15th May, 1925. 8:23 PM. Chicago, Illinois
Hell had been the Great War less than a decade earlier. It was no place for a young woman, but she was anything but human. Her father and brother had fought on opposite sides of the conflict though they had thankfully never met in battle. And then there had been the business with someone’s bad tempered uncle striding through the trenches as if he had owned them. Ypres to Passchendaele, the shelling and the gas – it was almost as fearful a thought as her fears of the Black Death centuries earlier.
This wasn’t quite the hell of those four bloody years, but it was just as important. What dress would suit a dinner engagement with a Chicago businessman. The dark blue dress or the cream Chanel number with a simple pendant necklace. Gaudy was the last thing she wanted to be tonight.
A car horn sounded from outside and she sighed, turning away from her reflection in the floor length mirror. “I’m coming, just wait a moment.”
Her living room smelled of large male black cat and underneath it, a trace of cigarette smoke. The panther was missing, her guest wasn’t. She tilted her head at him, a small hidden part of her disquieted by the unfamiliar style of his jacket and pants, cut in a cloth she didn’t recognize. His shirt and pants, more than the part where she could see through him to the couch he was sitting on. “Is it still moral to sleep with a dead man when he’s not of flesh and blood? Or would that be a sin against the gods?”
He had been flesh and blood then but his touch had been cool against her skin, no heartbeat under her hand when they’d slept together. Now all she could feel when she brushed against his shoulder was cool air.
Daniel shrugged, reluctantly accepting the cigarette and lighter she offered him. His jacket sleeve became more solid under her touch, more like cloth than air and nothingness but his hand when it brushed hers was as cool as ever. “There’s only one god, and if I hadn’t… needed you last night, it would be a blasphemy. Now…”
He looked away, stubbing the cigarette out in the little clay dish on the table by the armrest. “I just need whatever you can give me.”
The car horn sounded again, and she jerked back with a little impatient snarl under her breath. “I’m coming, don’t honk at me, sir.”
As much as she would have liked to curl up in Daniel’s arms for a night or two it was better that they go their separate ways and let her memories of him fade. He wasn’t from this time, whoever he had been in life – he didn’t belong to her. It was past time to go anyway as the driver honked again, increasingly impatient.
It didn’t take her long to find the man who had extended her the invitation to the restaurant. Dark haired, Italian and dressed in a tasteful suit. Loki smiled, passing a dollar to the man who took her coat. “Thank you.”
It didn’t take her long to weave her way around the tables and sit once the waiter pulled the chair out for her. Capone raised a delicate glass of wine in her direction and took a sip, acknowledging her over its rim. Loki smiled inwardly, briefly studying the menu. It was a formality only, like as not he had already ordered for both of them. There was already a glass of champagne next to her hand, placed by the waiter. “Is it business or pleasure tonight?”
“Business, I think,” Al Capone took a bite of his steak and frowned, glancing down at it. Something I could only trust you and your boyfriend with, Lyra.”
Her boyfriend. She had to grimace at that. One night in Daniel’s arms didn’t make him her boyfriend but if that’s what the man wanted to describe her relationship as, so be it. “He’s a married man, Mr. Capone. Has a wife in Augusta, last I was aware.”
He chuckled, expression lightening though his eyes remained assessing. “Of course,”
The steak was delicious, it went without saying – just the right amount of spice and flavor paired with a tenderness she loved. Capone was gracious enough to let her finish before he poured another glass of champagne for her. “To business, yes?”
“To business,” Loki took a sip of the pale golden liquid and set it down on the white tablecloth. “Why me?”
Al Capone laughed, one hand briefly slipping across the back of hers before falling back to his side. “All I do is satisfy a public demand. You are quite good at that, I think. Johnny and Big Jim both recommended you.”
She hadn’t paid much attention to Big Jim but Johnny was more familiar to her. Loki sipped at her champagne before setting the glass down. “Of course. So…”
Capone gestured and the waiter took his plate away. “It is quite simple, Lyra. I’d like to ask you to come with me to a ball game.”
Loki hesitated, chewing on her lower lip even as relief washed over her. She had been half afraid Capone’s question would have been about Daniel’s rather unique position in the scheme of things. Blame could have been laid at her feet for being careless, but it had been Daniel to take the gunshot for her. And survive what would have killed an ordinary human.
He couldn’t object to the invitation to that game, even if he was concerned for her safety. By day he was usually in whatever underworld had claim on his soul. They protected each other’s secrets. If she wanted it, there was no way he could keep her from running Capone’s whiskey or gin. Or if she found a place on the gang leader’s arm. Whatever else his occupation, the man was a gentleman. Even so, refusal wasn’t good for a long life unless the person was already dead. “I’ll consider your offer, but you should know my brother is more protective of me.”
“A brother?” Capone’s gaze sharpened, focusing on her. “The fair-haired Soviet?”
Loki set her knife and fork down on her plate. “His name is Alexander. And he’s as much an American as I am.”
Not strictly true but for the time being, it was good enough an explanation. “I’ll do it, accompany you. On the condition you tell me what you want delivered and where.”
It was a valid question in her mind, one that deserved an answer.
Al Capone chuckled for a second. “Ah, girl – I think I’ll save that for when the time comes since your skills are so valuable to me.”
So they were. Her brother was going to be furious that she’d indebted herself to a human for the sake of a little fun, but it was only a baseball game and later, the kind of smuggling a shapeshifter could do. She’d been Irish, Italian and English, a woman from the highest part of Chicago’s society and a worn, tired prostitute from the lowest. She’d been a Chinese laundress once and a grubby Gypsy pickpocket on another occasion. None of those women had ever been traced back to her or the name some of Chicago’s darker little corners knew her as.
The White Cat of Chicago was an urban story, some called it – her a ghost, others claimed to have seen the white panther like creature hunting beside a black furred companion. Some called it mate, she called it- him, brother. “Fair, I’ll do it. The police haven’t yet caught me smuggling anything of yours yet.”
And they never would if she was clever about it.Recommended1 Simily SnapPublished in