GAYLORD LE CLAIRE STARED INTO the face in the shadows. He had the poet's insatiable appetite for imagining and the mystery of New Orleans distilled it. There in the shadows was a bronze face …
"Bob," he cried with a sudden burst of joy. He reached out his hand. It stopped suddenly in mid-air.
"Bob? Paul's the name," came from the shadows. And a hand reached out and took the extended one.
"I thought …" Gaylord began with dismay and alarm. "I thought you were a friend of mine from back home."
"No, I'm afraid I'm not. I wish I were though. You seem so disappointed. I'm Paul Boudreaux. And have lived in New Orleans practically all my life," he answered, still holding hands.
"You looked so much like a friend of mine … I just knew you were Bob." He grinned and added, "I'm Gaylord Le Claire."
They shook hands.
"Gaylord Le Claire. Nice to know you … You've got an awfully pretty name … French, aren't you?"
"My father is. My mother's German." Then with another grin, "I guess I was talking out loud to myself when you came up."
"I was wondering what kind of buddy you wanted."
"Did you see those two drunks? One was sure taking good care of the other one."
"Yes, I saw them." Paul laughed softly. "I was afraid for a moment they were going to land under that cab."
"So was I … Sure scared me for a moment."
Gaylord looked at the man. He did look like Bob. Had a pleasant, keen expression. The eyes were mysterious and shadowed, and the plentiful dark hair was the same as Blake's, even to the strand glistening over the forehead. His skin was darker, almost chocolate, there in the shadows, and when he smiled, his teeth were even and very white. His grip had been firm and warming, his voice good-natured, and attractive.
"I'm sorry I'm not your friend from home …"
"You sure do look like him … Bob's about your build and has the same coloring."
"I hope he's a good friend."
"He's the dear——" Gaylord stopped. "He's the best there is," he stammered.
"Then I'm glad I remind you of him. It's wonderful to have dear friends … They are so hard to find at times."
"They sure are."
Paul Boudreaux pulled out a metal case. Opened it and handed it to Gaylord. "Cigarette?"
Paul took one from the case and lighted it. He smoked in silence for a second while he studied the boy frankly. Then he said, "How about a drink? A drink to this friend of yours … You said his name was Bob?"
"How about a drink to Bob?"
"Okay … I'd like to very much, Mr. B …" Gaylord laughed. "I've forgotten your name."
"Boudreaux … Paul Boudreaux … Forget the last name … every one else does … Paul's fine … Just remember Paul." He grinned. He let the cigarette smoke cloud his thoughtful eyes a moment.
"I'll remember Paul all right." He took this information into his mind carefully, as if he were afraid he'd forget it. Gaylord asked, "Where shall we go? In here?" He pointed to the Absinthe House.
"My favorite spot is right down this street about three blocks. I believe you'd like it better than the Absinthe House. It's kind of dull but this favorite place of mine is always interesting." Again he puffed at the cigarette. "Would you like to go there?"
"If you'll let me buy the drink."
"If you insist … But if you do, we'll have to have another one so that I can buy you one."
"That's swell … shall we go?"
"Shall I call a cab or would you prefer to walk?"
"Let's walk … you said it's not very far, didn't you?"
"No, it's not far."
"I'd love to walk if you don't mind."
"I don't mind."
They started down the street. Gaylord looked at the moving traffic. He tried to catch glimpses of the faces inside, but it was difficult, for the tops of the cars hid them. It didn't really matter … He was just interested in the passing parade. Interested in the buildings they were passing, restaurants, laundries, a small flower stand, juke joints, hotels. Mostly it was bars from which loud, brittle music blared.
This life was fascinating to Gaylord. He noticed a buxom dark girl come from one of the bars with a man's arm around her waist. Her big solid breasts pointing the way for her widely swinging hips to follow.
Paul noted the girl also, said: "Well, it looks like she's going to have fun, doesn't it."
"Sure does … She's not very pretty, is she?"
"She certainly isn't," Paul agreed. "Is this your first trip to New Orleans, Gaylord?"
