Ryan Ross was a reporter. He knew he wasn’t necessarily the best at what he did – he was sure Dutton, who seemed to be the go-to guy when it came to whatever nonsense was coming out of Hollywood, held that prestigious title – but he knew he was far from the worst the Chicago Journal had to offer. At least he never seemed to have to be in a thousand places at once, like Valdes practically had to be, as one of the paper’s better photographers.
If anything, Ryan was in search of what could possibly be the story to make it onto the front page and make his career. He knew that the Depression was still big news, but he also knew that if he had to write one more damn story about it, he was going to scream. And possibly introduce at least one of his bosses to one of the printing presses.
There was sudden silence from the desks around him – the desks for the beat reporters like Ryan at the Chicago Journal were shaped in a horseshoe fashion, for reasons Ryan had never fathomed. He glanced up from the paperwork he was mindlessly shuffling around in his effort to look busy, to find the beat reporters all staring in his direction. He glanced down quickly, wondering if he’d managed to get ink or some shit on his clothes before looking up. His head fell back against the back of the chair as he stared up at one of his bosses, as if the thought of Ryan’s thoughts had manifested him.
Patrick’s arms were crossed over his chest and he was frowning down at Ryan as if he knew that Ryan was pretending to look busy instead of actually being such. Ryan managed to dredge up a smile from somewhere, and knew it was more of a grimace than an actual smile. Patrick frowned at him again, and Ryan briefly wondered what he was in trouble for.
He managed to get out a shaky, “Yeah?” and was proud of the fact his voice didn’t tremor as much as he thought it would.
If there were one thing true about the Chicago Journal, it was that Pete Wentz was the owner and head editor, but it was very well known that Patrick Stump, the co-owner, really ran the paper.
There were also plenty of rumors – never spoken aloud where Stump could hear them, though – that Patrick Stump had ties to the local mob. Ryan Ross was actually more than a little scared of his boss.
It was another long moment before Stump finally seemed to make up his mind and uncross his arms. He tossed a piece of paper onto the mess already on Ryan’s desk. “Wentz wants you to do this story. If it’s good, he’ll see you get front page with it.”
Ryan stared blankly at Stump before the other man turned and walked back toward the main office. He turned his blank gaze from the closing door to the folded piece of paper tossed carelessly onto his desk. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the beat reporters on either side of him scoot closer in their curiosity.
“What’s the special scoop?” Greenwald, to Ryan’s right, finally broke the silence, grabbing the paper and unfolding it. Ryan watched him, blinking when Greenwald cursed loudly, staring back at Ryan with very wide eyes.
He snatched the piece of paper back, reading it a few times until the words finally sunk in.
“What is it?” Dutton asked irritably from the desk a few desks over.
Ryan’s mouth worked uselessly for a minute or two, trying to form words, as his eyes rose to meet those of the reporters staring back at him. Dutton finally grabbed the paper out of Ryan’s limp hands. His mouth moved as he silently read the paper before staring up at Ryan.
“You know what this means, right?” Dutton asked carefully, looking quietly nervous at his fellow reporter. Greenwald nodded, mirroring Dutton’s nervous expression. The other beat reporters, the ones that hadn’t seen the paper, gave all three reporters dirty looks as they waited to hear what the big story was about. One cleared his throat demandingly, but Dutton ignored it, eyes going to the wooden clock affixed to the wall just to the left of the office’s door. “You’ve got half an hour to get your ass uptown, Ross, if you’re gonna make this appointment. Make tracks, fast.”
Ryan’s eyes followed Dutton’s gaze to the clock before he jumped up, grabbing his coat off the back of his chair and his bag from under his desk, scrambling for the front door to make his appointment in time.
If this story took off the way he was hoping, it’d be a good day for the readers. But if he were late to this appointment, it wasn’t a good day for being a reporter for the Chicago Journal.
Ryan made it to the hotel with ten minutes to spare. It cost him a little extra, and more than a little gripe from the driver, but it was with considerable relief that he walked into the lobby of the Palmer Hotel. He rechecked his appointment and made his way over to the elevators.
His finger was hovering over the up arrow when suddenly, the doors opened. Ryan took a step back in surprise, seeing his surprise mirrored briefly on the face of the young man that getting off the elevator. After a moment, the other man shook himself, nodded politely to Ryan and stepped around him, heading for the door.
Ryan watched him go, taking in the cut of the stranger’s obviously expensive suit, before shaking himself when he realized what he was doing. He stepped into the elevator, giving the operator the floor number. He watched the floors go by, and glanced toward the silent man.
“Your floor, sir,” the operator finally said as the elevator came to a stop. Ryan gave him a faint smile as the doors were opened and he got off.
Ryan paused once off, looking up and down at all the doors before double checking his appointment. He mouthed the room number to himself, hurrying down the hall and coming to a halt outside the right room.
He took a deep breath, knocking on the door. “Miss Palmer?” There was no answer and he hesitated before knocking louder, repeating his inquiry. “It’s, uh. Ryan Ross. From the Journal?”
His hand lowered a bit before he reached for the doorknob, turning it slightly. To his surprise, it turned and the door swung open. He glanced around, trying to see if he were alone on the floor before he adjusted his bag. He was almost tempted to stay outside, but the newshound in him urged him into the darkened room.
“Miss Palmer?” Ryan called as he crossed the threshold. He poked his head into the bathroom as he passed it, flicking the light on and finding nothing more than a bathroom that seemed to be as large as his bedroom over in Bucktown.
He flicked the light switch back off as he moved away from the bathroom, and made it a couple steps before he stumbled over something in the dark. He cursed softly, hand fumbling for a light switch, a lamp, something before his blind search rewarded him with a switch, flooding the dark room with light.
Ryan glanced down to see what he’d tripped over and bent down to pick up the discarded pump, turning it over in his hands as he looked around to see where it came from. He turned to put the pump on the dresser the room provided and saw that the mirror was askew. He frowned, reaching a hand out to put the mirror to rights and froze when the angle he was aiming for showed something pale under the bed.
Turning slightly and moving carefully, he bent down, fingers reaching for the dust ruffle and lifting it up.
Half underneath the bed was a very dead woman.
Ryan quickly scooted back from the bed, eyes wide and feeling himself start to hyperventilate.
Somehow, he managed to pull himself to his feet, stumbling out of the room. The rational part of his brain, the only part that seemed to be getting air, was setting off warning signals, telling him to call the police.
Ryan found a phone resting on a table a few doors down, and dialed the number for the police with shaking fingers. When the operator came on, he tried to tell her as calmly as he could that he’d come across a dead body and gave the address of the hotel. He wasn’t quite sure how he did it, or what her response was, but a few minutes later he was returning the phone to the cradle and walking toward the elevator. He hesitated once there, finger hovering over the down button before turning and walking back toward the hotel room.
Back at the room, he considered going back inside into the room and nearly backed out of the idea, but before he could, the reporter in him convinced himself to go back in.
He wasn’t quite sure how long he stood there, looking down at the dead body. He knew without ever having met her, that he was looking down at who he had come to see: Amanda Palmer, daughter of the owners of the Palmer Hotel.
Ryan shook himself, moving out of the room again. He didn’t know how she died, didn’t want to find out, but he knew he didn’t want to stay in there any longer. No sooner had he walked out of the room, then the first of the coppers came out of the elevator.
He bit his lip, making sure he wasn’t near the hotel room before quickly heading for the stairs. He knew he was fleeing the scene, but with the rep the Journal had because of Pete and his bizarre ritual of having his reporters collect souvenirs of their big stories, by any means possible, he was pretty sure he’d be made into a patsy for this. Especially when it came out that he’d been scheduled to meet with the dead woman.
As he came out onto the street, he rubbed his arm nervously, watching the meat wagon pull up to the curb, surrounded by more coppers. Just beyond them, he could see a crowd already starting to gather, and he thought he saw Greenwald near the front, trying to get the attention of one of the coppers.
Suddenly, being here seemed like a bad idea, even if he hadn’t done anything. He made his way through the crowd of people already gathered, catching a taxi as soon as he could. He gave the driver his address, and rested his head against the seat cushion, staring up at the ceiling.
“What do you suppose happened to bring this crowd?” the driver asked conversationally as he pulled away from the curb, glancing at Ryan in the rear view mirror.
“Do I look like I know?” Ryan said, watching the streets change as the taxi made its way over to Bucktown, thankful when the driver took the hint that he didn’t want to talk. As soon as the driver pulled up in front of Ryan’s apartment building, Ryan breathed a sigh of relief as he paid the man on his way out of the taxi.
After letting himself into his apartment building, Ryan ran up the couple of flights of stairs to his floor, quickly letting himself into his apartment before anyone saw him. Some of his neighbors, like Mrs. Blaszczyk next door, were nosier than he was, and he was the damn newshound.
“You’re home early.”
Ryan started at the sound of his roommate’s voice, staring dumbfounded at Spencer for a moment before shaking himself. He set his bag on the counter before throwing himself on the couch next to him, trying to shake the mental image of Amanda Palmer lying dead on the hotel room floor. He wasn’t sure he wanted to talk about what he’d seen with Spencer, even though he was sure that Spencer had seen worse at the Black Canary, where he worked as a skin tickler. Ryan had never been to the cabaret, but he’d heard plenty of snazzy things about it. For one thing, the Black Canary was rumored to also be a speakeasy. Of course, rumors like that always flew, especially if there were suspicions that a place had ties to the mob. And the two owners of the Black Canary, Brendon Urie and Gabriel Saporta, were hinted at having ties to one of the biggest mobs in the city. “Had an appointment that didn’t pan out.”
Out of the corner of Ryan’s eye, he could see the skeptical look Spencer gave him, but to his relief, that Spencer didn’t follow through with any questions.
After a few minutes of silence, broken only by the usual sounds of the building settling down as the late afternoon made its way into evening, Spencer patted Ryan’s thigh. “Come with me to the Black Canary tonight. You’ve earned a night off.”
Ryan grinned faintly despite himself. The idea of going out sounded a lot better than sitting at home, trying to get the image of Amanda’s dead body out of his head. “Break my wrist, will ya? I’ll go.”
“Good.” Spencer patted Ryan’s thigh again before standing up, heading to his room. “Change your clothes. You look like a newshound, and I’m pretty sure Urie ain’t gonna allow you near the place looking like that if he’s in tonight.” He paused by his bedroom door, turning a bit toward Ryan. “Get togged to the bricks, will ya?”
The Black Canary, Ryan knew, was located over in the Black Belt, half hidden in the shadow of a theater that called the building next door home. For a moment, Ryan thought Spencer was going to lead him right to the front door, where people were steadily going in, but Spencer led him to an alleyway almost unnoticeable between the theater and the Black Canary and to a nondescript door.
“Here we are,” his roommate smirked, knocking on the door. A few moments later, the door swung open, held open by a large man who gave Spencer a small nod, but eyed Ryan as if he knew what Ryan did for a living. He didn’t say anything, merely watching them as Ryan followed Spencer into a brightly lit hallway.
The hallway seemed to be out of place for a cabaret rumored to be a speakeasy as well, but Ryan stayed quiet as he followed Spencer down the length of it, finally coming to a door that opened onto the main floor of the cabaret. Spencer led him over to the bar, where the bartender – a shorter man with an easy smile half hidden behind a trimmed beard – reached out to shake Spencer’s hand.
“Spencer.” The bartender grinned wide, turning the grin on Ryan. “And who’s your friend? He ain’t a stoolie, is he?”
“This is my roommate, Ryan. And he ain’t. He just needs a night out.” Spencer patted Ryan’s shoulder, steering him to a stool. “I gotta get backstage. The big man in tonight?”
The bartender snorted, setting a glass of water in front of Ryan before he even asked for it. “He ain’t the only big cheese in here tonight. Saporta’s here, and him.”
