Midnight Music

Chapter Six

After a couple rounds of chess, Neil headed over to the speakeasy. It was only noon, yet Clifton and Vinny were already there. Clifton was stocking the bar, and Vinny was showing Sally around. Neil glared as Vinny attempted to flirt with Sally. To Sallys credit, she chose to work rather than pay attention to his antics. Neil accepted the bourbon that Clifton poured, and asked, ”Whats going on? ”

”Well, Sally is trying to get every inch of this operation down pat and Vin is…mostly telling her. ” Neil snorted. ”Even you aren a dead fish, Dunn. Shes attractive as hell. ”

”Oh, sure, but does she have what it takes to be in the business? ” Before Clifton could respond, Sally came out and asked Clifton, ”What are the biggest sellers we have? ” Clifton turned to Sally to answer.

After he gave her the rundown on the alcohol list, she looked through her paperwork, and asked, ”We don sell beer? ”

”Eh…not for lack of trying, but the quality of our last supplier…well… ”

”If Im being polite, Sally, it was like drinking horse piss… on a good batch. ” Vinny interjected. ”And thats the polite version. ”

”…do I want the impolite? ”

”Well- ”

”Not from Vinny, thats for sure. ” Clifton interjected. Neil snorted.

”Well…what if we found a few local brewers? ” They looked at her in surprise. ”If we can control the supply, maybe we can get a better tasting beer. ”

”It wouldn be hard to gather the supplies…and it would be nice to get good beer again. ” Vinny looked at Clifton, who agreed. Sally started scribbling and held her clipboard out to Clifton. ”Do you think we could clear a profit? ”

”We absolutely could. Especially if we have quality control. ” Clifton looked mildly impressed.

”What else you wanna know, doll? ” Sally started questioning them on how the inventory worked, and how that worked with runs. Neil watched her evenly, listening in on her line of questioning, her attempts to understand what was happening. Some of the cooks came in then, greeting Neil.

”Ill give her one thing-shes savvy when it comes to business. ” Clifton nodded. ”Vin was right, shes damn attractive too. Which makes it all the funnier that even he can seem to catch her fancy. ” Even Neil smirked at that one. ”Roland comin in today? ”

”No clue. ” Neil admitted. ”Hes even harder to get straight answers about his life than even me. ”

”I know, I asked him one time where he likes to take girls out to eat and he essentially told me Anywhere with food is a start. And then started telling me about his new movie. I mean, Anna and I got tickets but like…still don got recommendations for dinner after. ”

”Hes not going to tell you where to take women on dates. Man doesn really take women out on dates. ” Clifton didn say anything for a long moment.

”You mean, ” Neil looked at Clifton from his drink, as the bartender wiped down an invisible mess. ”He doesn take women anywhere. ” Neil swallowed evenly, and said, ”you said it, not me. ”

”You don think we don already know? Come on, Vinny pointed it out; weve heard how he talks to Clarence. ” Neil was uncomfortable. ”Look, I ain gonna say anything to anyone … ”

”Id rather hope not. ”

”Hes your best friend. If that were Vinny… Id hope you do the same. ”

”Im not crazy about the idea. I don understand it, nor do I want to. But with all the things I have done…I can exactly judge him. ” Clifton didn really respond to that. Sally came out, asking about something, with Vinny hot on her heels.

”He really likes her, don he? ” Beside Neil, Jon Booker of the Booker Brothers took up the neighboring bar stool. Neil liked Jon. They weren close, but he was a standup guy.

”Who doesn he
eally like, Jon? ” Neil asked.

”Fair enough. Hows the new boss? Haven met her yet. ” Jon, a fellow transplant into Chicago, spoke slow and carefully, as if every word and syllable needed to be savored.

”Shes good. Vins taking her round and showing her the ropes. ”

”Shes already trying to change the place. ”

”Its a good idea, Dunn. We haven been able to sell quality beer in a long time. If we can get it in at profit, its better for us. ” Clifton poured another drink and handed over to the ruddy-faced bouncer. ”Here you are, Andy. ” Neil shook his head.

”Shes too young and naïve for a place like this. Little farmers girl from Podunk USA and thinks she knows whats what. ” Jon gave Neil a pointed look.

