‘…this grotesque adventure is ours. We must live it.’ -Jean Anouilh
Before he was taken to look at the prison, Oral had thought that Joliet was maybe some girl out of a book, but then he’d never been to Illinois either until Frank suggested they drive out and visit his ex-wife Christie to see what they could get.
“The way I’m thinking is that she owes me. What with all she spent and never having to lift a finger.”
And so the two of them had gone across the bridge one September afternoon in Oral’s ’81 Regal, and hadn’t stopped until they reached Chicago.
Oral hadn’t thought too much about the trip, what with Frank sitting there with a little Seagrams between his legs and saying as how he was collecting on his savings was all, like she was an investment fund or something. The way Oral figured it, she must’ve been expecting a visit sometime and why shouldn’t he be in for his end? No reason. But things weren’t that simple.
To begin with, they’d been expecting something small, a modest place, where Christie might have put away a piece of Frank’s money the last time he’d been tumbled. Instead, they found themselves sitting outside a country club almost, with its own private gate and just a whole lot of driveway between them and the double oak front doors. The way Oral was thinking was that if you put together all the things Frank had stolen in his life they still wouldn’t add up to enough to buy more than room or two of a place like this.
“You’re sure this is right? ”
But Frank wasn’t saying anything, being as how he was thinking so hard, and mostly that although they weren’t near the water, this house looked an awful lot like his ship come rolling in.
“Oral, old buddy,” says Frank. “This is going to be more money than just for the weekend. A lot more.”
Well what happened then, and quickly, was that Frank without any kind of a plan at all, just moved up the driveway and started banging hard on the big front door. When it opened, and with Oral close in behind him, he already had his grimy .32 out and was pushing his way straight past the maid or house girl or whatever she was. This of course led to a certain amount of noise and confusion and before a moment had gone by Oral was watching Frank shoot his pistol into the ceiling and grab the little maid-girl around the throat. He was shouting “Everybody down in the hallway, right now, and you better not even think of holding out.”
Well, he got what he wanted, or most of it anyways. There’s Christie at the top of the stairs and way in front of her and coming down fast are two guys also shouting and then from a room off to one side, and way before Frank sees him, a very little guy in an all black suit leans out with a considerable-looking pistol of his own and with three booms he’s lays Frank out on the floor and the maid girl she gets shot also. The only difference between them in fact, both Frank and her tangled up in their heap on the floor, is that at least the girl is screaming about the big hole in her side, but Frank, he’s absolutely peaceful and will be until forever.
And this, in the short run, is what gets Oral thinking about the penitentiary at Joliet, which is a but few miles north of Romeoville.
And this, in the short run, is what gets Oral inside a Cadillac and looking at the penitentiary in Joliet, and also, and as a consequence of it all, how he first begins working for Mr. Rego Meringue, in a little town that’s somewhat to the south of there and known quite rightly as Romeoville.
About two minutes after Frank had been killed, and while the house maid, or whatever she’d been, was getting on her way to join him, Oral was already recovering from getting hit about the face with the other end of the little killer’s handgun.
It didn’t take too long for the whole story to come out, and although the guy who was doing the hitting was disappointed about that, Oral found himself tied closely to a chair and all alone in some kind of mud room which was made from cold tiles and had enough riding boots in it to open up a small store.
What happened next, and this was after a little while had gone by, was that Oral heard a car pulling up and some talking and then in walked Rego, all pissed-off looking and pretty tall into the bargain. Without much being said, Oral was untied and taken out into a garage and straight into the back of the Caddy. Rego was with him and a couple of other boys, all of them being big enough that it was pretty cozy in there by the time they got going. Oral tried a little conversation, but didn’t get much further than clearing his throat, before Rego shut him up with a shake of his head, and it must be said that Oral wasn’t feeling too good about his trip to Chicago, nor about his chances of getting through the rest of the evening.
“You know I’ve never blackmailed anyone. Not really anyways, not for something that wasn’t framed up or contrived. And I like the idea. It appeals to me.” This was what Rego said when they’d finally pulled over to a stop, outside the razor wire of the Joliet State Penitentiary.
“Now, for what you’ve done I could kill you, maybe should do at that. I could also turn you in, like any law-abiding citizen, and this is where’d you come to do hard time. Especially hard seeing as some of my closest friends are here amongst these walls. I want you to understand that you’re making me pick a tough choice here.”