Gregory Alan Norton
and Laura: A Love Story
didn't meet Laura, at least not in the way people normally meet. She
picked me out as a partner when the substitute dancing teacher told
us to pair off and dance to the rock and roll records she played on
the record player connected to the public address system. I was still
peeling off my oil soaked machine shop boots, as directed by the teacher,
when Laura seized my right hand. I wouldn't have picked her because,
at the time, I preferred the looks of tall blonde girls, and Laura had
shoulder-length black hair.
She grabbed my hands and held them so hard it hurt. She started whipping
me around so fast, the other kids had to clear a path for us. At first
I thought she was just plain nuts, a psycho in tight jeans and a white
blouse. The other kids were dancing like normal, without holding hands
like they did on the TV shows for teenagers. Some of the other kids
stopped and watched us, but we kept up the frenzied, crazy hand-holding
dance style. I kept at it just for the iconoclastic hell of it. But
Laura was really into the emotion of it and either watched our feet
or my face. Her hair whipped behind her like a dervish. Between the
brief lulls between dances she fiercely squeezed my hands, smiled, finally
and told me her name. We were sweating and her gardenia perfume seemed
to blossom in the air. She didn't ask my name.
Our dancing debut happened in the Spring of 1969 in a old fashioned
dancing school with a wooden floor on the second story of a building
near Chicago's Logan Square. The big auditorium had been used by labor
leaders in the 1880s and 1890s to hold union meetings. It had hosted
a radio show with a live audience in the 1920s, then it served as a
banquet hall before the dance school was established during the Korean
How did I wind up in dance class? Goddamn Judge Kelly put me there.
I had been in front of his bench three times. Once for peeing on the
sidewalk in front of the Plaza Art burlesque theater on North Avenue,
once for public intoxication across the street from Lane Technical High
School, and once for fighting with some Puerto Rican kids at the corner
of North and Wells in Old Town. The last time I had to appear before
the judge, I accused the cop, a Puerto Rican named Oscar Soto, who had
busted me all three times, of playing favorites.
"Why didn't he bust the Puerto Rican kids?" I demanded.
"Because you attacked them..." Oscar was perfunctorily cut
"Out of order." Old Judge Kelly gave Oscar a dirty look over
the tops of his bifocals. Oscar hated my guts after that. He respected
Judge Kelly wasn't a bad guy. He was a New Deal liberal, so he believed
that I was a product of my urban industrial working class upbringing
or lack thereof. Consequently, when my mother told him that I was out-of-control,
and that the high school counselor had recommended "dance therapy"
for my sociopathic and anti-social behavior, he readily agreed. Not
because the old guy actually thought dancing would improve me, but because
he quickly detected that I loathed the idea. The deal: successfully
complete the dancing curriculum or find myself in the State School for
Boys in St. Charles, Illinois.
So, when this beautiful dark haired girl grabbed my hand and started
bopping to the music and dancing like a demon, I had to follow her frenetic
lead or have my shoulders pulled of their sockets.
A lot of the other kids laughed, but as Laura pounded the floor record
after record, song after song, I got tired, and the other kids stopped
laughing. I began to wonder if a lunatic had permanently attached herself
to me. My feet began to ache. Then, I gradually relaxed, because our
ferocious dancing alienated the other kids. I loved flaunting conventions
anyway, from wearing sideburns, long hair in the back, and a black leather
jacket to skipping school and getting drunk.
If our intense dancing freaked out the other kids, so be it. I started
bopping harder than Laura, and eventually wrenched my hands free and
began flailing my arms like a lunatic. I knew Judge Kelly would disapprove.
Our radically interpretive dancing continued for the duration of the
When we finished, Laura asked me to walk her to the L terminal at Logan
Square. We had Cokes at the Terminal Restaurant under the tracks. Sweetest
Coke I ever drank. She worked there, so we got the Cokes free. She gave
me her phone number, but was perturbed when I told her I didn't have
Hell, at the time, I didn't even have an address, I had been kicked
out of the house by my father, another staunch believer in authority,
titles, judges, and the law. I had been crashing from day to day at
the apartments of some guys I knew, students at the University of Illinois.
