University of Chicago – 1925
The long rows of seats in the grand lecture hall were filled to capacity with eager students, many of those furiously taking notes as Professor Abner Ravenwood delivered his lecture, the fourth in a series regarding the mythical city of Tanis.
Near the back of the lecture hall, one student sat in rapt attention, the pencil and pad of paper forgotten in her fingers. She brushed a few stray locks of reddish blonde hair out of her green eyes and listened as the old professor spoke passionately about the significance of the city in the history of the ancient Middle East.
The professor was a slim, man of about forty odd years, with thinning gray hair that may have at one time been a luxurious black. The silver wire rimmed spectacles on his nose leant him a learned appearance, except when the lenses caught the light a certain way, and then his eyes vanished in a subtle glare, giving his presence a more mysterious air.
He walked back and forth, gesticulating when he strove to drive home a point.
She took a moment to scan the men and women surrounding her. They were all dressed the same. The men in finely pressed trousers and jackets, some wearing bow ties, while others were following the latest fashion and wearing the newer, flashier long ties that hung down obscuring the buttons on their shirts. She smiled when she saw them because the knot used for these new ties reminded her of a noose.
The women were also dressed in similar fashion, though the colors moved in subtle shades across the entire spectrum. Long skirts, bodices and ruffled shirts. Granted there were very few women present. Not many girls came from families with the means to afford a higher education, provided they even qualified?
She was the only one that felt out of place. To see her, the casual observer would agree. She sat in a pair of worn khaki pants, slightly weather beaten cream colored shirt of male fashion, and tough brown utilitarian boots. To most of the students who did not know her, she was considered ‘queer’ in social circles. To her friends, who were few in number, she was given the tag of ‘unique’. In the back of her mind, she never was able to decide which label was worse. A beaten brown fedora hat rested on her knee. She adjusted it for the umpteenth time and refocused her attention on the professor.
“Tomorrow, we will discuss the historical relevance of the seventeenth dynasty in relation to the possible acquisition of the Ark of the Covenant, as presented by recent historical findings in the area of Saquarah. Please be sure to review your notes from this and the following lectures, since there will be a test on Friday.” Professor Ravenwood said pleasantly. The announcement was greeted by a chorus of groans that she believed he truly enjoyed hearing.
“Are there any questions?” Professor Ravenwood asked in his crisp, fluid accent. “No? Then you may all wake up and depart. Good day, everyone?”
She watched as the mass of humanity slowly squeezed its way out of the exits, looking down at her pad of paper. She sighed. She had about half of a page of relevant notes and that was all. As was usually the case, she had paid too close attention to the lecture and not enough attention to the information presented in it.
Realizing that she was effectively trapped for the time being, she lifted the battered hat and rested it forward against her nose as she leaned back and closed her eyes, trying to remember as much as she could.
She hadn’t realized that she had drifted off until she felt the gentle tapping on her shoulder.
“Janice?” a voice said in her ear. “Janice, wake up?”
She sat upright with a mild start and pulled the hat back. “Huh? What?”
She looked up to see her friend Marion gently prodding her.
“You planning on sleeping here all night?’ Marion asked with that infectious smile.
“Hi, Mar,” Janice sighed. She stretched her arms and sat up, quickly gathering her things into the thick paperboard folder. “Sorry, I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep.”
“It’s a good thing Dad didn’t catch you,” Marion laughed. “Come on.”
They walked out into the late afternoon sun. The quadrangle was a small cleared patch of groomed green grass surrounded by old wooden buildings. They were the kind of old buildings that Janice found intriguing with their faded whitewashing and rustic old roof tiles. She breathed the deep scent of the early autumn air and sighed. At sixteen, she was the youngest upperclassman at U of C. She reached into her breast pocket and removed one of her father’s cigars and a Zippo lighter. Expertly, she lit the tobacco and puffed lazily.
Marion waved the offending smoke away and immediately stood more upwind.
“How can you smoke those things?” she asked, laughing.
Marion had an infectious personality. She was young and attractive, with long dark hair and happy blue eyes. She watched her friend smoke for a moment and then shook her head as she surveyed Janice’s clothing.
“If you don’t get yourself into a dress, or something more appropriate, you’ll never get a date for the dance this weekend?”
