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FOCUS/midwest Founded in 1962 by Charles L. Klotzer

Sangamon River, Illinois

WINTER 2010-2011


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FOCUS/midwest Founded in 1962 by Charles L. Klotzer

TABLE OF CONTENTS

WINTER 2010-2011

NONFICTION 3

In FOCUS

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Killer reporting: J.J. Maloney traded his knife for a pen, swapping a life of crime for a career in journalism / C.D. Stelzer

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The footnotes: Crime turns to the Tommy gun for the first time in St. Louis / Daniel Waugh

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Snow: Beloit is frozen, but the Babies’ Milkman still delivers / Jacqueline Jackson

FICTION & POETRY 21

A scurrilous Christmas tale / Joe Hennessy

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A sappy Christmas tale / Joe Hennessy

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Devotion / Karen Walsh

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I Have Lived and Loved / Lola Lucas and Felicia Olin

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Snow poem / Alan Toltzis

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Winter in Chimayo / Conrad Knickerbocker

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In winter sleep / Dave Etter

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Before integration / Robert Joe Stout

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In many houses / Andrew Dillon

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All madness is lonely preparation for death / Franchot Ballinger

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Find FOCUS/midwest online at focusmidwest.com Free editions of FOCUS/midwest magazine are at Issuu.com and Scribd.com E-mail FOCUS/midwest at focusmidwest@yahoo.com Follow FOCUS/midwest on Twitter


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FOCUS/midwest

WINTER 2010-2011

In FOCUS This edition is the fourth in a series of print versions of FOCUS/midwest (focusmidwest.com), an online-only publication launched in October 2008 as the successor to FOCUS/Midwest, a bimonthly magazine founded in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1962. The original magazine suspended publication in 1983, and was merged into the St. Louis Journalism Review. The journalism review, launched in 1970, continues today under the sponsorship of the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. For more information, go to sjreview.org. Although the focus of FOCUS/midwest has been on contemporary issues – topics addressed online have included education, the environment, the economy, labor and politics – this current edition is a clear exception. Two frequent contributors, C.D. Stelzer and Jacqueline Jackson, return to our pages, both with historical accounts. Stelzer chronicles the remarkable transformation of J.J. Maloney from murderer to star reporter at the Kansas City Star. Jackson takes us back to her family’s Wisconsin dairy farm during the brutal winters of the Great Depression. The stories of how milkmen of the Dougan Dairy struggled to deliver milk during harsh snowstorms form a chapter in “The Round Barn,” her forthcoming biography of the farm. St. Louis author Daniel Waugh shares an excerpt from his latest book on organized crime in St. Louis. His first resurrected the Egan’s Rats, a notorious Irish gang of the early 20th century; “Gangs of St. Louis: Men of Respect” is a gripping account of the crime families that followed. St. Louis fiction writer Karen Walsh returns to these pages with another dark tale. Poet Lola Lucas also is back, but this time in tandem with painter Felicia Olin. And, in a

special gift to readers, this issue also includes two Christmas stories by Joe Hennessy. An artist, designer and writer, Hennessy was employed by the Illinois State Museum until his untimely death this year. This edition revisits winter-themed works gleaned from editions of the original magazine. Alan Toltzis’s “Snow poem” appeared in Vol. 13, No. 81 (1979). Robert Joe Stout’s “Before integration” was published in Vol. 8, No. 56 (1972). Conrad Knickerbocker’s “Winter in Chimayo” was published in Vol. 2, No. 8 (1963). Franchot Ballinger’s “All madness is lonely preparation for death” appeared in Vol. 9, No. 58 (1971). Dave Etter’s “In winter sleep” appeared in Vol. 6, No. 42 (1968). Andrew Dillon’s “In many houses” was published in Vol. 10, No. 64 (1974). Thank you for reading. Write to us at focusmidwest@yahoo.com. Roland Klose, publisher R.L. Nave, editor

Copyrights to content, unless otherwise indicated, are held by the authors, artists and photographers. Editorial material that originally appeared in the magazine between 1962 and 1983 is republished with the permission of Charles and Rose Klotzer, founders of the magazine. For additional information, write focusmidwest@yahoo.com.

To obtain back copies of magazines – those produced from 1962 until 1983 – write to Focus/Graphics, 8380 Olive Blvd., St. Louis, Mo. 63132 or call (314) 991-1698.


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Killer reporting J.J. Maloney traded his knife for a pen, swapping a life of crime for a career in journalism By C.D. STELZER

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e chain-smoked. The brand varied with the decade: L&Ms or, later, Marlboro Lights. In prison he preferred Camels, when he could afford them. Otherwise, he rolled his own from pouches of Ozark-brand tobacco, manufactured and distributed for free at the Missouri Penitentiary. It’s the smoking that eventually killed him. By then, most of his running buddies from the joint were long dead, victims, for the most part, of their own malevolent ways. That J.J. Maloney survived is remarkable. But his rise from convicted murderer to award-winning investigative reporter for the Kansas City Star is a feat unparalleled in the annals of American journalism. Maloney joined the newspaper’s staff after being paroled in 1972. At the time of his release, he had served 13 years of a life sentence for killing a South St. Louis confectionery owner during an attempted robbery. Maloney was 19 years old when he committed the crime. Kevin Horrigan, a cub reporter at the Star in 1973, remembers Maloney as an affable colleague but one who stood apart. “There was just something there, and it didn’t fit in with everybody else,” says Horrigan, now an editorial writer for the St.

Louis Post-Dispatch. “It was like he was from another planet. He was one of those guys who was constantly fidgeting, or his knee was pounding up and down. Given where he’d come from, it’s easy to figure out why.” Maloney’s prison record listed him as 5-foot-9 and 145 pounds. He was not from another planet, but he was from another time. When he entered prison, Dwight Eisenhower was president; when he came out, the Watergate burglary had been committed. Maloney owed his freedom to Thorpe Menn, the Star’s literary editor, who had supported his parole and helped him get a job at the newspaper. Maloney had garnered the editor’s attention in 1961 through a poem he had submitted to the Star, which then printed verse on its editorial page each day. Maloney’s formal education had ended in the ninth grade, but Menn recognized raw talent when he saw it. He rejected Maloney’s poem but continued to correspond, providing him with professional advice and personal guidance. Maloney thought of Menn as the father he never had. The only thing his real father ever gave him was his name. Joseph John Maloney Sr., a shoemaker by trade, walked out of his 3-year-old son’s life in 1943. A year after his parents divorced, a hit-andrun driver killed his brother, Bobby. After his mother suffered a nervous breakdown, the court remanded him to the custody of the St. Joseph’s Catholic home for boys in St. Louis, where he stayed for nearly a year. By the time Maloney returned home, his mother had remarried. His stepfather, Julius “Dutch” Gruender, an


