Popular folklore would have us believe that there exist in the Underworld ruthless men who fear nothing. This story should debunk that myth. August 14th, 2:00am. While the upper strata of the Syndicate were accustomed to dealing in millions, the foundation of their fortunes was here in their counting houses, in the small change of the numbers racket. Mr. Albert Berg, head collections man. A graduate of an Ivy League business school, he was an incompetent even by Syndicate standards. About the only smart thing he’d ever done was marry the boss’ sister. Willie Pike: he’d never been convicted of anything, by anybody, except the Boxing Commission. Willie took a dive into the canvass, and on through into the bulletproof car set. Willie was making a bundle--a bundle he would never get to spend.
These men are gathered in a trailer, where they count the day’s receipts. The trailer begins to shake, and the heavy bar securing the door flexes and begins to splinter. The men seize their documents and begin shredding them, then draw weapons, just as the bar cracks. They shoot at the intruder without effect; he hurls men aside and seizes Willie Pike.
2:30 a.m. Willie Pike, one time heavyweight contender, now just one heavy pile of lifeless junk.
The police report claimed Willie Pike’s death was due to severe blows, clearly a gangland killing.
Carl has arrived early and is banging out a story, when an overturned cup of coffee heralds the arrival of Monique Marmelstein. Then Tony visits Carl’s desk; Tony is ebullient and Carl is suspicious. First, Tony offers to take him out for coffee and a Danish; Carl remembers the last time that happened, he wound up covering a hardware convention in Sioux Falls, Iowa. Then Tony calls him a “co-worker,” and Carl remembers the time he spent three days rewriting obituaries because Charlie Creech was on a bender. Tony offers Carl an exclusive: a police raid story at a Syndicate burial ground. The other shoe drops: Carl must take Monique Marmelstein under his wing. It seems her uncle, Abe Marmelstein, is an executive at the New York INS office. Tony tries a hard sell; Carl’s answer remains “no.” But in the end, he gives in and takes Monique with him.
It is late afternoon, and police have surrounded the apple farm and cider works owned by the Russo brothers. They demand that the brothers surrender. The reply is a hail of gunfire. Kolchak skids to a halt, and Monique spills out of the car, racing up to the police line to take photos. Carl grabs her and hustles her back behind his car before she can stop a bullet. Then he gets an idea: Monique can hide in the trunk of his car, and get pictures from there. She accepts, and Carl is rid of her for now. Carl then gets pictures of his own, as the gunfire begins to die down. Captain Winwood enters the barn, and emerges moments later, forbidding pictures.
Unable to get the lurid details from the scene, Carl visits the morgue, where Gordon Spangler, aka Gordy the Ghoul, might be able to help him. Gordy runs a lottery, and offers information on the side--to those willing to buy tickets. Carl learns that the Russo brothers were brought in--and that there’s a wall around their case. But the coroner sent for an x-ray taken during Willie Pike’s autopsy. Seeing the X-Ray, Carl realizes that “severe blows” doesn’t really describe Willie’s end. As a freebie, Gordy throws in another tidbit: a body brought in with the Russo brothers… was brought in previously, “as dead as six .44 Magnum slugs can make you.” Strangely, this body had chicken blood it its ears.
Tony calls the morgue. Monique is furious at her stay in Carl’s trunk, and Tony is afraid her uncle Abe “The Smiling Cobra” will come down hard. There follows a three-way conversation that leaves Tony with the impression Carl is prepared to apologize. But Carl is mostly discussing the strange state of the extra body with Gordy. When Tony hands the phone to Monique, Carl thinks he has hung up, and hangs up himself--making Monique even angrier.
The official police briefing is at 9:00 a.m., August 16th. Carl raises “rumors” that Willie Pike’s back was broken--and that the Russo brothers died the same way. Captain Winwood ignores him, moving onto discussion of the reason for the raid: the farm’s use as a burial ground. A bit of sparring later, Winwood does confirm that the body of a black man was brought in, but that this individual has not been identified. He leaves the meeting without answering further questions. Gordy tips Carl that the unidentified body is being reburied at city expense.
At Saint Lucie’s Cemetery, a cantankerous old gravedigger tells Carl “they’re stacking ‘em like a high rise”--this is the second body buried in the same plot. Strangely, Captain Winwood is taking a personal interest in this case; Carl buttonholes him, but receives only threats of broken arms.
