Location: Ice Box storeroom (Interior) (Evening)
The door flew open. The light went on.
By that time, Vince and I had managed to put a little air between us … not much, but a little.
Cliff stood in the door looking like a startled rabbit. He recovered fast.
Cliff “You want I come back later?”
Vince “No need to apologize, Cliff.”
Cliff “Don’t think I did.”
He came back through the shelves, slipping past us to get to the good scotch.
He collected several bottles in silence. Vince fixed his tie. I adjusted my dress.
As Cliff went back out to the bar, he gave us a frown.
Cliff “Friendly tip: inventory usually goes faster if you keep your clothes on.”
He closed the door. Vince and I burst out laughing.
Heroine “I don’t think he approves.”
Vince “He ain’t usually such a stiff. Probably thinking of you as Charlie’s niece … “
Heroine “I AM still Charlie’s niece, you know.”
Vince “Yeah … well … ain’t my fault you make me wanna clean your plate.”
He moved in to pick up where we left off, but I held him back.
Heroine “Why thank you kindly, Mr. Moretti, but I think we’d better get to work. I still have a lot to learn, you know.”
Vince “Nothing I can’t teach you, doll … but okay. Later … more time, fewer distractions … “
He snapped his fedora brim smartly as he pulled on his hat.
Vince “Listen … I got some business tonight, so you stick with Cliff. I’ll be back in plenty of time to get you home.”
Heroine “So mysterious … “
Vince “A fella’s gotta have his secrets. But hey, I had another thought about tomorrow … I’m thinking you need to learn to drive … “
(Oh! How exciting!)
Heroine “Pops said a girl driving was just a faster way for her to get to Hell. Can YOU teach me? In your cute little car?”
Vince “That was the idea. Be easier for you to learn in something smaller than Charlie’s Studebaker.”
We made plans for the next day.
Location: Vince’s car (Day)
The day was perfect … sunny and warm enough so we could keep the top down.
Vince started the car up, then made room for me to slide in behind the wheel.
Heroine “My old boyfriend taught me a little bit in his Model T, but I never got much time to practice …”
Vince “So I’m guessing you know the basics … clutch, brakes, accelerator … the Alfa takes a little getting used to. It ain’t no Model T … “
I only ground the gears a little, spun the wheel, and hit the gas.
We darted out onto the street and slammed to a halt only halfway into the intersection.
Vince had his arm on the dash, a look of panic in his eyes.
Vince “You want to take it easy, there? This ain’t Le Mans.”
Heroine “It’s hard to shift. Steering’s nice and tight, though. Brakes’ll take some getting used to.”
Vince “Like I said: this ain’t a Tin Lizzie. It’s fine Italian workmanship. Lemme show you a trick … put your hand on the stick …”
He slid his hand down my forearm, placing his hand over mine on the knob of the stick.
(I’m starting to see why he suggested this.)
Vince “Now, give’er a little gas and let up on the clutch … easy … now, shift … “
He put gentle pressure on my hand, adding his strength to mine as I moved to second gear. We repeated the action as we went faster.
Vince “Remember, your brakes are just in the rear and you’re pretty small, so you’ll have to stand on ‘em some … “
Vince “Got a stop coming up, so ease off the gas … “
We shifted down together, his palm hot on the back of my hand. I was still having trouble with the brakes.
He moved his hand to my knee, adding force to my pressure on the pedal and sending a tingle straight … well, let’s just say “straight up my spine.”
We sat at the stop, waiting for the cop to give us the signal to go through the intersection. Vince’s hand stayed on my leg, drifting up a bit …
(It’s getting humid in here!)
Vince “Feel the pulse of that engine?”
Heroine “I feel the pulse of SOMETHING.”
Vince “How you likin’ it so far?”
A) “The car, or your wandering hands?”
B) “I’m liking it fine, Mr. Moretti.”
C) “Just afraid I’m going to crash your car.”
Heroine “The car, or your wandering hands?”
Vince “Take your pick.”
Heroine “I can have one without the other?”
Vince “Once you master the car, we can concentrate on the hands.”
I ran my fingers over his hand and up his arm.
Heroine “That might be fun.”
Vince “After last night, I figure there ain’t no “might” about it.”
Heroine “I’m liking it fine, Mr. Moretti. As long as you remember who’s behind the wheel.”
Vince “You keep your eyes on the road an’ it’ll all work out fine.”
