Chicago — February, 1922
“A’right, a’right, get movin’,” Jimmy (James) Tyler snapped. He waved away a man in a crisp, rouge suit. He was short and thin and looked like a lounge-singer got lost in a tailor’s ship. Jimmy frowned. Who did he think he was, waltzing into this place? This was their warehouse and their booze, and no one was getting in the way of things. The man in the red suit held up his hands with a suave smile.
“Hey, hey! Relax, Mac! We’re all friends here.” He gave the crates along the wall an interesting look. Carefully, he stowed his hands in his pockets. “Look… our place is runnin’ into a little… issue with your employer. Lemme be straight. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours… pass over some of those crates, you get a nice paycheck and a nicer bonus.”
Jimmy frowned and crossed his thick arms over his chest. The man in the suit was much smaller than him. He could crush him like an aluminum can. He didn’t, but it was clear from the quick onceover he gave the man that he briefly considered doing so.
“Alright, Mac,” he said condescendingly. “Who you workin’ for?”
Red Suit gave a noncommittal hand gesture. “You want a name? And to ruin all this goddamn mystique we got goin’? No way, pally. You cut your ties with Alice’s Boozy Wonderland over there, and then we can talk.”
Jimmy had heard enough. With a snap of his fingers, two of his lackeys, Donald and Frankie, picked up Red Suit under his arms and dragged him out of the warehouse.
“Woah! Woah, woah, easy fellas! I ain’t done nothin’ wrong! Just a friendly chat!” He wriggled, his crooked hat going a little wonky as he dug in his heels and tried to fight. “C’mon! You’re missing a valuable opportunity!”
Jimmy snorted and turned his back. “Not interested.”
Red Suit didn’t get much of a chance to get his feet under him before he was thrown — rudely and harshly — onto the rain-slick pavement outside the warehouse. He caught himself before he kissed the asphalt, twisting in time to see Donald and Frankie laughing as they made a slow, casual retreat. The man grimaced. Fine. If they wanted to play that way, they would play the game. It took force to scare these boys.
Roman stood up and shook out his red suit coat. He was a negotiator. Most times, he was the schmoozer that was brought in and used to make things sway in their direction. Apparently, this was not one of those times. He smoothed his hands down the front of his coat, grimacing at the dirt and puddle water that soaked into the fabric. With a frown, he went to the car that was waiting for him. A man in a black suit waited for him against the car, his arms crossed over his chest and face illuminated by the ruby spec of light from his cigarette. The light glinted oddly on his glasses, but Roman could see icy blue eyes watching him through the glass. Roman gestured to himself incredulously.
“Look at this!” The man looked and was unmoved. Roman gave an anguished cry. “Those backwater rat-faced penny-pushers got mud on my jacket!”
Still, the man stared blankly, his hip leaning back against the hood of the car casually. He seemed spectacularly unbothered. Roman huffed.
“Don’t look at me like that. I like this jacket.”
The man took a long drag and took his cigarette from his lips, tapping the end and dropping hissing ash into a puddle. “You like all of your jackets.”
“But this one was my favorite,” Roman whined. He stepped forward, bracing his hands on either side of the man’s hips and effectively bracketing him. He was pinned to the car and he didn’t seem to mind. Roman sniffled melodramatically. “Logan. They’ve ruined my jacket.”
Logan stared at him. “Don’t make the face.”
“I’m gonna to make the face.”
“Don’t make the face.”
Roman’s bottom lip wobbled and his eyes, a startling green, shone with unshed tears. He was a damn good actor and Logan was helpless every time. After looking at the sad and sorry expression for a solid minute, Logan took a deep breath… and dropped his cigarette on the ground and crushed it. Roman let out a melodramatic whimper and Logan groaned, “Fine.”
With a giggle and a bounce, Roman stepped back and dug in his pockets. “Good! Go ahead, I’ll be here…” he found his packet of cigs and tapped it against his palm. “Got a light, hot thing?”
Logan pulled a metal, rectangle lighter from his pocket and pushed it into Roman’s hand, already heading for the warehouse. Roman was calm and satisfied, leaning his hip against the car as he perched the cigarette between his lips. In all honesty, this was only his third favorite suit (and second favorite jacket). But work was work and they needed the supplies.
He flicked the lighter, a soft snick-snick-snick as it failed to light. He watched Logan disappear around the back of the warehouse. Snick-snick-snick. No light. Just a spark that died. He heard shouting, confused, then angry… snick-snick-snick. A good spark. Roman breathed deep when the cigarette glowed. He breathed out and smiled.
Loud and rattling like an air-popper being magnified. He heard it ring off the metal of the warehouse. He flinched at the pop of it, a quiet laugh bubbling in his lungs as he watched Jimmy, Donald, and Frankie scramble out of the warehouse. They went running, shouting and hollering as the gunfire paused and left a ringing sound in the air.
Roman smiled as they approached. “What’s wrong fellas? Gonna breeze so soon?”
They didn’t spare him a second look, they just kept running, sprinting past him and his nice car on the way to safety. Or whatever they assumed was safety. Roman took a casual drag from his cigarette and let the smoke out of his lungs. Once the oaf and his goons had cleared the area, Roman sauntered around to the back entrance of the warehouse, poking his head around the corner and grinning when he saw the silver of Logan’s gun.
“Hey there, Smokin’ Barrel.” He jauntily walked into the warehouse, a fond expression on his face as he approached Logan. He flicked up the end of Logan’s hat and kissed his nose. “Done burning powder?”
“Waste of bullets,” Logan said briefly. He clicked open the barrel of the pistol, spun it, and frowned as he clicked it back into place. “Waste of time…”
“It’s not a waste!” Roman said as he found a crowbar next to a crate. There, he popped the lid and shoved it onto the floor. Then he pulled out his prize: shining bottle of bootleg whiskey. “Oooh! Look at that amber glow!”
Logan gave him an unimpressed look as he carefully held his hot gun away from his thigh. Roman waved the bottle, trying to get him excited… but Logan wasn’t swayed. Roman shrugged.
“I’m keeping it.”
Logan glanced at his watch. “Plenty of crates… if we clean this place out, we could give Lollie a run for her money.”
Roman blew a raspberry before he pulled the cork from the whiskey. The pop was satisfying. A good seal-break was always satisfying. “Lollie’s joint isn’t my scene. Only reason people go to that drum is because she’s got dames, and dames is nothin’ but trouble.” He glanced at Logan over his shoulder and winked. “It’s why I like you so much, Bo.”
Logan hummed and cracked open another crate. Roman sniffed the whiskey and let out an impressed, “Woo! That’s a good one. Logan! Have a drink with me, hmm? We’ll get dizzy! Always fun to drive while dizzy!”
“No,” Logan said stiffly as he reached in and pulled out bourbon. “They’ve got a wide selection. I’ve got corn over here.”
“Everyone likes some good corn liquor,” Roman tipped the whiskey back, coughed, and laughed. “It’s a good time to be alive, Logan!”
Logan glanced at him. “You think 1922 is a good year?”
“You know what they say ‘bout ‘22!” Roman said authoritatively. Logan stared and Roman gave a halfhearted shrug. “It’s… one more than ‘21.”
“That is some compelling math.”
Roman slapped the cork back on the whiskey (breaking and crumbling the cork in the process) and slung his arm around Logan’s shoulders. “Kiss me Logan. We’re on the wrong side of history.”
“I fail to see how those statements correlate.”
Roman pursed his lips and pushed Logan’s glasses up on his nose. “Kiss me and we’ll find out.”
Logan put one arm around his waist and a hand on the back of his neck, kissing Roman deep and tasting the spark and burn of whiskey. It hung like a smoke between them, a strong scent that made Logan’s stomach clutch just slightly. He kissed again for good measure and Roman pulled away with a dreamy smile.
“Lookit you, all riled up and steamed,” he tugged on the lapels of Logan’s jacket, pulling their bodies together until they were connected hip to chest. Roman bit his lower lip and grinned. “We’re alone out here. No one to bother us.”
“Unless those idiots rat us out,” Logan said sternly. Still, he couldn’t stop a spark of interest that settled in his belly. He kept that hand on Roman’s waist, pulling him closer as he was backed up against a crate of illegal alcohol. Roman leaned forward to kiss and nip at his neck and Logan’s carefully constructed air of control started to waver. “We… not here. Let’s go back. Virgil can come pick up the crates with the truck.”
Roman hummed and licked at the salt on his neck. “We got whiskey, we got time…”
Logan cleared his throat. “We… I have… a jalopy.”
Roman leaned back and smiled excitedly. “You want to get in the back of your jalopy and make it rock?”
Logan winced. “Bad for the suspension.”
“Bad for my back,” Roman grinned as he leaned forward and kissed Logan again. “But I’m not complaining.”
“You love it.”
Logan dragged him forward and kissed him again. This was irresponsible. They were there for a reason. And that reason was to save the bar. And the bar was slowly but surely digging itself out of massive debt… but, this was the era of prohibition. The era where speakeasies like The Patron were sought out with a passion. They were en route to earn money hand over fist once they got back on their feet.
Ever since last year, things had been different. They were changing, and change was good… but it had still sent all of them, all six of them, off kilter. And it all started with Patton A. Moore in the year 1921.
