John’s cane clicked along as he made his way down the sidewalk. He hated using the blasted thing, but therapy had been especially painful today, so there was no getting around it. Besides, where he was headed no one paid much heed to him, much less his cane.
He turned down a side street not much bigger than an alley. He knew the way well. His life had fallen into a simple pattern since moving to Lansing. Work, therapy, drink, sleep, repeat. Had he known that Ingham County had passed prohibition laws years ago, he might have thought twice about accepting the job at the State Journal, but it wasn’t so bad. It hadn’t been difficult at all locating an underground establishment near his new home.
As he neared the entrance, a taxicab pulled up outside.
Strange, John thought. This bar wasn’t the kind you would travel a great distance for. Its patrons were mostly locals. Why would someone take a cab here?
His curiosity increased when a slender leg, followed by another, slipped out of the backseat. John sighed with disappointment when the owner of those legs adjusted her dress and the hem fell just above her two-toned boots. Her rolled-brim hat blocked her face from his view, but he could tell by the way she was dressed – pretty, but conservative by the day’s standards – that this was no speakeasy regular. Maybe she was visiting someone in the neighborhood?
But she was in fact here for the saloon. She walked straight to the door, gave the knock and passed through easily. Something in John’s journalistic nature perked up. He picked up his pace, ignoring the increased pain in his back.
John walked through the door just in time. The woman stood facing the bar speaking to a man seated there. He couldn’t hear her voice over the noisy crowd, but the man was facing John, and he could hear what he was saying.
“Baby, I told you. I’m sorry.”
John chuckled from the doorway. So, the wife had caught him, but at what? Drinking at a bar? That was certainly enough to upset a woman of conservative values.
John watched as the woman’s shoulder drew back.
“Poor sucker,” John thought. “He’s about to get slapped, and he doesn’t seem to –”
But she didn’t slap him. To John’s astonishment, and the man’s, the young woman punched him very squarely in the nose.
The man went flying off the stool, whether by the force of the hit or from pure shock, John wasn’t certain. He laid on the floor holding his nose and swearing at her.
“You broke it! You broke my nose, you, you –”
The woman didn’t wait for the insult that was forthcoming. She stood over the poor sap, lifted the pretty leg that John was only moments earlier admiring, and brought the heel of her boot sharply down between the man’s legs.
John winced, as did every other man in the bar, and the man cried out in agony from the assault. The entire establishment fell silent.
Having accomplished her mission, the woman spun on her heels and walked straight toward the door. It wasn’t until she was mere inches from running straight into John that she finally looked up and came to a grinding halt.
It was the first John had seen of her face. Everything around them faded away as the sound of his heartbeat echoed in his ears. Never had he seen a woman more beautiful. Her hair was covered by her hat, but a stray curl had fallen across her forehead – blonde. It suited her skin, he thought. And even in the dimly lit room, there was no mistaking her eye color – bright green with specks of amber stared back at him from behind long, thick lashes. He followed her straight, strong nose down to a pair of full, pouty lips that were moving, saying something to him.
“You’re in my way. Move,” the beauty commanded.
John burst into laughter. She was feisty. He liked that. He stepped out of her way, bowing ceremoniously, despite the pain it caused him.
“Of course, Milady. Anything you say.” He looked up at her and grinned. “I wouldn’t want to end up like your gentleman friend.”
“He’s no friend of mine,” the fiery blonde grumbled as she swept past him and out the door.
John stood for several moments staring at the door, wanting badly to follow her and find out more about this woman that made his heart race. He moved toward the door, but felt the all too familiar fire in his lower back and changed his mind. What would a woman like her want with an invalid like him?
The man on the floor was just beginning to pull himself back to his stool when John sat down and ordered a drink.
“I’ll take another one, too, Jimmy,” said the younger man.
“Yeah, you need it,” Jimmy laughed. “This one’s on me.”
John sipped his drink, trying hard to not laugh at the boy. He sat clutching a rag with ice between his legs, a sour scowl on his face. John knew he was better off staying out of the man’s business, but the journalist in him couldn’t resist getting to the bottom of the story.
“Wife not happy with you?”
“Not my wife, my fiancé. Or, ex-fiancé I guess.”
John was happy to hear that the beautiful blonde was not married to the pretty boy sitting next to him. He turned and looked at the door again but realized that her taxicab was likely far from the speakeasy by now.
“What did you do to screw that up?”
“Another girl?” John asked in disbelief. “She must be a real looker to choose her over that one.”
“Nope. Not even close. But that one expected me to wait until the wedding night.” He thrust a thumb in the direction of the door. “The other one didn’t. So, it really didn’t matter what she looked like, if you know what I mean.”
John wrapped his fingers tightly around the handle of his mug. His jaw flexed as he eyed the arrogant jerk. It wasn’t that long ago that he’d made an equally disrespectful remark to Will, but for some reason this man’s comment set John’s temper afire. He took a deep breath and focused on the foam of his amber colored drink.
“I didn’t expect her to show up like that,” the pretty boy continued. “I expected some sort of beating, or worse, but not from her. I kind of figured I’d be staring down the barrel of her father’s shotgun. The Reverend is pretty protective of her, and he’s got a temper.”
“A gun-toting pastor?” John chuckled. Was this kid spinning stories for his sake?
“Yeah, well Reverend Albright isn’t like most preachers.”
John nearly dropped his beer. “What did you say?”
“I said, her dad isn’t like most preachers.”
“No, who did you say her father was?”
John dropped his head into his hand. So, that was Phoebe Albright.
Of course, John thought. The first woman to ever truly turn my head turns out to be Will Caffey’s girl. He ran his fingers through his sand-colored hair and motioned to the bartender.
“I’ll take another,” John said, then, deciding he needed something stronger, “and a double shot of whiskey.”