Depression-era Chicago is awash in liquor and blood, ruled by guns, graft, and gangsters like John Looney. His most feared enforcer is Michael O'Sullivan, known as the "Angel of Death." But when O'Sullivan's twelve-year-old son witnesses a gangland murder committed by Looney's brutal son, O'Sullivan's entire family is marked for execution to cover up the crime. O'Sullivan and his son find themselves on the run... and seeking vengeance... on the long, bloody road to Perdition.
|Publisher:||Brash Books LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.58(d)|
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Road to Perdition
By Max Allan Collins, Richard Piers Rayner
Brash Books, LLCCopyright © 2016 DW Studios, LLC.
All rights reserved.
This Angel of Death you've heard so much about was my father, Michael O'Sullivan, born in Ireland in 1887.
The family nearly lost its "O" at Ellis Island, but my grandfather insisted it stay, and the family of three stayed too, right there in New York. For a time my grandfather toiled in a railroad switch yard, until the promise of better work drew the O'Sullivans to Rock Island, Illinois, with its John Deere and Harvester plants, and government arsenal, where guns and tanks were manufactured.
Immigrants in America — whether Irish or Italian or Jewish — quickly learned that local government ignored them; the only real government was what the Black Hand-type gangs provided. Little criminal kingdoms — subgovernments — grew up in cities all around America, thriving further with the onset of Prohibition. The Tri-Cities — Rock Island and Moline, on the Illinois banks of the Mississippi River, Davenport over on the Iowa side — were no exception. And the ruler of the Tri- Cities was John Looney.
The Irish Looneys had an unlikely but nonetheless abiding affiliation with the powerful Italian/Sicilian Capone gang in Chicago. John Looney himself was a self-trained lawyer, and considered by most micks in the Cities to be a benign presence, a benevolent despot. He and his son, Connor — a glorified chauffeur for his father, and widely considered a pale, rather unstable shadow of the old man — had the politicians and police in their pocket.
John Looney controlled everything in the Cities — brothels, bootlegging, gambling; but the most outrageous of Looney's enterprises undoubtedly was his newspaper — the Rock Island News, which boasted of being the area's only publication brave enough to print "all the facts." In reality the News was strictly a shakedown operation.
Headlines would scream scandal at the rare politician who wouldn't play ball — MAYOR SCHRIVER IN SANITARIUM FOR SYPHILIS TREATMENT — and typical front pages would announce "Acts of Shame Dishonor Prominent Citizens and Elected Officials," and LOCAL BANKER SEEN WITH PROSTITUTE. In some cases these were adversaries and even enemies Looney was settling scores with; but mostly such tactics were bald-faced blackmail.
A victim would be approached with a scandalous story — sometimes containing a germ of truth, more often not — and be given the opportunity to pay for said story to disappear. Farmers from the surrounding rural area made easy targets: one of Looney's prostitutes would throw her arms around some poor bumpkin and a photographer would just happen to be there to capture the moment for posterity ... unless, of course, the rube chose to pay the price.
In retrospect, it's hard to picture my father being any part of such sleazy underhanded racketeering. Michael O'Sullivan, Sr., was what they used to call a family man — quiet, dependable, honorable; he didn't drink to excess, he didn't whore around. Maybe you think he did those things and just didn't tell me, or hid such acts from me — but I know he didn't, just as I know with soul-deep certainty that he loved my mother ... his Annie.
Yet, there was indeed another, darker side to my father. Though he never spoke of it to us, he was a proud veteran of the Great War. After all those years, he had returned to Europe, where he had learned to use a gun to kill other men, a sin in God's eyes that Uncle Sam saw fit to reward him for, sending my father home with decorations for bravery ... and a terrible new skill.
And so Michael O'Sullivan went to work for John Looney, and served him well, still a loyal soldier.
Whatever bad things the Looneys were involved in, the micks of the Tri-Cities knew only that — despite Hard Times — Old Man Looney got jobs for our people, at his newspapers, his restaurants, and, using his publication for blackmail leverage, at the factories and even the government arsenal. Of course for my father, and many of his peers, John Looney was the government.
I never knew exactly what Papa did for the Looneys. What I did know was that we lived in the nicest house in town (except for Mr. Looney's) and that John Looney treated my father like a second son, and my younger brother Peter and me like cherished grandkids. We loved Mr. Looney — though we sensed our mother did not share that affection — and knew only that Papa did something dangerous for him ... something involving a gun. Like Tom Mix, or the Lone Ranger.
Usually that gun was a Colt .45 automatic. We had seen him with that weapon, Peter and I, on many occasions — spying on him with pride and wonder as our father slipped the pistol into a leather holster under his coat, tucked under his shoulder. Once, however, we saw Papa with an even more formidable firearm, and the sight had fueled our kid conversations deep into the night.
