“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight and again! One, two…” Caroline counted off as she led the slapdash dance troupe through the new routine. She turned to watch them as they continued on their own.
The only one who had been paying attention was Doris. The thickset girl was having a blast and perhaps adding too much of her own voluptuous gyrations. Caroline wasn’t going to correct her. After all that was what they were selling. Ruby was as skinny as a rail and knock-kneed to boot, but she tried although was forgetful about every other part of the routine. Mildred had been placed in front. She was the prettiest and the least enthused. Her heavy lidded, smoky eyes were alluring, but indifferent. She didn’t want to dance, she wanted to stand around and smoke. She had no trouble with the johns approaching her, the last thing she wanted to do was work.
“Smiles, ladies!” Caroline ordered. Mildred bared her teeth, more of a grimace than anything else. “Real ones,” she grumbled as she walked to the edge of the stage. She stepped down using a chair and took a few steps away to see the routine from the audience’s point of view. She started clapping out the beat for the dancers. Each clap was getting louder and stiffer as her frustration grew. Behind her, she heard a chuckling. Caroline whirled around with a glare that made Frank laugh louder. He came over and handed her a drink.
“I say, Caroline, we might have more luck with you up there,” he said as she took a sip. Caroline nearly choked as she scoffed. “I mean it, Caroline, you dance well.”
“I am not cooch dancing for you,” Caroline spat. Frank pulled out a cigarette as he chuckled.
“For me? Or for the Night Owl?” He struck a match and lit the cigarette. Caroline’s eyebrows raised.
“Neither,” she said. “You don’t pay me enough.” Frank handed her the cigarette and she took a pull on it. She turned back to the stage.
“Girls, from the top. The boss is here so focus!” The girls that had slumped on stage during her lapse in attention sprung to their feet. They moved into position and Caroline counted off the start. It was their best attempt yet, but still clumsy and out of time.
“This isn’t going to work, Frank. We can’t open this place with this talent, or lack there of,” she said. “We need an artistic director or someone that can teach them to dance or real dancers.”
“An artistic director, Caroline? This isn’t Broadway.” Frank put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her to his side. “You’re doing just fine.”
“These girls are driving me nuts. Are you sure this is the best you got in that cat house?” she whispered.
“Come on now, Millie is cute, Doris, she’s a hoot, and Ruby…I’m sure has assets that will reveal themselves eventually. The johns like them. They’ll like them here too.” Caroline rolled her eyes and finished her drink.
“Help me out here, Frank. This is running me into the ground,” she moaned. Frank jostled her against his side before releasing her. He applauded the girls as they finished with beaming smiles.
“Very good, girls, keep practicing and we’ll be ready for opening night in no time,” he said. He turned back to Caroline, “Now it’s time for you to take a night off. Let’s go back to Libellule, have some dinner and relax.”
“Fine,” she agreed.
“Good, because I also have some news to share with you.” He offered Caroline his arm.
“News? I suppose you’re going to make me wait to tell me.” They walked together into the back of the theater and down into the passage that connected the Night Owl Cabaret to the Libellule supper club.
An hour later, Caroline leaned back in her chair feeling much more relaxed. What to do about the dancers still nagged at the back of her mind, but it didn’t matter as much anymore. She looked over the balcony at all the people below. They were all enjoying themselves. It made all the hard work worth it to see the happy faces.
“This is sorta our spot isn’t it?” Frank interrupted her thoughts. Caroline glanced around. It was a table at the dark end of the balcony. A great place to enjoy the music, but still talk and have a level of privacy.
“Yes, I suppose it is our table,” she agreed. Her fingers smoothed her napkin.
“These days, I don’t want to be anywhere else,” Frank slid his hand over on top of hers. Caroline froze. She raised her eyes and met his gaze. He wasn’t kidding her.
“Frank, we discussed this,” she replied quietly.
“We didn’t discuss nothin’. You just ran off, talking about wrongs and rights and now we’ve acted like nothing happened for long enough. I’m going to say this once and then I’m never going to bring it up again.” Frank took a big gulp of whiskey as he braced himself. He still clutched her hand. “Margot’s been…d-dead for six years now…and Cylus, he didn’t deserve you. I don’t know anyone that does deserve you. You’re something else. We share a vision now. We’re partners and if I had my way, we wouldn’t just be sharing profits. I know damn well I can’t make you do anything, but I want you to really think about it.” He pulled his hand away from hers.
Caroline was speechless. She was uncomfortable. She wanted to be upset, to tell him that he was wrong, but everything he had said was true. She pulled her hands to her lap and stared down at them. She had forced the night of that kiss out of her mind, but it came drifting back to her. The music of the jazz singer, the feeling in the pit of her stomach as they danced. All the anger that she had used to still her heart while in prison became worthless. She wasn’t sure she wanted to feel again. She didn’t want to hurt ever again. She cleared her throat.
“Is this the news you wanted to share with me?” she asked. Frank shook his head.
“No, it was only the moment, it felt right.” Frank stood up abruptly. He dug in his breast pocket and pulled out an envelope. “I was going to tell you about the property I secured for the hotel, but I forgot I have a meeting tonight. You can read this yourself.” He plopped the envelope on the table.
“Frank, wait,” Caroline said, but he had already hurried away. She picked up the envelope and opened it. Inside was a deed for a property further down the boardwalk in both their names.