What if the great writer Mike Royko had left Don Trump a Christmas present?
Trump left his security detail out on State Street and walked in early and alone. New jeans, green raincoat and a black baseball cap. Carrying a backpack. Trump in disguise.
Lester Lapczynski and I were already waiting in the red vinyl booth of the Beef and Brew. The afternoon rush hour crowd outside streaming home in the spitting grey December rain. Rain like the entire city had the flu and last night's headache just would not go away.
Standing at the table, Trump narrowed his eyes and said, "I appreciate whatever gift my people tell me you're bringing from this Royko fellow. My research team, and they are the world's best research team, they are the tops, they tell me that this Royko wasn't stupid. So many people out there are stupid. I am not stupid. So I'm here.
You've seen my Chicago building? A beautiful building. Stands on the site of the old Chicago Sun-Times building where, my team tells me, Royko used to write. I tore that building down. I built a beautiful building. People love my building."
"Sit down son." Lester whispered. "This is not about your building."
They called Lester "The Lip." And I had never heard him speak so softly. Usually I was too busy dodging the spray that spewed out from that oversize lower lip. But Lester knew things about the way the city worked when the doors to power were shut tight to everyone else. And on the far other side of the power rainbow, he was also the last of those who remembered Nelson Algren and Simone deBeauvoir in the dive bars when they'd make a night of it. Once he even told her that her problem was she read too many books. Nelson, the story goes, started laughing. Simone slapped him and Lester both at once, picked up her coat and walked out into the snow alone.
No one was ever sure what Lester's connection was to Royko. The best I ever got from Lester was, "Yeah, I knew the guy. What of it?"
As Trump slid into the booth next to me, across from Lester. Lester's rheumy tired eyes riveted to Trump with an energy I hadn't seen since back in 1997 when Royko died.
"I was told by ah... friends of ours, to come here today because you had a gift from Royko." Trump seemed to never stop talking. Lester, who usually commanded the table and did the talking, was strangely quiet. "If you do have a financial contribution left for me from Mr. Royko, I do appreciate the generosity. Of course it does not surprise me that he knew I was coming. That someday I'd come.
"It ain't money," Lester raised his chin.
"And that's just fine. I am financing my own campaign; I am worth billions you know. Perhaps Mr. Royko left me information? Mr. Royko understood the great leaders like myself. He was not stupid."
"No," Lester shook his head slowly. "Nothing like that. Course you might want to figure out why the pipes keep bursting in the million dollar condos you peddled. But that's all just a rumor. Strange repairs that need to be made in that building. Vicious rumor?"
"Yes! A vicious rumor. That's a beautiful building. It's in great shape. I'm a builder. Not a ghost hunter. But if it's not money or real estate we're here to talk about, what is it? What's my present from Royko? How can I get a present from someone who used to write where my building now stands? Someone who is no longer with us? This is something I do not understand. So this might just be stupid."
"Could be," whispered Lester, as he reached down in his lap beneath the table and pulled out a dirty old 16-inch softball. "Here you go," Lester handed the ball to Trump. This is what Royko left for you. He didn't know you by name, but he knew you were coming.
"I see," Trump said, sliding out of the booth. I am a very busy man. I don't have time for softball. Or to figure out what this means. I need to attend to a few things in my building. So this is stupid. And you can keep the old softball."
Then, leaving the softball on the table, Trump turned to leave the diner, swinging the backpack over his shoulder. And as he did, the old softball popped up and flew inside the backpack so softly that Trump didn't feel it at all. The ball lodged itself so gently that even had Trump put his hand in the backpack, he wouldn't have felt or seen it.
And that night at the Trump building another pipe broke in a luxury condo showering a drug lord and friend in bed who never had trouble crossing any border.
The softball stayed with Trump. Even though he never knew. It's there right now. Just waiting. As pipes burst and events unfold.
The old softball. Royko's Christmas present to Trump. It's watching. Waiting.