“AD 1929” by Douglas W. Texter is a story describing a meeting of artistic guile and criminal muscle. This is a tale of what might have happened if the Italian Futurist F.T. Marinetti had come to America and gone to work for Al Capone.
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Free Preview of AD 1929 by Douglas W. Texter
The Futurist F.T. Marinetti stepped off the Lake Shore Limited at Union Station in Chicago. He inhaled the corruption, the belligerence, the bellicosity of the American Midwest. Policemen stalked the train station, swinging their night sticks. Men in bowler hats strode by on their way to conduct business, to find business, to give people the business.
With his thin mustache and swift-glancing, predatory eyes, Marinetti had arrived in Chicago on important business, the business of empire.
Young newsboys shouted about the latest Capone hits, about President Hoover, about possibilities that the Dow Jones might plunge or streak to the stratosphere. The very air seethed with possibility and pugnacity.
Marinetti checked his watch: half an hour to his appointment with Al Capone, to whom he would offer Futurism and the world.
Marinetti saw an airplane roar over the Wrigley Building. Trains steamed past. Cars and trucks rattled by, their horns honking and their drivers swearing blue streaks of profanity. Blue neon lights blazed, flashing indecently the joys of Wrigley Gum and Camel Cigarettes. From some unseen speakers—noise intoners, Marinetti would have called them—jazz music blared.
The future roared by Filippo T. Marinetti in Chicago in AD 1929. The possibilities for Futurist mayhem and destruction stretched to the prairie horizon and beyond.
Marinetti stood on the platform because of the result of a coin toss made two months before. Italy had come to bore him. With the exception of Mussolini, it simply didn’t move quickly enough. Marinetti had faced a choice, one that would have delighted Apollinaire. Heads, he would stay in Italy and continue to give Futurist support to Mussolini and Fascism. Tails, he would leave moribund Italy, dead Europe, exhausted culture, and journey to the land of corruption, of the airplane, of the arrogance of prohibition and Eliot Ness.
Tails it had been.
The land of Al Capone triumphed.
Marinetti defiantly strode to the taxi stand. A cabbie screeched his Model T over and roared: “Get in. Where do you want to go, Mac?” The cabbie’s hat threatened to fall over his face. Marinetti opened the back door and climbed into the taxi. It roared away from the curb, the treads of its tires acting like a waffle iron on newspaper print.
“I have an appointment with Signor Al Capone. I must get to the Lexington Hotel as soon as possible,” Marinetti bellowed.
The cabbie let out a whistle. “Wow, Mac. Really, with Capone? Wow, that Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre was really something. We all know he did it.” The cabbie turned, quickly eyed him, and said, “Gee, Mac, you don’t look like a crime boss.”
Marinetti smiled and said, “I am not a crime boss. I am something even better: an artist. I am an Italian Futurist.”
“Is that legal in Illinois?” the cabbie said, while weaving in and out of traffic.
“Probably not,” Marinetti said. He chuckled. “When has the future ever been legal?” Used to speaking or screaming in manifestos, Marinetti said, “The Futurists believe in the future.” He raised a finger in the air. “In Bergsonian creative destruction. In Nietzsche, in the eventual evolution of mankind into machines. Propellers will grow out of our heads. Our cities will dwarf Chicago. Our blimps will cruise over the continents.”
“Jeeze, Mac, you’re deep,” the cabbie said, as he passed a furniture van.
“Yes, I am deep, as deep as the abyss of the future, and I seek a powerful patron, one with enough vision to realize the potential I see for the future of the human race.”
“And that’s where Al Capone comes in?” the cabbie asked.
“Yes, that’s where Al Capone comes in.” Marinetti smiled a wild smile, the fully crazed smile of the demented Cheshire cat, the half-mad grin of an artist, the quarter-stupid leer of an investment banker. Marinetti joined his hands and made a shooting motion with them. “Ta, ta, ta,” he said.
