A Glibertarians Exclusive: Sweetheart, Part IV
Marshalltown, Iowa, August 1933.
Monday. One day off a week, and it’s over. Still… Maggie checked her hair in the bathroom mirror one last time, put on some lipstick, and jammed her sun hat down over her red hair. There. Ready to face another afternoon and evening pouring beer for Marshalltown, by God, Iowa. She smiled, thinking of the day before. I was lucky to find a guy like Paul. Lots of guys would have run away screaming after finding out about my family. The Family.
Still smiling, she walked across the tiny living room of her rented house. She opened the front door.
Standing there, looking at her, was a tall, thin man. He was on the far side of seventy but looked – and was – vigorous. His eyes were the gray of chipped flint; his expression may well have been carved from stone as well. He wore an expensive suit of Italian silk, his tie neatly knotted in a four-in-hand. A gold watch chain crossed his vest. Behind him stood two hulking brutes in cheap linen suits.
“Margarethe,” the old man said.
“Grandfather,” Maggie sighed.
“Come along,” John Gilliard said. “Enough of this, this… fantasy you have been living. You are coming home now, and there’s an end of it.”
“What if I say I’m not coming?”
Gilliard wasted no time. “I have no time for games,” he said. “You have a responsibility to your family, and I have important plans for you.” Gilliard turned to the two goons. “Take her. Put her in the car.”
Bulky as they were, the goons moved quickly. One grabbed Maggie and pulled her hands behind her back while the other expertly tied her wrists together. She shouted, but found a wadded rag stuffed in her mouth, secured with a handkerchief. Then one goon picked her up, slung her over his shoulder, and walked down the front walk, bundling her into the back seat of a shiny black Packard.
The Packard’s tires squealed on the pavement as the big car roared away.
When they reached the Gilliard home in Waterloo, a run-down old mansion that had once been impressive, the goons hustled Maggie out of the car. At Gilliard’s order, they carried Maggie upstairs, removed her bonds, and tossed her unceremoniously into a bedroom. “Stay heah,” one of them said, with a Brooklyn accent as thick as a wheel of cheese. “Mistuh Gilliard be in ta see ya in a bit.” He slammed the door; Maggie heard the lock click in place.
Maggie looked around. She rubbed her wrists; the cloth they had used to tie her hands had left marks. Paul will be coming into the billiard parlor for supper this afternoon, she remembered. He eats there every day now. And Mr. Schmidt will have noticed my not coming in by now. People will have noticed I’m missing.
Not that anyone can do anything. If Grandfather hasn’t already bought off every judge in Marshall County, I’ll eat my shoes.
She was still pacing the narrow room when the lock clicked, the door opened, and her grandfather walked in. “Sit down,” he ordered, pointing at the bed. He closed the door, moved a straight-backed wooden chair in front of it and sat down. “Sit down, I said,” he snapped.
Maggie sat. “You may as well tell me why you had your goons drag me back here.”
“I intend to.” Gilliard pulled a cigarette pack out of his jacket pocket, stuck a cigarette in his mouth and lit it with a gold-plated lighter. He looked at her steadily. “You should have known better than to think I wouldn’t find you. That red hair, your… sunny disposition. People talk, you know, when a woman like you comes into a small town. And then you take a job, of all things, where anyone can just walk in and see you, standing behind a bar. A bar, for the love of Christ. What were you thinking?”
“I was happy there,” Maggie snarled.
“Damn your happiness,” Gilliard said. His eyes narrowed. “Damn that seedy little pool hall you were working in, and damn your big ape of a boyfriend, too. Oh, yes, I know about him. A newspaper man. Well, put it all behind you now.”
“Why should I?”
“Because I’m in the middle of settling a deal with one of the biggest Chicago families. One of those Sicilian organizations, make us look like small potatoes.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
“You’re going to marry their top man’s younger son. Bonds of blood, Margarethe, the strongest bonds of all, and once that’s done, as one united family, we’ll control every speakeasy and bootlegger in the upper Midwest. And you’ll damn well do as you’re told. I’ll tolerate no more rebelliousness.”
“You can’t just force me to marry someone I don’t even know!”
“I can. I will. The arrangements are already made.” Gilliard leaned forward in the chair. “And if you want your big newspaperman of a boyfriend to go on breathing, you’ll damn well better go through with it.” He sat back again, took another long drag on the cigarette. “You should have known better. A woman like you, in that… shithole. Oh, you probably think you had friends there. You probably think you fit in. But you should know you didn’t. You know that the people in that town talked about you behind your back. You know damn well.”
He stood up, kicked the chair to one side, and left. The lock clicked home behind him.
Paul walked into the billiard parlor and was surprised to see old Herr Schmidt behind the bar.
“Maggie, today she to work doesn’t come,” the old man said. He was obviously worried; his slip into German grammar spoke to that. “It’s not like her. She is a good, reliable girl.”
“Oh, hell,” Paul said, remembering their conversation from the day before. “I’ll go to her house, she if she’s all right.”
He never noticed how quickly he walked, rolling his hip to lock the knee joint in his wooden leg, taking part of the weight on his cane, but moving faster than he had moved since Belleau Wood. It was about half a mile to Maggie’s rented house.
When he got there, the house stood open, the front door swinging in the mild breeze. Paul stumped up the path to the door and looked inside.
“Maggie?” he called. “Hon?”
He walked in.
There was a coffee cup sitting on the drainboard next to the sink. A half-loaf of bread was on the kitchen counter, a bread knife laying alongside.
He went in the bedroom, calling softly ahead: “Maggie?”
She wasn’t there. Her clothes were in the wardrobe; the bed was neatly made but rumpled at the bottom, as though someone had sat there to put their shoes on.
Shaking his head, Paul went outside.
“Are you looking for Maggie?” a querulous voice came from the porch of the house next door.
Paul walked slowly over to the edge of Maggie’s yard. “I am,” he said. “Have you seen her?”
An old, old woman emerged from the shadows of the porch’s overhang. “This morning,” she said. “Maggie is such a sweet girl. She’s a good neighbor. You’re the young man she went out with yesterday, aren’t you? Or was it last week?”
The old woman clearly wasn’t all there. “Please, ma’am,” Paul said urgently. “Where is Maggie?”
“She went away with some men this afternoon. One old man. I didn’t like the looks of him. Expensive suit. Two others. Big men. Bigger than you.”
Dammit, Paul realized. Only a day after she tells me about her family, too, and now her grandfather the gangster has come and taken her.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Paul said. “I think I know where Maggie is now.”
“I hope you find her.” The old woman retreated into the shadows. “Such a sweet girl.”
Thank Christ for nosey neighbors, Paul thought. OK, so I know where she is. Just have to think about how to get her out.
A sudden anger hit him. He dropped his cane and smote the air with sledgehammer fists, while tears of impotent rage ran down his face. A startled squawk from the porch next door brought him back.
“Sorry, ma’am,” he whispered. He picked up his cane and turned and walked slowly away.
You know you can make a name for yourself.
You can hear them tires squeal.
You could be known as the most beautiful woman.
Who ever crawled across cut glass to make a deal.
You know, news of you has come down the line.
Even before ya came in the door.
They say in your father’s house, there’s many a mansions.
Each one of them got a fireproof floor.
Snap out of it baby, people are jealous of you.
They smile to your face, but behind your back they hiss,
What’s a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?