Steel Shackles bit into my wrists as I was roughly thrown into the patrol car. I held no doubts I would find marks on my wrists once my hands were cleaned. Cruel jeers filled thew air as I drag myself to the splintered wooden bench. I didn’t care for the crimson trail that followed me from where I landed, nor the foul stench of copper that hung in the air. The policemen meant nothing, their curses and blows meant nothing. My eyes drifted shut as the door slammed shut and I was sealed in darkness, my head rested against the steel shell as the patrol car rattled its way along the roads. A small smile stretched my cheeks as I looked to my bloodied hands. Fatigue flooded my figure; my hands and feet weighed the earth as I breathed deep lungsful of air. It didn’t matter though; nothing could stop my smile. Bruno was dead, and I was alive.
I was nothing more than a vagabond when I first met Bruno Baldini, my parents never cared much for me and I never could hold any kind of steady job. It didn’t take long for me to start visiting Chicago’s speakeasys. I suppose it was only a matter of time until someone like Guido took notice of me.
At first it was nothing special, just delivering letters to different business owners for a few notes. Few ever did more than take the letters with a resigned sigh, I had always been a big kid and with brains like mine it wasn’t like I was much use for anything other than manual labour. It wasn’t that I took care of my body, it’s just I never had the luxury of growing soft and fat. I’d always preferred sleeping on floors to a bed.
Bruno let me sleep in the back of old Bob’s speakeasy when he found out I was homeless. He said he saw potential in me, and I deserved someplace to call my own. I should have released he had recognised me for the fool I am. Old Bob wasn’t pleased to have me around, but I tried my best to stay out of his way and tried to help out where I could. Things were peaceful for a while after that, the letters became more frequent and the payments started to grow little by little.
One day Bruno asked me to walk with him. He drove me in a fancy car to the outskirts of town, I thought he was going to throw me out like my parents had when I was young, but he didn’t. He just asked me to come with him inside this remote warehouse. The whole place stunk of boose; wooden barrels as high as the eye could see surrounded us as Bruno talked to this little dirty man in a dirty apron. I tried to make sense of what he was saying, but he had told me to stand by the door and the dirty man was walking with him down the rows of barrels. All I could figure was that Bruno wasn’t happy with the dirty man, something about watered down boose and an unhappy boss.
I never did find out what happened to that dirty man. Bruno started bringing me with him whenever we went to that remote brewery, but I never saw that same small dirty man in his small dirty apron again. I still delivered my letters every day, and my weekly pay was starting to get big enough that I still had some leftover by the time the next one would be dropped off. Old Bob started demanding I pay him for letting me sleep in his storeroom, I didn’t mind though. So long as I had enough money for drinking I was happy, and I never had to go to bed sober when I worked for Bruno.
Eventually Bruno was taking me to more places than just the brewery. We would go into brothels and tailors, bookies, and garages. I’d never have to do more than just stand by whatever door Bruno asked me to. The owners would look at me with beady eyes as Bruno talked to them, I never understood why they would sweat when they talked. I didn’t ever find where I stood to be particularly hot, but maybe that’s because I always got a breeze by the doors.
I can’t honestly say how long me, and Bruno would go on our little trips, he bought me a suit he said I had to wear when we were together. He said I had to look professional if I was going to be working for him. I didn’t like the suit, it always chafed when I sat down, and I was always scared of tearing it.
It was during one of our trips that I met Jessica. She brought me a slice of lemon cake while Bruno talked to the baker. She was a small thing, but she had such big eyes and a sweet smile I had never seen a woman direct at me before. She spoke to me briefly; her voice was cheerful and warm. She asked me my name and didn’t laugh when I stuttered out my answer. I had always hated my stutter, my mother used to say that god must have seen me for the idiot I am and that’s why I couldn’t talk properly. It had never really bothered me though, the only people I ever spoke to were old Bob and Bruno and neither of them seemed to mind.
I had once tried to talk to one of the girls in the brothel Bruno took me to but she laughed and I got embarrassed. Bruno told me he would take care of it and that none of the girls would embarrass me again. Ever since then the girls in the brothel would hide when I looked at them. Jessica didn’t hide though, she looked at me with those big eyes and stood by my side until she heard Bruno’s footsteps approaching.
I always made sure to wash the night before me and Bruno visited that bakery. We always followed the same routine. Bruno would go with the flower covered plump man into the back room while I stood by the front door. After a few moments I would hear Jessica’s soft footsteps approach. She would always have with her some kind of treat, and she smile and talk about her day as I ate. I didn’t talk much but she didn’t seem to mind. She would always scatter when she heard the office door open and Bruno approach though, and her father would glare at him from behind his back. I would have told Bruno that the baker glared at him, but Jessica told me he was her father, and I didn’t want to upset her.
One time when we visited, I offered to pay her for the treats she would give me, but she wouldn’t let me. She told me the treats were a gift and you weren’t meant to pay for gifts. I had never received a gift before, not without paying for it later. That was the first time I had ever received a gift, and that night after Bruno left me and old Bob at the speakeasy I walked over to the tailors. The owners were wary of me when I walked in, they said they were closed, and that Bruno would have to talk to them himself if he wanted anything. They were a little old couple, and the wife smiled at me when I asked her what I should buy Jessica.
