She stood there, flat-booted feet hip-width apart, the collar of her gray wool coat flipped up to cover the back of her neck. It was cold and bright, the morning cloudless and angry, just like her mood.
She gazed into the Christmas window display of the department store, watching a toy train merrily traverse its tracks. She felt a growl traverse her throat as she resented Leland Stanford.
The woman's black eyes flicked up to the corner of the window. The clock on the pharmacy across the street was reflected in reverse on the highly polished glass and flipping the face in her mind, she read that it was 9:11am. Her meeting at the anarchist bookstore wasn't until 11:30.
She thought about breakfast, but her stomach was a tight, unyielding knot of frustration and irritated anxiety. In San Francisco, it would be cold, too, but the fog would keep the sun from burning her. She felt a wave of grief swell inside of her and when it rolled back, she felt even angrier. She gazed at her reflection, a scowl pulling down the corners of her wide, thick lips. Her dark brown eyebrows pulled together in frustration as she contemplated herself. She'd thought about putting on makeup before this meeting, but given the wealth of freckles that covered her nose and cheeks, she'd need half a pound of pancake to look porcelain and she figured any crew of radicals that cared if she painted her face wasn't her crew after all. She'd save the kohl and lipstick for the company men.
"I always wanted one of these," a man's smooth voice said to her right. After a comprehending blink she turned her face to look at him. He was fair-skinned, white teeth exposed in a straight genial smile. Even under a fine gray fedora, she could see his sandy blond hair was charmingly combed. His expression had all the smugness of a very tall man, though he was of a height with her, at most five-foot-six. He lifted a cigarette to his mouth and took a drag.
As he gazed at her with cold blue eyes, she examined his gray double-breasted suit, which was expensive. He held out a pack of cigarettes to her. She stared at it, unsure of how to react. She was used to being harassed as a woman in a public, but something about his vibe gave her pause when she would have otherwise slayed him with a brutal cut to his ego.
Instead she said flatly, "The train set or me?"
The man dropped and lifted his eyelids in a very slow blink. Then his brow rose and his mouth quirked. "You got me, Angel. To tell it true I always wanted planes as a kid." He put the cigarette pack in his pocket.
"You do seem fast," she said. Then she turned away and began walking south.
As she expected, he caught up to her. "I hope I haven't annoyed you," he said as he walked swiftly at her side.
"No more than anything else," she said, looking both ways before crossing the street, stuffing her hands in her pockets.
"I haven't seen you 'round here before," he said, dropping his cigarette down the storm drain as they mounted the curb. She didn't answer, so he said, "This is my neighborhood. Did you just move in?"
"Do you run background checks on all your neighbors?" she replied.
"Just the ones with beautiful faces but sour pusses," he replied.
"That must be every woman you meet," she retorted.
He laughed and said, "Now that hurts." Then he reached into his pocket and withdrew a black business card. "I'm Cly, Cly Thill. Me and my partners own the Ruby Moon. You heard of it?"
"Nightclub," she replied, not taking the card.
"Go on," he said. "Take it. Come as my guest."
They came to a stoplight and she turned and stared at Cly Thill. He had an illicit look to him now that she gazed closer. Finally, her sense broke through her irritation and she realized what opportunity stood before her. So she turned and pulled a gloved hand from her pocket and took the card. His eyes briefly flickered to her hand and she knew that he, like most everyone else, was remarking on how unnervingly long her fingers were.
"Thanks," she said, tucking the card in her pocket.
"And who should I tell the doorman to expect?" he asked her as they started walking again.
"Elita," she said.
"Beautiful," he replied. "Elita what?"
"Craft," she added, turning left.
He paused and said, "I have to go this way, Miss Craft, but I look forward to seeing if my Charleston can't get a smile out of you."
She looked over her shoulder as she continued walking and said, "I hate the Charleston." She heard him chuckle as she looked away and walked on, leaving him behind.
Elita sighed, remembering with sad fondness. Babsy McCullough back in San Francisco had always told her, "Get in good with the swine who own the nightclubs. They got more in common with us than they do the tuxedo fucks who line their pockets."
Elita Craft: Herself
Cly Thill: Alan Ladd
YOU ARE READING
The Hard LeftHistorical Fiction
In 1948, anarcho-communist and former investigative journalist, Elita Craft, has been ousted from the mainstream San Francisco Press for her politics. Once arrived in a new city, she joins radical activists in a fight against a trio of megalomaniaca...