Chapter Thirteen: Chucks Return.
Evening begins as the sun fades across the sky. Moving through the flat Arkansas countryside a train keeps steady pace. Packed with passengers from New Orleans bound for icy Chicago. Every car is packed to the brim, all except the first-class cars.
Located near the front of the train the first-class cars feature large seats with ample leg room. Luxurious furnishings with plush seats to contain the polished bottoms of the upper-class patrons.
In first class the porters are friendlier, the drinks stiffer. Best of all the food is mouthwateringly scrumptious. Pearl white linens cover the polished wooden tables, high quality silver and glassware help the high-class passengers navigate their meals.
Sitting in the middle of the first-class dining car are Bruce and Gary. Both man wear tailored suits, since his promotion Bruce took on a more polished look, he now owned a dozen high quality suits. He and his companion work on finishing two massive, marbled steaks.
When Bruce takes a bite of the meat. It is juicy and perfectly cooked. He holds the meat on his tongue for a moment, the flavor felt as if it were a piece of cake icing melting in his mouth. Washing the meat down with a large swig of wine Bruce keeps his eyes on his plate as he eats.
Bruce had been silent for most of the meal, inside his mind he kept going over the details of the river heist he and Gary had been planning. The only time he had looked up from his food was to take down another gulp of wine. Bruce had eaten half his steak and lifts his glass above his head to signal a passing porter.
Looking back down Bruce begins cutting another piece of steak, as his glass of wine is filled Bruce briefly looks up at his companion, Gary glasses have a glare from the gas lamps lighting the dining car. As he swallows a piece of meat, his golf ball sized Adams Apple moves. Gary looks at Bruce staring in his direction.
After Gary makes eye contact with Bruce Gary swallows the piece of steak in his mouth and sets his utensils in their place beside his plate. He clears his throat and says.
“What is on your mind?”
Bruce sets his utensils down and takes a sip of wine.
“Nothing just thinking…” Gary scoffs at Bruce.
“Bullshit spill it what is on your mind?”
“I am just thinking about the plan…”
Gary nods his head as he swallows his sip of wine. After the wine is sliding down his throat he adds.
“Yeah it is a good plan what of it?”
Bruce pauses for a moment thinking of the best words to use.
“I am just thinking of all the moving part, we are gonna be using my entire outfit for the job. Then there is the casino ship and the logger, not to mention we need to pull all this off in less than twenty minutes all while the ship we are looting from is sinking! My brain feel like it will explode whenever I think about it!”
Gary cuts Bruce off before he gets worked up. He had seen the pressure getting to Bruce over the last few days.
“Relax, if we go step by step then as these things go there should be little hang ups. I have never failed to get a score, I don’t plan to start failing now. For now we need to focus on getting your pal on board. A large segment of this plan hinges on your pals ability, of which to us is non existent, but if we can at least bring back seven of his throwaways, then we should have enough manpower to muscle the units off the ship before it begins to sink…”
“I assure you Chuck handle himself, he and I did my first bank robbery together?”
“Handling himself is just a start, you got a bump up in rank at an early age. I don’t know if you noticed during the rumble, you were one of the youngest men on our side?”
Bruce had noticed it, turns out he wasn’t the only one that had noticed it.
“That said you do a good job at leading, therefore you will need to learn that in this life strangers makes the crew nervous. Loose lips sink ships, this could be the score of the decade men have killed for less if he seems like a liability.”
Bruce becomes alarmed.
“You aren’t thinking of turning my friend into a corpse are you? If so we can turn around on the next train! Or you can take me between the train cars and put a bullet in my head if you think I am going to serve my pal to you on a platter!”
“Lower your fucking voice! I am merely telling you the truth. You friend won’t be touched provided he delivers and keeps his mouth quiet. But if he is a loudmouth drunk that talks a lot then Lucifer might add him to the cleaning list. There are two things that will help you be successful in this thing of ours, that is a set of balls, and tight lips!”
Gary’s words did little to ease Bruce’s concerns, therefore Bruce drank 5 more glasses of wine in addition to the 5 he had during dinner.
He felt nervous he hadn’t seen his friend from college in two year, he hadn’t called Chuck in a year and half. Partly because Bruce is embarrassed, Bruce always felt that he would marry Callie Bee and open a store.
When that life was no longer possible Bruce spiraled out of control, now landing on his feet as middle management of a medium sized New Orleans Street gang he felt like he had a little to help him save face.
On top of his own self-conscious concerns, to find out that Chuck needed to watch his mouth and curb his drinking, or he could end up dead in a barrel of acid is unsettling.
