January 29, 2020
John Sikowski turned the corner in his brand new, red 1952 Buick Roadmaster, feeling on top of the world. He slowed the Roadmaster down, eyeing a parking spot right out front of the bookstore. He saw a woman standing out front as he turned off the engine. He shoved papers into his briefcase and headed toward the store.
“Excuse me sir,” a voice squeaked. For a flicker of a second he considered ignoring her but his moral conscious wouldn’t allow it.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Please, I have three children.”
“No, sorry. I have nothing to offer. I am trying to make ends meet myself,” he replied curtly.
“I am terribly sorry to have troubled you,” the woman replied softly.
“Look, let me go inside for a moment and I can take you for a coffee after,” he offered. The woman looked up at him and nodded, tears falling to her cheeks. John pulled the door open, disappearing inside.
“Shorty!” exclaimed Frank from behind the counter. “I didn’t think you were going to make it today.”
“Sorry Frank. Hey, you know that woman standing outside?” John set his worn briefcase down, snapping it open.
“Ya, that’s Margaret. She has been a customer of mine since I opened the store. Her snake of a husband ran out on her after she gave birth to her third. Now she’s being tossed out on the street by that rat!”
“You don’t say?” John absently commented.
“I do say! You remember Jimmy don’t you?”
“I remember him,” John confirmed
“Jimmy sold out to a bigshot developer to build a real gambling house! With people’s troubles ‘round here, we just plumb don’t need gambling.” Frank shook his head. “Enough said, let’s get the order done.”
With the sale finalized, John packed up his briefcase. He turned back to the store window, Margaret was still standing near the door.
“Did she say sumthin’ to ya?” Frank asked.
“Yeah, she asked me to help her. I promised once I was done here, I would take her to coffee.”
“You’re a good man Shorty. It’s a damn shame what Jimmy has done to her and the others.”
“Others? How many?”
“I’m guessing twenty families were tossed out, mostly single parents or the elderly. Rotten to the core he is.” Frank clucked his tongue. “If it were up to me, he would suffer an unfortuante accident.”
“That’s a harsh thing to say Frank. Jimmy has a family and now you are wishing death to him.”
“I didn’t mean to imply death! I just mean, the town folk would be better off without his money hungry ways. Taking advantage of the people, it’s just inhumane.” John nodded his agreement at that.
“Hey, before I forget. Do you still have that book on hold for me?”
“I sure do! Let me get it for you.” John watched Margaret, her long beige coat was dirty and worn. He speculated she probably hasn’t had a new coat in years. Frank returned with the book. John read the title, “The Good Fight” a novel by Eloise Kruger. He had never heard of it but he thought his wife would enjoy it.
“Thanks for this Frank,” John mumbled, tucking the book under one arm.
“Anytime Shorty!” Frank smiled.
John stepped out into the crisp November air, the door bell tinkling above him. He offered his arm to Margaret without saying anything. She accepted tenatively, offering a weak smile.
“So Frank tells me Jimmy evicted you. Is that right?” Margaret nodded. They walked across the street in silence. His father always told him if he didn’t have something important to say, he should keep his trap shut. John ordered two coffees and two sandwiches before they settled into a booth.
“Frank tells me you’ve been a customer since he opened the book store. You can’t possibly be older than thirty yourself,” he observed.
“Thank you. It’s true, my mama would take me and my sisters there every Saturday to feed our hearts,” she replied, a blush rising to her cheeks.
“Is that so? My dad did the same. He was a terrible father. I’m pretty sure he only took us there so Frank could babysit while the old sot got his fill at O’Flannigan’s pub.”
“I’m sorry, that sounds awful,” Margaret empathized, sipping her coffee.
“It wasn’t all that bad,” he lied. “Let’s talk about why we are really here.”
“Jimmy came to the apartment this morning and handed out eviction notices. He offered us another place to live but only if I, well……” Margaret’s words trailed off, her eyes dropping to her cup in shame. “We’ve been living without water and heat for months. I just can’t take my children to another apartment of his.” John’s eyes narrowed at the thought of Jimmy bribing this woman for sexual favors. He glanced at the book Frank gave him. The book was about groups of people who fought for rights in the prohibition years, a topic passionately read by his wife.
“Look, I have an idea about how to help you out. I need to talk to my wife. Can we come to see you tomorrow night?” John reached for the book and patted it before slipping it into his briefcase. “I know it might not be much but give me a day to see if we can help.”
“Thank you. I don’t even know your name and can’t think of one good reason why you would help me,” she stated numbly.
“There are many good reasons to help you, such as your beautiful children.” He scooped up his untouched sandwich, wrapping it in a napkin, he handed it to Margaret. “My name is John,” he offered.
“Thank you John,” Margaret replied, taking the sandwich.
John crossed the street and waved goodbye to Margaret, guilt filling his chest. Sales had been good this year but sales didn’t buy his car. John drove to a three level office building and took the stairs two at at time to the second floor. He burst into Jimmy’s offices, making as much noise as possible.
“What the hell….” Jimmy jumped up. “Shorty! What the hell brings you here?” Jimmy grasped John’s hand warmly between his own.
“I just ran into one of our tenants. I wasn’t told twenty families are without water and heat! Now you are evicting them?” John yelled.
“Wait one second! You knew damn well we were selling. We don’t have the cash for repairs and you know it!” Jimmy yelled back.
“And bribing a young woman for sex?”
“That? That was just well…….” Jimmy’s words fell silent. John considered hitting Jimmy between the eyes.
“I’m out! I won’t stand by watching you destroy twenty families!”
“You can’t just be out! That’s not how this works! You know it!” Jimmy glared at John.
“Do what you need. I am heading home to my wife and together we will fight you,” John stated calmly.
“How do you think you will do that? It’s not me you will be fighting,” Jimmy warned.
“Have you heard of a coalition?” John asked, watching Jimmy’s reaction. “I didn’t think so,” John turned on his heels and slammed the door behind him.