5 ex-con, became Maloney’s less-thansterling guardian. Gruender, a housepainter, had a string of arrests and convictions for car theft and burglary dating back to 1926. At the time of his marriage to Maloney’s mother, he had only been out of the Missouri Penitentiary for a year. While in prison, Gruender met and befriended Elmer Sylvester “Dutch” Dowling and Isidore Londe, lieutenants of East St. Louis mob boss Frank “Buster” Wortman. Gruender’s association with these gangsters continued long after his parole. The housepainter soon introduced his young stepson to the underworld, taking Maloney with him on occasional visits to the Paddock Lounge, Wortman’s bar in East St. Louis, which was a hangout for organized crime figures. Maloney also tagged along when his stepfather drove to Jefferson City to visit a friend still incarcerated at the penitentiary. Though he avoided further trouble with the law, Gruender acted as a courier for Wortman. In 1952 the family moved to a farm in New Florence, Missouri, a small town 65 miles west of St. Louis. Gruender used carpentry skills acquired in prison to rehab the old farmhouse, and he showered Maloney with gifts, including a motorcycle and a shotgun. Beneath the outward generosity, however, Gruender was an angry and hardened man who drank heavily and sometimes abused his wife and stepson. The road to perdition On Dec. 19, 1945, at the age of 14, Maloney ran away from home for the first time. “I was prepared,” Maloney recalled later. “I had another change of clothes, a pound of fudge, a loaf of bread, 14 silver dollars, and my old man’s .38 was buried in the bottom of the sack.” Despite his

preparations, Maloney was quickly apprehended after stealing a car and spent the night in the Montgomery County Jail. The judge put him on probation. The next year, Maloney ran away again. This time he made it as far as Hannibal before crashing a stolen car. The second incident earned him his first stint in the reformatory at Boonville. After his fourth escape from Boonville, juvenile authorities transferred him to Algoa, the state’s intermediate reformatory, where his behavior worsened. Over the next year and a half, Maloney was put in solitary confinement dozens of times for attempting to escape, instigating a riot and other infractions. During a short parole in 1957, Maloney was arrested in Kansas City on suspicion of burglary and carrying a concealed weapon. Despite his abominable record, the state had little choice but to parole him in January 1959, a few months after he turned 18. Maloney then married a former inmate of the girls’ reformatory at Chillicothe, and they moved to Alabama — but the marriage fell apart. After his return to Missouri, his parole officer committed Maloney to State Hospital No. 1 in Fulton for psychiatric observation. While confined at the hospital, Maloney met and fell in love with a fellow patient, 16-yearold Edith Rhodes, who had been transferred from Chillicothe. “Only in an institution can love hit that


6 hard and that fast,” Maloney wrote. “Edith was a strangely magnetic girl. … She seemed fragile and shy, yet she wasn’t. She was 16 and insisted she would commit suicide before she was 21, because she had a fear of not being beautiful. …” After six weeks of observation at Fulton, Maloney was allowed by the parole board to enlist in the Army. He was assigned to the Army Signal Corps School at Fort Gordon, Georgia. His military career lasted just three months: He went AWOL on Nov. 3, 1959. While absent without leave, Maloney worked briefly for a carnival in Florida before returning to Missouri. On the evening of Dec. 11, he picked up Rhodes in Columbia at an apartment she was sharing with another girl. The two returned to St. Louis early the next morning on a Greyhound bus. They registered at the St. Francis Hotel, at Sixth and Chestnut, under the name Mr. and Mrs. John Ducharme of Jacksonville, Florida. That evening Maloney, armed with a hunting knife, robbed the clerk at another downtown hotel. The couple then took a cab to the Soulard neighborhood in South St. Louis. Shortly before 8 p.m., Maloney dropped Rhodes off at the apartment of an acquaintance, then walked to a nearby confectionery, located at 1100 Lami Ave. Entering the store, he pulled a hunting knife and demanded money from Joseph F. Thiemann, the 74-year-old store owner. “When he made the demand for money, he and Thiemann began struggling,” according to the confession Maloney later gave St. Louis police. After Maloney punched Thiemann in the face several times, the old man agreed to hand over the cash. “Thiemann

then reached into his back pocket as if to get the money and came out with a revolver and fired one shot, which apparently went over his [Maloney’s] head.” Maloney reacted by stabbing the storeowner in the stomach. In the ensuing fight, the pistol fired a second time, striking Thiemann in the leg. Maloney then wrested the gun from his victim and fled. Thiemann died as a result of the wounds he sustained in the fracas. Less than two months later, Maloney pleaded guilty to murder and armed robbery, and Circuit Judge James F. Nangle sentenced him to four concurrent life sentences. He would serve the next 13 years at the Missouri Penitentiary, in Jefferson City — arguably the worst prison in the United States at the time. Inside the walls “When I went to the Missouri Penitentiary at Jefferson City, in February 1960, there were 2,500 men inside ‘the walls,’” Maloney later told readers of the Kansas City Star. “The white convicts slept three to a cell (except for several hundred in one-man cells). The blacks slept as many as eight to a cell.


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“Stabbings and killings, robberies and rapes were common. Dope was easier to get in prison than it was on the streets. There were men in prison who were said to make more money each year from dope and gambling than the warden was paid. There were captains on the guard force who owed their souls to certain convicts. “You never knew whom you might have trouble with. The reasons for murder and mayhem made little sense to anyone except the convicts. So hundreds of men carried a knife or had one they could get to one in an emergency. … “If you are young and good looking, you can count on being confronted again and again. If you have money, there will be people who want it. If you are helpless,

there are people who will try to make a reputation at your expense. Or you may simply say the wrong thing to the wrong person. … “You never know for sure what is going to happen from day to day in prison. …” A prison psychiatrist who evaluated Maloney shortly after his arrival characterized him as a “socially diffident individual … who seems to take a halfhumorous rejection of the whole affair.” If Maloney’s initial demeanor seemed inappropriately aloof given the circumstances, it didn’t take long for his mood to turn into a malevolent rage. On Aug. 26, 1961, Maloney’s girlfriend, Edith Rhodes, was murdered near Huzzah Creek in rural Crawford County, Missouri. She had eloped from the state mental hospital in Fulton and gone on another crime spree, this time with a 22-year-old hoodlum from Flat River. David Moyer, who confessed to the slaying, first told authorities that the girl shot herself and he had fired a second shot to end her pain. A sheriff’s posse pursuing the fugitives heard the shots and found Moyer lying next to the body. On hearing the bad news, Maloney vowed to kill Moyer and tried to escape. His prison record over the next few years is a litany of major conduct violation. In addition to the failed escape attempt, the prison administration cited Maloney for stabbing another inmate, manufacturing zip guns, using stimulants and committing sodomy. As a result, he was put in solitary four times and sentenced to the “hole” another 18 or 20 times. Solitary confinement involved long-term segregation, whereas the hole was a shortterm punishment, usually a 10-day stint, during which prisoners were deprived of cigarettes, bedding and sometimes clothing.


8 Freed by verse Maloney had reached his nadir. By any measure, he had to be considered beyond salvation, a lost cause. But his mother remained faithful: She never gave up. She corresponded. She visited. She sent money, clothing, food, stamps and other items. She also acted as Maloney’s liaison with the outside world. Through her encouragement, elderly attorney Mable Hinkley began to correspond with Maloney. Hinkley, a former St. Louis Globe-Democrat Woman of the Year, was an early advocate of prison reform and used her social standing to influence decisions of the Missouri Department of Corrections. Maloney had been in solitary confinement for nearly four months after his escape attempt when Hinkley contacted him. In her first letter, Hinkley advised Maloney to seek divine guidance, but she also offered him a more down-toearth deal. “Your mother tells me that if you give your promise to do something, you keep your word,” Hinkley wrote. “Will you make a promise (and keep it) not to try and run away — to obey the rules of the prison and try to do whatever work is assigned to you? If you will make these promises, I will ask the warden to take you out of solitary confinement.” She kept her end of the bargain. In June 1964, at Hinkley’s urging, Warden E.V. Nash released Maloney from solitary and assigned him to the newly formed prison art class. Exposure to art ignited Maloney’s innate creative streak. Sam Reese, an older convict who had gained national recognition for his oil paintings and

cartoons, served as his role model. Maloney’s own artwork took awards at state and county fairs and was exhibited at a gallery in Paris. But Maloney became more devoted to writing as he matured. “Joe, which is what his friends called him, and I shared a cell in C-Hall during 1965-66,” recalls former inmate Frank Driscoll. “We worked on the fifth floor of the prison hospital, which is to say the psych ward. … By the time we were cellies, Joe had straightened up his act and was staying out of trouble, working on his parole. That, of course, was back in the day, when a lifer could still aspire to being released on parole. He was always writing something — stories, critiques, opinion pieces and, yes, poetry.” Maloney had no way of knowing the significance that his verse would ultimately play in redirecting his life. “I did what all young poets do, I tried to write a nice little rhyming solution to all the problems of the universe,” he later wrote. “Having written it, my next problem was deciding where to send it. In those days the Kansas City Star printed a poem on the editorial page every day, so I mailed the poem to the Star. A few days later I received a letter from Thorpe Menn, literary editor of the Star, who rejected the poem but said he liked the last four lines. He encouraged me to keep working on the poem, and asked me to stay in touch with him. I was impressed that the literary editor of a famous newspaper would write to me. I was even more impressed that he did not ask why I was in prison, or for how long. He wrote to me as if I were just another person, another young writer.”