Janice sighed and tapped the nub of ashes from the cigar. “Who needs it?” she retorted. “I don’t have time for boys. Besides, most of the boys here are just like us. A bunch of idiotic bookworms. If I’m going to spend my time talking with someone, I might as well speak to one of the professors. At least they’ll know what they’re talking about.”
“Miss Covington!” A reproving voice sounded from behind them. Janice winced. They both turned to see Professor Ravenwood descending the steps. His bespectacled eyes fixed on her with disapproval.
“Yes, Professor?” Janice answered sweetly before resetting the cigar between her teeth.
“How many times must I reiterate that smoking is inappropriate for a lady of standing?” the Professor said. He reached out to grasp the offending cigar, only to have the young woman pull it out of her mouth and out of his grasp.
He huffed a few moments, which caused Marion to stifle a laugh.
“And the manner of your dress is hardly ladylike, Miss Covington,” he finished when he realized that chasing the offending cigar would simply lead to something even more undignified for a man of his standing at the university.
Janice backed a few steps away and replaced the cigar, looking up at him from beneath the wide brim of her hat. “I never said I was a lady?”
Behind the professor, she saw another member of faculty coming down the stairs, his leather attaché case swinging in his hands. He was smiling at the confrontation.
“Miss Ravenwood, Miss Covington,” he nodded and touched the short brim of his bowler hat in greeting. “Abner?” He finished.
“Mel!” Abner called after him desperately. “Tell her, would you?”
Professor Melvin Pappas stopped and reluctantly turned to face them. He was desperately trying to maintain his composure at the sight of his red faced associate.
“Tell her what, old boy?” he replied conversationally, looking down at Janice with amusement sparkling in his light brown eyes. Though he was several years the senior of his colleague, Melvin Pappas retained the vitality and youth of a man several years younger. Janice met his cheery gaze with a resigned one of her own. She also smiled when she realized that no serious rebuke was forthcoming.
“That her manners are not the ones of a fine upstanding young woman of fashion!” Abner blurted.
Professor Pappas looked down at her with a suddenly stoic expression.
“Miss Covington?” he said with overdramatic civility. “My colleague is quite correct. “Your appearance and manners are not those of a fine upstanding young lady of fashion.” He turned back to Abner. “There, I told her. Anything else, old boy?”
Abner looked as though he might burst a vessel. He sighed and waved a dismissive hand in Melvin’s direction as the senior professor fought to keep his amused smile from splitting his youthful features. As if to hide his levity, Professor Pappas looked back at Janice. “Do you have another of those, my dear?”
Janice smiled and drew out another cigar, handing it to the professor. She quickly lit it for him and smiled.
Melvin Pappas took along puff on the cigar and sighed with relish. He looked back at Abner who was now quite beside himself.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said sincerely. Then he tipped his hat to Abner and the ladies again and departed.
That was the final straw. Both girls burst out in a fit of giggles.
Abner Ravenwood looked at the two of them for along moment, as if trying to formulate a truly scathing remark.
“If I had known, when your father asked me to watch out for you, that the duties would have entailed this? I should have refused him at once!”
“Well,” Janice shrugged. “That’s Harry for you. Always leaving out the details?”
At her flippant disregard for family affiliation, Abner gave one final exasperated huff and departed, muttering under his breath.
The two girls watched him go and then the laughter burst out of them in uncontrollable peals.
“You have got to stop doing that to him, Jan,” Marion begged. “I swear, one of these days he’ll drop dead of a stroke!”
Janice turned and seated herself on the last three steps of the lecture building and smoked contentedly.
“I guess we shouldn’t tell him that I sneak out to the gun club on Thursday nights, should we?”
Marion’s jaw dropped in amazement. “You don’t!”
“Damn right I do,” Janice said pointedly. “Nothing is more entertaining than hanging around a lot of men with their big ‘pistols’.” Her eyebrows bounced fiendishly.
“God, Janice!” Marion laughed. “You’re positively obscene!”
Janice chuckled. “Yeah, isn’t it grand?”
Marion burst out in another fit of laughter.
“Miss Ravenwood!” a voice called to them. They both looked to see Abner standing at the corner of the building. “It’s time to go!”
