Maxwell Street Blues

Maxwell Street Blues

by Marc Krulewitch

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Product Details

BN ID: 2940011128158
Publisher: Marc Krulewitch
Publication date: 10/23/2010
Sold by: Smashwords
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 293,551
File size: 440 KB

About the Author

Although I live in Colorado, my Jules Landau detective series takes place in Chicago where I was born and where my family has lived for generations. "Maxwell Street Blues" is the first of a four-book private investigator series. More to come....

Read an Excerpt

1

“I feared you wouldn’t know me.”

His ashen face did not remind me of the quaint grifter or winsome confidence trickster. Nor did I see an aging racketeer broken by prison. But I knew Bernie Landau—my father. He found me through “contacts” who specialized in making sure people were found. He wore dingy gray slacks with an argyle cardigan sweater that draped his eighty-year-old frame as though slung over a wire hanger. His pasty cheeks sagged like someone had disfigured a clay face. In his hand he gripped part of a rolled-up newspaper as if his sixteen-year absence had fostered an intense desire to smack me.

“It took you a week to find me?” I said. “Did your people try the phone book?”

Dad shrugged. “I only got sprung ten days ago. And I wasn’t sure finding you was such a good idea. I thought maybe you’re still mad at me.”

I didn’t buy his weak attempt at regret. Either way, I had more anger for the Fed bastards who took our house, our cars, my ten-speed Peugeot, and, for fun, tore down the basketball hoop and backboard from the garage roof. As a freshman in high school, I came home one day to find it mangled on the driveway where I’d spent many hours winning championships on last-second shots.

“Interesting line of work you’ve chosen, Jules,” Dad said and fell back into an old overstuffed leather recliner, failing to notice the black-and-white cat whose privilege it was to sleep there. He regarded Punim’s screech and subsequent catapult off his shoulder as one might notice a wandering gnat. He settled in and fingered the stuffing that bulged from a large tear on the armrest. Then he searched the bare white walls of my apartment while his face morphed into a familiar scowl. I watched his eyeballs follow my favorite scratch zig-zagging down from the crown molding and dead-ending at the baseboard. “Hound-dog business been good to you?”

“I’m thrifty. And don’t worry about the cat.”

Dad fidgeted in the chair and took a breath. Then he started tapping the rolled-up newspaper against his knee. “Is this what life looks like without the curse?”

The curse referred to our family history, starting with Great-Granddad, who made a fortune among his immigrant brethren of pushcart peddlers working the open-air market of Chicago’s Maxwell Street. From this miserable residue, Great-Granddad guaranteed a dependable stream of extorted money and earned the monikers of iron-fisted ward boss, political dictator, city hall chieftain—and scoundrel. In addition to committeeman, he also held offices with fancifully arcane titles such as City Collector and City Sealer of Weights and Measures. Some of my relatives called him the smartest man they ever knew and pointed to his chauffeur-driven limousine on a municipal salary as proof. Others pointed to the same thing and called him a gangster. Regardless, those who knew him or knew of him understood why the scandal of Great-Granddad’s remembrance inspired passion sixty or more years after the man died in my father’s childhood bed. Where better to assign the blame for a family’s perpetually bad attitude?

Dad leaned forward and stared into the hardwood floor. “That college you went to have a president?”

“Of course, why?”

“We got a college president here in the city, President Tate. You know he’s tearing up Maxwell Street?”

If it were possible to nod one’s head sarcastically, that’s what I did. “The poor getting screwed again. What a surprise. And wasn’t it our family who first made their money by shafting the poor down there?”

Dad gave me an angry glare. “Times were different. That’s where we got our start—but now it’s part of history. And we’re part of this history, whether you like it or not. You can’t run away from your family, you know. It’ll follow you wherever you go. And I’m not ashamed of it and neither should you be. Anyway, one of those preservation groups tried to get Maxwell Street designated as a historic site. But that son of a bitch Tate beat them down, and now he’s gonna crap all over it!”

Despite his cadaverous appearance, Dad was still full of piss and vinegar. “I never claimed to be ashamed,” I said. “And you can’t just blame Tate. There are trustees and legislators to hate, too.”

