Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sean O'Brian part 4

Copyright (c) 2019 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



Sean O’Brian
Part 4
By R. Peterson

Three months later Gin Lou was becoming an expert driver. He traded his fedora for a White-Sox baseball cap. He thought it made him look more American. Sean thought he looked even more Chinese … but he didn’t rag him on it. “Who’s next on the list?” Sean asked as the Packard rolled down Water Street after visiting the docks.
“Tony Italian food restaurant,” Gin Lou said. “Lefty make big trouble … say Tony not pay double … Lefty become owner!”
Frank “Lefty” Esposito was just another cheap hood trying to move in on McGooganheimer’s territory.
            “You want bring soldiers?” Gin Lou loved to talk on the two-way Motorola that one of the boss’s boys lifted from a cop car. Sean had even caught him crooning Ted Weems songs into it when he thought no one was receiving.
            “No,” Sean said. “I’ll talk to Tony later. We’ll see if we can cool Frank down.”
Gin Lou shook his head. To Sean cool meant to put on ice … something you did to dead fish. Sean had also used Lefty’s real name and that meant a funeral was coming. There was going to be violence. Gin Lou slowed down. It was always better to think things through before a raid. He ended up driving around the block a couple of times … while they worked things out.
            Frank Esposito’s hideout/brothel was in the back rooms of a laundry. There were plenty of Chinese out front … cleaning, ironing and folding; Gin Lou would fit right in. Sean waited in the car while Gin Lou walked in Wing Mow’s pretending to look for a job. Five minutes later, a police car with two officers inside parked half a block down the street as lookouts. Sean nodded to the men. With Capone in federal prison, the Chicago police now worked for all the gangs.
Gin Lou was playing stupid. While inside the laundry he opened a door and looked into the back rooms. One of the laundry workers quickly pulled him back. Ten minutes later he was back in the car. “Wing Mow is friend of father,” he said. “Lefty has slaves his whole family. All daughters work in brothel. Most sons dead. Wing Mow say great dishonor … and want die!”
            “How many soldiers?”
            “Two left corner two right corner … have guns but not hold in hands.”
Sean smiled as they got out of the Packard and opened the rumble-seat trunk. “Which side do you want?” Gin Lou looked both ways down the street before they took Thompson machine-guns out of a special made violin cases. The cops were purposefully looking the other way. Each of the circular drum magazines attached to the 45 caliber automatic rifles held one-hundred rounds.
“Man on left side very bad to Chinese girl,” Gin Lou said. “She very young!  He make dance naked.”
“We’ll see if he’ll dance to the song we play him,” Sean said.
When the guns were ready, Sean pulled out two flour sacks with holes cut for their eyes along with two wide-brim floppy cowboy hats and they slipped them over their heads. The head coverings were painted so they looked like they had been splashed with blood.
            “Why we wear mask?” Chin Lou said. “Lefty men all dead … Chinese no talk police.”
            “It’s all part of the show,” Sean told him.  “Things like this still get around even if they’re not in the papers. The first thing Lefty’s boys are going to see when we kick open the door is two monsters. That’s why I always leave one crawling … he will do more damage to our enemies by telling stories than we will!”
Sean and Gin Lou waited for a school bus filled with children to go past. . Before its splash of yellow vanished around the corner, Sean had a vision of his dead mother telling him to stay in school. “Are you ready Tonto?”
            “Yes, Kimosabe!”

-------2-------

            Most of the Chinese laundry workers were already fleeing silently out the front when Sean kicked open the back-room door. A young Chinese girl about ten years old was dancing nude on a table where men were shooting craps. The Chinaman almost laughed. Sean was right the look of horror on their faces reminded him of a monster movie. Gin Lou sprayed the two men in the corner as they were reaching for their guns. Blood, bone, guts and expensive shredded silk spattered-painted two walls. Sean swept his gun from left to right starting just inches from the stunned girl and moving around the room. She was screaming, but her voice was lost in the roar of the gunfire. The men clustered around the dice-table dove for cover, most with bullets punching button-holes in their custom made suits just as a gigantic three-hundred sixty light chandelier crashed to the floor. A stairway on the back wall led to rooms above. Bullets whistled past Sean’s cheek. He felt the heat burn his skin. A man stood on a landing pulling the trigger on an automatic pistol. Two more doors opened and half-naked men poured out … some had weapons.  Gin Lou turned his gun on the stairs where two support beams held up the upper level The landing collapsed just as the first man emptied his gun. Clouds of smoke, wood splinters and burning lead filled the air. An upright standing oil lamp a remnant of another era fell and started a fire. Neither Sean nor Gin Lou stopped until their magazines were almost empty.
Bodies lay piled in the wreckage as if a bomb had gone off. A bloody fat-man dragged himself across the littered floor with his hands. Sean stepped on his fingers and then rolled him over onto a carpet of broken glass with his boot. It was Frank Esposito. “Don’t kill me,” the man begged.
            “This might be your lucky day,” Sean told him. “We usually leave one fish swimming as a kind of advertising …”
            “You sons-of-whores,” the man hissed. “I’ve got connections. When Nitti hears about this … you’re both dead!”
Gin Lou turned his gun on a man struggling under the overturned table but didn’t fire. The moaning man grabbed the naked Chinese girl by the ankle and she kicked him. Sean noticed the bruises on her skin for the first time. “Looks like your luck just ran out,” Sean said as he stared at Lefty. There was something about violence that Sean liked. The person getting punished just had to deserve it. He finished firing all the bullets in his gun.

