We joined a group of dancers, allowing our limbs to flap wildly in time with the music. A tall man, a few years older, gestured to me and held out his hand. I took it, and let him spin me around. Giddy laughter escaped. This was what I came for. The excitement, the people. To get my blood up and be with friends. The thrill of doing the forbidden mattered little–I’d have been just as happy at a church social, provided the music had a beat I could dance to.
Glancing over my her shoulder, I saw Alexandra, too, had a new partner. She was dancing with a red haired girl in an indecently short fringed dress–I could even see her knees! Alexandra certainly didn’t seem to mind, however, so I turned back to my partner.
We had two more dances before I begged, off, too flushed and winded to continue for the moment. Weaving my way back to our table, I found Archie holding court with two lovely blonds, showing them a card trick with the deck he usually carried in his jacket pocket.
I smiled, rolling my eyes a little.
“Go on, pick one,” he was urging the one in the black dress.
She giggled, glancing nervously at her friend before shyly pulling a card from the deck.
“Now, memorize which one it is,” he instructed as I resumed my seat. I watched the trick with interest, pulled the nearest mismatched tumbler toward me and sniffed the clear liquid inside, but with all the cigarette smoke it was hard to pick up any trace of alcohol.
The girls memorized the card, then placed it back inside the deck. Archie shuffled the cards, then turned the deck face up and started sifting through them.
After a pause, he pursed his lips thoughtfully. “You know, that’s really odd. I don’t see your card here at all. Could you have misplaced it?” he asked.
The girls giggled coyly. “But you saw me put it back in the deck? How could I have misplaced it?” Black Dress asked.
“Well, I’m not sure. Maybe you dropped it, or…hey, what’s that?” He leaned around, peering at something over her shoulder. With one hand, he reached up, plucking the ace of hearts from behind her feathered headband. “Ah-ha! Here it is!”
The girls giggled and clapped. I just shook my head, smiling, trying to remember how many times I’d seen him use that same trick on the girls at school. He’d even tried that line on me once or twice, but I didn’t bite.
“Ah, sorry, you must think me terribly rude. Girls, this is my friend, Dru. I should say, my sister’s friend,” he emphasized, when they started to look put out. “Dru, this is Hortense, and that’s Patty.”
We shook hands genially, then I addressed Archie. “Which of these is mine?” There were glasses on the table, all filled with clear liquid, except the amber of Archie’s whiskey.
“That one, I think,” he said, pointing to the simplest of the glasses. Parched from dancing, I took a big swig, but instead of water got a mouthful of bathtub gin. Coughing and choking, I forced it down, burning the back of my throat.
“Oh, sorry. That must have been Alex’s!” The three of them laughed, though Archie, at least, seemed genuinely sorry for the mix up. He grabbed another glass, dipping his finger in and tasting the contents. “Here. Sorry about that. It’s this one. My mistake.” Apologetic spots of color appeared on his face.
I snatched the glass away, hurriedly draining it. I ran my tongue over the roof of my mouth. I could still taste the gin, and decided I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, disliking the astringent taste. People drink this for fun?
I must have pulled a face, because Archie laughed. “Sorry, Dru. Next time I’ll get you a double.”
“Next time, I’ll order my own drink,” I replied, though I wasn’t angry. It was my own fault for not checking the glass in the first place, and I knew Archie hadn’t mixed up the drinks on purpose.
There was a commotion on the other side of the room. A man climbed up on the bar and was shouting something, but he couldn’t be heard over the music. Someone signaled the band, and they stopped playing abruptly.
“Cops! There’s cops outside! Everybody out!”