Web of Guilt, Chapter One

An excerpt of a novel I’m writing. Please feel free to comment.


Saturday afternoon, October, 1949, Chicago, Illinois,USA

“ Dad, let’s go home, we’ve seen the wrestling matches,” I pleaded.

“ One more beer and we’ll go, son.”

I swung around on my stool and looked out the dirty window. The sign flickered,

“ Romato’s Tavern”.

There was a television set at the end of the bar. I was fascinated with television, it was the new thing these days and only a few taverns had them to draw customers.

These were the days when the law allowed children in taverns accompanied by a parent.

I was drinking my Coke and staring at the men perched on the high stools slumped over their drinks. The smudged mirror behind the bar reflected the depressing scene. I looked at the clock on the wall through the smoky haze. Four o’clock, my Dad and I had been watching TV for three hours.

“ Come on, Dad, I’m getting tired of sitting here.”

“ Hold on, son, let me just finish my beer.”

I frowned. My father and I were such buddies in the past. We went on camping trips to  the Indiana State Dunes Park, played baseball and football together. It was a great time. But since my Dad lost his job six months ago, things hadn’t been the same.

His beer finished, my father and I left the tavern. We walked home in silence. I started kicking a stone along the path. It was a ritual I often did. It made me feel good for some strange reason.

“ Mom, we’re home,” I shouted, slamming the door.

The three room basement apartment where we lived was a dreary place. Thethick pipes near the ceiling, where the steam heat came through, were depressing. It reminded me of a boiler room. Not much light came through the small windows. The furniture was old and the carpet worn. A few family pictures were on the mantle, pictures of happier times.

Mary, my mother, came out from the bedroom and glared at my dad.

“ Why do you keep Carl out at the tavern so long?”

“ He likes watching the wrestling and we don’t have a television,” countered my dad.

“ Just another excuse to go drinking when you should be looking for a job. How are we going to pay the bills?”

“ Get off my back, woman. I get money when we need it, don’t I?”

“ Mom, Dad, please stop yelling at each other,” I said.

My father looked at me sadly. Then he stomped out of the apartment.

“ Looks like you’ll have to go and pick up your father again later. He will be too drunk to make it home by himself,” said my mother, angrily.

This is how it was most days, recently. I would end up collecting and guiding my dad home from the tavern.

My mother was once a pretty woman but now she looked haggard, her eyes were dull and empty of hope.

“ Oh Mom, do I have to? You know I’m scared of some of the men there. I don’t like the tavern,” I whispered.

“ Yes, Carl, it would give me peace of mind. I don’t know what we are going to do.

Your father’s drinking is getting me down. When he comes back we’ll have another argument about money. Day in, day out. Week in, week out,” my mother’s voice trailed off. She talked to me like I was grown up, but she needed to talk to someone.

I plunked myself down on the worn sofa, squirming a bit. I know money was a big problem for us these days.I didn’t like to hear my parents arguing all the time.

“ He gets money to pay some bills at the last minute lately. I don’t know how he does it. The only job he has now is cleaning at Romato’s tavern on the weekends,” said my mother, shaking her head.

Two hours passed.

“ Carl, can you go and pick up your father? He must be good and drunk by now.”

“ I’ll go in a little while, Mom.”

I continued listening to the radio. My favourite program was on, “ The Shadow”.

“ What evil lurks in the hearts of men,” said “ The Shadow”. I thought of some of the men at Romato’s tavern.

Thirty minutes later.

“ Carl, are you going to collect your father, or not?”

“ I’m going, Mom.”  I switched off the radio.

I looked in the mirror in the hallway. Looking back at me was a grim faced boy that looked older than his years. The light on the ceiling was at one side of the mirror so my face was half in the shadow and half in the light. Like sadness and happiness, Ithought. The image in the mirror had ordinary looks, blond hair, straight nose and blue eyes that had lost their sparkle.

I zipped up my coat and went out into the night, slamming the door behind me.

October, 1949, Saturday, 8 PM.

It was a chilly night, so I turned up my collar to the wind.

As I was nearing Romato’s tavern, I saw my father and Tom Ranke, his drinking buddy, leave the tavern. My father saw me and waved as he crossed the street.

Suddenly, the headlights of a speeding car blinded me. I knew my father was going to be killed! I heard the thud of the car hitting my dad’s body. I smelled the burning rubber of screeching tyres and the petrol fumes as the car sped away into the darkness. All this happening in an instant, but seeming like an eternity in slow motion.

I screamed, “ Dad, Dad.” My screams deafened me.Tom Ranke ran to the still body in the gutter, checking for signs of life. People were coming out of the shadows to satisfy their curiosity.

I was frozen to the spot. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. I then walked over to my father’s body, as if in a stupor, and threw myself on his lifeless form. The blackness of the night matched my mood.

“ Why? Why?” I heard myself crying.

Tom ran to the public phone box and called the emergency services. Blood was coming out of my father’s nose, mouth and ears. It ran in a red stream down the gutter to the drain.

Tom grabbed me and held my head close to his chest.

“ Don’t look, son.”

“I’m too late. I’m too late. I should of come earlier. I could of saved Dad. Now, I’m too late.”

My father was dead! I was thirteen years old!


It was a grey day when my dad was buried. The only people at the graveside were me, my mother, Tom Ranke and the preacher. I think it hit me then how alone my mother and I were. Also my guilt feelings re-emerged.

I looked at all the gravestones around and wondered how many other fathers left their young sons to be the “ man” of the family. Tears welled up in my eyes. I wiped them away fast.

Then I noticed two men in black suits and hats looking on from a distance. I couldn’t see their faces because their fedoras were pulled down. When I looked again they were gone.

It started to rain.

One thought on “Web of Guilt, Chapter One

  1. I identified with your opening scene! My dad was a beer distributor who spent a lot of time in bars, schmoozing with the owners. I went along whenever he would take me. I can’t imagine why, as I look back now. I remember being bored.
    I like your Chicago background.

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