9 It was the beginning of a long-term relationship carried out by correspondence. Menn became his mentor, giving guidance and critiquing his poetry and prose. Maloney worked on his writing for as much as six hours every evening. Menn patiently waited until 1967 before publishing one of Maloney’s poems in the Star. By then, the prison-bound poet and writer had been published in numerous other venues, including FOCUS/Midwest, a St. Louis-based magazine founded by Charles Klotzer. Maloney expanded his connections in the literary world, writing to such luminaries as R. Buckminster Fuller, John D. MacDonald, William Buckley and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. At Menn’s suggestion, he started writing book reviews for the Star. He also worked diligently to establish a national writers’ association for prisoners. Meanwhile, Menn had interested Random House in publishing a book of Maloney’s poetry. In late 1967, the parole board indicated the possibility of Maloney’s being released early the next year. But as quickly as his cell door seemed to have started to creak open, the steel bars slammed shut again. Warden Nash committed suicide. His replacement, Harold R. Swenson, imposed extreme restrictions on all communications with editors and publishers to stop a book from being published by another prisoner, a notorious escapee. As a result, Maloney’s letters to Menn started coming back undelivered.

Moreover, correspondence regarding his book of poetry had to be routed through his mother. The delays in communications eventually killed his deal with Random House. Books sent to him for review were screened by the prison administration and sometimes rejected. Instead of zip guns or knives, Maloney fought back with the law as his weapon. He filed suit against the Department of Corrections, arguing that his constitutional rights under the First Amendment had been violated. His defiance dashed his hopes of gaining parole and put him at odds with the prison administration for the remainder of his sentence. Five more years would elapse before Maloney finally made parole, during which time Menn continued to support and encourage his writing. The literary editor was with Maloney’s mother on Sept. 25, 1972, when Maloney walked out of prison for the last time. They drove to Kansas City together and toured the Star’s editorial offices. The next day, Maloney returned to the newsroom not as a guest but as an employee. Natural-born reporter In advance of his release, Tom Eblen, then the Star’s city editor, had written a letter to Maloney, offering him a three-month contract at a monthly salary of $550. Despite the low wages, the offer was priceless because it cinched his parole. Star reporter Harry Jones Jr. had hatched the idea of hiring him as a temporary “consultant” for an in-depth series of stories on prison systems in Missouri and Kansas. Menn then sold the proposal to Cruise Palmer, the executive editor.


10 Maloney’s good fortune was twofold: He had belatedly benefited from the prison-reform movement of the 1960s and also from the unique ownership structure of the Kansas City Star, then employeeowned. On his death, in 1915, the founder of the paper, William Rockhill Nelson, had willed the Star to his employees. That arrangement was still in place in 1972. This meant that senior editorial staffers such as Menn, who had accumulated large stock holdings in the company, could negotiate with management on a more even level. Jones and Maloney collaborated for months on the prison project, sharing the reporting and writing duties. Their stories ran as a four-part series in April 1973. “We visited every institution of correction for adults and juveniles in both Missouri and Kansas, plus Leavenworth and Marion in Illinois, which at the time was the Alcatraz of the [federal] system,” says Jones. … “He proved to be an invaluable ally. When we would go in together to interview somebody, a prisoner or the warden or the guards, we’d start off and they would be talking one way and the minute they found out about Joe — and what his background was — it was like administering truth serum. All of a sudden their stories would change. It was uncanny.” In the first installment of the series, Maloney gave a lengthy first-person account of life inside the Walls in Jefferson City. Before his contract expired, the Star hired him as a full-time generalassignment reporter. The prison series later won the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association. Maloney excelled as a feature writer but eventually became better known as an investigative journalist covering a wide range of issues, including labor

racketeering, white-collar crime, drug trafficking and mental health. In 1975, Maloney and Jones teamed up again to cover the corruption and violence surrounding a power struggle among factions of the Kansas City Mafia. Competing mob interests were in the midst of fighting for control of the River Quay entertainment district. The two reporters began knocking on doors, talking to area business owners. They also interviewed city and federal law-enforcement authorities and pumped confidential sources for information. By checking liquor-license applications, Maloney determined that mobsters or their relatives secretly owned several restaurants and bars in the River Quay. Maloney frequented the mob hangouts at night to develop leads. On one occasion Jones accompanied him to the Three Little Pigs, an after-hours café that was a favorite of the Mafia. “All the hoods would congregate there, drinking coffee,” recalls Jones. “We just went in there one night to sit and watch. Talk about stares. I was glad to get out of there.” Before they departed, Jones overheard the bodyguard to Carl “Corky” Civella threaten to rape Maloney. If the remark bothered Maloney, he didn’t show it. “He was kind of fearless,” says Jones. “I was impressed. He was a gutsy little guy. He had seen his share of bloodshed. It was curious, too, how they seemed to hate Joe more than me, although our names appeared together on stories. But the mob kind of looked at Joe as a turncoat. Having been a convict, they thought he should have respected their trade a little more than he did.” In a sense, Maloney did respect their trade. He had learned about it from his mobbed-up stepfather. Maloney added to his underworld knowledge in prison, where he befriended fellow inmate John


11 Paul Spica, a St. Louis Mafia soldier. More important, Maloney understood that the roots of the problem ran deep in the Kansas City political establishment and business community and that there was a kind of mass denial regarding corruption. “In the mid-’70s, some Star editors were even reluctant to print the word ‘Mafia,’” Maloney later wrote. Maloney was also keenly aware that local lawenforcement officials were hesitant to use the M-word. “This was the town of Tom Pendergast, one of the most powerful Mafia/machine bosses in U.S. history,” Maloney wrote. “Pendergast was long gone, but his machine was anchored in place. The mob continued to influence the police department, city hall, the county courthouse and the state legislature. … The Kansas City Mafia wielded considerable economic clout — controlling several banks [and] owning ten percent or more of the taverns and nightclubs in the city. …” Its far-flung empire stretched all the way to Las Vegas, where the KC mob oversaw the skimming of millions of dollars from casinos. But back in Kansas City, a rift had developed among three branches of the local mob: the Cammisano, Spero and Bonadonna clans. Maloney sensed that the feud was about to erupt into open warfare. At the same time, dissension was brewing in the newsroom. Maloney argued that the Star should immediately expose the Mafia’s infiltration of the River Quay. His editors opposed the idea. They preferred a more cautious approach, advising that the coverage be focused more indirectly on corruption inside the city’s liquor-control agency. Jones agreed with them. “I remember telling him, ‘Joe, let’s just wait until they start killing each other,’” says Jones. “It didn’t take very long for

that to happen. People started dying. People [were] shot and blown up.” In July 1976, David Bonadonna, the father of Fred Bonadonna, owner of Poor Freddie’s restaurant in the River Quay, became the first victim. He was found shot to death and stuffed into the trunk of his car. Three River Quay nightclubs were soon torched or bombed, and the list of gangland hits rapidly grew. Over the next two years, eight more mob-related murders would go down before the violence subsided. Because of their advance legwork, Maloney, Jones and staff reporters Bill Norton and Joe Henderson uncovered developments in the midst of the mayhem sometimes before federal and local lawenforcement authorities. At one point Joe Cammisano called Maloney and said: “Mr. Maloney, I realize you have a job to do — but do you have to be so intense?” After the Star ran a story implicating Cammisano’s brother William “Willie the Rat” Cammisano in the Bonadonna slaying, members of the two families demanded to rebut the allegation, which was based on an FBI affidavit. At a taperecorded meeting held in the Star’s


