"That's the story?"
"That's the story. Come on."
Jacobs opened the heavy metal door, painted red with a black-and-white goat. We walked down a greasy set of steps and into a Chicago legend.
The Billy Goat was more cave than tavern and was everything Royko and Belushi ever made it out to be. Four sets of Greek eyes watched as we walked through the door. Spatulas in hand, they started jabbering about cheeseburgers and chips even before we stepped up to the counter. The menu board was a mildewed version of yellow with black plastic letters, unevenly spaced and mostly misspelled. A cheeseburger cost three bucks. Everyone ordered a double, of course--mostly because it was only a buck extra. Also because that's what the guy behind the counter was making no matter what you ordered. Throw some onions and pickles on your double, then go sit at the elbow of the bar with the white linoleum top. Also known as the Wise Guys' Corner. Watch the regulars drink beer, talk about the mayor, the Bears, the Sox, Chicago. Then, now, forever. Leave the Billy Goat, walk the world for a year or two, and return. They'd still be there. Same guys, or ones just like them. Drinking a Billy Goat draft, light or dark. Rolling out the history of their city. Pushing at the past, pulling it into the present. Arguing and exaggerating. Preserving what's been and making it come to life again. All for the price of a drink and available seven days a week, in the home of the Goat.
"Double cheeseburger, Mr. Jacobs?"
The counterman knew my reporter friend, which wasn't a surprise. Jacobs ordered two double cheeseburgers, which wasn't much of a surprise either.
"Give me a couple bags of chips too," Jacobs said, and lifted a thumb my way. "He's paying."
The counterman winked and waved a spatula at me.
"Double cheese, sir?"
I nodded. We got our burgers, wrapped in wax paper, dressed them up with onions, pickles, and ketchup, and headed to the VIP section, a grouping of cracked brown tables, dimly lit and pushed together in the very back of the place. A little privacy. Apparently enough for Jacobs, anyway.
"What are you drinking?" he said.
I ordered a can of Bud. Jacobs got himself the house special, something called a Horny Goat, and took a furtive look around. Four tourists took pictures of one another at a table near the door. Other than that the place was empty, save for a drunk at the end of the bar who kept reciting the lineup for the 1984 Cubs to himself. Every time he came to Jody Davis, the guy took a hit on his beer, shook his head sadly, and ordered a shot of Old Grand-Dad. The bartender ignored him and the drunk lapsed back into his play-by-play.
"I think we're okay here, Fred."
"What is it you want, Kelly?"
All I knew about Johnny Woods was what I had learned from Janet. He was a control freak who liked to muscle his wife. Never touched his stepdaughter--not yet anyway--just liked to have a few drinks, come home, and punch the little woman around. All that plus one more thing. He worked downtown. On the fifth floor. For the mayor, John J. Wilson.
"Johnny Woods," I said. "What do you know about him?"
Jacobs took a bite of his burger and stirred a swizzle stick through his Horny Goat. One exercise of his Adam's apple and the drink was half gone. Jacobs wiped his lips with a napkin, finished off the rest of one burger, and pulled the second in front of him.
"Johnny Woods, huh?"
The reporter dug one paw into a sack of chips, filled his mouth, and began to crunch.
"He works for the mayor. Fifth Floor."
"I know that, Fred. What's he do there?"
"What the fuck do any of them do? Why you so interested?"
"It's a case, Fred. No news value. At least not yet."
I didn't see how this case could ever make it into the news, but keeping Fred Jacobs on a string was probably a good idea. Besides, I was paying for the Billy Goat feast so why not push it.
Excerpted from The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey Copyright © 2008 by Michael Harvey. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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