As O' Shea was wiping down an empty table in the bustling speakeasy, he noticed a commotion at one of the tables, on the far side of the dance floor. An attractive young woman in full-flapper attire was busy pulling the face of an obviously drunken man from her lap. Rick draped the towel he was using over his forearm and made his way past a sea of tables and around the dance floor to the source of the disturbance, just as the drunk was tipping his top-hat to the girl.
"Please assept my shinshere apologies, young lady," the tuxedo-clad man slurred. "I normally don't innerdoosh myself in shuch a boldly inappropri-ate manner."
"Let's just chalk it up to a little alcohol-induced clumsiness on your part and call it even, shall we,? she said,
"Is this bird bothering you, Miss?" Rick asked.
The stunning brunette looked at the concerned lad, almost laughing. "Thank you anyway, noble knight. This gentleman just seems to have celebrated a few too many days in a row."
The red-faced drunk slipped off the chair and got unsteadily to his feet, almost falling forward onto the girl as he attempted a dramatic bow. "I shall now take my leave, dear lady," he said, with a hiccup. "My sainted wife's prolly beginning to wonder what might have become of me." A wry smile came over the older man's face. "I stepped out to purrrchash a quart of milk last week, and have not yet re, re...turrrned."
"Just toddle off to mama," the beauty smiled, "I'm sure she will forgive you after a month or so."
"You better let me help you navigate this crowd, old-timer," Rick offered, taking the gent by his elbow. "Mr. Luciano might get sore at me if I let you fall on any more of his customers."
The man tried to focus his blood-shot eyes on Rick's face. Having little luck at the task, he just shrugged. "I have been eighty-shixed from classier joints than thish one, young man, but I shall assept your kind offer, if you will promise to pour me into a cab. It seems I have lost the powers of self-pro...pulshion, for the present time."
The girl pulled a thin cigarette from a silver case and lighted it. "When you're done with your good deed for the day, come back, Sir Knight. I'd like to thank you, properly."
As Rick helped the drunk toward the front door, he called back over the loud Dixieland music coming from the stage, "I'll come back, ma'am, soon as I get Mr. Glad-Rags here pointed at a cab."
When O' Shea finally got his charge onto the busy sidewalk of Fifth Avenue, he gently put the man into the back one of three waiting taxis and closed the door, handing the drunk's top-hat to him through the open window. "You best get a wiggle on back to that wife of your, Pops," he smiled. "You don't want to soak up all the giggle water in New York, all in one week."
"Thank you, my boy," the man hiccuped, "but if you ever got a good gander at my sainted wife, you would know zactly why I wass in no hurry to find that quart-a milk."
As the Yellow Cab disappeared into the neon-lit canyons of the city, Rick walked back to the club entrance, where the beefy doorman was still holding the red door open for him.
"Yer new here, ain't ya, son?" the bouncer asked, as Rick passed him.
"Yes, sir," O' Shea answered, looking up to the towering figure. "I just hired on two days ago."
"Well, next time ya run across a splifficated owl like that last palooka, git one-a the bouncers ta do the heavy liftin'. Some-a these juice-hounds can get kinda mean when they've had a snoot-full."
Rick laughed, giving the man the A-OK sign. "I'm still learning the ropes here. Next time, I'll send up a flair."
When O' Shea made it back to the table where the short-skirted young woman was sitting, she looked at him, quizzically. "So, is Daddy Warbucks snoring his way back to the old mansion on the hill?" she asked
"He's fine, ma'am," Rick grinned. "They tell me there's twenty-thousand speaks in New York City. I think that bird must have hit all the others before he landed here. He's on his way home, unless he decides to start looking for that quart of milk again."
As O' Shea started to leave, the young woman tugged on his jacket sleeve. "Do you happen to know a black jack dealer by the name of Jimmy?"
"Yeah," Rick squinted. "This gin-joint doesn't close up shop until four. That's when Jimmy gets off, ma'am. I just met him last night at closing time."
Just then, a smartly-dressed, dark-haired man in his late twenties walked out of a door at the end of the long bar. As the band broke into The Charleston, the imposing figure started to shake hands with some of the patrons seated near the dance floor.
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, dressed in a stylish, pin-striped suit and white bowler, made his way along the first row of tables, with most of the house watching his progress. Suddenly the brown, piercing eyes of Luciano flashed in anger as he caught sight of the new bus boy. The successful bootlegger strode purposefully between several animated dancing couples, heading straight toward O' Shea, causing the boy's heart to start pounding.
"I don't much like the looks of this," Rick said, under his breath.
"Is that Mr. Luciano?" the girl asked.
"In the flesh," O' Shea answered. "And he doesn't look too happy with me."
Luciano, ignoring outstretched hands from several businessmen seated at the bar, stopped only a foot away from Rick. The silk-shirted gangster frowned with obvious displeasure. "You're the mug I hired a couple of nights ago." he seethed.
"Yes, Mr. Luciano," Rick stammered. "Is something wrong?" O' Shea watched as the color rose in the pocked-marked face of the swarthy Italian.
"Come back to my office in two minutes, kid," the mobster spit out. "I got a bone to pick with you."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Luciano!" the Irish lad managed to say. "I'll be there, right away, Mr. Luciano!"
As his new boss turned on his heels and began to march back to his office, Rick let out a heavy sigh. In the two nights he had worked in the Chicago Club, Rick had asked a few employees some guarded questions concerning the two murdered Herald Tribune reporters, coming up empty. He had been confident that his questions were low-keyed enough not to be picked up by Luciano's inner circle. Now, he was not so certain.
"I get a feeling my tail's in a ringer," he said to the young woman. "Mr. Luciano looks like he's about ready to blow a gasket."
