Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Welcome to Jazz Age Wednesdays. I’m happy to see you back for Chapter 2 of this new series. It is not in the “Pip-verse” but it still takes place during the Roaring Twenties.
Artist Rob Goldstein is collaborating with me, creating fabulous visuals and sending me “three things” to spontaneously drive this pantser story. Some of the details also come from a song Rob’s grandmother sang to him called “Don’t Bring Lulu.”
Don’t Bring Lulu
I was captivated when Rob wanted me to include a (potentially supernatural) Valentino character. I loved his idea. If you’ve been following me for a good while, then you know I like to make fictionalized versions of historic people. Then, one of the “things” (the Bright Young Things) Rob sent for this episode showed me a wealth of such people I might include. Yes, one of them has already become a mysterious character. You’ll see in a moment.
The mystery elements begin here in Chapter 2, so pay close attention. I won’t tell you what’s a clue and what’s a red herring. I’m just wicked that way. And now…
Grand Central Station, Garter Flask, Bright Young Things
Rose MacDonald sneezed delicately as soon as we stepped out of my grandfather’s speakeasy. The “raid door” opened to the abandoned subway tunnel. It was dusty from decades of disuse.
Still feeling the effects of the hooch, I pondered sadly that the speakeasy was becoming rather like the tunnel. I remembered when the joint was jumpin’ like Grand Central Station. It wasn’t nearly as busy as it once was. Gramps refused to do business with some of the more disreputable rum-runners. Business started to fall off long about that time.
Rose put an elegantly embroidered handkerchief to her turned up nose and sneezed again, a decidedly unladylike noise. The stitching formed a monogram, an R bracketed by two Ms. It also matched her dress. Rose was always coordinated.
By then my nose burned too. I gave a big achoo! that echoed down the tunnel.
I closed the emergency exit of the speakeasy. From the outside it blended into the walls of the subway tunnel. You had to know exactly where it was if you were going to find it.
Also, it was dark when the red and blue lights from the strange train died. I took a torch from an inconspicuous bracket Gramps had bolted to the wall. A flip of the switch and we had enough light to see.
The cacophony, just moments before had made me think that train was about to crash right into the speakeasy. It stopped several feet beyond the door and rested on the tracks where a train ought to be. Except that no train should be in that part of the subway at all. Nothing could get past the caved-in area.
Rose and Pearl watched the man who had come into the speakeasy in a blaze of red and blue lights (along with that train) as if mesmerized. Rose ran her finger down the lapel of his tuxedo jacket in a flirtatious way. He met her eyes with a smoldering gaze, but I had noticed that the expression in his eyes usually looked that way.
“Ya know… you’re even more handsome than Rudolph Valentino,” Rose began. “So, what’s your name? I bet you’re a great dancer. You look like a real sharpshooter, a regular floorflusher. Why don’t we go back inside? There’s a darb Victrola for dance music.”
“Yeah, tell us your name,” Pearl added her voice.
“Valentino,” he stated simply.
“Bushwa!” I exclaimed. “Who are you really?”
“I. Am. Valentino,” he repeated with emphasis. “I take it that you know someone similar. That happens sometimes,” he added in a tone that suggested he had said the same thing a thousand times.
His statement befuddled me. We tried to get more sense out of him, but that was all he’d say about his moniker.
Meanwhile Pearl and Rose clung to his elbows. I admit that I would have done the same thing. However, he didn’t have a third elbow, and I wasn’t going to cling to anybody’s knee.
“What kind of woman is she?” he muttered to my pals in a baffled tone. “She smells like onions and horseradish, and there’s marinara sauce on her cheek,” he added.
The man who called himself Valentino didn’t sound repulsed or offended, simply curious. He looked at me like an ornithologist who had found a new species of bird.
“Oh, she’s not as wild and woolly as she seems,” Rose said with a grin, and winked at me. “Although she is the kind of smarty who breaks up every party. Cheer up honey,” she told me. “Sometimes you get so glum when you’re tipsy.”
Pearl reached out and gave my hand a squeeze, although I thought she might be reassuring herself more than me. Then she introduced herself and Rose. The man was gracious, but in return he formally repeated the single name, Valentino, as if he had no other.
“And that’s Hullaba Lulu,” Pearl introduced me with the hated nickname, causing me to blush. “You should see her Charleston! We’d bring her to any party.”
