Unbeknownst to the owners of the home, wine had been secretly slipped into their mailbox.
Eugene had done it in one graceful motion, sliding the dark glass right next to the newspapers.
When alcohol was scarce, knowing that you had a bit of it for yourself was always a good moment. Eugene skipped up to Mr.Haskel, who was already knocking on the door in a somewhat drunken motion. Haskel wore wine stained suspenders buttoned to voluminous trousers, he had the air of a man who lived large and liked large things.
The door swung open, and two watch-sized eyes peeked out.
“are you the doctor I sent for?” A young woman whispered, pressing her eyes into thin lines.
“Yess I am” slurred Haskel, supporting his weight against the door.
The woman raised an eyebrow but let them inside. She wore black tights, a satin dress, and a string of faux pearls. Her hair was cut in a blonde bob that looked like it endured lots of hair gel. She introduced herself as Alice: the daughter and sole provider of the esteemed factory worker Mr.Davidson, who had recently taken ill. She said this all very fast with a haughty arch of her brow.
Haskel hadn’t listen to a word of it.
“And you are—?” She snapped at Eugene, crossing her arms.
“one of Mr.Haskel’s interns” He said, taken aback.
“little young aren’t you? Your practically my age”
“well I—“ Eugene started.
“quit being a bluenose and bringss us to yer farther!” Haskel slurred, hands slipping off his hips.
“He’s this way” Alice sighed. She sauntered down the hallway, satin dress swinging back and forth. Eugene watched her, he bet she could get a job at a speakeasy if she wanted one.
After Haskel had asked for a cigarette and Alice had reluctantly brought one, Haskel discussed treatments for the esteemed Mr.Davidson, who was currently asleep on an old metal bed, breathing hoarsely.
“yeah see, Mr.Davidson has—“ He began.
“The esteemed Mr.Davidson” Alice corrected.
“The esteemed Mr.Davidson, has—“
“esteemed factory worker”
“close your damn kisser an’ let meh speak!” Haskel snapped, waving his cigarette around. “Mr.Davidson has the Spanish flu, and your going to have to live somewhere else till ‘e gets better”
“But—but whose going to take care of him?” Alice squeaked, eyes darting to her father on the metal bed. “I can’t just leave”
“it’s the law” Haskel shrugged. “If you won’t go willingly I’ll have to get the police. Though I may have a solution...for a small fee”
“what a surprise” sighed Alice “how much?”
“five thousand!” Shouted Alice, eyes growing beyond watch-size. “Your insane! Where do you think I’m supposed to get that kind of money?!”
“prostitution maybe, though I don’t think any man would want yeah” Haskel laughed, puffing out cigarette smoke.
“Haskel—“ Eugene hissed.
“I think prostitution would suit you better Mr.Haskel,” Alice retorted, sizing him up with an obvious look of displeasure. “It could make up for your pointless career as a doctor. However, I don’t think any woman would want you—or ever has”
“why you little—“
“The lady doesn’t mean it Mr.Haskel” Eugene interrupted, holding his hands out. “And Ms.Alice, there’s plenty of respectable jobs for ladies...on the street...that pay well”
Alice glared at him. Then openly adjusted the neckline of her dress to sit at a modest, almost virtuous height that a nun would’ve been proud of. She toke pleasure in Eugene’s uncomfortable eye dart away from her dress straps.
“well, if you don’t pay up Mrs.Gundy I’m reporting you” Haskel stated, smirking. “I’ll be back tomorrow, which should give you tonight to...earn money”
“Go chase yourself” Alice spat, ripping the used cigarette bud from Haskel’s hands.
Haskel shrugged and walked out the door, snapping his suspenders confidently.
Eugene walked past Alice.
“There’s a speakeasy behind Earnie’s, you can forget your troubles there” He whispered, lifting a brow. Alice crossed her arms and slammed the door behind him, not saying a word.
She felt a strange sensation on her dress strap and went to touch it, finding a piece of paper lodged under the satin. It read:
The code word is cracker salt
Alice skipped over murky water, grimacing as her eye caught something floating in it. She pulled her shawl tighter over her head, feeling guilt creep up her throat in nervous swallows.
Alice always liked it that she never considered doing illegal things. She’d always thought her personality was suited for something more—refined. Being a respectable lady was something her father admired in her, she grimaced at what he’d think now.
“What you ‘er for sweetheart?”
An eye was looking at her, through what seemed to be a hole in the wall.
“cracker salt?” Alice squeaked, gripping her shawl tighter.
