Five o'clock in the afternoon was a quiet time for the Iron, the jewel in the admittedly somewhat tarnished crown of Tony Stark's empire. In the little dives peppered around the north side, workers coming off the day shift might be whispering passwords through doors and settling in for a beer, but you didn't get the roughneck crowd at the Iron. Things wouldn't pick up in the big, windowless underground room until eight or nine o'clock, when the glam girls and the rich boys began to flood through the big iron door, ready for some rough horn and the smoothest illegal cocktails anywhere in Chicago.
The quiet suited Tony, sitting in the back room of the bar and enjoying the fruits of some far-off distiller's labor. This particular batch was from a farmhouse down Indiana way -- Tony didn't usually hold with bathtub hooch but Banner had a knack for making whisky that didn't drive you blind and strong beer that came cheap. Tony assumed he'd maybe been some kind of brewmaster before Prohibition. He hadn't asked, and Banner hadn't volunteered the information on any of Tony's visits to check out the operation. Certainly Banner's farm produced about enough corn and hops for the drink, and mostly dust otherwise.
Tony sat back in the plush red chair, adjusted his silk tie and tugged on his waistcoat, ruby ring clicking against the thick glass he held in his hand.
"Jarvis," he said, and one of the men sitting around the table inclined his head. "You're up first."
Jarvis "English" Ayres-Ingraham, an expat Pepper had found for Tony somewhere, smiled his cool toothy grin and folded his hands.
"Well, we're paid up through the month, even the little places," he said. His eyes drifted upwards, as they usually did when he was employing his somewhat inhuman memory skills. "Your beer hall down on Clybourn, you really will have to speak to them, sir; the manager keeps trying to skim the payoffs for the police, and sooner or later they're going to get tired of having to count their cash every time they stop by."
"I've been checking his books," Pepper said. Her perfectly manicured nails tapped against the table. "He's nasty, Tony, I don't like him."
"Your word is law," Tony replied, smiling. "Nix him. Will he squeal if he's cut loose?"
"I don't think so," Jarvis replied. "I'd like to send the Hammer, though, just to be sure."
Tony glanced at Thor. Very few men squealed when they'd had a stern lecture on silence from the Hammer. Thor shrugged. "Not a problem."
"Done," Tony said. "Did the mayor get our campaign contribution?"
"Oh yes. He was pleased. No trouble there," Jarvis replied smoothly. "That said, the police commissioner's not all he ought to be."
"I heard something about this," Pepper murmured.
"Another anti-corruption campaign in the force?" Tony asked.
"Not entirely certain," Jarvis replied. "He's brought in some ringers from back east to fill out the ranks, however, and I thought it best to be informed."
"I've got rum-runners crossing the Canadian border, crossing state lines, hauling booze through the docks. I've got illegal workers unloading crates in half a dozen warehouses, I've got fifteen speakeasies this side of downtown and three under downtown itself," Tony said. "I cannot afford for the police to grab a thread."
"Hence the preparedness," Jarvis said smoothly. "I've had some of our people going over the new officers' information. I've made a few calls to New York, too. Most of them are known to the outfit there; they won't be a problem."
"There's one I can't get a handle on," Jarvis admitted. "A new detective in Homicide."
"Hard to say. Not much background on him. I'll provide Pepper with what I have. At any rate, we aren't in the murder business. He shouldn't give us much trouble."
"Get more on him," Tony ordered.
"Of course, sir."
"What's his name?"
"Rogers," Jarvis said. "Detective Steven Rogers."
There was a very dead man lying in the snow at the edge of Lake Shore Drive, between the road and the lake.
"First day on the job, sir?" the sergeant standing guard behind Steve asked.
"Yep," Steve said, staring at the body.
"Takin' it pretty well."
"Not exactly my first dead body," Steve replied.
"Not exactly a nice one, though, either," the sergeant pointed out. This was true. He hoped the guy still had his wallet on him, because what was left of his face was not going to help.
"None of 'em are nice," Steve replied. "Anyway, seen worse in the war."
He picked his way through the snow, careful to leave a straight trail to the body without disturbing anything, and crouched over it. Whoever he was, he'd been in the cold a long time; his skin was grey where it wasn't blue, and he'd taken a beating even before that.
"Bum, probably," the sergeant offered.
"Doubt it," Steve said. "These are some pretty fine threads. And..." he reached into the man's jacket, cautiously, and came away with a billfold. The frozen leather cracked as he forced it open. "C-note in here. You know many bums carryin' around a c-note?"
"Hell, I don't know many cops with that kind of cash," the sergeant said.
"I don't think so," Steve said sharply. The sergeant had the grace to blush. "So what was he doing out here in his bare feet, long enough the poor guy froze to death? He's forty feet from shelter. If he landed where he fell..."
He followed the line of the man's body. One of the big lakefront houses lay right in his sight-line. In the other direction, Lake Michigan glittered in the waning sunlight. It was a cold winter, bitterer than New York; the lake itself was frozen over, which Steve heard didn't often happen.
He tilted his head and squinted sidelong at the snow. A fresh inch had fallen last night, but it didn't look even -- indentations led away from the lake, and led to a conclusion he didn't like in the least.
"He came off the lake," he said.
"Shit, what?" the sergeant asked. Steve followed the shallow dents, down the bank to the ice. It was well thick enough to walk on.
"Why would he be on the lake?" Steve asked. "Someone took this man's shoes and dumped him on the ice. Far enough out that he froze to death before he reached help. Who'd do that?"
The sergeant looked grim. "Well, that c-note I ain't got says he's a rum-runner, then."
"Sure. Lake's been frozen for a month. Thick enough to get a car across it. Say you got a guy in Michigan City or up in Kenosha, best route to avoid...us, honestly, and fastest to get down here is to go across the ice. Two years ago a bootlegger went down on thin ice, truck and all. It ain't safe, but it's worth it if you get here in one piece. Top dollar for the good stuff."
"You think his truck went down? He got out?" Steve asked.