12 conference room, Fred Bonadonna refuted any possibility that Willie Cammisano had had anything to do with the death of his father. The Star published a verbatim transcript of his claims in its next edition. “The next day I called Bonadonna,” Maloney recalled later. “I asked him if he’d read the story, and if it had helped him any. He said, ‘You’ve saved my life, for the time being, anyway.’” Bonadonna was one of Maloney’s confidential sources. He had publicly refuted the Star’s story simply to keep from being killed. In subsequent taperecorded telephone interviews with Maloney, Bonadonna said that the Mafia had also targeted him for execution. Bonadonna disappeared in 1978, presumably into the federal witnessprotection program. The same year, Maloney’s byline disappeared from the pages of the Star when he quit the paper in a dispute over overtime pay. By then the Star had been bought by Capital Cities, a media chain with a history of poor labor relations. In the wake of the mob violence, the River Quay was all but abandoned, with only six liquor licenses remaining in the district, down from 28 a few years earlier. Maloney ended up moving to the West Coast. He reported for the Orange County Register in 1980 and 1981. While at the Register, he covered a series of murders attributed to the “Freeway Killer,” a name of his invention. He also published two autobiographical crime novels. The first, I Speak for the Dead, is a fictionalized account of Kansas City’s mob war, drawn straight from his clip file. His second novel, The Chain, is based on his years behind bars, including his incarceration at the Missouri Penitentiary and the old St. Louis City Jail. Maloney moved back to Kansas City, perhaps drawn by memories of his glory

days. In later years he worked as a freelance writer and as an editor for the alternative press. He pitched various book proposals and collaborated on at least three different screenplay adaptations of his first novel, but none of the projects came to fruition. In the late 1990s, shortly before his death, he established a Web site, crimemagazine.com, which is maintained by his friend J. Patrick O’Connor, former owner of the New Times, a now-defunct alternative weekly in Kansas City. In 1997, Maloney wrote a 20,000 word two-part series that appeared in the New Times. The stories argued that federal prosecutors had wrongly convicted five defendants for the fire that killed six Kansas City firefighters. Maloney had researched the case as an investigator for the court-appointed attorney of one of the defendants. Maloney always struggled outside the walls of prison. His freedom had its cost. The defiance and alienation, which he channeled effectively in his reporting, did not serve him as well in his personal life. He drank heavily, had difficulty paying his debts and left four ex-wives. He died of smoking-related respiratory disease at his mother’s home in Webster Groves on Dec. 31, 1999. “He had his demons,” says Mike Fancher, an editor who worked closely with Maloney, “but I know that for the time that he worked for the Star he did some absolutely amazing work that I don’t think any other journalist could have possibly done.” F/m J.J. Maloney’s books: Beyond the Wall (Greenfield Review Press, 1972), I Speak for the Dead, A Novel of the Underworld (Andrews and McMeel, 1982), The Chain (Berkley Books, 1986), The Pariah’s Handbook: A Literary Guide to the Underworld (Woods Colt Press, 1992)

C.D. Stelzer, a St. Louis-based freelance writer, is working on a biography of the late J.J. Maloney.


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Memories of Maloney Snapshots of the late J.J. Maloney by his contemporaries at the Kansas City Star Mike McGraw, Star reporter: “I remember sitting, in the late ’70s, at a pod of four desks. There was a reporter behind Joe, [William] McCorkle. … He was kind of a professorial type who covered City Hall. He and Joe did not get along very well. They were different type personalities. Joe would sit there and finish [smoking] his cigarette butt and flip it over his left shoulder. Well, it would always land at McCorkle’s feet or somewhere in his vicinity. They fought constantly about that. But that was still in the days when everybody in the newsroom smoked.” Kevin Horrigan, former Star reporter, now St. Post-Dispatch editorial writer: “I never saw him without a cigarette in his lip. … Maloney could never sit still. He was one of those guys who were constantly fidgeting or his knee was pounding up and down. Given where he’d come from it’s easy to figure out why. He tended to gravitate to crime stories. … He would hang out in places that the rest of us didn’t dare hang out. He’d hang out at the mob bars in the River Quay, looking for mob stories.” Harry Jones Jr., retired Star reporter: “Working with him, watching him come out of prison was interesting. He had been incarcerated for the last 13 years. You read about people getting out and some of their strange habits. One of his was he seemed to be unwilling to make a decision over a menu. He would usually order whatever I ordered. He was so used to being told what to eat he didn’t seem to know how to cope with that.”

Tom Eblen, former Star managing editor, retired University of Kansas journalism professor: “He wasn’t a very big guy. I would say no more than 5’9,” slender, almost emaciated. I always had the sense that he could take care of himself. … But Joe was not a natural fit. … Some people really resented the fact that he was there. He was a tough guy in many respects. … We convinced him that it was really a bad idea to carry a revolver around. … “Joe ran close to the edge. There were times when it probably made him feel better to pack some heat. At his best, he was uncommonly good. He was a naturally talented writer. He and Harry Jones did some pretty aggressive reporting around the River Quay area.”

Mike Fancher, former Star city editor, retired editor-at-large Seattle Times: “When J.J. walked into the newsroom at the Star, he looked like he walked right out of the mid-1950s. He [had] spent his whole adult life in prison, so his sense of style was very much what America was like the day he walked into prison. … “I went over to Harry Jones’ house one night to play poker. We had a regular poker game there. J.J. was there and he had bought a car. I don’t know what model it was. … But he was spray-painting it candy-apple red. That was what he thought was really cool. “We didn’t always have a very good, trusting relationship because he came out of prison and he had made his way by essentially working the system. He didn’t necessarily trust anybody, certainly not anybody who was in authority. … “There was probably not a lot of difference in his mind between a warden and an executive editor.” F/m


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The footnotes Crime turns to the Tommy gun for the first time in St. Louis By DANIEL WAUGH Monday, Dec. 19, 1927, began cold and dark in St. Louis. The last Monday before Christmas, the city’s workers dressed warmly and got their cars running. Among them were bank employees John W. Hopson and John G. McCool. Both men worked for the Hodiamont Bank at 6145 Bartmer Ave. in Wellston. The pair climbed inside the company’s Ford coupe to pick up a deposit from the Bank of University City at 6635 Delmar Blvd. Hopson, thirty-one years old, was the assistant cashier at the bank. Known to be honest and hardworking, Hopson was also courageous. During a bank robbery in May of the previous year, he had tussled with one of the robbers and tried, unsuccessfully, to shoot his assailant. Hopson was ultimately promoted because of his heroism. Engaged to be married on New Year’s Eve, he was a paragon of success. At twenty-eight years old, McCool was the chief bookkeeper of the bank and had also been a victim of armed robbery in the past year. As a result, both McCool and Hopson now carried .38-caliber revolvers. In fact, the Hodiamont Bank had a history of being held up, first by Egan’s Rats, back in October 1921. On this cold morning, the sleepy bank men weren’t thinking of that as they signed for the University City bank’s $6,100 cash deposit. Trudging back into the cold,

