Descent

from Nick Suss

July 2, 2013, 12:32 p.m.

Part 1: The Incident

Jill was crying. It had been three days since the accident. She looked down at her left arm, in a splint, and then to her right, where she held the hand of her son. The hospital was silent except for the slow purring of the machinery and her gentle sob. She patted her son on the back. He was smiling, but she could see in his eyes that the smile was nothing but a façade. It was the first time he had visited the hospital, and it was the first time he had seen his mother since they had lost everything. Jill looked back to her son and saw tears welling up in his eyes. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything; she hadn’t said anything in two days, nor had she slept. Eyes teary and red, she finally gathered up the strength to open the door to her husband’s room for her son. If it were up to her, he wouldn’t have even been permitted to visit, but the boy’s grandmother thought it best and dropped brought him to the hospital unbeknownst to his mother. Leading him into the room, she was compelled to cover his eyes, but he wriggled away. Confused by the futuristic technology, the boy’s face lit up and he was amused for a second, but then he saw his comatose father, motionless in his cot, alive but only for the grace of God. He ran off. Turning around to retrieve him, Jill saw her husband’s doctor and two police officers.

“I’m Detective Davis, Chicago P.D.,” one of the two officers said. “I am sincerely sorry for your circumstance ma’am.”

Detective Davis was a tall, skinny man. Jill’s instant reaction was comfort. Something about Davis’ sharp jawline and thick, strong eyebrows reminded her of her husband.

“This is Detective Albertson,” he continued. “The two of us are assigned to your husband’s case. It is vital that you tell us everything that happened exactly the way it did. Do you think you can do that ma’am?”

Jill swept the tears out of her eyes one last time then, as a cobra coils back before it strikes, she contorted her body, starting at her lower back and rolling all the way up to her neck, as if to muster up enough strength to speak. Jill coughed.

“The Depression hit Jacob and me pretty hard. President Hoover keeps promising that things will turn around, that things will be better. We used to be well off, you know. Both of our parents were rich, so we both grew up with things. Jacob had just finished his undergraduate studies at Northwestern two years ago. He was supposed to graduate from law school in just a few weeks, but his parents lost everything and he couldn’t finish. He took a job as a migrant worker so we could pay the bills; so we could keep Jackie safe and fed. We had a modest house, it was really more of a shack than a house, about 30 miles west of the city. We were desolate, but we were happy. The day started off like any other Saturday. As soon as dawn hit, Jacob was up. He’s a hard worker, you know. He woke me up with a kiss on the forehead, just like every other morning, and told me how happy he was that he had a day off. It was his first Saturday off in five weeks. Jacob went into his morning routine, just like always. I tried to break his habits since we first met, we were high school sweethearts you know, but he is a creature of habit that one. Jackie was still asleep, so I accompanied him on his little errands. He did the silliest things first. He checked if the windows opened properly in case of a fire. He was paranoid. He is paranoid, I mean. There I go talking in the past again. It’s hard not to.”

Jill began to cry again. Dr. Harvey pulled out his handkerchief and gestured it her way. Jill denied.

“I’m sorry. I can go on,” Jill managed to whimper through her tears. “After all the common house chores, the two of us went outside to fetch a pail of water for Jackie’s breakfast. The well is uphill from our house, about a quarter of a mile in all. The morning was peaceful. I heard birds singing and the breeze gently blew through my hair as if a cherub was trying to lift me off the ground. As we got closer to the well, I heard some murmuring and it sounded like someone was digging a hole with a shovel. When we got to the top of the hill, we saw three men, all in black suits, fancy ones, huddled over a heap in the ground. They parked their Ford practically on top of our well. I was mad. Jacob could see that, but he stopped me from yelling. I told him I was going to give those guys a piece of my mind, and apparently they heard me. They looked over. I could see that one of them was holding a shovel, the other two were holding guns. The man with the shovel yelled ‘You two are in the wrong part of town, you know that. You better forget what you see.’ I was scared, but Jacob stayed firm. Jacob told them we came in peace and all we wanted was some water for our son. For some reason, that enraged the three men. One of the men cocked his gun and threatened us. Before we could turn and run, I’m sorry, I can’t. I can’t go on.”

“Please,” Detective Davis pleaded. “We understand this is a sensitive area, but we need you to go on. What happened next?”

