Karl Boyd, Author & Storyteller

 

George and the “Thunderbolt”

      George had heard about it.  Of course he had.  We all have at one time or another.  When he was a young lad, he heard an old Italian folk tale about the “Thunderbolt”.  George’s Grandfather also told him about the time he was hit by it when he first laid eyes on George’s grandmother.  Still, George didn’t believe in it.

      But, at 10:17 p.m., on Monday, October 27, 1949, George found out for himself that love at first sight, or in other words, the “Thunderbolt” did really exist.

      There he was, minding his own business, (which was being the Kingpin in an illegal gambling operation).  He was seated at a table in Gary’s Lounge, a popular bar in downtown New York City and discussing business with the lounge’s owner, Jerry Ryan.

      As a new act took the stage, George glanced up at the lead dancer and felt as if he had been struck in his chest with a baseball bat.  His heart beat faster and his pulse raced as he gazed at the face and body of Linda, the newest addition to Jerry’s long list of entertainers.

      Linda was fantastic.  As she danced to the beat of a single drum, George couldn’t take his eyes off her.  Her long blond hair hung almost to her waist and wrapped around her curvaceous body as she swayed to the beat.  Her flashing blue eyes seemed to be looking right at George.  Her ruby red lips parted in a smile.  George sat there, stunned and unable to speak until finally Jerry nudged him in the ribs to get his attention.

      “Holy Cow, George,” Jerry said.  “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.  What’s wrong?”

      Gathering his wits, George cleared his throat and replied, “Jerry, who’s the girl dancing on stage?  She is one beautiful woman.  You have to introduce her to me.”

      Jerry was just a little “gone” on Linda himself, and didn’t feel much like giving George an introduction.  However, he knew George’s nickname of “George the Butcher”, (although NO ONE ever called George that to his face), and he also knew how he had earned the title.  With that knowledge, Jerry imagined it was better to possibly lose a girlfriend than it was to most certainly lose his life if he offended George.

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      “Her name is Linda,” he said, trying to act nonchalant.  “When she finishes this set, I’ll have her join us.” 

      “Great,” George replied.  He turned his back on his host and locked his eyes on Linda’s gyrations as she performed a semi-striptease.  She began her dance with several brightly colored scarves tied around her chest, waist and hips, which hid her well-endowed bosom and other intimate parts of her lovely body.

      As the drum beat increased in tempo and speed, Linda danced faster and faster.  But at the same time she slowly and seductively removed each scarf until she wore only one almost transparent scarf over her breasts and a “G” string below.

      George was transfixed.  He held his breath so long he thought his lungs would burst before Linda completed her routine.  Now, he truly knew what the “Thunderbolt” could do to a man.  He had to have this woman for his own.

      When Linda finished her set, at Jerry’s urging; she joined George at his table.  She had seen George before, just where she couldn’t remember.  But at the time, she thought he was handsome and asked a friend about him. 

      Her friend only knew George was supposedly a gangster, and if you cared to live much longer, he was someone you didn’t cross.  The friend also alluded to George having a dark secret in his past that no one talked about.

      Linda didn’t know whether she was frightened or intrigued with George.  He certainly was a good looking guy. 

      (“That suit he was wearing must have cost at least a thousand dollars.”)

      George might be a bad guy to some, but he looked pretty good to her. 

      She noted his dark brown hair and even darker brown eyes that seemed to see right through her dressing gown.  She blushed at the thought, which only made her lovelier in George’s eyes.  She gave George one of her best smiles as she sat down at his side.

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      Jerry was glum when he noticed Linda’s appraisal and approval of George.  He knew his newest dancer would not be working long at his establishment.  Without being told, he knew he had lost her to George.  He could also see the profits he planned on making with Linda’s sexual attraction disappearing before his eyes.  

      “What’ll you have, sweetheart,” George asked as she sat down beside him and curled her shapely legs under her body. 

      “I’ve always been partial to a Gibson,” she replied, shyly.  “God, I’m glad to be off that hot stage,” she exclaimed.  “A cool drink will be just the ticket.  Thank you.”

      “You’re more than welcome,” George stammered.  He found he was almost tongue-tied with this gorgeous woman next to him.  With his reputation as a lady’s man, this was a new sensation - something he was definitely not used to.

      Gathering up his nerve, he told Linda about the “Thunderbolt”, and how she had affected him.

