“MURDER ON HALSTED STREET!” I HOLLERED, waving a fat copy of the Chicago Tribune in front of the last few people hurrying home for dinner, their heads bent against a wickedly cold wind. The streets were dark and dusted with snow, and I knew nobody was going to stop, but I had to sell as many newspapers as possible, so I kept trying. “Read all about it!”
The truth was, though, murder wasn’t big news in my city. It seemed like somebody—usually a gangster—got killed pretty much every day. People could hardly be bothered to read about a homicide in Chicago in 1926. Even ladies were carrying guns—and using them. A whole part of the county jail, called Murderess’s Row, was set aside for women who’d done somebody in.
“It’s Prohibition,” my mother always said with a sigh. “That law has made the city crazy!”
I didn’t know much about laws, but I knew when to give up peddling papers. Setting my unsold copies on the sidewalk under a streetlamp, I used my teeth to yank off my dad’s old wool gloves, dug into my pockets, and counted my meager profits.
Nine lousy cents!
Then I glanced at the pile of papers at my feet, checking to see who had written the murder story on the front page, and sure enough, I saw the name Maude Collier. I bet she got paid a lot to write news. Just like I would when I was a famous girl reporter, which would happen. I wouldn’t be a stupid newsgirl forever. Maybe I’d even go to school again, someday . . .
“Isabel! Isabel Feeney!”
The sound of someone calling my name interrupted my daydream, and I looked up to see one of my regular customers, a pretty young lady named Colette Giddings, hurrying toward me. She was smiling and waving a fist that I knew held coins.
“Hey, Miss Giddings,” I greeted her. She wore a fancy white fur coat instead of her usual wool one, so I added, “You look really nice tonight.”
“Why, thank you, Isabel,” she said, handing me some money. More money than the paper cost. Miss Giddings was just a clerk at the big department store, Marshall Field’s, but she never asked for change. Then she frowned at me, concern in her wide brown movie-star eyes. Honestly, with her dark curly hair and her sweet smile, Miss Giddings could’ve gone to Hollywood and been an actress like Mary Pickford. Why couldn’t I ever get my mousy brown curls to look that nice? “Where are your mittens, Isabel?” she demanded. “Your hands are turning blue!”
I’d jammed my gloves into my pocket, and I pulled them out to show her. “I’ve got these. They used to be my dad’s, but with the fingers cut halfway off, they work okay.”
“Oh, Isabel . . .” Miss Giddings’s frown deepened. She knew all about how my father had died in the Great War, and the few times I’d mentioned him, it always made her sad. Then I’d wish I hadn’t done it. “Here.” She tucked her newspaper under her arm and started to remove her own leather gloves. “These will fit you better. I have another pair at home.”
“I am not taking those!” I cried, my fair, freckled cheeks getting warm in spite of the cold wind. She held out the gloves, and I stepped back. “I won’t!”
Miss Giddings opened her mouth to protest. Then she stopped herself, folded her gloves away in her purse, and apologized quietly. “I’m sorry, Izzie. I just worry about you, working out here in the cold. You know, having a son your age, I have a soft spot . . .”
I didn’t know much about Miss Giddings’s personal life, but she had mentioned her kid, Robert, before.
How come he was never with her?
And where was her husband?
Had he died in a trench in France, like my dad? Because the war had taken a lot of men.
I didn’t feel like I could ask. And I didn’t want her charity. “My mother will probably get me some mittens soon,” I fibbed. “She’s got a new job, cleaning a hospital at night.”
Well, the part about the job was true. But it wasn’t going to buy new mittens. I just hoped we could heat the house a little better.
“All right, Isabel,” Miss Giddings said—still sounding worried. “You just be careful out here.” Then she glanced down the street and suddenly seemed distracted. “I’ve got to run now, Izzie. Take care, okay?”
“Yeah, you too,” I said, watching as she hurried away, toward whatever—or whoever—had caught her attention.
That was when I realized a man was waiting for her a few yards down the street. A tall guy who stood in the shadows, his hat pulled low and his hands jammed into the pockets of a long overcoat. When they met up, he took Miss Giddings’s arm, and at first I was happy for her. She was a good person, and if her husband had been killed, it would be nice if she met somebody new.
A moment later, I wasn’t so sure about that, because Miss Giddings and her friend were obviously arguing—though I couldn’t hear what they said—and the man was rough with her as they walked into the darkness. He tugged at her fur coat, and she wobbled on heels that were higher than her usual shoes.
I kept staring even after Miss Giddings and the man turned a corner. Then, because I couldn’t exactly interfere in a spat between two adults, I bent to pick up my stack of papers before the rising wind blew them away. But that winter wind, as strong as it was, couldn’t drown out the sound of a gunshot. A single, sharp report that echoed from the alley into which Miss Giddings and that man had just disappeared.
No. I’d be able to hear that for the rest of my life.