The story so far…
Joe found a photograph from the Roaring Twenties hidden in the drawer of an old desk. Apparently taken at a sporting event it showed a woman looking straight at the camera, although the focus of the camera was really a man sitting close by; the infamous Scarface.
Joe imagined that the woman – Julia – would have to be very old, now, if not already dead. So it took him by a great surprise when he met up with her in downtown old Chicago – not just movie lot replica of the Windy City but the real deal. Somehow he was transported back to the days of speakeasies and gangsters, and there Julia revealed to him what she wanted. She told Joe of her relationship with Big Al, Snorky, to his friends, and how it was soured because of his wife. And then she explained what she wanted from Joe. It was very simple: she wanted him to ‘ice’ his wife…
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By N. G. Edwards
'Tis but her picture I have yet beheld,
And that hath dazzled my reason's light;
Proteus, of Julia, The Two Gentlemen of Verona: II, iv
I didn’t leave the next day, as I’d planned. Or the day after. Instead, I vacated the Carbon & Carbide and took a room in an uptown hotel, my head full of Julia. I was intoxicated by the memory of her kiss, the touch of her hand, the scent that stayed in my nostrils even while I slept.
Every day for the next week I flagged a cab to the site of the Lexington, paid the driver – never the same guy twice but each one did well enough at my expense – and regardless of the weather spent my hours trudging the streets of the Windy City, searching for a sign of Julia or the hidden intersection with the Roaring Twenties. By the end of the fifth day I figured I was wasting my time. I was beginning to convince myself that, in fact, nothing had actually happened at all. A dream, incredibly vivid maybe, but just a dream. I purposefully ignored the possibility that I’d suffered a psychotic episode. After all, there was still the photograph, and there was still the strange but intense attraction I felt toward the woman captured in its frame. That picture was the one thing I could not ascribe to fantasy. But I didn’t know where she was or how to find her again. It was time, I told myself, to move on. The sixth day saw my bags packed and a cab ordered to take me to O’Hare.
Julia was waiting for me on the back seat and once more the heady mix of cheap perfume, cheap booze and old tobacco assailed me. Again I felt the hypnotic pull of her street-wise sexuality snare me.
“Hey, Tony,” she called to the driver, who grunted. “Take us around the block. I’ll tell you when to pull over.” Then she grabbed me and repeated that first kiss, deep and sexual. This time I let my hands touch her. I could feel her body pressing against me but I was determined to find some answers before this crazy episode went any further.
“God, I’ve missed you!” she breathed.
“I tried to find you…” I began, pulling back.
“You couldn’t. I was out of town.” She lit a cigarette. “You know you love me, don’t you?”
The question – or was it a statement? – was blatant and unexpected. There was a simple answer but one that I couldn’t utter. The consideration that I had become smitten with someone who could surely be nothing more than a figment of imagination, an extension of an image in a picture, the product of some mental aberration… no, I couldn’t admit to that. I was sane. I knew I was. I had to be. Then what was she? A ghost? In broad daylight? In a Chicago cab?
“Sure you know it. That’s why we’ve found each other. There’s a bond between us. We’re meant to be, honey, you and me.”
“But… you’re dead!” I burst out.
“You saying I look like a corpse?” Her tone was sharp.
“Well, no… but, what else…?”
She took a deep drag. “Who cares? All I know is I’ve waited decades and now, at last, I’ve found you and we’ve got a chance to get our own back.”
“What? We? On who?”
“Snorky, of course, the two-faced slime-ball!”
“But… I though you loved him? The way you spoke of him before…”
Her face softened. “I did love him. He was the most generous guy I ever met. Treated me like a lady. Well, most of the time.” Then her eyes hardened, her lips firmed. “But he stole my baby and I’ll see him suffer for that!”
I sat back against firm leather seats, suddenly aware that at some unknown point the cab I’d boarded had transformed into Julia’s black sedan, with a chauffeur.
“Um, okay. But what has all this to do with me?”
“Your wife. You’re married to Snorky’s granddaughter.”
Talk about a hammer blow. In England they have an expression: gob-smacked. It means stunned, shocked, floored, overwhelmed, speechless, and that’s exactly how I felt right then.
“Oh, she don’t know,” Julia continued, “but I do and I want her wasted!”
