chapter twenty-one

(Sympathy for the Devil)

As I was getting dressed in slacks, shirt and tie, I told Carrie I had to go out all night and that Gordon and Rocco would be around if she needed anything. I put two more half-bindles in her cupboard to help get her through, and said I was sorry, that I'd make it up to her the next night by taking her out to dinner.

That was when I noticed that a television had appeared on the table at the end of my bed. It was kind of shocking to see it there; I hadn't noticed it coming in. I needed to start getting more sleep.

"Gordon did that for me." Carrie said, watching my face - she looked worried, "I hope it's okay."

"Yeah, it's fine, sweetheart." I bent down and kissed her, "You know I wouldn't go if it wasn't Vic asking."

"I understand." she said, "He's your boss."

I put on my sport coat.

"Denny?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you disappointed in me?" she said in a voice gone timid.

There it was.

I knew she wasn't playing me; Carrie was too guileless to play those kinds of games. This was an ingrained belief that she was lesser than other people, not worthy, lacking value. Any self-esteem she may have had was eroded by being marginalized and rejected by her family, then burned out of her during her descent into addiction and prostitution.

I knew there was nothing I could do to change that. Carrie would have to do that on her own.

I turned and opened a drawer and took out a new spiral-ringed notebook - the kind Gordon used - and a pen. Then I walked back to her and knelt down so we were face-to-face, and lifted her chin with one finger and kissed her softly on the lips. The question she just asked told me so much about who she saw in the mirror every morning, and what she saw, wasn't what I saw.

"No, hon, I'm not disappointed. I know you do your best. But I need you to do something very important for me." I said as I pressed the notebook and pen into her hands, "To do it, I need you to be brave. You went through a weekend of misery that took so much courage, so I know you can do it."

"What is it?" she looked apprehensive.

"I want you to make a list of one hundred things. I want you to write ten a day starting tonight."

"What things?"

"I want you to write ten things a day that you're good at, that make you special and unique, that make you valuable, and that make you loveable."

"You need reasons to love me?" she said as worry lines appeared between her eyebrows.

"No, sweetheart. I have my own reasons why I love you. I need you to have reasons to love yourself."

I watched her face slowly crumple as she started to cry silently.

I'd realized I couldn't be the buoy that was the only thing keeping her afloat, that she needed to do things on her own and the first was to believe she could do them.

I kissed the tears that were rolling down her cheeks.

"I know it will be hard. But I really want you to do this. For me. For you. And for us." I said, kissing her lips that were now salty with her tears, "Be brave, my love. Just ten little things."

I rose and walked out of the apartment before I caved and changed my mind. Rescuing her again would be the worst thing I could do.

I could see a pattern in our relationship developing in between the random good moments that were already beginning to revolve around shame and pity, and that cycle would lead to a toxic stagnation and the death of love. When I got home, she would have started that list, or all three bindles in her cupboard would be gone, or - my worst fear - that she would be.

I drove down to the Lucky 7 in the Camaro with the windows down. I needed the sharp snap of the evening air to clear my head for whatever job Vic had for Frankie and I. I arrived at quarter to seven and parked in the cab stand out front of the club, knowing no cop would put a ticket on it and no cabbie would complain. I saw that Frankie had found a place to park the Buick down the street. I walked to the front door and was surprised to see a sign that said; 'Closed for a Death in the Family'. Before I could knock, Anthony pushed the door open and ushered me in.

Frankie was already sitting with Vic at the house table and there was a trio setting up on the small stage. On the edge of the dance floor was single table with flowers, candles and a linen tablecloth. I could hear people working in the kitchen.

I walked over to Vic's table.

"What's up?" I asked.

"We're closed to the public tonight for a special gig." Vic said, motioning to a chair with a scotch already poured, "Have a seat."

I sat down and pointed to the drink and Vic nodded, so I picked it up and had a sip - it was the good stuff. I looked over at Anthony, he was using the hidden peephole, watching the front sidewalk.

"We're doing a favour for some friends of ours visiting from down south." Vic explained, "Two made guys did a family a big service and they're being rewarded. They sent them up to us for a little vacation before they go back, so we're wining and dining them around town. Tonight they want to drink and dance with some girls. Right now they're at dinner with the girls, then they'll come here. "These guys ..." Vic motioned toward the stage, "... are going to play all their favourite songs and you and Frankie are going to run the bar and keep their drinks flowing."