“What’s the matter, Prof?” Janice called to him, grinning. “You forget your daughter?”
Marion spun and slapped Janice on the knee. “Stop that, or I’ll be in it up to my neck!”
Janice held up two hands in surrender. Marion stepped away, ostensibly to leave. Then she turned back quickly. “What are you doing tomorrow night?”
Janice shrugged. “Besides the gun club? Nothing, why?”
“You have to come over to the house for supper. I want you to meet my new man.” Marion said quickly. “Seven o’clock?”
Janice nodded once and smiled. “Sure, I’ll just go to the gun club tonight instead. Maybe I’ll see some new pistols?”
“Stop it!” Marion gasped as she backed away. Then she smiled. “See you tomorrow.”
Janice waived and sat back, smoking her cigar and gazing about the campus.
She went back to her room and spent the next couple of hours reading through her textbooks and studying for the upcoming examination that Abner had warned them all about.
It was near seven o’clock when she finally closed the book. She reached under her bed and removed a small leather case, then she shrugged on her old comfortable brown hide jacket and left.
The cab chugged to a stop in front of the Gun Club. She paid the fair and entered the large stone edifice. She ignored the advances of a couple of young men leaving and strode confidently into the main lobby.
A thin, pale skinned man with slick black hair looked up from the large desk in surprise. His narrow face broadened with a smile.
“Why, Miss Covington?” He greeted her as she set the leather case down in front of her. “I wasn’t expecting to see you this evening? Bad day at school?”
She took the subtle jibe in good humor and smiled.
“High Eddie,” she said. She drew out a cigar, but before she could light it, the young man held a lit wooden match across the counter politely. She lit the cigar and smiled. Then her eyes flicked down behind the counter.
“Can you sneak me one?” she asked.
Eddie grinned in return and nodded.
“For you, my dear?” he said kindly. “Anything.” He reached behind, and Janice heard the sound of ice being dropped into a glass, then the pouring of liquid.
Janice accepted the glass of whiskey and slid down to the end of the counter, settling into a tall chair and smoking contentedly. The glass was nearly empty when the door opened again and two men in pin stripe suits came strolling in. They adjusted the angle of their hats and stepped casually over to the counter. Janice saw Eddie gulp nervously.
“Hi Frank, Vinnie? What can I do for you?”
“You see?” The first one replied sarcastically. “That’s what I like about this guy. He’s always so polite.” He stepped up to the counter and set his hands on the smooth wooden surface. His fingers drummed with nervous energy. “You can open the safe and get us our money, you scrawny rat.” He finally said.
Eddie smiled and a short laugh escaped his lips. He had begun to sweat profusely.
Janice saw this and immediately that damn temper of hers began to simmer, just beneath the surface.
“Ah, come on Frank,” Eddie replied. “You know Mister Edmonson leaves at four. He’s the only one with the keys!”
“The only one with the keys,’ Frank repeated, looking back at his companion. “Vinnie, how do you think the boss is going to react if we come back tonight a hundred and fifty short?”
“I think he’ll be upset,” Vinnie replied in a deep monotonous voice.
“Upset,” Frank repeated again. Apparently, this was how the big lout communicated in mixed company. He looked back at Eddie coldly. “Now, I can’t show up and get the boss upset. The very idea of that makes me upset. Vinnie, do I look upset to you?”
“Starting to,” Vinnie replied dutifully.
“Starting to,” Frank echoed again. “Well, since I’m only staring to, then that means you got one last chance. Give me the money?”
Eddie was about to reply when an empty rocks glass slid to a stop just in front of Frank’s fingers.
“Eddie,” Janice said calmly. “Let me get another one, please?”
Eddie stepped up quickly and took the glass, refilling it.
“Hold it, you weasel,” Frank held his hand up stopping the drink from being poured. He looked to the end of the counter at the figure seated there.
“Can’t you see we’re conducting business here?” Frank asked.
Janice looked up at him with glacial eyes. Once Frank realized that the stranger was nothing more than a petite young woman, a laugh burst from his lips.
“Doesn’t look like you’re conducting anything at the moment. He already said that he doesn’t have the key to the safe? What’s the point?” She looked back at Eddie and nodded. Eddie finished pouring the drink and stepped down to hand it quickly to her.