"Or..." Steve narrowed his eyes. "Someone else was on the ice. Knew bootleggers would be coming across it and hijacked him. Left him out there to die. That's a cold, hard way to kill a man."
"Most rum-runners don't exactly live to old age," the sergeant pointed out drily.
"Crook or not, he didn't deserve to die for it," Steve said. "Get the men canvassing the riverbank. Looking for tire tracks, heavy if it was a rum-runner."
"Won't find much in this snow."
"Well, it'll keep 'em busy at least. Call the coroner and get the body back -- hey!" Steve shouted, turning around. A man in a cheap suit was crouched over the body. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
A flashbulb popped.
"Get outta here, you're disturbing a crime scene!" Steve yelled, running back to the body and grabbing the man by the scruff of his neck. "I'll have you in the slam for this."
"Aw, c'mon, I got a job to do," the man complained. "Care to comment on who the deceased is, officer?"
"Detective to you. And no, the Chicago Police have no comment at this time," Steve said, wrestling the camera away from him. He popped the back and pulled out the film, to the man's cry of dismay. "Scram before I break the damn thing," he added, shoving it into his chest.
"That's harassing the press," the man said. "We got a right to report on what's happening in this town."
"You got a right to wear a pair of bracelets, you keep that up," Steve said, reaching for his cuffs.
"Fine, fine." The man held up his hands and backed away.
"Barton doesn't mean any harm," the sergeant said, as the reporter beat it. "Best crime reporter in the city. Had his life threatened eighteen times last year."
"By cops?" Steve asked.
"Nah! The gangs, mostly. That wouldn't be the first camera he got broke in the line of duty."
"Line of duty," Steve muttered. "Well, come on, let's get this guy loaded and sent off, he's not getting any warmer lying around here. Hey," he said, as the sergeant began rolling out the body bag. "You said people'd pay top dollar for the good stuff."
"Ain't you got good stuff in New York?"
"I'm new. Humor me. What people?"
"Anyone who's thirsty, I imagine."
Steve fixed the sergeant with a look. "Who're the top in this town?"
"Oh, well. Down south it's the Jews run everything, but they keep to themselves for the most part. Not sure who their boss is at the moment, there's been some internal strife, guess you'd say. The west, you got a split, Capone in the northwest -- Italians, you know -- and the Greek in the southwest. Ain't got no other name, just the Greek. And on the north side, well, that's all Irish territory. Wouldn't know it to talk to the boss though, his family's been in Chicago since it was Chicago. Tony Stark."
"Huh. Guess I'm going on a tour," Steve replied, but on a hunch he cracked open the billfold again. He flipped through it until he found what he was looking for -- he'd seen them in New York often enough. A membership card with no address, just a name: Tuxedo Club. There was a password carelessly scrawled on the back.
"Which of 'em owns the Tuxedo Club?" he asked, flipping the card around to show it to the sergeant.
"Stark," the man replied. "You gonna help me lift this body or not?"
Steve grabbed the legs, hefting the stiff corpse into the bag. He let the sergeant struggle with fastening it up. "You know where the Tuxedo Club is?"
"Not me," the sergeant replied. "Ain't my kind of joint."
"They say Potts runs it."
"Stark's right-hand girl. Hell of a dame. Legs up to here -- "
"I wasn't asking about her legs," Steve snapped.
"With legs like that, nobody needs to ask. Anyhow, you go nosing around the Tuxedo Club, folks might get the wrong impression."
"How's that?" Steve asked.
"It ain't for normal people," the sergeant said.
"You want to elaborate?"
"No sir, don't think I do," the man said, tapping the side of his nose. "I'll just be taking the body back now, sir," he said, and whistled for one of the men waiting by the car to help him. Steve sighed, tucked the card in his pocket, closed the billfold, and went to order some flatfeet around.
Chicago glittered at night, especially when the snow was out like this, still fresh enough to make everything pretty. It wouldn't melt for a while, either, Tony thought, standing on the roof terrace of the mansion he'd bought with, if he did say so himself, an impressive amount of lawbreaking.
Half a mile to the south, the Iron was roaring; once the party really started he'd left, trusting that his people would mind the shop while the boss played hooky. All over town, liquor was pouring out of his speakeasies and money was pouring in, but Tony had bigger things on his mind.
"So," said a voice from inside, and Pepper stepped out on the terrace, pulling her ermine coat tight around her to keep out the chill. "What are we brooding about tonight?"
Tony fixed a smile on his face and turned around, leaning on the rail. "Not a damn thing, doll," he said, crossing his arms. "Just enjoying my little kingdom."
"Hard to enjoy when you're not down in it," she replied. She had boots on under the ermine, and trousers; either coming from or going to a party, he thought. "Come to the Tuxedo tonight. Pick yourself up a shiny toy and have a good time."
"Not that kind of brooding."
"So you are brooding."
"Just thinking," he said. "You know, the Dems got in this year. Nobody loves Prohibition anymore. Our days as outlaws are numbered."
"I'd think you'd click your heels for joy. You'd love to sell legal liquor."
"Two years, maybe three, I suppose I could. I was thinking I should start closing up shop on the illegal side, though. Not completely, just pull in a little. Besides, the money's not rolling in quite the way it used to."
"We're in a depression, Tony."
"Which is the problem, isn't it? I close down the endless party and my people go begging on the street. There aren't jobs for bartenders and loaders and drivers. And I'm not about to reward my peoples' loyalty with soup kitchens and eviction."
"Find a new industry," Pepper suggested.
"No industry to be had," Tony answered. "It's gonna be a long one, Pep, I can tell. I'm good at the future. I got us here, didn't I?" he asked.
"Well, this boss doesn't see the end of the breadlines any time soon."
She kissed his cheek, then wiped the lipstick off with her fingers. "You'll think of something. You always do. Go into pictures. Move out to Los Angeles, get some warmth in your bones. There's jobs for your people in a place like that."
Tony grinned. "One long caravan of crooks and roughnecks headed to the coast?"
"Put 'em on a train," she said with a laugh. "We'll sleep on the beaches and bathe in the Pacific Ocean."
"Beats the lake."
"Beats it cold."
