Chapter 3: Print

Coffee.

Paper.

Work.

From the Times and the Tribune to any number of Heralds and small publications, New York City had a voracious appetite for news and gossip. Weekly papers, daily papers, morning papers, evening papers - all were the stuff of a metropolitan culture whose heart beat to a cut-time metronome every hour of every day. The rapid clicking of fingers on typewriters, the flash and smoke of bulky cameras, the assembly line pace of phone calls and office deadlines. Radio talk and moving pictures were all well and good, but it was impossible to defeat the colossal hydra that was the sprawling empire of ink and paper.

Stories.

Scandal.

Life.

It all came hot off the presses every hour of every day.


The window display of the print shop whose grey sign read 'Samaritan' contained just a few things - a handful of glossy, black and white photographs of city landmarks, a framed certificate with the name Campbell embossed across it in forest green, five different local magazines, and one newspaper. The month-old newspaper, whose publication date said 09 May 1929, featured a front-page article debating the benefits and deficits of child labor. The magazines, all of which came from the past winter, had covers that displayed subjects ranging from potted plants to aviation to new novels by Brooklyn authors. The Campbell certificate next to them, yellowed around its corners, looked slightly dusty. Telling the precise age of the photographs seemed a practical impossibility.

Because he was wary of theft, Neil rolled his bike inside the store which, according to the sign on the door, was currently closed. His shoes, slightly damp from splashback as a result of riding through a large puddle, left prints on the vinyl floor tiles that were supposed to be black and white but were in reality shades of muddy grey. The bell above the entrance did not ring when he came in. As Neil locked the door behind him, he made a mental note to fix that.

None of the lights were turned on, but with the summer sun high in the sky, this was no trouble in the slightest. It also helped save a bit of money on electricity costs, which were already unusually high for the little shop due to the near-constant drain of the electric motor which powered the Rubel offset rotary press. Neil could hear the dull roar of the machine running even through the heavy door which separated the back room from the storefront.

"Dad?" he called out, "I'm back!"

No words came in response but for those that were mere echoes of his own voice.

He went behind the checkout counter to where a narrow staircase in the corner led upwards to living quarters. He shouted again, and again he received no reply.

With a heavy sigh, the boy walked to a spot next to the door to the back room. There, the flowering horn of a phonograph protruded out from a section of wall at what was head height for Neil. He turned to face it with a mechanical twist in his stance.

Almost reluctantly, he said into the horn, "Dad? Are you in the cellar - I mean, the dark room?"

There was an answer, albeit one that was slightly delayed and extremely tinny-sounding, and it went, "Yeah, I'm down here, son. How was your little shindig with Max?"

His father's nasally voice sounded unusually muffled even through the homemade communication system.

"We went to the farmer's market you recommended. It was fun," noted Neil with meekness, "Are you... working on a new batch of photographs?"

"The Mexican set," came the ready response, "You just stay up top and man the rotary, alright, Neil? I'll shout if I need anything."

Neil's shoulders slumped in what could have been relief just as easily as disappointment.

He replied, "Sure thing, Dad. Remember to turn the ventilator on."

"Got it. Love you, son."

"I love you too."

And the conversation was over.

As far as the decades-old rotary press in the back room was concerned, there was really no 'manning' required. Not after the years of careful maintenance, modification, and innovation that he had applied to it. Neil glanced to where his bicycle rested between the stationery rack and the ink pen display, and he entertained, for a brief moment, the thought of simply up and leaving, of riding far, far away, of pedaling as hard and as fast as he could to Elsewhere and slacking off under blue skies for an hour more or until his father came out of the cellar.

But the brief moment was indeed brief, and the passing thought indeed fleeting. So, instead, he picked up a stool and directed his attention toward the malfunctioning bell above the shop door.


Nikki threw her bicycle to the ground next to the steps to her front door. Then, she forewent the front entrance itself and opted to sprint to the ground floor bathroom window instead. The glass panels were open and unlocked, exactly as she had left them. She clambered up and in, knees briefly scraping against stone. Her shoes were the last things to disappear from outside view.

In the marble-tiled bathroom, Nikki flipped the light switch before shutting the window from which she'd entered and drawing the blue curtains over it. Then, she threw open the cabinet below the sink and yanked out her blue dress and hat from earlier that morning. She changed quickly and shoved her street clothes into the back of the same cabinet, kicking its door shut with a foot encased in a blue-heeled slipper.

