Lucy Flynn's latest pictorial platitude shouted from behind the bar:
Home itself was depicted in time-honored cadences of rusticity: a simple stone cottage, covered with what looked like bones but were intended to be vines. Lucy Flynn had run out of green floss and had made ecru stand in for the vines. She had hoped that the ecru vines would suggest autumn leaves, but most of Flynn's patrons asked pointedly, "Whatever got into your good woman to put up such a cottage, all covered with bones?" Floating above the vine or bone-covered home, like some cumulo-nimbus clouds, were large, rosy hearts. The hearts were rather more traditional, both in shape and color. "Red" Flynn didn't mind the comments from his patrons. After all, he told himself, it wasn't everyone who could appreciate art. He caught Lucy's latest out of one eye as he took up another whiskey glass to dry. Then the clock struck seven.
"Almost time for the meetin', isn't it?" Flynn asked the Bath, who was sitting in front of him at the bar.
"It's why I'm here," the Bath reached for a handful of peanuts and tossed them into his mouth. "Do you think my bill on skirt length has a chance in this committee?"
"Skirt length, is it?"
"Why not? Such things as skirt length have a marked effect on the morale of a place, Joseph," the Bath said, frowning.
"Indeed, they do," Flynn grinned.
"T'is for the purpose of female modesty that dress reform bids there to be no raisin' of hems in Chicago," said Bathhouse John.
"Sorry to hear it," said Flynn.
"But no lengthening, either," the Bath gestured at his non-existent hem. "Moderation, Joseph. Moderation in all things is my compass though this weary world."
"Are you tellin' me, John, that there's no more pressing—" Flynn stopped short, his attention fixed on the procession of Powers stalwarts filing into the bar. He breathed on the whiskey glass, began buffing it vigorously, and whistling "After the Ball is Over."
Staring off dreamily above Lucy Flynn's ecru fantasia, the Bath felt inspired. He opened his mouth to recite a couplet on dress reform of skirt lengths when his jaw froze at the sound of a loud voice braying behind him, "Hey, Red, my boy! That'll be free drinks all around!" Despite the fact that the Bath took the "all around" to include himself, he was not cheered, especially since the voice went on, "My friend Hinman here has put the fool's cap on the radical reformers. . .Go on, step up, Henry, and tell them your next editorial banner!" The Bath slowly turned on his stool to view Powers and company.
But Hinman wasn't budging from his chair at Powers' table. He just stared blankly as Powers nudged his elbow. "Oh, it's his first meetin' and he's just shy. Here's one!" said Powers, pulling a sheet off the table, holding it before himself and declaiming:
"Inspired writing!" Powers beamed. "Now, see?" He sat down and nudged Hinman again. "Was that difficult?" Powers guffawed along with the stalwart cronies. "Some of our most high-toned, blue stockings have dipped their petticoats in the Back-o-the-Yards mud." Renewed gales of mirth from Powers' boys.
"You're talkin' through your hat, Johnny!" the Bath exploded. He jumped up to face Powers. "Why are you runnin' the good woman's name down in a place like this?"
"Place like what?" demanded Flynn, slapping lightly at Bathhouse John with his bar rag.
"Never mind, Red, a mere figure of speech," apologized the Bath.
"You, Johnny! What do you mean by 'known criminals?'"
Powers bit at his moustache and glared at Bathhouse John. "It ain't my business to be pointin' a finger, but the 'known criminals' are within spittin' distance!" Powers said, spitting into the large brass spittoon next to his table. His cronies howled, wiped back tears of laughter, and slapped the table.
The Bath's eyes started out of his head, but Flynn caught him by the arm. "That's a blasted lie and you know it! I've never heard anything so blazing malicious since that Civic League put out a flyer sayin' that I was born in Waukegan!" he sputtered.
"Pipe down, there!" Powers ordered. "This is a meetin', you know." Powers looked about himself and noted pleasantly that his followers outnumbered those of Bathhouse John. "And any more such outbursts or other mischief from you," he glared at the Bath, "and you'll find you'll have trouble operatin' even a peanut stand in the Loop!"
"You ought to be operatin' a peanut stand, yourself!" the Bath countered. His friends roared.