"Funny," Tony said.
"Well, I do my best." Pepper smiled. "1931's just a few weeks away. It's gonna be our year, I got a feeling about it."
"Every year's your year, Pep-me-up."
"Then it's a safe bet, huh?" she asked. "Come on. Come to the Tuxedo with me."
"You go. I'll drop by tomorrow."
"We've got the Mayor's dinner tomorrow."
"Fine, Friday night," Tony said. "Place should be hot by then."
"Well, don't stay up here brooding all night," she said. "You'll catch your death."
Tony held up a flask, shaking it gently.
"The things I put up with from you," she said fondly. "See you tomorrow afternoon."
"Wear something beautiful for the dinner."
"I'll polish my tiara," she said. "Good night, boss."
He almost stopped her as she went inside. Instead, he watched through the glass as she set the fur aside and pulled on a man's coat, stealing one of his fedoras to toss over her bobbed red hair.
It took Steve two days to find the Tuxedo Club.
In New York, he would have known who to ask or even just known where it was; he knew the lay of the land there. But New York wasn't a good place for him anymore, and he'd have to learn the landscape of Chicago sometime. This was his home now.
Besides, New York had never been the same after the war. Ghosts of dead friends lurked in the alleys. Memories of a childhood he'd just as soon forget filled half the streets. A clean break was a good break, and not just because it hadn't really been his choice.
"Where do you go to find a speakeasy in this town, anyway?" he'd asked his captain.
"Knock on a door till you find one," was the only reply he'd got. One of his fellow detectives, not exactly eager to help the rookie, told him to ask a librarian. The beat officers just snickered.
He could have gone to the Feds. Could have told them he had a password for the Tuxedo, and they'd have known where it was -- but they'd also have barged in to shut the place down, destroying the one slim lead to his victim. The man still didn't even have a name. And while Steve didn't like gangsters, he wasn't that nuts about Prohibition agents either.
So he'd done the only thing he could think of to do: gone out late at night, found a drunk, and shaken him down. The drunk didn't know where the Tuxedo was, but he pointed Steve to another of Stark's places, the Resilient, and Steve had a very satisfying fistfight with a doorman there until he caved and provided him with the address of the Tuxedo.
Well, the other guy took the first swing. Steve was honorable, but he wasn't a pushover.
By then it was two in the morning and Steve was nursing a split lip, so he went home and put himself to bed for a few hours.
When he got to the station around nine the next day, the coroner had a report ready on the body; he read the report, noted that the c-note had gone missing from the billfold while in Evidence, and took enough guff over the split lip that he left the precinct house early and went home to prepare for the evening.
He had the impression that the Tuxedo might be a pretty classy place. He didn't have much in the way of classy, but he brushed his hair and shaved, laid out his best suit, bought a quick meal from the diner down the street, and got himself a little sleep. Nobody who was anybody went out before nine, he knew that at least.
He hesitated while he was dressing, wondering if he ought to bring his piece; you didn't walk into a speakeasy as a cop and expect to walk out whole. If he didn't bring his badge, he'd get nothing in the way of anything -- but then again, if he did, he might just get shot. Finally he compromised: he tucked the gun in the back of his trousers where his jacket would hide it, and put his badge next to his wallet in his inside pocket.
The Tuxedo Club was an underground joint, the doorway set back from the street in a little three-corner courtyard off Division. As Steve watched from the shadows, a pair of young women in long coats snuck into the courtyard, whispered a word to a man standing at one edge, and were ushered down a staircase.
Well, no time like the present to try his luck.
He'd been in exactly two joints like this before. They weren't his beat in New York; both times he'd been on loan to another arm of the force, and he'd been on raids. Ugly business. Dangerous, too. Dark little holes, usually only full of drunks and trash by the time he got there, reeking of cheap liquor and the sweat of too many bodies in too small a place. So he murmured the password on the back of the card to the doorman, got a once-over and a nod, and strolled down the steps -- and braced himself for the smell as the door opened.
Instead, after a startled moment, he walked into a high-ceilinged room, dimly lit but open and airy, with a band crooning an easy, slow song from one corner.
His second thought, after the shock, was that there sure were a lot of dames in this joint.
Someone jostled past him with a glare, and he hastily stepped aside, taking his hat off. Not just women; women dancing with women. Women sitting at tables, heads bent together. One small knot of men in a corner, talking and laughing, and a few --
His breath caught.
"Hey, handsome," a man said, passing him on his way to the bar. "Stop standin' in the corner like a potted plant, buddy. Buy you a drink?"
"No, no thank you," Steve stammered, blinking. The man shrugged and walked on, apparently unconcerned.
Steve shuffled along the wall, avoiding the dancers, avoiding everyone's eyes, and settled at the very corner of the bar, closest to the door.
He was in so far over his head he couldn't even see daylight.
"What'll you have?" a voice asked, and he looked up into the face of a large bartender.
"I, ah," Steve said. "I'm looking for Miss Potts."
"You and everyone else in here, sweetheart," the man said, rolling his eyes. "She ain't buyin', and she definitely ain't buyin' what you're sellin'."
"I'm not sellin' anything," Steve said. "I just need to speak with her."
"And I'm tellin' you that's not going to happen. You want a drink or what?"
"We have some important business to discuss," Steve said, and risked a brief flash of his badge. The man's mouth hardened. Damn.
"We're paid up," he said.
"Not with me."
"If you mattered, we'd be paid up with you."
"Look, you can get me bounced and we can start something here, or you can point me to Miss Potts," Steve said. "I'm not here to give her a hard time."
"Well, she ain't here, so you're outta luck anyway. So you can start somethin' and get bounced and good luck getting any boys in blue to help you out, or you can have a damn drink and be the hell on your way."
Steve locked eyes with him. "In that case I'll wait. You serve anything legal in this joint?"
"You want to pay for a glass of seltzer water, it's your funeral."
Steve watched as the man made his way back down the bar to pour his drink, and he didn't miss the quiet words he exchanged with some of the men at the far end. Once he'd brought his water back and taken his coin in payment, one of the men broke off from the group and drifted his way up to Steve, settling on the stool next to his.