Chicago — May 15ᵗʰ, 1921
Patton slipped into the bar with a strained smile. He always wore those strained smiles those days, along with a crisp blue suit and his thin, delicate glasses. He wasn’t tall, but he wasn’t short. He was a happy medium. A happy medium that was slowly but surely vibrating with anxiety.
The bar was practically empty. Roman was slouched against the front of the stage, his fingers lazily wiggling over his trumpet while he blew out soft, tired jazz. On the stage, Roman’s brother, Remus, was crooning into the microphone. For identical twins, they looked fairly different. Roman was dressed in red and Remus was in black. Roman’s face was clean and shaved, making him look so much younger… and Remus’s mustache gave him a mysterious air. On the stage, Remus snapped his fingers slow and casually, like the relaxed (bored) atmosphere was all part of the plan. Two customers were in the bar. One of them was unconscious and draped over his table. Patton wrung his hands; they couldn’t make money like this.
He went to the bar and leaned his elbows on the wood, tugging at his collar uneasily. Behind the bar, Virgil stood tall and strong, lifting and moving crates around the back before he glanced at Patton.
“Need a drink, Mr. Moore?”
“I need a drink like I need a bullet in the head,” Patton said with that tense smile. Virgil poured him a shot. Patton knocked it back and hissed. Patton looked at his sorry excuse of a speakeasy… and sighed. “It’s almost closin’ time.” He looked at Virgil helplessly. “Did we have anyone else here tonight?”
Virgil looked a little sad when he shook his head. “Nope. Just these two mugs.”
Patton sighed and slid off the barstool. “I need to check some things in my office.”
Virgil watched him with tired eyes. “Take it easy, boss.”
Taking it easy was not an option. Not for Patton Moore. He was deep in the hole. He was barely able to scrape enough money together to pay his workers, let alone keep the lights on. Without cash, he couldn’t get bootleg alcohol. Without alcohol, he couldn’t run a speakeasy. It was all snowballing and people weren’t coming anymore.
Patton knew last years’ ‘incident’ was to blame. People didn’t want to go someplace that had been labeled ‘unstable.’ In their absence, other joints had popped up. Lollie’s “Wonderland” had been stealing the vast majority of their clients. Now Patton was out of money, out of resources, and out of luck. He slunk into his office and dropped himself at his desk, seeing all the past-due bills and notes he’d written for himself. He needed to pay Roman and Remus… he needed to pay Logan… and Virgil… his stomach growled unhappily. He hadn’t eaten since yesterday’s dinner. He couldn’t afford to. He had to pay his people… but he didn’t have anything left to give.
While he sat and moped, an hour went by. One a.m. bled into two… and Patton heard Logan round up the customers and usher them out into the night. Patton sighed. He glanced at the phone on his desk, fiddled with the rotary dial… and sighed again. He couldn’t avoid it any longer. He couldn’t do this on his own. He made a call.
When Patton was finished, he stepped back into the bar with that usual, tight smile. Roman and Remus were talking while leaning against the bar. Virgil wiped the counters. Logan stood to the side and watched him. Maybe he suspected Patton was hiding his struggles. Maybe he knew and just wasn’t saying anything. Patton digressed.
“Alright! Listen up, boys.” All eyes turned to him, and Patton’s smile softened. “I think we all knew that this day would come.”
Remus raised a hand. “I’m getting a raise?”
“No,” Roman snapped as he batted Remus with the bell of his trumpet. “I’m getting a raise. I’m the favorite twin.”
Patton’s palms sweated. “No one is getting a raise.” Remus opened his mouth to ‘boo,’ but Virgil threw a rag at his face to shut him up. Patton went on. “We’ve been losing customers. And we all know you can’t have a bar without customers.”
Remus nodded sagely. “Like having cocaine without wine.”
Roman looked into the distance. “Like having sex without friction.”
“Focus boys,” Patton snapped his fingers. “Please. See… after last years’… incident—“
“You mean the fire?” Remus deadpanned.
“The incident,” Patton repeated stiffly. “People have been… a little unsure about visiting us. So I’ve decided to call up an old friend.”
Roman perked up. “Patton. You have an old friend?”
“What kind of old friend?” Remus pressed. “Are we talkin’... Old Money Links Us Together old? Or… We Slept Together As A Favor old?”
Patton blinked hard and swallowed. “N… neither of those.”
Roman and Remus looked at each other. “They slept together.”
“Definitely slept together.”
Virgil looked like he was going to have a heart attack, but Patton didn’t notice. He was waving the conjectures away as he said, “Now, enough! Please! I called this friend… because we need a little name recognition.”
Logan grimaced. “Name recognition? You want the fuzz to know about us?”
“I want the butter and egg boys to come here and spend their money,” Patton stressed tiredly. “Believe me. I don’t want to be in the cooler any more than you boys. But…” he gestured to the club anxiously. “The Patron can’t keep runnin’ if we don’t have customers.”
“So this… old friend of yours,” Logan said sternly. “He can bring in clientele?”
“I think so,” Patton said, his hands shaking as he worried them together. “Even a small investment would help. If he likes the look of the place, we could spread the word. He could tell friends. Associates.”
Roman glanced at Remus. “That’s what I call my marks. Associates.”
“They’ll ass your cociates,” Remus snickered.
“Focus,” Patton said, reeling in the twins. “This friend will come tonight. He said he’d check out the place and see if it’s worth the while.”
Virgil’s hands fidgeted at his rolled-up sleeves. “And if it isn’t?”
Patton’s smile turned strained again. “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.”
While Virgil looked ready to tear his hair out from worry, Logan gave Patton a hard look. “What do you need from us?”
“You watch the doors as always,” he said before he turned to the twins. “Roman, I want you to blow that trumpet until it flops. Remus, go ahead and sing like a canary. And Virgil,” he smiled at his heavy-lifter. “Help me behind the bar?”
Virgil smiled and nearly melted where he stood. “Y-Yeah. Sure thing. Anything you need, Mr. Moore.”
“Perfect! Then we’ll see how things go tonight. I have some work to do before I leave… get home safe, boys.”
Patton smiled and went back into his office, leaving his workers to wriggle out into the night. Before they went, Remus and Roman smirked at Virgil.
“Anything you need, Mr. Moore,” Remus cooed mockingly. He fumbled at Roman dramatically, a hand to his forehead as he faked a swoon. “Oh, tell me what you need, Mr. Moore.”
“Stop it,” Virgil growled as he went to wipe the counter again.
Roman dropped his voice an octave (which didn’t sound like Patton at all) and he cradled Remus in his arms as he said, “Oh, Virgil, you tall and lanky scoundrel. Invest in my business! Drink my liquor!”
“Stop,” Virgil repeated.
Remus went on. “Oh, anything for you! Oh, Mr. Moore, I’m just so parched! Dry as a bone!”
“I know how to get you soaked…”
Virgil threw the rag at them again. “Stop it! You mugs are a bunch a fuckin’ chippies!”
Roman laughed and backed away from the bar. “Alright, easy, easy… it’s just a joke. You know we’re all friends here!”
“Besides,” Remus said as he snuck a drink from behind the bar. “We’ve been called worse.”
Roman and Logan left first, arm in arm and mumbling sweet nothings to each other as they went. Remus was the next to go, flicking his hair out of his eyes and glancing at Patton’s office door before he went. The floors were swept one last time. Virgil turned off the lights of the stage, then the lounge lights… and he glanced back at Patton’s office. A small, faint lamplight glowed under the door. Surely, he was busy. He didn’t need to be bothered. And yet, Virgil took a bottle rum from the bar and went to that office door and knocked.
There was a pause, then a soft, frightened, “Yes?”
“It’s… just me. Virgil.”
Another pause. “Oh.” He sounded… relieved? “Come in.”
Virgil opened the door and stepped inside, seeing Patton sweeping an array of papers into a stack. There were a lot of “Due” on those… what was the red for? Virgil watched him shuffle the papers neatly… and deposit them into one of the large drawers of the desk. Then he folded his hands primly on the desktop. He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. It hardly ever did.
“What can I do for you?”
Virgil held up the bottle. “Up for a drink?”
Again, Patton seemed relieved when he reached into a different drawer and pulled out two tumblers. “Pull up a chair.”
They sat, Virgil poured, and Patton drank like he was going off to war. He couldn’t though. He was flat-footed. Still, he looked like he'd seen the trenches with those tired, blue eyes. And Virgil pitied him. They drank quietly for a while, stewing in their own thoughts, but when Patton looked up and smiled, he came alive.
He was off and telling stories of his gay days in school, all the good times and sorry troubles he endured. He spoke of his father (the skeeze of a man) and vowed that he would be a better man, just to make up for his father’s presence. He complimented Virgil’s height and his strength and wished he could have some of both. Virgil offered it.
“Bein’ this tall only gives you trouble,” Virgil sighed where he was half-laid over Patton’s desk. Patton giggled and poured another drink. He spilled a little, licking the excess from his fingers before he drank. Virgil watched with an endeared smile. “You’d jus’... jus’ whack your head.”
Patton looked at him. “I’d what?”
“Whack your head.”
Virgil sniffled and sat up, trying to focus his thoughts. “Door frame, prolly. Hit my head on those more than once…” he looked at Patton and smiled hopelessly. “Don’t hit your head on one a those. You’re good an’ small.”
