For Notes and disclaimers, please see Part One.

SPEAKEASY

PART 2

By Bastet bastet_amun@hotmail.com

 

 

Picture - James VanDerZee Photo collection

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

After Ann locked the front door of the club, she offered to help Ned move the crates into the cellar, but he declined and nodded his head towards the kitchen. Then she remembered that Gus had asked for her assistance. "He probably wants to lecture me about being insolent."

Ann entered the kitchen with the expectation that Gus would be busy brewing tea for Kate's cold. She was puzzled when she saw Gus scoop something thick and oily into a small pot on the stove. He poured a strong smelling liquid into the substance, quickly stirred the concoction then removed the pot from the stove.

Ann wrinkled her nose in disgust; a strange scent drifted from the pot and threatened to chase away the fresh air.

"What is that?" she asked.

"Goose grease and liniment."

"What is it for?"

"For Kate. It scares away a cold."

"That's not all it's going to scare away."

"You put it on her chest." Gus motioned with his hand like a window wiper working on a high rise.

"Me?" Ann tried to imagine Kate holding still for the pasty affront. "She's not going to let me touch her," Ann thought.

"Let's make some tea, while it cools down." Gus handed Ann a tin of sage, and pointed to the teakettle on the stove.

Ann sprinkled a few of the crushed leaves into the hot water. She thought she would faint from the myriad of scents floating around her head. So she was more than grateful to take a seat at the wooden kitchen table.

"Would you care for a cup?" Gus took Ann's grimace as a firm no.

"Why did you allow Kate go with you?"

"Allow?" Gus lit a cigarette, then offered one to Ann who declined.

"You certainly managed to order her upstairs tonight."

"And I will certainly pay for it tomorrow."

"Pay for it now. You go upstairs."

Gus smiled at the girl's audacity. "No, my dear. I leave that job to you."

 

********************

 

Ann stood outside Kate's door with a tray full of sage tea, a warm cloth, and the home remedy from hell. She felt uneasy at the prospect of facing Kate because every encounter with the woman seemed to end on a sour note. "Apologize, give her the tray, then leave," she thought. Nonetheless, she knocked on the door, and waited.

Ann listened for the sound footsteps approaching the door, but heard none. She about to turn and leave when Kate opened the door.

Kate smiled at Ann "You come bearing gifts?"

"I just...well I thought you would like some tea."

"That looks like more than tea to me." Kate stepped aside, and ushered Ann into the apartment.

Soft jazz played on a phonograph in the cream-colored sitting room. And a glass of wine sat on the polished coffee table along with a variety of opened books. Ann placed the tray carefully on the table, then handed the sage tea to Kate.

"Please. Sit down." Kate brought the cup to her lips, and grimaced at the taste of the tea. "Maybe I should mix this with wine. Would you like some?"

"No ... thank you. I don't like sage."

Kate smirked. "I was referring to the wine."

"I'm not fond of wine either."

"What are you fond of?" Kate blushed minute the words left her mouth. "I didn't mean...."

Ann laughed softly. "I know." She sat next to Kate on the plush sofa, and folded her hands in her lap.

And there sat Kate, silently drinking her tea and listening to the soft music. Ann wanted to say something more. But what could she talk about, the art of applying salve? Ann looked at Kate's silky peach nightclothes, and could not imagine mucking them up with the pasty horror.

Ann turned her attention to the books on the coffee table. Then she looked at the quiet woman sitting next to her. Kate's eyes were closed, and a small smile was on her lips. Ann thought the woman should be somewhere secure, like the hushed halls of a university.

"You enjoy reading scientific journals?" Ann asked.

"Very much." Kate was relieved to be on safer ground. "How about you, Ann?"

"I'm interested in history. When I was younger, I wanted to teach." Ann said shyly.

"How young could you have been?" Kate teased.

"I'm twenty-three." Ann gave her a look of mock indignation. "And you?"

"Teach? No." Kate winked at the girl.

"I meant your age."

"Thirty-eight, and not a day more." Kate put her teacup on the coffee table. "Ann, you're still very young. Do what makes you happy while you have the opportunity."

Ann caught the sadness in the whispered words. And not wanting to intrude upon a private moment, she bowed her head as the rough scratching of the phonograph sounded.

Kate touched Ann's shoulder and stood to remove the recording. Then Ann heard a gentle sigh of resignation as Kate spoke to her. "Well... what about the salve?"

"I'd rather have water," Ann replied.

When Kate reached for the salve, Ann stopped her by gently grasping her hand.

