Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: Jon Batson
She was shy, but she was also an eye-full. She was a knock-out for sure, with legs up to there and a figure like an hour-glass. Her long, red hair draped over her shoulder, teasing me, making me look around it to see her figure, to see her deep cleavage. She made me sweat and I wasn’t even moving.
I had a feeling the shy bit was an act. She had a habit of looking down, then up at me without raising her head. That knocked me out!
We first met when she tried out at Dino’s, the sleepy little watering hole off the strip. When Nicole came back from the doctor’s with the news, she cashed her last check and went off with the drummer, Anthony, to start a family. Good luck, I say!
Drummers were easy, there were three at the door waiting for the job. Maybe singers were easy too, that’s what they say, but each chanteuse who stepped up to the mic made my ears want to grow shut. The hair on my neck stood on end and I pictured long, painted fingernails scraping across a blackboard.
Her name was Rouge, that’s what she said. Rouge Riddenhoud. She said it was Bavarian or some such. Who knows? Does anybody speak Bavarian anymore?
Rouge had a little face with big eyes; a tiny mouth and tiny nose, made smaller by those flashers. Her upper lip would almost disappear next to her lower, fuller, redder, sexier. She made me crazy!
She had what I call a “candy-cane voice,” too cute! It was a Betty Boop voice. She would sway ever so slightly, making the gown pull against her left hip and right breast, then the other way. It made me nuts!
I would watch her walk to the mic, heels so high I was sure she would fall off, her calf muscles straining against fishnet stockings. She’d take the microphone in a hand like a child’s and look off into the darkness. The piano player pressed down, making a sultry chord and she would hit the sixth note spot-on. She turned me to hot butter!
“Nick!” said Big Charlie, the boss. “Eyes back in your head and take the pouch to the bank. We got business here!”
I’d get up and go to the bar, pick up the pouch containing last night’s take and walk to the door. At the door, I turn and give one last look at perfection as she turns just-another-song into my-favorite-song. With a deep sigh, I pull my coat on and step out into the worst winter in the city’s recorded history.
Maud Granville is the owner of a string of businesses and possibly the richest woman in the state. She owns, to name only a few things, a football team, a shipping line, a string of hotels and – more importantly – the club where I work. When she says jump, you will notice both of my feet are off the ground.
It was Harrison Granville who actually made the fortune, and whoever said “hard work never killed anyone” must not have known him. When he keeled over, Maud was stunning in black and dripping with diamonds. We thought she would blow it all, but she sat down in the pilot’s chair and guided Harry’s empire to a whole other altitude. She was a ball-buster, but she knew what she was doing.
On the way back from the bank, my phone went off. “Moondance” was the general ring, for anybody. I looked at the screen and saw the number of the office downtown, the one that Harry occupied when he was alive, the one that Maud now ruled like the top rooster. That number hadn’t shown up on my phone since the old man was alive, and then just because he would run out of cigars now and then. “Moondance” got louder. I pushed the “accept” button.
“Fuccio,” I said, trying to sound neither this or that.
“Nick, I can’t get through to Big Charlie. Is he with you?”
“No, Mrs. Granville, I left him at the club. I’m out at the bank.”
“Dropping off or picking up?”
“Dropping off. I got the pouch from yesterday.”
“Drop off and drop by, I’ll pour you a drink.”
“Uhhh! Sure, Mrs. G. I’ll be right up.”
The phone went dead – she was done. The important task I had been assigned suddenly become second to the really important thing I had to do: stop in and see Mrs. Granville. “Menacing Maud” had summoned me. If she knew we called her that from time to time she’d have lampshades made from our skins.
When I got there, the secretary looked at me with disdain. She was she, after all, and I was merely me. She was the right-hand, girl-friday to Maud Granville, I was the underpaid flunky of a minor holding, the guy who runs the pouch to the bank.
She turned her head, not wanting to even look at me, pushed a button, and the doors to the huge office on the penthouse floor opened. I swear, I thought I heard a heavenly choir sing a chord.
“Come in, Nick. How’s it going?”
“OK, Mrs. G. How can I help you?”
“Call me Maud,”
Uh-oh! That’s not good. When the Boss’s wife wants you to call her by the first name, it’s never a good thing. When he dies and she becomes the boss and does it, it’s worse.
“That’s OK, Mrs. G. I’m fine. How can I help you?”
Maud Granville was dressed in a gold dress that clung to her figure like cobwebs. When she moved, there were no secrets left. The curve of her breast, the slope of her back, the roundness of her tush – these things were distractions you had to keep your mind off, if you were going to keep breathing. Tell the truth, breathing was hard in the presence of Mrs. G. And that’s not all. But never mind. I shook my head, focusing on her eyes as she leaned over the desk, checking something important.
“How’s the new singer?” she asked, as if there was another question she should have said instead.
“Oh, she’s fine. Nice voice, nice presentation, knows a lot of the songs. Got a smoky edge to her I like. I think Big Charlie likes her too.”
