John McEvoy John McEvoy
Close Call by John McEvoy

Chapter One

When his cell phone rang, Jack Doyle had just slipped his silver Accord onto the Kennedy Expressway at Ohio Street and begun his trip to Monee Park, the aged thoroughbred racetrack located some twenty miles south of Chicago's Loop. The early morning traffic began to thicken in front of him, then coagulated into a bumper-to-bumper morass of frustrated drivers. A weak late March sun had given up its attempt to pierce the city haze.

"Doyle here," he said, guiding the Accord into the left lane so that it wasn't completely surrounded by air-braking trucks and impatient grain traders and stock brokers trying to gun their expensive autos closer to the Jackson Street exit.

"I'm calling to wish you well on the first day of your new job," said the familiar voice of Moe Kellman. Doyle smiled. "Don't jive me, Moe. You're calling to see if I'm punctually on my way to work."

"Jack, Jack, how little you respect my opinion of you. I just thought I'd give you a buzz on my way to the club."

Doyle pictured the diminutive, sixty-eight year old Kellman, with his Don King-like head of frizzed white hair, sitting in the back seat of his chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car, tying the laces of his New Balance cross trainers as he neared Fit City. Kellman, reputed to be Chicago's "furrier to the Mob," had a daily workout regimen from which he never varied. He and Doyle had first met three years earlier at Fit City, the popular downtown health club.

Doyle said, "All right, Moe. Thanks for the call. Dinner tomorrow? Sure. I know you've got my best interests in mind. Most of the time," he added, before quickly cutting the connection.

Doyle put the phone down and reached for the radio dial. He turned on 90.9 FM, his favorite local jazz station. Disc jockey Bruce Burnett was promising an upcoming set that would include offerings from John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn, the Kelly Brand Sextet, and Nicholas Payton. That was fine with Doyle, and he began to relax, accepting the jerky rhythm of the rush hour drive as he passed underneath the Eisenhower Expressway.

Nicholas Payton kicked off the WDCB set with "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans." Hearing the bold, round sound of Payton's trumpet, Doyle recalled the memorable night nearly eighteen years earlier when he had wandered into a Crescent City jazz club in the middle of a rousing jam session involving local musicians. Tired from a day spent with representatives of one of his firm's major marketing accounts, Doyle had felt himself revive as the wave of vibrant music rolled through the brick-walled room. After forty-five minutes or so, in a break between songs, the session's leader motioned toward the rear of the large room. Doyle saw a fresh faced, stocky, African-American youngster spring to his feet, a trumpet in his hand. He was wearing a Hawaiian shir,t a gray cloth cap, and an eager look. The cap reminded Doyle of the one worn by one of Doyle's mother's favorite television characters, Jackie Gleason's the Poor Soul. The men that the youngster joined on the grandstand were all many years older and all wore suits and ties over glistening dress shirts.

Any suggested connection to Gleason's Poor Soul was soon washed away when the young man stepped to the microphone, waited respectfully for his signal from the leader, and proceeded to blow the paint off the ceiling. The crowd was stunned by this awesome display of talent, many of them getting to their feet, looks of amazement and delight on their faces. When the set concluded a half-hour later, Doyle said to his waitress, "Who was that?"

"They tell me his name is Payton. Nicholas, I think they said. He's just turned sixteen. He's sure got it, don't he?"

"Could it have been that many years ago?" Doyle muttered to himself. Having recently turned forty-two, he sometimes found it hard to believe that such vivid scenes in his life were nestled so far back in the paStreet Details of his two failed marriages were less clear in his mind, he thought, and a good thing, too.

A white panel truck with the red logo "Smithereens Pest Control" shifted over one lane, leaving Doyle behind a red Saturn. He could see a small woman at its wheel. The Saturn's bumper was completely covered with slogans. As traffic slowed again Doyle read, from left to right, Who Would Jesus Bomb?"\É Keep Your Theology Off My BiologyÉMy Kid Brother Sells His Term Papers to Your Honor Student. The last one made Doyle laugh out loud. Then he had to slam on his brakes as a hulking black SUV cut sharply in front of him. Doyle's Accord stopped about the width of a slice of prosciutto from the vehicular mastodon in front of it. Doyle could see the SUV's driver shaking his fist and pounding his horn. "What the hell is he honking at?" Doyle said. "Asshole. He's the one who cut over." The SUV's two bumper stickers were in sharp contrast to those on the red Saturn. One read, Put Christ Back Into Christmas, the other Abortion: Murder of the Innocent. The SUV driver kept banging on his horn for another block.

South of White Sox Park at Thirty-fifth Street, traffic again jammed up. Creeping along now, checking his dashboard clock, Doyle tapped the steering wheel impatiently. He hated being late for anything, much less a new job. A little rim of sweat began to invade the top of his forehead.