Patton grimaced and refilled Virgil’s glass. “Nothing good about being small, Virgil.” He paused, hiccupped, and laughed at that sound before he sat back. Then he sighed. “If I were big and tall, I’d… I’d…”
“Whack your head!” Virgil finished as he spread his hands in a gesture of showing. “Tha’s my point! You need to stay small and dandy, all spiffy and nice.” He nodded authoritatively as he sipped at his drink. He puckered his lips at Patton’s smile. “Keeps you safe.”
Patton’s smile softened and it made the corners of his eyes crinkle. “You think I’m spiffy?”
Maybe it was the liquor, but Virgil felt bold. “I think you’re the sheikest damn manager I ever had.”
Patton laughed at that. “Never been called sheik! That’s the twin’s business. All that…” he waved his fingers. “Sex appeal.”
Virgil twitched; Patton was plenty tempting in his eyes. He had those blue eyes, a smile that looked a little crooked when he laughed, and when Patton reached out to touch him it was almost electric. He enjoyed Patton’s company, but he would even enjoy Patton’s company even more. Virgil swallowed thickly. “You’ve got sex appeal.”
Patton snorted into his cup. “You’re drunk.” They drank quietly for a little while. Then Patton lowered his cup and sighed. “Nights like these make me wonder… if this is as good as it gets.”
Virgil glanced at the rum. “It’s a little watery, I guess.”
“Not the drink, sugar.” Virgil loved it when Patton was a little drunk. Just drunk enough to call him ‘sugar.’ Just drunk enough to smile. But one sip too many, and Patton was almost always sad. Patton leaned his head back against his chair. “Life I suppose. Everything. All of it.”
“Maybe it is,” Virgil said, dark and tired. Patton looked at him, and Virgil shrugged. “Maybe we’re all just a lost cause. There isn’t a reason for any of it and we’re all here wasting time just to fill the spaces between the pain.” Virgil twisted his glass. “But the rum is a little watery.”
Patton glanced at the bottle and sighed. “It is, isn’t it? I think I’ve been chiseled.”
Virgil winced. “Bad supplier?”
“Bad supplier. Bad intel. Bad money. Bad news, bad deal…” Patton reached for the bottle. He missed a few times and Virgil had to guide him to the neck of the bottle. Together, they poured him a glass. He stared at the amber liquid. “I like this place, Virgil. I don’t want it to go under.”
Virgil made an uneasy face. “It… it won’t though. That’s why you’re calling that friend of yours.”
“What?” Patton asked, then blinked, and then he nodded belatedly. “Oh. Right. Right, Dee…”
“Mr. Dee,” Patton said as he sat back and nursed his drink. He smacked his lips and sighed. “Fulla hot air…”
Virgil twisted the bottle quietly. “So. Mr. Dee is that pal of yours?” Patton hummed into his cup while he drank. Virgil nodded thoughtfully. “You uh… you two… involved? The way that… you know. Roman and Logan are—”
Patton huffed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Oh. Okay, no dice, that’s fine—”
“Alright!” Patton sat forward and leaned his palms on the desk “I’ll tell you. But you have ta promise… you won’t tell Virgil.”
Virgil blinked. He would never tell Virgil. He would never betray Patton’s trust. Who was Virgil? Wait. His name was Virgil. A coincidence? Or was he just that drunk?
Virgil nodded eagerly. “It’s between us. No worries.”
Patton nodded, narrowing his eyes and looking around the office suspiciously before he whispered. “I let Dee bend me over a desk when we were in school.”
All the blood in Virgil’s brain immediately traveled south. Covertly, he crossed his legs and slouched where he sat. “So you twos… are involved.”
“Mmm… nah,” Patton sat back and waved a hand. “That was one time. Just to see what it was like. We’re just friends.”
Virgil felt hot under the collar. “Oh.”
Patton nodded and stared at the wall. “Be nicer if Virgil took me against the bar.” Virgil was very jealous of Virgil. “Bet he’d hold me good.” Virgil bet he would. “If I had my way…”
Virgil wanted Patton to have his way. He felt dizzy. Dizzy and tired and so damn aroused. He wanted Patton against the bar. Patton in one of the circular lounge booths. Patton on the lumpy sofa in his office. He wanted to make him really smile. He’d make all those worry lines on his face just disappear. He’d kiss every inch of skin he could find. He’d grab this, touch here, press that… Virgil blinked his eyes open.
When had he put his head down?
He lifted his head and the room spun a bit. The lamp was too bright. Patton was slumped in his chair, fast asleep. Virgil sighed; another night of drinking with Patton. Someday, it would get old. It hadn’t yet. It was still novel to Virgil.
Each time they drank together, Patton admitted he wanted Virgil. Every time they drank together, Virgil lost his nerve and forgot to confess. So there they were at eight in the morning, drunk and sleepy. Virgil sighed and dropped his head back onto the desk. The club wouldn’t open until much later. He had time. With a breathy sigh, Virgil went back to sleep.
Cracking his eyes open, Patton shifted in his chair and smiled at Virgil. Then the smile turned anxious; he didn’t have money to pay Virgil’s wages. He didn’t have the money to pay any of their wages. Of course, he’d do anything for Virgil. Whatever it took to keep him near… but sexual favors didn’t pay bills. And it wouldn’t be right to offer if Virgil didn’t feel the same. So he didn’t offer them, even if he wanted to. No, he had to find another way.
He poured himself another drink, smiled that tight smile, and knocked it back.
Roman licked his lips and buzzed the mouthpiece of his trumpet tiredly. Another slow night… Remus sang slow and smooth on the stage, that irritating kind of relaxation bleeding through him that only a good helping of liquor could achieve. Roman wanted to smoke… he really wanted a quick round with Logan backstage. But the show came first. If he was lucky, he’d remain upright for the entirety of the show. He heard the swell of the song and leaned back against the jut of the stage, blowing out long, lazy notes that matched Remus’s sleepy vocals. The patrons hardly paid attention to them.
Then the doors opened.
Roman glanced up under the brim of his hat that was slowly sliding down on his head. He saw Patton indicating to the interior of The Patron. A man in a crisp, black suit stood with him. His hat was tilted coyly. He had an air of a rich man in repose as he leaned back and gave the club a scrutinizing look. When he turned his head, Roman saw a scar, dark in the low light of the club, marring the left side of his face. Roman watched those dark eyes sweep over the half-dozen louts who were spread across the tables. Then his eyes hit the stage. And they locked on Remus.
Roman quirked an eyebrow and blew his trumpet. The man was frozen in place. He didn’t seem to notice that Patton was talking to him. Oh? Remus hit a high note, breathless and excited by his own song, and the man’s lips quirked with a smile. Roman smiled. Oh.
With a twist, he lounged back against the surface of the stage. Remus continued to sing, slow and happy and swinging as he rode the high of wine and cocaine. Patton sat his old friend down in a booth toward the back, a fond flutter of hands before he went to the bar. Virgil was waiting for him, ready to give him a drink for the ‘old friend.’
Once the song ended, Roman was able to take the mouthpiece from his lips, wiping a hand over his numb lips. He kept a careful eye on this guest, licking his lips slow and thoughtfully as he reached over and tugged on the end of Remus’s coat. Remus leaned close, turning into him a bit as he dipped into Roman’s pocket for a cigarette. Roman let him.
“Check out the highbinder in the back,” he murmured with a smile. Remus’s eyes locked on the man and his mustache curled around his smile. This was going to be a hot mess, and Roman already knew it. He watched Remus get a light, puffing a little and adding to the smoke that hung in the air above the tables. There was a pause, one where Remus ran the tip of his tongue over his top lip. Roman rolled his eyes. “Remus…”
“Fat pockets,” Remus muttered before he took a long drag from the cigarette and sighed through a mouthful of smoke. They sized up the man like they were sizing-up a Mark. Remus made an appreciative hum. “Deep pockets.”
Roman spotted Logan by the entrance looking delectable. With a smile, he fiddled with the valves on his trumpet and rocked on his heels. His eyes slid back over to the man. “Patton has good taste.”
Remus grinned and licked his lips again. “Damn good taste.”
With a chuckle, Roman kicked Remus’s leg. The resulting playful shoves gave Patton plenty of time to approach and tap his fingers against the wood floor of the stage. The twins shuffled close with two interested smiles.
“Alright Patton, give us the gossip…” Roman said, a titillated grin on his face. “How fast was he? Did he give you a good thrashing or was it a two-minute job?”
Patton had the decency to stand back and look a little affronted before he giggled nervously and said, “You— he— if you’re keen on stayin’ on this stage, you wouldn’t ask me things like that.”
Remus looked at Roman. “I’d say a good thrashing.”
Roman hummed interestedly. “I was going to say two-minute job. Patton looks disappointed.” With a big, smug smile, Roman waggled his eyebrows at Patton. “Were you?”
Patton blinked hard. “Was I what?”
“Disappointed,” Remus pressed as he looked over at the guest with hungry eyes. “I need details, darling. All the intimate, juicy details.”
“Enough,” Patton snapped as he spread his hands wide. “Listen. Listen… Dee was just a friend, and he’s always been just a friend. Now… he’s here to look at the club. To see if he wants to invest in The Patron.”
“Does he drink scotch?” Remus asked as he passed Patton his cig. Patton sipped at it, then crushed it at the foot of the stage. Remus rocked on his heels, his eyes stuck on the visitor. Dee, apparently. Remus smiled. “He looks like he drinks scotch.”
Patton bounced a little, clearly a little frazzled. “Boys? We need to put on a nice show. Something to show him what we have.”
