1952 - Chicago, Englewood District, Southwest Side
Walter Storm hiked up his patrolman’s collar against the wind. He didn’t recognize the brewing storm… an undertow that was about to transform this neighborhood and would change it forever. It came from the north and the gusts emanated the acrid, eye-watering air of the Union Stockyards. It was the fetid smell of death.
The miniature cowbell hanging over the door tinkled as he stepped into the corner store.
“Hey, Walter, how’s it goin’?”
“Good”, he smiled at the ‘I Like Ike’ button pinned to her apron. “You better not let the precinct captain see that”.
“Yeah, well next time they shouldn’t put up an egghead. And don’t forget it’s still a free country”.
“Okay, okay”, he laughed putting his hands up defensively.
Min had grown up in the small apartment behind the store. When her father died it seemed natural for her to take over running the store, it was muscle memory. Like most of the neighborhood businesses, Min’s was a place taken for granted that it was always there and always would be. Even after she married and had a child it didn’t occur to her that there even would be a different future; she felt part of the store, secure in it and in her place in the neighborhood. Her daughter now occupied the same room in which she had slept as a child.
The only chink in her life was her husband; but every life had its dents…Ralph was hers.
From behind the counter she pulled a pack of Lucky’s with a book of matches then reached for a handful of penny suckers and slid them across the counter to Walter.
Min slowly shook her head. “Every day you come in here and it’s always the same. Anybody’d think all them kids was yours”, she smiled.
“Well, in a way they are”, he grinned.
The cowbell made another announcement. Min’s smile faded.
Turning his head Walter’s eyes locked with Tony Russo’s. Russo stood by the door, his signature diamond tie pin sparkling against the silk tie. The two men simply nodded.
Walter picked up the cigarettes and lollipops. “Thanks, be seein’ ya Min”.
Walter knew Russo and Min had business to do. He knew what that business was, but if he acknowledged it, he’d have to do something about it…and he didn’t want to do anything about it.
Walter headed the two blocks toward Halsted Street. As he passed by the long stretch of time-worn greystones he realized he had not been born when they were built; when this was an affluent neighborhood, the large flats and apartments filled with the families of doctors, managers, engineers and other professionals. As time passed and the city grew these families were drawn farther from the growing grime and these majestic edifices were divided into smaller flats and apartments housing the families of working men and women; the kind that filled the factory floors, worked in the stench filled stockyards, sweated in the steel mills, served in restaurants and diners, did the back breaking work which kept this city moving forward from day to day. His wife, Carol, thought it a slum…but she was wrong…she’d never seen a real slum; this was just a tired neighborhood, a bit worn-out and run down. There probably isn’t a special point in time, a point that you could look up and say ’that’s when it changed, see right there’ these changes happened over time, slowly evolving, never really being noticed until you find yourself standing there and wondering when did it change, did anyone notice?
Halsted Street was his official boundary…so he waited. First he heard the Beal public school bell ring, he knew Our Lady of Solace would be ten minutes later. The daily bickering with Carol slowly slid from his mind and there on 61st & Halsted he waited for the neighborhood kids to come home.
Home… into the neighborhood.
This was an exciting year for 6-year-old Red Brendle. She started first grade, even if she had to wear the hand-me-down uniform from her big sister, she felt special. She was no longer tethered to her block. She was part of the pack that walked to school every day, past Halsted Street; all the way to Our Lady of Solace.
Not only that, she had a front row seat from her dining room window into the kitchen window of the Harris’ flat and a partial view of the little girl Julie’s bedroom. And there were wonderful sights…Julie had a marionette…and she was only FOUR. Life was so unfair! Red also eyed the doll house and watched as Julie placed the little furniture in each room. All the while Red would try to direct her from the next building….No, no the bed should be on that wall. But, Julie couldn’t hear Red’s orders. But wait….not only that, Red saw the grey cadet uniform of Julie’s older brother hanging in the kitchen. Their mother, Anne Harris, would take it out of Chester’s closet once a week, sponge clean it then it would disappear for another week.
“What on earth are you doing?” Red’s mother said. “Get away from that window. You’re turning into a peeping tom! Stop it!”
Red reluctantly turned from the window not seeing what the big deal was all about, after all, she was only watching. As she slid from the windowsill she tried to understand the difference between ‘peeping’ and ‘watching’. Red saw no harm in being nosy about new neighbors; after all grown-ups did it all the time. Her attention soon was focused on the kitchen door. “Yo Red”.
Red ran out answering the call to the backyard. Seeing the neighborhood kids taking sides for a game of ‘red rover’ she rushed out to the large yard penned in by the back porches with their wooden stairs zig-zagging from the first floor up to the third. Her flat lay perpendicular to these porches and had only four flats, a duplex with only one set of stairs on each side zig-zagging to the second floor. Her eyes quickly scanned the yard hoping to get on the strongest side. She took pride that such a popular game was named after her, and she always did her best to win. But then, Red always did her best to win.
Nuts! She saw that the only place left for her was on the team of her big sister, Dory, and Sylvester. Dory was Red’s bane. ’Oh, always be fair…’ even when the other kid took unfair advantage…that didn’t mean anything to Dory. Okay, Red thought, this game tanked. She kept in mind that Sylvester always struggled along with his leg braces, but according to ‘Dory’s code of honor’ she had to make it look as if it was she that was the weak link. Grrr! Red had no choice but to go along with it, Dory’s beatific look was worse than losing the lousy game.
Rat-boy Van Dyke wiped his snotty nose with one hand and with the other poked around the alley dumpsters with a stick. He was impervious to the flies and rancid smells and there between the dumpsters he saw what he was poking for and dragged the dead rat out by the tail, then he noticed something else wedged there. After some more poking he dragged out something he couldn’t identify. With more stick prodding he finally poked out a gooey-blood-soaked mass of fur. Geez, wow. He stooped down for a better look. It’s a cat, or at least part of one. He gazed in wonder for a moment, poked a little more with the stick. It was too bad it didn’t have the tail part; that would have been a sight to see.
Rat-boy turned his attention to the dead rat. It wasn’t one of the biggest he’d gotten, but it would do. He picked it up by the tail, held it behind his back and looked to the yard of playing, unsuspecting kids. He quietly approached, when he was almost upon them he let go with a banshee yell and ran among them swinging the rat above his head.
Kids scattered everywhere screaming. Rat-boy continued to run around in circles laughing and screeching. “Knock it off Toby. I mean it, knock it off!” came a shout. Rat-boy turned in the direction of his sister’s voice. “Get that thing out of here right now!” Rat-boy hadn’t noticed his sister was in the yard, if he had he would’ve waited for another time for his raid; and if she wasn’t bigger than him he’d have ignored her. Deflated, he headed back toward the alley, the rat dangling at his side.
Francie Van Dyke watched in humiliation as her brother left the yard. He was the most detestable human being she’d ever known, and to her everlasting shame he was her own brother. She was finally fitting in…finding her place…a new feeling…normal. There were times when she was younger she knew she should soften those feelings; after all, Toby didn’t ask to be born that stupid, nor did he ask for the accident that had taken his eye and replaced it with a heinous scar. But given a few years, she realized he wasn’t just stupid and ugly; there was something really wrong with him. God, she had ‘rat-boy’ for a brother.
Francie walked through the gangway. She couldn’t face all those kids right now.
But she shouldn’t have worried about facing the yard kids. Rat-boy had a knack of emptying the yard as soon as his presence was known…rat or no rat.
And the yard did empty…kids pairing off in twos and threes to go play either indoors or out front.
Dory Brendle and Janet Porter headed for the Porter’s flat. Red, Kitty Shanahan and Karen Valusi headed for the front sidewalk.
As Red and Kitty grabbed each end of the jump rope, Karen began to bounce.
Dory looked at the empty dog dish on the Porter’s linoleum floor.
“Didn’t he ever come home?”
Janet automatically opened the refrigerator door and pulled out the lemonade.
“No. We looked and called for two days. Dad said that some dogs from the pound just can’t keep still. He said they’re just natural wanderers…whatever that means. Said it’ll be okay ’cause they just follow their own star and they’re happier that way”, Janet shrugged as she juggled the lemonade, pie and salami. Dory tucked into the snack without another thought to the missing family dog.
As the sun began to set, the porch behind Min’s store began to be occupied by teenagers. Tiny’s friends, or at least those that had nothing better to do, began to congregate. Min spoke to her daughter through the screen door. “You best have those empty bottles crated before your dad sees it”.
“Okay, okay, I’ll do it”, Tiny said rolling her eyes. “Hey, guys, how ’bout a little help here”. She began to slap the empty pop bottles into the crates. Rosalie, Ace, Murph and Patty got off their haunches and began to pitch in. Only Crazy Jim continued to slouch against the porch beam.
Once the empty bottles were crated Patty pulled Ace into the corner of the porch. She fingered his ring on the chain around her neck. In a nook of the porch she knew she had to get a commitment from the best looking boy on the porch. She began to nuzzle. Ace felt the hot blood of desire that would be recognized by any teen-age boy.
Continuing to finger the chained ring she tried to give him her most smoldering kiss; a kiss filled with sex and promises.
“It’s not really that much that I’m asking,” she purred as he felt her breath in his ear. “After all, you did say you loved me. So what’s so wrong with letting people see it? Just a little statement of your feelings for me.”
Ace’s brain went into shut down; after all she was just asking that her name be permanently put on his arm. It wasn’t as though she was asking for a real commitment; she didn’t want his money, she didn’t want to run off and get married, it was just her name on his arm.
As her kisses became more seductive his resistance weakened; after all it was only a name in a heart and at this moment Patty did fill his young heart. Ace was not thinking of permanence, he was only thinking of Patty.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Murph asked as Ace pulled his crate to the center of the porch.
“He better be sure,” Patty answered for him.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Ace replied.
Murph quietly told Tiny to get a needle and ink, everyone circled around Ace. Murph unwrapped and put the needle to the flame of his lighter.
“Okay, it has to be in the middle of a heart,” Patty directed. Ace nodded in approval as he pulled the sleeve of his tee-shirt up high over his bicep. Murph carefully began piercing the skin on Ace’s arm.
“Oh, you better make the heart big enough to include ‘Patty Cake’,” Rosalie said derisively.
“Or ‘U.S. Prime’” Crazy Jim added snidely.
The tattoo Ace would have really wanted was a picture of the queen of hearts, but knew Murph’s limited artistic abilities and that Patty wouldn’t accept anything other than her name. His last minute misgivings were crowded out by his pride, he wouldn’t nor couldn’t back out now. So Murph began to carefully cut the skin and Ace would live the rest of his life with the crude but durable tattoo of a heart with ‘Patty’ in the center, not quite thinking his future wife’s name may be Elizabeth, Mary or Peggy.
Over an hour and several bloodied tissues later Patty had what she wanted…her property clearly marked.
Rosalie looked on through the process with green eyes. But unlike Patty, Rosalie wouldn’t be happy with just one boy; if given her way she’d have half the boys in Englewood wearing her stamp on their biceps.
Leo arrived and looked at Murph’s handiwork with approval, though he himself would never get caught in a snare. Leo was a semi-regular on the porch; he was a roamer between teen-age groups hanging on corners, on apartment building front stoops and on this porch. Always welcomed at all, but never sticking to any with regularity. He brought any news of the other groups, which were always looking for trouble, which were growing in numbers.
Rosalie handed him a bottle of pop then put her arm around his shoulder. “Hey sugar, haven’t seen you around lately. Staying out of trouble?” she flirted. Leo stepped away from her and found a space between Ace and Crazy Jim. He knew if he kept a distance from Rosalie his chances of staying out of trouble quadrupled.
This was a porch of young tight bodies and raging hormones…few thinking or caring of future repercussions.
As the wind picked up and the temperature dropped the back porch girls took out their head scarves and the boys threw their jackets over their shoulders, first making sure their cigarette packs and lighters went from their rolled up tee shirt sleeves to their jacket pockets. The greatest faux pas was not looking cool.
Kitchen lights went on all through the neighborhood. Clanking and tinkling of pots and pans could be heard. It was dinnertime. Slowly the porch emptied. Tiny sat on the Orange Crush box alone, not wanting to go inside.
Tiny knew that her biggest attraction to these teenage ne’er-do-wells was that her mom owned the corner store…which meant there was usually free pop, Min looked the other way when candy bars disappeared. Tiny was over-weight and it was overlooked. Tiny was aware of why these kids accepted her, but it didn’t make her feel any better. She was quietly thankful that her mom kept the cigarettes behind the counter and under lock and key when the store was closed. She knew that given a chance these ‘friends’ of hers would rob her mother blind.
“Get your fat ass in here you little bitch,” her father Ralph pushed open the screen door and reached for her sleeve, dragging her into the apartment. Tiny could smell the whiskey on his breath and tried to meld into the wallpaper as she slunk into her room.
As Min stood behind the front counter she heard her husband and the slam of the back door. She stepped into the kitchen to check the stew simmering on the stove, then back to the front counter. Her heart broke thinking of her daughter, but there was only so much one person can do. She again went to the back apartment, leaned into the living room, saw Ralph in the easy chair cradling his glass, “dinner’s on” she said. She returned to the kitchen, pulled a plate from the cupboard and began filling it with the stew, adding bread on the side. She brought the plate into Tiny’s room.
“Here, sugar, it’s nice and hot”, she said as she approached.
Tiny sat on her bed with her knees pulled up under her chin. “I’m not hungry”.
“Baby, you gotta eat.”
“No I don’t Mama, I really don’t”.
Min put the plate on her daughter’s dresser and quietly pulled the door closed behind her.
Ralph was standing in front of the stove, his chin dripping with stew juice as he gobbled the food from the pot. Min’s thoughts went back to her daughter’s room trying to remember what it was like to be young, and the pain of trying to fit in…the pain of growing up. She could only hope her daughter would make better choices than she had made. This neighborhood was filled with unseen guilt and unanswered ambitions.
Min’s bruises were almost gone, only a light yellow glowed from her jaw. She simply returned to the front counter, hoping that Ralph would be snoring deeply asleep in his whiskey haze by closing time.
Donny Van Dyke sat sullenly on his front stoop. Karen Valusi and Nancy Porter came skipping out from next-door with Red Brendle right behind. They headed to Min’s store. He hung his head. He hated this neighborhood, he hated this city. If he wanted kids all around all he had to do is go up to his own flat to his eight brothers and sisters. He missed West Virginia where a guy could run…and run.
It had been almost two years since his feet felt the softness of green grass. The promises of good jobs which had drawn his family here bore no fruit, only his realization that even if they had, his father had neither the skills nor the ambition and found that the big, impersonal city was generous with a monthly charity check, perhaps absolving itself from any real human charity. Donny however managed to get jobs after school hours at some of the local small stores, it kept him in cigarettes and an occasional movie.
He liked the movie theaters, in the darkness he could forget the crowded flat, his indolent beer-filled father and apathetic mother. He was only fourteen, he didn’t fit with the gang behind Min’s store; he didn’t fit with the little kids playing their games. He was just a misfit. He felt suffocated by his loneliness; he remembered being alone in the woods of West Virginia, but he never felt loneliness until coming to this bustling cesspool of a city.
He first heard the click of her heels on the sidewalk. He didn’t look up toward her. “Hi Donny”, she smiled. “Mmm”, he said as he moved his legs from the stoop. It must be Wednesday, Social Worker Day. Miss Lawry headed to the front door.
“How’s your mom?”
“Same” he replied.
“That’s too bad”.
The only way he could see out was Russo. He didn’t have to get in too deep, only enough to get back to West Virginia. Whenever Russo was in the neighborhood Donny would sidle up. Soon Russo noticed him, liked his persistence. As though reading his mind he looked up and saw Russo.
“Hey Donny, want to earn a little money?”
“Sure, who do I have ta kill?”
Russo laughed, “Nobody kid…just pick up the numbers for me on Wednesdays; it’s my slow day. You know from Min and Jack Gross. Just be sure the tallies are straight, if they’re not, downtown ain’t gonna be happy. Understand?”
“Yeah I understand.” Donny said as Russo handed him a cigarette.
Donny felt he was finally getting in. Into what he wasn’t quite sure; but it was better than where he was now.
“Com’on I’ll introduce you to Min and Joe” and they walked toward Min’s.
Miss Lawry walked to the upstairs flat and knocked. The Van Dyke family was just one of her many cases, but they stood out. This was as close to bedlam as she ever wanted to be.
“Hello Mrs. Van Dyke” she said as Rita opened the door with one of the twins on her hip. “Well, hello there!” she smiled touching the child’s chin. “Now which one are you?” She half expected Rita to say something, but as usual Rita simply turned away toward the table standing in the middle of the dining room.
Miss Lawry followed, traversing the gauntlet of cots, clothes, toys and, of course, children. Sitting down she opened her case and put the file on her lap, there was no room on the table. Rita sat across staring at her with dead, doll’s eyes. Looking past Rita, Miss Lawry peered through the doorway to the kitchen. Clothes lines zig-zagged across the kitchen filled mostly with diapers. Two hot plates were on the cupboard counter holding two big pots. She absent-mindedly patted toddlers as they leaned on her with curiosity.
“Is Mr. Van Dyke home?”
“No” Rita said, almost inaudibly.
“Oh, is he working today?”
“Tryin’ I suppose.”
Miss Lawry gave up trying to have anything close to a conversation with this woman. As usual she opened the file in her lap to update and check off all the necessary boxes on the forms. Are all the kids going to school? Is she taking the children to the free clinic for immunizations and check-ups? Is her husband continuing to look for work? Etc., etc., etc. Then on the last page of the report was Update Status: again Miss Lawry wrote: ‘The Same’. Beneath that was just one word followed by half a blank page; COMMENTS:
This was the part that always stumped her. What could anyone say to comment on this family and the way they lived? Ignorant…dirty…slow-witted…probably perverse and contagious – or all of the above. Sometimes she wondered if Mrs. Van Dyke was really Mr. Van Dyke’s sister, or even his mother, heaven forbid his daughter. Finally she left it blank and would worry about it back at the office. Suddenly she was in a hurry to leave, wanting to go home, out of this apartment flat, out of this neighborhood and just take a shower. In the hallway as she reached for the doorknob she heard a man’s voice “Is she gone yet?”
Sam Brendle came out of the steaming bathroom feeling better. He pushed his work overalls into the garbage pail on the back porch reserved for his dirty work overalls. His wife Helen was already putting dinner on the table, Dory was already sitting at her place and Red came running through the flat from the bedroom she shared with her sister. She quickly sat down. “Boy, I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?”
“Nothing” her mother said “until you wash those hands”. Red slipped from her chair with a huff and headed toward the steamy bathroom.
Helen held the frying pan in one hand and put a hamburger on each plate, then added another to her husband’s. Dory was already slathering hers with ketchup when Red thumped into her seat.
“Where’d you get the meat?” Sam asked.
“The Jewel” Helen replied.
“Just be sure not to go to Olson’s”.
“I know, I know, you don’t have to say that every night”.
“God, I wish it was Friday. Fish sticks, mac and cheese, eggs…anything but meat”.
Helen sighed as she poured the milk. Sam working at the Union Stockyard slaughter house was better than Sam not working at all, but sometimes…sometimes.
Dory and Red were numb to their parents’ conversations about meat. They LIKED meat. Red knew her dad worked at the Stockyards, he even brought her down to see the animal pens once. She knew they smelled awful; she hated it when the wind would bring that vile smell twelve blocks into the neighborhood. Even with her knowing that, she never really connected all that to what was on her dinner plate; she just knew she liked meat.
In the upstairs flat, Mrs. Connors awoke in her rocking chair by the front window with a lapful of knitting to the chattering of her parakeets. She hadn’t remembered dozing off, something she was doing more often these days. As she collected the yarn she looked up to the sideboard and the aged wedding photo next to the radio. A young woman and a man in a starched collar stared back at her. Both looking pensive, both anxious of the future. “Ah, Sean, remember when time sped by…now it drags.” She thought that she had lost her Irish brogue, but in these moments it naturally came back, she could not help it.
She looked around the flat, laid her head back and tried to remember it as it was in 1901 when she and Sean first moved in. She smiled as she thought of herself as a young bride, recently off the boat from Ireland. It has changed remarkably little she thought. A lot of life happens in 50 years, yet little seems to change. Perhaps the faces are different, new inventions, but in the end people and lives just move through the same circle of life.
Again looking at the newly-weds stuck in time, caught in a frame on a sideboard, she spoke to Sean. “You didn’t know I managed to buy this little building did you. Of course, God forgive me, I had the luck of the depression and so many people lost their homes simply for the taxes, but I did work hard and won’t apologize to anyone. I know you tried Sean, but it really was easier to save a little now and then after you died. I no longer had to hand you my pay envelope, and you remember what a spendthrift you were. Don’t argue with me. You know you couldn’t keep an extra nickel; it had to go to the tavern. Well if you’re going to argue I just won’t talk to you anymore.”
Leaning and pulling back the lace curtain she looked onto Wallace Street, then glanced to the right and observed the teen-agers on Min’s back-porch. “Tsk, Tsk”. She reprimanded herself don’t judge, be careful Margaret my dear, judgment day isn’t far off for any of us.
“Well, sometimes life goes on”, she said as her eyes slid back to the photo.
Before going to the kitchen to warm up her supper, she headed to her bedroom to change into her slippers. She grimaced at the pain in her hip, sat on the edge of the bed taking off her shoes. There on the night table was another photo. This one smaller than the one in the front room. It was of a handsome young man wearing a bowler hat and a slight smile. She cupped it in her hands, gently kissing it, “I’ll always love you Tim, my Timmy”.
With a sigh Margaret Connors made her way to her kitchen and her supper.
Walter Storm sat at the far corner of the bar. Jack Gross put his usual beer in front of him. One of the things Jack liked about most of his customers was their predictability. It made it easier all around; who to expect through the door, how much beer and whiskey to order, when to clean the men’s room. Walter always came in when he ended his beat. He always had one beer. He always left a tip on the bar even though it was a tacit understanding that the beer was on the house.
The only thing about Walter that bothered him was that Walter always tried to get just a little more information about what was going on in the neighborhood. It was a fine line Jack had to walk. He liked that everybody knew the cop was there, it kind of deterred any ideas about a stick-up; on the other hand…there was Russo.
Walter looked around the bar and saw that he and Jack were alone.
“You’re not selling beer or anything to any of the Van Dyke kids, are you?”
“No, no, never. The ol’ man comes in gets his couple of quarts and leaves”, he lied.
“Okay, take care. I guess it would be pretty stupid to get closed down just for sellin’ under-aged, not to mention the risk of all the other shit goin’ on. See ya tomorrow.” Storm put two-bits on the bar and headed for the bus-stop on Halsted and his own wife and kids only a few miles away. Only a few miles, but it may as well have been a million miles. As much as he loved this neighborhood, he’d make sure his kids never grew up here, grew up as he did.
As Walter Storm was getting on the Halsted St. bus, Rat-boy Van Dyke walked through Jack’s Tavern door. Jack Gross looked at the nine-year-old from behind the bar. Jack was always taken aback, aside that this poor kid had one eye socket sewn shut and scarred, he was the homeliest kid he’d ever seen. “Hey kid, I told you not to use the front door. Now get in here, go to the back and I’ll get it.”
Rat-boy slapped the money on the bar, opened the door to the back room and waited.
“Here”, Jack said as he handed the two quarts of beer wrapped in a paper bag. “And if you come in through the front again you’ll go home with nothin’ and you can explain that to your dad!”
Jack watched as the boy walked down the alley. Though he’d never seen it … he heard the stories that this little gargoyle picked up dead rats near the dumpster and chased any little kid in sight, swinging the rat by the tail and laughing as they fled. In all his fifty-four years he’s never seen a kid this creepy. He watched Rat-boy as he turned from the alley, making sure he didn’t pick up any dead rats from his alley.
Jack sat on his perch at the corner of the bar looking over the green sheet and checking his favorite in each race. He would never put money on the ponies, but he enjoyed seeing how often he’d been right. It was just as well, Jack figured he’d be stone broke if he had actually bet money on them.
He heard the door open, expecting a customer and was stunned to see Jocko Gervasi standing before him. Jocko was pleased that no one else was in the bar and sat on the bar stool across from Jack.
“When did you get out?” Jack’s surprise filled his face.
“Not that long ago,” Jocko said.
“So what have you been up to?” Jack said and quickly added “I’m not sure I really want to know.”
“I don’t think you do, but I have a few favors to pay. I need a copy of all the chits you give Russo, only he can’t know you’re givin’ em to me.”
“So what am I supposed to say to him?” Jack’s concern filled his face.
“Nothing. That way nobody gets hurt.”
“He’s supposed to pick up later, give me a minute and I’ll give you the copy now.”
Jack went to the tin box kept behind the bar and began scribbling a copy. He handed it to Jocko.
“I’ll be seein’ ya regular, but don’t let on you know me. I have to keep this quiet.”
“Sure,” Jack said as Jocko turned to leave.
“Wait a minute, I have something for you,” he said. Jocko turned warily as Jack went to the door of the back room. Jocko’s eyes darted around the bar as he waited.
Jack removed two crates of empty whiskey and beer bottles and stooped to open the safe behind them. He removed a bag.
“Here,” he said as he re-entered the bar offering the bag to Jocko.
Jocko quizzically took the bag and looked into it. Inside were several stuffed envelopes, he opened the flap of one and was amazed to see money; he quickly thumbed through the bills. There has to be thousands in here.
“What’s this about?” he said closing the bag.
“A deal’s a deal. Remember?”
“After all this time? I didn’t think…” Jocko began.
“Like I said a deal’s a deal. I owe you more than just money,” Jack smiled.
Jocko quietly turned toward the door with the bag under his arm.
As Walter walked through the front door he smiled at the welcome of “Daddy’s home” and the beam of his daughter’s smile. “Hey; Daddy’s home! You can read me my story tonight, okay Daddy?”
“We’ll see”, he gently pushed her away. “First I have to change my uniform. Carol…Carol, will you take care of this while I change?” he called.
His wife peered from the kitchen and through the dining room as she called her six-year-old to her. Walter glanced to his oldest sitting at the dining room table scribbling next to an open book.
“What, no ‘hi’ for your ol’ man?” Not looking up, Trisha impatiently sighed. Walter continued to the bedroom where he closed the door, hung up his patrolman’s jacket, removed his holster and pistol laying them on the bed. He carefully removed the bullets, putting them in the dresser drawer then wrapped and placed the pistol on the top closet shelf behind a shoe box.
“Okay, now can you read me my story, Daddy?” Debbie cried.
“Not now pumpkin, maybe later”.
“Leave your father alone, go play or watch television, it’s almost bedtime”, Carol said opening the oven and taking out a full plate. As she put it on the table Walter felt a storm brewing and decided to pull himself in, leaving only his radar up.
“You’re going to have to read to her tonight. I’ve had it today.”
“Sure, fine”, he mumbled. She stood looking at him, obviously wanting more.
“Okay”, he said. “I’ll read to her. I still don’t know why they have to go to bed so early.”
“Because it’s bedtime. If you could get decent hours maybe we could have dinner together, you know, all four of us at the table together, like normal people. Really Walter, you don’t seem to even care that I have these kids all day. You come home they’re ready for bed, half the time you work on Saturdays, you’re never there for the teachers’ conferences, you’re never there to hear their whining and complaining…oh, no, you just breeze in here every night”. Walter’s head began to pound. “You’re not even listening to me, you never listen to me”.
“I’m listening”, his meatloaf was turning sour in his mouth. He had almost memorized her litany of woes, he tuned into the dull drone in his head and wished he was back in the neighborhood, back on his beat.
“But why can’t I play in the yard with the other kids?” Julie pouted.
Anne Harris wanted to say ‘just because’ but knew her four-year-old daughter would only continue to whine and argue. “Look, honey, there’s no grass there, only dirt and probably broken glass, just stay on the porch where I can keep an eye on you. Okay?”
“It’s not fair!” and she began to cry.
“I’ll tell you what; if you just play on the porch for a little while I’ll tell Chester to take you down to the drugstore for a sundae. How does that sound?”
“It’s still not fair, Daddy would’ve let me,” she snuffled, but capitulated.
“Well, you’re Daddy’s in heaven,” Anne snapped, “and he’ll be there a long time. So don’t get off the porch or you can just go take a nap.” Anne felt another headache coming on. Julie went on to the back porch…dragging a doll behind her, still pouting.
Suddenly her son Chester appeared in the doorway.
“How long are you going to keep telling her that Dad’s in heaven? Sooner or later she’ll find out,” he smirked.
Her fifteen-year-old son was taller than she. “Not now Chester, please,” she said rubbing her forehead. “I have enough to deal with. I just don’t want her playing with riff-raff.”
Chester reached into the refrigerator for the orange juice. His lip curled cruelly, “Hey, Mom, we are the riff-raff, or hadn’t you noticed?”
Anne folded into the kitchen chair, bent her head and sobbed. Chester was satisfied and went back to his bedroom, laid on his bed and turned on the bedside radio. He felt no compassion for his mother; he knew her only regret was that his dad was caught. And by being caught it not only disrupted the status she’d prized, it totally ruined the upward mobility she had carefully and painfully built. The country club set, that she nurtured, cultivated and preened for shunned her overnight.
As far as Chester was concerned both his parents were pathetic; his father a weak lap dog and his mother a cold, weak parasite. He didn’t miss the suburbs as his mother did, he’d felt disdain for the people in his life there and felt just as repulsed by the people here. He was always aware of his detachment and saw to it that it was maintained.
Growing up his interests never involved other people. The only thing he really missed from his ‘other’ life was the fishing and hunting. He moved to his desk and continued working on the fishing fly; he worked meticulously feeling that this was a lost art; certainly of no interest to anyone but himself.
Chester’s only other interest was his job; a job which his father had arranged before his trial began. Ben Harris and George Macklin were golfing buddies. The evidence of Ben’s guilt seemed overwhelming and he expected to be found guilty. The trail of his embezzlements left no doubt. George was about the only one of the community even willing to talk to him.
George owned the Stockyards Inn, a well-known top rated restaurant abutted to the entrance of the Union Stockyards; a place that drew customers from the suburbs and better parts of the city. The people living around the Stockyards could only dream of passing the doorman, let alone afford a meal. George had invested a great deal in the venting system; once inside the patrons were grateful for the fresh air. The restaurant’s uniqueness was the ability to first pass an area showcasing an array of cuts of meat, choose one, and then it was custom cut to order. Another draw was the fact that it was the freshest meat in town and George had first look and made sure it was all prime.
Ben anticipated Anne would fall apart, all his family’s lives would never be the same. Anne’s obsession with the ‘better life-style’ played a major role in his present situation; but he still loved her. He felt guilty that the only help he could give was to arrange with George to give Chester a job as busboy in his restaurant; he felt more guilt about that than he did about his crimes. The money that Chester would make would be mainly customers’ tips, but at this high end restaurant customers were generous.
Anne Harris finished sponging her son’s grey cadet uniform. Soon it would be too small for him; but it didn’t matter, he would never wear it again. There was something in her soul that had to be kept alive; the life she had in the suburbs; the life she had before her husband was convicted and sent to Joliet State Penitentiary (Statesville); the life she had before this neighborhood. So she continued to sponge clean this grey uniform week after week, hang it once again into his closet; only to bring it out to begin again.
Kitty Shanahan started walking from the school and keeping with her mother’s admonitions stayed close to the familiar kids from her neighborhood, then found herself with Lorry. Lorry was a blond, her uniform blouses were always starched and gleaming white; she was just about the prettiest girl Kitty had ever seen. The first grade at Our Lady of Solace had its largest incoming class in history, so it was little wonder that Kitty and Lorry only saw one another, not really becoming friends. But today Lorry approached Kitty on the walk home and began telling Kitty about her new puppy.
Lorry seemed to have a need to share her news with someone. Soon Kitty learned that Lorry was not only beautiful, she was also one of the nicest people she had ever met.
“Please come home with me to see him,” Lorry pleaded and gently pulled on Kitty’s arm. They turned a corner and Kitty hesitated for a moment as she watched the throng of kids moving ahead toward her own neighborhood.
“Okay,” she smiled as they turned down an unfamiliar street. She knew her mother would be upset, she had strict orders to stay with her group to and from school. But she couldn’t say no to Lorry; she felt special that the prettiest girl in class chose her to see her new puppy. She promised herself she wouldn’t stay long.
While walking Kitty learned that Lorry was an only child and her parents worked in offices and now that she was in school her mother no longer brought her to a babysitter for the day. Her mother told her she mustn’t leave the flat and to ignore the doorbell until her parents returned from work. Kitty thought of her own arrival home from school; her mother greeting her with a snack, kids pulling off their school clothes and climbing into play clothes, then out the door for games and sometimes adventures. Suddenly she felt a little sorry for Lorry, she must feel very lonely.
Lorry stopped at a brick two flat and pulled a ribbon from around her neck. It held a door key. Kitty had never seen anyone her age with their own door key before, she glanced up and down the tree-lined street, the block of brick two flats, the flowers in the small front plots of green grass; windows even sparkled in the sunshine and Kitty saw that her life was very different than her new friend’s. As the girls put their school bags on a table by the front door, they heard yipping, whining and scratching from somewhere down the hallway.
“Com’on, I just got him yesterday. I haven’t really even named him yet,” Lorry skipped through the hall to the closed bathroom door. “Maybe you can help me give ’em a good name.”
Lorry’s excitement was infectious and Kitty found herself thinking of names that any dog would be proud to own.
“Pee-eew”, Lorry exclaimed holding her nose as she opened the bathroom door. The torn newspapers were mixed with urine, feces and a tangled blanket. “I gotta clean this up so the smell is gone by the time my mom comes home. She didn’t really want to keep him, but daddy let me keep him.”
The black and white spotted dog jumped first on Lorry then on Kitty and back again, the yet un-named and untrained puppy slurped their faces and soon the girls were giggling and all three were rollicking on the linoleum floor. After cleaning the bathroom the afternoon passed between the backyard and the kitchen floor. Lorry was delighted that she not only had her own puppy, but because of it she now had a new friend. Soon the puppy was named…Bozo…because he made them laugh so hard.
When Kitty noticed the afternoon shadows getting longer she realized she’d be late and her mother would pitch a fit. She promised Lorry that she would ask her mother if she could come to play again after school and maybe someday Lorry could come to her house.
He sat on the gnarled root of the old tree with his head between his hands waiting for the hammer to stop, each time it struck he knew it chipped a little more of his brain away. He was long past knowing he wasn’t like other people, that and the fact that now he found the voice, or rather it found him. It was his only source of relief and he had learned it wouldn’t visit unless he kept it a secret and that it wouldn’t sooth the pain unless he obeyed. His rational-self told him the voice wasn’t real, that it was only in his head, but he began to depend on it none the less; with it came relief and absolution.
Kitty hurried along worrying about facing her mother, surely it would be dark by the time she got home. She decided to take the short-cut through the empty lot because it would lead her to the far end of her alley and closer to home. The lot looked different as dusk descended; the overgrown bushes and half-dead trees cast shadows and she gripped her schoolbag tighter. Her imagination grew along with her panic; she picked up her pace and tripped over a broken brick; the school bag flew out of her hand and she landed face down, her uniform blouse torn and knee badly skinned, she sat and began to cry.
The voice came to him and he began to relax when the percussion in his head ebbed then he heard her cries and the voice told him what to do. He was surprised when he heard the sounds of someone else in this little urban woodland/rubbish heap, but the voice probably commanded her to be there as it did him. The voice purred its demands… his pain receded… he moved from the tree root and the bushes to approach the child.
Kitty first heard, then saw the swaying bushes and the emerging figure. In the distance she could hear her name being called… it sounded so far away. Her plan flashed through her mind, she would get up and run, run as fast as she could, run home, not caring what punishment her mother administered…at least she’d be home…at least she’d be safe.
“Well, what do we have here,” he said softly.
She was about to put her plan into action when she looked up and saw his face.
“Oh. I know you,” she said. He could hear the relief in her voice and smiled down at her.
“I stopped after school and didn’t know how late it was. My mom is going to be so mad at me.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” he smiled reaching for the piece of rope in his back pocket.
Kitty started to get up thinking she must remember to get her school bag when she felt the weight of his hands push her to the ground. He sat on her chest, his knees holding down her arms, her fright turned to terror and his smile turned to a satisfied sneer as he slipped the rope around her throat cutting off the half-started scream along with her life. When her legs stopped their futile kicking he sat back, still on her chest he tilted his head and looked down at her fixed eyes, he enjoyed these moments…these were the quiet moments…the moments before the voice told him to continue…the moments before the frenzy, before all the blood. He carried the knife more often than not now…never knowing when he would need the voice and its promises of peace.
When he had finished he crouched down, saw his work and was satisfied, the distant calls brought him back, he had to leave her now, what a pity.
“Kitty! ... Kitty!” Mrs. Shanahan called from the second floor back-porch. The handful of kids in the yard ignored the call. “Kitty…Kitten!” she persisted.
The neighborhood kids were scattered into groups, some busy with marbles, some jumping rope, others just hanging around.
When Kitty didn’t come through the door after school Jo Ann Shanahan put it down to Kitty’s lagging, then to her stopping by a neighborhood friend’s flat. Her son Tommy Jr. reported that he had seen Kitty with the usual group of kids leaving Our Lady of Solace, then his attention returned to his own group of older kids. He didn’t remember when he lost sight of her, it never occurred to him to pay attention. But as she looked to the yard and across the porches, most of the neighborhood kids were accounted for, Kitty was not among them. She tried to ignore her growing panic.
“Hey, any o’ you kids see Kitty?” She was answered with shakes of heads, some shrugged shoulders and ‘no’s’ and ‘unh-unh’s’. She spotted one of the kids and called to her. “Nancy, run around to Min’s and see if she’s there. And tell her she better get home PDQ if she knows what’s good for her.”
“Yes ma’am”. Nancy left the yard and ran through the gangway.
Coming around the corner she saw a couple kids down the block playing hop-scotch, but Kitty Shanahan was not among of them. The cow-bell tinkled as she opened the door to Min’s. Min and Helen Brendle looked to the door.
“Have you seen Kitty? Her mom’s lookin’ for her and gettin’ mad.” Both women shook their head. Min returned to bagging Helen’s order. More customers trickled in to get the ‘this and that’s’ they had forgotten about but needed for the evening supper. The slow steady flow of working men and women returned to the neighborhood, most silently being grateful that it was Friday. The sun was losing its warmth.
“She ain’t at Min’s, Mrs. Shanahan, and I didn’t see her anywhere,” Nancy reported then returned to the din of the backyard.
Jo Ann Shanahan looked two porches over and saw Naomi Porter taking in laundry from the porch clothes line. “Naomi,” she shouted, “have you seen Kitty?”
“No, not today,” she called back. Naomi Porter looked down to the backyard picking out her two girls, then returned to the clothesline.
“Can I send Tommy, Jr. over to stay with you while I go looking for her?”
“Sure, no problem. Check in at the Powicki’s, they got that new T.V. maybe they’re just watchn’ it.”
Jo Ann turned the gas off from under the pot then quickly scribbled a note to her husband telling him she was out looking for Kitty and that he should pick up Tommy from Naomi Porter’s. She carefully looked once again into the yard. Then she began her search. She first went to the Powicki’s, but Kitty hadn’t been seen.
As the dark crept over the neighborhood the streets and yards emptied of children being called home for the night. Mrs. Shanahan’s voice echoed… “Kitty, Kitty…my kitten, where are you?”
After sunset, the men of the neighborhood emerged…with flashlights, with lead pipes, with hammers and with determination. Kitty Shanahan was not any child---she was one of theirs. The boys on Min’s back porch grabbed the empty pop bottles and followed the men, hot blood pumping in their veins; they just wanted to hit something or someone, anxious to vent their unidentified anger and frustrations.
So as the mothers hovered over their nests…the men searched.
It started as a normal day. Walter stepped off the bus at 61st & Halsted and as he walked down 61st Street suddenly his step hesitated…squad cars, a coroner’s van, Chicago cops everywhere! ‘What the fuck!’ went through Walter’s head. He made his way toward the flashing lights and Wallace Street. Being in uniform himself he had no trouble wedging his way through the throng of uniforms as he made his way to the gangway.
Tony Russo grabbed his arm. “What the fuck is going on?”…Walter shook him off, looking for somebody in charge. He spied Lt. Dick Novack and his gut churned; what was a homicide detective doing here.
Russo stayed leaning against the brick gangway wall watching Storm cross the backyard toward the detective.
Walter headed to the alley where he saw the attendants pushing a gurney carrying a sheeted small body. Novack stopped them before they put the body in the coroner’s van and nodded for Walter to approach. Novack lifted the corner of the sheet to show the face of a little girl.
“Mary mother of God….It’s Kitty…Kitty Shanahan!” Walter felt his gut wrench… “When did you find her? … Where did you find her? ... Have her parents been told? ... Have they seen her…like this?” Walter’s brain was straining in twelve different directions at once.
“People from Family Services are talking to the parents now,” replied Novack.
“What do you mean people from family services? They don’t know who Kitty is…they don’t know who the Shanahans are.”
“I know how you feel,” Novack said as he put his hand on Storm’s arm leading him a few feet from the body. “She was found down there”, he said nodding to the end of the long alley, “in the vacant lot.”
“Who found her? When?” Storm asked as he looked around.
“Apparently a neighborhood search party. When the she didn’t come home from school they called around and finally after dark and she still didn’t show, they went on their own search before calling us.”
Storm’s eyes narrowed, “have you found anything?