-------3-------

            Sean left Gin Lou to talk to the laundry owners. He offered them the same deal he’d offered hundreds of other businesses in Chicago: Protection in return for a twenty percent share of their company profits.  There was no threat involved. The business men and women were free to reject his offer without reprisals. What they got in return was relief from the mobs that drew every last drop of blood from their victims and a group of hard working and very connected associates who looked after their own in a business-like manner. Almost all of McGooganheimer’s associates thrived, especially Sean.
 It wasn’t until the Packard disappeared around the corner that the police car started. The hit would be minimized and blamed on a rival gang. The controlling mobs had leaned hard lessons from the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. The damage to the laundry would be repaired. Twenty bodies would be weighted and dumped in the East River to keep sensationalism out of the papers … and nobody talked. Booze was now legal and profits had to come from other places. McGooganheimer was a great teacher and Sean an apt pupil. “A Smart lawyer can steal more in a day than a crook can in a year!” The old man’s voice was a never ending echo in Sean’s mind.

-------4-------

            Sean parked the Packard just behind the Church of the Divine Light. He had driven aimlessly for hours – never leaving the city. It was near midnight and a cold breeze skittered from Lake Michigan. Sean buttoned his coat. There were no clouds and a Gibbous moon illuminated the graves. Ava O’Brian’s headstone was near the back of the pristine cemetery. Father O’Malley was good for his word. Sean’s mother’s name and the dates of her birth and death were engraved deeply in solid granite next to his father. Bunches of shamrocks were just starting to open on each side of the stones. Sean picked one of the young clovers and held it to his nose. The scent reminded him of his too-short childhood.
            Ave O’Brian danced across the tiny kitchen floor while the family sang “Lift MacCahir og your face, brooding o'er the old disgrace when Black Fitzwilliam stormed your place … and drove you to the fern.” Sean and his father both stomped their work boots and laughed when she made a fuss over the mud they’d tracked in. There was bread baking in the oven and the smell was making Sean delirious. “Wash-up … I’ll not have two pigs snorting around my table while we live in this city,” she said as she returned with a broom. She swatted Sean playfully on his trouser bottom when he turned toward the wash basin. “Someday you’ll live in a fine house …” her eyes were dreamy. “You’ll not be hiding from a man come to collect the rent.”  She dropped to her knees to wipe up the last crumbs of dirt. “You listen to me now and do what I say!” Sean’s father at the basin next to him gave him a wink as the woman behind them rattled on.
            “I will mother. I promise …” Sean looked around. He was alone in the cemetery. He slowly walked back to the Packard.

THE END ???





Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sean O'Brian part 3

Copyright (c) 2019 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



Sean O’Brian
Part 3
By R. Peterson

          “Our territory is expanding,” McGooganheimer said as he handed Sean a fistful of bills. He reached into the drawer behind his huge mahogany desk again and pulled out more money. “A little something for your friend,” the mobster murmured. Sean nodded and a grateful Gin Lou stepped forward to accept the cash. “I’m going to need you to start driving where you’re going.” McGooganheimer closed the drawer and Sean breathed a little easier. He knew the biggest crime boss on the east side of Chicago kept several loaded weapons in there and was never reluctant to use them.
            Sean and Gin Lou stared as their employer stood up, lit a fat hand-rolled Cuban cigar rumored to cost over a buck each and then strode toward large floor to ceiling windows. He moved easily in spite of his enormous size. The top floor office in the forty-nine story skyscraper had a magnificent view overlooking South Water Street and Lake Michigan. “I’ve arranged for one of my associates to supply you with a car.” He flicked Sean a business card and Sean caught it and stuck it in his pocket without looking. The custom made silk suit Sean wore was a little large … he was still growing, but it did make him look older. “You’ll need a driver’s license,” McGooganheimer said. “How old are you?”
            “Almost fifteen,” Sean lied.
The fat mobster laughed. “No, you’re seventeen,” he said. “Anybody says different, you tell them to come talk to me.”
Sean nodded.
            “You know where the Department of Motor Vehicles is?”
            “Yes,” Sean told him.
            “Be there before lunchtime,” McGooganheimer said. “Ask for Gloria.”
The fat man waved his arm while he stared out the window his signal that the meeting was finished. Sean and Gin Lou both put on the hats they held in their hands and turned toward the door. They both stopped when McGooganheimer spoke again. “You’re a bright kid and I gots to know I can trust you,” he said. “So no lies to me … okay?”
Sean took his hat back off. “I’ll be fourteen in April,” he admitted.
            “Anything else?”
Sean barely hesitated. “The raid on the Oasis Café was a sham, faked by me and Gin Lou,” he said. “McCain’s men were never involved. I needed a job and I wanted to work for you.”
McGooganheimer stood with his back to them for a long time. When he turned he was smiling. “Let’s keep this secret between us shall we? Some of my trusted soldiers find out I know … they’re gonna start having bad dreams. Now get out of here!” he ordered.
-------
            Gin Lou released his breath when they walked toward the elevators. “Me think we both go for swim in river!”
            “We probably will,” Sean told him as he pushed a button for the street-level floor, “but I don’t think it will be today.”

-------2-------

            The Chicago DMV was on the other side of the city. Sean and Gin Lou took a taxi. Sean was amazed by the lines of men waiting for soup kitchens to open. As the Great Depression worsened, men from farms all across the mid-west poured into the big cities looking for jobs. Makeshift shelters, mostly tents made of scrap cloth and paper littered most vacant lots and covered much of the city’s park area. They were called Hoovervilles in honor of outgoing President Hoover. President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt would take office on March 4th. but it was still only January 30th.
            The March of the Swiss Soldiers finale to the William Tell Overture blasted on the radio. The driver reached to turn it off but Sean told him to leave it on. “I not know you like big orchestra song,” Gin Lou teased him from the back seat.
            “I like this one,” Sean said. “It gets my blood pumping.”
Both boys were surprised when the music turned out to be the introduction to a new western radio program. A masked man and his Indian companion were stopped on the road into town by two sheriff’s deputies. Sean and Gin Lou both laughed when the two got away.
            “I like when bad guy gets away.” Gin Lou grinned.
            “I’m not so sure they were bad,” Sean said as the taxi pulled up in front of the DMV office. “Sometimes people are not what they seem!”
            “This are true words … Kimosabe!”
Sean laughed. “Why did you call me that?”
            “Maybe you not bad guy?”
            “Did you know that Kimosabe means soggy brush in Navaho?” Sean asked.
Gin Lou shook his head.
            “And that Tonto means stupid?”
            “How you know so many things?”
            “School,” Sean said. “… and life is the best teacher.”

-------3-------

            The woman behind the desk at the department of Motor Vehicles laughed when Sean said he needed a driver’s license. “You don’t need a license to ride a bicycle,” she smirked.
            “Can I speak with Gloria?” Sean made his voice extra polite.
            “If you think you can get me in trouble with my boss you can get the hell out of here right now!” The woman stood up and pointed toward the door. “Both of you out of this office before I call the cops!”
Sean turned to Gin Lou and smiled then he screamed as loud as he could. “Gloria! Gloria! … Glo ….ria!” The furious woman came around her desk and as just about to place her hands on Sean’s neck when a door burst open behind her. “Ruth, what’s going on?” A middle aged woman adjusting glasses that had fallen down her nose looked around the room. “Who wants me?” she asked.
            “These two are trying to con me into …” Sean cut her off. “McGooganheimer sent me,” he said. “I’m supposed to ask for you …”
Gloria ushered both boys into her office. “When someone comes to see me I expect to be notified,” she told her subordinate. “If it happens again you will be looking for a job.” Then she closed the door.
            “We need driver’s licenses,” Sean told her. “McGooganheimer said you would help us.”
“Both of you?” Gloria looked like she was trying not to smirk. “Then I’ll need you both to write down your date of birth and some other information on these forms,” she said as she handed each boy a pen and sheets of paper. “If you’re both say seventeen…” She smiled as she looked at a message pad next to her phone. “The year of your birth has to be nineteen-sixteen.”
            “Thank you,” the two boys said at once.
            “It’s almost lunch time,” Gloria said moving toward the door. “I’ll arrange to have the photographer stay behind and process your photos.”

The Department of Motor Vehicle employees were just coming back from lunch break when Sean and Gin Lou left with their Illinois State driver’s licenses. Ruth Lemmon glared at both boys. “I didn’t know film could be developed this fast,” Sean said looking at his black and white card.
            “It magic, Kimosabe,” Gin Lou told him with a huge smile directed at the furious clerk. “Hi O Silver away….”

