Richard e Hill - a Writer's Journal

Short Stories

Note: All works are copyrighted ...many have been re-copyrighted in 2009

All works written and copyrighted by Richard e Hill    ---- The works presnted are extracts

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That Poor Jazz Summer

 

 

The old cherry tree in the backyard was the official “headquarters’ for the seven and eight years old boys known as the Musketeers; Kingfish/Dickie, Rabbit, and Joey/Bo. Rabbit and Dickie restlessly sat under the tree in the backyard catching their breaths after a foot race down the red brick alley. “You always beat me no matter what distance we run! I’ll be leading and you always catch and pass me,” Rabbit panted.

Dickie interrupted his wistful stare at a passing mile long freight train to say, “That’s because you run fast, but don’t run smart.  My Father used to run track and taught my brother and me how to run smart. If you think I’m fast, you should see my father or my brother run.”

“You have to show me how to run smart.”

“I will, but right now I enjoy beating you too much. I really enjoy walking better than running. One day I’m going to walk all the way to Canada. Then I’m going to walk to California and Mexico.”

“Bo says he’s going to ride the train with the hoboes all over the United States. That’s faster than walking; it’ll take forever to walk. I’m going to get a motor home. When I see something I like, I’ll get out and look around.”

“I’d still rather walk and see everybody and everything.”

“Let’s get some cherries.”

“This tree is just about picked out.”

“There’s a big tree in the yard by that house where the pretty ladies go that has lots of cherries.”

“My folks told me to stay away from that house because it’s bad.”

“We’ll be in the yard, not the house.”

 

The boys went to the yard next to the brothel. After quickly surveying the scene they dashed across the lawn. Rabbit quickly shimmied up the tree and looked into a window of the house, “Hey Kingfish, you’ve got to see this!”

Dickie climbed the tree and looked into a room in the house to see the nude political organizer Callahan with a nubile young woman kneeling in front of him, “What are they doing?”

“Doesn’t that hurt?’

“I don’t think so, he’s smiling.”

“I think it’s starting to hurt, he’s frowning and pulling her hair.” The limb shattered and Callahan moved to the window to see the boys scrambling to their feet and running from the yard.

 

The youths felt secure in the sanctuary of the yard next to home. Dickie breathed a sigh of relief, “We better sit out here under the tree and play with the puppy, if I go in my mother can tell when I’ve done something wrong.”

“Maybe he didn’t see us. What does that guy do anyway?”

“He’s a Captain or a Chief something; he had my brother and me passing out some papers for him for the election.”

“I heard one of the ladies say “he was a cheap bastard” or maybe she was saying Chief.  What’s a bastard?’

“I don’t know, but it sounds like something I better not ask my dad about.”

“I’ll get Joey to ask his brother, Vinnie.  Oh, oh!  Here comes Callahan’s car!”

Callahan flipped his cigarette to the curb and approached smiling, “Hello lads, you dropped your bags. The girls filled them up for you. That was you in the tree, wasn’t it?”

“Yes Sir, we were picking cherries and the branch broke. We’re sorry, we didn’t mean to break the branch, it was an accident,” Dickie mumbled bashfully.

“Did you see me?”

“No Sir! Where were you?” cunningly replied Dickie.

“I saw you, but you weren’t doing anything!” blurted Rabbit.

“I like his answer better, here’s a dollar for your piggy bank. Didn’t you help me out at the elections?” he reached over with a palmed dollar bill and shook Dickie’s hand.

“Yes Sir. You are a Captain! My brother and I passed out some papers for you---”

“Indeed you did! And it was a fine job you did. Best two dollars I ever spent.”

“You gave me a dime and my brother a quarter because you didn’t have any change--”

“An oversight that I’ll correct right now. Here’s another dollar for you and one for your brother.  I like a lad who knows who I am and what to see. Yes, a Precinct Captain is one of my many jobs----”

“I know one of your other jobs!” interjected Rabbit.