I couldn’t think of anything to say that would make any sense so I just sat there with my mouth hanging open.
“That’ll teach him! He took away my baby and finally I can get back at him for that. And,” she added knowingly, “we’re going to do it together. You and me, babe.”
“What? Murder? No!”
“Don’t pretend you haven’t thought of stiffing your old lady yourself. I know you have. It’ll be easy. I’ll help you get it done, and then you and me will both be free to be together. And don’t tell me you don’t want that.”
One thing about those old motors was there was plenty of room in back. Maybe the upholstery wasn’t so comfortable as in a modern automobile, but it was definitely more spacious. I should like to say we made love there and then, but we didn’t. We just had sex. Wild and crude, careless of the world. I even forgot about Tony, the driver, as I became lost to the raw pleasure she gave. I didn’t smoke anymore thanks to the insistence of the doctors, but afterwards I accepted the cigarette she offered.
“You wouldn’t want to say goodbye to more of that, would you?” she asked, teasingly. “I didn’t think so. Okay, let’s talk about how to make sure you don’t.”
“But I still don’t understand. How will killing Celia help get your revenge on… on Snorky?”
“I had to wait until the time was right, see,” she told me between puffs. “I’ve lived in Chicago for more years than I can remember, waiting for my chance. Snorky died in ’47 and I thought the opportunity had passed on by – I couldn’t do anything while he was still around, nor while Sonny was alive neither.”
“His son.” She hesitated. “My son. The boy who should’ve been my son but for Snorky stealing him! And Mae, of course. She hung around ’til ’86. She never told Sonny about me but I guess I don’t blame her. She just did what Snorky said.”
“Why didn’t you go speak with him yourself?” I asked. “Sonny? Once Snorky was dead?”
“I did, once. At least, I started out to. But when I found him he wasn’t my baby, wasn’t my son. There was too much of Snorky inside. He’d changed his name, trying to get away from his father’s legacy, but he couldn’t get away from his blood.”
“How do you mean? And anyway, how does Celia fit in?”
“Sonny got married and everyone figured he was an ordinary guy trying to be anybody but his father. The girl he hitched up with knew who he was, but she was just as fooled as the rest of the world. She didn’t know about some of the ‘business trips’ he made. She didn’t know about his mistresses. He had three regular, you know. One in Milwaukee, one in ’Frisco, and one here, back where it all really started. It was Snorky’s bad blood, you see, coming out in my boy.”
Her face took on an expression of almost fury, certainly hatred. I waited for her to continue which she eventually did.
“Sonny’s Chicago bimbo was Italian. She had a daughter by him. Snorky’s blood. Snorky’s only living descendant. Sonny had other kids with his wife, and they weren’t Snorky’s; they’re my descendants, through my son. But the bimbo’s kid…”
Julia stubbed out the cigarette and I did likewise. I hadn’t been enjoying it but as soon as it was extinguished I immediately felt the return of the old craving for another. I ignored it.
“And that’s all there is, honey. Snorky’s been watching her, seeing how she turns out. He don’t care about Sonny’s other kids, the ones from his marriage. He never talks about them…”
“Talks about them? You mean you still… talk to Capone?” Why should I have found that such a strange idea, mixed in with all the other crazy stuff I was experiencing? Whether this was a bridge through time, an alternate reality, or a weird afterlife was immaterial. I couldn’t deny what my senses told me. Julia – and Al, too – were people from another age that was somehow intersected with my life, and if I could connect with one of them, why shouldn’t they be able to connect with each other?
“Well no, not so much,” Julia admitted, “but I’ve see him, and heard him talking with some of the other guys, buddies like always. And I’ve followed him, watched him while he keeps tabs on her. He dotes on her, tells his cronies how proud he is of her and saying how disappointed he is with his – our – son. He figures she’s the best thing he ever made – him, not Sonny!”
I shook my head. “I don’t understand all this. How can you and he, this whole weird world you live in… I just don’t understand!”
Julia favored me with a smile and took my hand. “Does it matter? We’ve found each other and ain’t that all that counts? C’mere.” She pulled herself close again, her hand stroking my thigh. “forget about Snorky and the rest. There’s just you and me on the struggle buggy – and you know that I ain’t gonna struggle…”
Later we talked some more and our conversation was as hard as it was unreal: means and opportunities. Julia had already considered the first.