Not a man, Steve realized. A woman in a man's suit, with a short haircut and a dangerous look on her face.
"Looking for Miz Potts?" she asked, in thickly accented English. Russian, probably, or maybe Polish.
"Don't see what business it is of yours," Steve replied.
"You come here, ask for her, makes it my business."
"Well, then if it's your business, you can show me to her."
"Not here. You drink and get out."
"Not happening," Steve said firmly.
"Then I throw you out."
Steve gave her a once-over. "You could try, miss."
She was about to rise off the stool and take a swing, he could tell, and he really didn't want to fight a woman half his size, but an arm slid around her waist, pinning her in place.
"Natasha," a new voice said. "Are you making trouble?"
"Getting rid of trouble," Natasha said, suddenly sullen. The woman holding her -- gently, more of a reminder than any real restraint -- looked over her shoulder at Steve.
"This man bothering you?" she asked.
"Bothering you," Natasha replied. "You want Miz Potts?" she asked, and gestured at the woman behind her. "You find her. Now I throw you out."
"Be nice," the other woman chided. Steve took her in. So this was Miss Potts, who ran the Tuxedo Club. A club for people who, as the sergeant had so delicately put it, weren't normal. "And you are?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Someone with some questions for you," Steve said. "Detective Rogers, Miss. Homicide."
Both her eyebrows went up at that. "Going to arrest me, copper?"
"Not if I can help it," he said.
"Good. Then Natasha can put away her knife," Miss Potts replied, and Steve saw Natasha roll her eyes. But he also saw her hand move slightly.
Ah. Not quite so harmless as he'd thought. A bad thing to underestimate, a woman with a knife.
"Skedaddle, darling, I'll come find you when we're done," Miss Potts said firmly.
Natasha went, reluctantly, and Miss Potts slid gracefully onto the stool she'd vacated, smoothing her white silk dress and crossing her legs. "What can I do for the Chicago Police, Detective?"
Steve took the Tuxedo Club card out of his pocket and set it on the bar. "I got that off a dead man two days ago."
She frowned, eyeing it. "Detective Rogers, I don't know how they do things in New York -- "
"Excuse me?" he asked.
" -- but here in Chicago, a lot of people drink a lot of places," she finished smoothly, then gave him an arch smile. "You learned about me awful quick; you think we didn't learn about you?"
He wasn't sure how to reply to that, so he tapped the card with his finger. "I think the man I got this from was a driver for you. A rum-runner of some kind, anyway."
"What happened to him?" she asked.
"Well, if what we think is true, he was driving on the ice out on the lake," he said. "Someone hijacked him, took his shoes, and left him to die there."
She covered her mouth with one hand.
"He made it to shore, barely, and froze to death," Steve continued. "We don't even know his name. And since this and a hundred bucks was pretty much everything we found on him, I'd like to know if you can help me out."
She let her hand fall. "Or what, you'll close us down?"
"I should. But it's not really my job. I just want to know who the fella is, and who might've gone to all that trouble for a single truck full of rotgut."
She tilted her head, considering him. He waited patiently. He knew the look; she knew something, at least, and was just deciding whether to tell him.
"You should talk to Mr. Stark," she said finally. "I manage his social affairs and this club, but he handles the liquor. He'll know if one of his boys has gone missing."
"So pass me to Stark," he said. "If you keep his calendar, put me on it for tomorrow morning."
"I don't think that will be necessary," she said smoothly. A professional dame, for sure. "He came in with me just now."
She turned on the stool, twisting to sweep the room. "There he is," she said, pointing halfway down the bar. There was a man in a waistcoat, back to them, talking to a cigarette girl. "Oh, and Detective Rogers?" she said, as he nodded and stood. "Make trouble here and I will make your life miserable as only a woman knows how."
"Ma'am," he said with a nod, and made his way down the bar.
There was a crowd around Stark, which he supposed he should have expected. Men and women both, chatting with him, waiting to chat with him, for all Steve could tell just basking in his reflected glory. One of the top bootleggers in Chicago -- but from this angle he didn't look like very much. A trim man in an expensive suit, jacket slung on the bar carelessly, sleeves rolled up.
"Excuse me," he said. "Mr. Stark."
Stark turned, gracefully avoiding elbowing about three people, and looked up at him. Close-to, and facing him now, he was -- compelling, somehow. High cheekbones, sleek black hair, a neatly trimmed goatee, and blue eyes that looked much, much more intelligent than expected. And a sense of easy power in his movements, like he was born for command.
Stark's eyes slid down the bar to Miss Potts, who gave him a nod. He flicked his fingers, turning to the crowd.
"Okay, freeloaders, scram," he said. "Go on, I have no time for you right now, get out of here. Are you kidding me?" he asked one man, who lingered. "Go. Playtime is over. Entertain yourselves, I am not your organ grinder. Shoo. Daddy's doing business. Hello," he added, as the crowd spread out, an empty space forming discreetly around them. "You are a policeman."
"Your redheaded Russian tell you that?" Steve asked. Stark laughed.
"If you think I can't spot a cop from fifty paces, you are underestimating me," Stark replied. "And she's not my redheaded Russian."
"She works for you, doesn't she?"
"I decline to answer that question without a lawyer present," Stark said, sitting back. He tilted his face up, body relaxed, angled against the bar like it was built for him. "Pull up a stool, have a drink."
"No, thank you," Steve replied. "You're right. We do have business to discuss."
"I never do business sober. You don't mind...?" Stark asked, holding up his glass.
"I do, actually."
"Well, arrest me," Stark said, with a challenging look, like he actually expected it.
"Not my job," Steve told him. "I'm here about a murder."
"I have an alibi," Stark replied.
"You don't know when it happened."
"No, but I know I didn't kill anyone, so..." he gestured with his free hand. "Tony Stark, by the way, but you seem to know that already."
"Detective Rogers, Homicide," Steve said.
"Is that what they're calling me?"
