At the address, which actually wasn’t a street address, a heart was hanging from the lamppost on the street. It was the marker for the club location for those in the know. Otherwise, it looked like something a child might have flung in the air that got stuck up on the lamppost.
The invitation instructions read, “Follow the pathway of hearts to the entrance.” The pathway was located between two large office buildings and was demarcated by two trees, one on either side of it. Hanging discretely from the trees were a few hearts. The pathway wound through an alley between office buildings that had new stone, clean brick walls and beautiful, big gardens of ferns and flowers that hung down from the patios above. There were several streetlights in the alleyway, which also had hearts hanging from them.
Starting a few steps in, the pathway had hearts painted on it in pink-tinted whitewash all the way up to the entry area, where there was a velvet rope and a Major Domo in full livery - made more interesting by the announcement staff he carried that had Valentine’s hearts falling from it. He allowed only a few guests past the velvet rope at a time. He carried a silver tray and as the guests presented their invitations to him, they were escorted to the door and quietly announced.
At the end of the path, a two-pillared portico entrance had a black door with subtle black, glittery musical notes painted on it. The face-sized peek-a-boo plate was subtly embedded into the door at head height. At first glance, it looked like the entrance to a posh hotel. There were beautiful flowerbeds along the front of the entry and flowered sconces on each side of the door. There was, however, no doorknocker, as might have been expected. Rather, when the guest was announced, the faceplate opened and a well-mannered, cultured voice asked for the password – then for the guest invitation.
Only then did the door open into a small, plush entryway where guests could check their coats and visit the ladies and gents rooms before entering into the club. It gave the club a mysterious cache’. Each guest was given a heart shaped program as a souvenir and escorted into the club to be seated. As the club was so exclusive, there was no reserved seating and no VIP section. Instead, each section had a more isolated area within the cluster of tables where some people could remain less conspicuous if desired. The exclusivity created an atmosphere of being able to relax and let down.
Unknown to the patrons, there were several security men working the club. If protection was needed for someone, they simply worked that area themselves and stayed discretely within range of the guest. This was not a place where photographers or reporters were allowed. While word-of-mouth and invitation-only entry guaranteed some anonymity, just who got in was also screened. It created a sort of honor system and, so far, the patrons were respecting it. Oliver had said that once the novelty wore off, he might have to change the plan, but for now it seemed to be working. Jokingly he said to Jack, “Of course, having a cop on stage doesn’t hurt either, does it?” Jack reminded him that he was also somewhat incognito and to keep that in mind before involving him in anything.
As it was just down the street, Phryne had been dropped off at the Windsor to change her clothes. She decided to walk to the club from there. The heavy satin of her gown would not have withstood a cab ride without appearing wrinkled and worn when she arrived - not the impression she chose to make in this particular outfit! Apparently, she was not the only guest who had chosen to do this, as she saw several other well-dressed couples emerging from the Windsor and strolling towards the club. As it turned out, it was a beautiful night. Fresh and crisp from the prior day’s rain, with a bright, full moon and temperate atmosphere. Perfect for a night of adventure or romance.
As she made her way down the pathway to the club entrance, she noticed the details the owner had attended to. She admired the theatricality of it, but also the good taste with which it had been done. She wondered what the inside looked like. She wondered if Jack would be there.
As she was announced, the man at the peek-a-boo door asked for her password. Grinning, she sang, “Boop-Boop-a-Doop” in the baby talk kind of voice that had been made popular by Helen Kane. The Major Domo also grinned as he handed her invitation through and the man behind the door grinned as she was admitted saying, “Very well done, Miss Fisher! And Welcome to Club Lalique.” As she stepped into the foyer, she was greeted by a coat-check girl and given a corresponding ticket and a souvenir Valentine program. She was instructed as to where the ladies room was and told she would be seated as soon as she wished.
