Speakeasy Tonight – Neil Dresner Main Story Episode 5

Location: The Ice Box – bar (Interior) (Day)

 It was my second day of rehearsal with Elliot. Cliff and Neil made up the rest of my audience.

Heroine “ … and though there are those who still question the right of women to speak in public on matters of political concern … “

Heroine “… WE in this room know that civil society is formed in the kitchens and living rooms and dining rooms across the land … the places where women rule … “

Heroine “ … at least as much as in the corridors of power in Springfield or Washington D.C.”

Elliot “That’s good … I like what you’re doing in that passage. Your sincerity with the high-minded stuff is great … “

Elliot “… but I still think you need a joke here, to break this up … “

Elliot “Especially with a young audience. You don’t want them feeling like they’re back in school.”

[Please select one]

A) “I feel like such a hypocrite!”

B) “Do you know any good ones?”

C) “I feel like I’M the one back in school.”

Selection A

Heroine “Isn’t it enough of a joke that I’m giving this speech in the first          place?! I feel like such a hypocrite!”

Elliot “Welcome to adulthood.”

Neil barked a laugh from his stool at the end of the bar.

Neil “Yes. This is about the point in life where anyone with brains starts         thinking about the compromises they’ll have to make just to get by.“

Heroine “I’m ignoring your cynicism and telling myself it’s for a good cause.   And NOT Prohibition!”

Cliff “It does help Charlie keep up his front … “

Neil “She’s not doing it for that. She likes all those clear-eyed, chisel-chin                    Christian temperance boys with their big, hymn-singing voices … “

Neil suddenly burst into song himself.

Neil “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war … “

(He’s actually pretty good.)

Neil “… chasing skirts aplenty, kissing girls galore!”

Heroine “That’s not the way we sang it in my church!”

Neil “That’s not the way we sang it in France, either. The real verse would     scorch a Sunday school girl down to her crinolines. I cleaned it up for you … “

Heroine “If I was worried about my delicate sensibilities, I wouldn’t be here with you fellas.”

Elliot “Can we get back to the speech, please? I have an appointment shortly.”

Selection B

Heroine “Do you know any good ones?”

Elliot “Hmmm … how about something like, “To succeed in politics you often have to rise above your principles”?”

Cliff “What’s the difference between the Government and Capone’s gang?”

Heroine “I don’t know.”

Cliff “One of them is organized.”

Neil “Try this: This alderman’s running for  mayor. The reporter asks him, what’s your position on whisky …. ?”

Neil “”That depends,” says the alderman. “If you mean the mind-numbing,    soul-destroying inflamer of sin and destroyer of family life, I’m against it” … “

Neil “But if you mean the shield against winter chill, the taxable potion that   puts needed funds into public coffers to comfort the poor, then    I’m for it!”

Neil “That’s my position and I will not compromise!”

We laughed, though I was more laughing at the idea that Neil told a joke than           at the joke itself … still …

Heroine “That actually could work at that point in the speech … “

Elliot “Good, then, let’s get back to it. I have to leave shortly.”

Selection C

Heroine “I feel like I’M the one back in school, writing and rehearsing this      speech all day!”

Elliot “It’ll be worth it. You’re going to have them eating out of the palm of your hand.”

Neil “Just make sure they don’t take the hand with it. Sitting still for a lot of   speechifying can make people hungry.”

Heroine “Thanks, Neil. You’re such a help.”

He raised his glass to me.

Neil “I live to serve.”

Heroine “You mean you live to drink bourbon and needle me.”

Neil “From each according to his ability to each according to her need … to be           put in her proper place.”

Elliot “That … sounds kind of familiar … ?”

Heroine “He’s paraphrasing Karl Marx. I guess we’re hearing the Dresner     Manifesto.”

Elliot “Can we get back to the speech? I’ve got to go in a bit.”

Heroine “Sure. Look, I’m even more worried about selling the tear-jerker bit … the stuff about Charlie … I mean, I like Charlie and I’m upset he got shot … “

Heroine “… but to make this work, I’ve got to play it like we’ve been close all my life and … well, not to be insensitive, but that’s just not true … “

Neil “Hard-hearted Hannah, the vamp of Savannah Gee-Aaa.”

(More singing? What is going on with Neil today? It’s like he can’t get enough attention!)

We ignored him.

Elliot “Look, [USER_FIRST_NAME], it’s like I was telling you … you have to invest in the moment however you can when you’re acting … “

Elliot “… some people try to remember a moment from their life when they felt the way their character is supposed to feel … “

Elliot “… other people just trust in their instinct to find the right emotion when they need it. Personally, I’ve never found either technique reliable.”

