Chicago Lightning

Prelude at a Railway Passenger Concourse

C nw2

Azog “Nicely-nicely” O’Reilly was having breakfast in the Chicago and North Western Terminal while hiding his Bible behind a racing sheet. He was trying hard but couldn’t make heads nor tails of it and sighed. At last he gave up and set the books on the table to sip his coffee and watch the crowd. Turning over a new leaf, so to speak, was going to be tough if he couldn’t break the old habits. He used to come here to look for easy marks; lots of out-of-towners here.

The etherphone buzzed in his breast pocket, nearly causing him to spill dark liquid on his immaculate white wool suit. “Damnation!” he uttered, forgetting his resolution not to curse. The call was from a gambler who owed him five dollars; O’Reilly let the line dump his caller to voice imprint. Reform was already getting expensive. His last ten cents had bought breakfast.

What O’Reilly needed right then was a miracle: a stranger had to come out of the crowd and hand him an opportunity to do good for a change before the tug of easy money and loose morality drew him back into the pit. The gal who rang bells for the Salvation Army wouldn’t give the time of day to a common criminal, but a reformed star of the underworld, a lost sheep just waiting to be saved, would be irresistible to the pious, wide-eyed frail.

But he needed the right man to appear and show him the way.


“Right on time,” he thought as the troll sat down amongst the throng of morning travelers. It was an impressive get up for someone of that size. Mugsy gave him credit. Wearing white in this town especially when you’re that size took guts. The ladies at the Salvation Army had said he’d be here. If they were to be believed, this Mr. O’Reilly might just be the break he needed to nail O’Hanlan.

Mugsy took a round-about course through the seating area mainly because he didn’t like the direct approach but also because there was a gorgeous blonde who had dropped her handkerchief. After securing a date for later that night, he slid into the seat opposite the ‘man’ in the white threads. “Nice suit.”


O’Reilly dabbed the corners of his mouth with his silk handkerchief and regarded his interlocutor with yellowed, rheumy eyes.

“You don’t look much like a guardian angel.” He finished his coffee. “So what’s the job? Deliver cigarettes for orphans? Smuggle missionaries onto Indian land? Bust up a speakeasy for the temperance lassies? Whatever it is, I’m your man.”


“I’m just looking for some details on job you might have been in on a few years ago. Rizzo’s Grocery over near the heart of Italy burned down. Locals have it those weren’t natural flames.”


O’Reilly’s brow furrowed between the horn nubs that he had had filed down professionally just a few days before. No paying job? This stranger only wanted information that could get himself killed and O’Reilly in jail or worse?

“Yes. I reckon it were a fire most unnatural. But you’ll need to tell me why you’re asking if you want to know any more from me.”


“I got no beef with you. I’m looking to see where the trail goes. I have a client who was awful put out by that fire and had their suspicions. You know anything about that grocery or who ran it? Client tells me it was a widow woman who was supporting two kids. That fire put them in the poor house but good.”


O’Reilly raises his right hand and says, “I swear, I was just the lookout on that job. I didn’t see nothing until the place was up in flames. Queer, though: them flames burnt blue.” He whispers the last sentence.

“Sure it’s a mage you’re after, and I wants no part of it. But wait a minute.” He feels his jacket for a small case and produces an elegant pen. He tears a corner off the racing sheet and writes down an address and a name: Lovecraft.

“This guy owes me twenty-five dollars. Said he was waiting on a check from a magazine and it never came. I can’t collect it now, being reformed and all, but he don’t know that.” On the reverse side of the paper he writes in a clean cursive: The bearer is absolved a debt of twenty-five dollars. -AO’R.

“There, that’s your ticket in. That man is the best expert on magic that you can afford. Tell him I sent you.

“And now, sir, I’m off to find an honest job so I can sup tonight. God bless.” And he stands at the table and adjusts his hat.


“I’ll put a good word for you in with the sisters.”. Mort stood and straightened his trench coat. This ‘guy’ was something else. That wasn’t even counting the fact that he barely came to O’reilly’s sternum. Reforming indeed. He’d be a good guy to have on your side, no matter where the chips fell. If this information checked out, it’d be easy enough to get him on the ether phone.

Mort took three greenbacks out of his billfold and laid them on the table. “I don’t want you to miss lunch on my account.” Mort felt his stomach drop onto his knees. ‘uh-oh’ he winced inwardly as the last of the bills began to glow with a strange light. "My crazy sister is always playing these kinds of jokes. Last time, one of the nickels I used to pay the shoe shine boy introduced itself as the Thomas Paine. Don’t worry, it’ll be perfectly normal by lunchtime.


O’Reilly hesitated a moment before slipping the cash into his billfold. Three dollars was enough to keep him fed until the weekend, but it was also enough to imply a relationship between himself and the handsome fool. And might there be some sort of tracking spell on the bills? He touched the brim of his hat again and made his way to the outbound platforms.


I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.