This story contains sexually explicit scenes.
Moe was a light sleeper and had been ever since he was old enough to climb out of his crib. Most nights he could be roused by a cat tiptoeing on the roof. So he was surprised to wake up from his cramped position on the divan to find already Mona in the kitchen, all sharped up in her starched whites, fixing breakfast. He watched her from behind unnoticed until he drank his fill of her curvy silhouette. He startled her when he spoke, and flour mushroomed in the air from her dropped spoon.
“If you worked any quieter, doll, a fella would think his ears were on the fritz.”
“Goodness, Moe. You scared the bejesus out of me.”
“That’s what happens to a girl who sneaks around.”
“I wasn’t sneak ...” She turned around and stopped mid-sentence. Moe hadn’t bothered to get dressed. A morning rise hung semi-erect between his legs. The smile Mona tried to hide said she wasn’t too appalled. “Your pants are cleaned and pressed. They’re hanging over the back of the chair in the living room. I thought you’d see them there.”
She turned back to the counter, picked up the spoon, and continued to stir the batter she was preparing. “You really are incorrigible, aren’t you, Moe?”
Moe refrained from showing her just how depraved he could be by opting not to touch his rod like he’d wanted to when she turned around with flour sprinkled on her face and carrying a flush from head to toe. “I’ve been trying to tell you that for awhile, baby. You’ve just had cotton in your ears.”
“Get dressed, mister, before the milkman comes by and sees you standing naked in my kitchen.”
“Milk? With cream on the top?” Moe deliberately lowered his voice. “I like licking the cream off my fingers.”
Mona stopped stirring, but she didn’t turn around. A little hiccup escaped from her throat, and a crimson blush crept up the back of her neck. “I’m scheduled to be at the hospital this morning, Moe.”
“But what about Danja?”
“She’s your responsibility today.”
Panic screeched through his body and dealt a deathblow to his promising erection. “Stop right there, doll. Not this Joe,” he said.
She turned around and pointed her spoon at Moe. “Get dressed, and we’ll talk.” Her words tinged with finality
Moe had no choice but to do as she asked. He’d already lost his erection, and he couldn’t fight Mona, not this early in the morning, and not without any coffee.
He trudged into the living room where the fire had burned out hours ago. Smoldering ashes worked hard to warm the room. The chill leftover put a damper on the heat of their coupling from the night before. But Moe had no trouble remembering Mona as an equestrian, using her flanks for strength, and riding him by firelight.
Just as Mona had said, his clothes were laid out over the chair, as if by a snooty valet – neat and in order of donning. Her efficiency bordered on scary. He put his socks on first as a way to buck her system. When he finished dressing, he folded the coverlet she’d given him last night and draped it over the divan. Thankfully, she hadn’t asked Moe to sleep in her bed. A relationship took on a different meaning the minute a man slipped under a frilly bedspread and got comfortable. It was like giving the okay to check out china patterns. He returned to the kitchen to find Mona laying out the grub.
Moe scraped back a chair and took his seat. Sitting at a breakfast table, eating flapjacks, and drinking coffee with Mona was almost as domestic as a frilly bedspread, but Moe had spotted a set of china already gracing one of the cabinets, so he let himself relax. Besides, he was only there because of Danja.
Mona piled the pancakes high and drizzled syrup over a pat of melting butter. Moe licked his lips, sunk in his fork, and gobbled nearly a quarter of the pile before remembering what they’d been talking about. “Mona, I know from nothing about Clara Barton detail.”
Mona spooned apple butter on a slice of toast and sipped at her coffee. “If she turns feverish, or her bleeding turns heavy. She needs help.”
“These are not words in my vocabulary, doll.” He crammed in another mouthful of flapjack. “Especially at a meal,” he added after swallowing.
“Moe, do you know how to use a thermometer?”
“I watched you enough in the hospital. I might be able to do it, but not with any reliability.”
“Stick the thermometer in her mouth. Under her tongue. Leave it in for five minutes and if it reads over a hundred degrees, call me. Do that every three hours.”
Moe felt like a six-year-old afraid to ask his pop for a licorice. “What about ... the other?”
“The other?” Mona mimicked the way Moe had whispered the words and giggled. “Is this the same man who was traipsing around my kitchen in his all-together a bit ago?” She rolled her eyes and then shrugged her shoulders like this was everyday yakking. “Just ask her.”
Mona nodded. “I think so. She was groggy, but I told her what to look out for. She’ll mostly sleep, but you should wake her up to take her temperature. And feed her Moe, she looks like a skeleton. She needs to gain some strength.”
“Feed her what?”
Mona glanced around at the table still laden with homemade bread, pancakes, and fruit. “Do you really need step-by-step directions, Moe?”