      “I’ve never felt this way before, and that’s no line,” George swore. 

      “You’re too nice a girl to be showing off your ‘assets’ to the bozos in this bar.  Let me take you away from here and make your life better,” he pleaded. 

      “I’m not asking you to jump into the sack with me or anything like that.  Just let me set you up with an apartment where we can get to know each other and see what happens.”

      George’s sincerity made Linda think seriously about his proposal.       “He’s not just some jerk hitting on me,” she thought.  “He really cares for me and God knows I’d love to get away from this sleazy job.” 

      She knew from looking at him that George was a graduate of the “school of hard knocks”.  He also knew what she was going through, exposing herself nightly to earn enough money to just exist, let alone live well. 

      Looking down at George’s gnarled fists and noting his well-built physique, she knew he was the type of a man who would protect her from any harm.  If George was as “gone” on her as he said, she might find true love after all.

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      “I may be gullible,” she thought wisely,” but I do believe he’s different from the other guys who have flirted with me since I started this job.  Beneath that rough exterior, he has a look of deep intelligence, and I believe him.”

      “George,” she said, “I’ll tell you the truth.  I appreciate your offer more than you know.  I’m still young, only twenty-two, but, I’ve seen sights in my few years on this earth that would turn your stomach.  At times, my heart feels like it has turned to granite, and I’ve often wondered if I’d ever find someone to really love me for myself and not just for my body.

      “So far, that hasn’t happened.

      “I’m not some silly school girl, impressed with your reputation.  I’ve known some rough characters in my life, but I believe you’re different.  If this “Thunderbolt” as you call it, has really affected you in the way you say, I’m flattered.

      “I won’t try to fool you by gazing into your eyes and lying to you while being all gushy and cute.  I can tell you’re not the type of guy who goes for that sorry approach.  I’ll be straight with you, if you’ll level with me.”

      “If you’ll give me time to get to know you, and not rush me, I’ll give it a try.  If we grow on each other the way you predict, perhaps things will work out for both of us.”

      George couldn’t believe his ears.  This gorgeous girl was actually interested in him.  Her little speech wasn’t an act for his benefit.  He was impressed with her honesty and straight-forward approach.  The “Thunderbolt” didn’t lie; he had found HIS woman.

      True to his word, George rented a spacious and well furnished apartment in a “nice” part of town.  The next day, Linda gave her notice to a very disappointed Jerry and quit her job. 

      George told Jerry how much he appreciated the introduction to Linda, and that he and his gang would take care of him in the future.

      “I’ll bring in my associates and set up a backroom gambling parlor for you,” George promised.  “We’ll pay off the cops and guarantee your protection.  The money you pick up from gambling will make up for the loss of profit from Linda’s departure.  Our cut will be 15% of your gross receipts.”

      Gary was thankful for the financial support, and accepted willingly.  (To do otherwise wouldn’t have been smart, and he knew it).  If George wanted a piece of the action, Jerry knew he’d earn it, so the arrangement was satisfactory to both of them.

      George wined and dined Linda every night.  He never pushed himself on her, but spent time learning about her past and allowed her into his private world.  As they talked quietly over a candle-lit table, his new woman learned a great deal about George and his life before they met.

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      George was the offspring of Brigadier General Wesley Stokes.  General Stokes commanded the Third Tank Brigade stationed at Sherman Army Base in Phoenix, Arizona.

      As an Army brat, he was not a stranger to the pungent aroma of guns and gunpowder. 

      Everywhere his father was stationed, George saw huge tanks rumbling and firing their cannons on practice ranges.  At an early age, he was definitely impressed with the power of the weapons.

      George learned his geography the hard way, moving from one grimy post to another, seemingly cut from the same bolt of cloth.  Temporary buildings built in the 1920s still served as grubby quarters for enlisted men. 

      Having a General for a father insured that George and his family always had good accommodations, but the constant moving never allowed him to put roots down like his civilian counterparts. 

      The General was strict in his discipline, both with his men in the Army and with his children.  George was taught to be a gentleman and was expected to display good grooming at all times.  He grew up as a rather headstrong young man, and had his share of run-ins with his father and the U. S. Army.

      George became a sort of self-taught genius at disassembling and assembling any kind of weapon in record time.  With the unsolicited help of the General’s aides, George learned everything about anything connected with firearms.  In a several instances, this was a detriment rather than an accomplishment.