-------4-------

            Sean gave the business card to the taxi driver and both lads were astonished when the cab stopped in front of a Packard dealership. The boys were admiring a new Super Eight done up in a deep-metallic champagne-violet paint when a salesman rushed over. “Easy there,” he scolded. “Don’t touch the vehicles! This car is worth more than your daddy makes in a lifetime!” He pulled a cloth from his back pocket and began to polish the hood … muttering under his breath.
Sean handed the salesman the card McGooganheimer had given him. “Not my daddy,” he said. Sean noticed the writing on the back for the first time but didn’t bother to read it … but the salesman did. “This is for a used car,” he said. Sean shook his head. An instant after a phone call the salesman was all smiles. “What kind of car are you looking for?” his voice was like honey dripping from an overturned jar.
            “I like this one,” Sean said. “But without your greasy handprints on it!” He pushed the man away who had been leaning on the hood. “You got keys?”
When the salesman scrambled away to an office to come up with a set of keys Sean turned to Gin Lou. “You think you can drive this?”
Gin Lou stared at the luxury car with wide eyes. “Show what pedals do,” he stammered. “I can make car turn.”
“You better lean fast Tonto,” Sean told him as he polished the hood with his own handkerchief. “There’s lots of bad guys in this city.”

-------5-------

            The first stop was a music store; a speakeasy was located in the basement with its own rear entrance. Sean asked the girl working the floor to speak to the manager then he and Gin Lou looked at an assortment of string instruments. They heard a door open and a piano playing somewhere below … then the door closed. “What do you want?” A heavyset man wearing a dirty apron came up the stairs. He looked like he’d been cooking some kind of greasy food and smelled like a brewery. “I asked for the manager,” Sean told him.
“He’s busy,” the man said. “Deal with me … or go home!”
Sean turned his head, aware that the fat man was moving-in too close and pretended to admire one of the violins. “How much …” Sean never finished. He stuck out one foot and then seized the man by the collar with both hands and pulled him forward. The three-hundred pound giant hit the floor with a crash that made dust fall from the ceiling. “… is your life worth?” The fat man moaned and was just starting to stand when Sean broke a violin over his head. Two men ran up the stairs in response to the racket. “Get your busy manager up her now,” Sean glared at them. When they left, he kicked the blubbering man in the head. “I asked you a question!” Sean said.
The fat man struggled to get the wallet out of his pants pocket. Sean snatched it out of his hand and tossed it to Gin Lou. The smiling Chinese immigrant took a fistful of bills out and then flung the empty wallet at the cook. His fingers fanned the bills once like he was dealing cards. “Three-hundred twenty-six,” he said.
            “Let’s hope your life is worth a lot more than that … the next time I visit,” Sean spoke to the floor.
The well-dressed manager came up the stairs with what looked like a sixteen-year old farm girl wearing a rumpled flapper dress following obediently behind. “What the Hell?” he stammered as he saw his bouncer lying on the floor.
            “I’m here to collect the rent,” Sean told him.

-------6-------

            “Three-thousand is not bad for an afternoon of work,” Sean used his key to open the Packard’s rumble-seat trunk as Gin Lou placed two empty violin cases on the floor.
            “Why you take cases … no music play?” Gin Lou said.
            “In a few months prohibition is coming to an end,” Sean told him. “The streets are going to be different. There’s going to be a fight for new opportunities … only the strongest will survive.”
They left the girl wearing the flapper dress at a bus station with one-hundred dollars.
For the first time in months, the sky above Chicago was without a breath of wind. The stars peeking from behind a dark curtain of clouds looked like the lights from an enormous stage not of this world. They listened to Ethel Waters sing Stormy Weather on the radio. Gin Lou turned up the volume. A frozen rain was falling softly. The Packard’s wipers sounded like a jazz drummer dusting his snare in perfect time. “We need other talents to fall back on if our charm and intelligence should fail us,” Sean told his grinning driver. “Turn here, I know a shady merchant from Italy … that will sell us music lessons.”