Ryan couldn’t help it; the way the bartender was talking, and the way Spencer paused to look at him piqued his attention. He wondered just who the bartender meant and was about to ask when Spencer shook himself, patted Ryan’s shoulder and headed off back the way they’d come.
Ryan watched him go before turning back to the bartender. “Who’s the ‘him’ you were talkin’ about, fella?”
The bartender fixed him with a look. “I like your look, my friend, but some things you don’t futz around with. You dig?”
Ryan chewed his lip but nodded, looking down at his water. “I dig.”
The bartender gave a curt nod in response, starting to move away. Ryan paused before catching his shirt sleeve.
“Hey, friend, where’s the restroom around here?”
The bartender gave Ryan another look before pointing in the direction Ryan had come in. Ryan nodded, thanking him and heading in that way.
He hadn’t gotten far down the hallway when he heard the sound of voices coming from a closed room. Part of him knew that he should just continue on walking and finding the restroom, but the newshound in him took over and made him take a step closer, trying to hear what the voices were saying.
They were too low to be heard through the thick door, but Ryan could just barely make out that they seemed to be arguing about something. He pressed his ear against the door, trying hard to make out what the voices were saying when he heard someone clear their throat directly behind him.
He froze briefly before turning around and finding himself nose to chest with the man who’d let him and Spencer in earlier. He swallowed, wondering if he should try for a smile, make himself likeable, anything. But before he could come up with a solution, a reason why he’d be snooping around, the bouncer had grabbed him by his shirt collar and knocked on the door. The bouncer didn’t wait for a response from inside the room before he opened the door, pushing Ryan inside and following him in.
Ryan stared wide eyed at the two men inside the office. He recognized both of them immediately. The taller man was William Beckett; he’d seen the man’s picture countless times in the Journal, at all the big parties that were thrown by the biggies of the city. He was also pretty sure that Stump had ties to the man. He didn’t know the other man by name, but he knew where he’d seen him before: the Palmer House Hotel, exiting the elevator.
And, judging by the look the unknown man was giving him, the other man clearly recognized him too.
Ryan was only vaguely aware that the man he didn’t know had said something before William Beckett settled into the leather chair situated behind the messy desk. He was also vaguely aware of the bouncer leaving, only fully realizing it when the door shut with a click behind him.
“So, you’re a newshound,” Beckett began casually, studying Ryan with an unreadable look. Ryan swallowed under that gaze, feeling a lot like a mouse would under a predator’s stare. The man he didn’t know settled on the corner of the desk, looking briefly at Beckett before back to Ryan. Ryan was starting to wonder if he’d say anything, or if Ryan himself should respond to Beckett’s statement when Beckett continued.
“You don’t look like much, newshound. What paper are you with?”
Ryan swallowed again, wanting nothing more than to start staring at his loafers, but continued to keep his eyes on Beckett. Some part of him knew that this was one man one didn’t look away from. “The Chicago Journal.”
The man Ryan didn’t know bent down to retrieve a notepad from the floor that Ryan hadn’t even noticed, his dark eyes scanning the open page before he tossed it to the desk. Ryan’s eyes followed the notebook, the newshound in him curious to know what was in it, especially when Beckett leaned forward to tap it with one finger.
“The Journal seems to already have its story regarding the Palmer dame, and you seem to have seen Urie here.” Beckett indicated the man sitting on the desk, even as the man kept his gaze fixed on Ryan. “You wouldn’t have written this story now, would you?”
Ryan licked his lips, more than sure that if he weren’t careful with his words, they might be his last. At least now he knew what the mysterious Brendon Urie, the owner of the Black Canary, looked like. Which meant that, if Urie were deferring to Beckett as he seemed to be doing, then Beckett himself might very well be his tie to the mob.
The silence in the room stretched while Ryan tried to think of something to say before Urie spoke up, glancing at Beckett. “No, of course he didn’t. If he had, there’d be mention of me in the story.” Urie’s dark eyes turned toward Ryan. Ryan didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone look more coolly confident of themselves than Urie did right now. “Am I correct?”
Ryan nodded mutely before taking a deep breath. “After I found the Palmer dame after seeing,” he paused, unsure how to address Urie before settling for gesturing toward the other man. “I hightailed it home to my place. Didn’t want the coppers talking to me, and finding out that I was supposed to be meeting the Palmer dame for a story of my own.”
As he spoke, he saw in his mind’s eye Greenwald trying to get one of the coppers at the Palmer Hotel to talk to him about what was going on. He was sure that the story Beckett was so concerned with had to be Greenwald’s doing. There was no other explanation he could account for.
Beckett’s fingers twined together where they rested against the desk, studying Urie thoughtfully even as Urie kept his gaze silently fixed on Ryan. Ryan, for his part, kept his gaze fixed on Urie. He felt that, even though Beckett could, in his position, make it so that Ryan could disappear without a trace, Urie was currently the bigger threat to him because the man held not only Ryan’s fate, but Spencer’s as well.
Ryan wasn’t sure how long they stayed in the tableau before Urie turned to Beckett, silently looking at the other man. After a moment of unspoken communication, Beckett looked toward Ryan.
“I’ll make you a deal, newshound. Let your superiors know that the story can run, but I want you to make sure that there’s no mention of Urie in any story that your paper runs regarding this.” Beckett studied Ryan for a long moment like he wasn’t used to his deals not being taken.
Ryan licked his lips, taking a deep breath. After all, he hadn’t yet heard what he’d get out of agreeing to such a deal, and he wasn’t dumb enough to agree to something without knowing all the details. “And what do I get in return?”
Beckett got up from the desk, smiling quietly as if from at a private joke, and crossed to the door, pausing by Ryan and glancing at him. “Well, isn’t it obvious? You get to live, newshound.”
Even though the tone was polite, Ryan felt a chill run down his spine. Suddenly, he knew for certain that Beckett was not a man to trifle with. Even as he tried to keep calm and show that Beckett’s seemingly idle threat didn’t turn him yellow, Ryan heard the door behind him open and then shut behind Beckett.
When the sound of Beckett’s footsteps faded down the hallway, Urie stood up from where he sat, walking around the desk and sitting down. Ryan wasn’t entirely sure if he had been dismissed with Beckett’s leaving, or even if he could leave. He was about to ask if he could, when Urie looked up with a faintly skeptical look.
“You do intend to keep that deal, right, newshound?” He paused as if it had suddenly occurred to him that Ryan had an actual name and retrieved a piece of paper from a tray on the desk. “Excuse me, it’s Ryan Ross, isn’t it?”
“How - “ Ryan started before stopping, mind already racing as it tried to figure out how someone he’d never met would know his name, as well as what that piece of paper said.
The other man smiled, as if Ryan’s thoughts were radio broadcast into the air. “You mentioned before that you had an appointment with the Palmer dame. You newshounds have your sources, we’ve got ours.”
He put the piece of paper back down in the tray that he’d gotten it from, turning his attention to the paperwork that littered his desk. Once more, Ryan felt like he’d been dismissed, but he was also reminded once again that, while Beckett might seem like the one Ryan should look out for, Urie was equally dangerous.
He studied Urie for a long moment, aligning what he saw – a young man, not much older than Ryan was, with dark brown hair and brown eyes, the faint hint of a tan – with what he knew and had heard about the co-owner of the Black Canary. For one, Urie looked younger than he’d have imagined a cabaret-speakeasy owner would look, much less someone supposedly tied to the mob.
As the silence stretched on and Ryan found himself wondering if that bouncer was still outside the door, he finally felt like he had to break the silence and cleared his throat. There wasn’t any sign that Urie had heard the sound, loud as it was, other than that the fact the papers he was looking at paused briefly in their rustling, but Ryan was pretty sure that Urie was still very much aware that Ryan was still in the room.
“How do you know that I’m just gonna go along with your deal, huh?” Ryan was well aware that copping an attitude probably wouldn’t help his situation, but judging from the mild surprise that crossed Urie’s face as he focused on the papers before him, the other man, like Beckett earlier, hadn’t seemed to think that Ryan wouldn’t go along with the offer.
The papers were lowered to the desk and Urie rested his hands on top of them, mirroring Beckett’s earlier posture, although the smile was a bit warmer on Urie’s face – but not by much.
“Well, Mr. Ross, I’d imagine that even to a newshound like yourself, the story’s not worth your life. Besides, if it were to come out that you saw me at the Palmer Hotel, it would come out that you were also there. As you said, you didn’t want to be blamed for the Palmer dame’s murder, and, from what I know about your boss Wentz, he could just as easily ruin your reputation as he could mine.” He spread his hands out, the very gesture of a merciful benefactor, even as his words washed over Ryan calmly. “After all, Wentz likes a sensational story. What could be more sensational than one of his own newshounds being at the same hotel as such a prominent citizen as Miss Palmer herself at the time of her murder?”
Ryan stared, even as the words registered with him. After all, his boss Pete Wentz did have a reputation for wanting his newshounds to steal bits of their more sensational stories to add to the morbid collection Wentz had started when he’d been a newshound himself. Granted, Wentz always asked that every stone they brought back was acquired by honorable means. Some of the newshounds at the Journal chose to be less than honorable rather than risk displeasing Wentz, which gave the honorable ones the same reputation. Everything Urie said in such a calm, collected and friendly tone rang true.
He was about to open his mouth to say that he would agree with Beckett’s deal when Urie’s smile broadened, but the friendly warmth in this smile made Ryan’s blood run cold.
“Besides, newshound, with the resources at my disposal, you aren’t that hard to find.”
After Urie’s warmly offered threat, Ryan had found himself dismissed from the man’s office. The bouncer led Ryan back down the hall to the cabaret proper, making sure that Ryan was firmly seated on a stool at the bar before he headed back the way the pair had come.
“Long piss,” the bartender offered conversationally as he set down a glass of water in front of Ryan, who stared numbly at it. “Or did you not find the gents?”
Ryan stared at the glass of water some more, not quite hearing the bartender before he shook himself, getting to his feet. “I gotta go.” He paused, suddenly remembering that Spencer had told him to have a night off. Coming face to face with William Beckett and Brendon Urie, and being told to keep Urie out of the story involving the Palmer dame was definitely not taking the night off. “Actually, could you relay a message for me?”
The bartender gave him a skeptical look before he nodded amiably. Ryan asked for a piece of paper and a pen, writing Spencer a quick note explaining that he had to go home because something had come up.
“Can you see that my roommate Spencer gets this?” he said, handing it over to the bartender.
The bartender gave the piece of paper a thoughtful look but nodded. He also waved off payment for the two waters Ryan had had, saying that, as a friend of Spencer’s, the drinks were on the house.
Brendon Urie was, if nothing else, a man used to getting his own way. He knew he was young, and that plenty of people didn’t take him seriously because of it. There’d been plenty of people back in New York who had been of that same opinion, had thought that he had gotten as far as he had because he was his father’s son.
He wondered how many of the detractors had reacted when he’d gotten that letter, requesting him to come out here to Chicago at William Beckett’s request.
He’d heard plenty of things about the man before he’d come out – after all, Beckett’s reputation in Chicago had reached ears in New York – and he’d yet to find any lies in the whole mess.
There were days Brendon wondered what happened to the man he’d been brought in to replace, but he’d learned early on in his experience that one didn’t ask questions one didn’t want the answer to.
Brendon leaned forward in his seat, resting his elbows on his desk and burying his face in his hands. To say that he was having a bad day was a gross understatement. His policy of staying out of the general view of the public had gone awry, and he wasn’t even positive that the newshound that had been in his office earlier would hold up his end of the bargain.
He shook himself, getting to his feet. There was no room for worrying about things like whether or not that newshound would keep his end of the deal. He had plenty of other things to do, like finding out who killed the Palmer dame.
