NOTE: I suggest you read the Prologue before embarking on this episode…
Location: Chicago Hospital (Charlie’s Room) (Night) (bg022.jpg)
[Heroine]”I choose Vince. I’m sure any one of you guys would be great…”
[Vince]”Nice of you to try and let’em down easy.”
[Charlie]”They’re all probably thinking they dodged a bullet.”
Most of the guys laughed.
(What’s so funny?!)
[Charlie]”All the guys’ll help you out when they can, [USER_FIRST_NAME], but Vince is a good choice to stick close.”
I was watching the others as Uncle Charlie spoke. Most of them smiled in encouragement…except Neil, who doesn’t smile, far as I’d seen…
…and Donovan, who looked wary of the whole business.
Uncle Charlie suddenly wilted like a flower in August.
[Neil]”We need to clear out, people. Let the man rest.”
[Charlie]”Yeah. Give me some air, you mugs.”
[Charlie]”Vince, you and [USER_FIRST_NAME] hold on.”
[Charlie]”I’ve got a couple of things to say to you.”
Neil caught Vince’s eye.
[Vince]”Five more minutes, Doc. Then we’re gone.”
A moment later, Vince and I were alone with my uncle…
Charlie smiled a crooked smile that I remembered from when I was a kid.
I put my hand in his and he held it weakly.
[Charlie]”Bet you’re thinking old Uncle Charlie’s a big hypocrite.”
(Oh…what do I say to that?!)
[Heroine]”I…ah…I’m still getting over the surprise of you being shot!”
[Charlie]”At least you’re a lousy liar. There’s some hope for you after all.”
[Charlie]”Listen…we’ll talk about all this when I’m back on my feet. Vince can fill you in on the big picture…”
[Charlie]”I figure there’s a better chance of you staying out of trouble running the Icebox than just running wild.”
[Charlie]”Now, lemme talk to Vince a minute, then you kids get out of here and let an old man rest.”
He squeezed my hand. I leaned in and gave him a peck on his cheek.
He smelled of sour aftershave, mercurochrome, and gauze bandages.
[Heroine]”We’ll take care of everything. You just get better.”
I stepped to the door.
Vince leaned over and he and Charlie exchanged a few whispered sentences.
Vince joined me a moment later, looking grim. Uncle Charlie’s eyes were already closed.
We walked down the hospital hallway in silence and made our way to Vince’s car.
Location: Chicago Streets (Night)
The way Vince was walking, I could tell he had a ball of something nasty in his gut and couldn’t get it out.
Watching his profile as we drove, I could see his jaw clenching.
Finally, I couldn’t stand the quiet anymore.
[Heroine]”He’s gonna be okay.”
(Nothing. Not even the flick of an eyelash.)
[Heroine]”Y’know, it’s funny, but he looks less like a corpse now than he did when I saw him in his undertaker suit this morning.”
Vince screeched to a halt, jerking the car to the curb, his knuckles white on the wheel.
The words he finally spoke came out like an angry hiss of steam.
[Vince]”Don’t you joke about him dying! He ain’t gonna die!”
[Heroine]”No! I didn’t mean…he’s my UNCLE! How could I…”
But he wasn’t listening to me. He was looking past me now, but really looking inside himself.
(I wonder what he sees when he does that?)
[Vince]”The ones who did this to him…now THAT’S another story…”
His intensity was frightening. And exciting.
(He’s a long jump from Teddy Denby, THAT’s for sure…no overbred East Coast tweediness with this guy…)
[Heroine]”Did he say who did it?”
His eyes snapped to mine.
(He’s got that dark Valentino look …but he’s more manly. Dashing. Like Fairbanks. A face that I can see on the silver screen.)
[Vince]”He doesn’t know. Caught him coming out of his main office. Guy comes up, hat down, fires three shots…the elevator boy found him…”
[Heroine]”Didn’t I see his wallet and his watch on the table there at the hospital?”
[Heroine]”So whoever it was didn’t have time to rob him.”
Vince nodded as if I’d just confirmed something he’d already thought of.
[Vince]”It wasn’t a robbery.”
[Heroine]”You mean…someone wanted him dead?”
[Vince]”Usually, when some mug shoots at you, it ain’t ‘cause he wishes you many happy returns.”
[Heroine]”Can it with the snappy comebacks! I just walked into all of this yesterday. I have no idea what the rules are!”
[Heroine]”What I meant was, did he have enemies who wanted him dead?”
Vince seemed to actually see me for the first time since we got the call about Uncle Charlie at the speakeasy.
