Spokane gave me the morbs. Right blood blister of a town. Six-month millionaires and skunk-hobos, and none in between, Spokane a gilded carriage passing by peasants bathing in the very river they shat in.
Last place I wanted to go, but the job was the job, so I packed three shirts and lingered a minute over which barking iron to take (in the end I went small, loud, and kicky, the .32 Savage automatic). I caught first-class Denver to Billings, my first day sober in a month spent crossing Montana, then two hours over the Idaho panhandle toward the Washington border, and that's when the old morbid voice rattled up: Careful, Del—
At Hope, I slipped the porter a buck for a whiskey, then another when the train slowed the last five miles, forest, foothills, farms, and finally, Spokane.
I couldn't believe how the syphilitic town had metastasized. Smoke seeped from twenty thousand chimneys, pillars to an endless gray ceiling. The city was twice the size of the last time I'd hated being there. A box of misery spilled over the whole river valley.
I was half rats by the time we settled in the station. The voice again: Go home, Del. You don't need this. But my doctor wasn't likely to take reputation as payment. You can do this, I said back. Ten years a Pinkerton, ten more with Allied, and twenty a freelance, I had survived worse.
And money was good. The kind of money I hadn't seen since the mining wars, this Brand offering me prime pay (Dear Detective Dalveaux, My associates and I would like to inquire . . . ) and a bit of my old station in the letter, but also I suspected the job lived on the outskirts of what I was willing to do—and I'd done plenty: undercover with the Molly Maguires in my youth and the unionists in middle age. I had broke, beat, and buried men.
Spokane had a fancy new train station since I'd been through, built on an island just this side of the falls, three stories of brick and optimism. On the platform, I made the mistake of looking up, and a ripe ass told me I was gazing upon the biggest clock west of Chicago, 155 feet tall with four nine-foot faces. The ripe ass also said Spokane had the biggest beer hall and the biggest theater stage in the world, and I fancied shooting him in the teeth if he didn't shut up. I can suffer any fool, but a booster turns my guts.
"You know what else you should see while you're here?" he said.
"Is it only you," I said, "or is every man in this town an insufferable c—-?"
Before he could answer, a thick lug in a driver's cap stepped forward from a line of porters. Stared at my nose. A lot of things a man can hide, but not that grog-blossom map of life. "Mr. Dalveaux? Please follow me, sir."
I stepped after the driver, but I noticed his socks were silk. His arm swung cuff links. Good Christ, this tiresome business. A fancy monger pretending to be his own driver, cap and all, reaching for the bags like a servant.
How to play it? Get rumbumptious or let him have his fun? I went down the middle, didn't want him to play me, but didn't want him canked yet, either: "Thank you, Mr. Brand," I said, and he looked surprised over his shoulder. I liked the defeat on his face—his racket was queered and he was stuck carrying my bags. How's that for a red nose, muffinguts? He muttered some rot about safety and anonymity, but I could tell he'd just wanted to reveal himself like a posh magician—Look, it is I, Lemuel Brand!
We were followed by his security lug, who climbed in a tail car. Brand and I settled in a big touring auto—him driving us into that hopeful downtown, past a curling streetcar packed with people, hutching wagons and sputtering Tin Lizzies, much more traffic than last time, on suspiciously wide streets up a hill to a big gaudy house overlooking his rank kingdom.
He laid out a whole speech in the car: "city on the verge of—dangers of socialism—East Coast agitators—immigrant filth—concerned mine owners and business leaders—real Americans—jail full of vermin—mayor's hands tied—in support of police—moral responsibility—commercial interests—future in the balance—last stand of decency—"
"And is that why you brought me here, Mr. Brand? My decency?"
He looked over. Did not so much as smile.
We parked and got out of the touring. The security brute climbed out of the follow car and gave me the old agency-man once-over. I opened my coat to show my gun so the lug wouldn't feel the need to pull it from me.
"Dalveaux," said I.
"Willard," said he.
Three other men worked the edges. This Brand was spooked. Or just had money to burn. He offered to show me the grounds, but I declined, much to his disappointment. I was already feeling one of my harder thirsts.
His lecture had reached the part about him representing "a consortium of industrialists, mining and timber men looking to fight back against the anarchists and unionists."
"Consortium," I repeated. Nothing better than a consortium. Ten rich hens to pluck instead of one.
He explained that the Spokane police chief had been properly tough with the Wobblies in the first round, and if they stayed tough until spring, the tramps would give up and go back to work, and trouble would take care of itself. But there were "pockets of weakness in the city's resolve," and a new union organizer had arrived, a girl. "The consortium hopes to augment the actions of the police while keeping this young woman organizer from getting a foothold."
"So it's augmenting you want," I said. "Why me? Plenty of augmenters here. Indeed, there were three national detective agencies with shops in Spokane—Thiel's thugs and Pinkerton's too-smart-for-their-own-goods and Allied's bargain boys. Any of them could augment, plus at least four regional head-knock shops. Why go all the way to Denver and old Del—this part I did not say—ten years far side of prime?
