Chicago Lightning

A Public Phone on Meagher Street

Cabs

“Smitty, I need a ride. Calling in a favor. Get here as soon as you can.”

Azog hung up the handset and checked the coin return.

A moment later, a black-and-yellow checkered Packard squealed to halt at the curb.

“Sweet mercy, I’ll never get used to that!” cried O’Reilly as he boarded the cab.

“Where to, Mack?” asked the driver. He seemed an ordinary enough human being: clean-shaven, curly dark hair, perhaps thirty years old, and wore a fashionable dark suit and white hat. He turned back and flashed Azog a Cheshire Cat grin.

“North, to Lovecraft’s kiosk. And we can’t run into the Law, or any of Boots’ gang on the way.”

“OK,” said the driver, turning forward and pulling the car away from the curb. “But in that case, you wanna stay away from Lovecraft. Word is that Trask has taken an interest in him. Either way, this ride counts as a favor.”

Azog nodded and handed over not cash but his “mark,” a scrap of paper with his signature, useful as currency in the cash-strapped Depression economy. He settled into his seat and tried not to feel ridiculous in his bare shirtsleeves and suspenders.

Comments

The two drive in silence for a moment, then Smitty speaks up again, “So if yer not goin’ to Lovecraft, where am I takin’ ya? And since when are you runnin’ from Boots?”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

“Blimey, let me think a minute!” Azog frets in the seat a moment. "That handsome stranger! I didn’t catch his name. Smitty, let me borrow your Etherphone a minute. I’ll ring him and tell him to meet us around the corner from Lovecraft’s out of sight. Then you’d better take us to Phillies so we can talk undisturbed.

“I don’t know how I got in bad with Boots, but just this morning he sicced his gal on me. Lucky to escape with my skin!”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

“I’m tellin’ ya, you don’t wanna go to Lovecraft right now. If you’re bent on it, I’ll pull over and you can walk it. I’ll give you yer marker back.”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

“OK, Smitty, pull over a second.”

“Now what’s the poop? Why am I having the worst morning of my life? Who’s the guy asking about burn jobs five years ago, and what’s it got to do with Boot’s gal taking me behind the woodshed? You never steered me wrong, Smitty, so I’m askin’: what the devil is going on today?”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

Smitty dutifully pulls over, and looks up at Azog through the rear view mirror.

“Worst mornin’ of yer life? Can’t say I’m surprised, word is that you’re blowin’ town. If Boots thinks you still owe him, and it’s a fair shake to say he does, it makes sense he’d send someone to put ya back on the path.” He scratches his chin, “So the real question is this – if you’ve crossed Boots, what are ya gonna do about it?”

“And who’s this other fella you keep goin’ on about?”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

“I don’t know his name! The Sisters at the Salvation Army put him on to me. I thought he was going to offer me a job and help me go straight! Instead he asks questions about suspicious fires five years back—-trouble! And suddenly I’m up to my neck in it.

“So you’re saying the two got nothing to do with one another? That I’m just having bad luck?”

Azog thinks another moment.

“So forget that guy. He’s nothing. It’s Boots I got to deal with. I could call his gal to talk about it if she weren’t an ether-mage. Lovecraft would probably have a way to do it but he didn’t answer earlier and you say he’s hot right now. I need a way to talk to her so she can’t blast me. Ha, maybe send a letter in the mail? Ha ha!”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

Smitty furrows his brow, “Sisters put him on you, you say? They’re usually good eggs… What’s this guy look like? Pretty face? Did he say anything about bein’ a P.I.?”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

“Handsome guy. Said he was investigating, don’t recall if he said it was professional or personal. Seemed to imply the latter.

“So you think it’s him after all? Should we try and get him? I lost my phone but I remember his face sure enough.”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

Smitty grunts in a way that only ever Smitty does, then says “Mugsy” There is an easily discernible tone of fondness in his voice when he says it. “I suppose the question is what kind of friends do you want? If you want to make up with Big Boots, stay away from him. If you want….a different take on life, I can take ya to him.”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

“Smitty, I told people already, so you pro’lly know. I’m going straight. Sister Mary Browne won’t give the time of day to no two-bit low-life. Now put ’er in gear and take me forward.”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

You’re not sure, but you could swear you see a twinkle in Smitty’s eye as he pulls off the curb once more, and begins driving.

Time in Smitty’s Hack is always more a suggestion than a rule, so it’s hard for Azog to measure it, but after “a while” Azog recognizes the intersection of Grand and Halstead. No sooner does the Packard cross the intersection, but Smitty pulls it sharply to the curb and throws open the passenger side door, bellowing “Mortimer Gillenhaus, you two bit chippy! Get yer kiester in here, you boob!” Looking out the window, Azog will see the man from the train station this morning just passing the hack.

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

Mugsy places his hand to his chest and slowly turns toward his verbal assailant a look of shock and horror on his face. He is impeccably dressed in a pin striped zoot suit and a white fedora with a white band. “You demean my character, you hooch hauling hack for hire. This is the bluest nose west of the lake shore,” he grins back. “You’re still not sore about that time I used your cab as a patrol car to clear out Millie’s place so I could have some quality alone time with Christine Hannoworth? I made that up to you.”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

Smitty snorts, “I’d never let you drive my car, and you know it. Quit with the overactive imagination and get in back. You owe me.”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

“You!” Azog points a finger at Mugsy. "Nothing’s gone right since we crossed paths this morning.

“Drive on, Smitty. Trask is around. I can smell him. Lovecraft will have to take care of himself.”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

“Aw jeeze, guys. I’d love to stay and play but I am on my way to meet up with a dame. Your little get together looks fun and all and believe me this is no slight on your company but let’s just say that this little number provides certain opportunities that would be otherwise absent if I were to ankle your way.”.

“Hey big guy, I’m glad I ran into you again. I’d love to talk shop with you when I’m not otherwise engaged and your not hanging around this old bindle stiff. I could use someone like you. That information you gave me on that Lovecraft fellow checked out.”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

Smitty’s tone brooks no argument, “I said geddin .”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

Azog beckons with his long arm. “C’mon, get in. We’ve got some things to sort out.”

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 

Mort steals a long, wistful look down the street in his original intended direction. “Just when I thought things were looking up,” he mutters as he slides into Smitty’s hack. "Now you boys owe me.

A Public Phone on Meagher Street
 
Neko_Bijin

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