Chapter 26

Changing Venues

 

Johnny Powers didn't particularly like the gleam in Venus's red electric eye as he walked past her to the head of Yerkes' white marble staircase. "Fzzt! Szz!" Something snapped inside of the marble Venus that made Powers jump. "Oh, pipe down!" he muttered to the statue. Must be an eye bulb ready to blow, he thought.

The butler opened the door and Powers stopped for a second, seeing nobody in the room.

"Over here!" Powers turned at the sound of Yerkes' voice and saw him reclining at the far right.

"I didn't see you. Sorry." Powers said. Yerkes lay stretched out on a black-and-yellow-striped, silk divan in a green smoking jacket. He was studying some book intently under a single incandescent sconce. Powers squinted. He could just make out the book's title. Of all things, it was Bradshaw's Guide, the annual table of the British Railway System. The Boss certainly ain't on pins and needles over all this, Powers accurately concluded.

"I hear we had a little setback at tonight's Council session, John," Yerkes smiled at Powers, but stayed in his reclining position.

"May I?" Johnny pulled up a library chair near the divan. "Well, you see, it was like this. . ." leaning forward confidentially, Johnny unrolled a verbal tapestry for Yerkes of his careful plans and the way that his two cronies had botched them. ". . .and we haven't yet caught the skunk who leaked the roll call information, but I have a pretty good idea who did it." Powers rolled an unlit cigar in his mouth. "I've sent some of the men out to take care of that."

"Have you ever visited the British Museum?" Yerkes asked, for no apparent reason.

"No. . .ah. . .I've never been over to England," Powers smiled.

"But they've got some really old things. . .antiques, you might say." Powers had little to connect on this score, so he tried to get back on more familiar territory. "What do you think we should do next? Follow up on that Cosmopolitan Electric Bill?"

Yerkes sat up straight and stretched his arms in front of himself. "No, just let it be! We haven't a chance of passing any legislation for the time being." He stood up and walked to the French doors that faced out on the courtyard. "Why don't you take a vacation, John? Saratoga is very pleasant this time of year."

"But. . .but. . .we can't just cave in now," Johnny huffed and blew out his cheeks. "What would that say to the others? We should always. . ."

Yerkes held up a hand, smiling. "WE are not doing anything, John."

"What?"

"Come over here," Yerkes motioned to Powers, who walked up to his side at the French doors. "You see that spindly little stick?" Powers followed the line to where Yerkes was pointing. "That is what remains of my attempt to transplant a very costly topiary miniature pine from New York."

"I don't. . .see what this has to do. . ." Powers ventured weakly.

"This town was too raw for my organizational abilities, John," Yerkes leaned down to sniff at a rose in a cut glass bowl. "Like my friend the topiary, I just didn't 'take', if you will," Yerkes said, gazing into the distance beyond the French doors. "I hear that some men are starting to talk seriously about a London Underground. I have always loved London: the Tate, Piccadilly Square, the Tower. . ."

"That's just. . . wonderful, Mister Yerkes, but. . .what about us?" Powers felt the sweat breaking out on his brow. Bad as things were, he thought he still had a mighty backer. Now if he were pulling up stakes. . .!

"You've always been a most adaptable fellow, Powers." Yerkes leaned near Powers and a put a hand on his shoulder. "I rather like to think of you as a prime illustration of 'survival of the fittest.' I have no doubts that you'll find a way to shine through all this!" Yerkes shook Powers' hand. "All this goes up for sale the first of next month." He threw open his arms, gesticulating. "I've already moved my major assets to a New York bank." Yerkes smiled and looked sympathetically at Powers with his large, liquid eyes.

Powers, for his part, had to fight the impulse to haul off and paste Yerkes between his beautiful blue eyes. But he knew that this would never do. A man of his set did not go about pasting a man of Yerkes' set.

"Well, I'd best be going, then," Powers said, mopping his brow, his face drained of color. "With all these sudden changes, I'll have a lot to do."

