By Lyle R. Hill
I grabbed it just as it started its third ring and offered
up my usual greeting. “Hill,” the late morning caller began, “it’s good
to hear your voice. Long time no talkie.”
I instantly recognized the voice. There is none other quite like it. Feared
by many, disliked by all, it was the voice of Johnny “The Mooch” Rago.
“Good to hear yours too,” I lied, wondering how long this interruption
to my busy day was going to last.
“That’s nice of you to say, Hill. Listen, you got a minute to talk to
me about something?”
“For you ‘Mooch’ I got nothing but time,” I lied once more.
“That’s good Hill ’cause I wanna talk to you about my cousin Tommy.”
“You mean your cousin Tommy the Torch?”
“Hill, let’s drop the torch thing. That’s not nice. You know, after he
got out the last time he went straight. Became a businessman. Rented a
nice place, hired a couple of people and had a nice little fencing business
going for himself and his brother Frankie.”
Now for you who are, shall we say, not as wise in the ways of the world
as others, when the “Mooch” refers to a fencing business he is not talking
about chain link or barb wire.
Think of it more as a pawn shop that has unusual hours, asks no questions
and keeps no paperwork. I had heard about Tommy’s business venture from
Mooch’s former partner, Jungle Jim Bruney and, just as Bruney had predicted,
the Feds shut the thing down within just a few months of it opening up.
“What about Tommy?” I asked.
“He needs a job, Hill, and if he doesn’t get one soon, he’s gonna have
some real problems ’cause, as you can guess, his parole officer is all
over him these days.”
I didn’t have to guess. Tommy’s predicament was … predictable. And what
a wasted talent Tommy the Torch was. I’ve started to write the story of
Tommy on more than one occasion if for no other reason than to share it
with my own grandsons. Tommy was a legend at the age of 14 and had the
brightest of futures. But the allure of easy money and good times … not
to mention the influence of his uncle “Mooch” and a few other family members
… led him to make regrettable yet irreversible life decisions that would
forever haunt him.
“We’re not that busy right now and I’m not sure Tommy’s background and
training are all that suited for a career in the glass industry.”
“Hill, are you telling me you don’t want to help us out here ’cause if
you are, well then I gotta tell you I’m more than a little disappointed.”
His voice had grown menacing. I knew he was not happy and one thing you
never wanted to be accused of was making Johnny “The Mooch” Rago unhappy.
It is, as we used to say growing up on the west side of Chicago, not good
for your health. But, unlike most, I have never had a fear of “The Mooch”
… at least not in the traditional sense of the word fear.
“Mooch, you know I would do almost anything for you … as long as it was
legal. But this would just not work out. I mean come on, what would he
“Hill, I’ve watched your crews in action and I know as well as you do
that in a crew of five guys setting a piece of glass maybe three of them
at the most are doing anything. And I guarantee you that my cousin Tommy
can do nothing as good as anybody you got working for you.”
“Listen Mooch, you’re wrong about this but I don’t want to argue with
you. I don’t have a spot for Tommy and that’s it.”
“You know, Hill, I’m a little surprised by what I’m sensing is a bad attitude
here toward an old friend. I don’t ask for favors very often and, when
I do, I expect a little more positive response than what I’m getting here
today. I think you should reconsider.”
I knew he was upset but I couldn’t back down. You give an inch to a guy
like this and it will never end.
“Sorry, Mooch. I know you and Tommy are close and I understand you wanting
to help him out. But there’s nothing I can do for you.”
“Hill, you’re going to be sorrier than you think. Now, your old pal is
going to have to do something that both of us are going to regret. I’m
going to have to hit you where I know it will hurt the most!”
“Are you threatening me, Mooch?”
“Hill, I’ve been watching you and that crazy business you’re in for a
long time and I think I know more than you give me credit for knowing.
So here’s the situation as I see it. Number one … Tommy is out of work.
Number two … because Tommy is out of work, he is willing to work cheap.
Number three … Tommy owns a pick-up truck. Number four … we both know
that the suppliers in the glass industry will sell to anybody and everybody,
even a guy like Tommy, and they’ll even deliver their stuff to jobsites
free. Number five … there’s a vacant storefront right up the street from
you. And number six … your customers are always looking for cheaper prices
and most of the time they don’t care if the low bidder knows what he’s
doing or not.”
“What are you telling me, Mooch?”
“I’m saying, Hill, that Tommy’s Glass & Metal has a nice ring to it,
don’t you think?”
“Stop it Mooch! I can’t take any more! He can start tomorrow.”
Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago.
Mr. Hill’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this
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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.