For Notes and disclaimers, please see Part One.

SPEAKEASY

PART 3

By Bastet bastet_amun@hotmail.com

 

Gene Mailin And The Pansy Craze

 

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

 

The cold morning came too soon for Ann. Weary though she had been, it had taken long night of tossing and turning, and finally rising to drink hot milk before sleep embraced her. But now, she was roused out of her bed by a loud banging at the door. And her sleepy state caused her stub her toe on a chair. Not one for cursing, she could only summon up mild "darn," as she limped to the door.

 

"Hurry up in there!" Rose rattled the handle until the door sprung open. "Girl, don't you know how to lock this thing at night?" Rose pushed several packages into Ann's arms.

 

"What are these?" Ann was still groggy, and managed to drop them on the floor.

 

"It's for the party tonight, honey." Rose retrieved the packages and walked into Ann's bedroom.

 

"Party? B-but, I have to cook." Ann followed her, and crawled onto the bed. She was determined to go back to sleep, but Rose climbed in next her, squashing any further dreams of Kate.

 

"No cooking tonight. A group's coming up from the Village. And they don't eat. They're all music, talk, booze and more talk." Rose opened one of the packages and held up a dress for Ann. "You're going to look so good in this. Try it on."

 

Ann touched the dress and marveled at its beauty. It was dark blue silk with tiny silver beads. And as she turned it in her hands, it shimmered like the night sky. But the thought of going to a party made her feel like an eel was swimming in her stomach. No one had ever given her something so lovely, so she would try to make the effort to attend. Ann thanked Rose by pulling her into a tight embrace.

"Hey, I need to breathe." Rose gently extricated herself from Ann's arms, and presented her with a pair of matching blue shoes with silver tipped heals. "It's high time you had some fun. Who knows, you might meet someone who tickles your fancy. Lord knows there'll be plenty willing to do it when they see you in this getup."

 

"I don't think so. I..." Ann blushed and kept her gaze on the dress that lay in her lap. "I kissed Kate last night."

 

Rose felt something skitter down her spine. "You what? Where?"

 

"In my kitchen." Ann raised up enough to pull her nightgown over her head.

 

"That's not what I mean." Rose looked at Ann as if she were a small child caught stealing from the corner store.

 

"On the lips?" Ann offered.

 

"You tell me. I wasn't there, remember?"

 

"Yes," Ann said in a soft voice.

 

"Yes you remember, or yes on the lips?" Rose was annoyed now. "Never mind. Look Ann, don't go getting stuck on Kate. She's my friend, but-"

 

"She kissed me back," Ann said defiantly.

 

"That doesn't necessarily mean anything."

 

"You don't know," Ann interrupted. "You weren't there, remember?"

 

"I do know, honey. Kate is not the type to stay put."

 

"She doesn't believe she should make an offer to stay put," Ann said softly. "And I don't think that anyone has ever given her a reason to."

 

"Ann, have you ever wondered why Jimmy runs around like he does? Or why Ned wants to finally get that one true love who's wandering the earth somewhere?" Rose shook her head at her naive friend. "You can't change what Kate wants out of life."

 

"I don't intend to." Ann held Rose's hand. "I'll offer her what she needs." The thought made Ann smile to herself.

 

"Oh I see. You think that all you have to do is shoot a little arrow into Kate's heart, and she will be wonderfully transformed?"

 

"No." To Rose's amazement, Ann laughed. "At least you admit that she does have a heart."

 

Rose grew weary of trying to make the stubborn girl listen, so she relented and gently touched Ann's face. "All right. At least you'll get to wear your heart on a pretty sleeve tonight."

 

"Or win hers." Ann saw the look on Rose's face, and thought it better to change the subject. She pulled some cotton material from one of the bags and waved it at Rose. "What's this?"

 

"Oh, that's to flatten your breasts. It keeps the line of the dress straight." Rose demonstrated by holding the dress up to her own flattened bosom. "See? But I don't think you'll have much success hiding these babies." Rose snorted as she cupped one of Ann's full breasts.

 

Ann gently slapped her hand away. "I have to go down and cook breakfast. Ned and Kate were sweet enough to make dinner last night."

 

"Don't tell me that Ned was there when you two were kissing?"

 

"Of course not!"

 

"Well, at least she fed you," Rose said as she ducked a carefully aimed pillow. "I think I'll go downstairs now. And you get some clothes on, unless you plan on cooking in your birthday suit." Rose left the apartment disheartened, knowing that she would have to give Ann more than a silk shield to protect her feelings.

