Authors: AJ Sikes
Aiden dropped off the deck with Digs and Jenkins, flashing a thumbs-up at the other boys and turning his airbike in a wide arc to round the Record’s building and head over to La Salle, a few blocks up from Printer’s Row. Digs was off to the Gold Coast, where Aiden knew he’d clean up pretty good. Jenkins sailed away without looking back at Aiden’s thumbs-up, going straight down Harrison and shooting the corner to State. He’d be at the Riverfront and selling his first bundle by the time Aiden was halfway to Old Town, and probably raking in a fine pile by the end of the day. Aiden let a moment of jealousy twist his mouth. It was a bum deal getting put off the good beat by Mr. Brand that way, but Jenkins won the knuckles fair and square. And Aiden knew that just meant he’d treat when it came time to hit the soda counter after the work was done. Even better, the lighter load on Aiden’s bike meant he’d be finished up before Digs and Jenkins were half done, and that meant he’d have time to watch the gearboxes while he waited for the other boys to get back.
At the corner of Jackson and La Salle, Aiden dropped to the street and pulled the airbike into a turnout beside a bank. He unloaded a bundle of papers and slipped his penknife under the strings that held the thick brown wrapper around the papers. When it fell away, Aiden’s mouth hung open and his knife dropped to the pavement by his foot. He’d never seen a picture like the one on the front page. Not even in his mind after listening to monster hunter stories on Dr. Macabre’s Fright Hour. Aiden’s knees trembled under his wool trousers and he felt himself falling before he knew what was happening. He spun and let the stack of papers catch his weight. Aiden shook where he sat, his breath coming fast and his chest feeling a chill despite his thick coat. As he brought his hands up around him, a man came up from behind and tapped his shoulder.
“Hey kid, got the special? I hear Brand got a photo from the scene and I wanna see it.”
Aiden was about to reply, forcing strength into his legs and lifting himself up from the stack of papers when a hand pressed onto his shoulder, making him sit back down. He jerked around to look over his shoulder and saw a man in a suit being pressed back by another guy. The second guy wore a suit, too, under a heavy overcoat. Aiden just caught sight of the first guy’s frightened face before the bird took off down the street, leaving Aiden alone on the sidewalk with a bundle of papers under his tailbone and two guys from Capone’s Outfit standing around him with friendly smiles curling up under their eyes. These eyes were full of everything Aiden had ever heard about The Outfit. Most of what he’d heard sounded like bunko, but he’d hoped he’d never have a chance to find out.
“So, kid,” one of the guys said. “That’s the special from the Daily Record. Yeah?”
“And that’s the first bundle you’ve opened I see,” said the other one, stepping over to Aiden’s airbike and patting the still-wrapped bundles with a gloved hand. Aiden stared at the clean dark leather glove and then took in its mate. He flicked his eyes to the first guy who spoke. He had the same gloves, rich as the Gold Coast and then some. Everything the guys wore, from their wingtips to their tightly knotted neckties, it was all finer than anything Aiden had ever seen in his or his dad’s closet.
“So, kid,” the first one was saying to him, nudging Aiden’s ear with a gloved knuckle. “What’s the asking price for the Daily Record special these days? Three cents? Four?”
“A n—, a nickel, sir. It’s a nickel.”
The second guy whistled loud and some people on the street stopped to throw a quick look in Aiden’s direction before going back to minding their own business and walking away. “A nickel,” the guy said, now leaning against Aide’s airbike. “I’ll make you a deal kid,” he said, pushing off from the bike and coming over to Aiden while the first guy kept a firm hand on Aiden’s shoulder, holding him in place.
“How about a ten spot for both stacks?” the second guy said, holding out his left hand, curled up into a fist. The dark leather creased around the guy’s fingers, making black ravines between narrow ridges that made Aiden think of the landscapes that Dr. Macabre’s monster hunter crept through on the trail of beasts and horrors. Then the guy opened his hand to reveal a ten dollar bill that he picked up with his other hand and dropped into Aiden’s lap.
