“You like her, huh?”….“Just looking,” he said. “Do you know her?”
The first time Rudy saw Kitty she was modelling fur coats at the Merchandise Mart, an enormous, double-winged wholesale emporium and manufacturing edifice on the north bank of the Chicago River. He had gone there with two acquaintances, “Pistol Pete” Licavoli and “Diamond Phil” Diamond, both of whom had worked over the years for Joseph Kennedy, who owned the Mart. Licavoli and Diamond had driven trucks loaded with crates of whiskey across the border from Canada into the United States during Prohibition, trucks owned by Kennedy, then assisted in the distribution of the crates to speakeasies all over the Midwest. In the decade since Prohibition had ended, the two men had provided a variety of services for The Outfit in Chicago, an organization closely associated with Joe Kennedy’s operations there, as well as in Detroit, Minneapolis, and other cities.
“You like her, huh?” Pete Licavoli asked Rudy, when he noticed him paying particular attention to the statuesque model with long chestnut hair and good figure.
Rudy grinned and patted Pete on his back.
“Just looking,” he said. “Do you know her?”
“Phil does. Hey, Phil, can you introduce our friend to the girl wearin’ the full-length mink?”
“Kitty,” Diamond Phil called out, “can you come over for a minute?”
She walked over and nodded to the men, but she was shy and did not look directly at them.
“Kitty, this is our good friend Rudy. He’s in the liquor business.”
Phil and Pete stood up and left the showroom.
That evening, in Rudy’s hotel room, a suite he kept at The Drake primarily for business meetings and to put up visitors from out of town, Kitty stood looking out one of the several large windows at Lake Michigan. Streetlamps lit the shoreline at Oak Street beach and all along the Outer Drive.
“The city looks innocent from here,” she said.
“Why innocent?” said Rudy.
“It’s clean, only a few citizens walking their dogs, headlights flashing by like fireflies.”
“I like the way you talk. Where were you before Chicago?”
“New York, for a year, before that Austin, Texas. I was at the university there for a little while. I grew up here, though.”
“You have family here?”
“Only my mother. She’s in poor health, that’s one reason I came back.”
“How old are you?”
Rudy shook a cigarette out of a pack of Lucky Strikes and put it between his lips.
“Do you smoke?”
“You’re a beautiful girl, Kitty. Young woman, I should say.”
“Is that why you invited me up here?”
Rudy lit the Lucky. The only light in the room came from a table lamp. He stood up from the couch on which he’d been sitting and walked over to the windows.
“I’m twice your age.”
“Those men you were with at The Mart this afternoon, they’re gangsters. Are you a gangster, too?”
“Like Phil said, I’m in the liquor business. I do business with all sorts of people.”
“Do you kill people, or have people killed?”
Rudy stubbed out his cigarette in an ashtray, then caressed Kitty’s back.
“Never. Do you?”
Kitty gave a little laugh.
“Only when I have to.”
Rudy kissed her bare left shoulder.
“I’m going to marry you,” he said.
Kitty turned her head toward Rudy and looked him in the eyes.
“Everyone in my family has brown eyes. Promise me our children’s eyes will be blue, like yours. And that we’ll name our first son Roy, after my father.”
“I promise. I want you to promise me something.”
“You’ll let me take care of whoever you want killed.”
Kitty smiled. She had perfect teeth.
“What if I want to kill you?” she said.
This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book The Boy Who Ran Away to Sea by Barry Gifford, accompanied by the author’s illustrations, forthcoming from Seven Stories Press/Penguin Random House (Spring 2022). Advance orders are available on Amazon or direct from Seven Stories Press.
The non-exclusive use of the story is by permission of Barry Gifford.