Madison. The Dark Side. Wisconsin. Chapter Three. The Travelers. B.J.O’Brien

Madison.  The Dark Side.  Wisconsin

Chapter Three.  The Travelers.


Ivan awoke, instantly aware of where he was, and with who.  The jail in the two bit town in      Wisconsin held mostly drunks, the three travelers, and one man, at the end, well-dressed, and even now, clean shaven.  His two other companions,   Yanko, the true gypsy, and Nikita, a man who could be friendly in appearance, or could make large men uncomfortable with a dark countenance, awoke slower than he.

The jailer’s assistant came into the area, with a cart loaded with breakfast.  Two slices of bread for each man, a wooden bowl of oatmeal.  Some said that the oatmeal was made using the oats from the horse trough, and if they knew the truth, it was not far from that.  Oats is Oats, some are just a little more finely ground.  The meal was cheap, the men were going to be working all day, so the jailer’s assistant knew to load the bowls full.  If was hot, and there was a lot of it, just, the taste was not there, and the texture not unlike rough sand.   After the meal was finished, the work assignments were issued.  The town drunks were send out with shovels and buckets, to scour the streets after the hard working horse drawn wagons used both for cargo, and passenger use had passed by.  The travelers were told to go outside and look for the Pole, who was in a horse drawn wagon.   Arriving, they were motioned into the wagon and the journey to the area known as Mansion Hill started.  Soon enough, they were at their destination, and the Pole waved them to the Mayors house, the banker’s house, and the house of one of the big real estate men.  In his English, he told them to trim some trees, cut back some bushes, and mow the lawn with the push reel type lawn mower.  No words in return were needed, and the Pole had his own work to do, off a bit so he could watch the men.  They had noticed the revolver on his hip, and assumed correctly, that he could hit what he aimed at.  Besides, lunch was coming.

Around noon, the jailers son, about 15, arrived on his bicycle.  There were four cylindrical metal boxes on the handlebars, freshly dispatched from the café owned by the jailer’s wife.  The steady supply of prisoner lunches and dinners, paid for by the prisoners work, was a needed supplement to the meager civil servant salary the county saw fit to pay the jailer.  If was known that the extra money from meals was the only reason any fit man would take the job. 

The men set their tools in the wagon, the better to find them, and the Pole distributed the boxes.  In the bottom, nested in, was a round metal pot, filled with stew, a fair amount of meat in it, because in the days of the ice box, the meat was cheaper than the ice, and keeping it around for future use was a false economy, because they had to buy more ice to keep it edible.  Two slices of thick bread were folded into the space above the pot lid, and there was a cup for the pot of coffee which had made its way from the café. 

The boy rode off, and the Pole inquired, “So what country are you guys from?”

Then it was Ivan’s response.   “We are all Romani people, from Eastern Europe.  We were in Russia when the Bolsheviks created havoc.  Russia was too dangerous for Gypsies, so we made our way to England, and got work on a Cunard liner.  We were shoveling coal, in the belly of the liner, and our women were in the laundry.  For the crossing we travelled as single men and women, and we reunited in the harbor.  Cunard was holding our pay until the ship sailed to make sure we were on board, but, we just wanted passage, not a career in the bowels of the beast.  Our papers were in order, so we passed thru into New York City as crew on leave.  When the ship was ready to depart, we already had.”

“How is it, that you are here in Wisconsin?”

“Nikita has relatives in California, and we were able to get a ride on the train as far as Chicago, we hoped a freight which took us to Green Bay, and we have worked our way back to Chicago.  This time we will find out where the train is going before we get on the freight cars.”  Ivan was not normally this chatty with the bulls, or their helpers in the jails, but it was important to set up the story of who they were, travelers who weren’t dangerous, but just passing through. 

