This is outrageous. I’m concentrating on my computer screen when a huge mitt grabs me by the back of the belt and plucks me from my chair. Next thing I’m dangled high over the desk, arms and legs flailing till I steady my balance and end up nose-to-nose with Big Bill Blair, our urban Paul Bunyan.
“‘Scuse me, Mr. Jonelis,” he says in a slow polite rumble that carries with it a stale smell of corned beef and cigar.
Big Bill slowly chews gum. Looks disinterested. Acts like nothing’s unusual.
I know he once terrorized jobsites for Boilermaker Local 1, but he’s supposed to be tame now—supposed to be working for me. Cripes, I even took him fishing this summer! Yet this guy just reaches across my big WWII Air Force desk and picks me up as if I were a gum wrapper.
Fishing with Big Bill Blaire
Abduction at Gunpoint
He turns his lazy gaze to the side. “Whaddayuh want I should do with ‘im, Mr. Lonagan?”
“What else? Bring ‘im with. Think yuh can handle ‘im all by yerself er what?” I turn to see Loop Lonagan holding a huge Glock, giving the orders. What is this? Some kind of magazine mutiny?
Bill tucks me under an arm and we swoop out of the office (in the back room of Ludditis Shots ‘n Beer) and into the main dining area. Between the pool tables, I see Alexander Harbinger, Mark T Wayne and Jim Kren tucking away potato pancakes while Donatas Ludditis polishes the bar. Nobody glances our way.
“Hey! Look sharp! Youse guys is all comin’ with me NOW!” Loop makes menacing gestures with the oversized automatic.
First I see four sets of jaws hang wide. Next they’re lined up behind us. We move out to the street.
I scan for police.
Nothing. Loop’s wagging that big pistol around and still nothing. This is Chicago.
Like any ordinary citizen, I’m feeling a mite indignant by now and I jab an elbow into a tender place. Bill doubles over and drops me to the cold concrete pavement. Not wasting any time, I scramble to my feet and glare a challenge at Loop. “What the—”
He puts two fingers to my lips. “I’m warnin’ yuh John, don’t start up with me. I had it up to here!”
I pause a moment, tantalized by the thought that a clue to this madness might be forthcoming.
A Clue to the Madness
The others crowd around, probably hoping for a fight while Loop keeps talking. “Been plannin’ this shindig fer months ‘n’ nobody shows up. Not a one! Even set it a week early so nobody’s got an excuse. My brother Boyle—” Loop’s voice alternates from angry to one pinched in mockery. “—He’s settin’ up trains for Little Sean. My sister Bridgett—she finally got an appointment with that oh-so-special hair dresser. And Brianna ‘n’ her crowd all caught some kinda bug—‘n’ they’s so-so considerate and don’t wanna get me sick. And Grandma ‘n’ Grandpa Lonagan—they’s way-way too tired after all that shopping.”
He’s suddenly serious. “Then my new gal Irene and her family o’ forty cancel out. That finally sets me off. I’m tellin’ yuh, da table’s all set—lotsa wine, sixteen waiters, da works. More fancy food than you can eat in a month. You guys is all invited! Wanna come?”
I’m stunned to silence. Do we want to come? To a Loop Lonagan Christmas party? I picture the sumptuous feast waiting for us and my mouth waters! Hell yes we all want to come! Besides, everybody knows how important this is to Loop. He cashed in millions and millions on that big deal and for months he’s been planning this huge event. And now his lousy miserable family—many that he probably supports, the ungrateful louts—they let him down at Christmastime, the poor sweet guy. And we haven’t seen his new penthouse yet, either. Sure, we’re all eager to oblige! A little thing like kidnapping can’t stand in the way of friendship! (Such is the state of my rationalization.)
Loop abruptly moves down the street. Blaire herds us along like sheep, but Ludditis, Wayne, Harbinger and Kren all follow grinning at one to another. This is gonna be good.
Man on the Street
The line abruptly halts. Loop is talking to a street bum and I move up to hear. “…Big Bubba? Great!” says Loop, “and Old Man Percy? Yeah, he can come along too.” Then he sees me standing close. “John, this is Fred. I told you he’d be an asset to the magazine. That was a long time ago and it looks like yuh missed yer chance. He accepted the post as my personal sekertary.” Fred shakes my hand while Loop keeps talking. “Fred here rounded up some o’ my old street friends and a couple I ain’t met yet.” Loop is smiling now. “And I got Lonny and Lucile to come. They run that terrific diner. And Kate and Lafonda, too—they been workin’ at that joint forever.” Loop spreads his arms in an expansive gesture. “That makes Sixteen! We yank all them extra spacers outa da table and it’ll be just right! There’s gonna be one waiter fer every guest!”
Then he waves an arm. A bright red stretch Hummer—it must be fifty feet long—slides to the curb sideways with the sound of squealing brakes and tires. A fine, fat Santa Claus sits behind the wheel. I think he’s smiling. A tall, distinguished-looking man in a bowler hat steps out and holds the side door open in a deferential and inviting manner.
Naturally, we all pile in.
Some go straight for the car bar. I sit back and watch. Turns out the bowler hat’s name is Meadows—Loop’s new butler. Loop hands him the Glock, which instantly disappears in his tailored coat. I wonder how many other weapons he carries in there.
Along the way we stop and pick up various individuals and soon arrive in full celebration at a swank high rise with a view of Lake Michigan.
Loop Lonagan’s Penthouse
Santa opens a door and we spill out like Cheerios from a cereal box except there’s nothing uniform about us. I wonder if they’ll even allow us in this place. True, Loop is wearing a suit that easily cost $2,000 or more and Meadows is impeccable. Alexander Harbinger always looks distinguished and Mark T. Wayne might get away with his white flannels. But Lonny and his crew came straight from work at the diner. That guy still wears a greasy apron over a greasy undershirt. Then there’s Fred and his friends Big Bubba, old man Percy, and a couple of guys named Pete and Eugene—right off the street. And of course, Ludditis and me—I’ll leave that to your imagination.