The taxi aggressively wove its way through downtown Chicago. The Wrigley building loomed in the distance. Ah, Marinetti thought, it stood a cathedral of commerce, of greed, of the future, of self-interest. Marinetti well knew that in any society the tallest building represents what is most important to people.
Chewing gum, that’s what’s most important to people in America, he thought. Chewing gum. I will give them something to masticate, something they can’t spit out like a wad.
The cabbie honked his horn: Arooh gah. The future pulsed through Chicago in AD 1929.
The wood-paneled elevator door opened on the top floor of the Lexington Hotel. The black elevator operator said, “Top floor. The office of Mr. Alphonse Capone. Visitors come back smiling or they don’t come back at all. Good luck. Good luck.”
“I will see you soon,” Marinetti said. Although outwardly displaying confidence that his interview with Capone would prove satisfactory, inwardly, Marinetti believed he faced a very daunting challenge. True, Capone had enthusiastically responded to his prose-poem letter, “I sing the Machine Gun.” True, he had invited Marinetti to America. All true. But it was also true that Capone often invited people to meetings and killed them in cold blood, Sicilian style, after serving them linguini. Marinetti’s optimism mixed itself, like a demonic cocktail, with a good ration of fear.
As if smelling Marinetti’s trepidation, the elevator operator said, “Don’t be too sure.” He ker-chunked the doors shut behind Marinetti, who stepped into the outer office.
Men wearing three-piece herringbone suits and carrying Tommy guns flanked the doors of the elevator. One wore black, the other dark red. Each nodded to him. The eyes of the gangsters smoldered with mayhem, with honest corruption, with moral putridity. Marinetti could work with these men, if they didn’t kill him.
In front of Marinetti and behind an ebony desk sat a buxom blonde woman, with eyelashes fluttering, Marinetti thought, like the wings of a hummingbird. He looked out the window and saw Chicago, the American Midwest, fan out before him. Possibility stretched out like a Futurist evening, full of riots, of invective, of shrieks, and of pure violence.
“I am F. T. Marinetti, the Italian Futurist,” he said. “I bring Alphonse Capone dreams and the world.” He tried to sound confident. He knew that American crime bosses, much like Italian Fascists, could eat a person alive if they smelled fear.
The woman checked a leather-bound appointment book and talked to herself.
“Ah, let’s see: Marone the Gun. Vitale the boot. Ah, yes, here we are. Marinetti the Futurist. Mr. Capone is expecting you,” she said. “But he must deal with some business first.”
Marinetti heard a scream from a room behind two oak doors. A pulping sound, wet and terrible, emanated from the office.
Marinetti wondered for a moment if coming to America had been a mistake. Certainly, he could perform some positive Futurist work. But would Futurism be enough to save him from Capone and the machine gun?
Marinetti looked at the woman. On principle, Marinetti viewed the woman as contemptible, as he viewed all women. But somehow he liked this one. She had a hard look. No doubt she was a hard woman, one used to indomitable men. He thought that she liked them, needed them, and drank in their power like some kind of gin. Marinetti noticed that the handle of a revolver peeked out from the purse perched on her desk.
Marinetti sat down in a high-backed chair to wait for his interview. He eyed the room, trying to gain some clues to the man who owned it. The room possessed a terrible, modern beauty. Unlike drawing rooms in Europe, it reeked of both elegance and efficiency. On the woman’s desk sat a box that allowed her to communicate directly with Capone. Against one wall stood a giant oak radio. From it blasted scores of the Chicago White Sox and news about a Dempsey fight.
He looked out the huge bay window and mused. America is interesting, he thought. In Europe, the modern and the old struggled for control. Mussolini battled the Pope. The steel beams of the Eiffel tower waged war against the flying buttresses of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. In America, except in a few coastal cities like Philadelphia, the Future had overpowered and conquered the past, extinguishing it.
As he sat, he heard, “No. Don’t!” Another scream and another pulping.