“And just which job is that?”

“You are a Chief cheap bastard!”

Callahan bent over and laughed so hard he had to grab the fence for support, “You must have heard the girls talking.  You’d better learn what to SEE and HEAR like your friend here.  Here’s a dollar for you anyway, it’s best that you don’t say that word around your folks or you’ll be sucking on a soap bar.  I’ll see you later.”

“I’ll see you when you want me to see you,” Dickie cleverly replied.

“Very good, ‘see me when I want you to see me’! You are a smart young man! I’ll keep my eye on you.”

 

“What was Callahan laughing about and why was he giving you money?” asked Daddy Hawkes as he walked to the waiting ride.

“We were doing voices for him and he gave me some money because when Freddie and I passed out some papers for him, he didn’t have any change.  He said the ladies from the house sent us some cherries.”

“You guys should be on stage if you can get that cheap ---”

Dickie nudged Rabbit before he blurted the unmentionable word.

“That cheapskate!  Wash those cherries before you eat them and take some to your grandmother to fix a pie.”

 

Callahan was a political force with his streetwise style of deal making, hand shaking, palm greasing, and most important of all delivering the vote to control the patronage. It was acknowledged that he had as many deceased and phantom voters as live voters; he would become a leader in the army that marched to the drum of the Democratic Party and would soon be known as simply, The Colonel. The Colored vote was critical although office holders were few in 1948, and positions with the City were in the main, blue collar labor, low level clerical, or janitorial. The Colonel began to systematically place and control workers to build his ‘grass roots’ organization through the precincts.

 

Johnny Hawkes’ band was acknowledged as one of the best local small combos working; a mixture of older players --- Clyde Hutchins and Wally Madison, Hawkes in the middle and the young lions --- Hank Penn, Sonny Wade and El Cubano. Wally Madison’s station wagon began to sway as he turned from the paved Route 66 to a bumpy road into Cicero. “You tied the instruments down good, didn’t you Sonny?”

“You always ask that and I always do.”

El Cubano stopped lightly tapping his bongos and asked, “How do you know about all these back roads Johnny?”

“From playing pickup baseball games; getting out of town safely was more important than winning the game. I still don’t know how you swung such a good deal Sonny. This is three times the bread.”

“I told you I had a connection.”

“You and Hank always have something up. We are going to stop and take a break and eat this food my lady fixed us and we can talk about this big time connection.”

“There’s a forest preserve about a mile from the gig where we can take our break.”

“I get nervous just sitting under a tree when there is a bunch of crackers around.”

“Now there are some real crackers out here, but this gig is through a village trustee, who’s throwing a shindig at the lodge hall for his buddy that’s running for mayor. I told you that about ten times Man; everything is cool!  The sign says the preserve is dead ahead.”

 

Hank was devouring fried chicken as he spoke while still chewing, “Man this is some ‘down’ bird! Your ‘first lady’ sure can burn!  Fine and can burn for days, no wonder you always going straight to the crib. You ever catch this new cat on keys from Canada?”

“Oscar Peterson? I caught him on my short wave radio. He’s touring with Norman Granz and the Jazz at the Philharmonic All-Stars. That is really something, getting all the big players, having them tour as an ensemble.”

“Recording all of those concerts too!  Prez, Dizzy, Bird, Nat Cole, Les Paul, Ella and Art Tatum. Man that’s a gas!” added Clyde.

“Nobody records like Charlie Parker! I think if he belched near a studio somebody would record that too!” Wally chimed in.

“The way he improvises, he could probably do something with a belch,” joked Hawkes.

“He and Dizzy Gillespie are taking Jazz to a different level with Latin percussions and Bop. Hard seeing them as friends, Diz is so professional and even Charlie Parker doesn’t know when or if Charlie Parker will show up for a gig,” laughed Clyde.

“It’s getting harder to find Jazz gigs, most of the Southern Coloreds that come here like Down Home Blues or that Jumping Jive like Louis Jordan plays,” said Hawkes.