"First, this can't be local," Brand said. "And it can't be one of my men. No tracing it back. It needs to be off the books. And made to look . . ." He searched for the word. "Natural. You came highly recommended for that."
Then he said a name. Rich Spokane monger. Nasty job I had done for him last time I was here. During the low period. The kind of thing the Pinkertons and better agencies wouldn't touch. A woman-in-the-way kind of thing.
Christ this town.
We went up the steps, and as if to wave off my conscience, Brand swept his arm at the entryway. "Welcome to Alhambra, Mr. Dalveaux!"
"Like the Spanish castle."
He looked stunned, and if he hadn't hired me already, he'd have done so on the spot. "Well. I must say—you live up to your reputation."
These mining guys. Knew so little and wanted to believe so much. How hard was it to find the name of his bloody house?
I followed him through a fancy landing, beneath dual staircases, to a two-story library. Books that hadn't been cracked since they were shelved. Give money to a monkey and he'll fill his cage with bananas. Give the same money to a dim American and he'll build a show library every time.
Brand had a bottle brought in. Brandy. I stared at it while he mentioned again the Spokane mining prince I'd done the job for a few years back—son of a prominent family in a rub with a hotel girl—a dove run by some cop in town—told the boy's father that the girl was pregnant—father deciding it was cheaper to pay old Del once than this rat cop over and over—Can you make it seem . . . accidental—
On and on, anon, anon, begat, begun, begone. The brandy stared back.
"And so, in talking with my colleagues, you seemed a good candidate for the kind of thing we need."
"Which is . . . the kind of thing we need."
His tone surlied me—or the bottle did, just sitting there, doing none of us any good. And the sour taste of that other job: hiring the girl, getting her drunk in her crib behind the tavern, pouring booze and lye down her throat until she drowned. Easing out of the room. Took a peek-feel as she died and she wasn't even pregnant—likely just a play this dirty cop made against the wealthy kid. But the girl was gone now, while the rat cop, shit kid, and old Del, we all woke up next morning and breathed air. In a better world, I'd have done them, too, the cop, the kid, the dad, but that wasn't the job. The job was the job and the girl had to go. And Del—a little more of him in the process.
Finally, Brand handed me a glass of brandy.
"They're planning another major action, November twenty-ninth," he said. "They're going around giving speeches, raising money, recruiting bodies to fill the jail. They want to hire Darrow."
"Sure they do," I said. After he got Big Bill Haywood acquitted of a murder conspiracy in Boise in '07, every jailed radical prayed at night to Clarence Darrow.
"We would like their efforts . . . hindered."
Hindered? The only thing I hated more than a booster was a euphemism. Augment? Hinder? I ought to augment his chin with my right fist and hinder his dick with my left. I drained my glass.
"I was thinking," Brand said, "what if, at some point of their travels, their party was relieved of whatever funds they'd raised?"
"You want them robbed," I said. Euphemisms.
"Is it considered robbery if the money is intended for an illegal purpose?"
"Yes," I said. "How much money?"
"The money isn't important."
"The money's always important."
"The money is important only in that it conflicts with our larger purposes. You can keep the money. What I'm wondering is if the presence of the money provides an opportunity to . . . make one thing look like another?"
I finished my brandy through gritted teeth, thinking: You don't hire a man forty goddamn years in this thing and tell him how to make one thing look like another thing. Just like you don't go into a restaurant and hand the chef a recipe for a bouillabaisse. You order bouillabaisse and you let the goddamn chef do his goddamn job. You don't hire Del for a dirt bath and say make it look like a manicure.
"You have names?"
"I have dossiers."
Good Christ. Dossiers. Save me from these mining men—little girls playing dress-up in their mother's wardrobe.
He handed me a file. Dalveaux typed on the outside. Six pages. Four names: two tramps, brothers, Gregory and Ryan Dolan, twenty-three and almost seventeen. Montanans. Arrested in the labor trouble. The younger released. The older, Gregory, still in jail. He'd done some speaking for the IWW and was known to "consort" with Margaret Anne Burns, aka Ursula the Great, thirty-two although she claimed twenty-four, actress in a wild cougar act. It was the joke of a place like Spokane, how many whores listed themselves as "actress." Still, if it was real, I wouldn't mind seeing this cougar thing. It occurred to me that Brand might have a personal angle for this job, too—a stake in the cadge.
There was a third bum, but the information was thin, nothing but a name, Early Reston. He'd taken a few punches at a Spokane cop. With this one I was to use caution because he was dangerous. I nearly laughed at the idea of a dangerous bum. So he'd decked a cop? There were raccoons I'd take in a fight with a Spokane cop.
