A Glibertarians Exclusive: Sweetheart, Part III
Grundy County, Iowa, July 1933
The day ended up being a little cluttery. A few rain showers had blown through on the drive from Marshalltown to Grundy County, but by the time they arrived at the little roadside meadow Paul had described the sky was clear and blue, with only a few high, scattered clouds. Paul and Maggie had spent the drive talking; Paul, about his youth in Marshall County and his decision to join the Marines. Maggie told anecdotes about her job at the billiard parlor, and some about the local characters she dealt with. Paul noticed she didn’t talk much about her life before that. Ain’t my place to pry, he thought to himself.
They arrived just after noon. Paul spread an old wool Army blanket for them to sit on and insisted on carrying the picnic basket from the back of his old Hudson.
“Oof,” he said, dragging the basket out of the car’s back seat. “Did you cook an elephant?”
“Maybe.” Maggie smiled prettily and stuck her tongue out at him. Paul carried the basket over to the blanket, leaning heavily on his cane. Fried chicken, potato salad, a Mason jar full of pickles and a big jug of lemonade, wrapped in a wet towel to keep it cool – all made for a fine meal.
When they finished, Maggie packed the dishes back into her basket, and then they lay back on the blanket and watched the clouds. The day was growing hot and humid. Paul loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar. Ought to let my belt out a notch, he thought. Haven’t eaten that well in a while. He was used to his own cooking, which wasn’t about to win any awards.
“Paul,” Maggie said at last, “I haven’t been fair to you.”
Paul propped himself up on an elbow. Maggie was laying back, one hand shading her eyes from the sun. “How’s that? I don’t see how you haven’t been fair.”
“You told me some things about your past,” Maggie said. “Not about the war, mind, but I can see why you wouldn’t talk about that. But I haven’t told you about where I came from. And Paul – if this is going to go like it might, and I would like for it to, you need to know some things about me.”
“I already like everything I know about you, Maggie,” Paul said softly.
“Well, this might be different.”
“It’s about my family. You’re in the news business. Have you heard of Peter Gilliard? The one they called “Red Pete?”
“The bootlegger? The one serving twenty years in the Federal penitentiary at Leavenworth?”
“That’s him.” She hesitated, then plunged ahead. “He’s my father. My real name is Gilliard. I dropped it for my Mom’s maiden name when I came to Marshalltown.”
“Maggie, none of that has anything to do with you, though, does it?”
She shook her head. “Not directly, no. But there’s more to it than that.”
Paul sat up. “Go on.”
“My father was the ‘face man,’ as they call it, for a bigger operation. My grandfather, John Gilliard, is the one who really runs things. He has a big house up on Prospect Avenue in Waterloo. Most everything he coordinates right out of there: Booze, girls, loans, the works. He has people all over eastern Iowa, western Illinois, I think maybe even Missouri.”
“So, your father was the fall guy, and your grandfather’s the one who’s really in charge. And you’re trying to keep away from him,” Paul guessed. “What would he do if he found out where you are?”
“Force me to come back,” Maggie said. “I snuck away from him once. But Grandfather has this idea that his family should be kept under his thumb. He let my Pa get sent to prison without blinking once. He’d marry me off to some other crime boss just as easy, if he saw an advantage in it for him.” She frowned, turned her head to look at Paul. “He has very definite ideas about what a woman’s place is in the family.”
“He can’t force you…” Paul began.
Maggie laid a finger on his lips. “He can, Paul. He’ll send four or five leg-breakers down after me, and that’s that. He has half the cops in eastern Iowa on his payroll. Probably half of the judges, too.”
“Maybe you should have gone farther than Marshalltown. You’re still in his range.” Paul snapped his fingers. “That’s why you were spooked about going to Waterloo.”
“Yes. Even money someone would have recognized me.”
Paul looked at Maggie. “You don’t have anything to do with his… business, though. Maggie, you don’t deserve to suffer through anything because of what your father and grandfather have done. You deserve better, Maggie. Someone like you… You should have your own home. Someone who cares for you. Someone who will take care of you. Someone you can care for in return. You’re too sweet a gal to be dealing with… all this.”
“That’s funny,” Maggie replied. She sat up and faced Paul. She put a finger on his nose. “I was just thinking the same thing. I even had someone in mind.”
“That’s funny,” Paul smiled. Maggie’s green eyes were sparkling. “I think I may have someone in mind too.”
Maggie kissed him. The kiss went on for some time.
“Maggie,” Paul said at last. “It doesn’t bother you? The leg?”
“No,” she said. “It’s part of who you are. I like all of who you are. If it wasn’t for all that – all that, the war, all the rest – you wouldn’t be you.”
The sun was growing low in the sky before they finally packed their picnic back in Paul’s ancient Hudson for the return trip. On the ride back to Marshalltown Maggie sat in the middle of the Hudson’s sagging front seat, as close to Paul as she could be and still allow him to work the auto’s controls. She held his hand when he wasn’t shifting gears.
It was dark when Paul pulled the Hudson up in front of Maggie’s rented house. “Walk you to the door?” he asked.
“You don’t have to,” Maggie said. “Your leg.”
“It’s fine. I walk to work every day. I think I can walk you to your door.”
So he did. They kissed again at the doorway. Then Maggie smiled and went inside.
Paul walked back to the car, his rolling gait more ebullient than usual, a wide grin plastered all over his face. He climbed in the Hudson, still grinning, started the auto up and headed for downtown, where his cheap upstairs room awaited him.
A block up the street, a black Packard’s engine started. The big car pulled out of its curbside parking spot, rolled slowly past the rented bungalow, then accelerated, turned right towards the highway, and faded into the night.
You know a woman like you should be at home.
That’s where you belong.
Taking care for somebody nice,
Who don’t know how to do you wrong.
Just how much abuse will you be able to take?
Well, there’s no way to tell by that first kiss.
What’s a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?