“Yeah and they spend money too. They leave those factories and labor jobs and go out on the town once a week and stop for a drink at a tavern several times a week,” Clyde agreed.

“The White Jazz players still get most of the big money gigs. They call it Swing or Syncopated Swing sometimes to separate them from us, but it is our art form and they are making all of the big bread. Guys like Artie Shaw, the Dorsey’s, Benny Goodman and Paul Whiteman,” lamented Hawkes.

“Benny is cool, but he is so structured a lot of cats think he is too demanding. Now, when he uses those Fletcher Henderson arrangements, you got something to go home with,” said Wally.

“Steady Teddy Wilson on piano, Charlie Christian on guitar, Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa made that band. Hamp will make you jump whether you want to or not, he lays it down right. Gene Krupa, that’s a drummer and a showman! Gets to shaking that hair and hitting that bass drum; really pushes a band!” said Hawkes.

“Some White cats can play. Jimmy Dorsey on sax, his brother and sparring partner, Tommy on trombone----” added Clyde.

“Right, they are always fighting! Once they got into it right on stage. I like that singer, Frank Sinatra with them. That’s one White cat that can jam and he’s cool with the Colored cats,” said Wally. “He does his share of fighting too, with Buddy Rich, the drummer!”

“Him, Jimmy Rushing, Little Jimmie Scott, Nat Cole and Mr. B, Billy Eckstine those are your male singers and Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen Mac Rae and Dinah Washington those are the chicks that can go,” said Hawkes.

“What about Anita O’Day?” asked Hank.

“Yes! There’s a White chick that can jam!” said Hawkes.

“Chris Conner? June Christy? Helen Forrest?” asked Hank.

“They are alright, but you can’t put them in there with those other chicks,” said Hawkes.

“Kate Smith?” joked Hank.

“NEGRO PLEASE! Now you gone crazy!” said Wally.

“You just called Hollywood Hank, a Negro!” laughed Clyde.

“Hell, he acts more Negro than any of us; chasing women, always eating chicken,, talking jive, drinking, smoking reefer---” laughed Wally.

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The Election Everyone Won

In December 2010 Richard M Daley surpassed his father Richard J Daley as the longest tenured Mayor of Chicago. This record would be extended into 2011 to end when he leaves office not seeking reelection. This has been a turnabout for the man who finished third in the 1983 Democratic Primary Election behind, Mayor-to-be Harold Washington, the first Black Mayor and then incumbent Jane Byrne, the first female Mayor. Wherein the Harold Washington legacy to ”the City of big shoulders” was a conscience, Jane Byrne gave “the City that works” culture and class ---- as for Daley Two, “consistency” comes to mind.

On 22 February 1983 a group of drinkers were enjoying the perquisites of being residents of the clout laden Marina City high rise complex in downtown Chicago ---- a habitant of powerbrokers, executives, celebrities, retirees, the fast track, and those who aspired to be in these categories. The “happy hour” waterhole in this complex was in a capacious restaurant overlooking the Chicago River. In the lounge area there was a bar height four feet in diameter pedestal table where a clique of regular patrons held forth for topical discussions or use as a staging area. “Porterhouse” a postal service executive, “Carry Out” a headhunter and “Hot Dog a technology consultant ---- residents who were among the few minorities patrons of the bar or in the twin silo shaped buildings complex---- were having lively discussions with customers at the bar and in the adjoining restaurant. The topic du jour was the Primary Election as the polling places were now closed and the results by precinct were trickling in being reported by local media on the TV screens. “Lox” a well heeled, connected entrepreneur had just entered and motioned to the bartender to refresh the drinks for the six patrons at the bar and the group at the pedestal table. His partner Prime Rib added, “No need to watch returns now; this baby is not going to be delivered until late tonight”.