Kate smiled at the soft touch, and said, "All right, water it is."

 

 

********************

In the early morning, Kate sat at one the club's dinning tables with a newspaper. She loved this time of day because she could be alone with her coffee, the news and her thoughts. And Ann was in her thoughts this morning. After an awkward start, they had managed to talk a bit more-or rather she had managed to. But Ann seemed content to listen and offer a few words.

Kate smiled at the memory of how the girl's face lit up when she gave her a few books to read. Ann had held the books in the endearing manner of a small child protecting her first Christmas gifts. And her whispered thank you and warm embrace curled around Kate's heart, melting away the winter cold....

"Good morning, Katie dear. My, do you look radiant." Ned barged into the dinning room carrying two bags. "I've got sweet rolls from Diamond's and buttermilk from Hanley's."

Kate opened her newspaper with the hope that Ned would leave her in peace. He was too darn cheerful in the morning. "What are you doing up so early?"

"I drove Rose home this morning. Want a roll?" Ned offered Kate one of the bags.

"Home?" To Kate's annoyance, Ned took a seat at the table.

"She stayed in Annie's apartment. You know how you girls get when you stay up all night."

"No. How do we get?" Kate pushed her paper aside and waited for his answer.

"You tell me. I heard your music last night." Ned took the rolls from the bag and pushed one towards her. "Don't worry, it'll be our little secret," Ned whispered.

"First of all-" Kate stopped talking when she heard a noise in the outer hall.

"So how about a roll and some buttermilk?" Ned opened the bottle and waved it under her nose. Kate grimaced and was about to make an unladylike reply when Jimmy walked into the room.

"Make that coffee, and you gotta a deal," Jimmy said.

"Where the heck have you been?" Ned glared at the young man. "You look like you just rolled out of a sewer, and-"

"Ned, I would love some more of your coffee," Kate interrupted. She turned to Jimmy and gave him a disapproving look. Then she smiled sweetly at Ned, "I'll find out what happened to our little sewer mouse."

"Anything for you, Katie."

Ned got up and sauntered into the kitchen. He grumbled to himself as he walked over to the counter to start a new pot of coffee. Ned hated being sent away like a child. And he dearly wanted to see Jimmy get his hide ripped. "Well, if you can't be a fly on the wall, stick close to the door like a roach." Ned pressed his ear to the closed kitchen door, but he could barely hear the softly spoken words.

"...Not go well?

"Not bad. Kate... They don't think..."

"In ...station? Are you hurt? ...Need a place-"

"I'm okay. Slipped a little...."

"Take my key. Get cleaned up."

"Thank you."

What kind of hide ripping was this? "What station?" Ned figured that the young fool must have slept in a bus station all night. The smell of burning coffee drew Ned away from the door. And frantic to save the boiling mess, he lifted the percolator from the stove before donning an oven mitt. "Son of a...Damn!"

 

********************

Ann woke late in the morning, stretching like a cat rising from a blissful nap. She wanted to remain in the warm bed, but then she remembered Rose trying to drag her out of it at one point during the morning:

"Wake up, sleepyhead. Better get rolling if you want Neddy to take you shopping."

"Need sleep."

"Thought you were going to the seaport for fish."

"Shrimp."

"Whatever it is, get up. All right. I'll tell him to come back for you."

Hours later, she was fully dressed though still sleepy. Before leaving her apartment, she touched the books Kate had given her. And Ann thought of how Kate stiffened slightly then relaxed in her arms when she held her close. Now she regretted rising late, she could have prepared a nice breakfast... maybe those biscuits Kate liked.

Ann slipped a grocery list into her bag, and hurried from the apartment, hoping to catch a glimpse of Kate before she left for the day.

 

 

********************

"Hey, doll. Where are you going this morning?" Jimmy asked.

For once the handsome young man looked clean. Even his reddish blond hair was neatly combed. Jimmy put down the paper and grinned at Ann, his baby blue eyes sparkling with mischief. He used the tip of his shoe to nudge a chair away from the table.

"I have to do some shopping. And it's the afternoon." Ann took the offered seat and laid her bag and mail on the table.

"What's this, a love letter?"

Jimmy grabbed the letter before Ann could stop him. "Mrs. Dunnfield. Who's the skirt, sugar?"

"The skirt you're referring to is my aunt."

Ann took the letter from his hand and placed it in her bag. Once a week, she sent her Aunt Edith a small note wrapped around a few dollars. And twice a week a letter came back damning her for working in a liquor-drenched den of iniquity. But the dollars never found their way back.

"Why don't I take you shopping."