As she stepped forward into the bar area, Oliver introduced himself and offered to guide her to her table, saying that there would shortly be a surprise champagne demonstration and then she could order whatever she wanted from the wait staff. Phryne immediately liked Oliver and asked him if the champagne was to be poured into a fountain of glasses. He looked a bit surprised, but said, “Yes, it is, just as they do it at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.” Phryne laughed and told him of her last trip there, where she had seen it done, congratulating him on bringing it here to his club. It was sure to be a big hit. Somewhat less surprised, he thanked her and asked if she would allow him a dance later in the evening. He graciously wished her a good evening and said he hoped she enjoyed the band.
As Phryne made herself comfortable, she looked all around the room, noticing the excellent décor and the efforts that had been put into making this a place where high-profile people could relax and enjoy themselves. She looked up at the bandstand and noticed how cleverly it had been made. She thought of moving to a more central location, but realized that she felt quite comfortable here in this cozy corner near the piano. She was in a reflective mood tonight and she was curious to see who had set this up for her and to know the outcome of it.
Jack was busy in the back with the band and didn’t see her come in, so when he did glance out and see her, he was pleased that she was seated exactly where he wanted her to be. He’d have to thank Oliver for that. He pulled out the mate to the pink orchid he’d sent and set it on the piano where she could see it. He couldn’t wait to see the look on her face when she realized it was he who had set this up, although he figured she would be assuming it by now.
When everyone was present, Oliver went to the center of the room to make an announcement. He said, “Welcome everyone to the grand opening of Club Lalique and congratulations for being on the guest list!” Everyone laughed at that. He said, “The bands will be playing all night and will rotate for variety. Requests will be honored if you tell the wait staff and dancing is highly encouraged. But before we begin the evenings’ entertainment, I have a special demonstration for you.”
At that cue and with a short drumroll, a large table was rolled out with a larger silver tray on it bearing a tower of champagne glasses. As the crowd began to “ooh” and “aah,” a small step stool ladder was set up behind the table and a waiter brought forth a magnum of pink champagne, which he presented to Oliver. Then, the Major Domo stepped forth and presented a saber. The waiter climbed the ladder and Oliver used the saber to perform the Sabrage method of uncorking the bottle, much to the delight of the crowd. The champagne was handed to the waiter on the ladder, who carefully began to pour it into the top glass and kept pouring as the glasses underneath filled up and overflowed into the glasses beneath them. It was mesmerizing to watch as a fountain of champagne flowed from one glass to the others.
Surprisingly, it was not a messy procedure, as the glasses had been properly aligned to receive the champagne evenly. Just as all of the glasses were filled, the magnum was drained. The waiter climbed down and took away the ladder. There was a hush and then an explosion of applause. Oliver looked around the room and his eyes lighted on Phryne, whom he beckoned over to him. She had seen this done before, so she knew what was coming as he asked, “May I?” He lifted her straight up so she could pick up the top glass. She plucked it from the top and, when her feet were back on the ground, she made a toast to the success of Club Lalique and drank the entire glass ending with a flourish. Oliver nodded to her and she gave him a smile of thanks. As the waiters dismantled the fountain and began to hand out the champagne, the band began to play.
Phryne found herself with another glass of champagne in her hand and as she looked up at the band from her table, she saw Jack at the piano, smiling at her as he tipped his head. He was wearing black tuxedo pants, a white shirt with a pink and black striped vest, hot pink garters on his sleeves, a hot pink bowtie, a black fedora with a pink hat band and pink feather and most surprising of all - pink spats! Clearly, he was enjoying stepping out of character. On the piano lay the mate to the orchid she had been given. Phryne put her hand to her head where her own orchid was and then put her hand over her heart and smiled.
Just then, Jack started to sing the chorus of the song being played by the rest of the band. Phryne sipped her champagne and just listened to him sing and play. When he looked up at her again, she tipped her glass and smiled at him. Deep within a deeper, almost young self of her, she could hear an excited voice saying, “Oh goodie, goodie, it’s him!” Then the band started into another song. Phryne just sat and watched and listened, smiling and feeling happy.