I started to say something clever, but a hiccup escaped my lips instead. Then I heard the echo of footfalls farther up the tunnel.
“Margosha!” another man called out from the distance.
The new stranger was coming from the direction of the hatch that lead up to the street.
“Is that you Margosha?”
He seemed to squint. The lighting was dim. I thought nothing would be able to pry my friends loose from the Valentino guy. However, when the other man caught up to us, I noticed that Rose and Pearl had moved away into the shadows.
“Hey do you lot know where the door to the speakeasy is?” he asked. “I’m looking for― um, an old friend and I heard that she hangs out there.”
Judging by his face I would have thought he was an uptown swell, but he had longer hair, and the style of his suit made me think he had spent time in India. I thought he must be a cellar smeller, who had somehow learned about my grandfather’s speakeasy. At any rate, he didn’t look like a revenuer, so his presence didn’t worry me. Besides I was still pretty well zozzled.
“Margosha? That means pearl in Russian,” Valentino murmured so softly that I barely heard.
The door to the speakeasy opened. Unnoticed by anyone else, Gramps stepped out, closing the door softly behind him. His eyes went to Rose and Pearl in the nearby shadows. The cellar smeller walked up to Valentino and me.
“You!” Gramps exclaimed, though I wasn’t sure which of the men he meant.
I didn’t understand my grandfather’s reaction. His posture made me think of a snake, coiled and ready to strike. That made me uncomfortable so I started babbling. I tend to do talk when I’m nervous. Unfortunately my chatter changed the subject and I didn’t find out which “You” Gramps meant.
“So, who are you, mister? And who is Margosha?” I turned to the new comer and asked.
“Tom Driberg. He’s the journalist who tells all about the ‘Bright Young Things,’ you know?” Rose explained obligingly. “The swells who throw all the wild parties.”
“The ones I’m never invited to?” I inserted a rhetorical comment.
I watched Rose and Tom Driberg. There was a challenge in her eyes when she looked at him. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. However, I thought I recognized the hungry expression on his face when he looked at her and Pearl.
Everybody said Pearl was a darned nice girl. It was true ― at least if you asked me. Yet at that moment she looked like a doe ready to spring away. Pearl lifted her beaded dress revealing a garter flask. She took a swig and almost forgot to pass the flask around. I didn’t understand why she’d be upset.
“A hair of the dog,” Pearl explained. “I’ve got a headache. I really need to get home,” she added.
With an uneasy glance at Tom, Pearl started walking toward the subway hatch to the street. She’d have a shortcut home that way.
Rose went after pearl to take care of her. When I saw Tom Driberg, the journalist, follow them it didn’t sit well with me. I turned back to Gramps. I was surprised to see him and Valentino staring at each other wordlessly.
I cleared my throat, interrupting the silent tableau.
“I don’t trust that guy,” I announced. “I’m going to make sure my pals are okay.”
“You should not go alone,” Valentino told me, abruptly breaking eye contact with my grandfather. “I will escort you. My automobile is up there. We’ll make sure your friends are safe, then I can drive you back to your grandfather.”
Gramps looked none too pleased. However, after a moment he nodded and went back inside his empty speakeasy.
We hurried after the others. It was so dark I had already lost sight of them. When we reached what I call the raid exit, Valentino went up the ladder first to push aside the heavy manhole cover. However, it was already open. We climbed up to the street. I looked around for my friends. In the distance I saw the two gals climbing the stairs to Pearl’s front door.
A sulfuric smell accompanied the strike of a match. I turned to see Tom Driberg leaning nonchalantly against a Rolls-Royce. Cigarette smoke curled above his head as he jotted something on a small notepad. He looked at Valentino the same way he had looked at Rose and Pearl.
Without a word, Tom walked into the night.
If you want to know more about the real Tom Driberg click here. He’s an interesting figure and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. That’s what causes fictional him to be a fun addition to this cast.
I hope you’ll click over and check out Rob’s blog. He’s not just a brilliant artist, he’s also an advocate for several important causes.
Thanks for visiting. You’re the cat’s pajamas!
PS: Now for the shameless self-promotion — the links to my other 1920s books — the ones about Pip and her friends.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Artwork Copyright © 2018 by Rob Goldstein
Copyright © 2018 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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