The trials, tribulations and faith of a good man tested by forces beyond his control.
"Hey Louie! Who let you in? Why you showing your face around here?" Big Joe shouted as he strutted across the empty ballroom's white and black checkered floor. Conspicuously in the center of the floor is a gold manhole cover, with a large number '4' stamped on it. While everyone knew about the advertised 'Three Rivers of Pittsburgh', a fourth underground stream passed under the Paradise Club. When it rained, the swell would burble up and Big Joe would rip the cover off and fish in it while telling jokes when the club was packed to the gills. Which wasn't now.
His jokes were hilarious and though how is disputed, he once reeled in a giant carp from the ballroom manhole.
"I was out walking to and fro and all about when I said to myself...Hey? Why not stop in and pay a friendly visit to the big guy?" Louie remarked and lit up a cigarette. He wandered in through a propped open fire exit, as the club prepared for another evening of jovial conviviality. Two opposing opposites were never encountered, more than Big Joe and Louie.
"Louie, you're a bad liar..." Big Joe laughed. "Step on over to the bar...I know you want something."
"Don't we all," Louie laughed congenially.
The two went to the wet bar where the regular bartender knowing both, poured them both a drink. Big Joe, his normal Kedem Red Classic Kosher and Louie, he took his Kentucky bourbon three-fingers straight, no ice. Big Joe owned the club, and Louie the proprietor of a strip joint aptly named 'Sloppy Seconds,' were competitors, not only in the entertainment business, but in every other kind of buying and selling.
"So, what's up?" Big Joe barked as Louie sipped his whiskey.
"I was down on the loading docks and I noticed your man...uh..." Louie went on and feigned a theatrical struggle for words. "Your man.... Supervisor at the wharf...This Eddie character...Good guy..."
"Eddie...Short guy with a bald head?"
"Yeah him...Made him an offer to step on over to my side of the tracks and he refused..." Louie shrugged. "An extensive offer...I needed a good manager for the nitrogen deep freezers."
"Eddie knows who butters his bread...Everything he has he got from me, he ain't going nowhere," Joe giggled jovially.
"Wager on that?" Louie asked perking up slightly. "You got a dozen foreman that can take his place."
"I like Eddie," Big Joe replied. "Tell you what...I'll take your wager on the proviso you don't kill him. Do whatever else you can do but just don't whack him."
"Anything?" Louie maliciously beamed. "Short of whacking him?"
"Have I ever lied to you?" Big Joe laughed.
"Hey bobblehead!" Earl and his brother Ray shouted to their friend as Eddie dragged his feet down the sidewalks of East Carson, Southside Flats. "Get in the car! We'll give you a ride across town to that hovel you call a flat!"
Eddie reluctantly got in their car, a newer 1969 Austin Healy 3000 ragtop, sloop shouldered and almost a shadow of himself.
"Sorry about your family," Ray now sitting sideways in the cramped backseat. "We blew in from Cleveland as soon as we could...But rumor has it you pissed in somebody's cornflakes..."
"Maybe you should've signed on with Louie..." Earl shrugged.
"Naw, Big Joe take care of it," Eddie replied staring off into space.
"How can you say that?" Earl went on while yelling profanities at another driver. "You got laid off at work...You're on the public dole..."
"Hey, let's stop in the diner and get our buddy something to eat," Ray suggested. "I hear he's been sucking water at the soup kitchen..."
"Good idea...Maybe then we can talk some sense into him," Earl muttered. "Listen, I know Big Joe's treated you well...But look at what happened. Your house burned down, lost the wife and three kids...They even shot your dog! Then you had to sell your car to pay for the funeral and then payroll gets cut and knowing your hard up Big Joe don't do smack for you..."
"He'll make good," Eddie meekly replied. "I been nothing but good to him all these years...He'll make good..."
"Friend!" Earl yelped as the car swung to the right and slid into the restaurant's parking lot. "You got nothing but a flat at the YMCA and the same clothes on you wore last week...Get your head out of your fourth point of contact...Big Joe blew you off like he did the other schlepps around here..."
"He'll make good," Eddie dismally replied. "I know he will...."
"When? How?" Earl asked as they left the car. "Hey Ray...Put up the ragtop as I talk to bonehead here...Better questioned, why? Why would Big Joe even consider you after all that's transpired."
"You think I should go with Louie?" Eddie asked quietly.
"I think you should look in the mirror and ask," Earl said using his index fingers for effect. "You should ask, what's best for Eddie! Big Joe blew you off..."
"No, he didn't blow me off," Eddie quietly replied. "He just moves slow that's all..."
"Pray in one hand and spit in the other," Ray laughed. "Which fills up faster? That being good advice let's get you something to chow down on...You're losing so much weight...You turn sideways, you'll disappear..."
"Just so you know," Louie told Eddie as he left the Paradise Club's backroom dismally depressed. "This was all on a wager..."
"What?" Eddie gaped as he stared across a poker table in one of Big Joe's private backrooms. "On a wager? Why?"
"Who are you to question me?" Big Joe commandingly answered. "I'm the boss...You weren't nowhere to be seen when I started this business from scratch. Where do you get off telling me anything?"
"Didn't say I was," Eddie retorted mildly angry. "I just want to know if I did anything wrong..."
"Never said you did," Big Joe rapidly answered. "My ways are my ways...Got something for you...Here..."
Big Joe reached into his pocket and peeled off several hundred, five-hundred dollar bills from a wad seemingly too big for where it came from. He handed it to Eddie and then got up from the table opened the door and shouted, "Hey Gabe! Bring that new car around up front and wait in it! Eddie will get it in a minute or two!" He then turned to Eddie and said, "It's a 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood...Beats that old Ford junk heap you sold at a loss...Don't worry it's new off the showroom floor and I got the insurance on it for life...Including maintenance. Now when you get in it you drive on over to 1347 Highland Drive and you got a new house there...Five bedroom and three bath...Now I know what you're thinking..."
Big Joe smiled as he sat down across from Eddie, he leaned forward on the poker table. "You're thinking what would a man like you do with that big house? Well I know you're into family life in a big way so I got that figured too. In the house is this young dame with hopping hot ovaries, cooks good, named Sara, however she'll answer to whatever you call her. Hand selected her off the boat myself...Big square hips! Just the equipment to fill up a house...Now you take the next couple of weeks to get use to it...I'll give you a call since my operations are expanding and I need somebody to direct operations over at the new warehouse on the West End, nice desk too...You got the qualifications already and you're going far...Hey! Big Joe always takes care of his friends!"