Thursday July 13, 1922
I tapped the toe of my gold pump on the sidewalk and checked my watch for the third time in as many minutes. I tried to keep to the shadows between buildings, but the bright lights of Columbus’s High Street beaconed. Still, I would feel better the fewer people saw me out.
“Well, look who it is! Dru Faust!” squealed a voice to the right. I turned, but the sight of a familiar face only made me more nervous. Caroline Page’s platinum blond locks had fresh Marcel waves, framing the tight pout of her lips, which were clearly a shade of tangerine, even in the dark.
She was flanked on either side by a slim brunette, each with the perfect figure for their boyish, beaded dresses. I brushed away a momentary stab of envy; I loved my new gold dress, even if I wasn’t supposed to be wearing it tonight.
“Caroline. Matilda, Madelyn. It’s nice to see you.”
“I never would have picked you as a floorflusher, but I guess everyone likes to dance every now and then, right?” Caroline laughed, throwing her head back to the sky. “Say, isn’t this past your bedtime?”
I forced a smile. “Only a little.”
In truth, I was tired, but also excited. And a little scared. But I’d never tell Caroline. Before she had a chance to make a catty reply, I was saved by Alexandra’s timely arrival.
I saw it first in Caroline’s face–a sudden look of horror as my tall, slim friend rounded the corner behind me.
“There you are! Sorry we’re late. Had a bear of a time finding a place to park! Looks like everyone’s out in their glad rags tonight.”
I smiled over my shoulder. At first, it looked like three athletic youths were approaching, but it soon became clear the one on the left was a young woman of seventeen, the same age as Caroline and me. Alexandra had slicked back her hair, and was wearing one of her brother’s suits, hands jammed casually in the pockets. Archie strolled along beside her, with the same dark hair and grey eyes. They were almost the same height, even though he was two years older. Behind them, my neighbor, George, towered over both.
“What are you wearing?” Caroline asked, her voice pitching unnaturally high.
Alexandra just grinned. It wasn’t the first time she’d gone out in her brother’s clothes.
“Don’t you read magazines, Caroline? Pretty soon it’ll be normal for women to walk around in trousers.”
But the ever-fashionable blonde only wrinkled her nose in disgust. “I don’t think so. Come on, girls.” And with that, the trio brushed past us. I was more than happy to see them leave.
“Friends of yours?” Archie asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Not as such.”
I followed my friends to the end of the block, where they turned right. We passed a pub and a shuttered clothing store before Archie stopped at a nondescript door covered in dark green paint. He knocked twice, paused, then tapped his knuckles against the door three more times.
A hidden panel, the size of my palm popped open.
“Password?” asked a masculine voice. A dark eye peered out at them, appraising.
“Horse liniment,” our guide replied crisply, lips smacking around the words.
The tiny window snapped shut, and a moment later the door opened. Though I tried to catch a glimpse, I never laid eyes on the doorman.
Archie lead us down the short hallway to another green door. Behind it, I could just hear the strains of upbeat jazz and laughter.
Another special knock, and this door too opened.
We descended into a dark pit. Back before prohibition, restaurants were gilded and formal, but now that businesses like this had to pack up and run when the cops got too close, there was less emphasis on things like interior decorating. Most people only came for one thing, anyway.
A heavy cloud of smoke hung over the couples seated around the dance floor, smoking and drinking and laughing while in a corner a trumpet, trombone, bass, and piano accompanied a curvy singer with short, curly hair.
The music carried us down the bare wood stairs into the thick of the action. I couldn’t help but smile. Though my parents warned me about places like this, the illegal speakeasies that sold everything from contraband liquor to even more dangerous vices, I still found myself bouncing along to the beat as I followed my friends to one of the lopsided round tables.
“I’ll get the first round,” George said generously. “What’s everyone want?”
“Gin!” Alexandra gushed, punching a fist into the air in her eagerness. Archie laughed and ordered a whiskey.
“Just water for me, thanks.”
“Aw, come on, Dru! We’re here to have fun tonight. You mean to tell me that your very first time in a jazz club, and you’re not even going to drink?”
I just smiled and shook my head. “No thanks. Do you even know what they’re serving here?”
My father, a doctor, worked at the hospital but also had his own practice. Many times since the prohibition laws took hold, he’d come home with stories of patients who had convulsions or were even killed by the bootleg liquor sold at speakeasies, or that they’d made themselves. Some were left blind or crippled for life.
“Aw, come on!”
“I’m really just here to dance! How can I do that if I can’t stand up straight?” I joked.
Alexandra finally laughed and let the subject drop. “Alright then. If we’re here to dance, let’s dance!” She grabbed my hand, and we ran onto the dance floor.
Tune in next week for part 2!