"We're bartenders and waiters tonight." Frankie said.

"Why not your regular staff?" I asked.

"Because I need you two." Vic said, "Guys who'll forget names and faces and everything they might hear."

I nodded.

"They're heavy hitters, Denny." Frankie said.

"I gathered."

"Here's the rules." Vic said, "No asking questions. No conversations unless they start them. No flirting with their girls. Laugh at their jokes and if they get insulting, no retorts."

"We understand, Vic." I said, "Best behaviour."

"Good. Good." Vic said.

"Take turns pouring and serving?" I asked Frankie.

"Sure." he said.

The trio were three older guys and looked like seasoned musicians, they were tuning up, the guitarist adjusting the strings on his Les Paul, the upright bass player doing the same, and the drummer making minor adjustments to his kit like drummers do.

"They're here." Anthony said and walked the five feet to the front door and opened it. I downed the rest of my drink and got to my feet.

First came three tall girls wearing tight evening gowns, shoulder wraps, and high heels. The gowns sparkled with sequins, and their hairstyles were high and full. One was blond, one was a brunette and one had black hair. Right behind them came two men wearing silk suits and two-toned shoes. One had a fedora and the other a homburg. The one with the homburg was carrying the sign from the front door. As Frankie walked behind the bar, I tucked in behind Vic as he walked toward the group, his arms spread in welcome and his face sporting his famous smile.

"Girls, Mike, Chick, it's good to see you all. Welcome to the Lucky 7. Al sends his warm regards."

Mike, the one carrying the sign, said; "Who came up with this?"

"That was me, fellas. No offense intended."

"Offense? This is the funniest fucking thing I've seen today." he laughed loudly and jabbed Chick in the ribs, reading the sign; "Closed for a Death in the Family! That's funny!" and both men laughed, the girls joining in politely, not understanding the joke.

"May I take your hats?" I said, stepping forward, "Ladies? Your wraps?"

"Mike, Chick, this is Denny and the handsome young man behind the bar is Frankie." Vic announced, "They're here to serve you, anything you want. It's all on the house."

"Hey kid!" Mike said, handing me his homburg, while Chick handed me his fedora and nodded. As the girls draped their wraps over my outstretched arm, Mike grabbed me behind the neck.

"How old are these fucking kids?" he said to Vic, "They old enough to be in a joint like this?" then to me; "I'm just fucking with you, kid."

I smiled and nodded and went to put their hats on the hat rack and hang the wraps up on hangers, while Vic led them to the table. The band started softly playing a swing band piece I didn't know the name to.

"What can we start you with?" Vic asked.

"Manhattans all around!" Mike called out. I walked to the bar where Frankie had already set up five glasses and was reading the recipe for Manhattans on the back side of the bar. I grabbed a drink tray and laid out five square napkins on it.

"Death in the family." Frankie said out of the corner of his mouth, "Somebody got whacked."

"Easy." I said softly.

Frankie winked at me.

I delivered the drinks to the table, guessing right that these guys would want me to serve the ladies first. Then I set Chick's in front of him and Mike's last. I didn't see any micro expressions, so I got it right; The quiet ones are the most dangerous.

On my way back to the bar, Vic said "Kitchen." to me in passing, so I walked to the kitchen pass-through and the cook in there passed up a round platter of toast points with a shallow bowl of antipasto sauce in the centre and another with a shrimp ring surrounding a bowl of seafood dip. I carried them to the table and set them down within reach of everyone.

The black haired girl touched my arm.

"Could I have a vodka martini. Three olives." she said as she passed me her Manhattan.

"Of course." I said and took her drink back to the bar.

"Vodka martini, three olives." I said to Frankie. I had admit, Frankie had wild skills behind the bar; the martini was on my tray just after I got the napkin under it. I took it back to the girl and set it down in front of her without reaching past anyone.

The group sampled the antipasto and shrimp and drank and talked, Mike talking the loudest of course. I kept a running delivery of drinks to their table. The girls all switched to vodka martinis, Chick started ordering rum and Cokes and Mike stayed with his Manhattans.