Mrs. Granville looked at me without bothering to straighten up or to put a hand to her chest, leaving her ample breast open to inspection. I made myself look into her eyes. Inside I was exploding. More than anything else in the world, I wanted to be back at the club, doing anything at all.
“I want to see her,” said Mrs. Granville, going back to her figures. Bring her here as soon as she’s done with her audition, I want to see her.”
“Yeah, sure, I can do that.”
I stood there looking at the woman who was maybe three years older than me, but looked ten years younger and was a million times richer. She continued checking figures, bending forward, swaying her hind quarter with the rhythm of some unheard song, some very slow unheard song. After a moment, she looked up.
“You still here?”
“Yes, ma’am, right away,” I said, now that it was clear that I should take my leave. The conversation was done and, like the telephone, when she was done, she was done. Time to go!
Downtown traffic never looked so good to me. I sat in total gridlock happy to be there. I looked at my watch; I had four hours to take care of this task. Hopefully, I’d drop off Rouge Riddenhoud and get to go home for a cold drink, a hot meal and an otherwise unexciting evening. I didn’t need excitement.
Walking into the club, I immediately changed my mind. The petite singer at the mic could give me whatever excitement she has in her bag of tricks. She made my heart melt. I pulled up a chair, threw a leg over it and sat on the table, lost in looking at her, hearing her voice – hell, I could almost smell her perfume.
Someone standing behind the bar caught my attention and I had to tear my eyes away from the beautiful girl on stage.
It was Big Charlie. He was as transfixed as me by the girl. I could see she got the gig. Not only that, she could probably write her own ticket.
I walked over and put the pouch on the bar, flat, now that the receipts from the night before were safely in the bank. All that was in the pouch was the receipt.
Charlie looked over without moving, returning his gaze to the stage once he had determined that it was not a snake I had laid on the bar. He truly didn’t care about the pouch – Rouge was singing. I could see him sizing her up, like he had done to all the previous singers, looking forward to helping her career with his expert guidance in late night sessions. Yeah, right!
“Mrs. G wants to meet her,” I said, flatly.
Big Charlie deflated. I had brought up the Dragon-Lady. He didn’t like her. She was not the one who put him there and he didn’t like having to dance to her tune to stay there. But it was not him doing the dancing now, it was me.
“When?” said Charlie, low, slow and dark.
“Tonight, after her audition is done,” I said, knowing that it could be all day and all night if Charlie had anything to say. But now Maud Granville wanted to see her, who knows why. I didn’t think she had in mind what Charlie had in mind. Maybe it was because she knew that he would have that in mind. Maybe she wanted to rain on his game.
The girl hit a finale note, her hand held high above her head, the dress pulled against her breast, one foot kicked up. Mel, the piano player sighed hard, beads of sweat across his forehead. Charlie sighed just as hard. The girl dropped her hand and her head at the same time. It was perfect!
She looked out into the darkness, one hand on the mic stand, looking for some hint, some word, as to whether she was successful.
“Did I get the gig?” said a tiny voice into the microphone. Mel at the piano looked hopefully into the darkness, knowing Big Charlie would be at the bartender station watching her every move.
“Yeah, babe, you got the gig.”
Rouge smiled, Mel gave a sigh of relief. I winced. Just to be in the same world with her was torture for me. I was a goner!
“Take her now,” said Big Charlie. “The audition’s over.”
He picked up a bar towel and walked to the sink, using the dirty glasses as a distraction. It was a statement that he had better things to do. He didn’t. The glasses were clean.
I walked to the stage where Mel was gushing over the poor girl, telling her she was the best thing since girl singers were invented. She was trying to be cordial, but he was a bit too complimentary and she was glad when I interjected.
“So, the boss said she’d like to meet you as soon as you get the gig.”
“She knew I would get the gig?” asked Rouge, her eyes so wide they made my knees weak. In my secret desires, I wrapped an arm around her waist, pressed her lips to mine and told her she didn’t need the gig, she could be mine forever and I would make her happy. Instead, I lied.
“I told her about you and she knew you’d get the gig. You’re good! How could you not get the gig?”
The girl of my dreams put her arms on my shoulders and pulled her face close to mine, her head tilted up and her mouth right at my ear.
“You are so sweet,” she whispered. “Thanks for a leg up with the boss.”
She kissed me on the cheek and the lump in my throat nearly knocked me over onto the floor.
“Yeah, OK, no problem. But she, you know, she, uh, want’s to see you, so get your coat because it’s freakin’ winter out there.”
Now, I know where you are supposed to keep your eyes when you are driving – on the road. Watch the traffic, watch the pedestrians, do not watch the passenger. I used every excuse to glance over at her. She was beautiful! No, she was gorgeous! She was better than gorgeous, she was something that had no word because before now, no one had achieved that level of deliciousness.
“Is this a bad thing?” she asked, as we crawled through traffic.
“Naw, I just think she wants to look you over herself. The decision’s been made. You got the gig.”
“OK, I just never met the boss before. Never knew a woman boss, either.”
“Oh, there’s a lot of that going around these days. Women are coming into their own. Hadn’t ya heard? It’s not a man’s world anymore. There’s women in it and not just to pour and bus.”
