Location: Vito Ferlinghetti’s home (Interior) (Day)
Characters: Heroine, Bea, Elliot, Gerald, June
Bea ran late, turning a rush of shopping into a whirlwind of zippers, buttons, straps, and snaps.
(She did help me find the perfect afternoon party frock though, so who am I to carp?)
All the bustle went adios when I got my first gander at Vito’s place.
(Holy Moe! When Elliot said ‘palazzo,’ he wasn’t gassing!)
There was a good jazz combo playing on the far end of the ballroom…
(An actual BALLROOM!)
…and probably a hundred people milling around, sipping champagne, nibbling little canapés hustled by guys in red jackets…
…and Elliot Graham, holding court as usual, right in the middle of a pack of leggy gals decked in their flashiest daywear.
There was even a photographer moving his big three-legged camera affair around, taking pictures of the crowd.
Elliot “Ah, you made it after all!”
A. No chance I’d miss it
B. Just passing by
C. Fashionably late
Heroine “Not a chance I’d miss this!”
Bea “Little Gloria from Peoria here is all agog.”
Heroine “Don’t want to seem like a rube but…yeah. Agog. That’s me!”
Elliot “There’s a high tolerance for adorable rubes in Chi-town.”
Heroine “How reassuring.”
Elliot “We’ll shake the hayseeds out of your hair…”
Heroine “Oh, we were just passing by.”
Bea “We’d of missed the place completely if [USER_FIRST_NAME] hadn’t been screaming ‘There it is! There it is!’ in my driver’s ear.”
Heroine “I was going for sophisticated and casual, but thanks.”
I gave her a playful jostle with my elbow.
Elliot “Well, you’re here, regardless. I’ll give you the nickel tour in a minute and won’t even charge you the nickel, but first…”
Heroine “Bea made sure we were fashionably late.”
Bea “It’s not my fault I could hardly get out of bed this morning. You were pouring the drinks last night!”
Heroine “I’d’ve been lost in Menken’s without her playing Stanley to my Livingstone.”
Bea “It was like she’d never seen a department store before.”
Heroine “May as well. In Columbus, you got a choice between F.W. Woolworth’s and the Sears catalog.”
Elliot “You’re here now. The question is, what do you do first…”
Elliot” …have a drink or dance with me?”
Bea “Drinkie-pooh for me, puh-wease!”
Heroine “Yeah. A wet whistle sounds like a good idea.”
Elliot snagged a pair of champagne flutes from a passing tray.
Heroine “I’ve been too busy learning how to sling drinks to actually have any.”
Elliot “Vito’s old money, so his cellar predates Prohibition. This is real French champagne, for example.”
Heroine “Where is your Mr. Ferlinghetti?”
Elliot “Taking a rest cure in Florida. Exhaustion is the official word. Unofficially, there may be some…outside pressure involved from an extra-legal source…”
Elliot “…but he took his wife and daughter along and gave me free run of the place. I stay here frequently when I’m in town.”
Bea “So, who’s our host?”
Elliot “June [LAST NAME]? She’s…ah…how to put this delicately…? She’s Vito’s…special friend.”
I must’ve looked as clueless as I felt.
Bea “His dish-on-the-side. You savvy?”
Bea “See, you don’t have to be so delicate, Elliot…oooh! I just made a rhyme! Delicate Elliot.”
Bea “We’re not gonna knock the Midwestern moon-eye outta this calf by bein’ delicate an’ proper all th’ time.”
Heroine “Okay, enough with the hick-from-the sticks knocks already! I’m here now, on my way to being a city girl an’ not lookin’ back!”
Bea “Sorry, sweetie. Just havin’ some fun. I’ll mind my Ps an’ Qs.”
I finished my bubbly and offered my hand to Elliot.
Heroine “All right then, watch out fun! Here we come!”
The combo was playing an upbeat version of “I’m Nobody’s Baby.”
Bea grabbed a fella who was looked like he was rarin’ to go. Elliot and I were right behind them.
Elliot “You cut a mean rug!”
Heroine “Thanks! Half what I know I learned from watchin’ your movies!”
Elliot “How flattering.”
Heroine “My girlfriends and I practiced the dances to records on the old Victrola.”
Then there wasn’t enough breath for talking AND dancing, so we just danced.