Elliot “You can’t call up real emotion like you call up the deli for a ham and cheese… “

Elliot “… and if I think about how sad I was when Aunt Millie died, how does that help me play a lover who’s just lost his sweetheart?“

The sneer Neil wore proved he was listening.

I could just barely make out what Neil was muttering to himself.

Neil “Nothing real EVER happens to the Prince of Make-believe … “

Heroine “So … what should I do, then?”

Elliot “You’re playing a character, remember. The [USER_FIRST_NAME] who’s giving the speech isn’t you … “

Elliot “… it’s a CHARACTER named [USER_FIRST_NAME] who HAS suffered the near loss of a beloved uncle to criminal violence … “

Heroine “… brought on by his commitment to temperance … a commitment I … SHE shares, and is now the most important thing in her life!“

Elliot “Spot on! If you can identify with that character’s story, figure out what she wants most of all, deep in her heart of hearts … “

Elliot “Then think what she’d do and say to go about getting it, you’ll have it.”

Heroine “Okay. I think I can work with that … let me spend some more time with it.”

Elliot “Great. Back tomorrow, same time?”

Heroine “On the nose. I’ll be ready.”

As Elliot left, Neil turned back to the bar.

Neil “Private acting lessons with Elliot Graham. You’d be the envy of every starlet in Hollywood … if they knew you existed.”

Heroine “Why do you have to be such a … a … curmudgeon all the time?”

Neil “Is that what I am?”

I was about to give him what for when Cliff cleared his throat.

Cliff “We really need to talk business, [USER_FIRST_NAME]. It’s been slow every night since the poison business.”

Cliff “I hear it’s the same over at the Broiler … and every other place in town that Julius, Vince, and I have heard about.”

Neil “It won’t last. People want their fun.”

Heroine “You’re probably right, but I want ‘em back quicker.”

Cliff “Some kind of door prize, maybe?”

Neil “How ‘bout you promise them your liquor won’t make them sick?”

Heroine “Obviously, that’s the first priority. What’s up with your chemist?”

Neil “He’s working on it. He says a few more days.”

Heroine “Any word from Vince?”

Cliff “Nothing yet. He’s due back in a few days.”

It was time to open the doors, so we left it at that.

Location: Temperance hall – community room (Interior) (Day)

When the day of the speech finally arrived, I was ready.

Louis and Mrs. Peters, with the help of a few other Temperance Leaguers, had assembled a decent crowd for me. Less than a hundred …

… which is about ninety more people than I’d ever stood up in front of before.

They laughed at the jokes, got riled up at the inspirational stuff.

A lot of them even got teary-eyed as I talked about poor old Uncle Charlie, languishing on the verge of death after being shot by an unknown villain.

(Thank you, Elliot!)

Afterwards, Mrs. Peters zeroed in on me and started introducing me around. After a while, Louis found me.

He held out a piece of Mrs. Peters’ amazing cake and a glass of lemonade.

Heroine “You are very kind!”

Louis “I thought I’d let you bask in your adoring public for a bit before buttonholing you myself. You were quite … magnificent.”

Some people say things like that and you know they’re just saying what they’re just buttering you up …

… but Louis absolutely radiated sincerity.

Heroine “Well, thank you very much.”

Louis “Mrs. Peters tells me we’ve recruited two dozen new members from the audience today … “

Louis “… a number of young ladies … and even a few gentlemen … determined to push back against the purveyors of intoxicating spirits!”

(He’s trying so hard! And he seems like a nice fella … )

Heroine “Louis … we’re done with the speeches today. You can just talk to me like a regular person.”

His cheeks colored slightly.

Louis “You’ll forgive me, I hope. It’s just that … well, aside from being sincere in my beliefs, I’ve … not spent much time around people my own age.”

Heroine “Surrounded by Dr. Bailey and his friends in the Movement, I suppose?”

Louis “Yes, just that. Add in my own … social deficiencies … and you have quite an awkward fellow standing before you.”

Heroine “Some girls might find you endearing rather than awkward.”

He colored even more deeply.

(Oh … did I just give him the wrong idea?)

Louis “I hope you do me the honor of being one of those girls?”

(Yep. I think I just gave him the wrong idea. What can I do to get him off it?)

Heroine “Ah … hey, have you heard anything about people getting sick at some of the speakeasies in town?”

Louis’s color went from mildly pink to milk white.

(Oh, dear! I just gave the fella emotional whiplash! And why did I bring that subject up anyway?!)