      When attempting to sell an illegally obtained weapon, George was stopped in time by the General’s aide.  The young Lieutenant also managed to get any charges dropped, and George was grateful, but not discouraged from other escapades that damaged his reputation in the eyes of his father.

      George talked a Gunnery Sergeant under the General’s command into allowing him to secretly fire a machine gun on a range.  Not content with having fired the weapon, he bragged about it to his friends.  While attempting to impress some girls with tales of his great marksmanship with the machine gun, George ran off at the mouth where others could hear. 

      The tale found its way to the General, and George and the Gunny were brought up on charges.  The Gunny was reduced one grade in rank, and George was given one hundred and fifty hours of community service as his punishment.

      His father had just about had enough of George’s ill-conceived plots.  At the time, he was barely passing his classes in High School, and this fact further enraged his father. 

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      “You need to raise your grades to an acceptable level, or you’ll never be accepted by a good college,” the General ordered.  “If you work hard and succeed, I’ll pull some strings and get you a scholarship to attend college at Arizona State University.”

      George did his best to reform, and did graduate from High School in the top 25% of his class.  His father kept his promise and the following spring, George was admitted to ASU.

      The General was not that gracious in supplying him with spending money.

      “Working for your spending money will make a man out of you,” he said.       

      And he did try, but working and studying at the same time was impossible for George to accomplish.  His grades deteriorated and he began skipping classes.  Hoping to add to his meager funds, he began playing poker at a local gambling hall.

      Gambling and winning came naturally to George.  He started out on low stake games, and then advanced to higher stakes.  He was a natural gambler, with a photographic memory for counting cards.  He continued to win large sums of money and eventually became involved in setting up these illegal games on campus for his new friends. 

      He raked in a percentage of each pot, so as far as money was concerned, George soon found himself on easy street; but his education faltered and ground to a halt.

      With the speakeasies of the time, and the association of alcohol and smoking with gambling, George soon developed the habit of drinking.  He wasn’t an alcoholic, but he did acquire the taste for good whiskey.

      Disgusted with George’s poor performance and poor grades, combined with his ungentlemanly association with “riff-raff”, the “Generalissimo”, as George now referred to his father, cut George’s allowance altogether and gave up on the possibility of George ever graduating from college. 

      “George was a big disappointment to the whole family,” his father would relate to friends.  “The only graduating he did was from ginger ale to straight gin.”

      George heard the grass was greener and there were more suckers in New York City, with its wide-open market and bars that never closed.  Packing up his few belongings and transferring the significant amount of money in his accounts to a bank in New York City, George said good-bye to his father and Phoenix.

      In New York City, George’s gift of gab served him well.  He soon made a name for himself in the gambling circuit.  His good luck continued and he soon recruited a gang of his own.

      As a sign of his love, George gave Linda a brilliant cut diamond ring.  He also gave her his old Jaguar when he purchased a new Grand Am for himself.  She accepted both, but experienced problems steering the large car around the city.

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      Eventually Linda met all the members of George’s gang and most of their girlfriends.  It was from one of them that she learned of George’s nickname - “The Butcher”, and how he was tagged with that moniker.

      When he was younger, George gave good odds on all sporting activities, so the suckers kept on coming back.  Some of his customers believed George could actually discourage the passage of a football through the uprights on game deciding field goals.  As long as he thought he had an edge, George would gamble on just about anything. 

      After a couple of years in New York City, George had established himself in a high-dollar casino cleverly hidden from sight in a warehouse district.  His “moxie” and reputed good luck charm drew other criminals and hanger-ons to him, increasing the size of his gang.

      George was smart and made inroads with the other gangs in New York City.  He never intruded into their established territory, and paid off bribes where necessary to keep the peace between his gang and the others.  The diplomacy he displayed in these negotiations earned him respect from the other gang leaders.

      Sometimes poor losers cried “foul” and tried to renege on their bets, or threatened retaliation, so George made sure he was surrounded by armed men as bodyguards.  He always carried his own weapon, a Colt 45 automatic revolver. 

      To celebrate the grand-opening of his casino, George set up a huge banquet and bar for his many high-roller customers.  Attendance was by invitation only, and his hired minions insured no uninvited guests were allowed to enter.

