Authors: AJ Sikes
The next morning, exhausted from the night before, Brand went into the Record offices early and made straight for the elevators. He got out on the fifteenth floor and stalked down the hall to Chief’s office. The boss was running his hands through his thinning hair when Brand came in.
“Thanks for saving me the trouble of calling you up here, Mitch. Before you get started, let me tell you what you don’t know and what you
going to do today. I wish it weren’t like this, Mitch. I do. But dammit, you ruffled the wrong set of feathers yesterday. As much as I hate to say it, with this suicide we’ve got a way out of the mess you made.”
Brand’s head turned around and his body followed. He went out and came back in again. “Yeah, it’s your office all right. But you lost me somewhere between the door and what you’re talking about.”
“Farnsworth. The old man. He shot himself last night. His daughter is missing, no gun found at the scene. But his secretary was there when it happened. She heard the shot, went to investigate, saw the old man’s brains on the wall behind him. She ran off then, but locked up like always. So the coppers have her held as material for now.”
Brand stood quiet for a moment. Should he say anything? Not about the ghostly tramp he’d seen on the steps outside the gala hall last night. No. Not a word about that. But if there was a connection between the old man killing himself and the Clark Street hit, and the coppers found out about it and came sniffing around the Daily Record. . .
“Meant to ask you about Farnsworth this morning, Chief. Guess I don’t have to now.”
“What about him?”
“The Outfit might have been running a patsy on the old man. Frank Nitti was out there at the plant yesterday, Emma Farnsworth, too. I ran into both of them before I went in to have a chat with ol’ Josiah. Didn’t get much, but I got enough to make it clear there’s more to find. Or maybe there was.”
“The Commissioner called, Mitch. You’re to cool it on the Clark Street thing. That’s what I meant about what you’re
doing today. Or any day. No more reports on the massacre, even if you think there’s a connection there. And you know I’m ready to believe you that there is. Just let it go away.”
Brand opened his lips to protest, but the look in Chief’s eyes took them both back to No-Man’s Land. Chief had been trying to get a wounded boy off the wall and back down into the trench. Artillery came in, just as a second line of boys was going up over the wall. Brand saw a lot of blood. Chief saw more, and too much more. His eyes now had the same look they’d had that day, and Brand got the message loud and clear. He took a deep breath and sat down in the chair beside Chief’s desk.
“Just send out a story about Farnsworth in print and do a radio bit. Keep it short, and nothing about the Outfit. Not on this story, and—not anywhere, Mitch. When your newsboys get in, I need them up here. The Commissioner’s on his way.”
“The Commissioner? What’s he want with the kids?”
“Got me. He says somebody higher up wants to personally debrief with them since they took the paper down to the streets.”
“Somebody? Somebody who?”
“I don’t know, Mitch. I’ve been on and off the horn with the Commissioner since yesterday. Way he tells it, somebody’s worried about the massacre getting the city in a panic. I’m surprised he didn’t have anything to say about the photo you grabbed, but maybe he’s just holding that one to hit me with later. If you don’t play ball, I mean. That’s from the Commissioner, Mitch. Everything I’m telling you here. It’s what he says.”
“Yeah? And what do you say?”
“Me? Hell, Mitch. You know me better than that. Now c’mon and get in line with the rest of us joes, hey? Send the kids up when they get in.”
Brand let it sink in. Sure enough, somebody wanted to scare the newsboys, and the same somebody wanted Brand to clam up, too. “You can have Digs and Conroy when they get here.”
“He won’t be in today, Chief. He came by my rooms last night.”
“You telling me you got the kid sauced and left him in your rooms to sleep it off?”
“I’m telling you that he came by my place after an appointment with Capone’s boys. They delivered him. Most of him. His left arm was missing and so were his legs at the knees. I’m betting you don’t want Digs and Conroy seeing anything like that. I know I sure as hell don’t.”
Chief stared at his desk and then let his eyes flick up to meet Brand’s.
“I’m. . .I’m sorry, Mitch.”
Brand let out the breath he’d been holding and clenched his jaw tight, forcing the tears and angry words back down his throat. All he could think about was Jenkins’ bloodied face. Holding his head in his hands, Brand said “You can tell the Commissioner or whoever it is that they don’t need to worry about Jenkins talking to anybody.”
Shaking himself to pull his heart out of his shoes, Brand stood to leave. Chief told him to wait. When Brand turned to look at him, he saw Chief’s eyes flashing on that look from the trenches again.
“Something else you need to tell me, Chief?”
“Yeah,” he said, the issue of Jenkins’ murder apparently forgotten. He lifted a page of notes from his desk and handed it across to Brand. “Three more dead tramps last night.”
“Where’d it happen?” Brand asked, feeling the room begin to spin. He fought to control the floor with his feet.
“Their camp. Over by the riverside. It isn’t going to be a pretty story, not by a long shot. Keep the blood on the QT. Stick to the facts and only as many as you need to make it news.” Chief was almost done, but then he let his fingertips rest together and brought them up to his lips.
“Just in case. I’d better get that picture box from you. No more nabbing shots from the crabs, at least not until things blow over a bit. It’s too hot right now.”
Brand felt the room settle around him. The spinning stopped. He looked Chief in the eye. “You’re not bluffing.” Brand passed the photo viewer through the stony silence. Chief tucked it into a drawer without looking at it, instead letting his gaze rest on the papers covering his desk while he chewed at the inside of his lips. Brand had seen Chief work his jaw like that plenty of times, and he knew it meant his friend had something else on his mind. Something that would stay unspoken. Brand spun on his heel and stormed out, heading straight for the lift. He needed the security of his office around him. Maybe he needed a slug from the bottle in his desk.
The lift stopped at the fourth floor and he got out, nearly running over the two newsboys he had left.
“Mr. Brand!” Conroy piped up with a grin on his mug. Brand tried to match the mood, but his face didn’t cooperate. Conroy’s grin slid off his face and Digs came up behind him, wearing the same worried look.
“What’s the story, boss?” Digs asked.
Brand told them about Jenkins, leaving out the details. Then he directed them up to Chief’s office for the debriefing with the Commissioner.
“I guess the Commissioner wants to know if any riots started when people saw the front page.”
“Well, hey,” Digs said. “That’s easy enough then, ain’t it? We can tell him like it happened. Didn’t one of us sell a single paper yesterday.”
“How’s that?” Brand demanded, rounding on the boy, who jumped back a step.
“Honest, Mr. Brand. I think Conroy here got the farthest of all of us, but, well you tell him,” Digs shoved his friend’s shoulder. Conroy gave Brand a sheepish look and then told him how it went down, how all three of them had been waylaid by teams of gangsters who picked up the whole set of papers and rolled off in their cars with them. The kid smiled when he got to the part about the guy handing him a sawbuck, but his face drooped when he mentioned Jenkins’ name a second later. Brand let him finish and ushered them into the lift for their meeting with the Commissioner. On the way back to his office he promised himself a double from the bottle. Knowing that every copy of the special edition had been nabbed by Capone’s Outfit gave Brand a sinking feeling. The mobster had it in for him on this story. Capone didn’t want word getting out about the crime scene. Brand remembered the touch of Frank Nitti’s glove on his cheek. The Outfit had no problem making more crime scenes for Brand, and if he kept it up they’d make him one special, all his own. At the door to his office Brand turned to watch the lift slowly rising away with Digs and Conroy inside. He hoped that whatever the Commissioner had to say it was short and sweet, but something told him the worst was yet to come.
Emma closed the door behind her quietly and slowly stepped down the porch steps. Snow began to fall, dusting the heavy coat Eddie gave her. She tugged it on tighter and looked back at the house, knowing Eddie was sleeping upstairs, alone. Their conversation from earlier played over and over in her mind as she went to the car.
“I don’t have anything to lose but you, Eddie Boy. But I can’t let them get away with this.”
“You’re talking crazy, Lovebird. Crazy as crazy gets. Come back in the house now. C’mon back inside before you give me the vapors. I love you, Emma. And you’re wanting to go out gunning for Frank Nitti like that don’t mean a thing, like I don’t mean nothing to you.”
She’d followed him back inside. Let him hug her. Hugged him back, tight and warm against him. “You do, Eddie, you mean everything to me. You’re the only thing I have left. But the Outfit took my family apart. Mom left when dad started drinking. He drank because he couldn’t keep up with the loans he took from Nitti to keep the plant running. I was a dope for believing his story about how mom ran off to live in the Seaboard with some guy from New York City. She left because she was sick of watching dad drink himself to sleep every night, and watching me clean up after him.”
“Dammit, I know it means we wouldn’t never have met, but what kept you from going with her?”
“She didn’t want me to go. I remember the day she left. She just looked at me from the door and blew me a kiss. I could tell she’d been crying, but she didn’t give me a chance to ask why. She just left me behind. She left me to make sure he had somebody to look after him.”
“And you did, and what’d he give you back for it? Huh? A lotta lip and not much else, some nice clothes maybe. This car here. But—”
Emma had cut him off with a look. Her father may have been a lot of things, but he’d looked out for her, given her chances other girls could never hope for. And he’d let her make her own way instead of insisting she go out and find a guy to marry her. Maybe he hadn’t been able to love her enough to trust her with running the plant, or maybe he was just protecting her from Nitti’s hooks.
“Emma, I know you had love for the man, but you told me plenty how you hated him, too.”
Emma had looked away, out the window, watching the snow fall on the muddy ground where it collected into grey and brown drifts against fences and porches.
“Maybe I did hate him, or maybe I didn’t,” she’d said, feeling Eddie’s hands caressing her shoulders, his breath hot on her neck. “Maybe I loved him like every girl loves her daddy, no matter how rough it goes on her to love him. And now he’s dead because that damn crook, that rat named Frank Nitti, got into my family’s cupboards and chewed holes in everything we owned. Everything we ate and drank, all the nice clothes, the furniture. The house I grew up in. All of it has his stink on it. He’s going to pay for that, and I’m the debt collector. Then we can go somewhere, just me and you, Eddie.”
“Where we gonna go?” he’d asked and smiled like she’d told him the funniest joke he’d ever heard. “A negro and a white woman in a car together? You gonna ride in back for the rest of your life?”
“We’ll go to New Orleans. You’ve still got family there, and friends. Miscegenation laws aren’t on the books there. People live separately, but you said they know well enough who loves who, and nobody makes a stink about it. Not at all if you stay out of the wrong clubs. Clara Lewis would still be alive today if she had just taken a riverboat out of town instead of stepping out a window in the Monadnock.”
Eddie’s face had gone cold. “Don’t talk like that, Lovebird. You talk about dying when you want to get me thinking you’re coming back, and I just know you ain’t if I let you drive off with that gun in your bag.”
Emma had kissed him, full and warm. She held him and let his arms encircle her, his hands sweep up and down her back, pressing her to him. The warmth of his body against hers was almost enough to distract her from her plan.
“Eddie, I have to do this. I have to payback Frank Nitti. In full.”
“Emma. . .I know The Outfit did your family a hundred ways of wrong, but you ain’t gotta do nothing but stay right here.”
She’d reached up to silence him with her fingers, but he caught them and brought his lips to hers. He held her hand tight, pulling her closer with his other hand in the small of her back as he stepped away from the window and to the bed. She fell with him, fell into the caressing and the squeezing, the fevered kissing and then the rhythmic movement of her body against his and his against hers, over and over in tandem with their heartbeats.
Eddie had dropped back onto the pillow when they’d finished, letting his hands fall to her thighs. She’d rolled to the side to lie next to him. She stayed there until he’d fallen asleep and then carefully stole back to the dressing cabinet where she stored a few changes of clothes.
Whispering through a blown kiss, Emma said, “I’ll be back, Eddie. And then we’ll leave this town. I promise.”