He placed his hands against the surface of his desk and took a few deep, calming breaths as the image of the dead dame flashed through his mind again. He’d seen plenty of dead bodies in his lifetime, not all of them coming from his line of work, and plenty by his own hand. He was certainly not squeamish about death. But this time, it felt personal.
His eyes closed as he concentrated on the memory, taking a few more deep breaths to calm himself, trying to remember the scene. After a few minutes of trying to recall the details, see if he’d missed anything, he shook himself and opened his eyes. He stared across the room toward the opposite wall, his gaze unfocusing and not seeing the artwork and other décor that lined the far wall, as his fingers curled into the wood of the desk.
Brendon wasn’t sure how long he’d stood there before he slammed his fist down on the desk with a curse, shaking himself from his thoughts. He straightened up, slamming his fist into the palm of his other hand.
What he needed was someone to talk this out with.
He toyed briefly with the idea of talking it over with Saporta, but knowing him, the man was probably busy enjoying the perks of running a speakeasy inside a well-known cabaret. After all, there were plenty of liquor and pretty dames to be had at the Black Canary, and Saporta was one of the most hedonistic men that Brendon had ever met. He also had never been supportive of using the Palmer dame as their go-between – because of the connections she had through her family – in the first place. Even though Saporta and Brendon were on good terms with one another, Brendon was fairly sure that Saporta would believe that Brendon had murdered the dame just to get out of the arrangement, until proven otherwise. No, Saporta was definitely not an option to talk this out with.
Hall was also out of the question; the big man was Brendon’s bodyguard first and foremost, and occasional bouncer to the Black Canary when Brendon was in, but Brendon hadn’t yet told him about the new details about the Palmer affair. He wasn’t even sure how Hall would take the news: he knew that Hall’s moll Carol was on good terms with the Palmer family, so Hall would hear about it soon enough, if he hadn’t already. On top of that, Brendon wasn’t actually supposed to leave Hall’s sight unless he was in his apartment, and the appointment with Amanda Palmer had been made behind Hall’s back, so that was the other reason Brendon hadn’t mentioned it.
He was kidding himself if he thought he’d get away scotfree when, sooner or later, Hall found out. Brendon might be the superior, but Hall was very good at his job, and very protective of his charge. Although, Brendon did have to admit that Hall was a good man to have at one’s back.
Brendon started to pace the office, going over a mental list of people he knew and could trust.
Beckett was out; Brendon’s boss was not entirely convinced Brendon hadn’t murdered Amanda Palmer, if their earlier conversation had been any indication.
There weren’t many people in the cabaret that he felt comfortable enough to talk to, although the majority of the staff was aware of the ties their employers had, and half of those that did were members of the same mob.
He tried to think of anyone outside of the cabaret he could talk to, and after considering and discarding every name he could think of, he was left with no one.
Except, maybe, that newshound.
He hadn’t been around to see exactly what the newshound had seen, or even how long he’d stayed. They just had the guy’s word that he’d left after finding the body.
He punched his fist into his palm again, taking solace in the sound. If he went to talk it out with the newshound, he could use that conversation to implement a two-fold plan: find out just what the newshound knew, and make sure the guy kept his end of the bargain.
Decision made, Brendon grabbed his keys from the desk, locking his office door and making his way to the main area of the cabaret. The band was still playing jazz, and it looked like the new piano player he’d hired was working out nicely. Good; he hadn’t been entirely sure of that when he’d come in earlier that evening and the kid wasn’t bad looking….
He shook his head, clearing it of the path his mind was currently traveling, even if it was a tempting path. He wanted to find that newshound and talk everything out with him. Any other jobs could wait until later.
He scanned the room, his mind taking note of how jumping the joint had become since he’d left to go to his office. Tonight would definitely be a good night all around, which would be a welcome relief from the day he was having. He couldn’t see the newshound anywhere, but that didn’t mean he’d left yet.
Brendon made his way through the crowd, pausing only to talk to people who were worth talking to, smiling all the while, before he came to a stop by the bar. Walker was busy helping a customer – Brendon made a minute gesture for Walker to go for the less expensive hooch when he glanced at the customer in question – but, as soon as he was done, Walker came over to Brendon, wiping his hands on a bar towel.
“What can I get you, boss?” Walker asked, all smiles. Saporta had hired Walker, on Beckett’s recommendation, to cover the bar end – and the illegal alcohol end – of things. He was an exceptional employee, Brendon had observed over the course of his employment at the Canary, and he had grown to like and trust the man. Under other circumstances, Brendon might have confided his little problem to Walker, but Walker couldn’t leave the bar while the cabaret was open, except in case of an emergency.
“Information.” Brendon leaned in conspiratorially, waiting until Walker had done the same. “There was a newshound in here earlier. Do you remember him?”
Walker rubbed his beard as he racked his brain. Brendon waited until the bartender snapped his fingers. He wasn’t sure why he had to wait, because he knew that Walker never forgot a face and was only drawing it out for his own amusement.
“There was a man in here earlier, looked like a stoolie.” Walker shrugged, smiling and wiping down the bar top in front of him. “His roommate vouched for him, said he ain’t a stoolie. Didn’t say he was a newshound, though, but he might’ve been.”
Brendon raised an eyebrow, interested. “The newshound I’m looking for did look a bit like a stoolie. Who’s this mysterious roommate?”
Walker dropped the towel to the bar top, pointing briefly to the stage before picking his towel back up and returning to his wiping. “Smith.”
Brendon glanced at the stage before nodding, straightening up. “Thanks, Walker. I’ll have a talk with him. You have yourself a good night.”
Walker gave a small wave, already turning to a new customer.
Roughly half an hour later, Brendon was making his way across town to Smith’s apartment in a cab. As the cabbie pulled up in front of the building, Brendon double checked the piece of paper that he’d written the address on, before paying the man as he got out.
He looked up at the building, wondering if he should have let Hall know he was going out and where he was going. Granted, he could always call the man, but he didn’t want a baby sitter tonight.
He made his way up the stairs, finding Smith’s apartment with little effort on his part. He knocked on the door, looking around with mild interest – Bucktown was, after all, not really in the same category as the neighborhood The Copeland was in – before the door opened and the newshound from earlier peered out at him with a mild frown on his features.
“Can I help you?”
“May I come in?” Brendon gave the man his most charming smile. “After all, it’s the middle of the night, and there’s a strange man on your doorstep. Although, I don’t know what happens in Bucktown here, but where I come from, people are pretty skilled at pretending to not see what they’re actually seeing.”
The newshound paused at that, biting his lip briefly as he leaned out into the hallway, looking around as if he were expecting to see his neighbors out there before he took a step back to let Brendon in and shut the door behind him.
Out of habit, Brendon looked around to get an idea of all possible exits as he walked in before he stopped in the middle of the small living room. He smiled toward the newshound – Ryan Ross, his mind supplied, he may as well get the man’s name right instead of just calling him the newshound all the time – before taking a seat in one of the chairs.
Ross frowned at him again, but took a seat on the couch, looking at him pointedly. “What do you want? I already told you what I knew about the Palmer dame’s death. I didn’t do it.”
Brendon held up his hands, trying to look as innocent and inoffensive as he could manage, and kept smiling. “Don’t worry, I’m not here about that. Although…” He paused, looking around the apartment again before resting his forearms against his knees and leaning forward toward Ross.
Ross, for his part, gave Brendon a look, as if he didn’t want to hear anything else Brendon, or his boss, had to say to him, but he stayed silent. Brendon took the silence as an invitation to continue.
“See, it’s like this. I’m wondering just why a reporter would want to be talking to the Palmer dame.” He paused dramatically, trying to gauge Ross by his expression. “Surely, you newshounds have the market on the glitz and glam comin’ out of Hollywood these days.”
Ross made a face at his comment before shaking his head. “I don’t write those kinda fluff pieces.” He paused, glancing toward the coffee table, which Brendon could see had a few pieces of crumpled up paper scattered across the surface, and sighed. “Well, that’s a lie. I have, but they’re not my kinda pieces.” He looked down at his hands. “I just. I wanted a story so badly. Something that wasn’t about the Depression, because I’m so.” He paused before taking a deep breath, glancing up at Brendon. “I’m sick of writing about how bad the country’s gettin’, and how it’s startin’ to improve, so I just. I wanted a story, like I said.”
Brendon leaned back in his seat, bringing his hands up to steeple his fingers, studying Ross over the tips. He was pretty sure that he knew where this was going, but he needed verbal confirmation. “So, you wanted to talk to write a fluff piece on local socialites?”
Ross shook his head. “No. My boss gave me this story about how the mob’s bribing a local politician and I just. Despite being surprised over gettin’ such a scoop, I could see it becoming front page news.”
What Ross was saying lined up with what Brendon was thinking, but he still hadn’t gotten verbal confirmation on whether or not Ross knew how Amanda Palmer had been connected. “And Miss Palmer? Wouldn’t you just talk to the politician involved, or an aide perhaps?”
Ross shook his head again. “My boss had a lead that said that Miss Palmer was the go-between between this corrupt politician and that local mob.”
There it was, the verbal confirmation Brendon was looking for. He didn’t know Stump personally, but he knew the man by reputation – and Beckett, who did know Stump personally, had nothing but positive things to say about the man – and he wasn’t entirely surprised that Stump would know about Miss Palmer’s being the connection between the mob and the politician Beckett was definitely paying off, while Brendon’s boss was working on getting the man reelected.
He tapped his fingers together absently, studying Ross. He wasn’t entirely sure how much he was willing to divulge to a newshound, but this conversation was definitely clearing up some questions he was having. Like how much the Chicago Journal actually knew. “So, like myself, you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and found her dead.”
Ross’ shoulder went up and down in the universal gesture that said he wasn’t entirely sure. “I guess.”
Brendon nodded a bit, closing his eyes as he considered. The silence stretched for a few minutes, broken only by Ross’s foot absently tapping against the floor, as Brendon considered his options. One option, the one that was starting to become more and more appealing to him by the second, was one that Beckett might be upset over later on, but Brendon was sure that the same option could also be used as leverage to make sure that the mob – and Brendon especially – would stay out of any future stories about Miss Palmer’s death.
That thought made up his mind and he leaned forward, eyes opening again. “Mr. Ross, I’ll make you a deal. Call it sweetening the bargain you made earlier with Beckett.”
Ross gave him a skeptical look. “What’s the deal?”
“I’ll give you your story. Your front page earning story. A story that’ll sound like it came right outta Hollywood in all its glitz and glamour.”
Ross looked at him, and Brendon could see that the skeptical look Ross had earlier was gone, replaced with an almost needy expression at the very thought. The newshound shook himself, crossing his arms over his chest as he forcibly tried to look professional. “What’s the catch for such a great story? How is that sweetening my earlier bargain?” He paused. “Not that I’m gonna back out of that one, especially now that you know where I live.”
“I’ll tell you everything I know about Miss Palmer, the mob, and corrupt politicians, but,” Brendon paused, making sure that what he was about to say would sink in. “But, you can’t name your source in your story. You can’t name me and you can’t name anyone that I say you can’t mention by name.”
“I’m a good reporter, and I’m discreet. I don’t disclose my sources.” Ross made a face before nodding. “Alright. I’ll agree to your conditions. But I have one of my own: I’m the only one allowed to write this story.”
Brendon smiled, and knew he actually meant it. “Mr. Ross, I don’t do interviews on a regular basis. You’ve got exclusive rights to this story.” He reached over to the coffee table, grabbing one of the discarded pieces of paper, smoothing it out before pulling a pen out of his suit coat and writing down the number and address for The Copeland Hotel. “This is where I live, and the number for the front desk.” He handed the paper to Ross, who looked down at it as if he were trying to memorize both for future reference. “Although you can leave any messages for me at the front desk and they’ll get to me, I do ask that you only call or visit me in the event of an emergency.”
