Statement No. 008:
Five minutes. Five lousy minutes. That's all it takes. The difference between a pat on the back and a snapped neck. Sure.
Timing. It played with me all day. Strung me along like a cheap windup toy. Chalk it up to kismet, crossed stars, good luck or bad luck—whatever flips your pancake. Me? I tag it all as coincidence, and that's saying something. Good old blind coincidence. You ever know coincidence to have twenty-twenty vision?
Can't say I envy you boys. You've got one hell of a mess to sift through on State Street. Heaps of bodies. Oodles of carnage. Plenty to go around. And think of all those witnesses. Contemplate that mass of paperwork ahead of you. The precinct's going to be up to its nightsticks in interviews. For weeks. You'll probably go through more pulp than a Sunday edition of The Tribune. Sure.
All right, let's move along with this one. I've got the whole story. Most of it, anyway. I'll set you wise to more of the puzzle than anyone else.
It always starts simple, doesn't it? Nice and plain. Pumpernickel and cream cheese. Downright innocent, it does. In this case, you could say my stomach kicked off the whole thing.
Your stomach ever talk at you? A low growl and a quiver told me I'd best be grabbing some chow. I'd gotten an early start at the office with a plan on catching a late breakfast. Maybe eleven o'clock or so I locked up, took the stairs down to the front exit, pushed through the door. It went downhill from there, but fast.
A couple minutes' difference and I could have missed them. Just a couple minutes' difference and I wouldn't be parked here dictating my statement for the venerable Eighteenth District. But no such luck. A pair of suburban torpedoes stopped me in my tracks. Two gorillas I'd had the displeasure of meeting a ways back. I knew them in the employ of one Mr. Jupiter. You know this lowlife? Runs a gambling joint in the sticks. A regular gangster of the big fish, small pond variety.
The lead goon, a moose called Geoffrey, stepped right up to me. Nice and close. Close enough to give me the full treatment of his cheap cologne. Both barrels.
I said, "Any closer and you'll be trying on my suit."
Geoffrey's smile swallowed his upper lip. "Say, you remember us?" He sounded like a bear with a cold.
"How could I ever forget Tweedledum and Tweedledee?"
The second goon chimed in, "That's Geoffrey and Angus, sharpie." Angus sounded like a bear with a two-pack-a-day habit.
"Mr. Jupiter wants to see you," Geoffrey said.
"What a revolting thought," I replied. "A reception with Jove himself. I wouldn't expect you boys to pick up on the obvious, so I'll spell it out: I'm on my way somewhere."
"He's waiting for you."
"Is that a fact? Been waiting long?"
"Naw, we only just got here."
"Just now? Figures. Let him wait."
"You don't keep a man like Mr. Jupiter waiting."
"Is that so? Maybe you don't. Me, I keep people waiting all the time. I've made a personal study of it and I've gotten darn good at it."
"This way, sharpie." Angus snagged my arm in his large paw.
"Easy boys, easy. Sudden moves make me jumpy."
"Let's go, flatfoot."
"Now you've done it. You've gone and got the lingo all bollixed up."
"Move," Geoffrey said.
They attached themselves to me like a set of goon bookends and escorted me to the curb. They pressed me towards the crate parked in front of the fire hydrant. It had to be one of the largest automobiles I'd ever laid my peepers on, a flamboyant, black number no longer than Navy Pier.
I said, "You see, a flatfoot's a policeman."
"You hear that, Geoffrey? A flatfoot's a copper."
"That's right, Angus. Maybe what you meant is gumshoe or PI or dick or shamus."
"Get in, sharpie."
"Shoofly, bloodhound, sleuth, Sherlock."
Geoffrey opened the rear door and Angus gave me a shove. I stooped into the bus and found myself across from Mr. Jupiter. The short, round man sat bundled up with scarf and lap blanket. He fussed with a cigarette holder. Geoffrey shut the door.
"Mr. Jupiter, as I live and wheeze."
"Jibes already? Must you always mock my asthmatic condition?"
"Yeah, I do. What else have you got?"
"You'll find me not in the best humor for your usual banter."
"That's a shame. My unusual banter's at the cleaners and won't be ready until next week."
Jupiter raised his eyebrows, squeezed shut his eyes, and tugged at the collar of his coat.
I said, "You must be dying under all those wraps. It's a beautiful spring day outside in the real world."
"I'm doing battle with a terrific head cold. And I have places to be."
"Maybe you should take a little something for that. I hear rat poison's a great cure-all."
