He grew increasingly apprehensive. What was going on? And why? An Unlikely Arrangement.
July 8, 2013
A VG Serial: An Unlikely Arrangement
Eric Horton slammed the ledger shut and rained a fist down on the cover with a thud. “I will not be mocked. It is clear they will not honor their promise. A full hour has past, plenty of time, and they have chosen not to show. Do they think they can do this to me?”
He gathered both coat and case, and marched out of the bank, purpose in his step.
The car sped through the city streets and came to a stop in front of the Squire’s modest home. A cab sped away as he arrived, but he paid no attention to the occupants.
The pounding of his fist on the door echoed on the street. Eric was furious and wanted satisfaction. Frustrated there was no answer, he ran his fingers through his greasy hair and stormed down the steps to the car. He would take care of this matter his own way.
Eric stared at the back of his driver’s shaved head, the chauffeurs’ cap straight as an arrow. “Take me down to The Blue Feather Salon.”
Uncharacteristically, the stout driver glanced quickly over one shoulder. “Did I hear you right, sir? The Blue Feather?”
“Keep your eyes on the road, and yes, that is what I said, now hurry.”
They sped past the middle class part of town, and soon, the buildings took on a look of ill repair. Eric Horton tried to hide his nervousness as they went deeper into the more shady part of town. He had only been down here once before. A shudder ran through him at the memory.
Women didn’t flock around him, even as a young man. From mediocre stock, awareness found him early. The females in this town wanted money. Even though he achieved a modicum of success in the banking business, women avoided him. After a particularly lonely night at home drinking port, he decided to do something about it.
He summoned his driver, Audie, and asked where to find female company for the night. The Blue Feather became his destination. The trouble began when he told Audie not to wait; he would catch a taxi home. Inside the smoke-filled speakeasy, women were plentiful. Decked out in their short, fringed dresses, colorful feathers standing at attention from their sequined headbands, they all but smothered him with attention. One, in particular, called herself Emma Lou, singled him out, plied him with drink, and emptied his pockets of every last dime. He had no money for either a taxi or to call from the pay phone for his driver. The worst part—he never even got upstairs with her…all his money had vanished. He remembered the man who rescued him to a tee. Eric was digging through his pockets when someone sat down beside him.
“You busted, buddy?” the man in the black pinstriped suit asked.
Eric wobbled on the barstool. “I’m afraid I am. Don’t know what happened. Had plenty of money when I came in, guess I drank too much.”
“I’ll be glad to help you out. Need money for a cab?” The stranger slapped him on the back.
“I’d be obliged. I’ll pay you when I get home,” he slurred.
“No need. Here’s my card. I like you. You’re my kind of people. This one is on me, and if you ever need anything, I’m the one to call.”
He couldn’t help but notice the black shirt, the white tie, and the matching trilby hat on his head. “Oh no, I insist. I want to pay you back as soon as I arrive home. I wouldn’t want to be indebted.”
“Maybe you didn’t hear me right, my man. It’s on me. Get my meaning? Of course, I might need a favor one day, capisce?” The man draped an arm around Eric’s shoulder.
His mind sobered at the heaviness of the man’s appendage. “Sure, of course. I’m a banker in the city. If there is anything I can ever do for you…”
“The name’s Giovanni Zapelli or ‘Johnny the Nose’ and I know exactly who you are, where you work, and more importantly, where you live.” The Nose withdrew his arm, clapped him on the back, and motioned for a giant sized hulk in the corner. “My, uh, employee here will drive you home. See ya around, Horton.”
He called after The Nose, “Uh, thank you Mr. Nose, er…Johnny.”
A tip of his Mafioso hat, and The Nose disappeared through a back door.
The ride home was uneventful, but he felt great unease as the behemoth driver delivered him straight to his door without any directions. He swore never to venture out like that again and was glad his own chauffer didn’t witness the stupid event.
He became increasingly apprehensive after the unfortunate encounter, though. Every few weeks, an unsavory, thug-like man dressed in a pinstriped suit would appear at his bank, walk around the foyer, nod in Eric’s direction, and leave. He knew the other shoe would drop some day. Little did he know he would be the one to initiate a second encounter.
Here he was, speeding toward The Blue Feather again, deciding to strike first, and maybe get the monkey off his back.
The car stopped in front of the speakeasy, and this time, he asked Audie to wait. Sober and sure of himself, he walked through the door of The Blue Feather in search of The Nose.
Elizabeth’s hand flew to her mouth, “Oh, no. It’s her.”
Priscilla touched the other woman’s shoulder. “Would you like us to stay, Elizabeth?”
“Yes, yes, I would. Could you? I don’t know if I can talk to her by myself. She is very determined. How I wish I knew where to find Peter.”
Hattie Morgenstern approached the porch. “Mrs. Kirby. I am making one more attempt to make contact with your son. You cannot keep him from me forever. I will not leave until I speak to him.”
“Miss Morgenstern, please, won’t you come in? This is Mr. and Mrs. Squire. They are Peter’s fiancées parents. They were leaving, but have agreed to stay. Perhaps we can all come to some sort of understanding.”
Hattie Morgenstern shook her head. “I have no need to talk to these people. They are the imposters. I am the one with the right to call Peter fiancée.” She swept past the Squire’s and into the house.
The three others exchanged glances, but said nothing. The Squires followed Mrs. Kirby into the house.
Hattie took the high back chair; chin high, hands folded.
“I will get some fresh tea.” Elizabeth turned to her other guests. “Please seat yourselves.”
She returned, tray in hand.
The Squires sat on the settee. Mrs. Squire attempted conversation with the young woman. “I understand you are from the old country. You must be very excited to be here in the United States. Is this your first trip here?”
Hattie turned a cold stare to the older woman. “It is none of your business why I am here. We have nothing to say to each other. You have stolen my fiancée.”
“We have stolen nothing, Miss Morgenstern. We came here to cancel the engagement. But…Peter and Ruth are missing. I am afraid there is nothing we can do now. If they have decided to be together, we are powerless to stop them.”
For the first time, Hattie’s face looked full of doubt, unguarded. “Run off?” she asked. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, we cannot find either one of them,” Mrs. Squire answered.
Elizabeth set the tea tray on the side table. “That’s right, Hattie. We were discussing what to do.”
The screen door banged shut, and a collective gasp filled the room.
“No one has run off. We are both right here.” Peter stood in the doorway, Ruth by his side.
Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.
You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.