By Michael G. Glab
— Fifty —
For a hot minute, Anna considers grabbing Tami by the arm and walking right back out of Doc Ryan’s. Then again, Anna has never liked being forced into doing anything — not even by a couple of dozen white men who are staring at her and her new Negro friend as if they’re lepers.
So Anna and Tami wade through the silence and claim the only open four-top in the place. As they hang their bags over the backs of their chairs and remove their winter coats, they hear the scraping of chairs against the Linoleum floor. Anna eyes turn to slits; the revelers and drinkers around them are moving away. Anna snorts. They’re trying to be subtle, these pot-bellied, pasty-faced old bastards, but the two or three extra inches they’re placing between themselves and the Negro who’s entered their sanctuary may as well be the distance from Galewood to Mau Mau land.
Tami grins broadly — too broadly, Anna thinks. “So, what should we have,” Tami asks.
“I dunno,” Anna says. “You okay here? You wanna try someplace else?”
“Girl, we just got here! What are you talkin’ about?”
“Sure I’m sure. Now what should we have?”
“Beer,” Anna says.
“Okay, beer,” Tami says.
So the two wait for the bartender to come by and take their order. They don’t know just yet that he has no intention of approaching their table. Emilio Irato stands behind his bar and rubs the same spot on it with his damp towel with such effort and for so long that a couple of guys on stools nudge each other. “I t’ink he’s gonna rub a hole in da wood,” one whispers to the other.
Emilio has owned Doc Ryan’s for almost a year now. He came upon it the old fashioned, Chicago way. He is a clerk in the City Collector’s Office. Doc Ryan’s is his neighborhood bar. He’s had his eye on the proprietor, Maggie Ryan, ever since her husband Doc keeled over dead of a heart attack in the summer of ’67. He’d stop in the place three, four times a week, sip his favorite sweet cocktail, and inquire after Maggie’s health and welfare even while she still wore black.
The first time he ordered his cocktail — a shot of Amaretto and a shot of Southern Comfort over ice with a splash of sour mix — Maggie asked him what he called it. “Aw, it don’t have no name,” he said. “I just like it.”
Between Christmas and New Year’s, 1969, Maggie came into the City Collector’s office for her 1970 liquor license. Emilio was manning the counter at the time. “Perfect,” he said to himself as he watched Maggie approach. He looked over her application and told her she’d have to come with him for lunch so they could talk over some irregularities in her paperwork. In the Mayor’s Row restaurant on LaSalle Street, where dozens of such business deals were consummated daily, Emilio put it to her straight. All she would have to do is sleep with him and all the application irregularities would disappear. Maggie stared at him, aghast.
Finally she said, “Uh, I don’t think so.” “Okay,” Emilio, a reasonable negotiator, countered. “D’en what about a blowjob, okay?”
Maggie had no intention of sleeping with or blowing Emilio Irato no matter what he threatened her with.
And threaten her, he did. “You ain’t gonna get no license, lady,” he warned her after deducing she was serious. Still she held out. And when January 1st, 1970, rolled around Maggie could not open her doors. There was nothing she could do about it until Emilio himself bailed her out. He’d borrowed money from Jackey Pontone and made her a fair offer for her business. What could she do but accept it? Emilio told himself he was a savvy businessman for getting his hands on Galewood’s best tavern.
On a Sunday mid-afternoon in December, 1970, a savvy businessman in Galewood doesn’t want any porch monkeys coming into his joint, even if they are with Al Dudek’s daughter. Emilio rubs the same spot on his bar harder and harder, staring at the the two women.
“So,” Tami says.
“So,” Anna says.
“That was an interesting meeting,” Tami says.
“No it wasn’t,” Anna says, laughing.
“No,” Tami says. “No it wasn’t.” She shares Anna’s laugh. Anna glances around the room. A good half of the clientele is still staring at the two of them. The remainder, she is certain, are trying their hardest to pretend she and Tami don’t exist.
“What I don’t get,” Anna says, “is how you could fall asleep. I thought you were taking notes on what Helga was saying.”
Tami covers her face. “Oh, I’m so embarrassed.”
“No, no. Don’t be embarrassed. Please. I told you; I fell asleep too.”
“You did, didn’t you!”
“Well, first off, her name was Hagar, not Helga.”
“Whatever,” Anna says, rolling her eyes.
“I can dig it,” Tami says. “Anyways, I wasn’t taking notes. I was writing up a grocery list.”
“A grocery list!”
“Yeah. I want to make lasagna tonight.”
“You do? Lemme see that list.”
Tami digs around in her bag and produces her notebook. Anna scans it. “Noodles? Tomato soup? Cottage cheese? This isn’t lasagna!”
“It isn’t? Well, what do you call it?”
“I don’t know what I’d call it but it won’t call it lasagna.”
“Okay, Miss Galloping Gourmet. You tell me how to make lasagna.”
“Ooh, The Galloping Gourmet. I love Graham Kerr. Listen, let’s make it together.”
“I’d make a toast but we don’t have any drinks yet,” Tami says.
Anna realizes Emilio Irato will not be waiting on them. She gets up and approaches the bar where Emilio only stares at her. “Hullo,” she says. Emilio says nothing. “Um, can I order a drink?” Emilio remains silent. She coughs. “So, uh, can I have two beers?”
Emilio continues to stare at her in murderous silence. Anna shifts from foot to foot. Two dozen Bears fans stare at her. Anna thinks: Go ahead. Kick us out. You’d be doing us a favor.
The high noon moments passes when Emilio finals budges. He reaches for a couple of mugs and begins to fill them from the tap. He tops off one, then the other, and slams them in turn on the bar. Anna begins to dig in her purse for her wallet. Emilio holds up his hand. He says: “Doan worry about it.”
Anna says, “You sure?”
Rather than answer, Emilio simply turns on his heel and walks to the other end of the bar. Anna grabs the two beers and brings them to her table.
“Thanks,” Tami says. “I got the next round.”
Anna glances back toward the bar. Emilio leans on it in the far corner, exhaling a lungful of cigarette smoke, eying the two of them through the swirls.
“I don’t think there’ll be another one,” she says.
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.