Freedom's Just Another Word...

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Jake Doyle's column was syndicated in 200 papers. But he fell in love with his intern and lost it all. Now he's a 20th century man trying to make it in the 21st century. When an ambitous publisher offers the job of a lifetime, Jake learns that not everyone has a price, but everything has a cost.

Freedom’s Just Another Word…

The Life and Times of Jake Doyle

Chapter 1

Wednesday – 8:30 p.m. February 14, 2018

Charcoal Oven, Skokie, Illinois

I used to be famous.

Not traffic-stopping, movie star famous. Newspaper-famous. That’s a lower bar. My column in the Chicago Tribune – Jake’s Corner - used to be syndicated in two hundred papers. Back in ’99 I was nominated for a Pulitzer for my reports on corruption in the city council. But then the wheels came off.

I wish I could say I was done in because I got too close to the power brokers and they crushed me. At least that would be a good story. But my fall from grace was all on me. I fell in love with someone I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with. She was twenty, I was thirty-five and married. She was my intern. She had a baby. We named him Devante.

I’m supposed to say I was wrong. That I made a mistake and I’m sorry. But I loved Monique and I love my son. My heart wanted something it couldn’t have. I don’t think that makes it wrong, just impossible. I have no regrets.

Devante’s twenty now and he’s a good man. Better than me. Even though I didn’t raise him, I’ve been a part of his life and I’m grateful for that.

When the scandal broke, I lost my syndication deal and the Tribune bosses wanted to fire me, but my editor, Hector Gonzales, wouldn’t let them. For the next eighteen years I wrote five columns every week – never missed a deadline. I loved that gig and I always said if I didn’t need the money so badly, I would do it for free.

It’s almost come to that.

When the Trib was sold last year, the new owners cut me back to three columns a week at sixty percent of what I had been making. Now I’m driving for Uber to make ends meet. I have a deadline in four hours and I don’t know what to write about yet. I had hoped one of my customer’s would inspire me, but so far, no luck.

It was snowing when I pulled in to the Skokie Hampton Inn. Fat, wet flakes that would be hell to shovel. Golf Road was a mess. The plows couldn’t keep up. Huge banks of snow from the past weekend’s blizzard lined the edge of the hotel parking lot. I hate snow. It makes this part-time Uber gig a fulltime pain-in-the-ass. I swung around to the entrance and popped the trunk. There was a big investment banker conference going on at the Orrington Hotel in Evanston. Drivers had been making trips from O’Hare all day, but I stay away from the airport. Can’t make any money sitting in a queue for an hour. I like the short hauls. And with this snowstorm it would take ninety minutes to get back from O’Hare.

My passenger – she was in her early thirties, about the same age as my daughter – had been on her phone since I picked her up in front of the Orrington. She was still wearing her name tag – Hi I’m Jennifer from Goldman Sachs. Her nametag was a lot more friendly than she was. For the twenty minutes it took me to get from downtown Evanston to Skokie she chewed out the poor schmuck who had messed up her reservation. Apparently, there were no vacancies at any of the other hotels in the area so she was stuck out in Skokie, at a “goddamn tacky Hampton Inn.”

I set her bag on the curb under the entrance awning. Couldn’t have weighed ten pounds. Millennial women know how to pack. Not like my ex. We’d go on an overnight getaway and Tawni would have two saddlebags stuffed with documents and a full suitcase. She’s a pro-life activist so she could never travel light. Too many souls to save.

Jennifer from Goldman Sachs pulled out the roller board handle. “Thank you,” she said and gave me a smile that looked almost sincere. When I was younger, a woman smiled at me like that and I would think it meant something. Sometimes it did. But after Devante was born, I stopped fooling around. I guess he made me grow up. You could say that Monique and Devante saved my marriage because Tawni refused to let me go. She was stubborn like that.

Until last year.

It wasn’t another woman or booze that broke us up. I had stopped trying and Tawni found a better model. Someone who gave a damn. I’m fifty-five now and I know my limitations. I can’t drink all day and then pound out a column in ninety minutes. With Monique gone and Tawni out of the picture, I might be tempted to indulge my weakness for younger women, but I know I’m invisible to ninety-nine percent of them. I’m okay with that. Invisible’s better than the alternative.

I waited at the curb until she made it inside and then I went back to my car. When Tawni and I split up, we sold our house in Glenview and she bought a condo in snooty Evanston. I warned her that it had been declared a nuclear-free zone and most of the cars still had their Obama-Biden bumper stickers. They weren’t going to welcome a right-to-life activist like her. But she didn’t listen. No surprise there.

Tawni didn’t want the hassle of parking on the street so she let me have the Chrysler.

It’s not a bad car for Uber – charcoal gray so it looks sort of like a limo and it has plenty of leg room and comfortable seats. Not as posh as a Lexus, or as economical as a Prius – the car of choice for most drivers – but I like it. The Uber app beeped. Jennifer rated me five stars and gave me a five-buck tip. God bless expense accounts.