"I'm waiting for Ned."

"Neddy boy and Kate, went to the hospital."

"What?" Ann felt her stomach churn. She should have used the salve. "What if she has pneumonia?" Ann's thoughts rambled on until Jimmy touched her shoulder.

"Hey, he's all right. Just got himself burned by a coffee pot."

"What?"

"Come on, let's go."

"I can take a taxicab."

"No, doll."

"Do you even remember my name?"

"Sure Annie. Where to?"

"South Street Seaport. And my name is Ann."

 

********************

The ride down to the seaport was fast but smooth. Jimmy obviously had a talent for dodging in and out of traffic. And to Ann's amusement, he even talked to his car, calling it Clara. "Pick up speed Clara. Go baby, go Clara doll." Instead of the usual black, Clara was emerald green outside and beige leather inside. She wondered how this lazy boy managed to own such a pearl of a car.

Jimmy parked a few blocks away from Front Street. As they strolled down to the seaport, he took a look at his surroundings. He almost stopped to stare at two men walking a few paces behind them. As the men got closer, Jimmy slowed his walk, and steered Ann around a corner. He chattered on about some inane boxing match he saw last night until Ann felt her last nerve slip away. The man could plow steel down the treacherous streets of Manhattan, but couldn't manage his way on foot down a few simple blocks.

"What's the matter with you? The seaport's not this way."

"I know doll. Let's slip in here for a drink," Jimmy said, as he pointed down the block to a little dive parading as diner.

"In the middle of the day?" Ann looked at the rascal as if he had lost his mind.

"Sure. Who would think people drink in the middle of the day? 'Sides they got lemonade."

At this point, she was ready to drink a cup of bathtub gin if it would get Jimmy any closer to the seaport.

He came to an abrupt stop when they were midway down the block. Ann looked down the street, but couldn't see anything. "Come on, Jimmy."

 

The crowded diner was surprisingly clean inside. Couples sat in booths eating greasy food and drinking from hip flasks. And two girls danced in the back next to a loud radio. Their fast twirling threatened to knock down a waiter walking through the kitchen door.

"Jimmy! What can I do for you?" A smarmy little man reached over the bar and smacked Jimmy on the shoulder. "Who's this?" The little man grabbed Ann's hand and kissed it.

"Hey, Sonny. Two...lemonades. Put a little snake oil in mine. This here is Clara." When Sonny moved closer to Ann, Jimmy added, "Sorry Sonny, she's partial to redheads."

Jimmy followed Ann over to one of the booths in the back, and took the seat facing the door.

"You've got some nerve calling me Clara." Ann smiled at the innocent look on Jimmy's face. "What do you mean by redheads? Your hair isn't all that red."

"What a smile," Jimmy thought. He leaned forward in his seat and patted Ann's hand. "Did I say redheads? I meant auburn." Jimmy laughed at the surprised look on her pretty face. "You're a doll. No wonder Kate's taken a shine...." Jimmy shut his mouth when the waiter came over. He took the two drinks, and passed one to Ann who became quiet under his scrutiny.

"Eeewww. Gave you the wrong one. Here, this one's plain." Jimmy smiled when he saw the blush creep up Ann's face. "What can I say? Ned's got a big mouth. Now drink your lemonade."

Ann's faced flushed redder. She tipped the glass to her mouth, and almost choked on the sour stuff when Jimmy wiggled his eyebrows at her.

"Thank you, for rescuing me." Ann turned to look at the little diner owner and shuddered.

"No problem. Sonny's got more girlfriends than he knows what to do with anyway."

"Do you have a girlfriend?"

"Me? No. I date a lot." Jimmy put down his drink. "It keeps things simple."

"How?" Ann thought that dating so many women would be anything but simple.

"It takes the sting out of it when they leave."

"So you never get close?"

Jimmy was about to answer, but he stopped to scan the room when the other diners began to curse loudly and move about in a harried manner. He had a sinking feeling that the commotion was due to something rotten strolling into the joint. And the five policemen he spotted standing casually in the doorway confirmed his suspicions. "Damn."

"All right everybody. Line up nicely, and cut that radio off." A burly lawman stood in the door with his hands on his hips, and a smug look on his face.

The diners decided to be anything but nice. Plates and glasses were knocked over as they ran towards the kitchen and the back doors.

Jimmy crawled under the table and tapped Ann on the knee. "Let's split up. I can't get caught with you, doll"

Ann peeked under the tablecloth and saw Jimmy's panicked face. She was frightened too, but she refused to move. "We haven't done anything wrong."