When the stage rotated, Jack came over during the break and nursed a drink with her. He looked at Phryne and smiled, “So you figured it out after all?” “Jaaack, it was rather obvious.” At his look, she recanted. “Ok, it wasn’t that obvious. How did you arrange it all?” The band started playing, “You Do Something To Me,” Jack just smiled at her and said, “ You’ll just have to keep listening for more clues.” She stared at him wonderingly, he smiled at her and they sat companionably for a few minutes. Then he had to go back up on stage. The band started playing, “Always.” He met her eyes with the last note and mouthed, “that’s how!” She applauded to him and just kept smiling, thinking of all the pieces of the puzzle he had created. How clever he had been, how intriguing he had made it for her and all so she would be able to share this with him!
Through another set, she danced a couple of dances with others, but most people were coupled up and she was enjoying her small, enclosed space with Jack nearby, so she declined several offers, seeing the amusement in Jack’s eyes when she did. He looked so happy and free when he played. She looked entranced watching him. Oliver smiled as he watched the byplay. Thinking that his friend deserved to have love in his life – and this was clearly that. He also thought what a lucky man he was to have a woman who looked like her!
Even though she had wanted to show off her new outfit, Phryne felt content having Jack as her main admirer. As she looked around the room, she observed the couples out celebrating Valentine’s Day. They looked like they were in love – one man fell to one knee, followed by sweet, high laughter and at a wave from Oliver, the band did a drumroll and the quick end of the wedding march. A spotlight moved over onto the couple and Oliver made an announcement as the bride-to-be held up her ring. Cheers rang out along with laughter. It was a lovely moment.
The stage then rotated and the next band began to play. Jack came out and asked Phryne to dance. He had put on his jacket and, as he brought her out to the dance floor, said, “Phryne, you look stunning in your new outfit. You outshine every woman in the room. Thank you so much for coming.” He then swept her into a slow dance, his arm firmly around her waist and his head bowed against hers.
“Jaaack,” She said softly. “Mmmm?” his voice rose. He looked at her a little dazed. “Does this mean that I’m your Valentine?” There was teasing in her voice, but softness in her eyes. He smiled and said softly, “If I can be yours!” Her voice dropped, “Mmmm.” They both held their gaze and almost didn’t hear when the song stopped playing. As they pulled apart and clapped, Jack walked her back to her table and kissed her hand as he said, “Back to the piano – will you wait for me?” “Of course, Jack, off you go. And, Jack,” he turned, “thank you for the dance!” She put her finger to her mouth, blew him a kiss, quirked her brow and grinned.
The “glitter ball” twirled, sending small points of light into the crowd. Glimpses of couples enjoying themselves presented as the tinsel wafted, laughter erupting as people found themselves with tinsel wrapped around them. It was smooth and easy and light and sassy all at the same time. Phryne knew that Jack played the piano, but she hadn’t realized quite how well. She was enjoying just watching him play. When his set ended and the stage rotated, he once again came out and asked her to dance.
“A waltz, Jack, or something more lively?” “Oh, I think more lively tonight,” he said as he reached for her hand and pulled her into a close Hoochie Coochie dance, bending her to and fro as he swayed with the music, but not letting her go. She spun out and responded with an undulating parade around him, leaning in to breath little messages in his ears as she moved around, sliding down and shimmying up, laying her hand on his shoulder as she swayed back and forth against his back, then coming around to his front to do the same thing. “Not quite the same as a waltz is it, Jack?” He smirked, “Not even close!” He grinned as he met her dancing tease with his own, spinning her around and then putting her into a backflip. “Exercising your hidden talents?” He gave her a look, “I may have a few yet.” “You’ve been taking lessons.” “Just trying to keep up, Miss Fisher!” She laughed at that. “A Tango perhaps, Jack?” “We’ll see, Phryne!” He lifted his brows and smiled.
At a distance, Oliver watched them, wondering if they behaved this way normally or if it was new to them. He hadn’t seen his friend this relaxed in years. When Jack was back on stage again, Oliver made his way to Phryne and asked her to dance. He wanted to know if she was this way with everyone or just Jack.