"Well. . .er, gentlemen, perhaps we should count this as a draw and move on to other business," suggested Flynn, raising his hands like a boxing referee above his round face, and smiling.
The Bath sprang to his feet like some elephantine gazelle. "That's fine with me! On to the night's work, then. I propose this year's dress reform for the ladies of Chicago!" He smiled and turned to survey the source of the groans coming from the vicinity of Powers.
But Powers himself paid no heed. He picked his battles with Coughlin carefully. He spoke up, wearing a serene smile, "And what does my esteemed colleague, the Alderman of the First, propose?" At this invitation, the Bath launched into his famed defense of Chicago ladies' virtue. While he rattled on, several Powers cronies played mumbly peg with a jack knife on the floor. "Call for a vote!" Powers ordered. His stalwarts shouted "aye" and that was that. Skirts in Chicago were going nowhere for the foreseeable.
The meeting wore down amidst veiled threats and general hilarity.
At one point, Powers attempted good-naturedly to push through his dummy Twin Wire Telephone Company bid for priority on city telephone hook-ups.
The Bath just chortled and raised an eyebrow. His men—plus a few swing votes from the Powers hangers-on—soundly defeated the move.
The Bath knew his silent glances had been registering among Powers' less emphatic supporters. "If you think Mayor Harrison doesn't know by know who the Twin Wire boy is, it's you who are livin' up a telephone pole somewhere!" huffed the Bath.
"Yes, and when I introduce MY dress reform motion in the next session, we may see skirts shoot up higher than a Missus O'Leary's Cow, too!" Powers muttered and struck the table with his gavel, "Meetin's adjourned!"
"Why—you—!" Flynn once again caught the Bath by the arm, as was his habit at these affairs.
"Let them have their fun, John," Flynn winked, "because it's the wise who save their efforts for where it'll count."
"Oh? Where's that?" the Bath blinked.
"The council chambers, man!"
"But the pain of it, Joseph!" the Bath slumped on his elbows and hung his head. Powers' cronies were filing out after their patron and a few insulting asides floated back to the Bath. "Who cares about those morons?" he waved his hand dismissively. "Hinman's just a mouthpiece for Yerkes. But why," he looked searchingly at Flynn, . . .why have the other papers been so terrible to me?"
Flynn shrugged and went back to wiping his glasses.
"You'd think," continued the Bath, "the Trib or some of the others would lighten off me a bit, since I'm takin' my life in my hands by defendin' Chicago from Yerkes and his thugs."
Flynn wrinkled his forehead and shoved a plate of pickled tongue in front of the Bath by way of a reply.
"No," Bathhouse John managed to sputter, as he chewed a slice of pickled tongue, "the papers don't make it any easier to trod the narrow path, is all I'm saying!" He gagged a bit on the tongue, shaking his well-brushed pompadour that peaked over his face like a rising vote of confidence. "But at least we have a plan!"
"Oh? Glad to hear that!" Flynn leaned towards the Bath conspiratorially. "What's your plan, then?"
"But I can't be tellin' you or who knows where it'd travel. . .I mean. . .you bein' a publican and all, no offense," said the Bath.
"No offense taken!" Flynn smiled and sighed. "It really is a beauty, isn't it?"
"Which?" asked the Bath.
"Our Lucy's needlework," Flynn beamed on his wife's artistry as he finished wiping the glasses.
"Ah, yes, that it is, Red. Well, I'll be leavin' you now!" said the Bath, taking up his boater from the bar.
"Give my best to your colleagues!" said Flynn.
Detective Wooldridge helped Emma into the black wig. Jane looked on semi-disapprovingly as he began expertly to apply the putty to the bridge of her nose.
"Oh! Watch the putty!" Emma wiped at her eye.
"Don't rub it, girl!" Detective Wooldridge handed Emma a wet towel. "Just drip water into your eye and let that putty roll on out. No, if you rub, it may burn. . ."
"Please be careful!" Jane cautioned. "I don't want to see her hurt."
"Oh, stop being a mother hen, now!" Detective Wooldridge smiled over at Jane. "She's tougher than you think. Isn't that right, Emma?"