      A gate crasher, “Dangerous Dan McCluskey”, an Irish gang leader from New Jersey, became enraged and grappled with George’s guards at the door when they told him he couldn’t enter the establishment. 

      “Do you know who I am?” Dangerous Dan asked them.  “Call your boss and let him know I’m here.  He’d better let me in if he knows what’s good for him.  I’m a ‘made man’, not just some punk off the street, you idiots.”

      George’s eyes glinted with steel as he met Dan at the door, but he hid his anger well.

      He gave the guards the high sign that it was okay to let McCluskey enter, and George attempted to calm him down and avoid a scene, as he led him into the main ballroom.

      “Sorry about that, Mister McCluskey,” George apologized.  “I should have told my guys about you.  I thought you were out of town or I’d have sent you an invitation by messenger to make sure you’d be here.”

      “That’s more like it,” McCluskey exclaimed, gloating over George’s supposed “giving in” to his demands.  “Who are these guys you’ve hired, a bunch of pansies or girl scouts? 

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      “If you want to hire some real men, give me a call later, and I’ll line up some muscle for you to replace these ‘wimps’,” he said insultingly.

      “I didn’t mean to raise such a stink, but I do demand the respect that’s due me,” McCluskey bragged. 

      George kept his cool, while allowing him to ramble on. 

      “Make sure Mister McCluskey receives all the free drinks he wants,” George informed the bartenders and waiters.

      “Drinks are on me, Mister McCluskey,” he said.

      “Hell, call me Dan, old buddy,” McCluskey replied.  “We’ll have to talk later about you letting me have a piece of the action here.  You are operating on the fringe of my gang’s territory, you know, so you owe me.”

      “Sure, we’ll talk later,” George agreed.

George introduced McCluskey to Sheila, one of the hookers he employed to work the party.

“This little gal will take good care of you, Dan,” he said.

Whispering in the girl’s ear, George told her to make sure McCluskey got good and loaded on the drinks they were serving him.

“I want him ‘chilled out’ by the time the party is over,” he warned her.  “Do a good job, and you’ll get a nice cash bonus from me.”

      “No problem,” Sheila replied quietly so McCluskey couldn’t hear her. 

      “I’ve handled jerks like him before.  He’ll be carrying a big load on after I get through with him.”

      George knew that McCluskey’s gang ran “chop shops”.  They stole new cars and then cut them up for parts to sell in foreign markets or other states.  Rumors in the “grapevine” told George that McCluskey was jealous of George’s success in the gambling business, and Dan longed to move in on his operation. 

      He was sure McCluskey’s attendance here tonight was to test George’s mettle to determine if he was a weakling and someone easily overthrown.

      George intended to answer that question for everyone’s benefit.

      As the party broke up, McCluskey’s body guards were led astray by some good-looking girls George arranged to take care of them.  Finding McCluskey deep in his cups, George convinced him he was not in any shape to drive home.

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      “I’ve been drinking straight ginger ale all night, Dan,” he said.  “I always do that to make people believe I have a drink in my hand.  You can’t tell if there’s any liquor in ginger ale.  That way I stay sober and can help a friend like you get home safely. 

      “It seems your “boys” have found female company for the night, and they aren’t in any better shape to drive than you are.

      “Come on, I’ll show you my new Trans Am and how it handles.  You’ll love it, and your place is on my way anyway.”

      Too drunk to see anything wrong with George’s offer, McCluskey gave in to his argument.

      “Wow, I am smashed.  Okay, lead on!”

      George held McCluskey’s arm as he staggered out to the car.

      (“I hope the fool won’t throw up all over the upholstery of my new car.”)

      As he helped McCluskey get settled in, George assured him everything was okay.

      Slurring his words, Dan said, “Boy, Georgie, that Sheila was quite a gal.” 

      “More than you’ll know,” George thought.  “Sheila won herself a big bonus this time.”

      As George drove down the highway, McCluskey passed out cold, which kept George’s hopes alive that he wouldn’t wake up and soil the upholstery. 

      He drove directly to an abandoned butcher shop that he had purchased some months earlier as a possible place for another gambling casino. 

      The shopkeeper left all of his butcher equipment in place, and George had plans to test most of it for sharpness. 

      After stopping at the rear of the butcher shop, he got out and opened the shop door and turned on the lights.  He pulled down all the window shades, quickly returned to the Jaguar and pulled McCluskey’s limp form out of the front seat.