 

 

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

 

"Well, Lady Casanova is awake." Rose took a sip of Kate's seemingly ever present coffee.

 

"Sit down, Rose." Kate tried to keep the irritation from showing on her face. "Lady Casanova, indeed!" She fetched another cup and poured more coffee for herself. "I don't know whose window you were peering into last night, but it wasn't me you saw in the bed."

 

"Who said anything about a bed? I saw Ann this morning." Rose bit into one of the biscuits on the table and regretted it instantly. "Did you make these?"

 

Ned walked out of the kitchen and joined them. "No, Rosy dear. I made them. Good aren't they?"

 

"They're quite...unique." Rose slid the plate closer to Kate. " Where are my manners? You must be starving."

 

"Thanks, but I've had plenty." Kate's expression dared Rose to contradict her.

 

"I heard you say that you saw Ann. How is she?" said Ned. "I guess she's still shook up about being arrested."

 

"Arrested? She didn't tell me about that." Rose gave Kate a questioning look. But Kate's face remained as blank as poker player with a winning hand.

 

"She was in a dive that got raided," said Ned. "I bailed her out though."

 

Kate rubbed her forehead and sighed. "It was all very innocent. You know how people can get the wrong idea." She pushed the plate of biscuits back to Rose. "Don't tease her about it," she said quietly.

 

"I would never tease Ann." Rose caught Kate's warning, but refused to listen. "Neddy, what happened to your hand?"

 

"The coffeepot boiled over." Ned flexed his fingers. "But I got to it in time. Can't have the kitchen burning down."

 

"You're so right, Neddy." Rose looked down at her discarded biscuit. "That's usually where fires start... if you're not careful."

 

Kate looked dangerously at Rose.

 

Uncomfortable with the tension, Ned rose from the table. "I'll leave you ladies to your breakfast. I have to get ready to go out and run a few errands." When neither woman responded, he retreated, leaving them to drink their coffee in the strained silence.

 

Both women took the other's measure, refusing to be the first to speak. They had played this little game many times over. Though Kate wanted to know exactly what Ann had said, she waited patiently for Rose to crack. And when Rose refused to look at her, Kate knew the answer wouldn't be long in coming.

 

"Kate, you're my friend, and so is Ann. But I won't see her get hurt." Rose felt a lump form in her throat. She looked down at her cup and stirred the hot coffee.

 

Kate felt her face flush with anger. "Not that this is any of your business, but what makes you think I'm going to hurt her?"

 

"What's changed?" Rose challenged. "You've managed to push everyone away after Rick-"

 

"Don't, Rose." Her words stung Kate like a swarm of bees. It hurt to know that her closest friend never understood what she had gone through after losing Rick. The loss...the pain had been unbearable.

 

"She thinks she's in love with you," Rose said. She hoped that the hot coal she just dropped into Kate's lap would burn some sense into her. But Kate did not say anything. She sat there with the strangest look on her face...sadness mixed with pleasure.

 

"Do you know what you're doing?" Rose asked.

 

Kate laughed bitterly. She gripped her coffee cup and said, "I've been asked that question many times. Well I'm through with answering it." Coldness colored her tone. "I don't give a damn about the world's acceptance-hell; some of my own kind can't accept me. But I did not expect this from you."

 

"Your own kind? This isn't about that, Kate." Rose saw a flicker of pain cross her friend's face. She covered Kate's hand with her own to prevent her from leaving the table. "I love you. I just don't like what you do to people...to yourself. You can't keep-"

 

"This discussion is over." Kate got out of her chair. "Now, if you don't mind, I have some business to take care of."

 

"What business?" Rose demanded. "I take care of all your business."

 

"Then balance the books," Kate replied in a cold voice. "That is what you're here for, right?"

 

Kate left the dining room and grabbed her coat from the hall closet. And she was so distracted she didn't notice Ned sitting on the bottom step of the stairs. With utter sadness, he looked on as Kate rushed from the club.

 

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

 

The drive down to the Village had not given Kate the time she needed to cool off. Still stinging from Rose's words, she waited in her car in front of an enormous red brick building. "What's changed?" Even the hard earth could be turned after a long frost. But angry as she was, she couldn't blame Rose for being skeptical enough to flash a mirror upon her emotional distance.

 

 

Kate rolled down the window of her car when she saw Jimmy approaching. His lean body was clad in a gray suit. He looked ever the corporate gentleman, except for the wildly colored tie. And his clear blue eyes twinkled with boyish mischief. She wondered how the man managed to keep himself happy, picking up and leaving everything behind to travel wherever the next job took him. She sighed, wishing she had that luxury.

