Daddy’s Tavern is a neighborhood mystery novel, an unconditional love story, and a powerful family drama, all brought together for a memorable and emotional roller coaster ride.
Daddy’s Tavern is at the center of a decaying neighborhood--a brutal world of cruelty, murder, and a mysterious man with a camera who is killing the neighborhood children, and he's refining his 'art.'
Daddy’s Tavern has been the neighborhood’s meeting place since it was first built after the Great Chicago Fire. Local businessmen often held court to resolve local problems, a tradition that tragically continues with the new owner.
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The front door of Pazzolli’s opened but he didn’t look up. Pazzolli stared into the left oven, the slow one--temperamental, like a beautiful woman. The pastry had been off for two loads now. He curled his mustache between his fingers. Gas jet, maybe. He closed the door, turned up the thermostat, then looked up to greet his customer.
“Hello, Mel,” he said. “You hungry, my friend?”
“Sit down,” Pazzolli said. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
Pazzolli wrinkled his nose. The exhaust fan in the rear window worked on Mel’s sweat. A month had passed since the death of Lenny’s parents. The owner of the building had cleaned their apartment and put up a 'For Rent' sign. Maude Avenue continued, business as usual. Most of the neighborhood had already forgotten them.
Mel leaned against one of the tables.
Pazzolli's face soured as he scooped escargot into the roasting pan.
“I hate these things.”
“What do you mean?” Mel asked.
“They're slimy and they stink. They're snails, Mel. I don't want to cook 'em anymore."
“Come on,” Mel said. “You make a good buck on these things. Besides, where am I going to get them if you quit? Vendors don’t come around here anymore.”
“You want snails,” Pazzolli said. “You cook ‘em. I’ll show you how.”
“Nah,” Mel said in distaste. “I don’t like the smell of cooking food.”
“Why’s that?” Pazzolli asked.
“I don’t know,” Mel said. “The smell just makes me sick.” He did not want to admit to Pazzolli that the smell of cooking sometimes frightened him.
Pazzolli set the wind-up timer and came out to the table. He eased into the chair across from Mel.
“Look out there,” Pazzolli said, pointing to the front window. Mel had to raise up in his chair to see.
In a doorway across the street two men stood together. The biggest of them was dressed like a biker, the other wore a headband and the colorful clothes of a hippie. A plastic bag passed from one to the other. Money was then exchanged.
“Dope heads,” Pazzolli said. “I don’t know which is worse, the buyers or the sellers.”
“Shit’s what it is,” Mel said. “Pure-dee shit.”
The drug dealer turned around. It was Barlow Hines. With Big Donny's death, Barlow had stepped in. He had a swagger now, a bob to his head, a new smoothness.
Pazzolli shook his head as he watched Barlow and the boy light up a joint and share it. One puffed, while the other looked down the street to watch for anyone who might see them, both too stupid to realize they were already being watched. POWER TO THE PEOPLE was spray painted on the wall above their heads.
“Call the cops,” Mel said.
“What for? Hell, they’ll be gone by the time the police get here. Besides, you don’t need the trouble and neither do I. What the hell’s the neighborhood coming to, Mel? They’re dealing drugs outside my store. I can remember when that street out there used to be clean, and kids used to play ‘kick the can’ and ‘hide and seek.’ I never thought those kids would grow up and sell drugs in front of my store. I can remember...” Pazzolli was about to go into his 'Ever since Kennedy was killed' monologue when he realized Mel was not listening. “But that was a long time ago. So, what do you hear from Lenny?”
“Haven’t heard anything,” Mel said. He frowned. “Some navy officer came looking for him. I guess they wanted to offer him some medical help since he was Darryl's kid, but he hasn't been back. The police and some social worker came in to check on him, but since he's almost 18, they didn't look like they were gonna try too hard. Shame them people didn’t find Lenny when he was a little kid. Maybe he would have had a better life.”
“Maybe they have found him,” Pazzolli said. He used a menu to swat a fly on the next table. “Make a few calls. Check up on the boy. You’ll feel better when you know he’s okay.”
Mel sighed. "Maybe I will."
“You miss him,” Pazzolli said.
“Yeah,” Mel said. “He used to sit at one of the barstools, eating my lunch, telling me how lucky I was, talking about how he was going to be a businessman like me one day.” Mel thought a moment. “Mind if I tell you something?”
Pazzolli looked around for another fly to smash.
“I think Lenny might be my kid,” Mel said.
The menu stopped mid-flight. “What?”
“Yeah. I talked to Lenny’s father that night before he died. He said Lenny wasn’t his kid. He said Mary got pregnant while he was overseas.”
“Maybe he was lying,” Pazzolli said. “Besides, what the hell’s that got to do with you? Are you saying you was humping a married woman?”
“It was about a year after I came here,” Mel said. “I'd just bought the tavern. I didn’t really know that many people back then. One day, I was sitting outside the tavern, you know, sort of feeling cocky about having my own business, watching what was happening on the street and all. I was waiting for the snail vendor to come around. I saw this woman up on her porch. I hadn’t had a woman in a while, and she looked interested.”
