The Death of the Alderman’s Wife
Chapter 1- Roger and the Alderman’s Wife.
“So far, so good”, he thought to himself as he settled into the DC 7 first class seat. “Nobody’s recognized me.” Of course, he’d been shielded from his public by courtesy of the VIP lounge, and was one of the few, the proud, and the famous that could afford the luxury of first class.
As he made himself comfortable, stretching out his legs to put his two well-shod feet under the seat in front of him, his ear was pierced by a loud gushing scream.
“Oh my god! It’s you, isn’t it?”
The source of the noise was an ungainly large woman in a pea soup green suit, and a very unsuitable flowered garden party hat.
“Roger Hurstall! I just love your movies. I make my husband take me to every one.”
“She wasn’t moving. Her body, a result of either too many children, or too many meals, was a perfect aisle blockade. He could hear an annoyed rumble begin to start behind her.
“Hello,” (a killer smile) Thank you for you kind interest.” The publicity seminars the studio held every now and then, kicked in automatically.
The smile was a mistake. She thought he was actually interested in her. “Stewardess, who has this seat?” She pointed to the window seat in his row. “I’m sure they wouldn’t mind changing seats with me. “ She didn’t wait for an answer and immediately launched her bulk past him. “Put my bag in the overhead department, please.”
“That seat is for my lover, you big stupid cow. He’s getting on at Denver. We’re on a honeymoon.” Of course, he didn’t say that, though he did smile a sardonic smile to himself at the word, honeymoon.
“Oh, excuse me, but a business associate of mine is boarding at Denver. He turned on his movie charm, the bad boy half smile, the eye twinkle. “We booked this seat ahead of time so we could discuss some business.”
“Well, he won’t need it till then. So I’ll just sit right down next to my favorite movie star and talk until your friend boards.” She settled herself in the seat. This woman was frightening in her solidness, her single-mindedness.
Roger groaned in his heart.
“Oh, my Stanley is going to be so jealous when I tell him that I met you. And not only met you, but sat right next to you.” She settled a purse, the color of her dress in her lap. Roger realized that carried, as it was, by her side, was an explanation, in part, for her seeming mass.
“Of course, Stanley always says that movie actors aren’t real men, like butchers, or longshoremen, you know, regular working men.”
“Listen, he always says, they all ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of’…”
She stopped, as if suddenly realizing to whom she was speaking. A guilty flush stormed up her neck. The contrast of red neck and green cloth reminded Roger of Christmas. He stifled a snigger.
<BR“This is your Captain speaking.” The loudspeaker relived the awkward moment. “This is American Airlines flight 262 en route to Chicago via Denver,… Roger quit listening to the announcement. He knew the drill. As the pilot finished his script, with the flight attendants providing the usual safety tip semaphores, he outlined the next two weeks in his head.
First, Bill would board at Denver, then they would be met at Midway airport in Chicago by Roger’s friends Tony Grace and Vernon Kochanek. A couple of drinks and a dinner later, he and Bill would be ensconced (“what a lovely word, ensconced”) in Tony and Koch’s guest suite. “Let the games begin.”
The announcements were over. The plane was in the air. An attendant was leaning in asking if there was anything needed. Roger knew she recognized him and appreciated her professional attitude.
Is there a chance of getting a Scotch on the rocks with a lemon peel?’ He smiled at her.
“Of course, sir, though I don’t promise the lemon peel. And you, Maam?”
“Well,” she made a pretense of making a choice, pursing her lips while seeming to run over a menu in her mind, I shouldn’t, but, oh well, I’ll have the same, without the lemon.” It came out sounding like a dismissal. The attendant left.
“ Since your friend is coming on at Denver, you must be headed for Chicago,” she turned his attention to him, again.
“Well Roger, you don’t mind if I all you Roger? She paused to let him answer.
Roger knew she would, no matter what he said. “Don’t mind, at all. And you are? (“God I’m a good actor. I actually sound like I care.”
“Sophie Ziokowlski.” My husband is alderman Stanley Ziokowlski. If you need anyone to show you around, my husband and I would be glad to offer our services.” Her eyes fastened on his as if she were hypnotizing him into saying yes.
“Thank you, but I was born in Chicago, and I will be staying with friends.” His loose-fisted hands rapped a rhythm on his armrests.
She did not notice. “Oh! What parish?”
It was a rare Caucasian Chicagoan who did not use a parish name as answer to where he lived. Naming a parish not only gave a location, but information on probable ethnicity, financial status and party affiliation. St. Abbans was an Irish working class Democratic community. If he would have said St. Casmir, or St. Vitus, it would have been the same as if he’d said he were Polish or Bohemian. Even Protestants used the local Catholic parish as their neighborhood designation. Only Negroes and Jews used area names like Roosevelt or Rogers Park. He could see the woman’s mind searching back to place him in an exact social stratosphere.
“Why, that’s in my husband’s ward. We’re neighbors!
“Oh, God!” He almost stifled the groan rising out of him. Almost. If she took offense, he could not tell. It was just wonderful timing that the stewardess arrived with their drinks. A lemon peel was nowhere in sight.