"The first in a long time. And call me Gay, Paul."
"Gay." Paul pronounced the name very dramatically, then said: "That's a perfect name for you … Gay … You look 'gay'." He grinned.
"I feel gay tonight."
"It's so much fun to be here in New Orleans … I just love it." His gaze left Paul and turned to the buildings. He noticed the pictures of nude girls in front of the places they passed. He listened to the sound of juke boxes, pianos and singers that came through the open doors. He looked back at his new friend and decided again he liked him. He looked so clean, so well dressed, and his person had such a good healthy scent. Tweed, he speculated.
He liked the way he told the history of buildings they passed. What they had been in the past and some, even the name of the ones who had built them. He made them sound romantic, so full of adventure. He was lucky he ran into Paul. Paul who knew and was part of this wonderful city. He did know all about New Orleans. Why shouldn't he … he was probably born here.
"I like New Orleans," Paul began. "Sometimes I get awfully lonely here and leave, but I always come back."
"I was beginning to get lonely too … that is before you came up … It's no fun to go around by yourself."
"No, it isn't. I was a bit lonely myself … New Orleans with all its gayety can be mighty lonesome."
"I guess you're right."
"You want to know something? Something, maybe I shouldn't tell you?"
"Promise you won't be angry?"
"I won't be angry … what?"
"I've been following you."
"Ever since you left the hotel."
Gaylord grinned without any reason. "Why?" he asked innocently.
"I wanted to meet you … Didn't know just how to start a conversation … Then when you said something about a buddy … that gave me an opening."
"I'm glad it did," Gaylord grinned. "I'm awfully glad. This is one time I've got a wish … I wished I'd meet someone … and sure enough … here you are. Did I do something to attract your attention?"
Paul put his hand around Gaylord's waist and gave his hip a firm pat. "Just wanted you, Gay," he said. "It's such a beautiful night … Too beautiful to spend it alone. I guess you did do something to attract my attention. I can't say what it was, but it was something, Gaylord … I mean Gay."
A little thrill leaped through Gaylord. Leaped with the same raucous rhythm of the juke box playing "Twelfth Street Rag." The whole street rang with it. It pounded so that it seemed to vibrate within him too. It was a good, healthy feeling.
Together they walked along the Rue Bourbon, and Gaylord gaped at the fresh barkers in front of some of the bars, so characteristic of the Vieux Carre. They certainly made it plain what was inside. He hoped Paul wasn't taking him where there would be nude women dancing and shaking their bodies at him. And for a moment his heart beat wildly with anticipation. Then he shied from it. He told himself Paul would not take him to such a place.
"Well … here we are, Gay," Paul said. He smiled at Gaylord appealingly, winningly. "This is my favorite dive … What do you think about it?"
Gaylord nodded his approval. "Looks real interesting," he said. He stood elated looking at the worm infested wall. The iron bars, protecting the dirty, cracked windows and the faded drapes, were green with age. Flashing neon surrounded the small awning over the door. On a large billboard, just to the side of the door, was an array of pictures. Beneath each one, sprinkled with glitter, were bold red letters. A shadowed light beamed down upon them, making the names of the entertainers alluring and alive, the glitter making them dance and sparkle.
Paul held open the half-door for Gaylord and then followed him into the dimly lighted club. The buzzing of constant chatter and laughter, the opening of bottles, and the deep loud tones from the keys of a piano all mixed with the voice of a girl singing, greeted them.
Slowly they stepped past the crowd and Gaylord was reminded of a movie with just such a setting. He felt Paul's arm around his waist. He looked around at the walls, at the faces seated by small round tables. The sight of the place—the bar with people seated at it, the soft lights, the girl singer, the talking—excited him.
Paul broke into his thoughts, saying, "See any vacant tables?"
"They're all full."
