“You ever been to a speakeasy?” Chad had asked over the sound of sizzling latkes, a specialty of his. He was probably at his most charming in the morning. He wasn’t yet an investment broker this early on. The hard edges were not yet honed. Out of his suits he was more approachable, a towheaded lanky man in boxers who watched cartoons and made Polish food.
“Pretty sure those went out of fashion in 1933,” I responded between bites of fried potato and cheese.
With a rather wry smile, he explained, “I was given an invite to a club, very exclusive, where some of the real powers in the city go to let loose. I thought maybe we’d go and mix things up a little. You’ll have to dress up a little. Maybe even a dress. Do you even have one?”
“Bite me. And yeah, sounds fun. What’s the name?” I asked.
“The people who own it didn’t want it to have a name. Like I said, it’s pretty exclusive. I called it a speakeasy because there is a password and everything, in addition to having to be on the list.”
So, yeah, I had agreed to it. It sounded a little extravagant and pretentious, but that could be fun. Since the initial torrid run of casinos, bars, and hotels our dates had become rather simplistic. We’d meet up for drinks and dinner, maybe catch a movie, but usually it came down to me crashing at his place for a few days before I needed to head out on a case. It was beginning to feel like an old worn in sort of relationship, not the hot sexy romance I needed to balance everything else going on.
I’d not heard of a speakeasy in the city, but we travel in different circles. I’m more likely to drink someplace that doesn’t have a cover and everyone knows your name. Chad, though, he liked the trappings of his wealth. Most of my cases were more plebian in origin, so I’d rarely operated in the upper echelons of the city.
My family, being black and metis, was on the poor side as well. Still, grandma had raised me to have some manners and to have some pride. As to myself, I’d dressed as well as my closet allowed. The dress was a couple of years old, a red satin A-line number with corset lacing in the back. The nice thing about it was that it would never be fully out of style and the full skirt hid a multitude of sins. The negative being that the demure neckline and slight shimmer gave me the look of a schoolgirl at a formal. My penchant for Kate Bush inspired smoky eyes and blood red lips combined with my caramel skin was, if I do say so myself, fairly appealing if somewhat unconventional. For me, it is what passed for charm. So I wore that A-line with panache, back straight, my walk a balance of hip shaking sex and frigid don’t fuck with me attitude. The power-stripper heels helped. In a pinch, I am pretty sure I could kill a man with them.
“Check that out, a cigar girl,” Chad laughs one of his humorless chuckles and points crudely across the span of the darkened room. She’s in a gold vest with a red pillbox hat, hair perfectly swirled to frame her rather striking features.
“It’s like Jackie O. fell on hard times,” I quipped, noting the resemblance to the former first lady, one the hat reinforced, whether the girl knew it or not.
“Jackie? Which one is that? Is she that rich bitch you go shopping with?” He’s grinning as he sips his drink, a neat Johnny Walker.
I’d like to think he was joking, but his knowledge of American politics is about as deep as his knowledge of whiskey. I don’t bother to respond, instead I choose to enjoy the feeling of a well stuffed leather chair, the constant pound of blues and rock, and the atmosphere of indulgence. My eyes were drawn to the cigar girl, who wore only a leotard and smoke grey hose beneath the tray. She was exquisite, gliding through the tables with winks and smiles. Her customer, a tanning bed bronze blonde of trophy quality, was treated to the ritual of the cigar. The label was carefully slipped off, the end neatly clipped, then delicately dipped and swirled in a glass of amber liquid, Brandy most likely, then placed in the blonde’s waiting crimson lips. A sliver of balsa is produced and lit, turned to insure proper heat, and applied to the end. Suck, draw, and exhale. The ritual is complete. A generous tip is slid into the cigar girl’s bosom by the blonde’s male escort, and she curtsies her farewell.
“Oh, man, that’s hot. You want a cigar?” Chad had watched the transaction as well.
“You know I can’t resist anything thick, tasty, and hot.” I said in mock seriousness.