"I thought we were on friendlier terms. I thought we had achieved an understanding."
"I'll tell you what I understand, Jupiter. I understand it takes a lot to make up for getting cold-cocked, for having a thirty-eight purloined out of your mitt while your brains are out for lunch." I copped a glance at the legroom between our facing seats. "Cripes, this rig is larger than my sitting room. Aren't you going to offer me a drink of something?"
"It's only transportation after all, my dear, Mr. Detective. Not a gin mill for the working class."
"Oh, is that what this thing is? I thought we were in a viaduct on wheels."
"This," pausing to wheeze, "this is a Daimler Double Six 40/50 Sport Saloon. There is only one other in the entire metropolis."
"Couldn't get them to move, huh? You must've got a good price on it."
"You're becoming annoying. More so than usual, I must say. Without so much as a civil hello."
"I have that tendency. Especially when I'm force fed an audience. Look, Jupiter, I didn't ask to see you. You didn't even have the decency to call. Instead, you send Mutt and Jeff out there to practically shanghai me. Still having trouble growing out your hair, I see."
"Shall we keep this on a purely business basis? I require your services. Are you interested or not?"
"I don't do delousing."
Jupiter let out a sighing wheeze. "I'm offering you employment. I have need for some assistance and thought the least I could do was afford you first refusal."
"Sure, sure. First refusal. Very deluxe. What's your pitch?"
"This assignment is in regards to my girlfriend, Miss Geneva French."
"Girlfriend? I thought you were hitched, Jupiter."
"As of this moment we are speaking only about my girlfriend. We aren't involving anyone else. Do we understand each other?" Two rasps came and went. "Her name is Miss Geneva French. I have not seen her for five days."
"Frenchy's playing hard to get, is she?"
"Her name is Miss French. Remember it." Jupiter closed his eyes and rubbed the center of his forehead with the tip of his stubby ring finger. "You worsen my headache."
"You should take something for that."
"You would propose, perhaps, strychnine?"
"I can recommend just the doctor for you. Sure."
Jupiter endured my smart remarks like a green warden at juvie hall. I kept up the pepper, but he managed to give me the rundown on his tootsie. I guess the old boy felt pretty riled. He worked up a lather just filling me in.
Jupiter made the acquaintance of Miss French at the Aragon Ballroom. I tried to picture Jupiter tripping the light fantastic—I tried and gave it up quick. One thing led to another until another thing led to French relocating to the Metro Beach Hotel. All the way down in Kenwood. Jupiter the sheik footed all the bills, of course—French knew a good thing when she saw it, all right. They developed a cozy routine. He popped by her digs once a week. Sometimes twice. Just to chin about culture and current events, I'm sure. Once or twice a month they'd run out to supper and maybe catch a floorshow.
"How long you two been keeping company?"
"It has been almost one year."
"That's a pretty long clip for a gold digger."
"We maintain no pretenses. I provide Miss French what she wants, she provides me what I want."
"The less said about that the better."
"You obviously don't care for me very much."
"That doesn't mean I can't work for you. So you want me to track down the dish. Then what?"
"Dish." He worked his forehead again with his thumb. "My primary interest is to learn whether or not she's in any sort of trouble. I simply mean to find out that Miss French is all right. That must provide a shock to your cynical nature. The discovery that I have a heart?"
"You'll have to show me the x-rays."
"I want you to make sure that Miss French is not in any kind of difficulty, and then bring her back to me."
"But you're not telling me to force her to do anything against her will, are you?"
"I would never dream of such a thing. Besides, Miss French has very little will. Just make sure she is safe and sound, and bring her back. Nothing more, nothing less. Surely you can achieve that, can't you?"
Sure. Nothing more, nothing less. Cut and dried. It's all black and white when it comes down to people. We're the simplest creatures on the planet. Locate the mistress of a local racketeer? Simple and easy. Easy as shooting yourself in the heinie. Sure.
Fifteen minutes later found me in my coupe tooling south on Jefferson. A snapshot of Miss Geneva French fit snug in my jacket pocket, a healthy retainer burned a hole in my wallet. A quick detour led me to Manny's for that overdue early lunch. At least my stomach felt satisfied as I continued south to the Metro Beach Hotel.
The original Metro covered two square blocks, a regular lakefront fortress. It sprang up in the wake of the Columbian Exposition. As the smart set spread out to the South Side, resident hotels like the Metro fit the bill for those who wanted all the domestic services without the trappings of a house. The hotel provided guests with the lap of luxury. A big, fat lap at that. We're talking luxury with a capital L. Just the joint for Jupiter's ritzy love-nest.
