Since 1946, the same electric sign has hung out over the sidewalk in front of Dusty’s Pub. The sign features a cartoon French maid dusting the word “Dusty’s” with a feather duster.
One warm summer evening in 1978, Dusty, the club’s namesake and creative genius behind the sign, clutched his chest, slid down a wall behind the bar, and expired. His widow sold Dusty’s before Dusty was cold and the pub then belonged to a small, greasy man named Claude Radke.
Radke did not rename Dusty’s Pub, opting instead to spend the money he would need for a new sign on something more practical. This practical something turned out to be a few cartons of cigarettes which he burned through over the course of three or four weeks.
As Dusty had done, Claude Radke required that “his girls” wear the uniform of the French maid on the sign. On Friday and Saturday nights, two of them would skitter about the pub slinging drinks and tickling the noses of their better tippers with feather dusters. It was said that Radke’s girls would tickle other things if the price was right but this claim had not been substantiated.
One drunken night, Claude Radke groped one of his girls and she slapped him hard. Humiliated, he tossed her onto the sidewalk to the drunken cheers of his twisted knot of elderly regulars.
The banished waitress – who told me her name was Louise – showed up at my desk the next morning with information about Claude Radke she thought I could use. She was right. I dropped by Dusty’s later that afternoon to tell him the good news.
Three men sat across the bar from Radke when I walked in and they swiveled their stools to look at me.
“Afternoon, boys,” I said, opening my jacket so they could see the shield. “Stop by again when you can’t stay so long.”
The men grumbled and finished their drinks, pulling bills from wallets and flipping them onto the bar.
“So long, Claude,” one of the men said.
“Thanks for stopping, guys,” Radke said. The door closed behind them and he scowled. “What in hell do you want?”
“Nothing for me, thanks,” I said, taking a seat on one of the recently evacuated stools. “I’m on duty.”
The scowl deepened. “Quite a comedian.”
I made a show of looking around. It was clear we were the only two in the bar. “How’s business?” I asked.
Radke’s eyes narrowed to fiery slits of hate. “You want something, cop, or are you just here to harass a hardworking businessman for no reason?”
I shrugged. “Your gal, Louise, stopped in to see me this morning.”
“Not my gal.”
“Not anymore,” I said.
“Not anymore,” Radke agreed. He dried his hands on a towel.
“She claims you’re selling cocaine out of this place.”
He waved a hand in dismissal.
“Says you keep a pile of it in a coffee can on a shelf in the back.”
“You mind if I look around a little? You’ve got nothing to hide.”
Claude Radke smiled sweetly; a golden tooth glittered. “Go ahead,” he said. “Assuming you’ve got a warrant.”
I returned the smile. “Funny you should say that,” I said, reaching into my jacket pocket and producing a folded piece of paper.
Radke’s eyes shot to the paper. He looked up at me.
“Do not do it,” I said.
He bolted through a doorway behind the bar.
I placed my palms on the bar, tried to vault over, and bashed a shin into the polished wood. A couple stools went down and I cursed and gimped out the front door, hobbling down Wisconsin back to the alley. Claude Radke was a ways up the alley, hunched over and gasping.
“You should have turned left,” I said.
He ran for a few steps and his shoe slid out on the rocks. He went down windmilling, rolled around in the gravel for a while, and laid there in pain. He sat up and I was on him, palming his forehead, pushing him back down in the rocks. “Lay still.”
“I don’t gotta talk to you, cop!” he spat. “I want my lawyer.”
I let go of his face and sat down beside him in the dirt. He panted at me. I panted back. A dark, bloody gash had been carved out above his right eyebrow and both knees were torn up and slick.
“Killing me with this running, Claude,” I said. “Too old to be running. Where the hell were you gonna go?”
“I want my lawyer.”
“So you said.”
“I’m not telling you nothing.”
“Anything,” I said.
Claude Radke frowned. “Anything.”
I stood and dusted gravel from my pants and held out a hand to Radke. He ignored it and climbed to his feet, wincing. I brushed some gravel off his back. He gave me a look so I stopped brushing. We started walking.
“I’m not arresting you,” I said.
“On the level.”
He stopped walking. “What is this?”
“Here’s the proposal: You give me the coffee can and you get to decide what you do with your time for the next 3-5 years.”
Radke’s eyes got narrow and shrewd. “You’re gonna sell it?”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“How much does your lawyer charge?” I asked.
He started walking again. “I didn’t take you for a dirty blackmailer, cop. Next month you’ll be back for more.
“One and done.”
He winced and dug tiny, sharp rocks from bloody left palm with a fingernail. “And if I don’t?”
I shrugged. “The Department gets it. You pay an attorney for a plea deal, and you probably do time.”
We walked in the back door of Dusty’s and he put a large can of Folger’s in my hands. I opened it; Louise was telling the truth. I set the can on a table, pulled cuffs from my belt and said: “Claude Radke, I’m arresting you for possession of a narcotic with intent to sell. You have the right to remain silent…”
“You lied to me,” Radke said. His lips were shiny and spit flew when he said it.
I put the cuffs on him, finished his rights, and marched him around the bar out the front door. The pub was still empty.
Radke was bewildered.
I dug in my jacket pocket, removed the folded paper, unfolded it and showed it to him.
“LOST,” it said. “Male German Shepherd answers to the name Rex. Missing since June 17th. Has shots and is friendly. If found, please call…”
I folded the paper back into my jacket and Claude Radke and I took a drive downtown.