Read (1988) The Golden Room Online

Authors: Irving Wallace

(1988) The Golden Room (4 page)

BOOK: (1988) The Golden Room
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says, “Mayor, we have it on good authority it is not a whorehouse. Sure, it was once. But it isn’t one now. The Everleigh Oub is a restaurant, and the girls there are dancers and entertainers.” The mayor is furious. He says, “I know it’s a whorehouse.” So I says to him, “Mayor, you better prove that for certain before you can close it down.” That shut him up for now.’ Coughlin beamed at Minna. ‘So there you are, home free.’

‘Who’s home free?’ Minna demanded. ‘If I haven’t got our house and our girls, what have I got?’

‘An expensive restaurant, with special charges for seeing the girls perform, in whatever way they perform. Maybe a way can be arranged for some of them to perform upstairs if you’re careful to screen all visitors.’

‘But, in effect, we still don’t have a house anymore,’ insisted Minna.

‘Not exactly. You can earn enough on the restaurant to keep going, and let the girls do floor shows as entertainment.’

‘You know our real money comes from upstairs.’

‘So you’ll lose a little for a short time,’ said Coughlin cheerfully. ‘Gradually, the heat will be off. The mayor will have other, more pressing matters on his mind. He can claim he reformed you and forget about it. When he does, you can resume business as usual - no more problems. So maybe you think you lost, but Hinky Dink and I say you won, in the long run you won.’

‘That’s a terrible scheme, but I’ll go along with it for a little while, as long as you do your part.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning that you see to it that none of the Harrison-people get in here. I don’t want spies who’ll try to prove we’re still running a whorehouse.’

‘Hinky Dink and I will do our best. You have to do your part too.’

‘Like what?’

‘You have to get your girls to pledge they won’t peep a word of any goings-on upstairs. That means your servants too.’

‘Don’t worry about the girls and the servants. They don’t want the place shut down. They want their jobs.’

Kenna moved up beside Coughlin. ‘One thing, Minna. Do you have any outsiders who work here?’

‘Outsiders? Just one. Dr Myers from the Loop. He comes here weekly to examine the girls.’

‘Can you trust him?’ asked Kenna.

‘How do I know?’

‘Not good enough,’ said Coughlin. ‘Fire him. We have someone to replace him.’ He looked at Kenna, who nodded assent. Coughlin resumed. ‘We know of a Dr Herman H. Holmes, who specializes in female complaints and who has offices in Englewood, which isn’t that far away. We heard he’s the most close-mouthed and trustworthy doctor around. We can tell him what’s going on, and I know you can depend on him. We’ll send him over Saturday. Mayor Harrison’ll never learn a thing. Then you can use the restaurant front, and quietly keep up your business.’

‘Sounds reasonable,’ said Minna. She glanced over at her sister. ‘Aida, let’s assume it’ll work, and let’s have a bottle of champagne on the reformed Everleigh Club.’

When Harold T. Armbruster received the call from Mayor Harrison’s secretary, Miss Karen Grant, inviting him to drop by for a moment that afternoon to convey his thanks for the meat-packer’s assistance in the election, Armbruster hesitated momentarily. He was a busy man, and normally he would have suggested it would be sufficient for the mayor to thank him on the telephone. But then Armbruster remembered something else he had read in the morning newspaper besides the election results. What he had read was very much on his mind.

He had decided that it might be a wise idea to meet with the mayor in person, after all.

‘Yes, fine,’ Armbruster had said. ‘Tell Mayor Harrison I’ll be delighted to come by this afternoon at three o’clock.’

Now, at five minutes after three, Armbruster sat comfortably in a tufted leather chair across from the mayor’s roll-top oak desk.

‘Congratulations,’ Armbruster said again. ‘It was a wonderful victory you had yesterday.’

The mayor leaned back in his own high leather swivel chair, plainly pleased with his triumph. ‘Thank you for your kind words,’ Harrison said, ‘and more than that, thank you for your contribution. That probably made the whole thing possible. Let me repeat, Mr Armbruster, if there is ever anything that I can do for you …’

Armbruster interrupted him. ‘As a matter of fact, there is something.’

‘Ah, good. You need only name it.’

‘There was an item that I read in the paper this morning.’

‘And what was that?’

