Marie is singing that damn song again.
She’s up on stage, the cigarette smoke from the lads in the front row curling around her long legs, holding the microphone like a secret lover. I know there’s not a man in this speakeasy that wouldn’t give his right arm to trade places with that microphone stand right now; to have her fingers tracing the curvature of their spines and her lips whispering husky sweet nothings in their ears.
Not a man beside myself, that is. I’ve been down that long and winding road and I won’t be going there again, thanks very much.
I take another sip of my whiskey and nod to the barkeep for another. After a few seconds have passed without another glass appearing on the bar beside me I look over to see him staring at Marie, polishing a beer mug so hard I’m surprised it hasn’t shattered yet. I clear my throat to get his attention and dip my head again.
He busies himself with something suspiciously similar to a blush darkening his greasy cheeks and I return my attention to the stage. Despite my feelings for the woman, I can’t stop myself from admiring the seductive sway of her hips or the plunging neckline of her little red dress. The way her long brown curls frame that perfectly pale face.
It’s not hard to see how I fell into that Venus Flytrap all those years ago. She hasn’t changed at all - nothing has sagged, nothing has wrinkled. I wish I could say the same about myself.
I take a final sip from my second glass just as the third bumps into my elbow, spilling a drop on the sleeve of my faded navy blazer. I toss the man an evil eye but he’s already under Marie’s spell again. An unheard sigh escapes my lips and I drain the new arrival in one throat-burning, eye-watering swallow.
Thank God for liquid courage. I wouldn’t have made it through the door tonight if prohibition was still in place. But then again, maybe that succubus would never have dug her claws into me if I had been sober that night.
Enough of this. There’s a job to be done and it won’t do itself.
“I’d like to buy the lady a drink,” I tell the smitten barkeep. He looks over at me and blinks slowly so I repeat my statement.
“You and every other guy in this town,” he says with a sneer and spits on the floor at his feet.
“She’s fond of a good red wine,” I carry on as though he had not spoken. “Chateau Beychevelle if you’ve got it, which I suspect you don’t. So make it the best red you’ve got.”
He gives me a look that’s devoid of sympathy and full of disdain so I slap a couple of twenties on the bar with my right hand and point to a bottle of red on the wall behind him with my left. His greedy eyes take in the bills, an amount close to double his usual tips for a week’s worth of work. Without a word he reaches back, plucks the red from its precarious perch, and plunks it down in front of me. The money is gone before my fingers can touch its neck.
“And a glass,” I tell him. “Or do you expect the lady to drink from the bottle?”
“You sure you don’t want two, Romeo?”
I pull a knife from my pocket and stab the cork, pulling it free with a savage twist, without breaking eye contact. He scoffs at me but he produces the glass as requested. Upon seeing the dirt-crusted rim I almost demand another, then realize the resident germs will be the least of this drink’s dangers.
I fill half the glass and turn away to wait for this siren song to end. I glance around to make sure all eyes are still on Marie, which of course they are, before pulling the vial from the inside pocket of my blazer. The contents are emptied into the drink in the blink of an eye and the container disappears into the pocket as unnoticed as it left it.
I swirl the glass gently as the saxophone reaches its climax and the room vibrates with Marie’s urgent words. The whiskey is roaring in my veins, pushing me to act, but I force myself to wait a few moments longer. The timing has to be perfect; she can’t suspect a thing.
The song ends at last and the men roar their approval, shaking their tables with thumping fists and stomping feet. I rise on unsteady legs and make my way to the stage as she blows kisses to a lucky few. The distant voice of jealousy makes its displeasure known at this sight but I keep walking. There’s no time for that right now.
“A toast,” I call up to her as I proffer the glass. “To old times.”
Her dark red lips curve into a pouty smile that doesn’t reach her hazel eyes. The cheers die down slowly as all eyes fall on me, this overweight, sweating stranger who dares to offer their vixen a drink. I can feel the riot starting already.
“You shouldn’t have,” she purrs and I can tell she means it. “It’s nice to see you haven’t forgotten my taste in wine.”
“Never,” I reply with my most charming smile. “Are you going to leave me standing here all night? I’m an old man now, I can’t keep my arm like this forever you know. Just have a sip now and we’ll finish the rest together after your set.”
Marie shrugs and takes the glass. I drop my hand into my pockets, hoping that she didn’t see how badly it had begun to shake the moment it was freed of its burden. She raises the glass in mock salute and puts it to her lips. Triumph joins the alcohol racing through my blood as she tips her head and knocks back the whole drink in one go.
Then she smashes the glass at my feet to the boisterous approval of her adoring fans and signals for the band to start the next song. I smile a final goodbye and walk back to the bar.
“That didn’t go quite as you planned, now did it?” the barkeep asks with a laugh and places another whiskey in front of me.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” I say as pick up my drink and head for the door. “In fact, I’d say that went exactly as planned.”
Marie is singing that damn song again.