Outside now, with the snow collecting in her hair, Emma turned away from the house. She slid into the driver’s seat and started the car, casting one last glance back at the upstairs window. Eddie’s frightened face looked back at her and she ripped her gaze away. If she looked at him for just one more second, she’d lose her nerve and Nitti would get away clean as can be. And Emma Farnsworth had had enough of rotten men spoiling her life and getting away with it.
Brand felt like folding when he climbed into the cabin later that morning. His whole life felt like preparation for yesterday’s story. Getting the crime scene photo, putting out the news about Chicago City’s worst killing. Grabbing threads that brought one of the city’s oldest families into the picture. Nearly getting one of those threads connected for certain. And then watching the whole thing unravel in his hands.
The print copy of the Daily Record was on its way to the people with news about old man Farnsworth. Digs Gordon and the Conroy kid didn’t end up going to the Commissioner’s after all. Chief just called them in and let them know about Jenkins. They agreed to keep quiet, nodding their heads so fast Brand thought they’d spin their eyeballs backwards.
Brand spent time in the printing room, listening to the Brackston auto-press churn out the story on Josiah Farnsworth’s suicide and the dead tramps. He’d kept both stories clean, just like Chief said. It was easy enough for the story about Old Man Farnsworth, but the word he’d got back from the riverside turned Brand’s insides to jelly. Three men, shredded in their sleep. Hardly enough left to make sense of what had been killed much less who.
He wrote up a quick radio spot on the dead tramps, knowing he should keep it clean like he’d been told. But Brand couldn’t resist the urge to warn the people of Chicago City. The victims yesterday morning were top dollar, and today they were penny ante. If the murderer was a monster and decided to go after folks in between. . .Brand winced as he read the descriptions of the three dead men. Even though there wasn’t much left to describe.
Ladies and Gentlemen of Chicago City, this is Mitchell Brand with the Chicago Daily Record. Some disturbing news has come to us this morning. Three men, found murdered in their sleep last night. The men were among the noble class of residents who enjoy life by the riverside.
Down and out they may have been, but to die like. . .This reporter has been asked to keep the details under wraps, but for all our sakes a more thorough telling is called for. Be watchful, ladies and gentlemen. And be warned. Killers are on the loose in Chicago City, and we’ve all seen what they’re capable of.
For the full story on last night’s murders, catch a copy of the Daily Record. They’ll be sailing down to the streets within the hour.
Stay tuned, Chicago. And stay in touch.
He felt like the story called for more, but with his hazy head from last night’s long hours he couldn’t put his finger on what was missing. Just his luck, Chief knew exactly what was missing and rang Brand on the radiophone as soon as he’d shut off the mic.
“Brand, I said—”
“You said. And I heard. I also heard what you didn’t say, but I didn’t catch all of it. I’ve got the Farnsworth story to do, still. So unless you’ve remembered what you were chewing on upstairs, I’ll get back to the news.”
“Do me a favor, Mitch. I’m asking nice, but it’s all I can do not to say you’re fired. Just keep it on the QT as best as you can. You and me both know there’s more to say. There’s always more to say about every story comes through our hands. But sometimes you gotta play hush. It’s how the game goes, Mitch. You know that.”
Brand did know it, and he knew it had to be something heavy weighing on Chief’s head to make him bring that card into play.
“Okay, Chief. For you. For old time’s sake.” Brand let a little syrup coat his words, just so Chief knew he still wasn’t happy about being muzzled. Chief cut the connection after a grunt, leaving Brand still wondering what had gotten into his old friend’s head so deep that it would come to slapping a gag over Brand’s mic.
Archie would show up in a bit, to get them into the sky for the afternoon. The only thing on Brand’s docket until then was a radio report about Josiah Farnsworth. Thinking about that set Brand to grinding his teeth in frustration. If the old man had gone quietly in his sleep, it’d just be another society death. Brand could have dashed it off and forgotten the matter. But this death spelled more than tragedy for the society folks. It was tied up in a mess of dirty dealings. And it wasn’t the only one, Brand reminded himself. He wanted to say something about Jenkins, but both the Commissioner and Chief had sworn him to keep hush about it.