“Now just a minute, doll,” Frank said shortly. “You ain’t paid for that?”
“I have a line of credit here,” Janice replied, taking a deliberate sip and then replacing her cigar, turning it thoughtfully as she eyed the two creeps. “It’s in good standing with management.”
She saw Eddie subtly shake his head, but it was too late.
“Really?” Frank replied, smiling coldly. “Eddie, let me see the lady’s account.” He practically spat the word ‘lady’.
Sighing, Eddie opened a drawer and rifled through the papers before pulling one free and handing it to Frank. “Like it says right here, Frank. She’s all paid up, minus the two drinks tonight, of course?”
“Uh, huh,” Frank nodded and he ripped the paper in half, dropping it on the ground. “I think it says you’re past due?”
“Really?” Janice replied evenly, a cold smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “What do you think I owe, Frank?” She made sure she spat his name out in the same way he had said ‘lady’.
Frank actually chuckled aloud and turned back to Vinnie, who remained as motionless as a statue, his face set in granite.
“I like this kid,” he said, jerking a thumb in her direction. “She’s got stones. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” Vinnie said with monotonous stoicism. “I like her too.”
Frank smiled. “It’s a good thing Vinnie likes you,” he said. “Otherwise something bad might happen, right Vinnie?”
“Real bad,” Vinnie replied.
Janice smiled coldly. She couldn’t believe that this whole stoic silent thing wasn’t an act.
Eddie piped in. “Frank, leave her out of this. I’ll just ring Mister Edmonson at home, I’m sure he could be here in a matter of – “
“Shut up,” Frank pointed at him without looking in his direction. “Don’t talk till I tell you to, got it?”
“So?’ Janice asked with unnerving calm. “How much does it say I owe?”
Frank clasped his hands in front of him, and immediately, Janice saw the bulge under his left arm that indicated a holster.
“Well?” Frank seemed to consider for a moment, as if remembering a piece of important information. “I think your account says you owe a hundred and fifty. Does that sound right to you, Vinnie?”
“Sounds right.” Vinnie repeated.
Janice smiled and tapped the ash off the end of the cigar. “Tell you what,” she said. “What do you say we wager on it?”
“Wager?” Frank leaned closer as if he hadn’t heard the word.
“Yeah,” Janice said. “Which one of you is the best shot?”
“Best shot?” Frank actually laughed out loud. “You want to know which of us is the best shot?” He leaned his head back. “Vinnie, she wants to know which of us is the best shot?”
“It’s hysterical, Frank,” Vinnie replied.
“Uh, Frank?” Eddie piped in again. He stopped when Janice gave him a quick, cold stare.
Frank pointed at him again without looking. “Eddie! Don’t make me repeat myself! I’m having a discussion with the lady here.”
“You didn’t answer my question, Frank?” Janice said.
“What’s the bet, Doll Face?” Frank asked.
“My bill,” Janice replied coolly. “If you win, I pay out, three hundred large. If I win, you settle my bill? What do you say?”
“You got that kind of money?” Frank asked, realizing that this girl was serious.
“Do you?” Janice replied evenly.
Frank’s good humor seemed to melt away slightly, and then his greasy smile reasserted itself. “Well, you better hope you do,” he said. “Otherwise, we might have to take your payment out in trade?”
Janice only cocked her head slightly and smiled.
“Fine. What’s the bet?” Frank asked.
“Six shots,” Janice replied. “Best grouping wins. Three to the head, three to the chest.”
Frank’s smile widened. “Okay, Doll Face. You got yourself a bet.”
“And the members in the range get to judge,” Janice added quickly. I’ll abide with whatever they say.” She extended her hand. “Deal?”
Frank reached out and took the proffered hand and shook. “Deal.” He said. “Eddie, give the lady a gun.”
Janice tossed down her second drink and grabbed her leather case. “I already got one.” She said and she strode past them towards the firing range.
She passed through the double doors into a cacophony of gunfire reports as several other members fired on targets. Many of them smiled in recognition as she strode in.
“Don’t mind me, boys,” she greeted them. Behind her, the two gangsters followed. Instantly, the smiles greeting her, melted into something more akin to concern.
“Okay!” Frank announced, but Janice cut him off.