      George hauled McCluskey bodily into the cutting room of the butcher shop, where he slapped McCluskey’s face until he regained consciousness. 

      Startled at his surrounding, McCluskey suddenly appeared less drunk than George thought.

      “What’s going on here?” He asked.

      Pulling his 45 from his shoulder holster, George leveled it at McCluskey’s chest.

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      “I’ve heard about your takeover plans, Danny Boy.  That, added to your disrespect to me and my gang tonight was the final straw.  You have to go.”

      “No!  Wait,” McCluskey begged as he lunged for George’s gun. 

      “Too late, Danny”, George thought as he fired one shot through McCluskey’s heart at close range. 

      Dead before he hit the floor, McCluskey never uttered another word.

      After taking off his suit and shirt, and hanging them in a locker where nothing could soil them, George changed into a butcher’s white uniform, smock and rubber gloves.  He grabbed the razor sharp knives from the table, and commenced to dissect McCluskey’s remains and feed them into a huge grinding machine, bones and all. 

      He caught the ground-up remains in buckets, dumped them into a fifty-five gallon drum nearby and sealed the contents.  After cleaning up the blood and gore, and washing it down the drain with a high pressure hose, he continued to whistle the ditty that had been running through his mind all night.

      He finished wiping up the butcher shop with rags.  Then he burned all the rags, butchers’ clothes and gloves in the furnace of the shop, leaving no trace of his crime.

      George then called a farmer from a nearby farm and made arrangements for the contents of the drum to be fed to the farmer’s hogs.   The farmer owed George a hefty sum from gambling, and George promised to forgive the farmer’s debts if he would perform this “small service”.

      Never asking any questions, (he knew better), the farmer did as he was told and his hogs enjoyed a filling meal.  Then according to George’s instructions, he filled the barrel with cement and dropped it into a nearby bog.  Needless to say, McCluskey’s name was never mentioned again.

      Somehow, the gory story got out, and an unknown prankster labeled George with “The Butcher” nickname.  It stuck, although, you should never repeat it in George’s presence.

      Linda thought the story was “gruesome”, and probably untrue, but even if it was, George was just protecting what was his; in the only manner that made sense to the criminals he was forced to associate with.  And, it made a great story.

      Fearing for his, and especially Linda’s safety, and possible revenge from McCluskey’s gang; George hired a young, pimply faced driver named Robert, supposedly known for his “cool” in emergencies, to chauffeur Linda’s huge, gas guzzling Jaguar.

      Robert’s mouth dropped open at his first glance of Linda.  Watching her glamorous legs as they slid across the leather seats of the Jaguar, he was almost paralyzed with lust.  He tried to imagine having a woman like this next to him in his own automobile, and what he’d do to her.

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      George and Linda exchanged some kisses and words of endearment as they parted.  They took small notice of Robert’s agitation.

      Hiding his pent up emotions, Robert shoved the gearshift into low and fed gas to the engine as they tore down the driveway.

      “I really don’t care to drive this fast, Robert,” Linda chided him.  “If you want to be my driver, please slow down and let me enjoy the ride.”

      Embarrassed at his mistake, Robert apologized.

      “I’ll drive more carefully,” he promised.  All the while, red hot blood rushed through veins and his pulse raced.

      “Thank you, Robert,” she said as she smiled at him. 

      “God, what a looker,” Robert thought.  Misinterpreting Linda’s innocent smile as a “come-on”, Robert let his imagination run rampant.

      (“What was a beautiful gal like Gerda doing with a goon like George? I can see she likes me.  Did you see that smile?”)

      George’s assistant who hired new gang members or other “hanger-ons” like Robert failed to check his background completely.  Robert lied on his job application when he was asked about any prior arrests or trouble with the law, indicating nothing was amiss.

      Robert actually was once charged with impregnating a young teenage girl during an act of forcible rape.  Judged guilty by a jury of his peers, he was incarcerated for eighteen months.  His doctors diagnosed him with uncontrollable rages and declared he was a danger to any woman if he felt he had been rejected.

      Robert became enthralled with Linda, but hid it well.  She noticed his longing glances at times and discussed them with George.  George just wrote them off as “girl fever”, forgetting the effect Linda had on him at their first meeting.  Linda decided to ignore the glances and encouraged Robert to find a girl friend. 