Ross nodded, folding up the piece of paper and letting it rest on his knee. “So, when are we doing this story?”
Brendon looked at his watch. It was getting late, and he wanted to let Beckett know what he was about to do with a newshound. A surprised Beckett was not a very kind man, after all. “Tomorrow evening. Say, six in the hotel lobby?”
Ross nodded again, getting up as well when Brendon stood up. “Alright. I’ll see you tomorrow night then.”
Ryan went into work the next morning in exceptionally good spirits. He was surprised that he felt so cheerful, considering how awful yesterday had been; but considering he had the promise of a front page worthy story that evening definitely helped with his mood.
He’d just sat down at his desk when he noticed the unusual quiet in the room. Normally, his fellow reporters were already talking about their stories, or what they’d done the night before or something, but today they were all sitting around and trying not to look in his direction.
Ryan frowned to himself, leaning over to Greenwald and pulling the man’s shirt sleeve. Greenwald turned toward Ryan, biting his lip before shaking his head briefly and turning away like he wasn’t supposed to be seen talking to his fellow reporter.
Ryan frowned more and was about to tug on Greenwald’s shirt sleeve again and demand to know why everyone was acting like they couldn’t see him, when there was a timid feminine cough behind him.
He turned in his chair and was surprised to see one of the girls from the steno pool behind him. He wasn’t sure he’d ever even gotten her name, but he didn’t think he’d ever seen her nearly as nervous as she currently looked. She was wringing her hands like she’d rather be anywhere else, like back with the other girls, but she finally straightened up and dropped her hands to her sides.
“Excuse me, Mr. Ross? Mr. Wentz would like to see you in his office immediately,” she said, her eyes not meeting his but focusing on her shoes.
Ryan suddenly wondered if her reluctance to look at him was for the same reason his fellow beat reporters wouldn’t look at him or talk to him. He got up, wondering if he’d find out, and followed the girl up the stairs to the offices. She stopped in front of Wentz’s office, and through the window Ryan could see Wentz walking around the room, waving his arms like a mad man while Stump was leaning against the desk with a decidedly worried expression on his face.
Wentz was talking, the wild gestures matching his words, while Stump said nothing. Wentz paused his apparent tirade and Stump looked up as the girl knocked on the door before pushing it open a bit.
“Mr. Wentz? Mr. Stump? Mr. Ross for you,” she said. Her eyes finally met Ryan’s before they dropped once more, but in that moment, Ryan knew that whatever was causing everyone to be avoiding him like this, it had to be bad.
Suddenly, Ryan’s mind flashed back to Brendon Urie’s statement of the night before, when he’d said that he had the resources to be able to find Ryan, no matter where he went. Urie had, after all, already been to Ryan’s apartment, had probably gotten Spencer to give him the address. It was, therefore, only a matter of time before those resources stretched to the work place.
“Thank you, Greta.” Stump smiled faintly as Wentz nodded. The girl let Ryan in before she closed the door behind him. Through the window in the door, Ryan saw her glance back at him before she walked back downstairs.
Wentz looked at Stump before he crossed his arms over his chest. He opened his mouth, before pausing, clearly unsure how to phrase what he wanted to say.
Ryan chewed his lip. “If this is about the Palmer dame, I didn’t kill her. She was dead before I got there.”
“We know.” Stump looked at Ryan. “We heard.”
Wentz took a deep breath before laughing. It wasn’t a very humorous sound, and a drastic difference from Wentz’s usual laugh. “Patrick, let’s cut the crap. At least around Ross here.”
Stump looked at Wentz before sighing. “Fine. You’re right.”
Ryan wasn’t quite sure what to say. “Cut the crap about what?”
“Some of the connections this paper has.” Stump straightened up. “What gets said in this office stays here, got it? No gossiping.”
There seemed to be a lot of that going on in Ryan’s life in the past day, but he nodded mutely. Stump glanced at Wentz briefly.
“I’m sure you’ve heard the rumor that I’ve got ties to the mob, right?” Stump looked at Ryan for confirmation, and Ryan nodded. “It’s true. And I hear that last night, you met my tie to the mob. William Beckett.”
Ryan froze at that, biting his lip before remembering the deal he’d made with Beckett. “Beckett said that the Journal could run the story on Amanda Palmer’s death.”
“I know.” Stump looked at Ryan quietly. “I don’t know if you saw this morning’s paper, but it ran in the morning edition. I’ve already talked it over with Beckett. He says you saw something you shouldn’t have, and he made a bargain with you about that and the story.”
“I saw Brendon Urie leaving an elevator at the hotel. He says he didn’t kill her either,” Ryan said.
Wentz stared at him. “You actually talked to Urie?” He glanced toward Stump and Ryan wondered if there was something odd about having spoken to Urie. After all, Urie had talked to Ryan first; it wasn’t like Ryan had intentionally planned on striking up a conversation with the guy.
“And Beckett. I didn’t have much of a choice in either.” Ryan shrugged faintly. “My roommate works at the Black Canary and thought I needed a night out. I got too curious, got too close to Urie’s office and got caught. Beckett made a deal with me regarding any story about the Palmer dame’s death: we could run it, but no mention could be made of Urie being there.” He paused, taking in the looks that Wentz and Stump were exchanging with one another. He wasn’t sure what those looks meant, but he could imagine that it wasn’t anything good for him. Even so, he went on. “And I went home. Only, Urie showed up at my apartment and made me a further deal.”
“What sort of deal?” Stump said after a few moments of silence.
“Just, Urie had a really good story to give. Front page material.” Ryan chewed his lip. “I just can’t mention Urie, Beckett, or anyone Urie’d mention in the story. I couldn’t name my source, either.”
“Good deal,” Wentz commented, glancing toward Stump.
Stump sighed. “It is. That makes this hard, Ross. You’re a good beat reporter. We just - .” Wentz cut in, finishing Stump’s sentence. “We just can’t have you on the paper at the current time. Not with Beckett and Urie taking a mild interest in you, not if they’ve been seen talking to you.” He patted Ryan’s shoulder. “I’m really sorry.”
“Although, if you do get that story,” Stump shrugged. “We’ll definitely print it, if we like it.”
“You’re - “ Ryan’s voice trailed off as words failed him. He’d never, in his years at the newspaper, felt lost for words; and he’d never, in this whole mess, suspected he could lose his job. But here he was, words definitely failing him and hearing both Wentz and Stump telling him that he should leave the newspaper.
Wentz patted Ryan’s shoulder, giving him a reassuring smile. “This’ll work out, just you wait and see. We’ll take you back as soon as whatever’s going on is over and done with. Think of it as an extended vacation.”
Ryan nodded numbly, but managed to dredge up a smile. “So, I guess this is a dismissal for now?”
Stump nodded, smiling. Ryan was pretty sure the smile was about as faked as his. “Yeah. We’ll see you back at your desk before you know it, Ross. Just watch.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Ryan waved vaguely, turning and heading back down the stairs. In the time that he’d been gone, someone had scrounged up an empty box and had placed it on his desk. He made a face, carefully packing up his things and pretending not to see his former coworkers, while they pretended to not see him. When the last of his things was tucked into the box, he placed his bag on top and picked it up, making his way to the door.
He managed to hail a taxi without much trouble, gave his address to the cabbie and slumped back into the seat. As the car sped toward his apartment, he wondered what he was going to do now. The recession was still on, he knew of no other papers hiring reporters and he had no idea how he would make ends meet until this was all over. He knew that Spencer’s job paid well for his own lifestyle, but it couldn’t support the both of them. He was grateful that the ride went quickly and that the driver didn’t try to start a conversation with him; he wasn’t even sure what he’d say or if words wouldn’t still fail him, especially with the way his thoughts were turning.
He got out of the cab at his apartment building, briefly resting the box that held everything that was left of his career as a reporter on the roof of the cab. He paid the driver before making his way upstairs.
As he climbed the stairs, he wondered how he’d tell Spencer about the Journal letting him go. At least he had time to figure that out; as far as Ryan could tell, Spencer hadn’t come home from the cabaret last night. That wasn’t unusual for his roommate, though: Ryan knew that Spencer had a girl – he’d met Haley a few times, great girl - and that he occasionally spent the night at her place when he stayed late at the cabaret. Ryan wondered if Spencer’d ever do the right thing and marry Haley; he’d never seen his friend happier than he was with her, and Haley was the type of gal that any guy would love to have on their arm.
Ryan had just made up his mind to start teasing Spencer on the topic of letting Haley make an honorable man outta Spence when he reached his floor and froze.
The door to his apartment was busted down, lying on the floor in the doorway, and from where Ryan stood, he could see that the place had been trashed.
Ryan made his way into his apartment, setting the box on the floor as he surveyed the damage. Whoever had broken in had clearly been looking for something, but Ryan couldn’t imagine what. Sure, they had some things of value in the place, but, from where Ryan was standing, it didn’t look like anything was taken.
He made his way through the apartment, checking as thoroughly as he could, but came up with nothing missing. Everything that should have been present in every room was there, so whatever this person or persons had been looking for, they must not have found it.
He bit his lip, picking up the battered door and resting it against the wall, before picking up the phone. His first thought was to call the cops and Spencer, but he paused, and soon found himself dialing the number Urie had given him. True, Urie had said to only call in case of an emergency, but Ryan couldn’t think of a better idea of an emergency than having his apartment broken into.
He took a breath to compose himself before dialing the operator and asked for the Copeland Hotel. He left a message with the front desk clerk at the Copeland to have Urie call him as soon as he got the message. Then he hung up, got the operator again, and asked for Haley. When she answered the phone, he talked to Spencer and explained that someone had broken into their apartment and that Spencer should get home as soon as he could. Then he got the operator to patch him through to the police.
After he’d finished with his various phone calls, Ryan cleared a spot on the couch and sat down to wait.
Spencer was the first to arrive, pausing in the doorway as he took in the carnage that had been their apartment. Behind him, Ryan could see Haley craning her neck as she tried to look around him before she finally pushed past Spencer and stepped into the apartment.
“Oh, wow.” Haley breathed as she looked around at the mess. “I knew you two were messy, but this is too much, even for you.”
Ryan smiled despite himself at the teasing. “This wasn’t us. I don’t know if you noticed, but we don’t have a door at the current time.” He pointed to where it leaned against the wall and Haley’s eyes widened. “That’s a new one for us.”
“Oh gosh,” Haley repeated, taking a seat next to Ryan as she looked around the apartment once more.
Spencer made his way through the apartment, checking on things just as Ryan had. While he was gone, Urie seemed to magically appear in the open doorway, surveying the damage. Ryan wondered what crossed the man’s mind as he came in.
“You have no door,” Urie said conversationally, sitting on the arm of the same chair he’d sat in the night before. “It’s a new trend, I imagine, not having a door.”
Haley bit back a giggle as Ryan gave Urie an exasperated look. He didn’t see what was so funny about having his apartment broken into, after all, even if Brendon’s presence did lighten the mood slightly.
Urie looked around the living room, giving Spencer a small nod when he emerged from the investigation of his bedroom, before fixing Ryan with an unreadable look. “You do realize that having your apartment broken into wasn’t what I meant by having an emergency, right?”
“I didn’t know who else to call besides the police.” Ryan shrugged. “Besides, I had other things happen to me today besides having my apartment broken into.”
Urie managed to look slightly mollified. “I didn’t think you’d plan to have your apartment broken into. That wasn’t what I -.” He paused in the middle of his apology before shaking his head. “Well, I’d meant something else, that’s all.” He leaned to one side, peering into Ryan’s bedroom. “You said you called the police?”
“Yeah. They should be here any moment, I think.”
Just as the words left Ryan’s mouth, the four of them heard footsteps coming up the stairs before the first of the police officers came into the room.