 

"Waiting long, Kate?" He gave her a quick peck on the cheek then walked around to the other door and slid in beside her.

 

"No." Kate smacked Jimmy's leg. "What the hell were you thinking taking Ann to a dump like that?"

 

"I thought I was being followed." Jimmy tried to look repentant but failed miserably. "Hey, I did call in a favor at the precinct to smooth it over."

 

"Well don't let Ned know that. He thinks that he rescued her." Kate gave him a sidelong glance. "Let's hope your taste in friends can be counted upon."

 

"Trust me. I know what I'm doing." Jimmy clutched his chest as if wounded. "You know, your doll baby has my keys."

"Then how did you manage to get that green tank down here?"

 

"I always keep a spare. And Clara's not a tank." He was truly insulted by the remark.

 

"If you loved your women half as much as you love that car...." Kate's voice trailed off, knowing that she had hit her mark.

 

"Look who's talking."

 

"There hasn't been anyone since-" Kate closed her mouth. She wasn't about to get into this discussion again, certainly not with Jimmy.

 

"The Doll?"

 

Kate looked at the sign on the red brick building-Lil's Place. "Are you ready to go in?"

 

"Sure. You know you don't have to do this, Kate." Jimmy squeezed her shoulder. "We'll still protect your club for everything you've done."

 

"I know. But that's not why I'm doing it." Kate opened her car door. "Let's go. And Ann is not my doll baby."

 

"Aaaah, faint heart speaks false words." Jimmy joined Kate on the sidewalk.

 

"Now I know why you're not a poet."

 

Jimmy followed Kate up the cement steps leading to the apartments devoted to Lil's Place.

 

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

 

"It's about time you got here, Jimmy darling." A bespectacled older woman ushered them into the parlor.

 

"Morning, Lil. This is Kate, the business partner I told you about." Jimmy wiped his shoes on the stained carpet.

 

"I like Madam Katie better. It has a nice ring to it." Lil winked at Kate and clasped her hand in greeting.

 

Kate had expected anything but the woman standing before her. Lil looked like a genteel headmistress facing retirement. The garish room spoke for itself, but Lil looked totally out of place standing in it.

 

"Sit and rest your feet." Lil tugged Jimmy down on the couch beside her. "Would either of you care for some tea or coffee?"

 

Kate sat in the chair opposite them. "Coffee would be fine, thank you."

 

"Nora! Get your lazy butt in here." Lil seemed to be anything but genteel with her workers.

 

Kate looked up to see a sullen young girl appear in the doorway of the parlor, tugging nervously at her short silk slip. Kate thought Jimmy's jacket counted for more clothes than this kid was wearing.

 

"Bring some coffee for our guests." After Nora nodded and scurried from the room, Lil turned to comment on Kate's interest in the girl. "You can try her out if you like."

 

"Maybe after we're finished talking," Jimmy said. He saw the look of disgust on Kate's face and shot her a warning glance. "Did you talk to your... supplier for us?"

 

"Of course. He's the twitchy sort, but I'd do anything for you, handsome." Lil patted his knee. "He's agreed to meet with you tonight, if you've got the greenbacks that is."

 

"I assure you, we're well prepared to meet his costs," Kate said. She hoped that Nora would add a shot of gin to the coffee because the taste in her mouth was becoming very bitter.

 

"How many do you need?" asked Lil.

 

Jimmy spoke up before Kate could say anything. "Well, we're just starting out. A couple of girls, I guess." Jimmy took the paper that Lil handed him. He scanned it for the address and time of their meeting, then looked at Kate and nodded his head. He passed her the piece of paper, and Kate stuffed it in her purse.

 

"Katie, I hope you have more business sense than handsome here." Lil patted Jimmy's fire-red cheek. "Where's that girl? I swear, she's slow as a snail."

 

Kate rose from the overstuffed chair. "I'll give her a hand. You don't mind, do you?" she asked.

 

Lil gave her another sly wink. "Suit yourself, Madam. The kitchen's in the back."

 

Grateful to get away from the horrid woman, Kate made her way down the tacky hallway. She didn't want to scare the girl, so she called her name softly. But it didn't work because the kid nearly dropped the coffeepot when Kate entered the kitchen.

 

"I didn't mean to startle you." Kate moved slowly towards Nora. "I just wanted to see if you needed any help."

 

"I know how to fix coffee, ma'am." The girl looked down shyly at her feet, but her surly tone wasn't lost on Kate.

