In this deleted excerpt my child narrator, Brooklyn and the Boarder try to find out if Lenny, the singer, is really the Angel of Death (a.k.a. the Molech). Picture an especially sleazy Dean Martin look-alike. The Boarder is the only one who can tell if it’s him. Uncle Max’s Saloon is based on the Atlantis Bar as discussed in my blog post: The Joint that put Sodom in Sodom by the Sea.
A croaking voice intruded into my jumbled dreamscape. “Wake up,” it said. The bedside lamp flashed on.
“Hey.” The light hurt my eyes. I was in my crooked bedroom, the Boarder’s wizened face hovering over me only now with lipstick and combed hair.
“Do you know what time it is?” she said.
“Wait. I’m supposed to say that.” I looked at the green fluorescent hands on the clock, one in the morning. “What do you want?”
“I want we should take care of a little problem. Get up already, we’re in a hurry.”
“Do we have to do it right now?” I yawned and rubbed my eyes, then sat up and swung my legs out of bed. It was a hot night, so I had on my baby-dolls.
Then I noticed that the Boarder had transformed herself. Still the size of a midget, but dressed in a crisp navy-blue suit, with a jaunty cloche hat.
She opened my closet and took out my red ruffle-dress. “Here, put this on.” She threw it on the bed
“I can’t wear that—it’s my party dress. Bubbie sewed it for me to wear on special occasions. It’s real silk.”
“This occasion’s not special by you?” She opened a drawer, pulled out a pair of dungarees, and threw them on the bed too. “Dress like a cowboy if you want, I wouldn’t stop you. But hurry up.”
“What are we in a hurry to do?”
“We have to get ourselves to your gangster uncle’s saloon before the Molech runs away.”
“I can’t do that,” I said. “It’s so late. I’ve never been out this late before.”
I don’t know how I let myself get talked into it, but there we were, one-thirty in the morning, our backs plastered against the outside wall of Uncle Max’s saloon. Spread before us was a deserted vista of boardwalk and a wide expanse of pale sand and dark sea, all shimmering in the moonlight.
I peeked around the corner.
The usual aroma of smoke and booze swatted me in the face. So did the sound of chattering, of drunken laughter. The overhead lights were out, making the room darker, more pulsing with crimson heat than ever.
“So,” the Boarder said, “is the Singer there?”
I turned to her. “I don’t see him. But it’s pretty dark in there, and it’s crowded tonight.”
“How’s about the gangster uncle?”
“I don’t see him either.”
“Oy.” She hit her head. “So who’s running the show?”
“Joe the bartender’s there. He looks really busy.”
“Go in.” She gave me a little push.
“I’m not allowed in there, I could get in big trouble. Why don’t you go in?”
“Me? The Molech would get me. That’s why I brought you. Go.” She pushed me again.
“I don’t even know what you want me to do. The Singer’s not there, and even if he were…”
“Find out if he’s coming back.”
“Ohhhh.” I gave a big sigh. “All right.”
I looked in again. The coast seemed clear, so I edged around the corner and over the threshold.
Ladies in tight dresses blew violet smoke rings and laughed. Men leaned over and murmured secret things in their ears. I’d never seen it quite this dark and mysterious before. So dangerous.
Nobody seemed to notice me, so I edged in a few feet. I looked back and saw the Boarder’s face peeking around the corner. She waved me to go further in.
I edged in a few more feet. Then I set my sights on a lady sitting alone. I wiggled my way around the tables until I got to her.
I put my fingers to my lips and eased into the seat next to her.
She blinked her false eyelashes and squinted at me as if trying to make out what sort of creature I might be. Finally she opened her eyes wide.
“You’re a kid,” she said.
“Do you know if the singer’s coming back?”
It took her a few seconds of blinking to digest this. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Don’t worry,” I lied, “I come in here all the time. My Uncle Max owns the place. I was just wondering if the singer’s coming back.”
She shrugged. “I have no idea. Listen,” she lowered her voice, “I’m here on a blind date. Could you…” She shooed me away with her hand. A man arrived holding two martinis.
I got up and worked my way around the tables deeper and deeper into the room. It was very hot in there and the smoke and alcohol fumes were making me dizzy.
Just then the spotlight flashed on and Lenny sauntered onto the stage. He was wearing his tuxedo, a red handkerchief in the pocket. He seated himself at the piano. He scanned the audience and when his eyes met mine he pointed a finger at me as if he were shooting a gun.
“Well, look who’s here!” He grinned his lewd grin. “Little Miss Troublemaker.”
I ran out to where the Boarder was waiting near the outside wall.
She grabbed my hand. “We have to run,” she said, and we took off down Henderson Walk.
I could hear Lenny’s baritone voice, crying, sobbing, “It’s a quarter to three, there’s no one in the place except you and me… ” until his song became one with the carnival music of the midway, then was overcome by it. We kept going, the Boarder breathing hard, until we got to Surf Avenue, where we stopped.
“Well?” I asked.
It took her a few minutes to catch her breath. “Oy, it’s him all right.”
“Whatever you do…” she tapped my hand, “you shouldn’t tell anyone. If he finds out I spotted him, he’ll know where I am and come after me. This you have to make me a promise.”
“Okay,” I said.