On that one occasion, we had spied him with his shiny black case; this hard-shell valise-type affair we had seen many times, but only once did our wide eyes observe its contents; only once did we (unseen by Papa) observe that case actually being opened.
The shiny black case might have protected a musical instrument — a horn, say, or a violin; however, the parts broken down within, in their plush little compartments, were those of a Thompson submachine gun. These pieces my father could assemble quickly, efficiently, into a single frightful unit; and last would come the drum-like canister of ammunition, which he snapped onto the assembled weapon, closing the lid, flicking the latches until the shiny black case seemed harmless again.
Funny. When I look back now at those days and nights, after all these years, I can see little Michael O'Sullivan, Jr., and it's from a distance wider than time — as if I were no longer that eleven-year-old boy who, for six weeks in the winter of 1931, went on the road with the killer called the Angel of Death.
As his accomplice.
On his bike, peddling furiously, Michael O'Sullivan, Jr. — hands warmly mittened, face obscured by a long woolen scarf, a satchel of newspapers slung over his shoulder — crested a hill and flew down a street whose gray cement was a solitary ribbon in a vast landscape of snowy white. Leaving the residential area behind, he was soon speeding along an endless stretch of closed factories — even Mr. Looney's beneficence could not entirely wipe out this Depression — summoned by the whistle of one of the few remaining, thriving industries.
Before long Michael — a slender pale kid with a thatch of brown hair, small for his age — was standing out in front of the gates of the John Deere plant, whose smokestacks billowed black, as workers poured out to hear the paperboy's cry: "Man dies in factory accident! Man dies!"
The Deere factory was not one of the boy's usual corners to peddle his papers, but Mr. McGowan at Rock Island Drugs & Sundries — where Michael picked up his daily supply of the Rock Island News — had recommended he go there. White-haired bespectacled Mr. McGowan — the proprietor of the drugstore (though of course Mr. Looney owned it) — had said the working men at the plant would find this story of particular interest.
"People like to read about their own kind dyin'," Mr. McGowan said, with the same twinkle in his eye that accompanied his serving up an ice-cream soda.
And the toil-haggard men outside John Deere did in fact reach into their pockets for nickels and dimes to read the story of how Danny McGovern had fallen into the machinery at Mr. Looney's soft-drink bottling plant.
UNAVOIDABLE ACCIDENT A TRAGEDY, a smaller headline said; and Michael had glimpsed in the write-up how Mr. Looney was generously bequeathing the dead man's family a full two year's salary, though "nothing but the goodness of John Looney's heart required it." The family couldn't afford a funeral home, so Mr. Looney ("the embodiment of generosity") was providing his own mansion for the wake.
But the eleven-year-old boy was wise enough in the ways of the local press to know that the Rock Island Argus, Looney's chief competition in the newspaper business, would present this story in an entirely different light. The Argus called Mr. Looney "a gangster," among other equally unflattering things, and the editorials in the two papers were like the salvos of opposing battleships.
In under ten minutes, Michael had made a real haul, and he was grinning — despite the bitter cold — when he hopped back on his bike, pockets jingling with change. He pulled on his mittens, threw the scarf over his face, and streaked out of the industrial area to the klik-klik-klik of the baseball card clothespinned to his bike's back wheel, the card playing the spokes like a brittle harp. He peddled past the Harvester plant (not enough papers left to bother with, darn it!), gliding by one of the soup kitchens where Mr. Looney saw to it that hungry out-of-work men at least got something warm to eat, then ducked down an alleyway between two huge warehouses, the chimneys of industry receding behind him.
Before long he was sailing past St. Peter's Church, its ominous gothic shape and spires looming behind the iron fence; then he cycled straight down the middle of Main Street's two lanes, drivers frowning and even cursing at him as, going in either direction, they narrowly missed the boy. This dangerous game of auto tag Michael had played for as long as he'd been hawking papers; he liked the exhilarating feeling it gave him.
Some of the stores were boarded up, even on Main Street — often he had heard his father tell his mother, "We are lucky to have it so soft in such hard times" — but not the drugstore ... or any of Mr. Looney's shops or restaurants, for that matter.
Michael parked his bike out front, and sauntered in, dropping his newspaper bag on the counter. Mr. McGowan acknowledged the boy with a nod but immediately began counting out the few remaining papers. Unwrapping his scarf, Michael dug into his pocket for the change and deposited the coins on the counter, where they danced and rang. White face exposed, the boy drank in the scents of penny candy and pulp paper and tobacco — what a wonderful place a drugstore was.
