It doesn’t rain in southern California but it did that night.
I was late and it was raining as I drove the Black Beauty through the side streets to avoid the highways where people have never seen rain but aren’t deterred from driving like fools.
The club was just four miles away but it would likely take me another thirty minutes. I turned on the AM radio and tried to find a channel playing peppy music for a rainy night. I found nothing. Just news, the latest loud music and preachers.
I turned off the radio and got a cigarette from my left overcoat pocket.
I learned to be careful about which pocket I stored my smokes in. The right pocket had a tendency to flood with fluid with the slightest bump giving the unfiltered Camels a moist, cabernet taste.
I was resigned to being late for my first show of the evening. Maybe the audience would be late too.
I drove along the Mulholland and down to the Top Hat Club just off of Hollywood Boulevard.
Being just off the boulevard of broken dreams, weirdos and prostitutes was the key to the Top Hat Club. Only high class folks in the club. The guest stars were the best in the business, the staff could not be topped and the audience came for one reason, to be amazed.
Victor parked and sheltered me from the unusual rain with his umbrella as I strolled from the Black Beauty to the club’s entrance. Reggie was on duty and took the umbrella from me.
“How you doing, Sir?” Reggie asked.
I don’t know if he knew my name or was just being polite. Probably the latter.
I took one last puff on my soggy cigarette and flicked the butt into the ashtray by the coat check booth.
“Hello, Mr. Quinlan,” the young lady purred as I handed her my overcoat.
“Be careful, it’s loaded,” I said.
She smiled as she patted the right pocket gently.
“Got another show tonight after here?”
I nodded, reached into the coat she held with well-manicured hands and a fixated stare on me. I pulled out my pack of Camels and released my grip on the coat.
“Where’s the other show? Maybe I could come see you perform.”
She turned her back to put up my coat and handed me the coat check tag.
“Private party in the Hills,” I said.
I lit another cig and turned to blow the smoke away from her.
“Sounds exotic,” she said. “Need an assistant? Don’t all magicians need an assistant to distract the eye from the magic?”
I nodded and took in the scene.
The coat check booth was the darkest part of the club. There was velvet stretched across the counter, velvet along the columns that made up the sides and even velvet along the top. I figured the velvet absorbed all the light in the space. Might be a good thing to remember when making an illusion, I thought. For some reason, though, she was clearly visible. Like a spotlight was on her.
“Do you need an assistant?” she asked again as if my nod was not sufficient.
“Sure, do you know any that might fit the costume. It’s pretty tight.”
She smiled but didn’t blush or even turn away.
“I am sure I could fit it. I’ve been on a strict diet. Gin and cigarettes.” She smiled again but didn’t avert her gaze.
“I’ve got in the car,” I said.
“You drive around with an assistant’s costume? Just driving up and down Hollywood looking for a gal with the right body to fit . . .”
“Nah, I just happened to pick it up at the cleaners this afternoon. It had been there for a while and they were threatening to sell it if I didn’t.”
“What happened to the other gal? She get fat or something?”
Another customer came by, handed in his coat, she hung it and handed him his token.
“So what happened,” she persisted.
“She blew the show.”
“Couldn’t take it? Did you cut her in that box of yours?”
I smiled, drew heavily and deeply on the Camel.
“Nope, she got pregnant. Couldn’t fit in the box.”
“That’s a shame but now you need someone who can fit, right?”
She turned to the side as if she was a model on a runway showing her wares.
“I can fit,” she said with a smile that should have told me there was danger. But it was the kind of smile that a guy sees and forgets everything else.
“How about this,” I started and she looked deeply into my eyes, “after my show tonight, I’ll get the costume, you can try it on and we’ll talk.”
“We’ll talk while I am wearing your costume? What kind of girl do you think I am?” She smiled as she asked what I took to be a rhetorical question.
“Sounds good to you?” I asked as I dropped my butt into the ashtray.
“Sounds real good,” she said with a radiant smile and deep blue eyes.
She had great teeth; I noticed that.
Really great teeth like she had work done on them. Half of the women in Hollywood are waiting for their break into the world of movies and of that half, 90 percent have had work done.
I couldn’t tell if they were real or not but they looked great. I felt like I was back at Santa Anita, evaluating horses.
I took my token and walked away. I didn’t look back for fear she would be looking at me and that could mean something or nothing. Maybe she just wanted a job. Maybe something more.
I was distracted, to say the least, during my shows. She wasn’t in the audience for any of them. That made sense, she needed to mind the coats. Still I had been hoping.
As I walked back toward the coat check booth to get my overcoat, I paused. I took a puff and looked at the ceiling and then at my shoes.
What was I getting myself into? I didn’t even know her name. She knew mine. That meant something. Just what, I didn’t know.