After a couple of numbers, the band slowed it down. Elliot took me in his arms…
(Can’t say this ain’t the bees knees!)
Heroine “Me, dancing with Elliot Graham. Wish Nancy Upshaw was here. She’d be so green she’d need pruning.”
Elliot “One of the Girls of the Victrola from back home?”
Heroine “Started out that way.”
Elliot “I sense a tale to be told?”
Heroine “Ahhh, not much of one. Typical small town Shakespeare.”
Heroine “After sixth grade, Nancy suddenly realizes she’s the richest girl in town and turns into the hoity-est of the toity…kind split our gang down the middle.”
Elliot “Ah, the travails of adolescence.”
Heroine “’Salright. I got to keep the friends I liked best anyhow.”
Heroine “The Upshaw pack figured they were hot as pistols and twice as loaded. Comin’ out parties. Debutante balls. You never saw a bigger set of stuffed shirts.”
Heroine “We gave ‘em the jazz. Called ‘em the Hottentots Who Ain’t So Hot, which… well…guess you probably had to be there.”
Elliot “Hahaha! After living well, name-calling is the best revenge…and you got both kinds, it seems.”
The music changed, but stayed slow. A hand tapped Elliot on the shoulder and the next thing I knew…
…Gerald O’Fallon was asking if he could cut in.
Elliot “If Miss [USER_LAST_NAME] has no objection…?”
I was surprised to realize I didn’t.
(Trading in Elliot Graham for a guy I just met…and a confirmed criminal-type to boot! What would Mama say?)
Gerald “You look like you were born to wear that dress.”
(Ahhhhh, even Mama would have to give this business the thumb’s up.)
Heroine “Word is, what I was wearin’ then cost a lot less an’ didn’t cover as much.”
Gerald laughed out loud.
Heroine “What brings you to this soiree?”
Gerald “Vito and his family are friends. June too, for that matter.”
(Guess he’s got more cause to be here than I do.)
He pulled me closer to him as the music swept over us.
(Looks good, feels good, smells good…this Gerry O’Fallon fella’s got a way about him that’s apt to cloud a girl’s judgment!)
Gerald “This makes our third encounter in as many days, and their being your first three days in town I have to ask, what say you to my theory of destiny now?”
Please select one
A. No way!
B. Looks that way.
C. Have my own theory.
Heroine “Bushwa, hogwash, and hokum is what I say.”
Gerald “Your skepticism towards the mysterious workings of the universe worries me. Have you no natural bent toward the Romantic?”
Heroine “I can be as romantical as the next gal when I’m in the mood…”
Heroine “But you’re layin’ it on with a trowel, which sparks my caution meter.”
Gerald “Never in life! It’s only that when I first saw you—“
Heroine “Mr. O’Fallon, you have a line of patter that could sell ‘wet’ to the Great Lakes, but bein’ new to the big city doesn’t make me a Dumb Dora…”
Gerald “I’d never say any such thing.”
Heroine “What you SAY isn’t the problem. What your hands are doin’ right now is about to be.”
Without surrendering an inch of his intention, his palm shifted back up to a position in the small of my back.
Heroine “Looks like there may be something to it, Gerry.”
Gerald “So glad to hear you say it. It’s your Grainne to my Diarmuid I’m thinking you are.”
(That sure sounds pretty…whatever it means…)
Gerald “Although, in that story, Grainne does most of the work on destiny’s behalf, so perhaps…”
Heroine “Yeah…sounds like you might be moseyin’ down the wrong trail of destiny there, Gerry.”
Gerald “I’ll tell you the story some time. It may change your mind.”
Heroine “I have my own theory.”
Gerald “I would be anxious to hear it.”
Heroine “Not sure you would. It involves you bein’ unable to keep my ravishing beauty out of your every thought…”
Heroine “…and findin’ yourself drawn to pursue me like a moth to a flame.”
Gerald “If you’re right, I hope my fate is an improvement over that of the moth.”
Heroine “Like the old English guy said, that is the question.”
The band took a break.
(Too bad. I was enjoying the back-and-forth with him.)
But Gerald kept his hand at my waist as we wandered of the dance floor then, snagged us each a fresh glass of champagne.
(Guess we’re not done yet after all…what is it about this guy?)
Heroine “Girl could get used to champagne in the afternoon.”