"Well, you did come in from New York and now you're here making trouble after less than a week, so." Stark tilted his head. "What's a war hero like you doing in a place like this, Detective?"
"Word travels fast."
"I make it a point to be informed."
He should be asking about the body; he should be asking about the bootlegging. But there was something irresistible in the challenge.
"And what does your information say?" Steve asked, crossing his arms.
Stark was silent for a moment, and then he seemed to spring to life.
"Steven Rogers, a New York boy, joined the army and went to war," he said, a small smile on his face. "Captain Rogers. They called you Captain America, didn't they? A real hero, with the newsreel smile. And then after Armistice, you came home. Few years ago you joined the New York police as a detective, and five days ago you moved to Chicago. How am I doing so far? But," he added, before Steve could answer, "what really interests me is the fact that you came home in '19 and joined the force in '27. And that means there are eight years where you just didn't exist. So my question is, where were you all those missing years, Captain?"
"Detective," Steve corrected.
"Eight years. Where did you spend those eight years?"
Steve kept his face blank. "On ice."
"Sounds like a fascinating story."
"Some other time." Steve offered him the Tuxedo Club card. "Because, see, my question is, why did I find this on a corpse two days ago?"
Stark turned the card over in his hands. "Well, whoever he was, he was a jerk. Wrote the password on the back? Really?"
"We think he was one of your drivers."
Stark went still and tense in an instant.
"We don't even have a name for him," Steve said. "I was hoping you could give me one."
"Not here," Stark replied, pushing off the stool and past him. "Follow me."
Steve, feeling the reassuring weight of his gun against the small of his back, trailed Stark through the crowd, to a door at the far end of the room. There were a handful of people inside, playing cards, the room thick with cigar smoke. Stark snapped his fingers and pointed at the door.
"You like showing off your power, don't you?" Steve asked, as the room's occupants disappeared.
"Shouldn't I? I earned it."
"You'd lose," Stark replied, closing the door. "What makes you think he was one of mine?"
"Not a lot," Steve admitted. "Just the card in his pocket. We think he was smuggling liquor across the ice. Someone got to him, left him there to die, took his car. He froze to death on the bank. Forty feet from light and warmth. Now I don't know how dear you hold human life, Mr. Stark, but that's a particularly brutal thing to do in my book. And I'd be willing to bet if he wasn't one of yours, you can tell me whose he was."
Stark poured himself a drink from a bar in one corner. "Sure I can't tempt you?"
"Your loss." He threw the drink back and set the glass down. "One of my shipments never came in. I figured the snow held him up. Tall guy. Snappy dresser. Dark hair. Always wore nice wing-tip shoes."
"They took his shoes."
"Son of a bitch," Stark said. "I tell you who he is, you think you can catch the bastards?"
"Don't know. Tell me and we'll find out."
"You need to see a slightly bigger picture," Stark said.
"I don't know the names of most of my drivers. I don't even know the names of some of my suppliers. This is an industry, Captain, not a café."
"I like Captain better. There are hundreds of people involved in this. The drivers bring the product from the suppliers to me, and by 'me' I mean the warehouse workers who unload the trucks and the foremen who distribute the product to the...well, places like this," he said, gesturing towards the door. "The bartenders serve it, and the managers manage them. They report to my people, who report to me."
"And your hands stay nice and clean," Steve said.
"They've been dirty enough in the past. So nine men in ten I wouldn't be able to name for you. You'd need to talk to the warehouse foremen, who might or might not know. But there's always that tenth guy. The guy I know because I like his car -- I like cars, did you know that? Nuts about them, and the faster the better. Or the guy I know because he's showed some extra guts and deserves a little extra in his pocket. Or," he said, and turned to look Steve square in the eye, "the guy I know because once a year he brings me the best blue-label scotch it's possible to get, the stuff I serve to my guests at a frankly infamous New Year's Eve party I happen to host. Hell knows where he gets it, but he gets it, and in weather like this he'd think driving it over the lake was a good joke. Stuff like he was hauling, well, if you're going to hit just one car driving just one shipment of product, that's the one to hit."
"That's a fine big picture," Steve said. "But I still need a name."
"Joe," Stark said. "Joe Yinsen. Your people should have a file on him; it'll tell you some of what you need to know. And that big picture ought to help you out, huh?"
"I can think of a few angles," Steve said. Stark stepped closer.
"Listen to me," he said in a low, dangerous voice. "Yinsen was a decent guy and he had a fast car. I liked him. My people matter to me whether I know their names or not. So if you find out who killed him, and if you tell me before you tell whoever it is you tell these things, you will be personally owed a favor from a very powerful man in this city. And his killer will be handled."
"What kind of man do you take me for?" Steve asked.
"The kind of man who left New York for reasons nobody will talk about," Stark answered.
"That doesn't mean I'd let you get first crack. You might be powerful, Mr. Stark, but you're not the law."
"Yeah, says me," Steve replied, not backing down an inch. "So when I catch him, the law gets him."
"Unless I get to him before you do."
"You think I wouldn't bring you in for murder?"
"I think you'd find out the kind of enemy I can be."
"When it comes down to it," Steve said, "you're a bootlegger. Joe Yinsen died because he was bringing you illegal hooch. You don't own Chicago, and you can pay off as many cops as you like but there are some of us you don't own either. That's an awful nice suit, Mr. Stark, but it's just a suit. Take away all this and what do you have?"
"More money than you'll ever see, and the respect and adoration of thousands. Whereas the only special thing about you is a badge."
"Sure," Steve said. "But it's a badge you ain't got."
Stark gave him a feral grin. "I do like your guts, Captain Rogers."
"Thank you for your help," Steve said. "I'll see myself out."
"Come back anytime," Stark said, as Steve opened the door. "After all, you know the password."
Rogers lit out of the place like his ass was on fire, but Tony didn't put that up to his own intimidating presence; the guy was too new to understand just how much power Tony had. He figured he was just intimidated by the clientele.
Pepper and Natasha were still at the bar, deep in conversation, but when he emerged from the back room Pepper's head lifted and she gave him a questioning look.
"What'd you do to the poor kid?" she asked.
