Fun times 4 in Chicago! Part 1
- May, 1959
It had been a great day for Ernie Earnest. The White Sox and Cubs had
BOTH won last night. The sun was out and it looked like summer was
just around the corner.
And based on the achievements of his students, it looked like he was
improving as a teacher, too. Two of the kids in his senior physics
class had just been awarded scholarships to the University of Chicago
to study Nuclear Physics. Two of the girls in his 9th grade General
Science class won a prize in the West Side Science Fair last weekend.
And tonight he got to tell his latest naturalization class that they
had all passed the citizenship test, and their citizenship ceremony
was scheduled the week after next! It didn't get any better than this!
He was enjoying the walk from the high school to the courthouse where
the evening citizenship classes were held, despite the constant pain
in his hips. He had been shot while helping resolve a hostage
situation in 1956, and one of the bullets was so close to his spine
that the surgeons hadn't dared to remove it. He walked with a limp
and a cane, but he had learned to ignore the pain. Most of the time,
When he rounded the corner onto Stutgart Street and saw the restless
crowd around Mama's Corner Store, his day started downhill fast. The
people in the crowd were fighting for a better look inside the store,
and a number of cops were trying to keep them back. Ernie's stomach
dropped to the ground when he recognized Captain Spinelli of Homicide
through the front window of the store.
Mama Kelly and Papa Carlo had owned this store for almost half a
century. When Mama had passed away last year, Papa had decided to
retire. He had put the store up for sale, hoping to sell to one of
his neighbors, but he couldn't find any suitable buyers. Finally,
Papa had sold to a couple who lived in another neighborhood, some
This neighborhood was old, and threadbare... not exactly run-down,
but tired, not exactly poor, but money was tight. The residents were
mostly descended from immigrants from Germany, Italy and Ireland, the
unusual diversity brought together by their common religion. In fact,
the grandparents of many of these folks had move to this neighborhood
to help build the cathedral where their descendents now worshipped.
They lived together, usually peacefully, because that's the way it had
been for two generations.
But the demographics of Chicago were changing. It had begun with
refugees from World War II, and increased as living conditions in the
Soviet Union worsened. A lot of Eastern European refugees ended up in
Chicago, and most of them were followers of a different religion than
most of the residents of this neighborhood.
The new owners of Mama's Corner store were a refugee couple from
Eastern Europe. They had been shopkeepers all their lives, and they
realized that the people of Chicago needed shopkeepers, just as the
people in the old country had. When they saw Mama's for sale, they
jumped at the chance.
Someone in the neighborhood had resented them, for being different,
for living somewhere outside the neighborhood, for 'coming in and
ripping us off, and then taking our money out with them every night'.
Didn't matter that they did most of their personal business in this
same neighborhood, and kept their store and the sidewalk in front spic
and span, or that they sold the same goods at the same prices that
Mama and Papa had. They were 'different' - and that's really all the
reason a thug needs to take thuggish action.
If the couple hadn't tried to defend themselves, and instead had let
the thugs destroy their store and their new lives, they probably would
have lived through it. In the old country, though, they had been
powerless against their thuggish government. Here the thugs were
criminals, and free men and women could resist. They had resisted -
and now they were both dead.
Spinelli knew he would catch the thugs. A lot of people in the
neighborhood probably had a pretty good idea who had done this. They
wouldn't talk, right now, for fear of retaliation. But over the next
couple weeks, every time someone was inconvenienced by not having a
local market, every time someone had to spend tight money to ride a
streetcar to the next-closest market, and buy lower quality produce at
higher prices, every time someone noticed the boarded-up corner store,
resentment towards the thugs would go up. Sooner or later, someone
would secretly snitch to the beat cop - and then, Spinelli promised
himself, he would come back and make the bust. It wouldn't take long,
he could wait. But he hoped nobody else got killed in the meantime!
Ernie's day got even worse, as very close to him, one of the cops
struck a frantic bystander in the stomach with his nightstick.
Probably a relative of the new owners, Ernie thought. He never found
out what had triggered the cop, but it really didn't matter. The
civilian doubled over in agony, and the cop started an even more
painful blow - swinging the weighted nightstick down in a vicious arc
towards the back of the man's head.
Ernie's walking stick, an honest to goodness blackthorne shillelagh, a
gift from one of his former citizenship students, flashed out and
deflected the blow. The enraged cop turned his attention to Ernie.
He grinned when he saw Ernie move with a limp.
"Shouldn't have butted in, gimp... I was gonna break that bum's head,
but you'll do just as well!" He swung the nightstick at Ernie's head,
but the shillelagh easily blocked the blow. The cop changed tactics,
and stabbed the stick at Ernie's solar plexus, and his weapon was
again knocked to the side. He was reaching for his pistol when he
heard a chilling sound.
"Officer Magoon ! Stand down, NOW." Magoon very carefully moved his
hand away from this pistol. Captain Spinelli was not someone you
wanted mad at you. "Murph, get a doctor over here for this guy!" He
pointed at the civilian. One of the other cops ran for the radio in
the squad car.
Magoon complained to Spinelli "This guy here was attackin' me, and I
wuz just doin my job."
"Not the way I saw it. And I saw the whole thing. You had no reason
to attack that civilian, and all 'this guy' did was keep you from
maybe killing an innocent bystander.. As it is, you're on report -
and fined 2 weeks' pay."
"Why you greasy... Do you know who I am?" Magoon swelled with
indignation. He was about to continue, but Spinelli cut him off again.
"You've told everyone you've ever met, over and over again, that
you're second cousin to the mayor. We're all sick of hearing it.
It's the only reason you ever got through the Academy, and everyone
knows that, too. Now shut your yap, or I'll bust you out of the force."
"You're gonna regret talkin to me like that, w.."
Once again, Spinelli cut him off, before he could say something that
would get him in even worse trouble. He doubted that Magoon would
thank him, though. "Tell you what, Officer Magoon ... I'm actually
having lunch with the mayor tomorrow. Why don't you join us and we
can discuss today's problems with him..."
Spinelli waited. Magoon didn't say anything. There were rumors that
Spinelli was about to be promoted to Vice-Commissioner of Police, so
he would be experienced enough to take over when the current
commissioner retired next year. Magoon started to realize that the
Captain might have more pull with his (second) cousin than he did.
"Well, Officer Magoon - should I tell the Mayor's aide to have the
chef cook for three?"
Magoon shook his head and walked away.
"Just what I needed, a crippled civilian beating up one of my team
during a murder investigation!" Spinelli spoke angrily to Ernie.
"Nice to see you too, Tony!" The two men shook hands warmly, then
Ernie's good cheer at seeing his friend vanished. "So what happened
"Somebody trashed the place and bumped off the couple who owned the
place. Looks like the wife tried to stop someone who wanted a 'five
finger discount', she got knocked down, the husband picked up a
baseball bat, and that someone shot them both."
'It sounds so simple and neat, so routine, summed up like that',
Spinelli thought. But it wasn't. Two human lives. with all their
stories, secrets and potential had ended. "Sometimes I hate this
job." He wasn't talking to Ernie, but his friend responded anyway.
"Tony - if it weren't for you, a lot of the guys who do his kind of
thing would get away. And there would be a lot more of it. Never
Spinelli nodded, just barely. "Thanks, Cap! Say, I gotta get back to
work." Spinelli turned back towards the store. He stopped, looked
over his shoulder. "See if you can leave the scene without provoking
any more of my boys, will you?" And then he was back inside.
- Just finished this story, Dan, and I appreciate the fact you only gave me what was needed to help on the language. I liked the ending, and I'm glad it came as a surprise.
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