"Don't matter. Can you drive?"

"Yes, but-"

"Head for the restroom." Jimmy tossed his keys into Ann's lap. He crawled from under the booth, then scrambled through the kitchen door.

When Ann saw one of the policemen hit the owner with his nightstick, she nervously stuffed Jimmy's keys in her bag, and slid out of the booth. But before she could flee to the restroom, three policemen came through the back, blocking the way out.

 

 

********************

It took all of twenty minutes to herd the angry patrons from the diner into the cramped paddy wagons. The bumpy ride to the precinct was almost a joy compared to the icy holding cell Ann was to. Five other women from the diner had already settled into the crowded cell as if being jailed were an every day event.

Ann looked at the other occupants in the cell. Some sat on rough wooden benches talking softly, and others propped themselves against the sour green walls like mournful birds trapped in a cement cage. Women of all hues, thrown together due to limited space, argued with one another.

One of the women fell from a bench, and began to moan and thrash about on the floor. But no one moved to help the fallen woman. Ann was taken aback by their stony indifference.

"Quiet down!" hissed a tall woman clad in a hideous red frock.

"Lay off," said one of the other women. "Can't you see she's got the shakes?"

"Damn fools mess up everything." Big Red poked the fallen woman with her grimy shoe. "I said, shut up!"

Ann pulled her coat tighter, and pressed her back against the cold wall. One of the women, who sat on a nearby bench, saw Ann's fear and beckoned her to sit down.

"Come sit over here, honey," said the older woman. When Ann hesitated, the woman waved her over again.

"Thank you, ma'am." Ann decided that being too close to Big Red's wrath might not be such a good idea. So she took the offered seat. "We need to get a doctor in here. What's wrong with her?"

"Same thing wrong with anybody who drinks...or smokes the wrong thing. Cops pinched her with Big Red over there." The older woman patted Ann's shoulder. "Call me Iris, honey."

Moans turned to small whimpers. Ann could see that the convulsing woman's thin dress was badly soiled, and her face was bruised. "Probably courtesy of Big Red, " Ann thought.

"We should call the matron," Ann said as she attempted to rise from the bench.

"No. Do you know where they'll send that girl?" The older woman placed a restraining hand on Ann's shoulder. "She's quiet now. Leave her be."

Ann took in the woman's beautiful silk evening clothes, and felt a pang of despair. "Iris, h-how long have you been here?"

"Since last night. I called on one of my gentlemen friends; he's getting the bail money together." Iris turned to look at Ann's frightened face. "Don't worry, honey. They'll let you talk to your folks soon."

Ann doubted that anything good would happen soon in this horrid place. She looked at the woman on the floor who was quiet now, but continued to shake. Ann rose from the bench and crossed the dingy cell to the ailing woman. She removed her coat and knelt on the floor. "Shhh, it's all right now." Ann laid the coat over the woman and held her in her arms, rocking her gently. She couldn't stand the thought of anyone dying in this cold dingy cell, so she swallowed her fear and called for the prison matron.

 

********************

 

Ann was relieved that it was Ned who answered when the operator put her call through. She had worried that Gus would pick up the phone, or worst still Kate. The woman had an infuriating way of interrogating someone until she extracted the truth. And Ann knew that, given her state of mind, she would say something to make Kate throw her out of the house, guilty or not. But with Ned, she could sit in the car and be soothed by his cheerful banter.

By the time Ned picked her up, she was filled with such raw tension and anger, that she almost broke down in his arms.

"Are you all right, sweetness?" Ned rubbed her shoulder.

"When do I appear in court?" Ann asked. She hoped for a chance to prove her innocence, as much as she wanted the tiresome matter to disappear.

"Court? No, Annie." Ned patted her arm. "I greased the right palm in there." He jerked his thumb towards the jail.

"Thank you, Ned." She was weary now, and gripped Ned's arm for support.

"One of the cops told me what happened. What were you doing in a place like that?"

"Drinking lemonade." It was the truth, but Ann saw Ned's look of disbelief.

"Well, we'd better pick up some lemons on the way home." Ned waved his bandaged hand at an approaching taxicab.

When they were inside the cab, Ann held his hand gently and asked, "How is it? Jimmy told me that you burned-."

"When did you see that rat?"

Ann flinched at his bitter tone. "This afternoon. He-"

"Well, my hand's better now, no thanks to him."

They road the rest of the way home in silence.

 

********************

As Ann entered the club with Ned, she saw Kate sitting alone in the parlor. And Ann froze when she saw the angry look on Kate's face.