      Her driver was noncommittal in that respect.  He only insinuated that he had plenty of female company available whenever he wished.  Linda decided to let it go.

      Enraged by his urgent longing for Linda, Robert bought a gun and planned to kill George and take over as Linda’s lover; something he pictured every day in his demented mind.

      (“The next time George drives his new Grand Am at night, I’ll hide in the gloom of the dark garage and shoot him in the head.”)

      The next day was rainy, and the storm promised to continue through the evening hours, which made the interior of the garage even darker.  Robert asked for the evening off.  Then he disguised himself in a long dark coat, took his gun and hid in the garage.

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      (“If George fails to show up, I’ll try again another night.”)           Out of cigarettes, and engaged with an assistant helping him total the receipts from that day’s gambling, George asked Linda to go to the nearest convenience store and pick up some cigarettes and cigars.

      “I’m sorry, honey, but I let Robert have the evening off.  He said he had something very important to take care of.

      “Take my raincoat for protection against the weather, sweetheart.  Park the Grand Am in the garage when you get back.  I hate to leave it out all night in the rain.  It’s parked outside the front door.

      “Drive carefully, my love and give me a kiss before you go.”

      Linda grabbed one of George’s old hats and pushed her hair up inside to help keep it dry on the short errand.  She never realized how much she looked like George in his coat and hat.

      When she returned, Robert was in an agitated state.  Excited at his big chance at glory, he mistook Linda for George and shot her three times in the back.

      Unable to resist the urge to look into George’s dying face, Robert bent down over the still form and pulled the hat off the body.  He was astonished when Linda’s golden locks spilled out.  A fast look told him Linda was bleeding profusely from her surely fatal wounds.

      The gun fell from his trembling hands as he peeled off his long coat and dropped it on the ground.  Suddenly he heard voices coming his way, so he turned and fled down the driveway as fast as his legs would propel him.

      When they heard the gunshots over the rain, George and his assistant came running into the garage as Robert raced down the driveway.  They recognized him instantly.

      “What on hell is going on, Robert?” George yelled.  “Who fired those shots?”

      He reached Linda’s side, where she lay next to the open door of the Grand Am.  He felt her pulse and found she was dead. George cried in despair as he stared down at her blood splattered corpse.

      (“Linda was right about Robert and I was wrong.  Now my love has paid the price for my mistake.”) 

      Gathering Linda’s already cooling body tenderly in his arms, George roared into the force of the storm, “I’ll get you, you rotten bastard!  “I’ll hunt you down like a dog and take my time killing you.” 

      George’s assistant immediately notified both the police and the rest of George’s far flung gang members.  The hunt was on for Robert, but he was nowhere to be found.

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      “If you do locate him,” George warned, “keep him under wraps until I can deal with him personally.  If you don’t, there will be hell to pay for the man who kills him before I can.”

      As he prayed at Linda’s gravesite, engrossed in his grief, George thought back on their life together and his lover’s life before they met:

      Busily engaged in jumping rope with some girlfriends, Gresinda, a young, gangling, twelve-year-old Greek girl, who was living with an aging grandmother in Dusseldorf, Germany, laughed gaily.

      Sensing someone nearby and glancing up, Gresinda’s grin changed into a grimace, and her gaiety into anger as she glared at a groveling group of Jewish refugees who were being herded along the boulevard by some Gestapo guards. 

      Growling and barking, fierce German Shepherds snapped at the heels of the refugees, while their grinning handlers shouted obscenities.

      “Keep moving, you old geezer,” one of the guards shouted as he jabbed an old man in the buttocks with a bayoneted rifle.  “Who told you that you could stop, you Jewish bastard?”

      After dropping her jump rope by her side, Gresinda joined a small gang of gawking children and followed the refugees and their guards to a nearby railroad station.

      She joined the others in laughing at the old people as they dragged their meager belongings along behind them while trying to protect the older and youngest members of the group.  She noted the look of despair and resignation of their fate outlined on their faces as they were shoved, kicked and sometimes thrown into empty boxcars which were waiting on a siding.

      After slamming the door on the last boxcar shut, a Sergeant called “Good-by and good riddance to that ‘ghetto’ garbage,” as an freight engine backed up to the boxcars, hooked  up with a loud “bang” from the couplers, and slowly hauled the cars away.