Nikita filled in, “My brother was here in California, he was in vaudeville, but he has something to do with the pictures shows.” Then, “I have a letter from him saying that we could come to see him, and if we like the weather, with no snow, and easy work, he could help us out.  We were lucky, it took the letter almost six months to get from Los Angeles to where we were working in Moscow.  It arrived just as it was getting hot for anybody who is not a Bolshevik, so we decided to travel.”

The Pole said, “They keep vagrants for three days while they check wanted posters, So you should be released soon enough.  The freight for Chicago heads out at about 5 am, so you will have to wait a day here, because we don’t cut you lose until 6.”

Lunch over, the work crew moved over to the banker’s house.  The banker wanted some painting done, the previous crew had scrapped and primed the house, just the color painting awaited.    Ladders were already there, heavy wooden extension ladders, going up almost 40 feet, needing all four to work the ladder around the house.  Shorter ladders were useful for first floor, and part of second. 

Yanko, the quiet one, climbed the tall ladder with his bucket of paint and brush.  He was working next to a tall window, and he couldn’t help but see inside, where the banker’s wife was taking a nap.  Due to the heat of the day, she was wearing only a slip, and her long legs were visible almost all the way.  The slip was just barely capable of covering her charms, and she pretended to sleep, as she imitated the tossing and turning of a restless recliner.  As Yanko painted, he checked the view frequently, and witnessed her hand relocating itself between her legs.  Through her just barely closed eyes, she saw him watching, and the show she gave him would have make a woman of the night proud.  Alert enough to keep painting, Yanko finished the area, and slowly made his way down the ladder.  At the bottom, he walked over to Ivan and said, “Ivan, I think you should check my work up there, the view from the top of the ladder is magnificent, and I may have not paid strict attention to my painting.” 

Ivan climbed the many rungs up the ladder wondering, on the way us what Yanko was babbling about.  Inside the room, the wife was cognizant of the motion of the ladder as someone climbed it, expecting the swarthy complexion of the shorter Yanko, she was presently surprised at the face of the handsome Ivan appearing at the window.  She continued her charade of sleep, with her hand busy as it had been before.  Ivan smiled, and checked the paint, and came back down the ladder.  Smiling at Yanko, he commented, “Work looks good, brush strokes are as they should be, good work up above Yanko, good work.”

The rest of the day spent with the brushes was uneventful, although the Pole wondered why Yanko was whistling and smiling. 

When the travelers were arrested on the military road from Green Bay to Madison, just as they were crossing the river about a mile east of the great capital building, the men were taken to the jail.  The women were considered inconsequential, and were loaded up in the other “Black Maria” a Ford Model TT extended Panel truck used by the police department for rapid transport of prisoners.  The first one with the men was driven to the jail, and the one with the woman terminated its journey just a few blocks away, at the Park Hotel.  The back door opened, and the women disembarked.

The oldest, Karina, had been in the Tsars household.  She was 32 years old, and her men in her life, mostly the Cossack soldiers charged with protecting the Tsars household, had shown her the workings of rifles, pistols, and she could hold her own with a sword, something that she used with some entertainment when she was search for a new Cossack, when her last lover was transferred, or perhaps killed in the training exercises that the warriors took part in.  Well trained in the domestic aspects of a royal household, she knew when to hold her tongue, and when she could use her feminine powers of persuasion to make things happen. 

Next off the truck was Edyta, a woman of 24, she had been the Tsars favorite.  While her official duties were nanny to the younger children, the older boys, and the Tsar himself had searched her out for attention, be it learning the art of the ballroom dance, or the horizontal mamba. 

Last was the charming 20 year old Anastasia.  None would dare talk of her past, or even speculate on her future.  Should the Bolsheviks fail, it might be that the girl, now a young woman, would be the leader of the great empire of Rus.  Or, perhaps not.  A striking young woman, the men listened to her, and the women bowed, when there were no watchers.

Located at the back of the Park Hotel, they found themselves in the attention of the head housekeeper. 