“I want to show him what I have,” Remus said with a wry grin.
Patton let out a jittery sigh and tapped the stage with shaky hands, repeating, “Boys…”
“You say, ‘boys’ like both of us are an issue,” Roman said exasperatedly. Then, he gestured to the empty pit where the band used to sit. “Besides… how much of a show can we put on? The only band you have is me. Where did Luce go? And Charlie and Buck?”
Patton smiled his anxious, people-pleasing smile. “Tight budget.”
Roman went on, “And Frank, and Louie, and John…”
“Don’t forget the backup girls,” Remus chimed in unhelpfully.
“Oh, god, yeah… so that’s Vicky and Scarlet and Anna Marie—”
“Tight! Tight budget!” Patton said with that thin-lipped smile. He clapped his hands, and a drunk at a nearby table snorted himself awake. Patton ignored it. “Alright… give ‘em a good razzle dazzle, and… who knows? Maybe he’ll help us get the band back together.”
Roman grinned. That sounded like nice. Having a band again, maybe some nice new curtains, plenty of other people to play instruments so Roman could go do whatever he wanted backstage… Roman reached out and snagged Remus’s sleeve, pulling him close so he could whisper in his ear.
“You put on the best damn show…”
Remus snorted and curled the end of his mustache. “Blow that horn and we’ll see.”
“That’s the spirit sorta!” With a grin, Patton shuffled back to the bar. “Knock ‘em dead, boys!”
Roman fiddled with the valves of his trumpet, watching Dee from across the bar. They had an opportunity. A chance to bring the bar back into the forefront of the scene. Sure, Lollie’s place had stolen a lot of attention… but with a good enough show, Dee’s investment could bring some of their old clients back. Remus told him to play something low and slow and Roman would happily oblige… this man. This Mr. Dee. He was obviously watching Remus. He had eyes for no one but him. It would be interesting to see how this panned out.
He started to play, watching the way Remus swayed and smiled with that dramatic, saucy face of his. The notes were relaxed and easy, and he wasn’t strained where he leaned his shoulders against the side of the stage. From a distance, he could see the way Dee watched Remus. It was intriguing, seeing someone look at Remus like that. It wasn’t unusual for people to look at him or Remus like that, all fire and desire. They were beautiful, and they knew it, and in the dark light of a smoky speakeasy, no one minded who looked at who.
At Dee’s table, Patton slid into the seat next to him and smiled. He put a glass on the table, sliding it close so Dee could snake out a hand to take the cup. His eyes were locked on the stage, and when Remus swayed and snapped with the melody from the trumpet, Dee felt a smile bloom on his face. Patton had called him for a favor. It was almost laughable; a favor… between friends, it was just a visit to his floundering bar. Now… now… with this singer? Up on that stage looking like a piece of art? Maybe this ‘favor’ wasn’t going to be so bad. This was going to be interesting.
Patton watched him watch the stage; it was a domino effect of observation as the singer on the stage brandished the standing mic with a flourish. Dee curled his fingers around his class of scotch, watching the way the singer nodded to his accompanist; just one trumpet player. Dee quirked an eyebrow. The man started to sing, and Dee felt his smile widen. The man was beautiful… he had a face like a work of art and the voice of an angel that hadn’t worn a halo a day in its life. Dee’s fingers tapped the table as he listened.
“Don’t need a drink! No drink,” The singer crooned sadly, “As long as you’re on my glass, darlin’. Long as you’re on my glass...”
Dee took a drink and licked his lips. The singer watched him. He tipped his head, a coy nod that encouraged the crooner. Next to him, Patton shifted and fidgeted with his hands. There was no use in ignoring him; Patton had always been one of the fidgety ones. Once upon a time, it had been endearing. Now, Dee had to wonder if he was sick. He was too old to be hemming and hawing. Dee drank, and Patton continued to fidget. The trumpet whined, and the singer went on.
“Pour champagne with the ‘cantor! We’ll glide on the glitz and glamor...”
The sultry looks of the singer were very much appreciated. He could feet them working down his body, getting to the table, and working back up just to get another look with a hungry, hungry shine. Dee set his glass down and sighed.
“Spill it, Patton.” Patton jumped in his seat and looked at him helplessly, and Dee spun his glass tirelessly. “You didn’t invite me here for a drink and a show.”
“Nothin’ wrong with a good drink and a good show,” Patton said eagerly. Eager-to-please, that was Patton Moore. It was something that Dee loved about him. It was also something Dee hated about him. So he looked at Patton, his lips pursed and disapproving. Patton shrank a little, his thin shoulders pulling in as he looked at the tabletop and fidgeted. “It’s been so long, Dee. you can’t just… look at me like that.”
Dee rolled his eyes and shook his head. “You’re not hard-up for me, Patton. Don’t go ‘round makin’ it out like I’m here on personal business.”
Patton glanced at him. “Aren’t we friends?” Dee looked at him. He didn’t answer. He looked back to the singer, meeting those piercing eyes with an approving smile.
“Tilt me back! Let’s let the rain fall. Come ‘ere and we’ll make it good agains’ the wall...”
“Nice singer you have there.”
Patton blinked; his fake fawning paused for a moment as he glanced at the stage. He broke into an easy smile. “Quiet the talent, ain’t he? He was the talk of the town before we had to go underground.”
Dee hummed and took a drink. The place was definitely rundown. From what his sources said, The Patron had been gutted by fire less than a year ago. It was impressive that Patton had managed to get things back up and running. But… how well was ‘up and running’ working for him? The place still looked depressingly empty. The pit for the band was empty. That trumpet player was working for it, though; he supported the singer with everything he had. Dee pursed his lips. He watched the singer and the singer watched right back. They met eyes and held on, riding those lyrics like they would keep them alive.
“Set me back, I’ll set you up. Don’t need a drink! No drink… not if you’re on my glass.”
Dee smirked. “What’s his name?”
Patton followed his gaze and fidgeted with that anxious smile he liked to wear. “Which one?”
Which one? Which one? There was only one singer. Was he drunk? Dee thumbed the cool glass of his tumbler. “The singer. Bronze skin. Curly hair. Looks like a damn god.”
He could feel Patton’s eyes on his face. “They’re… both bronze, Dee. They’re twins. Their parents were from… Persia? I think?”
Dee frowned, glanced at the trumpeter, and his eyebrows made a run for his hairline. “Well, I’ll be damned. There’s two of him.”
“Two of them,” Patton agreed, sounding very, very tired. “Very similar. But different.”
“Like you and your sister.” At that, Patton twitched and fidgeted again. “Does he have a name?”
Patton snapped back to attention. “Remus. The one singing is… Remus. Roman is his brother.” There was a beat of quiet, one that was filled solely my Remus’s singing.
“Oh! Doesn’t matter what the brass say, we’re gonna get our way. Fill up my glass, let the rain pass…”
Remus was looking at him. Singing to him. Dee liked it. He also felt Patton glancing at him, nervous and anticipating something. Dee sighed and looked around. “What do you want, Patton? Money?”
“No!” Patton was quick to say. Too quick. So it was money. Dee glanced at him, and Patton’s face burned in the low light of the bar. “No, I just… see, we’ve run into a little… trouble.”
“So you need money.”
Patton shifted in his seat. “Not quite.”
“Then what do you want?”
More fidgeting. Marvelous. If this was anyone else, Dee would’ve had a gun to their head in two minutes, ready and willing to itch that trigger-finger if they didn’t answer him. But this was Patton. He knew Patton. And Patton wouldn’t call him here for nothing. So he was wary, sipping quietly at his scotch as Patton worked up the courage to ask for money.
“After the fire, things have been a bit rocky. And I’m not talkin’ about the drinks.”
Dee gave him an unimpressed look. “Hilarious.”
Patton smiled, and it looked more amused than uneasy. “See, I… I’m havin’ trouble getting people through the doors.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“You said you can’t get people into the bar.” He gestured to the room. “It’s big. It’s spacious. It also looks drab. You couldn’t get a good fat-cat in here if you had a half-naked chippy outside the door.”
Patton winced and looked around at the brick walls and thin curtains. “You think it’s that bad?”
Dee shrugged. “I think your last bar looked better, Dollface. Before the prohibition. Before you went underground. Only went once, but the liquor hit harder.” He sipped his scotch and set it down. “Down here, your drinks aren’t even as stiff as the Hudson.”
Patton fidgeted and reached out a single hand, gripping Dee’s wrist. Their eyes met, and Patton looked at him with that sad, tight smile. “Dee… I need help.”
“You need money.”
“Don’t deny it. I hate it when men flap their gums and it’s all just hot air.” He took his arm away, and Patton withdrew his hands almost shamefully. Dee leaned forward and growled, “Don’t you dare clam up on me now. I’m not into playing private Dick while you chew your words; so spill it, Patty. What am I doing here?”
“Don’t get so sore, Dee.”
“I ain’t sore.” Patton stared at him, clearly unconvinced, and Dee blinked slowly, calm and distant as he said, “C’mon, Patty. I said I’d stay for a show. Your singer’s almost done.”
“I need help,” Patton said again. Dee opened his mouth and Patton cut him off with, “It wouldn’t be money… it would be an investment.”
Dee raised an eyebrow. An investment? That was intriguing. He sat back in his chair and made bedroom eyes at Remus. He was met with a pivot of his hips and a desperate grasp at the microphone stand. Dee smiled a bit before he glanced at Patton. “How much?”
