“Thanks for the magazine,” the gentleman said as he finished filing his nails. “Here’s a fiver for your trouble.”
“Thank you.” The eyes of Robert, the businessman’s self-described concierge, lit up. The instinct that told him to make sure no one was watching gave way to exuberance as he stretched the bill out in front of him. “Thank you very much, Alphonse.”
“See yuse later, Robert,” said the stocky gentleman with greased-back hair and dark eyebrows. “Perhaps tomorrow I can go over the investment opportunities I was tellin’ yuse about. Make you a rich man.”
“I’d like that a lot,” Robert replied. “Yeah, we’ll talk about it tomorrow during lunch.”
Alphonse walked away from his entry way in his stocking feet as the clanging of cold steel echoed in the distant background. The plush fibers in the Oriental rug beneath him massaged his feet as he walked toward his cherry secretary, the inlaid top already lowered to serve as his desk. Before he could sit down, the last fleeting rays of daylight from the atrium falling on an oil still life of a vase of flowers diverted his attention. Some imperceptible force had caused the frame to hang askew.
“Hm-m-m, perhaps a chunk of plaster fell on it from the ceiling,” he thought to himself.
Always focused on details, Alphonse took the time to straighten it before turning on the Tiffany lamp near his desk.
Business had left Alphonse in need of relaxation. Pressing matters had closed in around him, and he needed some time off. The entrepreneur had supplemented his furniture business with other more lucrative interests as he diversified his portfolio. Yet, the burgeoning profits from his assorted endeavors had come with hard decisions and even harder consequences.
His time in the elegance of the Park Avenue district afforded him the opportunity to reassess his business acumen and focus on issues of benevolence. A small stack of letters he had received just today lay unopened on the right of his desktop. They would have to wait until morning. His sense of humanity superseded all other tasks this evening as he sat down to pen and paper. His first correspondence addressed one of his most trusted employees.
Recent events have turned life from hard to desperate for the folks on the streets and neighborhoods of our dear city. Enclosed you will find two checks. With the lesser amount, I want five thousand turkeys distributed to the needy within our business district for the upcoming Thanksgiving. Give the larger check to Father Guido. He knows how it can be used best to feed the hungry on a daily basis. I am sure it will support the soup kitchens and shelters that many seek out in this difficult time.
A man of some taste and refinement, Alphonse decided music was in order before he started another letter. He fiddled gingerly with the tuner of his Crosley console. Jazz would be too jittery; he needed something soothing. A Viennese waltz would do just fine. Satisfied, he turned down the volume to the point that it became a subconscious element to his suite—loud enough to inspire, soft enough not to interfere with his thoughts.
Mr. Antonio Modorelli,
From various sources, I’ve been informed that you have dreams of becoming an architect. That’s a most worthy ambition, Tony. The nation needs builders with vision and skill. I understand that the times, being what they are, have kept you and your family from allowing you the opportunity to chase your dream. I would view it a waste of your talent for you not to be able to pursue your dream. At the same time, our society would be deprived of a passionate builder with expertise. Use the enclosed check to pay for your tuition at the school of your choice. I understand that the University of Chicago has a very good school of architecture.
One final act of charity occupied his mind. It required but a short note to a local clergyman.
Sometime in the next week, you will receive a blue envelope in your collection plate. It will contain $200 in cash. Please see that the Santini woman—the one you spoke to me about, the one with eight children—receives this money. He withdrew four crisp fifty dollar bills from his wallet without affecting its sizeable girth. With great precision, he folded the note in thirds, wrapped it around the bills and placed it in a non-descript, light blue envelope. He labeled it for the minister whom he knew as a saint amongst the poor.
Done for the evening, Alphonse got up from his desk only to notice that one of today’s unopened letters had fallen on the rug. Picking it up, the crude print of his address captured his attention. His curious nature demanded that he open it. Its contents were scrawled in the same grammar school script.
I’ll be seeing you soon. Jimmy.
“Jimmy? Jimmy who? Who the hell is tryin’ to be a wise guy?” Alphonse muttered to himself. Running an open palm over his stubble, Alphonse crushed the note into a small ball with a meaty hand and tossed it into a waste basket. He lay down; Strauss’s dance music became a gentle lullaby into a frightening, nether world.
Restless, Alphonse tossed and turned; rusty springs voiced their disgust underneath his thin mattress. Just when sleep appeared to have rescued him, it turned on him. A man with a white hat and dark overcoat stood over him at his bedside. The glow of the lamp, which Alphonse had forgotten to turn off, coupled with the shadow cast by the pulled down front brim of the hat made the face indistinguishable.
