Long ago, city dwellers lost touch with nature, turning instead to concrete jungles more deadly than any real ones in nature.
Untold stories of the lives of millions of people unfold every day across the endless concrete highways of the North American continent. Strange stories. Sad stories. Stories with no endings. Stories of crime, and redemption. They are all acted out on countless miles of concrete, connecting generations that died in back alleys and highways. Concrete is the symbolic skin of America baptized in blood and progress. Here are two such stories for your consideration.
THE CHRISTMAS BONUS
1936 – Chicago, Illinois
Nervous sweat trickled down Alberto “Big Al” DeSantis’s forehead as he waited for his quarry behind a row of dipsy dumpsters in the dark alley.
The partial moon lent an eerie glow to the scene and shadows from rats and cats skittered across the brick walls. A homeless man clutching a paper bag walked over to the dumpsters and began flipping unlocked lids open and looking inside. When he got to the end of the row, he swore. There was nothing worth taking. He brought the bag – with a bottle inside – up to his lips and emptied it in one long gulp. Then he threw it against the wall near where Big Al was hiding. Another curse, and the man shambled off into the night.
Just as Big Al was getting ready to move, he heard footsteps and froze. His quarry came into view. The man quickly walked over to a row of crates stacked behind a bar – Jimmy’s Place – and lifted one up and looked underneath it. Just the way Big Al planned it. The note. The promise of dirt on an enemy. And that it would be in this particular alley. He reeled Morty “The Fixer” Weinberg in like a fish. A barracuda was about to meet a shark.
When Morty couldn’t find anything, his instinct told him he was in trouble. He automatically reached for his gun, but was too late. Big Al’s Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) barked and six massive slugs ripped into Morty’s face and chest! He was dead before he hit the concrete. As a small pools of blood formed next to the corpse, Big Al put the still warm weapon under his trench coat, and casually strolled away from the carnage he created.
It was Christmas, and he was looking forward to getting home and celebrating with his wife and children. The fact that he just murdered a man in cold blood didn’t put a damper on his holiday spirit at all. Just the opposite. The boss, Salvatore Lucchesi, had a contract out on Morty for months and no one was able to fulfil it yet. Until now. Big Al expected a good Christmas bonus when he stopped by the clubhouse to report the good news. He went out to the street to his car and opened the trunk. He gently lowered the powerful weapon down and covered it with a blanket.
A gentle snowfall dusted the concrete as he looked for a parking place. He found one a block away from the club. When he stepped inside the club, after being greeted at the door by a guard, he inhaled the succulent smell of fresh pasta and sighed.
“We almost didn’t think you’d make it tonight,” Lucchesi teased Big Al while inviting him with a wave to sit at his table.
“Not only have I come to pay my respects on this holiday, but I also bring good news with me!” Big Al proudly said.
“Bravo! Have some wine and tell me what it is.”
After a waiter poured him a glass, Big Al took a sip and replied, “You no longer have to worry about that bastard Morty Weinberg. He’s burning in hell! I whacked him!”
A silence settled on the table. Wise guys turned their eyes away trying to hide their expressions. Big Al was confused. Why wasn’t everyone cheering? Why did Lucchesi have that funny look in his eye?
“A contract is a contract. Louie! Get me 30 g’s right now! Big Al has it coming.”
The tension around the table worried Big Al. He couldn’t figure out what the source was. When Louie returned a had a small zippered cloth bag that he gave Big Al. His normally smiling face was grim.
“I’m true to my word mio amico! Here’s the reward and a Christmas bonus.”
“Merry Christmas!” Lucchesi said, and pulled out a revolver. “How were you to know we had a Christmas truce with Weinberg’s gang? I’m going to have to save face now…”
The wise guys around the table were already moving backwards when he shot Big Al in the forehead!
