Liver Jack thought his sister and Nick splitting—it was okay, but not right. At least not right for his friend Nick. Connie living with him and his wife Noddy was okay, but not right, really. Half of every morning, all that monkey business with hair and eyebrows behind a closed bathroom door, that was not okay. And the seat of the toilet always being down—that was not okay, either.
Connie had been pretty good about sleeping upstairs, in the gable, even though it was unfinished and without heat. She had pitched in with the housework, dusting, toting the dirty clothes down to be laundered in the basement, and helping Noddy with the cooking and baking. But her talk. Always yammering about politics and against prohibition. That Sabine woman with her face on Time magazine last year, those groups of wine-sipping society women who think Prohibition is a great evil. Throwing up to him WONPRs, that women’s group that had taken Repeal to the National Conventions with success. Connie just would not recognize that repeal will open the door to the distillers, brewers and saloonkeepers—how they’ll strangle-hold the Government. If there was anything Liver Jack Horn knew well, it was an appreciation of the 18th Amendment.
Growing up in the slums north of the Union Stockyards, he learned nothing of politics. He, his father (his mother had died when he was eleven) and two sisters lived in a shantytown fringing the ‘Yards,’ where they slept to the unceasing snorts and bellows from the animal pens. Most everybody, from adolescence on, worked in the slaughterhouses. After work, those bedraggled workers streamed from the hog butcheries to the bawdyhouses and saloons along Madison for relief.
Beginning about in the 6th grade, hanging out with Louie Schnausen around the delicatessen at 17th and Halstead, shooting dice, breaking into penny machines and worrying girls, he’d overheard the fat gents with gold watch chains talking precinct politics. They seemed relaxed and well-dressed, at least compared with ‘Yards’ citizens. He thought that merited attention.
Louie Schnausen taunted him, bet him he’d never earn a suit with one of those gold chains. “I ain’t afraid—no liver,” he told Louie, “you watch.” At first he ran a few errands for the ward heelers, saw how the gears on the inside meshed, who was important. He got a job as a dispatcher, then as an organizer in the Union. After the 55 day Teamster’s strike and battle with Allied Meat Packers, “No Liver Jack” became precinct captain, a political soldier in the ward. Soon, as his political power and reputation grew, the nickname was shortened—he became, simply, “Liver Jack.”
Last night—was it last night? Yes, last night Connie had pressed him to admit Prohibition was a failure. “Listen,” he told her, “you talk about trouble. There’s most a million people who wants work, can’t find any. Some are so bad off they’re eating garbage. You remember last fall, down on Lower Wacker Drive? Remember all those men—musta been a hundred—sleeping under newspapers and cardboard boxes? Who d’you think’s leading the way to helping people out so they don’t end up there? It’s me and the City—what you call ‘the machine.’ We got rid of that clown Thompson in thirty-one, along with a whole lot of the gambling and prostitution. And now the Feds are clamping down on the mobs. It’s that ‘machine’ that keeps me and Noddy, and you too, now, I might add, off the bread lines and out of the soup kitchens.
“And what do ya suppose provides the muscle and the money that keeps that machine going? Prohibition, that’s what. And how do we keep the machine oiled? I’ll tell you. Let’s say a poor family’s water is shut off. A nice request to your precinct captain gets it turned back on. Or if somebody’s garbage ain’t picked up, they call the precinct captain and the truck comes. If your neighbor’s tree is shedding all over your property—”
“Yeah, yeah, Jack,” Connie said, “I know all that. But prohibition—”
“You know, but you don’t understand. We get all the Church groups and the United Societies to help,” Liver Jack said. “Over a hundred-thousand families got relief last year. That’s one with five zeros behind it. We hand out thousands of turkeys at Thanksgiving and thousands of trees at Christmas. Free.”
“That’s so,” Connie said, “but when elections come ‘round, you expect to see all those grateful people at the polls. And you—and the machine—expect them to vote the way you tell them.”
“We guide them—that’s the way things work,” Liver Jack had said, intending to end the debate; “prohibition, I say, is neither good nor evil.”
“Medieval,” she’d replied, emphasizing the last two syllables.
He heard the harsh ring of the telephone. “Noddy? You get that?” No answer, so he hoisted himself out of his chair, went back to his alcove in the hall under the attic stairs. Before sitting at his desk, he took the receiver from the hook, said, “Hello?”
“Captain Horn? This is Danny Hinkley. I’ll need you to come to my home at one o’clock this afternoon.”
Liver Jack searched his memory, but came up empty. “Mr. Hinkley? Danny Hinkley? How can I help you?”