As Powers waddled past, Yerkes smiled. "I'm sure you do. And give my best to the boys, won't you?"

Powers felt the sweat rolling down his back on his way past Venus One and Two. He was definitely cut adrift without a patron. He rifled the social leaders of Chicago through his mind like a deck of cards, but found to his dismay that they were all coming up deuces.


 

Anton was grateful for the steamy mist that was rolling off the lake and masking his steps. He slipped out of a puff of mist into the back door of his building. The heat of the day still lingered in the stuffy hallway.

How late was it? Midnight? He hadn't heard St. Stan's bell. Anton yawned, mopped at his sweaty brow, only now allowing himself the feeling of being totally flattened. As he rounded the corner of the third flight of stairs, Anton stopped and gripped the rickety balustrade. He heard something. Down the corridor came a sort of snuffling. Doors were opening just a little and then slamming shut as Anton walked past them down the hallway.

Neighbors were afraid of something. He'd seen that before. Anton broke into a trot down the dark, stuffy hallway and pushed open the door to their flat, which was hanging ajar. Maminka sat cross-legged on the floor, holding a wet towel up to her left eye. She was moaning and rocking side- to-side. She gazed up dully at Anton and turned her head slightly to look at him with her right eye.

"Katastrof. . .to je hrozny katastrof!" she cried out. "A catastrophe!"

Anton knelt down next to his mother. "Let me see —" he took the cloth off and saw that her eye was blackened and swollen shut. He winced and stroked his mother's arm. "Maminka, who did this?" Anton demanded, taking his mother by the shoulder. "Tell me! I'll get the law on them!"

His mother laughed, a cracked, low chuckle, then stopped with a sharp intake of breath. "A policeman," she nodded. "He was with them. One man came with paper for searching apartment." Maminka sighed and shrugged. "I tell him 'Why you want search here?' He said they want you. I tell him 'Come back later! My Anton's not here!' — Boze muj!" She stopped, gasping for breath.

"Then what, Maminka?" Anton pressed his mother's hands between his.

"He curses and pushes me so hard I fall and hit my face on corner of table!" She began to cry. "And they take furniture and throw everywhere!"

"Anton!" A voice startled Anton and he looked behind him. He hadn't seen Julka huddled in the corner. "They broke my glass snowstorm . . .from Tatinek!"

"Julka!" Anton turned, bent down and hugged his little sister. "I'll get you a new one. Don't worry!"

"But it was from Tata—!"

Anton stroked his sister's straw-colored pigtail. "I know, I know.

Here!" He gave Julka his pocket handkerchief. She honked her nose loudly.

Maminka held up a canvas stuffed rabbit. "Vid'te, Julka!" she attempted a smile. "Pan Zajic! Here's Mister Bunny. . ." She held the limp doll out and Anton handed it to Julka.

Julka sniffed and dusted off the rabbit with her hand. "There, there!" she told Pan Zajic, "We'll go out tomorrow and get you a nice carrot." Julka bounced the rabbit half-heartedly on her knee.

"Good Lord!"

All three jumped at the voice back of them in the doorway. Madame Vina Fields had come up quietly and was standing there, hands on hips.

"They didn't make half a mess here, did they? Vina waved her hands. "My, my. . . One of the girls got wind of what Powers was planning to do, so I dropped everything I came running to get your mother out of here. Didn't even have time to take off this apron." She flapped her apron. "But I couldn't get here fast enough." Vina placed her feet carefully among the broken dishes and furniture as she walked into the room. She reached down and picked up two pillowcases. "Maminka, you take my arm, honey." She lifted Maminka by an elbow. "There! Can you walk?" Maminka nodded.

"Thanks, Vina!" Anton looked intently at Vina, not knowing how to explain his own absence. "I had to dodge them, Ma'am. It took this long for me to get home. This," he scratched his head and surveyed the room, "is going to take some cleaning up. That chair looks still good, Maminka." He nodded for his mother to take the one unbroken chair.