Nikki turned on the faucet, and water gushed out of it into the sink basin. Cupping her palms beneath the falling stream, she caught a handful of chill liquid and tossed it into her face. The use of a nearby towel dried her off and removed the dust and dirt that had gotten smudged onto her skin. She hastily redid her pigtails using the bands that had been worn on her wrist while she was out on the town. With a glance in the mirror and a repositioning of her sun hat, Nikki deemed her appearance acceptable.

She left the bathroom.

Her mother, all dolled up in a frilly dress and neat makeup, was coming toward her from up the hallway.

"Nikki!" exclaimed the woman, "There you are! Come here, we're already running late."

"Okay, Mom," responded the girl politely, "Are we taking the subway?"

"To Manhattan? Heavens no, that thing is filthy. There's a car coming to pick us up any minute now. We need to get outside, sweetie."

"Okay, Mom."

They went out the front door. A shiny Lincoln was just beginning to crest the tall hill that made this part of the neighborhood feel like it was enclosed in a bubble-world of its own.

"Remember, Nikki," said her mother, "When they ask about coming to work with me, you say that you love getting to see what it's like backstage, especially with the musicians. Tell them about your favorite spot in the orchestra pit and learning music on the piano," she bent down to be eye-level with her daughter and, with a twinkle in her eyes, added brightly, "Chin up, sweetie. We're going on the radio! I know that this isn't your kind of thing, but put up with it for just a few hours, alright? For Mommy. This'll be all over the papers tomorrow."

Nikki put on a passable smile and nodded silently.

The woman distractedly ran the fingers of her right hand through one of her daughter's messy pigtails.

She declared, "I'll fix your hair in the car. You'll look nice with braids."

"Okay, Mom."


The first thing that Gwen did when she and David entered a room on the fourth floor was throw a gun at his head. Granted, it was his own gun, and it was holstered, but still. A gun. Thrown at his head.

"Your boss left that here for you."

Almost fumbling the armament as he caught it, David tripped and reclaimed his balance by grabbing the handle of a nearby filing cabinet that was, thankfully, locked. Once he was steady on his feet again, he clipped the gun and the holster to his belt.

He queried, "Detective Marter was here?"

"Yup," answered Gwen with folded arms and a cross expression, "He charged in armed to the teeth and looking tipsier than the leaning tower of Pisa. Was looking for you. The guy scared a visiting kid and pissed off Sergeant Aldrin. You missed him by maybe ten minutes."

"... I'm sorry. For the trouble he's caused, I mean. He's… odd, sometimes."

Gwen rolled her eyes, sighing dismissively, "Forget about it. Just make yourself at home."

David sat down in a creaky chair and tried to take in his surroundings.

The room was technically spacious, but the police-yellow walls were lined with so many boxes and filing cabinets that the place felt cramped and attic-like. A single window let in a generous amount of afternoon light through its half-slanted shutters, enough so that the electric lamps high up in the wall corners were not yet necessary. Two cluttered desks on adjacent sides of the room held veritable mountains of paper and miscellaneous scrap. A third desk, placed in the center of the room before the window, was kept marginally tidier. It also held the camera that Gwen had brought to the crime scene that morning.

There was, besides the entryway the two young adults had just stepped through, one other way out of the office. It was a hefty-looking door on the wall opposite the window, a door that, through logical reasoning, must have led to an interior room. David got up and approached it.

"Don't go in there," warned Gwen blandly as she adjusted her hat, "You'll probably trip over a jug of borax or something else toxic."

David turned away from the mysterious interior door which was no longer quite so mysterious.

He asked in surprise, "You have a dark room all the way up here?"

"Yeah, Sherlock. Where else?"

Shrugging, David replied, "In the basement, I guess? Wouldn't that be less light, underground?

"Basement's for the shooting range."

"Oh, right," he paused awkwardly, "Sorry. I don't know this station very well. I work from the outpost a few blocks east."

She scoffed, "With the traffic cops? Marter is such a wackjob."

David did not argue.

Gwen barked, "Help me clear the table, green-eyes."

Together, they cleared off one of the small tables that Gwen dragged out of the corner. A great many old film cartridges, coffee-stained folders, and crinkly food wrappers were either set aside or thrown away.

When the wooden surface was at last clean, Gwen unrolled a map of Brooklyn over the table, and David set paperweights on top of it. The woman clicked a retractable pen and circled the east Brooklyn, pierside, residential street where the crime scene was undoubtedly still being cleaned up.