Getting up to French's rooms proved a breeze. The pipsqueak guard dog of a deskman regarded me with a smile. He set to work on his huge console switchboard complete with headset and mouthpiece. He got the okay, gave me a nod, and wagged a finger towards the elevator. I tipped my brim.
The maid showed me in. As if I couldn't of figured it out myself. I knew right off she was the maid by the uniform straight out of central casting, right down to the feather duster poking out of her fist. So I said to her, "I take it you must be the maid."
"That's right," she replied. "I must be."
I flipped her my card and swept past her. I tossed my fedora on a white cushioned chair. The whole joint reeked in white. The sofa, coffee table, throw rugs, the works. All very swank. All ultramodern. All very soft. Everything done up in white. Like living inside a cotton ball.
"So you're a private detective man?"
"Just as the card says. You normally let just anyone drop in, sister?"
"All kinds of people comes and go at all hours. We're used to it." She dropped her head to look at me from the tops of her eyes. "And I ain't your sister."
"If you're used to all kinds, then maybe you don't mind answering some questions."
"I sure don't."
"I'd hate to break up your routine."
"I don't mind. I usually does the shopping right now, but the boy who drives me is fixing a flat."
"That's a break for me."
"C'mon, snoop. What're you selling?"
"I'm just looking for your mistress."
"Don't matter to me."
"Maybe you know where I can find her?"
"I sure don't."
"Well, when's the last time you saw her?"
"Oh, it's been days, mister."
"Is that regular?"
"With that one? Nothing regular about her. You never know what she about."
"She got any hobbies?"
"Mm hm. There's that Jupiter man."
"I know all about him."
"He give me the willies."
"Me too, sister. Not to mention a pain."
"Kind of low down? On your backside?" A faint smile crept over her sweet lips. "I tell you her most favorite hobby in the world, though."
"What could that be?"
"Spending the money."
"Spending the money."
"That her most favorite hobby. She just loves it." She waggled the duster.
"Don't let me stop you from your chores, if you don't mind talking as we go."
"I don't mind. I likes it when she vamooses—alls it takes is a little tidying here and there. When she's around, she's something of a little piglet."
The maid gave me a cook's tour of the place, dusting a knick-knack or two as we shuffled through. French's boudoir, white on white of course, bowled me over.
"Do you know," I said, "I could fit my entire office in this bedroom?" The maid folded her arms and leaned against the door. "A round bed, huh. You don't see that every day." I glommed onto a line of doors running the full extent of one wall. I pointed. "The closet?" The maid nodded. I whistled. "Do you mind?"
She shook her head. I proceeded down the line and swung open every door. "I'd say your mistress is in monumental trouble. She's down to her last couple hundred evening gowns."
"Mm hm. That's The Twenty-eight Shop, mister. That girl's just mad about The Twenty-eight Shop."
"Marshall Field's, am I right?"
"Uh-huh. Each and every Monday. Come rain or shine, hell or high water. Just like the postal man. The new dresses comes on Wednesday, and they're ready to model Saturday. But some whosit or other told Miss Geneva that the finest ladies never do the shopping on Saturdays, so she don't do that."
"No, she don't. But she down there the first thing every Monday morning."
"Every Monday like clockwork."
"Mm hm. That's right, mister. Lickety-split."
"Now isn't that a coincidence?"
"Mister, maybe you just found her. Maybe that's where she been staying nights."
"You might be right, sister."
I left the maid with a wink and another card. I asked her to call if she thought of anything else regarding her no-show mistress. She said she didn't think all that much about her mistress. I told her one never knows. She told me one never do.
I paused by the desk to pump the clerk on my way out. Had he seen Miss French in the last week, etcetera? First, he apologized. Then he refused to divulge any information whatsoever regarding the guests. The milquetoast recited that with a broad grin that he must've been keeping in a drawer. I tipped my brim and pursed my lips.
When you've only got one lead, you might as well play it like one hell of a lead. Play it for all it's worth, if anything. Isn't that the same for you boys in uniform? Sure.
So I drove back north to the loop and hopped into Woolworth's. I shelled out for a single pack of Wrigley's Doublemint gum. I insisted on a bag.
"Yes sir!" The cashier's enthusiasm almost knocked my socks off.
Merchants are plain service happy. You can tell them you want to buy a single toothpick, from the middle of the package, you want it gift wrapped in the clerk's tie, and you want the floorwalker to spit in the bag. And have it delivered, too. They'll do it for you, all right, along with a dopey grin and jovial, "Come back real soon!"
