Louie Pinna was a bad kid, everybody said so: his neighbors, relatives, teachers. He was a bad student, that was certain. Pinna never really learned to read or write, so he was stuck in the third grade until he quit school legally at the age of sixteen. Roy had been in that third grade class with Pinna, a situation that was embarrassing not only for Louie but for his classmates, as well. At fifteen Pinna was already six feet tall. His legs did not fit under the small desk he was assigned to, so he sat in the last seat of the last row and splayed his legs to either side. Everyone was relieved when Pinna was finally allowed to leave.
After that Pinna hung out on the corner of Diversey and Blackhawk in the afternoons and worked as a night janitor at a downtown office building. Roy and his friends would often stop and talk to him after they got out of school. Pinna had always been nice to them; Roy never understood why so many adults considered Louie Pinna to be a rotten apple. In the 1950s, the concept of learning disabilities was not widely discussed, so a kid like Pinna was considered dumb and labelled a loser, earmarked for a bleak future as a bum or a criminal.
By the time Roy was in high school, Pinna had disappeared from the neighborhood. Roy asked around about him but nobody he talked to seemed to know where Pinna had gone. Then one day when Roy was fifteen Pinna’s face appeared on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. Under a photograph of the now twenty-three year old Louie Pinna, who had grown a fruit peddler mustache, were the words: NO BAIL FOR SUSPECT IN KILLINGS. The article accompanying the photo said that Pinna worked at a meat processing plant on the West Side of the city and was accused of feeding bodies of murder victims through a grinder, after which the remains were mixed with food products and packaged as pork sausage. Pinna had not actually been charged with committing any murders, only with disposing of corpses provided, investigators theorized, by The Outfit, Chicago’s organized crime syndicate.
Alberto Pinna, Louie’s father, a retired plumber, was quoted in the newspaper as saying that his son had “a slow brain,” and that, “if Louie done such a thing, he was used by those type people who do bad things wrong.” Louie’s mother, Maria Cecilia, was quoted as following her husband’s statement with the remark, “And there ain’t no shortage of them in Chicago.”
“You believe this?” Roy asked the Viper.
“Pinna goes to prison,” the Viper said, “at least he won’t have to worry about taking care of himself no more.”
“Do you think he did it? Ground bodies up for the Mob?”
“What makes you think he wouldn’t?”
Roy and the Viper were on a bus passing the lake, which was frozen over. Roy remembered seeing Louie Pinna with Jump Garcia and Terry the Whip, both of whom had done time in the reformatory at St. Charles, going into Rizzo and Phil’s, a bar on Ravenswood Avenue, a couple of years before. The cuffs of Pinna’s trousers came down only to the tops of his ankles and he was wearing white socks with badly scuffed brown shoes. Rizzo and Phil’s, Roy had heard, was supposedly a hangout for Mob guys.
“Pinna never picked on younger kids,” Roy said. “He wasn’t a bully.”
“He did the thing,” said the Viper, “ain’t no character witnesses from grammar school gonna do him no good.”
“Can’t see what good it’d do to put Pinna away. He didn’t harm a living person.”
That night, Roy’s mother’s husband, her third, a jazz drummer who used the name Sid “Spanky” Wade–his real name was Czeslaw Wanchovsky–almost drowned in the bathtub. He had been smoking marijuana, fallen asleep and gone under. Spanky woke up just in time to regurgitate the water he’d inhaled through his nostrils. Roy’s mother heard him splashing and coughing, went into the bathroom and tried to pull Spanky out of the tub, but he was too heavy for her to lift by herself.
“Roy!” she yelled. “Come help me!”
Roy and his mother managed to drag Spanky over the side and onto the floor, where he lay puking and gagging. Roy saw the remains of the reefer floating in the tub. Spanky was short and stout. Lying there on the bathroom floor, to Roy he resembled a big red hog, the kind of animal Louie Pinna had shoved into an industrial sausage maker. Roy began to laugh. He tried to stop but he could not. His mother shouted at him. Roy looked at her. She kept shouting. Suddenly, he could no longer hear or see anything.