It was five minutes to eight and still, Delphine sat at her cluttered dresser, mostly ready for her night-time outing. She donned a dress of baby-pink satin with a slightly daring neckline, gentle frills around the hem and chiffon panels that flowed down from her shoulder-blades. Her auburn hair had been stylishly shingled and adorned with a soft, pink rose. ‘If mother could see me now!’ she thought with an inward chuckle. She looked good-she knew she looked good. But the words ‘elegant’ and ‘understated’ certainly didn’t spring to mind when Delphine looked at herself. Too much cleavage, too much makeup, too much boldness.
She met Priscilla literally outside the bakery when she wandered down. She, of course, looked just perfect in her red-black paneled dress, slightly outdated but perfect on her. The sequins glittering under the soft street-lamp that hung above them. Her hair was combed into a lulu-bob and held in place with a glittered, red headband. She had no doubt Priscilla would succeed in securing more than a couple of dance-partners. If they did happen to judge her old-fashioned frock then Delphine was sure her friendliness would make up for it.
“You look gorgeous Delphine!” Priscilla gasped, admiring the way the panels fluttered, like wings, on Delphine’s back.
“As do you Priscilla. And if we’re going to be friends you might as well call me Delphi. Everybody else does.”
“Very well-and you may call me Cilla. Shall we go then? The tram is due in five minutes.”
“Then I think we’d better!”
The tram ride was quick as Priscilla had promised and after they got off the walk to this new night-club called Harmonies had been even quicker. The place was new indeed; silky shades of black and jade-green checkered the dance-floor with drapes of bottle-green velvet against the walls and a similar color-scheme with elements of gold decorating the bars and table-tops. The music that came from the stage-band was slow and delicious; just the way Delphine liked it. There was liveliness to it as Priscilla had promised but it wasn’t overcrowded. All in all, Delphine was sure she could be comfortable here.
“Let’s get something to drink,” Priscilla practically had to shout. “I’m famished!”
The found a couple of empty stools at the bar. Nabbing them before anybody else could, they took a brief look at the drink-menus as they waited for the bar-tender to reach them. Priscilla had made up her mind to have a flute of champagne but Delphine was still deciding. She wanted something sweet but strong.
“May I recommend a cosmopolitan?” The man beside her suggested. “I’m told they’re supposed to be quite famous here.”
“I’ve never had a cosmopolitan before. What are they like?”
“Half raspberry, half vodka and pink. A bit like your dress madam.”
Delphine took an appraising look at the man beside her. A young gentleman, a couple of years older than herself with dark, slightly wavy hair and eyes much the same color. Handsome too, she thought, in a smoldering sort of way. Clean-shaven if she could tell by the cologne. And such a nice cologne it was too.
“You’re observant,” Delphine told him. “And bold too, I’m guessing.”
“Observant, yes but not bold. Unless you think the two are mutually exclusive.”
“In my experience that has often been the case.” Delphine was aware that Priscilla was still beside her and realized she was being very rude. “Thank you for the recommendation. My friend and I aren’t very familiar with this place. I understand it’s a new establishment?”
The man looked to both of them, having the decency to look a little abashed. Delphine had wondered for a brief moment whether it was because he was so taken with her or just because his view of Priscilla was obstructed by Delphine herself. Of course Delphine would like to think it was the former but the likeliest answer, with her luck, would’ve been the latter. Men looked at Delphine but she was never the first thing they saw. Not when compared to the likes of her flaxen-haired cousin and soft, pretty girls like Priscilla.
“Yes, I believe it only opened two weeks ago. This is my first time here as well. In any case I don’t believe I’ve seen you around the area before and I’ve lived in Victson since I was a boy. Are you new here?”
“Not exactly. I grew up in Bridgebury estate, not far from Victson. However I’ve been abroad for the past five years and this is my first day back in England.”
“Bridgebury estate…doesn’t that belong to the Price family?”
“Oh yes, so it does.” Delphine chose to be aloof about it. “A rather pompous family, I’ve found.”
Priscilla shot her a puzzled look. Delphine would explain later-that is, if the deception was worth it.
“I’ve only ever seen them in the newspapers-society columns. I understand the patriarch of the family, Richard Price, does a great deal of charity work.”