"Oh, there's one." He pointed to one close to the grand piano. "Let's grab it before someone beats us to it. This crowd has no manners." He laughed, took Gaylord's hand and proceeded toward the table. Gaylord followed holding onto the hand. Walked past other hands that reached out and felt of his legs, his thighs, and almost between his legs. He retraced Paul's steps even closer than before. At least they couldn't paw him …
"Hello, good looking," a boy with bleached hair grinned, at the same time trying to grab his hand.
"Hello," grinned Gaylord.
"You can share my table."
Paul looked back and heard … Said, "No thanks."
"Get you … Mary … I was just trying to be polite for a change."
"Thanks, but we have one," put in Paul.
"Thanks," Gaylord grinned again, conscious of the many eyes upon him. He was glad when they were seated at the table.
Just in front of the table a soft blue spotlight engulfed a tall blond girl standing against a black piano. She was singing and a long silk handkerchief flew through the smoky blur from her ever moving hands. After they had sat down, the frail piece of silk touched Gaylord's cheek and the girl smiled, "Hello, honey," then back up in the air it went toward the girl who had spoken and winked at him.
"Hello," grinned Gaylord, impressed by the informal flirtation.
"Want a cigarette?" Paul asked.
"Please," he answered.
Paul handed him a lighted one. He took it and prayed he wouldn't cough. He was not used to cigarettes but he should smoke. Everyone else was. He puffed at it. It tasted mild and sweet. He looked at its foreign name, stenciled on the thin white paper in red letters. He had never seen one of these before.
"What kind of cigarette is this?"
"Don't you like them?" Paul asked.
"Oh, yes … They're good … I've never smoked one before. In fact I haven't smoked too much any time."
"They're an imported cigarette called Empress," Paul grinned at his young companion. "I like them because they're so mild. You can smoke them all evening and they don't burn your tongue."
"I like them." Gaylord blew more smoke in the air.
An ugly boy, with thick glasses over pale watery eyes, came up to their table. He held an empty tray and a small towel was thrown over his arm. "Hello, Paul," he said with a bored expression. "Something new's been added." His glassy eyes looked at Gaylord … "Something cute too … Hello, doll."
Paul was quick and sharp. "Hello, Freddie … How about a couple of bourbons." He looked at Gaylord. "Bourbon all right, Gay?" "May I have mine in coke?" he asked Paul.
Freddie said in a whine, "Honey, you can have anything you want … You're a doll …"
"Freddie," mumbled Paul.
"Well, he is." He smiled at Gaylord.
Gaylord smiled back but was silent. He didn't know what to say.
"Ok … so he's a doll … Now may we have our drinks?"
"Sure girl … coming up …" He started to leave but turned and faced Gaylord … "Say, doll, how old are you?"
Paul was quick again on the answer. "He's old enough. Just bring us a couple of coke highballs, Freddie."
Freddie let out a long sigh. "Looks awfully young. Oh, well. Don't care or give a damn if they do close the joint." He shrugged his shoulders and left.
"Scared you're too young to serve to. Not that it matters in this dive. By the way, how do you like it?"
"I like it fine … Is … er … Freddie a friend of yours?"
"I just know him from coming in here so often. By the way, Gay, how old are you?"
"I'll soon be eighteen." Gaylord looked into Paul Boudreaux's eyes. He twisted on the seat thinking that the eyes looking back had a suspicious look in them.
Paul Boudreaux did have thoughts about Gaylord. In that split second of silence he wanted to kiss the childlike lips. Wanted to caress the bright, wavy hair. He looked so innocent. The cleanness of the country spring-time … Youth. That was the lure. A delicate plant among weak and spineless weeds. How different he looked among the hardened crowd, chunky of body, blank of face, shifty of eyes. They glided their steps among each other with an artificial precision; they were dreamers, weary and lifeless as the grey smoke that spun around them.
This was their club. Their place of retreat. The place they could be themselves. The place they could scream, love and find new conquests.
Every few minutes the door of the club swung open to admit more men, more service-men, women with too much muscle and youths with too little.
"Think I'd forgotten you?" It was Freddie with their drinks.
"No … I didn't think you'd forget us, Freddie," said Paul.