I entered Field's with the Woolworth bag in hand. Went in the special elevator entrance at twenty-eight East Washington. Rode up to the main salon. Salon my eye—amounted to nothing more than a wide-open loft and a lot of ceiling to floor curtains.
The hostess greeted me, laying on the smarm like she percolated it. Call it contemptible effervescence. She kept her hands clasped together in front of her bosom. Her torso maintained a permanent tilt to one side. The poor thing never straightened up.
"Sure, you can help me," I said, dangling the Woolworth's bag nice and high. "I've got some toilet water here for Miss Geneva French. I'm supposed to deliver it."
"Thank you so, so much, my good man. You may leave it on that table, and I will see that Miss French gets it without any unnecessary delay."
"I'm to hand it over in person, get me?"
"I see, I see. That does pose a problem, now, doesn't it? Yes, it does."
"I don't see any problem with that, honey."
"I am afraid Miss French is not here. You see?"
"Gee, that's nothing to be afraid of, honey. But that is kind of raw. I was specifically instructed to meet her here. Has she already been?"
"No, Miss French has not visited us today. Not that we like to talk about our customers..."
"But you're so good at it."
"She is one of our dearest, dearest regulars. She never ever misses a Monday morning."
"Perhaps Miss French is running late from an earlier appointment. These things do come up."
"Running very late."
"If you'd care to wait? I could offer you a Frango Mint."
"No thanks, sister. They make my nose bleed."
That nixed the interview. I kept my Doublemint, she kept her Frango Mints, and I exited the joint.
Maybe the hostess was onto something. Maybe French simply got held up, legit. That would be the easy, simple answer. Maybe I'd get lucky after all. Maybe if I hung around long enough. Maybe it was a shot in the dark. Maybe it was the only shot I had. So far, my timing put me out of win, place and show. Even so, I decided to stick.
I took up a post across the street from The Twenty-eight entrance. I wore a hole in the sidewalk for an hour. Nothing to show for it. I lit another smoke and rang up my answering service from a phone booth. No messages.
After two hours, still no little Miss French. I picked up the afternoon edition of The American, checked in again with my service. Sergeant Drummond had called. Something about my deposition regarding Flint Mundy and Herbie Colgate—but that's another story. A screech of brakes and the wail of a car horn interrupted my note taking. I jerked around toward the sound of the ruckus. I caught sight of a young miss and a Yellow Cab. The taxi had stopped abruptly in the center of Washington Boulevard. The dame dashed around the taxi, hiking up her skirt and scooting her heels. The girl on the fly was Geneva French, in the flesh. I dropped the receiver like a sales pitch.
French scurried down the sidewalk in a beeline for The Twenty-eight Shop. I zigzagged across Washington in time to hold the door for her. I made her a gift of my choicest, wry smile. French glanced about, threw me one of those furrowed brow looks, twisted one corner of her mouth. She walked in, I walked in. I hopped on the elevator first and held that for her. We watched each other as the lift climbed to the main salon.
Something of a doll, Frenchy was. Marcelled, blonde hair, blue eyes—no surprise there. Long, narrow nose. Small, fat mouth. Pointed chin. Maybe not the prettiest face, but striking for its strength. She appeared quite a slim thing, definitely on the tall side compared to Jupiter. Doubtless on the young side compared to Jupiter, too. No surprise there, either. Textbook gold digger.
I stepped out first and made sure the elevator grating didn't bite her in the accoutrement. I stuck to her as she scuttled into the salon. The hostess approached us, toot sweet, as rigid and bent sideways as before.
"Miss French? This gentleman has been looking for you. He has."
"Oui," I said.
"What can I show madam today?"
"Tell you what," I beat Frenchy to the punch. "We'd like to see something in a frou-frou."
Frenchy wedged a fist against her hip and rolled her eyes. "I bet you would," came under her breath. Then she smiled to the hostess, "Evening wear will do awful fine, thanks."
"Very, very good, madam." The hostess spotted more suckers on their way in. "If you'll have a seat in the fifth salon..."
We followed the beckoning, sideways remonstrations of our hostess and buzzed over to the fifth salon forthwith. Frenchy took a seat and crossed her legs. I paced the floor.
"Okay, bub, are you following me?"
"I've been waiting for you."
"I wanted to see you."
"What'd you want to see me for?"
"I wanted to talk to you."
"Are you trying to mix me up?"
