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Left-Handed Compliment

When you're getting too old for the job,

Count on The Gutter to put things into perspective.

Left-Handed Compliment by Gregory Von Dare



The problem with Chicago is not the smell, it’s the climate. Although, if you lived along Halstead Street in the neighborhood that used to contain the vast Chicago Stockyards, a hot August day could be so ripe and pungent it would make your eyes water. People in the city and nearby suburbs often say: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.” How true. Wedged between the Great Plains and the Great Lakes, Chicago has an uncertain atmosphere.

Sadly, over the long haul, those cold, damp, windy days destroy your body with rheumatism and arthritis. My mother had knuckles like walnuts by the time she retired. On the day before a big rainstorm, the over-fifty crowd walks around moaning and rubbing their shoulders, wrists, elbows, and knees. Because it affects just about everyone, it fades into the background. But it can tip the scales in certain situations. For example, take Marcelo “Mano” Amano, a notorious contract killer from the 1950s.

Amano was known for his unique MO, called “the handshake.” He was a short, wide guy with no neck, squinted eyes behind horn-rim glasses, and a thin, rubbery mouth. He favored a black pork-pie hat and a dark gray rain coat. Mano would walk up to his victim, grinning and friendly, greet them, and stick out his hand, ready to shake. Like a magic trick, the victims always looked at Mano’s offered right hand, missing the stiletto he held in his left.

While Mano had his mark’s right hand in a vice-grip, he would pull them close and plunge the knife into their rib cage from the back, either directly into the heart or piercing some of the big arteries there. Mano would leave the knife in his victim as kind of a signature. He would wipe it off with a hanky, let them slide down to the ground, and simply walk away. I guess he got the knives wholesale.

Mano was one of the old-school gangsters who lived in the big Italian neighborhood off Taylor Street. The same area they bulldozed many years later to build the university campus. He had a very long run for someone in his chosen field. When he turned sixty-five, he planned one last hit before scramming down to Florida, but things did not go according to plan. Mano was supposed to hit Sean “Concrete” Kelly, an O’Banion mob guy and sleazy building contractor. Kelly was about thirty years younger and built like a rodeo bull.

Rolling black clouds darkened the skies when Mano learned that Concrete Kelly would be at a job site in Cicero that morning, where they were enlarging a shopping mall. So, he parked his old Buick across the street, put the knife in his left hand, and got out of the car, all smiles. He saw the big, broad-shouldered Kelly standing next to a churning cement truck and walked in that direction, grinning and whistling a happy tune like he always did. Out went his right hand as he stepped up to Kelly, but then things ran off the rails. Yeah, Kelly took Mano’s right hand in his own but he gripped it so hard that Mano’s arthritis sent a jolt of pain up one arm and down the other. It hurt him enough that he dropped his trusty knife.

Not realizing it, Mano tried to stab Kelly with his empty left hand and that just made “Concrete” mad. He punched Mano in the face, now realizing what the visit was all about. With his Irish up, Kelly lifted the short Italian off the ground and tossed him down fifteen-feet, into a pool of wet cement pouring into a casing for the mall’s foundation. Mano had a look of complete shock and disbelief on his face as the sticky gray cement covered him over. Police could find no witnesses.

There are people who claim this episode gave someone the idea to pull a similar stunt on Jimmy Hoffa years later. Whether or not this is true, I can’t say. But I will tell you that, like “Mano” Amano, Hoffa’s arthritis is not bothering him anymore.

Gregory Von Dare is a writer and dramatist specializing in crime and speculative fiction, often with a humorous or ironic twist. He attended Chicago City College and the University of Illinois. While living in Los Angeles, he worked for Universal Studios, Disney, and Sony Pictures as a talent manager and developer. He studied writing with Edgar winner John Morgan Wilson. Recently, his short stories were featured on the Soft Cartel and Horror Tree websites. Greg is an Affiliate Member of Mystery Writers of America. He lives outside Chicago where certain people will never find him.