Falling Beneath the Magnolia

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Bruce's First Job

Part Two:

Bruce’s first real job.

Chapter 8: Bad Company…

New Orleans: 6:55 am, 1964.

Rolling over he tries to get comfortable, the sweat coming off his body soaks his sheets. Unable to get into a position of comfort, Bruce resigns himself to rise for the day.

He feels the sweltering heat building inside his small apartment. The heat hangs heavy in the atmosphere, he looks around the small one room studio apartment.

The kitchen, bathroom and bedroom all occupy one room. His toilet has no walls and stands in the open fifteen feet from his bed. Next to the toilet is a sink, there is no shower.

He crosses the room after turning on the bedside lamp, Bruce looks over at his small table in his kitchen area. He left half a pizza out last night having no room in the fridge. Flies are made worse by the heat, buzzing around the spoiled food, the flies circle the box of pizza endlessly.

Stretching once he reaches the sink, sweat drips onto the floor, he starts to scrub himself with a fresh and soapy washcloth. Making do with his sink, Bruce washes his body, scrubbing under his arms. After his whore bath Bruce begins to dress for the day.

Wearing a pair of slacks with polished brown shoes he places a matching belt around his waist. Before he button up his yellowed linen shirt, Bruce attaches an ankle holster to his left ankle.

Inside the holster is a 38. Caliber revolver. Buttoning his shirt Bruce looks at himself in the mirror to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. I was 7:15 by the time he walks from his front door.

Stepping outside Bruce is met with the smell of sewage, living in the middle of the French Quarter, Bruce is used to the putrid odor emanating from the city.

Locking his door Bruce heads down the iron steps of his second-floor studio apartment and enters the courtyard to his apartment building. His red Chevy with a tan cover is parked in its spot. Bruce hardly has a need to drive it in the Quarter.

Walking out of the alleyway tunnel he enters Cyrus Avenue, once out on the street he spies familiar a man as he turns right. Mickey walk towards him.

“Hey, Hey Brucie!” Says Mickey in his French accent.

Mickey is originally French Canadian; like Bruce, Mickey is a two bit. Mickey spoke in a heavy French accent, living in the big easy for fifteen years his accent took on a southern dialect, but is still more refined than the local Cajun.

Mickey follows Bruce along the street. “Don’t tell me you were waiting for me Mick?”

“Don’t flatter yourself, I was actually gonna knock on your door to get an early start, but you beat me to it”

“I couldn’t sleep in this heat; I spent half the fucking night tossing and turning. Did I tell you I got a ‘20’ on Freddie Hubbard.” They are approaching a coffee shop.

“That little shit stain has been avoiding us for weeks.”

The pair enter the coffee shop this is their first stop of the day. They see a small Blackman behind the counter. In a creole accent he greets Bruce.

“Bonjour, how are you Mr. Bruce”

“Good morning Luther, I would be better if someone could figure out how to get rid of this fucking heat. Two coffee’s and two Danishes please.”

Luther pours two cups of coffee and hands over the pastries. They are wrapped in wax paper underneath the pastries in a separate piece of wax paper is a stack of cash.

“They say the heat in New Orleans is because of its proximity to hell! Mr. Bruce all the money is there.”

“I’ll have to remember that line, and don’t worry Luther I know you are good for it.”

Bruce walks away from the counter. He and Mickey eat their breakfast in silence. Mickey and Bruce usually work together for collections, most of the time they hardly spoke to one another.

Mickey is thirty-seven, he has curly dirty blonde hair, his waist is slightly portly, he had green eyes and paws for hands. Mickey is dressed similar to Bruce. Button down shirt and slacks.

After their usual morning coffee, men depart for the next location. On Bruce’s shoulder he wears a messenger bag, he used this to carry the money during collections.

They are at the edge of Cyrus Avenue and turn left on Decatur. The take another left on to the next street. They walk along Breeze Street, located in the heart of the French Quarter.

Strolling down the New Orleans street, Bruce wades into the throngs of people. Many had chosen to start the day early like Bruce, in this heat he could not blame them. Most of the buildings in the city do not offer air conditioning.

Breeze Street is a hotbed filled with shops and businesses. Many have already opened their doors for the day. He keeps walking past the shop owners, halfway along Breeze Street, Bruce stops in front of a three-story red brick building.

Each of the upper stories feature the usual iron railing with covered mosquito porches. In a white lined sign, the businesses name is clearly legible from the street. Channys Boarding House. Established 1900. Channys is one of three boarding houses on Breeze Street.

