I watched as they shot Nicky Fingers in the back of the head, twice. The second bullet wasn’t necessary. Why didn’t I do anything to help? Heck, I couldn’t help myself earlier and Nicky sure didn’t put up a fuss when Mario took the baseball bat to my arms and legs. They didn’t kill me because I was going to be their messenger.
“Tell Giovanni for him and his boys to stay away from the south side. Tell him it’d be a big mistake to show his mug there again.”
I was randomly picked as the messenger. Things happened that way all my life, randomly. That’s why no one ever addresses me by my given name of Randolph. To everyone who meets me, I always become known as Random, Random Chance.
Protesting that I didn’t know Giovanni personally was of little use. I was with Nicky and therefore I was deemed to be one of Giovanni’s boys. Of course I know who Giovanni Colucci is. Everyone in town knows, with the exception of the local constabulary, that is. I have been writing about Colucci and his boys for a long time now. I have also been writing about his archenemy, Vincenzo Martini for just as long.
Neither of the mobsters takes my comments to heart, and I often receive little tokens from them. Giovanni sent me a gold rosary to commemorate his granddaughter Gina’s first Holy Communion. Vincenzo sent a box of Cuban cigars when his first male grandchild was born (forgive me godfather for I have sinned, I have forgotten the baby’s name.)
As they sped away I tried to stand. It was impossible to grab hold of something to pull myself upright. In their present condition, my arms are as useful as a college education would be to one of Giovanni’s ‘ladies of the night.’ I moved backward through the dust, doing that little butt-cheek walk that thousands of ladies did and would continue to do as long as there were ladies and butt-cheeks. I remembered the first time I saw Lucy doing this. Over my laughter she insisted that maneuvering across the floor using only her buttocks was an exercise designed to keep the fanny firm and high. One look at Lucy’s bottom convinced me it worked; the only jiggle that was evident was the one she deliberately used to attract every male eye within a hundred feet.
Once my back hit the wall of the abandoned warehouse I tried to put pressure into it and raise myself up that way. It was still impossible. From the pain and lack of co-operation I know both legs are broken. If I am lucky, and he knew what he was doing, there is only one break per limb. Then again if I were really lucky, I would have been drinking watered down Canadian whiskey in a smoke-filled room listening to Lucy chattering away while someone else sang the blues, instead of wondering if my butt was up to the task at hand.
There is nothing for it but to butt-cheek my way to find help. Before I pass out I think about Nicky and why he approached me earlier in the evening. How many hours earlier had it been? Lucy would curse my not showing up at The Blue Note, the little jazz club where we were to meet for drinks. Only x-rays will convince her that being late isn’t my fault.
Why had Nicky approached me? Did he think that they wouldn’t grab him if he were with someone? Heck, there were five of them and only one was necessary. His name is Mario Martini. He is Vincenzo’s dim-witted younger brother and proof positive that you don’t need a university degree to pull a trigger or wield a baseball bat. It’s time for me to ‘get the hell out of Dodge’ as the saying goes. I intend to, but not before I settle a score with the Martini Brothers.
* * *
I woke up in a hospital bed a couple of days later. Lucy is asleep in the chair beside the bed. How she knew I was there and how long she had been there were questions that could be answered later. The other occupant of the room is Detective Henry ‘Hank’ Wilkinson of Homicide. Hank and I play poker with a few other cops and reporters every other Saturday night. Did I mention that I am a reporter for the Chicago Tribune?
I am already thinking about this week’s column but Hank’s incessant monologue keeps breaking through. “…it’s turning into a bloodbath, Random. With a bit of luck they will all kill each other and do our work for us. Let’s just hope no innocent bystanders get taken out in the crossfire.” Hank is one of the few honest cops in the city, but without the support of his fellow officers, there is only so much he can do.
“Who found me? Where? When? What day is this?”
“Always the reporter, Random. You forgot to ask a ‘why’ question. Why were you found? You were meant to be; someone made an anonymous phone call. We found Nicky and a couple of miles down the road we found you. By the way, you need new trousers. You won’t be wearing that pair again.”
Lucy woke up and immediately started crying and fussing. That was the last thing I needed. I gave Hank a pleading look and he ushered her out of the room. When the door opened I saw a cop in the hallway. I hoped the chair he was sitting in was uncomfortable enough to keep him awake. Then I remembered I was the messenger, they don’t want me dead. At least not yet.