"Did you tell her?" Ann whispered to Ned.

"No," Ned whispered back, "She wasn't in the room when you called. She could be upset about something else."

Ann took a deep breath and walked into the parlor to face the woman. "Kate, I-"

Kate held up her hand to silence Ann. "Why don't you go upstairs and rest. I'm sure you've been through quite a bit today." Kate stood. "Ned, would you mind helping me with dinner?"

"She knows." But Ann was dismayed by Kate's sympathy, and refused to move. "I can prepare dinner, Kate."

"That won't be necessary." Kate gave her a cool look. "I'll speak with you later."

Ann was put off by the warning in Kate's tone, and decided to leave the woman in her own sullen world. Since Kate didn't want to hear her side of the story, why should she bother? "She'll probably fire me, even though I work in a place that serves liquor." And this angered Ann, so she went upstairs as ordered.

 

 

********************

 

Ann folded her clothes into the suitcase she had placed on her bed. She made a little space in the bag for the books Kate had given her. Satisfied that her spare belongings were accounted for, she laid the battered bag on the floor. If Kate were going to fire her, she wouldn't give her the satisfaction of staying another minute in the same house.

Ann was tired from her efforts. And without taking off her street clothes, she crawled into her bed and fell asleep. She dreamed of a barren garden with tangled wires that crept like vines over its crumbling walls. And when she tried to ascend the walls, thorns scored her soft skin. She pushed higher until her clothes caught in the wiry hooks of the horrid vines. She struggled and cried until she felt her body being pulled free. Then she moved out of the garden and followed the sound of... water. Water?

Roused from her dream, Ann drew herself out of bed and followed the sound of running water. It was coming from the kitchen. Was she so tired that she forgot to lock the door? She looked around for something to hit the intruder with. Sewing thimble, tin of mints. Well, she could throw the mints. She crept down the hallway to the kitchen; weapon in hand.

Ann slumped against the wall in relief when she saw Kate at the kitchen sink. She also felt a little silly, and slipped the tin of mints into her skirt pocket. Kate sensed her presence and turned. She was sucking one her fingers. Ann laughed when she spied the fruit and knife lying atop the cutting board.

She walked into the kitchen and stood next to Kate. "What are you doing?" Ann held Kate's hand under the water. "Making blood pudding?"

"I can ask you the same question. Your bag is packed." Kate brushed a stray hair from Ann's forehead.

"I thought you were going to fire me." Ann continued to hold Kate's hand beneath the cold water.

"Jimmy called... just before you called Ned." Kate chuckled at Ann's astonishment. "Ned's not a good actor."

"If you knew, then why were you so angry with me?"

"You? I was furious with Jimmy." Kate slipped a comforting arm around Ann's waist. "You could have been hurt."

"Are you going to fire Jimmy?" The man was a rascal, but Ann found herself liking him.

"No." Kate looked down at their linked hands. "Please don't tell anyone that he was with you."

"How do you know I didn't?" Ann smiled at Kate's smug look. "Let me guess, Ned's not good at interrogation either. What kind of trouble is Jimmy in?"

"Let's just say that he has too much to deal with right now." She brushed her free hand against Ann's cheek. "Now will you give me back my hand, please? It's getting wrinkled."

Ann turned off the faucet then she raised Kate's hand to her lips and kissed the injured finger. Kate blushed and tried to move away, but Ann held onto her gently. She leaned in and gave the smaller woman a soft kiss on the lips.

"Do you know what you're doing?" Kate asked in a gentle voice.

"No," Ann replied shyly. She kissed Kate's thumb when it brushed across her lips.

"Here." Kate cupped Ann's chin. "Tilt your head a little." Kate touched Ann's lips with the tip of her tongue then kissed her tenderly. They continued to kiss until they heard a rumbling noise. Both women looked down at Ann's belly and laughed.

"We'd better get some food into you," Kate said as she led a reluctant Ann to the kitchen table.

Ann put her arms around Kate's waist, and held her from behind. "No. More kisses."

"That's not what your stomach's telling me." Kate moved out of Ann's embrace and sat at the table.

Ann joined Kate and looked down at her plate with mild suspicion. It looked like meat loaf, mashed potatoes...and something green.

Kate laughed. "It's simple, really. Just put a little in your mouth and chew. If it's not to your liking, there's always fruit." Kate gave her a wicked grin. "I hear you're fond of lemons."

Ann wisely held her counsel, and ate a spoonful of mashed potatoes. She silently vowed to make Kate Dorsey's life anything but simple.

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