“Hello Al,” the stranger said. “It’s Jimmy.”
“Jimmy?” Alphonse wondered aloud, rolling out of the other side of his cot. “Jimmy who?”
“Now, Al,” the stranger said without raising his voice, “has your memory already faded after a mere nine months? Has it? Can’t conduct no business with a worthless memory like that.” For a moment he turned away before spinning back on a dime. “Ya forget all your terminations so easily, Al?”
Alphonse cocked his head. His chin stiffened. His eyes whirled about as if his mind was spiraling out of control, trying to make sense of the completely unnatural. “What termination?”
As with any business, terminations were an oft messy, but necessary, part of an entrepreneur’s job. “Who the hell are yuse?”
“Ya don’t remember at all, do ya, ya son-of-a-bitch?” The stranger’s words now spat out with the rapidity of a machine gun. “Jimmy Clark, sure ya remember me,” the man said removing his hat to reveal a pallid, translucent head.
“Holy Mother Mary.” The three words of divine rescue lodged in Alphonse’s throat, never quite breaking through his lips with much force.
“Take a look, Al, at what ya boys did.” Jimmy said as he dropped his overcoat. Fully nude, he stood in transparent gore. Seven gunshot exit wounds peppered the front of his spectral corpse. “This one finished me,” he said pointing to a grisly hole in his chest.
Alphonse turned away, his stomach taking an elevator ride to the penthouse. “This can’t be. This can’t be,” he kept babbling to himself as he began a slow retreat to the entry way.
“Ya know we all had families—Frank, Pete, Albert, Reinhardt, Adam, John and me. Ya were trying to set up Bugs, but ya got us instead. That’s all right though, Al. Ya know…ya reap what ya sow. I’ll be hanging around with ya for quite some time… if ya know what I mean.”
“Hanging around…me?” Alphonse’s lips were quivering. The business titan turned into convulsing jelly. “Wh-h-h-at do yuse mean?”
“Hey, ya not goin’ anywhere anytime soon,” the specter said. “We’ll visit a lot. In fact, wherever ya go for the rest of ya miserable life, I’ll be there too.”
Always hidden just beneath his surface emotions, rage erupted in Alphonse as he swung his steel fists in rapid succession at Jimmy. “Yuse get the hell out of here and never come back!” It was useless. He only punched through empty air.
“Hey, Al,” Jimmy’s voice whispered from above. “Try hitting me again. Ha-ha-h-h-h-h-ha!” The ghost’s hideous laughter railed as Jimmy’s naked bullet riddled corpse plastered the ceiling like embossed tin plate tiles. Ever so slowly, it lowered itself across the entire area of the room as if it were a wine press of decomposed flesh.
“Go ahead, ya garlic-eater,” the ghost laughed, “try hitting me again…and again…and again…and again…and again. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
“No, Jimmy, no!” Alphonse screamed. “Get away from me! Get away from me!”
“What’s wrong, Al?” a voice outside his cell called amidst a stampede of footsteps and the metallic screeching of the opening of a gate.
The whirring of a wall phone’s crank confirmed the pandemonium outside Alphonse’s quarters. “Yeah, get me the warden,” Robert spoke with tension rising in his voice, “Capone’s gone off his rocker.”
Author’s Note: Al Capone—despite his infamous reputation, a documented benefactor of those in need—served seven months in Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia from August 1929, to March 1930, on a concealed weapons charge. While there, he enjoyed comfortable quarters in the century-old prison’s “Park Avenue” cell block. It’s been hypothesized that he wanted to keep a low profile after his ordered “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” hit of the previous February. Rumors have persisted over the years that, while in Eastern State, the Chicago mobster was first haunted by the ghost of James “Jimmy” Clark, one of the victims of the mass shooting.
The son of German immigrants, Max Willi Fischer has always been enthralled with the oddities in real life as opposed to the concoctions of fiction. As a teacher for nearly 40 years, he engaged students with the adventure inherent in history and connected the dots with the human nature that binds us all to our ancestors. Since retirement, he has enjoyed writing historical fiction for young adults. Inspired by the fact that George Washington was viewed as an assassin in some corners of the mid-eighteenth century world, he wrote his first novel, The Corkscrew App (Royal Fireworks Press, 2016). He hopes to have more works published in the future.