“That’s bullshit,” Pazzolli said. “A married woman?”
“I didn’t know she was married,” Mel lied. “Hell, she started the conversation with me. She looked like she needed a little attention. I just gave her what she needed. I didn’t think she would get pregnant though. Not just from that one time. I’d made it with a few neighborhood women before that, but nothing ever came of it.”
“I don’t want to talk to you right now,” Pazzolli said. He started to get up.
“It was a long time ago," Mel protested. "Twenty years maybe. I’m not like that anymore. You know that.”
Pazzolli thought about it. He sat down again. “What do you plan to do about Lenny? If he’s your son, why haven’t you found out where he is?”
“I talked to a cop I know,” Mel said. “He told me that since I couldn’t prove I was Lenny’s father, he doubted they would take me seriously. And since I’m not married, he doubted they would let me adopt him. He said they had most likely found a good foster home for Lenny. He said they keep that entire stuff secret. He says Lenny is probably doing fine.”
“Then maybe you should let it go, Mel. Quit trying to look for him.”
“I don’t know,” Mel said, looking at the floor. “I’ve got a bad feeling.”
“Lenny’s probably living in some big house in the suburbs. He’s probably got a doctor for a daddy now. Probably got his own room with a color television and everything. Probably eating so much food he’s too fat to get up.”
“Yeah,” Mel said. He scrubbed at his face with his hands. “Maybe you’re right.”
The wind up timer dinged. Pazzolli went into the kitchen and put the escargot in a tall sack the way Mel liked them. He dropped a straight pin onto Mel’s outstretched palm.
Mel paid him and turned to leave. He stopped at the front door and looked back.
“You really figure everything’s all right?”
“Go home, my friend. Try not to worry so much.”
Pazzolli turned back to the left oven to examine the gas taps.
When Mel stepped out of the restaurant, the wind was waiting for him. The wind was busy scouring discarded candy wrappers, emptied ashtrays, lost homework and the sweepings of people who could not afford dustpans. The wind held no malice for Mel. On Maude Avenue, when the mood takes it, the wind simply is.
Mel turned a corner and a sheet of newspaper wrapped against his leg. He clawed it away.
That was when he found Lenny.
Lenny was sitting on top of a Dumpster, chewing. His short, black hair stuck out in dirty clumps.
Mel watched as Lenny spun around, trying to conceal his cache. When he saw it was Mel, he straightened.
Mel’s bag of snails fell from his fingers.
Dirty hospital tape covered Lenny’s nose. He was shirtless and still wearing his graduation pants. Mel figured in his head. Lenny had been on the streets for a month.
Mel took him to his apartment over the tavern. He scrubbed him down, then poured hydrogen peroxide on the sores the fleas had opened on his skin.
Lenny stared down at the filthy bath water. “I had a world, Mel," Lenny said. “It wasn't a whole lot, but I had fun sometimes. And I had dreams. I had a family, a future. Plans." Soap got in his eyes and he wiped at it with a soapy forearm. One eye stayed closed. "Now I've got nothing. I’ve never had nothing before.”
“Where you been staying?” Mel asked.
“I had a place. No one could come up on me. Sometimes, the sun would go gold on the windows across the street. It was real pretty. I took a picture of it." He put shampoo in his hand and worked it into his hair. "I took some nice pictures of stuff, but I found out there wasn't any film in the camera." He laughed, strained. "I got chased by dogs. I didn’t know there were so many dogs, especially at night. And rats.” A chill shook him. “I’ve been sleeping on roofs. I tried to work for something to eat, but people ran me off ‘cause I scared them.” Soapy bubbles slid down his arm. “I scared them.”
Mel handed him a towel. “I’m going down to the tavern and make you a couple of sandwiches. I’ll leave some clothes on the chair by the door. They won’t fit too well, but they’re clean. Come on down when you get dressed.”
Mel went downstairs and opened the tavern. He poured himself a cup of coffee. The sun would go gold. He'd never noticed. He had to think, had to be absolutely positive about what he was planning to do, but he already knew what the answer would be.
“So why do you worry so much about that dirty boy?" Boche's mother asked. "You want to catch those head lice? That what you want?"
Boche had listened to her concern over head lice for years. Lenny had never had lice. "It was a roach, Ma. You know anybody on Maude who ain't got roaches?"
"Don't you use that tone with me."
"Why you so protective of him?"
"I don't know, Ma."
The fishing bell jingled as Lenny entered the tavern. He held his shoulders back. He had pride if he poked around deep enough.
“Here,” Mel said, pointing to a plate with two sandwiches and a chocolate doughnut. “Start eating while I get you a soft drink.”
Lenny sat at the table and fought the urge to attack the food. Go slow. Don't look desperate. Look around. Chew slow.
Mel returned with the drink.
“You can stay here if you want to,” Mel said. “You know, if you don’t mind living here in the tavern. There’s the storeroom over there. It’s not much, but it’s better than living on the streets.”
Lenny's eyes darted around the room. “You mean it, Mel? I could live here?”
Mel wanted to embrace him.
