I was wakened about 3 a.m. The voice came from the kitchen. I rose, closed the bedroom door quietly behind me, and started to reach for the wall switch. Simultaneously I noticed a strange glow of sufficient strength to find my way, and a voice hiss, “Lights stay out.”
The latter annoyed me. “This is my house.”
“Not while Hizzoner’s in it, it ain’t,” the voice hissed in a familiar accent.
In May I wrote about a seance I had arranged. With corruption so rife in Indianapolis with Mayor Ballard’s “pay-to-play” system, I had wanted to talk with an expert on corruption. Richard J. Daley, served as Mayor of Chicago from 1955 until he died in office—literally, behind his desk—in 1975. Daley’s son also was Chicago’s mayor until a few years ago. Daley II was corrupt, but Daley I was brilliant. In corruption, Daley I is to Daley II as—well, Dale Earnardt is to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., or Bobby Knight is to Pat Knight.
I had arranged the previous seance through a medium I had found on the west side. I had made no arrangements for a follow-up. I was led through the kitchen and into the dining room where a chubby specter sat at the head of the table. There was no candle as there had been before. Neither was there a medium.
“The appearance fee,” the gruff voice that had wakened me now hissed.
“For what? I didn’t ask to talk with the Mayor.”
I felt a light punch to my ribs. “He’s da Mayor, not ‘the’ Mayor.” There was a pause before the voice asked, suspiciously, “You lived in Chicago, right?”
“Fuggin’ A I did,” I replied, and added, “jag-off.”
There was a grunt from across the room, and the chubby specter said, “We’ll waive the fee—this one time. Have a seat.” I sat. Hizzoner looked like he had looked in the prime of life, jowled and menacing. “There are developments in this town that bother me.”
“What ‘developments’?” I asked. “And this is a City—the Circle City.”
He laughed, and was joined by the gruff voice and a couple of other voices whose owners I could not see. “That’s nice. ‘Circle City,” da Mayor reflected. His tone turned serious. “But you people are starting to make me angry.”
“Wait,” I said. “You’re dead. I know I summoned you in a seance, but how did you...”
“My people,” he explained, “have the resources. They tracked down how to reverse the process. You were the smarty-guy who wanted to talk to me a few months back. Turnabout is fair play.”
He was right. Besides, he had waived his fee. “Why are you angry?”
“The mayor of your town is making Chicago look silly.” Hizzoner’s voice was strained. “The proposed criminal justice center. When I heard about how your mayor has set up the trough for all his donors to benefit, I wondered why we hadn’t done the same in Chicago, like when I was in office. He seemed to address the unseen specters. “Remember when we had the permit system set up to build Sears Tower?” There were murmurs of approval from a sort of mist that hung in the room.
“It’s not called ‘Sears Tower’ anymore,” I informed him. “It’s called the Willis Tower.”
“Now you’re just tryin’ to piss me off,” Hizzoner said. “Anyway, your mayor has lined up sweetheart deals on a lotta things, but this justice center takes the cake.”
“Why does that make you angry?”
“Chicago is the place to which the people of the nation turn for examples of corruption. Not Indianapolis.” His anger, unlike his corporeal presence, was real. “You guys have a contract with a traffic light company. The company rigs the lights so people get tickets. Brilliant! Chicago had the same company, but the dumbass mayor voided it somehow. And you got all these slush funds! What? TIPS?”
“No,” I corrected him. “‘TIFs.’ That stands for ‘Tax Increment Financing...’”
“Whatever,” Hizzoner cut me off.
“They were invented in California, but your son brought them to Chicago.” Da Mayor’s face brightened. “As I understand it, the TIFs in Chicago were like a floating slush fund. They’ve devastated Chicago’s funding structure.”
He nodded as he smiled. “I never thought he had it in him.”
“Why else is Indianapolis making you angry?” I asked.
“The way the corruption’s out in the open,” da Mayor replied. “And the way your mayor is so obvious.”
“I thought ‘open’ and ‘obvious’ sort of go hand in hand,” I said.
“I mean about what he’s doin’. He’s lined up all these plans to loot your town. And it’s when he’s got one foot outta the door. A corrupt mayor leaves office only for two reasons—prison or death.”
“What about ‘losing an election’?” I suggested. There again were chuckles in the room.
“A corrupt mayor don’t lose elections,” Hizzoner informed me. “But this criminal justice center—there’s contracts people’s got to lobby for your mayor to convince your city council to vote for it. Dat’s a mayor’s job! He’s farmed out nearly everything to other people. I’ll tell you this—” and the specter of the deceased Mayor leaned toward me. “He gives any self-respecting corrupt public official a bad name. The way he’s going, he’ll be fifty or sixty mil in the black and living in a mansion in Barbados this time in 2016. He’s taking the title of ‘Corrupt City’ from Chicago and putting it on a big town.”
“Why did you contact me?” I asked.
“Our sources are limited. We only get limited internet. But we’re in litigation over that.”
“There’s litigation in heaven?” I asked. My question was met with more laughter.
“In heaven we ain’t,” Hizzoner said with a smirk. “We got venue switched over to Hell. And the litigation ain’t gonna last long. Where the other side lives, they got no lawyers who’ll litigate against us.” Again there was more laughter. “You can go back to sleep now. You gave me a buncha information. Indianapolis is at the forefront.”
“You mean of economic development?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“No—corruption. They are as corrupt as hell, but in the open about it. I only used cut-outs. Like I said before, Indianapolis sounds like paradise. I might come back when I have more questions for you.”
I heard a hiss and Little Bit, the smartest cat in the world, had walked into the dining room and stood a few feet from Hizzoner, who jumped a bit.
“Didn’t know you have cats. They kinda have a power over people like me,” he said.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, but, just like that, Mayor Richard J. Daley was gone, still amazed by corruption in the Circle City.