Just Another Day At the Office
©2013 Kirby Sanders
When I woke up, the smell of coffee, bacon and eggs was wafting up from the kitchen downstairs. As usual, Maria was making sure I was fueled for my day at the office. It dawned on me once gain that I was a lucky man to have married a good woman like Maria. I was pretty grateful for that. I also noticed she had set out one of my nicer gray suits, a crisp white Hathaway shirt and a silk tie –- but I didn’t wear those. Instead, I put on a pair of dungarees and a rough work shirt and went downstairs.
When I walked into the kitchen, Maria asked, “How come you’re not wearing that nice grey suit I put out?”
“Johnny came by last night after you and the kids went upstairs,” I replied. “Apparently we are working one of the warehouses today rather than the office. He said to ‘wear grubbies’ because there might be some dirty work. Are the kids off to school?”
“Of course they are. It’s Thursday –- a school day.”
“You are a good woman, Maria. Sometimes I wonder if I deserve you,” I said.
“You just keep thinking that way,” she said with a smile as she set my breakfast on the kitchen table. “I’ll make you up a lunch …”
“Never mind that. Johnny said we might be working through lunch and grabbing a late bite at the Circus Café.”
“Less work for me,” she said as she kissed me on the cheek.
As I shoveled in the scrambled eggs and coffee, I thought about Johnny’s visit the evening before. Johnny was a good guy. He wasn’t exactly my boss, but I knew that when he came by with a message about work it came straight from the boss. I guess it was about eight last night when he rapped on the door. I slid open the peep and gawked out real quick to see who was there. Sometimes the neighborhood is kind of rough, so I always have a gander before I open the door. I guess he saw the peep slide open.
“Hey, Craftsman!” he said immediately. “It’s the Bug. Got some word from the boss for ya.”
Now, you have to understand, I work with a bunch of really good fellows. Always joking and cutting up – except when it is time to really get down to business. Everybody has nicknames for each other. Everybody calls me “Craftsman” because I know all the tools upside down and inside out. Johnny is really named Gianni Bugatti and they say he is some sort of cousins with the car guy in Europe. Not close enough to be rich –- seconds or thirds maybe. So anyway, we all call him Johnny the Bug.
“Boss says don’t come in to the office tomorrow,” Johnny explained. “There’s some kind of mess with some trucks and merchandise at one of the places in Lincoln Park. Wear grubbies and an expendable overcoat because it might be messy work … and bring your big hammer.”
“So what’s the deal?” I replied.
“Don’t know for sure. Boss says Crazy Charlie will be in charge and he’ll meet us there. I’m to pick you up at ten, drive us out to the warehouse with the tools, we clean up the mess and drive a couple trucks to another warehouse down south. Says he’ll have us suits at the place down south and we can clean up there then go back to the office at the Lexington.”
“Kind of mysterioso,” I said “but whatever –- a job’s a job.”
What neither Johnny nor I said was that neither of us particularly cared for Crazy Charlie — Carlo Patronella, but sometimes he used the name Charlie Patterson because he thought it sounded “more American.” Carlo was too excitable. He had a tendency to go off half-cocked and make a real mess of things. Messes that me and the Bug very often had to clean up. But I guess the boss had his reasons for putting Charlie in charge.
So come ten o’clock, I gathered up my tool kit and met Johnny out at the curb in font of my building. He was driving a ’27 Caddy that I didn’t recognize, but I figured it was a company car I hadn’t seen before. He, too ,was wearing basic dungarees, a pretty non-descript trench coat and a cap –- same as I was.
Johnny drove us to a place at 2122 North Clark and parked across the street. As we got out of the car, I noticed from the case that he retrieved from the trunk of the car that he had brought his big hammer as well. As we loped across the street to the front door of the building I didn’t take much note of it. Just that I knew it was ours and thought it was a trucking company rather than a warehouse. But there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t know and didn’t need to know about the overall business.
When we walked in the door, it was obvious that something had already gone south –- well, gone north, actually. At the north end of a big garage was two cops with shotguns holding seven guys at bay against a brick wall. Funny part was, these guys weren’t our company guys. I kind of recognized a couple of them. They were North Side guys. And most of them weren’t drivers or mechanics or truckers or warehouse guys. Most of them were suits duded up in their business best.
One of the cops turned toward me and Johnny the Bug and hollered “Welcome to the party, gentlemen. You guys just bring those cases and come on up here with us.”
When the cop turned, I realized he wasn’t a cop. I knew from that gap-toothed grin that it was Crazy Charlie dressed up like a cop. Boss had said Charlie was in charge, so Johnny and I did as we were told.
“You boys get your tools and get ready to go to work,” Charlie said.
The seven guys against the wall were obviously sweating bullets as Johnny and I got ready to go to work. Charlie turned his shotgun back to the bunch. A minute or so later, Charlie announced, “Time to start the party. Everybody dance!”
He blasted the guy on the furthest right of the wall square in the chest with twelve gauge double-ought buck. The other “cop” did the same to the guy on the far left.
“Don’t be party-poopers, boys,” Charlie said to me and Johnny. “Help us with the song.”
