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The wind was calm, a gentle kiss against the humid warmth of a summer night. The light tread of worn boots made barely a sound on the dirty gravel. The stench of garbage and waste rose in the heat, slightly bearable as the wind carried most of the smell away from the dark man who strode carefully through the alley he had found himself in.
This is not good, the man thought to himself, only a whiff of panic attaching itself to him. I should have stayed on the main street.
The man froze. A sound to his left, no louder than a cigar butt connecting with the ground, caused him to slink into a shadowy corner, his black coat and skin masking his appearance. The man drew something from his inside pocket. The metal caught a ray of moonlight and winked. He cursed to himself under his breath, wondering if he should c*** his gun; if the small noise would attract attention. He glanced out of the alley and across the street. Home was so near. He thought he caught a face in the window of the apartment he shared with his sister. But it must have been the curtains fluttering. Why had his sister left the window open at this time of night? She must have been asleep by then.
A moving shadow rose from the darkness, causing the man to slink back further as another, taller man entered the scene. There was an air of importance to him, a whisper of good breading. "Drae, my boy, please tell me that's you hiding over there."
Drae, still holding his gun to his side, stepped out of the shadows at the sound of the raspy, whispered voice he knew so well. "Boylin? Good God, man, what're you doing down on my side a’ town?" Boylin laughed, it sounded like a knife being scraped across sandpaper.
"Young Blu says he reckons ya found somethin'. He caught me on my way out of the office and said I should check on ya. Said ya hadn't been acting yourself lately."
Drae sighed in relief. Here was someone he could trust with his findings. Boylin would know what to do. "Yeah, Boylin, I did find something. Actually, I found everything. Everything we need to take 'em out." Drae returned his gun to his inside pocket, the urge to be cautious all but thrown to the wind. This was Boylin, he's been there since the beginning; why, Boylin'd even found Drae and hired him. "I've got all the papers in the..." Drae paused, his hand in midair.
"Where, Drae? Where are they?" Boylin's voice had an edge of urgency now, almost anger. Boylin never got angry at Drae.
"Blu wasn't at the office."
"What?" Boylin laughed again, the rasp in it calloused. "Of course he was, I just talked to him."
Drae hesitated, wishing he hadn't been so stupid as to put his gun away. "But, Blu wasn’t working tonight. He told me he wouldn't be in the office till tomorrow, said his boss made him work a double."
"Drae, you think I’d remember putting him on a shift in my own speakeasy! I told you, damnit, I talked to him not half hour ago!" more anger seeped from Boylin's voice, causing Drae to take a step back, away from his house, away from his sleeping sister.
"You said you talked to Blu at the office, Boylin. You leave at 5:30 every afternoon; it's almost 11:00." Drae took another step back.
"A slip of the tongue, dear boy. Now tell me where those paper's are, we can stop this whole thing for good with enough evidence!" Boylin's hand was on his pocket now. Drae knew what would happen next.
He wished he could have said goodbye to his sister.
"Boylin, tell me how you did it."
"Did what, boy?"
"How'd you find out I'd found 'em?"
"I told you Young-"
"-Blu told you? Right, the twenty-year-old file boy noticed something was wrong and asked you to keep an eye-"
"-Dandrae, my boy," The gun was out in a flash of anger, pointed at Drae's dark head. This was it. "You've kept me on my toes since the beginning. I taught you everything I know in hopes that you could continue what I started. But I guess I was wrong. Guess I shoulda thought that, in the end, you were as good as your father. A soft, worthless man not fit for these times!"
Drae's eyes flashed. He didn't want to end in fury. He wanted to be calm when it happened. "That's the most decent thing anyone has ever said to me."
"Yeah, well, it's the last thing anyone'll ever say to ya, Drae." The gun clicked at the ready.
"You'll never find those papers, Boyli-"
Drae crumpled into the filth of the alley.
A dog howled and a barred window slammed shut from across the street of the alley's opening, small black hands pulling the ratty curtains closed.