Heroine “Not if you keep distracting the driver.”
Vince “You sayin’ I’m a distraction? Ain’t that usually your job, doll?”
Heroine “It’s a new world, Vince. Modern girls like it too.”
Vince “We still talking about driving?”
Heroine “Just afraid I’m going to crash your car.”
Vince “Nah. You’re pretty good already.”
Heroine “Probably best you don’t help TOO much, anyway. Might get all flustered.”
Vince “Wouldn’t want that. At least, not while we’re on the road.”
Heroine “You think you can fluster me anytime you want, Moretti?”
Vince “I know I sure enjoy trying.”
He directed me out to a less-traveled stretch of road. Out there, we spent the afternoon with him teaching me some more advanced tricks …
… how to control a fast turn, braking into and out of skids …
Vince “This is all useful stuff if you got to get away from someplace fast, or lose a tail.”
It was all a load of fun … but it got me thinking about the dangerous kind of world I was living in now.
(I’m a lot farther from home than the distance from Columbus to Chicago, that’s for sure.)
Location: Streets of Chicago (Exterior) (Day)
A few days went by. Vince got wrapped up with the lawyers, buying the piers we’d seen …
… I spent a lot of time setting up a new accounting system, getting to know the staff and the businesses, upstairs and down.
Cleo and I really hit it off. She was always dressed to the nines, so I jumped at the chance to go shopping with her …
Cleo “You got the kind of figure that’s in style these days, so you can go a little more daring …”
Heroine “More daring than this?“
(I just bought this! The hemline is above my knees!)
Cleo “Look, you don’t know it, but people are talking about you. Word about the flapper from Ohio who’s running Charlie’s speak is all over town … “
Cleo “You notice change in the clientele this last few days?“
Heroine “We’re getting a lot more what we used to call “high hats” back home. Women in Paris originals, guys in tuxes … “
Heroine “… and they aren’t even folks Elliot’s brought in. We’ve been going through the champagne like there’s no tomorrow … “
Heroine “… and they’re all wanting me to have a drink with ‘em. “
Cleo “They’re coming in to mix with the hoi polloi and see you in action … which is good for business, up to a point … “
Cleo “But you get too much of that and you lose your regulars. Then, when the high hats move on to the next new thing … “
Heroine “You’ve got nothing.”
Cleo “Smack on the nose, toots. They’ll get tired of the local color an’ expect us to change the joint to accommodate ‘em, to keep comin’ back … “
Heroine “Nix on that. I’m just beginning to get a handle on what Uncle Charlie’s got going … I’m not in the frame to change stuff.”
Cleo “If you handle it right, you can keep the swanks coming AND build the Ice Box into the hottest club in town for the locals, too.”
Cleo “You got the “it” already … that thing that makes people wanna be around you, pick up on the things you like, the clothes you wear … “
Cleo “So, we introduce you to a couple of clothing designers I know locally … they do their own stuff, not knock-offs of the Europeans … “
Heroine “I wear their stuff … the locals know I know how to look good without buying into what the glamour set does.”
Cleo “An’ you’re helping Chicago business. That buys loyalty from the home crowd.”
Heroine “I’m in.”
Cleo “We’ll drop in on Tracey Myer first … she has a little studio just off State and sells to a couple of little boutiques … “
Cleo “Her dresses have flare, but they don’t sacrifice class for the sake of being daring.“
We were just crossing the street when I noticed Donovan walking his beat. He and a guy in an off-the-rack suit stood under the awning of a hardware store …
… having what Pops would’ve called a “little palaver,” by which he meant a serious conversation that one party wants no part of.”
Donovan “You hear even a word on this, you bring it to me first, got it?”
Cheap Suit “Whatever you say.”
Donovan sent Cheap Suit scurrying with a tap of the nightstick.
Heroine “Nice to see you actually doing your job, Officer Donovan.”
Donovan “Are you implying, Miss [USER_FIRST_NAME], that I’m not a good cop?”
Heroine “It’s a public street, so maybe I shouldn’t say what I think out loud.”
Donovan “You cut me to the quick, lassie. ‘Tis me who’ll be bringing in the fella shot your uncle, not Moretti with his arm twisting.”
Cleo “Like YOU’D never resort to twisting an arm?”