“Take this.” She handed me small brown parcel that she’d pulled from beneath the bench seat. It wasn’t sealed, just covered in layers of thick, crinkly paper. Cautiously I unwrapped it but I’d already guessed the contents by the package’s weight. “Don’t touch it,” she warned. “Get yourself some gloves first. If the Feds dust it they’ll only pick up Snorky’s prints.”
It was a Colt .28, nickel-plated, double action. A separate wrap held half a dozen bullets.
“This… this was – is – his?”
“Yeah. You ever handled a heater before?” There was a note of doubt in her voice.
“Sure,” I hastened to reassure, “but not since I left the National Guard. I’ve used a rifle more.”
“Okay. The Colt’s an easy piece anyway, just point it, cock it and pull the trigger.”
“Actually, you should squeeze the trigger,” I interjected, trying to show that I really did know something about guns, though she didn’t sound impressed.
“Whatever. Two pops in the head. That’s what Snorky always said. It’s quick and does the business. Now, let’s think about where…”
We were discussing murder, emotionless and clinical, pretty much like any business deal. This was a human life we were planning to extinguish – and not simply a remote and impersonal stranger: someone I knew, intimately. Did I hate Celia that much? I guess I must have because I felt not one iota of concern for the woman I’d married, not a smidgeon of future guilt. Inwardly I marveled at my dispassion, my objectivity, not to mention the speed with which I’d agreed to carry out this plan. Would I have the balls to see it through? Only time would tell.
We talked a while longer but by the end I couldn’t remember a single word Julia had said, or that I’d replied. Yet when I was finally deposited back on the street I knew exactly what I was going to do. The coming deed was etched in my mind, sharply chiseled and clear. I felt no doubts, no uncertainties. Celia was going to die.
I cancelled my trip to the airport, checked back into the hotel and put the feelers out. Where was Celia now? Who was she with? What plans did she have? Turned out she was also still in Chicago, enjoying being seen about town accompanied by the muscle from the party. Now all I had to do was wait for an opportunity to arrive. I didn’t have to wait long.
Julia had said she’d be in touch. I had no means of contacting her so all I could do was wait but in the late afternoon of the following day there came a knock on my apartment door.
Julia breezed in. “There’s a Bears game coming up,” she told me. “Soldier Field’s perfect. The ground will be packed, thousands of people milling around. Perfect.”
“What? That’s crazy. I’d be seen!”
“Uh-uh. You go in, get it done and disappear in the crowd.”
I must have had a look on my face because her eyes narrowed. “You’re not getting cold feet, are you?”
“Look, it’s, well… I’ve never, you know, killed anyone before. Not even when I was in the Guard.”
Her expression softened and she hung her arms around my neck. “You know I love you, don’t you, honey? And you know that she’s the only thing standing in our way. Just do this thing and we can be together, always.” She took my hand and held it to her breast. “Feel my heart beating, baby. It’s for you. It’s all for you.” Her eyes closed and she pressed her lips to mine. “How ’bout I give you a little reminder of why it’ll all be worthwhile…”
Later, over an espresso, Julia explained the benefit of being in a crowd, how I could use it to cover my escape.
“Snorky’s soldiers made a lot of hits in public places. Crowds frighten easy. People hear a shot and they panic, start running all over the place, lots of confusion. The goons used crowds like camouflage, see? Hiding in plain sight.”
That made a sort of sense. I’m sure I’d have felt more confident if I could have used a rifle and fired from a distance but Julia said it was harder to miss when you’re up close.
“Have you ever, um, iced anybody?” I asked.
“I’ve seen enough to know how it goes. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.”
“So why do you need me? I mean, with your experience with the mob…”
She shook her head. “You don’t understand. It ain’t possible. If it was d’you think Snorky’d be satisfied with just eyeballing? Believe me, the wise-guys would all be back in business if it was that easy.”
I didn’t pursue her answer. I don’t think she understood herself why some things were possible while others weren’t. To be honest, I reckon her understanding of our strange reality was no better than mine. None of the questions I’d asked about where she came from or how she’d got there ever produced any coherent explanation; and any direct mention of death or a possible hereafter was always stonewalled. I just had to accept things the way they were and trust I wasn’t crazy.
…concludes in Part Four
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©2014 by Nigel Edwards. All rights reserved
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