I wanted to buy her a dress they had on display, a lovely pale blue that matched her eye colour. But the owner told me that if I didn’t know her size, I shouldn’t get it and instead I bought a small leather purse that forced me to hand over all my cash. I didn’t know such a small thing could be worth so much. Old Bob looked at me strangely as I went to bed without a drink that night, the first time since I had started living there that I had done so. But Jessica’s smile when I gave the purse to her the next time me and Bruno visited made the sober nightmares seem trivial.
She introduced me to her father when I gave her the purse. She had asked me to drop some cash when me and Bruno left so I could come back and retrieve it later. Jessica was always smart like that. Her father didn’t like me though. He said that if I worked for Bruno, I was no good for Jessica. I didn’t like her father. He was a strict man and reminded me to much of my own father. She followed me out of the bakery when I left, I thought she would tell me that we couldn’t speak to each other anymore then. That the baked treats and gentle conversations were going to disappear. But she didn’t, she took my hand in her own. Her hands were so tiny, and her skin was so soft that I couldn’t help but smile when she held my scarred paw. She asked me then if I would come speak to her the following night, her face was flushed, and she twiddled her hair with her left hand as she spoke. I had never seen such a beautiful night.
I started sneaking out of the storeroom at night. I’d wait until Bruno had left and old Ben had gone to bed, and I’d walk to the bakery. It was a long walk, and the policeman would always glare at me as I walked past them, but I didn’t mind. Jessica would always be waiting for me outside the bakery when I got there, she would wear the most beautiful dresses and we would go on moonlight walks through Chicago’s parks. She would hold my hand as we walked, almost skipping as she talked about what happened during her day.
I stopped drinking on the nights I would spend with Jessica, and as those night became more and more common old Bob started to take notice. He demanded I start paying more for sleeping in his storeroom and he started taking the key for the front door with him after he locked up for the night. It didn’t matter though, I just waited until me and Bruno went to the bakery and told Jessica what happened. She slipped me a small knife and showed me how to pry open a locked door. Jessica was always smart like that.
I would make sure old Bob had gone to bed for the night before I snuck out, and for a while life was great. Jessica and I would take walks through the local parks at night and Bruno was none the wiser. Old Bob would still glare at me, Jessica had asked me to stop drinking and so I think he was upset I wasn’t buying off him anymore, but I’d always pay his rent on time. It was a few months later that things changed though, Jessica was holding my hand as we walked through the park as usual but this time, she turned to me, her joyful eyes serious and her face downtrodden.
She told me that Bruno was asking her father for money when we visited and that as the months grew colder and the bakery received less money, they weren’t able to pay. I didn’t know what I could do, I offered to give her the excess cash I received from Bruno each week, but she told me that wouldn’t be enough to cover the debt they owed him. She told me he had threatened her father and that when we visited the bakery next week if her father didn’t pay what they owe than there would be trouble. I told her I would speak to Bruno in the morning, he was always a nice enough man and never seemed unreasonable.
Jessica had kissed me goodbye that night, a peck on the lips that had me going to bed with a big goofy smile on my face.
I spoke to Bruno in the morning about Jessica’s father, I thought he would be understanding and say that they could pay later when the business picked up again. He didn’t say that though, he went all red faced and his little hands curled into fists. He stormed out of the pub when I asked him again to leave Jessica alone and he didn’t wait for me to get in the car with him before he drove off. I remember turning to old Bob, expecting the usual glare but instead receiving a compassionate look. He told me I had better get running to see Jessica and I did.
The door to the bakery was open when I got there, my legs burnt from running and my suit was stained with sweat marks, but I didn’t care. When I entered the bakery, I saw Jessica on her knees crying in the corner of the room. Bruno was stood over her father’s body, beating the man until he stopped groaning.
I don’t know what I did after that. My vision turned blurry and I felt my face turn red. All I can remember seeing is Bruno’s face beneath my fist as he screamed and clawed at me. I was still beating on him when the police came through the bakery door. My hands covered in his blood and his face little more than a red smear. I looked to Jessica as the policemen dragged me away.
Her face was full of fear as she looked at me, just like the girls in the brothel. Jessica was always smart like that.
My eyes jerk open as the car comes to an abrupt halt. I look to my blood covered hands and don’t care for the droplets staining the floor. The door to the car opens and light floods my vision. I have to squint as I take in the two finely dressed men before me. There each holding tommy guns aimed at me and I realise suddenly what is about to happen.
‘Angelo Genna sends his regards’ says the small man on the right.
My vision is filled with white as the guns go off, and I finds myself laying on the floor of the cop car with blood pooling around me. My skin turned cold as I tried to stand, and I felt myself become lightheaded as my skull met the steel of the carriage floor.
I think of Jessica as I close my eyes. Her joyful blue eyes and her cheerful voice split my cheeks in a smile as I picture her tiny smooth and in mine.
May name is Franklin James, and I’m the man who killed Bruno Baldini.