Friday, May 27, 2011

I REALLY do Love Fred Wiley


OK, so Wednesday I introduced you to Del Carter and we talked about good sax... Del's a musical guy; he has a great voice and a memory for any tune he's ever heard and he's a real hoot when he makes up his own lyrics. He's fairly good on the piano but not the sax, which is something he regrets because he loves alto sax. He can belt out ALL the songs from West Side Story, likes to whistle the tune from The Bridge Over the River Kwai and routinely sings Dylan's Lay, Lady Lay as a lullaby to his lover as she sleeps in his arms after they've made love. When he jogs he listens to Rocky. This is all pretty amazing when you realize he's thirty-something. When it comes to music, Del's pretty much all over the place: Big Bands and Swing, Classic R&R, Country Western, show tunes, classical (especially Bach), and even Christmas carols -- but if he had to choose it would be jazz and more jazz. In January Moon, the reader is introduced to Del's love for music and some of his personal favorites. The only music Del's not fond of is anything by Kenny G; he insists it all sounds the same.

Which is a pretty damn good segue into introducing Fred Wiley.

Wiley (he's almost always called by his last name) would most likely ask, "Who the hell's Kenny G?" and suspect he hangs with Eddie the Banana over at Carmines. Let him listen to Kenny and Wiley would say, "Hell, why didn't you just say you meant elevator music?"

Wiley keeps it simple: he's basically a Jim Morrison/The Doors kinda' guy.

He has three "LA Woman" albums, two on 8-track and only recently acquired it remastered on digital because it was a gift. There's nothing wrong with 8-tracks and Fred knows it. When he's not listening to The Doors, he's probably listening to Smokey Robinson, Led Zeppelin, Credence Clearwater, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix or one his favorite women in the world, Janis, although lately he's coming around to thinking Aretha trumps Janis. And if you need to ask Janis "Who?" or Aretha "Who?" well... ask me privately and not him, OK? He'll think you're the Effin Village Idiot.

Of all the characters that I love in January Moon the one I think I actually understand the best is Fred Wiley.

Yes, I know Wiley very well.  We go way back... He washed my face with snow when I was in 3rd grade and my father stormed out the front door and barked "hey, you can't rough house with a girl like that..." and then more kindly "son, that's no way to treat a lady." A "lady" in 3rd grade? Then I hauled off and belted Fred right in the chops. My dad beamed at that one... but later that night he gave me a peek into Fred's heart. "Honey," he said, "I gotta' feelin' that boy Fred's sort of sweet on you..."

OK, so his name wasn't really Fred Wiley but just the same...

Fred proved my father right several summers later. We weren't the same size anymore; he was two years older and bulking up and when he playfully kicked some sand on my blanket it flew into my face like a stinging tornado and I actually started to cry. He must have been as stunned and horrified as I but what he did next probably stunned both of us more. 

He swept down and pulled me up and impulsively planted an awkward kiss that smelled of Juicy Fruit gum, hot dog onions and a hint of Coppertone squarely on my lips and then he bolted across the scorching hot sand. My girlfriends and I agreed it was the most romantic moment in all of history but when he ignored me for the rest of the summer I confided in my Dad who said, "Honey, that boy's so in love with you he's just beside himself." It was the beginning of my understanding that men who are in love are all a little nuts.

OK, so his name wasn't really Fred Wiley but just the same...

And I know Fred because about four years later, once again on a hot summer beach, we pushed the limits of curfew and tolerance for Malt Liquor and shared stories about our plans for the rest of our lives. I couldn't see much beyond getting a driver's license but Fred was brimming with plans and I marveled how old and mature he sounded but three days later I cradled him in my arms as he finally admitted how much he missed his brother, killed when he lost control of his motorcycle on Lake Shore Drive.

OK, so his name wasn't really Fred Wiley but just the same...

And then there was the night like no other when a war -- like all the damn wars in history -- makes a neighborhood girl want to be a worldly woman and love a local boy like he's the only man in the world... 

and so I remember yet another warm star-filled night on yet another beach when the roar of Lake Michigan drowned out the roar of Jim Morrison but couldn't begin to match the roar in our hearts any more than a seiche of cold waves could cool the heat in our bodies.

Of course, that wasn't really Fred Wiley either but just the same...

I remember that night more fondly than any moment in my younger life... and a few days later we said good-bye with promises of love and devotion and evermores... and I began to write daily letters to a kid in a hell hole in Asia.

As I've already said, of course that kid wasn't really Fred Wiley, but just the same...

I love Fred Wiley and always will and if you're a guy my age you're gonna' like him for he's a stand-up dude and if you're a woman my age you already have a tear in your eye.

But boys grow up and become men and you wouldn't know all this about Fred when you first meet him in January Moon, but over time you'd see it. A guy like Fred Wiley sort of grows on you.