Gerald “Guy could get used to drinking champagne with a girl in the afternoon.”
Heroine “THIS girl?”
I put my hand to my throat and batted my eyelashes at him.
I noticed Bea noticing from across the room. She threw me the high sign.
Gerald “I understand you don’t need a man to get booze for you these days. You run the Ice Box now?”
Heroine “Word sure travels on greased rails for such a big town.”
Gerald “Big town, sure, but our…professional community…isn’t so large. And so much depends on keeping track of the competition.”
Heroine “That why you offered to help us out while Charlie was up on blocks?”
Gerald “No reason competitors can’t be neighborly.”
(Maybe I can find out a little something useful myself.)
Heroine “Things do seem to get a little…cutthroat. I heard the patch of bad you’re your boss was havin’ turned into a worse one.”
Gerald “A bad patch of the worst kind. A terrible loss.”
(Hmmm. Some crocodile tears there.)
Heroine “You don’t seem all that broken up.”
He looked surprised at my frankness.
Gerald “Leslie O’Sullivan was brilliant, in his way. Certainly in his own mind. But his temperament…not of the best.”
Heroine “He was shot?”
Gerald “Indeed he was. Answering the door to his own home. That was the same night your uncle came down with…pneumonia, was it?”
The question surprised me…
(Does he suspect a connection? Or is it something more than that?)
…I did a pretty good job of keeping a straight face, if I say it myself.
Heroine “Yeah. He’d been poorly for a few days. Neil finally convinced him to go to the hospital.”
(I can almost see the wheels turning. Does he believe me?)
Gerald “And you’re running the Box while he’s recovering. How are you liking the work?”
(I’m gonna chalk his change of subject in the win column. Let me try putting a little spin on the ball myself…)
Heroine “Can I be honest?”
Heroine “I’m pretty savvy with business stuff. Some secretarial and business school. Worked for my Papa summers and afternoons after school…”
Heroine “…but there’s a lot I don’t know about…our line of work. And the uphill climb’s pretty steep…”
Heroine “…but I don’t wanna give any of Charlie’s fellas the idea I can’t handle it…”
Gerald “Not the kind of business where you can make the climb in low gear. Or with backseat drivers.”
Heroine “Nope. That message is coming through loud and clear. Last night, I was tryin’ to hostess and learn the bar and manage the staff…”
Gerald “Who are all testing out the new boss.”
Heroine “That’s it! An’ the customers, too. Lotta grab-hands and ‘Your uncle always gave me a free drink on the days with Ys in ‘em.’”
He shook his head, but he was wearing a smile.
(Not mocking me, exactly…and not exactly commiserating either.)
Gerald “Tsk tsk. The depths of human perversity. You’d think they’d have some respect for the illegality of what you were doing. Very sad.”
Heroine “For them, yeah. Had Andrew chuck more’n a few out of the place last night, just to set an example…”
Heroine “I haven’t done more than glance at the bookkeeping yet, but I can already tell it isn’t Charlie’s strong suit…and then there’s the upstairs…”
Gerald “You want to hand it all back to Charlie better than it was when he left it.”
Heroine “That’s right on the nose.”
Gerald “I admire good business sense. You seem to have it, you just lack some of the…peculiar expertise required for this unique enterprise.”
I was nodding my head in agreement, thinking now about all the things I needed to be doing besides drinking champagne in the middle of the day.
That’s why what he said next surprised me so much.
Gerald “Let me help.”
Heroine “Let you…?”
He just held my eyes, smart enough to take the fact that I didn’t dismiss him out of hand as interest in his proposition.
Heroine “Two questions percolate to the top of my mind. Number one, why would you want to do that…neighborliness aside…”
Gerald “And number two, why would you trust me to do it?”
Heroine “Smart as he is pretty. A rare combo in men these days.”
Gerald “To the first question: friendly competition is healthy for all concerned. The Box is about as friendly as competition in this game gets…”
Heroine “You’re not exactly Mr. Popularity with Charlie’s boys.”
Gerald “Your boys, now. And no, I’m not. But despite my…checkered history with Donovan, he stays on his side of the street as long as he gets paid…”
Gerald “I use Julius at the Broiler whenever I can, Neil…seems like a neutral territory in the conflict. Switzerland, if you will.”
Gerald “He can’t be quite the loveable dunce he seems, but he’s given me no cause to be wary of him.”
