A Century of Shorts

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A collection of short stories for the Radio City Awards beginning with the 1920s. Each week will bring a new short story from another decade.

Drama / Other
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*~*~*~Week 1 Winner~*~*~*

Prohibition be Damned

Another stuffy dinner with another completely inappropriate suitor. Mother was never going to give up on trying to find me a husband. I was tired of the endless parade of fake smiles, forced small talk, and sweaty old men. They were all simply disgusting.

Tonight’s disaster belonged to Robert Alfred, a 38-year-old steel tycoon who was in the process of procuring a railroad line that he was ridiculously proud to boast about all...night...long. I found out very quickly that he was not interested in my opinion in the slightest. He simply enjoyed the sound of his own voice.

“It’s a matter of money, first and foremost, yes, but there’s a level of cunning involved,” Robert boasted. “Investing too much is simply poor business practice. You must consider all possible scenarios before even putting forward a dime.”

I barely resisted the urge to roll my eyes at his haughtiness. “Surely there is a level of risk to every investment,” I said and he laughed.

This man laughed at me.

“Oh, I never take risks, child,” he said arrogantly.

I clicked my tongue, earning a dirty look from Mother.

Pompous, egotistical Robert Alfred had officially worn out his welcome. It was time to get rid of this swine. I looked over at Mother’s rapt expression; she was soaking up every word Mr. Alfred uttered. She would be angry and I would be punished, surely, but getting rid of Mr. Alfred would be well-worth whatever she had in store for me.

“The steel industry is on the rise and I intend to be at the forefront of it,” Mr. Alfred continued to boast.

I tried to catch Father’s eye, but he was looking away, nodding tiredly at Mr. Alfred’s words.

It was now or never.

“Oh, Mr. Alfred,” I said, interrupting whatever self-promoting posh he was about to say next. “I simply cannot wait to get my hands on your fortune. I have been dying to get at least a dozen new dresses. And I simply must have all the top-of-the-line accessories to match. Oh, there will be jewels and hats and gloves and the most exquisite shoes. I do so love shoes, Mr. Alfred,” I lied.

I watched as his eyes bulged and his face turned red. “I am sure that whatever wardrobe you already have would be more than sufficient if you were to become my wife,” he said loftily.

“Oh, no, Mr. Alfred,” I said adopting a hurtful expression. “I wouldn’t dream of going out in society as Mrs. Alfred in these rags.”

My mother scoffed indignantly.

“Rebecca Anne,” she scolded. “Those are hardly rags.”

“Indeed,” my father said with an indulgent smile. “You look very beautiful tonight, Becky.”

“Thank you, Father,” I said sweetly, then turned to Mr. Alfred. “But surely, Mr. Alfred would want his future wife to look her best. Right, Mr. Alfred?”

I watched in satisfaction as he spluttered to find an answer that would not offend everyone at the table. “Of course, of course,” he stammered. “Surely, you won’t require more than one or two new dresses.”

I held my hand to my heart and let my eyes well up with false tears. “One or two?” I whined.

“Oh, good heavens, child - ”

“Do not call me child,” I said fiercely, and was extremely pleased to discover that interrupting Mr. Alfred was evidently a cardinal sin.

“When you are my wife, you will learn to hold your tongue.”

I narrowed my eyes at him and clenched my jaw.

“You think I have nothing to offer?” I demanded. I stood from the table and let my chair fall to the floor. “Excuse me, Father. I have suddenly lost my appetite.”

I stormed from the room, and slammed the dining room door, listening for the telltale clatter of the portraits on the walls.

“Well, I never...” I heard Mr. Alfred roar.

“Thank you for an eventful evening, Mr. Alfred,” I heard my father say as his chair scraped across the floor.

I scrambled away from the door just in time. Father opened the door and held it for Mr. Alfred who stormed out in a huff.

“That’s the fifth suitor you’ve scared away this month, Becky,” Father said quietly in a tired voice.

“They’re all either completely ridiculous, or incredibly full of themselves, Father,” I said. “I could never be happy with any of those old fools.”

“I will not have a spinster for a daughter, Rebecca Anne!” Mother called, still seated behind the table.

