Blaze Fingers Episode 6: The Street Pharmacist
Thursday, September 15, 1960, 2 PM
Dean Lightfoot was a career thug, and he was training his son Johnny to follow in his footsteps. Dean Lightfoot was born on the tough streets of South Chicago, and he was raised by the streets. His first arrest came at the age of 11 for shoplifting. He spent his childhood in and out of homes for delinquent boys, and he had trained his son to be the perfect bully. At age 5, he started teaching Johnny to box, and any neighborhood boys who showed any sign of weakness became Johnny’s victims. Since Johnny’s beating at the hands of Maurice Fingers Jr. a few months ago, Dean had heard the whispers and snickers as he walked down Racine Avenue. His family’s name had to be avenged. Dean walked down the street until he saw the sign: Castellano's Pawn Shop.
Bill Castellano: Can I help you Sir?
Dean Lightfoot: Yeah, I’m looking for a student clarinet for my kid, nothing too expensive.
Dean kept his head in motion so that Castellano wouldn’t get a really good look at his face.
Bill Castellano: I think that I have the perfect instrument for you. This Boosey & Hawkes wooden clarinet goes for $25. It should fit your child perfectly.
Dean Lightfoot: I’ll take it!
Bill Castellano: I don’t mean to get into your business Mister, but you’re wearing gloves and it’s 75 degrees outside!
Dean Lightfoot: Yeah, I’ve got a little condition with my hands.
Bill Castellano: I see. Well here’s your bill of sale. You’re all set. Have a great day Sir!
Dean Lightfoot: Likewise. Thanks!
Friday, May 17, 2024: The Jazz Showcase, Chicago, Illinois: 4 PM
Mark Sawyer now had 19 months of playing time under his belt playing piano in the Blaze Fingers Jazz Quintet. He never ceased to be amazed by Blaze Fingers’ professionalism. Blaze had just celebrated his 74th birthday in March of 2024, and he was as youthful, energetic, and curious as ever. It was quite common for Blaze to show up at a musical establishment where the band was scheduled to play several hours early to check on various details. Mark had learned many good habits from Blaze, so he decided to show up at the Jazz Showcase at 4 PM for their 8 PM and 9:30 PM sets. When Mark arrived, Blaze was already there sitting at the piano. Wayne Segal, the owner of the Jazz Showcase, was sitting next to him. “Twang”: the piano resonated as Blaze hit the middle C.
“Wayne, the tuning on this piano is pretty good, but the middle C is maybe 3 or 4 cents sharp. We can deal with it tonight, but I recommend getting it tuned as soon as possible”, Blaze said.
Wayne looked over at Mark, laughed, and shook his head in disbelief. That is the kind of perfectionist that Blaze Fingers was.
“Don’t worry Blaze, we’ll get it taken care of BEFORE your set tonight” replied Wayne Segal.
That is the kind of respect that Wayne Segal commanded in the music community.
Blaze waved hello to Mark Sawyer and motioned for him to join them at the piano.
Blaze Fingers: Mark, I have something very exciting to show you.
Blaze had that twinkle in his eye that he had seen many times. Mark immediately knew what was up: Blaze must have purchased a new horn. Blaze Fingers was a complete master of the alto saxophone, and he collected all makes and models of alto saxophones. He knew the quirks of every brand, and he knew how to coax the most out of every brand of saxophone.
Blaze Fingers: Mark, I’ve added a new horn to my collection: a vintage Buffet S1 in mint condition.
Mark knew from the tone in Blaze’s voice that he was about to receive a lecture on the Buffet S1.
Blaze Fingers: This Buffet S1 alto saxophone is one of the best saxophones ever made, but it has two design flaws. Do you see this bell to body brace?
Mark Sawyer: Yes, I see it.
Blaze Fingers: That is a very vulnerable part of the design. If you drop this instrument, that brace can do a lot of damage to the body. There is another single point of failure in the left pinky stack, a single brace supporting all of the pinky keys. You know the point that I am getting to, don’t you Mark?