That left the labor woman. The only one I knew. At least I knew of her. Every detective in the west knew Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Saucebox spent the last two years riling up camps from Seattle to Minneapolis. Labor cunny roused more rabble than jaws twice her age. I'd had my boy Paul in St. Paul tail her back when she was working the Minnesota mining region, and he all but fell in love with her. After that I'd heard some miner married her and knapped her up. Good for all involved. Best way to turn a nineteen-year-old problem like that was put her in a kitchen with a babe on her tit. But now she was back on the road?
"What do you think?"
I looked up. Brand was smiling. "The bums won't be a problem."
"The older brother is still in jail."
"It will be easier when he gets out. Fewer people involved."
"I see. And what about this Early Reston? He beat up a cop pretty bad. When it comes to it, I would advise taking him down first."
When it comes to the bouillabaisse, I'd stew the lobster with tomatoes first. "Like I said, the bums won't be a problem." I held up the page and pointed to Gurley Flynn's name, not wanting to say it aloud. "This one's a problem."
He nodded. "The job you did for my friend—"
"I don't mean because she's a woman. I mean the attention. It would be four times the price." I held up four fingers. "Plus expenses."
His eyes widened. "I see." It was more than he'd planned, and I worried I'd started too high. "Well." He took a swallow of his drink. "Maybe it won't come to that. For now I just want them located, followed, and—"
"Hindered," I said.
"Hindered," he said, "although, should the opportunity present itself—"
I cleared my throat. Should the opportunity—I was the opportunity, opportunity and chance and fate, that's why you called Del. Dirt bath. Eternity box. That's the opportunity I provided.
"There is one other thing you should know," Brand said. "Last week I made an entreaty to the younger brother."
"You did what—"
"An entreaty? An offer—"
"I know what an entreaty is."
Brand shifted in his chair. "Last week I brought Ryan Dolan here and I floated the idea of hiring him, having him on retainer. For information."
"Specifically, I wanted to know if Early Reston had rejoined their party."
"I . . . I had Ursula bring Ryan to me. You see, I was seeking information—"
I held up the file. "You had one of these people . . . brought here?"
He cleared his throat at the depth of his mistake. "Ursula wanted me to get the older brother released, and . . . it seemed like an opportunity to—"
"What if he told someone? What if Ursula told someone?"
I could see this hadn't occurred to him. Christ, this euphemistic stupid scaramouch. I closed the dossiers. They weren't half bad. That's what made them so bad. I looked up at Willard, standing with his hands crossed in the corner. "A minute with your boss?"
He looked at Brand, who nodded. The lug left the room.
I closed the file and ran my finger over the label. Dalveaux.
Brand saw me looking at his handiwork. "I imagine you'll be hiring other men for this operation? Perhaps I could be your—"
"Shut your bone box."
His breath went short.
I walked to the fireplace and pitched the dossiers into the fire. "No more paper. No more dossiers. No more fake drivers and no more trying to hire the men you want me to plant. Right?"
He nodded weakly.
"I will hinder. Follow the girl and plan the robbery. Meantime, you go back to your consortium, and if it's dirt baths you want: It's a thousand per bum and three for the girl. Nonnegotiable. From now on, you and I speak only by telephone. Twice a week. I ring you on Monday and Friday. I tell the girl on the line my name is Grant.
"If it's just the robbery, you don't take the call. If it's a dirt bath you want, you come on the line and propose lunch. If it's the labor cunny, you say, 'Can we have lunch Monday, Mr. Grant?' If it's the dangerous tramp Reston, you say, 'Lunch Tuesday?' The entreaty brother, 'Lunch Wednesday?' If it's the whole party, you ask for dinner—"
"Dinner," he said breathlessly, his trousers no doubt tightening.
"Say you want just the girl and the dangerous tramp, you say—"
"'Mr. Grant, can we have lunch Monday or Tuesday?'"
"Right. And the younger brother and Reston?"
"'Mr. Grant, can we have lunch Tuesday or Wednesday?'"
"And if you want all of them done, you say?"
"'Mr. Grant, can we schedule a dinner?'"
"Good." It was over the top, pointless secret agent business, but he ate it up. That's what he was hiring—a story. Any mining goon could plant three tramps and a knapped-up labor girl. This rust-guts wanted a play. So, Del played, and hoped this lunch-on-Tuesday gully-fluff would keep him occupied and out of my way.
"What if I actually want to have lunch?"
I cleared my throat. "We will not be having lunch. Anything else I should know?"
He hesitated a moment, and the old voice said, Oh, get out, Del, but I hadn't made this kind of money in a decade, and then he said, "No, that's it."
I didn't think he'd ever ordered this before. He was overwhelmed, a scared schoolgirl with Del's hand up his skirt.
I reached over and took the bottle of brandy. "Now have your man drive me downtown. I need to get some sleep. And have a girl sent up. Something young."
"Yes," he said.
"Right, then." I offered my hand down to him. "Charmed."
The man looked up, took my hand, and I shook it. And I squeezed the blood right out of that fat claw. ♦