”Where is she from? ”

”Indiana. I think. ”

”And what does her father do? ”

”Couldn tell you, and I don want to know anyhow. ”

”Then how do you know? What are you so quick to judge someone you don know? Take me for example. You did the same shit, and now look. ”

”Yeah, I tolerate you. But I did before. I fail to see the point. ” Neil drank his bourbon.

”Before you thought I was just some musician who didn care about nobody. And what did you find out? ”

”You are still. ” Neil smirked, and Jon laughed. ”I suppose you make a valid point. ”

”Ah, someone has finally been able to get him to agree to being wrong. ” Roland took the seat beside Jon.

”Agreeing to what? ”

”Being wrong for judging Sally so hard. ”

”And you listened? Why do you not listen to me when I say this as well? ” Neil glared at Roland for a moment. ”Am I wrong? ”

”Look, the fact of the matter is shes young. Too young to know whats what out here. ”

”Her naivety is part of her youth, Neil. ” Jon pointed out. ”I grew up in some privilege myself. My daddy was a bastard, but he was a rich one, which is rare for a black man. I didn have to worry about poverty and hunger till my brothers and I fled after mama was killed. ” That was something Neil didn know. ”So, I knew what she was dealing with. Shes luckier than I am that shes got an appointed right-hand to help her navigate through life with someone who has more life experience than even I do now at 38. ” He ordered water from Clifton. ”Shes lucky to have you both. If shes got you, Neil, I know Roland won let her drown neither. I gotta go warm up. Neil, you need to change your thoughts on her. ” Behind them, Sally was introducing herself to the band, including Clara Wallace. Clara was the only woman in the band, but she had a hell of a singing voice.

”He has a point, Neil. ”

”I know. ”

”So, take him up on it. ” Her laugh filled Neils ears, and he found himself turning to it. She was so pretty, standing there and giggling endlessly with Clara. Her smile melted the cold, icy wall around his heart, and he wanted to smile back. ”If you are interested in stepping out with her, it could be the opportunity to get to know her better. ”

”If. But…for Stews sake Im not unwilling to give the job a shot. ”

”That is the ticket, my friend. ” A young, dark haired young woman, thin and beautiful and full of life, sat beside him. ”Hey, gentlemen. ”

”Who let you in? ” Roland asked, making her laugh.

”I did. ” Brewster admitted. ”Shes Clementine Ford, how could I not? ”

”You
e Miss Ford? Nice to finally meet you. ” Clifton grinned. Roland smirked.

”Oh, is that so, handsome? ” Clifton blushed profusely. ”Whats your name? ”

”Uh…Clifton…Clifton Wood. ”

”Why finally? ” Clementine looked at him a little coyly.

”Roland here talks about you. Sounds like you two were courtin or something. ” Roland and Clementine laughed, but there was something in Rolands face that Neil couldn place.

”Rolands sweet. You talk about me? ”

”You are one of three people in Hollywood I like, and I have not talked to Charlie sense I left Hollywood. ” Roland declined the smoke offered to him.

”You were in a movie with Charlie Chaplin? ” Neil asked, surprised.

”Once. I was mostly just a couple of background characters. They wanted me to do a bigger role, but I was starring in that romance movie I didn want to do. ”

”That was a bad one. I usually like your movies. ” Clifton admitted.

”I tend not to do romance. The one I am currently in is not so bad. But you are in it, so it is bearable. ” Clementine and Roland had only just finished the filming for their latest picture two weeks ago.

”I haven acted in years; Im surprised it hasn been a total flop. ”

”You did just fine, Clem. ” Neil turned away to see Sally talking to Jake, Stews body guard and oftentimes driver, and Clara. Clara was Jakes beau. Neil wanted to join them. How good hed look standing beside her.

What would she want to do with an old man like him anyway? Neil turned back to his bourbon and stared into the glass. He had a mild, but permanent limp from his injuries in the war. He was brutally honest…too brutal, most of the time. He was cold, and closed people out. He mostly kept people away from a broken past and a laundry list of terrible things hed done in the past. Why would she want someone like that?