McCool got behind the wheel of the Ford coupe. Hopson blew on his hands to warm them as they pulled off at about 7:50 a.m. The frigid winter sky was starting to brighten as they made the short drive back to the Hodiamont Bank. The two men were cruising east on Bartmer Avenue at a sedate pace, just three blocks west of their destination, when they were surprised to see a blue Chrysler sedan blow past and cut them off by skidding to a halt. McCool jammed on the brakes, throwing both men forward. In an instant, they realized what was happening. A man appeared from the Chrysler and ran toward them. He wore a dark overcoat with the collar turned up and a cap pulled low over his eyes. In his hands was a weapon both had heard of but never actually seen – a Thompson submachine gun. Hopson froze in his seat, unsure of what to do. Just then, without a word, the gunman opened fire. Bullets stitched the front of the car and the windshield. Hopson felt two shots punch in his chest and a third tear into his neck, after which John Hopson felt nothing else. John McCool rolled out of the driver’s side door and ran behind a telephone pole for cover. As the machine-gunner sprayed the Ford, McCool drew his revolver and took aim at two more men stepping out of the Chrysler. The bookkeeper got off one shot before a bullet slammed into his chest. McCool saw the sky whirl, and he fell on his back, passing out cold. When he came to a few moments later, the Chrysler and its occupants were gone. Miraculously, the bullet had failed to penetrate McCool’s heavy coat. Inside the


15 Ford, an unconscious John Hopson was dying, and the satchel of money was gone. Police were at a loss in their investigation. The murder had taken place in an especially rough area of the West End, formerly known as Hell’s Half Acre. Several gangsters who lived in or frequented the vicinity were questioned, to no avail. The one clue to the robbers’ identity perhaps lay in the fact that the machine-gunner had opened fire without even voicing a command to give up the money, aiming specifically at Hopson. Perhaps the killer bore him a grudge. Perhaps he had been a participant in the May 1926 bank robbery where John Hopson tangled with the heisters.

Whatever their motivation, the perpetrators were never identified. Despite their anonymity, the three thieves had become footnotes in the history of local crime due to their use of weaponry. They were the first St. Louis criminals to use a Tommy gun in the commission of a crime. Local gangsters took notice, and before long, the city’s hoodlums set out to arm themselves with the formidable weapon. F/m

Excerpted from “Gangs of St. Louis: Men of Respect” by Daniel Waugh (The History Press, 2010, 288 pages, $24.99). Republished by permission of the author.


Snow Beloit is frozen, but the Babies’ Milkman still delivers By JACQUELINE JACKSON

A

fter a spate of more-than-average snowstorms in January of 1936 there comes one of such proportions that after the worst is over, W.J. Dougan sits at his desk and writes an essay, which he sends off to The Beloit Daily News: SOME HEROES OF PEACE TIME When I was a boy I was thrilled by the stories of heroes of wartime. Outstanding in my memory is the story of Washington crossing the Delaware. How men could face such hardships amazed me. In the course of my experience I have witnessed many heroic incidents not the least of these being in connection with the humble duty of getting the quart of milk to the consumer’s door regardless of obstacles. There was a group of heroes about every milk plant serving the homes of the cities in the path of the recent blizzard. The scenes about the Dougan plant were typical of the many. Our question was, “Can the milk get through to the plant and from the plant to the consumer?” Our answer was, “It must get through.” – and this answer was a deep conviction in the mind and purpose of everyone connected with the business. The farmers said, “We will get through,” and immediately put their promise into action. Far into the night Saturday a group of farmers and employees of the plant struggled through the drifts with their teams and sleighs, and delivered the evening’s milk to the plant, that the delivery trucks might be supplied early Sunday morning. At 3 a.m. the delivery men and helpers faced the cutting wind, met and mastered the mountainous drifts, and greeted their customers with a smile and a bottle of milk, almost on time. One

16 deliveryman took a case of milk on a hand sleigh a half-mile through blocked streets in an outlying section that his customers might be served. The problem of the farmers getting their milk through Sunday was increasingly difficult. One group got together with bobsleigh and team. They fought the elements for hours, but finally were compelled to turn back. To quit? Never! Only to get reinforcements and to try another flank. And they got their milk through! See the picture. Seven men, two teams; slowly toiling over and through drifts along an impassable highway. They turn into fields and across lots; men with shovels preceding the teams, breaking the hard crust on the deepest banks, cutting wire fences, shoveling through drifts. The horses tugging, plodding, floundering, falling, only to arise and try again – the men muffled in all sorts of uniforms, their faces seared with the cold, but with their spirits high and determination to get through firm. As this group approached the milk plant another group with a four horse team tugging a full bobsleigh load, appeared from another direction, having gone through a like experience. A warm supper of hot soup, coffee, doughnuts, and sandwiches cheered the men after their long fight. The milk had gotten through to the plant. All during the night the plant force with equal determination and high spirit attacked their belated job of properly handling and bottling the supply for morning delivery. Again the faithful deliverymen and helpers battled the drifts, met the elements, and the finished product was placed at the consumer’s door almost on time. Heroes these as truly as any lauded knight of old or heroes in the glare of publicity and the favor of public acclaim.


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Phil Holmes is one of those heroes trying to get the milk through. He’s in high school, and when Clay Davis arrives to fetch the Holmes milk, his own milk already on a bobsled, Phil joins him. They load milk at Wellers and head for the Higgins farm. They can’t see the road or even the horses in front of them; the snow is absolutely blinding. But when the bobsled comes to a standstill they get off to see the problem. They are up to their waists in snow, the horses up to their bellies. There is no going forward, or even turning around. They unload the milk cans into the snow, unhitch the horses and turn them separately, drag the sled around behind them and rehitch and reload. They then retrace their path home. Around noon they rally forces and try again, this time with two bobsleds. There is no way through to the town of Clinton, so they gather not only the milk for Dougans, but the milk from Turtle that should be processed in Clinton. Men on foot break a trail with a team and empty bobsled, then the other team and the laden bobsled follow behind. They cut down to the State Line Road. Phil is one of the ones floundering ahead of the first team; he holds his scoop shovel up by the side of his head to keep the wind off. When they are nearly

opposite the dairy they cut across the fields. They arrive about four in the afternoon, in time to meet Ron Dougan and a group coming up from the southwest, and Fred Wallace and a crew from the north. The milkhouse workers pour out of the Big House to process and bottle the milk, while the bobsledders drag into the Big House for warmth and the hot meal that Grama has prepared, before battling the weather to get home. There are other storm-based events that don’t make it into Grampa Dougan’s account. One of these concerns Tom Higgins. Tom sells his milk to Dougan’s; he’s a patron farmer. He and the other patrons who live beyond the Hill Farm regularly bring their milk cans only that far, very early in the morning. Then Roy Veihman, a route man who lives on the lower floor of the Hill Farm house, carries them the three miles on to the main farm. He also makes a trip back home to collect the afternoon milk. On the Monday after the storm, with the roads still impassable, Tom Higgins brings his milk by bobsled on a path that goes through a woods and over the fields to the drop point. It’s an arduous and icy trek and takes him till midmorning. He’s scarletnosed and covered with snow. As he turns his team to head home, he sees Fannie Veihman waving from the Hill Farm porch. “Tom! Coffee!”


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Gratefully Tom brings his team into the drifted yard. Roy and Fannie are friends, active in the Grange; Tom’s sons are in Roy’s County Y group. The Veihmans are a popular and hospitable couple and their kitchen is always full of visitors. They know all the gossip. Tom stamps the snow off his boots and leaves them just inside the door. He unwinds his caked muffler, pulls off his mittens and coat. Fannie drapes the garments on a rack and edges it as close to the stove as she dares. Tom settles with a sigh into a sag-bottomed easy chair and stretches his legs out to the warmth till his toes are nearly touching. He cups his hands around a mug of coffee. Its steam coils up to wreath and war with the steam from his barnyard woolens. Fannie has kept the pot hot all the difficult weekend, and has been the recipient of stories from others who sought respite in the kitchen.