The druggist quickly counted the coins, then glanced up, an unruly eyebrow raised, signaling to Michael that the books were not balanced. And, with a sigh, the boy again dug into his pocket, found the missing nickel and slammed it onto the counter.
With a humorless smile, Mr. McGowan nodded, and returned to his calculating. While the druggist was counting out the meager coinage that would be the boy's commission, Michael surreptitiously — so careful even the faces on advertising signs posed around wouldn't see him — sneaked a pouch of Bugler Tobacco from the shelf below and up under his coat, into the waistband of his trousers.
Pocket jingling with the nickels he'd earned (as opposed to pilfered), Michael strode out of the drugstore, onto the sidewalk, where he wheeled his bike around the corner into an alleyway. Ripping open the pouch of tobacco, he removed the baseball card from its paper wrapper — Rogers Hornsby of the Cubs — and bent down, affixing the card to the back wheel.
Then, glancing around, he withdrew from a coat pocket a battered-looking brown briar pipe with a bit of a Sherlock Holmes shape to it, a smoking instrument that his father had thrown out a few weeks ago. Michael filled the bowl with tobacco, tamped it down, and fished a book of matches from another pocket, lighting up like an old pro.
Two cards clicking at his rear spokes now, puffing the pipe as if that were powering him, Michael cycled out of the downtown, into the nearby residential district, flush with that satisfying feeling known only by a kid who is putting one over on the grownups of the world.
When he finally coasted into the long, tree-lined driveway of the two-story stucco structure that was the O'Sullivan home, Michael grew suddenly cautious. He should put the pipe away, he knew, before getting in range of the windows of the large house, set against an idyllic background of the snowy woods. If his father saw the boy puffing away, Papa would just kill him ...
As Michael slowed, contemplating that, an assassin took advantage of this momentary caution on the boy's part, and a projectile hurled with deadly precision knocked Michael off-balance — and off his bike, onto a pile of white, the glowing pipe flying, dying a sizzling death in a snowbank.
Stepping from behind a tree, in mittens and snowsuit, Peter O'Sullivan, age 10, also small for his age, laughed mercilessly, delighted that his snowball had done such a spectacular job of it.
But Michael had survived many such onslaughts, and was already fashioning a snowball of his own, so deftly, so quickly, that Peter had no time to run: he was doomed to take Michael's shot in the forehead. The younger boy pitched into the snow and rolled to a stunned stop, staring upward, breath pluming.
Michael too was on his back, also "dead" — the smoke of his breath outdoing the dying embers of the pipe.
Neither boy noticed the woman in the kitchen window, their mother, Annie O'Sullivan, smiling. From this distance, she had not discerned the pipe — or else her smile might have curved into a smirk — and knew only that these daily attacks by the younger boy against his big brother represented affection.
Annie — approaching forty, a petite, quietly pretty peaches-and-cream-complected woman in a quietly pretty blue house-dress — was pleased that the two boys got along so famously. Often brothers could be rivals, even adversaries, and since her husband seemed to favor the youngest boy (who had almost died in childbirth), young Michael might easily have resented Peter.
Right now the rumble of her husband's Ford sedan was making minor thunder, announcing the imminent arrival of the head of the house. What was Michael, Jr., doing out there? Making a snow angel?
In fact, the boy — still sprawled in mock death — was trying with his foot to bury the pipe in the snow, hiding it (he hoped) from his father, whose face turned rather blankly to the two boys as the big dark green Ford headed toward the freestanding garage at the end of the long driveway.
Peter, of course, chased after his father. Michael just watched. If he were to tag after his younger brother, all that would happen was that Papa would ruffle the younger boy's hair and smile at him and maybe, maybe if Michael was lucky, he'd get a nod. That he could live without.
In the kitchen, before the table had been set for supper, while their mother was still at the stove, Michael and Peter sat together and did their homework.
Michael envied his brother, who was something of a whiz at school; right now the kid was writing in his notebook like the pencil was doing its own thinking. Criminey, how did he do that? Michael, on the other hand, was slogging through his math problems like he was trying to run in a snowdrift.
The older boy sensed his mother beside him — the fresh-scrubbed smell of her — and when he turned she was at his shoulder, smiling at him like the Madonna, whispering, "Don't worry — I'll help you with it later."
He grinned at her and she touched his cheek, then lifted away, saying, "Peter, clear these school books and help me set the table ... Michael, fetch your father. Tell him supper's ready."
The house was pale plaster, greens and yellows, against dark woodwork; his footsteps echoed off the hardwood floors. Not exactly a rich person's house, but Michael knew he lived better than any of his friends. He loved the smooth feel of the banister as he ran up the stairs, palm gliding over sculpted wood.
Excerpted from Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins, Richard Piers Rayner. Copyright © 2016 DW Studios, LLC.. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
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