The Anthology of Wayward Stories
As told by the storyteller Jack Chapman
And written down word for word by Curt Kaltsukis
1934 - When Charlie Mann Skipped Town
On Saturday morning, the 16th of June, 1934, thirty-eight-year-old Charlie Mann worked surreptitiously in the pre-dawn
darkness to conceal, in the side panels of his automobile, over one-hundred-thirty-grand in cash secretly accrued from high-stakes wagers. That amount included the $52,000 trifecta bonanza from the
recent Susquehanna Futurity Stakes at the Graw Racetrack in Havre de Grace. He had raked in that windfall by secretly undoing the Geary Brothers triple-racehorse-switch scheme, which had cost their
gambling syndicate almost a million dollars in illicit wagers and payouts. And if they turned over the right stones and shook the right trees, they would have Charlie pushing up daisies in no time
So, before dawn, forty-nine days after that fateful Susquehanna Futurity Stakes at The Graw. Charlie loaded up his assorted
possessions and placed a burgundy velvet presentation box holding an expensive diamond engagement ring in the glove compartment. He was skipping town, and hoped that Jackie Jean Osterman, the love
of his life, would accept his impromptu marriage proposal, and drop everything to come with him.
In those days, Charlie Mann worked as a jockey’s agent and ran a covert betting operation in cahoots with his friend and
secret partner Chester Thompkins, proprietor of The Ink Spot, Books & News. After laying low in the interim since the race, Charlie had become convinced that the heat was off him, at least
temporarily, as far as the Geary Brothers syndicate and the corrupt local cops were concerned. However, with each passing day, Charlie had become more paranoid that the angry bookmakers would
somehow figure out that his friend Chester Thompkins had not acted alone to thwart their triple-race horse-switch scheme. Sooner or later, the Geary Brothers would ascertain that
he was not only involved with Chester in the conspiracy but was actually the brains behind it.
You see. things had not worked out well for his good friend and cohort, Chester Thompkins. Just four weeks before Charlie
decided to hightail it out of Havre de Grace, Chester’s rotting, mutilated body was found by a B&O maintenance crew supervisor who had gone to check out an awful smell emanating from the trees
along the tracks. The gruesome discovery happened across the river in Perryville on the far side of the railroad bridge on Friday afternoon, May 18th.
According to the Harford Democrat newspaper, Chester Thompkins, the well-liked owner of The Ink Spot Books & News, a popular
Havre de Grace storefront selling periodicals, paperback books, and jigsaw puzzles, had been brutally beaten before being shot in the head. By the time Mr. Thompkins’s body was discovered, he had
already been missing for five days.
That previous Monday morning, May 14th, Chester’s regular customers, waiting to buy the daily racing form, became concerned
when he did not arrive to open up the shop. After an extensive search by friends and relatives turned up naught, his ex-wife notified the authorities that Chester was missing.
Two days later, the police reported that they had arrested three itinerate hobos camping in makeshift tents in the woods near
the tracks. How and why Mr. Thompkins was at that location when the murder transpired was still under investigation. However, according to his sister, Esther Thompkins, residing in Perryville, he
did enjoy an occasional Sunday morning stroll across the river to visit her using the pedestrian tramway of the Susquehanna Railroad Bridge when the sun was rising over the Chesapeake Bay. Yes, the
two Thompkins kids were named Esther and Chester. Another boy would probably have been named Lester or girl Hester. But we digress.
During Chester’s closed casket viewing at the funeral home, there was an impressively large and gaudy flower arrangement,
sent compliments of the Geary Brothers, of which only Charlie knew the significance.
Given the circumstances, Charlie wisely decided that there was no time like the present to move to
California under the name of Charles Sweets Ochoa, the one on his birth certificate. He had heard good things about the growing racing scene in southern California. It was becoming very fashionable
for movie stars and wealthy studio execs in Los Angeles to own racehorses. Charlie figured he could start anew in The City of Angels, out of sight and mind and an entire continent
away from the Mid-Atlantic syndicates.
So, with his car fully packed and the sun coming up, Charlie drove straight away to the waterside cottage where Jackie Jean
Osterman was living. He was determined to persuade her to leave that scumbag, Martin Cooley Jr., with whom she had hooked up, drop everything, and run away to California with him, where they could
get married. Charlie knew absolutely for sure; that was the best thing for both of them.
He mentally rehearsed his arguments on the way there -- I love you, and I know you love me too. If you stay with
Martin Cooley Jr., it can only end badly. There is plenty of work for us at the West Coast tracks. You adore show business, having acted in all those high-school theater productions. And, how many
times have you said that you would love to work for a movie studio? You could do it there, for real.
Charlie walked up to the front door carrying the diamond engagement ring inside the burgundy velvet presentation box. He
would ask for Jackie Jean Osterman’s hand in marriage and take her away to start a new life with him in Los Angeles, home of the movie stars.
Charlie knocked, waited, knocked again, and puzzled, tried to look into the window through a gap in the curtains. It was very
uncharacteristic of Jackie Jean, who was the epitome of a morning person. She jumped out of bed at 5:00 a.m. every day, rain or shine, weekend, weekday, or holiday, opened the
curtains and windows to let the sunlight and fresh air in, and got busy preparing for the new day. Frankly, that behavior was a mystery to Charlie, who thoroughly enjoyed sleeping until noon if he
could. But as they say, ‘opposites attract.’ Besides, Jack Jean grew up on a farm where rising before dawn to do chores had become a life-long habit.
