Speakeasy Tonight – Neil Dresner Main Story Episode 2

Location: Ice Box bandstand (Interior) (Day)

Still trying to get a handle on the new job, I made it in early the next day too … but not too early.

(Mrs. Fitzhugh doesn’t approve of my sleeping in so late … but a girl’s got to get her beauty rest.)

Julius was at the piano, tinkling away at the keys. I listened for a minute before realizing he was working out a new number.

Heroine “That’s nifty. What’s it called?”

Julius “Oh, hey, Miss [USER_FIRST_NAME]. It’s the King Porter Stomp by Jelly Roll Morton.”

Heroine “That’s a funny name. You working it into the set list?”

Julius “Yes, ma’am. We need a few more numbers where we can give Cleo a break.”

Heroine “My mother’s “ma’am.” You can call me [USER_FIRST_NAME].”

He looked kind of surprised by that.

Heroine “I guess not many white women ask you to call them by their first names.”

Julius “No, ma’am … uh … [USER_FIRST_NAME]. You and Cleo are the whole list.”

Heroine “I haven’t officially met Cleo yet.”

Julius “I’ll make sure to do the introductions when she gets here.”

Julius “Ah … [USER_FIRST_NAME] … you know I play out three nights every week at a couple of other clubs around town … “

Heroine “Sure. I’d like to change that … get our business up so we can keep you busy full-time … “

Julius “That’d be fine, but that’s not why I mention it. Thing is … people been getting sick after drinking at some of these other speaks.”

Heroine “Y’know that’s not an uncommon thing to happen to people after they drink too much … “

Julius “I’ve seen enough liquored up folks to know the difference. These folks … they get sick real sudden and in batches. Like they drunk something bad.”

(Okay, that does sound suspicious.)

Julius “Nobody’s died or nothing, but I’m thinking there’s some bad booze going around … and you don’t want the Ice Box to have trouble like that.”

Heroine “No … we don’t. I imagine people avoid speaks with a rep for bathtub booze.”

Julius “Like the plague.”

Heroine “Thanks for the warning, Julius. Guess I’d better talk with everybody about that … even Neil.”

Julius “You having a hard time with Doc?”

Heroine “Let me just say I’ve known less prickly porcupines.”

Julius laughed a pleasant, musical laugh that made me like him even more.

Julius “He’s not so bad, once you get him to flatten out his quills some. He was always stand-offish around me ‘til he saw me reading a book of poetry one day … “

Heroine “More of your Langston Hughes?”

Julius “No. Fella name of T.S. Eliot. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Heroine “”In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michaelangelo.”

He looked impressed, which pleased me for some reason.

Julius “You know it?”

Heroine “Perils of a misspent youth. I overheard a couple of my teachers talking about it like it was dirty … “

Heroine “… so I made it my business to track it down. To be honest, I didn’t see what the hullabaloo was all about … “

Heroine “… but I liked it better than any of the poetry they made us study in school. Seemed more … modern. More about the world I live in.”

Julius “You a big reader then?”

Heroine “I guess I am. I like Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson ….”

Julius “Well, you talk to Doctor Neil about books. Never had much time for me before, but once we talked about T. S. Eliot … well … “

Julius “… now he gives me the time of day, at least.”

Heroine “Thanks for the tip.”

After checking in with Cliff and meeting Cleo when she came in, I called a cab to visit Uncle Charlie in the hospital.

Location: Charlie’s hospital room. (Interior) (Day)

I heard Neil’s voice coming from Uncle Charlie’s room as I came down the hall, so I crept quietly to the door.

My uncle was propped up in bed. He and Neil were huddled over a chessboard, concentrating intensely.

I could see Neil in profile …

(He’s … smiling?!)

He moved one of his pieces … it was too far to gather much about the layout of the board.

Neil “… and that’s checkmate in three moves.”

Charlie “Well … I’ll be a sonuvagun! You foxed me good!”

Neil stood and stretched his legs. With that relaxed expression on his face and none of the usual tension in his body, he looked very handsome.

(Must just be the light.)

Neil “You’ll get me next time. You hardly ever lose two in a row.”

Charlie “You keep me sharp.”

I knocked softly on the doorjamb.

A) “Hope I’m not interrupting.”

B) “Wondered why you weren’t at the Box.”

C) “You play chess together?”

Selection A

Heroine “Hello. Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

Neil’s expression changed, dropping back into his habitual half-scowl.

Charlie “Not a bit of it, [USER_FIRST_NAME]. Very nice of you to visit.”

Looking around the room, I saw that it was filled with flowers.

Heroine “Wow. Looks like a florist’s shop in here.”

Neil “Smells like a damn funeral parlor, you ask me.”