"Cleaning up? Brother, you need to clean yourself out of here! They'll be back, and your family's coming with me!" Vina said in a tone that brooked no contradiction. She changed to a soft, soothing tone.

"Julka, honey, you remember my girls? They've been missing you. Jessie's been wanting to show you some new paper dollies. Don't you want to come for a little visit?" Julka snuffled, and seeing Vina's kindly smile, smiled up at her. Vina motioned to Julka to take the pillow case. "Now, baby, can you be a big help to your Maminka? Gather up some underthings and dresses and stuff them in these bags." Julka took the bags and began to stuff clothing into them, but as she stepped over the broken clock and saw her glass snowstorm, she began to sniffle.

"That's enough clothes, Julka," said Vina, reaching out and taking the little girl's arm. Maminka was standing by the door and Vina led her out into the hallway, Julka following with the bundles. Anton started to go back into the flat. Vina stopped him.

"Don't stay around here. They're looking for you," she said, poking her finger into Anton's shirtfront.

Maminka asked in a panic, "You will take Anton, too, Vina?"

"Oh no, honey," Vina shook her head. "They're after him. But you and Julka must come right away from here. Now let's go!"

"No! Not without Anton!" Maminka stopped and made as if not to budge.

Anton tried his best to act nonchalant. He chattered rapidly in Bohemian. "Ne, Maminka, netrapte se! Don't worry. I have this address from friend they don't know. I'll be fine. You don't worry! Go on." Anton looked down the hall. Heads were starting to poke out of doors. He didn't want to answer any questions and hurried past them.

"Thanks!" He called back to Vina, turned and waved, bounding down the stairs, two-at-a-time. At the front door, he looked up and down the street, then started off at a fast walk, turning his head constantly to see if he were being followed. He blamed himself for not foreseeing how quickly the revenge was sure to come after his break with Powers. Anton couldn't believe that Powers had guessed he specifically had given the roll call to the Mayor. But, knowing Powers, he might have had several people roughed up, just on suspicion. One bright spot was that the Powers crowd left Vina Fields alone. They knew the police respected Vina and that there would be Hell to pay if they messed up her place.

Anton had been lying about that new friend. His head was swimming. He couldn't think of a person that Johnny Powers wouldn't investigate. Even his friend Flynn. No, that wouldn't do. They'd be stopping by Flynn's among the first stops. But Anton did have a sheet of paper with some addresses. Not friends, maybe, it wouldn't hurt to look. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a paper. He crossed the street to the gaslamp and squinted down at the flickering yellow surface. Brendel. . .1438 So. Michigan Avenue, number 48. Brendel, Brendel. . .For the moment it escaped him who that might be. The mural painter at the Berghoff!

Suddenly Anton recalled the curious little figure. No telling if the man would take him in or not.

The mist was even thicker on Michigan Avenue as Anton picked out the numbering on Brendel's building. He darted into the foyer. This was a large studio apartment complex. Anton felt a new burst of energy at the prospect that Mister Brendel might recall their discussion and take pity on him. He rapped sharply on the door. Not a stir from within. Anton rapped again louder. "Mister Brendel! Please...!" Anton heard tentative shuffling from within. "Mister Brendel!"

The door opened a crack and a point of candle light shone from within.

"Ja? Who is there?"

"Mister Brendel, we were talking about your mural just a day or two ago," Anton had to think fast, "and I thought you'd help a fellow artist in trouble. I make tile murals! Remember?"

"Come see me tomorrow!" said Brendel, starting to close the door on the rumpled young man. "Ich weiss nicht. . ."

"No, Mister Brendel! Don't leave me out here! They want to kill me!" Anton put his foot in the door.