“eh alright, come on in”
The wall swung open, revealing a lively room buzzing with ragtime jazz music. Girls dressed in shimmering dresses, diamond feather headbands, and teasing smiles danced the Charleston. Their partners, mostly men with gruff or scarred faces, wore expensive tailored suits and expressions that were more mischievous than those of their partners. Alcohol was everywhere, there were glasses of beer, wine, moonshine, and even some on-site distillers.
Alice creeped in hesitantly.
The music flooded into her ears. The air felt warm and hazy, clasping onto her and pulling her in. Alice took off her coat, revealing a shimmering black dress adorned with feathers and gems. She made her way to the bar and sat in one of the leather stools. The lights were dim, and the jazz band slowed to a calm tempo.
Alice turned around to see Eugene.
“Eugene” she said, nodding her head.
“I take it you got my message?” He asked, pulling a glass of whisky to his lips. Alice liked him in this lighting: warm and smiling.
“I did” she said with a smile, leaning her elbows on the counter. “how do you know about this place?”
“Haskel’s part of the Five Points gang, he’s in with Luciano”
Alice’s eyes grew wide.
“yep, there’s a lot more illegal things here than just alcohol”
Alice toke her elbows off the table, feeling uncomfortable. “I take it you probably know why the Five Points keeps us around, Haskel and me write alcohol prescriptions—lots of them”
Eugene toke a proud sip of whiskey.
“well that brings me to why I prompted you to come here” Eugene said with a teasing smirk. “Haskel blackmailed you for a reason: The Five Points has a job for you”
“a job?” Alice whispered, rubbing clammy hands together. “What kind of—“
“we need a pretty girl to distract some rival gang members” Eugene explained causally. “It’s easy and it pays, you get them off their ship, then I sneak in and destroy their alcohol stores”
“but why me? There’s pretty girls everywhere” Alice asked, more to herself than anyone else.
“we know you need the money, plus you don’t have any protection from other gangs” Eugene shrugged. “you were an easy target”
Alice sighed, everything had gone downhill since her father got sick. He’d been fired, and they’d lost so much. Papa always wanted her to be a respectful well educated woman of the world as he called it. I want to see my daughter successful he would say.
Now she was a girl in a bar ready to get her hands dirty.
Alice swallowed again, that same guilty feeling creeping up her throat.
“what’s with the long face?” Eugene laughed “being blackmailed is fun I promise”
Alice could feel something strained about his laugh.
“you like being part of the Five Points?” She asked.
Eugene ran his finger around the rim of his cup.
“sure I like it fine, it pays” He shrugged, taking a nervous sip of whiskey.
“yeah, it pays” Alice whispered, looking around at the people talking and laughing. Maybe she’d be like them some day.
Eugene cleaned off another foggy glass. He sighed, leaning on the empty bar counter. It was silent, the speakeasy was closed, and only the bosses remained. Eugene pulled out a letter from under his coat. He had re-read it hundreds of times since he received it this mourning. It read:
We expect you to pay your own debts to the university, you’ve been a parasite in our life long enough. Do not return for Christmas holiday, our family doesn't need the shame.
Eugene sighed, seeing the letter for what it was: a knife to his pride. He hadn’t talked with his family for months since he’d decided he didn’t want to be a doctor. He wanted to live a different life, an exciting life, a real life, not something that he’d been told to live. Was being someone different that devastating to them? Did they even care about their own son? Eugene shoved it in his pocket. He’ll be stuck in this gang forever with that debt.
“Ay Eugene!” Shouted one of the mob bosses. “Who was that choice piece o’ calico I saw yeah talking to?”
“Alice” Eugene shrugged. “We have a job later tonight, gonna destroy some alcohol stores”
“I envy you boy!” He chortled, choking on same beer. “When I was your age, girls like her used to swoon over me”
“they still do Earnie”
“Ah! But that’s because I have money now” Earnie laughed. “I saw the way that Alice looked at you, she likes what she sees”
“get your girl before you get wealthy!” Earnie declared. “That’s my advice to you young boy! I want to see you wealthy and trapped in a marriage”
“advice taken Earnie”
“what should I do?” Alice whispered, staring at the gruffly men with shot guns.
“Flirt, dance, make chicken sounds, I don’t care” Eugene sighed. “Just be distracting”
Alice toke a deep breath.
“okay I can sorta flirt” She said. “Maybe I should adjust the neckline of my dress...” Alice smirked, reaching for one of the straps.
“okay that’s unnecessary” Eugene grumbled.
“What?” Alice asked, feigning innocence. “Does it make you uncomfortable?”
“No—“ he coughed, looking the other direction.
She stood up and sauntered over to the men guarding the ship, hips swaying. Alice had chosen to wear a shimmery red dress in the fashionable style flapper girls wore, it fit her wonderfully. Eugene waited, he saw the guards eye Alice and soon they were caught up in conversation with her.