Taking Pappy’s Advise
1913 Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Clete Peterson had no idea that he would be part of making history when he got a job building the first asphalt concrete highway in America. He was a 17-year old husky country boy who was thrilled to be getting good wages in return for back-breaking work clearing big rocks, roots, and natural obstacles out-of-the-way to pave a new road.
There were two crews working on the 24-mile long road. The common laborers like Clete, and the specialized crew that made and poured the asphalt concrete with its bitumen binder. The paved part was 9-feet wide, and the laborers were required to clear a 12-foot path in preparation for the historic road.
On the first day of the job, Clete and the rest of the laborers, quickly learned that their boss, Charles Putnam, was an ignorant bully who got the job because he had inside connections. He was a surly alcoholic built like a bear. His sheer size intimidated many men. Every day he set the same goal, regardless of the obstacles that had to be removed. When something prevented the goal from completion he went crazy. Like when a whole work day was lost removing a rock that turned out to be a boulder of considerable size.
That night he walked through the camp picking fights with the exhausted labor crew. The only man there as big as Charles was Clete. When Charles aggressively came up to him he held his ground despite fearing the older man. Clete’s pappy always told him to stand up to bullies. No matter what. Charles saw the fear in the younger man’s eyes, but he also saw a determination that he wasn’t sure he wanted to test.
“Y’all better put more effort in your work Peterson,” he warned him. “Feller yer size should be doing the work of two,” he taunted after spitting out a stream of tobacco juice on his boots. “I’ll be watchin ya boy!” he assured him, and turned away into the growing night towards his campsite.
“Hey, Peterson!” one of the men called out to him. He looked over and saw three men sitting around a campfire passing a bottle around.
“C’mon over. Be sociable,” another man urged, holding up the bottle for him to see.
Another lesson Clete’s pappy taught him was to be sociable, and not to take on airs. So, he joined them. He gratefully accepted the bottle when it was passed to him and took a gulp. It was his first taste of alcohol and went down like pure fire! His pappy was a preacher and if there was one evil he always went on about…it was drinking liquor. The devil’s brew. As he gasped for breath the others laughed so hard they were rolling on the ground.
“Well, damn boy. I dint know ya was such a cherry!” the man who handed him the bottle said.
“My paps a preacher,” he gasped, “I need me some water,” he pleaded. One of the men handed him a canteen. “You’ll do boy!” he said. His partners agreed. They approved of the big young man with good manners.
The next day.
While digging away trying to unearth a big rock, Clete was surprised when someone pushed him from behind! He stumbled forward and caught his fall with the shovel.
“What the…?” he stammered.
“I warned you last night Peterson. You better pick that pace up!”
Sensing violence, the rest of the crew stopped what they were doing and watched the scene unfold between Charles and Clete.
“Reckon you better say you’re sorry for pushin me like that,” Clete warned him in a calm voice.
Charles’s reply was to slug him with a sucker punch! But it didn’t move Clete who stood there defiantly. He threw down his shovel and reached out and grabbed Charles’s arm and pulled him toward him. A ham-sized fist smashed into Charles face and blood splattered them both from his broken nose! He recovered from the blow and grabbed Clete in a bear hug. They wrestled around until Clete broke loose and hit Charles twice with thundering blows to his head that dropped him to the ground, nearly unconscious. Without pausing, Clete jumped on top of him and choked him with all of his strength. By the time the work crew pulled the enraged Clete off their boss, he was dead.
To a man, they agreed to hide the events that led to Charles’s death. Afterwards Clete admitted that his pappy told him to never start a fight, but if he’s in one to finish it.
The story they gave authorities was a group of unknown assailants attacked their camp in the middle of the night and their boss was killed. Some speculated that it might have been a group of disgruntled Cherokees objecting to the road going through their sacred grounds.
Afterwards, the locals decided to dedicate a one-mile stretch of the new road to Charles Putnam – “A hero who died in the name of progress.”
As It Stands, there’s so many more stories to tell, I’ll never be able to share them all in this lifetime.