Cook County Jail, Chicago, 1917
Wu Zheng looked at Alfonso Lolordo, the Italian man sitting across from him at in the crowded dining hall of Cook County Jail and Courthouse.
“Bon-john-oh.” Zheng repeated slowly.
Alfonso shook his head and stuffed a wad of greyish potato slip into his mouth. “Close. Buongiorno. Come stai oggi?”
“Your language is so...” Zheng thought about it. “Musical. Very hard.”
“Like learning Chinese is easy!” Alfonso laughed. “You quitting on me?”
“No, deal is deal.”
“Deals a deal!” Alfonso corrected him. “I teach you Italian, you teach me Chinese. You protect me in the yard; I protect you in the cell. It’s a good deal.”
Wu Zheng nodded as he prodded the subpar meal. He wasn’t even sure it was actual food. The room was full of chatter and cutlery clanking as the prisoners ate under the watchful eye of four guards on the floor and one in the gun galley above them. Zheng had been inside for two years now after knocking out a police officer. He’d done that because the officer ignored his accusations that men working for Big Jim Colosimo had burnt down his parent’s laundry, along with a large section of China Town, because they’d refused to pay protection money. Zheng could’ve easily been sent to the gallows but instead was sentenced to a minimum of six years.
“You’re staring like a fugazi,” Alfonso clicked his fingers in Zheng’s face, snapping him back to the present.
“Sorry,” Zheng said as he stood up to leave. Suddenly a big hand landed on his shoulder and pushed him back down.
“The stronza and the monkey,” growled Benito Caretti aka Baseball Caretti. He was a stocky neckless man who could easily pass as ape. Benito worked for Big Jim Colosimo on the outside and continued to do so on the inside. He was serving a stint for robbery which was the only thing they COULD pin on him. He’d gotten the nickname baseball not for his love of the game but because that’s what he liked to used to beat people. “Going somewhere?”
Zheng tensed but Alfonso shook his head to communicate that it wasn’t the right time. Zheng grit his teeth and sat.
“You want something Caretti?” Alfonso asked.
The response was some pursed lips followed by a glob of spit into Zheng’s food. “No!”
Zheng looked at Alfonso who subtly nodded. With lightning speed Zheng elbowed Caretti in the groin which made him bend. Zheng then reached up, grabbed the ape by the ears and smashed his face into the table. In less than a second the fight was over and nobody really knew what happened. Caretti lay on the floor bleeding from the mouth. Guards blew whistles and charged over as the room became unruly and surged around the fallen prisoner.
“What happened?” a guard demanded.
Zheng answered him honestly, but in Chinese, which made the guard angry and he pushed him away.
“He just fell over,” Alfonso said with a smile as the prisoners surged like waves. Whistles shrieked and an alarm began to roar as the prison began to go wild.
Due to the incident the whole prison was placed into lock down and everyone went without dinner. This made the normal night time noise even worse because the near one thousand inmates were always noisy, now they were hungry. Cups rattle across bars, shouts filled the air, feet stomped on the cold concrete floor; it was like a zoo full of drunken animals!
Zheng placed the pillow over his head to muffle the noise. It reminded him of his youth in China when the Yellow River burst its banks flooding the land. People, houses, cattle, all washed away by the roaring torrent. He and his family clung for three days to a tree before paddling to relative safety. Two years later the Wu’s paid for passage on a steamer to Vancouver and illegally entered the United States to start a new life in California.
When Zheng couldn’t sleep, which was most nights, he got up to practice kung-fu. He didn’t need much room and it kept his mind focused and his body ready. He longed to be released and slam his fist into Big Jim Colosimo face then watch him turn blue as he choked him. These mobsters had taken away everything from him. His home, his parents, his freedom, all because they’d tried to extort money from their laundry business. Zheng thought if he hadn’t beaten Colosimo's men to a pulp then they’d of never come back and set fire to China Town. But if he hadn’t then they’d return next month for more money. He’d caused this and he’d fix it.
“Can’t sleep?” Alfonso asked from his bunk. Zheng nodded. “Better try because in the morning there’ll be a dozen or so hungry angry bastardi looking for the guy who stopped them from having dinner.”
“Let them come.” Zheng punched the bars which would’ve hurt but years of conditioning had left callous’ and scar tissue meaning he could punch things that most people wouldn’t even dream of.
“Zheng, you’ve got to be smarter, think long term.”
He exhaled before he punched the bars in rapid succession. “Bon-jorn-oh.”
Alfonso smiled. “It’s night, so you say Buona notte.”
“Good night, Zheng.”
Cook County Jail, 1920
Alfonso Lolordo walked over to Wu Zheng in the yard as he did chin-ups, much to the amusement of the other inmates.
“Got some news that you ain’t going to like,” he said holding up a newspaper.
Zheng stopped mid-pullup. The Chicago Daily News read ‘Jim Colosimo Is Murdered’. Zheng furiously snatched the paper and voraciously read it.
“NO!’ he barked as his plan of revenge unravelled. He wasn’t upset that Colosimo was dead, more annoyed that it wasn’t to be by his hand.
“Can’t believe it took so long,” Alfonso remarked. “Was only a matter of time, if you ask me.”
“It didn’t!” Zheng hissed as he threw the paper to the ground and stormed off.
“I thought you’d be happy!” Alfonso yelled after him. “Ah forget you!”
Alfonso gathered up the paper when a shadow fell across him. He looked up to see Baseball Caretti towering over him along with three others.