It wasn’t late, but my column deadline was in less than four hours. That used to be more than enough time – even if I was half-in-the-bag – but those days were gone. Everything took longer now. My brain was slowing down. I decided to head over to the Charcoal Oven for some inspiration. It’s my favorite bar – only five blocks from my home so if I get seriously shitfaced, I can walk home. My buddy Enyart is the bartender.

The Charcoal Oven is an old-fashioned supper club, like from the ‘50s. Cozy little dining room with a no-frills bar for your serious drinker. No dining customers tonight, but there were two thirtysomething women at the end of the bar arguing. They were an odd couple. One black, one white. The Black gal, who had a close-cropped Afro, was wearing mechanics coveralls and was built like a linebacker. Her friend was a slender redhead with what I would have called a Dorothy Hamill hairstyle, but I’m sure that just dates me. Whatever, she was cute and dressed very corporate.

The linebacker was angry. “I can’t believe you, Amanda,” she said, her voice a low hiss.

Enyart was hanging at the other end of the bar, watching the television. I was surprised – it was tuned to CNN instead of ESPN.

I walked past the ladies – who didn’t notice me – and sat down across from Enyart. “Bulls win?” I asked, knowing that would get a response.

Enyart stared at me, feigning disgust. “Who cares? They suck.” He grabbed the Crown Royal from the top shelf and poured a shot for me. “If they armed those teachers this wouldn’t happen.”

“What?” I looked up at the screen. A covered body was being wheeled out of a school. The banner at the bottom of the screen read, 17 Killed in Florida High School Shooting. “Damn. Another school shooting?”

“Another punk with a gun. I’m just waiting for the CNN douchebags to blame Trump for this too.”

Every liberal columnist in America would be writing about gun control tomorrow. That’s why I loved arguing with Enyart. His over-the-top observations often helped me find a fresh angle for a news story. I fired a shot that was bound to get a response.

“Maybe instead of more weapons, we try getting rid of all the guns. This doesn’t happen in the U.K.”

Enyart sighed and wiped the bar down with a vengeance. “Jesus, Jake. When are you going to get your head out of your ass and drop that liberal bullshit? Married thirty years and you didn’t learn a goddamn thing from that wife of yours?”

Enyart loved everything about Tawni – her hot bod, her take-no-prisoners attitude, and her right-wing, let-them-eat-cake philosophy. The feeling was not mutual. Enyart was too crude for my ex.

“Even Tawni would agree that if you make it harder to have a gun, maybe there would be fewer innocent bystanders killed.”

Like Monique. Shot while waiting for the Damen bus. Wrong place. Wrong time. Instead of savoring the whiskey, I chugged it and pushed the glass back to Enyart for a refill. “You need to work on your bartender skills. I don’t think you’ve grasped the concept of empathy.”

“Gun control!?” His voice almost broke as he refilled my glass. “Like they have in Sweden, right?”

I knew he was setting me up, but I played along.

“Yeah, Swedes don’t have much crime.”

Enyart buried his head in his hands. “Remember when that crazy Swede slaughtered seventy kids who were on an island retreat? Outlawing guns really helped them. I guess the shooter didn’t get the memo telling him it was illegal to have an AK-47.” His eyes bugged, daring me to offer some defense. “Now that fucker’s sitting in some country club prison complaining about his meal plan. Son-of-a-bitch will be out in five years!”

I had the feeling he was exaggerating, but Enyart read everything left- and right-wing so I didn’t challenge him. I vaguely remembered that Swedish massacre and made a mental note to check it out later. Could be something there I could use.

“How come you’re not watching Fox?” Enyart was not hard-core right-wing like my ex. He could be even more profane about some of the bloviators on Fox than the ones on CNN. And he had some surprisingly liberal tendencies. He had a live-and-let-live attitude on all matters of personal choice – whether it be a woman’s right to choose or gay marriage or drugs. He just believed if you chose to fuck up your life you should live with the consequences. His day job was running a gym in Uptown where he taught kids to box and tried to keep them off the streets and out of the gangs. He’d been a Marine – awarded a Silver Star during Desert Storm – and after that mini-war was over he spent a couple years boxing for the Marines. I met him in 1994 at the Chicago Golden Gloves Tournament in Cicero.

He leaned closer to me and attempted to whisper. “The lesbians asked me to turn it to CNN.” He grinned slyly and stepped back like he was sizing me up. “You need to get back in the gym. You’re getting an Uber gut.”

“I know. I’m not in your weight class anymore. Guess we’ll never get that rematch.” Enyart was a fitness nut. Didn’t drink or smoke; watched his diet. Still weighed 165 and probably less than ten percent body fat. Still had his Marine haircut and body. Whether he was bartending or working in his gym, he always wore a form-fitting white polo. He must have owned a dozen. He thought of himself as a ladies’ man. I would say that assessment was at best a split decision. Most women considered him an outspoken blowhard, but there were some who saw that underneath all his bullshit was a decent guy who would literally give you the shirt off his back.