Aiden stared at the bill. His jaw fell open. He hinged it back up and it dropped again. The guy with his hand on Aiden’s shoulder gripped him and urged him to stand. Still shaking, now more from wonder than worry, Aiden took the bill and stood. It wasn’t until he’d finished looking at all the lines in General Sherman’s face that Aiden came out of his shock enough to see the guys loading the bundles of papers into a sedan that had pulled up beside his airbike.
“Now spend it right, sonny, hey?” the first guy said as he swept into the back seat of the sedan. His long coat folded around him and was sucked into the back seat as the door closed like a raven’s wing folding up. The sedan was gone and Aiden stood by his empty airbike, dazzled by his good luck. Ten dollars! He had enough to treat himself to the soda counter twice a day for two weeks easy. Chuckling, Aiden stowed the bill, mounted the airbike, and kicked off to sail back to the mooring deck. Heck, he’d be there with loads of time to spare and watch the gearboxes at work. Maybe Old Mutton, the mechanic, would let him try a little wrenching when he came out to do the evening shutdown later on. Full of dreams enough to fill the day, Aiden soared above the heads of cyclists and wagon drivers, shooting the corner back to Printer’s Row and doing a lap around the Record’s first two floors for the fun of it.
When he reached the deck on the fifth floor and saw Jenkins was already there, his heart fell a bit. The guy looked glum. Worse than glum. He looked beat.
“What gives, Jenks? Thought you had it good today, hey?”
“I did. Figured I’d get at least a fin with all them papers Mr. Brand loaded up on me. But these two birds come by and toss me two dollars and walk off with the whole pile. I tried to stop ‘em, but. . .”
Aiden knew what Jenkins was going to tell him, but he let his pal get it out on his own.
“I think they was Outfit guys, you know? Really nice clothes, like you see way uptown. Mayor’s Office kinda folks. Except these guys was rough like. Kinda like they’d been told to pay me for the papers but really wanted to off me right there. But, hey, what’re you doing back up so quick? You didn’t sell out did ya? Aw, jeez, I get the good beat and can’t even make enough to come out on top, and—” Aiden cut him off and told him what had happened on La Salle.
“Yeah? A sawbuck? Aw, jeez, Conroy, you really know how to put a guy’s nose in it.”
“C’mon, Jenks. I’ll get the soda tonight, no joking. It’s only fair.”
Jenkins lifted his chin at that. He seemed ready to smile again but lost his cheer when Digs came up to the deck with his coat hanging half off him and near shivering off the bike. They ran to help him get tethered and onto the deck with both his pins under him.
“What happened, Diggsy?” Aiden asked.
“Couple of birds tailed me off the deck. I seen their sedan on the ground soon as we’re splitting up. When I get to the street, it’s tailing me but good. It followed me over the river and sped on by. But I get to my first drop and these guy are waiting for me, like they know my beat and are just waiting there, you know? I get down and this one guy, built like a pug with these fists the size of bricks, he picks me off my bike and shakes me down rough, pulls my coat off and stands like he’s going to paste me if I make any noise about it. People are walking around and just go right on by, so that’s when I key in, these guys are from The Outfit, right? Then the other guy, he lifts my papers, both bundles, and throws them in their sedan. Then the pug gives me a tap on the cheek, just with his fingers like he’s slapping me and there’s nothing behind it. But he wants me to know there might be. I get my coat half on then I see it’s ripped, but good. So I just kick off the ground while they’re driving off. I don’t look back.”
Aiden whistled low. Jenkins, too. Digs said he had to get home. See if his mom had enough to get him a new coat. He held it up, showing Aiden and Jenkins the torn seam along one side under the arm and down the sleeve.
“I’d sew it up, but we don’t got no needle and thread around the place. Not since Ma’s last fella threw us out. And she ain’t found a new set up for us yet, so we’re at the rooming place down in The Loop.”
