“Ta-da!” Martha appeared in the living room, covered in feathers and sequins and necklaces of at least four different lengths.
Alexis, perched on the edge of the couch, took one look at her and grinned. “Gram, really, you’re already going to be blinding us with your talent.” That evening was the grand re-opening of a pub that her father had bought, and he was combining it with a fundraiser for the NYPD Widows and Orphans fund. Martha was, of course, performing; Alexis was permitted to attend, but only as the coat-check girl, and on the condition that she had supervision. Lanie had recently cracked a bone in her ankle, and had volunteered to be that supervision so she could stay off her feet.
“Oh, you,” Martha said, and waved a cigarette holder--holding no cigarette--at her. “How do I look?”
Martha’s dress was red and ruffled, and her trim and accessories were gold and black; she had on a short black wig over her hair, and the turban and fascinator over that. The entire dress was covered in sequins and beads, tone-on-tone, and the necklaces had glass stones that also caught the light. Even her boa had sparkles on the feathers.
“Stunning,” Alexis said. She loved her grandmother, she really did, but she meant ‘stunning’ in pretty much every sense of the word. “How do I look?” she asked as she stood.
By contrast, Alexis’s dress was gold; it had no fringe and half as many beads and sequins as Gram’s, hung loosely off her shoulders as was the proper style, and almost covered her knees. The neckline was rather high in her opinion but ‘completely reasonable’ in her father’s, and she had a crocheted sweater to go over the top. It was cold out, and would probably be colder in the foyer and coat check area, but there was no way she was wearing pantyhose or tights.
“My darling,” Martha said, “you are simply gorgeous. It’s good you have a chaperone tonight, I’d say.”
Alexis flushed. She knew Gram always meant every word she said, and sometimes, like right now, she really liked the hyperbole. “Dad’s already left,” she said, “and we should probably get going.”
“Of course, of course,” Martha said. “Just let me get my music and my coat . . .”
Five minutes later, they caught a taxi over to the pub--speakeasy, Alexis reminded herself. Martha’s furs and bag and portfolio almost took up the entire back seat by themselves, but Alexis squished herself in as well. It wasn’t a terribly long ride, she reasoned, and the furs would keep her warm even if she wasn’t wearing them.
“I can’t wait!” Martha said, after the cab pulled away from the curb. “This is going to be an extraordinary night, and I have so many songs that I’m so excited to perform! The music from the twenties is simply some of the best . . . It had to be you . . .” She trailed off, humming.
Alexis smiled. Gram had been practicing for weeks, and had been discussing repertoire constantly during that time. “I’m looking forward to hearing ‘Stardust,’” she said. “What did you decide about ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’?”
“Oh, I’m definitely doing the two extra verses,” Martha said, and went off on a tangent about various interpretations that lasted until the taxi pulled over.
Alexis paid the driver and stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, staring at the outside of the Old Haunt for a moment. Martha turned around, a step or two under the awning, and said, “Well? Aren’t you coming in?”
“Oh, yeah,” Alexis said, and followed her in.
Castle met them just inside the door with air-kisses and compliments. “Mother! You are resplendent as always. Your coat goes over here. And Alexis--did I approve of that dress?”
“Of course you did,” she said, rolling her eyes and grinning. Her dad was wearing a white shirt and black vest, with a very thin bowtie and a tuxedo-like collar. He was bartending tonight, and had been testing out his drinks on Gram for days now.
“Mother, your pianist is here already, if you want to warm up.”
“Of course!” Martha waved her cigarette holder at Alexis and disappeared into the pub proper.
“Here’s where you will be set up,” Castle said, steering Alexis over by the coat racks. “Lanie, when she gets here, can sit over there--” He pointed to a fake barrel in the corner. “Oh, whoops, it’s backwards.” When he turned it around, she was able to see the word written on the side: MOONSHINE. “And just remember,” he said, all stern Dad at the moment--or at least as stern as he got. “No crossing the line.” He drew an imaginary line with the toe of his shoe between the hallway and the main room.
“I know, I know,” she said. “And more than half the people here are going to be police officers. Don’t worry.”