She has heard Roy’s tales of the dairy and the routes. Tom, coming from the other direction, knows the news from his place all the way to Clinton. The two keep each other entertained as the wind sings around the door and flings handfuls of snow against the windows. Tom’s cup is refilled many times. Fannie notices that it is noon, and makes her guest a sandwich to fortify him for the hard trip home. He eats it, looking out a frosted pane and chewing slowly. At last he pulls on his dry clothing, stamps into his boots and heads into the cold. On the porch he gazes, bewildered, at an empty white expanse. There is no team, no bobsled. “Your horses must have got tired of waiting,” says Fannie. “See the tracks heading toward home?” Tom shakes his head and without a word crunches down the steps and follows them. Back in the kitchen the phone rings. It’s Tom’s wife, frantic. The horses are in the yard, but where’s Tom? He took the milk over, early morning. Didn’t he get there? Has Fannie seen him? Fannie explains about the coffee and warming up, and assures her that Tom is on his way home. Tom’s wife hangs up abruptly. It’s forty years later that one of Tom’s sons tells Fannie that his mother never forgave her for that morning. The revelation isn’t news to Fannie. Close on the heels of the gargantuan blizzard a second paralyzing storm socks the area. Ronald and Vera have parceled out their children and left for Florida, where Vera’s sister has invited them to share a cottage on the ocean for two weeks. As the storm gathers strength, Grama chases them with a letter: The radio news was telling all day Wed. that there was another bad blizzard on the way. I tell you we hated to hear about it. Roy and Bill Purcell went for the milk last night and they had a hard enough time to get through. It had begun – so Roy, Bill,


19 and John stayed here all night. This morning, Thur., the blizzard was on good – or bad. I was awakened by the grind and roar of trucks on our driveway. I got up and looked out and three trucks were stuck and the “brownies” were throwing snow in every direction. They got out and off about a quarter past six, but we don’t know what this day and night will do to us. It is blowing quite hard and a lot of loose snow, as it snowed all day Weds. It is awful depressing so soon after the other. It may not be so bad and it may be worse. It is not so cold, and that is one consolation.

Grampa adds to Eunice’s letter: About the work. Roy has managed getting the milk here and off this morning almost on time. The storm is not as bad as Sunday but had he not got the milk last night and also Freeman’s we would be in a fix. Roy, Holmes and Bill stayed here last night. Roy put in pretty nearly all night. The pipe leading to barn at Hill Farm froze yesterday and I worked all day. Had plumber and finally Electric Co. They thawed it with 2,300 volt current. I fear their job will be pretty expensive. I am going to have John and Gerue get the milk here tonight by team. And let Roy get sleep. Roy had yesterday off. Tuesday Henry was off. We will come on all right.

Had Grampa been talking instead of writing, he’d have said, with a ring of resolution in his voice, “We’ll fetch it!” Grama’s consolation doesn’t last long: the temperature drops to twenty below. The blizzard mounts. It turns out to be longer, deeper and fiercer than the former. On the hill alongside the Hill Farm the horses mire and a bobsled of full milk cans overturns. It takes many hands to right it and get team and cargo to the dairy. By then the weather is so impossible that all the men have to stay the night, along with those from the night before. Grama writes Florida with some pride, that she was ready for the emergency with plenty of baked beans, soup, bread, doughnuts and cookies. The following night the hotel turns out to be at the Hill Farm; Fannie’s kitchen is full of

stranded men. The hilarity there includes phone calls to friends, so that one of the milkhouse workers, who lives in town, decides to try his luck and see whether he can make it to the party. Hank Florey’s arrival proves that Highway 15 from Beloit to Milwaukee, a mile or so north, is being kept open, whereupon all the single men decide to mush out, retrieve Hank’s car which he left near the highway, follow the plow into town, and attend the weekly dance at Waverly Beach dance hall. But they badly need baths. The bathroom is off the kitchen. Johnny Holmes claims the first tubful. While he’s splashing, Roy and the others fill a washtub with snow. They order Fannie into the bedroom, then burst in on Johnny and dump the snow on top of him. He roars into the kitchen, stark naked and beet-red. The storms taper off. When Ronald and Vera return from Florida, Colley Road is a tunnel with plowed drifts fifteen feet high.


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They have been warned by more than letters: while still in St. Petersburg, Daddy opens a Florida newspaper that has a picture of mountains of northern snow, and the caption says the photo was taken “east of Beloit, Wisconsin.” That’s where the farm is; the photograph is of their road towards Marstons. Joan, Patsy, Jackie, and Craig have never known such a winter. There is so much snow along the snow fences, and so easy to excavate under the crust, that they are able to dig cavernous rooms with almost cathedral ceilings. They connect these with a labyrinth of crawlways, and visit back and forth in each other’s crystal palaces. Grampa continues to take pride in the feats of the winter. He reports to his cousins in Watertown, Jane and Nellie Needham, in midFebruary: . . . I know you are wondering how we are making out during this severe winter. I will answer it with one word – good! We have not missed a day in getting our milk out and scarcely missed a customer. It has taken some pretty stiff pushing but I have a good bunch of loyal men and our patrons have cooperated with us nicely in helping to get their milk here. We have had to go ahead of the county plows some because we could not hold up our delivery until the wind stopped. Our trade is holding up good and the herd is producing well in spite of the cold weather.

March brings thaws and floods. In the back pasture, Spring Brook changes from a stream that a good spitter can spit across, to a racing torrent far too wide to span with an iceball. On the flood plain where Spring Brook meets Turtle Creek, just beyond the double bridges on Colley Road, there’s a vast sea and both bridge surfaces are under water. For more than a week no vehicles can traverse the road. The milk trucks must first head away from town,

then cut over to the State Line Road and turn back, following higher land and bridges. It’s a detour of many miles. The school cab has to follow the same route, and everyone must get up earlier to meet it. Jackie, her nose pressed to the cab window, looks across the valley at the inundated bridges and the gleaming expanse where water shouldn’t be, and marvels at the great ice floes churning along with no regard for streambed. As the water recedes the ice floes, some as big as barn floors, are left beached on the flood plain like a giant’s abandoned checker game. Throughout the spring they slowly dwindle away. The snows, the length of the subzero weather, and the floods of 1936 go down in the annals as the worst since 1881, and for decades they are the yardstick against which all winters and springs are measured. Grampa’s essay doesn’t exaggerate the heroism of the farm workers and milkmen. While the daily paper frequently did not get delivered, and the mail didn’t make it, either, while schools and businesses closed, while Greyhound buses coughed to a stop in snowbanks and trains came through only sporadically, Dougan Dairy battled drifts and floods and never for a day failed to deliver the milk to each customer’s doorstep – although sometimes a few hours late. F/m


21

FICTION & POETRY

A scurrilous Christmas tale By JOE HENNESSY

T

oday on Marketplace we have a very special guest. From the corner office, the big man himself, the CEO of Christmas, Santa Claus. Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas to all!

