I saw Adele in her white dress and pearls with a fancy clasp that she was wearing in front where it sparkled against her skin.
I knew I shouldn't be admiring anything about Adele. But it was hard to keep my eyes off that heart-shaped face, those bright eyes, that full mouth.
"New necklace?" I asked.
We were dancing, being careful to keep some distance between us, playing it as though dancing with her was part of my job.
"They're real geunine came-out-of-an-oyster pearls," she said. "The diamonds in the clasp are real, too. He's starting to push me."
My stomach did a clutch. Maybe Adele wasn't my girl, but I was working on it. And I didn't have any good ideas how to change the situation.
Those pearls had cost plenty. Hammer always wanted everyone to know he was a big spender. That's all Adele meant to him, a showcase for his cash. He had a wife somewhere but she was as old as he was, not that that mattered. What mattered to the mob was to keep their families well separated from their business. The Capone crowd weren't friends. They were gangsters tied to Capone and they spent their evenings hanging out at the club where I worked. It was their second home.
They talked too loudly. They kidded and insulted. They brought their current girlfriends and let their cronies see what success could buy them.
On Sundays they did the same thing for the neighbors, marched the family to church, showed off the kids in their fancy clothes and the wife in her big fur coat and her diamond rings.
I could understand their pride of ownership of the family.
Somehow I missed the pride of girlfriend part. I assumed it was easy come, easy go.
Eleanore had warned me.
"Kid, dance with the girlfriends and give 'em a treat, but never dance more than one dance with the same girl."
Eleanore was the club's songbird. She'd been there since prohibition started in 1920 and the private clubs opened where you had to know a password to get in. In Chicago Al Capone and his rival, Bugsy Moran, made their fortunes supplying the illegal liquor.
Eleanore made good money. She had her own dressing room and long breaks between appearances. She had a voice like dark chocolate. It slid through a man's soul. She also had her own gangster who owned the club and draped her in jewelry and every man in the place knew it and knew how to dream about her without actually approaching her.
Me she treated like a kid brother so that was okay.
"Dom, honey," she told me more than once, "when you dance with Adele, don't go letting your hands stray. Or your eyes, either. Understand?"
I did and didn't. Adele wasn't actually Hammer's girl, not yet. He was a big lug who earned his name. Adele was a hat maker and really clever with a needle, but she got paid by the piece and times were slow. Like everyone, she had weeks when she couldn't come up with the rent for the room she shared with another girl in a boarding house. To make ends meet she starting coming around to the club with a couple of her girlfriends. They'd get men to order them drinks which were supposed to be expensive liquor but were really cold tea and me and the other waiters knew who was who. We filled their orders The bartenders split the cost of their fake drinks and saved the money for them.
That's as much as I could do for Adele.
So I stuck with Eleanore's rules and danced once each evening with Adele and when my back was to Hammer, I'd let my eyes meet hers and I'd smile at her and she'd smile back and I'd squeeze her hand and maybe rub my other hand very gently up her spine and maybe let one finger touch the satin skin above the edge of her dress.
"Getting fresh, big boy?" she'd tease.
"Will if I get the chance," I'd kid back. I could smell the perfume in her soft dark hair and it made me a little crazy.
Sometimes her face would go scared and I'd know Hammer was watching so then I'd twirl her away from me and maybe do a fancy dip. When the song ended, I'd take her back to her table, nod to Hammer, and turn away to dance with one of the other girlfriends before it was my time to go onstage. The girls all liked to dance with me. I wasn't any heartbreaker but I was a great dancer.
Eleanore wanted long breaks between songs. She liked to go to her dressing room and put her feet up. In between, to keep the customers from getting restless, I'd do one of my tap dance routines on stage. I didn't get paid.