His unwelcome companion took her glass, raised her head to look him straight in the eye. He was surprised to find her eyes a dark caramel color. The eyes would be beautiful but for the calculation behind them. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” She raised the glass.
He wondered how rich Bogie would be if he’d got a nickel for every time somebody said that since “Casablanca.”
“Cheers,” he said, raising his own.
The drink wasn’t as strong as he would have preferred. He wondered how many he would have to drink to get drunk enough not to care that his companion gave no indication of ceasing to speak. He did admire, however, the dispatch with which she downed her drink. He half expected her to throw the glass over her shoulder.
“Is there anything coming up with you and Angela Morrow?” Angela and Roger had headlined in three films together and were promising to be a junior version of Myrna Loy and William Powell.
“I think the studio writers are working on something, but I’m not sure.” As the three films they had finished were each more successful than the one before, there probably would be another pairing. The studio for which he worked loved nothing better than beating a successful formula lifeless.
“ She is really a very beautiful woman, so elegant.”
Roger took another sip of his drink to smother the rising laughter. Angela was a vulgar, coarse woman who’d scratch her crotch at a bishop’s investiture.
“It must be marvelous to work with her.”
It was purgatory. The woman thought perfume was a substitute for soap and water and had a breath that, when not alleviated by drink, would fell a skunk. He should get an Oscar just for not gagging during their love scenes. They hated each other so intensely; it flummoxed both of them that they came across on screen so magnetic a team.
“However Roger said none of that. “Yes“, he said, “she was a rare person with which to work.” He congratulated himself for not lying. How Sophie chose to interpret the phrase was her business.
The Stewardess came by again, asking if they needed anything.
“Another Scotch,” Sophie thrust her glass across Roger’s face so quickly, he pulled back, startled. “And this time try using whiskey.”
Roger met the stewardess eyes and raised his eyebrows in empathy.
“Yes, Maam.” Roger knew the tone from his days as a waiter. There would be something unpleasant in the glass when it came back. He winked, and got a smile in return.
Sophie luckily had not noticed the play between Roger and the girl. Sophie Ziokowlski rarely noticed anything except on what prey she was focusing. At the moment, she was working her way to asking this movie star to attend a small fund raising party for her husband’s re-election. What a coup that would be. It would also cover the source of the ten thousand dollars, in cash, she carried in her purse, a private donation made so as to steer some city road projects to the donor’s Chicago connection.
Not that she was worried Stanley wouldn’t win. Stanley always won. The combination of his Knights of Columbus affability, and her not so behind the scene manipulations had kept them in office for twelve years, now. Add to that the fact that Stanley and she had both been born in the Ward, made it a ‘safe’ Ward for Stanley even when the Mayor was downright oppositional.
She took the drink from the stewardesses tray without a, “Thank you.” Thank you was for people who could do you a favor.
“Since you’ll be staying with friends, I take it your parents don’t live in Chicago, anymore” it came out with a question mark at the end.
“My parents aren’t living.”
“Oh, that’s right. I read that in “Modern Screenplay.” “Car accident, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” The studio-arranged story was that the car’s steering column had locked, and on a winding Malibu Canyon Road, the car had continued on in a straight line when it should have curved. The real story was that his mother, in one of her rages, had decided to run his father over as he was taking an alchol-sponsored whiz by the side of the road. He fell on the hood as he was hit and startled his wife into jerking the wheel hard enough to send the car, and both of them, down into a canyon. There were no witnesses, both parties were dead, and the Sherrif’s station at Malibu was always as accommodating as possible to Hollywood.
“I remember that their name was Carney.” She mentally scanned precinct sheets, trying to place the name in a context she understood, party registration. “I don’t remember ever meeting them at any civic function.”
“They weren’t very civic minded”. He signaled the hostess to bring him another drink. It was going to be a long haul between Los Angeles and Denver.
“I hope you still have a warm regard for the city that raised you,” she had placed a warmly damp hand over his on the armrest. “It would be wonderful if you could appear at a small dinner, on my husband’s behalf.”
“I’m not really sure we’ll have the time…”
“It would do you a world of good to be seen as a regular guy, wouldn’t it? There was an inflection on the word regular that had a taste of threat to it. An insidious shiver rode his spine. She saw the involuntary shudder and smiled, all teeth, in victory.
“Well,” seeking compromise, “why don’t you give me your number and the date and time of the dinner, and I’ll see if we can arrange our schedules.”
“We?” an arched eyebrow.
“You and I.”
A business card appeared in her hand with a magician’s flair. “This is the Ward office number. Ask for Peter O’brian. He’s my husband’s staff chief.
Roger took the card with an air of nonchalance, Can’t let her think she’s won, and placed it in his breast pocket.
The drink arrived as Sopie, now assured she had scored a coup, settled back and began what would be a long monolog on husband’s political career, the people he knew, the influence he wielded in the party affairs.
Yes, a long haul between L.A and Denver. He was going to have to pace his liquor.
My life seems to have been nothing more than abandoned projects, Death of the Alderman’s Wife, of good example. Found this among my notes.
The idea was to write, using the murder mystery genre, about an openly gay private detective and his special other. It never got beyond the first possible chapter. I’m suspecting that the amount of research needed was daunting.