By Roxanne Dent
Chapter Four: “A Dangerous Game”
Arturo’s was a speakeasy in the West Village. It wasn’t listed in the phone book. The club drew all the great jazz artists, before they moved on to more ritzy joints, like the Cotton Club, or the 21 Club. If you were a member, or were a friend of a member, and knew the code word which changed every week you were buzzed in. I’d been there once with Gil, who despite his job as a Federal agent was a member.
I changed into my glad rags, a diagonal, silk, peach, crepe-de-shine dress, heels, a cloche hat and my mother’s pearls. The minute I head the bell. I grabbed my coat, gloves and purse and headed out.
Gil opened the door of the cab, and I slid in. His hair was cut short and slicked back. He looked snappy in evening clothes. His peculiar, colorless eyes appraised me with approval.
“You look good,” he said, giving me a brotherly kiss on the cheek.
Gil wasn’t unattractive, but his features were such, strangers had a hard time remembering what he looked like the minute he left. It was a trait he once admitted came in handy in his line of work.
If he dated, he never said. There was no magic between Gil and me which was fine with both of us. We didn’t have any expectations. That made our infrequent get togethers relaxed.
The taxi let us out on Perry Street. As I put my arm through Gil’s, and we began to walk down the block into a dark alley, I teased, “I thought you were supposed to arrest all bootleggers and close down known speakeasies that serve liquor.”
“Arturo’s isn’t owned by the mob. Besides, the food and music are out of this world.”
When we came to a brick wall, Gil knocked twice on what looked like brick but wasn’t.
The fake brick opened. A pair of black eyes appeared.
Gil whispered, “Monkey Girl Blues.” We were buzzed in.
Arturo’s was empty at five. Waiters lounged in the back and gossiped.
Arturo himself approached us.
“My dear friend, Signore Brody. It is so good to see you again,” he said, and beamed. “You have brought the lovely Signorina Turner. I am honored.”
Gil once told me Arturo never forgot a face or the name that went with it. I hadn’t been in Arturo’s in over a year.
“Is the steak pizzaiola and broccoli rabe, still on the menu?” I asked.
“If not, I will make it specially and of course a Caesar salad to go with it.”
“We’d like some privacy,” Gil said.
“Certainly! It’s a shame you came so early,” Arturo said, as he led us to the back. “Mayor Walker will be here tonight, and the actress, Barbara Stanwick. The music starts at eight and the band is very good. There is a rumor Billie Holliday may drop by for old time’s sake.”
He led us to a table with a pristine white, tablecloth and a candle in a wine bottle. “Enjoy your meal.” Arturo snapped his fingers and Mario materialized at our table with a Gin Rickey for me and a Martini Sidecar for Gil.
I turned to him once Mario vanished into the kitchen. “Not that I’m complaining, but you could have phoned with the news.”
Gil took a sip of his drink. He looked at me with what I think of as his G-Man look. “I wanted to see your face when I asked, is your interest in Mr. Barnes personal, or professional?”
“Because I would hate to see you unhappy.”
“Is he dangerous?”
He smiled. “Let me tell you about him. Harry Barnes was born in New York, but lived in London, until he was sixteen. His father was the Emperor of screws.”
I laughed. “What?”
“The kind that hold together closets, desks, pipes etc. Rich as Croesus.”
“Harry was born on the wrong side of the blanket. Money was settled on his mother, a maid in the house. He was sent to good schools, where he proved to be an excellent student, unlike his legitimate siblings. He and his mother relocated to New York, where she died from consumption shortly after his eighteenth birthday. His father passed soon after. Harry was left a comfortable trust fund.”
“I assume so. For a few years he drank, gambled, raced horses and played the field, until he met Grace.”
“Go on,” I urged, as he took a sip of his drink.
“Grace was a beautiful debutant. They became engaged. When they were having fun at their engagement party, one of her former boyfriends broke into the house and tossed acid. Harry pushed Alice out of the way. One side of his face was badly burnt. The damage was permanent. Three months later Grace broke off the engagement.
“He’s better off without her.” I barely knew Harry but already I was defensive. It annoyed me.