He grinned in a response and said, “And that’s your best quality.”
It wasn’t of course. Even without dirty jokes I could be pretty funny. I was great at small talk, especially any conversation my degrees in History and Sociology could come in handy. I liked sports, drove a motorcycle, and could cook. I should have men lined up outside my trailer door, in my opinion. An opinion which was evidently not shared with most of the city’s male population. Chad liked it though. I tuned up his car. I could talk sports to his friends while he read Forbes.
He waved her over with a folded twenty, “What’s your name, doll?”
“Garnet,” her smile was professional and slyly solicitous just as I’d expect, but her working name was original. I found myself liking Jackie O. She offered a few suggestions, Monte Cristo, Flores, Hoyo de Monterrey, but Chad interrupted and asked for a “Cuban”.
“Well, sir, I’d love to, but we usually only have a box or two from Cuba, and it happens to be that we’ve sold out. If you don’t mind me saying so, these Drew Estate Tabak Especial from Nicaragua are just the sort of cigar for the discerning man.” I noticed that she did not give a price, and Chad didn’t ask as he agreed to two of them.
“Ladies first,” she asked, with just a hint of flirtation as she bowed beside me.
“Uh, yeah.” Chad, ever the gentleman, seemed on the verge of correcting her, but her position afforded him a distracting view of her décolletage, and he seemed to forget whatever it was he was about to say.
She described the cigar as infused with essence of rich, aged, coffee beans, with long strands of the finest tobacco. She suggested that a shot of Amaretto would set the palate in the right mood, and without confirmation poured a shot from her tray. The array of goods on her tray was surprising. Aside from the cigar boxes, she carried lighters, matchbooks, clippers, balsa, Amaretto, Brandy, and a Baileys, two high balls, a couple of shot glasses, individual cigarettes in a lovely silver tray, and condoms in neat black wrappers.
She was right. Though the first puff was drowned by the Amaretto still clinging to my mouth, the second draw was divine, a lovely espresso like sensation that filled and surrounded me upon the exhale.
“Oh, you’ll love this Chad,” I purred as I glanced around the room, realizing that there was actually a dance floor of some kind past the bar. Chad wasn’t paying attention. He was transfixed by Garnet’s ritual, modified just slightly for his benefit. She wet the tip, not with Amaretto but with her own tongue, pink, darting, and precise, and deeply sucked and exhaled to provide him with a nicely burning tip.
“Thanks, Doll,” he said earnestly, his hand slid up her thigh as she stood and deposited a folded hundred and the twenty into her pocket. She did this hip bounce thing by way of thanks, and slinked off to find another mark. She reminded me of a Playboy bunny from the old Playboy Club show. She was all sass, sensuality and sly humor, and she sold it well.
“This is a nice place,” I mused as I watched groups of well-dressed men and women mingle near the bar and meander on and off the dance floor. One distinguished man in a grey suit was holding court to three ladies of ages ranging from mid-20s to 40s. There was a gesture towards another man at the bar, who raised his glass in salute before the man slipped his arms around two of the women and the group made their way towards recessed booths on a raised platform, a VIP area of some sort, I assumed.
“Oh yeah, it’s great. My finance guy turned me on to it last year.”
“Oh, yeah? How are he and Shannon doing?” I’d met his finance guy at a barbeque, an officious little prick with a darling girl far too good for him. Shannon and I had hit it off and played a few games of tennis and followed each other on Instagram.
“His girlfriend? Oh, yeah. They’re doing great. He said something about maybe taking her to Jamaica this spring.
“That’s nice, do you think he’s going to propose?”
“Huh? Why would he… I mean I guess he might. I really don’t talk to him about his girls. I mean, we get drinks together and hang from time to time, but guys don’t talk about that stuff.”
“So, it’s all work, video games, and cars. Guy stuff all the time,” I quipped.
“Pretty much. And I’m sure you and,” there was a pause as he searched for her name, “Shannon get together and talk about mani-pedis and Real Housewives and me. I mean come on, what do you even have in common with that girl? You don’t do the girl thing. Your idea of relaxing is working on your bike or shooting at the range. It’s not like you have girlfriends.”