Moe snatched an apple from the fruit bowl and twirled its stem. “I might baby, if it means you’ll stick around a little longer.”
“I can’t. I have responsibilities. And the hospital is expecting me.”
When Mona left to cover her shift at the germ house, it took a healthy dose of courage for Moe not to cling to her leg and beg her to stay. But there were some things a man just couldn’t do. Begging topped the list. From the front window, like a child who couldn’t go outside to play, he watched Mona get in her car and drive off.
After twenty minutes of toying with the idea, Moe finally decided to check on Danja and made his way up the stairs. At first glance, the bed could have passed for empty. The hen was so small – she barely made a lump in the mountain of linens. Her pale face matched the white of the sheets, but her breathing was steady. Her Aryan hair was braided away from her face, showing off spiky lashes over closed eyes, and her heartbeat fluttered just beneath the parchment skin at the base of her neck. Moe put the back of his hand to her forehead. Her skin was warm, but not hot. He breathed a sigh of relief. So far, so good.
He stole from the room, prowling down the stairs like he was gumshoeing, and made his way to the kitchen. Mona had left a pot of coffee on the stove and the Cincinnati Enquirer on the table. The smell of apple butter and maple syrup lingered in the air. Sitting at the kitchen table with his belly full of vittles, sipping fresh java and pedaling through a morning newspaper, worked on a man’s sense of belonging. Careful Gafferson, Moe thought, wincing and glancing back up to the china in the cabinet. There was no denying this place was homier than any place Moe had hung his hat in a very long time.
He stuck his nose back in the newspaper. Reading it was something he did everyday. A small article tucked away on page ten grabbed Moe by the shirt collar and jerked him back to his reality.
Maxwell Singer, prominent business owner of Singer’s, was found dead yesterday morning. Apparent cause of death: natural causes.
Singer wasn’t a fit man, but the timing of his death beat the door down on coincidence. The piece went on:
Mr. Singer had taken his lunch per his usual routine, according to shop seamstress Lois Pennington. Upon his return, he collapsed.
They were dropping like flies: first Schmidt, then Metzger, and now Singer. The list of suspects was dwindling to one. The way Moe saw it, everything pointed to one man’s finger on the trigger of the insecticide tool: Karl Boch.
Moe needed to know more about the councilman, more than just a newspaper headline saying how Boch was leading in the polls for the upcoming election. And he knew just where to get some answers.
He searched through the cabinets for a serving tray, poured steaming coffee into a second cup, slathered apple butter on a slice of homemade bread, and grabbed a banana. It was time for Danja Bittners’ breakfast. He didn’t relish waking up the chit, but she needed to eat, and Moe wanted a conversation. He hiked up the stairs, balancing the tray, without a care to being quiet.
The mound of linens had shifted, and Danja Bittners was sitting upright. Azure eyes, the color of a clear October sky, peeked over a sheet held up to her chin. There was a flash of innocence in the blue depths, like a little girl waking up for school. But then life rushed in and clouded them with its pain.
Moe set the tray on the night table. “You’re not sleeping.”
Danja let the sheet drop from around her chin, revealing a floral gown. The extra room in the bustline told him Mona had lent the woman some bedclothes. “I cannot seem to stay awake,” she mumbled.
Moe knew exactly how she felt. Not much more than a week ago, he’d fought the same battle. “The medicine Miss Dale pushes will pull you dead to the curb. But it helps to dull the pain.”
“It seems to have dulled my brain as well. How did I get here?” she asked.
If Danja didn’t remember the details of last night, Moe wasn’t obliged to fill her in. “You were playing cocktail girl at a poker game. You seemed to need a break.”
“A poker game?”
“Something set up by Councilman Boch.”
“Karl was there?”
Moe nodded. “Him and some cronies I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.”
“I do not understand.” Her brow furrowed like she was taking an IQ test. “I remember drinking a golden monkey.”
“What’s a golden monkey?”
She gave Moe a look he’d seen a thousand times in his life. A look that said Moe was a low-brow – no culture, no sense of style, and no money. “Golden monkey is tea. From China.”
“You drink it often?”
“Every evening since....” Grief swept across her face like tumbleweeds on the plains of Texas. “Every evening since my brother died.”
“Yes. How d-did ... wait. Now I remember you. You are Mr. Gafferson, the man who was there the night Peter was killed.” With the lamps in her brain finally switched on, her face performed a three-act play: the poker game, Moe’s car, Mona’s house. “I was bleeding. It hurt so badly. Another man carried me out. We were in a car, driving very fast. I was so cold.”
“That’s the Reader’s Digest version.”
Danja winced as she tried to reposition. Moe decided slow and easy would be the best route to follow. “How about a little breakfast? It’s not Chinese tea, but it is damn fine coffee. Thanks to Mona.”