Bruce and Mickey walk up the small stoop leading to the front door, the steps are wooden, as Bruce’s places his polished brown shoe on the middle step, a thick cloud of dust is kicked into the atmosphere, the dust clings to the polished surface of his shoes.

As Mickey opens the door, Bruce is quick to catch the bell chime in his rough hand. They would rather that no one knows of his presence. In his line of work things can get messy, witnesses are sometimes an unavoidable obstacle in this line of work.

On observation Bruce sees that the front desk to the boarding house is unattended. Walking to the glossy countertop Bruce peers over the counter to look at the mail slots.

Scanning the brass name plates his eyes eventually come to rest on a name, instead of an engraved name plate he sees a piece of masking tape with the name Hubbard written in chicken scratch.

Looking closely Bruce sees that Hubbard is staying in 14A. Creeping down the hall Bruce is careful not to come across someone.

“Keep watch” Says Bruce to Mickey as he kneels down once they are in front of 14A.

Bruce takes two pieces of metal from his back pocket. Setting to work on the lock, a bead of sweat hangs off the tip of his nose, the bead of sweat is forgotten as he focuses on placing his tools in the right place.

With one adjustment of his tension tool, the handle of the door turns, the door opens swinging into the apartment. Bruce slides the two pieces of metal back into his pocket and lifts on the left leg of his trouser withdrawing his revolver…

When Bruce enters the apartment, he closes the door carefully behind him. He sweeps the apartment, starting with main room, then the bedroom, and finally the bathroom... Once he is certain that he is alone Bruce sheathes his pistol, hands free Bruce begins to search the apartment. Mickey had stayed outside in case anyone approaches.

His search fails to turn up anything, he is standing in the bathroom as he stares at the shower drain. Following a hunch Bruce uses Freddie’s straight razor to unscrew the drain. Bruce moves the large glob of body hair from the drain, gagging in the process. Underneath the drain inside of a plastic sandwich bag Bruce finds a folded stack of cash.

He counts the money at the kitchen table in the main room, the money totals 500 dollars still short of the amount owed he agrees that it is a start...

Bruce hears a loud cough from the hallway, he looks around alert. Mickey had warned him of someone approaching. Then Bruce hears a key placed in the lock.

Hurrying to the front door Bruce waits behind it. A moment later the door opens, a young Blackman enters the room under his arm he holds an instrument case.

“Freddie Hubbard you are one hard man to find!”

Freddie jumps at the sound of a voice in his apartment, Freddie barely turns around before the dense metal of Bruce’s revolver smashes Freddie on the tip of the nose!

Freddie crashes to the floor in a painful thump. Bruce stands away, moving back towards the kitchen table.

The young man is slow to stand up.

“Who, who are you?” Says Freddie, his voice is filled with a mix of fear and pain, he holds his nose which is dripping blood down his front and onto the floor.

“What are you an owl, you know who I am, I am here to collect for Chris Dellara. You owe him a lot of money, not only that you have been avoiding us. You owe at current one point for a lost bet, two points for a loan. Lastly an extra three points for me making me track you down.. You owe me $750.00”

“I need more time I don’t have the money on me” Bruce laughs at the man while cracking the knuckles on his left hand.

“This isn’t a collection notice, I found $500.00 where is the rest?”

Bruce tosses the folded stack of money he found in the drain at Freddie’s feet. Seeing the money that Bruce had found angers Freddie, he crosses the distance between him and Bruce.

“Bullshit you can’t take that! It’s my savings!”

Using all his weight, Bruce sends an unexpected uppercut into Freddie’s gut!

On contact with Bruce’s fist Freddie buckles to his knees, spitting up saliva onto Bruce’s arm from the impact forces Fredd to cough...

As Bruce looms over the man, he screams in his face spitting saliva on him in the process.

“Wrong motherfucker that was your savings! In case you can’t count you are still $250.00 shy; I would worry more about the money still owed and not the money you lost!”

He grips Freddie by the front of his shirt, blood from his nose drips onto Bruce’s arm, ignoring the blood Bruce forces Freddie to his feet.

“Where is the rest of my money?” When he asks again Bruce holds Freddie’s shirt tightly bringing the Blackmans face inches from his own.

Freddie looks at Bruce and spits in his face!

“Fuck you!” Snipes Freddie unafraid.

Bruce is beside himself, burning with rage! He lifts both his hands, Freddie on instinct attempts to protect his face. As hard as he can, Bruce claps Freddie on his unprotected ears!

Disoriented the attack causes Freddie to fall to the floor for a third time. Freddie tries his best to protect his face and body. His attempts do little to protect him from pain. Freddie rolls around on the ground and tries minimizing the pain. This is made harder by the dozens of kicks that are continually sent his way.