“So, let me choose my own husband, Mother,” I called back and smiled as Father buried his face in his hands.

“You wreak havoc on this entire household,” she said, finally entering the drawing room.

“Oh, I do not, Mother. Stop forcing me to entertain old farts every evening, and you’ll have a much more agreeable daughter.”

“Stop running that mouth of yours all the time and you might have more interested suitors,” Mother shot back.

“Okay,” Father interjected. “That’s enough for one evening.” He ushered Mother away from me.

I was too wound up for bed, so I called for Gretchen to bring me my coat, determined to stay out of the house until after Mother had gone to bed.

With no real destination in mind, I contented myself to strolling the nearly empty streets. The gas lamps were already lit, lending their light to the beautiful storefront window displays.

I was so caught up in admiring the apothecary’s display, that I was startled to notice that I was no longer alone. A man moved slightly and I caught his reflection in the window.

I sucked in a startled breath and turned to face him. The man that stood before me was devastatingly handsome and quite tall. He had a mop of untidy black hair, over the most piercing set of icy blue eyes. Eyes that were staring at me a little too intently.

“Good evening, sir,” I said swallowing audibly.

“Evening, miss,” he said with a small tilt of his head. “It’s a bit late for you to be out without a chaperone.”

“I have no need of a chaperone, sir.”

“Oh, really?” he said. “Awfully brave of you.”

“And why is that?” I asked. I had been down this street countless times and had never seen anything even remotely threatening. Granted never at night, but surely it was all right.

“Tis not safe for such a beautiful young lady to be alone when there are unsavory characters about.”

“I am more than capable of taking care of myself, thank you,” I said with a confidence I no longer felt.

“Oh, I’ve no doubt,” he said. “But why don’t you let me walk you home just in case.”

“I’m not quite ready to go home just yet, but I thank you kindly for the offer,” I said hoping he wouldn’t pick up on my uneasiness.

“Maybe you should let me walk you home anyway,” he said.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Alright.”

He offered me his arm and I hesitated before taking it. It did not go unnoticed.

“You’ve no need to fear me, miss. My name’s Jake. I live just down the way.” He gestured vaguely behind him.

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Jake,” I said formally.

He chuckled lightly. “Just plain Jake, ma’am.”

“All right,” I said with a small smile. “Just Jake, it is. Rebecca.”

He smiled back in a way that put me a little more at ease with this handsome stranger.

“What did you mean when you said there were unsavory characters about?” I asked, excited to hear about the less than perfect side to this picturesque city.

He flashed a wicked smile in my direction and laughed heartily. “Could you truly handle yourself if the situation arose?”

“I believe I could,” I said confidently. I was no stranger to schoolyard scuffles, much to Mother’s dismay, and I was an excellent swimmer with very strong arms and legs as a result.

He smiled a wide, dazzling smile and chuckled lightly. “You’re truly not ready to go home?”

“I am not,” I said, returning his smile.

“Hmm,” he said and scratched his jaw. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, but the effect only proved to enhance his features, not detract from them. My heart picked up its pace at the hope of a nighttime adventure.

“How are you with blood?”

My eyes widened in shock. “Excuse me?”

“Blood,” he said. “You know, the red stuff inside your body.” His eyes roamed mine slowly from bottom to top, taking in my navy dinner dress up to my dark brown eyes and unruly black curls.

He smiled a slow, easy smile and I blushed.

“Yes, I know what blood is, thank you,” I said. ” I won’t faint at the sight of it.”

“Good,” he said simply and led me away from the safety of the lit-up storefronts.

“Why?” I asked. “Are we going to an underground boxing club, or something? I’ve heard of these!”

He laughed. “No, no. Nothing like that,” he said. “Things just tend to get a little rowdy where we’re headed. Broken noses are quite common and they gush like a fountain most of the time.”

“I can hardly wait.”

As we headed deeper into the city, the streets grew darker, but more and more crowded with people. I hid my shock at the ladies-of-the-night in their scantily clad gowns and drunken men staggering after them. Clearly, prohibition meant nothing to these people.

“My mother would faint if she knew where I was right now,” I said staring around in wide-eyed wonder.

“You’re not frightened?” Jake asked.