The ice was breaking and the two guys relaxed while the girls maintained their poise. Then Mike called out to the band; "Beyond the Sea!" and got up, tugging the brunette up by the hand and leading her to the dance floor.

Chick looked at the black haired girl and she nodded and rose and together they walked to the dance floor, Chick holding her hand outstretched and swung her gracefully into his arms just as the song started. The guitarist was also the lead singer and as they played the song with a swinging beat he did a pretty good Bobby Darin. What surprised me was how well both men danced, they glided over the dance floor, leading their girls like they had both learned at the feet of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelley.

I made a twirling motion with my hand above my head toward Frankie and took the opportunity to take away their old drinks and napkins, except for the blond who was still sipping her martini. By the time I got to the bar Frankie had three of them made. I laid out napkins and stacked the drinks and returned them to the table.

"Freshen that?" I asked the blond who didn't make eye contact and just held up her old drink for me to take and lifted the fresh one to her lips. Yeah, she was one of those - I was just the help and was beneath her notice.

The trio was good and played any request asked of them like they played them every night of their lives. The party alternated between dancing, drinking, and talking. When they were talking the trio lowered their volume to background sound. Frankie and I kept the drinks flowing like Vic wanted as the night dragged on for Frankie and I. I could never understand the attraction of being a nightclub staffer - there's nothing worse than being sober while people partied around you and kept you running. Just laughing at Mike's jokes was exhausting me.

As the night wore on, the brunette got tipsy, the blond stayed aloof, and the black haired girl got smashed. She was having a blast and Chick was having a blast watching her do it. He'd started to smile by his fifth drink.

The only sour note was when Mike asked the blond to dance and all the while she danced with him her body was stiff and her eyes found the walls of the club more interesting than her dance partner. It was obvious she didn't want to be there. I thought Mike would just put his attention back on the brunette and let it go, but he didn't.

"Do you ever crack a smile, ya' fuckin' mutt!?" he yelled at her. Now she looked at him and did the stupidest thing she could have. She slapped Mike's face. There was no pause between her slap and Mike's reaction, he backhanded her so hard she lost one of her shoes and landed hard on the dance floor. I was moving toward her and Vic was moving toward Mike.

"Get her out of here." Vic hissed at me. I gathered her up and got her to her feet. She was crying and holding her jaw, blood seeping past her lips. I tried to help her get her shoe back on but she pushed me away and kicked the other one off.

Vic had Mike and was herding him toward the bar, "It's okay Mike. I apologize, I don't know what's wrong with her."

"Fucking bastard." she hissed, then started to inhale to say it louder. I've met people like this my whole life, too stupid to know when to stop. I grabbed her roughly by the upper arm and spun her toward the door.

"Shut your fucking mouth." I said to her, firm but quiet and got her to the door fast. Anthony had retrieved her shoes and brought them as I pulled her wrap around her shoulders.

"Get her a cab." I told Anthony as I pulled two hundred dollar bills off my roll and crushed them into her hand, "You fell down. Go home, put some ice on it and forget about these guys."

"He ..." she started.

"Quit while you're ahead." I warned her and guided her out the door where Anthony was opening the back door of a cab. I led her to the door and Anthony helped her into the back seat. I leaned in the passenger side window and handed the cabbie a fifty, "Take her anywhere she wants except the cops."

The cabbie nodded and as soon as Anthony closed the door he pulled away. Anthony and I were back inside the club with the problem gone and the door closed within forty-five seconds of her hitting the floor.

The party resumed and everyone got happy again, and as the night progressed things slowly wound down. The brunette ended up curled up asleep on a table, Chick and the black haired girl ended up in a booth having a private party of their own, and a very drunk Mike sat at the bar having a last drink as he waited for his friend.

"You're Denny, right?" Mike asked.

"That's right." I said, pleased he actually remembered.

"I like you and your buddy here." he said. Frankie smiled.

"Thanks, Mike. That means a lot." I said.

"You a made guy, Denny?"

"No, Mike. I'm not." I said, and he landed one of his hands on my shoulder.

"You gotta get made, Denny. It changes everything." he said, "People you don't know start treating you with respect. Money. Broads. You name it."

Mike took a sip of his drink.