Novack sighed. “I’m sorry, it’s still too early. Let us handle this, no offense…but you might just get in the way. We know what we’re doing.”
“Look Novack, let’s back up a bit,” Storm pulled away from Novack’s touch. “This is my neighborhood. I know you have your job to do, but let me help, at least initially. Coming from downtown I don’t think you quite understand how it works down here.”
Novack nodded to the coroner attendants and the sheeted gurney disappeared down the alley and into a coroner’s van.
“Don’t push me Walter. I’m gonna do it my way. Just don’t get in my way…look, just talk to people here…find out if anybody saw anything…I have my guys talking to them too…then get back to me if you think you might have something. If you need help, my guys can show you some of the ropes.” Novack gave Walter a dismissive look and turned away.
Walter gave Lt. Novack a wide berth. He turned and headed back to the street through the gangway where he again met Tony Russo.
“Got the same bum’s rush that I did, huh?” Russo said.
“Pretty much”, Walter replied.
“This isn’t his ground, he doesn’t have anything invested in it. At least not like we do”, Russo said as he closely watched Walter.
“Yeah, well this is my ground, and I have a lot invested in it. And I don’t like seein’ my kids butchered!”
Walter watched as the blood drained from Russo’s face. He had been watching from a distance, saw a body but was too far away to see that it was a child.
Russo quickly recovered and said, “Look, I know you don’t like me, and I’m not that fond of you; but we got one thing in common”, Russo said as he leaned into Walter. “We both care about this neighborhood…maybe in different ways…but we care. More than those downtown assholes. What say we quietly look around, get the motherfucker that did this. We don’t have to follow downtown rules and regulations…we can just make things happen. Whad’ya say. Work together?”
The last thing Tony Russo wanted was cops swarming through his district. He had already noticed more cops around in a couple other neighborhoods in Englewood and it made his job harder, cops made people nervous; especially people he did business with.
Walter looked at Russo closely and with suspicion. “I’ll think about it.”
Walter approached Jo Ann and Tom Shanahan. Huddled alone, in obvious shock, with their son trying to get comfort between them, but being wedged out. This moment of torment was exclusively reserved to Mom and Dad. Walter came closer and put his arm around Tommy, who grabbed the officer as though he was a life line.
Storm looked up to one of the second floor back porches and saw Vera. Damn, he thought, it’s Friday. Their eyes locked, she put one finger to her lips and nodded with sad understanding. Vera, he thought, thank God you’re there.
Walter went to the Englewood Station trying to get information on the Kitty Shanahan case. Lt. Novack and his people seemed to block him at every turn. After all, Walter was just a beat cop, not connected to the homicide department. Okay, thought Walter, they didn’t understand that when a homicide happens on a cop’s beat … it was personal. It was definitely personal to the parents and to the other parents on the block, even to Tony Russo, who had a responsibility to his higher-ups to keep a relatively peaceful environment for their operations. And a child being murdered definitely was not conducive to a peaceful environment in which to pursue their business.
All through that Friday night neighborhood lights remained lit behind closed curtains and wakeful parents obsessively checked on their sleeping children.
That night the downstairs of the station was alive with the usual weekend parade; the drunks, the prostitutes, the brawlers and a few burglars, their nights work being booked into evidence. But upstairs the bullpen of mostly empty desks sat in semi-darkness…only the back corner was lit with the ceiling and desk lights. Novack pulled the next binder to him, flipping it open his gut wrenched; he flipped quickly through the photos to the written reports.
“I have to pack it in”, Detective Walsh said reaching for his coat jacket. “I can’t see straight.” Walsh looked to the clock…12:45.
“Okay Harry, see ya tomorrow,” Novak didn’t take his eyes from the page.
He knew he was too brusque with Storm. But the Chief wanted to keep this quiet for as long as possible and time was not on his side. Sooner or later the papers would get hold of it, then at best a hue and cry for heads to roll, at worst another dead child. Pinching the bridge of his nose he tried to get his head organized; tried to organize the four murder book binders. Kitty Shanahan’s was the latest of the four. He re-read the reports and looked through the crime scene photos again. There were similarities, all four were children, all four bodies were found in their own south side neighborhoods, all four were strangled with what the coroner said was a piece of rope then stabbed post mortem in the same way. Actually stab might be the wrong term, he thought, these kids were slit from the sternum to the genitals and all had one little finger missing. What kind of sick fuck would mutilate them after death? He realized the answer was in the question…a really sick fuck.
No murder weapon was found, the fingers could not be found and the murderer left no clues which Novack could see or find. But he knew there had to be something here in front of him; something he just didn’t see, but there had to be something; so he kept re-reading and re-looking until almost dawn.
Ordinarily Jack’s Tavern was crowded on a Friday night, Jack looked down the almost empty bar and approached his lone customer.
“What’ll it be Mickey? The usual?” he said as he pulled the spigot to fill the glass.
Mickey Finn was a sparse man with a band of hair circling his head and a grand bald dome at the top…but his most remarkable feature was the one tooth in his head. Not just the fact he had only one tooth, but where it was located. It was magnificently placed right in the middle of his upper jaw. Obviously proud of it, he usually grinned widely, but not tonight.
He had looked forward to this night. He planned on buying a round on the house for everyone. He planned to celebrate the first paycheck he’d earned in a few years. Knowing he should be mourning as everyone else, he sipped his brew guiltily. Knowing he should be home with Sara and the kids, he guiltily sipped another.
“How’s Sara and the kids?” Jack said as he wiped the already clean bar.
“Fine, fine”, Mickey frowned, the guilt piling up around him.
Jack wished he could just close up, Mickey’s couple of beers weren’t going pay for the juice to fill a light bulb. But, a customer was a customer.
“And the new job?” Jack asked. He didn’t know whether to mention the two U.S. Postal Investigators’ visit. But looking around he figured if he’s to give Mickey a heads-up, now in the empty bar would be the time to do it.
“The job?” Mickey saw a sliver of light for some kind of celebration, even if it was just the two of them. “Great job, Jack. Got my own leather mail pouch and everything; even a uniform,” he grinned broadly. “Pour me a shot, and don’t be stingy; have one on me too.” He wouldn’t admit, even to himself, that the postal carrier’s job was arranged by one of Sara’s second cousin’s husband. Sara was not above begging and both she and Mickey evolved to be the family’s charity; not their favorite charity, but their burden none the less.
Jack poured the two whiskeys, leaning on the bar he softly talked to Mickey.
“Day before yesterday a couple of suits came in asking questions about you.”
Mickey’s whiskey stopped mid-air and his eyes widened. “Yeah”, Jack continued “they flashed a couple of Postal Investigator badges and started asking questions.”
“What kind of questions?” Mickey’s drink slowly returned to the bar.
“Oh, nothin’ special, just do I know you, do you come in during the day, how often are you in here, stuff like that.”
“And whadya say?” Mickey’s stare became more alert.
“I told ’em the truth. I told ’em you came in a couple times a week, that you only had a short beer and left. Like I said, I told ’em the truth.” Jack looked squarely into Mickey’s eyes. “But if there’s something wrong with what I said, you better tell me now. And if there’s shit happening…I don’t want it anywhere’s near here, understand?”
“Hey, you know me Jack. There’s no shit goin’ on. I don’t know what in the hell these guys want with me.” Mickey felt the perspiration on the back of his neck, he felt like he was sweating blood and hoped Jack wouldn’t notice.
Mickey never understood why things went wrong. His mind tried to wrap itself around what Jack just told him. His recent memory was a blur, but there was nothing new in that, his memories usually were a blur. People just didn’t understand him. He was more sensitive to life than others; he understood that life shouldn’t be just chasing ‘your daily bread’. They were wrong when they accused him of being lazy or shiftless; he simply understood that a man needed moments of repose, reflection and intermission.
Unfortunately, Mickey’s moments of repose, reflection and intermission stretched into years, into a lifestyle, into a career. Think! He told himself, think.
Jack looked at Mickey warily. He was tired of lying for people. Maybe he was just in the wrong business…or the wrong neighborhood…he was just plain tired of hearing other people’s problems, being asked for advice, being tacitly asked for permission to do things they already knew they shouldn’t be doing, then coming to him for absolution. Maybe he was just getting worn out, like everything around him. He looked at Mickey, “Look Mick, it’s been a bitch of a day, you know with that kid and all. What say we just call it a night, okay?”
“Yeah, terrible about that kid, huh?” Mickey Finn’s river of guilt crept up to his ankles and he got off the barstool and reached into his pocket.
“No”, Jack said. “Tonight’s on me. Too much shit goin’ on for too many people tonight. Take care of yourself Mick, and give my best to Sara.”
Mickey Finn walked home with his hand in his pocket fingering the money with which he planned to celebrate. Why did everything always go wrong he asked himself.
Jack washed and dried the two whiskey glasses and began turning off the lights. As he walked toward the steps in the corner leading to his upstairs apartment he fought off the memories of another child being killed. His child; his memories won the battle and tears filled his eyes. He trudged up the stairs with the slump of an old man.
Jack’s thoughts went back to August of 1933. For two years he and Edith had been putting off marriage because of the Wall Street crash and the ensuing depression. But when he saw the Chicago headlines of July almost joyfully announcing that Illinois ratified the 21st Amendment to end prohibition he finally saw a future.
During the prohibition days he could manage to pick up a few bucks delivering bathtub gin and toxic chemical beer. His criminal risks were always low. Now he saw a way to be legitimate. He went to the only neighborhood distributor he knew, low-level as he may be, Jocko Gervasi. Jocko agreed to bank-roll Jack’s bar; for a fee. Jocko took the top fifteen percent for the first year, then agreed to the top ten percent thereafter. Jack jumped at the chance.
He and Edith were married the following week and began to scout for a location; they found one on 61st Street with a small apartment upstairs. Part of Jocko’s front money was spent on the neon sign announcing Jack’s Tavern.
Bobby had only been a year old, his young wife only twenty-eight. His hand went to his right shoulder, the shoulder that took only one bullet nineteen years ago.
Jack was about to lock the tavern door and Edith was just finishing her daily scribbling of accounts, the cash lay on the table next to her piled in singles, fives and tens. She began separating the change piling them in nickels, dimes, quarters and half dollars when Bobby began to fret on her lap. Jack’s fingers were a nanosecond away from locking the door when two men crashed through. Not that a locked door would have kept them out.
“Just give us the money,” one shouted pushing Jack back into the tavern as the other brandished his gun around the room.
Edith stood, Bobby began to wail; she clutched him with fright. At gun point Jack was pushed to the cash register behind the bar.
“Shut that kid up,” the man brandishing the gun about shouted.
Edith held Bobby with one arm and reached for the money on the table with the other.
“Here…here!” she cried as her hold on Bobby tightened. Jack and the gunman with him looked to her. In her haste to hold up the offered money the coins fell to the floor with a crashing sound. The gun-brandishing robber panicked and started shooting.
The first bullet went through Bobby’s back into his mother, the next three made sure they were dead.
“Shit…fuck…shit”, the other gunman cried.
Jack turned pushing the gunman aside and ran to his wife and son. He knelt holding them, trying to hold them together…trying to hold them to life. Then he rose with blinding rage to follow them to the street where one turned and fired. Jack was hit in the shoulder. He watched as they disappeared into the shadows of the streetlights, into the night.
Jocko Gervasi took this stick-up personally; it was an investment, and he found the two young men. Their deaths didn’t make the papers, but the cruelty of their end sent the message out…know who you’re messing with.
Jack opened the bedroom doorway with only the hallway light illuminating the crib, the steadfast teddy-bear leaning against its rails patiently awaiting the embrace of small arms.
Tony Russo leaned back on the alley fence. Even in the night, this neighborhood was never this quiet. More lights showed through closed curtains on the porch windows. As he watched he knew he was being watched. He was waiting for something, but he couldn’t quite get his finger on what it was he was waiting for. He stood motionless his hackles alert. Then he saw it…the briefest flicker of a cigarette. He willed his eyes to become accustomed to the night and narrowed his gaze to the top back porch.
Damn. He thought he knew these people, knew this neighborhood, but who the hell is this guy? He then realized he didn’t know these people, he only knew those who were on the take, those running the numbers, the gamblers in over their heads, those paying the juice. No, he didn’t know these people. Who is that guy?
As quickly as Russo realized there was an entire neighborhood he thought he knew, he thought of Storm. Storm did know this neighborhood, he knew these people; he would know who that guy is.
He shook off the shiver that crept over his spine. The cigarette moved. Russo unperceptively edged down the alley, and into his car.
Who is that guy? The question haunted him all the way home.
Walter Storm turned the key Vera Kunkle had given him and walked into the dim flat. He saw Vera’s silhouette in the kitchen doorway. He nodded to the bedroom, “Is she asleep?” he asked.
“Yes. I gave her two pills tonight. She’ll be out for hours,” Vera said as she accepted Walter’s jacket. “I didn’t think you’d be by tonight after what happened.” Tonight in the dim light his face looked older. He sank into the familiar easy chair and unbuttoned his collar.
“It’s late. Do you want to call Carol?” Vera stood at his elbow with the whiskey on ice.
“I can’t. Please Vera,” Walter took a long pull of the drink, then another; the hot liquid went smoothly down his throat, then his gut was gripped with nausea. He had to make his head stop replaying the image of Kitty’s body beneath the blood soaked sheeted gurney, the image kept returning in waves so he emptied the glass. But no amount of alcohol could erase the scar left on his brain; of the bloodied sheet and Kitty on the gurney; it would remain on his brain forever.
“Okay, but if you’re going to spend the night, you really should call…she’ll worry.” Vera refilled his glass.
“Alright, I’ll call.” He put his drink on the table next to him and padded to the kitchen. He always dreaded calling Carol. What Vera didn’t understand is that Carol watched the clock and worried for about ten minutes, then the worry turned to just plain being pissed off.
Vera slid back the curtain that divided the living room and her bed. She heard Walter’s hushed tones from the kitchen phone and his tired voice filled with explanations and apologies then the click of the receiver and Walter’s sigh. With a quick glance she was reassured the curtains in the flat were all drawn then went to the bedroom to check on her mother.
The old woman’s breathing was stable and regular. Vera lingered a moment before opening the bottom drawer of the dresser and carefully pulled out a freshly pressed policeman’s shirt, a pair of men’s shorts, socks, toothbrush and razor. It had taken Vera some time to find a hiding place for Walter’s personal things, then one day realized that her invalid mother hadn’t the strength to go snooping. The old woman’s nosy spirit was willing, but her body was no longer capable. So, the bottom bureau drawer became Walter’s and hers. Her nightgowns and underwear found their place next to his.
As she left the bedroom with Walter’s things for the night, she removed the teaspoon laying on the overturned pie tin on her mother’s nightstand and put it on top of the bureau. It served as a ‘call button’ for the old woman; and when awake she used it liberally.
Vera never kidded herself about having any love for her mother, she didn’t and she knew it. For that matter she never held any love for her deceased father either; this absence of familial love did not bother her; why should it…for years her parents tried hard to have offspring, then in middle-age they succeeded only to realize they didn’t even like children. The silence and indifference which surrounded her childhood became demands of duty from her aging parents. They finally realized that there may be a benefit to having children; and so Vera was there for her father, and after he died she was now here answering the demands of her mother. No, Vera had no feelings of guilt about her mother; the only feeling she would have regarding her mother would be the feeling of relief when the ol’ girl finally gives up the ghost.
As the years passed she was becoming comfortable in her loneliness; then Walter stepped through her door. She actually marked the date on the kitchen calendar for the past three years, a simple ‘A’ for anniversary and only she knew its meaning. Perhaps their love grew from quiet desperation; hers due to loveless but demanding parents; his due to a loveless but demanding wife. But despite the reasons, their love did grow even in the hard-scrabble soil of the neighborhood.
Vera returned to the living room. Seeing that Walter had already stripped down to his shorts, she removed her dress and led him to her bed; to their bed. On this night their love-making was silent, almost urgent. Afterward both were spent, she laid her head on his chest, he cupped one breast in his hand and both slept thankful for the other.
Jocko Gervasi sat in the darkest corner of the back-porch. He liked the dark, felt comforted by it, once comfortable he could sit for hours, moving only to smoke his cigarettes. Jocko skimmed his eyes over the other porches and the yard. He doubted if most of the people even knew he lived there. That was fine with him, the fewer people aware of him the better.
Upon arriving he checked his list of Russo’s stops and began to discreetly make his contact. He made sure there were few, if any, others around; he began to get his rhythm. He knew he made Sweeney, Olson, Min and the others nervous; so when he warned them that Russo or anybody else wasn’t to know and to keep their mouths shut he trusted they would. They knew he would follow-through on the threats if they didn’t. And so when he entered they quietly handed him their envelopes of receipts, the copy Russo was unaware of, and were thankful he quickly left. They didn’t want to get involved in Russo’s problems, they had enough of their own; besides whatever they were they were of his own making.
He had moved here knowing he had to keep a low profile in order to do his job. With the job always in mind, he made sure never to mix-in.
Perhaps many were unaware of him, he was aware of them. He watched as the children played in the yard; as husband’s came home late with too much to drink, the angry frustrated voices of the wives and the ensuing arguing in the kitchens after their kids were asleep; and of course, that nosy old lady who thought the movements of her lace curtains went unnoticed. After listening to the porch conversations, the yard conversations he knew most of the names. The shouts of the kids calling the others to play, the shouts of the spousal arguments; and the list of names he’d initially received.
There was one woman however that he did notice even though she had nothing to do with his current business assignment. She lived in the downstairs flat next to the red-headed little girls and in the nosey old lady’s building. The two-story four flat was perpendicular to the back porches of the greystones and so shared the same large yard. He’d watch as she hung laundry on weekends to dry on the porch clothesline and noticed there were never any men’s clothes, he also watched when she emptied garbage in the dumpster. She was attractive. He found himself thinking more of her as he spent hours sitting in the dark. When he first began his stretch in prison he thought of women almost all the time…but as the years passed so did they. Now he found himself noticing when her lights went out in the evening and imagined her in bed.
Jocko remained almost motionless after Russo slinked out of the alley, and remained so until just before the sun began to rise and the neighborhood with it. Quietly he returned to his flat. Early mornings were not in his comfort zone, he preferred to sleep until the heat of the day waned into the time that actions already took place; when the actions of the day had happened and couldn’t be undone. He was a creature of a sinking sun, twilight and darkness.
As he sat on the edge of his cot in the kitchen he looked around. The empty living room and dining room didn’t trouble him, rather, it too was comforting in a way; his kitchen, bathroom and the back porch were his world now, not much different from the past sixteen years in his cell. He crushed the cigarette butt into the ashtray at his feet, laid his head on the tick pillow and slept.
Saturdays were usually rowdy days, but a pall settled over the neighborhood on this Saturday. This was the first Saturday that Kitty’s name would not be shouted out in a call to play.
Helen Brendle awoke early. “Are you sure you have to work today?”
“Yeah”, Sam said as he sleepily scratched his crotch. “Go back to sleep.” He gently rubbed his wife’s leg as she lay in the morning dawn.
Helen and Sam, as well as everyone else, didn’t get much sleep. The police had questioned everyone, including the children. “If you call in sick, I’m sure they’ll understand”, she insisted.
“Psst, they never understand. Besides, it’s easier just to go in…do what I have to and come home. You know we have to be at the wake tonight…and I don’t want to bother Margaret this early to use the phone.”
Mrs. Margaret Connors, the landlady, lived upstairs. Fifty percent of the neighborhood were without a home phone…and the Brendle’s were on the short end of the fifty percent.
“As long as I’m up let me fix you somethin’ to eat”, Helen felt for her slippers. “You don’t have to”, Sam said as he headed to the bathroom.
Helen groaned as she filled the coffeepot. The dangling kitchen light only added to her mood. How will she explain…how can she explain any of this to her daughters? Sam pulled himself to the table, “don’t let the girls out today”.
At the stove, Helen gave an exasperated sigh. Sam was a good man, but he seldom thought outside of his own orbit.
Sam headed out to Halsted Street and his bus to the Stockyards. By the time he descended the bus, his head was buzzing and confused. He jerked his head to the right and then to the left…he took a deep breath and knew he could only take one day at a time. He had to trust that Helen would take care of the ‘home front’. He did all that he could. As a child his family made it through the Wall Street depression; then he ended up in the draft of World War II; then to his wonder he made it through the thunder of war. He and over ten million other G. I.s only dreamed of ‘a normal life’. What was ‘a normal life’? Wife and kids. Well, he made it. Now what?
He met Helen at a basement party. He knew he cut quite a figure in his uniform. Roosevelt was on the radio telling Americans to keep the home front tight. Helen was a sucker for a uniform; and he was a sucker for Helen.
Sam’s ears, head and olfactory zones filled with the animal herds. His eyes began their daily tearing; not from emotion, but from physical chemicals; blood, piss, feces and raw flesh. The maws and bleats were almost overwhelming…but he kept his sledge hammer ready; ready to hit the next animal between the eyes; to stun the poor animal into a stupor so that it didn’t feel itself being gutted.
Today was different. Today he began to see the animal. His brain flashed…between calves, sows and lambs; then to his horror, children.
Sam dropped his sledge, turned, bent over and puked the breakfast Helen had given him.
All Sam wanted to do was to look forward to going to Jack’s tavern and listen to the Robinson/Graziano fight with the rest of the regulars. He pulled up his head from his puddle of puke, wiped his mouth with his sleeve and picked up the sledge.
Upstairs Mrs. Connors was putting the four casseroles into the oven while downstairs Red sat on a chair and rested her chin on her arms on the window sill as she watched Chester from her dining room. She had watched him before and still couldn’t figure out what on earth he fiddled with. Obviously he took care with what he was doing, he moved a tweezer slowly, snipped edges of thread with the small scissors, at times stopped to look at his work with a magnifying glass; but for the life of her she couldn’t understand what it was that he so studiously worked on; apparently it was important. She just had to wait until he finished, then she might see what in the world he’d do with it.
Chester was aware of Red watching and was tempted to close the shade; instead he abruptly turned full face toward her and jutted his maniacal face close to the window while snipping the scissors in the air toward her. Her reaction was exactly what he had hoped…Red practically fell from the edge of the chair and hit her chin on the sill as she scrambled to get out of his line of view. With heart pounding she ran to the kitchen where her mother was ironing her father’s only white dress shirt. “What’s wrong with you?” Helen said as she looked at her daughter’s frightened face.
“Nothin’, can I go over to Nancy’s?”
“Not today, I want you to stay in today.”
“But there’s nothin’ to do,” Red pouted.
“Well find something to do. Later Daddy and I have to go to the wake for awhile, you and Dory will go upstairs or you can go stay with Vera Kunkle. In the meantime, be quiet and don’t get on my nerves. Dory’s in the bedroom, go play with her.”
Red skulked out of the kitchen and fell to her knees to crawl through the dining room toward her bedroom keeping an eye on the dining room window all the way. Not much scared her, but Chester caught her off guard. It would be a long time before she peeked into the Harris’ flat; if ever.
Dory sat on her bed playing with paper dolls, cutting the paper clothes and dressing them. Normally Red enjoyed paper dolls and would join in…but right now she didn’t like the idea of scissors.
“Mama said we’re goin’ upstairs to Mrs. Connors or over to Miss Kunkle’s”, Red announced.
“Yeah, I know. I’d rather go upstairs; Miss Kunkle’s mother gives me the creeps.”
“What’s a wake?” Red asked as she pulled the crayons from the shelf.
“I’m not really sure,” her sister answered. “Something about seeing a dead person in a casket, saying rosaries, stuff like that. Something grown-ups do… kids can’t go.”
Red was thunderstruck. Somehow she knew Kitty died…she heard the grown-ups talking, sensed the quiet, answered questions from policemen…but for some crazy reason she expected to see Kitty in the yard again, jumping rope, red-rover, hop-scotch. But now for the first time she began to see the enormity of her error. She had seen movies and newsreels where caskets were viewed with solemnity. The idea of Kitty being in a coffin terrified her. Instead of the crayons, she pulled a book from the shelf, sitting on her bed she opened it and simply stared blankly at the page. In her head she repeated every prayer she’d ever learned…Hail Mary full of Grace…Our Father Who art in heaven…Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost…then started all over again. She wasn’t sure if she was praying for Kitty, or for herself, or for anyone or everyone; she just felt the need to pray.
“I know you want to go ma”, Tiny said as she pulled the day old bread to the front of the shelf and pushed the day’s fresh bread to the back.
“I can’t leave you here alone, and I can’t lock up in the middle of a Saturday.”
“It’s not going to be busy today, you know that”.
Just then the miniature cowbell tinkled. Min and Tiny looked up simultaneously. Murph walked to the counter while pulling money from his jeans. For a minute he looked around as though he couldn’t make up his mind what to buy. “Pack of Lucky’s”, he said to Min while looking at Tiny.
“Here ya go”, Min put the cigarettes and a pack of matches in front of him.
“How’s it goin’?” The question was directed to Tiny, but Min answered. “Slow”.
“Hmm”, he said still looking at Tiny.
“Ma wants to go to the wake early, but doesn’t think I can handle an empty store,” Tiny said beginning to pull the day old Twinkies forward and restocking the fresh to the back.
“That’s not what I think. Of course you can handle it…it’s just…just.”
Murph sensed what Min was thinking. “Hey, you know what? Why can’t I stay and help Tina? I don’t think that between the two of us it’ll all go to hell.”
Min looked at him thoughtfully. Yes, she did want to get to the wake early so she could be back at the store when customers were likely to come…but more importantly she noticed that Murph was around more often than the other teenagers on the back porch…and even more importantly she noticed how he looked at Tiny…and even more important than that…he called her Tina. Yes, Min recognized she was looking at a young man who cared about her daughter. A young man she could trust…so she took the chance.
“Okay. I just have to give Mrs. Connor’s a ring to ask her to wait for me then change my dress”, Min said. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay with this?”
Murph looked her in the eye; “Tina will be just fine Mrs. Steps. I promise.”
Tiny and Murph could hear Min in the back apartment speaking in low tones to her husband. “I don’t give a shit” Ralph said to her, his tone not as muffled. They heard the ball game being turned on the radio and the clinking of a beer bottle being taken from the refrigerator. “They just better stay out of my way.”
Awhile later Min came back to the store adjusting her hat. “Okay, then. I won’t be too long”. Her eyes looked worried as she smoothed her dress. “Dad’s listening to the game; don’t bother him, just stay out of his hair, okay?”
“Don’t worry Mrs. Steps, we’ll be fine”, Murph assured her.
After Min hurried out the door Tiny began to tidy up the penny candy under the glass counter; it didn’t need tidying but she had to keep her hands busy. Murph sat on the counter next to the cash register and could see she was flustered. “Can I do anything? Sweep up or anything?”
Tiny was watching him from the corner of her eye. She always felt clumsy around him. She recognized the attentions he’d given her, the way he went out of his way to say something nice; the way he told the other kids to ‘piss off’ or ‘cork it’ when they made fun of her or picked on her. Not knowing how to react to someone sticking up for her she just kept a quiet distance from him, afraid to make a fool of herself.
But Murph was patient. At first it was Tina’s awkwardness that he noticed, then he saw her kindness and realized she wasn’t like the other girls in the group, the others on the porch. They were just as unsure of themselves as she; however they covered it with make-up and a hardness. All kids wanted to fit in; wanted to find their niche, but Tina showed him that it could be done without meanness. She certainly had enough meanness in her life and she didn’t deserve it. He found himself wanting to be with her. He didn’t want to scare her off before he had a chance. This was the first girl he thought about and cared about. His grandmother probably would tell him he was ‘smitten’.
“Well”, Tiny said, “you could bring in the cases of pop from the back porch. The cooler needs to be restocked.”
“Great!”, he grinned widely jumping from the counter and headed through the door to the back apartment.
He ignored Tina’s dad sitting in a tee shirt with a beer next to the radio.
“Did ya get in her pants yet?” Ralph smirked. Murph continued to the back porch still ignoring him. “Hey, you little pecker, I’m talkin’ to you.” Murph grabbed the first case of pop and walked back into the apartment still ignoring the man. “Don’t mess with me boy! Or I’ll take your head off!” Ralph shouted.
Holding the case of pop Murph stopped and turned to the beer-bellied man. His eyes turned steely and in a low voice said, “Any time old man. Any time.” He left Ralph Steps staring at him.
He put the case of pop next to the cooler, returned through the apartment and to the porch for the other case. Ralph was again sitting next to the radio, but this time he averted his eyes from the young man and remained silent.
Tiny could see a change in Murph as he began to fill the cooler. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m alright. Someday I’m gonna kill that man,” he said quietly.
Tiny caught a breath and saw something in Murph for the first time, she no longer was looking at just another boy she could dream about; she was looking at a man; a man she could depend on.
Sweeney’s Drug Store was on the corner of 61st and Halsted Streets. He was nearing seventy but his sparkling blue eyes and smile took ten years off. Sweeney was always in a good mood; he loved life and had every reason to love life. He married his high school sweetheart, managed to get through pharmacy school, had two kids and managed to get them through college. His wife, Madge, missed the kids more than he did, but he knew they were happy with their families and liked the cities they settled into. It would be nice if they still lived close enough for visits; Madge would have liked seeing the grandkids more. But on the whole, Sweeney could look at his life as content and well spent.
Most of his day was in the back of the store behind the pharmacy counter. He knew most of the neighborhood through their prescriptions. Mrs. Connors had a minor heart problem and arthritis; Mr. Andrews had gout; Mrs. Kunkle was another heart customer, an insomniac as well as a hypochondriac (there were a variety of sugar pills prescribed), but given her age he felt no professional ethic being broken; and so at some time or another and in some way or another the neighborhood passed over his counter.
Madge’s day was spent up front by the cash register and keeping the shelves filled and dust free. Sometimes she had to man the soda fountain, but on Saturdays and a few hours of the day they hired local kids. Madge also did the hiring and firing…Sweeney was a soft touch, Madge could better read people. She also kept an eagle eye on the magazine rack, especially the girls who endlessly leafed through the movie and teen magazines; sometimes her count didn’t add up, but not often.
There was a pay phone in the back next to the pharmacy counter; a brown box with a door and a seat. Most Thursdays through Saturdays those neighbors with no phone would come with their nickels and make the weekly calls to family members to catch up on the news and gossip.
This Saturday was unusually quiet. Only a handful of customers flowed in and out.
Walter Storm entered and approached Madge by the cash register.
“Just a tin of aspirin and pack of gum,” he said.
“Anything new with what’s goin’ on?” she asked.
“No”, he said as he broke open the aspirin tin and popped four in his mouth and began chewing.
“Hey, Walt”, Sweeney called out from the back. “Hey”, Walter waved.
Walter headed back to the phone booth, slid the door shut. This was to be one of his rare Saturdays off. He stared at the nickel in his hand for a moment then dialed Carol. He woke early that morning next to Vera. His sweat soaked pillow evidenced his fitful sleep, a sleep filled with images of Kitty reaching out to him, her face locked in terror, but as fast as he ran to help her his feet never gained ground. He couldn’t hear her screams, he could only see them in her face as he futilely pushed through the brush that seemed to turn into an impenetrable wall.
Now staring at the nickel in his hand he didn’t care what excuse he offered to Carol, he’d cut the call short. He dropped the nickel into the slot, Carol’s “hello” was distant and flat, it mirrored his own tone and excuse. Carol simply slammed the phone down. He was relieved he didn’t have to listen.
As Walter opened Sweeney’s door to leave he saw Russo leaning on a parking meter. Russo approached, “I saw you and followed. Have you thought about what I said?”
“I don’t need this now,” Walter said impatiently.
“But have you thought about it?”
“Look!” Walter turned on Russo, “I have a few other things on my mind right now and none of them includes you, so back off.”
Russo lowered his chin and looked back. “Okay, for now. But I ain’t gonna wait much longer.” And he entered Sweeney’s.
Walter headed for the corner and the bus. He arrived at the Englewood Station determined to talk to Novack.
He caught Novack just before his hand opened the car in the police parking spaces. Novack cringed.
“What in the hell’s going on? I came in here yesterday and was treated like some piece of shit being scrapped off a shoe! You owe me a little more than that. Why can’t I see a report? Why can’t you just talk to me?”
“There’s more going on than you know,” Novack said quietly looking around to make sure no one saw him talking to Storm.
“Then maybe you better tell me,” Walter said angrily.
“I can’t Walt…I really can’t.”
“Well you better or you’re going to hear a lot more noise.”
Novack took Walter’s elbow and walked him to the brick side wall of the station where they could have a little more privacy.
“This one yesterday isn’t the first one. Believe me we’re on it. But the Chief and the Mayor want it low profile; no reporters; no waves.”
“What the fuck are you telling me? What do you mean not the first one?” Walter was getting angrier by the minute.
“I can’t say anymore. I’ve told you too much already. My ass would be in a sling just talking to you; but trust me we’re working night and day on this thing.” Novack tried to sound sympathetic.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about yours being in a sling. I knew this kid, I know her parents and now you’re telling me there were more? But I shouldn’t worry about it because you’re on it? You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me!”
Novack stepped away. “That’s all I can say; just stay away from it.”
Margaret Connors removed the four casseroles from the oven and laid them on the table to cool. As she folded the dish towel she looked down to the back yard. Normally it would be filled with children, filled with laughter, shouts, taunts, tears and then more laughter; the only kids out today were the gaggle of Van Dyke kids. She glanced over the porches, all empty, all but one. She looked closer and squinted. There in the back shadow she saw the disturbing figure. It was unusual for him to be out in the day, but he did find the only lonely shadow and sat and smoked.
For some reason his presence disturbed her. Did he know? What did he know? She tried to yank her focus…yank it away from him. How many years have passed? Who is that man?
Her attention returned to the casseroles. One for the Shanahans, one for the Brendles , one for Min, and one for herself. She then dressed for the wake. It was already planned that she and Min would go together to the funeral home. They needed each other’s support, each other’s strength, how else can one go to ‘the viewing’ of a child? Not any child, but a child that each of them had known, talked to, and hadn’t given a second thought that they would watch this beautiful young girl grow…turn into a woman…and now…and now they reluctantly were pulled to a ‘viewing’…of that beautiful child ensconced in a small white casket.
Mrs. Connors answered her doorbell. Min stood with purse in hand, and ready to do the duty they both understood. Mrs. Connors handed her a casserole and held another under a dish towel. It was understood that Min would drop one off to her apartment for Ralph and Tiny; and the second would be dropped off at the Shanahan flat. The third was to be carried down to the Brendle’s, and the fourth kept in her kitchen to be shared later when the Brendle children arrived.
At Ryan’s Funeral Home Greg Ryan and his son were up most of the night waiting for the call from the coroner’s office telling them the autopsy had been completed and the body could be picked up. Ryan knew the family had little money to pay for an expensive funeral and under the circumstances he quietly talked to the parents, assuring them that Kitty would be well taken care of. He did not tell them that he would lose money, he suggested a casket that he knew they couldn’t afford, but he also knew his conscious wouldn’t allow him to do any less. Only a few hours ago Jo Ann brought the burial dress to him; it was Kitty’s First Holy Communion dress; Ryan’s heart almost broke as he and his son dressed and prepared Kitty’s body and placed it in the casket.
Flowers began to arrive at the funeral home. Ryan and his son double checked the other details; the kneeler placed in front of the small white casket; the cross displayed; Kitty’s white rosary entwined in her small hands and placed so the missing finger was not apparent; the arrangement of the flowers that began to arrive; the guest book; the chairs set up for the mourners. It was almost two o’clock, the early afternoon visitors would be arriving soon.
Jo Ann and Tom Shanahan were only shades of people. They sat on the sofa reserved for family before the small casket. Although their hands held each other’s, they were unaware of any touch, any breath, any feeling; and next to them was Tom Jr. Tommy stared at his knees, his shoes, anything to avoid looking at his kid sister lying before him. He wanted his parents to include him in their sorrow, wanted them to see him, but they didn’t.
He was lost in the nightmare around him, his mother’s frantic search for his sister, then her shriek upon hearing that she was found. He watched his father’s concern as he joined other men in the continuing search turn first to disbelief, then to rage, then to a private daze. He always knew Kitty was the ‘favorite’, his mother used soft tones with her ‘Kitten’, she usually referred to him as ‘boy’; his father was not as obvious about his favoritism, but Tommy sensed it. Yes, he felt cheated and yes there were times that he wanted to hate his sister; but Kitty was Kitty and no one could dislike her, not even Tommy. Once again, he felt cheated…cheated that he couldn’t share his grief…cheated because he felt invisible. He felt invisible to his parents; then there was Patrolman Storm. Patrolman Storm actually saw him; talked to him; seemed to understand him; Storm was his hero.
Min and Mrs. Connors entered the funeral home and signed the guest book, noting that they were not the first arrivals. They knelt at the casket in silent prayer, then approached the grieving family on the sofa. Both clasped the parents’ hands, slipping their envelopes to Tom, mumbled the ritualistic condolences, and found a place among the rows of chairs. Sara Finn sat in the back row and watched as Mrs. Connors and Min settled a few rows in front of her; she rose to join them. Thus began the funerary custom of a wake.
As more people arrived groups were formed; talking in hushed tones they told each other of their connection with the deceased, or the deceased’s family, they talked of the beautiful flowers, they filled their conversations with small talk and some gossip. They slowly went around the room looking at the flowers and attached cards, taking mental notes of who sent them, and if it was they who sent a spray or vase of flowers that their contribution was sufficiently showcased. Many chose not to send flowers, rather handed an enveloped sympathy card to a family member on the sofa, the card choice more often than not contained cash; most people in this neighborhood understood the need for cold hard cash when an unexpected death occurred. And when they felt that their duty had been fulfilled in a dignified manner they went home, thankful that it was not they who were sitting on the sofa in front of the room.
Sam Brendle’s only suit lay on the bed; it was reserved for weddings and funerals. Helen placed the white shirt next to it with one of his two ties. Red and Dory had already been sent up to Mrs. Connor’s with enough coloring books and dolls to keep them busy. She then checked that her navy blue dress was pressed and ready. She heard Sam come through the door.
“Margaret sent down a casserole, I thought we better eat before we leave”, she told him as he returned from the porch and his laundry pail.
“Good”, he simply said as he headed to the bathroom and his shower.
They sat at the table and began eating. “I want to get out of there before the rosary”, Sam said quietly.
“Don’t decide that now”, Helen said because she wanted to stay, wanted to feel they showed their support to the family.
“For Chrisake!” Sam said. “Tomorrow we’re going to the funeral mass ain’t that enough?”
“Enough of what?” she argued. “Do you think that Jo Ann and Tom will think it’s ‘enough’?”
“We’ll see,” Sam tried to avoid priests and church, thinking they were a waste of time; now Helen was guilting him into something. He grumbled as he went to the bedroom.
The funeral home was an assembly of familiar neighbors and some faces Sam and Helen didn’t recognize. The guest book already had several pages filled. As Sam knelt by the casket he tried not to look at Kitty, he tried not to envision one of his daughters lying there; and he began to pray, knowing Helen had won the argument.
As they searched for a seat they nodded to those faces with which they were familiar. They noticed Walter Storm sitting in a chair against a wall quietly talking to Tommy Shanahan seated next to him. Storm had his hand on the boy’s knee. Helen and Sam fell into quiet conversation with the Porters’, the Valusis’ and the Reillys’.
“I have to leave in a few minutes”, Walter told Tommy. The boy gripped Walter’s hand on his knee and began to sob softly. Walter pulled out his handkerchief and handed it to him. “I have to get back to work, back on the beat.” The boy’s grip grew stronger and Walter decided the beat could wait a little while longer and put his arm around the boy’s shoulder.
Storm looked around the room. The largest of the flower sprays stood at the head of the casket; he didn’t have to read the card to know they came from Russo. Russo always made sure his was the largest flower contribution to every neighborhood occasion, be it weddings, anniversary parties or funerals.
As his eyes scanned his heart skipped a beat. What was Novack doing here? Then it dawned on him…Novack was doing his job. He watched as Novack’s eyes covered each face. Storm then began to also focus on the faces.
Novack and Storm searched the faces as Father Schultz quietly entered the room. Solemnly putting on his clergy stole and reaching into his pocket for his rosary. He first went to the casket, raised his fingers with a blessing, then to the front sofa, with the same sign of a blessing. Most of the mourning congregation pulled out their own rosaries, some falling to their knees, others remained seated. The rosary began. Helen glanced at Sam, ready to be poked to leave; she saw her husband on his knees.
The litany of the rosary was the sign of the end of the wake.
Jack Gross was ready. Earlier, he had already made his appearance at the wake, signed the book and made sure his spray of flowers was properly shown. Now he was open for business. He was ready to keep his doors open a bit longer; and the neighborhood filled in. The suits were not as well pressed as earlier in the evening, the ties were unknotted or missing; but they were ready to have a proper wake. Ready to forget, ready to remember; it didn’t matter to Jack, these were customers. And so the wake continued…not in the way Jo Ann Shanahan wanted it to, nevertheless it continued.
Only under certain circumstances were funeral masses held on a Sunday. Fr. Schultz understood his parish; these men and women had to go to work through the week and Sundays were the only day off for many of them and due to most of their workplaces a day off was a day with no pay. So on this Sunday the church was full; not only with the regular congregation, many of them not knowing Kitty or the Shanahans, but also with the mourners from Kitty’s neighborhood.