"Why, is that difficult? Before you try to make heads or tails of that one, I know what you've been up to for the last week. You've been playing hide and seek and it's got your boyfriend all concerned and nervous-like. Daddy misses baby and wants to know what gives."
"Boyfriend? Which boyfriend are you talking?"
"I don't have time to play cat and mouse, sugar. The boyfriend. The one with the gambling racket. That money machine stuck out in the sticks. The guy what pays for the fancy digs and the clothes and all the extravagant paraphernalia."
"The boyfriend with the heavenly name."
"So what gives, angel? You been stepping out on Jupiter?
"I'm all kind of jittery about it."
"I'll just bet you are."
"No, I mean it. I'm so hinky I don't know what.
"You're talking the new boyfriend?"
"That's what I'm saying."
"Has your new Lothario got a name?"
"Of course he's got a name. And it ain't Lothario."
This was going to take a while. "So tell me his name, already."
"First, middle or last?"
"I don't know if he's got any middle name."
Let me cut to the chase here. Frenchy considered Spinetti pretty vavoom at first. Until he recently began pumping her about Jupiter. You know, like he was working up some kind of dossier for his files. What were Jupiter's habits? What were his routines? What's it like running a casino? Worrying about security must be an awful headache—how does that work, exactly? You get the drift.
At first, Frenchy found Spinetti's curiosity an amusing diversion. The questions sounded innocent enough at first. Then, bit by bit, the questions turned more specific, more pointed. He pressed her. He flat out grilled her. Then he threatened her but good. He meant business. She better not squeal if she knew what was good for. Etcetera. He scared her, all right. Spinetti plain scared her out of her wits. She couldn't possibly go to Jupiter about it, she said. That's how bad Spinetti gave her the heebie-jeebies. And she had no one else to turn to. She got agitated to the point that she feared being seen anywhere. She'd spent the last few nights with an old friend from the Aragon.
"Male or female?"
I asked her what changed.
"I mean, here you are."
"Well, after all, there's some things a girl just can't give up."
"Uh-huh. You should've told Jupiter."
"I couldn't possibly!"
"You should have gone to him first thing."
"Don't you get it? Carlo said if I said anything it'd be curtains!"
"So what do you know? What could you tell?"
"We're getting nowhere fast, angel."
"Looking back, I think—ain't that dreamy!"
A lilting figure flowed by, dripping in layers of chiffon. Like a well-tailored moth.
"Sure, it's a pip. Now about Spinetti—did you hear any of his plans?"
"Can't say I did."
"Some kind of heist, maybe?"
"Maybe he let slip about knocking over the casino or hijacking Jupiter."
"Aw, you don't know which side is up."
"He did talk on the phone a couple times with a man he called Zim. Or Zimmer, maybe. Something like that. Does that help?"
"Sure, it's a big help, baby. We may be sitting on a time bomb, but at least we know that a guy named Carlo Spinetti knows a guy by the name of Zimmer."
"Or maybe just Zim."
"Sure. Just Zim. Maybe he's an insurance agent. Or sells magazine subscriptions for Casino Quarterly."
"Now you're getting sore."
"Think, angel, think. Do you have any clue at all about Spinetti?"
"I did overhear him mention something about fireworks."
"And it ain't even July."
"Does that make any sense to you at all?"
"Why should it? The rest of this conversation doesn't make any sense."
"We better go have a talk with Jupiter, pronto."
"But I can't! I told you!"
"You don't have a choice, angel. Don't you get it? Something's cooking and you're the only link."
"I don't want to be a link."
"That's why you should have come clean before. But you're going to talk to him now."
"I can't. I mean we can't. I mean Jupy's temporarily unavailable."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"He's probably at his hood convention by now."
"Jupy and a bunch of his old cronies hold this powwow once or twice a year. Get it? They put on the feedbag and put away a lot of hooch and swap yarns and who knows what else, you know? These are Jupy's pals, get me? Guys who run rackets from Lombard to the lakefront. I ain't crashing that kind of action."
"Are you telling me this is happening today?"
"You dizzy dame!"
Timing, sure. Everything kept adding up. I was heavy on equations, and the answers would have to be filled in later. I grabbed Frenchy's hand and yanked her in tow. I called out to the hostess as soon as we hit the main salon.
"We need a phone. An outside line. PDQ."
"Oh, Oh. Well, that would be the payphones outside."
"You telling me you don't have an outside line?"
"We're not allowed, sir."
"Swell!" I pitched the Woolworth's bag onto a small table. "You can keep the toilet water."