“Yeah,” he said. “I mean it. You keep the place clean, you run a few errands, and you’ve got yourself a home. Okay?”
Lenny nodded. He wanted to talk with Mel, but the warm bath and food closed in. In a few moments he was asleep at the table.
Mel carried Lenny into the storeroom. He kicked several beer cases into place and laid Lenny on top of them. It might be good to have the boy here, he thought. The boy needed somebody. Kids need protection. Mel had never felt needed before. A father figure. Responsibility. It was foreign to him, but he held the idea, getting used to it, getting comfortable.
He reached down and straightened Lenny's damp hair. He went behind the counter and got his Polaroid camera. He stepped back into the room where Lenny lay sleeping and took a picture of his son.
Jan Verhoeff Reviews “Daddy’s Tavern” Written by Curt Gibson
Lenny kicks off this page turner like a can from the gutter along Maude Street, a community living in the shadow of the Chicago Fires. The result of an afternoon respite from the summer heat and loneliness of the war, Lenny carries his personal burdens as he blunders through the early years of his life. A troubled youth with many strikes against him, Lenny hangs onto the hope of his father’s return from the military. His mother’s choices together with happenstance leaves Lenny on the street. Another time another place, and the man who suspects he’s really Lenny’s father finds him, brings him back to the tavern and keeps him until the military takes him away.
A series of events meander their way through Lenny’s life until he meets the woman who inspires him to change. His motivation is complete as he comes full circle to entrepreneurial pursuits. Lenny can be what he wants to be and he endeavors to become more.
You’ll be won over by his spirit and soul in this book surprisingly packed with murder, crime, and mayhem from every port. Lenny is an innocent soul who overcomes the trials of a rough start in life and actually becomes an upstanding businessman with a grand future. I found myself crying in one part and laughing in other parts as his character overcomes tragedy and ascends to greater heights.
I think what impresses me most about this book is the fact that Lenny comes from a place of underachievement and actually overcomes obstacles of most every sort to start his own business and become a productive part of a society where his friends are actually thugs. The recognition of a different sort of justice from the inner city where values arise from a different place in the soul brought me back to reality in the end of the book, as one character realized and stood on the fact that he was a good person, despite rough beginnings and errors in his life.
I would read the book again, recommend it to friends and have suggested it to a few who prefer a good life line story over the traditional mysterious crime tales.
This and more reviews are posted at http://janverhoeffonline.wordpress.com
By Tabitha Robin "http://www.tabitha-robin.com" (USA) - See all my reviews
"Have you seen the snail man?" a secret that has haunted Mel, the owner of the local Tavern on Maude Avenue for a very long time, so long that he will even carry it to his grave with him.
A woman that is married to a sailor; she losses her life; she is murdered. Her son Lenny is left to fend for himself. Abused, Mistreated, Abandoned
Lenny has to find out what life is all about through two older men on Maude Avenue, Pazzolli and Mel.
As you watch Lenny grow he finds out hidden secrets about his friends and family; but the biggest secret still is left uncovered. He lives out his life as on a roller coaster. He experiences so many pains and realities that a child should not have to face. He joins the army, but still it does not help him forget his past, "Lenny you really are a Roach."
Lenny is taken in by Mel and is given a small room to stay in. He lets his life drift by not really letting himself live.
A beautiful woman buys the house in front of Mel's tavern, she begins to renovate it. As the woman, named Rachel sets out to renovate the old house she hires Lenny to be her handyman. Working for only $80 dollars a week, with meals provided; Lenny finds a new meaning to life.
Meanwhile while Lenny is growing in heart the neighborhood children have been coming up missing. For many years no one knows what was
happening to them.
Boche, Lenny's best friend takes over the job at the Playground as he deals with many issues that plague him from the past.
The picture man knows the answer too many untold secrets of Maude Avenue.
This book is filled with love, faith, overcoming all odds. It also is a book of secrets, mystery, murder and mayhem.
This is a brilliant story; the author writes in such an unique style it will lead you into many different lives. Come take a moment and reside on Maude Avenue, watch Lenny grow and learn, discover secrets that lay hidden underneath the dust of Maude Avenue. Maude is really alive, you must read to believe. I give this book 5 stars.
Set in mid-twentieth century Chicago, Daddy's Tavern follows the happenings of a single street, Maude Avenue. Lenny McCammon comes from an abusive home, and experiences more heartache than a boy his age should endure. When a tragedy leaves him with no family, he is taken in by the local tavern owner, Mel. Gradually Lenny turns his life around, with the assistance of his friend Boche, Mel, and Rachel, the newest resident whom Lenny begins to develop feelings for. Meanwhile, the children in the neighborhood have been disappearing over the years, falling victim to a sadistic stranger with ulterior motives. The parallel storylines eventually collide, forever changing the lives of the characters.
Curt Gibson has painted such a vivid portrait of Maude Avenue in its entirety--the secrets, the desperation, and the hope. Daddy's Tavern is a thrilling read, with dynamic characters and subtle yet profound messages of friendship, family, and redemption.
author of "Liquid Bones"
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