At Ole Miss Chuck had been a heavy drinker, Bruce is a lush by Baptist standards, but Chuck well Chuck drank like a forty-year old Irish catholic, the smell of alcohol was always on his body. Chuck is many thing but he was not known to be naturally soft-spoken. Bruce is uncertain how Chuck will react to being told to watch himself or face his death…
The men arrive in Chicago by nine pm. Bruce shuffles out of the doors, they are let off closer to the entrance. Walking out of the station Bruce and Gary are met by the much colder Chicago weather.
The bitter wind claws at the unprotected facial tissue of the men. Their bodies are spared the worst of the cold, both men wear thick black and brown trench coats. Bruce’s coat is brown it helps to keep his suit protected from the grime of travel. Bruce pulls tightly on his straps to make sure the jacket shields his torso from the kiss of winter. Being still in the 60’s and 50’s in New Orleans, the 20-degree weather drop cut through him.
Bruce and Gary hurry over to a cab stand, Gary shoves a man with glasses aside.
“Move it Poindexter”
“Hey asshole I was here first”
Gary has seven inches on the man, he turns around and glares at him. Bruce had already entered the cab.
“4234 Emerald Avenue.”
The driver leans back and says.
“That’s in the heart of Southside, I am gonna take you as far as the borough limits it will only be a 20-minute walk there. Are you sure you want to go there?”
“Yeah, Gary get in leave that guy alone.
“The man on the curb backs away from Gary, Gary gets into the back seat and settles down. The stopped outside of a two-lane road, buildings on either side had busted windows, for lease signs hang on every other building.
Paying the man, they continue west on foot in the direction the drive pointed them.
“Gosh these people live like animals…” Says Gary disapprovingly as they walked through the street.
Gary’s insults to the local populace become worse.
“At least our spooks take some pride in their neighborhoods, there is not a single brick without paint.”
Bruce does his best to ignore Gary’s griping he couldn’t shake the feeling of being watch. Goosebumps stand up on his neck, he loosens the strap on his trench coat using his thumb he unbuckles the snap of the thin leather strap on the holster...
On they walk the streets were empty so far they have remained unchallenged. Gary walks cockily with a cavalier sense of superiority. A mistake on Gary’s part. He was used to the black folk in New Orleans.
The black men in New Orleans kept a low profile, apart from gambling and playing music they kept to themselves. Their neighborhoods were slightly more run down, but they were vibrant zones full of commerce.
The only thing that seemed to thrive in the Southside of Chicago seemed to be starvation. Despite the few bare industrial buildings the rest of the area looked like a shanty town, that is saying something seeing how Bruce’s city more or less smelled like a sweaty armpit.
Finally, they near Emerald Avenue to get to the alley that led to Emerald they cut through this small vacant lot. The only source of light comes from a streetlight at the other end of the vacant lot. Bruce feels something is off as they cross the lot, his left-hand rests on the handle of his 1911.
There is movement around them at least six shadows circle around the two men. Bruce’s reaction is fast and immediate.
The barrel of his 1911 presses against the shaved and bald head of a black teenager. The boy is no older than 16. A piece of metal Bruce assumes is a knife drops from the kid’s hand.
“You niggas wandered into the wrong neighborhood! You are in Disciples turf.” Mutters the kids with a gun to his head.
Bruce begins to spew out a rebuttal.
“Mugging someone with a knife boy you must not hav—”
A loud bang from behind Bruce nearly causes him to shit himself. As fast as the shadows of their attacks descended on Bruce and Gary, they replicate the speed to the highest power. When they had gone, in front of Gary lay the huddled mass of a bleeding man!
Bruce turns around his hands are shaking from fear, and shock. A small drop of blood landed on Bruce’s face. Smoke billows from the barrel of Gary’s pistol, the weapon is still trained on the body of the man. The kid is still alive, his legs twitch in the street.
Gary as if nothing is wrong holsters his pistol. After Bruce wipe the blood off his face with his thumb he shouts at Gary.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, we could have scared them off!”
Gary walks away continuing towards the street light at the end of the lot. He turns around and answers Bruce.
“It isn’t my fault these spooks should learn to be mindful of white folk!” Angrily says Gary, he turns away from Bruce heading towards the street light.
“That is not what I meant, you can’t leave him like this.”
The kid holds his right hand over the gaping hole in his chest where the bullet struck him. His body continually convulses, his shaking has become more violent and erratic.
As the boy struggles to breathe, blood from his mortal wounds comes up his throat, the blood begins to pool in the corners of his mouth and eventually runs down his chin.
Gary exhales a forced breath to show his reluctance and like he was tying up a last-minute task Gary unholsters his gun, before Bruce can say anything, a second shot is fired into the boys chest!
Gary walks away and Bruce follows, but he looks back and sees the boy had become still, the round had pieced his heart killing him instantly.
