Billy The Shelf could only come from Chicago. Solid by name and by nature, his gangster pedigree was marred by just one thing. No, it wasn’t any association with Joey Martini over on the west coast. Nor was it the cardboard suit he was wearing. It was more to do with his choice of friends. They’d been planning this hold up for some time–and the fact it was only a moving stairway in Ikea wasn’t going to stop them.
Everything went by the numbers. One, two, three, we took those staircases out. Number three nearly got away with the goods, freezing at the last moment, but Freddy The Fixer took care of it. A key for everything, that was Freddy. Yellow pants, gray shirt, dour expression. His name hung on a tag around his neck in case he forgot it and he sighed cheerlessly every time but Freddy got the job done.
It turned out to be an easy run, this Ikea job. Billy The Shelf waited out in the car, sprawled over the seatrest, soon after we’d cleared the store. Maggiano’s was our destination. Dinner the objective. And Billy wasn’t coming in with us. He was there to guard the stuff while we took on a whole different challenger. Shaky The Barman.
Shaky had clearly been briefed: when you make a martini, it shouldn’t be no dainty ‘girlie’ drink with an umbrella. He made it a hundred percent pure fire, shook it down to ice and poured it into a vessel so big it made nearby beers blush. Shaky never let his satisfaction show as he slid the results of his work across the bar and we hefted them out to the dining area at Maggiano’s (Italian for ‘big portions’). Joey Martini would have been proud.
Outside in the carpark, things remained quiet. The flags would be flying at half mast for Veterans’ Day tomorrow and Billy feared he was going to be fitted up after this job. He’d been laying low for some time, down in the old Ikea warehouse on the outskirts of the city. He’d had a hard life but his aspirations were still high. Almost to the ceiling. His friends knew they could lean on him. We were always coming to him with incredible stories but Billy The Shelf was there for them, taking it all on board.
Yessir, when problems started stacking up, Billy The Shelf was the one everyone turned to first. Eventually we went out to get him. A light drizzle fell as we crossed over to the waiting car where Billy pressed himself down into the seat, trying to hide, fearful of taking that last long ride in the trunk. But Billy needn’t have worried.
Billy needn’t have worried even with an unplanned diversion for gas the next day, Veterans’ Day, a time to recall the dead. Only a blinking fuel light would have forced us into Gary, Indiana–a town where dangerously bored looking jobless people drudged across the street in a gray slow motion.
Gary, Indiana. Population: the walking dead since the steel mills closed and took the town with it. Lifeless buildings, deserted streets. No, not deserted. Abandoned. At least in the neighbourhood we found ourselves driving through.
Gary, Indiana. Best avoided. Best forgotten. Not a place to run out of fuel. Not a place to run out of anything, except the place itself. The midwest’s dirty little secret. A man outside the library wore his entire wardrobe and paced in small circles. Contractors were pulling a bridge down as we left. To keep the population in or visitors out, we couldn’t be certain. We were just glad to say goodbye.
Now we’re back in Michigan. It’s only a day later yet Billy The Shelf has changed so much, a little wider since that first time we met him back there in the Illinois homeware store. Thus it is that he’s our Billy, solid and true, covering all the angles. He’s built to last, he knows his place and, if he doesn’t get caught in any double-entry bookkeeping scams, he’s a keeper.