"He's just unhappy I asked him to send the murderer to me instead of to the law," Tony replied.
"It was one of ours?"
"Joe Yinsen. Good man. Did not get what he deserved," Tony said.
"Well, you've made an enemy for life," Pepper replied.
Tony grinned. "No. He'll be back."
"He liked the fight. And he eyeballed the patrons but he didn't bring it up, which is interesting."
"Bet you I know why they run him out of New York," Natasha said.
"I bet you do," Tony answered.
"You want I tail him?"
"No. You and I have other business tomorrow," Tony said. "Yinsen was an Indiana boy. Tomorrow we'll go to South Bend, see what we can find."
"And the cop?"
"I imagine we'll see him there, if he's worth a damn. And if he isn't, well, we'll get whoever knocked Yinsen off before he can." Tony ruffled Pepper's hair. "You two have a good night. Tasha, tomorrow at eight."
"Be good," Tony said. "Or be very, very bad."
Pepper tossed her hair. "Yes, boss."
In theory, Steve should have waited for the following morning to look up Joe Yinsen in the archives of the Chicago PD. In practice, well, he'd learned a lot of skills as a kid and one of them was picking the kind of lock you found on the door of the archives room.
So he'd found the file on Yinsen and in the still, dusty silence of the archives at eleven at night he'd read the slim information that the police had on him. A known rum-runner, hauled in half a dozen times but only convicted once; there weren't any notes about Tony Stark in the file, but if you knew where to look his hand was all over Yinsen's life. How many people's lives in this town did Stark control? How many families depended on his payroll to put food on the table? And more importantly, how many went hungry when their bootlegging fathers or husbands or brothers died?
Because men did die in this occupation. Women too, he thought, remembering the knife of Natasha's that he'd never actually seen. Stark could start a war over Yinsen, if one of his competitors had knocked him off.
He took the first morning train to South Bend the following day.
The landlady of Yinsen's boarding house wasn't much help; she liked him, said he was clean and quiet, often gone for days at a time. But she didn't know what work he did, and didn't ask. His room didn't give many clues either; a couple of newspaper clippings on the walls, a book about automobile repair on the shelf, and some clean, well-patched clothing. That was all.
He stepped out into the crisp Indiana winter day wondering what he should do. The next train back to Chicago wasn't for an hour yet, and Yinsen had at least lived and done some kind of business in this town. Finding a speakeasy in a strange burg was tough, but finding a distillery? He might as well go spit.
"Hey, cop!" someone called, and Steve stopped, looking around. Nobody on the street, or at least nobody who looked like they'd called for him.
"Over here, copper!" The second call, in a different voice, came from a nearby alley; Steve sauntered over and then ducked into it, hand on his gun at his hip.
"Boy, are you jumpy," said the second voice, and Steve looked down.
Two kids were standing next to a can of trash, arms crossed, chins raised in identical attitudes of defiance. The younger, smaller one was dark-skinned, in a black sweater a size too big for him; the older was white, and had a red newsie cap on his head, which matched the greasy red coat he wore.
"Can I help you boys?" he asked.
"You're lookin' for news 'bout Yinsen, aintcha?" the older boy asked. "Guy who got whacked up in Chicago?"
"Sure. How'd you know about him?"
"We know everything," the younger one said.
"Do you now. You know where Yinsen worked?"
"Sure," the younger said. "But you're a cop. Can't lead you to no still."
"Are you for real a detective?" the older asked.
"Detective Rogers," Steve said, showing his badge. The younger one snatched it and studied it with the air of an expert. "Who are you?"
"We're the spiders," the older one said. "They call us that on account of we see everything."
"So you say."
"I'm Peter. My aunt May runs the boarding house," the older said. "This here's Miles."
"Pleased to meet you. If you weren't gonna help me, why'd you whistle me up?" Steve asked.
"Wanted to see your badge," Miles said, an impudent grin on his face.
"Want to be a cop when you grow up?" Steve asked.
"Nah! Imma be a reporter," Peter said.
"Figures," Steve muttered, taking the badge back from Miles.
"We liked Yinsen," Peter continued. "But you're a cop."
"So you see we got what you might call a mo-ral di-lemma," Miles added.
"Listen, boys, I'm just looking for information on who might have known him," Steve said. "Gimme a lead and I'll buy you a candy bar."
The boys exchanged a look of skeptical amusement.
"I'm not a Prohibition agent. I know he was a rum-runner. I just want to know who knocked him over for his haul," Steve said.
"We can show you where he picked up his stuff," Peter said. "But you gonna hafta get in on your own."
"We got a reputation to keep," Miles said.
"Fine. You two lead the way, and I won't ask you to make any introductions."
Peter held up his hand. Miles looked at him, then mimicked the gesture. Steve rolled his eyes and dug in his pockets, producing twenty cents.
"You two run off with this, you're welchers," he said, placing a dime in each palm. "Now, lead the way."
They took off down the alley, and Steve followed with a mixture of amusement and caution. Neither boy turned to see if he was following until they'd gone five or six blocks, and then Peter jumped up and grasped a windowsill, pulling himself up to perch on it, while Miles darted around a corner and vanished from view.
"That place there," Peter said, nodding at a nondescript building across the street, which said SOUTH BEND FOUNDRY on the side. "Remember, you ain't never seen us."
"Scram on outta here then," Steve replied, and Peter jumped sideways off the sill, landing lightly on a set of steps and scuttling away.
Steve was turning to the foundry, pondering how to make his move, when he saw a door open in the side of the building.
And Tony Stark strolled out.
Steve was tempted to duck back into the shadows and watch where he went, but duty overrode common sense. He crossed the street and reached Stark's car -- a looker like that had to be his -- at the same time Stark did.
"Well, if it isn't the Captain," Stark said. "Fancy meeting you here."
"You should keep out of police business," Steve said.
"I'm just paying a visit to some friends. Why, what are you doing here?"
"You know damn well what, Stark," he said, just as Natasha joined Stark at the car. "Not your Russian, huh?"
"Trust me," Stark said drily.
