The marquee flickered, the top row of bulbs missing, and the rest barely clinging to life. Nevertheless, the sign lit up enough to read The Flamingo. Light bounced off of my newly darkened locks and plump cherry lips. I looked nothing like myself in the reflections of the club’s windows, but I presume that’s the goal for a girl like me. The bouncer brought my attention back to reality when he placed a hand slightly north of my bosom where the strap of my black Dior met my collar bone.
“You sure you’re in the right place, doll?” he asked.
“If you plan on keeping all five of these fingers,” I gently lifted each finger of the bouncer's left hand from my bust and gave it back to him, "then I'm quite sure doll.” I gave the stout man a wink as I floated past him and into The Flamingo to find my target for the night.
He’s said to be a man with a lighter presence, tucked away in the dark corners of the room, nursing a King Whiskey on the rocks. I scan the room for a puff of cigar smoke from behind a dark, powerful suit. That's what a true whiskey drinker would put off. The room was buzzing with the low hum of a jazz band in the background. The Flamingo was low lit with tables dripping in red velvet scattered about the room. Soft jazz came from the club's west corner, and a dancefloor was parked in the east corner. Neither grabbed my attention as much as a man sitting alone in the south corner of the room. Dressed in a charcoal pair of trousers, suspenders over each shoulder, and a matching charcoal trilby tilted to the floor, I knew he had to be my man. The haze of cigar smoke sealed his fate, and I lifted the hem of my gown and sauntered over into the mist to meet him.
The Flamingo was located on West 125th near 7th avenue in Harlem, an area where a member of the Luciano crime family wouldn't be caught dead. The trouble is, this man had been caught now. He was in my crosshairs, just as planned. The man was Clyde Siegel, a member of the Luciano family, emphasis on was. Siegel is said to have been picked up and revealed ranks to the FBI to avoid some silly little murder charges nearly six weeks ago. He’s been under the radar since cooperating with the feds. The Luciano’s didn’t take to Seigel’s squealing too kindly, so they contracted a member of my family to track him down, and nobody is better at tracking a rat than Elaine Costello.
The dress provided by the Luciano's was a silk number, not my taste. Its luxurious fabric levitated below me, kicking up at each step, glistening in the deep yellow light of the club. I clenched the back of the velvet armchair and took a seat in sight of my prey, who bothered not to notice me. The cherry at the end of his cigar turned a fire engine red, then died down before a puff of tobacco smoke blew in my direction.
“Merlot,” I whispered.
“Pardon?” His voice boomed deeper than I thought.
“I’ll have a glass of Merlot.”
His fingers snapped at the barkeep, drawing him to our table. “A Merlot, for the lady." The barkeep nodded, making his way back to the bar.
“I’m Lenore. Lenore Hill.” I spoke a few notes higher than usual, leaning forward to reveal enough cleavage to ensure a response, but ever-careful to use a pseudonym to avoid being recognized.
“The name’s Clyde, Doll.” He paused, eyes now fixated on my bust. “What’s a face like yours doing in a place like this?”
I’m guessing Clyde wasn’t worried about being recognized. "A change of scenery," I suggested, taking a sip of the Merlot that just appeared in front of me. "I should thank you for the drink, Clyde."
“No trouble at all.” Clyde was a quiet force of a man. His energy permeated from every angle and could be felt from across the room. He hadn't much to say but needn't say much to be understood. I can see why he was a feared man, but not why he’d betrayed his family.
I sipped the dry, indulgent glass of deep red wine and let the silence speak for a moment. The band had switched sets, introducing a sultrier jazz beat.
“You fancy a dance, Mr.-?” I paused to allow Clyde to reveal his complete identity to a young, unsuspecting girl like myself.
“Siegel. Just call me Clyde, doll, and I’m not one for dancing, but one of those fellows at the bar will take you for a spin. They’ve been around more than a few times in the night already.”
“If you’re not the type for dancing, Mr. Siegel, what are you the type for?”
“A pretty face and a stiff drink. I've got both in front of me."
I blushed at Clyde's remark, and we spent the evening in conversation about his sales job on Wall Street and his Manhattan apartment under renovation, thus his presence in Harlem and overnight stay at a second-rate motel. Clyde believed Lenore to be an heiress, new to the city from Baltimore. She inherited a fortune from her father's demise and set off to the big city before he was in the ground.
As the evening hours turned into the early morning and the empty glasses piled onto the table, I found myself addicted to Siegel's charm and his wit alike. However, with a clear head still on my shoulders, I made him a proposition to move his Harlem stay to my penthouse flat.
