Location: Ice Box – bar (Interior) (Night)
Unfortunately, not all of Neil’s drink made it to the floor. He ended up wearing some of it.
Neil “What in holy hell … ?!”
Heroine “Sorry … but look around, Neil! We’ve got sick people everywhere! There’s something in the booze!”
That got his attention.
Neil “Cliff, get me my bag.”
Neil headed for the guy I’d spoken to first. By this time, he was hunched over in his chair, clutching his stomach.
Cliff returned with Neil’s black bag and handed it to me. I got it to Neil.
Heroine “Guys, help me out. Let’s clear the dance floor. Bring the cot out of the back … and blankets … “
Heroine “Cliff, check with everyone who’s sick. Find out what they were drinking. “
Heroine “Andrew … let’s get everyone who’s not sick out of here. Give everybody one of those rain check coupons for a free drink. Get Vince to help you with that.”
(Maybe we won’t lose too much business if we treat everybody right!)
Over the next few minutes, we got the healthy patrons on their way and helped the sick people get comfortable.
Vince, Cliff, Julius, Cleo, Andrew … even Donovan, who’d come in a few minutes before the sickness hit … joined in to help.
Cliff “I’ve talked to everyone who’s not feeling well or the people they’re here with. It’s the bourbon … “
Heroine “Then why didn’t Neil … oh, of course!”
Cliff “He only drinks that special stuff, and our regular batches come in from Canada with the rest of it.”
Neil was still going from patient to patient, checking pulses, listening to heartbeats and calming them down.
There was a lot of groaning, flop-sweat, and some tremors.
Neil “Julius, get back to the kitchen. Mix up as much mustard and salt as we’ve got with a bit of hot water … it should have the consistency of a thick broth … “
(What’s that about? Guess I’ll find out soon enough.)
I went from person to person, delivering cold compresses and ice. It was the only thing I could think of that someone else wasn’t already doing.
Neil “When Julius gets back with that mustard solution, you’re going to have a bunch of people throwing up in here.”
I looked around and saw Donovan looking helpless.
Heroine “Donovan, there are a bunch of mixing bowls back in the kitchen. Get with chef and bring out as many as you can.”
Donovan “You’re puttin’ me on puke patrol?!”
Heroine “I’m asking you to help out instead of standing there like a lump of Irish potato!”
He grumbled, but he did it.
Julius came back with a big tub of salty mustard gruel that smelled awful.
On Neil’s instruction, he took it around to each victim and ladled out a cup-full, making sure they drank it …
… or used to old, tried-and-true finger down the throat method.
Then the eruptions began, quickly followed by that unmistakable, gag-inducing smell.
Heroine “Wow. It’s like a smelly Vesuvius in here.”
Donovan “The vesuvee-what?”
Heroine “Vesuvius. The volcano in Italy? Pompeii?”
Donovan’s face reflected more than a little confusion.
Heroine “Forget it.”
(I’m going to start a damn lending library out of the back room, just to get these mooks educated!)
As things settled down to groaning and general misery, Neil seemed satisfied the worst was over.
Neil “I think everyone’s out of danger. As soon as they feel up to it, they can head home.”
Heroine “Neil, I can’t thank you enough. This could have been really bad.”
Neil “We caught it in time. Giving credit where it’s due, YOU caught it in time.”
Heroine “If not for what Julius said this morning about this happening in other clubs, I wouldn’t have.”
Neil “Yeah, but you put it together. And you managed the crisis well … “
Heroine “A compliment. From you? Maybe you’d better check MY temperature, make sure I’m not delusional.”
Neil “You didn’t let me finish. I was about to say you did all right … for a girl.”
I glared at him, but my heart wasn’t in it …
(He didn’t really seem to mean the “girl” remark anyway).
Heroine “What do you think happened?”
Neil “It’s pretty clearly a case of poisoning … good thing most everyone who got some is pretty young … might have killed an older person.”
Neil “Hard to know for sure without knowing what the poison was.”
A) “Any ideas on that?”
B) “Should we call the cops?”
C) “Hope this doesn’t kill business.”
Heroine “Any ideas on that?”
Neil “I’ve heard of some guys experimenting with adulterants in Ginger Jake that might not be kosher … but nobody was drinking Ginger Jake … “
Cliff “Yeah. No way anyone’d mistake something made with Jamaican Ginger for bourbon!”
Heroine “What’s this … Ginger thing?”
Cliff “Jamaican Ginger … Ginger Jake … is an old patent medicine with a pretty high alcohol content.”
Cliff “It’s still legal, but Treasury makes manufacturers up the ginger content, which makes it taste awful … “
Cliff “They run random tests to make sure the law’s being complied with.”
