Location: The Ice Box (Interior) (Evening)
One of the men had very jumpy hands, another tossed his head around like a bull in the ring as he walked.
(Should I get some help? That’s a whole lot of tough looking guys.)
The men came to a halt in a semi-circle, right in front of us … and the guy in the middle, the biggest of the bunch … took off his hat …
… and smiled like a skittish schoolgirl.
???? “Vince, We heard what happened with Charlie … I … ah … “
Vince “Word gets around.”
???? “It does. Also, word that you was looking for the guilty party gets around too.”
Vince “I was making some inquiries. Glad to see it had its intended effect.”
Dolan “Yeah. You just about put Joey Crackers in the hospital right next to Charlie.”
Vince “Joey’s got a weak constitution.”
Dolan “This is a true statement.”
The guy Vince called Dolan was twisting his hat brim around and around in those meaty hands of his.
(All of them look antsy as frogs on a hotplate.)
Vince “Could be he’s suffering from a bad cold. He looked a little under the weather when I saw him.”
Vince took out a gold cigarette case, offered me one … which I turned down … then took one himself. He checked his pockets for a match.
Dolan “Bad colds don’t usually don’t cause broken fingers … “
Vince “Maybe he tripped on his way to the medicine cabinet.”
Realizing Vince couldn’t find a match, the guy with the jumpy hands just about fell over himself lighting Vince’s smoke.
Dolan “What is also true is, Big Ike Caruthers is not similarly afflicted, historically speakin’, with a weak constitution … “
Dolan “… but if you was to visit Charlie tonight, you’d find Big Ike in a room just down the hall. His brother is worried he might … suffer from a similar malady.”
(Sounds like Vince was busy today while I was sleeping.)
Vince “I can understand Tiny’s concern, taking recent events into account…”
Vince “You should tell him Ike was real convincing about how him and Tiny had nothing to do with Charlie’s accident, so he’s got nothing to worry about … “
Vince “… unless I find out Big Ike was lying.”
Dolan “You will not hear such a thing from any of us. In fact, Mario here was playing cards with both Caruthers brothers on the night of the … incident.”
Vince “Good to know you vouch for ‘em. I like those Caruthers boys.”
Mario “The point … the point is, Vince, we are here all together like this … “
Dolan “A delegation, as it were.”
Mario “Right. A delegation. To tell you we didn’t have nothing to do with trying to ice Charlie … “
I stiffened. It was the first time anyone had said it out loud since Vince and I had talked about it last night.
A) Walk away
B) See what Vince does
C) Speak up
I turned from the group and walked off. The weight of the responsibility … and the danger of it all … hit me hard and fast.
When Vince came up behind me, I was trying to control my shaking.
Vince “[USER_FIRST_NAME], these are right guys. I was givin’ ‘em the jazz ‘cause I want ‘em to see who’s still in charge … “
Heroine “I guess that’d be you, since my knees just turned to water back there.”
Vince “You jumped in feet first last night. It’s catching up with you. If you wasn’t scared, I’d wonder if you were nuts.”
Heroine “I don’t know what I’m doing, Vince! I don’t know what I’ve got myself into!”
He took me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye.
Vince “That’s why you got me … ”
(He’s got nice hands … and I believe him when he says stuff like that.)
Dolan was walking over, the rest keeping some distance.
Vince “… an’ as my first official duty, I’m telling you to show Dolan you’ve got this in the bag.”
Nodding at Vince, I turned to face Dolan.
Heroine “Mr. Dolan, I’m sure you and your associates are thirsty after coming all this way … “
My eyes went to Vince. He’d felt my reaction. His eyes narrowed. The one called Mario flinched. The others glared him into silence.
Dolan “We agreed I was doin’ the talkin’, Giamatti!”
Mario “Yeah. Sorry, Vince. No offense.”
Dolan “Mario’s mouth runs faster than what brains he’s got, Vince. He didn’t mean anything.”
Heroine “It’s all right, Vince.”
Vince “It’s not me you should be apologizing to, Giamatti.”
Mario “I’m really sorry, miss. Didn’t mean to give offense.”
Everyone was looking at me.
(Seems like the right time to be forgiving.)
I put out my hand.
Heroine “We don’t hold grudges at the Ice Box, Mario. Unless you shot Charlie, of course.”
There was nervous laughter all around.
Heroine “I don’t know you yet, but I can tell you rule one at the Ice Box: you come in here, you speak of Charlie with respect, or you go back out … “
Heroine “… and it won’t be on your own feet.”