I wanted to argue. Actually, I wanted to throw what was left of my martini in his face.
“You mean it’s not like I have friends,” I said, my voice low.
“No, I,” his voice trailed off, and I think he might have even felt a little bad but whatever he was going to say was dropped when the waitress appeared again, depositing another round without ordering. The efficiency of an experienced cocktail waitress never ceased to impress. Slender arms slinked between shoulders, depositing martini, whiskey, and waters into the grasp of waiting fingers. The waitresses here all wear dainty red vests and sleek black skirts with hose, very classy.
“From the lady,” she whispered, and gestured towards a statuesque mature woman in an emerald gown, who tipped her high ball in greeting. Chad slipped the waitress a bill.
“Well, that’s flattering,” I laughed. Even from across the room I could see that she was admiring us lasciviously. Her violet rimmed eyes roamed over us, her mouth curled into an appreciative grin. As my eyes met hers she licked her lips in the universal greeting of one who wants to take you to bed.
Chad smiled his best frat boy grin and leaned towards me, asking, “What do you think of her? Nice, huh?”
“She’s gorgeous for her age.” That was probably unkind. She’d certainly aged well, and it looked like there wasn’t much surgical enhancement. From here I could see the fine impression of lines around the mouth and eyes, but her neck and arms were still pliant and smooth. She obviously worked out and probably spent a small fortune on skin care and personal trainers. She took care of herself. The purse was obviously quite high end, the shoes exquisite, and the dress had the presence of something not off the rack. I’m terrible at fashion, but even I knew that she was wearing more than my van was worth. Whoever she was, she had money and power and was used to getting what she wanted.
“She’s totally into you,” Chad whispered into my ear, after shifting to sit closer. “Why don’t you go over and talk to her. I bet she’d love to dance.”
“I came here to be with you,” I protested.
“Of course you did, but maybe it would be cool to add something to the routine, you know?”
“What the hell, Chad.” Each word was said with precision, measured, far calmer than my clenching fist. Things started to slip into place. The nameless club, the extravagance, the cigar girl and her condoms, this place was starting to feel more strip club than exclusive watering hole.
“I thought we might spice things up a little,” he smiled sweetly, his big paw resting on my thigh. “Ever since you showed me pictures of your ex, I’ve been wanting to watch you with a woman. Why do you think I bought those DVD’s? I know you enjoy women. I just wanted us to have one hell of a time.” He obviously didn’t see anything wrong with this scenario.
“I ‘enjoy’ women?” I rounded on him, putting my freshly manicured hand against his chest in a warding gesture. “I don’t ‘enjoy’ women. Women aren’t like whiskey, Chad. I don’t pick one out and taste it and discuss it.”
“Oh come off it,” he snarled. “Of course you do. That’s what we all do. You picked me out of a bar. I picked you. We went to bed and we liked it enough to keep doing it.”
“Is that what this is? I’m just good enough in bed to call back?” I wasn’t being polite anymore. My voice had carried and a few people had turned their eyes towards our table. The older blonde couldn’t hear but I was sure she realized we weren’t giving her the attention she wanted.
“Of course not. You’re awesome, Threnody. I’ve never known anyone like you, but I’m a pragmatic man. This isn’t love. You’re not made to love me and I’m not exactly looking to stop playing. I care about you. I do. That’s why I want to share this kind of experience with you.” He was at his most charming now. He’d lowered his voice into his deepest range, speaking in this slow earnest tone that was meant to portray himself as imminently reasonable and affectionate. It pissed me off.
This experience he wanted to share was really him wanting to fulfill some bog standard sex fantasy. He wanted his lesbian porn live and in person. In the back of my mind I knew that there was a circumstance in which it might have happened. Had it been someone I knew, maybe even the ex he was talking about, Becca, enough booze and poor impulse control might have led down that road. Had he been subtle enough I might have even planned it myself. This idea of setting me up with a stranger rankled.