A cute little number in the Tribune’s steno pool typed this week’s column titled “Mario at the Bat”, for me. It was acerbic and pointed. Beside the title is a caricature of Mario Martini in an ill fitting baseball uniform. He is about to swing at a ball that has a likeness of my face on it. The column could be softer in tone and might have been had I been able to type it myself. But, like most men, I don’t make a good patient. I can’t feed myself or use a bedpan without help and I am determined to make Mario and his family pay for this indignity. How this will be accomplished is still not a solid plan. As I am constantly formulating and dismissing plans, I know it’s only a matter of time until I hit the ideal one.
The phone on the night table jangles me out of my plotting and scheming. The nurse holds the receiver to my ear. Sure I can hold the phone myself, but with my arms encased in plaster, the closest I can get the phone to my ear or mouth won’t allow any conversation to take place.
“Hey Cubby, you need anything?” There is only one person in the world that calls me Cubby, and that is Giovanni Colucci. It is a nickname he hung on me when I was a cub reporter. I hated it then and hate it now, but I want to remain among the living for a while longer and I let him call me whatever he wants.
“Besides some new limbs? No, Mr. Colucci, I’m fine thanks and have everything I need.”
“Listen Cubby, I need to ask you, what did Nicky tell you before he died?”
“Tell me? He didn’t tell me anything. He came up to me and asked me if I was the newspaper guy from the Tribune who writes about the mob. I said ‘yes’ and just then Mario and his boys grabbed us. If Nicky wanted to tell me something, he never got a chance.”
“You sure about that Cubby? If Nicky told you something, it would be better for everyone concerned if you told me now.” By everyone, I know he means me.
“Mr. Colucci, my head hurts and I’m going to ask the nurse to hang up now. I appreciate the phone call. Nicky never said a word. If he did I would tell you, I enjoy breathing, as painful as it is right now.”
His laughter makes my head hurt even more.
“Okay Cubby. By the way, you might want to work on a eulogy for next week’s column. Vincenzo’s little brother is about to have a fatal accident.”
I pretend not to hear him as I signal for the nurse to hang up. Something plays at the back of my mind. Nicky had said something that made no sense whatsoever given the situation we had found ourselves in. What had he said? The phone rings again, interrupting my thoughts. The nurse scowls and once more puts the receiver to my ear.
“Mr. Chance, I wish to tell you how distressed I am at the unfortunate incident which resulted in your injuries. You must realize it was a case of mistaken identity that took place and it was nothing against you personally. I can assure you that the parties responsible for this incident will be dealt with accordingly.”
What, is he going to haul them up on the carpet? Take away privileges? Suspend batting practice?
“Mr. Martini, I told your brother who I was. He wouldn’t listen.”
“Mr. Chance, Mario is a bit, how shall I put this, impulsive at times. Now you have to realize that if you choose to consort with the wrong kind of people, you alone are responsible for the consequences. But hey, that isn’t why I called. I wanted to know if you needed anything.”
I look at the lavender-scented nurse who is holding the phone to my head. If she was doing the asking, I could think of a couple of things immediately. No such luck.
“Mr. Martini, I have everything I need, thanks for the phone call, good-bye.”
“Wait, before you go, did Nicky Fingers tell you anything before his unfortunate accident?”
I marvel at his ability to refer to two slugs fired at point-blank range into the back of Nicky’s head as an unfortunate accident.
“No, nothing at all. Good-bye.” I again signal for the nurse to hang up the phone. I fall asleep trying to recall just what it was Nicky had said.
In that fuzziness that exists between sleep and first conscious thought, I remember something that Nicky said. It has to do with Valentines Day and…what? I want to slap my forehead in frustration and can’t even do that. I look at the little honey dressed in white and wonder if she would oblige me. What would this angel of mercy think of a request like that?
Her name is Emma Black and she is everything that Lucy isn’t. Emma is quiet, determined and helpful without the accompanying smothering suffocation that is Lucy’s style. Like Lucy, Emma is easy on the eyes and she has a trim little package that I would love to put my arms around. I wonder how soon I will be able to accomplish that task. I have been wondering that for several days now.
I watch as Emma twists her dainty white oxford on the floor, then she bends to pick something up. The white cotton pulls tight across that delightful looking derriere and my mind wanders again until I hear her exclaim, “Bugs, yuck.”
Bugs! Of course, that’s it.