Also striking Charlie as odd was the absence of something. He didn’t hear Benson, her pet dog, who always greeted him
eagerly, barking and pawing impatiently at the front door in anticipation of Jackie Jean coming to open it.
Is she out? It doesn’t make any sense. We talked about it yesterday. Charlie was stymied. He knocked again using the
brass door knocker, then listened intently.
He heard faint bustling noises and Jackie Jean’s muffled voice. “Hold on, give me a minute. I’ll be right
The door opened a crack, and Jackie Jean peered out at Charlie. She looked terrible. On her face was applied a botched
make-up job to hide some nasty-looking bruises. Her usually perfect hairdo was disheveled from a hasty brushing. And she was wearing a house robe, which was atypical of her even at that early
Charlie was alarmed and asked, “Jackie Jean, are you alright?” He attempted to look into the house behind her, sensing that
someone else was there.
She told Charlie in a quavering voice, “Something has come up; I can’t talk to you right now.”
A man’s hand shoved Jackie Jean by the shoulder out of the way and jerked the door wide open. Standing menacingly in the
doorway was Martin Cooley Jr., the racetrack acquisitions manager, a position which Charlie suspected was given to him as a set-up to facilitate money laundering transactions between the track and
the gambling syndicates.
Martin snarled, “Look who is sniffing around. It’s little Charlie Mann.” Then speaking to Jackie Jean. “So this is the horny
mongrel you been wagging your ass at. I knew it!” And in his rage spat out, “You little cheating ssPitch,” though mispronounced, was unmistakably the derogatory term meaning a female
Anger surged through Charlie’s body. He clenched his right fist and took a step forward toward Martin. In response, Martin
sneered, raised a pistol, and cocked it. “If you know what’s best for you, Charlie Mann, you will go slink back into the hole you came out of.”
Charlie took another step forward. Martin stuck the barrel end of the gun right on the tip of Charlie’s nose and said, “This
is my house, and you are trespassing. I have every right to blow your head off.”
You see, at that time, Jackie Jean was a kept woman, living for free in an investment property owned by Martin. Her love
affair, on the side, with Charlie Mann, was a strictly kept secret.
Out of sight behind the door, Jackie Jean pleaded, “Charlie, stop! Please! Please go, for me. Please, Charlie.”
Unflinching at the gun pressed against his nose, Charlie growled in acquiescence, “Alright. I’ll leave. But this isn’t over,
Martin, not by a long shot.”
As Charlie walked slowly back to his car, he defiantly raised his right hand, giving Martin the middle finger. He made it to
the car without getting shot in the back, reached into his pants pocket for his keys, and then remembered the ring box held in his left hand. In the heat of the confrontation, he had forgotten all
about it. Thankfully, Martin Cooley Jr. had overlooked it as well.
Once behind the steering wheel, Charlie struggled to put the key into the ignition; his hand was trembling so badly. He got
the car started, revved the engine, peeled away from the curb, and headed straight to the police station to file a report of abuse on Jackie’s behalf.
That complaint was greeted apathetically by the cops on duty. Charlie had no doubt that the paperwork would be crumpled up
and tossed into the circular file because on the way to the exit, he overhead the desk sergeant saying snidely, “I’m sure she deserved it.”
Charlie consoled himself by contemplating various plans of revenge against Martin.
In the hopes that somehow, someway, he could talk sense into Jackie Jean, Charlie delayed going to the West Coast for almost
a week. But she rebuffed him with the admonition, “Listen, Charlie, it’s over between us. Go on before someone gets hurt. Martin has told me that he is sorry and promised it won’t happen again. He
asked me to marry him, and I said yes.”
Jackie Jean’s decision was totally beyond Charlie’s understanding. It made him heartsick. He kept asking
himself, Why would she choose to stay with such a horrible abusive person like Martin Cooley Jr.? Why? Why? Why?
During the following week, risking his own life at the hands of the Geary Brothers goons, Charlie persisted in his attempts
to convince Jackie Jean to give up on her relationship with Martin Cooley Jr. and elope with him to Los Angeles. He loved Jackie Jean too much to give up without trying everything possible. Charlie
telephoned her when Martin was gone, but she hung up on him. He approached her while she was out walking Benson, but she turned away and hurried into the house. Finally, he had a mutual friend
deliver a note to her at the track media office where she worked. A day later, the friend returned with a curt letter, saying only, “Dear Charlie, Know that I will always have warm feelings for
you, but I have made my decision to marry Martin. So, please do not try to pursue me any longer. It’s best for both of us that you are leaving.”
Upon reading her response to his note, Charlie finally relented. Well, that’s that. She made her bed, and I can
do nothing about it… for now.
The very next day, Charlie left Havre de Grace for the sunnier climes of California. It took him a while to learn his way
around an unfamiliar place, make new friends, and get acquainted with different trainers and horses. Still, within two years, he was employed by none other than Bing Crosby himself as a handicapper
at the movie star’s brand new Del Mar Racetrack.
But, throughout the good times and bad times that followed, Charlie never stopped thinking about Jackie Jean Osterman, his
one true love. On the same day every year, he wired money to the Harford Democrat newspaper to place a personal message in the classifieds that read, “Happy Birthday to Jackie Jean, the most
beautiful woman in the world. With love, Charlie.”
© Copyright 2022 Curt Kaltsukis. All rights reserved.