Chapter 25

The Peace Offering

 

The Berghoff's service doors never swung to a complete stop. A waiter swept through, carrying a tray piled high with steins of dunkel Bier and caused a sudden "whoosh," followed by the slowing down, then another "whoosh" as a second waiter came through the doors. Emma stopped just short of the wildly swinging doors to the annex dining room as waiters hurriedly brushed past her. There was barely enough room to stand out of their way, since the Berghoff did not tend to unused space. Squeezed in next to her, Detective Wooldridge checked over Emma's costume, theatrical mole and all, one more time.

"Not much of the idle chat at Johnny de Pow's table should escape notice," Wooldridge observed, as he straightened Emma's wig, "between the two of us!" He cautioned Emma, "Now, be alert! Make a mental note of everything: names, names of bills, and places. Then write it as soon as you're back here on this pad by the door," he said, tapping the pad. "Otherwise, you'll forget!"

Emma nodded at the pad and glanced over her black wig in a copper frying pan that hung near the door.

"Don't fuss! Your wig looks fine, Emma!" Wooldridge insisted. "Look! No waiter's coming through. . .go on!" He smiled as he shoved her through the door. These beginners, bless their little hearts. They always froze up.

As Emma lurched through the swinging doors propelled by Wooldridge's hand, she faced an acrid cloud of cigar smoke. Ten feet ahead were four portly men seated at Powers's table. As if in a dream, they were surrounded by fog. She walked up to the table and began taking orders with Alderman Stanley Kimbell, whose furrowed brow and vertically-stitched, seamed face were the mask of a man who knew more than he was telling. . . and what he wasn't telling made him nervous. Powers cleared his throat and Kimbell looked up edgily, as was his habit whenever Johnny Powers cleared his throat. He ordered a dark beer. Emma moved on and asked George Williams, a squat balding man, for his drink order. Next she moved on to the table's head and took the drink order of Johnny himself, keeping her chin tucked down, lest he glance at her face too long and recall her from Yerkes's office. As Powers ordered a pitcher of dark beer, his stomach began to roll in waves. Even when he sat perfectly still his stomach did that. He actually seemed to have gained a couple of centimeters of girth since the few days before when Emma had seen him in Mister Yerkes's offices. Powers reminded Emma of the manatee she saw pictured in the encyclopedia, although she assumed that these were mainly inoffensive creatures, so perhaps it was better not to make such a comparison. On Powers's left was Alderman Lyman, a man so self-effacing and devoid of pronounced qualities that when words emerged from his gray ashen face, they too were gray. Lyman asked Emma for a mineral water in a gray tone.

Wooldridge had warned Emma to expect "paint stink" in the annex dining room, but it seemed that Mister Brendel was taking the day off, which took one smell from the "soup" in the air. She went back to the kitchen to fetch the drink orders. The four men were distracted and laughing as Emma approached their table with a heavy tray of water and beer steins.

"Say, Johnny, what do you think of the flyer?" said George Williams, grinning.

"What? Oh, flyer, yes. Explain to me again what the hook-up is with those blasted Tesla Coils, George." Johnny de Pow settled back in his deep oak captain's chair. He picked a mug of beer off Emma's tray and nodded at Williams to go on.

Well, Tuesday night's the big display of electricity in front of the Manufactures Building at the World's Fair," Williams nodded at each of the men. "They'll be opening with some of those 'flickers' from Edison's Kinetoscope. And as soon as those finish — boom!" he made a great arc with his two arms. "That's when they crank up the giant Tesla Coils! Giant cascades of sparks flying off those electrical coils will be lightin' up the whole fairgrounds basin! One Heck of a thing. What an audience that will make for your flyers!"

"I may have to go in wearing a pith helmet! Those Tesla Coil things look dangerous!" Powers shook his jowls in a shudder, genuinely impressed.

"You think there's any way we could hook a Tesla Coil up under Bathhouse John's bed?" Powers belly rippled out from his low chuckle. Kimbell laughed in a nasal whinny. Williams guffawed and wiped some suds from his chins. But Alderman Lyman, who had been distracted by the beginnings of a bout of dyspepsia had not realizing that this was a joke. He started to theorize how such a feat as hot-wiring Bathhouse John's bed to a Tesla Coil might be accomplished.

"Lyman, there you go, losin' the thread!" Williams slammed his hand down dramatically. Lyman bit at his handlebar moustache meditatively, stifling some acid indigestion that was working its way up to his lips. "The point of all this electrical talk is to connect Tesla and Edison in people's minds with our Johnny's Twin Wire Telephone Company."