“Emma, I could just kiss you. Quick doll, get me Detective Hank Wilkinson at police headquarters.”
“Mr. Chance, I am not your secretary.”
“Emma, it’s a matter of life and death, mine.” I give her my most engaging smile and hope I look better than I feel.
“Homicide, Wilkinson.” Hank sounds tired, defeated.
“Hank, Chance, get over here right away. You’re not going to believe this.”
Fifteen minutes later Hank, straddling the visitor’s chair in my room, is staring at me. The incredulous look plastered on his face makes me wonder if I’ve got it right.
“Hank, I’m telling you, Capone is going to try for Bugs Moran on Valentines Day.”
“Random, it could mean that or a dozen other things…” Hank’s voice trails off; even he has to admit that ‘Bugs on Valentines Day’ can really only mean one thing in mob circles. “Okay, say you’re right, now what? If Capone leaves Florida, we’ll get word and have him followed. But Capone isn’t stupid enough to pull the trigger himself. He’ll probably use out of state muscle. Let him kill Moran, one less for us to worry about.”
* * *
Across town, Lucy Collier, better known as Luciana Colucci to her family, is on the phone with her great-uncle Vincenzo. “I heard him talking to his cop buddy when he thought I was asleep. I’m sure Nicky didn’t have time to tell Random anything. Si, si, buona notte, Zio Vincenzo.” After promising to call if she learns anything new, Lucy bids her uncle a good night and dresses with care for her visit to the hospital.
Lucy sashays her shantung-sheathed body into the room and Hank, after rolling his eyes at me, takes that as his cue to leave.
“Hank, you don’t have to leave on my account.” Lucy simpered. I swear if I could have, I would have strangled her, homicide cop in the room or not.
“Some new leads to follow up on Lucy, don’t give yourself so much credit.”
When the door shuts on Hank’s departure, Lucy’s steel-like glint settles on me. I’m not sure what this dame’s game plan is, but with no encouragement on my part she has glued herself to my side for over a year and shows no sign of moving on. I know she is anxious to settle down, and I am just as anxious to remain free. Then my thoughts turn to Emma as they have ever since I got here and I realize that I just might have to rethink things. Emma is definitely the marrying kind.
“Random, you aren’t listening to me.” I should be so lucky. Lucy’s shrillness scratched across my reverie like chalk on a blackboard.
“Sorry doll, it’s the medication, I’m still pretty groggy. What were you saying?” Go away, my mind screams at her.
“I was asking about Hank and the new developments. Did he tell you what they were?”
For someone who belittles the police at every opportunity and claims that my writing skills are wasted on mob related happenings, Lucy’s keen interest strikes a warning note.
“He mentioned something about an anonymous letter or phone call. It’s a bit of a blur.”
I catch the look Emma gives me as she prepares a syringe. She had been witness to our entire conversation, yet doesn’t give anything away. I wonder if she will insist on a white picket fence and rose garden. No matter, one look in those velvety brown eyes and I know I will give her anything she wants.
* * *
Vincenzo Martini drums his fingers on the desk and wonders if his great-niece is telling the truth, or if her allegiance has returned to the Colucci side of the family. There was a time when the two branches had operated as one. When greed took over, relations strained and the bickering turned to estrangement and violence. Carlotta Martini’s elopement with Nunzio Colucci further divided the families instead of uniting them.
The study door flies open and Bones Morelli collapses in front of Vincenzo’s desk. He is bleeding from a shoulder wound. “They got Mario.”
“Got, how do you mean ‘got?’ Is he wounded, did they grab him, what?” Vincenzo slides the desk drawer open and eases out his .38 Smith & Wesson.
“And you, you let this thing happen? You are also dead.” His first shot kills Morelli, but Vincenzo continues to pump the remaining 5 bullets into Morelli’s lifeless body.
Several of Vincenzo’s henchmen come running in, weapons drawn.
“Now you arrive? Where were you when this worthless piece of garbage barged in? Where were any of you when they killed Mario? Get out and take him with you.” He spits on Morelli’s corpse.
Vincenzo reloads his gun, puts it back in the drawer and takes out a rosary. After saying several prayers for his brother’s soul, he thinks about the call he will have to make to his mother in Sicily. “Mia Madre…” Vincenzo puts his head in his hands and weeps for his mother.
* * *
When I close my eyes for the umpteenth time Lucy finally takes the hint and tiptoes out of the room. I hear the door open again and footsteps approach the bed. I keep my eyes shut.
“It’s okay Mr. Chance, you can stop faking; she’s gone.” Emma’s voice wraps around me like a silken cocoon from which I never want to emerge.
“I might have really been asleep you know. And it’s Random, please.”
“Mr. Chance, you forget that I’ve seen you sleeping. You might be able to fool your fiancée but you can’t fool me.”
“Emma I’d never even try. What on earth gave you the idea that Lucy was my fiancée?”
“She did, she said she knew nurses obviously didn’t make enough money to get their hair properly cut and styled and she wanted to help. She offered me a large tip for taking such good care of her fiancé.” Emma’s cheeks redden as this last bit is spoken.
I imagine unpinning Emma’s auburn tresses giving free reign to unruly waves. I imagine the tangle of curls framing her face on a pillow. I really want to kill Lucy now.
“How much did she offer?” I tease.
“If you must know, twenty dollars.”
“Emma…” She starts fussing with the bed and refuses to look at me any longer. “You might be interested in knowing that I have never proposed to Lucy or any other woman for that matter.” Suddenly it is important that the record be set straight. “I’ve never had any desire to, until now.” That gets her attention; her smile could light Comiskey Park.
I like the way my name rolls off of her tongue.
“Emma, I can’t even get down on one knee right now, but before I propose you need to know a few things. I have to leave Chicago and soon. This city is going crazy. The killings will escalate and it won’t matter which side you’re on if a bullet finds you.”
“Where will we go?”
Even knowing what is ahead of us, there is no question in Emma’s mind that she is hitching her wagon to mine.
“I’ve already thought about that. How does Los Angeles sound to you? I can get a job at the Times, an old school chum is the managing editor and he’s been after me for years to come out.”
“When do we leave?”
“Emma, I love you. Will you marry me?” I fall asleep with the sound of her acceptance echoing through my mind.
Early the next morning I telephone my editor at the Tribune and arrange for an extended leave of absence. A boxed caption on page three announces that while I recover from a sports related injury, I am on hiatus. For the next several weeks they will rerun some of my old columns under the heading, “The Best of Random Chance.” Sure I could tell him my plans, but the fewer people that know them, the safer I’ll feel.
Hank calls and tells me that Mario has been taken out the night before. Things are heating up faster than either of us expected and as the only witness to the murder of Nicky Fingers, it’s time for me to leave town.
In my condition I’m not able to go pack my things and I don’t want Emma anywhere near the place. Hank understands the need for caution and asks what I want from the apartment. The list is short and sweet. “Everything I want is in the den; the Remington portable, my diplomas and the cigar box. The rest can stay behind.”
I think about the number of award-winning columns I had typed on that Remington. Like a lot of other journalists, I’m superstitious; leaving the Remington behind is not a thought I want to entertain. I don’t really need the diplomas but they give me validation and I had worked damn hard to get them. The cigar box holds my life savings. I’ve never been one to put my faith in banks; they get robbed easily and too often. I’ve managed to save a little over four grand. It isn’t a fortune but it’s more than enough to get Emma and me to California and rent a little house.
Emma, my darling angel of mercy, enters the room.
“Lucy is on her way up and she’s bringing storm clouds with her.”
Great, it sounds like Lucy is in one of her moods. I wonder what it is this time, a waiter too slow refilling her water glass, or a chipped fingernail.
“Honey, don’t leave me alone with her, please.” I give her my sad, puppy dog look. I’m sure her laughter is not entirely appropriate given the circumstances, but how I love the sound of it.
The door is thrown open and Lucy thunders in. Storm clouds! That is an understatement.
“You, leave! Now!” The venom heaped on Emma is uncalled for and I will have none of it.
“Emma, please stay. Lucy, you do not come in here barking orders. What’s got into you?”
“Oh Random.” The tears start then and I know from experience that Lucy will spit it out when Lucy is good and ready. Until that moment arrives, no amount of coaxing will get her to talk.
Emma picks up the box of pop-up tissues and makes a gesture of throwing it at the back of Lucy’s head. The movement must have caught Lucy’s eye and she turns in time to see Emma sweetly offering her the box.
“Thank you dear. Now please, if you don’t mind, I do need to speak with Mr. Chance privately.”
Oh boy, here it comes.
Emma retreats and I am left defenseless. “Okay Lucy, we’re alone, talk.”
