FICTION: Worry a Line by Jack Bates

Baby I’m back in Dee-troit/ I don’t want to be here anymore/ Baby I’m back in Dee-troit/I don’t want to be here anymore/ Winter is a coming/ And I’m stuck this time for sure…

Wasn’t many that could worry a line like Dorie Glinn. She could hold a note on a word just so long to make that word roll over and seduce you. Worried it so you, she, and everyone else in the joint shared that experience. Ain’t nobody breathed when Dorie Glinn sang.

First time I heard her was at the old Hats Off Diner. The original there on Hastings Street. Blind pig at night in the back; hash house during the day out front. Everyone knew its secret. The cops certainly knew. A handful of money made them forget. The owner, Hats Foster, he kept the coin flowing to keep the back room open.

It was a little place full of big voices. Memphis Minnie. Lonnie Johnson. Blind Boy Fuller. And there she was, Dorie Glinn, singing with the best of them. Her daddy a preacher and Dorie a choir girl singing to a congregation of drunken men and painted women. People come in from all over to hear her. Mixed crowds, too.

Mixed or not, sometimes the crowds were trouble for other reasons. Hats had me to deal with the foot soldiers of the Tallman Gang or those from one of the Sicilian families coming to push us around. Sometimes they demanded protection money. One time some Piazza boys came in dressed as police and pretended to raid us. They shook everyone down and told the patrons they could go free for whatever they had in their wallets. Only thing that stopped them from getting away with it was the captain of the local police precinct was there. Hats wouldn’t let the Piazzas go without a reminder, though. We took them in the alley where our fists flew. Got me into a rhythm. Punch after punch accentuated with a positive grunt. Hats had to finally pull me away from one of the boys. The guy was a bloody mess.

Hats fell for Dorie the morning she came through the diner’s door. He was serving porkbelly and potatoes to the same cops he’d served liquor to the night before. I was reading the morning paper at a table with Baptist Jimmy Hope who played guitar at night and bused tables during the day. The bell over the door rang and there stood Dorie. Cooking was the last thing on Hats’ mind once he saw her.

Wasn’t hard to see why. She wore a simple white dress, flowers all over it. The neck hung low from the two straps on her shoulders. We could all see her budding breasts bobbing beneath and hiding behind the roses that covered her dress.

“Got some space up here at the counter, miss,” Hats said.  He wiped the spot with his apron.

“Thank you, but I’m not here to eat,” she said, her smile pearly white and so full.

“You looking for someone?” Hats asked.

“I’m looking for the owner.”

“You’re looking in the right direction. How can he help you?”

“I was wondering if he had need for a singer.”

Hats spread his hands on the counter. When a copper said his eggs were burning, Hats handed him the spatula.

“I just serve eggs and toast most mornings, darling. Sometimes I pour a little coffee. I got no need for a singer. Now a waitress would be another story.”

“I don’t sling hash, mister. I told you. I sing.”

Hats put his face in his hands and kept his elbows on the counter. “I don’t know where else you think you’re going to sing for me unless you drag me to a church. Lord knows that ain’t going to happen.”

“Ain’t no money singing in a church,” she said.

The copper with the spatula scooped the eggs onto a plate. He ate a mouthful and said, “If she sings as good as she looks, what the hell?”

Hats laughed and that made the rest of us laugh. He took the spatula and banged it on the edge of his grill. That slip of metal sang like the trumpets at Jericho. He banged it steady. She snapped her pretty lady fingers, swayed her slender hips, and belted out the words of what would become her signature song: Old, Cold Detroit. Baptist Jimmy Hope lifted his guitar and laid down the chords. It was a moment, I tell you. But that’s the thing about the blues, right? Blues can just happen.

Word got out about Dorie Glinn. The line out back stretched the whole alley. I told Hats it would be better to bring people in through the diner. Anyone going by would think people were just stopping off for a bite to eat; but if they saw people in the alley, they’d be more likely to call the police who would be obligated to do something thanks to Mr. Volstead. We’d bring those customers in through the false door in the store room when a table opened in the backroom. Hats agreed.

That kind of attention is both good and bad for business. It was good because it meant Hats was raking in a lot of money, but it was bad because it meant the gangs were keeping an eye on what was going on. Pretty soon they’d want a cut.

What concerned Hats was his wife.

There were three booths along the back wall of the joint and the middle one was hers to hold court. The talent was expected to stop by and say hi and of course they did if they wanted to get paid.

But when Queen Cornelia wasn’t there, that table belonged to Dorie.