The following is excerpted from Part One, Chapter Two; Mack Carter, Del’s father has been taken into custody by the Illinois State Police and they have brought him into the nearest local police station. Del is on his way to the police station but hasn’t arrived yet.

Fred Wiley was a tough talking, chain smoking, ’Nam-era ex-Marine who’d been with the Illinois State Police almost four decades. He could have pensioned out ten years earlier but hoped to die on the job because the idea of retirement was one of the few things that terrified him. His ruggedly handsome leathery face, square jaw, steel blue eyes, old fashioned crew cut and whiskey voice made him look like a stereotypical grunt-eating, fire spitting by-the-book USMC Drill Instructor which is exactly the image he wanted to project.
Wiley was killing time, waiting for the troopers to bring Mack Carter into Matteson, when he decided to ride his partner about his ridiculously pompous name.
“What are you, a pope or something? What the hell kind of name is Aloysius anyway? And Benedict; Jesus: Aloysius Benedict? Don’t know if I should puke or genuflect.”
Benedict tried to explain his friends called him Aloe. “You know, like the aloe plant. The one for burns.”
“Christ, say it ain’t so. Aloe? Like A-hole? You actually let people call you Aloe? What, ’cuz you burn my ass?”
Benedict didn’t know what the problem was or why Wiley insisted on ragging his sorry ass but several bored cops enjoyed the exchange immensely. Everyone knew Wiley was as big of a hoot as he could be horse’s ass but if you weren’t the poor bastard withering under one of his verbal assaults it was damn good fun to be an observer.
“OK, listen up,” Wiley snapped, “I’m calling you Eggs. From now on, you’re Eggs.”
“Eggs? Why eggs? I don’t get it.” Benedict’s cluelessness was possibly even funnier than Wiley. “I don’t even like eggs,” Benedict whined, “and I’m allergic to egg products.”
Wiley threw his hands up in disgust. “You believe this guy? He’s allergic.”
“Wha… what am I missing about this? You don’t think allergic is serious?”
One of the Matteson cops felt compelled to come to his aid. “Eggs Benedict, you get it now?”
Benedict didn’t get anything. His deer-in-the-headlights look said it all.
Wiley snarled, “Hey maybe we should call him Allergic, whaddya’ think?”
One of the other cops tried another tack. “Listen up Aloe, it’s like this man: Aloe just don’t work, you understand? A cop can’t have no partner people call Aloe. It ain’t possible.”
A third cop added, “Hey Aloe, Wiley don’t mean nothing by it. He gives almost everyone a nickname, especially if he likes ’em.”
It was all too much for Wiley and he exploded.
“Like him? You think I like this poor bastard? Hell, I don’t like him. This isn’t love, you assholes. It’s a damn mercy mission.”
Wiley nicknamed Ms. Elnora Calista Ness “Eliot” the day he met her and it stuck. Assistant State’s Attorney Ness was that rare breed of attorney content to spend an entire career as a prosecutor. At one time when the office had very few minority lawyers, not to mention even fewer female ones, it was rumored her color and sex made her a double token. Those rumors died quickly as Eliot chalked up an impressive prosecutorial record.
Eliot was brilliant, aggressive, and strikingly beautiful. She currently looked as stunning in short cropped silver streaked hair as she did when she showed up right out of law school. Neither three kids nor middle age screwed up her fine figure or legendary energy. She liked to wear bright colors, short skirts, sexy shoes and insanely large earrings and pulled it off with a panache that kept her from looking cheap.
Eliot’s first criminal prosecution was Wiley’s first homicide case. He didn’t know shit about being a credible professional witness and she knew even less about being an aggressive, sharp prosecutor. Their combined inexperience gave the case to the defense and the perp walked but he showed up later, as most perps will, after he kidnapped, tortured, and murdered another little boy.
Wiley and Eliot believed it was their incompetence that gave the bastard a second chance to kill.  The shared pain of that first trial loss would never go away but it became the catalyst that transformed them into a strong prosecutorial team and they successfully nailed him the second time around.
The day they got his evil ass convicted was also the first night they slept together. That night turned into three more days and nights holed up in Eliot’s tiny apartment in some dump of a building in some shit hole part of the city not far from the courthouse. They periodically came up for air long enough to order pizzas and Chinese and then they went down like submarines again. 
It was a torrid, wonderful affair but Eliot always told Wiley it couldn’t last. He assured her it could and would and he meant it with all his heart. She knew differently.
She insisted the affair be kept a secret, something that really pissed him off.
“Why is this necessary?” he’d storm. He said “I want to go out to dinner with you and my friends” or “I want you to meet my family” and badgered her with questions like “why won’t you introduce me to your family or friends?” But she never talked about her family and she claimed she hadn’t been in Chicago long enough to make many close friends.   
Then one night at the Parthenon in Greek Town Wiley asked her to become his wife. It was just after waiters ignited their order of saganaki and the entire restaurant erupted with joyous shouts of “Oooopa!” Wiley waited for the luscious cheese to cool and poured her another glass of Greek wine. Then he raised a toast to the “Most beautiful, brilliant, and sexy woman in the world, the woman I love and want to marry,” and she froze. She refused to even look at the stunning 2-carat emerald cut diamond he had carefully chosen.
Wiley was stunned when she explained marriage was not an option. “Blacks should marry blacks and whites should marry whites.”
“What are you, nuts?” he fumed. “We’ve been humping the eyes out of each other for two goddamn years and I love you to death. I don’t want to live without you. We can screw but we can’t marry? Where’s the logic in that?”
Eliot was adamant: she wasn’t going to marry a white man. The argument went on for days.
“But this is 1978 for God’s sakes, and this is Illinois,” he argued. “Damnit, El, this is ridiculous.” He accused her of being a bigot in her own convoluted way.
“So, it’s OK to screw me,” he heard himself ask, “but not marry me? Did you lie to me when you told me you loved me?”
No, she loved him very much but she would not marry him. 
Finally, under his relentless pressure, she explained she wasn’t strong enough to be a trail blazer.
“I’ve already gone further than I ever dreamed possible and I don’t want the strain of a mixed-race marriage for the rest of my life or the stress it’ll put on my kids.”
Wiley was stupefied. “That’s crazy,” he said, “please, listen to me baby. We can make this work. There are neighborhoods we can live in. Screw those assholes who don’t like us.”
He had a house in mind in a great neighborhood in Evanston, close to Northwestern University. It was a safe and beautiful town for an interracial couple. Barring that, if she didn’t want to leave the city, there were several other excellent neighborhoods, including Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, and East Rogers Park, all places anchored by world class universities that gave haven to liberally minded folks. Wiley did his homework.
Eliot was emphatic. “Don’t ask me to explain it any more than I already have. It’s over.”
She swooped down on Truman White, marrying him with lightning speed in a historically important black Methodist church on the south side of Chicago less than five weeks later. Tru was an easy going, salt-of-the-earth, church-going black man who wanted nothing more radical than a steady job teaching high school and a few kids of his own. Eliot was the most extraordinary, beautiful, and talented woman he ever met and he adored her. They enjoyed a stable marriage and were the proud parents of three kids but after a lifetime sharing the same bed with Truman, it was still Wiley who came to Eliot in all of her most vivid sexual dreams.
She could live with that; in fact, it was exactly how she wanted it: Tru in her house and Wiley in her head.  
“You’ll get over me,” she assured him but it wasn’t true. No matter how many other women agreed to marry him, the truth was the only woman Wiley really wanted at his side declined the offer.

