A lifetime of being able to tell a man’s worth at a glance was possibly the most useful skill a woman could learn. Charlotte had discovered such a skill at fourteen when that ignorant windbag that called himself her father had decided that she was to marry young. Get her out of his hair, he’d been thinking. It only prepped her further to be able to figure out what to look for. Naturally it was her mother who’d truly taught her. She’d not been more than a child at the time but that woman knew how to create opportunity when it came to men. She’d let Charlotte watch. That woman knew how to sharpen knives with her eyes and found the weakest of men in a heartbeat. The strongest ones too. Mother knew best how to tame and when to strike. It was with these precious gifts now that Charlotte found herself a striking example of the perfect prey. The man looked the part of confidence but his mannerisms betrayed him. Little more than a pup, Charlotte spotted. His young face with the sneer and attitude of a king but clearly none of the experience. But he did look rather dashing in his stripped suit and his shiny shoes. He was a young man indeed but one who had lots to spend this evening. How generous of him to supply her with his company.
“Can tell from that accent that you’re a woman of class,” he remarked casually as he plunked down in the seat across from her. “Don’t see much of that around here. What brings you to this kind of place?”
“I’m a woman in love with the world,” she smiled brightly. Oh how she loathed this part of the chase but these young ones loved to catch the vivacious ones. The ones who had such foolish hopes and dreams. Still, cynicism was so much more palatable than this dreadful act of innocence. “So many things to see here. The lights, the excitement! And you, sir, what brings you to a place such as this?”
“You must be new to town, pretty miss,” he smiled. “The name is McHaley. John if you’re here on business, Jack if you’re here for pleasure.”
“Pleased to meet you, Jack,” she purred.
“Pleasure’s all mine, miss-”
“LaMarche. Julianne LaMarche,” she said, extending her hand to him. “And, why I’ve just been so busy getting lost around this area that I’d say you were the first inviting face I’ve seen here, Jack.”
“Well, I do believe that’s a crime, letting a lovely lady such as yourself feel so unwelcome here,” Jack said, leering. Charlotte pretended not to notice, smiling as she looked around this place. Definitely too underwhelming for even the least discerning French chefs. After letting her host get a good look at what he wanted, she perked back up at attention and he smiled. He raised his hand to a nearby server. “Two drinks. Make them specials, kid. It’s a special occasion.”
The boy, barely older than fifteen at best, nodded quickly and hurried off towards the kitchen. Charlotte hid her smile behind her gloved hand. Oh, if only Jack knew. She could see in his eyes that he thought this was her being shy. Oh very adorable of him. This was almost too simple for her.
The two drinks arrived almost instantly and from here, the act was on high. After Jack had downed his first and started off on a second, they moved to a more intimate booth. Charlotte played the role of ‘Julianne’ as well a she could, pausing when she started find her company a bit too insufferable and hiding behind her drink. It was decent enough wine though nothing that she would touch regularly. A bit too dry and not vintage at all. Granted, in this country, vintage might as well be 1920 for all their understanding of history. Regardless, it took the edge off as Jack took the reigns of the conversation and began to tell her wild tales of how he’d come to own this bar. He was the owner, after all. He’d been the one to chase out all the rivals. He’d organized the raids. Even hired the man whose building company had given the modern touch to everything in this pity poor town. This must have been a bragging point of high import here because Jack mentioned it at least two more times as he drank, looking around himself with the kind of pride that only someone who stole something might look. Charlotte had to bite back her curiosity about this mystery man that Jack was so proud to know. Apparently he was rather important to the foundation of the town, though very few people knew him and even fewer were allowed to meet with him in person. Jack seemed to scoff at that. For all his pride, he stopped short of saying that he’d never met the man, per se. He had spoken with him, of course, but quickly steered the one sided conversation away before he’d revealed anything more. Charlotte, dying a bit inside at the want to know more, gripped her drink as she tried to pull her best Julianne impression.