Rouge smiled. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to her that that was possible. She looked out the side window at the piled snow off to the side of the road. Some of that snow had cars under it, cars that wouldn’t see the daylight for another couple of weeks at least. At the office building where Mrs. Granville occupied the penthouse, I pulled in.’ In the elevator going up, I could sense Rouge was tense. She had nothing to worry about, but she was still worried. She was like me, a bottom-of-the-pile worker. Meeting the person at the top of the food chain was stressful.
At the penthouse suite, I rung the bell.
“It’s open,” came Mrs. G’s voice from inside. I pushed the door and it opened inward. The girl who was running interference earlier was missing, which made me glad.
“This way,” I said, waving her in with me.
“Stay with me,” said Rouge, clutching my forearm with both hands. I melted to hear those words and made a wish that I would hear them again later, when we were alone.
“OK,” I said, not knowing if I could keep my word.
“Come in,” called Mrs. G’s voice from the inner chamber.
As we walked into the office, huge and opulent, Maud was draped over the chaise lounge against the wall, on the other side of the giant desk. She was in the gold, see-through gown she had on earlier. I now guessed that she had changed into it in anticipation of her meeting with Rouge. She couldn’t work all day in that thing!
She stood up slowly, like a cat, arching everything to show off that she still looked hotter than a two-dollar pistol. Rouge stopped, not sure how to handle this turn of events.
“Hello, Rouge,” said Mrs. G slowly, low and guttural, like a growl.
“Um,” said Rouge, turning to look at me, more like a frightened kitten than a sex kitten. Her big eyes melted me again. She needed saving, though I wasn’t the right one to save her. I could easily be as big a threat – but not right now.
“Leave us,” said Mrs. G, with a flick of her hand meant to dismiss me. I looked over next to the chaise lounge to the ice bucket and the tip of the champagne bottle poking out of it. Two glasses sat on the side table, one of them filled, with a red lip print on the edge.
“Yeah, well, I should hang around, just in case you need anything, like if you need another bottle of champagne or something.”
Rouge looked at me, imploring. She didn’t feel any more comfortable with this than I did.
“No,” said Mrs. Granville, pointedly. Lines appeared in her upper lip as she formed the word, lines she didn’t like to acknowledge. “You need to go now. I want to talk to miss red-head alone.”
She purred as she said it, her eyes growing bigger as the treat she had promised herself was now actually in the room. She smiled, showing all her teeth. I felt Rouge’s hands tighten on my arm.
“No, please,” whispered Rouge. “I’d like to go now.”
“I don’t think so! You did the audition, you got the gig, now it’s time for the audition to cinch the deal. Or do you not want the gig?”
Deep inside me, something snapped. There was a whirring noise, like a flywheel had gotten lose and I turned to her and spoke low and slow.
“You’re right. She did the audition, she got the gig. And she is the best thing we’ve seen in years. You should be glad that Anthony knocked up Nicole, because that pair never brought in a single drink on their own. Rouge here will bring in club-fulls, standing room only, conventions. She’s just what you want and it doesn’t take an ‘interview’ to get you to see it. You can take my word for it.”
I could see that Mrs. Granville was surprised and pissed-off to hear me speak to her like that. I could back-pedal and lose ground, or charge ahead and possibly take the hill.
“I’ve never steered you wrong and you should listen to me now. Listen to Big Charlie, who gave her the green light with the first note.”
Rouge looked at me with surprise. She had sung for an hour and a half. If she had been hired from first note, what was the other hour and twenty-nine minutes for?
“He just wanted to hear you sing and so did I,” I said to her. “They’re gonna line up to hear you, just like we did today. You’re dynamite, kid, and don’t let anybody tell ya different.”
I looked at Mrs. Granville, so as to not have to look at Rouge anymore. If I kept looking at her, it would be to get a reaction and possibly a response. Whether or not I got a response didn’t matter. I had said my piece and I stood by it no matter what.
Mrs. G looked like she was ready to burst a fitting, but she cooled pretty quick. A calculating calmness came over her. She leaned forward, sucked in and got ready to chew me up. I leaned forward as well, ready to receive and repel. She hesitated and chuckled.
“Of course,” she said. “I just wanted to see what we had bargained for. I’ll be down to see your show, honey. Make me proud. Take her home, will ya, Nick?”
“You bet Mrs. G,” I said, gently urging Rouge to come around me.
“Granville,” said the icy voice behind me. “Mrs. Granville, if you please.”
“Of course, Mrs. Granville. Whatever you say.”
I scooted Rouge to the elevator before Mrs. Granville could say more. In short order we were down at the car. Rouge was shaking. If I wanted to admit it, so was I. Neither one of us know what we had just avoided, but we were glad we had. On the way to Rouge’s place, I was glad I hadn’t gotten used to calling Mrs. Granville “Maud.”
As we turned the corner into a long row of tenements, I felt a small hand on my arm.
“No,” she whispered. “Your place. Please?”
“Whatever you say,” I replied. “You’re the boss.”