I pulled French toward the elevator. She yanked back when she spotted a model whirling by in some billowy ebony number.
"Black is for funerals, Frenchy."
"You trying to scare me?"
"Just keeping you honest, sugar."
I got as much as I could out of Frenchy in the elevator. I'm talking info—some of you cops have awful dirty minds. The name of the restaurant: Chez Raconteur, at State and Cedar. The time: Jupiter's hood fraternity started meeting up, and boozing up, anytime after three. My watch said we were fifteen minutes past.
We hit the street. I shoved Frenchy into the closest phone box, slapped coins into her hands, ordered her to start dialing. Call the restaurant, I barked. Get Jupiter. Tell him to get the hell out of there now. She fumbled a coin into the slot.
Spinetti must've had something in mind, all right. Two and two still make four, don't they? It might've helped if I'd known anything about Spinetti, but I had no more line on the mug than I had on Edward G. Robinson. It sure felt like something was going to pop, but what did I have? I couldn't bring in the bulls on the basis of coincidences, a hunch and Geneva French. My hands were tied and time kept marching on.
Or just maybe it was all a false alarm. Much ado about nothing, and nothing to get bent out of shape about. Later I'd have one, big fat laugh over the whole thing. Sure I would. And my Aunt Sylvia is really the king of France.
I zipped across Washington and ducked into another phone booth. I nudged in my coin and rang up my pals at the Eighteenth—sure, we always come home. I wanted a line on Spinetti, fast. Sergeant Polhouse sympathized with me. He was real good at that. He said he'd like to help, especially in light of my past cooperation, but my request could take some time. That's what I was afraid of, I told him. He'd call back on my office line as soon as he came up with anything.
I hung up and peered across the street at Frenchy. I hunched my shoulders and threw up my hands. She hunched her shoulders and shook her head. I ran to her, dodging traffic all the way.
"Well nothing. I only got some dumb cluck of an immigrant who knew from nothing. He could barely understand me, and I was born here."
I crammed another coin into the box and told Frenchy to dial the number again. The joe that came on the wire knew nothing from Berlitz, that's for sure. He spoke with the thickest Italian accent this side of Taylor Street. A cliche straight off the boat if there ever was one. I couldn't get him past, "Who is a'speakin' please?" I tried. I told him that there was danger, something bad was going to happen, get me anybody who can speak English, tell Mr. Jupiter. I spun my wheels with the gee for several minutes when he finally summed it up rather neatly: "You talka craze." He rang off, I rang off. No soap.
I grabbed Frenchy by the shoulders. "You said State and Cedar, right?"
She nodded with open mouth. I turned and began a brisk walk east to my car parked on the other side of Wabash. Frenchy's heels clacked right beside me. I could've said something to her, tempted as I was, but I figured she could do as she liked.
"Where're we going now, for Pete's sake?"
"I have to catch up with your boyfriend. Something's about to pop, see? Big time. I don't know what, I don't know when, but it sounds to me like daddy Jupiter's about to make the hit parade."
"On the level?"
"That's how it adds up, baby."
We hopped into the coupe, I fired her up, and we took off down Washington. I hung a fast, hard left on Michigan and tried to gauge the traffic.
"I been thinking I don't know what got into me," Frenchy said.
"That makes two of us."
"I mean, why I fessed up to you like I did."
"What are you getting at?"
"Why I spilled, know what I mean? Told you everything about Carlo? I've been scared to death, but you asked and wham! I melt like lipstick on a radiator. I filled you in on just about everything, practically."
"Sure, you did. Sure."
"Maybe I oughtn't have said a word, but..."
"But I guess I couldn't help myself."
"And why is that?
"Anyone ever tell you you're kind of cute?"
"Are you kidding, sister?"
"I could sure go for you. In a big way."
I'm tearing down Michigan Avenue, speeding, weaving through traffic like nobody's business. The other crates are like moving pylons on some crazy test track. I'm on a life-and-death mission for all I know, and I've got some hot-to-trot moll giving me the eye.
"Admit it," Frenchy said. "You do like me, don't you? Just a little?"
"I'd rather have a Frango Mint."
We hit a snag without warning, traffic-wise, slowed to a crawl as we neared Cedar. I could see the cars ahead getting boxed in. At the Michigan-Oak intersection I punched the accelerator as the light turned yellow. I laid on the horn and snaked the coupe between the through lane and left turn lane, jogged over fast, and cut to the inner drive. About one block from Cedar, I slammed on the brakes, short-skidding just shy of a Packard's trunk.
