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Chapter 2

Chicago, Illinois – March 3, 1934

“I don’t know!” shouted Art O’Leary. “I’ll get back when I get back!” He slammed the apartment door behind him, cutting off his wife’s complaints. This scene had become all too common in the last few months with Grayce frequently nagging him about his long and irregular work hours.

He hurried down the rain-slicked sidewalk. The Loop was mostly empty on this dismal Saturday morning, but he had to be at work early. Big things were happening at Lou Piquett’s law office.

Art was forty years old and as Irish as a Dublin fistfight. He had a round face, thin lips, and cold, blue eyes—a face made for fighting. Art knew this all too well, so he tried to compensate by cultivating the air of a well-educated sophisticate. Despite having only a high-school education, he learned to enjoy classical music, highbrow literature, and fine wines. He was likewise fond of well-tailored clothes, and on this rainy morning, he was sporting a natty gray camel hair overcoat and a matching fedora.

He yanked the hat down over his forehead to thwart the rain and walked faster, muttering to himself. He hated these scenes with Grayce. She was always riding him about how much time he spent at work and how little money he brought home. She didn’t seem to appreciate that things had changed since the stock market crash in ‘29.

Art O’Leary was a self-made man. He’d fled his family’s Iowa farm and ended up in Chicago selling stocks and bonds. He was successful in the securities business and had made many useful connections. He’d had a comfortable life until th3e Crash wiped out nearly all of his savings. Soon, Art was working his network of contacts for any job he could find.

He’d eventually been introduced to a lawyer of dubious reputation named Louis Piquett. Piquett represented a wide variety of underworld figures. The Depression had forced many otherwise honest citizens into a life of crime, and a lot of new criminals were not very good at it. Consequently, Piquett had more work than he could handle and was in the market for an able assistant. Art was a perfect fit. Suave, self-assured, and well-connected, he helped Piquett as investigator, assistant, bagman, and all-around man Friday.

Art was grateful for the work, although Grayce didn’t seem to understand that working as the assistant to a crooked lawyer was quite different from being a big shot at a brokerage. The pay was meager and irregular, and the hours were long and unpredictable. It had been even worse since Piquett had signed on his latest client.

Art reached the office on Wacker Drive and went up to the second-story office. He was not surprised to see his boss hunched over his desk working through a stack of paperwork.

“Anything yet?” asked Art.

“Not yet,” replied Piquett. “Have patience, it’s still early. Is everything all right? You look a bit frazzled.”

“Just sparring with Grayce again,” Art said. “She doesn’t like my working hours.”

“Not to worry, man,” said Piquett. “Once we get our visitor squared away, we’ll both be able to take it easy for a bit.”

Art doubted it, but he knew it was pointless to argue with his boss. He was, after all, a trial lawyer and quarrelsome as the devil. Lou Piquett was fifty years old with a bulbous nose and an unruly shock of gray hair that he tried to keep brushed back from his high forehead. He had a booming baritone voice that he put to good use in the courtroom when hassling prosecutors and browbeating juries.

Piquett had recently scored his greatest coup by convincing Public Enemy Number One John Dillinger to retain him as counsel shortly after his incarceration at Crown Point. Piquett had immediately gone to work representing his celebrity client with a vigor and voice that grabbed headlines across the nation.

Piquett’s efforts on behalf of his star client went beyond mere courtroom dramatics. He’d dispatched Art on a number of shady errands on behalf of the Jackrabbit. Art had traveled to the World’s Fair on the south shore of Lake Michigan to meet up with an Indiana judge and hand off a briefcase full of unmarked bills. The day before yesterday, he had traveled to East Chicago to deliver a small, heavy package to a detective named Martin Zarkovich. He had no idea what was inside. It was all just part of the job, and Art knew better than to ask questions.

He had just started paging through the business section of the paper when there was a sharp rap at the office door. “Holy moly! Is he here already?” Art asked.

“No, I imagine it’s just Ms. Frechette,” said Piquett. “Get that, will you?”