Lenore lived on the corner of 9th avenue in a sprawling top-floor penthouse, a luxury that the Luciano’s provided. Mr. Luciano's instructions stated that I was to entertain Clyde until tomorrow evening when we would convene for dinner at the apartment. We’d have steak from Toffeneti’s, and after, I’d head to the flower shop on the corner, leaving Clyde in the penthouse, the door unlocked, and a sitting duck for one of Luciano’s men waiting just around the corner.
The 3 a.m. walk was bone-chilling. The morning air pierced my skin for three blocks, but the warmth of the apartment building soon engulfed us. The ride to the top floor thawed my bones and reminded me of the task at hand. With a turn, the key clicked, and the door to Lenore’s apartment swung open. A towering wall of windows allowed the moonlight to bounce off Italian vases and gold-plated architecture.
“Take a seat,” I said, pointing to the chaise lounge in the center of the room. “Whiskey, right?” I hovered to the bar cart in front of the windows' stunning view.
“That’ll do, yes.”
I dropped three ice cubes into the glass, each ‘clinking’ louder than the last, and poured the fiery brown liquor down over them. I thought about Clyde. Everything he’d done to get to be my victim; the betrayal to his family, the pain it must’ve caused, and the fear he must’ve felt. It was my job to end it, but I digressed; it could be a bittersweet ending. I lifted the dark auburn hair from the nape of my neck, tugged at the zipper on the back of my gown. I let silk Dior slide down my body into a pile of black silk on the floor. The silhouette of my nude frame vibrated in the moonlight. I turned to Clyde, who hadn't been distracted for a moment. I made my way to the chaise; Clyde was already climbing out of his suspenders, so I slid my legs over his lap, pushing my breasts against him. His lips touched mine in an explosion of fervid lust. His hands pressed against my porcelain skin, heating every inch of my body with his magnetism. Clyde lifted me as he stood and laid me down on the blue velvet chaise. He stood and removed his clothes. Underneath his starched white shirt was an Adonis-like figure sculpted of the finest marble. His nude body was a work of art, and before I could admire it any longer, his breath was in my ear and his hands on my body once more. We made love through the night until the moonlight turned to dawn. The pleasure was incomparable.
I awoke to the realization that today was the day Luciano's men would carry out the hit on Clyde, and it was my doing. Whether I felt what he had coming to him was deserved or not, it would be my head on the chopping block if I backed out. There was no sense in creating trouble where it didn’t have to be. He was just a man, and men come and go. I grasped Clyde's watch on the bedside table. It was 2 p.m. already. Luciano’s men would be waiting at five past six. Clyde’s head rose from the silk pillowcases. “What time is it, doll?”
“It’s two in the afternoon. Why don’t you sleep in a little? It’s only been three, maybe four hours. I’ll have a steak dinner sent up later for us.”
He smiled, turned his head, and drifted back to sleep. This job turned out to be easier than I had expected.
I dressed, silently judging myself in the full-length mirror cornered in the bedroom. I dialed the operator and requested two of the finest steaks from Toffeneti’s; rare. I spent the next hours with a cigarette glued between the index and middle finger of my left hand. The door buzzed, and the meal was brought up promptly at 5:50, just as Clyde had finished showering. I walked into the bedroom just in time to catch the olive complexion of his muscular backside climbing into the trousers he’d thrown off the night before.
“Dinners arrived, darling,” I said, wishing he’d never turn around. “The florist hasn’t delivered the arrangement I requested, and I don’t dine without a centerpiece. I’m going to take a car to Kramer’s to get one.”
“Hurry back, I’m famished, and I don’t mind dining without a centerpiece.” Clyde had made his way to the doorway to peck me on the cheek. “See you soon, doll.”
The penthouse door slammed behind me, leaving my ears hollow and ringing. I left the Dior behind; I’d miss that gown. It had made easy work of Clyde. I had a knee-length stashed in the closet for my getaway. At the end of the hallway, I rang for the elevator. The operator opened the doors, and I entered in silence. The silence was the only thing remaining in my ears as I exited the elevator on the main floor. I made my way through the lobby and out onto the street. No matter the night’s events, Elaine Costello was a woman of her word. She was a woman of power who did what had to be done. My loyalties lie with family and cannot sway. I'd never been a ‘Clyde.' Luciano's men passed by just outside the 9th avenue building. I nodded, continuing, having done my part. The street littered with men and women rushing here and there. Strangers some, and some just meeting for the first time. Some loyal to one another, and some devoted to no one. Some like Clyde Seigel, and some like Elaine Costello.
I’d made it to my destination in just a few blocks. The doors of The Flamingo opened for me like the gates of heaven, and I fluttered in, taking my seat at a nearby table. The barkeep approached, and before he could get anything out, I uttered the words his ears were searching for: