The milk bar had been a tavern before the passage of the Volstead Act, also known as prohibition. Built in the 1880’s the building had two stories facing the front, and set back from the front wall, another story. The business filled the front of the building completely, because the stairway to the rear was off of the side street. The building was 25 feet wide, and about 100 feet long, frame construction, with a brick veneer on the two sides facing West Main Street on the front, and Fairchild Street on the side.
When prohibition started, there was a last blow out on the night before tee totaling became the rage, and what was left of the liquor and beer disappeared into people’s basements at home. Reopened the next day as a milk bar, the same waitstaff served the same customers the same beverages. The only difference, was that the Police department was encouraged to look the other way through the application of funds to supplement the small salary that they were paid. In some cases, the supplement exceeded the salary, and the policemen were aware of who was making their life worthwhile.
Occasionally, there had to be an arrest, and when it happened, the papers printed the story, and it was usually accurate, because the reporters and the publisher frequently drank lunch there, and were the witnesses.
The owner always claimed that he had no knowledge of illegal activities and showed the storage cooler and its supply of milk (which ended up at the hospital and the orphanage). The bar tender, frequently one of the near-do-wells all communities possess, hired for the day and paid well to take the hit, spent some time in jail and had a bar tab waiting for him when he came out.
This Monday night, there was a band, the milk was flowing in the front, but, if you went through the secret door up in the front, down the stairs to the secret passageway along the inside basement wall, then came up the vertical ladder into the speakeasy, the beverages were beer, local; and whiskey, imported from Canada, or so they said. Through the magic of a glass which looked like a mirror from the milk bar side, and like a tinted window from the speakeasy side, the band could be enjoyed by both sides. That night, in the milk bar side, there were two rather good sized men, who during the day loaded and unloaded railroad cars, sipping their milk, and a couple of girls, not quite 18, and who everyone agreed should spend their time in the milk bar side of things.
The door opened, and the girls from the Park Hotel entered, Marie, the polish girl smiled and hugged the two giants, and hugged the two teenagers. The new women, Karina, Edyta, and Anastasia, also were introduced to the men, and similarly held hands and hugged the girls. Knowing the way, the leader of the pack went over to the area near the wall, and pealing back the throw rug, lifted the ring from its place imbedded in the wooden trap door, and opened the door in the floor. She tripped lightly down the steps into a long hallway, about three feet wide that went under the area where the band was playing. At the end of the hall, she started up a series of steps built into the wall, and flipped a light switch at the top, just below the trapdoor in the floor above. The guardian of the door, seeing a dim light blink, opened the trapdoor, and guided Marie out. Smiling at him, she gave him a wink and a hug. His hands wandered, and worked their way around from her back to her chest, where he reacquainted his hand with her bosom, certainly not for the first time that summer. Enjoyed by both, and witnessed by the three gypsy women, the grope ended, perhaps too soon for both involved. Wisely, with strangers, the also large man took each of the women’s hand in turn, and gave them each a kiss on the back of an offered hand. The older women, to his surprise, took him in her arms, and kissed him fully on the lips, while her right hand explored his privates, and determined that all of him was bigger than average, and growing. His eyes now open, he smiled and nodded.
There were about 25 people in this part of the establishment, a bartender who was busy, a back bar man who brought the beverages to the coolers from another stairway to the basement, this part of the basementnot connected to the subterranean passage, and brought ice to chill the drinks.
The band played the popular songs of the new decade, the piano player was a man of color, known in the area for his command of the ivory keyboards. Another man of color, a string man, had a guitar, and a banjo. A coronet player also covered the alto sax, and the sax man, who worked in a bank during the daytime hours was also a vocalist. Tonight, they had a female singer, who in later years would become famous and would marry well, to a Hollywood man. Tonight, she was a 19 year old local girl, who had also sang in the choir at the cathedral, but whose father had the appliance store, and an endless supply of music for the Victrola.
The band had just finished its version of “Yes Sir, that’s my Baby” by Gene Austin, and was rolling into “Empty Bed Blues” by Bessie Smith. This song showcased the voice of the local girl, Angella, another girl who had lost someone to the Spanish flu. In her case, her mother and brother had passed, and just one year later her father had been hit in the head by a horse’s hoof and lingered for two days before death came to his bed. Nowadays, she worked in the bank of the saxophone player, and sang to forget her pain.
The polish girl, Marie came to the bar, and was recognized by the barman who came right over.
“Four beers for my friends, and one for you.”
Even at her young age, the girl had figured out that if you bought the hired help a beer, smiled, and flirted, they weren’t going to ask any questions, and might even cover for you if it was needed.
As he handed the frothy three day old beverages over the bar, Harry asked, “Is the young one old enough?”
With a wink, her reply made him pause and think. “In your humble opinion, kind sir, would you kick her out of your bed for not being old enough?
Smiling, the shake of his head signaled his opinion. The beers distributed, the four took the first sip. All but the oldest had faces about the flavor of the first drink. The older woman, having been accustomed to the brew of the Cossacks, who fermented anything they would encounter, including some things that you would never think of being an ingredient, thought that the beer was ok, tasty, and she could taste the alcohol in it. Besides, the temperature, about 38 degrees, killed most of the disagreeable characteristics. Looking around the room, she noticed that the men outnumbered the women in a favorable ratio, from the women’s view. With about 25 souls on board, less the two barkeeps, and the doorman there were 22. The three women in attendance prior to their arrival were not even remotely competition. One, Susan was the victim of the wife beater, in the dark, her shiner wasn’t too noticeable. Another was one of the “professional women” notorious in the uptown crowd. Sheila wasn’t above using a Mickey Finn to make her conquests sleep, while she borrowed the contents of their wallet. Her cousin, the Sargent, had schooled her in the craft of leaving about half of the cash in the wallet, then the mark would think that when he was drunk, he had over spent, and not be alarmed that he had been robbed. Thus, she had never been suspected, or arrested, and pretty much had her pick of the litter. In fact, there were a few, who remembered the great time they had had with her the previous time, went out of their way to give her the opportunity to get another contribution. All they remembered in the morning was that a fine time was had by all.
The third, a woman in her late twenties, was a stranger, no one had ever seen her before, but she was striking, in her own way. Glasses, hair down to her shoulders, wearing a wasp-waisted skirt, and a form fitting white blouse, with the top two buttons loosened in the heat of the eve, Sister Michael Mary was totally disguised in street clothes, for she had only been seen previously in the full garb of the Dominican nuns of the cathedral prior to this eve.
The band started a tune well known as a great dance song, and the men started looking at the women, now seven in number. Susan, needing some cash to bail out her bastard husband, so he could get back to work to support the family, was the first brave woman, and she selected one of the two swells leaning at the bar and perusing the women. Her choice was Michael, late of the county jail. Having done without female company for almost four complete days, he was an easy mark. After asking, she took his hand and led him out to the dance floor. According to the statutes of the city, dancing without a cabaret license was illegal, but in an illegal saloon, the flagrant violation of city statute caused by cutting a rug was, frankly, not a big concern. Following her suite, the professional, Sheila, selected Matthew, the brother. A look, a nod, and the two were dancing about three feet apart. Matthew caught his brother’s eye, and winked, which was caught and returned with a nod.
Karina, well acquainted with the formal dances of the Romanov household, had indeed taught the Tsars sons the steps of many of the popular dances favored by royalty. The dances of the Cossack guards were somewhat less formal, certainly more sensual, including some of the moves borrowed from the belly dancers of Turkey and further south. But this, the popular dances of the early 20th century, here in America, was different. She was studying the moves when a well-dressed man, in full suit and tie, with polished shoes approached her.
“Excuse me Miss, may I have the pleasure of this dance, shared only with you?”
“Certainly, but, I have been abroad for some time, I do not know the steps, but I can be considered a quick learner”
Dr. Learner, Bruce by first name smiled at this remark. Taking her hand, he led her to the dance floor, where the other two couples were working up sweats, the men enjoying the glistening of the moisture on the exposed bosoms of each of the ladies. Karina picked up the fundamentals quickly from the other two women, after all, this was a dance in an illegal bar, in the middle of nowhere in frontier America. Soon enough, she was laughing, smiling, and enjoying the dance.
The band led into another fast song, related to the Charleston, but of their own flavor. Quickly enough, Marie, the local girl, and Edyta, the 24 year old ex-governess, and the 20 year old Anastasia had grown partners. Through a couple of more songs, the first three on the floor kept their partners, while the other four women shared themselves with the remainder of the men.
The band leader, seeking the time was right, selected a slow dance, a dance that hinted at full body contact. Susan seized her partner, and put her hands and arms up around his neck. He could feel her breasts, considered good sized by her jailbird husband, pressed up against his chest, and as they moved, she rubbed her chest against his somewhat more than the dance required. Her next step was to slide her leg between his, letting her sweaty thigh rub his penis in a way that let him know that she was searching. His hand on the wall side of the couple moved from her waist up to her flank, just below her breast. She looked up at him, smiling, and dipped her knees a little. The move relocated his hand to her 38 inch chest. There was no question at this point. She whispered in his ear,
“There’s more of that, but, I am embarrassed to say, I am short on the rent this month, would you, kind sir, be able to help me with that problem of mine, I would be so thankful for your assistance.”
Not a shy man, he smiled, and nodded.
“Would a two or three make you happy?”
“Yes, and for three, you would be happy, for a fiver, you could do me twice.”
With a bounce in her step, as they danced, she continued to rub herself against him, now standing directly in front of the aroused man,holding herself tight, so his now fully erect manhood was pressed into her dampened womanhood. She could feel his bulge against her most private, sensitive bump, and the feeling only increased her sense of wellbeing, her arousal, and her anticipation of the near future.
Watching his brother, Michael held the pro, Sheila, close to him. A more slender woman than Susan, her breasts were no less prominent, and to his vision, the sweat was a glistening that drew his eyes from her face, a vision of beauty in itself. She had high cheekbones, green eyes, and naturally red hair. Michael was aware of the popular understanding that redheads were a little crazy, and in his history, that had proven correct. Maybe normal girls used it as an excuse to act out, maybe there was truth, but, a redhead was damn near a sure thing, if a man was smooth, and didn’t push too much. Sheila was also aware of the other well-dressed man, and the progress the housewife was making. Probably another of the $3 tricks that made it tough to charge more.
Sheila took the opportunity of a change in steps to change from a frontal, but not too close position, to one that pressed her breasts into his jacket, and her thighs into his, sliding one between his legs. Like Susan with his brother, there was an almost instant reaction. Putting her arms up around his neck, the breasts were rubbing him with each dance step.
Michael damned himself for not taking his jacket off before dancing. At first the condemnation was for the perspiration that was going to saturate the material, with the change in steps, it was the proximity of a beautiful young woman, wearing apparently just a dress with a slip, nothing else between her breasts and him on her side, but, with the jacket, the vest, and the shirt, and undershirt, there was a damnable amount of clothing deadening the contact of her nipples with his skin. However, his hand dropped down her back, and resting on her left buttock, he could feel damn little cloth there. Certainly the dress, perhaps a slip, but, was there any other clothing there?
His eyes wandered to the four other women who were dancing the slow dance with the other customers of the milk bar. The polish girl, who had satisfied him multiple times since he checked into the Park Hotel, was with an older man, the two danced as one. He saw the man’s hand fondling her breast almost from the start of the dance, and she did nothing to discourage his wandering hands, because hers appeared to be stroking him from the front.
The older of the gypsy women, at that description, he smiled. As a con-man since he was pre-teen, he had met gypsies, and picked up many of the tools of his trade from them, and these weren’t gypsy woman. Their physical appearance told of good eating, they all were taller, with good complexions, and their posture told of good shoes, and an upbringing of character. All three were not looking over their shoulders to see if the cops were here, and they seemed as though they were used to being in a controlled environment, with their next meals secured. This one, the older, walked with a confident step, and danced with steps that betrayed a classical education in the art of the dance. She was aware of her surroundings, but with a casual manner, that did not give an alarm. The partner she had selected, Dr. Bruce Learner, was a recent graduate of the medical school, here in town. Well-schooled in medicine, he had paid for a large part of the cost with his prowess at the billiard table. Michael had spotted him at the billiard room at the Park Hotel, and after a short chat over two beers, he had suggested a friendly game at the table. Michael had lost the first game, as was his do, and when he upped his game at the higher stakes of the second game, he was beaten soundly. Wise enough to not put all of his grub-stake on the third game, he started out well enough, but at the point in the game where about half of the balls of each player had found their pocket, the good Doctor had cleared the table. Michael then bought a pitcher of cold amber brew, and proceeded to find out all that the Doctor would share. His father was a banker, after he started the schooling, father had purchased, or caused to be built, a home on Keyes Avenue, on the western outskirts of town. He had a younger sister, and like many, his mother had died during the flu outbreak. Interning with a physician on the east side, who specialized in women’s hysteria, he was ready to open an office on Monroe Street, on the fashionable and growing west side of Madison. In an area of new homes, there would be a good supply of women who needed the popular treatment of women’s hysteria.
Busy now on the dance floor with the older gypsy, a woman who probably had just seen her 30th birthday, the Doctor and the woman were dancing respectably, not like Michael and Matthew and their partners, who had dollar signs in their eyes. Michael could see that the two were talking, The Doctors hands on her waist, and her hands on his shoulders.
The other gypsy women were also engaged. Edyta, a woman of perhaps 5 and a half feet, with blond hair, down to her mid back, was being held by the Sargent of the Legislature. A military man, he had served in both the Spanish conflict in 1898, and in a training position as a Master Sargent in the camps training the troops for the war to end all wars. Michael had chatted him up during multiple lunches, and know that he liked the younger women. A man of almost 50, he had told Michael that the women his old age had had so many men, for the most part, that they didn’t want any part of a man unless he married them and put them up in a house with a garden. Dating them was a waste of time, and if something did happen, my god, 50 years was too much for a woman in the early 20th century, especially when there were so many young fillies loosed in the capital city.
Their dance, during slow one, was enjoyed by both. The Sargent was still in shape. In the basement of the capital, he had a weight set, and punching bags in several sizes were hung from the joists. He was frequently joined in his workouts by the various legislators, both the ones who like some physical activity, and the older ones who enjoyed the companionship of other military men, and the glasses they shared. A wise man, he wore only a shirt, a cotton one that let the sweat evaporate, and which allowed the pleasures of the slow dance to be absorbed. Edyta, also educated both in the art of the dance, and in the ways of military men, flirted in a manner barely observable to the outsider, but to the object of her attention, there was almost a painful building of desire when she looked at him. For, she had been taken aside by one of the older women in the court, the previous Tsars favorite, who had been kept on by his son when the older passed. From the Tsars bedmate to chief of all the maids and servants some would have seen by some as a demotion, but this woman was also wise to the world. If she was not in the Tsars household, she would have been outside, and survival outside was very iffy. Especially if it was known where she had spent her early adulthood through middle aged. From her, Edyta had been taught that a woman’s eyes tell the observer much. A steady glance offers a different message than a flirting, but returning glance. A woman‘s mouth told a story also, thin lips, with no smile, did not hold promise to the male observer. If she wore a frown, it was not unlike seeing dark clouds on the horizon of the steppes. Bad weather in the near future. Best to take cover, run, hide. However, if happy eyes were above a smile, a flirting glance, a furtive look, the message was clear to the observer. “I am woman, I am available, I am yours.” Edyta had tried this with the males in the household. From the macho Cossack house guards, to the mechanics who drove and maintained the Tsars Rolls Royce motors, to the youngest footman, all had experienced the various eye and mouth options, and Edyta found that the seasoned woman was right. She would be able to get whatever she wanted, just by starting with a glance and a smile. Twisting her upper torso, with the form fitting blouses she favored, with the top two buttons undone, as they were now, merely lined up the lambs for the slaughter.
Meanwhile, Karina was enjoying her liai.son with a new male challenge. Her partner, the good Doctor Learner, was also a student of the opposite sex. Early on in his medical education, an unlikely mentor, the janitor and boiler man of the medical school, sharing a pint with him in the halls after a long day, has asked him laughingly if he was going into the practice of treating hysterical woman.
Bruce, like just about every man in the times, hadn’t the faintest idea of what he was talking about. The janitor, who had some steam pipe passages in the walls, told him about using the passages, with the proper holes to view through, to observe one of the older doctors treating a matron of the mansion hill district. She came to him weekly, the same time every Tuesday, and smiling at the physician, reclined on a lounge with a smooth leather covering. The good doctor, taking his seat on a stool at the end of the lounge, reached under her long black dress, and removed her underwear. Putting some cream or lotion on his fingers, his hand explored up the tunnel formed by the dress, and that his fingers had found their home was evident when the madam’s back arched. The treatment took sometimes from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, and sometimes, during a successful treatment, the good doctor had to put his hand over her mouth. Afterwards, a warm moistened towel for her, often applied and used by the doctor, to clean and freshen up her privates, while he cleaned his hands on another. Flushed and sometimes blushing, the wife of the real estate man, left the medical school clinic building to the waiting linoleum for the ride home. The janitor has seen a $10 dollar bill pass hands, and the physician shortly after, asked the janitor for a bowl of ice to cool off the cramps in his working hand. No words passed, but, the doctor, realizing that the janitor was witness to the afterhours visit by the aristocracy of the city, pressed a dollar into his hand. A knowing look, and a nob, had cemented the silence, and every Tuesday, after the visit, the janitor had a bowl of ice for the physician. That was the knowledge he used to inform the young, soon to be Dr. Bruce Learner that this particular older physician had some vital career relating knowledge of some value.
Doctor Bruce had caught onto the tricks of the trade, and apprenticed, as it were, at Dr. Cartwright’s office on the intersections of Atwood Avenue and Winnebago Streets. A new area, it had a variety of income strata, there were more women in need of treatment of hysteria than even Dr. Cartwright had imagined. After two years, Dr. Cartwright had felt that the young Dr. Bruce was ready to go out on his own, and the two made a partnership, with Dr. Cartwright being the partner who provided the financial backing to Dr. Learner for a period of five years. The money Dr. Cartwright laid out for outfitting the office, a desk for the receptionist, the first month’s rent, the lounge, the towels, and the other necessities of the trade was recoupled in a few months, and both were well paid for their efforts. The new office, on the second floor of one of the new brick buildings on Monroe Street had an entrance in the back, a small waiting room, with only two chairs, and three treatment rooms. A client arriving would be ushered to a room, The good doctor would be administering to the treatment of a different hysteric woman in the second room, and in the third room, the fully treated woman who had just completed her treatment would put herself together, and then leave by a different doorway than the arriving patients used. The front of the building was used by a pharmacist, although the two businesses were separate and there was not passage between.
But now, the Doctor, someone who was with a steady stream of women all day, most in the prime of their lives, was smitten with the foreign accent of the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Her long hair, parted in the middle, cascading down her back, was accented by bangs in the front down to her eyebrows. The eyes were fabulous, the clearest blue he had even seen. And her smile, her smile told him that he was hers, he only had to ask, and not make a total bollixing of the question.
The banker, nobody’s fool, noticed the dance floor, and continued with slow music that called for slow dances. The crooner, who worked in the bank that the female lead worked in, noticed the two dandies, strangers to the town, but not to each other. They were being played by working girls. Simply a commercial adventure, in the manner of the old fashioned New England general store owner, give good measure for value received. There would be some adventure, some pleasure, perhaps a breeding, and there would be a transfer of value, perhaps a half a day’s wage for a working man.
But, my god, the young Doctor, he had been stricken, the crooner had seen those eyes before. Venus and Adonis, Romeo and Juliette, The history of man had seen those eye exchanges, romance would ensue, perhaps for the good, perhaps not. But, it was inevitable, there would be a passing.