“Okay, boys, here’s the deal!” She ignored Frank’s insulted glare. “Me and this fellow have a little bet lined up. Six shots, best grouping wins. Three to the head and three to the chest. Can I assume you boys would be impartial?”
The man all nodded expectantly.
One of them, a lithe young man with slicked dark hair and rugged, almost roguish features stepped forward.
“Very well,” he said, setting his pistol on the table. He looked at Janice and then at Frank. “Will you defer and let the lady choose her lane first?”
Frank scoffed and stepped up to the firing range, bringing a few stares of disapproval from the assembled members.
Janice looked at him and smiled. “Don’t worry about it, Nigel.”
A boy pulled the ropes and set a fresh target in the clip and sent the paper sheet coasting back to the far end of the room.
“May I inquire as to the bet?” Nigel asked courteously.
Janice quickly explained the details and he nodded.
Janice shrugged and stepped to the next lane, waiting for the boy to set her new target up. She set her bag on the table and drew out “Old Reliable”. “Old Reliable” was a nickel plated, long nose forty four, reminiscent of old western pistols with all the modern benefits. She snapped the cylinder out and began sliding the bullets in with practiced ease. Then she spun the cylinder and snapped it back in place with a flick of her wrist.
Frank looked at the cannon in the girl’s small hand with mild surprise. Then he smiled. There was no way this little girl would be able to control that cannon. This bet was as good as won.
Once both targets were ready, Frank aimed his pistol.
“A moment, sir,” Nigel said sharply.
Frank looked back in mild annoyance and heaved a sigh.
“Gentlemen. Should this gentleman prevail, he will be paid the sum of three hundred by the lady. However, should the lady prevail, she shall receive the sum of one hundred and fifty. Is that understood?”
All the men nodded.
“Enough with this etiquette crap,” Frank said impatiently. “Let’s get on with it.”
“Very well,” Nigel turned to Janice and Frank. “Sir? Miss? When I say take aim, you may do so. When I say fire, begin. You will fire only six shots apiece. If any additional shots are expelled, then the shooter forfeits the bet automatically. This rule is in place, sir, since you are using an eight shot weapon, unless you would like to remove two shells from the clip?”
Frank gave a slight Humph of indignation. “Come on.”
“As you wish,” Nigel said in a disapproving tone. “You may take aim.”
Janice and Frank raised their weapons.
“Fire at will.” Nigel said calmly.
Instantly, both weapons fired. Janice finished first and expelled the shells, setting them on the table for inspection; While Frank simply lowered his weapon.
One man stepped over beside Janice and looked down.
“Six shots,” he said. “No miss fires.”
“Very good,” Nigel nodded. “Sir, if you would please eject your clip?”
Sighing, Frank complied, revealing only one shell remaining.
Would you open the chamber, please sir?” Nigel asked.
Frank pulled back the chamber and the second unexpended shell popped free and clattered on the table.
Janice was busy reloading her weapon as Nigel said. “Draw in the targets for inspection?”
The two targets were drawn forward. Several of the men held their breath.
Franks target showed tight grouping in the bulls eye area, with barely a quarter inch separating them, both at the head and center mass points. He smiled and looked over at Janice triumphantly. His smile melted when he saw her target.
His smile melted away to an expression of disbelief when he saw her target. Both bulls eyes had a single, oblong hole in each. He laughed again.
“You missed, Doll Face!” He laughed.
“A moment, sir,” Nigel said quickly. “Thomas, please check the wall for two groups of three forty four slugs?”
“Yes sir,” Another man said. He drew a small, sturdy knife from his gun case and strode quickly to the opposite end of the room, where the wall was riddle with holes. “Could you slide the lady’s target back please?”
Her target slid back to the wall, and the man dug with his knife, through the holes. After a few minutes of work, he strode back with his hand open, palm up. In it were six forty four slugs.
“I have three from the head mass and three from the chest region,” He reported dutifully. He held the slugs out toward Frank for inspection.
Nigel smiled appreciatively. “Well, then, based on this, I believe we should award victory to the lady? He extended his hand to Janice. “Congratulations my dear.”
Frank’s mouth moved, but no words came out. He looked back at Vinnie, still as stoic as a statue, and then back again.