Neil “I’ve heard some bootleggers are trying different additives … things that won’t show up when it’s tested, but also make it more drinkable … “
Neil “… and some of those additives are having some pretty nasty side-effects … paralysis, tremors … “
Heroine “How awful! Do any of our customers … are they … ?”
Neil “No. Seems like severe gastrointestinal distress, for the most part.”
Cliff “Nobody’s dying. That’s good … but we definitely have a problem.”
Heroine “Should we call the cops? Or at least OUR cops?”
Donovan “ ‘Twould be a mistake to call in any more coppers.”
Heroine “Shouldn’t they investigate?”
Donovan “This is Chicago, darlin’. The distance between “should” and “will” is the length of Lake Michigan.”
Neil “Nobody’s going to want to come forward and offer up evidence in the form of bodily fluids.”
Donovan “It’d be as good as confessin’ they were in an illegal establishment … and word’ll spread soon enough … “
Heroine “That sounds ominous.”
Donovan “If that means what I think it means, you’re right. The speaks are goin’ to suffer a loss of income … so it looks like you’ve got a problem.”
Neil “You like your envelope from Charlie every month, Donovan?”
Neil “So maybe it’s “WE’VE got a problem,” then.”
Heroine “Hope this doesn’t kill business.”
Neil “Good to know you’ve got your moral compass pointed the right way.”
Heroine “I didn’t mean that’s all that matters … “
Vince “Well, that’s what I mean. So some people got sick on bad booze … it happens.”
Heroine “It’s YOUR bad booze, Vince. And now it’s mine and Charlie’s …Cliff’s. This affects EVERYONE.”
Vince “People know the risks.”
Neil “Knowing the risks and taking responsibility when the dice don’t go your way are two different things, Moretti … “
Neil “Even when they’re the ones breaking the law, people are liable to blame their accomplice when they get caught.”
Vince started to protest, but I could see the gears turning behind his eyes.
Vince “Yeah … I can see your point.”
(That must’ve been hard for him to admit.)
Vince “Guess we’ve got a problem.”
Heroine “So, what’re we going to do about it?”
Five guys and Cleo just stared at me like I’d just asked them how to get to the moon.
Heroine “Cliff, did you notice anything strange about the bourbon? The crates it came in or the bottles … anything?”
Cliff “Can’t say as I did. It all looked pretty standard to me. I’ve learned not to believe what’s on the labels or the crates these days … but Vince’s stuff is pure …“
Cliff “… an’ I usually take a little taste out of each crate, just to make sure it’s up to snuff … but I can’t stomach bourbon and I was busy tonight so … “
Cliff “I’m really sorry.”
(Sweet that he feels so responsible, but it’s not his fault.)
Vince spoke up.
Vince “I … I can backtrack on my bourbon supplier … see if he knows anything … “
Heroine “Okay, then, that’s a start! Where do you get this stuff?”
Vince “Remmy Champlain up in Ontario. He’s my guy for whiskey, rye, and bourbon.”
Neil “It’s barely bourbon. His mash uses other grains to make up what those Canuck corn farmers can’t supply.”
Vince “Maybe so, but there’s not enough of that special reserve stuff of yours to go around. Not if you want me to keep getting it for YOU.”
Neil “Oh, I do! I don’t care what other people drink … “
Heroine “Do tell.”
(Did he actually turn a little red there?)
Neil “Well … I … ah … I do draw the line at actual poison.”
Heroine “Where do you get Neil’s bourbon?”
Vince looked a little uncomfortable at my question.
Vince “Does it really matter? It ain’t comin’ in over the border, let’s just say that.”
Heroine “I guess it’s not relevant. So you’ll talk to this Remmy? It might be as simple as one of his people got mad … “
Vince “And juiced his stock with something? Yeah … I guess … but then, why only the bourbon? It ain’t like that’s his biggest seller.”
Heroine “Still … worth checking out. Donovan … any other reports of incidents like this come to your attention?”
Donovan “Not at all, darlin’. Though that ain’t surprisin’ … it ain’t like folks’re clamorin’ to confess they’ve been to a speak … “
Donovan “If they just feel a little pukey, have a bad hangover next day, they’ll probably put it down to a bad pour. No reason to involve the police.”
Heroine “I suppose … but Julius says this kind of thing is happening all over town. Someone’s going to start putting two-and-two together.”
Neil “Maybe that someone is us.”
Everyone grew quiet for a moment.
(I guess we’ve all just realized this is deadly serious.)
Heroine “Julius, can you tell me anything else about what you saw at the other clubs?”