“Before we could turn and run, the biggest man shot at Jacob. He only winged him, but the force of the bullet forced Jacob to fall down. His head landed straight on a boulder and he fell unconscious. I was afraid and I was grasping his hand as hard as I ever have. When he fell, I fell with him. I landed on my stomach.”

Jill began to sob harder than she had since the incident. Detective Albertson reached in to console her, but she thrashed away from him and ran out of the room to console her still crying son. Albertson turned to Dr. Harvey and Harvey to him.

“Jill was five months pregnant,” Dr. Harvey explained. “She too fell on a rock and sustained the injury to her arm. She fell unconscious due to the pain and the men assumed her and her husband to be dead. When Jill’s mother found them hours later, she was going to help Jill cook the night’s dinner, she rushed them to the hospital. Had she come an hour sooner, we may have been able to save the child, but it was too late. Jacob has been in a coma since his fall and Jill can’t help but feel guilty. I’ll go see if I can get her back in here.”

Dr. Harvey left the room and returned moments later with Jill and her son. Jackie had ceased crying and Dr. Harvey pulled him aside to explain the situation. Jill turned to the two detectives.

“The men we think you were describing were none other than Mario and Salvatore Castonzo and Ricky McClardy,” Albertson explained. “The Castonzo brothers have been working for McClardy for years while he’s been operating one of the biggest crime rings in Chicago. We haven’t been able to catch him on any charges for over a decade, but when we went to visit the scene of this crime, we confirmed that the heap you say you saw was the corpse of a Mr. Reginald Masters, a man that went missing a week or two ago and rumor had it was in immense debt to the McClardy family. They must have been trying to stash the body in a safe place. Had you and your husband not encountered the men, we would have never had enough evidence to warrant McClardy’s arrest.”

For the first time in three days, Jill left her husband’s side. The officers had convinced her to ride with them to the police station to see if she could identify the men they thought were her assailants in a line. Staring through the two-way mirror, Jill recognized two of the three men, she would remember those faces forever. But among the other 13 men in the lineup, she wholeheartedly claimed that none were there that day. Jill’s testimony was enough to put the brothers Castonzo behind bars, but the third man in the lineup the police listed as a suspect, “Ruthless” Ricky McClardy walked free that day.

Two hours had passed and just Detective Davis remained at Jill’s side. In the hospital cafeteria, the two sat and discussed Jacob’s life. Jill told Davis about how they had met, about the night Jackie was conceived, about their honeymoon and about Jacob’s abnormal penchant for antique clocks. She talked about the first time Jacob ever used a telephone and the day he was forced to drop out of law school. She chronicled the events of how his father’s brokerage firm went under the day the market crashed and how her mother’s inherited millions went with it. She had never felt this comfortable with a man since she had met Jacob. She felt guilty for thinking this thought, but she knew it was purely because he was the man who promised to bring Jacob back.

“Look, Detective,” Jill said, beginning to explain her feelings.

“Call me Spade,” Davis returned.

“Look Spade, thank you for staying with me, but I really should get back to my husband. I don’t want to miss the moment when he wakes back up. I want to see his eyes open, I want to hold him and I want him to hear it when I say how dearly I love him. I don’t want to miss his smile anymore.”

“I don’t know how to put this Jill,” Davis replied, “but the reason I’m still here is I have to break a little bit of news to you. The District Attorney wants you to be the key witness in the state’s case against McClardy and he wants to put you in witness protection. He wants to move you and Jackie to St. Louis where no one from the mob can reach you. He wants to keep you safe.”

“Can he…” Jill started before she choked up and cut herself off.

“No, I’m afraid Jacob’s condition is too critical for him to move with you. Plus, McClardy’s goons know that you two are here and if he checks out to move 400 miles south, they’ll know exactly where to find you. I’m sorry, but he’ll have to remain here. I have your train tickets right here and here are the forms with your new address and your new identity. I am so sorry Jill, but this is the way it has to be.”

Jill was motionless. She couldn’t fathom leaving her husband alone in the hospital, especially after what Davis had said about the McClardy family already knowing where he was. Jill wanted to cry again, but she couldn’t cry anymore. She ripped the tickets from Spade Davis’ hands and read her new life. She would be Genevieve Montgomery and Jackie would be called Andy. She left the hospital, went to her mother’s house to pick up Jackie, said her goodbyes and rushed to the train station immediately. Jill was headed for her new life, but for all intents and purposes, Jill’s life was over.


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