"Sleep well, boy." Boylin whispered as he retrieved the gun and wallet from the dead body, slinking into the dark with all of Drae's identity like a shadow at dawn. "No one cares about a dead black in an alley."
II. A Floorboard
Tick… Tick… Tick…
Keeping time with the darkness wasn’t getting her anywhere fast. The constant rhythm of the clock seemed to get slower and slower, until she could count the seconds in between the seconds. He still wasn’t home.
It wasn’t as if he never stayed late. He did. It wasn’t as if tonight was special…
But it was.
If it hadn’t been for a breathless brother running out the door in the wee hours of the morning, everything would have seemed explicitly normal. Eva thought back to every morning Drae had ever left for work since he’d obtained his job. Always calm, at least appearing so, always poised, and always gulping down the cup of coffee Eva made him. Today, it was still sitting on the table, cold and stale.
Eva, in her rush to make it to the diner on time for work, hadn’t even observed the oddness of it. Only when she arrived home had she noticed. Only then had she sensed something was dreadfully wrong.
Glancing out the stained curtains, her mind was put to ease. There stood Drae, completely in tacked, deep in conversation with his boss, Mr. Boylin. Eva heard the mention of Drae’s close friend, Max Blu, or, Young Blu, as the boys called him. She felt a smile unconsciously spread; Max could always make her laugh. Even after the worst shift, all she had to do was wait till the bar he worked at closed and help him clean up. He was always game for a cup of coffee and some piano music.
Hot Diggety, could he play. Eva could sit for hours, listening to the beautiful sounds Max could make with the clinky, out of tune piano they had at the speak-easy he worked at. She never got tired of watching his firm fingers melt into the keys. A closed-eye expression of heartfelt passion eclipsing his every muscle. He could feel the music, that boy. Eva loved singing along when a familiar tune came on; she loved the smile it brought to his face when she belted a high note or her voice rumbled when the music was too low.
Eva had unconsciously slipped to one elbow, peering out the window into the moonlit street where her brother’s tone had changed.
“…Said you talked to Blu at the office…”
“… Slip of the tongue… Stop this whole thing for good with enough evidence!"
Eva started to make out pieces of what was being said, but it still didn’t make sense. Not until Boylin pulled a gun out of his cloak, shoving it roughly into Drae’s temple. She strangled a scream and covered her gaping mouth with her hand. Her nails dug into the splintering wood of the sill. She’d grown up in this side of town, she knew things we rough. Shootings didn’t happen often, but they did happen. Just never to her family.
A million thoughts raced through Eva’s head, but she couldn’t think. Everything was bleary, yet too sharp. She took a breath, realizing she’d stopped breathing. Drae looked so calm, so determined. She thought she saw him glance her way, but it must have been the moonlight reflecting off of his dark eyes. Filled with sweet, sweet chocolate, their mother had said. Now all Eva could think was how filled with life they were, and how easy it was to take the life away.
Boylin was still talking, Drae didn’t move.
Eva couldn’t find her breath. She felt numb; her limbs no more useful than a trampled flower. Her brain wouldn’t tell her what to do.
Without a thought in her head, Eva slammed the window closed, her eyes shut to her brother’s falling body. The beagle next door howled. The gunshot clung to her like a disease.
All she could do was sit on the cold floor and grab at her ears, wishing she could get the memory of her brother’s dead body out of her head. It wouldn’t leave. A sob clogged her throat, tears tearing down her face. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. It was as if her voice had been ripped from her the moment the shot had been fired. Eva felt like a toddler, unable to do anything but cry noiselessly about something out of her reach.
Finally, a wail burst forth, frightening her at the animalisity of it. It sounded like the cat she’d saved when the boys next door had lit its tail on fire. Hopeless, and ready to die. She hit her fist against the floor repeatedly, not knowing what to do or how to face the shell of the brother’s body just a few yards from her door.
