April 29, 1924: evening

When Cati arrived at her apartment, she dropped her purse on the settee in the front room and sat down heavily beside it. After a moment, she reached into the fabric bag and rustled around until she found her cigarettes and matches. She sat and smoked and stared absently at a stray piece of black lint on the cream-colored rug beneath her feet.

She was trying not to think.

She lit a second cigarette and picked up the receiver of the telephone on the side table. "Emma, love!" she said with whole-hearted false cheer. "Join me at the Cellar tonight!"

Cati finished her cigarette and reached into her purse again. This time her hand emerged with a flask, from which she took a healthy swig of gin. Grabbing her purse, she returned the silver container to its place as she hurried down the hall to her bedroom.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a figure move across the kitchen door. "Hello, Magda," she called out to her housekeeper. "I'm only here a moment. I'll be going out with Emma shortly."

Cati took her pistol out from where she kept it in her lingerie drawer. She slipped it into her purse beside the slim cigarette case, the little book of matches, and the tarnished flask. There was a sealed tube in there, too, with an odd, mercurial fluid collected in the bottom.

Putting its existence out of her mind, she turned and headed out to catch a cab.


da solomon said...

(Cati passed a spot hidden roll.)

da solomon said...

"That one?" a man asked himself. He clutched something on his chest. "Yes that one. Her." He shifted in his seat. "She's pretty."

Nearby, Cati waved at one cab, then at another, then at a third, but nothing doing.

"Okay, okay, okay, I'll do it now." he said. "Christ's sakes, okay."

Cati waved at the fourth cab with vigor, even hopping a little in her high heels, but to no avail. As soon as that one had passed, another cab, which had been idling across the street at the end of the block, pulled out of its parking spot. Cati hadn't noticed it, but it had been down there the whole time. It stopped right in front of her.

The driver's window was open. "Where to?" the cabby asked.

Teresa said...

"Soho," she said. "Greene and Prince."

As she opened the cab door, she asked, "What's going on tonight? I've been trying to flag down a cab forever!"

da solomon said...

The cab joined the stream of traffic. "I don't know, ma'am. Just another Tuesday night." The driver was hunched forward in his seat, lost behind his matching coat and cap, both wool, both black.

He got on Broadway and headed south. There was so much on Broadway which lured the eye - Cati let her gaze be drawn along by the moving array of sights. She let her mind empty into the grinding traffic noises and the glowing signs.

The taxi turned onto Fifth just south of Chelsea. "Oh," awoke Cati, "you ought to take Fourth at Union Square."

The driver sped up and barely ran a red light. "okay, okay," he muttered. Finding his voice, he called over his shoulder, "This is another way down. This way beats the traffic on South Broadway."


"Tuesday night." He continued to speak as he drove. "You know what I like to do on a Tuesday night?" He nodded his head and looked into the side mirror, which was now aimed right at Cati. He was a white man with brown eyes, and a few wrinkles - this was all Cati could make out. "I like to go down to Almack's. You know where that is? They call it Pete William's Place nowadays, but my grandfather used to go there when it was Almack's and they had dancers every night." He laughed. "Joe Diamond used to dance there! And Juba!" He laughed again, a nervous pair of hiccups. "And that guy really was colored! My grandfather said he made a better fake negro than the white guys. Minstrel shows - where did they go? You don't see those anymore, do you? Just in the kiddy pictures." The car stopped at the intersection of Fifth and Houston. "What Pete's Place has now is brass horns." The light changed green. "They've got players there who will change your mind about jazz." The car went straight through the intersection.

It's a left, thought Cati.

"What do you say we go to Five Points tonight and see some horns?"

Cati looked at the man's reflection in the side mirror, intending to protest.

Their eyes met for an instant in the mirror. Cati felt something welling up from within the driver's own dark eyes. Something was coming towards her. It was already upon her own gaze, pushing it back, trying to jam her sight back into her skull.

She felt her eyes cross. "No!" she snapped. Cati lunged forward in her seat. Now the man's eyes, reflected in the mirror, were soft, fearful. They didn't want to meet Cati's gaze. He was still talking, but whispering harshly to himself, "damn it all! i don't know!"

Teresa said...

Cati straightened in her seat as the cab came to a stop at another light.

"Say, fella," she said, trying to disguise her uneasiness. "You can just let me off right here."

She fumbled in her purse for a few bills to hand him, then reached for the handle of the door and started to open it.

da solomon said...

As she dropped the cash over the cabby's shoulder, he tried to bat it away. Even after the bills had fluttered to the seat, he continued waving his right hand around in a panicked manner, as if trying to shoo away some wasp.

He cried out, as if under pressure, "Okay, okay! Hey lady!"

Cati barely looked in his direction as she started to open the door.

"Sorry! - boghothu-shad'ac-thai!"

He froze and held his breath.

Though she didn't know what it was - and Cati wasn't about to ask, either - she knew that the faux-cabby had now twice in a row screwed it up. She threw the door open.

"Damn!" yelled the man, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

Cati hurried out of the cab, right into stopped traffic. She could hear the cabby muttering behind her, "damn damn damn . . ." She hustled to the sidewalk. The light turned green just as she stepped onto the curb.

Cati looked back. Traffic was moving all around, but the taxi had not budged. Inside, the driver gripped the wheel with both hands and watched Cati. His face wrinkled around a deep, open-mouthed frown, like the beginning of a child's wailing fit. A few cars were stuck behind the cab. They honked their horns - "ha-wahnk!" - but the driver did not seem able to bear letting Cati out of his sight.

Teresa said...

Cati turned and ran. Even in her heels, she ran.

She was already in Soho, although the cabbie had neglected to go in the direction of The Cellar. She ran down one block, turned a corner and kept running.

After a few minutes, she began to slow, to catch her breath. The streets were busy. There were many people walking around, past her, in and out of stores. There was no way that cabbie could be following her or could do anything to hurt her with all these people around.

When she finally reached the Cellar, an unassuming joint, she hurried in and ordered a stiff drink. Then she looked around for Emma.

da solomon said...

(Action continues in "The Cellar".)