STANDARD DISCLAIMER: The characters from Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount/Viacom and whoever else has the legal documentation to back up their claim. No infringement is intended. They are borrowed only.
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Katie's Club was Gus Morgan's salvation. He was tired of being arrested or beaten up every time some rotten lawman raided the joints he played in. At Katie's, he played with his band for the rich folk and never worried about money. The deep brown color of his skin didn't matter when they heard his saxophone. It was a lazy Sunday and the club was closed. Gus played his sax; the notes wrapped around his skin until his soul merged with the music. He played out the pain and bitterness....
"Gus, my man! Help me put these boxes in the cellar."
Gus was caught up in the music, and didn't hear Jimmy walk into the room.
Gus stopped playing and stared at Jimmy with veiled contempt. The young drummer's reddish blonde hair was in disarray. His clothes were soiled with a substance Gus didn't care to ask about, and he looked drunk on his feet. Gus resigned himself to the fact that Jimmy wasn't about to leave him in peace. He laid his sax on the table and walked over to grab one of the heavy boxes lying in the doorway.
"Where have you been?" said Gus.
"Driving around doing what?"
"Just driving. Come on Gus, this box is heavy."
Gus sighed, and lifted one of the boxes onto his shoulder. It was going to be a long afternoon cleaning up the club. And he didn't want Kate pissed off at him if it wasn't ready in time.
Rose and Ned sat together in a little restaurant. The chicken and rice they were eating was the best either of them ever tasted. Rose enjoyed her coffee, while Ned scanned the cozy little place and the other diners around them.
"I'm worried about Kate."
"Listen Neddy, Kate can take care of herself. Leave it alone."
Rose followed Ned's gaze. A tall blonde emerged from the kitchen, her arms laden with two heavy trays.
"She's a doll, ain't she?" said Ned, referring to the blonde.
"I thought your type was jazzbos, Neddy boy." Rose smirked when she saw the little man flush with embarrassment. Ned always tried to hide his attraction for the handsome young men who visited Katie's Club. Ned knew he wasn't good looking, so he seduced the young men by playing their favorite love songs. His gift at the piano, and his charming wit seem to strike a chord in their romantic young hearts.
Rose took another look at the girl and had to agree. The blonde's long hair was pulled back and tucked into a bun. Full lips and clear blue eyes were second only to the bit of leg that showed beneath the long black skirt. The blonde was pretty in a way that.... Rose could see where Ned was going with this. But, Kate didn't want romance. She was having too much fun doing whatever the hell she was doing with those jazz babies.
"Don't go getting ideas about-." Before Rose could finish, Ned held up his hands to protest his innocence.
"Now, now, sweet thing. I promised to stay out of Kate's business." Ned's romantic nature had caused him enough trouble. He stirred from his musings just in time to see one of the diners bump into the blonde. Chicken and corn flew off the upturned trays; followed by peas and carrots.
The air borne feast landed on a young man eating his soup. Ned rose from his table as the enraged young man stood to strike the blonde. Ned's small but powerful frame slammed into the guy knocking him off of his feet.
Ned held the fallen man on the floor and sat on his chest, preventing the young man from rising to his feet. The blonde managed to get in a swift kick to the guy's leg.
"Get off me!" the man yelped.
"Apologize to the lady," growled Ned.
The restaurant owner-distressed over her best customer being floored-quickly rushed over and ordered Ned to release the young man. Ned refused to budge, and the owner kept nudging Ned to free the young man whom lay screaming and cursing.
The frustrated owner looked up at the blonde and yelled, "Get out! You're fired."
The scene amused Rose, until she noticed the distressed look on the blonde's face. Rose, crossed over to the young blonde, and placed her arm around her shaking shoulders.
"Come on, honey. You don't need this. Neddy, get up. We're leaving," said Rose.
Ned looked at Rose and winked.
Oh God, no. What the hell is he going to do now? Rose thought, as she edged the blonde closer to the exit.
Ned remained seated on the young man. When the young man started to squirm, Ned leaned forward and placed a big kiss on his lips.
"Now, you be nice to the ladies, Jellybean," said Ned. He rose to his feet, and escorted the two stunned women out the door.
It began to rain as the three stood outside under the restaurant's awning. Rose looked up at the blonde who was shivering from the cold.
"Say honey, what's your name?" asked Rose. She noticed the girl's shyness and quickly set to put her at ease by taking a step backward, allowing her more space.
"My name is Ann ... Ann Hammond. I need this job. I can't go home without a job. My Aunt will...."