Donovan “Never say never, Cleo m’dear, but putting a bit of the ol’ stick about works best if you also are known to offer a sweet now and again … “
Donovan “… and those that know me know I’m generous when I’m pleased with a tidbit o’ information brought my way.”
Donovan “Truth be told, I’m lookin’ forward to the expression on Vince’s ugly mug when I haul the felon in all right and proper.”
Heroine “Well … we’ll leave you to it then, officer.”
Donovan “Enjoy your shoppin’, ladies.”
He tipped his cap at us and strolled down the sidewalk.
Heroine “I thought he was a dirty cop?”
Cleo “He is. But he’s YOUR dirty cop. Or Charlie’s, at least. He knows where the hot soup is … “
Cleo “… and he came from a place where some went so hungry for so long, they stopped eating altogether.”
(Maybe there’s more to Donovan than I thought.)
Location: Ice Box (Interior) (Afternoon)
That afternoon, I snagged a ride in with Cliff.
(Not feeling confident enough to drive Uncle Charlie’s Studebaker to the Ice Box … yet.)
Julius was working out some new arrangements at the piano when we got there. Cleo was having dinner with Frip and Lon. They waved as I came in.
The clink of glassware and bottles provided accompaniment from behind the bar.
(I’m starting to like the rhythms of this place. Feels a darn sight more like home than home ever did.)
Vince was at a table with Elliot, playing cards with a couple of other regulars.
Vince let fly with a loud curse. I cocked an eyebrow at Cliff.
Cliff “Elliot’s taking Vince for whatever he’s got in his pockets … more, if Vince isn’t careful.”
There was something in his tone that told me this wouldn’t be the first time.
Cliff “Most people won’t play with Elliot. He’s that good. Those mooks with ‘em over there don’t know any better … yet … but Vince sure should … “
Cliff “He probably bought Elliot his last car with what he’s lost since Elliot got back to town.”
Vince “Dammit! How’d you beat a full house?!”
Elliot was raking in his winnings.
(That doesn’t look good. For Vince.)
Elliot “You can see the straight flush before your eyes, dear boy.”
Vince “Shove your “dear boy”! Deal ‘em! Give me a chance to get even!”
One of the other players announced he was out. Elliot saw me at the bar and rose.
Elliot “I believe I’ll retire myself … “
Vince “Now waitaminnit … !”
Elliot “I’d be happy to continue to do your laundry later, Vincent … “
Vince “It’s “take you to the cleaners” not “do your laundry”, you Limey bastard … “
Elliot “As you say. Nevertheless, I have a bit of business to attend to … “
Elliot “… and perhaps you should amuse Miss [USER_FIRST_NAME] for a time, while you’re still wearing your shirt.”
Vince called Elliot a filthy name, but got up from the table himself and came toward me.
I hadn’t really seen Elliot since that first night at the Ice Box.
(Still can’t get over the fact that I’m on a first name basis with Elliot Graham!)
Vince was still in a snit when he slid onto a stool next to me and ordered a whiskey from Cliff.
Elliot came over and kissed my hand. He set a stack of bills on the bar.
Elliot “To the every charming lady goes the house’s cut of my winnings. May I say you look exceptionally lovely tonight?”
Heroine “You may always say that.”
Elliot “Clara Bow holds not a candle. I say it from personal acquaintance with both of you.”
A) Make a point of Elliot’s good manners.
B) Ask Elliot about his business tonight.
C) Tell Elliot you liked his last picture.
Heroine “Thank you, Elliot. SOME guys really know how to give a compliment.”
Vince glowered at me.
Vince “OTHER guys are more than walking tintypes.”
Heroine “Even supposing you’re one of those guys, Vince, that isn’t to say Elliot is a phony … or that having manners is a load of hooey.”
Vince’s glower deepened.
Elliot “It’s always difficult to maintain one’s equilibrium when one has just lost a great deal of money.”
Vince “I don’t need you makin’ excuses for me.”
Elliot “Of course not. Well … I’ll be on my way.”
Heroine “What business do you have tonight, Elliot?”
Elliot “A pair of parties to attend, with a dinner before.”
Heroine “How is that business?”
Elliot “Earning my keep here, [USER_FIRST_NAME]. I shall regale them with tales of their new favorite celebrity. You.“
He glanced over at the table where Cleo was sipping her pre-show drink. They raised their glasses to each other.
Elliot “Many of those I meet tonight will be patronizing the Ice Box by week’s end.”
