Gods of Chicago: Omnibus Edition (4 page)

BOOK: Gods of Chicago: Omnibus Edition
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Chapter 5

Brand picked up his pace crossing the yard. Yesterday’s storm had blown itself out, but sudden gusts still rolled snow drifts across the cold earth. Beyond mounds of gray and white, the power plant crouched like a patient behemoth on the shore of Lake Michigan. A low building with a brick façade around the entrance stood in the shadow of the hulking concrete structure. Even with February’s wind buffeting him as he walked, Brand heard the rumbling turbines that churned within the facility. On one side of the building, four sets of heavy rotors spun on their shafts and channeled the wind into Farnsworth’s pipes and wires. On the lakeside, a massive concrete chamber jutted out into the water. Inside, there would be more rotors turned by the action of the waves. Chicago City owed a lot to the Farnsworth family for keeping the lamps lit and the heaters running.

Inside the offices, Farnsworth’s secretary sat at her desk beside a low counter. She’d stacked files and paperwork along the counter and was sorting a pile on her desk when Brand came in.

“Can I help you?” the girl asked, hunching down over her work and eyeing Brand like she’d met him in a dark alley.

“Yeah, I’m just hoping to catch a few minutes of the old man’s time. He in? And you don’t have to worry. I’m not after any company secrets,” Brand said, motioning at the page the girl had clutched against her chest.

“Yes. Yes, he’s in, but I don’t. . .”

“I’ll just poke my head in,” Brand said as he left the shell-shocked girl. He crossed the small foyer to the alcove in front of Farnsworth’s office door. A chair leg was wedged between the door and the jamb.

Brand gave a knock and looked around the door as he pushed it open. The only furniture in serviceable condition was the heavy oak desk at the back of the room and the chair behind it. Josiah Farnsworth sagged back in the chair with a glass to his lips. Brand’s nose told him bootleg sauce was on special in Farnsworth’s office. The old man’s wisps of white hair hung limp off the sides of his round head. With his long nose, the old man had the look of a vulture left out in the rain.

“Morning, Mr. Farnsworth. Mitchell Brand, with the Chicago Daily. . .”

“Yes?” Farnsworth growled. “I know who you are. Come in here. What do you want?”

“Well, I was hoping to talk with you about the gentlemen who just left. Anything you’d like to share with the Daily Record and the people of Chicago City?”

Farnsworth looked at him, incredulous to what Brand was suggesting. “You rotten fink! Share with. . .you wander in here and ask me if I want to share? Who the hell sent you? You tell me that right now! Was it Emma?”

“Actually your daughter warned me off of coming in here. Said you’d got enough of a headache already. But I figure a man should get to do his own talking about how he feels.”

That was a cheap shot at Emma’s expense, and Brand knew it just as well as the old man did. But it did the trick. Farnsworth’s wide-eyed disbelief slackened into drowsy resignation. He let his shoulders fall and his head hang down to one side.

“You try to do right by your family,” Farnsworth said. “You try to give ‘em something to come home to.”

Brand waited for the old man to continue and drew his steno pad out of his coat.

“You said
gentlemen
, didn’t you? Thick-headed little runt you are. You wouldn’t know a gentleman if he kicked you in the tailbone with a steel toe.”

“Fair enough, Mr. Farnsworth. Do you suspect Nitti and his boys are the ones who smashed up your office?” Brand looked around the room and motioned to the destruction.

“All this,” Farnsworth said, swinging his index finger around his head to take in the remains of his office. “All this is just smoke and mirrors, boy. The real show is happening somewhere else now.” He poured himself another glass from the bottle as he spoke. Brand let the old man drink and decided to change gears. To get any questions answered, he’d have to let Farnsworth feel in control of the conversation. But he couldn’t just wait for the old man to figure out which way to take things. Not in his state.

“Can you give me the name of the man here in this picture?” Brand held up the photo showing Farnsworth and his new employees. He let his finger rest just above the man’s face he’d circled. The old man squinted and snatched it out of Brand’s grasp. He fumbled around in a desk drawer and came up with a monocle.

“Yeah. Yeah. That’s my new chief engineer, John May. Why d’you want to know about him?”

“John May,” Brand said as he jotted the name down.

“I said why d’you want to know about him!”

“Well, Mr. Farnsworth, I might have to head straight to the precinct house after telling you this, but I think Mr. May was killed this morning.”