[Vince]”Yeah…sorry. He had some enemies. The usual kind you’d expect…and some others you might not.”
(What does THAT mean?)
He put the car back into gear and pulled back into traffic.
[Vince]”Let’s get you home. Tomorrow night starts early. You got a lot to learn before we open the doors.”
Location: Charlie’s House (Heroine’s Room) (Afternoon)
I slept most of the day away and woke up to find the housekeeper busy watering the houseful of flowers that had been delivered during the day.
(Uncle Charlie must be a popular guy to get all these gifts…bet there’s even more at the hospital.)
I spent a couple of hours puttering around, fixing my make-up, getting dressed…
(I’m going to need some new clothes if I’m going to run the Ice Box!)
…half the time so excited I could hardly think straight, the other half feeling guilty about Uncle Charlie. When Vince came by, I was more than ready to go.
Location: Charlie’s House (Exterior) (Afternoon)
[Heroine]”Can you believe all this?! Looks like half of Chicago heard the news.”
[Vince]”Papers are saying it’s awful when an upstanding businessman gets shot in the street like a common hood.”
[Heroine]”So people really buy that he’s Mr. Model Citizen? Even after this?”
[Vince]”Charlie’s worked hard cultivatin’ a good rep. Most people really respect him, even if they suspect he’s not completely on the up-and-up…”
[Vince]”…and let’s face it, nobody’s really all on the up-and-up these days.”
(I hadn’t thought about it that way.)
Location: Vince’s Car (Interior) (Afternoon)
[Heroine]”I talked to the doc again. He said Uncle Charlie was resting comfortably. Probably should have a couple of days without visitors.”
[Vince]”You aren’t gonna have time to do much visiting anyway. This gig’s sink or swim, doll. And it’s my job to make sure you swim! Now, let’s go toss you in the deep end.”
(Please select one)
A: “Bet you’d look good in swim trunks.”
B: “You find out who shot my uncle?”
C: “You think I need you to help me?”
[Heroine]”Bet you look good in swim trunks.”
[Vince]”I bet you’d look good in ‘em too, but tonight we got business to do.”
[Heroine]”How deep can the deep end be? It’s just one little speakeasy.”
[Heroine]”What’s with the Cheshire Cat routine?”
[Vince]”You got some savvy, for a girl. I know you can walk up to the plate, but you got no idea how to hit the curves.”
(I’m a little afraid he’s right, but I’m not about to tell him that.)
[Heroine]””You find out who shot my uncle?”
Vince’s eyes narrowed.
[Vince]”That’s not your lookout.”
[Heroine]”Do I have to keep reminding you he’s MY uncle!”
[Vince]”You ain’t seen him in years, by his account. An’ it ain’t like you were happy to find yourself on his doorstep!”
[Heroine]”He’s my father’s brother!”
[Vince]”If you show as much respect for Charlie as you showed for your own folks, he should count himself lucky you didn’t shoot him yourself!”
[Heroine]”That’s not FAIR! He was good to me when I was little! And you have no right to judge me OR my family.”
[Vince]”Y’know, you’re right. Charlie’s pretty much the only family I ever had, so I don’t have a lot to go on by way of comparison!”
(He’s trying to make out like I’m putting on airs! If I keep arguing with him, I’ll just prove he’s right.)
[Heroine]”You think I need you to help me?”
[Vince]”Doll, you don’t know how MUCH you’re gonna need me.”
[Heroine]”You’re kind of full of yourself, Mr. Moretti.”
[Vince]”How do you know it’s not truth-in-advertising?”
(I like that little crinkle in the corner of his mouth when he cracks wise.)
[Heroine]”Uncle Charlie vouches for you, so I guess that counts for something. I’ll take you on try out.”
[Vince]”Good thing I got a yen to be put through my paces by a hot little number like yourself.”
[Heroine]”You’ve got more brass than a New Orleans band, Moretti.”
We pulled up at a stoplight. He glanced over. I turned to admire the dresses in the department store window.
(No point in letting him see I sort of like his “brass.”)
[Heroine]”Let’s just get to the speak.”
Location: The Ice Box (Bar) (Afternoon)
Cliff was already behind the bar, stocking up when we arrived.
[Cliff]”Any word on Charlie?”
[Vince]”I’ll bet Neil checked up on him today. Ask him when he comes in.”
[Heroine]”What time do things get hopping around here?”
[Cliff]”We’ll get the after work drinkers in starting soon. It’s Payday Friday, so the animals all come out…”
[Cliff]”…we’ll get a little dinner trade, but we don’t compete with the big restaurants. The after-show trade hits late.”