 

"I think you're anything but okay. You should be in school." Kate took the coffeepot from Nora's hand and placed it on the counter. "How old are you?"

 

"Fifteen, ma'am." Nora crossed her arms over her small breasts and looked at Kate defiantly. "And there's nothing you can do about it."

 

"You don't have to call me ma'am. My name is Kate." She touched Nora's shoulder, but the girl flinched. Kate retrieved a card from her purse and offered it to the girl. "Here, take this."

 

"What is it?" Nora took the card and stared at it.

 

"It belongs to my friend...Rose." Kate touched the girl again, and was relieved when she didn't back away. "Call her when you're ready to leave."

 

"What makes you think that I want to leave?" Nora stuffed the card in her bra. "You want me to come work for you?" She brushed her hip against Kate.

"No," said Kate. Nora removed the straps of her slip. Kate was appalled, but she managed to smile at the girl. "I just don't think you want to stay with someone like Lil. The card's our secret, okay?"

 

The girl did not smile back. "Yeah, I know all about keeping secrets...Kate."

 

When Kate entered the kitchen with the tray of coffee mugs, she spotted Jimmy struggling to free himself from Lil's rapacious grasp. Lil laughed and gamely tried to add more lipstick to his heavily stained face.

 

Kate cleared her throat. When that tactic failed, she put the tray down with a loud bang on the coffee table.

 

"Oh! You must learn to make more noise when you move, dear." Lil pushed Jimmy away as if he were the one who initiated their brazen tussle on the couch.

 

"I'll try to remember that." Kate shook her head in disbelief at the older woman's antics.

 

"We gotta go, Lil." Jimmy nearly jumped off the couch.

 

"What about the coffee?" Lil asked.

 

"Some other time. We're late for an appointment." Jimmy grabbed Kate's coat and dragged her from the apartment.

 

When they made it to Kate's car, Jimmy slumped against the door. "What's with the coffee thing?" he asked.

 

"What?"

 

"You know, the kid." Jimmy was angry.

 

"Just offering choices."

 

"Well, don't." Jimmy said. Kate had never seen him sweat before-she had never seen him so angry either. "Some people don't deserve them."

 

"I will always disagree with you there." Kate could see that he was flushed and barely holding it together. It looks like Lil shook him up more than she had thought.

 

"Okay. We can disagree." He made a display of himself by lying against the car with his arms outstretched. "Your chariot awaits, my lady."

 

"How am I suppose to get in with you sleeping all over it?" Kate asked.

 

"Give me a minute here." Jimmy took a swipe at his face with his handkerchief then he moved to let her enter the car.

 

"The old girl still has a lot of steam left, doesn't she?" Kate teased. "Lean down. You missed a spot." She took his handkerchief and wiped his face. "You look like you just left a whorehouse."

 

"Very funny. The next time we need a favor from Lil, I'll let you catch some of her stream."

 

"No, thanks." Kate started her car. "Just remember that you're playing at the club tonight, handsome."

 

"What time?" Jimmy asked. But Kate couldn't hear him over the roar of the car's engine.

And she pulled away from the curb leaving a somewhat distressed Jimmy standing on the sidewalk. Fearing that Gus would beat the crap out of him for being late again, he left to search for a telephone.

 

 

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

 

Kate exited her car in time to see Ann emerge from the side entrance of the club. She felt her heart clutch at the site of the young woman's blonde hair glowing in the afternoon sun. To Kate, Ann didn't seem to have the same carefree attitude towards the world as most young people did. Her stride was one of purpose...nothing wasted.

 

"Where are you off to?" Kate asked.

 

Ann stopped and turned. She walked over to hold Kate in a warm embrace. "Kate! Where have you been?"

 

"No place nice." Kate whispered in her ear, "But this is nice. However, we are standing in the middle of the sidewalk."

 

Ann blushed and took Kate's hand. "I need to go to the marketplace. Will you accompany me?" she asked in a shy voice.

 

Kate laughed at the girl's enthusiasm. "Since you're so attached to my hand, I don't think I have a choice." She held on to their clasped hands as they crossed the street to the marketplace. "By the way, what did you say to Rose this morning?"

 

"I told her that you tried to seduce me, but I threw you out." Ann laughed. "Your reputation is intact. She'll never know that you protected my virtue."

 

The color drained from Kate's face. If not Rose, then this blunt young woman would certainly lead her to an early grave. "Please tell me that you're joking."