Maude was an older woman, about 40, and she had known dirty laundry since she was a pup.  Stains of all kinds were part of the job, and she worked her charges long and hard to get the required result, white sheets, white towels, and perfection was the only result allowed.

“Ok girls, I know why you are here.  Your men are in the clink, and you can sleep under the trees, and starve, or you can work for me, sleep in the store room in the basement, bath in the mornings, and eat hotel food.  Your choice.”

All three exchanged glances, and the decision was anonymous.  Nods denoting affirmation were made, and the head laundress brought then inside.  The noon meal was about ready, and after the paying customers were filled, the regular employees were fed, and the remains, on their way to the hog slop, were intercepted to fill three large bowls for the women.  They had only had some stolen apples that morning, and the greenness of the fruit had not set well with them.  Spring water worked well to wash the stew, and the laundress brought three large glasses of beer to go along with the meal.  There are benefits of working for a German.

Lunch completed, Maude gave them the tour.  Each of the three floors of rooms above the ground floor had a walk in closet with the clean laundry.  Chutes dropped the soiled linens to the basement where the large tubs, the boilers, the rollers for dewatering the linens, and the mangle lived.  There was a large table for the folding of large items of linens, and plenty of work. 

Maude said, “Your day is 8 to 10 hours, or until the work is done.  The room in the front of the basement is where you sleep, and you must shower before work.  We don’t want the smell of unwashed women to seep into the clean sheets and towels.  We feed you from the kitchen of the hotel, and you can work here until your men are out of jail, or you show that you are too stupid to wash laundry.” 

A young woman was working at the washing tubs.  She had a loose cotton dress on, unbuttoned to let the heat out, and you could see the sweet on her forehead, arms, and even legs,  When she turned to face them, the unbuttoned dress showed that she was a full bosomed woman, with sweat in beads hanging on her chest, until gravity encouraged a downward journey. 

Maude hissed at her “Button up your dress you slut.  What if the cook sends one of his boys down here to the storeroom and he sees you with your bosoms hanging out like a cow.”

The woman said, in a thick Polish accent, “I guess that they will see what they will see, and probably be the better for seeing it.  Soon enough those boys will figure out what it is all about, and if I am the first, or the last they see, it just doesn’t matter to me.  Why don’t you get a fan to take the heat out of here and then I will not be ready to pass out by noon?”


Turning to the new helpers, she said “My name is Marie Dombrowski, my father and I came here two years ago from our village in Poland.  The flu killed half the village, and the war and the Bolsheviks pretty much did in the rest.  Papa works for the jailer, and I am here.   So, if your men are in jail, they have met my Papa.  Here, let me show you what to do.”

The work was simple enough.  The dirty linens were dumped into huge copper tubs.  The recently installed gas burners under the copper tubs kept the water steaming and the workers stirred the laundry with oars from the boat wright.  Soap was store bought from Chicago and when the laundry was done, the mangle squeezed the water out of the sheets and towels, when dry, they were folded on the table, and then stacked to be carried up to the hotel room floors.  The last batch was in the tubs, and Marie, who waved at Anastasia, who was closed to Marie in age, and motioned her to pick up a large pile of towels and wash flannels.  To the other two, Marie said, “Stir the tubs with the oars, and make sure that the towels and sheets are in motion.  We will be back in a few minutes.”

Marie and Anastasia pickup up the huge piles of towels and started up the stairs, in a hushed voice, Marie shared with Anastasia.  “The money the hotel pays for working here is a sin, but, sin begets sin.  I noticed the stains of passion were on some of the sheets, even when we only had businessmen travelers, and I was working late when I saw some of the fast ladies who frequent the soda bars, and milk bars across the street from the hotel coming up the steps in the rear with the gentlemen lodgers.  We all know that there is liquor and beer sold in the back rooms of the establishments, and the girls there are sometimes fallen women, or just some of the married women whose men are out of work and they have to make the money for the landlord and the grocer.  Well, I figured that I was as good as them, and indeed, a far sight prettier than most, so I keep my eyes on the fellas, and don’t button the dress as high as Maude wants, and they let me know.  The linen closets have a table that is perfect, and sometimes they invite me to their room.  Some things can be done in a few minutes, and some things are better with a lot more time.  It works out.”