[Cliff]”All the theatres and pictures let out between ten and eleven. Their pocket flasks are empty by then, and they’re ready to swing…”
(Holy smokes! There’s so much to learn!)
Vince put his hand on my back, his voice calm.
[Vince]”Charlie would always start out by counting out the cash drawer, checking on the kitchen and making sure Cliff had everything he needed.”
[Heroine]”Oh! So…Cliff, do you have everything you need?”
[Cliff]”Right as rain.”
Vince took me through the back-of-house basics, then brought me out front again.
[Vince]”All that stuff is important, but Charlie’s got good people running that show. Let ‘em know who’s in charge and keep ‘em busy and they’ll be fine…”
[Vince]”…the action, as far as the customers’re concerned, is out here…”
While we’d been in the back, Julius and the band had arrived and were tuning up.
[Vince]”Jules, you met the new boss last night.”
[Julius]”How do you do again, Miss [USER_LAST_NAME]?”
[Heroine]”Please! Just call me [USER_FIRST_NAME].”
[Julius]”Let me introduce you around, then, [USER_FIRST_NAME]. This is Frip Phillips, trumpet and coronet, and Lon Vickery on sax…”
[Julius]”Philly Cox here is the drummer. Max Washington is on the bass fiddle[TJ1] …”
[Julius]”And, of course, this is Cleo Mayfield, our chanteuse.”
[Heroine]”You fellas burned it up last night! And Miss Mayfield, I just love your voice!”
[Cleo]”Thanks, honey, but you better call me “Cleo,” like your uncle does. ‘Preciate it if you won’t be trying to squeeze my buns as often as he did.”
The guys in the combo chuckled at her line, but eyed me for my reaction.
(I can feel myself blushing. They’re going to think I’m a child!)
[Heroine]”I only squeeze the paying customers, Cleo.”
The laughter became less restrained. Cleo cracked a smile.
[Cleo]”You’re all right, kid. I was watching you last night too, once I found out you were Charlie’s niece. You got his way with people. I think you’ll do fine.”
[Andrew]”Excuse me, Mr. Vince, Cliff says he’s ready…should I open up? I got a couple of live ones hanging in the alley already.”
I took in Andrew, a big man in the tight suit, his nose set at an odd angle to the rest of his face.
(A boxer, I’ll bet. Seems like he’s scared he could break me if he gets too close.)
I expected Vince to answer. Instead, he looked at me and I realized it was time for me to step up to that plate…
[Heroine]”You’re Andrew, the doorman, aren’t you? We met when I came in with Julius last night.”
[Andrew]”Yes’m. You’re Miss [USER_FIRST_NAME], Charlie’s relation, aren’t you? You takin’ over while Charlie’s down for the count?”
[Heroine]”That’s the plan, Andrew.”
[Andrew]”How’s Mr. Charlie doing? People says he’s dyin’, but I tell’em Mr. Charlie’s too tough to croak from a couple little bullets.”
[Heroine]”You’ve got it right, Andrew. You tell everyone he’ll be up off that canvas in no time.”
Andrew let out a sigh of relief that felt like the Galveston hurricane blowing by.
[Heroine]”You go ahead and open up, Andrew, and…wait. Hold on a sec.”
The front-of-house staff had wandered over while I was talking to Andrew…the waiters, the cigarette girl and the coat check girl…Cliff’s barback…
I stepped up onto the little stage so everyone could see me.
Location: The Ice Box (Stage) (Lights On)
[Heroine]”Hey, everybody! We’re getting ready to open up. I haven’t had time to meet you all yet…”
[Heroine]”I just want you all to hear it from me: Charlie’s doing well and he’ll be back. Meantime, Vince is going to help me get on the tracks…
[Heroine]”But I’m counting on all of you, too. Charlie hired you, so I know I’m in good hands.”
Vince helped me off the stage, not that I needed the help…but I let him, ‘cause I wanted the staff to see we him respect me and vice versa.
[Heroine]”Now, let’s get to it! Open ‘er up, Andrew!”
Everybody applauded politely, then scattered to their stations.
Location: The Ice Box (Tables) (Lights On)
[Vince]”You did all right. They liked what you had to say or you would’ve been looking at a bunch a stone-faces…I actually saw Ernie Sanders crack a smile.”
[Vince]”But now, you gotta prove you got the stuff. You EARN their respect or you got nothing. But once you earn it, you know it’s for real.”
[Heroine]”So what’s my racket? What’d Charlie do on the nights he was here?”
[Vince]”Just circulate, let folks know all’s well and you’re the go-to while Charlie’s laid up…flirt and float…especially with the regulars…”
[Heroine]”How do I know…?”