"It was swell knowing you, Sir Galahad," the young woman said.
"In case I get promoted to feeding the fish in the East River," Rick said over his shoulder, as he began to shuffle reluctantly toward Luciano's office, "tell Jimmy he can have those white spats in my locker...For some reason, he seemed real keen on those spats."
"In case you do live through the night," the girl called-out, "my name is Sarah."
Rick swallowed hard. My handle is Rick...I'm really, really hopng I'll have the chance to meet you again sometime, Sarah."
As O' Shea fearfully approached the door of Luciano's office, a large man, who had been standing to the left of the entrance to the gangster's lair, took one step over, blocking the doorway.
"What's the ruckus, sonny?" the straw-hatted behemoth growled. "Ya can't just go waltzin' inta the boss' office anytime ya feel like it." The boy watched as the big man's hand slipped under the lapel of his cheap suit.
"Mr. Luciano asked me to meet him in his office," Rick explained.
The bodyguard squinted at O' Shea through dull, piggish eyes. "Just dangle, bub," he said, turning to open the door. "Hey, boss, got a skinny-lookin' mick out here says ya wanna see him."
"The kid's on the level, Louie," Rick heard from inside the office. "Send him in!"
As Rick passed the frowning thug, he could smell the unmistakable odors of rum and old sweat. When the door opened wider, O' Shea saw the mob boss, relaxing behind a heavy wooden desk at the other end of the room, with his feet resting on the desk top.
"Hey, boss," Rick heard the raspy voice of the muscle behind him, "Ya want I should come in, just in case?"
Luciano threw back his head and began to laugh. "Everything's copesetic, Louie. I think I can handle one bean-pole mick by myself. Take a powder 'til I say otherwise."
"Sure, boss," answered Louie. "Anythin' ya say."
A second later, O' Shea heard the oak door close behind him, sending shivers up his spine.
Luciano smiled a dead-eyed smile. "Ya looked rattled, Irish." The bootlegger nodded toward a leather wing-back chair, directly in front of his massive desk. "Take a load off and relax," he said, amiably. "I was kinda sore when I saw ya puttin' the moves on one of the twists out there, but I'm all over that now."
Rick managed to get his feet moving, and slowly shuffled over to the diamond-tufted chair. After he'd settled back into the plush piece of furniture, he let out an audible sigh.
"Is that what this is about, Mr. Luciano?" he asked, feeling relieved. "I wasn't really getting fresh with that girl. She was being pestered by a zozzled old geezer. I just got rid of him for her and she wanted to thank me. That's all there was to it, honest!"
Luciano took a long cigar from the pocket of his silver-colored vest and bit off the end. After lighting the other end with an ornate cigar lighter from his desk top, he looked back to Rick.
"I figured it musta been something like that, but I got rules about my people getting cozy with the suckers, kid. It ain't good business. You're new here, so I'm not gonna have nobody break your legs."
Luciano let that sink in before going on. "I got bouncers coming out of my ears in this joint. I got the best muscle mazuma can buy in the casino upstairs, and more in the cat house on the third floor. I don't need a scrawny mick like you rousting of the customers, see? You just clean off my tables and keep your trap shut, and me and you will get along fine. Are we clear?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Luciano...clear as a bell," O' Shea said, trying to smile.
"That's swell," Luciano smiled back.
Rick had heard that even the great Al Capone thought Luciano had the evil-eye, and was uncomfortable in the man's presence. Looking into the gangster's dark, unreadable eyes, O' Shea understood why that story might well be true. Finding it difficult to maintain eye contact, himself, he began to survey the expensive-looking appointments of Luciano's large office. There were many autographed pictures of famous people on the flower-print walls, including, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, and even one of Mayor John F. Hylan.
"Gee, Mr. Luciano," Rick marveled, "do you really know Charlie Chaplin?"
"You still here?" Luciano asked.
Rick looked at the mobster, who was now busy reading a copy of the New York Times. The paper was unfolded, blocking O' Shea's view of his intimidating employer.
"Hey, Irish," Luciano said, folding the paper and tossing it on the desk, "what do you think of this Mussolini character? That palooka just declared himself dictator of all Italy, for chrissake! Can ya believe that?"
Rick rose to his feet, anxious to be out of the room. "I don't know, Mr. Luciano. Everybody's spooked by the Commies, these days. Maybe Mussolini can do everything he says he can, but I'm not keen on any sort of dictatorship, myself."
Luciano bolted to his feet, glaring at the nervous boy. "You're Goddamned right, kid! You might not know this, but I was born in Sicily! I got most of my family living over there! This screwball Benito Mussolini had all the opposition newspapers busted-up before he crowned himself king of the world...That's un-American!"
"May I go, now, Mr. Luciano?" Rick asked. "I promise to remember what you told me."
"What?" the distracted gangster said, focusing back on O' Shea's boyish, freckled face. "Oh, yeah...sure. That fascist son-of-a-bitch just gives me a rash, ya know?" Luciano waved, dismissively. "Beat feet, Irish. Keep your nose clean, and keep your mitts off the dames from now on."
Rick rose gratefully to his feet and walked over to the door. After getting his hand on the knob, he turned his head toward the mob boss. "Thank you, Mr. Luciano," he smiled, weakly. "I promise."
Just as O' Shea started to open the door to freedom, he heard the quiet voice of Luciano behind him. "One more thing, kid."
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Rick turned around. "Yes, Mr. Luciano?"
The club owner was, once again, sitting behind his desk, with the soles of his hand-made shoes, casually facing O' Shea. Instead of the evening paper in his hands, he was now holding a large-caliber revolver, staring fondly at the weapon like it was a favored child. "Tell me something, Irish...Do I look like I just fell off a turnip truck?"