Brendon didn’t like talking to police officers; not even the ones that he knew were dirty. He didn’t have to talk to any of the coppers that showed up to investigate the break-in at Ross and Smith’s apartment, thankfully, but he kept an eye on everything and thought things over.
He wasn’t entirely sure how he knew, but if he were to guess, he’d say that whoever had broken into the newshound’s apartment had some connection to Amanda Palmer’s death. That didn’t necessarily mean that whoever had killed Amanda Palmer and whoever had broken into Ross’s apartment were the same person, but the more he thought about it, the more he felt sure that those two pieces fit together. As for how those pieces fit into the overall picture, that Brendon wasn’t sure of.
He listened to Ross and Smith talk to the officers as he made small talk with Haley, trying to hear anything worth hearing. He’d met Haley before, on one of her countless visits to the cabaret to listen to and watch the band, and Smith in particular, and knew her to be a fairly intelligent young woman. In fact, she reminded him a bit of his sister Kara back home.
Soon enough – not soon enough for Brendon’s taste, though – the police officers left, promising to send Ross and Smith word if they heard or found anything. Smith showed the officers out, turning back toward the group.
“So now what?”
Ross chewed his lip, glancing toward the battered door. “Probably get the door fixed.”
Brendon looked at Ryan and Spencer thoughtfully, before focusing his gaze on the door and the rest of the room. “Smith, I’d understand if you’d like the evening off in order to make sense of this mess. And I’d understand, Ross, if you’d like to skip that interview I promised you.”
Ross opened his mouth. To say that he wasn’t interested in the story, perhaps, but before he could say what he wanted, Smith waved a hand. “Go on, Ryan. I’ll call someone about the door, and after that, Haley and I’ll just go to her place, in case whoever did this comes back.”
Brendon considered for a bit, weighing all the possible options he could think of as he listened to Ross and Smith bicker over who would stay in the apartment and clean up and who would go do whatever they needed to do. After all, while he had no real opinion on the newshound, Smith was his employee, as well as a member of his mob, and therefore, Brendon felt obligated to keep an eye out on the skin tickler. Especially if the apartment being ransacked was tied to Amanda Palmer’s death, and whoever had done this came back.
He cleared his throat, making sure the sound was loud enough to be heard over the two men’s bickering. Even Haley turned toward him in surprise.
>“I have a suggestion. Or, perhaps, options that might be beneficial to the two of you,” Brendon started, taking in the looks on both Smith and Ross’s faces. “I fully understand if you want to stay home and skip our appointment, considering your current track record with keeping appointments, and for all intents and purposes, I’d like to live past today.”
“I’ve done plenty of interviews where the people I’m talking to don’t turn up dead.” Ross frowned at Brendon, looking like he was still upset by the memory of seeing the Palmer dame’s dead body. Brendon couldn’t blame him; he wasn’t sure if the Palmer dame had been the first dead body the newshound had ever seen, but even if it wasn’t, he could imagine that the memory would definitely stick with him. After all, the first dead body Brendon had ever seen still occasionally haunted his dreams, and so did the ones that came after.
“I imagine you have.” Brendon smiled, trying to look as reassuring as he could. “I’m just saying that I’d understand if you’d like to reschedule the interview for another day while you and your roommate clean up your apartment. As for my other suggestions, feel free to send the repair bill for your door to me at the Copeland and I’ll see about getting someone to watch your place for you.”
Smith hesitated, glancing toward Ross, unsure. Brendon could guess that Smith was connecting the dots as to why Brendon would offer to protect both of them, and might feel the need to discuss it. Brendon didn’t want to address the fact that he was sure of the possibility between the murder and the burglary right now, though. No sense in worrying the newshound, he was sure that Ross would come to the same conclusion sooner or later.
“Look, like interviews, I don’t generally go out of my way to provide my employees or passing acquaintances with the same protection I’d expect for myself.” He pushed himself to his feet, spreading his hands. “Call it protecting my interests. Smith, you’re one of my employees, after all, and if something were to happen to you, there’s the risk that my clientele would go down until I’d find a suitable replacement for you. And Ross, even though I highly dislike newshounds, you and I have a bargain in the works. Therefore, neither of you are very useful to me dead, so it’s in my best interest that I provide you both with protection.”
Smith glanced toward Ross before nodding. He looked resigned, but at least willing to go along with Brendon’s offer. Ross looked briefly like he might be stubborn about it, but in the end he said nothing, only nodded.
“That settles that, then. “ Brendon clapped his hands together, smiling charmingly to all three of them. “I have other business to attend to, so I’ll take my leave of you three.” He tipped his hat to Haley, ever the gentleman. “Miss.”
He made his way out and was nearly to the front door – through the glass of said door, he could see Hall waiting by the car - when Ross ran down after him.
Brendon paused and turned to Ross, eyebrow raising. Although he couldn’t see it, he knew that Hall was already moving toward the door in case Brendon needed help. After all, Brendon didn’t make it a point to carry a gun to most visits – he didn’t much like guns as a rule, but sometimes they helped to prove that, despite his young age, there was more bite than bark to Brendon – but he did make it a point to make sure his bodyguard was packing at all times.
Ross himself paused at the bottom-most stair and worried his lip – Brendon guessed at the sight of Hall moving in to defend him. “Can you call off your dog? I’m not gonna attack you, I just have a question.”
Brendon turned slightly toward Hall, making a small gesture with his hand and waiting until Hall had nodded and walked back to the car, before turning back to Ross. He crossed his arms over his chest as he surveyed the newshound. “Alright, I’m listening, and I’ve called off my dog, as you put it.”
Ross stepped off the bottom stair, but came no closer, clearly keeping an eye on Brendon’s bodyguard as if he expected the guy to attack at any moment. “I just wanna know why you’d do something like that up there.” He pointed upstairs as if he thought Brendon wouldn’t know what he was talking about. “Offering bodyguards and things of that sort.” He paused, as if choosing his words carefully. “I get why you’d help Spencer. He’s your employee, and like you said, you’re protecting your interests. But why -.”
“Why would I consider keeping you alive protecting my interests as well?” Brendon finished the question, faintly amused. He knew he’d hit the nail on the head when Ross nodded quietly.
“Yeah. I mean, say someone would come back and kill me? Then no one would know about our bargain and the specifics we agreed on. Besides, you’ll have to find someone else to make sure there’s no connection between you and Miss Palmer running in the Journal anyway, because I’m not welcome at the paper anymore. At least not until this mess is cleared up.” Ross looked away, ashamed.
Brendon, for his part, hesitated. Although he understood where Ross’s bosses would stand in dismissing Ross, even temporarily, Ross being fired didn’t fit well in any of his own plans. He highly doubted that it fit in very well with any of Beckett’s either, at least where Brendon himself was concerned - but he also knew he couldn’t just play the champion for the newshound, even if he had the stones to push Stump’s hand in the matter; that would make things even worse for both of them. He settled for smiling reassuringly at the reporter. “What if I have a future use for you? Besides, you’ve been the only newshound I’ve come across, Janey, that I’ve actually felt inclined to help write a story.”
Brendon wasn’t quite sure why he felt the nickname was appropriate, or even why he’d call an actual newshound by the name of a fictional one, but it was enough to make Ross frown in his direction. The sight only made him grin more.
“Well, that settles that, then. I’m going to call you Jane Arden for the rest of our acquaintance.” He tipped his hat toward Ross as the reporter sputtered, still grinning broadly. “Goodbye, Miss Arden, I shall see you when I see you.”
He turned to go, still amused at the faint sounds of sputtering coming from behind him, when Ross called out for him to wait again. He didn’t turn around, just glanced over his shoulder at the reporter.
Ross looked entirely unsure of himself all of a sudden, licking his lips and trying to find words. “So I still get that interview, right?”
“Of course. As I said earlier, I fully understand if you choose to postpone it in order to deal with your apartment situation. In fact, if I were in your shoes, I’d do the same. When you get the story don’t matter, right? So long as you get it?”
Brendon smiled over his shoulder, heading out the front door and down the steps to where Hall waited by the car. He opened the car door and Brendon got in, settling in against the backseat. As he waited for Hall to get behind the wheel, Brendon turned to watch Ross watch them go.
“Where to?” Hall asked, glancing at Brendon in the rear view mirror.
Brendon slid further down into the seat, watching the scenery go by as he considered his options. “There any new talkies worth seeing that you’ve heard of, Zacky?”
Hall glanced at him in the rear view mirror again, smiling faintly. “We can always see, Boss.”
Brendon pointed forward vaguely, still watching the scenery. “Let’s do that then, followed by dinner someplace nice. Maybe we’ll run into someone worth running into along the way.”
“Good plan, Boss.”
Ryan watched Urie’s car leave, wondering if maybe he should’ve asked to go with the gangster and get the story he was after now rather than later. True, the big goon who seemed to be Urie’s shadow outside of the Black Canary was scary, and that had hampered his decision to ask if he could go with. Either way, it was too late now; he’d just have to call Urie later to see if he could still get that interview.
He knew that he should just follow Urie’s advice and take the night to help Spencer clean his apartment, but with the loss of his job as a reporter, even if it were temporary, he couldn’t think of anything else but that promise of a story.
He thought it over as he headed back up to his apartment, trying to convince himself to just stay home and help Spencer clean, but there was a part of him that didn’t want to be there. It was a crime scene, after all, and after seeing Amanda Palmer’s dead body, he didn’t want to stick around another one of those.
“What do you know about your boss?” Ryan asked as he walked into the apartment once more.
Spencer blinked at him, straightening up from where he was crouched, working on cleaning up his bedroom. Haley paused where she was straightening up the area around the couch. She glanced at Spencer, and Ryan wondered what the look was supposed to mean.
“You mean Urie?” Spencer leaned against his doorway, crossing his arms over his chest. “You’ve heard the rumors. How do you know those aren’t true? And why, besides the apparent interest he’s got in us all of a sudden, are you interested in him?”
“You heard him. He’s offered me a story,” Ryan said defensively, mirroring Spencer’s stance. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Haley sitting down on the couch, watching both men with wide eyes. That was out of character for the outspoken young woman. “Besides, you know me. I like covering all my bases before going after a story.”
“You want to know which of the rumors are true and which are false?” Spencer looked at Haley before sighing, glancing toward the battered door. “I’m not gonna talk about that while we’ve got no door. Not exactly the most discreet place to talk, y’know?”
Ryan’s eyes lingered on the gaping doorway. “Yeah, true.”
“There’s been a few write ups about him,” Haley spoke up. “I’m sure if you check the library, you could find them. There’s been a lot of events that he’s been to. A few of them with that dead dame.”
Ryan considered, grabbing his bag. “You’re right. That’ll be a big help in figuring out my angle for this story. I’ll see you two later.” He waved, heading out.
It wasn’t that far to the closest library and Ryan got there in a matter of minutes. With some help from the librarian, he quickly found the stacks of newspapers, and settled in at a nearby table to start going through them. He set aside those that mentioned William Beckett, The Black Canary, and Brendon Urie, even if it was a very brief mention. He also set aside any papers that mentioned the Palmer family, especially Amanda Palmer. As Haley had already mentioned, there were a few stories that mentioned both Brendon and Amanda at various events.
When he’d gotten all the newspapers he could find on his topics, he put away the ones he didn’t need before tackling the ones he’d set aside, making notes as he went. Soon, he had a story of his own sketched out: Brendon Urie came from a prominent family in New York. He’d come to Chicago a few years ago, under mysterious circumstances, and was first seen in the public social circle at a party the Palmers had thrown in their hotel. It was also the first event that had Urie escorting Miss Palmer, and quite a few more would follow.
Ryan spread out one of the articles that had an accompanying picture of Brendon Urie and Miss Palmer, studying it for a long time. They certainly looked like a happy couple; he wondered just what had been there, if anything, had been there before she’d been killed. But Urie hadn’t seemed terribly upset by her death. In fact, he’d seemed more like someone had killed an employee that Urie needed to complete a task, and less like someone who’d lost a companion.