Eugene snuck around the back of the ship.
He grabbed the edge of the mast and hoisted himself aboard, the boat swayed with a deep creak.
“what was that?” one of the guards snapped.
“you mean my dance move?” Alice giggled, twirling around.
The guard reverted his eyes to Alice.
Eugene continued cautiously across the deck, looking for the trap door where the alcohol was stored. He leaned down and felt a lock. Eugene whipped out his lock picks and began to fiddle with it.
“you must be pretty tough...” he heard Alice coo. “I couldn’t imagine guarding such precious cargo”
“yeah only real men could handle this job”
Eugene rolled his eyes.
The lock clicked open, and the trap door released. Eugene peeked inside, it looked to be a storage room. He slid through the door and began creeping around. It was dark, only a flickering candle shown any light. The air felt moist, reeking of old wine and salt.
A calloused hand suddenly wrapped around his neck.
Eugene swerved around, reaching for his gun. He could feel a presence much larger than himself pinning him against the wall.
“what are you doing here?” It growled.
Eugene looked up to see a man with a fat bear-like face glaring down at him. Eugene squirmed under the pressure, he tried to reach down, finger tips brushing against the tip of his gun.
“I come in peace” Eugene said.
Then he shot him in the foot.
The man backed away screaming in pain. Eugene darted down the hall.
“intruder!” The man screamed from the floor. “Intruder by the alcohol stores!”
Eugene quickly scanned the walls around him, looking for the barrels of wine. He spotted them at the end of the hall. Eugene loaded his gun with bullets, then proceeded to shoot holes in all the barrels. Wine began pouring over the floor, red and white streams coming together and soaking Eugene’s shoes.
He shot another barrel, staining the floor with a burst of scarlet liquid.
“Stop or I shoot your girl!” A voice from behind him shouted.
Eugene whipped around.
Alice stood at the door, dress in tatters and bruises on her arms. One of the guards had the barrel of a gun at her neck. The other was pulling her hair back in a vicious knot.
“ya think we didn’t know what this bearcat was up to?!” A guard shouted, tugging at Alice’s hair. “Put down your gun!”
Eugene dropped his weapon, letting it splash into a puddle of Pinot Noir.
“Back to the wall” A guard with a scar on his eye barked.
Eugene backed away, eyes trained on Alice. Scar-eye toke out his gun and cocked it back, aiming it at Eugene.
“close your eyes sweetheart” he said, smirking at Alice.
“No—!“ Alice screamed, thrashing against the guard holding her.
Alice kicked him the gut.
The guard choked and released her.
“you want to know what heels taste like?” Alice growled, raising her ruby red heels in the air. “Cause you look like you deserve it”
Scar-eye swerved around and shot Alice.
She plummeted to the ground, leg stained with blood.
“Alice!” Eugene screamed. He dove at the man with the gun and wrestled him to the ground. “Never—“ he said in between punches “Touch. My. Girl—“ he kicked him in the head. “Again”
Scar-eye fell unconscious.
Eugene stood up, hands bloody.
“you want some too?!” He barked.
The other guard ran away.
Eugene got up and ran to Alice.
Alice’s face was pale, her limbs weak and limp.
“Alice—“ he said, shaking her shoulders “Alice, open your damn eyes”
Her eyelash’s fluttered for a moment.
Suddenly two blue eyes flew open.
“Eugene—?” She whispered, lifting her eyebrow.
“Goodness sakes Alice your alive...” he sighed. He ripped the end of his shirt and began rapping up her leg. “I’m taking you to the hospital, come on let’s go”
Eugene picked her up and started carrying her down the hallway.
“I feel dizzy” She wined. “I’m tired—“
“keep your eyes open”
“but what if I don’t want to?”
“keep them open” he growled, walking off the ship.
“is that a threat Eugene?” Alice laughed, poking him on the nose.
Eugene sighed, rolling his eyes.
“Your delirious from loss of blood“
The night air was chilly and moist, you could see the city had started to settle, its usual racy energy winding down to an easy tempo. Eugene continued down the harbor and into the dimly lit streets of New York.
“you holding up?” He whispered, looking down at the pale but smiling girl in his arms.
“I have a bullet in my leg, so no” Alice remarked, crossing her arms. “I want my money”
“spoken like a true member of the Five Points” Eugene laughed.
They walked down the street, passing by cafes and restaurants. Jazz and laughter echoed out of them, filling the dark streets with an easy rhythm. Unbeknownst to Alice and Eugene, they’d continue on to be members of the Five Points for years to come, waltzing through New York with a splendid thrill in their hearts.