Farnsworth’s surprise came at Brand like a freight train. “You mean that business over in Clark Street you just blabbed about?
He
was there? Damn it!” The old man lurched up out of his chair and nearly fell forward across the desk. He steadied himself and reached a hand into the drawer again. Then he just stood there, leaning on the desk and breathing hard.

“You get out of here. You go now and don’t you come back unless I say so. You hear? Go on! Get out!”

Brand didn’t need to see the gun Farnsworth was tickling in the drawer. He’d made sure to walk straight in from the door and knew the path behind him was clear. Getting shot was getting shot, but Brand would prefer to know it was coming. He beat it without turning around, matching the path he’d taken when he came in, just in case the old man got trigger-happy.

On his way back to the Vigilance, Brand spun the meeting with Farnsworth around in his mind. What had gotten the old man so heated about John May? He tried out a few theories as he pulled himself up the ladder to the airship cabin. At the top he paused and wrapped his arms around the ladder to steady himself while he jotted down a few notes. Then he shimmied up the last two rungs and bounced into the cabin.

Archie whipped his headphones off and spun around in his seat when Brand climbed in.

“It’s just me, Archie. Who’d you expect?”

“Nobody, boss. I just didn’t think— You got back quick, you know?”

“Well I’m back. Let’s go.”

“You get the goods from Old Man Farnsworth?”

“Nothing really,” Brand lied. “But it’s his daughter I want to talk to now. I’m betting she’ll be at the Mayor’s dinner tonight. That means double time over to Dearborn. I need to scrub up.”

Archie got the Vigilance into the sky while Brand sketched up a few notes for a quick broadcast. He took some liberty, steering the gist down roads he felt sure were there. He hadn’t got much from the old man, but he’d got enough to keep the wheels turning at least.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Mitchell Brand aboard the Vigilance. The top enforcer for The Outfit, Frank Nitti, was just seen visiting Josiah Farnsworth in his office. This reporter has to ask what those two men might have to discuss. Farnsworth isn’t talking.

The massacre this morning took place in his competitor’s repair shop. Could Al Capone be making a play to get into the power business? Either way, there’s writing on the wall. This reporter spells it bad news.

Come back later for more on this story and on the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Stay tuned, Chicago. And stay in touch.

Brand punched the set over to play back again and slotted another ad card to follow his broadcast. His weary voice came back at him from the speakers, and he wished he’d convinced Chief to let one of the cub reporters handle the ad segments. Maybe if these stories came together right he could persuade Chief to give his newsboys some mic time. They hounded him about it often enough, and he knew he should try and do right by them someday soon.

#

Josiah Farnsworth put the empty glass down and turned his watery eyes to the empty bottle. His office stank. He punched the line for his secretary and the girl came in.

“Yes sir, Mr. Farnsworth,” she said, wincing at the smell and hunching her shoulders even tighter up around her ears.

The plant owner motioned with a finger to the waste bin by his desk. “Take it out,” he mumbled. “I was sick.”

The young woman stepped through the debris to reach the desk and turned her head as she picked up the can. She hurried out of the office with her face wrinkled up and her free hand over her mouth.

Farnsworth thought about the money he owed Nitti. He’d needed that money to buy the new turbine fittings. His plant wasn’t failing, but it wasn’t in shape to compete against the new German operation, not without some upgrades. And now Tesla’s radio power stations were about to change the game again.

He thought about the deal he’d worked out with Nitti to
make it all go away
. Then he thought about what that damn newshawk had told him an hour or so earlier. John May was in the garage that morning. He was torn apart with the rest of them. Those mob bastards got what they deserved and if May was pinching information and selling it to the Germans like Nitti said, then he got what he deserved, too.

But now Nitti wanted a new deal. And Josiah Farnsworth’s days of making deals had reached an end. He slid open his desk drawer and took out the revolver.

Chapter 6

Brand showered and picked up a new set of duds from his rooms. It was a trick to clean up with nothing but his old razor, but a stop at his barber wasn’t in the cards. He hopped out of the cab, paid the driver, and watched the horse trot down the street. Stepping over a low drift of snow, Brand walked up the massive stone steps to the banquet hall entrance. Under the portico, he showed his press card and camera to the heavy at the door before he went through, getting nudged aside by a drunk couple just as he passed into the doorway.

“Excuse me, sir. Madam,” Brand said, tipping his hat and smiling as they staggered past and went off to find a quiet corner.

“Future leaders of the city, hey?” Brand muttered. The heavy heard it, but clearly knew where his paycheck came from. He didn’t even lift the corners of his mouth to agree with Brand.