“No idea why he decided to become a private investigator, but he had the funds to go into the business. So far, it’s minor stuff, mostly divorce.”
“Is he reliable and trustworthy?”
“In business. Personally, he’s reputed to be charming, generous and amusing, but hasn’t had a serious relationship since the incident with the deb. He wines them, dines them, has sex with some of them and after a day or two, leaves.”
“His personal life isn’t what interests me,” I sniffed. “I want my first case to go well. If what you say is true, we’ll get along fine.”
“Congratulations on your first case! What is it? Anything I can help with?”
“If you have time, I would like to know what you have on Madame Roskovich.”
He frowned. “The murdered psychic. Is that your case?”
“No, but I believe there is a connection.” I gave him the details on both Mavis and Madame Roskovich.
Gil peered at me over his second cocktail. “It’s a busy week, but I’ll look into it.”
“You’re a good friend.”
“Be careful, Josie. Neither you nor Harry have experience with murder.”
The food arrived. Superior food deserves to be admired, praised and eaten with total concentration. When dessert and coffee arrived, we sighed and leaned back. We could hear Arturo shouting orders in the back, where the music would take place in a couple of hours.
“Do you still enjoy working for the Feds?” I asked.
“I do. I’m pleased you’ve finally got your first case. I wish it was other than murder. A P.I. is a dangerous profession for a woman. But you know you can count on me if you need anything.”
“This is the twentieth century, Gil. Women have careers that involve danger. Look at Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and Margaret Mead, who traveled to Samoa and New Guinea and wrote the book, “Coming of Age in Samoa.”
“My intention was not to insult you,” Gil laughed.
The moment Gil and I left the restaurant, the door slammed shut behind us. In the time we were inside the weather dropped ten degrees. I wrapped my coat about me, as a chilly wind whipped down the dark alley. A shot rang out. I felt a sting in my shoulder.
Gil unceremoniously shoved me down to the pavement. I ripped my best pair of stockings, skinned my knees, and was annoyed at myself for not carrying my own piece. Gil drew a pistol from the inside of his coat and exchanged fire. We heard feet running down the cobbled street toward the exit.
“Stay here.” He ran after the shooter. Not one to follow orders, I grabbed a broken bottle and followed.
Gil stood on the corner, undecided which way to go. He turned and saw me.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” My heart beat too fast and I felt queasy but managed to joke. “We must have looked like easy pickings.”
“It wasn’t a robbery.”
“How do you know?”
“Thieves steal your wallet and jewels. They might shoot you but not before they got the goods. This is my fault. My job occasionally makes me a target. I could kick myself for putting you in danger.”
“Don’t think it’s serious,” I said as I poked at the rip in my coat. I watched fascinated, as a thin stream of blood dripped out from my wrist onto the sidewalk, splashing the toe of my shoe.
“Jesus!” He dragged me aside.
“It’s a scratch,” I protested. He opened my coat and cursed. Removing a handkerchief, he pressed it against the wound.”
“Ow!” I yelped.
“Keep pressing. You were only nicked. I’m taking you to the hospital. Be prepared. You’ll be questioned by the police and probably spend the night answering questions.”
“Hell no. I’m going home.”
He stared at me for a moment before he nodded.
“Come on.” He led me out of the alley and down the block where he hailed a taxi, as sirens came closer.
“No need to see me to the door,” I said as the cab pulled up.
“Don’t even think about going home alone. Get in.”
As we drove along in silence, each of us caught up in our own thoughts, an unpleasant idea intruded into the throbbing of my arm. Earlier, I felt someone was following me. Was the bullet meant for agent Gil Brody, or me?
Roxanne Dent lives in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and has sold nine novels and dozens of short stories in a variety of genres to anthologies, including Paranormal Fantasy, Regency, Mystery, Horror, Middle Grade and YA. Her fantasy, The Day the Demons Came, recently sold to the anthology, In the Shadow of the Mountain, Elder Gods Publishing. And My Zombie Valentine, sold to Blood Red Shadows, Night to Dawn, and will be out around Valentine’s Day. She has also co-authored short stories and plays with her sister, Karen Dent. Their plays Young at Heart and Monkey Girl Blues, were put on at the Firehouse Theater in Newburyport.