"So, when the next vote goes before the Council, there'll be plenty of public push behind my Twin Wire Telephone Company!" Powers added. "It'll be. . . electrifyin' to the opposition!" They all snickered at this. But he had neglected to mention that this particular enterprise existed only on paper and was meant to be a vehicle for his New York speculator friends to reap a fast profit, before it caved. But, then, why explain the obvious? Kimbell knew and the others didn't care. Powers stretched his hands and clasped them behind his head, staring up at the ceiling in a smoke dream of victory. He smiled contentedly at his hazy vision of the mounting swell of sentiment backing his Twin Wire stocks. "That'll give 'em something to think about! Order a thousand of those flyers. Get the old boy who's painting the mural here to draw some thunderbolts on them or something," Powers told Williams.

Emma stopped at the pad in the kitchen and made her first list: "Tesla Coil" and "Twin Wire Telephone Company". She nodded to Wooldridge. "They didn't suspect me," she explained, seeing his raised eyebrow as a question. Now it was his turn to go on stage. The women acted as bussers only at Berghoff's. All the main waiting was done by male waiters.

Detective Wooldridge made a last tug on his black bow tie and checked out his center-parted, greased-down hair in the frying pan. He didn't bother to ask Emma how he looked. He looked splendid. He always looked good in his waiter costume. Besides, it wouldn't do to show any nerves in front of a green beginner. As Wooldridge neared the table, Johnny and the boys were still laughing at the antics of Bathhouse John. Alderman Coughlin, who appeared to them a harmless buffoon, was a neverending source of mirth. "I'm not joshing you on this one, Johnny!" Kimbell chuckled, straining the creases in his seamy face to the cracking point. "Did you hear anything so off-key as the Bath's singing, other night at Yerkes's party?"

"One at the World's Fair he gave in honor of the big telescope?"

"Yes. That's the one."

Powers nodded solemnly. "A cryin' shame they let a mental condition like that wander around free in th' streets of Chicago!" The others mumbled assent.

Alderman Lyman clucked his tongue. "It's no wonder that Mister Yerkes has no high opinion of the cultural level of Chicago, with caterwallin' like that!"

Kimbell shot Lyman a nervous glance. "He said that to you? Yerkes said that?"

"Oh, no!" Lyman shook his head, smiling. "Isn't it just common knowledge? All those European and New York trips Mister Yerkes takes to clear his head from our crudeness."

"Well, the Bath sure ain't helpin'!" Powers cut in, with a vicious chomp on the cigar. He smiled. "But. . .give the creature its due. The man's a genius of self-promotion!"

"How so?" asked Kimbell, his eyebrows twitching up and down.

Powers nodded toward the south. "Down there. On the Levee. Why, don't you know? He's got every whorehouse pianist playing that awful song he wrote!" He shook his head. "Even the Everleigh Club—posh as that place is! It's all you hear down there: 'Dear Midnight of Love'! Bah! Next he'll be teachin' the damn thing to Carrie Watson's parrot!"

"Excuse me, gentlemen," Wooldridge stood attentively at Johnny's right elbow," but may I have your dinner orders?"

Like iron filings following a magnet, everybody went for Sauerbraten the minute Johnny ordered it, even Lyman, who knew Sauerbraten would stir up his dyspepsia. He ordered "the same". . .and winced.

Wooldridge floated back and forth between the kitchen and the annex dining room with the numerous orders of side courses for the Powers table. As he passed by Johnny with a second round of red cabbage, his pulse quickened. They were speaking in shorthand sentences about some coming action. Just to come back sooner, Wooldridge swept his finger across a teaspoon near the edge of the table, causing it to drop on the floor. "I'll be right back with a clean one," he stage whispered near Alderman Lyman's ear and hustled off to the kitchen. Lyman nodded and waved a hand dismissively.

Wooldridge jotted the words "Lyman Measure" quickly on the little pad. And then he swept back out the swinging doors. It's something to do with this Lyman Bill, Wooldridge thought as he floated around the table, asking what else he could get for the gentlemen.

"I'm about as potted as one of those grouse over on the mantle," quipped George Williams, patting his generous waistline. "But. . .no. . .I think I might just be able to fit in one tiny square of Apfelstrudel." The others groaned at the very thought.

"Is that all. . .er. . .for everyone?" The rest of the men mumbled and nodded.