Inside, a negro quintet played the latest jazz numbers while streamers of smoke swayed above the crowd. Brand hadn’t expected to see dark skin in the room tonight. It was out of line with the Governor’s Segregation Act, though it wasn’t unheard of for the Mayor to bend the rules now and then. Brand filed it away as he gave his hat and coat to a girl waiting inside. He showed her his press card before snapping her picture.

“Welcome to the Mayor’s Gala, Mr. Brand. And happy Valentine’s Day,” she said, showing him a crescent of perfect teeth framed by a ruby smile.

“Thanks. What’s good tonight?”

“I’m sure you’ll find something you like.”

Brand returned her smile and moved into the room, putting thoughts of dallying out of his mind. There was no quicker way to run afoul of Chicago City politics than to mix it up with the Mayor’s Office Ladies Auxiliary. Brand nudged by a couple to get to the bar. He sat down and waved to the bartender.

While he waited for his scotch to make its way from the back room into his glass, Brand looked around the room for familiar faces. He scanned the swirl of females in slinky dresses hanging off of business owners and other men of power. The Ladies Auxiliary were out in force tonight, he saw. Usually the Mayor wasn’t so free with his gifts. Something big brewing, Brand thought to himself as his eyes took in the crowd. In the middle of the tangle a throng of guests stood around the Mayor, who held forth with a glass of hooch in one paw and a thick stogie in the other. Emma Farnsworth sat off to the side at a table with a man and woman wearing dark clothes. Their outfits matched the dark looks the man kept casting around the room.

Brand moved through the crowd, quiet and humble, nodding and excusing himself for every brush of physical contact. He kept Emma Farnsworth in the corner of his vision and aimed his path to bring him by her table. He saw a spread of cards between Miss Farnsworth and the creepy couple. They weren’t playing cards though. These were illustrated with symbols and images of monsters and mythical beings. He’d seen them before, at another of the Mayor’s events. Some kind of fortune telling act the Mayor brought in to entertain his guests. Brand never gave them much attention, but with Miss Farnsworth involved, his curiosity bone itched like mad.

He walked up to the table and caught the gypsy woman’s voice through the din around him.

“. . .we shall meet again, Miss Farnsworth. Answers then.” The woman fell silent then and draped a scarf over the layout of cards. The man next to her looked up at Brand, who stared back at the gypsy couple. Where the woman filled in a firm but matronly shape that almost glowed, the man was a dull-tinted wisp of a human being, a skeleton in funeral clothes with a bowler on his head and a monocle dangling from his upraised fingers.

Emma turned to look at Brand but didn’t say anything. He could tell she’d been crying though.

“Miss Farnsworth,” Brand said, nodding a greeting at the couple. “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind talking with me about this afternoon. When you’re finished here I mean. I don’t want to interrupt.”

“Get lost, Brand. You already did interrupt.”

“Maybe later then,” he said, and walked away into the crowd. A couple of young men were leaving the dance floor, each with a girl on his arm. They’d seen the exchange with Miss Farnsworth and both gave Brand a questioning smirk.

“She didn’t want to dance,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and wishing he could send a fist into their beaks. Brand moved over to where he could hear what the Mayor was saying, but stayed out of sight behind a group of tall ladies sipping drinks and blowing smoke rings over the heads of two shorter men standing in front of them. A circle of the city’s wealthiest surrounded the Mayor, including the four principal investors on the World’s Fair project.

“Mr. Mayor,” said the chief investor, “we can’t expect average citizens to stand up to mob intimidation, and the police are at their limit.”

“And what’s this we hear about increased production quotas?” said another. “Are the governors really making Chicago City responsible for building this nation’s infrastructure?”

The third and fourth investors chimed in to concur and then the first piped up again. “Indeed! They seem to expect us to fuel and feed and manufacture for every territory in the nation! And we’re dealing with a menace. Crime like no other city has ever experienced. Why this massacre business—and that’s something else. Did you see that special edition of the Daily Record, Mr. Mayor?”

The Mayor balked, looking dumbfounded for a moment, and darted his eyes at the assembly around him. “I, um. . .”

“It’s got me worried, Mr. Mayor,” the chief investor said. “We all heard about it on the radio. That Brand fellow talked it up like it was bigger than the fire of ’71. But I haven’t been able to lay hands on a copy of that paper all day. And that’s not for lack of trying.” The crowd all nodded their heads in agreement, and Brand saw the Mayor’s confusion reflected in every face. It figured that the special edition had sold out fast, but Brand had expected to hear it from a few people tonight for printing the photo.