Children seldom went to the funeral parlor wakes but they did attend the funeral masses. Dory and Red recognized all the kids from Our Lady of Solace, it seemed they were all there. Their eyes widened at the casket by the communion rail, the few times they attended this kind of mass the casket was usually larger and darker in color, this was smaller and white; they felt a flood of emotion understanding that before them was Kitty; they were sad, scared and not fully comprehending. Red was glad that the grown-ups in the pew in front of she and her family blocked her view of the casket. As the mass droned on she gazed over the statues of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and Jesus, their eyes of stone seemed to be looking to the center of the communion rail and to the flowered bedecked box holding Kitty. Red looked to the stained glass windows and could almost feel the figures welcoming Kitty into another realm, a realm of comfort, a realm beyond the tears and grief Red was in the midst of, the realm of heaven she had been taught about in catechism class; she hoped it was all true.
Jack Gross didn’t attend. He was getting the tavern ready for the funeral luncheon. The night before women began dropping off casseroles, salads, cold meats and all the other food for the buffet. During times as these Jack’s place made the most sense. It was big enough to accommodate all the people, it lessened the burden and cost to the family; and it not only entrenched his standing with his customers, it showed the neighborhood that he cared; it was good for business. The first drink was on the house, a toast in memory, after that liquor had to be paid for; of course the ice tea and lemonade remained free of charge. Being good for business was always Jack’s first concern, but coming in a close second was the fact that he actually did like this neighborhood and its people, at least most of them.
Jack was filling the jug of lemonade when Jocko Gervasi walked in. Jocko noticed the tables covered with plastic tablecloths and the set-up of food with waxed paper covering casseroles, sandwiches and dishes and paper napkins. He assumed Jack was hosting a private party, it never occurred to him that it was the funeral luncheon for the little girl he had heard about from his listening post on his back porch. Not that it made a difference, he was here to do his job, not to get involved in the neighborhood society.
“You got the tallies ready?” he said standing by the bar.
“Yeah, sure.” Jack went to the tin box on the shelf beneath the bar. After opening it he handed Jocko the copy of the receipts, Jocko glanced through them and put them back into the envelope and into his pocket.
“You’re sure Russo doesn’t know about this?”
Jack’s body stiffened, “Not that I know of…at least not from me.”
“Okay, keep it that way,” Jocko replied.
Jocko then headed toward Min’s, then Sweeney’s, then the rest on his list.
Before returning to his flat he decided to take a chance. He walked past his flat to the corner and turned onto Wallace Street. He walked slowly as he cautiously looked at the brick four-flat. He wanted to see the front of the building where the woman lived, the woman he had trouble keeping out of his head. Well, I’ve come this far, he thought and was tempted to mount the three steps and look at the mailbox, putting a name to the woman he’d been watching. But he kept walking. He walked around the entire block back to his flat.
Russo looked at Donny with uncertainty. He knew the take in this neighborhood would not get back to normal for at least a week, maybe longer if the degenerate that took the life of a beloved little girl wasn’t caught. He would have to explain to his bosses why the money flow had diminished; and his explanation would work, but only for a short time and he couldn’t afford for the bosses to look too closely at his books…or it could be his life. And right now he had other fish to fry…who was that man on the dark back porch.
Donny had proved his reliability so Russo took a chance and widened Donny’s territory, being a runner, picking up the money and the bets. It would allow Russo the time to focus on what may be his own survival.
With a little money in his pocket Donny became a new man. He walked the streets feeling he owned them. He no longer wanted to return to the hills of West Virginia; now he wanted to own this city. He no longer sat sullenly on the stoop; now he could walk into Min’s, into Jack’s tavern, into Sweeney’s and know that they looked at him with if not friendliness, at least with respect. That was what Donny had always lacked; respect! And he found it addictive.
And within a few days of Russo’s introductions Donny made sure he was seen. Even the teenagers on Min’s back porch took notice and watched warily as he passed; they knew he now was someone they didn’t want to cross. He smirked when he noticed a few of the girls on the porch gave him a flirty look. Yes, he thought, I found my place and someday if I play my cards right Russo will be answering to me. But until that day he’d watch his boss and learn, he’d do his best to be seen by the real bosses downtown.
Russo stood on the sidewalk mentally counting the greystones and narrow gangways. He walked up the cement front steps and into the vestibule and peered at the mail boxes in the wall. All of the boxes had faded names scribbled on them; all but one. He returned to the street and made his way around the corner and into the alley. Looking up at the top back porch he saw that it was empty.
It was afternoon and the kids from the neighborhood were home from school but Margaret Connors noticed the quiet remained. In the days after the funeral the only kids in the yard seemed to be the Van Dykes. She saw Rat-boy dragging a stick through the dirt; with no one to terrorize he looked demoralized. Two of his sisters were in a corner digging a hole with large spoons, filling an old dented pot, then pouring the dirt back into the hole to begin again. Shaking her head she went to the living room and pulled the corner of the lace curtain only to see an empty street, even Min’s back porch was unusually quiet, only Tiny and a boy sitting on boxes in quiet conversation. Her next stop was her dining room window. She looked down and saw Mrs. Harris’ little girl there on her porch playing with her dolls, and her brother was going down the back cellar steps.
She thought it curious that before opening the cellar door Chester looked furtively behind him. And on second thought what was Chester doing in the cellar? She watched for about five to ten minutes, then he came out wiping his hands together and returned to his apartment. Strange family, she thought, well maybe not really strange just stuck-up.
Helen heard Mrs. Connors footfalls coming down the steps and hurried for her purse. Margaret Connors kept a predictable routine, Tuesdays spent for an afternoon tea with her elderly lady friends from another neighborhood, Min’s store, church or bingo; this was not Tuesday and not bingo night so she deduced her destination was Min’s and already having started preparing her dinner of meatloaf Helen realized she had run out of eggs.
“Margaret”, Helen called just as Mrs. Connors was about to step to the walk, “If you’re goin’ to Min’s will you pick me up a half dozen eggs?”
“That’s where I’m going”, the old lady smiled, “and I’ll be happy to.”
Helen handed her the price of the eggs and watched with affection as Margaret toddled down the sidewalk with her empty cloth shopping bag. Helen had a soft spot for her landlady. She was always there when a babysitter was needed, whenever the smells of homemade cookies, cakes, cornbread or pies wafted downstairs Margaret always made a double batch being sure the Brendle’s were remembered. She was understanding if at times the rent was a bit late.
Another reason Helen appreciated this woman was the fact that the Brendle rent was at a discount. Upon moving in several years ago Margaret struck a deal with Sam; getting older she could no longer keep up with the maintenance of the building, so Sam became her reliable handyman; allowing them to have Helen remain at home with the children. Had it not been for the rent reduction Helen would have had to get some sort of job to make ends meet; and Margaret’s requests were modest; in the fall put up the storm windows, in the spring put up the screens, fix a leaky faucet, put rat poison in the corners of the dirt floored cellar, if the electricity went out…replace a fuse in the cellar. Anything that Sam told her he couldn’t do she trusted him and only then would her purse come out to pay a tradesman. Sam told her the wiring in the building was in need of replacement and other than changing fuses he wouldn’t go near electrical work. Margaret understood, but was not yet ready for that kind of expense; it would just have to wait. She considered her age and thought perhaps it would be the next owner’s problem; meanwhile she prayed that if a fire broke out none of her tenants would be injured, and she made sure her insurance premiums were paid. The answers to Margaret and the Brendle’s mutual needs seemed to satisfy them both.
The miniature cowbell tinkled. “A box of cornmeal”, Mrs. Connors said and Min reached to a shelf. Mrs. Connors noticed a fresh bruise on Min’s upper arm, not very big but Margaret wondered why Min put up with such a useless creature. But everyone had their own limits, she ‘shouldn’t judge lest she be judged’ she thought.
“Is that it? Anything else?” Min asked.
“Well”, Mrs. Connors said conspiratorially, “I’ll have my two numbers”, she answered while sliding her dime across the counter. Min took out the ‘numbers’ slips from under the counter handing Margaret a pen; Mrs. Connors’ circled three numbers out of a choice of 0 through 9 on each slip. Min scribbled the same numbers on a piece of paper with the date and her initials and handed this ‘receipt’ to Margaret as she marked her book and returned the book, the dime and the circled numbers slip into the tin box beneath the counter. Mrs. Connors turned to leave with the cornmeal when she suddenly remembered. “Oh and half a dozen eggs.”
Margaret had only one more stop to make and she crossed the street to Jack Gross’. A few familiar faces sat at the bar, she approached the nearest corner of the bar by the wall almost stealthily. The men at the bar ignored her as Jack approached with a smile. “The usual?” he said in a quiet friendly voice. “Yes”, she whispered.
As Jack was inconspicuously placing a pint of whiskey in a paper bag, Margaret opened her change purse putting the money on the bar and removed the eggs from her shopping bag; after securing the paper bag to the bottom of the cloth bag she returned the eggs to the top. Straightening her hat she was satisfied with her little afternoon ‘outing’ and as she left Jack’s she looked up at the low slate grey clouds, the air smelled of impending rain. She hurried home.
Donny Van Dyke walked down the street with his head held high on his first shopping trip to 63rd and Halsted. Until now he had only passed the clothing and jewelry stores and walked through the department stores with amazement. The small town in West Virginia had a general store ‘The Emporium’ where everything from medicine, overalls, groceries, shoes, fabric on the bolt, needles, thread and a tool section. At the time he thought The Emporium was a wonderland of things anyone could ever want or need. Now he knew better. Before today the only thing he had ever bought at 63rd and Halsted was a Hire’s root beer from Kresgie’s on the corner.
He had never been down to the Loop with its skyscrapers, department store after department store; buildings that were virtual mountains. But, he was anxious to walk those streets also, State Street, LaSalle Street, Michigan Avenue and all the rest, however he needed to look like the people that belonged there; like Tony Russo. Russo always wore a suit and Donny was on his way to buy his first. He walked into Sears & Roebuck, not quite sure where to begin.
Donny thought the salesman looked at him with distaste as he visually sized him up and pulled a couple suits from the rack. He had no idea how to answer the salesman’s questions; color, stripes, light wool, herringbone? The salesman sensed Donny’s nervousness and his face and manner changed; became more sympathetic and tried to be helpful.
“Well, young man”, he said as he chose two, a light gray and a dark blue, careful to check the price tags, not wanting to embarrass this kid any more than he had to. “Either of these would be very appropriate for almost any occasion. Why not try them on, see which you prefer, but I think you’d look very good in either.” Donny just nodded and followed him to the dressing room. Only when he was alone behind the curtain did it occur to him to check how much money he actually had…why hadn’t he thought of that before…after checking his jeans he relaxed. Unsure, Donny chose the dark blue.
“Will there be anything else today, shirt, tie; we just got in a shipment of very nice shoes”. Donny realized he didn’t think this thing through as well as he thought he had.
“Um, maybe show me a shirt”, Donny said. And as the salesman disappeared to another counter Donny quickly recounted his money. Again he relaxed. He was going to give money to help his mom out, but that would have to wait…this was more important. After spending every cent in his pocket he proudly walked out of Sears & Roebuck with a full outfit; for the first time he began to believe he really could make his dreams come true.
While Lt. Novack and Det. Walsh were bending over another child’s body wedged between bushes in the ‘Back of the Yards’ neighborhood Water Storm stepped into Jack’s tavern. Although his beat was not yet over, he wanted to get out of the drizzle for a little while. A short beer magically appeared before him and Russo magically appeared on the bar stool next to him.
“Will you fuckin’ stop following me around”, Walter said testily.
“Okay, okay, but we really have to talk.” Walter just groaned. “There’s a guy on the top floor across the street; I seen him on his back porch from the yard where all the kids play. Do you know who he is?” Russo said.
“What guy? What porch?”
“Well, I think it’s the next building over from Vera’s. I checked the mailboxes and only one name was missing on them, all the others I recognize and he ain’t one of ’em.”
Walter was beginning to chafe. “Well, just go up and knock on his door if it bothers you. I don’t know who you’re talking about. I got other things on my mind right now.”
“Yeah, I know. I want to talk to you about that too,” Russo replied.
“I’ve never known you to want to be this ‘chatty’ before and frankly I don’t give a shit.”
Russo let out a long patient sigh. “Look, this guy looks really sketchy, I mean creepy. And the thing on your mind is also on mine…by the way I should let you know I got Donny Van Dyke helping me out, so try to go easy on him, okay?”
“Yeah. I’ve been keeping an eye on him and figured it out. Just remember to tell him to keep his distance, I don’t need another cocky punk giving me trouble.”
“I did. He won’t. But getting back to this guy…” Walter interrupted him, “okay, I’ll see what I can do. I’ll go up and knock on his door until you grow a pair and can do it yourself.”
“Thanks. I owe you one.” They both finished their beers. Walter shook a little water from his patrolman’s cap and headed out the door. Russo signaled to Jack for another.
From the street Storm looked to the building next to Vera’s. He crossed through the misty rain and up the cement steps into the vestibule. Checking the mailboxes he saw what Tony Russo was saying. The boxes had familiar names, all but one, it was blank. He started up the stairs and stopped before the apartment door.
Jocko sat on his kitchen cot in the dark smoking. He heard the footsteps and did not expect them to stop at his door; but they did. He silently crushed out his cigarette in the ashtray at his feet. There was a knock on his door, he stiffened and remained still. Another knock, this time louder, then heard the doorknob turn against the locked door. Silently he reached beneath his pillow next to him and soundlessly pulled out his gun and waited. Soon he heard the footsteps retreat back down the stairs. Patiently he waited and when he felt whoever that somebody was was gone he went to the phone on the floor in the corner to call for a meeting.
Thursday night arrived and women from neighborhoods east and west of Halsted Street gathered at the V.F.W. Hall. The large hall served several neighborhoods throughout Englewood and was a popular venue for wedding receptions, fish fries, dances, the occasional variety show and more. American flags stood sentry in each corner as well as on the back stage. The war had officially ended in 1945, but it had taken a handful of years for the millions of G.I.s to muster out and return home.
The hall had been established after the First World War. It smelled of old wood and plaster and depended on the hanging ceiling lights for illumination, dust motes floated through the air. The bar against the wall was a place for those that wanted to share memories of battle or joke about an asshole sergeant and for older veterans to talk to younger members and compare their memories of conditions of World War I trenches to the latest modern mechanized ways to kill. Considering what these members had endured there seldom was a brooding atmosphere, rather it was a group with a quick smile, happy recognition of a private club…the members of whom made it back…alive.
But Thursday nights were reserved for the ladies bingo night. The long tables had been set-up. Some women brought their children if they couldn’t find a babysitter or if their husbands were at work (or couldn’t be trusted). Bingo cards were ten cents apiece. Men had their poker games or bowling nights, the ladies had their bingo night; a time they could gossip and laugh. Sara Finn, Naomi Porter and Madge Sweeney sat together; Helen and Mrs. Connors sat with Kate Reilly.
Mickey Finn didn’t mind watching the kids on these Thursday evenings, after all Sara rarely nagged him about his loafing or drinking; it was the least he could do. His leather mail pouch sat on the floor by the front door; full of the day’s mail. As the youngsters pulled the envelopes out of the pouch and ‘played mailman’ Mickey half watched them while most of his attention was on the newspaper and his beer. The Finn children ‘delivered’ the mail; an envelope stuck half-way behind a picture on the wall, another half stuffed in a vase, between the sofa cushions and so on. Mickey would later collect it all and jam them into a bag in a bottom kitchen cupboard along with other undelivered mail.
The knock on his door was unexpected. Laying the paper aside he answered it. Before him were two men holding out badges and pushing their way in. The two U.S. Postal Inspectors could tell Mickey was three sheets to the wind. Looking around the room they understood the complaints of undelivered mail.
As Mickey sat stunned on the sofa, one of the inspectors started collecting the envelopes from the children’s delivery points, the other went to his car to radio in for a family services woman to come look after the children until Mickey’s wife returned. Handcuffed, Mickey was taken downtown to the federal office, after taking his information and fingerprints sent him over to the lock up. Mickey’s ‘great’ job lasted just one week. His explanation that he intended to deliver all the late mail the next day and couldn’t understand why it made any difference if he delivered the weeks mail on one day rather than ‘every’ day. Of course, this landed on deaf ears.
Sitting in his cell Mickey was once again drowning in self-pity. People simply didn’t understand him.
Sara arrived home and was met by a woman who identified herself telling her that the children were safely in bed and asleep. After looking in on the kids, she sat with the woman and heard what had happened. The woman didn’t know all the details, but Sara got the gist of it. The normally patient, understanding, long suffering Sara felt as though she could kill Mickey when she got her hands on him. Seething with anger she began packing some of her and the children’s clothes into paper grocery bags, arranged for the family services lady to stay with the children a bit longer while she went down to Sweeney’s to use the phone to call one of her sisters. This time Mickey went too far. She would no longer put up with him and no longer expected her family to either.
The family services woman drove Sara and her children to Sara’s sister’s house. Mickey could stew in his own juice as far as Sara was concerned. Maybe there will be a time she would change her mind…but certainly not now.
The teenagers were settled on Min’s back porch. “Hell”, Rosalie said with arms akimbo, “if you guys are just gonna sit around playing cards us girls may as well go down to Sweeney’s.” Rosalie didn’t like being ignored. Patty agreed to Sweeney’s.
The boys shrugged off the comment not caring if the girls were there or not; they continued placing match sticks in the pile on the crate answering another’s call of a ‘raise’. Only Crazy Jim stood up.
“I fold”, he said turning his cards over giving his attention to the girls “Okay, I have this little trick that will blow you away” he smiled. “It’s really cool, it’ll give you a high.”
This perked Rosalie’s interest. “Okay, show me.”
Crazy Jim approached her and told her to stand up. Standing behind her he put his arms around her just under her ribcage. “Now take three fast really deep breaths, and hold the last one. She started to take a breath as the others watched, on her fourth breath he strongly and quickly squeezed his arms around her ribcage and as he did Rosalie’s breath rushed out of her lungs; her body went limp and she blacked out. The blackout lasted only a few seconds, she slid to the porch. “Wow!” she said, “that felt really, really cool!”
The others on the porch at first were alarmed, then after seeing Rosalie’s almost instant recovery were impressed. However, Murph was not impressed.
“I want to do it, I want to do it,” Patty kept repeating. She stood before Crazy Jim and again upon recovery Patty liked the effect, “do it again,” she said.
“No, in a minute, now it’s Tiny’s turn,” he said smiling at Tiny. Tiny stood up; Murph took her arm “no you’re not”. Tiny didn’t resist and began to sit down when Crazy Jim took her other arm pulling her to her feet. Murph grabbed Crazy Jim and pulled him away from Tiny and threw a punch at Crazy Jim and the fist fight began. Feeling he was about to lose his advantage Crazy Jim pulled a switch-blade knife from his back pocket, instinctively Murph grabbed an empty pop bottle, slammed it against the brick wall and lunged at Crazy Jim. Jim saw the murderous look in Murph’s eyes and quickly snapped the knife closed and returned it to his pocket.
Murph continued to point the jagged bottle at Crazy Jim. “If you ever go near Tina again, if you ever come on this porch again I will kill you.” Crazy Jim slowly backed down the three steps. He knew he’d never be on that porch again, not only because he believed Murph, but also because he knew everyone that witnessed his backing down would look at him as a coward; his bravado could never be rebuilt. He wore an undeniable cloak of shame as he headed around the corner.
Murph turned harshly to Tina, “They call him ‘Crazy’ Jim for a reason”. He looked at the others on the porch. “Get it? He is crazy!”
Silence fell over the group and they slowly left by ones and twos…no longer feeling cool…no longer looking for laughs.
Min and Donny Van Dyke’s backs were turned behind the counter in the otherwise empty store. Donny first opened one envelope and counted the money and the numbers slips and checking it against her book, it tallied up; he then made notations in his own pocket book and returned 10 percent of the take to her. Then he opened the second envelope, the ‘protection’ envelope, again counting the money; satisfied he put both envelopes in the breast pocket of his suit.
He was about to leave when he and Min heard the cursing, shouting and scuffling on the back porch and realized something was going on…and it wasn’t good. Min began to run to the back thinking of her daughter, Donny pushed past her and hurried through to the back apartment. When they reached the middle of the kitchen they could see through the screen door and Crazy Jim and Murph in a fist fight. Min continued toward the door wanting to stop it; Donny held her back. Donny continued to hold Min by the arm when Jim pulled the knife, after Murph broke the bottle Min tried to pull from Donny’s grasp, but he held tight. They stood in the kitchen close to the screen door as the two on the porch confronted the other and watched as Crazy Jim backed down; they heard Murph’s threats and saw Jim retreat. Min’s opinion of Murph soared, her earlier judgement that Murph cared about her daughter had now been proven that he was also capable of protecting her and confirmed her judgement correct ’thank you God’ she thought; Donny realized Murph was a guy he had to keep his eye on.
Min and Donny turned to go back to the store. Donny noticed Ralph sitting in his chair with his glass in hand quietly avoiding any eye contact, just staring at his hand.
Nothing more was said between Min and Donny, he merely went out the door heading for his next pick up knowing he would not forget Murph.
He was to meet with Russo to give him the daily take that night at a diner near Ashland Avenue; it had become their regular transfer spot.
Chester Harris was now comfortable with his job. He resented that George Macklin insisted he be ‘trained’. Trained? Chester thought. What kind of training does it take to clean tables? He remembered when the busboys cleaned up after him and his family. He looked at the customers now with even more resentment. On the other hand, he had to admit he was glad to travel farther from that awful apartment and his mother’s constant condemnation of his father and his sister’s whining. Now that he was at the bottom of the food chain he realized the huge gap. There was a time when he used the men’s room reserved for customers, had a warm towel handed to him by an attendant, left a tip; now he wasn’t allowed near that lavatory, now he had to use the kitchen toilet, with its pull down dirty towel mechanism.
Though in the past he had been seated at the fine dining tables with his family and was never aware of what stood behind that upscale restaurant he now became curious. He arrived early to go through the restaurant’s back door to enter into the heart of the Union Stockyards and became fascinated with what he saw. He walked the many cat-walks above the animal pens and was fascinated by the ‘Judas’ goats; there were many, some at the Swift packinghouse, some at Armour; but all did the same deed. These were the first places he began to frequent. He was enthralled watching the goat turn left at the top of the ramp and watching the chute instantly close, and the other animals wedged into a single-file line filing through the darkened doorway on the right onto the killing floor. No wonder they’re called ‘dumb’ animals he thought.
He looked at his wrist watch and hurried back to the restaurant; although he had no allegiance to George Macklin, he still wanted to keep this job; it had its perks. He knew George made a promise to his dad; to give him this job so his family had a little income. Chester felt he almost had the best of both worlds; he could come to a job he didn’t detest and at the same time could take time off whenever he liked, George wouldn’t let his father down; this was one of the privileges the other bus boys did not have. Yes, in a strange sense Chester considered himself ‘privileged’; made a little money, found an environment he’d never seen and had begun to be addicted to… the smell of death.
Novack and Walsh sat facing each other across their desks. The most recent file, the fourth, shared between them. The other three case files stacked on the file cabinet against the wall. The other three children, were murdered in the same way as this latest child was killed, strangled and mutilated. All bodies were found in different locations; but all were found in Englewood. They looked at the Englewood area map, drew lines connecting the location that each body was found…was there a hub…a center point?
All Novack’s leads led nowhere. Block by block Englewood was a large area to cover; and many in the neighborhoods distrusted him, or rather they distrusted the police. Some of the distrust ended when they realized it concerned the murder of a child; promises were made that people in all these neighborhoods would keep a keen eye out for anything strange and would report it. Most of all they would keep a close eye on their own children, Novack believed them. Novack also knew that however sincere these parents were, they were between a rock and a hard place. So many of the parents had to work from paycheck to paycheck to pay the rent, adding to that were the number of children in these neighborhoods. Most of these children were left on their own, playing in the large yards, playing in the crowded school playgrounds; these were not children which were easy to keep an eye on.
Novack bent his head into his hands. His biggest nightmare was finding yet another child’s body. So he returned to the autopsy reports, the crime photos and various reports of neighbors. He realized that many of the canvasing reports of ‘suspects’ may likely have been revenge driven by the interviewee, revenge of a petty dislike or a problem between neighbors, but all had to be followed up. Somehow Novack had to sift through to find a real lead and separate the bullshit. Because of the different districts in Englewood where bodies were found he pounded his head to find the important ‘thread’. Should he re-think taking the ‘beat cops’ into his confidence? ... but he couldn’t know who could be trusted. The city was a complex mesh of inter-locking webs of corruption and collusion.
“Okay, let’s go back a bit and see what we have,” Novack said as he stretched his arms over his head.
“Yeah”, Walsh replied looking across over his reading glasses. “There were two kids killed in other districts, but neither looked like our guy. One was a father who slammed his crying baby against a wall. A lawyer if you can believe it; he claimed he was trying to work on a brief and the kid wouldn’t stop howling, he confessed and is now in lock-up, and this happened before our Back of the Yards body. The other was a kid’s body found half under a crawl space, but the facts don’t match ours, this kid was strangled and raped, but no stabbing or mutilation, that doesn’t quite match ours either. And besides one was way west and the other on the far north side. I don’t think they’re connected; ours is local.”
“Mmm…so if ours are local, my guess is our guy must be local; and he knows the neighborhoods, moves through them with ease.” Novack continued to look through the coroner’s reports, there was no doubt in his mind that they were looking for one guy or perhaps two that were working together. Walsh began to make a list of possible people that could move through these neighborhoods without drawing attention: mailmen, delivery people, milkmen, gas meter readers, paper boys, door-to-door salesmen and his list went on.
Novack began the ‘murder book’ on this latest victim. He hated the mundane paperwork, but that’s where most homicide investigations took place; in the office going over interview statements and reports, going through the intimidating piles of paper. He fought the urge to go to the streets to find the action, but he knew that this was probably where they would find the thread that would lead them to the killer. He looked down to his desk, it was here somewhere.
Jocko Gervasi left his apartment just after dark and kept in the shadows as he headed for the bus. The meeting with his boss was set for nine-thirty, it was arranged to be in the back room of a non-descript private social club close to Racine Avenue, Joe Napoli’s Englewood headquarters.
Jocko expected to be ‘frisked’ at the front door, and was. He felt eyes of men in the room following him as he was led past the bar, pool tables and card tables into the back office. Joe Napoli stood behind his desk with the ever-present cigar in the corner of his mouth. His office reflected the man; it reflected a man not concerned with polished image; it spoke of a man with power. The power to move millions of dollars through the organization and power to see that he would do whatever it took to continue to provide that money and retain that power even if it meant brutality; brutality came naturally to him.
“So, I hear you wanted a meeting,” Joe said signaling Jocko to have a seat. “Is there a problem?”
“I’m not sure. There’s some strange shit goin’ on and I thought maybe you could fill me in on some of it.”
“What kind a shit”?
“Well first off there was a killin’ of a kid and cops were around like flies on shit. I managed to keep ’em off my scent. But, then last night there was a knock on my door and”…
“Who was it?” Joe interrupted.
“That’s just it…I don’t know. He knocked a few times, tried the doorknob and just went away. I didn’t want to open the door and let ’em know I was there.”
“Does Russo know you’re there?” Joe asked re-lighting his cigar.
“I don’t think so, but who knows. Maybe it’s nothin’, but I thought you should know.”
Joe Napoli leaned his elbows on his desk and got Gervasi’s attention. “You know why you’re there right?”
“Yeah”, came the reply.
“Well, tell me about what’s goin’ on with that; not what’s goin’ on with who the hell is knocking on your door.”
Jocko readjusted, or rather squirmed, in his seat. “I haven’t seen anything yet that tells me Russo’s skimming, but like you told me…I’ve been tryin’ to keep a low profile.”
Napoli’s brow furrowed, “His tallies seem to check out, but his take is down…down on everything. I understand that maybe it has somthin’ to do with this dead kid and all, but it’s been goin’ on before that; not as bad, but still there. Maybe you shouldn’t keep as low a profile as we planned. Maybe we should put a little pepper up his ass.”
Joe leaned back and took two glasses from the credenza behind his desk and began pouring wine from the bottle next to him. Jocko put his hand over his glass. “Oh yeah, I forgot, you’re like my Nona…never touch the stuff”, Joe almost smirked. “Keeps my head clear,” Jocko explained.
Joe Napoli had adequate trust and respect for Gervasi. It might have been easier for Gervasi to ‘rat’ on him and several other district bosses, but he chose to take the rap and do the time; sixteen years in fact. It could have been ‘life’ except for the fact that money greased the right palms, rather than ‘life’ the judge sentenced him to 50 years; which realistically was ‘life’. But Gervasi had a knack of staying in the shadows, his reputation followed him, Napoli and some of the other bosses sent word through the prison grapevine that nobody messes with him. So with good behavior, the right people knowing the right people, the right court and parole board’s signatures he was out early, only sixteen years, rather than rotting away with a life sentence.
“So, do you have any key on who the guy was that wiped the kid?” Joe asked.
Jocko thought a moment, trying to envision all the people he noticed from his back porch…but it was such a limited vision. “No. All I know is that there are some whacko people in that neighborhood, for all I know it could be any of ’em.”
“Okay,” Joe continued, “Let’s try to open your profile a little bit…not much…just a little. Give Russo an idea he’s being watched and in the meantime I’ll drift out the word that you’re working for me. That should shake him up a bit.”
Gervasi understood that he was not yet dismissed and waited silently and patiently while he watched Napoli chew on his now burnt out cigar. “A murdered kid you say?”
“Yeah”, replied Jocko. “Some little girl found down the alley in an empty lot.”
Through his own sources Napoli was aware of a couple other dead kids found in Englewood. There were many things he and his people were capable of including unspeakable torture…but killing a kid for no apparent reason was beyond his comprehension; while he’d have no problem ordering the dismemberment or gutting of anybody he felt was a danger to business, this was different; it violated his ’morals’.
“While you’re at it, look around and see what’s goin’ on with this kid killing thing; and if you find the guy, let me know first, before anybody goes to the cops.”
“Yeah, sure,” Jocko was getting a little confused on his mission. But he knew better than to question Napoli.
Margaret Connors awoke early after a restless night. Her dreams of Sean and Tim were melded and disturbing. She heard the milkman’s clanking bottles and putting on her robe she made her way to the back door, wanting to be sure he got her note to leave an extra heavy cream; she had planned on a banana cake this week which required her whipped cream icing. By the time she opened the door he had gone, but he did leave the cream. Dawn had barely approached.
She put the kettle on for her morning tea. Sean always preferred coffee, but she never became accustomed to it. She tried to push her dream from her brain as she sat in the front room with her tea; perturbed she looked to Sean’s photo on the sideboard. “Why will you never leave me alone?” she asked. “How many years will it take for you to just go away? You like to torment me don’t you, you always have” she told him.
Her memory went back to 1901. Life with Sean had not been an easy one. It wasn’t long after their marriage that she realized she never really loved him. He was her gateway from the poverty of her country life in Ireland. She had no good memories of Ireland and didn’t miss it. She saw in Sean a promise of a better life beyond Ireland. He told her he’d been saving for passage to America for two years and finally had the stake he needed. Margaret saw her own glimmer of hope and began to woo him almost unabashedly; it worked, he was beguiled. He worked a little harder and within the next six months had enough money for the two to be wed and sail to America. His thoughts were to pick up the gold on the streets and bathe in the milk and honey he had always heard of; her thoughts were a little more practical, she just wanted to get to America.
Soon Sean was disillusioned not finding his gold nor the milk and honey. He could only find menial labor and didn’t like the hives of people nor the smells of exhaust from automobiles, stockyards and garbage in the alleys. He missed the green hills, the salty breezes sweeping in from the Irish coast. His work there was also menial labor, but it was country labor…clean labor. Filled with remorse at his decision to emigrate his drinking increased, and with his mood increasingly petulant he viewed his wife with resentment. Without her encouragement to leave the ‘ol sod’ he may have changed his mind and stayed; instead felt he had been pushed to this cesspool with no avenue of escape.
Margaret on the other hand found America exciting and promising. Here in her apartment flat she had indoor plumbing, central heating and electricity. It was true that she had spent almost all their savings on the first two months’ rent, but the recently converted brick stable into a four flat behind one of the greystones versus lodging in an overcrowded clapboard building in Back of the Yards, with one communal toilet and faucet in the basement seemed like an easy decision, for a recent immigrant it was a dream come true. Yes, she thought, America was the future, her future and felt very lucky indeed to be living in such a nice neighborhood, even if her building was the least of the neighborhood, she began filling her nest with pride.
Margaret found a job in a small toy factory on an assembly line, the work was easy to learn and the workers sat on stools, so she didn’t have to be on her feet all day. But most importantly she liked her job because that is where she met Tim McAvoy.
She met him in the factory lunchroom, the women on the line were not allowed to leave the premises during their thirty minute lunchbreak. One day as the whistle rang to return to the line she knocked over her thermos bottle and before she could reach to the floor to retrieve it a hand appeared and returned it to her. Looking up she saw the smiling face of a young man in a white shirt. “Here ya go darlin’, I hope it’s not broken.” She looked inside and it wasn’t. “No” she replied shyly.
The room was emptying quickly, workers were docked pay if they returned late to their line. “What’s your name? I haven’t seen you around before and as pretty as you are I would have noticed.” Margaret blushed and kept her eyes down, “Margaret, Margaret Connors.”
“Well Margaret Connors, you’d best be getting back to work, you don’t want a short paycheck,” he smiled. After that he seemed to always be there in the lunchroom and always had a quick smile and nod for her. Tim was a supervisor two departments over from hers and was not allowed to fraternize with the employees, so his attentions were always from a distance. Margaret began looking for him, and if he was not there she was disappointed.
Meanwhile, Sean’s moods became darker. He missed Ireland and felt trapped. It was becoming clear to him that Margaret only wanted to get to America…not to his bed. His drinking became more frequent and his jobs more infrequent. But he was still the ‘man of the house’ and wouldn’t let Margaret forget it. She handed over her pay envelope to him each week. Soon she saw late notices for the rent and other bills. Arguing with Sean did no good; she had to get additional income. She began to take some of the money from her pay envelope before getting home to Sean, telling him that the bosses cut the pay for the line workers because of business down turns. She also traveled the buses on Saturdays to a rich lady’s house to do her family’s washing and ironing. She was making ends meet and still did not miss Ireland. She felt she was an American, a part of all the excitement of this wonderful growing country. Immigrants were still pouring in during the early part of this new twentieth century, and she was part of it.
Walter Storm looked into his daughters’ bedrooms. Trisha sat reading a movie magazine on her bed, the walls filled with movie star photos taped one after another. “Hey, sugar how’s it goin’?” he asked. She briefly looked up to him with disinterest, “fine”, she said and returned to the magazine. He moved on to Debbie’s room, with only the night light on he approached the sleeping child and tenderly kissed her forehead.
In the kitchen his warmed dinner plate waited on the table. Carol leaned against the counter with arms folded. “Maybe you should just leave… you’re never here anyway.” He remained silent, this wasn’t the first time Carol suggested a separation but neither ever followed through. The only one he would really miss was little Debbie, Carol wouldn’t be always on his mind trying to find excuses to avoid her; and he felt he had lost Trisha a long time ago, she was turning into her mother’s child.
Carol slapped the dish towel next to the sink. “I guess I got my answer you bastard!” and went to their bedroom, threw his pajamas on the hall floor and slammed the door. Walter emptied the plate of food into the kitchen garbage pail, his appetite gone. He slept very little on the couch that night.
Mrs. Connors watched through the curtain as her tenant Bev Mailham returned from work with a man Margaret had seen before. As far as Margaret knew Bev was the only divorcee in the neighborhood. She listened to all the gossip and knew some of the slanderous statements were true; sometimes men did spend the night and left the flat only before dawn. However Margaret liked Bev; even respected her. Bev kept to herself, but on the other hand could always be depended upon to give a helping hand. These henhouse denizens of the neighborhood wives didn’t hesitate to ask Bev to babysit on week-ends or during times of need and Bev always cheerfully agreed. Besides she wasn’t the only scandal in the neighborhood; Vera and Walter were the only two that thought their trysts were secret. Margaret felt Bev was looked upon more harshly because she was pretty, stylish and didn’t hide her lifestyle while Vera was plain looking and there was sympathy for her, but none for Bev. Margaret recognized that green eyed monster of jealousy when she saw it and believed Bev suffered the biddies’ rigid self-righteousness because of jealousy.
Bev Mailham was an attractive but lonely woman, too young, too pretty to feel that lonely; she refused to let a bad marriage at a young age destroy her life. Being a ‘pool’ secretary with a Loop company allowed her to meet many attractive men; some married, others just looking for a distraction. She filled the bill. She liked her independence and wasn’t willing to pull the shroud over herself quite yet. She was a woman who liked having a good time.
Bev’s rent was always paid on time, in fact sometimes a few days early. Margaret could depend on that rent, could depend on Bev’s smile and good humor; there were times that Margaret looked back at her own life and wished she could have been more like Bev Mailham.
So, when the neighborhood hens showed their claws, Margaret’s hackles went up and always defended this independent, self-respecting, confident woman that Margaret had always wished to be.
Walter left the house early the next morning. The start of his watch was hours away, but he needed to get out of the house and away from Carol. He sat on the stool having coffee at the White Castle. He felt a presence sit beside him…it was Russo. Walter looked behind him and then to his shoes. “Do I have a string on me somewhere that you just keep following?” he asked incredulously.
“No, no strings attached”, Russo smiled. “But I do need your help, and maybe I can be of some help to you. I know you don’t like the idea of us working together, but it might work out for both of us…just think about it.”
Walter looked down at his coffee cup and tried to keep his head together; of all the things he had to think about… Carol, Vera, Kitty, Novack’s secrecy, the stranger on the top floor and the crap that’s going on in this neighborhood involving Russo. He slowly breathed a deep breath. “Okay, let’s talk”.
“So where have you gotten with Novack on this kid thing?” Russo asked as he looked across to Storm. The two men sat on the beer cases in the back room of Jack’s tavern. Being a cop Walter couldn’t afford to be seen having a conversation with the local gangster.
“This ’kid thing’ is a murder of a little girl…she has a name…it’s Kitty Shanahan!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean any disrespect; but my boss is concerned about the take, and frankly I’m worried”, Tony confessed.
“Okay”, Walter continued, “what do you know from your side? Is there anyone you suspect? What do your contacts say?”
“That’s one of the problems…nobody is saying anything…maybe they just don’t know. I only know that there’s a guy on the top back porch that sends shivers up my spine.”
Walter remembered the blank mailbox slip. “Oh, yeah, I looked into that and came up with nothing. Even the mailman said he only gets coupons and ads with no name, other than that…no mail…no name. But I’ll try to keep an eye out for him.”
“Maybe Vera’s seen somethin’, maybe you could ask her, maybe she could make contact with him, being his neighbor and all, more low key, it wouldn’t spook him.”
Walter looked at Russo. “Why would I talk to Vera? Why not one of the other neighbors, the ones in his building?”
Russo smiled. “Look Walter, you and Vera are the best known secret in the neighborhood.” Walter looked back with surprise. Russo’s smile grew a little bigger and slowly shook his head. “What I mean is seein’ as you and Vera are close you can tell her you think something sketchy is goin’ on and you can depend on her to tell you anything she sees. I don’t care if you two have a thing goin’ on… I understand.”
“I don’t like the idea of involving her in anything, especially if it’s true that this guy might be trouble. “
“It just seems like the quietest way to scope him out. Between the two of us keeping an eye out for her she’ll be okay. She can see when he leaves and stuff like that, then one of us can follow him and”…Walter interrupted him “you can follow him. I have other ideas of what my job is.”
“Okay, I can follow him.”
Storm looked down at his shoes then into Russo’s eyes, “I’ll talk to her, but I’m not promising anything.” Storm got up and left by the back alley door, Russo returned to the tavern bar.
Russo had reason to sweat. He was skimming, but didn’t think it was enough to be noticed…however maybe it was. His ‘territory’ was quite large, most of Englewood. He thought he was being careful, even clever…now he began to see shadows everywhere…he made plenty of enemies, but few friends. As much as he was unsettled by the murder of the little girl; he was more wary of his own safety. Knowing that Storm didn’t give a crap about him, he had to use Storm’s contacts, his trust with the neighborhood to see where his own danger was coming from…and the danger was there…he could not yet identify it, but he could smell it.
A soft thunder added to the night’s rain, and soon a real storm swept through. It was only eight o’clock, Mrs. Connors was listening to her favorite radio program. With a boom of thunder the lights blinked out, the radio silenced…the fuse was blown; or so she hoped. If it were more than that Sam Brendle couldn’t deal with it. She banged on the floor with her walking stick. That was the signal to the Brendle’s that she needed help.
When the lights went out, Sam simultaneously heard Margaret’s banging, and answered with a broom handle to the ceiling. He understood that he would have to go to the cellar to change the fuse. Margaret provided extra fuses right next to the fuse box inside the cellar by the door. Sam, however, used a copper penny to infuse into the fuse, thereby keeping the new fuses in reserve.
“Hey, Daddy the lights went out! Can I come? Please”, Red shouted excitedly through the dark; Red was ready for an adventure. Helen began to light candles as rain pelted the windows. Sam shone a flashlight to the skeleton key to the cellar door hanging next to the kitchen door jamb. Margaret gave it to him when they moved in, she had another upstairs. He turned to his excited daughter and handed her the larger of the two flashlights and made sure he had a few copper pennies in his pocket. “Okay, just keep the light in the dark back corners.” Sam and Red headed out the back door to the cellar steps and into the dark, dank, dirt-floored cellar.