      The fun over, she and her playmates returned to their play.  The glimpse of the refugees was soon forgotten.

      A few months later, Gresinda’s grandmother was arrested for harboring Jews in her home.  She was beaten, tortured and garroted by a Gestapo agent.  No Jews were ever found, but that mattered nothing.  The grandmother’s spacious house was confiscated by a German bureaucrat and Gresinda was left homeless.

      Having nowhere to go, she spent the evening lying beside her grandmother’s grave, crying softly.

      Suddenly, as if in a dream, she heard her grandmother’s voice speaking to her.  “Don’t give up hope,” the gentle voice seemed to say.  “Seek God and ask Him for guidance.”

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      Grasping at this glimmer of hope, Gresinda noticed a band of Gypsies going by the graveyard in their gaily painted wagons, pulled by huge horses.  One of the younger Gypsy girls called out a greeting.

      Recognizing the Gypsies as possibly being a sign from her grandmother, or even God, she ran quickly after the wagons.

      “Where are you going?” she asked and before they could answer, she asked, “Can you take me with you?”

      One of the wagons pulled to the side of the road.  The man driving the wagon looked down at the young girl and asked, “Where are your parents, young lady?”

      “They were killed in a bombing raid last year”, she cried out, tears streaming down her cheeks.

      “My grandmother was killed by the SS and is buried there,” she continued, pointing back to the graveyard.  “I have no one left.”

      “Dry your tears, little one,” the old man said.  “Come with us and we’ll teach you the Gypsy way of life.  What’s one more mouth to feed?”

      Thanking the old man profusely, Gresinda climbed aboard the wagon and nestled down in the back in a large pile of fluffy pillows and warm blankets.  Within minutes, she was fast asleep and didn’t see the wagons leave Dusseldorf, headed for Spain and possible freedom from persecution by the Germans.

      The old man, Pepito, and his wife, Dorothy, gave Gresinda castoff clothing from their other daughters, Salena and Cathy.  She stayed with the Gypsy family for several years, learning to cook, clean and sew. 

      Salena taught her to dance like a Gypsy to earn a few extra pennies to contribute to the Gypsies’ meager funds.  Gresinda soon learned to dance proficiently and became a favorite in the towns where the Gypsies stopped to perform.  Her blond hair made her stand out from the normally dark-haired Gypsies.

      Food was often scarce, with the war continuing to bleed the country of its wealth, and Gresinda slowly changed from a plump Greek girl to a skinny waif.

      Finally, the Great War was over and she was able to leave the Gypsies and return to Dusseldorf, where she found the family home completely destroyed.  She found work in the reconstruction of Dusseldorf.   As relief food poured in from the conquering countries, her body filled out again, until a beautiful young lady emerged.

      She watched as the gaunt, ragged survivors of the Jewish population hunted through the ruins, trying to find their homes and family. She saw them grubbing through garbage cans for any edible they could find, and pitied them.

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      She now realized her previous anger at the Jews was not ingrained, but an outgrowth of German propaganda.  She befriended and helped all of the refugees, as she had been helped by the generous Gypsy band.

      Several American GIs who flirted with her and tried to lead her astray, but the young woman managed to keep her virginity intact and learn the English language at the same time.  While speaking with the GIs, she learned of a new immigration law which allowed displaced Greeks to apply for entrance into the USA and citizenship there. 

      After filling out the paperwork and submitting her citizenship papers to the proper authorities, she prayed for acceptance in the program.  Unbelievably, her prayers were miraculously answered.

      A now grown-up Gresinda watched in awe as her ship passed the Statue of Liberty in New York City’s harbor in December of 1947.  She had never seen anything quite so lovely in her life. 

      The Immigration Officer at Ryker’s Island did not understand German very well and could not spell Gresinda’s name, so changed it to Linda, (a name he was familiar with), on her new citizenship papers.  And so, Gresinda became Linda and her adventures as a new American citizen began.

      Growing healthier every day with a good diet and lots of exercise from walking from place to place as she tried to find work, she continued to grow into a glamorous young lady of twenty years of age. 

      A few part time jobs as a seamstress and cleaning lady put bread and meat on the table, and a roof over her head, but she longed to sing and dance again as she did with the Gypsies.  She felt this was her true vocation.