When I escorted her to the terminal, she grabbed my head and kissed
me hard right on the lips. Then she went through the turnstile and flounced
up the stairs to the trains. So ended, what, up to that moment, had
been the most stunning day of my life.
I got back into my car, a black Plymouth Fury convertible with a big
ass 383 motor. I drove over to Wicker Park to see if I could buy some
dope wholesale from the dealers who waited in the tiny park. I retailed
the marijuana to the college kids for extra bucks and a place to crash
for the night.
Lately, I had been having problems with this goofy old man who liked
to yell at me and chase me out of the park. He was a little guy with
a pot belly, and people on the street said his name was Nelson. The
drunks in the Milwaukee Avenue bars called him "the Swede."
I think he lived on Evergreen Street, because that's where I encountered
him the most often.
"Get the hell out of our neighborhood you goddamned dope dealer."
He pissed me off, because I was just a middle man. The dealers were
the guys in the park selling wholesale. Whatever his name, he was fucking
up my business.
I knew I would never return home. My father had it in his mind that
he was going to stick me into the machine shop program at Lane Tech.
He had signed me up, but I solved that problem by ditching school altogether.
He had threatened me with the Army if I dropped out, so there was no
going back. No fucking way was I going to Vietnam. I don't know how
he figured he had the moral high ground in telling me how to run my
life. He worked as a screw machine set-up man at some big factory on
the Northwest Side that everybody called Bastard and Blessing. Nobody
knew the real name of the place.
I had managed to get a night job with the Black Cat Cab Company despite
the fact that I was underage. They operated out of Logan Square, too.
I thought that if I could make steady marijuana sales out of the cab,
that I could make enough bread to get an apartment and get a life. All
I had to do was avoid Judge Kelly, Officer Soto, the Swede, and my father.
A couple months later in the Terminal Restaurant Laura said, "Let's
move in together. We can pool the money. You can finish high school,
and I'm going to the University of Illinois in the Fall for a nursing
In the background I could smell bacon and eggs sizzling on the grill.
It was 2 A.M. but the Terminal Restaurant was open 24 hours. Laura looked
severe in her white restaurant uniform, a short skirt and a button down
blouse. She tied her hair back when she worked. I hated that.
Our conversation was punctuated every so often by a grizzled old man
wearing a White Sox baseball cap. He would raise his empty coffee cup
and say, "Miss?" He looked like a terminal alcoholic or junkie,
thin, wearing ragged jeans and dirty t-shirt. And Laura would walk down
the long, formica counter and fill his cup.
I had noticed during my visits to the restaurant that Laura didn't make
much in tips. She didn't chum around enough with the customers. She
was all business. She took the order, delivered the order, then delivered
The day after we met, I phoned her and she asked me to pick her up at
her address in Uptown. Uptown was a permanent slum on the North Side
lake front. My father had once told me, "Don't trust nobody who
lives in Uptown. They're all bad news." But after several weeks
of dating Laura, I decided I could safely ignore my father's judgement
of the good people of Uptown.
"So, what do you think?"
"Luke. Wake-the-fuck-up. What did I just ask you about?"
"Oh, moving-in together, right?"
Laura placed her hands on her hips and stared at me with a frown on
Laura's father had died of black lung the previous winter. Her family
had just moved from southeastern Ohio. Her father wanted to try to get
a factory job in Chicago, but he passed out in the street while looking
for work. He went into a coma and died a day later in the hospital.
mother had quickly found a boyfriend and moved with him to a northwest
suburb, Carpentersville, just three months after taking up residence
in Chicago. Curiously, he was a carpenter.
accompanied her mother and three little brothers, but returned to the
city a week later because she felt her "stepfather" had been
hitting on her. Laura moved into a tiny apartment with a girl she had
met while briefly attending Senn High School, Irma Maldonado.
hated Irma from the git-go. She was a brainless, stuck-up bitch who
dressed like a hooker in day-glo mini dresses, and tube tops.