Similarly, there was chemistry, although of a May-December variety going on with the Sargent of Arms from the capital. His partner, also a beauty, had eyes only for him, and a Mona Lisa smile that to even the casual observer could mean only one thing.
His partner in singing, and sometimes other things, had also noticed the goings on out on the dance floor. Two couples seemed engaged in sex, the long-haired beauty had snared the doctor not unlike a hunter snaring a rabbit, the other woman with no past, at least here in the capital city was behaving herself with the Sargent of Arms from the capital, at least for the time,
She noticed, the other women, the stranger never before seen, in a skirt with a beehive waist, a now sweat stained white blouse, previously with two buttons open, now three. She alone had not ventured out onto the dance floor. Marie, the local girl with the strong eastern accent; and the young, highly attractive girl, also a stranger, had rotated among the remaining men. They had danced with all during the fast dances, but now, each had her special dance partner. Marie was with a man, possibly from the traveling theater group now playing at the theater two blocks away. He had shown that he was a man of cosmopolitan flavor, knowing the proper steps for all of the variety to music played. A man of average height, average build, with sandy hair, and no facial hair, in a crowd he would blend in and would be soon forgotten. Tonight, however, he was Marie’s universe, In this slow dance, she hung on him almost in desperation. She still mourned the loss of her mother, and being in the arms of a man seemed to provide some solace. Besides, it felt good being held, being crushed into his chest, and besides, her thigh, where it was, noticed that she had an influence on this man, this handsome, gentle man, whose hands did not bear the roughness of physical work, but belayed a career of some gentleness. From the way he dressed, a man of substance, or some degree of success. Perhaps a man who would lead her away from Madison, Perhaps…..
Anastasia, was at last cut loose, perhaps for the first time in her entire life, from the watching eyes of the Tsar’s staff, for the survivors were busy in their own personal lives at that time. She had danced the face dances with 7 or 8 men, strangers all. Some could dance, some probably should had watched, but all were enthralled by the beauty of the young woman. She had been schooled in formal dance, just as Karina, but, just as Karina, having knowledge of the basics of fluid motion allowed her to pick up the steps, and improvise in an improved festival of motion. To a man, her partners were enthralled with their time with her, and truly a fine woman, she had switched partners in each of the slow dances so that all had a chance to have her in their arms. After all had had a half dance with her, she chose her favorite, a young man with glasses, neatly trimmed goatee, mustache, and his sideburns were trimmed in a manner that was not the fashion at that time. Well dressed, he had put his jacket and vest aside, and as the temperature was well past 80 degrees in the milk bar, his shirt was open to only the last button before his pants. She admired his chest. His work was as an assistant professor in the university engineering school. She didn’t know that he was also conversant in physics, and molecular engineering, as much knowledge as there was at that time in history. He was a rising star, but, that night, he was the star in the sky of Anastasia. Taller than her by almost 8 inches, her head rested against his chest, just under her chin. Their feet barely moved, and the watching line of men just watched, quietly, jealously, but understanding her choice, although not happily.
Over at the bar, the barman and the back bar man watched the unfolding story. The women had kept the men happy, and happy men drank well, and tipped well. No point in impressing on the women that their potential beau was a tight wad. One of the young girls from the front, not quite 16, had quietly made her way down the trap door, and back up into the bar, witnessing the processions on the dance floor. The back bar man, noticing her, waved her over, and after exchanging a glance with the bar man, gave her a glass of the tall, exquisitely chilled lager. After the milk, and in the heat of the night, that was gone in a matter of minutes, without a glance, the barman refilled and set out the second.
Readers, men and women alike, the stage has been set. I leave it to your imagination, the clock was at 11 pm, the night still young, where the destinations of those involved would be. For some, the night was like so many other had been, for some, the adventure was similar, but different, to so many other adventures, and for a few. the night’s adventure was a unique experience, perhaps to be the first, soon to be followed by many more over an interesting life of experiences. Perhaps.