Dad tried and failed to look disappointed in me—which of us had just gotten out of prison? He said, “How can you live like this?” and then added, “What kind of work have you been getting?”

At age thirty-one, I had dozens of contacts and a neat apartment in a two-flat on North Halsted Street. Husbands and wives behaving badly paid my rent and kept raspberry sorbet in the freezer. An observer might conclude my frequent naps and lack of close friends signified unhappiness. But I didn’t give a damn what others thought and had long ago reconciled with my undiagnosed sleep disorder. Friends? They always disappointed you. Besides, I’d kept plenty busy since expanding into the realms of background investigations, surveillance, and skip traces. Living the dream.

Dad was really asking why my suburban nurturing had not begotten a career that included retirement accounts, paid vacations, and health care that didn’t rely on places called The People’s Clinic or the emergency room.
“You find out yet what a bullet can do to a man’s head?” he asked.

“Give me time.”

“You act reckless in your line of work, and it could be a short career. After you’ve felt the end of a muzzle pushing into your skull, then you can be a smart ass.”

I looked forward to that day just to say I knew what it felt like, assuming I survived. “So what do you want?”

Dad winced as he pushed himself up from the chair and walked to my Wall of Blame, a collection of psychotic-looking adulterous faces I had proudly captured. He seemed older than his eighty years. Then he walked to the window that overlooked the street. “Remind me: for this you went to college?”

“You went to college, too.”

I thought I got to him, but he countered with a smile and a nod. Then he took a folded piece of paper from his pocket. “You’re a sharp little prick,” he said and handed me a check for two thousand dollars.

I hadn’t seen a dime from the man since he went away. “What the hell is this?”

“When’s the last time you saw Snooky?”

“What’s the check for?”

“Just answer the question.”

Snook was a CPA and a close friend of the family. Snooky’s father, Henry, was my dad’s original business partner. As a manufacturer’s representative for ladies’ coats, Dad would go on the road selling the lines while Henry stayed in the showroom. Together they had built a profitable numbers racket among the shop owners of apparel stores in the little towns downstate. Dad called it an “untapped niche market.” Acute leukemia killed Henry when Snooky was a young teenager. Dad treated him like a second son and Snooky let me adopt him as my big brother. He jokingly called me “the little brother I always never wanted.”

Snooky introduced me to folk music when my parents didn’t know Bob Dylan from Bob Hope. He showed me how to roll my first joint and gave me a bong for my fifteenth birthday. For my sixteenth, he introduced me to Bunny, who took my virginity. Snooky later told me she owed him a favor for advice on hiding cash from the Feds. Dad could’ve cut his prison time in half had he given up Snooky and his pals.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I think we had lunch a few weeks ago.”

“Do you know what he was up to? Like who he was working with?”

“The only legit client he talks about is Audrey, who owns a tattoo shop. I think he’s got a hard-on for her. All the hoods he calls Guido.”

How many upper-middle-class suburban boys hung out with gangsters’ bookkeepers while smoking pot and laughing their asses off at descriptions of Guido showing off his earlobe collection or Fat Mackerel shitting his pants after a phony no-knock raid? Snooky loved to laugh, and we did a whole lot of laughing.

“I guess you don’t read the paper much,” Dad said, then tossed the metro section at my feet. “This one is three days old.” Above the fold, a headline screamed about the alarming number of unidentified meth-heads full of bullet holes found on the streets. Below the fold, a smaller headline introduced a murder victim with a name.

“Snooky took two bullets in the head,” Dad said.

First the room swayed, then I saw flashing white spots. I closed my eyes for several seconds, then opened them to a wave of nausea washing over me. Somehow, I found the couch before my knees buckled.