Anastasia’s eyes were opened wide, and she nodded. 

Marie continued.  “The girls across the street sometimes get up to $5, for the really attractive ones, but the normal ones, without makeup, usually get $4, or even $3.  My schooling wasn’t much, but the $2 per day I get for washing stains out of sheets doesn’t look nearly as good at $4 for putting the stains in the sheets.  And, the $2 is for 8 to 10 hours, and the $4 is for an hour or two.  Sometimes, when a businessman is in a hurry, I can put a bounce in his step for $2 for 5 to 10 minutes, and Maude is usually with her bottle when I’m working, so she doesn’t notice.”

Anastasia’s mouth was dry, but she was doing the math.


Marie asked, “Have you been with a man?”

Anastasia replied, with a quiver in her mouth, “Yes.”

Marie continued, “Did you make him pay for it?”

Anastasia, remembering with a frown, the dagger she had buried in the back of the Bolshevik rapist who caught her after the massacre and answered, “Yes, he paid well.”  It was with his life that he paid, and the pistol she had taken from the body had worked well when she freed Karina and Edyta from their assaulters. When they were running from the scene, they had found Yanko, Ivan, and Nikita engaged in hand to hand battle with 5 Bolsheviks, and now, with three revolvers, freshly reloaded from the cartridge bags on the revolutionaries belts, the three women dispatched the combatants with only 9 shells.  A coupe de gras administered by Ivan to three of the wounded men brought the tally up to 12 bullets.  They had had twenty four bullets in reserve in each bag, and with the initially full revolvers, they were left with sixty bullets after reloading. The five dead men had their rifles leaning against the wall of the building they died in front of, so each of the men, and the two older women were well armed.  Their escape was through the Baltic, now open shipping after the war to end all wars was completed through to London, then by train to Glasgow to the Cunard lines.  All this went through Anastasia’s mind as they climbed to the fourth floor.  As they passed to the linen closet, a man impeccably dressed came out of his room. 

Marie smiled at him, “Are you having a wonderful day, sir, and is there anything I can do to make it better?”  He smiled, because he and Marie had had this same conversation the previous afternoon, as he left to go to the first floor for a game of snooker.

He said, “My days are always interesting, but perfection comes only with proximity to someone as fair as you.   May I offer you a kiss of friendship, perhaps more?  As was yesterday, so should be today?”

While Anastasia did not quite understand the totality of the words, the concept was ageless and totally comprehensible.  Marie smiled at him, and looked at her, and said “Wait in the linen closet, we shall be but a few minutes.” 

Anastasia stood her ground in the hallway, and saw through the open door Marie exchange a kiss, a kiss that should have been reserved for married people, or at least engaged.  As the door started to close, she saw Marie break the kiss, and begin to kneel in front of the gentleman.   The latching of the door broke Marie from her stupor.  She know what was happening now, she had seen the scullery maids, the footmen, the field hands when she was out riding.  When there wasn’t time for the full act, or if the woman was concerned that she was fertile, descending to her knees insured the man’s pleasure, and made sure that the woman did not come with child.

Going to the linen closed, Anastasia closed the door, rejoicing that the electric bulb was working.  She sat on the table, and noticed that the shelves were almost full with the linen.  Not having to lift herself up much to get onto the table, she didn’t notice that the height was perfect for the entertainment of menfolk by womenfolk.  Not to say that before the week was over, the perfection of the height would be noted.

While engaged in her thoughts most private, the action in the hotel room was completed.  Marie and the gentleman left the room, and she went to the linen closet.  A knock on the door, and an entry with a smile, she was quick to show Anastasia the two one dollar bills in her hand.  Smiling she said,

“A full day in the basement,  or a couple of minutes on fourth floor, you tell me which makes for a better time spent for the same money.”