"It had better be all!" Williams mused, not realizing who had spoken. "Foxy Ed Cullerton told me that Harrison's gang are up to no good. So we'd better get that roll call order fixed, and. . .who said that? Oh! Yes, that's all!" Wooldridge nodded crisply and turned back to the kitchen.

"Next Monday night's a special session. Then!" Johnny said as Wooldridge neared the doors, but then he stopped until Wooldridge had gone through the doors again. Now Wooldridge was in a panic. He knew something would slip out if they could only stay out there! He snapped his fingers at Emma, pointed urgently to a water pitcher and the doors. She hurried back out the swinging doors. Wooldridge stood still and recalled his keywords with closed eyes. He licked the tip of the pencil and wrote "Foxy Ed Cullerton" and "next Monday night's council session".

Emma held the sweating iced pitcher of water almost in front of her chin as she approached Johnny de Pow. "More water, gentlemen?" She said, keeping her chin as low as possible, without looking contorted. She caught the end of something about "peace offering" from Alderman Kimbell.

"I'd like to throw that Bathhouse John into a large shark tank for some REAL piecemaking!" said Johnny. The men laughed, hiccoughed, wiped suds from moustaches. "You don't think I'm spoiling them with one percent of the gross, do you?"

Lyman shrugged. "I feel the same as anybody here. You just can't shut up those two yapping dogs of Harrison's without a little bacon."

"Too much bacon!" Alderman Williams looked indignantly around the table. "One half a percent would have been plenty. . ." Emma poured Williams's glass up to the full line.

"Ah, that's fine, Miss!" Williams waved Emma away with some annoyance and the others grew quieter until she left.

Emma went to the pad and wrote "one percent of gross" and "peace offering." She wondered if any of this would make sense to Alderman Coughlin or the Mayor. Detective Wooldridge came over to view the list of words and phrases. He squinted and scratched the back of his head.

"I'd better get out there with the tab!" Wooldridge shot a glance out the window in the service door and reached into his starched white apron. He burst back through the swinging door before Powers had a chance to call for service. A minute later Wooldridge reappeared through the door. He set the tab carefully in the "paid" file. He said a few words to the waiter in charge. Then he and Emma swept out the kitchen exit and hopped into Wooldridge's one-horse shay for the sprint to the Mayor's office. Emma rode along, flushed with excitement.

Emma and Wooldridge rushed into the Mayor's office with their news just in time to see Anton emerge from Mayor Harrison's office.

"But what are you doing—?" both Anton and Emma started to question each other, but stopped. Anton chuckled, "They say 'All roads lead to Rome', but here in Chicago, it's to the Mayor's Office!"

Emma frowned. "Yes, well, I am catering some parties for the Mayor."

"Hence your outfit." Anton observed Emma's waitress garb dubiously.

"Yes." Emma's look said not to pursue the matter.

"And I just came in to. . .check on some zoning regulations for the Streets and Alleys Commission. . ." smiled Anton.

"Of course," Emma said, not caring in the least what brought Anton to see the Mayor. At least he seemed to be in a good mood and not still imagining slights or grievances. "Tell Maminka I'll bring those dress patterns for Julka over this evening. And I think Vina Fields wants Maminka to sew her some green velvet dresses for the New Year's ball. So, I'm bringing those patterns, too."

"I'm sure Maminka will be glad to get them. You know. . .she tells all the ladies how proud she is of you, going around and helping that Miss Addams." Anton looked down. His mother took his money but never a word escaped her about how proud she was of him.

"Well, I've got to get back to work," Anton tipped his cap to Emma. "Nice to see you looking well."

Emma shook her head after Anton had gone. She wondered what had brought him in to see the Mayor.


 

Mayor Harrison could do nothing but smile when Johnny Powers waddled into the packed council chambers at the head of his cronies. The Powers' clique huffed about, greeting each other loudly with as many special winks and nods as a train conductor's lodge order. But none of this ruffled the mayor's serene mood. Mayor Harrison pulled his spectacles down low over his nose and slowly drew out the plan from his vest pocket. Young Klima had delivered just the paper he needed. The mayor spread and smoothed the paper flat. Harrison grinned at Powers, who scowled back and snatched at a bag of gum drops, throwing a handful of candies into his mouth. Powers chomped furiously on the gum drops and glared about him, surveying his troops' strength. "What the hell has the Mayor got to grin about?" Powers whispered out of the side of his mouth to one of his lieutenants. "We'll soon wipe that smile off his mug!"