TO BE CONTINUED …

           



Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sean O'Brian part 2

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



Sean O’Brian
Part 2

By R. Peterson

            Father O’Malley was on his knees behind a lectern sorting through a few remaining religious icons and deciding which of the gilded objects the destitute parish could liquidate when Sean O’Brian entered the Church of the Devine Light. A cold wind blew through the mostly empty pews and circled the barren walls. The figure of Jesus hanging on a cross was all that was left from a decade of glitter and prosperity. “I heard about your mother; I’m so sorry,” the Priest said.
            “She didn’t have much,” Sean said as he dropped a gold wedding band and a silver necklace chain into the priest’s reluctant hand, “but I would like her buried behind the church … she was a good woman.”
            “Your mother was rich in faith,” Father O’Malley told him. “I will find a way to bury her properly.” He tried to hand the ring back. “You might want to keep this as something to remember her by.”
            “I see her smile each time I close my eyes,” Sean said as he pushed the priest’s hand away. “I hear her voice when I’m alone and her singing each time the wind blows through the streets. I don’t need a piece of gold to remind me of what will never leave my heart.”
            “You’re a good boy,” the Priest said as he patted his back. “If you need a place to sleep you are welcome to stay here. I try to find enough food to keep my flock from straying.” He gestured toward a small room adjoining the chapel; it was filled mostly with ragged women and wide-eyed children clutching at their skirts. “The streets are filling with wolves.”
            “Thank you father,” Sean said as he turned toward the double doors. “But I made a promise to my mother … that I intend to keep.”
Father O’Malley looked after him with one eyebrow raised. He had counseled Ava O’Brian in confession many times. “You don’t have to worry about fighting in my church.”
            “It’s not about fighting,” Sean began to cry. “I have to make the world give me …”
            “Give you what?” Frustrated sympathy shone in the priest’s eyes.
            “Everything,” Sean told him. “I have to make this new world give me everything.”

-------2-------

            “Sauce” Branson and Gordano Donelli had Gin Lou Lee pushed against a broken baseball fence that a whiskey truck had ran into and were rubbing snow in his face when Sean entered the school yard. “We told you to bring a hundred jacky-jumpers,” Donelli told the terrified boy.
            “No more gun-powder,” Gin Lou bawled. “Father trade all food … family hungry!”
            “You Chinks can eat garbage,” Branson laughed holding up the small string of firecrackers he’d taken from the son of Chinese immigrants. “I want twice this many tomorrow.”
            “How does garbage taste?” Sean asked quietly. He smiled when both of the bullies turned to stare at him.
            “How the hell would we know?” Donelli sneered.
            “I suppose it depends on what you call garbage.” Sean picked up a metal post and broke away the mesh wire clinging to it.
            “You and Lee are both garbage!” Branson laughed.
            “In that case have a bite of this!” Sean viciously swung the metal post and caught Donelli smack in the side of the head. He jumped back as Branson charged forward and then thrust the rod into his bulging stomach. Sean kicked Donelli in the head when he attempted to stand and then dragged a moaning Branson by the hair and dumped him on top of his unconscious friend.
Sean twisted in the air and then sat down hard on the pile. Branson gasped; long ragged breaths. All the wind had been knocked from his lungs. “I’ve seen stray dogs trying to get into the garbage cans behind the school,” Sean pointed. “We’ve got a few minutes before Sister Mason rings the bell. See if you can find a couple of dog turds … fresh would be best … but frozen will do.”
            “I can do that.” Gin Lou glanced at Sean and then looked at the pile of arms and legs he was sitting on.
            “My new friends …” Sean punched Branson in the face. “Are going to find out what real garbage tastes like!”

-------3-------

The Café on the corner of Illinois Avenue and Lake Drive was a front for illegal booze and horse racing. Sean had never been in the back room before. A dozen men were counting stacks of money on two tables. An Italian guard with a rifle strapped across his shoulder was busy putting his hands all over a young waitress and ignored him. “Bugs McCain is going to hit this place in two minutes,” Sean yelled.
A couple of the men counting money actually laughed. “Benny McCain is a stooge,” one said as he lit a cigar. “McGooganheimer gets protection from the boss himself.”
            “Shouldn’t you be in school?” The waitress brushed away the fingers dangling across her chest and tried to keep her too short skirt from rising.  She was trapped in a corner and was obviously grateful for the distraction.
            “Get out of here kid … or so help me I’ll take off my belt!” The man with the gun now turned vicious mean eyes on the boy. The oily mustache above his lip danced as his mouth turned into a snarl.
            “I’m not making this up,” Sean sounded frantic. “Three black cars just pulled up out front. A dozen men are taking those short rifles with the big round cylinders out of violin cases.”
            “Thompson machine guns?” One of the money counters stood up and dropped his stacked bills on the table. Eyes began to look worried.
Suddenly the café area behind Sean erupted with a storm of loud bangs. Men and women screamed; smoke was everywhere. The two tables upended as the money counters scrambled out of their chairs and fled toward the back door. Clouds of loose cash hit the low ceiling and rained to the floor.  The man with the rifle lost it and shattered one of the overturned tables after Sean’s outstretched boot sent him cartwheeling across the floor. Sean handed the coughing waitress two fifty dollar bills. “You’ve got looks,” he said. “Why not take a train out to Hollywood.” The dizzy guard was rising to his feet. Sean used the butt of the gun to knock him out.
Gin Lou’s round, smiling face appeared in the doorway right after the waitress scampered. “Father pack plenty powder very tight … sound like war where people eat!”
“Anyone left out there?”
“Much smoke! Everybody run into street … no come back here for long time.”
A police siren could be heard in the distance coming closer. Sean tossed Gin Lou a couple of empty flour sacks. “We’ve got to work fast … make sure you pick up every bill!”