Charlie chuckled, even as I glared at Neil.

Heroine “That’s a little insensitive, all things considered.”

He looked at Charlie.

Neil “Is being sensitive part of my job description now? Because if it is, I have to object … “

Heroine “If being pleasant was part of whatever job it is you do, I’m sure you never would’ve been hired in the first place.”

Selection B

Heroine “Wondered why you weren’t at the Box.”

Neil “You wonder about me? Funny, you haven’t crossed my mind since you left my sight last night.”

Charlie “Nice to see you two getting along.”

Heroine “I suppose you could call it that … although it’s a lot like the way the Kaiser “got along” with Clemenceau and Lloyd George.”

Charlie “Well, it’s like they say … your friends are the ones who pick you up when you fall down … “

Neil “Because they were the ones to trip you up in the first place and they want to make it look good.”

I gave Neil my vicious little smile … the one that’s all teeth with a touch of malice in the eyes.

Neil “Put a little growl in that and you’ll look just my sister’s Pekinese when I come to visit. That dog always thinks I’m there to take her dinner.”

Selection C

Heroine “You play chess together?”

Neil’s smile vanished when he saw me in the door.

Neil “About as often as you state the obvious.”

Heroine “I thought I came over here to see my Uncle, but now I know that I really came because I needed one of your insults to get my day started.”

Neil “So glad I could oblige. Need more, or is one enough?”

Heroine “Just the one’ll hold me for now. Wouldn’t want you to use up your quota too fast.”

Charlie “All right, all right. Old man in a hospital bed here! Don’t want to get wounded in the crossfire!”

Neil looked slightly chagrined and I was a little ashamed of myself too.

Charlie “[USER_FIRST_NAME], you have good timing. I was going to ask Neil to send you over later today anyway … I have something I want to ask you.”

Neil “I need a smoke. If you’re not going to be here too long, I’ll wait for you and take you back to the Box.”

(Huh … Not “Take a cab!”?)

Heroine “Thanks, I guess. I shouldn’t be too long … ”

Neil “Catch me in the main lobby.”

With that, he left without even a goodbye to me or Charlie.

My exasperation must have shown on my face.

Charlie “That’s just his way. Don’t take offense.”

Heroine “I’m not taking offense, I just don’t like him.”

Charlie gave me one of those smiles old people always give young people when they think they know something you don’t.

(I hate those smiles.)

Charlie “He treats everybody the same … “

Heroine “Badly?”

Charlie “’Til you get to know him. Then he’s just surly MOST of the time, not downright unpleasant ALL the time.”

Heroine “You’re the second person to give me that advice this morning.”

Charlie “Julius? Yeah, he and Neil came close to blows a few times … ‘fore they discovered their mutual love of the written word.”

Heroine “He told me I should talk books with Neil.”

Charlie “What’s the point of trying to get to know somebody you don’t like?”

Heroine “I just … I thought … it can’t hurt to TRY. And you should always give people the benefit of the doubt, right?”

Charlie “”And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.””

Heroine “That’s from the Bible? I thought … “

Charlie “A good hypocrite has to be able to quote scripture, sweetheart … how else is the wolf to hide among the sheep?”

Charlie “Which, funny enough, leads me right to what I wanted to ask you … “

I moved the small table with the chessboard out of the way and sat next to Uncle Charlie.

Charlie “You know I’m involved with the Temperance League here in town.“

Heroine “You’re working from the inside, huh? Like a saboteur?”

Charlie “No need, really. Prohibition’s dead as a doornail in the big cities … especially Chicago … and to be honest, it’s good for my business … “

Charlie “But bein’ on the inside of a group fighting to keep the law in place helps my legit businesses, like the appliance store … “

Charlie “… an’ it gives me influence with the mayor and chief of police. They’ve adapted their politics. Anti-booze means anti-crime… “

Charlie “…. and anti-crime brings in the votes. Plus, it gives them cover to take money from gangsters like me, who still look like upstanding citizens.”

Heroine “You’re not a gangster! You’re a businessman!”

Charlie “Look, I don’t pretend I’m a good guy … but I try to keep the peace, not shoot my way to the top. It’s getting harder to stay out of that kind of trouble … “

(I wonder what he’d do if one of the bigger operators tried to move in on his territory?)

Charlie “Anyway … a few weeks back, Temperance League decided to book a big-name speaker to come to town for a series of lectures.”

Heroine “Okay …. But I don’t see … “

Charlie “His name’s John Bailey. He’s a doctor and a big cheese among the drys. I took the lead, wrote to him, made all the arrangements … “

Charlie “… and now, I’m laid up, so I can’t be a proper host. I need you to greet him as my proxy … make sure he’s set up nice.”

