The dame slithered past me, flipping a buttery golden curl to the side as her smokey blue-grey eyes locked with mine. Everything else in the room disappeared as she curved raspberry red lips in a perfect frame around pebble white teeth. I couldn’t move a single muscle, and yet I felt compelled, somehow, to follow her. Instead, I watched longingly as her sequin covered hips disappeared behind the curtain, feeling the tug of her slender gloved fingers as her left hand lingered on the hardy satin fabric separating the rest of the speakeasy from the poker room.
The reason I knew I shouldn’t follow this enticing woman was because of the dazzling five carat rock that was hanging, almost haphazardly, on that left hand there, caressing the curtain. She was Joe’s gal, and Big Joe Bertucci didn’t take kindly to any man getting too close to his woman.
But was she truly his? The way she had locked eyes with me, it was more than just a greeting. It was a pleading. She wanted me, she needed me. There was something that passed between us just in that instant. At least, that is what I told myself, justifying my need to follow her into the back room.
I tossed some coins on the bar and picked up my midnight blue fedora, cocking it a little to the side as was the style. A man just wasn’t worth a nickel these days walking the streets of Chicago without a heater strapped to his chest and a properly notched Fedora. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror behind the bartender, examining the square jaw showing just a hint of evening stubble, the patrician nose beneath hazel brown eyes, and the peppery black-brown hair under the perfectly angled hat. I adjusted my jacket, unbuttoning the front, straightened my silver silk tie and grinned at myself. I was worth well more than a nickel.
Maybe that was why I had to follow this intoxicating one hundred and twenty pounds of trouble wrapped in black and silver sequins. I had to prove I was worth significantly more than a nickel. That, and the gin. Gin does make a man do stupid things.
I walked over to her, chest puffed out a little, feeling like my sense of self-importance was obvious to everyone else in the room. She just looked at me with those steely eyes as I approached, not moving a muscle. Without a word, I slid my cigarette case out of my breast pocket and flipped it open with one hand, offering her one of the gleaming white treasures inside. Never batting even an eyelash, she deftly selected one of the sticks and gracefully placed it between those slick, red, Christmas candy lips. She cocked her head a bit to the side as she held it there with her left hand as if daring me to keep going in the presence of her token diamond.
And then I saw it, the black and purple tinge around her right eye, expertly covered with powder as she had no doubt done many times before. But here, this close to her, I could see the swelling of her cheek and the red rim of her eyes from the stinging tears that had probably poured out only hours ago.
I smiled at her, my most comforting yet manly smile. Then I placed my right hand inside my jacket, sliding the Colt .45 out of its holster, turned and fired.
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
Four men sat dead at the poker table, cards splayed across the top and guns half drawn. The smoke and smell of gunpowder consumed the atmosphere of the room with a certain serenity despite the chaos of surprised screams and toppling chairs as patrons made hasty exits on the opposite side of the heavy curtain. I walked over to the stiffening frame of Big Joe Bertucci, frozen with one hand displaying two kings, a jack, and the three and four of hearts, the other hand resting on his stomach having not reached his piece in time. There was a shocked look on his face and a little blood trickled out the corner of his mouth.
“Don’t look so shocked, Big Joe,” I said, flicking a business card at him. It landed perfectly over his onyx tie tack, face up showing the name and logo of my boss, Sammy Ferone, the main rival to the Bertucci crew. “Sammy sends his regards.”
The fire in my chest, below my left shoulder, was beyond description. I felt the piercing lead enter my heart before I ever heard the shot. And I am sure that if there had been a mirror behind that blonde bombshell, I would have seen the same look of surprise and shock on my face as I had just witnessed on Big Joe. As it was though, all I saw was end of a Derringer with a small curl of smoke floating up from the black satin gloved left hand holding it, still displaying the huge rock.
“Thanks, mister. That’s exactly what I needed tonight.”
This deliciously dangerous woman smiled at me as I fell backwards, unable to move yet again. As the darkness descended on me, the last thing I remembered seeing was the slim white cigarette I had given her, end glowing hot as she had taken a slow drag, lowered from those ruby lips while she exhaled a steady wisp, dazzling that smile at me. And all I could think about was how much I wanted to kiss those lips because I was well worth more than a nickel and I had proved it.