Dick O’Connor was having difficulty focusing. Part of it was a product of age, though he tried to deny it as he slowly crept toward his seventieth birthday. Part of it was his complex personal life. He had married Julia Taylor, and together they had lived happily at the Hotel St. Paul until she discovered that he had been sleeping with Nellie Stone for many years, even fathered a daughter by her. Julie immediately left O’Connor, his legitimate daughter in tow. She offered to divorce him, but he begged her not to; O’Connor even gave her forty thousand in cash and bonds as incentive because he didn’t want to marry Nellie. When Julia died unexpectedly, he was compelled to make Nellie his bride, and together they moved to the Ryan Hotel. Now he was wondering how he could arrange to ship her off to California so he could spend more time with Margaret Condon, the enchantress who ran the hotel’s beauty salon. If that wasn’t trouble enough, he had to spend the afternoon listening to this young man whine about the latest crisis to befall the city.
“They killed Dan Hogan,” the young man said.
“I know,” O’Connor said. How could he not? The event was announced in thick black type on the front page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and supported by photos of his body and the Paige coupe he drove under the headline: “DAPPER DAN” HOGAN AND HIS BOMB-WRECKED CAR.
“What are you going to do?” the young man asked.
“I’m not going to do anything.”
“But you’re the Cardinal.”
“We need you.”
The “we” the young man referred to was the aristocracy of St. Paul, the rich and powerful who benefited from the system that O’Connor had set in place decades earlier, men who now feared its collapse—Crawford Livingston, president of the gas company; Chester R. Smith, the real estate tycoon; Otto Bremer, who owned the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company, and his nephew Edward, president of Commercial State Bank; Louis Betz, head of the State Savings Bank; wealthy land man Fred B. Lynch; John J. Dahlin, who owned the construction company that bore his name; William Hamm, who ran his father’s brewery; Thomas Lowry, who owned and operated the city railway; architect Brent Messer; and so many others. Yet, while they might need him, the Cardinal, as O’Connor had been labeled, certainly didn’t need them. He was rich, he was old, and he was retired.
Richard O’Connor had been a deputy city clerk before the turn of the century, and nearly every citizen of prominence would come into his office seeking permits for one project or another. O’Connor, who was good with a joke, greeted each with a smile and a sympathetic ear. Over time he accumulated a fund of knowledge about the scandals, secrets, personal habits, characteristics, and weaknesses of these men. He used it to introduce graft into the St. Paul Courthouse.
After a while, O’Connor left city government for the more lucrative job of actually running city government, becoming St. Paul’s undisputed “fixer.” So vast was his influence that the Great Man Himself—James J. Hill—once summoned O’Connor to his Summit Avenue mansion. Hill was supporting Robert Dunn for governor and asked O’Connor for advice on how to get him elected. Hill disagreed with what O’Connor told him and began to explain why. O’Connor said, “Mr. Hill, you asked for my opinion. I gave it to you. I did not come here to argue.” He walked out, figuring that Hill might know how to run the Great Northern Railroad better than he, but the Cardinal sure as hell knew more about politics and Hill would call again—and so he did. Shortly after, Dunn won the Republican Party’s nomination. Only O’Connor wasn’t finished. He arranged for John A. Johnson to receive the Democratic Party’s nomination and saw to it that he defeated Dunn in the general election to become just the second Democratic governor in the history of Minnesota. When he was later asked why he did it, the Cardinal replied, “Because I could.”