"Look at this, Powers!" hissed an old man from up in the gallery. Powers looked up and the grizzled old fellow waved a noose above his head. "That's what you're going to get if you rob this city again!" Several others also waved their nooses. Powers noted uncomfortably that there were more than a dozen determined-looking constituents holding nooses that dangled over the railing. The men were doubled up two-to-a-seat along the rugged benches in the galleries. But Powers had seen such temporary fits of pique before and he chose to brush them off, waving a hand dismissively.

"There'll be drinks on the house after tonight's meeting over at the Club!" He shouted up to the galleries.

"Save your drinks, man! We're onto you!" the old man with the noose shouted back.

The Mayor rapped his gavel. "Let us have some order here! Now, I expect that the galleries will keep order, since the fire marshalls have informed me that we are dangerously overcrowded tonight. Therefore, I must warn our citizens in the galleries that no outbursts of any sort will be tolerated. . ." The Mayor opened the meeting with a request to go over old business and Alderman Coughlin immediately jumped to his feet with his latest dress reform legislation. The aldermen dozed through the Coughlin antics, which the crowd enjoyed no end. Dress reform covered the old business. Coughlin sat down flushed at the victory of his skirt length bill.

"What is the first order of new business, then?" the Mayor called. One of the reform-backed Aldermen, Bill Mangler, shouted that they should consider the Allen Traction Bill first, "because we need all that we can get from the Loop traction companies!"

"How much are you gettin'?" shouted a Coughlin supporter from the gallery. Coughlin winked up at his boys, one of whom rattled a cow bell.

The Mayor rapped his gavel, announcing " 'Order' means no cow bells, too!"

Mangler sputtered and shook a fist at the gallery. "I dare you to come down here and say that!" But his words were greeted by a silent flutter of confetti from the crowd above. The council chambers were stiflingly hot, so the fire marshalls flung open the doors. A drum and bugle corps in the corridor thought this signalled a recess and struck up "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", causing Mayor Harrison to send out a marshall to order a halt to the music. The Mayor mopped his brow, appreciating how a ringmaster at the circus must feel.

One of Yerkes's stalwarts used his turn to call for regulation of the local "Trust Press," who went about impugning the character of Chicago's leading citizens. Hisses rose among the gallery-sitters. Alderman Carey, slated next, chose to devote his alotted time to praise for "Bathhouse John's strenuous work in the cause of reform and the public interest."

Stifled laughter ensued from the gallery. Seeing the fire marshalls had gone, the drum and bugle corps in the corridor stubbornly struck up "Auld Lang Syne". The Mayor considered having the group ejected, but he decided, instead, to leave them. Music would add a festive note to what the Mayor hoped would be a landmark meeting, because now they were about to move on the Lyman ordinance amended to the Allen Bill.

"Are you ready to vote on the Lyman Ordinance, gentlemen?" shouted the Mayor. Harrison knew that this ordinance was a "public pleaser". . .a way to milk the public but to seem to reimburse it. Instead of a tax, the Lyman Bill allowed the traction syndicate to pay three percent of the gross receipts over a certain limit of miles to the city. The catch was that no trolley line ever reached the minimum, so no revenues. But the public wouldn't know that. The ordinance sounded very pleasant to the public's ear. Mayor Harrison gave a "thumbs up" signal to Bathhouse John. It was Coughlin who had convinced the Mayor to go easy on this Lyman Ordinance in order to win the bigger battle. The Mayor only hoped the Big Fellow was right.

The roll call proceeded up to Alderman William Mavor, a supporter of the Mayor's. Powers looked up mildly and threw a handful of gum drops in his mouth, as Mavor bounded to his feet. "I move" Mavor said, "that we reconsider this Lyman ordinance and how it was referred to the Committee on Railways!"

Powers chuckled and snapped his suspender. He swivelled his head to wink at Lyman. Lyman shrugged. Powers scratched his head, but said nothing. His supporters took Powers's silence as a signal to agree to this minor maneuver. He threw a few more gum drops in his mouth and nodded. Let the Harrison boys enjoy themselves while it lasted. he pulled out his pocket watch and noted that, by his count, the roll call should be reaching Alderman Kimbell and his substitute measure in about five minutes. Powers leaned forward in his seat, propping his jowls on his clasped hands, and watching this re-count charade with just the hint of a smile.

The Lyman Ordinance won handily at 40 to 23. Then Mavor shouted, "I now present a motion to take the bill from the Committee on railways."