“I don’t mind moving up a class,” he said. “How much you weigh now, one ninety?”

One ninety? Who was he kidding? I gave him the fish eye. “I stopped weighing myself when I broke two hundred. I’ll stick with training. Cornermen don’t get hit.”

When I was growing up, I lived with my mom in an apartment over Flanigan’s Bar on Halsted. It was my Uncle Ralph’s bar. He ran a sports book on the side. After high school, while I was going to night school at DePaul, I ran the bar and would go along with Ralph if he had a challenging collection. In those days I was in shape. Lifted weights, sparred at Gold’s Gym. I was a wannabe Rocky Balboa – I looked tough – but I wasn’t. Fortunately looking tough was all that was required.

I’ve been helping Enyart train Devante for the Golden Gloves tournament coming up in March.

Enyart laughed. “You were good at not getting hit,” he said, his voice gravelly. “Did you sign your boy up?”

“Yeah. Novice 168. It’s a tough weight class.”

Enyart waved his hand dismissively. “Brawlers, just like you. Devante’s got some skills. He just has to remember to use them when he gets in the ring.”

“Like Mike Tyson said, ‘Everyone’s got a plan till you punch them in the face.’”

I was one of Enyart’s victims on the way to his Golden Gloves championship back in ’94. I was thirty and had entered as part of a feature article I was writing for the Trib on weekend warriors. I hadn’t done any boxing since I stopped working for Uncle Ralph, but I got myself in shape and figured, being a lefty – there’s not that many southpaw boxers – I’d have an edge. If I got a lucky draw, I might win a bout or two. Unluckily, I drew Enyart in my first match. He was fresh out of the Marines, twenty-four years old, and it looked like he had been chiseled out of granite. I knew I didn’t have a prayer before I stepped into the ring.

It was three rounds and I went the distance, but only because I tied him up every chance I got. I lost in a unanimous decision but the feature was a hit. Helped me get my column.

There was a crash at the end of the bar as the linebacker gal stood up suddenly, toppling her barstool. “Fuck you, Amanda!” She grabbed her parka, and stormed out of the restaurant.

Enyart sighed. “Happens every other week,” he whispered. He turned to the redhead. “Come on down, Mandy. Meet Jake.”

The woman grinned at Enyart as she uprighted her girlfriend’s barstool. Then she grabbed her backpack and her drink, and joined us. The way she was dressed – classy navy-blue suit with two-inch heels, I figured her for a lawyer or one of those investment bankers, like smiling Jennifer from Goldman Sachs.

“Doesn’t look like I’m staying with her tonight,” she said. She didn’t seem too upset about that.

“Mandy, this silver-haired fox is Jake Doyle – a real man of the people,” Enyart said. He actually winked. The guy was a throwback to some era that probably never existed.

“The name’s Amanda! I told you before, every time you call me Mandy, you have to buy me a drink. I want a good whiskey, not that cheap shit Bianca was buying.” She turned to me. “What do you recommend?”

“Give her the Crown, Enyart.”

Enyart grinned and gave her half a shot. “Here’s a taste, A Man Duh.”

She settled on to the barstool. “You know, you’re not an awful bartender, Enyart. You just need guidance.” She smiled impishly at him and then turned to me. “Sorry for the scene. My girlfriend’s high strung.”

“High strung?” Enyart snorted. “Ditch that broad. Try a man. You need a change of pace.” He winked again, which was his way of pretending he wasn’t serious. But I knew he would be happy to volunteer his services.

She shrugged. “Men are too predictable.” She downed the shot and licked her lips, making sure she got every drop. “You’re right. I definitely need a change.”

“Now you’re talking, Mandy!”

“Yes sir. No more cheap whiskey for me. From now on I’m only drinking the good stuff. And you owe me another drink.” She winked back at him.

Enyart grinned and reached for the bottle, but she shook her head.

“Rain check. I have to be in court tomorrow.”

“Are you a lawyer?” I asked.

“Stenographer. Can’t you tell? We dress much better than lawyers.”

“Oh for the love of...” Enyart was glaring at the TV. “What’d I tell ya, Jake? Shithead reporter doesn’t blame the shooter. Oh no. Don’t blame the fuckhead with the gun. It’s society’s problem.” He pointed his remote at the screen and muted Anderson Cooper.

“Oh my,” Amanda said, looking at the scene being replayed for the hundredth time. Her hands cupped her face. “Not another shooting.”

Enyart slammed his fist down on the bar. “Shoot a few of those cowards and this would stop. I guarantee it.” Enyart’s face had turned red, like it always did when he got himself worked up.

Hah! I had my column inspiration. I figured Amanda would have a strong reaction to Enyart’s outburst. It would be a great debate: Gay, liberal, millennial debates a Desert Storm war vet with a Silver Star.

Amanda continued to stare at the screen, like she hadn’t even heard Enyart. They were showing the sheet-draped body being removed from the school on a gurney again. “I agree. Kill them all,” she said, sounding more sad than angry.