She suddenly felt the pain of her pounding hand like a rush of heat and glanced at the cracking floorboards. The ones she’d been pounding were lose, the edges bowing with the force of her crazed blows. Eva thought she spied something beneath the dark wood, something hidden from searching eyes. She thought back to the pieces of conversation she’d heard. Something about finding papers. Why were they special?
Prying at the old wood, Eva broke one free and sidled her hand into the opening. Grasping at something that felt like a strap, she pulled her new found treasure from its hiding place, her tears making it difficult to see.
It was Drae’s favorite, brown satchel. It had belonged to her father before he’d died, belonging to his father before him. Now it held something that had caused the death of her only living relative. Retrieving the papers from within its worn folds, Eva began to read. Her sadness grew to burning anger. Her core filling with bile at the truth of her brother’s death.
She didn’t know how she would do it, but she knew what she had to do. She had just as many friends as Boylin, maybe more. She’d find a way to bring light to what had happened. She needed a plan, and one was definitely forming. Stuffing the God-forsaken papers back into the satchel, Eva replaced them to their hiding place, sliding the cracked floor board back into its spot.
She rushed for the chest at the foot of her bed and opened it on creaking hinges. It had what she needed. She pulled her mother’s white flapper dress out of the deep chest and let it billow across her bed.
Yes, it would do. All she needed was a date with the pianist at the speakeasy North. Lucky for Eva, she knew the bartender.
III.A Night Singer
The constant murmurs of penniless women flirting with rich businessmen filled the scene, both here for the same reason; freedom. A freedom to do whatever they wanted for the next few hours without the consequences of day life. Drinks poured, drinks drunk. Ankles flashed, blood-red lips stretched under thin cigarettes. The young bartender busied himself, filling and refilling glasses with dirty martinis and mint juleps, aware of every intoxicated person at his bar. The crowd was slowly starting to tire, though each tried his best to hide it. Being in meant acting careless and awake, even if your feet ached and your head spun with the alcohol of your fifth or sixth drink.
Mobsters with flappers draped across them relaxed at booths in shadowy corners, every once in a while beckoning a poor soul over to settle a deal or create a new one. The mood was dulling, the forced laughter eclipsed with an edge of boredom and the dancers slowly dwindling to half. The band ended a lively song and all but the piano player left the stage. Their absence was barely noticed.
A spotlight flipped on, the droning talk failing to cease. A name was announced by the piano player, but if asked, not one person could recall it but the bartender. A small girl in an off-set, untailored white flapper dress shuffled to center stage, a ragged red feather adorning her curly black, bobbed hair and her red lips pressed together shakily. Her dark apple-shaped cheeks were sharpened by dashes of harsh red blush, causing her charcoaled eyes to pop; a string of swirling black, chipped pearls hung in three strands around her slender neck.
The pianist hit a single, slightly out of tune key. Her mouth opened, the twitch of her eyebrow giving away her nerves. Then her voice rang out, vibrating off the stuffy walls and silencing the crowd.
There were no more murmurs. Every head turned; no exception.
As she belted out her head rattling notes, her hand loosely supporting her diaphragm as she tried not to squint through the piercing spotlight, she spied him at a corner booth.
He had put down his glass of bourbon, wiping his mouth with his fingers and watching her with deep interest swirling in his caramel eyes.
Now you can hear me. She thought in prideful disgust, remembering back to their first meeting when he had met and dismissed her in a single breath. But I’m gonna make you wish you were dead.
That thought settled in her head as the last, musky note of her song echoed through the dark, sultry speakeasy. The spotlight flickered above her as if, it too, was in awe. Everything was quiet; the only sound audible was the steady pour of the bartender refilling a drink, a smile capturing his downturned face. Then, monstrous applause. It filled the room, practically vibrating the martini glasses filling occupied hands and the dirty mirrors stretching across the walls.
The night singer clasped her hands behind her back. A smiled met her dark lips.
This is it, Boylin. You want a star? You got one.