Heroine “But you and Vince…some kind of story there?”
Gerald’s eyes went icy, his shoulders square and tense.
(Yep. Big doings between those two.)
Gerald “We’ve declared a truce.”
Heroine “Does he know that?”
Gerald “For his own health, I hope so.”
Heroine “What about the trust thing? What do you get out of the bargain? I heard you were about to take over your boss’s old job…”
Gerald “That’s not settled yet, but my prospects are better than the other contenders, I’d say. And as to why you should trust me…”
Gerald “The way I see it, The Broiler is in a position to be top place in town. We’re almost there, despite O’Sullivan, but I want us to be the highest of the high class…
Heroine “So, if things go south for me at the Box…that’s bad for your plans somehow?”
Gerald “In our business, you don’t always want the MOST customers, you want the BEST you can afford in your market.”
Gerald “My neighborhood has a surplus of money looking to be spent freely…”
Gerald “A few blocks away in your neighborhood, the surplus isn’t so ‘plus,’ and there’s less freedom to spend it. Enough to make a good living for you and yours…
Gerald “…but not enough to justify the operation I want to run for the clients I want to attract.”
Heroine “The Nancy Upshaws of the world.”
Minor edits highlighted
Heroine “A story for another time. So, lemme guess: the kind of folks YOU want don’t want to mix with the kind of folks the Box pulls in…”
Gerald “The Box serves good, upstanding folks who want a nice place to go for a good time, hot jazz, good hooch…but without the means to pay upscale prices…”
Heroine “…and if we were to go down the proverbial drain…my kinda folks might get wanderin’ feet and wind up bringin’ down the tone at your establishment.”
Gerald “Wise beyond her years.”
Heroine “What you’re saying is, by lettin’ you help me, I’d be helpin’ you. “
Gerald “What do you say? Who better to teach you to run a speakeasy than someone who has YEARS of experience?”
Then he leaned in, a twinkle in his eye and an…urgency in his voice.
Gerald “And there’s so very much we could teach each other…”
Location: The Ice Box (Interior) (Day)
Characters: Heroine, Cliff, Neil, Julius, Donovan, Elliot
Cliff “You ain’t serious?! Gerald O’Fallon?!”
Heroine “Sure I’m serious. You can’t say he doesn’t know the ins-an’-outs.”
Neil barked out a harsh laugh.
Neil “No, you certainly can’t say THAT.”
I shot him a side-eyed look.
Heroine “An’ what’s THAT supposed to mean?”
Donovan “He means O’Fallon’s got a lurid reputation with the lasses.”
Cliff slapped Donovan on the arm.
Cliff “He COULD just mean his rep overall. Smart guy, O’Fallon, I’ll give him that…but trust him? Not on a two buck bet.”
Cliff “An’ besides, didn’t you just tell Charlie you didn’t need anybody to show you the ropes?”
Heroine “What I said was I didn’t need a babysitter. I’m learning from all of you guys…but none of you has done the job I’m supposed to be doing…”
Heroine “…and Gerry has.”
Donovan “Oh, ‘Gerry’ now is it?”
Cliff “Charlie put you in charge, so it’s your call…bad as I think it is. But come on! He’s the competition…”
Heroine “It’s not like he’s the one that shot Charlie!”
Donovan “Maybe he did for O’Sullivan, though, t’ clear th’ way. These’re a dangerous pack of boyos, I’m tellin’ you.”
Donovan “I could show you their arrest records, but that only tells part o’ th’ story. It’s th’ business they’ve got away wit’ that curls your toes…”
Donovan “An’ O’Fallon…he’s got no record a’tall in Chicago, which goes to tells you he’s the best at havin’ others break th’ bones and take th’ falls.”
Heroine “If you’re suggesting that I go in with my eyes open…”
Neil “I think the consensus is you not go in at all…but that seems unlikely at this point.”
Elliot and Julius chose that moment to come in through the back stairs. Donovan and Cliff competed to fill them in on the conversation.
Elliot “Well I for one think it’s a smashing idea. I find Gerald to be a fine fellow and The Broiler’s a first–rate operation. I’d think there’s much to learn there.”
Julius “You really want my two-cents?”
Heroine “I do.”’