"Here," she said, "Is where the body was found. The entire neighborhood's mob-owned. A couple of their hitters even live there, the victim's father included."

"What about the mother?" asked David.

"Dead," replied Gwen, "Complications from childbirth, according to hospital records."

With a look of consideration, David nodded, "Mmkay. And his routine?"

"The victim walked the family's dogs every morning," she stated as she drew a line from Dulce street to a small public park nearby.

The pen in her hand circled the area. Then, she backtracked, making another line from Dulce to the nearest subway station.

Gwen further explained, "On weekday afternoons, he took the transit to here," she circled another subway station in central Brooklyn, "Which left him in walking distance of Lilac Academy for the summer art program."

On the map of the borough, she circled the square that stood for the aforementioned school.

With a wry, bittersweet grimace, David said, "Lilac, huh? That place brings back memories."

"Familiar with it?"

"I went there for school."

"Asshole," quirking a derisive eyebrow at him, Gwen assumed, "Rich family?"

"Campbell orphan," he corrected plainly.

That, of possible responses, gave her pause. The deadpan mask of her face cracked first into a look of surprise followed by pity and then by regret. For what felt like a long while, she simply stared at David, who stared back without judgment or accusation.

Gwen was the one to break the moment of connection between them. She turned, removing the hat from her head. She set the fedora over the camera on her desk, the device lying next to a burgundy-colored mug into which she dropped her ink pen. The writing utensil rattled upon impact with the ceramic cup. Gwen looked out the office window, which revealed between the half-closed slats of a wooden shutter a cloud drifting over the distant Manhattan skyline across the water.

She turned to face David again.

"I'm sorry," she said at last, "I didn't know."

"Don't be," he replied kindly, "No one ever does."

Sighing, Gwen picked up a manila folder from her desk and handed it to him, proclaiming, "I was gonna give you hell before letting you have this, but here. Just take it. Consider it an apology for treating you like crap based on word of mouth and a bad day."

"Uh, thank you?" the words came stumbling from David's lips.

"Cheers," responded Gwen, lifting up the mug from her desk and almost taking a sip from it before the clicking end of a pen hit her teeth. She exclaimed, "Shit! This was my coffee."

David winced as much at the choice language as at the volume of her shout.

The pen was picked out of the cup, its melted, plastic components dripping a runny solution of black ink and black coffee as it was tossed into the wastebin next to Gwen's desk. The woman proceeded to glare into her mug as if to will the contaminants out of the hot drink.

Still feeling uncomfortably like an intruder in the yellow-walled office, David offered weakly, "Could I buy you a cup from the cafe down the block?"

Gwen slammed her mug onto her desk with much more force than was strictly necessary, huffing, "Fuck this and fuck that. You got anywhere to be in the next hour or so?"

"Er, not necessarily?"

"Great," she said as she picked up her hat and her coat, "Let's go to a bakery in Harlem. I'm buying."


Neil was oiling the chains on his bike when he heard a knocking sound from the other side of the Samaritan's locked door. He turned his head to see a blonde girl not much younger than himself standing just outside. Her ponytail waved in what must have been a powerful breeze out there.

Setting the oil canister down on the floor, Neil got up. He walked to the door, turned the lock, and pulled it open. The bell above the entryway dinged an indiscriminate welcome.

"Hi," the girl smiled at him before looking down to begin reading from the back of an index card gripped in her hands, "I'm Tabii, from the Flower Scouts Flower Emporium. We have moved our place of business and are changing the delivery arrangement. I'm here to pick up our usual order of stat-ion-neery."

Blinking a few times in surprise and confusion, Neil eventually responded, "You mean stationery, right? Like, pens and paper?"

"Yeah, that," nodded Tabii blankly.

"... Could I see that note card?" he asked.

Tabii handed it over without question, replying chipperly, "Sure thing!"

The handwriting on the bit of cardstock looped in a familiar style of cursive that he thought he recognized as that of the woman who owned the Flower Emporium, but there was still only one way to be sure. Neil gave the card a tentative sniff.

Lilacs.

He handed it back to Tabii, saying, "I'll get you the order. Come inside."

The door closed behind them.

Neil walked around the counter as Tabii took an interest in the magazine rack that he had taken the opportunity to restock not too long ago.