-------4-------

            The candy store that Machine-Gun McGooganheimer used as his headquarters had just opened when Sean walked in and plopped the bags filled with money down on the counter. The man with the gun from the night before leaned against a rack filled with Baby Ruth bars. His head was bandaged and both of his eyes were blackened, a beating that obviously came after the ruckus. Several of the money counters also lingered. They looked as if they’d been up all night … with no sleep. “It’s almost all there,” Sean said. “I don’t steal from my employers.”
            “It was a fake raid!” the man with the black eyes blurted. “Lots of bang with no bullets!”
            “And I tried to warn you.” Sean turned toward McGooganheimer. “I saved the loot before McCain’s thugs could get their hands on it.”
            “Is this true?” The Scottish/German mobster was as large as an elephant when he rose from his seat glaring at his men. “Did this boy warn you about the raid before it took place?”
            “He came in yelling about McCain and guns out front,” one of the counters stammered. “We thought it was a joke!”
            “That’s right … they all laughed before they ran,” Sean said.
            “How many men came in from the street?” McGooganheimer stared at his men. He’d been over this point for hours. “You told me they got the cash!” The shooting was faked but his own soldiers swore that McCain’s men had been there in force.
Several of the money counters looked at Sean with pleading eyes. “There were twelve all carrying machine guns,” Sean agreed. “They must have been under orders not to use them.”
            “Big Al wants any violence from the families kept out of the papers,” McGooganheimer said. “We got control of the mayor, the cops and all the rackets so long as the public don’t start seeing bodies and us as the bad guys.” He lit a cigar. “We’ll show McCain how fake raids are done when we’re ready.” He looked at Sean. “Until then, let’s be thankful some of us used their noggins.”
McGooganheimer smiled as he patted the money bags. “How much are we paying you?” He obviously thought Sean was one of his number runners. None of his men had the nerve to set their furious boss straight.
            “Ten bucks a day,” Sean lied. “But I’m worth it!”
            “We’ll make it fifty,” McGooganheimer said reaching into one of the bags and thrusting a fistful of bills toward Sean. “I’ve got some special jobs for you starting tomorrow. In the meantime … buy yourself some candy.”

TO BE CONTINUED …


           




Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sean O'Brian

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



Sean O’Brian
By R. Peterson

                A cruel October wind dropped shards of ice as it wandered the streets of Chicago, whispering promises to take those who lingered without shelter.  Sean O’Brian left the tiny house, that he and his mother shared with her arduous employer, in a hurry. The only way to get to the Angels of Mercy elementary school without a yardstick beating was to take a short cut. The ever-hungry human vermin that descended on the dirty streets like a nineteen thirty-two version of the Illinois state militia had yet to advance from their shanties, doorways and shipping crates in search of work. He should have a day job helping to put food on the cable-spool they used for a table … but his own angel insisted. He ran.
            Sean was worried about his mum. Gone were the days when she would dance about their own kitchen singing “Lift MacCahir og your face, brooding o'er the old disgrace when Black Fitzwilliam stormed your place … and drove you to the fern.” while he and his father stomped their dusty boots and laughed. The good days were mostly before his da was killed in the railroad accident. The company gave his mum a hundred dollars. It wasn’t enough to keep the house for a year. Lately her troubled eyes had sunk far into her pale face, surrounded by cowls of darkness as Mrs. Finch contracted piles of hired-laundry for her to clean, mend and hang in payment for the rent on the cold washroom they lived in. A rusty oil-drum vented above the door with rags and pipe served for heat and cooking. Water was lugged and boiled by bucket loads from the East River; he hoped he’d hauled enough.
            Mum was much too thin and courting a persistent fever. Beads of perspiration had appeared on her forehead as she wrapped bread and cheese in old newsprint for his lunch. It was almost their only food but any argument would have weakened her. “I’ll have a bit of soup later,” she told him, pointing to the can boiling on the stove and a thumb sized potato starting to seed. He made her promise she would eat … with lye-soap reddened fingers touching her heart and the other hand gripping his … it would have to do.

