The Roaring Twenties lived up to their name in Chicago.
Prohibition was a joke, and being an honest cop was tough going. Illegal alcohol was readily supplied by the mobs that brewed it and sold it through their speakeasies. These liquor outlets got their name from drinkers’ need to “speak easy,” or quietly, to gain access at the doorways that were always closed to the general public.
Mobsters stretched their financial tentacles wide and high. Right up through city authorities and senior law-enforcement officials; and even to the judges who compounded blind justice with personal deafness to any pleas from those who had crossed the mobs.
As police, we knew there were two major players: Bugs Moran’s Irish thugs on the Northside; and the Sicilians on the Southside, who were run by “Scarface” Alphonse Capone.
Inside the downtown overhead railway circuit, which everybody calls The Loop, an uneasy demilitarised zone struggled for survival between these two rival forces. Yet unbeknown to the Windy City’s respectable businesses and emporiums, a secret network of tunnels and playrooms trailed along beneath a dozen or more city blocks. These tunnels meant escape for mobsters, flunkeys and clients; whenever we raided any suspect premises. They also ensured that the narcotics rings, protection rackets and prostitution could continue unabated. The fact that this network was only revealed years later attests to the scope of the corruption.
Members of Capone’s entourage were conspicuous for their elegantly-tailored suits, their fancy ties and the distinctive black bands on their felt Homburg hats. A first glance indicated legitimate business, but an almost-tangible aura of menace pervaded the atmosphere whenever they approached. This aura was amplified by their trigger-happy cocksureness and the subservience among those who waited on them.
Capone’s reputation as a generous tipper only increased the servile competitiveness between hotel managers, bellhops, waitresses and maîtres de whenever he graced their establishments. But from among his many dark attributes, my investigations have invented a surprisingly sensitive side to his generosity. He employed two personal chefs who were mute. Maybe he wanted people who could not answer back, but this gesture enhanced his reputation.
However these two chefs became tainted by their environment; a truth that only emerged for me on the afternoon I happened to call by at Papa Luigi’s Spaghetti Deli.
Papa Luigi was new to town, and he had quickly established a loyal clientele among other southern Italian immigrants. Word got around the force about the hefty discounts he offered us cops, but he became a legend for providing meals gratis for impoverished new arrivals. Yet when they’d got on their feet and could repay their debts; he could never recall what they owed him, so they began privately referring to Luigi’s “Forghetti” Deli.
His openheartedness dismissed reports about Capone’s notoriety, as he preferred to judge people for himself. So, hoping that his shared Sicilian roots with Capone might increase his clientele, he mailed him a menu, offering a complimentary banquet “for Mr Capone and all his friends.”
Capone had duly accepted; so for the whole afternoon before their expected arrival time, Luigi added so many authentic Sicilian touches to his dining room that he began to feel homesick himself. But then, as he bustled through the swinging saloon doors to the kitchen, he found that four unsmiling henchmen had already arrived; with Capone’s two mute chefs.
Ordering Luigi to leave, they produced another persuasive Capone trademark: raised tommy-guns to silence his feeble protests. One of the mutes snatched up a paper napkin, quickly scrawled on it, and disdainfully thrust it towards him.
Tentatively, Luigi took the napkin and read its terse message; which underlined the malice of the artillery that was trained on him; and he had no course but to leave.
An hour later, as I approached his Deli, I noticed him sitting at his doorstep; not so heavily-disguised as Exhibit A in a case for disillusionment as he held the napkin.
I had to ask: “Hey Luigi, why so sad?”
Silent fear filled his eyes, and he robotically raised the napkin to me.
As I scanned its contents, the arrogance was all too clear...
And what did it say?
“WE ARRANGE AL’S FEED”- it read.
Author’s advice - or apology if you prefer: The background details are true; though Luigi and Capone’s chefs are both contrived as lead-ins to an awful closing pun-chline. It may be helpful to read the last sentence aloud - which you are freely aloud to do – a few times to clear any perplexity.
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