Charles

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XXIX.
Charles

Russo stepped out of the shoddy inn he’d spent last night in and out into the Philadelphia nightlife. Everywhere he turned, there were bright billboards advertising everything from Lucky Strike to Coca Cola. Street performers set up shop on nearly every street corner and there were young people everywhere.

Russo took a deep breath. This was his kind of scene. It was a place a young man could get into all sorts of trouble. He let an easy smirk slide onto his face. All the best adventures in life came from places like this.

He pulled his coat collar closer against his neck and his hat lower on his head in an attempt to remain inconspicuous. Despite his excitement to be away from the monotony of his life in New York City, he couldn’t forget that he was here on business. With that in mind, Russo knew just the person to talk to.

A few minutes and a few blocks later, he found himself in front of an unmarked door. He rapped his knuckles twice. It didn’t take long for a scantily clad young woman answered the door.

Russo took in the sight of the beautiful girl standing in the doorway wearing nothing more than a lacy brassiere, some panties and an open robe. His eyes brightened at what he saw.

“Hiya, dollface,” he greeted her.

The girl twirled a lock of hair around her finger.

“What can I do you for, handsome?” She stepped aside, granting him entrance into the establishment.

Inside, there were people everywhere.  There were people dancing to the radio, people drinking at the bar, and people conversing in every corner of the room. Most of the men had a woman dressed similarly to the one in front of Russo sitting on their laps. Russo saw one girl leading a man upstairs.

“Can I get you something to drink, handsome?” the girl asked.

Russo shook his head.

“I’m looking for a woman named Penelope. Can you help me out?”

She shot him a confused look.

“You want to see the Madam? You know she doesn’t see any patrons anymore upstairs or not, right?”

“I promise you, dollface, she’ll see me.” Russo shot her another grin.

“What’s in it for me if I find her?”

He pulled her close by her bicep and leaned down to whisper in her ear.

“I’m sure we can figure something out to make it worth your while.”

She put a playful hand on his chest, pretending to swat him.

“Well aren’t you just a charmer?” She pulled her robe closed around her waist. “Say, does a man like you have a name?”

“Charles.”

“Charles,” She repeated. “I like it, a charming name for a charming man.”

She began to walk away.

“Give me a second. I’ll go get Madam Penelope for ya.”

Russo nodded his head in thanks. He walked over to the bar and ordered a scotch. By the time he’d taken his first swig of the strong stuff, Penelope was standing behind him.

“Well, well. I must say, I hadn’t expected to see you tonight, Charles!”

Russo turned to face the Madame. She was exactly as he had remembered. Penelope was a beautiful woman, despite the gray hairs polluting her brunette locks. They were one of the only two tells of the woman’s age. The other was the increasing lines and wrinkles etched into her face.

“It’s good to see you, Penelope.” Russo leaned in to kiss her cheek.

“How have you been? How is Gia?” Penelope had been his mother’s best friend growing up. Rumor had it, the two got in and out of plenty of trouble of their own when they were younger.

“I’m well enough. Mother is doing well, too. And you?”

“Ah, business continues as usual. Though, I must say I am less than thrilled with my newest patrons. They are certainly less savory than what my girls are used to, and that’s saying something in this business.” She laughed at herself. “But enough about me, what are you doing here?”

Russo took another swig of his scotch, enjoying the burning sensation flowing to his belly.

“I’m here to see Johnny. Have you seen him recently?”

“No, I haven’t. Come to think of it, I don’t think anyone had seen him recently. I know it’s been at least six months since I last saw him.”

Russo’s eyebrows furrowed.

“You mean to tell me that you haven’t seen the owner of this place in six months?”

Penelope nodded her head in affirmation.

“’Bout six months ago, a different man started coming around to collect the money from the brothel and restock our bar and such. It was around that time Johnny stopped coming in. I was worried for a while; Johnny came in every Wednesday like it was a ritual or somethin’. Then I received word that he had left for Havana, that he would manage affairs from down there.

“Before too long, I started getting some new regulars in here, sloppy, disgusting men- nothing like before. Every time I approached them, they said they were working for Mr. King and that I’d do well not to bother them. I left them alone, but the whole thing seemed so odd, Johnny never let his men come in and terrorize my place before.”

Penelope gazed down at the bar top, shaking her head at the way things had turned out.

“I sure hope Johnny’s alright. He’s a good man,” she added.

Russo finished off his drink and waved for another. He slipped a cigarette out of his pocket placing it between his lips.

“Johnny’s not in Havana.” The lid to his lighter snapped shut as if to emphasize his words.

“What? How do you know?” Her words were tense.

“Johnny can’t stand the sun. He fries every time he goes out. Not to mention how miserable a big man like him would be in that sort of heat. No, he wouldn’t go to Cuba. Whoever told you that is lying.”

"A-are you sure, Charles? If anybody around here accused Johnny of lying, they’d be shot dead in a heartbeat by one of him men.”

He took a drag and blew it out, pointing his cigarette in her direction.

“That’s another thing, Johnny wouldn’t use force on such an old friend for something like an empty accusation. It just isn’t who he is.”

“I do believe you are on to something.”

“I’ll look into it tomorrow.”

Penelope looked around the lobby; the people had thinned out considerably over the duration of their conversation.

“It’s late and I’m old. I’d like to go to bed soon. Are you staying tonight, dear?”

“If it’s not too much trouble, a room would be greatly appreciated, Penelope.”

She cupped Russo’s cheek in a motherly way.

“Of course its not too much trouble especially not for the son of my dearest friend. Now, would you like me to find one of my girls? Dottie is quite good, or perhaps you would like the room to yourself tonight?”

If he had been any other man, Russo probably would have blushed at the conversation ensuing between him and the woman who was like a second mother to him. However, he was Russo Venzetto and so he merely laughed.

“The girl who sent for you, what’s her evening look like?”

“I’ll make sure she is in your room. Good night, dearie.”



Love and Liquor was at #20 today when I checked. That's almost the first page!! Thanks for all your support and I promise there will be some G/L scenes coming. I know those are in high demand, but as I get nearer to the end, I want to make sure everything flows for the story's sake.


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With love,

SW

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