(I can’t really say no after he’s given me the responsibility of running the Ice Box … )

Heroine “Um …. Well … if you say so, Uncle Charlie … “

Charlie “I know it ain’t as exciting as running a speakeasy … “

(THAT’S the truth! Babysitting an anti-booze stiff like this Doc Bailey … what a snoozer!)

Charlie “… but it’ll help me keep up appearances an’ establish you with that group, too … which might help you meet a nice, upstanding fella … “

He was grinning when he said it, so I knew he was pulling my leg, but I had to give him the reaction he was expecting.

Heroine “Uncle Charlie! You oughta know I’m NOT going to fall for any Holy Joe!”

Charlie “Sure, I know. Especially now that you’ve got your sights set on our Doc Dresner.”

That one caught me off guard for real. I gasped and turned red with … well, I think it was indignation.

Heroine “What?! No. I can’t even believe you … if you weren’t sick in bed, I’d … I’d … well, I don’t know what I’d do, but you wouldn’t like it!”

Charlie “What’sit the Bard said? “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”?”

Heroine “I’m going now.”

Charlie “Take some’a these damn flowers with you. Have Missus Fitzhugh stick’em in the foyer or something.”

Location: Hospital lobby (Interior) (Day)

Neil’s eyebrows rose at the sight of the flowers.

Neil “You shouldn’t have.”

Heroine “Yeah. They’re not for you.”

Neil “No, I mean you really shouldn’t have. Those roses’ll stink up my car for days.”

Heroine “Tough. I’m taking ‘em to Uncle Charlie’s maid.”

With a resigned shrug, he stubbed out his smoke.

Location: Neil’s car (Interior) (Day)

As we drove away from the hospital, I remembered what I was going to have to do tomorrow and sighed.

Neil “What’s with you? Your latest issue of Photoplay get lost in the mail?”

Heroine “Uncle Charlie wants me to do something with the Temperance League, which means I have to haul out those gosh-awful clothes Momma sent with me … “

Heroine “… an’ dress up like a paper doll to impress all the upper-crust blue noses!”

Neil “Say, you’re not going to dress in sable and pearls and be rude to the help, are you?”

Heroine “I don’t OWN any pearls or sable. I’m more afraid of somebody seeing through my phony Carrie Nation routine.”

Neil “Nobody’ll mistake you for some hatchet-carrying temperance crusader, kid. You positively GLOW with middle-class respectability …”

Neil “… which means they know you’re not one of them, but you’ll never know it when they look down their blue noses at you.”

Neil “It’s how high society treats people like you and Charlie.”

(There’s real bitterness in his tone.)

Heroine “What the heck do YOU know about high society?”

Neil “I grew up in it.”

Heroine “Are you serious?! With the masterful command of social protocol you demonstrate to me all the time, you’re telling me … “

Neil “You know that accent of mine you commented on? That should’ve been your first hint.”

Heroine “Okay … upper class Boston Brahmin … how was I to know that was legitimate? Everybody acts like something they’re not these days … “

Neil “Like your Uncle?”

Heroine “I wasn’t going to say it, but … “

Neil “Leave Charlie out of it.”

Heroine “Hey, YOU brought him up!”

Neil “He’s being phony to a bunch of phonies. He’s giving ‘em back just what they put out … no more than they deserve … “

Neil “… and he does more good in this town than most of those Temperance types do with all their charities and benefits.”

Heroine “All right … Uncle Charlie’s a good guy. I’m starting to get that. So … is the way you treat me just you being a patrician snot, or do you not like women?”

Neil “I like WOMEN just fine.”

Heroine “Implying … what? That I’m not a woman?! Better review your anatomy, doc!”

Neil “It’s not your physiology I’m questioning, it’s your chronology.”

Heroine “I retired my last pinafore a YEARS ago and haven’t played with dolls since I was TEN, pal, so you can stop thinking of me as some little girl!”

We pulled up to the appliance store.

Neil “You traded in your pinafore for a flapper dress and your dolly for a hip flask, but you’re not grown up, whatever you may think … “

Neil “… so, I’ll stop thinking of you as a girl when you stop ACTING like one.”

Heroine “Y’know, you’re really slaying me with this line you’re peddling … now that I get where you’re from, it’s pretty obvious … it’s not about my age … “

I climbed out of the car.

Heroine “You’re just a snob, that’s all … little middle-class [USER_FIRST_NAME] isn’t ever going to measure up to the standards of the Dresners of BAHS-ton.”

Slamming the car door, I walked into the store, straight to the back stairs, and took the inside entrance into the Ice Box.

