Jolted awake by a thundering noise, I landed on the floor, as the bed slats from under my mattress popped free. Brutus, our German boxer, muzzled his way under a corner of the collapsed bed, with his hind-end quivering in midair. My heart was throbbing two-forty and my throat pulsed with fear. The dog’s panic validated my own. Something awful was happening. As an youngster, I reasoned that someone must have broken down our back door, while my parents slumbered at the other end of a hall much too far away. Trying to muster the courage to yell for help, my thoughts were wrenched by the sound of blaring sirens. Crawling over Brutus, I crept to the window. Trembling, I raised up just enough for a quick peek. Squad cars and fire engines sat helter-skelter, spilling onto our lawn. I sprang up and tore down the hall, screaming all the way to my parents’ room.
Dad had both heard and felt the blast and, thinking it was our boiler, rolled over. He didn’t want to know. As usual, Mom had slept soundly undisturbed, until awakened by my outburst. Once they were moving, I felt safe. Grabbing bathrobes, we scurried outside where neighbors, also clad in night clothes, sought each other amid chaos and confusion. Never had any of us seen so many police officers and fire fighters at one time. The media had yet to arrive. Karen Costello sidled up to me saying, “Bobbi, come across the street with me.”
Following Karen’s lead, I arrived in time to witness human remains being shoveled into a body bag, backlit by a yellow brick two-story home splattered a ghastly red. I was eleven years old. I later wondered: how could the blood from one body cover so vast an area?
There was much to be wondered about that night, starting with a stunned Johnny Costello, in handcuffs, being shoved up against a squad car. Why? And why was Johnny crying? At seventeen, his only offense had been singing opera with the windows open. But that night I discovered, in Chicago, merely having an Italian name could be cause for suspicion.
The man in the body bag, was reportedly carrying TNT or nitroglycerin; something powerful enough to crack our windows and shake my bed slats from their frame. In the wee hours of the morning, stumbling around in the dark, he had tripped over a thin cord running through boulevard hedges. He clutched the explosive. From below the ribs, his body had been shredded and strewn. A scrap of paper was found bearing the license plate number and address of the man living in the yellow brick building; a man none of the neighbors had ever met. We saw him for the first time on that evening’s news, pasty looking and nervously sputtering that he had no idea why anyone would want to kill him. We never saw him again.
By sun up, a crowd inched along single file, scanning the area for scattered bits and body pieces missed by the shovel. Sound waves had traveled over a mile. The spectators had traveled even further. The murmuring line wrapped all the way around the block, snaking back onto itself. Fragments of human flesh hung from sparse saplings like tinsel on a discarded Christmas tree.
After the bombing, no amount of sandblasting the yellow brick building could erase the image of what I had witnessed. I refused to sleep in my own room, unless my mother was in the kitchen nearby. If she was in the living room, at the other end of the house, I would fall asleep on the sofa. Later, Dad would carry me to bed. My startle reflex went into overdrive and so did my imagination. Prior to the bombing, occasionally, I would stay home alone. Afterwards, I was too skittish to be left, even with my aunt and uncle living downstairs in our own two-flat, just kitty-corner from the yellow brick.
I moved into the center bedroom, closer to my parents’ room, with the hall light a constant vigil. The first time they convinced me to stay alone, I sat at the window for hours, tearfully watching for their return. With practice – namely perseverance, obsessive door lock checks, and frequent calls from Mom, I stayed home. Slowly, very slowly, with a determination matched by my mother’s, I grew less fearful. Eventually, the hall light became intrusive and I opted for the security of darkness. If Mom was fearful herself, it never showed. But, looking back, I could not have been the only person wrestling with the aftermath of such a tragedy.
Johnny Costello was released by the police. What had the ordeal meant to him? All I remember about Johnny is that he did finally sing his beloved opera in supper clubs around Chicago. Dad, a police sergeant, said the man from the yellow brick two-flat turned out to be an accountant, who supposedly had pocketed monies not his own. That was when I first learned about organized crime.