She took the slice of bread, nibbled at its edges, and then washed it down with coffee. Any ape could see she was battling to stay awake, and Moe would gladly let her sleep, but not until he could douse a little of his own curiosity.
“Danja, last night you mentioned diamonds.”
She set the coffee cup down, and it rattled on its saucer. She nestled back against the pillow and pinched her eyes shut. “I am really tired, Mr. Gafferson.”
“Listen, doll, I’m in this up to my neck. Seems fair I should at least know what it is that’s about to hang me.”
“I do not even know you, Mr. Gafferson. For all I know, you may be a murderer.”
“My knife wounds weren’t self-inflicted, baby.”
“Maybe not, but somebody killed Rolf Metzger. You had as good a reason as any.”
“The line for that bus stretches as far as the eye can see, and you’re standing right beside me, kid. He killed your brother.” Moe leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, nonchalantly-like. “I wonder if the Cincy fuzz knows Peter has a sister who’s missing him a whole bunch. Missing him so much she lapsed into her native German tongue, which she’s doing her damnedest to cover up now.”
She sat straight up again and fiddled with the bed linens. “You cannot threaten me with the police. Karl has already taken care of that.”
“You mean the Karl that had you practicing Greek last night? Yeah, he’s a real gem.”
“He has friends in high places. A lot of them.”
“And you’re getting to know them all, one-by-one?”
If Moe hadn’t seen the scarlet flush attack her skin like a rushing infantry, he might have feared she had a fever. It was the most color she’d had since he first laid eyes on her. Her blinkers suddenly grew glassy with tears threatening to spill.
“Karl Boch is a persuasive man,” she said.
“What’s he got on you to be so persuasive?”
She pawed at her eyes and shook her head. “You do not understand. He is protecting me.”
“Doll, his kind of protection will get you a prime spot in the bone orchard. What’s he protecting you from?”
“Deportation,” she whispered like the word was venom across her lips.
“What you’ve got going here shapes up better than the homeland?” There was no need for Moe to point out the degradation of the poker game or the fact the dame was laid up due to a miscarriage. “Even with the war, I’d say it’s a toss up.”
“There is nothing in Germany for me. Peter was my only family. He said in America we would live like royalty. He had a plan.”
“What was this plan?”
Danja sighed and gave Moe a pleading look as if to say, do I have to? When she got no response from Moe, she gave in. “Peter met a man who worked for a diamond company. The Luftwaffe is paying many francs for diamonds. In America, he said, we would take advantage.”
“Cincinnati, Ohio doesn’t strike me as any diamond capital of the world.”
She stifled a yawn. “The gentleman from the diamond company told Peter there was a man in Cincinnati who was anxious to aid in the cause.”
“Yes. Karl Boch.” Danja gnawed on her lower lip and stared down at her hands cupped in her lap. “Karl moved us into a small cottage Over the Rhine ...”
“I know the place.”
“Yes.” She had the decency to look chagrined. “But you see there were no diamonds.”
“Did Peter think they grew on trees around here?”
“Of course not, but he was led to believe it would not be hard to acquire them. And then one day, he brought Rolf Metzger to the cottage.” Danja wrinkled up her nose as she said Metzger’s name.
“Go on. My ears aren’t full just yet.”
“Peter refused to tell me the details.”
Her eyes were batting shut in rhythm. Moe knew she’d be sleeping again soon, no matter how much he pushed. He jammed his hands in his trouser pockets and paced the room like he was sizing it up for linoleum. It was time for a little bluff. “You can save the hot air, sister, I know about Singer’s. Now give me the skinny as you know it. Details or generalities.”
She swallowed and her frail neck looked as if it might break. “Peter had me go to Singer’s to pick up the dress, under the guise it was especially designed for me.”
“What was special about the design?”
She peered at Moe under heavy-lidded eyes. “You said you knew.”
Moe shrugged. “So far you haven’t told me anything I didn’t know.”
“The diamonds ...” she hesitated, fighting back sleep or maybe fear. “They were in the dress.”
Moe blew out his breath. Hot damn! The answers seemed so easy to see now. Now that he knew about the diamonds. “Where’d the glass come from?”
“Mr. Metzger acquired them through Appollonia’s, the place where he worked.”
“I know the spot.”
She nodded and continued. “According to Mr. Metzger, it was not difficult. Wealthy men frequented the establishment on a regular basis. The keys to their businesses or locks to their safes were tucked in their pockets. A girl would keep the man busy while Mr. Metzger snuck in through a hidden panel, stole the keys, made an impression, and replaced the key.”
“A clip joint.”
“Mr. Metzger said it was a sure thing. Even if the men caught on, they could not go to the police.”
