Painting the Town

John Robert Brown was as average as possible. He drove a secondhand automobile, subscribed to the Evening Standard, and worked nights at the local clothing factory oiling machinery. He no longer owned a prosperous farm in the wheat belt–the world was changing, and cities were the new pastures.

I can smell it coming, Old Isobel had said. And everyone knew to trust Ol’ Izzy’s nose.

So he’d hightailed away lickety-split, investing in business ventures instead. Not that his neighbors knew. He’d made sure to pay them a final visit before leaving.

Now he was a new man–quite literally, according to his papers–and no longer reveled in the parties those eggs of high society were fond of. Six months in, life wasn’t so bad. His neighbor left tiger milk for him sometimes; in return he made sure the neighbor’s husband got the early shifts at the factory, after a little creative rearranging. The boy down the street knew to drop off the first Indian hop of each batch for his best customer to sample. His mechanic had a thing for the sheiks, and he himself had a thing for mechanics who didn’t mind a late-night request (damn secondhand Ford). All in all, the city was turning up golden.

Except for tonight. Tonight, John’s suit itched. Knew I shouldn’t have bought off-the-rack, he reprimanded himself. It had been sadly necessary after the Day Boy had absconded with his last tailored business suit. But his so-called ‘clean’ house guest had made such a mess of John’s shirt he’d had to burn the thing, and the suit had too many splatters to call it wine. But then the Day Boy had disappeared after John left instructions to clean the suit. Either he was coming back or he was dead. Or soon would be, if he’d chosen to run.

As long as the fuzz hadn’t got him.

John had contemplated changing his newspaper advertisement all the same. Maybe a product for low blood pressure patients, appointment only. The idea was discarded as quickly as it came. People with such a condition usually had others underlying, and he was in no mood for low quality. He needed the Real McCoy.

Hence the party, and the glad rags, and the itch.

The horse-faced Betty on his arm laughed at his expression. “Oh, John! Don’t be such a wet blanket, darling! I never took you for a flat tire but really you gotta stop pulling on your–”

He disengaged from the sozzled woman. “Quiet.”

His shining eyes captured hers. In a moment, she was silent as a dormouse beneath a hawk. “Sit over there.” He indicated the ritzy chairs at the back of the hall and Betty immediately shuffled over. He sighed. He wouldn’t be going back to that one.

Turning, John surveyed the joint one more time. Prohibition hadn’t stopped the illicit bars overtaking the night. But like a smoking gun, the fuzz always found them. Sooner or later, it would all come crashing down. He intended to be absent when it did. Chances of it happening tonight were slim to middling, but John didn’t mind living that close to the edge. At least it felt like living. Though how the living tolerated the awful mass-produced suits, he’d never know.

Finally, he spotted what he’d been waiting for: a radiant beauty, bosom heaving in the chandelier lights. Her hair was hidden in a wig of thickly spun silk and her dress was longer than the knee-dusters most women wore these days. Yet her skin was flushed and ruddy, pulse pounding with the music and adrenaline. He knew he had to have her.

“Care for a spin, doll?” John turned up his shining eyes, hitting the woman with a dose of the dazzle. She didn’t even reply, simply taking his hand. They moved together to the dance floor, feeling the rhythm of the jazz.

The woman leaned close. “I do believe you might be the cat’s pajamas,” she whispered with a shy smile.

John nuzzled her neck. “Shall we take this outside?”

She smelled like whiskey and roses. When she nodded without looking at him, he knew he’d made the right choice. It’s always better when they come willingly.

They left through the speakeasy’s side door, one heart thumping mighty hard and another cold dead one preparing to beat again.

The night was John’s, and John belonged to the night. No matter where, no matter when. And tonight, the city and the age were truly golden. With just a touch of red.

blood moon on a black sky
Image by adege from Pixabay
Header image Second and Yesler, 1928 by Seattle Municpal Archives on Flickr

This story was written in response to a prompt for a short story set in 1920s USA. It is part of a trilogy of short stories about vampires through the ages. See: On Dijon Fields.

Thank you for reading.

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