Awhile back I tried my hand at some historical fiction for a contest. I'd love it if you could tell me what you think. Thanks for reading!
"A job," she says. Smoke drifts towards the rafters, coiling from a thin pipe in her ring-heavy hand. Everything about her screams elegance as she looks up at me from beneath darkly lined eyelids and unnaturally thick lashes. She has a mole on her left cheek, and I could just die from the perfection of it all, how right she looks reclining in her plush red chair like a middle-aged heathen queen.
"Abigail, right?" She doesn't bother to raise her voice above the raucous jazz and idle chatter. I have to resist the urge to lean in closer to hear. Her tone is casual, but her arching eyebrows are intimidating, and I stand almost at attention before I remember that I'm supposed to be a cool, savvy little dame and place a hand on my hip. She grabs her cheaters off the drink table, balances them on her nose and sweeps me up and down. She looks even nicer in glasses somehow, smart and in control. Suddenly I wish I had worn my new black shoes, or taken another look at my hair, or had nicer gams. Mine bulge over my ankles, too fat to even be considered shapely.
She glances to her left, and the big man sitting there in the gray fedora nods just once. The tiniest twitch passes over her lips as she turns back to me. "Sure, we could swing that."
Some of the tension goes out of my shoulders, and I plaster on the inviting, sophisticated smile that I had intended to wear all night. She extends her hand.
"Call me Kate." Her fingers are cold and limp in mine. "And this is Sal." Sal nods again, and I can just barely glimpse the trace of a deep scar across his bulbous nose. She smirks at me as if sharing a joke. "Nice to know ya, Abigail Jones. Your pocket-size resume was very impressive. Tell your uncle I said hi, alright?"
I'm about to answer, something hopefully witty, when a slim man with a simpering smile taps her on the shoulder, leaning in to whisper into her ear. Her face cuts a beautiful profile, lips angling and parting slightly in what seems to be sly amusement as she listens, then her whole bottle-green dress shimmers silver as she stands.
"This is Mickey," she says to me, "He'll show you around. Now I gotta take a call. Be good, kids." She pauses and gives me another once-over. "Nice hat, Gail," she says with subtle authority on her tongue, and thus I am rechristened. "It'd look even better with a bob." I gobble up the new name together with the advice. It's true, after all; my hair is long and dull.
Her hips sway as she walks, and her diamond earrings catch in the Tiger Club's dimmed light.
The speakeasy used to be a warehouse, located behind a stylish little joint. When Kate's husband Tommy bought the place, he bought the warehouse too, and it wasn't long before he had the whole operation running in fine style. He had inherited some jack from his parents, and with renovations, new upholstery, and a steady supply of the best giggle water the black market can offer, the money keeps pouring in.
"Some good it did 'im," says Mickey as he leans against the table I'm bussing. I can smell his cologne from here, thick and over-sweet. "Got bumped off a coupla years into the business, didn't he?" I keep my eyes trained on the table, watching my reflection slowly appear in the woodwork. My hair clings to my head dollishly now, like Kate's, and I admire the way the bangs frame my eyes. Mother wouldn't approve, but she hates the flapper style anyway, so what does she know.
As I straighten up, Mickey is looking down at me. With a small quirk of his lips, he keeps talking: "There's a lotta risk to a little business ven-ture like this one." He stretches the word out like it makes him intelligent: ven-ture. There is something about Mickey that puts me on edge. He has a sharp face and razor blue eyes, oily hair and a card shark's smile. Handsome, in an angular sort of way. The person your daddy would tell you not to get mixed up with.
I say, "Yeah?" just to be polite.
He nods and gives me a wink that I avoid reading into. "Sure. You gotta be a real hard head to run a juice joint. Take Ms. Kate, for example. Swell girl, a real bearcat, if you can get past her high horse."
I begin rubbing down the next table, thinking that he's probably drunk by now. "High horse?"
I think that my reflection could use a pair of diamond earrings. "Ms. Kate doesn't have a high horse."
"Sure she does. Real upstage."
I stop to look up at him and find his face closer than I had realized, about a foot from mine. He's slouched down, elbows propped on the table, standing across from me. I straighten in a hurry. "'Upstage' nothing. She's been nothing but nice since I met her, and she's just plain elegant, that's what she is. She's swell."
He stays leaning across the table, smirking up at me like he knows a thing or two. "How long you been here, Gail? Two weeks? And you're already treating Katie like the goddamn Christ mother. Don't feel too bad though, she's got that affect. Kinda overwhelming. She lives this high life, surrounded by cash and cads and dinky little hors d'œuvres. Believe you me, kid: She's got a high horse. And those are dangerous."
I wring the rag between my fingers. "She's just classy. She's got—all those rings and things because they're nice, and they're beautiful."