Vince shifted his footing. I saw Andrew move up behind the men.
Mario “I … I’m sorry. I didn’t mean no disrespect, miss. I shoot off my mouth widout thinkin’ all the time. Ask Dolan here! Ask my wife!”
He tried on a sickly little smile.
Dolan “It’s true. Him and Charlie are pals. Charlie’ll tell you Mario’s got a mouth that don’t work so good with his brain sometimes.”
I looked them all over, doing my best to look like I knew what I was doing.
Heroine “All right then. Forget it.”
Dolan and Mario smiled with relief, followed by the other men.
Dolan “We came to offer our help. We want to know who did this thing to Charlie … “
Dolan “We all LIKE Charlie. Charlie an’ Vince have been good for our business … “
(That seems true enough … they’re all nodding to beat the band.)
Dolan “ … good for the whole neighborhood, keeping Capone and them other guys out, helping people like they do.”
(From the way these guys are acting, they’re as scared of Vince as they are fond of Charlie!)
Vince “Thanks, Dolan. Appreciate you all coming by. Let me do the formal introductions. Boys, this is Miss [USER_FIRST_NAME] [USER_LAST_NAME] … “
As Vince seemed to relax, so did the Dolan delegation.
Dolan “Charlie’s niece, right? Heard you was takin’ over the Ice Box. Just until Charlie’s better, I’m sure.”
Heroine “That’s right. Vince is getting me up to speed on all our business together.”
Vince “This is Paddy Dolan, [USER_FIRST_NAME]. He has a trucking company … “
I shook his hand and Vince introduced me around the rest of the circle. Mario Giamatti ran a casino on the other side of the river …
… and the others operated a variety of businesses, some on the level, some not, that the Ice Box supported and depended on.
(Tense there for a minute … but I guess they’re on our side … )
The rest of the evening roared right along after that … meeting the customers, learning how the drink orders were handled …
Seemed like I was a glorified hostess. My only gripe was, I couldn’t drink much and there was no time for dancing …
… but tomorrow, I was determined to start learning the ins-and-outs of the business.
Location: Ice Box – bar (Interior) (Night)
It was around five in the ayem when the last patron hit the bricks.
Vince “You ready for me to take you home?”
Heroine “I’m still wide awake … but we’ve got a lot to do tomorrow … “
Cliff “Vince, got room for me?”
Vince “Sure, pal. It’s a cold night, [USER_FIRST_NAME]. You got a jacket?”
I pulled up my skirt, revealing the flask tucked into my garter.
Heroine “Fill this up with a little anesthetic and I’ll manage fine.”
Location: Vince’s car (Night)
Probably goes without saying we didn’t go straight home. It was a nice night and I still hadn’t seen much of Chicago, so we went for a spin up State Street.
Heroine “How long’ve you two known each other?”
Cliff “What were we … nine? Ten?”
Vince “Sounds about right.”
They both laughed.
(Why’s that funny?)
Cliff “Remember that first day, when Father Clancy walked you in by the scruff of your coat?”
Vince “Might’a been nicer about it if I hadn’t just bit him. The Father never wasted no time, did he? Had to show you who was boss from the get go.”
Cliff “Probably scared we’d gang up on him if he didn’t. He was a nub of a fella. Not much taller’n me.”
Vince “That’s why he didn’t pick on you much.”
Cliff “Naw. It was Sister Aloysius who scared me. That woman … God forgive me for saying it … was a holy terror! Loved to bust knuckles with that metal ruler.”
Vince “She only whacked me with that ruler the one time.”
Cliff “Well, you didn’t flinch or cry, just held your hand there, ready for another. She went as pale as her wimple and told you to sit down.”
Heroine “So you met at Catholic school?”
Neither answered. They didn’t look at each other, but it was like they were trading thoughts or something.
Vince “Not “school” ‘zactly. St. Ignatius’s Home for Wayward Boys.”
Heroine “What’s that?”
Cliff “Good ol’ St. Iggy’s, may it burn to the ground, was the place where the diocese provided for the care and education of boys … “
Cliff “… but only a very special kind of boys.”
Vince “The kind nobody else wanted.”
Cliff “Yeah. And by “care” they meant a mattress not fit for a dog and three squares a day … “
Vince “SMALL squares.”
Cliff “… an’ by “education” they meant learn your sums and your letters or get a beatin’. Confession every Tuesday morning, if the Father wasn’t too hung over.”
