Friday, May 10, 1946

Com Ed rationing electricity is like a hooker rationing the cooze, I thought, as the dishwater blonde worked for a tip.

Nine days into the dimout and the madam who ran the brothel followed the edict; the room was lit by lantern. I watched as my girl finished in the flickering light; our shadows played a skin flick on the wall. She left the room, came back with a wet rag, cleaned me up.

“Like your work?” I asked.

She ignored it: “That’s three dollars.”

“I’m a veteran,” I said.

She never looked up. “So am I, honey. All right, make it two.”

I sat up on the side of the bed, grabbed my boxers off the end table, slipped them on. I grabbed two singles and a quarter, handed them to her.

“Hope you don’t have to work nights to make up for that tip,” she said as she wadded the bills and grabbed her housecoat off the floor.

“You want more coin, suck a mint,” I said.

No laugh. She eyeballed me. “Want another one? On the house?”

I laughed. “You must be new.”

She nodded. “Rita. Ask for me next time, huh?”

Chicago thunder roared. “That sounded like a gunshot,” she said. It clapped again. She yelped, dove off the back of the bed. I grabbed my .38, opened the door to a dark hallway. I watched the glow from the candles situated on the banister, saw a figure burst out of a room, two doors down. It ran my way. I got a quick make: a colored man – dark hands popped out of his coat-sleeves, hat pulled down low, a gray scarf wrapped around his face. He held a .45.

He ran by our room, missed me in the doorway, headed for the stairs. He reached the stairs, looked over his shoulder. He saw me, turned, raised the gun.

I squeezed two quick ones, yelled, “Freeze,” between the shots. He caught them in the chest, toppled down the stairs and came to a rest in the foyer.

Screams from everywhere. Doors opened. Men popped an eyebrow into the hall. I turned, ran down the hall, pushed the door open, prepped myself for the first dead body I’d see since the war. I got one and a half.

The man was sprawled on the bed, face down: two bullet holes in his back turned his birthday suit into a retirement suit. The girl had it worse: underneath him, she’d taken the leftovers. She was still alive. Barely. Blood gurgled out her mouth, bubbled as she moved her jaw, tried to talk. Her eyes registered shock. She wouldn’t make it to the hospital.


A young brunette in a housecoat pushed me out of the way, started for the girl.

I grabbed her, held her back. “Call an ambulance, now!”

I pushed her out the door, stepped toward the girl. “We’re getting help. I know it sounds stupid, but try to stay calm.” Her head nodded in rhythm; blood spat out her chest.

I felt the man’s left wrist, nixed on a pulse, pulled him off her. I grabbed a pillow, placed it against her stomach, gently took the back of her head in my hand. Her head lolled to my side, her breathing slowed.

Noises: Loud footsteps down the hall, back stairs. The back door creaked open, slammed shut: customers escaping i.d. Closer, wanton women gathered in the doorway, screaming, crying. The madam stepped into the room, hands on her cheeks, yelling at me. I stopped her with a hand in the air: “I’m a cop.”

I turned back to the girl. Civilians fight it hard, too, I thought, as she died.

Fifteen minutes later, dressed, blood washed off in the kitchen sink. The ambulances were headed to the morgue. Cops questioned the women, burned that none of the johns stuck around to talk. A homicide dick corralled me in the kitchen. He hit the lights, doused the candles. “Dimout ended an hour ago. Another whore who thinks she did her civic duty.”

“Every little bit helps.”

“I hear you’re a cop.”

“Yeah.” I told him my name, showed him my badge.

He motioned to the kitchen table, sat down. He leaned forward, pushed up the sleeves of his sport jacket. “Mind telling me what a cop is doing in a place like this, Officer Carson?”

I glared at him, he looked it: part goon squad, part God squad. Medium height, about forty extra pounds, thinning brown hair and a thick moustache that hung too far over his lip.

“Making up for some time overseas.”



“No excuse. You shouldn’t have been here. But you were. What happened?” He waved his hand in front of his face. “And you can leave out the details of your lewd behavior.”

I gave him my story, stressed the gun pointed at me – imminent danger.

He drummed his fingers on the table. “Bad break for the shine, you being here and all. Anyone know you were coming?”

“The dame.”

“You schedule an appointment?”

“Skip it. Just kidding.”

“Leave the yucks for someone else, officer. Answer the question. Anyone know you were paying a visit?”

“No. Last minute decision.”



“Been here before?”

“Uh huh.”


“Few years ago, maybe three times since my discharge.”

“Anyone know you came here before?”

“No one. Sam Brody.”

A grunt, surprise: “South Side Sam Brody?”

“One and the same.”

“Figures.  He couldn’t tip anybody off.”

“Long distance call from Terre Haute.”

“South Side Sam Brody,” he said. “Served him right. Dirtiest cop I ever met. Now how would a..?” It hit him. “Carson, you’re the kid he…”

I cut him off. “Right. History. Let’s get this over with.”

Jameson looked at me, shook his head. “You queered this one Officer. A young man like you shouldn’t be in a place like this and you sure as hell should’ve taken off after the shooting. You ain’t no hero. All you did was kill a shine and make my job that much harder. You’re a regular screwup, just like Brody.”

