Saturday, June 20, 2015

GUEST POST: Suitcase Charlie by John Guzlowski

Suitcase Charlie by John Guzlowski

Title: Suitcase Charlie
Author: John Guzlowski
Genre: 1950's Historical Fiction Thriller
Length: 384 pages
Release Date: June 1, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1508975526

Synopsis: May 30, 1956.  Chicago

On a quite street corner in a working-class neighborhood of Holocaust survivors and refugees, the body of a little schoolboy is found in a suitcase.

He's naked and chopped up into small pieces.

The grisly crime is handed over to two detectives who carry their own personal burdens; Hank Purcell, a married WWII veteran, and his partner, a wise-cracking Jewish cop who loves trouble as much as he loves the bottle.

Their investigation leads them through the dark corners and mean streets of Chicago–as more and more suitcases begin appearing.

Based on the Schuessler-Peterson murders that terrorized Chicago in the 1950s.

There wasn’t any point in hurrying. By the time Hank Purcell and his partner Marvin Bondarowicz got there that night, they couldn’t even get close.
For a block in every direction, it was like a midnight cop convention. The new black-and-white squad cars, with their red lights twirling and lighting up the darkness, were scattered along all the streets leading to the intersection, and a mob of detectives and uniform cops were there, some standing around sweating in the heat, others swarming and going nowhere.
Hank couldn’t imagine what the beef was, why they’d need so many cops. But he had to park the car, so he drove down Rockwell toward Division and finally double-parked a couple blocks south of where the action was. Then he and Marvin started hoofing it back.
When they finally got to the intersection, it was cordoned off.
Hank pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped his face,and looked around. Yellow police barricades kept the folks who were still awake out of the intersection and on the sidewalks. It was quite a crowd. At the White Eagle Tap, the corner Polack bar,the drunks and third-shift drinkers stood in the doorway, watching the commotion; some had beer bottles in their hands. Kids were sitting on the barricades, craning their necks and bopping up and down to see what was up. The windows in the apartment buildings fronting three of the corners had a few lookers in them, old guys watching and smoking, young girls and women in bathrobes and curlers.
Rubber neckers. Lookie Loos.
Hank wasn’t surprised. He’d seen crowds like this before. At accidents and fires, shootings even. What surprised Hank was that there wasn’t a lot of talking or shouting here. Even when they were pulling bodies out of flipped taxis and burning buses, you could hear some kind of yakking, shouting, crying, moaning even. But there wasn’t anything like that here. All Hank could hear was a low buzz, the kind of human hum he remembered hearing at the ball field when the Cubs were losing, or maybe at a church when the priest was trying to talk the congregation into donating more money so their souls wouldn’t scorch so long in hell. It was that kind of buzz.
Hank wiped the sweat off his neck with his handkerchief and tried to figure out what was going on. Some cops were coming in;some were going out. A darkened ambulance with its back doors swung wide open stood off about twenty feet down Evergreen Street. Three medics stood with their backs to him, but there was enough light from a streetlamp so Hank could see they were smoking. Their heads were together; they were probably talking too.
At the northwest corner where the nuns’ convent stood, Hank saw a half a dozen cops, officers and detectives mostly. They were clustered around something. He spotted his boss, Lieutenant Frank O’Herlihy, on the outskirts of the bunch and poked Marvin’s shoulder.
“Come on.” Hank started across the street, and Marvin followed.
Captain Feltt from the 5th Division, Shakespeare Station, was talking. Hank saw him jerking his head and yammering. The rest of the brass were listening. Feltt was worked up, agitated like he’d just got demoted or shifted over to one of the colored police precincts down on the south side of Chicago, in the Bronzeville section. Hank eased next to him and listened.
Feltt was blabbering the stuff cops always blabber, “Jesus Christ, we’ll get the son-of-a-bitch bastard.” Then Captain Feltt stopped jerking his head and looked down at the sidewalk.
Hank followed his eyes. A brown suitcase lay open on the sidewalk at the Captain’s feet. There was something in it, but Hank couldn’t tell what it was. The shadows of the detectives and the uniform cops clustered around made it difficult for him to figure it out. He wanted to ask but didn’t. Instead, he leaned a little closer and inched his head forward.
Then, he wished he hadn’t.