Julius “Well, ma’am … ah … [USER_FIRST_NAME] … “
Neil glared at Julius, Vince just shot him a look. Cliff’s eyebrows bounced up and Donovan didn’t look happy.
Julius went quiet at all the sudden attention.
(There’s the race thing again. I know how prejudiced people can be … but I just never really understood it.)
Heroine “You all stop it and let the man talk! I told him he should call me by my first name and, no, I don’t care for your opinions on the matter!”
Cleo gave me a supportive smile and squeezed Julius’s arm. He took a breath and started again.
Julius “First time it happened was at the Green Mill last Thursday. It was like what happened here tonight, but not as many people getting sick … “
Vince “Did anybody say it was the bourbon, or … ?”
Julius “No. They … handled it differently. The manager had waiters hustling the sick people out the back door through the alley as fast as they started going down … “
Julius “He must’ve shut down the sale of something, ‘cause after a while, things got back to normal … I can probably find out what it was.”
Heroine “Please do.”
Julius “Then, Monday night I was playing at John Barleycorn over in Lincoln Park … “
Cliff “That’s the joint underneath the Chinese laundry.”
Julius “A lot more people got sick that night. I heard the bartender talking about “bad bathtub gin” … but he just closed the place early.”
Julius “Next day, a guy told me they’d ended up dumping their whole supply into the sewer and starting over.”
Vince “THAT must’ve burned a hole in the owner’s pocket. Who has that joint?”
Neil “That’s Stax Gilligan, isn’t it? Of course, everybody over that way pays tribute to Capone now … “
Vince “Heard anything about problems anywhere else?”
Julius “No, sir. The musicians around town talk some, too. I’m guessing if there’d been other problems, I’d’ve heard by now.”
Heroine “So we’re likely the third place to be hit with this … but probably not the last.”
Neil “And we can assume Capone isn’t out in front of it yet.”
Heroine “Yeah … and in a way, it’s good that WE had the problem too.”
Everyone looked at me in surprise, except Neil who understood what I meant immediately and seemed impressed I’d thought of it.
Heroine “As one of the few independent speaks that doesn’t buy from him or pay protection, he’d suspect us if we DIDN’T have a problem.”
Neil “We’re not clear yet. Capone’s a suspicious s.o.b. If he thinks it’s a competitor, he might think we did it to ourselves to provide cover … “
(I hadn’t thought of THAT!)
Neil “ … but yeah, I think we’re safer from him now than we would’ve been otherwise.”
Heroine “Based on what Julius says, we don’t know if the poison’s tied to one specific batch or type of liquor … “
Heroine “ … which just makes figuring out what’s going on that much harder.”
I sighed and rubbed my eyes. It wasn’t even midnight.
Heroine “I guess that’s all we can do for now. All of you keep your ears to the ground ….”
Heroine “… see if you can find anything else out without giving people the impression we’re worried. Let’s lock up and get home early.”
Vince took off first, following a hunch.
Julius, Cleo, and the band packed up. Cleo gave me a concerned look, but I just smiled back at her.
(Project confidence. First rule of leadership. Just like Poppa used to say.)
Cliff “I’ll finish up, [USER_FIRST_NAME]. You and the doc head on out.”
Heroine “Thanks, Cliff. Thanks VERY much. You be careful.”
Location: Alley behind the Ice Box (Exterior) (Night)
As Neil and I walked to the car, I was feeling antsy after all the excitement.
A) “No way I’m going to sleep.”
B) “That was an interesting evening.”
C) “What’re you going to do?”
Heroine “No way I’m going to sleep.”
Neil “You seem exhausted.”
Heroine “Just dreading the big to-do tomorrow … Uncle Charlie’s Temperance League meeting …
Heroine “I’d hoped my days of pretending to be somebody I’m not were behind me.”
Neil “You grow up, you realize those days are NEVER behind you. Unless you’re a hermit. Or a nun.”
Heroine “I like shopping too much to be a hermit and like men too much to be a nun. But you seem to manage it pretty well.”
Neil “Manage what?”
Heroine “The whole misanthrope act. You keep people at arm’s-length better’n anybody else I know.”
Neil just grunted and we walked the rest of the way to the car in silence.
Heroine “That was an interesting evening.”
Neil “I prefer a quiet night of drinking, myself … but whatever flips your skirt.”
Heroine “Oh, come ON! Nobody died … AND we have a big mystery to investigate! What’s not good about that?”
He grabbed my elbow and stopped me, looking straight into my eyes.
Neil “You really don’t get it, do you? This isn’t some game!”
Heroine “I didn’t think it was … Ow! You’re hurting my arm.”