Leaving the lot Bruce follows Gary through the alleyway and soon they come out on emerald avenue. Bruce still had the feeling of someone watching him, but he paid it no mind.
After a few minutes they stand in front of their destination. A small shop that stands alone. The sign about the first story reads Willie’s pawn and loan.
Bruce rings the bell on the door for the apartment above the shop, he rings the doorbell until the lights in the apartment turn on. He hears the unmistakable sounds of his friends signature twang.
“I got a scattergun up here and I’ll blow your fucking head off, I have told you darkies no loans after 8pm”
“Chuck! It’s me Bruce!” Shouts Bruce humorously.
Chuck’s face of sleepy anger turns to one of surprised delight.
“Shite, hold up I am coming down…”
It took Chuck a moment to get downstairs, when he opens the door he had a smile on his face from ear to ear. He scoops Bruce up in a bone crushing hug.
“Damn Chuck looks like you put on a few pounds over the years!”
Chuck lets them into his shop.
“Not everyone can go through life looking like Marlon Brando.”
The inside of the shop smells musty, racks of fur coats are in the center of the shop floor, the counters feature costume jewelry and watches.
“This is a grim place you live in. You can’t tell me you sell any of this shit?” Says Gary bitterly as they are led to a set of stairs.
“Ha, these hoods wouldn’t really have the money for real shite, nah its a front, the perks of owning a pawn shop is that I can give loans out.”
Upstairs in Chucks kitchen Bruce warms his hands on a cup of coffee. He has yet to take a sip, Gary smokes a cigarette he had finished half his cup when Chuck returns to the table with several sandwiches.
“Sorry all I had was turkey and swiss, this bread is hard, but it is still tasty I get it from this bakery near Wrigleyville. I didn’t see a car outside; did you park down the street?”
“We had to walk from the borough border, the driver refused to get closer. We had a couple shines try and rob us. Grim part of town you live in…” Remarks Gary.
“Yeah Chuck when you told me you were working in the southside on the phone I was confused. You didn’t strike me as a person who would enjoy living in blacktown?” Asks Bruce curiously.
“I don’t live here by choice I wound up here. I work under a connected guy that goes by the name Willie Action Jackson. He is a pipsqueak that runs finance racquets, insurance fraud, check cashing anything with numbers.
“Anyways after about a year of shylocking for him in River North I ended up here. There were two negro gangs going at it in a power struggle here in the Southside. Then after one of the leaders got clipped they merged.
“The Guineas saw an opportunity and that brings us to this kitchen. I supply loans and work as a financial fence for draw checks, social security that sort of mind-numbing shite, but seeing as I give the spooks money they leave me alone.”
“What percent do you charge for your services?” Asks Gary making conversation.
“28% across the board”
“Shit you guys are thieves I would be laughed out the room if I asked for that?” Chuckles Gary.
Chucks face contorts as if something Gary said before dawned on him.
“Wait you said a couple of guys almost mugged you? Most of the ones around Emerald Avenue are little street urchins once you give them a few dollars they leave you alone.”
Gary smiles at Chuck, the smile unsettles Bruce.
“I certainly gave him something, but it wasn’t no dollar.”
Chucks face suddenly showed nothing but horror.
“You morons what did you do?”
“He should have known his place, I gave him what happens to someone who pulls a knife on a guy with a gun.”
“You simple fool… He had a place it is called the hood shite… He was probably one of the Disciples!”
Chucks voice had gone from anger to panic.
“If you have a problem with the way I operate---” Chuck cuts Gary off.
“You operate by walking into someone else turf a place you ain’t got no right being, you don’t get it the hood has eyes everywhere, I am fucked!”
“Well then it seems like you have your hands full maybe we should take our opportunity somewhere else?”
Chuck’s face becomes eerily calm.
“I knew you had something for me? What is this opportunity”
Chuck speaks directly to Bruce ignoring Gary. Bruce spent the next few minutes filling Chuck in on the basics of the plan.
“So tubby you think you can handle it?” Snipes Gary over his soon to be empty coffee cup.
“Well since you both have fucked me here in Chicago I have no choice. Now these spooks do they need to be disposable, and where are they staying? Cause I will not be sleeping anywhere near them I cannot stand that smell...” States Chuck with a firm tone.
“We have a boarding house within our turf that sleeps blacks for an extra fee… We will need to leave b the morning can you put all of them together in that time?”
“Yeah, I have a go bag ready to leave, I have to bring Jackson my ledger and cash from the pawn shop. I will drop you at the station while I get everything arranged. It should not be a problem to get everything settled by morning. I am going to use a group called the ‘soul shine brothers’. They are group of street hoods I use to snatch car stereos and small-time shite.”
“Pack a clean suit or two”
Bruce reaches into his jacket pocket and produces eight train tickets.