Margaret made a point when agreeing to their contract that Sam would put rat poison in the corners of the cellar and warned him not to go further than necessary. The fuse box was just inside the cellar door, there was no need to go further other than to put down the rat poison.
Given that ‘Rat-boy’ gave credence to so many rats…Sam did not question her. He was grateful that he nor Helen had heard the scratching of rats within their walls and believed that Margaret knew how to keep them out of the living quarters.
As the storm raged with its clashes of thunder and lightning streaking across the night sky Red grabbed onto her father’s belt, her flashlight in hand. All her thoughts were to another adventure! “Be sure to point the light to the back wall and the back corners”, her father warned… “rats don’t like light!” Red slowly slid the point of light to the back corner, “Okay”. Red held the flashlight steadily sliding it between corners as Sam slid a copper penny between the fuse. Suddenly Red thought she saw a creature scurry, perhaps it was just a mouse, but given the stories from Mrs. Connors and her own imagination it was a rat the size of a dog that shadowed along the back cellar wall and down into a hole in the corner.
Abruptly the copper penny did its job, the single light bulb in the cellar blinked back on. Red only looked to the back cellar walls, now empty of the creepy creature made of nightmares, she felt relieved; though she continued to hold onto her father’s belt. Sam’s occasional visit to the cellar to replace or repair the fuse box was something that Red could not ignore. She had to be part of it…she liked being scared…as long as her father was there, and as long as she could hold onto the safety of his belt. But those dark cellar corners compelled her interest. They could never be fully seen; and Red believed that if something couldn’t be fully seen it had mystery and imagined danger. Unlike her sister Dory, Red had an adventurous soul.
The next day, the yard was a swampy mess of mud. After school Red smelled the aroma of the apple pie from upstairs and was glad when Mrs. Connors knocked on the backdoor to invite Red, Dory and Helen up for a treat on such a gloomy day. The four of them sat in the cozy kitchen. Mrs. Connors poured tea and Red felt very grown up, her mother only gave her a cup of warm milk and a shot of coffee…Mrs. Connors served a cup of fully brewed tea.
“Guess what I saw last night in the cellar”, she blurted out feeling important. Dory ignored her, Helen rolled her eyes, but Mrs. Connors looked at her with full attention.
“Just what did you see?” she asked with concern.
“A rat…a really big one running across the back wall! Well, at least I thought it was a rat.”
Helen looked apologetically at Margaret and tried to change the subject, but Margaret continued to look at Red.
“I don’t think you should be exploring down there. There’s nothing down there that’s any of your business,” Mrs. Connors said with unusual firmness.
“But I always go down with Daddy to help with the fuses. He wants me to shine the flashlight into the corners to keep the rats away, he needs two hands to change the fuse and I always hold onto his belt,” Red replied defensively.
“Well, never go beyond that fuse box…and never without your father.”
“Yes ma’am”. Red sat sullenly listening to her mother and Mrs. Connors talk of other things. She thought her story of her cellar adventure would be returned with ooh’s and aah’s, not expecting the stern reprimand.
Before leaving Margaret gave Helen the extra pie from the counter.
As Mrs. Connors cleaned up something niggled in her mind. It’s alright. The child didn’t see anything…there was nothing to see. Cellars were such deep, dark and dank places and could play tricks on anyone’s mind.
She thought of pouring herself another cup of tea, but decided instead to have a nip just to settle her nerves and poured two fingers of whiskey. Passing through the dining room she glanced out the window and noticed Chester returning from his own cellar. She sat on the chair by the window sipping her nerve medicine and her mind again itched. What on earth is that boy up to? She watched as he made his way from the cellar and up the back steps to his flat, all the while glancing around him.
Ever since he was banished from Min’s porch Crazy Jim just skulked around in the shadows. He was angry with Murph and hated him, but also knew he could not confront him. His chain of shame dragged on him. Instead of going to the back yard and porch he began to walk the front sidewalks of 61st Street. He tried to join a few games of dodge ball or stick ball with the younger boys on the street, but he felt too stupid hanging out with little kids; besides they made it clear he was not welcome. Perhaps they heard what happened…his chain became heavier.
It wasn’t that he missed the boys on Min’s back porch as much as he missed the girls; though they barely would look at him, he liked looking at them in their tight sweaters and pants. He liked thinking about them. Some of them were already ‘going steady’, Patty wore Ace’s ring around her neck and he later remembered Murph and Tiny sitting close. No girl would ever get close to him. His chain grew with links of jealousy and hatred.
Francie Van Dyke sat on the steps in front of her greystone flat braiding her seven-year-old’s sister hair, her younger brothers played on the sidewalk with a battered toy truck.
“Hey, whatcha doin’?” Jim said as he approached and sat down beside her.
“Just babysitting, as usual”, Francie moved a little further away. She had seen Crazy Jim around and felt she should feel it a compliment that he’d even talk to her…after all…he was a teenager. Being twelve was a hard year for a kid, each day awaiting the next birthday when you too would be a teenager.
“I’ve noticed you around”, he said, “what’s your name?”
“Francie, Francie Van Dyke.”
“I’m Jim”, he smiled. Francie had never heard him referred to anything but Crazy Jim and stopped herself before saying something dumb, like oh yeah, why do they call you Crazy Jim.
Francie continued braiding. “You’re kinda cute.” Francie felt her face flush with the compliment; Crazy Jim noticed also. “So you’re one of the Van Dyke kids, huh?”
“I guess I am.”
“Hey, isn’t Rat-boy your brother?” Francie’s face almost turned purple.
“His name is Toby, and yes he is my brother. He just has a few problems that’s all.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it. In fact I think it’s kinda cool that he does what he does. When I was his age I could never have the nerve to do it, in fact I don’t think I could do it now,” he said.
“Well, he’s probably the only one who can and does…and I don’t think it’s cool.”
“He’ll probably grow out of it, I wouldn’t worry if I were you.” But Francie did worry about it, Crazy Jim didn’t know how strange her brother was; but Francie was unaware of how crazy Crazy Jim was as he closed some of the space between them but this time Francie did not move away. “How ‘bout us goin’ to Sweeney’s sometime for a soda or something? Sometime when you don’t have to drag your kid brothers and sisters.”
Francie’s heart began to beat faster; was she actually being asked out on a date? “Sure,” she said demurely. Her sister’s hair was finished. Crazy Jim looked down the block and saw Donny coming from down the street. He quickly got up, “I gotta go”, he said “I forgot I’m supposed to meet some of the guys from the Back of the Yards and I’m already late. But don’t forget about Sweeney’s sometime okay?” and he quickly crossed the street walking toward Halsted.
His abrupt departure left Francie confused. Donny was a few buildings down when he noticed Crazy Jim cross the street. When he got to his building he saw that Francie was watching a couple of the younger kids on the sidewalk.
“Was that guy talkin’ to you?” he asked.
“Yeah, what of it!” she retorted. Donny turned to watch Crazy Jim as he crossed Union Street.
“I don’t want you talking to him, even see you near him.”
Francie saw a change in Donny since he’d been hanging around Russo; not only his new clothes, but in the way he talked, the way he carried himself. He was never any fun anymore; on the other hand she saw him hand his mother money and she overheard him tell their mom that if dad ever found out he’d take it…and then Donny would kill him. She became afraid of her brother; but at the same time was proud of him. But he had no right to tell her she couldn’t talk to somebody. She stood and straightened her spine and looked him in the eye.
“I will talk to whoever I want. You’re not the boss of me.”
“I won’t tell you again,” Donny said. “Now all of you get upstairs.” When Francie hesitated he looked at her. “Now!” Francie grabbed the toy truck and followed her sister and brothers up to the flat. That night she lay on her cot in the dining room and softly sobbed, not wanting to wake the room of sleeping children. She finally went to sleep with thoughts of Crazy Jim.
Novack checked the department’s roster and saw that Storm had the third watch. He looked at his wrist at the time, it was almost midnight that meant that Storm should be arriving any minute to check out. He caught him outside on the department’s steps.
“Walter, I need to talk to you,” he said quietly.
“Well, it’s about time…so talk.”
“Not here, go check in and meet me at that all night diner on 64th just off Halsted.”
Storm gave him a questioning look. “This has to be on the quiet, I’ll meet you there,” and Novack started to the parking lot.
Storm entered the diner and spotted Novack at the back booth. Other than Novack and a waitress the only other customer was an old rummy slurping coffee at the counter. He sat across from Novack. The gum-chewing waitress took their order of coffee and the corners of her mouth turned down when they said that was all…she hated this midnight shift, her tips would barely pay her carfare. Storm and Novack were silent until their coffees were served and the waitress returned leaning on the counter reading her paper.
Storm just looked across to him with one raised questioning eyebrow. Novack rubbed his temples and said, “I’m sorry I’ve been less than honest with you.”
“Less than honest?” Walter replied. “You’ve been a damn asshole!”
“I know, I’m sorry,” Novack admitted looking down at his cup. “But, you don’t know the pressure we’re having. We’re ordered not let this thing out beyond the homicide squad…and even some of them don’t know everything.” Novack then filled Storm in on the other child murders in Englewood, their locations, the similarities of the crimes and anything else he knew. Storm’s brows furrowed and his eyes grew more intense as Novack’s story unfolded. When he finished with the latest victim from the Back of the Yards neighborhood Novack just leaned back.
The waitress arrived to refill their coffee; the two men just stared at each other until she was again behind the counter.
“But, the Captain never mentioned any of this in the daily watch briefings,” Walter said in disbelief. Then he remembered that Kitty Shanahan’s murder was never mentioned at a briefing either.
“I know. Like I said, from the Commissioner and Mayor on down the secrecy order was adamant until we catch this guy. They’re worried about an uproar and panic. And you can’t let on you’re involved in any way. Not only could it mean our jobs, but if they find out shit will hit the fan and really gum up these cases.”
“No they’re not,” Walter said with disgust, “they’re worried about politics.”
“You’re probably right, but now you know everything I know…which is pretty much nothing. That’s why I need your help, you’re a good cop and know your neighborhood and the people in it. You probably can hear things that we can’t. A list of people you think might be capable of this and stuff like that.”
Walter cupped his hands around his coffee and remained silent in thought. Downtown sons-of-bitches, how many kids have to die to save their asses.
“Okay, I’m in. But I have some conditions.”
Novack looked surprised, “conditions?”
“Yeah, I’ll cooperate and we’ll get this mother-fucker, but I’ll need the help of Russo and you can’t interfere with it. You can’t have your guys tailing him or making waves with the normal stuff he’s into.”
Now it was time for Novack’s brow to furrow. “Be honest with me Walter, are you on the take or anything like that? Because this could get really messy if you are; be honest with me and I’ll back you up and meet your conditions.”
Storm smiled and rolled his eyes, “no I’m not on the take. I may know what he’s into sometimes and turn my head, but I’m not in their pocket.” Novack relaxed a bit. “In a strange way” Walter continued, “Russo helps me, he doesn’t want anything to interfere with his business either, so if there’s more than just a little dust up in the neighborhood he takes care of it. I think these people respect him more than a mere cop like me, or maybe they’re just more afraid of him, but either way it makes my job a little easier. Besides, when you blew me off, he was right there in my ear wanting to get this guy…so I agreed. Now if you hadn’t blown me off maybe Russo wouldn’t have to be involved, but I do think he can help. But that’s one of my conditions.”
“And the others?”
“Well, really only one other. You have to fill me in on any new developments on all these Englewood cases; and I mean tell me everything as soon as you hear it.”
Novack was exhausted and it showed. He felt he had nowhere else to go. The Russo condition stuck in his craw, there were homicide cases on his desk that he knew Russo was involved in, proving it was another thing…but they were set aside when these child murders took the front seat. He also believed that Russo was not involved in these child cases. He was a mob hit-man, not a child killer.
He looked at Storm, sighed and said, “Okay. I guess I’ll have to live with those conditions.”
“Good.” Storm was feeling a little better, maybe now between the three of them they could put an end to this bastard; one way or another. “I’ll be thinking about that list you want, meanwhile you remember to follow-up with me on anything you find out.”
Walter rode the bus home and for the first time in a very long time his stomach did not sour at the thought of facing Carol. His thoughts were of matching the names to the faces of everyone in the neighborhood he could think of. Novack was right, maybe that’s where to start. He also had to fill Russo in on the latest surprising information.
From the pharmaceutical counter Sweeney saw Jocko enter and Madge’s worried look. Jocko watched Sweeney coming toward him and Madge skitter behind the soda fountain. Jocko knew Madge became high strung at the sight of him; he didn’t want her to become unstrung, so he waited for Sweeney patiently. There were only a couple teenage girls looking through movie magazines against the wall and some teenage boy at the soda fountain with a girl obviously too young for him sharing a sundae.
Sweeney reached under for his tin box and the usual accounting and exchange of envelopes began. As they continued their quiet business the door behind Jocko opened, he glanced from the corner of his eye and for a moment lost count.
“Hi, Sweeney”, she said.
“Hi, Bev, I’ll be with you in a minute.”
“Don’t worry I just came in for hand lotion and bath salts, I know where they are,” and continued down one of the aisles.
So her name is Bev, Jocko thought. He had trouble getting his attention completely back to the tallies. But Bev what? He couldn’t find a way to ask Sweeney without being conspicuous. He forced his head back to the business at hand when he heard Madge’s voice, “Hi there, Mrs. Mailham, can I help you with anything?”
“No thanks Madge I know where to find what I need.”
Bev Mailham, now Jocko had a name for the face of the woman who had piqued his interest in women again. He thought of Madge’s reference to Mrs. Mailham, but he had yet to see any men’s clothing on her clothes line.
Jocko quickly finished his accounting, put the envelopes in his pocket and left. Outside he peered unobtrusively through a corner of the window and timed her leaving with a planned soft shoulder accident at the corner.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” he said.
“Sure”, she said lightly. “I should be more careful to watch where I’m going.”
“No. It was entirely my fault,” Jocko smiled. It felt strange to him to smile, but he couldn’t help it. She was prettier up close. They continued to walk in the same direction down 61st Street. It had been so long since Jocko had talked to a woman, at least one he was not trying to intimidate, that he felt tongue tied.
“So do you live in this neighborhood?” she asked. She was glancing at him from the side. He looks a little rough around the edges, but not bad looking. She liked men who looked manly and he did look manly in a rough kind of way. What is it about some women, we’re always attracted to the men who look like ‘bad boys’?
“Yeah, right down there on 61st, and you?” he said.
“On Wallace Street. Hey we’re probably neighbors”, she smiled. “I’m Bev, by the way.” The short pause in the conversation began to feel uncomfortable. His tongue was in a knot, all he could come up with was “that’s right, neighbors, and the name’s Jocko”. When they came to his building he stopped.
“This is it”, he said.
“Oh, you are close, I’m just around the corner, I hope to see you around again”, her smile became more flirtatious.
He regained enough of his limited vocabulary to say, “Yeah that would be nice.”
Bev walked on down the street as Jocko watched after her. As he mounted the front steps he suddenly felt stupid and wondered if he should have given her a phony name and not showed her the building where he lived. What’s done is done he thought, but at least I know her name.
Crazy Jim and Francie were just finishing their sundae.
“This is really nice,” she said shyly.
“Yeah, we’re gonna have to get together again some time…maybe a movie or something.”
“I’d like that. But I have to tell you that my brother told me not to talk to you.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that; Rat-boy may think he’s king of the mountain when he’s swinging rats, but he won’t bother us,” he swaggered.
“His name is Toby; but I mean my other brother Donny.” Crazy Jim’s only reply sounded concerned, “Oh”.
He had to think this through. Donny was all over the Englewood neighborhood and his connection to Russo was well known. On the other hand, this was the only girl that would give him a second look, in fact she probably was the only person who would give him a second look.
“Sorry, I meant Toby. But maybe we could get together someplace else. Maybe down by the Capitol Theater down on 79th Street.”
“Gee, I don’t know. I’ve never been that far down and besides I can’t get the bus fare or anything.” Since moving to this big city from the quiet green countryside of West Virginia Francie had barely left her block. Other than a walk of window-shopping with Donny down at 63rd Street, following the group to school and back again and the occasional treat at Sweeney’s her block and the back yard was her entire world. She had rarely even been on a bus. The thought of moving through the busy streets, the bustle of people and constant motion intimidated her. She never gave much thought to what was beyond and never felt tethered…until now.
“Well, I’ll think of something. In the meantime we’ll just keep a little distance. When I think of something I’ll let you know when you’re brother’s not around.”
“Okay,” she said resenting Donny.
“You better leave first, just in case Donny’s around.” He hated to sound so cautious, it made him feel cowardly, but Donny might be more of a problem than Murph…his chain of shame grew by a few heavy links.
Although Kitty wasn’t completely forgotten, the neighborhood began to get back into its old rhythms. Kids began to gather for their games in the yard, Rat-boy was once again happy terrorizing unsuspecting children and the old familiar hum of the neighborhood began to slowly buzz.
Dory and Red looked forward to Monday nights, in fact the entire family did. Lorraine and Ed Powicki had a new television. They invited a few families every Monday to watch the ‘I Love Lucy’ show; Brendle’s, Mrs. Connors, the Valusi’s and the Porter’s.
“Is your homework done?” Helen asked, as she continued to mix her Rice Krispies treat. “Yes”, Dory and Red answered in unison. Sam was across the street getting a few quarts of beer from Jack’s tavern and Mrs. Connors was upstairs preparing her contribution of cookies. Only a few other neighbors had televisions and once a week had their own bevy of families to entertain, not always on the same night, but of course ‘Lucy’ was a favorite. On Monday evenings between eight and eight-thirty many of the apartments and flats were empty.
Sam wondered how Ed Powicki could afford a T.V., but then Ed was a gambler, he would bet on just about anything; from horse racing, prize fighting, and cards. Perhaps he was just a lucky kinda guy and could pick em. Sam on the other hand didn’t feel lucky, he wanted his money to go to a sure thing.
So, as the adults filled the sofa, easy chairs and kitchen chairs, the children gathered on the floor and all forgot their troubles for a half -hour of laughter in front of a twelve inch screen.
Some neighbors weren’t invited to these weekly gatherings, certainly not the Van Dyke’s, nor was Bev Mailham, the men would have welcomed her but their wives had other ideas; they wanted their husbands to be watching the T.V., not Bev Mailham. Besides, Bev had her own television and she had no intention of inviting any of these people, these people who let her know what they thought of her with their looks and their snubs; she was content to watch her shows in private with a glass of wine and sometimes with her own male company.
Storm was still on watch on Monday night, but knew where most of the neighbors would be and decided it was a discreet time to meet with Russo. They arranged the meeting in the back room of Jack’s tavern. They trusted Jack’s to be almost empty and could enter through the alley door; and understood that Jack would look the other way. Russo and Storm sat across from each other on beer cases, both men bent forward with fore-arms on their legs.
“I’m glad you changed your mind on this,” Russo said. “I really appreciate it.”
“Don’t get too excited. You haven’t heard yet what I have to say,” replied Storm.
Russo gave him a troubled look as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “Okay, so what do you have to say?”
“First I have to tell you I talked to Novack.” Russo sat a little straighter and more alert but kept his silence. “I found out that Kitty Shanahan wasn’t the first kid killed here in Englewood, there were three before Kitty and one after. And he told me there was a muzzle put on them talking about it from his higher-ups, including the mayor.” Russo had a vague memory of hearing of a kid being found a few miles away, but at the time didn’t give it a second thought, other than Kitty he hadn’t heard of another. He tried to think of how many sprays of flowers he’d sent to funeral homes throughout Englewood, but between weddings, anniversary parties and funerals he couldn’t keep count. His various runners usually kept him abreast of each neighborhood’s floral obligations.
“So if Novack is supposed to be muzzled why is he talkin’ to you?”
“Cause he said they have no leads, no clues, no nothin’ and said he wants, no he said he needs my help. Cops on the beat know their neighborhoods and people better than any of his guys.”
“So if he’s talkin’ to you, is he also talkin’ to the other beat cops in Englewood?” Russo asked.
“No, at least that’s what he told me. He wants to see how much help it would really be before he opens up to anybody else. He knows I can keep it low-key.”
“Mmm”, was all Russo said, his facial features showing he wasn’t sure to believe all Storm was telling him.
“Now, I know you’re not going to like this.” That got Russo’s undivided attention. “I had to tell him that you approached me about looking into finding this guy and that I agreed.”
“Shit,” Russo looked across with disbelief.
“I had to. I told him he didn’t leave me with any alternative after he blew me off,” Storm said as he watched Russo grow more uneasy. “I told him I would work with him on the condition that you were in on this too. I know a lot of people, but you know more about some of them that I don’t. I told him that I’d make some kind of list of people he might look into.”
“I don’t like this,” Russo said, reaching for another cigarette. “Novack’s been a hair up my ass and now it sounds like you’re going to give me to him on a platter. No, I don’t like this one bit.” The room was getting stuffier, Russo loosened his tie, the diamond tie pin seemed to lose some of its sparkle; Storm could see the vein in Russo’s neck pumping.
“No,” Storm tried to reassure him. “That ain’t it, not at all. I told him he and his guys had to stay clear of anything you’re into. The only thing the three of us will be together on is getting this bastard…that’s it. He agreed. From what I gathered from him his ass is on the line with this one, this is the only thing he’s focused on. In fact, I got the feeling that whatever else shit you got going will probably go a little smoother for you…he’s looking the other way. Well, that’s about it and I believed him.”
Russo looked at him with mistrust.
“I’m gonna need a list from you too,” Storm continued. “Anybody you can think of who might do something like this. We know most of the same people around here, but where I get a hello and a smile, you get to know their other side…the underbelly.” Storm hoped Russo didn’t take his last statement as an insult; Russo didn’t.
“Okay, if I’m gonna be sucked into this…I need something too,” Russo said. “Have you talked to Vera yet about that guy on the porch?”
“Not yet, but I promise I will. For all we know he might be our guy; but you better promise me that you’ll have Vera’s back on this. And she’s not going to get too involved, just keep an eye out at a distance and report to me, then if there’s anything, I’ll fill you in.”
With their meeting over, Russo went through to the tavern, he needed a drink. Now he had Novack in his brain competing with problems already there. Storm went out through the alley door and back to his beat.
Donny walked through the front door of the Stockyard Inn and glanced past the maître d and into the dining room until he eyed George Macklin. George nodded in recognition and Donny turned toward George’s office, as he turned he noticed a familiar face. He had trouble placing the bus boy’s face, then recognized it from the neighborhood. Chester something-or-other.
Chester quickly pulled his eyes from Donny and continued to clean the table littered with dirty plates and gripped a dirty steak into his fist. He knew that this Van Dyke kid was seen more with Russo and felt both were scum. But here at this moment all he could think about was that he was cleaning someone else’s mess and watched his boss hurry to meet this hillbilly kid in a suit. His head throbbed knowing Donny was younger than he, knowing that roles should be reversed; it should be he in a suit and George hurrying to meet him and Donny should be cleaning after others. With a shift of his eye he watched Donny and George enter the boss’s office and close the door. After cleaning the table he walked through the restaurant kitchen and out the door; tonight was going to be one of his early nights, the other bus boys and the maître’d would just have to deal with being short-handed.
Donny stood before George’s desk as George reached into a drawer and withdrew the envelope. As Donny counted George gave him a look that almost showed concern. “Don’t you think you’re a little young for this?”
“I can handle it, don’t worry about me,” Donny replied and continued to count the bills.
George only paid Russo for ‘protection’ not numbers. Both understood that numbers were not for his customers and could cause more trouble than it could be worth. But George did need protection…from broken bones, from employee strikes, from arson and just about anything else Russo could think of if he didn’t get his weekly envelope.
“Just be careful, you look like a nice kid. Too bad you didn’t come here first, I could’ve given you a job.”
Donny smirked, “I ain’t a bus boy kinda guy,” and with that Donny left to meet with Russo at the diner near Ashland
“My public defender said I could probably get out on bail until the trial,” Mickey looked at his wife through the wired screen, his brother-in-law sitting next to her. Mickey wished Sara had come alone, his brother-in-law sat hunched glaring at him. Sara was easier to talk to without her damn family around her.
“We ain’t got no money for no bail”, his brother-in-law interjected.
“What on earth were you thinking?” Sara’s puffy eyes showed she’d been crying, but now they were dry and looking straight at him, as though she expected an explanation. But there was only silence. “When is the trial?” she asked.
“I’m not sure, maybe in a few weeks. My lawyer said he’d talk to the federal prosecutors and see if a deal can be put together.” Mickey tried to keep his eyes on Sara, tried to ignore the glare of disgust from the man next to her.
“What kinda deal?” his brother-in-law asked. “We ain’t got no money for bail and we ain’t got no money for fines or lawyers. In fact, Mick, we ain’t got no money for you…period.” Mickey didn’t know if he should tell his brother-in-law to fuck off or to whimper and beg for Sara’s sake.
Instead he used a different tack. “I was just thinkin’ about the kids, they gotta go to school. You know the subsidy we get on the apartment is only good if I’m there.” This last part Mickey wasn’t quite clear on, but thought it sounded convincing.
“Don’t worry about Sara and the kids. We got that covered, fact is, we don’t give a damn ’bout you”.
“Well, the flat is in my name…so unless you want to take Sara and the kids on your dime…then think about it.” Mickey could almost see the gears in his brother-in-law’s head grinding the numbers.
Jocko tried to deny he felt like a schoolboy…he was about to take a woman out on a date! After sixteen years in prison he felt impervious to anything human. Now he was looking into the small mirror over his kitchen sink hoping his tie was straight. He already arranged a cozy table at the Stockyards Inn. Now he began sweating.
As he walked around Min’s corner toward Bev Mailhams’s flat, with flowers in hand, continuing his misgivings about the flowers, do they still do this or would it make him look like a fool and old-fashioned. Unaccustomed to mating rituals and being rejected his heartbeat accelerated as he neared her door. Jocko had killed…had tortured…had committed so many sins that even the gates of hell would reconsider letting him in…he pressed his thumb on her doorbell with a lump in his throat.
Nothing eluded Margaret as she looked through her lace curtains. Mmm she thought, so this was the dangerous phantom she saw over the yard. She pulled up the side chair to see and to watch what came next. She was about to doze off when the click of Bev Mailham’s door clicked shut…and she watched as the two of them walked down the three steps into a taxicab. She tucked the thought of a visit with Bev into an envelope in her mind to find out more about this man over tea and cakes.
Jocko was ill at ease. Bev Mailham was in her realm. She led him through the buffet of prime beef, pork, and every other cut of meat the Stockyard Inn provided. She seemed to know her preferences and did not hesitate to advise. Jocko was enthralled. He‘d never been with a woman with Bev’s self-confidence; he liked it. He was proud to be with her, he never knew a woman like her. He realized prior going to prison he’d only went out with women; Bev was a lady. He was enchanted,…perhaps he was in over his head…but if he could take that plunge, crawl out of the cesspool he’d been living in, maybe he would come up gasping and grasping for the oxygen in a whole new world. After a lifetime of distrust he looked around with hooded eyes. He was clumsy and uncomfortable.
Bev saw Jocko’s discomfort and realized the effort he put forth. He unconsciously pulled at his collar. She studied him from across the table and wondered why he chose this restaurant, one in which he was obviously uneasy. Trying to put him at ease she took the lead at small talk.
George Macklin scanned the dining room, stopped at some tables to smile, to say hello, to make sure customers felt his personal touch of attention. Turning he found himself next to Jocko, Jocko’s hard eyes told him to back off, without skipping a beat George quietly stood next to him and glanced at the woman. “I hope everything is to your liking this evening”, he said glancing from one to the other. “Everything is perfect”, the woman smiled. “Yeah, perfect”, Jocko added. George drifted away, spoke to a few other tables on his way to his office.
I should have taken her someplace else Jocko thought maybe someplace downtown. His head began clicking. First George, now he noticed a bus boy in the back corner that looked familiar. I better be more careful, this might have been a mistake.
He tried to respond to Bev’s small talk, but found himself tongue-tied. She must think I’m a real ape he thought; he tried to focus on her, tried to think of how to behave normal, the concept eluded him. He could feel the sweat on the back of his neck, again he tugged on his collar, he half expected her to pull a banana from her purse and hand it to him.
Bev sensed that this evening was not going the way he intended. She almost felt sorry for him. After their meal, she suggested they order a dessert and take it back to her place for coffee, “it might be a little more relaxing” she smiled.
He gave her an appreciative look and his shoulders began to relax.
Jocko sat on the couch self-consciously, Bev’s flat looked like a storefront display compared to his own rat hole of an apartment. Bev returned from the kitchen with coffee and crêpes, placing the tray on the coffee table she sat next to Jocko.
After an unsuccessful attempt at conversation to put him at ease, Bev suggested they watch television; Jocko quickly agreed. Though he had envisioned her in bed naked while he was back in his dingy flat, now he was simply trying to think how to behave with a lady. He hoped his nervous attempts at trying to act like a gentleman would hide the ape he really was.
When the dessert and coffee were finished and the television show ended Bev got up and thanked him for the wonderful evening. He took his cue to leave. As Bev walked him to the door he asked for her phone number.
“I don’t usually give men my phone number”, she said. “But why don’t you give me yours and I can call you.”
He didn’t know if he was being brushed off or not. She reached for the little note pad and pen on the hall table. Perhaps it wasn’t a brush off after all.
“Thanks again, I really did enjoy the evening,” she said as she put her hands on his shoulders, lifted her head and gave him a warm but short kiss.
He wanted to put his arms around her and give her a deep kiss, a kiss that would knock both of them off their feet, but knew that would turn out badly; instead he walked out the door.
Bev leaned on the closed door for a moment. She didn’t quite know what to make of Jocko. He was attentive, not bad looking, not groping, but after spending the evening with him she still didn’t know anything about him. Most of his answers to her questions were evasive. She knew there was more there and found she was attracted to this enigma.
Chester looked around his station for the next table to clean. He only saw her profile as she turned to leave but he recognized Bev Mailham. He didn’t recognize the man following behind, but he looked familiar. First Donny Van Dyke, now Bev Mailham and this man, his nerves crackled at the thought that it was he that was cleaning up after the scum that was his neighborhood. He felt that by now everyone in the neighborhood knew he was nothing but a bus boy.
He tore off his apron as he passed through the kitchen and out the alley door. Rather than taking the bus he needed a long walk. On the long walk home his thoughts smoldered. What others thought never bothered him, however he was always on the other end looking down…now he was at the bottom seemingly always looking up and he didn’t like it.
As he entered the dim living room he saw the surprise on his mother’s face. She sat on the sofa watching a television program with his sleeping sister’s head on her lap.
“Shh! Don’t wake her. What are you doing home so early?” Anne asked.
“Slow night,” he replied as he continued through the flat to the back door.
“Where are you going?” she whispered.
“None of your business”, he answered without stopping. He walked back out to the evening across the porch and down to the cellar.
“Powicki’s getting slower with the juice”, Russo said as he and Donny sat in the diner on Ashland Avenue. Russo had recounted the envelopes Donny had passed to him.
“Yeah, I noticed too”, Donny said. “I told him you wouldn’t like it; he said he’ll come up with something next week.”
“Next week nothin’. He’s weeks behind already. We gotta give him a message that there is no next week about it.”
Donny’s self-assurance began to fade. Remaining silent was the safest road to take, so he remained mute. He didn’t think he wanted to hear what Russo was about to say.
“Tomorrow tell him to meet me at Jack’s tavern…in the back room at 9 o’clock. You be there too, you’re going to have to learn sooner or later.”
Donny tried to keep his face placid. “Yeah, sure…tomorrow at 9 o’clock.”
Russo got up with his pouch of envelopes leaving Donny alone in the back booth. Donny watched as he left, his cockiness draining with every step.
Just about the time Donny’s face was regaining its color on Ashland Avenue, Walter Storm sat in Vera’s kitchen. He closely watched her face for any trace of reaction as he went over his conversation with Russo and some, not all, of the conversation with Novack. The only reaction he picked up was slight…of concern and sadness. After he finished she sat still. The silence of the flat became heavier.
Vera slowly rose from her chair. “Let me check on my mother, I gave her extra meds, but I want to make sure she’s out.” She looked back at Walter as she reached the kitchen door, “You’ll spend the night?”
“Yeah. I want to.” Neither mentioned nor thought of calling Carol.
When she returned Walter was re-filling their coffee cups. “Of course I want to do all I can to help you…you know that. Tell me what to do, what to look for.” Walter reached for her and whispered in her ear as they embraced. “I love you.”
“Get me some paper and pencil,” he said. “I want to get down to that list I promised Novack.” Vera left him at the kitchen table as he began writing, she quietly returned to her mother’s room and pulled out the fresh shirt, toothbrush, razor and night clothes and returned to the living room to prepare their bed behind the curtain.
As she lay waiting for him a trace of a smile crossed her lips. All this time she thought their affair was a secret, but according to Russo their affair had been buzzing through the kitchens…my, my what have those ladies been up to during their coffee-klatches?
Though Storm had his list of possible suspects, or rather people he felt capable of horrendous deeds, he still had trouble considering that anyone in the neighborhood was capable of these child murders. He began the tedious door knocking, the uncomfortable conversations trying to get information that might be hidden just beneath the surface. After several of these ‘interviews’ he began to cull the list.
That night he sat with Vera at her kitchen table. Whether consciously or unconsciously he talked and thought with Vera as though it was one with himself. They went over the list…Walter did not want to hand over a name to Russo nor to Novack that he felt had any question of possibility. Vera and Walter zeroed in on the paper before them. Both felt the burden of accusation; both tried to narrow the list. Vera had a narrow, however closer, look at the yard neighbors. Walter’s exposure had wider but less intimate range.
After getting Debbie and Trisha off to school Carol plugged in the iron, picked up the first piece of laundry two nights in a row, that bastard! With that thought in her head she tried to rip the shirt on the ironing board but it wouldn’t tear…she reached into the kitchen drawer and pulled out a pair of scissors. After cutting the dark blue shirt to ribbons, she sank into the chair, looked at her little act of vengeance in her lap and appreciated how stupid it looked. She was tempted to call her mother for a mother-daughter chat, then realized her mother would probably sympathize with Walter. Her parents liked Walter and time and again reminded her of her luck; right now she didn’t feel lucky; she felt anger. She rose and attacked the household chore of ironing; such a mindless task…so her mind wandered to the past.
It wasn’t as though she was a young teenager when she found she was pregnant, she was twenty-four; her friends had been married and had children by the time she met Walter. Perhaps I thought he was my last hope. When she thought of it in those terms she almost felt sorry for Walter; but her anger ate everything. Was I always this angry? Like every other American girl she clearly saw her future…wife, mother, homemaker; at least every other American girl whose father was a Methodist minister, a salt of the earth; with a wife who practically swooned at his every word, let alone his sermons.
Carol caught her thoughts, even she understood she was being unfair. Her parents truly were the ‘salt of the earth’, genuinely good and kind. That night so long ago when she decided to part her knees and drop the dime (the one her mother handed to her before any of her rare dates) she knew she was making a conscious decision. She refused to be an old-maid; by hook or by crook she would get a husband. Carol almost smirked thinking of Walter, just a nice guy in the wrong place at the wrong time…with the wrong girl. Walter did the honorable thing…Carol snared a husband.
Russo sat alone at the corner of the bar, the corner next to Jack’s back room door and he surveyed the room. It seemed to him that Jack’s business was doing better than he had remembered. Perhaps it was time he talked to Jack about a little increase in his protection insurance, along with prosperity came higher risk. Russo filed that in his mind.
He came earlier than the nine o’clock appointment with Ed Powicki and Donny. After a quiet word with Jack it was understood that once Donny and Ed arrived, they would need the back room; Jack had better be sure he had all the bar supplies he needed, the door would be locked during the meeting.
“I don’t want no trouble Tony,” Jack said warily.
“There ain’t gonna be no trouble as long as you listen to me.”
“Yeah, okay. I still don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to like it,” Tony replied.
Jack didn’t know what Russo’s meeting was about, he didn’t want to know, he only knew it was trouble.
Donny arrived at eight-forty-five and quietly headed to the back room, closing the door behind him. A few heads turned, some smelled trouble and paid their tab. The tavern customers were down to the few die-hards. As Powicki entered his eyes reflected fear. Russo saw that as a good sign and nodded him toward the back room; Russo followed.
Russo could have instructed Powicki to meet him in the alley behind, but it never hurt to let others see that nothing good comes from crossing him. After locking the door the three men stood looking at each other in the dim light. Donny leaned on the locked door with folded arms, smelled Powicki’s fear and steeled his mind so Russo wouldn’t sense his own. This was Russo’s show, as explained to him, his role was to learn. Russo had told him he understood that “the first time is a little rough…it gets easier”. From the shadows Donny tried to look confident as he squelched his dinner back to his stomach.
“I hope you got my money,” Russo said.
Ed quickly scanned the room looking for an escape. But with Donny at the locked door to the bar and Russo between himself and the alley door, Ed resigned himself to the inevitable.
“Please Tony, I can get it next week and…”
“I think we better take this outside”, Tony interrupted. He nodded to Donny to open the door to the alley, then nodded to Ed to start moving.
In the alley Russo held Powicki against the brick wall. “Ya see Ed, I’ve tried to be a nice guy, you’re more than a week late, so next week ain’t the answer I want. The only answer I want is the money you owe me.”
“But…” Ed began, but again was interrupted.
“Are you right handed or left handed?” Russo asked. Ed looked at him with a mixture of confusion and fear. Ed had an idea of what was coming. He wasn’t a small man, he was strong and instinctively he wanted to fight, but knew that some pain was better than being dead, he didn’t want Lorraine to be a widow. He was a strong man, but he wasn’t stupid.
“Right handed,” he replied.
With lightening moves Russo pulled Ed from the wall swiftly grabbing his left arm, twisting it behind his back bending and twisting his left thumb until he heard the crack of bone. Ed fell to his knees with a mournful moan. Russo stepped back.
“Alright, Ed”, he said as he helped the man up, “I figure your left thumb is better than the right… if you can’t work, I can’t get paid right? Now go on home to Lorraine, she can get you to a doctor.” Ed staggered out of the alley cradling his hand. Donny and Russo watched silently as the man turned the corner.
“Com’on kid”. Russo put his arm around Donny’s shoulder and they returned to Jack’s. Russo led him to a table against a wall, made a gesture to Jack indicating they wanted a couple drinks. Jack served them, a whiskey and beer for Tony and a coke for Donny.
“Do you want a real drink? I think you could use it,” Russo said as pushed his whiskey toward Donny. He thought a jigger of whiskey might bring a little color back to the kid’s face. “I understand that it might be rough on you.”
“No, that’s okay, I don’t want anything anyway.” These were the first words Donny had spoken since entering the back room. Shit, he thought, the guy just owed a few past payments. It couldn’t a been that much. Back home in West Virginia people owed all the time, to each other, to the Emporium, to relatives; but nobody ever got their thumb broken. If my ma and pa had a broken bone for every debt they had every bone in their bodies’d be broken.
“You did good kid,” Russo told him. “Ya gotta understand that you can’t let things get out of hand, you can’t let ‘em get so far behind…in a way you’re doin’ ’em a favor; they could end up in the river.”
Donny just continued to think, Russo’s voice sounded as though it was coming from far away. He looked at Russo, he wanted to be like him, or so he thought, but now maybe he should re-think this whole thing. Russo kept talking, Donny heard every other word; every other word sounded like ‘money’.
Russo reached into his suit pocket and pulled something out handing it to Donny under the table. Donny opened his hand and saw the wad of bills. Yeah, that’s what it is all about…. money. He had forgotten that it was precisely what he initially came to Russo looking for. He began to listen to Tony with more clarity. He realized that money was important. The world was different if you had money; people treated you with respect, life could be good. What difference if some poor guy got a broken thumb, Ed knew the rules. Donny stuffed the cash into his own suit, sat a little straighter and closed off a piece of his brain; the piece holding his humanity, maybe it would be closed forever.
Lorraine ran to her husband when she saw him walk through the door in anguish.
“God, Ed, what happened,” she cried. He explained through his pain that a buddy dropped him off and accidently slammed the car door on his hand. “I think it might be broken.”
Lorraine quickly looked around, the kids were watching television, ignorant of the drama in their own kitchen. Her thoughts danced through the neighbors, most with children of their own, some with and some without home phones; who could she ask to come over so late in an evening to watch hers while she walked the four blocks to the hospital with her husband. She flipped through the address book next to her phone, she did not want to bother old Mrs. Connors, her finger stopped on Bev Mailham and she lifted the receiver.
As soon as Bev arrived at their front door, Lorraine grabbed her coat and purse.
It took several hours at the hospital, x-rays were taken, pain injections given and finally a splint and bandages. By the time they returned to the flat Bev had gotten the kids into bed and was watching T.V.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” Lorraine offered.
“Don’t worry about it, they were angels,” Bev smiled, “how’s your hand?” she said as she looked at the over-sized bandage with alarm.
Lorraine was exhausted as she and Ed prepared for bed. Ed stared toward the ceiling in the dark, his mind desperately searching for ways to get money for Russo. Listening to Lorraine’s steady breathing he slowly got up and began to pace. Money, he thought, how to get money…his first thought was looking at the green sheet, a long shot…no he corrected himself, that’s one of the ways he got into this whole mess. His mind went to the all night dice games, again he remembered the monkey on his back…gambling. This had to be a ‘sure’ thing. He didn’t have any ‘sure things’ anymore. Then he recalled the box on the top shelf of the closet; the one Lorraine cherished, but never looked at.
There were also others in the neighborhood with no sleep that night. While Ed paced in his flat; Margaret paced her floors.