I digested it, let it pass. “That all?”

“No, give your statement to Sergeant Anderson when he comes down. I’ll call you if we need any more of your ‘help’.”

I got up, started out. “Say, Casanova,” said Jameson, stopping me in the doorway. “You know the deceased?”

“Which one?”

“The man, you idiot.”

“Which one?”

“Very funny, wisenheimer. The white man.”

“No. Who was he?”

“Driver’s license says, ‘Don Cordell’. Business card says, ‘Attorney at Law'”.

I bit my lower lip. “How ’bout the other one?”

“The other one?”

“The colored man.”

He picked at his nails with a match. “The shine? Who cares.”

It was nearly midnight by the time they took my statement and gave me the “Scram.” I guided my Olds south on Dearborn, turned west toward Rush Street, caught a glimpse of the bright lights and changed my mind. I drove south down Toothpick Row, into the heart of the Loop, hit Madison and headed west. I parked in the rear of my apartment building and walked over to Harry’s, my favorite gin mill.

Harry’s was packed, a fact I didn’t like but Harry probably did. Several booths sat to my right, filled with working class stiffs dressed up for their big night out. Tables were scattered to my left and a crowd in front of me gathered around the corner of the bar, watching a man challenge the dealer in a game of Bing. I watched just long enough to see the dealer spill a pair of sixes out of her cup – the player groaned when he realized he wouldn’t get to roll. Frank, the bartender caught my eye, motioned toward a stool at the end of the bar, near the jukebox. I pushed my way through the crowd and sat down.

“Figured you might like it back here better tonight, Gus,” he said as he set a copper mug full of beer and a shot of whiskey in front of me. He adjusted his bow tie, jerked his head toward a group of men in the front of the bar, “Construction workers, celebrating somebody’s birthday.”

I glanced their way. They’d pulled a group of tables together, a couple of dozen beer bottles and countless shot glasses testified to their night. Two of them were arm wrestling while the others urged them on with whoops and hollers.

“Harry ’round?” I asked Frank as I shifted two pennies from the right front pocket of my slacks to the left.

“‘Course. Friday night. He’s in the back room. Should be out in a minute.” He took my shot glass and walked toward the sink.

I introduced myself to my beer again. We were getting better acquainted when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“You gonna give all of your attention to that beer, Gus?”

“Evening, Mabel,” I said.

“Sorry, it’s already, ‘Good morning, Mabel’. I’d love to hear you say that to me, but this isn’t exactly the spot where I want to hear it.”

I laughed. She grabbed it like it was on sale. “Big, blond and buff, just the way I like ’em. Wanna walk me home tonight, officer?”

I shook my head. “Think I’ll be here for a while.”

“I will too,” she said as she set her tray down on the bar and wiped her hands on her apron. “I’m closing tonight”

“Your close and mine might not be the same.”

“They will tonight. Harry’s got a date and me and Frank’s closing up.”

I threw my hands up in the air. “Another three hours ’til closing. We’ll see what happens.” I listened to the tune coming from the jukebox – it sounded like a drill sergeant screaming a lullabye. “What’s with this garbage?”

“The worst, isn’t it?” said Mabel. “Bix Bennett. Harry said to give it six plays every hour.”

“Tell him to bring back the piano player.”

A roar fell off the three tables in the front. A big, bearded man raised his hands in the air and growled, “Shots for the house!”

Mabel rolled her eyes and turned to the bar. The big man came over, ran his hand through the back of her hair and said, “Shots for the house, sister. Big Mike’s won again.”

He caught me out of the corner of his eye, slapped me on the back. “Order up, Mister. Big Mike’s buying for the house. I just won another two dollars.”

I didn’t turn toward him. “Nothing for me, thanks.”

The man squared up, stepped closer. “I guess you didn’t hear me. I said I’m buying a round for the house.”

I eyeballed him in the mirror: a few years younger than me, say twenty-four, twenty-five, scuffed up hands, coat and tie on their last legs. “I heard you. I just had a shot. I don’t need another.”

He rested a big arm on the bar. “Not even the frogs turned down a drink with a member of this man’s army and I’ll be damned if it’s gonna happen here.”

I set my beer down, held onto the copper mug, turned to face him. One of his friends stepped up beside him, threw an arm around him and told him to go back to their tables.

“Oh,” said Big Mike. “I’m just trying to buy the guy a drink. There ain’t gonna be no trouble. C’mon, Mister. Let me buy you a drink. You don’t even have to drink it.”

“Dogface,” I said. “I appreciate the offer, but you’ll just be throwing it away. Between you and Bix Bennet, I’ve decided that home might be a better place for me right now.”

“Barkeep, give him another of what he’s having,” said Big Mike.

The bartender shrugged, sent me another copper mug full of beer. I gave up, shifted another penny to the left pocket, raised my glass to toast Big Mike and his friends. They played Mabel’s game; they pulled up the “For Sale” sign and moved in next to me at the bar.