It is a savage beating, as a flurry of brutal kicks are sent into Freddie’s side, he cries out in pain as each kick is landed. Tired of his loudness, Bruce sends a kick at Freddie’s face and it lands, fresh blood flows down Freddie’s face, his nose is broken even further, and his lip is split open...

During the beating Bruce repeatedly orders Freddie to pay him. Eventually with Freddie laying in a bloodied heap, he begins to think he might not get anything further out of Freddie.

Bruce exhales a sigh and reluctantly scoops up the $500.00 dollars and the unattended instrument. When he picks up the instrument case Freddie looks at him panicked.

“Wh, wh, what are you doing? Asks Freddie still on the ground, he wipes the flowing blood from his face.

Bruce opens the case to reveal an expensive brass trumpet. He tosses the case across the room.

“I’ll hold on to this until you pay what you owe!”

Bruce steps away from the broken huddled mass that is the beaten musician. On his way out, Freddie pleads with Bruce. Freddie coughs up blood an effect of his beating. Freddie forces the words from of his mouth.

“Wait, I have it! Please I need that, without it I won’t be able to work!”

“If you can’t work that is not my problem, but if you don’t give me the money in full right now I will break all the bones in your hands...” Scolds Bruce in a cold tone.

Freddie crawls over to an electrical socket near the kitchen area, Freddie picks up a butter knife from the ground that had fallen during the altercation.

Popping off the cover of the socket, he withdraws four fifty-dollar bills. Just as Bruce is about to use the kitchen chair to smash Freddie’s hands, Freddie pulls the rest of the money out of his pockets in crumbled smelly one-dollar bills.

Satisfied Bruce walks away and tosses the trumpet over his shoulder, Freddie dives for his prized possession. He catches the trumpet before it hits the ground. At the front door Bruce leaves Freddie with some parting advice.

“If you make a bet you better pay it! Don’t ever make me have to come looking for you again or I will make sure you never hold an instrument.”

Mickey is waiting for Bruce when he walks out of the boarding house, he encounters a livelier scene. Breeze street had come to life while Bruce had been at work.

“Bruce, I am going to head to Cyrus Avenue, we can cover more ground if we split up, I want to deal with the Chinese before noon, otherwise I might end up being there until dinner they are a tricky bunch.”

“That’s fine Mick, I just have to collect from a few businesses along Breeze Street anyhow.”

Mickey takes a left at the next alleyway cutting over to Cyrus Avenue. Across the street from Bruce a man playing the saxophone plays his blues. Bruce wishes he could stop and listen, the smooth jazz of the big easy is one of his favorite parts of living in the French Quarter.

At least he could still listen to the blues for a little while as he walks down Breeze Street, shoppers move about the shops. Despite how packed the street had become with pedestrians the locals move out of his way creating a path. The last thing a civilian wanted to do, is to bring the wrath of the Breeze Street Crew down on themselves.

Several buildings down from the boarding house Bruce stops in front of a small two-story white building. Above the entrance is a sign with red lettering, the sign reads. Pugs Pub

Entering the open door of the tavern, Bruce’s hair is blown back by a fan overhead. Pugs is empty this time of the morning. The only person in the bar is a lone man behind the counter.

The man wears a white shirt, Bruce can’t see his pants hidden behind the bar. The man wipes down the wooden bar. He looks up as he hears Bruce approach.

“Jerry you got my money?” Greets Bruce.

“Yeah I got it around here somewhere.” Jerry opens the register and pulls a large stack of cash.

“Jerry you don’t have to pay this much” informs Bruce.

“That is this week’s protection plus the skinny from other three bars, they gave it to me last night to pass along to you”

“Oh, that’s very industrious, I hope you don’t mind that I am going to count it, not that I don’t trust you.”

“Not at all you want a drink while you wait?” Asks Jerry holding up a bottle of well whiskey. Bruce nods his head.

“How much you want?” Jerry takes a ball glass from under the bar as Bruce holds up four fingers signifying that he would like four fingers width of liquor poured into the glass.

Once he is sure the money equals the proper amount he places the stack of cash inside the messenger bag.

“Have you heard about anything I might be interested in?”

Bruce slides a fifty-dollar bill across the bar. Jerry pockets the bill and turns around reaching into the tab slots, he takes down a small one-page pamphlet.

Bruce turns the pamphlet in his hand featuring a device called a microwave. The words Kenmore Microwave stare up at him from the pamphlet. “Jerry what is this shit, are you breaking my balls?”

