“Oh, it’s the bee’s knees!” she gushed as she pulled the needle-beaded dress from its paper wrapping. “Thank you thank you thank you!”
Agnes ran to her fella and threw her arms around his neck. “Oh baby, I can’t wait to wear it!”
Big Joe smiled and hugged her, carefully balancing his cigar between his left fingers and his old-fashioned glass in his right hand. “You’re welcome, baby, you’re gonna look swell in it. Big Joe has to treat his best dame with only the best, and lemme tell you, the thing has real diamonds sewn into it. Anything for you, doll.”
Agnes hurried back to the box and picked up the dress, scouring it for the decadent gems. “Diamonds!” she gushed, holding the ornate frock up to the light. “Real diamonds! What a lucky gal I am!”
“Listen, babe, I gotta go finish some business,” Big Joe said, bringing Agnes back to earth. “Why don’t you get dolled up, get your glad rags on, and we’ll head to the casino when I get back. I wanna introduce you to some of my colleagues.”
“Gee, Joey, that sounds fine,” Agnes replied. “I’m always ready to hit the town with you, Big Boy.”
Big Joe slapped down his empty glass, bit his cigar, and slipped on his overcoat. The garment concealed the gun holstered at his waist. Without a kiss, he let the door close behind him.
Agnes grasped the heavily adorned dress in her hands. It was weightier than most gowns, although it was the new sleeveless flapper style—straight and above the knee. It was gorgeous, she thought.
But her mind wandered to Big Joe. She knew Big Joe was second only to the mob kingpin, and ‘finishing some business’ often meant making a deadly deal or ‘finishing off’ a rival or a rube who was causing trouble. She gazed at her shimmering gift and wondered where the money for it came from. She sometimes had a difficult time reconciling the big bear she adored with the crime boss she knew he was.
Big Joe kept Agnes in silk dresses and t-strap shoes, and was generous with jewelry and meals out on the town; at first she didn’t question his gifts, and she believed him when he told her he was a regular successful businessman. But she was puzzled as to why he always carried a gun, and why sometimes he’d come home with what appeared to be blood spatter on his suit jackets.
He’d eventually confided in her that he ran a bootlegging ring, and that the ring was part of a bigger ‘corporation’. When she’d dined with some of his business partners and their gals, she was struck by the attention and bend-over-backwards service they always received. They were big shots, like movie stars—and Agnes was awestruck by the excitement.
Her parents would be so disappointed to discover she was a gangster’s moll; when Agnes took the ‘El’ from Chicago to visit them in their stately Oak Park home, she was careful to wear the plainest of her frocks, and downplay her vamp-like makeup. She was a wealthy girl by birth, but her new riches gave her a thrill she couldn’t get from her family. Her mother and daddy, meanwhile, believed Agnes was working as an assistant editor for The Chicago Daily News. She wasn’t about to tell them anything different.
Agnes tore herself from her reverie and set out her adornments for the evening; slinky silk stockings, silver t-straps, and sparkling crystal chandelier earrings…and of course, her diamond slip-over dress.
As she slipped her gossamer stockings up to her garter, Agnes anticipated the evening’s events. They’d head to the casino, where the cocktails would be free-flowing. Prohibition didn’t mean a thing in mob circles, except for the fact that they were getting rich from it.
She slid her feet into her delicate t-straps, crafted from the finest Italian leather. They were like butter on her soles. Agnes hoped there wouldn’t be talk of take-downs or rub-outs tonight. She felt more than a little guilty knowing that her Joe-bear mighta offed someone to pay for the evening’s revelry.
Finally, Agnes lifted her needle-beaded shift over her head and let it slide down her lithe body. It fit perfectly and fell to an inch above her knee. Wow, she thought as she gazed in the full-length mirror, she looked like the cat’s meow. Each bead shimmered and reflected a tiny version of her image. The only problem was, it was a little itchy, as if the beads were slightly poking her in places. Never mind, she thought, she’d get used to the heaviness and any discomfort would glide away once she’d downed a couple of gin-laden South Side Fizzes. More often these days, Agnes found she needed to down a few drinks before she was comfortable with the dubious celebrations the gang gathered for.
As she clipped on her gem-flickering earring drops, Big Joe burst in.
“Ready, baby? We’re celebrating the ultimate deal tonight!” he exclaimed. “We’re in the money now, doll, no looking back!”
Big Joe stopped in his tracks and dealt a loud wolf-whistle in Agnes’s direction. “Look at you, Miss Cat’s Pajamas! Wowee zowee, you’re somethin’ else!”
Agnes knew how glamorous she looked, and she felt proud to be heading out on Big Joe’s arm. But she avoided asking what the ultimate deal entailed; her stomach felt a little nauseated and when she bent down to grab her fox stole, the diamond dress prickled uncomfortably.
The casino was in full swing when they arrived. The big jazz band was already playing, and white-gloved black waiters were bowing before taking orders.
“A round of Fizzes,” Big Joe bellowed. “Hell, make it two rounds—we’re more than flush tonight!”
Agnes slipped into the leather banquette and placed her hands on the lacquered table in front of her. As she bent to sit, her dress poked her skin at the waist. The beads felt like real needles, digging into the backs of her thighs.
Thankfully, the waiter arrived with their cocktails and set two at each place. Agnes picked up her first Fizz and downed it. She needed the numbness the alcohol would give her.
The boisterous conversation around her was of no consequence; all she could think about was the beads jabbing her thighs, her belly, her chest. She couldn’t cry with complaint, after all, she was wearing the most expensive, most luxurious dress in the place.
Big Joe hugged her from the side. “That’s my gal, enjoy yourself! You deserve everything I can give you, Dollface!”
The hug drove the needles further into Agnes’s skin. The pain was excruciating. Her head spun. I…deserve everything…she heard. Ill-gotten gains…proceeds of crime…who died for this…. The guilty words danced around her brain. Blood money, she murmured, words delivered unintelligible. I shoulda never…I…deserve…her mind continued.
Big Joe stared at her, noticing her bewildered expression.
Agnes looked down at her diamond-needled dress. Her eyes popped in fear. Patches of pink, then red, were blossoming through the beaded fabric. The dress was stabbing her with every slight move.
The woman sitting across from her shrieked in horror as the dress transformed to poppy colored. Agnes pulled at the neckline, desperately trying to tear off her dress. Her tears loosened the kohl from her vamp-lined eyes, and coal-colored streaks ran down her pale face. Her crimson lips were open in silent scream.
Big Joe grabbed her in his arms, not realizing his actions drove the needles deeper into her. The longest of the diamond beads scratched her ribs and poked through to her lungs. He tenderly wiped the blood running from her nose.
Big Joe held her limp body against his, unconcerned that his fancy suit was becoming drenched in her blood.
“I’m sorry I lied, Mother and Daddy,” Agnes whispered. She looked into Big Joe’s frightened eyes. “Joey, please don’t tell my folks I was a gangster’s moll.”
About the Creator
I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.
I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.