“Couple hundred?” Patton said with a shaky smile. “A grand, tops. Just to get the place back on its feet.”
Dee hummed and turned back to Remus. “And what am I getting out of this?”
“I could offer…” Patton took a moment to parse out the math. “Ten percent?”
“Of earnings?” Dee asked, his fingers drumming on the tired tablecloth. His drink was long past empty. Patton only had one bartender. No busboys or waitresses. He was in bad shape. Dee pursed his lips and tapped the table some more. “I think this place will need more than a grand, Patton.”
Patton swallowed thickly, his eyes darting around the room before he adjusted his round glasses. “You think so?”
“I know so,” Dee lifted his empty glass, displaying it for the bartender, and then set it down again. He watched the man dig around behind the bar for a while… then he turned his attention to Remus.
“With you!” He belted with abandon, “In my glass!”
The trumpet wailed, Remus’s vibrato outshone it, and the whole thing seemed startlingly out of place in the rundown bar. Too big and important for such a small stage. But it was loud and proud… and only four other people were awake to witness it. Dee clapped anyway, watching with interest as Remus tilted forward… kicked out a leg… and stepped onto the nearest table. Then the next. And then the next.
He was walking across the empty tables toward Dee. Patton stood, told him to get down, that he’d hurt himself… but Remus grinned madly and walked until he made it to Dee. Dee took his glass out of the way, and Remus stood over him, all bronze-skin and shining, green eyes. He looked mad. He looked wild. Dee had always liked the wild ones.
When Remus went to climb down, he stumbled. Maybe he was drunk. Maybe he’d been hitting the powder. Dee wasn’t rude enough to ask. Instead, he offered a hand for support… and Remus fell into his lap. He seemed comfortable there, draping himself over Dee’s thighs and throwing an arm around his shoulders.
“Evening, handsome,” he smelled like cigarettes and cheap bourbon. Dee had never liked bourbon. Now, it was his favorite drink.
“Evening, songbird.” He rested his glass on Remus’s leg, holding him in place. “You put on quite the show.”
“Just for you,” Remus grinned hazily. He glanced at Patton over his shoulder and winked. “He’s a looker. I can see why you two have a history.”
Patton flushed and waved his hands with a nervous laugh. “Re— ha. Remus. That’s—”
“Tell me you’ll stick around, stud.” Remus cooed as he tilted Dee’s hat to expose the mark on his face. Dee braced himself for the staring. For the sad ‘oh, that looks painful!’ comments. But Remus only smiled and kissed his cheek, whispering against the skin, “I got other shows I can put on, just for you…”
Dee fought a smile. “Tempting.” He lifted his empty glass. The bartender had been interrupted by another guest. So he held out the glass to Remus. “Get me another?”
Remus took the glass and stood up on wobbly legs. Then he took Dee’s hat and put it on his head. Dee didn’t stop him. He sniffed the tumbler and grinned. “Scotch. I knew you’d drink scotch. Big Daddy’s with the big wallets always like their scotch.”
When Remus turned, Dee said, “Walk away real slow. I like the cut of that suit.” Remus only laughed. Patton took his seat once more, and his eyes lingered on Dee’s profile. Dee sighed. “Out with it.”
“If you’re doing this just for Remus, then—”
“For Remus.” Dee repeated. He looked at Patton. “For Remus? Like he’s some bargaining chip? Patton. I’m a holder of one of the most dangerous mobs in Chicago I am nefarious. I am rich. But I’m not about to buy my way into a man’s pants.”
With a quirk of an eyebrow, Patton twiddled his thumbs. “None of that is news to me. You just chinning to make me nervous?”
Dee smiled. “Am I?”
“Dee, this is serious.”
“Oh, yeah. Deadly serious, I’m sure.”
Patton fidgeted a bit more. “I can’t afford to keep the doors open. I’m in debt with so many banks, I’m surprised a button man hasn’t come to put me out.” Dee watched him struggle with himself, a quiver working through delicate fingers as he thought for a moment. “I’m strugglin’ to pay for things the way they are… I’m having to go to cheaper runners for the liquor and I haven’t been able to pay full wages since—” Patton clammed up, and Dee made a face. What was wrong with him?
“Here ya go, handsome.” Remus appeared through the smoke in the air and presented Dee with his refreshed glass of scotch. Patton stared at the table. Dee narrowed his eyes. So that was it. When Dee sat back, Remus replaced Dee’s hat on his head and draped himself across Dee’s thighs again, like he was meant to sit down right there. It was nice. He was heavy on Dee’s lap but not in an unpleasant way. Dee took his scotch and placed it on Remus’s knee as he spoke.
“So,” he said. Patton stared at the table, his hands fluttering a bit. He glanced at Dee intermittently, like he was scared to look at him. Dee thumbed his glass in his right hand and the crease of Remus’s suitcoat with his left. “So.”
Patton wetted his lips. “Don’t make me say it, Dee.”
“Say what, Patton?”
There was a long moment when Patton narrowed his eyes and smiled that worried smile. “I don’t want to discuss this in front of my boys.”
Remus suddenly looked discomforted, his eyes flickering from Dee to Patton and back. “What… did I step into?”
“Nothin’,” Dee said before Patton could get a breath. He rocked Remus in his lap just a bit, shifting his legs until he could cross his ankles comfortably. “Patton and I were just discussing business.”
Remus pursed his lips and curled the end of his mustache. “Business-schmisness.” He looked at Dee. “Tell me that’s a gun in your pocket.”
Oh, a funny one. Dee also liked the funny ones. He patted Remus’s back indulgently. “You only wish it was.”
For a long moment, the only sound in the bar was Roman’s half-hearted trumpet playing from the stage. He sat on the lip of the stage, tilting from side to side as another man approached the stage. He was the man at the door. Dark, dark skin and sharp-angled glasses. He stood as the edge of the stage, a hand braced next to Roman as he listened to him play. Dee saw the coy tilt of the doorman’s head. He saw the way Roman swayed near him. Dee raised an eyebrow. Interesting.
“You have quite the ragtag group here, Patton,” Dee said softly. Patton went a little rigid where he sat, and Remus gave Dee a hard look. Dee was careful as he continued, “Two Persians… a black doorman… a Chinese behind the bar…”
Patton fidgeted with his hands. “Something wrong with that?”
“Not at all. Just thinkin’ that I remember a few faces from the first time I came to your bar.” Dee felt Remus relax against him and he squeezed Remus’s waist. “All ‘cept you, Dollface. I’d remember a face like yours.” Remus giggled and fiddled with the buttons on Dee’s shirt. Dee returned his eyes to Patton. “So. You keep the good ones close and let go of the unimportant ones.”
Patton flinched. “Dee—”
“The unimportant ones,” Remus echoed incredulously, a comically offended look on his face. “You think my girls… are unimportant?”
Dee raised an eyebrow; his girls? Ah. The backup singers on the stage. Remus certainly seemed attached to them. And Patton seemed eager to soothe him… ever the constant people-pleaser. The last remaining workers in his bar were important to him… like family. Of course they were. Patton was always a soft heart. Now, with the way he squirmed and made a face, it was like Dee put a burr on his seat. He blinked slowly, watching Patton flutter his hands.
“The girls are not unimportant, Remus. You know I wouldn’t think that. If I could’ve afforded to keep them, I would have.” He looked at Dee with sharp eyes that Dee remembered too well. “Dee.”
Dee raised his eyebrows and pulled a twitchy smile. “What?”
Patton smiled and his eyes crinkled for good measure. “Can we take this to my office?”
Ah, so playtime was over. Patton’s desperation was rearing its head. It was clear what he needed… the only other reason Dee would have to play dumb would be for Remus’s benefit. Either the lounge singer didn’t know about Patton’s issue… or he was a splendid actor. Dee bet on the former. He gave Remus’s back a sorry pat.
“Sorry, toots. It’s just business.”
Remus grimaced and slid out of Dee’s lap with a grumbling, “Gonna get somethin’ to smoke,” on his way. With that, Patton stood up and indicated for Dee to go first. He was led to an office past the bar — the bartender gave him quite a sharp look as he passed — and Patton let him into the small office. It was cozy. Small by Dee’s standards… but warm. It was very Patton. Now, Dee wasn’t sure if he loved or hated it. That was a difficult question. Because he loved and hated Patton. Patton shut the door and snapped him out of his thoughts.
He didn’t turn to look at Patton. No, not yet. He had to build up a little pressure. He had to make Patton nervous. That didn’t take much. Patton wore his heart on his sleeve, and it was easy to squeeze a heart when it was so readily available for abuse. Dee admired the dark, brick walls and red undertones of the room. The desk was tired. Rings of watermarks from long-gone glasses of liquor were on the wood. Dee pursed his lips.
It was too clean. Patton was a packrat. Even in school, he couldn’t keep his things straight. There were normally papers everywhere. He was hiding them. Ah. Dee clicked his tongue and shook his head as he leaned a hand on the desk. Patton was hiding it… but he couldn’t hide it from Dee.
“They don’t know you’re destitute.”
Patton didn’t even try to deny it. “I just… I just need help. Gettin’ back on my feet.”
“So you came to me,” Dee said with a slow turn on his heel. He saw Patton by the door, worrying his hands together. Dee indicated to himself. “You came to me.” He held out his hands, palms open and confused. “Why not go to your sister?”
Patton twitched. “We… we aren’t talking.”
