True to my promise, I arrived St. Francis Episcopal Church the next day just after lunch. My glad rags were in a carpet bag, which I left in the vestry at Mrs. Pope’s instruction, and reported for duty at the welcome table set up in the multi-purpose room.
Mrs. Pope was smart in her dark blue suit, a button pinned her lapel identifying her as a board member for the Policemen’s Widows and Orphans Fund. “Dru, it’s good to see you. Your mother said you would be coming to help us. I’m glad.” She greeted me with a huge smile.
“I’m glad to help.” I wasn’t a lie; technically, helping was part of my punishment for sneaking out, but if Mother or Mrs. Pope had asked for help, I would have been happy to volunteer.
I joined a group of women–mostly the wives and daughters of policemen–hanging crepe paper from the ceiling. I knew some of them from school, some of them from church, and some of them from the policeman’s picnic or other department functions.
It took a couple of hours to hang the decorations and the banner. While we worked, someone put a record on, a preview of the music yet to come. Smiling, I tapped my toes as I helped set up tables and chairs.
“Who’s your partner this year?” asked Salemina Jones. We were in the same year at school, and had several classes together.
“George Blake. What about you?” I knew Salmeina’d set her cap at Harry Thompson, but we hadn’t spoken since school let out for the summer.
She made a bit of a face. “Mike O’Leary. He lives just up the street from me.” I thought I recognized the name, but couldn’t put a face to it.
“Still no luck with Harry?”
She sighed. “No. He’s going off to college in the fall. I think that ship has sailed.” She sighed, snapping open another tablecloth and spreading it out over one of the pitted tables we’d hauled out of the storage closet. “Well, at any rate, I’m glad George asked you. He’s the bee’s knees, really. You couldn’t ask for better.” She gave me a wink, and I tried to suppress a smile. Most people assumed George was sweet on me, for all the time we spent together. Mostly though, I was just the go between for him and Elizabeth. We were good friends, nothing more.
We chatted a little more. I set out jars with candles in them at the center of each table. Another girl, Alice, came behind with more table decorations, creating little nests of flowers around the jars, and the three of us talked about school and the dance.
“Oh, it’s almost time,” I said, checking my watch. “We should go change clothes if we’re going to be ready in time.”
“I think they’ve turned one of the Sunday School classrooms into a changing room for us,” Alice said. “It’s this way.”
I went to collect my things, then followed Alice and Salemina down a long corridor to a dark basement. Female voices could already be heard, echoing along the concrete passage. Alice knocked on a door.
“What’s the password?” giggled a voice from inside.
“Let me in!”
The giggler opened the door, revealing herself to be none other than Matilda. “You’re no fun,” she pouted, backing out of our way.
Unsurprisingly, Madelyn and Caroline were already in the room, in various states of undress. The latter, in nothing but her cami nickers, was passing a little silver flask to her friend. Judging by their laugher, the three of them had been partaking freely of it for some time.
Alice’s eyes bugged out when she saw them. “What do you think you’re doing! In church! And at a policemen’s benefit!” she hissed.
“Oh, dry up, you goof!” the blonde snapped, quickly closing the flask and stashing it in her garter. “You think anyone cares? This town might be drier than the desert, but I bet you half the men will be zozzled by the end of the night, whether they wear a badge or not!”
Alice looked ready to say something else, but I grabbed her arm and pulled her to the other side of the room were Salemina was already undressing, one eye on the business by the door.
I managed to calm Alice down, promising to go with her to her father, the preacher, once we were changed.
I put on the gold dress and shoes. Rose, miracle worker that she was, had washed it the day before and there was no sign at all that someone had spilled bootleg coffin varnish on it. The beads sparkled in low light of our makeshift changing room.
By the time the other girls changed and we applied a little makeup, and I helped Alice pin up her long hair into something that almost looked like a bob, the other girls had gone upstairs, apparently uncomfortable with the proximity of such law-abiding young ladies.
“I just don’t understand,” Alice said, taking my arm as we went back upstairs. Her dress was dark blue, with a little beaded flower at the low waist and almost no other decoration, as befitted the daughter of a pastor. “How can they even think of bringing alcohol here? In a place of worship? And with so many policemen around? It isn’t like this is New York. We don’t flout the law here.” She pursed her lips primly.
Salemina, on my other side, was equally conservative. “It’s the loose morals. My mother says it’s the European influence. The Germans and the Bolsheviks. She says they contribute to lawlessness.” Too late, she glanced in my direction. “Present company excepted,” she added quickly.
I sighed. “I’m not a German, and I’m not a Bolshevik. I’m an American, and one that is tired of hearing about Prohibition and politics. I’m here to dance.”
“But you’ll still come with me, won’t you?” Alice tugged on my arm, her brown eyes huge and pleading.
Together, we found her father near the front door, greeting spectators and participants alike with hearty handshakes and his boyish grin. Alice pulled him aside and explained about the three girls from the changing room, discreetly pointing them out.
“Thank you for telling me, girls,” he said, sobering quickly. “Chief French just arrived. I’ll let him know. We don’t want any troublemakers here tonight.”