"R-r-ight, I suppose I am," Emma said, in mid-swipe at her eye.
"There! Look!" Wooldridge held a small mirror up to Emma's face. "Your own mother wouldn't know you!"
"I believe the important question is whether Alderman Powers will recognize Emma," Jane commented drily. "Do you really think that mole is necessary? It looks so—so—theatrical."
"Because," Jane squinted, "it looks just a bit artificial from here. . ."
Wooldridge snorted. "Nonsense! I've been putting on moles, warts, scars. . .and I don't know what else. . .since I was a lad! No one's ever called me on one of them, yet!" Despite, or perhaps because of this burst of enthusiasm, Jane shook her head. "And don't forget the lighting in that back room is dark enough that you can hardly see the foam on your beer."
"I wouldn't know about that 'foam on my beer', Mister Wooldridge," Jane went on. "I only want Emma to know that she needn't do this."
"No! I must. . ." Emma blurted. "there's something you don't know about me and I've been afraid to tell." She looked down, unable to meet Jane's glance. "I hope you won't hate me, but I'm 'Windy!'"
"What do you mean, you're windy?" Jane felt she was missing something here.
"The column writer for Yerkes' newspaper!" Emma shuddered.
"The one who's been writing those awful, snide things about what you do here. That's me!"
Jane's eyes widened. "But, why on earth? Emma, why?"
"I only wrote part of those columns, the friendlier parts. Yerkes has an editor named Martinson and he would re-write every column before they printed it! He added all the attacks on you. . ." Emma wrung her hands. "Believe me! I never wrote those things about you and Hull House!"
"I see. . ." Jane said, feeling too stunned to know what it was that she did believe.
"So, to make it up to you," Emma took a deep breath and sighed. "I want to help Alderman Coughlin get some information on Yerkes' group of thugs."
Jane waved her hands,as if shooing chickens. "I take it you're no longer in his employ, then?" Emma shook her head. "I don't care about that. It's done with. Sometimes we even laughed because the attacks were so far-fetched." Jane smiled. "I wondered why Windy seemed different as of a couple weeks ago. . ." Jane patted Emma's hand. "Heavens, I should say that it—parts of it—seemed better-written!" They all laughed. "And it vexed me that it seemed that someone who was very close to this place, who knew all our doings, was writing such things.
Still, you don't have to do this. You're so young and it could involve risk. . ."
"Not with my disguise!" Wooldridge beamed at his creation.
"I'm ready, Mister Wooldridge. Don't worry," Emma checked her face in the mirror and turned towards Jane. "Not too bad, is it?" Jane nodded.
"Well, then, let's be off!" Wooldridge snapped the straps around his disguise kit and stood up in his nattiest waiter's attire. "Disguise number 31."
"You look quite convincing," Jane said.
Wooldridge preened and expanded his chest to show off the crimson cummerbund to advantage. He loved it when they noticed.
Jane started to the door, just as a breathless resident thrust an envelope at her. The woman blew a strand of hair out of her face and gasped, "Someone left this," she stopped short to catch her breath from the dash down the hall. "She said it was urgent!' A second after opening the note, Jane gasped and let it fall from her hand, with a groan. "It's another of those!" A sick look came over her face.
"Another of which?" asked Wooldridge, scooping the note off the floor. "May I?" He sniffed at the paper, tapped the side of his nose.
"Nose like a bloodhound," Wooldridge volunteered modestly. "That's what they say about me!" He turned the note over and held it up to the light from the window, noting that the writing was a ragged scrawl, almost childlike. "Hm, she misspelled 'vengeance' here. . ." He pointed at the word, then sniffed the note again.
"She?" Emma and Jane both exclaimed at once.
"How do you know this is a 'she'?" Jane asked. "Maybe a man just poured some scent and. . ."
"Au contraire, I would know Mary Hastings' stink water anywhere!" Wooldridge waved the note in their faces. "I think the Alderman needs to make a call on Mary, since he has, you might say, a kind of influence over her."
Bathhouse John went down the usual street to Mary Hastings', thinking the usual thoughts: far be it from him to be judgin' the miserable sinner that she was an' all. . .But this was not the usual pleasantries. No, this time Mary had gotten herself into some terribly bad company and he would have to call for an accounting.