Margaret’s brain chafed and wouldn’t leave her in peace, it seemed relentless. She paced the floors through the twilight and into the night. She noticed Bev Mailham leave her flat alone and watched as she returned hours later; normally her curiosity would be piqued, but tonight Red was on her mind…what did the child see? While the night deepened she had to keep her hands busy, pulling out the butter, flour, sugar and chocolate chips, she began making cookies. The cookies were muscle memory to her, her mind was really on her cellar. She hadn’t been down there in ages. Was anything disturbed? As she made the two dozen cookies her mind was drawn back down to the cellar.
She could no longer ignore her compulsion to go down…to check that everything was as it should be. What did the child see? After popping the cookie trays from the oven she grabbed her flashlight, turned off the kitchen light and entered the darkness of her back porch. Briefly scanning the porches, she saw that only a few lights shown through closed curtains. She stealthily descended the back stairs with a flashlight to the cellar. She had to be sure.
Jocko had just stubbed out his cigarette and reached for another when he heard the soft squeak of Mrs. Connors screen door. He narrowed his eyes, pulled himself deeper into his back porch and watched as the old lady slowly made her way down the back stairs. Other than the slow movement of the flashlight the four-flat was devoid of lights. He knew she was a nosy old girl, but this was downright peculiar, he continued to watch her go down into her cellar with curiosity and fascination. Her stay in the cellar was not a long one, as she emerged and re-traced her steps up to her flat Jocko noticed she returned just as she entered, with only the flashlight. He continued to watch her porch and saw the kitchen light go on behind her curtains; sensing the approaching dawn he waited a few more moments to see if she would return; she didn’t and he slid into his own apartment with a slow shake of his head.
Margaret felt somewhat relieved. After carefully scanning the cellar with the flashlight nothing seemed out of place, nothing seemed disturbed; it was just as she left it almost fifty years ago. She locked that particular worry back in the compartment of her brain where it belonged.
The miniature cow-bell tinkled, Min looked up with a raised eyebrow as the man walked in and stood before the small display, fingering the cans as though trying to make a decision. Min continued to wait on her few customers while keeping an eye on him; this was the first time in her memory that a man entered her store wearing a suit (except for Russo and Donny Van Dyke). She almost wanted to wait on him before her other customers; before she was alone with this stranger.
As the last customer left he approached the counter. “Hello ma’am”, he said as he reached into the breast pocket of his suit. Min gave an involuntary gasp, then relaxed. He showed his badge and identification; she only noticed the badge, she really didn’t care what his name was.
“I’m Lieutenant Novack. I know you’ve already been interviewed about the Kitty Shanahan matter, and I don’t want to disturb you, however, we have to follow up on every interview, just in case you remembered something…anything that might help us.”
“Yeah, sure. Anything I can do.” She stood looking at him.
“Well?” he said as he stood looking back at her.
“Well what?” she asked.
“Well, is there anything else you may have remembered or thought of?”
“No. Nothing else. If there was I would’ve told Walter, you know Walter Storm the beat cop,” she said.
“Oh, yeah, Walter. He’s a good cop and a great guy, but this is a homicide investigation, he’s not really involved in this part of it.”
For some reason Min took offense at his remark and crossed her arms. “Well, maybe he should be. After all he loves these kids, just like they was his own,” she snipped. “He’s in here everyday getting suckers for em and meeting them after school. He waits down there on Halsted just to make sure they get home okay.”
Novack was taken a little off guard by her sudden defensiveness. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it…I know Officer Storm is conscientious and a good cop,” he immediately wanted to bite his tongue ’conscientious’? He sounded like a superior prick.
“Like I said, I don’t know anything else but what I said to them other cops.”
“Thank you ma’am,” Novack said as he crossed out something on his little notebook. “If you do think of something…”
“If I do think of something I’ll tell Officer Storm, you know the conscientious one,” she smiled with mild defiance.
Min watched as he left her store and made notes on his little pad. Shit!, he thought, that went well. He was glad he brought Walter into his confidence, he now clearly saw that his men wouldn’t get far with these people, whether they had information or not. As he continued down the sidewalk, looking at the address numbers and names for his next interview he stopped to make another note on his pad.
‘Walter gives kids suckers everyday & meets them after school on Halsted’ he then added a question mark.
Jocko, remembering his boss’ order to surface enough for Russo and others to notice, walked mid-morning across the street to Jack’s tavern. Vera was turning the corner in time to see him descend his front steps and into the street. She felt excitement when connecting this stranger’s face to the shadowed profile she had seen on the back porch. She hurried to her flat to make notes for Walter.
Vera left the grocery bag on the kitchen table, taking a note pad and pencil she noted the time; adrenalin raced through her body. She was becoming a more important part in Walter’s life…not just a Friday night love affair. At the front window she sat waiting for this man to exit Jack’s Tavern, waiting to see and report what he did next. Her excitement was interrupted by the clanging of the spoon on tin from her mother’s room.
“What is it!” she testily said from the bedroom doorway.
“Don’t get snippy with me missy”, her mother replied, “I need help to my potty.” The woman pushed the covers away and put an arm up to Vera. The sick room toilet sat close to the bed by the window. Vera glanced out the window to the street, hoping she hadn’t missed the man. “Okay”, she said as she lifted the hinged seat revealing the toilet receptacle. Vera bent and half lifted her mother to the toilet, both remained silent, both stared out the window. The man came out of Jack’s and headed down the sidewalk, Vera watched him, wishing she could hurry downstairs and if not follow, at least see the direction he would turn; but she couldn’t…her mother needed her…her mother always needed her. She mentally noted the time from the clock on the bedside table.
“I said I’m done…what’s wrong with you?” the old woman said. Vera’s attention snapped back toward her mother.
“Okay, let’s clean you up.”
After emptying and cleaning the receptacle Vera returned to the kitchen to prepare her mother’s lunch first marking the time of the man’s visit to Jack’s in her notebook.
Crazy Jim lived with his mother in a basement apartment a block on the other side of the viaduct. While she was busy taking laundry down from the line stretched across the kitchen he tried to think of where she may have hidden it this time. Her change purse was always an easy buck or two, or five…but since having been caught she kept it close to her, and when she couldn’t she found new hiding places. So far, he’d been able to sniff it out, because the apartment was so small she became inventive.
Gloria Nash watched her son from the corner of her eye and knew what he was quietly searching for; she continued to take down and fold her waitress aprons, then glanced to the kitchen corner. Maybe this time it’ll take him at least a day or two to find it; time to think of another place. She stopped keeping a meaningful amount of money in her wallet and began stuffing a change purse instead. She knew that a normal mother would confront, perhaps punish, at least scold a son who regularly stole from her purse; but that would entail the fact that the son was also normal. She already admitted to herself that Jim was not normal and that she was afraid of him…so she didn’t confront him, she continued to play hide and seek.
“Okay ma”, he said as he entered the room, “I need some money, the kids are gonna go to the Southtown.”
She didn’t question him, but quietly went to her regular purse and lifted out the wallet. Upon seeing only one dollar in it her voice sounded surprised, “I swear I had at least four in here.” She knew that he had taken the other three days ago. By keeping only a few singles in the wallet at a time he wouldn’t press it, probably wouldn’t press it.
“That’s all ya got?” he demanded.
“Well, yeah. After the rent, food and the gas bill I could swear I had about three or four dollars left.”
He reached out and took the dollar bill from his mother’s hand.
“I know you gotta have something more”, he said menacingly.
“Maybe I got a couple bucks in tip money,” she said as she turned toward the kitchen. Jim followed her. Her tip jar was also hidden, but he always could find it easily. She reached into the small refrigerator and pulled the jar from the back of a shelf. She knew he regularly found the jar, she didn’t rack her brain to hide it and felt his searches for it kept him busy without cleaning her out. She started to count out the nickels, dimes and quarters onto the table. Running out of patience Jim grabbed the jar and emptied it onto the table and began counting.
“Two fifty? That’s it? Two fifty?” He clearly was perturbed; but apparently not perturbed enough not to scoop up the coins. He realized he’d have to find another way to make a few bucks.
As he walked under the viaduct heading to Min’s to exchange the coins for folding bills he remembered Murph’s threat. His anger, mixed with cowardice made him turn back; instead of Min’s he retraced his steps and headed into another direction toward another corner store farther from the neighborhood.
Francie stood before the small mirror hanging from the pantry door combing and re-combing her hair. With self-consciousness her gaze switched between her own image and that of her mother sitting behind her nursing the baby.
Rita’s brow knitted slightly trying to remember how old Francie was, then it snapped to her. Come her next birthday she’ll be thirteen. I guess that’s about the age, she already started her monthly periods.
“Who’s the boy?” Rita’s voice was flat, matching her face.
“What boy? I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about”. Francie’s embarrassment confused her. She didn’t mind Jim noticing that she wasn’t a little kid, that her body showed the first signs of her budding womanhood; but her mother’s gaze made her feel like she was doing something wrong…thinking something wrong…wanting something wrong.
Rita sighed and focused on the suckling babe at her breast. “Just you be mindful. There’s a price to pay for foolishness and it’s not the boys who have to pay.”
“Really mama, I don’t know what you’re goin’ on about,” Francie said looking down at her comb.
“Mark my words girl. No good comes from primpin’, I know what I’m talkin’ about. You be better off gettin’ a good job at a factory instead a prancin’ around with no boy.”
Francie stood stunned and stared at her mother’s reflection in the mirror. In her memory she could not remember her mother ever speaking these many words to her; and certainly never a word of advice or concern. Francie continued to look at her mother’s reflection and wondered what more was beneath that placid exterior.
For the past week Francie hurried home from school, no longer avoiding the anchor of babysitting her younger siblings. But now she brought them to the front sidewalk rather than the backyard; here she could sit on the stoop with the hope that Jim would pass. She didn’t know where Jim lived, but when he came by it was always from the direction of the viaduct.
While on sentry duty she also kept a keen eye out for her brother Donny and began to calculate his neighborhood schedule more closely, making sure that she was not on the stoop if he was around. Suddenly from her peripheral vision she noticed a figure emerging from the dark shadow of the viaduct and she felt the pounding in her chest. With as much nonchalance as she could muster, her hands went to her hair, then to the smoothing of her blouse. She made a point of looking at her kid brothers and sisters as the figure approached.
“Hey doll”, he said resting a foot on the first cement step.
“Hi. Where’d you come from?” Francie hoped her feign of surprise hid her anxiousness.
“Just passin’ and wondered if ya thought about what I said about seein’ a show up at the Capitol on 79th.”
Francie felt the rush of blood race to her face and dipped her head with embarrassment. “Well, yeah, sure. But, like I said I ain’t got no carfare and besides I ain’t never been that far before.”
Crazy Jim took a long measured breath; this was no time to pop off at this little twit, she was the only thing in his life right now that didn’t make him feel like garbage. He smiled a thin smile as he reached into his pocket.
“Here,” he said handing her four singles. “Now you have more than enough carfare. All you have to do is go up to the corner on Halsted and take the bus up to 79th Street. I can meet you when you get off.” He glanced up and down the block, keeping watch for Donny.
Before thinking it through Francie blurted “but why can’t we just go together?” She saw the back of Jim’s jaw tighten. “Oh, I didn’t mean that”, she tried to cover “Donny can be a real creep.” The obstacles of this, or any date with a boy, flew across her brain ricocheting against each other. First, she knew she wouldn’t be allowed out of the neighborhood after dinner, even if she could get past her parents, if Donny found out there would be hell to pay. Second, this was not a sundae at Sweeney’s, this was on unfamiliar and uncomfortable ground. Third, she remembered her mother’s words, which now seemed a bit cryptic.
Jim continued to wait for an answer, his eyebrows raising slightly and the smile disappearing. Francie decided to go for obstacle number one first.
“No worry,” Jim said. “We’ll make it for the Saturday matinee, you’d be home before dinner.” She didn’t know how to approach obstacle numbers two and three.
“Well”, she continued, trying not to sound like a little kid. “That’s quite aways just for a movie, why not go to the Southtown, it’s just a couple blocks away, I can walk and meet you just inside the lobby.”
Jim saw his plans crumble, he felt his last vestige of manhood annihilated. “If you don’t want to go, just fucking say so”, he growled.
The whirlwind of obstacles left her mind as they were immediately filled with panic of what she did wrong. Why was he so angry? What did she say? How can she make it right again?
Jim again looked up one side of the street then the other and it occurred to Francie what the answers to her questions were…Donny.
“Well, sure”, Francie stammered. “Saturday sounds great.”
The smile returned to Jim’s face. “Okay, I’ll be waiting on the corner of 79th at 11:30; that sound okay to you?”
“Yeah, I’ll catch the bus around 11:00, that’d be okay, right?”
“Sounds good”, Jim gave one last look up one side of the street then the other and began to saunter away, turning to give her a look over his shoulder, “see ya then doll”.
Francie’s chest was chugging like a locomotive out of control. What excuse to give her mother, what to wear, how to fix her hair, the list went on.
Bingo night finally came and Ed Powicki was anxious for Lorraine to leave the house, anxious to go to the bedroom closet shelf.
“Will you be alright, with your thumb and all?” she asked taking up her purse.
“Sure, I’ll be fine. Now you go and have a good time”, he answered practically pushing her out the door.
“You be good for your daddy”, she called to the children.
He shook the aluminum pan watching as the popcorn popped, the aluminum top grew. Joanie and Eddy sat in front of the television watching the Lone Ranger anticipating the ‘Hi Ho Silver’. Once the kids were settled before the television, he could get to work. His thumb still throbbed like hell as he climbed on the chair and reached for the box on the closet shelf.
He knew Lorraine treasured the heirloom jewelry from her grandmother, he knew she planned to hand it down to her children, along with the stories from generation to generation. They were the only possessions Lorraine had in her own right that she could hand down. It was a point of pride, a point of independence. Ed loathed to take that away from her but he knew no other way, the alternative would be either his grave or his crippled carcass for her to take care of; neither appealed to him.
Ed put the box on the bed, opening it he realized he didn’t know the difference between a pretty glass stone, a garnet, or a ruby; between a diamond and a rhinestone; and he certainly didn’t realize the value of any of them. He stared at the two necklaces, the bracelet, earrings and rings. Even at their cheapest value they would buy his way out of his present predicament with Russo. If Lorraine found out, no ... when Lorraine found out her heart would break. But he couldn’t think of that now. Maybe he could get it out of hock before she ever found out. The thought rang hollow in his head. She hadn’t looked in the box in years, but it was inevitable that the day would come.
As he fingered through, he began to separate the baubles; perhaps a pair of earrings would be enough; perhaps only a ring. At what point did it become betrayal? A necklace; bracelet; ring? Who was he kidding, he had betrayed Lorraine a long time ago; the first time he lied to her about missing money. He finally scooped all of it into the handkerchief. Maybe it would be enough to pay off Russo in full. If by some miracle it were true Ed promised himself he’d never play the ponies again, never look at a pair of dice, never gamble on anything…maybe this time he was scared enough to follow through on the promise.
Lorraine’s key turned silently into the lock, Ed was asleep on the overstuffed chair, the television screen turned to snow. With a smile she turned off the T.V., put a coverlet over her husband and prepared for bed. It never occurred to her, nor would it ever occur to her to check the closet shelf. She loved him, trusted him. Only later would she wish he had confided in her.
Red stood in the gangway watching little Julie Harris playing with her tea set and dolls on the Harris’ back porch. “Hey”, Red said trying to sound cheerful. “Wanna play?”
“I can’t, my mother won’t let me. I have to stay on the porch.”
“Well, maybe I can come up and play with you on the porch”. Red looked longingly at the tea set and dolls. These dolls looked as though they came right from the box; shiny combed hair, fresh pressed dresses; her own were stuffed in a box in her closet with matted hair and half naked. It occurred to her that Julie also always looked as though she came fresh from a box, with shiny combed hair and freshly pressed dresses; Red looked down at herself and shrugged, she looked more like the dolls on her closet floor.
Julie smiled and looked hopeful. “Let me ask my mother,” she said as she hurried into her kitchen. Red heard Mrs. Harris’ firm voice… “No”. Then the pleadings of Julie. Anne Harris followed her daughter to the porch and looked down at Red. “Please…please…please”, her daughter repeated as she pulled on her mother’s arm. Anne’s frown drilled into Red; at least this child looked clean.
Anne relented. “Well, okay. But only you,” she said looking at Red. “Nobody else, and stay on the porch”. Red slowly climbed the back porch steps knowing Mrs. Harris’ eyes continued to watch her, continued to judge her; but the squeals of joy from Julie brought a grin to Red’s face and she relaxed, ready to drink in just a few of the wonders which until now had to be viewed from her dining room window.
“And remember to keep it down…I don’t want another headache,” Anne said as she returned to her kitchen. She looked back at Red, “I’ll be watching.”
“Yes ma’am,” Red said quietly.
Chester sat at his desk working on the fishing fly. The pleadings of his sister and voice of his mother carried from the kitchen and porch. He looked out to see the red-headed kid sitting with his sister.
Anne held the kettle in her hand as he entered the kitchen.
“So, you changed your mind and let the unwashed get a little closer to your precious angel. Won’t it contaminate her delicate sensibilities?”
“Chester, don’t start.”
“Just be careful”, he smirked, “the barbarian hoards can’t be far behind.”
“Keep an eye on them. I have to lay down for awhile,” her hand went to her forehead.
“Sure”. Chester sat at the table by the kitchen window and reached for the newspaper. Soon his attention was on the little red-head, not on the paper. He listened and watched as they played.
Chester was not the only watcher. As Mrs. Connors leaned over her porch railing to shake the throw rug she noticed Red in the gangway talking to the little Harris girl. With a tilt of her head she followed the conversation, the invitation to play, the pleadings and finally Mrs. Harris’ capitulation and conditions. Margaret smiled, leave it to Red, that little firecracker, to bring out even the palest flower on the wall. She returned to her kitchen, picked up her own cup of tea and walked to her dining room to sit and look down at the girls setting up their tea party. As she settled into the chair, with an elbow on the sill, a shadow moved behind the Harris’ sheer kitchen curtain. Her smile vanished.
“I saw him cross over to Jack’s tavern the other day. He didn’t stay long, then headed down the street. I couldn’t follow him because mother was in one of her…well she was just being mother.” Walter smiled at her, then down to the small notebook Vera used to keep track of the odd neighbor.
“That’s okay. This looks fine,” he said as his attention returned to the notebook. “Looks like he’s not the recluse I thought. This shows he’s over at Jack’s, down to Sweeney’s, over at the Chinese place on 59th, a real gadabout.”
“It was just luck to catch him down on 59th,” Vera said excitedly. “I was coming out of Olson’s when I noticed him going into the Chinese place. I waited in Olson’s doorway, he wasn’t in the Chinese place long, then headed straight toward me.” Walter looked up to her with a squint. “But he didn’t notice, I just looked down pretending to put something in my purse and he walked right past me to the counter.”
“Maybe you should just stop this. I don’t like it.”
“No,” she said hurriedly. “No I want to do this.”
“I don’t like it, we don’t know who this guy is. And if Russo’s worried about him he could be dangerous. I want you to stop.”
“No, Walter…please. I really want to do this; I can’t really explain it. I feel like I’m helping you, I know it sounds silly, but I feel excited. It’s as though I have something to do, something with a purpose to look forward to besides just waiting for you. I’ve never really told you, but my life is just sitting around this apartment, at the beck and call of my mother, the long hours, sometimes days just waiting for you to come through that door. Now I feel alive, I’m doing something that may be meaningful to you, maybe just in a small way, maybe in a big way, I don’t know, but something that I can do. Don’t you see that? Can you understand? It’s something that makes us ‘us’.
Storm pulled her into his arms. “I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you,” he said softly.
“I’m being careful”, she sniffled.
Walter kissed her then sighed. “Okay, but promise me that if I feel something’s going wrong you won’t argue with me…you’ll just stop. Okay?”
“Okay”, she smiled. “Here, sit down, let me get you a cup of coffee and a bite to eat.”
Walter took her notebook, skimmed through it again and put it in his pocket. He’d go through it again later with Russo.
The ever-demanding spoon began to ping on the tin pie plate. Vera’s eyes rolled. “I’ll be right back, don’t leave.”
“I won’t”, he smiled and poured his own coffee.
Vera grabbed the spoon from her mother’s hand. “What do you want?”
“I hear him. I’m not deaf you know. Who is that man? It’s not the first time I’ve heard him. What are you up to?” The old woman’s tone was demanding, it was the only tone she knew.
“I’m not up to anything mother. It’s just Officer Storm, once in awhile I offer him a cup of coffee. Just as a courtesy, he must need a break from his beat now and then, just to sit down for a minute. That’s all.”
“Just a courtesy my foot. I don’t want him here. You hear me? I don’t want him here, tell him to go. And don’t let him in again, understand?”
“Officer Storm will be welcomed in this apartment whenever I want.” As she said this, she removed the pie tin from the table. “And you will have nothing to say about it. Do you understand?” Mrs. Kunkle looked at her daughter through slit eyes.
“I don’t like you’re tone missy.”
Vera leaned close to her mother’s face. “I don’t care.”
Mrs. Kunkle leaned back into her pillow, her eyes now wider, she had never heard her daughter’s voice so menacing. She remained silent as Vera left the bedroom, spoon and pie tin in hand.
Donny now owned several suits from which to choose. He carefully tied his tie, using the same pantry mirror Francie had used. Again, Rita sat at the table, holding a baby in her arms as she watched yet another of her children primp before the mirror. What kind of trouble are her children getting into? Though she had a pretty good idea the kind of trouble her daughter may be heading for, she wasn’t so sure about her son. When he handed her money she asked where it came from, he only said he found a new job. She didn’t ask any more questions, she learned long ago not to ask questions, if she did she might get answers she didn’t want. He always left by the back door, not wanting to be seen coming from the front of the flat by Miss Lawry, her nosey-parker questions could jeopardize the welfare check; and though he wanted to help his mom out, he didn’t want to be the sole source of the family’s income.
Coming through the gangway he noticed Murph on Min’s back porch talking to Tiny. As he talked Murph lifted a full case of pop repeatedly above his head. Though Donny couldn’t hear what they were saying, their voices sounded relaxed. Murph’s biceps flexed and unflexed with each pump. Donny had kept a distant eye on Murph since the showdown with Crazy Jim, he noticed his tight muscles, his easy stride showed confidence, not swagger. Donny realized a time may come that he might be on the other side of a showdown with Murph. He certainly wouldn’t invite it, however he had to be ready. Not just ready for Murph, but for anybody that might challenge his new standing; he wouldn’t be another Crazy Jim, tucking tail and running.
With that in mind he began going to the gym down on Green Street at 63rd. It was above a pool hall, and one of his collection spots for Russo. Three times a week he pumped iron, hit the speed bag and skipped rope. It wasn’t long before he noticed a difference; the stronger he became the better he felt; the better he felt the more confident he became.
As Donny passed through the gangway Chester pulled back a little further into the shadow of the kitchen, Mrs. Connors leaned a bit further from her window to get a better look while Red and Julie ignored him. That young man is looking for trouble Margaret thought as she watched him turn the corner onto the street.
When she looked back to the Harris porch she lost sight of the figure behind the sheer curtain. There’s a lot of young men looking for trouble. Her gaze fell back to Red, her discomfort grew…she hoped Red would soon leave that porch, away from that ominous boy. She remembered his trips to his cellar, what was he doing there? What was he hiding there? She knew a thing or two about cellars and a thing or two about secret hiding places. She had to find a way to get down there…but how? And what would she do if she did find something? She found herself shaking her head…now Margaret, stop it…next you’ll be seeing the little people creeping out from the woodwork.
She got up and went to the living room rocking chair and began to talk to Sean. Since he’d been imprisoned in the frame on the sideboard he’d become a good listener.
“Well, business seems to be picking up again,” Russo said as he looked around Jack’s. The usual faces were either looking up to the mounted television, staring at the beers in front of them, or just mumbling conversations.
“Can’t complain,” Jack replied as he pushed the beer toward Russo.
Russo looked down the bar and noticed Mickey Finn staring at his beer. “So when did Mick get out?”
“A few days ago. At least that’s when Sara took him back.”
It wasn’t known that the Postal Inspection Agency decided to drop the charges to a misdemeanor and save the taxpayer dollars and just let him out. None of mail found in his flat had been opened or tampered with and all was accounted for. They recognized there was no criminal intent and Mickey was just too stupid and too drunk to understand his error. The only condition was that Mickey never work for any government institution again. Part of their decision was to cover-up their own incompetence by hiring him in the first place. That was fine with Mickey.
Russo leaned in with a little more confidentiality. “I might be needing the back room again.”
“Hey. Last time I told you I want no trouble. I pay you on time, I pay you in full, and what happens? One of my customers shows up with a broken thumb…I want to help you out, but I have to do business around here. After all, my business means your business. Com’on Tony give me a break.”
“Jack, you’re a good guy. Sorry about that thing. This isn’t anything like that, just a quiet meeting…no rough stuff…promise.”
“Like I said Tony, I don’t want no trouble. Can’t you bother somebody else’s back room? Please. Gimme a break.”
“Okay”, Russo smiled. “Maybe next time.”
“Yeah, sure, next time.” Jack was about to turn away.
“Have you seen Donny lately?”
“Sure, he come in here just a little while ago. I gave him the envelope. If there’s a problem with my envelopes it ain’t from my end.”
“No. Nothin’ like that”, Russo said. “Just lookin’ for the kid, he’s probably on his next collection, I’ll catch him there. No problem. Just keep givin’ him like what you have been, he’s not worrying me…by the way, you seen anybody else around, I mean any unfamiliar faces?”
“No. Just the ordinary crowd. And if Donny ain’t worrying you he won’t be worrying me.” Jack turned to his other customers and was glad to see the back of Russo as he left his untouched beer on the bar. The picture of Jocko flashed across his mind, if Russo ever found out he’d been talking to this guy he’d be sucking for air in the river, on the other hand, if Jocko ever found out he told Russo about him he’d be in the same watery tomb. Shit…I’m straddling a razor fence.
Min stopped sweeping the store’s front steps when she saw Walter Storm approach, she laid the broom against the building wall, smiled and reached for the door.
“No Min”, he said as he came closer. “I just wanted to talk, ask a few questions.”
Min tilted her head and gave him a serious look. “Questions about what?”
“Relax. Nothin’ about trouble for you. Just lookin’ into what happened to Kitty; wondering if you remember anything that might have happened that day, something that may have slipped your mind, something that might be strange.”
“Strange like what?”
“Did you see Kitty that day?”
“Well,” she said thoughtfully. “Yeah, I did. Sure, I remember her and a couple other kids comin’ in for penny candy, but there ain’t nothin’ strange about that… or was it the day before?” She lowered her head in thought, “Yeah, maybe it was the day before.”
“Was there anybody kinda hangin’ around? You know, maybe somebody watchin’ the kids or anything like that?”
“You mean like in the movies, some stranger in a trench coat rubbing his hands together and drooling?”
“Something like that, maybe just some guy that might look peculiar.”
Min gave a small smile, tilted her head and looked at him. “Walter, you know as well as I do that this neighborhood is filled with guys that look peculiar, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah. But does anybody stand out to you. Somebody that might make you a little nervous or curious, somebody you think might have a dark side that’s darker than usual?”
Min lowered her head in thought. “Come to think of if there’s a few that look like they might be a card short of a deck. Odd.” Jocko was certainly one of them, but Min knew better than to throw Storm in that direction.
She now had Walter’s full attention; maybe he could at least get a start at breaking the circles in which he found himself following.
“Okay, and who are they?” he asked.
“I don’t want to get anybody in trouble if they ain’t got nothin’ to do with this awful thing.”
“You know me, Min. I’m not going to get anybody in trouble who doesn’t deserve it. And nobody’s gonna know where I got any information, you know that. You know you can trust me.”
Min knew she could trust Storm, and when she referred to these people as odd she thought it may be an understatement.
“Well,” she continued, “there’s that kid lives around the corner; you know the one with the little sister and the mother that’s kinda…” she tried to find the right word. “Kinda stuck-up, don’t mix, you know which one I’m talkin’ about? I don’t know his name, but the mother’s name is Mrs. Harris.”
“What makes you think he’s strange?”
“Well, he don’t come in often, usually his mother and the little girl come in for whatever they need. But when he comes in he never really looks anybody in the eye, kinda quiet, don’t say much, but not in a good way, kinda in a sneaky way. And there’s a look in his eye that’s kinda creepy. I don’t know how else to explain it, just creepy. You know what I mean?”
Walter just nodded his head in understanding.
“I haven’t seen this other kid in awhile, he used to hang out on the porch with Tina and the other kids, but he got in a fight with one of ’em and hasn’t been around since.”
“And what’s his name and who’d he have the fight with?”
“Jim, I don’t know his last name, but the kids used to call him Crazy Jim.”
“Crazy Jim, huh? Why’d they call him that?” Min still held Storm’s attention.
“Because he was crazy, that’s why. And I don’t want to get that other kid in trouble, he’s a good kid”.
Walter sighed. “Crazy like how?
“He’d punch lamp posts till his knuckles bled. I saw him pull his switch blade out once and throw it at a sleeping cat. The cat got away, but it was bleeding and Jim was laughing. How do you want that for crazy. And sometimes I’d notice how he looked at the girls on the porch, like he was lookin’ at ‘em with no clothes on. I don’t mind tellin’ ya that I’m glad he don’t come ’round no more.”
Walter tattooed this Jim character in his brain and he’d have to look into the Harris kid.
“No. Ain’t that enough?” Min said raising her eyebrows.
“Thanks, Min, you’ve really been a help. I’ll just poke my nose around real quiet like. Be seein’ ya.” He turned back down the store steps and Min continued to sweep.
Walter went on to talk to some of the other neighbors, he tried to keep his tone casual, but no one else seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary and he believed them.
Walter headed down to Sweeney’s to ask the same questions he’d been asking all day. Then decided go home after checking in at the station after his watch. He and Vera had discussed how to handle their situation.
Now that they were both aware that their long held secret affair was almost an open conversation in the neighborhood, they no longer felt the need to slink about. Both were relieved they could see each other more openly, but it still left the issue of Mrs. Kunkle and Carol. Vera reassured him that her mother would not be an issue. That left Carol. Walter decided he would have to confront her, have to tell her he wanted a divorce, had found someone else. Being Catholic, a divorce bothered him, but not enough to give up Vera. Vera deserved more than being the subject of the neighborhood gossip; not that the gossip would stop after they were married, but at least it had more respect than what was being talked about now; and being protestant, divorce didn’t have the same stigma for Carol.
Walter dreaded this confrontation. It wasn’t that she loved him, it was her pride and the need for financial assurance. He’d do his best on both counts, he’d agree to anything she wanted as grounds, be it unfaithfulness or mental abuse; he drew the line at being accused of physical abuse; but Carol would feel trapped in a corner, therefore be unpredictable…and therefore could be dangerous. Yes, he dreaded this confrontation.
Russo caught up with Donny at the Chinese restaurant and pulled him aside.
“I just wanted to see how you’re doing,” he said as he put an arm over the boy’s shoulder. “You’re lookin’ good kid,” he continued as he slid his fingers down Donny’s lapels. “You make me proud.”
“Thanks,” Donny answered warily. “Any problems? Complaints?”
“No, you’re doin’ good. The envelopes are square. Just checkin’ in.” Russo said casually, not wanting to alert Donny to anything other than the usual business. “As long as we’re here why not just take care of business in Chin Lao’s back room.”
“I ain’t made all my collections yet tonight,” Donny said, sensing something.
“That’s okay, after you can finish and just add it to the next pile.”
Russo approached Chin Lao and arranged to have a corner of the back kitchen cleaned out of employees while Donny and Russo proceeded with their business. Russo was never sure how good Chin Lao’s or any of his employees English was…they seemed to chatter incoherently when he was around, but he could never be sure if they understood more than they let on.
When they were alone and the envelopes and chits exchanged hands, Russo began to get down to the business he was really there for…to ask a few questions.
“Now that you know the routine, now that you’re moving around more I was just wondering if you noticed this guy that lives on your block. Kind of a big guy, keeps to himself, kind of in and out of shadows.”
“Just a guy that isn’t usually around…looks a bit out of order…not part of the picture…”
Donny looked at him quizzically.
“No,” he said. “Nothin’ I noticed…should I have?”
“No, not necessarily, but I want you to keep an eye out for anybody that looks a bit off…make sure you’re not being followed.”
Donny looked around, now he began to feel paranoid. He didn’t like the idea that somebody might be following him…didn’t like the idea that Russo sounded so concerned about some phantom that he couldn’t identify. He left to make his next collection, his strut more subdued, eyes more darting, his heart beat faster.
With Carol on his mind Storm descended the station steps and saw Russo waiting by the curb. Shit.
“I thought it time we get together” Russo said. “I got the beginnings of my list, maybe we should compare notes.”
Storm pulled Vera’s notebook from his pocket. “Yeah, I got mine started too, but can’t we do this another time?”
“I think now is the time,” Russo said firmly. Storm knew Russo was probably right; getting Kitty’s killer was more important than his marital woes. And besides it would put off the dreaded confrontation at least another night.
“I arranged for the back room of the Chinese place on 59th, you know the one Chin Lao’s Palace.”
“Yeah, I know the place, but I’ll take the bus, I can’t be seen with you.” And with that Russo walked around the corner and to his car.
As they sat at a small table in the dingy restaurant kitchen each pulled out their notebooks. They exchanged them and began to read.
Russo was more interested in Vera’s notes of the movements of the stranger.
After looking at the other’s list, they began a discussion and elimination.
Storm looked down Russo’s list. “I can’t see Benny Doyle doing anything like this,” and he crossed through the name.
“Benny’s put plenty of guys in the river, he’s certainly capable; but I see your point, Benny’s a businessman. I don’t see any reason he’d hurt a kid just to hurt ’em; but believe me if there was an order or a payday, I don’t think it’d bother him.”
Storm sighed and continued to look through the list again. “Most these guys are just run of the mill strong arms.”
“Well who in the hell do you think I deal with? The Virgin Mary?”
“You know what I mean…we’re looking for a real sicko. This guy’s not in business for a profit and I don’t think he’s getting orders from upstairs,” Storm said, then something on Russo’s list caught his eye. The strange guy living next to Vera.
While Storm went through Russo’s list, Russo scanned Storm’s. He didn’t know most of them, those that he did he could make a plausible argument why they weren’t their guy. These were just penny ante guys, not nut cases. But he did zero in on one item, one he himself had listed. The strange guy living next to Vera. Russo circled it. They scrutinized each other’s notes, made a mark on those that had the most promise.
Looking at Storm’s circled names, Russo began to ask questions, questions as to why Storm had suspicions.
“Who’s this Crazy Jim?” Russo asked.
“A kid that used to hang out on Min’s back porch”. Storm then explained the bizarre behavior Min had described without revealing the source. He then continued with the other kid Min had described, the only name he could attach to it was that he was Mrs. Harris’ son.
“And who is this Mrs. Harris?” Russo asked.
“A lady who lives in the same line of greystones as Vera and this guy you’re so worried about. She lives there with her little girl, about four or five I think, and her teen-age son. My source said she thought he might work down by the stockyards, maybe at the Stockyard Inn, but she couldn’t be sure, just information she got from talking to the mother.”
So, Russo thought, Storm’s informant was a ‘she’, could Vera be working on more than just his person of interest? He stared at the name that had no name, then remembered seeing a familiar looking kid working at George Macklin’s. Maybe he looked familiar because he may have seen him in the neighborhood.
They whittled down the names to three or four.
“Now”, Russo said as he readjusted himself on the chair. “What about Vera’s report on this guy I told you about?”
Storm handed him Vera’s notebook. Russo’s eyes narrowed as he skimmed the pages, then re-read them. The names jumped out at him…Jack’s Tavern …Min’s …Sweeney’s …Olson’s …Chin Lao’s …and others; a list of people he did business with; they seemed to be all there.
Storm began to talk, but Russo couldn’t hear him, it seemed Storm’s voice was coming through a long tunnel, all he could do was stare at the names in Vera’s notebook. He began to get the idea he knew who this guy was after all, and began to figure out who sent him and why. He slipped the notebook into his suit pocket. Storm continued to talk …Russo didn’t hear him.
Francie had been planning for days. She told her mother she had to go to a classmate’s house to work on a school project, something do with identifying and pasting various types of leaves. Next she went down to Sweeney’s and swiped a lip stick, she felt guilty about this, especially because Mr. and Mrs. Sweeney had always been nice to her and obviously trusted her. But Saturday would be the most important and exciting day in her life. She rummaged through her mother’s small dresser finding a suitable soft neck scarf for her hair.
She could barely sleep Friday night and awoke early Saturday morning; eagerly helping her mother clean up after the children, asking if there were any errands she could do before leaving for her classmate’s house.
Rita watched her daughter with suspicion. Francie was always a good girl, a helpful girl, but this degree of attentiveness was new. When Francie stood before the pantry mirror, adjusting her pony tail and retying the scarf around it several times Rita gave her a disapproving look.
“Where does this girl live?” she asked.
“Oh, about a block from school; I don’t remember the street name.”
Francie unbuttoned the top button of the peter pan collared blouse, then looked at the affect and re-buttoned it. Once she was satisfied she picked up the little clutch purse her mother had once given to her for her birthday.
“You better be home for dinner.”
“I will, don’t you worry mama”, Francie said as she quickly kissed her mother’s cheek and headed out through the flat to the front door.
She passed Donny in the dining room. Francie was out the door before he could ask her where she was going all dressed up like that on a Saturday.
Rita was pulling and folding the endless line of dry diapers from the line when Donny entered the kitchen. “Where’s Francie going?”
“To a friend’s house to work on some kind of schoolwork.”
“Pretty fancy just for schoolwork,” he scowled.
“Leave her be. She has to grow up sometime. Girls like to get gussied up sometimes. She’ll be home for dinner.”
Donny continued out the back door, wondering if he should follow to see if she was up to something, then decided he had his own business to take care of and instead of following her, concentrate on who might be following him.
While Francie waited for the bus on Halsted she looked at her reflection in a store window, pulled out the pink lipstick and carefully applied it. She liked what she saw. Her nervousness grew as the bus approached.
Taking a seat by a window near the front she watched the passing street signs; 64th, 65th, 66th, she didn’t want to miss her stop. Her hands gripped her purse more firmly as she approached 79th Street and were shaking as she descended the bus. She took a few steps, looked around at the unfamiliar stores and began to worry that Jim wouldn’t show up. Then she saw him coming toward her.
“Good to see you, see that wasn’t so far was it,” one side of his mouth curled up to almost a smile. “That’s the Capitol over there,” he said as he nodded across the street. He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her a little closer as they crossed the street. She hoped he couldn’t feel her trembling.
Jim knew he was in control, could relax now that he wasn’t in ‘the neighborhood’ where he could be seen with this kid. She wasn’t bad looking, but he wished he could be here with one of the girls from Min’s back porch, girls who not only wore tight sweaters but could also fill them. But he settled with what he could get, he pushed the dark simmering memories of shame to the back of his mind …he could retrieve them later.
‘Singin’ in the Rain’ stood boldly on the marquee. Francie hadn’t been to many movies, and those were at the Southtown Theater down on 63rd and Wallace. The Capitol was not as elaborate as the Southtown, with its Flamingo pool and fountain, but Francie was walking on air and didn’t notice much around her except Jim.
“Popcorn and a coke, right?” he asked at the concession counter.
“Yeah, sure, sounds good.” He handed her a box of popcorn, he carried the two cokes. “We can share the popcorn”, Jim wasn’t about to blow any more money on this kid than he had to; if he were with one of the girls from the porch it might have been another matter.
“I like the balcony,” Jim said as he led the way to the staircase. “More privacy if you know what I mean.”
Francie did not know what he meant, but she followed, still with the cloud beneath her feet.
After settling in their seats and the lights dimmed, he put an arm around her shoulder. Francie was concerned that her blush would glow in the darkened theater. All her senses were heightened. This was her first date. This would be a day she would always remember.
Tom and Jerry filled the screen, given that this was a Saturday afternoon matinee, the theater was filled with kids and the cartoons were a highlight. Kids roared with laughter as Jerry outsmarted Tom. Jim felt the awkwardness of being a teenager, all around him were kids, some with a parent, ladies in pairs and a few old people. The din died down as the main feature began. Francie tried to focus on the beautiful celluloid people, but her mind was filled with his touch.
Even though he wanted to slide his hand from her shoulder down to the front of her blouse he hesitated. He felt her rigidity. He felt that from girls in the past, it meant they wanted no part of his advances. He began to feel a bitterness joined with an arousal.
Jim put the empty popcorn box and paper cups on the floor beneath his seat. His arm wrapped more fully around her, as the actors tapped danced their way across the screen, he pulled her closer. He leaned in to kiss her. Her reflex was to move away.
“What’s the matter?” he whispered in her ear.
“Nothing. I just wanted to watch the movie.”
“We can do both, and I don’t think you’ll care that much about the movie if you’d just relax a little.” He moved in again. This time she let him kiss her, he moved from her mouth to her ear. She did want to watch the movie but couldn’t ignore the effects of his kisses, the unfamiliar tingling.
With one hand behind her neck, his other went to her budding small breast. Her instincts told her she was moving into deep water, she could only hope she could swim, or at least tread water. She was frightened.
Feeling her body’s responses Jim knew that she was new at this, her tension only heightened his arousal. She began to tentatively push him away. Her mind raced with what she should do …do other girls go along with allowing exploring hands? She felt the water get deeper. Maybe she was just a little girl after all; maybe Donny was right, maybe she should stay away from this guy. But part of her wanted to invite those roaming hands, part of her wanted his mouth on hers.
