THE GIN LOVERS #2 (Chapter 1)
Charlotte slammed the file cabinet drawer closed and turned around, her heart pounding.
"Is everything okay, Mrs. Delacorte?" said Rafferty, standing in the doorway.
Charlotte almost fainted with relief.
"It's just you," she breathed, standing up slowly.
"I don't mean to intrude, but I saw you come in here and thought you might need assistance."
Had he seen me enter the office? Had he noticed that I picked the lock?
"I don't need anything, Rafferty. Thank you, I'm--I'm fine." She couldn't get out of there fast enough, but the expression on Rafferty's face made her hesitate. "What is it?" she said.
"It's just--and I'm sorry if I'm talking out of turn--I don't think Mr. Delacorte likes anyone to be in this room."
Charlotte felt her pulse quicken, sensing she was about to hear something important but not necessarily something she wanted to know.
"And what gives you that idea?"
Rafferty hesitated. "Please tell me," she said, walking closer to him." His eyes were pale blue, and, she noticed for the first time, he was a striking man. She had never given a lot of thought to the people who worked in the house. The culture of servants was not one she had grown up in, and she dealt with it by keeping a respectful distance and not relying on them any more than was required of a woman in her social position.
"He told me that if he ever caught me in the office, I would be fired on the spot," Rafferty said.
"What?" Charlotte knew it wasn't appropriate for her to reveal that she was at odds with what William had told Rafferty, but she couldn't contain her surprise.
Rafferty shrugged. "It's not out of the ordinary. People need their privacy--especially where servants are concerned," he said.
"Okay, if you say so," Charlotte said. She imagined William walking in, catching them both in the office.
She started for the door.
"But he did make it clear he didn't want anyone in this room--including you," Rafferty added.
She turned back to face him. "How did he 'make it clear'?" she asked.
"He told me to tell him if the room was breached."
She stared at him, momentarily speechless. "And will you?" she finally said.
Those pale blue eyes met hers and held them.
"I didn't see anything to tell, madame."
Boom Boom could smell the money.
Thursday night at the Vesper Club, and it felt like Christmas and New Year's rolled into one. Some nights were like that: the booze was flowing, the women were dancing, and the men were tossing around dollar bills like confetti.
Still, she couldn't relax. She was never more than a few paces from the bar, and she could barely keep her eyes off the entrance. Of course, no one was sharp enough to recognize a Prohibition agent when he walked in the door, but she hoped her instincts would at least give her a few seconds to react before a raid.
Two women sauntered in, their curvy figures a striking departure from the flat-chested, boyish look all the fashionable gals were going for. No, none of that for these two: Their breasts were front and center, brimming over the tops of their low-cut, sequined dresses. But their hair was stylishly short, shiny and dark and skimming their jaws in perfect, identical bobs. Boom Boom rarely forgot a face, and she'd never have forgotten those tits: these women were new to the Vesper.
Boom Boom watched the women take in the room, and when they homed in on the table of men ordering tray after tray of cocktails, her antennae went up.
"I need more Luckies."
She was distracted by the whine of one of her cocktail waitresses. Boom Boom used to give the girls open access to the stash of cigarettes because they sold so fast during the night. But lately, the inventory didn't match up with the cash, and she had been forced to lock them up and dispense them on demand.
Everything was a hassle.
"How many packs d'ya have left?" Boom Boom said. And then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw something that made stolen cigarettes look like child's play:
The women, after just a minute of circling the table of high rollers, said something that made the men follow them out the door like children after the Pied Piper.
"Do you see that?" she said to the waitress.
"Yeah. That's weird. They just ordered a round of drinks."
"God damn it!" Boom Boom said, watching helplessly as the group disappeared into the night.
So this is what it was coming to: as if it wasn't bad enough that she had to worry about getting busted by Prohibition agents and finding a replacement for her supplier, who was currently sitting in jail, she now had to fend off poachers. Poachers!
Club owners were feeding on each other. Well, Boom Boom was not about to be the only guppy in the shark tank.
"Go find Fiona for me," she told the girl who was waiting for her cigarette stash.
The girl scampered off, and Boom Boom surveyed the room, looking for the magnificent redhead who might be more valuable to her than the entire stocked bar.
Fiona appeared before her, dutifully but with barely concealed irritation.
"Put down your tray and come to my office," Boom Boom said.
Boom Boom closed the office door. Fiona stood against the wall, her long legs crossed. She looked supremely bored.
"Congratulations," said Boom Boom. "You've been promoted."
Fiona wrinkled her milky white brow but said nothing.
"Don't you want to know your new job title?" Boom Boom prompted.
"President?" said Fiona dryly.
"Hostess," said Boom Boom, smiling as if she'd just handed Fiona a check for a million dollars.
"What does that mean? I greet people at the door? Doesn't sound like the kind of gig that makes for a lot of tips."
"You're not greeting people at the door. What I want you to do is keep an eye on the high rollers: the fellas who come in groups, get a table, order round after round of drinks. Or maybe it's just a lone guy throwing money around the bar, then watching the show. I want you to single out one guy or a group every night and make sure he stays happy. I'm tired of seeing our club attract the big spenders, then have them get lured away by some hussy from the El Dorado or the Fey Club."
"I can't stop people from leaving the club."
"No. But you can leave with them. And that will keep 'em coming back."
Fiona and Boom Boom locked eyes. Fiona looked away first.
"Do we understand each other?" said Boom Boom. Fiona nodded, then spoke slowly, as if forming the ideas as she talked.
"Just one thing: since I might be cutting my night short by a few hours when I would be standing around getting waitress tips, I guess you'll be paying me a wage. I mean, this is a promotion, you said."
Boom Boom retrieved her gold cigarette case from her jacket pocket and lit one. She took the time to blow a perfect smoke ring before saying, "You're not as dumb as you look, you know that?"
"Is that a yes?"
Boom Boom paced silently, as if Fiona were suggesting something outrageous. In truth, Boom Boom had already anticipated the price of doing business.
"Fine," she said, finally. "Fifteen dollars a week."
Fiona smiled and opened the office door.
"I'd better get back to my shift," she said. She was halfway out of the room when Boom Boom called after her.
"Yeah?" Fiona turned around, her eyes bright with triumph.
"Get me that meeting with your guy who runs the speakeasy. If I don't get booze to sell, none of us has a job."
THE GIN LOVERS #2. Copyright © 2012 by Jamie Brenner.