Did that, then, mean Amanda Palmer hadn’t been Urie’s moll?
The thought made Ryan find a few more articles that dealt with events where Urie had made an appearance with his boss William Beckett – charity events, social gatherings, city related business – and Ryan studied the pictures that accompanied more than a few of them.
He paused at one of the articles, spreading out the paper – funnily enough, it was for his own Chicago Journal - and framing the accompanying picture with his hands – William Beckett, Brendon Urie and a third man Ryan would guess must be Gabriel Saporta, William’s other right hand man and Urie’s partner at the Black Canary. The article itself had to do with a charity event that William Beckett had thrown for a local hospital, and the event had played host to more than a few politicians.
Putting together Brendon Urie’s back story, Ryan had come across quite a few articles that referenced how William Beckett – for all intents and purposes, an upstanding businessman who dealt nearly exclusively in furniture sales, but was rumored to have his thumb in quite a few of nightclubs and various other parts of the Chicago night life – frequented, and threw, plenty of parties for local politicians. Ryan figured that that would make sense; after all, as a member of the mob, William Beckett would have to pay off a few politicians, and other people, to get them to look the other way when it came to his illegal operations.
Was this the story Urie had promised him? A story about the mob, dirty politicians, and the people that bound them together?
Ryan chewed on his thumbnail, tracing the lines of Urie’s face in the picture. It was so much like the story he’d been given by Stump, the one that had led him to finding Amanda Palmer’s dead body. Did he have it in him to continue on with this adventure, go further down this rabbit hole into gangster territory, and find out where it would take him? It might wind up getting him being killed later on for knowing too much, but Urie wouldn’t have offered him the story if the gangster intended to kill him later, right?
He looked from the newspaper photograph to his own notes. They weren’t Pulitzer material just yet – he only had the barest basics of a story – but he seemed to have more questions than answers where it came to Urie and it piqued his curiosity.
He leaned back in his chair, staring up at the ceiling as he tried to piece together the facts he knew. He didn’t get very far in his thoughts – barely anywhere, really – before the silence of the library got to him.
Ryan shook himself, getting to his feet and putting all the newspapers he’d set aside in one pile. On top, he set the newspaper with the photograph of Beckett, Urie, and Saporta, and he studied the three men’s faces for a long moment before he shook himself again. He grabbed his things, shoving his notebook into his bag, and headed for the library door.
It had gotten dark while he’d been in the library, and he paused at the top of the stairs, watching the cars drive past. He wondered if their apartment door had been fixed by now. He wondered if Spencer and Haley had stuck around the apartment, or if they’d gone to her place, or even to the Black Canary, even though Spencer had the night off.
More importantly, he wondered if Urie was home. He might have a back story started on Urie, but the facts he’d uncovered caused more questions than provided answers when it came to why someone would kill a socialite like Amanda Palmer.
He caught a cab and told the cabbie to take him to the Copeland Hotel. The cabbie blinked at him, clearly wondering why someone like Ryan would want to go to a nice place like that, but he didn’t say anything, just drove.
Ryan had only been to Uptown a handful of times in his life, so it always managed to take his breath away. Uptown just seemed to be so different from the rest of Chicago. The driver stopped outside of the hotel and Ryan got out after paying him.
He hesitated in the reception area, looking around and wondering if he looked as out of place as he felt. He wasn’t sure how long he stood there before he shook himself and made his way to the front desk.
The clerk there ignored him for a few minutes, and he was about to clear his throat to get the man’s attention when the he finally looked up.
“Can I help you?”
Ryan smiled, trying to emulate the same smile he’d seen Urie give. He wasn’t sure if it had the same effect on the clerk, but it was worth a shot. “Um, yeah. A friend of mine is staying here, and I was wondering if you could tell me if he were in?”
The clerk looked Ryan up and down, like he couldn’t imagine that anyone who stayed at a place like the Copeland would have a friend who looked even remotely like Ryan. Normally, Ryan would’ve felt insulted, but he decided he may as well handle this like he would when he was trying to get a news story and let it roll right off him. “What’s the name of your….” The clerk paused, glancing briefly over Ryan’s shoulder as someone came in, but no one came to the desk so the clerk turned his attention back to Ryan. “Your friend?”
“Brendon Urie,” Ryan said without hesitation.
The clerk looked even more like he couldn’t imagine someone like Brendon Urie would consort with someone like Ryan, and this time, Ryan did feel a little insulted. “I’m sorry, sir, but Mr. Urie is currently not having visitors. Perhaps you’d better come back later. And call first.”
“So Brendon Urie is in?” Ryan leaned over, tapping the phone that sat in front of the desk clerk. “Couldn’t you call him to see if he’ll see me? I have an outstanding appointment with the man. Ryan Ross. He’ll see me, I’m sure.”
The clerk looked like he wanted to deny Ryan on principle, but he picked up the phone and dialed a number. He waited a moment before someone answered on the other end and then moved away so Ryan couldn’t hear the conversation. After what felt like hours but was probably only a few moments, the clerk came back and gave Ryan a dark look, like he wanted to go against anything he might have been told. “Mr. Urie says you can go right up. He’s in the penthouse suite. Take the elevator straight to the top.”
“Thank you.” Ryan smiled charmingly, heading to the elevator. He got in and told the elevator operator inside to take him up to the penthouse suite. He was let out into a short hallway that led to a numbered door.
Ryan hesitated before knocking. Behind him, he could hear the elevator doors close and the elevator head back down. Behind the door in front of him, however, he could hear a small dog yapping and scratching at the wood.
He was about to knock again, in case said knock or the yapping dog hadn’t been heard, when there was the sound of the door being unlocked and Urie opened it.
It was the first time Ryan had ever seen Urie out of anything that wasn’t a three piece suit, and he couldn’t help staring. Urie was barefoot, wearing a pair of simple slacks and a button down dress shirt. He looked almost like an average young man, the kind that could be found anywhere, instead of the bright young businessman the papers made him out to be.
Ryan also saw the source of the barking: under Urie’s arm was a small terrier that was now struggling to get away from its master and bark at the intruder. The terrier was another thing that didn’t match up to the gangster image.
“You have a dog. Literally,” Ryan said, and automatically regretted it because it sounded so stupid to say aloud.
Still, Urie smiled, setting the small terrier back on the ground. It trotted over to Ryan, barking and sniffing his leg for a while, before it finally got bored and trotted back into the hotel room. “Yes, I have an actual dog. He keeps me company and doesn’t judge me for anything that I do.”
He stepped back, indicating that Ryan could enter, and led the way into a plush sitting room. The terrier was curled up on the cushions that were on one side of the couch, and it wagged its tail at Ryan, clearly seeing him as no threat if its master had let the intruder in.
Ryan held his hand out for the dog to sniff before scratching the terrier’s soft ears. “What’s his name?”
Urie smiled, shaking his head. “I don’t expect you to know his namesake. Humphrey Bogart. He’s an up and coming actor on the New York stage.”
“You like the theater?” Ryan blinked. He hadn’t read anything like that in any of the articles that had mentioned Urie. Of course, that didn’t mean that the newshounds in question hadn’t known it, or perhaps hadn’t felt it was important to their stories.
Urie’s smile became mysterious as he settled into a chair. “I enjoy many things, Jane Arden. Theater’s just one of them.” He watched Ryan sit down on the couch next to the dog. “I suppose you’re here about that interview I promised you?”
Although it had been, Ryan wasn’t sure if that was his intention anymore, not now that he was faced with this young man who didn’t match up at all with the image he’d previously had of the young gangster. He decided that he might as well be honest. “I was thinking about that when I decided that I couldn’t stay at home, worrying that whoever broke into my apartment might come back. But I didn’t come here right away. I spent some time at the library, piecing together at least some of your back story from various news articles.”
Urie leaned back in his chair, a quietly amused expression on his face. “And what does your back story have to say about me?”
Ryan pulled his notebook out of his bag, setting it on his knee and smoothing out the top sheet, as if the action would make the words embed themselves in his brain. Next to him, the terrier wagged its tail before it curled up in a ball and fell asleep. He glanced toward the dog, trying to compose himself. It was easier said than done.
As he sat in his chair across from the newshound, Brendon was more than a little amused. He was well aware of what could be found about him in the library – he’d had no qualms about posing for the photographs that all newspaper photographers seemed to want out of him and his fellow gangsters – but he wondered what Ryan Ross had deemed important in his back story.
He watched as the newshound fidgeted on the couch, sneaking glances toward Humphrey as if, like the notes on the notepad against his knee, the dog could help clear up any unanswered questions he had. He considered letting the guy linger a little longer, but he wasn’t entirely sure if Ross would want to be in Brendon’s house as the evening lengthened. Not that Brendon would do anything.
“Well?” Brendon smirked, finally deciding that the awkward silence had gone on long enough.
Ross startled, looking at him. He looked down at his notes, as if they’d speak to him. Whatever they had to say, Brendon couldn’t hear anything from where he was sitting. The newshound took a deep breath, composing himself.
“You came to Chicago from New York a few years back, under mysterious circumstances. Almost from day one, you were working for William Beckett, and you were seen at social events with various dames on your arm. At a few of those social gatherings, you had Amanda Palmer on your arm. A lot of those events had quite a few politicians at them as well.” He paused. “And I already know you’re in the mob. You’re William Beckett’s right hand man.”
Brendon smiled, leaning forward. “Well, you’re remarkably good at putting the pieces together. I’m from New York City, it’s true. Born and raised, in fact. You’d have to tackle newspapers over there to get that back story, because it’s not one I share lightly. And I did come here to Chicago under, as you call them, pretty mysterious circumstances. I can’t tell you why I was invited to work for Beckett or what happened to my predecessor because, I’ll be honest, I don’t know myself. But I’ve learned that it’s wise not to stir up the past..” He tapped his fingers together, resting his elbows on his knees. “And I won’t lie and say that I didn’t escort Miss Palmer to quite a few social events.”
“So why would someone want her dead?” Ross glanced at his notes before looking up at him.
“That’s a question I don’t have the answer to.” Brendon shrugged. “I can tell you this, though. Amanda Palmer’s death doesn’t help anyone in William Beckett’s circle. We needed her for a few of the dealings we had with certain politicians. After all, her family has considerable ties and pull with a few people that Beckett’s connections couldn’t get him.” He smirked. “I think your research into my history is cutting into that cover story I intended to give you. Bravo.”
Ross blinked at Brendon, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. “Really? I wasn’t trying to get anything on the story you wanted to tell me. I just wanted to get a little more background information on you. Y’know, find out what’s rumor and what’s fact.” He gave Brendon a weak smile. “I just like knowing the facts on people I intend to get stories about.”
“Ah yes.” Brendon leaned back in his chair, studying Ryan over his fingertips. “But not everything that’s printed in the newspapers is the whole story. I filled in some of your blanks, though. Do you have any questions about me you’d like answered before you get your story? Fill in more of the information, find out what’s rumor and what’s fact, as you so succinctly put it?”
The newshound licked his lips, clearly considering the offer, before he nodded. “If I promise not to publish it, can I get your whole back story?”
Brendon paused, blinking. Although he had offered to answer any questions the newshound might’ve had, he hadn’t been expecting to give the reporter a history of himself. He wasn’t even sure if he were entirely comfortable with the idea.
He pushed himself up from his chair, starting to pace the room as he thought it over. After a few paces, he stopped behind his chair, resting his arms on the headset and leaning forward. “Very well. But what I say in this interview doesn’t go in any newspaper. There’s a lot in my history, in my dealings, that doesn’t need to be public knowledge, nor do I want it to be. And if I even hear a hint that anything private about me is put into a story to further your career, I will find you and make you regret using private information to better yourself. I’ll also withdraw the previous offer of helping you with your career problems by giving you that story about Miss Palmer that I promised you. That’s your bargain for my back story. If you can’t accept it, that’s it.”