Gaylord smiled and took a puff from his cigarette.
The waiter continued. "I thought you'd be at Miss Limbeaux's party, Paul." He placed a small glass in front of each. "I hear it's going to be a mad affair. I'm going over after we've finished with these bastards here. The place is full of tourists tonight. Don't know why they come to a place like this … Guess they like to see the freaks. I told Pete he ought to rename the joint Freakland or The Sand Pit …" He took the bill that Paul handed him.
"Keep the change," Paul said.
"Thanks, doll … Some broad asked me if I was 'gay' a while ago." Gaylord heard the word but didn't interrupt … "Just came right out and asked me … 'Are you one of those 'Gay' boys I've heard so much about,' she says to me. Looked like a sex-maniac. You know the type … Lays back and wants you to do all the work … not the normal way either, honey … Well, I certainly shut her up. You should have seen the expression on her fat face when I told her I had six children, been married and divorced three times and sleeping with a Negro whore now. She put her paw on her fat tits and almost swallowed the cherry out of her drink."
Gaylord glanced at Paul for some hint, found none in the frowning face, and dropped his eyes. Freddie kept on talking in a way he could not understand or intelligently shape to his own ends. The thought of sleeping with a Negro whore was degrading to him. He gnawed the inside of his cheek nervously a few seconds, glanced at Paul again, and then mashed his cigarette into the tin ash tray. Freddie continued but Paul's voice stopped him.
"Shall we try our drink, Gay?" he asked, raising the glass from the table.
They clicked their glasses and took a sip. Freddie left them alone.
Inside Gaylord, a continuous flicker of excitement like electric shocks played within him, causing the muscles of his arms to grow increasingly tense and his hands on the glass to tremble with concentration. Paul spoke first, making a sweeping gesture with his glass over the table.
"Our first drink together … I hope we shall have many together."
"I hope so too."
"Want a cigarette?"
Again Paul handed him a lighted one and asked: "How's the drink?"
"Drink up and we'll have another."
Paul was silent awhile, expecting Gaylord to speak, but Gaylord was tongue-tied with all this strange surroundings.
Faces rose through the grey fog like images on pages turning over and over in muddy riverpools. A loud girlish scream came from the bar and echoed in Gaylord's ear. He turned and glanced from where it came just in time to see a tall blond boy throw his arms around another.
"Jack, baby. When did you get in town?" screeched the blond boy to the dark haired one standing at his side.
The incident looked cheap and common to Gaylord. He thought of the times he had thrown his arms around Blake, and wondered about it. Was this really cheap and common? He was guilty too if the blond boy was. The comparison struck him and stayed with him until he was yanked back into the present by another sudden screeching.
"I'm drunk … Yes … ya damn right I'm drunk … but I'm not drunk enough to go home with you, Mary." The youth who had just spoken got up from the table and weaved his way between the aisles. A grey-haired man he had just left watched him.
Gaylord was among people playing strange roles. He seemed to be trying to learn their world. There was no secret to their feelings and still he found the whole pattern too complicated to follow. It was like a circus … too many things happening at the same time.
A low murmur from a side booth caused him to turn again. In a booth two girls were in each other's arms. The one with the short hair had just bent down and kissed a frail, rather pretty, one. He had seen girls kiss each other many times but not like these two were kissing each other. The one reminded him of a truck driver.
From them he gazed at the singer under the blue light. She smiled at him a long moment, her eyes running over his face. He couldn't help watching the handkerchief dangling from her hand. It seemed sad. Sad as the artificial eyes watching him. Strange as the smile.
Was this what Blake had meant? Was this the type of place he had wanted to take him? One that would show him he wasn't the only one in the world desiring his own sex? Was he one of these? Did they feel the same way he did? Was this what the cop had meant when he had told him not to go to any queer place … Was this the kind of place he had meant? The girl singing; the high voices; the pale looking faces; boys in each other's arms; girls kissing their own sex; boys with plucked eyebrows; the swishy way they walked as they passed going to the rest rooms; the way they felt of each other's body … yes, it was sort of strange … queer …
"Hi, John," Paul answered the man who had just passed. Then to Gaylord, "Friend of mine … are you having a good time, Gay … why don't you drink your drink so we can have another?"