I centered myself and stood in one fluid motion, back straight, head held high, my clutch firmly under my arm. I gave myself a moment to look around the room while I decided on my next move. The demographics of the place were becoming obvious. Women outnumbered the men greatly, and were almost universally good looking and exquisitely dressed. The men, however, were generally older, of average looks, and in general older. Chad was probably the youngest guest in the room at thirty-eight. Hot young women, cougars, and rich old dudes made this place into a gourmet meat market with a VIP area closed off with discreet black curtains guarded by two men in tuxedos.
“What the hell kind of place did you bring me to, Chad?”
“Hon, I said it was a private club, one where you could do pretty much anything you wanted.” He was still using his bedroom voice. Normally that would work on me.
“Yeah, I figured you meant smoke, maybe get a gram of coke or something.”
“I thought you liked women?”
“What does that have to do with anything? I thought we were a couple.”
I thought we were just having a good time.” He wasn’t confused anymore and he wasn’t playing the reasonable affectionate boyfriend either.
“Such a good time that you brought me to a swinger’s club?” I hissed as I leaned closer to him, bending at the waist and pressing the palms of my hands against his shoulders. “Look, dude. If you wanted a lesbian fantasy we could have gone to a strip club. If you had talked me up maybe I would have played along with something like this, but springing this on me? Not right. No way.”
Mentally, I began to catalog our conversations. Did I talk about girls being hot more than men? Had I not told him how much I enjoyed our time together? I realized that we never talked about our nights together. We talked about movies, craft beers, motorcycle repair and the sad state of rock and roll. I barely knew what he did for a living. I never talked about my cases. Our whole life was sex, booze, and small talk.
The sound of laughter caught me off guard, especially when I realized it was my own laugh. I was on the verge of tears too, but the laughter came first. It always did. This was when I was at my most dangerous.
A cool delicate hand touched my shoulder, and I spun to find myself face to face with the older blonde. Up close, she really was lovely and very self-assured.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, I just wanted to apologize for being so forward.” Her voice was velveteen and cultured, a mixture of Southern belle and East Coast education.
“Oh, you don’t have anything to be sorry for,” I said, still laughing.
“But he does, I take it? Let me guess. This was all rather a shock?”
“You could say that. Don’t let me stand in the way of a good time though. By all means, have a seat.” A waitress appeared like magic and pulled out a third chair for her, which she folded into gracefully. Chad hardly tried to keep it cool. His eyes sparkled, his grin flashed white, and he extended a hand in greeting to her even as he slipped his other down my back and against my ass.
“You two have a lovely time,” and with that I turned on my heel and strode out, matching my heels to the beat of Bauhaus’ “She’s in Parties” playing.
The club was leather and velvet drapes and hardwood, pounding music and the smell of human mating rituals. The lobby, protected by sound proof walls, was like every other high rise building in downtown. Cold featureless tile, steel girded tinted windows, a security guard in a cheap ill fitted faux police style, and as empty as I feel. The security guard asks if I need a cab and I respond with a dismissive wave. I have a ride.
We’re on the 20th floor of a multiuse building with a bank’s name on top. The elevator is purely functional, a little dingy, and smells of sordid decisions. I hate elevators but at least I am alone. By the time the doors open on the ground floor I have a message on my phone. “We can go somewhere else,” it says.
Yeah, that’s not going to happen.
The garage is a car thief’s heaven, ill lit, filthy, and with huge support beams blocking casual observance. It was also filled with luxury and sports cars and the only security a gate attendant in a booth. There is a BMW bouncing on its springs, a tawdry continuation of the goings on upstairs.
Chad’s Porsche is his baby. It is only driven for occasions, otherwise it rests under a soft cover inside the garage. I realize, without breaking into tears, that he really does love this car more than he would ever love me. Too bad for him he gave me the key.
It turns over with a dull roar and my seat thrums with bridled power. He can have the blonde, I have his car. He’ll get it back. Tomorrow, maybe.