He straightens up and walks, slowly and deliberately, around the table towards me, then stops to size me up. The band strikes up my favorite tune. After a moment he says, "You're kinda a Dumb Dora, aren't you, sweetheart?"
I toss the rag onto the table so that I can better put my hands on my hips. "I ain't stupid." He smirks, and I flush a bit.
"Shallow, though. Who's prettier, you or Ms. Kate?"
"Dumb question. Ms. Kate."
His chuckle is so soft that it takes me a second to hear it. He steps in closer, and the chorus swells a bit, trumpets blaring over god knows what crazy time signature. "Not for long, if you get your way. Swell hair." He leans in close and I am paralyzed as I feel warm breath against my ear. "This ain't the place for a pretty young skirt like you," he says. I haven't touched anything tonight, but I'm getting woozy and the room is tilting with the sliding, suffocating jazz chords. "We all got our addictions," he says, and I can practically feel his lips against my neck. It doesn't matter. The room is full of laughing and clinking glasses and careless, ferocious music and no one notices. "We all got our addictions, and Ms. Kate is no exception."
Suddenly my neck is cold again, and he grabs onto the rim of his hat as he takes a few careless steps backwards. "You should smart up. Get outta here, or a bad man with more guts than me could take advantage." Just then a new party appears, clamoring to be seated, and with an almost melancholy smile, he tips his hat and takes his leave.
There is no alcohol on his breath.
The cops are already a bit drunk when they come in. One is fat with a big mouth. The other is younger, about thirty or so, with buckteeth and fluttery hands. The fat cop takes his round hat off when he addresses Kate, and dips his head in a polite little bow.
"Just here for the cut, ma'am."
Kate's face might be made of marble for all she reacts. "You got it last week. I thought we settled all this."
He smiles amiably. "Just a few things we'd like t' reevaluate. Cost of living ain't pretty nowadays, an' my pal and I are a pretty under-appreciated class."
There is a brief silence as the band finishes the song, and everyone, the servers and the musicians and the guests, pretend they're not listening in. Kate looks up at him with hard, lovely green eyes and for a moment I think she's going to yell, and then the muscles around her full lips relax into a smile.
"Sure. Step into my office, sweetheart." When she walks away, her hips swing even more than usual, and while she waits for the officer she practically drapes herself over the door.
The other stupid rube is leering at me. I'm beginning to wonder what I'm supposed to do until I feel a firm hand on my shoulder.
"Can we get you somethin,' officer?" says Mickey, and if Kate's eyes were stone, his are fire. Mickey's about to say something more, he's glowing with the anticipation of it and his hand squeezes my shoulder, when Kate's door opens.
"Gail, come here, honey," wafts across the air. Mickey's face transforms so fast it bewilders and scares me; there's shock and anger and maybe that strange sadness again. He lets go of my shoulder.
Kate's office is decadent. Expensive paintings mingle with shining knickknacks and red velvet curtains draped across the walls. Her desk is a dark, polished oak, and the chairs are all overstuffed and inviting. As I step in, the man is leaving, and Sal stands stoically in the corner.
"Closer, honey," she says, and there's something off about her voice. It's pitched higher than usual. Her sultry tones sound odd an octave up. I step right up to her desk and she smiles that perfect smile that always makes me self-conscious.
"So now you've met our friends down at the station," she says, and her smile grows wider. She leans forward in her chair, playing with the sapphires flashing around her neck. "They got a price, just like anyone else, you remember that. They've been good to us, so we're gonna show them a real good time tonight, alright?"
Sal makes a sudden movement in the corner of my eye, and without looking back at him she says "Stop! She's fine," loud enough to make me jump. The room feels too hot now, and my gaze drifts along the surface of the desk. There's a paperweight there that looks like solid gold.
"Look at me, Gail. Look."
I feel cold force around my wrist, and she's grabbing it and pulling it to herself as if she needs to capture my attention literally. Startled, I look up into her eyes, and I want to recoil because there is hysteria there, desperation seeping around the edges. She smiles too widely.
"You'll show them a good time, won't you, sweetheart? Officer Heap's friend is a real nice gentleman. I'm sure you'll get along real well. Heap and I are pals."
Her lipstick is smeared.
I cannot move, caught by the cherry red stain oozing itself across her face. She needs to repowder, because I can see the wrinkles creeping from the corners of her brilliant, fevered eyes, and her lipstick is smeared and it wasn't before, but Officer Heap's lips are very red when he comes back in with his friend, who saunters up and puts an arm around my shoulders, his hand resting right where Mickey's was before. Sal is mumbling in Italian, something mournful and sacred. I see a glimpse of a rosary in his hand.
I panic. I search Kate's face for an explanation, an escape, but she just keeps smiling.
"You kids have a good time," she says.
As Sal's fingers move over the blessed beads, one of Kate's slender hands creeps to clutch, viselike, at the jewels around her neck.