 

"Of course. But if you want me to tell her-"

 

"No!" Kate paused to make her voice more gentle. "That's a lovely sweater, but where's your coat?" She slipped her arm through Ann's as they strolled over to the multicolored stands in open-air market. She wondered if she would ever be able to figure the girl out. Ann had a curious way of being shy one minute and rather bold the next.

 

"I-well it's not that cold outside." Ann stopped to admire some sweet potatoes piled high on one of the wooden carts. "Do you like these?"

 

"I don't know. I've never had them." Kate picked up one of the tubers and turned it in her hands.

 

Ann couldn't hide her surprise at hearing this. "You've lived in Harlem all this time, and you don't know anything about sweet potatoes?"

 

"What do you know about them?"

 

"Miss Ruth taught me how to cook them."

 

"And who is Miss Ruth?" Kate gathered up some potatoes and handed them to the vendor. He smiled and wrapped up two more when she offered him a couple of dollars.

 

"The cook at my old school. I used eat in the kitchen with her when she was in a good mood." Ann sighed softly. "You would like her."

 

"If she was kind to you, then I adore her."

 

Ann blushed. "You paid too much for them." Ann whispered in Kate's ear as they moved away from the stand. She took the bag of potatoes from Kate.

 

"There are times when we should pay more." Kate linked her arm with Ann's. "Do you want to get something to eat?"

 

"No. May we sit for awhile?"

 

"Over there." Kate led Ann to one of several old wooden benches at the end of the market." Ann, we should talk about last night." Kate could not bring herself to look at Ann.

 

"Not if you're going to tell me that I made a mistake."

 

"How can you be so sure that it's you?" Kate pulled Ann down beside her on the rough bench. "Sometimes I feel like there's this great wound inside me...an emptiness I want to fill. But it never seems to be the right time to-"

"And you think that running away will make it better?" Ann interrupted.

 

"I'm not running. I'm trying to be realistic."

 

"Striving for realism, are you? This isn't realism. That jail I was sitting in last night was! People are being shoved around...having their rights are taken from them."

 

Kate was taken aback by the girl's anger. "You think I'm not aware of that? That I don't fight for.... If only you knew."

 

"Then tell me. You're certainly not going out on dates with Jimmy at night."

 

"What would you know about where I go?" Kate wondered how she managed to get herself into this conversation.

 

"I know enough. Rose keeps your books. Ned and Gus run errands for everything imaginable...I cook. But Jimmy can't scrape his knee without you-"

 

"Leave him out of this."

 

"Why?" Ann held Kate's gaze, hoping to find what obsession drove her to protect the man. "If you're trying to keep him out of trouble, I can help you. Just tell me what's wrong."

 

"I can't tell you that." Kate wondered how the hell they got on this topic.

 

"Well, next time you see him, tell him I have his keys."

 

"Keys? You've been to his apartment?" Kate hoped that Jimmy hadn't gotten tanked and told the girl more than she should know. Then she remembered what Jimmy had said about his car keys.

 

"They belong to Clara-his car."

 

"Don't worry about that. He keeps extra sets. We should go back to the club."

 

"No. You should."

 

"I'm not leaving you here."

 

"Are you afraid I'll be abducted by a street vendor? I don't need to be protected from the world."

 

"Darling, please." Kate tried to put her arm around Ann, but she pulled away.

 

"I have work to do."

 

"You don't have to cook tonight." Kate moved to close the distance between them. "But we can finish shopping together, all right?"

 

"You called me darling. Why?"

 

Kate was startled. She hadn't realized that the word slipped out. "Because that's what you are to me." Kate pulled Ann closer.

 

"I thought I was a distraction." Ann leaned away from her.

 

"A distraction is not what I would call it. If you had let me finish what I was saying, you would know that I don't want to make another mistake...not with you. Can you give me the time I need?"

 

"Yes, if you promise not shut me out."

 

"I promise." Kate melted when Ann placed a gentle kiss on her hand. "There are some things I have to take care of first," she said.

 

"Other girls?" Ann teased.

 

"Yes." Kate tried to assure her with a brief kiss. "Not in the way you think." Ann wasn't reassured, but kissed her back. "I don't know if a marketplace can get raided, but we better not give the police a reason."

 

Ann laughed and pulled Kate to her feet. "Then here's the plan: I shop, but you have to peel and wash."

 

"We're still talking about fruit and vegetables, right?"

 

Kate guided Ann back to the stands, wondering what kind of 'we should talk" this was supposed to be. She was falling in love with Ann, so it didn't seem to matter what Rose had said. Her heart knew better. And for once, she planned on being brave enough to trust it.