"All … right …" and he finished the drink.
They had several more drinks; Gaylord listening for the most part. The face before him was behind thin silk and moved like a leaf from an unseen breeze. It was transformed into a mask of tenderness and love. With a finger, Paul tilted the boy's face gently.
"Gay … are you all right?"
Gaylord gave a little giggle. "I feel fine." He finished another drink and grinned back at Paul. "This time I'm going to pay for a round and don't you dare say I can't." He grabbed the waiter who was just passing. "Freddie," he cried. "Bring us another and don't take Paul's money … This is on me."
"Okay … doll … right away."
"Gay … think you should?"
"Have another drink?"
"One more … huh …" He smiled his affectionate smile. '1 feel wonderful … I like this place."
"I don't want you to get sick."
"I won't … I hope I can make it back to the hotel."
"I'll see that you do."
"Okay, Paul …"
People began to clap and shout … Everyone was having a good time. Gaylord began wondering if there was really anything wrong with him at all. Maybe it was his imagination. Everyone here was all right … They didn't seem to have a care in the world. He was just like any other man … He wasn't or they weren't any different … People were people but each had his own individual desires.
"May I have another one of those long cigarettes, Paul?" Gaylord asked after Freddie had placed another drink in front of him. After he had paid the pale boy; after the boy had patted his warm cheek and said … "Thanks doll."
"Another cigarette? Sure …" Paul lit one and handed it across the table. "I hope you're having a good time."
"I'm having a wonderful time … I love this place … I feel so good and free …"
"It's only a dump, but I have fun here … I'm glad you like it."
"I've never been to a place like this … Everybody does just what they please, don't they."
"They try to."
Gaylord grinned … "They're doing a good job of it, aren't they."
He was sipping his drink when he noticed the singer standing in back of Paul. She was blue-eyed, like him. Her lips were full and the dress that clung to her excellent figure revealed pointed, large breasts. She threw her handkerchief with a gesture of friendliness and greeted them in a low, rather husky voice. "Hello, you two." She placed a hand on Paul's shoulder.
"Hi, Dusty," Paul said. "It's about time you came over and spoke to us. Dusty, this is Gay … Gay, Dusty."
Gaylord arose from his chair.
"Hi, Gay … and don't get up, honey," she grinned pushing him back gently.
"Sit down and have a drink," greeted Paul.
"Thanks." Dusty grinned at Gaylord … "You know, Paul, makes me feel real young again having a good looking boy stand up for me to sit down. That hasn't happened to me in a helluva long time. You're so pretty too, honey." She patted Gaylord on the check.
Paul motioned to Freddie. He came immediately.
"What are you drinking, Dusty, bourbon or scotch?"
"Oh … better make it bourbon. I've been drinking it all evening. Scotch might poison the old frame." She turned to Freddie and said, "Listen, girl, you tell that bartender this ain't a "B" drink. Tell him to give this actress some of that good stuff he drinks himself or I won't sleep with him any more." She turned to Gaylord. "I've been drinking phony drinks all evening … Girls got to make a living somehow … Sometimes I can't tell the difference between a "B" and a real one. They're both rotten."
"You said it … This stuff they've been serving tastes like tea."
"Mine's strong," broke in Gaylord.
Dusty grinned at him. "You know," she whispered, "you're the cutest thing I've seen in a long time … What do you mean running around with an old bastard like Paul."
"He's sweet too," piped in Paul, "and I'm not as old as you, ducky."
"So you're younger … He's only two months younger, Gay … Live here, honey?"
"No ma'am. I live in Texas."
"Texas …? A man from Texas … Honey, I just love men from Texas, you all."
They all laughed.
Paul said, "Now, Dusty, don't get carried away."
