Cicero Dies, Part Three

Myron "Chick" Skurnick was the last of the old-time bartenders. He still wore a white apron, folded and tied tightly around his ample waist. He also always wore a smile, no matter how difficult the customer. His cheeks were bubble-gum pink. His military-style crew cut, though gray, stood at attention and although he had a grandfatherly look it belied the fact that he was one tough son of a bitch, an inside player in local Democratic party circles. When it came to politics Chick Skurnick was all assholes and elbows, and if you crossed him he would put you down, hard.


He was also one of the few bar owners that would extend tabs to good customers and I had run up a few dollars on the cuff when I was short and had always paid up, so I had a good relationship with Chick. I was also one-quarter Jewish, which cut deep with him. His maternal grandparents had fled the czarist pogroms at the turn of the century to build a new life in America, and they taught their grandson well the lessons of anti-semitism and to always stick close to his own kind. I wore my Star of David proudly, in honor of my paternal grandfather, who fought the Nazis as a partisan in Poland and graced me with the name "Gumpowski," which I changed to Jump. Once when I was in my cups I had told the story to Chick, he nodding solemnly as I related the tale. Chick Skurnick and I would have shared space on a cattle car to Auschwitz, had we been born in a different time and place. Chick knew it and I knew it, and it created a bond between us.

I also had never discussed politics, which is why he expressed surprise when I asked him about Lou Pine as he served Cat and me shots and beers.

"Lou Pine," he said. "Why do you want to go down that road?"

He casually wiped at his bar with a bar rag, staring at me. "This ain't like you," he said. "You don't care about politics."

"It's not about politics," I answered.

"It's about my brother," Cat interrupted.

12 square blocks, government grant, Pine takes it over.

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