“I don’t want to sit next to someone in first -class for 16 hours wearing a pair of corduroys. One last thing Chuck when we get to Nola you need to keep a low profile I don’t want any of my guys thinking you’re a liability. You know the old saying once you set your mind to killing someone” Chuck interjects.
“What else is there to talk about”
Chuck repeated the last part of the old saying before adding.
“Got it, I will be quieter than a pair of Church mice.”
In addition to his verbal verification, Chuck nods his head in understanding.
It is early morning when the train pushes off from the Chicago station. Bruce had gotten no sleep, they sat in the first-class lounge waiting for their train. Gary had gotten a few hours of rest but Bruce stayed up. Now he feels the strain of the night heavy on his eyelids. Luckily each of them had cabin to get some rest in.
The train struggles through the bitter winter winds, fresh flurries of snow pound the tracks. Inside Bruce and his two companions sit around a small table in the first-class drink car. Bruce had a brandy he needed something to calm him before he went to his cabin to rest. Bruce cocks his eyes brows to Chuck.
Chuck and his seven black associates arrived to catch the train just in time. When he did Bruce found Chuck in a sorry state of affairs. Chuck had just finished dropping off his books and cash to his superior, he made a call at the station and found something out...
He had a kid he trusted keep an eye on the shop, only to be informed that during the night the shop had been burned to the ground.
Chuck had been sitting in his seat, he still held the glass of whiskey in his hands. He had yet to take a sip, the knuckles on his chubby hands are pale wait, Bruce can hear Chuck grinding his teeth. He opens his mouth in an attempt to make Chuck feel better.
“Chuck try and relax it was only a shop”
Chuck looks at Bruce, only fear remains in his eyes.
“You don’t understand I am ruined it will take at least twenty grand to buy back in”
Bruce pats him on the back.
“Look I set aside 25,000 for you to participate in this job, I will give you thirty even… What happened to the money we got in Mississippi?”
Chuck downs the whiskey in his glass in three gulps. Bruce pours Chuck a drink from the decanter and listens to his friends qualms.
“Shite I got bought a business in Chicago only to have it go under, Ashley left me for some democrat. Fucking guy was full of white guilt, he was this guy who relished having black friends anyways I ended up pissing most of it away and used the rest to pay off a debt. I have about 15 or so grand left but its hidden I am not touching that until absolutely necessary. But now I am fucked!!”
“You gave your superior the ledger and money right? Who gives a shit about the business? As far as I could tell there was nothing worth value in that store it was a front…”
“I told you that area is controlled by the Disciples didn’t I, they want a shylock like me in the Southside to keep the animals from coming to our turf. This way we keep the monkeys in the jungle. Willie is gonna catch a lot of shit for this, he is a pussy and in bad standing this could end up taking a turn for the worse…”
Bruce looks at Chuck he gives Chuck the same look he gave him the morning of the bank robbery two years ago.
“Pull it together, Chuck you belong back in the South, if all goes well in a few months once the units are sold you will be able to buy your way back in if that’s what you wish to do.”
“I was just busting chops in your shop but now you are actually starting to worry me, you better put your concerns on the back burner, a large part of this score depends on you and your cousin providing us with the distraction. I now wonder if you have the balls for it…” Mutters Gary.
“Let’s get something straight asshole I can handle the job. I have been doing work like this for many years now. If you insult me again I am going to grab the nearest tool within arm’s reach, be that a knife, fork or pen and I will pluck out your eye. If you got anything else to ask I suggest you do it now…”
“Bruce said that your cousin operates a ship that carries logs down the Mississippi. How do the ships work with scheduling departures. The way Bruce made it sound, the Mississippi gets these ships up and down the river, day and night is that true?”
“More or less, these ships operate in similar fashion that independent truckers due, except he doesn’t lease it, he can travel on his own meaning if he is scheduled in the morning to take logs down the river. He would lie and say he needs to do a repair and he sets sail later that night. Therefore, it will be simple for him to have the ship that we run into.”
Gary nods his head, Bruce sees a new-found respect in Gary’s eyes for Chuck, sometimes in Bruce’s line of work a simple act of defending yourself while offering a threat is enough to gain respect. Bruce down the remaining brandy in his glass and stand.
“Well gentleman if you will excuse me I can hardly keep my eyes open I suggest you two get some rest, when we get back to Nola we have a lot of preparations to make…
Bruce leaves the men and heads to his sleeping car. He didn’t like the bickering between Chuck and Gary but once back in New Orleans keeping them apart shouldn’t be too hard.
He had to admit before he boarded the train in New Orleans he felt unsure that Chuck would bite. Having his old friend at his side settles Bruce and he is confidant with Chucks help he could pull this job off, or so he hoped…