Suddenly there was a poke from behind. A woman poked both of their shoulders.
“Stop that! Don’t you know children are here? This is a public place.” She looked more closely at Francie, “And you, young lady, should know better.” Then her frown grew as she looked at Jim, “and you certainly should!”
“Mind your own business you old bag,” Jim growled.
“I’ll mind my own business, I’ll call the manager, that’s what I’ll do.”
“Go ahead …and while you’re at it go fuck yourself,” Jim snarled.
Jim grabbed Francie’s hand, pulled her up and began to leave. Francie silently thanked the woman, the life jacket pulling her out of the deep water.
Donny continued making his rounds of pick-ups, continued to meet with Russo on Ashland Avenue for the transfers, but now he added a watchfulness that was turning into paranoia. There seemed to be alarm in Russo’s tone when he told him to be aware of anyone following him.
Tony Russo was also moving through the Englewood neighborhoods. After seeing Vera’s notebook showing the movements of the man who sent a shudder up his spine he knew this guy was somehow connected to his boss, Joe Napoli. Joe hadn’t said anything to him about a new guy working the neighborhoods, didn’t mention anything at all about him …this made it clear to Russo that it was really Joe who was watching, who was tailing. He needed to get a closer look at this man, get a better idea what he was up to and only then could he begin to form some kind of excuse, no …some kind of reason …with which to defend himself that Napoli might accept. Napoli never accepted excuses, but there were times he may accept a reason.
Donny had set a pattern for his pick-ups, Russo began to follow that pattern. However, this new guy didn’t seem to have a consistent pattern and made it more difficult for Russo to get a feel for him; so Russo began to break his pattern also and make unscheduled stops to his customers. His queries were answered with wide-eyed ignorance of any odd character, but Russo sensed their underlying fear. He had to lean harder.
It was just by chance that he saw his mystery man emerge from Olson’s butcher shop. He waited until the man disappeared down the block then paid a visit to Olson. The sawdust on the floor did little to conceal the smell of animal flesh. He ignored Olson’s concerned look and nodded toward the door at the back wall. Olson slipped out of his butcher’s apron, whispered something to the young man with him behind the counter and followed Russo.
Russo fought to swallow down his rising stomach. The back room reeked of blood and rot. The hanging fly papers were filled with dead flies, leaving the living ones freedom to feed. The ceiling fan above the bloodied butcher’s block kept most of them feasting on the tubs filled with entrails and waste lining one short wall. On the other side of the room was the metal door of an industrial sized freezer.
“I already paid this week,” Olson said firmly.
“Fine. I ain’t here to get any more; I’m here to find out who that guy is that left a minute ago.”
“What guy?” Olson’s voice was a bit thinner now.
“Don’t pull my dick, you know damn well who I’m talkin’ about.”
Russo looked at the balding fat man and was glad to see the sweat begin to roll down the side of his head. He was getting closer to understanding the nature of the danger he was heading into. Olson pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket.
“I don’t understand what you guys are doing, first you bring in this young kid tellin’ me that he’ll be doing the pick-ups. Fine I think to myself, whatever you want, whatever keeps me in business, whatever keeps me out of trouble. Then this other guy comes in and wants a copy of the tallies and tells me to keep my mouth shut or I won’t have a business to worry about, or a family to worry about.” The handkerchief was soaked.
“He didn’t want any more money? Didn’t want you to pay somebody else? Just a list of the tallies?” Russo asked.
“No, he didn’t want no money.”
“Did he mention any names?”
Olson’s eyes wouldn’t contact Russo’s, he just looked down at the stinking work table.
“He only told me not to let you know, if I did he’d kill me.” Fright bordering on panic seemed to fill his face, his hands kept mopping his brow with the soggy handkerchief. He looked up to Russo, “I don’t want to get in the middle of anything. I ain’t never given you any trouble … I pay on time … you ain’t never given me any trouble. I didn’t know what to do. Ya gotta understand my position. I didn’t even know his name ’til last week.” He looked at Russo pleadingly.
Russo did understand Olson’s position, he just didn’t care about it. He didn’t care if the butcher ended up like the meat in his freezer, he only cared that his carcass wouldn’t be hanging there. “What’s his name?”
“Jocko, he didn’t give me a last name. That’s all I know. Honest, that’s all I know, and if he finds out I told you I’m a dead man.”
Russo looked at him from hooded eyes.
“Okay, he won’t know where I got it from. You just keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’. Don’t let on you told me anything.”
“Don’t worry about that” Olson replied nervously.
Russo had to talk to Storm to see if there was anything in the police files on this Jocko character and he had to meet with Napoli, but first he had to figure out a story Joe would buy. But if he wanted Storm’s continued cooperation he also had to come up with something for him on the list of the kid murder suspects. He wondered if Donny told him the truth when he said he didn’t know anything about being followed, or about Jocko. Donny was an ambitious kid. Did he think it was sunnier on the other side of the street?
Russo thought about visiting Chin Lao down the street and decided against it; Chin would only feign his ignorance of what Russo was talking about and begin to chatter in that indecipherable babble. Instead he headed to Jack’s.
“I got no idea what you’re talkin’ about”, Jack said firmly as he wiped the bar glasses. Russo tried a different tactic, “Just that some people saw this guy, kinda shady like, and I thought he might be mixed up with this kid killing thing. I heard his name is Jocko something-or-other.”
“I still ain’t got no idea. And since when have you been so interested in helping find a murderer … you’re usually trying to hide ’em.”
“This is different. This is a kid. Just trying to help make Walter look good that’s all.” Russo said.
“Well, I still ain’t got no idea.”
Russo wasn’t going to get anywhere with Jack and there was no point in threats. His next stop was Min’s. Min wasn’t in the store, Tiny was straightening cans on a shelf while a boy sat on the counter smoking a cigarette.
“Where’s your ma?” he asked.
“Out back checking out a delivery,” Tiny replied. “You wanna go through?”
“No, go ask her to come up here, I need to talk to her. And you and your boyfriend here can go back and keep the delivery guy honest.”
Tiny liked having Murph referred to as her ‘boyfriend’, Murph didn’t like anything about Russo. As they went through to the back Russo looked at the young man and admired his young tight body.
“Yeah, there’s a guy like that comes in. Just buys a few things and leaves. Must live around here somewhere, but I don’t know where.” Min leaned a hand on her hip, almost in confrontation.
“He ever ask you for your tallies or anything?”
“Nope. Just buys a few things, you know, like bread, cigarettes, regular stuff; pays then leaves.”
“This guy have a name?” Russo asked with frustration.
“Nope, just another customer.”
Russo saw he wouldn’t get any farther with Min than he did with Jack.
“One other thing, I heard about a strange kid hangin’ round your porch. Kinda weird kid, liked to punch street posts, things like that. Know anything about him?”
“He don’t come ’round no more”, Min answered.
Russo felt she wouldn’t be as mute about him as about Jocko. “Where does he hang around now? What’s his name?”
“Why? What’d he do?”
“Not sure yet. And I don’t need answers that are more questions … I just want answers. You don’t seem to know much about who comes around, I want answers on something,” his mood was turning dark.
“His name’s Jim, the kids used to call him Crazy Jim”.
“Where does he live?”
“Don’t know. I think he lives the other side of the viaduct, but I ain’t sure. That enough ‘answers’ for ya? Cause that’s all the answers I got,” she said still leaning on one hip.
Russo left, at least he had something about this odd kid to report to Storm. Now all he had to be concerned about was getting his ass out of the sling with Napoli.
Francie sat in a booth at a drug store a few doors from the theater. She sipped on the straw in silence as Jim still went on about ‘that old biddy’ at the movie. “Well next time we’ll just have to go at night, when all them kids and old biddies ain’t there.”
Francie’s eyes blinked rapidly as she tried to think of ways to explain to him that she could never get away for an evening date. She wanted to get to know him, she liked his kisses, but she didn’t want to get into that deep water again. Her idea of a date was like the dates she saw in the movies; boy meets girl, boy takes girl out, boy and girl have harmless fun, boy takes girl home, boy gently kisses girl once on lips at her door and says goodnight. That’s not what she experienced today.
“I can’t get out after dinnertime”, she tried to explain. “My ma won’t let me, besides she needs help with the kids and all.”
“Don’t give me that shit,” he smiled. “You can always sneak out, it’s been done before you know.” Francie couldn’t begin to think of a way to sneak out.
“Besides, Donny sometimes stops in after dinner and stays around, I never know when. He’d notice I’m not there.” Her head spun with more excuses. Oh, why can’t he just think of someplace we could go for an afternoon?
“What about the zoo?” she suggested.
“The zoo? Are you crazy?” His head was searching for an idea that contained privacy not the damn zoo.
If he only had a car he could bring her to the drive-in, not paying attention that she said she couldn’t go out at night. But he didn’t have a damn car. His anger at the woman in the theater, the anger that he felt toward Murph, the anger he had for his mother all began to meld on this little pain in the ass girl across from him. But this little pain in the ass was the only person who would even talk to him right now, he couldn’t tell her to fuck off yet. At least not till he popped her cherry. But for now he just wanted to get away from her.
“Look, I’ll think of something and when I do I’ll let you know. You better be getting back to your mama.”
The way he said ‘mama’ Francie knew he was mocking her.
Jim was going to put her on the bus for home and take the next one, then decided screw it, why should I go to all that trouble, so he watched as she got on the front of the bus with the small crowd, waited for someone to exit the back door and quickly grabbed it before it closed. He watched Francie find a seat in the front, he slid into a seat toward the back. Satisfied that the driver did not see him sneak on he leaned back still watching Francie. She was unaware that he had snuck into the back, she looked out the window as though trying to find his face. She looked younger now than when he first saw her get off the bus. He resented her innocence. Maybe soon I’ll just change that.
Donny patted the envelopes in his pocket and headed for his own bus on his way to the Stockyard Inn for the pick-up from George Macklin. Francie didn’t notice him leaning against the building, neither did Jim as he exited the bus’s back door; but Donny noticed them.
Francie was surprised to see Jim exit the bus and as the bus pulled away Donny saw that she smiled and waved at Jim. Perhaps he should have followed her, but he didn’t think he had to in order to know that there was something fishy going on. Before the next bus stopped, he watched as Francie headed down the street toward home and Jim entered Sweeney’s.
Rita was just starting dinner slicing the hot dogs into the pan of beans. Francie came through the dining room and into the kitchen. Rita looked up, “How’d your homework go?”
“Okay”, Francie went straight to a bedroom closet she shared with several of the other children and neatly hung her blouse and skirt, then grabbed her plaid shirt and jeans. She stayed in the room and laid on an unmade bed. Her first date did not go the way she envisioned it would, it wasn’t like the dates in the movies. What did she do wrong?
Mrs. Connors sipped her medicinal whiskey as she sat in the dark. She rocked slowly while trying to calm her troubled mind. She couldn’t shake the unsettled feeling since seeing Red on the Harris’ back porch and Chester’s shadowy figure watching the little girls. The whiskey did little to alleviate her troubled mind, but perhaps it staunched her courage of what she was thinking to do, or perhaps it simply gave permission to be reckless.
She reached for the lamp table next to her. The room glowed with the low yellowish light. Her mind was made up. She reached for her sweater and walked through the darkened kitchen, felt for the flashlight in the kitchen drawer and grasped the skeleton key hanging on the door jamb.
It was just past midnight. Ever aware of gossip and any other goings on in the neighborhood she knew Chester worked at the Stockyard Inn and this being a Saturday night, would probably be working late. She whispered a prayer to St. Bridget as she crept out the back door and slowly walked down the back steps trying to be careful not to shine the flashlight in a manner that would gain attention. Few lights remained on in the surrounding flats, most that were lit appeared to be night lights, low lights that allowed the inhabitants to make a middle of the night trip to their bathrooms without bumping into walls or furniture. The quiet was disturbing, but she knew it meant that she could proceed.
Margaret made her way across the gangway and down the cement steps to Chester’s cellar. With another silent prayer to St. Bridget she hoped her skeleton key would work. She added an addendum to her prayer … that her racing heart wouldn’t give out and have her dead body found at the bottom of a neighbor’s cellar steps. With yet another silent prayer she thanked St. Bridget when the lock snapped open.
Jocko sat in his familiar corner on the back porch, his ever present cigarette resting between his fingers on the arm of the lawn chair. He immediately stubbed it out when he noticed the moving light coming from the old lady’s porch and down the stairs. He watched attentively as she crossed the gangway. Slowly and silently he made his way to the porch railing and his eyes followed her descending into a neighboring cellar. With furtive brow he wondered what the hell the old bat could be up to. Once she disappeared and didn’t seem to return within a minute he cautiously picked up the lawn chair and sat by the railing to wait.
The flashlight made a cursory sweep over the cellar, it was deeper than her own cellar and had a cement floor, otherwise it seemed an ordinary cellar. Margaret began to take a closer look at details. She didn’t know quite what she was looking for. She looked into the grey wash basins, opened the wringer washer next to them, the fuse box, and an old-fashioned wicker baby buggy surrounded by cobwebs. As she neared the center she approached boxes lined against one wall, she opened a few, and decided they held nothing but storage, Christmas ornaments, old books, the ordinary things people should throw away, but somehow couldn’t quite let go of. As she delved deeper into the back the light grazed over an old empty coal bin on the back wall, she peered down into it, but it held nothing but an odd old rubber boot, a few rusted garden tools also covered with cobwebs. Nothing she saw gave her any indication that anything had been disturbed for years.
Suddenly she heard sounds from above. She listened as the footsteps went from the front of the flat toward the back. Then heard a door opening. She knew right then and there she had made an awful mistake, she looked around in panic. Where to hide? Her first thought was behind the furnace, but she would be too exposed … then not without effort she climbed into the old coal bin, she huddled down and tried to make herself as small as she could and snapped off the flashlight. The footfalls got closer, the cellar door opened; from her crouched corner she saw a sweep of light from another flashlight. She felt the thundering beats of her heart become irregular and painful. So this is what a heart attack feels like. Bad enough to be found dead at the bottom of a neighbor’s cellar steps, but to be found in an old coal bin? Don’t worry about that, it wouldn’t occur to anyone to look in this old coal bin, it’ll be years before anybody would look, then they’d only find a skeleton and pair of false teeth. She took a moment and smiled at the thought of an alternate future, one that did not include a satin-lined casket.
She couldn’t see who was operating the flashlight, she only saw the light sweep back and forth, but she had a good idea who it was. Then she closed her eyes and held her breath … she remembered that she failed to lock the door behind her. Whoever it was knew the door was unlocked. The sweeping light continued, she heard the soft padding of someone searching. Time stood still. She clutched the flashlight in one hand, it may be needed as a defense weapon, who am I kidding? Her other hand gripped the skeleton key in her sweater pocket.
After what seemed an eternity the light receded back to the door. She listened as it opened and as a key relocked the door. She remained in the coal bin staring above her into the pitch black of the cellar. She was afraid to move. The footsteps continued on the floor above her, she waited until all was quiet, then waited longer.
Her heart began to slow down to a regular beat. Crawling out of the deep coal bin was a challenge, being quiet about it was even more of a challenge. Her back ached, her knees ached, her head ached, she was a mess. She was afraid to turn her flashlight back on, afraid it could somehow be seen upstairs, or that Chester might be waiting outside or looking for her from his window. In the dark she slowly made her way to the cellar door, feeling her way past all the things she remembered seeing upon entering. With the stealth of a cat she unlocked the door, remembering to re-lock it, then slipped quietly into the night toward the safety of her own flat. This called for a healthy shot, no a healthy glass of medicine, then rejected the thought … her sips earlier may have gotten her into this pickle.
Back in her flat she stepped into the bathtub, her aching body welcomed the hot water.
Jocko waited and watched. The longer Mrs. Connors was in the cellar the more curious he became, then he saw the geeky kid he remembered from the restaurant glide down the cellar steps with his own flashlight. After about ten minutes Jocko noticed Chester emerge looking around carefully at the yard and back porches … Jocko slid back to his corner. Chester crossed his back porch and disappeared into his kitchen.
Jocko stepped back to the railing. Where was the old lady? He was sure he hadn’t seen her come out of the cellar. After another ten minutes the lights in the Harris’ flat went out. There still was no sign of the old lady. Jocko’s curiosity became acute, he began to descend his own porch steps, he needed no flashlights, through the years he developed the night vision of an owl. Just as he reached the landing and was about to turn for the final set of stairs he heard a soft click. He leaned into his friendly shadows and saw the old lady creep back across the gangway and up to her own flat. What the fuck? He had seen some weird shit in his time, but this was a new one for him.
He knew the old lady was Bev Mailham’s landlady, he wished she would call him. He wanted to know more about this old crone.
Chester laid on his bed. Everything in the cellar seemed to be okay, everything just where he’d left it. It only now occurred to him that someone else might have a key, after all there were other flats that had use of the cellar. After seeing it for the first time, it looked as if no one ever went down there; obviously he was wrong. All he had to do was find a better hiding place down there, it wouldn’t be hard, there were more nooks and crannies. As sleep overtook him he decided a different hiding place was unnecessary, whoever went down there didn’t find anything; it would be foolish to take a chance, it was safe where it was.
Sleep came to Margaret as soon as her head hit her pillow. Her dreams weren’t far behind; they swept her back … back decades … back to her own cellar … back when she was young … back to Sean … back to Tim.
Margaret bounced off the trolley and with a spring in her step walked the two blocks to work. The October sky promised a cloudless day, leaves were beginning to show their bright colors, they reflected her mood. It had been six months since her first secretive meeting with Tim.
There were times that her conscience told her to go to confession … to tell Father Doyle about her infidelities, to ask for absolution, to promise not to sin again. What she felt guilty about was the fact that she didn’t feel guilty. So what point would a confession serve? She knew she would do it again.
Margaret’s promotion to line supervisor was due to Tim McAvoy’s recommendation. He was a well-known and respected employee. The position had the added advantage that they could see more of each other, the non-fraternization rule didn’t apply now that she too had a title of supervisor. It didn’t matter that Tim supervised an entire section, not just a line, what mattered was on the office paperwork she had the title.
They still had to be careful, she being a married woman and he being a bachelor, but they could now sit at the same lunch table, they could now speak to each other on the factory floor or in the hallways under the guise of work-related business. The real conversations more often than not concerned planning when and how to be together; and over the six months their meetings were more frequent and included some lazy Saturday afternoon love making in a hotel far enough away from any chance meeting with someone they knew.
And as the six months passed, they realized they were in love, it wasn’t just in lust or infatuation.
Margaret began pulling the groceries from the bag on the table when she heard Sean’s unsure footing on the steps. He clumsily pushed through the back door. He was drunk.
“I take it you didn’t find work down at the union hall again,” she said continuing to empty the grocery bag.
“Don’t start nagging. There are no jobs to be had woman.”
Margaret bit her tongue. She didn’t want another argument. She struck a match and lit the pilot light under the gas stove grate and put the pot of water on to boil.
“I don’t want to hear a word from you,” he continued. Even her silence felt accusatory. He watched as she peeled potatoes and cut the head of cabbage. “And I suppose you’ll be havin’ to work tomorrow, another Saturday and not a penny to show for it,” he tried to turn her silence into an audible argument, her silent arguments infuriated him.
“Aye, I’ll be workin’ tomorrow, and even if there’s no penny to show for it at least it’ll keep my job. The job that pays the bills and keeps you in your cups,” she said bitterly.
Sean rose with anger and crossed the kitchen toward her.
“By all that’s holy I’ll teach you to have some respect. I’m still your husband, I’m still head of this house.” He grabbed her shoulder spinning her around to face him, the back of his hand slapped her face and when she didn’t give him the response of fear he wanted he struck her again, this time with a fist.
With a bleeding mouth her arm reached back for the boiling pot of water. He screamed in pain as he held his scalded face.
“You bitch,” he cried as he advanced on her with all his fury. The beating continued and finally sapped his strength. She crouched in the corner of the kitchen with her nose bleeding and the bruises beginning to bloom, she remained quiet and still.
He staggered into the bedroom, laid across the bed and was soon asleep in a drunken stupor. After cleaning up the mess in the kitchen Margaret tried to clean herself up in the bathroom. She ran the faucet until the water was icy cold, it helped the swelling a little, but she still looked battered. How could she see Tim tomorrow looking like this? She regretted her loose tongue with Sean.
Morning came and she awoke on the living room sofa. Sean’s snoring could be heard from the bedroom. Quietly she bathed, again with cold water, hoping to hide the remnants of the beating. Her face looked a bit more passible with a little face powder.
She was to meet Tim in a few hours. There was no time for her to get in touch with him to cancel their rendezvous. She didn’t want him to see her like this, but she couldn’t bear not to see him. She continued to pad carefully through the flat to ready herself to meet her lover.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph”, Tim’s voice was filled with alarm as he opened the hotel door. “What in God’s name!” He gently pulled her into the room and sat her on the bed.
Margaret tried to keep her head down, she looked at her hands in her lap. He gently put his fingers under her chin and pulled her head up to face him.
“What happened darlin’? Tell me.”
Margaret told him of the argument of the night before. Tim grabbed his coat and headed for the door. “I’ll kill him. I swear I’ll kill him!”
“No”, Margaret pleaded as she pulled him back into the room. “I knew he was drunk, I should have just let it be. Please Tim, stay here with me. Please!” She could not stop the flood of tears that began to flow and could not stop trembling.
“Okay darlin’. Don’t you worry, I’ll do nothin’ rash.” He held her shoulders and gently laid her on the bed. He kissed her forehead as he placed a pillow under her head and began to carefully unloosen her clothing. He folded her skirt and blouse and laid her shoes on the floor. As she lay in her chemise he pulled the sheet and blanket over her.
“I’ll be right back, I’m just going down to the lobby to get some ice for that sweet face of yours,” he smiled. When he returned with the basin of ice, cloth and aspirin he sat on the bed at her side and held her hand. He eventually laid next to her, never letting go of her hand. Both fell into sleep. The sun was setting when they awoke.
“What time is it?” Margaret cried with alarm. “I have to get home, Sean will be lookin’ for me. He thinks I’m at work, I’ll be late, what can I tell him?” She began to move toward her clothes, but the pain in her bruised back slowed her down.
Tim was still groggy, but when he saw Margaret on her feet he snapped to attention.
“Hold on there,” he said reaching for her.
“But I have to get home, you don’t understand,” she said.
He tried to control his voice, tried to keep it gentle and reassuring. “I’m taking you home. I’ll do the explaining. You have nothin’ to worry about. But first I’m gonna go next door to the deli and bring up something to eat. We have a little talkin’ to do.”
“But nothin’ darlin’. You just stay here and get dressed, no need to hurry. Everything will be okay. You have to trust me. You do trust me, don’t you?”
There was never anyone in the world that Margaret ever trusted as much as she trusted this young man, this young man who never brought her anything but happiness. She felt it strange under these circumstances that she suddenly felt relaxed; felt her troubles evaporate.
Tim returned with bags under each arm. He pulled the small round table to the bed, and as she sat on the bed and he on a chair on the other side she unwrapped the sandwiches as he opened a bottle of soda pop for her and a bottle of beer for himself.
They began to talk of their present situation, both understanding that it could not continue. Tim argued for divorce and marriage. Margaret argued against divorce, she felt her soul would be in jeopardy. She would rather live in sin with the man she loved, this she tried to explain was a forgivable sin and divorce was another matter.
“I’ll not be listening to such rubbish”, he protested. “You’ll be my wife, nothing less, on this I’m firm,” he said quietly.
“But I’ll lose my job,” she protested.
“No. You’ll be quitin’ your job. From now on your job will be to love me, to take care of me, to have my children. And my job will be to take care of you and love you until the day we die and walk through those pearly gates. And don’t give me any more talk about not getting in, if Jesus himself appeared in this room he’d smile and tell you what I’m tellin’ you now.”
Not finding a fitting retort Margaret reminded herself that this was the man who she was meant to be with, the man she trusted, the man who would always love and take care of her.
By the time they got off the trolley on Halsted Street and began walking, carefully avoiding the horse manure, toward Wallace it was full dark. Many, but not all windows showed no lights. The city had not yet fully electrified the street lights, many of the side streets were still gas lit. Her own front window glowed a soft yellow glow of a lamp. After slipping her key into the door, Tim held her arm. Not knowing what to expect he wanted to be in a position to keep her out of harm’s way.
Sean heard the turn of the lock and stood waiting to confront the wife he grew to hate. When Tim walked through the door holding Margaret’s hand behind him Sean’s resolve to teach her another lesson turned to stunned silence, then to rage. His eyes narrowed and looked past Tim to Margaret.
“So this is what you’ve been up to! Workin’ all these nights and Saturdays … whorin’ around like a common slut. You’ll not be shamin’ me like this.” He took a step toward her. “Get over here.” His voice turning vicious.
“None a that Mr. Connors. I seen how you been treatin’ your wife and …”
“You keep out of this,” Sean interrupted. He reached for Margaret. Tim pulled her further behind him.
“I said you keep out of this if you know what’s good for you.”
Without taking his eyes from Sean, Tim nudged Margaret from behind. “Go get your things.” His eyes turned to steel. “She’s comin’ with me. And she won’t be coming back.”
Margaret froze. She knew what Sean was capable of and wanted to warn Tim, she didn’t want things to get out of hand. But how could they not get out of hand? She had a chance to get away from this brute of a husband, a chance to be with the man she loved, it may be her only chance. She had to trust Tim.
“My suitcase is in the cellar,” she said quietly. Tim gave her another nudge and in the dim light she started for the back door and retrieved the key from the door jamb.
Sean and Tim stood staring at each other in the living room, almost daring the other to make a move. Finally it was Sean who spoke first. His tone was more reconciled.
“I’ll have to go down and show her where it is. I put it up on one of the high shelves; not think’n we’d be using it. But you won’t have her long boy-o, you’ll see what she’s really like and you’ll be glad to be rid of her, she’ll be back.” He started to walk toward the kitchen with Tim just behind.
The dim lightbulb hanging from the cellar ceiling cast shadows throughout. Margaret was looking around trying to locate the old cardboard suitcase when Sean entered.
“It’s up on the shelf on top of the workbench,” he said as he approached the bench. Tim was again next to Margaret, putting himself between her and Sean.
Feigning to reach to the high shelf with his left hand he felt around with his right on the dark workbench until he found the hammer. With bullet swiftness he turned around whirling the hammer and caught Tim on the shoulder. Margaret screamed and drew back in horror. Sean advanced on Tim who tried to overtake him with his only good arm. Margaret desperately looked around for something to use as a weapon, something with which to help Tim, something with which to stop Sean, finding nothing she threw herself at Sean. The hammer continued its arc, plunging again and again into Tim’s now prostrate body.
Tim laid in the growing pool of blood, his face unrecognizable. In the darkness of the cellar the pooling of blood around Tim’s head and body and the splattering thrown against the workbench and walls appeared black.
Margaret hysterically threw herself over Tim’s body, Sean stopped the hammer in mid arc. Margaret cradled Tim in her lap, slowly rocking him she began a low mournful keen.
The sound of Margaret’s keening, of soul-filled grief flashed Sean’s mind back to Ireland where women would keep watch over their dead loved ones awaiting burial. He gripped the hammer tighter, raised his arm intending to be rid of Margaret also, but then where would he be? He’d never killed a man before, surely he’d be hanged for this. His mind whirled with the consequences of what he’d done.
As Margaret continued to embrace the bloodied body in her lap Sean’s panic searched for the shovel leaning on the wall next to the workbench. He receded deeper into the cellar, into the darkest corner and began to dig. Margaret’s grief drifted to his ears from what seemed a great distance and he began to dig the hole, the grave for Tim McAvoy; and perhaps, he thought for Margaret also.
Margaret heard the soft digging sounds from the corner. She gently laid Tim’s body from her lap and approached Sean.
“You can’t be thinkin’ you’ll put him here? Haven’t you done enough?” Her voice was now quiet and calm, her hands, face and dress blood soaked.
The grave was finished, Margaret returned to the workbench, then back to Sean who began to climb out of the dirt hole.
“Help me drag ’em over here,” Sean grunted as he began to pull himself up. “I’ll be…”
But he never finished the sentence, Margaret would never know what he was going to tell her. The hatchet slammed into his skull and again quickly into his neck. He fell back into the hole. Margaret listened to the gurgling sounds from his throat, the sound of escaping life. She stood in silence, the hatchet hanging from her hand at her side. When all was silent she picked up the shovel and began to put the dirt over her husband, she was in no hurry, shovel-full by shovel-full he disappeared.
She returned and stood by Tim’s body, she held her hands out before her and questioned why they weren’t trembling. In fact she felt calm, after witnessing the vicious murder of the only man she ever loved, the only man she ever would love and murdering her husband … no not murdering her husband … dispensing justice.
She left Tim where he lay and returned to her flat where she slowly and quietly washed her hands, retrieved two sheets from the closet and the crucifix from the wall above her bed. Upon returning to the cellar she picked up the shovel and began digging in the opposite corner from where her husband laid beneath the dirt. She spread a clean sheet at the bottom of the hole, climbed out to bring her beloved to his final resting place.
She didn’t see his crushed and ruined body, her mind saw her beautiful young lover and knew it would be for the last time. She placed the crucifix on his chest and crossed his bloodied arms across it, then laid the second sheet over him. Again she picked up the shovel and when she was finished she knelt and kissed the earth. I’m sorry Tim. Please forgive me. My heart will always be here with you, I will always love you. Please forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.
Margaret bolted awake to a tear stained pillow.
Kate Reilly turned the corner from Sweeney’s with a bag of cough syrup, aspirin and Vick’s VapoRub. Her husband Jerry was home with the flu and he couldn’t afford another sick day from the lumber yard. She was determined to get him well, or at least lessen the symptoms.
Walter Storm walked a half block in front of her carrying two shopping bags and turned up the steps to Vera’s flat. So the rumors were true. Kate could hardly wait to get to Min’s to solidify the rumors. After stopping at her own flat making sure Jerry was comfortable on the sofa surrounded by tissues, pillows and lemon tea she scurried out the door toward Min’s.
“I swear it’s true. What do you think was in them bags?” Kate pointedly asked. She became the center of attention…Min, Naomi Porter and Teresa Valusi looked at her with greedy eyes.
“Did you ever see his wife?” Teresa ventured.
“No”, was the cumulative reply.
“Well, me neither…but from what I heard she’s a real uppity-up,” Teresa said with conviction. None of the women bothered to ask where she got this information.
“Looks to me that he’s moving in…piece-by-piece,” Kate said with folded arms and authority.
Min took her place in the circle, never one to pass up a piece of gossip; but she liked Walter and didn’t like his name dragged through the mud.
“They have a right to a little happiness too. Heaven knows there’s little enough of it around,” she interjected.
“Well of course they have,” Naomi said not wanting to sound unsympathetic.
“What do you think old Mrs. Kunkle thinks about this?” Kate introduced, hoping to keep the energy going.
“She’s so far gone maybe she doesn’t even know,” Teresa contributed. “But if she does I’ll bet she’s fit to be tied.”
Walter put the two bags on the coffee table and looked around the flat. “I don’t know where to put this stuff,” he said.
Vera looked at him from the kitchen doorway. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it.”
She moved to him. “I know this isn’t easy for you,” she said as she put her arms around him.
“It’s easier than you think,” he replied as he nuzzled her neck.
“You just get back to work. I’ll take care of all this,” she said reaching for the bags.
He smiled and picked up his patrolman’s hat. He felt content as he walked out to the street; more than content, he felt happy. The only intrusion on this happiness was the thought of missing Debbie. Seeing her smile, feeling the rush of love as she ran to him. He knew he made the right decision, but the restriction of seeing his little girl only once a week would be hard.
Vera began to unpack the bags. The flat was small, with limited closet space. After a moment’s thought she started to pull many of her mother’s things from a closet; after all, being confined to her bed her mother hadn’t worn most of these things in years, her wardrobe now consisting mostly of nightgowns and bed jackets. Unless her mother saw her pack away her clothes she wouldn’t even miss them. So the empty spaces were filled with Walter’s shirts, the extra patrolman’s uniform, shoes, slacks and robe.
She held the robe closely, closed her eyes and breathed in his smell. She couldn’t believe her dreams had come true, she was no longer the pitiful spinster lady, she didn’t have to share the man she loved, no more long lonely nights. Soon, after the divorce was final, she’d have a Mrs. in front of her name. Mrs. Walter Storm. Vera Storm. Mrs. Vera Storm. Walter and Vera Storm. They would be a real couple. She was already used to the new name, proud of it and wanted to shout it to the world.
Walter sat in the easy chair smoking his after dinner cigarette and reading the paper. The sounds of Vera cleaning up the kitchen made him smile, everything Vera did made him smile. Soon she appeared in the doorway with a glass of cold beer in one hand and a metal box in the other. His smile disappeared, he recognized the box.
“I unpacked your things and found this”, she said holding the box toward him. “But it’s locked and I couldn’t find a key.” He reached for the beer and with the other hand took the box from her.
“What’s in it?” she asked softly.
“Nothing really, just some old memories from my dad,” he lied.
“Where’s the key? It doesn’t do any good having a box of memories if you can’t go through them occasionally and remember. They must have some meaning to you.”
“I lost the key a long time ago. Don’t worry about it, there’s nothing valuable there, just junk.” He placed the box on the floor next to him on the other side of the chair.
He was glad to hear the spoon on the pie tin calling Vera away. He was foolish to bring the box here, he knew he had to get rid of it, but for now he had to find a place to put it, a place Vera would hopefully forget about it. He slid it under the chair and would deal with it later.
Walter sat for a long time before he pulled the small box from beneath the chair. He could see Vera sleeping behind the partially closed curtain.
He took the small key from his keychain and held it in his hand, he had not yet decided to open it; perhaps it would be best simply to throw it away unopened. It was no longer part of his life, it was a remnant from one week of happiness. He almost chuckled when he realized he could remember that week with more focus and clarity than the years of combat and bloodshed.
He looked up when he heard Vera stirring and reaching to his empty pillow.
“Walter?” she said sleepily seeing him in the low lamp light. “Are you okay?”
“Yes” he said making his decision. “Come here sweetheart, I have something to tell you. Something I’ve never spoken of before and I don’t want any secrets between us.”
Vera rose and moved to the sofa; Walter joined her holding the box. He opened it and placed it on her lap. She looked down to see it contained letter envelopes and on top a photo of a young child of about eighteen months old.
Walter began to reveal the secret he’d been keeping, keeping from Carol, keeping from everyone for so long. He felt a slight trepidation as to his decision, but continued to tell his story in low tones.
He had been with the 5th Army, their mission was to drive the Germans out of Italy and conquer Mussolini’s fascists. His platoon had been waiting in a small hamlet outside Palermo for their supply lines to catch up while the Allied air forces softened up the enemy ground ahead with bombing. The two day wait turned into a week before being ordered to move ahead, north toward Rome.
In that week he met a young woman, a girl really, she was no more than seventeen or eighteen. He first saw her in that small village arguing with a man who obviously was dealing in the rampant black market, for she was trying to force a handful of jewelry on him, yet he kept pushing it away shaking his head.
The enemy had left quickly taking with them all the food-stuffs they could pack into trucks, cars and back sacks, then they set fire to the surrounding crops and vineyards, resulting in a village closing in on desperation for sustenance.
Walter watched as the girl pulled a gold cross and chain from her neck and pushed it at the man. This seemed to satisfy him when added to the rest of the jewelry, they struck a bargain: she offered the handful of jewelry, he offered a length of salami. When the man saw a G.I. in full combat uniform with his M-1 rifle hanging at his side the man quickly turned the corner with all haste. The girl turned around to see what had frightened the man, upon seeing the young G.I. she quickly held the salami behind her back.
As he approached Walter’s breath was taken away with her beauty…her honey brown eyes, her soft olive skin and tousled shoulder length velvet dark hair. He stopped and smiled at her, wanting to convey he held no threat to her. Looking around she saw no escape, so slowly pulled the salami from behind and held it out to him. He held up his hands, palms forward in a gesture of ‘no, no’ then continued to move and talk quietly so as not to frighten her.
“So that is how we met”, Walter told Vera.
Vera sat silently listening, her face telling him to continue.
“I have no excuses, I was a married man with a family.” When Vera’s face told him she was not being judgmental he continued telling his tale.
Her name was Angelina and lived with her grandfather on the top floor of an old stone building; the grandfather’s cobbler shop below had been out of business long before the fighting began. Mussolini was losing the war, people were living day to day trying to live, they no longer cared if their shoes were well heeled.
Soon Walter found himself bringing her coffee, bread, C-rations, canned peaches and anything else he could find. He more or less moved in with Angelina and her grandfather, coming to the upstairs flat above the empty shop whenever not on duty. He also moved into Angelina’s bed. She feigned anger when he laughed at her broken English, she threw herself at him with fists without power until they both tumbled onto the bed laughing.
However the inevitable orders came and he had to move on to the battle. Before he left he stuffed whatever American money he had into her hands and tried to fill her larder. He slipped his military address to her as he kissed her for the last time.
Angelina did write, her letters full of gratitude and love. Walter read and re-read, he kept and collected them. The occasional letters from Carol complaining of ration cards back in the States he read then tore up. After a few months he received Angelina’s letter telling him of her pregnancy. He wrote back pledging his duty to her and the baby; and he honored that pledge sending her money with the knowledge she would use it wisely.
Then in 1945 with the announcement that the war was over he received another letter. Angelina’s last letter to him with a photo of their son. She had met a man; a man she fell in love with and who loved her and her son. Though he was ten years older than she they married.
The letter continued to tell Walter not to send any more money, no more letters; they must end this for her future happiness as well as his own. Her new husband was a kind and understanding man, his only request…more of a demand…was that the boy be raised by him as his father. Her husband did not want the boy to know anything of this American G.I. who found himself in Italy then returned to his own wife and family in America.
“So, now you know. Carol nor anyone else has heard this story, you’re the first. I was going to get rid of this…this past…but I can’t lie to you. I hope you can forgive me for not being truthful from the beginning. Now I can throw all this away without feeling dirty.”
He finally stopped talking. The room was silent as Vera carefully returned the letters to the box; she continued to hold the photo of the child.
“I understand why you couldn’t tell Carol; she was your wife. I probably would have also felt the sting of betrayal. But that was then, this is now and you can’t throw these memories away. They’re good memories, never waste or throw away good memories, there are so few.”
After closing the boxed letters she returned it to Walter.
“I’m glad you told me,” she said handing the boy’s photo to him. “This belongs in your wallet or in a frame on our dresser. Keep these memories close to you.” She bent, kissed him and led him to their bed.
Donny waited for Russo in the back booth of the Ashland Street diner, his bundle of envelopes beside him. Tonight he wanted to talk to Russo, he had been on the job long enough to see how things were done, at least how some of the hierarchy worked. He needed Russo’s permission. The waitress stood refilling his coffee when Russo approached.
“Coffee”, he said to her as he sat across from Donny. She disappeared to retrieve another cup.
“You’re lookin’ good kid. Everything go okay?”
“Yeah. It’s all here, seems it’s all straight,” Donny replied. He slid the bag next to him under the table to Russo. “I need to talk to you about something.”
“Not with the business, something personal,” Donny replied.
Russo slightly tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. He never gave much thought to the personal lives of those around him. He had enough issues in his own, everyone had secrets. He hoped he wasn’t about to hear anything that would jeopardize Donny’s position on his crew; he liked this kid. He wanted to know and like him better, but knew he had to move slowly.
“Okay, what is it?”
“Well, don’t know if you knew it, but I have a kid sister,” Donny began.
“I know you have a lot of kid sisters and brothers.” He was tempted to mention he knew about the weird one called Rat Boy, but didn’t want to get into that.
“Francie’s only a kid, only twelve, well she’ll be thirteen in a couple months but still she’s a kid.”
“And,” Russo’s tone was sounding impatient.
“There’s this guy in the neighborhood who started to give her too much attention, if you know what I mean. I told her to stay away from ’em but she isn’t.”
“Spit it out kid. What’s goin’ on, what do you want from me? Girls do grow up, they notice boys. Just what is the problem or are you just over-protective?”
“No, this guy’s not only too old for her, he’s trouble. The neighborhood kids call him Crazy Jim for Chrisake … doesn’t that tell you something? A few teens hang around together, I saw him in a fight with another kid. Crazy Jim was getting the shit beat out of him so he pulled out a switchblade. The other kid grabbed a bottle and told Crazy Jim never to come around again, Jim backed down and I didn’t see him for awhile. Then he started to come around and start talkin’ to my sister and it’s the way he looks at her. Francie’s a quiet kid, she mostly looks after my little brothers and sisters. Shit, half the time she’s still playing with dolls.” Donny sat back hoping he conveyed why he’d be upset with a kid like this around his sister.
“Okay, so he’s a creep. What do you want from me?” Russo said.
“He’s not just a creep. I don’t want her getting mixed up with somebody who looks like he wants to fuck a twelve year old.”
“I see your point. He likes little girls a little too much.”
“Yeah. I want to get your permission to teach that mother-fucker a lesson. Make him stay away from my sister if he knows what’s good for him.”
Russo was impressed that Donny came to ask for permission; impressed that he didn’t go off half-cocked.
“Do you need help with that? Need a little more muscle?” Russo asked.
“No, I can take care of it. I just wanted to let you know why and to get your okay.”
“To take care of a guy that goes after little girls you certainly have my okay. Just don’t go too far, don’t put him in the morgue.”