“Not in the slightest,” I said, earning another chuckle from him.

“Well, hurry up then, or we’re going to miss all the fun,” he said urging me forward. We turned a corner and I stopped in my tracks, earning me a good yank on the arm by Jake. At the end of the street was a brightly lit theatre with one word displayed proudly in flashing lights: Burlesque.

A huge smile slowly spread across my face. I barely registered Jake’s raucous laughter coming from beside me. “Can we go in?” I asked excitedly.

“Of course!” he said. “That was not the reaction I had expected from a fine lady such as yourself. Really, I’m shocked,” he teased.

“That’s because you know nothing about me,” I said pulling him along. I had read about these places and had dreamed of them, but had never had the courage to go by myself.

“That is something I’d like to change,” he admitted.

He held on tightly to my waist as he pushed his way through the crowd of drunken men at the doors. Some tried to grab at me, but Jake pushed them away and they acquiesced without trouble.

Finally inside, the music blared and the smoky haze hit me like a brick wall. It took me a moment to catch my breath.

The curtain was down over the stage at the moment, but the band was playing a raucous and catchy tune. Couples were dancing in the middle of the floor and I itched to join them.

“Do you dance?” I asked Jake, hoping for a yes.

“Like nobody’s business,” he said shedding his jacket. The Charleston was one of my favorite new dances and Jake proved to be a spectacular partner, but all too soon the dance had ended and we were all instructed to take our seats. Breathless and sweating, I sat down and drank deeply from my water glass.

Jake scooted his chair around to my side of the table, on the pretense that it was to better see the stage; I didn’t mind in the least.

“Care for something other than water?” he asked, leaning in very close when he spoke.

“I’ll have what you’re having,” I said with a shy smile.

He returned the smile and winked, then held up his hand for a waitress. “Two whiskies,” he called to her.

“Don’t laugh,” I said, leaning in to him as he had done. “I’ve never had whiskey before.”

He laughed anyway. “I’d be surprised if you had. It is illegal after all,” he said with a wink.

The scantily clad waitress dropped off our whiskies and planted a kiss on Jake’s cheek.

“Friend of yours?” I asked

“That’s Frankie. My sister,” he said nonchalantly.

My eyes threatened to pop out of my head. “She’s lovely,” I said unsure of what else to say, once again inciting a hearty laugh from Jake. I suspected that he simply loved to laugh at every opportunity and I found it very endearing.

I lifted my glass of whisky and sniffed it gingerly. It had a strong, spicy smell that had a bit of a smokey undertone to it. “Do I sip it?” I asked, hoping I didn’t sound like too much of a fool for asking.

“Oh, absolutely. It is meant to be enjoyed.”

I took a small sip and was surprised at the flavor; it tasted much like it smelled. There was a burn as it went down my throat, but it was actually very good, and it brought a smile to my face and a flush to my cheeks.

I caught Jake staring at me just as the lights dimmed and the curtain rose over the stage. I looked back at him and our eyes locked. I could feel the electricity sparking between us, but I didn’t have time to wonder what that was about as the dancers took the stage, effectively pulling my attention.

A slow, soulful saxophone began to play and a woman dressed in a glistening silver gown sauntered on stage. She slid her feather boa off and twirled it around twice before draping it over the piano player’s neck with a shake of her shoulders. The tune picked up as the piano and drums added their beats and more dancers ran on stage. All were dressed in what I could only describe as their undergarments. Gone were the draping gowns with yards and yards of fabric. Some wore corsets that were so tight, their bosoms were spilling out the top, while others were almost completely bare except for small coverings on their chests and backsides.

I soaked in every dance as I sipped my whisky until it was gone. I stared dazedly into my empty glass, wishing that more would appear.

“Another?” Jake asked, his eyes sparkling.

“Yes!” I said, then ducked my head in embarrassment at my overly enthusiastic answer.

He touched my chin and lifted it with his fingers to look in my eyes. “You are an enigma, Becca.”

I smiled at him. “Becca. I like that.”

“One more, then the princess needs to get back to her tower,” Jake said, holding his hand up to get Frankie’s attention.

The rest of the night passed in a whirlwind of lights, and dancing and alcohol.

Prohibition be damned.

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