‘It was about Prince Henry of Prussia, head of the German Navy, the brother to Kaiser Wilhelm. He’s coming to the United States to pick up the kaiser’s new yacht - and he intends to make one side trip - right here to Chicago, presumably because of our large German population. May I ask you, Mayor Harrison, is this true?’

‘Absolutely. I don’t have the date, yet, but I believe that Prince Henry will be in our fair city in about three weeks.’

Armbruster leaned forward intently. ‘Mayor, the fact is, I would like to meet Prince Henry.’

‘I’m sure that can be arranged.’

‘I don’t mean merely a handshake. I would like to have a relaxed talk with him. Will he be very busy?’

The mayor thought about it. ‘Well, Prince Henry’s visit is still in the planning stage. We hope to have him place a wreath on the Abraham Lincoln Monument. Then we plan to escort him on a quick visit through the city. About this talk you want with Prince Henry - is it important?’

‘To me it is, yes, very important,’ Armbruster said urgently. ‘I want to request that the prince assist me in becoming

ambassador to Germany.’ Armbruster checked himself briefly. ‘Let me confide in you, Mayor Harrison. I have at this stage in my life almost everything a man could wish. A prosperous business. A beautiful mansion for a home. A devoted family and good friends. I have as much wealth as I could ever want. I have everything that Armour, Swift, Marshall Field, and my peers have, except one thing - social status. My peers have it. I don’t. For the benefit of my wife, my children, myself, I would like to have social status too. Becoming ambassador to Germany would give me exactly that.’

Mayor Harrison was confused. ‘But aren’t ambassadors appointed by - well, wouldn’t that come from our secretary of state or President Roosevelt?’

‘Of course, Mayor. But they could be influenced. If I had an opportunity to ingratiate myself with Prince Henry, he could pass my name on to the kaiser, and the kaiser in turn could suggest to President Roosevelt that he would like me appointed ambassador. I’m sure that would do it. I may not have diplomatic background, but I am German and speak German perfectly. I’d be a logical choice.’

‘I’m sure you would be,’ said Harrison. ‘The problem is arranging time for you to speak privately with Prince Henry. He’s going to have a tight schedule.’

‘What are you planning for his evening here?’

‘Why, a formal banquet, of course. I haven’t worked it out yet, but -‘

‘That’s it!’ Armbruster exclaimed. ‘Let me host the banquet with you. By happy coincidence, I’m preparing a big banquet of my own. My son Alan is engaged to a lovely Southern belle from Kentucky - Cathleen Lester, the niece of two socialites in Chicago. They will be married at my home about the time of Prince Henry’s arrival. I should like to have Prince Henry attend the wedding and the banquet and ball to follow. At such a sentimental event he should be most responsive. I can draw him aside and bring up the ambassadorship. How does that strike you, Mayor?’

Mayor Harrison stood up, smiling broadly. ‘I like it very much. It takes a great burden off my shoulders. I’m sure it can all be arranged, subject only to Prince Henry’s approval. How’s that?’

‘Capital! Splendid!’

Shortly after lunch, Mayor Harrison summoned his immediate staff to a crucial meeting in his office.

Harrison lay back in the tall chair behind his desk, faced by a semi-circle of aides. The only woman in the room was the attractive young secretary, Karen Grant, whom he had hired several months before the election.

‘It’s about my major campaign promise,’ Harrison began. ‘I made many secondary promises to the public, and they will eventually be fulfilled. But my primary promise to the electorate, as you all know, was to introduce sweeping moral reforms in this city. All houses of ill repute in the Levee must be eliminated. Of these houses I focused on one in particular. I refer to the Everleigh Club. I am determined that the Everleigh Club must be my first target. The Everleigh Club is the one brothel known throughout the United States and Europe. I want to go after it immediately, shut it down, and prove to the voters that I meant what I said in my campaign. There is one problem.’

Harrison halted, opened his humidor, and extracted a cigar. He clipped one end, put the cigar in his mouth, and waited as one of his aides jumped forward to light it.

‘Thank you, Evans,’ the mayor said. He addressed the entire group once more. ‘I have been informed that the Everleigh Club had been a full-fledged brothel, yet now the Everleigh sisters claim it is no longer a brothel. This information was conveyed to me early this morning. Miss Grant was in this office with me when the two aldermen from the First Ward so informed me.’ Harrison turned to his secretary. ‘Miss Grant, you have your notes at hand?’

‘I do, Mayor.’

Karen Grant placed her note pad on the edge of the desk, picked a folder off the floor, and pulled out a sheet of paper.