“A generous endeavor, but then so do a lot of old-money families. To give others the impression that they’re putting their never-ending fortunes to good use.”
“You don’t approve?”
“Oh I approve of charity work, just not when they refuse to follow through with practicing what they preach.”
The man smiled at her then and Delphine was inclined to believe it was only her. She would turn every now and then to Priscilla to assure her that she didn’t intend to neglect her new friend but as Delphine and this man fell deeper into conversation she spied a tall, young gentleman approaching Priscilla for a dance.
“Do you mind terrible Delphi? I don’t want to abandon you.”
“Go right ahead Cilla-I’ll be more than fine right here.”
As Priscilla followed the gentleman onto the dance-floor Delphine turned back to the man so she could give him her full attention.
“Your name is Delphi then, is it? Can’t say I’ve heard it much.” The man remarked.
“Delphine’s the full version of it but my friends call me Delphi. You know my name now so what, pray tell, is yours?”
“Jona, just Jona. So Delphine, what part of Australia did you live in if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Not at all-it was a little place called Robina on the Gold Coast. It’s beautiful in the spring-time but summers is where I miss England the most. A summer-storm in Robina is like having a lukewarm shower!”
“I can imagine,” he chuckled. “I confess I haven’t done much travelling myself. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to of course but after secondary school I went straight into training.”
“I wish I could’ve done the same. The main reason I went to Australia in the first place was that my parents hoped it would straighten me out.”
“Fancy yourself a bit of a rebel?” Now she was sure he was flirting.
“A conscientious objector to the reserved behaviors of an ideal housewife.”
“Well then that’s good because I certainly couldn’t see you in a frilly pinafore scrubbing dishes. It would seem like such a waste.”
Her heart began to quicken a little, heat pooling in her belly. She had laid with a man just once in her life. Before she left England for Australia she and the boy she fancied herself in love with had consummated their relationship, thinking it was as good as a marriage proposal. He’d promised to wait for her just moments before she boarded the ship only six months later to inform her that he’d found himself another sweetheart. Her school-friend, Olive Jones. Since then the concept of sex had lost a lot of its meaning to her. She’d done ‘things’ with men to placate her libido but going down that path again…she hadn’t considered it. Until right at that moment.
“Would you like to dance with me Delphine?” The man, Jona, stood, holding out his hand to her. Delphine took a moment to consider if this really was a good idea. It was more than likely that she would never see this man again after tonight and she’d already been mucked around by one handsome cad. Did she really want to take her chances with another?
But then Delphine thought again. She was not the naive teenager she used to be, she was not madly in love with this stranger and she did not have to do what anyone told her anymore. She was in control and if both parties were willing she certainly wouldn’t mind finding some nice, secluded spot so they could get better acquainted.
“I’d love to dance,” she replied finally, placing her smaller hand in his. “I have to warn you, my waltz is a little rusty.”
“I’m sure we can make do.”
As the two walked out onto the dance floor a woman in a beige-colored, silver-sequined dress took the stage. The band struck up a slow, memorizing tune and the singer counted to four before she eased her way in. Delphine was impressed. That woman had a voice that both melted into the background and demanded attention all at the same time. Sultry, velvety and strong. Delphine wanted to keep watching the singer but flirting with the man in front of her was a much more pressing matter.
“For someone who doesn’t waltz much you do have a way of moving.” He said softly into her ear. His breath tickling her.
“It’s a hidden talent of mine. I have many of them.”
“Interesting. Would you care to show me the others?”
It was a proposition if Delphine had ever heard one. She looked up to him with a salacious grin, matching the twinkle in his eyes. Already she was scanning the room, looking for some dark, little nook for them to run off to. It would be scandalous if they got caught and her face ended up in the society columns. But if they weren’t it would’ve been awfully exciting.
The tension was broken by a deafening bang, a broken cry and a scream. Delphine’s eyes flew to the stage and she gasped in horror. The sultry singer in the beautiful, beige frock was no longer standing but collapsing. Her head hit the stage-floor with a ‘thunk’, resting in a deep, red pool of what Delphine realized in shock was blood.
“Somebody help!” The trombone player fell to her knees, trying in vain to compress the wound. “She’s been shot!”