Another investor piped up to break the silence, but his question didn’t help lighten the mood. Not at first anyway.

“What I’d like to know is who’s got the scoop on this monster business? First it’s tearing up tramps. But that report Brand gave makes it sound like the thing has a taste for gangland flesh. What if it starts going for us?”

A small group exiting the dance floor stopped their conversations and turned their path to join the gaggle around the Mayor. The Mayor’s face had drooped with worry, like a kid with his hand in the candy jar. He shook out a breath between his heavy cheeks and puffed on his cigar while murmurs tumbled through the crowd around him. Brand listened, waiting for the Mayor to speak when a bird in a crisp suit and with glimmering teeth piped up. Brand hadn’t seen the guy before. He seemed to just appear in the middle of the crowd.

“Monster?” the guy said with a chuckle. “You mean like Frankenstein?”

Then someone else joked from behind the Mayor, “I thought Lon Chaney was in New York this time of year.”

“How can you tell with that guy?” somebody else said, getting in on the act. “He could be here in this crowd, right now!”

A woman nearby feigned shock and pretended to faint into her companion’s arms, nearly spilling his drink. Brand listened to the crowd laugh with his tongue clamped between his front teeth. The Mayor, on the other hand, found his stride in the crowd’s laughter.

“Friends,” the Mayor said, turning in a circle with a relaxed look on his face. “It is true. We have a threat in Chicago City, one that seems,” he paused, searching his thick head for the right words. “. . .beastly. But we cannot let panic rule our thinking. I’m certain that our city’s finest,” the Mayor used his cigar to indicate Detective Wynes, who stood outside the circle. “I’m sure they will have things under control soon enough.

“More importantly, my friends, we must remember that the real and very human source of all our trouble is The Outfit.” The Mayor let his words hang in the air for a moment. Brand scanned the crowd. Everybody had their eyes on the Mayor, and the shiny bird with the funny jokes was gone.

“But what do you propose to do about The Outfit, Mr. Mayor?” the chief investor asked, adding an extra helping of bluster. “I mean, really! What do you propose to do?”

“Quite simple. We shut them down.” The Mayor let a few gasps fill in the pause before rolling onwards, right over whatever the loud-mouthed investor had wanted to say. Brand had to stifle a laugh when he saw the chief investor stagger back. The Mayor actually put up a hand to shove the guy’s words back in his mouth.

“The way to shut down Capone and his organization isn’t to fight them. They make the rules in that game, so they’ve already won. If you want to beat The Outfit, you have to play by rules they can’t change.”

The group was listening, even the loud mouth, but nobody replied. The Mayor continued. “I mean take away their money. The source of all their power is the money they count on from their illicit enterprises. Why, just look at us, all sipping from glasses. And where do you think this lovely amber liquid came from?”

“Are you talking about ending Prohibition in Chicago City, Mr. Mayor?” Loud Mouth asked. “That would mean going against decrees signed by all four governors. Can we take that kind of risk?”

“The governors have made it clear they expect great things. And if there is a city in this nation that can deliver great things, it’s Chicago City! We can take that risk with Prohibition because we have to if we’re going to deliver what the governors expect from us. And the same goes for gambling. Prostitution, too. Why not? If we regulate the so-called vice industries like any other, we can ensure the workers are treated fairly and the city can take its share in taxes instead of slicing off the top to pay Capone. With their funding cut off, those men will have to find real work, real jobs. And then it’ll be our game, where we make the rules! As it should be,” he finished by raising his glass in a toast and then emptying it in one swallow.

“Hear, hear!” shouted a few of the assembled guests in chorus. Most of the crowd threw back whatever was in their glasses and went back to dancing and cavorting. A few in the immediate circle stared down into their glasses in between exchanging looks of concern. The Mayor paid them no mind. He’d noticed Brand and pushed between the tall ladies to speak to him.

“Mitchell Brand,” the Mayor said, clapping a hand on the reporter’s shoulder. “Here to cover the doings of Chicago City’s most trusted and trustworthy no doubt?”

“That’s a sure thing, Mr. Mayor. As you say.”

“Good. That’s good, my boy. Now, of course, you’ll refrain from mentioning anything else you might overhear tonight, as no official business can, indeed, should be conducted at a social gathering.”

