"Marina," Dot said low as they turned away from the two men who were looking at the drugstore which the girls were about to enter, "make like you didn't see them."
Marina glanced at Dot, confused. "They weren't looking at us."
"Yes they were," Dot said firmly, grasping her arm and directing her into the entryway, then through the door. "You can't pay them any mind or they'll take it as an invitation."
"Them who? Do you know them? An invitation to what?"
Dot sighed heavily and picked up the menu. "Men. Grown men. No, I don't know them. But you can't give any man any reason to think you want their attention."
Marina sighed. "Why does everyone think all men are bad? They seemed nice and not paying any attention to us at all."
"Doesn't your mother tell you anything?"
Marina flushed and looked down at her menu.
"Mm hmm. Why doesn't your father let you wear dresses?"
Marina sighed and recited her father's oft-given sermon on the virtues of women in trousers. "So we won't be a temptation to men and to guard us against roaming hands and to remind us that we're women of God."
"Yes. Those men wanted to let their hands roam on us."
"On you," Marina muttered, trying not to be resentful. Dot was beautiful. Marina was not.
"The old guy, well ... You got me there. He wasn't interested in us. But the blond was," she insisted. "In you."
"Oh, now you're just being silly," Marina pooh-poohed, knowing she could safely dismiss everything Dot had just said.
Dot didn't argue anymore. She mused over the menu until the waitress came by. "You gals want anything but your usuals?"
Marina suggested she and Dot split an order of onion rings to go with her catawba flip and Dot's cherry phosphate. While they waited, they were approached by several boys in succession who gave Marina a scant hello then moved on to flirting with Dot, who flirted right back but without giving them any reason to think she wanted the attention.
Marina didn't know how she did it, flirting without seeming to flirt at all, keeping a number of boys on her leash, making them work for her attention, and doing her bidding just for the chance to buy her a phosphate, be invited to one of her church's dances, or escort her to a moving picture show. It was one reason Marina's father didn't like her keeping company with Dot, even though Dot was smart about such things. Another reason was that she was a devil-worshipping Mormon. To appease him and allow her to keep company with Marina, Dot's parents had assented to allow Dot to attend Marina's church a couple of times even though Marina's father would never allow her to reciprocate.
Marina's father only allowed Marina to run with Dot because God told him it was his duty to convert Dot to the true word of God and to save her soul.
No matter how much Marina loved Dot, though, it was depressing watching boys fawn over her and never giving Marina anything but a polite smile if they noticed her at all. Dot accepted the attention as if it were her due, but since neither girl was allowed out alone with a boy, if a boy wanted to take Dot out, he had to have a friend who would be willing to go as Marina's date. If the friend didn't pay enough attention to Marina, Dot punished both boys by never speaking to them again.
Marina hated being a pity date.
After Dot had spent an appropriate amount of time on boys, she shooed them all away with a laugh. "We have to study, boys," she cooed. "We'll catch up tomorrow, same time, same place."
Dot gave Marina a wink as they opened their schoolbooks. Marina would have rather studied in the library, but Dot loved her cherry phosphates, her boys, and her math. If Marina wanted help, she had to go where Dot wanted to go.
They began with a math problem Marina had been having difficulty with in class, but in one sentence, Dot's explanations had left Marina in the dust. Dot didn't notice. Their sodas and onion rings came, but Marina was now hopelessly lost. "Dot, I'm more confused now than I was in class today!" she finally wailed.
"Maybe I can help," came a deep voice from above them. They both jumped and, to Marina's shock, it was the blond young man from outside—and he wasn't staring longingly at Dot.
"Um ... " Marina began warily, even as Dot harrumphed. He ignored her.
"Your friend ... ?" He then lifted an eyebrow at Dot.
Her mouth compressed, and she pointedly refused to give her name. He turned back to Marina. "She loves math too much to teach it well, which I do not mean as an insult."
"You probably can't add two and two," Dot said caustically.
"Dot!" Marina gasped. Embarrassed by her friend's behavior, she scooted to her left to allow the stranger to sit beside her. "I am so sorry. Dot's never rude," she said, glaring at her. Dot cocked her eyebrow at her, unrepentant. "My name's Marina. Scarritt," she added, turning back to the man.
"Trey," he said affably, casting a vague smile at Dot, the kind of smiles boys usually threw at Marina. "Trey Dunham."
"This is Dot Albright," she said.
"Dorothy Albright," she said pointedly. "Miss Albright to you."
Marina wanted to demand Dot account for her bad behavior, but now was not the time. "Dot's really smart and I'm ... really not."
"Everybody's smart in their own way," he said matter-of-factly, then told the suddenly-attentive waitress he wanted a lime rickey. "Thank you. And the table's on me."
"We can pay for our own food," Dot said smartly. "We do it every day."
"Dot!" Marina snapped.
"I'm sure you can and do, Miss Albright," he said politely. "It would be my pleasure if, for today, you'd allow me."
She huffed. "Ugh. All right."
"I'm not sure what I did to offend you, miss," Mr. Dunham murmured earnestly, "but I apologize."
"It's not what you did," she said smartly. "It's what you might do."
His eyebrow rose. "I ... might ask your friend to have a phosphate with me tomorrow." Marina gulped down her shocked gasp. "If that's okay with you." There wasn't a hint of sarcasm in his voice. He was earnest. He really wanted Dot's approval.
"Hrmph. We always have phosphates together."
He inclined his head. "I understand. I'm sure you can find a boy to round out the table."
Dot was clearly stymied. He wasn't making fun of her. He was taking her seriously. He understood that Dot was trying to protect Marina. Most importantly, he wasn't giving up.
"All right," Dot said imperiously. "Let's see your math."
Trey gestured for Dot's pencil. "May I?"
She flipped it at him, but he caught it deftly, then turned to Marina. "The formula is A squared plus B squared equals C squared," he began. "These are the numbers you already know." He drew arrows from the numbers in the problem to the letters. There was one letter not matched up. "You have to find this number."
Marina scowled at the paper. "That's all?"
"Yes. You just plug in the numbers where they go like a switchboard operator. Whatever you do to one side, you have to do to the other until there's only one letter and one number. That's the answer to the problem."
"Well, that seems simple enough," she said, totally bemused, taking the pencil. It wasn't that simple, but she managed to get farther into the problem than she had before. "Now I don't know what to do."
"You rearrange them until the letter, which is the number you don't know, is the only thing left on one side of the equal sign and only one number on the other side."
He demonstrated all the steps he had to take to make one number equal one letter.
And the light came on.
YOU ARE READING
Kansas City, Missouri, 1929 Trey Dunham, a mid-level cog in the Pendergast Machine during Prohibition, runs 1520 Main, Boss Tom's most prized speakeasy featuring good booze, hot jazz, and beautiful women. Trey wants to buy the join...