“Well, to own the biggest building that I’ve seen here, you must surely be the most popular man in all of Courtland County,” she said, gagging internally on every word. “This man who puts up the buildings, why he couldn’t possibly be as important as you. Don’t you ever worry about that? I mean, with the dreadful things happening in the news and all, doesn’t that scare you?”
Oh, even Caroline would scoff at such a remark. Luckily, Jack McHaley was getting to the blistering side of drunk and hadn’t noticed that she had barely drained even an eighth of her own glass while he continued to order more for himself. He’d also failed to notice how utterly terrible an actress Charlotte was. It was a good thing that she had no real designs on being a screen siren. It was only through mercy of the dark mood lighting around her and the booth that they had moved to that no one else had paid witness to that wretched performance.
“That guy had it coming. Guy they found over in the slums there? Yeah, he wasn’t long for the wait and he had it coming,” Jack scoffed, more to his drink. “Worked the ladies out of his little shack there and even had some kids fixed up to follow when one of those working girls called it quits. You never mind my speaking in front of a lady here, Miss Julie, but that guy was one foot in the grave anyway. ‘Least that’s what I heard coming from some of my friends that hang around this place when they need to unwind. Had word that someone was looking to put the straights on him but looks like someone else got to him first. All the better for me, I’ll tell you that.”
“Oh? And why do you say that, Jack?” Charlotte asked, her voice slipping into her regular tone but she couldn’t care less. This conversation was quickly getting tiresome and she knew that her host was not only too drunk to notice, he was also very rapidly becoming less useful to her.
“Man like that doesn’t usually have anyone of interest for me but there’s always a few gems kicking around. Girls that just need a little bit more attention,” he said, practically to himself.
He shot a look her way that told her that he intended to give her more information than she wanted on that subject. Charlotte smiled back in a way that might make a sober man cringe. She looked as though she was simply fidgeting with her purse as she slipped something beneath the small glove on her right hand. It was time for Jack McHaley to go to sleep.
“Well a good cigarette girl is a waste in a place that doesn’t appreciate her,” Charlotte said, choking on the idea that she could be cast as someone in so shameful a role. The indignity of thinking of it might well make her ill. Swallowing her disgust, she smiled and offered to take his teacup that he’d been downing drink after drink from. “Could I be of service to you and grab you another drink, Jack?”
“You’re an angel, Miss Julie,” he said, handing her the empty cup. “Tell ’em not to be so stingy this time.”
“Oh I will,” she beamed, taking the cup.
Sauntering away, she let him get a good look at the sway of her hips but he failed to see the grin on her face. Oh, this poor little pup had been of some interest and it did give her a few ideas on where to find that wayward Miss Caroline. Now, however, he was starting to be boring and that was simply criminal. The serving boy quickly appeared seemingly out of nowhere and replaced the cup in her hands with a new full one. She thanked him sweetly and waited until his back was turned before she carefully covered the cup with her right hand and exposed her palm above the liquid. Above the din, no one could hear the sound of something small hitting the liquor but it was a sound that made Charlotte giddy and she could hear it anywhere. When she was certain it had dissolved completely, she walked deliberately slowly to Jack McHaley and set the cup down before him. He took a large swig of the dark amber liquid without even looking at it. She smiled as the dazed man soon became even more drowsy. Babbling more to himself now, Charlotte leaned in and made suggestive motions each time anyone might happen by to keep them from interrupting. Jack was nearly face down on the table by the time she let herself speak in her real voice.
“This important man that you spoke of,” she whispered, almost viciously. “What’s this important man’s name?”
“Secret,” he practically whispered. “Won’t tell anyone but his lawyer. Mr. White. They just call him Mr. White, depends on who you are.”
Those were the last words that Jack McHaley said before the syllables were rendered to inarticulate slurs and blubbers. They quickly were silenced as his eyes closed and he bowed his head to the table. Drooling over his hand, Charlotte sneered at the sight but took pity on him to put his hat over his face as he snored. She escorted herself out, waiting until she got to her vehicle before taking off her gloves and throwing the old ones into the ditch before driving back towards the house.