Author: VioletStars PM
Summer 1937- Ted Mitchum is a grifter, who’s just come upon a large sum of money. Cecelia Niles, daughter of a madam, is in desperate need of that money.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Chapters: 5 - Words: 10,801 - Favs: 2 - Updated: 10-14-10 - Published: 09-28-10 - id: 2851436
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Low Down
"Kippy, a gas station." Ted thought when a sign that read Pete's Gas Station came into view. A fat man wearing an attendant's shirt leaned against one of the gas pumps, smoking a cigarette. He pulled up beside him.
"Fill 'er up?
The man went on to fill up the car, while Ted inspected his surroundings. Looking toward Avery he saw that it was just another ordinary highway town. Maybe it wouldn't hurt buy a motel room; get a good night's rest.
All the time in the car had left a dent in his neck.
"Filled her, that'll be 17 cents."
"No problem." Ted handed him a whole dollar. The gas attendant's eyes widen, as he turned to get the change. Ted beat him to it.
"Keep the change, sir."
"Just tell me where I can buy some cigs?"
"Sure, try Jim's Mercantile." He studied Ted. "You from around here, son?"
"No, matter a fact I'm not."
"Didn't think so."
Ted glanced at him. "What makes you say that?"
"I didn't mean nothing offensive, you just don't seem like the small town folks around here."
"I understand. Thanks for the gas. Absynnia." Ted got into the front seat, gassing up the car. The attendant nodded in goodbye.
Ted was amused by what the man had said. It had just dawned on him the way people might see him.
Back in the early days, he'd spent a great deal of energy trying to prove he wasn't some wheat that he belonged among them. When he finally won the respect, was like winning a trophy.
He was no longer viewed as some country bumpkin, easily swindled. Having dodged that persona for so long he was now around people who would care, small town wheat. And now he was the outsider.
Even in the Mercantile, he was met with a cold politeness by the owner, his son staring him down and sweeping the floor at the same time.
"Any place to get a meal around here?" He asked, just to break the uncomfortable silence.
"Maxine's, on Adams. Good food." Jim answered, shortly.
"Alright." Ted lit a cigarette.
"You from around here?"
He hadn't liked the way he said it. When the attendant asked, it was out of friendly curiosity.
The way he asked, seemed accusatory. He knew he wasn't from this little hick town and he would base judgment because of it.
"I'm from around here as much as you are."
Leaving the Mercantile, Ted got back into the car, taking a moment to enjoy the cigarette. Glancing over, the small trunk with the cash was still in the passenger seat, peeking out from his coat.
Ted kept from grimacing at the gas attendant's expression, when he paid with the checker. He could understand it probably been some time since he seen anyone with that much money.
Just another reminder of how "wealthy" he was.
The sooner he spent the cash, maybe the better he'd feel. For now, he could spend some on a hearty meal at this diner. He hoped d the food was good.
Maxine's was a quaint little diner, the smells of coffee and liver hung thick in the air. Ted took a seat at the bar, shifting in the stool. He lit another cigarette while the waitress finished taking the order from another man at the bar.
Ted looked over, recognizing his voice.
"Remember, no cheese on my sandwich." He concluded. It was the scrawny who was yelling at the old woman. Up close, he looked even thinner, large hollows under his eyes. He reminded Ted of a weasel.
He quietly hoped his daughter took after her mother, whom ever she was.
"What will you have, sir?"
"Cup of Joe and a BLT."
The waitress smiled, politely and disappeared behind the double doors to the kitchen. Weasel leaned on his elbows, inspecting Ted.
"You ain't from around here, are ya?"
"Believe it or not, you're the third person to ask me that."
"You lived here as long as I have, you learn faces, you know? Your accent it's different. You from, what Illinois?"
"Nah, Texas. But I live in New York."
"New York…rough city."
"You get used to it, I suppose."
Weasel let a raspy laugh. "That's true, you do get used to things. New York's rough, but not nearly as rough as where I've been."
Ted glanced at him, tapping some of the ash into a set tray.
"Where you been?"
"Just got out the big house."
"Ain't it, though?" Weasel paused as the waitress came with his sandwich his drink, along with Ted's coffee. They thanked her, Weasel taking a bite from his sandwich, before continuing.
"I didn't figure I'd get a warm reception, no shit like that. But come on! Went to see my daughter, right? The old bitch who's looking after her, said I can't see her! Can you believe that malarkey?"
Ted tipped the sugar holder over his cup. "Why won't she let you see her?"
"I'm a bad influence, or some self righteous crap. I just want to see my kid, is that a fucking crime, now?"
Ted felt the wires in his brain snap. That always happened after he had carefully assessed a person or place. This man had a leaky mouth. All he had to do was remain quiet, put a response where it was needed, and let keep him run his mouth.
He loved men like him back in the city. It made the con a lot easier. He just got out of prison, so he didn't have much going for him, where Ted was concerned. He was virtually useless as a mark.
If anything it was good to talk with someone. He'd been alone with his thoughts since East Texas.
"It's terrible, your child being kept from you."
"You got kids?"
"They're the best thing in the world, have some, you'll see. My girl Diana, that's her name. She's what got me through the slammer."
"Might I ask why you were put away?"
"Aggravated assault; He had it coming."
The waitress returned placing Ted's BLT in front of him; he smiled in thanks putting his cigarette out. The sandwich wasn't anything to go to the moon over, but it was sustainable.