"Take it easy, honey!" Frenchy checked her hairdo.
Three cars sat bumper-to-bumper in front of me. Beyond them a tow truck angled out from our lane into oncoming traffic. Three mugs stood next to the tow truck in heated conversation. I waved at the Hudson on my tail, threw the coupe into reverse, and backed into a ninety-degree turn. I popped her into first and forced my way through the opposite lane of traffic. I gunned it and spun out, fish-tailing into the curb. We made it in one piece, to my surprise, so I figured we were parked.
"Looks like I'm walking," I said.
"Looks like we're walking, honey."
I hopped out, slammed the door, hoped for something brilliant along the lines of inspiration—I had zip. I took off in a fast trot toward Cedar. I left Mademoiselle Frenchy waiting for me to open her door.
At the next corner I ducked into one of those fancy, greystone apartment houses. You know the type, those exclusive, lakefront joints that employ short elevator boys like organ grinder monkeys with white gloves. I rushed up to the front desk, flipped open my wallet, flashed the concierge a peek at my private investigator's ticket.
"A phone, Skippy. Now!"
The egg stood dumbstruck. I darted around the counter. The gink backed way up, almost tripping over himself. I spotted the instrument and dialed my service. Frenchy peeked inside the doorway just as Veronica picked up my call.
"Hello, angel. Yeah, it's me. Sorry to cut off before. Couldn't be helped. You take any message from a Sergeant Polhouse? Uh-huh. Give it to me quick, angel. Uh-huh. No ordinary criminal? Oh, an agitator, I see. What do you mean, a Bolshevik? That doesn't make any sense. When's the last time you heard of a Bolshevik named Spinetti? Okay, sugar, if that's what he said, that's what he said. Anything else, angel? Okay. Gotta run. You're aces."
Frenchy did her best Harlow pose, one palm pressed against her torso, high above the waistline. "You had to stop to phone the girlfriend?"
"Where you running off to now?"
"I got a date with a radical."
"What you mean, rabbit hole?"
I hightailed it out the door, flew around the corner and took off down Cedar. Frenchy hiked up her dress and scurried after me. A half-mile lay between Chez Raconteur and me, and I didn't know how much time I had—if I wasn't too late already. Should I mention I'm not exactly cut in the Ralph Metcalfe mold? I'm more of a Jesse Owens type. Not bad in a short sprint, see? I just don't have the wind and stamina for distance. I hit a good gallop and kept it up for three blocks.
One short block off I could see where Cedar came to a dead end at State Street. Chez Raconteur ran along the t-intersection on the other side of State. At two hundred feet I could see the big gathering on the restaurant patio.
There was no mistaking Jupiter, front and center, Geoffrey and Angus hanging on the wall behind him. In all, twelve men filled the seats down the long table. They made for a lively bunch. The party yapped and passed bottles of spirits and raised glasses. Jupiter kept popping up and down and bowing. Waiters came and went, serving and clearing, clearing and serving. Everything appeared as right as rain. Nothing out of place.
Between my gasps for air I heard the scuffling clicks of heels a ways behind me. I glanced over my shoulder. It was Frenchy, all right, one arm working like a pump organ, the other jacking up her dress beyond the allowance of etiquette. The burning in my lungs kicked in, looking for a deeper breath that I didn't have in me. I ratcheted down to a half-run, a brisk walk, and then a tired walk. I peered, slow, left to right across the intersection. Everything looked regular. Very regular.
I had no more than maybe one hundred feet to go when the oddest vision threw me for a loop. Maybe chalk it up to my light-headedness, but it appeared to float into view like an apparition. It drifted real easy down State, as though coasting on the slickest of blacktops. It rolled into view on the restaurant side of the street and I shuddered. I caught sight of the back windows covered in black curtains, and I gawked at the spectacle—a Daimler Double Six 40/50 Sport Saloon, one of only two in the whole metropolis.
I didn't take time to think about it. I broke into a fierce run down the middle of Cedar, headed straight towards the car. At the same time I reached beneath my jacket for the thirty-eight. I got off one round in the air, a warning shot to the patrons. All hell broke loose from there.
The party began to scramble as the explosion of a Tommy gun erupted from the backseat of the Daimler. The Thompson scattered its lead as the vehicle continued rolling past the diners. Glasses, plates, cups and saucers shattered under the barrage. The guests and wait staff scattered, ducked, clawed at the table and chairs, clawed at each other. The heavy slugs burst through cloth and flesh. Geoffrey reached for Jupiter as Angus jumped in front of them.