A year after Dad got busted, Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died six months later. My father’s associates invited me to move in with them, since Dad already shared a much bigger house with hundreds of guys wearing orange jumpsuits. As a child I had spent many summer afternoons at one or another of these uncles’ houses, learning the art of opening the door without letting someone in unless they answered the right question. I also became proficient at stuffing piles of cash into shoeboxes and stacking them in the hollow space under the stairway. “You’ll grow up to be a good earner,” they liked to say. But I wanted to live with Snooky.
I’d probably be dead or in prison if not for Snooky. He talked me into going to college, even drove me down to Champaign every fall to make sure I got settled in. Snooky wasn’t thrilled I chose investigations as a career, but that didn’t stop him from setting me up with Sid Frownstein, a kind of legendary hard-boiled snoop from the old school who had deftly walked that equivocal line between investigation and manipulation until he retired to a lakefront condo and a hobby of restoring antique cars. It was Frownie who first told me stories of my family’s infamous past. When Frownie became my mentor, Dad wrote me his last letter, the one in which he threatened to break out of prison and beat my ass if I followed in Frownie’s footsteps. From that point on, I had no doubt what my career would be.

“They found his body on a pile of construction debris,” I said, reading from the article. I noticed a small photograph of the heap next to an advertisement for cosmetics. “Three hundred and fifty dollars in his wallet. Credit cards untouched. And what the hell was he doing on Maxwell Street? Snooky had no dealings on the South Side.”

Looking out the window, Dad said, “I thought you never talked business.”

I answered through a lump in my throat. “Payback for setting me up with Frownie? You want to buy my silence for two grand?” I didn’t know if I meant it.

Dad turned and stared at me as if reading the words off my forehead. “I don’t believe my ears. Is this really how you turned out?”

“Snooky liked how I turned out.”

“Snooky was like a son to me—you know that! You think I’d kill him? Your father’s a killer—that’s what you think?”

I didn’t answer. If Dad killed people, I wouldn’t have minded that much—although his killing Snook would’ve pissed me off.

“Sixteen years later you show up to tell me Snooky’s dead. What else you got?”

Dad sat back down in the recliner and started rubbing his forehead. “I want you to find out who killed him and why.”

Tears spilled out of my eyes. “Suddenly you trust me with this?”

“Snooky was family. You can only trust family with finding the truth. You may hate my guts, you may hate where you came from, but I think you’ll be honest.”

“I never said I hated where I came from—whatever that means.”

“Well, we’ll see. Once you start investigating murders, history has a habit of getting in the way.”

“We were a family of petty criminals. Who gives a shit?”

Dad gave me a savage look. He wanted to address my comment directly but instead said, “Christ, what you don’t know. What you don’t see. But like I said, I think you’ll be honest. And if I’m paying you, that’s the least I expect.”

I had always imagined my first murder case would arrive via bereaved widow or suspicious life insurance company. But in that moment, everything seemed appropriate, if not logical.
 