Back to Gordy, who has unearthed much more: the young black man was François Edmonds, Haitian, an up and comer in the numbers racket, murdered ten days ago--a Syndicate hit. Gordy believes the Russo brothers dug up Edmonds and took him to their barn, thinking he’d swallowed some receipts, and that they might be able to retrieve these. It might also have something to do with the increasing tension between the black numbers operators and the Syndicate.
Carl knows where to go next: the South Side. None of the South Side numbers runners there take Carl’s bet--or answer questions--but Carl finally learns that as a former Edmonds customer, he will need something called a “lucky number.” Finally, he got an address: a small shop, stuffed with curios, powders, and strange objects. There he meets “Uncle Filemon,” a houngan who can sell him a lucky number. Uncle Filemon asks Carl to recount his dreams, and when Carl mentions François Edmonds, Uncle Filemon tells him his dream must have been a bad one, for François Edmonds is dead. They are interrupted by the arrival of Bernard “Sweetstick” Weldon with two of his bruisers. These men corral Carl for their boss, who isn’t happy. Already peeved at Carl’s description of him as “Duke of the South Side numbers fiefdom and an all-around civic headache,” Weldon is doubly unhappy with Carl’s attempts to learn the truth behind François Edmonds’ death. He has Poppy, one of the bruisers, throw Carl out of Filemon’s shop.
Bad as my problems were at that moment, they were nothing compared to those of Mr. Albert Berg. When news of Al Berg’s death hit the street, a summit meeting was called between the big powers in the numbers operation. That’s when I decided to pay a visit to The Monk. The Monk was of a lower order; he had never taken the vows of poverty or silence.
From the Monk, Carl learns a meeting will be held at the Midtown Garage, decrepit property of Syndicate top man Benjamin Sposato. Sposato is there to meet with Weldon. And Carl is hiding there, ready to record their conversation. The meeting is short and acrimonious; each side threatening the other. Sposato has a witness from the counting house who told him Willie Pike’s killer was a black man; Weldon denies involvement. Sposato wants reparations: 25% of Weldon’s take for the next fiscal year, and if just one more Sposato henchman comes down with back problems, there will be war.
Weldon dismisses the request and turns to leave; Carl retrieves his hidden recorder. But a miscue with the rewind button gives him away. Sposato’s henchmen find him and bring him to their boss. Sposato is furious to learn he has been recorded. At first he does not know who Kolchak is, but then remembers him as the man who crashed his daughter’s wedding. Sposato then tells Carl about Mercy General Hospital, where one of the finest gastrointestinal man in the Midwest practices. The meaning escapes Carl until Sposato tells his henchman, Victor Freise, to “make an appointment” for Carl. Desperate to escape injury, Carl blurts out that he knows who is killing Sposato’s men--and captures the gangster’s attention. But the criminals know François Edmonds is dead and buried, and Carl bets his life--perhaps literally--that Edmonds is no longer buried.
At Saint Lucie’s cemetery, Carl is made to dig up Edmonds’ grave. And, sure enough, Edmonds is no longer in the coffin. Sposato is taking Carl more seriously, now, and is starting to worry: Carl’s theory is that anyone connected with Edmonds’ death will die, their back splintered. Sposato and Victor begin debating exactly which of them authorized Edmonds’ death, each trying to pin it on the other. A slow shuffling interrupts them; François Edmonds has come for his next victim. Gunfire doesn’t stop him, neither is he slowed by hand-to-hand combat. Seizing Victor, he raises the thug high overhead, and crushes his spine. And then, as the horrified Sposato watches… he leaves.
Police discover Carl--and only Carl--next to Victor’s body, and take him for questioning. Vincenzo, half asleep, is forced to retrieve him from police custody. He is charged with grave desecration, theft of a body… and Victor Freise’s murder. At first, Carl is silent on threat of jail, but when Winwood grants him permission, he jumps up enthusiastically, recounting Victor’s murder to Tony--including the part about how it was committed by a dead man. Winwood’s theory is that the body was exhumed for unknown reasons--he can’t begin to understand why, because, after all, “these are people from a foreign country.” Carl believes François Edmonds has been turned into a zombie, one of the “walking dead.” The process has to do with corn kernels and chicken blood. Winwood and Vincenzo both scoff.
