“Humboldt Park” by Kevin Kilroy
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Kevin Kilroy takes a walk through Humboldt Park in Chicago.
Because of the incessant drumming on congas, radios blasting salsa or narcocorridos. Because flatbed trucks pull up and sell watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas, grapes off the back. Because there is nothing as nice as a nap in the grass while watching a woman walk past. Because plantains fry nice, pork’s sabor when slow-cooked in its own fat, rice and beans is enough in the stomach to drink all day. Because lengua, sesos, and chicharrones are a taste acquired by those nostalgic for elsewhere. Because life is glorious when there is so much on the line. Because it was winter. Because the blue-sky illusion of warmth persuaded me to go to Humboldt Park that day. To visit Umberto, as Jose Luis tipped me to do, as he served breakfast tacos where North Avenue intersects with California.
The snow-covered park was crowded with workers waiting, hangers-on, and youth. Even God fears the machismo youth. All of them looked like little children: bundled, shivering, worried, their eyes crying for sunshine. My eyes cried too, but my insides had a snake’s appetite for Chicago winter: I knew how to anatomize the brunt of it and slowly digest.
I eyed Umberto from twenty yards away. He must have been a great jockey—so small, tiny like a baby on the back of that horse. There was no way the man standing next to him could be his brother—he towered twice his height. Umberto moved quickly and brightly, pulling hot tacos wrapped in aluminum from the insulated container in the back of his truck, his little fingers nimble with the brown bags and napkins, taking money and shoving it in his jeans pockets. As I approached I heard the all too common greeting of “Güero, güero” whispering among the crowd.
“Una de carnitas y un de chivo, por favor.”
“Güero no like the chivo.” His high-pitched voice was almost comedic.
“Sí, I like.”
“I not so sure.”
“A friend of mine tells me I will.”
“I see. I see. You have lots of trouble this week already, no? And you are still hungry, sí?”
“My trouble is my own taste.”
“I see. I see.” Umberto wrapped two tacos up and, along with something he pulled from his coat pocket, he placed them in a bag. “Two tacos—twenty dollars.”
“Of course it is.” I paid him and stepped aside, knowing that the crowd knew more than I did. Knowing no one would come to help.
I walked over to a nearby bench, brushed off the already melting snow, and took a damp seat. I left the tacos in the bag and grabbed what was next to it. Never had a little card of paper held so heavy in my hands. I could feel Umberto’s little eyes reading my reaction. How could the business card of my old friend Levi Seeds, the toast of California winemakers, make it into the hands of an ex-jockey slinging tacos in Humboldt Park?
I looked up, met Umberto’s eyes, gave as nonchalant a nod as I could muster, and got up from the bench, walking south through the park—away from the Mexicans, looking for the asylum of Division Street, of the Puerto Ricans.
Something must have gone wrong in the way I reacted—a piece of information Jose Luis left out either because he did not know, or because he was stoned, or because there are no accidents and I had no one I could trust. Umberto’s brother Roberto left the truck and followed me. I picked up my pace, hoping once I reached the Puerto Rican territory he would lay off. My mind raced through all I could piece together: Jalisco. Jesus Malverde. La Sangre Vineyards. Levi Seeds—an invitation to his wedding after ten years of not speaking with him. Either Levi was deep into business with the cartel or somebody wanted me dead. Unless there was something running far deeper through all of this—something I had not considered for years. Before I could arrive at where my thoughts were leading me, my face hit the cold bite of snow. Roberto was standing above me, his foot in my ribs, the taste of blood in my mouth. His foot across my throat as I struggled to keep breathing, to keep from going dark. As my eyes fought to stay open, I saw a mallard duck land on the pond not twenty feet away. Its beak hit the ice and the water poured through.
KEVIN KILROY is a writer, a teacher, a horseplayer living in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. “Humboldt Park” is an excerpt from his novella manuscript, Patron Saint. His writing concerns cities, dreams, detectives, metaphysics, architecture, madness, and genre conventions. His work has been published by Fact-Simile, Hot Whiskey, Poets & Artists, Summer Stock, Pinstripe Fedora, Sherlock Holmes & Philosophy and others. Kevin co-founded Black Lodge Press, served as the Drama editor with Requited Journal and on the Fiction Board with Another Chicago Magazine (ACM). Currently he serves as small press curator for Printers’ Ball and co-editor of Pinball Editions. His play The Silence of Malachi Ritscher was produced in 2007 by Theatre 5.2.1. He studied writing and poetics at Naropa.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jan 19, 2015
Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art
- In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967, the Peak, Death, and Rebirth of the Hippie Idea
- Playing President: My Close Encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Reagan, and Clinton–and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush
- The Accidental Hunter
- From a Basement in Seattle
- It’s Just a Plant
- I Love You Too
- Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist
- Copycat: LIMITED EDITION SIGNED PREORDER
- Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith
- Hunters in High Heels
- Bronx Biannual: The Literary Journal of Urbane Urban Literature