Moe fiddled with the change in his pocket and continued to pace. It was all making sense. Kitty Winslow was wearing her dress from Singer’s the night Schmidt was killed. She ran with it before the diamonds could be removed. A couple of days later, Dutch grabbed the dress and the fur, like a man following blind directions. Some muscle must have gotten to Dutch. Metzger? No, Boch. That would explain why Dutch let the poker game go on without rules. But why all the killings? Why did Metzger kill Schmidt? And why cancel Christmas for Metzger? And how did Singer’s death fit in?
Questions swirled in Moe’s head like a vendor catching cotton candy. A glance at Danja and Moe knew she was out of answers, at least for now. Her eyes were closed, and her mouth hung open like she was ripe for lilies. From the looks of the drool pooling between her lips, she’d be sleeping for a while.
Moe resumed his pacing downstairs. He’d be due for a new pair of Rockports before this gig was up. But what else was a man supposed to due while he was locked up playing nurse with hot leads burning a hole in his rubber?
A chat with Dutch might make him feel like he was accomplishing something. He put in a call to Flamingo’s. Two minutes later, Dutch came on the line, blasting with both barrels.
“Where the hell are you, Moe? I’ve been calling your place every hour.”
“Whoa, buddy, simmer down before the gasket blows. I told you I knew a nurse.”
“You’ve got to get that broad to Boch.”
“No can do, Dutch. She’s laid up.”
“I don’t care if she’s got one foot in the grave.”
“Not a foot, but a baby.”
“She dropped a kid last night, only it wasn’t time yet. Get the picture?”
“Jesus H. Christ.”
Moe smirked. “Good luck getting one of the Holy Trinity to listen to Jack Nasties like us, Dutch.”
“So all that blood wasn’t just her monthly.”
“Another few minutes and you would have been cleaning up more than just a little puddle in the cub room.”
“Moe, if you don’t get that dame healed, and quick, Boch’s going to shut me down. He says he’ll have the boys in blue here tomorrow unless Danja finds her way back to his side.”
“Maybe I can reason with him,” Moe suggested.
“He doesn’t impress me as the reasoning type.”
“I got something he wants though, don’t I?”
“Look, Moe, this mug ain’t a peeved husband looking to reprimand a cheating wife. He plays for keeps.”
Moe wasn’t used to hearing Dutch on the defensive. “How’d you get tangled up with this snake, Dutch?”
Dutch sighed. “He was going to use his contacts at the precinct to get Kitty fried, or so he said. Hell, she fucked up. But she didn’t kill the man. I got a note saying he’d look favorably upon the whole thing if I turned over anything Kitty had acquired from her lover.”
“Why didn’t you go to the cops? Extortion doesn’t look good on a public official.”
“I thought about it. But Boch showed up with a couple of bulls, still in uniform, expecting to use the cub room, and I got the message that half the station was in his back pocket.”
“Fuckin’ shamuses. Half the department on the take, the other half clueless.”
“Forget about Cincinnati’s finest, Moe. You got to get the girl back to Boch.”
“For now, the dame isn’t going anywhere, Dutch.”
The shuffling sound of padded feet on wooden steps stopped Moe in his tracks. He jerked around to see Danja Bittners propped up against the stairwell, her skinny frame drowning in Mona’s nightgown like a single noodle in a bowl of soup.
“Are you talking about me, Mr. Gafferson?” she muttered.
Moe clicked the phone dead and hurried to her side before she spilled all over the steps. “Are you crazy, sister?”
She wobbled against him. “I need to leave.”
“And go where?”
“There is a party tonight at the mansion. Karl will expect me to be there.”
Moe tried to help her balance and then gave up when he realized how unsteady she was. He picked her up in both arms and pulled her against his body. Her arms went feebly around his neck. “He’ll have to find himself another hostess.”
“You do not understand,” she whimpered against his chest. “This is not just a cottage party. This is a mansion party. I have to be there.”
“No, you don’t understand. The only place you’re going is back to bed.”
Moe trekked back up the stairs with Danja trembling in his arms. Once he made it to the spare room, he deposited her onto the twin bed.
“But the party ...”
“What makes this shindig so important?” Moe held on to her hand. It was as delicate as eggs shells.
Confusion mixed with the fear on her face, and she stumbled over her words like she was searching for English. “I-I am to be there. There are many guests. He will be angry.”
The hair on the back of Moe’s neck bristled at the eerie way she spoke – detached and trance-like. She stared past anything Moe could see and tugged on the gown like a controlled marionette, exposing, first her thigh, and then her sex. She parted her pale thighs.
Moe followed the road map and felt the bile rise in his throat. “Is this the same kind of party as last night? At the poker game?”
Her azure eyes looked up at Moe, big and round and unreadable. “Ja.”
Rough Cut originally appeared in Ruthie’s Club http://www.ruthiesclub.com/
Copyright © 2004 by Desdmona.