Lox agreed as he stopped at the table to pat Hot Dog on the back complimenting on his per usual meticulous attire, “Looking sharp Slick”.

Streetwise Hot Dog recognized Lox was waiting to be encouraged to expound on the election; asked “How’s it going to play out Maestro?”

Lox responded on cue by unfolding a bar napkin, drawing a rough outline of the City with a platinum Mont Blanc pen, taking a sip from his just arriving red wine delivered by a zaftig, mini-skirted waitress, squeezing her hand while extending a crisp ten dollar gratuity and smiled broadly as she brushed her ample cleavage against his arm while gutturally whispering her gratitude. “It’s like this; Janie’s (Jane Byrne) areas will get out early and these polls will close on-time (as he pointed to areas on the sketched map). She will need super numbers to carry her home.” He paused dramatically and looked around the area before continuing, “Not going to happen.”

A patron at the bar interjected, acknowledging his gift drink, “Too late to ply me with booze; I’ve already voted”.

Prime Rib delivered a guffawed accompanied rejoinder, “We knew how you would vote and that you could be had for a drink.”

After the laughter subsided, Lox continued, “Richie Daley is a big time closer and his count will be late and large, but not enough to pass Janie; she’s really pushed hard.” He pointed to the pro-Daley old ethnic neighborhoods on the map.

Another bar patron chimed in, “You mean that broad is getting back in?”

Lox held up his hands to silence the growing murmur, “Didn’t you hear me the first time?” “And I repeat, it’s not going to happen. Eddie will pull too many of her votes.”  Alderman Ed “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak, the head of the Cook County Democratic Party and supreme wheeler dealer had financial support across the City, but this prowess did not necessarily convert into voting numbers as most of his biggest supporters preferred to be clandestine as he crossed party, social, and quasi-legal barriers. “The one to watch is Harold Washington. The turnout has been heavy today and he has the finances, all those new registrants; plus all those snoops watching the polls as well as the independents and do-gooders that are turning out big. Then there’s those freaking tacos (Hispanics) who suddenly have papers and are practically being escorted on burros to the voting booth. They are solid. Hell, I don’t understand what they saying half the time, but I know how they are voting.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Buffalo Soldiers and the Boys from San Juan

 

Sergeant Hamilton had been assigned to Fort Brown near Brownsville Texas to serve the remaining six months of his enlistment. He was going to join Hershel Korov firm’s Chicago office as a construction manager after his discharge. The rhythmic sounds of the steam engine begin to increase in tempo as Joshua, the porter knocked at the door of the private compartment, one-fourth the size of a passenger car, “It’s about that time Sergeant Hamilton.”

Hamilton concluded the lengthy kiss with Star Eyes and placed his gun belt containing a brace of Colts over the shoulder of his thin deerskin shirt, “Thank you Joshua” as he handed him a gratuity.

“No need for that Sir, it is always my pleasure.”

“And I always insist.”

“You make a man proud to be a Negro, I tell my children about you all the time and I am going to see to it that they keep up with their schooling.”

“Thank you Joshua, I’ll see you soon.”

“Your horses are right outside, packed and raring to go.”

Melissa Stranton, the occupant of the adjacent car spoke, “Good day Star Eyes, I’m going to take pen in hand and contact your office in Oklahoma as soon as I get my wedding done. And good day to you Sergeant Hamilton”, she added extending her lace-gloved right hand towards his chest in a sophisticated flirtatious manner. They were in the service aisle side of the car and the gallant kiss by Hamilton on her hand was screened from the eminent scorn likely. She quickly embraced Star Eyes as she felt his arousing kiss through her dainty gloves enhancing the vicarious sensation tactilely of the passion she had heard through open windows during long still nights. She felt flush as she brushed past Hamilton in the narrow aisle as his sculpted torso sent tingles through her body. “I’m going to have to get in that carriage; I’m getting a little flushed.”

Star Eyes whispered in his ear, mischievously laughing, “I know that feeling”, adding, “I love you.”