“Now that’s impossible!” He finally blurted out. “Nobody can handle a cannon like that! Nobody!”
Nigel and the others looked at him with disapproval. “You’ve seen it with your own eyes, sir.”
“No,” Frank protested. “I’m telling you that it’s not possible! Period!”
“Sir!” Nigel said sharply. “Are you reneging on a fair wager? I sincerely hope not!”
“There is no way anyone can be that accurate with a cannon like that!” Frank protested.
“So now you call the lady a cheat?” Nigel replied, his voice firm. “Sir, we have born your complete lack of courtesy up to this point, but this last display is totally unacceptable! If you are not willing to pay an honest wager after a fair and impartial contest, then I feel we should speak directly with your immediate superior! Would he be available?” Nigel looked at Vinnie who remained motionless. “Would that be you, sir?”
Vinnie shook his head.
“I see,” Nigel said. He looked at Frank. “May I have your name, sir?”
“Tiritilli,” Frank said angrily. “Frank Tiritilli.”
“Thank you.” Nigel said. “And who may we call to cover your wager, since you seem unwilling to pay?”
“They want to call the boss, Frank,” Vinnie said stoically.
“Thank you Vinnie, I know that!” Frank shot back.
“Gentlemen,” Nigel said tersely. “Please make sure Mister Tiritilli does not leave this room. He looked at Vinnie. “Would you come with me, please?”
The big man followed Nigel out of the range and into the lobby.
“Now,” Nigel instructed. “Would you be so kind as to ring your boss on the phone please?”
Vinnie took the phone, dialed and held the earpiece to his ear. He had a brief conversation with the person on the other end. Then he handed the earpiece to Nigel.
“Good evening, sir,” he said cordially. “To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking? Mister Capone? My name is Nigel Winthrop. I’m calling from the gun club. I must say, it is an honor to speak to you sir. I’ve heard so much about you. No sir, I only believe half of it. Yes, the reason I am calling, is because we may have an issue with one of your employees. No, nothing like that, I assure you. No, sir. The gentleman’s name? Mister Frank Tiritilli? Yes? Well, you see, Mister Tiritilli entered into a wager with one of our members, and subsequently, well, there’s really no delicate way to put it, sir. He lost. He did wager a rather substantial amount, sir, and he is reluctant to forfeit the amount to the winning party? Oh, I agree sir. There is nothing more sacred than an agreement between two parties, especially in this case, sir. Well, because the winning party was a woman? Yes, that’s correct, one of our female members. No, we were all quite impressed actually, though her skill is well known here at the club. Oh, at least a dozen witnesses saw it sir. Those were the conditions of the wager, sir. Indeed, indeed. Oh yes, your other associate is right here. Of course. Thank you so much Mister Capone. Again, I apologize for ringing you this late. Of course, good night.” He handed the ear piece to Vinnie.
“I believe he wishes to speak with you, sir?” Nigel said with a smile.
Vinnie put the earpiece to his ear. Immediately, he heard the loud bellowing of a man’s voice shouting at a mile a minute.
The conversation ended abruptly with a loud click from the other end of the line. Vinnie hung the ear piece back up. His face as expressionless as before. He stood up straight and preceded Nigel back into the firing range.
Nigel stepped over to Janice and smiled smugly as Vinnie bent down and whispered in Frank’s ear.
“Have a nice conversation?” Janice asked.
“Indeed,” Nigel replied. “A most agreeable fellow is Mister Alfonse Capone.”
Franks complexion paled as he received the message from his boss. He looked over at Janice with wide eyes, and then he began fumbling in his coat, ostensibly for a billfold.
“Tell you what,’ Janice said, strolling forward. “Just add it to the money you were supposed to collect tonight, and we’ll call it even. She paused in front of Frank, and then, without looking, she raised her weapon quickly and fired two shots in rapid succession. Then she strode out of the firing range, sliding the pistol into the holster at her hip.
The two gangsters looked down at the target and then pulled it back towards them. Frank gulped when he saw the two holes in the center of the target, on the groin area.
Some of the men in the room snickered in appreciation, while most winced in sympathy.
Janice’s head poked back through the door.
“By the way,” she added pointedly, looking at Frank. “Don’t ever call me Doll Face.”
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