Fadge greeted me at the door, a magazine tucked under his arm.

“Hi,” he said. He looked distressed. “You’re Ellie, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Watch the store for a few minutes. I’ll be right back.”
He rushed to the backroom and disappeared into the toilet, where he remained for nearly forty-five minutes. When he finally emerged, looking relieved and not the least bit embarrassed, he thanked me and asked me how I’d fared.

“Not a soul came in, so I read the dirty books,” I said, motioning to the magazine rack against the wall.

“Didn’t I see your picture in one of them?” he asked, so sweetly that I fell in love with him on the spot.

A STONE’S THROW — Fadge concentrates on the Racing Form

“Do you know anything about the Tempesta stud farm?” I asked Fadge over a cup of coffee at Fiorello’s, the ice-cream shop across from my apartment on Lincoln Avenue.

The big guy—six-two and tipping the scales at more than three hundred pounds—held the undisputed title of My Dearest Friend in the World. A boon companion for sharing late-night pizzas and off-color jokes, he was, I knew, also more than a little sweet on me. But at that moment, he was seated on a stool at the counter brooding over the Daily Racing Form in preparation for our day in Saratoga and indifferent to, if not unaware of, my presence.

Absorbed in his study of the Racing Form, he hadn’t heard a word I’d said, so I repeated my question about the stud farm. Still nothing. To test his hearing, I slipped off the stool at the counter and approached the cash register behind the nearby candy case. I pushed down hard on the stiff No Sale button, and the cash drawer popped open, producing a bright ching as it did. Fadge remained oblivious. I could have emptied the till and tapped-danced my way out the door, and he wouldn’t have been any the wiser.

At the racetrack, Fadge is ready to defend Ellie if necessary

“Look, miss,” Fleischman said. “I’ve got a horse in the next race and don’t have time for some girl reporter.” 

Fadge pushed past me. “Hey, pal, talk nice to the lady, or I’ll give you a lesson in manners.” Fleischman backed away. The third man stepped forward. 

I knew Fadge to be a sweetheart but also a hothead with a short fuse. He was double extra-large, quite strong, and ferociously protective of me. A quick assessment of the comparative ages and health of the men convinced me that my hero would have little trouble pounding Louis Fleischman, the jockey, and even the third man into a flattened blob of Play-Doh.

Ellie finds Fadge in a nervous state at the ice cream parlor

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked. 

He motioned for me to follow him to the backroom. There among the cases of soda and ice-cream freezers, he wiped his perspired face with the skirt of his new apron. 

“What is it?” I repeated. 

“El, you can’t tell anyone.” 

“Tell them what?” 

“I just got back from the races.”

“The races? Who was minding the store?” 

“No one. I closed up today. But that’s not the point. Listen to me.” 

“Fadge, you’re going to go broke if you close in August. Come January you’ll be bellyaching that no one’s buying ice cream.” 

He was nearly shaking now, glancing through the open door to the empty store outside. 

“El, will you shut up and listen? I closed the store and went to the track.” 


“And?” He licked his lips. “I won three thousand dollars.” 

I stumbled back against the ice-cream freezer. “You won how much?” 

“I was on fire. Couldn’t miss. Everything I picked came in.”

Fadge gets all dressed up to take Ellie to the big event of the Saratoga meet, Travers Day

And on cue, the big fella emerged from the rear of the store wearing a pair of white linen trousers, a red-and-white-striped jacket, and—if you please—a scarlet cravat. 

“What are you all duded up for?” I asked. “The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race?” 

He gaped at me open-mouthed. When he finally found speech, he said he was dressed for Travers Day. 

“That’s too informal,” he said, referring to my outfit. “Go put on something flowery, summery, will you? You’re going to the clubhouse, not a pool hall.”

Mildly insulted by his insinuation about my dress, I nevertheless resisted the urge to ask him which way to the bandstand.

Bonus passage 

(At the close of STYX & STONE, Fadge drops by Ellie’s place late at night to comfort her over a terrible, tragic loss in her life. He’s brought two quarts of beer and a bag of potato chips for a late dinner. Ellie remarks that a girl doesn’t stand a chance with such a big spender. Fadge jokes if that’s the case he’d like to get her out of her sweater.)

“Why did you come over tonight?” I asked. “Don’t tell me you were hoping to get lucky.”

He shook his head. “With a skinny girl like you? Naw.” He paused, thinking of something. “I just wanted to have a beer,” he said finally.

I smiled gently at him as he looked away. I knew why he had come, and it almost felt like he’d saved my life. I’ve loved that fat guy ever since.

RIP, Fadge 
You lived big and died way too fucking young.


Liz Milliron said...

Fadge was great.

Terry said...

Count me in as a Fadge fan!Any chance he (and Ellie) will come back?

Ann said...

WTH? No more Fadge? No more Ellie? I don’t mind if you shelve them, so to speak. But please keep them alive

James W. Ziskin said...

Ann, fictional Fadge is alive and well. The guy who inspired the character died 38 years ago. More Ellie and Fadge for sure.