"So. You will step back from my door, please, and explain," said Brendel. Anton stepped back. The little man, wrapped in his faded red felt robe, came out into the corridor. He held a candle aside his face and squinted at the agitated young man. Several minutes later, Mister Brendel seemed to be getting the idea. "And from this paper the Mayor defeated Yerkes and Powers?" Anton nodded vigorously.

"You haven't been followed here?" Brendel asked, fearing for his own studio. Anton explained about the mist and the darting through alleys after finding his home wrecked. "All right, you can stay in my place for a couple days until they give up or you can ship out somewhere," Brendel said, cocking his head. "You think I was always such a mural painter for that Sauerbraten Stube? No! I was in 1848 on the run, also. Long story." He waved a hand at the long story. "I was the best editorial cartoonist for the Berliner TagesPost. You ever hear of 'Taussler'?"

"Er. . ." Anton wished he could say that he had.

"Naturlich, but. . .es ist mir ganz egal. I would not expect such a thing," Brendel grinned. "Now, those were the days. Come inside and we'll have a drink to the old 'Forty-eighters!" Anton looked around quickly from habit and followed Brendel inside. In the dim candlelight, Anton could make out the crowded studio. There were crates and tables everywhere with books stacked around on the floor between the other furnishings.

"Over here you can spread a blanket," said Brendel, as he shoved some book stacks aside. "If I have a blanket. . .let me see," Brendel poked around another stack. A cat yowled and Anton saw a silvery form flash past him. "Hermes!" Brendel clicked his tongue. "Sorry to disturb you, but we need that blanket." Brendel handed the blanket to Anton. "You may have to share this with Hermes if he can get over the fact of a stranger in here." Brendel got out a wine bottle and two short glasses. He passed one of the glasses to Anton, whose eyes burned with exhaustion. He could hardly hold them open.

"Trink', trink', Bruderlein, trink! Stehst' nicht so traurig zu Haus!" Brendel sang, swinging his glass. "D'you know that one?" he asked, chuckling.

Anton nodded, distracted by the memories of his flat. "Yes," he said to Brendel. He had heard the song.

"We used to sing about the neuen Welt. . .zu unser neuen Welt," Brendel smiled, remembering. "And Trotz Alledem!"

     Trotz alledem und alledem,
     trotz Wien, Berlin und alledem,
     ein schn"oder, scharfer Winterwind
     durchfr"ostelt uns trotz alledem!

Brendel yawned and nudged Anton. And also. . .also. . . did we toast the 'Forty-eighters'!" Anton nodded, but quietly slipped down onto the floor, sound asleep. Brendel heard a soft thud as Anton's head hit the blanket spread on the floorboard. The old man shrugged, "Trotz alledem. . .despite eveything. Ja, life goes on." He walked over to his bunk and blew out the candle.


 

"It's Missus Palmer, sir," the secretary stuck his head into the room as Mayor Harrison conferred with Aldermen Carey and Coughlin. Walking to open the door for Madame Palmer, the Mayor explained the interruption.

"Excuse me, gentlemen, but I have kept this lady waiting for fifteen minutes already. She had an appointment for nine o'clock."

Bertha, dressed in a rainbow India silk tea dress of passementerie and Bourdon lace, swept into the room and bestowed a smile on each of the men, even Mister Coughlin. "Your Honor!" she exclaimed. "It is with true gratitude that I came this morning. Thank you for showing that Yerkes' powers have a limit!" She clasped her kid-gloved hands dramatically. "And that he era of the Grey Wolves may be ending!"

"Powers may have a limit, but let's hope the others do, as well!" chortled Alderman Carey. He nodded a greeting to Madame Palmer.

"Bon mots so early in the day, Alderman!" Bertha laughed and cocked her head coquettishly, displaying a charming dimple. The men were entranced by the lady, but this did not keep the Mayor from wondering at the real cause of Madame Palmer's visit. Bertha was never one to beat about the bush for too long. "Today of all days, we should rejoice that Chicago has found her integrity. Yet. . ." Bertha paused and furrowed her pretty brow.