Dee rolled his eyes. That wasn’t the right button to push. Patton’s eyes were shut to that. The scar was a little too deep… he needed something a little fresher if he wanted to keep up pressure. “You know what I think?”
Patton hesitated. “No. What?”
“I think you’re not cut out for this.”
A slow, slow blink. Then Patton smiled that tired, tired smile and let out a breathless, passive-aggressive, “What?”
Dee gestured to the desk, then the office itself, and the bar beyond the closed door. “This? The speakeasy? Patton. You’re good with people… but you’re not fit to run a drum.”
“I had a legitimate business before the prohibition swung around—”
“And you had a good time of it,” Dee said with a tender smile. He stepped forward, put his hands on Patton’s shoulders, and slid his hands down his arms until he could give Patton’s biceps a painful squeeze. Patton flinched. Of course he flinched. He had no poker-face. He smiled, and Patton couldn’t look him in the eye. “But maybe it’s time you gave up this whole… speakeasy business. You ain’t a lawbreaker, Patty-cake. And you ain’t a liar. That’s my job.”
Patton grabbed at him, gripping his waist and pulling them together. “Dee. Dee, I need…” His eyes looked desperate. He looked scared. “I just need help. Whatever it takes. Whatever you want. I… I’d—” Dee stepped back and Patton swallowed the rest of his words.
This was interesting. Not a good kind of interesting… but interesting. Dee smoothed a hand over his face, looking at the walls as he thought. Patton stared. He still wanted this. Which made no sense… he was dead in the water. An “investment” would be prolonging the inevitable at this point.
“Why’d you do this, huh?” Dee waved to the door. To the bar. Patton chewed his lower lip and didn’t look at him. Dee circled him like a vulture circling prey. “Why open a drum? You that hungry for a profit? You get in over your head?” He stepped close behind Patton and spoke in his ear. “You think I would come and bail you out if you’d get down on your knees for it? You think that appeals to me?”
“Stop it.” Patton shrugged him off. Good. He still had those pure-hearted intentions of his. Morals or some such nonsense. When he spoke, it was low and even. “This isn’t about me. They wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“The boys!” Patton said harshly. He turned to look at Dee with those emotional eyes. Dee gave him an unimpressed look, and Patton waved his hands as he said, “They were shutting down my bar! Do you think I was going to just… let them all go?”
“You let the others go,” Dee said with a shrug. “What makes these ones special?”
“Because… because…” Patton stopped, collected himself, and tried again. He went to the door and pulled at the aluminum blinds that covered window in the door. “Look at them,” he said. When Dee didn’t move, Patton gestured to the window and said, “Look at them!”
After rolling his eyes, Dee stepped forward and peered out the window. He saw the twins with their bronze skin and cocky smiles. He saw the black complexion of the doorman, a vision of cool detachment. He saw the barkeeper, olive-skinned and sharp-angled. His jaw worked a bit, and Patton gave him a long moment to think.
“Look at them and tell me they’d last ten minutes in Chicago.”
Dee looked. Then he turned to Patton. “They’d last. They wouldn’t get good work… but they’d last.”
Patton shook his head and sighed. “That… that’s the difference between you an’ me, Dee.”
Dee laughed and put his hands in his pockets. “How's that?”
“I want to help,” Patton said with that sickly-sweet genuine voice. “I want to offer them a chance at somethin’ better than… than performing on the corners for tips or shining shoes for fat cats uptown.”
“Yeah. That’s the difference between you an’ me.” Dee went to the small sofa at the side of the room and sat down. “You’re too soft. Always thinkin’ you can help when most of the time, you’re givin’ them false hope.”
“I can help!” Patton said, “Anybody should be able to live a good life! No matter what color they are!”
Dee stared at him. “Yeah?”
“And you’re gonna offer them somethin’ better?”
Patton looked so sure of himself. “Yeah.”
“I’m not sayin’ you’re wrong.” Dee sat forward and leaned his elbows on his knees. “But I am saying that you’re just draggin’ them down with you.” Patton opened his mouth to disagree and Dee cut him off. “You haven’t been able to pay them their full wages since… when, Patton?” Patton didn’t answer. He’d gone very, very quiet and very, very pale. He swallowed thickly and Dee saw the bob of his Adam’s apple. Dee pressed the issue. “Since when Patton?”
“I…” he was floundering. He wasn’t cut out for this. The pressure of underground business, the dangers of going under while in this line of work. Patton looked a little sick. “I… I just want…” Dee’s ears perked up at that. He knew that break in Patton’s voice. He was being honest. It hurt a little to hear the pain in it… but it was honest. Patton looked at him with sad, blue eyes. “I just wish things were easy again.”
“We all want that.”
“I wish… I wish I wasn’t losing the bar. I wish it was legal. I wish…”
“If wishes were horses, babycakes.”
Patton looked down at his hands… then back up. “I don’t have anything left.”
Dee cocked his head to the side. “You’re in the hole. And you want me to help you out of it.” Patton chewed his lip and nodded. Dee knew it wasn’t over there. “You want me to help the bar… so you can pay your people.”
“I want it to go back.”
Dee shook his head. “Doesn’t work like that, sweetheart. You know it don’t. The Patron is marked as a ‘bad stop’ for anyone lookin’ for a drink. Gonna take a lot more than a grand to fix that.”
After a deep, shaking breath, Patton went to his desk and opened the bottom right-hand drawer. He pulled out a crystal decanter and two classes. He poured himself a class and sat down with tired eyes. He raised the cup to his lips, paused, and lowered it. More fidgeting. He took off his glasses… set those aside… and closed his eyes.
“So you’re saying it can’t be done,” Patton said after a minute. Dee raised his eyebrows and Patton knocked back his drink. He poured another. “I’m…” he laughed a little. “I’m chasin’ my tail, aren’t I?”
Dee smiled. “You’ve got a nice tail, Patton. Can’t be that bad of a view.”
Patton giggled, but it quickly melted into something more hysterical and breathless as he started to cry. “I can’t… I can’t even pay my debts, Dee… how can I—how can I pay them when I....?”
Dee let his brain go through the pros and cons. At best, Dee could use his connections to snuff out weak competition in the area and give The Patron a makeover. But that meant a lot of sunk-costs and money… and if a bigger player stepped into the ring, he wasn’t about to show his hand to a competitor. He was a mob-boss, not a bar-owner. He would put a little money in and see what happened… but that wasn’t a guarantee that it would work. Sure, there was more he could do… but what if he didn’t want to? This was not his problem. Patton got himself into his mess. He made his bed… it was time to lie in it. He looked at Patton and saw his blubbery face and red eyes. He took another drink, and Dee sighed.
Without help, Patton would lose The Patron, his workers would be out of a job, and everyone would part ways looking for anything else to do for work. Patton would be fine. He could crawl back to his sister for help. The bartender and doorman, though… they were a different story. They could get labor jobs. But they were clearly more skilled than that. The twins… both were talented, that was for damn sure. But what crowd of whites was going to look at these beautiful bronze boys and see artists? Only the good ones. And Chicago wasn’t exactly filled with “good people.”
“I want twenty percent,” Dee said firmly. Patton lifted his head and gave a feeble sniff.
“Of profits,” Dee reiterated. He waved at the desk vaguely. “We’ll have to have it written up and all that… but twenty percent. I have some conditions.”
“I want all your current personnel to remain employed here. No one is getting canned.”
Patton blinked and put his glasses back on with a confused flutter of his eyelashes. “Dee… Dee, if you’re just doing this for Remus—”
“Who said I was?”
Patton went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “If you’re just doing this for Remus… it doesn’t feel right. If you can find him a better place to sing? If you could… could find him another place to perform? Then show him. Doing this, bailing out the bar just to get close to him isn’t—”
“Shut up, Patton. That’s not what I’m doing.” Patton closed his mouth and the train of thought was abandoned. Dee dug in his pockets for his lighter and cigarettes for a moment. “You know what? City’s gone to shit. Prohibition is messing with my side of things. Everyone’s actin’ shifty like there’s a bull or a copper behind every corner.”
Patton sniffled and nodded slowly. He flicked open his lighter and held it out for Dee. When Dee leaned in to catch the flame and breathe deep, Patton muttered, “I’m not sure what that has to do with Remus or The Patron.”
Dee puffed out some smoke and sat back a bit. After a few deep breaths of smoke, he blew it out and clouded the office a bit before he said, “World needs a good speakeasy. One where you can drink and forget the multi-tiered mess the fuzz don’t know jack-shit about.”
Patton fiddled with his decanter for a moment… and then poured himself another drink. “So you want twenty percent… next you’ll be asking for pennies on the dollar.”
“To get rid of your debt? That may be it, Patton.” Dee sipped at his cigarette, blew smoke in Patton’s direction, and was rewarded with a disbelieving eyebrow raise. Dee smiled darkly. “You want to keep your place?”
“It’s a good place,” Patton said softly. “I don’t want to lose it.”
“You don’t want to lose your people.”
Patton smiled his soft little smile. “I don’t. The twins are practically family… Logan the most trustworthy doorman I’ve ever had, and Virgil—”
Patton flushed a little and sunk in his seat a bit. “Yeah. Virgil.”
That was all he said. With a thoughtful hum, Dee got up from the sofa and took Patton’s half-empty glass from his hands. He drained the last of the sweet rum and handed it back. It was watery. Patton really was in a bad way. He couldn’t afford the good stuff. A bar with flat drinks was a no-go. Dee sighed.