 

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

 

 

Ann stood in the hallway of the club's smoke-filled parlor, and peered at the young men and women up from the Village for a good time. They were talking and drinking, and -thankfully- only a few were dancing. Some sat and listened to Gus play his sax. Ann stared at the beautiful young guest who subbed for Ned at the piano. She could hear that the young woman played as beautifully as Ned did, but it was missing the heart that he managed to put into his music. Ann was surprised to see that Jimmy managed to turn up on time to accompany them on the drums.

 

And of course Ned worked the room, pleading a sore hand when his young admirers asked for a song. Tales of his challenge with an errant coffeepot mushroomed into a heroic battle to save the entire club from burning down. One of the young men took Ned's drink and asked him to dance. It was then that he spied Kate standing near Rose. He winked at them and spirited his partner away to dance.

 

"Ned's having a good time," Kate said.

 

"I think his stories are more entertaining than his music." Rose and Kate touched their champagne glasses together. "You're not doing too bad yourself. I saw those two shebas over there warming up to you."

 

"One fire in the house is enough." Kate smiled, but Rose was embarrassed.

 

"Look, about earlier-"

 

"Don't worry about it." Kate put her arm around Rose and hugged her.

 

Ann watched as the two women who mattered the most to her, embrace. She hoped that whatever had transpired between them was not related to her in some way. The two put down their drinks and began to dance to the jazzy music. They looked good in each other's arms, and Ann wondered why they hadn't turned to each other for love.

 

 

She watched the gold of Kate's dress brush against Rose's black silk. They looked like shimmering butterflies moving beneath the parlor's dim lights. Ann felt awkward standing in the doorway as the two women swirled and dipped together in the smoky room. Kate said something amusing, and Rose tipped her head back and laughed. They seemed so at ease, an ease that Ann never thought she would never feel.

 

Her gaze strayed to Ned. She smiled as he approached her with a drink. "Ann, how lovely you look. A pretty dress for a pretty girl." He pressed the drink into her hand. Though annoyed, she acknowledged his compliment with a brief nod. She didn't want to be a pretty girl. For the first time, she wanted to be alluring, like the ones in the corner who were eyeing Kate's every move. Did they see what she saw? An intelligent but guarded woman, or just an auburn beauty that promised a good time in bed?

 

 

Ann tilted her glass and sipped a little of the champagne. She winced, not use to the taste. "Now you're talking" Ned offered his elbow. "Come with me and join the party." She allowed Ned to lead her into the parlor.

 

Gus bowed his head to her, and Jimmy winked. She was surprised to see that the rascal was actually very good on the drums.

 

Kate caught Ann's entrance out of the corner of her eye. And Rose looked at her questioningly when she stopped dancing. "Am I tiring you out, woman?"

 

"No. I'm ummm...." Kate looked at the beautiful dress and the way it clung to Ann's graceful body. "She's exquisite," Kate thought as she watched Ned extend his hand to Ann for a dance. The girl looked reluctant at first, but acquiesced. They moved slowly, but Kate could see that Ann was uncomfortable. Though Ned was encouraging, he was not the partner to instill confidence in the young woman. She was beautiful, but didn't seem to know it. Her flowing blonde hair gently framed her face, and the dark dress made her eyes seem a deeper blue. But the sparkle was missing from her downcast eyes, and there was no hint of a smile on her face.

 

Kate didn't know how she managed to move her feet, but she found herself standing before them, interrupting their dance to gently take Ann in her arms. "You are lovely," Kate whispered as she held Ann closer.

 

"So are many others in this room." Ann stiffened a little. "Great Ann. She gives you a compliment and you insert your foot in your mouth. Jealousy was a rare experience for Ann. She usually didn't care enough about someone to compete for their feelings. But something about the hungry looks on the other women's faces made her ache for Kate's attention.

 

"Just look at me. We're the only ones in this room." Kate smiled to herself when Ann laughed. The girl moved quite well when she relaxed a bit.

 

"I'm not very good at this." They danced for a few more minutes until they ended up holding each other in the hallway.

 

"I'd say you're pretty darn good considering the way you maneuvered us out of the room." Kate stroked Ann's golden tresses.

 

"I don't mean dancing." Ann looked towards the other women in the crowded parlor. "I'm not like them."

 

"I don't want you to be." Kate touched her elbow. "Come with me."