The bar owner shakes his head. “I swear McKean this is real!”

Bruce knocks back a large swig of whiskey before speaking.

“Come on Jerry appliances coming through the docks belongs to the Guinea’s. You know that…” Jerry is now smiling.

“That is the best part they are not coming from the Gulf; the ship is coming down from the Memphis factory down the Mississippi. The manifest indicates that there could be close to 300 units onboard.”

Bruce lifts his eyebrow with intrigue, that was interesting information, he would have to present it to the higher ups before he planned anything.

“Jerry I will give this some consideration.”

Knocking back the rest of his whiskey he departs Pugs for his next stop. Five doors down from Pugs Pub on the corner of the block with a side street leading to Cyrus Avenue is a barbershop. The owner of the barbershop is named Walter.

He spies Walter sweeping cigarettes and dust from the entrance of his shop into the gutter. As Bruce nears he spots two dark shiners under Walters eyes, his nose is crooked showing signs of a fracture.

“Walter what is the good word?”

Walter leads Bruce into his shop at the same time Walter makes conversation with Bruce.

“Not good, I got held up on my way home last night, the punks broke three teeth.”

Walter shows Bruce the extent of the damage, the front three teeth on the bottom row were cracked.

“You need to go see Wayne to get that fixed! How much did they take?” Remarks and asks Bruce.

“I know I am going to, I wanted to get a few hours in at the shop before I lock up early. The little shits took $1,500.00 dollars, I was right at the bank drop before sunset when they approached me, I told them who I paid protection too and they didn’t seem to care.”

After his show and tell Walter hands Bruce an envelope from his register, which Bruce places in the bag with the other collections.

“Did you get a description of these hoods?”

Bruce writes down on a notepad every detail Walter can remember. He leaves Walter and heads towards his last stop of the day Wayne’s Dental.

It was the afternoon by the time Bruce reaches the end of the commerce zone, if he continued he would enter the Residential section of the Breeze Street French Quarter.

Wayne is good friends with the gangs leader Chris Dellara, both men grew up in the Big Easy together, he and Wayne were at the draft office at the same time, both signed up to fight the Tojo.

During the war Wayne became a battlefield surgeon. After the war he switched to dentistry, opening a dental office on Breeze Street. Wayne is very useful to the Breeze Street Crew, he is more than capable of fixing injuries that might occur as part of the business.

Gunshots and knife wounds were common workplace injuries in Bruce’s line of work, going to a hospital with a gunshot wound drew attention, a dentist office did not.

Bruce walks through the alleyway on the side of the building, there is no reason to enter from the waiting room he didn’t want to disturb the patients.

Wayne would most likely expect him today and thus we would use an employee entrance. He enters through the screen door from the alleyway he is hit with the freshness of air conditioning for the first time today.

As he walks down the ice-cold hallway, he passes a pretty dental assistant like most of the woman he interacts with Bruce smiles in her direction. He sees the open door of Wayne’s office and he stands in the doorway.

In the window an air conditioner pumps out fresh cold air, the office is even colder than the hallway. The air is a tease to Bruce because he knows he will be back in the Sahara in a few minutes.

A small man with narrow shoulders, tiny hands and a bald head stares at an X-ray of a person’s mouth. The bright white light illuminates the person’s teeth.

Bruce lightly knocks at the door. Clearing his throat Bruce says.

“Excuse me Wayne…”

“Ah, Mr. McKean are you here for the collection?” Bruce nods his head.

Wayne walks back towards his desk; he lifts a folder and underneath he has a large manila envelope.

“I put the extra in there, I know that laughing gas you got wasn’t cheap”

“It is a gift we told you it fell off a truck.”

“I know it did, but I rather have it paid for.”

It takes Bruce only a few minutes to count the cash.

“Alright everything seems in order.”

He places the last collection into his heavy messenger bag. Bruce exits the building using the alleyway exit, instead of returning to Breeze Street, he continues down the alleyway towards Cyrus Avenue.

It takes Bruce 20 minutes to walk to the collection office from Breeze Street. The collection office is a small two-story unmarked building at the center of Cyrus Avenue.

Three men sit at the table outside, one of them men reads a newspaper. The men wave to Bruce as he passed them.

Knocking on the iron door the eye flap briefly opens and closes, the iron door creaks open allowing Bruce to see inside. As the door opens the rusty hinges moan from age as he is ushered into the room.

Bruce is drenched in sweat from the walk over, thankfully as he enters the main room for the collection office he is blasted in the face with air conditioning which is welcome in this unrelenting heat.