"All right … I'll be a lady if it kills me." She felt of her breasts, moving her hands over them as if to adjust them to a better position. She looked and waved to someone who had called her name and then back at Paul. "I'm sure glad you two are here. There's been nothing in the joint this evening but jerks. I had to get blind in the dressing room before I could even sing … Now I don't give a damn. Bunch of peasants. They must have let them out of the cow pastures today and they all came here, I believe. I've never seen so many in one spot in all my life. And honey … that's been … er … well it's been a helluva long time." She took a deep swallow from the glass Freddie had left in front of her. "Good for the soul, ain't it?" She took a huge sip and looked at Gaylord. "What part of Texas you all come from, sugar pie?"
"Cotton," he grinned at the southern drawl … "it's not too far from Houston."
"Don't give a damn for Houston … I opened and closed in a show there several years ago. One day … Shortest engagement I ever had … Cute show too but hell there was too many complications … Houston's sort of hicky … hasn't gotten the hay-seed out of its hair yet … and you know … the joint was jammed … I can't understand why a town don't have a couple of gay clubs for the kids. At least it keeps them off the street and out of dives. This club was really a smart place and you know the gay kids all love an elegant place. So they close us and leave open the dives … I can't understand it … Well … that's enough of Houston … How long you been in New Orleans, Gay … and why in the hell didn't you bring him in here sooner, Paul … Trying to keep him to yourself … Well, I don't blame you … he's so cute."
"You've said that before," grinned Paul.
"I know it … but he's still cute." She looked at Gaylord. "Honey, you should live in New Orleans … There's no place like it."
"I wish I did," Gaylord said, and meant it.
"You wish he did too, don't you, Paul. I can read that look in your eyes."
"Guess you're right. I can't keep any secrets from Dusty, Gay. Too smart for me … Aren't you?"
"No, dear … I'm not too smart … We've just known each other a long time … Let's see," she put a red tipped finger under her chin for a second, "how long has it been?" Paul started to speak, but she stopped him with, "Don't answer that … I know how long it's been …" She wrinkled her powdered brow in a process of thought, then she smiled at Gaylord. Said, "You know, honey, this handsome devil used to be in love with me until someone like …" She stopped when Paul's finger went to his mouth. She coughed trying to cover up … "Damn this smoke … Well, anyway, this dog left me for someone more refined. I cried and screamed and it didn't do a damn bit of good … He left anyway …" She looked from one to the other. "Didn't you, darling?"
"Dusty, you're a card and I love you. You'll always be in my heart … How about another drink?"
"I need more than your heart, honey. You know what a sexy bitch I am. Know any old body who wants to sleep with an actress tonight? And I'll take another drink since you're such a gentleman darling."
She looked away again and called to Freddie across the room at another table. "Hey, Freddie! This actress needs another drink and so do these two smart gentlemen. Make it quick … I haven't much time." Dusty pulled between her legs. "Damn, this G-string is killing me. Shouldn't have washed it … and these damn rhinestones pinch like crabs … damn things bite."
Gaylord was only human and even with the wonderful glow inside, he looked at Dusty with alarm, interest and admiration. She didn't seem to care what she said. It was fun to watch her; hear the rustle of her dress … watch the dancing eyes …
She saw the bewildered look in his eyes. "Here I'm rattling like a common bitch," she said to him … "You think I'm awful …?" She puckered her mouth into a cupid bow and looked at him from under heavily beaded eyelashes.
"I think you're wonderful, Dusty." He didn't know her last name. It didn't matter, for none was needed.
"Paul," cried Dusty, handing him the large square of silk. "Go do my number. I'm going to sit right here and make love to Gay … Then I'm going to take him to my crib and … I'm keeping the rest a secret."
"Oh, no you're not …" Paul laughed, in fact they all laughed. "I thought you said you were going to be a lady."
"It's so hard for me."
"I know that." He lifted his glass and swallowed his drink. The liquor was bad … He placed the empty glass on the table. Said, "How about Gene's party? You going?"
"I'll probably make a late entrance," she answered. "That is, if you'll let me make love to Gay. Will you let me make love to you, Gay?" Her eyes misted over.