Anastasia said, “Fourth floor work pays far better, I just don’t know if I can do it?”

Smiling, Marie replied, “It’s just the same as with husband or lover, but, they just leave you with a taster in your mouth, or a baby in your womb.  This is the same, but with some greenbacks in your pocket, and when the rent is due, if you don’t have a man to pay it, you just get some strange man to pay if.  If you are hungry, the first time for money is not as big a step as the first time for free.  Your choice, let’s go downstairs.”  Marie skipped down the steps, unaware that there was a remnant of the glory on her dress.  Anastasia caught up to her just before she entered the laundry room and wiped her dress with the bandana.  She also felt the firmness, the moistness of Marie’ ample sweaty breasts when she cleared the evidence.  It was good.

Back in the laundry, Karina and Edyta were stirring the copper tubs of steaming sheets and towels.  They were working hard in a hot and humid environment, and they were sweating like Marie had been, both had loosened their tops, and the sweat was reflected in the light of the electric lamps.  They could feel the sweat on all parts of their bodies, and their legs had started to have rivulets of moisture run down into their shoes.  They had removed their shoes, and were barefoot on the cement floor.  Oddly, the cool cement, wet with the splashing of the tubs, helped to keep the girls cooler than if they had their shoes on and laced. 

For the remainder of the afternoon, the four women went about their chores.  Anastasia and Marie had made trips to the second and third floors, with nothing approaching the excitement of the earlier trip to the fourth floor.

Soon enough, the day was over.  At 5 o’clock, the barman came down, burdened with four ice cold beers.  He smiled at Marie, as she came over to get her beverage.  She took the beer from his hand, and took the cool hand and pressed it to her cleavage.   She shivered a bit from the shock, but kept it there as she felt her nipple harder.  Moving away, she motioned to Anastasia, 

“Try the beer, it’s really fresh, Anna dear, and don’t forget to thank the giver!”

Anastasia moved up and relieved the man of her beer.  Taking his hand she pressed it to her chest, and moved it into the now open front of her dress.  His hand became familiar with her breasts, gentling pulling at the nipple.  Edyta’s hand moved the girl away, and standing in front of the man, took the mystery away by urging both sides of her dress off of her shoulders, leaving her topless in front of the poor man.  Putting her hands on his hips, she brought herself very close to him, and then pulled his hips to hers as he held a beer in each hand.  Defenseless, he had to take the kiss from her, then backing up, her hand dropped.  Liking what she found, she fondled it for a moment, then took the offered beer.

Karina, the oldest, walked up to the now red faced barman, and took the beer from his hand.  Whispering in his ear, she said, “The girls have had their fun, the woman offers her reward later on this evening.  Are you man enough to accept?”

Speech less, the man just nodded.  His bulging trousers showed acceptance to the status quo.  He gathered up the empty schooners, and made his way up the steps, quite a development from the hoped for groping of the friendly Marie, to being the subject of much groping from the women of the basement, and the as yet fulfilled promise from the very self-assured Karina.  His breath was almost back as he came upstairs.  Luckily, the light in the bar room behind the restaurant, with its billiards table highly illuminated by incandescent  lamps, was dim outside of the ring of light.

The man at the table, the man from the fourth floor, was winning the second and third game with his mark.  He had played badly the first game, looking like a rank amateur.  The second he had redeemed his virtue as a billiards man, and now, with the real money on the table, the mark was starting to sweat.  Not the warmth of the day, nor the humidity had made this sweat evident.  It was that the money on the table belonged to the Sicilian, and the mark had planned on taking the dandy to town, and relieving a fool of his cash.  Unfortunately, it did turn out that the fool was not the dandy from the fourth floor.

