Matches my book, really, thought Dora. All sleazy leopard print and bouffant hair.
She studied the image on the cover. The book’s heroine, Kitten Chantal, was draped across the hero, Steel Grainger. Dora sighed and returned her attention to chapter fifteen’s steamy encounter in the pool house. An elevator muzak rendition of REO Speedwagon’s Keep On Lovin’ You provided the soundtrack.
The song finished, and a saxophone blared into life. Dora started at the sudden change and looked up, expecting to see someone at the jukebox. She couldn’t even see the jukebox through the heavy pall of cigarette smoke that hung in the air. Laughter and raucous jazz filled the room.
Dora stared at the scene before her. Wood panelling replaced the acrylic splendour of the bar, and men in fedoras and women in long gloves filled the room. She looked down at the tall glass of lemonade on the table, now replaced by a martini glass. Dora sniffed the drink, the scent of pineapple and white rum hitting her nostrils.
“Don’t sniff it, honey, drink it!” The woman beside her winked.
“What is it?” asked Dora.
“A Mary Pickford. Don’t you remember ordering it? Jeez, how many have you had?”
Dora put the glass back on the table – maybe she’d try it later. Nigel didn’t approve of alcohol, and she didn’t want to upset him. Although he doesn’t approve of my choice of books, and I still read those, she thought.
Dora noticed her hands as she held the stem of the glass. The swollen knuckles and liver spots had gone, replaced by the hands of a much younger woman. She let go of the glass and examined the slender fingers. She remembered these fingers, and these hands, but she hadn’t seen them in around twenty years.
The double doors at the top of the staircase burst open, and the shrill sound of whistles filled the air. Dora looked up from her new, youthful hands to see a swarm of policemen sweep down the stairs and into the bar. They brandished batons and grabbed at collars as they went. The good time guys and gals scattered, clambering over tables and upturned chairs in their haste to escape the police.
“Come on, honey, seems the party’s over,” said the woman beside her. She grabbed Dora’s arm and yanked her out of her seat.
The band cut off their song and leapt down from the stage, instruments abandoned as they joined the stampede for the stairs. A man shoved her in the back and she stumbled forward, her elbow hitting a table as she fell.
Dora blinked. She gasped to see the gaudy Miami Vice stylings of the bar, while a bad instrumental cover of Heart of Glass piped into the room from a speaker near the ceiling. She knelt on the floor several feet away from her table, her novel lying open on her seat. She looked around, but saw no sign of the jazz baby who’d pulled her to her feet. The afternoon drinkers ignored Dora completely.
Dora slipped back into her seat, her face flushed with embarrassment. She examined the wrinkles and blue veins of her hands, and sniffed the drink in her glass. Definitely lemonade, she thought.
She looked up to see Nigel making his way toward her. His nylon anorak didn’t look at all out of place in the bar, and Dora found herself cringing to see his neatly pressed slacks and carefully combed over hair.
“Afternoon, love. Didn’t keep you waiting long, did I?” he asked. He planted a dry kiss on her cheek.
“Not at all. Did you find your medication?”
“I did. I’d left it in my toilet bag. Silly me, eh?” Nigel chuckled, and patted his anorak pocket. Dora forced a smile, and closed her book. Steel Grainger would never forget his blood pressure tablets. Steel Grainger probably didn’t even need them.
“But I had a chat with the receptionist on my way down here. You’ll never guess what she told me!”
“I really have no idea.”
“This place was once the site of a Prohibition speakeasy! Apparently there was a major bust, and the whole hotel was closed until the Fifties. What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m just surprised. How fascinating.”
“Come along then, love. Martin’s waiting in the lobby. He’s eager to show his old mum and dad the joys of Chicago.”
Nigel smiled. Dora gathered her coat and put her novel back into her handbag. She followed Nigel across the bar. They reached the double doors, and she imagined a horde of policemen piling down the stairs. Nigel held open the door but Dora gazed down into the cavernous bar.
Sadness bloomed in her heart as she found herself mourning a life that she had no idea she'd lived.