Julius “Mr. O’Fallon always treated me right. Cleo don’t like him much, but he’s never stiffed us, the few times we played for him…”
Heroine “I hear a ‘but’ coming.”
Julius “Not ‘but’ so much as ‘and’… there’s a lot goes on there we don’t see from up on the stage. An’ Mr. O’Sullivan…was not a good man.”
Donovan gave Julius a sour look, but didn’t say anything.
(Officer Gallagher’s not comfortable with a negro having an opinion about a white man. What a world!)
Heroine “Thanks, guys.
Cliff “Have you thought about what Vince is gonna say when he gets back?”
Everyone was suddenly very quiet.
Neil “I’d pay for a ticket to that show.”
Please select one
A. None of Vince’s business
B. Haven’t given it much thought
C. Any suggestions?
Heroine “What I do is none of Vince’s beeswax.”
Cliff “Vince’s gonna disagree with that. For Vince, anything that brings O’Fallon in punchin’ range is likely to result in some punchin’.”
Donovan “An’ that’s a best case. I’d make sure Moretti’s nowhere near anything loaded when you break th’ news.”
Cliff “Or anything sharp. Or hard enough to bash with or…”
Heroine “Yeah, yeah. I get it.”
Neil “Get Moretti drunk BEFORE you break the news. I mean falling down, can’t-keep-his-legs-in-his-pants drunk.”
That image tickled Donovan and Elliot so much they couldn’t stop laughing for a minute.
Cliff gave me a serious look.
Heroine “I haven’t given it much thought.”
Neil “If that’s the truth, you’re a bigger fool than I thought.”
Heroine “You know I sign your paychecks.”
Neil “Nope. Charlie pays me under the table…an’ I don’t make enough to keep my opinions to myself.”
Cliff “If you’re not going to rethink this thing with O’Fallon, you better burn some midnight oil on how you’re gonna tell Vince.”
He looked me hard in the eyes, then sighed.
Heroine “I’m open to suggestions about how to handle that.”
Donovan “Post him a letter. From Alaska.”
Neil “Have Donovan do tell him. Should make for some interesting fireworks.”
Donovan “O’Fallon’s one subject where Vince and I’ve already reached a meetin’ o’ th’ minds.”
Elliot “I could fleece Vince at poker again. Then, you tell him…and…compound his fury…”
Heroine “Which he would probably take out on you instead of me?”
Elliot found all eyes on him as the full folly of his suggestion dawned.
Elliot “I retract my offer.”
Cliff “You just make sure I’M there when you tell him…an’ pray he don’t find out before you break the news.”
Location: The Broiler (Interior) (Night)
Characters: Heroine, Gerald
Gerald “Welcome to The Broiler.”
Heroine “Underneath Leslie’s Chicken Shack. That’s precious.”
Gerald “O’Sullivan’s idea. I’d have gone for something classier, but both names are worth something now.”
There weren’t a lot of people around and most of them were in the dining room.
Heroine “You open earlier than we do.”
He walked me around, pointed out some of the detail about the fixtures—woodwork, lighting, drapery, linen.
Heroine “You could probably buy the Box for what it costs to keep this place in tablecloths and fancy candles.”
Gerald “Well, what do you think?”
Heroine “Really snazzy. Elegant, understated. I’m no decorator, but I like what you’ve done with the place.”
Gerald surveyed the space, a note of satisfaction in the set of his shoulders.
Gerald “O’Sullivan hated it. He loved the money it brought in, but he stayed in the back most of the time, leaving me to run the place.”
Gerald “Always thought he’d’ve been happier running a shebeen…”
Gerald “A bog-country pub. Dirt floors, walls of peat bricks, serving homemade hooch that’d peel the skin off a rhinoceros.”
Heroine “I’ve heard he wasn’t a nice fella.”
Gerald “In the old neighborhood in Belfast, they’d call him a ‘spalpeen’ – a rascal. That would be too good for the truth of him by half and half again.”
Then, as an unconvincing afterthought…
Gerald “God rest his black, stinking soul.”
I let that sit for a moment then…
Heroine “We should get down to business…”
Location: The Broiler (Alternate interior?) (Night)
Characters: Heroine, Gerald, Padraig Costello
And so we did. For the next hour, Gerry showed me a few tricks for running inventory costs and profits through two sets of books…
Gerald “…so the upstairs, legit business shows a loss, for tax purposes, say three years out of five, but your profits accrue to the dummy corporations…”
Gerald “…I’m assuming Charlie has that stuff set up?”