“Of course, Mr. Mayor. Like you say, nothing official about tonight.”

“Well, that is good to hear, Brand. Very good to hear.”

Brand was set to ask about the evening’s entertainment, but before he could open his mouth a commotion rose at the entrance to the hall. A group of men in suits, hats, and coats marched into the room. Guests backed out of the way until the group reached the Mayor’s circle. Frank Nitti strode out of the clutch and shoved aside two of the fair investors.

“Mr. Mayor,” Nitti said, his voice heavy with a weight Brand hadn’t heard before. It was the sound a mountain of steel would make as it fell on you. “There are times. Things happen.”

The Mayor shuffled his feet once, casting a quick wary glance around the circle of guests watching the scene. “Yes, Mr. Nitti. I am aware that
things
happen in Chicago City. I am also aware that as Mayor it’s up to me to make sure the wrongs things don’t happen. This trouble—”

“Nobody wants trouble, Mr. Mayor. But there are times.” Nitti spread his hands and shrugged. “You know this. Right?”

“I know I’m enjoying the rewards of a friendship I didn’t choose, if that’s what you mean.”

Nitti’s face went slack and then sharpened in an instant. He grinned and threw a right cross like lightning, his gloved fist impacting low on the Mayor’s cheek. The thick set man spit out his cigar and dropped like a side of beef. He lay there holding his jaw and looking up at Nitti.

The band stopped playing and the room went quiet. People stood up and craned their necks to see the action.

“Mr. Mayor,” Nitti said, leaning down to look the man in the eye. His voice still heavy but sharper now, like a blade that sliced every thread of conversation in the room. With complete silence around him, Nitti went on. “Mr. Capone offers his sincere gratitude, Mr. Mayor. For the valuable service you have provided to Chicago City.” Nitti stood and caught Brand’s eye. His manner loosened up and a weasel’s grin curled onto his face.

“I believe we have already spoken. Mitchell Brand of the Chicago Daily Record.” Nitti’s voice softened further, but the knife edge remained. “I’ll remind you. Watch what you say on the radio. Certain ears may take offense at your tone of voice.” He gave Brand’s cheek a slap.

Brand nodded and kept his face hard, but he saw something in Nitti’s glare that made him take a step back. A golden glow flashed from the mobster’s eyes, disappearing as quickly as it came. In that moment, Brand felt a weight, like he’d felt from the mobster’s voice. It pressed against Brand’s chest and threatened to knock him off his feet with the slightest effort. Nitti and his boys turned to leave the way they’d come and Brand got his composure as the gangsters showed him their back. Whatever had happened with Nitti right then, it was gone.

Nitti and his group marched straight through the crowd, heading for the front door. Brand watched the gangsters leave. He couldn’t be sure because Nitti’s thugs had surrounded their boss again, but it looked as if Nitti simply vanished, winking out of sight as the group drew abreast of Detective Wynes. The copper looked to the Mayor, who had struggled to his feet. The Mayor waved to let the gangsters leave unmolested. He dusted himself off before shuffling out through a door behind the bandstand.

The party returned to normal after a bit and Brand circulated, chatting with guests about the special edition. Nobody in the room had seen a copy, which gnawed at him after awhile. His story had been hot off the press, but without the photo to back it up, he was just blowing hot air up the city’s caboose. After nearly an hour of people telling him they’d sure like to see the evidence, Brand’s dejection ate a hole in his gut and he left his half empty glass on a table. He was about to leave when Emma Farnsworth came at him from the direction of the powder rooms. At her approach, a faint scent of roses wafted between them. She looked cooler than when they spoke earlier, but still ready for war. “What did Nitti say to you?”

“What’s it to you? Besides, a newsman never betrays his sources.”

“Funny stuff. Look, Brand, Frank Nitti is putting the pinch on my father. If you know anything about it—” she let her eyes finish for her.

“That’s the spirit. Why don’t we sit down?”

“Fine,” she said and walked to a corner table.

Keeping things private
, Brand thought to himself. Good chance he’d get some dope he could use for a story, and the photos of her began to make some kind of sense in his mind. He still didn’t have all the pieces, but the frame was coming together.

“So what’s this about, Brand? Why are you really here? What do you know about The Outfit and my father’s plant?”

“How about one at a time? Why am I here? To get the dope on why the mob is interested in your father’s plant when everyone knows the old man’s betting low cards. And speaking of cards, what’s with the gypsy act? I didn’t know you went in for that sort of thing.”

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