Heroine “That’s swell! But I’m not sure I … “
Elliot “You are the embodiment of grace and charm, my dear … and this new look you’re wearing … perfection. Now, if you’ll forgive me … “
As I watched him walk away, I had to shake myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Heroine “I never got the chance to tell you how much I liked “Girl Trouble” … especially that last scene … the garden maze chase … “
Elliot “An absolute nightmare to shoot! But Nigel … our director … had a very specific idea of what he wanted. I was quite satisfied.”
Heroine “With the way the picture came out?”
Elliot “Among other things.”
Vince “How many of those actresses did you sleep with?”
Elliot “It would hardly be gentlemanly to say.”
Vince “Might queer your rep if you told the truth, eh?”
Elliot “A man whose “rep” depends on exaggerating his sexual prowess … or impugning the prowess of others … is not a reputation worth having … “
Elliot downed the last of his drink and leaned in for a quick kiss on my cheek.
Elliot “A pleasant evening to you all.”
The smell of expensive cologne lingered. Once he was at the door, I let out a sigh. Vince stiffened beside me.
Heroine “It always feels like I just walked into a movie when he’s around.
Vince “He pulls his pants on one leg at a time.”
Heroine “But they’re such NICE pants. And at least he knows how to pay a girl a compliment.”
Neil came in and stalked up to the far end of the bar. Cliff gave him his usual … bourbon, neat. Neil didn’t say word-one to anybody.
(Feels like time to change the subject.)
Heroine “What’s up with the doc, anyway? Every time I try talking to him, I feel like I just went three rounds with Jack Dempsey.”
Vince “Neil’s a tough nut. You’re getting the same treatment he gives everybody.”
Heroine “How’s he such a fixture?”
Vince “He’s lousy company, but he don’t annoy people unless they talk to him. Also, he’s a helluva doc. I don’t like the guy, but he’s patched me up a time or two … “
Vince “An’ he did his bit in France, so that buys him something in my book.”
The evening picked up a little after that, but petered out early. Kind of a let down, after the last week.
Cliff “Thing’s pick up end o’ the week. Payday’s coming. You head out early … catch up on all that beauty rest you don’t seem t’ need … “
Heroine “You’re sweet! I’ll take you up on that. Just leave the tonight’s receipts in the safe upstairs.”
Location: Vince’s car (Night)
Vince drove me straight to the house this time … but then pulled around the corner and off the road, into a clump of trees near a little stream.
Heroine “You think you’re being smooth, Valentino?”
Vince “Naw. I’m just not a guy who likes loose ends.”
Heroine “And you’re betting I’m a gal who feels the same way?”
He slipped closer to me, his arm going around my shoulders.
Vince “Can’t win at poker, so I hoped I’d do better with you. To my way of thinking, we’ve built up a good head of steam … time to let some off.”
Heroine “Play to your strengths, that’s what I say.”
I took his face in my hands and gave him such a kiss!
We only managed a couple of minutes of tongue tango before getting right back to where we’d left off in the storeroom.
Things moved fast from there. He smelled of top shelf whiskey, high-end tobacco and grade-A man …
(He was right about that head of steam!)
… and right there, with the sound of the brook babbling in the background, we pulled and tugged at each other until enough clothes were out of the way …
… then there were lips on my neck, then lower … hands on my thighs, then higher … and then …
(Oh … sweet … holy … smoking … Joe! That’s … oohhhhhh!)
The last words I said that were actual words went something like …
Heroine “Yesss! Righ…ohh..’ere!”
To his credit, when the moment came, Vince groaned out MY name, not somebody else’s.
‘Course, he might’ve just been trying to get me to stop biting his chest …
… which is what I had to do to keep from screaming loud enough to wake the neighbors.
After, his weight on top of me felt good. When we sat up, we didn’t hurry to rearrange ourselves, enjoying the cool breeze of the evening.
Vince “Would it be rude of me to say I’m glad you’ve done that before?”
Heroine “Why would it? Pretty clear you’ve done it before … and who likes to be playing catch-up with something that important?”
Vince “They do say it gets better with practice.”
Heroine “It gets much better than that, I’m going to be in the hospital right next to my uncle.”
Vince “We’ll have to be careful, then, ‘cause I don’t want to be explainin’ THAT to Charlie!”
We both laughed, giddy with the release of a tension we’d both felt since the minute we laid eyes on each other.