 

“Here comes Pedro now,” Joshua informed the two ranch hands that were preparing to retrieve the neat stack of Stranton’s luggage as the baggage cart was approaching.

“We can get a little line going and pitch it right on the carriage and get it done by the time Ol’ Pedro ambles here. Give a hand here, Boy” Carson Wiley, a ranch hand directed Hamilton.

Hamilton ignored the request, adjusted his packhorse, checked the saddle of his stallion, Thunderstorm and began to strap on his guns.

Lance the foreman joined the line and the luggage was quickly transferred to the carriage as J D Rogers Jr., Stranton’s fiancé assisted her into the carriage. Carson Wiley drawled, obviously agitated, “Just a minute Lance, I got some business to take care of.” He looked at Hamilton as he mounted Thunderstorm to watch Star Eyes leave the doorway and press against a window. “Didn’t you hear me, BOY when I told you to lend a hand?”

“Yes. I chose to ignore you rather than suggest an act that you probably would not choose to perform,” Hamilton spoke without turning around.

“Come again?”

Wiley’s partner whispered and taunted, “I think that big ol' niggra was about to politely tell you to kiss his ass.”

“There ain’t no polite way to say that----”

 

 

 

 

 

fore the Commanding Officer to surrender. Many of the White soldiers began to openly weep and jeer at the injustice.

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Last Night . . . . Night Before

Jackets, the accoutrement you grab to run an errand or perform a chore had social significance in the 50´s and 60’s. Nearly every secondary school or institute had the two tone waist length version as did varying recreational clubs and kindred associations. Then the street gang culture became an evolving phenomenon that transcended neighborhood borders to become a major criminal element. An erudite Black preteen finds an unlikely ally in an elderly blind Jewish retiree as an act of neighborhood street-corner gang mischief becomes a violent life altering event.

 

 

 

 


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Happy Hour

 

Back in the day alcohol consumption was a rite of passage, an initiation, a celebration, a day starter; oh well, any old excuse would do because it was raison d'être. Smoking was commonplace as cigarettes were featured in most advertising. This was underscored by the observation, if you randomly selected a magazine from an omnipresent newsstand, the back page would have a cigarette ad usually featuring a celebrity and or a beautiful woman. A restaurant or lounge would place an ash tray and a book of matches in front of you before pouring a glass of water. Savvy servers would have a readied lighter or take the matches from your hand to “light you up” and asked if you wanted “your usual”; referring to your customary drink of choice; bartenders remembered your name and drink. There were private rooms and shielded booths for select clientele who dropped in for a “quick one” before lunch or between lunch and dinner hours. Such was the force that fueled dynamic business districts.

 

Pecking order cliques determined by in large who you drank with i. e. executives, mid-level managers, associates and grunts. Each group had an alpha and laughing on cue sycophants. The faux cool alphas would use hand gestures to signal obsequious servers to “send a round” to a lower level gathering; the server would announce this generous gesture in respectful, gratuity driven tones e.g. “You are drinking with ----, enjoy“.

 

Chivas Schweppes Back, a Project Manager was the alpha of his group of accomplished technologists. Mimicking the “phony asshole” that had sent a round of drinks to the nearby table, he gestured to a laughing Latino waiter to refresh the drinks of his cohorts, “Innkeeper, another round for the knights of automated commerce, por favor” adding “We are celebrating Tequila Sunrise, the new mercenary, who has joined our ranks”.  Tequila Sunrise was a newbie and at best or worst, a social drinker, who ordered this drink because his wife, another “amateur drinker” liked the concoction.

 

“As they say in Greece, “Suck up; you’re getting behind” chimed in Seven and Seven as he noticed Tequila Sunrise had not finished his first drink. The group responded with booze infused guffaws.

 

“Drink it or wear it!” admonished Boilermaker as he downed Guinness Stout in two gulps from a mug to chase his previous beer with a shot mixture.

 

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