She was an excellent dancer. She raved about the club and about Jack. Yes, there was a bit of flirtatiousness, but she was totally serious too. Oliver thought, “She may like to play, but she’s off the market, Jack my boy, I wonder if you know?” Oliver thanked her for picking up his cue about the champagne tower. They talked about how it was in America. He found her to be a sophisticated, charming, intelligent, thoughtful and caring woman who valued herself and knew the power she carried with others. Clearly she liked men and was naturally seductive, but she did so in good taste and with good manners. She was ladylike, but also feisty and adventurous. He wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. He rather wished that he had met her before Jack did, but he could see them together. They were a good balance for each other. He ended their dance with a very high opinion of her - truly glad that she had come into Jack’s life.
Phryne sat and sipped her drink, musing about the night. And then - they played a Tango! Jack had just come out through the curtain and had taken a sip of his drink when the rhythm started. He raised his eyebrows twice at Phryne and pulled her out into a tango stance. It wasn’t his forte’, but he did know the basics and he trusted that she could compensate for any lack of skill on his part. And did she! He spun her - she dropped down and slid back up his leg. He walked her sideways, even tossing his head then she again slid to the floor, coming up to swing her legs between his and do a few quick steps around him. He figured that he should just stand still and let her use his body as an anchor. So he reached out for her and she moved around him.
He caught sight of them in one of the mirrors and realized that they looked really good out there. It shocked him – he was doing the Tango! With that thought, he pulled her up close and half dragged her a few paces. Standing her up again, he walked around her as she swung her leg back and forth until they were swept up into the sideways walk again. Hands extended, they managed to stay in rhythm and lock their bodies together as they moved. In truth, it was quite erotic. At the last strain, he again spun her out and back in. She dropped back with her arms spread wide, bouncing a few times before coming back to hold his head and wrap herself around him with her leg raised. “Ta dump dump dump!” She whispered.
As they straightened from the final pose, he was surprised to hear others clapping and Phryne saying, “You’ve been holding out on me, Jack, where did you learn to do that?” “I’m a man of mystery, Phryne.” Sotto voce he said, “especially to myself!” He smiled as he kissed her hand and led her back to the table. Making a flirtatious toast to him she shook her head and smiled. “Well, Jack, you never cease to surprise me, that’s for sure.” Jack felt what he was sure was a silly grin on his face and tipped his glass back to hers.
At that point, Oliver went onstage to make announcements to end the evening. As he was thanking the audience for coming, inviting them to come back to the Club Lalique and wishing them a Happy Valentine’s Day, Jack went backstage again to join all the other musicians for the finale.
Oliver had asked Phryne during their dance if she was familiar with the traditions of New Orleans. At her acknowledgment, he asked if she would help him start the line when the time came. At the end of his announcements, the band started playing a soft Zydeco rhythm in the background. The audience knew something was coming and started talking between themselves. Oliver caught Phryne’s eye and dramatically pulled out a big umbrella decorated in Mardi Graz style. As he grandly gave a demonstration of what it was for, he asked everybody to take one of the cocktail umbrellas that were being passed around so they could join him in the Bourbon Street tradition.
As the waiters and cigarette girls handed out small drink umbrellas, Phryne joined Oliver offstage and began to march in place raising her small umbrella up and down. As the band played the slow opening strains of the closing song, everybody stopped to listen. When the song got to the refrain, there was a slight pause, an intake of breath from the audience and then the band went into the fast Dixieland beat of the popular song, “When the Saints go Marching in.” Oliver started the umbrella march-line with Phryne right behind him, strutting along in rhythm with the song. Everyone joined in and there was laughter and singing as they marched around raising their umbrellas up and down.
After many choruses, the band wrapped up the song to wild applause. As the last notes were played, pink confetti fell from the ceiling amidst cheering from the crowd and everyone ended the evening on a very happy note. Phryne was standing next to Oliver as it happened. She turned to him and almost shouted, “Well done, Oliver!” Then she turned to catch Jack’s eye and winked at him with a big smile.
As the crowd calmed down and people were departing, Phryne sat back down and waited for Jack. After awhile Oliver joined her and, as they waited, Phryne asked Oliver if the “password” was different for everyone. “Ah, yes,” he cleared his throat, “About that. It’s, well… yes, different.” His answer was way too cagey, but just as she started to say more, she caught a look in his eye and a wink. She smiled her “time to get information” smile and started to work on him, but at her look, he said, “You should really ask Jack about that.”