Why not? We can do that."
don't have to be so fucking enthusiastic."
baby, I want to do it. Let's go look for an apartment tomorrow."
gotta lose the dope dealing first, if you want to live with me."
I keep telling you, I'm going to quit dealing - after I make a bankroll
for us. We need enough to live on while I finish off high school, then
get through at least a year of college. You need a car, too."
don't need a car. I can take the bus and train to school. If we both
work part time, we'll have enough."
I want some real bread, ok? I'm tired of being poor."
leaned across the counter and gently took my hands. I could look deep
into her cleavage where the warm scent of gardenias wafted up. "Listen,
I'm afraid. I'm worried you're in over your head. People get murdered
every day in Chicago over drugs. I see it in the newspapers all the
was something about Laura that just plain got to me. Some people call
it chemistry. I call it magic. Yeah, I had that magic feeling for her.
Where she was ying, I was yang. We just matched up like a salt and pepper
I'm not going to get shot. I know what I'm doing. And I'm not going
to be doing it much longer. I'm just waiting for the right deal. When
it comes, I'll see it, and I'll be down road - but with some money for
a change." I hadn't mentioned the big deal I was cooking, because
it wasn't wise to talk about business to anyone. If they thought you
might have a few bucks on you, they would shoot you.
turned loose of my hands and straightened up. Down the counter we heard
the plaintiff call, "Miss?"
watched Laura's slinky butt move down the counter. We had only been
dating for a week when we made love for the first time. I didn't tell
Laura, but it was the first time period for me. We walked out into the
park along the lake near Belmont Harbor. She had planned on having a
little picnic. It was a warm breezy day. Then a big storm blew-in from
the southwest. I mean it went from sunny to black, low-flying clouds
in a heartbeat. The waves on the lake picked up immediately, and I had
lived in Chicago long enough to know when to start looking for shelter.
So did all the other people in the park, who headed for the tunnel under
Lake Shore Drive. I watched small boats putting into the harbor at full
speed. But Laura refused to leave, she wanted to watch the storm unfold
over the skyscrapers down the lake front in the Loop.
a few minutes, the wind was at hurricane strength, the rain came slashing
in horizontal in sheets, and we were soaked. Lightening hit all around
us in the lake waters. I was scared shitless. Then she started peeling
off her clothing and told me she wanted to make love under the tree
that was partially sheltering us.
honestly didn't know where to start with a woman's body, but I sure
learned in a hurry. We did it on the ground in back of the tree, the
wind howling, and thunder breaking directly overhead. We were putting
our clothing back on as the first brave souls emerged from the tunnel.
Laura pointed out over the lake. Far off, on the horizon, I watched
a funnel cloud touch down on the lake, then whip around in a lazy serpentine
that, I couldn't keep my hands off her. And she knew it. But she couldn't
seem to keep her hands off me either, although I think her motive was
real love and mine was mainly lust. It was gradually becoming clear
to me, that she was probably a better person than me. More honest, more
loving, probably more mature, and definitely more idealistic. But, as
the days went by, I felt those qualities rubbing off on me.
Laura returned up the counter to me, little Irma came prancing into
the restaurant. Her hair looked wild, like she had just been electrocuted
and her lipstick was running slanticular to her lips.
baby." Irma reached over the counter and hugged Laura.
Irma." Laura squeezed Irma's shoulder after the hug.
never said much about Irma to Laura because I knew they were such good
friends. But I had my suspicions about the girl. Irma didn't have a
job, but she always had money including her half of the rent money for
the apartment. She was always going to parties. I knew she was one of
the big consumers at the end of my business food chain. I couldn't help
but watch her tight little skirt slide thigh-ward as she settled on
one of the round counter stools next to me. She caught my glance and
tried to yank her skirt down, but that was a hopeless task.
