Today's Reading

Gooch grunted. Without taking his eyes off her, he leaned over and tugged on a long cord that ran down the length of the wall and disappeared into a small hole in the floor.

What was happening? She glanced back at Ned, who didn't seem too concerned.

"Uh, Mr. Gooch. I'm sure that I—" Gina broke off as the door at the end of the room opened and another heavyset man appeared. Like Gooch, he was also dressed in a pinstripe suit and wore a white tie. He was balder than Gooch, though, and his face was distinctly pockmarked. Right now, he was scowling at Gina.

"You Gina?" he asked. His words were heavy. Russian, Gina thought. Or perhaps Serbian. Their neighborhood was full of recent immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe, and sometimes their accents were hard to tell apart.

She nodded, her heart beating quickly. How many guns did he have under his jacket? Probably at least two.

The man looked at Gooch. "'Ja, she checks out. Signora said a new girl would be coming by."

Gina breathed a small sigh of relief. The sound surprised her. She hadn't even realized that she had been holding her breath.

"Well, that's settled, then," Ned said. He clapped the man on the shoulder. "This here's Lesky. We call him Little Johnny. Ain't he bonny?"

Little Johnny crossed his arms, ignoring Ned.

Ned wasn't done. He pointed at Gooch. "You've met Gooch. He watches the hooch."

Gooch looked at his watch, not responding to Ned's banter. "Break's over, piano man."

"How about I take Gina here to the Signora first," Ned offered. "Show her around?"

"Easy there, Neddy Fingers," Gooch said, for the first time cracking the slightest of grins. To Gina he added, "Better stay away from this one. He's a first-rate swinger."

When Little Johnny grinned, Gina could see his mouth was full of gold teeth. With a slight shudder, she wondered if his teeth had come out all at once. She knew a man who'd taken a hammer to the face, after getting on the wrong side of the law. She put the thought aside when Gooch opened the unmarked door at the end of the room and gestured for her to follow.

Little Johnny stayed behind, positioning himself on the stool by the door. Evidently it was his turn to keep watch on the alley.

"So you work here," she whispered to Ned as they walked after Gooch down a long dark corridor. "You couldn't just have told me that? When I was knocking at the door?"

"Now what fun would that have been?" Ned replied, stretching his long fingers. "I'm the piano man, didn't you get that?"

"I also got Neddy Fingers."

"Hey, I'm a swell fella."

At the end of the corridor, they reached another old wooden door. Gina thought she could hear the faint sound of music coming from just beyond.

To her surprise, Ned put his hand on the doorknob. "Allow me," he said to Gooch and swung open the door with a great flourish. After giving a little bow, he stepped aside so she could enter first. "Welcome to the Third Door," he said. "Greatest speakeasy in Chicago."

Ned led Gina down three steps, turned to the right, and stopped. Following him, Gina was about to make a cutting remark about booze in a basement, but the words died on her lips when she found herself on a balcony of sorts, overlooking a vast and unexpectedly beautiful room. "Oh" was all she could muster, as she gaped in amazement.

Lulu had not done the Third Door justice when she had described the establishment to Gina. Clearly connecting the basements of several buildings, the speakeasy was far larger than she'd expected. This was no dime-store dump, either. The place was gorgeous.

Great chandeliers hung from a patterned tin ceiling, casting enough light for Gina to easily see the world below. About fifteen mostly empty oak tables were arranged around a wooden dance floor, a grand piano toward the back of the room. A long ornately paneled bar with dozens of colored bottles and glasses ran the length of the room, with five framed mirrors catching and reflecting the light. Two red upholstered love seats were positioned against a richly paneled wall, and a set of plush purple chairs was in another corner, where the original brick of the basement foundations could still be seen. A portrait of Mussolini was mounted on one end of the bar, and a framed painting of a nude woman stepping from a bath was positioned at the other.

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