"Whoever killed Yinsen should be arrested and tried."
Stark crossed his arms, studying him over the hood of the car. "You know they'll never let you in there with a badge. And they won't let you in without someone to vouch for you, either. This is what you call a dead end, Captain."
"We'll see about that."
"Why do you care so much about a dead rum-runner?" Stark asked. "I know why I do. But you? Isn't he just another crook to you? It's like your pals on the force say -- let 'em kill each other and sweep up the bodies."
"If they're saying that, they're not my pals."
Natasha leaned over and whispered something in Stark's ear.
"Tell you what," Stark said, as she climbed into the driver's seat of the car. "It's freezing out here and I'm parched. There's a cafe down the road does a nice cuppa joe. Have a coffee with me and let's bang this out before one of us shoots the other, huh?"
"Are you trying to bribe me?" Steve asked.
"With a cup of coffee? Please. Walk with me. I'll make it worth your while with information," Stark said.
Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. "You aren't the sort to be warned off, are you?"
"Not even a little." Stark started down the block at a stroll, hands in the pockets of his coat, and Steve sighed and followed.
"Mind you," Stark continued, as they walked, "I didn't expect you to get here so soon. You might be more valuable than I gave you credit for. Your heart and head are in the right place, I suppose. That warehouse is a still, sure enough, but it's not where my blue-label came from and they only know Yinsen as the guy who picks up what they're doling out. He never drinks in this town, so they told me. He saves that up for when he gets to Chicago. So the question is--"
"Who knew he was picking up the stuff, and where'd he get it from?" Steve asked. Tony nodded, elbowing open a door and gesturing him inside. A warm gust of coffee-scented air hit him as he walked in. They sat at a little table in a back corner, Stark's back to the wall, and a waitress sauntered over with a questioning look.
"Coffee, cream." Stark said. "Rogers?"
The waitress gave him a sweet smile as she left.
"Guess we know who's getting the good stuff," Stark said, amused.
"Hm?" Steve asked.
"Never mind. So! We have three problems," Stark said, fingers dancing over the silverware on the table, the sugar dish, the saltshaker. "First problem is, where'd he get it? Second problem is, who knew?"
"What's the third problem?"
"Third problem is neither of us is gonna let the other one take the wheel," Stark said. "I'm not backing down, and you're apparently constitutionally incapable of it. So let's come to some kind of agreement. I want to know what you know. I'm willing to tell you what I know to get it."
"How do I know that's true?"
"You don't. But you're no dummy. You know I've got more information than you. And you've got more power than me. So why not work together?" Stark asked.
"Because if we find the killer, you're going to shoot him and dump him in the river."
"Fair. Fair," Stark admitted. "But only because I know how corrupt the courts are."
Steve tilted his head. "You can fix the courts any way you like."
"In which case the whole justice system does seem like a sham, doesn't it? But no. I can't. Because I have competitors who also have an interest. And some of them are willing to do things I'm not."
"Like kidnap judges' daughters. Break their kneecaps. I'm not the monster you think I am. I don't like violence and if money can't buy it then I resign myself to not getting it, or I find some other way."
"You think some rival sponsored this theft? Someone with that kind of power?"
Stark regarded him calmly as their coffee arrived.
"I'll make you a deal," Stark said, finally. "If we get him, you can give him the trial your duty demands. If he goes free, you deliver him up to me."
"You look the other way while I -- "
Stark blew air through his teeth. "Work with me here, Captain."
"If you can't call me Detective, call me Steve," Steve said. "It's my name."
"Interesting," Stark said. "All right, Steve. If the good Detective Rogers brings in a man he can prove murdered my guy, and the courts don't agree, will Steve let Tony take a crack?"
It was wrong. Ethically, legally wrong. It was one more little crack in the armor of his duty and his oath to the law.
But it felt right. Because yes -- if the courts could be swayed, then what was the point of his badge in the first place?
And despite his better judgment, he liked Tony Stark. He liked a man who didn't screw around. And he liked the sound of a gangster who didn't like violence.
Didn't hurt that the man was easy on the eyes, either, a small voice inside him said. He tamped it down hastily.
"All right," he said quietly. "You got yourself a deal. Tony. But if I find out you're holding out information or sneaking around like this, when you know something that could help the case, deal's off and I'll have you in jail for obstructing justice."
"I knew we could reach a compromise," Tony said brightly.
"So you got any ideas about our first two problems?" Steve asked.
"Not yet, but I will by the end of the day. In the meantime," Tony sipped his coffee, a blissful smile crossing his face, "have a cup and take a load off."
"Where'd the Russian go?"
"Off to find me those leads you asked for. And she's not Russian; she's an American citizen."
"You shouldn't underestimate Natasha. She's a survivor. Came here to get away from the Revolution in '17. Started out as a dock worker in one of my warehouses after a couple of years of god-knows-what. Runs most of the warehouse end now. That woman's the American dream, sure as you or I are."
"But she's not yours?"
"Nah. She's Pepper's girl."
"Your secretary has a secretary?"
Tony grinned. "No. She's Pepper's girl. They're an item."
Steve blinked at him. "That's awfully forthright of you."
"Everyone knows, but nobody says. I'm a sayer. You can't touch them, so why should they, I, or you care if you know?"
"And you don't mind?"
"None of my business."
"That club Miss Potts runs."
"Inverts, perverts, deviants, and squares looking for adventure," Tony replied around another sip of coffee. "Rethinking shutting it down?"
"No. Folks shouldn't be interfered with like that."
"And yet you're a copper."
"Well, there's not much else work for an old soldier," Steve said.
"Those eight years you went missing say differently."
"Knock it off, Stark."
"Fine. Knock it off, Tony."
Tony shrugged. "If you say so. Answer me a question, though. Do you think Prohibition's right?"
"Doesn't matter. It's the law."
"Don't be an idiot."
"I think a lot of innocent folks get hurt on account of others breaking it. Don't know whether that means it's a bad law or not. I'm no lawyer. No philosopher either."
"But do you, Steve, Captain Detective Rogers, think it's right?"