Donny was relieved after talking to Russo; he wouldn’t have any shit blown back at him. He kept a closer eye on Francie, he noticed that when he was home she stayed in the flat or back yard. So he began lingering down the street keeping an eye from a distance and saw that she came out to watch the kids on the front stoop and kept looking toward the viaduct. It wasn’t long before he saw Crazy Jim emerge from the viaduct and head straight to his building and to Francie.
Crazy Jim would sometimes sit next to her, would smile and lean toward her. He also noticed that if he approached, Jim would quickly leave in the opposite direction. Donny didn’t know where Jim lived, but he would find out.
Donny began walking up the street, when Jim saw him he quickly left the stoop and returned in the direction of the viaduct. Donny stopped before Francie, she looked at her feet guiltily.
“Where’s ma?” he asked.
“Where else … upstairs with the babies.”
He reached in his pocket and gave her a few dollars. “Here, take the kids to Sweeney’s for ice cream or something.”
She looked at him with surprise but didn’t ask any questions.
“Just let me run up and tell ma.”
“No, I’m goin’ up. I’ll tell her.”
Their little brothers and sisters whooped and hollered with delight as they headed for Sweeney’s.
Donny changed from his suit into a tee shirt and jeans and after telling Rita he’d given Francie and the others a treat for Sweeney’s he headed out the back door. He stopped on the gangway sidewalk behind Min’s store where he found Murph, Tiny and another girl sitting on crates.
Murph was not only surprised when Donny stopped and looked up to them but also to see Donny out of his usual uniform of a suit. Another surprise was the size Donny’s biceps, the suit always hid them well. Donny looked at Murph from the sidewalk. Donny also appeared to have grown a few inches.
“Can I talk to you a minute?” he said.
Murph’s antenna went up.
“Hey man, nothin’s wrong, I just need to talk to you a minute,” Donny said recognizing Murph’s wariness.
Murph descended the steps and followed Donny a few feet away, out of earshot of the girls on the porch.
“There used to be a guy hangin’ out with you, I think they called him Crazy Jim or somethin’, kinda tall,” Donny began.
“So, what about him? He don’t come ’round here no more,” Murph’s eyes remained wary.
“Yeah I know. But do you know where he lives?”
“Yeah I know where he lives, why?” Murph replied.
“Look,” Donny sighed. “I ain’t gonna give you any trouble, I got no beef with you. I just wanna know where the asshole lives, that’s all.”
Upon hearing Crazy Jim referred to as an ‘asshole’ Murph’s tension eased. “He lives with his ma on the other side of the viaduct about three houses down in a basement apartment. Why?”
“That’s none of your concern, just a little business I have to attend to. Thanks, Murph, I really mean that.”
“How’d you know my name?”
“Word gets around,” Donny smiled and began walking, turning to wave to Murph as he turned the corner.
Murph returned to the porch. Patty and Tina were on him with excitement.
“What’d he want? What’d he say?” they urged.
“Nothin’, just talkin’ guy stuff. No problem.”
Donny entered the shadows of the viaduct. Exiting on the other side he realized he failed to ask Murph on which side of the street Jim lived. He counted three houses on one side, but there didn’t appear to be basement apartment windows. Looking directly across from it the curtained basement windows glared. He stood watching the apartment from inside the shade of the viaduct. After two cigarettes he was about to approach the basement flat when he saw Jim emerge and walk away from the viaduct.
“Hey, Jim”, Donny called as though to a friend.
Jim stopped and turned, but couldn’t recognize the dim tee shirted figure.
“Com’on man, they sent me to get you. He didn’t really mean it,” Donny called, trying to entice Jim into the viaduct.
Jim came closer, still trying to recognize the figure in the dim light. Donny turned and began walking deeper into the viaduct knowing Jim was following. He stopped when he was in the middle, waiting as Jim got closer. When he was a few feet from Donny, Jim finally recognized the face.
Donny reached, grabbing Jim by the shirt and began by punching him in the face, then crashing his knee up to his crotch. Jim tried to reach into his pocket for the ever-present switchblade. Donny’s hand was quicker and pulled Jim’s arm, twisting it behind his back until he heard a pop. Donny picked up the knife and threw it skittering down the street.
“You made the biggest mistake of your life when you went after my sister, you cock-sucking sonofabitch”, Donny said as he landed another crushing blow to Jim’s face, catching him square in an eye. Jim tried to defend himself but the only response available to him through the hail of punches was to try to cover his bloodied face. It took only one more heavy punch to put Jim on the ground. Donny straddled him, continuing with a hail of punches. Donny stood up, Jim curled in a fetal position and Donny began to kick Jim’s body. By now Donny knew he’d delivered the message he came to deliver, but his violence seemed to remove all reason and he continued to viciously kick the prostrate form beneath him. Finally, exertion made him pause and reason returned. He saw a few teeth at his feet, he remembered Russo’s warning of not going too far, he bent down to see if the unconscious young man was still breathing. With relief he pulled Jim through the street and left him there in front of the basement apartment.
As he returned to the viaduct he removed his blood soaked tee shirt using it to wipe his hands and headed home.
Murph, Tiny and Patty watched from the porch in silence as Donny passed them, carrying his bloodied shirt in his fist. They watched as he climbed up the stairs to his flat. Their silence continued, as though if anyone said a word it would break this moment of awe.
Donny entered the kitchen, Rita was at the sink washing baby bottles, turning to the sound of the opening door she watched as Donny lifted the lid of the small kitchen trash can and threw the tee shirt into it. Donny passed through the room without a look or word to his mother. Rita heard the sound of the shower. She opened the trash can lid and saw the blood, then returned to the baby bottles. We should never have left West Virginia. This awful city will be only trouble for all of us.
By the time Francie and her gaggle of young siblings ran up the stairs Donny was back on the streets, suited up to continue his job for Russo and satisfied that Crazy Jim finally got the message to stay away from his sister.
Min was tallying up Kate Reilly’s purchases when the sound of a siren caused them to turn toward the door. They watched as an ambulance passed by and through the viaduct.
“Hope whatever it is, it’ll be okay,” Kate said.
“Hope so,” Min replied as she continued working the cash register.
Bev Mailham picked up the phone.
Jocko was sitting on his kitchen cot when the phone rang on the floor across the room. He knew something must have come up if Napoli or his people were calling. He answered with a gruff “Yeah”.
“Oh, did I call at a bad time?” Bev said.
“Uh, no, not at all”, he felt his tongue tangling again.
“How’ve you been doing?” she asked. “I’ve been thinking about you and how much I enjoyed the other night.”
“Me too,” he hoped he wouldn’t begin to stammer. “In fact, I wanted to call you, but I didn’t have your number. I kinda thought maybe you lost interest.”
“I didn’t lose interest, I’ve just been a little busy. But would you like to get together again?”
“Yeah, sure” he shook the schoolboy from his head and regained control. “How ’bout Friday night? I know a place over in Roseland. It’s not real fancy, but has good food, mostly Italian and on Friday they have a little jazz group.”
“Friday works for me, sounds great.”
After a moment of uncomfortable silence Jocko sensed she wanted him to say something, but couldn’t think of what.
Bev said, “Shall I meet you there?”
Jocko’s head bounced back, “No, I’ll pick you up. How does seven-thirty sound?”
After the call he returned to the cot and felt an unusual feeling and realized he was smiling.
Bev was glad she made the call. All the men she’d been dating seemed to be cut from the same boring mold. Although Jocko was not much at conversation there was something different about him, something so rugged.
This time it was Storm who was seeking Russo for a meeting. It perked his interest and though Jack made it clear he wanted a break from the back-room meetings he felt Jack would relax if he knew it was Storm.
As the two men sat across from one another Russo remained silent.
“Well, you called the meeting,” Russo finally said.
Storm looked uncomfortable. “Something came up and I didn’t want to ask anybody down at the station about it and you’re the only other one I thought could help with it.”
Now Walter had Russo’s full attention.
“I need a lawyer.”
“What in the hell did you do?” There was a level of alarm in Russo’s voice. He once saw Storm in action when a union strike turned into a riot. Storm seemed to be enjoying the melee, crashing his police baton with unbridled energy. He knew Storm could be out of control if his temper was ever let loose. He was now wondering who the poor bastard was that let that tempest out of the tea pot.
“No … I need a ‘divorce’ lawyer,” Walter sounded almost embarrassed. “I had it out with Carol last night. It wasn’t pretty and she threatened she’d get a lawyer and clean me out and never let me see the kids again. So I figured I better get one too.”
Of all the things Russo thought this meeting Storm called could be about this wasn’t even in the ballpark.
“I deal with the lawyers that’ll keep me out of jail, not divorce,” Russo said with a slight smile. He saw the distress on Walter’s face and felt sorry for this schmuck. “But I can talk to a couple I use and get a name for you … and promise that you’ll get a good deal. Stop worrying about it. I’ll get you the name in a few days.”
Even though Walter didn’t want to owe Russo any favors, felt now he did. He didn’t let it bother him for long, Carol’s threats didn’t seem as monumental any longer.
“So, what’s going on with the kid murder thing?” Russo asked.
“I’ll be meeting with Novack to go over the list and find out if he has anything more. You want to be there?” Walter said.
“Hell no. I want to stay as far away from that bastard as I can. Only thing I want is if anything I give you helps find the sonofabitch that you let Novack know it was me that gave it to you.”
“Deal,” replied Walter.
“I got a smell of something that might interest you,” Russo continued. “You know that kid they call Crazy Jim?”
“Yeah?” Now it was Russo that had Walter’s undivided attention.
“I heard he likes going after young girls.”
“Where’d you hear that?” Walter asked with interest.
“From what I hear he’s been going after Donny’s kid sister. She’s only twelve.”
Walter remembered the name on his list, the kid Min had described. This new information gave him something solid.
“Anything else about this kid?” Walter asked.
“No. But just remember it’s Donny’s sister and he ain’t real happy about it so if this kid turns up with a broken kneecap or anything don’t be surprised; and keep in mind I want Donny kept out of it.”
Walter’s brow furrowed. He didn’t like the idea that Donny would be getting in the way of a police investigation, however he understood.
“Okay,” Walter said. “Just keep this little protégé of yours under control, I don’t need any more hotheads.”
Russo reassured him that Donny was under control … he only hoped he was right.
The back room was getting warm, both men unbuttoned the top of their collars. Russo left to retrieve cold beers from the bar. Jack’s frown of suspicion followed Tony as he disappeared back into the room.
“I have to tell you that there’s nothing more on that strange guy you seem so spooked about,” Storm said after taking a long pull on the beer.
“I figured you didn’t. But I want to let you know that Vera’s notebook was a big help. Now it’s my problem to figure out.”
Walter looked at him quizzically. “Yeah? How?”
“His name is Jocko something-or-other,” Russo began. “I think he’s here because of me, not that I don’t think he’d be capable of capping off a kid. In fact, if you put him on your list for Novack it might help me out a bit, at least for awhile.”
Walter nodded. He thought Russo might be in some deep shit with his bosses if they sent this guy out here. He was just glad he could tell Vera that she no longer had to tail this guy. Storm left by way of the back door and as he walked down the alley, the sun was lower in the sky and his thoughts were on Crazy Jim.
Russo left the room and returned to the bar. Jack nodded him over to the corner, leaned with an elbow on the bar.
“Powicki came in a few minutes ago and asked if you’d been by. I told ’em you’d probably be back in a little while,” Jack said quietly. “He said it was important to talk to you.” Jack then looked to the small back booth. Ed Powicki eyed Russo at the bar and finished the beer in front of him.
“Ed, feeling any better?” Russo said as he sat across the table looking at Ed’s bandaged thumb. “It isn’t personal, I hope you know that.”
“Yeah, I know that,” Powicki grumbled. “I got the money.”
Russo smiled watching Powicki pull bills from his pocket and shoving them across the table. Russo ran his thumb swiftly through the bills.
“This looks like all of it. I was expecting just enough to keep you current,” he smiled.
“It’s all of it all right. Now I don’t owe you nothin’.”
“Sounds like you have some hard feelings; I’m sorry about that,” Russo said.
“From now on I ain’t got no feelings good or bad about you. From now on I just want us to stay away from each other.”
Russo looked to the bar and gestured to Jack for another round of drinks. “Like I said it wasn’t personal. We’re on a clean slate now.”
“And it’s gonna stay that way. You got your money and I ain’t gonna ever get buried in this kind of shit again,” Ed said as he raised his thumb. “So don’t come ‘round thinkin’ I’ll be showin’ up at any more crap games or anything else.”
Russo recognized the hollow determination of an addict to quit. Alcohol, heroine nor women; Ed Powicki’s addiction was gambling.
“Okay. I never twisted your arm to throw the dice or to deal the cards or play the ponies. We’re even.” Russo knew from experience that he didn’t have to push Powicki into any of it; it would only be a matter of time before Powicki would be coming to him; that’s the nature of an addict.
Jack approached and put the beers down. Powicki pushed his away and got up heading for the door.
“Good luck,” Russo called after him.
“Fuck you,” Powicki replied.
Jim Nash awoke as the ambulance gurney was being pushed through the double doors of the emergency room. He could only see a blur of white through one eye, the other only darkness. He listened as the attendants around him busied themselves and felt their prodding. From some distance he heard a voice, at first not knowing that it was directed to him. A pin prick of light moved back and forth before the only eye of any use to him.
“What’s your name, son,” the voice said. “Do you know where you are?” After the voice repeated the same questions he realized he must be in some kind of hospital. His body hurt, but his remembrance of the beating hurt worse.
“What’s your name, fella?” the voice repeated.
“None of your damn business,” Jim just wanted to get out of here.
“Looks like you took a pretty good beating,” the voice continued. “Can you tell me who did it?”
“I can tell you to go to hell”, Jim snarled.
“Okay,” the voice persisted. “There are a couple of avenues we can take. You can cooperate and tell me what your name is, or we can call the police and maybe they’ll be able to find out.”
Jim just wanted the voice to shut up.
“Jim”, he answered.
“That’s better. Jim what?” the voice said.
“Jim Nash. And I just got into a little trouble with a guy, but I ain’t gonna tell ya who; I’m no rat. I just want to get outta here.”
“That’s fine with me Mr. Nash. Is there anyone you want us to call?”
“No. I just wanna get outta here.”
“I take it you won’t tell me where you live. So we’ll just use the location where you were found. I’ll need something to put on the admittance sheet.”
“I ain’t stayin’”, Jim replied. The voice seemed to ignore him and continued to drone.
“You’re banged up pretty bad, but nothing that couldn’t be taped up. You had a dislocated shoulder that was easily taken care of and should not give you any additional problems, you have a broken nose that was a clean break so it should heal nicely, a few cracked ribs, some lacerations that we stitched up and a lot of bruising. We’ve given you some pain medication so I don’t want you to leave for at least another hour. I strongly suggest you see your regular physician in the next few days.”
The voice left the room and another took its place. “Okay tough guy, I guess you don’t need any help, you can dress yourself,” the new voice said sarcastically as his clothes were placed next to him.
He sensed it must be somewhere between one or two o’clock in the morning as he walked the empty dark streets home. He went straight to the bathroom medicine chest and emptied a handful of aspirin into his mouth and began chewing when his mother called from her bedroom.
“Is that you Jim?” When there was no answer from the lighted bathroom she got out of bed. “Jim, is that you?” she said as she turned on the living room lamp.
“Oh my God, what kinda trouble did you get into now?” she gasped looking at her bandaged and bruised son.
“None of your business. Go back to bed,” not only was Jim’s body raw, his rage was turning white hot.
“Just can’t stay outta trouble can you,” Gloria said as she turned to return to bed.
Jim’s rage ignited, he no longer felt physical pain. He grabbed the first thing he saw, a small snow globe encasing a red rose, and smashed it against his mother, hitting her just between her shoulder blades. She went down screaming, the snow globe came down again under her jaw; her screams crescendoed, the snow globe slipped from his hand. Gloria’s screams continued, Jim’s fists continued.
The first to hear the screams was Mrs. Hoffman who lived upstairs. She persistently shoved at her snoring husband next to her as the screams continued to rise from the basement flat below. It took Mr. Hoffman a moment to pull from his deep sleep and see the alarm on his wife’s face, then to hear bedlam downstairs. He told his wife to call the police as he pulled the pants from the bedside chair. Picking up the baseball bat leaning on the chair he followed the sound of the screams. He didn’t bother to knock, he kicked in the door.
The sudden appearance of this thick-necked barrel-chested man holding a baseball bat made Jim stop his rampage.
“Back up kid,” Mr. Hoffman ordered in his thick German accent as he held up the bat. When Jim did, Mr. Hoffman approached the whimpering woman.
“Hazel”, he shouted up to his wife, “tell them to send an ambulance too.”
Jim had backed up against the wall. Mr. Hoffman kept a menacing eye on him as he knelt on one knee to check on Gloria. He told her everything would be okay, that an ambulance and cops were on the way.
Of course, sirens and flashing lights in the middle of the night brought not only Hazel down, but others emerged from their nearby homes and into the night. The first policemen on the scene were taken aback not only by the sight of the woman lying on the floor but also by the young man whose bandages were now stained with his mother’s blood.
Mr. Hoffman quickly and efficiently went through the occurrences since first being awakened by his wife. He identified Jim as the victim’s son.
Jim sat on a living room chair with a police officer on each side as the attendants wheeled Gloria to the ambulance. Another officer stood in the corner speaking to Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman, taking their statements while still another officer was outside keeping the curious crowd at bay.
“Ach! He’s a bad one,” Mr. Hoffman said as he glared at Jim. “He fight with his mama all the time. He hit before, I know, I seed the bruises on her.” The officer’s pencil continued to take notes.
When the officers felt there was nothing more to be learned, they thanked Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman and asked if they would be willing to testify or make additional statements should they be needed. “Ya … ya we testify, you bet ya we testify!” And the policeman told them to go back upstairs.
The officer then turned to Jim on the chair.
“Well I guess you know where you’re going. Get up!”
Jim rose and handcuffs placed on him, when he complained about the pain of being handcuffed one of the officers just shoved him in the back toward the door and to the waiting patrol car.
At the police station a check was made which revealed that Jim Nash a.k.a. Crazy Jim had a petty crime record going back several years, and that he had spent a total of two years in reform school. However, for the past three years the record had been clean … nothing, not even shop-lifting. But the police understood that it wasn’t that Jim hadn’t committed crimes … simply he hadn’t been caught.
After spending another hour in the lock-up clinic where he had been re-bandaged, he was booked for the assault on his mother and sent to lock-up. He laid on the cell cot and soon was asleep. Anyone else might have re-run the evening, especially the attack on his mother, but Jim had a refreshing, dreamless sleep.
While Crazy Jim slept in the lock up; Novack entered the all night diner just off 64th Street; he saw Storm waiting for him in the back booth.
“So, what do you have?” Novack asked. Storm pulled a paper from his pocket.
“Here’s the list I came up with, some are just the neighborhood tough guys that I don’t really think are important on this case. But there might be a few you’d be interested in … I circled those. And what did you come up with?” Storm asked skeptically adding “I expect to be kept up on this, or rather these kid cases.”
“Well, to be honest not a whole lot. They all are here in Englewood. They’re all kids, they’re all killed in the same way. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of energy hiding the bodies, other than cramming them into bushes or between dumpsters.” Novack was being straight forward with Storm, he knew he needed his help if there was going to be an end to this nightmare.
“Just what do you mean they were killed in the same way?” Storm said as he leaned forward.
Novack sighed and sat back staring and turning his coffee cup. “The coroner tells us they were all strangled with a rope, then after death slashed down the torso with a knife and a little finger removed. We never found the missing fingers at the scene, never found a rope, never found a knife.”
“And I suppose the mayor and everybody downtown still wants to keep this under wraps.” Storm said cynically.
“As of now, yes.”
Novack looked like a man defeated. He was a seasoned homicide detective, but had never dealt with this kind of killing. Being a bachelor himself he could only imagine the horror of the parents. Children died daily, but such horrific senseless and tortured deaths of children was new to him; it haunted him. He looked down and turned his coffee cup between his hands.
Novack pulled the list closer and concentrated on the circled names; Crazy Jim, Chester Harris, Rat-Boy Van Dyke and Jocko something-or-other. Storm filled him in on why they were circled. Storm added that it was Russo that helped him with the Crazy Jim character. Novack took note of that fact; perhaps it wasn’t only the neighborhood beat cop that would be helpful in catching this lunatic, but maybe the local mobster. Novack understood that this kind of criminal publicity might clog up the flow of money to the big boys.
“Okay, let’s start with Crazy Jim,” Novack suggested. “And then who is this Rat-Boy?”
“I don’t think he’s really on the top of the list, he’s only nine or ten. Just a kid himself.” Storm replied.
“You don’t know much about kids killing kids do you?” Novack asked with disgust. “Just look at a little criminal history … it’ll turn your blood to ice. Kids as young as eight have slaughtered other kids.”
Storm didn’t quite know how to process this information. He now realized he had underestimated Novack’s genuine concern, not just his own personal career. Novack was becoming a real human being, Storm looked at him with more interest and more respect.
“Well, give me a minute; let me make a call about this Crazy Jim character that you and Russo have in mind.” Storm signaled the waitress for a coffee refill.
As Novack walked to the pay phone on the wall, he reminded himself that his list also included Storm. Who buys suckers for little kids and meets them at a corner walking them home?
He called Detective Walsh’s desk. Asked if he had heard about anybody named Crazy Jim lately or anything that might connect him to the case.
“Hold on,” Walsh said. “Let me look it up.”
A minute later Walsh was back on the line. “You’re not going to believe this; he’s in lock up, booked a few hours ago for assault. Not only assault, but he beat the crap out of his own mother. Name’s Jim Nash a.k.a. Crazy Jim. His mother’s in the hospital with all kinds of injuries.” Novack was now excited.
“Hold him. I don’t care how, book him on anything and everything you can think of. I’ll be right down. Get ready to seriously talk to this guy. He’s more than just an interesting character, he might be our guy. Try to get to his mother, I don’t want her dropping charges or anything.”
Walsh immediately looked into the Jim Nash record and found a variety of things on which they could hold him, not the least being putting his mother in the hospital. Novack’s excitement on the phone was contagious, Walsh was energized for a thorough interrogation.
Walsh immediately called for Nash to be taken into an interview room where he was left alone. Walsh looked at him from the other side of the mirror and was happy to see Jim’s look of confusion, it took only a few minutes for the confusion to be mixed with anger. A thin smile crossed Walsh’s lips.
Storm noticed the change in Novack’s demeanor as he returned to the table. Novack told him what Walsh had just reported.
“I gotta get down to the station. I want to talk to this kid,” Novack said.
“I wish I could come along.”
“I know, but …”
“Yeah, I know I can’t … but I still wish I could,” Storm said.
“Where is he?” Novack asked Walsh as he rushed into the station.
“In the interrogation room. Been there for about an hour. I figured he’d be better off cooling his heels in there, rather than relaxing on a cell cot.”
“Good”, Novack replied.
They both headed for the interrogation area. Before confronting the suspect they briefly talked of their strategy.
“Does ‘good cop … bad cop’ work for you?” Walsh asked.
“Sure,” Novack replied. Considering that Walsh was at least three inches taller and wider than Novack it would be Walsh’s role to be ‘bad cop’. First they viewed Jim from a room next to the interrogation room, where they looked at him through the two way mirror. Novack was stunned that this guy had a bandaged nose, arm sling and obvious stitches.
“His mother must have been a real fighter,” Novack said.
“No. All this shit happened before he came home and beat the crap out of her,” Walsh explained.
“So who did all the damage to him?” Novack queried.
“Don’t know,” Walsh replied. “Hospital reports that he was picked up unconscious in front of his apartment and wouldn’t talk about who did it. Said he ‘was no rat’. Seems that when he got home he just let his old lady get what he should have given to the guy that beat him to a pulp.”
“Maybe we should go back and get something from the girls’ files, something to shake him up,” Novack said as he watched through the two-way mirror. Jim sat on the other side looking back at him with a casual sneer.
“Already got it,” Walsh said as he patted the file under his arm.
“Let’s go see what this punk is made of,” Novack said as he accompanied Walsh from the room.
Jim had been in the interrogation room alone for a little over an hour. He squelched his anger when Novack and Walsh entered and greeted them with a smirk. They sat opposite him and put their blank note pads and pens on the table.
“So, tell me what happened, why do you think you’re here.” Novack began.
“’Cause I roughed up my mother, why do you think I’m here?” was Jim’s surly reply.
Walsh sat quietly going through a file of papers on his lap, Jim couldn’t see what Walsh was looking at. Novack tilted his head toward Walsh as he fingered through the papers.
“Looks like you’re no choir boy. You must know you have a pretty long rap sheet,” Novack watched closely for any indication of nervousness or deception; but so far Jim Nash kept his smart-ass, relaxed attitude.
“After what you did tonight you could be put away for quite a while.”
“So what. Are we done yet?”
“We haven’t even begun yet,” replied Novack.
The two detectives continued to ask Jim questions, none of which yet touched on murder. They asked about who may have been so pissed off at him as to beat the shit out of him and about why he beat his mother. All Jim’s replies were contemptuous.
They then began asking questions about where he was on certain dates and how he felt about girls. Novack saw Jim’s expression change from careless to more steely eyed.
“What in the hell does that matter? So I knocked my mother around a little … and that’s it.”
Walsh stood and put the closed file on his chair. He walked around the table and heavily nudged Jim’s slinged arm, Jim winced and put his other arm protectively over the injury. Walsh continued to walk behind Jim’s chair, turned and on his way back to his seat nudged the injured arm again.
“Hey,” Jim yelled with pain. “You guys can’t do that. I’ll make my own report. I’ll see to it that you guys are back walkin’ a beat.”
Walsh returned to his seat. “Oh, we can do a lot more than that. Now you better come up with some answers. Like when we ask where you were on a certain date you give us the answer, one we’ll be satisfied with. And if we don’t get the answer we’re satisfied with we can do a lot more than accidently bump into you.”
“Calm down Harry, you made your point,” Novack said giving Jim a sympathetic look. “Sorry about that kid, Harry here can get carried away sometimes. You want an aspirin or a pop or anything?”
“What I want is for you guys to leave me alone. Go ahead, lock me up, how much time can they give me for slapping her around anyway.”
Novack leaned forward with elbows on the table and with a steady voice said, “Maybe not, but you could be put away for a very long time for murder, maybe even be fried.”
“What the fuck are you talkin’ about? I didn’t kill ’er I just roughed her up.”
“We’re not talking about your mother, asshole, we’re talking about all those others,” Walsh said menacingly.
Novack saw that they managed to cut through the wall of steel, Jim now looked puzzled and then downright terrified.
“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. I didn’t kill nobody, I never killed nobody and you can’t prove I did!” His anger was returning.
“We’ll see about that,” Walsh said.
Novack and Walsh continued the interrogation for several more hours, going over times and places, needling him with innuendoes about his manhood, handing the baton of good cop bad cop between them as they scribbled their notes, continued their questions, showed photos of the crime scenes and still Jim vehemently denied the charges.
As the hours passed the interrogation took its toll on Jim, but he wouldn’t admit to anything. Walsh and Novack passed their file and notes to two fellow detectives who relieved them, so the rotation of detectives began in the effort to pull down Jim’s wall of denials.
The next morning Novack stopped at a deli and carried the paper bag with him. When he got to the station he and Walsh looked over the notes from the interrogation. It showed that Jim had spent the entire night in the room with the only result being more denials.
They entered the room and relieved two detectives, Novack looked over their notes. Now it was his and Walsh’s turn again.
“Here Jim,” Novack said as he slid the paper bag across the table. “I figured you must be hungry by now.” He then pulled out a small bottle of aspirin and pack of cigarettes from his pocket and slid them next to the paper bag.
“Yeah, we can’t let you lose your strength,” Walsh commented sourly.
Jim grabbed at the aspirin first, took a handful and began chewing as he reached for the bag hungrily and pulled out the sandwiches and coffee. Novack saw the result of relentless questioning, the slumped shoulders, the drowsy puffed eyes and more importantly the absence of belligerence.
“This doesn’t have to be this bad you know. Only you can make it be over. Tell us the truth,” Novack sighed as he pulled out his chair.
He opened the file and pulled out the crime scene photo of little Marjory Adams, next to it he placed her latest school photo and pushed them toward Jim. Jim looked down at the school photo and saw a little girl with a bow in her hair, smiling for the camera, then at a crumpled mass resembling a sack of potatoes between two bushes.
“I know you’ve seen her before,” Novack said. “You might not have known her name, but I know you were the last one to see her alive. Her name was Marjory Adams and she was five years old.” Novack couldn’t determine if Jim was looking at the photos or at the table beneath them.
“Look Jim,” Novack continued. “We know people call you ‘crazy’ Jim.” At this Jim looked up.
“I know it, but it’s only ’cause they don’t like me.” His agitation began to grow.
“I know how it must feel,” Novack said comfortingly. His tone seemed to calm Jim down. “It must have made you mad that people can be so hurtful. After all a guy’s got feelings, right?”
“Right. I got feelings too,” Jim sounded appreciative of the understanding.
“Boy, it would make me mad if people called me ‘crazy’, it would make me real mad,” Novack continued. “It would make me want to teach them a lesson.”
“It sure does.” Jim replied as Novack reeled him in.
With the same soft, concerned voice Novack began going over again all the questions. First about Marjory, then about each of the other girls found and in the order in which they were found and continued to show the photos. Next was Lucy Carberra, then Peggy Hirsch, Kitty Shanahan and finally Cathy Gillis. If Jim’s memory faltered Novack filled in a possible fact to remind him. His fatherly tone gathered Jim to him.
This went on for four more hours. Finally Novack gave a look to Walsh indicating he felt it was time to wrap this up. Walsh nodded.
“I know this must be hanging heavy on you. Trust me, you’ll feel better if you just come clean. You know you did it, you know you want to have all this behind you. Maybe you just couldn’t help it.”
Jim felt a buzz saw in his head. By now, thanks to the reminders of detectives, he knew how they were killed. Through the fog he could almost see their faces as he put the rope around their necks.
“I guess I musta done it,” Jim whispered.
“What? I can’t hear you.” Novack said.
“I guess I done it,” Jim said louder.
Squelching their desire to jump up with victory, Novack looked at Jim with sympathetic understanding while Walsh placed a pen and writing tablet before Jim.
“Okay,” Novack said softly. “It’s my understanding that you just said you did it. That you killed those girls. Am I right?”
“Yeah,” Jim answered. “I did it.”
“Did what exactly?” Novack asked.
“Killed them kids.” Jim’s chin was now down. From this moment on his feeling of bravado would just be a memory.
“We’ll need you to write down what happened. Everything you said you did.”
Jim took up the pen and began writing, his head close to the pen, his tongue touched the side of his upper lip; this was a young man not accustomed to writing.
“What was that first girl’s name again? I don’t remember.”
“Marjory Adams,” Walsh answered flatly.
Jim laboriously put pen to paper, he misspelled the child’s first name, there would many more misspellings … but it didn’t matter. By the time he had finished his written confession consisted of eleven pages. At the bottom he signed with his signature. Novack reminded him to put the date next to it.
“Just as a matter of form Jim, sign and date the bottom of each page”, Novack didn’t want some asshole lawyer to find anything that fell between the cracks. Sullenly Jim signed each of the eleven pages.
Walsh stood to knock for the uniformed officer outside the door.
“Book him for first degree murder,” Walsh told the officer as Jim shuffled out. “We’ll be out to sign the paperwork in a minute and put the confession into evidence,” he said handing the officer the eleven pages.
When they were alone in the room Walsh said, “I knew it was that sonofabitch. I just knew it.”
“Well, now we can go to the chief, he then can go to the mayor and they can break open the Champaign and preen for the cameras,” Novack was exhausted.
Only later in his apartment slumped in an easy chair with a cold bottle of beer did Novack realize he nor had Walsh mentioned the missing fingers to Nash. He mentally went through the other interrogating detectives’ notes, he didn’t remember any mention of the fingers.
He reached for his phone and called Sgt. Walsh at home.
“Do you remember anything about the fingers?” he asked. He could hear Walsh’s television set in the background.
“What are you talking about?”
“The missing fingers. I don’t think they’re mentioned in the confession. We never asked Nash what he did with them.”
“Who gives a shit. He wrote out the confession, he signed it, he did it…it’s over.”
“Yeah, but what if it comes up?” Novack clearly sounded concerned.
“Look Dick, we got the guy. We got the confession. The top brass is tickled pink. You’re just getting worked up over nothing…a good night’s sleep is all you need.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Novack said.
“Besides, we got the confession didn’t we? If we need more information I’m sure this little prick will cough up whatever we want.”
The missing fingers seemed to be a non-issue. It wouldn’t show up in the papers, the few detectives on the case decided not to put it into any of their reports for fear that it would leak out earlier in the case. It was an item they could use if needed when they had a suspect…but they didn’t need that information…Nash folded without having to use it. So the newspapers wouldn’t even have that information when the headlines hit the street. Only the coroner would know and only his records would show it. Besides, nobody would notice or care…they got their murderer.
Novack decided Walsh was right. He was just exhausted and niggling at shadows.
The next day all the newspaper headlines blared BOY KILLS 5 LITTLE GIRLS and CHILD MURDERER CONFESSES; the more bloodthirsty tabloids had headlines such as CHICAGO MONSTER HAD LUST FOR BLOOD OF CHILDREN.
The neighborhood’s kitchen tables were all alike, huddled over their morning coffee reading of the murderer in their midst. Husbands and wives whispered to each other, staring at the headlines and articles in shock and disbelief while at the same time keeping their children at the other side of the table not knowing whether to bring this horrible reality into their childhood.
Sam got up to pour another cup of coffee leaving the newspaper on the table. Helen put the last of the breakfast dishes in the sink when she noticed Red and Dory staring at the paper. She reached to take it from them.
“Leave them alone,” Sam said returning to the table. “They should know how dangerous the world can be, that you can’t trust everybody.”
Helen retrieved the paper from the girls. But Red and Dory read enough to know that their world would never be the same again.
Collectively they were stunned at the number of little girls … they knew only of Kitty.
But this neighborhood still had to get to work, children still had to get to school and life had to be pushed forward. Some mothers had to work, those that stayed home escorted their children to school and back again; gladly volunteering to include the children of those parents who could not. Mother’s underscored the importance of staying together while walking to and from school and while playing in the neighborhood. Parents at work timed their coffee breaks to coincide with when their children should be home from school and called home. Those with no home phones called those that did and asked them to check on their kids.
Meanwhile, after the working parents had left and the children were at school, the neighbors began to gather. This news was something you couldn’t stay alone at home with, you must share the shock, share the tidbits gathered from the newspapers and repeat them to one another. They had to remind themselves and each other that they were blessed that this monster was caught before he got to their kids.
So they gathered at Min’s, where Murph had arrived earlier to walk Tina to school, all three knew Crazy Jim was dangerous and were glad he’d been caught but anxiety remained, so Murph’s protective instincts would be on high alert, at least ’til the tensions eased. Other gatherings grew at Sweeney’s, Jack’s, at the 64th Street diner and almost every other little gathering place throughout Englewood. No one noticed the Shanahan’s absence. If they had perhaps their chatter would have been more subdued, less audible about their own blessings.
Jo Ann and Tom Shanahan sat at their table with the newspaper in front of them. They made no attempt to keep Tom, Jr. from it. They were relieved the killer had been found and that he wouldn’t be able to harm another child; but Jo Ann knew it wouldn’t bring their Kitty back. Her husband knew it too, but the brittle kindling of revenge began to fill him, all it needed was a spark.
Tommy’s eyes also followed the headline and the article. His parents held each other’s hand, neither searched for Tommy’s. He saw the sadness in their eyes and heard the beginnings of Jo Ann’s muffled sobs. He quietly left the kitchen in search of his own comforting, he left to seek out Officer Storm. His parents didn’t notice he’d left the house, they were trapped in their own private tragedy.
He checked at Min’s, not finding Storm there, he continued the few blocks to other neighborhood stores and finally to Sweeney’s. No one noticed Tommy as he entered any of them, it was as though the boy were invisible. He walked back home and to his room knowing his parents wouldn’t notice he hadn’t gone to school that day … he wouldn’t have been surprised if his teacher failed to notice his absence. The invisible boy lay on his bed and sobbed softly.
Mrs. Connors was also surprised to read that Kitty was not the only victim. She joined the group at Min’s. She took in the gasps and clucking listening closely to any little item that was published in another newspaper. The last time she remembered this kind of hub-bub was after the wars, when the dough-boys were on their way home and then the G.I.s.
When she felt she contributed enough verbal thankfulness that it was over, she headed down to Sweeney’s to see if anyone there might have any additional news items. She was glad for the opportunity to sit at the counter and she listened to the same regurgitation that she heard at Min’s.
Her aching hip told her it was time to go home. There was nothing more to be learned. On her walk home she thought of the mug shot of Jim Nash on the front page and recognized him as one of the boys on Min’s porch. She had no doubt that this young man was one of many in the neighborhood that always seemed to look for trouble. But she still couldn’t keep Chester out of her mind.
The clandestine trips Chester took to his cellar crept into her head and pushed the news of the day aside. By the time she put on her slippers and sank into the rocking chair she was determined to find out what Chester was hiding, what he was up to. You’ll really be surprised if all you find down there are ‘nude girlie’ magazines she chided herself. No, those he probably keeps under his mattress. Her determination returned, she had to know!
Jack’s tavern was filled that night. The customers arrived a little earlier than usual, listening to the chatter of the news, the gossip about who saw this culprit and had suspicions, who actually knew him … it went on and on until the subject was worn thin and the atmosphere turned more festive that the freak had been captured and of imaginative ways they’d handle him if given the chance. The ex-G.I.s would do things to this pervert that they’d never think of doing to their German or Japanese enemies if caught.
Jack kept re-filling the glasses with half an ear to the conversations. Every now and then his eyes went to the back room door. Storm and Russo were back there probably talking about the same thing being talked about at the bar. He noticed Jocko slowly roam the room, hoping he’d leave before Russo came out.
Jocko held his head down as he slowly mingled through the throng and listened to the general conversation. Confident that he knew what everyone was talking about, to Jack’s relief, he sidled out the door.
“Did you tell Novack it was me that gave you the name?” Russo asked.
“Yeah, I did. He knows maybe it was the break he needed. But it doesn’t mean he thinks you’re now an altar boy.”
Everyone was relieved the nightmare was over.
All day Francie had been listening about Jim and what he had done. She was still in an unbelieving daze when she returned from school. She went through her small house tasks robotically and followed her little brothers and sisters to the front stoop. She knew Jim wouldn’t be walking through the viaduct and it would be easier to take them to the back yard, but she kept hoping it was all just a bad dream.
As she sat on the steps with her knees under her chin a newspaper was shoved at her face. A newspaper with those awful headlines and the awful mug photo of Jim. She looked up.
“I told you to stay away from him,” Donny said.
Francie pushed the paper away from her. “He didn’t do it. I know he didn’t. I don’t believe it.” Francie’s eyes welled with tears.
“Well he did do it. From now on you better listen to me.”
“Just go away,” she cried. “Just go away and leave me alone.” She wiped her eyes and nose with the tail of her shirt. She would be crying for Jim for a very long time, she swore to herself that she’d never believe these horrible things about Jim; she pushed away the memories of his anger toward her when she said something wrong and of the woman at the movie theater. It couldn’t be true…but the memory of his anger slipped its suspicious tongue around a corner of her mind; she slapped it back with denial.
Donny continued up the cement steps.
“All I’m sayin’ is from now on you better listen to me.”
Francie wondered if Donny had anything to do with Jim’s troubles, he certainly was changing; he was getting meaner but how could he have anything to do with this? Her heart softened to Jim and began to harden on Donny.
As soon as Jocko saw the newspaper he called his boss. Napoli apparently already had read the paper.
“You said you wanted to know anything I found out about the kid murders,” Jocko said.
“Yeah,” Napoli’s voice came over the line. “I’m lookin’ at it now. What I really wanted was the head’s up before the cops found out so we could handle it our own way.”
“Well, there was nothing on the street. Just wanted to let you know I was keeping tabs, but nothin’ showed up.”
“That’s okay, I know. At least he’s not messin’ ’round with no little girls no more” Napoli said. “Now we can get our heads back where they belong. Keep me posted.”
“Sure thing,” Jocko said and hung up.
He mildly wished he could have found the guy before the cops, Napoli would have put another point in his corner.
But now his thoughts went to Bev Mailham. He checked everything over in his head, made reservations at the restaurant for Friday, already picked up his suit and shirt from the dry cleaners. He shook the thoughts from his head, this wasn’t a prom, it was a date. Not that he’d know the difference, he’d never been to a prom.
He felt the old lady’s eyes on him as he rang Bev’s doorbell and as they entered the taxi.
Their conversation in the back seat centered on the day’s headlines. To call it a conversation was perhaps a bit misleading; Bev did most of the talking.
“Can you believe he lived right here? I never noticed him, but the word is that he was a real odd-ball. You’d think someone would have put two and two together before this.”
Jocko just slowly shook his head. “Makes you wonder what the world’s coming to,” he murmured.
“Doesn’t it? When a maniac like that can just roam the streets,” she continued. His head twitched with discomfort, he sat back and just listened, happy that Bev didn’t seem to need him to contribute to the conversation, soon he found himself just listening and feeling enchanted by her voice, the words didn’t matter, his shoulders relaxed.
Before they knew it they had arrived at the restaurant in Roseland. Bev noticed Jocko seemed more relaxed as they were shown to their table.
