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.