Circles and Confrontations

Three old men in baseball caps smoking cigars sat on rickety chairs under the awning of Uncle Will’s Used Furniture. With nothing else to do but talk about old enemies and watch the rain, they watched Lonny Wayne swaying down the street muttering to himself.

“That there’s a crazy boy,” said Herbie McCallister, pointing his wet cigar at Lonny,

“That there’s a street junkie, is all,” answered Eddie Jackson. “Ain’t you see ‘nough of ’em to know? You gettin’ shortchanged by the Lord in your old age?”

“Crazy boy,” insisted Herbie as Lonny almost went into the curb.

“You both blind as snakes,” said Little Whitney Styles, a near dwarf with thick glasses. “That boy’s bleedin’ from the head.”

“No he ain’t,” said Herbie with contempt.

“I ain’t lyin’. You’ll see.”

Lonny stumbled past them, and the three men went silent till he was a good twenty yards away, and even then they whispered.

“Bleedin’ all right,” said Eddie Jackson.

“Dispute ended,” said Little Whitney. “Pay up, gents.”

“You a damn fool or what?” asked Herbie. “Ain’t no one bet with you.”

“Herbie’s right,” echoed Eddie Jackson.

“He’s goin’ into the Ease Inn, look,” said Little Whitney.

They looked, and Lonny Wayne pushed open the tavern door and staggered in, swallowed by darkness.

Rain and sweat and maybe a little blood were trickling into Lonny’s eyes as he tried to adjust to die near darkness. In the corner over the bar a guy on television was giving baseball scores and saying that games all over the Midwest were being canceled by rain.

“Man,” a voice came from behind the bar. “You know you lost your ear? You’re bleedin’ all over my floor.”

“Skilly Parker, you here?” Lonny said, making out shapes now, a shape at the bar, two or three shapes in one of the booths near the front.

Signs for Coors, Bud, and Swedish vodka were lit up over the bar. Photographs of boxers, all autographed, were taped to the mirror behind the bar. John Mogabi, Kid Gavilan, Randy Sandy, Joe Louis. The only one Lonny had heard of was Joe Louis, but he didn’t know much about him other than he had been champ and had died crazy thinking the wop gangs were trying to kill him.

“Skilly,” Lonny insisted, feeling heavy and dizzy. The smell of alcohol wasn’t helping any.

“Here,” called the bartender, and something hit Lonny.

He yelped and pulled out his gun.

“Hey, man, easy,” the bartender said. “Just a towel to clean yourself and slow the bleeding. You can put the piece away.”

Lonny could see better now. The bartender, Howard Caroline, who also owned the place, stood behind the bar. At the end of the bar sat Skilly Parker nursing a drink, wearing black pants and a black sweater, his hair konked back like an Uncle Tom. Skilly couldn’t have been more than twenty.

“What’s happenin’, Lonny my man?” Skilly said brightly.

Lonny pressed the towel to his ear. First a stab of pain and then warm comfort “I got two hundred eighty-three dollars,” said Lonny, walking toward Skilly, the gun at his side.

“No problem,” Skilly said. “I can live with that.”

Lonny was swaying in front of Skilly Parker now.

“Here’s the key. Car’s right outside around the corner,” Skilly went on, pulling a lone key from his pocket and sliding it down the bar to Lonny, who almost missed it.

Skilly tamed IBS eyes away from Lonny and examined the list of rain outs on the television.

“You want your money or you don’t?” asked Lonny, confused.

“Just put it on the bar. Howard’ll take out what I owe him and give me the rest. Car’s full of gas. Needs oil every hundred fifty miles or about. Papers in the glove compartment.”

“Take your keys and go, boy,” Howard said. “Keep the towel.”

Lonny tore bills out of his pocket and dropped them willy-nilly on the counter. He pocketed the key and began backing out of the Ease Inn when an arm came around his neck and he felt something press against his still-good ear.

“You got one ear left, man,” the man behind him said with a Spanish accent “You wanna keep it or you wanna look like the snake boy in the circus?”

Lonny tried to point his pistol over his shoulder into the face of the man behind him, but something hard and heavy hit his hand and the gun was torn away. In front of Lonny were two men. They were very black and very similar.

“Hombre,” said the older of the two, “don’t be an asshole. Put your hands down, keep what you got left of your eyes and your balls. You know what I’m saying?”

“Get him out of here,” said Howard the bartender.

“We’re goin’,” said the man in front of Lonny, the one who had spoken.

The man behind Lonny holding a knife to his ear reached into Lonny’s pocket, pulled out the car key, and threw it to Skilly Parker, who caught it in two hands.

“Lonny my man,” said Skilly. “They didn’t give me no choice.”

Lonny Wayne began to cry.

The weather was with Harvey Rozier. It was raining, raining hard when he pulled the hood of his raincoat over his head and crossed Rush Street Lightning cracked. Thunder roared and Harvey’s heart pounded as he put on his leather gloves as he moved and felt die crowbar bounce against his thigh through the raincoat.

Cabs and cars, their lights on, swished along the road along the west side of Lincoln Park near the zoo. Harvey hurried along, head covered, face in the shadow of his hood.

He could see the zoo barn up ahead, down the slope, through the trees. He could hear the cows inside mooing at the storm, could already smell the animals as he approached.

To his left toward Goethe Street just beyond the empty playground was a patch of bushes, not as thick as he had remembered, but they would have to do. Walking along the slope and partly covered by the trees, Harvey eased out the crowbar and carefully wiped it under his raincoat. His leather gloves squeaked against the iron. Rain clapped loudly off the leaves and the top of the barn.

