Ziggy Czarnecki, a former numbers runner from Detroit, is on a quest to find Przybylski, a former adversary who he believes may have ratted him out years before.
Ziggy’s life is not a happy one, for he’s done time for his crimes and is nostalgic for the “old” Detroit, the one where, during World War II, people worked round-the-clock turning out tanks for a cause everyone believed in. After the war, they were flush with money and willing to leverage it through playing the numbers, and Ziggy was more than happy to help. But now, in the 1970s, Ziggy wants some definitive answers, and he feels Przybylski, a former undertaker, is the one who can provide them. Unfortunately, all Ziggy knows is that Przybylski has fled the city and is living somewhere in southern California, so he undertakes a cross-country trip to catch up with his old nemesis. All he wants is to confront Przybylski and ask him one simple question: “Did you turn me in?” On his cross-country odyssey, Ziggy meets a microcosm of American goofballs, including Lennie, heading to LA to become a standup comedian and using Ziggy as a captive audience for some of his bad jokes, and Sharlene, who packs her own pool cue and is given to double-entendres. Ziggy finally makes it to LA, where at first he stays with Ted, a former priest from his parish in Detroit who’s now having troubles with his girlfriend. Reluctantly, Ziggy also spends some time with his son, Charlie, a dentist, and discovers his daughter-in-law, Gloria, is having an affair. After all of this rambling about, Ziggy finally locates Przybylski in a nursing home, and though unable to have a conversation because of a stroke, he nevertheless, through a “silent” dialogue, is able to give Ziggy some of the answers he’s seeking.
Frederick’s woebegone outsiders are reminiscent of Elmore Leonard’s tough-tender guys and dolls—not a bad literary role model.