Johnny and I racked our Thompson autos and started spraying left to right, right to left. The guys on the wall crumpled and the blood flowed like spilled wine. It only took a moment or so and then everything was quiet –- except for some damned dog howling and whining from somewhere up by the door. Charlie spotted it tied to the front bumper of one of the trucks. He came up with another Thompson from somewhere and started spraying. He missed the dog, but shot hell out of the trucks.
“Damn it, Charlie!” Johnny yelled. “How are we supposed to drive these trucks out now that they’re shot to hell?”
“Change of plans,” Crazy Charlie said. “Give Burt the gats and make like you are under arrest.”
Johnny and I shot each other uncomfortable glances, but did as we were told. Charlie was in charge. We handed our Thompsons to the other “cop,” raised our hands and Charlie marched us out the front door like we was under arrest. He walked us across to the Caddy we had brought, put Johnny at the wheel and me at shotgun –- with himself in the back seat still training the real shotgun on us. “Officer Burt” apparently made for the back door with our tools in tow.
A small crowd was starting to gather on Clark Street –- watching the valiant policeman arrest the violent gangsters –- and the damned dog kept howling back inside the building. Sirens started screaming in the distance from everywhere the ear could hear.
“Drive, Johnny,” said Charlie. “Keep your hands on the steering wheel where I can see them. You know the place –- Chandlers’ Service warehouse. Down on Rhodes and 32 by the 31st Street harbor. Then we will go back to the Lexington.”
“I thought we were going to meet the boss at the Circus in Elmwood,” Johnny said as he pulled Caddy away from the curb and put some distance between us and the carnage at 2122 North Clark.
“Change of plans,” said Charlie as he lowered the shotgun and set it on the back seat.
Johnny drove us to the warehouse on Rhodes and sure enough there were perfectly fitted suits waiting for me and Johnny and Charlie. An old black janitor gathered up the bag containing our discarded clothes and popped the parcel into an incinerator that was cranked up and cooking. We ditched the Caddy and picked up a sharp new DeSoto. Charlie made a phone call from the office. We couldn’t hear all of it, but it was pretty obvious Charlie was talking to the boss.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “No sir. It got a bit complicated. No sir. Yes, sir – a change of plans. No sir, I don’t like changes either, sir. Candy store? The florist. Yes sir. Not a problem.”
Charlie was ashen when he came out of the office. He told us we had one hour to get to the Lexington and meet the boss –- but we also had to drive out to Cicero on the way for four big boxes of chocolates and four bouquets of flowers from a couple of the boss’s favorite shops.
Charlie crabbed all the way to Cicero about being “better than an errand boy,” but Johnny and I just tried to stay cool. We could give a damn about chocolates and flowers –- unless they were intended to be parting gifts for our soon-to-be widows.
We gathered up the goodies and backtracked to the Lexington Hotel. We announced ourselves at the desk for our meeting with the boss. The clerk called up to the office and then he chilled our bones.
“Ten minutes, gentlemen,” he said. “Meet him in the basement.”
We must have been quite the sight — three burly guys in Brooks Brothers suits and fedoras parked on a couch in the hotel lobby with our arms full of flowers and huge boxes of chocolates.
Ten minutes later, there we were, our arms laden with flowers and chocolates in a sparse basement room for a meeting with the most powerful businessman in the country. The boss was seated in a wood desk chair behind a crappy little desk in the otherwise empty room. Two guys stood beside and slightly behind him and just sort of stared at us.
Addressing Charlie, the boss said. “I am not impressed. You made a mess of what should have been a simple task. I think you need a vacation in Detroit. There is a train out at seven p.m. Be on it.”
One of the guys by the boss handed Charlie an envelope. We all knew what was in it from having seen it before. All you had to say was a guy got “the one way ticket to Detroit” and everybody knew it was, at best, a disgrace. At worst it was a one way ticket to hell and the guy who got the ticket wouldn’t be around anymore.
Charlie set the boxes and bouquets he was holding on the crappy little desk, took his ticket and scuttled quick for the door. He vanished, leaving me and Johnny the Bug standing there still looking like flower girls at a wedding.
Turning to Johnny and I, the boss said, “Good soldiers as usual, gentlemen. Do you know what day it is?”
“Uh – Thursday,” I stammered.
“February 14,” he replied with a smile. “St. Valentine’s Day — a day to celebrate those whom we love and those who love us. Go home and give those gifts to your wives. With my compliments.”
I did not ask the boss why he needed two bouquets and two boxes of flowers.
When Johnny and I made it back up to the lobby of the Lexington, cabs were waiting to take us each home.
I made the ride quietly. The cabby was good with that. He was probably accustomed to fares from the Lexington having very little to say.
I walked into the door of our apartment and Maria was sitting the kids down for an afternoon snack of cookies and milk. When she spotted me with the flowers and chocolates, she nearly dropped her tray of cookies for the kids. She ran to my arms and hugged me like she would never let go.
“You remembered Valentine’s Day!” she said. “I am making you a favorite dinner. Have a glass of wine and relax a moment. You look tired. How was your day today?”
“Just another day at the office,” I replied. “Just another day at the office.”