While he contemplated these things him his head, he continued to stare at the bourbon in front of him. Roland had turned to continue talking to Clementine, Brewster was at the door, letting in another employee, and Clifton was chatting with Vinny about his run for another day. Neil sighed, and took a good, long drink from his bourbon, before getting up to use the head.

When Neil sat down, Timmy had come by to join them. It appeared to be his off day, as he was in his civilian clothes. But when he saw Neil, he asked, ”Wheres the boss lady? ”

”Over…well, she was talking to Clara but Im not sure now. ” Clara was warming up with Jon.

”Who are you lookin for, OConnor? ” Vinny asked.

”Ms. Foster, actually. You think you could get her? We have a lot to discuss together as a team. ” Oh, boy. Wordlessly, Vinny went to get her. He knew that line anywhere.

Neil took the next bourbon offered to him, and light up a cigarette. He offered Tim one, but he declined.. Sally came out, and said, ”Hey, Tim, what can I do for you? ”

”We have a bit of a problem, lass. ” Tims quiet, Irish accent was littered with worry.

”What kind of problem? ”

”Weve got the feds in Chicago. Prohies are in town. ” The room went silent. Even the singing had stopped from the bad.

”The dry agents. ” Neil informed Sally, who looked slightly puzzled by the nickname. She went white.

”Rumor has it, they
e currently sniffing around Capone territory, but honestly hes damn near impossible to catch. ” Tim sat down and sighed. ”One of them, Terrance Whittaker, is sniffing around our side of Chicago. ”

”What does he want? ”

”Hes new to the force, so hes looking to prove hes not useless, but from what one of the agents Ive met before…he basically is. ”

”Why did he come this way? ”

”He heard about Stew. Im guessing they either suspect Capones men…or they suspect something much more damning. ” The room looked grim. ”So…weve got a potential problem. ”

”Yes, we do. ” Vinny said. ”Hes useless, but someone on his team ain . ”

”Stew is well liked enough that we can probably get away with the narrative that hes a victim. ” Timmy admitted. ”That being said, Vinny is also right; someone on his team, or amongst the Prohies themselves, isn as incompetent. ”

”If they are investigating Capone, how did they discover news about Stew? ” Roland asked.

”Whos Capone? ” Everyone turned to Sally and stared. She blushed profusely.

”You don know who Al Capone is? ” Clifton seemed surprised.

”Oh, right, sorry. Thought the name seemed familiar. ” Neil didn buy it. In fact, nobody did, but they let it slide for now. Neil sensed it bothered her that she didn have the knowledge they did. Chicago was chock-full of drama and criminals, but only one that was a nation-wide name. ”How do we protect The Music Box? ”

”Thats where I come in. Ill sniff around and find out what hes looking for, and report back. Ive also just been to give Stew a heads up. The agent was there already, but he didn seem to be too suspicious of my presence. ”

”There could be any reason hes at that hospital. ”

”He was asking specifically for Stew. ” A muttering of cuss words ran around the room. ”There is an awareness somehow that Stew is well-liked, well, everywhere. People are aware that he is, for all intents and purposes, an upstanding member of Chicago, so hopefully itll go away quickly. ”

”And if it doesn ? What do you suggest? ” Clifton looked at Sally, and said, ”There isn much to be done. Our best bet is to rely on Timmy, its what we pay him to do. ”

”So, basically, we need to lay low for a while and not get into any sort of trouble. We, especially those of us closest to Uncle Stew, don wanna give them an excuse to go and interrogate us or something. ” Sally glanced at Vinny, and said, ”That goes double for you, Mr. Rum Runner. ” Vinny looked surprised, and said, ”Me? What the hell did I do? ” Clifton grinned, and Sally gave him a once over.

”You are the definition of trouble, Vincent Morello. ” Vinny looked at her and feigned his offense.

”Doll, you wound me. ” Sally shook her head, and said, ”Im sure you and your enormous ego can take the hit. ” She picked up her clipboard and walked away. Vinnys jaw slackened, and Clifton burst out laughing.

”Oh, damn, shes got your number, Morello, ” Timmy pointed out. Clifton was laughing the hardest out of them. It was time to open, however, so off he went.

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