 

 

 

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

 

They entered Rose's office. And through the closed door they could still hear the blue strains of Gus' sax. Kate opened a bottle of bourbon and poured two drinks. She offered one to Ann, but the girl shook her head. "I've been saving this one for a long time. Don't tell me. You're not fond of bourbon."

 

Ann shook her head again, but this time she smiled. She sat on the sofa, and folded her hands in her lap. "Shall I tell you what I'm fond of?" She blushed upon realizing how the words came across.

 

Kate came near and perched on the arm of the sofa. She took a deep swallow of her bourbon, hoping in vain that fiery liquor would still her hammering heart. "Why don't you show me instead?" she teased. She ran her hand through Ann's soft hair, hoping the girl would shy away. But Ann reached up and kissed her on the lips.

 

"Ann, a chic veneer doesn't matter." Kate placed her hand over Ann's heart. "Some are blessed with great beauty. But it's what comes from inside that moves me."

 

"And what exactly are you saying?" Ann asked nervously.

 

"I'm saying that you are twice blessed, darling." Kate caressed Ann's face then brushed her lips across her ear.

 

To Kate's amazement, Ann stood and removed her dress. She had wanted to reassure her, not seduce her. And she didn't want Ann to feel that she had to prove anything. Kate could see that she was making Ann nervous by staring at her, so she pulled Ann down next to her. In an effort to make Ann smile, she asked, "Is it that hot in here?" That seemed to get a small smile out of the young woman.

 

Kate crossed her legs-no small feat while sitting on the narrow arm of the sofa. She sipped her bourbon, and idly stroked the cotton strip Ann had used to bind her breasts. "I don't know why you young women are so fond of hiding your...charms under these contraptions. Wouldn't you be more comfortable in a brassiere?" Kate tugged at the binding.

 

"Well, Rose said that it straightens the line-" Ann stopped in mid sentence. She couldn't believe the woman wanted to talk about fashion while she was sitting there in her knickers waiting like a sacrificial lamb. "Do you do this to all of your women?"

 

"Do what? And who are all these women you're talking about?" Kate kissed the top of Ann head. 'Lavender. She even smells wonderful."

 

Ann crossed her arms tightly over her chest. This was not going well at all. If Kate insisted on treating her like a child, then she would put on her dress and leave. "Which question do you want me to answer first?"

 

Kate tilted her head back and let out a laugh. It chilled Ann's skin to hear the smoky laughter. Ann summoned the courage to look at her and was surprised to see fear in Kate's eyes. "She's nervous too." She took the glass from Kate's hand and placed it on the nearby end table. Then she gently slipped Kate onto her lap, and kissed her on the lips. She marveled at the slender body she held in her arms, and she looked at Kate for a long time before kissing her again.

 

Kate slowly unwound the cotton binding from Ann's smooth skin and she gently rubbed the angry red lines left behind by the material. She kissed each breast then brushed her hand softly against Ann's leg, slipping pass the rolled stockings to the softness of her thighs. Ann gasped when she when she felt Kate's fingers caressing her skin.

 

She was bewildered but intrigued when Kate knelt before her and kissed the tender skin of her inner thighs. "What are you-"

 

"It's all right, darling. If you don't like it, we'll stop." Kate looked up at her, waiting for an answer.

 

"No! I mean...proceed." Ann closed her eyes and groaned when Kate chuckled. "God, she must think I'm directing traffic." Kate smiled as she slowly removed the silk undergarments. She kissed the golden curls, and gently entered Ann with her fingers. And when Ann whimpered a little, she grazed the little nub with her tongue. She moved a hand to Ann belly to keep her hips firmly on the soft cushion of the sofa. Kate smiled to herself when Ann moved forward to meet her caresses. Careful not to hurt her, Kate continued to stroke and kiss Ann gently until she felt her climax.

"Do you know how beautiful you are, Ann?" Kate remained kneeling, but laid her head on Ann's lap. And Ann stroked her soft auburn hair. "You can open your eyes now, darling." Kate smiled up at her.

 

Ann gathered Kate in her lap and nuzzled her neck. She slowly caressed Kate's face, and tried to slow her breathing, but could not. Her heart felt like it was about to leap into her throat. "Y-you never answered my question."

"Yes I did, darling." Ann almost purred when Kate caressed her sensitive breasts. "You are the only woman I have, and will ever want."

 

 

"I hope so." Ann sighed and held Kate's slender body even closer. She nipped at Kate's neck, wanting to give her the same pleasure she had received. Her hands trailed along the back of the gold dress until she found a tiny pearl clasp. She moved the dress down Kate's arms, and was pleased to find that Kate wasn't wearing a cotton bind, or a brassiere. She cupped the small breasts in her hands. "Now, I know your secret." Ann kissed the tip of Kate's nose.