Silence dripped from the office like water from a leaky tap for a few minutes. Then the door opened, and two men carried out a headless body. Another two followed with a second body. The gangsters wore little booties over their shoes so that they wouldn’t track the deep green carpet.
“Try not to drip blood,” the woman said. “You know Mr. Capone hates stains on the rug.”
The men nodded. Marinetti shuddered slightly. He admired Capone’s fastidiousness, but he didn’t know if he could survive it. Maybe this had been a mistake. Mussolini was certainly violent, but Capone could be violent and capricious. Could even Futurism—and more important, Marinetti himself—survive this? He didn’t know. Rubbing his chin, he knew he would have to be good quickly, to make his case water-tight, to appeal to Capone’s desires. This meeting could make or break Marinetti, possibly literally.
A light on the blonde’s desk flashed. She turned on the intercom. “Yes, Mr. Capone, he’s here.” she said. An incomprehensible squawk came from the other end of the intercom. She turned toward Marinetti and said, “You can go in to see him now.”
Marinetti smiled. Technology and violence. The two things he loved the most in the world. A great combination. He smiled again and walked toward the door. He thought Capone a man he could work with, already possessing the beginnings of an aesthetic. Capone stood as the Attila the Hun of his day. But he lacked a comprehensive artistic agenda and longed for legitimacy. Marinetti would provide those.
A goon opened the door for him. He stepped inside. A baseball bat stood in the corner of the room. Blood and hair stuck to it. Marinetti gulped, trying to compose himself. Coercion had to be more subtle than this. Violence, yes, but not this kind.
Capone sat behind a wooden desk. Clean on top, except for a blotter. He wiped the perspiration from his head. Looking at a sheet of paper on his desk, he took a pen and drew two lines on it. “Well, that’s taken care of,” he said to a man in a three-piece suit standing by his desk. “One less thing to worry about, Bugsy.”
“You said that, Boss,” the assistant agreed.
“Actually, two,” Capone said. He smiled. Marinetti looked at him. He had a round, corpulent face, dark brown eyes glimmering with mischief. His mouth turned to cruelty. But the eyes flashed more than a hint of intelligence. That was the future: what Hitler had, what Mussolini had. Cruelty and intelligence. Marinetti could work with this man, one who saw the future that he offered to the world.
Capone went blank for a second. “Who is this? What does he want?”
The henchman looked down at a piece of paper in his hand and said, “Uh, Boss. This is Filippo Marinetti, an Italian Futurist. He wrote from Italy last month saying that he wanted to help you become a man to be reckoned with, a virtuoso on the Tommy gun.”
Capone smiled. “Well, I have that covered.”
“He said that he also wants you to become an American emperor, to help you to create a legacy to be remembered for all time.”
Capone sat back in his chair. He smiled slightly. “Yes,” he said. “That would be nice. I’m getting tired of being known as a Dago thug. Yeah, I’m in the racket. I never said I wasn’t. But I also don’t want to die in a pool of my own blood before I’m 35. I have to think of Mae and Sonny. You know, those government people, like Ness and that guy Johnson, who’s coming after me for taxes, don’t see the good I do. When I was in Lansing, I helped people. Paid for a girl’s wedding. Raised a boy there like he was my own. Sure, I’ll crack skulls when I have to.”
Capone motioned to baseball bat.
“You do a good job of that, Boss.”
Capone smiled. “Yeah, I can do that, but I want to branch out. Have a seat. What did you say your name was?”
Marinetti felt as though he were talking to a king, to a ruler of the world, not just of Cicero, Illinois.
“My name is Filippo Marinetti, Signor Capone.”
“OK, Phil,” Capone said. “What do you really want?”
“To help you achieve your dreams. I see your crime syndicate metamorphosing and controlling all of America. I see the people of the country trembling as they watch you drive by, holding their babies up so that you can kiss them and bless them with your presence. That is what I see, Signor Capone.”
END OF FREE PREVIEW
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