Mark Sawyer: I think so: as a professional musician, you need to know your instrument inside and out.
Blaze Fingers: Correct. I won’t play an instrument live until I’ve had at least of year of practice on it to learn all of its quirks. I bought this horn in April 2023, and it’s now ready for me to play it live.
Saturday, September 17, 1960, 5:45 PM
15 minutes until closing time. It was rare for Bill Castellano to get a customer so close to closing time. He immediately knew that something was wrong: the man entering the front door of Castellano’s Pawn Shop was wearing a ski mask that completely covered his face. There had been a rash of robberies in the neighborhood over the last few weeks. Castellano started to go for the gun that he kept hidden behind the left side of the counter. But the man was far younger and far faster than he was. Before he could reach the hidden gun, he felt the powerful blow of the man’s fist on the right side of his head. Bill Castellano collapsed like a house of cards in a tornado.
The robber asked Castellano to empty the cash register into a bag that he placed on the counter. Once the money was in the bag, the thief proceeded to beat Bill Castellano until he was unconscious. Once Castellano was out, the robber carefully opened his pouch to reveal the tape that he would use to transfer the fingerprints. Within a few minutes, his job was done.
Friday, September 16, 1960, 8 AM
Johnny Lightfoot: Hey Mr., can I please get your help?
Maurice Sr.: Make it quick kid. I’m on my way to work.
Johnny Lightfoot had been watching Maurice Fingers Sr. for weeks: he knew all of his patterns. He left for work at precisely 8 AM every morning.
Johnny Lightfoot: I can’t read the serial number on this clarinet. I’m starting band in the fall, and the school needs our registration info this week. They need us to buy instruments and to provide them with the instrument’s serial number. Can you please help me out?
Johnny handed the clarinet to Maurice Sr.
Maurice Sr.: Hmm, that’s easy: the serial number is here: A14897593.
Maurice Sr. handed the clarinet back to Johnny Lightfoot.
Johnny Lightfoot: Thank you so much Mister!
Maurice Sr.: No problem kid! Isn’t it a little bit warm out for you to be wearing gloves?
Johnny Lightfoot: I gotta protect my fingers for playing the clarinet.
Maurice Sr.: Okay, whatever you say, kid. Have a good day!
Johnny Lightfoot: You too Sir!
Dean Lightfoot looked at his son with pride: they had pulled it of. Soon, the Fingers family was going to pay for how they had humiliated his son. They had perfectly framed Maurice Fingers Sr. by planting false witness reports. When the police found the fingerprints, it would be over for the Fingers’ family.
Monday, September 19, 1960, 11 AM
Leticia Fingers looked as white as a ghost. When the phone rang, Maurice Jr. knew that it was his dad. His mom was in a state of shock. He instinctively picked up the phone.
Maurice Sr.: I need you to be strong for your mom, Son. They police are saying that they found my fingerprints at the crime scene in Castellano’s Pawn Shop. I’m going to be here in prison until this thing gets sorted out.
Maurice Jr. Felt the weight of 1,000 worlds in the center of his chest.
The next few weeks were very tough for the Fingers’ family. Maurice Jr. would sneak a peak as his mom opened an ever-mounting stack of bills at the kitchen table. He could sense that money was running out. He looked out of the window and saw the man wearing a sharp pinstripe suits as he stood on the corner. He drove a dazzling 1960 Cadillac sedan in baby blue. All of the kids in the neighborhood knew to avoid him. They knew that he gave musicians pills: the adults called them “happy pills”. Even though Maurice Jr. was only 10 years old, he saw the damage that those happy pills had done to people in his neighborhood. He was scared, but he knew that it was time for him to man up. Maurice Jr. waited until he was sure that his mother was asleep before he snuck out.
Maurice Jr.: Hey Mister, I need a job.
Man: I know you, you the Fingers’ kid. Do you know who I am?
Maurice Jr.: They call you the Street Pharmacist, and I need a job….please!
The Street Pharmacist: Let’s go somewhere more private and talk.