“Be at my apartment at one o’clock.”
“Yessir. And may I ask, sir, what’s the occasion?”
“You can ask, all right, but I’ll need to talk to you. About the break-in at my bank.”
That did it. Liver Jack now knew who Danny Hinkley was.
Danny Hinkley, President of Washington Park Bank, looked across at Liver Jack, seated on the antique settee. The precinct captain looked nervous and somewhat uncomfortable, just the way he wanted him. Hinkley had opened the door from the elevator lobby, taken Jack’s crumpled hat, then let him sit on the settee while he strolled to the draped and curtained window that overlooked the roofs below. He turned slowly from the window, clasped his hands behind his sharply-creased trousers and said, “The police are doing their job, Captain. And Arthur Kingston at Associated Underwriters has taken charge of the depositors’ interest. I called you for a different reason.”
Liver Jack said, “Well, I’m here to offer whatever help … Mr. Hinkley. We’ve never had a bank looted in the Precinct, as far as I can tell.” He shifted his position in search of a more comfortable spot on the settee.
Hinkley said, “These rapacious scoundrels took advantage of the faulty construction of the building I lease there on Sixty-first and St. Laurence.”
“Yeah, that building’s been there since ought-two—or maybe ought-three.”
“You mean ‘naught’-two, or ‘naught’-three, of course.”
Liver Jack’s mustache fluttered a bit. “I mean it’s an old building. That’s the way they built ‘em in those days.”
Hinkley’s gaze returned to the window. “I’ll deal with the building’s owner later. What I need from you right now is help in finding these scoundrels.”
Liver Jack said, “But you said the police—”
“The police say it was most likely a gang, at least two or three criminals,” Hinkley said, giving Liver Jack a severe look. “They simply knocked out bricks from the alley side of the bank and broke through the interior wall right into the cage with the safety-deposit boxes. They smashed them, using pry bars and sledge-hammers, emptying all thirty-eight boxes. The police lieutenant told me they are working this crime, but that I was not to expect immediate arrests.”
Liver Jack shook his head. “Terrible. What—”
Hinkley said, “I’m told you know practically everyone in the precinct. Is that right?”
Liver Jack’s smile bunched up the baggy creases under his eyes. “People exaggerate. I know a lot, sure—that’s my job. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you. Before, I mean.”
Hinkley said, “Washington Park Bank has survived and thrived, even though more than two-hundred banks have closed here in Chicago. Did you know that, Captain? Insurance will cover a good portion of customers’ monetary losses. But beyond that, some have lost priceless heirlooms, important papers, irreplaceable items. I mean to do everything in my power to preserve their confidence in Washington Park Bank.
“Now you, knowing most of the people in this Precinct, can give me the man I’m looking for—a clever and savvy individual who can gain the inside of this gang.”
Liver Jack’s smile sagged at the edges. He narrowed his eyes at Hinkley like he’d just heard Swahili spoken for the first time. “Uh, but I think the cops—”
“The police have their responsibility. They aim to arrest the criminals. My responsibility is to recover those priceless treasures. I need a genius at deception, a clever fellow who can slip unnoticed into the confidence of this gang and with the inducement of cash, recover these irreplaceable items. You understand?”
Liver Jack said, “I think so. There’s Security Specialists over on Drexel—they’re a couple of pretty good detectives, and let’s see…”
“No, no,” Hinkley said. “No detectives. They’re fine at following people, tracking down documents, taking photographs, and so forth. But they’re usually former policemen, with the mindset of policemen, blunt and confrontational. I want someone like you, smart and intelligent. Someone suave, a person who can take any identity, and be charming at it. After all, he needs to gain access to one or more of these criminals without arousing suspicion.”
“Somebody kinda nifty, huh? A slick operator? Is that what you’re saying?”
Hinkley leaned toward Liver Jack, said, “Perhaps. You can be certain he’ll be well-paid.” He grasped Liver Jack’s hat, glanced at the soiled crown. “You’ll know soon, I’m sure, upon thinking about it.” Hinkley thrust the hat towards Liver Jack. “You’ll need to send him over here tomorrow. Say at nine a.m. sharp?”
“Yeah,” Liver Jack said. He nodded, took the hat and stood. “Yeah, I suppose I will.” Then, reconsidering, he said, “You can depend on it, Mr. Hinkley. I’ll have him here at nine. Sharp.”
Hinkley smiled a smile that raised his saggy jowls into ripe, round bulges. “Call me Danny,” he said, extending his hand for a handshake.