-------2-------

            “Sauce” Branson slapped Gordano Donelli on the back and pointed as Sean scaled the pile of old truck tires and dropped over the fence. They had a scrawny tabby pinned to the ground and were about to tie Chinese jacky-jumpers, probably stolen from Gin Lou, to its tail with wire. Both lads were years older, but they went to the same school. “Why waste these on just a cat?” Branson smiled.
            “Let her go … you bastards!” Sean told them. Donelli stood up he was at least a head taller than Sean. The cap covering his head was pulled down low almost covering his black Italian eyes. His pudgy fingers clutched the tightly wrapped paper-rolls filled with gunpowder and tied together with fuse string.
            “Who’s going to make us?” he said, moving toward Sean’s back as his pal struggled to hold down the hissing feline.
            “Let the cat go … we’re almost late for school,” Sean said.
Sean saw the muscled arm swinging toward him … and ducked. Donelli wailed as his fist broke the wood slat fence.
Branson let the cat go and charged just as Donelli tackled Sean at the waist.
Branson punched Sean in the eye and then picked up the wrapped bundle he dropped as Donelli began to throw furious punches. “What’s this?” He crinkled his nose as he tore away the paper. He laughed when he saw the hard bread and the bit of cheese. He dropped it and then ground it into the oily dirt with his boot. “These damn micks will eat anything,” he laughed.
“Who’s there?” The night watchman at Jorgen’s Cannery opened the back door holding an oil lantern.
“We’ll finish with you later,” Branson promised. Then both boys ran.
You’re a right mess you are …” the watchman said as he walked toward the bloody child. “You want to stay alive in these cruel streets you’re going to have to learn to fight back!”
“I can’t,” Sean said as he stood brushing himself off. His nose was bleeding and one tooth felt loose. Scraped fingers went automatically to his heart. “I promised my mum.”

-------3-------

It was almost twenty after seven when a still wet Sean walked into the classroom. He had stopped by the river to clean off the blood. Sister Ermine Mason stared with unsympathetic eyes as he sat behind pretty Sally Jennings. “We all know the rules,” the nun said. “In your seats with books open before the bell rings at ten to seven … or there will be penance.”
Branson nudged Donelli and they both laughed as Sean searched in his desk for his pencil. Sean heard a snap and turned as Branson dropped broken bits of wood and lead beside his seat.  “I have an extra,” Sally said. She turned and gave him a sharpened stub along with a smile. He could scent heavenly lavender soap coming from her soft blonde curls. Sean could see her tiny teeth marks on the wood. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Sean listened carefully to Sister Mason as she read from a history text and then gave out assignments. His mother paid an enormous price with her health to keep him in this school; he was determined not to let her down. His grades were the highest in the class. Father O’Malley was so impressed with his studies that he even supplied Sean with new notebooks and pencils from time to time.
Almost five hours later, after English, Math and Science, the bell for mid-break rang. The students all grabbed lunch pails and headed for the dining hall. After eating, there would be a good forty-five minutes for outside play. “Not you,” the sister said as she reached for the heavy yard-stick she used to dole out punishment.
Sean was secretly glad as he stood in the corner and bent at the waist. There was a limit to physical pain. Anything short of his own death he was very familiar with. It was better than a fine lass like Sally Jennings … seeing him without food.

-------4-------

Sean knew Branson and Donelli would be waiting for him in the school-yard when classes let out so he wasted precious minutes and then used the back door. He wasn’t afraid of another beating either by them or Sister Mason … he just didn’t have time. Stealing was another of his mother’s rules that he was forbidden to break but without food they were both going to die. Promises guide the living … Regrets follow the dead.
Tonight Amos Chandler’s Fruit and Vegetable Stand would be at the corner of Water Street and Illinois Avenue. Amos kept a ten-gauge Remington shotgun loaded with rock salt under the crates of large red apples that he sold for a nickel each. He hadn’t killed anyone yet, but quite a few of Chicago’s workforce limped the streets with stubs where their fingers or toes used to be and just as hungry as before.
“Yo be late!” the large negro said without looking up as Sean slipped under the horse-drawn wagon and behind the stacked boxes and began to sort the apples, polishing them with a rag and placing them on display.
“I ran into a little trouble.” Sean turned so Amos could see his black eye.
“I don pay boys fo the time dey spends fightin,” Amos said. “Dat fun cost yo a maybe four sents.”
Sean cursed under his breath. At five cents an hour he’d barely make enough for a handful of carrots and a couple of onions. If he wasn’t home by seven his mother would try to unload the laundry truck herself. She wasn’t strong enough and the strain would do her in. He’d have to tell her he ate an apple on the way home.
            “Dem spuds needs ta be washed, trimmed and sorted,” Amos stared at him with his good eye. “Don let me catch yo walking home with any peels in yo pockets … ma pigs gots to eat two.”
            “Yes Mr. Chandler,” Sean said as he lifted a heavy crate from the wagon. Amos was almost forty-nine - old for any Illinois farmer let alone one as mean and black as roof tar. If it wasn’t for Amos’s horse-kicked leg, that never mended right, Sean wouldn’t have this job.
            “Better shake da lead out o yo boots or I’m a half-ta keep back anader nickel,” Amos threatened.
Sean’s arms felt like they were on fire and he was too busy pulling crates off the wagon to wipe the sweat from his eyes but he tried to move faster. “Yes Sir Mr. Chandler,” he said.
            “I like dese here Irish niggers,” Amos flashed white teeth as he laughed to himself. “Dey knows who dey master is!”