‘Read aloud what transpired,’ Harrison instructed her.

Karen bent her head over the paper. ‘Mayor Harrison met with Alderman John Coughlin and Alderman Michael Kenna, who stated that while they were supporters of the mayor, they were also long-time friends of Minna and Aida Everleigh. “We must tell you, Mayor,” Alderman Coughlin said, “that the Everleigh Club has mended its ways. It has given up prostitution. This was a direct result of your reform campaign. The Club has converted itself into a fancy restaurant -nothing else.” The mayor said, “I happen to know there are thirty women in the Club. What are they doing there?” Alderman Coughlin replied, “They are not prostitutes. They may have been at one time, but they are not prostitutes today. They are simply performers, dancers, singers, actresses, putting on a nightly floor show for restaurant diners.” Alderman Coughlin stated that the Everleighs reap their profits from their expensive restaurant, with its floor show and two orchestras. “Since it is a legitimate restaurant, there would be no cause to shut it down,” Coughlin said. “Alderman Kenna and I advise you to abandon the effort.” The mayor thanked his aldermen and dismissed them.’

Harrison puffed on his cigar, then turned his attention to his aides.

‘Gentlemen,’ Harrison resumed, ‘I have thought about this information and I believe it to be false. I do not believe the Everleigh Club is merely a restaurant. I believe it continues to be a house of prostitution - the biggest, the richest, the most important one in our city - and I have every intention of proving that I am right and of shutting the brothel down. The one problem I am faced with is obtaining proof. How do I prove the Everleigh Club remains a house of ill repute? I must have real proof before I can lock its doors for ever and show the voting public that Mayor Carter H. Harrison keeps

his campaign promises. That is why I have assembled all of you here - to solicit your suggestions about how I can obtain the necessary proof.’

Mayor Harrison’s eyes moved around the room.

‘Any suggestions, gentlemen?’

Jim Evans held up his hand. ‘Why not question the girls? Even offer them a little something? Surely one of them might talk.’

Harrison shook his head. ‘Useless. None of them will speak against the Everleighs. They’re paid five or ten times what other prostitutes get. They won’t risk losing their income.’

‘What about the servants?’ asked Jim Evans.

Again, the mayor shook his head. ‘They’re well paid also.’

‘Why don’t we question some of the regular customers?’ someone wondered aloud.

‘Negative,’ Harrison replied. ‘A sure strike-out. Customers enjoy the Everleigh Club. They want it to remain open. Even if one wanted to talk, he couldn’t afford to be a witness in front of the police. He’d be worried about his wife or sweetheart or family finding out he frequented a brothel. No chance. Forget it.’

‘Why not try to locate ex-Everleigh girls and get one of them to talk?’ said aide Gus Varney.

‘No good,’ countered Harrison. ‘Even if we could find them, they’d only be able to talk about the past, not about what is going on there today.’ Harrison was briefly thoughtful. ‘Something else just occurred to me. A better idea, if it can be made to work.’

‘What’s that?’ inquired Gus Varney.

‘The old Trojan horse trick.’

Varney appeared puzzled. ‘Trojan horse trick?’

‘Filtering someone from our side into the Everleigh Club. Letting that person find out first-hand that the Everleigh girls are still taking men to bed for pay. That would be solid proof.’

‘It would be, indeed,’ agreed Evans. ‘But how could you

get such a person in without arousing suspicion? I imagine the Everleighs will be doubly cautious about customers right now.’

Harrison nodded. ‘They’ve always been cautious. They’ve admitted only persons well known to them, or customers who were recommended by trusted friends or who could prove their social standing and respectability.’

‘How does a man make himself obviously respectable?’ asked Jim Evans.

‘Many ways. It could be his manner of dress, a refined voice, even something as simple as a fancy business card.’ Harrison put down his cold cigar. ‘Definitely a business card,’ he said with certainty. ‘Simply print an embossed card with a name on it, the name of a real factory in - in, say St Louis. Who could tell it was fake? I’d say the Everleighs would believe it immediately.’

Several aides voiced their approval.

‘One of you, properly attired for the evening, could present this card for admittance. First, you’d ask for a girl, and the two of you could have a real costly dinner to prove you’re a sport. Then the two of you could go upstairs and have your fun. After that, you could be a witness before Chief of Police O’Neill.’

‘Wouldn’t that be entrapment?’ someone called out.

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