A doorman wearing shoulder boards opens the huge glass entrance and stands at attention. He doesn’t blink an eye as we file past. Loop leads us to an elevator. “This one’s mine,” he says. The door opens to his key.
It whisks us straight to the penthouse.
It’s a strange feeling stepping off an elevator directly into somebody’s living room. Clamps, an 85-pound bull terrier, enthusiastically greets each of us in turn, then disappears somewhere in the recesses of the room, tail wagging. Turns out, Loop’s condo is the size of a furniture store. A fifteen-foot-tall Christmas tree graces the room with thousands of tiny white lights and the most amazing collection of individual Christmas ornaments. It’s flanked by piles of wrapped gifts. Somewhere off to the side, a Swing band plays loud and lively carols. Two blondes staff the bar and in no time, we’re all lounging on leather sofas singing along or listening to Mark T. Wayne tell ridiculous stories. Old Man Percy sleeps in his chair.
Putting up my feet, I lean back to enjoy the music for a while. Waiters rotate among the crowd balancing trays stacked with tall stems and tiny plates. Ludditis cracks walnuts with his biceps. He does that any time he gets a chance. Harbinger is the only one who sits military-straight, a plate balanced on a thigh, a shot of schnapps held between two fingers.
The Christmas Bash
Then a gorgeous buxom blonde, wrapped in a white towel, peeks out a door, bending low to best advantage. In a heavy Swedish accent, she beckons to us. Fred immediately floats toward her. I’m thinking that guy’s pretty quick on the uptake. Loop leans a hand on my shoulder. “Hilda gives real good Swedish massages,” he says. “And dis place’s got five hot tubs, all staffed.”
I look around and some of the other guests have already left to take advantage of the amenities.
The band plays Glenn Miller’s In the Mood. Lonny and Lucile, now changed to formal attire, dance and they soon work up an enthusiastic jitterbug. Kate surprises everybody by nicely filling out a slinky evening gown, bare back, neckline plunged to the waist, and Ludditis sweeps her away even if she’s sixty years younger. They can cut a rug, too. Lafonda, still in her waitress uniform, tugs Big Bill to the dance floor. They make a good couple—she’s nearly tall enough for him, and certainly adequate in girth.
I’m polishing off my third round of spiced eggnog-and-cognac, when Fred emerges from the bedroom scrubbed clean, looking relaxed from his massage, wearing a big grin and a dark Hart Shaffner Marx suit. If he’s Lonagan’s new secretary, he looks the part and then some. After another eggnog, Big Bubba plops down beside me, decked out in spanking new Carhartts and smelling like a flower garden. Amazing Loop had anything on hand big enough to fit him. Eugene shows up in camo pants and an Eddie Bauer chamois shirt. Loop says he can get these guys on the Bears roster. If not—he just shrugs.
Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth
Now Hilda and the other Swedish bombshells are packing the elevator, followed by a squad of haberdashers wheeling racks of clothing.
Pete sits with his drink, scrunched up, looking sour and desperately filthy. For some reason, Donatas Ludditis is angry with the guy, and he’s waving his powerful arms in wild gesticulations. Then the shouting starts. “You not want Swedish massage?” says Ludditis. “Why you not say? Why you not give this old man a chance? Now is too late! Look, they all go!”
Pete utters a viscous curse and Ludditis gives it back double. That cuts it and they’re at each other with bare knuckles.
In an amazing display of athletic prowess, Meadows grabs each by the shirt collar and hustles them to the elevator for its next trip down. That accomplished, he brushes his hands and coughs by way of getting our attention, then announces, “Dinner is served.”
Old Man Percy jogs awake.
We file into a baronial dining room. Loop must’ve scrounged the wood paneling from the Potter Palmer mansion. The table is huge with delicately carved legs, fat as tree trunks—the sideboard enormous—the artwork of questionable taste and probably not fit for polite company. I will not describe it here.
We sit down to an elegant setting, a waiter stationed behind each chair. Loop asks me to pray and I do. I thank the Lord for our meal, our companionship, and ask him to give everybody here the guts to rely on the One who paid it all because none of us will make it on our own steam. Lonagan is already fidgeting. Kren is clearly perturbed. A couple others look uncomfortable. But there are those at the table who echo my Amen.
Then the food comes and keeps coming. Pheasant, Duck, Goose with dressing and potatoes. Wine and exotic fruit. All the trimmings. This is game harvested by Lonagan himself. Yes, he belongs to a fancy hunt club. Owns it for all I know.
I’m happy to see Ludditis rejoin the party and we dig in with enthusiasm. I ask him what happened and he gives me a cryptic response: “He called plenty but chose few.” He gives no other explanation, but the words sound familiar.
After huge helpings of mincemeat pie and ice cream, Loop sets out a mahogany box of cigars. Fred taps a cigarette from a pack and three waiters snap expensive lighters to life. I stagger out to the showroom and select a big soft couch for a nap. Before I nod off, I hear Loop yell, “Presents everybody!” The band strikes up again and brings me pleasant dreams.
Late next morning, I say goodbye to Santa Claus and his long red Hummer. All is well and I’m content. And there’s still plenty of time to recover before for my family festivities get underway. But the rest of that crowd keeps it going till after the New Year.
Deep in my heart I utter a silent, Merry Christmas to Loop Lonagan.
For more on Loop Lonagan [click here]
Photography by John Jonelis except for Donatas Ludditis and Mark T Wayne
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