-------5-------

It was starting to get dark. Sean watched anxiously for the first street-lamp. If Amos hadn’t paid him when it went on … he’d have to go home with nothing. The last customers drove away and Sean took the opportunity to approach the cranky old farmer. “Mr. Chandler I …”
Sean never got a chance to finish. A long back Ford sedan screeched to a stop and suited men climbed from all four doors. An Italian mobster known on the street as Little Joey Espinosa walked toward Amos puffing on a cigar. He pulled it from his mouth and pointed with it. “You can let that nag crap anywhere it wants, but you still got to buy a license to do business in Chicago!” 
            “I talked to da man at city hall,” Amos stammered. “He say street vendors don’t need no license.”
            “You haven’t been talking to the right people,” Little Joey took a bite from one of the apples then tossed it away. “You been in business a week … you owe us a sawbuck.”
            “If I owes da money … den I pays it!” Sean knew something was wrong. Mr. Chandler was walking toward the apple crates and Sean knew he kept all his coins in a bag under the radishes. The other men from the car were spreading out in a circle.
            Sean wanted to yell a warning but before he could Amos had pulled out the shotgun and was aiming it at Little Joey. “I dig every bunch a carrots, spuds and onions out a the groun and den I plants ‘em under dirt in my cella afor I brings ‘em here,” he said. “Ain’t nobody gonna take what I breaks ma back for … ‘cept for me or my wife … when I is done!”
            “I can respect that!” Little Joey spread his arms wide in a gracious gesture. His smile was like the white picket fence surrounding the mayor’s mansion. Sean released his breath.
Then two men struck Amos from behind … so fast all Sean saw was a blur. The next moment Amos lay on the ground a knife blade was stuck in his back. Little Joey picked up the gun and used it to break apart the crudely fashioned vegetable stands. When he finished he broke the gun-stock over poor Chandler’s head. His accent was now a mimic of the dead negro’s. “Somebody ‘gonna have to tell yo wife … yo be done.” A gob of his spit landed in a puddle of blood.
Sean saw one of the men pick up the coin bag from the piles of broken wood and scattered vegetables. They glanced at him but paid him no more mind than if he’d been a fence post. They drove away slowly and had just turned the corner when a police car screeched to a stop. “What did you see?” One of the cops who stood looking down at the body asked.
            “I didn’t see anything!” Sean lied.
A fat cop chewing a big wad of gum smiled as he put his arm roughly around him. Sean could smell alcohol. “We better run you downtown just to be sure.”
It was an hour later and total dark when the cop finally let him leave the back seat of the police car and gave him a stick of gum. Sean threw it away. They hadn’t asked a lot of questions and the car had never moved. It was like they were just putting a scare into him and they enjoyed his tears as he told them about his mother. Sean picked up an armload of broken carrots and potatoes off the ground … and then he ran. He could hear raucous laughter behind him. “Stop! Thief!”

------- 6 -------

            The laundry truck was half unloaded when Sean got home to the room his mother rented. A furious Ralph Finch stood next to spilled piles of laundry. “Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded as Sean pushed past him.
Mrs. Finch was already pulling the blankets off the filthy bed his dying mother lay in. “They say some vomit just before they go. I won’t have anyone to do the wash now!” The fire in the stove was out and the pile of kindling wood … missing.
Sean almost climbed into the bed with her. She was as hot as a furnace and shaking. “I’m sorry I’m late. I brought vegetables for soup,” he sobbed. “Let me get some water boiling!”
            “There be no time for that,” she whispered as she gripped his fingers. She searched his eyes with hers. “You were never anything but the greatest pride ‘o my heart!” He could feel her heart beating erratically like a car engine about to stall. “I’ve only ever loved two men … in my life.”
He started to protest and she put a trembling finger to his lips. Her voice seemed to already belong to a ghost that was floating away.
“Promise your poor mother that you will make this new world give you all that I and your dear da dreamed it would.” His mother gagged as he leaned close. Sean held her frail hand and touched his fingers to his heart. “I promise,” he whispered. She smiled for a moment … and then her eyes stared across a vast ocean to green fields a lifetime away … and she was no more.

TO BE CONTINUED …