He looks around the room, there are men sitting at desks looking over ledgers and counting money. On top of one empty desks, near the entrance to the hallway is a wire basket labeled Incoming collections. Bruce dumps out the messenger bag into the basket as the gangs underboss walks towards him.

The man is known as Sammy Lead Foot, his nickname does not mean he is a fast driver. He got that particular nickname in the 1940s, Sammy was a much younger man. A young buck from a rival outfit insulted Sammy. Sammy dragged the guy out by his neck and made him bite the curb. After kicking the guy’s head in the nickname stuck with him.

He is a big man with beard, in addition to him being overweight he isn’t very tall, Bruce speculated that Sammy’s height is around five feet seven inches.

Sammy normally wears a suit, but because of the heat of the day, his jacket is draped over his chair at his desk. Sammy’s pits have soaked through his tailored dress shirt, Sammy wipes his forehead with a handkerchief before he speaks.

“The boss said he wants to speak to you when you got in from collections, he is this way.”

He expects to be lead upstairs towards Dellara’s office, instead Sammy holds the door to the bathroom. Inside the bathroom, Sammy leads Bruce over to the middle stall.

The bathroom’s foul stench could be comparable to that of a cell block in a female prison. The heavy stench in the room is a blend of feces mixed with the spice of creole cooking.

Hearing a spur of flatulence and the sound of a dense object hitting the water, makes Bruce choke down his bourbon from earlier.

“Boss it’s Sammy, I am with Bruce he just came in from collections.”

“Thanks Sammy I want to talk to him alone.”

Sammy leaves Bruce alone with the boss. Bruce is silent on the other side of the door as he waits for his boss to pinch a loaf. The boss speaks up from behind the door.

“Hey, Boy did you have any trouble today?”

Another burst of flatulence is released into the atmosphere! Bruce speaks loudly over the noise of sewage so that he can be heard. He hated to talk to people while they shit, but since he is addressing his boss, he swallows his disgust.

“No everything went fine, I even located Freddie Hubbard, I got the full amount out of him it took a couple weeks to track the little shit down after he had given Albert the slip. I found him in Channey’s Boarding House, at first I didn’t know they allowed blacks. Then Bill Rhoads told me they sleep them for an extra fee and sure enough I found him.”

Bruce hears the toilet paper roll rotating, a few seconds later the flush of the toilet is heard, and the pants of the boss are pulled up, the latch is slid open and the door to the stall opens.

“I had to put the lean on Freddie, He got tuned up a little bit, tried to hold out, he almost did but in the end he coughed up the money.”

Chris Dellara steps out of the stall, he has large drooping jowls; his face is scrunched, and it makes him look like a mastiff. In addition to his one of a kind facial appearance, he is just as heavy set as Sammy, just Dellara is six inches taller and carries the weight better than Sammy.

Dellara’s plump face is coated with a heavy layer of sweat from his bout with his overwhelmed digestive system. The boss has toilet paper stuck to the bottom of his polished ostrich skin boots, the toilet paper follows him as he walks to the sink to wash his meat knuckles.

“Anything else?” Asks Dellara.

“Yes, two things, I heard about some action moving down the river from Memphis. At least 300 of those microwaves. It comes from Jerry the owner of Pugs Pub.”

Shaking his wet hands Dellara turns around and leans against the sink.

“Hm, Jerry is a good source, his information is usually good. I need to look into this further before I greenlight anything. You mentioned a second thing?”

“Yeah, I wanted to tell you this last, last night Walter the owner of the Breeze Street barbershop got rolled.”

Bruce hands Dellara the piece of paper with the attackers descriptions.

“Boss they fucked Walter up bad, cracked three teeth and gave him two shiners to match, in addition they stole $1,500.00 that he was going to deposit at the bank.”

Dellara pockets the piece of paper and puts a wet hand on Bruce’s face, ignoring his germ hang-up Bruce keeps his anxiety and disgust in check.

“You’re a good earner boy, and a pretty tough soldier to add. When you came into the Cat House looking for work two years ago. I thought to myself, here is another washout draft dodger. I figured you would have been in a barrel of acid in your first week.” Dellara waits for Bruce to respond.

Bruce didn’t know what to say to Dellara, thankfully he didn’t have to respond as Sammy enters the bathroom.

“Boss, we got Mickey here. He is saying that the Chinese are saying the protection is due next week not this week.”

Dellara sighs and turns to Bruce after nodding to Sammy.

“We will have to talk about this microwave job another time, take the rest of the day off. Excuse me I have to go and squeeze some penny’s out of some Gooks.”

With that Dellara left Bruce in the restroom alone with nothing but his foul stench...

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