in my more paranoid moments I wondered about both of them. Laura seemed
to be an accomplished lover, but when I asked her about former boyfriends,
she said I was the first. She said she couldn't have one when she lived
with her mother because she was so strict. I still wondered about all
that whenever I saw Irma.
are you guys doing?"
my ice skating." I couldn't resist being sarcastic with that little
is just being sarcastic, because I won't move in with him."
not? I thought you guys loved each other?"
smiled at me, folded her arms in front of her, and leaned back against
a cooler. "Hey, I'm not going to give up the business until I'm
ready too." I folded my arms as I sat on the round counter stool.
like getting up too close to the edge, too much," said Laura.
that moment, Officer Soto walked in the door. He looked the old man
over as he strolled up the aisle. He smiled big time at Irma who smiled
back. Then he said to me, "Hello, ratbrain. Isn't it time you slithered
back down your rat hole?"
gathered up my stuff and left without a word.
Sears store on Lawrence Avenue was packed with people for the Autumn
clothing sale. It was a Friday night and everybody had just received
about this one?" Laura was looking inside a big, new white washing
think it's better because its got more cycles. You can wash delicate
clothes or jeans."
were in the process of furnishing a house I had rented down on Grand
Avenue. It wasn't the best neighborhood, and a lot of the Ukranians
who lived there were moving out because of the rising crime, but I thought
it was a deal because we got two bedrooms and a garage.
had consummated two little deals with my new business partners from
Independence Avenue in South Lawndale, and I had plenty of money to
put up for the deposit and the furniture and appliances. Laura was still
trying to get me to quit the business, but things were just getting
too lucrative. I had way more money in my savings account than I was
letting on. I would have been more honest about the amount if she would
have let me alone about the business. But if she knew the total amount,
she'd make me quit, she as hell.
only inkling she got of my new set-up was Irma asking me one time why
was I driving over to the West Side ghetto all the time now? "The
cab company stuck me in the West Side garage. I got some new customers,
" I explained. If I would have said, "New suppliers,"
she would have shut me down, then and there.
were you, watching me drive over to the West Side?"
like around a street corner, on the edge of the ghetto, I thought to
I gave Laura enough money to get enrolled at the university. I told
her I was signing back up for school, but I lied. Why the hell should
I go back to school, when I could make a good living with my business?
When I bought her the Cadillac, she had a fit. I lied and said I was
making payments, but I had bought it straight up for cash. After that
I knew I had to cool it with the spending or she would catch on. I wound
up driving the Caddy, a big black Fleetwood. My father loved it. I told
him I was a supervisor at the cab company. He bought it. What did he
know about cab companies? He set-up screw machines.
I had less time to visit Laura at the restaurant. I wanted to tell her
to quit, but I couldn't let on I had that much money. Instead, I found
myself spending a lot of time at a cafe, Floyd's Fifth, on Fifth Avenue
near Marshall High School. It was located in an African American neighborhood,
and only one other middle aged white guy, named Tony, hung in the place
with me. He was always well dressed with a sports coat, and he drove
a Caddy, too. I was pretty sure he was Mafia, but we seemed to be running
non-conflicting businesses, so things were cool with us.
asked me one day, "Travelling a little light for these parts aren't
do you mean?"
carefully folded back his sports coat revealing a shoulder holster containing
a 9 millimeter pistol. "You're travelling too light, buddy. You
know what I mean?" He smiled at me.
thought, no way was I going to carry a gun. My wits were good enough.
That's how I did business. No need for artillery.
the empty lot next to our house, the landlord was dumping old cars,
and weeds grew up between the wrecks. The building on the other side
was boarded up, but sometimes late at night we could hear the junkies
cooking up in there. Sometimes we could see their camp fire flicker
against the brick walls. As the weather got colder, the big oak tree
in the backyard shed it leaves. The furnace didn't work too well and
the landlord didn't want to fix it. I paid some repair guys to get it
Mexican families lived in the old greystone across the street from us.
