“You have a lot of nerve, kid.” I couldn’t be certain, but that puff of air half resembled a laugh.
He sat hunched over, a repugnant smirk on his face as I watched him from across the steel table watching the guard pacing in the corner. All the glory I knew in him was stripped down from fur collars and patent shoes to a white and black striped jump suit and a number for a name. He scanned the room before his glance returned to me. His hand rubbed his chest above his heart where the bullet that sent him to the soggy boards of the dock once held a temporary home.
“Should it surprise you very much?” I lit a cigarette and blew a wispy stream of smoke up and away from the table.
“You’re your father’s daughter, I tell you that much, kid. You wear your fox lined gloves and white woolen coat into this filthy place like the dirt can’t touch ya. Nevermind the reason you’re here and, for that matter, the reason I’m here.” He chuckled, hands resting on the table top face down. The guards want to see his hands, they want to see mine. I can feel their eyes watching us, roving over my pin curled hair, my chiffon, my ankles. “You’re a class act, you, wearing the clothes that were paid for by what put me in this place, my new gray palace.”
“I have a conscience, papa, but that’ll never trump a girl’s sense of fashion.” I smiled. “Why’d you bring me out here all this way? I’ve got stories to write, a mess to clean up, and a reputation to preserve. Plus, the damp isn’t good for my complexion.”
“I needed to see something beautiful. I’m surrounded by these ugly mugs,” he gestured over his shoulder to the other men in the room, “and it’s driving me insane. You tell your mother yet?”
“She reads the paper, pops. She knows. Who do you think’s living in your house downtown? She moved in the day your trial closed. Says you owe it to her..”
He grumbled out a laugh and smacked the table top with the open palm of his hand. “Ha! That woman, she’s probably right. The guts in that one. I never should have left her, you know that?”
“Yeah, papa, I know.”
“Still, it don’t sting as much as it would have. You don’t strike me as the Temperance type. None of that holy roller, save the family stuff was ever in you.”
“You’re right, I’m not. Never was and won’t be. The drink might be poison, but it’s a man’s right to kill himself with it if he wants to…”
“Then why the hell am I here, Frankie?” His eyes bulged out, his lips clasped tightly together.
“A man has the right, pops, but the law, albeit wrong, must always win otherwise we all go down. Give it time, the law will change. The people won’t stand for it.”
“Christ, Frankie. You’re an optimist. My guys hassling ya?” He leaned back.
“A few broken windows to put on a good show, but nothing lately. Theo’s taken over, so I hear. I can’t finger him yet, but I’m working on it.”
A bell rang above us and the other women let out a harmonious sigh. I stood to leave and with me he too rose. A tasteful hug, the loving embrace between a father and his traitorous daughter. “Don’t worry about it, kid, we’re square.”
Outside the gates, in the freshest air Chicago can muster, a cab was waiting to take me back to my newly minted office at the Tribune. I lit a fresh cigarette, got into the car, and draped the fur blanket across my lap. Fall had broken into winter overnight and the drive uptown was long. The weight of the blanket pushed something sharp into my hip.
There, inside my coat pocket, a letter addressed to Theo in my father’s scrawl.