Harvey moved at an angle to the open barn door toward the children’s zoo and glanced back. There was someone in there. Just one person. He had been afraid that a family might have taken refuge from the rain, but the rain had been coming down hard most of the afternoon and anyone who had been trapped by it had taken their chances by now.

Harvey looked around quickly and hurried to the open barn door. George Patniks stood at the end of the short corridor of cow and horse pens. He stepped away from the nearest pen and put his hands in his pockets.

“Rozier?” he asked.

Rozier, a slick, dark green hooded specter, glided forward toward the obviously frightened man.

George took a step back. A horse kicked the ground nervously and the cows mooed madly.

“I’ve got the money,” Harvey said softly.

“You won’t hear from me again,” said George. “I promise. This isn’t the start of blackmail or anything. I just need enough to get away.”

“You won’t come back and you won’t talk?” asked Rozier sincerely.

“What have I got to talk about?” George said.

“About what you saw in my kitchen.”

“I’m willing to forget you killed her,” George said.

“I don’t know, George,” Rozier said, moving another step toward the thief. “You saw me commit murder. Who knows what you might try to bargain for if you get picked up one night when you break into a house?”

“I wouldn’t do that,” George said, taking his hands from his pockets. “Why would I? How could I explain my not telling anyone before? I’d be an accessory. I swear. You’re safe.”

“I believe you,” said Rozier with a sigh. “You can’t blame me for being a little edgy.”

“No,” said George. “Look, how about you give me the money and the toolbox and I’m gone?”

“They’re in the trunk of my car. Out on the street. You’ll have to get a little wet, but the compensation is worth it.”

“The trunk of your car?” asked George suspiciously. “I think maybe I’d rather just stay here and you go get it.”

“Someone might walk in,” said Rozier.

“I’ll take the chance. Someone comes and we move somewhere else and make the deal.”

“I don’t think I want to take the chance, George,” Rozier said, moving toward George.

Harvey was sure he was close enough to catch the thief if he turned and tried to run. He fingered the crowbar in his pocket through his tight glove and decided to move quickly, strike hard, be sure the thief was dead, drop the crowbar, rifle the man’s pockets, and run into the rain. Worst case? Someone would see a man in a raincoat and hood running away from the zoo. The raincoat would go in the nearest trash bin and Harvey would walk to Rush Street and catch a cab before anyone had time to report the murder, even if they had witnessed it.

“Don’t do this, Mr. Rozier,” George pleaded, seeing the crowbar come out of Rozier’s pocket.

The cows were bellowing now, and both horses were scraping their hooves against the cement under the hay in their pens.

“No choice, George,” he said, ready to leap as George’s eyes darted around the barn looking for somewhere to jump.

Rozier stepped forward, crowbar over his head, as George tried to cover himself.

“He’s gonna kill me,” George screamed as a voice from the doorway called, “Harvey.”

Harvey Rozier turned. Lieberman stood in the doorway, his hands in his coat pocket.

“You think you for Chrissake waited long enough?” George wept, his back pressed against the wooden wall, his breath coming in short spurts.

Rozier turned to George Patniks. Behind the thief in the only other entrance to the building stood Hanrahan and a uniformed cop in a slicker.

“This man killed Dana,” Rozier said, pointing at Patniks. “He called me, said he wanted to turn himself in. I went crazy. I decided to come here and kill him.”

“Drop the crowbar and we’ll go someplace warm and dry and talk about it,” said Lieberman.

Rozier turned to face the detective.

The animals were in a panic now.

“Believe me, Lieberman,” Rozier said, pulling down his hood to show a sincere, grief-stricken face.

“We heard you talking to Mr. Patniks,” Hanrahan said.

Rozier turned to face him. The policemen were moving toward him.

“Heard every word,” said Lieberman.

“I didn’t recognize him in the lineup because he changed the color of his hair,” said Rozier. “His hair was red when he came to my door and he had a mustache.”

“And you never let him in and you never hid his toolbox?” asked Hanrahan. “And you just confessed to murdering your wife to trap him?”

“Yes,” said Rozier. “Yes.”

“Well, we’ll play the tape back,” said Lieberman over the bellowing of the animals, “but I don’t think anyone’s going to believe it. Officer, read Mr. Rozier his rights and we’ll take him somewhere where he can see some of George’s artwork. I think one painting will be particularly interesting to you.”

As Hanrahan moved forward past George Patniks, the patrolman began to read Rozier his rights. Harvey could see the man’s mouth moving but the cacophony of animal sounds and battering rain drowned him into vague sounds.

“I want my lawyer,” said Rozier indignantly.

“No problem,” said Lieberman, now only a few yards away. “You can call Mr. Franklin before we start talking at the station. We’ll give him our evidence and have him listen to the tape and then we’ll leave you alone to decide on your legal action. Unless you’ve got more to say before you talk to Mr. Franklin, all we have to add is that you are under arrest for the murder of Dana Louise Roberts Rozier.”

Rozier started to raise the crowbar and took a step toward Lieberman. Lieberman took his hand out of his pocket and aimed his weapon at Rozier’s stomach.

“It’s noisy in here,” Lieberman said loudly. “Just drop the crowbar now and we’ll go somewhere quiet.”

Rozier dropped the crowbar. The clank of iron against cement startled the animals into silence.