Nobody in the whole clan seemed to be able to speak any English. But
they were friendly enough, we nodded to each other in the mornings and
evenings going and coming from work.
and I didn't have a lot of time at night together because she was always
studying. When she asked why I wasn't, I explained I had set up school
for the Spring. I watched TV and made popcorn. She spread out her textbooks
and studied on the used dining room table we had bought. When she finished,
usually around ten P.M., we would cuddle up on the new Sears sofa. Sometimes
we fell asleep in each other's arms while we watched the Johnny Carson
Show. Outside we could hear the leaves rustling in the wind.
couple of times during the Winter months, I thought a couple of the
ex-cons in the daily hang-out bunch at Floyd's, Mack and Carlos, were
getting a little too interested in my business, so I quit using the
place and started doing the trades right on the streets. Everybody else
was doing it that way, too. I got so I could spot undercover cop cars
better than radar could. But gangs were getting involved in the traffic,
and I could see that my days in the trade were numbered anyway.
Spring evening we were leaving the house, to go talk to my parents about
getting married. I didn't want to do it, but Laura insisted. Laura looked
beautiful coming down the front steps in a mint green summer dress.
I was too busy looking at her to see Mack and Carlos come up. My first
inkling of the hell that was to follow came when I saw Laura's face
form a frown. She was looking down the sidewalk beyond me. All she said
turned to see what she was looking at only to be confronted with a .357
magnum leveled just a foot away from my nose.
get back in that house," said Mack the really scary one. Carlos,
who usually said little but went through life with a half-witted grin
stood a little in back of Mack, and he was holding a .45 auto on us.
If I had been alone, I probably would have made a break for it right
in the street. But I didn't want anything to happen to Laura. So, I
didn't argue and went right back up the steps with Mack's gun barrel
poking me in the back.
the front room Mack demanded, "Where's the money, man?"
handed him my wallet. And I told Laura to get hers out of her mint green
purse. She instantly complied. Carlos grabbed them both and handed the
fifty bucks or so to Mack who never took his eyes off us.
this shit, man? You ain't got nothin' but 50 bucks here. I said, where's
the money?" Our looted wallets now littered the front room floor
with their contents.
in the bank. I keep my money in the bank. That's all I got on me."
Mack seemed genuinely perplexed. I definitely didn't want to cross him,
but it was the truth. I only kept a few bucks out for spending money.
Mack looked around the house for a minute while Carlos held his gun
on us. Mack came back and said, "Alright, tie 'em up. We're gonna
find that money."
when it really started getting bad. Carlos tied me up first with duct
tape, then he did the same to Laura. We were bound like mummies laying
face down in the front room completely trussed up. Then they tore the
house apart looking for a stash of money that wasn't there. After a
while Mack went out to the Caddy and tore through it, too. After 45
minutes, and completely frustrated he returned to the house and savagely
yanked me into the kitchen. I couldn't see Laura anymore.
you tell me where the hell that money is, or I'm gonna hurt you."
He didn't even sound angry, just totally frustrated.
telling you its in the bank, man. The account book is in that roll top
desk in the little room off the back of the house. Take it, take my
Ids, and go check it out of the bank."
you think I'm stupid, man? The bank gonna know I ain't you." Then
he started kicking me. First he kicked my shins until they were aching
and black and blue, then he started kicking my arms, hands, and fingers.
Before that session was over, I was crying and screaming to him the
money was in the bank.
don't know how long that went on, it seemed like an hour. Then he said,
"Alright. You ain't gonna talk. Let's see if the woman wants to
talk to me." When I started screaming, Carlos wrapped duct tape
around my mouth and head.
the next room I could hear the thuds of Mack's blows on Laura and her
whimpering even though I had duct tape on my ears, too. I began struggling
with all my might against my adhesive bonds. After some time Mack said,
"Ok, they ain't talking. We gonna have to get rid of them."
said, "Let's do the woman first."
you sick. This is our damn occupation. We is thieves, man. We don't
do none of that sicko stuff."