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Maxwell Street Blues 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good, worth the time to read.
RtBBlog More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Marissa Book provided by NetGalley for review Review originally posted at Romancing the Book I thoroughly enjoyed this book, so much more than I had first thought I would. The relationship between father and son was dysfunctional, which could be expected since the father was just released from prison. At times I was surprised they were even in the same room and talking. The fact that Jules took money from his father for a murder case says a lot about their relationship – or lack of one. Jules was a very likable character, a laid back private detective who doesn’t stop digging to find out who murdered his best friend. I loved his tenacity. When someone told him something he knew was false, he dug further. He showed up unannounced and pushed his way through doors to see people who were afraid of what he would uncover. And he had a cat that he fed very well. I wish we had gotten to know Snooky. By all accounts in the story, even though he laundered money through his accounting business, he did it honestly (if that’s possible). He stayed away from the dirty aspects of crime and stuck with what he knew – money and people. According to every character in the book, everyone liked Snook. The area called Maxwell Street was interesting in that it was being redeveloped by the city. Like so many other redevelopments in blighted urban areas, the improvements were pushed through the city and bought by the developers and contractors. I was able to picture this area like so many others I’ve seen in large cities. Maxwell Street Blues was a wonderful start to what is hopefully a new series. With quirky characters (Frownie, Audrey, and LA, among others) and what could be a blossoming romance, I look forward to reading more of Jules and his cat, Punim.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book. I hope there will be more Landau books besides the two I have read.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A completely fantastic who dun it, set in the perfectly murderous town of Chicago and the private investigator on the job has deep connections to the victim, suspects and all of it.  Jules Landau's family has a not so fantasticly positive history in Chicago and he is not following in his family's footsteps, instead he is somewhat on the other side of the law as a private investigator until he finds out that someone very close to him has been murdered and his dad charges him to find out who did it. I loved how the author pieced together all the crazy things that end up in the news in Chicago all in one book - crooked politicians, mafia ish families, crazy drugs and so on.  All are wrapped up in this one murder mystery and it just worked.  I was rooting for Landau from the beginning to find out who killed his friend and of course I was way off base, but was still satisfied with the outcome.  I don't know that I would have picked up all the clues even if I had been reading it with a fine tooth comb.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is Chicago at a time from the past I remember from my dad of his life selling in this city, and experience in dealing with the North Nd South sides. GREAT Reading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
good story and use of familiar sites and people - thoroughly enjoyed
BarbaraLyn More than 1 year ago
This is a mystery murder story set in the city of Chicago. The title “Maxwell Street..” would lead you to believe the story would be set on that street but it is only a reference to where the body was found and as a topic of reference to a “why” in the story. Jules Landau is approached by his father to find the murderer of a bookie named Spooky. This in itself is strange as his father has just been released from prison and father and son aren’t exactly on loving terms. The other characters in the story are as equally bizarre and there are times where there are so many, I had to read and reread to keep the who’s who of the story straight. The premise of the story is great but the author spends a lot of time on Jules’ sleeping habits and getting him beat up. Most people that have had as many beatings, cuts and gunshots as Jules has had would be in the hospital for weeks. This makes the story drag on a bit rather than getting to the point. With greed, corruption and high class sexual endeavors being woven into the story, figuring out who done it gives the reader something to wonder and think about. The ending is one of the best chapters in the book. It held my attention and got on with the story in a fashion that I wish the rest of the book would have had. With a bit more fine tuning, this author will have a great future in murder mystery writing.
VicG More than 1 year ago
Marc Krulewitch in his new book, “Maxwell Street Blues” Book One in the Jules Landau Mystery Series published by Alibi introduces us to Jules Landau. From the back cover: Readers of Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole mysteries will love Jules Landau, a college man turned private eye on the Windy City’s mean streets—a virtual school of hard knocks where graduation means just staying alive. Chicago runs in Jules Landau’s veins. So does the blood of crooks. Now Jules is going legit as a private eye, stalking bail jumpers and cheating spouses—until he gets his first big case. Unfortunately, the client is his ex-con father, and the job is finding the killer of a man whom Jules loved like family. Why did someone put two bullets in the head of gentle bookkeeper Charles Snook? Jules is determined to find out, even if the search takes him to perilous places he never wanted to go. Snooky, as he was affectionately known, had a knack for turning dirty dollars clean, with clients ranging from humble shop owners to sharp-dressed mobsters. As Jules retraces Snooky’s last days, he crosses paths with a way-too-eager detective, a gorgeous and perplexing tattoo artist, a silver-haired university administrator with a kinky side, and a crusading journalist. Exposing one dirty secret after another, the PI is on a dangerous learning curve. And, at the top of that curve, a killer readies to strike again. Introducing Jules Landau, going legit as a private eye. He has been given his first assignment to find out who murdered Charles Snook. This investigation is taking him on a dangerous curve with the killer waiting for him at the top. “Maxwell Street Blues” is a top-notch thriller filled with blackmail, betrayal and murder. If it were not for his friends Jules wouldn’t stand a chance. The characters in this book are so well done you would swear they are real. The story is so well told that it feels as though you are watching a movie rather than reading words. Mr. Krulewitch really knows how to write bringing you into the world of Chicago. My only complaint was the language it is “R” rated. I suppose it makes them sound tough but Bogart, Cagney and the others never spoke like that and those stories are classics. Other than that this is grade A+. I am so glad to have found Marc Krulewitch and am looking forward to the next book in this series. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The windy city including three written by the guy who continued the nero wolf also one series about a ward captain ward captains or heelers get out the vote and your garbage picked up or a job on the garbage truck