Aiden reached into his pocket and fingered the bill he’d been given that morning. He knew Jenkins was thinking the same thing he was, so it was easier to speak when the words finally found their way onto his tongue.
“Guess I’m treating us all today, hey?” he said, lifting the bill from his pocket and showing it to Digs. Smiles lit all three boys’ faces. They stepped fast down the deck and through the print room. They raced to the lift and tapped the floor with their feet, willing the box to drop faster. In the lobby, the three boys dodged in and out around newsies and nearly toppled the mail cart.
“Boy, wait’ll Mr. Brand hears about this,” Jenkins said, clapping hands over Aiden’s and Digs’ shoulders as they exited the building.
Emma Farnsworth halted just inside the door and took in the signs of destruction. Broken picture frames and accounts ledgers were strewn around the room. File drawers drooped open, their contents sticking out in disarray, spilling out onto the floor below. Her father slumped into his chair and held a glass in his right hand. His other hand held a bottle of Templeton Rye that had been left with his secretary. According to the girl outside, two men had dropped the bottle on her desk saying
“Mr. Capone sends his compliments.”
She hadn’t asked for names and couldn’t even remember what color hats they had on. Most people forget what they see and hear when Al Capone’s name is mentioned. But Emma’s father hadn’t been in the mood to hear the man’s name himself, so he’d snatched the bottle from his secretary and given her an earful of his best advice on how to keep her job. It had taken Emma fifteen minutes to calm the girl down before following her father into his office. The sounds of his temper came through the closed door loud and clear, and Emma had to steel herself before going in after him.
“Dad?” Emma ventured, winding a path through the mess of broken glass and splintered picture frames. Her heel caught on a split piece of wood and she almost toppled over. Straightening up, she brushed aside the lock of hair that fell in her face and smoothed her skirt. Setting her face, she addressed the man she’d known all her life and couldn’t wait to forget. “Dad, you’re drinking at three in the afternoon. You said we’d go over the books today, remember? We were going to look at the plant’s earnings. The accountants are supposed to be here in ten minutes.”
“I called ‘em off.”
“What? Dad, why? How are we going to stay in the game if we don’t—”
“Shut up! You wouldn’t be standing there in those fancy clothes if it weren’t for this power plant. Don’t give me any guff about how I keep it running.”
Emma squared her shoulders. She’d spent her childhood cleaning up after the old man. Her youth had been spent growing more than tired of being his daughter. She was twenty-five now, and without a husband to make her into his jewelry rack, Chicago City didn’t know what else to call her. The only ideas she had wouldn’t play in the society crowd she had to run with. It’d be nice, she thought, if the life she wanted and the life society allowed her could agree on something.
“Dad, you need to clean this place up.” Emma nudged aside the bits of wood she’d almost tripped on and stormed out, flinging open the office door and ignoring the sound of her father’s voice behind her. She left the building without buttoning up her coat, but she stopped short outside. A long sedan pulled up and The Outfit’s enforcer, Frank Nitti, got out shaking his long coat around him, revealing a crisp white suit beneath.
“Miss Farnsworth,” the gangster said through a grin as he approached. Emma drew her coat closed as Nitti’s eyes walked up and down her shape. “What a pleasure. I hope you are enjoying a fine afternoon.”
“You’ve got a lot of nerve,” she said, clasping her coat and showing her teeth as she spoke.
Nitti gave her that shot for free, but the pinched up skin around his mouth told her he wanted to show her the back of his hand. Instead, he stepped in close, so the toes of his shoes rested an inch from hers. Nitti reached up and toyed with the stray lock of Emma’s blond hair and then tipped his hat as he brushed by, followed by two of his silent goons. Through the open entrance, she heard the men step through to her father’s office and close the door.