Nearing Fifty-seventh Street, the SUV stopped suddenly. Doyle was ready for it this time, but he heard the sound of metal on metal from in front of him. "He must have bumped the red car," Doyle said to himself. Almost immediately, Doyle saw the Saturn pull off onto the left shoulder. Its rear end looked as if it had been sledge hammered. The SUV followed the Saturn, horn blasting away again. Doyle swore aloud as he saw the SUV driver fling open his door. "Uh oh," Doyle said. He started his own hazard lights flashing and eased the Accord onto the shoulder back of the SUV. He didn't like the looks of this.

Doyle saw the driver of the SUV lumber down from his perch. He was a medium tall, overweight white man, about Doyle's age, wearing khaki wash pants, a white sweatshirt declaring him to be a Bob Jones U. Parent, and a look of rage. Even his spiky black buzz cut seemed to be atingle. He moved toward the red Saturn, out of which stepped a short, slim young woman. She had on a tan sweater, brown slacks, and a look of bafflement on her pale face. Before he'd gotten his door completely open, Doyle could hear the Fat Man berating her in a voice that carried over the now resumed Dan Ryan traffic flow.

"Bitch! Why'd you stop that little tin can right in front of me?" Fat Man bellowed. "Shouldn't be allowed on the road, the way you drive."

The young woman bristled, color returning to her face. She said, "If you knew how to handle that big, ugly gas guzzler you wouldn't have rammed into me. You were following too closely. What were you thinking?"

Doyle walked up to where the two were standing now, face to face, Fat Man's complexion having taken on a Heinz 57 hue. He looked like he was either going to slap or belly bump the young woman. Doyle stepped between them. Fat Man, startled, snarled, "Who the hell are you?"

At just under six feet, Doyle was taller than Fat Man, who looked like a one-time high school tackle who had extensively padded his frame with Krispy Kremes, Whoppers, and long necks in the ensuing years. His gut stretched the size XXX gray sweatshirt. His meaty hands were bunched into fists.

Doyle spoke loud enough to be heard over the whooshing sound of passing vehicles. "Listen up, Orca, never mind who I am. Just back off until you can get a sheriff's patrol over here to sort this out. You got a cell phone?"

It took Fat Man several seconds to process what Doyle had said. Then he lunged forward and threw a wild right hand that Doyle dodged easily, the Fat Man stumbling past him after his miss. "You don't want to be doing this," Doyle warned. "Now, just calm down and you two can get this straightened out." He glanced at the young woman just as Fat Man let go with another right cross. This one missed by only a couple of inches as Doyle pivoted and ducked. Doyle said, "Mister, you know where you are here? You're out of your goddam element." Fat Man swore loudly. He was starting to get a little bit out of breath already, but his rage propelled him forward again. Doyle sighed, looked resignedly at the young woman, and shrugged. "How did this nitwit get any of his progeny into a university?" he said to her, before turning back to face the onrushing Fat Man.

I don't want to break a knuckle on that bowling ball head, Doyle thought as he got up on the balls of his feet. Seeing Doyle with his fists up, jaw tucked into his left shoulder, shuffling toward him, Fat Man momentarily hesitated. Doyle threw a stiff jab that turned Fat Man's nose sideways, then paused for a second before letting go with a lazy right hand designed to draw attention. Fat Man lifted his hands to protect his face. Doyle stepped in close to Fat Man and quickly hammered three left hooks under the right rib cage, the preferred target area of Doyle's favorite fighter, Julio Cesar Chavez, the Mexican champion renowned for his punishing kidney punches. Doyle's fist dug wrist deep into the layers of flab. Fat Man let out a girlish scream as he fell onto his side.

There was the sound of a distant siren. Doyle said to the wide-eyed young woman, "He won't bother you. The cops are on their way. I'm out of here."

She looked almost as stunned as the fallen Fat Man. She backed away from Doyle. "Are you a boxer?"

Doyle smiled. "Was once," he said. "Until I ran out of people I could beat, and started running into a whole bunch that I couldn't."

She smiled slightly at that before saying, "Well, thanks a lot for keeping that creep away from me. It's your good turn, at least for today."

"Oh, I imagine it'll be for more than today," Doyle smiled. "I don't think they'd find much Ôdo gooder' in my DNA. It's just that I've never been able to put up with the kind of bully lying over there." Fat Man glowered back at Doyle, but remained sitting on the pavement.

Doyle waved without looking back at her as he turned and hurried to his car, got in, then zipped down the expressway, heading south, not wanting to be late for work.

The morning haze had lifted and the March sun was now a visible presence. Doyle felt pumped. He grinned at himself in the mirror, feeling good in the way he'd felt more than twenty years before, when he was still a factor in AAU boxing. The young woman he'd helped back there certainly wouldn't report him for coming to her aid, and he knew Fatso was too bleary from punches to spot Doyle's rapidly receding license plate. "Doyle to the rescue," he said in a mocking voice, not really understanding the surge of exhilaration he felt, but riding it anyway.


End of Chapter One. Want to read more?

Close Call is available from Poisoned Pen Press, Amazon, and other major bookstores.

 


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