He let go, but it hurt enough that I had to massage it.
Neil “These people we deal with … they aren’t just common criminals … “
Neil “Guys like Capone, Bugs Moran, the late and unlamented Dan O’Banion … even our friend Vince … they’re hard scrabble, up-from-nothing types … “
Heroine “I know … “
Neil “There’s no way you CAN know, sister. A lot of ‘em served in the war. They learned to kill and didn’t mind it so much … “
Neil “Now, they figure it’s their turn. Prohibition’s handed them their ticket to the big time and nothing’s and nobody’s going to get in their way … “
(What the heck is THIS all about?!)
Neil “ … especially not some feather-headed flapper from Columbus, Ohio!”
Having all that furious energy pouring over me where there’d been nothing but cold disinterest before took my breath away.
Heroine “Nice speech. I didn’t know you cared.”
Neil “Is THAT what you got from all that?”
He turned and stalked to the car. I didn’t know what to say so I just followed him.
Heroine “What’re you going to do?”
Neil “Drive you home. Or did you mean in the larger sense, like “What’re you going to do with your life?””
Heroine “If I thought you’d tell me, I’d ask the second one.”
Neil “If you don’t ask, you’ll never know if I’d answer or not.”
Heroine “All right, I’ll bite. What’re you going to do with your life?”
Neil “None of your business.”
Heroine “Yeah. That’s what I figured.”
Neil “You don’t want to hear my confession, kid. Trust me.”
(Now I want to hear it more than ever!)
Location: Neil’s car (Interior) (Night)
We drove toward Charlie’s townhouse … I was almost vibrating in the seat, I was so juiced up from the night’s events.
(It’s strange how normal this feels already. I’ve got a completely new life … and even with Neil being Neil, it’s still really great to be here.)
Neil cleared his throat.
Neil “I’m not a big sleeper. I usually read, catch some shut eye for a couple of hours, then go get breakfast and start my day … “
(I’d like to know what his day consists of besides sitting at the Box … )
Neil “… so, if you want to come over and sit up with me … “
( ?! )
Heroine “Are you … inviting me back to your place, Dr. Dresner?”
I batted my eyes at him, but in a way that I was sure he’d see as mocking, not coy.
Neil “No etchings to view. No conversation … no ANYTHING. Except a drink. You can always have a drink.”
A thought struck me.
Heroine “You play chess … how about I challenge you to a game?”
Location: Neil’s apartment (Interior) (Night)
I set up the board while Neil got us both a drink.
(The good bourbon … and I didn’t even ask.)
Neil “Where’d you learn the game?”
Heroine “I used to watch my Pops play. He was a Rotarian.”
Neil “What the hell does that have to do with chess?”
Heroine “When they weren’t listening to uplifting, community-minded speeches, they played chess at the Rotary Club … and drank. Before Prohibition, of course.”
Neil “You ever play?”
Heroine “Just with Poppa once in a while.”
Neil “Was he Rotary Club good, or did he actually play the game?”
Heroine “Like I’d know?”
I held out my fists containing one pawn of each color. He picked black.
Neil “I don’t usually play amateurs. Hope you’re ready to lose.”
Heroine “If you want to make it interesting, I’ve got my pin money … “
Neil “I’m not going to take your money. Just make your first move and take your beating.”
I opened with my King’s pawn to King’s four. He countered with his opposite pawn. We were off.
As the opening of the game developed, he occasionally grunted … very softly … at my moves, then responded quickly.
Ten or so moves into the game, he stopped responding so fast.
(Ha! He’s having to think more … I must be surprising him.)
I found myself watching Neil as he concentrated on his game.
Special Illustration: Heroine and Neil hunched over the chessboard. She’s looking at him from the tops of her eyes, a single curl drops fetchingly over her forehead. He’s deep in concentration on the board.
(He’s like a different person when he’s focused on the game … calmer … softer … he’s really very handsome when he’s like this … )
Suddenly, he glanced up and caught me looking.
I felt a flush rise on my cheeks.
Neil “If you’re not going to concentrate on the game, I’ll take you home and tuck you in with your dolly.”
Heroine “You play your game, mister. I’ll play mine.”
He took my knight with his bishop. I responded by taking the bishop with my rook. He countered with his queen.
Suddenly flustered, I realized he’d backed me into a corner. I scanned the board for possible outs … but everything I saw ended in checkmate in three to five moves.
I tipped my King over and sat back.
Heroine “Good thing I didn’t bet you after all.”
Neil gave me another one of his grunts.
(He’s not going to get off THAT easy.)
Heroine “I demand a rematch.”