A Chicago Carol
Inside The Transition.



A dark room, overlooking the El tracks. From behind the half-drawn shutters, a flickering neon signs signifies that we are in darkest film-noir territory.

The room is filled with men in suits, all of them standing except for one man who reclines in his chair, his feet up on the desk, smoking a cigarette and aiming a Nerf ball at a basket a few feet away. As we watch, he shoots — and the ball bounces harmlessly off the rim.

SFX: Clang!

One of the men moves forward to pick up the ball. He’s a big man, mustachioed, who looks like a cross between a gangster and a communist, although for some reason his fedora has a worn “Press” tag still sticking out of the band. His name is “BIG DAVE.”

BIG DAVE: So, Barry, about this pardon business.

The man called Barry barely looks at him. Instead, he fires another Nerf ball shot. No good: air ball.

SFX: Whoosh!

Barry holds out his hand and a flunky named PLOUFFIE puts another Nerf ball into his open palm and lights the boss another cigarette. He doesn’t acknowledge Plouffie, either. He doesn’t have to. He’s –


BARRY II: Why? What’s in it for me?

The men in suits shuffle their feet, look at the ceiling, whistle snatches of Kander and Ebb.

BIG DAVE: Maybe we should let the boys speak for themselves.

Barry shoots again. The ball bounces off the door, ricochets and hits Big Dave in the head.

SFX: Thonk!

BARRY II: O.K., who’ve we got?

Big Dave signals. An older man shuffles out of the darkness, wearing handcuffs and leg irons. He’s former Illinois governor GEORGE RYAN.

RYAN: I am the Ghost of Felons Past –

BARRY II: What’s the charge?

RYAN: Corruption, bribery, fraud, the usual occupational hazards.

Barry shoots an angry look at Big Dave:

BARRY II: Since when are those crimes in Illinois, even for Republicans? What the hell has this country come to under Bush? Luckily, I am the change we have been waiting for.

A meek metrosexual-type with a soft, high-pitched voice steps out of the shadows. This fellow is “LITTLE DICK,” a senator from Illinois:

LITTLE DICK: I think I speak for all of us when I say that George has suffered enough. After all, he’s already done more than a year in the can. Plus, he’s old. Plus — and this speaks to the brutality of the Guantánamo-like system of justice right here in our own country — “he has, at an advanced moment of his life, been removed from his family. He has lost the economic security which most people count on at his age. And he is separated from his wife at a time when she is in frail health. To say that he has paid a price for his wrongdoing, he certainly has.” My speechwriter wrote that last bit.

Barry ponders, shoots. This time the Nerf ball hits the net and limply falls to the floor. Plouffie hustles over to retrieve it.

BARRY II: Who else we got?

Big Dave nods and another shade shuffles forward. This guy is bald, Middle Eastern-looking, with dollar bills falling out of his pockets: “TONY THE FIXER.”

TONY: I am the ghost of Felons Present.

BARRY II: Tony, old buddy! Great to see you! Where you been, fella? And how much you got for me?

Tony looks shiftily around the room, nods to various acquaintances. He seems to know everybody.

TONY: In federal custody. Look, Barry, I don’t know what you’ve been hearing, but these stories what say I’m singing like a canary, lemme tell ya, they’s just fairy tales what’s bein’ spread by that paddy prosecutor, Fitzgerald. You know I’d never –

BIG DAVE: Watch yourself, Tony. Remember what they said about Abe Reles back in my home town of New York after he went out a high window at the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island: “the canary that could sing but couldn’t fly.” He was in custody, too.

Tony grows very agitated –

TONY: No, Big Dave no! I’m not tellin’ those dirty coppers anything. Honest! I swear!! All that stuff you hear about how I’m giving up Blagojevich and Da Mayor, and the rest of the Combination — you believe me, Barry, don’t ya? Don’t ya?