"So now what? You're a free man. How are you going to celebrate?"
Weasel smirked; taking three large bites from the sandwich.
"How any man in his right mind would? Get some nookie."
Ted downed the rest of his coffee before chuckling.
"Where would you go about it?"
"Curious? I'll tell you." Weasel scooted closer to Ted, preparing to give him the low down.
"There's a little cathouse not too far from here, we know it as Nile's Palace. Squares know it as Nile's Tavern."
"Why are there two names?"
"It's an afterhours sort of place. During Prohibition they had to get smarter when it came to the booze and women. But after it ended, the concept stuck."
"You want some fun? After we blow this diner, I'll take you. There's this one girl there, Teresa, sweet Jesus…"
"I'm guessing you're a repeat customer?"
"Since I was fifteen." Weasel laughed.
Picking up his sandwich, Ted took a bite, chewing on a strip of the bacon. "I'll admit it's been some time."
"Coming all the way from New York, it has to be. You look like hell, pally. Bathed since you left?"
That was funny to Ted seeing how Weasel didn't look too spiffy himself. Who knows how long he took a wash since leaving the big house.
"Does the Palace have a wash room?"
"Sure, if you rent a room. You can clean up before they send the girl over. Common courtesy, you know?"
Ted looked at him. "By the way, never got your name."
"Harry Sloan." Harry slipped him five. "Yours?"
Dinner was quiet that night.
Cecelia ate little, only listening to the sounds of clinking silverware against the plates, and the attempts at conversation which eventually died. She hadn't wanted to talk to Mrs. Pearling about her discovery until after dinner.
Ruben ate the most, food spilling from the sides of his mouth. Cecelia had let him GIVE Mrs. Pearling, Ethel's money. He told her it was partly from Big Jim and the flowers.
That brought a small smile to her face.
Claire had remained quiet, the disappointment with her mother running deep. Even promises from Wilma to let her help with the violet bouquets didn't help.
Only Diana seemed to be in good spirits, having spent the day taking care of baby Johnny. He was still in bed, Wilma feeding him separately.
Cecelia couldn't get over how eerie it had been in the bank. The very questions she wanted to ask were unintentionally answered for her by the two men, Barney and Mrs. Roegner.
She already had a predisposed dislike for Barney, being that he brought disturbance to the household with that damn paper, but it was deepened by his apparent apathy for their situation.
She had no idea how much Mrs. Pearling owed on the mortgage, but they seemed sure she wouldn't be able to pay it.
As if they were hoping for it.
"Mrs. Pearling, may I be excused? I want to take a look at Walter's hooves, before I go to bed." Ruben asked.
"Certainly, child. Good night."
With her brother down for the count, Cecelia waited for Claire, Diana and Wilma to clear out.
It didn't take long.
"Can I go to sleep now?" Claire asked her voice despondent. It hurt Cecelia that she was hurting in a way her young mind couldn't understand fully.
Mrs. Pearling was concerned, as well. "Are you alright, Claire?"
"Yes, I'm just tired."
Wilma had decided to go tuck her in for the night, Diana following hoping to get to see Johnny again before she was sent to bed.
"Help me with the dishes then?" Mrs. Pearling asked, when Cecelia made no move to leave. She collected her plate and the ones around her.
In the kitchen, Cecelia waited behind Mrs. Pearling, handing her a dirty dish after she finished cleaning one. They worked in this system quietly. Cecelia went back to gather the silverware.
"Mrs. Pearling, what did that paper say?"
She didn't look at there. "'Celia stay out of it, you're too young to understand."
Cecelia stepped closer to her, frustration building fast. "Please, tell me-
"I meant it, child."
"I'm 18 years old! I have the right to know!"
Mrs. Pearling picked her head up to stare at her, surprised at the raise in her voice. Cecelia wiped the hair from her face.
"I went to First Bank, after we were done selling. We read who sent it."
"When were you going say anything? You were going to keep it a secret? We have until Friday to pay the mortgage or we're evicted! That means removed from this house!" Cecelia hissed, recalling what the bank teller had told her.
Mrs. Pearling leaned her arms on the sink, trying to keep her balance.
"Why didn't you say something?"
Cecelia held her cheek where Mrs. Pearling had slapped it. The area felt hot, and she knew there'd be a bruise later. She stared her down, a mixture of anger and disbelief.
"Never snoot in business that's not yours. Never!" Mrs. Pearling shouted, her voice breaking. She cupped her mouth, holding back sobs. Cecelia was frozen in place.
The last time she'd put her hand son Cecelia was the first year she had come to stay with her. She had broken the glass jars for the jam at of spite.
Cecelia couldn't remember the exact cause of her malice, but she respected, and was more grateful for Mrs. Pearling from then on. She couldn't explain it, and frankly didn't understand it.
This time around it wasn't out of punishment that she struck her. It was out of fear, frustration. Cecelia sympathized, but the slap still hurt.
"This is my business." She spoke calmly, breathing hard. "We're going to be homeless, Mrs. Pearling."
"No! Don't say those things!"
"What about the money we made today? Do you think-"
"We owe 300. It won't be enough."
Cecelia's silence sent Mrs. Pearling sliding to her knees. There weren't any other options. The future was bleak.
"Oh, God" She put her hands together, rocking back and forth. She looked so frail and old. To think she carried the weight of it all inside. Cecelia's tears then fell.
What would they do?