"And the thing is ... the biggest thing is ..." he turned and lowered his voice, "Sometimes, you get to change history."

I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. Mike leaned closer and whispered;

"You know who whacked Kennedy?" he asked.

"Oswald?" I said quietly.

"Nah." he said and started to laugh, "Nah. Not him." then he put a finger to his lips and said; "Shhhhhh. Listen; you got Trafficante, you got Marcello, and you got Giancana. They changed the fucking world, Denny."

Vic appeared, worried about the quiet conversation.

"Hey, Mike. How you doing?" he said wrapping his arm around his shoulders. Across the bar Chick and the black haired girl had emerged from the booth. He was zipping his pants and she was peeling her dress back down over her thighs.

Vic herded Mike toward the door, and I got Mike and Chick's hats, and helped the black haired girl get her wrap around her shoulder. Frankie was waking up the brunette and getting her to her feet.

"Can you call us a cab?" the black haired girl asked, as Vic escorted Mike and Chick out the front door to their limo.

"Of course." I said and nodded at Anthony who went out to hail one. Frankie and I helped both girls outside, they were carrying their shoes and looked like they'd been ridden hard and put away wet. We stood there with them as the limo pulled away and a cab took its place. Seeing the girls like that made me sad. They deserved more respect than they got at the end of the night, treated like toys then left in the gutter. If that was how a made guy acted, I wanted no part of it.

We helped the girls into the cab and I gave that driver a fifty as well.

"Goodnight, ladies." I said as kindly as I could and closed the door.

Frankie was still staring at the limo making its way down Hastings.

"Do you believe that shit at the end?" he asked me.

Vic turned and glared at us both; "Forget everything." and walked into the club, "Go home and forget everything."

"Goodnight, Vic." I said and walked to the Camaro, "See you tomorrow, Frank."

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chapter twenty-two

(I Can't Quit You Baby)

When I got home in the small hours, all was quiet. The gambling club had closed down hours ago and the only lights in the building were in the stairwells. I got to my door and unlocked it as silently as I could and pushed the door open. The apartment was as dark and still as the night sky outside - all the blinds were pulled down, blocking out the neon from the street outside.

I moved into the darkness and reached between the bathroom door and the jamb and turned on the light in there making a narrow golden band diagonally across the floor. I slipped off my shoes and jacket, and unbuttoned my shirt, setting them all down on a chair. The bed was still in darkness and my eyes hadn't adjusted yet so I didn't know if Carrie was there or not.

I was going to check her cupboard to see if any of the three bindles were still there, but the spiral-ringed notebook on the kitchen table caught my eye. I picked it up and stepped backward until the golden light from the bathroom illuminated it. Flipping back the cover I saw the curving letters of her neat handwriting and read her list;

1. I am kind to people
2. I am polite
3. I love dogs
4. I try to cheer people up when they are sad
5. I make good sandwiches
6. I smile when I'm happy and sometimes when I'm not
7. I am grateful when people are kind to me
8. I am funny
9. I miss my brothers and sisters

And the last one that made my heart skip a beat.

10. I love Denny and always have

I closed the notebook and put it back where I found it and turned off the bathroom light, thoughts of checking her bindles vanishing like a forgotten song. Slipping off my slacks, I put them on the chair and felt my way toward the bed. I turned on my alarm and found the edge of the bed in the darkness. The bed felt flat and at first I thought she wasn't there but as I lifted the blankets I caught the wholesome, earthy scent her hair got when her scalp was damp with sweat from the pillow. She was on the far side of the bed under the window.

I slid in behind her and felt the smooth skin of her naked back and let my arms encircle her, one sliding over her waist and the other through the hollow between her shoulder and the pillow. I could feel the slight tension in her body so I knew she was still awake, and instead of pulling her toward me, I moved to her until our bodies were pressing gently.

I lifted my head and kissed her ear and whispered; "Eleven; Denny loves me so very much and is so very proud of me."

I heard the faint intake of breath, then felt her body relax.

"I can't do a hundred." she whispered.

"I can think of a thousand." I whispered back, and held her close until she slept.

Then I fell asleep at last, breathing in the scent of her hair and listening to her soft snoring.


Copyright © 2018 Aaron D McClelland
Summerland, British Columbia


East Van