Just because the curtain is drawn inside the bordello’s
window doesn’t mean that you don’t know what’s going on inside.
Nobody else knew that the room
existed beneath the vault of the aging First Interstate Bank. Well, not until
he told me about it and I didn’t say a word to anyone else.
He surmised that it had been constructed as a
furnace room for the dry goods store that Tavagleone & Sons ran back before Third
Interstate Bank showed up and built a bank and then an office building on top of that at the conclusion of the Second
World War. When they installed the depository, the contractor walled up the entrance
and the presence of the hidden room passed from memory.
it by accident seven decades later when the building superintendant hired him
on to swamp the floor and maintain the hallways of the executive condos stacked
twenty stories over the top of the bank. The stairway down had been turned into
a broom closet and the air gently blowing through the wood slat wall at the
back alerted him to something that wasn’t quite what it seemed. He pushed one
plank out. The nails in damp wood resisted with an audible groan but they gave
way with very little effort. The space
beyond, black as a crypt, had been left unseen by human eyes for nearly a
century, but sets of tiny red rodent eyes reflected back when he shined his
flashlight down the rotting stairway. It was damp, the result of a pipe in the
process of falling apart, spraying a fine mist into the void.
next seven weeks, he improved the stairs leading down, replacing rotten steps
with new planks. He cleaned out the room itself to the extent he was able, and
he plumbed in a natural gas line from the main that led to the bank’s heating
unit. The energy heated the dank room and provided weak light to a room that
would otherwise have existed in eternal inky darkness. Dewey thought about
stubbing in an electric line, but the place was wet enough and his skill at
dealing with electricity inexpert enough that he knew would just as likely
stairway led straight down, however, in his exploration, Dewey found a vent
that led to the outside. He enlarged it, camouflaged the entrance, and then
sealed off the top of the stairway thoroughly so that nobody else was likely to
discover or duplicate his path.
After he completed the project he
quit his night janitorial job and opened a small storefront pawnshop down the
street between Girls-Girls-Girls, and Indian Food. Before it was a pawnshop,
the place had been a dry cleaner owned by a succession of Korean proprietors. Inside
it smelled strongly of perchloroethylene and the smell drifted into both Girls-Girls-Girls
and the Indian food restaurant, though nothing could be done about it. John
Dewey never seemed to care one way or the other about the smell. If he did, I
never heard him comment and I never asked him.
On the day that seemed to start it all,
I walked into Dewey’s Pawn and Loan wearing my uniform with my badge shined to a high luster, since I was on duty.
“Michael Francis Xavier Muldoon!” Dewey
shouted from the back office, using my full name.
“Sergeant Muldoon to you, John Howard
Dewey. How’s my favorite shylock?”
He came out of his den like a lion
strutting on the veld with a slightly shaggy mop of lion colored hair and a
very closely trimmed beard. Dewey stood three or four inches shorter than me,
which put him at about six feet. His face had an unremarkable cast. His nose
might be a bit too long and his ears might have stood out slightly more than
what one would consider perfect, but his eyes were bright blue with mirth and
there were wrinkles that radiated out from the corners.
A large puddle of water filled the floor
of the pawnshop.
I looked around the office. Everything
he had taken in could be summed up in a single word. Junk. He took in junk and
handed out money. Dewey didn’t have any money of his own. He worked with me on
the Police Department until the day came when they told him that he either
joined the Party, or he’d be discharged with prejudice. Dewey lost his pension,
his benefits, his career and his income that day because he didn’t join. I
wasn’t as strong as Dewey. I had a wife and three children to support whereas
he had three ex-wives who hated him and no ex-kids. I’m not offering it as an
excuse. Dewey was the better man that day, as with most days.
With no income from the State,
he took odd jobs and one day to the month after the big 7th Avenue armored
car robbery, he opened his pawn and loan store. From that point on, he took in goods and
handed out money to those in need. I made the connection but I don’t know that
anyone else did. The detectives looked for members of a local mixed gang consisting of black males and Cambodian females, as the
culprits because the only lead they had came from me. They weren’t ever able to positively connect the Thirtieth Street Mafistos with the robbery. What do I know? I’m the
downtown walking beat supervisor on swing shift. I’m definitely not a trained
gave me an appraising glance and a wink, glancing toward the coffee pot. I
nodded casually and he said, “I hope you don’t expect me to buy you a cup and pour it for you.”