Louis “I … ah … what an odd coincidence you should ask. Dr. Bailey and I were speaking of it just this morning.”

Heroine “That is an odd coincidence … although I suppose the Movement tries to gather good information about what goes on in the liquor trade.”

Louis “We do, although our sources are few and far between. How on earth did YOU hear of this development?”

(Going to have to do a tap dance on this one … )

Heroine “A policeman friend of my uncle’s. He mentioned several incidents … “

Louis nodded.

Louis “Yes. That’s about all we’ve heard too.”

We moved on from there, touching on a few other topics of casual interest, including the upcoming mayoral race.

Heroine “Not much competition for Mayor Rodgers, from what I understand.”

Louis “With all the contributions from bootleggers and other riff-raff, he could well buy all the votes he needs … though … “

Louis “ … if the GOOD people of Chicago come together and expose corruption, it seems to me the current mayor stands little chance of prevailing in the contest.“

(Contest … votes … competition. I just had a BRILLIANT idea!)

Heroine “Louis, I’m sorry. I just remembered a very important engagement. I must run.”

He was befuddled, but understanding. In minutes, he had me bundled into a cab on the way back to the appliance store …

… or so Louis thought. Actually, I went straight through the store with barely a wave to the clerk and directly down the back stairs to the Ice Box.

Heroine “Cliff! I’ve got it! I know how to get people back in the doors. We’re going to have a DANCE contest!”

Location: Ice Box – bandstand (Interior) (Day)

Louis and Mrs. Peters scheduled more speeches for me.

(To be honest, I’d almost do it for the promise of more of her cake!)

By the following week, I’d done four, all in different parts of town, and they wanted me to start traveling out of town soon.

Meanwhile, planning for the dance contest took up every hour I wasn’t speaking, preparing to speak, or running the Box.

I must’ve been showing the wear and tear since, one afternoon, after I got back from delivering my latest Ode to the Evils of Demon Whisky, Cleo called me over.

Cleo “Kiddo, you’re running yourself ragged what with your regular illegal activities, the dance contest, and being the new poster child for the Drys … “

Cleo “What say you and me hit the stores. Menken’s is having a sale.”

Looking around the speak, I realized I could use a break. We made the date.

Location: Menken’s Department Store (Interior) (Day)

It was a good day for shopping.

(All right, let’s be honest … ANY day is a good day for shopping if you have the money …)

Cleo “I need some new dresses. I’m tired of everything I’m wearing and I want to change between sets for the contest tonight.”

Heroine “Did I tell you Vince agreed to be my partner? He and Elliot made a bet. Vince and me against Elliot and some girl named June … “

Heroine “The winner’s based on variety, style, and endurance.”

Cleo “I’ve been hearin’ a lot of folks are coming. They want to see the Ice Box Flapper in action … “

Heroine “Is THAT what they’re calling me?”

Cleo “Like you didn’t know, Little Miss Sunshine!”

She was right. I did know and found it kind of flattering. Looking for a diversion, I pointed to a fresh little dress with narrow shoulder straps and slits up the thighs.

Heroine “What do you think about that one?”

Cleo “Honey, I’m up there singing, not on the floor dancing! I’m thinking more evening-wear with a little flare, less flapper-wear to attract a stare … “

Heroine “Hahahaha! I see what you did there! That was … “

I glanced beyond Cleo and saw it then.

Heroine “Oh … Cleo … look!”

The mannequin wore satin pajamas with plunging neckline only moderately tamed by some strategically placed lace …

… beautiful applique work on the cuffs of the top and the pants that included dozens of tiny pearl beads …

… a belted waist and a matching lounge jacket …

I resisted their siren call, going back to helping Cleo shop … but I couldn’t get those PJs out of my mind.

Once we’d found three different dresses for Cleo, I circled back to the mannequin wearing the pajamas and made up my mind.

Heroine “I’m getting them.”

Cleo arched an eyebrow.

Cleo “Who’re you going to be showing those off to?”

A) “Me and my shadow.”

B) “Maybe this is Vince’s lucky night.”

C) “Whatever do you mean?”

Selection A

Heroine “Me and my shadow.”

Cleo “Julius? He’s a sweet, wonderful man … but even you aren’t that crazy!”

Heroine “If I was, you’d never know.”

Cleo “You’re getting all coy with ME? My money’s on Vince.”

Heroine “No! He’s fun to flirt with, but there’s no needle in that haystack.       Really, there’s nobody special.”

Cleo “Not even that boy you’ve been seeing at all the meetings? Louis?”

She said it with a smirk, making it clear she wasn’t serious.

