The long-limbed Irishman sat passively, disinterested, as the two demon-eyed Italian boys tore at the immigrant girl's dress. One of her attackers pulled out a length of rope and began to tie her up. The Irishman watched. He was only twenty-two, but hardened by four years of working, living, and breathing the air of Chicago's Levee. He'd arrived in 1910 as an innocent Illinois farm boy. Now, in front of him, Gus and Frankie--two teens he recognized from the brothel--prepared to violate this girl in a thousand unspeakable ways and Henry Sweeney couldn't bring himself to care.
The dank stable area behind Dago Frank's whorehouse on 19th Street was home to a horse, Maurice Van Bever's 1911 Ford Model-T, and the two insane young men who were intent on breaking in their newest girl. In an effort to draw Sweeney's ire, Frankie kept shouting in his direction: "Hey, Paddy, look at this." Still, they wouldn't push him too far. They knew Sweeney and, more importantly, they knew he worked for The Fox.
Sweeney glanced up at the action in front of him. One of the young men had unbuttoned his pants and was swinging himself wildly in front of the terror-stricken girl. Sweeney didn't care what the pair did to the girl; he was there to collect the bets on tomorrow's numbers. He needed to get the money from the gambling action back to the Fox, and then he'd go home for the night. It was almost ten o'clock, and he'd already dealt nine hours of faro and poker at the saloon. For his late night efforts, he'd been given tomorrow off. While one of the barrel-chested Italians tried to force his prick into the girl's mouth, Sweeney thought of seeing tomorrow's baseball game between the White Sox and the visiting Boston Red Sox.
Sweeney began to sense something was wrong, though. He'd been to this building before--it was used mainly for storage and an occasional money drop. But Van Bever always had the money ready by nine o'clock, sharp. Sweeney realized he'd been waiting over an hour, and he was becoming annoyed at the gibbering of the two boys as they argued about deflowering the sobbing girl.
"Frankie, get your prick away from the bitch," shouted Gus. "You know what Mo said about her."
"Screw you and Mo. I don't care if she's a virgin. I can bend her ass over now. The same thing's going to happen to her tomorrow. The only difference is she'll get paid by some rich asshole from Cicero in the morning. The pussy won't be any different."
"Yeah, but Van Bever can get an extra fifty dollars for her tomorrow," retorted Gus. "You go screwing her now and he'll kill you. He can sell her for a virgin bonus tomorrow."
"It's not my problem. Mo's the one who said to break her in." Frankie's bellow echoed through the garage. "How can we get her ready if she's afraid to put a prick in her mouth? Where the hell is everybody, anyway? You want a shot at this, Paddy?" Frankie said, turning his gaze to Sweeney. "Or are you just going to keep looking at that newspaper?"
Sweeney ignored the boy. Frankie and Gus were probably no more than two years younger than Sweeney, but he considered them lowbrow. The Fox had taught Sweeney a few things about how a gentleman carried himself.
Sweeney could hear sirens in the background. Something was going on, but he wasn't going to disobey The Fox and come back without his nightly deposit. Instead, he sat and listened to the pulsating noise outside and the bragging of the two young men in the garage.
Even Frankie took his gaze off his new prize and looked up, questioning. "What the hell's going on out there? Is the whole damn Levee on fire?"
Nobody answered; they all just listened to the sounds of horses and cars and the wails of hand-cranked sirens.
The girl knocked herself to the ground in an effort to get away from the swinging prick. Frankie roughly pulled the girl and the chair upright. He slapped the young girl across the cheek with a blow that brought a coughing fit of crimson blood from the girl's mouth.
For the first time, Sweeney looked at the young girl. Really looked. The room changed before his eyes and he was suddenly aware of its every detail: the sleek gray mare silently chewing a mouthful of hay; the black Ford with the left front fender crushed into a heap of warped metal; water dripping in a corner trickling down from the leaky roof; large beads of sweat forming on Frankie's brow as he struggled with the girl, his naked prick still hanging from his pants.
In this new awareness, Sweeney absorbed the scene before him. He took in the girl's tattered floral dress. Her face was smudged with a mixture of soot and grime. Tears cascaded down her cheeks, matting her auburn curls to the sides of her neck. Her exposed left breast quivered as she sobbed. For a moment he wondered how she'd wound up in the hellish area of Chicago known as the Levee. He couldn't look away from her green eyes. She met his stare and she mouthed a simple prayer: "Please help me." It was the moment that changed Sweeney's life forever.