Vince “First joint we ever busted out of.”
Cliff “Well, Charlie busted you out and you came and got me … “
Cliff “See, [USER_FIRST_NAME], when I was fifteen, St. Iggy’s set me up as an apprentice to this mortician. Vince was already out … “
Vince “That was Charlie’s doin’. He saw me beatin’ on that O’Malley kid … “
Cliff “The fat one with the thing on his cheek! He was always picking on the littler ones. Hell, he was twice YOUR size.”
Vince “Charlie watched me kick O’Malley’s teeth in, went straight to the Father, an’ said “I wanna apprentice the feisty Italian kid” “
Vince “Father didn’t even ask which feisty Italian kid he meant. Them nuns couldn’t pack me up fast enough!”
They laughed at the shared the memory.
(I’m feeling a little left out here … but it’s good to learn about these guys.)
Cliff “An’ once you figured out Charlie was all right, you started bendin’ his ear about me. Can’t thank you enough for that one.”
Vince “Couldn’t have you handlin’ all those stiffs. Too depressing. Hahahaha.”
Cliff “Tell me about it. Hahahaha.”
(Wonder what THAT’s about.)
We pulled up to Uncle Charlie’s house.
Cliff helped me out of the car. Vince had come around to walk me to the door. I heard Cliff whisper to him …
Cliff “Don’t forget who’s niece she is, Vince.”
On the porch, he tipped his hat.
Vince “I’ll be back for you around lunchtime. Time to start showing you the cogs in the machine.”
I wasn’t even thinking when I absently leaned up and kissed him on the cheek.
His arm snaked around me and his lips latched onto mine.
(Hmmm. Not what I had in mind … but not bad.)
I felt a hardness under his arm.
(A gun?! Well, of course it’s a gun, silly. He’s a bootlegger.)
I pushed him away before he got the idea I liked it TOO much.
Heroine “I’m looking forward to seeing how the cogs work, but you’ve got to at least take me shopping first.”
With that, I was in the door and up the stairs.
(Always leave ‘em pantin’, that’s my motto.)
Location: Warehouse district (Exterior) (Day)
Good as his word, Vince was at my door at the stroke of noon. He had a hungry look in his eye.
(I’d like to think I put it there.)
But we had places to go and deals to make. I didn’t get my shopping in before our first stop … a battered old warehouse near the lake.
Vince “Right now, we’re bringing most of our booze in from Canada along the Great Lakes. We’re landing it just over the Wisconsin line. Dolan trucks it in … “
He pulled a watch from his pocket and checked the time. I heard the sound of truck engines approaching.
Dolan climbed down from the lead truck. Other men followed. All of them were armed with pistols and shotguns.
(Holy smokes … that’s a lot of hardware!)
I stepped closer to Vince. He didn’t put his arm around me, but I could tell he was thinking about it. He whispered from the side of his mouth.
Vince “Don’t worry ‘bout it. They travel packed so they don’t have to use ‘em. Dolan calls it a “deterrent.” ”
Vince “Morning, Dolan. How’d it go?”
Dolan “No problems … but I was thinking about the back-country trails we’re using the whole way down.”
Vince “Yeah. They won’t be passable come winter. Maybe we bribe the state police so we can use the highway?”
Dolan “That’ll cost a fortune … and the Feds are wise to that kind of shenanigans.”
Vince “We gotta do somethin’. Can’t afford a break in the supply.”
Heroine “Why don’t you ship the stuff right up to the piers? Those, right over there.”
I pointed to the wooden piers extending out into the lake only a few hundred yards away.
Dolan “They’re in lousy shape. Don’t even know who owns ‘em.”
Heroine “Uncle Charlie’s got a lawyer, right? We could find out, buy the piers … “
Heroine “… then use Mario Giamatti as a front … he does our shipping across the lake, right?”
Vince “Yeah. His marine salvage company ships our stuff to Gary, Muskegon … anywhere along the south and east shores … “
Heroine “So, we find some new inland markets where Mr. Dolan’s trucks can ship to, and do the imports all by water.”
Dolan “I like the way you think, Miss [USER_FIRST_NAME].”
Vince was smiling too.
(Maybe I can handle this after all.)
Location: The Ice Box – bar (Day)
Vince indulged me after that, being patient while I dropped a pint-sized fortune at Marshall Field and some of the shops along State.
Dresses, shoes, hats, jewelry … the works. He even carried some of it to the car. Most of it I had delivered to the house … but I needed a few things for tonight.