 

"What? That I'm too small, or just wanton for not wearing anything?"

 

"No. You're perfect." Ann held Kate tightly. But both women were drawn from their sweet embrace when a knock at the door sounded.

 

'Kate! Are you in there?" Jimmy banged at the door louder. "Come on, we've gotta go."

 

"Oh, God. I forgot." Kate stood and straightened her dress. "I'm sorry, darling, but there's something I must attend to."

 

"Now?" Somewhat dazed, Ann reached for her clothes and dressed quickly. "Tell him to leave."

 

"I can't do that." Kate opened her purse, and drew a tube of lipstick from it. In her haste, she didn't notice the slip of paper that fell out of the tiny black bag. "Jimmy," she yelled, "I'll be with you shortly." She turned to Ann. "Are you presentable?"

 

Ann crossed her arms, but nodded yes. "I'm going with you."

 

"No!" Kate walked to the door but Ann blocked her way. "We're not going to argue about this, Ann."

 

"You may need my help."

 

"Not where I'm going." Kate tried to gently move her aside, but Ann wouldn't budge.

 

"Then I won't let you go." Jimmy continued to bang on the door as the two women stared at each other. "You promised not to shut me out." Ann pleaded with her, but she could see that Kate was closing off her feelings...pushing her away.

 

"I didn't mean-" Ann touched two fingers to Kate's lips. She realized that if she won this argument, she would lose Kate. "Turn around." Kate did as she was told. Ann closed the tiny clasp on Kate's dress then turned away from her and opened the door.

 

Jimmy was clearly surprised to see Ann standing beside Kate. He couldn't help overhearing the soft murmurs through the door earlier. And no one could have made him believe that Ann was the woman inside with Kate. After all, Kate had always refuse to entertain his thoughts of them making a good a couple.

 

"Kate, are you ready?" He looked at Ann then lowered his gaze.

 

Kate kissed Ann gently on the lips. "Let's take my car, Jimmy."

 

They walked out of Rose's office, leaving Ann behind. Jimmy nearly knocked Ned down when they turned into the hall. Ned frowned at him, but moved out of their path.

 

"I see we're being left behind," Ned told Ann. He moved inside the office and grabbed a glass full of bourbon. "This one was for you right?" He sipped from it when Ann nodded absently. "Well, good liquor shouldn't go to waste."

 

Ann walked to the sofa and wearily sat down. Ned was too caught up in his thoughts to see how upset she was. "I don't like that guy," he said carelessly. "If you ask me, he's got our Kate into something rotten."

 

"No. She wouldn't leave me after what we-" Ann caught herself. "I mean she has to have a good reason for leaving with him."

 

"Oh yeah? Well, what is it?" He was bitter now. Ever since Jimmy joined the group, Kate had changed-leaving all hours of the night, refusing to tell anyone what she was doing.

Everything seemed to revolve around that seedy little twerp and his strange goings on.

 

"What's this?" Ned asked. He waved the piece of paper he picked up off of Rose's otherwise neat desk.

 

"I don't know. Kate must have forgotten it."

 

"It looks like Jimmy's getting sloppy." Ned smiled smugly. "I don't know about you, but I'm going to find out what they're up to. I don't want Kate being misled by that cad anymore."

 

"What are you talking about?" Ann asked. She came over and took the paper from his hand. And she was puzzled when she saw the address. Whatever it was, the building was certainly not a glittering nightclub.

 

"I've heard things, okay. If he's up to no good, I don't want Kate getting hurt." Ned tapped the paper she was holding. "And this is going to lead us right to him. Hey, they don't have to see us."

 

"What makes you think that Jimmy would let Kate get hurt?" She was worried, but she had a feeling that Ned may be right."

 

"He didn't exactly stick around when you were arrested, now did he?" Ned drank the rest of the bourbon. "Are you coming or not?"

 

Ann nodded. She knew that Kate might need protection, but not from Jimmy. "They took Kate's car, but I have Jimmy's keys."

 

"Good. You pull the car around. I'll be but just a minute."

 

When Ann left, Ned walked around and opened the top drawer of Rose's desk. He searched around until he felt cold steel. Then he drew out the small gun and checked to make sure that it was loaded. Satisfied, he slipped it into his pocket and left the room. For once, he would not be told to stay put by anyone.

 

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

 

 

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