[Vince]”I’ll point ‘em out. If you get any trouble-makers, signal me or Andrew.”
For the while, it was a trickle of after-work types, men from nearby offices, but a few women too…secretaries and shop-girls…
Then, the trickle turned into a stream. Some early diners, a few curiosity seekers who’d heard about the change in management.
[Vince]”[USER_FIRST_NAME], this is Joe Steinberg. He runs a string of laundries…does all our linens, plus handling my suits for years now…”
[Heroine]”Can you trade ‘em out for something that doesn’t scream “circus clown” while you’re at it, Mr. Steinberg?”
Joe laughed a big laugh for such a little man. Vince was less amused. Not at all amused, truth be told.
[Joe]”I should have such influence on a man of Mr. Moretti’s caliber? You suggest more sober ties, the quieter plaids. Me, I say these things to him…
[Joe]”… but I’m just an old noodge[TJ2] . What do I know? A young woman like yourself…YOUR opinion would matter to him.”
[Vince]”Hey, dolls like the way I dress just fine!”
[Heroine]”Vince is mistaking attention for approval, don’t you think, Mr. S.?”
[Joe]”Oh, no. Last time I got between a gal and her fella, I got such a lump on my head!”
[Joe]”Then my wife made me buy her a new rolling pin an’ the fella, he still delivers the milk!”
Vince and both laughed at that one.
[Heroine]”Mr. S, you let me know if you need any little thing tonight.”
[Joe]”Only your discretion. I’m expecting…a friend, later.”
[Heroine]”Why Mr. S! At your age?”
[Joe]”At my age, young lady, is the perfect time for such a friend. She flirts better than my wife and in her kitchen, there’s not a single rolling pin!”
As Steinberg moved to his table, Vince touched my arm. I felt the same zap I got last night when we were dancing.
[Vince]”You don’t like the way I dress?”
(Please select one)
A: “Oh, give me a break!”
B: “What’s not to like?”
C: “Honest truth or polite lie?”
[Heroine]”Oh, give me a break! I was gassing with the guy!”
[Vince]”Yeah, but you picked my suits as the topic.”
[Heroine]”Because he cleans ‘em! What else to I have to talk about with the guy who does laundry?!”
[Vince]”The weather. Baseball. The state of the nation…hell, the price of rice in China!”
I sidled up to him, taking his lapel in my fingers, caressing the fabric up and down. Then I looked right into his eyes.
[Heroine]”Contrary to popular opinion, Vince, the clothes don’t make the man the MAN makes the man.”
[Vince]”That ain’t an answer.”
[Heroine]”Yeah, it is. The richest guy with the best tailor can’t buy a suit that makes him look better than he feels inside.”
I gave him a peck on the cheek.
[Heroine]”What’s not to like?”
[Vince]”Well…it’s just…what you were sayin’ to Steinberg made me think…”
[Heroine]”No, no! It’s refreshing to meet a vaudeville hoofer so confident with his manliness, he’ll wear his costume outside the theater.”
He looked really offended for half a second, until he caught the glint in my eye.
[Vince]”All right, all right. I get your point…”
[Heroine]”Do you? Do you really, Vince?”
I marched my fingers up his chest, drawing his eyes down, then flipped his nose and winked at him.
[Heroine]”You dress fine, Moretti. Flash works for some guys, and you’re one of ‘em.”
(Kind of surprised he needs me to tell him that.)
[Heroine]”Honest truth or polite lie?”
[Vince]”I like lies even less than I like dressin’ like a bank teller.”
[Heroine]”That’s your answer then: you dress like you want and don’t care what anybody thinks…including me.”
[Vince]”A little flash goes along way in my line. Projects an image, y’know?”
[Heroine]”I DO know. And that’s why you’re going to take me shopping tomorrow.”
He started, eyes wide.
[Vince]”I think I just got snookered.”
I patted him on the cheek.
[Heroine]”Won’t be the last time, Moretti. Not by a long shot.”
[Heroine]”Now, is there someone else I should meet?”
Vince pointed to a table of swells seated near the dance floor.
We started to head in their direction when Andrew stepped in, escorting a murderer’s row of tough guys, hats pulled low, hands in pockets.
(Oh, boy…this looks like trouble!)
They were coming right toward us and Vince squared to meet them, without making it look like he was putting himself between them and me.
Just at that minute, Cleo ended a number and the room fell almost silent.
One of the men spoke, his voice loud and gruff.
[Big Guy]”Hey, Moretti. We need to have some words.”