Whatever Ross might have felt about the bargain, Brendon didn’t find out because the phone chose that moment to ring. As he wasn’t expecting any phone calls – everyone at the Black Canary knew Brendon was taking the night off and that he was not to be disturbed unless it was an emergency – he frowned at the phone, toying with the idea of not answering it before he crossed over to it and picked up.
He felt the newshound’s eyes on him as he talked to one of Saporta’s guys – he could never really get any of Saporta’s underlings straight, let alone remember their names, and felt that it was better to just not care, because Saporta tended to change underlings the way most men changed their shirt – before hanging up in disgust.
“Problems?” Ross spoke up in the silence, worrying his lower lip again.
Brendon glowered at him before taking a deep breath. After all, it wasn’t really the newshound’s fault. “Unfortunately. Things always seem to break at the Black Canary when I’m not there, so sadly, we’ll have to skip your interview and story for tonight. I’ll give you a ride home.”
“Can.” Ross paused, as if he wasn’t sure how to get his point across or what words to use. “Can I come with? Seeing you in action’ll definitely help me compose a back story on you, even if I can’t publish it.”
Brendon was about to say no to the idea before he paused to reconsider. Even though the newshound couldn’t write about it, didn’t mean he couldn’t see at least some of what went on at the Black Canary behind closed doors. Especially since he had intended on giving the reporter at least part of his own back story along with his original story. True, that sort of information would probably make any future career as a newshound tough, because he’d lose more jobs because of his new connections and because there were a lot of people who would pay a lot of money to get their hands on even one personal tidbit of information on William Beckett’s right hand man. And what he knew.
“Sure. But anything you see tonight goes under the conditions bargain I just gave you. You can’t write about it.”
Ross nodded, putting his notebook in his bag. Brendon wondered briefly what, if anything, crossed the newshound’s mind at the new bargain, but decided to leave it be. “I understand.”
Ryan was quiet all the way to the Black Canary. He wasn’t sure if the nervousness he felt, and what was keeping him silent, was due to the fact that he was in the same car as Brendon Urie, or if it was due to the fact that Urie’s bodyguard – who Urie had called as soon as he had the promise that Ryan wouldn’t write about anything that happened - was driving the car. He decided that it was a combination of both. He also wondered briefly, even if he had no idea where the question came from, if Urie even knew how to drive a car, or if he was just driven everywhere.
Hall pulled into the alley behind The Black Canary, getting out and walking around to open the door for them. He gave Ryan a look as he climbed out in front of Urie, shutting the car door behind his boss and going to open the back door.
“Does everyone open doors for you?” Ryan asked quietly as he followed Urie inside, trying not to meet Hall’s eyes.
Urie looked over his shoulder at Ryan, the look a mix of amused and faintly annoyed. Ryan wondered if any look that crossed Urie’s face could be unattractive before he reined in his thoughts. Ryan was not sure where the thought had come from and not sure that he even cared.
“Of course I can open doors. I already proved that to you earlier this evening,” Urie pointed out, leading the way to his office. “But Zacky likes making things easy for me. I can drive too, but I choose not to. Especially not in a city like Chicago.” He opened the door to his office, leading the way inside and crossing the room to his desk. “Besides, what’s the point of having a bodyguard if you do all the menial tasks yourself?”
“How is he your bodyguard if he’s not always attached to your hip?” Ryan watched as Urie ignored his question and shuffled through paperwork on the desk, a frown crossing his face when he couldn’t find whatever it was he was looking for. Ryan glanced around. “What are you looking for? Maybe I can help.”
Urie jabbed a finger at his desk, starting to go through drawers. The movement scattered some of the papers that were already on the desk, making Ryan wonder how Urie could find anything on it, much less know that something was missing. If something was missing. “I had paperwork here related to Amanda Palmer. Beckett kept a record of all his transactions with various politicians and he uses the Black Canary, and mine and Saporta’s offices, for some of his dealings.”
Ryan walked over, shuffling through the papers in the in and out trays that sat on one corner of the desk. “Would they be damaging? To you, Beckett, anyone?”
“Don’t get any ideas.” Urie frowned at Ryan, jabbing a finger at him. “But to answer your question, yes. Not explicitly, mind you. I don’t keep that sort of extensive paperwork in my office, nor does Saporta. But it’s all underground dealings. Pay offs, exploitation, blackmail. They’re less damaging to Beckett, Saporta and my respective public images, and more damaging to those we’ve had dealings with.” Urie’s eyes met Ryan’s briefly before he went back to searching. “Quite a few politicians are in office right now because of mob money padding the way for them.”
Ryan stared despite himself, his hands pausing in their search. He’d heard rumors of politicians taking bribes, dirty cops taking pay offs to look the other way, but as for a newshound, he’d always assumed they were just that because he’d never seen any proof. “Was that going to be part of the story you were going to give me?”
“I was going to give you the story as it related to Miss Amanda Palmer,” Urie stated, still focused on his search and seemingly unaware of the fact that Ryan was staring at him in disbelief. “And, off the record, between Saporta and me, there’s a few important movers and shakers who are paid to look the other way from the fact that The Black Canary is also a speakeasy in addition to being a cabaret.”
“I’d heard that rumor,” Ryan breathed, still staring. He shook himself to snap out of it, trying to compose himself. “Well, that this place was also a speakeasy. Again, I just thought it was the kind of rumor that spread because this was a happening place.”
“Sex and alcohol sell,” Urie commented dryly, slamming the final searched drawer shut with a curse before getting to his feet. “Where could those records be?”
Ryan straightened the paperwork in his hands, setting them back on the desk. “Why are you looking for them? I thought we, I mean you, came into The Black Canary because something was broken?”
“Something’s always broken here.” Urie looked through the paperwork on his desk again, clearly frustrated at the disappearance of the records.
Ryan watched him for a bit longer before suggesting something that had just occurred to him. “Maybe Saporta’s seen those records. You said yourself that Saporta keeps records like that in his office too. So he might’ve taken them. Right?”
Urie stared at him like the idea was so absurd, it had never occurred to him. Finally, he straightened up. “Yeah, maybe. Let’s go check, and maybe Saporta can tell me why one of his underlings is calling me to tell me that things are broken here instead of fixing it himself.”
As Ryan hurried after Urie across the hall to the office that faced Urie’s, he chewed his lip. “Wouldn’t Saporta himself call you to tell you if something wasn’t running smoothly?”
Urie tried the door, a look of mild surprise crossing his face as the door swung open at the simple touch and he glanced toward Ryan. Ryan wasn’t sure if the surprise was directed at his question, the door opening so unexpectedly, or a combination of the two.
The office inside was as drastically different from Urie’s as the sun was to the moon: where Urie’s office had been tastefully done in dark woods with occasional bright pops of color, this office was all pale wood with the occasional darker colors swirling about. Where Urie’s office had pictures of various structures and similar artwork, this office had photographs of various celebrities that had come through the cabaret and speakeasy. It was also conspicuously empty.
“Saporta never goes on the club floor when he’s in,” Urie muttered, crossing the room to the desk and starting to shuffle through the paperwork that sat on the top. He seemed to forget Ryan was standing there for a few minutes before glancing up, as if suddenly remembering him. “Do me a favor, would you? Go on the cabaret floor, and see if Saporta’s there. Do you know what he looks like?”
“I’ve seen pictures of you two and your boss,” Ryan said, hurrying out into the hallway and toward the main floor.
Brendon listened to the sound of Ross’ footsteps fading away before he turned his attention back to shuffling through the papers that lined Saporta’s desk. This whole evening was rapidly turning into something he didn’t understand. Although Saporta’s underlings had, in the past, told Brendon about various things breaking or going wrong, he couldn’t remember a time when they’d called him at home to do so. Especially when he was taking a night off – something he only did when he knew that Saporta, who should be taking care of whatever the supposed problem was, was going to be in – and his own underlings knew better than to call him if Saporta was in. And another thing: Saporta never left his office when he was in, and he definitely never left it unlocked when he wasn’t.
After he finished searching Saporta’s desk once, he went through it again, in case he’d missed anything the first time. As he expected, nothing came up.
Brendon frowned, crossing the hallway back to his own office. He wasn’t expecting any change, but he could still hope.
As he moved toward the desk once more, he heard footsteps coming down the hall. He assumed it was Ross coming back, so he ignored the door opening in favor of searching through his paperwork again.
The door shut, making Brendon look up. He’d been expecting the newshound, but the person standing by the door was one of Saporta’s underlings. It took him a moment to remember the man’s name, while he wondered where Saporta was, because he’d never seen this particular underling except in Saporta’s shadow.
“It’s Justin, right?” Brendon said, keeping his hands on the desk. “Justin Bieber. You’re one of Saporta’s men. Always in his shadow.”
Justin grinned, pulling a gun out of a holster hidden under his suit coat and tapping it against his temple in salute. “Gabey says you’re a smart man, Urie. Always says it.” He waggled the gun in Brendon’s direction. “’Keep an eye on that Urie, Biebs.’ Gabey always tells me. ‘Follow his example, Biebs, and you’ll get far.’”
He shook his head, lowering the gun. “Saporta’s wrong. You’re not as smart as he gives you credit for. Leaving paperwork lying around that lets just anyone know when you’re meeting up with that Palmer dame to pay off politicians? You made it so easy for anyone to walk in and see that.”
“It wasn’t the best decision I ever made,” Brendon admitted, one hand slowly moving to one of the drawers in his desk and the gun he knew was inside. He wondered where Ross was, or Hall. He wondered if the newshound had found Saporta, or if the man was even in the cabaret. Then again, with the .45 that Justin was holding, Brendon was glad that the newshound wasn’t in the room. He figured his best option until help arrived was to keep Saporta’s underling talking. “So you knew about me and Amanda Palmer, then?”
“Wasn’t hard to. You flaunted her at quite a few events. But who would’ve guessed that you two were getting cozy for more than just having a doll on your arm?” Justin tapped the gun against his temple again, knowingly. “You know how I found out about it? Gabey wanted me to get some paperwork for the Black Canary outta your office, and it was just sitting there.” He waved the gun, laughing a bit. “It was just so easy to take it, find out when your next appointment with Palmer was to make the drop, and just make sure I was there first.”
Brendon’s eyes closed briefly at the memory of finding Amanda Palmer’s body before he opened his eyes again, trying to distract Justin from noticing that he was going for his gun. “By why kill her? Saporta coulda told you we needed her alive. Her connections, her family’s connections. She was useful to us, to the family. Beckett won’t like knowing that one of his right hand men had an underling who interfered with set plans.”
Justin tapped the gun against his chin before aiming it directly at Brendon, directing it to a spot right between Brendon’s eyes and pulling back the hammer. “Stop moving, you. I know you keep a gun in your desk, but if you go for it, so help me, I’ll blow your fucking brains onto the wall.” When Brendon stepped away from the desk, hands up to show that he was unarmed, the gangster pushed the hammer back and lowered his gun to his side before waving it around again. Brendon had to keep himself from flinching at the fear that the gun would accidentally go off and either one of them would get hurt by the stray bullet. “And sure, Gabey told me that. He tells me a lot of things.”
“But why kill her?” Brendon pressed, wondering how he was going to get out of this mess. Wondering if someone would come check on things, or if Justin would just put a bullet right between his eyes and paint the wall behind him with his brains. He could only imagine the cost of the clean up in his office, not to mention that Beckett would have to find someone to replace him.
“To get rid of you!” Justin lowered the gun to wave his free hand, gesturing to the office at large. “I was Gabey’s assistant before you two opened this cabaret, before I joined up. And then after I discovered Gabey’s secret, well, he’d start going on about how things were before you showed up after that other guy got bumped off.” He shook his head like he couldn’t believe it. “Oh, sure, he’s got plenty of respect for you. Says you’re so much better than the guy you replaced. But I’m not stupid. I can read between the lines.”