"It's all right with me," he grinned and meant it … She seemed so different from other girls. She was common but still she wasn't.
"That's the only reason I'll go then. You don't know what you let yourself in for, honey." Her voice was low and sexy. "For when I make love, I really put my soul in it." She looked at Paul and winked. "But what in the hell are we going to do with Paul, Honey?"
"Female dog," grinned Paul.
They all three laughed and Dusty and Paul talked while Gaylord listened attentively. He was enjoying every minute. The warm glow within made him view everything with renewed interest. He knew she was kidding but he liked the way she did it.
After a few minutes, Dusty picked up the handkerchief from the table, adjusted her breasts again, rose from the table and said, "Well, my pets, this broken down Follies beauty had better belch another hymn or she'll be out on her ass. Thanks for the drinks, kids. It's been charming … Gay … don't let me scare you honey . . I'm perfectly harmless … huh, Paul." She laughed and started to go. Turned to Gaylord and added, "By the way … got a favorite song? Or would you prefer not to hear this prima donna ruin it?"
"Do you know Tonight Was Made for Love'?"
And as he thought of the song the clouds of greying haze opened wide. Sun swept down in great golden whirls and a glistening blackness was added, and it was in this that he again saw Blake. He stood there, out in the golden whirls, as if he were really a part of it and had been tossed there by the mere mention of their song; stood there grinning his old familiar way, his short hair glistening, his lips smiling. The lights seemed to dance on his bronze naked body, and he waved. He called out in his vibrant voice, "Have a good time you little rascal." And then the bronze figure melted away in the shadows, and in its place Dusty and the smoke came back.
"Have a good time," he had said … Dusty broke in on the illusion.
"Tonight was made for love, is so right … It's one of my favorites too. And if I forget the words I'll compose some just for us …"
She walked to the piano. Everyone began to applaud as the blue spotlight suddenly illuminated her.
"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen," she began in a hoarse voice. "I call you ladies and gentlemen but you know what you are." She raised her thumb and goosed the smoky blur.
The audience screamed.
"Listen you two over there in the marihuana section." She pointed to a couple in a booth. They remained silent. The man frowned, but Dusty went on. "Let your hair down … Have fun … What the hell did you come in the joint for anyway? A prayer meeting? You're all under suspicion anyway, you know that don't you? You might as well have fun … Enjoy yourself." She shrugged with a grin … "I'm having fun … I want everyone to have fun … you know why? … I'll let you in on a secret … Ladies and gentlemen … I … just … fell … in love."
"Really I did. It's the first time it's happened to me … today, that is."
Another roll of laughter filled the room.
"Last night I slept in the arms of the cutest sailor you ever saw, but tonight girls … to hell with the navy … because I've got a doll … brace yourselves kids … You know what I've got for tonight?"
"No … what?" rang through the crowd.
"Tonight, I've got a real honest to God Texan. And you all know what they all say about those cute little old Texans, don't you?" She held out her hands about twenty inches apart. "And I'm not dreaming either, girls."
Everyone started clapping and loud laughs floated to the ceiling.
Almost apologetically, Dusty, after tossing the handkerchief in the air, stated, "'Course I'm not going to tell you all who he is, or the rest of you bats, I said the rest, might beat this working girl's time." She paused and looked around the blurred faces. She spotted a bald-headed man seated with a group of other men. His hands were in his pockets and he was getting a big kick out of her. "You, dear," she cried at him, "take your hands out of your pockets. Don't you know you'll go crazy playing with yourself? You can go home with me for five bucks."
"I've got five bucks," he shot back at her.
"Honey, you're too damn anxious … You look like a ginny-woman … I'm scared of you."
"I'm harmless," he laughed.
"That's what I mean … I used to keep my hands in my pockets all the time when I wore pants … Now look at me … If you don't be careful you'll end up like me … and you wouldn't want that would ya?"
"Yea …" several shouted …
"Damn, the competition is terrific tonight . .