(Maybe I went a little over the top … but I have to look my best if I’m going to be Uncle Charlie’s front girl.)
Donovan was the only patron at the bar.
Donovan “She got you hauling her shopping around already, huh?”
Vince “Nothing wrong with being a gentleman.”
Donovan “Being a babysitter, though … that ain’t work for a grown man.”
Vince “Might want to lay off the whisky. Makes you stupid.”
Donovan “Just callin’ it as I see it, Moretti. And no respectable Irishman takes drinkin’ advice from a dago babysitter in a buck-and-wing suit.”
Vince carefully set my bags on the bar … then broke into a whirl of motion, kicking the stool out from underneath Donovan and reaching into his jacket …
In a flash, Donovan was on the ground. Vince held him by his lapel with one hand and pushed his pistol to Donovan’s nose with the other.
My heart was racing.
(It all happened so FAST!)
Vince “You learn to show some respect, or next time, this might go off.”
Donovan “Likely to be too bad for you if this happens again, Moretti.”
A flick of Donovan’s eyes lead Vince and I both to look at his left hand, where he held a small pistol drawn from his ankle holster and now aimed at Vince’s belly.
Heroine “I won’t be cleaning any blood off the floor before opening, if you please.”
They separated, cautiously, Donovan rising from the floor and brushing off his suit.
Heroine “What exactly do you do for us, Mr. Donovan?”
Donovan “Sweetheart, I’m the guy keeping your doors open.”
Vince “He’s Charlie’s bag man. He collects the bribes from the local speaks and casinos and distributes them up the chain … “
Vince “… from the beat cops to the desk sergeant all the way to his captain’s office … keepin’ a piece for himself, of course.”
Donovan “I’ll be doin’ my drinkin’ elsewhere tonight, Moretti … but I’ll be back tomorrow. Charlie’d want me keepin’ a special eye on the Ice Box … “
Donovan “… until the new management settles in.”
Location: Ice Box – storeroom
It was getting close to opening time.
Once Donovan left, I slipped into the back room to change into one of my new dresses.
I was standing in my underthings, pulling the dress out of the bag, when I heard the storeroom door open and close.
Heroine “Who’s there?”
Vince “Wanted to make sure nobody interrupted you while you were changin’.”
Heroine “You couldn’t do that from the other side of the door?”
Vince “Where’s the fun in that?”
My blood must’ve still been up after what I saw at the bar, ‘cause the second I took to think about it was a really short second.
Heroine “Stay back! And turn around!”
Vince “I’ll just cover my eyes.”
He did, but even in the dim light of the storeroom, I could see he was peeking between his fingers.
I shimmied into my dress, doing a full turn just to make sure he got the big picture.
Heroine “Make yourself useful and help with this zipper.”
Vince came up behind me. I felt his fingers at the small of my back. The zipper went up, the fingers moved to my shoulders and neck …
… followed by his lips.
A) Let him keep going
B) Slap him
C) Take the lead
I didn’t stop him, but I tried not to just melt, either.
I’d made out plenty with Teddy Denby, but our one tumble in the backseat of his Model T was just grope-and-grind …
What Vince was hinting with those light, persistent kisses on my neck, was something more.
I didn’t even realize I had that much heat built up for him, but a couple of days in close quarters had stoked the fires for sure.
I spun out of his arms and slapped him hard across the face.
Vince just grinned, rubbing his cheek.
Vince “Doll, that’s just revving the engine.”
He grabbed me, then, and I pushed back … until his lips dove onto my neck.
I welcomed the sudden pressure of his lips on mine. My hands went to his head, pulling him in, increasing the pressure and adding heat.
I spun around, grabbed him by his lapels, and planted my lips on his.
He was surprised, but got with the program quick. His arms went around me, one hand sliding down my back, the other gripping my face.
There were deep, moaning sounds coming from my throat that I’d never made before …
… certainly not when Teddy Denby practiced his caveman kissing on me.
Without warning, Vince broke the kiss and put his lips to my ear.
Vince “I liked what I saw the minute you walked outta that train station, doll. I had a feelin’ it might be mutual … “
Heroine “I guess it was. You looked all right yourself, Vince … but it’s never a good idea for a gal to let a guy see she’s interested too quick … “
My fingers drifted across his check, caressing his lips.
Heroine “… ‘cause he might take advantage.”
The kissing started again, but this time the hands were wandering too …
… until with both froze with the sound of the key rattling in the storeroom door.