"Listen, no one's throwing anybody out. My name's Rose, and since Neddy over here, made things worse, he'll come up with something." Rose gave Ned a pointed look. The little man had the grace to blush and look down at his feet.
Ann knew that if she came home without a job, Aunt Edith wouldn't throw her out into the street. But she would marry Ann off to the boy down the street. "Keep a job, or get a husband." Aunt Edith sang this standard enough to keep Ann in check. After losing her parents when she was a child, Ann longed to be part of a family again, but no boy ever suited her taste. The girls, from her former school, were the only family she truly had.
Kate Dorsey stepped out of her parked Model-T into a nasty downpour. The city was a total mess when it rained and she had no amount of love for it when an oncoming car splashed her. She crossed the street in a fury; her opened lightweight coat and dress were dripping with dirty water. She rushed down the alley to the back door of her club, and slipped inside.
She heard what sounded like a bottle breaking in the cellar. Damn. She was about to yell, when she heard laughter coming from the dining room. Kate's curiosity drew her to the small room. She peeked inside to see Rose and Ned sitting at one of the tables with a stranger... a beautiful blonde stranger.
"What's this?" said Kate. There was an edge to her voice. She could not contain her anger at being muddied up by a careless driver. And was in no mood for another round of Ned's matchmaking.
Ann rose from her chair as she watched the small woman approach their table. She had never seen a woman walk the way this one did. The swagger reminded her of a sleek cat moving towards its shivering prey.
Kate placed her bag on the table, and looked down at Ned, waiting. When he didn't respond, she touched the collar of her coat, signaling him to stand and remove it. Ned sat transfixed as Kate tugged at the coat. He stretched out his arm to catch the offending garment before it could land on the floor.
Rose stopped drinking her coffee. She stared at Kate and thought, "Jeeze, she's wearing the same clothes she had on at the party last night. And she's cranky. Guess that little trollop she left with wasn't the bee's knees, after all". When Kate gave her one of those "So what" looks, Rose took a deep swallow of her coffee, and turned her attention to the tablecloth. Her olive-skinned features remained calm in the brewing storm. Kate's mood was not something she wanted to trifle with this evening.
Kate extended her hand to the blonde. Ann remembered her manners quickly enough, and gently grasped the offered hand. She stared at the smaller woman's wet hair; drops of water rolled off the auburn tresses to darken the silk dress. Ann nearly flinched when she raised her eyes to meet Kate's frosty stare.
Kate continued to stare at the girl. The blonde hair was longer than fashionable and the white blouse and black skirt was no where near the flapper attire worn by Rose. But, the light touch of rouge, and the bare lips made the girl look like an earthbound angel to Kate. "No! I'm not getting sucked into this one." Besides, the girl looked barely eighteen. Kate knew that she could still chase the girls at thirty-eight years of age, but she didn't want anyone's papa chasing her with a hatchet. Better to send her running back to mama.
Kate held firm to Ann's cool hand. She caressed the blonde's cheek, and whispered, "Well, since no one is prepared to introduce us, tell me your name, darling."
Ann raised an eyebrow at the woman's intimate tone and unexpected touch. A smirk was on Kate's lips, but there was no humor in her eyes. Ann felt the blood rush up her spine like a deadly snake about to strike. No. She wouldn't let this woman win.
"Hello, darling. I'm Ann, your new cook." Ann increased the pressure on the Kate's hand. She smiled when the smaller woman winced.
Kate gingerly withdrew her hand, and sat in the chair opposite Ann. She felt her skin burn at failing to get the upper hand with the girl, and this feeling fed her growing anger.
"Ned, coffee," said Kate. Ned was relieved to have something to do and ran from the room.
Rose looked on as the two women squared off. They glared at each other with such intensity that she feared the candles on the table would explode from the deadly sparks. Neither woman would look away. Kate's face was flushed, and Ann's was the picture of put upon innocence.
Rose ran a hand through her short black hair, and summoned the will to speak.
"Your old cook, Roger, fell off the wagon again. Ned can't cook worth a darn, and I'm not getting any grease on my hands. So, it looks like you got yourself a new cook".
"I don't need a new cook. My old cook turns up every Monday, like clockwork." Kate knew Roger was unreliable, but she defended him nonetheless. And she didn't want to lose another battle tonight.
"Roger got himself fired."
"When did this happen?"
"Tomorrow...when he shows up like clockwork." Rose had enough of overseeing Kate's charity cases. She was Kate's manager, not a baby-sitter.
Kate turned her attention back to Ann. "You can cook?" It wasn't so much a question as an accusation.
"Yes, when I'm not forced to wait tables. I... I cooked at Benin's."
"I'll bet you did. Now tell me what happened," said Kate.