As he rounded the corner to Customs House Place, Bathhouse John thought the lights looked a bit dimmer in Mary's bordello. And the jingling piano was still. As he walked up the steps, he heard the wildest kind of wailing: dismal, like the keening of a banshee.
"Mary!" the Bath called to the woman draped over a love seat, like a pattern of grief. The other girls filed upstairs so Mary could have a meeting with the Alderman. He waited until they had gone.
"What's the matter here?" the Bath asked, looking at the black crepe, decorating the dusty mantle.
"It's our Maggie, John!" she wailed. "Maggie Darling, the little Irish girl from Boston has gone and died!" she blew her nose loudly. "And God is my witness, we all loved that girl. . ."
"What did she die of, then?" the Bath raised an eyebrow.
Mary patted her hair nervously. "Why, it was the pneumonia. . .yes, that's right. Pneumonia was what killed her."
Bathhouse John asked pointedly. "Or maybe starvation, was it?"
"Who, no!" we feed all our. . .!"
"Or maybe from the bad batch of opium I heard of last week?" the Bath folded his arms. "It's no use your playing at house mother for me, Mary. We all know you use the girls too hard here," he paced the floor. "But that's beside the point. I came on an errand."
"What can I do for you then, Alderman?" Mary dabbed at her eye with a silk handkerchief, raising a crepy arm to wipe her brow, attempting to smile bravely. She noticed that Bathhouse John had strolled toward the buffet where a few light refreshments stood ready for gentlemen callers. "You're welcome to have some of the Virginia ham," Mary added, thinking that she had seldom seen Coughlin behave so unpleasantly to a neighborhood business proprietor.
"No, no eatin' over this corpse for me, thanks!" the Bath frowned, his stomach protesting the refusal. "Enough of small talk and blatherin'! What's Yerkes tryin' to gain by terrorizing Jane Addams?"
"How should I know?" Mary opened her small eyes widely.
"Do you know this, then?" the Bath opened the note and held it up to Mary. He bluffed. "We've scientifically analyzed the scent and writing, Mary! Now, how much did Yerkes pay you?"
"You won't send me to jail?" she asked in a quavering, high voice, not entirely sure what the Bath wanted.
"Not if you tell me why he's sending threats to Jane Addams at Hull House," said the Bath.
"All I can tell you is what Alderman Powers told me," Mary shrugged.
"He said that Miss Addams needed to be driven back to the Rockford Seminary for Young Ladies," Mary flicked a crumb off the table with her smartly manicured finger. "He was tired of her amateur meddling into the affairs of a great city like Chicago."
"Is that all?"
"Plus. . .you don't think that, maybe, we could call it paid for next month if I tell you this part?" Mary smiled.
"Plus that Civic League is encouraging all the shop owners to hold out for other bids than Yerkes' for the street franchises east of State Street. If Jane Addams disappears from sight they'll all lose heart and take what he offers, no strings," Mary beamed at her inside knowledge.
"All right! You keep your nose clean and no more threats to Jane!" the Bath started for the door.
"And about next month's payment to the charitable fund?" Mary started to rise in her chair.
"We'll see about that," the Bath said. "I think it might be applied to a decent marker for Maggie's grave, don't you?"
Mary nodded rapidly in agreement and waved her handkerchief.
She sighed. Anything to get Coughlin off her neck.
In the doorway Bathhouse John turned, "I wouldn't place any wagers on Mister Yerkes remaining much longer in Chicago. I have a feelin' that he'll be finding the air at Saratoga much more to his liking!"
"But about next month. . .!" Mary persisted.
"I said we'll see about that and every other month. Mary Hastings, if one hair of that woman's head is harmed, you'll be wishin' that it was only the wrath o' God after you! Do you mark my words?" the Bath jabbed the air with his finger.
"I understand, " Mary mumbled. She thought maybe this might be a good time for her own vacation to New Jersey. Yes, she meant to pack the very next day. . .
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Waking the Dead
Copyright © 1998 Gloria McMillan and Fly Neleth Press. All rights reserved.