I gave her a raspberry right back.

Cleo “Donovan’s not your type … and Cliff … sweet, but … I can’t see it.”

Selection B

Heroine “Maybe this is Vince’s lucky night.”

She arched her eyebrows at me for a second, then laughed.

Cleo “Had me going for a second, but Vince … no. He’s pretty, but not sharp   enough to jiggle your lock … so I’m guessing … Donovan? Or Cliff?”

Heroine “No, no and holy-God-no on the first, sweet but not my type on the   second.”

Selection C

Heroine “Whatever do you mean?”

I may have batted my eyelashes at her. If I did, it didn’t work.

Cleo “Don’t you come off all sweet and innocent with me, honey. I’ve seen you          work. It can’t be Julius because you’re not crazy … “

(Does she mean because he’s black? If I was interested, I don’t think I’d let   that stop me … although Charlie’d go through the roof.)

Cleo “So … Vince.”

Heroine “Oh, Cleo! Vince is great … if you want a dance partner or someone to          make another guy jealous … “

Heroine “… but he’s never cracked a book that didn’t have pictures in it! No.             I’m really not in the market for a man right now.”

Cleo “If I had you on one of those new-fangled lie detectors, you’d light it up            like Charlie Ponzi!”

Cleo “Donovan?”

My expression must’ve convinced her THAT wasn’t it.

Cleo “Cliff? Elliot?”

Heroine “I like Cliff. He’s such a good guy, I almost wish … but … no sparks.”

Cleo “Elliot!”

Heroine “Cleo, dear, I don’t share my hairbrush with my sister, why would I share my man with every girl on the make that strikes his fancy?“

Cleo “I guess you’ve got him pegged.”

Heroine “You bet. Besides, buying nice clothes doesn’t have to be about a man. Can’t I treat myself to a little luxury?”

Cleo “You can … but a good looking young woman like yourself isn’t a parakeet who’s going to be fooled she’s got company when she sees herself in the mirror. “

A light bulb went on behind her eyes.

Cleo “Neil! Miss [USER_FIRST_NAME] [USER_LAST_NAME]’s come down with a case for the good doctor!”

Heroine “WHAT?! No!”

Cleo “Come on! Don’t you want him using his stethoscope on you?”

Heroine “Doctor High-and-Mighty can keep his stethoscope in his bag! Has he said something to you?”

Cleo “Didn’t have to. Nor did you, now that I think about it. The way you two are sparring all the time … more sparks than an Edison motor!“

Heroine “Oh, come on! Whatever class he puts on with that accent, he ruins by being so rude all the time! He knocks me back faster than a glass of his bourbon.”

Heroine “When I come back at him, I’m just giving as good as I get … “

Cleo “Uh-huh. The way he kept you out of that mess between Vince and O’Fallon the other night … Should’a seen his face when he thought you might get hurt … “

Heroine “No. He’s just looking to stay square with Uncle Charlie. You’ve got it all wrong. Neil’s a swell doctor, but he acts so superior … “

Heroine “… like he’s the King of Merry Old England. And those eyes of his that just drill into you … “

(So you can hardly look away. He’s got nice lips … a little thin, but … NO! What am I doing!?)

Heroine “… and that THING he does with his eyebrows when he wants you to know he thinks you’ve said something stupid! I HATE that!”

Heroine “He’s condescending, arrogant … did I say rude?”

Cleo “Twice now, but who’s counting?”

Heroine “No. He wouldn’t give me the time of day if I bought him the clock.”

Cleo “Which ain’t the same as sayin’ you wouldn’t wind his clock if it came to that.”

I threw up my hands, rolled my eyes, and turned from the counter with my purchases …

… and then I suddenly felt a wave of what my Momma used to call “the spins.”

Next thing I knew, my bags were on the floor, Cleo was holding me up and the clerk was running for smelling salts.

Cleo “Honey, are you okay? You just about went down for the count there!”

I took a few deep breaths and assessed how I was feeling.

Heroine “I think I’m okay now … that was … I don’t know what that was.”

Cleo “That was you on the verge of exhaustion. There’s no way you’re going to be in that dance contest tonight.”

Heroine “Oh, no! This is the thing that’s going to get business rolling again! We’ve been pitching it all around town for days!”

Cleo “I know, but if you aren’t up to it … “

Heroine “It’ll be fine! A couple’a cups of coffee’ll get me through. And I don’t have a thing on the books for tomorrow, so I’m just going to sleep ALL day.”

Cleo looked worried, but I talked her around eventually. We went for some tea, then home to change.

Tonight was going to be a BIG night.