Art opened the door to reveal a petite, attractive woman in her mid-twenties. She had dark eyes and hair and wore a great deal of makeup. Her threadbare cloth coat and matching hat somehow managed to emphasize her pretty face—she was a true Depression cutie. Her name was Billie Frechette, and she was the Jackrabbit’s girlfriend. “Has anything happened yet?” she asked.

“Not yet,” replied Art.

“Fear not, my dear,” said Piquett. “It is still quite early. I’m certain that we’ll get word soon. In the meantime, please make yourself comfortable.” He indicated a chesterfield at the back of the office.

They watched the minutes creep by. Nearly two hours later, the phone rang. After a terse conversation, Piquett slammed down the receiver and grinned. “There was just a news flash on the radio,” he announced. “The Jackrabbit has escaped!”

Billie squealed and jumped up, dancing around the room. Art blew out a breath of pent-up tension. He and Piquett had been working toward this for weeks now. “Too bad we don’t have a radio,” he said.

“No need for a radio,” replied Piquett. “I can go straight to the source.” He picked up the receiver again and instructed the operator to put him through to the Crown Point jail. “Hello? Warden Baker? This is attorney Louis Piquett in Chicago. Is there any truth to the news reports that my client broke out of jail? . . . Was anybody hurt? . . . Good, that’s very good. . . . He didn’t leave a forwarding address, did he? . . . Yes, he is a hell of a client to have. . . . Thank you, Warden. Good day.”

He hung up and said, “It’s true. He got away clean!”

Surprisingly, Billie burst into tears. Art gave Piquett a quizzical look.

“What’s the matter, my dear?” asked Piquett.

“They’ll kill him for sure, now!” wailed Billie. “Now that he’s out, they’ll gun him down like a dog! I just know it!”

“Now, my dear, that’s just balderdash,” said Piquett. “Your boyfriend is untouchable. He cleared out of that jail like nobody’s business, and they didn’t lay a finger on him. We’ll take good care of him. The police won’t find him, trust me.”

Piquett produced a bottle of cognac, and they toasted the Jackrabbit’s newfound freedom. The booze got right on top of Billie, and in no time she was snoring loudly on the sofa. Piquett and Art busied themselves getting ready to receive their client.

After making a few telephone calls, Piquett got up and shrugged on his overcoat. “Come on, my dear,” he said, shaking Billie’s arm. “Let’s go meet your beau.”

With some difficulty, Art and Piquett got Billie upright, downstairs, and loaded into Piquett’s huge Lincoln. Piquett drove off, and Art went back upstairs and continued perusing the papers. An hour later, the phone rang again.

He snatched up the receiver. “Piquett Law Office.”

“Hiya, Art!” said a familiar voice. “Where do I go?”

“Four thirty-four Wellington Avenue. We’ll meet you there.” The line went dead, and Art headed off to the rendezvous.

* * *

The address on Wellington was the apartment of Piquett’s part-time secretary, Margie. When Art arrived, a bad drama was already playing out. Piquett, Billie, and the Jackrabbit were huddled in the hallway in front of Margie’s door. The door was cracked open to show an inch-wide segment of Margie, who was clearly not happy with the situation.

“You didn’t tell me who you wanted me to put up!” Margie argued. “I had no idea you meant him!”

“My goodness,” said Piquett. “I believe you are overreacting just a tad, dear.”

“Hogwash!” said Margie. “I am willing to do many things to help you out, Louis Piquett, but this crosses the line! I will NOT have that man in my house!”

The door slammed shut, followed by a series of rattles and clicks as locks were locked and chains were chained.

Piquett turned. “Not to worry, friends,” he said. “Just a minor change of plans. Please follow me.”

They trooped down to the lobby, and Art strolled out to the sidewalk to make sure the coast was clear. After he gave the high sign, the rest of the group sidled out. “OK,” said Piquett. “We can go to my sister’s place at Addison and Southport. Art, you take our guests in your car and follow me. I’ll go up first and get everything squared away then come get you. OK? Let’s go.”

Billie and the Jackrabbit climbed into the back seat of Art’s car. “Better keep your heads down,” he told his passengers.