“I won’t,” he said, and smiled at her.
Alexis grinned back.
“This is going to be awesome!” Castle said. “I mean . . . This is going to be the cat’s pajamas! I can’t wait to see everyone all dolled up and looking spiffy.”
“Oh, Dad,” Alexis said, still grinning. “When is Dr. Parish supposed to be here?”
He checked his watch. “Any minute now. Rufus will handle the entries at the door, so between him and Lanie you should be safe.”
The door opened, and Lanie came in, balanced on crutches. “Where’s my seat?” she asked. “I am not standing any longer. Hey there, Castle, Alexis.”
“Right here,” Alexis said, stepping to the side and pointing. “Hello, Dr. Parish.”
“Yes, Dr. Parish,” her dad echoed, and added, “You are looking lovely tonight.”
Alexis nodded in agreement. She was--her dress was black and white and a little more fitted than Alexis’s, with the tiers of fringe, and she had a boa around her neck. Her one shoe was a t-strap, also in black and white.
“Oh, please,” Lanie said, and paused for a moment while she swung herself over to the MOONSHINE barrel. “Tonight, I’m Lanie. Castle, why don’t you do what you’re supposed to and get me something alcoholic?”
“A fine chaperone you’ll be,” Castle said, but left.
“So!” Lanie said, as she settled onto the barrel. “Are you excited?”
“Very,” Alexis admitted. The strains of Martha singing wafted in from the other room. “I don’t even care that I’m not allowed all the way in. This is going to be fun.”
“And it’s for a good cause, too,” Castle said, returning; he held a martini glass in one hand and a water glass in the other. “For you, madam,” he said as he handed Lanie the martini glass, “and for you, smarty, ice water.”
“Thank you kindly, sir,” Alexis said, bobbing a curtsey.
Lanie laughed, and added, “Thanks, Castle.”
“You’re welcome, ladies. And now, I fear, I must go iron my shoelaces--Oh, Rufus! There you are. There’s the door; the young lady in gold is my daughter and if anything happens to her I will sic my ex-wife’s divorce attorney on you. You know the passcode; no crashers!” Castle hurried away, waving randomly into the air.
“Hi,” Alexis said. “I’m Alexis Castle, and this is Dr. Lanie Parish.”
Rufus made her dad look tiny, but he smiled and shook her hand. “Ms. Castle, Dr. Parish, good to meet you.”
“Oh, it’s Lanie,” Lanie said, “and if I weren’t in this damn cast--” She pointed to the walking boot on her left foot. “--the pleasure would definitely be all mine.”
Rufus smiled, and said, “Ma’am, if I didn’t have a job tonight, I would be more than happy to show you that you don’t need two good feet to dance.”
“And if there weren’t children present, I’d take you up on that offer.” Lanie sighed. “Guess I’ll just have to drink instead.”
Alexis almost protested being called a child, but Castle bellowed, “People will be here in ten minutes, everybody! Mother, that means you need to stop warming up and get ready to perform.”
Ten minutes! This was going to be great. The pianist ended with a giant flourish, and Rufus stepped outside with a final smile for Lanie. Alexis stood up straighter, and tried very hard not to bounce on her toes.
“You’re almost vibrating over there,” Lanie said. “What’s got you so excited?”
Alexis smiled. “I love this. I love the pub; I love my dress, and your dress, and seeing everyone else all dressed up. I love getting to hear Gram perform for real, because it isn’t the same as hearing her practice at home. I even love the goofy Prohibition-era slang that Dad’s been trying to use for the last few days. It’s all--it’s just fun.”
Lanie smiled back at her, genuinely, no sarcasm or self-deprecation or anything else in it. “I’m glad you’re so happy to be here,” she said. “I hope it’s everything you wanted.”
“Me, too,” Alexis said.
And then, all of a sudden, the door opened, and with a swirl of cold air, two people came in--Captain Montgomery and his wife, the first guests of the evening.
“It begins,” Lanie said, and Alexis smiled.
Stepping up, she said, “Hello, Captain Montgomery, Mrs. Montgomery. May I take your coats?”