It was a precarious situation. Wasn’t no secret the relationship between Hats and Dorie was more than professional. Maybe I meant less than professional.

One Friday we were opening the diner, Hats said he made plans for his wife to go to Toledo for her sister’s birthday.

“Why you telling me?” I asked.

“I don’t trust her to go. I guilted her into going. You know her sister hates her because she married me. Told her it was time to make amends. She doesn’t go, what am I going to do about tonight, Sayer? Dorie is supposed to sing tonight and Cornelia gonna be here.”

“What time she leaving?”

“Soon as I get her to the station.”

“You take her to Detroit Grand Central. I’ll go and get Dorie.”

“What are you going to tell Dorie?”

“That you had to run your wife to the train station so she could go see her sister for her birthday.”

Poor Hats couldn’t see there was no reason to lie. “This is a bad place I’ve put myself. I’d rather face down the gangs then get between Cornelia and Dorie.”

“Yes, you would,” I told him.

Dorie knew what was what as soon as I knocked on her apartment door. Hats usually picked her up. He’d get there early so they could be together. I got there an hour before she was supposed to sing.

Dorie wore a little silk robe and not much else. Had it hanging open just enough to show Hats the fine black triangle between her long, luscious legs. She pulled it closed when she saw me outside the door. Folded her arms and tapped a finger on her elbow. Her breasts pushed back against the silk over top of them. I looked up quick when she started speaking.

“He’s afraid his wife will be there, isn’t he?” she asked.

“Yes, miss”.

She slapped my shoulder. “Sayer Vaughn, you ain’t much older than me. You call me Dorie.” Her palm lingered along my sleeve. Something lit up in her eyes when she touched my arm.

“We best get to the diner,” I said.

“I got to get dressed first.” She undid the belt of her robe again and it opened just enough to let me see how fine her body was. I looked away but not before I saw her smile. I probably should have just closed the door and waited in the car but I followed her into that little spread of hers overlooking Woodward. Dorie went behind an accordion screen. That silk robe found its way over the top, draped there like a matador’s red blanket. There I was the bull she was teasing along.

“How long you know Harold?” Dorie asked. Not many people knew Hats by his given name.

I turned at the sound of her voice. I could see her in the mirror on her chest of drawers. Her back was bent as she pulled on a slip over a tight little butt that stuck out when she stood erect. “A while.”

“Long while?”

“While enough.”

“He really all he says he is?”

“Depends on what he says.”

She popped her face around the edge of the screen. “He said he’s bringing a man in from Nashville to listen to me tonight. Says the man makes records.”

“He knows some people like that.”

She smiled. “And he’s bringing him in for me.” She disappeared behind the screen again. “He ever do that for other girls?”

I didn’t answer right away.

“I see,” she said.

“No, it ain’t that.”

“What is it?”

“I only ever know him to do something like that for Cornelia. His wife.”

“Oh.” She hummed. The room smelled of lemons and honey and my sweat. “You married, Sayer?”

“No, ma’am. I mean Dorie.”

“Got a woman?”

“I date.”

She mocked me. “I date. But do you have a woman?”

“Someday.”

“When you’re not working for Hats.”

“That’s right.”

“What are you going to do when you’re not working for Hats?”

“Planning on being a lawyer.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes.”

“I like the sounds of that. Sayer Vaughn, Esquire. You’ll get a woman then.” She came out from behind the folding screen and stood there in a long, white, silky dress that clung to her. I saw everything that was there when she opened her robe only now it was covered.

“I’d ask you how I look, sugar, but I think I know.”  There was heat in her voice. I didn’t want to get burned so I opened the door.

“Get my fur, will you, Sayer? It’s hanging in the closet.”

I pushed the curtain back. There were three fur coats hanging in there. Two of them had been gifts from Hats. “Which one?”I asked.

“You know which one.”

I took out the long, white one I’d seen Hats give to her. Chinchilla. When I turned around, she was standing close enough for that smell of lemon and honey to make my head spin. She turned her back to me and held out an arm. I slipped the coat over it. Dorie stepped back, pressed against me.

“Mrs. Sayer Brown,” she said. There was still that heat in her words.

She rode in the backseat to the diner. Whole car smelled of lemons and honey.  She hummed softly.

“What’s that you’re singing?” I asked. I opened my window to clear my head.

“Just a little something I’m working on. ‘Bout a girl who wants more than she has.”

“Diamonds?” I asked. I was trying to make a joke. Hats had given her just about everything he could think of.

“Love,” she said. “I need your arms around me/Your soul around me/I need your love/ Always around me…” She stopped. “What you think of that, Mr. Sayer Vaughn, Esquire?”