“Not a problem,” said the Jackrabbit. Art scanned the area for police as Piquett’s huge Lincoln pulled into traffic. Art could feel the tension in his shoulders. Things were already starting to feel a little dicey to him. He wasn’t surprised that Margie had balked at harboring the fugitive Jackrabbit. In a matter of hours, every cop in the country would be looking for him. She had always been a little high-strung anyway.

Up ahead, Piquett’s Lincoln cruised along sedately, carefully following the speed limit. Art continued to scan the area for cops. After a few minutes, he began to relax. He was afraid Margie might have panicked and called the police.

“Whew. . . . Sorry about the mix-up,” said Art. “Not to worry, though. I’m sure Lou’s sister will put you up.”

He got no response other than a muffled giggle from the back seat. He glanced at the rearview mirror but could not see his passengers. Billie’s leg appeared and kicked upward. Her shoe flew off, thunked off the ceiling, and disappeared. There was more giggling.

“Everything OK back there?” asked Art.

“Just fine,” came the Jackrabbit’s muffled voice. “Just keep driving, OK?”

The giggles became heavy breathing then moans. The air inside the car became humid and fragrant. Art cracked a window and muttered to himself, “Get a room, huh?”

“Don’t need one,” laughed the Jackrabbit. “Your back seat’s big enough. Ha! Ha!”

Art shrugged. After all, the guy had just gotten out of the lockup. Art would probably be doing the same thing if their situations were reversed.

As they approached Addison and Southport, Piquett’s car pulled to the curb in front of a brick apartment building. Art drove half a block past and parked. Things in the back seat were going hot and heavy and clearly weren’t going to end anytime soon. Art got out of the car and leaned against the rear door, trying to block the view. The car was rocking heavily on its springs now, making it difficult to look casual. For a moment, he was irked at the Jackrabbit’s lack of subtlety. After all, he was supposed to be keeping a low profile. On the other hand, who would believe that the notorious criminal would be having sex in the back seat of a car on a busy street in the middle of a big city?

Piquett appeared from the apartment building with a wide grin on his face. He walked up to the car and thumped on the roof. “Come on you two. Knock it off and let’s go!”

The Jackrabbit’s head appeared in the window. “Hiya, Lou!” he said. “Perfect timing!”

“Put your pants back on, and let’s get going,” said Piquett. “My sister has kindly offered you the use of her apartment. She’s going to spend the weekend at her friend’s house. You’ll have the place all to yourselves.”

“Gee, that’s swell,” said Billie. She squirmed around to get her underwear on straight. “Did you see where my shoe went?”

Piquett led the group up to an apartment on the third floor of the building. His sister had apparently already cleared out. Piquett gave them a quick tour. “OK,” he said. “Now that things are settled, there’s some business to take care of.”

“I know,” agreed the Jackrabbit. “C’mon, honey.” He grabbed Billie by the hand and led her to the bedroom. In short order, squeaks and moans filled the apartment.

“Holy cow!” said Art. “That guy just doesn’t quit!”

“I guess they don’t call him ‘Jackrabbit’ just because of his fast getaways,” said Piquett. “Let’s go get an egg cream.”

When they returned twenty minutes later, the couple was still at it.

“Hey, is this billable?” asked Art with a smile. “My boy, everything’s billable,” replied Piquett. “You should know that by now.”

The jouncing and caterwauling from the bedroom reached a crescendo then abated. A couple of minutes later, the Jackrabbit emerged, straightening his tie and grinning like a madman. “Well, that takes care of business,” he said. “Now let’s talk about money. Ha! Ha!”

“Indeed,” said Piquett. “That is truly a topic of interest to me, especially considering the legal fees that have accrued to this point.”

“Don’t worry, Lou,” said the Jackrabbit as he patted the attorney on the back. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, and I’ll get you the money as soon as I can.”

“I have no doubt, my boy,” said Piquett. “And I will do whatever I can to facilitate your return to your chosen profession.”

“Ah, Lou, you’re the best lawyer a fella could ask for,” said the Jackrabbit. “I need to get to Saint Paul to meet up with Van Meter and Nelson. It’s time to rob some banks!”

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Cover of Jackrabbit, new John Dillinger novel