After their meal had arrived and the subject of the ‘monster’ being caught had been exhausted Jocko tried to think of a way to shift the conversation to Bev’s landlady without Bev being suspicious of his interest.
“So how long have you lived there on Wallace?” he asked.
“Oh, let me think, almost two…no two and a half years now.”
“You have a nice place. Seems the landlord takes pretty good care of the building.”
“Yes, the landlady, Mrs. Connors is a real doll. She is the sweetest old thing. If I ever need anything I know I can count on Margaret.”
“Oh, is she the one that lives upstairs?” he asked innocently.
“I see her peeking through her curtains a lot, bet she doesn’t miss much.” Jocko said, not getting a feel for how to make Bev open up.
“You make it sound like she’s nosy.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he fumbled. “I only meant that for a lady as old as she is she must be pretty sharp.”
“Oh, she’s sharp alright. I hope I have her kind of energy when I’m her age. Poor thing living alone like that, but still getting out and about. She seems to know everybody and everybody knows her.”
Jocko remembered the old girl creeping through the night, she sure does get out and about.
“If you ever want to hear a little innocent gossip about the neighborhood, she’s your girl,” Bev laughed. “I think she knows everything about everybody.”
“No secrets in this neighborhood,” he smiled.
“Only you,” she replied.
Jocko’s jaw almost dropped. His head whirled with ways to deflect the attention from himself and back to the old lady. He never thought of having to give Bev any information about himself. What was I thinking? Of course she’s gonna want to know something about me.
“No real secret here,” he smiled, if she only knew. “She sounds like a real nice lady. Does she own any other of the buildings? She must have been around here a long time.”
“I don’t think so, at least she never mentioned any others. I believe she was probably one of the first people, I mean I think she moved there when she was much younger. Maybe she just can’t bear to leave the old place. Her husband died a long time ago, there’s no doubt so many memories for her there.”
“Oh, so she was widowed when she was young? I’d a thought maybe he was older when he died.”
“No. It’s really kinda sad, I gathered he was a young man,” Bev continued. “He died in some kind of accident at work or something.”
“And she never remarried?”
“Not that I know of, or if she did she never mentioned it to me. Sometimes there’s only one love of your life. Maybe he was hers.” Bev looked at him with interest.
“Any past loves of your life?” she queried.
“Me? No, just short-term stuff,” he began to feel uncomfortable. How did he get into this? “And you?” he deflected.
“Well, I did get married when I was really young. It was a disaster and didn’t last long. Since then…well, since then I just take it kinda easy. Date when I can and like the idea of independence. But if the right guy comes along the idea of the little cottage and picket fence is appealing.” She didn’t want to completely shut Jocko out, but on the other hand wanted to get to know him…for all she knew she may be across the table from the guy she’d like to share that little cottage with.
“So what is it that you do?” she asked.
“I mean what kind of work do you do?”
Images of broken bodies, hard punches, guns, cell blocks and sloppy whores whipped across his brain with lightning speed. But of course he couldn’t blurt any of that out. His head kicked in and grasped for something; what do normal people do? What would she find respectable?
“Sales,” he said.
“Oh, a salesman. What kind of sales?”
Jocko felt not only the tangling of his tongue but also the tangling of his brain. This was going in an unexpected direction. He wasn’t comfortable with surprises and this turn of conversation was a surprise to him.
Bev continued to look at him with expectation.
“Insurance,” he answered. In a way he wasn’t lying; he did sell insurance, just not the kind she was familiar with, another term would be ‘protection’ insurance.
“Do you like it?” she continued.
“It’s okay,” he said clumsily.
Bev noticed his eyes begin to dart around the room and wondered what made him so uncomfortable.
Chester looked at the front page and studied Jim Nash’s mug shot, then began to read the article. The face seemed vaguely familiar then his memory placed it on Min’s back porch. He confessed? Must be a real idiot…I’d never confess…let the bastards prove it. He folded the paper and looked out to the back yard. He smiled as he watched Rat-boy on another rampage. Maybe this neighborhood wasn’t as bad as he initially thought. It certainly had more interesting characters than his old suburban neighborhood, where everyone was always buttoned-up and straight-laced.
His mother came into the kitchen going through the day’s mail.
“Here’s another one from your dad,” she said as she tossed the envelope in front of him.
Chester looked at the envelope addressed to him, then up to the return address and the prison number which had been issued to his father.
“You get one too?” he asked.
He handed her the unopened envelope. She took it and added it to her own unopened envelope and put it on top of the growing pile of other unopened envelopes in the bowl on top of the refrigerator. Neither he nor his mother ever opened the letters from Ben, nor did they ever write to him. He was dead to them. There was nothing he could say to them that would matter, Ben no longer mattered.
Chester glanced out to the now empty yard. Rat-boy was back to the dumpster in the alley poking with a stick. He went to his bedroom and laid on the bed. After seeing Jim’s photo in the paper he had an unpredicted feeling. Maybe he should move out and about more, maybe get to know the kids on Min’s back porch, he always thought he liked being a loner, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe it would present new opportunities.
He started to leave by the front door, then turned to exit the back to the gangway and to Min’s. He glanced to the porch and to the handful of teen-agers, he recognized a couple of them from the school hallways. Their conversation drifted down to the sidewalk.
“I just can’t believe it,” Patty said as they looked at the paper spread on a crate.
“I’ll tell you who’d believe it,” Ace said as he lit a cigarette. The eyes went to him as a group. “Murph! Remember when he said ’Jim was Crazy Jim because he was crazy’?”
“Oh yeah,” they said as their eyes returned to the newspaper. All this time there was a murderer in their midst. They actually knew a murderer, he hung around with them, he actually was on this very porch!
Rosalie’s finger followed the words of the article as she continued to read aloud.
Chester heard the shock in the voices and it only punctuated his opinion of how stupid people were.
In the empty store Min sat on a stool behind the cash register with the newspaper before her. Chester entered with the tinkling of the bell and she looked up. He picked up a loaf of bread and a pack of Doublemint gum.
“Will that be it?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said avoiding her eyes. He laid the coins on the counter, she counted and pushed back the change.
Chester wasn’t aware that he never looked anyone in the eyes, it was something he’d been doing from early childhood; but Min was aware of it and each time he came in the unease washed over her. She watched as he stood on the store steps unwrapping the gum.
The kids on the back porch didn’t notice him until he stopped. They first glanced then looked away again, but Chester didn’t move on.
“Want some gum?” he offered holding the package in their direction.
“No thanks,” some replied. Other simply shook their heads.
Chester looked at Ace. “I know you,” Chester said. “Well, I don’t know you, but I’ve seen you at school…your locker is a few down from mine.”
“Oh yeah? I don’t remember seein’ ya there,” Ace said dismissively.
Still Chester didn’t move on. Rosalie sensed the kid wanted to join the porch, but his awkwardness was pitiful. With a flash of sympathy she reached her hand out, “I’ll have a piece of gum” she said but stayed seated on the Libby’s fruit crate. Chester climbed the few steps and handed it to her. Now everyone on the porch was looking at him. Tiny broke the tension. She got up reaching to the small cooler and pulled out a bottle of pop.
“Here”, she smiled and pointed to an empty crate.
“Thanks,” Chester said as he joined the porch.
“We don’t see you around much,” Tiny continued, “where do you hang out?”
Chester was aware of all the eyes on him. “Nowhere really, I haven’t lived here that long; still getting the feel for things and trying to get to know people,” he said.
Rosalie noticed Chester didn’t really look at them, he looked around them, next to them, above them, but not at them. She attributed it to his awkwardness of being a new kid.
“I’m Rosalie,” she offered. Introductions went around.
Ace pulled out a deck of cards, “good, now we can have a few hands of poker,” he said. He was getting bored with the chatter about Crazy Jim. Always ready for a hand of poker Ace pulled his crate closer to the center of the porch. Tiny was the only girl that played cards, the others rolled their eyes, they hated card games; they wanted the boys’ attention on them not on those boring cards.
Chester’s hesitation drew questioning looks from Ace and Leo. Just then Murph came bounding up the steps. Chester had seen Murph from a distance and upon seeing him closer noted he seemed bigger than the other boys, bigger than he; maybe not taller, but certainly more muscular.
Murph looked at Chester surprised to see a new face. This kid stood out, his hair was cut short; military style and he wore a sport shirt, not the porch uniform of white tee shirts, but the others seemed unconcerned so he relaxed.
“Murph,” he said as he offered a hand.
“Chester”, Chester said taking the hand and noticing Murph’s natural grip. Chester feeling of unease grew. He wasn’t accustomed to being in a group and their easy banter and careless familiarity made him uncomfortable.
“We’re just about to deal,” Ace said as Murph took his place in the group, taking the bottle of pop Tiny handed to him.
“Thanks, Tina”, he smiled.
“Hey, I’d like to play but I have to get back home, my mom’s waiting for the bread, besides I have to get ready for work,” Chester rose.
“Where’d ya work?” Ace asked as he began to deal the cards.
“Over by the stockyards,” Chester replied as he quickly descended the stairs. He didn’t want these kids to know he was a bus-boy. He’d have to think of something to tell them; he’d have to go through and think of a life to give himself that they would accept. He was relieved he didn’t have to tell them he didn’t know how to play poker; the only card game he knew was solitaire.
Although it had been several days since the headlines screamed of the capture of the child-killing monster, the case still held front page news.
Francie read every article. It couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t be. She continuously tried to find a quiet place in the flat, away from all the kids, away from her mother so she could read the articles and cut them out and to grieve for the fate of the only boy who noticed her. She re-read the articles, the condemnations, but staunch in her belief he couldn’t have done such a horrible thing. He had become the most hated person in the city. It was unfair.
He must feel so alone, she thought. Is he reading all this? Does he know I still believe in him? I can’t let him think I believe it, I can’t let him forget me.
Overnight Rita saw a change in Francie. She now had to remind her to help with the kids, her eyes looked puffy, she no longer primped before the pantry mirror, her hair returned to the straggly ponytail. Rita recognized her daughter had a ‘broken heart’. Whoever the boy was that Francie had been sprucing up for had ended it; Rita was glad of it and knew her daughter would get over it with time; all girls went through the first heart-break.
But Rita only wished it didn’t happen at a time when the newspapers weren’t full of a child-killer. She recognized she wasn’t the best mother in the world, not even a good one, but the headlines made her more aware of just how unaware she was with her children. She needed Francie now more than ever, to keep an eye on the younger ones. Rita then realized she needed Francie to be a mother to the other children.
Francie had to write to Jim to let him know he wasn’t alone, to let him know there were people that didn’t think of him as a monster. With notebook paper and pencil she found a quiet corner; a private space no one would notice. And as she sat in the corner at the bottom of the cement cellar steps she began to write.
I want you to know that I don’t believe what I read in the papers. I know you are innocent, I don’t know why they say you confessed.
Please don’t give up. I think of you all the time. I know you have a good heart. You should know that I love you, I will always love you and will be praying for you everyday.
Francie Van Dyke
p.s. Please write back to me.
Only after carefully folding the letter and putting it in the envelope she wrote his name and it occurred to her that she didn’t know where to send it. She put her return address on the corner of the envelope, folded it, put it in her pocket and headed for the phone booth down at Sweeney’s drugstore.
She was glad that Madge was busy with customers and Sweeney’s head was down counting out pills. First she tried to look up ‘police department’ in the yellow pages, then tried ‘Chicago police department’, then was directed to the front of the book to ‘city agencies’. There were several police stations listed, not realizing he would be sent to the Bridewell facility she chose the one that stated ‘Englewood’ and hoped it would find its way to the boy she loved.
Before leaving she purchased six stamps from Madge; she now had something to look forward to…she would wait on the front stoop again, keeping an eye on her younger brothers and sisters…but really watching for the postman. She couldn’t risk Donny or her mother intercepting the letter she knew Jim would send.
Francie was right about one thing…Jim Nash was alone.
Three days after his arrest his mother was released from the hospital. She read the headlines with her one good eye. Detectives visited her while in the hospital, she had nothing to tell them. She answered their questions, but really didn’t know anything of import for the case. Her son had always been trouble…no…normal teenage boys in the neighborhood had been trouble; Jim was different…Jim was dangerous.
Gloria not only suffered her injuries, she also suffered the looks from the nurses and other hospital staff. A few were sympathetic, but most sent the message that Jim did not carry all the guilt…somehow she also was responsible; monsters were not hatched, they were raised, and she raised this monster.
The doctors and detectives suggested that she be released in the evening; reporters swarmed the front of the hospital during most of the day to get a statement, to click the cameras to see what spawned this horror. An unmarked police car waited at the back entrance to take her home.
The Hoffman’s were notified that she would be coming home and she was grateful when they were waiting at the apartment. It was difficult and painful for her to maneuver the crutches with one wrist in a cast. They helped settle her into bed. Mrs. Hoffman insisted on sleeping on Gloria’s sofa in case she needed help during the night and make sure she took her pain medication. Gloria was not used to having anyone hover over her like a mother hen, she drank in the pampering and soft tones, thankful that she was not alone, thankful that Jim was not home; thankful that he probably wouldn’t be coming back…at least for a long time.
Gloria had read the newspaper interviews reporters had with Hazel and Gustav (Gus) Hoffman and the terrible things they said about her son. But she had to admit what they said was true, and was grateful they were there when she needed them and that they were still here while she continued to need someone. Yet, he was still her son. She loved the baby boy, she was frightened of the young man he grew to be. Other mothers might run to their son’s aid in time of trouble instead Gloria took a sleeping pill and put it out of her mind.
“And how was her night?” Gus asked as he entered Gloria’s back door. Hazel was at the stove making oatmeal and toast for Gloria’s breakfast.
“Ya, she okay,” Hazel replied with her German accent.
The Hoffman’s’ had come to America in the mid-1930s. Gus had been a bricklayer and Hazel worked at a hair salon in Munich. Being frugal people they managed to save money and they recognized the political madness taking over Germany. Though they were Lutheran they witnessed the brown-shirted thugs painting ‘Juden’ on the windows of Jewish shops, saw the brutality of their neighbors being abused on the streets. What frightened them most was the apathy of other neighbors. They knew that no one was safe from this firestorm of insanity…they had to leave.
Hazel tried to convince her sister and brother-in-law to join them; but soon realized they too were drawn into the lunacy overtaking the country. So Hazel and Gus gathered their savings, sold what they could and sailed to America.
During the voyage they hoped they were making the right decision. They had given up everything they had worked for, everything they knew. While on the ship they began to learn English using German/English dictionaries and trying to talk to anyone and everyone they could who spoke English.
By the time they joined other passengers at the railing to gaze at the Statue of Liberty they knew enough English to understand the instructions once on Ellis Island. They had met other German emigrants on board who spoke of destinations within the United States, most of them spoke of little conclaves of Germans in various cities. But Hazel and Gus had already made up their minds that their destination would be Chicago. They had read about different cities and towns in America and the moniker of ‘City of Big Shoulders’ suited them. They also agreed that they did not want to live in a German conclave, they were starting on a new future; a future in America and wanted to become part of the great melting pot.
It didn’t take long to realize the streets were not paved in gold, nevertheless they never looked back…never had regrets…even when America entered the war and people glanced at them with suspicion…they understood and did all they could to pull their weight for America’s victory.
Gus tried to enlist, but at first was rejected because he was not a U.S. citizen and was of German origin. However, as the war raged and grew he tried again and found himself on an island in the Pacific. There he made friends, there he learned how big America really was; he was introduced to men from California to New York, from Montana to Texas and just about everywhere in between. He heard Minnesota accents, Texas twangs, soft southern drawls and Brooklyn snaps. At first they sounded like the Tower of Babel to him, then realized he was truly and finally in the melting pot of America.
After the war he and Hazel studied hard and proudly stood in a crowded courtroom among other people pledging their allegiances to their new country. They were now officially Americans.
Mrs. Kunkle sat pouting in her bed. Vera no longer tried to speak softly while talking to that man as he moved about the flat, as he came and went. Once he even tried to say hello to her, but she returned his friendliness with slit eyes and stubborn folded arms, to her satisfaction he didn’t try it again.
Vera continued to care for her, in fact she noticed that Vera’s mood was lighter, some might say even happy. But Mrs. Kunkle wanted the old Vera back…the Vera who knew who was boss. She kept a keen ear to their conversations, but soon lost interest when all she heard was mundane. Even through her stubbornness she had to admit that Vera was preparing better meals and kept her linen fresher. Part of her wanted to admit that life was a little better now that a man was in the house…but she refused…she still had to get her mutters of ‘whore’ directed to Vera as often as she could and was disappointed when Vera ignored them.
Everyone in the neighborhood knew Walter had moved into the Kunkle flat. Vera was buying more than the usual two pork chops, more cold meats, and even a sirloin steak now and again at Olson’s. She was buying more at Min’s also, including cigarettes and razor blades. Madge noticed her purchases of make-up and cologne, but Jack Gross had the biggest surprise when Vera came into his bar one afternoon and bought a pint of whiskey and a couple of quarts of beer.
Vera didn’t try to hide the arrangement…she was too damn happy. So, when everyone understood that their whispers and gossip could do no damage, they accepted the situation and accepted Walter and Vera as a couple…a happy couple…the gossip stopped.
“She alright?” he asked when Vera returned.
“She’s alright. I turned her radio on, she’s just in one of her moods,” she sighed.
“Will she ever get used to me?”
“Who knows…who cares?”
Walter pulled her to his lap. “I care. After all she is your mother. I don’t want her to hate me. I’ll work on it,” he smiled. “You’ll see, she’ll come around.”
The next day to Vera’s surprise Walter came home from work early carrying a large box and wearing a wide grin.
“What are you up to?” she laughed.
“You’ll see”, he turned back out the door and called down to someone. “Okay, bring it on up.”
“Now close your eyes,” Walter told her, “and no peeking.”
Her hands covered her eyes as she listened to the shuffling sounds of movement and effort. She ignored the clanging of her mother’s spoon and her shouts of “what’s going on out there.”
“Over there,” she heard Walter say. “Yeah, right there is fine. Okay now you can open your eyes.”
After a moment of focus Vera looked at two men standing next to a television set.
“Oh, Walter. A television. How…when…”
“Today, I stopped at City Furniture on Halsted and got a great deal on this Zenith floor model. They know me so they gave me a deal and promised it could be delivered today,” he beamed. The seventeen inch screen was encased in a walnut cabinet and dominated the room.
The men began to set up the rabbit eared antenna. Vera threw her arms around Walter and he swung her around in his arms.
After the men left she slid her hand over the top of the television, her happiness almost overwhelmed her; she felt like a wife, like the women in the magazine ads whose smiles were permanent, who greeted their husbands at the door and whose happiness was endless.
It was Walter who brought her back to the room, back to the clanging of the spoon and cranky demands to know what was going on.
“And they threw in a little something else,” he said holding up the large box.
“What is it?”
“You’ll see”, he said as he carried it to Mrs. Kunkle’s room.
“What are you up to?” Mrs. Kunkle said, not hiding her anger. “This is my house. You seem to forget that.”
“Clear off that little table,” he told Vera. She quickly moved to her mother’s bedside table next to the wall.
“I said what are you up to?” the old woman repeated as Walter put the box on the floor and began to open it. He pulled out the twelve inch screen television, one the salesman referred to as ‘a table model’.
Vera watched with silent amazement.
“And what is that thing?” Mrs. Kunkle snorted.
“It’s a television…a TV,” Vera replied.
“I know it’s a television…I see the papers…do you think I’m an idiot?”
Walter was busy setting up the small unit. When he was finished, he turned it on. Some kind of game show appeared on the screen, a host standing behind a podium chatted with a panel of guests.
“Well I won’t watch it, so you can just cart it off to wherever it came from,” she snapped.
“Okay,” Walter said quietly with a small smile. “But I won’t have time for at least another week, so in the meantime why not just use it till then, I’ll get my money back when I return it.”
Mrs. Kunkle didn’t want to back down. “Well,” she said “show me how to turn the darn thing off.”
Walter pulled the table in position that the old woman could reach the dials. He began to demonstrate its operation.
“This is the on/off dial,” he said as he turned it off then on again. He proceeded to demonstrate the volume, channel changing and tuning dials. He purposefully made the horizontal tuning malfunction and the screen began to show annoying horizontal moving lines.
“This will happen sometimes,” he said. “And this is how you adjust it”, he continued, showing her the operation of the tuning dial.
Vera watched as her mother watched Walter’s hands, taking careful note of the instructions. Well, Walter, maybe you just broke through the iron gates.
“We’ll just leave you to it,” he smiled as he took Vera’s arm to leave.
“Shut the door on your way out,” the woman grumbled. “Maybe I’ll listen to it for awhile…but I won’t watch it!”
Walter and Vera stood listening from the other side of the door. They heard sounds of different programs being changed back and forth; neither of them could stop grinning.
Jocko’s phone on the kitchen floor rang. Napoli didn’t offer details but Jocko had a good idea what the meeting would be about after learning Russo would also be attending. His orders were to come a little early.
As Russo parked his car in the small parking lot next to the club on Racine Avenue he knew this was the meeting he’d been dreading. As he passed Napoli’s big black Cadillac he hoped he wouldn’t be in its trunk by the end of night.
Russo passed by the familiar faces with nods or mumbles of acknowledgment toward the closed door at the back. He avoided the ritual of frisking by handing his gun to the sentry at the door who knocked twice. The knock was answered with a gruff “yeah” from the other side.
“Sit down Tony,” Napoli ordered, Russo obeyed.
Both men stared at each other for a moment. Napoli broke the silence.
“Let me introduce you to someone,” Napoli said nodding to Jocko sitting in the shadow of a back corner. “Jocko Gervasi…Tony Russo.”
Russo turned in his chair to see the formidable man he’d been tailing and who’d been tailing him. Each offered a nod. Russo turned back facing Napoli, feeling Gervasi’s eyes drill into his back. With a slow blink he imagined the Cadillac trunk; he gripped his sweaty hands on his legs in an effort to hide their trembling. The small office seemed smaller with the three men, Russo fought the feeling of claustrophobia. He wanted to turn to see what Gervasi was doing, but he already knew what Gervasi was doing, he was watching. Russo just wished he could see him doing it.
Joe Napoli re-lit his cigar, reached for the wine bottle on the side of his desk then behind him for two glasses.
“Your collections seem short”, he said as he poured the wine and pushed a glass toward Russo. Russo looked at the wine and wanted a drink in the worst way, but kept his hands on his legs, afraid his trembling hands couldn’t hold a glass.
“Yeah, I know. But, ya see with the kids murder thing and all people just kinda holed up. But now they got the guy I figure business will pick up.”
“You’ve been short before the kids murder thing happened,” Joe’s hard face hadn’t softened.
Russo’s mind raced. He thought he was under the radar… that nobody would notice. He wasn’t taking enough for anybody to notice. But it had been noticed and now his head was chasing itself through a maze; a maze of excuses hoping to collide with one that would work.
“Well, look Joe, ya gotta understand. The neighborhoods are changing. Guys have been mustered out from the war and using that G.I. Bill stuff. They’ve been going to night school, and now thinking they can move on out…move on up. You know…so many are moving to suburbs and away from the old neighborhoods. I can’t do much about that. Things just ain’t the same.”
Napoli sat in silence without taking his eyes from Russo. Russo felt he could see Joe thinking about what he just said. Maybe it would work.
Napoli didn’t take his eyes from Russo he knew bullshit when he heard it.
“Then you got a problem don’t you?” Napoli twisted the cigar end in his mouth.
The maze of excuses in Russo’s head raced through, then one collided with another and it turned into an idea.
“It ain’t like I didn’t know the take was down. But what could I do? Then I started thinking…what about dope…you know narcotics. There’s a lot of money in dope,” he saw a glimmer of interest in Joe’s face. “Marijuana, heroin, opium all kinds of stuff. Once somebody’s hooked, you got ’em for life.”
Napoli’s eyes narrowed in thought, he knew there was money in narcotics, he’d been trafficking in it in some of his other south side neighborhoods. He understood that drug addicts would sell their own mothers for the next fix. Maybe it was time to expand, maybe Russo was right. He had misgivings about Russo’s ability to handle a bigger racket, it might be over his head. But Russo had planted the seed.
Napoli ended the long silence. “I’ll give it some thought,” he said. “But don’t make a move until I say so. It’ll have to be kept away from the schools; that’s a sure way to get cops, newspapers and politicians swarming into everything. They’ll keep their noses out of some dirt, but this is dirtier.”
Russo’s sigh of relief was almost audible. “Sure Joe, I won’t make a move ’til you say.”
Joe gave him a nod of dismissal. Moving to the door he gave a sidelong glance to the dim corner. The figure hadn’t moved.
Once Russo was gone, Joe tipped his head to Jocko. Jocko took the seat before the desk just vacated by Russo.
Napoli pushed his empty glass to the side and reached for Russo’s untouched wine.
“I don’t believe a word that lying bastard said, but he did come up with an interesting idea of expanding the dope thing. But I have to think of somebody who can handle it, Russo’s not that bright, besides he can’t be trusted…you interested?”
“Me?” Jocko said with a hint of surprise. “Anything you say boss, but it’s not really anything I want, I mean I’ve been away too long. Stir does something to a man, I don’t have that kind of energy anymore.”
“I think you can handle it,” Napoli smiled. “What you’re telling me is you ain’t hungry anymore?”
“Something like that. Yeah.”
“Okay. I won’t push you into anything you don’t want, but keep in mind things are open to you. A lot of us remember what you did for us.” Napoli then settled back into his chair. “Now about Russo, I don’t want any hoopla…nothing in the papers…nothing showing a ‘message’. I just want him to disappear…like he was never there.”
Jocko understood what Joe wanted. He wouldn’t mind putting a bullet in Russo’s head or an ice pick in his brain, he’d done this work before and was quite good at it. However, he’d been watching the neighborhood with more intensity than Joe knew, or than he’d approve. One of the things Jocko had noticed was Russo’s protégé, Donny Van Dyke. The kid showed real promise, was a quick learner and Jocko felt he spotted a kid with a big future.
“If that’s what you want I have no problem with it. But maybe we’d be smarter to let Russo go on for awhile. I think you scared him shitless and he won’t be a problem.”
Napoli’s eyes focused on Jocko. “Something’s on your mind. Spit it out.”
“Okay. There’s this kid that’s been working for Russo. He’s young, but I smell big ambitions. I learned a lot in the pen, one of the things I learned was how to read people…who was smart…who wouldn’t be afraid to get a job done…who’d be loyal. I’m tellin’ ya that with just a few more years this kid’ll be your man on any job, in any position. He’s not only hungry…he’s starving. I’d hate to see all that talent wasted; it should be nurtured. But it’ll take a couple years, about four maybe five.”
“Sounds great,” Napoli said with more interest. “But how does that change me wanting Russo to disappear?”
“This kid looks up to Russo. Russo so far has brought him up through the ranks. Like I said he’s loyal and right now that loyalty is to Russo. I don’t think we can do what Russo has done right now without the kid getting skittish. He’s young, but give him a few years and he’d tear Russo’s lungs out without even having to straighten his tie. I’m tellin’ ya that this kid could be a real asset. None of us are getting any younger, you want him in your corner.”
Napoli leaned back. Jocko could sense he was thinking about what was said.
“So if this kid is so hungry what’s stoppin’ us from doin’ the kid too? Just movin’ somebody else into the slot.”
“That’s up to you, boss. But I think this kid is on his way up…and in five or ten years I don’t think you could have a better or more loyal guy lookin’ for your back, in fact there wouldn’t be anything he wouldn’t do for you. But it’ll take time.”
“Time, huh?” Napoli lit a new cigar, Jocko lit another cigarette. Jocko patiently waited as Joe thought it through.
“You’re right about one thing, ain’t none of us getting any younger. Keep an eye on this kid. For now I’ll put Russo on the back burner, but I want you to stick around…make sure Russo knows your there and start seeing if this kid’s loyalties can be turned…first turned to you…then to me.”
Jocko was pleased that Napoli took his thoughts seriously.
Det. Wash hung up the phone on his desk. “Dick, another kid a few blocks from the Shanahan kid.” At first Novack refused to believe what he heard. Walsh continued with information as the two reached for their coats. Walsh’s eyes were bloodshot and premature bags appeared beneath. “Found at the bottom of basement steps on Union and 59th.”
“Does the mayor know?” he asked.
“Not yet” Walsh replied, “but the crime scene guys are on their way.”
Novack’s head was throbbing. “Who found the body? Was it a neighborhood kid? Any witnesses? Was it the same M.O.?” he rattled the questions at Walsh like a machine gun.
“All I can say so far is that it is the same M.O.; and I think it was a neighborhood kid. I don’t know yet who found the body and I don’t know about any witnesses.”
The small body lay crumpled in a corner of a cellar stairwell, the Girl Scout uniform difficult to identify beneath all the blood. Girl Scout Cookie boxes were strewn about the crumpled body. While on the way, Novack radioed that he didn’t want sirens or flashing lights while more police and coroner’s vans approached the area. As a result the crowd was limited.
“Shit!” Walsh spat when he noticed the missing finger.
“Shit is right,” Novack said. “We fucked this one up.”
They carefully used their flashlights to search for information without disturbing the scene before the forensic team had the opportunity to gather the evidence. Besides the body, they saw a few boxes of cookies and cookie order sheets. Walsh bent to pick up one of the sheets.
“Lily Sorensen, Troop number 327”, he read aloud.
“Does it have her address?”
“No, just the addresses of people who ordered cookies. She must have been making the deliveries.”
“Well, maybe that’s where we can at least get an idea of time of death. Put it back, after forensics are finished we can canvas her delivery route and find out who were the last ones to see her.”
Walsh replaced the paper and they both climbed the cement steps and stepped aside as the forensic team approached with their brief cases of tools. They stood and waited between the stairwell and the small crowd of curious neighbors.
“I better call the mayor”, Novack made a mental note to also call Storm. “Be ready for shit to fly when he and the commissioner find out we got the wrong guy.”
Walsh took his arm before Novack could turn to make the call. “We didn’t get the wrong guy. This looks like a copycat to me. The papers were full of this shit for weeks, every nut case in the city knows about the murders, knows just about everything he’d need to know how they were done.”
“Just about everything,” Novack repeated, but his memory went back to the missing fingers; the newspapers never published that bit of information and they never asked Jim Nash about them. At the time he knew it would come back to bite him in the ass. “What about the fingers?” he asked Walsh.
“Yeah, the fingers,” Walsh took a deep drag of his cigarette. “I still say we go with the copycat theory. We can go back and lean on Nash, find out who was in on it with him. It doesn’t have to get messy.” He looked hard at Novack. “I ain’t gonna lose my job over this.”
Lily Sorenson didn’t make the headlines, her death was relegated to a small space on page two. Most of the reporters called in to the precinct to get the story, a story read from the sheets prepared by Walsh and Novack, not bothering to visit the scene or take cameras. The editors were in the middle of another, but juicy, political scandal involving aldermen and sex. Their decision was that the public was worn out by murder, now they wanted sex and the heads of aldermen.
Margaret Connors sat with her morning tea and newspaper. Lily Sorenson’s story may have been overlooked by many, but not by Margaret. The editors allowed a mere two paragraphs about the murder at 59th and Union and it was followed by another short article telling of another murder, this one of a man during a holdup on the west side. Margaret reread the Lily Sorenson story and remembered Chester’s clandestine visit to his cellar the night of the murder.
Mrs. Connors tried to keep her mind on a normal routine. She made her weekly visit to the Jewel with grocery list in hand, after filling her pantry she found herself at the dining room window staring down to the gangway and cellar stairwells.
With purpose she put Chester and the newspaper out of her mind, but they refused to leave. She kept busy with getting her numbers from Min, then over to Jack’s for her brown bagged medicine. Finally the children were coming home from school, filling the back yards and front sidewalks pushing away the awful silence with their laughter, shouting taunts and calls to join one kind of game or another. For awhile her thoughts of cellars could be put at bay.
Mrs. Connors looked through the front lace curtains and smiled as Dory played hopscotch on the front sidewalk with three others. Passing through the dining room she noticed little Julie Harris playing alone on her porch, her dolls her only friends. So young to be so lonely, especially with so many children around. Margaret moved on to the kitchen to start peeling onions for her dinner and looked to the back yard. Rat-boy was at his usual post by the dumpsters, the disappointment on his face didn’t deter him from poking with the stick. Red was busy in line waiting for London Bridge to fall down and some boys were playing dodge ball at the other side of the yard. Everything was as it should be; it was only after dinner when the children disappeared into their kitchens that her mind lost the battle and the thoughts that were kept at bay came galloping back.
It was well past sunset and after a couple doses of her medicine she’d made up her mind. With flashlight in hand she made her way down to her cellar retrieved what she needed and returned to her flat to wait. When most windows were dark, she reached for the skeleton key.
Jocko was just settling into the fresh air of the night when he saw the old woman. It no longer surprised him, but continued to pique his curiosity. Once again he watched as she slunk down to a neighbor’s cellar wearing the worn old man’s sweater. Again he slid the lawn chair closer to the railing and waited.
This time Margaret didn’t bother to rummage the places already searched on her first visit. She looked for new nooks and crannies, then in the halo of light from the flashlight she noticed something. She walked to the overhead duct, yes…something was there. She couldn’t reach it, she looked for a ladder, but there was none…then noticed a small table under a few boxes. After placing the boxes on the floor she dragged the table to the duct. With no small amount of effort she climbed up and reached for the package wrapped in cloth. It wasn’t large and could fit in one of the sweater pockets.
Jocko watched as she left the cellar expecting her to return to her flat. But, she didn’t…she stopped at her building and sat on the porch step looking at something in her lap. Even with his fine-tuned night vision he couldn’t make out what she was studying in the dark. Then from below he heard the creak of a screen door.
Margaret quickly folded the package putting it into a sweater pocket while reaching into the other for what she had earlier gotten from her own cellar.
Chester soundlessly descended the back steps and turned toward the cellar. Margaret crept behind him lifting the hatchet high above her head. It hit Chester’s forehead just as he turned toward the sound of her movement, she delivered another blow to his neck as he lay before her.
Jocko watched as the old woman crept up behind the boy. The hatchet’s brief glimmer in the moonlight sent Jocko descending the stairs three at a time. “What the fuck are you doing?” he said looking at the small woman and the dead boy. The hatchet hung at her side. A hand went to the sweater pocket and she pulled out a small package wrapped in cloth offering it to Jocko.
“I found this hidden in his cellar.”
He slowly opened it. He was holding several small fingers and what appeared to be a hunting knife. His disbelieving eyes went to Margaret.
“It was him,” she whispered. “It was him that killed those little girls. I had to make sure he didn’t get away with it.” She continued staring at the body. Jocko realized she was in shock; slowly and carefully he took the hatchet from her hand. He refolded the knife and fingers into the bloody cloth, first taking out one and placing it in the dirt close to Chester pointing with accusation toward his body.
Jocko put a hand on Margaret’s shoulder. “You did the right thing…do you understand? You did the right thing!” he whispered. He wasn’t sure she was listening. He heard her repetitive murmurs of ‘justice’. Margaret continued staring at the boy.
“Glory be, what am I to do?” This time there was no convenient grave site, this time there was someone who had witnessed what she had done. She was near to calling the police herself and justifying her actions. She felt a strong arm around her shoulder and heard a soft voice in her ear. She concentrated on that voice; it was a reassuring voice.
“Everything will be alright. As far as you’re concerned this is nothing but a bad dream.” At that moment Jocko imagined this old woman could be his grandmother, or the grandmother he wished he had. “I’ll take care of everything…don’t you worry now. I’ll take care of everything, you just go back home knowing everything is okay.” He looked down at her wrinkled face, staring at what she had done. “I’m here now. I know how to take care of it. Trust me.”
In the mist of Margaret’s shock she remembered those words from long ago…‘trust me’. Tim’s face flashed before her and she knew she could trust that voice. Jocko walked her up the stairs to her flat and into her kitchen. After flipping on the overhead kitchen light he looked around at the old-fashioned neat kitchen. He allowed himself a moment of day dreaming, day dreaming that this really could be his grandmother.
“What’s your name?” her tone was low. “Are you the man who watches?”
“I’m Jocko”, he smiled as he pulled the shoes from her feet and placed a pillow behind her head on the sofa. “I’m the man who watches…and from now on I’ll be watching over you.”
“Thanks be to Jesus…I thought you were the devil…now I think you’re my guardian angel.”
“I think you need some sleep” he smiled “remember…this night never really happened. I’ll take care of everything from now on. Okay?”
“Okay,” and she closed her eyes and was met with a deep untroubled sleep.
Jocko had work to do. Getting rid of the body would be stupid…first of all it would cause him more risk, second it would send the cops on the wrong track, they had to find the finger close to the body…even the cops weren’t dumb enough not to add two and two together.
It was the milkman who discovered the body in the gangway in the early hours. He banged on Min’s door until she groggily answered the pounding. Storm was one of the first on the scene. He’d gotten used to the dawn hours and was sleepily filling the coffee pot when he heard the siren of the patrol car.
Anne Harris was inconsolable, she knelt over her son’s body until a policeman pulled her away. Neighbors soon were once again crowding around the gangway. First Kitty…now a teen-age boy. Bev Mailham appeared in her bathrobe, instinctively putting her arms around Anne Harris and guiding her up to her porch. Little Julie clinging to her mother’s robe.
It was Det. Walsh who discovered the finger in the dirt, he pulled a paper evidence slip from his coat and returned it to his pocket; Lt. Novack wasn’t far behind.
Novack looked at the body. “Holy shit, now he’s goin’ after teen-age boys?”
“No Dick, I think we got the guy; or at least somebody did,” and he showed Novack the evidence slip with the finger.
“Where’d you find it?” Novack asked.
“Here near the body. It’s not his, it’s too little and he has all ten of his.” Walsh then described its placement pointing its accusation.
“Yeah,” Walsh continued, “I think somebody was ahead of us on this one.”
“If it’s true, then Nash is in the clear.”
Walsh put his arm around Novack and walked him down the gangway. “Maybe…maybe not…look at it this way Nash may not have done the last one, or maybe he didn’t to this one…but he probably did some of ’em. Maybe even more.” Walsh had already given notice to Novack that he wasn’t going to jeopardize his job over this case.
Novack looked at Walsh with suspicion.
Once the forensic people had left the scene, Novack and Walsh inspected the body and scene. They could see clearly it hadn’t been the same M.O. This young man had been bludgeoned with something, perhaps a machete, the deep wounds ruled out a simple knife; he had all digits on his hands and he wasn’t gutted from sternum to crotch. Whoever killed him was not the same guy that killed the girls. The finger in Walsh’s pocket bothered Novack. There was a message here; the dead boy before them killed the girls and the convenient small finger was surely placed there to point to this kid as the child murderer. They were now looking for another murderer.
Novack saw Storm approaching under the crime tape.
“Do you know this kid?”
Storm looked down, then up to the Harris porch where Bev Mailham and Naomi Porter were wrapping Anne and her daughter with sympathy. Kate Reilly quietly put her arms around little Julie and led her to the Reilly flat; this was not a scene for children. Though most neighborhood parents were gathering with alarm, their children were kept either in their own flats or in neighboring flats; the parents in charge of the children would be filled in later of what news or gossip gleaned from the gruesome scene.
“That’s the Harris kid.” Storm replied. “He was one of the names on the list I gave you.”
Novack’s memory went back to the circled names.
“So who else would know we were looking at him as a perp?”
Novack pulled Storm into a quiet space away from the body and nodded for Walsh to join them. “Show him,” Novack stated. Walsh pulled the evidence envelope from his pocket.
“It was found close to the body in the dirt.”
Storm looked at it with interest. “Well, who saw the list?” Storm asked. “You, you’re man there”, he indicated looking at Walsh. “Me, Russo, and whoever else you shared it with.”
“I didn’t share that list with anybody else,” Novack said sounding defensive.
“Well then, you’re guess is as good as mine.”
The coroner’s people signaled their impatience to Novack to allow them to do their job and remove the body to the morgue. Novack answered with a nod and the body of Chester Harris was carefully placed on the gurney and wheeled to the coroner’s van with the background sound of Anne Harris’ torment.
Storm’s attention was drawn to Russo leaning on the gangway wall. He was well aware that the mob preferred to take care of problems their own way. Even though this did not look like a mob hit, it would not have been the first blood on Russo’s hands. And the ‘message’ of leaving the finger nearby seemed in keeping with how Russo liked to do business.
Russo leaned on the brick wall, he kept to the back of the crowd of neighbors. Scanning the scene he eyed Jocko watching the scene below from his perch on his porch. He now knew Jocko was sent by his boss to keep an eye on him. Could he have discovered this kid murderer and reported to Napoli who in turn might have given the okay to take care of it? Russo thought it may have happened that way, on the other hand he spied Storm; the beat cop that took these little girls’ murders very personally.
Novack followed Storm’s attention to Russo. These two had been working together on this. Did one or perhaps both discovered the truth and decided to take care of it without letting the police in on it?
As Russo’s gaze shifted between Storm and Jocko with suspicion, Storm returned his own suspicious looks to Russo and Novack’s suspicions jumped between Russo and Storm.
Margaret Connors looked from her back porch at the scene below. Normally she would have been down mingling with the crowd of neighbors, sharing their horror of another murder and listening to various theories and gossips.
Jocko looked over to her and caught her eye; they looked at each other with tacit understanding. With a tilt of his head he reassured her that everything would be okay. Margaret knew he could be trusted…she recalled his soft voice in her ear.
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