Rose nearly choked on her coffee. "Let's just say she didn't like juggling trays."
Ned made his way to the dining room with Kate's coffee when Gus and Jimmy walked up from the cellar. Jimmy had a sheepish grin on his face, and Gus had a handkerchief tied around a bloody hand.
"What happened? Did this lunatic throw a bottle at you?" Ned hated to see Gus hurt.
"No," said Gus.
"Well, you're a man of a million words." Ned paused to appraise Gus' lean body. "It looks like our Annie passed inspection. Why don't you guys go in and congratulate her."
"Annie?" said Gus. Gus hated Ned's annoying habit of changing people's names. He recalled fondly the day he almost decked Ned for calling him Gussie. Gus had met Ann earlier, and thought that she was much too aloof to be tagged with a nickname.
"When does the Skirt start? I'm tired of eating Roger's mystery dishes." Jimmy rubbed his hands together. Good grub was hard to come by.
Kate and Ann battled over the terms regarding Ann's prospective employment. The negotiations lasted several hours; a testament to their equally strong will. Their steadfast refusal to relinquish any ground to one another proved entertaining to their audience. The group quickly placed bets as to who would gain the upper hand.
"... Not a penny more and it includes room and board. You may have one of the apartments over the Club." It had been a long drawn out negotiation, but Kate was satisfied. Yeah, throw enough money at 'em, and they'll shut up.
Everyone but Kate shook Ann's hand. She still felt a twinge of pain from the last handshake. Ned offered to drive Ann home, and Kate left the room without so much as a "goodbye".
At one time, there were four small apartments over Katie's Club. Before Kate move in, she hired the best carpenters in Harlem, to convert two of the adjoining apartments into one grand dwelling for her personal use. One of the two remaining apartments belonged to Ned, and the other, directly opposite hers, was now Ann's.
Kate hoped the girl would move in before the day ended. She did not want to listen to any noise and fuss. She remembered the girl's strange smile when she told her that family members could visit her room, but any men friends had to see her in the club's parlor. Ann replied that she just wanted a job. Kate was puzzled at feeling disappointed. The girl was too straight-laced to be one of the women she was use to running around with. Ann was cool and distant, there was a steel edginess lying underneath the soft beautiful exterior.
Kate slipped out of her apartment and went down the back staircase that led into the club. She could smell the tempting aromas of breakfast drifting out of the kitchen. "Roger must be on his game again. Maybe Rose is letting him cook his last meal before she sacks him."
When she entered the dinning room, she noticed that Rose and Gus were sitting at one of the tables having breakfast.
Kate nodded at them as she sat down to eat. The table was laden with biscuits and thick slabs of bacon. Rose poured Kate's coffee, then sat back to watch her. Kate nearly swooned after biting into one of the hot biscuits. Melted butter dripped down her chin and trickled over her fingers. Rose grinned when Gus used his napkin to gently wipe it off.
"Good?" asked Rose.
"Heaven. I think I'll kiss the cook."
"This I've gotta see," said Rose.
Kate was staring at her bacon and biscuit-filled plate when she heard the sound of footsteps. Without looking up, she grabbed for Roger's waist and found her arm snuggled around Ann. Rose snorted when Ann lost her balance and landed firmly in Kate's lap. Kate was startled, but managed to keep her arm around Ann's slender waist.
Ann slid her arm around Kate's shoulders. She refilled Kate's cup and asked "Would you like this with sugar, or a kiss?"
"I told you before; Jimmy is unreliable," said Gus.
They were well on their way home, so why bring up Jimmy now? Kate did not want to argue tonight, but she was too cranky to leave it alone.
"Unreliable? Then why does he play in your band?"
"He plays in my band because you put him there," thought Gus. He often wondered why he put up with Jimmy. Sure, he was talented, but reliable? No. Kate's heart was too soft, even if she wouldn't admit to it.
"Ned, pick up speed. I want to get home and out of these rough clothes. How do you guys wear them?" said Kate.
"I've always preferred chiffon myself." Ned turned to wink at Gus, but his scowling band mate refused to reply.
"Look, we're a few miles from the city, so it won't be long before we're home," said Gus.
Kate rubbed her hand over the rough jacket, and silently swore at Jimmy for missing the run. Two to load, and one to stand guard. That's how it worked. She was tired and achy. And the bumpy ride home didn't help to soothe her nerves- nerves that were frazzled ever since Ann joined the household.
Kate sank down into the cool leather of the back seat and looked out the window of the speeding car. God, they were still in the Bronx. The cold gripped her bones, and she couldn't stop sneezing.