“And what do those lines say?” Brendon kept his hands raised, eyes flicking toward the door as he tried to figure out if he could make it to the hallway to yell for help before Justin decided to redecorate in blood red. He wasn’t entirely sure if Justin could use that .45 he was waving around, but someone who couldn’t use a gun was just as dangerous as someone who could.
“That Gabey would be in a much better position if you were out of the way.” Justin came over, tapping the gun against Brendon’s temple. “All Beckett needs is one right hand man. No one needs two right hand men.” He smacked Brendon in the temple with the gun again. “Don’t even make sense.”
Brendon prided himself on the fact that he didn’t flinch when the gun connected with his temple, but he was pretty sure that it’d leave a mark later. “If you paid attention in class, Bieber, Saporta could tell you why Beckett wanted two right hand men. Saporta and me, we balance each other out. We work pretty well together. Why we went into this business together.”
Justin glared, resting the gun against Brendon’s temple, but he didn’t pull back the hammer. Brendon took some relief in that, and didn’t give Justin the pleasure of flinching away from the gun. “Shut up. Don’t talk about Gabey like you know how he thinks.”
“Saporta and I have had many conversations, covering lots of topics.” Brendon managed to smile reassuringly. “And whatever else he might think about me, I don’t think he’d want you to kill me. You killed the Palmer dame, right? It was already known that I’d escorted her to a few events, like you said. The newspapers could spin a great story about how she didn’t want to be my moll, so I killed her. I’m arrested and out of the picture. Saporta’s the sole man at Beckett’s right hand. That was your plan, right? And not to kill me?”
To Brendon’s relief, Justin pulled the gun away again. “Yeah, exactly. Gabey was right, you’re a smart man.”
Brendon took a deep breath, trying for a gamble based on something he’d already suspected. “You ransacked that newshound’s apartment, didn’t you? The one whose roommate is the skin tickler I hired for The Black Canary.” When Justin nodded, he frowned faintly. “Why? I’d guessed that whoever had killed the Palmer dame had broken into the newshound’s apartment and ransacked it, but I couldn’t figure out why.”
Before he got an answer, though, the door opened and the newshound in question came in. Ross froze at the sight of the gun in Justin’s hand being aimed at him, as well as Brendon standing there with his hands up.
“Just in time to hear all about that now, huh?” Justin grinned. He smacked Brendon upside the head, sending him to the floor before pointing the gun to Ross once more, keeping it on Ross as he went over to Brendon, lightly touching Brendon’s now bloody cheek.
“Ouch,” Brendon mumbled as Ross’s fingers gently probed to see if the bone had been broken along with the skin.
“Feels fine,” Ross whispered before looking up at Justin, mild confusion crossing his features. “Just in time to hear all about what?”
“He killed Amanda Palmer.” Brendon pushed himself up to a sitting position, trying not to fall forward into the newshound’s lap. Even if it did look comfortable at the moment, it wouldn’t do for Brendon’s reputation. “And he ransacked your apartment.” He glanced up at Justin, even as the gangster loomed over both of them, his .45 still leveled at Brendon’s face. Brendon attempted to ignore the gun pointing at him, mostly succeeding, and tried for a smile. The facial expression pulled at his sore cheek, but he forced himself to ignore that too. “He was just about to tell me why when you came in.”
Justin crouched down in front of the two of them, resting his forearms on his thighs and letting the gun dangle over his knee. “You two do realize that I’ll just have to kill you after telling you my whole plan, right? Wouldn’t want either of you telling another soul what I did for Gabey. If he likes you as much as you claim he does, Urie, Gabey wouldn’t ever trust me again if it came out that I killed the Palmer dame just to frame you and get you out of the picture.”
“He wouldn’t be okay with it if you killed me, either.” Brendon said, eyes dropping to the gun as he considered whether or not he could wrangle it out of the other young man’s hand. He was pretty sure he could, but he was also pretty sure that he couldn’t cause a distraction that would confuse Justin enough to let him take the gun away from him.
He was just trying to think how to convey what he needed to Ross in some silent way, when it seemed that Ross had picked up on his thoughts. Ross’s face grew inquisitive, like Justin was a fascinating interviewee.
“Why did you ransack my apartment?”
“I had barely finished the job when Urie here showed up. I had to get out of there before he saw me and my plan was blown out of the water. But then came that story in the Chicago Journal about her being dead, and I overheard Gabey talking to Beckett. Some editor that Beckett knew had gotten the okay to write up a story about Amanda Palmer being involved with the mob and helping the mob pay off a well known politician.” Justin spread his hands. “I panicked a bit on that one, worried that I might’ve dropped something at the scene that Urie here had missed, and then I heard a newshound who worked for the Chicago Journal had been at the scene? That wasn’t good. Your reputation preceded you, and I had to figure out which newshound at the Journal had had the original story.”
“And make sure that I didn’t have anything that’d tie you to her murder,” Ross finished, eyes wide in interest, while he nodded like he absolutely understood Justin’s plight. Brendon had to applaud the newshound’s acting skills; if he didn’t know better, he’d have bought the guy’s intense interest, just like it seemed Justin was, because the other man preened a bit at the recognition.
Ross placed a hand on his chest, staring at Justin like he was the most brilliant man the newshound had ever met. “That’s just. It’s brilliant, making sure the newshound assigned to the story doesn’t have anything to tie you to a murder you’re framing someone else for.” He heaved a sigh, shaking his head miserably. “Too bad the Journal fired me for getting too close to the mob. I could’ve written you a piece that would’ve made headlines, writing you up as the man that stopped a killer like Urie.”
Justin opened his mouth to respond, clearly pleased with the offer even if the newshound had said he couldn’t follow up on it, when the door burst open. He whirled around, raising his gun to shoot at the intruder, but Hall, standing in the battered doorway, shot first.
The bullet slammed into Justin’s chest, making Ross yelp and scoot back, eyes wide in fear as Justin’s body fell backwards, narrowly missing him.
Brendon pushed himself to his feet as Hall approached, smiling in sheer relief. “Showed up late to the party, Zacky.” He reached out, patting Hall’s arm. “But I am fuckin’ glad to see you.”
“You get into so much trouble when I’m not around,” Hall grumbled, nudging the body at their feet with a dirty look. “Clear case in point.”
Brendon smiled, grimacing a bit as it hurt his cheek. “Yeah, yeah. I should always stick close to you, Zacky. Got it.” He turned toward Ross, offering his hand to the newshound and helping him to his feet. “You gonna be okay, Janey?”
“We could’ve died,” Ross whispered, eyes still on the dead body. He looked up at Brendon. “How do you live with this?”
“You could die, warm and comfy in your bed.” Brendon shrugged, flinching away as Hall examined his cheek with a frown. “And that fucking well hurts. Stop touching it.”
“We’re getting a doctor to look at that,” Hall commented, glancing toward Ross. “After we get the two of you home. I’ll let Beckett and Saporta know what happened, too.”
Brendon watched Ross glance back down at the dead body once more. “You can spend the night at my place. I’m gonna need someone to hold an icepack to my face, and hold my hand while a doctor examines my cheek.”
Ross’ mouth twitched faintly, as if he’d forgotten how to smile. “Sure.”
Ryan walked into Pete Wentz’s office at the Chicago Journal a few days later. He wasn’t even sure if he was doing the right thing, ending his career on this note, but he didn’t think he could continue being an unbiased newshound anymore.
He found that Wentz wasn’t alone in his office. William Beckett was sitting across from the head editor, and both men looked up when Ryan entered. Beckett’s expression was unreadable as he studied Ryan’s face, and Ryan wasn’t sure what that could mean.
Wentz, though, got to his feet, walking over to Ryan and placing a hand on his arm. “I heard about what happened. The whole story.” His eyes flicked toward Beckett as if Ryan couldn’t guess where his information had come from.
Ryan wondered how Beckett was handling it. Hell, Ryan wondered how Brendon was handling it. He hadn’t seen Brendon since then, and the Black Canary had been closed for the past few nights. Spencer had guessed it was so Brendon and Saporta could reevaluate how things were run, but he wasn’t entirely sure.
“You okay?” Wentz went on, oblivious to Ryan’s thoughts. “You coming back? We’ll give you the front page to write about your harrowing experience.”
Ryan smiled faintly, wondering if it looked as fake an expression as it felt on his face. “I’ve had better days.” He opened up his bag and handed Wentz the letter he’d spent all night trying to write. “I wanted to give you this in person. It’s my resignation from the paper. I’m not coming back. You and Stump were right when you fired me the first time. I got caught up in the mob, and unlike Stump, it’s hard for me to separate my personal life from my professional one.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Ryan saw Beckett’s face become even more unreadable, if that were possible. He briefly wondered what crossed Beckett’s mind, but he decided he really didn’t care.
Wentz read the letter through a couple times before laying it on the desk with a sigh. Ryan caught Beckett eying it like he wanted to know the contents, and probably whether Brendon had had a hand in the Ryan’s decision to resign from the paper, and once more, Ryan found himself not caring. He wondered if that was a side effect from what had happened, being okay with the gangster knowing why he was doing something.
“Are you sure?” Wentz studied Ryan’s face as if looking for something there. Ryan wondered if he found whatever he was looking for.
Ryan glanced at Beckett, wanting to know what he was thinking despite himself, before nodding. “Without a doubt.”
Wentz nodded, patting Ryan’s arm. “Alright then. Well, if you ever change your mind, we’ll keep your desk open.”
Ryan smiled, this time feeling like the expression wasn’t fake and hoping it looked genuine as well. “Thanks, Wentz. I’ll remember that if I ever get sick of whatever I decide to do from here on out.”
He held his hand out to his former boss, shaking it.
“You take care of yourself, Ross,” Wentz said as their hands dropped.
“You too.” Ryan waved, turning to head out.
He’d made it down the stairs and halfway toward the door when he heard Beckett’s voice calling for him to stop. He did so, turning around to face the man.
“What happened the other night didn’t cause this resignation, did it?” Beckett asked, keeping his voice low.
Ryan shook his head. He’d seen enough to know that Beckett would find out sooner or later, and he wanted to start off on the right foot with the gangster. “No. I think the idea was already there. I just needed the push, and the other night gave it to me.”
Beckett nodded as if he’d expected that answer. “Urie, then? He’s persuasive enough.”
“No, not Urie.” Ryan smiled. He still wasn’t quite sure what Beckett was looking for, but he’d definitely make this conversation easier. “Although the kind of stories I could get out of him would’ve made staying a newshound a lot easier, and more profitable.”
Beckett looked Ryan up and down, like he wasn’t sure what to make of this. Finally, he shook his head. “Well, if you ever need a job, and don’t mind who you’re working for, you know where to find us.” He studied Ryan again. “Although I do wish you’d stayed a newshound. We need more guys like you in the wings, so to speak.”
Ryan considered that for a moment. “Well, maybe whatever I do will be even more beneficial to you than me staying a reporter and keeping certain stories hushed. You’ve still got Stump here, after all. But I do appreciate the job offer.” He paused briefly. “I’ll see you around, though.”
“Not if we see you first.”
Ryan watched as William Beckett, known furniture salesman with countless other dealings and rumored gangster with even more shady dealings, preceded him out the front door of the newspaper and got into a waiting car. Through the open door, Ryan could just make out Brendon sitting inside before the car door shut. And he knew that Brendon saw him.
In that moment, Ryan knew what he wanted to do. Whatever he ended up doing, it was going to be something that would help out Beckett’s mob, and Brendon Urie in particular. He just hadn’t figured out what that thing would be.
“Yeah, William Beckett, you just might see me sooner than you think.”