“I think you should it save it for the stage.”

Hats was pacing in the alley when I pulled up. He tossed his cigar stub to the gutter and hurried over to the car. He had the door open before I put down the brake. When he went to kiss her, Dorie turned her head and wrinkled her nose at his breath.

The backroom was crowded and it wasn’t even eight o’clock. Baptist Jimmy Hope was warming the crowd with his six-string but no one cared to listen. Loud talk. Lots of bumping. Everything felt off.

Dorie took her spot at the center booth. People lined up to get a word with her. I stood by the bar watching the room. Didn’t see anyone I thought was real trouble except for Dorie. She made sure after greeting a fan to look my way. Hats was enjoying himself so much at her side he never noticed.

Baptist Jimmy come in through the sliding door from the diner.

“Sayer, we got trouble,” he said.

“Figured. The Piazzas out front?”

“Piazzas? Worse. Cornelia is here.”

“I thought she was supposed to be in Toledo.”

“I don’t know anything about her travel plans. A taxi just pulled up and she’s out in the diner looking for Hats.”

“So why you telling me?”

“Because I ain’t telling Hats.”

“Yeah, I see that.”

“What do I do with his wife?”

“She’s too smart to listen to anything you have to say.” I slammed a fist on the bar and swore. Took me a bit to get across the room from all the people. I leaned over the table of the center booth and let Hats know what was up.

“Judgment Day,” he said.

“Not yet. I’ll take Dorie out of here and you sweep your wife into her seat. Give her a couple of hours to see nothing is going on. She’ll get bored and leave.”

“You sure?”

“No. But I’ll call you from in a couple of hours and you tell me if she’s gone.”

“Hey you two, what’s so important neither of you can notice me?” Dorie folded her arms. She tapped that finger on her elbow again.

“Sayer going to take you for a ride, Dorie,” Hats said.

“A ride?” She looked at me. She tried to hide it; act like she was all put out, but I could see that heat in her stare.

“Too many people in here tonight,” I said. “Hats got to get some of them to leave. Crowd like this could get out of hand.”

“But what about the Nashville man?” She looked around trying to find a guy out of place.

Hats slid closer to her. “He’ll come back another night.”

She wasn’t happy. Dorie extended her hand over the table where it hung until Hats nodded his head for me to take it just in case Cornelia was on her way in and saw her in her booth. I hustled Dorie out to the car.

Outside Dorie pulled away from me. When she spun around, there was heat in her eyes but not the kind I’d seen inside her apartment. Her eyes filled with tears. “There ain’t no Nashville man is there Mr. Sayer Vaughn, Esquire?” Her tears broke over and she began to sob. I put my arms around her and let her cry it out good. She got in the front seat and laid her head against me. Even under all the smoke and sweat from the backroom I could still smell the lemons and honey on her.

This time she rode up front next to me.

“Men have been using me my whole life,” she said. I thought she meant about her singing, her daddy being a preacher and all, but I wasn’t sure. I just let her play it out. “Oh they make promises, give gifts, but in the end they all want the same thing and they want to believe they’re the only ones getting it.” Her hand stroked my leg. “What you going to promise me, Mr. Sayer Vaughn, Esquire?”

I kept my eyes on the road ignoring Dorie and the headlights reflecting in the side mirror. “I don’t make promises I can’t keep,” I said.

“No one keeps promises. They’re like trying to hold onto a chunk of ice. Always melts away in the end.” After a moment she asked me, “Where you taking me?”

“Don’t really know.”

“Take me to your place. I want to see how a future lawyer lives.” Her hand slid higher on my leg. When it got to that spot between, she rubbed her palm over me and gasped.

I took her hand away. “You’re Hats’ woman,” I said.

She leaned her head against the passenger window. “I ain’t anybody’s woman.”

The car behind me came up fast. There were a couple of quick pops. Glass shattered and flew. Something hot stung my arm. I put down the brake and looked over at Dorie. She was slumped forward. There was blood all over her white chinchilla coat.

The car with the shooter went around and turned sideways in front mine. An angry looking punk got out and came to my side of the car. He kept his gun in his hand. He yelled a few choice names at me and told me to get out of the car.

But I couldn’t. I was sitting there looking at Dorie Glinn, her head bowed and singing in the heavenly choir. My door opened. I felt the hot barrel of the punk’s gun on the back of my neck.

“I told you to get out,” the punk said. When I turned and looked at him, he whipped the barrel of the gun across my face. His hand bunched up the front of my jacket and he pulled me out of the car and threw me to the ground. I heard the hammer of his pistol click into place.