"I think Dusty's wonderful, don't you, Paul?" Gaylord grinned softly and Paul came back with a "Yeah … wonderful."
Dusty continued, "I wish my husband Jasper was here tonight, but the bastard left me. Told me someone was going to give him a trip around the world."
A high falsetto voice screamed with delight.
"What's the matter, dear? Sit on a feather or something … Or are you a traveler too?" She paused, fingering the piece of silk. "I took a trip around the world once. I said once girls. I really had a marvelous time … London … Rome, Venice … but you know kids, I got the large news for you … I was blue in Paris."
She paused for the laughter to die down. She waved her handkerchief at Gaylord and Paul.
"Enough of this carryings on. I'd like to belch a little number, but before I do … I want everyone of you faggots to stick your fingers in your ears … I said ears, Mary," she screamed at a boy who had just placed his hand on the leg of another boy.
Another round of applause.
"This little hymn is going to be for only one person. It's high class and you bitches won't know what the hell I'm singing about, so why in the hell don't all of you leave? The joint's hot anyway … Did you know we're expecting a raid," she giggled.
Someone yelled, "Who in the hell cares, Dusty. I hope I'm put in the same cell with you."
"I can't see you but from the sound of your pipes, I know you're alive." Then to the crowd, "As long as they're alive, is my motto, girls. 'Course sometimes you find some walking around that should be buried."
"Or … Dusty."
"Ok, baby. Give the old broad a little time. How about;-you always hurt the one you love … or … who put the sand in the vaseline?"
A voice shouted, "Or?"
"Or," laughed Dusty, "take the dice away from the baby, before he craps on the floor."
"Or … she was only a woodman's daughter but you should have seen her wrest-hole, or, she was only a wrestler's daughter but you should have seen her box."
"Or … hell … Too many or's in the house tonight. Sounds like all the or's from Basin Street are here tonight."
More giggles and applause.
"Or … who lit the fuse on Mrs. Murphy's tampax …"
"Or … or … or …" they shouted.
Dusty laughed a throaty laugh … "Now … as I said once before, I've got this cute trick from Texas out there in the audience, and he asked me to do a number for him. Please be very quiet while I get in the mood … as if I'm ever out of it." She giggled and wiggled. "'Course you all know I'm going to try and make the kid tonight, don't you?" She paused, then … "Don't explain it to her, daddy. Show her what I mean," she cried to a boy and girl who were holding their sides, their faces beaming with laughter.
"How does she think of all those things to say?" grinned Gaylord at Paul.
"I don't know … Goes on like this all night."
Dusty turned to a pale faced boy seated at the piano. "How about some real sexy music, Camille, to get me in the mood."
He smiled back at her and ran his fingers over the keyboard, playing, "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody."
"I'm not doing a parade number, Clarissa … I'm trying to make the kid, remember?" With both hands, she ran them over her breasts. "Pretty, aren't they … For fifteen cents I'll tell you where you can buy a pair just like them."
Again the crowd laughed.
"Sure feel sexy tonight … You're the same damn way, Mary." She pointed to a fat man seated with a pretty young boy about the age of Gaylord. "What the hell are you laughing about?"
Heads turned and glanced in the direction of her eyes … Everybody laughed … even Gaylord.
"Enough of this bitching …" Dusty said. "I'm pooped … I've been evil long enough … haven't I?"
"No," cried a girl.
Dusty smiled. "Anyway, I hope I haven't offended anyone. Everything was said in the spirit of fun … You'd probably throw me out on my can if I acted like the real lady I really am." She paused for the applause. "Thanks … Thanks for being so much fun to talk to, and now, I'd really like to get a bit serious."
The laughing ceased almost instantly.
"Thanks," she said, then clearing her throat again, went on. "I'd like to sing, with your permission, a favorite song of mine for a very nice boy. He's visiting here in New Orleans and I hope … he enjoys the song and his stay in our beautiful wicked city." She turned to the boy at the piano. "Okay … Joe … Hit it pretty, honey."
Joe ran his fingers over the ivory keys.