      After two years of trying out for various singing or dancing jobs, she finally found work at Jerry’s Lounge, where she met George.  The rest was history.

      “God, I’ll miss you, Linda”, George cried plaintively.

      Jerry interrupted George’s recollections of his love with the news that no trace had been found of Robert.

      “He appears to have vanished off the face of the earth,” Jerry reported.  “But, don’t worry, George, we’ll find him eventually.  I have feelers out all over the nation.  Every gang we know has people looking for him.”

      “That’s good, Jerry,” George responded.   “Keep me advised of anything that you hear.  The son of a bitch is mine to deal with.”

      Meanwhile, Robert managed to slip out of New York and to the New Jersey shore, where he bribed a Captain of an outgoing freighter to allow him passage while serving as a helper in the mess.

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      Robert’s guilt over Linda’s death didn’t last long.  The coward was more interested in saving his own skin.  He knew George’s men were searching for him, and there was nowhere in the USA where he could hide.  If he could make it to Europe, perhaps he could find a place to hole up long enough to change his identity.      

      One night while working late at night, and groggy from some booze he and the other mess mate had purloined from the Captain’s medicine chest, Robert accidentally cut a gash in his left leg. 

      The cook, in an attempt to be helpful, poured some whiskey on the cut to sterilize it.

      “God, that hurts,” Robert cried out in pain. 

      After wrapping the wound with a dirty rag, the cook assured Robert everything would be okay and not to worry about reporting the accident.

      “The old man will discover we’ve been in his booze and dock us a week’s pay,” the cook said.

      Over the next few days, Robert failed to keep the wound clean, and the grimy conditions in the galley caused a bad infection in his leg.  Almost overnight, his leg turned green.  From the terrible stench emanating from the wound, the physician’s mate on board was sure the leg was gangrenous.

      “We’re not equipped to deal with that on this old rust bucket,” he told Robert.  “We’re too far out to sea to transport you anywhere.  All we can do is radio back to New York City for some antibiotic to cleanse the wound and stop the infection before you loose your leg.  They can airdrop the supplies to us and give us instructions over the radio.”

      “Anything, please,” Robert pleaded.  “I can’t stand the pain much longer.”

      Back in New York, one of George’s pals heard the emergency radio call and thought the description of the patient fit Robert.  He notified George, who contacted the ship by radio.

      The radioman on the ship knew who George was, and his reputation.  He warned the Captain in advance that he should do what George wanted, if he ever wanted to set foot in New York again.

      The Captain informed George of the arrangement he had made with Robert, not knowing the full details of the reason for him wanting to flee the country.

      “If I had known the true purpose of his sneaking aboard my ship, I would have reported him to the authorities,” the Captain assured George.

      George promised the Captain a large reward for his cooperation and then gave him certain instructions to follow if he wanted to earn even a larger bonus when he next hit port in New York

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      Strangely, the antibiotic was lost in shipment, and a follow-up shipment was also mysteriously delayed.  The ship’s radio suffered a malfunction and the medical personnel in New York were unable to contact the ship.

      Robert suffered through several more agonizing days before finally succumbing to the poison in his leg. 

      Within a few minutes of his death, the radio was miraculously repaired, and the news of his demise was reported to George.

      (“I may not have been able to pay Robert back the way I wanted to, with a very slow death, but this payback suits me fine.”)

      George was never the same after Linda’s death.  His hair turned prematurely gray and he lost his zest for criminal activities.  Gambling no longer interested him, nor the money he received from any of his many rackets or legitimate businesses. 

      Instead, George turned over the gang to a chosen successor and became semi-retired.

      Using his money for a good purpose, George established a perpetual fund, in memory of Linda’s name, for aspiring actresses and dancers at the Julliard Dancing Studios in New York City.  Many bright, young people who never could have made it on their own were the beneficiaries of this fund.

      Over the following years, George served as a sort of “Godfather” to several of the rival gangs in New York and New Jersey and resolved their differences in a peaceful way.

      No one ever referred to him as “The Butcher” again.

      Linda would have been glad.

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Short Story Collection

True Competitor
Ballad of Billy Bob & Bubba
Grandmother & the Wicked Witch
To Kill or Not to Kill; That is The Question
Frank's New Boat
My Island in the Sun
George and the "Thunderbolt"
Honesty is the Best Policy!

 


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"The Nearly Perfect Plan"

 


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