“You know who I am?” he asked.

“Don’t really care,” I said. I spit blood on his shoe.

“Cicero Piazza. You know that guy you beat the hell out of? You know you hit him so hard he’s blind now?”

“You know he tried to rob the Hats Off Diner?”

“I don’t give a damn about that,” he said.  He kicked me in the ribs. “You hear me? I don’t give a damn about that.”

I rolled and caught his foot.  It rocked his balance. He tried to fire the gun but his arms windmilled and he fell on his back losing his gun. Before he could grab it back I threw it into the trees.

“You gonna kill me,” I said “you’re going to do it like a man.” I swung and hit him in the jaw. It was enough that he never got in a punch of his own. After that my hands just kept finding his face, his ribs, his gut, and his face again. I would have kept punching if that hand on my back hadn’t stopped me.

“I think he’s dead, Sayer.”

I looked up with foggy eyes. There was an angel silhouetted by the car’s headlights.

“Dorie?” I asked. My breathing was heavy.

“Yeah, baby. I’m okay.”

“But he shot you.”

“Not me, honey.” She put her hand on my arm. The bullet had hit me in my right arm but I was too numb to know it was my blood all over her fur. “I’m okay, Sayer. We got to get you to a doctor.”

“Didn’t go through me. Just cut the skin.”

She put her arm under my good arm to let me lean on her. We got in the car and we drove away. Kept driving through the night till we wound up out near Grand Rapids in a little town called Rockford. Found us a doctor who stitched up my arm, no questions asked. I paid him. We were square. Even let us stay the night in the mother-in-law apartment over his garage.

I stretched out on the bed while Dorie cleaned up in the tub. She came out wearing only a towel. It fell off as she walked to me. The moonlight coming through the blinds painted black stripes over her nakedness. When she threw her leg over my lap I didn’t push her away. Her breath rushed out as I filled her. For the daughter of a preacherman, she was well versed in knowing the pleasures of the flesh.

I never did become a lawyer. And Dorie never got her record made. We were happy all the same. I worked cleaning up a filling station at night and she sang in our local church. Everyone said she had the voice of an angel. A few years after we settled in, a tent preacher came through Rockford and told her he knew some men from Chicago who were looking for singers to record gospel music. Dorie didn’t take the bait.

Wasn’t more than a year later country got done with Mr. Volstead. Guys like Hats found themselves fighting new laws and woes. One woe he was never able to overcome was Cornelia. Found a Detroit newspaper in the trash bin one night at the station that there had been some trouble at a club called The Top Hats. Said the owner was gunned down after hours. The paper ran a picture of Harold ‘Hats’ Foster and some young singer that wasn’t his wife. There was no known motive for the killing but police believed it was gang related. I believed it was Cornelia related. Only thing was Cornelia was out of town visiting her sister.

All those folks who had sung at the Hats Off wanted to pay their respects to Hats. They did a live tribute show on the radio. Couldn’t believe it but we heard Cornelia singing Dorie’s ‘Old, Cold Detroit’. Halfway through it, Dorie got up and snapped off the radio.

“That ain’t how you worry a line,” she said.

Like I said, ain’t no one who could worry a line like my Dorie.

* * *

BIO: Maybe you’ve heard of Jack Bates. His stories have appeared in webzines like Beat to a Pulp, Thug Lit, Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir, Pulp Metal Magazine and others. There are a bunch of print anthologies that have his crime shorts featured in them, most recently Grift #2 edited by John Kenyon. He picked up a Derringer nomination a couple of years ago for Broken Down on the Bonneville Flats. He has a slew of ebooks and novellas published through Mind Wings Audio Books and Untreed Reads. Beyond that, he once optioned a horror screenplay to Triboro Films in New York. Later this year Character Publishing plans on publishing his children’s’ picture book, The Santa Spy.

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Jack Getze

Spinetingler's Fiction Editor is a former newspaper reporter and author of the screwball crime novels BIG NUMBERS, BIG MONEY, BIG MOJO and BIG SHOES from Down and Out Books. His short fiction has been published on the web at BEAT TO A PULP, A TWIST OF NOIR and THE BIG ADIOS.

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About Jack Getze

Spinetingler's Fiction Editor is a former newspaper reporter and author of the screwball crime novels BIG NUMBERS, BIG MONEY, BIG MOJO and BIG SHOES from Down and Out Books. His short fiction has been published on the web at BEAT TO A PULP, A TWIST OF NOIR and THE BIG ADIOS.

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