As they stood up she heard, “Ask Jack about what?” He walked up and put his hand on the back of her waist. “This should be interesting,” Phryne thought, then she said innocently, “The password, Jack, is it different for everyone?” Jack looked at Oliver, who looked around the room, then back to Phryne, then back to Jack. “Yes, Phryne, it certainly is. In fact, you are the only one who sang it tonight!” She smiled and purred, “Jaaack?” “Well, Phryne,” he stammered a bit, “actually, it was Betty Boop who started it all. I saw a picture of her and it reminded me of you and that is her song. I thought it might be fun to have you sing it.”
Phryne decided to let him off the hook. Jack was blushing and Oliver looked like he was ready to burst out laughing, so she said in her most Betty Boop-like voice, “Oh, I see,” she batted her lashes, “Well, Boop Boop a Doop!” With that she kicked her back foot up and turned to exit dramatically. Jack, who still had hold of her waist, held on and pulled her back. As she curled back into him, she said in her normal voice, “Gentlemen, it was a good ruse!” Oliver twinkled and said, “Oh, Phryne, where were you when I was in the theater?” At that, they all started to laugh. As they were leaving, Jack asked if he could escort her home.
They walked along quietly then Jack said, “Perhaps you would like to stop for a late night snack, Phryne?” She smiled “Why yes, Jack, I am feeling a bit peckish, how did you know?” He just looked at her and winked.
They stopped at a quaint little Kiosk near the park and got small meat pasties. Then they strolled over into the park. There was a small Gazebo tucked under some trees and Jack led her into it, laying his coat down on the bench for her to sit on. She teased, “Another secluded corner, Jack?” He just smiled and said, “I like this place and its still beauty. It’s somewhat special to me.” “And you’re sharing it with me?” she said softly. “Yes, I am, do you mind?” “Not at all, it’s lovely, Jack, I didn’t know it was here.” They lapsed into silence for a few minutes as they munched their pies. As Jack laid his handkerchief onto Phryne’s lap, she said, “Thank you, I always forget to put a hanky in my purse.”
After awhile, Jack placed their empty wrappers aside and took Phryne’s hand in his. They leaned against each other, shoulder to shoulder, just soaking up the night. Then Phryne said, “This was quite an invite, Jack. I enjoyed it immensely. The club is just beautiful. I didn’t know you played with a band though.” “I don’t,” Jack murmured, “I just fill in sometimes and Oliver is an old friend.” “You were wonderful, Jack. And those ‘dulcet tones’ of yours – Phryne grinned as she fanned herself with her hand dramatically – my, my!” “I’m so glad you…” he paused. She looked up at him, “Jack?”
He smiled at her tenderly. “I have a Valentine’s Day gift for you Phryne.” “More, Jack? You are full of surprises tonight aren’t you!” She teased then quieted. There was obviously more to this. “Phryne, I’ve been wanting to tell you this for some time and what more perfect time than now.” He hesitated, then pulled a small wrapped box out of his jacket pocket. Phryne took a quick breath and looked at him questioningly, “Jack?” “This is for you, Phryne.” He handed her his gift. “My mother made this for me ‘to give to the woman I love.’” Phryne tilted her head as she unwrapped it. He touched her cheek as he said, “I am in love with you, Phryne, just as you are. I wanted you to know.” Phryne felt a prick of tears as she held a beautifully embroidered hanky in her fingers. Jack smiled softly, “She said it was ‘to dab at the tears of the woman I love when I told her.’” Phryne just looked at him as he lifted it and touched the corner of her eye with it.
“She’s a wise woman, your mother. When did she know?” Jack looked down at her hand, still holding the hanky. He said, almost shyly, “when I told her about you, of course! She said she knew right away. She said that only a very special woman could awaken my heart and bring me light again. And you have Phryne. You have shown me my true heart. And on this most romantic of occasions,” he grinned, then was serious, “I just had to share it with you – in partnership, as always.”
There was catch to his voice. He looked down then looked back up at Phryne who was looking at him in wonder and with great tenderness. She didn’t break her gaze. She just smiled softly and held out her hanky to him.