“Random I’m scared.”
Now I am pretty sure that one look from those ice-cold blue eyes of hers could stop a bullet in mid air, so what on earth can possibly strike fear in this coldest of cold hearts? I refuse to draw it out of her and after a couple of minutes of silence Lucy tries again.
“Random, I think we should leave Chicago.”
Still I say nothing. This seems to infuriate her.
“Random, Mario Martini was killed last night. Vincenzo will seek revenge on the Colucci family. You were there when Nicky was killed; one of them will come after you and me.”
Ah, now we are getting somewhere.
“Why would one of them come after you Lucy?” This should prove to be interesting. Just how interesting, I had no idea.
“Because I’m a…” she breaks off.
“Yes? You’re a…what?”
“Because everyone knows I’m your girl.”
Now I know that isn’t what she started to say and it must have sounded lame, even in her ears.
“Random, you know I love you and you love me. I’d make a good wife, really I would.”
Well here it is out in the open, finally. Little did I know that things would go from bad to worse in a matter of minutes.
“Lucy, you know I care for you, but that isn’t love. I told you in the beginning that marriage just isn’t in the cards for us. It will never work.”
“Random, you could learn to love me. It could work, unless…” her eyes grow colder. “Unless there’s someone else. That’s it, isn’t it? There’s someone else. Who is it? Is it that mousy bedpan washer who makes moon eyes at you? Well I might not have you but she won’t get you either.”
Lucy grabs the phone and spins the dial around with amazing speed in spite of her elaborate fingernails. “Zio Vincenzo, it’s Luciana. Nicky did tell Random something, but he won’t tell me what, says he’s only going to tell Uncle Giovanni. Si. Arrivederla.” Glaring at me, Lucy hangs up and then dials another number. “Uncle Giovanni, I’m with Random and he knows something but says he is only going to tell Uncle Vincenzo. Okay, I’ll leave now. You’re welcome, bye.”
Even though I’m not capable of using it, Lucy rips the phone from the wall and throws it across the room. “Good-bye Random, I’ll send flowers.” She walks straight into Hank’s outstretched arms.
While Lucy struggles to free herself, I talk over her screams. “It seems our Lucy is connected to both major families. I’m not sure which uncle will arrive first but it’s a sure bet they’re both on their way.”
Emma, my dear sweet Emma, arrives with a wheel chair. Hank helps me into it after stuffing his hanky into Lucy’s mouth and handcuffing her. Shifting my eyes to Lucy and back to Hank again, I speak. “You can’t stay here Hank, you won’t be safe. Come to Canada with us.”
Hank has always been quick on the uptake, doesn’t hesitate for a second and replies, “I have a cousin in Winnipeg, he’ll let us stay on the farm until we can find work. There’s a train that leaves for Canada in five hours. I’ll pack and meet you at the station.”
Hank shoves a squirming Lucy into the closet and shuts the door. By the time one of her relatives finds her and hears what she has to say we will have had a good head start. And while they are watching Union Station we will already be in Iowa. California here we come.
Emma and Hank get me settled in the back seat of my Dodge and we are pulling away when the first of the family members arrive.
“That was close.” Hank looks over his shoulder at me.
“Too close. Winnipeg?” I laugh.
Hank shrugs, “Hey, it was the first Canadian city I could think of.”
Los Angeles, Saturday, February 16, 1929
It’s been exactly ten weeks since Nicky Fingers had his ‘unfortunate accident’. I didn’t go to work for the Los Angeles Times as I originally planned. Working as a newspaper columnist would have made it too easy for anyone who wanted to find me. I still write, although you’ll never see my name in a byline anymore.
Emma and I are sitting in the living room, enjoying our martinis while we wait for Hank and his girlfriend to join us for an exciting evening of dinner and canasta.
“Do you think Hank’s serious about Lillian?”
“Emma, no matchmaking. If it’s right, it’s right. They won’t need our help.”
“You do like her though, don’t you Random?”
I’m saved from having to answer because just then the former Chicago homicide cop arrives flustered and alone. Hank drains his martini and holds out his glass for a refill. The headlines on the newspaper he brought with him scream at us, ‘ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE.’
For Emma’s benefit, I read the article out loud and we learn that while Capone had not been successful in his bid to murder Bugs Moran, he had come close. Suddenly two thousand miles doesn’t seem like that safe a distance from Chicago.