Here it comes, thought Mayor Harrison.

"Yet, how can I rejoice when that creature continues her insidious work on the Midway!" Bertha spread her arms appealingly, much as Sarah Bernhardt did in her latest play. "I mean, of course—"

"Little Egypt!" the men all exclaimed, grinning. Catching themselves, they rearranged their features into sour and doleful masks to please Bertha.

"Yes," Bertha nodded. "I know you've told me that stopping this woman will create an incident, but I beg you to reconsider!" Bertha stared directly at the Mayor, tapped her kid boot, and pointed the clock on the mantle. "Time, you see, is at a premium. I have arranged to purchase a number of artworks in Paris for our Art Institute, but my heart won't rest easy if SHE is still gyrating when I go. . ."

"What public spirit!" The Mayor rushed over to shake Bertha's hand, thinking fast. "Bill. John. Isn't she just the finest thing? Always thinking about our cultural and moral tone here in Chicago! But, my dear, when do you and Potter leave? I must arrange a 'Bon Voyage' dinner!"

Bertha took the bait and momentarily forgot about Little Egypt. "We'll leave at the end of this week — possibly Saturday or Sunday. All that remains is to secure a reliable shipping manager for packing our acquisitions."

Bathhouse John startled Bertha. "I think," he bellowed, then grinned broadly, "that I have the complete and utter solution to your problem, Madame."

"Indeed?" Bertha sniffed, as she dusted some imaginary soot from her glove.

"I'm sure we all can say that you could do no better than take young Anton Klima with you to Paris!" Bathhouse winked at the others.

Bertha held her spectacles about an inch in front of her face and surveyed the men. "I find this endorsement extraordinary," she said.

"But sincere!" gasped the Mayor. "You should know that, had it not been for Klima's help, we never could have put down that Powers cabal!" The Mayor explained that it also was not the best thing for one's health to pick on so prominent a target as Yerkes' minions.

"But I'm not in the business of hiring people who do not qualify!" Bertha said.

"Oh, Ma'am! This fellow's an artist," the Bath jumped in. "He's done tilework, including the movin' and sortin' of big jobs, all over town. Why Krause's candy store, Ayers' ten-foot onyx mantel, you name the. . .!"

"Tell him to come by the house tomorrow at nine," said Missus Palmer.

"Oh, yes, Ma'am. I'll tell him immediately!" The Bath nodded and grinned, then stopped, as a puzzled look came over his face. Where would he find Anton? Surely the lad was smart enough to stay away from his own apartment. . .The Bath resolved to ask around, starting at Flynn's as soon as he could extricate himself from the current pleasantries. The Mayor broke out a bottle of his best claret. Bertha started to demur, but had to take "just a sip" as the Mayor congratulated her on her Art Tour of France. "Here, here!" echoed Bathhouse John, looking down at his pocket watch and awaiting his chance to slip away.


 

On his way home from the Mayor's meeting, Bathhouse John walked in on Flynn at the bar. Flynn was in mid-whistle. "Say, that's a catchy piece, Joseph. What is it?" he asked, coming up to the bar.

Flynn looked up, smiling. "It's a little number I heard May de Souza singin' over at the Iroquois Theatre: 'Could I Be Your Flight of Fancy?' Nice bit of a tune, I think."

"Nice tune," agreed Coughlin. "I'd like a pint, Joseph, to fly my fancy home. . ."

Flynn stood the pint in front of The Bath and leaned forward on his elbows. "There came an odd slip of a man in here this morning, John," Flynn began. "Name of Brendel. He said to give you this," Flynn pulled paper from his shirt and handed it to Coughlin.

Bathhouse John raised his eyebrows and jumped from the bar stool without drinking the pint. He rushed out the door.

"Now there's a waste of a perfectly good pint," said Flynn, taking a long sip before dumping the rest.


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