Bending down behind the counter, Neil pulled a cardboard box off the bottom shelf. On the floor, he opened the container's unsealed top to double-check its contents. The flaps were pulled aside to reveal a notable quantity of cardstock, letterhead paper, and gold-leaf pens. One by one, each bundle of innocuous stationery supplies was lifted out and set aside on the gray-tiled floor. At what appeared to be the base of the box, there was a loop of grey ribbon. Neil tugged it, the false bottom lifting easily. Inside the secret compartment of the cardboard box, there was a large, plastic-wrapped brick of fine, white powder. It was labeled in thick, black marker:

'1 kilo'

Upon catching sight of this item, Neil immediately replaced the false bottom ribbon-side up and neatly packed the stationary on top of it once more. Then, he folded up the flaps of the box with all items inside and sealed the container with a few strips of masking tape from the dispenser bolted onto the countertop.

The box had a considerable heft to it, so Neil lifted from his legs and from his back as he raised the package up the four feet required in order to set it atop the counter. He wheezed a little as he let it go.

"Here's the usual order, Tabii," he declared.

The girl closed the magazine that she had been paging through and replaced it on the rack. She approached the counter with the same vacuous smile and head-in-the-clouds look in her eyes as she had worn since arriving at the door. An envelope was placed on the counter, and Neil pocketed it wordlessly. He tried not to take it as a personal insult when Tabii easily picked up the package that he had struggled to lift just moments earlier.

"Thank you," she said to him.

He nodded in response and then walked her to the exit, holding the door open as she left the store. He remained outside for a few moments to watch her leave. After Tabii disappeared from view, lost in the crowd of city-goers, Neil stepped back inside the shop and locked the door once again.

It seemed that all he had left to do was return to his bicycle maintenance, and so Neil was about to do just that when he heard his father's voice echoing out from the phonograph horn on the wall.

"Neil? Son, are you there?"

With great haste, the boy made his way to the device and spoke into it, "Yeah, I'm here, Dad. A Flower Scout just stopped by to pick up the stationery early."

"Did they? Huh. Did you verify?"

"Definitely lilacs, Dad."

"Great work then, son. Anyways, I was calling to ask for a hand down here. Bring some more supplies on your way, eh, Neil?"

He asked, "Did you run out of borax again?"

"Nah, I got plenty of that. I mean the stuff from the crate, Neil. We need to finish another batch before dinner to stay on schedule. Come help your old man out."

With that clarification, Neil replied resignedly, "Okay. On it, Dad."

"Love you, son."

"I love you too."

He pulled open the heavy door that led into the back room and walked inside. The door shut itself behind him. Darkness enshrouded the place, and the rumble of the printing press assaulted his ears. But with the flip of a light switch, the room suddenly became well-illuminated.

Running all the way down the longest wall, the paper-chugging behemoth that was the Rubel machine appeared to be a flurry of chaotic motion. Turning rollers, dripping ink, clanking gears. It relentlessly churned out glossy, quality-inked sheets of what was, upon closer inspection, an aviation magazine. A second device, one completely of Neil's own making, gathered the sequential pages of the publication together and stapled them down the vertical binding before dropping the freshly printed packet into a growing pile on top of the floor's grey tiles.

Neil ignored the machinery and instead approached the much less intimidating storage shelving unit opposite from it. There lay an open-topped crate on the bottom shelf, tucked away in the corner as far from the cellar trapdoor as it could be while still residing on the same side of the room. Neil reached for a number of items from the shelf directly above this crate.

A thick apron.

A pair of rubber gloves.

A gas mask with mirrored lenses.

With practiced motions, he buckled the gas mask so that it sat to the side of his face, tied the apron around his waist, and slipped the gloves over his hands. Then and only then did he reach inside the crate to remove one of several large, opaque jugs with faded lettering on its sticker. Much more akin to powder than to liquid, the sloshing movement of its contents felt. Neil set the container down on the ground and took a brief pause.

He turned to look toward the door to the storefront, and he thought about the unfinished work on his bicycle that remained there. Then, he stopped and refocused on the task at hand. With a weary sigh, Neil pulled the gas mask over his face, picked up the jug falsely labeled 'blue ink', and headed down into the cellar to help his father.


Author's Note: I drew a bit of art to accompany this chapter. It can be found on my Tumblr: risomnia (period) tumblr (period) com (slash) 167412247466 (slash) ccnoir-neil