Merry Christmas to you, too, Santa, and welcome to Marketplace. Thanks, Kai, and thanks for having me on the show. Well I’m sure of one thing our listeners would like to know: How are things at the North Pole these days? Ho ho ho! How the hell should I know? I haven’t been there in years. You haven’t been there? But I thought it was like, well, corporate headquarters. It was, it was. But things change, Kai. Due to numerous challenges up north, the board of directors and I decided it might be in our best interest to relocate. Well, what kind of challenges? Environmental, for one. We had OSHA and the EPA breathin’ down our necks all the time. They wanted us to put scrubbers on our smokestacks, limit VOCs, and reduce the lead content of the paint we use. Oh, and they wanted us to quit dumpin’ toxic chemicals on the ice. They really had a fit about that one. Kept fining us. Said we were destroying the Arctic environment. Dumbest thing I ever heard. You ever been to the North Pole? Well, no. Not much to destroy. Snow, snow, and more snow. Goddamn pisshole, if you ask me. I hear it’s melting now. Good riddance I say. What were some of the other problems? Oh supply, shipping, that SEC misunderstanding, and labor issues… Labor issues? With elves? Damn straight. Greedy little bastards tried to form a union. They wanted weekends off, paid vacations, health care, even pensions! Pensions! Can you


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believe it? The little [bleeped] live forever! We would have been payin’ through the nose — talk about long-term liability. How did you deal with their demands? We didn’t. We locked ’em out, ran ’em off, creepy little weirdos. Moved production to Hangzhou, China. Best thing we coulda done. No more elves. No more elves. Got a much better deal from the [bleeped]. Hell, you give those [bleeped] a bowl of rice and indoor plumbing and they think you’re some kind of god. They practically beg you to mistreat ’em. You know Santa, somehow this isn’t jiving with the whole image of – well, you know, peace on earth, good will toward men? Kai, Kai, Kai. Did you ride the short bus to school? Christmas isn’t some namby-pamby leftwing welfare program. Christmas is business. Big business. It’s all about the money. I thought it was about children. Oh it is. It is. It’s about children. Children with money. Look, you don’t keep a franchise like this alive for fifteen hundred years without some serious profit rolling in. No point. But Christmas — Christ, Christ … mas. What about Christ and Christian ideals? Look, I’ve got nothing against Christ — he was a fun guy, good at a party. But this was never supposed to be about him. He just happened to get dragged into it by some religious wackos trying to justify the pagan Yule-tree in their living room. I see. So, uh Santa if you’re not at the North Pole, where should kids send their Christmas letters? Nauru. Nauru? Nauru. It’s just a flyspeck in the middle of the ocean but there’s no corporate income tax and the banks know how to be ah shall we say… discreet. And you answer the letters from Nauru? Oh hell no. We shit can ’em.


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You throw them away? Always have. You don’t answer kids’ letters to Santa? Think about it, Kai. All that postage? Not to mention the clerical time to read that drivel. “Santa I want this, Santa I want that…” It’s clear to me boy, why you’re just an announcer and not the CEO of this outfit. Well gee thanks, Santa. It’s been great talking with you, but with Christmas just around the corner I’m sure you need to head back to Nauru or wherever and get your sleigh ready. Sleigh? I haven’t used a sleigh since the ’80s. But, how … FedEx. Fred Smith made me an offer back in ’82 that I couldn’t refuse. He delivers the presents and I get to sleep on the 24th. And Dasher, Prancer, Vixen? What do they do? Remember Santaland sausage and venison snacks? They were a big hit at deli counters a few years back. Turned a major liability into an asset. You butchered the reindeer to sell in supermarkets? All except Rudolph. Turns out that red nose thing was the result of a nuke test gone bad. He was so hot the USDA wouldn’t let us sell him. So... Rudolph survived? Oh hell no, we butchered him. We just couldn’t sell the meat. So we donated it to an orphanage in Nigeria. Huge tax write-off. OK. Well that’s it for today’s edition from the corner office. This is Kai Ryssdal and I’ve been speaking with the CEO of Christmas Santa Claus. Any last words for our listeners? Ho ho ho! You kiddies be good now. And tell Mommy and Daddy if they really loved you there’d be an Xbox and a Wii… under the tree. F/m


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FICTION & POETRY

A sappy Christmas tale By JOE HENNESSY

I

t was gone. She closed the door silently, and took a breath. Instinctively her arms wrapped tight around her chest as if she was cold, but she didn’t feel cold, she felt silly, nervous-silly, like she was back in grade school again. She could have called. Adults do that she told herself, call each other on the phone, make plans. At least then she might have been able to tell from his voice if he was interested or put off. And she would have known right away if he was coming or not, or if he had other plans. That’s what she was afraid of, if he had plans. If he had someplace to go, something to do and well, she didn’t — she’d seem pathetic. She didn’t want him to pity her. She didn’t need pity and she didn’t want to hear it in his voice. So she wrote the note. She tried to make it sound casual, breezy, lastminute, as if she hadn’t been planning this for the last ten days. She folded it in half and slipped it under his door leaving just a corner peeking out. Now that corner was gone, swallowed up. He had found it, the note, invitation, it was an invitation. She imagined him in his apartment digesting the contents. Dinner hmmm… six o’clock hmmm… Was he smiling or sadly shaking his head? Her imagination wasn’t that good. Maybe he’d call or slip his own note under her door with his regrets. Or maybe she’d just have to wait until six to see if he showed up. There was a ham, a small one in the oven. She went to check on it. Not that there’s much to check on with a ham. Still it gave her something to do. She spooned some of the juices from the pan over the top and closed the door. She wasn’t pathetic. She did have somewhere to go or rather somewhere she could have gone. Megan’s in-laws invited her to their house for the day. But when Megan called this morning, she used the snow as an excuse to stay home. It had been snowing off and on since last night, blowing past her windows and piling up in great snake-like drifts on the street below. The weather channel was warning people to stay off the roads. Every hour or so a snowplow went by, trying to clear a path for those who didn’t listen. The lights on the plow filled her windows with an angry pulsing yellow that


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slowly faded to a quiet gray as the truck passed. She was glad it was snowing. Being snowed-in is better than telling your daughter you’re trying to bag the bachelor across the hall. It also worked nicely into the invitation. “With all the snow I decided to cancel my plans and just have dinner at home. If you’re free about 6:00 you’d be welcome to join me… I’d love the company. Agnes” She agonized over the last four words. “I’d love the company.” She wrote the note with them and then without them. She read both versions out loud, several times, first one, then the other. Then she wrote one that said “I’d love your company.” She tore that one up. “I’d love the company.” “I’d love the company.” Did it give the wrong impression? Did it sound lonely? Desperate? Like a black widow luring a mate to his death. She bared her teeth and made a wicked grimace. Finally she decided it gave exactly the right impression. That she would love the company and she would, so she might as well say it instead of beating around the bush. That was the note she slipped under his door. He moved in about six months ago. He seemed nice enough. They talked in the hall a few times, small talk, pleasantries, the weather. Sometimes she signed for his packages and brought them over when he got home. He did the same for her. He worked for a pharmaceutical company and traveled around the country setting up production lines. He had a family back east. Three kids all grown. No mention of a wife. No ring. Not that it mattered much. She wasn’t looking for that. She just wanted someone to do things with. She had friends, but they were girl friends and couple friends and she wanted something different, someone different, a male someone, a one-on-one male someone, to go to dinner with, to watch a movie with, to share a glass of wine with. She wondered if he liked to dance. Maybe she was looking for “that.”


