Chapter III

In the echoing foyer she teeters, lightheaded, and stretches her hand toward a cobalt faux-Orient pillar.

“Goodness,” she breathes, and the evening breeze chills her, “He really did juice me out dry.”

Her fingertips whisper against the glazed tile; they’re dusty, untended, and rough.

“But still thin,” she assures herself, splaying them, “Thin as a corn snake, and twice as refined. All you need is a trickle of moisture.”

She turns from the sweet scent of the evening to follow a muskier note.

The air in the bar is more pleasingly dense, being thickened by pipe smoke and masculine voices. Plunging in, Mewsy sloughs off her vagueness and pours herself onto a stool.

“Piercey,” she says, and her tone is becoming, “Would you pickle me ever so lightly?”

Big Piercey Pierpont is handsome, of course, thinks Mewsy, watching him rather abstractly. She runs him through her voluptuous mind as she often — so often — has. An elegant turn as he chills her glass, a ripple across his back. That square-cut jaw, those mischievous eyes, his hands designed for squeezing. And yet —

Yet it’s all a trifle taut to be pleasing.

She thinks of Sal; his extravagant bulges; and of Tybalt — but no, she mustn’t.

“Just don’t seem rightly, y’don’t mind me say’n, miss,” says a voice from the gloom at the end of the bar, “Such a troub’lin’ly ripe aggregation of limbs as yourself should be drinkin’ alone.”

“Why, Genius Joe!” she exhales with a giggle, “Has Heaven at last become Earth?”

“I reck’n it hain’t, ‘r my kind’d be scraped from the face of it, sure.” The old gaff’ limps into the light and gives Mewsy a finger-salute.

Now there is a man who can coil a length of cable, thinks Mewsy. So refreshingly simple. Experienced. So dear. “Dear Joe,” she says, tucking her chin, “Can it really be you? Come to Mewsy and let mama feel you.”

There’s a stage carpenter’s fragrance – woody and ripe – to accompany Joe’s crunchy charm. And his forearms… the brawn, and the sailor tattoos, and their polar-bear-white pelt of hair. She lays her hand on one now, stroking it soft like a pussycat’s tum. She can faintly recall, underneath his thick tool belt, a stout and dependable prong.

“It’s awful good to have you near,” she says in the sweet, artless tones that it took her such practice to master.

“Can’t say as you’re worse’n an icicle sandwich yourself — like chinchilla ‘at’s been in th’wash.” He winks.

They regard one another, and an unwelcome thought flickers under her lusty remove.

I wonder how he is, she thinks. What’s it like being back at The Old Cheroot for Genius Joe Georgia tonight?

“Have you seen her?” she asks.

The Genius turns to draw on his ashy ‘garillo.

“Finchy? Well, truth to be told, friend, I’ve come to the doc here to boost up m’verve.” He blows out his smoke toward the barman.

“I heard you were coming to work on the Show but I dared not believe it,” she says, and shies off coyly, to mask an embarrassing, honest smile. She senses his unguarded warmth at her side.

“Oh Joe, dear good Joe, it’s a tonic to see you,” she says over her shoulder, “How I wish I could stay to catch up.”

But those eyes… not tonight.

“I’ll just take a third for the journey,” she coos down the bar, and curls her lip loosely in lieu of a tip.

“You’ve not had a second,” Big PP reminds her.

“Well, I guess I’ll need that one as well.”

Mewsy swivels back to Joe now, her face put on right, and shrugs with one creamy bare shoulder. “They’ll be moaning my name, I’ve been ever so truant.”

The Genius watches her slip on her pumps. He smokes nice and slow, and raises a single bushy brow.

“It’s pleasant to have you around,” she continues. “You know where to find me. Drop in any evening to chat.”

At the door she looks back with her hands full of booze, saying, “Best luck with Finch tonight, Joe. Remember: you’re tough and I like you.”