Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Al Capone

A newcomer to the old neighborhood (West Oak Lane, Philadelphia) recently arrived from Brooklyn. He was a friendly guy and joined us teenagers at the corner Drug Store. He ordered a Coke, sat down at the counter with us, and started talking. Actually, he started listening as we prattled on and on about the Jimmy Cagney movie that we had just seen at the Lane. When he could no longer take our inane conversation he said, "wait a minute boys. I'll tell you a real life story that you might see one day in the movies."

Several years ago, I was seated at my favorite table in a restaurant in Brooklyn. Everybody knew me because my brother was District Attorney. Suddenly, two strangers burst through the door, asked the owner where I was and sat at my table. I didn't know them from Adam. I had never seen them before. The next thing I knew, the door opened and half a dozen of Brooklyn's fineest cops brust in, guns drawn. They handcuffed the three of us and took us to the police station. They embarassed me in front of my friends at the restaurant.

I called my brother, the DA and he arranged for the three of us, me and my two unknown buddies, to be released immediately; providing the police escorted the two strangers out of town. The police put them on the Twentieth Century Limited to Chicago.

My brother told me that they were two of Al Capone's Lieutenants. Why they were in Brooklyn was a mystery to my brother. But they must have known that my brother was the DA because they knew where to find me and asked for me by name.

The very next day, a total stranger came into the same restaurant, sat at my table, and wanted to know what he could do for me. He had an envelope that he tried to give me. I turned him down immediately. I knew that if I accepted the envelope I would be forever beholden to Capone and the mob. This stranger gave me his card and said that if I were ever in Chicago, or knew anyone in Chicago who required his assistance, just to ring up the number.

Several weeks later, my Chicago cousins got in touch with me and told me that they were in trouble. Not that kind of trouble. Not police trouble. They owned and operated a fruit and vegetable store that was profitable enough for them but they weren't getting rich - just surviving well. They said that the empty store next to them had been rented to a family that intended to sell fruits, vegetables, and groceries. The new owner waylaid me one morning, in front of my store, and told me that this block wasn't big enough for both of our stores, and I should consider selling out to him and his four sons. He said that he would feel just terrible if anything happened to me or my wife.

My cousins told me that he and his wife are very afraid and don't know what to do. I told them not to worry. That I had a friend in Chicago who might be able to help. Later that day, I called the number on the card and explained the situation to a man who did not identify himself on the phone but who knew who I was.

The next day, my cousin called, and said "I don't know what you did, but thanks. The store next door had been emptied out during the night, and was for rent." As far as I was concerned, that was the end of it. But not for Al Capone and his gang.

A few days later, my cousin called again, with a new problem. A stranger showed up at the wholesale produce auction and told me that he would show me how to shop. And he did. When he bid, always very low, the bidding stopped. Nobody bid against him. My cousin said that he didn't want that kind of service. He asked me to try to stop the help.

Again, I called the number on the business card. I thanked whoeveer answered the phone and said that I now considered us even. And please tell Mr. Capone that he owes me nothing more.

We all sat, mesmerized by his story, talked about it a little after he finished his Coke and left. And that was the last time that we West Oak Lane boys discussed Al Capone in a personal way.

No comments:

Post a Comment