Chapter 13: A Drowsy Syncopated Tune

"Okay, here I am."

Evangeline handed her coat to RJ but kept her purse. She glanced around the quiet room. Black Bottom had a different atmosphere in the early morning hours. Already, the clean up crew had swept and mopped. All the chairs rested on tabletops except for one near the bar. He returned from hanging her coat and took her elbow. He led her to the lone table and held out a chair.

"Cream or sugar or both?" He disappeared behind the bar.

"Both."

He placed a beautiful china set onto the table complete with linen napkins and silver serving utensils. Rich coffee delivered a delicious aroma. She took in a deep breath. Her mouth watered. He smiled as if he knew and poured the steaming brew into two cups. His impeccable manners impressed her. When he finished serving them, he sat opposite her.

"I have been in this business for years," he said. "Never have I heard anyone who sings as beautifully. What are you doing in Port Charles? You should be in Paris."

"I haven't made my way across the ocean, yet. In due time."

He gave her another dazzling white smile. "That's what I'm afraid of. If you perform here, how long before you leave me for bigger and better things?"

"Isn't that the risk you take as a club owner? Sooner or later, everyone leaves."

"Isn't that the truth?" he murmured under his breath. He reached out and took her hand. "Tell me, Evangeline Williamson, what are you running from?"

The heat in his eyes and the touch of his hand made alarm bells ring. She wasn't ready for another relationship. And if he required her in his bed in order to sing on his stage, he'd better think again.

She pulled her hand away. "Nothing. I just want to sing."

If her rebuff upset him, he didn't show it. "That's all? Nothing more?"

"I don't understand what you're asking. Do I want a man? Then the answer right now is no."

"Who was he? He must have hurt you badly. What happened? Did you catch him with another woman?"

"I thought you wanted to discuss terms." She stood abruptly and moved to retrieve her coat.

He gently caught her wrist and stood. "I do. I like to know where my employees' heads are. Forgive me if I crossed a line."

She gave a pointed look to his hand encircling her wrist. Slowly, he released her. "All's forgiven."

"Terms." He laced his fingers together and smiled down at her. "You sing with Solly and his band six nights a week. Three sets on Friday and Saturday. Two sets Monday through Thursday."

"And the pay?"

"A woman after my own heart." He laughed. "Three dollars a night Monday through Thursday. Four fifty on Friday and Saturday."

She shook her head. "You can do better than that. I saw the crowd here last night."

He tilted his head to the side. "Oh, really? What do you suggest?"

"Four dollars for the four nights and six dollars for the remaining two. If the flock increases due to my singing, we'll negotiate for a percentage of what Black Bottom draws in."

"You must be kidding." He paused and then added. "You drive a hard bargain."

"I just want things fair and square."

"Okay, I'll do it, but this arrangement remains between you and me. If the band finds out, there'll be hell to pay." He extended his hand.

She accepted his handshake. "They won't hear about it from me."

*)*

"Have you lived in Port Charles your whole life?"

John guided the Model-A from the alley behind General Hospital onto the street. He glanced at Marcus, noting the man's serious expression. The question was simple enough, but John was learning that the other man didn't believe in lighthearted discussion. Everything mattered.

"I'm from Brooklyn. My family moved here when I was fifteen. How about you? Mac says you're from Llanview. Is that home?"

Home is Evangeline Williamson. The thought came quickly to his mind. John shook it off. She left him. There was no getting her back.

"No, I'm from Atlantic City. We lived off the boardwalk. My kid brother and I had some good times there."

"What brought you to Penn?"

John liked driving, especially at this time of morning. No one was out, yet. The world was at a stand still. Slow and sleepy. He could easily pretend that nothing bad ever happened or ever would. Of course, he wasn't so naïve that he actually believed it. But for just a few hours, it was a nice fantasy.

"My brother went to college there. He's in med school now. Anyway, I drove him. The city appealed to me so I stayed."

Marcus nodded knowingly. "You didn't want to leave him alone. That's how brothers are."

John laughed. The other man had him pegged. "Do you have any brothers?" He felt Marcus stiffened so he gave the man a quick look.

Marcus's jaw was tight. His eyes grew dark. "No, I'm brotherless. Except for Mac. All things considered, he's not so bad."

John directed his attention back to the road. There was something more to Taggert, but he decided to leave it be. The other man's personal life was none of his business unless it impacted on the job.

"Scorpio thinks highly of you, too."

He braked at a stop sign. Several paths lay before them. He looked to Taggert. "This is your tour. Which road do we take?"

"I want to show you this place at the edge of Maywood. Go straight and make a left at the end of the first block. It's a little tricky after that."

John did as instructed. They reached a dead-in with a series of warehouses. The buildings looked abandoned, but John knew better than to trust that. Looks could be deceiving.

"Park here," Marcus said suddenly. Indicating with his index finger, he said, "Look over there."

"What am I looking at?"

"The one in the middle is called Black Bottom. It's a nightspot for Colored folks. Some whites come here, too."

John's eyes narrowed as he looked at the seemingly innocent structure. He knew Marcus brought him there for a reason. "Who owns it?"

"Randall James Gannon. Everyone calls him RJ."

"What about him? Are he and Corinthos competitors or partners? Why did you bring me here?"

"This could be a good place to start. I could never get in good at the Paradise Lounge, but I could have a shot here. I wanted to talk it over with you first."

John nodded. The more time he spent with Marcus Taggert, the more he liked him. "We've talked. Go for it."

*)*

He liked watching her sleep. Innocence wrapped around her, warm and sultry. Her full mouth parted just so and drooping eyelids hid the suspicion in her dark eyes.

Sonny moved away from Dara's bed and walked around her part of the suite. He wasn't surprised to find her still in the Sandman's arms. They had a late night. Energy throbbed in the Paradise Lounge. The musicians and his patrons were on fire. And the booze flowed like water.

After Capone's bullshit stunt in Chicago and Scorpio's subsequent raid, Sonny had planned to keep a lid on things. Lucky Luciano warned against showing off. A man on the way up, Sonny complied with the guidelines. But something changed last night. Was it the beautiful woman at his side or something more that made the night magical, making him feel untouchable? He didn't know and it didn't matter.

Only one thing did.

This morning, he woke up alone. Tomorrow, he wouldn't. After one night, his patience had worn out.

Speak Easy | Chapter 14

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