(I don’t know for sure, but I’ll find out now!)
Heroine “I’m going over all that with the bookkeeper tomorrow.”
(Although the bookkeeper doesn’t know it yet!)
Heroine “How about working the front of the house?”
Gerald turned and gave me a rakish smile.
Gerald “Ah, that’s the part of the job you need the least help with, since you seem to have a natural aptitude for flirtation.”
Heroine “Most girls would take umbrage at that insinuation.”
Gerald “Most men don’t mind when a girl tries to steal a base on them. They think it means something it doesn’t. Me, I prefer a fair game.”
(In other words, one where ‘fair’ means ‘Gerald’s rules’.)
Heroine “Papa always said a flirt was the devil’s handmaiden, leading young men astray.”
Gerald “Well…if you’re going to hell, I see no reason not to enjoy the trip.”
We’d ended up sitting in a table in the darkest corner of the mostly empty bar.
Heroine “I didn’t really need you to tell me to just be sweet to the customers.”
Gerald “Flirting isn’t being ‘sweet,’ Especially in this business…”
Heroine “Okay, I’ll bite Plato. What’s your philosophy of flirtation?”
Gerald “Flirtation’s the promise of something alluring but unattainable—something that draws us in but is always just…out…of…reach….”
He took my hand.
(Felt that straight down to my toes!)
Gerald “It’s the promise of a perfect thing in an imperfect world.”
He kissed my fingertips. I took in a quick, sharp breath…
(Oh my oh my. Gerald O’Fallon! Just like the boys said, you are a dangerous man!)
Heroine “Does it always…have to be unattainable?”
(Wait. What did I just say?)
Gerald “Think of it like good whisky. A sip is wonderful, a glass…perfection. After that, you begin to approach a point of diminishing returns, don’t you?”
Heroine “Some things last longer than a good glass of whiskey.”
Gerald “But few things have a smoother finish.”
Heroine “A little roughness can be nice too.”
Gerald “And sometimes you can’t stop yourself sharing the whole bottle.”
(There’s that smile again.)
I had the perfect response on the tip of my tongue when…
…someone nearby cleared his throat.
???? “Hey, boss…sorry to bug you. Costello and Ryan are here.”
Gerald “Be right there, Johnny. Excuse me just a moment, [USER_FIRST_NAME].”
I watched his back as he walked over to the men at the bar.
Their expressions and posture told me they were all full-up and determined about something.
(Gerry doesn’t swagger, he…glides. Donovan called him a snake, but I’m thinking tiger.)
He greeted them cheerfully, but I couldn’t really hear most of what they were saying.
The taller of the two did most of the talking, the other guy nodding nervously behind him. Gerald’s stance changed as they talked.
(Doesn’t seem to much care for what they’re saying.)
There was something about ‘renegotiating the cut’ and ‘new management, new deal.’
Then, Gerald’s voice came across the room, not loud, but cutting through the air like a knife.
Gerald “Today is not yet that day. The deal is the same as ever it was, gentlemen…”
He laid his hand on the taller man’s arm, pinning it to the bar.
Gerald “You may think you have a strong hand right now, but you’d be wrong…”
The tall guy squirmed at the pressure. He couldn’t seem to free his arm from Gerald’s grip.
Gerald “…and I hope you see how firm I am in that conviction.”
Neither man moved, far as I could tell, but they both…shrank. Nothing you could see, but I could tell they just gave up.
Gerald released the man’s arm with a chuckle and a slap on the shoulder, all bonhomie.
(Wouldn’t be in those fellas’ place for all the tea in China!)
More words were exchanged, but this time the men seemed to be apologizing for bothering Gerald.
He personally poured them both a glass of whisky and slapped them on the back, then came back toward the table where I was sitting.
Gerald “And all of that is not to say we might not revisit in future…but I’LL be the one deciding when that time comes.”
Padraig “Sure. Sure Gerald…ah…Mr. O’Fallon. Sounds very fair.”
Gerald never looked back at them. He was smiling, but it wasn’t at me.
(Tiger. Yep. A tiger who just had a good meal…but knows he’s going to be hungry again tomorrow. I wonder if he thinks I’m on the menu?)