Powers just threw a double handful of gum drops into his mouth and said nothing. He couldn't see anything important in that Lyman Ordinance that compared to the truly important substitute measure that his own man Kimbell was about to introduce. So, the second motion by Alderman mavor also passed.

Alderman Kimbell was growing weary of waiting his turn on the roll call. "What kind of games are we playing here?" he demanded. "An ordinance has to go to some kind of committee. Where is this one supposed to go to roost? I can't see the Alderman's point in all this!"

The point now began to hit Alderman Kimbell squarely between the eyes, as Mavor licked his lips and proceeded, rolling an unlit cigar between his teeth. "I wish," Mavor grinned, "to present a motion to refer the Lyman Ordinance to the Committee on City Hall!"

Aldermen began shouting objections from all sides. Johnny Powers choked on a gum drop and had to have his back thumped by an aide.

"So. . .!" Powers managed to gasp between chokes, "So that's what all the weird business was about!" Powers himself had secluded all Mayor Harrison's supporters himself by appointing them to this unimportant committee. And they could now sit on the bill and choose not to meet until after the state legislature had repealed the umbrella Allen Bill. If he could have brought through his city ordinance before the public turned against the state level traction concession, it would have stuck! His Lyman Ordinance had every right to stick! There they all sat: Powers's sure votes on the bill, all bought and paid-for fair and square. And what was worse, paid-for with Yerkes's money. And Yerkes expected a big return on his money or would want to know why. Those Harrison people had known, somehow, when Powers would have dropped his trump. They had known to make their own moves before Kimbell took his turn. How? Powers's head ached as he began laboriously to make his excuses for the boss.

Mayor Harrison smiled down at Anton's list of speakers, with the star after Kimbell's name. He rapped with his gavel and called for the ragged remains of other business as the reporters all made for the exits to make their papers' last editions. A fleeting glimpse of tomorrow's headlines danced through the Mayor's mind:

UNSTOPPABLE TRACTION MAGNATE YERKES STOPPED COLD

The Mayor nodded at Bathhouse John and tapped on his desk with a pencil as Alderman McCroy once again pushed for tighter restrictions on the grading of avenues and thoroughfares. The Mayor watched as some of the noose-holding crowd were beginning to file out of the galleries. This had been a long night, but one he had long dreamed of. What would Yerkes do now that he was known as a man who could be beaten? The Mayor wondered what ripple effect all this might have over on North Michigan Avenue.

Anton walked out of the gallery with a wave of reporters rushing to meet their deadlines. He remembered how at William T. Stead's provocative words about the rights of citizens and workers in Chicago he had crept out of that big meeting at Central Music Hall. Was this his life? Always to be slinking down some back stairs from someone else's big meeting? He stuck his hands in his pockets and turned at the corner. A know of men stood smoking cigars and slapping each other on the back. Harrison supporters, no doubt, thought Anton. He walked silently by, looking around lest any Powers men saw him and guessed that he had leaked the order of speakers to the Mayor. A loud, deep voice called his name. Anton jumped. He started to sprint away without looking back.

"Wait! Wait now, lad. It's me!"

Anton recognized the walrusy tone in that voice and slowed his pace to look behind himself. Anton turned and walked over to Alderman Coughlin.

The Bath clapped a meaty hand on Anton's shoulder.

"That was a fine thing you did there, Anton!"

"How fine, Alderman? It's going to lose me my job, once they find out, for sure! Anton shrugged. "But I couldn't take anymore of the kinds of things that I was starting to slide into doing. I didn't like the looks that I was getting going to those big restaurants with Yerkes's boys."

"Yes. . .but these is hard times, boy," Bathhouse John cautioned Anton. "And I hear we're in for one devil of a winter. They say the bottom will fall out of our city once this here Fair leaves. Rest of the country's is in a deep economic slump already." The Bath looked towards the lake from where a cool wind seemed to be blowing. "you shouldn't be too quick to give up any job in these days."

"I know. I'll be out there looking again. But a person needs to have . . .some kind of. . ."

"Self-respect? I could see you weren't gettin much over with that mangy pack of hooligans. I must write another Ode to that Pack of Hyenas. . .yes. Tell you what," Bathhouse John said suddenly, putting a finger to the side of his nose sizing up Anton. "You come around my office in about two or three days. Mind! Stay close to home until then. Powers might want to rearrange your face a bit, if you take my meaning."

"I do."

"And I think I can find you something." Anton tugged at his collar in a feeble attempt to shield his face and hustled out of the light to a dim side of the street..


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