He wished he’d been able to hate her for rejecting him but that was impossible: Fred Wiley knew he was still very much in love with Eliot Ness.
Wiley returned his thoughts to Carter. He wasn’t going to let Mack walk until he spoke to an ASA and he intended the ASA to be Eliot. He didn’t want to think too much about why his heart still skipped a beat or why he felt like a chump just thinking about her. He’d go with the fact she was the best ASA in the county and he was the best dick in the state and it was OK for him to run important issues past her. They had a long history turning his busts into successful prosecutions and if that was the only way he could have Eliot in his life he’d rather take it than leave it.
He never knew what she thought about their working relationship and he always hunted for the faintest glimmer of regret on her part, the merest suggestion that she still cared deeply but those hints and suggestions never came. Her only deliberate effort to maintain social contact with him outside of work was an odd faithfulness about sending an annual Christmas card, something she’d done every holiday since they broke up. She also always remembered to include whatever his wife’s name was at the time, a thoughtful gesture that both amused and puzzled him. He kept every single card, including all the pictures of her kids as they grew up over the years. Their names were branded into his memory: Kenny, Adele and Denise.
Pictures of Eliot and her husband Tru were never included.
Wiley looked at his watch; it was still too early to call Eliot. He almost always called her on her cell but tried to respect sensible business hours unless it was a dire emergency.
He didn’t consider Mack Carter a dire emergency. Be cool, he told himself; relax. 
Wiley told Eggs to run out and bring back breakfast. Eggs groused that it was still snowing heavily.
“So what? You don’t eat in winter or something? Cops don’t fight crime in bad weather? You think I should starve ’cuz it’s snowing?”
Eggs wisely bit his tongue and grabbed his parka.
“What do you want?”
“I don’t care, just make sure it’s pancakes, three eggs, sausage, make it links, hash browns, Greek toast and get me a large OJ.”
He tossed Eggs a double saw-buck, adding “Ask that guy Carter if he’s hungry. Tell him I’m buying.”
He didn’t offer to buy anything for Eggs.

The Doors: Riders on the Storm


1 comment:

  1. Very clever. I must admit I liked Wiley better than Del in the book. Wiley's my kind of guy, sort of rough around the edges but with a great heart. The Del Carters of this world a bit too SNAGgy for this older woman.

    Good job.