Brand settled into his chair and finished a smoke. He rolled another and lit it before reopening the broadcast link with the Record’s spire.
Good afternoon, Chicago City. This is Mitchell Brand again, with the Daily Record.
Today we mourn the loss of a city patriarch. Josiah Gabriel Farnsworth shot himself to death last night. He was a strong man. A powerful man.
Brand paused there, remembering the cards Madame Tibor had placed in his hand. Then he mentally kicked himself for letting hokum break his stride. He drew in a lungful and continued the report.
Josiah Farnsworth was also a man in a game with heavy competition. Maybe that tells us enough to understand why. We can only hope his surviving daughter, Emma Farnsworth, finds solace in her time of sorrow.
Brand reached to shut the mic off and then stopped. He saw the crime scene photo from yesterday in his mind. He saw the men and women who slogged it out in the factories every single day, just to make sure they could pay their rent, or the protection money, or the ransom. People who worked for chump change and used it up in the speaks that were owned by the same guy who prevented anyone from earning a decent wage. After a long drag on his smoke, Brand stabbed it out and kept talking.
It remains to be seen whether or not Frank Nitti’s visit to Farnsworth Wind and Water, which this reporter witnessed yesterday afternoon, is related to Mr. Farnsworth’s suicide. If anything is revealed about Josiah Farnsworth’s possible involvement with The Outfit, the Daily Record is committed to bringing you the truth about what happens in your city.
Stay tuned, Chicago. And stay in touch.
Chief would harsh him out for that, but Brand had taken enough from the world in the past twenty-four hours. The story was there, and he would follow it to its end somehow. The weight of the past day and night caught up to him as he stared at the radiophone, waiting for it ring. After fifteen minutes of nothing but the sound of wind outside the cabin windows, Brand scribbled a note and left it in the pilot’s chair. Then he staggered aft, stopping in the washroom to splash some water on his face before going back to his bunk.
Sleep came quickly, and Brand felt like it left just as fast. He jolted awake to the ringing of the radiophone by his head. Brand looked at his watch, but his weary eyes couldn’t make out the time. He grabbed the horn out of its cradle and grunted into the tube in the wall, ready to catch hell for his last broadcast. It wasn’t Chief though.
“Boss! You gotta get up here. Capone was arrested and they just shot the mayor.”
When Brand got into the cabin, Archie had the Vigilance over a municipal mooring deck. Fading light outside said it was late afternoon with a snowstorm blowing its way into the city. Flurries had piled up in drifts on the deck, and clouds lowered over the horizon like a falling curtain.
“Where are we?”
“Few blocks from an old machine shop. That’s where I saw the shooter’s car pull up.”
“They missed out. Whoever’s driving the car, he knows the streets like I know the sky. I had us overhead when it went down. Saw their car. Long sedan, like Nitti was driving at Farnsworth’s yesterday.”
“What happened with Capone; when’d it go down?”
“Like the Mayor said last night. He was gunning for Capone and his crew. They got him coming out of a warehouse full of hooch. Governor’s boys were there, too. Lots of them.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up? We should have been on that story.”
“I would’ve, boss, but sure enough the Governor’s boys would have kept us off, hey?”
Archie was right. Except for the times when Brand had got there first, like on Valentine’s Day, a G-man showing up meant that whatever story might have been there ended up being someplace else. And any story you did get from them wouldn’t be worth printing on a three-dollar bill.
“Who told you to cover the Mayor’s office?”
“Nobody. Got your note and figured I’d just circle around the hot spots like usual. Then I heard on the wire about Capone and I had us just a few blocks over. I got us overhead when the Mayor’s on the steps giving his speech about Capone. He’s talking big when this car comes up and
bang bang bang
and down he goes.”
Brand shrugged into his jacket. He pulled on his overcoat and hat as Archie dropped down to mooring level and radioed the gearboxes on the deck. The city’s automatons ratcheted the cables into place and radioed back that the ship was secured.
“Okay, boss. We’re set.”
Brand opened the cabin door and dropped the ladder.