(Somehow, that wasn’t nearly as satisfying as I thought it would be. Maybe because I don’t really think he’s a snob … and he knows I don’t.)

And that thought made me wonder what WOULD satisfy me in reference to Neil …

Location: Ice Box – bar (Interior) (Night)

Another night in the speakeasy … another night with Neil, perched on his seat at the end of the bar while the party swirled around him …

…while I tried to ignore him and play the hostess.

Chatting with Cleo between sets, I smelled a familiar cologne …

Heroine “ … so he says to me “I just traded in my little girl stuff for flapper stuff, but I’m still a kid to him” and I said … “

… followed by a by-now-familiar voice behind me.

Vince “Hey, doll … what’s the news?”

(I know how I’ll show Neil I’m not some little girl!)

Heroine “Excuse me, Cleo, but can you tell Julius the break’s over? I’m going to drag this big hunk of man out on the dance floor and have my way with him.”

As the band kicked into “Loveable and Sweet,” I took Vince’s hand and guided him onto the floor. We started with a foxtrot.

A) Ask him why he’s here tonight.

B) Ask him for another good story.

C) Talk to him about the bad booze.

Selection A

Heroine “What brings you in here tonight?”

Vince “Hopin’ to get another dance with you.”

Heroine “This is your lucky day, then.”

Vince “Seems like. Figured if I kept circlin’ the airfield, I might get to come in for a landing sometime.”

Heroine “You a flier, are you? You know what they say about moths to a flame.”

Vince “The question is, which one of us is the moth and which is the flame?”

I cut into a tight shimmy that sent the beads of my dress … and everything underneath … swinging. Vince’s eyes widened in appreciation.

Heroine “That answer your question?”

Vince “For now. I might need to do some more interrogatin’ later … but I was dry when I walked in the door, so … “

Selection B

Heroine “Got any more good stories?”

Vince “What … like the Valentino one?”

Heroine “Sure. Something like that.”

Vince “Well … I’d have to think on that. What about you?”

Heroine “All my good stories are about fooling my folks so I could have some fun.”

(Kid’s stuff … maybe Neil IS right about me.)

Neil “Hey, I’m enjoyin’ the dance, but I walked in here thirsty … “

Selection C

Heroine “Hey, I wanted to talk to you about something Julius said earlier. Seems like there’s some bad booze going around.”

Vince “I heard something about that. None of it’s mine.”

Heroine “Didn’t think it was. I just thought you might be able to look into it.”

Vince “Well, it’s not hurtin’ your business, so what do you care?”

Heroine “Bad booze is bad for everybody. It hasn’t affected business here yet … but if it keeps up … “

Vince “Yeah, okay. You’ve got a point. Speakin’ of drinks … I was dry as a Baptist preacher when I came in … “

Heroine “Let me buy you a drink, then.”

Stopping at the bar not far from Neil, we ordered a pair of whiskies.

Vince “Hey, I just thought of a good story for you. When I was a kid, this alderman paid me to hustle bums to vote for Wilson. Said I could offer ‘em four bits a vote … “

Vince “I found one fella that cleaned up nice and took him around, precinct to precinct. I’d vouch for him, he’d vote, get paid on the way out, an’ split it with me.”

Cliff came by and freshened our drinks. Neil’s too.

Vince “As we went, we hooked in few more guys. Before that day was over, I made twenty bucks and the bums got enough for a hot meal and a pint of hooch each.”

I laughed.

Heroine “That’s rich. History will never know the real reason Wilson carried Cook County.”

Vince looked a little puzzled.

Vince “Well … there was a lot of other folks voting that day … “

Heroine “Vince, I didn’t mean … oh, never mind … “

(Not the sharpest tack in the box, our Vince.)

I was looking around the room, making sure everyone was having a good time, when I noticed a fella at a nearby table looking a little green about the gills.

Excusing myself, I walked over.

Heroine “Are you all right, sir?”

His lady-friend answered for him.

Lady “He was fine, but he just took a few sips of this new drink and started looking a little peaky.”

Heroine “What’s he drinking?”

Lady “He just switched to bourbon.”

I took the suspect drink and marched to the bar, corralling Mitch, the waiter, on the way.

Heroine “Cliff … Mitch, you notice any other customers looking sick?”

We all scanned the place. Vince caught on and looked as well.

Vince “There’s a gal over there with her head on the table … “

Cliff “… and that fella in the corner … “

In seconds, we spotted about half-a-dozen. All bourbon drinkers.

Heroine “Get out there and get that bourbon out of everyone’s hands … !“

A sudden thought flashed in my head.

I whirled around Vince and grabbed Neil’s drink out of his hand, tossing it to the floor.

Neil “Hey! What the … !”