Steve set his coffee down. "My father was a drunk. I never blamed the alcohol for what he did when he was drinking; seemed to me it was him doin' it, not the bottle. Truth be told, I think it'd make more sense to lock up folks for the things they blame on the drink than to lock up the drink. But it's not my call to make."
"It's a democracy, Steve. It's everyone's call to make. And until democracy catches up with you and me -- "
"We're not the same."
"No. That'd be horribly boring. But until the law sees sense, you'll have to excuse my breaking it."
"I don't actually have to do that," Steve pointed out.
"Well, until we catch the man who killed Yinsen, you're going to at least have to tolerate it," Tony said with a smile. "You never know. Running with me and mine might do you some good, Captain America."
"It's been a long time since that was my name."
"People have long memories." Tony slugged back the rest of his coffee. "I have work to do here, and you have a train to Chicago. Come by the Tuxedo tomorrow for lunch. I'll let you know where today took me."
"Let's get this straight, Tony," Steve said, standing. "I'm not one of your people. I'm not on your payroll and you don't tell me what to do. You got connections here, that's fine; I'll see you tomorrow to find out what you know. But once this is done I won't be your pet cop."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Tony said, and smiled as Steve tossed down a couple of coins to cover coffee and a tip. "See you tomorrow, Steve."
Steve made it to the station in time to catch the noon flyer to Chicago. As the train pulled away, he noticed Peter and Miles sitting on the roof of the station, legs dangling off the edge. They waved a couple of Chick-O-Stick bars at him before the train disappeared around the bend.
When Steve came into the station house that afternoon, the annoying photographer from the crime scene was sitting at his desk.
"What do you think you're doing?" Steve asked, tugging a confidential file out of his hands.
"Keeping myself amused," the man said brightly. "Don't worry, I'm very discreet."
"That's it," Steve said, and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, lifting him off the desk.
"Wait -- ow! What are you doing -- " the man yelled, as Steve half-marched, half-carried him towards the cells at the other end of the precinct.
"Throwing you in jail. Don't worry, you'll get a lawyer," Steve said. "What's your name? Barton, isn't it?"
"Let go'a me!" Barton cried. Heads raised all over the station house. Faint laughter followed them.
"I don't know why nobody showed you the inside of a cell before, but I got no time for you," Steve said, shoving him through the door and into the holding block. "Hey! Duty Officer!"
"Hiya, Barton," the uniform on desk called. "Told you not to go buggin' the rookie."
"You got a cell I can slam the kid in?" Steve asked, still holding Barton by his collar, evading his twisty grabs at Steve's lapels.
"Aw, c'mon, he doesn't mean any harm," the officer said.
"I have had just about enough of how nobody in this burg means me any harm," Steve retorted. "I got a corpse crawling off the Lake Michigan ice, a gangster tryin'a buy me coffee, and this lunk nosing around my desk. So guess what?" he asked, turning Barton to face him. "You get to be my whipping boy."
"I can help you, ya know," Barton said, twisting in his grasp. "I know things!"
"You remind me of a fella I met this morning," Steve said.
"Yeah? You meet any reporters down in Indiana?"
"No, but I did meet an awful sneaky ten-year-old kid," Steve said, tossing him down. Barton landed on his feet and dusted himself off, looking sulky. "You got a count of ten to get yourself out of a charge of tampering with police evidence, and you can start with how you knew I was in Indiana this morning."
"Shoot," Barton said, straightening his cuffs. "A body's always big news. I followed ya down to the station. Didn't fancy a ride to the back end of nowhere so I asked the clerk where your ticket was going. Say, tell me the stiff's name and I'll make sure your picture gets in the paper."
"What on God's green Earth makes you think I want my picture in your damn paper?" Steve asked.
"Easy, Detective, if you're the humble type that's fine too," Barton said. "You could use a guy like me, though. The dirt I dig up in this town you couldn't spot with a magnifying glass and a map."
Steve crossed his arms, considering the man. "You know of any reason I should trust the discretion of a newsman?"
"Plenty. Mostly that I know the difference between on and off the record, and I ain't dead," Barton replied. "Go on. Ask me anything."
The officer on desk was watching with open fascination. Steve hauled Barton along by the shoulder, down to the other end of the room where the cells were empty.
"Tell me what you know about Stark," he said. Barton barked a laugh.
"Come on, ask me something hard," he said.
"I hear your camera gets broke an awful lot -- "
"Fine!" Barton groaned. "Fine. What do you want to know?"
"Pretend I don't know a thing -- and don't give me any lip," Steve added.
"Stark the bootlegger? Runs most of the north side. You got your booze, little bit 'a gambling; no dope, though, and he doesn't like trouble. You were in the war, weren'tcha?"
"Then you probably carried a Stark rifle. His pa made a pile makin' guns for the government during the war. Died before Prohibition set in. There's an old crack that Stark senior'd rather die than give up booze."
"What happened to the weapons?"
Barton shrugged. "Stark stopped makin' them."
"Dunno. Some say it's because he did a tour over in Germany and didn't like what he saw. Others say he started running booze at a better profit. Guess he does all right by it, given he made a bigger pile than his old man ever did."
"So what's his scandal?"
"How do you mean?"
Steve narrowed his eyes. "With a man like him, there's always a few scandals."
"Well, everyone knows he's got the mayor in his pocket but he can't get your boss for love or money. Someone's already got the commissioner."
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," Steve muttered.
"Better you find out now," Barton said, giving him a friendly clap on the arm. Steve glared. "Annnny-how, why ya wanna know about Stark? Planning a morals campaign?"
"None of your business, and none of the public's, either."
"I gotcha. Now what does all this get me in return?"
Barton nodded. "Suppose that's a square deal. But you might consider calling me first when you get your case all tied up. I'll be sympathetic. And I got a great eye with a camera."
"You got an eye for something, all right," Steve said. "Get out of my precinct. I see you back here again without an escort, we're gonna have more problems than a little information can solve."
Barton gave him a grin, saluted, and ducked out the side door.
Steve made a mental note to see about a new lock for it.