Patton puckered his lips and poured himself a fresh glass. “Twenty percent when you said I wasn’t good in this business—”
“You’re not,” Dee said firmly. “You’re too good to be a small-time hood, Patton. You’re not built for deception.”
“How is someone built for deception?”
Dee looked at Patton. “Less like you… more like me.”
Patton nodded sagely. “Makes sense. You and your… your… I’m not sure what to call what it is you run.”
“A family business.”
“That’s a funny name for an organized mob.”
“Patton,” Dee said again. “Twenty. Percent.”
Patton made a face. “Twenty— Dee, even if you want the profits back, you know you’d be putting the money in. I have nothing left.”
“And your workers stay. No one is getting canned.”
“Why don’t you just ask for the business, Dee? You could sweep the place out from under my feet in a heartbeat. You could talk a snake out of its skin.” Patton sat back and held his cup to his chest like it would protect him. He looked a little tipsy with the way his eyes slid around the room slowly. “You know how to talk and muscle your way through this mess. I can’t. I’m too soft.”
“You’re not wrong about you being soft. But I’m not a bar owner, Patton. I’m not the go-between for workers.” He adjusted his coat and gave the door a hard look. “I give orders, not a helping hand.”
“Are you paying attention to my conditions?”
Patton blinked. “Twenty percent. Workers stay. But Dee, what does this give you?”
Patton’s expression turned surprisingly sober and serious. “For Remus?”
“For payback on investments.”
Now Patton looked confused with that little wrinkle between his brows. He adjusted his glasses, wiped a hand over his face, and sighed, “I thought you said this wasn’t going to work.”
“I said you weren’t cut out to be a law-breaker,” Dee corrected sharply. “And yeah, this is a fine fuckin’ mess you’ve gotten yourself into. But that don’t mean it can’t be fixed.”
Patton gave him a hazy smile. “Sure is a lotta trouble to be puttin’ yourself through.”
Dee gave him an indulgent smile… and blew smoke into his face. Patton didn’t even flinch. “For you, Patton? I’d set the city on fire.”
Patton smiled and took a slow, slow drink. When he set down his glass, it was empty, and he never lost that shiny, thin-lipped smile. “Liar.”
Dee shrugged and stepped away calmly. “I want twenty percent—”
“So you keep saying—”
“And I’ll get people in the doors. Simple.”
After he nursed his glass for a moment, Patton leaned forward and made a pinched face. “So… I’m not fit to run this business—”
“—but you want to bring it back from the brink.”
Dee gave him an odd look. “You wanted this, Patton. You asked me here in hopes that I would see how pitiful your situation is and offer assistance.”
Patton had the decency to look a little startled. “I… I never said—”
“Yeah, yeah… you asked me to come see the bar for some free drinks. You asked me to come ‘see a show.’ You asked me here and you thought that I wouldn’t figure you out.” He shrugged with a casual smile, tapping ash into the tray on Patton’s desk. “But, like I said, you aren’t built for deception.”
With a sorry expression, Patton turned his glass around and around. “I’m not, huh? Yeah…” he sighed and put his chin in his palms. “I’m not. No one’s a liar like you, Dee. You should give me pointers.”
“Tshuh…” Dee rolled his eyes and took off his hat to smooth back his hair. The panama hat was put back on his head just a touch to the side. “Teachin’ you to lie would be like teachin’ the Pope to sin.”
Patton wrinkled his nose. “Don’t make me out to be a Saint, Dee. You remember our time in school.”
Dee shrugged and waved Patton forward a bit. Patton said forward a bit and Dee cupped his face, kissing both cheeks before he said, “I’ll be in touch. I’ve got business to get to.”
Patton stood up eagerly, chasing Dee around the desk and opening the office door for him. “So… so you’ll—”
“I’ll be in touch,” Dee said again as he walked into the open (empty) bar once more. He wasn’t able to get far before Remus pounced from the shadows, swinging around Dee and grabbing the lapels of his jacket. He hung there for a while, like Dee was the only thing keeping him upright. In the right light, his skin glowed like stolen gold bars. Dee smiled. He liked gold.
Especially the stolen kind.
“Hey, stud.” Remus flicked the end of Dee’s hat up and away from his eyes. His mustache twitched when he smiled. Dee wanted to know what it felt like when he kissed. He refrained, but Remus didn’t make it easy with the way he pressed their bodies together from hip to chest. Remus grinned like he’d accomplished something. “You done with your…” his eyes flickered to Patton, “Business talk?”
Dee pursed his lips and glanced at the stage. Roman had slid down from the stage, taken the tie of the doorman, and was dragging him back behind worn, velvet curtains. He looked back to Remus with a calm, calculated smile. “I’m done with your manager for the night, Dollface. Why? You wanna cause trouble?”
“I’m already trouble,” Remus promised with glittering green eyes. He tugged on Dee’s lapels like he could pull him closer, but they were already pressed together. “Come have a drink with me.”
“I’m tempted, sweet thing. Very tempted. But I’ve got some business…”
“Blow it off,” Remus snapped. He threw an arm around Dee’s shoulders, took off his hat, and smiled. “Buy me a drink and we can see how far you can get me.”
“I think you’re far enough,” Patton said from the office door. Dee glanced back at him, seeing a protective, anxious glint in his eye. His fingers drummed against the frame, but it wasn’t clear which man was the receiver of that frown. Dee wetted his lips and sighed.
“Business, baby. I got business.”
Remus frowned and leaned back a little. His weight was immediately missed, but Remus didn’t really seem to notice. He just twitched his mustache and sighed. “All you fat cats and your business…”
Dee chuckled and took Remus’s chin between his thumb and forefinger. “Easy, songbird. My business is a, ah… family arrangement.” He kissed the tip of Remus’s nose and was rewarded with a surprised, fluttery laugh. He winked. “I’ll be back.” He turned to Patton and said, “I’m gonna have a lawyer write up some papers.”
Patton flinched. “Wha— lawyer? Is that necessary?”
“You have a lawyer?” Remus asked, all jittery hands and wicked eyes. “Damn. I knew you had money…”
Dee watched the way Patton fluttered his hands, and he sighed. The poor man was going to fidget himself to death. With a roll of his eyes, he said, “If I’m going in on this business, I want it on paper.”
Behind the bar, the barback (Virgil, wasn’t it?) seemed alarmed by the prospect. “You—you’re in on the bar? Like a co-owner?”
Patton looked stricken. “No! No, he’s… he’s a… uh—”
Dee smiled and let his eyes shine with it, just for good measure. “Co-owner. I like the sound of that. Might be just what you need, Patton. Someone firm.”
“Oh my god, I bet you’re firm,” Remus growled as he snuck his hands under Dee’s trench coat and grasped at his sides.
Patton still looked anxious. “I… I… when I started my bar, I opened it on my own. So I could be independent.”
“And how’s that workin’ out for you?” Asked Dee, a painfully neutral expression on his face. Patton fidgeted, and suddenly, Remus stepped back. Dee glanced at him, seeing a wary shine in those eyes. There was a smudge of powder on his jacket he hadn’t seen before. Powder? He didn’t know Remus was into that sort of thing. He arched an eyebrow at Remus’s expression. “What?”
Remus’s jaw worked a little. “I like a feisty man just as much as the next fella… but I ain’t too jived about…” he paused and gestured to the odd gap between them and Patton. “Whatever the hell this is.”
Dee raised an eyebrow and glanced at Patton. “Like family, huh?”
Patton didn’t jump to answer. Instead, Remus said, “Patty got me and Roman off the streets.” Dee looked at him and saw a dark glint in his gaze. “And I don’t care how deep your pockets are or how deep you let me in ‘em… you gotta take him serious.”
Oh, so that was it. Patton took in strays. That was par for the course… he was such a bleeding heart. And now certain things clicked into place. The protectiveness, the keen desire for money, and the powder… Dee smiled and nodded. This was a nice development. He’d had plenty of people begging for his attention in the past… but Remus? Remus had something to respect. He had a limit. Dee narrowed his eyes with that smile; self-respect. He never knew that could be so attractive.
“Sure,” Dee said as he glanced back at Patton. “Let me have a lawyer write up some papers… partners, right? Fifty-fifty?”
Patton blinked hard. “That’s not— you said. You said twenty percent.”
Virgil glared at Dee and angrily wiped down the spotless bar top. “Doin’ business with a fuckin’ liar…”
“Not a liar,” Dee said, “I said lawyer. Totally different.” He looked at Patton and smiled. “Twenty percent. We’ll talk.” Then it was Remus’s turn. He gave him an appreciative onceover and a smile. “As for you… you just stand there and look amazing.”
Remus grinned and adjusted Dee’s hat to his preference. No one ever touched his hat. But Remus? Remus was startlingly different. When he spoke, he was cocky and surefire. Dee wouldn’t want it any other way. “I’m always amazing.”
Dee hummed and stepped away from him. “Next time sing something low and slow, songbird. You haven’t seen the last of me.” He pivoted to give Patton a final smile. A bit of the tension in his shoulders was gone, but he was still clearly uneasy. That was fine. The stage was set. The players were in place. This was going to be a fascinating project. Resurrecting a dead bar and pulling Patton from the depths of debt? It was certainly one way to pass the time. Dee turned away and went for the door, waving over his shoulder as he said, “G’night, boys.”