"Your presence tonight was not necessary. Here, take this." Gus reached back to give Kate his handkerchief.
She took the laced cloth and blew her nose. "Since you're being such a prince, you can haul the booze into the cellar by yourself."
The club was quiet tonight and Rose relaxed over tea with Ann. She had worked all day going over the books while Ann cooked dinner for the "Ladies' Sewing Circle". Sewing Circle, indeed. They never did any sewing; they just gossiped. Those teetotalers had the club every Monday, but they tipped the waiters well. At least they could provide a cover for Kate, if she ever needed one.
Rose and Ann continued to talk long into the night. Ann shared a few memories of her childhood in Greenwich Village, and Rose spoke of her young days in Brooklyn.
Ann listened, but she didn't talk much about herself. Her thoughts started drifting back to the incident in the dining room. She knew that Kate had mistaken her for Roger, but she couldn't resist teasing her. She succeeded in wiping that cocky grin off Kate's face when she leaned over and kissed her on the lips.
Kate could only mumble, "Sweeter than sugar." Something had passed between them during the kiss, but Kate had pulled back. No one was shocked by the kiss, so Ann couldn't understand why Kate made a point of avoiding her afterwards. Kate's reaction had inflamed her curiosity. She needed to know more about this enigma wrapped in a steel garter....
"Rose, how long have you known Kate?"
"Since I was a kid. I use to run errands for Kate and Rick when they lived in Brooklyn."
"Who is Rick?" Ann was surprised by the jealousy rising in her blood.
"Was Rick, honey."
Rose proceeded to tell Ann about the short marriage of Kate and Rick Dorsey.
"Oh...Rick, Rick, Rick. Rick was a stockbroker down on Wall Street. He worked hard and played harder, but wouldn't settle down until his daddy introduced him to Kate....
"Rick knew she didn't want to get hitched anymore than he did. But a visit to the hitching post made their families lay off."
Kate had grown to love Rick. Together, they shared the lyrical love of friendship and the discordant pain of isolation. Theirs' was a kinship forged from the searing heat of being two feet south of society's door. But Kate's world shattered when Rick lost his life in the 1920 Wall Street bombing. The violent act wounded her soul, and left her wary of loving too deeply.
"Hey, are you all right?" asked Rose.
Ann was shaken. She didn't hear Rose's question. After losing her own family, she couldn't imagine closing her heart to the possibility of love. Loneliness frightened her, but Kate seemed to linger in its cold embrace.
"It's okay, honey. Kate's a strong girl." Rose stood and stretched her tired body.
"Thank you, Rose. I'm sorry for keeping you up so late."
"Not to worry, honey. Do you mind if I bunk with you tonight? I don't feel like waiting up for Neddy."
"I don't mind at all. I'll join you after I lock up "
Lock up. Saying the two words made Ann feel warm. Now she had a home she could lock against the jaded cynics and the nagging aunts of the dreary world outside. Don't spoil your dress, honey. Leave your hair long, dear. Wipe that off your mouth.... This home was her home now, and she had a family to protect.
Before Ann could leave the parlor, she spotted Ned sliding a crate into the hallway. Gus followed closely supporting a crate on his broad shoulder. She wondered where Kate had escaped to for the evening... no doubt with one of her friends.
She saw a little man enter behind Ned and Gus. He held a handkerchief to his nose, and a black fedora sat rakishly on his head. The gray tweed jacket was a bit loose and the pant cuffs hung over a pair of sporty black and white shoes. Ann smiled when she saw the long sliver chain dangling from underneath the jacket.
The man began to sneeze when Ned went over to loosen his tie. He gently brushed away Ned's hands then he pulled off his fedora.
"Kate?" No. Ann couldn't believe her eyes. The pomaded little dandy had the nerve to wink at her.
"Hello, sugar. Wanna go park?" Kate swaggered over to Ann, and removed the flower from her lapel. She inhaled its perfume, then tossed the bloom in Ann's lap.
Ann smirked and patted one of the cushions on the couch. "My Aunt Kate isn't home, so we can neck right here in the parlor."
Kate was surprised by the sassy response. She thought the girl would blush and run from the room. Kate was about to make a saucy reply when Gus placed his hand on her shoulder.
"There will be no necking, parking or otherwise here tonight. Kate, get upstairs. Ann, please help me in the kitchen, and Ned...move those crates downstairs."
"Heck. I would've paid good money to see that show," said Ned.
"Ned...move...now." Gus crossed his arms and nodded at Kate who smiled at his silent goodnight. She thought better of arguing with him. Instead, she answered with a cocky salute as she swaggered towards the stairs.