(From my memoirs)
The year was 1990 and this was the first year of the Las Vegas Mega-Resort.
The Mirage with its resident entertainers Siegfried and Roy, along with their White Bengal tigers was a place to go as were all the other points of interest I had been hearing about but never really had the desire to go and see for myself.
Maybe I was turned off by Las Vegas because of its reputation as a gambling mecca. Maybe because it was the place I was so excited about moving to when I was eight years old after my mother’s cousin encouraged my father that Las Vegas was the place for a man to stake his claim in the burgeoning casino industry.
Cousin Bob told my father, “Vince, with your bar-tending experience and mathematical aptitude you could make yourself a very decent living for you and your family.” It never panned out though. My father’s bartender experience and mathematical aptitude led him to drink up his earnings while neglecting the bills that were piling up at home.
And by the time I was ten years old, my dad’s bartender skills impressed one of his female customers so much that she fell in love with him as I suppose he did with her. His mathematical aptitude suffered greatly after he left his family on Thanksgiving Day of my tenth year. The subtraction of five people who loved him and depended on him didn’t fit into his equation as he left for Florida with his new love interest.
But now, I was becoming a changed man and the sour taste I had for Las Vegas was sweetened up a bit by the idea of an inexpensive getaway to a place where the sun was promised to shine endlessly and the wine flowed freely. In some ways, I was becoming a lot like my father. With my own mathematical aptitude and philosophical approach as well as an insatiable appetite for anything that contained alcohol, Las Vegas was a great idea. “And Ricky, wait to you see the showgirls there.” It didn’t take me too much effort to book a four-night vacation in glitzy Vegas.
May 6, 1990 the morning of my departure I awoke to the Chicago sun, blazing in through my easterly window. I went over to close the blinds and in doing so, noticed a few squad cars at the corner of Laramie and Fullerton, near the drug store and next to the bus stop where I would catch my first bus that would take me to O'Hare International Airport. Hmm, I wonder what’s going on?’ I hadn’t time to ponder too much; I had to get a quick shower and a shave.
I got to the bus stop and noticed the big plate glass window of the drug store gone. Two Chicago police officers remained on the scene until a crew came out to board up the window. One policeman, he was rather hefty, a jolly looking man with a red face. The other cop, smaller in frame, for some odd reason he reminded me of Barney Fife, but a more rotund Barny Fife. I asked,
"The drug store was broken into early this morning," said the heftier officer, lighting up a smoke. "Whoever broke in, got away with a helluva lot of drugs. That part of the store had been ransacked."
"Destroyed," interjected the other cop. "By the way, do you live around here?" he asked.
I set my suitcase down. "Yes, right there," I said as I pointed to the apartment building a half block down the street.
"Did you happen to see or hear anything, say, about four or five this morning?" the other cop asked, flipping his cigarette to the ground, then stomping on it.
I thought about it for a moment and realizing that I was sound asleep about that time with the window closed I knew I couldn't have possibly heard a thing except maybe my cat chasing a ball around.
"No, I'm sorry, I hadn't heard a thing," I said.
I could see that they were staring intently at my suitcase. Considering the circumstances I’m sure they were probably a bit suspicious of the contents. For all they knew I could’ve been the perpetrator and the suitcase was actually full of prescription drugs instead of my three pair of shorts, two dress shirts and three pairs of pants. Oh, and a few pairs of socks plus my toiletries.
“So, it looks like you’re going on vacation,” the bigger cop said, now smiling.
“Yeah, I am,” I answered. The tension was broken; I was no longer a suspect, thank goodness. I felt more at ease. “I’m going to Las Vegas, my first time.”
Really?” he said, pulling another cigarette out of his shirt pocket. “Just be careful and have some fun,” he added, lighting up his cigarette. He took a long draw off it and blew out an enormous white cloud of smoke. “Well, I wish you lots of luck.”
“Yeah, me too,” said the other officer. “And if you get a chance, go see Hoover Dam. It’s an engineering masterpiece.”
“I’ll try to do that,” I said. Coming down the street was my bus. I was becoming more excited. I can’t wait to get to Vegas. “Well, here comes my bus.” I picked up my suitcase and walked toward the bus stop sign. “Well, it was nice meeting you two. I hope you find whoever was responsible for this break-in.”
“Oh, we will,” said the bigger cop. “Remember, win lots of money and think of us while you’re sitting poolside.”
“I will,” I said. The bus pulled up, the door opened. I climbed aboard and deposited my dollar-fifty in the fare box. As the bus pulled away, the two police officers were standing away from the curb, waving and smiling. Those guys were two of the nicest police officers I had ever met. I wish more were like them. I took my seat and closed my eyes. As the bus bounced down the big city street my mind turned a hard corner and suddenly I was taken to a darker time, a perilous place. I was thirteen years old. Alone, I stood against the world.
The shopping cart is heavy, full of pop bottles, occasionally the wheels get stuck in the cracks and clefts of the alley, causing strain and tear on my young, weakened muscles. I push hard though, I must make it to the Jewel Food Store to exchange the pop bottles for the deposit money; money that I’d use to buy macaroni, cans of tuna and jars of peanut butter and jelly – stuff that would save Wendy and me from dying of starvation. I hope she’s okay. I hope her Cindy Doll is comforting her while I’m on my mission. I hear a car; it’s behind me. Chills run down my spine. I pull the cart to the side, crash into a garbage can. Suddenly, I hear walkie-talkies – the distinct sound of static and transmitted voices. I become paralyzed.
Two doors open. The blare from reports of crime-infested activity becomes louder. Heavy footsteps follow. I slowly turn my head. Two blue men with their hands on their holsters are approaching. I struggle hard to become disentangled from both fear and hunger but I can’t move. I close my eyes, fearing the worst. Suddenly, a heavy object strikes my shoulder, pushes me down hard to the ground.
“Don’t you move, you low-life piece of scum.” And then, a heavy foot presses hard against my back, the smell of shoeshine polish and leather penetrates my nostrils. I feel like I’m going to vomit but there’s nothing in my stomach so instead I choke, now knowing that soon my life will be over.
“Where did you throw that bag of dope?”
I struggle hard to answer. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, officer. I didn’t have any bag of dope.”
“Don’t get smart with me, you fucking piece of shit. We saw you run and throw it as we were coming down the alley.”
I try to turn my head so that I could look up. But his foot changes position and moves up my spine to my neck. He puts all his weight down. I’m starting to choke again, nearing convulsions. Goodbye Mother. Goodbye Father wherever you are and goodbye Trish and Lenny and Wendy. I love you all.
By Rick J. Fico
(On May 13, 1990 Officer Raymond Kilroy and Officer Gregory Hauser - the two officers who I met at the bus stop one week earlier were both killed in the line of duty. Why? I asked. The two nicest cops I ever met. Not like those two cops who I encountered when I was so young, so very young.)
In memory: Police Officer Raymond C. Kilroy & Police Officer Gregory A. Hauser