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There was a click in the hallway. She caught her breath and froze. Oh God there were butterflies in her stomach! Butterflies! At her age. She heard footsteps. They came down the hall and stopped outside her door. It was six o’clock exactly. She closed her eyes and didn’t move, listening, waiting for a knock. It seemed forever. Then the footsteps moved away, on to the end of the hallway, and quickly down the stairs. No! It was a wail not a word. She opened her eyes. The butterflies turned to a deep, sick ache as she ran to the window. Outside it was dark. Snow was falling but slowly now, in giant flakes drifting in and out of the light from the street lamps. In the courtyard below, he hurried out. She saw him slip and then catch himself. He turned left and headed up the street. He was practically running away. She leaned in hard against the window frame. It was the only thing keeping her standing. OK, so maybe “I’d love the company” was a bit too strong. She said it out loud, as a joke. There was no one to laugh. She stared at the snow till her eyes lost focus. In time she straightened herself, gathered strength, and pushed away from the window. She walked around aimlessly. In the kitchen she shut off the stove and pulled the plug on the Crock-Pot. She opened the oven and looked at the ham. It was ready to eat, golden brown, and sizzling in its juices. She flipped the door closed. The ham could stay in there until it grew legs and walked out. She was suddenly tired. More tired than she ever remembered being. She blew out the candles on the table and went to unplug the tree. There was a knock at the door. She thought about ignoring it and just going to take a warm bath and then to bed. But she pasted on a fake smile. “Sorry I’m late.” He stood there, a little snowy with no overcoat, his jacket collar turned up. He looked half frozen. “I felt funny — empty handed so I ran out to the Quick Mart — it’s, well — there’s not much open.” He thrust out a small bouquet of roses. They sparkled in the hall-light with drops of melting snow. “Merry Christmas Agnes.” F/m


27

FICTION & POETRY

Devotion By KAREN WALSH

W

e found the house at an estate sale on the last day and they gave it to us, free of charge. Its interior needed cleaning and repair. Soot covered the plastic furniture and the little doll family’s clothes were brittle with dry rot. But the outside was in excellent condition and we couldn’t resist it. After a good scrubbing and some new clothes for the dolls, we introduced the dollhouse into the nursery and our kids fell in love. The tin house with its six little rooms, three-by-two, six little dolls, and six little curtained windows, usurped our wooden Noah’s ark and its pairs of rubber animals as first choice for Free Play, after Devotion. On that first Sunday, little girls stood shoulder-to-shoulder, rearranging its contents. They hardly spoke to one another but curiously inspected each of its pieces. The next week, more girls flocked to play with the house. The smaller ones squeezed their way to the front of the group just to touch the jointed dolls. We told one another their silent play was a refreshing break from the cacophony of Duck, Duck, Goose and Tag, You’re It. We were surprised when our boys joined their throng. Afterwards, we looked inside to see what they’d done. The pieces were jumbled; in every room they’d heaped the furniture into a pile and draped a doll on top. We said to each other, “Boys will be boys.” We moved the dollhouse aside and tried introducing new toys but our charges were undeterred. Week three was standing room only all around it. Kids on the front side reached their fingers in through the windows. We put the rooms back in order after class but the next week they rushed to disassemble our handiwork. That last Sunday, there was trouble with our furnace. The congregation complained how cold the sanctuary was and they shivered in the pews, wrapped in their winter coats. At the other end of the building, our Sunday School room was sweltering. We threw


28 open the windows and still the room radiated unbearable heat. Halfway through the morning we sat propping up our heads or resting them on our arms, drained from the heat, while the children played in silence. Suddenly there came a deep rumbling sound from the basement and then the roar of a fireball. The furnace blew straight through the roof. Showers of glowing embers fell all around us. Tables and chairs burst into flames. We grabbed the children and ran for the door, but they cried, “No!” “Let go!” and tried to pull away. Black smoke filled the hall. “Come on!” we screamed. We fell staggering over the threshold and into the open air, coughing and choking, shoving boys and girls into their frantic parents’ arms. They snatched their crying children and thanked God. But some of the kids wrestled free. Gasping for air, we were helpless as we watched them run back into the flames. The little ones whose fathers and mothers held firm wept and begged them, “Let me go. Please!” Fire trucks roared into the parking lot with shrieking sirens but the inferno moved too fast and burned too hot. Its flames completely consumed the roof even as fire hoses doused it. The walls fell into mounds of cinders and char. Glass shattered. Everything inside was incinerated beyond recognition. Except for the dollhouse. Next to our dear children’s remains and darkened with ash, the little house stood intact. We could still make out the designs on its exterior, pastel images of old fashioned fairytale characters: Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and the Pied Piper. The next day it was gone. After that, the congregation scattered. We said we would but no one had the will to rebuild on that site. We wanted to forget. We knew we never would. Some people swore that the house was haunted but we do not ascribe to that notion. We don’t believe in ghosts. F/m


29

FICTION & POETRY

I Have Lived and Loved After great pain, a formal feeling comes … This is the Hour of Lead – Remembered, if outlived. … Emily Dickinson

I have loved and lost. Rigid spine, stiff neck A snow globe behind my eyes Spikes of frost Clouding vision. Frozen in place Afraid to thaw And drip heartsblood, To lose control Gained at such cost... They tell me I was found at the grave Ripping new shoveled Clay, clawing Like an animal, they said. I have no recollection But there is dirt Beneath torn nails. Through grief there is A passage to another spring. Words make a golden swirl Of memories; love itself Cannot be lost While I am above ground And in the light. Poem by Lola Lucas

Painting by Felicia Olin

The Prairie Arts Alliance and Springfield Poets & Writers have launched several projects in central Illinois to create a dialogue between the written and visual arts. This joint work by Lucas and Olin is an example of those efforts. Lucas contributed to the fall edition of FOCUS/midwest; Olin’s portfolio can be seen at feliciaolin.com. F/m


30

FICTION & POETRY

Snow poem From the Laundromat I watched Spruce St. whiten, while an old woman begged me to cure her old age, protect her from commies and be her nephew. When age has snowed my hair white and frosted my eyes, may my days not drift into a bank so deep my heart freezes, my sanity shivers and my voice cannot plow through. Alan Toltzis

Winter in Chimayo Birds fall in snow, Hands beg, carver’s hands Heft the white wood, sheep Pray, snow battens the chemisa. In canyons lobos rush abroad, Triggers rust tight. Juan Ramon, Carve me a hand, teach me to beg, Make me an image. Grave me an image Beyond the crosses tilted on snow Black as the hanged bats. Santa Carmen Pobrecita, patroness Of the poor, carved from cottonwood By Juan Ramon Valasquez, santero, During the black winter of 86 To buy shelter for his animals – I, stranger, pasajero, Paid dollars for her to remind me: Give money, Empty you veins Let snow conceal the final blood. Conrad Knickerbocker


31

FICTION & POETRY

Before integration

In many houses

A man climbed through the snow and took my hand. His face, wrapped in a husk of flesh prune-black and cracked

In many houses all at once I see my mother and father and they are young as we are young as they walk in.

like an old wall, bled beneath the blow my fist, still clenched by his, thrust soundlessly between his teeth and there he ate, dances in his one good eye praising gifts that fingers give and hunger, freezing, takes. Robert Joe Stout

Why should my tears come to see them laughing? That they cannot see me is of no matter: I was once their dream; now they are mine. Andrew Dillon


32

FICTION & POETRY

All madness is lonely preparation for death The way one goes unsteadily and crooked on a dark side street smothering in snow, his eyes and pulse indrawn from things; the way other anxious, suspecting eyes look out into the cold, not wanting to walk that same mile but knowing it’s coming; that’s the way it is, going to meet madness or death. There are a few angels left hanging on from the time when things started to fall; a few to be seen in the flakes spinning down by the street lights, a brief revenance of leaves from the ripening time. But otherwise one’s alone going up the street to the hill skull, hit heart stunted like the wind-gnarled dogwood topping it. Most of all, looking out becomes unsatisfactory as faces and all other things grow studiedly blank; the sky, a stranger’s or lover’s eye, is a mirror with the silver gone in flecks, leaving holes empty of reflection. This is a time when even stones freeze, when in this winter one draws in, knowing the contraction is final and that in any warming air what’s left of the husk will crack. Franchot Ballinger

FOCUS/midwest  

regional magazine

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