Emma went back inside, giving her father’s secretary a look that said
. The girl understood and went back to her paperwork. Emma moved to her father’s door and listened. The voices were muffled, but she pegged Nitti when he spoke. Nobody else could sound so cheerful and so deadly at the same time.
The conversation rose and fell with her father’s outbursts and Nitti’s sing-song talking. She knew the gangster could be violent, and hoped her father wouldn’t push him too far. The door opened then and Emma just had time to move away.
Nitti came out first and smiled at her. “Miss Farnsworth,” he said in a softer and more precise voice than she had heard in her father’s office. “You know, that shade of lipstick compliments your eyes quite nicely. The Mayor is hosting a dinner this evening. For Saint Valentine’s Day. Would you accompany me? I would be most honored, and—”
“And I’ll be going alone,” Emma replied with more ice than the Chicago River got in January. Nitti simply sneered, pushing by without tipping his hat this time. His boys followed, their eyes lowered, watching the step of their boss’s feet.
Archie brought the Vigilance down to the mooring station at the Farnsworth plant. Two smaller ships hung off the deck, their skin crusted with ashen snow.
“Farnsworth’s going to lose those pigs he leaves them in the sty like that, eh boss? They ain’t made nice with the wind for a while.”
Brand grunted. He had his eyes glued to the photographs on his desk. He could swear one of the victims in the massacre had attended a party held last week at Farnsworth Wind and Water. Brand circled the man’s face in the image, which showed a group of men and women standing around Josiah Farnsworth. The power plant owner sat on a stool in the middle of his factory floor. Brand set the photos aside and picked up the other two he’d pulled from the stack.
In one of them, Emma Farnsworth stood next to Frank Nitti outside the offices at the power plant. By the look of things, the photo was taken at the same party. Emma glared daggers at Nitti as he shook hands with Josiah Farnsworth. The plant founder looked pretty grim, which highlighted Nitti’s shark tooth smile even more. In the other photo, Emma was hanging off the Mayor’s arm at some party. Her blond hair shone out of the photograph as a patch of stark white. The room had been well lit with the new electric lamps coming out of Mr. Tesla’s factory, and that meant the party was held in one of two places. Capone’s Banquet Parlor or the Mayor’s Office. Wherever it had been, Miss Farnsworth didn’t seem to be enjoying herself. She stared straight into the camera with her jaw set and her gaze pinched like a vise.
The feud between Farnsworth and his daughter was well known in Chicago City, so it was a sure bet there’d be something to help Chief sell news. And Brand might find the next piece of the puzzle surrounding the massacre. He left the crime scene photo on his desk and pocketed the others, then released the ladder and climbed down to the mooring deck. Brand’s feet hit the concrete deck as a long sedan pulled away from the power plant’s office. It roared through gravel and snowmelt, tracking a path to the yard exit. The car screeched to a halt at the mooring station and idled while Brand made his way down the stairs. He eyed the car the whole time. As he approached it, a back window dropped. Frank Nitti leaned over to aim a finger in Brand’s direction.
“You are the radio man, right?” Nitti’s careful pronunciation gave a sing-song quality to his words that reminded Brand of the sound a knife makes as it slits your throat. “Mr. Mitchell Brand. I should tell you to be careful. What you say on the radio. You never know who might be listening in.”
Nitti sat back and motioned to his driver, who sat rigid in the seat, his face a blank mask and his eyes nearly closed. Brand made for the office building and dodged aside when another car came racing through the yard in his direction. Emma Farnsworth stuck her head out to holler at him this time.
“Nitti already talked to him. You saw them leave. He’s got nothing left to say to anyone now and he’s too drunk to put more than three words together anyway.”
“So I can’t go ask him a question or two? Like why his—”
“So he doesn’t need a newshawk giving him a headache. He can handle that just fine on his own.” Emma sped away before Brand could get another word in her direction. He thought about the two cars that had just passed him and made a mental note to put out a broadcast as soon as he got back to the Vigilance.