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THE FACEOFF

Rocco SpumoniVERBATIM – from a recording by Bill Blaire and Jim Kren. Transcribed and formatted by Janet Case.

[Begin Recording]

“You know I ain’t got no time to waste readin’.” Bill Blaire’s tall beefy frame towers over Jim Kren’s desk at the Chicago Venture Magazine offices and his huge fists are clenched. “Then I gets blindsided,” he says. “Big-time. Pierce O’Shea reads that article to the boys—out loud, real loud, hamming it up—and they laugh me outa the bar.” He pauses. “So what you findin’ so funny, smart guy?”

Jim’s eyes are closed and he’s quietly chuckling. Finally he wipes the tears away with a sleeve and chokes out a few words. “Slow down Bill.” He clears his throat. “You’re almost entirely incoherent when you get excited.”

“Shuttup you scrawny SOB. Doncha use them thee dollar words on me.”

“Jim smiles. “You’re not stuttering yet. That makes you upset, not angry. Your feelings are hurt. Is that why you’re here? For a shoulder to cry on?”

“Shut yer face. Yer makin’ me out some kinda soft-headed idjut.”

“Nobody called you soft-headed.”

“Funny guy. From now on, clean up my talk when ya print it ‘steada havin’ yer seckertary copy exactly what I sez the way I sez it, you lazy good for nothing’—”

“Impossible.  This series is called Verbatim, and that’s what it is—Verbatim.”

“I told you—quit with the three dollar words.”

Jim sighs.  “Stop the big act, will you Bill?  You can’t fool me.  Your vocabulary isn’t any weaker than your biceps.  But whenever you get over-excited, you talk like you never saw third grade.  So if you want clean copy, bring down your blood pressure and clean up your mouth.  If it takes a couple drinks, okay.  I can’t make your report sound pretty just to salve your ego.  John would fire me the first time I tried it.  I’m supposed to print what you say.”

“Here—take yer stinkin’ MP3 player and shove it—you know where.”

Jim takes the recorder and examines it.  “Just for my personal interest, let’s get more specific.  Where exactly would you suggest I shove this thing, Bill?”

Bill glares at him, then shows a set of yellow teeth.  “I got somthin’ you oughta hear about.  After Pierce mocks me to the boys, Rocco follows me outa the bar and lays out a sweet deal.  Says he’ll make this whole problem go away—permanent like.  And he gives me a good price.”

“Bill, are you threatening me?”

A pause.  Still standing, Bill looks at his two massive fists as if surprised they’re balled in anger.  “Well, yeah.”  He squints at Jim.  “Cancha tell?”

“I’m disappointed to hear you take that tone.  That Pierce O’Shea mob is nothing more than a pile of dirt–and that’s putting it nicely.  Hell, it’s probably the fifth alias I’ve heard Fingers O’Hanrahan smear around.  And that’s not his real name either.  The guy’s not even Irish.  He stole that name to make himself sound highbrow.  And Rocco Spumoni is an outright hoodlum.  It’s a violation of your parole, hanging around known felons.  You’re not in the unions any more.   I hook you up with a high-grade crowd and what do you do?   You embarrass me.  You’re with a top-flight company here.  Don’t mix with the mobs.  Hell, if you want to intimidate people, you don’t need any help—your physical presence is enough to scare most anybody.  And if that isn’t enough, look at your face.  That’s what made you such a good boilermaker superintendent.  That’s what made you such a good union contractor where others failed and still fail.”   Jim picks up the MP3 player and turns it over in his hands.  “Hey—this thing’s still on.  I think I’ll—”

[End Recording]

Bean's Spumoni Ice Cream

[Next recording]

Bill squints down at Jim.  “What da hell did ya do to that thing?”

“Put in a fresh flash card.”  Jim pats his shirt pocket.  “I’ll just keep the old one for a while and make some copies.  What do you suppose will happen if the DA hears it?  Could mean a cozy new home for you, pal—in an orange suit.  I don’t think I’ll be hearing from Rocco and the gang any time soon, either.  When I print this, maybe they’ll come after you instead.  Hey Bill—Bill, you’re turning purple—don’t bust a blood vessel.  Here.”  Jim pulls a bottle of single malt from his desk, pours three fingers and slides the glass across.  “Park yourself.”

Bill drops into a big soft chair and swills the whiskey in one gulp then licks his lips.  “You just make me mad is all.”

“You’re still not stuttering, so I think I’m safe.  But you lay one of those sausage-sized fingers on me and you’ll regret it.  Listen.  You have no idea why you’re so valuable.  Let me spell it out for you.  You’re big, right?  Real big.  A scary retired boilermaker out of the bowels of Local 1.  Now you traded in your coveralls and always wear the same cheap blue sport jacket.  Looks like it’s going on five years without a pressing.  You shoot your mouth off and never hold anything back.  But even so, you’re not banned from any meetings like that guy Rong Mayhem, and you’re actually a lot worse than he is.”

“That don’t sound nice, Jimbo.”

“I’m not done yet. That means you found a place with these people. They respect you just the way you are. And nobody can intimidate you. Your slant on these new ventures is completely unbiased. You never get swayed by the crowd. You’re intelligent—maybe cunning is a better word—but you hide it and hide it well, so people tell you things they might hold back from the others. You know business. Since you gave up the tools, you made a success as a contractor then sold out for big money so now you’re on the loose as a qualified investor. That gets you invited to all the best events. Besides all that you’ve got an instinct for picking winners. You’re a natural, Bill. You’re in your niche. I can’t afford to lose you.” Jim slides the MP3 player across the desk. “Here, take your recorder. It’s all ready to go. Get out there and give me your best, just like you always do. Stop some place and get your head together so you can speak more like a gentleman. But stay away from that Pierce O’Shea bar. He tosses a set of keys and Bill snags them with a big mitt. “Use the Mercedes. Pick up John on the way out.”

“You want I should pick up Mr. Jonelis? What’s he need me for? It’s his school. I never got no MBA.”

“Multiple events, Bill. Last time I checked John can cover only one at a time. And don’t give him any lip. He gave you this chance because he saw something of value in you. Don’t screw that up. You’ve got three assignments—reporter, chauffeur, bodyguard.”

Bill tilts the glass again to capture the last drop of single malt then slammed it down on the desk. “Okay Jim, I tries it one more time.”

[End recording]

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