I didn't know that," said Carlos.
just grab the other end and get going. You want people going around
the 'hood saying you is a sicko?"
answered Carlos. I heard the front door open and slam. In a minute they
were back for me.
said, "Last chance, sucker. You talkin' or what?" I forcefully
nodded my head, "Yes."
that more like it." He started peeling the duct tape off my mouth.
But when he heard me utter the word "bank" it went right back
on. "Yeah, I know, its in the goddamned bank. You know what, you
a smart man. You knows I'm gonna kill you anyway, but you ain't letting
have that money. Something in that I gotta admire." They proceeded
to unceremoniously carry me to the Caddy and dump me into the trunk
with Laura where we lay face to face.
was horrified when I saw her. Her nice new dress was torn and splattered
with her blood. Her face was cut up in places and it looked like he
had concentrated on beating her in the face. I must have looked bad,
too, because I could see it in her eyes. She had worked the duct tape
partially off her mouth, and in a muffled kind of way she asked me if
I was OK? I nodded energetically, yeah, don't worry about me.
the car took off, she worked her way over to my face and tried to peel
the tape off my face. She'd get a little of it peeled back, then we'd
hit a bad bump, or they made a hard turn, or accelerated or stopped
and we rolled back and forth without restraint. But Laura kept working
on me until I could sort of talk back. I could tell they were going
down an expressway by the road noises outside.
are you ok?" asked Laura.
sorry. You have no idea how sorry I am about this."
ok. I love you."
sorry. I'm sorry. I should have listened to you."
ok. Don't worry about me. I love you."
would think our last conversation would have had more content, but we
were both exhausted and terrified, and our ending was coming up soon
and certain. During that long ride over the area expressways I did ask
her, "Did you have any other lovers?"
I keep telling you, no. Why would I lie? We're gonna die."
just wonder because of Irma?"
I think she's a hooker. And you were living with her."
know she's a hooker. You think I was a hooker?"
but you were living with her."
she's a hooker. That's the only way she could survive. She doesn't have
a family either. She was abused as a kid. I love Irma. Don't be so judgmental
the car finally lurched to a stop, I could tell we were on a gravel
road. Not many of those around Chicago. The trunk lid flew open and
we could see a starry sky above us, and the narrow gravel causeway we
had just traveled over with black bodies of water on both sides. We
could see the full moon twinkling on the surface. I immediately recognized
Wolf Lake. My father had often taken us fishing in the region down by
the steel mills and Gary, Indiana.
they hefted Laura out and dumped her with a thud in the driveway, then
me. We were lying back to back. I could see another car, that Mack and
Carlos obviously hadn't seen, parked off the main road where their headlights
would not have found it. As my eyes focused in the dust our bodies had
kicked up, I saw it was an unmarked Chicago Police car.
the woman in first, Carlos, she lighter. I'm gonna have a smoke."
watched the driver's side door of the police car open, and the interior
dome light shone down on a topless, but otherwise clothed Irma Maldonado,
performing a sex act on a man in a suit who was fully clothed except
for his pants zipper. I observed in fascination as the man athletically
raised himself from the seat, yanked the zipper shut, and in one flowing
motion, shoved Irma down, shut the door, and pulled his .45 auto on
Carlos and Mack.
YOU DIRT BAGS. FREEZE." It was officer Soto.
sorted out all the evening's action in about two sentences. He ordered
them unbind us. He rebound them. When Irma asked permission to get out
of the car, he yelled at her to stay put.
you white trash. I never want to see you in Chicago again. You understand
me? He waved the .45 in the direction of Laura and myself.
never see me again, officer, " I bellowed obediently.
he never did. Laura and I hiked out to the Interstate then hitched a
ride into Gary. The blast furnaces painted the night sky red above us.
We wired her mother for money and took the bus to Madison, Wisconsin
where we knew no one and have lived ever since. Soto obviously couldn't
take those two in because of his compromised situation. He probably
untied them after a while and gave them the same lecture we got.
I finally figured out who "the Swede" was when I picked up
a copy of Walk on the Wildside by Nelson Algren for my freshman English
class at the University of Wisconsin.