Pistol shots flashed in my direction from the driver's window, but the aim was wild and the slugs sailed by me. I returned two blasts and one must have found its mark—the car careened sharply to the left, jumped up a curb and took out a fire hydrant. The man with the Tommy flew from the car, low and fast, skirted the trunk, and brought the muzzle around in my direction. I was ready and emptied the thirty-eight without missing a beat. The shooter spun and recoiled from the gunshots, stumbled twenty feet from the momentum, and toppled over to land with a skid on the pavement in front of Chez Raconteur.
The sudden quiet fell heavy. Smoke from the Tommy drifted away like rising fog as water from the fire hydrant backed up in the curb. The scene played like a frozen piece of time. Still as a picture. As ugly a picture as I've ever seen. Then sounds of men in pain and the clatter of broken china rose as the targets attempted to recover themselves.
Restaurant workers began scurrying about with water and towels, sorting out the dead from the dying, the dying from the living.
I spotted Jupiter at the end of a side table laced with bullet holes. He dragged himself up and busily picked debris from his clothing.
I pocketed my rod and looked behind me. I made out Frenchy a couple hundred feet back down Cedar. She laid face up on the hood of a parked Mercedes. Her arms reached out to the sides and her legs crossed at the ankles. Two black holes had been ripped through her torso. Her dress was doused in red, and a kaleidoscope of crimson painted the auto and the street. She looked peaceful, all right. Take away the gunshots and the blood and she could have been sunbathing.
Just a couple minutes' difference, sure. A little heavier traffic, a little lighter traffic. If I hadn't called Veronica. Or hadn't waited two hours on Washington. If I would've grabbed a lousy breakfast just five lousy minutes earlier. If you found yourself in that position and you got the chance, would you swap one life for another? Sure.
I caught the driver's profile, pressed against the steering wheel, still as rust. I walked on. I passed the gunman's corpse as I approached the restaurant patio. Dead as prohibition. His eyes had the cold stare of the blind. Maybe that was Spinetti, maybe Zimmer. It could've been Alf Landon for all I knew. I left that one for the cops to sort out.
I headed straight for Jupiter, this absurd figure engulfed by an even more absurd surrounding. Encircled by assorted debris, mayhem leftovers made to order, the center of a macabre tableau—chewed up bodies of dead men, wounded men in agony, friends and colleagues who'd been raising glasses to him, smiling. This little, round man in the midst of a massacre's remains, stood preoccupied with the state of his attire.
"You look unscratched," I said.
"A bit soiled, perhaps. Nothing more. I trust these stains will never come out."
"Yeah. Blood always throws my laundress into a tizzy."
"Glass. There's nothing I detest more than tiny bits of glass."
"You know of a guy going by the name of Zim or Zimmer?"
"I don't know. I'm asking you."
"Never heard of him."
Jupiter caught me looking down at his feet. Geoffrey and Angus hugged the floor, cold as concrete. One slug caught Geoffrey in the throat, another in the left cheek. The chopper did a number on Angus, chewing up his torso into dark oatmeal.
"Your little men played it straight down the line, Jupiter. I'll hand them that."
"Yes, didn't they?" Jupiter discovered a tear at his left shirt cuff. "They did what they were supposed to do."
"Uh-huh. They did, did they?"
"Yes, they did. That is what I paid them for."
"You really buy that, don't you? That's a hot one. You're going to stand there in the middle of all this and try to put that one over. That's the breaks and that's how the cookie crumbles. Angus and Geoffrey paid their dues and they took their chances. But all of that's jake because they were on the payroll. Is that how this pans out? Is that what you really think? You really believe you paid them enough for that? You think you can pay anyone enough for that?"
Jupiter stopped fussing. His little black beads gave me a hard, hard look. The wheeze became amplified, uglier than usual.
I shoved my hands deep into my pockets, spun on my heels and stalked away. Thirty paces off I caught myself and pivoted three-sixty to face Jupiter. I called over to him.
"By the way." I almost smiled. "You'll want to know I found Miss French." I stopped to light a cigarette. I pulled a deep drag. "She's back there, Jupiter." I motioned with my thumb. "By the Mercedes." I walked off without another word. Sailed right past Frenchy down Cedar.
Bad timing, all right. It was the height of rush hour. And there'd be ambulances and black and whites to contend with.
* The photograph displayed at the top of this page was taken by Jack Delano as an employee of a federal government agency. For more information on the photograph, see http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/owi2001017566/PP/.