Hank spun around and threw up into the gutter. The beer he had with Marvin in the alley a while ago was the first to go. Flat and raw, it came up hard. The acid at the bottom of his stomach poured up next, quick as a flush toilet, all hot and burning and twisting his stomach. It was doing what it wanted to do. It churned and brought up just about everything Hank had left in him that wasn’t tied to his insides. Bent over, his hands on his knees, he started coughing and tried to spit the acid out of his mouth and throat.
Marvin was next to him then, holding Hank by his shoulders,steadying him, as his lungs kept hacking and his head kept jerking.
Marvin whispered, “What the hell, Hank, what the hell?”
Hank didn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything. He tried to clear his throat, and he couldn’t do that either. He threw up some more of whatever was left in his guts. Finally, he stood up a little straighter and used his sweat-damp handkerchief to wipe the vomit from his mouth and hands.
“There’s a dead kid in the suitcase,” Hank said.
“A dead kid? You’re crazy, man,” Marvin said as he turned around slowly.
Hank followed him back to the suitcase. Some of the cops had drifted away while he was puking. Others had come up to take their place. Everybody had to take a good, solid look. Get an eyeful. Like there was something here that nobody had ever seen before, some kind of evil that was one-of-a-kind, fresh, and original down to its buttons.
The suitcase was light brown, used but not old, and it wasn’t very large, about two feet by three feet. Big enough to hold a child.
And now Hank could see what he couldn’t see before. The kid in it was a boy not a girl. Hank could tell because the kid was naked: not a stitch of clothes on, and his body was twisted. Arms,feet, shoulders, hands—all twisted up like clean rags. The bones had been broken or chopped up before the body had been shoved into the suitcase. Hank could see that the left foot was pressed against the chin. The head was turned face up, and the right shoulder was placed so that it pointed away from the head.
Hank looked at the boy’s face now. His eyes were staring straight up at him. The mouth hung open in a funny way. Before he stuck the boy in the suitcase, the killer must have broken his jaw.Broken his jaw and drained the blood out of the poor kid. The child was yellow – his face, his feet, his hands, all yellow, the color you get when there’s no blood to keep you alive and pink.
The kid looked like a baby bird that had fallen from a nest in a high tree, a baby bird without feathers.
Hank couldn’t turn away.
“Jesus,” Marvin said as he stared down at the dead child.
Captain Feltt looked at him. “Yeah, Jesus Christ. You gonna puke too, like your pussy friend here?”
Marvin couldn’t say anything except, “Jesus Christ.”
Hank stared some more at the kid in the suitcase and shook his head. He wanted to know why all of the cops were standing around staring at the kid. What kind of sense did that make? They should be out tracking down the killer, pounding him when they found him. Smashing bricks against his head, shoving iron pipes up his ass. He looked at Lieutenant O’Herlihy, his boss. “What do you want us to do?”
O’Herlihy looked at him and said, “Fuck,” and then he didn’t say anything more for a long time.
Hank knew the lieutenant. He was a good man, clean like a boy scout, a church-loving Roman Catholic. He was like the old broads at St. Fidelis up the street who sat in the back pews and mumbled over their rosary beads, a guy who took any kind of looseness as an insult before God, his personal Father. O’Herlihy didn’t appreciate cursing.
So his “fuck” hung in the air between the three men and echoed like a woman’s scream in the dark, repeating itself over and over in pain.
Then the lieutenant shook his head and said, “You know the neighborhood here, Hank. Start talking to people. See if they saw anything tonight. It was hot, so there were lots of people out. See if anybody saw a guy carrying this brown suitcase.”
Hank nodded.
“And when you find him, I want you to hurt him.”
Hank nodded again.
“We’ll hurt him.”


Born in a refugee camp after World War II, John Guzlowski came with his family to the United States as a Displaced Person in 1951. His parents had been Polish slave laborers in Nazi Germany. Growing up in the immigrant and refugee neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, he met hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead comrades, and women who had walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians. His poetry, fiction, and essays try to remember them and their voices.

His poems also remember his parents, who survived their slave labor experiences in Nazi Germany. A number of these poems appear in his books Language of Mules, Lightning and Ashes (Steel Toe Books), and Third Winter of War: Buchenwald (Finishing Line Press).

Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz, reviewing the Polish translation of Language of Mules, for the journal Tygodnik Powszechny, said, “This volume astonished me.”



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