"Gosh, Mr. Gemcity, I couldn't put it down!"
Tim smiled at the freckled teen who stood grinning before him, her hand extended out as she handed him her copy of Deep Six. It was nice to get this kind of recognition and respect. Too bad Thom E. Gemcity - not Timothy McGee - was the one who got it. "I'm glad you liked it so much," he said sincerely as he took the book. "What's your name?"
"Oh, it's Enid," she told him, a blush creeping into her cheeks. "I just love the characters. They all seem like they're real people!"
Tim hoped she didn't notice him wince as he signed the inside of the book: To Enid, all the best, love Thom. "Thanks for coming out," he said as he handed the book back. "I appreciate your support."
As the girl left Tim leaned back and stretched his arms up. He had been at The Book Nook book store for nearly three hours; one hour spent reading excerpts and answering questions and two hours spent signing autographs and smiling for pictures. While his wrist was aching from so much writing and he was seeing spots from so many camera flashes, he was surprised to find that he wasn't so tired. It was only just 10:00pm and he wasn't quite ready to head back to his hotel.
"I can't tell you how grateful we are, Mr. Gemcity, that you came here for a book signing." Rory Payne, the store's owner, was readying the store for closing now that the book signing was over. While not nearly as large or as well-known as chain stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble, The Book Nook was a quaint and cozy little bookstore on in north Chicago. Tim was happy to be helping out small businesses on his book signing tour.
"It's no problem," he assured her as he grabbed his coat. He had arrived that morning and so far The Windy City was living up to it's name. "Could you recommend a good place around here for a drink?"
Rory grabbed her coat as well, walking Tim to the door. "The Green Mill is always a good spot. It's Al Capone's old jazz club."
That perked Tim's interest. "Is it still jazz club?"
"Sure, they have performers there every now and then. Maybe not jazz specifically, but that kind of easy listening music," she explained as they stepped out. She locked the door behind them. "It's down that way," she said pointing south, "and then you take a right at the second street. You can't miss it."
"Okay, thank you." He paused, wondering if he should invite her for a drink.
As if reading his mind, Rory yawned and said, "I'm beat, so I think I'm going to get home to my cozy bed and broken heater. Thank you again!" she called out as she walked off in the opposite direction.
"No problem!" he replied with a smile and a wave. He walked down the street and, sure enough, soon saw a large neon sign reading "The Green Mill."
The club was crowded when he entered. To his right was a long, dimly lit bar. Straight ahead were booths and tables, all of which were currently occupied. At the very front of the club was a medium-sized stage, currently occupied by a lone pianist whose fingers were moving rapidly across the keys. He noticed other patrons with their eyes closed shaking their heads back and forth as if completely absorbing the music. One woman was leaning back against a man with her eyes closed. Every time the pianist went up or down the scale she would grasp the man's leg as though the sound of the piano was so incredibly overwhelming she would have to hold on tight.
Tim stood still at the back of the club, not seeing anywhere to sit and not wanting to simply stand there holding a drink. Waitresses bumped past him carrying orders back and forth.
When the pianist finished his piece the crowd broke into applause, whistling and calling out for an encore. The man, though, announced that his set was done and that there would be a short break before the next act come on. As he left the stage more than half of the patrons also stood and made their way out of the club through a door near the stage.
"Isn't there another act?" Tim asked a passing waitress.
She turned back to look at the stage. "Yeah…and singer I think. People are just leaving for smoke breaks."
"Are their tables unavailable then?"
The waitress shrugged. "They're not using them and we don't have any kind of saving policy."
Tim slipped to a small open table near the front of the stage, silently patting himself on the back for not being a smoker. He ordered a glass of Chardonnay and looked around the club. There was certainly a 1920's feel to it in the décor. Definitely the kind of place you'd expect to find a gangster.
The waitress placed his wine on the table just as another pianist entered the stage. "This girl's good," she confided in him before walking away. Tim was confused because, as far as he could see, the pianist was a man.
The pianist placed a few opening notes and a back drop curtain opened to reveal a woman in a red gown that showed off every curve of her body. Her hair was deep red and fell down around her shoulders in soft curls. She took center stage with a smug grin, as though she owned the place. "You're…mean to me," she sang with a pout on her lips. "Why must you be mean to me? Gee….honey, it seems to me…you love to see me crying." She continued the song with a sultry, chesty voice. She and the pianist played off of each other, with changing rhythms, harmonies, and slurs. Around him Tim could hear men whistling at her which only seemed to further encourage her sex kitten persona.
"It must be great fun to be mean to me…you shouldn't…" she perched herself on the piano bench with her back to the pianist. "For can't you see…what you mean to me?" She held the last note out , not actually cutting it off but simply getting softer until the note faded away. In response to the applause, the woman gently bowed her head, though the smug smile remained.
She perched herself atop the piano, crossing her legs at the ankle. She looked to the pianist with a smile and nodded. The man hit a note and watched for her to take the lead. "When the little blue bird, who has never said a word, starts to sing: "Spring! Spring!" she half-sang, half-spoke. She went at an agonizingly slow tempo as though teasing the audience. "It is nature, that's all," she said, "simply telling us…to fall in love!" She slapped the side of the piano and the tempo picked up to a steady pace. She brassily belted out, "And that's why birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. Let's do it; let's fall in love!" She smiled cheekily at the audience, as though the idea that she may have been hinting at sex was just so taboo.
"Some Argentine's without means do it. People say in Boston even beans do it! Let's do it; let's fall in love!" She struck a pose with her hands out to the audience, palms open as though accepting their praise and applause.
Tim was clapping along with the rest of them, completely entranced by the woman. She was like something out of an old film noir. She looked every bit the part of the sultry vixen who would bewitch (or try to bewitch) the detective. She looked as though her time not spent on stage was spent on the arm of a mobster, a mink wrap hanging off of her shoulders.
The woman suddenly caught his eyes and smiled. Not the same smug smile that she had given before. This smile was more playful and more genuine. She leaned over to the pianist and whispered something into his ear before sliding of off the piano.
The piano started up and the woman took her place back in the center of the stage. "I don't care what the weather man says when the weather man says it's raining; you'll never hear me complaining. I'm certain the sun will shine," she sang, this time in a sweeter tone than she had in the previous two songs. It was a song that Tim knew sounded familiar, though he couldn't quite place it.
She slowly walked to the side of the stage where Tim sat. "I don't care where the weather vane points when the weather vane points to gloomy. It's gotta be sunny to me, when your eyes look in to mine." The pianist hit a chord and the woman went into a faster tune, her eyes directed squarely on Tim. "Jeepers creepers! Where'd you get those peepers? Jeepers creepers! Where'd you get those eyes?"
Tim's cheeks were pink and he couldn't help but avert his eyes downward to his still full glass of wine. The woman, though, continued unfazed, coming even closer to his table as she serenaded him. He could feel the spotlight on him and knew that every patron in the club was currently watching him.
When he glanced back up she was still looking directly at him, still smiling that playful smile. "Jeepers creepers! Where'd you get those peepers? Oh, those weepers, how they hypnotize! Where'd you get those eyes?" She finished the song, throwing a wink Tim's way, before announcing she would be taking a short break. As she sauntered off stage she threw a final look Tim's way.
Tim let out a soft sigh, feeling embarrassed and flattered all at once. He downed his glass of wine and stood. There was an open seat near the bar and he thought it best to enjoy the rest of the show from afar.
AN/Legal Mumbo Jumbo: "Mean to Me" is the property of Fats Waller, "Let's Do It" is the property of Cole Porter, and "Jeepers Creepers" is the property of Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren.