“That bastard Royko!” the voice croaked from behind me and nearly caused me to spill the beer sipped. I set down my cigar and turned around. I recognized the voice.
The ghost of the Honorable Mayor Richard J. Daley, who ran the City of Chicago from 1955 to 1976 was an ethereal presence a few feet away.
Hizzoner looked around the basement for a moment, then at the table, laptop, and mini-fridge, as well as the 19-inch Hitachi color TV I bought new in 1985. “You sit down here in da middle of these stacks of boxes?”
“Long story,” I replied, peeved that my evening had been interrupted. “Why do you keep bothering me?”
“You were the one who brought me back with a seance. I been readin’ about your mayor. He thumbs his nose at ‘transparency’ laws, after he promised to be ‘transparent. He promised to lower taxes, then jacked ‘em across the board.” He looked around again. “I had a bowling alley in my basement.”
“You would. You’re a White Sox fan.”
“Yeah. And the weather in hell still is warm without any ice freezing over. Tells me the Cubs haven’t won the World Series yet.”
A bodyguard—I couldn’t tell if he was from “beyond” or actual flesh-and-blood—appeared from behind the crap one usually finds stacked in a basement to slide a chair for the Mayor to sit down. “Like I was sayin’,” the late Mayor continued, “That bastard Royko!”
Mike Royko was a columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times until Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of that tabloid, at which time Royko moved to The Chicago Tribune. Royko was a longtime critic of Mayor Daley the First, and frequently devoted his column to Daley. He also wrote a best-selling book, “Boss,” about Daley and the corruption of Daley I’s administration.
“Come on,” I said, “Royko died in April, 1997.”
“You think I don’t know it? At least I had some peace up here for twenty of your Earth years. Now, in the after-life, he’s got everybody—up there and down there, both—laughing at me.”
“That must be hell,” I commiserated.
“No, dumbass,” Hizzoner said impatiently, “I said both places. Anyways, I been keepin’ up on the mayor you got in your little town of Indianapolis there. The man is brilliant.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll bite—why is Mayor Gregory Ballard ‘brilliant.’”
“Him and his pals are doin’ things my people woulda got sent to Joliet for.”
Joliet is the location of one of the prisons of Illinois. “You wouldn’t have been sent to prison for anything?”
The late Mayor was offended. “You kiddin’? Sure, a lot of my people were on the take, but I never was. There’s three things that motivate men—sex, money, and power. I never screwed around and never took a bribe.”
“That’s how you kept your power?”
“Until that heart attack. Anyway—I always had to deal with the press. That’s what we called them back then. They jumped all over me when I said the Chicago Police are not there to create disorder. The Chicago Police are there to maintain disorder. What’s wrong with what I said? It’s true.” He had a point, although different from the one of which I had thought. “And okay. At that banquet, when I introduced the ambassador from Nigeria, nobody had clued me in. Now I know, the name of the country is pronounced Ny-Jeer-Ee-Uh. The first ‘I’ is short and the ‘g’ isn’t hard. And then all that crap from the 1968 Democratic Convention.”
“Yeah,” I said and exhaled from my cigar. “The whole world was watching.”
He chuckled. “The whole world was watching as Danny Rather got hit in the face with a baggie of crap—real, human kind.” He once more was serious. “But this guy Ballard wouldna faced any of that.”
“Because he’s an ex-Marine and would have been tough with the press?”
The late Mayor sneered at me. “You don’t think I was ‘tough.’ Another quote from me, when we had those riots: ‘Shoot to kill rioters, and shoot to maim looters.’”
“Actually,” I tried to correct him, “I don’t believe that’s a verbatim...”
“No, Ballard has taken out the press. He’s—what was the term the demonstrators used? Oh yeah—he’s co-opted them. I couldna bought off Colonel McCormick over at The Chicago Tribune, or whoever owned the Sun-Times. And Murdoch didn’t buy The Sun-Times ‘tilafter my demise. Ballard’s put people from your daily newspaper and from television stations onto committees that will have a say in issuing contracts. And those committees are keepin’ the information about the biggest contract, for the jail and everything, secret.”
I took a sip of my beer. He looked past me at the TV and asked, “What’s that on the TV?”
“I never was much into soul music. This Ballard’s gonna issue huge contracts with lots of ‘sugar’ for his pals, and he’s doin’ it right out in the open. The key was to make the press a beneficiary of public largesse.”
“Don’t you think the public has a right to know the details of how a contract for what might be over a billion dollars will be issued?”
“Nah. That’s why you elect politicians. They know what’s best for the people.”
“I mean just to let the people know how the contracts will be issued.”
“It only would frustrate people. And that’s another thing about this Ballard guy and the press. He says one thing and does another, and because the press is in bed with him, nobody questions him. I’ve been showing tapes up in the ‘good place’ and down in the ‘bad place’ about him.”
“Why would you do that?”
“It’s gotten a lotta laughs. I’m tryin’ to drown out the laughs Royko’s been gettin’ at my expense the last 17 years-plus.”
“Have you had any success.”
He fumed for a few seconds. I mean, little flames appeared out of his ears and the basement filled with the smell of sulphur. “That bastard Royko,” the late Mayor Richard J. Daley muttered, and he was gone. .