Chicago 5th December 1933
A clear cold winter's night with fine snow drifting upon the air. A little group of men stood outside a modest three-storey house in a quiet residential street just off Dearborne Avenue. Lights glowed behind curtained windows and a soft throb of jazz came from inside.
The men were staring at the open door - or rather at the space just above. Suddenly there was a crackle of electricy and a discreet sign lit up. In neat red neon letters it read: 'Doc's Place'. A tagged cheer went up from the little crowd.
Three men stood at the front of the group. One was enormous another, just very big. The third man, older than the others was slim and silver-haired.
The biggest of the three men who, looked like a gorilla in evening dress, said "Legit at last - and it only took a few years! Doc was right, hey Luigi?"
"Doc was right about most things, Happy," said the silver-haired man.
"He sure was," said the third man quietly. Unlike the first two, immaculate in their tuxedos, he wore a rumpled blue suit and an ancient trench-coat. A battered fedora was jamed on the bark of his head.
The silver-haired man stared at the sign for a moment and then raised his voice, "Very well, gentlemen, your first drink is on the house."
"That's tonight only," roared the gorilla-like man, "Tomorrow you mugs gotta pay up as usual." There was another cheer, and most of the crowd rushed into the house. The three men lin red for a moment, looking at the sign.
The big man said "It's a nice sign, Luigi, real class. Doc would've liked it."
The silver-haired man looked pleased.
"Thank you Mr Dekker. I'd better get inside, help my barmen hand out those free drinks."
He hurried into the house, and the other two followed. In the luxurious hallway, the massive Happy went to close the door. Dekker said, "Leave it open, Happy. Come one, come all!"
"Hey, that's right!" Happy Harrigan shook his head wonderingly. He pointed to the little shutter, set head-high in the door. "No more looking at the suckers through the shutter, nobody giving the password 'I'm sick, I wanna see the Doc.' It don t seem natural."
Dekker said "You'll get used to it Happy. Watch the door all the same. No drunks, no troublemakers."
"Sure thing, Mr Dekker."
Dekker went down the hallway and into the bar. He went up to the bar, sat on his usual stool and lit a cigarette. Luigi put a Bourbon in front of him, and he sat drinking and smoking and staring into space. Remembering.
Angry voices brought him out of his reverie. The place was crowded by now, with people fighting for seats and places at the bar. The air was thick with smoke, and the noise of excited voices almost drowned-out the jazz combo. Above all the racket he heard a customer yelling at a frightened waiter. "I tell you I'm gonna sit tight there. It's empty, ain't it"
He was pointing at an empty alcove to the right of the bar.
The waiter said "Excuse me, sir, you don't undetstand-"
The customer, a burly, flashily-dressed, blue-chinned character, shoved him aside.
Dekker sighed, slid off his stool and moved across to the front of the alcove barring the customer's way. "The seat in the alcove's reserved."
"Yeah? Says who?"
Dekker studied the man for a moment before replying. The man wore a cheap tux with a bulge under the left arm. A stranger. Out of town hood, thought Dekker, Detroit or Cleveland, maybe even New York. A lot of new talent was moving into Chicago now the Big Fellow had been put away at last.
"Says me," said Dekker wearily, answering the question.
"And who the hell are you?"
"The name's Dekker. Tom Dekker."
The hood shifted uneasily under Dekker's hard stare. He was deciding whether or not to push it. To help him make up his mind, Dekker unbuttoned his jacket, letting the guy see the butt of the Colt .45 automatic under his arm. The handle of the Colt was worn and shiny. It had seen a lot of use.
The man licked his lips. "You a cop?"
"Private. And the seat's still reserved."
Dekker saw the anger flare in che man's eyes, saw his right hand twitch and realised he was going to go for it. He tensed and a huge man wich a round, red face stepped becween them.
"And just what might be going on here?"
Dekker said "Evening, Captain Reilly, nice to see you. I was just explaining to our friend that the alcove's reserved.
Captain Dennis Reilly of Chicago's finest said irritably '"To be sure it is, everyone knows that." He glared ac the hood.
"That seat's reserved for Doc, the guy who started this place. A personal friend of mine. So beat it!" He jabbed a finger as thick as a banana in the stranger's chest. The hood staggered back and disappeared into the crowd. Reilly said "I suppose we oughta be patient with the poor feller, he's new in town. He'll learn."
"If he lives."
Reilly said "Ah sure, there's always that. Is Doc back in Chicago?"
"Not that I know of. He's - travelling."
"Great guy, that Doc. Those were the days, hey Dekker?"
"Sure were." Reilly had once tried to kill Doc and Dekker back in those good old days, but he obviously didn't bear any malice.
Reilly sighed. "And now prohibition's over and booze is legal again. How's a poor corrupt police captain to make a living?" He nodded and moved away and Dekker went back to his stool. Luigi put another Bourbon in front of him. "I was getting ready to duck. We're never going to make a profit if you keep shooting the customers, Mr Dekker."
"It's lucky Reilly broke it up. He asked if Doc was back." Dekker lit another cigarette and sipped his drink, remembering a time, not so long ago, when booze was illegal, Capone ruled Chicago, and the sound of bombs and tommy-guns was as routine as the roar of traffic. He remembered a small grey eyed man known as Doc and a deadly, dark-haired girl they called the lady in Black. Luigi was polishing a glass. "You think he'll ever come back to Chicago, Mr Dekker? Him and Miss Ace?"
"Beats me, Luigi." Tom Dekker glanced at the empty alcove and raised his glass. "But if he does, his usual chair will be waiting for him...