Remus squirmed his way over to Patton and leaned on his shoulder for a moment. Then his grin melted down into something a little unsure as he looked at Patton. “You alright?”
Patton worried his hands together. “I need a drink.”
“But are you okay?”
Virgil was already pouring Patton a drink, and Patton slid into a high seat at the bar. Remus stood next to him, his arms crossed and leaning on the bar top. Patton knocked back a shot and slid his glass toward Virgil. Another was poured. Patton sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face. “He said he’ll bring people to the bar.”
Remus perked up. “That’s good, right? I can’t charm the pants off rich old men if they don’t come through the door.” Patton hummed in agreement, but he still looked anxious. Remus frowned. “What’s wrong, Patty? You still hot and heavy for Dee?”
“No!” Patton blushed prettily and slammed his shot glass on the counter. “No, I am not.”
“So…” Remus drummed his fingers on the bar top coyly. “You wouldn’t mind if I took a bite?”
“I… wouldn’t.” Patton thought for a moment, then slid his cup toward Virgil. Virgil went to refill it, and Patton shook his head before he looked at Remus with eyes that were stern but kind. “I just want you to be careful, Remus. You’ve been hurt before.”
Remus snorted and rolled his eyes to avoid looking at Patton’s worried expression. “I’m not like Roman. He used to think any jackass that looked at him was the love of his goddamn life.”
Patton cocked his head to the side. “But not you?”
Remus’s eyes snapped back to him. “I’m not fifteen anymore, Patton. I don’t believe in all that mushy garbage. If you want to do the horizontal mambo, you do it.” He shrugged at the way Patton made a face. “It’s not complicated. It’s sex. No need to get all attached.”
Patton sighed and leaned his chin into his palm. He gestured for another shot. Virgil gave him one. “I worry about you boys.”
Remus snatched Patton’s shot and knocked it back. He liked the way his head spun on the way down. He smacked his lips and returned the glass with a satisfied hiss. “Worry about Roman. He’s the one marathoning backstage.”
Remus smiled. “If he were smart… he’d be usin’ that appetite to earn a little money.”
Patton twitched and glared at him. “This isn’t a sex club, Remus.”
Remus raised his hands in mock surrender. “I know it ain’t! I’m just saying—”
“The two of you don’t have to earn money like that anymore. That’s what the bar is for.”
“Speakin’ of,” Remus said with a tilt of his head. “When are we getting paid for the month? I’ve got bills, you know.”
Patton twitched… and then he looked away. Virgil and Remus both looked at him. They both needed to be paid. So did Roman and Logan. And Patton looked a little uneasy when he said, “I… things are just a little tight this month. I’ll get it to you by the end of the week.”
“No rush,” Remus sighed. He looked out at the bar.
It was sad and empty… ever since the fire, it had been dead, dead, dead… of course, he had the pleasure of performing at the bar. He could sing his heart out whenever he wanted. But performing to an empty bar was more irritating than depressing. Roman was the one that got all mopey when people didn’t pay attention to his horn. Remus was happy to be paid either way. And the way Dee looked at him? Well… that was an excellent bonus.
Patton leaned against the bar and smiled dreamily at Virgil. “Sugar, you got a face so pretty it could stop a clock, you know that?”
Virgil bit the corners of his smile as he wiped out a glass. “Thanks, boss.”
Remus rolled his eyes and poked Patton’s shoulder. “You’re drunk.”
Patton grinned and didn’t look away from Virgil. “And you’re beautiful. You come here often?”
“Often enough,” Virgil said with a smile. “Need another drink, Mr. Moore?”
There was a pause, and Patton sat up a little with a frown. “I need…” he paused again, looking down at the bar top before he repeated, “I need... “ he didn’t finish that thought. He slid off the barstool and stumbled back into his office.
Remus watched him go, pursing his lips as he leaned back against the bar. He glanced at Virgil. “How much you wanna bet he’s in there gettin’ his rocks off?”
Virgil threw a towel at his face. “He’s not you, Remus. He’s got work to do.”
Remus gasped indignantly, holding the towel to his chest in offense. “I work!”
“It’s not the same. You’re the one with powder up his nose every five minutes.”
“You’re no fun,” Remus cooed. “B’sides… I need something to liven things up. It’s like we’re trying to have a twist in a graveyard.”
Virgil shrugged and wiped the bar top again. “Maybe this… Mr. Dee will be able to help us out.” he glanced at Remus. “What do you think he meant? ‘Twenty percent.’ Is he co-owning? Or just giving the bar a loan?”
Remus grimaced. “A loan would be so boring… loans are so impersonal.”
Virgil made a face. “You never been in debt before?”
“Ah! I’ve been homeless! But look at us,” he gestured to himself and Virgil. “You really think some white banker is gonna give a Persian or a Chinese man a loan?”
“Fair enough, I guess…”
“I hope he co-owns,” Remus concluded with a grin. “Then he’ll be back, and I can wrinkle that nice suit of his.”
Virgil snorted a laugh. “Horizontal mambo… where do you come up with this stuff?”
“I listen to the girls on the corner of the street of my apartment. Nice gals. Great dresses. Makes me miss my backup singers…” Remus sighed and tossed his curly hair. “Oh, my girls…”
“Easy,” Virgil droned tiredly. Roman stumbled out from behind the velvet curtain of the stage looking starry-eyed and pleased with himself. His hair was mussed, and his tie was crooked. Logan stepped out from the other side of the stage looking immaculate. He went to watch the door, and Virgil wiped down the spotless, empty bar once more. “If Mr. Moore is right and Mr. Dee brings people in… maybe you’ll get your girls back.”
Remus felt an odd flip-flop in his chest at the prospect. His girls, the band, and a full bar… it would be like old times. Old times before they had to go underground. Old times when the tips were good, and the liquor was strong. Then he winced; old times were when lovers were quick and rough and too often. Old times meant bruises and memories bubbling to the surface. Old times meant more powder and smoke until the stage was the only thing on his mind.
But… this wasn’t ‘the old times.’ This was now. And now was different because of Mr. Dee. He was the new piece to the puzzle. Did he fit? Remus wanted him to fit. He wanted Dee to fall right into place in the bar and right into his open and available bed. With a smile, Remus reached behind the bar and snatched a bottle. It didn’t matter which one. Virgil called for him to stop, jumping and reaching for him, but Remus had already darted back to the stage. He met Roman at the edge, handing him the bottle. Roman popped off the cork and sat with a smile.
“So! How was it? Did you get him in a private booth?”
Remus grimaced. “Not yet. But I will. I will.”
“Wouldn’t be surprised. He stared at you during the show.”
“Couldn’t keep his eyes off you.”
Remus grinned. “I know.”
“Ah, well… worst-case scenario, he can’t get it up and you can steal his wallet.” Roman took a swig and frowned. “Watered-down… where does Patton find this stuff?” He handed off the bottle and sighed. Remus took a drink, grimaced, and set the bottle on the stage.
“Best-case scenario… we get the band and the girls back.”
Roman lit up with a hopeful smile. “Is that what Patton says? Or the guy with the deep pockets?”
Remus pursed his lips. “Neither. But Patton says Dee is gonna help.” Then he grinned wickedly. “And Dee says he’ll be comin’ back.”
“Comin’ back for you.”
With a wink, Remus took up the bottle again. “Damn right.” He tipped it back and took a long drink, only to lower it with a frown. He looked at Roman. “We need better liquor.”
Roman arched an eyebrow. “Ask the cat with all the money. I’m not paying for it.”
“Nah,” Remus sighed as he leaned an elbow on the stage. He looked around the dead bar and hummed for a moment. Maybe Dee would spruce the place up. New curtains, a better stage, the girls and the band… redone leather booths in the back, harder drinks… it would take effort. But it was doable if you had access to a rich-man’s pocket. He smiled. “I bet he’d do it.”
“Huh?” Roman was frowning at the label on the bottle. “Who would do what?”
“Dee. He’d get us better liquor.”
“Bet he would,” Roman nudged him with a laugh. “If you asked. That man looked like he’d cut off his arm if you’d sneak under his table and give him some attention.”
Remus preened. “I just have that effect on rich men. They know I’m delectable.”
“They know you’re shameless,” Roman corrected with a smile. “But hey. So am I.”
Remus shrugged. “Shame is for marks.”
“I’ll drink to that!” Roman laughed and took a quick drink before he passed the bottle back to Remus. “So. Is he gonna stick around? Because I want to know if I gotta keep an eye on that mug.”
“Not sure yet.”
Roman cocked his head to the side. “Do you want him to stick around?”
“Ah, nosy, nosy… that’s for me to know,” Remus grinned, “And for you to mind your own damn business.”
“I don’t think that’s how the saying goes.”
Remus swatted at him. “I know what I said.”
There was a pause where Roman swung his legs where they hung over the edge of the stage. “Want to put on another show?”
“For six people?” Remus asked tiredly. “Maybe in a minute.”
“You think Dee can really get people through the door?”
Remus wasn’t sure at all. Even so, he smiled. “Of course he can.”
“Maybe things can go back,” Roman said, like he could follow Remus’s train of thought from a few minutes before. “Like the good old days.”
Neither of their ‘good old days’ were actually good old days. They knew that. But still, they sat and hoped idly. It was their flaw. It was something they did together. Twins, bitter and cursed to the very end. Remus smiled and held up the bottle.
“I’ll drink to that.”