My china mug with
the Department’s logo on it sat next to the Silex where it always did. I
toggled the handle and filled it to the brim. Even though sugar shortages meant
that nobody had sugar, Dewey had not only sugar, but cubed sugar. I dropped a
lump in the coffee and then, on second thought, added a second. Why not? Live
large! The armored car had been carrying the Party’s squeeze. Dewey hit the armored car belonging to the
Party and showed the goons who guarded it how things were done downtown.
picked up a push broom and started moving the water puddle toward a drain.
have trouble today, John?”
much trouble, Mike.”
Dewey from the old days. He was a black-glove cop and he didn’t tolerate much
misconduct on the part of people before they found out that though he was a man
of generally pleasant disposition, he could be mean as a cobra when crossed.
I should know about?” I pulled out my 245 Gonzales Sap from the sap pocket of
my trousers. Dewey and I were about the only officers who carried saps, and now he left the department it was only me. The younger officers favored electronic disablers, which I liked as well. A stun gun is
effective, I guess, but I have always favored the sap. There is something about
eight ounces of led spring weighted inside a leather sheath.
usual thugs from the ISEU coming by to coerce me to become a union store.” John lifted his hands in supplication. “I
told them I’m a one-man show and don’t need to join the union.”
The International Service Employees
Union operated as the enforcement arm of the Party. When somebody got out of
line, they usually ended up on the wrong side of bare-knuckle fighters from the
ISEU. I worried about Dewey when it came
to the ISEU. “The Party is polite, the ISEU isn’t. The Party screws you with
paperwork and the ISEU busts in your head with a truncheon.” I said that but I took note of the
water on the floor and the heavy rubber boots that Dewey wore.
“Two guys come in here into my
house and say that a one-man show like mine needs to hire some people from
Local 5424 in order to make sure that all this inventory doesn’t walk away.
They said a man like me needs protection.”
“You’ve been able to keep an eye on
things so far.” I said.
“That’s what I told those
fellas. And the big guy, a high yellow
nigger who bounces for Willy’s Tavern part time–.”
“Freddy Dill,” I added, correctly
identifying the guy.
“Yeah, that’s his name. Freddy.
Anyway, Freddy tells me that I can’t live on past glory, and says that he and
his buddy, who I’ve never seen before, are going to show me by example how easy
it is to steal from me. The other guy has a handgun and he pulls up his shirt
to show it to me.”
I slapped the sap I held in one
hand into the palm of the other. There were some ISEU guys who were going to
need some educating.
“Freddy comes around and grabs the
register to punch the cash drawer open.”
I interrupted. “But none of them
noticed the water on the floor?”
“They asked about that. I told them
that I couldn’t afford a union plumber. But I didn’t say anything about a union
electrician because who can afford one of them?”
“So Big Freddy Dill grabbed the
“Yeah,” Dewey smiled. “He completed
the circuit. 220 volts. And he couldn’t let go, so this other guy tries to rescue him
and he completes the circuit too. It will teach them to wear wingtips into my
store when they should be wearing rubber boots.” Dewey laughed a wicked laugh. “I thought it would turn out to be an accidental death situation but both of them survived.”
“How long did they sizzle?”
“Big Freddy bit his tongue
something horrible and I let him keep biting until the tip fell off. Then I
thought it was time to rescue them but as you know, there is no way to do that
unless you hit them with something non-conductive like a baseball bat and break
“You could have turned off the
power.” I added dryly.
“Rules require a union member to do
that. It’s organized labor’s prerogative.” Dewey said, quoting the spirit of the
“So I saved them.”
“How long did it take?”
“I went for the bat, taking care not to injure myself, and only found an old axe handle so I used that. One solid hit on Big Freddy broke him loose from the register.” Dewey smiled like a shark. “They always come
in fours. There were two more guys next door in Girls-Girls-Girls shaking down
Silky Jackson. They came over and asked what happened. I said that Freddy, he
who now missed an inch-and-a-half of tongue, was kind enough to look into my
electrical problem for me since he was a union member and ended up hurting
himself and his friend.”
“They bought it?”
“Sure, I gave them the hundred that
I told them I had promised Freddy if he’d fix my electrical. They palmed it and hauled away Freddy
and his friend.
They said they’d make sure Freddy got the cash. I believed them. I don’t know about you.”
I summarized, “Sounds like you were
lucky to have union guys here to work on your electrical. I presume it’s
Dewey affirmed, “Whatever they did
must have fixed the problem—for now.”
“When did the water leak start?”
“When I saw the thugs go into the Indian
restaurant next door.”