Subsequent to the conquest, the dandy, Matthew, sat back with his drink, and decided to bail his brother out of the jail the next morning.  His brother was a man of math, and science, and he would see the wisdom of letting the county buy him his breakfast, besides, Matthew had some time booked with the laundry lass.  Her talents were beyond adequate, they were exquisite.  Matthew was trying to decide if he should seduce her into moving on to Dubuque when Michael was out of jail.  He would see how the night worked.


Back in the basement, the girls cleaned up the area, scrubbing the copper tubs until the metal was gleaming.  The floors were washed, and mangle whipped down, and the tables made spotless.  When the work was concluded, the women took time in what was probably Madison’s first shower.  A five gallon copper tub in the stairway was hooked up to a copper pipe that went to a larger piece of copper tube on the end.  That larger piece of pipe had had a hundred small holes drilled in it by the metal magician known as the Swede, and when water was poured in the tub, it ran down and drizzled on the occupants under the tube.  A valve allowed for a quick wetting of the body, turning the water off for the application of soap, and a reopening of the valve washed off the soap.  The tub in the stairway was filled and refilled by the large pans of water heated on the single stove burner available to the basement people for cooking and heating water.   Soon enough the four women took their turns in the shower.  If the barman had come down then, he probably would have passed out.  The vision of a young woman under the water, with some of the ladies freshly scrubbed, and letting themselves air dry, while the others were still a bit funky with the sweat and grim of the day.  He would have been a on the floor for sure.

Luckily, the beer upstairs did not run out.  The women had changed into fresh clothing, and washed their other clothes in the small tub used for the shower.  With those clothing pieces hanging to dry, there was nothing to do.  Maude was supposed to lock the strangers in the storage room, to avoid mischief, but, Marie went over to Maude’s house, where she and her husband were already drunk, with the sun barely down.  Marie reported that she had locked the strangers in, and she would be heading home.  She checked in with her father, and told him that she was going to choir practice with the girls over at St Patrick’s on the other side of the square.  He nodded, with a book from the library on his chest, and the light on, he was set for the night.  She would let herself in after choir practice, as she had done on many nights.  Odd, he had never thought that she could sing very well, but, if she was happy, he had been married enough years, with his late wife, to know what life with a happy woman far exceeded life with a woman of issues.  The door slammed, unnecessarily, but never the less, Marie was down the road, back towards the Park Hotel, which she would pass on the way to the St Patrick’s choir practice.

The sound of the music from Kate’s Milk Bar made it out into the sidewalks and streets of the 100 block of East Main.  Marie stopped in the basement of the hotel, and breathlessly came into the laundry. 

“Girls, there’s an orchestra playing across the street, they only want a dime to go in, and the beers are a dime also.  I got a $2 tip today, so it’s my treat!  Anybody interested in some fun.”  The three lounging eastern European women got the drift, and they lifted out of the chairs as one.  Any man watching the four leave the basement would have either smiled, or predicted disaster on the horizon.  In either case, his perceptions would have been accurate.  It only took about a half a minute to get to the entrance to the Milk Bar.  The men at the front door, looking at the four women, realized that they would be a welcome addition to the inside, waved them in, skipping the 10 cent entrance fee.  The money spent by the men inside on the women would far exceed the dime, and encouraging the women to come to their milk bar would encourage the men to come to the bar.  A good thing for all. 

Adam looked over at his brother Earl, and smiled.  Earl never smiled, but he thought.

Back at the jail.  The men supped, washed up as best they could, then listened to one of the wife beaters who had his harmonica smuggled into the jail in his wife’s bodice when she came visit him.  He was promised that she would come back in the morning with the $9 needed to cover his bail.  If he went to court, they would probably get $5 of that back.  Wendy knew that there was an orchestra playing at the Milk Bar on Main Street, and she had always been rewarded for her attendance there. 

Sleep comes early to those who have had a full day of work. To the well-dressed man in the cell at the end of the row, sleep came late.

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