Another trip to The Monk gleans the name of François Edmonds’ only known relative, his mother Marie Juliette Edmonds, also known as “Mamalois.” Arriving at her house, Carl is unnerved when she knows who he is before he knocks. She makes a point of mentioning that her son is dead, countering Carl’s assertion that there is no body in the grave by telling him the body was removed and privately burned--the custom in her country. But Carl saw François last night--he didn’t look good, but he didn’t look burned, either. Marie dismisses his opinion that François is a zombie. Asking why she is called “Mamalois,” he points out the similarity to “Papalois,” a man who is a bokor, or practitioner of Voodoo magic. Marie replies that the title refers to her ability to make medicines. For a moment, Carl feels stupid, and then he notices a dead black rooster in the trash. That leads him to a shed in the back, where he sees a ritual taking place; Marie is swinging a rooster back and forth and chanting, facing a kind of altar. There is a cross hung with beads on the wall; skulls and other objects rest on the altar--along with a row of miniature coffins, each bearing a name written in chicken blood. The names are those of individuals who have died at the hands of François Edmonds since his death. Horrified, Carl watches as she adds a new box to the row; the name on it is his!
Back at INS, Carl is researching zombies. He is interrupted by Captain Winwood, who is determined to crush the story, and plans to bring the full weight of the Chicago machine to bear if he has to--starting with Chief Langsdorf and a complete fire inspection. Carl suggests Winwood should equip his men for the destruction of zombies: they need salt, needle and thread, candles. One must find the zombie in a place of the dead, while it is inactive, fill the mouth with salt, and then sew the lips shut. Then you light white candles around it. If the zombie is active, one must light the candles around it while trying to strangle it. Captain Winwood, in particular, should learn this technique--for his name was among those on the coffins. Carl’s theory is that Winwood is on Sposato’s payroll and played some role in François Edmonds’ death--and Marie knows it.
Carl has one lead to the zombie’s location: Laura Perette is singing at Zachary’s in the Alley for the dinner show. She is Sposato’s latest girlfriend, and where she is, he will be. And where he is, the zombie will be. And that, too, is where Monique will be; she has once again attached herself to the story. But Carl arrives moments too late; the zombie, despite Sposato’s pleas, hoists him aloft and crushes his spine. Monique enters the alley, and is stunned by the sight of bodies strewn everywhere.
Carl calls her a cab, telling the cabbie to take her to Manhattan. Then he spots Edmonds’ getting on a bus. Retrieving his zombie kit, he tries to flag down the bus, but must settle for hopping the bumper. The bus delivers man and monster to the Moore Auto Graveyard--a place of the dead, after a fashion. Inside, Carl picks his way through stacks of car corpses; the place is a maze. Then he sees it--an antique hearse, and inside it, the rotten remains of François Edmonds, resting, though hardly in peace. Disgusted, Carl crawls inside and fishes candles and salt from his bag.
Elsewhere, Marie is conducting a ritual, and Kolchak’s name figures prominently in it… The candles are lit, and the salt is poured, the zombie’s mouth is full. All that remains is to stitch the lips closed. Carl puts needle to lips--and Edmonds’ eyes snap open. Terrified, Carl drops the needle in a mad scramble out of the hearse, with Edmonds hard after him. Edmonds follows him onto a stack of cars where Carl notices a wire loop hanging from a crane. He waits, and as the zombie reaches him, opens the loop. In goes François’ head, and he can only dangle as the loop closes tightly about his neck. As this happens, Marie, in her shrine, utters a moan of distress. Carl lights three candles beneath the dangling feet, and as they gutter out, the zombie stops moving. But Carl landed on his camera, and his pictures are no more.
With my camera in pieces, Captain Winwood’s story of innocence was intact. He never stood trial for murder; my proof was gone. But that doesn’t mean my story was false; quite the contrary. And Monique? Her uncle is delighted she’ll be returning to New York; he never wanted her in Chicago in the first place…
Item: Mamaloa Edmonds was deported to her native country only one day after the events of the junkyard. Item: Captain Leo Winwood was relieved of duty for, quote, reasons of health, unquote. Item: François Edmonds, the deceased, was buried a third time at public expense--a third time--however, this time, rock salt was poured in his mouth, and his lips were sewn shut. City officials will deny this, but you can see it for yourself, if, if, you’d care to venture out to Saint Lucie’s cemetery, and exhume the corpse. Be my guest. If you’ve got the nerve.
Written by Gadfly on Nov 30, 2015