“Hell, I knew you couldn’t resist a drink with this man’s army,” said Big Mike as he pulled a stool up next to me.

“Talk a little louder so I don’t have to hear the jukebox, will you?” I said. I smiled to help wipe the confusion off his face.

“You’re a funny one, Mac,” he said.

His friends gathered around. They drank like there was no tomorrow – that I could understand. They took turns introducing themselves to me, thought it was a lark when I repeated all of their names, had me do it again.

“How the hell can you remember thirteen names that quick?” asked one.

“Lucky, I guess.”

“Lucky, my ass. What kinda work you do?”


They burst into laughter. “And to think,” said another, “Big Mike was getting on him.”

They roared. Big Mike decided to test me. “My grandmother’s been married three times. Her name’s Ellie Joan Fitzpatrick – Ryerson – Fitch.”

Another chimed in: “My mom’s maiden name is Glenker”

“My sister married a bohunk named Aramas Roscovitch.”

“Sister-in-law named Alice Wharton – Grabowski.”

The baker’s dozen all got ’em in. I took a snort, set down my mug, turned to the group. Matter of fact: “Your name is Allen Adams and your first grade teacher was Henrietta Hall. You’re Tim Bounds and your first girlfriend was Tammy Peacock. Your barber’s Bob Davidson, so you must be Hank Berman. You’re James Baron and your brother is Robert Jeffrey Baron. But he isn’t related to Robert Weiss, because Robert Weiss’ brother-in-law is right here – he’s Dan Summerfield. This is another Robert, though, he’s Robert Green and his favorite pinup wasn’t Betty Hutton, it was a girl from his high school named Elma Zileski. Ted Feeney here married Mary Baker. Scott Willard played baseball with Bill Cavaretta, but he’s not related to the Cubs’ Phil Cavaretta. You were too easy on me, there, Scott. Cletus Stemple here fought a man named Sean O’Reilly over a girl named Martha Dandridge. Fred Grabowski’s sister in law is named Alice Wharton – Grabowski. Titus Agnew’s sister married a bohunk named Aramas Roscovitch, although that doesn’t sound Bohemian to me. Ralph Barnes’ mother’s maiden name is Glenker and Mike Fitzpatrick’s grandmother was married three times and her name is…is…”

You could’ve heard a beer bubble pop.

“Well, God damnit, you just gotta know this one!” yelled Titus Agnew.

I motioned to the bartender. “The next round is on the grandson of Ellie Joan Fitzpatrick – Ryerson – Fitch!”

The dam burst: cheers filled the room. The men bellied up to the bar; Big Mike threw an arm around my shoulder, told me it was the damndest thing he’d ever seen.

I didn’t tell him that his hand on my shoulder felt like a tarantula. Didn’t tell him that just a few years ago I’d have beaten him senseless for raising his voice to me. Didn’t tell him that I remembered names because I wanted to stay close to those who’d died. I didn’t tell him I’d killed a man just hours before. I told him I appreciated the beer and I drank it like a sink draining tap water.

Harry didn’t come out of the back room until four. The place was near empty; Frank and Mabel had wiped down the bar and tables and left. Spilled booze had turned the floor into a skating rink, the Bix Bennett tune was scratched – he screamed at me over and over.

I forced my lids high, focused on Harry. Fatigue had chased me all night. It caught me.

“You look like you’re down for the count,” said Harry, peering down at me over his tiny accountant’s glasses.

I smiled at him. He stood around five foot ten but probably only weighed a buck and a half, so I had him by a half of a foot and eighty pounds. He wore a starched white shirt with a black vest and a thin, red tie. A pencil was tucked behind his right ear.

“Gonna sleep here tonight.”

Harry ignored it. “I looked out earlier. Watched you play the crowd. Sure wasn’t the old Gus.”

“Men change.”

“Thank God.”

“Him too. Why’re you playing that Bax Bennett shit?”

“Bix. I didn’t know you were a music fan.”

“Keep playing that garbage and I never will be.”

“Why do you want to stay here tonight?”

I reached over the bar, grabbed a bottle, filled a glass. “I thought you had a date tonight?”

“Girl up at the Pink Garter. I called and told Tony to tell her I had a problem with the bar. Cubs game yesterday. Must’ve drank three dollars worth of beer myself. I still haven’t recovered.”

“Pity,” I said as I tipped the glass.

He looked at me. “I agree,” he said. He handed me the keys. “Don’ll be here to open at ten. You leave before that, make sure you lock up. Cot’s in the back. Try to keep track of your drinks. You owe me.”

I jiggled the pennies in my pocket. “Don’t worry, I’m keeping track.”

Harry left. I took a long drink, checked out the guy in the bar mirror. Not bad in the looks department but aging fast. I closed my eyes, dropped my chin against my chest. Bix Bennett screamed “I love you” over and over.

I stumbled to the back room, fell onto the cot. Names ran through my head like a ticker tape. The colored man curled up on the floor. I felt Sollie the Jew gently lifted my head out of the water. “You’re gonna make it, Gus,” he said as I slipped into the deep, dark ocean.

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